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pink raspberry cosmo

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1999, Bern, Switzerland, New Years Eve Party

 

There was a lot of that evening - that night - that Tony didn’t fully remember. He had gotten drunk sometime around his celebration of New Years in Australia, and by the time he decided to crash the technical conference in Bern he was full on wasted.

He couldn’t fully recall why he had thought Bern, Switzerland was a better idea than Barcelona, Spain or Milano, Italy, but the moment he had appeared at the conference he had been begged to give a lecture on something, even though he was barely standing straight.

Fine, he might be overestimating his drunkenness a little bit, but he had sincerely hoped that seeing him a step away from keeling on the ground would dissuade anyone from trying to talk to him.

Even the hottie Maya Hansen was trying to talk to him about something she was working on. 

“... which would quite possibly help at a cellular level...” she was saying and Tony stopped her with a huge smile.

“All right. I’m getting a drink? Do you want a drink? You need a drink,” he decided, walking away from her as quickly as he could without making people think he was somehow sober than he looked.

To be honest, Maya’s work was fascinating. But it was the eve of the new Millennium! Surely she didn’t want to waste it talking about possible cell regeneration?

He finally arrived at the bar, leaning over the counter and giving the bartender a patented Tony Stark smile. “Bartender! Can I have...” he started, then paused. 

Uh. He had totally forgotten to ask Maya what she wanted. 

He eyed the people standing around him and that was when he saw him.

Despite what he acted like, Tony was very good at faces. Names might escape him every now and then, but like Happy, he didn’t often forget a face.

Which was why his curiosity was immediately piqued when he saw the young man sitting a little secluded from everyone else, giving the drink in his hand an almost reproachful look, like it had betrayed him.

He had medium to long raven hair, and when Tony moved to sit next to him, he looked up with the most breath taking green eyes ever, squinted in suspicion as they might be.

“Bartender,” he repeated, his attention fully on the guy now. “A rum Martinez for me and another of whatever the pretty gentleman here is having-”

“No thanks,” said the man, looking at the drink in his hand with disdain. “It’s foul.”

“Foul?” asked Tony, suppressing a smile from his face. “How so?”

“Not sweet enough. Not enough alcohol. Not enough anything,” he informed Tony, with a shrug.

“Then why did you order it?” questioned Tony, finally sitting down next to him.

The man looked at Tony sitting down next to him with a small frown, then pointed at one of the menus. “I liked the picture.”

Aw, he was adorable. “You’re not from these parts then, I assume?”

There was a little smile on the man’s face now. “You could say that.”

“Oh, mystery,” said Tony, clapping his hands a little. “I like it. Let’s see if I can guess what you would like. You said that the Sweet Seacrest Blue wasn’t ‘enough’ right?”

“Correct.”

Tony peered at the offers in front of them for a second before smirking once more. “A Pink Raspberry Cosmo for my new friend...” His eyes dropped on the card taped to his shirt. “Loki.”

“Yes,” he said, looking at Tony’s card with a small frown. “And I apologize, but I do not know who you are.”

Even the bartender stopped shaking his drink for a second, looking at Loki in surprise. Tony would have called bull, but Loki truly did not seem like he was from around here and the question in his voice sounded genuine.

He gave him a lopsided smirk. “You might be the only person in this joint who doesn’t. I’m Tony. Tony Stark.”

There was no flicker of recognition in Loki’s eyes and Tony had to admit, it stung that there was any part of the world where his name didn’t immediately mean something. “Wow, Loki, you’re wounding my pride here. How did you get into a technical conference without knowing anything about me?”

Loki scrunched up his nose. “I did not mean to cause offense,” he said and who talked like that? “Where I come from... there is not much interest in matters such as technological or technical advancement. I am fascinated by different... degrees of knowledge, and upon learning of this gathering, I couldn’t resist inviting myself.”

“Where you come from... Like Norway?” asked Tony, curious. He was pretty sure he had a base in Norway but that was the crap Obie paid attention to, not him.

Another small smile appeared on Loki’s lips. “Not exactly. I do come from North, but I live in a rather secretive kingdom. It’s extremely isolated and not everyone can go in or leave as they wish.”

Was he pulling Tony’s leg? “Like Wakanda?”

Loki blinked at him. “I do not know who that is.”

Tony did laugh at that, just in time for both their drinks to be delivered. “Oh, you’re cute.” He watched Loki eye his drink with interest and caution and clinked his glass with his. “Oh don’t let the girly appearance frighten you. It’s a great drink.”

“And yet yours appears different,” pointed out Loki, still not picking up his drink.

“Well, we have different tastes. You’re welcome to try my drink, if you want. I have to warn you, though: it’s way more bitter than the Seacrest.”

Finally Loki picked up his drink still eyeing both Tony and it like it expected it all to be some sort of practical joke. Tony just sipped his own, loving the aftertaste of Vermouth that it left on his tongue, but kept equally keen eyes on Loki too.

So he had a front row seat to the way Loki’s eyes widened the moment the taste touched his tongue, even though he was very quick to make his expression turn blank again.

“Ha! You loved it,” said Tony, very much gleeful.

Loki did not give him the satisfaction of a smile, but he had to - begrudgingly - admit that it was, “Passable.”

“Passable!” let out Tony, affronted and amused at the same time. “Admit it, you’ve never had something so good.”

“Now you’re simply getting ahead of yourself, Anthony,” he said, tongue poking out as he took another sip of his drink.

Tony had never quite liked the name Anthony. Not even his father, who had given him the name called him that. It took a minute to convince Jarvis to call not him that, but he had managed it.

Yet, the way his name came out of Loki’s lips, all tongued up and foreign sounding... Tony would have to allow it.

“You say that now, but I know I’ve got you hooked now, little trickster,” he said taking a sip out of his own drink.

Loki looked at him with a frown. “Little trickster?”

“Your name,” explained Tony. “Loki. He’s the trickster god in Norse Literature. Did your parents not tell you the history behind your name?”

The other man appeared to relax slightly. “I simply wasn’t aware that anywhere other than Norway was still aware of the old gods.”

Now it was Tony’s turn to narrow his eyes at him. “Is that some sort of ‘all americans are stupid’ joke?”

“Not at all. As I’ve said, I don’t often find myself travelling around Midgard,” he said, finishing his drink.

“Midgard? I thought we were in Bern.”

Loki actually laughed at that, which was just another score for Tony.

“Bartender, fill us up!”

+++

Tony wasn’t quite sure how they ended up on the balcony of the penthouse he had booked. He remembered laughing at something Loki was saying and then Happy coming to tell him Maya was looking for him.

Loki had just looked at him, like he wanted to see what Tony would do, if he would leave with Maya or stay and have fun with him.

Like it was a hard choice.

And now they were on the balcony, Happy in the main room for the time being, making sure no one managed to sneak in/figure out Tony was there.

“So,” said Loki. He wasn’t as drunk as Tony, but his cheeks were a delightful pink and his hair was a little in disarray from the wind outside. “You pride yourself in being well known. For what, exactly?”

“I am so glad you asked,” said Tony with a little smirk as he pulled out his phone. “Jarvis, you up?”

“For you, Sir, always,” answered his AI, much to Loki’s surprise.

“What is that?”

“Oh that? It’s my AI. Artificial Intelligence. I made him, more than 10 years ago, and he’s a learning program. He is sort of my butler, but also my confidant, and many other things.”

“Including your nanny,” snarked Jarvis immediately.

“How dare you!” gasped Tony, but he wasn’t actually offended.

Loki’s eyes were glittering. “It is artificial? Man made?” He looked like he wanted to take the phone and open it just to check that there wasn’t a real human inside of it. “You made a soul reside inside a portable phone?”

A soul. “He doesn’t reside inside the my phone, no. He’s connected to it, like he’s connected to most of my stuff.”

“Remarkable," he said, meaning it too. It made Tony feel... something. "And this is what you’re known for?”

Another smirk. “Not exactly. J, hit it.”

In seconds, a small video appeared on the phone, the one from when he had been given a medal following the help his weapons provided Operation Uphold Democracy during Clinton’s presidency. It was a list of his various achievements and some of his ‘funniest’ scandals that had both embarrassed and delighted Rhodey and Obie when they were watching him receive the piece.

However the video was barely a minute in when Loki pressed pause on it, looking unappeased. “That’s not you.”

Tony felt both his eyebrows raise to his hairline. “I thought you didn’t know me.”

“Allow me to rephrase. This is what they say you are. I don’t care what they have to say,” he put the phone on the ground and pushed it towards him. “I want to know what you have to say about yourself.”

It made him pause. Tony had not told Loki that he didn’t like to be handed things. But he was walking with him when one of the attendants had tried to hand him the keys to the penthouse, and Happy had grabbed it for him and explained.

It was just a little thing, but it struck to Tony. Because it spoke of someone who truly did not know him and was not drinking with him because they wanted anything out of him. Not funding, not a story in the paper... nothing.

So he found himself opening his mouth and speaking. He would blame it on the alcohol and the attentiveness Loki showed him, but the words spilled out of his mouth without any thought or rule.

He told him about his father, who had created Stark Industries from nothing up and how the mantle had fallen on Tony once he died. About inheriting a company he had never particularly cared about, but still wanting to prove to Obie, the memory of dearest dad and the media how much better than Howard Stark and everyone else he could be. About his best friend in the US Army and focusing on how much the weapons he was delivering would help him. About sometimes wanting to stop weapons production but knowing that Obie would strangle him and that he would be leaving his people unsafe if he didn’t do that.

And then he spoke about his dreams. About all the things he wanted to do if he only had a little bit more time. About his passion for cars and the robots he created and made into his own little family. About life and death and the future.

And Loki... Loki listened.

Tony had been trained to spot a reporter in disguise since he was a kid, and with the way he was listening to every single word Tony was saying, you’d think he was preparing to write a piece from memory. He listened like Tony’s words were important, like he was hearing him and that was... that was rare.

Tony was listened to all the time, but sometimes, he wasn’t sure he was ever heard. Rhodey heard him. Obie... Obie heard him sometimes. Happy heard him every now and then. Ben used to hear him back when he was his driver.

“And what do you want?” asked Loki, once Tony had exhausted most of his words. He was sitting closer to him than before, his green eyes scintillating under the moon. “If you were free... what would you do?”

Free?

“Freedom is a dream and a social construct packed into one,” told him Tony. Loki just raised a single eyebrow at him and he let a little snort. “But if I was free. I’d like to go to space.”

Loki’s smile widened. “Space?”

In a turn of events that hadn’t happened in years, Tony blushed. “Don’t mock me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Loki, still smiling. “Why space?”

“I’ve always wanted to go out there, into the vast unknown,” he said with a small smile. “I can’t help but wonder... who’s out there? We cannot be the only life there is in the Galaxy. In the Universe!” He gesticulated to the invisible stars in the sky with a hand. “Can you believe that in the entire vastness of space, a vastness we cannot physically comprehend because we don’t even know where and if it ends, we might be the only form of civilization advanced enough to exist?”

“No,” said Loki, shaking his head. “There is innate magic in the Universe that you cannot imagine.”

That you felt personal, but, “Magic?”

“Magic,” agreed Loki. And here Tony thought that he was a smart guy. Before he could destroy that ridiculous word, Loki continued. “Magic, science... it’s all about the Universe. It’s all about the latent energy present in the Universe and how we manipulate the essence of the world and its elements to benefit our continued existence. The universe is an energy force and we, the world, are its conduit.” He pointed a finger at Tony. “But only if we know how to harness and hack the code.”

“How do you make magic actually sound like a science?” asked Tony, eyes wide. “Isn’t magic what the human mind uses to explain the unknown?”

Loki was on his feet, pointing at the stars. “But that doesn’t make it any less real! Failure to explain a happening is not the same as the happening being fabricated. Magic is an art and a science at the same time. A brush for those who do not understand and a code for those who do. It’s now and then and always and never.” He was smiling brightly at Tony. “It’s me and you and us and them. A speckle of the Universe. Can’t you see?”

No. Yes. Maybe.

“You are the most fascinating person I’ve ever met,” he said and found that he actually meant it. Loki’s face was radiant in the light of the balcony and he actually blushed at Tony’s words. “Who are you, Loki?”

“I’m a traveller of the cosmos.” Loki handed Tony his hands to help pull him up. “I’m Thor’s little brother. I’m a researcher. I am the second heir to the throne. I am a sorcerer. I am the shadow prince. I am a dweller of the Universe.” He was standing right in front of Tony, a wicked grin on his face that softened once he finally said, “I’m Loki.”

And then their lips met into the first kiss of the night.

He felt buzzed, and yet not as drunk as he should be considering how much he had been drinking. Every kiss seemed to be a jolt of electricity and Loki’s lips tasted like raspberry, and sweet, and cold, and lime, and Tony never wanted to let him go.

Happy must have left at some point, but Tony never noticed. All he could do was listen to Loki speak of wormholes around the globe that connected parts of the Universes together if anyone was strong and willing enough to travel through them. He spoke of walking across the skies and looking for meaning and trying to prove himself in between kisses that left Tony feeling like it was his first time.

He spoke of worlds living parallel with each other and Tony alternated between calling him man and calling him a genius and he felt something. He didn’t know what he felt, but Loki had to be the most intriguing, complicated and interesting man in the world.

Tony wanted nothing more than for Loki to scoop him up - he was ridiculously tall and strong - and fly with him in space, and Loki’s expression when he told him that between moans and giggles was so pure that Tony actually considered doing that.

Considered giving up his company - Obie had been doing fine with it when Tony wasn’t CEO - giving up weapons and following him to the Asgard place he was talking about.

And Loki spoke of leaving the ‘Realm Eternal’ and just settling on ‘Midgard’ and help him achieve his dream of travelling in space, defying a father who only saw his faults, a brother who never saw him and a mother that loved him while being blind to his unhappiness.

They spoke, and laughed, and kissed, and for the first time in his life Tony felt heard, seen and understood.

But when he woke up the next day, Loki was gone.

Chapter Text

October 2009, California, Gala

 

If anyone tried to ask Tony what exactly the Gala he was at was supposed to be for, he would not be able to answer. All he knew was that Pepper - his newest and longest standing PA - had it scheduled in his calendar for months and even Obie had demanded that he ‘show his face, for once, Tony’. 

At least he wasn’t being asked to do anything more than smile politely and shake a couple hands. He wasn’t being asked to say anything and he was in good company, and really, what more could he want?

“Are you listening to me?” asked Stephen, frowning a little at Tony.

“Sorry, hon,” apologised the older man, with a smile. “Got lost in my own thoughts for a second.”

Stephen huffed, crossing his arms around his chest. “Really? Where did I lose you, exactly?”

What a fun question. “Uh...”

“You irritate me to no end,” informed him Strange, sighing a little in defeat. “You know that right?”

Incorrect. 

Stephen Strange was one hell of a man. Tony had met him a couple of months back at a particularly intriguing science conference that he had accidentally snuck in and he was immediately fascinated when the man had looked at him and scoffed . Like the notion of Tony Stark in a medical conference was simply stupid and useless; and not like Tony could possibly fund whatever hospital Stephen was working in if he played his cards right.

And then when Tony had walked up to him to hear what his proposal was, Stephen had said “I doubt someone like you could possibly understand what I'm  working on”. 

Of course Tony had not understood what he was working on - being a genius did not mean that he automatically knew everything - but he had managed to grasp just enough that Stephen was vaguely impressed, and they had struck a quick friendship - much to the horror of everyone around them.

Then there was the fact that Tony suspected Stephen to have a little bit of a crush on him, but he refused to do anything about it.

It had been a while since someone managed to keep up with him like that, and he’d rather not destroy their friendship by sleeping with him and then having to tell him no.

“Daw, I’m sorry, Stephanie,” he cooed, patting his cheek and blinking big eyes at him. “It’s just this has to be the most boring gala I’ve ever been to, you know?”

“It’s for children from countries affected by American intervention,” told him the doctor, rolling his eyes. “Can you imagine the scandal if anyone is pictured having fun?” 

Oh so that’s why he was there. Tony shrugged. “I’m always up for a scandal.”

“Of course you woul-” started Stephen, and then interrupted himself when someone almost crashed into him and sent his drink to the ground. “What the hell.”

“Apologies,” said an accented voice, and Tony’s eyes snapped up to the girl next to Stephen. Her long black hair was adorned by a silver circlet , with a blue/green jewel shining in its centre. Her dress was sleeveless and silver with elements of black under it, and her eyes were a green that Tony was pretty sure he had seen only once in his life. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Yeah, next time just look where you’re going,” grumbled Stephen, but neither the girl nor Tony was looking at him.

She gave a red and black lipped smile at Tony before turning around and walking away towards the balcony.

“I need another drink,” was still complaining Stephen, but Tony was already moving, passing his to him.

“Here have mine. I have to,”

He might have said something else, but Tony was not paying attention walking as quickly as he could towards the balcony the woman had disappeared through. 

It didn’t make sense. It had been ten years after all, so the chances of Tony being able to recognise him - her? them? - was very small. But those eyes . Tony would recognise those eyes anywhere, in his opinion.

There were a couple of people standing on the balcony, but none of them approached him when he stepped out in the cool September air. He scanned the place a couple of times, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. Had she left already? Did he imagine it, after all? Maybe -

“Hello, Anthony,” said a voice, and Tony turned on his heel, coming face to face with those familiar eyes once more. 

Even if he could possibly mistake the eyes, there was no way he could possibly mistake that voice. Or the way she said Anthony .

“Hi, Loki,” he answered, and felt his own smile mirror the one on her face.

She seemed to actually light up at that. “Oh, you do remember me?”

Tony’s smile dimmed slightly and he crossed his arms, while leaning on the banister of the balcony. “I mean, I am not the one who disappeared in the night never to be seen again.”

Loki acknowledged this with a head tilt. “It was not my intention of leaving you like that. I believe I stated that in my parting missive?”

His memory really did not do the way she spoke justice. It was all slow and mellow, sexy consonant and drawled vowels. Like crystallised honey or something like that.

“I did see that, yeah. Still,” he shrugged. “You could have woken me up. I would have walked you to the car. Or the carriage. Or plane. It was a low blow, Lokes.”

Loki sighed, putting a hand on her naked shoulder. “It would have simply made matters more difficult. I already did not particularly want to leave. Our talks of the night before... do you remember?” Tony nodded. He might have been drunk or high or something, but he remembered everything about that night. In fact, he was pretty sure he had not forgotten one word of the advanced science or crazy theories they had spoken of all those years ago in Bern. 

Loki smiled sadly. “They were the highlight of my visit. But they were simply a pretty dream. I am a princess. I cannot do as I wish,” she said, looking away from Tony once more. 

He could relate. What was it he had said to her that night?

