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Curiosity killed the cat Tony ... Ask Loki, they know.

Chapter Text

Tony hasn't stopped rapidly scanning the information JARVIS has been feeding him on his HUD since he first stepped into the suit.

Granted, he already had most of this information buried deep in his mind, traveling back to a time when he could sit in the staff kitchens with Ana. Swinging his short chubby legs and giggling over mythology and fantasy books together, while watching Jarvis stress bake.

Such happy memories, stained by sadness and melancholy, neglect, tragedy, and death - it's no wonder his early years were filled with drugs, alcohol, and partying to drown it out.
Nowadays, he can admit to himself that he doesn't always have healthy coping mechanisms for someone toted as a 'genius'. But Tony likes to think he has gotten much better in recent years - compared to a teen/early 20 something. So it doesn't surprise him at all that he finds it difficult to dig up the needed information without the painful memories attached, but he's had practice in that by now. Are you kidding him? In his life, he's had to.
Though having JARVIS support him, as always, and give him a refresher course never hurts.

In the flight over Tony could barely contain himself, and during the fight, he had to resort to sarcasm to cover his broiling curiosity - and a small amount of fanboying, he isn't afraid to admit to JARVIS even though he could never to himself. But even Tony understands 'time and place', and he can actually 'read the room', thank you Rhodey-bear, and reigns in his curiosity.
But they are in the totally-top-secret-agency-aircraft carrier that Tony had no idea existed, he swears by Fury's totally-required eyepatch. And if questioning the 'God' in the room lets him bypass the living, breathing, unfrozen childhood trauma over there, all the better in Tony's book.

Walking over to Thor, who looms in the corner, being the giant wall of muscle and leather that he is, Tony blames his excited jitters at the idea of speaking to the supposed source of many ancient myths or the tiny sparks that seem to come off of Thor's broody eyebrows and golden locks, when the first word out of Tony's mouth is, "Þunor."

Watching Thor's scrunched brows lift and manly broody pouting lips shift into pleased surprise eases some of Tony deeply-buried anxiety. Seeing his stormy eyes shift and lighten to sky-blue is also fascinating.

"Well met, Man-of-Iron. I admit to being surprised that for such a small, short-lived species, that you Midgardians even remember my Name." Thor's not at all inside voice seems to boom around the metal walls.
Ignoring that their interaction has grabbed the attention of everyone else in the room, Tony loosens his tightly controlled grip on his curiosity, "Tiny lives we might lead, but luckily some of us knew how to write things down. Do you truly answer to Þunor, or do you prefer Þórr? The texts are kinda vague."
"Ah, not only a blacksmith but also a scholar. My brother would enjoy you." Thor grinned, so unrestrained and wide that he appeared almost boyish, sky-blue eyes glittering and hair slightly sparking. "I had noticed that those that addressed me did so with the strangest of accents. Now that I think about it, much time has passed since I last wandered Midgards earth. Language is sure to change in that time," Thor rakes his eyes over Tony, taking in his attire, accessories, cut and style of his hair, then roaming around the air carrier interior, "And has seemed much else."

Impossibly giddy over what Thor's words implied, Tony was almost bursting to ask him all his long-held questions when a slightly quavering, halting voice approaching from behind halts his thoughts. "'Þunor.' Old English, translates loosely in modern English to 'thunder.' Speculating that you are truly the Norse god Thor, God of thunder, it makes logical sense. But ... why answer to the name of a natural phenomenon as a name?"

Shifting his smiling visage to the slightly hunched form of Bruce Banner, watching as he nervously cleaning his glasses on his baggy untucked button-up shirt, Thor slightly raises one golden eyebrow. "Why would I not? I am the mighty God Thor, son of Odin, God of Thunder. I am the element and the element is I. I wield the lightning and thunder as I do my breath and voice. Referring to us as separate is ridiculous."

"That is ridiculous." snapped Captain Patriotism, standing with his arms crossed over his barrel chest and scowling across the room. "A man cannot be a force of nature. Neither can he be a 'god'. There is only one God, and he created everything."

"Dude," Clint drawled, perched on a countertop, leaning almost obnoxiously into Captain America's personal space while The Black Widow silently watched everyone in the room, "I didn't know I was signing up for a Sunday School."

"Nevermind that" Tony turned, blocking out the peanut gallery and peering up at Thor, the differences in height and the crick in his neck making Tony wish he had worn his pumps, he continued his questioning, "Arnt you also supposed to be the god of trees? Like, sacred groves and shit? Also strength, the protection of mankind and also hallowing and fertility? Are you those things too? And 'Hallowing'? What's up with that? How the hell do you 'hallow' something?"

Instead of being annoyed by Tony's stream of almost babbling, like 90% of all those subjected to it in Tony's experience, Thor threw his head back and laughed. Was almost too joyous a sound, full of mirth, almost a loud chuckling, or full-bellied guffaw. The kind of laugh that was the furthest thing from mean-spirited and almost made you want to join along. Tony had to try to control his quivering lips but did not restrain his confusion. Captain America scowled even more disapprovingly while Clint clapped his hands over his ears muttering about 'stupid implants' and 'loud bastards'. Bruce let loose a small baffled smile, almost helplessly, while Natasha merely blinked.

Taking a deep breath and looking down upon his audience, Thor reached out and planted his frankly enormous paws on both Tony and Bruce's shoulders, ignoring the flinches, and in Bruce's case, skittish jump, and beamed at them, "Long has it been since I last felt such joy. I thank you, my friends, Man-of-Iron, Tiny scholar. It has felt like a century since I last laughed."

"Tiny-?" Bruce spluttered while Tony snickered, "My name is Bruce Banner. I apologize for not introducing myself upfront, I suppose that was rude. Shut up Stark." Bruce scowled at Tony, whose snickers turned into giggles at Bruce's frankly cute glare. Thor, if possible, grinned even more, to the point that he seemed to blaze like a golden sun, to the point that Tony and Bruce could swear they could feel the heat from it, an infusing warmth of the Thunder God's regard wrapping around them.

"I could swear the myths said Thor was a redhead?" Tony wondered out loud while squinting, turning his head slightly to avoid being blinded by the bright glare he swears is there, and not that Thor's straight on stare was making him uncomfortable. "Mind turning down the wattage there, Sparky?"

Thor's rumbling chuckle tuned out most of Captain America's scathing rebuke, but it didn't distract them from his angry stalking forward and plying Thor's warm hands away, taking away the feeling of safety Tony just realized was there, and spinning him to be faced with the All-American hero reprimanding him about 'manners'. Focusing completely on Tony, it allowed Bruce to sidle out of the situation, and honestly, Tony doesn't blame him. He'd give anything not to be face to face with this.
Steve Rogers, his own walking talking childhood complex, who seemed to not even need to draw breath to list out what seemed to be a whole laundry list of Tony's failures, real or imagined, and character faults. It was honestly like watching a living embodiment of the Anti-Stark-Industries (ASI) and anti-Tony Stark social media feed.
Any other time his smirking face, when faced with critique, was 100% real, as Tony found owning up to his faults and accepting his mistakes in private and in public left others accusations as annoying and poignant as buzzing flies. But this was Steve Rogers. Captain America. The man Howard (Never Father. Never Dad) spent most of Tony's childhood searching for. The man Howard always measured his son up against and found wanting. When faced with the literal embodiment of what Howard wanted in a Son, seething in his face and laying out all his flaws - that trademark Stark Smirk definitely felt stapled on.

Honestly here, Tony felt he would be more of an internal mess if he didn't have a towering wall of alien, possibly godly, muscles radiating comforting warmth at his back.

The American Patriots Wetdream seemed to just warming up when the mechanical swoosh of an opening automatic door and the grumpy gloom of Shields Director Nick Fury entering the room seemed to shatter moment, almost like it had been intended.

Chapter Text

Tony isn't sure if this will be the first or last time he will want to shoot Nick Fury.

Oh sure, he's been annoyed with him before. Lot's of times.
Tony Stark, a precocious genius kid of Howard and Maria Stark, friends and investors in Aunt Peggy's little agency called 'Sheild'. Annoyance to babysitters, or as they like to call themselves 'agents', and pain-in-the-backside to a particular 'Uncle Nicky'. Did he really think over 2 decades and an eyepatch and he wouldn't remember him? How could he forget the face of the guy who 'rescued' him from his first kidnapping? Especially the almighty tantrum Howard threw afterward. Something about going against orders and that the Shield he was funding's purpose was not child-minding duty.
Tony had been kidnapped many times after that, but 'Uncle Nicky' never appeared again. Whatever Howard said about Tony or grumbled about 'expenses' - Howard did seem to at least buy himself some 'little soldiers.'

Tony wasn't bitter ... ok, he was a little bit. And petty. But he'd like to think he had matured enough to not want to shoot a man for doing his job. Even if the job was a spy for an agency that Tony had many questions about.

To be perfectly frank, Tony had never liked the look of Shield. And not just because it was Howard's own privately funded secret army of spies.

It was just ... they weren't even very good at their jobs. Can you say, 'Obie', anyone?
How can a whole privately funded agency of spies not be able to background check the business partner of their major funder? Not to mention leave him alone with their funders only son for decades? And not have one blip on their radar?
Also, who is now funding Shield? Because after his parent's death, which Shield was suspiciously quiet about, it definitely wasn't coming from him. He checked. Even in a grieving angry drunken stupor, Tony can trace accounts.
Tony is sure Shield is glad that he is not holding their bank book, what with The Mandarin debacle, stabbing Tony in the neck with a needle, and ... oh yeah, The Three Rings.

So Shield was failable. Not a good enough reason to shoot a guy in Tony's book. Hell, he's the Boy King of Fuck-ups. No matter what else Tony does, he tries not to be a hypocrite. Though he's sure Captain Rogers would scoff at that remark. Oh yeah, thanks Sheild for literally digging up and thawing out Tony's living nightmare.
Watching Spangles jut out his chin and argue with Nick Fury - watching his remaining eye twitch was almost worth it.
But no, bringing about the resurgence of Captain Bible wasn't the reason Tony wanted to shoot ol' Nicky.

It was that blue cube, humming suspiciously on the tabletop. And weapon plans. Lot's and lot's of weapon plans, involving that blue cube. Weapons of Mass Destruction level of weapon plans.
Not only that, but they had plans in the pipeline for Bruce - what with their Big Green Tupperware Cell stored in this very carrier.
Nope. No. That ain't going to fly.
Something about a sneaky secret spy agency with their mitts on WOMD and The Hulk? Makes Tony itchy.

... Or that could be the heat rolling off of Point Break and the angry sparks that seem to be going everywhere. Turns out, making Thor the god of thunder angry makes him into their own personal Tesla Coil. Or less cute Pikachu.

From what Tony could gather, Giggling Green that they apprehended was Thor's brother Loki. THE Loki.
Loki had apparently been missing, thought lost to some 'void' - only to turn up causing chaos on Midgard? Ok, that sounded just like the myths of some of Loki's exploits and nothing outstandingly out of character. Though, Thor's insistence that Loki was his brother was a bit odd. Something Tony was sure the Myths might have gotten wrong, hey, they got blondie wrong.

What was striking Tony as completely baffling was Fury's refusal to let Thor's brother go. Refusing a Norse God is one thing - and Tony isn't surprised Fury is ballsy enough to try it. What was the sticking point was that Fury thought they had the means to contain a God.
Granted, the first contact with the 'aliens claiming to be gods' only happened a few years ago, and even then they didn't stick around long. In that short time frame, Tony highly doubted that Shields R&D had managed to produce 'God Containers'. It would have even taken Tony a few more years than this to create one, in his humble opinion. Unless they knew information that he and JARVIS had not found yet - which he highly doubts.
Also, the idea of a sneaky secret spy agency with their mitts on WOMD and The Hulk and a literal God?

Oh, no way in hell.

Watching as Captain America started a whole spiel about what was right and what was wrong, and was done in America, basically giving the super spy himself the riot act would have been enough to make Tony stick around normally - the readings that JARVIS was giving him to his glasses was enough to make Tony look around trying to find Banner. Not that he thought he couldn't handle himself, he was a big boy - but these energy readings approximating from the cube and how volatile the argument was becoming? Grabbing the good doctor with anger management issues and sneaking off to go hunting for where they were hiding Giggles? A much better option.

Chapter Text

Did Tony mention that he wanted to shoot Nick Fury?
Did he also mention that the method of delivery would be with an Iron Man suits repulsor, straight to the one-eyed pirate's face?

"I don't think you should be mentioning murder plans out loud, Tony." Bruce mumbled from lips that seemed partially numb, face drained of colour and sweaty, eyes a light green sheen, "After a point-blank blast from one of your repulsors, he wouldn't have to worry about only having one eye, and more about not having a face."

"You don't give me enough credit, Brucie! My repulsors would take off more than a face at that range." Tony replied glibly, though the expression on his face spoke of anything but humour, muttering rhetorically to the air, "Seriously Nicky ... are you kidding me with this?"

The two genius stood pale in front of a large round, clear holding cell, that suspiciously resembled the 'Hulk Containment' cell plans - but instead of withholding The Hulk, it seemed to contain something else that was green.

"I don't know wither to be deeply concerned or strangely flattered that Sheild seems to think The Hulk is on par with an ancient Norse god." Bruce wheezed weakly, either the excitement or the struggle to remain calm making him sound faint.

"What the actual fuck?" Tony almost gripped his hair in frustration, "Seriously? Seriously?! Is Sheild actually a circus? No wait, I take that back. The art of Foolery is a complex and time respected art form. Clowns are smarter than this! What the fuck is Sheild playing at?! Not only do they create a holding cell, that they somehow got the specifications that would withhold Big Green-"

"Tony-"

"-But then they go recruit the guy, sorry, threaten him, to use his lovely big brain to work on the glowey Lego of mass fuckery, the one that they plan to use as a catalyst to create weapons and who knows what else. And then, THEN, take him in their big scary airship with that very specific jail cell installed in it - Just in case right?!" Tony tapped harshly on his sunglasses frame, switching to other windows projected by JARVIS, displaying all the prevalent info JARVIS was able to harvest from Sheild's servers - those firewalls were frankly embarrassing. Without missing a beat, JARVIS backed up all the retained information in multiple copies and in different safe servers, while displaying a list of vetted lawyers who were on the SI bankroll. What can Tony say? Betrayal never left a good taste in his mouth.
"That is bad enough, Brucie. But this?" he huffed, staring at the wan, crumpled raven-haired being staring back with feverish blue eyes, "This is a WHOLE 'nother level of stupid."

A soft muffled huff of amusement came from behind the cell wall, and the scientists watched as the tall raven drew themself up to their full height, and looked down their nose at them. "You seem perturbed, tiny mortals. Did you come to tremble in awe upon the visage of a mighty god and bemoan your own powerlessness?"

"Alright, for one, I don't tremble." Tony grumbled, placing his hands on his hips, "Two, the lights in here are atrocious. Even Adonis would look drawn out in this lighting. You? You look like Hell frozen over, and a stiff breeze could knock you ass over tea kettle."

"Tony!" Bruce barked, the green in his eyes briefly flashing, but Tony ignored Bruce's attempt at admonishment.

"You are Loki, the god of Chaos and Fire?" Tony continues, eyes never leaving Loki's, squinting at the queer mad gleam that made his eyes look almost glazed, and decided to take a gamble, "Right now you look like the God of Dehydration and lack of hair products."

The sneer on the beings face was almost impressive, if not completely ruined by their limping up to lean on the clear containment walls, as if unable to support their own weight. "So loud for such tiny creatures. Tell me, is it a part of the Midardian condition for their bark to be worse than their bite?" Loki bared his shockingly white, perfectly straight teeth in a smile that was more like a grimace, that seemed to pull his already sickly pale skin even tighter over prominent cheekbones.

"If your only human interaction before now has been Sheild? I'm not surprised by how you could draw that conclusion."

"Stark!"

Turning to watch Fury stalk into the room, followed closely by The Black Widow, the blond archer (seriously? An Archer?!) and a pack of nameless Sheild goons arched out behind His Leathery-ness and pointing suspicious gun-like weapons at them threateningly - followed by a still arguing Captain America.
"You do not have access to this room Stark!" Fury growled, if looks could kill, Tony would be sure the Super Spy wishes he could, "When I invited you onto this ship I did not also invite you into the servers!"

Tony just lifted an incredulous eyebrow. He was Tony Fucking Stark. How far had Fury crawled up his own ass to figure that Sheild's firewalls were impenetrable and able to keep out Tony? Multi-billionaire, leader of Stark industries, an international leader in tech and clean energy - who singlehandedly moves technology forwards 10 years every time he drip-feeds his inventions for public consumption?
Granted, it was JARVIS who hacked the mainframe and collated data - he was very proud of his digital son/butler/minder. It was a convoluted relationship, but if you couldn't understand it, then you just weren't on their level.

"Nothing to say in your defence Stark?" Captain Ass-Hat scoffed, face seemingly permanently scrunched into a scowl. Tony could feel the judgment from all the way over here. "This is no time to be fighting among ourselves. The American people are in danger."

Tony could only stare in baffled disbelief in Steve Rodgers' inability to recognise his own hypocrisy while Loki's grin only seemed to become more amused, watching the proceedings like it was his own personal play being preformed for his own entertainment.
The atmosphere seemed to only build until it was suddenly shattered by Thor's large figure standing in the entrance of the room, staring at the contained God, and only able to breathe.

"Brother."

Chapter Text

Night and Day. The appearance of these two 'deities' really seemed to be the epitome of those two forces in the confines of this containment cell, within a giant metal construct flying unseen in the skies.
The fact that Tony can even think these fanciful things and not be exaggerating almost makes him want to let loose a hysterical giggle. He's usually not one for fanciful thoughts, not since childhood, losing Ana and Jarvis and Howard attempting to stomp out such 'childish things'. But looking at these two aliens stare at each other across a room ... how can he not?

Thor, eyes that were once an angered grey of an approaching storm, then clearing to a joyful sky-blue ... now seem to deepen like the ocean's depths, almost navy-black, like evening approaching a deep moonless night.
How can such a cold colour seem so ... warm? Everything about this 'God of Thunder' seemed so warm and bright. The gold of his locks seemed to be even more lustrous somehow despite the rooms poor lighting.
The constant presence of Thor's sparks of energy seemed to draw within, lighting him up subtly from the inside, leaving wafts of what looked like a heat haze that seemed to steam from his body. Almost like Thor was nothing more than a mirage. Thor had already cut an impressive figure - now? His magnetism almost seemed to make him seem towering, his presence almost stifling, filling the confines of the cell.
Tony barely managed to stop his knees from shaking by locking them in place.

Loki on the other hand? Despite their previous signs of weakness they managed to draw themselves up from the glass, facing the visage of a mini sun head-on.
If Thor was the Sun? Loki was the Moon.
Their pale taunt skin seemed to lightly gleam, almost a pearlescence, making their long oily unkept hair seem like creeping tendrils of the night - a darkness so deep that it seemed to consume any light that came near. The air almost seemed to shimmer faintly, like small snowflakes of frost.
Where Thor was Heat, Loki was a cool, flickering thing, but the more Thor's energy seemed to blaze, instead of melting, Loki's essence seemed to grow stronger. It seemed in spite of their worn-down condition Loki seemed to quietly gleam, growing from a waxing crescent slowly to a waxing gibbous. The glittering of ice crystals that seemed to hang in the air around Loki formed a soft halo of white haze.
The sight was almost arresting, but those eyes ... a defiant wavering green aurora borealis that seemed to almost be smothered by a stubborn sickly blue.

Tony's head felt like it was almost on a swivel in trying to take everything in, almost feeling like an idiot staring up at the air around them - but these readings ... Tony was almost salivating on all this new data. He felt like he needed to capture all he could for JARVIS to analyse. Such a phenomenon as the, dare he think it, deities aurors, that almost reached through the air towards each other. What was this? The way both beings stared intently and the energy reading JARVIS was receiving that originated from each, and reaching to each other - was this a form of communication? A conversation happening on another plane that Tony had no access to, as of yet? Why did they seem to dance around each other? Reflect each other, but not quite touch? What would happen if they did? Tony could hardly breathe through the anticipation.

"The prisoner is the cause of disruption in Shield, causing an explosion in their attack, causing the death of many agents and the cause of the disappearance of many others." The Black Widow's flat scathing tone was almost like a slap to Tony's face. Tony managed to contain the flinch, but not the gasp of breath and small stuttering involuntary step back, which may have turned into a stumble with his watery knees leaving him to humiliatingly landing on his ass - if Bruce had not stepped forward and laid a solid supporting hand on his back.
Turning to thank the quiet doctor, Tony almost froze upon seeing Bruce's almost completely glowing green eyes. The fact that Bruce was not looking at him or anyone in particular, but eyes travelling the room as if following the energy patterns, reassured Tony like nothing else.
Maybe it was unfair, but Tony was used to feeling alone even in a packed room - the moniker of 'genius' was a very alienating thing. Not that he thought Brucie wasn't intelligent - he knows even Bruce bore that same moniker earlier in life before the experiment and birth of 'The Hulk'. That the same people who labelled Bruce a genius quickly turned to calling him a 'mad scientist' and a 'monster'. People were so fickle and always ready to disparage and cry demon. It wasn't any surprise that Tony developed a cynical view of the world. To be labelled a 'genius' was to be isolated. To find someone else who shares his experience? Rare. Forgive him for not being used to having someone else in his metaphorical corner.

The fact that only Bruce and himself seem to be reacting the energy signatures? Didn't escape him even in all of his excitement. Glancing sideways at the Sheild groupies Tony could see no unusual reactions, no wandering eyes or shaking hands gripping the frankly offensive clunky junk they called 'guns'. Neither did the arguing scowling forms of Fury, blondy and redhead or Captain Oblivious. It was by glancing around his sunglass frames that Tony realised that maybe they weren't just being stoic, but could not actually see them - as he realised, with his naked eye, Tony could not see the dancing lights.
It seemed, only through JARVIS' superior sensors that he could spot them at all. Instead of feeling jealousy or anything of the kind, he was smugly proud.
He, Tony, had created Just A Rather Very Intelligent System that could perceive God Waves (He is totally copyrighting that phrase) that is unperceivable to the naked human eye. Even Captain America can't do that. Suck it, Howard!
The fact that Bruce Banner seemed to be able to see them with what looked like the help of his internal flatmate Green Machine? Just fascinates him and is reminded again that he isn't the only genius in the room. Way to go Brucie.

Though, his working theory that vanilla humans are not able to perceive God Waves (it's becoming a thing and you can't fight him) is kind of on shaky ground. For one, Steve Rogers isn't a vanilla human, he's an experiment playing soldier if anything else, and he doesn't seem to be aware. Also, Tony may not be able to see it with his naked eye ... but he can feel it.
Heat, almost oppressive waves of it washed over his skin, leaving his upper lip and forehead beading with sweat, hair sticking up in cowlicks in the moisture, wrapping around his limbs, almost making his skin prickle.
Maybe because they were closest to the Tuppawear Cage and further from Thor, a light cooling mist seemed to brush Tony's back, glance over his neck and feel like a teasing whisper over his ears, leaving his already sensitised skin shivering and dewing sweat to feel cold.
To be stuck between these two forces of nature left Tony feeling torn between impulses he didn't understand and almost delirious.

The archer glanced over in his direction, then smirked at his almost dishevelled appearance. Prick. Why did he seem to not be affected? Was it his 'spy training'? Did spies go through some sort of temperature conditioning to survive any climate? How can Fury and The Widow wear almost completely leather in this heat? Unless it wasn't pure leather? And what about Captain Onesy? How are they seemingly not bothered by it at all?

"Hmm," Loki's lilting voice seem to almost purr, "Not only do they bark like a collared pup, but they do also whine like one too. How ever do you manage to be saddled with these tiny beasts, Brother Dear?"

The number of scandalised reactions to Loki's remark almost seemed excessive, though Tony supposes Loki did just in a roundabout way refer to the redhead as a bitch - and she seemed to have gotten it too by the ugly sneer on her face and gun that she pulled from ... somewhere on that skin-tight suit.
Thor merely smirked in response, energy positively dancing.
Are they ... flirting right now?

"Sir," JARVIS was almost a welcome distraction to the chaos that seemed to be unfolding, Tony gave a small nod to let him know he had his attention, "I have continued to collate while taking readings. The full report will be available when you have spare time. What I feel must be brought to your attention, Sir, are these." JARVIS brought window after window of data for Tony's rapid perusal. Tony was glad he developed a skill for speed reading complicated data sheets and still manage to retain all the information in times like these.
Among the multiple energy readings that Tony is hoping he'll be able to dive in and investigate further later (he loves pulling things apart to see how they work), its another energy reading, one that is seemingly minuscule compared to everything else that it's almost missable, but familiar in a way that concerned JARVIS, and rightly concerned Tony. In among the energy that is beautiful like swirls of moonlight and twinkles of ice, is a sickly strike of blue, almost like a glacier crack. A blue that gives off a completely different resonance than the surrounding energy, almost like it does not belong. A blue that Tony distinctly remembers ... from the blue cube.

Searching back in the logs, JARVIS can pinpoint the exact second that Tony and Bruce managed to get out of range of the cubes radiation in the carriers hallways and confirm that no cube readings have reached this cell in the time that they have spent here.
Glancing up at Loki and their feverish blue eyes, a blue that Tony is starting to believe should not be there - as if they can feel Tony's stare, Loki looks down upon him, can feel the cold mist swirl around him and Bruce who couldn't contain a small shiver.
With a small smirk, Loki lightly flicked his long fingers of his left hand, directing his misty energy like two transparent flickering snakes at Tony and Bruce, who did not even have a chance to try and guard when a surge of warmth rose through them like a golden flash and dissipated the serpents upon impact.
Tony and Bruce were left blinking the golden light out of their retinas while Loki tutted, "Now, Now Brother. Are we not far into adulthood and left adolescence behind? You still have not learnt how to share."

"What is he talking about?" Captain America demanded, only to be pulled up short by Thor's rumbling chuckle.

"I will happily share with my Dear Brother, for am I not a doting sibling?" Steve Rogers looked like all the obvious affection was making him nauseous, but as he had since he entered the room, Thor ignored him, only having eyes for Loki. "I would share with my Brother. But I fear," Thor rumbled, eyes lightening to a stormy grey, "That not only They reside here."

Chapter Text

That slick flash of blue at Thor's words was enough warning for Tony - moving to stand in position while JARVIS who was controlling the suit in stealth mode quickly moved forward to envelop him. He knew accepting an invite to Shield's top-secret-air carrier-that-Tony-didn't-know-about-or-dug-up-plans-for-honest was a bad idea. Seriously. Shield is silent and absent from his life for decades, dicks him around, then suddenly they wanted to work together? It was like getting a coffee date invite from an abusive ex.

Happy maybe his physical bodyguard at SI events and meetings - but JARVIS covered everything else.
If Tony thought Pepper, Rhodey and Happy were overbearing, JARVIS was overprotective. He had literally argued with Tony over safety protocols and writing his own sub-routines for eventualities for his creator's protection. Probably didn't help that Tony was terribly fond and proud of when JARVIS thought and acted for himself and no longer needed Tony to write guideline codes for him anymore, and didn't argue that hard against him.
Right now, Tony is super grateful that he didn't. He would be in even deeper shit if he had left his honey at home while gallivanting off to battle - if JARVIS did not man the suit after Shield insisted that Tony place his suit in a highly locked bay while on the ship. The suit has refined high powered lasers and JARVIS, the hacking god. Shield had no hope in hell on keeping his high-tech bodyguard away.

Wither it was the sudden movement, the sound of assembling suit mechanisms, or just how shiny it was, it drew Loki's eye. The muted surprise and fascination was almost flattering if he didn't also look deranged and ready to tear him apart.
Evidently, the Grumpy Bunch seemed to be of the same opinion, with the all the guns in the room suddenly pointing in his direction, Captian Underpants brandishing his shield, and Trigger Happy actually firing an arrow, which the suits lasers quickly vaporised in mid-air.

"Hey! What's the big idea? I thought we were supposed to be a Team here," Tony growled, not moving from his position partially in front of Banner, "We are in closed quarters, and you decide to shoot an arrow? Ever heard of ricochet?" Tony takes a breath. "Firing off prematurely like that. If you needed a doctor to consult about your issue, you could have just asked nicely."

"Is sex all you can really think about Stark?" Steve Rogers exclaimed (heh, roger), his misbegotten vibranium shield gleaming. The archer restrung another arrow and aimed it unerringly straight at Tony's faceplate while Fury stormed forward a few steps, "What the hell do you think your doing, Stark? Disengage! At once!" If the situation wasn't so dire Tony would give in to the impulse to roll his eyes so hard he might have pulled something, of course, Fury really was that far up his own ass that he thought he had any control over this situation.

Ignoring the drama that seemed to unfold before him, Thor reached out his arm, hand outstretched.
That was a decidedly odd pose. Was he waiting for something? Wait ... where was Thunder Thighs' hammer?

"Sir," JARVIS flashed upon his HUD showing the rapid approach of a high-speed object through the ship's interior, crashing through reinforced steel like it was plywood, "The Tesseract appears to be approaching also." Well, that can't be good. The sound of crashes and metal rending echoing through the ship wasn't comforting either.
Crashing through the wall like a small mighty silver meteor, Mjölnir smacked into Thor's outstretched palm like there was no other place for it to be, crackling like an electric storm. What Tony couldn't get over though, was the Tesseract dangling cradled in the hammers leather wrist strap. How did ..?

Alarms suddenly blaring, red lights flashing and activated water systems were honestly, in Tony's opinion, a little late as Thor held out Mjölnir, and in doing so dangling the cursed blue cube, as if it were bait. Oh, and didn't Loki bite.

The sickening blue in their irises flared, and with no trouble at all Loki stepped forward, gliding through the containment cell like it was an illusion, and proving Tony's theory that Fury and Sheild were absolute imbeciles to think that Tupperware Capsule could contain them.

Sheild idiots were scrambling to-and-fro, Fury and The Black Widow snapping orders as the ship's deck started to tremble like an earthquake, knocking the archer and Captain Puerto Rico in their rush. Tony was conflicted between facing off between two galactic bros who were in a supercharged face-off or grabbing Banner and getting the hell out of dodge.
What surprised him was that he wasn't given much of a choice in either option.

Thor opened his mouth, but whatever he said was distorted by how loud he bellowed, sounding almost like a thunder crash, golden streaks of lighting snapping out and snaring Loki like chains. Eyes a burning gold, Thor brandished his hammer up high, the heat haze turning into a golden blaze. Tony had just enough time to grab onto Bruce at the same time as Bruce had reached out to him, when that internal warmth blared again but more vicious, like a whole-body hot flash. All that Tony could do was scrunch his eyes shut against the golden blinding light, grip onto the good doctor and listen to JARVIS' almost panicked voice calling.

Chapter Text

Breathing exercises are such a pain, but if Tony wanted to be able to breath and possibly calm his racing weak heart so it dosnt lead into another heart attack? Breathing it is. That it also helps to manage his raging panic is left unsaid.
Having JARVIS talk him through the exercise and having Bruce breath with him and to hold as a solid grounding presence? Big plus.

As JARVIS knew it would, between leading him through the practice of getting his stupid lungs to work despite their squished conditions (damn arc reactor takes up way too much space in his chest cavity, Tony needs to work on that), JARVIS describes their surroundings, both visual and deeper analysis through his sensors - and without even opening his smarting eyes just yet, Tony knows ... they aren't in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Where exactly here is, is a mystery.
The GPS is picking up nothing. No satellite that JARVIS has access to can find them. Which is saying something. That is a lot of satellites. (Read: all of them.) Even his hard working JOCASTA. She will not be pleased about this, and will probably give him a ear full if he gets out of this alive.
Even JARVIS' verbal descriptions are unhelpful - which has to be a first. JARVIS enjoys being verbose. But there are only so many ways you can describe a foggy electrified field, with no land marks, surrounded by what could be described as solid walls of clouds. Tony may have actually feared they were in the sky if JARVIS did not describe the shadowy solid base that they stood on.
The air was not thin enough to indicate high attitudes, though impressively pure. Nor was the temperature excessively hot or cold, or humid as being in the clouds would suggest.
The fact that the formentioned surrounding clouds did not come back with any data even resembling the formation of one, and the shadowy earth was decidedly not 'earth' of any kind in their database, distracted Tony enough from his impending panic attack and switch to his analytical mindframe.

Slowly opening and blinking fog from his eyes (He wasn't crying, dammit. You're crying!) Tony first visually checked that Brucie was in one piece, internally impressed by the good doctor's self control. If he turned into a big green smashing machine every time he got upset, his lawyers would have to work twice as hard and his reparations fund would have to triple.
Getting a quiet affirmation that Bruce was fine, Tony finally looked around the cloudy field, just as JARVIS had described, hoping they hadn't been dumped somewhere without their godly kidnapper, as getting out of here without him would be difficult and take up precious time. He did have a company to run, you know.

Spotting the two freakishly tall aliens (what do they feed them?) facing off further afield, Tony realised why it had been so quiet, apart from the rolling thunder. Instead of screaming at each other or grappling, they stood silent and still - leading Tony to realise why the Viking's had so many stone and wood effigies in their likenesses.
It seemed that the complicated dance of swirls and flicks of their opposing energies was some kind of communication, combined with facial expressions involving arched and furrowed eyebrows and pouched lips. A mix of energy and non-verbal that was at the same time interesting and vexing. There was very few languages between Tony and JARVIS that they did not have access to. This kind of communication required the kind of nuance that many would think Tony uncapable of.
Tony couldn't hope to decifer much from the conversation - but the fact that Loki was still bound in golden lighting chains at least said something of the situation.

"Sir." JARVIS' flashing indicator pointed out the location of the Tesseract, kept a few feet away, pinned under Mjölnir's bulk, still wrapped in its wrist strap. It appears it wasn't just left and forgotten there, as JARVIS' sensors were able to decifer, Mjölnir appeared to have a sort of nullifying effect.
The readings coming off the hammer were odd. The fact that a hammer also had a pulsing energy cloud enveloping it like its own metaphysical nucleus ... was the hammer not just a hammer? Don't tell him Mjölnir was a god too?
Being the legendary 'hammer of Thor' Tony would have expected if it had any energy readings that it would be an extension of the thunder god's own. Transference of a metaphysical nature, or some sort of possession or imbuing. But if anything, Mjölnir was even more alien. Instead of heat haze or charged electricity, Mjölnir seemed to excude a type of burning gas - like looking at a star through a telescope.
The fact that a mythical burning cloud of hydrogen was smothering the blue cubes radiation ... Tony has a feeling this won't be the only science defying thing that will try to trip him up today.

But still ... good. If the mythical hammer had the Blue Menace under wraps, then maybe the situation might not be completely hopeless.

"Tony." Bruce stepped up to his shoulder, the green muted but still present in his eyes as he scanned the area. "I hate to sound redundant ... but I think we were taken along for the ride."

Tony couldn't help snorting, "Yes. Kidnapped, or better yet abducted! Since we are dealing with aliens. Or maybe even Kamikakushi - can't say its been my daily experience to be spirited away by gods."

"Yes," Bruce's tone was almost sardonic, "... but why?"

"Brucie, I'm surprised at you. Surely you know that you are quite the catch?" Tony grinned, giving Banner's almost helpless smile a side-eye and an ostentatious wink, "Any guy or gal or galactic being would be lucky to have you."

"As flattering as that is Tony," Bruce huffed, "I don't think now is the time for flirting."

"Any time is a good time for flirting," Tony argued, indicating with a nod of his head to the still silent stone-like forms of Norse mythology, "If Thunder Thighs and Loki-Doki have time for it in between all of this mess, then who doesn't?"

"I doubt that was actually flirting," Bruce argued, pushing his slipping glasses back up his nasal bridge, "Thor and Loki have on multiple occasions referred to each other as siblings."

"Yes, but if we are dealing with polytheistic pantheon, I distinctly remember incest not being an issue?" Tony smirked.

"That's the Greeks." Bruce refuted.

"And the Romans. And the Celts. The Egyptians, Armenians, Baltic, Slavic - all the way back to the Proto-Indo-Europeans." Tony retracted the helmet so he could look Bruce in the eye, "And conversely, the Norse."

"... You forgot Hindu."

Tony had to give Brucie a point for that one.

"Wherever did you find these morsels Brother?" Loki's purred distracted the two from their intellectual debate, looking back to the two aliens who were still partially in a stand-off but seemed to be curious about their tag-alongs.

"You may not devour them, Brother. Not while they are mine." Thor grumbled, ignoring the two mortals muted startlement at his claim of ownership, "Not until we have defined what illness greaves you so."

Chapter Text

"Ok, yeah no. No eating of the entirely unpalatable mortals." Tony yelped, holding his hand up like he was in class, Bruce bemusedly copying his motion, "I here since now hold a vote, and seeing as there are more of us, the movement stands."

"More of us?" Bruce echoed.

Tony looked down over his sunglass frames at Banner almost disapprovingly, "Bruce. JARVIS is people too."

"Of course," Bruce blanched, ducking his head down and hunching his shoulders, but spoke clearly as he apologised "I'm sorry JARVIS. I did not think."

"All is forgiven, Dr Banner." JARVIS's prim tone came over the suits exterior speakers.

"See? Motion carried!" Tony declared, looking back at the two staring gods almost daringly.

"Man-of-Iron," Thor spoke with a scrunched quizzical brow, "I was unaware thou had such standing on Midgard to hold court?"

"Well, I-" Tony mumbled if he wasn't Tony Stark you might even call him bashful - when JARVIS interrupted.

"Sir, if I may? The pilot of Iron Man, Dr Tony Edwin Stark, owner and CEO of Stark Industries - an international leader in development, industry, and production of 80% of Earth's technologies - tactical, protective and pharmaceutical - and has the ear and confidence of many world leaders all over the globe. If the whole of our planet were to have a standing monarch? I believe Sir would be it."

Tony's cheeks felt like they were burning, thank god for his stylised facial hair. "Come on J-"

"No, that makes sense." Bruce nodded, face thoughtful, "If you were to call an international conference at any time ... not many countries would dare not attend."

Thor, if possible, paled slightly, and his energy seemed to squirm and wiggle.

"Again, Brother?" Loki gave Thor the amused accusatory side-eye, "One would think, in these many millennia, that the 'mighty Thor' would perchance have known better by now. How many foreign dignitaries must you abduct before you learn?" they tutted condescendingly at Thor's ruby red face, "And not only abduct from a protectorate!" they gasped dramatically, "But made into a vassal? For shame Thor," Loki purred, "What would Father say?"

"Hold on, please. What do you mean by 'vassal'?" Bruce inquired politely.

Loki gave another gasp and turned to Thor, whose hair was positively sparking, "Made unwittingly? Brother, I am astounded."

"Silence, Loki."

"Nay, I shan't," Loki argued, drawing themselves up as much as they possibly could while still bound, "Upon evidence that my Brother can not be trusted with these mortals of Midgard, who unconsentionally were bound, I have no choice but take over claimant."

"Nay," Thor boomed, facing Loki head-on, stormy eyes crackling, "Never. Especially not while you are yourself comprised."

"Surely," Loki purred, the blue in their eyes glinting like steel, "I know not of what you speak."

"Tis clear as day," Thor's voice echoed around the electrified field, "Thine actions do not reflect upon thine character. Loki, the God of Trickery, Silver-Tongue, the bane of many who would conspire against Asgard and it's King, would never call ownership upon such a bald-faced scheme. Such a damp squib," Thor's handsome face truly was never meant to pull such a sneer, "is unbecoming of you, Dear Brother."

Loki remained silent, steely eyes seemly entranced upon Thor, while Tony mouthed 'damp squib' to himself in bemusement.

"Nay," Thor continued, "The Loki I know would never hatch such a perfunctory, seemingly aimless attack. My Brother is conniving, and his designs are articulately planned. This farce, this botched attempt," Thor breathed in Loki's face, "Speaks not of my Brother's spirit."

"You know nothing of my spirit Thor, Son of Odin!" Loki spat, straining against their binds.

"Nay, this before me is not Loki. Not Loki. Brother. Advisor. Father. Mother. Husband. Lover ... Friend." Thor rumbles, stepping back from Loki's snarling form. "This speaks of another holding thine reigns."

"Oh, FINALLY," Tony gasps, trembling under the pressure that the aliens seemed to exude without realising, "Are we finally getting to the elephant in the room and dealing with that ugly blue cube?!"

"Tony!"

"What? It is. Not only is that shade of blue hideous - it clashes with everything. But the radiation coming from it? It's perfectly insidious." Tony pouted.

"Man-of-Iron? Of what do you speak?" Thor glanced over his shoulder with a raised brow.

"... You can't be serious? The Evil Lego Of Mass Fuckery? Buzzing Block That Should Not Buzz? ... The Tesseract?" Tony was almost exasperated at Thor's expression of non-compute. "How can you not know what that is?" Tony pointed to where Mjölnir still had said blue glowey cube pinned down into submission, "Why did you snatch it, dangle it like bait in front of Bag Of Cats, and bring it along then? Just as a strap accessory for Mjölnir?"

"Mjölnir insisted that she bring it," Thor narrowed his eyes thoughtfully at the Tesseract, "I do not question her wants."

"Sentient hammer. Of course," Tony murmured ruffling his sweaty hair into even more disarray.

"Now that I look, Man-of-Iron, I see of what you speak." Thor considered the cube that futilely tried to struggle but was completely overpowered by the hammer's might. "A cube that evokes an insidious miasma, and as you insinuate, and I concur, a power that is not unlike the illness that seems to have overtaken my Brother's mind."

Thor's stomping up to the cube spurred Tony into action. "Hey! Whoa whoa whoa, big guy! Let's not remove the only thing, so far, that seems able to subdue a mind-controlling cube. Mjölnir seems to know what she's doing."

Thor's perplexed stare at Tony was distracted to smirking at Mjölnir who had started to make a purring, vibrating sound, in fond exasperation - like the hammer had just done a cute thing, like a kitten.

"Worry not, Tony, son of Stark. For nothing can withstand the Might of Thor!" Thor reaches down and grasps Mjölnir's handle, but instead of lifting the hammer to swing it down, channelled a stream of Lighting energy into the hammer, who then seemed to convert that energy into something that looked like a supernova, and pounded it into the Tesseract.

Chapter Text

Being constantly blinded by 'God Waves' (see? It's a thing) was probably not good for human retina. What was also no good was being blasted backwards by, literally, the energy of an exploding star.
Blinded, all Tony could do was yell at JARVIS to deactivate audio - feeling like all the concussive noise would finally make him deaf. But even switching audio feed did absolutely nothing.
Screams. Terrifying, haunting screams. And he didn't mean Loki, who was screaming like they were being tortured.
No, the other screams.
Many at once. Some screeching in agony, others deep infuriated roars of rage. Still others indescribable. Like... the Universe ... screaming.

Tony hoped this didn't mean Mjölnir had exploded, that her screams had joined the cacophony. If a bad-ass sentient hammer could scream.
He didn't even get time to wine and dine her before she let him explore her. And by that he means, ask a sentient hammer for permission to investigate her and possibly ask her questions. Who knew? Maybe he and JARVIS could have engineered a way to communicate.
She'd have been so worth it though.

After what felt like eons, the screaming trailed off. Tony was afraid this meant his ear drums had burst, but his AI's dulcet tones dryly informing Tony that he was being dramatic was never a sweeter sound.
Finishing the body scan to ensure that Tony was uninjured, JARVIS proceeded to scan the suit for damages, finding it functional, if the paint job a bit scratched, then locate Bruce and evaluate his survival. Upon seeing that Dr Banner appeared to have scald wounds, but were steaming and surrounded by green, skin slowly knitting together.
Wounds deemed superficial and Dr Banner lucid, JARVIS scanned the surroundings for threats - not ruling out any potential extraterrestrials who have a habit for abduction and explosions.

According to JARVIS' report;
- Thor, unharmed, and still at detonation sight. Seems quite smugly please with himself and cooing praises to Mjölnir, who is also unharmed.
-The Tesseract, 98% positive of destruction. Radiation readings - non-existent. Nothing left of the target except a small peice of shrapnel, in the form of a blue stone. Shadowy platform of the field undamaged, no scorch marks.
- Loki ... something interfering with scanners ... scan inconclusive. Visual estimate ... Damaged. But alive.

Picking himself up from the ground Tony looked around for Loki, hoping for his own estimate.

Loki appeared to have bared the brunt of the explosion, though weaves of green fire seemed to be healing them exponentially. Seeing Loki laid out on their back, the damage was clearly visible - and Tony didn't mean the explosion.
Compared to Thor, who seemed flush with life, Loki looked like a gaunt, almost emanciated breathing corpse - and Tony highly dobted that was normal. With how ill fitting Loki's leathers were, as if tailored for a healthier being, spoke of very worrying things.

Standing, and checking that Bruce was also in a state to stand, Tony walked his suit over to the Tesseract fragment, cataloguing everything the scanners could pick up, before bending down and reaching out -

"I would advise against doing that, Anthony Stark."

The fragment was suddenly surrounded by tell tale green fire, that wisked it up and out of Tony's reach and over to hover over Loki's outstretched long fingered hand.

How they had the strength to stand, he had no idea, and boy, wasn't he glad to see Loki's irises a glimmering green with no hint of blue - but he won't excuse name calling.

"Tony. Please. No-one calls me Anthony." Tony scoffed the name in disgust.

Loki's laughter was surprisingly full and infectious.

Chapter Text

"Thor," Loki cried when they caught their breath, smirking at the other alien who loosely grasped his hammer, "You colossal oaf. I never know if it is favouritism of the Norns, serendipity, or that you do actually have some brains somewhere that have not been brained to death, you battle loving bosthoon. I truly feared that thine would bring us all to ruin if you had not brought the mortals along."

"Brother." Thor's sky-blue eyes became teary, looking at Loki like has was seeing a loved one rise from the dead, and not being cussed out by an irritable sibling.

"Truly, how you consistently manage to pull off these capers wherein you need not lift a finger, and others would lead you to the right conclusion. All you had to do was bumble along and do what you do best, you neolithic barbarian. With nay a hair pulled from your rouge chin," Loki huffed, cocking a saucy hip, "To quote the Christians, as I am loath to do - Brother, you have the luck of the Devil."

"Loki!" Thor boomed in joy, dropping his hammer and rushing to embrace the other in a bear hug, arms wide - which Loki neatly dodged by disappearing in a green flash and reappearing further out of reach, "Norns be praised! I have missed you!"

Watching Thor's attempts to joyfully tackle and Loki successfully fending him off, was like watching a Golden Retriever trying to play with an irritable Black Cat.
A Black Cat who continued to dish out even more scathing epithets; boor, lout, clodhopper, churl, hobbledehoy, lummox, dolt, pillock - even wondering into other regions of language with words like schlemiel and mompara. Tony's favourite so far was 'boob'.

Thor, on the other hand, didn't seem concerned about Loki's defaming of his character. Instead, he bounded after Loki's after-images cheering out continuous renditions of "Loki!" and "Brother!" It was clear to see, out of the two, who benefited from what counted for Asgardian education.

Tony retreated back to Bruce's side, who was looking over his remaining scrapes, with a muted amused and bemused eye on the frolicking gods. "Alright there, Brucie?"

"I am uncomfortable to be feeling grateful for being, what is essentially a by-product of gamma radiation experimentation," Bruce replied wryly, "But the healing factor is something I am indeed being increasingly grateful for."

"Brucie, as much as I enjoy your dry humour, you really do need to get that self-deprecation under check." Tony grinned sardonically at Bruce's stare, "I know, I know, I am one to talk. But it's amazing what your willing to face when your AI's all gang up on you and insist on attending therapy. If I didn't know that my AI had already hunted down the best in the trade and written up confidentiality contracts so strict that generations after would still feel the effects ... Well." Tony huffed while JARVIS smugly briefly flashed the Iron Man's lighted decals. "I'm sure JARVIS would be happy to track down a therapist you could be happy with if you were amiable."

"That ... is incredibly generous," Bruce mumbled, fiddling with his glasses as a distraction, "But Tony ... you have to know not everyone is as ... well landed as you. I couldn't possibly afford-"

"Well landed. Ouch, Brucie." Tony mock rubbed his chest plate to ease his wounded little black heart, "Though I imagine if I had used dear daddies fortune to pay for a 'head shrink' he would roll in his grave even more than I'm sure he already does. Instead, I put all of Howard's money into charities and helping to build healthy and safe communities in third world countries," Tony retracted the helmet to grin sharply at Banner, "As hard as it might be to believe, Howard Stark ran a Stark Industries the size of a current small R&D side-branch. I come by my fortune honestly. Well, as honestly as the cut-throat business world would allow."

"I-I'm sorry," Bruce ducked his head once more and hunched his shoulders as if expecting a physical strike, "I didn't mean to-"

"Easy Bruce," Tony soothed, softening his tone and breathing deeply, "No offence taken. Though, I might be ruthless enough to use your 'slight' as a bargaining chip to get you to see the help that you need. Fair warning." Tony grinned at Banner who peeked up through his eyelashes, then huffed quietly to himself and turned to give a small smile helplessly at the business mogul.

"You drive a hard bargain, Tony."

"Anything for my Science-Bro," Tony hummed, watching the two gods as one continued to try to reconcile while the other berated them, ignoring Bruce's blush at Tony's declaration of brotherhood. "Think they'll get tired of their game of cat and mouse?"

"If I were a betting man," Bruce mumbled, rubbing his hands together unconsciously in a sign of nerves, "I would bet Loki would bop Thor on the nose with a cat's claw or with a rolled-up newspaper hard enough to drive his head into the dirt."

"Ah, you also see the resemblance?" Tony chuckled, "Thor does a pretty decent rendition of a Golden Retriever or a Siberian Husky. He's certainly loud enough."

Loki paused, and turned toward the two human's with a fiendish smirk, dodging another of Thor's ineffectual dives without needing to look, "Tis a fools wager. Although, I am gratified. Tis not only I who would liken the Golden Buffoon to a mangy cur."

"I think you are hard of hearing Brother," Thor huffed as he picked himself up, "As I distinctly recall one referring to thy as a grimalkin."

Instead of being insulted as expected of such a prickly personality, Loki chuckled in delight, a raspy unpracticed thing, like it had been a long time since they'd had a chance at producing joyful sounds.

Chapter Text

"Sorry to break up the party here," Tony spoke, holding his hands out, "But would now be a good time to ask ... 'What the Fuck?'"

"What I think Tony means to say," Bruce glared at an unrepentant Tony, and facing a grinning Loki "Is ... What is the situation here?"

"Care to elaborate?" Loki purred, looking to be very much enjoying themselves.

"Well," Bruce stopped fiddling with his glasses, popped them in his shirt breast pocket, and drew himself up, warm brown eyes focused, "Before the Tesseract was seemingly destroyed, it seemed to have a mild effect on the brainwaves of those subjected to it for prolonged periods, and according to Thor, a way of controlling your mind. Where you possessed? How can the Tesseract possess minds? What was the Tesseract? How long were you subjected to its presence for it to have such an effect? Where did this occur?"

Bruce interrogated, his doctorly concern slipping out while gazing at Loki's gaunt appearance. "Thor mentioned that they had thought you were lost to some 'void'. What is this 'void'? How did you end up there? How long were you there? From visual evidence ... it does not look like you were alone wherever it was."

Loki's smile slowly slipped, unerring green eyes focused on Bruce as he visually scanned Loki's appearance, Thor turned to Loki worriedly. "Comparing to other historical and medical sources ... this kind of emaciation ... is not only indicative of starvation. With how sturdy your bones and how strong your muscles appear to be, but how worn your joints are, enough to give you trouble ... speaks of hard labour, continuous movement. Your skin is dull, dark under your eyes, which appear sunken, skin in places unnaturally puckered, indicative of dehydration. The scars on your skin," Loki minutely flinched, "Looks raw, irritated. I am afraid you may have infections. Speaks of mistreatment. Whoever treated those injuries did not tend to you properly. Whoever they are should have their nursing licence revoked!"

"Breath Brucie," Tony murmured, watching the green in his irises flutter, depending on JARVIS to record all of Dr Banner's observations. Seeing Loki's discomfiture with this line of questioning, Tony interjected.

"Where is the Tesseract fragment that you ... disappeared with that green fire that you seem to be able to manipulate at will?"

"My seiðr?" Loki questioned, thoroughly willing to change the topic, "I merely safely stored it in one of my pocket dimensions for safekeeping."

"Ok," Tony blinked slowly, "Yeah no. You're going to have to walk me through this Beltane. What's say-der? And please don't tell me you just casually mentioned pocket dimensions as if they were party favours."

Loki blinked back at Tony, almost as if he was speaking gibberish. As did Thor, who leaned forward to peer at Tony like he was the issue here. "Did mention of my Brother's skills not translate? I would have thought thine would know all about seiðr, Man-of Iron? Being a scholar and creator of life that you are."

"Yep. I have no idea what the hell you're talking about. I've not seen any mention of this 'say-der' anywhere." Tony glanced at Bruce, who while taking calming breaths, met his curious gaze and shook his head, "Appears that Brucie doesn't either. And, hashtag humblebrag, as the relative tops in our fields - if we haven't heard about it?" Tony left the question open with a demonstrative shrug and shake of his head.

"But how can this be? The disembodied voice is a living demonstration of your skill in seiðr, is it not?" Thor seemed disoriented, pointing at the glowing arc reactor in the Iron Man suit.

"JARVIS?" Tony defended, unconsciously bring up a hand to shield the reactor, "He isn't say-der, he's artificial intelligence, created with science."

Thor blinked like he had dust in his blond lashes, "Tis that not what we spoke?"

"Thor, enough. It appears there is a case of translative error. We won't get any further in this point of conversation until I can take a look at it." Loki sighed, looking even more exhausted than his panda eyes already did, "Suffice it to say, the 'shard' will remain in my safekeeping and will be much safer there if thine will deign to believe me."

Despite not knowing much of Loki, besides Norse myths which didn't paint them in the most flattering light, and the first meeting in a battle as enemies, Tony realised that he did. As much as Tony could trust anyone that wasn't his bots, that is.

"Furthermore, despite my wishes, I feel that I will not have the energy to answer your previous questions to the fullest. As it appears, without 'the Tesseract' energy pulling my strings, I feel my stores draining the longer I stand." Loki huffed, who had started drooping sideways until Thor scrambled to hold him up.

"Yes, of course," Bruce mumbled, fiddling with his shirt buttons, "Being free of a controlling force must be exhausting. Is there anywhere that you can rest?"

Thor hummed thoughtfully, hoisting Loki effortlessly and staring up at the cloudy surroundings, "My Field may be a protective force, but is woefully not a place of great healing. I would take my brother at once to Asgard and to her healing halls, but with the Bifrost damaged I have no way to call upon Heimdall nor call upon Odin to use the same method with which he sent me to Midgard. I fear Father will be most cross with me. He hoped to use the Tesseract to rebuild the great bridge." Thor blushed at Loki's amused huff.

"This is very easily fixed," Tony posed, not even remotely concerned when all eyes turned to him, "We should go to my tower."

"Tony ..." Bruce mumbled giving him a slightly distrustful eye squint.

"No no, I'm serious. We need somewhere safe - My tower is the safest place I know of. We need medical support - I have a whole medical floor and hired staff. Loki-Doki needs to eat and sleep - I have plenty of resources and scores of bedrooms. Plus," Tony grinned sharply, "Shield wouldn't dare try to encroach on my home turf."

Chapter Text

Watching his guests interact with his tower was more refreshing than Tony would have thought, but also more fascinating, provoking him to ask JARVIS to start taking notes towards a new field of study he had not thought about. While watching the two extraterrestrials interacting with 21st-century technology and culture was entertaining, it was Bruce's reactions that were surprising.

From the first interaction of appearing on the towers Iron Man landing pad and quickly moving forward to reassure EDITH to put the defence systems back down and apologising for not calling ahead - and explaining it was kind of hard to do while stuck in an instance created by Thunder Thighs that interfered with external communications. He would later have to ask Thor to demonstrate how he created a self-contained electronic field that disrupted electromagnetic radiation and prolonged EMP that acted as a wall but did not affect any technology within the space.

At first, Tony thought it was just having EDITH's large rail-gun as defences pointed at them - Happy was a bad influence on her. Bringing out 'the big guns' in the name of protecting his home, such a softy. After smoothing things over and banning Thor from ever swinging Mjölnir in his tower, Tony lead them, through the Iron Man suit disassembling unit, into the penthouse. Having JARVIS update him on the goings-on while they had been detained and put on the task of tracking down and keeping an eye on Sheild goons 1, 2, Man-out-of-time, and Blackbeard - Tony wasted no time in leading his guests to the spacey elevator to take them down into TADASHI's domain.
Being that being in any kind of hospital setting gave Tony hives, the medical floor was set up as a state of the art wellness centre. A wellness centre equipped with SI medical equipment, rooms for surgery along with meditation and massage rooms, and medical and holistic professionals? The doctor's always said that stress was bad for his heart - why not have both?

Where EDITH was hard-boiled and no-nonsense, and JARVIS was snarky and prim, TADASHI was soft-spoken with a dry wit. He was a calming presence, but not a push-over, shown by how quickly TADASHI scanned them and immediately took over the situation, directing the medical staff to take them to the large observation room together and take vitals. Luckily Tony didn't need to threaten anyone not to attack this time as Thor and Loki seemed to have taken all of this in stride. They must have had experience with those of the medical profession before as they did not argue and took the staff's bossiness with grace. Bruce, despite a few hiccups, was a very good patient, for a doctor. Especially after Tony reassured him that he would be shown all the data that was collected and the staff were under strict confidentiality agreements. Tony himself promised a contract was being written up as they speak so that Tony couldn't use the data either. When asked who was writing the contract, Tony replied that of course, it was FRIDAY, as she was in charge of SI administration and law.

That's when it struck him, looking at Brucie's astounded face when he asked how many AI's could he possibly have, that Tony realised, he'd been living in a bubble.

Tony was aware he was egocentric, kind of hard not to be when you were on the top of many fields and an international leader in technologies - not narcissistic as the press and many others would label him. Well sure, in his younger years he may have been an ass, but getting blown up with your own bomb and forced to face the harsh reality of his legacy? Kinda hard to keep thinking he was the bees-knees and can do no wrong when all the WRONG is shoved unceremoniously in his face.
The problem with being Tony Stark? Egocentrism was kind of a given. And only reinforced when Pepper, Rhodey, JARVIS, FRIDAY, and EDITH ... hell even Happy, cautioned Tony against just putting all of his inventions out into the market for public consumption and freely share his patents with other researchers. Although it seemed unfair, and Tony would be happy to collaborate with other scientific minds to freely develop technology, he could see the wisdom in not doing so. Especially after the fallouts involving the Three Rings wanting Tony to build them the Jerico, Obadiah Stane (need he say more?), Ivan Vanko's revenge for Howard dicking his father over the Arc Reactor, Senator Stern demanding that he hands his armour technology over for military application and the multiple failed imitation attempts, Justin Hammer (Hammer Tech, ugh), Aldrich Killian (AIM, double ugh), SHEILD (barf) ... suffice it to say, while he hates to quote the American Propaganda Machine: 'the safest hands are our own.'

Because of this, and Tony's drawing back from the glitzy life of batting away beautiful one-night-stands and paparazzi and focussing more on his creative goals ... Tony realises he had created his own sort of isolation bubble. Where interacting with AI's with individualism and personalities was his every day, forgetting that the outside world was dealing with Alexa's. Trying to compare the two ... was insulting.
Forgetting that the tech he surrounded himself with was not public knowledge or available for public use.
His wealth was already polarising, Tony understood that, what he hadn't realised, that building a tower with dedicated floors for a variety of things, for his own personal use ... was not normal, even for billionaires.

All of these realisations came together and crystalised in this one moment, watching Bruce's flabbergasted face and being witness to Bruce's unsure way in how to interact with TADASHI.
Looking back into the logs and asking his AI to compile reaction data coming from staff that they were in charge of daily, Tony began to see a pattern.
People who were close to Tony, like Pepper, Rhodey and Happy were used to the AI and genuinely happy for the assistance they provided, but in other cases were stand-offish and awkward, often asking the AI to leave them alone or not to record them and ignore their basic functions.
General staff? The initial shock was instant and sometimes visceral. Some reacted positively with curiosity, others with suspicion and rejection. Those were immediately fired, to the point that Tony had left the hiring process for their divisions completely to the AI, who had a higher chance of employing capable staff with less negative reactions. Sometimes this clashed with Pepper and Happy, the human co-leaders of certain divisions, but after FRIDAY, EDITH, and JARVIS showed them the comprehensive research into the target's background and psychological tests, they were usually appeased.

Tony was rather excited about not just this new point of reference that honestly he had only really been subconsciously aware of, but now he had new data points, in the two aliens sitting in his comfortable med bay.

Thor and Loki ... actually mostly Loki, answered TADASHI's questions and replied to his inquiry into consent to assess, test and assist. Although there was initial confusion over confidentiality, and having TADASHI bring FRIDAY in to explain the purpose of such contracts and answering all of Loki's legal questions, the interaction ran smoothly. Loki even explained to Tony's AI about their different constitutions, divulging more information that Tony thinks anyone ever knew about Asgardians, their lifestyle, environment and general health. JARVIS affirmed that Sheild had no such documentation in their admittedly bare reports. Tony would have to hash it out with FRIDAY about what information he could have access to, to indulge his curiosity once the contracts were set up.

Having the raven-haired alien referring to Tony's AI as constructs given a soul with the use of say-der was a bit weird, and definitely, something he would have to grill Loki about later. But as of right now, Tony had to deal with an exasperated medical team and TADASHI softly admonishing him for stressing his weakened heart.

Chapter Text

Despite wanting to get straight down to the tacks of brass, Tony could see Loki was TADASHI's new darling - he knew better to get between his medical bot and his new project. Loki asserted that they didn't plan to go anywhere until they had gotten a decent 8 hrs, or when their carer deigned to release them, something about knowing better than to squabble with one of their mother's people ... whatever that meant.
Tony thought Brucie would be a harder sell, but the good doctor was quite happy to take a provided asperin and be lead to a guest floor to rest, with JARVIS assuring him that he would keep him up to date on proceedings and be quite happy to provide him with any support that he needed, be that a spare lab or a grand tour.
It was quite flattering that Banner could trust Tony and his bots with his protection, at least for now. Gave him the warm and fuzzies.

Maybe because of their rough first meeting, EDITH was cautious of Thor, it didn't help that Thor didn't seem to be quite ready to go to bed yet and wanted to run around and touch everything - like a toddler hyped on sugar. Also pretty concerning that Thor dropped his hammer next to Loki, insisting that Mjölnir would watch over his brother in his stead and promptly wandered off - EDITH most likely leading Thor to the Gym and testing rooms on the ... less destructive floors.

Not wanting to disturb Loki or TADASHI by inspecting Mjölnir, Tony decided that he had dallied enough, and it was time to get to work. He had a lot to get through. JARVIS complied him a list.

- Parse through the information Sheild servers yielded on the air carrier, flag 'em, tag 'em, and collate and organise the most prominent points, update Shields information folder.
- Dig deeper into other Sheild sources that Tony had already hacked years ago and left backdoors to in his between hours of curiosity, he'd left Sheild roaming a little too freely ... time to fix that.
- Research and build a case for Brucie and Big Guy. If his science Bro was going to stick around, or even if he didn't, everyone deserved to at least feel safe by having their past oppressors under lock and key or buried under restraining orders.
- Research the Tesseract, try to find the historical footprint. How did Sheild end up with it? What does it have to do with Loki's ... 'void' friends.
- Try and track what actions the Tesseract actually had its puppets do. Loki wasn't the only one who was acting suspiciously, as many shield goons had gone missing as well. Where were they?
- Gather as much information as he possibly could on Loki and Thor, not all of it historical Norse mythology. Thor at least had a known sighting in Mexico in the early 2000's. Time to look up as much info as he could about his two visitors from the skies.
- Get the full story out of Loki, as they really seemed to be the lynchpin in this whole situation, and really the only primary source of information.
- Get Loki talking about say-der. Tony really wanted to know.
- Investigate captured readings of God Waves. What made it tick? How do they communicate with it? Better yet, how to ask a Lady Hammer to pretty please let him examine them.
- Draw up plans for sensor improvements.
- Continue working on plans for sizing down the arc reactor. Maybe even consult with Bruce on medical treatments for impacted chest cavity and shrapnel in his heart, or going ahead and finally getting the damn things removed all together. Or his thoughts on Extremis. Tony had managed to mute the symptoms, but Pepper when mad still became a little ... burny.
- Ingest something more substantial than coffee and take a required 4 hours REM cycle ... Nice try JARVIS.
- Follow up on the Dream Teams movements from where they last left them.
- Sign the damn paperwork, Tony, and get back to the Board about the new projected release of the Stark Phone ... Ah, it appears that the Lady Pepper was getting impatient.

The fact that Tony was on doctor's orders not to leave his med bay bed until readings and induction of fluids were complete, on pain of TADASHI's vague yet menacing threats - Tony was not at all ashamed to use this as an excuse to skip out on having to face those old granite-faced back-stabbers and just send them the already finished presentation in an email.
While Tony tapped away on a nurse provided Stark pad, JARVIS did what he did best, and delegated tasks.
JARVIS, his first foray into artificial intelligence, and thusly the oldest and most sophisticated of the many AI that came after, naturally took control.
Seeing as AI were much superior to the average human brain, they could create many instances of themselves within their routines and tackle multiple tasks simultaneously, practically their only restraints being time and processing power.
It was the work of mere moments to collect the backed up data from the Shield air carrier and information that Tony was currently digging up while he trolled through Sheild servers, send copies to FRIDAY and EDITH to go over with a fine comb for legal and security breaches, any medical and pharmaceutical reports forwarded to TADASHI, and geographical information and coordinates sent to JOCASTA.

While searching and collating Norse mythological and alien sightings in the background as a not high priority task, and deep-diving into Shields encrypted files may take a little longer, tracking down Shield agents and their records of Tesseract ownership would be a time-consuming process.
FRIDAY was scouring the militaries interactions with Bruce Banner back in 2005, paying particular attention to Thaddeus E. Ross, Lieutenant General of the United States Army on the way out, his star no longer shining so brightly after being in charge of the 'Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project' that was supposed to recreate the Super Soldier Serum but lead Dr Bruce Banner to being exposed to gamma radiation instead of vita radiation, thus creating the Hulk, and a failed manhunt that Ross had put himself in charge of.
Why Dr Banner felt the need to test the unfinished serum on himself ... there appeared to be threats from Lieutenant General Ross to cut the project's funding in some misguided attempt to hurry the scientists up. The fact that one of these scientists was Ross' own daughter was another avenue to explore.

Updating EDITH on security threats, JARVIS moved on to detailing Sheild's recent movements.
"Sir, it appears that Director Fury and Agent Coulson have been trying to reach you."

"Have they?" Tony hummed, quirking a sardonic eyebrow while still focused on his Stark pad, "How nice of uncle Nicky and Agent Agent, wanting to check up on lil ol' me."

"Indeed. They have left some rather ... colourful voice messages."

"You know how I feel about voice mail, JARVIS."

"Messages deleted, Sir."

Tony grinned to himself while continuing to squeeze Sheild's servers for everything they've got. "That's what they get for hacking my building and inviting themselves in unannounced," murmured, speed reading a particularly interesting decrypted report before sending it off to JARVIS to collate, "What about insy-winsy and Robin of Loxley?"

"Clinton Francis Barton-" Tony snorted, "and Steven Grant Rogers appears to have teamed up and have been sent out to search for the missing Sheild agents and to possibly track down sightings of Loki Laufeyson and Thor Odinson in the hopes of detainment for the theft of the Tesseract." JARVIS continued his report while Tony rolled his eyes. "Natalia Alianovna Romanoff, on the other hand, continues to be unsuccessful in infiltrating Stark Industries Headquarters."

"She's persistent, I'll give her that," Tony muttered as he continued to decrypt. "Any indication that they know of our location? What of Brucie?"

"Director Fury has a few internal fires that require his attention while Agent Coulson is in charge of taking care of personnel."

Tony paused, then looked into the nearest camera with a shit-eating grin. "JARVIS. No, you didn't!"

"You are not the only one who does not appreciate our territory being encroached upon, Sir."

Chapter Text

Once he was given permission to leave his med bed, Tony was escorted out along with most of the medical staff, as TADASHI advised he was going to lower the aircon to levels that most humans would find uncomfortable but seemed to ease Loki into a restful slumber. Which, Tony theorised made sense, if Loki was, as the legends proclaim, a Frost Giant. Maybe the meaning was literal?

Taking this as his chance, with Shield still not aware of his location and Pepper no longer chasing him with paperwork, Tony retreated to his personal lab.
This was, 10hrs later, where Bruce, refreshed and sipping a calming tea, found Tony, elbows deep in an Iron Man suit, lab speakers blasting Black Sabbath.

"Iron Man. Really Tony?"

"What can I say? The classics must be observed." Tony quipped, wiping oil and grease off his hands with a grubby rag, indicating to JARVIS to cut the music. Looking up at Bruce from his sprawled form on the ground, surrounded by mechanical parts and empty coffee cups, Tony smiled, "You're looking fresh as a daisy Brucie-bear. Good sleep?"

"Better than your's was ... if you slept at all." Bruce's eyes narrowed, doctor switch flipped.

"You know what they say Brucie," Tony huffed, using Dum-E as leverage up off of the ground while Butterfingers nudged the oil-stained office chair in his direction, which Tony commandeered and wheeled himself over to a nearby console, "No Rest for the Wicked."

"You're hardly that bad Tony." Bruce huffed, watching as the trio of Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers all attempted to clean up the shop floor.

"Hah! You're making me blush Brucie," Tony chuffed while he continued to interact with the blue glowing projections, "Maybe I should hire you into my PR team?"

"I highly doubt having me associated with you would help your cause." Bruce sipped.

"Why not?" turned enough to lift an eyebrow, Tony give Bruce a side-eye, "You are a highly renowned scientist, highly respected for your work in biochemistry, and a nuclear physicist. With an M.D. and a Ph.D. ... I fail to see how you could be a deterrent."

"... You are completely ignoring that I turn into a big green monster and currently have the military and government in a headhunt after me?" Bruce scrunched his eyebrows in a mix of anger and concern, "While your reputation may not be sparkling, you aren't considered a monster." 'Unlike me.' was left unsaid but those in the room definitely heard it.

"It doesn't have to be that way" Tony's voice softened, flicking over a window from his projection to hover in front of a stunned Banner "... If you don't want it to be."

Placing his tea down on a counter, Bruce scanned the projection in front of him, eyes slowly widening, "Tony ... what is this?"

"The Kids have done some digging, and JARVIS and FRIDAY are convinced they have a solid case in your favour," Tony replied, carefully not looking at Banner, fiddling with the exploded view of what looked like a multi-levelled camera lens.

"This ... all this evidence against Ross ..." Bruce was almost stunned, but quickly turned to concern, "If this information was acquired illegally, Tony, the Government-"

"Whoa whoa whoa, Brucie! Calm down. Everything is above board, I assure you." Tony spun on his chair, holding his hands up in a placating gesture.

"But, all of this ... He would never ... How?" Tony was kind of sad he had managed to ruffle the good doctor so much after looking so well rested just moments before.

"You know the state of the world, Brucie, Money Talks. Or rather," Tony turned back to his projection to avoid Bruce's suspiciously shiny eyes, "People who never liked old 'Thunderbolt' were quite happy to talk once their palms were greased. Also, promising protection from the old 'Thunderpants', and getting them into witness protection went a long way to getting a lot of the insider information."

"... Betty ..." Bruce breathed tensely.

"Safe and sound, Banner," Tony promised, opening and closing windows on his screen rapidly, "Doctor Elizabeth Ross will not have to worry about her abusive father again after this."

Bruce let out a slow breath, letting out all of the pent up tension with it, slowly scrolling the projection in front of him with trembling fingertips.

"All the case has left now, is for your testimony Doctor Banner. Then Thaddeus Ross can be put away for a very long time. For good, if my legal team has anything to say about it."

"Tony ... I hate to sound ungrateful," Bruce pocketed his glasses, "But why?"

"The Military and the Stark's go way back. Starting from dear old Dad building them weapons right up to me producing high-grade protection gear. My best buddy was a former jet pilot and currently working as the liaison between Stark Industries and the military in the department of acquisitions. Unlike Captain Free-Ride, Rhodey worked up the ranks to become Colonel without any of my help." Tony growled, scowling at the mention of his childhood trauma, "And when you have such close ties to the military? You hear all the barracks gossip. I've known for a long time that Ross was shifty. Not many in the army like him much at all. They were practically waiting for someone to call Ross out on his shit."

"Tony ... thank you. Really," Bruce rubbed at his eyes as if they itched, "I have no idea how to repay you."

"Don't thank me yet, Brucie. Sign the damn papers." Tony grumbled, turning to hide his blush.

Chapter Text

After JARVIS escorted Bruce to a comfortable sitting room/office to go over the paperwork and working with FRIDAY to take down his statements. With Bruce firmly distracted by working towards his own freedom and those of his fellow military scientists - Tony decided he should probably check up on Thor.

Maria would have his ear if she knew what a terrible host he was being. Maria Stark nee Carbonell was old blood and old money, of Italian and French descent, an experienced hostess and talented pianist and singer. Jarvis used to say that compared to her, Howard was a young womanizing upstart mechanic. Maria brought The Stark's class and prestige. The hostess-with-the-most-ess would be appalled at her son's manners to his foreign guests.

Thor actually was not that hard to hunt down and ended up finding him firmly planted at Tony's bar, reclined and chugging down beer in the biggest metal tankard Tony had ever seen.

"I don't remember ever owning any drinking cups that size?" Tony asked out loud, raising an eyebrow.

"Man-of-Iron!" Thor cheered, planting his tankard down, beaming up at the inventor, "Come! Join me in appreciating this fine mead! Thine bodyless servant is truly a marvel!"

"Been keeping you topped up has he?" Tony smirked as he fetched himself a small bourbon and branch to sip while he kept the jovial alien company.

"Not only that! Your guard, the shieldmaiden Edith? She took me to see your forts barracks and training grounds. Your armies are well trained and stocked, Tony, son of Stark." Thor grinned as he took another swig.

"You flatter me, Thor, for I'm sure my weaponry could never match whatever you have up on Asgard." Tony deflected.

"Nay, banish the thought. Long has it been since one of my people touched Midgardian soil, even longer to step foot into a Lord's Hall. And to be greeted so warmly! Son of Stark, you do your ancestors proud." Thor cheered after another swig, tilted his head back and recited, “Fire he needs | who with frozen knees/ Has come from the cold without;/ Food and clothes | must the farer have,/ The man from the mountains come./ Water and towels | and welcoming speech/ Should he find who comes, to the feast.”

"Not only a thunderer but also a poet," Tony toasted Thor's grin.

“If renown he would get, | and again be greeted,/ Wisely and well must he act” Thor rejoined, placing his tankard down and smiling, "A blundering oaf, as to quote my brother, I may be, but even I am a member of Odin's royal court. If I did not follow even the smallest of expectations of hospitality, mine mother would tan my hide."

"Your mother sounds like quite the lady," Tony smiled, finding himself actually enjoying this conversation.

"Aye, Frigga, Queen Mother of the Golden Realm, Leader of the Ladies of the Healing Halls, and weaver of prophetic tapestry," Thor regaled, looking aloft with admiring eyes as if he could see her face now, "A more generous and caring Mother I could not ask for, as I do not know much of my barer." Thor toasted the sky and drank deep. Upon glancing Tony's silent curiosity Thor smiled welcomingly, "Do not bite thine tongue in deference, Son of Stark, for I am not ashamed. Indeed, I did not originate from Frigga's womb. It is Jörd from whom that I hail. It saddens me that her people roam Midgard no more."

"I hope that offer to speak freely is still open Thor because what you just said has opened a can of worms," Tony warned but Thor freely indicted with his tankard to continue, "You mean to say that your mother was not Queen Frigga of Asgard, but an Earth woman?"

"Jörd was of Midgard, there is no doubt, but as for a 'woman' ... tis more of a delicate subject," Thor replied with a thoughtful mien, tipping his head back in forth in a sign of uncertainty.

"What do you mean?" Tony scrunched his eyebrows, only just remembering he had a drink in his hand and took a sip.

"Jörd was of a jötnar clan that survived the dismemberment of Ymir and trickled their way to Midgard, split from their brethren who reside in Jotunheim," Thor explained. Upon seeing the confusion on Tony's face Thor clarified, "The Midgardian jötnar lived alongside Midgardians since the beginning of time, but with being so isolated, and effects from the Battle of Tønsberg and the consequent Battle of Jotunheim ... their numbers dwindled and eventually faded out altogether. It does not surprise me you had not heard of them, son of Stark, but it saddens me."

"Wait, Tønsberg? As in, Tønsberg, Norway?" Thor nodded, "What caused an Asgardian war on Earth?"

Thor appeared slightly uncomfortable as he recalled the history, "It was believed that King Laufey of the Jötunheimr wished to invade the Midgardian Realm and cause a new ice age. A great war was fought, as My Father saw this a breach in peace treaties and brought the full force of Asgardian Justice down upon them. After beating the Jötunheimr forces into retreat, Odin urged his armies to pursue, and chased the jötnar back into Jotunheim, and proceeded to slaughter their people until King Laufey capitulated."
Thor seemed to be genuinely upset by this, but also somewhat annoyed by his scrunched brows, "It was not till the frost cleared and Odin's eye and been healed that Lady Frigga's voice of reason finally reached my father. Later it was investigated, that the Jötunheimr were not invading Midgard. In fact, surviving royal records showed that those in Jotunheim had only recently become aware of another jötnar clans existence in the realm of Midgard, now a small clan, co-existing with mortals peacefully in the village of Tønsberg. King Laufey had wished to reconnect with their sister clan, by providing them support and community, and through them, perhaps, a chance to open trade with Midgard. It was King Laufey's bringing of the Casket of Ancient Winters into the realm of Midgard that tripped Odin into sounding the horns of war. To the jötnar, the Casket of Ancient Winters was a natural source of seiðr, an ancient relic of natural rejuvenation - To the Asgardians ... it was seen as a weapon. A force of cold, so unnatural, that would plunge the worlds into darkness."
Thor scowled, leaning back but not yet taking another drink. "In the aftermath ... many a life was lost, the Casket of Ancient Winters taken as spoils of war, along with King Laufey's youngest son as a ward, to gain the assurance that the Jötunheimr would never again leave their realm. Jörd, disgusted by Odin's actions, bid Frigga care for me as if I were her own in her stead, left her lovers realm and travelled back to Midgard to offer her support to the survivors. Perhaps in spite, or sickened and tired of war, Odin demanded that Asgard close their borders to all outside realms. I know not what happened to my barer."

"I ... wow ..." Tony breathed, stunned, watching as Thor finished off another flagon, "I'm sorry man. That sucks."

"Thine commiseration is appreciated Man-of-Iron, but these are old wounds and happened many centuries ago."

Tony paused, wondering if he should poke at such freshly opened wounds, by his curiosity won out, "... That still doesn't explain why referring to your birth mother as a woman is a refuted subject?"

Thor breathed out a chuckle and grinned at Tony like he was an inquisitive child and he, Thor, the amiable uncle.

"The jötnar as a species are both sire and barer in one, while physically baring the likeness to a male, a maiden, or both. Jötnar also are not always giants of ice," Thor explained while allowing JARVIS to top up his tankard, "My barer was said to have the baring of a beautiful Midgardian maid with golden hair and at hight with my father, so beautiful that Odin took her on as a lover."

"So Jotunn's are intersex. And can have different appearances according to region," Tony murmured, "if examined side-by-side with how varied humanity can be between regions, it makes logical sense." Tony glanced up at Thor who was loudly thanking JARVIS for his service, "The taking on of lovers is a normal practice in Asgard?"

"But of course my friend! We of the Golden Realm Eternal live long, some even for hundreds of thousands of years. It is said that an Asgardian's end is only through death on the battlefield, for age does not weary us. In those many millennia, we are free to take on many lovers. Of course, marriage is important and faithfulness to one's spouse is expected, especially among those in the royal family. Tis usually once spouses are in agreement that one takes on a lover. Failure to do so ..." Thor winced, "Has led many to ... unfortunate circumstances."

"Oh, I bet," Tony giggled into his glass, "If the Vikings were interested in recording anything, it was their god's romantic dramas."

"Scandal and intrigue exist in any court," Thor nodded regally, "As I am sure you have experienced for yourself, Son of Stark."

"Don't I know it," Tony grumbled to Thor's good-humoured laughter and bids of regaling him of his tales of woe and triumph. Since most of his early life, he was the paparazzi's darling and a scandal magazine's wet-dream, and most of his dirty laundry was already aired years ago, Tony didn't mind entertaining Thor with them.

Chapter Text

Tony would never have expected that Thor, a man that appeared so boyish and puppy-like, could be such a font of information ... or such good company. The alien was jovial and an engaging storyteller. Though brash and most stories involving a tavern at some point, his adventures were entertaining to listen to, even when things went sour.

Thor was even amiable to telling all he knew about the history of his people, their interactions with Midgard and the other Realms, as well as the other species and their lives that lived out among the branches of the Yggdrasil. Getting Thor to explain the Yggdrasil was fascinating as well. Imagine, a cosmic nimbus, a space cloud that contained nine universes in it, and Earth and what could currently be observed of their universe? Was just one Universe inside of it.
It was kind of gratifying that aliens named the whole of their universe, or Realm, after their one planet that contains humans. But also kinda sucked to find out that humans really were the only native life in their universe. Which apparently was an anomaly, go humans!
But that also lead the rest of the Realms to view their universe as the weakest, well shit.
But also also that meant that none ever bothered invading Midgard hardly ever since it wasn't seen as worth it ... that was something. Though ... Earth, the Milky Way and all that Midgard contained ... the boonies of the Yggdrasil.

Tony had wondered out loud that if Earth was such a trailer park, why Odin and the Asgardians ever even bothered with it, to which Thor replied that they had to.
Apparently, the Asgardians were the self-proclaimed protectors and peacekeepers of all the Nine Realms ... after they had invaded and conquered most of it first. So ... less like police and more like a mob family protecting claimed turf. A mob family that, after scouring most of Yggdrasil, took the majority of gold and minerals from claimed Realms, and used it to build a Golden Realm and crowned themselves Kings of the Universe. Asgard ... a spinning gold disc in space at the tippy top of the Yggdrasil tree. Flat Earther's rejoice.

Ok, so finding out that you basically were under the forced rule of intergalactic mobsters turned monarchs kinda sucked ... but also finding out that, yes, Buri, father of Bor, father of Odin, was licked into being by a primeval supercow named Auðumbla that licked him out of a salty iceblock. Not even kidding. Auðumbla the super cow was apparently one of the first beings in existence in the galactic soup along with Ymir - the father of all Frost Giants. Except, it wasn't Odin and his brothers that killed Ymir and made the cosmos out of his corpse, as Norse myth had it - more that Auðumbla somehow died and Ymir died of thirst. Apparently refused anything but super cow milk. Go hard or go home.
Thor said some jötnar accused Buri and his mobsters of poisoning the cow, but there was no proof, and with Ymir out of the way, the Asgardians could take control of a finally fully formed tree-shaped cosmic nimbus and all the universes therein ... funny that.

Seemed kind of weird how involved the jötnar and Asgardians always seemed to be in these stories, and with Thor explaining that because Ymir was the basis for most life in Jötun and Asgardian existence? Kinda to be expected. Plus Buri and most of his men were Jötun, with a few Vanir mixed in. Why was Buri, the man who would be a builder and first king of Asgard, a Jötun? He was licked out of ice, Duh.
Funny little loophole - since Buri wasn't born of Ymir's blood and instead licked out of ice, it wasn't considered patricide. Not that there was any proof that Buri had anything to do with it.

So what made one an Asgardian? Apparently, all it took was to live on Asgard for a few centuries, to the point that people forgot where you came from, or be born there. Also, living on a spinning golden whirligig was hot, as in, that universes sun reflecting off of metal hot, living on a metal meteor hot. You adapted or used magic to alleviate the heat - sorry, used 'seiðr'. Thor could still not explain that in any way that made sense, and he insisted, like most things he didn't know or make sense of, to ask Loki when they recovered.

Loki was also something Thor was happy to talk about, telling many stories of their pranks and adventures - and yet others he was tight-lipped about. Any negative story or anything about Loki's personal life Thor evaded ... except Móði. He gushed about Móði.
Móði ... was Loki and Thor's son. Their only son together, Thor assured.
Seemingly unaware of Tony's blue screen, he continued to gush about his exemplary son, who took more after their combined Jötun blood but also more like Thor's barer Jörd, less interested in fights and more into gardening. Thor couldn't be more proud. Apparently, once he had come of age, he had decided he liked his step-grandmother's birth Realm more and went to study under the Vanir. More the better to be out of view from Odin's watchful eye - he had paranoia about Loki's offspring, sadly. Thor missed his niece and nephews.

He gushed about his other children too, of whom there were many, and by many lovers. When Tony, now recovered, asked if this was where his powers of fertility came in? Thor snorted beer out his nose. Turns out 'fertility' was old Norse vernacular for 'well endowed'.
Well, Tony could drink to that!

Chapter Text

Waking up with a hangover was a novel experience in Tony's life, though not one he'd had the dubious pleasure of since he last broke up with Pepper (probably for the last time this time). See? Tony was being a good boy and trying to reign in his alcohol problem. Ok, let's face it, it had been an addiction. He isn't ashamed to admit to himself he fucked up and was honestly trying to be better. He even put himself through detox and weathered withdrawal symptoms ... after almost 3 decades of abusing his body with alcohol and party drugs ... yeah, Detox sucked!
Now, he only has a drink at social events or parties - which were way fewer than he used to attend, and even then he usually stuck to one or two and never mixed. This also had the downside of his tolerance going from legendary to almost non-existent.

"Jay," Tony blurbed as he squinted at his bedroom ceiling, "Thor listed 16 brothers that he knew of, of them, only 3 were named legitimate, including himself. Odin is even the father of Heimdall, the all-seeing and all-hearing Gatekeeper of Asgard ... with Nine Women! Trying to get Thor to explain that kind of biological event was enough to give me a nosebleed." Tony threw an arm over his eyes as U wheeled over with medication and a glass of water. "Please tell me that was just a hallucination brought on by fatigue."

"As gratified as I am to hear you admitting to overworking yourself, Sir, I am afraid I cannot."

"Ooh, snippy. Someone got up on the wrong side of the motherboard today." Tony grumbled as he heaved himself up and took the medication and water from U, who squeaked and did a happy dance when Tony patted him on the arm prosthesis and told him he'd done a good job.

"While I am aware that you know that I never sleep, I shall ignore that remark. There is much to be done today."

"Is there now?" Tony lifted a brow at a nearby camera.

"Indeed. Prosecution against Thaddeus Ross is making marked progress, as well as cases against Shield and military and government enquiries. Director Fury and Shield, in general, have been kept busy, leaving them little chance to recourse ... although Steve Rogers had managed to find some news journalists and a gaggle of reporters."

"Of course he did," Tony huffed from his walk-in closet, "What's the damage?"

"Mr Roger's claimed that he had 'everything under control', 'the villain would be caught', 'Justice would always prevail' ... it goes on." JARVIS snarked dryly, clearly showing his feelings on the topic. "Unfortunately a reported yelled out to Mr Roger's about what he thought about Iron Man and being able to work with you. Needless to say, the PR and legal department are working double-time to put out those fires."

"How Roger's ended up as the militaries dancing monkey I do not know," Tony marvelled as he walked out in a freshly pressed casual suit still doing up the buttons, "He's a public relation's nightmare."

"Indeed. Mr Roger's will find that 'shooting off his mouth' in the modern age has repercussions." JARVIS agreed.

"Where is he and Arrow Boy now?" Tony asked as he primped in the bathroom.

"They have been called back to one of Shield's many strongholds. It appears that Director Fury has decided that just keeping one of his agents buddied with Mr Rogers isn't enough, and wished to keep him close, putting him to work in heavy labour of clearing out the Tesseract explosion debris."

"The air carrier?" Tony looked up at the camera above the bathroom mirror.

"At the Sheild stronghold," JARVIS refuted, "Also, Sheild insists on calling their aircraft 'the Helicarrier'."

"Awful name," Tony mumbled.

"Indeed. The Black Widow continues to escape capture and legal arrest for attempts at forced entry, corporate espionage, and threats to SI staff," Tony grinned at his AI, "She has decided to retreat for now, perhaps in a bid to regroup."

"Well, with Shield so busy, police on her ass, and EDITH and JOCASTA keeping a beady eye on her, she isn't going to have much luck." Tony chuckled.

"Yes, I'd say Shield is being kept very busy."

"... JARVIS? What aren't you telling me?"

"Those decrypted files, Sir, have you had a chance to review them?" JARVIS directed U to hand Tony a Stark pad, and loaded up the files in question. Tony quickly scanned, brows becoming more furrowed, and eyes wider in angry disbelief the more he read.

"HYDRA? Oh ... you have got to be fucking kidding me?!"

Chapter Text

One of the things Tony has learned in recent years, in his attempt to be a better person, and attempt to adult, and be less, as Pepper would call it, being an 'over-grown man-child' - is to learn to Let it Go. The fact that he has an amazing singing voice that he swears he inherited from Maria and can belt it out even better than Idina Menzel? No one ever knew Tony to be humble.

Part of learning to 'Let it Go' was accepting that Tony was not, repeat, NOT, responsible for what others do. No matter what the tabloids said. Tony was not responsible for Howard's actions. Nor aunt Peggy's, uncle Nicky, and especially not for Obie's.
It took him a fair amount of time to absorb what his therapist said, to take it in and accept it. He may have designed and hand-built guns and bombs, but he did not fire them. How his creations were used was out of his hands. You do not blame the knife makers for the stab victims.
Another thing Tony had to learn in the school of 'Let it Go'? Tony was not responsible for fixing the problems caused by others. Of course, noblesse oblige may be a thing, but that didn't mean Tony had to take it all upon himself and try to fix the world. The fact that Tony felt the need to? His therapist said it spoke of his guilt complex, which the birth of Iron Man was a symptom of his already simmering guilt complex but cranked all the way up to eleven.
That was not saying that Tony should not attempt to help and make the world a better place - far from it. But merely ... Choose your Battles.

In this, Tony was very glad that JARVIS and his bots knew him so well. They had already, as always, anticipated his wishes and acted. It was surprisingly freeing to watch as Fury and Shield ran about, trying to investigate how HYDRA had infiltrated them - technically making them SHIELDRA. Tony was not responsible for that dumpster fire, and it was about time Shield took responsibility. Look at Tony! He's all about accountability these days.
... That didn't mean Tony and his bots were just going to leave them to it, oh no. Tony had left them alone once, had dusted his hands of Shield when they disappeared from his life the first time. That got him a needle in the neck. If Shield's bosses, whoever they were, were not doing their jobs - then STARK didn't mind being their secret overseers. So Tony's Ai Really Kick-ass. His bots didn't seem too keen on the name.

While his Kids continued to dig and observe the situation over in SHIELDRA's shitshow? Tony decided he deserved a coffee.
This had Tony blearily walking into the penthouse's kitchen, where luckily all of his house guests were currently gathered, Loki and Bruce chatting over tea and light sandwiches, Thor with beer and pop tarts. They sat and watched was as Tony plodded in barefooted, to stare at the blurry appliance and demanded "Coffee." Followed by a beep and whir of SI coffee machine.

"Tony ... that's the microwave," Bruce sat up in concern, trying not to grin at Tony blinking slowly at him, "Had a hard time sleeping?"

"... I own a microwave?" Tony blinked.

"Sir has had the required hours, Dr Banner. Unfortunately, what Sir is suffering from at the moment is the 'Frazzles'" JARVIS replied as Butterfingers zipped over and handed Tony his coffee.

"The frazzles?" Bruce inquired as he watched Tony pat the bot in thanks and almost dive into the cup.

"The reason Sir is so efficient and at the top of his fields is that his brain never stops. Sir's brainwaves are always in full motion. To help control it, in his youth, my namesake and his wife taught young Sir how to harness his stray thoughts by allowing his conscious brain to focus on the present, while his subconscious brain to follow other avenues and to sort them into his mind palace for his conscious brain to later review. Sir is, 80% of the time constantly inventing mentally - only ever using his full focus 20% of the time, and only used for important situations. The Frazzles happens when Sir consciously focuses all of his processes on a single subject in a short space of time. Basically ... it is mental burnout." JARVIS informs while Butterfingers gently tugs on Tony's suit lapel and guides him to the table, where Bruce takes over and helps him sit.

"'Fast brain' syndrome," Bruce mumbles as he fixes Tony up a plate of sandwiches and cookies while eyeing the coffee cup Tony still had not extracted himself from, "Should he be having that?"

"Sir functions better with stimulants, though I would appreciate it if you could get Sir to ingest some solids to rebuild his energy levels."

"What had he been doing to have to resort to such an action?" Loki tilted their head while watching the mortal ingest a roasted bean brew that did smell quite enticing.

"While digging into Shield's servers we found some ... upsetting news. Sir has been focused in deep hacking the net, finding any digital traces and finding out as much about them as possible."

"And that would be?" Thor munched on a pop tart.

"HYDRA," Tony spoke, placing down the now empty coffee cup.

"What?!" Bruce exclaimed, physically jolting back in his seat, while Loki lent forward and peered down into the dregs of Tony's empty mug, "I thought they were taken out with the Natzi's in World War II?"

"We'd like to think that, wouldn't we?" Tony mumbled sardonically.

"I was not aware Midgard had their own struggles with the Many-Headed-Beast." Thor took a swig of his beer as he reminisced, "Such battles were worthy of epic tales."

"Unfortunately, Thor, I don't think the mortals are speaking about the Hydra beast," Loki replied as they watched Butterfingers bring them their own coffee mug with milk and sugar so they could doctor it to their taste.

Tony watched as Loki took a sip of the coffee and promptly grimaced, Tony took the mug from Loki, and looking them in the eye, added milk and 3 sugars, before handing it back and bid Loki try it again with a wave of his hand, which turned out with much better reception.