“Freedom is a dream and a social construct packed into one,” he repeated and she smiled a little melancholically. “Still. You could have come to visit. Or left me some means to talk to you even while you were gone.”

She snorted. “Anthony, have you been able to locate my... country on any known or unknown map?” she asked, one single raised eyebrow.

Tony did not pout.

Honestly it had been a very sore point for his pride. He was pretty sure Loki was not joking when he said - wait should he refer to past Loki as 'he' or still as 'she'? Past Loki had said he was a prince, but this Loki said she was a princess, after all. Ugh pronouns were confusing - that his father was named Odin and that he lived somewhere in the ‘North’, but there was absolutely nothing that he could find that was not a myth in a dusty old book. He had managed to locate Wakanda and the surprisingly advanced walls surrounding it after a lot of deep research, but absolutely no strange ‘Realm’ in North Europe.

And when he had tried to see how had Loki left Bern, the cameras had been absolutely no help. One second he was there, walking in full view of them, and in the next shot he was gone

Loki patted his cheek. “My father likes his security and his secrecy. Allowing you any form of communication with me would be a breach that he could - and would - classify as treason. And I am simply too pretty for jail.”

Tony made a show of looking at her up and down a couple of times, though he did not put his hands on her. Could he? They had slept together, sure, but again: ten years ago. “You sure are,” he grinned. “You are breath-taking as usual, Lokes.”

A proud smile blossomed on her face and she stepped closer to him, putting a hand on his arm. “Just the charmer I remember.”

“I am literally unable to be anything but,” he told her, finally allowing his arm to rest on her waist. She smiled again, then her smile dimmed again. Tony frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I worried,” she said, after a couple of seconds. “I couldn’t manage to leave the Realm for the first year, because of everything father demanded of me and Thor. But the moment I did I went to... Bern, was it? And you weren’t there.” Her cheeks coloured a bit. “It took a lot to finally find you. You claimed to be renowned, but no one in Bern seemed able or willing to tell me where you lived.”

She looked so disgruntled by that, that Tony actively had to hold back his laughter. “Honey, I don’t live in Bern.”

Loki scowled at him. “I know that now . But I was not aware of this information for the past nine years.”

And Tony’s breath caught in his throat for a second. Did he... did he hear that right? Was he hallucinating? “What?”

She blinked at him, the glittery eyeshadow on her lids shining under the lights. “I was not allowed to leave as I wished after I was recalled. My brother, Thor, well he did something that made my father mad enough to force us to stay within the borders for almost an entire year. I managed to leave on the eve of the New Year, so I went back to Bern, hoping to see you again. I went back every year after that.” She finished with a shrug, like she wasn’t talking about the most consistent and continue effort he had heard someone commit to for him since fucking Rhodey.

She met his shocked expression with a confused one. “Anthony? Is something the matter-”

He didn’t let her finish the sentence, surging forward and kissing her. The fact that he had to stand on his toes didn’t even annoy him.

He hated himself a little for how much he had avoided Bern after that magical New Year’s Eve. He had gone back there throughout 2000, for every single technological and technical conference they decided to have there, but on New Years he just... had not. 

The thought of returning there on the same night he had met Loki and him not being there? It had been too unpleasant to face.

He stepped back first, but didn’t go far, his arms still on her. “I can’t believe you kept looking for me.”

Loki tilted her head to the side. “Did you?”

No, Tony would not blush. “I never went back to Bern,” he said. When Loki’s smile didn’t dim and she didn’t look away he huffed. “Yes. I looked for you. I’m pretty sure I broke a bunch of laws and hacked stuff that I really should not have hacked, but your dad is very good at keeping you guys a secret. If it wasn’t a pain in my ass I would actually be impressed.”

“Did you research what I spoke to you about?” asked the woman, as a non sequitur. “The wormholes and space?”

Tony nodded. “Kind of? I’ll be honest, it’s not the kind of stuff that I pay attention to, most of the time. Obie says that it’s a waste of my talents or something, so I just...” he shrugged. “But I’ve been looking and e-mailing this woman, her name is Dr Foster and she has deep research in this entire thing. Do you know what an Eistein-Rosen Bridge is?” Loki nodded. “Yeah, she has like a shit ton of research on it. It’s sort of insane actually, but she seems to be going somewhere with her research.”

“Perchance I might be able to offer some insights, if she’s around,” offered Loki and Tony looked at her curiously.

From what he had understood of Loki the last time they had spoken to each other, she was often lucky if she managed one or two days away from the Realm without someone's supervision. Strict parents or a watching chaperone or something like that.

“Wait... how long are you staying this time around?”

Loki smiled, a little giddy. “Eight days.”

It was not that long. It was not that long at all, especially not with someone as amazing as Loki. But it was better than nothing, and from the smile on her face it was something remarkable for her to achieve. “Well then, your Majesty,” he said, offering her his arm. “Would you like to visit my castle?”

+++

“This is not a castle,” informed him Loki the moment Tony stopped his car outside his mansion.

Tony affected an offended air. “Sure it is. This is what castles look like nowadays.”

“Do not mock me, Anthony,” she huffed, immediately mollifying when he opened the door to his car for her and offered his arm again. “Though I do agree it is particularly... grandiose.”

“Is that a veiled insult?”

“No. My father’s home is bigger and more opulent than this, I do not have a problem with big houses,” she said, not looking as impressed as Tony would have expected when the doors and the lights turned on by themselves.

“Good evening, sir,” came JARVIS’ voice, and this time Loki did light up, looking at the ceiling with excited eyes. “We have guests?”

“Yes, J, this is Loki. And Loki, I’m sure you remember JARVIS.”

“Yes, I recall,” answered the girl, turning around in the foyer. “Where is his voice situated? In the ceilings? The walls? Is he able to see me? What grasp of reality does he retain? How much knowledge does he-” She blushed when she saw the fond expression on Tony’s face. “Apologies. I have never come across such a being.”

“It’s fine,” he answered, shaking his head. “I’m just not used to people automatically understanding that J is a he and not an it . I’m pretty sure you’re the first person other than Rhodey who automatically got it.”

Loki smiled a little again, taking Tony’s hand in hers. 

“Yes, I thank you for your consideration. How would you like to be addressed?” asked JARVIS as Tony pulled her towards the big breakfast bar in the dining room. 

“Addressed?” questioned Loki, turning to Tony in confusion.

“Yeah, JARVIS has a thing for calling people by their ‘proper titles’,” he explained, making air quotes with his fingers. 

“Some might say that I have a ‘thing’,” he did not have a physical form but his own quotation marks were basically audible, “for politeness.”

“And some might say you have a thing for sass,” sniped back Tony, rolling his eyes.

“No, I believe that’s only you , sir,” finished JARVIS, and Loki hid a smile with her free hand.

Tony shook his head. “I did not teach him that, you know? I don’t know where he learns this behaviour.”

“Truly?” asked Loki, an amused eyebrow raised. Tony let out an affronted gasp and she turned with eerie accuracy towards one of JARVIS’ cameras. “I’d like it if you could call me simply Loki.”

“As you wish, Miss Loki.”

“Not ‘Princess’?” asked Tony, pulling towards the cupboards as Loki settled on one of the barstools. “Alcoholic or nice?”

“Surprise me. And I am not a Princess here, am I? I’m just Loki.”

“You’re a princess everywhere, princess,” told her Tony, sending her a wink as he pulled out everything needed to make hot chocolate. 

Loki huffed a little. “Please do not remind me. For this week, though, I am free. So no ‘princess’.”

“Not that I don’t love you being here,” said Tony, putting on the kettle - what? Jarvis and Aunt Peg were both brits. He didn’t have a choice . “But I do have to ask.”

“How have I managed to get an entire week to myself considering what I told you the last time we saw each other?” she asked, taking her circlet off and running her finger through her hair. Tony nodded hesitatingly, and she gave another small huff. “The brother I spoke to you about. Remember?”

“Thor, the reason you had to leave in the middle of the night in Bern,” he remember and no, Tony wasn’t bitter. Sure he had thought about disrespecting Thor to his face if he ever met him, but he was not bitter.

Loki nodded. “Him. In about nine to ten months he will be crowned King,” she explained, her expression turning slightly disgusted. “I managed to get mother to allow me to travel to the Nines and gather a perfect present for his coronation .” 

The way she said the word made Tony pause in his hot chocolate making. “And that’s a bad thing,”

He didn’t pose it as a question, but the girl nodded again. “Yeah. Thor is not ready to be King, and father is rushing this decision. He should wait at least ten more years for Thor to be anywhere near ready to take his mantle. Make him travel a little more, train him better before bestowing him this.” She shook her head. “But every time I try to bring this up with someone, I am immediately labelled as bitter and jealous.”

That actually took Tony by surprise. “They think you want to be Queen?”

“Yes.”

He could see it, in a way. He wasn’t sure if it was because she was a Princess or because she was so different than anyone else Tony knew or if was just Loki, but he could see her as a Queen. Theoretically speaking, if someone came up to him and presented her as Queen Loki, he would believe them 100%.

But he had also spoken to Loki. Spoken to her and heard the way she spoke of her home and being a princess, versus the way she had spoken to him about travelling and learnings and discovering the secrets of the Universe. She was a free spirit.

Being Queen would bind her to the ‘Realm Eternal’ forever, and he might have known her for just one night, but he truly did not see this as something Loki could ever want.

“You’d make a good queen, I suppose,” he said, when she looked at him, waiting for a statement. “It’d suit you and you’d be good at it. But I don’t think it’s something you actually want?”

She gave him a little smile. “Both my brother and I were raised to be rulers,” she explained, with a little shrug. “I used to like the idea. So I studied as hard as I could about public relations and everything it took to be a King, while my brother dabbled in... other fields. Military, I believe the word is. But it didn’t take very long for me to realise that despite what faults Thor continuously displayed, no one but me and mother saw them. No matter how many times he put the Realm in danger by being an oaf, his mistakes were shoved under the carpet.”

“That sucks.” Tony did not have any experience in having an older sibling, but he did have experience in being overlooked for the sake of someone else. “Do you want marshmallows in your hot chocolate?”

Her brows furrowed. “Marshmallow?”

Okay, this was way sadder than any story about her brother’s coronation. “You don’t know what marshmallows are? You poor poor soul.”

Loki rolled her eyes, but she looked curious when Tony pulled two mugs in front of her and then sat on the bar instead of the seat next to her. He put the container with the marshmallow between them. “These are marshmallows aka mini clouds of sugar and fluff that taste of rainbows and happiness.” He pulled one out of the container. “Say ah?”

The girl eyed it for a second, then reluctantly opened her mouth, tongue poking out. The moment she pulled it back in her mouth, her eyes widened in surprise and Tony grinned both satisfied and smug. “And?”

She chewed for a moment then simply opened her mouth again. Tony laughed, and complayed.


When Tony woke up the next morning, it took a little longer than usual for him to open his eyes.

Not that he was particularly tired or anything.

He simply remembered the last time he had seen Loki, and how he had felt when he woke up and found that she was nowhere to be seen, only a small note left attached to his phone.

[Dear Anthony,

I apologise for leaving in such a rush and before you have woken up. Unfortunately my father is recalling us home, and well. I do not have a choice.

Thank you for a fantastic night I will remember for a long time coming.

I hope we will meet again in this lifetime.

Loki.]

And he really didn’t like to wake up and find out that he had somehow imagined the entire thing or that she had had to leave again, free week or not. So he kept his eyes closed for a couple more seconds, ignoring JARVIS' usual goodmorning spiel.

Turns out he didn’t have to worry, seen as he didn't even open his eyes before he felt a sudden weight on his lower stomach. He was smiling even before he fully opened his eyes.

Loki was sitting on him, hair tied up using his tie from the night before and smirking down at him. “How long are you going to continue to pretend to be asleep, Anthony?”

Tony huffed, trying and failing to roll back on the pillow even as his heart beat a little faster. She was still here. She hadn’t left. 

“Ugh. Please tell me you’re not a morning person. How long have you been awake?”

“Not long,” she said with a shrug, leaning down and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “I was chatting with your formidable JARVIS, and he was showing me around your mansion. Who is ‘Pepper’?”

She didn’t ask it like a lot of the girls he went home with used to. She asked it with curiosity, like she asked everything. 

“My PA,” He explained, finally opening his eyes again. When her expression didn’t clear, he pulled himself up and yawned slightly. “Personal Assistant. She deals with the stuff I don’t want to with the company.”

“Oh I see,” her expression cleared. “Like an advisor.”

“Yeah, kinda. Why are you asking?”

“JARVIS was explaining that she was on her way over to the mansion and that Rhodey arrived last night after we went to sleep,” she said, moving slightly so he was sitting more comfortably and she was sitting on his lap. “Morning.”

Tony leant in to kiss her good morning, and she immediately put a hand on his mouth. “Brush your teeth. I’m not going anywhere for now.”

He groaned putting his head on her shoulder, while she laughed. “There, there. Poor soul.” She slipped out of his lap, and landed back on her feet, a little of her hair falling out from the weird bun she had made. “I can make hot chocolate, if you wish.”

Tony shook a finger at her, even as he climbed out himself. “You just want to eat some of the marshmallows.”

“Sir prefers coffee this early in the morning,” interjected JARVIS, and he really must like Loki. Normally he ignored every girl or guy Tony decided to bring home with him unless they specifically asked him a question. “I can show you where he keeps it, if you wish.”

She smiled at one of his cameras, and Tony really needed to ask her how she managed to spot them so easily. Because if they were really that obvious, he’d rather know it upfront. “Thank you, JARVIS, I’d like that.”

Tony watched her walk away, still talking to him before he moved towards the bathroom. Bathroom first, eating and dealing with everything else after.

He took way less than normal in the bathroom, not even bothering to deal with his bed hair - hey if Loki could walk around in a simple long white shirt and his red tie and not feel the least bit of embarrassment he could walk out in with his hair like that, he decided - and padding towards the kitchen.

Loki had turned on the coffee machine Pepper swore hated her, and was looking between the items on the cupboards and the kitchen in concentration.

“What’s up, buttercup?” he asked, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her down for a kiss.

He felt her smile against his lips. “Buttercup?” she managed, once he finally let go.

“Too much? What about honey? Dear? Bear?”

“As long as it’s not honeybear,” came a voice and Tony didn’t jump, but it was a very close thing.

“Of course not,” answered Tony, letting go of Loki, but taking her hand in his. “You know you’re my one and only honeybunny.”

Rhodey rolled his eyes in good humour, finally walking inside the kitchen. “Some days I wish I wasn’t,” he commented, grabbing one of the coffee mugs before smiling at Loki. “Hi. I’m Colonel James Rhodes.”

“Rhodes?” asked Loki, frowning slightly. “I was under the impression your name was Rhodey. I’m Loki.”

Tony laughed at the exasperated look Rhodey shot him, even as handed him a mug of steaming coffee. “Not surprised. It’s gotten to the point where my mama sends me packages and instead of writing ‘Jim’ or ‘James’ she writes Rhodey.” Tony’s laugh grew and Rhodey forced his expression to remain stern. “It’s your fault!”

“It’s not my fault that James is such a boring name.” he said, ducking away before he could get hit. “Don’t you think so too, Lokes?”

She immediately raised a hand. “Do not involve me. All I would like is the hot chocolate you offered yesterday.”

“With marshmallows?” teased Tony, and she didn’t even hesitate before nodding decidedly. “As you wish, buttercup.”

Rhodey appeared surprised. “You’re staying for breakfast?” he was asking her, but his eyes were on Tony.

His best friend did not make eye contact, instead pulling out the ingredients for a proper hot chocolate. “She sure is. Are you?”

He did not get the hint. “Yep. I was going to make breakfast and come wake you up, but you’re surprisingly not even hungover.” Then he turned back to Loki. “Do you want anything for breakfast?”

Loki’s attention was on the marshmallows and the hot chocolate so it took her a second to notice Rhodey was addressing her again. “Oh. I do not have any particular preference-”

“Actually, I was thinking of going out to get breakfast at this charming little place Happy swears by, if you’re game,” said Tony, putting a mug of hot chocolate in front of Loki and giving Rhodey a pointed look. His best friend was clearly understanding him just fine and deciding to be a dick for some reason instead.

“Divine,” said Loki, picking out the bigger marshmallows and eating them straight. Then she looked at Tony questioningly. “You do not have to go out of your way to impress me, Anthony.” She looked up when Rhodey suddenly choked on his coffee, but when Tony did nothing to help his friend, she turned to him. “I don’t mind where we decide to eat. Anything is fine.”

“Especially if it contains marshmallows?” he questioned with an amused tilt of his lips, and she sniffed, taking a sip of her drink.

“Absolutely. It is a delightful treat,” she informed him, turning her attention to her drink.

Rhodey mouthed her words back to him, his expression clearly saying ‘where the hell did you pick her from? The nineteenth century?’ and again Tony opted to ignore him.

“Sir, Miss Potts is approaching,”  informed him JARVIS then, right before the sound of heels on the floor reached their ears.

Tony had to say, he truly envied the power that heels, especially high and pointy heels, gave people. You could be going to buy milk, walking a catwalk or on your way to assassinate JFK and no one would be able to tell the difference. It was a power he wanted as well.

“Morning!” called Pepper, stepping inside the dining room, faltering for a second when she saw Loki curiously looking at her as she stepped inside the room. “Oh. Morning.”

“Good morning. You must be... Pepper Potts?” 

Pepper gave Tony the same look Rhodey had earlier, which was very creepy. “No, my name is actually Virginia, but Tony has everyone convinced it’s Pepper.” She offered her hand to her. “Nice to meet you...?”

“Loki. Just Loki,” answered the other girl, before looking at Tony impressed. “‘Rhodey’ I do understand. But how did you manage to leap from ‘Virginia’ to ‘Pepper’?”

“Long story-”

“Not long at all,” said Tony sliding in a seat next to Loki. “One day I was sitting in my office doing big hotshot CEO stuff when I heard a loud commotion outside and someone screaming. Like the competent CEO I am, I immediately headed outside to check what was going on and guess what I find?”

“Miss Potts?”

“Miss Potts.” Agreed Tony. “Holding one of my security guards at gun point with a pepper spray that she had used on them because she ‘needed to tell Mr Stark about a mistake he made that would cost the company close to a million dollars’. I’m pretty sure Mark actually quit because of her.”

Both Loki’s eyebrows were up in his hair as he turned to look at her. “You duelled his guards to rectify a mistake Anthony made?”

Pepper’s own brows furrowed. “I wouldn’t say I duelled anyone, but... In my defence, my supervisor kept blabbering about how ‘Tony Stark doesn’t make mistakes’ and how I should simply do my job instead of checking his maths, and well, I’d rather the company didn’t lose money over something as stupid as a calculation mistake you know?”