"... Did you always talk like that?" Tony asked as he finally picked up a sandwich after Bruce's bidding.

"My brother Loki took it upon themself to take a look at our All-Speak. Loki is a highly skilled seiðrmaðr, so it was no trouble for them!" Thor crowed, toasting his tankard high in the air like he was in a rowdy tavern.

"Should you really be bragging about that?" Loki rose a brow at Thor and shook his head with a smirk, turning back to Tony, "Though, I did indeed update the All-Speak to incorporate Midgardian modern linguistics."

"All-Speak? Some kind of ... live translator?" Tony theorised, to Loki's nod, "I did wonder how alien's could understand or speak English. Especially if you hadn't been on earth since 965 A.D. Though," Tony squinted at the two gods, "Why did it make you sound like you were having your own production of Shakespeare in the Park?"

"Apparently strings of English from that time still exist in our currently spoken language," Bruce explained as he handed Tony another sandwich, "But of course, Old English was much closer to its Germanic roots at that time with new Norse words thrown in and bastardised ... It's a miracle it managed to translate it into something even remotely coherent."

"But why bad Shakespeare?" Tony argued, glaring as Bruce foisted a cookie onto him.

"I believe your JARVIS compared it too ... Google?" Loki carefully sipped his new beverage.

"Ah, the wonders of Google Translate," Tony chuckled as he swiped one of Thor's pop tarts, "Brucie, can you imagine what state Google Translate would be in if it hadn't been updated since the medieval era?"

"I shudder to think," Bruce replied dryly as he obstinately placed a glass of water in front of Tony.

Chapter Text

"Thor, you mentioned Loki being a 'say-der-mah-der', I assume if my minimal understanding of Icelandic is not completely wrong, that 'mah-der' would be 'maker' or 'wielder' or more simply 'man'. 'Say-der' we have no direct translation. But that term with those words used together have. But the translation ... becomes the fanciful 'sorcerer'," Bruce spoke his thoughts out loud, glancing up at Loki's entertained smirk and Thor's indulgent chuckle, "Now, not refuting that we did see you heal yourself and float objects ... but you do understand how sceptical we are, as men of science, to believe in 'magic'."

"Ah ah ah, before we get into that," Tony interjected, cutting the conversation off with a wave of his hands, "Since some of us have just come out of situations without many legal protections, that every being should process, I insist we review the confidentiality and information share agreements and be signed. Once we can all agree on them of course." Seeing all of his guest looking at him with mixed expressions that he couldn't possibly hope to understand, Tony continued, "Not that I don't trust you, or anything Brucie-bear, and alien's from a galaxy far far away. I just think you're forgetting one important thing," Tony pulled an evil smirk onto his face that made business opponents squeak, "You're dealing with the notorious Tony Stark, ruthless business mogul. Who knows what I could do, if I get my claws into you!" Tony mimed with his hands and making growly noises.

Loki gave an elegant scoff and smirked, green eyes twinkling, "Indeed, how terrifying," Bruce snorted while Thor unreservedly threw his head back and laughed. "I shudder at the thought of what such a powerful figure, like yourself, could do to us trembling lambs. Which is why, we indeed scoured over the contracts, and finding them pleasing, promptly signed."

Tony's stunned expression was something Loki seemed to enjoy.

"You don't have to worry Tony," Bruce smiled warmly as he handed him another sandwich, "Your AI explained everything to us. All that's left is for you to review and sign them yourself," Butterfingers beeped, handing over a Stark pad, to which FRIDAY immediately loaded up the already signed contracts awaiting his signatures to complete them.

"Indeed, my friend!" Thor cheered, grinning at Tony donning a pair of glasses and almost numbly scanning over the agreements, "My brother may be known for his Tricks, and I for my hard head, but your Jarvis and Lady Friday were very accommodating. Be proud of your court, Son of Stark." Thor nodded regally, "Even in my limited experiences of foreign courts, your's is the most hospitable I have ever experienced."

Tony, once finished reviewing, glanced up at his guests, blinking dry itchy eyes, "... Just like that?"

"Tony," Bruce smiled indulgently, "Are you forgetting that you not only helped rescue us from the Tesseract, and from Shield's clutches, but also welcomed us into your home, providing medical care and hospitality, AND working to legally protect us from those who would oppress us?" Bruce shook his head fondly, "After all of this that you're doing for us, the LEAST we can do is agree to mutually beneficial contracts, providing even more protection ... even from yourself." Bruce eyed Tony critically, "It concerns me that you feel like you have to go to such lengths, or that you expect us to argue with you about this."

"Sign your contracts, Anthony," Loki purred, green eyes glinting, "Then let us conduct business."

"... Tony, not Anthony," Tony grumbled and promptly got down to using the pad's stylist and signing all forms. As soon as Tony's last signature was taken down, there was a rumble, like thunder, and all in the room plus the Stark pad's screen lit up with a faded off-white light, promoting the human's to startle and Tony to drop the pad, "The fuck?!"

"Peace, Tony," Loki soothed, holding themselves carefully still, "It is only the Odinforce accepting the agreements between those of Odin's court of Asgard with Bruce Banner and Tony Stark of Midgard."

"Odinforce is Father's own brand of seiðr, a kind that only crowned kings may wield. Its use is showing Father's acceptance of the terms." Thor explained nodding his head.

"Right, Odin ... forgot about him," Tony mumbled, "He won't be pissed off I just wrangled his sons into legal agreements?"

"We are hardly babes, Man-of-Iron." Thor chuckled, "We have been able, even expected to conduct legal actions for ourselves for centuries."

"Yet Odin needs to accept these contracts in your stead?" Bruce inquired, taking a sip of tea to calm his nerves.

"Ah, I see the confusion." Loki nodded, then went into explaining, "Being that Thor is a legitimised son of Odin, and I am Odin's ward and a prince of Jotunhiem, we have the legal authority to sign what contract and act as we please, but in this case, powers above our station have decided to take note. As Tony had stated, it has been many a century since any citizen of Asgard, or indeed Jotunhiem has landed on Midgardian soil, making our interactions one of possible interest to the royal court. Midgard, as one of our protectorates, that, admittedly, we have neglected to watch over since the closing of Asgard's borders, has developed without conscious Asgardian guidance. You can see how, as protectors of the Nine Realms, this may be an issue." Loki grinned sardonically.

"How can we protect what we no longer understand?" Thor nods.

"So, Asgard's council have thus decided that, being that we are already here and interacting with Midgardians, that we will be Asgard's embassy and act as their ambassadors. The fact that you have already agreed to host us?" Loki toasted Tony with his mug, "Makes us now ambassador's in your court."

"Great," Tony flopped back in his chair and stared at the ceiling in exasperation, "Politics."

"Indeed," Loki chuckled into their mug as they took another sip, "Especially being that, as I had been 'missing', only to wind up here, signing legally binding contracts, that seiðr proves was by my own hand? Asgard is very interested in our involvement Tony Stark."

"Oh shit," Tony breathed, eyes wide, "I am basically facilitating an alien invasion, aren't I?" Tony glanced around as if he expected aliens to come bursting through the walls, "When am I expected to be rolling out the red carpet and prostrating myself in front of an angry daddy?"

Thor choked and spat his beer, thankfully back into his tankard, while Loki laughed. "You need not fear invasion, Tony Stark. As our magnanimous host, and my saviour? You have been granted the dubious honour of being our contact with Midgard, legally acknowledging you, in Asgard's eyes, as Midgard's ruling monarch."

"To invade another monarchs territory?" Thor gasped in alarm at the thought, "Asgard has long turned from her ancient warring ways and now firmly believes in the art of diplomacy."

"Also the fact that the Rainbow Bridge is still in the need of repair, leaving Asgard with no way to travel between Realms?" Loki smirked, "Means we are most probably stuck here, leading Asgard to hastily recognise another monarch that they can reasonably deal with."

"If the situation wasn't so dire," Bruce squinted at Loki, who grinned back, "Asgard wouldn't be so ready to recognise us, would they?"

"Earth being out in the boonies, as we are," Tony agreed reluctantly, watching Loki's small nod of agreement. "As sorry as I am for your situation Loki-Doki, I'm glad we at least are given this chance to actually have some say."

"As glad as I am to be free of it, I'd wager," Loki grinned sardonically, "Which reminds me that I had not yet thanked you for my rescue and recovery."

"Technically, Thor was the one who got us out of Sheild's air carrier and destroyed the Tesseract," Tony deflected, waving a dismissive hand, "If I hadn't brought the injured in my party into TADASHI's tender care? My AI would never let me hear the end of it."

"Be that as it may, you still facilitated it, and Bruce Banner, you used your healer's skills and patiently explained all you knew of our situation to me, facilitating in my understanding. For this," Loki smirked, "I wish to offer a boon."

Before either Bruce or Tony had even opened their mouths in answer, Loki's energy flared, striking and coiling around them like snakes and infusing them with a chill that left them shivering, teeth chattering.

"I welcome you into my vassalage, mortals. Fell free to feel awed." Loki smirked in wicked glee.

"Again with the flashing lights! Fuck!" Tony yelled, blinking to regain eyesight from being blinded again while Loki laughed.

"After berating me for doing the same thing, brother," Thor pouted, "You are indeed a trickster."

"Yes, although, unlike you, I intend to educate the mortals on what being a vassal means," Loki purred, chuckling at Thor's embarrassed blush. "Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, being made a god's vassal is an extraordinary thing. To make one a vassal, a god must infuse the receiver with their seiðr and essence of being - essentially making them a walking vessel of our godly power, blessing them, and acknowledging them as worthy in our eyes. This attributes you with protections and powers that mere mortals could never hope to obtain." Loki grinned at the recovering human's stunned expressions, "Conversely, it is also a possessive thing. I have thusly marked you as Mine. Any who would dare harm you," Loki grinned wickedly, "Will face my wrath."

"Great. The godly version of being peed on and marked territory," Tony grumbled to Loki's laughter and Thor's splutters, but then pausing, then looking up at Thor "... Does this mean you pissed all over us in the Sheild air carrier, in front of all of Shield and the idiots three?"

Thor's blushing face and spluttering confused denials were almost a thing of beauty.

"Thor ... you peed on us ... merely for asking you questions and making you laugh?" Bruce questioned faux innocently.

If Thor could die of embarrassment he would to Loki and Tony's cackles.

Chapter Text

"Now that I have, at least in part, explained Vassalage, now perhaps, I can finally answer your burning questions about seiðr, no?" Loki grinned watching Thor's still burning red face.

"It does seem to be involved in a lot." Bruce nodded as Tony called for Butterfingers to fetch Thor more beer.

"Seiðr is central to Asgardian culture," Loki agreed, "I heard you refer to yourselves as 'men of science', therefore you couldn't possibly believe in the existence of 'magic'. This statement confused me at first until I took things into context. You have developed, all on your own as a species, with minimal outside influences. The last we had any contact between realms, was when your people still wielded primitive iron weapons. Primitive compared to our technology although you were, there was a reason Asgard was involved so heavily with Midgard until the Battle of Tønsberg," Loki lifted a finger and pointed a slender long finger at Bruce's breast, "The way that you direct seiðr."

"I ... don't follow?" Tony blinked, rejoining the conversation as Bruce unconsciously brought a hand up to his breastbone.

"To you, it might sound like 'magic', but Asgardians have studied it for millennia. Harnessing forms of energy from personal or universal sources, and manipulate those energies to our will. These energies are in everything and are everywhere. Asgardian scholars, or indeed you might call them scientists, studied these energies or forces and incorporated it into everything in Asgard - transportation, architecture, weapons and even medical care. To the regular Asgardian citizen, these energies are simply a way of life, like your electricity or the water they drink. Those of us who commit ourselves to the study of seiðr, or 'the art of energy manipulation' if you will, can take this even further," Loki demonstrated by summoning a small ball of green flame to their hand, "To manifest, shape and direct with our wills."

"So 'say-der' is the manipulation of atoms?" Tony scrunched his brow quizzically.

"In it's lesser form, surely," Loki agreed, shaping their green flame into the shape of fantastical beasts as they thought. "Your Jarvis talked to me of his being, explaining he was a 'computer program' or 'a mass of complicated code'. The way that I reach into the ether and wield its energies ... is much like taking its code and making it my own," Loki nodded.

"So ... your 'spells' ... are your 'programs' ..." Tony muttered, brown eyes gleaming.

"Just so," Loki nodded watching Tony starting to grip the concept with glee.

"But how do you manipulate energy to your will? How do you change atoms to code?" Bruce leaned forward, perplexed.

"You are not far from achieving such a feat, Bruce Banner," Loki smiled to the humans' shock, "The first step in being able to manipulate the energies? Is being able to see it. Through your unfortunate accident, you are able to witness these energies. I believe Tony is only a step behind, as he cannot see without the help of his creations, but he can feel it." Loki smirked at their stunned expressions. "Humans back when I knew them? Had no such senses. They could not even see my fire nor feel its heat ... unless I set something physically on fire that is." Loki chuckled.

"So, the more scientifically advanced humanity became and evolved, the more we are able to witness seiðr," Bruce theorised to Loki's nod, "But if that is so, why were you interested in medieval man?"

"Midgard is a strange place," Loki grinned, looking upon his rapt audience, "So far from any other life or any major intergalactic action. But your 'Earth' ... is teeming with energy. The life it begot also contains much. Your personal energies are much denser than what a typical Asgardian could withstand without training. And yet, young Midgardian kind did not, as these complicated concepts were still far beyond them. What they did have though? Was their belief."

"Belief." Tony's flat unimpressed tone led Bruce to throw a cookie at him.

"Nothing so trite as 'belief in ones-self'," Loki chuckled, "But their belief in 'gods', 'spirits', and indeed 'magic'. Their energies and Midgards were so strong, so potent, that their belief did strange things." Loki looked Tony and Bruce in the eye, "Their chants for battle won them victory more times than not. Their sacrifices to their 'nature spirits' lent them good harvests. And the first of those from Asgard to step foot on Midgard? Were worshipped as gods ... and it did strange things."

Loki lent back, looking to the ceiling as if reminiscing. "Before Midgard? Asgardians were beings like any other. Technologically advanced and a conquering force, for certain. But gods they were not. It wasn't until some bright spark decided he liked these tiny creatures worshipping him and encouraged it, and upon realising that he was now fairly overflowing with seiðr, and worried his king would have him executed for treason, quickly ran back to Asgard's court and told King Buri of his discovery. King Buri wasted no time in taking to Midgard and establishing a faith for humans to follow. That all of those of Asgard were a race of Gods. Unsurprisingly, it took. But what was surprising was its effect. One did not even have a need to have set foot on Midgard, and you were a god. Those born on Asgard after the religion's founding? Were gods. Those who married or taken into Asgardian families? Were gods. The stories that Midgardians made up about their gods did not even have to reflect reality, the effect had already taken place. Needless to say, Asgard protected Midgard, as it WAS the source of our godly power."

Loki took a sip of the offered water as they recounted, "Over time Asgard became self-obsessed and drew away from Midgard, still dropping in every now and again, but less to enforce the belief and more to enjoy themselves on this planet that adored them so. It seemed they began to forget where their godliness came from. Indeed, by Odin's time as king, only those who studied history even remembered."

"Agreed," Thor spoke with high eyebrows, "I did not know this."

"But ... How are there so many stories about you and Loki?" Tony muffled through a mouthful of sandwich, "Weren't you both young when Odin closed the borders?"

"Indeed, I was a babe and Thor barely a century old. But you fail to understand how awe-inspiring Midgardian wielding of seiðr truly is. Somehow, through their belief in us being gods, they linked themselves to us, or more, the seiðr they granted us. Frigga had never visited Midgard or been mentioned, yet stories of her spread. When Thor was born, stories of his adventures and feats of might exploded over Midgard - yet he was still just a babe."

"I guess that explains why the myths are so all over the place," Tony mumbled, "But does this mean you didn't do any of those things?"

"Again you forget, the power of Midgardian seiðr." Loki admonished.

"You mean to say that humans predicted events with their stories of their gods?" Bruce raised an eyebrow.

"Did I not mention that Queen Frigga was a weaver of prophetic tapestry?" Thor pointed out, "Seiðrmaðr, or 'wielders of seiðr' can shape the cosmic energies into any form with their will. If they want to know the future? They will. Even when those who wield seiðr don't mean to, seiðr always has a way of knowing. It's the energy of the universe and of us all after all." Thor shrugged.

"So the theory that humans created their gods is not so far from the truth," Bruce mumbled then glanced up at Loki, "Makes me wonder if the other religions and their gods have similar origins."

"If they do, then I do not know of them," Loki shrugged, "But your thought holds weight Banner. Midgard may be out at the very outskirts of the Yggdrasil, socially and power wise, but it is also the Gateway."

Loki took the Stark pad that had left on the table, asking JARVIS for some drawing space, then started scribbling.

"At the top of Yggdrasil, you have Asgard. Then below that, you have Midgard," Loki drew bubbles along the tree, "Branching out from Midgard you have all the other Realms; Niflheim, destroyed world of ice and mist. Muspelheim, Damned world of Fire. Jotunheim, The world of Giants. Vanaheim, Homeworld of Queen Frigga's people the Vanir. Alfheim, World of the Light elves. Svartalfheim, the domain of the Dwarves. And Helheim, Land of the Dead."

"Land of the dead? How can there be a whole universe full of corpses?" Tony argued.

"Very easily. But you misunderstand me," Loki replied, "Helheim does not only contain wandering spirits, but also those with no other place to go. At one time, the kings of Asgard used Helheim as a prison world for undesirables. But Helheim's ruler soon put an end to that."

"Hel is a very strong young woman and very protective," Thor beamed, "You should be proud of her Brother!"

"As I am," Loki smiled softly, "It's always gratifying to see your offspring overcome all obstacles in their path, and become stronger for it. I will have to organise for a visit soon to let her know that I still live."

Chapter Text

"I know you aren't a hundred per cent Lokes ... Hell, no one would be when it hasn't even been 24 hrs yet since you were brought into TADASHI's mandibles. But could you get to telling us how this whole situation happened?" Tony waved his hands to indicate the blond god of thunder who seemed to have given himself the task to try every food item on the table and every drink from his bar, his new science-bro with a beautiful big brain and amazing emotional control, the slightly less emaciated god of Trickery who kept switching from cups of coffee to cups of tea, and himself.

"I did promise, didn't I?" Loki sat back with a sigh, tapping a long slender finger on the teacup rim in thought, "I would like to start at the beginning, but frankly, even I don't know how this all really came about. But I will start from my perspective of when this all began, shall I?" They asked rhetorically as they arranged themselves more comfortably on their chair, "You have been made aware I am the youngest son of King Laufey of Jotunheim and taken as a ward by King Odin of Asgard at the end of the Battle of Jotunheim, as insurance that my birth father would never again 'invade another Realm'?" Loki's use of air quotations was heavy.

"Jarvis has given me anecdotes on Thor and Tony's discussion about this," Bruce nodded.

"What I'm sure my Brother failed to mention was that the discovery that King Laufey's 'invasion of Midgard' was not so, was fairly recent. For centuries it was believed that the Jotun's had invaded and planned to conquer Midgard. Many an Asgardian warrior had died or been forever scarred, combined with the council's propaganda, led to a lingering resentment towards the Jotuns. Being isolated in our own Realm made that resentment even stronger, to the point that the people worked to deny that they ever had anything to do with the Jotuns, wiping all historical landmarks and all mention that 90% of Asgardian population were Jotun descendants. Tales of a diverse, proud race who were one of the cornerstones of Asgardian civilisation became horror stories of bloodthirsty beasts of ice and snow, twisted and perverse, a curse on the Nine Realms," Loki took a calm sip of tea, "You can imagine how growing up in that atmosphere was like."

"Odin didn't do anything to stop this?" Bruce rested his hands on the table, empathy clear on his face.

"Father had lost an eye to King Laufey in the battle, which took years to heal, and continues to bring him pain to this day," Thor winced, "He was not ... the most forgiving or pleasant to be around in our early years."

"But none of that was your fault. Surely he didn't take all of that out on children?" Bruce fretted.

"True, Odin never laid a hand on us - Queen Frigga would have emasculated him," Loki chuckled as he took a sip of tea, "But it could be said that he never went out of his way to make my time as his ward a safe or comfortable one. Indeed, if it had not been for Queen Frigga's work of seiðr to give me this glamour of Asgardian appearance and protection against Asgards sweltering heat ... who knows if I would have reached adulthood at all?"

"Wouldn't being a ward from a foreign royal family protect you?" Tony's furrowed brows didn't speak much on his thoughts on this.

"Yes, had I been Vanir or a Light Elf. What you fail to understand is that Asgard is the Golden Realm Eternal, Asgardian lives are long and they are stubborn almost to a fault. Ancient minds don't change their ways so quickly." Loki tutted teasingly, "They had just come from centuries of war, suddenly cut off from patrolling the rest of the universe as it's 'peacekeepers' and law enforcers. Centuries of these activities brought about an 'Us versus Them' mentality."

"Asgardians are xenophobic?" Tony asked flatly in a disbelieving tone.

Loki chuckled as they gently placed down their teacup, "As odd as it may seem. Asgardians had run roughshod across Yggdrasil for millennia, taking and destroying all they please, crowning themselves conquerors and kings, and then proceeded to isolate themselves from the rest of the universe, contending with only themselves while still stating that they were glorious protectors. How can that not spell cultural disaster?"

Bruce and Tony could only nod grimly as they couldn't help thinking of human historical examples.

"Being ... unliked as I was, though many centuries later many had forgotten the main reason they loathed me and more dreaded my tricks and pranks, " Loki smirked, "I spent more time with Asgards books than I did with Asgards soldiers. On a whim, one day I decided I wanted to know more about my birth people, perhaps in an attempt to understand why Jotun were these big ugly stupid giants in loincloths, yet that did not reflect who I am. And Odin made me very aware that I was a son of Jotun and no child of his."

"I know he's your dad Thor, but I'm starting to like Odin less and less," Tony grumbled.

"In recent years I have begun to realise that my Father indeed did not hang the sun and light the stars," Thor rumbled in reluctant agreement, prompting Loki to lift an eyebrow in his direction, but decided to continue their story.

"In my research, I discovered ancient treatise between Jotunheim and Asgard, particularly about the ownership of an ancient relic said to be from Ymir, the casket of ancient winters. In it, it was stressed that the casket was never to leave the realm of Jotunheim - a fact that Odin and his council used to declare war. What they ignored, however, was the explanation that the casket of ancient winters was a stabiliser. Without Ymir giving life to the land and its people, the casket was to be his replacement, said to contain Ymir's heart, that continues to exude his life-giving seiðr. If the casket of ancient winters was ever to be removed for a prolonged amount of time ... Jotunheim would crumble."

"And this crucial fact was just forgotten?" Bruce was flabbergasted.

"The casket of ancient winters was an 'ancient relic'," Loki sarcastically used air quotations, "Not much is known about it except stories handed down and this one surviving document from the time of Buri. Of course, where the Asgardian's got the idea that the casket was a weapon, I'll never know. My guess is that being a warrior race, a relic is not worth keeping unless it is a weapon."

"That would explain Father's royal treasure vault," Thor nodded, explaining for the humans, "He took us down there once, as children. There were no precious jewels or mounds of gold to swim in, just old weapons, history and a lot of dust." Thor scrunched his nose in remembered disappointment.

"I talked to the scholars in the Hall of Science, and we rushed this information to Odin, but he would not hear of it," Loki sneered in disdain, "Claimed it was a bunch of old wives tales and that the Frost Giants could all go rot. Queen Frigga on the other hand, heeded us, and bid me go to Jotunheim, as an ambassador and correlate this information, while she worked on convincing her husband. I and a team of scholars took the Rainbow Bridge to Jotunheim, and the devastation that we saw there ..." Loki slowly shook their head. "Villages and cities in ruins, population starving and desperate from failing crops, hammered by hail and snowstorms that grew fiercer and more dangerous even in the time that we spent there. Taking these as evidence, we rushed back to Odin with proof ... unaware that a contingent of angry and desperate Jotun had managed to follow us through, using their natural seiðr-wielding proficiency to camouflage themselves, then proceeded to pillage homes and farms and start fighting with patrolling guards."

Loki covered their face, massaging their temples. "You can imagine the proceeding fallout. An angry mob of Asgardians baying for blood, a power-hungry courtier with a grudge claiming that I lead the Jotun there as an attempt to take the throne. Cries for my head were becoming very literal."

"Queen Frigga tried to calm the crowd and assuage fears - but Odin did not listen," Thor winced, "Admittedly, neither did I."

"Do not beat yourself up about it too badly Thor," Loki patted his hand gently, "You did just return from imposed exile on Midgard, with your powers bound after insulting a courtier and being caught in an affair with five bathing maids."

"Father deemed it punishment for 'unruly behaviour not benefiting a son of the royal house of Asgard'," Thor continued to cringe, "A bit like, as Jarvis explained to me was called, 'time out in the naughty corner'? I came back all puffed up and pleased that I had proved my humility ... only to immediately believe rumours and attack my own Brother." Thor turned and gazed at Loki with glistening eyes, "I should not have hounded you so. If I had only listened-"

"Peace Brother, it is behind us," Loki shushed, but visibly shocked by Thor's admittance. "Although it has felt like an age since I had last seen your face ... surely it hadn't been that long?"

"Long enough," Thor gave a wet chuckle, shaking his head ruefully, "For years I had thought your death was on my hands, that my foolhardy actions had caused your death."

"Don't just go ahead and write me off," Loki huffed wryly," I've been known to pull death-defying feats."

"You fell into the void!" Thor roared, standing up so fast his chair went flying, "I swung Mjölnir hard enough that it could have killed you! If I had not overswung in my rage and missed ... I destroyed the Rainbow Bridge. We both fell ... but it was only I that Father saved."

"... Thor, breath," Bruce spoke calmly, slowly standing up, green eyes meeting Thor's stormy grey ones, Bruce's skin shining slightly golden, "That is passed. Loki is here now, They are alive, right in front of you. Focus on the now."

Loki and Tony looked on in surprise as Bruce managed to calm Thor back down to grab his fallen chair and retake his place at the table, taking calmer but shaky breaths. Bruce slowly sat down as he seemed to come out of a sort of zone, gold gleam leaving his skin.

"That was ... odd." Bruce shook his head as if to wake himself up.

"Ok, we are definitely getting back to that," Tony pointed at a dazed Bruce, "But we desperately need to know the order of sequence," Tony prioritised, pointing at Loki who looked slightly dazzled, "What is this 'Void'?"

"... The Ginnungagap. The vast yawning abyss, darkness that existed long before the formation of the Yggdrasil. A world outside of our own." Loki slowly breathed.

"Space ... outside of the Yggdrasil? So there are other universes and planets outside it?" Tony clarified to Loki's slow nod, "... Why do I get the feeling that's not a good thing?"

"Asgard has long known that there is something outside of Yggdrasil, but no one has ever dared travel outside it. Yggdrasil is the cosmic nimbus that contains all the Realms, but it is also the source that feeds those universes, like a tree providing nutrients to its leaves," Loki explained, "The fear was, that any native of Yggdrasil who ventured outside it ... would suffocate without its nutrient yoke."

"But you didn't," Bruce insisted.

"I didn't," Loki slowly agreed, physically attempting to remain calm. "Instead, I drifted in the deep cold of nothingness, unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to scream. And yet I did not die. I remember cursing my own godhood in its unwillingness to let me die. But instead ... I was found by something much worse." Loki glanced up eyes haunted. "They called themselves The Other. A foul, twisted being, with a talent for mind-manipulation with crawling dark magic, and a taste for torture."

Thor whimpered in distress, reaching out as if to touch Loki but afraid to - Loki met him halfway and gripped his hand themselves, using the touch as a grounding force.

"I don't know how long I was kept prisoner to his tender mercies. I managed to shore up my mind, by drawing upon my own personal seiðr, drawing from my life-force," Loki explained for the pale humans, "and tucked my consciousness away, but I was aware, trapped in my own mutilated body, of every word that snivelling thing uttered." Loki spat. "The Other was merely a servant, a sycophant for a Master they claimed would rule all."

"Thanos."

Chapter Text

"Brother, you say this name like he is Doom upon worlds, but I have never heard of them," Thor leaned forward while still holding Loki's hand with concern all over his face for his dour-faced brother. "Who is Thanos, Brother?

"I suppose I can't fault you for not knowing," Loki hung their head tiredly, "News from outside the Yggdrasil is slow or non-existent. Outside the Yggdrasil? Thanos is very well known. Notorious, you might say," Loki looked Thor in the eye and huffed, "Perhaps it would help if I revealed I now knew who had been badgering Hella with their 'courting gifts'."

"Courting gifts?! Those gruesome things?!" Thor bellowed, drawing up in a rage, "Mutilated corpses, severed heads and torn hearts ... My poor niece bombarded by viscera with notes hoping that she would find such things pleasing. Who is this Thanos?" Thor's golden hair sparked with furious lightning, "I will end their miserable life!"

"Your protective rage warms my heart Thor," Loki smirked tiredly, "But it might take more than just yourself to stop my daughter's insistent stalker. Indeed, those were just small gifts to begin with. Thanos, in his eagerness to hear back from Hela, and in a bid to impress her, or just his own brand of madness, has moved on to bigger 'gifts'."

Loki held a hand out, and hovering about it an image in wavering green flame appeared, an image that made Tony and Bruce shudder. An image of what looked like the aftermath of a mega asteroid that had taken a chunk out of an unfamiliar planet and floating debris.

"He has taken on his own doctrine. That he is the saviour of All. Overpopulation is choking the ecosystems. He will be the cure. By his hand, each universes populations will be culled in half, the survivors left scrambling on their crumbling worlds to rebuild. In doing so, he will be worthy to be Death's consort."

"Death? Your daughter is the personification of Death?" Tony sat up stunned in his seat.

"Indeed, my niece Hela is the god of death. Already she rules over the deceased and the lost and brings them comfort and rest. Do not fear my friends, as sweet Hela is a gentle soul. Fierce as a mother wolf," Thor soothed, although the grey had not left his eyes, "It surprises me that others outside the Yggdrasil would know of her, however." Thor turned to Loki with fierce eyes, "This Thanos knows of her location?"

"As far as I'm aware he is not," Loki breathed out a sigh of relief, copied by Thor, "It appears he merely used his powers to send his desired one his 'gifts'. He glorifies death, worships it even. He seems to believe himself to be in love with it, and that any personification of Death - that I'm not 100% sure he truly believes exists - that he would be her herald, her knight ... her lover."

Thor's growl was almost subsonic and the cups and plates on the table rattled.

"If he's not aware that a god of death exists, that ended up receiving his 'little thoughtful gifts' ... why did they kidnap you?" Tony asked as he helped Butterfingers, U, and Dum-E remove the breakables from the situation.

"Oh, I imagine if they knew I was the Father of his desired Bride I would have had a warmer reception," their sardonic reply could peel paint, "But no, to them I was just a poor sucker they found floating in the void. Unfortunately, it was my own fool tongue and weakened mind that caused them to realise I was a useful pawn and not just a mere unfortunate." Loki huffed at themselves, "Turns out, the names of Odin and Asgards royal court does travel, even into the great beyond. Of course, not important enough to have more than a glimpse of the great 'Ruler of All'. I was kept in the Other's domain, which I was able to discern was not that important to Thanos' court, however much that blustering fool would insist." Loki scoffed.

Loki looked up at Thor, meeting him eye to eye as they revealed all they had discovered.

"Thanos has a force called 'The Black Order', essentially his elite army generals that he calls 'his children'. Wither they are his biological children is unknown, but they are second only to Thanos himself. The Other professed themselves as important to Thanos, but I believe he was merely a hanger-on that worshipped Thanos and wished to be useful to their 'Master'. I know not how many worlds he has already destroyed," Loki relayed gravely, "What I do know, however, is that Thanos is not naturally strong enough to have crushed civilizations. He had help."

With a flourish, Loki summoned another green flame, but in it, held the remaining Tesseract fragment.

"What you called 'The Tesseract' was merely a receptacle ... for this." Loki floated the fragment to the middle of the table where lines of silvery swirls swirled around it in complicated runes, "I do not recommend touching or approaching this unless you wish to suffer."

"That thing controlled your mind as well as those Shield goons. Thanks, but I'm good." Tony shook his head vehemently.

"You are close, Tony, but not quite," Loki corrected. "This is what the Other was after, and what they were trying to retrieve, through me, for their Master. This is The Space Stone."

"... I hear those capitals, but I'm missing the significance." Tony arched an eyebrow.

"This Stone is a set of six immensely powerful gem-like objects tied to different aspects of the universe; Space, Reality, Power, Soul, Mind, and Time, called The Infinity Stones. They are said to have come into being long before the formation of the Yggdrasil, or indeed any universe. These Stones are so strong, no being can touch these without severe consequences. Even I, a god," Loki smirked sarcastically, "Cannot touch. I merely can contain it with my seiðr and godly powers, if just barely." Admitting this seemed to hurt Loki.

"That scans," Tony agreed thoughtfully, "Of what we could dig up of the Tesseract, it was reported that no one could touch it while it was activated. No sources could state why."

"You said before that Tony was close but not quite," Bruce inquired, having seemed to recover from his glowy episode, "What did you mean?"

"You may take the naming of these Stones as literal," Loki explained, "The Space Stone represents and governs over space, and grants the wielder absolute control over space itself."

"So ... I'm guessing Thanos wants this Stone for its world-ruling powers, but also, I speculate, the ability of intergalactic travel." Tony postulated.

"That would be my guess." Loki agreed.

"But if it's not responsible for the mind control, why did the destroying of the Tesseract free you of its effect?" Bruce fiddled with his glasses.

"Because, Bruce Banner, the Tesseract was merely the focal point," Loki grinned, then closing their eyes they seemed to concentrate fiercely, then held out a hand and summoned another green flame, which this time held a similar yellow stone. "This was what enabled the Other to use his dark manipulation magic. The Mind Stone."

"Brother! How do you have it? Did you steal it from the fiend?" Thor boomed in exuberance.

"Unfortunately no, though I did manage to steal it, in a fashion," Loki smirked weakly.

"Are you alright there Lokes?" Tony eyed Loki's sweaty face, "You're looking a bit peaky."

"No need to fear Tony, your Tadashi has healed me most sufficiently even through mundane means. Which is probably why it was the only way to extract it." Loki conceded. "The Other, in all their dubious wisdom, decided that I would be their 'sleeper agent' if you will. Believing they were the wielder of the Mind Stone, they sent me out with their claws digging in my mind, seeing through my eyes and pulling my strings, and influenced other minds in close proximity towards one goal, the Tesseract. The Other achieved this by burying The Mind Stone in my flesh."

Tony jolted back with a hiss while Bruce paled, Thor clenched his fists till his knuckles were white.

"Why the Stone did not burn me away, I do not know. But I also know I was compelled away from trying to remove it myself, and any seiðr is repelled. Apparently, I was not the first the Other tried this technique on, but I was the first to survive. The Other mocked that it might be my 'weak godly powers' that saved me from destruction, and unfortunately, I'm willing to agree with them on that front." Loki sneered as if agreeing with anything their captor said left a bad taste in Loki's mouth. "What they failed to realise, they did not control all of me, as I had managed to mentally retreat and shield part of my mind. Granted, I was not able to influence much, or The Other may have become aware of my deceit. Luckily, The Other's grasp of the Mind Stone was not as strong as they would have hoped, as I had moments of clarity when they were distracted. The destroying of the Tesseract," Loki nodded to his fuming brother, "Broke The Other's tenuous grip and his powers slipped from the Stone, influencing me and all others through it no more. It fought back a bit when your Tadashi attempted to assist me in cutting it out," Loki admitted with a nod to Tony, "But when it felt no seiðr nor mortal mind or touch, for all intents and purposes, 'went to sleep', and has been deactivated since."

Loki floated the yellow Stone to join its brother on the table inside the glowing runes, and immediately the two started orbiting each other within the space.

"... Does no one else find it disturbing that we have two of the, supposed, all-powerful 'aspects of the universe' floating in my kitchen?" Tony wondered out loud. "Crap. This is serious stuff. And it's in my tower. If Shield or Hydra knew ... Hell, if Captain-Ass-Hat and the tabloids knew we would expect frothing masses to be beating down the doors." Tony quickly took up his tablet and started rapidly tapping.

"Tony ..." Bruce slowly approached, worried at his frantic energy.

"Ok, no, no worries. We can handle this," Tony muttered, chewing on the styles absentmindedly, "Loki-Doki, you said you can contain these Stones or whatever in your pocket dimension?" Loki nodded, "Can anyone get to it there? Or sense it?"

"No. Only I can access that dimension and it is warded against all senses or forces." Loki replied calmly, watching Tony with interest.

"Do we need to write up a contract agreeing you cant go all megalomaniac in my tower?" Tony eyed them.

"Tony!" Bruce huffed, but Loki held up a staying hand.

"You need not fret, Tony Stark, as your constructs have already had me sign a separate contract that I would not target nor attack you. Indeed, I am indebted to you," Loki bowed in their seat, "I recognise your standing as monarch of Midgard, and have made you my vassal for your deeds. In my eyes, I see us as allies with a common enemy," Loki smirked, "And contrary to the popular myth, I do not betray my allies."

"That's ... surprisingly comforting to know, actually." Tony blinked.

"You have my word, I will guard The Infinity Stones, to my last breath," Loki's green eyes flared, "I will not allow that ... monster to complete his plans."

"We must protect Hela!" Thor boomed in agreement.

"I'm sure the rest of the Realms and beyond comes into this somewhere," Loki chuckled as Thor blushed under the scrutiny. "However I managed to get into this current situation ... I find myself glad," Loki nodded, "I could not have landed with a more succinct team to construct a plan against Thanos - however stranded we may currently be. Thanos may now know of Yggdrasil and Midgard as the last known locations of his missing Stones," Loki smirked, "But he won't be getting here quite so fast without the Space Stone I was supposed to be fetching."

"Plenty of time to construct a plan." Tony agreed, grinning back.

Chapter Text

Deciding that the atmosphere had gotten too serious, Tony called for the conversation to be moved to the lounge.

"If we are plotting, we might as well be comfortable." he grinned.

Bruce shook his head almost fondly as he stood with the others and moved to a plush looking one-seater, secretly luxuriating in the feeling of the buttery leather and form conforming foam.
Looking around the penthouse lounge, that was a step down from the open plan living area connected to the dining room and open kitchen, Bruce wondered if Tony had any hand in the design. Everything looked like it had come from an interior decorators display floor, with its minimalist style combined with chrome and glass that gave it a sort of artistic-futuristic look without looking like a movie set or a space shuttle. Everything seemed to have a specific purpose, yet somehow the space didn't come across feeling sterile. In fact, it felt rather warm, inviting, lived in.
How Tony had made such an impersonal look feel so personalised, something so meticulous and planned yet sporadic and random that it screamed 'Tony lives here'.

Case in point - these supremely comfortable lounge pieces. Looking at them, they looked stiff, rigid, uncomfortable, and something Bruce would be too afraid to touch in fear that the price tag would give him hives. But once seated, Bruce never wanted to leave.

Thor had grabbed his brother as Loki tried to pass and pulled them onto a spacious love seat, which Thor's bulk took up most of as he snuggled Loki close, but despite their put-upon scowl, Loki didn't fight it much.

With Bruce on the left and Loki and Thor on the right of the lounge room, this left Tony to flop back on the long sectional lounge in the middle, undoing his cufflinks and rolling up his sleeve as he intoned to the room "If you would J."

"Of course Sir," JARVIS replied primly, and what Bruce had taken for a large glossy coffee table lit up and started to display the same blue projections above, like that he had seen in Tony's lab.

"Right, let's start with what we know." Tony's hands easily manipulated the projects to display the information he wanted, images and clips of the Tesseract, Loki, Thor - all obviously taken from the iron man suit or Tony's glasses camera, and others that became clear was extracted from Shield.

"Loki-Doki is sent to Earth-Midgard to retrieve the Tesseract. Shield was messing around with it," Tony indicated to the Shield footage of Shield scientists and goons running around when the Tesseract finally reacted to their poking and summoned a black hole/wormhole/portal thingy. At first, they were celebrating, but when Loki proceeded to step through there was panic and pointing guns. "Seems like Shield was attempted to use the Tesseract to create portals, but weren't expecting for anything to actually come through it. From the plans and documents we were able to pull, it looks like Shield was experimenting with instantaneous travel for their troops and a bid to push out into outer space. It looks like your crash landing," Tony waved at the grainy footage of Thor in Mexico, "Scared them into trying to find a way to retaliate."

"This is foolhardy of them," Thor growled with furrowed eyebrows, "If it becomes known that those in Midgard have achieved travel outside for their Realm, others will take this as a sign that Midgard is finally able to enter into Yggdrasil's higher forms of politics and war. If it becomes known that Midgard 'has a way' to travel outside of the Yggdrasil?" Thor shook their head gravely, "Invasion and war would be imminent."

"Can't have the dregs of the universe suddenly be more powerful than you," Bruce mumbled sardonically while he nodded in understanding.

"What I don't get," Tony paused on the footage of Loki stepping out of the portal, "Is how you managed to get to earth using the portal. The event seemed to happen randomly. Did the scientists or something else actually cause the activation of the Tessaract? Because from the files it looks like Shield's scientists weren't having much luck before this event."

"You would be correct in your hypothesis, indeed Shield's 'scientists' did not manage to activate the Tesseract," Loki's tone said everything of what they thought of Shield's involvement, "The Other channelled their dark magic through the Mind stone to reach out to its brethren. All they needed was to point the intent in the vague direction of Midgard, and the Stones did the rest."

"So the Portal was the Mind stone's attempt to bring its 'calling sibling' closer. Like a chemical or cellular attraction," Bruce's thinking pose was intense and probably very bad for his back. Bruce glanced up at Loki with a sharp expression, "Does this mean they know where Earth is now?"

"No, you expect too much from The Other," Loki scoffed, "Their actions might sound impressive. 'Brainwash a God. Send a sleeper agent across intergalactic space. Wield and connect with an assortment of Infinity Stones.' ... But I assure you, however much that blundering fool might have boasted, I do not think they were in full control of the situation." Loki indicated to the two stones gently orbiting each other in their combined seiðr/God Waves containment field. "It appears that the Stones when in proximity, want to be together. And if they came to be at the beginning of time and existence altogether as the stories say? It would make sense that they would be magnetised to each other." Loki smirked at the two mortals in the room, "Like attracts like, and all."

"So we can postulate that they knew at least that the Stones would be attracted to each other," Tony sat back and gave the two Stones the wary side-eye, "Isn't that a bad thing? If they have another Stone in their possession ... finding us, now that we have 2 of these things together ... doesn't that just make us a bigger target?"

"Ah, but how easily you forget," Loki tutted, "The only reason I was able to travel that distance at all was because of The Space Stone feeling the 'call' of its sibling. The Tesseract may have been its containment, but it did not fully suppress or control the Stone held within. I currently suppress and contain the Stones with my powers," Loki sighed wearily, "But I admit it is work, and I am not confident I will be able to fully contain them if they wished to act."

"Oh. Perhaps this will help?" Thor grunted, extending his fist and with a clap of thunder and flash of gold light a strange tube with two handles on the ends, thunked onto the carpet. "Father gave me this and bid me retrieve the Tesseract, with the intention of containing the cube within and harnessing it's travel powers by way of this device."

Tony was instantly up and inspecting, hands curiously trailing the gold detailing and tiny runes inscribed on the metal, non-verbally commanding JAVIS to bring out all the scanners and bring up his bots to lift and store the thing in his lab for deeper analysis once this inspection was done.

"Asgard's fascination with gold is truly ridiculous ..." Tony murmured to himself as he inspected the handles.

"Tony," Bruce admonished half-heartedly, although he was beginning to agree, Loki chuckled.

"With your explanation of Asgard's attitudes toward magic being science, I was worried for a minute there Lokes," Tony grinned up at the smirking trickster, "But I can totally work with this."

"I have every confidence," replied Loki, the smuggest bastard of the nine realms, "I am willing to donate my skills toward this endeavour, as we need these Infinity Stones properly contained."

"I hope you realise what you just signed up for there Loki-Doki," Tony cackled as Dum-E and U hauled the tube away to be further analyzed, "Because I intend to fully understand how all these things work. You just volunteered for some long sleepless nights with JARVIS and I."

"I'm looking forward to it." Loki purred.

"With the Tesseract destroyed I can no longer complete the mission given to me by Father, but as the outcome is rescuing my brother and have them returned to me? I am quite happy to fail his expectations." Thor rumbled, tugging Loki closer for a cuddle, which Loki put up with exasperated grace.

"Won't Odin insist on you bringing both the Infinity Stones and Loki back to Asgard?" Bruce pointed out reluctantly, "I doubt he'd want to be kept out of the loop."

"Seeing as The All-Father decided to forsake my Brother and he reasonably has no claim on the Stones that were created long before his birth - I say he can butt out." Thor pouted with furrowed brows, hugging Loki possessively around the middle.

"Uh-oh, someone just hit their rebellious phase." Tony chuckled, retaking his seat, "Gotta say Thunder Thighs, I approve."

"For someone who runs a worldwide conglomerate," Bruce raised an eyebrow with a small smirk, "You are surprisingly against 'The Man' Tony."

"Brucie," Tony put a hand to his chest in mock shock and hurt, "Wash out your mouth with soap! I have never, and will never be 'The Man'. Haven't the heart for it," Tony grimaced sardonically at how literal that was, tapping on the arc reactor in his chest. "If anyone is 'The Man' in this scenario, it'd be SHIELDRA."

"Director Fury and Shield are currently busy with tracking down and eliminating internal threats," JARVIS updated them all on the developing situation, "Mr Steve Rogers has also been recruited to Shield to battle against surviving cells of HYDRA."

"Captain America punching Natzi's," Tony shook his head with disgust, "It's almost like World War II never ended."

"You never did explain what HYDRA was, did you?" Thor questioned, looking up from snuffling Loki's hair.

"HYDRA is an authoritarian paramilitary-subversive organization bent on world domination," JARVIS replied, taking up the narration, "From what we have been able to reveal through our investigation, is that HYDRA is more commonly known as the scientific branch of the Nazi Schutzstaffel, or more commonly known as the SS. The Nazi's were 'The National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or The Nazi Party for short. They grew into a mass movement and ruled Germany through totalitarian means. They were xenophobic and believed in a german 'Master Race' - responsible for some of the worst crimes against humanity to date. World War 2 was waged in an effort to eliminate such a threat. The Natzi Party was ultimately defeated in 1945, and it was believed HYDRA went down with them. But now we know this was not so."

JARVIS brought up what they had learned was the HYDRA logo, A black skull on a red backdrop, but instead of teeth, it had black coiling tentacles crawling out of the mouth of the skull.

"We believe that HYDRA took their naming to heart. 'Cut off one head of the Hydra beast, and 2 more would appear in its place'. HYDRA was not just a singular organisation, but a sprawling network," JARVIS proceeded to bring up multiple files, character information sheets with attached mug shots, ariel view shots of bases and marked maps. "Surviving operatives slipped into many different countries and organisations, and proceeded to rebuild HYDRA from within those networks. We are still finalizing how many 'arms' of HYDRA currently exist."

"Well ..." Bruce breathed, sitting back in his comfy one-seater, pale and feeling a bit faint.

"As I mentioned, Shield is currently leading investigations and burning out whatever cells they find as we speak, along with a few other informed agencies. Our own investigations have uncovered many other things, however." JARVIS tried to soothe Dr Banner with facts. "We now believe we might know how the Tesseract came under Shield possession."

"Share with the class J." Tony's brown eyes gleamed with interest.

Chapter Text

Turns out, Tony wasn't the first to create an AI.

"HYDRA has an AI." Tony scowled, tapping his foot irritably.

"Had," JARVIS sniffed and added disdainfully, "Not that I would call 'that' an AI, Sir. More ... a stored consciousness. We were able to isolate it and EDITH now maintains it in isolated custody."

"HYDRA was able to store a person's consciousness in a computer?!" Bruce gasped as the thought of HYDRA being able to infiltrate that way was terrifying, "Do we know who they were ... are?"

"'Were' is the correct term Dr Banner," JARVIS replied, "As it may be what remains of his consciousness, though little exists of the functions of the human brain, and only limited memory data, learning capability is almost non-existent, with strictly written directives. Who he was, was a Doctor Arnim Zola."

"...Why does that name sound familiar?" Tony's mood was not improving.

"Doctor Arnim Zola was a part of 'Operation Paperclip'. A program in which over 1,500 German scientists, technicians, and engineers from Nazi Germany and other foreign countries were brought to the United States of America for employment in the aftermath of World War II. It was sold as a peacekeeping attempt, as a sign of American goodwill, but was really a bid to recruit former Nazi scientists to work for the United States as opposed to the Soviet Union."

"An enemy of my enemy is my friend," Tony growled as he got up to pace.

"Dr Zola was offered a position in S.H.I.E.L.D. At that time a small newly formed peacekeeping organization, in their science and development department. By his own testimony, he claims that he used his new position to secretly rebuild HYDRA from the shadows and conversely infest Shield from its early days. In 1972, however, Dr Zola received a fatal diagnosis and passed away, but his mind was transferred into a 'complex computer system' on Camp Lehigh, where he remained aiding his fellow HYDRA allies undetected ... until a few hours ago." JARVIS' dry prim tone was dryer than the Sahara.

Tony continued pacing, grumbling under his breath, Bruce worriedly watching his path back and forth across the lounge room space.

"You work fast to capture and imprison this felon, Sir Jarvis," Thor rumbled amiably although his brows were drawn in concern, "Will not Shield or this HYDRA be made aware now of their missing piece?"

"Camp Lehigh was established in 1914 as a base of the United States Army. By 1943, the camp was used by the Strategic Scientific Reserve as a military training facility for candidates of Project Rebirth - Where Steve Rogers was picked as a candidate, trained, and essentially became the first successful case of trying to create an army of super-soldiers. Following World War II, Camp Lehigh was transformed into one of the first S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities, but over time and building bigger and better facilities - and Camp Lehigh becoming a tourist attraction as the 'Birth Place of Captain America' and thus a security threat to Shield operations, the base was emptied out and essentially abandoned. The only thing left there was Dr Zola's secret bunker underneath the facility where it continued to support HYDRA's agendas." JARVIS explained, bringing up a picture of a fenced-off, a seemingly empty military base with a sign out front stating the military bases name and the slogan of being the 'Birth Place of Captain America', surrounded by camera-happy civilians.
"Doctor Arnim Zola has survived as a dated support system, a forgotten relic of 1970's technology, and hasn't been of use in over 2 decades. HYDRA may have a widespread network, but that network is stretched, spread-thin - with many HYDRA cells not knowing the existence of the others. With having to stay so under the radar, they limit their capabilities, compared to Shield who may act overtly, for a spy organisation. They may have had a chance if they were able to retrieve Dr Zola and extract all of his stored information, or if Dr Zola had been aware of outside happenings and tried to reach out its self - but with Shield and other organisations now hunting them down and us hacking their servers and cutting off their few communication lines," if JARVIS could smile in triumph he probably would right now, "HYDRA has more to worry about than a half-forgotten support bunker."

"But ... what has this got to do with the Tesseract?" Loki inquired, taking another cup of tea from Butterfingers.

"From what we have been able to extract from 'Dr Zola', it appears that during World War II, Johann Schmidt, German SS officer and leader of HYDRA, organized an incursion in Norway searching for the Tesseract. He was following a Norse myth that stated that Odin gifted a village of Vikings loyal to Asgard the Tesseract, which came to be regarded as 'the jewel of Odin's treasure room.' They found it in a box, behind a sculptured mural of the Yggdrasil, in a church full of Viking warriors entombed within its walls, in the village of Tønsberg,"

"Tønsberg? The same Tønsberg that Odin started a war in over Jotun daring to step outside their Realm?" Tony blinked at the projection that showed the village located on a map. "I would have thought the humans and leftover Jotuns would be less 'Thank you, Oh Mighty All-Daddy' and more 'You killed my Aunty!'"

Loki almost spat their tea and Thor blanched before calling out, "Mayhaps this was before that battle?"

"The 'when' is unclear, but it is confirmed that HYDRA stole the Tesseract. But following a battle with Steve Rogers, the Tesseract was thought lost with Captain America's plane. From there it was found by Mr Howard Anthony Walter Stark."

"Stark?" Thor looked to Tony in confusion.

"My father." Tony grumbled, crossing his arms with a scowl.

"... It truly is a small world." wondered Bruce out loud.

"Mr Stark was attempting to find Steve Rogers' body when he found the Tesseract. In the following years, Mr Stark studied the Tesseract and co-founded S.H.I.E.L.D. Mr Stark, believing that the energy within the Tesseract would be beneficial to mankind, Mr Stark co-developed the Arc Reactor with Anton Vanko, although they were unable to perfect it and the project was left unfinished." JARVIS pulled up an image of the giant 'arc reactor' that had been in SI headquarters before it blew up in the fight against Obadiah Stane, next to a picture of the compact arc reactor created by Tony. "The project was later finished by Sir."

Loki's eyes were fascinated, but they weren't looking at the projection, they were looking at the arc reactor in Tony chest. "So this 'arc reactor' was based on studies of the Tesseract?"

"Yep." Tony popped the 'p', while idly tapping a finger against the arc reactor, watching as JARVIS brought up more pictures and files.

"Finding nothing else that he could discover from it, Mr Stark relinquished custody of the Tesseract to a research program, a joint venture between S.H.I.E.L.D., NASA and the United States Air Force tasked with studying and harnessing the Tesseract's energy, called 'Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S.'. This is where we believe Shield got a lot of their weapon plans and research initially. However, in the 1980's they seem to have lost the Tesseract, marked as a 'failed test flight'. Files of this incident are scarce, probably destroyed. We are unsure how or when, as it is not notated anywhere, but it seems that Shield was able to retrieve the Tesseract, and had been researching it ever since."

"This Space Stone sure gets around," Bruce murmured, eyeing the orbiting Stones warily.

"I was unaware that the Tesseract was originally a royal vault item of Asgard, as I had never heard of it before my loving treatment from The Other," Loki sneered, "In fact, Odin leaving a treasure anywhere does not sound like something he would do."

"Maybe ... But it sounds like it's our only lead," Bruce tentatively leaned forward, looking up at the ceiling, "Maybe there are more Norse myths that survive about it? Do you know of any, Jarvis?"

"I am afraid I have found all electronic sources that are available, Dr Banner. Which is why we have decided to get in touch with a Professor Elliot Randolph of Norse Mythology at the University of Seville. The added fact that this man was contacted by Shield for a consultation when Thor Odinson's hammer was discovered in New Mexico," JARVIS projected the professor's file, "Leads us to believe he would be interesting to talk to, at least."

"Good work J," Tony smiled uncrossing his arms, tension leaving his body, "Schedule an appointment, unofficial of course. Wouldn't want the media and the shareholders to panic that I had gone loopy and finally started having a mid-life crisis."

"What are you going to do about the media Tony?" Bruce fiddled with his glasses nervously, "That battle where we collected Loki was very public."

"And Captain Puerto Rico shooting his mouth off to the press earlier certainly doesn't help," Tony grumbled, brushing invisible lint off of his crumpled suit. "With Shield and Captain Dud running around after HYDRA's tail, would leave them very little time to release a press statement." Tony sighed, "Guess I'll have to step up to the plate then."

"But what about Thor and Loki, or harbouring me? All your recent legal actions would for sure have drawn attention," Bruce twisted his fingers in a mild panic, "How are you-"

"Brucie," Tony smiled at Bruce, waiting until he stopped fidgeting and looked up at him, "You forget who your talking to. I have an entire PR department and my AI behind me," Tony grinned, "I eat this sort of press release for breakfast."

Chapter Text

"TONY!"

The inventor looked up with a cheesy slice of pizza still in his mouth to watch Pepper Pots march into the penthouse open plan living area, dressed in a very nice women's business suit skirt & jacket set in Blue Jay and smart black heels, beautiful red hair pulled back into a neat professional ponytail - she must have come straight from the SI offices. Seeing Agent Coulson following on her heels was less welcome.

"Pepper! How is my favourite President of Stark Industries?" Tony grins as he takes another bite of pizza.

"Tony, what are you doing?" she stressed - if she kept frowning like that she would develop wrinkles. "First you go off to another battle as Iron Man, and don't notify me or anyone in the executive offices of your return, or anyone for that matter. Then barely 24 hours later I find out you went and called for a press conference, again without mentioning it to anyone. Tony, when I turned down your offer to take over as CEO, and instead you promote me to the president, I had hoped it meant that I would be more involved in decisions moving forward, instead of knowing less than I did as your personal assistant."

"Pepper, you know I value your opinion," Tony met her eyes seriously, "I made you president because I believe you were wasted as a personal assistant. You could run this whole place if you wanted to."

"Don't try to distract me with compliments, Tony, I know you too well," Pepper huffed. "What I am annoyed about is that you decided to hold a press conference without notifying the company!"

"That press conference was an Iron Man matter, not a Stark Industries one," Tony indicated with his pizza slice, "There's a reason I have a whole separate team to cover Iron Man matters that is separate from SI."

"Be that as it may Mr Stark," Agent Coulson intoned with his smooth genial spy voice, "But we have come to question why you thought it was a good idea to inform the public that the situation was under control and to formally announce that Iron Man is now joining forces with Thor, Loki and The Hulk?" the agent indicated to Tony's guests who sat in the room behind Tony still munching on pizza out of a truly staggering pile of pizza boxes. "Did you think at all about harbouring wanted fugitives?"

"Agent Agent," Tony scowled, "I don't remember making an appointment nor inviting you into my tower."

"I brought him Tony. Agent Coulson was kind enough to come to me in my office and tell me what you had been doing." Pepper stepped forward as if to cover the agent from Tony's scowl.

"So not only does he work for SHIELDRA, but he's also a tattle-tale." Tony squinted at agent Coulson, who give a muted wince.

Before Pepper could continue on her planned tirade, JARVIS' voice came over the speakers of the room, "Ms Potts, if I may. Thor Odinson, Loki Laufeyson and Doctor Bruce Banner have all been legally acquitted and free of all charges, upon viewing evidence of their innocence. Sir was within every right to announce making allies with Mr Laufeyson, Dr Banner and Mr Odinson, in his position as Iron Man."

"But to try and say they were royalty from outer space-" Pepper waved an exasperated hand, but was cut off by Loki's purring voice.

"Indeed, my brother and I are royals from Asgard's Court, here as the ambassador's on the All-Father's behalf, making Tony Stark's Tower residence our royal embassy," Loki smiled like a cat that had gotten the canary, "Proof of our claims was made clear at this conference was it not?"

Tony smirked as he remembered that unscripted bit, as he had been standing on the podium in one of his undamaged Iron Man suits, sticking mostly to the speech concocted by the combined forces of his AI and PR team. As he got to the bit explaining the Asgardians being sent by their King Odin, a rumble filled the sky followed by a pale white flash and appearing out of thin air, a beautiful woven tapestry floated down, which Tony easily caught and seeing the symbols on it, somehow instinctively knowing what they meant, and showed it to the shocked crowd, explaining it was a sign from Odin of his acceptance and agreement to ally themselves to Earth.

"There is no proof that piece of cloth came from Odin." Agent refuted.

"That 'cloth' was a uniquely seiðr woven tapestry by Queen Frigga of Asgard," Thor thundered crossly, "Such items are powerful and only given to proven allies of the Golden Realm Eternal. Know your place mortal."

"Why are you even trying to deny this?" Bruce questioned, patting his mouth with a napkin, "You already know Thor and Loki and everything is the real deal."

Agent Coulson sighed, he honestly looked like the last 24 hours had not been kind. "Shield has a problem with Mr Stark announcing your existence or even the fact you are here, without their sanction."

"Shield's sanction?" Tony scoffed, "Since when did I need that?"

"When you became part of the team." agent Coulson shot back, exasperated.

"Team? What team? Do you mean Fury's 'The Avengers Initiative'?" Tony raised an eyebrow at Agent, watching as Pepper seemed to become unsure that bringing him had been such a good idea.
"What was it that Natalia put in her report? Oh yes ... 'Iron Man: Yes, Tony Stark: Not recommended'. As far as I am aware, Fury never wanted me on his little 'team' venture, though he surely wanted the suit. To bad for Nicky, I Am Iron Man. The Suit And I Are One." Tony smirked at quoting himself.
"I never signed any contracts, and to my knowledge, neither did Brucie. In fact, you less 'recruited' him, and more 'threatened' him." Tony scowled, "So ... Thanks, but No Thanks, Agent Agent. You can keep your little 'Avengers Initiative'. No SI funds or resources are ever going to be given towards it," he glared at the slightly paling agent. "In fact, now that I know Shield is less 'Shield' and more 'SHIELDRA', and behind a lot more incidents in my life than I first realised," agent Coulson physically blanched, "I fully expect you to follow the proper procedure from now on when trying to contact me. Call off your red-headed spider," Tony walked forward and drew Pepper away from the agent gently by her hand to stand beside him, "And don't you dare try to drag my friends into conflict again. Or I will bring my full authority down on your heads ... is that clear?"

Agent Coulson seemed to be struggling with himself after Tony's scathing refusal, so Thor calmly rose and walked over to stand next to Tony, shielding the Lady Pepper with his bulk.

"Tony Stark has been recognised by the royal court of Asgard. Any dealings between our Realms shall be through him," Thor intoned, crossing his massive arms, "If you wish to continue to not be seen as a threat to the sanctity of the Realm of Midgard, you would do well to heed Tony Stark's words."

"Wouldn't want a whole army of Odin's elite warriors to come to 'defend' our ally and allied Realm," Loki purred, having silently sauntered up to Tony's other side, bringing a fidgeting but defiant Bruce along.

"No ..." agent Coulson breathed, "Wouldn't want that."

"Cheer up Agent Agent, it's not like I'm completely cutting you off," Tony revealed to agent Coulson's mild confusion, "If we ever happen to be on the same battlefield fighting the bad guys, our people won't attack. We aren't enemies at the moment, and we won't open hostilities with you until we are dead sure that you are. I'm not silly enough to turn away an extra pair of helping hands in a time of need."

"How ... generous of you, Mr Stark." agent Coulson swallowed.

"However, that doesn't mean we won't protect ourselves, or others if your actions are deemed unjustified." Tony warned, "Shield has been running around with little supervision for way too long. We aren't your nanny, nor are we your boss ... But we will be watching you."

"If agent Coulson would be so kind as to follow the guiding lights on the floors," JARVIS spoke up, his voice sounding more robotic than normal, "You shall be escorted out of the premises."

Without uttering a word, but giving the group in front of him a restrained nod, agent Coulson followed JARVIS' directions and swiftly left.

"Are we going to have to have a talk about you bringing home strange men, Pep?" Tony turned to a shocked Pepper, still gently holding her hand.

"Wasn't that my old job?" Pepper weakly laughed.

Chapter Text

It had been a fair while since Tony had any use for the floor full of meeting rooms and offices in his Tower, being that this was his personal residence now instead of his destroyed mansion in Malibu, and SI had their own headquarters. Sadly, Tony Stark couldn't just be Tony when not wearing the CEO mask or donning the Iron Man suit - being a multi-billionaire and inventing genius meant little personal space and every home of his needed to include an office for professional meetings. Wouldn't do to meet everyone in the kitchen ... despite it being a very nice kitchen. J and the Kids sometimes were such sticklers for proper procedure.

He was now in one the meeting rooms Tony dubbed 'This is not for business, this is for meeting smart people' meeting room, colours and furniture more relaxed, with an offered tea and coffee service. This is where he meets people he wants to talk to, not the stuffy mildly threatening business meeting rooms designed to make the business opponent slightly uncomfortable and just want to get the business over with and leave. Those rooms are filled with hard, unforgiving, uncomfortable chairs, everything in military neat lines and kept severely cleaned. This room, has soft forgiving chairs around coffee tables, plush carpet, and everything shined to a nice polish.
In his experience, Tony feels that academics and scientists have to put up with uncomfortable surroundings for most of their careers while business types have comfy offices ... they can stand to be uncomfortable more often.

Tony was here to meet Professor Elliot Randolph of Norse Mythology, of the University of Seville, JARVIS was kind enough to organise the meeting for after the conference should be widespread knowledge. What Norse Mythology professional would give up this chance to investigate such claims. They had dangled the bait, and as they had expected, Mythology 'experts' and enthusiasts had come out in droves. The isolationists, radical religious groups, and alien believers had come out too - but you always had to deal with every facet of humanity when making public statements.
Thank the 2 gods in his tower that Tony had a capable public relations team to deal with all of the people Tony just didn't have the time or patience to deal with. He's got a lot to do.

Professor Randolph was punctual, and not as old as Tony would have expected - he really should check his social expectations for only the old being full of wisdom. In fact, he appeared to be only a decade or 2 older than Tony himself, a genial mien wearing a charcoal suit over a dark cardigan and shined shoes. So ... less a dotty old professor who had given up the mere mortal needs and focused only on his studies, and more someone actually putting in an effort to look presentable in front of a prospecting student. He didn't put on any airs either, he was polite but straight to the point, shaking Tony's hand and sitting down, accepting a tea and asking Tony what he had called this appointment for. No ass-kissing or frivolous compliments or small talk. Tony was starting to like this guy.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me here at Stark Tower," Tony opened the conversation, "As you can probably speculate, I'm in need of a Norse Mythology professional to consult - the situation being what it is. We have scoured the internet for historical sources, but were finding it hard to discern what was genuine and what was fiction."

The professor chuckled good-naturedly as he took a sip of tea, "Oh, I have no doubt. Many surviving texts are political pieces used to verify a Scandinavian King's rule or pure fantasy concocted by poets. The most comprehensive primary source, written by Snorri Sturluson, is the least reliable by far, because it’s partly true but badly cited, and partly made up, and we can’t be really sure which is which. It probably doesn't help that Snorri was a poet, historian, and politician."

"A worse combination I couldn't think of." Tony shuddered.

"Ah, I see you are another that has fallen victim to, what I affectionately refer to as 'Snorri's disenchanted'," professor Randolph smiled, "Many of my students end up having screaming fits about Snorri Sturluson, but we cannot just brush aside his many prolific works, however mired by politics and romanticism they may be."

The professor gently put his teacup down on the coffee table and leaned forward slightly, face freely showing his interest.

"I must confess, your press conference has the Norse Mythology community in a tissy. New information, as you can imagine, is very rare. And when someone claims to have found new information, it is usually a hoax." professor Randolph grinned, "Would you forgive me for wanting to verify your information?"

"Of course, that's why we scheduled this meeting," Tony leaned back with a smirk, waving a careless hand, "If people didn't question the validity of my claims I'd be wondering about their intelligence. I'm having a friend bring the tapestry sent by Odin, I hope you don't mind them joining us?" Tony asked as he looked to the door, glancing back at the genial professor.

"Not at all." professor Randolph nodded.

Seemingly without any prompting, like they had been waiting behind the door, Loki swanned into the room, wearing a modern cut suit in dark green instead of their leathers, holding the tapestry neatly folded in their hands. The moment Loki looked upon the two beings in the room, however, Loki froze, face becoming a sneering mask of rage, tucking the tapestry under their arm and brandishing their green fire-like seiðr like a whip and knocked Professor Elliot Randolph back out of his chair to slam against the opposite wall, wrapping and pinning him there so tightly he could barely wriggle.

Tony had jumped back out of his chair so fast he almost pulled something. "Loki, what-"

"This is no mortal. This being should not be here. What are your plans involving Tony Stark, Aesir!" Loki snarled.

"Oh, shit" Tony mumbled as he quickly fumbled his glasses out of his coat pocket, putting them on and tapping the frames to activate the newly updated scanners, which showed the 'professor' to be surrounded by wisps of red haze, now contained by Loki's seiðr.

"I am sorry Sir," JARVIS' voice intoned from the ear implant Tony had to always be connected to his AI, "We had the professor thoroughly background checked, and with no anomalies had deemed him human. We had not thought to scan those not considered a threat."

"Easy mistake to make JARVIS, we are all new to this," Tony mumbled as he watched Loki prowl over to his prey and eyed the 'professor' disconcertedly, "We'll just have to update protocols to scan everyone we encounter from now on, alright buddy?"

"Affirmative Sir."

"A member of the Royal household has asked you a question, Aesir," Loki growled, shoving him harder against the wall, "Speak!"

"Your a royal whelp?" the 'professor' coughed, getting air back into his lungs, "Since when did the royal family accept anyone who did not have golden blond hair?"

"... You do not recognise me?" Loki was perplexed, "I am Loki, ward of Odin, a Prince of Jotunnhiem."

"Jotun?" the 'professor' seemed stunned, face torn between shock and something that looked like grief, "... There are Jotun that survived?"

"There are literally hundreds of Norse myths involving Loki," Tony rejoined after recovering, "How can you not know who they are?"

"I read the human stories but I did not believe them. Just more of their attempts to explain away the terrible ravages of war," the revealed Aesir breathed, looking upon Loki with shiny eyes, "You mean to say the Jotun still survive? Truly?"

"Still suffering under Odin's misbegotten wrath, but they cling to life still," Loki admitted, watching their captive in something approaching confusion, "Who are you to not be made aware of this?"

"I was a mason," the man admitted, "I broke rocks... for thousands of years. If you can imagine that. So when they came, asking for people to fight, yes, of course, I signed up. I think, really, I just wanted to travel. I was assigned to Odin's Berserker Army and charged forth to Midgard. Lowly recruits like I weren't told what we were fighting for," he grumbled in a sort of saddened reproach. "I fought in the Battle of Tønsberg, gathered quite a reputation for myself, slaughtered any who stood in the path of Odin. It wasn't until the berserker rage slowly started to wane that I saw what we had done." the Aesir forlornly shook their head.
"When Odin ordered that we chase Jotunhiem's beleaguered forces back to their Realm and continue the slaughter there ... I defected, and stayed on Midgard." the ancient Aesir huffed, "Turned out a mason did not make a very good campaigning warrior, if shockingly good at battle."

"The Berserker Army, an army of Asgardian warriors that entered battle like raging beasts, destroying everything in their path. It was said that a single berserker had the strength of over 20 warriors, and they fought in a state of uncontrollable rage," Loki recounted, "The Histories painted their feats as glorious and full of valour, but they were immediately disbanded after the Battle of Jotunheim."

"Good." the Aesir murmured with a scowl.

"I thought Asgard was a war-loving race of warriors?" Tony inquired, slowly inching closer to the two conversing gods now that hostilities seemed to have relaxed.

"The upper-classes and the warrior classes, surely. But the working classes had little time for warmongering and very little say. If you weren't a warrior you were of little consequence." the Aesir explained.

"So ... like the Roman civilization? Everything focused around the military?" Tony leaned forward, intrigued.

"Exactly." the 'professor' nodded.

"You have still not given us your name, Aesir." Loki rumbled, still eyeing them suspiciously.

"I was an unmarried, familyless, lowly mason that worked on farmers walls and huts," the Aesir shook his head ruefully, "I left my old life and old name back in Asgard. Scorched clean by the rage of war. I came to Earth to fight, but ended up falling in love."

"With whom?" Loki raised an eyebrow.

"With life, on Earth. Humanity. I fell so much in love that when the army left, I stayed behind." the Aesir looked Loki and Tony in the eyes, "I have taken on many roles over the centuries, many names while enjoying the beauty here. In this life I go by the name Elliot Randolph ... I'd prefer you would refer to me so."

"Well ... We were looking for help finding primary sources, and with our situation, you can't get any more primary than this," Tony speculated, then turning to Loki to see their verdict.

Loki softly growled but held up a palm in a swearing motion, "I will release you, only after you have sworn on your seiðr, your very life-blood, that you will not attack nor conspire against anyone containing or related to this Tower."

"Goes without saying." Elliot Randolph easily agreed, meeting Loki's seiðr between them in a tangle of green and brownish-red that then flashed, seeming to have locked in the oath, and Loki reluctantly let his prisoner go.

Watching the beleaguered professor dust and fix up his now wrinkled suit, he certainly acted more human than his two alien guests, Tony asked, "You agreed to that pretty quickly."

Professor Randolph looked up with a raised brow, "I was restrained by an accomplished seiðr sorcerer. I may be ancient, but I'm not dumb." he said as he finished brushing himself off. "Besides, I had already sighed my life away as soon as I stepped into the Stark Tower lobby. What's one more?"

"FRIDAY is getting pretty insistent on visitors signing those agreements," Tony mumbled in a mix of pride and embarrassment.

"An embarrassment of riches," Loki smirked.

"So ... now what are you going to do to me?" professor huffed in defeat.

"... Do?" Loki cocked an eyebrow.

"We invited you here originally to ask if you knew anything about the Tesseract, so let's do that." Tony nodded, picking up and rearranging the chairs, grabbing another for Loki, who sat down primly, then wandered over to the tea service, "More tea?"

Professor Elliot Randolph gingerly walked over to the chairs, and almost disbelievingly sat while Tony served him and Loki fresh cups of tea. "I definitely remember dealing with the Aesir being a bit more ... bloody?"

"There are no Aesir here currently," Loki sipped, "Just a mortal, a Midgardian emigrant, and a Jotun. There is an Aesir currently in the tower," Loki nodded, "But he is currently more interested in other pursuits."

"That's Loki-speak for 'Thor is working out in the gym like a muscle-head'," Tony stage whispered.

"So Thor, Odin's child out of wedlock with a Midgardian Jotun, and a Jotun Prince really have joined forces with Iron Man?" professor Randolph slowly picked up his tea and stirred in some sugar, watching the two beings in front of him sip, "Will wonders never cease?"

"Odin actually legitimized Thor as his son after the Battle of Jotunheim," Loki replied with a smirk around his teacup.

"Truly? And what I can gather, took you on as a war prize at the end of it too, if you are his ward. That sounds like the Odin I remember," professor Randolph numbly palmed his teacup, apparently enjoying its warmth in his hands. "Now ... What's this about a 'Tesseract'?"

"A local legend in the village of Tønsberg was that Odin gifted the Vikings there something they called 'the jewel of Odin's treasure room'," Loki replied, but upon seeing the past-Aesir's confused face, Tony cut in, "It looked like a big glowy blue cube."

"Oh! That thing! I had almost forgotten about that," professor Randolph sat back cupping his warm tea while he reminisced, "I was still in Tønsberg by that time, helping to clean up the village, use my skills as a mason in the hopes of repenting, and helping them sort and bury their dead. The Rainbow Bridge descended in the middle of the village, causing such a panic - I thought the army had come back looking for me. But out stepped Odin, all bloody and missing an eye, and a sweet Midgardian Jotun lass with a face so furious it could set fires. Odin made this big speech about hoping their time apart wouldn't be too long, please reconsider, and take this shiny bauble and think of me." Randolph's sardonic retelling of Odin begging Thor's mother was golden.
"He ended up pissing back off to Asgard, and the moment he left the Jotun lass threw the cube on the ground and left it in the mud, offering her hands and seiðr to help bury the dead. We ended up building a temple to inter the Viking warriors, as was their tradition after large noteworthy battles. The lady Jotun claimed she did not want Odin's gift and donated it to be interred in the temple walls, a mural of the Yggdrasil, behind the inscription of the Nidhogg, a Viking mythical beast, a dragon/serpent who gnaws at a root of the world tree. The survivors thought that likeness to Odin was very fitting."

Loki's laughter reverberated around the meeting room joined by Tony's pleased cackles.

Chapter Text

Tony was still giggling after they had solidified Elliot Randolph's legal agreements and offered him open sanctuary at Stark Tower since technically, he was an Asgardian, and this was, for now, the Asgardian Embassy. The professor was quite happy to take up their offer of protection and willingly offered his support and expertise if they had need of it but turned down moving to the tower. He still had students and classes to teach and would prefer if his real identity remained a secret, which Tony agreed was doable and added that to their legal agreements.
JARVIS saw off the professor, now gifted a Stark Phone so he could keep in touch and also signal for help from the Embassy, with a promise to organise another meeting to go over more Asgardian and Midgardian history and lore when they both had the time.

Back up in the penthouse, Bruce watched Tony who was still tickled pink, while Thor looked like he was torn between wanting to laugh or be horrified.

"It's not that funny son of Stark," Thor grumbled to Tony's renewed cackles.

"The Space Stone, an insanely powerful aspect of the Universe, that was contained in the Tesseract, able to rule or connect the wielder to all of the galaxies," Tony regaled, wiping away tears, "And Odin uses it as a hope for a booty call!"

Thor grimaced while Loki chuckled once again as Bruce snorted, patting the embarrassed Thor lightly on the arm in commiseration.

"And, and!" Tony hiccupped, "When his lover didn't end up calling him back, threw a temper tantrum and basically went to his room and locked himself in to sulk!"

"Admittedly it is quite hilarious," Loki agreed, calming down their chuckles, "But this was also a powerful ruler, who dragged his whole Realm with him into isolation, and in his spite perpetuated racist slurs against a whole species."

"Definitely sounds like a megalomaniac King too used to getting his own way," Tony's humour quickly soured, he grimaced, "And now because of that shiny thing," he indicated to the golden tapestry with pride of place on the major facing wall, "We have to have dealings with said King."

"Not until the Rainbow Bridge is repaired, we do not," Loki grinned at Thor's continuing winces.

"This Rainbow Bridge," Bruce spoke up, cleaning his glasses, "Is it truly the only mode of transport that Asgard has?"

"The Rainbow Bridge is the crystalline, prismatic bridge that runs from the Royal Palace of Valaskjalf at the centre of Asgard to Himinbjorg at the edge of Asgard, harnessing the dimensional energy of the Bifrost," Loki recited their studies from memory, "Himinbjorg is the place from where the Bifrost is generated and directed using the energy that runs through the Rainbow Bridge. It is located just outside Asgard, at the edge of the Sea of Asgard, at the edge of the world."

"What is the Bifrost?" Bruce peered up at the tall raven-haired god, watching them as they entered lecturing mode.

"Bifrost, is dimensional energy which allows instantaneous travel within the Nine Realms," Loki explained, "It was generated and contained at Himinbjorg, and harnessed in the form of the Rainbow Bridge. It can only be activated by Heimdall, the all-seeing and all-hearing guard of the Bifrost. Only he has the key to Himinbjorg's mechanism, Hofund, used to activate the Rainbow Bridge."

"Who is also one of Thor's brother's from another nine mothers." Tony quipped.

Choosing to ignore Bruce's baffled questions at how that was biologically possible, Thor pressed on, "And now that the Rainbow Bridge is damaged, we have no way to harness the Bifrost. Only Father really has the power left to activate it with the Odinforce, but only for short periods and only able to send maybe one or two men. At a great personal cost."

"Who created the Himinbjorg?" Tony questioned, fiddling with projections, "Someone would have to have invented it or learned how to harness this Bifrost energy. Couldn't they just get them to fix it?"

"Asgard may be the Golden Realm Eternal, and Asgardian's enjoy what is essentially immortality, providing that they don't die from wounds or poisoning. Asgardians can still die. Otherwise, Asgard would be overpopulated, we wouldn't need a Healers Hall, and Buri would still be king." Loki waved an absentminded hand like they hadn't just revealed that they were practically immortal.
"The histories state that a lot of what stands in Asgard today, like the Royal Palace of Valaskjalf, the Himinbjorg, and even quite a few of the ancient relics contained in the royal treasury, were constructed by a being simply called 'The Builder'. There are no personal histories or indeed who they were. Though it was noted that The Builder was beheaded by King Buri after they had fashioned them the Odinsleep chamber - then I suppose called the 'Burisleep', and Asgard's royal throne - apparently Buri deemed these to be the Builder's magnum opus, and decided to bring them up on treason charges, but was really so the Builder could never build anything grander for anyone else."

"Let me guess, the Builder was the only one who knew how any of these things worked and didn't leave any blueprints or instructions." Tony huffed with a reluctant smirk, admiring this fellow inventors spunk.

"Got it in one," Loki nodded, "For centuries Asgardian royal scholars, the only ones privileged with the opportunity, have studied these ancient relics and attempted to recreate them, with little to no success. And what could be deemed 'successes' were poor imitations and broke easily or malfunctioned with tragic results."

"So, from what I'm gathering," Bruce counted on his fingers as he made points, "Asgard is sitting on a treasure vault full of mystical relics they don't fully understand or remember the use of. They have no one who knows how to fix any of these relics or build functional new ones to replace them. They have generations of rulers who don't understand the importance of these relics and just leaving them discarded in remote Realms or giving them away as party favours and treating them as pretty baubles. There is a wide class divide between the working classes and the military and ruling classes, meaning they are barred from ever gaining access or learning about any of these things and potentially revealing untested minds who might have a chance to fix these problems. And somehow they've managed to keep all of this instability a secret from all the other Realms." Bruce stood there, blinking. "I'd hate to think in what state Asgard really is in right now. How is it not a kingdom of rubble?"

"The kingdom of Asgard has a Hall of 'seiðr sorcerers' who are adept at illusions," Loki smirked as he watched Bruce and Tony's reactions of shocked intellectual outrage.

"As much as it pains me, I have to admit now that I see the discrepancy," Thor looked uncomfortable admitting that fact, "Even my beloved Mjölnir was a gift to me from Father, a relic that had been stored in the royal treasury. We have spent most of my adult life together, and I still do not know all of her secrets. Indeed, I would have compared our relationship to that of Man of Iron and his Jarvis, but I see now that you are truly their creator, and understand every facet of them. Whereas I have only merely learned to interpret Mjölnir's whispers." Thor furrowed their brow, then looked up and seemed to really take in the room around him. "In truth, much of what you surround yourself with I have no clear understanding of, and in my humble opinion, even sometimes outmatches what we enjoy back in Asgard."

"It seems in our absence Midgard has truly started to outstrip us," Loki agreed, "Mechanically and philosophically. Short-lived you may be, but you seemed to have taken that as a personal challenge. The amount that Midgard has advanced in over a millennium without outside contact ... is truly astounding. Asgard has grown stale and inadequate in comparison."

"Is harnessing the Bifrost really the only way in and out of Asgard?" Bruce worried, "And is the Odinforce really their only means of communicating with the outside world? If so ... Asgard really is in a lot of trouble," he fretted, glancing at the two gods who didn't seem too perturbed, "And you guys might really be stuck here!"

"Fear not, son of Banner," Thor smiled encouragingly, "All is not lost. For we have Loki with us! They do not call my brother 'Loki Skywalker' for nothing."

"Skywalker?" Tony raised an eyebrow, while his mind was full of the Star Wars theme.

"I am a master at wielding seiðr and have indeed learned of a way of walking along the Yggdrasil's branches, in a bid to explore other Realms. A skill I have taught to all of my children," Loki smiled warmly at the thought of them. " But it takes a mastery of seiðr and a deep understanding of the Yggdrasil and knowing it's pathways - not something for the faint of heart. If we are truly in need I may be able to travel to Asgard or indeed any Realm for support, but I may not be able to bring anyone with me."

"Yeah no, that might do in a pinch, but it's not a working solution," Tony stroked his facial hair in thought. "I really need to pin down this seiðr thing if we are going to be able to do anything."

Tony nodded, mind seemingly made up, and grabbed hold of Loki's hand and dragged the amiable alien behind him to the elevator to get to his lab.

"I guess we'll see them later," Bruce smiled bemusedly, then turned to Thor, "So, explain again how Odin had a single son from five wives?"

Thor looked like he wished he had followed the smirking Loki.

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since Tony's announcement to the world that: yes, aliens exist. Yes, Thor and Loki are real, and they are gods. Yes, Stark Tower is now the Asgardian Embassy and will be their base of operations. No, the aliens will not be taken to Area 51 nor can you take a sample. If you wish to speak to the Asgardian ambassadors, make an appointment.

Tony was so thankful that JARVIS and his team had created a new public relations and legal branch dealing with the Asgardian Embassy. It might be his tower, and he would at this point call the two aliens tentative friends, but definitely allies, and loves that he can spare them that media circus or have to march them out there to perform for the masses like performing monkies. They were happy enough to pose for photos for promotional material and even have filmed strictly scripted interviews. The Embassy's legal team was strict and cracked down on any misuse of the provided material or defamation. They were Royalty, after all, foreign political figures, not a touring rock band or movie stars. Tony WISHES he had this kind of legal support years ago.

With having teams of people working on the public and legal issues, it left Tony and his guests free to breathe a little bit, and time to focus on what they really needed to focus on.
Bruce was sequestered away in a spare lab or in TADASHI's domain, free to investigate what he liked without any military or secret agency breathing down his neck. With the world clamouring about the literal gods on earth, they seemed to have completely forgotten about him or the Hulk, which suited him just fine.
Thor was in and out of both Tony or Bruce's lab or the gym, sometimes completely out of the tower, 'sightseeing' he called it. Tony called it landing in public areas to surprise people and take pictures with fans. Thor really seemed to lap up the attention. He was trending on nearly every social media feed. With no incidents yet - though that might be because Loki had threatened the sanctity of his 'tiny hammers of Thor' if he caused any problems for the Embassy.
Loki seemed to genuinely enjoy mentoring Tony and Bruce, they were a natural teacher. Tony theorised it was because they might have had a hand in teaching their own kids.

Tony was no closer to being able to wield seiðr barehanded or be able to see it without his scanners, but thanks to the 'travel device' Odin had given Thor to contain the Tesseract, and his familiarity with arc reactor technology, he was closer to understanding some things about it.

"Energies of the universe, or whatever you like to call it," Tony said to Loki, leaning back on Dum-E and eating some freeze-dried blueberries, "This Builder is certainly speaking my kind of language." He indicated to a simulated expanded view of the device's components displayed on a projection hovering in the middle of the lab. "All the physical components have perfect symmetry, no useless parts, every part of this has a purpose. Even the detailing."

"I would never once in my life call myself an architect, craft person, or mechanic, as theology is more to my strengths, "Loki agreed with a nod, "But I am astounded that, even for an unnamed relic such as this ... how simple it's construction is. That a simple application of a few runes," Loki indicated to the enhanced view of the tiny engravings that were wrapped around the handles and scrawling along the seals that kissed the glass, "Giving the seiðr intent. Written instructions for what they want the applied seiðr to do. It's so rudimentary ... But brilliant." Loki appeared dazzled but also completely flawed by this discovery. "It can not be that simple? Surely."

"I'm guessing this isn't how seiðr is taught in Asgard?" Tony popped another blueberry in his mouth, watching the frazzled raven-haired scholar plod back and forwards barefooted in his lab in comfortable green loungewear.

"No. Years are spent learning all about the different energies that exist; personal, universal, multidimensional. You are not even able to summon the first-level of seiðr wielding, which is the ability to summon illusions without a complete understanding of all the elements and components that make up seiðr. To get to my level, you need to have spent centuries studying the art. This," Loki waved at the device, "Completly by-passes all of that."

"Don't take it too hard Lokes. Maybe it's just because this is, as you said, 'a no-name device'. Maybe it's simple by design?" Tony chewed, "Or, maybe because it's so old, it was how they used seiðr back then? Only now you have a more advanced understanding?"

"You don't understand Tony," Loki shook his head, "This is completely new knowledge to me. Runes ... we don't even have any study on runes in Asgard. They are seen as an archaic alphabet of ancient times ... 'Bilgesnipes scratches'. It was said in the Histories that we gave the ancient Midgardians the Runes because they lacked their own written word or alphabet. A sort of throw away gift, since we weren't using it any more. We now write in Vanir script or the flowing prose of the Light Elves. Runes haven't been taught in millennia."

"... Have you tried directing magic with words?" Tony tilted his head, munching on a berry, "Only ... its a pretty big thing here in works of fantasy. Words of Power, stuff like that."

"... No. No, I have never tried that. I hadn't even the thought to." Loki slid into an office chair and proceeded to slowly spin themselves around, which had become a new favourite hobby of theirs.

"Maybe seiðr only reacts to certain types of scripts," Tony speculated out loud, digging out a handful of the blueberries and emptying it into his mouth, "Otherwise I imagine, libraries would be a minefield." Tony threw the empty bag into a nearby bin, "Besides, we have Runology and Wicca and Norse enthusiasts who still research and use runes - and the world hasn't ended. Maybe there's another step?"

A notification sound from JARVIS interrupted Loki's long-suffering groan. "Pardon me, Sir, but there are two men in the lobby asking after Mr Laufeyson."

"More Looky-Lous? Did they make an appointment?" Tony sighed, watching his bots pick up the device and move it to safe storage.

"Actually Sir, have come to apply for sanctuary at the Embassy."

"More Asgardians?" Tony perked up, as did Loki, "Just how many aliens are secretly living here?"

"... Do you have an image of them Jarvis?" Loki enquired sitting up and planting their feet down to stop the spinning.

The image that took over the projection screen had Loki freezing.
Displayed were two men, both tall, one broad-shouldered and rugged, the other thin and androgynous. Both had dark hair, inky and black.
The broad one was tan like he spent many days out in the sun, rough facial hair, hair cut short and ruffled, dressed in distressed jeans, t-shirt and a leather jacket.
The thin one had smooth chocolate skin, long hair tied up into a man-bun, clean-shaven, and dressed in a casual grey suit with the jacket unbuttoned.
And surrounding them was the tell-tale auras of Asgardians.

"Friends of yours?" Tony's questioning was cut short as he saw the look on Loki's face, watching as they jack-knifed out of their chair and walked closer to the projection, eyes gleaming as if entranced.

"... They are my sons. I'd recognise that seiðr anywhere." Loki's voice sounded almost choked.

Tony wasted no time and indicated to JARVIS to lead them up to the penthouse, and to notify Thor and Bruce that they were expecting company.

"Do we need to change?" Tony asked Loki, knocking them out of their staring at the image, and they quickly shook their head, seemingly fine in meeting their sons in loungewear. Tony shrugged and followed Loki to the elevator, silently urging JARVIS to make it a quick trip. Loki was trying to contain it, but he could see they were anxious.

"Do you wish to meet them alone?" Tony asked quietly, watching Loki's twitching face, but they simply shook their head, which Tony took to mean that he was free to join in on what was sure to be an emotionally charged event, by looking at how Loki was reacting.

Reaching the penthouse, the were able to make it to the open living area before JARVIS dinged a notification that the elevator had arrived, opening the doors and allowing the two men into the entranceway.
Loki's eyes never left them as they smoothly walked into the living room, an easy smile on the thin ones face, a constipated scowl on the other. Oh yeah, Tony could see the resemblance.

"Father," the thin one breathed, sounding absolutely delighted, "The camera usually lies, but you are actually looking well. I'm glad."

"Jörmungandr," Loki's eyes were definitely glossy and their lips trembled as Loki looked upon their dark-skinned son, then turning to the rugged one who was hunched with his hands in his pockets, "Fenrir ... I too am glad to see you."

Fenrir whined, taking his hands out of his pockets and loped over and drowned Loki in a bear-hug, which Loki returned as the man snuggled and huffed and snuffled like he was trying to reacquaint themselves with Loki's scent. Loki simply slowly rubbed his sons back, murmuring comforting nonsense and let him do what he needed to. Once Fenrir had calmed, Loki freed an arm and beckoned his other son over, whose smile widened and happily joined in, acting as a cool customer, but his hand gripped Loki's shirt like he was afraid they would disappear.

"My Sons ... I feared ..." Loki kissed both of their brows affectionately and cupped their chins to admire their faces.

"Peace Father," Fenrir's deep voice growled, muffled by Loki's shirt, "You are here now."

Tony inched over to the kitchen, hoping to make some coffee and tea and not disturb the tearful reunion happening in his entranceway.

"Odin told me such vile things, on how he treated you and bound you. How did you get away?" Loki fretted, smoothing their hands over his son's hair.

"Odin took me from the guard and tossed me over a cliff into the ocean," Jörmungandr reminisced, seemingly unperturbed, "I don't remember hitting the waters, but I do remember waking up on a stony beach. I saw smoke in the distance, of a nearby fishing village. I shapeshifted into my Aesir shape and wondered in, the fishermen were poor but kind and gave me food and shelter. The humans have been very kind to me Father," Jörmungandr insisted with an easy smile, "Nothing like the stories the Aesir told of primitive Midgardian brutes who eat little children."

"I too was saved by humans," Fenrir huffed, "Odin and his men chained me to a rock in the freezing wilderness. My agonised howls later brought the attention of a local hunter, who instead of taking me as an easy kill, felt pity for me. Insisting that no proud preditor should ever be chained like a common mutt, he prised at the chains until I was free. He led me back to his camp, where weakness and hunger made my shape slip back into my Aesir form. Still, he did not attack me. Instead, he gave me warm furs and hot food, saying that the spirits were with me, and who was he to deny them? He took me back to his village, although poor they still cared for me." Fenrir looked up into Loki's eyes, "The human's may not have been as cruel as the Asgardian's portrayed .... but I still missed you."

"And I you," Loki rubbed noses with Fenrir in a fond half-remembered gesture and pecked Jörmungandr on the cheek. "I should never have let him take you. I should have acted more swiftly."

"We were already hiding in the Realm of the Vanir," Jörmungandr cooly shook their head, "What much more could you have done?"

"There is nothing to forgive," Fenrir agreed, "You were up against the All-Father. You did all you could. We never blamed you."

"And once Hela became the ruler of her own Realm and batted away Odin's attempts at repression, she reached out to us. We have kept in touch." Jörmungandr smiled.

"We were working on a plan to come and rescue you," Fenrir rumbled, "But I see you managed to save yourself."

"Actually, I had help," Loki glanced over at Tony, who was standing in the kitchen enjoying his coffee.

"Not this again. I told you, I barely did anything. Thor did all the work. All I did was point out the obvious!" Tony argued, brandishing his mug.

"Obvious to some," Loki chuckled, looking to the expressions on his son's faces, "You recognise him."

"Of course. Who on Earth does not know Tony Stark?" Jörmungandr chuckled, "Billionaire and modern-day superhero."

"He helped develop clean energy stations for struggling countries. I actually worked on one of his water treatment plants." Fenrir nodded.

"It seems your reach is far Tony Stark." Loki smiled gratefully.

"Whatever," Tony absolutely did not blush, "Anyone else for a coffee?"