Loki nodded solemnly. “Anyone who is willing to stand up for themselves and their beliefs over what everyone else tells them to do is an honorable and respectable person, worthy of their name. You should embrace your nickname, Pepper.” She picked up the container of marshmallows from Tony’s hands. “Marshmallows?”

The red head blinked at her for a second, shooting a confused look to Tony who simply smirked at her. Yeah, Loki had that effect on people. “Uh, sure. Thank you, Loki.”

“Absolutely.”

And just like that, Loki was part of them.

Chapter Text

California, Midgard

 

If there was one thing in particular Loki loved about Midgard, it was the sheer chaos that the place seemed to revel in at any given time.

No matter what century or what place she decided to drop by, there was something going on: revolutions in Paris, arguments on whether the world turned around the sun or the sun around the world, who’s god was the real god... it was chaotic and crazy and Loki loved every single part of it.

Especially since it was one of the Realms that Asgard wanted nothing to do with but also wasn’t dangerous for someone like the Crown Princess to visit every now and then.

Tony Stark,” started a voice all of a sudden, and Loki looked away from the table she and Anthony were currently occupying. There was an electronic vision - a video, Anthony had called it - being projected on the screen, much more archaic than any of Anthony’s various gadgets. “Visionary. Genius. American patriot. Even from an early age, the son of legendary weapons developer Howard Stark quickly stole the spotlight with his brilliant and unique mind. At age four, he built his first circuit board...

“You built your first circuit board at age four?” repeated Loki, turning her attention to Anthony once more.

The man looked up from where he was playing dice and grimaced at the screen. “Oh god, not that video.”

“It is the video you showed me upon our first meeting, is it not?” she questioned, accepting the dice he handed her. Just a flick of the wrist and gust of seidr and she could have won, but she enjoyed the chaos of chance more. 

“Oh, good throw babe! And yeah, it’s a similar video. Not the same exactly, but one of the many.” He put his hands under her lips. “Give me a little something?” 

She gave him a red lipped smile showing just a hint of teeth. “You’d like me to blow you?”

The All Speak wasn’t always infallible, but from the way Anthony’s eyes darkened considerably both at her words and the way she blew on his closed fist, she considered it a job well done. If she did use a little bit of seidr to concede him a win with that throw, then no one needed to know.

Plus she got a kiss out of it. Win win.

She turned back around as it was the turn of a man she had not bothered to recall the name of, and noticed James stepping onto the stage. “Oh, did fr- did James win something?” 

Anthony turned too and let out a groan. “Oh, I see. They want to give me an award and are using Rhodey to get me to go on stage.”

“I see,” She said, and then frowned at him. “You do not like being laud with praise?” 

“You know I do,” he winked at her and she rolled her eyes. “It’s just annoying. I don’t want to give a speech.”

“As liaison to Stark Industries, I've had the unique privilege of serving with a real patriot,” started James, and Loki frowned at Anthony.

“Nevertheless, it would be improper of you to ignore it, especially if your friend is the one giving the prize,” she pointed out.

Anthony actively pouted. “Lokes, buttercup,” he tried, but she shook her head decidedly, taking his hand in hers and heading towards the hall. Gently, though, with human strength.

“He is my friend and he is my great mentor. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present this year's Apogee Award to Mr. Tony Stark!”

The moment they stepped back into the main area, the cameras and lights were on them, and Loki quickly looked away from the various flashes. Anthony gave her one last betrayed look before smiling widely for the journalists and jogging towards the stage.

Loki did not feel bad, though. Especially when James looked visibly relieved and breathed out like he had hoped this would happen but had been half convinced it wouldn’t.

She watched him give James a handshake and accepting both the mic and the trophy, but before she could listen to his speech, a figure was stopping next to her.

She was, of course, aware of the various cameras around the room that had been non discretely following her since she and Anthony had walked inside the venue. She had grown up with Heimdall, the watcher of the Nine Realms gazing upon her every move and reporting even the slightest of misdeeds to her father and mother. Learning how to evade his gaze was one of the first thing she had done, second only to recognising when his gaze - or anyone else’s, in any form - fell on her.

It was amusing how she was getting more attention by being seen with Anthony this entire week than she probably had in the millennia she had grown up in Asgard. And by amusing, she meant slightly depressing.

“Hi, I’m Obadiah Stane,” said the man next to her, offering her his hand. “I am Tony’s godfather.”

“Hello, I am Loki,” she answered, accepting the hand despite every part of her wanting to recoil away from it.

Of course, she had heard of him. Anthony was close to him, as he was the only paternal link he had left other than his godmother who was ailed with an illness of the mind (he had said like it was no big deal. It was fascinating how something like that, that would have been taboo in Asgard, was mundane enough to be discussed with someone who was not family).

Obadiah smiled, and Loki had to fight the urge of pulling her hand out of his and strike him where he stood. There was something... wrong about this man. Not in any physical way, but as the god of lies, it was like watching someone who not only lied as easily as he breathed, but someone who had, somehow, started to believe his own lie. And that was dangerous.

“Yeah, I heard of you. The girl who got my boy’s head all over the place this week.”

Interesting. Anthony had not told him that they hadn’t met this week. She forced a smile too. “I suppose I should say, I’m honoured?”

Finally he let go of her hand, shaking his head fondly. “Nah. Though, I am impressed. You managed to get him to go and accept his trophy. Normally he wouldn’t have bothered.”

He was speaking as if they were sharing a joke, but the close manner in which he was observing her made seidr come to life under her skin. She kept a polite smile on her face. “I wouldn’t be able to make him do anything. He is much too stubborn for that.”

The man nodded, smirking. “Interesting accent you got. Where do you come from, if you don’t mind me asking?”

She was saved from answering by the camera flashes starting up again, indicating Anthony’s arrival.

The man grinned when he saw her, making a show of waving his new award in front of her. “Here. You proud of me yet- oh, hey, Obie. Whatcha doing here?”

“Just wanting to meet your new beau,” joked the older man, putting a hand on Loki’s back. “Are you r-”

He didn’t get to finish the sentence before Loki was slapping his hand away with a little more strength than she would have allowed herself normally. Obadiah’s eyes were wide as she glared down at him. “Please refrain from touching me without an invitation.”

“Jesus,” said the man, before chuckling awkwardly at the cameras, who were snapping furiously. “No need to be sensitive, I was simply-”

“Refrain.” Repeated Loki, before turning to Anthony and trying to hide her irritation. “Could we possibly leave now?”

Tony blinked at his god father for a second, then shook his head, offering her his arm. “Sure. See ya, Obie. Be nice!”

They tried to avoid most of the cameras, but they were still unable to share a word until they had gotten into the car Mr Hogan had driven them in, ducking past a blonde woman who kept shouting ‘Vanity Fair’ at them.

The moment they were sitting, Anthony turned to her, worried expression. “Hey, you okay?”

Loki nodded taking great care not to disturb the hairstyle Pepper had insisted on doing with her hair. “Yes. Apologies for rushing you.”

“No, don’t worry about that. I didn’t even want to go to begin with,” he huffed, indicating for Happy to start the car with his head. “But did Obie do something to you?”

She considered her options for a moment.

For one reason or another, she found herself rather fond of Anthony. 

Not many caught her attention, and in her century of living not a single mortal had been interesting enough to visit twice, let alone try to find over the course of several Earth years. Mortals were short lived, and as fascinating as she found them, Loki made a point of not spending too much time around them, lest she became attached.

But she had spoken to Anthony for a measly number of hours one night and all she had wanted was to find him again and pick up the conversation where they had left it off that night.

He was brilliant and intriguing, and beautiful and created being with souls in them. He was one in a billion and despite knowing that his existence was but a mere blink in the canvas of her life, she couldn’t quite pretend he never existed and go on with her life.

And because she was so fond of him, she decided to speak. “I do not trust him.”

Anthony blinked at her. “I’m sorry?”

“I am aware that I do not know him, and that my opinion is not much to you,” she said, hands fixing her dress . “However, you asked me and should therefore know. I distrust him. I have, as you say, a bad feeling about him.”

Instead of growing angry as she had feared, Anthony sighed. “And that’s four for four.”

“Pardon me?”

Harold met her eye in the mirror with a little smile. “You just joined me, Pepper and Rhodey in what we’ve been telling Tony for years now. That we don’t trust Obadiah Stane.”

Loki threw a frown at the man beside, now more confident knowing he wouldn’t grow cross with her for her words. “And yet you continue to employ him?”

“He’s my god father,” explained Anthony, as if that meant anything. He wasn't blood. “He’s been there since I was a kid. He knows SI 100% better than I do, he was basically running it even when dad was alive. And he’s been good to me.”

Loki couldn’t quite empathise with that. But she could tell this was something Anthony had had to argue about many times over, and she wasn’t going to add to the argument. “I understand. I am merely offering an explanation for my behaviour.” A pause. “Although if he allows himself to touch me once more, I will not be held responsible for my own actions.”

Anthony laughed. “Yeah, that’s going to be on the news tomorrow. Happy, tell me if we make it front page.”

“Sure thing, Boss.”


Loki had not known exactly what she was doing when she had arrived on Midgard at the beginning of the week. 

For years she had waited and tried to find Anthony Stark, a compulsion born out a need to find someone who had, in a matter of few shared words understood her better than half of the people in her life.

The few times she had asked Midgardians if they knew where to find Anthony, they had ignored her or outright lied to, and in a way she could understand. If one had gone to Asgard and asked where they could find her, for example, they might have gotten a similar reaction - perhaps with an added dose of ‘are you sure you don’t mean Thor?’. 

She hadn’t given up, however, and the Norns had decided to give her a lucky break on the same day she was able to secure a leave from Asgard for a whole seven days from her mother, in the form of something Midgardians called the ‘web’ or the ‘internet’. It was a most ingenuous way of storing information, and with one single search of his name, Loki was able to find out where Anthony lived and where the next event he would be joining would take place.

All it took was a little spell and her sky walking and she was somewhere called California at a party about suffering children. Why would anyone want to celebrate that, Loki wasn’t sure, but Midgardians had odd traditions that Loki mostly chose to ignore at that point.

She had been more than a little nervous about approaching Anthony. What if he had forgotten her? What if that night meant less to him than it did to her? What if he remembered her but was angered that she had left at all?

She ought not have worried at all, because the second their eyes met, it was clear he knew who she was despite her change in form. They had stepped out in the balcony despite him already being there with a companion, and then it was like that night first night in Bern all those years ago had never ended.

And the next seven days were probably some of the best of Loki's existence. They had spent plenty of time in Anthony's home - between his workshop and his bed - but they had spent just as much outdoor. He was richer than most - a prince among Midgardians - and it showed in the events and places he was able to take her at the drop of the hat. They had taken drives in Malibu and around, dined at the most prosperous of restaurants, even observed plays that Loki had thought had died with her good friend Shakespeare. The last one Anthony had claimed to not be a fan of, but she had caught him mouthing along to several of the lines. 

Pepper and James had joined them on one evening and Loki could not recall having ever had that much fun with her own friends. They had spent a lot of time in the car, James and Anthony singing really well along to a record that had Pepper shaking her head fondly, but had also shared a number of delightful treats that Asgard wished it could serve. There was something called sprinkled donut that, in appearance, was childlike and ridiculous but in taste was quickly duelling marshmallows for first place in her heart. Loki had devoured seven in one sitting much to Pepper's utter consternation and Anthony's delight. 

Most of their time together, though, was spent talking. Talking about Anthony's creations, Loki's studies - which she heavily edited - and the mysteries of space. They had even read some of the research Dr Foster had been conducting, despite being unable to see her face to face, and Loki was pleasantly surprised by how farther ahead than she thought Midgardians appeared to be. 

In more simple words, it was, perchance, the most idyllic seven days Loki had spent in a long time, and it would have been so even if she had spent her entire time just sitting there listening to Anthony speak.

Loki would hesitate in giving him any sort of relation to her, but she couldn’t help a little smile at the way they fell asleep and woke in the same bed each night, or the way their bodies readily accommodated one another, or the way their hands automatically found one another whenever they decided to spend the day outside instead of indoors.

“Good morning. It's 7:00 a.m. The weather in Malibu is 72 degrees with scattered clouds. The surf conditions are fair with waist-to-shoulder high lines. High tide will be at 10:52 a.m,” greeted JARVIS, and Loki smiled, already feeling melancholic.

“Morning,” greeted Anthony, his voice rough with sleep. His eyes were still closed, but his arm found her naked waist immediately. 

She put a hand in his hair, trying and failing at smoothing out his curls. “Good morning, Anthony.”

“Hm,” hummed the man, pressing a kiss on her thigh. “Any morning with you in my bed is a good morning.”

It did make her crack a smile. “Not even awake yet, and much more suave than my brother will ever be.”

Anthony did open an eye at this, quickly evaluating her expression and pouting. “Mentioning Thor unprompted? You’re turning back into Princess Loki, aren’t you?”

It should frighten her, being so easily read. But it was Anthony. It simply made sense, so she nodded. “Today father will have the borders closed in preparation of my brother’s coronation.”

“Which is in like ten months?”

Time in Asgard was a little different than on Earth, but, “More or less, yes.”

“And after?” he asked finally pulling himself onto a sitting position. 

“It all depends on if my brother is successfully coronated or if he isn’t. If he is, I doubt I will have much freedom, especially in the first years of his reign,” she started, and Anthony made an expression like he had tasted something foul. Loki was willing to believe it was at the notion of being separated from her, and allowed herself to feel comforted by this. “But if he doesn’t...” She smiled mischievously, pulling herself closer to him as she pressed a kiss on his cheek. “Well then, for the past couple of years I have been implanting in my father and mother’s head a desire of furthering my knowledge by visiting the neighbouring and non neighbouring Re- countries.”

Anthony’s eyes glimmered with the same playfulness. “Oh, abroad studies. There is this place in Malibu, California, it would be a perfect residence for you while you do your studying,” he told her grinning. “You’d love it.”

“Yeah?”

“Totally,” he said. “I heard the dean is a doctor and has at least 3 PhDs. And between him and the people who come and stay with him every now and then, there might be at least 10 different degrees.”

The All Speak wasn’t fully translating what some of the words he said meant, but she had the impression that they meant something pertaining education. “And what would I obtain, by staying here and studying?”

“A PhD,” he answered, smirking. “A Pretty Huge Dick.”

“Ugh,” she groaned, slapping his shoulders. “You are so very unfunny.”

“I am hilarious , you are just afraid to admit it,” he answered, grabbing her hand in retaliation and pulling her back into bed with him. “But if you want to stay and teach me the art of humour, I won’t say no.”

She didn’t pull away from him, but turned to look at him with a raised brow. “I was under the impression you had an important presentation today. Regarding your weapons.”

Anthony pulled a face at the mention. “Yeah... I’m supposed to fly out to Afghanistan with Rhodey today, but,”

“You know I cannot stay,” she told him, not unkindly. “Mayhaps if something goes wrong, I will be able to return. Otherways...”

She probably would be able to sneak out even if her oaf of a brother managed to become King despite her meddling. But it was better not to give him any hope, just in case she couldn’t keep her word.

He considered her for a moment. “You’re planning something aren’t you?”

“Me? Anthony, are you accusing me of treason? How could you think that!” she gasped, but couldn’t quite hide the little smirk on her face. He giggled adorably at her words, and she leant in a little closer to press a kiss on her corner of his mouth. “Now, will you join me in the shower before you have to depart?”


Heimdall bowed his head towards her when she stepped off the Bifrost, his golden eyes trained on her in a manner that always made her feel uncomfortable. “My Princess.”

“Heimdall,” she answered, inclining her head in acquiesce. “Has Thor returned already?”

“Indeed, you were the only one left, my Princess,” answered the gatekeeper, and Loki fought to keep herself under control. 

It was just the way he always seemed to be on the verge of accusing her of something that got onto her nerves. Sure, a third of the times it was her fault something happened, but the way his first instinct was to blame her? It was most irritating.

She nodded once at him and immediately sky walked back into her room in the castle. She would probably be scolded about not going directly to greet her father, but she had just stepped through the Bifrost and already she found herself missing Anthony.

It was ridiculous. She just saw him mere hours before! But her head kept going back to the words Lady Pepper had shared with her over a cup of tea before she had left. 

[ After Anthony had left with Harold so they could meet up with James at the Stark Jet, Pepper had insisted that Loki accompany her on a small shopping trip for her birthday. She had even insisted on buying Loki a couple of ‘souvenir’ presents, which was very kind of her, and then they had gone to share a cup of tea before they both parted ways.

“I have to say, the first time I saw you, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with you,” said Pepper, taking a sip of the tea.

Loki looked up at her, curious. “In what way?”

“I don’t know... Tony usually brings home a particular type of girl and then they either leave by themselves or I have to come kick them out. But all the same, they all know they don’t have a chance with him.” She cocked her head to the side. “You, I have never met you, and you brought a bag with you.”

Theoretically, Loki did not need a bag. However, she knew that questions would arise was she to appear dressed without having brought any replacements with her, and despite her suggestions and pointed remarks, Anthony had yet to figure out about Asgard.

“We met before,” said Loki, after a couple of seconds. “In Bern.”

“Yeah, I know. You met for one night, and then Tony searched for you for months, according to Jim. And you also searched him for years, apparently.”

Loki wasn’t sure what she was getting at. “And what is your conclusion?”

The red head tapped her lip with a finger. “I am not sure, yet. I am probably missing some pieces right now, but... you guys seem to have a connection.” ]

Midgardians threw words like that out all the time, without stopping and considering the implications of what they were saying. Of course soulmates did not exist - no matter what Mother insisted. The idea of a being woven together with another only to be ripped apart and forced to try and find each other to find ‘true happiness’ was both too painful and too ridiculous for Loki to believe.

But the idea of a connection. That was something Loki could understand, even if it wasn’t in the way Lady Pepper was talking about.

Souls who resonated with each other. Minds that followed the same frequency and wavelength. Individuals who were not made for each other but somehow amplified one another.

The idea that Anthony was such an individual for Loki was... 

There was a knock at the door, and Loki sighed before sitting up straight. “Please come in.”

She was not at all surprised when her mother appeared in the room, immediately opening her arms when she saw her. “Loki! I thought I felt you were back.”

“Mother,” she greeted, accepting her hug easily. “I just got home.”

“You should have come and greeted your father,” scolded her mother, but it was softened by her smile. “Tell me, how were your travels?”

Because Loki had not told her exactly where she would be going. She had gone to Midgard through a path on Vanaheim and had returned in the same way. She didn’t want to risk putting the Realm back under her father’s attention, lest he decided it might suddenly be worth something for him and she lost the only place in the Nine she could easily go to and relax.

“Insightful. I found what I was looking for,” she smiled a little. “I’m sure Thor will love the present I have prepared for him.”

Frigga All-Mother frowned a little, putting a finger under her chin. “Then why do you appear tired, my daughter?” Her frown grew. “Even your seidr appears slightly disquieted.”

Loki hadn’t noticed that. She had been feeling strange since she had dropped off the Bifrost, but she hadn’t noticed it had affected her seidr too. 

Before she could say something, her mother’s eyes grew wide in understanding. “You met someone, didn’t you?”

How did mothers do that? She had showered. They had said goodbye with a hug and a long kiss before Anthony left, but nothing that could possibly leave a sign. So how?

She clearly took too long to respond, because her mother’s eyes were full of excitement. “Oh you did, didn’t you, darling? Oh what’s their name?”

Oh what the Hel. “Prince Anthony.” She answered, blushing automatically when her mother squealed.

“Oh, that is most wonderful, daughter! He’s not Aesir, is he? Oh, is he Vanir? Is he from beyond the Nine? Oh, I must meet him-”

“Mother,” she interrupted, laughing slightly. “You cannot meet him.” She’d probably suffer a deadly bout of illness if she realised her daughter’s - beau? boyfriend? paramour? - companion was a mortal . “At least let us wait till after Thor’s coronation.”

“Oh but that will be in so many units,” complained her mother, putting an arm around her shoulder. “Daughter, you would deprive me of your thoughts so?”

Loki did not even have to think about it. “I would yes,” she said, and her mother couldn’t help but laugh.

Her daughter wished she could laugh like that, but there was a couple of simple reasons she couldn’t risk telling her mother anything about Anthony. First, the very obvious answer that an Aesir and a mortal together was deeply frowned upon. Certainly during the Frost Giant War, before she was born, many Aesir had dallied with mortal bed mates, but now the idea was almost scandalous.

Secondly, if she gave her mother an inch, she would take a mile and drag it to infinity. She would talk to her friends and tell them all about her daughter had finally found someone worthy of her interest, obviously proud and meaning well. But Asgard’s nobles would turn it into ‘Loki is jealous of the attention her brother is getting and trying to make news about herself’ so quickly, it wouldn’t even be funny.

The last time she had dated someone, it had been horrible. Stories were shared about her giving birth to monstrous children - even going as far as saying that the steed Odin Father rode was in fact one of Loki’s children, transformed because Loki wasn’t behaving. The All-Father himself had noticed these stories and demanded that the nobles stop spreading such vulgar rumours about his child, but telling them to stop made the story spread faster. It was utmost foul, and Loki was not keen on repeating the experience.

“Very well,” sighed her mother with a put upon expression. “Be this way. But do come on along, it is almost time for supper.”

“I would prefer to bathe, first. Will Thor and father be joining us or will it be a feast?” The idea of a feast made her head hurt. She was feeling a little light headed at the moment, and having to spend time with countless others was not something she was looking forward to.

“Only your father and Thor, the feast celebrating the closure of Asgard’s borders will be consumed on the morrow,” said Frigga, then frowning at her daughter. “Are you sure you are well, minn dyrr? You seem pale.”

Loki made a show of rolling her eyes, even as her head pounded more. “I was born this way, mother don’t you recall? You were there,” she joked. The All Mother’s frown didn’t dissipate and Loki softened her expression. “I have been sky walking a lot this past week. All I need is a nice bath.”

Finally mother seem to untense. “Understandable. You really ought to ask for the Bifrost more often, Loki. Your sky walking is amazing but it is not worth risking seidr exhaustion. You could-”

“I know mother,” cut her off Loki. It was a little rude and not something she would have done normally but her head was seriously pounding. “I will be at supper.”

“I know when I’m not wanted,” sighed Frigga, but she still pressed a kiss on Loki’s head before standing once more. “Love you, daughter.”

“Love you too, mother,” answered Loki, remaining standing until her mother walked out of the room. Then she silenced her room with a flick of the wrist, falling onto the ground with a gasp. “Oh. Oh.”

It was a pain that she had never felt before. It didn’t hurt, not in the most general meaning of the word. It felt... uncomfortable in a way she wasn’t able to verbalise or classify. She was being pulled from within her head and then it felt like she was being pulled underwater and she couldn’t breathe and -

She was in a cave, and someone was holding her head and pushing it down in the water, and she couldn’t breathe because if she did she’d get water in her lungs and it burned, her chest burned so much, there was a hole in her chest and lightning kept striking her in a shudder of electricity and the water it burned her lungs and her chest and the car battery and -

But she wasn’t there. She was there but she wasn’t . She could see the cave and the water and the men holding the weapons and she could see -

“Anthony!”

She was at once inside his head and outside it as they finally pulled him out of the water and dragged something over his head. What was going on? What was happening?

[ “So what exactly will you and James be doing?” she asked, what felt like just hours before. 

“Weapons presentation in Afghanistan,” he explained, opening one of his ‘holographic screens’. “New big time bomb called the Jericho missile.”

“Impressive.”

“Meh. It’s boring. Oh, do you want to see this new repulsor technology I’ve been thinking about lately?” ]

Afghanistan. That’s where he said he’d be going. But where was James? Why was Anthony walking around with a machine attached to his chest? Why were they drowning him over and over?

She was both in his head and outside it, watching the dunes and sand through him and not. There were weapons everywhere, weapons with the words Stark Industries written on it. Anthony’s weapons, surely. But this didn’t look like a presentation. This looked like... like...

Like torture.

“Your Majesty?” came a knock from the door and Loki gasped in shock, her mind pulling her away from Anthony’s. “Your Majesty?”

“Give me a moment!” shouted back Loki, breathing harshly and trying to reign the shaking in her fingers.

What the Hel was that? What was happening to Anthony? Why were they hurting him?

And in an instant, Pepper’s voice came to her mind once more.

[ “I am not sure, yet. I am probably missing some pieces right now, but... you guys seem to have a connection.” ]

It reminded her of a book she had read a few centuries back. A book her mother herself had handed her when Loki had shown her aptitude for skywalking. ‘ Secrets magiks of Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Svartalfheim, Vanaheim, Nidavellir, Niflheim and Muspelheim ’ to be wielded by the most powerful mages in the Nine Realms.

At the time she had assumed her mother was trying to mollify her - it was during the time Loki finally understood that, no matter what they did, Thor would become King of Asgard - by giving her hope that she too, one day, would become someone whose name was worth remembering.

In the book there had been a passage about an art called ‘dream sharing’ that only the strongest sorcerers and mages could do. An almost emphatic/telepathic link between two - often two mages or sorcerers - with a strong bond.

But this was insane. She barely knew Anthony and he, for sure, was not a mage.

Creating being with souls.

Wasn’t that a form of magic, though? Maybe not the ancient magic Loki herself was raised on, but a form of it nevertheless.

It didn’t matter, in the end. Anthony was in pain, and he was, for some reason, alone. James wasn’t there with him, and Loki dreaded to think what had happened in the few hours since they had last seen each other (time in Midgard was weird. How long had it been for him? How long had Anthony been in pain already?).

“Astrid,” she called, standing up from the floor once more.

The guard walked inside the room, eyeing the princess with a little worry. “My princess. You appear unwell, is everything-”

“I am fine. Please inform father that I won’t be able to join them for supper, after all, as I suffer from an upset stomach,” not her best lie, but considering how strained she felt, how pale she looked and the way even her seidr was feeling unsteady under her skin, she doubted Astrid would allow anyone to come disturb her. “Please send for a bath to be prepared for me.”

Astrid nodded, putting a fist on her chest. “As you wish, my princess.” With that she left the room once more and Loki fell on her bed, pulling out the book from one of her pocket dimensions.

She still wasn’t quite sure how much help she could provide, or how much of the book was truth and how much was a story. Or even how much she could master an art like dream sharing, considering she hadn’t even believed it existed up until now, especially not for Aesir (Vanir and Jotnar were much better at this and any other kind of magic).

But she couldn’t risk sky walking out of Asgard, no matter how much she wanted. The security had doubled with the imminent coronation and the only passage she had managed to secure was the one between Jotunheim and Asgard. And there was no passage between Jotunheim and Midgard, not since the war.

She felt a knot of anxiety in her chest, and took a deep breath, finally opening the book in her lap. 

“You’re not alone, Anthony. I’ve got you.”

She was the greatest sorcerer in the Nines.

She was Loki of Asgard.

She would find him.

Chapter Text

January 2010, somewhere over the Atlantic

Every part of his body hurt. His legs, his arms, his lungs, his chest… everything hurt, but Tony was glad for it. Glad for the pain, because the pain meant it was real. The pain meant he wasn’t dreaming, the pain meant he was awake and he was, if not safe, almost

He was free.

After three months - three months and eleven days, one hundred and three total days - he was free. He was out of the clutches of the Ten Rings, out of that god forsaken cave. He was free and he had made them burn for what they did to him.

No more darkness, no more sand, no more water .

And no more Yinsen.

His chest hurt and not fully because of the hole present in it. Yinsen shouldn’t have died. Yinsen was the real hero, Yinsen was the one who had made sure Tony didn’t die first because of the shrapnel and second because of his own fear of dying alone in the cave. Had it not been for Yinsen, Tony would have died.

Tony should have died.

“Tones?” asked Rhodey, and Tony opened wet eyes to see his best friend hovering not too far from him. He wasn’t quite touching him anymore, now that they in the air once again.

His best friend. Tony knew Rhodey would come, knew Rhodey would try his damnest hard to find him, but it was one thing to know and one thing to see . He had been the first one to reach Tony when the chopper had landed in desert and then all but carried him inside the chopper alone, snapping at everyone who tried to touch him if Tony looked even the slightest bit uncomfortable.

Rhodey would do anything to protect Tony, and he had thought he was doing the same. He had made those weapons because his father had before him, but also because he was a patriot. He was protecting his people, he was protecting American soldiers.

Or so he had thought. The thought of the various SI weapons that the Ten Rings had at their disposal still made him see red. How had something like this happened? It wasn’t a case of stealing a couple of weapons from a car or two.

No, this was an arsenal. This was bulk buying. 

Someone in the company was selling under the table.

The weapons Tony had created to save Rhodey, were being used against him. Those two soldiers in the jeep with him -

“Tones, what’s wrong? Is it your chest?” asked him the other man, clearly worried.

“I’m fine,” he managed, quickly and passing the back of his hand over his eyes. “Just exhausted.”

It was clear Rhodey didn’t believe him. He was probably looking at him for signs of PTSD or something, and Tony couldn’t bear look at him in the eyes any longer.

He closed his eyes and leaned back on the seat of the jet, knowing that at the very least, with Rhodey standing sentinel, he was safe.

+++

Blood. There was so much blood. The sand of the desert was completely drenched in blood, and Tony… Tony was surrounded by it.

And he knew whose blood it was. 

“This is your legacy, Stark,” said Yinsen, standing in front of him. There was blood and bullet holes on his face, but the bleeding injury was the one on his chest. One perfectly round hole cut into him with pieces of electromagnet still stuck inside the gaping wound.

Tony felt tears in his eyes. “I am sorry,”

Yinsen shook his head, and there were bodies at his feet. “You sent me home to my family. You killed them. And then you killed me.”

He shook his head. “Yinsen-”

The dead man smiled, blood speckles on his teeth. “Look at what you’re holding Stark.”

Tony did not want to look. He could feel it, squishy and bleeding in his palm, but he refused to look down. “I wanted to save you,” he tried, shaking his head once more.

“Did you? You didn’t put up much of a fight,” a sneer that had never before belonged on his face appeared. “You left me behind, Stark. You were only thinking about saving yourself and that’s why you didn’t fight me on it.”

No, that wasn’t true. Tony had wanted to save Yinsen, he had tried. It wasn’t true, but if Yinsen was saying-

“It’s not true,” came a voice, calm and collected. 

Tony looked away from Yinsen, and the image around him shattered and changed. Now he was standing back in the living room of Malibu Mansion. There were two glasses in front of him, and Loki was sitting beside him, a worried expression on her face. “Anthony? It’s not true. You tried to save him, it wasn’t your fault.”

Because, for the past three months of his captivity, he had been dreaming about Loki.

No, dreaming wasn’t exactly the right word. But he saw her in his dreams in an almost series of interconnected hallucinations. Because he would wake up one day and the next day he went to sleep, she was there once more, talking to him and referencing the conversation from the day before.

He had thought it a way for his subconscious to deal with the fact that he might very well die in the cave, but he wasn’t in the cave anymore, was he? Perhaps it was an early symptom of the palladium poisoning? But it had started before Tony had managed to create the miniaturised Arc Reactor.

Or maybe, more easily, he was completely losing his mind.

“Anthony?” she asked once more, her voice very worried. It was actually sort of incredible how identical to her real voice it sounded. “You are safe. You are going home, finally.”

“I’m going to shut down the weapons division,” he informed her, apropos to nothing. Or he informed himself? Loki was a manifestation of part of his brain, after all, right? So technically he was talking to himself.

Loki blinked at him, “You are?”

She sounded sceptical. Tony had, after all, told the real Loki, all those years ago, his desire to step a little away from dealing with weapons. But weapons were his dynasty, so he had never even thought about stepping back completely. Because of Rhodey and Rhodey’s people.

But now he found out he was the hand that fed those who Rhodey was fighting against. And if he tried to stop and find the mole who had been supplying the Ten Rings, there was a chance they’d go underground. Hide. Vanish.

And who was to say that it wasn’t more than one person? That was a lot of weapons. Such a large shipment… No, the only way to make sure the Ten Rings and the other terrorists didn’t flaunt Stark weapons around was to cut the food at the source and raze them to the ground. 

“Yes. My weapons…” he looked down at his hands. “I thought I was doing good. I was doing what dad did, only better, that’s what I thought. Logically… logically, I know that wars have casualties. That civilians suffer when someone barges into their country with weapons. But,” he never cared. It wasn’t happening in America. It wasn’t happening to his people. It was happening to the ‘others’ and obviously the ‘others’ didn’t matter as much.

But Yinsen was one of the ‘others’. Yinsen’s family were one of the ‘others’.

“I cannot atone for this,” he said, mostly to himself. “There is blood on my hands that I cannot wipe away. It will forever stay in my records. Tony Stark, the most famous mass murderer in the world.” He let out a choked laugh. “Merchant of Death. That’s me.

“I cannot atone. But I can make sure it is not only thing  I am. I can change my dynasty.” I can make Yinsen proud, because Yinsen died for Tony and Tony… he needed to earn that. “So yeah. I’m gonna shut down the weapons division.”

Loki’s hand was on his, as cool to the touch as it had been in real life. “Then do it. I cannot fully understand,” she said, tilting her head to the side. “But I will stand by you, Anthony Stark.”

It was a dream hallucination thing, Tony knew that. Still, that didn’t stop him from taking Loki’s hand and pressing a kiss on the back of it. “Thank you.”

She smiled softly at him, her other hand coming to touch his cheek. “I wish I could be there with you, in the physical world,” she said, voice sad. Then she steeled herself, eyes going hard. “You will be okay, Anthony. You survived. They didn’t break you.”

“They didn’t break me.”

“They cut you open from the inside, and you clamoured over them, flying away with a star in your chest,” she said, and that totally sounded like something Loki’s posh self would say. 

It was probably just him going mad, but he couldn’t help saying, “Thank you for being there with him.” Seriously. Why was he thanking a brain induced hallucination?

Probably because of the way hallucination Loki smiled at that. “Of course, Anthony. I wasn’t going to let you suffer alone.” She opened her mouth to say something, and then paused. “Oh. I believe you’re about to be woken.

And then Loki was gone in a flash of green light, and Tony was opening his eyes.

+++

The moment they landed Tony spotted Pepper and Happy in the car waiting for him, and let go of a breath that still tasted like sand. He was quick to dismiss the stretchers and doctors, letting Rhodey help him until they stopped in front of his PA.

She looked like she had cried, and after all those months in Afghanistan? Seeing people who cared for him made his chest ache. “Your eyes are red. A few tears for your long-lost boss?”

Pepper tried to laugh, but it came out wet. “Tears of joy. I hate job hunting.”

Right too much emotions. “Yeah, vacation's over.”

He managed to keep himself from freaking out when Rhodey had to leave with the rest of the Air Force personel, and entered in the car with some reluctance. 

In his defence, the last time he had been in any type of vehicle, it had not gone that well. 

Happy nodded at him from the rear-view mirror - he knew better than to get mushy with Tony. “Where to, sir?”

“Take us to the hospital, please, Happy,” started Pepper, but Tony quickly stopped her.

“No.”

Pepper turned to him, clearly worried. “No? Tony, you have to go to the hospital-”

Which was ridiculous, “I don't have to do anything. I've been in captivity for three months. There are two things I want to do. I want an American cheeseburger, and the other…”

The red head misunderstood. “That’s quite enough of that.”

Tony frowned. “... is not what you think. I want you to call for a press conference now,” Thinking of, it had been awhile since he last slept with someone, even before Loki showed up three months ago.

Pepper blinked at him. “Call for a press conference?”

Tony, nodded, even as his head turned back to a pair of particular green eyes. “Yeah.”

Did the real Loki even know he had been kidnapped? The first time she had met him, Loki had been clear in the fact she had no idea who he was. And even the week they had spent together, she was often surprised by things about him that had been common knowledge for decades now.

Was this ‘Realm Eternal’ some sort of North Korea where not even the Princess of the place was aware of what was going on around the world? Here he was with his brain conjuring her to deal with the trauma and nightmares and she was probably still busy thinking of ways to commit treason and thinking how lucky he was, just chilling in Malibu.

“What on earth for?" asked Pepper and Tony blinked back into attention.

“Hogan, drive.” He said, decidedly. He was not letting anyone know before hand. He wasn’t going to let them stop him. “Cheeseburger first.”


There were people. There were so many people that for an entire second after he stepped out of the car, Tony felt like he was standing in front of the cave in Afghanistan once more, being attacked by a barrage of weapons all wearing his insignia.

It was just an instant, and then Obie was there, and Tony calmed down. Obie was there, Pepper was there. He would be fine.

He replied to his godfather, automatically going into their usual banter and then he was on the stage.

Part of him thought he might hesitate once he was on the stage. Rhodey wasn’t standing that far from him, and even with all the cameras facing him, he could clearly see Pepper at the door. And Obie was behind him.

But he didn’t hesitate.

“Good to see you,” he said, once he had made everyone sit down with him on the ground. “I never got to say goodbye to Dad. I never got to say goodbye to my father. There's questions that I would have asked him. I would have asked him how he felt about what this company did. If he was conflicted, if he ever had doubts. Or maybe he was every inch the man we all remember from the newsreels. I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them. And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability.” Yinsen. The soldiers in the funvee. Tony took a deep breath.