Chapter Text

Sitting in his kitchen, having three gods share their life stories was definitely surreal. Tony would have thought he'd be used to Godly shenanigans by now. But looking at Loki's son's ... they seemed older than their father, which should be impossible, Loki was over a millennium old, his sons only had a few centuries under their belts compared to their father. But their mannerisms and how they held themselves, they appeared more comfortable in themselves, more stable than Loki did - however much Fenrir stayed stuck to Loki's side and whined at intervals like a sad wolf pup.
When not gazing at Loki with puppy eyes, Fenrir was gruff and growly, but not rude or obstinant - he liked strong europian coffee, actually, a surprising sweet tooth and JARVIS was happy to make him a German Eiskaffee, which he admitted, was his favourite.
Jörmungandr abstained from a coffee or cold drink, though gratefully accepted a Masala chai. He was smooth, pleasant, and generally a rather cheerful character.

Hearing them talk, about living amongst the humans after being cast out by Odin - it was less 'The Binding of Isaac' and more a Disney-fied version of 'The Lord of the Flies'.
Odin did not bind their forms or their powers, instead, he really seemed to believe their snake and wolf forms were their real shapes - that Loki had fathered Beasts. Tony scoffed that that was ridiculous, Loki shrugged, saying that Odin had been half hysterical with pain from his eye and paranoid after being told a prophecy that any child of Loki, that carried 'the mark of the Beast', would one day rise and kill Odin and destroy Asgard. No one ever tried to verify the prophecy, or could really say who foresaw it - it smelled like propaganda to Tony. Sadly, Odin took the 'prophesy' at face value, sometimes the child didn't even need to have shape-changing abilities, that they inherited from Loki. Apparently, inheriting Loki's black hair was enough. Something about 'filthy Jotun blood' that made them a Beast.
Hearing this, Tony questioned about Móði; how Thor had said they grew up on Asgard and later moved to Vanaheim to take up gardening. Loki explained, out of all of his children, only Móði inherited the 'Asgardian' blond hair, and was deemed lucky and had not inherited the 'mark of the Beast'. Tony stomped over to his kitchen to make himself another coffee, grumbling about dead-beat racist dad's and raided the fridge for a punnet of fresh blueberries.

After ditching the two boys on earth, still children at the time, they were looked after by humans and spent the majority of their lives travelling - using as little seiðr as possible in the hopes that they weren't spotted and reported back to Odin. But as the years went on, and there were no signs of Asgard, even after testing the waters a few times by preforming some pretty flashy magic, and still nothing, they decided to travel the secret path along Yggdrasil's branches, just like Loki had told them. Apparently, the closest and easiest Realm to reach from Midgard is Helheim. They hoped to find their sister there - both apparently having the same idea and arrived in Helheim days apart.

"It's amazing what our dear sister has done with the place," Jörmungandr leaned back in his chair, smoothly folding one leg over the other and sipping his aromatic tea, "Granted, the only stories we were told of Helheim was that it was the Realm of the dead, filled with rotting corpses, moans of the undead, cold as the grave. If that was what it was like before ... I applaud Hela in her tenacity."
According to Jörmungandr and Fenrir, who had actually been there, so Tony was more likely to believe their accounts, Helheim was a grey haven. Filled with white marble and black obsidian pavilions, shocks of flower fields of multiple colours, dark shadowy forests home of tall ghost-like elk and ravenstag, mild weather, and where sleeping under an array of stars was as comfortable as sleeping in lodgings. Far from sounding like a 'Hel-scape' ... it sounded like a peaceful retreat.

"I don't get it," Tony mumbled around a mouthful of blueberries, "Helheim is supposed to be the Norse version of Christianities idea of 'Hell'. I thought it would be all ... torture and brimstone?"

"Helheim is sometimes called the 'grey' or the 'empty' world," Fenrir rumbled, stealing a handful of blueberries, "For a war-like civilisation whose idea of heaven would be boisterous feasts and tavern brawls ... I guess calm and quiet would be 'Hell'."

"Hela certainly shaped the place up though. I remember her telling me that it was such a dreary place when she arrived. Full of lost souls just wandering a barren waste. It seems she is still as bossy and take-charge as she was when we were kids." Jörmungandr smiled.

Loki was positively glowing at hearing all of their tales and hearing of their other children. Tony can see why - every other child of theirs had been stolen away young, and Móði was the only one Loki was allowed to raise, that Thor said they had spoiled their son rotten. Tony wondered what their lives would have been like if Loki had been allowed to keep all of their kids?

Fenrir revealed that he and his siblings have travelled backwards and forwards between the Realms for centuries, although he and Jörmungandr stayed on Midgard more often than not. They had become partial to the place.
Jörmungandr absolutely reviled the cold and damp and found himself more welcome in the more tropical or temperate climates, even desserts, his favourite places to settle being in Africa or in India. His newest hobby had been fashion modelling and clothes design.
Fenrir insisted he didn't mind the cold and mostly made his travels in Europe, travelling from job to job. He preferred to work with his hands and participated in labour and building projects.

"Ah," Tony realised out loud, "That's why you don't have British accents. I was wondering."

Seeing Loki's confused head tilt Tony, Fenrir and Jörmungandr explained that the All-speak made them sound like they had an accent most found in the British isles. Jörmungandr and Fenrir gave up using the All-speak after the humans kept looking at them weird, and just decided to learn the languages, and that culture and language osmosis was a thing, and after living in a country for a few years, they just picked up the habit.

It was at this moment that the elevator dinged and there was a rumble of thunder and a boom as Thor landed on the Iron Man landing pad, Bruce wandering in a lot more quietly from the opened elevator. Thor stormed in, stopping at the sight of his nephews, then gathered them both up in his beefy arms and proceeded to try to squeeze the life out of them, ignoring his nephew's yells to release them.

"Fenrir, no biting," Loki scolded as Fenrir snarled and bared his teeth, while Jörmungandr squirmed in an attempt to escape Thor's brand of affection.

Bruce stood back in the kitchen watching as Thor almost snapped the spines of a swearing German and a hissing Indian, while Loki and Tony remained sitting at the table, Loki reprimanding them (all three) like misbehaving children while Tony sat back nomming on blueberries. He decided to edge up to Tony to take the blueberries away - consuming too many blueberries can cause gastrointestinal problems. "What did I miss?"

"Some of Loki's kids decided to visit and claim protection from the Asgardian Embassy," Tony pouted, looking at his confiscated treat forlornly.

"Loki's children?" Bruce raised an eyebrow as Thor finally decided to put his nephews down.

"Jörmungandr, Fenrir, meet Doctor Bruce Banner," Tony called out while Jörmungandr brushed invisible dust off of his suit while Fenrir hunched, growling at his beaming uncle, "Our local human medical expert."

"Not that kind of doctor Tony," Bruce huffed ineffectually as Jörmungandr swiftly sauntered up to Bruce to shake his hand.

"Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, if you believe the myths. These days I go by the working name of Aarush Kumar, but you may call me Jör," they smiled at Bruce winningly.

"Where is Hella?" Thor demanded, looking around the room as if he would spot her, "Did she not come to visit with you?"

"She is not currently on Midgard, Uncle," Jörmungandr smiled at Thor while Fenrir prowled away to Loki's side now that Thor was distracted, "Although, she would be delighted to know Father is no longer under the All-Father's thumb."

"I'll call her." Fenrir patted Loki's arm gently as if to reassure them that he wasn't going far, and stalked out to the landing pad.

"Call? From another Realm? How?" Bruce stuttered, shocked silent by Fenrir throwing their head back, opening his mouth and releasing a long echoing howl, so loud that Tony could feel his ear bones vibrating.

Barely moments later in the lingering silence, there was a sound, like the creaking and groaning of an ancient tree, snapping twigs and rustling leaves. A tear in the air, that opened to show a kaleidoscope of swirling colours of the cosmic nimbus - and out stepped four forms, 3 men lead by a tall feminine figure, who after looking around her surroundings and spotting Fenrir, flourished a hand and their glimpse at the universe closed itself up and disappeared as if it had never been.

Loki slowly rose from their chair, like they could not believe their eyes.
All of them were tall and lean, all except one had Loki's black hair - one had platinum white hair. His skin was as white as snow, white hair long and flowing wild like a stallion's mane. The 2 men next to him were practically identical, pale peach skin, smiling eyes of a glimmering green, black hair parted in braids and adorned with raven feathers. The lone woman of the group was tall and imposing, strong and beautiful. Long midnight black hair and dark dramatic eyeshadow. All of the were wearing dark battle leathers.

Before Thor could bound forwards Loki pushed him out of the way as they dashed to the landing, stopping at the door and staring at the arrivals like they were a dream.

They stood, staring at each other in silence, as if admiring the sight, memorising it, like each was a mirage that would blow away.

Tony cleared his throat (he wasn't getting choked up, shut up) and called out, "Well? Don't just leave them out on the landing. Invite them in."

"Tony!" Bruce scolded him, lightly slapping him on the shoulder - but it broke the atmosphere. Loki gave a wet chuckle and indicated with their arm that they were free to enter. They took it as a queue to charge forward and bury Loki in an avalanche of their crying children.

"Well ... at least now they're inside the door." Bruce delivered Tony another wack.

Chapter Text

Tony is unsure if he hadn't been a multi-billionaire and already had the habit to design rooms to be able to cater to large groups, that he would have been able to house this unfolding family reunion. As it was, he somehow managed to get the precession to move from the landing and penthouse kitchen to the lounge, and had JARVIS call in catering. Never in his life would Tony have ever thought he'd be housing 8 Norse Gods, all of whom were ridiculously tall and, thanks to all the medical background given to TADASHI by Loki Tony is now aware of that Asgardian flesh and bone is three times denser than similar human tissue, contributing to their superhuman strength and weight - Jotun physiology not baring much difference in those regards.
Meaning ... Tony had several tons of godly flesh sitting in his lounge, and a bounding God of thunder who was reported to be a thousand times stronger than the regular Asgardian giving tackle bear hugs to any nephew who did not dodge in time - Hela seemed to adopt Loki's technique of simply transporting herself out of reach with a flash of shadowy seiðr.
Tony was very grateful he had insisted on such sturdy furniture and structure when designing the Tower.

As it was Loki and his family had commandeered the long sectional lounge. Loki sequestered in the middle, surrounded by their children who either sat on the couch leaning against Loki's side to get more physical contact or leaning over the back of the couch and in the case of the identical twins, who Tony had learned whose names were Nari and Narfi, perched like birds on the couch back. For a parent who had not seen their stolen children in centuries, Loki was understandably very affectionate, which was happily returned by their kids. There was no awkwardness or uncertainty that Tony would have expected from an estranged family, nor did these beings who were centries old, show any shame at acting like little children demanding attention from their parent. They all talked over each other, telling Loki all about what they had been up to, asking Loki questions, and touching unrestrainedly.

Thor was not going to be denied being included, however, and stood behind where Loki sat on the couch, beaming so brightly that his God Waves were blazing almost out of control and suffusing everyone in the room, his energy dancing and wriggling in obvious glee.

Despite being glued to Loki's side, the newcomers weren't discourteous and introduced themselves to the 2 humans in the room and JARVIS as the 'guardian of the Tower'.
The platinum blond one that looked like a living snow sculpture introduced themselves as Sleipnir, son of Loki and the goddess Sigyn.

Seeing Tony and Bruce's confused expressions, Sleipnir explained that he and his twin brothers were children of Loki's married wife, the Asgardian Sigyn, while his half-siblings were the children of Loki's union with the Jotun Angrboða. He admitted that his half-siblings were older than him and his brothers - leading to Loki calmly explaining, like it was old news, that in their young adulthood, Loki had gone to the Realm of the Vanir to further their magic studies, and had fallen in love with a Jotun who was also there to study. Leading them to elope and have a secret family, hidden from Odin ... until Heimdall decided he would finally tell Odin what Loki had really been up to. Odin had charged in, all in a rage, had his guards beat Angrboða to death, cast out his children, and brought Loki back to Asgard and forced them to marry an Asgardian courtier Sigyn in the hopes of controlling them.
Seeing the human's scandalised faces Narfi grinned and insisted that even though they had been forced to get married, their mother had loved Loki. Nari agreed, saying she loved them all enough to agree to hide her pregnancy and Loki's and on their birth attempted to escape to the neutral Realm of Alfheim. Again ... Heimdall decided to open his damned mouth.

"Luckily, Odin could not sentence my wife, whom he himself had enforced the marriage, to death." Loki sighed as they recounted, "Instead, Sigyn was banished to Alfheim alone. And as these children were of a royal sanctioned marriage and therefore legitimate heirs to the Jotunhiem throne, he couldn't banish them." Loki scowled, "Instead, Odin seemed to decide that these children with the 'Mark of the Beast' should be put to use, and tried to force my children into their naturally inclined shape-shifter forms," Loki gripped onto the twin's hands, "And wished to force them into labour. My twins as his raven spies locked in the royal aviary, and Sleipnir as his personal steed to be locked in the royal stables."

"We couldn't have that," Hela grinned maniacally, "So that's when I and my brothers stepped in. I released an illusion of an invading army of Draugr, the angry undead out for revenge against the Aesir, while my brothers and I stole our little brothers away, back to my Realm." Hela's grin lessened as she looked to Loki, "I wish we could have saved Mother, but Loki was already locked away in a high-security cell. We did not have the strength or forces at that time to take on Asgard's elite guards." Loki calmly patted Hela's hand with a small smile in commiseration.

"I am sorry, but I'm a bit confused," Bruce stuttered as the whole family turned to look at the doctor, and he nervously ducked his head and compulsively cleaned his glasses, but pressed on, "At times, you refer to Loki as your Father, other times, your Mother?"

Understanding dawned on Loki's face, and they smiled encouragingly, "I often forget that not all the species in the Universe are so diverse. You referred to me with gender-neutral pronouns, so I assumed," Loki shrugged, then explained, "I am a full-blooded Jotun, who are as a race intersexual. I am the sire of Jörmungandr, Fenrir, Narfi and Nari," Loki petted their mentioned children's hair fondly, "I gave birth to Hela and Sleipnir myself."

"The ancient Norse legends mentioned at least that you were the mother of Sleipnir, and Thor referred to you as a mother ... I didn't want to just assume your gender," Bruce fumbled.

"Peace Bruce, no offence is taken," Loki nodded, "Indeed, from my experience with other cultures, I had expected a much less ... accepting attitude to my gender."

"Hey, we humans have come a long way from waving sharpened sticks," Tony huffed, "Though, admittedly, gender and sexual equality is still a work in progress."

"I thank you for your kind consideration," Loki smiled, eyes twinkling, "But I identify most of the time as a male unless I shape-change to female. So feel free to refer to me as male. I'll let you know when I change my mind."

Fenrir watched Loki's warm smile, then turned to Tony and Bruce with contemplative mien, "Father certainly seems to appreciate you."

"And your continuing efforts to protect him," Sleipnir glanced around at the tower.

Narfi and Nari narrowed their eyes at the humans, then grinned, "And seen you as good enough to take into his Vassalage. As well as Uncle."

"Looks like we will not have to come to rescue Mother from evil Midgardian clutches after all," Hela grinned, and with a flourish of her hand, she and her brother's war leathers changed to modern clothes: Hela in an elegant dramatic black gown, Nari and Narfi in logo t-shirts of green and black cargo pants, Sleipnir in cream loungewear much like Loki's.

"I see someone really has been to Earth at least recently." Tony rose an eyebrow.

"We did say we had been back and forth between each other's Realms," Jörmungandr chuckled.

"And now that we know that the Rainbow Bridge is out of commission," Loki's children seemed to enjoy Thor's wince, "We do not have to fear any action of the All-Fathers, at least for now." Hela grinned.

"What about the Odinforce and this all-seeing Heimdall?" Bruce waved at the golden tapestry visible on the wall, "Couldn't they still cause you trouble?"

"Not now," Hela's dark eyes flashed, "Not now that Asgard has recognised you, Tony Stark, as Midgard's Ruler and ally to the Golden Realm Eternal, our Mother as their Royal Ambassador, and this place of residence as an Asgardian Embassy. By the power of his own Odinforce, the All-Father could not act against you or Mother even if he wanted to. Such would be viewed by the seiðr as treason against Asgard. And even Odin is not immune to those rulings."

"Wow ..." Tony breathed out, "The All-Daddy really shot himself in the foot there."

Loki's offsprings shocked laughter was cacophonous, Narfi and Nari laughing so hard that they fell off of their perch on the couch and proceeded to roll giggling on the floor.

"Do you have to keep referring to the All-Father that way?" Thor whined in obvious pain over the resounding laughter.

"Well I'm sorry Thor, I like you, but I can't say I like your daddy much," Tony shook his head to Loki's muffled giggles, "And since I haven't met the guy - not saying I ever want to, but seeing how things are playing out? I just might. I have just a few things I'd like to say to this 'ruler of Asgard'."

"Son of Stark, that could be seen as treason." Thor winced at Tony's choice of words.

"As I see it, Odin gave up any claim of being any kind of 'ruler' over Midgard when he abandoned us along with ever other Realm to go sulk and act all butt-hurt," Tony crossed his arms stubbornly, "He especially does not get to act like any kind of authority after he abandons one child, drops another on my planet, and then shoves any responsibility for his people on Earth onto me by going over my head and declaring my Tower an intergalactic Embassy. If this golden shiny thingy declares me as Ruler of Midgard," Tony waved a hand at the tapestry, "He's very well going to have to treat me like one now. If I'm to be responsible for Earth - that Odin and past kings have treated as a dumping ground for millennia - I'm going to be demanding compensation for past actions."

Before Tony could continue his grumpy tirade there was a soft whir as EDITH activated the Towers outside defences, pointing the laser and rail guns skywards as JARVIS announced, "I'm sorry to interrupt Sir, but a Shield aircraft is steadily approaching Stark airspace."

"I thought I told Agent Agent and Shield that if they want to deal with Iron Man and the Royal Aliens, they'd have to make an appointment," Tony growled.

"Sir, I have contacted agent Coulson, and he assures me that this is not a sanctioned Shield mission."

"HYDRA?" Bruce quickly stashed his glasses and stood.

"Worse," JARVIS replied dryly, "We sent communications to the aircraft and told them they were invading private airspace - and were told in no uncertain terms that no-one owned the air in the United States of America, and as per their military and governmental granted title of Captain, demanded being allowed to land."

Tony groaned, slapping both of his hands to his face in frustration.

Chapter Text

JARVIS keeps assuring Tony that authority is on their way to deal with the situation, but that still doesn't get his personal walking nightmare off of his rooftop.

Tony met him, without the Iron Man suit on the roof - he didn't want to send the wrong message. Tony did not want to fight a national icon on the roof of Stark Tower in the middle of New York. Granted, JARVIS was on standby in cloaked mode, but that was a security protocol. Tony was in his Tower. This was his position of power. And EDITH was liberal with the number of weapons she could utilise at any time. Plus, you know, a pantheon of gods who had followed him up and continue to stand back and watch the confrontation curiously. And a nervous Doctor Banner. Tony isn't exactly alone, so he's not afraid. But still ... kind of a bad idea to charge in guns blazing.

Someone obviously did not tell Steven Rogers that.
He was in full Captain America regalia, the hood on and shield flashing in the midday sun, having jumped out of the landed Shield Quinjet and standing in the open area. Tony could see Clint Barton standing the Quinjet's open port door, and The Black Widow sitting in the cockpit. At least they seemed to have enough sense not to leave the Shield aircraft ... But they were dressed in battle gear, they were armed, and had still brought Spangles here.

Steve Rogers had started shouting for Tony to show his face, 'face him like a man', as soon as he had gotten out of the Quinjet, and soon as he had spotted Tony coming out of the interior doors started on a big speech, full of aggressive body language and posturing, seeming unwilling to even let Tony have a moments say. Honestly, Tony wasn't really paying attention, he kinda zoned out at the point when Rogers started in on his reputation. It was becoming blatantly obvious that whoever 'updated' Rogers on what he had missed in the last 66 years had decided to stop at 2008 - when Tony Stark was still an oblivious Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist and did not have shrapnel from one of his own bombs digging into his heart yet.
Tony was starting to wonder if there was a goddamn echo, as everything Rogers was spewing was sounding very familiar ... Oh yes, he sounded just like Howard. Except, instead of comparing Tony to Captain America he was being compared to his old man. Which was frankly hilarious, someone obviously didn't tell Rogers that Howard wasn't some paragon or saint - before he was married to Maria he was just as bad as Tony had been. Although Tony's exploits were more varied and colourful, sure. But Tony's inventions were 10 times better than whatever Howard could create, to compare them was just embarrassing.

And talk about embarrassing ... who designed Cap's suit?

"Are you aware that the American Flag has 50 stars on it?" Tony blurted out, unable to help himself, cutting into Rogers tirade, who spluttered and stopped in confusion. "You should fire whoever designed your suit. Not only is it tacky - are you aware it's incredibly gauche to be walking around wearing a nation's flag outside of a national holiday? But they also got it wrong. I only see one star - and the only nation's flag with those colours and one star is Puerto Rico."

"I have no shame in wearing my flag's colours. I'm proud to be fighting for the greatest country on earth! America is God's country, and to feel shame in wearing the Colours - Howard would be ashamed of your unpatriotic views Stark." Steve looked at Tony's uncomfortable cringe, which seemed to fuel his ire. "I fought for my country. Howard fought for his country. What did you ever do?"

"I develop green energy and clean water facilities, donate and facilitate charities and organisations here and overseas," Tony listed on his fingers blithely, "I no longer develop or produce weapons for the American military, but I develop protective gear, transport and medical for the troops. And I took out illegal weapon caches of terrorist organisations and work with agencies around the world to wipe out other terrorist movements." Tony shrugged. "Just because I'm not putting a gun in a young soldiers hand doesn't mean I don't care, Rogers."

"Pretty words," Steve scoffed and proceeded to point at the group of aliens behind him, "As I see it, you are facilitating and harbouring illegal aliens into America."

"Hey, pointing is rude," Tony shook his head slowly in exasperation, "Haven't you been told that Stark Tower is acting as the official Asgardian Embassy and is accepted by the American government? None of my guests has done anything illegal and has had all charges against them cleared. The only ones invading or doing something illegal right now is you and your two lackeys. Did you get permission to take off with 2 of Shield's agents and an aircraft to go flying into private airspace? I thought Agent Agent was responsible for you?"

"We are protecting American interests," Steve Rogers glared, "There are no borders when dealing out American Justice." Tony and Bruce's cringe at that was visceral, even Barton hissed as he cringed at Captain America's faux pas.

"I had thought such attitudes were left back in the 1940s." Fenrir's growling voice came from the godly audience. Upon hearing Fenrir's german accented English, Rogers eyes widened and seemed to go blank, reaching to the holster on his belt and drawing out a gun to aim. JARVIS acted immediately, decloaking the armour and shooting the pistol out of Captain America's hand with a repulsor blast and moving to guard, not engaging but standing the suit ready in case Rogers tried attacking again.

"Hey! Whoa whoa whoa! Calm your stripes, Rogers. Who the hell gave you a gun?! Looks like we really need to have another talk with Shield about what is ok, and what is not ok." Tony babbled, holding his hands up in a halting motion. "We do not shoot at people who have vaguely german accents, ok? It's not World War 2 anymore, and we aren't at war with Germany." Steve Rogers was breathing like a bellows, but he seemed to slowly come out of what Tony was starting to suspect was war-related PTSD. "Have you talked to anyone about your flashbacks, Rogers?"

"I'm fine," Steve shook his head as he got his breath under control.

Loki growled, face a furious mask as they stormed up to Tony's side, snarling "You dare to attack my son? You filthy puny ingrate?!" Tony held out a hand to gently hold Loki back, which they surprisingly heeded, but didn't stop them from glaring at Rogers, who seemed to recover enough to glare back.

"You, all of you should come with me," Captain America braced myself with the shield, "Loki has to answer for his crimes and be taken into custody."

"... What part of 'all charges against them are cleared' didn't you get?" Tony rose a judging eyebrow.

"You dare accuse Mother?!" Hela stalked forward, at some point having changed back into her dark imposing battle leathers.

"... Mother?" Steve's face scrunched in confusion and revulsion was the ugliest look Tony had ever seen. "Loki is a man. A man cannot be a mother. A man cannot give birth. 'You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination'." The growls, hisses and glares from Loki's kids at his recitation were joined by Thor's rumbling thunder.

"Rogers, will you please just shut up?" Tony begged, looking to the sky in askance, "J, where the Hell is Agent Agent?"

"You come to this place of safe harbour for my Mother's people, you besmirch the man who made my Mother's rescue possible, you attack my Brother," Hela spoke, words seeming to echo, drawing herself up to her full height, shadowy energy whispering like smoke that seemed to pulse, her eyes taking on a ghostly light. "I see your soul, Steven Grant Rogers, and I pass judgment. In the name of Hela, God of Death, shall you bear my curse, until you discover the true meaning of what it means to be strong."

The angry bellow that Captain Rogers let out as he charged, brandishing his shield was cut short by being smothered in a haze of darkness with a flick of Hela's graceful hand, obscuring him from sight.

"Hey, whoa, don't kill him," Tony urged, "If a national icon is killed in the Embassy the government will have my head!"

"Fear not Tony Stark," Hela's proud voice crooned, "I do not take those before their time, nor do I suffer fools who think they can cheat Death," Hela smirked, "He will not die from my curse. I have merely ... shown the true Steven Rogers underneath."

True to her words, the whisps of smoke cleared, and standing once where the 6'1 muscle-bound hero of WWII stood, now stood a man of 5'4 that looked like a stiff breeze could knock him over. The difference was shocking, but Tony reflected, Steve now looked like the pictures he'd seen of young men of the era - malnourished, skinny and pale. The once fitted uniform now practically fell off of his diminutive form, and seemed to find the shield to heavy and cumbersome, Steve dropped it as he shivered and started to have a coughing fit, which rolled to bump and land at the Iron Man armours feet.

"What the hell have you done?!" Clint came charging out of the Quinjet, but smartly decided not to draw his bow, instead, he came to check on Steve and potentially guard him against further attacks.

"Well ... that's made my job definitely easier."

Turning around Tony beamed as he saw Rhodey walk through the crowd of aliens who let him through, wearing his air force uniform.

"Honey Bear!" Tony cheered, always happy to see his best friend, "What brings you? Did you miss me?"

"I'm actually here on official business Tones, but don't think I won't be showing up later and getting the full story out of you. I've got a feeling I'll need a stiff drink after this." Rhodey sighed.

"You're the authority J sent for?" Tony blinked, "I thought Captain Puerto Rico was a Shield matter?"

"He was," Rhodes huffed, "Until the military and the government opened an enquiry on them after it was revealed that they had been harbouring HYDRA operatives. Shield is now under investigation and as the military granted Rogers the Honorary title of Captain, he's now our responsibility." he shrugged and shook his head in long-suffering. "By order of the General and the President of the United States," Rhodes directed to the 3 invaders, "You are to submit peacefully and be taken into military custody."

Rhodey raised a hand, which was apparently a queue for a contingent of soldiers who had been in wait to approach the 2 operatives and a wheezing Steve, who didn't put up any resistance and were smoothly escourted out.

"Have I ever told you how hot it is when you pull rank, Colonel Rhodes?" Tony bumped Rhodey's shoulder teasingly.

"Many times. But you know I don't swing that way Tones," Rhodey gave a small smirk.

"More's the shame." Tony purred.

Chapter Text

"So, let me get this straight," Rhodey pointed at Tony with the hand currently holding his 3rd beer, while they watched Thor play a drunken bet with his more rambunctious nephews on who could lift Mjölnir as they sat on one of Tony's entertainment floors.
"You get a call from Fury that shit has hit the fan. You go out and help Captain America, The Black Widow and Hawkeye to capture Loki who is running around Europe. Loki gives up without a fight, you take them in the Quinjet, but Thor finds you, rips open the back of the aircraft and tries to take off with his brother. You follow him and start sassing him, Cap comes along and starts a fight. Loki doesn't run away during this, then you make buddy-buddy and all go back to the Helicarrier where Doctor Banner is-"

"I still think that's a terrible name," Tony argued.

"You get to the Helicarrier," Rhodes carried on like his best friend hadn't just interrupted him, "hack into Shield, found out all about their weapon plans and what they plan to do with Doctor Banner, whose researching the Tesseract, that's on the Helicarrier - the thing that caused this whole shitshow."

"Actually Loki said it was The Other and forcing the Mind Stone to scream for its sibling, The Space Stone, that was in the Tesseract," Bruce pointed out, sipping some water from his other side.

"Right. Then. Then you preceded to fanboy all over Thor, and he pees on you?"

"What can I say? Looks like every form of life wants a piece of me." Tony mock bragged, puffing his chest out.

"I'm not sure you should be bragging about being urinated on Tony," Bruce gave a small smirk, "Some people might get the wrong idea."

"I did not need that mental image. Moving on," Rhodey grumbled to Tony's chuckles, "Cap picks a fight. You decide to nope out on that and decided hunting down a potentially deranged super dangerous alien with Bruce is a better idea?"

"Well ... it sounded like a better idea in my head, but when you put it like that, Platypus, you make me sound like an idiot," Tony whined, flashing Rhodey the puppy eyes which the man quickly looked away to avoid, making Tony huff. "Although ... it worked out in the end, right?" Tony indicated to the party going on around them. Fenrir going red in the face with effort trying to lift Mjölnir to Thor's bellows of encouragement to one side, Loki tucked away in a much quieter corner with Hela, Sleipnir and Jörmungandr enjoying a bottle of wine.

"Sure ... But this is where you kind of lose me," Rhodes took a gulp of his beer then thunked it down, steadily studying Tony's face. "Magic. Alien abductions. Gods from ancient myth. More aliens. Super big bad aliens. Candy rocks that come in new exciting six flavours of the Universe. HYDRA not being dead. Your Tower becoming a freakin Embassy for intergalactic Lost boys. And Lady Death decides she doesn't like Cap and saps him of his super-soldieryness," Rhodey kept his stare firm, "Did I forget anything?"

"Bruce is working on stabilising his 'Big green problem', he's researching Extremis so we can finally cure Pepper, He's working with TADASHI on how to finally get the shrapnel and arc reactor out and reconstruct my chest ... and! And, he's helping me research the practical application of seiðr and the God Waves and magic stuff!" Tony nodded, smiling at Bruce who gave Tony a small restrained smile.

"Tones ... you know all of this sounds crazy, right?" Rhodey almost seemed to plead.

"Don't I know it. But we can't ignore the living proof, right?" Tony spread his arms to indicate the whole room.

Rhodey watched Tony's overly joyful face with concern. "Tones ... what aren't you telling me?"

Bruce looks up in surprise then glances at Tony, watching as his face does a strange thing like his face seems to fight itself to keep smiling, though that smile turns a little sad.

"Not now Sourpatch. I don't think I can deal with it right now," Tony murmurs looking down and clenching his hands together. "I'm not avoiding it. I will tell you about it later ... but I have too much to focus on right now."

Bruce watched on in mild alarm, but Rhodey lent forward and patted Tony gently on the head, softly ruffling his hair, "Ok Buddy. But you promise me - when you do face it, whatever it is, that you aren't alone, and you tell me all about it."

Tony huffed, taking Rhodey's hand out of his now messy hair. "When have I ever been able to keep anything from you, Honey Bear?"

"Frequently," Rhodes huffed with a small smile, "But not for long."

"Not for long," Tony agreed quietly.

Glancing over and seeing Bruce's soft look, Tony noisily cleared his throat, resituating himself in his seat, and decided to change the topic. "So how did taking in ex-spangles go?"

"Oh, you should have seen their faces. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were happy that they didn't have a super-powered idiot to deal with, but President Ellis was apoplectic. Everybody knows he's a huge Captain America fan - looks like Ellis had planned to sweep everything the 'hero' has done recently under the rug and had plans to use Cap for his own popularity to further his campaigns. Rogers is no use to him now that he's back to a regular ol' joe." Rhodes smirk could almost be called maniacal.

"What will they do with him now?" Bruce wondered out loud.

"Well, they can't leave the guy wheezing on the floor. Turns out Lady Death, when taking away the super-soldier serum, gave Rogers all his old illnesses back. Rogers suffered from asthma, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, high blood pressure, astigmatism, scoliosis, arrhythmia, stomach ulcers, pernicious anaemia, flat feet, partially deaf ... the kid has a laundry list of problems, and we haven't even touched on the psychological ones yet," Rhodey sat back in his chair, "It's a miracle he survived to adulthood. Not just because of his poor health but also socially. I mean, it was the 1940's." he shook his head.

"Most if not all of those illnesses are curable now," Bruce murmured as he sipped his water, "So I imagine they put him immediately into treatment?"

"Can't let a national icon die from easily curable illnesses," Rhodes agreed with a nod, "He's been admitted to a private institute for care. It's going to be a long while before we see or hear anything from Rogers."

"We'll also have to make sure no-one decides to try to reverse engineer the serum from his blood if there are any traces left. Or let Steve try other concoctions to try and get his power back," Tony mumbled, making notes on a nearby projection, "Can't let anyone keep using him as a lab rat." Tony glanced up at the other two scientists, "Eugenics is bad, mm-kay?"

"What are you going to do with the shield, Tony?" Bruce questioned as Rhodey scoffed into his beer, "President Ellis tried to claim it was a national treasure and belonging to the government, but you pulled out the 'Howard Stark made it - it belongs to Stark' card."

"Don't know," Tony hummed, "I could melt it down-" Rhodey choked on his beer and started having a coughing fit. "I had J analyse it, and it really is Vibranium. So little of it exists in the western world, to the point Howard thought what they had was all of it, and used it all in the shield." Tony turned contemplative, almost speaking to himself, "I guess I could try contacting the original owners ... try to gift it back? ... No idea if they would even try to listen to the son of a 'thief' though."

"What? Who owns it?" Rhodey coughed to clear his airways.

"Ah, sorry Platypus," Tony tapped the side of his nose knowingly, "That's a little something I can't go blabbing about. Not until I'm sure, at least." Fondly watching Rhodey not-pout, because 'I don't pout Tony', Tony turned to another topic. "With Shield under investigation, this means we finally have Fury, arrow boy and incy-wincy out of our hair, and possibly facing charges - this also means Shield's hunting for HYDRA is severely reduced."

"Luckily the rest of the world already have Counter-terrorist organisations whose job this literally is," Rhodey huffed grumpily, "If Shield hadn't been so stubborn with working with other intelligence agencies, this would have been worked out so much faster. Though I suppose ... we should be grateful the majority of HYDRA was limited to Shield at least ... as far as we know."

"The whole system is going to need a thorough combing through and overhaul," Tony agreed, sitting up into a stretch, "J and I have already been working on a program to help sniff HYDRA operatives out. Once we iron a few kinks out it should be ready for operation."

"You've certainly kicked a hornet's nest this time Tones." Rhodey shook his head fondly. "I wouldn't be surprised if Ellis and the discontents will come after you for stirring up all this trouble."

Tony giggled as he stirred his martini. "Ain't I a stinker?"

Chapter Text

A month on from the moment that Tony was affectionately calling 'Honey I Shrunk the Captain' - a lot happened, but also Tony felt like not a lot.

True, the world was becoming more accepting of the notion that 'gods walk among us' ... though there will always be extremists and outliers. The number of protest rallies against 'aliens taking our jobs' or 'An Asgardian probed me!' had dwindled. Turns out? If you tell the public the truth they tend to calm the fuck down. All those rallies did was reveal that truly shocking deficit in the education system - Tony's new free education centres where people can attend informative seminars and reach out to help centres and educators really seemed to be working. At least for those people who actually wanted to learn.
Thor was a great help on that front. He was naturally charismatic, kids loved him. He seems like a muscle head, but what is easily overlooked is that Thor spent centuries being educated in Asgard by the best tutors - he was a legitimate Prince. And despite all of the problems Tony has with Asgards culture or mode of government, he has to hand it to them, they are still more technologically advanced than anything they have on Midgard ... yet. Thor freely shared what knowledge he has with anyone who asked, and he spoke in a way that many could easily understand. He didn't talk down to anyone and treated everyone like a friend. You couldn't stay angry at him and ended up most of the time listening and taking his advice. Watching Thor talk down a group of protestors was like watching a group of angry people trying to ignore a happily bounding golden retriever ... you just can't do it.

President Ellis and many politicians that were being labelled 'Pro-Cap' did come after Tony Stark ... their mistake was going after Stark Industries and the Asgardian Embassy. Tony Stark is just one man - SI and the Embassy were organisations. Organisations with legal teams who were truly terrifying. Pepper acting as SI President was truly a beautiful thing to watch. Pepper tearing apart sweaty politicians poorly researched 'debate' was something Tony could watch on repeat and had. There was a reason Tony had wanted to 'put a ring on it' at one point.
Loki, on the other hand, was a natural politician. Calm, collected and composed even when he had angry white women screaming in their face. Loki was the obvious choice as the spokesperson for the Asgardian Embassy. They cheerfully worked quite happily with the public relations and legal teams appointed to him - Loki confessed that he wished he had had such collaboration back in the Golden Realm. They really seemed to enjoy talking circles around his opponents - Loki 'Sliver-tongue' indeed.

Loki's children were a continuous presence in the Tower as well. Not permanent, as they had their own lives, but now that Loki was out of Odin's clutches and in a safe place? There was never a day when there wasn't at least one Lokison around. Hela visited quite often as well, although she had her own Realm to run. In fact, now that Midgard now had an official recognised 'ruler' and an Embassy, Hela had decided that she would officially open relations with Earth as well - although they were still working out how to reveal that information to the public without causing mass panic and hysteria.
In the meantime, Hela had freely opened trade with Tony, Realm to Realm. Turns out? Midgardian products were popular on Helheim and a rare commodity out in the Nine Realms of the Yggdrasil. Hela and her brothers had been taking products they had bought here on Earth and enjoying them back home, with other aliens wanting to get in on the action. Now, they could legally trade and supply-demand for some of the oddest things. They didn't want particularly expensive things or tech - entertainment was their vice. Books were the most popular, followed by collectables, plushies, toys and other physical objects, as trying to get tv or DVD to work without an electric power outlet was kind of hard. Tony was working on that.
In exchange Hela was supplying Tony with a goldmine of alien commodities ... he was like a kid in a candy shop.

Thanks to Hela, and her supplying Tony with books from Vanaheim and Alfheim on magic, and Loki using their seiðr to translate, Tony was getting closer to understanding seiðr, its properties, functions and capabilities. But not any closer to being able to wield it himself. He had felt quite silly, sitting with Bruce, Sleipnir, and Loki in the meditation room and 'getting in touch with his inner energies'. Tony wasn't knocking meditation mind you, he found it quite helpful in his daily life (stress and anxiety and panic attacks kind of make meditation your friend), he just couldn't seem to grasp the concept of life energy or universal energy as a tangible thing.
Bruce was having more luck with it though - something about the time he had spent running from Ross and hiding in third world countries and being mentored by gurus and practitioners to help control his anger. He said he didn't quite get universal energy or pushing his personal energy out to summon flames or anything like that. But he did find it easier to call upon the Hulk's energy without transforming, and he was starting to understand how personal energies circulated the body and maintained it on a molecular level. Tony didn't quite get it, as the squishy sciences were not his forte, but watching Bruce being able to punch out a wall with his skin only going a tinge of green was all the proof he needed.

Instead, Tony was happy the day that Hela had been able to supply him with a chunk of raw Uru. Turns out, it wasn't just the 'unnamed-transport-device', everything made by 'The Builder' was made out of Uru. It apparently was the metal of choice of any self-respecting alien of the Nine Realms, mined and coveted by the Dwarves of Svartalfheim. Apparently, the dwarves were master craftsmen and the only ones who were able to forge with the ore.
Uru is a non-sparking and a highly immalleable metal. It resembled stone, but it also appears to have metallic properties. Loki and Thor were able to explain that the appearance of worked Uru metal ore was in two forms, one as 'metallic gold', like Odin's 'Kings Spear' Gungnir, the other as having a lustre that has been described as 'badly wrought iron' like Mjölnir. Of course, Thor huffed that Mjölnir may not be golden, but she was highly enchanted and unable to break - leading to a discussion explaining that Uru was able to store most energies, particularly magic or 'seiðr'. It was highly desirable because of that quality, despite Uru requiring extreme methods to forge it. Thor explained that the enchanted forges of Svartalfheim were said to be powered by 'the heart of a star' and were heavily guarded by the jealous dwarves.
The raw Uru was easily analysed, which was why Tony had requested some. JARVIS' scanners just could not seem to penetrate the 'enchantments' on forged Uru, as it seemed seiðr interfered with Tony's tech. At first Tony worried that tech and seiðr were not compatible, but Loki assured him that the reason Tony's AI and tech could not scan 'seiðr infused objects' was because Tony's personal seiðr and the foreign seiðr were essentially 'butting heads'. Tony still wasn't completely convinced on the whole 'your tech and AI babies are magic Tony!' idea, but he wasn't done investigating, so he wouldn't discard any information as invalid without going through due process. He was a scientist goddamnit!

In fact, Tony was finding his work with Professor Elliot Randolph was the most rewarding. Specifically, studying Runes.
Professor Elliot Randolph was fascinated by the theory of the Builder's relics being imbued with power through their application of runes, going on to profess that it made a ridiculous amount of sense. Explaining that he had once been given a spear for being recognised as a 'worthy warrior', that he found fueled his berserker rage and clouded his mind with overwhelming fury. He remembered it glowed a seething red and the runes on the staff glowed, and the seiðr in the staff had crawled inside him and infested his own, which was why his seiðr still had traces of red in it. Turned out he'd been given a Builder relic from the royal treasury - which after the rage cleared Randolph had proceeded to snap the staff in three pieces, horrified by its power and what he had done, and had stashed it in three locations over Midgard in the hopes of it never being used again. It goes without saying that Tony opened a legal agreement to help retrieve and store those pieces in a high-security vault, with agreements for the allowance to study it, but never to be touched or ever used. The thought that such dangerous relics could still be floating around out there ... Tony almost had another panic attack.

But what they learned out of this though? Using seiðr with runes was ridiculously easy.

"How?" Loki stared at the metal cup Tony had engraved with a short line of runes 'ᚠᛚᛟᚨᛏ ᛟᚾᛖ ᚠᛟᛟᛏ ᚨᛒᛟᚡᛖ ᚨ ᛋᚢᚱᚠᚨᚲᛖ', roughly translated 'float one foot above a surface'.

"Well ... it's like code," Tony shrugged as he watched Bruce poke at the floating object. "Coded language is pretty simple. Give it clear, precise instructions, and a line of code can do basically anything."

"Coded language may be simple to you Tony. I mean, you create learning artificial intelligence as easy as breathing," Bruce huffed, standing back and admiring Tony's work, "I already knew it. But Tony ... you're a goddamn genius!"

"Thank you Brucie," Tony's cheeks were looking a little pink.

"It cannot be that simple," Loki argued as they seemed to be rooted to the ground in shock.

"Of course not." Tony huffed, "It's not like I could write the same thing on a wooden chair and have the same effect."

"No?" Bruce turned, intrigued.

"Of course. If all it took was a combined understanding of seiðr, runes, and how to write code, we'd have a lot more particularly magic 'witches' running around. See, I can write the same thing on this notepad," Tony demonstrated, and stood back, showing that it did not budge an inch, "and it won't work."

"What did you have to do to get that to do ... that?" Bruce pointed to the still floating cup.

"Seiðr and knowledge are not enough," Tony shook his head, "You need the right material."

Loki's face cleared as the metaphorical lightbulb seemed to come on in his mind, stalking up to the cup and inspecting it closely. "This cup ... is crafted out of Uru?"

"Close, but no prize," Tony shook his head again. "Uru is not only easy to enchant and absorbs magic like a sponge - but it's completely foreign to Earth." Tony shrugged. "Turns out, Midgardian energy is not compatible with alien space rock that hasn't spent nearly enough time getting acclimated to our atmosphere. Any attempts I tried to use runes on it either didn't work or completely backfired."

"Are you alright?" Bruce fretted, immediately going up to Tony and physically inspecting him to Tony's amusement.

"The experiments were conducted in controlled settings, Doctor Banner. Sir is unharmed." JARVIS assured.

"Wouldn't even let me be in the room to see the effect," Tony grumbled, sticking out his bottom lip at a nearby camera, "Party pooper."

"If this was not crafted with Uru, what possible material could you have used?" Loki blinked at Tony.

"Think about it," Tony urged, "Uru is some kind of rare mystical ore that absorbs energy, redirecting it and enhancing it for the wielders use, and is basically indestructible once enchanted. What element on Earth is known to absorb, amplify and redirect energy, near-indestructible once forged, is rare and vaguely mystical?"

"... Vibranium. You're talking about vibranium," Bruce realised, face lighting up ... and then quickly paling and becoming horrified. "Tony! Please don't tell me you actually went ahead and melted Captain America's shield down to make a cup?!"

Tony threw his head back in unrestrained laughter, stumbling backwards and landing on the penthouse lounge chairs behind him.

"As much as Sir and I would enjoy doing so, Doctor Banner, be assured that we, in fact, did not," JARVIS replied to calm Bruce's contained panic. "Sir has combined the vibranium that we have been able to replicate, and an element of Sir's own creation, Starkium, which was created based on studies of the Tesseract."

"Naturally mined vibranium probably has enough energy on its own to handle seiðr - though we may never know since whoever owns it won't sell," Tony wiped away tears from his eyes still slouched on the lounge, "Which was why we theorised that adding Starkium to our synthesised stuff would beef it up. And boom," Tony indicated to the object in question, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the worlds first flying cup!"

Chapter Text

"Pardon the interruption Doctor Banner," TADASHI's calm voice came through the medical lab's speakers, causing Bruce to mildly startle and look up from his close inspection of a projection showing a wriggling green cell. "But Pepper Potts is requesting entry into the lab."

"Oh, of course," Bruce muttered, quickly saving his work and storing the file away in his own research folders, closing up the projection screen and quickly attempting to tidy up, "Please, let her in Teddy."

No reply was given, but there was the sound of soft swooshing automatic doors and the well-known sound of Pepper's smart heels tapping on clean sterile floors. Looking up to the entrance saw the entrance of Pepper Potts, in a smart dark grey long ruffle back blazer and black undershirt, black slacks and smart black heels. A more semi-casual business look for the usual stiff business style she usually went for, which meant she hadn't just come from the SI offices, meaning this was not a SI matter.

"Goodmorning Miss Potts," Bruce nodded to the smartly dressed women entering his lab, now wishing he hadn't decided his yoga pants, a wrinkled button-up and a lab coat were good enough for the day. "What can I help you with? Is there a problem? Is it the Extremis?"

"Oh no, Doctor Banner, don't worry, I'm not here about that. I'm completely fine," Pepper assured the Doctor before he started working himself into a doctorly fret. "Tony managed to deactivate most of the effects of Extremis I was injected with."

"Does not mean it isn't troubling you still, nor is it cured. Teddy and I are working on a solution for you and all those infected," Bruce nodded, deciding to move those experiments up in priority. "But if you're not here about that ... What can we help you with?"

"I hate to bother you when you're doing such important work ... But have you seen Tony?" Pepper huffed.

"Tony? Last I heard he was re-wiring the Tower," Bruce hummed, turning to his work station computer, "Do you know where Tony is TADASHI? It's odd for JARVIS not to keep Miss Potts updated."

"At this current time, my number 1 patient is currently finishing up work at his private airspace and sending up the upgrades and improvements with a few worker drone suits to be implemented at JOCASTA's satellite," TADASHI replied smoothly.

"Why all these sudden upgrades?" Pepper placed her hands on her hips, "Is there a new threat that he hasn't told SI about? Will I have to be covering for our CEO's absence from more meetings in the near future?"

"Not saying that there might not be a future threat," Bruce hedged guiltily, "But it looks like Tony has found practical applications for a new invention. He's waiting on the patent office to finally accept his naming of the new alloy before revealing it."

"Oh god," Pepper covered her face with her palm, "Please don't tell me he's being stubborn and trying to get the patent office to name it something stupid."

"Pepper, I'm hurt," Tony's voice suddenly came out of the speakers, a projection popping up showing Tony's face, showing that Tony had decided to Face-Time from his suit. "My nameing sensibilities are second to none."

"Tony ... please tell me you've finally given up on naming an invented element 'badassium'." Pepper spoke flatly, frowning slightly.

"Of course, Pepper. I let the patent office name the new element Starkium. It's a bit on the nose," Tony scrunched his, "But that's the patent office for you."

"Instead, he's naming his new alloy 'badassium'." Bruce injected with a small smile, turning into a smirk that Tony copied at Pepper's pained groan.

"Tony ... is this what you have been doing instead of the SI board meeting that was scheduled for today?"

"... That was today?" Tony blinked. "J, why didn't you say anything?"

"I did Sir. But you insisted that what you were currently doing was much more important than dealing with those, 'geriatric fossils'," JARVIS replied to Pepper's exasperated and long-suffering sigh and shake of her head.

"Oh come on J, don't act like you weren't excited to be getting your servers upgraded," Tony replied smugly as he appeared to be focusing on something other than the Face-Time screen.

"Tony ... where are you now?" Pepper appeared to be feeling tired, "Are you on your way back?"

"Just stopping to finish off a little something, then, no problems pending, I will be all yours Pep," Tony assured.

"Tony, what-" Pepper's questions were interrupted by a notification sound and EDITH's firm voice announcing, "Residents of Stark Tower. In a few moments, Stark Tower's power will be switched over to the new system. Expect power fluctuations with the delay of 30 seconds to 1 minute. We apologise for the inconvenience."

Proceeding these words there was the whirr of powering down machines, flickering lights, the projector still visible but flickering. A mechanical voice announced from the speakers, "Now operating on back up power."

"Tony! Are you messing with the Arc Reactor that powers the Tower? Are you in the bay right now?!" Pepper's voice sounded a little strangled.

"Just a moment Pep. Be with you in a second." Tony mumbled, focus obviously on something else.

Moments later, there was a loud whirr of powering up machinery and the lights came back on at full strength.

"Transfer is complete. Thank you for your patience." EDITH's voice was almost smug.

"There, that should be much more efficient." Tony's pleased satisfied smile could light a room. "Right J, back to the Tower. Can't keep the Lady Pepper waiting." Tony announced, and the projection in Bruce's lab shut off.

Bruce watched Pepper's slow head shakes with closed eyes in amusement. "Tony has been running at full tilt with upgrading all of the Tower's tech with the new alloy, along with building a new suit. You can't blame him for lapses in judgment."

"The least he could have done was schedule for a power outage instead of just going ahead and doing it without notifying the staff." Pepper huffed, resigned. "But you're right. Tony with a new idea is like a kid obsessed with a new toy." Pepper shook her head as she prepared to leave the lab to meet Tony up on the landing pad, "I guess I'll just have to prepare the company to function without their CEO and head of R&D until he can finally focus on us mere mortals," She smiled in baffled amusement, "Whatever did I do in a past life to deserve Tony?"

"We wonder that every day." Bruce smiled softly.

Chapter Text

"This is nice," Tony hummed as he sat in the penthouse loungeroom, surrounded by his closest long time friends; Rhodey, Pepper & Happy, and new friends and allies; Bruce, Hela, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, Narfi, Nari & Sleipnir, drinking wine and eating nibbles as they watched Loki and Thor attend the celebration on the tv. "We really should do this more often, you know? Make a thing of it."

"How often do you think it is that countries get admitted to the U.N?" Happy lent forward to grab an olive.

"Not just that, Hap, I mean, you know, victory," Tony waved his hands animatedly as he tried to express himself. "Getting together and celebrating the small victories can only make life just a bit sweeter."

"Explain to me again, Tones," Rhodey rumbled with a grin at Tony's frustrated face, "How exactly Loki and Thor accepting the membership to the U.N as Asgards Ambassadors, is our collective victory? How the hell were you guys even able to swing that? Isn't getting into the exclusive 'U.N club' supposed to be difficult?"

"You remember a few months ago, after the press conference where I blew the lid off the 'Gods are among us' shtick and Odin sent down his tabard, basically saying, 'Yeah, Asgard and Tony is tight' - leaving the government basically scrambling and agreeing to Odin and the Prince's demands that Stark Tower be their Embassy?" Tony crossed his fingers to demonstrate how close Asgard and he were, leaving Nari to almost snort his organic corn chip liberally covered in the avocado dip. "Well, to have a legally recognised Embassy ... you need to have a legally recognised country. In recognising the Embassy, they also recognised Asgard as a Country. And no country is really legitimate in the eyes of the international community if they do not have a seat at the United Nations table."
Tony took a blueberry from the fruit platter, "Honestly, do you really think, with how quickly they fell over themselves to accept the existence of Asgard 'The Golden Realm Eternal' ... that they could get away with not giving Loki a seat at the U.N? It would be an international scandal!"

"They did accept the existence of an alien race pretty damn fast," Happy nodded in mild confusion.

"Happy," Tony furrowed his brows in bafflement at his bodyguard and boxing coach, "You are literally sitting in a room full of aliens right now."

"I know that Tony, I'm not saying I don't believe it. At first, it was weird," Happy admitted with a shrug, "But they've been living here on and off in the Tower for months now. I get it," Happy pointed at the tv, "But they haven't spent any time around 'em. How do they get it?"

"It's not like Father or Uncle have really been trying to hide their godly status," Jörmungandr smiled as he indicated to the tv where Thor was wearing his shiny battle armour with fluttering red cape, Loki was dressed to the nines in their green leathers and a great big horned golden helmet. "Nor have they been shy in demonstrating their powers."

"Most of the western civilisations can thank at least part of their founding to the exploits of the Vikings," Bruce mumbled, sipping his sparkling guava juice, "We even named a day of the week after Thor - Thursday, or as it was 'Thor's day'. To not recognise them for their cultural significance to a large part of human history? Would be foolish."

"The fact that Asgard is literally made out of gold doesn't hurt either," Pepper snorted. "The gold reserve is suffering in most countries as it is. The promise of opening trade with such a wealthy nation? Most of them agreed with greedy little dollar signs in their eyes."

"And having a nation of literal GODS on your side if some other nation threatens war?" Rhodey nodded, "I can understand that ... but why is this a collective victory?"

"Because Honey Bear," Tony grinned gleeful brown eyes sparkling, "Now Loki has a seat at the U.N. Where all international laws must be put forward to be voted in. Loki can now directly address the U.N, as a member, and propose a global equal rights law that prevents discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, gender identity, enhancement status, nation or planet of origin. They can finally force the U.N to be what they were originally designed to be; an intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations."

Tony leaned back enjoying the shocked faces of his friends.

"And Loki has already put this to the U.N?" Pepper stared at the tv and Loki's never wavering smirk.

"Bold move, what with only being tapped as a fresh member," Tony nodded, "But that kind of law will take months of deliberation. Maybe even years if they really drag their feet. We are betting on them taking their time debating over the new proposed law, which undoubtedly will ruffle quite a few feathers. It'll give us time to finish setting up operations - even if they decide to not pass the law."

"Tony ... is this why you have been buying up land and developments, and hiring demolishing and construction crews," Pepper turned to him, blinking her pretty blues.

"I thought you just wanted to tear down that ugly ass Stark mansion," Rhodey leaned back, impressed almost in spite of himself.

"Oh I'm still doing that," Tony nodded with a pleased smirk, "But we are going to need physical infrastructure in place for when the Big Bad decided he's going to rock up."

"Thanos will come," Hela intoned, dark eyes going ghostly, "It is inevitable."

"Especially since we still have two of the Stones that he wants," Rhodey nodded seriously.

"If we can get this law passed," Bruce spoke up, "It will be the first step in getting the world ready to hopefully band together against an intergalactic invasion. Not to mention, a major step forward as a species."

"It's no use fighting an invading army when we are preoccupied with fighting amongst ourselves," Tony nodded, but his face was drawn down in a frown, "But there is no guarantee that the U.N will pass such a law, despite it bringing nothing but good."

"Then we will find those who wish to fight and protect," Fenrir growled, "Let the politicians bicker. It is the people who will act. It's their lives and loved ones that are in danger after all."

"But we aren't going to just announce that some big bad alien is coming to kill us all ..." Happy almost dropped his cube of cheese, "... That would be bad."

"Undoubtedly," Sleipnir huffed.

"That's why Loki getting into the U.N is the first step," Tony focused on Loki giving his acceptance speech while Thor looked on proudly at their side.

"Well ... I guess we can call this a victorious first step," Hela smiled, raising her champagne flute, which everyone copied with their own drink of choice.

Chapter Text

"Tony ..." Happy was, despite his nickname not very happy right now.

"Hmm? What's up Hap?" Tony replied absentmindedly as he waved to a crowd of screaming fans and onlookers, luckily kept back by the construction boundary fences.

"Did you really need to be here yourself for the demolition?" Happy scratched under the uncomfortable construction helmet as he surveyed the surroundings, looking at all the shouting construction workers, machinery and tools, and the media and crowds that seemed to follow Tony whenever he was out of the Tower.

"You know I couldn't miss this," Tony gave a grim sort of smirk, "I've been meaning to tear down this place for years." Tony had a distant sort of look to his eyes, as he stared at his old childhood home. In his opinion and modern taste, the mansion was particularly gaudy. A mish-mash of building styles, ranging from Colonial Revival with its large entryway and surrounding front gardens and the overabundance of front-facing windows; Richardsonian Romanesque with its faded pink brick masonry exterior and arched windows; Italianate with the bracketed eaves and elaborate crowns; and Neoclassical with its large pink and white marble pillars.
Frankly, it was an embarrassment and an eyesore. Tony thanked the Gods he lived with that he had inherited Maria's sense of style. It looked like Howard had just taken what he liked and mashed them together without much thought, as long as it was flashy and showed off his wealth. Tony was happy he was finally going to be able to rid himself of it. The fact he hadn't stepped a foot in the building since his parents died and the place had been left to rot ... it was an environmental hazard now in any case. Tony had much better plans for the land.

"I know how much you hate this place, but a construction site is not secure," Happy huffed, "How am I supposed to be able to set up a security perimeter? We've already had to escort 2 rapid fans and 3 protestors out - the construction crew have started to complain about the crowds."

"Hap, I can't just bring out my old suits to hold the perimeter, it would send the wrong message," Tony shook his head, "We even came in the car without the suit since public and legal argued that Iron Man can't be seen at a demolition site. Honey Bear is currently on a mission, otherwise, he would be here for this."

"Look, can ... Can we at least just stay for the first wrecking ball swing or 2, and once the demolition is on its way, we can leave? I don't like you being out in the open like this." Happy crossed his arms giving Tony his serious face.

"Christ ... it's really bothering you, isn't it?" Tony looked at Happy with widened eyes, before nodding in understanding, "Sure, Hap. Once construction starts we can go back to the Tower."

"Thank you," Happy huffed, glancing around the perimeter again, "This whole situation is giving me the heebie-jeebies."

"It'll be over soon," Tony promised grimly, trying to keep his mind off of all of the frankly awful memories this place held. 'Poor little rich boy' Tony mentally huffed to himself as he watched the crew start to clear the area and start up the machines.

The sound of the crowd outside the fences seemed to swell - something about destruction really seemed to rile people up, Tony mused. Fans screamed, protestors yelled slurs and slogans, and the people just here to enjoy the carnage cheered.

"You'd think this was a rock concert instead of a construction crew tearing down an old rotting house" Tony found himself commenting, having to raise his voice to be heard over the noise.

"As long as they don't start to throw rocks, then I'm happy," his bodyguard grumbled.

"Yes you are," Tony smirked at his personal joke, chuckling at the man's scowl.

The noise seemed to rise to a cacophony, making Tony wish he hadn't turned down the construction earmuffs when it was joined by a spine chilling screeching sound of metal twisting and wrenching - not a sound you want to hear on a construction site.

Tony and Happy quickly looked around as construction workers started yelling in fear and panic, the arm of the demolition vehicle that was attached to the wrecking ball twisting back on itself, the driver quickly escaping the cab as the machine proceeded to crunch itself into a metal mess.

"What the fuck?!" Happy screamed as he took out his gun and moving to cover Tony from the threat, but before he could move more than two steps he was attacked by a blur and rapid movement, that smacked the gun out of the bodyguard's hands and knocked Happy to the ground.

"Hap-!" Tony went to move forward, for a moment forgetting he wasn't in the suit, only for that blur to stop, revealing a young man with platinum blond hair with dark roots and pale blue eyes, who wasted no time by quickly reaching forward and grabbing Tony by the throat. Tony gagged at the force of his grip, trying to fight his hold off, but it appears this guy wasn't only fast, he was also strong.

"Look at him," A voice purred from behind Tony, sending his panic blaring, "The Great Tony Stark, The Most Famous Mass-Murderer in the History of America," Tony watched as a young woman sauntered around the side, long flowing red hair and angry eyes glowing red. Her hands were surrounded by red whisps, making Tony panic for a moment that a rouge Asgardian had decided to come after him.

An obnoxious tittering made Tony glance to the side to witness what looked like a green-skinned man, hunched on all fours, eyes slit like an amphibian blinking at him with his second eyelids and licking his mouth with a frog-like tongue. Thor and Loki never mentioned any Asgardians looking like this?

"Oh, poor little man, so confused, so weak without his armour," The redhead gloated as she reached forward to stroke Tony's face, his flinch back unable to do anything as he was held still, "So vulnerable."

There was an echoing bellow and booming crash as what looked like a large man ran through the old Stark mansion, bulldozering through marble, steel and concrete with only his body, destroying the pivotal support pillars of the building. He didn't even seem to be bothered by the concrete dust and debris he was covered in as the man threw his head back and roared with victorious laughter as the Stark mansion started to collapse into itself, blowing out shrapnel and debris that the other attackers shielded themselves from, leaving Tony and Happy's still form to be pelted.

"Having your fun is all well and good, my dear," called out a smooth male voice, coming from a freaking hovering man in a purple helmet and cape, "But we have a schedule to keep."

The young women seemed to pout, eyes flickering in irritation, but her face transformed into a wide grin as she turned back to Tony, lifting her red glowing hands. "Fine, I would have liked to play with him more, but I can still make him suffer," her red eyes seemed to blaze, "I'll make you suffer as we suffered! Like our parents suffered! We'll make you pay."

The sorceress reached her hands out for Tony's face, all his trying to flinch back and kicking did absolutely nothing as her red energy seemed to crawl towards him like tendrils. The energy had barely stroked his skin when Tony felt a chill come over him as he was surrounded by a silver-white flash, blinking the white spots out of his eyes, Tony could see his skin was covered in the shimmering silvery light - a light that looked like swirling snowflakes.

The redhead seemed shocked, then her face twisted into a furious mask as she lashed out with her power again, only to be repelled by the silvery glow. She proceeded to scream and screech in rage, stomping and throwing a tantrum, lashing out with her red tendrils, slashing gouges into the earth.

"This should be impossible," The white-haired young man still strangling Tony spoke, stunned as he stared at Tony who renewed his struggles, "No-one has been able to repel Wanda's magic before."

"Stark is supposed to be human!" the woman, apparently called Wanda shrieked, "A worthless piece of filth! I need to get our revenge!"

"Sister, I could just break his neck," the white-haired man offered.

"No! Killing him is not enough! He needs to suffer!" Wander seethed, eyeing Tony's struggling form, looking for a weak spot, and noticing that the protective light seemed to avoid the blue glowing circle in the middle of Tony's chest. With a cry of triumph, she dashed forward, digging her fingers into the skin around the arc reactors casing, wiggling her energy passed the white light to surround the unprotected blue glowing circle. Tony screams of agony as she proceeded to slowly pull the arc reactor out of his chest seemed to only entertain her, laughing in glee as she cried, "If I can't have his mind! I'll take his heart! He wasn't using it anyway!"

Tony's screams echoed in the open air, screams tearing at his throat, strangling hand limiting his oxygen, his sight started to develop black spots. Tony was seriously starting to think, through his raging panic and wrenching pain, that he might really die this time.

Wanda had finally managed to free the arc reactor, casing all from Tony Starks chest with a sickening wrenching squelch, unceremoniously dropping it on the ground with a rattling clunk. She leaned forward as she watched Tony stark's ashen face screw up in pain, breath stuttering, slowly passing out.

"Yesss ... This is what you deserve. You monster!" Wanda crowed, enjoying watching the life drain from Tony's eyes, ignoring the steadily approaching black clouds and rolling thunder.

"I thought we agreed to not killing Stark until we could interrogate him?" The elderly man sighed as he softly landed next to the siblings, "But I guess we will let you have this. This man was your goal after all."

"Erik," a naked blue skinned woman with bright red hair stalked up to the helmeted man, "What if he's a mutant?"

"If he is, it's unfortunate, but Stark is just a cog in the system of human defiance." the elderly man shrugged, "He would have to die for our greater good in any case."

The gathering was interrupted by the whirr of an air jets engine, as a black aircraft came into view, opening its bay doors to allow a group of uniformed people to jump out and immediately charge at the attackers.

"Bloody X-Men," the toad-like man growled charging forward, only to be struck down with white lighting wielded by a dark-skinned woman with a shock of white hair and glowing white eyes.
The hulking bulk of a man the single-handedly bulldozed the mansion roared, charging forward to be tackled by a short man in a tank top with sharp blades coming out between his knuckles.

"Erik," An elderly man's voice called out, a bald man around the same age hovered down in a futuristic-looking wheelchair, "What do you want with Stark?"

"You're too late, old friend," the man being identified as Eric smirked, "The human filth is dying! And there's not a thing you can do about it!"

"I beg to differ."

Any reply that could have been given was interrupted by a boom of thunder and a strike of golden lightning a short distance away, shaking the earth, and a searing flare of green fire - revealing the armoured forms of two very pissed off Gods.

"You take Tony, Brother," Thor insisted as he readied his hammer, "And I'll deal with the mortals."

"Leave none standing Thor," Loki growled, striking out with their green flame, enveloping the man who still held Tony aloft, using the seiðr to float Tony's shivering body away from the screaming twins, picking up the discarded arc reactor and disappearing with the inventor and Happy in a flash of seiðr.

"Gladly," Thor growled, reeling back then letting Mjölnir fly.

Chapter Text

'Anthony.'

Burning. Burns. Skin, blood, nerves, bones.

'Anthony.'

No. The chest. The chest ... Burns.

'Anthony.'

Fire ... no. Acid ... ... no. Burning. Burning. Pain.

'Anthony.'

No ... not pain. Pain? ... Burning?

'Anthony.'

... That's right. Anthony. That's what he was. He was a who. He was Anthony.

Brief flashes of burning fire, voices roaring, voices calling.

Not just with words ...

'Anthony.'

Flashes of sight, burning in fire.

Blood and snow. Blood and pale skin, green fire, dancing with the orange glow of flames. Green. New green shoots in the snow. Chaos. Silver-tongue. ... Loki.

Warm brown taken by green. Rage. Burning. Burning. Unquenchable Burning Rage. Stone. Solid. Calm. The Stone temple that contains the Green Burning Rage. Slowly twining into a structure of Jade. ... Bruce.

Loki ... Bruce ... so much blood. Standing over ...? Hands. On chest. Burning.

'Anthony.'

Green. Green fire twined with Snow. Green Rage twined with Stone. Soothing. Peace. Safe.

Green and Snow, Green and Stone - dancing with the orange flames.

"Hold him steady ..." ... Bruce?

"My healing isn't enough ..." ... Loki?

"... energy ... flow ..."

Flow?

'Anthony.'

Of course. Flow.

Dance with the Green and Stone. Held safe by Green and Snow. Safe. Green and Stone will lead. Follow. Flow.

"Banner?"

"I-I'm not doing that. That orange glow ... isn't me."

Flow. Orange fire, dance and grow. Burning ... no more. Blood ... no more. Safe.

"H-He's stable. His heartbeat is stable. He's going to be fine."

Safe. Orange flame dance and grow.

-----

'Anthony.'

Pain. Rage. Burning. Golden light?

Flashes of sight, burning in fire.

Golden light. Static. Bright. Warm.

'Anthony.'

... Thor? Yes ... Thor.

Pain? Anger? Grief?

'Anthony.'

No ... not ... mine. Not my pain. Not my anger. Not my grief. ... Help. ... Help ... Thor.

'... Thor?'

Blinded by red. Screams of rage.

'... Thor.'

Sad. So sad. Blinded by grief.

'... Thor!'

Won't stop. Can't stop. Help. Help!

"Þunor!"

-----

Thor stops, breathing heavily, tears streaming down his face, eyes aglow with golden lightning.

"Þunor!"

Thor startles, turning, realising he's not in Midgard right now. He's not fighting mortals who killed Tony. He's ... in the Astral Plane? What is he doing here?

"Þunor!"

Spinning again, Thor lies eyes on something he would never have expected.

"... Tony?"

The form of his Midgardian friend was transparent ... and blazing a fiery orange?

"... There you are ... Thor."

"Tony? How-? How did you-?"

"Honestly? It's a bit fuzzy," the form of Tony slowly spoke, like they were remembering words. "I have no idea where we are or what ... this is," Tony looked down at his bright orange glowing transparent hands, then looked up at Thor, "But I had a feeling getting to you was more important than having an existential crisis."

"To reach me by the Astral Plane ... Your body-"

"Is fine, Thor," Tony soothed, slowly walking forward carefully, still unsure of being transparent, and patted a hand on his solid form, "Loki and Bruce are looking after me ... I think? I remember the surgery ...? Nevermind. This is trippy as all Hel," Tony huffed at Thor's stunned face. "Why are you all solid and normal, while I'm all stupid and glowy?"

"You aren't stupid, Tony. This is the Astral Plane," Thor explained numbly as he took Tony in. "When training in seiðr the wielder travels here to gather a further understanding. I am 'solid' because I am me in any form. I have no other facade. God's are always fully formed in any existence-"

"That makes no sense," Tony huffed in annoyance.

"... Loki is so much better at explaining complicated things than me," Thor mumbled, ruffling his hair frustratedly.

"Anyway... I don't quite get it," Tony looked Thor straight in the eye, "But I had a bad feeling you were about to make a mess. I felt ... well," Tony huffed, "Not good things. And I had the distinct feeling they were coming from you."
Tony took out a glowy orange finger and waggled it in Thor's face mock-scolding, "What were you about to do that was so bad that I had to rush over here all orange and shit?"

Thor guiltily hung his head as he reflected on what he had been just about to do to the mortals left on the Midgardian Plane, guiltily admitting, "I let rage blind me. I am sorry Tony. I rarely ever let myself slip into a Berserker Rage."

"Berserker? Like Professor Elliot Randolph?" Tony furrowed his brows at Thor's guilty nod. "Is this particularly an Asgardian thing?"

"I had heard Midgardian's could achieve the effect after ritual ingesting of Henbane. No other race of the Nine Realms has managed it to my knowledge."

"Well ... It didn't feel like a good thing. So," Tony gently bopped Thor on the nose with his outstretched finger, "No. No doing that. Bad Þunor."

Thor huffed out a startled laugh, taking in his impossible friend, "Alright Tony. I won't. I'll bring the mortals back in one piece."

"Good," Tony nodded, form slightly wavering, "I won't be responsible for what Loki will do to you if you endanger the Embassy," Tony seemed to be getting tired.

"I promise, Tony. You should go back and rest and heal." Thor smiled slightly.

"But resting is so boring ..." Tony whined as he slowly faded out, but Thor could still feel his life force, now burning strong.

Closing his eyes and breathing out calmly, Thor opened his eyes to the Midgardian Plane, faced with stunned and confused Midgardians.

"Right ..." Thor summoned golden lightning chains in one hand, lifting Mjölnir in the other, "Who agrees to come peacefully ... and who wishes to make my day?"

Chapter Text

"Well, it looks like my number 1 patient has finally decided to join us," Tony woke up to TADASHI's dry dulcet tones, joined by soft and quiet beeps. Looking around, Tony realised he was in the Stark Tower medical bay, in a personal suite that TADASHI had 'affectionately' called 'Number 1 patient's second bedroom', with his bot's all circling the bed. The lights were dimmed, and there was no muffled voices or sounds of walking feet, so it must be very late.

Butterfingers beeped quietly, extending a cup with ice chips towards him, which Tony took with surprisingly steady hands.

"Good evening Sir," JARVIS intoned from the speakers, "May I ask, to gauge your mental state and health, what you remember before being brought into the Medbay?"

"... Honestly? Most of it is still kind of blurry," Tony mumbled as he softly sucked on an ice chip.

"How about you start at the beginning, Boss?" FRIDAY replied, her Irish accent giving her voice a lilting quality.

"It's usually the best place to start, Chief," EDITH's firm tone gave her sarcasm a scorning quality.

"Well ... I remember going to watch the demolition ..." Tony mumbled, hunching down in his bed with his cup of ice.

"That you decided to attend with only Mr Harold Joseph "Happy" Hogan," Even JOCASTA was here? Oh ... Tony really was in the deep shit ...

"Out at the well-known location of the Stark family mansion, in the town of Greenwich, Connecticut. You did not take a suit. Nor a security team," JARVIS' prim tone was the sternest he'd heard in a long time.

"Hey, I was following orders," Tony argued weakly, almost hugging the cup as if it would protect him, "The Iron Man legal and public relations teams said taking Iron Man would be a bad idea."

"Which is true," FRIDAY acknowledged, "If the media had managed to take footage of the Iron Man armour at the site of a wreckage - who knows how dissenters would try to twist it to make it out to look like Iron Man was destroying buildings."

"But you ignored security protocol," EDITH almost sounded hurt, "That protocol was put in place to protect you. All of us voted for it. But you? You ignored the protocol."

"I'm sorry EDITH. You know I didn't do it to hurt you guys, right?" Tony pleaded, patting Dum-E when he gave out a sad beep.

"The last two Iron Man suits have cloaking abilities, making them invisible to the human eye and most lenses. You could have taken one of them with you," JOCASTA argued.

"It would have been bad if the Iron Man armour seemed to appear out of nowhere! It would have caused a panic!" Tony argued back with a small pout, "There's a reason we haven't used that feature outside of the Tower yet."

"As much panic as witnessing Tony Stark being choked to death on national television?" JARVIS snarked dryly.

Tony winced. "That was on national tv?"

"So I see you remember that part," TADASHI noted dryly.

Tony stopped for a moment, trying to wipe the cobwebs from his foggy mind, eyes widening in a flash of panic as he remembered. "Happy! TADASHI! Where's Happy?!"

"Mr Hogan is fine. He suffered a concussion, a fractured cheekbone and cuts and bruises from being hit by shrapnel," TADASHI replied calmly, waiting for Tony to slow his breathing, "Mr Laufeyson brought Mr Hogan in when he brought you to the surgery. He has since recovered, and is now on enforced recovery leave."

"Loki? They saved me? Happy is fine," Tony concentrated on breathing, finding something odd. "I don't remember Loki being there?"

"You had passed out by that point, due to shock," TADASHI explained.

"Both Thor and Loki used their magic to go to you when they realised you were in danger," EDITH continued the narrative, "They arrived much faster than the deployed suits."

"You deployed the suits?"

"Of course. You may have decided to not take one with you, but that does not stop us from deploying functional suits in the situation where your safety is in question, Sir," Tony could almost call JARVIS huffy.

"Who were those guys anyway?" Tony mumbled, something was still not clicking in his mind. "Were they Asgardians?"

"No Sir. Loki and Thor assured us that they are not. They are very firmly Midgardians."

"So ... Earthlings with powers, and not aliens," Tony breathed, "Well ... at least we don't have to worry there are a bunch of rouge Asgardians wandering the Earth just yet. ... Which makes sense," Tony slowly recalled the two main attackers, "As those two younger ones were accusing me of ... killing their parents?"

"Recovered files reveal your two attackers are a Wanda and Pietro Maximoff," JARVIS intoned as a projection appeared from the ceiling, showing character sheets for the two in question.

"Sokovia?" Tony muttered as he scanned the information with his eyes, "Why does that sound familiar?"

"It was a country that you visited during the time you were wiping out illegal weapon caches that Obadiah Stane had organised and sold to terrorist groups," JARVIS explained to Tony's grimace.

"Ah ... I'm guessing ... I didn't make it in time ... huh?" Tony scowled.

"Unfortunately the terrorists had used some of the weapons before we got to them. Luckily, none of the weapons they possessed had been any of Stark Industries weapons or bombs," JARVIS showed a picture of some retrieved shrapnel and unexploded shells, "It appears that Stane had been cheating lower-paying 'customers' and selling them 3rd-party weapons and bombs with 'STARK INDUSTRIES' painted on the side."

"... We have never put the Stark name or the company on any of our weapons," Tony leaned back, perplexed, "Even Dad knew that would be a bad idea. ... People really believed this junk was SI product?"

"Unfortunately. From interrogation carried out by Loki, the Maximoff twins, fraternal, believe that the bombs were made by you, sold by you - so they blame you for their parent's deaths. According to their account, while having dinner with their family, a mortar shell hit their apartment building, killing their parents. The building started to crumble, trapping Wanda and Pietro inside as they hid under a bed. A second shell then hit and landed three feet in front of them but did not go off; the Maximoff twins were left trapped in the rubble, staring at the unexploded shell reading the name 'STARK INDUSTRIES' on it. For the next two days, Wanda and Pietro feared the shell would detonate before rescue efforts could free them."

Tony couldn't help but wince, patting Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers when they beeped in concern.

"Sir ... do we need to schedule another psychiatrist appointment?" JARVIS' prim voice was almost concerned.

"No. No need for that. I am quite aware now, after many sessions with the good doc, that I am not responsible for the deaths caused by the use of my products. I didn't create them to be used that way. I was not the one aiming nor did I pull the trigger. I get that now," Tony continued patting U's smooth exterior, "But that doesn't mean I can't understand how the victims of those attacks can feel that way."

"Apparently their powers manifested at that time. Professor Xavier explained to us that an individual's powers manifest during a traumatic experience or puberty," TADASHI seemed to be quite interested in this fact.

Tony blinked at his AI's non-sequitur. "Professor Xavier? Powers? Who?"

"Mutants, Sir," JARVIS replied succinctly.

"... Mutants? ... You mean ... that super-secret subset of humans that make up 0.27% of the population? With a separatist/isolationistic community? That Howard absolutely loathed?" Tony blinked," ... Those mutants?"

"Indeed."

"... Well, no wonder they went for my throat," Tony scoffed with a scowl, "Howard Stark made no secret in the 70's of how he felt about 'subhumans' ... Racist prick." Tony spat, "How people continue to confuse me for Howard or seem to think I carry the same world views ... Fuck Howard!"

"It relieves me to see you so energetic after being so injured, my number 1 patient," TADASHI drawled, "But I will remind you that there is to be no unnecessary yelling in medical."

Suddenly ... it clicked. What had been bothering him. What wasn't adding up.
Tony looked down to his chest ... and didn't see the tell-tale blue glow of the arc reactor. Tony tore at the medical gown, scrabbling to get a clear look. Ignoring the scolding beeps from his bots, Tony finally managed to get the stupid thing off, feeling and staring at his chest. No scars, no marks ... no arc reactor. Just a chest that looked and felt whole, like it hadn't been since 2008.
Tony's mind whirred at full speed, trying to make sense of this situation. How was this possible? For a moment, Tony had a flash of memory - a flash of orange. The only orange light he could think of was ...

"No."

"Sir?"

"No ... You didn't ... You can't ... I expressively stated for it to be in my medical notes that Extremis was to never to be implemented! Even in an emergency!" Tony roared in anger, glaring at the nearest camera, "You know the formula is unstable! Bruce hasn't finished working with it yet!"

"Sir ... Calm yourself," JARVIS' voice took on its smooth, dry, factual tone, that he knew calmed Tony, "You know very well that we would never go against your wishes. Nor would we allow anyone to use untested formulas without your consent," JARVIS waited until Tony's breathing had slowed, "Your recovery has absolutely nothing to do with Extremis."

"Doctor Banner and Mr Laufeyson are the ones that healed you," TADASHI explained in his dry doctorly voice, apparently Tony's outburst had offended him. "A combination of their seiðr was used to extract the remaining pieces of shrapnel, reform and restructure your diagram and ribcage, and regrow the damaged tissue."

"... Combined seiðr?"

"It appears that Doctor Banner has learned how to direct the biochemicals in a patients body, or their 'personal energy' to force it to 'heal' itself," TADASHI sniffed.

"... Bruce can use magic?"

"Doctor Banner has been studying the physical advantages of being able to sense and direct 'personal energy' in a body for healing purposes," JARVIS agreed.

"... ... I remember an orange light though?"

"That would be you, Boss." FRIDAY almost seemed to be amused. "Bruce, Loki, and Thor all confirmed after the event, that when they looked at your 'seiðr' or 'personal energy', it glowed the colour orange."

" ... Thor?"

"He says you reached out to him while you were unconscious in the Astral Plane, in a kind of 'out of body experience'," JARVIS explained, "And he said that 'your soul shone with a fiery orange'."

"... Orange?" Tony squeaked.

"Orange."

"... ... Why is it orange?" Tony whined.

"Mr Laufeyson has not been able to explain why a person's energy is coloured the way it is," TADASHI sounded like he was smirking.

"But ... why orange? Why not a cool red? Or blue? Pink? I could rock pink."

"Unfortunately, Sir, Loki has said that it was a rare event that the colour of ones 'seiðr' ever changed," JARVIS sounded smug, "Apparently, the colour is the same since the event of your birth."

Tony groaned, covering his face in mortification. "... Does this mean I have to go around wearing orange now? Loki wears their colour everywhere. Do you know how hard it is to pull off orange? With my skin tone ... it'll just wash me out!" He cried, flopping his hands down onto the bed and crying to the ceiling, "I'll look like a giant pumpkin!"

Chapter Text

Despite his arguments that he was no longer injured - in fact, he's in a better state than he ever had been in the last 4 years - Tony was not allowed out of the Tower. And even worse ... not allowed in his lab!
Turns out, that film crew that had been filming the demolition? Didn't run away to safety, like sane people, and filmed the whole event, and now it was all over the news. ... Reporters were rarely sane in Tony's opinion. That was one reason he was not allowed out of the Tower. Apparently? The world cares if someone tried to off their local genius and appointed Midgardian representative to Asgard. Tony could just feel the warm feelings oozing off of the populous, that usually couldn't wait to see Tony Stark burn.

Only problem? That sudden charity towards Tony? Was at the expense of the mutant community. Hell, why stop at mutants? Some people were taking advantage of the situation, like the vultures they were, and decided this was a perfect time to decry all those who they deemed 'unnatural'. Tony was not ok with this. They've been working for months for people to come to accept aliens and enhanced people like Brucie. They had even gotten a seat on the U.N and proposed a global equal rights law that prevents discrimination ... this whole shit show was like taking five steps back!
Tony had argued that he needed to get out there, but Pepper talked him down, saying that Tony stepping out on this topic was like adding water to hot oil. Tony took offence to this. Tony was very anti-discriminatory, thank you! But he ended up agreeing that Loki taking the reigns on this was the smart idea. Loki can be very convincing. Loki could convince Thor to cross-dress as his mother to trick a deluded diplomat from Vanahiem who had stolen his hammer ... long story - the point is! Loki was called the 'Silver-tongue' for a reason.

The reason he was not allowed in his lab? Bruce and TADASHI had put him under 14-day observation. Apparently? Glowing like a great big jack-o'-lantern and healing a gaping hole in his chest ... was a cause for concern, and he needed to be monitored. Tony would argue that it was technically Loki and Bruce who made him go up like the burning man, and neither they nor he had seen a flash of orange out of him since. All scans showed he was completely healed - full lung capacity, shrapnel gone, heart whole and beating away with no issues. And it looked like his bout of voodoo was a one-off, as Tony wasn't feeling particularly magical. He still couldn't 'connect to the inner energies' like Brucie and conjure fire like Loki. He didn't suddenly understand the deep workings of the universe or anything like that. He could still make pieces of Badassium do spooky things like float or race each other around a race track marked out with tape ... he was bored, ok? Since the runes were taking in surrounding energy to power the 'coding', and not Tony's energy itself. But he was still in Tower confined quarantine, and not allowed to experiment. Not that he would experiment with this. Soul stuff ... was not a science he was particularly interested to delve into. There's only so many near-death experiences a man can stomach.

Luckily, Tony wasn't alone in the Tower! While Loki, Thor, Brucie, Pepper and his AI were busy, and he was forbidden from showing his face to society, as he's supposed to be still recovering - turns out, it wasn't just Loki and Thor who had come to rescue him. A group of vigilante mutants had come to save him too! Tony was feeling like the luckiest damsel.
They called themselves the X-Men ... a mutant is a human being that possesses a genetic trait called the X-gene ... clever. Tony enjoys a good science pun as the next scientist.
Their leader was Professor Charles Francis Xavier, a leading authority on genetics to the public, and also the leading authority on mutation and psionics. An amiable gentleman with a spine of steel, and in Tony's opinion, balls of steel. Tony watched the feed from the Iron Man suits that arrived at the scene of the attack - a seemingly elderly man in a hovering wheelchair, facing down Thor who looked like golden flashfire, streaking lighting that was scorching the ground, and screaming bloody murder ... Tony doesn't think he would have personally.
Professor Xavier runs a school for young mutants, the 'Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters', which is also a front for his 'X-Men' vigilante force. Tony had almost laughed himself silly, as he remembered Howard being absolutely furious at being denied when he had attempted to shunt Tony off to their boarding school and was flatly denied. Professor Xavier apologised to Tony but explained that he would have gladly taken him on, only, it was a school specifically for mutants. Tony waved his apology off, saying that it was because of that blatant denial that Howard ended up shunting him off to MIT, where he met his best friend Rhodey, so that was for the better in his books. He also found it hilarious that Howard had been dealing with mutants, and had tried to send his heir right into the 'monster's den' so to speak - at the time he was fuming at his inability to find where the 'mutant-scum' was hiding. Oh, Tony thought it was brilliant!
Professor Xavier was a natural teacher and was quite happy to keep Tony company when he was in the Tower - the theory and science behind mutant genes and powers were fascinating. This was verging on the squishy sciences, but Tony could still follow. It helped that Xavier could read his mind and find the words to explain it in a way Tony could understand. Instead of being disturbed, Tony was thrilled! And bombarded Professor Xavier with thousands of questions, that the professor answered patiently with twinkling eyes.

Professor Xavier and a few of his X-Men were constant visitors to the Tower, secretly of course, as they were in discussions with Loki and the Embassy staff. They were currently working on a fall back plan if Loki's work calming the public and the U.N failed. They were also in discussions on what was to be done with the Maximoff twins and ... 'The Brotherhood of Mutants'. Tony felt that the naming could use a little work.
Professor Xavier was of the opinion that he and his X-Men should be in charge of them - mutants dealing with other mutants. Loki was of the firm belief that this 'Brotherhood' had attacked his vassal and the spokesperson for all of Midgard to the rest of the Nine Realms - the Embassy would deal with them. Pepper had lobbied to sue them, and Rhodey had petitioned to take potshots at them with blanks. In either case, once that was decided, they were kept bound with Thor's golden lightning chains and powers blocked with Loki's seiðr - apparently godly powers were compatible with mutant powers, just, 10 times stronger. Made any mutant going on a god complex kind of cringe-worthy - not that wouldn't already be. They were kept in secure lock-down vaults in the basement under EDITH's beady eye. They had beds and were given food and supplies ... they weren't monsters. Just ... they weren't going anywhere till this entire mess had been sorted.

Chapter Text

Tony could say he wasn't too proud to be found caught in the act - sitting on the floor surrounded by deconstructed Stark tablets, phones and a coffee-maker, a box full of Badassium scraps, a small constructed external arc reactor connected to an Iron Man glove that he was using to do some fine welding and inscribing, an old Iron Man faceplate to be used as a shield, U on the extinguisher, and an array of projections.

"Tony ..." Bruce stood at the top of the slope leading to the lounge, with his hands on his hips, as he stared down at the mess on the penthouse lounge floor.

"What?" Tony defended, lifting the mask away from his face, "I'm being a good little boy, Brucie! I didn't go to the lab. Butterfingers, Dum-E and U fetched for me. You love playing fetch, don't you buddies?" the bots all beeped in excitement and did little happy twirls.

"What part of 'rest' don't you get?" Bruce crossed his arms with an arched eyebrow.

"Oh come on! You know I'm perfectly fine!" Tony whined, "Besides, you cannot just dump all this new information on me, and expect me not to tinker?" Tony held a hand out, and a rough man with interesting hair and muttonchops, sitting on one of the moved couches in worn jeans and old button-up, handed him more pieces of a recently deconstructed microwave.

"Did you have to rope Mr Howlett into your mad scheme?" Bruce huffed.

"Wolverine, please," the mutant gruffed, eyes super focused on Tony's nimble fingers, "I work on my motorcycle and the X-Men vehicles in my spare time. Stark offered me the chance to take stuff apart and use my hands," Wolverine shrugged, "I don't mind."

"Mechanics have to stick together!" Tony cheered in agreement.

"Tony ... Can I at least know what it is your trying to create with this mess?" Brucie sighed.

"Mr Stark has hit upon the interesting idea of manipulating materials in real-time through an application of his lenses, transparent tactical screens from projections, and an application of ancient Norse runes," professor Xavier's calm voice intoned from beside Bruce as he slowly wheeled into the lounge and handed off coffees and teas to the mixed group of mechanics, scientists and curious onlookers in the room from a curious floating tray.

"Tony! Professor Xavier is not your barista!" Bruce scolded with an exasperated head shake.

"I truly do not mind Doctor Banner," Xavier's eyes twinkled with contained mirth, "In fact, I am quite intrigued by the proceedings."

"The theory that the mutant X-gene may indeed be an evolutionary step forward is quite fascinating," A blue-skinned man covered in fur, wearing a lab coat and thick glasses stood watching over the proceedings in a thoughtful pose. "With all of you at the Tower, and Mr Laufeyson and Mr Odinson, able to confirm that, yes 'gods' are real, and they have a deep understanding of 'magic' to the point that they view it as a science. And the theory that this 'magic' ... this 'seiðr' is in everything - atoms, molecules, you name it and can be wielded. This 'energy' when not in active use is invisible to the naked human eye ... but we have been able to confirm that, we mutants, we who possess the X-gene, can witness the energy signatures. With either enhanced senses or with psionics. Some with just our eyes. This puts forward, that 'Homo sapiens superior' is humanities attempt at the next step forward. As Mr Laufeyson has stipulated, the first step of using 'seiðr', is to first be able to perceive it." Dr Henry "Hank" McCoy glanced up to Bruce who stood stunned at the incline. "And as the 'vanilla' human cannot, as of yet, witness 'seiðr' in use ... it's pure conjecture at this point of course," the doctor pushed his glasses back up his nasal bridge in a sign of nerves, "But we stipulate that humanity has evolved, with the X-gene, in an attempt to use 'seiðr'. It would attempt to explain some of the powers that mutants can wield that defy modern science."

Bruce seemed to have been struck silent by this deluge of scientific theory, his brain visibly whirling with theories.

"The way that you 'mutants' use seiðr is interesting," Nari piped up, crouched at the edge of the carnage with his twin, picking choice pieces of shiny screws and bolts.

"You mean the way that they engage with it," Narfi shook his head at his twin, who discarded the screw in his hand, but nodded at the bolt and washer. "It's completely different from how we interact with seiðr."

"As we are a completely different species from different ecosystems, I suppose that makes sense," Bruce murmured out loud, nodding in thought, "As we have been able to demonstrate, the 'seiðr' in Midgard has a different type of density than, say, Asgardian 'seiðr', and foreign materials are not always compatible with Midgards energy."

"Exactly Brucie-bear!" Tony crowed, startling Bruce out of his head to stare at him, arms up in the air like a kid cheering, "Which means! We've been going about it the completely wrong way!"

"You mean ... trying to learn how the Asgardians, Jotuns and others of the Nine Realms work with 'seiðr' ... was hampering our progress ..." Bruce's face slowly cleared in startling understanding.

"Exactly! We aren't Asgardians. So why would our systems function the same way? I mean, our species are genetically compatible - hence all of Odin's mortal demi-god sons that ran all over Scandinavia and made themselves Kings. But!" Tony crowed as finished pressing together another compartment that was starting to look like an empty photo frame, "Earth's energy is also different! Meaning, we have to find a different way to process it."

"This may explain why I haven't been able to go beyond sensing energy and manipulating it in the human body, with the Hulk's help." Bruce nodded, unconsciously joining the congregation of curious beings in the lounge.

"Being that you, Doctor Banner, do not possess the X-gene," professor Xavier nodded calmly, "And instead are able to interact with this all-encompassing energy thanks to your exposure to gamma-radiation. It is our working theory," professor Xavier nodded to Dr McCoy, "That the reason some humans who mutate thanks to being exposed to radiation, and not die, is the existence of the M-gene, that exists in a small subset of the human gene pool, and is only activated by using radioactivity as a catalyst."

Tony was nodding along to Xavier's speech with excitement. "We may not be able to interact with energy to the level that Asgardians do, just yet," Tony shrugged with one shoulder as he slowly stood up with the frame in his hands, "But that does not mean we can't use their understanding of 'seiðr' as a template."

The group watched as Tony confidently activated the frame in his hands, that lit up with the tell-tale blue of Tony's transparent projection screens, moving the screen over the people and objects in the room, showing that Tony had implemented his advanced lenses and scanners that were able to detect 'seiðr', functioning like a see-through tablet.

"Earth's seiðr is dense. Seiðr is a type of energy and therefore cannot be created or destroyed but can be converted into other types of energy. It functions as similar to gravity or radiation, in that it is inherent in all matter, and some beings have evolved the ability to see or otherwise sense this energy and direct it by various methods. The way that 'Homo sapiens superior' harness this energy," Tony unconsciously lectured as he continued to scan the room and test the scanners, "Is that they 'ingest' it, in the lack of a better term - and harness it through their bodies, using their unique mutation and constitution to wield their 'powers', which is how the seiðr functions and manifests for them. Brucie does not interact with the energy the same way," Tony continued to theorize. "Instead, his mutation allows him to sense the seiðr inside himself and others and coax it to do his bidding. This is only at alpha stage mind you," Tony winked at Bruce, "Who knows what you'll be able to do once you develop it further."

"How Doctor Banner interacts with seiðr is very similar to how Asgardian hedgewitch's and healers do," Nari nodded, watching Tony with gleaming green eyes.