“Mr. Stark!” called a familiar voice and Tony focused back on the journalists.

“Hey, Ben.”

Ben didn’t hesitate. “What happened over there?”

He had seen Pepper fielding calls as they were driving. Many wanted the stories, many wanted to know if Tony had given something to the terrorist. How he had escaped. 

But this wasn’t the time for that. “I had my eyes opened,” he finally said, standing up and moving behind the podium. “I came to realize that I have more to offer this world than just making things that blow up. And that is why, effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries,” and the room erupted in shouts and camera flashes, “until such a time as I can decide what the future of the company will be-”

Obie was already on his feet trying to get Tony away, but Tony wasn’t done. “ -what direction it should take, one that I'm comfortable with and is consistent with the highest good for this country, as well,” he managed, before Obie finally got him off, blabbering some bullshit to the press.

Tony didn’t care much. There was nothing Obadiah could actually do right now, seen as Tony was the CEO. He could try and say that Tony was confused, but it wouldn’t matter. Tony’s word was sealed.

He felt lighter somehow, and yet, still heavy.

He hadn’t lied when he had spoken to dream Loki. There was no way for him to atone for the innocent blood his weapons had spilled. All he could do was try to ease his own conscience. And hopefully, build a new legacy.

+++

“Welcome home, Sir,” said JARVIS once Tony was finally home, and despite the shadow that came from the talk with Obie he immediately felt lighter once his heard his precious AI’s voice. “It is most wonderful to have you back with us once more.”

A soul . That was how Loki had called JARVIS, upon meeting him for the first time. And hearing the almost emotion in his voice, Tony was inclined to believe her, if he hadn’t already. His baby had feelings.

“It’s good to be back,” he managed to say, voice rough. “You’ve been keeping the house in order?”

“Of course,” said the AI, almost affronted. “I knew you’d be back. And so did DUM-E and U. They have missed you very deeply.”

Tony had missed his disaster robots so much. Not that he’d say it. “Good. Pepper is bringing over some bags. Is…” he hesitated. “Is Rhodey-”

“I’m sorry Sir,” said JARVIS, and he sounded regretful too. “Mr Hogan has mentioned he would be happy to stay in the guestroom if it were to make you more comfortable, but Colonel Rhodes has not.”

Of course, there was a chance Rhodey would come around when he wanted to, and was just busy right then. But Tony had also seen the look his best friend had thrown him after the press conference, and the way he had stormed away.

Did he maybe think he should have left Tony in that desert and not bothered? Did he think Tony was abandoning him?

But he hadn’t seen what Tony did. And no matter what anyone else might think, it wasn’t him overreacting, him losing it after being tortured for three months or whatever they thought they knew.

This was what Tony needed to do. This was what Yinsen had wanted him to do. 

Right?

“Sir?” there was concern in JARVIS’ voice, and Tony smiled automatically at the cameras.

“I’m okay, J. All right,” he shook his head. “We have things to do. You up?”

“For you, Sir? Always.”

And no, Tony did not start crying at that.


Okay, so maybe asking Pepper for help hadn’t been the brightest ideas, thought Tony, as he watched her shake slightly with the electromagnet in her hands. And still she managed to ask, “Are you okay?”

His chest hurt from where the wire had nearly killed him, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. “Yeah, I feel great. You okay?”

Had he been in better condition, she would have slapped him, he just knew. “Don't ever, ever, ever, ever ask me to do anything like that ever again.”

Tony wasn’t about to compare - they were both dear to him in different ways - but he couldn’t help but think Loki would have done this without this much fuss. But on the other side, Loki was not there.

“I don't have anyone but you,” he let out a little sigh, feeling his throat constrict slightly. He missed Loki. “Anyway…” He shook himself slightly and pulled off the wires, standing up. Loki wasn’t here. She was in her Realms. She was busy. Tony should-

Pepper’s voice cut through his thoughts again. “What do you want me to do with this?” she asked, shaking the old reactor in his face. 

“That? Destroy it.” It was nothing but a piece of junk, at this point. “Incinerate it.”

His PA looked conflicted at the object in her hands. “You don't want to keep it?”

He stared at her, a little incredulous. “Pepper, I've been called many things. ‘Nostalgic’ is not one of them.” And yet here he was, thinking about Loki. Again .

She smiled. “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”

Tony grinned back. He was very aware that Pepper had not fully approved of his actions earlier, but it was nice to see that she hadn’t jumped ship either. “That will be all, Miss Potts.”

“And Tony?” she said, once she was at the door. Tony looked up and her expression was even softer than before. “You are not alone. Some might not be here right now,” and it was hard to figure if she meant Rhodey or Loki. “But we are with you. We care about you .”

Tony inclined his head, but didn’t reply.


“Anthony,” called a voice and Tony turned towards Loki’s figure.

She was wearing a strange tunic that he was sure he had never seen before. Or maybe he had - on the cover of some fantasy/historical book.

It looked pretty on her though, so whatever his mind wanted to conjure. “Why always in green?”

Loki shrugged, settling next to him. “It’s my colour.” Today they were standing in what Tony’s mind probably imagined her room to look like. Spacious, with a large canopy bed in the middle and a number of books all around. 

She looked at him a little sadly. “I saw what happened with James,” she said, gently and Tony promptly looked away.

He should have expected it. He had still to tell Rhodey the whole story so the other had made inferences based on what he saw. Then again, maybe Rhodey should have let Tony try and tell him the story before he decided. “It’s fine. I am not that surprised. Honestly, it was expected.”

She settled closer to him on the bed, and put her head on his shoulder. “He’s your friend. Feelings don’t do do logic. Being hurt is only natural.”

“I have to see it from his point of view,” said Tony shaking his head but not pulling Loki away. “He risked probably half of his career trying to rescue me, which must have pissed off his people a lot. Then he does rescue me, and I immediately shut down the thing that stood between him and the enemy.”

“It goes both ways,” reminded him Loki. “The barrier disintegrated on both sides.”

“But he doesn’t know that,” sighed Tony. “I wanted to get him on... the suit.”

He had never officially spoken up on what exactly he had been doing with JARVIS. About how it wasn’t just the new arc reactor that kept him in his workshop when he had, theoretically, no reason to be there.

Loki knew of course. Even though he only saw her when he went to sleep, she was in his mind or she was his mind. She knew it all. 

She still looked at him with excited eyes at the mention of the suit. “The armour. You will make it fly now?”

Tony smirked at her, feeling the hurt from Rhodey subside slightly. Maybe he couldn’t talk to his best friend - not yet, at least - about it, but Loki, in his mind or not, was always great to speak tech with. She did not understand all of it, but she learnt scarily fast.

“Oh buttercup, it will do so much more than fly,” He grinned. “It will revolutionise the world as we know it.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “So, just a normal Friday?”

His smile grew. “You know it.”


Okay so, after the dream with Loki, he went at it a little too cockily. He could almost feel her in his head, laughing as DUM-E doused him with fire extinguisher after he crashed into another wall, but Tony was nothing if not stubborn.

He was definitely going to erase all the footage before real life Loki showed up. She’d know he was lying when he showed up perfect first tries, but he didn’t care. 

He only paused fixing parts for a second when Pepper showed up a while later, a cup of coffee and a wrapped up box in her hands, and cleared her throat.

“I've been buzzing you. Did you hear the intercom?”

Tony barely glanced at her. “Yeah, everything's... What?”

She sighed. “Obadiah's upstairs,” she repeated and Tony nodded absently.

“Great.”

“What would you like me to tell him?”

“Great. I'll be right up.”

Pepper made to walk away, then stopped. “Okay. I thought you said you were done making weapons.”

That did make him look up. “I am. This is a flight stabilizer. It's completely harmless.” And of course, the moment he said that, the stabilizer shot, flinging him backwards and probably scaring the shit out of Pepper. “I didn't expect that.”

He made it upstairs a little while later, where he found Obie playing the piano while Pepper worked on the couch. And Obie had New York pizza. Yikes. “How'd it go? It went that bad, huh?”

Obie didn’t stop playing. “Just because I brought pizza back from New York doesn't mean it went bad.”

Like Tony hadn’t grown up with him . “Sure doesn't. Oh, boy.”

“It would have gone better if you were there.” Admitted the man, which was obvious. 

But, “Uh-huh. You told me to lay low. That's what I've been doing. I lay low, and you take care of all.” That was their dynamic, after all.

Obie looked at him like he was a little exasperated. “Hey, come on. In public. The press.” He finally moved to sit next to Tony, expression worried. “This was a board of directors meeting.”

He had a bad feeling about this. How had he not known? “This was a board of directors meeting?” Tony was a lot of things, and he hated corporate bs, but even he knew that missing a board of directors meeting... that the board of directors not calling him - because Pepper would have said something, otherways - was not good.

His godfather looked in pain. “The board is claiming you have post-traumatic stress. They're filing an injunction.”

He felt drenched in iced water. “A what?”

“They want to lock you out.”

After all this? Because of, what? “Why, 'cause the stocks dipped 40 points? We knew that was gonna happen.”

“Fifty-six and a half,” said Pepper, rather unhelpfully.

Tony shook his head. They wanted to keep the weapons going but no way Tony was going to let them. “It doesn't matter. We own the controlling interest in the company.” All he needed was Obie on his side.

But Obie didn’t seem on his side. “Tony, the board has rights, too. They're making the case that you and your new direction isn't in the company's best interest.”

What utter load of bullshit . “I'm being responsible!” For the first time he was actually, “That's a new direction for me, for the company. I mean, me on the company's behalf being responsible for the way that...” God, he couldn’t deal with this right now. “This is great.” He stood up, taking the box with him, and Obie quickly followed him.

“Oh, come on. Tony. Tony.” He said, trying to mollify him.

“I'll be in the shop,” he told him curtly. Who was Obie with? The board? He was his god father, not the board’s!

“Hey, hey! Hey, Tony. Listen,” Tony reluctantly stopped. “I'm trying to turn this thing around, but you gotta give me something. Something to pitch them. Let me have the engineers analyse that.” He continued, pointing at his reactor. “You know, draw up some specs-”

The idea of anyone knowing how it worked, anyone knowing how to stop it -

“No. No, absolutely not.” He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

The exasperation on Obie’s face was clear. “It’ll give me a bone to throw the boys in New York!” But then again, he didn’t fully know what it was. He didn’t understand what letting anyone understand what it was would lead to. 

“This one stays with me. That's it, Obie. Forget it.”

“All right,” complained the taller man, and because he was petty, “well, this stays with me, then.” He said, taking the pizza box. “Go on, here, you can have a piece. Take two.”

“Thank you,” he said, rolling his eyes slightly when Obie tried to follow him downstairs. He never let anyone but Pepper and Rhodey - and Loki - down there, he wasn’t about to start now . “Good night, Obie.”


It took a while, but finally, Tony managed it. He got the Mark II to fly.

And sure, considering he basically ended up crashing on his own car, almost fell to his death a couple of times and got himself iced, it was not a perfect flight.

But fuck yeah. Tony Stark could fly now.

He stepped out of his suit after a while, opening up the package Pepper had left him earlier as he gave JARVIS notes on the suit. And when he opened it, he couldn’t help a smile at seeing his old Arc Reactor encased in glass, with the words ‘ proof that Tony Stark has a Heart’. 

God, she was absolutely the best friend anyone could ask for. In another life or another universe, Tony would have probably married her.

And that only made him want to clear things with Rhodey even more. He’d deal with anything he needed to deal with. Fight off the injunction. And then he would finally sit all three of his friends down and tell them about the suit and what he was planning.

Everything would work out, and by the time Loki returned, he’d have a lot of funny stories to tell her and -

“... where Tony Stark's third annual benefit for the Firefighter's Family Fund has become the place to be for L.A.'s high society,” Said the television, and Tony blinked at the reporter in a little confusion.

“JARVIS, we get an invite for that?”

“I have no record of an invitation, sir,” answered his AI, and Tony’s frown deepened.

Sure, he had been staying inside for the past few days/weeks. But now that he thought about it, he hadn’t been asked to do much. Obie theoretically had it covered, and this was such an insignificant thing but...

He already missed a Board of Directors meeting and now more people were doing stuff with his name attached to it that he had no idea about.

He focused back on the reporter, still talking, “ ... hasn't been seen in public since his bizarre and highly controversial press conference. Some claim he's suffering from post traumatic stress and has been bedridden for weeks. Whatever the case may be, no one expects an appearance from him tonight.”

Oh? So even the media was speculating about his mental health, was it?

“The render is complete,” said JARVIS, and Tony tore his eyes away from the screen and frowned at the image of suit in display.

Which was a bit... “A little ostentatious, don't you think?”

“What was I thinking?” his AI could drawl . “You're usually so discreet.”

Tony fought back a grin. “Tell you what. Throw a little hot-rod red in there.”

“Yes, that should help you keep a low profile. The render is complete.”

Tony looked at red and gold and smirked. Nice, if he said so himself. “Hey, I like it. Fabricate it. Paint it.”

“Commencing automated assembly, estimated completion time is five hours,” said JARVIS and Tony turned off the television, knowing exactly what he was going to do for the next five hours.

“Don't wait up for me, honey.”


It was a little jarring how surprised to see him Obie seemed to be. He looked like a deer caught in highlights when Tony stepped next to him as he was in middle of an interview. 

What did he think Tony was going to do? Drop another bomb? Fire the board on live TV?

He had considered it, but he couldn’t do it. A pity.

Instead he smiled at the camera. “ What's the world coming to when a guy's got to crash his own party?”

Obie’s smile was strained. “Look at you. Hey, what a surprise.”

Was this one of the times Tony really needed to not come? Honestly Tony was getting a little confused, and it was irritating at this point. “I'll see you inside.” he said, shaking his head.

“Hey. Listen, take it slow, all right?” he looked at him in concern and Tony felt himself calming down a little. “I think I got the board right where we want them.”

So Obie was on his side for now. Good to know. “ You got it. Just cabin fever. I'll just be a minute.” He headed straight for the bar. “Give me a... Scotch. I'm starving.”

“Mr. Stark?” came a voice, and Tony looked up at the man - oh well, the agent - who had stopped next to him.

“Yeah?”

“Agent Coulson,” he said, offering him his hand.

Tony nodded a little. He was pretty sure Pepper had mentioned that name, attached to a mouthful. “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. The guy from the...”

“Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division,” said the man with a completely straight face. 

Wow. Clearly trained. Tony would have been laughing halfway through it. “God, you need a new name for that.”

He got a wry laugh. “Yeah, I hear that a lot. Listen, I know this must be a trying time for you, but we need to debrief you. There's still a lot of unanswered questions, and time can be a factor with these things.”

Tony nodded, but he was already stopped listening. “Let's just put something on the books.”

“How about the 24th at 7:00 p.m. at Stark Industries?”

Tony nodded, and then froze. Because that green dress -

He was moving on automatic, his heart beating a little faster. It was the same dress from the other Gala, and the hairstyle was different but -

Coulson said something and Tony agreed to whatever it was, almost sprinting towards the balcony the lady in the green dress had disappeared through.

God, was she back already? Did she -

And then he turned the corner and almost slammed into a blonde woman. “Wow. Tony Stark,” she said, but Tony’s eyes were on the dark haired woman not too far from her.

But she had turned her head too at the sound of his voice and Tony deflated immediately.

It was not Loki.

“Tony Stark?” repeated the blonde he had crashed in and Tony blinked at her for a second.

She looked vaguely familiar. “Oh, hey.”

She smiled a little, though not in amusement. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“GQ?” he guessed and she shook her head.

“Christine Everhart, Vanity Fair,” she corrected.

She didn’t offer her hand and Tony didn’t either, repeating “Christine Everhart, Vanity Fair.” 

“You have a lot of nerve showing up here tonight.” She said, and Tony turned his attention fully on her. Why was she mad? He didn’t sleep with her, he’d remember. “Can I at least get a reaction from you?”

“Panic. I would say panic is my reaction.”

She wasn’t amused. “'Cause I was referring to your company's involvement in this latest atrocity.”

Wasn’t this party about firefighters? And anyway, he had nothing to do with it and the terrible colour scheme. “Yeah. They just put my name on the invitation. I don't know what to tell you.”

Christine shook her head, disgusted and okay, the colours weren’t clashing that terribly. “I actually almost bought it, hook, line and sinker.”

Tony stared at her. “I feel like we are having two different conversations here. I was out of town for a couple months, in case you didn't hear.”

She spoke as if she didn’t hear him and pulled out a tablet. “Is this what you call accountability? It's a town called Gulmira. Heard of it?”

And Tony felt his heart physically falling to his stomach at the images on the screen. “When were these taken?”

Christine’s eyes narrowed. “Yesterday.”

Holy shit. But Tony, he had -

Yinsen -

“I didn't approve any shipment,” he managed. Who would - How?

Her rage seemed to subside a little at his expression, but there was still bite to her words. “Well, your company did.”

Tony glared. “Well, I'm not my company,” he told her, and still clutching the tablet, set off to the only man who could have enough pull to approve the shipment.

Because Tony had first thought it was a lot of small people selling behind his back but what if it was one person? One big person?

Obie looked at him annoyed when Tony stepped next to him. “Please, do you mind?”

Tony didn’t give a fuck if he was making a scene. “Have you seen these pictures? What's going on in Gulmira?”

And finally he saw it. He saw what Loki had seen in less than 10 minutes with the man. What Pepper, Happy and Rhodey had been telling him for years. 

The snake hiding behind Obie’s eyes. “Tony, Tony. You can't afford to be this naive.”

But how could he? They were patriots. They - Howard- He swallowed. “You know what? I was naive before, when they said, 'Here's the line. We don't cross it. This is how we do business.'” That was what dad taught him. “If we're double-dealing under the table... Are we?”

“Tony, your picture, please!”

Obie grabbed his arm hard enough to hurt. “Let's take a picture. Come on. Picture time! Tony. Who do you think locked you out?” And Tony felt his heart break. “I was the one who filed the injunction against you. It was the only way I could protect you.”

And then his god father walked away, leaving him standing there.

Chapter Text

“Anthony,” called Loki, watching him carefully. The dream was taking place on the beach they had spent that second evening after Loki had shown up on Earth. The place was deserted except for the two of them, and Anthony was wearing the same clothing he had been wearing on that day.

But his expression was vastly different from then, his eyes sadder.

Of course she had seen what transpired just hours before with Stane. It made her blood boil in her veins and had she been on Midgard she would have ceased his pathetic existence with her bare hands.