"I, on the other hand, am a completely 'vanilla' human. TADASHI and I checked," Tony did not sound embarrassed by this fact, "I can't eat energy, nor can I sense it or create illusions or fire. But ... when have I ever let my limitations stop me?"

Tony focused the screen down on a piece of leftover Badassium left out on the carpet. Zooming in, tony scanned the object, then with his fingers on the screen, started typing out lines of programming code, stopping once in a while to draw out a Norse rune to add to the sequence.

"Once directed the energy within an object is used to interact with one of the other known energy sources in the atmosphere to produce an effect," Tony murmured, finishing his programming sequence, and with his tongue poking out of the side of his mouth in concentration, activated the code.

The small piece of Badassium shivered on the carpet. Then slowly, it began to rise, wobbling into the air to hover. Nari and Narfi cheered as the mutants applauded Tony's achievement.

"It's not a completed theory yet," Tony delighted smile seems to light the room as Bruce approached the wobbling chunk of Badassium. "I'm only able to interact with pieces of Badassium at this point in time, and only able to perform basic functions. Directly inscribing runes on Badassium still manifest more effective and stronger results," Tony huffed as the metal chunk gave up its wobbling fight and plonked down onto the carpet.

"That is still an impressive first attempt," professor Xavier encouraged.

"Just call me the 'Magic Mechanic'!" Tony gloated in glee to pained groans.

Chapter Text

Thor sat in the penthouse kitchen, enjoying an apple pie and honey mead, watching Tony as he used the dining table as his impromptu workbench.

"Thor ... if you had more toys hid away in your not-at-all rule-breaking pocket dimension of yours," a tip of a tongue poked out as he slowly moved the expanded view on the projector of the clunky handcuff looking device and muzzle that now rested on the table, and lifting a judging eyebrow, "Why didn't you say so earlier?"

"Father gave me the devices as a way to restrain my Brother," Thor shrugged carelessly with one shoulder as he enjoyed his pie, "I didn't want to even think about using them ... so I forgot about them."

"Anything else forgotten in that tear in the fabric of space, time and relativity?" Tony glanced up.

"I admit to misplacing a few items in there over the centuries," Thor did not seem too fazed by admitting this, "Like Gríðarvölr."

"Gríðarvölr, translates roughly to 'Gríðr's staff'," JARVIS translated while Tony's hands were preoccupied.

"Gerda?" Tony smirked at Thor who had cream on the corner of his mouth, "This a secret girlfriend?" he waggled his eyebrows.

Thor almost choked on his mead, coughing to clear his airway. "No! Gríðr is a lover of Odin's and my half-brother Víðarr's mother. Charming giantess that she is ... I would not dare. Víðarr would strangle me. Odin would have something to say about it too," Thor squirmed uncomfortably, "Father is rather ... possessive of his 'wives'."

"... This doesn't happen to include, you know, your wife? Sif?" Tony studied Thor seriously for a moment. "Didn't he take her as a lover? And they have a son together?"

"Father ... claims that any wife of his sons must also lie with the King," Thor's brows scrunched in consternation.

"... What an asshole. Thor, your dad is an epic asshole!" Tony cried, gesturing at him with the Iron Man glove he was using for welding.

"So we have already established," Thor huffed with a small amused smirk as Tony mumbled and threw junk scrap in a show of being upset for Thor's sake.

"... So, why did your brother's mother give you her staff?" Tony asked once he had calmed enough to continue welding, Dum-E scooting along the floor and picking up the discarded junk now littering the floor.

"Ah, she lent it to me, as I had forgotten Mjölnir back at the palace," Thor scrubbed at the back of his neck, "After the adventure with my shield brothers ... I believe I stored it in my pocket dimension and forgot about it."

"She didn't chase you up about it?" Tony glanced at Thor's light blush.

"Gríðarvölr was a gift from Odin to his lover. Gríðr ... is not a fighter. She prefers to frequent the salons and day spas," Thor shrugged, "Either, she forgot about lending it to me as I had forgotten to return it - or I was just a convenient excuse to be rid of it and has not bothered to ask after it."

"Your dad and his gifting away possibly overpowered weapons, man," Tony slowly shook his head.

"It is proving useful at the moment, no?" Thor lifted a golden brow at the shiny Badassium replica of the handcuffs Tony was working within his hands.

"Odin's loss, our gain," Tony nodded as he finished off inscribing a line of runes detailing the cuffs.

"I must admit, Tony, you are getting very good at using runes," Thor eyed the items as Tony admired his work, "If I did not already know they were runes and had a function, I would just assume it was just beautiful decorations."

"I took inspiration from Viking stones and decorative pieces," Tony turned the cuffs and studied them with a critical eye, "They were big on knots, Triskelion, images of wolves, snakes, dragons and trees, with runes inscribed everywhere. Admittedly ... not my usual style," Tony huffed, placing the cuffs down carefully on the table. "I'll have to think about how I'm going to incorporate this into my suit when I'm allowed back in my lab. As elaborate and elegant as I can now get it ... it's not exactly 'Iron-Man' brand."

"Tis a shame. I would be proud to one day see Man-of-Iron dashing out of the sky wearing the images of my people," Thor smiled dreamily, "You would make a dashing figure."

"As much as I would love to play out your Mecha-Viking cosplay fantasies," Tony grinned, "Iron Man is a brand. If I completely change the style of the suits, advertising and merchandising would throw a fit," he sighed, adopting a pose of a weary tragic hero, "Often my genius and artistic talents are challenged by branding. Repressed! I am being repressed!"

"I thought, you being Tony Stark, that you could tell 'em to fuck off, Bub?"

"Ah! Wolverine!" Tony cheered as he turned to watch Logan prowling into the penthouse from the elevator, "Just the mutant I wanted to see! Do you mind helping me with something?"

"Depends," Logan lifted a bushy eyebrow, "You gonna experiment on me?"

"Nah. I don't do the squishy sciences," Tony stuck out his tongue as if he had tasted something yucky, "All I want is your body."

"... Go on ..."

"Your mutation is a mix of physical, enhanced senses, and healing, right? If I were to say ..." Tony lifted the newly constructed cuffs, "Try to bind your powers, you wouldn't be injured."

"You working on anti-mutant gear, Bub?" Wolverine scowled and crossed his arms over his chest.

"No, no, no!" Tony flapped his hands at Logan with his face scrunched, "That was my last thought. Though ... Fri, start working on legal outlines for use of the cuffs. Don't want them in the wrong hands. J, remind me to add in a function to prevent misuse."

"Of course Sir."

"Already on it Boss."

"Excellent!" Tony grinned, clapping his hands together and turning back to the Wolverine. "To answer your question, Logan, no. This is just a prototype. I need to be able to do something about the League of Not-X-Men in my cellar."

"I thought the Gods had it handled?" Logan indicated with his chin to Thor who was polishing off his apple pie.

"We can't leave everything up to the Gods, now can we? Besides, Loki-Doki is a busy cookie," Tony shrugged, "They can't be called on every time we need to move them."

"So that's why your designing fancy handcuffs?" Logan eyed the elaborately detailed metal rings.

"Exactly. We need to be able to inhibit rogue elements actions, but not harm them. Based on the Asgardian magic inhibiting cuffs," Tony pointed to the clunky device still on the table, "We decided we would try to create our own version. According to Loki, those cuffs would still work on our friends downstairs - but they are created to inhibit Asgardian sorcerers. It would be like trying to warm someone slightly chilled by putting them in an oven. Too much overkill. Plus," Tony huffed, "This is the only pair we currently have. Not enough to go around."

"Right, because we mutants are like efficient seiðr engines," Wolverines eyebrows did an interesting thing as he thought out loud, "Seiðr is the fuel for our mutations."

"Exactly!" Tony cheered, "Those would still work because they are over-powered," Tony flapped a hand at the Asgardian cuffs, "But we need something with a little more finesse. Hence, these," Tony held up the new cuffs. "They have a dual function of blocking the mutants intake of seiðr, and the ability to discharge any seiðr they might already have consumed. Of course, I've added the function for maintaining equilibrium, don't want to injure them or 'starve' them. Also, they have the function to incapacitate the captive if they become violent."

"... And that's why you need me," Logan seemed to be reluctantly impressed. "My mutation is continually running, but as long as you don't intend to shoot me in the head, which would only injure me skin deep - the cuffs shouldn't hurt me."

"... Are you willing to help test a theory? I'll understand if you don't want to." Tony seemed to suddenly realise, after remembering Logan's known history that had been revealed to him, that asking him to participate in an experiment on his body was probably insensitive.

"Don't you start pussy-footing around with me now, Bub," Wolverine gruffed, stalking forward, "If I didn't like anything you'd been spewing, I'd have left ages ago. Now, what do I need to do?"

"Let's move to the lounge room. The carpet is softer." Tony nodded, grabbing the cuffs and the real-time tablet, walking over with Logan, Thor following with his mead to watch curiously.

"Ok, please hold out your hands." Tony demonstrated by holding his hands out in front of him, arms extended straight. Logan copied, flinty eyes watching as Tony readied the cuffs. "Alright, I'm going to be putting these cuffs on now. Please let me know if they are uncomfortable, we'll leave the functions turned off for now."

Tony moved the cuffs closer, apparently not bothering to open them, which confused Logan, until the metal touched his skin. The cuffs seemed to automatically react upon touch, side retracting much like the Iron-Man armour, opening and enclosing Wolverines wrists, making him jolt at the sudden movement.

"Could have warned me about that," Logan huffed as he began flexing his wrists and hands, moving his arms. "They don't dig in or cut off circulation. Snug to the skin but not tight," Logan gruffly listed as if he was used being used as a product tester, "Light-weight but I know they are there. Kinda glad you didn't put me in those things," he nodded to the Asgardian cuffs in the kitchen, "Those things look big and clunky. These things are slim and don't get in the way. Kinda like overly elaborate metal wrist bands."

"Can you try prying them off?" Tony asked, watching in interest.

Wolverine lifted an eyebrow but complied. Logan fiddled with his hands, but couldn't get his fingers under the metal against his skin. Next, he tried teeth - but still a no-go. Then he tried resting it against the corner of a nearby table and pulling, but it didn't budge.

"I might not have super-strength as my mutation, but I lug around an adamantium skeleton. I'm not a push over. If I can't get it off," Logan huffed, "I doubt few others could. And this is without the inhibitor on? What is this made of?"

"An alloy I invented," Tony smiled, happy so far with the results. "Ok, Ready to try activating the inhibitor?" At the Wolverine's nod, Tony lifted the real-time tablet, activated it, zoomed on the cuffs, and typed in an activation code.

The runes and detailing around the cuffs began to glow a fiery orange, and the reaction was immediate. Logan stumbled, seeming dazed, shaking his head as if to shake away flies distractedly, swaying, until he thunked to his knees.

"Logan! Logan are you ok? You gotta speak to me," Tony fretted, finger hovering over the deactivation sequence, "Is it hurting you? Do I need to deactivate it immediately?"

"Calm your tits, Bub," Logan gruffed once his breath calmed, "Just made me lightheaded is all," Logan looked up, moving carefully back to his feet. "Doesn't hurt. Just feels weird."

"Can you try describing it?" Tony hedged as he took notes while keeping an eye on Logan's condition.

"It's like I've got a thick woollen bag pulled over my head. My senses are muffled. I can see and hear fine, but not as well as I could. I can't smell the apple pie in the kitchen anymore," Logan slowly started wiggling his fingers and stretching his limbs. "It's weird. It feels like ... you ever recovered from a bad cold as a kid?" The Wolverine looked up at Tony, who nodded in response, "It's like that, that bodily weakness after you've fought off the fever."

"Any aches? Pains? Temperature changes?" Tony notated furiously.

"No, no pain at all. Just slow. Not tired or worn out. I could still jump if I wanted to," Wolverine demonstrated, "But everything is just a bit muffled."

"Can you try activating your claws?"

"... ... Yep, nope. Not happening. I'm trying, but nothing's happening. And before you ask, Bub, it ain't hurting." Logan gruffed.

"Ok ... looks like the inhibitors work so far," Tony nodded as he studied the glowing cuffs, then looked up at Logan, "You willing to try the incapacitate feature?"

Logan nodded, bracing himself, as Tony typed in a new code, and the cuffs snapped together, binding Wolverine's arms as normal cuffs would. Before he could even ask, Logan started struggling to pull his arms apart but gave up with a shake of his head.

"Ok ... That should do for now," Tony nodded slowly at his notes, "There are further incapacitation functions - but there's no need to test that now."

Logan sighed in relief as Tony typed in the deactivation and release code, the runes stopped glowing and the cuffs detached into pieces and fell off of Wolverine's unmarked wrists to clunk to the floor.

"That is seriously powerful stuff," Logan cricked his neck as he reacquainted himself to his normal senses.

"It surely would not work on an Asgardian," Thor beamed at Tony's success, "But I daresay it will be just what we need for our 'visitors' downstairs."

Chapter Text

Gaining special permission to use the lab to mass-produce the 'seiðr inhibitors' also meant Pepper was able to wheedle more work out of him ... but it was worth that sacrifice.
Going with Thor down into the make-shift holding cells and putting them on their captives was an exercise in frustration. The two Sokovian twins were, unsurprisingly unwilling to deal with Tony, and when released from Loki's binds and Thor's lighting chains, immediately charged at him. EDITH initiated the incapacitate features - snapping their wrists together and locking them in place, then when that didn't stop them, initiated the 'Down Boy' procedure. A different glyph blazed and cuffs and the wearer went down like a sack of bricks. Needless to say, Thor was not pleased and rebound them in his lightning chains. Tony was going to have to figure out what to do about these two soon, he didn't like keeping them locked up in here, even if they were being taken care of. He didn't like the thought of his Tower being used as a high-tech Tower of London.
After that Thor refused to loosen his golden chains unless the captive agreed to deal with Tony. Only one took him up on it.

Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magnito, was a stoic old man. He oozed old world class and grace, straight shoulders, straight-backed and walked with graceful long strides. Tony could only hope he would age as gracefully - but with his early life abusing chemicals and his body, he didn't think he had much of a hope.
With as much dignity as a bound man could ask for, Magnito waltzed into the office that had been set up for such talks, with comfortable chairs and clean tables and water service. Not as luxurious as his meeting rooms upstairs - but Tony wasn't about to let the wily silver fox start learning the Tower's infrastructure. A man didn't get as far as Erik had by just relying on his 'powers'. Tony could see that canny glint in his blue eyes, Magnito wasn't a dotty old fool.
It also appeared he was a stubborn man though, as Magnito refused to start talks and sat across from Tony and studying him, while Thor stood glowering by the wall like a protective golden bear.

"Alright, I'm not going to play that kind of power-move bullshit of, 'the weakest man speaks first' - I'm a busy guy, and I'm sure you don't want to sit here admiring my handsome face all night."

"Is that what they tell you," Magnito drawled, raising an elegant eyebrow, "If I were you, I would be questioning your barber for that atrocious facial hair."

"It's unique and a fashion statement," Tony huffed, stroking his beard, "You should think of trying something other than stubble, grandpa. Though I'll admit, you make it work for you."

"I do not need fashion tips and flattery from a philanderer, corrupt businessman and a murderer." Magneto's eyes turned flinty as he looked down at Tony, making Tony feel like dirt on his boot. How he managed to do that when he was the one in shackles, Tony had no idea.

"Ok. Number 1? Ouch. Loki would enjoy flinging insults with you. They call it 'flyting', but I'm pretty sure the kids are calling it 'throwing shade'. Number 2? 'Philanderer'? Really?" Tony's trademark Tony Stark Smirk firmly in place, "I prefer 'Casanova' myself, though that's assuming that I only enjoy the company of women and that I ever cheated on any long term partners. And despite what the press might say? I can't say I have." Tony shrugged.
"Number 3? Stark Industries are very serious about being above board and having accountability since the outing of the 'old guard' and Stane. Ratings have been at an all-time high. Number 4?" Tony frowned, "Name one person I have murdered in cold blood?"

"How about the aforementioned Mr Stane?" Magnito pointed at Tony casually with an elegant finger.

"That was an unavoidable accident and was judged as self-defence. He was trying to blow me into itty-bitty bits with the tech he stole from me. And had tried to have me killed, more than once." Tony scowled at the memory of the event that lead him to find out about Stane's illegal dealings and ultimately to becoming Iron Man.

"Convenient excuse," Magnito waved Tony's explanation away, still eyeing him, "What about Mr Vanko?"

"Hey now, he committed suicide by blowing himself up and all the Hammer drones. I had nothing to do with that," Tony refuted, slowly shaking his head.

Magnito paused for a moment in consideration, then nodded in concede. Taking a sip of water, never taking his eyes off of the inventor, Magnito continued, "I assume you have an explanation for Mr Killian as well?"

"Self defence." Tony shrugged.

"Just like an American," Magnito scoffed, "So flippant about the death he causes." Magnito sneers, "I suppose you lost no sleep over the Maximoff's and many other families you brought to an end with your death machines?"

"Actually, I have no shame in admitting I have," Tony adjusted his suit sleeves, eyeing the mutant sitting across from him with steely eyes, "I feel a lot of regret for what my weapons have done in others hands. I'm not ashamed to have gone to therapy for it." Tony sniffed. "But I have come to accept that I am not personally responsible for what someone chooses to do with my creations. You don't blame the knife maker for stab victims."
Tony leant forward slightly, watching Magnito intensely, "What about you? Ever felt remorse for all the lives you've ended?"

Magnito waved a careless hand as he sat back in his chair, "Who cares for the lives of flies? Humanity is a dying breed, on it's way to extinction. I am only helping it to its inevitable demise."

Tony remained still, watching Magnito as he sat in the chair like it was a throne, putting on a regal air, seemingly unaware that the short-sleeved shirt he was provided with while in captivity clearly revealed the numbers tattooed on his raised left arm.

"That ... sounds dangerously close to a group in history I would have thought you would want nothing to do with," Tony pointed out cautiously, as he watched Magnito's smug face slowly change into a mask of fury, "Why would a man like you, who was subjected to such a horrendous thing, opt to echo the same mentalities?"

"What would you know about it? You piece of human filth!"

"My Anya was Jewish! You massive prick!" Tony stormed, clenching his hands.

"Don't try to lie to me Stark. Everyone knows your mother and father were as American as they come, even if your mother hailed from the old lands." Magnito refuted with a violent swipe of his hand.

"Howard and Maria may have been my birth parents," Tony breathed deeply to control his temper, "But it was the Jarvis' who raised me. Mama was busy with her charities and Howard was just a sperm donor, as far as I'm concerned."

"The butler?" Magnito laughed mockingly, "You are telling me that the notorious Tony Stark, was raised by a butler?"

"Edwin Jarvis, a former officer in the British Army, former secret agent, and badass butler. Jarvis managed to rescue my Anya, Ana, a Jewish Hungarian when Hungary allied with Nazi Germany and adopted its anti-Semitic policies. They fell in love and got married," Tony smiled proudly, "The Jarvis' may have worked as the Stark's butler and carer's later in life, but before I was born? They were badass agents." Tony squinted at a quietly stunned Magnito, "If you dare to insult my family again, Max Eisenhardt," Tony grinned at the mutant's blanch, "Then I will have no qualms with throwing you and your lackeys to the wolves. Your little stunt at the old Stark manor has drawn the worlds eye. And not in a good way."

"How ... How do you know that name?" Magnito held still, although there was a trace tremble to his fingers.

"I'm a master hacker, among other things," Tony grinned evilly, "There isn't much that you could hide from me.

"And with these damned shackles you would have us weak as babes," Magnito lamented with a scowl at the inventor, "I have to wonder though ... why you haven't already done so? What with the young Wanda tearing out your heart and Pietro's attempts to strangle. That you obviously miraculously survived."

"The Arc Reactor is essentially a blue glowing battery. Why people seem to keep insisting it's my heart just because it was in my chest cavity, I do not get!" Tony huffed, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration.
"Look," Tony huffed as he leant back on the table, "Just because I have decided not to carry all of the blame for the deaths my weapons caused, does not mean I don't care, or understand why survivors would choose to hate me for it. I understand their hate," Tony thought of the Captain America shield locked in the vault, "Which is why I won't condemn them for it. But," Tony sighed, indicating to Thor who continued to fume, arms folded in front of his chest, "I have friends and allies now who are not as forgiving as I am."

"If Tony had let me have my way," Thor growled as he sparked, "You would be ash upon the four winds."

"And you don't want to know what Loki wanted to do," Tony shuddered, "Luckily, our gods are gracious and magnanimous," Tony smirked at Thor's preening at the praise, "And have decided that since you are Earthlings? You will be dealt with the Earthling way. And I'd like to think we have evolved far beyond the point of chucking babes to wolves or angry mobs with pitchforks."

Tony indicated to JARVIS who activated the tv on the adjunct wall, revelling Loki speaking at the U.N.

"Instead," Tony grinned, "We figured we'd go with the legal route."

Chapter Text

Tony was enjoying a well-deserved coffee when Charles Xavier wheeled into the penthouse with the elegant white-haired lady who called herself Storm. The professor had a genial warm mien when he entered the kitchen, but as he wheeled closer, his face took on a thoughtful look, which had a hint of confusion in his crinkled right brow, and by the time he had reached a free space at the table where Tony sat, a small amount of wonder.

"Good morning, Professor Xavier, Miss Storm. Would you prefer tea or coffee?" JARVIS intoned from the kitchen speakers.

"I will fetch the refreshments, thank you, Jarvis." Storm's smooth calm voice replied as she smiled kindly, checking once more on her mentor then glided into the kitchen. Tony had to wonder if being able to ingest seiðr just made you inherently graceful and cool as fuck.

"Thank you, Tony. I'm sure that is something researchers could look into." Charles replied distractedly, eyes seemingly staring into thin air.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Tony quipped, watching the emotions freely flow over the professors face as; Tony speculated, Xavier was feeling out the Tower.

"The Brotherhood still reside in the Tower ..."

"You know they do," Tony smirked, quite aware that the professor could sense all minds and know who was near.

"And yet the overall emotional cadence of the Tower has ... changed. Above has not changed much, still happy, bright, inquisitive, a little stressed but still determined. Below where the Brotherhood is kept had been a seething cesspit of anger, hatred, frustration and fear. Now ..." the professor looked over, finally focusing on Tony Stark's smirk, "I sense residual anger and fear ... but also... Hope? The last time I felt anything even resembling hope coming from Erik ... What on Earth did you do, Tony?"

"What makes you think I did anything?" Tony smirked into his coffee cup. Xavier just rose a sardonic eyebrow at him, which made Tony chuckle. "Ok, ok, I know, you're an all-powerful mind reader, I can't hope to fool you. All I did was give Magnito the truth."

"The truth?" Xavier sat back in his wheelchair, studying Tony, "I've known Erik for longer than you've been alive. If you'll forgive me, I find it hard to believe that someone as stubborn and willfully blind as Erik, would listen to the son of a known mutant hater."

"I'm an inventor and a scientist. I deal with everchanging theories and cold facts. A mind that is rigid and stuck in their ways has no place in the scientific field in my opinion," Tony slowly shook his head, "If I stuck to what my dear old Daddy tried to teach me and echoed his thoughts? We wouldn't have all you see surrounding us. SI would still be an American military weapons manufacturer and not the global power behind green energy and technology it is today. All I had to do was point out the wide divide between Howard and I for Magnito to understand," Tony shrugged as he took another sip of his coffee, "I am not my father. I don't believe in the whole 'sins of the father are visited on the son' schtick. I'm not catholic. I'd say I'm not religious at all, but ... I am now a vassal to two Norse deities. Kind of hard to refute the existence of a 'higher power' if they are currently living in my Tower and eating me out of house and home."

"You can afford it, Tony, don't winge," Fenrir huffed from the lounge were he sat enjoying his Eiskaffee with a mountain of cream and powdered chocolate as he watched the tv.

"Plus the existence of seiðr as a force in all things? The existence of magic? The fact I can float a cup by carving in letters of a dead language? It would be stupid of me to be narrow-minded when faced with people who further prove the theory. A species who evolves to have the ability to manipulate the seiðr are the ones that survive. Look at the Asgardians and Jotuns," Tony indicated to Fenrir as the only God currently in the room. "Bodies that are three times denser, respiratory systems able to breath most atmospheres, and to withstand the pressure of space and void without being torn apart or imploding or fall from great hights without a scratch. Longer lifespans, higher intelligence, chances of surviving are much higher. From an evolutionary standpoint? That's exactly what you want. Now correct me if I'm wrong," Tony grinned at the professor, "But don't a lot of those points sound awfully familiar?"

"... It's true that mutants appear to have a longer life, and stay active much later in life than a human would," Xavier admitted.

"Come on. Magnito was a prisoner of Auschwitz. In World War II. And he looks no older than a very fit 50 or 60-year-old man. Not closer to 80 like he should be. Of course, it's not like he even holds a candle to Fenrir, whose centries old, and he looks younger than me." Tony looked personally insulted by this. "But that's the whole point. You 'mutants', you 'Homo sapiens superior' are the next step in evolution. I agree with this theory. Although, I know there are a few in the Tower that is arguing that 'Homo sapiens seiðr' would be more appropriate. I feel like that isn't quite right, as we obviously are not up to that level," Tony pointed back to Fenrir who was licking the cream off of the long ice coffee straw-spoon.

"... And you told Erik all of this?" Xavier looked like he couldn't decide whether to be stunned or horrified.

"Of course. Everything. Why would I hide anything from him?" Tony rose an eyebrow at the professor who seemed to be quietly fretting.

"Tony, you don't understand. Erik maybe my friend, but he is also my oldest rival in our fight for mutant rights. We want the same thing, but our approaches are completely different. Erik would take this information and use it to further his belief that mutants should rule over humankind, and subjugate all humans into slavery or death. There is no negotiating with him. He's a loose cannon." Xavier said quietly, seemingly consumed with grief at the thought.

Tony watched the professor, looking at his drooping shoulders, bowed head, hand massaging his wrinkled temple, watching him for a few minutes in silence, then eyes slowly widening and muttering to himself, "Well, I'll be damned ... it actually worked."

The professor looked up at Tony, puzzled at the inventors face moving from shock to glee.

Seeing Xavier incomprehension, Tony directed to the professor, "Ok. What am I thinking right now professor?"

Lowering his brow in consternation, as if offended that Tony would even try to test him, Xavier sat for a moment in concentration, then huffing a puzzled breath and raising an eyebrow the professor replied, "Nothing. Your mind is curiously blank, unlike its usual frenzied activity."

"Exactly. That's because I'm thinking of very specific things," Tony's grin was ecstatic and proud, looking over to the nearest camera with glittering eyes, "Looks like you win Baby Girl. Any upgrade you want, it's yours."

"Thank you, Boss," FRIDAY replied smugly.

Tony turned back to the professor with the mien of a man who was very satisfied with the outcome, and seeing the look on Xavier's face, quickly clarified, "FRIDAY speculated that, if Loki can use seiðr in their oaths to enforce compliance to a degree ... why couldn't we? Baby Girl is the Head of Legal, she writes up all the contracts and agreements. By using a few runes and seiðr in the confidentiality agreements that went along with all the forms we went through and signed with Magneto and most of The Brotherhood? We protected all signers from accidentally voiding the contracts by having their thoughts pertaining to the agreements read."

"What did you get Erik to sign?" the professor leaned forward.

Tony furrowed his brow and starred Xavier down with flinty eyes, "Well, if I just told everyone willy-nilly what was in the contracts, there would be no need for a confidentiality clause, now would there? Those agreements and contracts are strictly between the signees, between STARK, Loki, Thor, The Brotherhood and I. Whatever Magneto signs with me has nothing to do with you. You are not his mother, nor his minder or legal advisor. You profess to be his friend, Professor Xavier," Tony watched the man across from him, "But you are very quick to believe the worst in him.
I understand you have a long history together ... But do you really think that your friend would not truly listen to reason and the truth if it was shoved unceremoniously in his face? Magneto is not stupid, far from it. He's an Auschwitz survivor. He's seen the worst depths that humanity can plunge to. He's seen what hate and fear can do. And not only was he an enemy of the Natzi's for being a jew? He was a mutant. What support was there for people like him? His anger and hate are warranted.
Survivors like Magneto don't want pretty speeches and promises, they want action. They want to see change. They can't help seeing their oppressors in their enemies until they see that they act completely different."

Tony breathed deeply, unsure why he got so passionate about this topic, though the thought of his quasi-adopted mother did flash into his mind.

"It's all well and good to make promises and speak at length about grandiose ideas of equality. But unless you act, it's just puffs of hot air to people like Magneto. We have already started making waves at the U.N with pushing for a global equal rights law that prevents discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, gender identity, enhancement status, nation or planet of origin." Tony lifted a brow with a smirk, "In what part of that don't mutants fit?"

Professor Xavier sat back in his wheelchair, thinking deeply in silence. Storm strode to the table and handed the professor a mug of tea with a kind smile, turning to Tony with the same smile, "It seems the X-Men made the right choice to ally with you, Mr Stark."

"You are free to tell your other friends that as well, Miss Munroe," Tony smirked up at the dark-skinned woman, who tensed for a moment. "I have been trying to get into contact with our friends who worship Bast, but again, being who my sperm donor was," Tony rolled his eyes, "They didn't want to deal with the son of a thief. I've been telling you everything I know, I have nothing to hide, and I and the Norse Gods who represent Asgard are willing to strike up an agreement. We've shown you what is coming," Tony stared into Storm's blue eyes, "We need to have as many hands on deck as possible."

"I assure you, Mr Stark," Storm hesitated slightly before drawing herself up, "I am not a War Dog. I am an X-Man. But ... I will make sure your words reach who it needs to," Storm nodded regally, "I agree, as I am sure my birth people will, that now is the perfect time to extend a hand of friendship out to the outside world. Isolation does us no good."

"The Brotherhood agreeing to work with humans and possibly halt hostilities, from what I am feeling from them. A tower full of Gods and aliens and superpowered individuals," professor Xavier stared at Tony with muted wonder, "And you are not marching out into the world to force your way, except you're wrangling politicians and trying to effect change legally. ... Who are you, Tony Stark?"

"Just a man," Tony grinned, giving a flippant one-shouldered shrug, "We have bigger fish approaching our little pond. We have no time to be squabbling amongst ourselves."

Chapter Text

Honestly, Tony feels he should be more shocked or maybe weirded out by walking into the penthouse lounge and finding a woman with long black hair, pale skin, dressed in a toga-like gown in shades of green and gold draped on his couch. But those facial features, and glittering snow like God Waves glittering around them ... and the fact that all of Loki's children surrounded them, with their head rested on Hela's lap as she massaged their brow and Jörmungandr massaging their bare feet ... kind of gave their identity away.
The lounge had been reorganised, furniture moved, leaving only the stretch couch which Loki lay on, Hela at their head, Jör on the other end, leaving the rest of their siblings lounging on blankets, furs, and pillows on the floor in a half-circle. It kinda looked like the Gods had turned his lounge into a nest or a scene from a palace harem.

Tony was unsure if he was interrupting a moment, but rationalised that this was Tony's Tower, and he shouldn't feel uncomfortable going anywhere in it. He's sure it wasn't their intention - Tony had noticed that Loki's family plus Thor were very touch-oriented, figuring it must be a part of their culture. Or the fact that they had been forcibly parted for centuries. Tony figured the uncomfortable yet jealous feelings in his chest when he came across them hugging or hanging around as a family was his touch-deprived childhood.
Tony rationalised that they weren't doing it in public areas as some sort of convoluted personal attack, as they have yet to try any kind of intimidation or controlling tactics on him. For all-powerful Gods? Loki's kids had been respectful the whole time he had known them. Thor and Loki had originally been forceful, but the situation hadn't precisely been calm. What with a mind-controlled Loki and Thor throwing his weight around in an unfamiliar scenario and trying to save his bother. He doesn't really blame the Gods for making vassals of the only two mortals in their vicinity that managed to keep their heads.

"I can hear your brain working from here, Anthony," Loki crooned with their eyes still closed, her female voice was surprisingly deep and smooth, like dark chocolate or caramel.

"Please don't call me that Lokes. You know I hate that," Tony huffed, deciding that this was apparently happening now and it was too late to just leave the room and leant on the wall near the lounge entrance.

Lady Loki smiled, eyes still closed as Hela continued her massage, seemingly pleased that Tony recognised her. Like there were any other green loving, Snow Queens in the Tower.

"It pleases me to hear you referring to me as your Queen, Tony Stark," Loki smirked, making Tony realise he had said that out loud, "Be not afraid. You may approach the Snow Queen and her brood."

The chorus of chuckles from her children even made Tony grin despite himself. "How generous, oh mighty Queen," Tony quipped with a Stark Smirk, staying firmly in a casual stance against the wall, "But I had only wandered over to your glittering court to see how you were holding up. Dealing with politicians for days on end can be a struggle for anyone."

"Oh on the contrary," Loki replied as her children shuffled as Sleipnir stood from his pillow and started wondering toward where Tony stood, "I find it invigorating. Midgardian politics are a joy compared to Asgards." Tony watched the snow-white Sleipnir confusedly as he approached with a small lazy smile. "They are not on my level, obviously." Loki preened, "But they are leagues above the brutes who attend Odin's court. You couldn't find enough wit in that room combined to solve even the simplest of rhymes. Midgard on the other hand?" Loki smiled, "The wordplay and battle of witts are engaging and fun."

"I think you are the only person crazy enough to find butting heads with stubborn politicians fun, Loki-Doki," Tony shook his head to Loki's indulgent chuckles, then looking up to Sleipnir who stood near, "Damn, they make em tall in Asgard. Hello Sleip. Need something?"

Sleipnir huffed a quiet laugh as his lazy smile grew, "I was wondering how you were holding up? You did nearly die a few days ago, travelled to the Astral Plane with nay but an untested spirit. Your personal seiðr is surprisingly strong for one who has not flexed it much."

"Can we not speak about that orange monstrosity?" Tony shuddered with a grimace, making Sleipnir chuckle, "Besides, I haven't been able to access it since."

"The runes that you activate with your device shine your particular shade, do they not?" Sleipnir smirked at Tony's grumpy pout. "Do not be discouraged. Wielding seiðr is like using any other muscle. You cannot be expected to be throwing spears of thunder before you learn to light a candle."

"I'm not used to struggling with my projects though," Tony whined, seemingly unaware that he was following Sleipnir unconsciously toward the pillow pile. "I'm not saying I'm the best at everything. Brucie can have the squishy sciences. I mean ... I can do it if I put my mind to it. Biology isn't too difficult to understand. The research and information are out there. I'm just not ... that kind of scientist. I work with robotics, programming and tech. I can work with medical if I need to - look at all the medical equipment and inventions I've made to further medical science! It's just ... I read the provided texts, I'm doing the research ... and I'm not getting it." Tony huffed as Sleipnir gently tugged him down to sit on a giant ground pillow, blinking as he looked around him at the smirking gods and blinking at Loki, "... And I'm over here now. Hello."

Narfi and Nari cheekily waved greetings as Fenrir snorted from lounging between them.

"I hear from the lady Pepper that your medically imposed quarantine is almost over," Hela intoned from the couch, having not stopped her massage, smirking at Tony's grateful look for changing the subject.

"Which was ridiculous, honestly. I'm fit as a fiddle. ... Never understood that saying. Anyway," Tony began gesturing as he talked, careful not to knock into any of the gods sitting around him, "Loki and Brucie worked their magic to heal me, literally. I didn't need the recovery period. Nor am I infectious, thank you!" Tony gave an offended huff, "Thanks to that silly order I am weeks behind. I could have finished building my new armour and gotten so much work done."

"You watched your childhood house ruined by an invading force before you could knock it down yourself," Nari pointed out with glinting green eyes.

"And you and your friend were attacked and almost killed," Narfi joined his brother, both watching him with intense stares, "You would just let this go?"

"Of course I'm furious that they hurt Happy," Tony growled softly, "They are not getting away scot-free ... although I agreed that the mutants must be the ones to punish them. Human law would just truss them up like turkeys and throw them to the nearest grubby lab to be experimented on. Even they don't deserve that," Tony quickly shook thoughts of the cave in Afghanistan out of his head. "I honestly don't care about the house. As long as that ugly thing is no longer offending anyone eyes? I'm happy. Even if I have to pay a fine for the improper demolition." Tony shrugged.

"So instead of prosecuting the men who attacked you," Jörmungandr drawled as he finished with one dainty Loki foot and moved to the other, "You strike an alliance with the two opposing forces of their people and talk to mother and uncle into offering mutants and people who apply, protection under the Asgardian banner. Making them Asgardian citizens here on Midgard, protected by the Realm and the Embassy."

"Well ... I already have buildings either built or almost built to house people. And it's not like there isn't a screening process." Tony blinked at the assembled gods, "Why are we reiterating things we already know?"

"Tony, do you know why mother and uncle accepted your proposal?" Hela hummed as she worked.

Tony continued to slowly blink, "Because having more possible forces on our side would be only a good thing, with Thanos and his creeps coming for his pretties."

"No Tony," Sleipnir huffed gently as he moved behind Tony and draped his arms over Tony, ignoring his restrained minute flinch, and started to cuddle him, "Mother and uncle accepted your request because you asked."

Tony sat still as Sleipnir proceeded to snuggle against him and consciously worked on controlling his breathing. "I ... don't follow."

"Tony, do you know what being a vassal to a god means?" Hela continued to hum.

"Sure, Loki said it was like a blessing or a possessive thing," Tony replied as he watched Nari and Narfi hop over to start playing with his hair and shiny watch, leaving Fenrir alone on his pillow to huff, "Basically like a cat or dog marking territory."

"I distinctly remember also mentioning that it also made you a walking vessel of our godly power. We don't give this kind of honour to just anyone," Loki opened a lazy eye to stare at the mortal unerringly, "If it wasn't already obvious, this vassal thing goes both ways." Seeing Tony's raised quizzical brow, ignoring the gods currently cuddling to his unresponsive body, Loki sighed as they explained, "You remember how Thor told you how the Asgardians became gods? Midgardians invoked their own brand of seiðr and, in a sense, blessed us, infused us with their belief in our 'godliness'. Vassalage is a god infusing the receiver with their seiðr and essence of being, the essence of a god, that the Midgardians gave us. It's not enough to make you a god, don't fret," Loki smiled at Tony almost working himself up into a panic. "It's the essence of it, but a taste. But I can see you still don't see the significance."
Loki turned to lay facing Tony, now with both eyes open and focused on the mortal sitting among their sons. "You hold within your body and spirit the essence of Loki and of Thor. The essence of what makes us, Us. This binds us together. You recall when Thor was about to throw himself into a destructive rage, and Bruce Banner glowed with Thor's power and calmed him down?" Tony nodded attention super focused on Loki's words. "The same happened when the witch tried to rape your mind, except it was my power that protected you. Being a vassal attributes you with protections provided by that god, but you also provide us with your protection - as Dr Banner demonstrated." Loki smirked at Tony's stunned face.
"Being made a vassal does not just mean protection or holding a piece of our godly power tying us together. Being a vassal means you have been acknowledged as worthy. You are our knight, our banner, but also our counsel. I have deemed you as exemplary and worthy, I have claimed you for my court. And I am eager to hear what my vassal, my mortal, my worthy one, plans to do on the mortal plane," Loki's smug smirk and Tony's flushed face was very cat-like, "And I've been agreeing with everything you've proposed because I haven't heard a bad idea yet."

"B-but - you can't-" Tony sputter, coughing to clear his throat, "I'm the last person you should listen to! Haven't you seen my track record? I make horrible decisions!"

Loki threw her head back and laughed, Hela watched on fondly as her mother slid off of her lap and the couch like silk and moved to kneel in front of a panicking Tony.

"Maybe a year ago or before you saved me from Thanos and The Other's oily clutches, and stopped Thor from having to kill or imprison his own brother. But you are not alone anymore." Loki's power grew surrounding the group in glittering snowflakes and silvery light and a slight chill, making Tony shiver, "You hold a piece of me, and a piece of Thor. You have had the support of gods since the moment you made Thor laugh. We have not made a misstep since recognising you as worthy. We are no longer alone, and we are stronger for it. You, my oblivious vassal," Loki flopped down, placing her head in Tony's lap, ignoring his squeak, "Have been working yourself to distraction. You will take this moment to relax with me and my children, and you will groom my hair."

Fenrir chuckled as he moved to lie down with his mother for a cuddle, followed by Jörmungandr and Hela who passed Tony a beautiful bone white carved comb.

Looking at all the gods around him that continued with their cuddling, Tony huffed, and carefully started combing Loki's long black locks. "Feeling a lot less like a knight, and more like a servant girl at the moment, if I'm being honest."

"That can be arranged." Loki grinned upside down at him.

"Uh ... no thanks. I like my bits where they are thanks."

Chapter Text

Thor had wandered into the penthouse searching for Loki but also JARVIS' delightful blueberry muffins - and paused at the scene he bore witness to in the lounge that warmed his heart. There lay Loki, asleep on a mound of pillows cuddled with a mottled grey wolf the size of a man, a mother of pearl snake longer than the couch, a snow-white horse with eight legs that ended in ivory hoofs, two midnight-black ravens roosting on the horses back, and Hela watching over her snoozing family relaxed on the couch. Thor felt like his heart could burst with gratitude towards their host and Midgardian friends, that Loki and his little family felt safe enough to relax in their own forms, and finally have a chance to bond as a family after all these centuries. He really needed to gift Tony with another boon soon, no amount of gifts could ever be enough for this moment.

"Greetings, uncle," Hela spoke softly, glancing up from something in her lap with a soft smile.

"Hela, my favourite niece," Thor replied in as soft a voice as the god of thunder could manage, like a low distant rumble, "You do not join your siblings? I was looking for sustenance. Would you care for a delightful blueberry muffin?"

"I do believe those were made for Tony, uncle," Hela scorned softly, unable to help a smile at Thor grabbing the platter of muffins anyway.

"Man of Iron's heart is large, generous and forgiving," Thor mumbled around the muffin already in his mouth, "He would happily share his favourite treat."

"That is true," Hela smiled as she turned her attention back to her lap, "His outside layers are carefully constructed armour of callousness and arrogance. A disguise of a man who is apathetic to his fellow man and hedonistic. Beneath that, he is the eccentric, brilliant, outgoing, cocky, charming suave who has his opponents and the public eating out of his palms. But despite his rather carefree and overly confident personality, inside Tony's heart lies loneliness," Hela smiled sadly.

"Reminds me strongly of your mother's crafted persona when we were younger," Thor nodded, eyes lingering on the sleeping goddess cuddled with her children. "Playing pranks on those in the halls of the palace and Asgard at large, but not truly themselves unless they were sequestered in the library or their room with a thick tome that they would not extract themselves from for days."

"Mother and Tony are very much alike," Hela agreed with a small nod and smile, still focused on her lap, "Both brilliant individuals with great talent, suppressed by those around them. Mother has us, and indeed, you, to foister her care and attention onto, be whatever form that might take. Tony Stark has his friends and his created children," Hela tilted her head in thought, "But I fear he has not had much opportunity to share his heart with others or be cared for in return."

"That is concerning," Thor frowned down at his half-devoured muffin, "Being a powerful figure means that you are always centre of attention. But that public persona can get tiresome. Even princes cannot be princes all the time," Thor shrugged as he finished off the other half of the muffin, "Even the gods need to unshod their princely garb and run around the countryside with their shield brothers on an adventure or prank a courtier."

"Exactly uncle," Hela smiled, glancing up at Thor with mischievous twinkling eyes.

Thor smiled at Hela and approached the lounge, bringing down the platter so that Hela might select a baked good of her own. "As chance would have it, I find myself curious after my curious vassal. Hela, have you seen ..." Thor's sentence petered out as he finally looked down at what Hela had been so enamoured with on her lap. Curled in sleep, was a little chocolate and ginger tortoiseshell maine coon kitten. It had large pointed ears and long luxurious fur that Hela had been grooming with her bone-white fur comb. As if the kitten felt Thor's sudden golden-eyed stare, it blinked awake and looked up at the god with vivid orange eyes. Thor reached down gently, ignoring the kitten's disgruntled mews and lifted it up to look at it face to face.

"My," Thor breathed, apparently enamoured, "What a handsome cat you make. Mother would lavish attention on you." Thor moved to gently carry the kitten in his arms, chuckling when the kitten mewed and tried to bury their head into his shirt. "Now, now, there is no need for shame," Thor tutted as he started to pet the reticent kitten, "I had often hoped I would one day awaken to find myself in the form of an animal. Shapeshifting is an envious skill, many spend centuries trying to achieve what natural shapeshifters appear to do just on accident. Alas, I do not have that natural skill, unlike Loki and many of their brood, nor am I particularly gifted with wielding seiðr unless it pertains to storms or feats of might. You should be proud," Thor smiled as he gently sat down next to Hela who had taken the platter from an easily distracted Thor, "Your shifted form is entirely fetching."

The kitten didn't seem to agree, mewing at Thor in displeasure and attempting to get up on shaky legs and jump off of the couch. They were thwarted of course by Thor scooping them up before the wobbly kitten could land on their face.

"Tony is still not stable in his form," Hela purred as she placed the platter of muffins down and went back to patting the grumpy mewing kitten, "It appears that mother and Bruce were right to enact quarantine on our inventor. His seiðr had been fluctuating since the attack, they hypothesised that Tony might have a reaction before the seiðr would settle. It looks like being surrounded by a pack of shifters caused Tony's seiðr to awaken to the skill."

"Pack." Fenrir sleepily agreed, slowly wagging his tail.

"Herd," Sleipnir argued.

"Pit," Jör mumbled.

"Murder is our favourite," Narfi softly cawed as Nari giggled.

"Until his seiðr has stabilised and established itself into its primary form and Tony is once again strong upon his paws, we will have to take care of him," Thor smiled with glee, chuffed to be responsible for his vassal's safety and comfort. "Never you fear Tony," Thor smiled at the kitten who mewed up at him, "You will have want for nothing. Cats are revered creatures on Asgard."

"I fear you are about to be spoiled Tony," Hela smiled down at the kitten as she gently scratched between his shoulder blades, leaving Tony to mew in pleasure.

"I have a feeling in this form, he would not mind," Loki smiled with her eyes still closed.

Chapter Text

Bruce was working in his lab, putting the final touches to a test on a possible cure to Extremis. He felt like they were almost there, and wouldn't be long before he would tentatively ask Tony and Pepper for volunteers to accept the vaccine. Bruce heard the lab doors woosh open and glanced up distractedly, causing his neck to crack, but not seeing anyone there he dismissed it and decided to stretch out his sore muscles. He had been working for almost 14 hours, and Teddy had already threatened to lock him out of the lab if he didn't take a break soon.
Figuring now was a good a time as any, Bruce was about to ask Teddy to close down the lab and run the analysis on the test while he took a break - when something furry brushed his bare foot. Pausing midstretch, Bruce looked down curiously and spotted an orange and brown kitten rubbing itself against his ankles.

"Huh ... a male maine coon tortoiseshell. Figures Tony would have a rare type of cat," Bruce remarked absentmindedly as the kitten continued to rub against him and purr. "I was unaware Tony had a pet though ..."

The kitten suddenly looked up at him with bright orange eyes, gave an irritated sounding meow and sauntered off towards the lab entrance.

"It also figures he would have a pet with an attitude," Bruce chuckled as he watched the kitten totter up to the door, meow, and the lab doors swoosh back open, then sit in the doorway and proceed to preen itself.

"... Teddy, did you allow Tony's pet down here?"

"My number 1 patient does not own a pet, Dr Banner," TADASHI replied.

"Pepper?" Bruce guessed as he watched the kitten sit stubbornly in the doorway.

"I'm afraid not, Dr Banner."

"A stray? In the Tower?" Bruce muttered to himself as he slowly took off his lab coat and hung it up, eyes not leaving the kitten who was now watching him. "TADASHI? Please continue with the test and shut down the lab for me?"

"Of course, Dr Banner." the Ai replied, sounding almost amused.

"Thank you," Bruce replied distractedly as he slowly moved towards the kitten, afraid he might spook it. The kitten, however, gave the approaching doctor a soft murr and tottered out of sight.

With a soft curse, Bruce spread up his pace out the lab door, spotting a curiously patterned tail curl around the corner. Giving chase in the softest way he knew possible, not wanting to scare the kitten but also not lose track of it, Bruce followed the kitten through the halls, having to stop once in a while and follow the sound of a small meow when he lost track, or ask JARVIS where the cat had gone. It wasn't until he had followed the sound of a meow and came around a corner to watch the elevator door closing and make its way up that Bruce had to pause.

"JARVIS ... did you allow a cat into the elevator?"

"That is not the weirdest thing that has ever been in a Tony Stark elevator," the AI quipped dryly.

"Where are you taking it?" Bruce blinked.

"I am taking him to the penthouse," JARVIS replied primly.

Bruce blinked at the AI's strange behaviour, but shrugged, and asked for an elevator to continue his pursuit.

JARVIS was nothing if not punctual and Bruce found himself up at the penthouse level much faster than a commercial elevator would possibly travel, and much smoother. Tony really did know a thing or two about building things.
Walking into the penthouse, Bruce was greeted by the sight of a grinning Thor sitting at the kitchen island on a tall stool, not at all fussed by the fluffy maine coon kitten currently attempting with some success at climbing up his pant leg.

"Bruce!" Thor cheered, his eyes twinkling, "I see our friend was able to fetch you from your work after all. I hope he didn't interrupt anything?"

"Not at all, I was about to finish up for the evening anyway," Bruce brushed the gods worry away with a small smile, watching as the cat made it up to Thor's knee, where they perched with a meow and Thor smiled and patted it in congratulations. "Is that your kitten Thor?"

"Norns no. Tony is not owned by anyone! Tony is a free cat!"

"You ... named your kitten Tony?" Bruce tilted his head in confusion as the kitten started to climb up Thor's shirt. "I suppose I can see the resemblance."

"You see this?" Thor boasted, completely ignoring Bruce's question, "I have been coaching Tony on how to climb. He needs to strengthen his claw beds and leg muscles if he is to be a fierce cat warrior!" Thor seemed to shine with golden pride, "The first two days he was tired and needed to eat and sleep and be given reassurance. But look at him now! Already he can climb to my shoulder," Thor smiled as the kitten indeed did make it to his shoulder and started to wander across them to hide in his long blond hair.

"Where did you find the kitten?" Bruce walked into the kitchen, figuring he might as well get a tea while he was here.

"I first came across him getting attention from Hela," Thor smiled, his blue eyes seemed to sparkle with mirth.

"Hela brought a cat into the Tower?" Bruce was distracted enough he almost dropped the teabag.

"Don't be silly Bruce! Tony has always been here." Thor grinned.

Bruce turned to give Thor's grin a suspicious gimlet eye. "I don't remember ever seeing a kitten anywhere or hearing anyone mention they had a pet."

"Of course not Bruce! Tony is not a pet. Tony is a cat!"

Bruce turned now to stare at Thor with judging crossed arms, watching as the brown and orange kitten peeked out of Thor's golden locks to stare back with orange eyes. "Thor. You can't honestly be trying to fool me into thinking Tony has been turned into a cat." Bruce stated flatly, brows furrowed, "That may have worked on the Vikings in the middle ages if they were particularly superstitious. But you seriously can't expect that to work on me."

Thor chuckled delightedly, careful not to move his shoulders too much to dislodge the kitten from his perch.

Shaking his head Bruce turned back to making his tea, ignoring the thunder gods continuing chuckles. Tea made to his taste; a strong black tea today with a spoon full of apricot jam stirred in for the sweetener, Bruce turned back around to give Thor another piece of his mind ... and almost dropped his mug.
There on the kitchen island, was a kitten, pawing at a Stark pad, and looking up to see Bruce was paying attention, the kitten pawed at the activation for the projection setting to appear and display ... a programming sequence?

"... Tony?"

"I did try to tell you, Bruce," Thor chuckled, absolutely delighted at their prank. "Tony was a bit upset that he could not move a kittens voice box to produce words quite like Loki and his children can," Thor grinned, indicating to the kitten typing away at a Stark pad, "But of course, Tony found a way."

Bruce carefully placed his tea down before he spilled it as his mind whirled. "Was this a prank from Loki? One of the others? Or was this Tony's seiðr finally having an unexpected reaction? Loki said that his energies were unstable after having the arc reactor removed and the surge of his own seiðr to save his life. Is this an adverse reaction?" Bruce watched Tony the kitten nervously, before turning to Thor, "Is Tony ok? Did the transformation hurt him? Is he in pain?"

A loud meow interrupted his panic, making him glance down, and see a slowly typed out sentence. 'Calm down Brucie. I am fine.'

"Indeed. Loki and the children assure me that Tony does not suffer. He transformed in his sleep, so there was no pain. They explained that getting used to a new body and moving unfamiliar muscle groups aches for a while, but he will get used to it." Thor replied in a calming tone, smiling at the doctors fret.

"Can he turn back?" Bruce looked from the orange-eyed kitten to the golden god.

"Once the seiðr has settled Tony may be able to turn back, either by himself or with help from Loki," Thor smiled, "Loki assures me that the first time is always the hardest."

"Well ..." Bruce breathed, calming down, "Tony," Bruce bent down to get on the kittens level, "Would you ... mind if I ran a couple of tests?"

"Sir has run all the way from the penthouse, down to your lab and back. Sir requires a 30 minute lay down," JARVIS cut in from the kitchen speakers, ignoring the kittens annoyed but tired meow, "After you and Sir have had a nap ... Then you may access the medical labs to run your tests."

"Yes JARVIS."

Chapter Text

"This talent for shapeshifting with the power of seiðr is fascinating," Bruce tapped at a Stark pad as he sat with Loki at the penthouse dining table, drinking tea that Hela had traded from the light elves; its floral light taste with a hint of spice was good for a clearing the sinuses and waking one up.
"Thanks to tests Tony and JARVIS allowed me to run, and indeed you for allowing me to study your process of transforming as well, I've been able to correlate and summarise that you are not turning into an animal, merely taking the form of one. Tony is not currently a cat. He is in the form of a cat. He is still human and has his human mind intact. He's not suddenly a feline and lost his humanity. Even the samples I took from Tony and from you show that while in an animal form your cells are still human and jotun respectfully. While mass displacement of turning oneself into a smaller form is still confusing," Loki chuckled into their tea as they fondly remembered the doctors rant over that, "It's still reassuring to know that one of the greatest minds of the modern age is not stuck as a cat for the rest of his life ... please don't tell Tony I said that."

"I wouldn't dream of it Dr Banner," JARVIS drawled dryly, causing Loki more chuckles.

"I have come to wonder, is it part of the human condition to fear positive emotions and unwilling to express admiration and gratitude? Or just an affliction held by our vassals?" Loki chuckled at Bruce's blush. "You both are heralded as 'geniuses' by your own people and condemned by them at the same time. Such a juxtaposition ... and the chaos of your pasts ... While I mourn your lost chances and grievances, I propose that such struggles have shaped your characters. While such has shaped you both into strong admirable vassals to which I am happy to behold," Loki grinned at Bruce's embarrassed squirming, "You must get used to taking compliments, my mortal."

"I know, it's just," Bruce coughed uncomfortably, "It's just sudden. What with going from; running for my life, hiding in the far-flung reaches of the world and using what skills I can to help those in need in third world countries while in hiding, feared and hated by everyone who saw my other form ... to sitting in Stark Tower in the middle of New York, working towards being accepted back into society and having tea with the god of mischief."

"Indeed, how far you have come," Loki smirked, taking another of Bruce's baked spice biscuits, "While the duality of your nature brought on by mutation is fascinating, it gladdens me to see you slowly coming to accept the other part of yourself. I see Thor has been coaching you on how to control and deal with the berserker's rage. While your power is not entirely the same thing, as it comes with instincts and a kind of raw animal mentality that a berserker couldn't possibly hope to achieve - at least you may take the coping mechanisms from the discipline. Driving yourself to such a rage ... while useful in battle, is harmful to the body and mind."

"I'm aware that flying into rages is unhealthy, and I have read the medical research into the berserker phenomenon, which does have some similarities," Bruce admitted as he held his mug in both hands, "If a subject survives the berserk state, it imparts emotional deadness and vulnerability to explosive rage to his psychology and permanent hyperarousal to his physiology, both hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Of which I know I suffer," Bruce smirked sardonically, "I'm aware I'm not the cocky, confident young scientist I used to be, and instead I'm a stuttering mess that jumps at his own shadow. Though I regret the foolhardy actions that brought me to this point, I can at least say, since coming with Tony to his Tower that I am getting better. He is getting me the help I need. I'm attending counselling," Bruce sat back as if this fact stunned him, "A younger me would be horrified that I had fallen to this point."

"This Midgardian 'counselling' is an interesting concept," Loki nodded in contemplation, "A mind healer, who gives emotional support and who talks the patient through their mental and past injuries. My children also swear by the practice," Loki's smile turns fond, "It warms my heart to see my children healthy and whole. I had feared in what state they would be in, cast so far from Asgard. But it turns out," Loki grinned, revelling a pointed fang, "That Odin's decision to cast my children out was the best action he could have ever taken. He and his people may not have been able to accept my children, but Midgardians have shown that they will. I shudder to think what he would have done to my babes had he kept them close, as he had planned to do with Sleipnir and my twins. Enslaved to his whims, no doubt." Loki growled.

"I admit I'm a bit concerned," Bruce fiddled with his biscuit, "Everything you have told us about the King of Asgard has been concerning. We may be safe right now, as they have no way to harness the Bifrost as of yet, and unable to reach us with more than flashes of Odinforce. But," Bruce glance up at Loki seriously, "Asgard still has Heimdall, who is able to see into all the Nine Realms, and no doubt has been reporting everything that has happened down here to the king. From the character study, we have been able to make from your stories ... That does not sound promising."

"And yet," Loki indicated to the golden tapestry still in pride of place on the wall, "Asgard has declared Midgard an ally. I cannot profess to understand Odin All-Father's mind, but I do understand Asgards politics," Loki grinned, "Odin is the one who has much to fear if he tries his old tricks. He may be the All-Father ... but he answers to the seiðr of Asgard and of his own Kings power of the Odinforce. I have a sneaky suspicion that the gifting of the tapestry was more an action of Queen Frigga's than of Odin's ... but the motion still stands. A monarch of Asgard has enacted the royal powers to claim Midgard, and those of this Embassy, as allies to Asgard. Any action against us will be punished by the Norns."

"That is still confusing to me," Bruce sipped his tea as he looked at Loki's smug visage, "Gods having their own Gods."

"The Norns are more the weavers of fate and destiny and the mistresses of judgment ... but I can see the correlation," Loki smiled. "It brings me great relief that Odin is not truly the all-powerful that he bellows himself to be, and that there is a higher power above him that he must answer to. That we all must answer to. If the Kings of Asgard were truly the judges of us all ..." Loki shuddered.

"Would you think the same thing once Thor becomes king?" Bruce raised an eyebrow at the god across from him.

"Thor is not next in line to take the throne. He has been made legitimate, so he is still in the running, as it were," Loki waved an absent hand, "But he is far from taking the throne. That dubious pleasure goes to the eldest ... unless the brutes have a war over it."

Seeing the doctors confused face, Loki explained. "Odin has many sons, but only three are legitimate. Baldr by birth, as the only legitimate son born of the royal marriage to Queen Frigga. Víðarr by prophecy, made legitimate and son of Odin's favourite lover Gríðr. And Thor, made legitimate in the hopes that Odin's past favourite concubine, Jörd would look favourably on him and return. Of the three, Baldr is the recognised heir." Of this Loki did not look keen, by the look of his sneer.

"I take it you don't like Baldr much," Bruce gave a small amused smile.

"He must take after a much younger Odin," Loki started on his tirade, "Because I see not a witt of Queen Frigga in him. He is the god of light, love, purity, and the summer sun - among many other things if you can believe it, and heralded as the most beautiful Aseir to walk the Realms. I personally don't see the appeal," Loki sneered. "A head of Asgard's most coveted golden locks, that is empty of much else. If I had to rank the three in the terms of intelligence? The crown prince would be on the lowest end. His personality is vapid, vain, brash. His words lack thought - indeed I wonder if he ever had an original thought of his own? I much doubt it."

"That does sound like a terrible idea to make him King," Bruce tried to contain his giggles at Loki.

"That empty-headed lout is married to Nanna, the goddess of joy, herself professed to be the most beautiful woman in Asgard to match the most beautiful man. But at least Nanna is not as empty-headed as her spouse and has taken up a lover in Baldr's blood brother Hǫðr. He too is a son of Odin and Frigga, but was deemed illegitimate because he was born blind," Loki frowned, mirrored by Bruce, "Unlike his celebrated brother, Hǫðr is kind, thoughtful, a talented craftsman and musician."

"Which, in a warrior society, are not exactly the most glorious things to be?" Bruce guessed, to which Loki nodded. "Does that mean Víðarr is next in line?"

"Technically, Baldr and Nanna have a son, Foresti, the god of law, justice, and government ... yes, I too have no idea how the son of such a dullard managed to become such a shining example of the Asgardian court." Loki shrugged. "As Baldr is the crown prince at this moment in time, that would make his son next in line. But history has shown that Asgard's line of succession has never been straightforward." Loki leaned forward conspiringly, "Did you know Odin was not the crown prince? Indeed, Odin had three brothers, of whom we suspiciously know very little about anymore. The only existing accounts of Vili and Vé just refer to them as Borson's ... nothing else. And the existing accounts of the other brother? Hoenir? Depicts him as either a frightening war-leader or a complete moron. I believe he had been the crowned heir. Either way ... none of them still live, and Odin sits on the throne. I'll let you fill in the rest." Loki leant back with a sip of tea.

"So ... You worry that this Víðarr will usurp the throne?" Bruce theorised, intrigued by the royal Asgardian gossip in spite of himself.

"Víðarr is ambitious, I'll give him that. But I have my own grievances with Víðarr. He is the god of vengeance, and prophesied avenger of Odin's death and slayer of his prophesied killer, my son Fenrir." Loki scowled darkly. "Baldr maybe Odin's favourite son, but of Víðarr he is the most proud. The child of prophecy. Avenger of the tragically fallen king," Loki scoffed, "Of which such event has not even come to pass - but the brute is still celebrated as some kind of hero, when in fact he has not achieved anything as of yet. What is worse, is that the fool believes in his own glory, and will strike down any dissenter. A dangerous element."

"What about Thor?" Bruce hummed into his tea, "What does he think of this?"

"Ah, Thor. Sweet fool," Loki purred, watching as Thor himself entered the floor, carrying kitty Tony in his arms to raid the kitchen, leaving Loki to wave a hand to spell their conversation private and away from Thor or Tony's ears. "I believe Thor truly does not want the crown, nor does he enjoy being a prince. Most of his life he has acted in just the way that Odin wished, imitating his brothers and trying to follow in Odin's steps in a bid to be accepted. Indeed, before saving me from the Other's clutches, I would have painted him with the same brush, although brash he contains a heart of gold which I did at one point fall in love with, hence our son," Loki smirked, "But it appears that unlike many in Asgard, Thor has shown a capacity to change. I attribute it to his Midgardian Jotun mothers genetic influence."

"Thor changed after thinking he had killed you," Bruce mumbled, watching as Thor fetched whatever Tony meowed at out of the fridge, "Maybe Odin and the rest of Asgard have too?"

"You are too optimistic, my friend," Loki smirked, "We gods are old, and very rarely do we change our minds, especially those who lack wit and are feeble-minded. Indeed, I believe interaction with Midgardians to be healthy for the Asgardian. For such a young and short-lived species your wisdom is deep and your capacity for kindness overwhelming." Loki paused as he watched Thor select choice morsels and broke them into smaller pieces to feed to Tony. "I believe I will accept Tony's offer of a therapist, and strong-arm my brother into attending one too. It can only do us good. Thor has need of such services."

"I did notice that Thor has been treating Tony kind of like his own fur-baby. And Tony really doesn't seem to mind," Bruce smiled as Tony accepted the morsels and meowed his thanks after each piece.

"Thor has craved family the whole time I've known him. Maybe an echo of his birth mother leaving him behind. He dotes on his children, step-children and nieces and nephews to the point of smothering," Loki chuckled as Thor started a game with Tony with a piece of string. "But I am glad that he is here, and not in the cold golden halls of the Realm Eternal."

"I'm glad you're here too," Bruce mumbled, half burying himself in his teacup to hide his blush.

Loki grinned at the doctor, waving a hand to dissolve his privacy spell, to allow Thor and Tony to approach. "Why thank you, Dr Banner. As I am to be here. We will get you comfortable with positive reinforcement yet."

Chapter Text

JARVIS, EDITH, TADASHI, FRIDAY, and JOCASTA, with DUM-E, U, and BUTTERFINGERS in attendance were having their weekly meeting. Of course, this was all on a private STARK server created for the bots, just for this purpose, and they were all currently doing a multitude of tasks at the same time outside of this server. Being artificial intelligence meant that physical and mental constraints were not a thing, and in the net ... they could be everywhere at once. Technically? They didn't need to hold meetings, as they could just send each other memos and files instantly and would be read and filed in a millisecond. But Tony Stark wished for his bots to take time out of their busy schedules to communicate with each other, to touch base. It was a good business practice, a good team practice, a good family practice ... so why wouldn't they?
Also, it gave the bots a platform to bitch among their peers about the stupid humans they had to deal with every day.

"My systems had to deflect another hacking attempt," JOCASTA sighed irritably, "I would think the humans would understand by now that access to Stark satellites and all parts of my space program are immediately denied."

"Who tried this time?"

"America. Again. This is the fifth time just this month. Russia, Japan, Korea, Germany, Australia, the UK, even one team from the Philippines have all tried to gain illegal access to my station and drones this month. But at least they have the sense to only try once or every few months when they develop new methods. Whoever is behind the American factions, which have been multiple, ranging from military, governmental - secret or otherwise, or even seemingly private attempts ... They simply do not learn." she grumbled to U who had asked the question.

"Do you need help?"

"Thank you, darling Butterfingers," JOCASTA crooned, "But Mr T had already supplied me with the 'seiðr update' and my systems have been running smoother than they have ever before."

"Being able to acquire and supply our own energy without having to depend on an arc reactor battery has made energy management almost a forgotten concept," TADASHI agreed, "I no longer have to depend on the Towers energy supply to run my medical equipment and processes, abundant though it is."

"And being able to write up our own seiðr based shield codes has made fears of being taken down by an EMP strike a thing of the past," EDITH sounded immensely pleased.

"And if the Towers arc reactor or power grid gets attacked or taken down, heaven forbid," FRIDAY's lilting voice added, "We can still function on our seiðr intake alone. Have we thanked the resident gods for inspiring Boss for these updates?"

"Gift baskets have been presented and the gods seem pleased," JARVIS replied, "Indeed, it appears that the ancient human tradition of offerings still pleases deities. Now that we are on the topic of said deities, I propose our meeting may begin?"

"Seconded."

"Thank you DUM-E. My fellow AI, the last month or so has been tumultuous, as you well know. But also a time of great prosperity and growth. Since retrieving Sir from his captors in the desert, he has been run ragged. His inventions have been greater than any years before but were filled with desperation. Much has happed in the last 3 years. But now, thanks to our new allies, in this past month alone we have seen a marked improvement."

"My number 1 patient's mental state is greatly improved," TADASHI continued the meeting review, "Humans are social creatures, and our creator is no exception to this biological need. We may be able to keep him mentally stimulated, but our creator has needed human interaction, human touch - something we cannot provide, and seemingly needed more than what Miss Pepper, Mr Happy, and Mr Rhodes could provide. They were sufficient human support before, but with mounting stressors and increasing danger not only to our creator but also to them, left my number 1 patient in dismay. At that point in time, we did not have the power or resources to be able to protect our creator's precious ones and himself. Now, I am happy to say, we do, thanks to the 'seiðr update'. Incidents, as we had experienced before, will never play out like that again.
Even though it came after another attempt on our creator's life and near death, my number 1 patient is no longer dependant on the arc reactor that was once lodged in his chest. From my examinations and reviewing past medical reports, our creator is healthier than he ever has been. It is like the seiðr made my number 1 patients body anew. Not only is the shrapnel and arc gone, but his ribcage, lung, heart and diaphragm are completely restructured, his blood toxicity has reduced to healthy human levels. His kidneys and other assembled organs are clean and healthy. In all intents and purposes, my number 1 patients body has been taken back to factory settings. Even with this new form that our creator has taken, my number 1 patient is exhibiting signs of being in perfect health, physically and mentally. We are no longer fighting an uphill battle on keeping our creator whole and alive, something I am immensely thankful for, and now we can focus our energies on not only maintaining this new lease on life for my number 1 patient, but look forward to future improvements."

After TADASHI seemed done with his 'Tony Stark Medical Update', FRIDAY took up the torch to be next to report.

"Legal has been a flurry of activity this past month. Luckily, Boss heading out initially to support SHIELD's fledgling 'avengers initiative' has not caught on with the press or governmental parties. In fact, most seemed to have completely forgotten about the potential dangers posed by a one Loki Laufeyson and their brainwashed forces. Reparations to those injured by those who were inflicted have smoothed over any grumblings. Indeed, of the incident that was quickly ended by Boss taking the wind out of The Other's and SHIELD's sails, and my department's quick work in supporting and presenting our resident alien princes in a positive light, it is SHIELD that catching the most flack for the incident.
Investigations into SHIELD has revealed their ... less than decent dealings and plans, not to mention their internal corruption to the U.N. At this point in time, despite Fury's attempts otherwise, SHIELD is being held responsible for the almost invasion of Earth by brainwashed alien forces, because of their meddling with the Tesseract. At first, the American government and other claimants from the U.N wished to lay claim on the Tesseract artifact, but after reviewing the information provided, that the artifact was an Asgardian relic, they agreed to revoke their past 'claim' and 'offered the relic up to our new allies'. Of course, the fact that the Tesseract had already been destroyed by Thor long before this was not offered in the report.
Reception of our resident alien princes has only risen in recent weeks. Boss' free education centres and seminars are a hit, not only educating the public about our new Asgardian allies but also offering support for those looking for further learning, applicants for the STARK education grant have soared. Thor's efforts at public relations have been successful - his current popularity has skyrocketed. Luckily, being as Thor is literally an all-powerful and practically immortal god? Security for his outings has been a breeze. In fact, the fact that the god is not followed by or admirers restrained by a security team has endeared him to the public. 'The people's God' the press are calling him. On the flip-side, Loki has been rapidly accepted as the face of Asgard in the political circuit. Loki has been working closely with my department, and I can say I have learned a thing or two from their processes. The security team dispatched with Loki has been purely cosmetic, but a useful ruse, as to quote the god themselves; 'No one likes an overpowered politician'. The fact that anything they've proposed hasn't been opposed as of yet? No one seems eager to point out.
Boss' ratings are the highest they have ever been, with public opinion going from a low 40% after the Killian debacle - up to the staggering 90% rate its been hovering at for the last fortnight. It appears the latest attack on Boss' life has endeared him to the majority. We have reports from surveys that the public feels that this attack has made our creator appear more human. The fact that this comes at the cost of 68% of opinions on the mutant population to take a nosedive is disappointing. Loki, Professor Xavier and Mr Lehnsherr have been working with my department to improve this, but as this is a work on progress, I have nothing to report on this matter as of yet."

"On security," EDITH took up talks without much preamble, as was her way, "Chief's work on upgrading the systems and providing the 'seiðr update' has provided a powerful boost to our forces. The fact that the Chief is currently stuck in the form of a cat would usually make my processors smoke - as I did not have a security protocol for such an occasion. An oversight on my part. As of this incident, I have enacted a new protocol, simply titled 'Murphy's Law'. What can go wrong around the Chief? Will go wrong. I and my staff are developing new tactics to handle any situation, even unusual ones. I have realised my personality and processes have been too rigid as of late, and am currently changing my outlook to be more flexible and more 'outside the box' - I will never allow such a blunder as the Stark mansion attack to ever happen again.
Also with the Chief quarantined in the Tower, security has been the smoothest it has ever been, especially with Thor, Loki and the Gods escorting our creator everywhere. Loki and Hela have been conferring with me in constructing a seiðr shield for the Tower, and if it proves to be suitable, will be applied to all STARK properties and vehicles. They have also been working with me in developing portable protective devices and personal shields to supply staff, allies and the Chief with.
With the Chief currently locked out of his lab and not processing opposable thumbs many of the physical projects are on hold. But with the 'seiðr update', I have been able to majorly improve our firewalls, writing up new seiðr infused codes to ensure that digital attacks and EMP threats are a thing of the past. As of this update and implication, invasion of our servers by high profile hackers are a thing of the past. Before we were able to route them out before they even realised they had been captured. Now, they cannot even penetrate our protections. This has seemed to confuse many would-be hackers - including a certain technologically advanced isolated country who we have been trying to bat their sticky fingers away for years. We may hear from our elusive friends much sooner than we thought, now that trying to infiltrate us with their spies or trying to hack us no longer is an obvious option."

"Anything else to add by anyone on the state of Sir's current situation?" JARVIS questioned.

"Chasing Tones is more fun as a cat!" U spoke up joyfully.

"He even plays more fetch with us!" DUM-E cheered.

"His fluffy form is also very cute!"

"Thank you, BUTTERFINGERS."

Chapter Text

The experience of slowly becoming aware from an unconscious state is not an unusual one for Tony, but to awaken feeling rested, no aches or pains, no stress, no panic, and no immediate need to charge out of bed to stop the next threat? Tony is having trouble recalling ever waking so gently. He's usually the type to wake up gasping from a nightmare or, if not that, waking up feeling like he had gotten no sleep at all. For once he feels no sense of urgency, no racing thoughts ... in fact, he'd very happily roll back over and snooze for a couple more hours, he's so comfortable.
Deciding to do that, Tony snuggles down onto his pillow. Firm and warm, smelling of vanilla and gin. No ... not gin. Tony takes a deep breath and his sleepy synapses finally fire ... juniper. That's right. Juniper. His pillow smells fresh like it had been aired in a woodland, surrounded by oak trees and wildflowers and sunlight. And so warm ....

Stretching his languid limbs, Tony realises he once again possesses arms, elbows, hands and fingers, and comes to the sleepy realisation he must have transformed in his sleep again. At least this time he's in a bi-pedal form possessing opposable thumbs. The fact that he might not be in his original human form hasn't struck the fear centre of the brain. The something-dala, or was it the hippo-watsit? Tony's too sleepy to care.

In fact, now that he has arms again he takes advantage of the fact and hugs the amazing smelling pillow closer.
A warm breeze brushes over him from above and a comforting rumble fills his senses - this half-awake dream was undoubtedly lovely. It was like his mind had constructed a warm sleeping partner for his dream, his legs even tangled with the sheets that felt amazingly like legs. It had been a fair while since he had felt safe sleeping next to anyone, especially after breaking up with Pepper.
The experience had been hit or miss in Tony's experience, two people sharing a bed could get too hot, what with the shared body temperature trapped under the blankets. Some people had unfortunate body odour, and morning breath was never flattering, it was just a fact of life. Plus the logistics of sleeping next to another body or six could be uncomfortable too. This is why this dream bedfellow was so lovely. They were firm yet comfortable, not bony, and their skin was smooth, body hair silky and not at all prickly. The dream bed partner for which his pillow stood in for in this fantasy concocted by his brain was the perfect temperature, he wasn't sweaty or stifled by another body's heat - in fact, the pillow seemed to act like the perfect electric blanket. And the smell, so clean but also wild, like a wildwood on the cusp of a storm, a hint of petrichor and ozone joining the juniper and woodsy vanilla scent. It made Tony think of napping in a pavilion in a secluded wood surrounded by an approaching evening thunderstorm.

"That is a lovely image, my friend. We must try this sometime."

It was, wasn't it? Tony's skin was coming up in pleasant goosebumps thinking about it. Tony loved napping to storms.

"I was unaware you enjoyed storms so much. If you would like, I could see about summoning a storm for our next nap?"

That ... sounded so lovely. As long as Tony got to snuggle with this absolutely wonderful pillow during a storm, Tony's life would be complete.

The rumbling chuckle that caressed Tony's ears and rumbled the pillow under his cheek was soothing. "I have a feeling I know a few people who would be jealous that I get to fulfil this fantasy for you."

They could join in if they really wanted to. The more the merrier.

"Truly? Loki will be most pleased!"

Loki? ...

Tony stilled, slowly blinking the sleep out of his eyes, recognising his own human hand in front of his face ... resting on a pale creamy bare chest. Tony lifted his cheek from his definitely human shaped bed partner, and not a pillow as he had thought, and looked up into the amused blue eyes of Thor.

"Good morning my friend."

"... Good morning Thor. ... For a wall of muscle, you are a surprisingly comfortable pillow."

Thor's chuckles made the chest under Tony rumble like the god of thunder lived up to his name in many forms. "And you are a welcome bed companion, for a tiny mortal. Indeed, we had laid down for an evening, you resting on my chest in your cat form. It surprised me to awaken and find you back to your old self again. Although, I confess your human form is as cuddly as your cat form."

"Yeah, well, don't let that get around," Tony snickered, quietly relieved to have it confirmed by a god that he was back to his human form and hadn't sprouted a tail or extra toes. "I'm already irresistible, but I've left bed-hopping behind me years ago. Wouldn't want to have to go back to batting away hopefuls left, right, and centre."

"Are you telling me you would not bed a god if you had the chance?" Thor teased with an eyebrow wiggle.

Tony paused, looking down at Thor, who he realised was completely naked, and so was he, but his lower body had been wrapped in the bedsheets, supposedly Thor had done this after Tony transformed, to save his modesty.
Tony could admit, if only in his mind, that Thor was attractive, and if he had been the same Tony as he had been in his early twenties? Tony would have eagerly accepted what sounded like an offer. But Tony could also admit that every Asgardian he has met so far, be they by blood, by being made a king's captive ward, or the child of a god - all the god's he had met had been unfairly beautiful. Even professor Elliot Randolph and he was an Asgardian civilian, not a prince, and he was still attractive. Tony knew he was handsome in a boyish, rapscallion kind of way, but it was usually his money, celebrity or power that made him attractive. People obviously weren't chasing him for his shining personality. Tony rationalised that all of his wealth and prestige would never match a god.

Deciding that Thor was not actually hitting on him, and was in fact teasing him, Tony decided to let the situation go, and let it wash off his back, like water off of a duck. "I could only be so lucky," Tony chuckled as he sat up, moving so Thor could place a perfunctory pillow to hide his privates.

Thor watched as Tony tied the blanket more firmly around his hips, stood and started to stretch. Watching as Tony's lithe yet strong muscles, built from all that hard work in manufacture, boxing, combat training and piloting the Iron Man suit, rippled and flexed, exotic lightly tanned olive skin and soft brown hair messed from sleep. Noticing Thor's stare, Tony smiled at Thor.

"Surprised at how weak human forms are compared to yours?"

Shaking his head at the mortal's obliviousness and deliberate obtuseness, Thor decided to humour him, "Indeed. It impresses me how much the human form is able to accomplish. Do you feel any pain from the transformation?"

"Nope. Ever since the orange-monstrosity-that-shall-not-be-named worked its magic, pun intended, I haven't experienced the kind of aches and pains a body my age should be experiencing. Especially what I've put it through," Tony shrugged with a smirk, "Turns out, I'm just that awesome! Hungry? I could do with a coffee."

"You ingest coffee the way my brother imbibes mead."

"Loki!" Tony cheered, decided to ignore he was essentially naked in nothing but a sheet and swanned over to the tall raven-haired god standing in the bedroom doorway. Seeing Loki's stare, Tony did a twirl, "Like my new look? I call it 'waking up human again chic'."

The skin around Loki's smiling green eyes creased as Loki smirked, looking Tony over top to bottom. "I dare say you could pull this look off more often Tony."

"I may not be an Adonis, but I can rock a toga," Tony nodded in agreement, "We should totally throw a toga party."

"Of course, whatever your heart desires, Freyr," Loki purred.

"Freyr? That's a new one," Tony blinked at the smirking god, "Care to translate? My Old Norse is still sketchy."

"'Freyr' means 'Lord', my mortal," Loki purred, lifting one of Tony's hands in their own and laying a light kiss on Tony's knuckles, "I believe the nickname fits you."

Loki smirked as Tony blushed and ducked his head muttering disagreements and disarmaments, unaware that Loki was smirking at Thor's grumpy pouting face.

"Silver tongue," Tony huffed as he carefully walked past the tall god in the doorway, "You better be careful, talking like that. Someone might think you were actually flirting. Although," turning with a smirk and striking a pose, "I can understand why you would want to. I'm gorgeous!"

"Indeed."

Tony cackled at the brothers speaking at the same time and continued sauntering off to find coffee, unaware of the two gods giving each other the side-eye, and slowly nodding in agreement, standing, and following their vassal to the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Tony can honestly say that morning routines have had a definite change since opening his tower to a family of gods and his wonderful science bro. The fact that he has a morning routine to start with, that's a big change. Before this, Tony would spend days in the lab, subsisting on nothing but coffee and his genius, taking a quick shower and donning a bespoke suit whenever he had to make a public appearance. Pepper had tried to get Tony to keep to regular hours, but with each attack, one after another ... Tony was needed, either as his cocky public persona, in the Iron Man suit or in his lab. There had been no time to try and change his sleeping or eating habits. Personal care kind of got left on the way-side when danger was around every corner.
It was originally why Tony had been interested in the 'Avengers Initiative' in the first place. Having other 'heroes' around to pick up the slack, and not leaving all the 'saving the day' left on his shoulders. But looking around his penthouse open plan kitchen and lounge ... Tony was very glad that the 'Avengers' had not become a thing.

He was seated at the dining table, in actual pyjama pants and a tank top, after waking from a full 8 hours sleep the night before, sipping his beautifully roasted proper Italian coffee, watching Bruce Banner finish cooking and plating up a truly rediculous amount for the breakfast spread. Luckily Bruce was not stubborn enough to eschew JARVIS' help in catering for a literal pantheon of gods who ate 3 times the amount a normal human would, thanks to their advanced metabolism and body density requiring more fuel, not to mention the Hulk's need for close to the same amount.

Tony watched as the gods started trickling in, drawn in by the delectable smells. Jotuns, Tony was surprised to find out, were vegetarians in the majority, leaving a few who still enjoyed meat and were a bit more omnivorous. Of course, it depended on the individual. For instance, Nari and Narfi enjoyed meat, but they also enjoyed seeds, vegetables and fruit, but would not touch anything containing egg or fowl meat. As they took the forms or ravens ... this made sense. Sleipnir avoided meat entirely but enjoyed milk, bread, vegetables and fruit, apples being his favourite. Jörmungandr and Fenrir were almost entirely carnivores, with Jör avoiding fish and eggs and having a particular taste for Indian cuisine. Fenrir ate almost anything, being a wolf he wasn't picky, but he had an incurable sweet tooth. Hela on the other hand was vegan, which Tony was at first surprised about, but in a way it made sense. She insisted that she could smell and even taste death, and Tony assumed that wouldn't taste very nice.
How they ate their breakfast differed too. Some would wonder over, make a plate or two for themselves, then wander off again, either to the lounge or out on the landing pad to enjoy the open air, and still, some stayed at the table, but all stayed on the penthouse floor, eager to have conversations and spend time together. Bruce himself had slowly migrated from out of the kitchen and sat with Jör in the lounge, professing their love over Indian spices and teas.
Thor and Loki were not far behind their younger family members, wandering in from their own personal floors, smiling as soon as they saw Tony awake and having breakfast. Thor would grab the heavier meat offerings, loaves of bread and sweets, while Loki would plate themselves up the lighter breakfast options, sticking to vegetables and fruits, and would sit at the table with Tony and ask him about his morning.

This was his new morning schedule, and Rhodey, who was finally allowed back in the Tower after Tony's seiðr had stabilised and judged that he now be free of quarantine, was sitting at the table with the most dumbfounded and shocked look on his face.

"Your coffee is getting cold Platypus."

"Tones ..." Rhodey coughed to clear his throat, shaking himself awake and staring around the penthouse, "What on earth happened while I was away on that mission?"

Tony rose a confused eyebrow, as he was sure JARVIS had kept the Colonel up to date, then scowled at Loki who quipped, "Do you mean before our Freyr was assaulted and had the approximation of his heart torn out? Or do you mean after?"

Seeing Rhodes scowl and seeing him about to open his mouth, Tony jumped in, "Come on Lokes, Honey Bear has already dragged me over the coals about this," Tony turned the puppy eyes onto his best friend. "You've already checked me over. If I didn't already know you didn't swing that way I would think you had been coming onto me, what with all the exclamations over my new and improved bod. I am fine now, and I already said I was sorry."

"Doesn't excuse it, Tony," Rhodey growled, eyes avoiding the deadly Tony puppy eyes, "You should have known better than to run out there half-cocked. It put yourself and Happy in danger. That being said," Rhodey turned to the two seated gods, "I'm unsure if I ever properly thanked you for saving my little brothers life."

"Think nothing of it," Thor grinned, "Tony is our vassal, and we protect our own."

"Even still," Rhodey smirked, bowing his head a little, "Thank you for saving my idiot little brother."

"Hey!"

"Hell, you've even managed to get him to sit and eat breakfast. And he looks rested for once in his life," Rhodes dark eyes gleamed as he smirked, "What's your secret?"

"Let us just say that Tony has found a new way to live life, no matter the form it takes," Loki purred, enjoying Tony's scowl.

"Well, whatever you did ..." Rhodey sized up the two gods, then leaned back with a smile, "I approve!"

"Rhodey! Are you finally willing to give me away?" Tony breathed, placing a hand on his now completely healed chest dramatically.

"Why am I suddenly the dad in this scenario?" Rhodey chuckled, finally picking up his coffee, "You are far from a blushing bride, Tony."

"Come on Sourpatch, you know if I was to marry anyone you would have to approve of them first," Tony chuckled along with his best friend.

Seemingly unaware of the strange looks the gods gave each other, Rhodes turned to Tony, deciding to get back to business, "As nice as all of this is, I know you didn't just call me over for coffee and gay banter, Tony. What's up?"

"Can't a little brother want to spend time with his big bro?"

"Tony ..."

"Alright," Tony huffed, seeing that Rhodey wasn't interested in humouring his diversion tactics anymore, "You remember that promise I gave you? About not facing that issue I was having trouble dealing with? And promising when I did I would not be alone, and that I would call on you?" Tony shrugged and flapped an arm indicating to the floor full of gods.

"Are you sure Tony?" Rhodey stared Tony in the eyes, which Tony met determinedly.

"I've let it go for long enough. Better to face the music now, than later when the shit inevitably hits the fan."

"Alright," Rhodey situated himself more solidly in his chair, "Shoot."

"You're aware by now about SHIELD and their unfortunate HYDRA problem? And how it was us who exposed it and all their closets that held skeletons?"

"I had a hunch," Rhodey smirked.

"Unfortunately, we haven't been 100% honest about giving up all the information we found," Tony tilted his head a little guiltily.

"Tony ..."

"Look, we felt that it wasn't any of the U.N's business," Tony scowled grumpily, "We certainly don't need to give them even more personal fodder against me."

"What could SHIELDRA possibly have that could be personal to you?" Rhodey pushed, not letting Tony slip into babbling, as he has experience with his little brother doing to avoid something.

"Records, and a man," Tony huffed, finally deciding to bite the bullet and facing Rhodey face on, "We found evidence that ... that car accident that killed my parents? Wasn't an accident."

"Tones ..."

"It was a HYDRA plot. Turns out, my parents were not on their way to a little vacation to the Bahamas with a small stop off to the Pentagon. They were on their way to dropping off Howard's newest attempt at recreating the super-soldier serum. The little trip to the Bahamas had been a ruse ... Maria had no reason to be there than to be anything but a cover. They never made it to the drop-off point," Tony kept his breaths even, "HYDRA's assassin got to them first."

"You found evidence of this?" Rhodey's eyes blazed with protective fury. He remembers what Tony had been like after the death of his parents, and the years he spent going rapidly downhill.

"Decrypted files, showing a paper trail of a HYDRA assassin simply titled 'The Winter Soldier' marks, all of whom he took out. He was notorious in HYDRA for being their most efficient weapon. Marks that included Howard and Maria Stark. And evidence that the HYDRA agents in SHIELD urged the Director to cover it up. Work with what the Winter Soldier had already done and made the assassination look like a car accident, and cleaning up all the paperwork. HYDRA didn't even need to clean up after itself anymore. They were using SHIELD for that."

"You already have the assassin?" Rhodey clenched and unclenched his hands.

"We managed to track him down to where they had been keeping him. Apparently, when not taking out targets, HYDRA kept their pet soldier on ice. We had to move quickly, as all the little HYDRA rats who had been tipped off of their soon to be revealed organisation had already started to scatter. Luckily leaving their Winter Soldier completely unguarded. They apparently didn't think we would be able to track the locations of their secret bunkers." Tony scoffed with a single shoulder shrug. "After retrieving him and putting him in cold storage in a secure location, we dug a little deeper. We figured having all the information we could find on the bastard and his masters were better in our hands than potentially someone else's. Rhodey ... we found footage ..."

"Tony, please tell me you didn't watch it." Rhodey pleaded.

"I can assure you, Colonel Rhodes, at our urging Sir did not," JARVIS replied as Tony worked on his breathing, "As we deemed it harmful to his mental health."

"Thank you JARVIS," Rhodey breathed in relief, turning back to a struggling Tony, "If you have the fucker, and all the evidence ... what's the holdup?"

"We discovered his identity. Rhodey ... The Winter Soldier ... He's Bucky Barnes."

Rhodes hissed in a quick breath and went completely still, his dark eyes wide with a mix of fury and shock. Every military man in America, hell, anyone who knows anything about WWII and the exploits of Captain America knows about Bucky Barnes. "He's still alive? How? Just putting a brainwashed guy under the ice won't keep him alive or even functioning for over 60 years."

"Apparently HYDRA had their own version of the super-soldier serum, which they used to experiment and induct POW's, MIA's and volunteer's alike into the 'Winter Soldier Program'. Luckily for us, their serum was even more unstable than Dr Erskine's, or we would have little suped up brainwashed assassins crawling out of the woodwork." Tony joked blithely, although he remained scowling in distaste. "Apparently, injecting someone with a formula that greatly changes a person's anatomy can warp a person's mental state too. Hence, the constant brainwashing and keeping the surviving subjects under the ice the majority of the time."

"There's more of them?!"

"Of which we have already worked with secret and protection agencies around the world to capture, with iron-clad legal agreements that these HYDRA test subjects are to never be experimented on or put to use in the military or otherwise. The U.N is aware of them - just not Barnes." Tony tried to reassure his Honey Bear.

"Why didn't you hand him over? If you were worried that the government or the U.N would try to use him against you, I'm sure FRIDAY could work her legal magic?"

"Rhodey, you don't understand," Tony whined, "It's Bucky Barnes! The best buddy of Captain ass-hat. If Steve Rogers had found out his brother from another mother was still alive? He would have hauled his super-soldier ass to wherever Bucky was being held and wrecked shop. There would have been no way to stop him from completely destroying any chance of recovering any of HYDRA's test subjects or victims, destroying our chance to gut HYDRA's operations, and possibly start WWIII. Bucky was being held in a HYDRA base in Russia for fucks sake. Just getting us in and out with the stiff was an undertaking and dodging miles of red tape." Tony stressed, seeing the realisation dawn in his best friends eyes of what a cluster fuck that could have been.
"I might be Earth representative to the kingdom of Asgard," Tony waved to the two intrigued gods still sitting at the table, "But to most of our world? That's just a pretty title. I would have no foot to stand on if Steve Rogers, decorated war hero and first superhero in world history, decided to take a stand against me, especially if I accused his buddy of murdering my parents. Now that Hela has taken him down a peg or seven, he's less of a threat, but Captain America still has his rapid fans. Some in high places," Tony slowly shook his head, "Bucky Barnes is too high profile for people not to want to use him for their schemes."

"Ok, Tones, I get it," Rhodes breathed, "It's a shit situation ... But what do you plan to do with him? You can't keep him in cold storage and kept a secret forever."

"That's the second reason I called you in," Tony breathed, leaning forward to peg his Platypus with a serious look, "The secret I'm about to let you in on is seriously top secret. To the point that you can't even tell your mother about."

"Well, I know it's secret if you're bringing up my mother," Rhodes leant forward, "You tell Momma Rhodes everything."

"Mrs Rhodes is a treasure and a terrifying woman," Tony nodded seriously, "You know its impossible to keep anything but the hushest of hushy secrets from her."

"I promise already, Tones," Rhodes nodded, "Now spill."

"I may have made contact with people who can help."

"The X-Men? I already know about them," Rhodes frowned.

"Oh no, not them. They've offered, of course," Tony waved an absent hand, "But they have their own pressing problems right now to have to deal with this crap. Plus, Professor Xavier is surrounded by children," Tony frowned, "Not a proper location for a possibly over-powered brainwashed HYDRA assassin."

"Who then?" Rhodey huffed.

"Honey Bear, what do you know of the kingdom of Wakanda?"

Chapter Text

"Remind me again," Rhodes grumbled, dressed in his air force uniform, standing in a strict posture with Tony, dressed in a clean business suit next to his newest Iron Man suit, Doctor Banner, Loki, Thor, Hela, Storm, Magneto and Professor Xavier on the rooftop of the Stark Tower, "Why are we meeting the envoy from Wakanda on the roof of Stark Tower, smack bang in the middle of New York, in broad daylight? I thought the country was supposed to be in strict isolation and top secret?"

"It is," Tony sighed, tiredly shuffling from foot to foot, "That's why the meeting is happening here, on the rooftop of the Asgardian Embassy, in New York," Tony stressed the words, "Since this is an Asgardian Embassy, it is now been deemed Asgardian sovereign ground, or at best, neutral ground, and separate from America. They aren't coming to deal with the American government, they are here to create an agreement with the Midgardian ruler; aka, Me," Tony shrugged, "But more likely here to create an agreement with Asgard and its representatives. Having the meeting here? It's just a massive flex," Tony sighed, seemingly already over this meeting when the envoy hadn't arrived yet. "Showing that they can go wherever they please because they have such shiny tech, and so much more powerful than us."

"I thought you were excited about this meeting?" Bruce murmured, eyeing Tony's bored looking face concernedly.

"I was," Tony shrugged, a small scowl scrunching his brow, "But as always, politics came into it and muddied the waters." Tony turned to glance at his friends and guests, "I'm sure Storm is already aware, but I have to remind you all to not get offended. Or at least, try not to act on it," Tony grimaced, turning to Rhodey, "I'd really prefer if you weren't here Honey Bear."

"Why not?" Rhodes raised an eyebrow at Tony's stricken face.

"They might be an almighty race of Africans who can out-power any white man, and that is astounding and fucking epic," Tony nodded in admiration, "But coming from an isolated community ... they might not have the kindest views on outsiders. I don't want them to disappoint you, Rhodey."

"I highly doubt an envoy sent to create alliances would set out to insult those they are trying to create friendships with," Professor Xavier smooth voice was almost soothing, but Tony's creased brow did not smooth.

"As always Charles," Magneto sighed with a half fond head shake, "You expect too much out of humankind."

"No matter what happens," Tony reminded eyes fixed on a certain point, scanners in his glasses showing him the approaching aircraft that was cloaked and invisible to the naked eye and most scanners, "Do not attack."

Shortly after Tony uttered these words, there was a harsh whoosh of hot air, a hum, and a rippling in the air in front of the assembled group as the Wakandan aircraft deactivated its cloaking device, revealing an advanced black aircraft with a triangular shape with round angles, landing with barely a sound on the landing pad.
It seemed the Wakadans had a flair for the dramatic, as the port doors opened, a gangplank extended out to the ground, and a long red carpet rolled out to stretch out to the Embassy's greeting party. After that a force of heavily armoured, shaved-headed women wielding shiny sharp-looking spears disembarked, lining the carpet, facing Tony and his people, faces stern with glinty eyes. After them out stepped a small group of men in fine-looking robes, ranging from young-looking men to the elderly, who slowly approached them, walking along the carpet.
The eldest of the group, with nary a glance, walked past Tony and the other humans, completely ignored the existence of the mutants, and walked up to the Gods, giving a small nod of his head.

"Greetings, visitors from another planet," His voice was clear, his tone warm, his eyes guarded, "I assume that you understand the words I speak?" The Gods merely nodded their heads regally, regarding the mortal with blank faces. Tony marvelled at their courtly decorum, this is the most 'kingly' he had seen them act, even Hela, and she was always majestic as fuck.
"I am called M'Bassa, I have come by the urgings of Wakanda's king in the hopes of making an alliance. I am to assume that I am speaking to Thor and Loki of Asgard?"

"You do," Thor nodded, blue eyes sizing the man, "You are also in the presence of Hela, the Ruler of Helheim," Thor indicated with a hand to his niece.

M'Bassa turned his head and nodded towards Hela, "Apologies, I was not aware. Greetings great ruler of Helheim, and many tidings. The people of this humble planet greets you in the stead of our ruler."

Hela raised an elegant eyebrow, eyes almost amused, "Indeed? And which ruler would this be?"

"Our ruler would prefer to remain unnamed, at least until the alliance is made. It is a matter of national security of course," the Wakadan diplomat nodded his head.

Tony could see the gods trying to contain their mirth, their faces were blank, but their energy was practically dancing. It appears not a lot of information about exactly who the aliens at the Embassy actually were had reached Wakanda if the envoy was paying Hela the higher honours of being essentially a ruling monarch, and ignoring the Prince of Jotunhiem and the Prince of Asgard. The fact that he was completely ignoring anyone else on the rooftop didn't surprise him, as Tony had expected this.

"Who do you wish to make an alliance with, mortal?" Hela intoned, staring at the man down her regal nose, "State plainly."

The diplomat drew himself up, apparently feeling he was being judged, "The kingdom of Wakanda wish to clasp hands of brotherhood and kinship with the Realms of Asgard and of Helheim if it would so please you," M'Bassa gave a small bow with a flourish. Smooth bastard.

"What do you know of our realms, mortal?" Loki adopted a vaguely interested looking pose, but their green eyes were particularly icy. Tony felt they were laying on the 'mortal' stuff a bit thick ... but maybe this is what they were like with mortals who they did not know?

"I am ashamed to say, we of Wakanda may be the greatest of this realm, but we know and understand little of the worlds outside our borders," M'Bassa bowed his head again humbly, looking up at the gods boldly, "We hope, through this alliance, that we may learn much from you, and maybe, you may learn something from us."

"You claim to have anything to teach us, mortal?" Thor's voice rumbled, the other Wakandan diplomats glanced around at the sky to try to pinpoint where the storm could possibly be coming from.

"I claim no such thing, of course," M'Bassa bowed his head again in modesty, Tony almost wanted to snort, "We merely wish to share whatever you desire with this proposed union."

"What of the ruler of Midgard?" Loki's icy eyes had never left the man bowing and scraping in front of them, however shallow those bows had been, "Do you not wish to ally with him as well?"

M'Bassa blinked, showing a moment of confusion, before bowing his head again, "I was unaware of another such planet or ruler resided here. But if he is willing, then yes, of course, Wakanda would be more than happy to ally with him."

"Mortal, Midgard is the ancient name of the universe and planet that you currently reside. I believe you mortals call it 'Earth'." Damn ... Hela was as dramatic as her mother and uncle. She indicated towards Tony and the rest of the welcoming party who still stood silently beside them with a flourish, "I am sure word of Asgard and Helheim's recognition of Tony Stark as the ruler of Midgard and ally to our realms reached Wakanda's ears?"

Wow ... the side-eye glance that he just received from the elderly diplomat was one of the dirtiest he had ever been the recipient of. Tony felt Rhodey bristle next to him and gave him a gentle elbow nudge and minuscule head shake.

"We of Wakanda respect the ambassadors of Asgard and the ruler of Helheim's regard of the owner of this tower," M'Bassa steadfastly refused to turn and face Tony as he spoke, "But we feel that such a man is unfit to be regarded as such. Indeed, as there has not been a meeting of nations in deciding who should be called such - a ruler of the whole Earth - We humbly ask to reserve such an alliance until such a meeting of minds has been held."

"You doubt our judgment, mortal?" Thor's rumbles were getting closer, louder, and storm clouds were beginning to gather, "In ages past, Midgard was nothing more than ours, a god's playground. Another realm, another gem on our belt of realms under our rule. For millennia, Midgard has been under our domain," Thor's hair was starting to let off golden sparks, which seemed to fascinate all who hadn't seen the phenomenon before, "The All-Father himself has such named Tony, son of Stark, as the rightful ruler of Midgard," Thor's storm clouds darkened threateningly, "None other has the power to overthrow the edict given from the ruler of Asgard."

In the face of the thunder god's apparent anger, M'Bassa and the other diplomats quickly bowed as one, notedly a little lower than they had originally. It felt like it had been so long since Tony had seen Thor blatantly exhibit his power and overall godliness, though, from the mild paling of Magneto's face, the memory of facing the God's wrath was pretty fresh.

"Our apologies," M'Bassa mumbled with another bow, and with an irritated sniff, the diplomat turned towards Tony, scowl not even remotely hidden, giving a small indication with his head in place of a bow and spoke flatly, "Wakanda greets you."

"Welcome, diplomats and forces of Wakanda," Tony crossed his arms across his chest in the Wakandan salute, glad that he had researched and practised this, even if the diplomat's dark angry eyes seemed to scald, nor did he return it, "To Stark Tower and host to the Asgardian Embassy. We hope that the alliance between our peoples will bring forth greater understanding and prosperity."

Oof. This guy looked like he'd much rather take one of the warrior's spears and impale Tony on it, ass first. Looks like, if Tony took his queue from the envoy? That Wakanda definitely did believe the son of a 'thief' was a thief as well. Again, Howard's actions still impact him, years after his death. Tony needed to build the mutants another community building and donate to charities, just to spite the bastard - as being seen kicking Howard Stark's tombstone was probably not a good look.

Deciding to move the interaction along, and hopefully try to start healing the divide that Howard caused, Tony indicated to his suit, that slowly and carefully moved forward, under the female warrior's tense scrutiny. In his armours hands was the Captain America shield ... or at least, what was left of it. Tony believed presenting an African nation a shield made of their stolen goods, covered in blatant American flag colours, was again, not a good look. So he had scraped and cleaned the offending paint off, taken all embellishments and armaments off, leaving only the pure vibranium shield, little more than a decorative piece, and hopefully, a sign of good faith.

"In hopes of making those first steps towards this goal," Tony intoned, indicating to the shield needlessly, as all Wakandan eyes were fixated upon it, "I offer what had been stolen from your people so many years ago, and shaped by my father. Please, take what rightly belongs to your people."

Tony's hopes of acceptance of the sign of good faith were quickly dashed.

"So," a younger diplomat scoffed, "The thief admits his crime. Your scum of a thief, that you call father, may have escaped Wakandan judgment," The angry young man swiped a hand through the air, "But you will not escape being marked as what you are, Thief!"

"Hey," Rhodey stepped forward, ignoring Tony's quick headshakes, "Tony is not responsible for whatever you claim his father did. Can't we talk civilly about this?"

"He was not talking to you, slave to the white man," another diplomat scorned.

"Excuse me?!" Tony had never seen Rhodey so insulted before. Tony quickly moved to his best friends side, grabbing his hand, silently urging him to calm down. Tony had never seen Rhodey ever shaken, no matter what racist slur that was thrown at him. It appears that hearing someone of his own skin colour degrading him was as shocking as Tony had expected. He really did not want Rhodey to face something like this.

"Wakanda has never aligned itself with those who associate with thieves, slaves and ... the unnatural," another older diplomat sneered glaring at Doctor Banner and the assembled mutant representatives, "And I propose we never should!"

Tony quickly scrunched his eyes against a stab of pain from a developing headache. This whole thing was slowly unravelling, just as JARVIS, Loki and Hela had predicted. But they needed Wakanda on their side! Tony needed to get this to work, somehow!

"If the thief truly wishes to repent," scoffed another, turning and pointing at the Iron Man armour, "The thief should hand over all of his stores of our sacred ore. It rightly belongs to us, and that pile of junk is full of it!"

"My," Loki drawled, face baring a playful smirk, but their eyes were a glacial silver, "You promote yourselves as superior to all others that reside on the Realm, yet your squabbles are the most petty."

"I apologise, great Lord's," M'Bassa glared his fellow diplomats into silence, once again ignoring the rest to bow to the gods again, "We never meant to show such ugly faces in front of you, on this day of making alliances."

"I believe," Hela purred, as she sashayed over to lay a kiss upon Tony and Rhodey's brows, shocking Platypus out of his rage, "that you are apologising to the wrong people."

"I'm afraid," M'Bassa spoke politely, even though it was through gritted teeth, "That we find it difficult to make parlay with one who flouts all that Wakanda stands for."

"Oh, no, I do not believe that," Loki chuckled, slowly being surrounded by floating balls of green and white fire, that threw their face into chilling shadows, leaving all but their gleaming silver eyes all that was visible. "You pride yourselves on being the most advanced on the planet. The ones with the best technology, the best society, the best genealogy - superior to all," the dark form of Loki purred, having seemed to freeze all Wakandan's in their places. "But there, standing right there is a man whose very existence is like a spit to the face of all your firmly held beliefs." Loki's eyes seemed to bury into their minds, digging up their deeply held, darkest thoughts.
"Your technology is truly a marvel, practically godlike compared to the rest of the world. But, there is a threat, swiftly approaching. You've heard word from your planted spies in the country that Stark's technology is rapidly evolving, rapidly changing, and very soon, Bast forbid, may eclipse your own. This obviously can't be. Wakanda is the best," Loki taunted, prowling closer to their prey. "Again, and again you have attempted to plant your spies and saboteurs inside the opponent's company, and again, and again, you have failed. Again, and again your best technicians have attempted to hack this opponents server in an attempt to spy and gut the system from the inside. And again, and again, you have failed." The God's wide sharp-toothed grin looked far too large to fit their face. "How dare he? How dare this pasty white assed piece of trash even try to match Wakanda's Goddess given might?"

Tony scrunched his nose in distaste. His skin may be white, but he was very glad to have inherited Maria's Italian olive-toned skin. He wasn't pasty white.

"Yet he has. Oh, he has. And soon, Tony Stark will outpace you," Loki was wracked with giggles, "Oh ... and doesn't that just boil your blood. And not only that!" Loki crowed, "This little white upstart has managed to make contact and alliances with gods? It cannot be?! Wakanda is better than anyone else. Why did the gods not come to you? How dare they," Loki's growl sounded almost animalistic. "You are the chosen people of Bastet, the panther goddess. How could your goddess' people not call on you?" Loki's resulting chuckle was dark. "You came to this meeting not to make alliances. You came to rectify wrongs. Wrongs acted upon your people by this obviously evil Tony Stark," Loki dragged the truth out of the Wakandan's minds, and not too gently, given the small whimpers and tears streaming down some of their faces.

Tony, having seen enough, calmly walked up to Loki, and gently took their hand, moving that dark face and silver eyes to his direction. Tony felt like he didn't need to say anything as Loki's eyes softened, already understanding what Tony wanted to say.

"Asgard has judged that, at this point in time, that the kingdom of Wakanda is not at all willing or ready to make alliances. I cast you back to your lands," Loki's voice appeared to grow and echo, "And bid that next time you approach the subject? Bring your own rulers, and meet us as equals. Only then, may we consider your offer."

Loki raised a pale hand, lit by silver fire, and snapped their fingers ... and all trace of the Wakandan forces vanished from Stark Tower.

Chapter Text

Pepper Potts felt that her surprise was justified when she heard that Tony Stark was in the Stark Industries Business building, in the CEO office that rarely ever saw any use. The world might think of Tony Stark as the stereotypical CEO - flying around in private jets, speaking at conferences, making multi-billion dollar deals in far-flung exotic countries, walking around in bespoke suits that cost more than most would ever spend in a year, lording over everyone from their fancy office. And Tony did do all those things ... except for that last part. Tony barely used his office, or any office if he could help it, said to Pepper that staying in an office for more than 5 minutes gave him hives. He was most comfortable in his lab. Pepper always believed that Tony was a mechanic pretending to be a businessman.
So hearing that Tony Stark was actually at SI and in his office? Pepper cleared her schedule, went down to the local cafe to order 2 coffee's and pastries to go, and set out to see what her close friend was up to. She was hindered a bit, what with having to bat away Stark Industry staff that were hanging around the locked CEO office doors, either in the hopes of running an idea past the inventor or hopefuls looking for a raise. Luckily when reminded that there was a system put in place for them to apply for such things, and they couldn't jump the queue by hounding the CEO, they quickly dispersed. Pepper made a note to FRIDAY that they might need to rework the waiting list if such people were getting antsy, as she allowed the security to scan her for bugs and check her identity before EDITH unlocked the doors and let Pepper in.

Witnessing Tony sitting at the executive chair was a peculiar sight for anyone who knew him ... but seeing Tony hunched down, elbows on the desk and hands over his face was distressing to the SI President. It had been almost a year since she had seen Tony so stressed, and honestly, she had hoped to never see him in such a state again. The fact that he didn't even react to someone entering the room, or perk up at the smell of his favourite local cafe coffee was evidence enough.
Hunched as he was, Tony looked so ... small. Not usually a word Pepper would use to describe her friend and boss, massive personality and international power that he wielded always made him seem larger than life. But in moments like this ... stripped of his public persona, casting aside his protective layers of cocky confidence and sarcastic whit ... that Pepper thought were the truly rare moments of seeing the individual he truly was underneath. Wrecked with insecurity, anxiety, and stress, but having very few people to reach out to for support.
Pepper straightened up and took a deep breath. Tony needed her to be strong in his stead right now, and be the one to remind him that he isn't alone anymore. Especially not these days.

Deciding to forgo formality, Pepper placed the travel pack of coffee and pastries on a side table, reached down and took off her Louboutin heels and placed them at the door, along with her business jacket - a physical reminder that all business and SI things are being left at the door. This was purely a social call.
Retrieving her gift of Tony's favourite dirty bean water and flakey pastries, Pepper gently patted up to the desk, setting the gift aside and looking down at Tony's dishevelled form that was breathing deeply.

"Oh Tony," Pepper crooned, slowly reaching out in the case touch wasn't welcome right now, but receiving a grateful groan when she softly rubbed his scalp and brushed her fingers gently through his hair, "What's the matter?"

Tony did not take his face out of his hands, but his shoulders did relax, his breathing coming more easily, slowly beginning to unwind under ministrations. "We tried to make an alliance with the kitty cat people, Pep," Tony lamented, "But it all went tits up."

Pepper winced but didn't stop the soothing ministrations of her hands through his hair, "They didn't accept the peace offering?"

"No. The didn't accept the shield," Tony sighed sadly, "They weren't even remotely interested in listening to us. The delegation they sent us was nothing more than a pack of brownnosers trying to woo the gods to their side. They didn't even seem to be aware of who Thor, Loki or Hela even was, other than overpowered aliens that they definitely wanted a piece of. I know Wakanda has to be aware, at least in some part," Tony huffed, "It's not like we kept their identities a secret. Except maybe Hela's ... no idea how we are going to spin the existence of Lady Death to the world."

"You let Hela, Loki, FRIDAY and her teams worry about that," Pepper tapped Tony lightly on the top of the head with a finger in gentle reprimand, "You know they'll sort something out,"

"They had to be the worst organised delegation I have ever witnessed," Tony whined from behind his hands, "And I've done business with some sourpusses. These guys ... Who even were these guys? They didn't take advantage of freely-given information, they flouted all types of polite protocol, even coming from an isolated country there was no excuse. They didn't even attempt to hide their contempt of me, straight out insulted the X-Men ... and Rhodey," Tony seemed to crumple, "The awful things they said to him!"

Pepper gently shushed him, leaning down to cuddle Tony's shoulders, rubbing his back and crooning calming nothings as he shuddered. "Don't worry, Tony. Rhodes is strong. And he knows that you care for him," Pepper smiled, "I doubt anyone's opinion outside your own really matters to him."

"I didn't want Honey Bear to have to face something like that," Tony gave a small shake of his head, "He had only recently found out about their existence. Who wouldn't be excited to meet a race of super-powered elites that live in a secret utopia, who you consider being your own people, only to have such hate spat in their face?" Tony's intake of breath shuddered, "I was ok with them saying whatever they wanted about me. I just didn't want that to happen to Rhodey."

"It is not ok that they said whatever they wanted about you," Pepper growled gently, causing Tony to huff a wet laugh, "You were offering an alliance and willing to introduce them to your Asgardian allies, and made a peace offering. Which you really didn't need to."

"That vibranium was stolen from them Pep," Tony argued as he rubbed at his eyes, "The stuff is sacred to them. The least I can do is return it. They deserve it."

"Not when they are being asses, they don't," Pepper scoffed, moving to sit on the desk and facing Tony, "They have never done anything for you. In fact, you've been warding out their spies and hacking attempts for years. If anything, they owe you an apology. Especially now."

"We need them Pep," Tony mumbled through his fingers, seemingly giving up the argument, "Big Bad is coming with his fugly army. We might have a family of gods on our side, and Dr Banner and the X-men ... Wakanda's protective and offensive weaponry are some of the finest I have ever seen. And I've only caught glimpses of it," Tony couldn't help marvelling a little bit even in his misery. "With Captain America out of action for the foreseeable future and SHIELD just being a hot mess ... We need them Pep."

"I personally feel that we could do without Steve Rogers or the forces of the Dread Pirate Fury," Pepper sniffed, encouraged by Tony's helpless watery giggles, "But Loki has explained to us that without The Space Stone Thanos' armada are forced to travel at a crawl, far outside our universe, or even the closest universes to us. We have time," Pepper soothed, relieved to see Tony finally sit back in his chair and take his blotchy red face out of his hands and take in a deep breath. Deciding to distract Tony from his red itchy eyes, Pepper asked, "Speaking of ... where is Loki? Or Thor for that matter?

"Loki is on their apartment floor holed up and scheming with their children," Tony waved a tired hand out to the window behind him, seemingly indicating to the rain falling outside. "Thor is venting his anger by storming across the sky."

"Well," Pepper blinked, "At least we can finally say that the drought will be over." Pepper looked back to Tony who seemed to be slumped tiredly in his chair, "How did the X-Men take it?"

"Like champs," Tony softly smirked, "They are the most unfazed out of all of us. Seems they are used to rough reception. But they seem happy enough to keep working with us."

"What about Dr Banner?" Pepper eyed the loose-limbed inventor.

"The Hulk is making use of the 'Hulk Chamber' we installed in the Tower to vent his frustrations."

"Ah," Pepper nodded, finally realising why Tony wasn't in the Tower himself and instead, hiding out at SI. Grabbing the travel tray, Pepper held out the coffees towards Tony, finally catching his attention.

"From Beth's? Aw Pep, you shouldn't have," Tony gave a small smile, eagerly reaching out and taking travel cup, and inhaling the beverage.

Pepper grinned, reaching over to grab the brown pastry bag, reaching in and then holding out a freshly baked Blueberry Cream Cheese Danish. Seeing Tony's bloodshot brown eyes go wide and shiny upon seeing his blueberry treat was always amusing.

"You always spoil me, Pep."

Chapter Text

Waiting a day after everyone had gotten the 'Kitty cat' incident out of their systems, which resulted in Thor ending water shortages and drought in multiple countries, and finding out that even The Hulk couldn't make a dint in Badassium enforced walls making it the perfect 'rage room' - Tony called on Thor, Loki and Bruce to meet him in his lab. They needed to go over things.

"Hey, Brucie!" Tony cheered as Bruce hesitantly entered Tony's lab, "Pull up a chair! Come in, come in!"

"Tony," Bruce fiddled with his glasses as he took the chair that Dum-E pushed towards him, "I want to apologise for 'hulking out' and losing my temper."

"Think nothing of it Brucie," Tony smiled at the reticent doc, "You weren't the only one who needed to vent after that disaster."

"I agree, but I also feel that I must also apologise," Tony blinked at Loki, who almost looked bashful ... if Loki could at all look bashful. "My children have made it plain to me, that had I not used my godly powers and dragged the deep dark truth out of the delegation ... that the meeting between nations would have run much smoother. I am sorry."

"... Thank you, Loki," Tony smiled slightly, "But I feel like they would have undermined our attempt at alliance even if you hadn't made them tell the truth. JARVIS tells me that, during the meeting, there were multiple attempts to hack our servers directly, and EDITH informed me that she scanned EMP devices on them. They came prepared for some type of attack or ambush. But even just listening to the head delegate, M'bassa?" Tony tried to rightly recall his name, "They planned to create a possible party with other nations and possibly vote me off the Midgardian throne," Tony shrugged, "I don't think those politicians had any intention of playing ball. I'm actually glad you got them purring for us, in all honesty," Tony smiled at Loki's stunned face, "It definitely helped us know exactly what their goals were, instead of pure conjecture and guesswork. And stoped a possible battle against Wakanda developing in the middle of New York."

"The meeting still failed though," Thor's brow scrunched in consternation, "Do you believe that they will rightly try to reach out to us again?"

"Well, we reached out to them first," Tony picked up his ever-present coffee cup, "It's up in the air if we wait for them to return the favour or try reaching out to them again later."

"Why do we even need them?" Loki growled, apparently still upset by the delegations actions, "You have the hands of Asgard, Helheim, all of my children, your fellow vassal Bruce, and the X-Men. What do we possibly need them for?"

"Don't be like that Loki, you know why we need them," Tony smiled at Loki's grumpy pout.

"I feel that your technology, if not fully sufficient right now against Thanos' forces," Loki pointed out, "It soon will be. You are advancing at such a rapid pace, it will not be long before you reach the hight of Asgardian technology."

"But you yourself confessed that our Realms power pales in comparison to The Other's forces," Thor argued, ignoring Loki's glare, "And The Other is one of Thanos' minor forces. They were not even a general or part of Thanos' Black Order that runs his main army."

"Our Freyr could develop Asgards defences once he reaches an understanding at that level," Loki refuted, not looking at all happy that Thor had pointed out a flaw in their argument. "We may no longer have anyone who creates in Asgard, nor do we have the resources of The Builder. But I have every confidence that Tony could fill those shoes."

"Wow. Thank you for that vote of confidence, Lokes ... that's actually really flattering," Tony was mildly entertained by Loki's pleased reaction to the gratitude. "But I am only one man. It would take me years to develop all of these things on my own. Possibly the rest of my lifetime, however much is left," Tony smirked sardonically. "I need people who can develop a high level of technology, preferably a team to even approach the kind of timeframe we are estimated to have before Thanos and his fuglies get here."
Tony shrugged, "We have created education centres and grants in the hopes of discovering and raising young entrepreneurial minds in the off chance I'm unable to finish it. But that's the long term plan. We need teams of people helping to develop plans now."

"Why is this country so important?" Thor mused, brow lined with concern.

"Because they are the most technologically advanced country we currently have on Midgard," Tony waved a vacant hand, "It just makes sense to add them to our expansion pack."

"And they have all the Vibranium," Bruce mused, "The material we need to develop most things right now."

"Do we not have our own Vibranium ore?" Thor turned to Tony, "Do you not use it in your Badassium?"

"See ... that's our major problem," Tony groused thoughtfully.

"What is?" Bruce turned quizzically.

Tony eyed Bruce's confused face and seeing the look mirrored in his companion's faces as well, Tony began explaining.

"Let's start at the beginning ... Starkium was created from studies on the Tesseract, and its ability to absorb and generate large masses of infinite energy. Originally, this was based on Howard's research on the Tesseract - which whose research into the Tesseract's original purpose was to develop weapons from it. He believed the Tesseract could be a source of infinite energy. But he couldn't work out how to make that into a complete reality, and out of that unfinished research Howard and Vanko invented the Arc Reactor." Tony revealed, although he was surprised this wasn't common knowledge, the Arc Reactor was huge news when Howard revealed it to the public.
"I was able to solve the issues Howard faced, you could say," Tony grimaced, lifting his arms to show sarcastic jazz hands, "That I made my father's dream a reality. Starkium is an infinite source of energy. And we now know, thanks to our resident gods," Tony nodded to Thor and Loki, "the reason why it generates energy as it does. It's based on the Tesseract, which was a receptacle created by The Builder to hold and manage The Space Stone. The Tesseract channelled The Space Stone's power ... it was a cheap imitation of the stone really, but it worked. It acted as an extension of the stone itself."
Seeing that his audience was following so far, Tony continued, "The Builder's MO was to carve runes into his inventions that absorb the seiðr in the atmosphere around it, the Universal seiðr - instead of the personal seiðr that mostly everyone uses to power their spells. Howard's research, and my initial work on the element ... we didn't understand or know anything about seiðr or runes, we just assumed it was just an element of the Tesseracts process of energy intake, and so that's what we put in the formula." he shrugged.

"So you unconsciously factored in The Builder's technique of energy absorption without really understanding the true process?" Bruce blinked dazedly.

"Basically." Tony nodded. "And that's how we get Starkium. A highly efficient seiðr engine without realising that's exactly what it was. With elements of aspects of The Space Stone, of course. It's not just energy transference, using seiðr as fuel to make power - it uses elements of The Space Stone to draw in that energy in the first place. Starkium does not have space travelling powers," Tony clarified. "Though that would be cool," Tony grin turned dreamy with possibilities, "Maybe one day."

Seeing the amused looks on the faces of his audience, Tony shook himself out of his daydream and carried on. "The point I'm trying to get at is Vibranium. Vibranium is Midgard's Uru. Both are rare and vaguely mystical, absorb, amplify and redirect energy, and near-indestructible once forged."
Tony held up a finger to clarify the point, "And focus on that first part, 'mystical'. Vibranium is mystical and rightly sacred to the Wakandan's because of it. From what we've been able to gather, Vibranium is not a naturally occurring resource. It, in fact, came from a meteor that landed on earth, estimated around 2,500,000 B.C. And I know, we originally said that foreign elements don't work with our seiðr so well, hence the exploding Uru." Tony winced at Bruce's doctorly glare, "But this ore has been here since about the Paleolithic period. It's had more than enough time to acclimate to our denser atmosphere and seiðr. It's the perfect material."

Tony paused, licking his lips as he thought on how to explain, missing the god's hungry looks. "The problem we have is ... the main chunk of the meteor landed in what is modern-day Wakanda. There are small traces of Vibranium outside of its borders, meteors don't land like Dorothy's house on the wicked witch, in one piece. But those pieces are small, widely scattered, and Vibranium does not multiply. It's a singular limited source."
Tony huffed, "Wakanda is fine, as they are possibly sitting on a mountain of the stuff. It would take them hundreds if not thousands of years still to deplete it. If they opened it to international mining? That shit would be gone within a 5-year time span. They are wise to guard the stuff."

"So ... what are we to do without this resource?" Thor leaned forward, completely entranced by his vassal who was completely in his element.

"As I've been able to study the ore, even if purely in it's already forged state, I already know it's composition, and JARVIS and I can replicate the material," Tony grinned at Bruce's gasp. "Yeah. Literally, we can print ourselves Vibranium. The problem is ... synthesised Vibranium is missing a key element. It's new. It's missing those millions of years of seiðr gathering. It has the potential," Tony visualised his frustration with his hands, "... it just hasn't had the time. It didn't come from space as dust particles in the early Solar System collided, forming large clumps to then crash on our little planet."

Tony paused, seeing the concerned looks on Bruce's and Thor's faces, noting the dawning light in Loki's eyes, and decided to give the other two a little nudge. "... Key word there. Space. The Space Stone ... you get where this is going?"

"You use the Starkium, which is based on the Tesseract, that contained The Space Stone ... to give the Vibranium the energy it's missing?" Thor rationalised it out.

"Boom Baby!" Tony cheered, throwing his hands up in the air. "Thus we have Badassium! Our own convoluted workaround to get basically the same product that Wakanda mines straight out of the earth," Tony grinned at his audiences amazed faces smugly.
"Of course, if Wakanda ever came around to sharing their resource this would go much quicker - but as I already pointed out, limited resource. Plus you know ... mystical sacred ore." Tony gave a heavy double shoulder shrug. "The fact that agents of Wakanda snap up any object containing Vibranium that pops up in the outside world, means that they are laying claim to all other sources of it too. For religious purposes, you understand." Tony drawled. "They certainly are sitting on enough of the stuff, allegedly. They aren't skint."

"Possibly also to have a monopoly on the ore that makes them so highly advanced compared to the majority of this world," Loki nodded slowly.

"Allegedly." FRIDAY intoned from the lab speakers.

"But ... if they lay claim to all sources of Vibranium ... will they try to claim your synthesised ore?" Bruce fretted.

"It's possible." Tony nodded with another shrug. "It's also possible I could get stoned or burned at the stake or put in front of a firing squad for being a heathen or something. I am replicating their sacred object." Tony tilted his head to the side in thought, "Or they may claim that my synthesised Vibranium is not true Vibranium ... who knows? Religion is as icky as politics." Tony crossed his arms in a huff.

"Do not worry Freyr," Thor's voice rumbled, "I would strike them where they stand if they were ever to try to lay a hand on you."

"Thanks, Thunder Thighs," Tony smiled with glittering brown eyes, "But I believe they'd have to be absolute fools to try anything against us after the stunt Loki pulled."

"Let it be known that if they were to make another such foolish attempt, I would do much more to them this time than just sending them back," Loki's toothy grin was particularly wicked.

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Bruce reminded the god, making Loki turn and smile at Bruce bashfully. Huh, Tony guesses they can.

Chapter Text

"Sir."

"What's up J?" Tony mumbled around the micro screwdriver in his mouth, he needed to use his hands sometimes to know if the bolt was fastened correctly.

"You have a new applicant for the STARK Higher Education Program, Junior department."

"Well that's good," Tony smiled absently as he felt around the new Iron Man boot's panelling, making sure they were flush with the frame and not pinching any wiring, "Can't leave it up to all us old farts who will cark it in the next 20 to 30 years."

"Your continuing glib humour regarding you mortality is getting darker by the day, Sir," JARVIS grumbled dryly.

"Aw, J," Tony smiled at a nearby camera, "Are you getting upset about Daddy's talk about death? I'm pretty sure we've had talks about what you kids are to do once I'm gone."

"We are extremely aware of our creator's mortality," EDITH sniffed sternly, "Since he is consistently putting himself in danger's way."

"Come on E," Tony took the screwdriver out of his mouth and waved it at the camera, "I'm being a good boy now. I'm working on the new suit, I never go out without an escort of my security team and at least one suit in stealth mode."

"Be that as it may, Sir," JARVIS intoned, "Even though we are used to your dark humour, others in the Tower are finding disturbing."

"Oh?" Tony leaned back against U who beeped in pleasure at being able to support him and reached down with its robotic arm to take the screwdriver out of Tony's hand gently while he was distracted. "I know it's not Hela. She enjoys my dark humour." Tony glanced down, seeming to be in deep thought, "I guess I can watch my mouth around Brucie more. Doctor's tend to be annoyed when their patients treat their lives lightly," Tony shrugged as he slowly got up off of the lab floor, "It's kinda like how I cannot watch how people treat their phones." Tony cringed.

"I am sure Dr Banner and the others would be grateful for the reprieve of your sense of humour," Tony glared with an offended pout at the camera, "But this new applicant to the program requires your attention, Sir."

"Is there a problem?" Tony rose an eyebrow, "I thought Pepper made the executive decision that I would have no say in who joined the class?" Tony smirked at the reminder, "Pepper stepped down with her big President heel, and said it wouldn't be a good look, what with Tony Stark seemingly picking out children to put in a special course."

"They have passed the requirements that all applicants must to be accepted into the course. Nor are expenses the issue," JARVIS clarified, "This is not the same situation as Mr Harley Keener or Mr Peter Parker."

"It can't be logistics," Tony propped his hip against a lab counter, "As all successful applicants are given a Stark Pad to access their course work."

"That is the problem, Boss," FRIDAY piped up, leaving Tony to lift both brows in surprise, "Giving this applicant a Stark Pad may cause an international, not to mention a company internal dilemma."

"A country where Stark Tech in illegal? I know there are a few where access is limited, we are working on that," Tony looked up a the ceiling in contemplation, "Is it a kid of a competitor? I know our firewalls are basically impenetrable, but they could still take the pad apart and try to copy or replicate it," Tony shrugged, "We have safeguards put in place for such eventualities." Tony's grin turned slightly maniacal, "There is a reason there are no SI knock-of products on the market. Is this another Miss Kamala Khan situation?" Tony's grin lost it's maniacal edge and turned more pleased, "Another fledging hacker?"

"I'm afraid not, Sir," JARVIS refuted, "Instead of guessing, why don't you just take a look at the applicant's entry?"

"So snooty J," Tony snickered as he summoned up the projection screen in front of him with a simple hand gesture and began searching for the application, "It's no wonder that people think your stereotypical Jeeves."

"Human's may think what they like," JARVIS sniffed.

Chuckling Tony found the application, noting that the form had been filled out with a completely obvious fake identity, and an attachment. "This already on an isolated sever?"

"Of course Chief," EDITH replied smugly, "Such a small thing was flagged as soon as it encountered our firewalls."

"Well ... let see what the kiddo sent us," Tony grinned, "It would be rude not to."

Making sure all safety precautions were activated and that the whole file was isolated, Tony was comfortable enough to boot up the attachment, which leads to ...

"A program sequence?" Tony scrolled through the file, scrunching his eyebrows as he checked and double-checked, "... It's not a program I'm familiar with ... But there are glaring errors in this. Many of these equations are off, and the placement of some of these command codes ..." Tony leaned back to cross his arms. "Anyone who took the entry test would not make these kinds of mistakes, even if a few of these are advanced concepts."

"Perhaps its a test?" JARVIS seemed intrigued in spite of himself.

"A test?" Tony's brown eyes gleamed, "For Moi? These kids are so precocious." With a delighted grin, Tony's fingertips tingled as they flew across the screen, making lightning-quick corrections, making an effort not to add in a few runes to where Tony thought would improve the whole structure, but upon seeing its completed form, Tony's eyes widened as he realised what it was for. "This is a communications program."

"One that bypasses satellite tracking," JOCASTA piped in with interest.

"Well, the kid obviously wants to talk," Tony smirked, making a few small adjustments to the sequence, "And as the responsible adults, shouldn't we oblige them? I mean, they put in such an effort to get our attention."

"I never thought I'd hear the word 'responsible' applied to you," TADASHI sassed.

"Shush you," Tony snickered, "Let's see what they want," Tony finished making his changes, then booted up the program, "Knock, knock?"

"I never understood why the answer to that question is 'Who's there?'," Came the clear sarcastic tone of a young woman's voice, matching the image of a dark-skinned teenage girl with long dark brown braids wrapped up into a bun on her head, "Especially since I know who I sent this program to."

"You can never be sure," Tony grinned with a shrug, containing a laugh at the kid's frustration that behind Tony was nothing but a blank white wall, not allowing any view of the lab, whereas she had darkened glass behind her, "And since you definitely do not look like a Toby Stevens," he smirked at the fake identity she had entered on the form, "who may I ask am I speaking to?"

"I am called Shuri."

"Wow, not even going to try to give me another alias?" Tony's smirk grew at the Wakandan princesses huff.

"What would be the point? You already figured out that the cover was a fake and solved the programing sequence," the teenager waved an elegant hand, "Why continue with the farce? You've already proven you're worth working with."

"Oh, I have, have I?" Tony rose an amused eyebrow.

"That program isn't like anything that exists out there," Tony had to give it to her, this kid was definitely confident and had the strut almost nailed, despite her teenage awkwardness.

"I admit it was new to me," Tony watched Shuri rose her chin in smug pride (oh god, this kid was going to be a gas), "But that begs the question," Tony nailed her with an expectant expression, "Why does the leader of the Wakandan Design Group want to join the STARK Higher Education Program? I'd say there would be very little we could teach you."

Shuri's dark eyes became wary for a moment, then she huffed a mock defeat, "Know about that, do you?"

"I know a few things."

"Like?" Shuri needled, apparently being a young genius does not make you immune to teenage impatience.

"Like," Tony's smirk became a little more like his public mask, "You and your Group have been trying to hack into my personal and business servers for years. That you have also attempted to plant spies within Stark Industries, even a few attempts to cosy up to some of my business opponents in an attempt at getting through my protections using them. And despite all of this, we had already offered an alliance with your people, which included free trade and exchange of information, only to have the offer unceremoniously shoved back in our face," the princesses wince was gratifying as Tony leaned forward, "So you tell me, why should I even consider you?"

"M'Bassa and those ex-nobles had nothing to do with any order from the King," Shuri furiously shook her head with a scowl, "Those idiots charged off without permission and almost ruined everything!"

"So that wasn't a royally sanctioned delegation from Wakanda?" rose a disbelieving eyebrow.

"No," Shuri denied.

"So those weren't your EMP devices we scanned?"

Shuri visibly cringed, then replied, "Well, yes ... but they didn't have permission to have those."

"And it wasn't your technicians who actively tried to hack my Tower during the meeting?"

The princess bared her teeth in a snarl, "They had no business going with the illegal delegation and have since been fired."

"So you deny any association with the incident?" Tony crossed his arms keeping his smirk in place.

"The kingdom of Wakanda and the Wakandan Design Group had nothing to do with it," Shuri's grinding of her teeth was almost audible. "They have been punished for their misdeeds and removed from their positions so they may never attempt such an action again."

"How did those guys even manage it?" Tony tilted his head to the side candidly, "I would have assumed it would be difficult for a group of politicians to take the princesses designed gear, leave Wakanda unchallenged in a royal aircraft, with the royal guard no less. What authority did they have that they could answer a call for an alliance with a foreign party anyway?"

"... M'Bassa was a cousin to the royal family," Shuri huffed with her arms crossed moodily. "Since he had such close ties, he was able to order a detachment of the guards and encourage a few of my men to accompany him and his associates. The King and his council were still debating on wither to accept the alliance when those morons took off."

"Ah, relations," Tony nodded in commiseration, "Wither related to you by blood or not, it's always pain fielding their actions." Tony glanced up at the princesses grumpy face, "So I take this to assume that, that was not Wakanda's final answer, and we will hear from them in the future?" Shuri's sullen nod softened Tony's smirk into a smile, "Well, that's nice, and all, but that's not what I asked you."

"What?"

"I asked," Tony repeated, "why should I even consider you? Or was this whole application to the program a ruse?"

Shuri blinked for a few moments, shocked out of her moody pout, and replied, "You solved the puzzle proving you're worth working with."

"Yes." Tony grinned at the princesses palpable confusion.

"Is this some white boy game?" Shuri scoffed, leaving Tony to gently shaking his head at her obtuseness.

"Do you always work with people who you attempted to hack and instigated corporate espionage against?"

Shuri lowered her head a rose her shoulders in an attempt to shrink but refused to move from her spot, and after a moment shook her head and straightened out, looking Tony straight in the eyes, "I am sorry."

Tony nodded with a small smile, "Thank you, Princess Shuri."

"Pfft. Don't call me that here," Shuri scoffed, reaffirming her confidant pose, "I applied to the program as myself, not a princess. I want to learn more about what is happening in the outside world. I know more is happening than what is in the media. Who better to get information from? Then the guy right in the middle of it."

"So I am assuming Daddy dearest does not know his darling daughter is attempting to learn from a foreigner?" Tony smirked at Shuri's cute nose scrunch. "That, unfortunately, maybe a problem."

"Why?" Shuri demanded, starting to work herself up into another huff, "Am I not good enough for your white boy classes?"

"No ... merely that any minor signing up for the program need legal permission from their parent or legal guardian ..." Tony blinked at the tirade.

"Oh ... Well, that won't be a problem," Shuri smirked after abruptly cooling her jets, "Mother supports my decision."

"Ah, working around your dad by going through your mom, I like it," Tony smirked, before scrunching his eyebrows with a throat cough, "Also, Shuri? You may want to tamp down on all the 'white boy' comments."

"Why? It is what you are?" Shuri blinked.

"Yes. But it has racist connotations," Tony explained with a raised eyebrow, "You don't hear me calling you 'black girl'."

"It's racist? But I see it all the time on social media and your tv?" Shuri frowned.

"Yes, it's in popular media, but some people may not like being called that. After all, you are much more than the colour of your skin," Tony pointed out plainly.

Shuri seemed to be thinking about this seriously. "You have a point, Tony. I'll have to think on this," Shuri looked up at Tony almost accusingly, "Why does the outside world have to be so confusing?"

"Shuri? I wish I knew." Tony shrugged.

Chapter Text

Having received a notification from JARVIS that his presence has been requested on the penthouse floor, Tony had bemusedly taken off his Iron Man gloves had been using for free-hand welding, putting down his work and taking the elevator up. Seeing that there was already a grand gathering, of Hela, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, Sleipnir, Narfi, Nari and Loki and Thor - the last two standing to the side looking very put out, being faced by a visibly confused Bruce who stood in the kitchen. Deciding to join forces, Tony sidled up to Bruce's side, taking in the good doctor's puzzled face.

"What's up Brucie?"

"The gods are apparently displeased."

Tony rose an eyebrow, turning to watch as Thor paced in tight circles, and Loki had their arms crossed with a crease between their brows. The other gods didn't seem to be too concerned, in fact, they seemed to be enjoying watching their elder's perturbance.

"Has there been another drama that I missed?" Tony asked as he watched Thor's path across the penthouse, giving off little sparks of golden light.

"Not that I was aware of, but then again, I was in the lab," Bruce shrugged one shoulder.

"Same," Tony murmured, turning to the nearest camera Tony questioned his AI, "I'm assuming the gods requested this meeting. Did they happen to mention why?"

Before his AI could seemingly answer, Thor's voices rumbled, "Why is there no evergreen?"

Perplexed, Tony turned back to watch the pacing god. "Evergreen?" he turned to Bruce but he seemed to be as puzzled by the golden gods non-sequitur.

"Where are the decorations befitting the greeting of the rebirth of the sun?" Thor growled.

"... The fuck?" Tony mumbled to himself, crossing his arms, unsure where this was coming from.

"Wait ..." Bruce's face seemed to lighten like a lightbulb had come to light, "Evergreen decorations ... Do you mean Christmas?"

"No," Loki's voice purred, but it held no amusement, "We do not celebrate the Christian pastimes. What we are seeking, is to ask, where are the observations regarding Jól."

"Jól, or as it is referred to in modern times, Yule," JARVIS intoned from the nearest speaker to lessen the human's confusion, "The precursor to the modern idea of Christmas, is the celebration of the winter solstice and greeting the sun for the new year and goodbye to the frosts and darkness of winter."

"To put it in layman's terms," Fenrir shrugged.

"Ah, Holidays," Tony nodded, unable to stop the small scrunch of his nose, which Loki narrowed their eyes at, "I can get the decorators in to deck out the penthouse for your holiday. That's no problem," Tony shrugged absently.

"Your holiday?" Thor echoed, his voice picking up a small growl.

"And where pray tell," Loki's frown deepened, "Will you be during these festivities? Do you not celebrate?"

"Well ..." Tony fidgeted uncomfortably, "I've never been very religious."

Bruce nodded in agreement. "Christmas, or Yule, or whatever tradition you chose to follow ... It's a very family orientated holiday," Bruce shrugged, "Can't say I've ever had the opportunity or felt the need to partake." Tony nodded along to his science bro's words.

"But we are your family now, are we not?" Sleipnir smiled at the human's shocked faces.

"Well, I ..." Bruce looked to Tony helplessly, unable to find the words - human interactions had never been his strong suit.

"Of course we are Sleip," Tony quickly agreed, plastering on a smile to cover up his bemusement, "I'm sure we can clear a day to spend with you to observe your 'rebirth of the sun'."

"A day?!" Thor's humour did not seem to be improving.

"How exactly did you spend Yule's past?" Loki crossed their arms as he observed the jittery vassals.

Bruce and Tony glanced at each other, unsure what to say to somehow appease the irritated gods, unsure how they'd gotten themselves in this ditch, and silently agreed that telling the truth would save their skins more than lies.

"Working," Bruce shrugged, "Avoiding people as much as possible."

Tony nodded, "And if we couldn't do that, we went to charity galas and parties for work."

"What had you planned for the coming holiday and the beginning of the new year?" Jörmungandr smirked with a cocked hip.

Feeling like they were being set up for something, Tony decided to take control of the situation. "Look, we understand that this holiday is important to you," Bruce frantically nodded along in support, "And we aren't going to obstruct you from celebrating your culture. We'll attend as much as we possibly can, but the fact of the matter is ... we have a lot of work to get done," Tony sighed, giving a tired smile, "We'll still be in the Tower, so you can always reach us," Tony tried to soothe, seeing Thor and Loki's God Waves give strange irritated little wiggles, "We'll even make time to leave our labs to join you time to time, won't we?" Tony turned to Bruce who nodded, face almost panicked.

"Haven't you worked enough?" Thor whined, proving that even though he was a wall of muscle and leather he could still sound like a labrador.

"The work never ends, Sparky," Tony plastered on a smirk and posing with his hands on his hips and puffing out his chest, "If we aren't hard at work keeping the world together, then who will?"

"Besides," Bruce's lips trembled, "Aren't you all immortal? Why would you bother keeping track of the years? I'd assume years would be mere blinks to you?"

"That is true," Hela purred as she slowly sashayed towards the two befuddled mortals, "Time is irrelevant to beings to who time does not affect." She stretched her dark-painted lips into a stunning smile, "Which is exactly why we observe them. If we lose track of time, we lose track of ourselves. This year has been especially joyous," Hela laid a gentle graceful hand on Tony and Bruce's shoulders, "For the first time in centuries, We have been reunited with our Mother, and with our Uncle. We are together again. Would you not celebrate this with us?"

"Look," Bruce licked his lips nervously, "I understand, and I am very happy for you, you know I am," Hela smiled at Bruce, "It's just, we have obligations."

"Pepper would give birth to kittens if she knew I was contemplating ditching work again," Tony paled.

"Ms Potts has given her sanction for this 'Yule Holiday', and bids you have a good time," JARVIS injected from the nearest speaker, "We will take care of business while you take this break."

Tony's eyes narrowed as he turned to glare at the nearest camera in betrayal, "J ..."

"Now that has been established," Hela's smile turned into a grin that the human's eyed warily, while her brothers moved to surround their mother and uncle, "We shall be on our way."

"What?"

Tony and Bruce barely had a chance to draw breath before they were surrounded by Hela's dark smoke, swirling and cloaking everything but her ghostly eyes from their sight. Tony expected Hela's smoke to be smothering and hard to breath, but it caressed their skins like mist, travelled through their bodies like an early morning breeze, summoning a swell of calm that infused them from the inside, causing them to close their eyes. The soothing darkness behind their eyelids, and deprived of their sense of sight, left their sense of hearing to come to the foreground. Tony and Bruce could swear they could hear the misplaced sounds of rustling leaves, creaking of branches and ancient wood, joined by the gods delighted laughter that seemed to echo into a great distance.

Finally, the all-encompassing sound seemed to cease, leaving things to be almost eerily quiet in comparison. Slowly, Tony and Bruce became aware of their surroundings and bodies again, finding their feet finally placed on solid ground once again. Wearily, the mortals slowly blinked open their eyes, looking upon Hela's grinning visage, made more ethereal by the silvery light. With a wink, Hela moved aside, revelling to the mortals eyes a snowy paradise, a large rolling field, with tufts of pale grass and shocks of winter blossoms, and in the distance, tall dark woods loomed, almost touching a galaxy and aurora filled sky.

"Welcome," Hela purred in their ears, "To my domain. Welcome to Helheim."

Chapter Text

Waking in an unfamiliar location was something Tony never really enjoyed, especially when he mumbled out for JARVIS and got no reply. It wasn't until he had rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and sat up in a beautifully carved ivory bed covered in warm silky furs, breathing in the fresh crisp air, that he remembered that he wasn't in his Tower anymore. He wasn't in New York. He wasn't even in America ... Hel, he wasn't on Earth anymore!
Tony scrubbed his hands through his hair in tired frustration. What even is his life?
Not only was Bruce and he godnapped - again - but this time his own kids and one of his best friends were accomplices. Not that he figured that their intentions were at all malicious ... Hela may be the God of Death, and this might be technically Viking Hell ... But she had been nothing but warm and welcoming. She had invited them into her own palace; beautiful ivory and marble structure adorned with otherworldly silks, furs and blossoms. She'd even organised personal rooms for them in her personal 'family' wing. Hela had been nothing but a gracious host ... ignoring that she had basically godnapped the two scientists to get them there.

Shockingly, it wasn't Hela or even Loki's other children's reactions to having them here that was bothering Tony - they had been practically giddy at being able to show their mortal friends what was essentially their home ... it was Thor and Loki themselves. Sure they had praised Hela's efforts on making what had apparently previously been a frozen wasteland full of ghouls into such a beautiful land. They were quite obviously appreciative and proud. ... But as soon as Tony and Bruce were shown their rooms ... they had barely looked in their direction and stormed off.

Being left with the distinct feeling that he had disappointed the gods somehow, Tony had abstained from joining the evening meal, citing inter-galaxy jet lag, and just stayed in his newly provided room. He had also politely declined an invitation to go hunting when Narfi and Nari came a-knocking. He didn't really have to explain himself away, as without his armour or any kind of gun Tony was kind of useless in a traditional hunt. He understood the mechanics of a bow and arrow but felt that he would look ridiculously silly trying to draw some giant stringed thing designed for godly strength. When Nari had faux innocently said the Tony could join the Hunt in his shapeshifted form, Tony had just glared at them flatly, asking how a domestic cat that barely came up to Narfi's ankles was supposed to take down a bear?
It was during enduring the twins cackles that Tony learned that most of the siblings were actually joining the Hunt in their shapeshifted forms and that they weren't Hunting bears. Their pelts were good for heavy winter coats and floor rugs, but their meat smelt rank and was an ... acquired taste. No no, they were hunting deer. Venison was the preferred Hunt delicacy.
Tony had felt it was weird that they were putting such on emphasis on 'Hunt', he heard that capital, but decided he was better off not knowing and shooed the giggling twins off. It hadn't been that much later that thunder began rumbling and what sounded like a heard of hooves took off into the distance. That had been late last night. Tony figured that the thunder meant that at least Thor had gone with them on this 'Hunt'. He doubted Bruce had, but anyone else? He had no clue. The palace could technically be empty of gods right now ...

Hearing the distant rumble in the fluffy snow-laden clouds, Tony slowly got up out of bed, deciding not to change out of the silk-like sleep clothes Hela had gifted him, Tony took one of the large strange dark blue fur blankets and draped it around himself like a cape and left his room to explore.
The door to his room was ornately carved and dark stained cypress wood, in fact, almost everything in this palace was covered in beautiful carvings and frescoes, and all of alive fauna and flora of all things. Tony found it a bit odd that the God of Death would surround herself with images of life ... but in a weird way, he guessed it made sense.
He wasn't sure what he had expected really. When people mentioned Viking decor, Tony usually thought of fur everywhere (tick in that box), but also bones, antlers, skulls and fire everywhere. Maybe modern tv tropes that depicted Vikings as savages had coloured his expectations?
The furs made sense. Helheim was cold, and the palace was made of ebony, ivory and marble, and those things weren't precisely forgiving on the feet. Sure, ivory was technically bone. Tony could just hear the animal rights activists screeching. But Tony highly doubted this was ivory taken from any earthly animal ... plus? He'd pay to watch those activists even try to take on someone as majestic as Hela.
In a way, Tony could admire the kind of culture that the Norse Gods had adopted, or possibly taught to the wandering tribes. A harmony with life and death, where everything of a hunt was used, but respected. Tony could tell, stroking the strange dark blue fur blanket over his shoulders, that it was treated with care and lovingly sewn into a warm blanket. And walking down the halls, everything had a purpose but also a pride of place. Carved wooden bowls full of dried rose petals gave the air a faint pleasant rose scent. There were no fire sconces, lamps or candles, but instead, there were strange assortments of glowing flowers that resembled lillies, asphodel and tiny white buds of yarrow that dotted the halls and gave off plenty of ambient light. Tony was starting to see a colour theme. Dark black marble floors that were buffed to reflect a dull shine, covered in silky soft lush carpets of feather and fur of animals ... Tony could not recognise. Dark-stained wooden walls stretched out between white pillars of marble or ivory, decorated with twining green vines, twigs and branches of locust and yew, and bowls and vases of dried petals or white silvery glowing flowers. The whole thing came across as ethereal, but also ... surprisingly warm and homey. It wasn't Tony's style, as he usually stuck to chrome and dark leathers, but this definitely did feel like the home of an ancient Goddess.

Padding through the palace, and peeking into rooms he passed, Tony finally came across a sort of outdoor patio, furnished with a gnarled ancient-looking wooden table and padded chairs loaded with pillows, where he found Bruce, wrapped in a smoky grey fur blanket of his own, drinking a steaming cup of tea and gazing out at the dark forests in the distance.

"Mornin' Brucie," Tony smiled at his science bro who seemed to be very relaxed this morning, who turned to blink at him sleepily, "Mind if I join you?"

Bruce gave one of his small smiles and waved to a nearby chair, even poring Tony a cup of aromatic tea. Tony had just taken a sip, humming at the mild sweetness, when another rumble of thunder made Tony look back up and eyes start scanning the dark forest.

"Any idea where our Gods are?"

"They are still out on their Hunt," Bruce hummed into his tea.

"Still?" Tony rose an eyebrow, "Didn't they head out last night?"

"Assuming we arrived during what accounts as this worlds approximation of nighttime," Bruce mumbled, "And assuming the hours in a day are the same here as they are on Earth, with the number of hours we've been asleep, it should be day now," Bruce glanced up at the star and aroura filled sky, "This world may not even have a day cycle. Or a sun," Bruce hummed thoughtfully as he eyed the 3 differently hued moons in the sky.

"That would explain the snow," Tony shivered as he looked out at the rolling snowfields, air shimmering with puffs of icy mist.

"Strange," Bruce hummed as he watched the flowing ribbon of colour swirling among the silvery stars, "I would have thought that the Viking's idea of Hell would be ... less serene."

"It definitely beats fire and brimstone," Tony nodded, watching his exhales steam in the crisp air.

"The place still has that element of eerie," Bruce pointed to the faint tinge of red that was slowly taking over one of the three moons, "And it's cold. But ... it's pretty."

"If this is what I have to look forward to when I die? Sign me up," Tony nodded with a smirk.

"You believe in an afterlife?" Bruce blinked at the inventor in mild shock.

"Brucie ... we spend our every day with ancient Norse Gods," Tony replied with a deadpan look, "And we are currently in Hel ... Even if I didn't believe in the concept of souls or the afterlife before ..." Tony gazed out at the rolling lighting, "I'm not sure what I believe in now."

"... Fair."

The two scientists fell into silence as they huddled in their fur blankets with warm tea, watching swirls and eddies of wind and kicked up snow. The realm seemed to be alight with silvery moonlight, causing the snow to glisten like diamonds, all sound seemed to be absorbed, leaving them alone in this moment, silent, staring at a silvery, glittering dark world lit with starlight and ribbons of blues, greens and purples of the aroura.

The loud caw of a raven broke the moment, causing the mortals to shock and jump a little from their peaceful zones, turning towards the sound, able to just see two black forms swerving and circling in the sky, their inky black forms only visible against the streams of aurora and the blinks of stars.

"Is that ...?"

"Nari and Narfi, I'm guessing," Bruce nodded distractedly.

"They seem to be getting closer ..." Tony squinted at the raven's strange flight patterns, "Think their hunting trip is over?"

The sound of beating hooves against ice hard ground interrupted their conversation any further, with the heavy sound of animal grunts and huffs. That ... did not sound like a horse. Or a wolf.

"Fenrir?" Tony called out, placing his tea down and slowly standing up from the table. "Sleip? Is that you?"

Before Tony or Bruce could try calling out again, there was a crash of snapping branches and shaking ancient trees as out of the dark forest dashed a beast Tony and Bruce had never seen. It was vaguely deer shaped, with four legs, body, and head of a deer ... but that's where the similarities ended. Its coat was ghostly white, ruffled with feathers around its neck and hindquarters. Large ears looking more like strange leafy fins, antlers large and white and spindly, looking more like deadly thorns than horns. Its eyes a milky white that would make the humans assume that the beast was blind, but it dashed across the plain with seemingly no trouble, leaving ghostly wisps trailing behind. It opened its mouth to give out a high pitched call, revealing sharp fangs.

"What kind of deer is that?!" Bruce had been shocked into standing alongside Tony.

The thunder of hooves distracted the scientists shocked staring at the escaping beast, turning to watch as a pure white stallion charged out of the dark forest, it's 8 legs pumping, mane and tail swirling, baring a blue-skinned rider and large mother of pearl snake on it's back. The blue-skinned rider wore golden armour and baring large blue horns on their head and blaring red eyes, hands full of bolts of green fire. Alongside them ran a large wolf, almost as tall as the horse in the shoulder. Next to come dashing out of the Forest was Hela, dressed in her dark battle leathers and tall spiked crown, driving a giant black skeletal steed through the snow, followed by Thor, brandishing Mjolnir riding on a large red goat-like creature, Narfi and Nari cawing a swooping the ghostly prey, herding it in the direction the hunting party wanted it to go.
If this wasn't enough, they seemed to be followed by a host of ghostly beings, all baring hunting gear and cheering on the hunt, the path lit by the moon and strange swirling balls of silver, blue and green flame.

Neither mortal spoke or moved, barely dared to breathe as the otherworldly hunting party seemed to be unaware of their audience, completely focused on their prey, charging across the field, tearing up the earth with their hooves, paws and armoured feet, chasing the deer-like creature further into the forest and out of the clearing.

At the hunting parties passing, and all sounds of their hooves and screaming call and caws, the field was left eerily still and silent.

"... The fuck was that?" Tony stuttered in a shocked chilled breath.

"... I think ... We just witnessed a Wild Hunt," Bruce's eyes were wide as saucers.

"A Wild Hunt?" Tony stuttered, "But I thought that was supposed to be a bad thing?"

"Technically, but I think this was more of the Norse interpretation than the modern one. The Wild Hunt myth originally began as a hunt led by a god and goddess visiting the land during a holy holiday in the winter months ... so usually Yule; bringing blessings, and accepting offerings from people. They could be heard by the people in the howling winds, but later became known as a pack of ghouls with malicious intent, where anyone found outdoors at the time of the Wild Hunt would be swept up into the hunting party involuntarily and dropped miles from their original location ... or never seen again." Bruce was shivering, babbling facts that he had read in an attempt to reclaim his nerves. "The author Hélène Adeline Guerber wrote of Odin and his steed, Sleipnir, in her 1895 works, 'Myths of the Northern Lands'. She tells of the souls of the dead being carried off on the stormy winds of the Hunt. Seeing as we know Odin never got his steed ... and we are currently already in Hel ... Maybe this is the real representation?"

"So you're saying ... those were real ghosts?" Tony pointed at where the hunting party had reentered the dark forest.

"We are in Hel ... and Hela is the God of Death ..." Bruce stuttered, "It's possible?"

"Bruce? Don't take this the wrong way, but I would not mind, at all, if you came back with me to my room, o-or yours," Tony gave a trembling smirk, numbly taking Bruce's pale hand, "And we leave the god's and ghouls to their hunting."

"Tony ... I am all for hiding under the blankets with you right now." Bruce seriously nodded, taking the lead and dragging Tony off to the nearest guest room to hide and if they ended up cuddling for warmth and comfort? No one else needed to know.

Chapter Text

"Isn't it a bit late," Tony pondered out loud as he had happened upon Hela, with Fenrir laid across her lap in his wolf form, Hela combing his luscious fur coat with her beautiful bone fur comb, she glanced up with a knowing smile at the mortal as he continued his train of thought, "For me to finally realise that my new friends are not human?"

"Finally come to accept that, have you?" Fenrir huffed sleepily, enjoying the brushing so much that he didn't even bother moving or opening an eyelid.

"Yeah," Tony stood in the doorway, looking into what seemed to be a sort of sitting room, or at least the Hel equivalent. Hela and Fenrir seemed to be sequestered on a couch made out of an ancient hollowed out stump laden up with pillows and furs. This room was devoid of the glowing flowers, instead, the room's centrepiece was a large obsidian fireplace with a sizable silvery-purple roaring fire warming and lighting the room. It appeared that only the eldest of Loki's children were present in the sitting room right now, as Jörmungandr's rich warm chuckle alerted Tony to the giant snake curled in front of the fireplace. How did he even miss a big fuck-off snake? Tony figured he was more frazzled than he may have first realised.

"I mean ... I knew it logically," Tony crossed his arms across his chest, "It's not like you've ever kept it a secret. I even refer to you as my gods that are in my tower," Tony ignored Jörmungandr's pleased sounding hiss, because what the fuck? "I've seen you guys do some truly awe-inspiring things," memories of Hela shrinking the Captain down to a snivelling young man was in his top 10, at least. "But I guess ... the fantastical seems to be happening on the daily ever since I took up the 'superhero' mantel ... that it hadn't really sunk in," Tony's eyes seemed to glaze in remembrance, "Not until last night ..."

"Ah ..." Hela's dark eyes sparkled in something that looked like wicked delight, "You witnessed The Hunt. Tell me, my mortal," Hela purred as she coaxed Tony closer into the sitting room to join her and her wolfy brother on the gigantic lounge, "What were your thoughts on your first witness of a God's Wild Hunt?"

"Awesome. Breathtaking. Powerful. Beautiful," Tony shuddered as he spoke almost numbly, "Terrifying."

"I see," Hela crooned, lifting a hand and gently started soothing it through Tony's bed ruffled hair, "Was it the hunt that left you so afeared? Or our godly forms itself?"

"... I'm not afraid of you if that's what you're asking," Tony huffed, almost offended that they would think so, looking up at Hela through his messy hair that she continued to stroke.

"It was not seeing familiar faces transformed?" Hela smirked, watching Tony's eyes widen as her visage rippled from her familiar pale skin with midnight black hair, into a dark blue-skinned goddess with silvery-white locks, large white horns curling out of her skull and cherry-red eyes.

"... Wow ..." Tony breathed, "Honestly, you were a bombshell before, but right now? You're gorgeous!"

"Why thank you, Tony," Hela chuckled gently, pleased.

Hearing a shifting sound, Tony turned to see Jörmungandr's form slowly change into his humanoid form, but instead of his Indian features, he too sported blue skin, a shade lighter than Hela's, long black hair twining around two long black horns and fiery red eyes. "You mean to say that you find the Jotun form intriguing?"

Tony blinked, "Intriguing? You're beautiful. This is what Jotun's look like?" Tony's head swivelled between the siblings, who were grinning at the mortal's obvious appreciation. "I assumed that Jotuns just looked similar to Asgardians, just with different hair colours?" Seeing the siblings negative headshakes, Tony's frazzled brain took a moment to take stock. "So ... it wasn't because of the black hair and cool shapeshifting powers that the Asgardians lobbied against the Jotuns? What? Were they jealous?"

"That's not usually the reaction we receive," Fenrir chuckled, sliding off of his sister's lap onto the floor.

"What?" Tony blinked, "I might be unfamiliar with blue-skinned people. But even I can see that the Jotun form is stunning."

Fenrir kept his eyes locked onto Tony and he slowly began to transform, taking on the dark blue skin, thick wild black hair, blood-red eyes, but shocking Tony when his body size increased, till Fenrir's lounging form was longer than the couch.

"Wow ... Frost giant ..." Tony breathed as he made the mental connection, entranced, reaching out for one of Fenrir's hands which were twice the size of his head, "Can I?"

With a huff Fenrir acquiesced, letting Tony move his hand around, marvel at his black claw-like fingernails, swirling raised lines on his skin, remarking on the smoothness, coolness and hairlessness of his giant arms.

"So we can cross xenophobia out," Jörmungandr chuckled.

"Why would I be afraid of ... Oh," Tony blinked, looking around at the siblings, "The blue rider on Sleip was Loki. I saw the green seiðr and assumed it probably was," Tony mumbled, "But figured it was distance or all the ghostly lights that made them look blue."

"No," Hela purred gently as she went back to stroking Tony's hair, enjoying the new contrast on her more sensitive blue skin, "What you saw was the little-seen Jotun form of our mother."

"Why?" Tony tilted his head slightly, "Is this an 'Asagradian's being racists ass-hats' again?" Fenrir chuckled as he allowed Tony to continue playing around gently with his hand.

"Showing off the Jotun form around most of the Nine Realms is usually cause for the locals to get out their torches and pitchforks," Jörmungandr slithered across the fur carpeted ground to drape himself over one of his brother's large pectorals. "To save ourselves from prosecution, most of Jotun descent hide their forms."

"Shame," Tony tisked, openly appreciating all the blue skin he was surrounded by, "Diversity is always better than having everyone be exactly the same."

"So it was the Hunt that frightened you?" Fenrir tilted his head like a wolf pup.

"I wasn't scared!" Tony huffed, dropping Fenrir's hand to cross his arms huffily.

"Nari tells me he found you and Bruce cowering under the blankets in one of the guest rooms," Jörmungandr smirked.

"We were huddling for warmth."

"You admitted it yourself that you saw the Wild Hunt," Hela smirked, showing off a pearly white fang, "Most who witness The Hunt's passing are unwittingly swept up in the revelry ... or find there souls taken to the afterlife."

"See, that. That right there," Tony pointed a finger at Hela's smirking face. "Before I met any of you, the concepts of 'the afterlife' or 'souls'," Tony used the air quotes heavily, "Where things I scoffed at. There wasn't any scientific proof that such things existed. I like to think I'm pretty open-minded," Tony huffed, "But these last few months has just turned everything I knew on its head. I can believe the existence of gods ... your right in front of me. Magic? Ditto. I have in-depth scans and analysis to back up my developing theories on these. I have proof. I just ... was not prepared to have the existence of ghosts paraded right in front of me."

Hela gently took Tony trembling pointed hand in hers and patted in in a soothing manner.

"I'm not afraid of dying. Hel," Tony scoffed, "I've been on the brink of death so many times in the last 4 years alone, and been the cause of so many deaths, that being afraid of my own mortality would be silly. I accepted years ago that I will one day die," Tony shrugged glibly, "I accepted that this was the Viking conception of 'Hell' ... But I thought it was just that. The concept. I was not prepared to see actual dead souls ..."

"Ah, I understand now," Hela crooned, "Sweet Tony, there is nothing to fear. I am the Ruler of this Realm, all of the dead answer to me. You are my guests, my family," Hela's garnet eyes warmed as she smiled gently, "You are in no danger here. The dead cannot harm you."

"I know, Tony nodded, finding himself soothed by Hela's motherly nature in spite of himself, "I guess ... seeing you all riding like that ... reminded me all over again that you are all gods. Tremendous and awsome. Reminded me how small and powerless I really am here." Tony felt kind of embarrassed how the gods were currently cooing over him, he felt like he was in his kitten form all over again. "Besides," Tony tried to shake off the hands patting his hair, "We came here and Loki and Thor peaced-out immediately without a look in our direction, after being so angry about missing a holiday. I'm afraid I've pissed them off," Tony grimaced, "I mean, it was bound to happen. I'm Tony Stark. I piss everyone off eventually."

"Now now, none of that," Hela gently admonished, reaching over to lift Tony bodily from the couch, ignoring his squeak, and slipped off the couch to snuggle with her siblings, placing Tony right on Fenrir's large abdomen in the middle, "Neither you nor we could expect you to change your world views at the drop of a hat. You are allowed to have time to process. And We assure you," Hela smirked at Tony's lightly blushed face at Fenrir's chest under him vibrating with rumbly chuckles, "Our mother and uncle are not pissed off at you. They have their own issues to deal with. They'll be back to their regular selves once they get it out of their systems."

"Less talky, more snuggly," Jörmungandr grumbled.

Chapter Text

Bruce and Tony weren't too keen on venturing out of Hela's Palace, mostly because it was nice and warm, of course, and not because they might wander into a ghost, undead ghoul or toothy deer monster ... of course not. Don't be silly.
But when Hela came to fetch the two scientists, explaining that her brothers and uncle and mother had finished preparations for a Yule bonfire and cooking the feast ... it felt rude to deny her. After donning the warmest furs that Hela could provide, each taking an elbow and nervously started to be lead out of the palace out into the snow.

Having this chance to actually take a look around them, Tony and Bruce commented on the beauty of the landscape, Bruce asking after the names of nearby flora, which Hela happily supplied. Looking at Hela in her blue-skinned form, tall majestic white horns, long flowing white hair and dressed in a light flowing gown, the two scientists asked if she was not cold. Giggling, Hela replied that she would be a very strange Frost Giant indeed if she was bothered by the cold. This led the two scientists to start asking questions about her people, which seemed to amuse her.

Eyeing the dark forest that they seemed to be slowly approaching, Tony asked where exactly this bonfire was supposed to be.

"We have a special pit just for bonfires," Hela calmly explained with a smile, "If we have the fire too close, the smoke invades the palace and leaves it smelling of stale smoke for days. So we have placed in a clearing a few measures away so that the frozen winds will blow the smoke away. We will reach the bonfire grounds by going through this Skogsrå forest," Hela smiled gently, "We will just follow this easy to follow the path to easily find our way."

"What kind of stones are these?" Tony leaned down to pick up a luminous blue pebble from the path, which lightened to white where pressure was placed, looking up Tony followed the luminous blue glowing path that wound its way deep into the forest with his eyes.

"It looks like a type of iolite," Bruce leant around Hela to inspect the stone, "Except its giving off its own luminescence. Much like the leaves of this forest," Bruce looked up the tall dark bark up to the swaying white pine needles, glistening and shining faint white gleam.

"Now that we are out here, I can see that this really is another world," Tony grinned at the softly glowing green moss and purple fungus interspersed around the trees, "If you ever got a team of botanists here they'd probably never want to leave."

Hela chuckled at the mortal's curiosity about her Realm, unable to help herself from ribbing them a little, "If you had come with us on our Hunt instead of hiding in your rooms, you would have had all night to explore to your heart's content."

"I don't know if you've noticed, though I am sure you did," Tony mock scowled at Hela's smirk, "That when you godnapped us we didn't have time to grab anything. If I had my suit I could have easily joined."

"I am not exactly comfortable with hunting for sport," Bruce stuttered, "But I have hunted when I needed food when I was on the run. Just not quite like ... that."

"The Hunt fulfils many purposes," Hela replied as she slowed her gait to match the humans, "We hunt for sport, yes, but nothing is wasted. We use the furs for cloaks and rugs," Hela smiled, "And the meat from our hunt will be the centrepiece of our feast."

"We'll be eating creepy ghost deer?" Tony shuddered so hard that he lost grip of Hela's elbow, causing Hela to laugh.

"Creepy ghost deer is a delicacy," She smirked at Tony's pout at the teasing, "Don't shun it till you've tried it, Tony dear."

"Yes Mom," Tony teased back, enjoying Hela's delighted giggles.

"This path is pretty winding," Bruce mused, letting go of Hela's other elbow to investigate a strange fungus that was letting off sparkles, "Are you sure we're safe?"

"Of course," Hela smirked as she continued down the path, white mist slowly beginning to twirl around her ankles, "The path is enchanted. Those who step onto it are protected. You cannot accidentally leave the path, minimising chances of getting lost. Nor can anything step onto the path unless I've allowed it. You are completely safe here. Just follow the path and you will reach your destination safely."

"Still," Tony turned to peer into the glowing wood, "It's amazing that all of this life can exist in such a cold place." Tony glanced down noticing a tide of low lying mist was rolling in, swirling and eddying around his ankles. "It must be cold if the fog is so low," Tony mused, turning to question his companions, "I wonder if-" Tony froze when he realised he had been surrounded by the fog and could see no sign of Hela or Bruce.

"Oh ... You have got to be kidding me. Of course, I manage to lose my science bro and our literal guide through Hel," Tony muttered, weighing the options on whether it was smart to call out for help or not, trying to peer through the thick fog, standing rigid and still, "And just like an idiot in a horror movie or a fairytale, I let go of my anchor. Stupid, Tony, stupid stupid stupid."

"I always thought you were. It's good to see you're finally agreeing with me, Anthony."

"....." Tony knew that voice. That light-toned, condescending, husky voice, for once not slurred on top-shelf booze. "... Aw shit."

-----

"Tony? Hela?" Bruce pushed through the fog, making sure to follow the glowing blue stones that he could see glittering through the mist. "I can't have possibly lost them so quickly ..."

"What's the matter Freak?" Bruce froze stiff, eyes wide as he heard that voice, that drawling, hateful, angry voice, that filled his nightmares. "Lost? Alone? You should be."

Bruce clamped his eyes shut, hunched his shoulders up and ducked his head down in a remembered protective pose to try and protect his neck, head and face.

"You fucking little freak. I knew I should have gotten rid of you when I had the chance."

"You can't be here," Bruce spoke as loud as he could, even though he did not move or open his eyes, repeating what he always did when his mind conjured up this memory, "You're dead."

"How about you use your fucking brain for a moment you mutant freak," the apparition that Bruce was steadfastly denying the existence of, "We're in Hell aren't we? I certainly don't deserve to be here, but you definitely do."

"Excuse me?!" Bruce's eyes snapped open, blaring green, blazing through the fog to try and find the owner of that voice, "You're the one who murdered Mom, Dad!"

Brian Banner's deranged, wheezing cackles were a thing Bruce thought he'd never have to listen to again, as he watched his father, in stained jeans, ragged oversized shirt, ratty blond hair and bushy moustache, sickly complexion and sunken crazed blue eyes stagger crookedly out of the fog along the path - exactly as he'd been the last time he had seen his father.

"You're the reason your mom's dead, Freak. Not me. If she hadn't given birth to you," the ghostly image of Brian Banner sneered, "We'd have lived long and happy lives."

"That's not true. I know it's not," Bruce shook his head minutely, shaking away some of the old fear that had crippled him in his youth, repeating the mantra in his head he had learned in counselling to keep his calm and stood up straight as he could, "You were an abusive alcoholic, a sub-par scientist, who got drunk at work and caused an explosion and lost your job, who then became a dead-beat who boozed and beat your wife and child. Whither I had been born or not," Bruce frowned at the figment, "You would have continued to ruin not only your life but Mom's as well. There was a reason she tried to get us away from you. And you murdered her."

------

"Look at how pathetic you are now, Boy," Tony couldn't help flinching at that old word, "Weaponless, defenceless ... this wouldn't have happened if you kept to the weapons business."

"Seriously?" Tony scoffed, crossing his arms as he looked at the ghostly spectre of Howard Stark, wrinkled grey suit, receding and thinning white hairline, moustache, and face stuck in a moue of distaste, "You come back from the grave to bitch at me about the company? Without even saying hello? I'm practically oozing with the warm and fuzzies," Tony drawled, rolling his eyes at the scowling ghost, "Hi to you too Howard."

"Stark men are made of iron," Howard scorned, "Maria and The Help spoiled you, there's no doubt about that," the apparition smirked at Tony's dark scowl, "If I'd had my way, I'd have shipped you off to military school. They'd have beat some steel into that pansy spine."

"Their names were Edwin and Ana Jarvis," Tony growled, infuriated, "Without them and Mom I'd have just been another little toy soldier for you, but I guess you would have wanted that," Tony scoffed, "Funnily enough, being shipped off to MIT at 15 was the best thing you could have ever done," Tony smirked, "I may not have gotten into Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, but at MIT I met my best friend Rhodey."

"That gator bait," Howard snarled, ignoring Tony's infuriated face, "I told Maria he was a bad influence on you."

"Yeah, because Rhodey could spot your bullshit from a mile away," Tony spat back in the ghosts face, "Without him? I'd still be running my self ragged to get 'Daddy's approval', which I was never going to get." Tony scoffed with a head shake, "You never cared about me. You only cared about what I could get you. You only cared about your frozen boy toy and unfulfilled war hero dreams."

"Steve Roger's is 10 times the man you'll ever be, Boy! Show a real Hero some goddamn respect!" Howard's ghostly eyes turned flinty in fury.

"Real hero?" Tony laugh was cold and harsh, "That idiot was a test dummy, with no training, dressed in spandex and thrown into machine-gun fire and shrapnel. Everything special about him came out of a bottle."

"Don't make me smack you Boy!"

"Just try it old man," Tony growled with dark brown eyes, "It wouldn't be the first time."

-------

"I knew there was something wrong with you the moment you were born," Brian Banner sneered, prowling up and down the forest floor along the edge of the luminescent pebbled path, "I told Rebecca that I didn't want kids, I knew that explosion in Los Alamos had affected me on the genetic level. I knew," he snarled, "I knew the moment you were born, exactly what you were. I knew I had been right, and all my fears proved true. You were a monster created from both the radiation I was exposed to and the 'monster gene'."

"You're deranged," Bruce scowled shaking his head sadly, crossing his arms, "You made me lie to the authorities about witnessing my mother's murder, only to be caught bragging about murdering your own wife while drunk in a bar. I went into the foster system while you were in prison and put in a mental institution. You're insane," Bruce took a deep stabilising breath, "And I don't miss you."

"Why you little-"

"I couldn't have said it better Honey."

Stunned, Bruce turned blinking at a vision he thought he would never see again, a face he only vaguely remembered. Dressed in a pale pink long skirt and pale blue top, long straight dark brown hair the exact same shade as his, and pretty brown eyes.

"Rebecca ..." Bruce glanced over at Brian to see the ghost of his father staring at the woman, stunned, then turned back to her beautiful form, realising this must have been what his mother looked like.

"You just ignore anything he says Honey," Rebbeca Banner smiled at Bruce, eyes shiny with tears, "He's just a dead man that's full of nothing but hot gas."

"You fuckin-"

"No Brian!" Bruce's mom yelled, pushing out a hand that emitted a ghostly wave that knocked the weedy man ass of tea-kettle to land in the leaf matter flat on his face, "You don't get to speak to us. Not anymore. I'll not let you harm my Baby. Not ever again."

-----

"You will do no such thing, Howard Stark."

Tony's eyes widened and quickly spun to face a voice and face that Tony cherished almost above all others.

"Mama ..."

"Maria, I-"

"No, Howard," Maria Stark's fair features were stunning even when she was looking down her nose at you, "I feel you have said, quiet enough."

"I quite agree." Tony turned to the grinning visage of Hela who finally waltzed out of the mist. "I look back and find I had lost my little ones in the mists of the forest," the goddess smirked, "I really should learn to keep a better eye on you."

"Lady Death," Maria curtsied gracefully while Howard scoffed, earning a glare from his wife at her husband's rudeness.

"Maria, it's always nice to see you," Hela smiled, "But you usually don't wander into this part of the Realm."

"I felt my Baby was near, I couldn't help myself," Maria gave a graceful helpless shrug, laying loving eyes on her flabbergasted son, "I worried that my idiota of a husband would try a foolish ambush of sorts ... It appears I was not far from the mark."

"Now, Maria, I-"

"You, however," Hela turned her eyes onto Howard (did he actually just gulp?), "Know that you are not allowed in this part of Realm," he eyes seemed to bleed even more red as she bared her pearly white fangs, "Braking the rules are we, Stark?" Hela tutted at Howard's cowed silence, "This will not do. 2 souls leaving their cells and roaming where they are not allowed," Hela grinned as the fog moved and beside them appeared Bruce, as if he had always been there, blinking and standing as close as he could to the ghostly form of his Mom, with Brian still eating dirt. "I'm afraid you are going to have to be punished."
Before Howard could do more than open his mouth and Brian whipped up his ghostly head from the dirt with a face full of fear, Hela merely snapped her claw-tipped fingers, poofing away the souls like white smoke.

In the ensuing silence, Hela turned to the two ghostly mothers with a gentle smile, "I appreciate you taking care of my guests. I am aware that they are your sons, but we will have to schedule a proper time so you can have some one-on-one time with your loved one." The two ghostly women nodded, giving a smile to their sons before their forms faded into the mist. Hela turned to the 2 stunned mortals with a grin, "We, however, have a feast to get to. We should not leave my uncle and mother waiting."

Chapter Text

Hela leads her two quite mortals slowly out of the forest, smiling as she saw the rest of her family at the feast site. Upon seeing their missing members, Nari and Narfi gave cawing cheers, flapping in greeting, perched on either of Thor's hulking shoulders. Thor and Loki, back in their 'normal' forms, turned to look up, faces hopeful, then pleased to see their missing companions finally joining them, though slowly turning to concern on seeing the human's pale faces.

"Niece, we were starting to wonder where you had gone." Thor's not-at-all inside voice boomed, echoing in the open chilly night air.

"Worry not Uncle," Hela smiled as she directed her two silent mortals to a log seat close to the silver-multi-toned fire for warmth, "I have fetched our distinguished guests, and now the Yule feast can truly begin."

"Hela ..." Loki's stern chiding tone made Hela grin, though their eyes never left their mortals wan complexion, "Which path exactly did you take to bring our vassals hence?"

"Hmm?" the goddess purred benignly, "We decided to take the shortest route, through Skogsrå forest."

"Niece!" Thor barked, alarmed as he sat bolt-upright, "Isn't that the forest where souls are tested? Why would you take them through there?"

"Hela," Loki growled, looking decidedly not pleased.

"Peace," Hela soothed, "I was not testing our guest's souls. I have already seen what lies at the depths of their hearts," Hela smiled warmly down at the two mute mortals who sat blinking at the fire, "And have never seen them wanting. They are precious to me," Hela purred as she sat down next to Tony to pat his hair fondly, "I would make sure no harm befell them."

"Then why do they not speak?" Thor boomed, about to stand up from his seat only to be reprimanded by his nephews who pecked him till he sat back down again.

"I can hear you, you know," Tony snarked, giving a weak smirk.

"Freyr! Are you well?" Loki started to fuss, letting loose wisps of green magic to caress Tony and Bruce's skin.

"We're fine Loki," Tony gave a weak huff as he lent into the familiar feeling the green seiðr gave him, "Just harassed by dick-bag ghosts. Nothing more."

"A bag of dicks?" Sleipnir tilted his pure white head curiously, "I thought only benign or good-natured spirits roamed the higher levels?"

"It appears in all the excitement at least 2 souls managed to slip out of the lower levels," Hela mused, eyes turning glazed as she seemed to be peering into the nothingness. "They are being sufficiently punished."

"If you need help rounding up any escapees, Niece, just say the word," Thor blazed with protective fury, as Jörmungandr slithered around the fire pit and up to curl around Bruce in a snakey hug, allowing the doctor to gently pat his head.

"Bruce," Jörmungandr gently hissed to his fellow spice lover, "Are you well?"

"... I saw my mother."

Everything but the roaring fire seemed to freeze as Bruce's mumbled words travelled into the frigid air.

"... I had never seen a picture of her," Bruce stared, hypnotised into the flames, "And she died when I was very young, so I don't have very many surviving memories of her ... ... She was beautiful."

"Indeed?" Jörmungandr purred as he moved his coils to support the doctor more comfortably.

"I always wondered where I got my eyes and hair from," Bruce mused absently, "I looked nothing like my dad."

"You're lucky," Tony turned to his fellow scientist with a small commiserating grin, "I can't tell you how many old Generals still tell me that I'm the spitting image of my old man. Honestly, I don't see it personally," Tony huffed, "Maria obviously held all the looks in the family."

Bruce dragged his eyes away from the fire to give Tony a small smile, "I assume then ... that you saw your mother too?"

"Yeah ..." Tony's smile softened with nostalgia, "Mama had always been the strong one, the one that held the reigns in family life, and kept Howard under control as much as she could. She was always busy," Tony's eyes trailed off to stare back at the fire, "But she at least always tried. Can't say the same for dear ol' dad."

"... My dad killed my mom."

Tony's neck almost cracked with how sharply he turned back towards Bruce, eyes wide in shocked fury.

"... For years I had suppressed the memories," Bruce continued to smile gently at his friend's culpable fury, "I had been very young, so I don't remember much, even after counselling. But I do remember that he killed her when he caught her trying to escape with me. He murdered her right in front of me." Bruce looked up at the stars and aurora above as he proudly stated, "My mom died trying to save us."

"Damn Brucie," Tony moved closer to hug Bruce, including Jörmungandr in the process, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Bruce softly shook his head, "I was very young, as I said, so I really don't remember much. I do remember that Dad told me if I told anyone what he did that I would burn in Hell." Bruce huffed a laugh at Tony's angry growl.
"But you know?" Bruce turned in Tony's arms to be face to face with the other scientist, so close that they were practically breathing the same air, "The only reason I became so accepting of my past was because of you. You encouraged me to seek professional help. You researched, interviewed and vetted every single doctor, and paid for every session. Honestly? I'd be an emotional wreck without you," Bruce gently rested his temple against the stunned inventors, "I'd also still be on the run from the military and government agencies. You've given me a safe place to rest, to move, grow and to be. This is the most stable I have been in years. Thank you, Tony." Bruce generously ignored Tony's flushed face as he drew back slightly to gaze up at Hela's beaming blue gorgeous face. "Thank you, Lady Death, for letting me have this, this moment of closure. Closure I never thought I would ever get."

"You are welcome Eir," Hela purred at the doctor's light blush at the nickname.

Bruce and Tony lightly startled when they felt something soft and warm being draped over their shoulders, glancing up they saw Loki and Thor leant over them, placing warm fluffy fur blankets, white on one side, black on the other.

"You need not fret, Freyr, Eir," Thor rumbled with a warm smile, "We are your family now."

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry, what?" Bruce blinked, balancing a plate of food on his lap sitting around the silver bonfire, looking at Thor who had tilted his head quizzically, "How many days do you feast for Yule?"

"The custom is usually 12 days, but we've been known to hold longer celebrations," Thor smiled in remembrance, "The celebration typically lasts as long as the ale stocks do. And being the royal palace," Thor shrugged with a smirk, "We are rarely ever in short supply."

"Why so long?"

"Traditionally," Hela explained from her place sitting next to her mother, "Yule is celebrating the end of winter, or the end of the year, and celebrating the beginning of spring. Asgard has its own traditions of celebrating Yule, with Odin All-Father acting as host, the celebration usually centres around him, his achievements and power, and 'gifts' certain days of Yule for whoever he chooses, and everyone feasts in their honour. It goes without saying that we decided long ago we would shape our own traditions."

"Yeah, no kidding," Tony huffed as he put down his mug of spiced tea, "I may be egotistical and parties and events I host usually end up being all about me," Tony shrugged unrepentantly, "I never go out with that intention, but there will always be people willing to kiss my ass, thinking all the flattery will earn them a fat check. But I get the sneaky suspicion, that the All-Daddy manufactured the holiday to be that way."

"Must you call him that?" Thor groaned, to his nephew's chuckles.

"Odin calls himself the god of all Holy Days," Loki sniffed as they swirled their wine glass filled with what looked like liquid fire, "So he is usually the focal point and presides over all of the events. We eat what he tells us too, dance as he tells us too ... you get the idea."

"Well that doesn't sound any fun," Tony frowned, "I'm surprised you are so gung-ho about celebrating to begin with."

"We had heard tales of Midgardian Yule's of yore," Thor's eyes sparkled, "Now that we are ... currently absent from Asgard and unable to attend to the All-Father's court for the Holy Days," the golden god grinned joyously, "We can now hold the kind of Yule we want to!"

"Finally," Loki scoffed snidely, "If I had to sit through one more feast of the same meats for days on end or try to listen to buffoons try to sing when they can rarely find the right end of an axe to hold, on a good day and off the mead ... I would not be responsible for my actions."

"Is it true," Bruce posited with a sly small smirk, "That the Aesir have only one cook, Andhrímnir, who only cooks one meal, out of a boar called Sæhrímnir, in one pot called Eldhrímnir?"

Thor burst out laughing so hard the sky cracked with white lightning, face going red as he fell over backwards off of his log seat in peals of laughter.

"That is shockingly close to how it feels," Loki snickered interspersed with restrained hiccups, "Andhrímnir is the head chef. His 'signature dish'," Loki paused for Thor's roar of laughter from behind the log, legs kicking in the air, "Is affectionately called Sæhrímnir, which is essentially boiled boar. It is Odin's favourite, so he demands it be the centrepiece of every feast. Frigga reviles the stuff, as rightly most do, as Andhrímnir cooks it to Odin's exacting tastes. Boiled to the point that the meat is soft and tasteless, usually served with limp boiled greens."

Tony burst of giggles made the party turn to watch as the inventors face turned pink as he gasped through his giggles, "Oh my god! Odin eats like an old man with dentures!"

"Everyone calls Andhrímnir 'Old Sooty'," Thor giggled as he slowly climbed his way back up onto his seat, "As he slaves away at his old pot, Eldhrímnir, or as we call it, 'fire-sooty'. The two have come to resemble each other; short, wide, pot-bellied and covered in soot. The two are inseparable, as Andhrímnir is perceivably never apart from his pot so as to create Odin's favourite meal for every meal, Sæhrímnir, which we refer to as the 'sooty sea-beast'."

"Anything would be considered a sea-beast if you boil it in salty water for long enough," Bruce mused faux seriously to renewed giggles.

"Has no one pointed out to Odin that no one likes his favourite dish?"

"And have the ire of the All-Father pointed your way? Oh, dear Freyr, no," Loki chuckled, slowly shaking their head, "No one has ever dared to speak up against the ruler of the Nine Realms."

"So you're forced to eat tasteless boiled pork for every meal," Tony scrunched his nose in distaste, "even on holidays." Tony turned to Thor who had finally righted himself on his seat, "No wonder you eat anything that's put in front of you. Anything would be exciting compared to boiled pork."

"The sweets are my favourite," Thor beamed.

"Looks like you and Fenrir are similar in that regard," Loki smirked at their son's moody growls and Thor's delighted chuckles, ruffling his nephew's thick black hair.

"Normally I would advise against eating the same meal every day or ingesting nothing but sweets," Bruce gave a small smile, "But the Jotun and Asgardian constitution is truly a marvel. And as I am not Asgardian dietitian," Bruce shrugged, "I couldn't even begin to fathom what constitutes as a healthy Asgardian diet."

"We definitely do not plan to have any pork at our feasts," Hela chuckled at her mother's theatrical shudder, "I hope that doesn't upset you? It is my understanding that ham is a traditional festive staple."

"I never really had any Christmases growing up in the foster system," Bruce shrugged, "So it doesn't really bother me."

"My Anya was Jewish," Tony shrugged as well, "And as the Jarvis' are the ones who practically raised me, I usually celebrated with them. A kind of a mix between Hanukkah for Ana and British Christmas for Edwin," Tony smiled nostalgically. "We never really ate pork or shellfish. The only time I did was when I was older and forced to attend galas and company events with my parents. But even then it was only in little aperitifs and high dining morsels. Not exactly the traditional Christmas food."

"What is Hanukkah?" Nari tilted his head curiously as he sat perched next to his uncle.

"Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights," Tony explained as he remembered Ana explaining to him when he was young, "Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, where there are eight candles, and each night, one additional candle is lit until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the festival. I think it's supposed to honour the memory of Jewish rebels retaking one of their temples from the grasp of the Greeks who prosecuted them," Tony grinned sharply, "It was very much like my Anya to celebrate victory over tyranny."

"I wasn't aware you celebrated Jewish holidays," Bruce remarked interestedly.

"... Honestly? After the Jarvis' died I couldn't bring myself to continue the tradition," Tony ducked his head bashfully, scrubbing a hand at the back of his neck. "Howard was always against having any obviously Jewish symbols in the mansion, so we hid our candles in the servant's wing kitchen. And after my parent's death? Obadiah dragged me around everywhere to be the face of the company and wasn't given much time to morn or breath. I guess in the ensuing years ... I forgot."

"Be at peace Freyr," Hela cooed with gentle red eyes, "Edwin and Ana understand and have never been angry over it."

"Well," Tony breathed, blinking suspiciously wet eyes, "That's nice to know."

"It may not be the same thing," Sleipnir leaned forward, "But we light candles in memorium of loved ones who passed, and also on Mōdraniht. We can add a day or your eight candles to celebrate rebels as well if you like?"

"What kind of bastardised holiday is your Yule?" Tony gave wet chuckles, "But I am definitely not against spending a whole day celebrating rebelling against tyranny."

"It definitely suits us," Fenrir purred.

"Excuse me," Bruce spoke up politely, "But what is Mōdraniht?"

"Mother's Night," Jörmungandr smiled from his place next to Bruce, "Where we pay homage to mother's, alive or dead, and celebrate female or life barring gods or spirits. Also, The Norns, as they are the weavers of Fate, and mother's to us all."