“So it turns out Pepper, Rhodey, Happy and you were right and I’m the idiot who chose to trust the guy my father hired,” said Anthony after a few seconds, voice bitter and a little angry. “He wants me out of my own company. Out of my dad’s company.” He let out a chuckle, putting his face in his hands. “Why am I so surprised? How many times did he try to approve weapons that I refused, from R&D? I knew he cares about money, I knew he didn’t want me to become CEO even though it was my father’s company and yet.”

"He was family,” she agreed, putting a hand on his arm, hoping to give him some strength. “Your father trusted him.”

“Trusted him more than he ever trusted me,” agreed Anthony, voice going even more bitter. “And here we are.”

“Here we are,” agreed Loki, passing a hand through his hair. 

She wanted to console him, to make the sadness simply go away. But she knew enough to know it wouldn’t do much good at the moment. Anthony needed to feel this, and all she could do for now was offer comfort through their dream-link.

It didn’t mean she wasn’t angry though. 

Anthony shook his head a little, “He was probably so glad that I was kidnapped in Afghanistan-” he was saying and then stopped, his expression changing.

It took Loki a few seconds to realise what he was thinking and then she also froze. “Him? You reckon?”

“They recorded a video,” said the man, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. “I thought it was a ransom video at the time. But. Rhodey and Pepper never received anything. SI had no idea who had taken me and the military only guessed it was the Ten Rings, they weren’t sure.” He turned to Loki. “What if it wasn’t a ransom video? What if it was a confirmation video?”

This was. Loki knew Aesir standards and Midgardian standards were very different but to even think that one would go as far as to turn on his own family and attempt to murder them? How could such an offense take place? For nothing more than greed? It was utmost dishonourable and even thinking something like that made her feel ill.

But Anthony wasn’t Aesir, Obadiah wasn’t Aesir, and she had felt something wrong with the older man, hadn’t she? She had known something wasn’t quite right about the man, that he was dangerous. That he was believing his own lies, becoming a lie.

She remembered Afghanistan, of course. The dream link had been complicated to get a hold on. The way it worked, Loki could leave an imprint of Anthony’s feelings in her own mind, which meant any strong emotion that he felt, she would be able to feel its residue in her own mind.

Which was how she had managed to learn about his kidnapping and torture. The pain, both physical and mental that came from being kidnapped and asked to build weapons had drawn her towards Anthony and made her feel what he was feeling despite him being awake.

It was easier to contact/speak to him when he was asleep however. Because he was not a mage, Loki didn’t dare explore how much their link could take, so she only spoke to him when he too was in his own mind.

At the beginning he had been confused by her presence in his own mind. The pain he was in during the day couldn’t affect his astral form, but phantom pains remained, and her assurance that she could help with it confused him to no end.

However, the longer she continued to appear, and the more she referenced conversation that they had previously, the more he seemed to settle. She wasn’t quite sure what conclusion he had drawn, but she hadn’t wanted to ask him when she was the only thing that managed to distract him from the constant threat of violence from the men with the Ten Rings.

The man with Anthony - Yinsen - was of course helpful, and she could tell Anthony had formed a strong relation with him in a matter of weeks. But he was not someone Anthony knew. Still his death hurt him immensely and Loki might not mourn him but she hoped his soul reached Valhalla. He had died in battle, after all.

And if Stane was truly the one behind Anthony’s capture? Who was to say he wouldn't attack Anthony once more? That he wouldn’t try again to have him disposed of and perhaps even succeed this time around?

Loki couldn’t allow that and for the nth time she cursed Thor and Odin and Heimdall and the Bifrost. “Anthony, listen to me,” she said, grabbing his arm way too hard. Thankfully her astral form couldn’t hurt his. “You need to be careful. You cannot rush into this.”

Thor - and half of Asgard, most probably - would have scoffed at her advice, but Anthony nodded grimly. “If it was him and he suspects I know, he’ll try it again. I need to uncover it, to find proof of his double dealings and check if he received any ransom video. But I can’t just walk into the company. I’m supposed to keep my head down, if he sees me in the company, he’ll know something is up. I need someone more neutral, I need someone who can sneak in without arousing too much suspicion, someone who can go into my office or his and not get stopped. I need -”

“Pepper,” they both said at the same time.

Anthony smiled for the first time that evening, shaking his head. “Yeah.”

Loki held his hand in hers. “It has to be underhanded,” she then said, turning serious once more. “He cannot know you suspect him to be behind your attack. For, if it is for naught, if our suspicion is misplaced,” and Loki hoped a little that it was. She felt it wasn’t, but at least for Anthony’s sake she hoped they weren’t right. “He will have grounds to add paranoia to your... supposed mental ailments.” She was still hesitant to speak of illness of the mind, but Anthony just nodded gravely, not even blinking at the possible weakness. “You shall have to hack into his systems.”

“Pepper wouldn’t know how to hack, not Obie’s laptop,” said Anthony, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully. “And if he sees me in the company, he’ll know something is up and have me tailed. If I try to hack him from outside the company, he’ll also know.” At her confused expression, he explained, “It’s a system I created for the employees’ ‘privacy’. People don’t trust JARVIS like I do, and the idea of him watching their every move or him being able to potentially hack them scares the crap out of them. So I installed a system for all of SI employees’ that will basically allow them to know if they are being hacked.” His expression turned even more sour. “Obie made me do it, said it was important. If it had been up to me they would have had to deal with it, leave or have me sign an NDA.”

“And you couldn’t circumvent systems of your own creations?” questioned Loki, an eyebrow arched. “Somehow I doubt that.”

Anthony winked with a huff. “I could. But I would have to do it manually and it will take a while. And awhile means risking Obie- Obadi- Stane getting away with double dealing and getting me locked out. No... we’ll need to go the old fashioned way,” he said, eyes looking far away.

Loki put a hand on his, and Anthony’s attention turned back onto her. “You cannot trust him, Anthony. No matter what he says, not without proof.”

“I could still be wrong,” he pointed out, but immediately wilted. “But yeah. Guilty until proven innocent it is.”

+++

When she opened her eyes from her meditation a few hours later, Loki immediately felt sick. She barely managed to make it to the bathroom before she was emptying her stomach of everything she had eaten the night before.

Norns, this was the fifth night in a row that she-

“Your Majesty?” came the voice of the guard at the door and Loki shut her eyes trying to keep her nausea at bay.

Astrid was a dear, and Loki would be forever grateful that she was her personal guard. She was dutiful and no nonsense, listened to orders and always turned the other way when Loki was up to harmless mischief, even against Thor. She cared for Loki.

The downside of her caring for Loki, however, was that she noticed things that Loki would rather she didn’t. For reasons of safety, she was the only one who was able to hear over Loki’s silencing spell, just in case something happened to her while the room was under the spell.

And when she noticed things, she wasn’t one for staying quiet about them, which meant she would report them to Mother and Loki did not want to have to think about -

“Your Majesty?”

“I’m fine!” she shouted back, standing up from the toilet. “Allow me some time to make myself presentable,” she couldn’t help but mutter under her breath, turning open the tap to clear that awful taste of bile from her lips.

A few minutes later, she found herself presentable and walked out of her bedroom, scowling at her guard. “Was there something in particular you needed?”

Perhaps she was acting a little more bratty than usual, but she felt entitled to that at the very least. She had spent a couple of hours with Anthony, who while finally free from his captor, was still in a lot of pain, and she still felt a little bit nauseous. All she longed to do was lay in her chambers for the entirety of the morning and do nothing all day, but she had duties to attend to, duties that she could not postpone.

Astrid did not appear bothered by the Princess’ hostility. “Aye, my Princess. Lady Sif and the Warrior Three were asking for your whereabouts. They are about to head out on a noble quest and could not find Prince Thor. They thought he might be with you.”

“I beg your pardon, did you say a quest ?” she asked, but already she knew her ears were not deceiving her. “Today?”

The guard nodded, and her disapproval of Crown Royals’ friends was very visible in her expression. “I have tried to tell them that today Prince Thor was to learn along with the Council, but they did not seem to take this as the warning it was meant to be.”

“Of course they didn’t,” she couldn’t help but scoff, straightening up slightly. “Very well. I thank you, Astrid.”

“My Princess,” accepted the guard, with a small bow. “And... your Majesty?”

Loki looked up at the guard with a little frown. “Yes?” Astrid wasn’t one to act hesitantly.

“Are you... well?” Her eyes were searching. “You have been ill for the past few days. Surely the Queen-”

“I am well, Astrid,” immediately snapped Loki, retaining a blank expression on her face. “I believe this is a side effect of a potion I have sampled a couple of days ago.”

“The All-Mother-”

“Mother does not need to be disturbed for something as simple as this,” managed the princess, jaw clenching again. “It is but a bout of illness. It is not deadly and it will not be permanent. I will inform the Queen when and if I deem it necessary.” Astrid did not appear convinced and Loki huffed. “Do I appear ill?”

Loki knew she didn’t. She was wearing a glamour over her own skin, making sure not a single part of her was out of shape, and even if Astrid were to suspect such a usage of her sorcery, she had no way of proving it.

They both knew it. Astrid shook her head. “No, my Princess. I apologise.”

“It is alright,” managed the princess, trying not to feel guilty. 

But she simply did not want to think about it, did not want to acknowledge what she might -

“I will go and speak to my brother,” she said, and then Loki was walking through the branches of the Yggdrasil all the way to the Council Room. Normally she wouldn’t waste her sky-walking for something this mundane, but she knew her brother too well.

And as she thought, she arrived just in time to see him grabbing the horse Fandral was handing him, Mjolnir at his side. “Thor!”

He jumped at the voice, but immediately relaxed once his eyes fixed on her approaching form. “Sister! How fare thee?”

“Do not!” she hissed, stopping right next to him and glaring at his companions. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Thor finally decided to put those stupid books away and follow us. Apparently there is a-”

“Put down the ‘stupid’ books?” mocked Loki, glaring at Fandral. “He cannot ‘put down the stupid books’! He is to be crowned in less than three units!”

Do not misunderstand her. Loki did not want her brother on the throne of Asgard. The only thing that that would achieve right now, would be an early Ragnarok.

But the callous manner in which he took his kingly duties when he knew that Odin wanted him on the throne? He was the first born, the heir to the throne, and yet he behaved like a child, only doing things as they pleased him.

Sif rolled her eyes at her. “There is more to being King than reading books. Otherways, you would have been picked and you wouldn’t be this green with jealousy.”

Loki did not like Sif one bit, and the feeling was mutual. She wasn’t sure if it was for her ability to change form or for the fact that in a battle or on an adventure, Loki was Thor’s first concern, but Sif had never liked Loki, and was always the first one to cast stones even in situation that did not merit them.

She glared at the warrior. “And there is more to being King than being good in a fight.” She turned her eyes on Thor. “You need to attend these Council meetings, brother! You need to earn their trust, because they will be the ones aiding you or hindering you when you come to the throne. If they mistrust you, they will only hinder your reign.”

Instead of appearing regretful and understanding his sister’s point, Thor grinned broadly at her. “And that is why I will have you as my main adviser, sister.” He lit up. “Oh! Perchance you should go in my stead! That way they’ll grow to trust you!”

“As if anyone would ever trust the Silvertongue,” said Volstagg, in a ‘jesting’ manner, making the other three laugh. Even Thor had a small grin on her face.

Loki clenched her fists at her sides, willing herself to not pull out daggers on their friends . “Very well. Enjoy your adventure.” She managed, turning around and stalking away.

“Loki, wait!” called her brother, but she didn’t need to turn around to know he was not following her.

And this was the man they wanted to hand the power to? This was who father thought was ready to be King? This was who mother said would be able to curb his most hot headed traits by having Loki at his side? 

He wasn’t even King yet and he didn’t listen to her! What did Mother think would happen when he was ? That he’d miraculously be handed Gungnir and he would turn into their father?

She did not want the throne, as she had already spoken with Anthony about. She truly did not feel the need for it, but being overlooked for Thor would forever sting her pride.

Had she been a more selfish woman, she would have simply let it play out. She would have let everything happen as it should and then she would have laughed, telling everyone ‘I told you so’ when Thor plunged them back into war.

But she did not want war. She did not want Asgard - and herself - to suffer, to have to suffer because Thor would hear an insult for a Ravager one day and decide to declare war on every single Ravager in the Universe.

When they were children, they often spoke of continuing the work of their father. Odin would smile at them fondly when they spoke of eliminating all the threats in the Nine just like he did in his boyhood. Except now they weren’t boys anymore, and such words weighted plenty more. Such words would be enough to warrant the other Realms in the Nine to feel at risk, to feel threatened and declare war. 

And Thor, as future King, as Crown Heir should not be going around uttering them anymore; which was exactly what the classes in diplomacy and royal etiquette and the meetings with the Royal Council were supposed to ingrain in him.

But he didn’t listen to anyone except father and mother, and even that was scarce now.

No, Thor could not be allowed to be King.

She stopped in front of the passageway she had discovered early on in her youth, the passage that connected their Realm to Jotunheim. No one that she knew was aware of its existence, and Loki herself had not known of it until a day in which she had been playing a game of Hide and Seek with her brother and had followed the gust of cold air in the icy Realm.

Back then she had been terrified by her discovery. The passageway was well hidden under the dungeons of the palace, camouflaged and hard to access. She had worried that perchance it was built by the Frost Giants themselves in a bid of conquering Asgard once more.

But it had taken her just one walk through the portal to realise that while it was still open between the two of them, it was older than the War. And most especially, it was not something a Frost Giant would be able to open, as the runes casted over it were distinctly Aesir. But of Aesir of old, despite the familiarity of the seidr that still preserved within it.

So she had not told anyone about her discovery, keeping it to herself like she kept all the secrets of the Realm that she stumbled upon in the library (and there were many of them. Many. )

Loki made sure no other person was around to see her and pressed a hand over the walls of the passageway, searching for the familiar magic-

There. A disgusting bust of blue and hard winter.

She quickly took her hand away from the wall and nodded to herself. The Frost Giants had received her message. Now, all she was to do was wait for the right time to open the gateway.

For Asgard.


Lady Idunn was a lovely woman who had been on Asgard for as long as history could tell. The Aesir were a long lived race with some managing to live for over 6000 years. They lived long, but were not immortal.

And yet, no matter what book or scroll or scrap she managed to get her hands on, the goddess was always present. She was there during Odin’s youth, during grandfather Bor’s youth and during great-grandfather Buri’s youth too.

The goddess was supposedly over 20000 years of age, but she did not appear a day older than Loki herself. Her existence was shrouded in mystery, and there were tales of her not even being Aesir, of her being older than the Realm Eternal.

She didn’t count herself as being of Asgard . But she was under their protection, and in exchange for this, she provided them with golden apples upon their puberty and before battles, to strengthen Asgard and its armies for centuries to come.

To everyone in Asgard she was an asset, neither a warrior nor a sorcerer, but still as important as the house of Odin.

To Loki, Lady Idunn was a friend, someone she could spend long stretches of time around without feeling like she was intruding or creating harm.

“Lady Idunn,” she greeted, walking in the golden apples orchard.

As per usual, the goddess was walking around the trees, checking the new apples’ growth. 

Lady Idunn turned around, a smile lighting up her face as she turned around to face her. “Princess Lo-” she started, blue eyes lighting up at her sight before her expression changed to one of surprise.

Loki had known, of course. Perhaps not immediately but as the months progressed and she studied up on the dream sharing magic, many things started to slowly slot into places. 

She wasn’t one to remain in her female form for long bouts of time. And while she hadn’t acknowledged the reason of her decision, especially not consciously, part of her had known.

So despite evidence of the contrary, Loki had known what was happening to her, had known what her behaviour meant.

That still did not prepare her for Idunn’s joyous smile as she said, “Congratulations on the addition to the royal family, Princess Loki.”

Because it was one thing allowing that particular thought to bounce around in her mind, and it was quite another thing to hear someone declare and see through her magic and see her truth so clearly.

If Lady Idunn noticed the slight panic in her eyes, she made no mention of it, instead settling down on the ground under one of the trees and motioning next to her. “Would you like to sit down?”

Loki moved to sit next to her, trying to stifle and calm down her beating heart. “How... how were you aware of this?”

Lady Idunn observed her carefully. “Are you hiding this from Asgard?”

She didn’t answer the question immediately.

Being with child had always been a fantastical time in Asgard. The Aesir relished in child birth and child rearing and it had been a point of discussion for many moons how long it took for Queen Frigga to bear an heir. Odin was well into his adulthood and past his prime when Thor and Loki were born.

Had it been Thor bringing home an heir - even a bastard - Asgard would have been jubilant.

But it was Loki. Loki, the second princess, the elusive moon to Thor’s bright sun, forever cast in the shadow of her brother. 

Loki becoming pregnant? Out of nowhere, and close to the time where Thor would be finally crowned King? That would be begging for trouble. It would be begging for people to hound her with questions, people sharing rumours about who - or what, if they felt cruel - the other party was. The nobles relished in everything that would tarnish her reputation and had it been simply regarding her, Loki would not have cared.

But coming after a child? No, she couldn’t allow this happen. No matter what faults the Aesir laid to her feet, she wouldn’t allow them to smear the name of her baby.

And that was without considering that the baby was half human. Perchance most Aesir would not be able to notice anything regarding the baby other than it was half mortal, but Father would. Mother would.

And who was to say what Odin would do? Would he punish Loki for laying with a Midgardian? Would he cast out the child, demanding that he lived with his human father? Would he go after Anthony for laying with his daughter?

And if by then Thor was King what would he do? Would he stand with her and her bastard child or would he bow down to the Council? Thor had, after all, never cared about anything other than himself.

If the child ended up taking too much of Loki’s time, if it became the reason she couldn’t stand at his side once he was crowned, what would happen then? Would he listen to reason, and allow her to stay with the new born? Would he grant her the chance of going back to Midgard, back to Anthony?

Or would he demand that she hand the child to a nursemaid? Or worse, another family so that Loki could spend her time listening and paying attention to Thor? Would he take the child away from her?

Loki did not wish to think ill of her brother but she knew the nobles. She knew how cruel they could be. Mother would stand by her, she knew, but Odin had always sided with whoever stood against Loki, unless the Odinson name was being tarnished.

And what bigger stain on the name than the second born producing a half mortal bastard for an heir?

The child would not be safe on Asgard. Loki and the child would not be safe there, she knew that already.

She turned back to Idunn. “Yes, I am hiding the child. They will not be safe here.”

Idunn hummed, not quite touching her but still exuding comfort towards her. “And where would the child be safe?”

With Anthony , she thought immediately.

And then she hesitated. Would Anthony even want a child, right now? Life on Asgard and life on Midgard were quite different. 