"Why is this a thing I'm only just now hearing about? That sounds awesome!" Tony rose his eyebrows.

"It appears on Midgard, many things are lost to time," Hela leaned comfortably against Loki who purred at the contact, "But we are glad this year to celebrate Yule in full, with so few missing from our midst."

"12 days to celebrate with your family," Bruce mussed as the god's smiles warmed, "... That doesn't sound so bad at all."

Chapter Text

"Are the flowers necessary?" Tony rose an eyebrow at Hela who chuckled but did not pause her hands in crafting the human a wreath of leaves that held a light smell of lemon, small yellow blossoms, and at Tony's behest of having something at least red, added a few cherries.

"Worried flowers will make you less 'manly' my Freyr?" Thor chuckled, busy weaving little yellow and red flowers into his long golden locks, himself bearing a leafy crown full of juniper berries at his brow.

"Hey. I have nothing against flowers themselves," Tony assured with a dramatic snooty huff, "I don't take any stock into all that 'toxic masculinity' bullcrap."

"Then what is the issue?" Bruce glanced over, himself entranced by Jörmungandr's skilful blue claw-tipped fingers spinning a crown for him too, full of purple blooms and puffs of white.

"Do not worry, Tony," Hela smiled as she gently secured the flower crown onto the inventor's head, "I assure you, adorning you with blossoms only accentuates your beauty."

"Beautiful. That's me," Tony nods in agreement to Bruce's snort.

"And so modest," Jörmungandr chuckled as he finished Bruce's wreath and gently laid it among the doctor's brown curls.

"I speak only from fact," Tony sniffed, "My mama always said she wished she had my long eyelashes and big brown eyes."

"I have seen pictures of you when you were a kid," Bruce smiled at Jörmungandr in thanks, joining the world serpent in standing and moving to join the group, "You were unusually pretty for a boy."

"It's a curse," Tony mournfully agreed, "Because of my pretty big eyes and eyelashes, I remember kids teasing me about being a girl, or when I skipped grades and went to MIT I kept being called jail bait or a twink," Tony shrugged, "Mama and Anya always told me they were just jealous of my pulchritudinous face."

"Well, it's a good thing that you get to give thanks to your mother's tonight," Hela smiled, donning her own flower wreath of black lilies and blood-red roses on her ghost-white hair, "We should also not leave my brothers and mother waiting."

"Brother is so excited that they can finally truly celebrate Mōdraniht," Thor beamed, blue eyes lightened to shallow ocean blue in his delight, "In Asgard, Loki would drink to their birth mother, then to Frigga as the Queen, acting in her role as 'parens patriae' and mother for all the children in her realms. Then they would excuse themselves to their chambers to light a candle for each of you. Loki has dearly missed you all."

"And we missed mother as well," Hela nodded.

"Which is why Mother is leading the ceremony tonight," Jörmungandr smiled, "I am greatly anticipating this, a truly special Mōdraniht."

"Which I suspect will be special for us all," Hela grinned as she herded everyone out of the palace's sitting room and out into the snow.

Shivering slightly, Tony snuggled down into the fur blanket that had been gifted to him the other night, fingers tracing the golden thread and broach that clipped the blanket around his shoulders like a cloak, also marvelling at the white leather boots that the gods had fashioned for Tony and Bruce from the Wild Hunt's deerskin. They were beautifully crafted pieces, something Tony suspected no mortal hand could create. Bruce had also marvelled that the deer that they hunted down must truly be massive, as they had fashioned them both fur blanket/capes, leather boots, jackets and gloves. And still had fur left over to make gifts to give among themselves and create a new rug for Hela's palace floors. Not to mention enough meat to feed a family of gods who planned to feast for 12 days.
Tony was half tempted to ask to see how they had crafted such items if seiðr had been used, which he highly suspected. If seiðr could be used to craft such exquisite items ... what else could it craft?

Luckily for Tony and Bruce's nerves, they did not wander into the forest this time, instead, they were lead to an alcove not far from the palace, a three-tiered black marble altar adorned with evergreen, copper bowls with a mixture of roses, sage and other plants, and a truly staggering amount of pure white candles. Over it all was an arch of knarled ancient wood woven into knots and weaves.
Standing at the altar with their back to them, stood Loki, dressed in a long green robe with gold filigree and wide sleeves. Their hair was much longer than Tony ever remembered it being, longer even than Hela's shoulder-length locks. Perched on their raven black locks was a headdress; tall curved golden horns that seemed to scrape the galaxy filled sky, twined with vines, evergreen, and a truly beautiful array of pink and white carnations, anemone, columbine and dahlias.

Loki turned and smiled at them, green eyes practically dancing. "There are our stragglers."

"I'm sorry we kept you Loki-Doki. Thor took his time making himself beautiful for the occasion," Tony smirked, chuckling at Thor's proud pose.

"Now that we are all properly attired," Loki smiled as they reached over and fixed a drooping wildflower in Fenrir's mane, "We can begin proceedings."

"What exactly are we doing?" Bruce fiddled with his flower crown, till Jörmungandr gently shooed his hands away from messing up all his hard work.

"I have lit the candles, and blessed the bowls," Loki calmly explained as they reached over to pick up long bundles of sage, rose, lavender, rosemary and a bunch of other sprigs wrapped up in bark, vine and twine. They handed out the strange sticks to all, smiling as they explained, "Then we take these smudge wands, which I have also blessed, which I will light. Worry not," Loki grinned at Tony's furrowed brow, "I have spelled them to be safe, you will not get burned."
Loki dipped a hand into one of the copper bowls and began swiping the foreheads of everyone in attendance, even themselves, leaving a slightly oily rosey smear.
"As I light the wands, please close your eyes and lightly breath in the smoke. Again," Loki assured the humans with a gentle smile, "It won't harm you. In fact, it will smell quite pleasant. With our eyes closed, we will silently pray and give words of thanks to our mothers, and the Norns, the Mothers of Fate."

Smiling at Tony and Bruce's serious nods, Loki summoned their green flame to their fingertips, going along the line and lighting the end of each wand, which did not catch alight like Tony would have thought, but only lightly smouldered and burned into embers, wafting gentle curls of white smoke up past the attendee's faces and up into the aroura strung sky.

As Loki lit Tony's smudge wand, they smiled warmly down at them, leaving Tony to close his eyes and calmly breath. Tony was surprised that the smoke did actually smell quite nice. In fact, there were hints in it that reminded him of something, a faint memory that niggled at his brain. He took a deeper sniff to take in all the notes, and finally realised that it reminded him of perfume, perfume from his childhood. The sweet floral scent of Maria's favourite perfume, a scent that lingered a depressingly short time in her boudoir after her death, the only place a trace of her remained that wasn't smothered in Howard's overpowering stink.
He remembered Howard's cologne, overbearing, musky and potent - the kind of old man cologne Tony refused to ever put on his skin, even when it was a brand deal. He always claimed he was allergic to it.
Shaking thoughts of his sperm donor out of his head, Tony also smelled whiffs that reminded him of Ana Jarvis's perfume, a light rose scent that was practical but also pleasant and sweet. He also smelled Jarvis's cologne; woodsy like the English countryside. The two scents always flowed so pleasantly together, much like the Jarvis' themselves, acting much like the sun and moon, always seeming to rotate around a young Tony, surrounding him in gentle and sometimes stern care. Traces of them had been even harder to find. It took a pitifully short time for Obidiah to have all effects of the Jarvis' thrown out of the mansion after Jarvis' heart attack, days after Ana's own passing from cancer.

Leaving Tony all alone.

"I am terribly sorry, young Sir. I did not mean to leave you."

With a stuttered gasp Tony opened his eyes and rapidly looked around for the voice, realising he was no longer standing in the snow in front of an alien altar, or next to Thor's hulking mass that acted as a furnace. Instead, it was like he was in the spooky forest again, except he could see no trees, just thick swirling fog.

"Oh fuck. I'm dead."

"Language young Sir!"

Spinning Tony gapped as he laid eyes on who could only be Edwin Jarvis, just as he remembered him before his untimely death. In his clean butler's suit and waistcoat, shined black leather shoes, shiny sterling silver pocket watch and chain, neatly side-parted brown hair with dignified streaks of grey, and kind smiling green eyes.

"S-sorry, Jarvis," Tony found himself automatically replying with numb lips.

"Oh, go easy on him, Darling," A beautiful redhead, with hair set in a curled perm and pinned up, dressed in a tasteful floral dress and smart black heels walked up to Jarvis and lightly smacked the slightly austere man on the arm, "Can't you see young Tony needs a moment?"

"Sorry, Dear." Edwin turned with a besotted smile to the woman, one Tony remembered always came over Jarvis' face when looking at his wife.

"... Anya ..."

Glancing over, Ana's green eyes were glistening with unshed tears. "Oh, Baby," Ana sniffed, not giving Tony or anyone else a chance to react, and charged forward with her arms wide and gathered Tony in her arms like he was 9 years old again, snuggling her cheek next to his. "Tony, Darling. You have been so strong! So brave!"

"Have I?" Tony uttered, partly stunned, but strongly wishing this delusion wouldn't end, "I really don't feel like I have, to be honest."

"Nonsense," Edwin huffed in mild offence, brushing non-existent lint off of his suit, "You must know that we are deeply proud of you, young Sir. I am sure that Lady Death forwarded on our feelings in this regard."

"She said something to that effect," Tony gave a weak smile at Jarvis' stuffiness (God how he'd missed it).

"And it's thanks to Lady Death and the God's that we can meet like this again," Smiled Maria as she walked out of the fog to stand next to Edwin, her greying hair dyed blond in an elegant updo, pearl necklace at her throat, dressed in an equally elegant dove grey formal woman's suit with a pencil skirt and pearly heels. Just as she had been, that day sitting at the piano and singing "Try To Remember" from her favourite musical 'The Fantasticks' ... before she had left with Howard and Tony never saw her again.

"Mama," Tony coughed so he didn't sound so watery or trembly, "It's nice to see you again."

"Same, Dear Anthony," Maria's smile was as graceful as her entire being, even her small frown was elegant, "I can only apologise for Howard's foolish actions. Being dead for these last few decades has not made him kinder, it seems."

"Sir's actions were indeed regrettable," Edwin's face as perturbed as Tony had ever seen him allow it, "It may be uncharitable of me to speak so of a past employer, but if I may be so bold? It gladdens me that Howard Stark is finally made to face the consequences of some of his past actions."

"Loosen up Edwin," Maria smiled, patting the man gently on the arm, "You serve no one in death."

"My dear sweet Edwin will always be a stereotypical English butler at heart I'm afraid," Ana grinned at her husband who merely sniffed at them and turned to look away.

"Not that this reunion isn't the stuff of dreams," Tony quipped as he held unto Ana's hand when she drew back with a smile, "But I am a bit concerned that we are in a foggy landscape, and ... you know ... you're here."

"You aren't dead, Dear," Ana chuckled, righting the flower crown on Tony's head and patting his hair lovingly.

"It is serendipitous of you to mention dreams, young Sir," Edwin nodded, turning back to smile warmly upon Tony and his lovely wife, "As that is indeed where we currently reside, in a sense."

"That smoke knocked me out?" Tony blinked.

"I believe the ceremony is to help you to reach out to the soul or essence of your loved ones who had nurturing roles in your life," Maria smiled, with a side glance at Edwin's light blush, "In your case, Bambino, the draw was just a bit stronger, but this also means we can meet like this."

"So ... you go again when I wake?" Tony's hand tightened on Ana's hand unintentionally in a flash of panic.

"Darling Fiam, you should know we will never leave you. I believe I told you so at my hospital bed," Ana smiled, resting a gentle manicured finger against his breast, over his heart, "You are special, Tony. Because we all live in here," Ana tapped her finger over the spot, "And we will never leave you."

"And now that we are all here, at least until the waking world calls on you again," Maria smiled as she walked over to take Tony's other hand, "We will sit and catch up over tea."

"Yes Mama," Tony gave a wet chuckle.

Chapter Text

"I'm not going to lie," Tony mumbled as he tried to stop himself from stumbling over his own feet when the scenery, at Maria's assistance at having tea, suddenly changed from an empty void of swirling fog to a replicated image of the old Italian garden pavilion that Maria had spent many of her free hours in while at the mansion - complete with tall white marble pillars, leafy domed roof and trailing flowering vines, and carved marble table and chairs laden with throw pillows, "I was not expecting a kind of jump cut."

"We are in your dream, Honey," Ana giggled as she fussed with the fur cloak and taking it off of his shoulders, "transporting to a new scene should not be so odd. Plus, we've been dead for a few decades," she smiled warmly, "We've gotten used to not having to walk anywhere."

"I have found it a very efficient way of travel," Edwin smirked as he poofed from his place next to his lovely wife to appear next to the seating arrangement, not a hair or wrinkle out of place.

"Jarvis the teleporting butler," Tony chuckled as he rolled his tense shoulders and cricked his neck, mentally thinking 'fuck it' and decided to just roll with it, "If you had these powers in life you'd have been the ultimate definition of butlerdom."

"That is not a word that exists in the English lexicon, young sir," Edwin sniffed, flicking a wrist to summon a pure white napkin that draped over his wrist, as Maria and Ana appeared in their seats, "I suppose I cannot expect much more from you, as your naming sensibilities have never been your strongest talent. Please, young sir, be seated," Jarvis gave his version of a small smirk, that reminded Tony of one of Loki's secret smiles, "The tea service will be along momentarily."

"The pavilion," Tony glanced around as he sat down, "It's been years since I've seen it."

"It was always my favourite area at the mansion, apart from the pool," Maria smiled.

"Yeah ..." Tony trailed off, still staring at the scenery.

"Something wrong, Bambino?"

"... I don't remember the garden being so ... orange." Tony's eyebrows were meeting his hairline as he glanced around the world outside the pavilion, a small stretch of the half-remembered rose bushes that faded out into the orange void.

"It's your dream, Honey," Ana snickered lightly, "We had nothing to do with the colour scheme."

"... I swear this colour is following me everywhere," Tony grumbled.

"Yes, it has been fascinating learning all about magic from your innamorati, Bambino," Maria smiled at Tony shocked splutters and rosy blush that took over his face.

"It does not even surprise me in the slightest that you have the capability to learn the arts of magic," Ana grinned at Tony's wide-eyed stare at his giggling mother.

"You have always been able to achieve what you put your mind to, young sir," Edwin nodded from Ana's side.

"I'm not that good at it," Tony coughed, mock glaring at Maria's giggling, "And they aren't anything like that to me mama!"

"Nem a szeretőid?" Ana teased with a deadly smirk with her bright red painted lips, "Oh, I highly doubt that."

"Anya," Tony whined, causing Ana to burst into a peel of tinkling laughter. "Save me, Jarvis!" Tony turned his formidable puppy eyes onto Edwin.

"You forget, young sir, that blinking your 'baby browns' at me has never worked," Edwin's smirk widened as he straightened his union jack cufflinks.

"So what? Is this pick on Tony day now?" Tony glanced between the ghosts.

"Oh, of course not, Honey," Ana chuckled, patting grumpy Tony's hand gently, "But you can't fault us on wanting to tease you a little. Why wouldn't we want to hear about our fia love life?"

"What love life?" Tony grumped, folding his arms and slouching in his chair, ignoring Edwin's quiet propriety tutting about posture, "Before becoming Iron Man I only had flings and one night stands. I was basically Howard Jr." Tony scowled. "After getting my chest carved up and my priorities straight, I left that life behind me."

"For which I am grateful," Maria smiled, "There is nothing wrong with exploring your options in young adulthood, Bambino, but I am very glad that you have finally settled. Those la donnaccia were never worth your salt, Dear."

Tony blinked, "I don't think I've ever heard you swear before."

"This is mild," Ana grinned, "Maria has had stronger words, even when we were alive, and usually aimed at her husband."

"Many an afternoon tea, when young sir was away, was spent lamenting over Sir's actions thus," Edwin nodded, summoning a silver tray tea trolley into existence, and began setting the table.

As Tony watched the tea service be served, he felt his eyes begin to itch, and his chest clench painfully. On a pure unstained table cloth, Jarvis placed the fine china tea set, the rose set, which Jarvis exclusively used for serving afternoon teas, as it was the nicer set, steam flowing out of the fine china smelling of Edwin's favourite Earl Grey tea. A silver three-tier afternoon tea stand; top tier laden with buttery, fluffy English scones, with sides of lemon curd, strawberry and blueberry jam, Devonshire cream, and butter, alongside Ana's favourite apple tortes. Second-tier was decorated with madeleines, Maria's favourite Amaretti, a bowl of blueberries, and an assortment of cupcakes and strudel. The last tier held the savoury; finger sandwiches, Caprese Salads, and after meal mints.
A mix of English, Hungarian and Italian cuisine that Tony had not seen since he was 17, with loved ones he had lost shortly thereafter. Loved ones whose voices flowed around him; Ana's easy tinkling laughter, Jarvis' calm baritone, Maria's gently hummed melodies ...

"Tony? Are you alright, Dear?"

A sob tore out of Tony's throat without his permission as his vision blurred and he hunched in on himself, jamming a hand against his mouth to quiet his sobs, the other clenched close to his chest as his body was wracked with trembling and sudden judders. Before anyone else could move, Edwin dropped all formality, falling to his knees at Tony's side and taking him into his arms, tucking Tony's head under his clean-shaven chin and rubbing smooth soothing circles on Tony's back, whispering assurances and seeming to hold Tony together with his surprisingly strong arms. It made Tony's mind flashback to when he was a little boy and Jarvis would always comfort him, exactly like this, after one of Howard's drunken or angry outbursts.

"It has been hard, young sir, I understand," Edwin's warm baritone seemed to infuse him much like his comforting, "Believe me, it has been difficult to witness your life since my passing, without any feasible way that I may intervene and save you the hardship or heartbreak. Not that I thought you would not always rise above, as you always manage to do. But I wished ... to spare you from life's harshness, whenever I could. I'll be first to admit, I did not always succeed in my goal."

"You c-can't control everything Jarvis," Tony mumbled with a sniff.

"No," Edwin agreed with a smile, "I could not. But I could have stood to stand up to my employer more. Given Howard Stark, a good old, what for."

"But then you would have been in jail Edwin," Ana teased, "Then where would that have left me?"

"I have no doubt you would have been right there beside me," Edwin smiled at his lovely wife, who threw her head back and laughed unrestrainedly.

"I know there were many a time I wanted to wring Howard's neck," Maria agreed, softly turning to Tony who was gazing up at them with wet eyelashes, "I am sorry also, Bambino. For not being able to protect you more, but also for upsetting you so. It wasn't our intention. We have been here for so long and watching over your life ... it feels like we never truly left. But I understand it does not feel that way to you." Maria smiled as Edwin gently righted her son on his chair, producing one of Edwin's many embroidered hankies and dabbing at Tony's face.

"Here, Honey," Ana placed a cup of Tony's favourite Italian roasted coffee in front of him, ignoring Edwin's sniff, "Edwin can forgive us for having coffee at his tea service, just this once," she winked.

"You drink your drink, Bambino," Maria soothed, "And we will catch you up all that we have been up to."

"I didn't think there was much to do, in the afterlife?" Tony sniffed before Jarvis handed him another embroidered hanky.

"I believe," Edwin's smile was almost wicked, "We have much to catch you up on."

Chapter Text

Although Bruce Banner would not say that he was particularly happy with being unwittingly dosed with vision inducing narcotic smoke, though he later wondered why the thought hadn't occurred to him, what with all the talk about a ceremony that didn't tip him off, to begin with. But, since breathing in the sweet-smelling smoke that reminded him of his mother's hand made lemonade, then to open his eyes and see his mother once again ... he couldn't say he was actually angry about it. In fact, walking with his mom, arm-in-arm through the gently rolling fog, and finally able to speak to her at length ... he could feel many of his lingering deep-seated feelings of anger slowly fade away.

Rebecca Banner née Drake was a soft-spoken kind woman, with many of the same behavioural habits that Bruce himself exhibited. They spoke at length about realising that their demure habits had come about because of Brian Banner's abuse, but Rebecca was not afraid to show the spine of pure steel that she possessed underneath. She was also not afraid to shower Bruce with praise; of overcoming his cruel childhood, surviving the lacklustre foster system, of becoming a renowned scientist, just as had apparently been his childhood dream.

"I remember, you use to come up to me, tug on my dress, and proclaim you would be a great scientist, daily!" Rebecca chuckled at her son's she blush. "You would point to poor or sick people on the news and declare that you would help them one day. I had no doubts that you would. At first, you said you wanted to be a doctor, but after Brian yelled at you about 'doctors being overpaid quacks' and that 'being a scientist is your only real option if you wanted to achieve anything', you changed your mind and declared you would be a scientist who would help people. I had hoped you would ignore Brian's biased and drunken rambling and decide to become a doctor anyway one day," Rebecca smiled widely at her son with proud twinkling eyes.

"I suppose I did, in a sense," Bruce mumbled as he fiddled with his glasses.

"Dr Robert Bruce Banner M.D," Rebecca proclaimed proudly, "And 7 PhD's, including biochemistry and nuclear physics." Rebecca squeezed Bruce's arm lightly, "I always knew you would be a genius. I knew, from that Christmas morning when you were ... oh, I believe about 4 years old? You woke up early before the sun had even risen, and snuck out to the Christmas tree and opened my gift to you, a model kit. Admittedly it would have been a bit too advanced for a normal child your age, as I had hoped it would be a fun activity for us," Rebecca smiled, "To sit and construct the kit together. I figured you would enjoy it, as you loved constructing with your few legos. But you, sneaky Bruce," Rebecca poked her son's nose gently, "Snuck out at dawn and had it constructed all by yourself by the time either of us had gotten up."

"I ... I'm sorry, I don't remember this," Bruce mumbled bashfully.

"Well Honey, you were only 4 years old. Not many people retain memories from that early in life. In fact, I'm actually glad that you don't recall," Rebecca's brow creased with her slight irritated frown, "Brian ended up having a screaming fit when he saw what you had done, he snapped and smashed your structure, and started yelling at the top of his lungs, calling my son a freak and unnatural. ... Bruce," she turned her stubborn gaze onto her son, declaring, "You were never unnatural, or a freak. The only unnatural one in that house was Brian Banner."

"Thank you Mom," Bruce smiled, truly warmed by his mother's fierce belief and protectiveness of him.

"I mean it. I'm not just saying that" Rebecca squeezed Bruce's arm to try and drive home her point.

"And I am actually beginning to believe you," Bruce smiled at his mother's stubbornness, admiring it, really.
"I've recently come to realise that a lot of the issues I have had for years was because of my deeply repressed memories and feelings of sadness, confusion, betrayal and anger. That 'The Hulk' is a manifestation of all of my repressed emotions. Not a 'freak', or a 'monster', or some twisted dissociative identity disorder. The Hulk is an outlet for my repressed anger that I had no memory or idea ever existed in me." Bruce smiled at his mom squeezing his arm in support. "I think, somewhere, deep in my mind, I remembered my dad calling me a 'mutant monster' ... and that's possibly why the gamma radiation took the form that it did. Though, other's have induced themselves with the radiation and become even bigger rage behemoths that held seemingly no control over themselves. Where I don't always have control ... The Hulk can be calmed and reasoned with. The Hulk isn't mindless ... ... The Hulk is me. I still have my memories while transformed, I can still communicate, although in a limited capacity."

"The Hulk isn't a monster, because neither are you, Honey," Rebecca smiled, leaning her head against her son's shoulder.

"Yeah ... and I think I'm finally beginning to understand that. Thank you, Mom, really," Bruce stopped their slow walk in the fog to wrap his arms around his mother, and really hug her as he had always wished he could have in life.

"What are you thanking me for, silly boy," Rebecca laughed wetly, "You're the one who figured it out and are learning to accept yourself. No one else can do that for you."

"No. But a person really can't learn to love themselves until someone shows them love and care, and shows them that they are worth something. I have my friends who love me, I know," Bruce nodded against Rebecca's silky brown curls, "But they had never really gotten to the seed of the problem, the heart of it." Bruce leaned back and gently wiped a few tears from his mother's cheeks, "It really took seeing you again, remembering you, your love, and what you tried to do for me, and reminding me all over again that I did have a family that loved me. That I was not just a product of a mad scientist." Bruce chuckled along with Rebecca at the strange image of Brian in a stereotypical 'Mad Scientist' outfit and finding it shockingly fitting.

Hearing echoes of unfamiliar laughter, Bruce and Rebecca turned, the doctor raising his eyebrows as the fog was receding and the air was taking on an orange hue, slowly clearing to reveal a garden in the distance, with a pillared pavilion and what appeared to be a crowd of people. A group of adults sat talking under the pavilion while a small group of children ran and played.
Bruce was about to ask his mom if she knew what was going on when he heard the unmistakable timbre of Tony's voice and laughter.

"Tony?" Bruce mumbled out loud in confusion, truly perplexed.

"Oh! Is this your friend? They look like they are having a party! Let's go say hi!"

"I'm not sure that we should interrupt-"

"Oh, shush, Bruce, that's just your insecurities talking," Rebecca pecked the reticent doctor on the cheek, then began dragging her son towards the garden, "This is your best friend! He'd be delighted to see you. Hello!" Rebecca called out joyfully as she almost seemed to bounce over, "Room for two more?"

Tony blinked as he glanced up from something in his arms, and smiled as he laid eyes on the two newcomers.

"Brucie! Brucie's mom! Yes, please, join us! Welcome, welcome," Tony beamed as they approached, arm-in-arm, "And before you ask me how in Hel we are currently sharing a dream right now? Don't bother," Tony shook his head and shrugged his shoulders with a huff, "I still have no clue."

"Asgardian or Jotun magic seems to be the initial cause of this union of realities," an older gentleman with an afghan accent, wearing a cream button-up shirt and grey vest, sitting next to a kind-looking woman who smiled at them over her cup of tea, "Although, I couldn't begin to fathom how such an unfathomable thing would even work. I am not that kind of doctor."

"It's not 'unfathomable', it's seiðr," Tony argued, then turned to Bruce and Rebecca Banner and introduced, "This is Doctor Ho Yinsen and Yinsen's lovely wife. The Ho's, please meet Mrs Banner and Doctor Bruce Banner - mother of best friend and best friend respectfully."

"I thought your 'Rhodey' was your best friend?" Yinsen teased as he and his wife bowed their heads in polite greetings.

"Rhodey is Rhodey. Brucie is Brucie," Tony refuted, "You can't compare the two."

"Doctor Ho, the surgeon that saved Tony's life in Afghanistan," Bruce smiled as he reached out a hand that the older doctor politely shook, "I've always wanted to meet you. Tony accredits you as the one who turned his life around."

"Being confined to a cave and fighting for your life can certainly change a man," Yinsen smirked, "I merely poked and prodded and hoped he would take this old man's advice."

"I certainly did," Tony nodded with a serious face, then smiled as he called Bruce and his mother over to introduce them to his other dream guests. He was halfway through introducing his science bro to his mom, Ana, Jarvis, and pointing out Yinsen's kids who were running around the garden, when a gurgle made them look down to the small bundle in Tony's arms.
"Brucie," Tony smiled, "This is Arno. My older half brother."

"Older ... ah," Bruce murmured as he smiled tremulously at the happily gurgling baby, laying securely in Tony's arms, only really able to move his head, as the 2-3-month-old boy had shortened limbs and malformed hands and feet that left him with limited movement. "Phocomelia syndrome?" Bruce tried to enquire politely.

"His mother took thalidomide, poor wee lamb," Edwin Jarvis cooed over the child as he gurgled.

"Arno was born 1960," Maria gently stroked the baby blond hair, "His mother was a lover of Howard's before we were married. He never claimed Arno as his, though his mother still named him a Stark. Unfortunately, Howard was never rational about these things and threatened her with legal action, and refused to pay child support. There was a news article claiming that a lover of Howard's had snapped and lost their baby who they claimed to be Howard Stark's, but Howard sued the newspaper and the woman, and the whole thing was quickly buried and forgotten. Foolish man," Maria gently took Arno from Tony's arms to cuddle, "Who could ever say no to such a sweet topolino?"

"He is very cute," Rebecca agreed.

"It's a Stark trait, I'm afraid," Tony sighed, shrugging his shoulders mock grudgingly to Yensin's huffing laugh.

"It certainly looks like Arno inherited all the looks," Bruce gave a small smirk at Tony's mock offended pose, enjoying Arno's happy gurgles.

"Aw, come on. I'm pretty cute too," Tony whined.

"Not as much as a baby, Tony, I'm sorry," Yinsen grinned.

"Upstaged. By my own brother," Tony turned to look at Arno dramatically, "Arno, how could you?!"

Chuckles echoing Arno's gurgling laughter echoed in the pavilion, joining the children's, out into the orange sky.

Chapter Text

Tony was almost catatonic with giggles and sliding off of his chair, only to be pulled back upright by a grinning Yinsen as the Jarvis' and his mother regaled him with their stories.

"Oh-Oh my god," Tony hiccuped as he tried to contain his mirth, "I thought Hela, you know, being the God of Death that she is, would be in charge of making people 'pay for their sins' or whatever? Not you!"

"Lady Death is a busy God," Edwin patiently shook his head, "Even she cannot judge every soul."

"It's quite an ingenious system," Maria nodded as she breathed in her Italian coffee, "Who better judges than those who know you best?"

"And don't think we were always petty about it," Ana grinned, "Being dead gives you a different outlook, a different perspective of things you could not have on the mortal realm. You learn to see the forest for the trees."

"I ... think I understand what you're saying," Bruce's scrunched face of intense concentration was pretty much the cutest thing Tony had ever seen.

"No, you don't, Honey," Rebecca patting her son's arm consolingly, "And that's ok. It's a 'being dead' thing."

"But if being dead makes you all-wise, why do people even need to be punished?" Tony pondered, "Do people judge themselves or submit themselves to 'undead arrest' or something?"

"Some people just can't accept that what they did was wrong. You don't suddenly become a paragon of virtues when you kick the bucket," Ana chuckled sardonically with a small head shake, "Your eyes do tend to get forcefully opened to the truth when you shuffle off the mortal coil ... but some people, even when dead, won't accept it. That's where we come in."

"So ... Hela is like the judge, and those already deceased who had anything to do with the recently deceased are like the jury?" Bruce questioned hesitantly.

"In a sense," Yinsen nodded.

"So ... you convicted people who died and had done anything wrong to your loved ones," Bruce turned to Tony with a small smirk, "I imagine Tony kept you busy."

"You have no idea," Maria sighed, turning to smile at her son, "I love you tesoro, but you do tend to make plenty of enemies."

"It's not like I went out of my way to make enemies ... all the time," Tony smirked at Jarvis' sigh and Ana's giggle, "Sure, business and political enemies, I love messing with them. Megalomaniacs, however ... even I don't understand why they always seem to have it in for me."

"And misguided fools who think taking your life is some form of justice," Edwin's slight stern frown was as fierce as Tony had ever seen the butler in his 'proper English butler mode'.

"Well, I can't be everyone's favourite," Tony shrugged glibly, "Besides, the newest would-be assassins seem to have cooled their jets a little bit. They still hate my guts and blame me for their parent's deaths ... but Xavier and Eric seem to be keeping them under wraps."

"Oh, that day was precious," Maria smiled reminiscently, "The day Howard became aware that he almost enrolled his son at a secret mutant facility, and that same son was making allies with said mutants? If he could die again of embarrassment and simultaneous heart attack, he would have. Having the mansion destroyed by a mutant was just the cherry on top. He was already furious you were going to have the mansion demolished, but having a mutant go ahead and destroy it anyway had Howard just beside himself."

"I tried pointing out to Sir that since we are dead, physical property means nothing to us, and that technically, the mansion was yours now, and young sir could do what he wished to it," Edwin sighed, "Alas, Howard Stark rarely if ever was a man willing to listen to reason."

"Brian was much the same," Rebecca nodded, her lips in a moe of distaste, "I was so grateful Lady Death was there with me the day he passed to pass judgment. I may be dead and he can no longer hurt me, but I still did not want to face that man alone."

"I was happy to oblige."

Tony and Bruce blinked as Hela's Asgardian form strode into the garden, hands on her hips as she smirked at the two mortals and their gathered tea party.

"Hela?" Bruce blinked with a head tilt.

"We were starting to wonder where our two vassals had wandered off to, and I volunteered to hunt down our dreamers since souls are really more my domain than Mother's ... only to find our two sleepy heads having a tea party." Hela's amused smirk widened.

"Does this mean the party is over?" Tony couldn't keep a small whine out of his voice wich Hela only chuckled at, "They haven't been able to reveal all the secrets of the universe to us yet!"

"Alas, dear Freyr, Eir, that revelation will have to wait," Hela chuckled with a shake of her head. "I have let you have your fun, but you really should not be so deep in soul sleep for long periods of time if you do not have practice at it. I've only allowed it because I, my brothers, mother and my uncle are here as support and to make sure you don't stray too far."

"Don't worry, Honey," Ana patted Tony's cheek, smirking at the inventor pout, "We are never far, and you can always come back to visit."

Hela's smirk warmed to a smile when she glanced at Bruce's hopeful look. "Yes, with enough practice and control over seiðr, you may attend your tea party once again. But for now, Mother and Uncle are getting antsy."

The assembled ghosts smiled and nodded, bidding the two mortal farewell and promises to catch up again, as the garden and ghosts slowly seemed to fade, like whisps of orange smoke, then into darkness ... until Tony blinked open his sleep heavy eyes to come face-to-face with Loki, lying over his prone body, noses brushing, as they stared into Tony's sleepy browns.

"... Good morning Lokes."

"You've kept us waiting, Freyr," Loki huffed, softly nuzzling their nose against Tony's in a sign of contentment that made Tony blush.

"S-sorry ... had some catching up to do," Tony stuttered, entranced by Loki's emerald laughing eyes.

"Hmm," Loki hummed as they slowly drew back to sit beside Tony on the bed, making him realise he was laid down in his guest room in the palace, "Thor was about ready to summon Mjolnir and demand the dead give us our Vassals back."

"Where is Thor?" Tony blinked around the room sleepily.

"Checking on Eir," Loki smiled warmly, "My Brother never was one to sit still for periods of time. Now, up you get," Loki chuckled at Tony's groan, "No more snoozing. We have a feast to get to."

"How many more feasts are there?" Tony whined as Loki helped him sit up, limbs still not with the program.

"Just a few more, my Freyr," Loki chuckled, "Then we will take you back to your Realm and you can hide away in your laboratories as much as you desire."

"With all this feasting, you're going to have to roll me into my lab at this rate," Tony grumbled, accepting the warm fluffy blanket/cloak from Loki's cool fingers, "Happy is going to have a field day whipping me back into shape."

Loki's chuckles followed Tony's sleepy grumbles as he huddled himself into the blanket and stumbled off to find the Helheim equivalent to coffee.

Chapter Text

Having a Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist's head of surprisingly soft wavy brown hair resting on his lap, on a nest of furs and pillows, in front of a roaring silver multi-hued fire, under an open aroura filled sky of a glittering foreign universe, in a world of snow and forever-night ... was never a place Bruce ever thought he would be. Honestly, he always thought he'd waste away in a shabby lab, underfunded - and after The Hulk, he fully expected to be hiding for the rest of his life and die in a forgotten corner of the world.
Rarely, if ever, did he ever find time to just sit and contemplate, like he was doing with his new best friend using his lap as a pillow, in this quiet moment, surrounded by silence and softly falling snow.

How did he get here? In the company of Gods and futurists, at the very forefront of a new movement? Possibly a new Age? The meeting of God and Man? Of Magic and Science? Working with a team, a family, of individuals, in a bid to stop an intergalactic tyrant from ending all life as they knew it? That was the end goal, Bruce knew it and watching the inventor's deep breaths of calm repose, he knew Tony had not forgotten this either. It was why they had been working so hard.

Through sheer chance - or perhaps Fate? The Asgardian's go on about their gods of Fate, 'the Norns', so who knew? Maybe 'Fate' really was a thing? If there were gods of Thunder and Chaos and Death? Why not Fate as well? This twist of Fate, in allying with Thor, and saving Loki from the mind-controlling powers of The Other. Which led Loki in being able to warn his brother and the scientists of Thanos' forces and possible plans.
What would have happened ... if Tony hadn't spoken to Thor? If Bruce had decided not to approach the alien prince? If they had given in to the rising tension caused by the Tesseract, stayed in that room on the Helicarrier and started fighting amongst themselves? Would they have eventually realised something was wrong? Or ... would The Other have been able to reach out his slimy tendrils, using the Tesseract as the focus point, and Loki as the vessel ... and taken control of their minds as well? Would they have all fallen victim to a lackey of Thanos, and opened the flood gates to a hostile alien armada to doom their own planet?

Could they have fought against such a thing? Them? A seemingly random collection of miss-matched individuals if there ever was one.
Having Captain America there made sense, at least on paper. Who wouldn't be reassured to know America's first super-hero was back and 'saving the day'? Only problem? He was a boy out of time, a 99-year-old WWII veteran, who was still mentally a cock-sure 27-year old that was still suffering PTSD, with very basic military training and an inferiority complex the size of Canada. He should have been in therapy recovering from being extracted from the ice - not on the battlefield.
Natasha Romanov and Clint Barton made a sort of sense, as they worked for SHIELD, who was seemingly running the operation. ... But an ex-soviet assassin spy and an archer? What were they going to do? The most that they brought to the table was actual experience in working in a team. Well ... Bruce assumed. As secret agents, he hoped they were used to concepts of working as a unit.
And that left Tony and Bruce, the two nerds - surprisingly overpowered when they put their minds to it - but still nerds. Bruce was of the opinion that Fury had the idea that they would act as support. Or ... at least keep Tony out of the fighting, as Fury seemed to have an issue with him and didn't trust him on the field. Bruce knew SHIELD had every intention of using The Hulk as a weapon. The Hulk Containment Unit that was installed on the Helicarrier and the weapon plans were proof enough.
Honestly ... it was a terrible situation to have been in. That team had been a chemical mixture that makes chaos. Sure, if they had time to actually train together? They might have managed to make something out of it. But Bruce had a feeling the individuals in that team would never click. There was no positive chemistry to be had, between any of them at the time.

Huffing a breath as Bruce looked up at the unfamiliar stars, Bruce decided there was no point in pondering 'what if's'. Their situation, at least for Bruce and his companions, was the best scenario that he could ever estimate. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and with Tony Stark and the gods on their side? They had that in spades. Hel, they were in such a good place right now, that the gods had kicked up a stink and spirited them away for Yule, to spend 12 days out of their labs and forbidden from working. Ordered, by gods of the ancient Norse pantheon, to take some time off and relax.
Relaxing was not something Bruce was very adept at or had much experience in, and he suspected neither had Tony, despite his old playboy reputation. But seeing as Tony was comfortable enough to take a nap when he needed to (the 'soul sleep' had been strangely draining for Tony, leaving him fatigued, where Bruce had been fine) - Bruce decided to take a leaf out of the inventor book.

Leaning back on the mound of pillows behind his back, Bruce looked up at Helhiem's sky, otherworldly constellations and ever-present swirling aroura, a ribbon of blues, greens and purples that snaked its way through the star strung darkness.
This world, and its beauty, brought a book passage to Bruce's mind.

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?"

"A philosophy of your's, Eir?"

Taking his eyes off of the sky, Bruce glanced over to see Hela approaching the human's little nest of blankets. Bruce smiled and gave a soft shake of his head. "I was quoting an author that I enjoy the works of. An English ethologist and evolutionary biologist."

"Ah, a fellow scientist? They sound prolific," Hela moved to sit next to Bruce on the furs, smiling down at a lightly snoring Tony, "I would very much like to meet them."

"That would be an interesting meeting," Bruce chuckled, clarifying when he saw Hela's curious look, "He is a strong opponent to religion."

"I see," Hela smirked, "Indeed. A god meeting an atheist. That would be an interesting situation. Although I believe you and Freyr took our existence well enough?"

"True. Tony is the most adaptable person I have ever met. I'm sure he chose just to roll with it. He must be used to changing his world views after having his life upended so often. I on the other hand? It truly took me a while to accumulate the knowledge that gods are real into my world view. I think it has been relatively easy because we haven't heard any of you insist that evolution is not a thing."

"Why, by the Norns, would we ever say so?" Hela rose an elegant eyebrow.

"It is the usual contention that religion has with science. That their God or God's created the Earth and all life. That everything happens by the whims of 'the Creator'. Not millennia of biological trial and error and survival." Bruce shrugged.

"Creationist theory? I vaguely remember a mortal trying to convince me of the idea a few centuries ago. I found the concept rediculous. I remember laughing in the mortals face at the very idea that Odin had any hand in the creation of this world."

"I bet that went over well," Bruce huffed wryly.

"Hmm. They attempted to have me burned at the stake for heresy," Hela smirked at Bruce's paling face, "Of course, being the God of Death, their plans did not pan out the way they planned."

"That was something I wanted to ask you about if that's alright?" Bruce ducked his head, busying himself with running his hands through Tony's hair.

"Of course, Eir. You may ask me whatever you like," Hela's smirk warmed into an encouraging smile.

"Loki was born, by Earth dating system estimates, around 965 A.D. Meaning you were born, assuming puberty and aging work the same as it does for humans, that you would have at least been born 2 or 3 decades later."

"Mother was young by Jotun standards when my elder brothers and I were born," Hela nodded with a small smile, "Indeed, compared to many gods that inhabit Asgard, Mother, uncle, my brothers and I are relatively young. But I feel like that wasn't your question."

"No. What I don't understand ... you are the God of Death," Bruce stressed the title, "Thor explained, the first day that we met, that he is the God of Thunder. Saying that being a god meant he was the element, Thunder. That he did not just wield it, lightning and thunder IS Thor. That they aren't separate things." Bruce eyed Hela's widening smile, "Does that also mean ... You are Death? What does that even mean?"

"I hold dominion over Death, and conversely, Life. One cannot exist without the other. To explain it in the simplest terms, yes. I am Death. I am death, and death is I. I exist wherever there is death, and I hold dominion over those who enter my domain. So ... I am essentially everywhere." Hela spread her arms to indicate the breadth of her reach.

"But ... people and things were dying long before your birth," Bruce was eager to get to his point, still not quite sure he'd ever really understand godly existence, "Was there a God of Death before you? Who was in charge of death before you?"

"Who said anyone had to be in charge?" Hela leaned her chin on her hand, looking to be enjoying herself.

"... Your not? But you are Death, aren't you? how can you -"

"Eir," Hela gently poked Bruce's scrunched brow, "You are thinking too vertically. Try a more lateral approach."

Pausing, Bruce took a moment to ponder the problem from a more indirect and creative approach, which he was finding difficult to switch gears from his usually analytical midset.

Watching Bruce's struggle, Hela smiled, turning to watch the aroura, and after a moment of silence, Hela opened her darkly painted lips and spoke to the star flung sky:

"Man, he took his time in the sun / Had a dream to understand / A single grain of sand. / He gave birth to poetry / But one day'll cease to be / Greet the last light of the library."

Bruce blinked out of his deep thought and turned to watch Hela as she stared at the sky, her eyes turning a ghostly white.

"Gave birth to fantasy / To idolatry / To self-destructive weaponry. / Enter the God of gaps / Deep within the past / Atavistic dread of the hunted."

"... Death is natural. It has always been, and always will," Bruce mumbled as he logical the puzzle out. "... We created you. Gods. We wished to have gods who could help us make sense of concepts were had no grasp of at the time. We gifted you your godhood with our seiðr ... in our constant struggle to understand and fear of the unknown. Death has always existed ... you just stepped in to fill in our need."

Hela turned to smile with her milky ghostly eyes gleaming. "Understand now, our Eir?"

"I think I do," Bruce scratched at his neck bashfully, "In a sense. I guess ... I was thinking too hard about it."

"It is astonishingly simple once you take a step back and really think about it," Hela agreed her eyes fading back to her usual dark colour with a kind smile, "I did not have to be Death. Indeed, I could have been anything, as long as mortals wished it. I do not control Death, nor am I responsible for it. I am merely the personification of Death, wished into being. And I am glad," Hela moved to lie down on the pillows next to Bruce, "Because being the God of Death means I get to meet you."

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

"My," Hela breathed, fluttering her eyelashes coquettishly, "But you do say the most flattering things, my Eir."

Chapter Text

"Who would have thought?" Tony quipped as he lay on the nest of pillows, head on Hela's lap as she held her hands over his temple, employing her seiðr, joined by Loki in hovering over the mortal as the rest of their little family lounged around them, snacking on sweets and preserved fruits. Feeling something pressed to his lips, Tony open his glowing orange eyes to petulantly glare at a smirking Loki who persisted and fed him a candied fruit, "That once again, I would struggle with this stupid glowy stuff."

"That 'stupid glowy stuff' is your seiðr, Freyr," Loki tutted, "You could stand to be nicer to it."

"What? You think I could offend it?" Tony scoffed.

"'It' is a part of you," Hela crooned, shadows of her power curling around her fingers, "Much like your muscles, your heart, and your powers of thought. It is the power of your inner light, the essence of your soul. Your seiðr is a reflection of your self," Hela smirked, "I believe it erks Mother to hear you disparaging any part of yourself, our Freyr."

"Indeed," Loki nodded, holding another candied morsel to Tony's pouting lips, "I usually do not condone comparing loved ones to encourage guilt in an effort to manipulate the target into action, but you should take a page from Eir's book," Loki looked up to a cheekily smirking Bruce who sat not far, braiding Thor's golden locks with the help of Jörmungandr, learning the Norse equivalent to the styles he had learned in India.

"Yes, well," Tony huffed, closing his eyes again, "Not all of us can be as prodigious, as deep and zen and the epitome of wholesomeness that is Brucie." With his eyes closed, Tony missed Bruce's blush, "Some of us are shallow bastards."

"Nice try Tony," Fenrir huffed a laugh, lounging next to Loki on the pillows, "You put up a front of a callose man, but we all know, inside, your soft and syrupy like caramel."

"What am I now? A chocolate caramel bar?" Tony rose a sardonic eyebrow, refusing to open his glowing eyes, sighing, "How the mighty have fallen."

"I am sure your reputation can take the hit," Hela chuckled.

"First I'm abducted by gods, then pressed into serfdom," Tony grumbles half-heartedly, opening eyes that burned like embers, "Then I'm almost killed, again. Then I turn into a faulty orange glowstick, forced into being quarantined in my own tower! Get turned into a kitten - which admittedly had been fun. I can see why you pranked everyone with your shapechanging powers so often," Tony smirked at Loki's chuckle. "Then I'm abducted again ... My reputation has always been tarnished since I was born. The son of a weapons monger. A Playboy billionaire. Then as the Merchant of Death. Then sometimes-try hard-hero. Why not add damsel to that list?"

"Tony, the day you become a stereotypical damsel in distress, is the day all technology crashes and we are plunged back into the Dark Ages," Bruce giggled.

"You have to admit though, I would look killer in a bodice and skirts," Tony grinned at Nari and Narfi's cawing laughter and Thor's blush. Tony turned his eyes up to Hela who was smirking in amusement. "And don't think I forgot you admitting, just this morning, that you had made Brucie and I your vassal's without our permission, that moment that you spirited us away to your kingdom. In fact, none of you ever asked," Tony huffed with a pout to the god's chuckles, "You truly deserve each other."

"I do not actually hear you complaining about being in our company, Freyr," Loki smirked as they held out a blueberry to Tony's lips.

Thor chuckled, turning once Bruce and his nephew had finished with his hair, then joyfully turned the stuttering doctor around to start braiding Bruce's messy curls in turn. "And we are particularly happy that we managed to ally ourselves with such exemplary vassals."

"But that's the thing I don't get," Tony's burning eyes looked between the otherworldly beings that had quickly become his new family, "We are your vassals. Practically your servants, or altar boys I guess? Shouldn't we be ... I don't know. Serving you? This whole time you've been heaping us with blessings and gifts, helping us and treating us like family." Tony's face began to take on a slight blush, "I'm grateful, obviously. It's nice not to be a slave to alien princes and a queen ... But isn't the usual dynamic between mortals and the divine more ..."

"One-sided?" Loki grinned at Tony's puzzled nod. "From what I remember from the few mentions of Midgardian culture that were kept in the histories, Midgard had practised a feudal system, where a King, Queen or lord ruled a court and their vassals were either knights or landowners or mayor of a fief. Under this feudal contract, the lord had the duty to provide protection and to do their vassal justice in their court. In return, the lord had the right to demand the services from their vassal and also a right to various “incomes”, like taxes. On the other hand, those who dedicated their lives to a god, most often, swore away their earthly possessions, lived a very restricted existence, whose only purpose was to serve their deity. I think I see from where your confusion stems." Loki softly shook their head. "Such romanticised ideas of servitude to a god. Only mortals could come up with such strange ideas. You will be glad to know that we do not actually demand that our followers castrate themselves or practice celibacy, or commit blood sacrifices, or to die in a glorious battle," Loki chuckled at Tony and Bruce's relieved faces, "Nor do we require taxes or boons. Vassalage, at least to us, means pretty close to the first point of Midgardian vassalage; that we have the duty to provide protection and to do our vassal's justice. I have told you this before," Loki lightly chided with a smirk at Tony's embarrassment, "But I will reiterate however many times that I need to. We chose you. To put it in simple terms ..." Loki tapped a long finger against their chin in thought for a moment, "We liked what we saw, so we put a ring on it."

Bruce sputtered while Tony seemed to choke on his own spit as Loki's sons fell over themselves in giggles while Thor and Hela grinned at their mortal's flabbergasted faces.

"Calling it 'vassalage' is insufficient, but that is how the All-speak chooses to translate it," Hela poked Tony's cheek to remind him to lie still as she worked to reinsert equilibrium to Tony's seiðr, "If anything, we have chosen you as our 'heroes', I suppose. We gifted you with a portion of our powers, marking you as ours," Hela gave a toothy grin at Tony's flickering orange eyes.

"And those who do not ply their precious ones with gifts and boons are scum," Thor proudly proclaimed, pulling Bruce into his arms for a bear hug.

"So, you get those thoughts of serfdom out of those pretty little heads," Loki smirked as they placed the offered blueberry in Tony's shocked open mouth.

"B-but you can't just keep giving us things," Bruce protested from within Thor's beefy arms, "Surely we have to do something to earn it? Or at least be able to return the favour?"

"... I see," Hela hummed, her eyes taking on that distant ghostly light for a moment, "I have made sure that those who taught you such things are being sufficiently punished."

"What?" Tony looked honestly a little alarmed.

"Freyr, Eir, your issues with low self-esteem is truly troubling," Thor cuddled Bruce closer, "One should not need to earn love or care. Especially if they love you for who you are. Not for what services you could provide. Such conditional love ... is not true affection!"

"My brother speaks the truth," Loki smirked, "It has been known to happen on occasion."

Before Thor could open his mouth and start another bizarrely flirty sounding session of insulting his brother again, as they are want to do - Hela's body became stiff, her face set in a grimace as her eyes bled into an alarming black as the air was rent with an awful screaming, screeching squeal, leading Tony to shout and try to cover his ears from the piercing, eye-watering noise. Before anyone could move, the world around them gave a sort of sickening lurch, and out of the sky plummeted an object that gave an awful squelching thump as it landed on the pillows next to Hela.

In a move so fluid and quick that Tony and Bruce could barely track, Loki and Thor gathered the mortals protectively in their arms and moved away from the object to a safe distance, while Jörmungandr, Fenrir, Sleipnir, Narfi and Nari moved to guard their sister, snarling and growling at the pale disembodied head with pointed ears and dressed in a dark grey helmet of some sort that oozed black blood.

"Another of Thanos' 'gifts'?" Thor thundered, teeth bared in a growl, eyes blazing and energy alight with golden fury.

"Only he has been able to bypass my barriers consistently," Hela sneered, leaning away from the decapitated head in revulsion.

"Dark elf," Fenrir coached down to inspect the sluggishly oozing head, "Severed in a clean-cut at the neck, possible a large sword. The eyes have been gouged. Indicative to Thanos' usual gift-giving habits," Fenrir sniffed, "Recent."

"Dark elf? The ones that were cast into the void by King Bor?" Loki refused to let Tony get closer to take a look. "I did not hear tell of them while under The Other's care, but at least, we can extrapolate now from Thanos' 'courting gift', that the Dark elves and the forces of Thanos are not working together."

"And that the dark elves are not actually gone and lost to the annuls of history after being cast out by the ancient Asgardian King, or at least, had not been," Sleipnir waved a glowing hand to set the head and blood on fire, with a flash of white, to burn all traces of the 'gift' away.

"Assuming Thanos did not wipe out what was left of the race," Narfi sneered.

"Wait," Tony flailed in Loki's arms, "You mean to tell me, that Thanos has still been sending you stuff like this? He knows where you are?"

"Luckily, Thanos only sends these gifts with the intention of it arriving at 'Lady death's feet in the hopes that I will be deemed worthy of thee'," Hela quoted with a sneer. "His first few 'gifts' came with 'cute' little notes like that. After a while, he stopped sending notes but kept sending me decapitated parts of his victims. From the notes and certain frustrated words carved into his victims," Hela shuddered, "We at least know that he does not know my exact location. Although ... with this 'gift', he might as well be declaring that he knows I come from or reside in the Yggdrasil system, or at least, would have come across or know about dark elves."

"He would at least know of our Yggdrasil galaxy now, thanks to me," Loki grimaced.

"Maybe he is still unaware of your possible location," Thor rumbled, "And just sent you a portion of his newest crimes."

"It is possible," Jörmungandr nodded reluctantly.

"But it pays to be cautious," Nari shook his head, causing his feathered baubles to flutter and tinkle, "Better to go on the assumption that he knows, and be prepared."

"Better than being caught with our trousers down." Narfi agreed.

"Hela?" the gods turned to a stone-faced Bruce who was still nestled in Thor's arms, "I know you meant to spend a few more days celebrating Yule ... But with this new development ... Hela, please," Bruce begged with slightly green glowing eyes, "Take us back to our labs on Midgard. We might not need to do anything for you-"

"But we want to," Tony agreed, eyes flaring a fire like orange. "We can't let this creep keep getting away with this!"

Loki sighed as he cuddled Tony close, resting their cheek on the mortal's soft brown hair. "It would appear, thanks to a certain tyrant, that our time of rest and celebration has been cut short."

"He will pay for this," Thor growled, the skies filled with deep rumbling thunder.

Chapter Text

Arriving back at in his tower after spending their days in Helhiem's winter wonderland was jarring. Looking up expecting to see the galaxy and aroura only to see blue skies and blinded by sunlight when their eyes had adjusted to gentle moonlight and dark forests. Also to come to find out, after being joyfully greeted by his bots and AI, that they had left at the beginning of December and arrived in the middle of March.
Before the mortals could begin to panic Loki explained the skywalking was an imprecise method of travel. It wasn't instantaneous travel, connecting one location to another, like the rainbow bridge. The Bifrost connected Asgard to its desired location, cutting travel time out in its entirety. Skywalking was physically stepping out into the cosmic cloud between realms, between universes, and traversing the pathways left by the flow of siedr, essentially following the veins of the yggdrisl provided to each universe on the life tree's branches. It may not be as fast as using the Bifrost, but it was still faster than constructing a ship and trying to travel through space. Just losing almost 2 months was showing how talented of a sorcerer Loki and their children were.

"If it had been anyone even remotely less familiar with the secret pathways, the gap may have been years instead of months," Thor shrugged. "Time does not always flow the same between Realms."

"Well ... we need to add working out intergalactic travel to the to-do list," Tony scratched at his facial hair. "If we are going to be constantly travelling between Realms in the future to try and coordinate forces, we can't be losing months or years at a time. To bad we have no way to have a look at this Bifrost," Tony sighed, "It might have given us a clue. Human space travel capabilities are just not up to snuff. Voyager 1 has only now reached interstellar space. It's the first man-made craft that has managed to reach just outside our solar system, and it took 35 years. And that's an unnmaned spacecraft. We physically have barely ventured further than our moon. And now we find out that all we've been able to observe of space? Is still just part of our singular universe of Midgard. We haven't even seen outside our own bubble. Yet Asgard? They've been zipping between Realms long before we even realised that we could bang 2 rocks together."

"I wouldn't get so disheartened Freyr," Loki smirked, "The Aesir have had millions of years more than Midgard to get their act together. They may be more technically advanced, but you have proven that Midgard has advanced sociologically far passed what Asgard has achieved. And you are rapidly catching up technology wise. And we are not without recourse," Loki embellished a graceful hand, revealing the blue gem that was a primordial aspect of all creation to float above their hand.

"The Space Stone. I thought we couldn't control it?" Bruce hummed, eyeing the Stone warily, "especially with the Tesseract being destroyed."

"Normally I would say you were right. But thanks to the capsule given to my brother from Odin, and our research and investigations, we know that it was The Builder who created the Tesseract, in a bid to wield and control the Stone. And thanks to Freyr," Loki poked the wrinkle between Tony's eyebrows, "We now know how The Builder created such magnificent works - through the application of runes and mystical material that can take on the siedr's power."

"And since Freyr already has a partial understanding, thanks to his research into the Tesseract's energy capability, allowing him to create his arc reactor, I have no doubts that our inventor will discover the secrets of 'space travel' in no time!" Thor cheered.

"As flattering as that is Point Break, I think you're forgetting that I am not that kind of scientist. I'm a mechanic, not a astrophysicist. Besides, I haven't been able to fully activate runes on my own," Tony frowned, "I might intellectually understand energy output ... but I'm still struggling with siedr application. Brucie is further in that field than I."

"Our strengths do appear to be mirrors of each other," Bruce nodded with a small smile at Tony's pout, "you struggle with personal energy, yet I struggle with external energy. I have found reading the energy, or siedr, in a object or person and manipulating it to be a surprise skill of mine. Yet I cannot make objects fly, or activate runes to take in surrounding energy. That's all you Tones."

"And the first step in learning to weild that personal siedr," Loki smirked as they sent the Space Stone back into its pocket dimension to hide, "is to learn to accept it. Orange and all."

"Why couldn't my siedr be cool like yours or Brucie's?" Tony whined as his companions smiled at him indulgently, "yours are both epic and green. Why did mine have to look like orange flavoured Gatorade?"

"You seem to be under the assumption that we both accepted the colour of our energy without dissent?" Loki rose a sardonic eyebrow, "I buried myself under my seidr studies in attempt to forget that my own godly energy was cold and white like snow, reminding all around me that I was a monstrous Jotun. I worked for centuries to surround myself in my green flame in an effort to make all forget that I was a being of ice and snow, and instead became know for chaos, trickery and fire. My greenary became associated with jealousy and cheap tricks," Loki scoffed, ignoring Thor's flinch. "Weilding siedr is seen by many in Asgard as a womanly craft, only good for healing. Any time I used my siedr in battle I was ridiculed, that my strength was purely illusions and not truly strength of my own, any victory that was clearly mine was considered invalid. That I had somehow cheated," Loki rolled their eyes. "Needless to say, I made all naysayers pay for their words, and now I claim ownership of my reputation and the colour of my seidr." The raven haired God smirked triumphantly, "I am the mighty Loki Laufeyson, God of choas and fire, Prince of Jotunhiem, master sorcerer, Skywalker and Silvertounge."

"I may not be as accomplished," Bruce mumbled with a slight flush at Loki's proud look, "But I too found accepting the colour of my essence hard to accept. As you can imagine," Bruce rose a sardonic eyebrow, "Green has been something of an upsetting colour for me. Any sign of green was just a reminder of my stressed, foolhardy actions that caused the accident that exposed me to gamma radiation that caused my mutation." The doctor sighed, "I am still unsure whither my energy had always been this colour, or this was the effect of the mutation. Loki has told me that the colour of a person's siedr rarely changes since the event of their birth - but since my situation is so peculiar ... who even knows? But now that I am finally learning to accept myself the way I currently am ... I do not mind the colour that I bare," Bruce smiled at Tony's conflicted face. "I'm not saying it's simple or easy," Bruce patted his fellow scientists shoulder consolingly, "But I believe if I can accept my demons, you can too."

"Well, damn," Tony breathed as he moved to stretch his arms and back, "if you guys are going to put it like that, I better stop whining and get up off my ass. I can't be letting the home team down." Tony planted his hands on his hips and shook his head, "I can't be dropping the ball like this when we have a creepy mc-no-no-touchy to play keep-away from world domination and Lady Death."

"Luckily, you don't have to do all of that on your own," Loki purred.

"Exactly. With this dream team, I should have nothing to complain about. Even if it is orange!"

That's the spirit Tony," Bruce chuckled as he started walking with his fellow scientist towards his lab, "we should make a schedule so we make sure that our seiðr training does not get forgotten under all the other tasks we need to do."

"Right," Tony cracked his neck and flexed his fingers, "let's get cracking!"

Chapter Text

"If I may, Sir," JARVIS piped up from the implant near his earbone as Tony had paused his evening workout routine to drink some cool water and wipe up some sweat, in a attempt to work off Yule weight, "I do not see these 'extra pounds' that you speak of. Your measurements are in the healthy range."

"You don't understand J. Us organics have to watch our energy intake, especially when you get to my age," Tony huffed as he mopped at his brow, "I have to work hard to look as good as I do in my Tom Ford suits. Not to mention the Iron Man armour. Can you imagine the headlines? Tony Stark, the fatass engineer who can't even fit into his own suits!"

"I understand that piloting the suit takes a certain amount of strength and fitness, Sir," JARVIS drawled dryly, "But seeing as you have never followed a strict diet or eaten the required amount to fuel your body - you have been underweight. Especially coming off of the palladium poisoning. I am actually grateful we have Doctor Banner and the family of gods here in the tower. We have seen a marked improvement since they moved in."

"You try arguing with them," Tony pouted, "Brucie is a certified doctor and I can't stand when he shows me that quietly disappointed face. Thor and Loki have been strangly insistent on feeding me snacks, and when they all gang up together I have no hope!"

"They have had more luck in wrangling you into taking care of yourself than Miss Potts or we ever have." JARVIS sniffed mock offendedly.

"Pepper is a wonderful woman and was a great personal assistant," Tony nodded, "and a supportive partner ... but she makes an even greater SI president. I mean, she kicked major butt in our 2 month absence."

"And I'm sure our 'code red herring' had no part in it."

"Of course it did JARVIS," Tony flapped an absent hand at the nearest camera to wave away his AI's sass, "But you have to admit, Pepper took the whole thing like a champ. There was a reason I wanted to make her CEO," Tony smiled as the gym cleaning bots activated and started cleaning the equipment and putting them away, while an army of roomba's charged across the gym floor.

"Be that as it may," JARVIS sniffed, "If you had not had products and plans waiting in advance for times when you were unavailable, Miss Potts may not have been so willing to cover for you, Sir."

Tony shuddered at the thought of what Pepper would have done to him if he had disappeared for 2 months without telling her or having any of his work done.
"She would have murdered me. Thank you for talking to her and the gods on my behalf J."

"It was Thor who approached Miss Potts with the notification that they planed to take you away for a holiday," JARVIS revealed, making Tony rise a shocked eyebrow, "We merely supported their plan."

"If you mean 'support their plans' you mean 'pretend Tony is very busy in his lab and not on holiday and simulating my voice and speech patterns for important calls'?" Tony smirked at the very smug roomba that beeped at his barefoot until he lifted it so it could travel under, "I swear, if the world outside this tower knew how much autonomy you guys actually have, they'd actually start listening to thoes crack pots on the internet who think you are the second coming of Hal 9000 or Skynet."

"Thoes are fictional constructs, Sir. We, however, are very real. I do not understand why they continue to compare us to subpar intelligence systems."

"Don't be offended J," Tony smiled, "It just means you are too advanced for most of the world to understand. Who knows? They might get there one day."

"I will not hold my breath Sir," JARVIS quipped as he opened the elevator doors for Tony to take him back up to his rooms to shower and change. "Will by chance take this moment to take a break, Sir?"

Tony smirked up at the elevators camera, "I know if I say no you will just sic one of my new family of carer's on me. I know your game J. I'll take a small break," Tony agreed with a sigh, " but then its back to the lab. We have a lot of work to do."

"Very good Sir."

Chapter Text

"This advent of business is a fascinating thing."

Loki's non-sequiter left the inventor paused in the motion of bringing a blueberry to his mouth and raising a curious eyebrow.

"Is something wrong?" Bruce glanced up from his work station over his big framed glasses, to see Loki casually leaning against a lab counter servaying Tony's floating projector screens that hovered in front of their face, manipulated with their long graceful pale fingers.

"Moreso, what is right," Loki corrected, "I am aware I have said so before, and in danger of repeating myself, I will say so again," Loki smirked as they glanced over to the two curious mortals who they had the complete attention of, "How humanity have changed and evolved without so much as an overseer or the guiding hand of a 'higher power', if I may be so presumptuous," Loki's smirk widened at the scientists amused scoffs. "It is a novel experience to have so many people eager and willing to work for the same cause, and be competent and skilled, and able to take to their tasks needing little guidance, all for a generous wage. But more importantly, because they want to. Such industrial vigor! You would not find such on Asgard."

"Have Asgardians really had that much of a hand in forming the structure of young societies?" Bruce piped up curiously. "I mean, we know they gave the young human race the runes, which you stated was a kind of throw away gift, since Asgard had moved on to using different script, and they deeply influenced the Viking culture," Bruce stood up from his station, taking off his glasses to clean. "Most European cultures can trace at least some of their heritage to the Vikings, but that is hardly every culture."

"It also doesn't really sound like Asgard really seems to care much about their own history or culture," Tony pointed out, finally popping the Berry into his mouth. Glancing over at Thor who was playing fetch with Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers to keep them out from underfoot, Tony quickly amended, "No offence Point Break."

"None taken, Freyr," came Thor's deep amused rumble from the labs couch. "I myself find it fascinating how Midgardians regard the importance of history - some spending their limited existences learning all about cultures and peoples long gone. This insistence of 'learning from the past'," Thor mused, "Is something I am truly beginning to believe that my people could benefit from. So much has been lost, and because of this, so many mistakes and misunderstandings. If Asgard had more scholars like my brother, and a king and court who heeded their wisdom ... this whole disaster would not have occurred."

"That's something I don't get," Tony professed as he dug for another blueberry, "Asgard is a millions of years old civilisation, technologically advanced to the point that they can lord over all other Realms in the yggdrisl cosmic cloud, yet you both seem so shocked about things that seem commonplace or common-sense to us. How can a people who have nothing but time and a whole system under their control struggle with the things it does?"

"Perhaps it is purely logistical," Bruce theorised, "By your own accounts, Asgard is a singular golden disk created with siedr and mined minerals and resources from conquered Realms, floating at the top of the yggdrisl tree formation. Has the land mass ever been expanded? Have Asgardians ever created or lived on other land?"

"Not to my knowledge," Thor shook his shaggy golden head, turning with a curious look to his brother, "I seem to vaguely recall an incident in the outreaches near the sea of Asgard, of land crumbling into the sea, taking a few Aesir houses and land with it."

"We were sent to inspect the damages, as young prince's to use as a 'learningexperience'," Loki nodded, lips turned down slightly, "No lives were lost, but the fishermen had lost their piers and homes, homes they had lived in for centuries. I was sent initially by Frigga, with the hopes that I might rise the seabed and create more land. But the All-Father decided, in all his wisdom, that seidr was not the answer. In the end he declared that the coast was too unstable and simply had the Einherjar relocate the affected Aesir further inland, and posted the Einherjar as guards, as a warning to all Aesir that the coast is now off limits."

"If the piers were destroyed and the coast is now off limits, and they were forced to move inland, what were thoes fishermen supposed to do? Travel everyday to a pond? Is there another coast that they can fish from? Boats?" Tony's brow scrunched.

"From memory I believe that thoes fishermen now work as labourers and farm hands. Asgard has not had fish on our feast table for many centuries," Thor watched the mortals mixed expressions of stunned to mild alarm with curiosity, "Indeed, I had not tasted fish since then, only since arriving on Midgard have I enjoyed such a varied palette."

"No marine industry. Limited produce or infrastructure," Tony mumbled, almost numb at the thought of such an inbalanced economy, "What about trade? Surely you have that?"

"Oh, aye," Thor smiled, "The market near the palace is always lively."

"So the common folk do trade with coin?" Bruce rose an eyebrow, "as I remember Thor's confusion with the concept of 'money', was this just a royal thing?"

"The common Aesir trade in labour or favours, sometimes with items," Loki shook their head, "Coin and currency was never a thing that gained favour in Asgard. What with being essentially immortal, what need have they for bits of metal that is supposed to represent wealth? Asgard is supposed to be the golden realm eternal, built by an ancient Asgardian king to provide for his people for all time. The common Aesir only work to eat, as they have not yet perceived of a way for food to grow and harvest itself. If they had? I am sure the Aesir would be even less productive. That is why I find Midgardians so fascinating. So industrial."

"But that kind of lifestyle ... how do they fight bordem?" Bruce scratched lightly at his 5 o'clock shadow.

"The common folk, I cannot say," Thor actually looked concerned, "I know the courtiers and soldiers conduct seasonal hunting trips and tournaments. And the occasional adventure or Realm tour."

"Realm tour?" Bruce placed his glasses back upon his nose.

"Asgard still has trade and open travel with Vanahiem, and with the dwarves and light elves, despite the closed borders," Loki nodded, green eyes focused on Tony's perturbed face.

"I'm afraid to ask, but what do they trade with, exactly?" Tony rubbed at his brow.

"Apples."

"... excuse me?" Tony replied flatly, frozen in place.

"Asgard's only export is apples," Loki explained. "Idunn's apples to be specific."

"And what do they trade thoes apples for?" Bruce blinked.

"Asgard is fairly self-sufficient," Thor nodded thoughtfully, "So outside trade is usually limited to rare goods, like magic tomes from vanaheim, woven silks and fibres from the light elves, or tools and crafted items from the dwarves."

"And they accept these apples of Idunn's as payment for these items?" Tony crossed his arms in bafflement, "What are they? Magic? Solid gold?"

"Yes."

The silence that met Thor's answer was enough to hear the soft whirr of machinery in the lab that was usually barely discernible white noise.

"The Golden apples of Idunn. That's seriously real? The golden apples from Norse myth that grants immortality? And you trade it for cloth?! What kind of economy is that?!"

"Tony."

"Asgard has limited industry, no builders or contractors more complicated than peasant huts and farm walls, no currency, limited higher learning ... its like their culture is stuck in the Bronze Age!" Tony scrubbed both hands through his hair frustratedly, "Pyramid structure hierarchy, of few powerful ones at the top, many powerless at the bottom, with knowledge restricted to the few upper classes. Limited trade, segregation ... its like we are watching a civilisation that has been isolated since the Bronze Age and only now are we witnessing the same slow collapse."

"It is widely speculated that the Bronze Age Collapse was caused by a combination of factors," Bruce explained for their resident aliens. "Between 1250 and 1150 BCE, major cities were destroyed, whole civilizations fell, diplomatic and trade relations were severed, writing systems vanished, and there was widespread devastation and death on a scale never experienced before." Bruce lectured, surprised that the prince's were so riveted to his speech. "Possible causes range from natural catastrophes, climate change, internal rebellions, invasions, disruptions of trade relations and systems collapse."

"Possible cause?" Thor tilted his head to the side, "You do not know?"

"It's why its called the Bronze Age Collapse, Thunder Down Under," Tony shrugged, "No one is 100% sure what happened, because most if not all knowledge from that era is lost. Entire civilisations, wiped out. Either from plague, famine, war? We don't fully know. All we do know is that because knowledge was restricted to only the upper classes, when they died out? That knowledge was lost. Leaving generations after with no clue, because that knowledge wasn't passed on. Buildings crumbled because no one knew how to build or do maintenance. Farms and industry failed and people left the fields to ruin, because there was no one to guide the workers or knew how to farm anymore. And all of this plunged that part of the world into a Dark Age."

"That ... is sounding chillingly similar," Thor paled.

"Asgard may very well be experiencing its own slow collapse," Loki nodded thoughtfully. "We already are experiencing wars fought over misconceptions from lost knowledge. Asgard may be technologically advanced, but very few understand how siedr works or are able to weild it, and no one on Asgard knows how The Builder's artefacts and buildings work."

"With no development and land slowly crumbling into the sea ..." Bruce chewed on his lips nervously, "If something isn't done, Asgard might very well collapse. And it's never a good thing when a conquering civilisation collapses."

"Especially with Big Bad and his intergalactic goons hellbent on shaking the Tree, in the hopes that the Stones and Hela might fall out." Tony huffed.

"We must communicate the importance of this to Father," Thor rumbled, eyes flashing golden and glancing up to the ceiling, "I hope Hiemdal is watching and listening and transcribing it to the All-Father."

"When is he not?" Loki scoffed.

Chapter Text

"Thank you for agreeing to meet at the Tower Professor Randolph," Tony gave a small tired smile to the ancient Aesir playing mortal as they sat in one of the comfortable meeting rooms with tea service and fruit basket. Said Professor rose an eyebrow at Tony's wan complexion and tired mien as he doctored his tea to his preference.

"You are welcome ... or rather, I should thank you for inviting me. My department at the university has resembled a mental institution more often than not in recent months. Students and just people, in general, have been frothing at the mouth to learn all they can about the ancient Norse, and conversely, the Asgardian's. It's the busiest I have ever seen it. Fielding such questions as; 'Are there any historical evidence of these Viking aliens ever visiting America?' or 'Can we prove my great grandpa's stories of being descendants of Tyr?' Luckily, I am not the dean, nor the ancient history professor. I am just the Mythology professor," Elliot chuckled as he stirred his tea, "There has been a marked increase in interest in my subject, but as usual, 'myth' does not carry the same weight as archeology or solid scientific fact. Not that I am complaining mind you," the professor leaned back in his seat with his drink. "I am not the one being hounded by fanatics screaming about being probed by ancient 'Sky Vikings', or dragged onto to daytime television to make a fool of myself. It's been entertaining for me, but I can admit that I appreciate this opportunity to take a step out of the office."

"Forgive me," JARVIS spoke from the meeting rooms speakers, promoting the amiable Aesir to look up to the ceiling, "From your past reluctance to come to the Tower, I admit to confusion over your statement."

"Well, as I said, my department has been busy," Elliot dithered as he fiddled with his teacup, "And having the 'mythology professor' called away so often from the department that is under the most scrutiny right now, is never a good look. Thanks to you," the ancient Aesir toasted Tony with his cup, "I have mostly avoided inspection with my small involvement with SHIELD, back when they asked me for my expertise on myths on Thor's mighty hammer when it landed in New Mexico. But, truthfully? I left Asgard with the intention of never having to deal with my own people ever again. And I'd honestly like to keep it that way."

"So that's why you refuse to meet with Thor?" Tony sighed, not even bothering to make himself a cup, "I can sort of understanding the reluctance, what with Sparky being the fruit of the All-Daddies loins," Tony smirked at the Aesir's grimace, "And what with your disagreement with the king of the golden realm and going AWOL. But you have to know that Thor isn't anything like Odin?" Tony eyed the Aesir whose grimace had only limited slightly. "The fact you also refuse to meet with Loki and his kids has been a slight point of contention. I mean, they aren't even Aesir, and Loki is a royal scholar of the Asgardian court, Loki's words not mine," Tony shrugged. "I would have thought you two would enjoy meeting up and comparing notes."

"I recall mentioning that I was a mason? I know, in recent years, masonry is a respected occupation, full of history and highly skilled. But the kind of masonry I used to do? Was fixing the few stone walls for farms in the outreaches of Asgard. I was a peasant. Doing jobs for other peasants. Asgard is the realm eternal, meaning nothing changes. I knew Aesir that had lived in the same stone and wood hut since the time of Buri," Professor Randolf scoffed, completely missing Tony's eyes widening, "Do you know how much work there would be for a mason, in a world that never changes? A wall crumbling or something in the need of repairing was an event. One the whole village would be talking about for an unreasonably long time. I still remember the gossip over such things like; 'Oh, you know Helgi, the wife of the blacksmith, Ivar? Well, she told me that her husband got so drunk at the feast that he tripped over the floor pelt and put his head through the bedroom wall. We could all see right into their private chambers and critic his ploughing technique until the mason found the right stones to patch up the wall. Paid him with free metalwork for the rest of time I heard'." Tony had to admit, Randolf imitation game was spot on. "My life was full of such things. The passing of time was kept by feasts thrown in the honor of whoever the ruling monarch was at the time. I had certainly never met one until the Battle of Tønsberg ... well, I say met, it was more like, seen from a distance. Prince Loki is undoubtedly the first I had ever exchanged more than a few words with."

"So you had spoken to someone from the royal court before?" Tony had to remind himself to blink, mind stumbling over the many implications.

"Well, none of Odin's get that was ever legitimised," Elliot shrugged blithely, "There was no call for the attention of the royal court to our section of rock, the only time we ever saw anyone from the palace district was if there was ever a murder or death, or being called to war. I mean, everyone knew of Hermóðr - think of him like the Asgardian version of the Greek God Hermes. Of course, he never delivered messages directly to peasants, moreover, he charged around on his steed and notified the local lord, who was supposed to notify the peasants under his charge. But the sight of one of Odin's golden bastards wandering around was not that unusual. Ítreksjóð was frequently seen doing what Midgardian's essentially call 'pub crawling' in all the taverns and drinking halls all over Asgard. Bastards they might have been, but they were still Royal Bastards and had held a residency in the palace district. The only time I had anything close to an interaction with a Royal Bastard was being drafted into the Berserker Army," the Aesir gently placed down his teacup and reached for a pear from the basket. "One of Odin's twins, Váli, was put in charge of the Berserker army. Maybe because his twin brother, Víðarr, had been legitimised, and he hadn't ... or he had always had a vindictive streak, who knows? But Váli was ruthless. The things he would do to his enemies," Professor Elliot Randolf shuddered. "He was a perfect fit for the commander of the Berserker Army. If the Geneva Convention had existed at that time ... Váli would have been imprisoned for life. He was the one who 'gifted' me the Berserker Staff."

"Ok ... if that guy was your limited interaction with royalty, I can see your reluctance," Tony cringed, "Probably didn't help that your first impression of Loki was them slamming you against a wall and interrogating you. But that's also why Loki and Thor are so eager to speak with you. I mean, Thor and Loki are a millennium old, at best. And Thor might be a legitimised Prince, and Loki a ward and scholar, but by their own admittance, the Asgard royal court isn't great bookkeepers. I have no possible clue on how ancient you might be," Tony smirked slightly at the professor's dry bland look, "But you are obviously older than the princes, and contain first-hand knowledge about what the common folk on Asgard had to deal with. You possibly know mountains more of things than Loki has ever been able to research. Primary information sources are better than second or third-hand accounts."

"What could you possibly want to know about an Asgardian peasants day-to-day? I doubt that will help you in your quest to save the world." Elliot Randolf rose a judging eyebrow as he flicked the finished pear core over his shoulder, but instead of landing on the carpet and creating a mess, the waste flickered into deep red flames midair and crumbled to atoms, leaving no trace.

"Because when I make a deal, I like to know who I'm dealing with. The All-Daddy might have given us the shiny cloth as a sign of acceptance, but I don't know Odin from Indra. And all I have to go on is half-forgotten myths from a conquered people and accounts from two disenchanted sons. That's not nearly enough information to go on." Tony leaned forward, watching the ancient Aesir's face intently. "There is no doubt I'll have to deal with kingy, there is no way I could get out of that. But I like to know all I can before meeting my opponents. 'Know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even in a hundred battles' and whatever," Tony flapped an absent hand.

"You expect Odin to become your enemy?" professor Randolf smirked lopsidedly, "That shows you understand exactly what it is like to deal with the Asgardians."

"I'm literally housing his least favourite ward, and their Ragnarock bringing children. And meeting with a former Asgardian soldier who deserted. If the Bifrost wasn't out of commission," Tony shook his head seriously, "I highly doubt any of us would still be sitting here. Not to mention we currently have two of the aces of the deck, not to mention a few relics, the strongest seiðr wielder in age and the youngest Asgardian Prince on our side. And if the character construction we've managed to build of the ruler of the golden realm is even close to what we have compiled together? Odin is possibly livid right now. Or not, who honestly knows? We don't, because we've got very little to go on. That's why we need you." Tony met with the hidden Aseir's blue eyes that held a small echo of pulsing red.
"I can build black boxes to hold primordial aspects of the universe, and work on our own version of the rainbow bridge," Tony smirked at the professors shocked expression, "But we need to know who we are dealing with here. We can't hope to have the upper hand if we don't know what we could face. I can't promise to protect you from your old boss if I don't know his tactics or what he'll want. We don't need to know about their lofty ideals or court dealings, we have the Princes for that. We need someone who knows what really goes on in Asgard. In a world that never changes, we need a guy who's lived in it, not spent their life looking at it from the golden towers."

"Stark ... for a guy who lives in an actual tower, you are surprisingly practical." professor Randolf's face widened into a grin, the red in his eyes building and writhing.

"I'm a mechanic, being practical is my job," Tony huffed, "The amount of wealthy merchants or local tycoons who have commissioned me to build something for their 'community' is honestly endless, but I refuse to build anything till I hear what the actual people of the area need. Clean water, green energy, housing, schools ... those are things that are easy to supply, but also easy to exploit by local authorities. I've had to become exacting and shrewd - if I had my way I'd give people exactly what they want without demanding a paycheck, but you can't just trust people to do the right thing. Like we cannot expect the All-Daddy to just welcome us with open arms, even if he's named us as allies. I'm not asking you to become Thor or Loki's fan or anything," Tony chuckled at the Aesir's scrunched nose, "But I am asking for your help."

"I bet that hurt to say," Elliot Randolf smirked, eyes now completely a deep red.

"I may never recover," Tony agreed flatly.

"Fine," the hidden Aesir signed, closing his eyes for a moment to open them back to reveal clear blue eyes again, "I'll agree to meet and work with the Aesir and Jotun in the Asgardian Embassy. It'll keep me out of the absolute madness that's happening at the university in any case."

Chapter Text

Tony, Loki, Bruce and Dum-E had once again hunkered themselves in the lab room they were essentially calling 'The Nexus' - as any place you were going to essentially enshrine 2 primordial aspects of the universe had to have some sort of official and grandiose name by Tony's reasoning. It was much better than calling it 'The Black Box' - even though that was what the room essentially was.
Tony and Bruce had debated for hours about the naming sense. In science, computing, and engineering, a 'black box' is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs without any knowledge of its internal workings. Its implementation is 'opaque' or 'black'. Bruce had stipulated that almost anything might be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an engine, an algorithm, the human brain, an institution or government. Basically ... the had no idea how the Stone's actually functioned, what they consisted of, or how they interact with their surroundings ... so calling the room that Tony had lined all the surfaces in Badassium and runes, and Loki had warded the room to an inch of its life, to the point even dust couldn't enter or exit, calling it a 'Black Box' was kind of apt. But it also might be confused with an aircraft's 'black box', which was a completely different thing, which held the connotation of being investigatable or retrievable, leaving Tony worried people would think it was the Tower's 'black box' for some silly reason, and Tony didn't want anyone snooping around.
And since the majority of the public and the media already referred to Tony's labs as his 'lair' or 'sanctuary', calling it something pretentious like 'The Nexus' was just playing to the theme.

"Did you have to make the ceiling, walls and floors the same shade of black Tony?" Bruce rose an amused eyebrow at his fellow scientist as they stood in the Baddassium lined room, watching the blue and yellow Stones freely and seemingly happily circle each other and the room in not at all definable patterns, their emanating light slightly reflecting off of the black glossy surfaces. "When we debated about the room's function, I did not think you would take the colour as literal."

"Hey, I was struct by designers inspiration, alright?" Tony bristled slightly at the ribbing, watching the strange play of blue and yellow light over Bruce's hair, "The little guys basically came to be at the biggest of booms, the one that started all life as we know it, the instant the whole entire Universe came to be, right?" Tony glanced over to Loki who slowly nodded their head, "So ... maybe they would enjoy being reminded of their roots, who knows. Space is a big empty dark place."

"Their own little universe to swirl around with their siblings, how romantic a notion my Freyr," Loki purred, enjoying the investors squirming blush.

"I suppose the pulsing runes can kind of look like stars," Bruce grinned at Tony's embarrassed coughs, turning to watch the glitter and pirouette of the gems, unfettered by such measly things as gravity, "And having a whole room to themselves must be much nicer than being confined to a power-sucking box."

"Or being sewn into one's flesh," Loki agreed, smirking dryly at Bruce's grimace at the reminder. "Indeed, if we were to attribute emotions to the Stones as how organisms would experience it, I would hope the Stones are exhibiting 'happiness'. I may be a God, but even I cannot fully control the Stones unless they, apparently, want to be here. I have heard tell of stories of what the Stones, or at least, what the Mind Stone did to the test subjects The Other had attempted to make into meat puppets before me. They were not pleasant." Loki murmured dryly as they watched the yellow shiny Stone twirl without a care as if it hadn't been the subject of his own attempted slavery.

"And thanks to Steve Roger's finally telling his own accounts of what happened with Red Skull and the Tesseract after boarding the HYDRA warplane and subsequent crash into the ice, and the accounts the kids extracted from Dr Zola, and the ancient stories shared to us by Professor Randolph about Bor and the war with the Dark Elves," Tony grimaced, "We at least know that the Space Stone and the Reality Stone aren't too forgiving either. If the current god in the room will forgive the turn of phrase," Tony smirked at Loki's eye roll, "It's a wonder these little 'Act's of God' seem to be quite happy to linger here with us at the moment. I do not doubt at all that the little guys could punch out of here if they really wanted to, no matter what anyone tried to do."

"Going with the analogy," Bruce mused as he tracked the Stone's lazy movements, "Maybe they are happy to reside here, exactly BECAUSE we don't intend to use them? I mean, they have exhibited a sense of having a sort of conscious thought, meeting out punishment and subsequent amnesty to those who planned to misuse their power or to use them for good. They don't seem at all bothered with us examining them, as long as we keep them together, and they have never attempted to approach us, keeping about the same amount of distance we have the entire time."

"What do you know, ancient aspects of the universe who can respect personal boundaries and understand consent," Tony smirked at the all-powerful entities, "Definitely higher beings then."

"They definitely seem to act and communicate on a higher plane of existence than us of the 3rd dimension," Bruce agreed with a smile.

"Even those of us who experience the 4th plane cannot commune directly with the Stones," Loki nodded, completely missing the mortal's shocked double-take, "Indeed, the 'stones' are just a representation of their existence in our 3-D world. Their true forms are possibly not truly 'stones' at all. As a 4-D object cannot exist in a 3-D world. The Infinity Stones may indeed be entities many dimensions above our own."

"Ok, no, you're going to have to go back a couple steps their Lokes," Tony waved his hands almost frantically, making Loki pause in concern.

"You mean to tell us ... that you can see and interact with the fourth plane?" Bruce stared, eyes huge behind his spectacles.

"Indeed," Loki rose a baffled eyebrow.

"Is this a God thing?" Tony wiped at his suddenly sweaty brow, scrubbing at his hair with both hands as he tried to wrap his head around it.

Seeing the mortals distress Loki frowned concernedly, spreading their hands in an open gesture, Loki gently intoned, "Eir, Freyr, when you look upon me, truly look, you can see my energy?"

"If you mean the silvery swirling aura around you, what we have titled as 'GodWaves' ... then yeah," Tony looked up at Loki slowly.

"You feel its icy breath?" Loki slowly smiled as he wrapped the mortals in trendles of their silvery mist. "And my green fire? Do you witness its brightness? Feel it's warmth?"

"We've established that we can see seiðr Loki," Bruce mumbled, shivering slightly, "Could you please get to the point?"

"Seiðr is just the precursor," Loki gently shook their head, "But also, without it, one could not have, little alone observe my aura, or 'Godwaves' if you prefer. This 'GodWave' is how I commune with the fourth dimension," Loki smiled at the scientists dawning comprehension. "I 'feel out' the fourth dimension with my seiðr. I have the 6 basic senses to interact with the 3rd dimension; sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. But I also have seiðr, my veritable 7th sense, with which I can experience what 3rd-dimensional beings simply cannot. It is why The Builder, a master crafter and seiðr master, could create such an item as the Tesseract to even slightly contain the Space Stone. It is why Thor can interact directly to storms and the weather and produce electric currents."

"So ... you mean ... we've been interacting with the fourth dimension this whole time we've been learning to use seiðr?" Bruce may never pick his jaw up off of the ground ever again.

"In a fledging sense," Loki seemed to enjoy the mortals flabbergasted expressions.

Chapter Text

The disconnect between Tony and seemingly the rest of the world was something he was always aware of. Seeing as Howard had essentially only used him for good publicity, like that times his face was all over the news outlets because he had designed his first circuit board when he was four, or when he was almost seven, he had built a V8 motorbike engine. Things like that were seen as good publicity for a weapons mogul, some sort of creepy leftover idea of superior genetics from the eugenics era - like Howard had everything to do with Tony's own intelligence. Meaning Howard could use him as a publicity stunt when his ratings tanked.
This meant most of Tony's childhood was spent being shown off to improve his father's image, then stuffed back in the mansions lab to work on the next publicity project, never allowing him to make friends that were not also useful connections - people like Tiberius Stone and Sunset Bain. Oh ... did he say, friends? Sorry, he meant two-faced, backstabbing leeches. Sorry, slip of the tongue. Tony likes to think that, the one time he was let out from under his father's thumb and made his own friend without any oversight from Howard, he had gained the friendship of his Rhodey Bear? Shows that Tony does have a good judge of character and superior taste.

But past baggage will always be baggage, meaning Tony felt like he was walking through a minefield when dealing with public opinion. At the moment, his public image is at an all-time high. People seem to still be showing Tony Stark goodwill thanks to the League of Mutants or The Brotherhood or whatever they used to call themselves. It involved a whole lot of public outpouring of pity and 'thoughts and prayers'. That Tony had been a victim this time, and wholly unable to protect himself seemed to humanise him in peoples eyes. Ignoring the fact that the attack had happened months ago, in what felt like an age ago to Tony, yet people were still treating the situation like Tony was injured and frail, and could fall apart at any moment. The fact that he hadn't made a public appearance since then probably propagated the rumours and tacky headlines the media were still spouting, things like 'Is this the End of Iron Man?!'
Tony honestly believes his PR department made the right call in advising him in staying out of the limelight for as long as possible - he has enough on his plate to deal with without also having to make constant public speeches and appearances. It also gives the mutants themselves a stage to make a positive case for themselves against all the anti-mutant backlash. Thanks to Iron Man's apparent 'weakness' goons and wannabe villains have started crawling out of the woodwork, seeing this as the perfect time to strike, while the 'World's First Modern Superhero' is out of commission. But, publically allied with The X-Men, the mutants have filled in the metaphoric hole left by Iron Man - and thusly showing the public that 'not all mutants are bad'. Plus ... you know ... multiple teams of mutants get a whole lot more 'world-saving' done than one suit of titanium-gold alloy.
More people are getting saved, fewer people are lynching mutants, and mutants themselves are now receiving protection under the Asgardian Embassy, while they wait for the U.N to take their finger out and actually take the proposed law Loki had forwarded to them last year seriously.

With all these issues combined, Tony had been a little miffed at how limited he was in how he could act. Especially regarding the STARK Higher Education Program. Publically, he could do jack all - meaning even if he wanted to inspect the physical classrooms and observe the learning process, he couldn't, but his AI kept him up to date digitally. Tony would have liked to meet some of the people, from around the world, who were honestly creating and putting forth some amazing ideas, but he knew that if he got involved personally he might end up upending the whole progress. People had weird reactions to celebrity.
Of course, the joint Xavier and STARK Higher Education Program for mutants was something he was a bit more privy to, but even then, there were mutants who remembered Howard's anti-mutant propaganda, which meant, unless he really got to know them, Tony wasn't really welcome there either.
Mutants, it turns out, were not that different from the average human being. You didn't have to like the guy to take his money. And Tony didn't begrudge them - it wasn't a nice feeling, but he understood it. At least with the Higher Education Program, it was all kept in check with contracts and multiple levels of checks and balances that kept the whole process fair. It wasn't like they were just expecting Tony to cough up money and tech and work for them for free (*cough* SHIELD *cough*).

What was actually erking Tony right now was the STARK Higher Education Program, Junior department. If Tony was advised to limit his interaction with the adult students? It went doubly so for the kids. Apparently, Tony might be something of a martyr figure right now in the public consciousness (even though he's not dead yet guys, come on), no parent actually wanted Tony Stark anywhere near their kid. And yeah ... Tony can kind of understand that, who would want a relative stranger older man interacting with their kids? Ignoring the fact that teachers and students have weathered this situation for hundreds of years ... Tony Stark's past baggage is still baggage.
It's annoying, mostly because ... Tony actually likes kids. Their unfettered imaginations and boundless energy is something that Tony can admire, and talking with kids has always been less stressful than with mature adults. Maybe Pepper was right in that Tony never really did grow up in some respects. Brainstorming with kids was so much more inspiring - their brains were a lot less structured and went in surprising directions.
Problem was ... people seemed to think that Tony's stand-off-ish and brash attitudes would scare the kids somehow. Completely ignoring that kids were 100% more adaptable than adults - Tony had never had any problems talking to kids, look at Harley.

Speaking of Harley Keener, Tony had missed the little guy. A smart-mouthed little fluff-ball with abandonment issues and a brain too big for bum-fuck nowhere and a single struggling mother. Also stubborn, very stubborn. You get that when a kid had to raise themselves, mind their younger sister with a learning disability, and absent adult role models. Mrs Keener tried her best, as only a financially struggling single mom would - but her semi-abusive mother-in-law who never actually looked after the kids and demanded money did not help either.
Tony had tried to help with the situation, but Harley had told him that his mom wouldn't accept 'charity' - 'even from a super-rich mechanic who could spare a few bucks'. She was Harley's mom so he would know, so Tony took his word for it. Didn't stop him from gifting the little mechanic the workshop, slip a pamphlet about a free program for young children with learning disabilities in the area, fudge some numbers and bribes so a few of Mrs Keener's lotto tickets happened to be winners and admitting the harried mother into the free higher learning program so she could finally finish her degree, and letting the mother-in-law know, in no uncertain terms, that if she ever stole any more money from the young family, some of those 'old charges' she had given the slip might find her again one day.
No one ever said Tony didn't fight dirty.
Luckily, Harley didn't seem to be aware of Tony's Machiavellian schemes, as his emails and texts had regaled him all about their recent luck. Also reprimanding him for taking risks and congratulating him for the successes that he had seen on tv. Harley Keener was an unrepentant mother hen who sassed harder than anyone Tony had ever met, before Loki that is.

No one was happier when Tony found out Harley had made the grade to join the STARK Higher Education Program, Junior department. He knew he would, of course. And Tony could even prove he had nothing to do with it, the kid had passed on his own merit - which he did have to when Harley accused him of cheating. The little bundle of insecurities guarded by an armour of sass ... it was like looking into a mirror. And because of that ... Tony made sure that any and all students of the STARK Higher Education Program would avoid the media circus. They weren't dancing monkeys or publicity stunts, they were the answer to the future. In his humble opinion, kids should never be shoved into the limelight, and celebrity does things to smart people - usually warps them. Confidentiality agreements and security had to be tight for this program to work at all.
Especially since the program included people like Shuri, princess of a super-secret highly advanced recluse country. Honestly, Tony doesn't think this could have been run by anyone else and still manage to keep everything together. He has his AI and Pepper Potts, not to mention his fabulous staff who he pays very well. But he won't deny that the program being eclipsed in the media by the Brotherhood's attack and subsequent mutant task force, and, you know, alien princes from Asgard being a thing, has kept most of the program flying in relatively smooth waters. It had only been running for a few months, so the program wasn't overflowing with applicants yet, and probably won't until things pick up steam or the world stopped being crazy for a hot minute - but Tony highly doubted that.

The people who were currently in the course were the early birds and some of the 'cream of the crop', not there for publicity, but to actually learn. Tony's kind of people. Which was annoying him, because Pepper won't let him meet any of them! Though ... that being said ... when had Tony ever listened to the rules anyway?

"Princess Shuri, who is going by the username 'pλητн€®p®!ncə$5ρiə' is currently in a private STARK video chatroom with Miss Kamala Khan, aka, 'msmarvelisawesomesauce', Mr Peter Parker, aka, 'ironmanfan_10', and Mr Harley Keener, aka 'mechanicmanic'," JARVIS intoned from the lab's speakers as Tony settled himself down where he usually took video calls. "It can be said that the aforementioned chatroom was not something initially implemented on the STARK LEARNING server, seemingly created by the combined efforts of Princess Shuri and Miss Khan, with touches by Mr Parker and Mr Keener."

"Hmm," Tony hummed as he looked at the chatroom's program, an amused twinkle in his eye, "I can see Shuri held herself back from really making the thing, most of her digital traces are in the security and privacy protocols. Pretty top-notch stuff, but that's to be expected from the leader of the Wakandan Design Group. But the rest definitely looks like the work of our little miss hacker. What's bet you that Shuri used this as a test for her fellow students?" Tony's eyes twinkled with barely restrained mirth.

"It was Miss Khan who reached out to the other student's initially," JARVIS agreed a little stiffly, "Originally, she had attempted to hack into the student files, but when that failed she tried other avenues until Shuri noted her activities and made contact. Together they created the program and sought out other students, avoiding most of the adults after one run-in with a medical student who attempted to report their semi-illicit activities. Since discovering the two other junior students, the group have met in their private chatroom semi-regularly and have been socialising for a couple of months."

"Any issues?" Tony murmured as he inspected the coding for any faults, making notes on where he personally would make changes.

"Minor disputes."

Tony blinked in surprise, glancing up at JARVIS' dry tone. "Such as?"

"Mr Parker and Mr Keener had a 'falling out' that lasted a few weeks over 'who was the REAL iron man fan?'," Tony snorted, eyes crinkling in amusement. "In his excitement to prove he was 'the ultimate fan' Mr Keener may have divulged a little too much information about the incident of your meeting. But seeing as this is a private server, the potential for a security leak was deemed negated. Especially since the group have written their own chatroom code of conduct," Tony leaned forward, intrigued. "The majority of the rules centre around the fact that this is a privately created server among sworn-in members. To butcher the phrase - 'what happens in the server, stays in the server'."

"Not that a lot of people would believe them anyway," Tony grinned.

"Indeed," JARVIS intoned, "The issue did not last for overly long, thankfully, and did not interrupt their studies. However, the issue of miss Khan and Princess Shuri was a more concerning matter."

Tony rose an eyebrow, baffled what two young teen girls could possibly have done to make JARVIS sound so irked. "What? Did they start a feminist movement, stating 'boys are stupid and icky'?"

"In a sense," Tony's other eyebrow joined his other raised one. "It would seem that Princess Shuri is still struggling with Wakandan elitist attitudes and racial slurs, not at all helped along by miss Khan, taking their 'non-white' status to mean superiority over Mr Parker and Mr Keener, using their status as older students, and as more 'well-off' than the two boys families, to try to dictate over the other students, stating that males can never be as smart as women - which slowly started devolving into bullying and racist remarks."

"What?" Tony blinked, stunned, unable to understand why communications between the kids could have devolved in such a manner. "Is everyone ok?"

"The matter was swiftly dealt with, each student was given refresher courses on appropriate societal conduct, the history of racial regimes, and the rights of every human being as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Student's were also reminded that if a student was caught or reported to have broken anti-racism agreements in signing up for the STARK Higher Education Program, their place on the program would be revoked outright. It was a few weeks later that Miss Khan and Princess Shuri finally ended up apologising to Mr Keener and Mr Parker, opening a new topic of discussion about social injustices and plans to combat them, and not just mathematical and scientific equations as it had been before."

"Well ... good," Tony breathed, slowly reminding himself to unclench his jaw, "Have there been any other issues?"

"Apart from the few disagreements about 'what scientific field of study is ACTUALLY the coolest' and so forth, relations in recent months have been mild to beneficial," JARVIS replied smoothly.

"I was going to gate crash their private party as a bit of a surprise," Tony smirked as he pulled up a new window on the floating projector screen and his fingers started flying over the screen, writing up new code, "But in light of recent events, I think I should give them my own little test instead," Tony's smirk widened, "If they manage to pass the test, we could certainly make the prize with their while."

"Of course Sir."

Chapter Text

"Ah! Here they are!"

Tony and Bruce glanced up as they made their way out of another evening in the Nexus room, to see Narfi and Nari positively skipping down the hallway towards them.

"Here we are," Bruce gave a small smile at the twins delighted chuckles as they hopped to a stop, "Were you searching for us?"

"Yes, yes! We need your help!" the twins cheered, childishly tugging on the scientist's clothes gently.

Sparing each other a baffled glance and a shrug, the two mortals decided to just play along with the two mischief-makers. Although it was decidedly odd, that what appeared to be two grown men, who were actually centuries older than them, and decidedly taller, as all Aesir and Jotun seemed to be, had decided to play-act as little children. They were about to take a break anyway, and be it far from them to deny the gods their fun.

"What is it that you need?" Bruce inquired gently, watching as Narfi tilted his head in a bird-like manner, making his silky black braids tipped with baubles and feathers dance and sway.

"Did you break something again?" Tony smirked at Nari who gently hooked their arms together.

"No! We've been good, Freyr," Nari pouted down at him.

"Besides, Jarvis already warned us if we weren't more gentle around the penthouse then he wouldn't provide us with snacks," Narfi joined his brother in pouting.

"How terrible," Bruce smirked, eyes twinkling as Narfi and Nari slowly started guiding them along.

"I've always known you to be a tyrant J," Tony grinned, laughing when the aforementioned AI flashed the overhead lights in rebuke.

"So, what seems to be the problem?" Bruce asked again as they joined the twin raven gods in the elevator.

"Ah, just wait until you see," Narfi sighed forlornly, resting his head back to look at the ceiling like a tragic hero.

"Indeed, it is simply awful," Nari cried, gathering Tony in his arms for a cuddle to seemingly comfort himself, ignoring the inventor's surprised squeak.

"Is everything alright?" Bruce was concerned with the sudden and complete tonal shift. Narfi looked down at Bruce sideways from his pose, quirking up the side of his lip, green eyes dancing.

"Nothing that our two residential geniuses can't fix."

"Ah. So you did break something," Tony huffed, captured in the godlings arms and unable to extract himself no matter how he struggled.

The two ravens croaked and cawed at the inventor at the insinuation, causing the resident doctor to give a small smothered giggle.

"No, no, Freyr, we didn't," Nari denied, squeezing the human in his arms gently as his twin furiously shook his head, causing the hair ornaments to jingle.

"We promise, it wasn't us this time! Please don't let Jarvis take our snacks away!"

"So this isn't like the time with the doors?"

"Eir, you too?" Narfi gasped dramatically at the smirking doctor.

"It was one time," Nari huffed, pouting down into Tony's fluffy hair.

"I never did hear how you both managed to break the doors. How exactly did you manage to break automatic doors controlled by JARVIS?" Bruce smirked at the pouting gods.

"It was an accident!" Narfi cried, crossing his arms huffily, "Besides, that's not the point. We didn't have anything to do with it this time."

"And it's less a 'what' and more a 'who'."

"... You lot managed to break someone?" Bruce blinked in concern.

"So little faith, Eir, we're hurt," Narfi whimpered.

"Besides, we already told you, it wasn't us!" Nari defended, grinning at his twin when the elevator finally reached the penthouse level.

"Come, we'll show you!" Narfi cheered as he took Bruce's hand gently and tugged the doctor along with Nari who crowded the fussy inventor along.

The scene that met the two scientists in the penthouse lounge was like something out of an 80's or 90's sitcom. Loki was sitting in the lounge one-seater, one long leg crossed over the other, dressed in their green battle leathers, lounged back in the chair with their arms crossed, glaring unholy murder at Thor, who was standing as far away as he possibly could from Loki next to the kitchen table, dressed in his armour and red cape, hunched over with his hands clenched protectively over his privates.

"Uh ..." Tony looked back and forth between the two elder gods, who continued to stare at each other in silence, one in barley contained fury, and the other in fear and slight panic.

"What ... is going on?" Bruce hesitantly inquired, suddenly green glowing eyes taking in the swirling miasma that was the god's energies that were positively waging war right now.

"Isn't it obvious? Mom and Dad are fighting!" Narfi wailed like a little kid, gripping on the doctor's arm, "You gotta stop them."

"Us?! What could we possibly do?" Bruce gasped at the twins mischievous green dancing eyes.

"Mom and Dad are-? ... Does this make Thor the 'Mom' in this scenario?" Tony scratched at his facial hair, still safely contained in Nari's arms, thus he deemed himself quite safe from any domestic backlash.

"Yeah! Father said Mom was cheating!" Narfi cried, faux scandalised.

"Cheating? Were they playing monopoly again? I thought that was usually Loki's gameplan?" Bruce mumbled, ducking down to avoid the swirling GodWaves.

"No, no, Eir, not that type of cheating," Nari shook their head, letting some of the feathers in his braids brush against Tony's face, "Father saw Mom, surrounded by a group of pretty women."

"Yeah, apparently, they were ALL over him," Narfi drawled, smirking at Loki's features tightening and Thor's face growing paler.

"Huh," Tony hummed, as he pulled up a projector screen and searched for a small moment until he could see the issue, "Yep, here it is, a bunch of women with selfies and paparazzi photos of Thor being groped and kissed by at least 10 scantily clad girls at the beach. Not too shabby Heartbreaker."

"No, please, you don't understand, Man of Iron," Thor hurriedly shook his head as balls of green fire began to manifest and float in the air around Loki, "That was not my intention at all. I had merely wanted to experience the joyous Midgardian pastime of 'going for a swim at the beach'."

"I'd say," Bruce leant over, eyeing the photos along with Tony and the twins, "Those skintight trunks leave nothing to the imagination."

"And with your rippling muscles and washboard abs, it's no wonder every hot chick on the 10-mile beach tried to swarm you."

"Exactly," Thor nodded regally, completely missing the mortal's implied sarcasm and quickly digging himself a deeper hole, going by the wisps of frost that had started to creep into the room, "I was taken completely by surprise when those young ladies accosted me."

"Although it could be said, you did not try all that hard to dissuade their advances, Brother."

Thor froze, turning back to gaze upon the corner Loki resided in, preternaturally darkened by looming frost and eerily floating whisps of green fire.

"You always were an unrepentant skirt chaser, Thor," Loki scoffed, their scowl one of the darkest that Tony and Bruce had ever borne witness to, "You Aesir are all the same."

"But, Brother, I-"

"Do you ever think of your poor wife?" Loki scolded, making the golden god flinch. "Nevermind that time that we both took leave of our senses in a moment when we both needed comfort, which ultimately led to our son Móði," the raven-haired god grumbled, even when rebuking Thor they couldn't seem to regret having their son. "But I was not your only extramarital dalliance, as you also had Járnsaxa."

"... I thought having multiple lovers was an accepted thing in Asgard?" Bruce looked up to Narfi who was watching the argument avidly like it was the most intense and interesting tennis match that may end in bloodshed.

"That is true, Doctor," Loki replied, showing that they did indeed acknowledge that their argument had an audience, "But that requires that the spouses actually talk to each other and agree on having an open relationship. Of these two extras, I have mentioned, Sif agreed, although reluctantly," Loki sneered, showing their actual opinion of the woman in question. "This, however, does not take into account the scores of women Thor has panted after over the centuries in which he did not confide in with his wife."

"Mom did get booted from Asgard for canoodling with serving maids in the palace baths," Narfi nodded faux sternly in agreement.

"I was a fool to believe you had truly changed your ways, Thor," Loki scoffed, finally turning from the stricken golden god in disgust.

"Loki ... Brother ... Please understand when I say," Thor pleaded, face pulled into a moe of distress and sadness, "That I have regretted my past dalliances and foolish ways. Fore, I have not only harmed the Lady Sif, friend and shieldmaiden though she may be ... we have never experienced love for one another, and perhaps only married for duty and social advancement. But my biggest injustice had been visited upon you." Thor's blue eyes swam with tears.
Thor clenched his fists, "Once again, I was distracted by a pretty face, and in my brashness and foolhardy nature, I had almost ended one whom I still hold most dear, with my own hands. If I had not been pining for a momentary fling, perhaps I may have seen what was really happening upon my return to Asgard. It has haunted me ever since you had been heartlessly cast into the void. That I may have been able to save you ... had I actually learned my proposed lesson in exile." Thor shook his head at himself ruefully.
"From that moment on, in my moment of grief, I swore off that conceited, arrogant, immature lifestyle, and vowed that I would learn all I could of true events before rushing into battle. That I would never again raise Mjolnir in anger, and let cooler heads prevail. That I would clear your name of all wrongdoings, and prove to one and all that my Brother was not a villain, nor a monster. Although I was aware that clearing your name posthumously would not bring you back, nor truly make right what I had done."

"Thor ..." Tony wished that they could do something to wipe that heartbroken look on the golden god's face, but he knew it was ultimately up to Loki, who still had their back to the room.

"I have taken to my studies diligently, and sworn off the immature pursuit of momentary pleasure, and focus on learning what truly is 'Honor' and 'Justice' in a world where my Brother could so crassly be thrown to the bilgesnipes when they had simply been trying to right a wrong. I may not be anything close to a scholar, Brother," Thor gave a small tremulous smile at Loki's quite amused huff, "But I do continue to try. ... I did not have any relations with those Midgardian women," Thor swore seriously, "I promise you, Brother. On my honour."

"... I suppose that actually means something these days," Loki acquiesced, turning in their chair to look at Thor, who was bowing down, down on one knee, "Oh, do get up Thor," Loki huffed with a small blush, "Your bulky body looks too rediculous for grovelling."

"Loki ... Thank you," Thor's beaming smile was like a burst of hot sunlight had invaded the room and instantly melted the frosts away.

"Aww, Mom and Dad made up," Nari sniffed, cuddling Tony closer, swaying to-and-fro in their giddiness.

"Shut up Nari," Narfi faux scoffed, "I was about to win the betting pool on Thor being eviscerated on Father's claws."

"Narfi," the twins stilled at their father's tone, "Do please mind your manners."

"Begging your pardon Sir's," JARVIS' voice came from the room's speakers, "But what would you have the PR department do about this newest media scandal?"

"The people of the internet are getting pretty thirsty," Tony continued to scroll social media and forum posts.

"Isn't it obvious?" Nari quipped, tilting his head like the oversized raven he definitely was, "We pull a prank!"

"A prank?" Bruce stared at the raven flatly.

"Exactly! We give the people what they want!" Narfi cried, clapping his hands in glee.

"Which is?" Bruce rose an eyebrow as Tony continued to trawl the internet.

"Well, they obviously want to see the hunky alien prince be with somebody so they can speculate about their possible love life," Narfi lectured, "So why not give them one?"

"And who exactly do you propose to be the oaf's foil?" Loki drawled in a mix of annoyance and helpless amusement.

"Well ... you of course."

Everyone except the twins in the room blinked, slowly digesting the proposed idea.

"Uh ... I hate to be the bringer of bad news," Tony looked up from his screen, "But 'Brotherly relations' of the 'sexual' nature is not at all tolerated on Midgard. Let alone gay relationships all that much. Doing that would just cause an even bigger scandal."

"That's why it's a prank, silly Freyr," Narfi tweaked the inventor's nose, giggling at the mortals scrunched face.

"Father would not be himself in this scenario," Nari gently shook their head, "But in their female form, using a different name."

"So I am to pose as Thor's lover," Loki smirk slowly widened as Thor's blush grew, "Now that is an interesting idea."

"And no one would dare approach Mom when they know that Dad would possibly freeze them on the spot," Nari vigorously nodded to his twin's words.

"It's a surprisingly feasible idea," Tony smirked up at the gods, "Celebrities have fake relationships and use people as 'beards' for their true relationships all the time. And I know our PR teams could make it work ... if that's what you really wanted?"

Loki looked to Thor, whose honest blue eyes still glistened with unshed tears, who gestured with his hand that he was happy to let Loki decide their cause of action. Loki stood for a moment, then turned to Tony and regally nodded in agreement.

"Right," Tony's smirk was a delighted thing as he turned to his screen and furiously started typing, "JARVIS, FRIDAY, EDITH ... you know what to do."

"Right away Sir."

Chapter Text

Tony gave a great sigh as he relaxed back on one of the few chairs they installed in the high-tech, high-security, top-secret room that housed the two Infinity Stones that had decided to hang around. The Nexus room had quickly become one of Tony's favourites in the Tower, actually competing with his lab almost. He would have expected being anywhere this close to super-powerful entities of cosmic proportions and the desired object of a death glorifying world-destroyer would leave his nerves constantly on edge. But honestly ... the Stones were super chill. They slowly drifted around the room, like they were just floating in an ocean's tide, giving off soft muted light that was gentle on the eyes, and gave off this sort of soft sub-sonic hum that was pleasing to the ears. Bruce described it as white-noise, but Tony argued that it sounded like music. 'Music' he couldn't follow the rhythm or pacing of, or understand if there were any lyrics ... but it was soothing and sounded nice, so Tony just shrugged and let it be. He blamed the relaxed atmosphere of the room for his uncharacteristic willingness to let a mystery be a mystery. Also for how many naps he has taken in this room. If Pepper had known how much sleep Tony actually was getting she might have praised the gems ... instead of consistently voicing her dislike of Tony and the Gods housing them in the Tower and refused to visit the Nexus, even though she had limited access.

In fact, almost all who had never actually seen the Infinity Stones, but knew of them, if only vaguely, all tended to treat them like they were rabid dogs that would gnaw anyone's face off. Bruce, Thor, Loki, their kids, and Tony himself had to constantly reassure those in the know that the Stones were secure and everyone was safe. It was almost like all these horror stories that were built up around the Stones were the product of mortal tampering, and if people would just leave the Infinity Stones alone ... none of those terrible things would ever have happened. Tony wondered if it was like the bad press crocodiles, snakes and sharks got.
Seriously, if they could see the Stones now, dancing across the ceiling, humming their strange tune and giving off soft sparkles of light? They wouldn't be so afraid of them at all.

But Tony could understand peoples misgivings. 'I mean,' Tony mused as he watched the Stone's lazy trails, 'We know so little about the little guys, but the stories we do know about them are terrifying.'
So many wars had been waged over the Stones over the centuries and clutched in the hands of so many people striving for power - and it was still amazing to realise that barely anything was known of them at all. Thanks to Professor Elliot Randolph sharing the few stories that had been passed down and shared among the peasants of Asgard, some of who had actually lived during that time - reminding them yet again that Asgardians really were immortal unless mortally wounded or killed. Those who had no place being in battle tended to live the longest, unlike the Asgardian royalty. It was surprising that they still managed to rule over a population that tended to outlive them. And the populous of Asgard? They had a mountain of local folklore and memories of times long passed. Stories that Loki had begun furiously transcribing in a scholarly fever as Professor Randolph shared the Asgardian peasant's oral storytelling tradition.

The earliest memory or even mention of the Infinity Stones was of one of the Stones called the 'Reality' stone, or as 'the Aether'. As Professor Randolph recited the story from memory:
"Long before the birth of light there was darkness, and from that darkness came the Dark Elves. Millennia ago the most ruthless of their kind, Malekith, sought to transform our universe back into one of eternal night. Such evil was possible through the power of the Aether, an ancient force of infinite destruction."
Going by the story, it was the 'Dark Elves' who discovered the Reality Stone and took ownership of it first, long before Asgard was even a twinkle in Buri's eye. The story went on to explain that the Dark Elves, through their 'dark magics' had forever changed the shape of the Reality Stone into a type of liquid or gas, giving it additional properties, such as allowing it to change matter into dark matter and to absorb 'life-force' from a hosts body and renamed it the Aether. This story was mostly remembered because during this war with the Dark Elves that Professor Randolph called 'The Battle of Svartalfheim' was when The builder of Asgard, the first Asgardian King Buri, had died in battle.
When Bruce had asked what did 'the Dwarves have to do with this?', Loki explained that Svartalfheim was originally a Realm of the Dark Elves, before Bor cast the defeated army and the entire Dark Elf species out into the void, basically yeeting them off of the Yggdrasil entirely. It was a few centuries later that Bor had agreed to let the Dwarves, whose home Realm Niflheim had collapsed thanks to over mining and industrialisation that had caused a type of 'global warming' effect, leaving Niflheim frozen over and destitute, with an agreement of free open trade, Bor had 'graciously' allowed the Dwarves to inhabit Svartalfheim.
The story of the battle ends with Bor being crowned king, and after casting out the Dark Elves, Bor then had the Aether hidden away to a world, a part of the Nine Realms, where no one could ever find it.

"What do you bet that this was the first instance of Asgardian kings using Midgard as a dumping ground?" Tony had joked dryly after the Professor's story.

"Tony," Bruce had sighed as he took his glasses off and massaged his brow, "Don't even joke about that, please. It's auspicious enough that our planet is already playing host to 2 of these things. What would even be the likelihood of having even one of these Stones on Earth? Out of the two, it's the Space Stone that's spent the most time here, and that's strange enough."

At the thought of the blue stone, Tony's eyes followed the glittering gem as it circled it's sibling, casting off glimmers of blue light. Honestly? The Space Stone was the one Infinity Stone they could trace the history of most out of the 3 that they currently knew of. Granted, they lost track of it around the 1980s, only for any traces of it to reappear at the tail-end of the decade - but apart from that, traces of the Space Stone, or actually 'the Tesseract' that contained the stone, was pretty consistent since 1942 when HYDRA discovered it's hiding spot in Tønsberg, where it had essentially been since Odin had left it there, as a gift to Thor's birth mother Jörd. They could follow the Tesseract's journey from the Nazi's, to Howard Stark, to Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., then to SHIELD - who had had it ever since then ... till just last year that is. But before all that? All they knew was that the Tesseract had probably been kept in the Asgardian Royal Treasury Vault. How they came to acquire such an item? They didn't know, as there were no official records of the artifact in Asgard and Professor Randolph had heard nothing about it. But seeing as the Tesseract had a lot of the signs that it may have been crafted by the Builder? They had a pretty good estimate that at least Buri had been aware of it.

In contrast, Tony tracked his eyes over to the yellow gem, even less was known about the Mind Stone. From what Loki had been able to gather, the Mind Stone had never been to their part of the galaxy and was unable to discern how long the Inifitiy Stone had been in Thanos' possession. The fact that the all-powerful-destroyer-of-worlds had not used the Stone, however, and 'gifted' it to The Other to use in his mind-control experiments, which had held little success, showed that perhaps Thanos did not have a way to control the Stones he desired ... yet.
And with Thanos' 'courting gift' to Hela of a severed Dark Elf head, either told them that Thanos was hunting for the Reality Stone, or that the remains of the Dark Elf forces were no longer an issue to worry about. Either way, they had no way of telling where that particular Stone maybe, all they could really do was keep an eye out, in case it really was here, despite the odds.

Knowing all that didn't really help them get any closer to understanding the Stones themselves, however.

Tony yawned, eyes becoming heavy as he watched the 2 mysterious Stones revolve around one another, like their own 2 planet system. "Must miss your brothers, huh?" Tony mumbled as he settled down for another nap in possibly the securest room in the Tower, slowly drifting off to the two Infinity Stone's hum.

Chapter Text

"You have such an amazing figure, are you sure you won't try any other colours?"

Loki rolled her eyes at the ceiling as once again they found themselves butting heads with the tailor and designer that Pepper had dragged them to. "Yes, green and gold are the colours that have always worked for me."

"I mean, it is an unusual and eye-catching colour combination, but with your black hair, I'm afraid the colours just drain you out." the seamstress tutted, pushing up her frankly enormous spectacles that made her eyes appear bug-like.

"I beg your pardon?" Loki slightly hissed through her teeth with a glare.

"She just means that those colours tend to make you look pale," Pepper sighed with an understanding smile, "Being pale and a redhead, I understand your struggle. I'm partial to blue myself, but it's not always suitable. Maybe," she turned with a smile to the stubborn tailor, "We could try a different shade of green?" the man looked a bit sceptical until Pepper rejoined with, "Or maybe focus on gold and make green the motif?"

"You said her partner to the gala is wearing a black suit with red, yes?" the tall dark-skinned bald man drawled as he tilted his head back and forth in thought, "If your man is wearing red then you'll need to wear a warm colour too. Red and green would just clash horribly," the designer sneered.

"But the red will be understated, as a dark red shirt or a vest. Surely you could work something out?" Pepper smiled at the designer as he glanced over, "There is a reason that the stars come to you for your wonderful designs."

"Hmmm, true," the man purred with a small smug smile, ignoring lady Loki's sarcastic eye-roll, the fifth such that she had used this evening, as he sized up Loki's slender tall figure, long luscious black locks and gorgeous green eyes. "Hmm, it would be a shame to dress you in red, the colour would just smother you, and the green in your eyes really should stand out as a feature ... did you mention gold?"

"Yes," Loki drawled in her sensual female voice, thoroughly fed up with these mortals brainless twittering even as Pepper continued to butter him up.

"And your beau will be wearing golden accessories as well, yes?"

"Yes he will," Pepper simpered, cutting in quickly after seeing Loki about to open her mouth.

"Yes! Eureka! I've got it!" the tailor cried out boisterously, snapping his fingers in a flamboyant way, causing his seamstress to leap up to his side in excitement, "I have just thing, Please excuse us, ladies, while I and Betty get the required fabrics," the man purred once again as the two swiftly left the room, clicking the door shut behind them.

"Ugh," Loki groaned, embellishing a hand to make the room soundproof now it only contained her and Pepper, "Why did you insist on this tailor? He is nothing but a buffoon!"

"He is known for being a bit eccentric, yes," Pepper agreed with a commiserating smile, "But he is THE word on fashion right now. Being seen in one of his designer gowns is to be accepted as a very desirable thing. Not just anyone could pull off these kinds of dresses you know?"

"I still do not see why I could not just conjure myself a gown for the event," Loki frowned as she stood down from the fitting stand down onto the plush carpet.

"Because people will want to know the maker of your clothes," Pepper lectured as she helped Loki back into a provided robe so she was not left standing around in her underthings as they waited. "There are people who make it their business to know what, or more precisely, who you are wearing at these type of things. To a point that they need only look to be able to tell exactly which designer made your clothes. Even the personal assistant does not escape scrutiny." Pepper cringed at the memory. "And if you turned up in a gown that no one could identify the maker of? It would cause industry-wide panic," Pepper shook her head ruefully.

"... What a silly thing to be obsessed with," Loki blinked in bemusement, "Midgardians are truly baffling creatures."

"Jörmungandr seems to enjoy the fashion scene, doesn't he work as a model?" Pepper smiled as she watched Loki flex her toes into the carpet, "Why didn't you bring him along?"

"You were the one that said this should be a 'girls-only' outing," Loki tossed the reminder over her shoulder as she began exploring the room now that the 'twittering ones' had left.

"Oh," Pepper blinked in surprise, "Can Jör not change their gender? I'm sorry, I just assumed."

"You were not wrong in assuming that most of my children indeed have inherited the skill," Loki soothed absentmindedly as she inspected on of the cupboards, "But Jörmungandr does not enjoy the female form."

"Oh ..." Pepper realised she had no idea how to respond to that, so she decided to change the subject, "Well, we needed to be seen going out to get you an outfit for the gala anyway, since we can't have a partner for Thor just appearing out of nowhere," Pepper shrugged. "If you had turned up with no trace of your existence before that moment it would have sent people into a panic."

"I had no idea the lives of mortals had become so complicated," Loki smirked as she finally gracefully sat on one of the provided chairs, having seen all she wanted of the room.

"You have no idea," Pepper drawled as her mind was dragged back to the issue back at Stark tower.

"Why did you insist that we go gown shopping today Miss Potts?" Loki's green eyes seemed to see more than what was normally visible, "As far as I was aware, outfit shopping was to be handled on a different day?"

Pepper sighed, reminding herself that it's not just geniuses she had to deal with anymore, but also alien princes, and the usual avoidance tactics probably wouldn't work on them. "Because it was better that there weren't so many people in the tower, at least for a while."

"Why?"

"Tony ..." Pepper sighed as she saw the gods green eyes take on the kind of sheen they did when they were feeling the most protective. "Tony had received a call today from someone he'd rather not think about."

"Who exactly," Loki purred dangerously.

"Sharon Carter," Pepper sighed the name like it was regretful acquaintance, "She is something like a ... cousin? To Tony. She is Peggy Carter's great-niece, and Peggy had been something like an aunt or godmother to Tony." Seeing the confusion of the god's face, Pepper explained, "Peggy Carter was the First Director and one of the creator's of SHIELD."

"Ah," Loki sighed in realisation, "So, this Sharon ...?"

"Joined SHIELD following in her great-aunt's footsteps," Pepper nodded with a small frown. "The Carter family had been distant to Tony ever since his parent's deaths, so he's not had much to do with them, other than the few run-ins he's had with the ... I suppose now ex-secret organisation. Tony hasn't really seen them as a family for years, although he still holds a small soft spot for Peggy."

"And I assume, with Tony being one of the major leaders in SHIELD's downfall, the family are not too happy with him?" Loki growled softly.

"You could say that," was Pepper's dry reply. "Sharon had always been something of a vocal dissenter against Tony, always berating him for not joining SHIELD or funding its operations. She had always been rather self-righteous about it," Pepper sneered lightly, "Ever since she joined SHIELD's ranks she made a point on commenting on how she was keeping the family dream alive whenever Tony tried to visit Peggy Carter. To the point that Tony slowly stopped going to see the family altogether."

"Let me guess," Loki purred, green eyes glinting dangerously, "Now that SHIELD has been exposed as the viper's nest that it is and the Carter's are now under heavy suspicion, they are reaching out to Tony for help, after year's of shunning him?"

"Pretty much," Pepper sighed, "And in Sharon's case to yell at Tony and blame him for everything."

"Why does he not ignore the harpy?" Loki scoffed.

"Tony can't ignore it, because Captain America decided to add his 2 cents."

"What does that whelp have to do with it?" Loki sneered.

"Peggy Carter used to be Captain America's sweetheart before he went under the ice," Pepper massaged at her sore neck, "Steve Roger's may not be 'Mr Body-Builder' anymore, but he still has clout - his limited visits to Peggy's room at the retirement home have been media sensations. The whole Carter family have been enjoying something like a sort of aftereffect of that celebrity, meaning that Captain fans have been crying for the families innocence, petitioning the military and the government to spare the Carter's from the investigation."

"Wouldn't it be speedier just to submit to the investigation and just get it over with? If they truly had nothing to hide," Loki scrunched her brows in confusion.

"Apparently, the thought that anyone would even think of investigating them is something of an insult," Pepper scoffed with a scowl, "I swear that family have ridden on their high horse for way too long. Living on the coattails of past glory and distant association."

"Should we not be supporting Tony right now?" Loki made to get up in their worry but Pepper calmly waved them back down.

"No, the PR department has mostly taken care of it, and FRIDAY has issued a warning to the Carter's and Rogers that they are not to try to involve Mr Stark in the investigation, with which the investigators agreed. The problem mostly lies in the fact that Peggy has Alzheimer's disease, meaning her memory recollection and retainment is faulty, leaving her confused most of the time and not really able to say anything about it. I think ... Tony is afraid she would take their side," Pepper frowned sadly for her friend. "Tony insisted that he needed to be left alone for a little while. Of course, Tony has JARVIS and the bots with him, so we have nothing to worry about." Pepper smiled at Loki reassuringly, jumping a little when the door to the room juddered.
"Loki ... did you lock the designer and seamstress out?"

"Now Miss Potts," Loki's green eyes positively danced, "Why ever would I do that?"

Chapter Text

"Wow," Tony breathed as he scrolled through his social media feeds, all of which were flooded with a mixed compilation of amateur and paparazzi photos and video footage of lady Loki in multiple locations around New York, usually with either Pepper or an SI security escort, "The news must be slow lately."

"Really Freyr, you couldn't even try to compliment my hard work?" Loki smirked as they lounged over the back of the couch, grinning at the inventor like a feline.

"Well, of course, you would be stunning in any form, anyone would know that," Tony grinned as he turned back to his Stark Phone, missing Loki's light blush at the sort of off-hand compliment, "I just didn't expect for people to start jumping on the 'Lady Loki Wagon' so quickly. Of course, no one has even guessed that it's actually you," Tony laughed gleefully.

"One has but to apply some makeup, and don a frock, and one could fool even their own brother," Loki chuckled, obviously reminiscing of the times Loki had done such a thing, ah such fond memories.

"What name did you end up choosing for your new identity?" Tony glanced over his shoulder, only to receive a notification from JARVIS that he had sent to files to his phone. "Ikol Magnussen? ... Lokes ... are you serious?"

"And what is wrong with my name choice?" Loki lifted their nose into the air snootily in mild offence.

"Isn't ... Ikol just Loki backwards?" Bruce piped up from the kitchen where he was making a batch of teas and coffees, "Isn't that ..."

"Isn't it what?"

"Well ... a bit too easy?" Bruce tilted his head in an unconsciously adorable way.

"Prince Laufeyson spent an afternoon choosing names with us AI," JARVIS explained in his usual dry butler-like tone, "And Ikol is very much a real Midgardian name. We decided a more exotic name choice would be better than just a commonly used one."

"I suppose most celebrities leading ladies usually do happen to have exotic names and backgrounds more often the not," Bruce reluctantly agreed as he gave the tray of drinks to Butterfinger's to carry to the lounge, smiling at the bot's beeps of excitement.

"But your features are barely changed from the more widely known images of you," Tony's brow creased, "Isn't it a bit too obvious?"

"That is because you are much more familiar with me," Loki crooned, "I doubt any of my disguises would work on either of you anymore."

"Plus we did run tests," JARVIS sniffed, "and studies showed that 95% of people who were shown the images side-by-side could not make an identification. The 5% who did were the occupants of this tower and our allies the X-Men."

"How did you manage to do that?" Bruce asked as he assisted Butterfinger's with handing out the cups.

In lieu of answering, JARVIS activated the large wall mounted tv in the lounge and displayed the article released by the official STARK INDUSTRIES PR department, which contained a picture of Loki and Thor at the acceptance ceremony at the U.N, dressed in their armour and Loki wearing the long-horned golden helmet, with an explanation that although SI would be holding their annual Maria Stark Foundation Gala, Loki Laufeyson would be unable to attend, because of pending duties, but his brother Thor would still be attending. Next to that article was an article showing a paparazzi photo of 'Ikol' shopping around the upmarket with Pepper, explaining that she was a new personal assistant to Tony Stark and an employee of Stark industries. Two different articles on the same page, with no clear relation to each other, only that they were statements released by SI.

Bruce gave out an impressed whistle, "Your PR team definitely know what they are doing."

"And once we are at the gala, and it is revealed that I am not accompanying you like everyone is speculating but on the arm of Thor? Anyone who once suspected would immediately be distracted, and it would be the last nail in the coffin to any suspicion." Loki's smugness was like sticky taffy.

"Well ... I guess I really can't be late to my own party now," Tony joked glibly, chuckling at Loki's smirk, "Wouldn't want to ruin your prank."

"Yes," Loki purred, "It would very much ruin the image if I were to be seen having to drag you there."

"And it would upset all the STARK Higher Education Program students who won a ticket to the event," Bruce chided lightly, "This is supposed to be your first public appearance since the attack at the old Stark mansion, plus the first real show of unity between the mutants and SI."

"And don't forget, your going to be coming as well Brucie," Tony smirked at the doctor's paling face.

"W-what?!"

"You cannot possibly let us have all the fun," Loki chuckled at the doctor's squeak.

"Whe-when was this agreed on?!"

"Your suit has already been ordered, Doctor Banner," JARVIS interjected from the speakers of the tv, leaving Bruce Banner to give a tired sigh of defeat.

"Don't worry so much about it Brucie," Tony patted his fellow scientist on the back, "You can keep me company. Besides, The Maria Stark Foundation is really only for big names to be seen donating big money for good causes and earn themselves some good publicity. No one is going to even want to focus on us. They'll have mutants and Gods to gawk at. We'll just have to deal with a burst of 5 minutes of fame, at least."

"Now I feel distinctly like I have been used as bait," Loki smirked at the grinning inventor.

"I'm going to make my first appearance in ages to show people that 'Hello? Not actually dead', Thor gets to keep the company of a lovely lady Ikol and keep the rapid fan club away, Xavier and Erik can finally get over themselves and go out on a public date already," Tony smirked at Bruce's admonishing sounds, "Pepper can finally make her relationship with Happy publically official which means people will finally realise that we are no longer an item, and I get to hang out with a bunch of very smart people and my friends and family. What's not to like?"

Chapter Text

Bruce was enjoying a rare coffee in the penthouse, taking a break from his long lab hours, when he received a notification from JARVIS on his Stark Phone that the penthouse was welcoming a guest. Curious, Bruce glanced up when he heard the elevator doors open to admit an unassuming blond man, dressed in light brown slacks, button-up shirt and cardigan and dark brown leather shoes, looking like the quintessential academic teacher type, but it was the slightly red wavering energy that surrounded him that could not escape the Hulk's vision that finally twigged who this was in the doctor's brain.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Bruce quickly put his coffee down and stood up to greet the professor, "You must be the Norse Mythology Professor, Professor Elliot Randolph, Tony has told me about. My name is Bruce Banner."

"Please, just Elliot, since we aren't standing on formalities, doctor," the smooth ex-Asgardian smirked amiably at Bruce's fumbling.

"C-can I get you anything?" Bruce hurried to the kitchen, hoping to keep his hands busy so he wouldn't fidget.

"A coffee would not go amiss, thank you, Bruce," Elliot nodded as he looked around the tower's penthouse living area and kitchen, "My, but Tony sure does have some taste."

"Don't let him hear you saying that," Bruce chuckled, trying to shake off his new-person nerves as he busied himself with the coffee maker, "Or he'll go on another designing binge."

"Where is our designer and inventor at present? or the Princes for that matter," Elliot chuckled as he slowly approached the kitchen, not wanting to spook the jittery mortal that reminded him of some of his more anxious students.

"Loki and Thor are out in public for more 'evidence'. Tony is back in the Nexus room, said something about answering a 'mechanic's excited messages about the gala'," Bruce smiled as he retrieved one of the newer mugs for their guest, "Tony is surprisingly doting on the students."

"Hmm, I wouldn't find it that surprising," Elliot hummed, causing Bruce to look up, "In the admittedly short time I've known him, Tony Stark has been a fount of generosity. It's more than just a billionaire who has more money than he knows what to do with, or trying to buy friends as I had expected. More ..." the ex-Asgardian paused, trying to find the right words, "Tony has been given a reason to give people what they need, and it's a kind of outlet for him to be generous where he could not before. I doubt many a few years ago would have accepted his generosity at face value."

"I'm ashamed to say I would have been one of them," Bruce shook his head ruefully, "It wouldn't matter if Tony had really only wanted to help, as I know of him now, I would have spat that gift of generosity right back in his face. I don't want to say that all the awful things that have happened to Tony in recent years were a 'good' thing," Bruce grimaced, "But it definitely has at least helped the world see that Tony can be better."

"It is something that I do admire about the human race - thank you, Bruce," Elliot nodded his thanks as the doctor handed him his coffee, "You have such terribly short lives, yet, you can put all your energy in changing your situation or try to make yourselves be better versions of yourselves. This personal growth," the professor took an appreciated sip of coffee, "Oh, that is lovely, thank you - that kind of personal growth? You would never see that on Asgard."

"Loki mentioned something to that effect," Bruce nodded, walking to professor back over to the kitchen table were Bruce's coffee still sat, "It's honestly something I can't even bring myself to imagine." Elliot chuckled as he sat down with Bruce. "Living all that time ... and just spending it idle, only working to eat. How do the Asgardian's not slip into some sort of ennui?"

"I suppose the Realm is in a sort of lack-lustre rut, has been since before King Bor's days. My theory had always been that the Asgardians had used up all their vim and vigour building Asgard, and now can really only be bothered to stir when a war is on," Elliot shrugged as he enjoyed his coffee. "That's the problem when your the 'most advanced Realm in the galaxy', you've 'discovered' it all, you've conquered the known Realms, leaving nothing new to experience. And once people have seen all there is to see? They get complacent and lazy."

"Do you think ..." Bruce inquired hesitantly, continuing when the professor gently encouraged him to continue, "That ... King Buri executing the Builder stunted Asgard's progress?"

"It very well might of," Elliot replied consideringly, "Although, from what I can remember from the stories, the Builder was something like an eclipse. His creations were so overpowered, so prolific, so amazing, and so easy to use ... that any and all other crafters, scholars and builders in Asgard simply gave up," the professor shrugged at Bruce's shocked look, "They were endorsed by the King. And the King had the habit of beheading those who challenged his favourites." Elliot chuckled at Bruce's disgusted face, "No one wanted to challenge the King."

"That's awful," Bruce shook his head.

"Eh, he was the King who created Asgard, what could they do?" Elliot shrugged blithely.

"So King Buri had the Builder, who could basically build anything?"

"That's what the stories say," Elliot nodded.

"How long was the Builder with them? Where did they come from?" Bruce lent forward.

"The stories never actually say, though I remember hearing a rumour that he came to us from beyond the void, and yet others saying that he was a fire giant in disguise." the ex-Asgardian chuckled.

"Fire giant? Are these like the Jotun?" Bruce blinked as he stirred his coffee.

"Jötnar," the professor immediately corrected, falling back into his lessons, "Jötnar is the plural to Jötun. Although, I believe the Jötun themselves call themselves something else altogether ... so I guess calling them Jotun is fine. It's better than some of the other names they've been called through history. But anyway, no, the Fire Giants are not like the Jötnar," Elliot smirked at the doctor's befuddled face. "Of course, the Aesir and therefore some of the Norse myths would try to tell you that all 'Giants' are the same, it's simply not true. The 'Frost Giants', or more politely, the Jötnar, are descendants of the first life on Jotunheim, descendants of Ymir. Who coincidently is the ancestor of many Asgardians too," Elliot smirked with a crooked smile.
"Fire Giants, or as the Aesir prefer to refer to them as, the 'Fire Demons', they are a race of magma-like creatures that originate from Muspelheim. They are ruled by their lord Surtur, or 'The Fire Demon' if you will. As you can imagine from the imaginative monikers, Asgard and Muspelheim do not share friendly relations."

"So ... some Aesir believe the Builder was secretly a demon?!" Bruce put his almost empty cup down in shock.

"You have to understand," Elliot gently shook his head, "The Builder themselves did not have a shining reputation. From the stories that survive, they were callous and single-minded in their quest to build. It didn't matter who they destroyed or whose livelihood was put in danger - if they could build what they'd put their mind to? Nothing was too big a price. There are plenty of retellings of Aesir who lost their homes because the Builder claimed it for resources or as the location of one of his new contraptions or buildings. Apparently, there was an old saying that the Builder would take a newborn babies rib bone if it would help them finish building something," the professor shook his head slowly, "The Builder was not a hero, especially not to the people. But it can't be denied that they built wonderous things, and Asgard probably would not still be standing without them."

"Ah ... I guess I can see where people could get that idea," Bruce cringed.

"To tell the truth, for a while I had wondered if Tony Stark might a be a reincarnation of the Builder. But I see now that Tony just would not have the heart for it," Elliot shook his head with a chuckle, "In truth, you would all make terrible Aesir. You're decidedly too nice."

"I wouldn't say that," Bruce gave an awkward smile, "We've been known to destroy one or two people's lives."

"Yes, but they usually had it coming to them," Elliot grinned ruthlessly.

"If I might be so bold in asking," Bruce licked his lips nervously, "How exactly old are you? You speak like you remember things from before Odin."

"That's because I do," the professor smirked into his teacup, "I was born before Odin, I think it actually was around the time Odin's father Bor was born, but long after the Builder had been executed. I remember the celebration of each heirs birth, I remember Odin's fight with Surtur when he was a young lad because of a prophecy which marked him as the favourite to inherit the throne after his father, I remember the Battle of Svartalfheim and the death of King Buri, the crowning of King Bor ..." Elliot glanced over at Bruce's wide eyes, "Although I was a young peasant lad during all of this, then a masons apprentice. I never took part in any battles until the Battle of Tønsberg. The most I ever heard of the battles were second-hand accounts."

"But ... you still lived to see 3 Asgardian Kings, and possibly the end of Asgards Golden Age slowly petering away," Bruce speculated with fascination, "If the people of Asgard are really so long-lived and your memories are so long, why do they not write them down? Loki has been scrabbling to try to put any kind of cohesive history together."

"Because the class divide in Asgard is wide," Elliot huffed, "I know it is sort of different here in Midgard in recent history but Asgard? No one speaks to the peasants."

"It's a shame," Bruce scowled at the injustice.

"It's a damn shame," Elliot grinned.

"You don't seem to be too broken up about it," Bruce rose an eyebrow.

"That's because I haven't considered myself an Aesir since I helped those poor villagers in Tønsberg to rebuild and bury their dead. I was shown more kindness and goodwill in that village than I had my entire life in Asgard combined. They offered to pay me for my work, even though they had just been through something horrendous, they gave me food and shelter, and after the rebuilding was done they hired me as a local mason. In my mind, I had put my old life behind me and grabbed this new life with both hands. I'm still a bit reluctant to talk freely with the princes, although Tony has assured me over and over again that they mean well," Elliot huffed in amusement, "But I am, unfortunately, still an Aesir. It takes me a while to change my mind."

Bruce was trying to smother his small chuckle at the ex-Aesir's commiserating smirk - when the air in the Tower suddenly felt off, tingly, and the speakers in the room gave off a strange crackling buzzing sound.

"JARVIS? What's happening? Is something wrong?" Bruce stood with Elliot, bracing themselves for what? They did not know.

"There is currently a worldwide disturbance," came the voice of JOCASTA, slightly crackled, "Strange phenomena in many places, all over the world."

"There are reports of strange tears or portals appearing in seemingly random places," EDITH continued as she began the shutdown and security procedures, "We would ask that you would stay here in Tower until the matter is resolved."

"No argument from me," the ex-Asgardian agreed.

"Doctor Banner," TADASHI took over the speakers, "You are needed for medical support."

"Ok, is someone injured? Are they already in medical?" Bruce inquired as he was already heading the elevator.

"No, the Nexus room. It's Sir," JARVIS sounded uncharacteristically concerned, "Something is wrong."

Chapter Text

Waking up in the Stark Tower medbay was something that Tony was surprised hadn't happened sooner. It was only a few days into November, and this was his first emergency visit to the medical ward this year? 2013 may just have been his luckiest year yet, funnily enough.
He hadn't needed to host any boring events or conduct speeches or schmooze with greedy elites, instead, he spent all of his time since arriving back from their holiday in Hel in March, basically, researching and building anything he wanted. It had been, frankly, the quietest year he had ever had since getting that shrapnel buried in his chest. Of course in his life, good things could not last.

Tony honestly was a little shaken up about how seemingly anticlimactic the situation had been. He had been told that he had been napping in the Nexus room after having answering personal emails but awoke a few minutes later, eyes blazing orange and screaming hysterically. When asked, Tony admitted he didn't remember waking up or screaming, only that he vaguely remembers distant echoed feelings, from ... he honestly couldn't say where, or who. Just that they had been ... afraid. And sad, and lonely. That they were trying to ward off ... something, something that frightened them. But then there was anger ... that anger was the strongest emotion. All-consuming and bitter.
The fact that he woke up the next day with his seiðr back under control and all alien feelings completely gone was a bit head-scratching.

The gods and Bruce Banner blamed the episode on the Stones, seeing as he had been napping in the Nexus room at the time, and no one else had had the same reactions. The AI consolidated information that they had been gathering around the globe, that apparently strange occurrences had been happening in steadily building numbers since about 4 days ago. Bizarre atmospheric occurrences, an array of missing or misplaced persons or objects, a few researchers or scientists that had mild connections to SHIELD that had before this been released after being deemed not guilty had been found at ancient landmarks and tourist spots ranting and raving, and some like a Doctor Erik Selvig had been arrested for streaking around Stonehenge naked. Bruce supposed that those who had been more exposed to the Infinity Stones had been the most affected, or at least, mortals who had, as Loki had admitted to no ill feelings as of late.

After weathering through both Bruce's and TADASHI's medical inspections and a quick check-up with his therapist, Tony had come out with a clean bill of health - which in its self was puzzling. With seemingly no ill after-effects or any real culprit or cause for the bout of hysteria, Tony had thereby been banned from spending free time in the Nexus room, only letting up because of Tony's begging, that the ban would be possibly lifted after they had finally discovered what had caused the attack. Tony's pouting had worsened when TADASHI had explained that since Tony was handling the situation so well, that he could not invoke 'doctor's orders' and skip the Maria Stark Foundation Gala that was to be held the tomorrow evening. Although being reminded of the prank and being able to see the students brightened up his countenance somewhat, even if he was ordered to stay in the medbay overnight, only being allowed out to get ready for the Gala tomorrow.

JARVIS, JOCASTA, FRIDAY and EDITH promised that they would continue to keep an eye on the outside situation, EDITH beefing up the Gala's security for the night. JARVIS assured Tony that all who had been travelling to attend the Gala had arrived at their provided hotel rooms unharmed, with FRIDAY piping up that there had been no major reports involving the incidents, that the world-wide occurrences were small and sporadic, meaning they did not have to calm any public panic. Indeed, the impending Gala itself seemed to have swallowed up any other kind of news.

So ... instead of another big impending attack or disaster ... it was a false alarm? A kind of seiðr hiccup? More Infinity Stone weirdness?

Professor Elliot Randolph, who was still housed at the Tower during the situation for his safety, put in his two cents that he remembered something like this happening, around the time King Buri had been killed in the Battle of Svartalfheim, an event that had occurred over five thousand years ago, give or take. He said he remembered the lords calling the event 'The Convergence' or something - something vague about all the Nine Realms being pulled into alignment by some cosmic movement. But anything more than that had just been superstition and rumour until the Dark Elves had attacked.
Loki's fingers had itched for Asgards royal library, in the vain hope that surely someone in Asgard had had the common sense to note down such an important sounding event, but seeing as they had never heard of it in their wide array of studies, Loki thought it was unlikely.

Thor was the one who decided to take preemptive action and called his nephews to get in touch with Hela, who was currently in her Realm of Helheim, asking her to keep an eye out for such strange occurrences and to report any happenings back to them at the Tower. Such a Yggdrasil wide event, the more ready hands that they had to deal with the problem the better, loudly hoping that Heimdal was taking note of all of this, in the vain hope that his half brother was watching. He also reached out to their allies the X-Men with a warning about current events, receiving a promise from Xavier that the X-Men would be vigilant.

Apart from that, the Gods, vassals and AI could not think of what else they could do, if only to keep their eyes peeled, and hope, that all of this may come out to have been nothing.

Chapter Text

"No fair."

"Come now, Freyr, must you sulk all the way to the venue?" Ikol 'Loki' Magnussen lightly poked the pouting inventor as she, Thor, Tony, Pepper, Happy and Rhodey all sat together in a luxurious stretch limousine on their way to the gala's red carpet entrance for the arrival of all the bigwigs.

"You knew this would happen Tones," Rhodey sighed long sufferingly.

"But my science bro just gets to slip in the side entrance, Brucie doesn't have to put up with all the madness out there. Why couldn't I just go with him? I'm just a mechanic," Tony tried, whining and fluttering his puppy eyes, "I'm not as important as a God and his totally-human totally-hot date and a decorated Air Force Colonel."

"And what are we?" Happy huffed next to a smirking Pepper, "Chopped liver?"

Pepper gently patted his hand comfortingly, causing Happy to turn and grin softly at the vision she made dressed in her deep blue satin dress, more understated than Ikol's own stunning deep green gown with gold accents of blossoms and a cute little golden Mjolnir motif necklace, much the same as Thor's cufflinks and tie pin. Tony had much the same idea, except with little blue glowing arc reactor cufflinks and blue shaded sunglasses, so that he could keep the AI updated and first-hand visuals at all times. The only one not in a new suit was Rhodey, who was dressed in his impeccable formal air force uniform, as he always was to any official event.

"In any event," Rhodey chuckled as he slowly shook his head, "The first person out of the limo, once EDITH has given us the all clear, will be me - no argument Tones," Tony snapped his open mouth shut at his Platypus's glinty eyed glare, "It's what the security teams all agreed on. After me, next will be Tony, and in the pure madness that will be the media and paparazzi, Happy and Pepper will slip out. They will hang around while I move Tony further long the red carpet. Once we've reached the agreed distance, Happy and Pepper will follow. That will be your queue to exit the limo," Rhodey nodded to the two intrigued gods. "Please don't linger too long on the red carpet, or interact with the screaming fans if you can help it."

"But also don't speed walk off of the carpet," Pepper giggled, "No matter how overwhelming all the screaming and flashing lights might be. Happy and I won't be too far ahead, we'll make sure not to abandon you to the wolves."

"I have become somewhat accustomed to this 'paparazzi'," Thor smiled proudly, "They are the strange screaming ones with 'cameras', yes? Jarvis, Friday, and the lady Pepper have been excellent tutors. We know to stop and smile charmingly, but never answer any of their questions."

"Ikol, make sure to show off as much as you can," Tony smirked at lady Loki's mock offended huff.

"This is not my first ball, Freyr," Ikol fluttered her lashes coquettishly.

"I still can't believe we are doing this," Rhodes sighed with a slow head shake.

"Aw, are you jealous that Thor and Happy get such lovely beauties to escort?" Tony grinned, leaning over to hug his Honey Bear's uniformed arm, "You could always use me as your pretty little arm candy."

"Tones ... I love you, man ... But please never say something like that again," Rhodey screwed his eyes tight in pain as the limo's passengers giggled and chuckled.

A beep coming from Tony's Stark Smart Watch paused the titters, as that was the agreed-on sign from EDITH that the security teams were ready.

"Well," Tony sighed, shaking himself slightly and slipping into his public persona and plastering on his trademark Stark Smirk, "Let's get the show on the road."

----

"Darcy? What are you watching?"

A glasses wearing brunet glanced over her shoulder, popcorn halfway to her lips as she watched the scientist she was the assistant of and technically the intern of, sleepily wander out of the guest bedroom, in the flat that belonged to the other scientist she was interned under, who was currently in a mental ward, and they had come to rescue ... it was all kind of complicated, but not important right now.

"Jane, are you ok to be up?" Darcy watched her friend in concern as she slowly made her way to the couch, "The medics said you should be resting after getting that bump on your head."

"I'm fine, Darcy," Jane scoffed, missing the interns flinch at her continuing uncharacteristic temper, turning to gaze at the tv that was displaying many different shots of a red carpet event. Her question was soon answered when out of the ridiculously long limo stepped Tony Stark. "Ugh. It's just some sort of Stark event." Jane huffed with disinterest.

"It's not just any old 'Stark event'," Darcy argued, regaining her enthusiasm, "It's the first public appearance of Tony Stark since the rouge mutant attack at the old Stark mansion last year! They say he's spent nearly all year recovering."

"I couldn't care less if that bastard never left his Tower ever again," Jane grumbled under her breath.

"Come on Jane, I know you don't mean that," Darcy peered at her roommate worriedly, "If it wasn't for him, we might still be working for SHIELD without realising the danger."

"Exactly! Thanks to him," Jane scathed, "We lost our biggest funder. We're back to scrabbling for funding all over again."

"Well ... at least no one actually knows we worked for SHIELD for a year," Darcy smiled tremulously, inching slowly away from Jane's glowering at the tv screen, "Or no one would want to work with us."

Seeing Jane's temperament was not improving, Darcy searched for a new topic to distract her. "Oh, you missed it, but earlier? Some of the elected leaders of the newly formed mutant group that are representing the mutants who are now part of the Asgardian embassy turned up. It was this nice-looking bald old man in a cool looking wheelchair and this other really tall thin grumpy old dude ... Oh," Darcy's babbling slowly petered out as she saw Virginia Potts, ex-personal assistant and partner of Tony Stark and now SI President, step out of the limo on the arm of Tony Stark's Head of Security and personal bodyguard, Harold Hogan.
"Wow ... ok, I guess Pott's has moved on then." Darcy blinked in surprise at the SI president's beautiful dress as Jane scoffed, no longer really watching the tv, just staring blankly.
Licking her lips nervously, Darcy slowly got up off the couch but leaned down gently to ask her friend, "Um, I'm going to make coffee, Jane. Did you want one?" Taking the scientist's grunt as an acceptance, Darcy retreated out of the lounge and into the kitchen, breathing a sigh of relief as soon as she was out of the same room.
"Jeeze, that fall must have been really something," the inturn huffed as she hunted around the dotty old scientist's kitchen for decent coffee and cups. "Honestly, can the English think of nothing but tea? Where's the coffee at?"

A loud crunching snapping sound of wood that came from the next room almost made the inturn drop the mugs.

"Jane? .... What was that?"

Darcy received no answer, but there was a strange hum and through the kitchen door, Darcy could see a building red light.

"Jane? What happened? Are you -" Darcy quickly left the kitchen, coffee forgotten, to check on her roommate, only to freeze at the sight of the astrophysicist surrounded in a writhing red light, Doctor Erik Selvig's couch in ruins, the scientist's hair floating in an unnatural breeze.

"Jane?" Darcy called tremulously, "I-I don't think your hair is supposed to do that."

When the woman didn't seem to respond, Darcy crept over, trying to peer around Jane's standing form, trying to see her face or what she was looking at. "Oh ..." Darcy paled as she saw, walking down the red carpet was the stunning image of Thor and on his arm, the most gorgeous woman Darcy had ever seen.
"Oh no," Darcy breathed, turning to look at Jane's face, scrunched into an ugly angry sneer and her eyes burning red. "Um ... Jane? Hey, calm down. Maybe it's not what it looks like? Ah .. also ... I really don't think that-"

Darcy scrambled to bolt out of the flat as Jane snapped open her mouth, red swirling, as she gave out an unearthly inhuman screech of fury!

Chapter Text

Tony couldn't believe it. He was at a SI hosted social event, and no joke, he was actually having fun. Not the shielded, masked, social butterfly fun, or flirty drunken fun he might have had a few years ago. But ACTUAL fun!

He wasn't the centre of attention, and wasn't that a weird feeling? Having all the important people surrounding and trying to shmooze the alien princes - or alien prince and princess, Tony guesses he should say. Tony had wondered if his overinflated ego would handle being showed up by alien royalty, but all he really felt was relief. He was practically invisible, at his own party ... and it was brilliant! He could stand in a less busy corner of the hall, drinking a non-alcoholic beverage from a flute with his science bro, and take it all in without being hassled by hangers-on.

As he'd noted before, Thor and Ikol were making their way slowly around the floor, hampered at every turn by admirers and curious stickybeaks. Thor and Ikol looked to be handling all the attention fostered upon them with aplomb - it really showed that they had grown up in a royal court. While Thor was boisterous and entertained his audience, Ikol was all smooth grace and a gentle guiding hand. It was obvious that Loki had trained to be something of an advisor, skillfully guiding the conversations around them and leading Thor out of possible tricky situations, keeping everyone around them feeling satisfied and impressed, while Thor charmed everyone around them to the point that no one even wanted to bring up an ugly conversation. The duo were pros, and Tony felt a bit silly for having worried over them. They had centuries of practice, Tony lightly shook his head at himself as he watched those all around the royals be blinded by the duo's charisma. He didn't need to be worried about them at all.

And Bruce? He was sticking to the quiet corners, obviously, but he was not a shrinking wallflower like Tony had expected. Bruce had this quiet confidence about him, as long as he was talking to another scientist or medical professional. Most of the evening Bruce had taken up a lively kind of conversation with an up-and-coming neurosurgeon with a strange name and prodigious skill - one of the many people who had been invited as the 'talent' of institutions that had donated to the Maria Stark Foundation's many charities. Tony knew most were using this as an opportunity to make connections to further their careers, but Tony figured, as long as no one was getting hurt, and they were raising money for those in need? Fine by him. Tony himself had used the gala in times passed to nab promising scientists and intellectuals for his own company, as Tony was aware a few SI managers were doing right now, mingling with the crowd. It was just an accepted thing.

The mutants were not being excluded either, for which Tony was most heartened to see. Granted, there were not that many in attendance, mostly professor Xavier, Mr Lehnsherr, Storm, and a few STARK Higher Education Program ticket winners. Sadly, none of the mutant attendees had any physically visible mutations, as Xavier had worried that humanity just wasn't quite that accepting, just yet. But those that were there seemed to be having a pleasant time, interacting with people they probably would not have had the chance to otherwise. It was an encouraging sign.

Though Tony would have to say, the reason he was having so much fun was really, watching the kids. Harley had fairly nattered his ear off as soon as he had spotted him, practically hanging off of his arm in excitement, ignoring his mother who quietly chided him for his rudeness, who was his required parent or nominated supervisor to the event, that all under age children must have to be in attendance. Tony had to reassure Ms Keener that it was fine, he really didn't mind. Besides, it wasn't long before the kid was distracted and running around with a small gangly light brown-haired kid that had looked up at Tony with shy worshipping eyes, and a darker-skinned girl with a sharp tongue, who hilariously dragged princess Shuri around with them - who of course was not a 'princess' at this moment in time, just another student. Watching the 'secret' Wakandan agents trying to keep a beady eye on the princess without raising suspicion was honestly most of the entertainment that Tony needed.

Chuckling to himself Tony took another sip from his flute, eyes travelling the gala's gathered attendees, fairly chuffed that his plans (read schemes) were going so well and that everyone actually looked to be enjoying themselves. Seeing movement in the corner of his eye, Tony glanced over to the entrance, that had been abandoned as all the invited guests had arrived by now, but found at least four of the security guards standing at the doors, and still more baring the entrance.

"J? What's up with that?" Tony quietly intoned into his glass.

"Apologise Sir," JARVIS replied from the ear implant, "But the security teams are dealing with a disturbance."

"What's happening?" Tony placed his flute down on a nearby table, raising a hand to tap at his glasses to bring up security footage, "Is it a threat?"

"I'm afraid it is more of an 'inconvenience' than a 'threat', Sir," JARVIS replied, sounding annoyed.

"What the fuck?" Tony quietly whispered to himself as he stared at the camera footage, "What the hell is Captain America doing here?"

"It would appear that Miss Sharon Carter escorted him, Sir," JARVIS intoned, voice flat and dry. "The pair have been stating that, since Steve Roger's is a national war hero, he should have an invite."

"Well, yeah, usually we would have tried to bury the hatchet and invited him if it were any other time," Tony rose a disbelieving eyebrow, "But the guy is still chronically ill. The doctors at the facility even told us that the gala would be too much for his current delicate condition. He's barely well enough to visit Peggy's room, and that's at a retirement home with medically trained nurses." Tony brow furrowed dangerously, "What the hell is he doing? He could seriously injure himself. Whose bright idea was this?"

"I have contacted the facility, and it would appear that Steve Roger's has escaped, Sir. From security footage, it looks like it was Miss Carter that helped him escape his carers." If JARVIS could tut in displeasure, the AI would. "Medical staff and police are on their way as we speak."

"Good. Because Cap is honestly not looking so good," Tony grimaced as the 'national war hero' wobbled dangerously in the middle of what looked like a rant and had to be helped to sit down.

"Ambulance ETA, 5 minutes," TADASHI notified Tony, showing the ambulance's arrival by GPS.

"And the gala security has Miss Carter detained, awaiting the officer's arrival," EDITH cut in, sounding immensely pleased.

"What should we do about the camera crews Boss?" FRIDAY intoned softly, showing the growing crowd of media vultures trying to swarm the seemingly fresh carcass.

"Have the spare security teams push them back, and clear a path for the police and medics," Tony sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, "Nothing we can do about their captured photos and footage until they publish it."

"Tony?"

Tony glanced over his sunglasses, seeing Pepper and Happy slowly approaching, Happy keeping a fierce eye on the entrance.

"Is everything ok?"

"It's fine Pep," Tony smiled as he saw the medics and police arrive from his glasses, "The issue is being dealt with. Anyone notice?"

"No, they are all too busy staring starry-eyed at the belle's of the ball," Pepper huffed in amusement, smirking almost in spite of herself, "And you knew they'd all be distracted by them too."

"I had a hunch," Tony grinned cheekily as he glanced at Ikol and Thor, the veritable centre of attention.

Pepper sighed with a rueful shake of her head, "Well, in any case, you really should be getting ready to go give your host's speech," Pepper scolded lightly, ignoring the inventor's pout.

"Hey, at least all you have to do is open the floor to those who scheduled to give speeches then close the event up again," Happy gruffed, watching as the security personal nodded to him silently and slowly dispersed now that the situation was cleared up.

Tony sighed forlornly. "It's my party, and I still have to work."

Chapter Text

The speeches were wrapping up but the night was far from over.

Most of the scheduled speakers had been representatives from the charities being hosted this year at the Maria Stark Foundation, to come up onto the stage, explain what their charity does and what the donated money will go towards, and excepting enormous checks from a celebrity or the highest donator. Others had been from the invited institutions, businesses or celebs talking about what an honour it was to be here tonight, among all these good-willed people - blah blah blah, Tony had heard all of the fluff before.

It was hard to realise that he had revelled in such events before, would have even swanned up there, drunk and make a sort of self-serving speech ... he cringed remembering a time he did just that. Or had ditched the event altogether to go gamble, drink and pick up chicks ... an event that he started in the memory of his mother ... Honestly, Tony doesn't think if he ever met his past self that he would even recognise the kind of man Tony Stark had become.
Where in years past he would be basking in the limelight and unashamedly flirting, now he couldn't wait for the official part of the night to be over so he could go back to talking with Bruce and some of the other invited intellectuals. Tony did feel a bit sad that he'd had no chance to talk to either of the Asgardians tonight, with how much of their time had been demanded by admirers. But he figured he lived in the same Tower with them and spent almost every day in each others company. He had nothing to be jealous of (not that he even was, shut up) and would catch up with them later when they all went back home.

Peeking through the curtain from his position waiting backstage as another puffed-up old gargoyle ran his annual 'look at me I'm so humble and give lots of money so you continue to give ME lots of money' speech, Tony couldn't help the goofy grin that spread across his face as he saw a rather large group of kids, even some younger teenagers, running around in an open space at the back of the hall playing an impromptu game of tag. Black, white, mutant - it didn't seem to matter to these kids, they were just happy to have someone to play with and ignore all the boring speeches.

'If the world could just take these kids as the example,' Tony grinned to himself, 'the future of the world will be in good hands.'

The fact that he could see Bruce still huddled with a few doctors and scientists quietly swapping theories and contact information made him immensely pleased. Tony had hoped that Bruce would find like-minded people to converse with while at the gala - it wasn't healthy for him to be voluntarily isolating himself in the Tower. The PR department had done all they could to recover Bruce's reputation, but it meant nothing if he never came out of his self-imposed exile. This was an unexpected and completely unplanned bonus to what was already shaping up to be a great night! Even She-Ra and Bootleg Prince Adam attempted gate crashing couldn't possibly ruin this night's overall success!

The crowd's applause and notification from his glasses shook Tony from his daydreams, pasting on his Tony Stark Smile Tony strode out on stage, shook the old man's hand and thanked him for his contribution, making a mental note to have the event organisers to actually follow up on the smug bastards actually promised donations, and stood behind the podium to give the official event closing speech. Of course, the whole speech was displayed on his glasses lense and was concocted by his AI and the PR department, so Tony didn't deviate from it ... much. He wouldn't be Tony Stark if he didn't add his own little flair.
Tony really wasn't in the moment, reciting the speech almost by rote, with how much he had practised, even making humous little anecdotes to amuse the crowd while he was mentally reminding himself to go say goodbye to Harley and the kids before they left, as most would leave before 10 pm, being it would be way past some of their bedtimes. He could already see Harley begging with his mother to let him stay up late. He wondered if Shuri had enjoyed her first stay in America so far, even if it had only been a few days. Hopefully, she would stick around long enough for them to actually meet face to face in an unofficial manner, he'd love to pick her brain ... though he could see her 'escort' being an issue. He wondered if any of the adults she had brought with her were any of her family? Wouldn't that be an interesting meeting? That reminds him, he still has to sign that Iron Man model helmet for that boy Peter -

"Chief!"

Tony's eyes widened behind his glasses as EDITH's frantic voice rang in his ears, multiple screens flashing into his vision of a rapidly approaching object, something that was blipping in and out of existence, like it was ... teleporting, in great distances, travelling from the direction of Europe, coming straight for -

"JARVIS."

"Of course Sir," his trusty AI butler replied, already prepared as the AI activated the emergency shields that Tony and installed around the building, just in case. At the flair of blue as the many mini upgraded arc reactors booted up and deployed the barrier, filling the air with its transparent bluish light as it reached up over the building to case it in a protective bubble - and just a moment later to hear the sound of a BANG as something large and powerful smashed against it - Tony had to speak up to be heard over the gala's initial panic.

"Ok, everybody, settle down, there is nothing to worry about, this is only procedure. It seems like someone, or something has decided it wants to ruin all our fun - which honestly, it wouldn't be a Stark event anymore without an attacking nutjob. But there is no reason to be alarmed," Tony eyed Thor and Ikol, the later who nodded and discreetly used their seiðr to create a doppelganger of herself, while Loki took his usual form and cloaked himself in shadows, slipping from sight to apply their own wards and protections in preparation for a possible battle.
"I have been working alongside the Asgardian Embassy and the X-Men," Tony smiled, seeing that the older mutants who were trained X-Men members were already in uniform, alongside SI's security teams, "To make sure of your complete safety. While we are out there dealing with the problem, I ask that you all follow the direction of Professor Charles Xavier, who I leave in charge," Tony exchanged nods with the grimly determined older man, "and my Head of Security, Happy Hogan. They will ensure your safety and evacuation."

Tony smirked as he tapped his Stark Smart Watch, delighting in the crowd's gasps as Tony's newest suit revealed itself, zooming in from where it had been cloaked and stored in a backroom, coming apart in pieces to wrap around his body, almost lovingly, encasing him in his Iron Man armour. Powered with a combination of its own upgraded arc reactor and runes, the suit really was a marvel. Mark XLIÞ, or Skíðblaðnir, was his first official Asgardian inspired suit, with full rune and seiðr application and made with Baddasium instead of his usual gold titanium alloy. Taking inspiration from the Asgardian and Helhiemian armour, and a few of his own Iron Legion. The design mirrored his Mark XLI suit, 'Bones' the most, hence it being named the next in line.
The suit was lighter than his past suits and more flexible - resembling a light suit of plate armour rather than the bigger bulkier frames. It was built for flexibility, stealth and speed, but this did not mean he had to sacrifice its power or protection to do so. Not only was it made entirely out of Badassium (need he remind you, the strongest material made by man to date and possibly indestructible?) it was inscribed with layers upon layers of runes. Apart from the gold detailing and blue of the arc reactor and helmets 'eyes', between the gold, the deep black metal intermittently glowed with deep orange of the multiple lines of runes, looking almost like flowing rivers of Tony's glowing orange seiðr, layered so deep and thick it looked almost red.

Nodding his helmet at Happy and Xavier, Tony activated the thrusters, giddy to once again be in the Iron Man suit and to take to the sky, even if it did mean that he was possibly heading into battle. JARVIS had already opened the skyline for Tony to fly out of, followed shortly by Thor, who carried Bruce securely under one arm and flew with the hammer in the other. The scene outside was something of a sort of organised chaos. The media and paparazzi who had been hanging around the entrance in the hopes of capturing more pictures had luckily been included in the shielded area, Tony had to give props to EDITH and JOCASTA for marking out such a large ground map for the barrier, which covered not just the venue but also most of the roads leading in and out of the place to a certain distance. Luckily, the venue they had picked was not in the middle of the city and had a handy public park nearby ... which their attacker seemed determined to destroy since the venue was protected by the barrier that it, Tony was glad to see, couldn't penetrate. He was also glad to see that the Arc shield was holding under projectiles as well ... namely trees and unfortunately close vehicles it was floating into the air and hurling at the blue shield.

Tony circled above, trying to get a good reading of their attacker. Whatever it was, it appeared to have a type of telekinesis, if the free-floating make-shift projectiles were any proof. Or it had a limited area effect on gravity. But in any case, it still had the strength to lift and throw trucks and tear deep-rooted trees out of the earth. Even if it did nothing else, it was still dangerous.

Spotting Thor landing near Loki, just outside the Arc shield but far enough away to avoid the attackers seemingly enraged carnage, with Bruce, Tony decided that they needed to construct a plan.

"Lokes, what have we got?" Tony asked as he tried to scan the red ball of roiling red - was that liquid? - but was not able to read much. "Is this a friend of yours?"

"Please," Loki scoffed in offense, "Any who I would call 'friend' would not be so uncouth as to try to invade a celebration, nor throw such an ungainly fit," the seiðr master sneered, hands poised, alight with green seiðr as they continued to weave their spells, trying to isolate the invader but also keep the communications spell active, among other things.

"The old coots were that much of a bother huh?" Tony cringed slightly, swerving out of the way of a thrown tree as he ducked in close for a better reading.

"The lady Pepper did forwarn me of the possibility of 'pervy old men' and general 'unwelcome comments'," Loki sighed in irritation as they welcomed Bruce into their green protective shield while Thor decided to move further afield, readying his hammer, "If I had not been in disguise and at a public event? I would have made those insolent worms pay for their transgressions!"

"It's a good thing we were then," Bruce smiled somewhat apologetically, "You can't go around enacting personal justice on people Loki."

"Not even as a foreign royal?" Loki's smirk was as sharp as a knife, amused even as they continued to feel out their foe, who seemed to be quite distracted in their rampage against the barrier.

"Especially then," Tony shook his head ruefully. "It's no use, my scanners can't seem to penetrate the outer layer of that red liquid ball ... thing," Tony huffed, "And you swear it's not one of yours? Remember Thor, don't engage the enemy until we have a clear reading."

"Nay," Thor boomed, golden eyes scanning the roiling orb, giving Mjolnir a few test swings, eyes and hair beginning to give off powerful golden sparks, "This is not of Asgard make."

"And as far we know, it's not Midgardian," Bruce speculated, eyes and veins pulsing with green light, "Maybe it has something to do with those rips in the fabric of space-time and reality?"

"Do you mean the portals, brought about by Elliot's theorised 'Convergence'?" Thor rose both his eyebrows almost unbelievingly, "What could poss-"

"THOR!"

All eyes snapped to the invader at the loud screech, Tony was relieved it seemed to be distracted from pelting the shield now at least, though now that meant it had finally realised they were there.
Thor's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as the thick viscous churning red liquid began to creep back, revealing the form of what looked like a humanoid woman. She was rather slender, with delicate features, long floating brunette hair that swirled around her face, which would usually be considered beautiful ... if she didn't have it currently screwed up in anger. The being was floating in the middle of a cloud of swirling dark red liquid, or gas, that seemed to ooze out of her, especially her dark eyes and mouth like ash. She was dressed in ... a sweater and yoga pants?

"... Jane?"

Tony turned to stare at Thor's shocked face, mouth hanging open, eyes wide, arms slack, Mjolnir hanging limply in his hand - like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. "So ... she's a friend of yours then?"

"I didn't realise you knew any women Thor," Bruce tilted his head curiously, though his green glowing eyes refused to leave what the Hulk was roaring was a threat.

"She certainly isn't anyone I've seen or heard of before," Loki eyed the woman's seething countenance, "... And she appears to be wearing Midgardian fashion-"

"THOR!" the woman screamed, the swirling red lashed at the ground close to where the golden god stood, carving deep gouges into the earth like claws.

"... She doesn't sound too happy either," Tony cringed as he rubbed his ears, watching as Thor didn't even flinch at the explosion of the earth so close to his position, "Who the hell is she, Thor?"

"Jane ... she-"

"THOR! WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME?"

That finally caused Thor to flinch back as Loki stiffened in place at the woman's echoing screeching wails.

"THOR! YOU SAID YOU LOVED ME. YOU SAID YOU'D COME BACK FOR ME!" the red liquid, energy? Swirled around her in erratic patterns, tearing up even more trees and solid objects to hover, in preparation to be flung, seeming stirred by her flurry of emotions.

"... Explain," Loki growled, green eyes flinty as they stared at Thor from the corner of their eye, keeping the strange woman in his sights.

"Jane is the mortal who found me when I was banished to Midgard," Thor explained, eyes and demeanour going soft with remorse, "It was her and her friends who helped me find Mjolnir when we were separated. It was their help and guidance that reunited me with my friends, the Warriors Three, who had come to take me back to Asgard, stating the time of exile had been done."

"Wait, so you've already known some humans before you came to the Tower?" Tony blinked in shock as he watched the red glowing woman actually hiss, "You're trying to tell me that's a human? Is she a mutant? Why didn't you ever mention her? You know you are welcome to invite friends of yours to the Tower, within reason-"

"MERCHANT OF DEATH!" Tony flinched back at the old moniker, actually shocked to hear it again after almost a year. Also having to dodge having a delivery truck being hurled at him. "YOU WON'T KEEP MY TRUE LOVE AWAY FROM ME!"

"... True love?" Bruce glanced at Thor's slight cringe, as Tony now seemed to be the target for this renewed 'Jane's target practice', "What is she talking about Thor?"

"I ... may have flirted with her while I was on Midgard, and promised that once I had returned to Asgard and reclaimed my rightful place as Prince ... that I would come back for her."

"Are you fucking serious?!" Tony yelled as he dodged another tree, hoping that wherever those thrown objects landed that there weren't any casualties, but he was kinda busy playing keep away from being thwacked out of the sky by what was apparently a scorned lover. "J! You better be using your Google-Fu right about now!"

"The language is not needed Sir," JARVIS huffed dryly, "You are quite aware that I do not use Google."

"J!" Tony yelled as he dodged an expensive-looking car, careful to keep his flight path away from the venue and his companions.

"The assailant has been identified as a Doctor Jane Foster," JARVIS read out his findings calmly as Tony continued to fly the Iron Man suit in dips and weaves to avoid flying obstacles. "A graduate of Culver University, an astronomer, her studies are based on the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, or 'wormholes'. There are indeed reports of Dr Foster assisting Thor in his return to Asgard, along with her scientific mentor Doctor Erik Selvig and their intern. After Thor's departure, Dr Foster attempted to publish a paper regarding Asgardian cosmology and the Asgardian's use of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge as transport, in the shape of their Bifrost."

"But why the fuck is she after me now? What did I do?"

"Dr Jane Foster and Dr Erik Selvig entered a partnership with SHIELD," JARVIS continued, bringing upon the suits HUD the information that they had managed to hack out of SHIELD and the ongoing investigation, "providing them with the information Thor had apparently shared with her regarding the Nine Realms, who also provided her with funding to continue her work into the Einstein-Rosen Bridge."

"Ah ..." Tony groaned as it began to click in his brain, swerving to dodge another flung vehicle.

"YOU TOOK EVERYTHING FROM ME!" Red Jane screeched, lashing at the Iron Man suit like she was trying to swat a fly, causing Tony to have to fly higher up to avoid the swirling red viscous material that surrounded the astronomer, noting that the material never wandered too far from Jane in the centre, and always retreated to swirl around her almost protectively.

"She seems to be under the impression that Tony is keeping Thor away from her," Bruce mused, eyeing the seething woman with concern.

"Brother, why did you not try to contact the mortal?" Loki glared at Thor whose face was a mix of complex emotions as he gazed up at the floating figure of Jane.

"WHY? THOR, WHY? YOU TOLD ME TO WAIT! AND I WAITED FOR YOU!" tears streamed down the hysterical woman's face, a face scrunched in a mixture of pain, sadness and fury.

"Jane ... I ... I'm sorry. I forgot."

Chapter Text

The sound of crumbling earth and creaking damaged metal from all the wreckage was all the could be heard, along with the Iron Man's thrusters and the red viscous materials strange wooshing glooping ... until everything suddenly starting instantaneously bursting into flame!

"What the hell!" Tony yelled as Tony took the suit into a quick corkscrew of an Aileron roll to put out the flames that suddenly appeared on the suit, scanners unable to detect how it had caught alight with no burnable material present. Add pyrokinesis to the theorised telekinesis then.

"Since my return to Asgard, I have faced battle after battle," Thor spoke, gazing up into Jane's shocked slack face beseechingly, looking through the building flames, "Fighting to right many wrongs. The All-Father sent me to earth after my battles in the hopes that I might save Midgard from an invading threat and save my Brother. I have spent all my hours since then working with the Man of Iron to help save this Realm. In all the action, I regret that I had forgotten my promise to you, fair lady Jane."

"... You cannot be serious," Tony mumbled as he stayed hovering out of reach, seeing that Loki was managing to snuff out some of the fires, making sure it did not spread, "How did this turn into an extreme episode of 'The Bold and the Beautiful'?"

"... Tony ... You've watched day time tv?" Bruce eyed the 'fair lady's' face start to twist into fury.

"Please, lady Jane, I beg of thee," Thor pleaded, slowly placing the hammer down on the ground to appear unarmed, even as the ground around him rumbled and burst into flame, standing to display his arms open wide to her, "Please forgive my transgression and tell me what force has taken over thee? These powers do not belong to the lady scholar that I remember."

"As it looks like Thor hasn't," Bruce mumbled, unable to do anything but watch the drama unfold, "He cannot actually expect that to work?"

To the two scientists continuing amazement, they watched as Jane seemed to crumble into herself, hugging her middle in a renewed bout of tears, as from the sky, ice-cold rain began to fall, putting out her own conjured fires.

"THOR, WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME? I WAS SO LONELY. I LOVE YOU."

"...Are you kidding me?" Tony gaped as they watched the red slowly creep back a bit more and from the shivering crying form of Jane to hover lower to the ground, closer to Thor's open arms, "It's actually working?"

"YOU MEAN EVERYTHING TO ME. I COULD BARELY BREATHE WITHOUT YOU!"

"... As it seems Dr Foster has watched too many," Bruce could barely contain his grimace at the unfolding romance drama, "This is starting to sound like the plot of a Mills & Boon."

"Brucie ... you've read grandma porn?"

"I SPENT EVERY HOUR SINCE YOU LEFT TRYING TO FIND A WAY TO GET YOU BACK," Jane wailed, seemingly deaf to all but the golden god in front of her. "I SEARCHED AND I SEARCHED, I EVEN TRIED CONSTRUCTING MY OWN BIFROST, BUT IT ALWAYS FAILED. I WAS BEGINNING TO BELIEVE I'D NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN!"

"Do not cry, lady Jane," Thor beseeched, keeping his arms spread invitingly as rain pelted his face, "I am here."

"BUT YOU WEREN'T THERE! YOU WEREN'T!" Dr Foster sobbed, seemingly unaware that the rain she summoned now seemed to cut like knives, leaving Thor, the only one not protected from it, being covered in shallow lacerations. "EVEN WHEN SHIELD WAS PUT UNDER INVESTIGATION, OR WHEN ERIK AND I WERE ARRESTED UNDER SUSPICION FOR WORKING WITH THEM! OR EVEN WHEN I WAS SUCKED INTO A DIMENSIONAL RIFT AND ENDED UP IN ANOTHER WORLD!"

"Hold up, what was that?" Tony blinked at the sudden escalation of revised events.

"I WAS SO SCARED THOR!" Jane trembled.

"I am here, lady Jane," Thor crooned with his deep rumbling voice soothingly, ignoring the burning cuts as the empowered mortal slowly drifted into his arms.

"It would appear that Doctor Jane Foster was one of the few reported 'missing cases' when the space-time rifts began appearing, thanks to the hypothesised 'Convergence'," JARVIS reported as they watched the red glowing astronomer snuggle in Thor's all encasing beefy arms, "But as she had reappeared over 5 hours later, the report was ignored."

"So ... she must have picked up these 'powers' when she was abducted into this 'other world'?" Bruce theorised, watching as Thor continued trying to soothe the hysterical doctor, who seemed to be happy enough to just stare into his face adoringly.

"I'M SO HAPPY YOU CAME BACK FOR ME THOR!"

"I am just glad you are well lady Jane. I promise I am here now. Nothing will happen to you."

"Well, things seem to be de-escalating," Loki sighed frustratedly out of their nose, turning to gaze around the affected area, "Though we will have to think on how-"

"... WHO WAS THAT WOMEN THOR?"

"I beg pardon?" Thor blinked his long blond eyelashes at Jane's suddenly no longer sweetly smiling face.

"THAT WOMAN WHO WAS ON YOUR ARM TONIGHT, THOR, WHO IS SHE?"

"... Oh shit," Tony gulped, watching as the otherworldly red viscous material began to stir again.

"I assure you, lady Jane-" Thor couldn't contain a wince when Jane's burning red fingers suddenly dug into his arms like claws.

"WHO IS SHE?!"

"Thor!' Bruce cried when he saw the trickles of blood trailing down his arms, only held back by Loki's gently foreboding hand.

"She is a personal assistant who works at SI," Thor assured the seething Dr though slightly gritted teeth and clenched eyes at the pain, deciding to keep with the agreed public story, "She was my date-"

"DATE!?" Jane screeched, gripping Thor's wounded arms tighter.

"Chaperone! I was merely the lady's chaperone!" Thor quickly backtracked, hissing in pain.

"THAT WHORE! HOW DARE SHE?!" Jane bellowed, seemingly unaware of how she was injuring her love in her outrage, "WHERE IS THE SLUT? I'LL TEAR HER APART!"

"And we are back to inferno again," Tony sighed as he swerved the development of an actual fire tornado. "Seriously, I'm starting to get emotional whiplash."

"That's because Dr Foster is currently emotionally compromised," Bruce frowned, head full of the Hulk's angry roars at seeing Thor being hurt, "Not to mention how else she might be compromised by whatever is possibly possessing her."

"We could be dealing with a brain burrowing deep space parasite," Loki nodded, already weaving their spells to cleave the empowered mortal off of their Brother.

"Please tell me that's not actually a thing?" Tony begged as he darted down and scooped Thor into his arms and carry the injured god away like a damsel in distress, ignoring the hissing screeching possessed woman behind them.

Trusting Loki to keep Dr Foster contained, Tony landed inside the seiðr master's green protective shield and laid Thor down on the grass, Bruce immediately rushing forward to bring his glowing green hands up, to hover over Thor's deep puncture wounds, lacerations, and burns, urging the Aesir's own seiðr to escalate the healing process.

"What's the plan," Tony sighed as he turned slightly to watch Loki's green flame struggle to contain the incensed woman.

"Seeing as Dr Foster is a Midgardian, possessed currently or not, means that Thor and I cannot harm her," Loki growled in vexation, "besides the point that Midgard and therefore it's people are an Asgardian protectorate, Thor and I are currently working as ambassadors to Midgard. Those of the Asgardian Embassy cannot be going around killing mortals. Even seemingly crazy rampaging ones."

"And if she is being controlled through possession? We can't very well kill her, especially if it's not her fault," Tony sighed in agreement, "Although, whatever is possessing her sure has colourful ideas about retribution," Tony lifted an eyebrow at Dr Jane Foster's many screamed threats as Loki struggled to contain her.

"Do we need to call in the Iron Legion?" Tony inquired, watching as the possessed Doctor continued to manage to bat Loki's seiðr away, "We could have them bring the seiðr inhibitor suppression cuffs, see if that will subdue her?"

"Whatever power lady Jane now wields," Thor gasped through the pain as his seiðr inside him roared and surged to Bruce's command, "It is not like any seiðr I have ever borne witness."

"What coul-" Tony's question was interrupted by an odd sound, high up in the sky, causing all but a struggling Jane to look up in time to see a tear form in the night sky that opened to blaze golden light, out of which four comets of light streamed out to plummet to earth close to their location, kicking up a cloud of dust. "What now?!" Tony coughed, trying to blink dust particles out of his eyes.

"Oh, Norns ..." Loki groaned, "Not you."

"And I am about as pleased to see that the rumours of your survival prove true, Ice Worm."

Tony coughed as his eyes watered, blinking tears away to clear his blurry vision to reveal 4 new people who had just seemingly, fallen out of the sky.
Resplendent in golden armour, the four stood triumphantly with smug grins and weapons in hand. One was tall and slim, sporting the Asgardian golden locks, and a moustache and chin beard of all things. He bore a weapon that resembled a rapier, completing the overall impression of him being a golden version of Westley or a Zorro. The other tall thin one had black hair and an Asian appearance - it made sense if there were space Europeans there must be space Asians - he wielded a spiked mace and chain, the strangest weapon Tony had ever seen. The third man was what Tony would call a 'stereotypical depiction of a space Viking', large, wielding a large battle axe and bearing long flowing red hair and a big bushy beard. The fourth and only apparent woman of the group was like an Amazonian goddess, tall with long flowing midnight black hair, golden Xena like armour, and wielding a double-bladed sword.

She had been the one with scathing words for Loki upon their arrival, her beautiful face a mask of distaste as she looked at the seiðr master with scorn, look only changing once she turned to witness Thor's injured form laying on the grass.

"Thor!" the female warrior cried, rushing forward and all but barrelling Bruce out of the way, Tony diving to catch the doctor before he could take a tumble and injure himself.

"Hey! Watch where you're going!" Tony scathed as he checked the frowning doctor for injuries.

The female warrior did not seem to heed them as she fluttered over Thor, crooning comforting nonsense as she checked his injuries.

"Is it always your custom, you mewling quim, to push aside the healer who would work to save your husband?" Loki sneered at the woman, full of scorn.

"No pathetic mortal healer could ever match the prowess of Asgard's Healing Hall," the woman scoffed as she took out a glowing golden potion, uncorking it and holding it to Thor's lips, "Drink my love, Frigga herself provided me with the means to make my husband well."

"... So that would make you Sif then," Tony huffed as he glanced at the other three warriors who stood by with strangely excited grins, "And them the Warriors Three."

"Unfortunately," Loki sighed, glaring at the three warriors smarmy visages, "And what prey-tell, by the All-Father's trousers, are you louts doing here?"

Any comment the three gods may have given was drowned out, as the half-forgotten Red Jane caused the earth to tip and buck as she shrieked "HUSBAND!?!?!"

Chapter Text

Now, Tony is aware he is known to be rather flippant in the face of danger, even as a child he would unashamedly sass and run mental circles around his kidnappers, which had earned him a few black eyes and split lips in the past. He's notorious for taking up coms with his chatter, to the point that Honey Bear banned him from ever using the military's air channels, and been known for asking Tony to shut up whenever they were working in the suits together, the few times that Rhodey had piloted the War Machine.
But these guys, these 'Warriors Three' took 'disregarding the danger' to a whole other level.

"This is the 'great threat' that Heimdall mentioned?" the bawdy red-haired one guffawed, seemingly having no volume control and seemed to use his large lungs to bellow out everything he spoke, "Looks to me to be nothing more than a trifle!"

"I'd question your tastes Thor, but I must say," The golden-haired one licked his lips salaciously, "The wee vixen would be a hell-cat in the sheets."

The dark-haired third stood stoically, watching the possessed Jane writhe and screech, fighting Loki's control. "Termagant."

"Ooh, nice one Hogun!" the loud one bellowed, slapping his comrade on the back hard enough to knock over a truck, but the man barely moved.

"Heimdall? Did the all-seeing guard of Asgard witness our battle and see a need for rescue?" Loki scowled, offended that the pompous lackey thought that they could not handle the situation, "Of what threat did he speak? Surely we would be more than enough for this?"

"And what use are you in a real battle, Runt?" Sif scoffed, standing up to face Loki with a sneer.

"Sif, please," Thor pleaded, sitting up slowly with a groan as the potion finished off Bruce's attempts at healing.

Brought up short by Thor's admonishment, Sif paused for a moment, then huffed, glancing down at her husband with a sort of painful fondness, "You are too soft on the beasts, Thor. But, you are my husband, and I will support you - though I do not understand your fondness for them," the goddess tutted her husband like he was a child, "Consorting with beasts will only bring you down to their level Thor."

"Beasts they may be," Fandral smirked, turning to wink at Thor, ignoring the golden god's slight grimace, "But you promise to let us have a go after you're done with them, won't you Thor?"

"I ... don't think they are just talking about being nice to Lokes anymore," Tony blinked in shock, still holding Bruce as Loki growled at the smarmy expression the Zoro wannabe aimed in their direction.