Anthony was such a free spirit. He enjoyed creating, he enjoyed not being tied down by one thing. His ‘workshop’ - his sanctuary - was a peek into how his brain worked. Scattered projects all over the place, so that he could saunter from one thing to another, never having to stop and worry about one thing.

Would he have space in his life for the child? For their child? For their child and Loki? Or would he grow cross that such a thing had happened?

He hadn’t taken another bed companion since their stay together, but that didn’t mean much. For over three Midgardian months he had been under the care of the Men with the Ten Rings. 

Him and Loki had not discussed anything pertaining their relationship. They simply existed with each other, and cared for one another. Both platonically and sexually. But romantically? Loki wasn’t sure.

He did not even know that she wasn’t of his Realm. He did not know about Asgard yet, didn’t know she was, in his perspective, an alien.

She wasn’t quite sure how he explained their conversation to himself yet, but he wasn’t even aware of magic.

They understood each other in a manner that was shocking for a mere eight days in total spent together, but they didn’t know one another.

And yet if she had to choose between Asgard and Anthony for the child? “She would be safe on Midgard.”

Idunn blinked at her, clearly surprised. “Midgard.”

Loki nodded, turning her attention to the goddess. “You appear surprised.”

“It has been a while since I last heard of the Realm,” admitted Lady Idunn, shaking her head a little, golden curls gleaming as brightly as her apples. “How?”

The princess looked up at her. “I beg your pardon?”

“How will the child be raised on Midgard? It has been no more than a unit since the Bifrost and the gates of Asgard were closed, which means you have, at most, three units left before the child is born. At most. How will you return to Midgard?”

Thankfully, this was exactly what she had come to speak to Idunn about. “The passageways between Realms,” she started, hiding a self satisfied smile at Idunn’s further shock. “According to my scrolls, there is one between Midgard and Asgard situated here in your garden.”

The other was quick to shake away her surprise. “That passageway has been closed for millennia. It would take a long time and a lot of magic to open it,” she warned. “And even then, I know not how long it would remain open. Bor’s spell was quite strong and woven complicatedly after Hercules succeeded in stealing my apples.”

“I am quite strong too,” informed her Loki, shrugging a little. “And I have at the very least two more units of waiting.”

Idunn’s expression was a little strange. “Different races experience pregnancies quite differently, Princess Loki.”

“Of course, but I’m the one pregnant. Not An- the Midgardian,” she said, confused when Idunn simply hummed but didn’t explain what she had meant by that. When she continued to not explain, Loki huffed. “Will you tell someone? Or hinder me in any way?”

Idunn turned her blue eyes on Loki, and this time allowed for touch, fixing her dark curls behind her ears. “I feel like you are endangering yourself, princess, by continuously camouflaging your appearance through seidr.” She tilted her head to the side. “Your secret will be safe with me. I will not tell the All-Mother nor the All-Father anything regarding the child. I will keep your secret.”

“And the passageway?” questioned the younger, trying to keep her hope at bay.

“The spell to seal it was cast particularly with me in mind, so I shall not be able to aid you with breaking it. But I can offer you a safe space where you can undo your glamour and your seidr. And when the time comes, I shall help you,” she intoned, and even without calling upon the Norns, Loki felt the power of such a vow.

It made her chest hurt.

She could count on one hand the number of people she could trust on Asgard, and even her mother wasn’t always among them (Queen Frigga was a just and kind woman, who loved her children more than anything else, but King Odin was her first responsibility).

But Idunn, a lady of powers unknown, who guarded one of the most prized things in Asgard cared for Loki in a manner not many did. Not her friends, not her brother, not her father.

She went down on her knee. “Thank you for your kindness, my Lady,” she said, putting a fist on her chest.

“Rise, princess. I am not one you should be kneeling for,” intoned the woman, and then a frown replaced her smile. “Princess Loki?”

Loki pressed her fist harder on her chest. “My chest,” she said, taking a shaky breath. “I believe I hit myself or-”

She couldn’t move. She was laying on something soft and she couldn’t move.

Stane was standing over her, blue eyes holding hers while he was holding the blue star that belonged in Anthony’s chest in his grubby fingers.

And she - Anthony - couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything but gasp and stare and Loki remembered what Yinsen had said. What he and Anthony had spoken of in the cave.

“They call it the walking dead...” “Shrapnel in your heart...” “three gigajoules per second,” “‘That could run your heart for 50 lifetimes.’ ‘Yeah. Or something big for 15 minutes.’”

That was Anthony’s heart in Stane’s hands.

How dare he? 

“Weapons that will help steer the world back on course, put the balance of power in our hands. The right hands. I wish you could've seen my prototype. It's not as... Well, not as conservative as yours.

She was both within and watching Anthony struggle on the couch. His veins were protruding in his head and his face was slowly turning blue. He was struggling to breathe and -

“Too bad you had to involve Pepper in this. I would have preferred that she lived,” said Stane and how dare he threaten Pepper as well? How dare he put both her and Anthony in danger? And for what? His greed?

He was a most despicable -

She gasped, feeling something pulling at her even as Stane spoke. 

It was pulling at her, trying to push her out of Anthony’s mind.

For a second she thought it might be Idunn. She wasn’t sure how she had managed to get to Anthony’s mind so quickly - probably the same way she had managed when he was first in that cave - but perhaps it had worried Idunn.

But that didn’t make sense. Idunn was an old soul, she would be able to see Loki’s seidr and know that she was all right. So who else could pull at her in that manner? Who else could -

Anthony.

She wasn’t sure how or if he was even aware of what he was doing but it was him. He was the one pulling at her - through the dream link, she now realised - trying to get to her.

She let herself be pulled out of his mind.

And into his Malibu living room.

“Anthony!”

Chapter Text

When he was a kid, Tony had once fallen down the stairs.

Well, not exactly.

When he was a kid, Tony had once got pushed down the stairs.

Howard had been drunk as shit, and Tony was still at that phase of his childhood where he did not understand what the stench of alcohol hanging around his father meant, or what that light anger in his father’s eyes symbolised.

Tony had been running after the man, trying to convince him to come see one of the things he had made while he had been gone, and Howard had gotten annoyed.

Now, Howard had been many things but violent wasn’t one of them. He backhanded him at times over the head, but nothing more than that.

So it came at a surprise - perhaps for both child Tony and Howard - when he pushed him away from himself in anger. It definitely came to a surprise to both of them when Tony had stumbled backwards and fell down the flight of stairs of their mansion, tiny body crashing hard on the steps and rolling down to the foot of the stairs.

He had cried out in pain and fear when he finally landed on the ground, wind knocked out of him and little limbs burning in pain. He didn’t remember much about the entire accident - concussion - but for some odd reason, he remember Howard’s face.

The man had looked down at his son from the top of the stairs, impossibly still and pale, looking about to throw up. He didn’t move, didn’t even dare to breathe as Tony laid down crying on the ground, didn’t even blink when Jarvis and Maria rushed to the scene, shouting and cursing out his name.

Just stood there stock still and stared.

If Tony had to guess what his own expression was like right now, he’d bet it was very similar to Howard’s on that day.

Stane was talking but nothing he was saying was filtering through Tony’s ears. Or better, it was, but it was not fully registering in Tony's brain.

He wondered, idly, what did it look like to someone from the outside? Obie Stane’s face was so cordial. Like it was a nice chat between godson and godfather, and not at all like he had Tony paralysed on the couch and was villain monologuing.

Honestly, Tony was trying to focus on his words but it was almost like being held in swimming water. And he already had a bad relationship with water.

It still didn’t compute. Even though he had thought and speculated that Obie Stane was behind the hit, Tony hadn’t fully believed it. Because it just... it didn’t make sense.

Why, he wanted to ask, even as Obie continued speaking. How long?

How long had he been the wolf in sheep's clothing? A year? Since Pepper had mentioned it? Since Happy had told him he didn’t trust him? Since Rhodey had?

Had he become dad’s friend with the intention of killing Tony? Had he decided to do so after Howard’s death? Or after Tony became CEO?

He felt something cold on his chest, and his ears seemed to switch on then. “When I ordered the hit on you, I worried that I was killing the golden goose.”

No. God no, thought Tony, unable to move his neck but still hearing the whirring of the contraption in his hands coming to life. Stane wouldn’t - he wouldn’t -

“But, you see, it was just,” the click sounded louder than Tony’s blood rushing in his ears. Louder than anything Tony had ever heard in his life. “fate that you survived that. You had one last golden egg to give.”

He took it.

He took the Arc Reactor out.

When it was just the possibility of Stane sending a hit out to have Tony killed, it could have been impersonal. It was a betrayal to the highest degree and felt like a knife stuck between his ribs, but it felt like Stane perhaps still... cared, in a sort of fucked up way. He wanted Tony gone, sure, but perhaps he loved him too much to hurt him. Perhaps it meant that he was slightly hesitant.

But nothing about this was impersonal. Everything about this was personal. It was Stane’s hands ripping Tony’s heart out of his chest and then using its bloody remains to drench the Stark name in more blood.

His hands, his face, him.

“Do you really think that just because you have an idea, it belongs to you? Your father, he helped give us the atomic bomb.”

He was so close to him that Tony could see every glacial speckle of his light blue eyes. 

It hurt. 

His chest hurt both physically and metaphorically.

Stane ripped his heart out from his chest with his bare hands, looked at him in the eye while doing it and felt absolutely no remorse. There was no regret, no sadness that Tony was going to die. Only hunger, and fascination as he twisted the reactor in his hands.

“Now, what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as you? Oh, it's beautiful.”

The only thing stopping the shrapnel from moving was gone, and Tony had to wonder how long would it take him to die now?

He didn’t want to die. He wasn’t ready to die. He had things to do, people to help. He finally had a new objective. He was trying not to waste his life and yet here was again, dying with a hole in his chest.

“Tony, this is your Ninth Symphony. What a masterpiece. Look at that. This is your legacy. A new generation of weapons with this at its heart.”

He just managed to let Rhodey know about the suit. They had just started to try and talk again, and now it was too late.

“Weapons that will help steer the world back on course, put the balance of power in our hands. The right hands. I wish you could've seen my prototype. It's not as... Well, not as conservative as yours. ”

Pepper got involved because of him. Because he had tried to be smart and Stane was smarter than him. Or perhaps he just knew Tony better than Tony knew him. And now Pepper was in danger and Tony was on his couch in his living room. Dying. 

“Too bad you had to involve Pepper in this. I would have preferred that she lived.”

And Loki. She would have no idea what had happened until she showed up again months later and found out he had died. Or perhaps Stane would make it look like Tony succumbed to his PTSD and committed suicide? 

Would Loki believe it?

She was clever, after all. Perhaps she’d know something was wrong. Perhaps she’d band with Happy and the rest and manage to shake something loose.

He wanted her to be here with him so badly. He wanted her at his side, wanted to go back to that night in Bern when everything was fine and Tony was truly happy. When they were just staring at the stars and talking about the Universe and having the best sex of Tony’s life between smiles and -

Anthony!”

Tony would have flinched, had he not been paralysed on his couch.

Obie Stane was gone. When had Stane left? Tony didn’t recall him leaving. God he hoped JARVIS managed to wake up long enough to send some sort of alert to Pepper, let her know that -

“Anthony! Listen to my voice!” shouted the voice again and finally Tony moved his eyes to the side and -

Loki.

Loki?

Loki .

Loki was there. She was standing not too far from him, eyes wide and fearful, draped in the oddest Tolkien like dress he had ever seen. 

How did she get in there? Did she see what Stane did? Had she been there all along?

“Anthony!” called Loki again, and Tony forced his eyes to meet hers, forcing himself to pay attention. His breathing was still shallow, but now, at least he could let out a couple of gasps, painfully but still more easily. “Anthony can you hear me? Can you move?”

She wasn’t touching him. She was standing close, sure, but her hands were clenching at her sides.

“He will die,” she vowed, and her eyes seemed to actually flash. “He will die for what he did to you, but Anthony you have to stay alive. You cannot die now!”

Oh gee, let me get right on to that. One not dying Tony Stark coming right up. Why wasn’t she touching him? Why wasn’t she calling anyone for help? She was -

And it dawned on him then. She was a figment of his imagination. Like in the dreams.

Had the dreams crossed over into real life hallucinations now? Or was he already dead? If he was, why was Loki shouting at him? He felt delirious. His head swam with thoughts and a small whine left his lips. Oh, he could feel the shrapnel moving now.

“You cannot die!” was repeating Loki. “You cannot leave me alone! I am not raising this child alone, I refuse Anthony Stark!”

“C-Chi,” managed his tongue, deciding to unparalyse itself right at that moment. He needed his legs to be able to move.

While fearful, there was mostly anger in Loki’s face. That wasn’t right. Tony had never seen Loki angry in real life, how did his brain conjure it with such perfect horror-inducing clarity? She looked like a goddess on the path of revenge. “Yes, child. I am not raising this child by myself, I refuse to believe it. You need to get up Anthony and you need to get up now . Our child will not be a bastard before birth!”

Tony had many questions. Like for examples why in the fuck did his brain decide that imagining his sort-of-beau maybe-lover not-quite-girlfriend pregnant was in any way a normal way of dealing with the shock of being killed by his godfather? 

“What do you need?” asked Loki and there was frustration too in her eyes. “Anthony, I don’t know what you need. I cannot contact JARVIS. I do not share a dream link with either Rhodey or Pepper. You need to- Anthony-”

“Wrksho,” he managed, tongue tingling in his mouth. His feet and legs were tingling too, and maybe he could move. Maybe he’d be quick enough to find some sort of magnet around that he could use, something else to make his heart beat without ki-

Proof that Tony Stark has a heart.

“Pep,” he gasped, and oh, his tongue was moving more. “Rea-c-tor.”

Loki’s expression went from angry and scared to determined like one had switched on something. “Anthony, you need to move. I do not know what the contraption has achieved other than immobilising you, but you need to try. Focus on my voice and stand.”

Paralysis did not quite work like that, but trying to tell Loki that now just seemed stupid. He couldn’t waste energy he had to move and try to survive. Try and get down to the workshop before the shrapnel reached his heart and finally killed him.

It took a long time, longer than Tony would have liked - his brain calculating with scary efficiency his chances of survival with each step he took - before he and the Loki projection managed to get into the elevator and down to the workshop.

Where before she was frantic and scared, now she was collected and focused, and part of Tony wondered what did that mean . That he worked well under pressure? 

There.

The old reactor was simply sitting on a corner of the workshop, innocuous for everyone to see. It was mere feet away from Tony, but it felt like every step he took, the lower the chances of his survival went. He couldn’t even hear Loki’s voice anymore, though the hallucination didn’t disappear.

Blood was rushing in his ears, and even with the paralysis slowly letting go of all of his limbs, his breathing grew harsher and more painful.

But he was so close. He just needed to walk a little farther, reach out, he just needed to grab -

He fell on the ground, and Loki was speaking again, but Tony couldn’t focus on her. He needed to move, to get to the reactor but his legs weren’t holding him up anymore. 

Was he really going to die?

But hallucination Loki was shouting at him now, and even without his ears registering any sound, he couldn’t just allow himself to lay on the ground and die. Couldn’t let any version of Loki, no matter how fake it was, see him being weak.

He had to save Pepper, and he had to stop Stane, so he had to get to the reactor.

He had survived torture in an Afghanistan desert for god’s sake! He had laid down in a dusty cavern and survived getting a hole in his chest. Obadiah Fucking Stane was not going to be the one that managed to kill him.

At this point he was crawling on the floor, but he didn’t care. He just needed, fuck it hurt so bad, his chest was burning, all he needed was to reach out and grab -

His body seized up on the floor for a second, and his arms spasmed, making him hit the ground once more, and Tony gritted his teeth so hard he normally would have risked breaking them. He was almost there -

A whirring noise came beside him and Tony felt his eyes actually fill with tears for the first time in that entire night when he looked up and found DUM-E’s claw holding hard on the glass case.

If JARVIS had a soul, then so did DUM-E and the rest of his bot family.

“Good boy,” he said, before smashing the glass frame as hard as he could on the floor. The glass cut his skin when he grabbed the reactor but he didn’t care. Actually he relished in that sharp pain because it meant he was still alive. It meant he wasn’t quite dead yet.

And then he put the old reactor back into the hole in his chest and Tony let out a breath, feeling not unlike what a Christmas Tree lighting up would feel like. It wasn’t quite electricity humming through his veins, but he wouldn’t know how else to describe the energy thrumming in his body.

“Great,” he rasped, shaking his head and breathing as deeply as he dared. “Let’s never do that again.”

“Don’t you ever , ever, ever, ever, ever make me go through something like this again !” demanded Loki, every inch of her lit up in anger, and Tony flinched. He had not realised she was still there. But she was and she had put away the professionalism for now and turned the anger back up. “I am aware that you’re mortal but if you ever allow yourself to die again I will barge into the halls of Valhalla and drag you out by the ear!”

Uh. Turns out she was more like Pepper than he would have thought. Or perhaps his brain was making her more like Pepper because Loki had never been in a situation like that before and it was filling the gap?

When he didn’t respond she stood, every bit the princess she was. “Now stand, Anthony. You will don your armour and save Pepper. You will fight with great honour and you shall prevail over Stane. You will kill him, yes?”

No . He couldn’t possibly kill his godfather, could he?

“I want to,” came out of his mouth, and Tony was slightly alarmed by how much he meant those words. 

But Stane had betrayed him. Stane had killed him

He deserved to die for that.

Stark men are made of iron.

Loki’s grin was sharp and wicked and nothing nice. “Good. You will slay him and he shall know to never cross you again. Now stand, and make us proud.” She repeated and for a second Tony was confused.

“Make ‘us’ proud. You and the uh,”

“The baby, yes,” agreed Loki, watching him carefully. So for whatever reason his brain wanted to continue this new and bizarre storyline.

“Tony? Tony?” came a voice and Tony let out a wince, trying to sit up properly. “Tony? Tony?” Then Rhodey rounded the corner, and his eyes went wide in panic at the sight of his best friends. “Tony!” 

Loki was an illusion. An hallucination. 

Still it was incredibly weird when Rhodey came to a stop next to him, basically crashing into where her ghost was and Loki dissolved in a mist of green light. 

“Tony! You okay?” called his platypus, pulling him up and pulling him back into what was going on.

Stane. Pepper.

Pepper.

“Where's Pepper?” he managed, and Rhodey looked grimly determined.

“She's fine. She's with five agents. They're about to arrest Obadiah,” he said and how awful did Tony look that Rhodey did not even attempt to make the situation less tense-

Wait agents? Tony might have basically blanked out of that entire conversation, but he did remember Stane calling his armour conservative. Which meant, “That's not going to be enough.”

He let his best friend help him up, surreptitiously looking around to see if the Loki hallucination was still there. He wasn’t sure if he was glad or frustrated or confused that she was gone.