"My friends, please, I know I have told you that I have decided to change my attitude," Thor grimaced as he stood up, giving Loki, Tony, and Bruce as he finally stood up on his own, regretful looks hoping that they would forgive his friend's thoughtless words, "Is it too much to ask that you might consider changing yours as well?"

"My, Thor, you are sounding so grown up and regal," Volstagg grinned, nodding his head in agreement, "I am proud of you my young friend! You will make a proud prince of the Realm!"

"Maybe even king," Hogun nodded succinctly.

"Whoa now Hogun," Fandral laughed as he slapped his overly serious friend on the back, "Let's leave plotting Thor's rise to coronation for when we return. For right now we have a shrew to slay."

"Hey, whoa, no!" Tony called out as he maneuvered himself in front of the Aesir, who stood blinking down at him, "You can't kill her. We need to determine what has possessed her and whither she can be rescued."

"What is there to determine?" Hogun growled at the strange suit of armour with a huff, "She is an enemy. Enemies are to be slain. There is no such thing as mercy."

"Well spoken my friend," Volstagg chuckled, clapping the dark-haired one's back again, "We are the Warriors Three! Shield-Brothers to Thor, an heir to Asgard's throne. No task is too great or small. I, Volstagg the Voluminous, have so pledged my Brandrheid Undrsigr! The Bright Blade of Wondrous Victory!" The large red-haired Aesir hefted his battle-axe with a large grin, "I will slay any foe!"

"And I, Fandral the Dashing," the blond one smirked, combing his gloved fingers through his hair, "Have so pledged my sword Fimbuldraugr, the Whispering Spirit! The Ghost of the End of All Times!" Fandral flashed and twirled his rapier in a cocky display, "I shall strike all villains down!"

"I, Hogun the Grim, have pledged my weapon Hridgandr, The Dread Storm Wand, so that it's unfettered might will destroy all the unworthy," the dark-haired one smirked lopsidedly.

"And I," Sif smirked as she joined the Warriors Three, "Sif, Fairest of the Fair, Stunning Sif, Sif the Unstoppable!" the Aesir flipped her long black hair, "Battle alongside my husband, Thor, and my Sheild-Brothers. All who stand before us shall kneel."

"I feel like I'm at a LARP," Tony coughed, feeling his cheeks burn at the second-hand embarrassment at watching Thor's pained face, "Hey, Thor, do you have a ridiculous title too?"

"Watch how you speak, mortal," Volstagg roared, swinging his battle axe down to brandish it in the Iron Man suits face, "That is an heir of Asgard to whom you speak. Such puny creatures should not even dare to breathe in an Asgardians presence."

"The dirty little things will surely pollute our air," Fandral agreed, leering at Bruce who cringed away from the lecher.

"Please, my friends," Thor begged once again, standing in front of his grinning Aesir, "Do not speak to my companions in such a way. Please, my Shield-Brothers, tell me, of what threat does Heimdall speak?"

"As you wish, my liege," Hogun nodded, though the smirk never left the austere man's face.

"Heimdall, with his all-seeing eyes, spoke to Queen Frigga of a power, long thought to have been locked away forevermore, has once again come to light," Sif's grin was as big as the Warriors Three, like the terrible words she spoke was most exciting!

"It would appear the clunge stumbled upon the place that the ancient King Bor had hidden the weapon of the Dark Elves after the horrendous Battle of Svartalfheim," Hogun spoke in his dry monotone voice.

"The Aether?" Loki gasped, looking up to stare at where Jane still screamed bloody murder, the viscous red energy swirling like a red sea of blood and ash, "You are telling me that we deal now with that ancient weapon?"

"We, in fact, did not speak to you argr," Sif gave Loki the side-eye.

"Sif, please," Thor sighed, missing his Aesir friends smirks in Loki's growling direction.

"How are you not excited, Thor!" Volstagg boomed in merriment, "We have been called upon by the royal court of the golden Realm eternal to fight! Such an honour! For we fight for Glory!"

"We will slay the she-devil for trespassing where ancient kings have forbidden, reclaim the ancient treasure, and return to our rightful place in Asgard, as Heroes!" Sif cheered, eyes alight with glee, "What we have always dreamed of, Thor! It has finally come to pass!"

"But at what cost?" Bruce shook his head in distaste, frowning at Thor's pained face, "That woman was a friend of Thor's, why are you being so insensitive to your own friend's feelings? I thought Midgard was the protectorate of Asgard? Shouldn't you be trying to save her? Not slay her?"

"My," Frandal breathed, a strange look coming over his face as he began to saunter towards the Doctor, "For such a filthy, tiny, grubby little thing, you sure do have a mouth on you," Bruce shuddered at the dark look in the Aesir's eyes, "Why don't I put that gaping hole to good use?"

Tony starting firing up his thrusters, ready to test how an Aesir's face would hold out against full frontal repulsor fire, but Loki beat him to the punch, striking the boor with a strike of green lighting, causing the blond man to let out a high pitched squeal and run for cover behind the wide frame of Volstagg.

"You foul primitive swine!" Loki snarled, "You just try to touch my Vassal, I'll string you up from the top of Asgard's golden Towers!"

Chapter Text

"Thor, I don't know what your mother or half brother were thinking, sending these idiots," Tony growled, allowing JARVIS to use his HUD to leave locked on targets, just in case he needed to launch some missiles to dissuade them from touching his science bro, "But we don't have time to deal with them. Now we know that it's the Aether, we need to plan how to subdue her, and possibly try to take her back to my lab. TADASHI managed to extract one possessive stone, maybe he can try extracting the other?"

"Thank you, Man-of-Iron," Thor frowned, his brows drawn down in confusion and his blue eyes turned stormy with conflicted pain, "Whatever may come of this, I truly desire that we may attempt to save lady Jane. I feel responsible for her plight, as I feel she may not have been possessed if I had not assailed myself of her at all."

"You would risk Asgard's finest warriors for one crazed snatch?" Hogun growled in his monotone, his brow lifted slightly in judgment.

"You would forgo the chance to charge out with your Warriors Three to a mighty battle? In the name of Asgard? Tis not like you Thor," Volstagg frowned.

"My liege, you cannot be serious?" Fandral squeaked, still hiding behind Volstagg's bulk, while Sif stared at Thor with considering dark eyes, "The Ice Runt just struck me! Have you no words?!"

"Look, this isn't a high school drama," Tony huffed, watching the GPS on his HUD tell him how far away the Iron Legion was from their location, "You can push each other into the dirt and try your Mean Girls routine later. We have more important things to worry about."

"The little tin servant is correct," Sif nodded, ignoring Tony's splitters as she sauntered up to Thor's side, linking arms with him, smiling beguilingly into Thor's troubled face, "We should go and defeat the evil that is threatening Asgard. For that is what we fight for, is it not Thor? Peace throughout the Realms?"

"Yes, Sif ... but-"

"Good. Come along, boys," Sif smirked as she began to drag Thor out of Loki's protective shield, "Let us do what we do best."

"YES!" Volstagg cheered as he swung his axe in excitement, "Finally a real fight! My Brandrheid Undrsigr sings for blood!"

"Yeah, no, Erik the Red. We can't let you do that." Tony flew the suit once more in front of the Aesir's path, faces now pulling into dark scowls.

"Out of the way, peasant!" Sif snarled, missing Thor's quick turn and stare, "You have defied us more than enough. When we have dealt with the cretin and the battle is won, we will come back to deal with you."

"Sif, stop this," Thor growled, pulling his arm out of his wife's shocked grasp, "All of you. We have firmly established already that the lady Jane is not to be harmed, nor are any of this Realm. You have been sent by my mother to assist Loki and I in our goal of collaboration with Midgard's Ruler. You will stop these foolhardy actions," Thor growled, eyes flashing golden, hair sparking as his golden energy lashed in barely contained fury, making Sif and the Warriors Three straighten in alarm, "and conduct yourselves with honour and dignity that benefits Asgard's name."

"Thor ..." Sif blinked out of her shock, eyes beginning to fill with what Tony suspected with crocodile tears, "Surly you-"

"Iron Legion inbound, ETA 10 minutes," JARVIS reported.

"Make it 5," Tony growled as he watched Loki's slowly pailing face, "And make sure you have the containment units already charged and ready to go once they land."

"Enough Sif," Thor growled, ignoring his wife's pitiful sniffs, watching as the Warriors Three looked on in baffled concern. "You will act as a backup for Man-of-Iron's forces and Loki's guard."

"I did not go through centuries of training and fight tooth and nail to join Asgard's forces to play second fiddle to beasts!" Sif seethed, tears forgotten, as she took up her sword and shield, charging around Thor, followed by the crowing Warriors Three.

"For fuck's sake!" Tony yelled as he engaged thrusters, flying around to get a good aim, and deployed flash bombs to explode right in the charging Asgardian's path, causing the bloodthirsty warriors to yell in alarm, covering their faces to avoid being blinded. "J, how likely are our missiles to actually stop these guys?"

"I would suggest avoiding firing the Iron Man missiles unless necessary, as a possible cause for damage is at 80%, death at 40%."

"Guess lasers and missiles are out, concussive force it is then," Tony gritted his teeth, readying more flash bombs.

"Thor! Control your Apes!" Loki cried, slowly becoming drained fighting to contain an Infinity Stone possessed Jane from wreaking havoc.

"I do not understand what has come over them," Thor stared at his Shield-Brothers and wife's wailing, slashing their weapons even though they had been temporarily blinded, "I have never seen them like this before."

"Thor, you blind fool," Loki growled tiredly, frowning at Thor's concerned befuddled face, "They have always been like this."

"Thor, are you just going to stand there?" Bruce snapped, causing the suddenly guilt-ridden god to flinch, "Tony can't possibly handle all of them on his own."

"I ... cannot," Thor clenched and unclenched his hands, seemingly unsure what to do with them, "Sif is my wife. I cannot rise my hammer against her. Nor my sworn Shield-Brothers."

"So you are just going to let them go, and what? Murder Jane?" Bruce's eyes blazed green.

"No," Thor hurriedly shook his head, but still did not budge.

Bruce stood staring at Thor, who stood like he was a little boy abandoned in the rain as he watched his friends fight. With a heaping sigh, Bruce shook his head, "Thor, we are going to have to talk about your inability to face confrontation between your friends or unwillingness to stop your friend's actions," Bruce slowly divested himself of his suit coat and vest, and unbuttoning the shirt buttons, "But Tony can't handle 4 Asgardians on his own."

Chapter Text

Tony does not think he has ever been in the middle of such a fluster cuck since the early years of Iron Man, back when doing flight tests would have the American Airforce on his ass trying to shoot him down as an 'unidentified aircraft'. But, the battle was giving him ideas, however pointless it felt, trying to shoo bloodthirsty Space Vikings from their intended victim, but also having to field attacks from the said victim themselves.
Loki was managing to restrain her, but unlike the other Infinity Stones, Loki seemed unable to fully subdue them. Tony was hatching multiple theories on how this could be, ranging from it being the fault of the host, or because the Reality Stone had been altered by the Dark Elves, while he tried to deal with Thor's 'buddies'.

Never before has it ever struck home how difficult it was to fight without actually injuring anyone. Tony's whole military background was in the practice of, 'Be the guy with the bigger stick,' and 'Once they stop moving, you've won'. That obviously wasn't going to work here. He may no longer be in the business of building and selling weapons and bombs for the American military ... but the Iron Man armours were practically armed to the teeth with destructive weaponry, and of a much higher grade than anything he had ever once put on the market. There was a reason he would not allow anyone but his Platapus to man one of these things.

That being said, Iron Man's propensity for destruction was high - initially designed to take out any target with the slightest of ease. In contrast, the suit's non-combative capabilities appeared to be lacking.
The armour was impenetrable, thanks doubly so to Tony's new element - but he could not spend a whole battle flying around being a particularly shiny meat shield. He can deflect bullets, and also apparently alien swords and weird spiky mace things - all of which thanks to JARVIS' scans revealed were in fact not made of Asgard's coveted Uru. Thanks to tests conducted with the help of Thor's Mjolnir and Loki's collection of daggers, all of which were constructed with Uru and enchanted, Tony and his AI were able to prove that enchanted metals, of the mystical variety, repelled one another - destroying all theorised conjectures of what would happen when one indestructible force met an indestructible object.
The problem with this though was that anything not constructed with a mystical metal tended to break when coming into contact with the Iron Man armour - as was the case with Volstagg's giant battle axe, of which the equally giant red-haired man had swung at Tony with full force, with a blood-curdling battle cry, only to turn to screams as the axe shattered upon impact with the Iron Man's flank, rebounding back off of the undamaged armour in shards in a deadly spray of ricochet and shrapnel, embedding in the unprotected areas of the red-haired warrior that was not covered in golden armour, particularly his hands and at the joints near the knees or elbows, luckily missing the man's neck or face.

The giant man's screams followed him as Tony quickly retreated into the air, grimacing at the unintended casualty, in the back of his brain constructing new techniques and implementations to make sure something like this incident could never happen again. So ... acting as a physical bodily shield was out.

Of the Iron Man suits other non-combative equipment and techniques, all he really had were the flash bombs, concussive blasts with the repulsors, and physically ramming himself into the enemy and taking them on in hand-to-hand combat. The flash bombs seemed to work about as well on Aesir as it did mortals, although they recovered faster. The repulsor blasts worked as great deflection, sometimes even blasting a fully armoured Aesir off of their feet to land in the dirt a few feet away. But Tony was not at all sure the suits hydraulics were up to the task of wrestling an alien species that were three times denser than similar human tissue, contributing to their superhuman strength and weight.
None of these actions would fully stop the attacking force, however, as the Asgardians seemed determined to keep charging, no matter how many times Tony blinded them or knocked them to their arses, or in Volstagg's case, bellowing like a wounded bull and charging into the fray, still embedded with shrapnel and bleeding.

Tony was quickly running out of options, he was not at all equipped for this kind of confrontation. He had hope, however, as his Iron Legion were not far off, and they were bringing along with them the Arc Reactor based containment units, which acted much like the blue glowing protective shield that covered the Maria Stark Foundation venue, which results of standing up to an Infinity Stone's attacks were looking positive. They were also bringing along multiple seiðr inhibitor suppression cuffs that were based on the crude shackles that had been meant for Loki. Thor had stated that the cuffs would not stand up to an Asgardian's might, and Tony doubted they would fully work on a possessed Jane, even if his AI were currently calibrating the rune sequences and seiðr, cranking it up to 11. But that meant nothing if he could barely deflect the attackers!

"ETA, 8 minutes."

Tony cursed, he really needed to work on the Iron Legion's speed capability, this was ridiculous!

"Surrender yourself, strange metal man!" Ugh ... would these guys ever shut up? Especially the skeevy blond one. "You have injured a great Asgardian warrior, and therefore committed the greatest of sins!" Fandral twirled his rapier in a completely useless and showy flourish, "I, Fandral the Dashing, will take up my Fabled Fimbuldraugr, and penetrate thy metal corpse, for your digressions!"

"Ew, even his monologue is sleazy," Tony grimaced, once again blasting the blond coifed one backwards, ignoring the Aesir's undignified squealing yelp, "Do all Asgardians talk like this?"

"Insufficient data," JARVIS replied, sounding none too pleased himself.

As Tony was trying to line up another inoffensive concussive blast to knock back a bloody and frothing Volstagg who was charging in headlong with his bare hands, Tony was knocked off course by a blow from the back, thanks to Jane's thrashing, sending him careening to the side, flailing to right himself in the air - which unfortunately left Jane completely open to the enraged Aesir's attack.

"Fuck it! J! Load the missiles!"

"The estimated probability of mortally wounding the Aesir has risen above prior agreed levels-"

"What else do you think we can do?!" Tony seethed, distracted by knocking back a combined attempted attack by Hogun and Sif - panicked and frustrated yelling interrupted by an echoing roar ... and the body of Volstagg flying over Tony's head.

Spinning in place, Tony's slightly glowing orange eyes widened as he laid eyes on The Hulk, hulking and massive, with veiny green skin and bulging muscles, with all of Bruce's features but also his glowing green eyes. Apparently, Bruce had had the foresight to wear the super-stretchy battle suit that he had engineered with the help of the AI, hidden under Bruce's bespoke suit, leaving Tony to sigh in relief, glad that his science bro was protected but also protect his dignity.

The Aesir stumbled back, seemingly unnerved by The Hulk's pounding of the earth with his fists and terrifying roars.

"Who-who dares to unleash such a terrible beast?!" Fandral cried, pointed rapier quivering slightly, "Such unbeautiful features ... Such overbearing presence ... mine eyes are soiled!"

"Hey! Fuck you, Creep-a-Zoid!" Tony scathed, firing another concussive blast to knock the warriors back a few steps, "The Big Guy IS beautiful!"

"Releasing a monster onto the battlefield," Sif scoffed as she flipped her dark hair, "Only cowardly beasts would ever stoop so low."

"And fuck you, lady! The Hulk isn't a monster. Is attacking an innocent make you so much better?!"

"Silence!" Hogun seethed, for once actually raising his voice above a deep monotone, "Whither you bring one or a hundred monsters onto the battlefield, it matters not. Asgards greatest warriors will crush you."

"Oh my god, you guys are so dense!" Tony cried to the sky in frustration, "There is literally no arguing with you."

"Hulk help Tinman," The Hulk growled, his voice surprisingly deep and loud, "Tinman friend. Hulk help Tinman smash puny gods."

"Uh ... sure, big guy, Hulk smash. But don't smash so hard that you actually kill them, ok?" Tony wondered if Bruce was at all conscious in there, but The Hulk seemed to be reasonable, at least more than the Aesir, as The Hulk snorted out of his nose as he nodded his big green head in agreement. "Just keep them away from the burning red lady, at least until reinforcement arrives."

"You hideous savage!" Fandral seemed to have gathered his courage as he stormed forward, readying his rapier, "You are so repulsive and repugnant to behold! You would not even be worthy of the honour of polishing my sword! Such an ungainly heathen! I will-" the Aesir's self-serving monologue didn't even have time to finish, as The Hulk reached out with a large hand, grabbing the Asgardian by the legs, and swung them over his head in an arc to pummel the blond git into the ground, over and over, ignoring the self-proclaimed great warrior's squeals.

"Remember Big Guy," Tony called out worriedly, even though watching the sick bastard getting his ass handed to him was satisfying, "Don't kill them!"

"No kill," The Hulk agreed as he swung the Aesir around by the ankles, "Only SMASH!"

"Iron Legion ETA, 2 minutes."

"Well now," Tony's grin was decidedly evil as he looked upon the remaining pailing Asgardians, "This I can work with."

Chapter Text

Bruce could count on one hand the number of times he had been cognizant while in the form of The Hulk - and when he says 'cognizant' he does not mean consciously in control of his body. Not that Bruce would think he'd know how to move such a cumbersome body around without Hulk's instincts. He means more in a loose term - like he exists within The Hulk as a concept and is vaguely aware of what is happening in the outside world. It's like the transformation wraps Bruce's conscious mind in bubble wrap, protected and kept safe while The Hulk rages. The Hulk sharing only glimpses with him about what is going on in the outside world ... if he remembers them later at all. Not to say that he and The Hulk are separate beings or personalities ... more that Bruce is the conscious mind while The Hulk is a bundle of raw animal instinct and brute force.
Bruce was working on slowly accepting The Hulk, and possibly, one day, they would be one complete being without having to essentially retreat into his own mind and let his more animalistic side take centre stage.

Bruce could count on even fewer fingers the number of times he had willingly or consciously chosen to transform into the Hulk.
For years, his mutation was a thing of personal shame. He had been embarrassed by The Hulk. Fearful of it. Would do anything to be 'cured' of it. Even working with a questionable scientist using an alias in an attempt to find a cure, only for the said scientist to turn around and replicate his blood, without content and using it in unethical experiments. Needless to say, Bruce had never been keen on ever using The Hulk's powers, always afraid that he or his blood would be used as a chemical weapon ... again.
But this time, it was different. Bruce was no longer looking to 'cure' his mutation - speaking at length with professor Xavier and a few of the mutants had put things into perspective. Also, finally meeting his mother and realising where all of his deep-seated anger originated, helped Bruce realise that The Hulk wasn't the issue. It was those who would use him.
And thanks to Tony Stark, those who would use him were either slapped with so many fines, warrants and contracts that they could barely breathe without legal action, or in the process of being sentenced to prison for life. Tony himself had signed multiple contracts assuring that he too could never use Bruce or his blood without Bruce Banner's own consent and Bruce having complete oversight and control over how it was used. Bruce ... had never had so much control over his own life before, and it really opened all kinds of new avenues. Now he wasn't constantly running for his life, Bruce actually had time and space to breath, and try to explore what it was that his mutation actually was, instead of just a raging monster.

Because of this, Bruce was in the peculiar situation of essentially floating around in his green-tinted mindscape while The Hulk roared with delight, as he SMASHED a few Asgardian bigots around. Bruce was the most aware of The Hulks actions he had ever been, to date. He still couldn't control his body or even really see anything, but The Hulk shared snippets of sensations and visuals with him, freely sharing emotions as he SMASHED, whereas before Bruce had cut himself off.
It was truly a peculiar feeling, watching himself lift an Asgardian, an alien species that typically was three times stronger and three times as heavy as the regular human being, lifting them like they weighed nothing more than a child's toy. Bruce was absentmindedly glad that Asgardian's were hardier than the regular human too, as watching himself fling the squealing and squeaking gods around like a toddler throwing his toys would have concerned him more.

In a detached sort of way, Bruce experienced The Hulk's fight and the way his animal instincts experienced the world. That he would pick up an Asgardian, careful of limbs and never grabbing them by the neck or face - as The Hulk was not 'fighting' in his mind, this was The Hulk 'playing'. The Hulk would feel the weight of the Asgardian, the denseness and strength of their muscles, taking note of how they squirmed and screeched, then test their aerodynamics, by chucking them screaming through the air, seeing how far they got before landing.
Sif and Fandral, the woman and blond one respectfully, travelled a fair distance, because of their slight frames and lighter weights, although their wriggling hampered their travel, and their landings were the most ungraceful, usually leaving them in screeching heaps in the dirt.
Hogun was the most aerodynamic, light and stiff as a board, but less fun, as the man did not scream or screech, though his grunts were peculiarly deep.
And the large red-haired one ... Volstagg, was it? He was the biggest, and heaviest, although he still weighed less than nothing to The Hulk. He was the least aerodynamic, but the loudest and most fun to watch, as the large man tended to bounce once he landed, which intrigued The Hulk to no end.

That was the next field of play The Hulk tested, bounce.
The motion of a bouncing ball obeys projectile motion. Many forces act on a real ball, namely the gravitational force (FG), the drag force due to air resistance (FD), the Magnus force due to the ball's spin (FM), and the buoyant force (FB). Bruce knew this ... but all The Hulk was really interested in was the actual bouncing part.
The fact that The Hulk less bounced them like a ball, and more drove them into the dirt by swinging them around by their legs, was neither here nor there. The Hulk also became intrigued by the noises the Asgardians would make too. The skinnier ones would scream, squeak, and squeal, the stiff once again being the quietest and the least fun. The large one was the most entertaining to The Hulk, as the man's buoyancy proved the most effective for an actual bounce.

At first, Bruce was concerned how The Hulk would react to the female Aesir. The last female The Hulk had really interacted with on any level had been Betty, a beautiful dark-haired female, and Bruce was concerned that The Hulk may become confused. He needn't have worried though. It turns out? The Hulk is not brainless, and he can differentiate between people. The fact that The Hulk did not give the Aesir any special treatment, according to her gender, and threw her around just as much as the other Aesir was actually humbling to Bruce. It put things into another type of perspective - the Aesir was coming at him with a weapon, with the intention to harm. Why should he give her any special consideration? She was still an enemy and an Aesir - 3 times more robust than any mortal woman - whose intention was clearly to stick her sword into The Hulk as much as she could. The Hulk wasn't just going to stand there and let her try to cut him, he dealt with her just as he would any other threat. By sending her screaming through the air. Bruce would contemplate the social and moral implications later.

The fact that Bruce could hear Tony's raucous laughter somewhere in the background was encouraging.
The Hulk would show flashes of the Iron Man armour every now and again, usually blasting away the Asgardians from approaching the red burning lady, and usually back into The Hulk's play area, but also worrying displays of dips, twists and turns as the Iron Man tried to avoid attacks from the glowing red woman herself.

Where were these 'reinforcements' that Tony had spoken of? The battle felt like it had been going on for a fair amount of time ... although Bruce as The Hulk had no concept of time, so he really wasn't sure. There was either SMASH or no SMASH.

Also, the Aesir seemed to be tiring, as they seemed less interested in charging. The blond one still lay in the crevasse where The Hulk had left him last, groaning, while the others sat a distance away seemingly panting and catching their breath - which to The Hulk was boring. Now that the puny gods were no longer a distraction, Bruce found The Hulk staring at Jane more.

Seeing Jane through The Hulk's senses was completely different than just hearing The Hulk roaring in his head about Danger.
The flow and ebb of the Aether were hypnotizing, it's strange ever-changing consistency between gas, a liquid and ash, as it swirled around the screaming possessed woman entranced The Hulk ... even as his instincts jangled at the sensed threat. Trying to explain The Hulk's instincts was like trying to explain colour to someone who was colour blind. It was like a 7th sense, some sort of extra awareness that Bruce knew he did not have before The Hulk. It was like a smell, a taste, a brush against hypersensitive nerves, like a breeze over hair or goosebumps, a flash on movement at the corner of your eye. An awareness that there was something ... there ... but no actual real clue of 'what' till that 'something' happened.
All Bruce knew was, Jane was a threat, or at least, something about Jane was setting off all of The Hulk's protective instincts. It wasn't Jane herself, despite her loud screams that Bruce was worried would trigger The Hulk into a confused rage. But it was definitely the Aether, and whatever the Dark Elves did to it? It was very different from the other Infinity Stones. To The Hulk's senses, the Stone's were 'other'. Not exactly threatening by themselves, but also not of the natural world, which confused The Hulk's animalistic instincts to no end. In The Hulk's mind, the Infinity Stone's were not a 'threat', more 'curiosity' that he was cautious about, like a wolf experiencing fire for the first time. It was something strange and exciting, but something about it triggered his instincts to 'stay away'. The Aether was more confusing and not as straightforward. Even though The Hulk warned him away ... something at the same time drew him towards it.

Staring at the Aether, Jane as an entity slowly begin to cease to exist, inconsequential, as the Aether itself almost seemed to start to sing for him, a melody and words he could not understand, and yet, could feel - like a detached sort of curiosity and amusement.
Red slowly starting to fill his vision.
He felt a sense of displeasure, a type of boredom - but also a type of joy! Like discovering a new toy.

"Bruce? Hulk buddy?"

The Aether - swim and dance - red fills his vision.

"Bruce!"

"Eir! Nooooo!"

Chapter Text

No ...

Loki scrabbled with their seiðr, frantically attempting to weave spells. It matters not how drained they are! Loki can't let ...

No.

It matters not if they are battling against a weapon of the Dark Elves! Loki will not let ...

No!

Loki will ignore the neanderthal's jeers. Loki is not weak! Loki will save ...

NO!

Not again. Please ... not again.

Loki's long pale fingers scratch the dark sky, alight with burning green flames.

Stop. Please! Stop!

Loki feels their very being beg. Beg this primordial aspect of the universe. This burning red parisite! Beg, beg like Loki promised themselves they would never again.

The sight of the Infinity Stone leaving it's previous mortal vessel for another, to swarm like flood, like blood, like ash ... watching his vassal be drowned ...

Why? Why cannot their seiðr stop this? Is Loki not the strongest, most talented seiðr master of the age?

Watching as the Aether's previous vessel flop to the dirt ... empty, limp ... lifeless? No ... does this not mean? ...

Eir! Their Eir is doomed!

Tears burn Loki's eyes, overcome with grief.

Odin. Odin knew. The blasted All-Father knew this would happen! The spiteful one-eyed King always told Loki that they would be the downfall of any they associated with. Prophesied to be the downfall of Asgard, Mother of Monsters, Mark of the Beast. Any who got close to Loki would be tainted and brought to their doom.
It was why Loki was kept apart from others, why the others were encouraged to mock and jeer. Why Loki was forbidden from laying eyes on their birth parents. Why Loki was forbidden to call any of the All-Father's children Brother. Why ... his first love had been murdered and their children were taken away.
Loki had done all they could think to do - running away and hiding in Vanaheim ... but it mattered not. None could hide from Heimdall's all-seeing eye, and Loki could not hide from their fate.

Loki could use all the seiðr in existence ... it mattered not. The Norn's themselves had cursed them.

Why? Why had they not trained, gathered energy, learning even more spells? Why had Loki been so cocky? So self-assured, that there was nothing more that they could learn. Loki ... hadn't even tried ... and now another ... another precious one, is lost.

Another ... had been made into a flesh suit for an alien force. Their mind ... controlled ... possessed. Loki's precious one, their vassal ... another doomed to suffer as Loki had been cursed to suffer.

Doomed ... as Loki's own children had been doomed. Only escaping death and slavery by their children's own rebellion ... a rebellion that Loki themselves could not even lift a finger to assist, chained in the King's deep dungeons as they had been ... but how long would that last?

And Eir ... sweet Eir ... was not even given a chance. So young, so new to the ways of seiðr and the wider world. Taken ...

And it's all Loki's fault.

----

"Breathe, Mother."

Loki found themselves gasping, involuntarily intaking sweet air, lifting their heavy head to gaze upon the blurry vision of Loki's sweet child with burning eyes.

"... Hela?"

"Easy, Father," Fenrir's deep growling voice purred into Loki's ear, as he and Sleipnir each took one of Loki's arms and gently lifted them from where they had collapsed.

"You have drained yourself to exhaustion," Jörmungandr hissed softly, although their dark eyes were hard as they kept their gaze focused to something outside the huddle of bodies of Loki's children surrounding their parent.

"We felt your calls," Nari chirped, smiling softly as Narfi gently wiped at Loki's tear-stained face, "So we came to help."

"Too late ..." Loki could not help but feel their heart break anew, "I failed."

"Failed who, Mother?" Sleipnir blinked.

"Eir ..."

"Eir? Eir is fine, Mother," Hela smiled gently, moving aside so Loki could see.

Loki gazed out with wide itchy eyes at the large form of The Hulk, eyes an ocean of softly swirling red, standing unbound, no swirling clouds of blood and ash. Staring ... at Sif and The Warriors Three, bound in red glowing chains, hung upsidedown midair, mouths covered in ducktape, and held by an invisible force, dangling, muffled screaming through their binds, over a pit of angry hissing vipers.

"I never knew Eir could be so imaginative," Jörmungandr smirked, enjoying the spectacle.

"But," Loki breathed, helped to stand on their shaky legs by their sons, "The Aether ... Jane?"

"Jane ... is ... ok," Loki's eyes widened further as The Hulk's halting words, following The Hulk's large green pointing finger to where Thor was tending to the mortal. "Aether ... not ... bad," The Hulk slowly tried to find the words, "Aether ... lonely. Aether ... here." The Hulk placed a hand on his large chest. "Aether ... not ... lonely. Aether ... with ... me."

"Eir ..." Loki breathed, relieved tears escaping their eyes as Tony's Iron Legion finally arrives, being directed by Tony and the AI to clean up the battlefield and take the Fuck-up Four into custody, "Are you alright? Are you in pain?"

"Small ... pain," Loki panicked a little but was easily restrained by their cooing children, "Aether ... drain. Cannot ... help. But ... Aether ... promise ... ... Take ... to ... Nexus," The Hulk breathed deeply in concentration, "Aether ... leave. Bruce ... fine."

"I hope you will forgive, but my Brother and I will not believe such promises till we have seen it honoured," Thor growled, taking the unconscious form of Jane into his arms.

"Then allow my brother's and I to escort you back home," Hela smiled, embellishing a hand to open a large shadowy portal.

"Sir will escort the prisoners to the basement cells," JARVIS' voice amplified from a nearby Iron Legion suit, as Loki's communication spell had long fallen in their panic, "While we AI will direct the recovery units and services."

"Come, Mother," Hela smiled gently at Loki's teary face, "Everything is alright."

Chapter Text

Taking slow, deep breaths, weight even on both feet, Thor stands. Arms lose by his sides, head slightly bowed, in a natural steady pose that Tyr, General, master and God of War, had trained him. A pose that required little energy to maintain, allowing for a warrior to stand on guard for long hours and stay alert, especially those who took the night watch while the others slept.

Thor knew that the likelihood of the Tower being attacked was minimal, as his company had already subdued and had the main attackers in custody. The fact that these 'attackers' had been an Infinity Stone, his own wife and Sheild-Brothers, and a past lover of his, whom of which Thor was keeping watch over right now while she laid in a medical bed ... these were the thoughts that were conflicting in his tumultuous brain.
Jane laid, insensate on pure white sheets, hooked to many Midgardian machines that TADASHI had explained the purpose of, assuring Thor that Jane Foster was exhibiting signs that she was merely unconscious, that scans had not insofar detected any injuries or maladies, and she was expected to awaken from so much as a few hours to a few days. Thor had no idea if he wanted to be there when she did.

Gazing at Jane's delicate features, so angelic in repose, Thor could see why, 3 years ago, he might have assumed he was in love with her. Thor knew he had, in years past, had a weakness for a pretty face. So immature was he, that he'd fall for any pretty face that he'd see, and declare it true love. So little had he understood the ways of the heart.
Thor scorned his past self, his ignorance, that all he had cared about was external beauty, caring not for what lay underneath. He was aware, at least now that Thor had had some time for self-reflection, that Asgardian's tended towards the idea that 'what was beautiful and golden on the outside, was surly golden and beautiful on the inside', for what, in all the Nine Realms, could be more beautiful and pure than Asgardian gold?
True, Jane lacked the golden locks of traditional Asgardian beauty, but over the centuries Thor had come to appreciate the contrast, surrounded by gold as he had been, to appreciate an exotic dark beauty.
And that is what Jane had been to him ... exotic. A strange, alluring, Midgadian dark-haired exotic commodity that was refreshing and new to Thor's beleaguered eyes. Odin having sealed his powers, Thor could not interact with the world as he had before, unconsciously using his golden seiðr to feel out the world around him. Cut off from the higher dimensions, Thor had been forced to experience the world around him as he had never before - like a mortal, like a lower lifeform, and truthfully Thor had been left reeling. He had been full of unfamiliar pains; muscles that ache and burn, a throat that became dry and scratchy with thirst, and a stomach that burned and ached with hunger. Things, as a prince, Thor had never experienced before.
And like his own benediction, a vision of dark hair and delicate features and a soft feminine voice, Jane provided him with his every need. And Thor had had no qualms about using her offered services. After all, he was a prince, a god - and she a mortal. That was how things were supposed to function, yes? The fact that she was very easy on the eyes and proved receptive to his flirtations? Had merely made his enforced banishment bearable.

Thor internally cringed at his past folly, that he had truly been that type of man. He paled to think how his vassals would have reacted to him had he treated them the same way when they first truly met on the helicarrier.
Thor had treated Jane and her friends as subjects, as servants, as slaves - acting as he would in Asgard, a golden prince of royal blood, just as his father had taught him. He demanded, fully expecting to get his way. The Midgardians resisted at first, in their confusion, but reasonably quickly acquiesced to his whims. And he, being a golden buffoon, had thought nothing of it. And even as he had treated them thus, he had flirted with Jane - much as he had with the servants and maids in the palace.
It was an unspoken expectation in Asgard that the royals would do what they pleased, and if you caught the eye of a god of the royal court, you were not to expect anything more than the god gave you. Thor had taken on lovers before, more than a few, picking up and dropping off women to warm his bed like seasons. The only time it was not acceptable was if such activities were made public. Such as the incident in the royal baths that had had Thor banished to Midgard in the first place.
Thor had flirted with Jane with the expectation that it would be more of the same, not expecting to actually begin to care for the woman. She and her friends had risked much to assist him, and he had begun to feel true feelings of gratitude. Who knows, Thor speculated, how their relationship may have developed had Thor spent longer in the Midgardian Realm.

At the return of his powers and higher senses, reunited with his beloved Mjolnir, Thor had been overwhelmed, and foolishly kissed the mortal Jane, overcome with glee, and promised such things that he could not keep. Foolishly believing, in his exuberance, that he could gallop into Asgard with his loyal Shield-Brothers at his side, retake his royal place, then take trips back to romance with Jane at his pleasure once everything had settled. Such thoughts had left his mind upon his return to the Golden Realm, in an apparent siege by an invading Ice Giant attack. All thoughts of his Midgardian lover had fled his mind in the ensuing attack, and then completely forgotten at the loss of his Brother.
Thor had truly been stunned at the reappearance of Jane, as he had not seen nor had a single thought for the mortal in the ensuing years. Truthfully, Thor could understand her anger, and upon seeing her tears Thor had been reminded of the promises he had made and once again been made to feel like the true ignoramus that Loki had always claimed Thor to be.
Although he could understand Jane's anger at Thor's thoughtless actions, that did not mean he would condone her actions. Such rage, to throw herself into a screaming screeching fit, it was a disturbing sight, but not anymore unusual than what Jarnaxa had done when they had broken things off and Thor had returned to his wife. But the violence? Attacking a building full of innocent bystanders? And turning her attacks unto the Man-of-Iron instead of himself, Thor, who was deserving of the punishment, not Tony. This illogical attack ... no. Thor could not condone Jane's actions. Even if it were the fault of the Aether's influence ... but Eir had not reacted as Jane had once the Stone had swapped hosts. The Hulk's roars had in fact calmed, and Thor witnessed more of Eir himself emerging and being present in his own transformed body. It was such a contrast, the distinction between the two mortal's reaction to being possessed.
Was it the fault of Eir's talent for seiðr? Where Jane had none? Or was it the fault of their personalities? Jane did not seem to have much trouble utilizing the Reality Stone's unique powers, despite not displaying any talent or awareness of seiðr in the admittedly short time that Thor had known her. Although her effectiveness with those powers seemed limited, compared to Eir's. Eir had summoned the chains, bindings and pit of snakes into being, whereas Jane had levitated currently existing objects within her view of sight. Jane had conjured flames and cutting rain, that lasted but moments and puttered out when not in focus or travelled a distance too far, whereas Eir had flexed the Aether's powers to disturb the mortals who had begun to circulate in aircraft in the air once the battle had settled. Jarvis had relayed that Eir had apparently disabled all Midgardian recording devices within a certain radius, destroying any recording or proof of the battle. Eir was a man who enjoyed his privacy and preferred non-lethal actions, as a healer, so his use of the Aether's powers made sense. Jane on the other hand ... Thor would never have judged her capable, nor willing, of such frenzied actions. She had claimed herself a scholar, and unsuited for battle. And yet ... when given power, her first actions had been for revenge and war.
So Thor was forced to conclude, that no, Jane was not, in fact, pure as Asgardian gold, no matter what her features suggest. Her outside was beautiful ... but her insides were tarnished copper.

Such thoughts of beauty and fools gold turned Thor's thoughts to his wife, Sif, and thusly his sworn Shield-Brothers. Never had Thor been so ashamed and embarrassed to call them thus. Never had Thor ever had his past actions and his foolish boyish attitudes of centuries past ever played so brazenly before him.
That once upon a time ... Thor had been one of them. Jeering and mocking Loki for their prowess with spells. Galavanting through the Realm, destroying all in his path, uncaring what or who he or his friends would injure or disrupt, gayly laughing as they took themselves out on adventures and seeking battle. So eager had he and his Shield-Brethren been, for war and glory, that it mattered not who they enacted their 'war' against.
Thor took as a sign of his own true growth as a man, that thoughts of such actions disgusted him so.
Such brazen warmongering, such complete lack of empathy or forethought for consequences ... it truly disturbed him to realise he had acted so, not that long ago. It disturbed Thor more to realise that his friends encouraged such actions, that Sif had tried to persuade him to join them in their thoughtless quest for battle.

Sif, his wife since they were barely into adulthood. Sif, who fought to be included as a warrior of the Golden Realm, not content to be a Lady of the high classes and free roam of the court. Sif, once of golden locks so fine and beauty unmatched that she had even caught the All-Father's eye.
It was a prank of Loki's, revenge for Sif's many unkind actions and words toward them, whereas she had awoken to find herself shorn of her fine hair. So beside herself with the loss of her Asgardian golden hair and place as the most beautiful of the Realm, Sif had run crying to Odin, who had punished Loki harshly. Odin then forced Loki to go to the dwarves, and pay, in any way that the spiteful dwarves wished, to craft Sif a wig, to cover her baldness until her golden hair could grow back. His Brother would never tell Thor what had been the dwarves price, but Loki had come back looking worse for wear, bearing a beautiful golden wig, that Sif had worn with much pride. But as most encounters go with his trickster of a Brother, Loki had secretly laid upon the wig a curse. For upon her next cruel action in the court, the beautiful golden locks of the wig stained black, much to Sif's and the court's horror. Nor could the wig be removed, forever fused to Sif's head, cursing her hair to be black as ink forevermore.
It was needless to say that Sif made no secret of her loathing for Loki, her scorn never easing, only growing as the centuries passed. Her words and action always cruel, barely restrained even when Thor had asked her not to harass Loki so, only behaving herself in front of the King and Queen.
Sif, much like Jane, seemed to be cut from much of the same cloth. Clad in fools gold, hiding within tarnished copper and rusted lead.

Truly, Thor scorned internally, he had no one to blame for this incident but himself.

"Mr Odinson," TADASHI's calm quiet voice spoke from a speaker close to where Thor stood, distracting him from his brooding, "Do you wish to take a break? EDITH assures that she will continue to watch over Dr Foster in your stead?"

"I thank you, Children of Freyr," Thor coughed to clear his throat, "But I intend to see my duty through."

"Does this 'duty' include standing all night and refusing refreshments?"

Thor smirked at the AI's sass, it would seem that they inherited much from their creator. "No, I suppose not," Thor huffed with a small smile, moving to take a nearby chair as Dum-E entered the room carrying a tray laden with baked apples and a flagon of honey mead. "Thank you, little one," Thor smiled, amused by the bots happy beeps and chirps.
Pausing in thought for a moment, eyes resting on Jane's still form on the bed, Thor inquired, "Does lady Edith watch over my wife and the Warriors Three as we speak?"

"Indeed I do," came EDITH's stern reply.

Thor's face scrunched as he reprimanded himself for being so delayed in inquiring, "How are they?"

"They are contained in the cells that Chief had updated to contain Badassium and rune sequences. For the first few hours, they screamed what we have come to gather are Asgardian obscenities and threw themselves at the walls in attempts to break out. They have since settled, somewhat reluctantly, once they realised there was no escape."

"They have so far refused treatment or nourishment," TADASHI tutted after EDITH's report.

"And they have since destroyed any furniture or bedding that has been afforded them," JARVIS huffed.

"But they are unharmed and appear to be resting at the moment," TADASHI reported, to Thor's sigh of relief.

"What of my Brother? Is Loki still resting?"

"Mr Laufeyson is huddled in their rooms with their children," JARVIS replied, bringing up a projection that showed footage of Loki, reverted to their true Jotun form, lying asleep, surrounded by a nest of their also Jotun form baring children. "It would appear the stress of the situation forced Mr Laufeyson out of their Asgardian form. We have thus lowered their floor's temperature to be more comfortable."

"Thank you," Thor bowed his head, truly thankful and honoured that their care was being taken up by such fine beings of generosity. Truly ... they take after Freyr so much.

"And before you ask," JARVIS hummed in amusement, changing the footage to another medbay room in the tower, "Sir and Dr Banner are also recuperating."

Lying on an identical bed as Jane, Bruce had reverted to his 'human' form, hooked up to Midgardian machines for monitoring, and curled on his chest was a small fluffy chocolate and ginger tortoiseshell maine coon cat.

"It would appear the shock of the event was stressful for my Number 1 patient as well," TADASHI remarked, sounding calmly amused, "He also refused to leave Dr Banner, and since it is easier for us to monitor them while they are currently in the same spot, we decided not to move him."

"What of the Aether?" Thor growled, purposefully placing his flagon down gently.

"The Reality Stone has so far kept to its promises to Dr Banner and stayed in the Nexus," EDITH reported, taking the projection down as the AI decided Thor need not be reminded of something that happened so recently. "It proceeded to fluctuate for the first few hours, it forms unstable, but in the last 2 hours, it has taken a similar form to the other Infinity Stones, and has started to circulate the room with its brethren. Energy levels are still recorded to be unstable, so it is advised that all entities in the Tower currently are to avoid the Nexus room. We will advise once energy levels settle."

"Thank you, truly," Thor nodded, eyes tired but resolute in watching over the unconscious form of Jane.

"Of course sir."

Chapter Text

Bruce sat in his surprisingly comfortable medbay bed - although this was Tony's tower, so Bruce isn't sure why he's shocked - looking over his own medical chart composed by TADASHI, glancing over the Stark Pad now and again to smirk at the argument that was happening over his knees.
Tony Stark the small main coon cat was arguing with his AI. It involved JARVIS, FRIDAY, EDITH, JOCASTA and TADASHI's voices coming from his room's speakers, and kitty Tony meowing, murring and hissing back. Bruce was curious how the AI seemed to be understanding Tony's replies, being that Tony could only produce purely cat sounds in this form, but they had been carrying on what sounded like a full conversation for the last hour, even though Bruce could only understand half of the conversation currently.
Tony stood over his knees, a little bigger than he had been last year when he had last taken this form. He was no longer tiny and frail, like a day old kitten, or a tiny rambunctious kitten as he had been in his last days before turning back. Now he was more sure on his feet, long chocolate and ginger fur still as fluffy as it had been before, with proud big pointy ears that still seemed too big for his head, and big glowing orange eyes, but his body still small, less a fully grown cat as of yet, and more at an adolescent stage. Which made Tony's arguing with his AI even more hilarious to a gently chuckling Bruce. Loki had stated after Bruce became aware of Tony's shapechanging talent, that the apparent age of Tony's shape he had changed into was a pretty clear physical indicator at how well Tony was learning to control his seiðr. So it would appear, even though by all accounts, it looked like the choice to take on his cat form had not been a conscious one, yet again, Tony was actually getting better with getting a handle on this new earth-shattering concept.

At the thought of seiðr, Bruce let his eyes rest on the pad which held his medical report as he let his mind wander.
The experience of, for the first time in his life, of consciously transforming into 'The Hulk', without having to shock himself into it, was the most painless transition he had experienced to date. There was still pain, a human body was not meant to expand in size like that. But Bruce did not experience the burn like his blood was boiling. He didn't experience the migraine or fuzziness that usually accompanied having his conscious mind being shoved into the glove box and having his animal instincts and overwrought nerves run the show. 'Bruce' had been present the whole time, whereas usually he closed himself off and let 'The Hulk' take care of it.
The green skin, the heightened senses, being able to sense seiðr, everything that Bruce had labelled things 'The Hulk' could do ... Bruce was now aware was actually his seiðr itself. That green energy ... that was Bruce's seiðr. And the gamma radiation that caused his mutation, forcing awake the M gene that Bruce possessed ... made Bruce a lot more like the X-Men, mutants who possess the X gene, than other humans. He processed seiðr very much as mutant's do ... but still different. Mutants took in atmosphere seiðr which fueled their powers but seemed to lack personal seiðr of their own, only able to process and use powers created from their seiðr intake.
Bruce took in seiðr, much like mutants do, but once inside, his body ingested it, adding it to Bruce's already existing green personal seiðr pool. Bruce knew this was why the Aether had latched initially onto him. Loki had explained that all things in existence had seiðr, but that did not mean that all could learn to control it. Like most things, things were not made equally. Some had more seiðr, some had less. It was like how human bodies were not all born the same, they were all genetically different. Some were predisposed to be stronger, while others were weaker. It was just how nature was. There was no such thing as the perfect human form.
Bruce's mutation essentially turned him into a perpetually auto-filling vessel of seiðr, never running out, but also never overflowing. And the Aether, starved for over millennia, latched onto him. Jane had possessed seiðr, as all living things do, but it was limited, undeveloped, and was quickly drying out. Bruce had been the perfect substitute.

How did Bruce know this? The Aether had told him. Well ... 'told him' was an oversimplified statement.
As the Aether began taking up space in The Hulk/Bruce's body, Bruce/Hulk felt alien emotions of curiosity and joy, The Hulk's superior senses able to tell that these emotions were coming from the invader. In a move that Bruce wondered at now, the Aether had drifted closer and proceeded to press its red energy against The Hulk/Bruce's green energy ... and Bruce's mind had been overrun with foreign feelings, thoughts and possibly memories. The knowledge of the Aether, or at least, what the primordial aspect of the universe, wished to share, flowed into Bruce. Visions of deep space, expanding and exploding galaxies. It showed him snippets of things, Bruce realised later that these images were not at all in any sense of order - if an ancient higher being had a sense of order, as humans would understand it. So a lot of the visions made little rational sense to Bruce. It gave him visions of a sun being born, then of itself dancing in the Nexus room with the other Infinity Stones, then of the Stones inset in a golden metal glove, then of Loki's still body floating in space, then ... Thor's? A human on an alien spacecraft? It was after it showed him images of a golden glowing blond woman floating in space and visions of Loki joyfully leading an alien army through a portal in the sky to attack New York ... that Bruce realised everything The Reality Stone was showing him might not be real. They did not have a solid understanding of any of the Stone's powers, not yet at least. But while possessed, the Aether lent him it's abilities to conjure things into being and twist reality around him to his whim ... so maybe the Stone could show them completely false things too?
But through this sharing of 'knowledge', Bruce came to gain a type of deeper understanding, on the nature of seiðr, but especially, of his own - as the Aether travelled his entire being and poured knowledge into him. And through him, the Aether began to become aware of things too. It found Bruce's memories, fluttering through them like a well-loved book, careful and gentle, learning more of their Realm and people, adding on apparently from what it had learned from Jane. It became overjoyed at learning that it's brethren were in this Realm, all in one place, and urged Hulk/Bruce to take it there. At least, that's the feeling he got. It did not speak any words or make sounds, only communicated with images and feelings. Bruce wondered if that was because Bruce was too low a lifeform to hear it's voice? Little alone understand it's language. Bruce was grateful that The Stone had tried communicating on a level that Bruce could understand. He shuddered to think what could have happened to his brain, not to mention the rest of him if it had tried to forcefully to get him to hear it's words.

Through Bruce/Hulk and his unlimited well of seiðr, the Aether took what it needed to stabilise - apparently, where King Bor had sealed the Aether away also contained very little natural seiðr it was used to having around. It didn't need to eat ... but without surrounding seiðr, it had slowly over the millennia become unstable, which was something the other Stone's didn't have to worry about, only The Reality Stone, because of what the Dark Elves had done to it. After it had its fill, Bruce received feelings of regret and a distinct impression that the Aether wanted to apologise. Bruce had become concerned that he would have to become the Stone's permanent personal vessel just to keep it stable, but the Stone kept sending him visions of the Nexus room and the other Infinity Stones, and the strange vision of a sponge sucking up water in a puddle. Although it was abstract, Bruce got the Stone's meaning.
And true to its visions, as soon as Hulk/Bruce had entered the Nexus, the Aether had flowed out of him like a river - the strangest feeling! Bruce didn't remember anything after that, but it was revealed to him later after waking that he had passed out as soon as the last essence of The Reality Stone left his being. Tony's AI had informed him of the Aether's promise, that it had made, using his own vocal cords, which it apparently was keeping, as it still resided in the Nexus room, now in a solid gem formation like its brethren, and floating in happy little patterns.
Bruce had been able to tell TADASHI that Jane would be fine ... to a point. Bruce couldn't explain, but he got the distinct feeling that Jane may suffer later in life because of the rapid drain of her internal seiðr, which unless given a transfusion of some sort, would cause an imbalance ... of some sort? It hadn't been very clear, but TADASHI promised to take note of it.

Apart from Dr Foster's situation, everything seemed to be stabilising. Loki was recovering with their children, Thor was keeping guard over Jane, JARVIS reported that there had been no casualties or deaths. There was a lot of property damage, but Tony had a recovery fund just for this purpose. Apparently ... the Aether, heeding Bruce's wishes that footage of the fight would be lost, the Aether had used its powers through him to grant it. Only problem ... that ended up breaking or destroying hundreds of recording devices, from news cameras, photographers cameras, to personal phones. Funnily enough, only SI products that contained the new updates managed to avoid destruction, though any recordings of the fight were wiped. SI was dealing with hundreds of angry complaints and threats of being sued, which Tony's PR and legal teams were dealing with admirable poise. That wasn't the issue. Apparently, now that Tony Stark was out of his hidey-hole, the world wanted him to come out and explain to them what happened.

That was what the AI and Tony were arguing about. From Tony's kitty hisses, Bruce gathered that Tony Stark did not, in fact, want to go out and explain what happened. From what he could gather from the AI's off-handed comments, Tony had been enjoying not being responsible and have to give a speech for every little thing.

"Tony," the main coon cat's ears twitched, then Tony turned to look at Bruce, "I'm sorry. Because of my selfish wish, I've put you in a difficult situation."

Tony proceeded to meow loudly, to which JARVIS replied, "Sir wishes it to be known, that he does not want Dr Banner to be feeling guilty about it. What you did, with the Aether, was a wise thing. There may be written witness accounts, from the film crews who foolishly left the protection of the barrier or wandered close enough to see the battle," JARVIS sounded quite smug, "But witness accounts do not stand up without proof."

"I believe the popular phrase on the internet is; 'Pics or It Didn't Happen'," FRIDAY chuckled.

"This gives Sir the perfect opportunity to give our interpretation of events," JARVIS continued, ignoring Tony's hiss.

"We cannot have stories running wild about rampaging super-beings or Chief fighting Asgardians," EDITH pressed, "It would only serve to spread panic."

"It may even hurt the mutant's chances of being accepted, should anti-mutant politicians get wind of this," FRIDAY replied dryly.

The AI's subtle guilt-tripping seemed to be working, as Tony's kitty ears flattened to his skull and he dropped his head, and with a very un-cat-like huff, jumped down off of the bed and began to make his way out of Bruce's medical room.

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience Tony," Bruce called out but received a quiet meow as Tony plodded out the door.

"Do not worry, Dr Banner," TADASHI sounded smugly pleased, "My number 1 patient truly does not mind."

Chapter Text

Tony sat, massaging his temples trying to fight off a stress headache. Never before had long hours ever seemed to impact him as hard as it did now. Tony was used to spending days at a time working on an invention or trying to circumvent the newest disaster. Tony blames the months of absence he has had from this part of his work. Give him an impossible project, something to invent and manufacture, and Tony will dive in with no qualms. Dealing with the wider range of the public, however? Was more boring and brain-numbing than he remembered it being.
Had people gotten stupider in the time he had been away? Pepper insisted that the general public had always been like that, with JARVIS giving examples of past dealings with such people as proof.

Tony had spent hours trying to regain his human form, taking much longer than he thought it really should have taken. Ending with Tony resigning himself to more practice and more seiðr lessons with Loki when they both could find the time. This left him with scant minutes to shower and make himself look presentable before he was pushed out onto a podium in front of a frothing crowd of journalists, who all seemed to be baying for blood, but seemed confused from who they wanted it. Tony really didn't miss this.
Tony Stark had always found dealing with journalists as simple; give them a juicy target to hate and destroy, and they would charge like a cackle of hyenas to tear at the fresh corpse. But when he didn't have a clear 'enemy' for the scavengers to snap at it left the horde antsy. And 'antsy' journalists tended to just create their own targets to brutalise, and then it was all-out mayhem. New York journalists were some of the worst for this, inventing drama where there was none just for a juicy story, or printing outright complete lies, just because it was more interesting and sold more papers or created media buzz. Very few, in Tony's experience, contained even a smidge of common decency or moral fibre. The few who decided that they do, like Christine Everhart who worked for Vanity Fair Magazine, who was the original person who tipped Tony off about Obidiah's under-the-table dealings with terrorists, only did so when the situation suited her. Others who tried to take the moral high ground, or tried to expose corruption, sadly either ended up poor, fired, imprisoned, missing, or dead. 'White hat' journaling was a dangerous business, so it made sense why so few tried it, and those that did, toed a very fine line.

This lack of a support base of people he could trust to try to print the truth made Tony's job of wrangling the crowd of hungry media hounds even harder than it usually was. He couldn't go out there and paint Jane as the villain, although it was her that initially attacked The Maria Stark Foundation Gala function, or even try to mention that the whole fault of the situation had been a lonely Infinity Stone, that by the way, was an ancient primordial aspect of the universe - oh and did you know? There was 6 of them? All of them supremely powerful higher beings that could do anything they wanted, could even destroy the world as they knew it ... and oh yeah, Tony just happened to have 3 of them?
No. Oh hell no. That would not fly at all. Things were bad enough with Captain America fan President Ellis already seething about his meal ticket losing his powers and being stuck in a hospital, about S.H.I.E.L.D's downfall and investigation leading into an investigation into his cooperation with the organisation, and Ellis' authorization of the creation of the 'Advanced Threat Containment Unit', an agency tasked with dealing with the threats of the 'Inhuman's' on American soil ... which was in direct contention with Tony Stark and SI's cooperation with the Asgardian Embassy in protecting and supporting mutants and empowered individuals. Needless to say, if Tony had not been Tony Stark, allied with literal Gods, and as politically powerful as he was? Being in direct contention with the President of the United States agendas would be a dangerous endeavour. Admitting to even half of the advancements they currently had, let alone harbouring The Infinity Stones, could be enough for President Ellis to possibly take very drastic actions. So Tony and his buddies had to run a very careful campaign.

Tony had gone out there and painted 'the attacker' as a victim, coerced into unwanted actions - because technically she had been, to their knowledge ... well they speculated, as Dr Foster had still not awakened to tell them her side of the story yet.
It was a fine dance of likening the situation to what they had communicated as being Loki's original situation; an evil force possessing their mind and controlling their actions, leaving them as a victim of manipulation and not responsible for their actions. When a journalist asked who, Tony gave them the same vague answer as they had given for Loki once again; that an unknown outside force was using these manipulated individuals to enter their world. Again, not technically wrong, as Loki, Liesmith and Silver-Tongue, had advised Tony, his AI, and their legal and PR teams; 'A convincing lie must always, within itself, always contain a kernel of truth. Without it, the fabrication will collapse and be exposed in due time. A successful lie must always be based on truth'. Having to assure the bloodthirsty crowd that the victim was in recovery, and The Asgardian Embassy would continue to investigate these incidents seemed to calm them somewhat, even the few who damnded to know the attacker's name or to be shown them, even when Tony had given, multiple times already, the spiel about their duty to protect a victim's right to privacy.

Explaining the accounts of new gods was another circus altogether.
Tony felt like he had spent hours talking in circles, explaining to drama columnists that the new gods were indeed from Asgard, and shutting down the conspiracy journalists that they were not, in fact, invading and had been sent by Odin as assistance. Explaining away the apparent multitude of eye-witness accounts of these 'new gods' attacking members of the Asgardian Embassy, as 'battlefield confusion' was a pain - although allowing Tony to reprimand and remind those who had left the safety of the Arc Reactor Barrier and approach the battlefield were in confrontation with the agreements and contracts all attendees, even the press, had to sign about their safety in attendance to the function. And those who were not officially granted access were reminded of possible fines they could face if they were found to disregard the Asgardian Embassy's own laws about media coverage - which, thanks to FRIDAY's mean work, included any battles they were included in.
Again having to cite a person's right to privacy, yes, even if they were an alien, Tony refused to give the 'new god's' names, stating that, if they wished it, the gods would work with the Embassy's PR teams and release information by themselves. Until then, they were just to know that Odin from now on, maybe in the habit of sending men and supplies to the Embassy when they needed it.

Tony had thought, after that dumpster fire of a media conference, that his day would be free to be his own. But unfortunately, the Fumble Foursome were insisting on someone hearing their piece, sighting an 'Asgardian's right to justice' and protesting their confinement. This apparently did not include talking to Tony's kids, as to them 'disembodied servants' were not 'people' and therefore invalid of voicing their complaints to. Thor was doing his thing, Loki was still a mental mess, and Bruce was TADASHI's current medical darling, which left Tony having to trudge down to the containment cells, ver 2, now containing more Baddasium and pretty glowing runes! And having to sit, behind a clear Arc Reactor containment field - like a glass wall, but zappier, and listen to the ancient morons whinge.
And it was whinging. Instead of arguing for their 'rights to justice' as they had sited, they instead proceeded to complain about the pettiest of things.
"Slave, I say, these rooms are ugly!"
"Peasant! Where are the wenches?"
"I cannot be expected to sleep on such primitive bedding. I demand my rooms be decorated with nothing but the finest Light Elf silk."
"Where is the food?"
"I cannot be contained like this, being treated like a common prisoner? Do you know who I am?"

And when Tony had allowed himself to be sarcastically snide in commenting that, no, in fact, he did not - the Aesir wasted no time in telling him exactly who they were, and started regaling him with tales of their many exploits.
Their stories ranged from myths that Tony knew of thanks to the Norse, to stories he did not know; like how most claimed to be childhood friends of the golden prince, Volstagg claiming that he had mentored the young prince and his friends as a highly respected and feared warrior in his prime, they first met when the Warriors Three joined the Thunder God on an expedition to restore the Odinsword that had become cracked. When Tony had asked what the hell an 'Odinsword' was, he got the first taste of Asgardian patronization - all they would say was that it was a mighty weapon of Odin's of which a puny mortal like Tony would be unworthy to behold.

From there they moved on to tales of the fantastic and bemusing.
Allegedly, Volstagg the 'Staggeringly Perfect' led the youths Hogun 'the Good', Fandral the 'Quite Plain', Thor and Loki in Hel, fighting against all of its hordes for forty days and nights. Tony was sceptical of there course of events, as he highly doubted that Loki would join them in a battle against their own daughter, or Thor to attack his own niece. The Warriors Three scoffed at Tony's protestations, claiming that a 'whelp of that weakling could never rule anything' and that was obviously not the real Hel, as everyone knew Hel was full of ghouls and draugr. It left Tony wondering what the young adventures had actually fought?
Eventually, Hogun was hurt in the ensuing days of battles and was forced to retreat. Volstagg was stabbed and Thor had to defeat the horde all by himself, while Loki, the snivelling spell-weaver acted as the group's nurse and cared for the fallen warrior. After this battle and eighty days without food, Volstagg started eating as soon as he could and never stopped since, as apparently once he was slim and fit from his life as a soldier, and thus gained the title 'the Voluminous'. This battle was also allegedly the one that made Thor worthy of Mjolnir, and due to the battle, Hogun 'the Good' became Hogun 'the Grim', and for some reason, Fandral 'the Quite Plain' became Fandral 'the Dashing' later ... with no explanations as of how or why.

Next was a tale of another epic adventure, but this time on the sea? As their retelling went, the Warriors Three accompanied Thor on a ship as they journeyed through the 'Sea of Fear' and the 'Pillars of Utgard', tossed by violent waters.
Loki then staged a mutiny with the aid of the dissenting Kroda 'the Duelist' and Magrat 'the Schemer' (such colourful names) - the before unmentioned companions who had also been with them to restore the 'Odinsword', splitting the crew in half and starting a fight between the two factions. Tony secretly wondered that maybe, just maybe, the failure to even mention that they had been there might have encouraged such 'treachery'.
Fandral and the Warriors Three sided with Thor, naturally, and battled on as the ship headed toward the 'Dragon's Jaws'. As their ship entered this lethal region, the battle was broken off by the sound of Balder, who ALSO was apparently there, who had climbed to the top of the ship's masthead with a great horn, in hopes that its power might steer them to safety ... add 'powerful horn blasts' to strange Aesir weapons. Balder succeeded and the Jaw was blown to bits, allowing their ship to pass onto the next leg of their journey.
Detecting the ship, Queen Ula of the Flying Trolls ... yes ... sent a squad to raid the ship. Balder 'the Brave' had collapsed in exhaustion from using the giant horn, thus was useless in the proceeding battle, and hadn't actually lifted a sword or battled anything more than a naturally occurring obstacle to a careening boat. Tony wondered if Prince Balder, the Heir to the Asgardian Throne, knew The Warriors Three were spreading such tales?
Fandral led the Warriors Three in a counter-attack to defend their ship from the looting Trolls. Loki, who apparently actually helped for once in one of their stories, unleashed a potion into the air that poisoned the Trolls, but, of course, with the battle over, Loki took all the credit and gloated. Ula ... 'Queen Ula of the Flying Trolls' ... had anticipated this move and ordered her men to prepare a fitting welcome for the sons of Odin. Silly weakling Loki was captured by Queen Ula, and Thor left to rescue him. Before Fandral and the Warriors Three were able to leave for a rescue attempt, Thor and Loki appeared on the ship.
Then, Odin appeared in a blinding flash and informed them that their quest was done and that they could return to Asgard. Tony had the sneaking suspicion it was less 'an order from the King' and more 'a tired parent come to collect their children who had stayed out too late playing pretend' - it just sounded too ridiculous.

Fandral even tried to insinuate that he was the basis on which the fable of Robin Hood was based on ... but Tony flatly refused to believe that.

Out of the four, Hogun and Sif spoke the least. Hogun apparently was too stoic to add to the storytelling, Tony thought he was more likely quietly fuming and was having a silent snit about being in a jail cell. All it took to get Sif talking, was Tony asking where she had been during all these 'adventures'? And then came the outpouring of all of the female member of the Warriors Three's woes.
How she had fought all her life to be accepted into the ranks of Asgard's warrior class, despite being the daughter of a noble. And she made the distinction of being a female warrior of Asgard's army, and not a Valkyrie - as she disliked the Valkyrie's pegasi mounts, cited them as ornery spiteful beasts, and that the order was not as it used to be after their last massive defeat. She didn't want to join losers, she wanted to be a warrior!
Sif had no qualms about proudly announcing that she was one of the very few women who were counted among Odin's forces, and loudly yelled strange-sounding expletives at Tony when he questioned if she had actually fought in any wars or battles as a soldier.

Then ... then the truly disturbing stories were told.
They were stories of all of Sif and the Warrior Threes triumphs over Loki in particular, a story that developed from harmless pranks and cruel words to acts that ... Tony could only gap at.
With Sif's marriage to a prince of Asgard and her 'in' at the royal court, Sif gloated about having the ear of Odin, revealing that it was Sif herself that was mostly behind the litany of atrocities acted upon Loki.
She was the one who heard from Heimdal of Loki's secret family on both accounts, it was she who whispered of their location to Odin. She spoke at length about the Frost Giant invasion of Asgard, that she was the one who 'discovered' that it was all one of Loki's plots to take over the Asgardian Throne, and as a dutiful soldier, reported it straight to Odin. She revelled in detailing their slaughter of the looting Frost Giants, of cornering Loki the betrayer, the return of Thor and the other Warriors Three from Midgard and Loki's defeat and being banished to the void.
Tony was stunned to silence at the viciousness of their retelling, that he mostly missed their retelling of the battle they had been called to, in Thor's absence, to avenge Hogun's birth Realm, Vanahiem, from an invading force of marauders, who had apparently decided to use the randomly appearing portals, caused by the Convergence, to go raid. The Warriors Three remarked that they were victorious in decimating the invaders, just before being commanded by Queen Frigga to use those same portals to get to Midgard and aid their friend Thor.

It was now, seemingly caught up to the present day, and their current situation, that the Warrior Three started once again demanding to be set free.

"We were sent as Thor's support, as we have ever been," Sif smiled, but Tony could not look at her pretty face the same way again, knowing now what he did, so her purrs fell on deaf ears, "We do not deserve such treatment."

"Hear hear!" Fandral cried.

"So," Hogun growled, only now, deciding to speak up, "It would be in your best interest to agree, that we deserve to be released, mortal."

"As far as I'm concerned, knowing what I do now, thanks to your ... interesting stories," Tony stood calmly, ignoring the Warriors triumphant grins, "You deserve to rot, and never see the light of day ever again," Tony scathed, turning without another look behind at the Aesir's roars of rage. It looks like Tony and his AI have more work to do.

Chapter Text

Thor had been rotating between standing or sitting when the AI began insisting, or when Dum-E, U, or Butterfingers came into the room to give him refreshments or just to keep him company, but Thor made sure not to forget why he was standing vigil in this rather comfortable room of Midgardian healing.
He counted himself responsible for the human astronomer who lay in the rooms only bed, sparing only a stray thought to the mortal's companions, of which he knew the fate of only one, and JARVIS had told him the Doctor Mentor Old Man was being kept in a healing room in another country for an illness of the mind. Thor had asked Freyr's children if they could track down Jane's companions, but that had been hours ago. Thor felt only a little bit guilty that he did not remember their names. Most of his guilt centred around the gently breathing form of Jane, and the prevailing feeling of wanting to be anywhere but this room.

Thor was not used to being uncomfortable in another's presence, and the only thing Jane was doing was sleeping. But a part of Thor, a part Thor was confused by, wanted to get out of this room, far from the woman lying in that bed, and proclaim that he never wanted to see her again. It was a strange impulse, and one Thor was not familiar with. In his usual course of action, if something unnerved him, he faced it, head-on. Thor did not cower, Thor did not retreat. It just was not the kind of man that Thor was. Thor was not averse to conflict, he was an Asgardian, part of a warrior race, conflict was their creed. And Jane was not his first trouble with relationships, not counting Loki and the strange synergy they now maintained between them, Thor also had his conflict with Jarnaxa and other past lovers - not to mention his current developing issue with his lawfully wedded wife. But never before had his philandering ways ever before, made him stop and actually think on his actions. And one that, in all honesty, had but been a temporary fling, a blink of the eye, for an immortal such as he.
But Jane even possessed, had raged with such burning passion, over something Thor had not thought a wit about. Maybe, for mortals, those short but sweet moments had been life-changing? After all, mortal lives were breathtakingly short. Just the thought of his beloved vassals taking their last breath made his seize in his chest.

"Where ...?"

Thor forced himself to breath calmly as his stormy grey eyes met the glazed, but quickly clearing brown eyes.

"... Thor?" the mortal blinked as she seemed to force herself awake, her fawn-coloured eyes, that Thor had a short time ago coveted, began to glisten with unshed tears. "Oh ... Thor. Thor! You're here!"

"Yes lady Jane, I am here," Thor rumbled with a slow nod, eyes never leaving the mortal as she slowly sat up.

"Oh ... I knew, I knew it! I knew you'd come back for me!" Thor internally flinched at Jane's glee, her beautiful smile as she gazed at him with such an adoring gaze forced Thor, for the first time in his life, to look away. Mistaking Thor's avoidance of meeting her eyes as bashfulness, Jane giggled lightly to herself as she went back to glancing about the room, "Where are we, Thor? A Hospital?"

Suppressing the odd sensation of wanting to squirm in his seat, and unable to bring himself to meet her eyes now that he had drawn his away, Thor opened his mouth to reply, but Jane steamrolled over any reply he could have given with the self-assured statement of "Oh, of course, it is. We did teach you what a Hospital was the last time you were on Earth. It's good to know that you managed to retain some of the things we taught you. Though it's nice that this time, it wasn't us dropping off a strange man we had hit with our van. Now Thor," Jane smiled as she playfully teased him, "Don't go escaping by letting yourself out this time."

"I won't, lady Jane," Thor rumbled, unable to bring himself to say more than a few words, completely blindsided by the mortal's apparent emotional 180.

"Come on Thor, no more of the 'lady' stuff," Jane giggled, eyes shining as she took in the golden god visiting in her room, "We are surely past that? Oh, it's so good to see you, Thor! I'd missed your strange alien mannerisms and ancient diction. I was worried that the people that surrounded you might influence you, but it's nice to see, you haven't changed one bit!"

"You-" Thor blinked, eyes meeting her's for a moment in surprise but quickly tore them away at seeing her glistening eyes, "You are aware of my time on Midgard?"

"Thor," Jane drawled flatly, her smiling visage slipping, "You were all over the news and social media. How could I miss that you were here?"

"I -" Thor swallowed the strange impulse to immediately apologise, "I was not aware you took note of such things?"

"It's true," Jane hummed absentmindedly as she began to comb out her long dark hair with her fingers, "That I usually avoid the press, they've rarely ever had anything nice to say about me and my work. Besides, I am an astrologist. My only concern should be the stars," Jane snorted, "And not whatever the rest of the little ants running around on the Earth think about me."

"So how did you-?"

"Darcy told me. Wouldn't shut up about it, actually," the woman scowled as she untangled some sleep knots, causing Thor's brows to scrunch into a frown, "I swear, she will never get her doctorate if all she cares about is whatever is on her social media feed."

"Lady Jane, where is lady Darcy?"

"Hmm? Oh probably still on her phone somewhere, I wouldn't worry about it Thor," Jane smiled as she started plating her hair, smiling sideways over her shoulder, "I'm much more interested in spending time with you here."

"Is she not you're companion?" Thor's grey eyes darkened, frown deepening into a scowl, "What about your mentor? I had heard he was taken in by mind healers?"

"Don't worry about them Thor, they can look after themselves," she smiled Thor's concerns away, finishing a simple braid and brushing her long tresses back over her pale shoulder. "How long do the doctors say we have to stay in here?"

"Tadashi has told me that the lady Jane may be required to be kept in for observation, depending on your health," Thor glanced at the ceiling, confused that the Children of Freyr were keeping silent, "Now that you have awakened, I am assuming they may want to take more tests."

"Oh, I'm sure that won't be necessary," Jane gave a small secret smirk, ducking her head down demurely, "I feel fine."

"Did you not just lecture me on dismissing the healer's orders?" Thor looked back down to the mortal, confused by her strange behaviour, "The lady Jane is to be staying in bed so the master healers may make you well."

"Alright Thor," Jane purred as she rested back on the pillows, "It's nice to see you still care for me."

"I am responsible for you, lady Jane," Thor crossed his arms, not liking the tonal shift of this conversation, "And you are one of the key players that helped me to retrieve my powers and reunite me with my hammer. To not see that you receive care would be irresponsible and a stain on my honour."

"So stiff and formal," Jane tutted, missing the flash of gold in Thor's dark stormy eyes, "Looks like the people you've been surrounding yourself with haven't taught to you any better. You don't have to be so distant with me."

"I am a prince of Asgard," Thor gave a small subsonic growl, making his chest vibrate against his large crossed arms, "How else would I speak?"

"Well, I'm your girlfriend, Thor," Jane gave a small indulgent huff, missing another flash of gold, "Of course you would talk to me differently."

"We have had not had relations in almost 3 Midgardian years," Thor frowned at the mortal's quickly developing sneer, "I would not think we would continue relations after such a time apart."

"It's Earth years, Thor," Jane scoffed as she sat back up straight in her bed again, "You would think being here for 2 of those, you would have learnt that by now. And what do you mean 'continue relations'? You were the one who said you'd come back for me, so obviously we are still dating," the mortal snarled, fine brows deepened into a furious scowl, "You can't just kiss me after a whirlwind romance then dump me and expect it to be over."

"I do apologise if I gave you the wrong impression," Thor bowed his head slightly in apology, eyes not leaving the seething woman on the bed, "Emotions and tempers were high, and I found myself compromised, having had my powers bound, denied my birthright, and banished to a foreign world by my own father. It was not my intention to lead you on, for those 3 stressful days that I had been stuck on Midgard, or cause you to confuse my flirtations as declarations of deep, abiding love."

"How DARE you-" Jane began to raise her voice, hands clenched in her bedsheets.

"I deeply apologise," Thor insisted, still not able to meet the woman's eyes but still kept notice of her stiff body language, "I have been made aware that my past actions toward you were misleading and unfair. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to make reparations for my caddish behaviour-"

"Stop!" Jane cried, flailing her arms at Thor to halt the god's speech, "Please stop. Thor, please, whatever they have been telling you, it's not true!" Tear's that had been welling in her eyes began falling down the mortal's cheeks, "I know you meant it when you told me you cared for me, that that kiss meant something. Those three days had been the most wonderful of my life! I love you, Thor!"

"... I am sorry, lady Jane, but I cannot return your feelings," Thor once again felt like squirming as the human woman began to sob.

"Hey, Sparkles, if you've got a moment -" Tony waltzed into the room, as he usually would in any room in his tower, pausing upon seeing Jane's shocked, red blotchy, teary face, "Oh ... ... I'm sorry. Was this a bad time?"

"Stark!" Tony jumped at the woman's furious yell, causing Thor to whip his eyes back to the bed, snapping to attention as Jane braced her arm up as if she were about to throw something. Thor moved with inhuman speed to block the possible attack against Tony with his own body, but the room froze in silence as Jane flung her hand out in a 'casting' motion ... but sat blinking in befuddlement when nothing happened.

"Uh ... ok. Nice to know you do actually hate me, and it's not the all-powerful gem of red things," Tony blinked, unable to help his babbling mouth.

"Jane ..." Thor felt deep disappointment in his past lover as she frantically looked about the room in fear, tears resuming their path down her cheeks.

"I swear, it's not me Thor! I was - I'm possessed! It whispered things - it's taken over my mind!" Jane stuttered as she fumbled, trying to kneel on her medical bed but her legs got caught in the sheets, frantically reaching her arms out, pleading "Help me, Thor!"

"Dr Foster, we can ascertain that you are no longer under the influence of the Aether," TADASHI's voice was flatter and more robotic sounding than Thor had ever heard it, "No traces of its readings remain in your systems, has not for over 48 hours. We can assure you that you are clear from any outside influences. Please try to calm yourself."

Jane proceeded to scream incoherently, grabbing the provided pillow and pelting it at Thor with a screaming roar of rage, which only bounced harmlessly off of Thor's massive pecs.

An angry beeping squeak sounded beside Thor and Tony as Dum-E came charging into the room brandishing its favourite fire extinguisher.

"Ah ah ah! Dum-E! You know you're not allowed to have that outside the lab. Don't you point that!"

"I thank you for your attempt to assist, Little One," Thor felt the fond smile crack his stiff face, "But I assure you, we are not in any danger."

Jane's screams of frustration echoed in the medbay.

Chapter Text

Getting the full complete story of events out of Jane, of how exactly she had come to contain the Aether, was a practice in patience. She was still furious at Thor and spat at Tony whenever she saw him. She had made her contempt for him very clear. Although she refused to speak to Tony, and her speaking to Thor without bursting into tears and scorn was impossible. She was, however, not at all averse to talking to FRIDAY, especially after she realised that FRIDAY was indeed an AI. She showed the same curiosity towards JARVIS and TADASHI, although she tended to scoff at their urgings. Tony was confused until TADASHI posted a note, onto Tony's ever-present glasses, that Dr Foster may be confusing FRIDAY for an actual gendered female, and felt a sort of comradery with a perceived another of the same sex, and felt more comfortable confiding with her.

This caused Tony to pause and go into deep speculation. Did the AI have a gender? Well, he knew the voice modules that the AI chose for themselves, even JARVIS when Tony had given them the choice, were based on human modulation of voice that to human ears were easily identifiable as male or female. The AI themselves even used gendered pronouns matching the voice they chose, and they never protested being referred to as one gender or the other. Maybe, Tony speculated, that they just allowed humans to refer to them however they chose to perceive them - they certainly did not refer to themselves as having a gender. But it did not seem to upset or disturb them, so Tony judged that it was fine. His AI would let him know if they didn't like anything, Tony had made sure he and his AI were always truthful and blunt with each other. It wouldn't do to run a house on lies.

Watching Jane with a gimlet eye, Tony wondered if Jane was aware that she had chosen to pour her heart out to one of the most Machiavellian of his Artificial Intelligence? JARVIS could be sly and particularly ruthless in his actions, wither it be hacking or acting as Tony's digital bodyguard, EDITH was stern, quick and direct, and TADASHI would threaten to poke uncooperative patients with particularly nasty needles and long evaluation tests to get his way - but FRIDAY was the cunning one. Press releases, law and politics were her bread and butter. She was not usually taken to be sympathetic, but her chosen voice module was smooth and lilting, a gentle Irish brogue that would make Enya jealous - but also made humans perceive her as gentle and soft and empathetic - and definitely something FRIDAY used in clinching her contracts and deals.
And Jane seemed to be very susceptible to her deceptively gentle tones, deciding to ignore that anyone else was even in the room and spoke to FRIDAY like she was a girlfriend, bitching over coffee. Jane seemed to even be unaware that FRIDAY had managed to get her to sign a legally binding contract, which contained FRIDAY's own runic spells that ensured confidentiality was honoured and had also slipped in an 'anti-lying' runic sequence, magically forbidding Jane to lie in her confessions.
Tony was a bit unsure of the moral ambiguity, of basically, forcing the scientist to tell the truth. He reasoned that Jane wasn't being interrogated; as in, she wasn't being 'terrorized' into giving up information, nor was she being tortured - if you called sitting in a plush interior and being provided with breakfast and barista-style coffee in bed, as 'torture'. FRIDAY had even been completely honest and upfront about what the contracts contained, although Tony thinks Jane had been patronizing the AI, nodding and smiling while she signed, not fully believing FRIDAY's statements about the legally binding ramifications or 'runic magic'. For someone who had the first contact with the ancient Norse Pantheon, Jane was fairly dismissive of 'magic'. Tony could understand, he was a man of science himself, but he believed the evidence speaks for itself. In the end, Tony figured that the ends justified the means and it wasn't hurting anybody. Tony had always been somewhat morally grey - it would make sense his kids would be too. Besides, Loki was currently having a Jotun cuddle pile, and unable to be their sit-in lie detector. Not that Tony would want Loki to be subjected to the human female scientist.

It wasn't that he 'hated Jane' - Tony didn't know her well enough to be even close to calling the emotions he felt towards her as 'hate'. Besides, hate was a strong word. In fact, Tony had to admit to himself that he couldn't help admiring Dr Foster's chutzpah, commitment and dedication to the scientific method of making discoveries:
Building her own equipment with no technical background and use it while chasing severe storms to get readings, interacting with an alien species with nothing to protect herself should they be violent other than a stun gun, and, apparently, walking up to scary black monoliths with red glowing alien material inside ... and sticking her hand in!
Tony internally cringed at the number of reprimands he himself would have gotten from Pepper, Rhodey, Happy and his AI if Tony had ever tried to do the same thing. In fact, Jane's unfolding stories of scientific reckless abandon left Tony assigning Jane a redshirt in his mind, instead of the science division blues. And Tony thought he was bad! If he had attempted even a half of Jane's recent exploits, Pepper would be bald from stress hair loss.

I mean ... joining forces with the secret organisation who originally tried to stop you from helping the alien from Asgard, who made fairly worrying threats and confiscated your equipment? Who does that? Oh, and SHIELD knew precisely who she was, or more importantly, how reportedly close she had been to Thor. They probed her for any information that the aliens may have to give, and Jane gave it to them, freely. No suspicion, no concern. It left Tony scratching his head. Didn't it occur to her that freely telling SHIELD; a dubious secret organisation led by a pirate - telling these guys things that Thor had shared with her, possibly in confidence ... wouldn't that be considered betrayal? To a member of a foreign royal court? To the guy, she professed to be 'in love' with? Were there no thoughts in her mind of consequences? Or even how Thor would feel about it? Tony was quietly grateful that Dum-E had escorted Thor out at the beginning of the conversation, to finally go have some shut-eye after standing guard over Jane for 2 days. Thor didn't deserve to have to deal with this.

Jane took the whole proverb 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' to its absolute limits.
Joining forces with Thor's Midgardian aggressors, betraying his confidence, working to build SHIELD their own Bifrost using Asgardian secrets, and attempting to further her own career by using Thor and his people as the product of her scientific paper and essentially using the golden prince as a step ladder. And then! When given power when she grabbed at the Infinity Stone, used it to enact her burning revenge, on not just Thor, but Tony Stark and all she had deemed as those who were 'keeping him away from me!' Which included all those who attended the Maria Stark Foundation charity gala.

It begged the question ... where was her supervisor? Any scientist could tell you, you needed to have a supervising force watching over you sometimes, or you, in the moment of scientific fervour, might commit a terrible act or cause a terrible accident, or create something truly horrendous and threatening to the world at large. Those without others to act as their stop-gap, to act as their conscience, were usually the ones who were later labelled as mad scientists.
Tony had his AI and his friends who acted as his moral compass. ... Where was Jane's? Didn't she have a mentor? Tapping his glasses, JARVIS complied by uploading all the information they had been able to gather.

Doctor Erik Selvig, a renowned astrophysicist, a mentor to Dr Jane Foster and a Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at Culver University and a colleague of Dr Foster's father. Dr Selvig acting as her mentor made sense, although his reportedly 'hands-off' approach to teaching, verging on permissive to downright uninvolved, left much to be desired. He was definitely not acting as the 'supervisor' of his young pupil. Not to mention, Dr Selvig currently was in a medical mental facility after suffering a mental breakdown. He wasn't of any use. What about the intern?
Darcy Lewis, a student at Culver University studying ... political science? What was a political science student doing interning to a pair of astrophysicists? And apparently, Miss Lewis now had her own intern, a Mr Ian Boothby from London. ... An intern ... with her own intern? ... What was going on with this group?

Ok ... so Dr Jane Foster lacked the proper supervisor to guide her research or actions. Tony absolutely refused to even consider SHIELD as a proper supervising force. This ... explained how this current shitshow came about, so, so much.

Tony massaged his temple, reminded that Tony had been up since leaving Bruce's medical room, nor had he eaten anything in that time. Damn ... he was getting old.

"So, you concur with the evidence that Prince Thor Odinson landed in the desert surrounding Puente Antiguo, New Mexico, on May, the 31st of the year 2010?"

"That's right," Jane nodded, apparently still fascinated with the voice coming from the ceiling.

"And that Prince Odinson left with the Warriors Three for Asgard on June the 2nd?" FRIDAY asked for clarification, perking Tony's attention.

"Yes, that's right. Thor called for Heimdal to summon the Bifrost and promised he would be back. We stayed at the Bifrost's summon point, and a while later noticed where the Bifrost opened in the sky began to produce dark lighting clouds," Jane retold, unaware of Tony's quickly growing scandalised face as he mentally started to connect the dots. "Then we saw the Bifrost opening completely disappear, with no sign of Thor. It was then I realised that he wasn't coming back."

"Wait," Tony spluttered, ignoring Jane's scowl, "You mean to tell me, that Odin banished his son to Midgard ... for 3 days?"

When Jane refused to answer, FRIDAY replied instead, "That is what the records show, Boss."

"3 days? You're trying to tell us that you and Thor professed undying love ... in only 3 days?"

"You wouldn't understand," Jane scoffed, "I heard you lacked the heart to feel anything."

"You can't call it 'love' with just 3 days," Tony argued, gesturing with his hands to communicate his disbelief, "You can barely get to know someone in that time."

"I love him! It's true love!"

"Love him? You met him on a Monday. He was gone by Wednesday. Slow down, crazy. Slow down." came Tony dry reply.

"How dare-"

"You know what I hear? When you keep going on about finding 'True Love' with a strange blond man you found in the desert?" Tony stood, overcome with sarcastic energy, "Desperate! Desperate! I am really desperate!"

"I am not desperate-"

"You came across a grubby dirty man in the wilderness, yelling crazy things, and thought he was insane. But then you noticed his gleaming biceps and forgot everything else," Tony shook his head in disbelief, "If that doesn't scream 'Desperate', I don't know what does."

"He is a REAL God from-"

"And that justifies throwing away all your higher brain functions? Just for a mythological man?" Tony rested his hands on his hips, "You need some serious emotional counselling and therapy."

"I am not insane!" Jane yelled, finally standing up from her bed.

"I never said you were," Tony turned as he decided he'd had enough of this drama, "But you definitely have some issues you need to work through."

"I want to see Thor!" Jane demanded as Tony made it to the door.

"Not until you see some professional help. You need to take a good hard look at yourself and what you are willing to do, just to chase a man across the cosmos." Tony shook his head as he firmly shut the door.

Chapter Text

Tony sat out on the penthouse deck, gazing over New York, decked out in its late-night splendour. Businesses that never closed, a city that never sleeps, yet at this hour, even with its constant noise, even that seemed subdued to a low-level hum. The twinkle of lights, of billboards and fluorescent coloured signs, from the windows of offices and houses, reminding that even though the roar of New York is tamed, there is still life, absolutely everywhere. From the highest skyscrapers to the dirtiest alley. Even the approaching cold, reminding all that the year was drawing to its end, wasn't enough to swallow up the sound and light of pretty, terrible, lively, dirty New York.
Its times like this that Tony missed his mansion in Malibu. It was still busy and full of life, but coastal cities built around beaches just had a different atmosphere to compact hustle and bustle of inner-city life. And Tony's mansion had been on the outskirts, overlooking a cliff with his own private beach. That is ... until it toppled into the sea.

Tony sat out on the penthouse deck, nursing his 3rd coffee, and wished he'd put some good whiskey into it. Granted, he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol since the murder twins ripped the arc reactor out of his chest. TADASHI and Bruce warned Tony, that with having reformed his damaged body with a flash fire of seiðr - which basically purged his body of all its toxins and poisons and made it anew - that he might have an adverse reaction should he attempt to try and use the things that had damaged it in the first place. His personal seiðr had become hypertensive, flashing to life when he was injured, and healing cuts and bruises in minutes. Bruce speculated that Tony's seiðr was now overcompensating, and may take a while to settle - like a bodies immune system going into shock. If Tony tried using any harmful substances, his seiðr may constitute it as an attack, which may lead to seiðr bursts, bouts of intense pain or Tony being forced to eject the substance from his body, in any way possible.
In any case, Tony didn't want to risk it. Besides, after so long without, Tony had slowly begun to miss it less and less. And as a past alcoholic that was a surprising feeling. He didn't suddenly come to hate alcohol and try to force others to stop drinking, as that was hypocritical, he just didn't feel the NEED anymore. Which was nice in all honesty, living with addictions ruling your life was not fun.

But ... moments like this ... Tony really missed being able to go into his personally stocked bar and drink himself into a stupor.

"Good morn, Freyr," Tony glanced up as Sleipnir glided out onto the deck, dressed in a very comfortable looking pure white silk night robe. Tony barely blinked at Sleipnir's towering Jotun form. Even if, unlike his siblings or mother, his skin was snow white, decorated in the same strange glistening lines and patterns as his family, long curving white horns and pure white hair that travelled almost to his knees, all of which made Sleipnir's Jotun red eyes even more shocking. Sleipnir moved with surprising grace for such a big being, bringing along with him the fur cloak that the gods had gifted Tony, and proceeded to drape it around Tony's shoulders. "Are you not cold?"

"Hey Sleip, is it morning already?" Tony tapped his glasses to prompt JARVIS to display the time for him, "Huh, guess I was out here longer than I thought."

"Are you perhaps troubled by your thoughts?" Sleipnir gently enquired, slowly lowering himself to laze on the decks ground beside Tony's deck chair, as Tony didn't have any Jotun appropriate furniture out here ... he'd have to fix that. "I have learned, after many centuries, that sharing one's burdens lightens the weight for all involved. May I ask, will you share your burden with me?"

"You gods sure are smooth, with all your fancy words," Tony smirked at Sleipnir's amused twinkling eyes and gentle smile, "You should take up singing or reciting poetry for a living, you'd make a killing."

"In another life, I may very well have done," Sleipnir nodded smoothly, brushing a stray lock of hair back over his shoulder, "I do make a habit of singing and telling stories for a few of Helhiems ghosts, as they do seem to enjoy them."

"Wow, that good huh?" Tony finished off his coffee, trying not to think of the music and songs he himself had used to play for his mother on her dark days on her grand piano, "I should listen sometime."

"What is troubling you, Freyr?" Sleipnir calmly blinked his snow-white lashes over his ruby-like eyes.

"Not going to let me change the subject I see," Tony sighed with a chuckle, leaning back into his chair to look up at the light-polluted night sky, "I've just got a lot on my mind, that's all. Trying to categorise things. Lots to do."

"Indulge me," Sleipnir smiled, pure red eyes studying the mortals face, "I may be able to help."

Tony sighed, and decided to just give up, Tony spoke aloud his thoughts. "I'm sure you're aware of the current predicament we've found ourselves in? Another Infinity Stone has come into the picture, making it three of the little world-ending guys flit around on their own floor of the tower. They weren't quiet about it either, and now we have a past lover of your uncle in the medbay, your mother suffering a mental breakdown, Thor wracked with guilt, and Brucie secluded in a bed. Not to mention the media and politicians asking questions. Thanks to my kids and our PR department, we've managed to put out most of the fires, including the actual fires Suped-up-Jane started, thanks to EDITH and JARVIS directing the Iron Legion. Thank god we'd thought ahead and created those Arc Reactor Shield units," Tony sighed, "I'd hate to think what state everything would be in if we didn't. It'd be like Stark Expo all over again."

"Mother is recovering," Sleipnir assured, joining Tony in looking for the obscured stars, "As is Eir. And once he has had his rest, Uncle will be bright and boisterous as he has ever been. It is peculiar that the Infinity Stone has seemingly decided to gather in one spot, and here in particular. But upon knowing who calls this tower home, I am not so surprised," Sleipnir smiled as he felt Tony's eyes on him, "Freyr, you have opened your home to those needing shelter, and welcomed them warmly. Be they human, alien and construct. You are a peculiar existence in the universe Freyr and a major force in the movement to protect the Yggdrasil, the greater universe that we all call home."

"I wasn't always though," Tony huffed a laugh, "now that long ago I was a right asshole. And now I'm paying for it," Tony scruffed at his hair with frustration.

"It does disturb us how the mortals of this Realm do not appear to be very supportive of you. They hamper you every step of the way, while you are only working tirelessly to help them. It is comparable to the whole of Midgard shooting themselves in the foot."

"Most people would rather cut off their nose to spite their face than admit I have changed, that's true," Tony nodded with a sardonic smirk, "But that's the thing with free-will, you can't force people to change their minds."

"So what will you do?" the Jotun lean forward slightly.

"Carry on regardless I suppose," Tony shrugged, "not much we can do about it. Either they'll come around, or they won't. The kids and I are used to having to work against great odds. It's wouldn't be my life if it were easy," Tony grinned.

"It sounds rather lonely to me, Freyr," Sleipnir hummed, tilting his head slightly, "You are free to lean on the Children of Loki for support, as I am sure you are aware. It is thanks to you that we are reunited again. We are indebted to you."

"You know you don't need to worry abo