“What do you want to do?” asked Rhodey, and Tony blinked back to the attention. Back to the real world.

“The armour,” he said immediately, and finally letting go of his best friend and moving towards a more secluded part of the garage.

If he ended up getting out of this alive, if both he and Pepper survived, he’d need a bigger workshop. Somewhere to create more armours and to keep them safe.

Even with time being of the essence at the time, it was still amazing watching Rhodey’s expression as the MARK I started assembling around Tony with a couple of quick commands.

“That's the coolest thing I've ever seen,” said his best friend, and Tony bit back all his comments about how he had wanted him to be present in the building of it since the beginning. Rhodey had covered his ass when the Air Force Raptor’s had been trying to shoot him out of the sky. They were even now. 

So he just gave him a little smug, feeling everything attaching itself and locking around his body. “Not bad, huh? Let's do it.”

“You need me to do anything else?”

Tony got in position, letting the mask fall over his face. “Keep the skies clear,” he said, then flew out of the hole he had left in the ceiling before.

+++ 

So the chest piece was failing, it was relying on the old arc reactor and Tony was on his way to battle his godfather, who had created a suit not as ‘conventional as his’ and powered it with Tony’s new arc reactor to save his PA.

His chances did not look good, but there wasn’t anything else he could do. 

“Pepper!” he called in the helmet, once the phone call connected.

She let out a gasp that was very closed to a sob of terror. “Tony! Tony, are you okay?”

Let’s see, he nearly got killed by his godfather, was paralysed for 15 awful minutes, was now hallucinating a pregnant Loki and his suit was failing.

“I'm fine. How are-”

“Obadiah, he's gone insane!” She screamed, and Tony’s teeth clenched.

That was one way of putting it for sure. “I know. Listen, you'd better get out of there-”

“ - he built a suit-”

Something lit up on Tony’s HUD and he swore. “Get out of there right now!”

He heard Pepper scream in her earpiece just as he rounded the corner and saw the abomination Stane had just created. The abomination he had created by stealing his MARK O’s designs, most likely and was now pointing his machine guns at Pepper.

“Stane!” he shouted, hoping Pepper was now going to listen to him and flee as he crashed into the other suit and blasted them both in the facility.

They ended up in a crowded road, and Tony felt both his and the people’s panic as cars swerved to avoid them and crash.

Instead of appearing worried about the destruction they were causing, about the civilians that would end up dead or injured if they didn’t move the fighting elsewhere, Stane looked almost delighted, moving to grab the car that had stopped inches away from colliding with them.

“I love this suit!” shouted the man, lifting the crying mother and her children in the air.

What was wrong with him? “Put them down!” 

He needed to stop thinking about him as his godfather, needed to stop being shocked by the cruelty he was capable of, he had just tried to kill Tony.

“Collateral damage, Tony,” Why was it so hard to start thinking of him as nothing but a criminal? He was deranged. 

“Divert power to chest RT,” he told JARVIS, and then shot a beam of energy from his chest piece sending Obie flying on the road. Fuck he should have told Rhodey to keep the roads clear too, he thought with a wince, barely managing to catch the car and then getting run over by it for his troubles.

He didn’t have time to stand back up that Obie was coming at him once more, grabbing a fucking motorbike and slamming it into Tony.

“For 30 years, I've been holding you up!” he screamed, kicking and throwing Tony around like a ragdoll. Even with the suit protecting him, every part of Tony’s body was protesting the painful treatment. “I built this company from nothing! Nothing is going to stand in my way. Least of all you!”

With that he threw a fucking missile at Tony, and alright, that was it.

Tony was thrown into the air by the explosion and just managed to stabilise himself in flight. That was it. Not Obie. Not Obadiah. Not even Stane.

This was a terrorist, this was one of the leaders of the Ten Rings. This was a criminal to bring in or to try to kill

“Impressive! You've upgraded your armor!” said Stane Abomination, and Tony heard the cigar laced cough cackle in his voice. “I've made some upgrades of my own!”

And with that, Abomination’s monstrous creation lifted itself in the air because why the fuck not .

“Sir, it appears that his suit can fly,” informed him JARVIS and Tony barely stopped himself from snapping.

“Duly noted. Take me to maximum altitude.”

The AI hesitated. “With only 15% power, the odds of reaching that-”

“I know the math! Do it!”

If an AI could act mulish, JARVIS was as he listened to Tony’s commands and lifted him higher in the sky. 

And just as he predicted, Abomination’s suit was almost completely iced over when he managed to reach and grab Tony’s boot.

“You had a great idea, Tony, but my suit is more advanced in every way!”

Tony felt immensely smug even with those awful hands wrapped around the armour’s neck. “How'd you solve the icing problem?”

“Icing problem?” Managed Abomination just before the light in his helmet started flickering over and his hold started to slacken.

“Might want to look into it,” told him Tony, hitting him over the head, and watching as he fell towards the ground - hopefully not killing anyone in the way.

For a second all he felt was satisfaction. Perhaps the altitude had done the job for Tony and now the man would be de-

“Two percent,” said JARVIS and suddenly it was Tony’s reactor flickering and falling down to the ground. “We are now running on emergency backup power.”

He all but crashed on the top of his facility, only JARVIS’ expert manoeuvring of the emergency powers stopping him from ruining on it. 

And where was Obie? “Potts!” He called, reconnecting with her ear piece.

“Tony!” came her cry. “Oh, my God, are you okay?”

“I'm almost out of power.” he said, opening his helmet. “I've got to get out of this thing. I'll be right there-” he started, stopping when he turned around and found Abomination still standing behind of him.

Because of course he was. Wasn’t that what Happy always told him? Never turn your back on an enemy unless you are sure they are dead. 

“Nice try!” said Abomination, taking Tony’s confusion when he tried to shoot him with his unarmoured arm to throw him away with another hard smack.

It was harder after that. Most of his weapons where offline and Abomination kept going for hand to hand combat with him was just like Goliath and David trying to go at it close range mano a mano. Only Tony’s flares managed to help him escape from being crushed to death, but it was way too close a call for Tony’s liking, and he quickly hid behind a pole.

“Potts?” he whispered, from where he was hiding.

“Tony!”

He winced, hoping that Abomination’s hearing wasn’t strong enough for him to hear them. “This isn't working. We're going to have to overload the reactor and blast the roof.”

“Well, how are you going to do that?”

Tony didn’t smile, but it was close. “You're going to do it.” He immediately sobered. He of course, knew she could do it. But it was still dangerous. “Go to the central console, open up all the circuits. When I get clear of the roof, I'll let you know. You're going to hit the master bypass button. It's going to fry everything up here.”

Her voice was shaky and again Tony felt bad about involving her into this. “Okay. I'm going in now.”

“Make sure you wait till I clear the roof. I'll buy you some time.” He moved away just before Abomination came towards his hiding spot and then quickly climbed on the giant’s back, ripping and pulling at everything and anything he saw. “This looks important!”

He kept ripping until Abomination managed to grab him from his back and threw him straight on the roof. Pepper was down there, doing exactly what Tony had told her to do, but his attention was immediately drawn back to Abomination.

The HUD must have flickered out, because the man behind the beast - or the beast behind the machine - opened the top part of his suit, grinning down at Tony. “I never had a taste for this sort of thing, but I must admit, I'm deeply enjoying the suit!” He crushed Tony’s helmet in his hand and was that supposed to be a metaphor ? “You finally outdid yourself, Tony! You'd have made your father proud.”

Fuck him. Fuck Abomination, fuck Stane, and fuck Howard. Tony had stopped trying or caring about making him proud years before his parents died.

Abomination shot at him once again, and Tony managed to cover his face with his suit’s flaps, before the glass ceiling around him crashed all around him. He barely managed to grab on the steel reinforcements, basically dangling over the edge.

He heard Pepper screaming from under him and please don’t let anything happen to her. 

“How ironic, Tony! Trying to rid the world of weapons, you gave it its best one ever!”

There was no more time to attempt an escape. 

“Pepper!”

“And now I'm going to kill you with it!” He said, sending a missile at Tony. Which missed, much to Abomination’s displeasure. “You ripped out my targeting system!”

“Time to hit the button!” he shouted as loud as he could.

“You told me not to!” shouted back the red head, and Tony’s mind went back to Loki for some reason.

Or more specifically the Loki hallucination. How angry and yet determined she remained, how she simply adapted. God, he missed Loki.

“Hold still, you little prick!” shouted Abomination again, shooting Tony once more and missing again .

“Just do it!”

“You'll die!” she shouted and would Loki push it? Would she scream like Pepper was or would she do it because it needed to be done? He didn’t know.

They understood each other in a way that sometimes freaked Tony out, but he didn’t know everything about her. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t even know her surname.

She had lived in his mansion for a week, they had slept together, went to events together, she had been allowed into his workshop and he didn’t even know her surname

“Push it!”

He couldn’t see Pepper’s face, but he felt it when she finally pushed the button and it the blast of energy hit both him and Abomination. He heard Stane’s screams and instead of grief Tony smiled, ignoring his own pain.

“Burn in hell,” he managed, and then everything went dark.

Anthony !”


Iron Man,” mused Tony, fixing the cuffs of his suit. "That's kind of catchy. It's got a nice ring to it. I mean, it's not technically accurate. The suit's a gold-titanium alloy, but it's kind of evocative, the imagery, anyway.”

It had been two days since the fight on top of the SI lab, and that was all everyone could - albeit inaccurately - talk about. Tony had barely slept the entire time since then, first forced in a dreamless sleep by whatever the hospital shoved drown his throat, and then afraid of the nightmares with Abomination and Stane’s dead eyes - because Tony had had to make sure the motherfucker was dead .

“Here's your alibi,” said agent Coulson, and Tony did his best to hide how uncomfortable the agent still made him. Pepper had told him how they had gotten into the lab and he had to wonder how a government agency he had never heard of had managed to get such powerful object. 

“Okay.”

“You were on your yacht,” explained the man and Tony just nodded along to whatever he was sprouting. Did he think Tony couldn’t read simple cue cards? And why was he so bland ?

Tony glanced down at the paper when directed and noticed one glaring particular. “There's nothing about Stane here.”

Coulson shrugged. “That's being handled. He's on vacation.” He gave him a smile that Tony supposed was meant to be reassuring and conspiratorial at the same but on his face just looked wrong . “Small aircraft have such a poor safety record.”

Was that a threat? It wasn’t but Tony felt as if it was. “But what about the whole cover story that it's a bodyguard? He's my... I mean, is that... That's kind of flimsy, don't you think?”

Coulson just continued to give him that little smile. “This isn't my first rodeo, Mr. Stark. Just stick to the official statement, and soon, this will all be behind you.”

But did Tony ask him? Tony had not asked him or any of the Strategic Homeland whatever for anything. He had not even had time to think about what he wanted to do. They had all just assumed.

Except Rhodey. Rhodey he had not had time to speak to ever since the start of the entire affair.

Even Pepper assumed he wanted this all behind him. 

“Right. Let's get this show on the road,” said his PA and Tony blinked back to attention. 

“You know, it's actually not that bad,” he mused, allowing her to help him with his suit jacket. “Even I don't think I'm Iron Man.”

Pepper raised an eyebrow at him. “You're not Iron Man.”

Tony pouted slightly. “Am so.”

“You're not.”

“All right, suit yourself,” he huffed, letting her finish fixing him up.

He wondered, had the news of Iron Man spread to Loki’s Realm too? After all they seemed to be seriously technologically advanced if they managed to hide from every one of Tony’s various satellites and contacts. Surely a flying suit of armour who saved his billionaire ass would be something even they would be interested in.

What would she think? Would she be proud of him?

His brain seemed to think she would. Would she think he was Iron Man? Would she want him to go ahead with what Coulson and his thugs wanted?

“And now, Mr. Stark has prepared a statement,” came Rhodey’s voice and Tony took it as his cue to step up on the podium. “He will not be taking any questions.”

Tony put his confident smile back on. “Thank you. Been a while since I was in front of you. I figure I'll stick to the cards this time.” A couple of scattered chuckles. “There's been speculation that I was involved in the events that occurred on the freeway and the rooftop...”

“I'm sorry, Mr. Stark,” came a voice that was not sorry at all. He looked up from his cards and was not the least surprised to see the Evenhart woman with her hands crossed, staring at him like she wanted to read his soul, “but do you honestly expect us to believe that that was a bodyguard in a suit that conveniently appeared, despite the fact that you-”

“I know that it's confusing,” he said, not hiding his grimace. “It is one thing to question the official story, and another thing entirely to make wild accusations, or insinuate that I'm a superhero.”

“I never said you were a superhero,” said Evenhart, a smirk on her face.

Fuck.

“Didn't? Well, good, because that would be outlandish and... fantastic.” He managed, and was not at all surprised or impressed when there was a flicker of green light and Loki was suddenly sitting on the stage, staring at him with a little smirk on her face.

So avoiding sleep did not make his brain any less inclined to materialise her. Good to know.

He looked away from the hallucination to the press watching him avidly. “I'm just not the hero type. Clearly. With this laundry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made, largely public.”

“Just stick to the cards, man,” said Rhodey, coming closer to him.

“Yeah, okay. Yeah. The truth is...” He started, looking down at the paper. Then he looked back up to where Loki was sitting, a single raised eyebrow. Like she was daring him, and it was such a chaotic Loki expression, that Tony didn’t hesitate. “I am Iron Man.”

The room exploded in flashes and screaming, Rhodey had his face in his hands and if he strained he could possibly hear Pepper screaming.

But Loki - fake, but who cared? - was sitting right where she was, a huge grin on her face as she clapped daintily.

And Tony smiled back.

Chapter Text

May 2010, Flushing, New York, Stark Expo 

 

“Tony! Tony! Tony! Tony!”

If there was something Tony had not missed in his three month stay in Afghanistan was the crowds. Even at an event that he had organised, an event he fully believed in, it was more than a little uncomfortable walking around with this many people shouting for him and demanding things from him.

While he had been on stage with the dancing girls and everything it was all right. People were shouting his name and all but they were very distanced from him. Now, everyone was trying to touch him, hug him or something, and Happy was the only thing standing between them and him.

Still, he was a celebrity. So he swallowed down his complaints and offered media smiles and smirks to everyone around him.

“Hey, nice to see you,” he was saying, managing to make eye contact with a couple of people over the continuous camera flashes. “All right. Thank you. I remember you.”

“Tony, Tony!”

“Hey,” he winked at passersbys he didn’t even know the name of. “Hey.”

“Call me,” demanded a woman, grabbing his arm for a moment before Happy was between them, separating them by force.

Not that Tony had even paused to consider her, instead noticing a young child standing not too far from the Expo with an Iron Man helmet on his head. 

“Tony!” called his bodyguard, and Tony ignored him, pausing in front of the child.

“Hello,” he greeted, taking the picture in his hands and giving a scrawl of an autograph before patting his helmet slightly and following Happy once more. “See you buddy.”

There were a lot more screams and calls from all around but Tony mostly ignored them now, following Happy as quickly as he could. He had never really liked mobs, but he had gotten used to it as he grew up. 

A lot had changed after Afghanistan.

“Come on, Tony. There we go,” called Happy as they finally walked out of the venue and they both drew in a big breath.

“Very mellow,” he said, pretending he wasn’t lowkey sweating.

Happy gave him a knowing look. “That wasn’t so bad.”

“No, it was perfect.”

A snort from the bodyguard before he pointed at a car in the parking lot. “Look what we got here, the new model.”

Tony followed his gaze to a pretty white car with a woman laying over the door. He frowned slightly. “Hey, does she come with the car?”

Happy smirked. “I certainly hope so. Hi.”

“Yeah, hi,” greeted Tony, watching the woman in confusion. “And you are?”

She smiled at him, slightly flirtatiously. “Marshal.”

“Irish. I like it,” he said, half heartedly trying his charm once more. To be honest, Tony had not been on the party scene for close to nine months now - something that various publications and newspapers had noted in the past few months. There was a lot of speculation on whether it was Afghanistan that completely changed him or if someone had managed to leash the wayward playboy. 

Marshal shook his hand, her smile faltering when he moved quickly away from her and towards the front seat. “Pleased to meet you Tony.”

“I’m on the wheel. Do you mind?” he sidestepped her and opened the car door. “Where you from?”

Her confidence was back with her smile. “Bedford.”

“What are you doing here?” he asked, still not looking towards her as Happy settled on the seat next to him.

“Serving subpoenas,” and Tony finally looked up to see her with an envelope in her hands tilted towards him.

“Yikes.”

Happy reached out for him, his interest in the woman disappearing in light of the letter. “He doesn’t like to be handed things,” he explained, taking the paper for Tony.

“Yeah, I have a peeve,” tried Tony, barely hiding a sigh. Now what the hell did the Senate want from him? Was this about the military contracts? Between him, Pepper and Rhodey, they had made sure they had followed everything to a T to ensure SI wouldn’t get caught in any angry legalese or lawsuit.

Marshal gave him a tight smile. “I got it. You are hereby ordered to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow morning at 9 am.”

Just as he thought. Tony turned his attention on Marshal, raising an eyebrow at her. “Can I see a badge?”

She seemed both amused and confused. “You wanna see the badge?”

Happy smiled too sweetly for it to be honest. “He likes the badge.”

They were both very much used to people impersonating important figures in order to trick Tony into doing something for them, and even though they were pretty sure Marshal was legit, they couldn’t risk it.

“You still like it?” she asked, pulling out a real looking badge from her pocket.

“Yep,” he said starting the engine as Happy took out his StarkPhone to scan the subpoena and have JARVIS check the veracity of it. “How far are we from D.C.?”

Happy looked up at him. “D.C.? 250 miles.”

“All right!” he said, hitting gas and starting the car.

His supposed driver sighed, immediately getting more comfortable in his seat, knowing that there was nothing he could say to Tony to convince him to get there in another way once he was decided.

No, Happy was quite content with sitting down more comfortably and let Tony do as Tony pleased.

“You will not wait and rest?”

After six months of this, Tony no longer jumped at the sudden sound of her voice. Instead he picked up one of his earpieces and plucked it in his ear, acting like he had just received a call. “No, why should I?”

Loki’s head appeared between his head and Happy’s oblivious one. Tony did not turn to look at her, but he could feel her judging gaze on him. For an hallucination of sorts, she was shockingly good at those looks. “You have been working particularly hard these last couple of days. Surely you must be tired?”

“I’ve gone longer with less,” informed her Tony, shrugging slightly. “Plus I, apparently, have a court hearing in the morning, which means I don’t have much of a choice.”

“A... council, yes? Is demanding your attendance?”

Tony’s lips curled in a small smile at the slightly confused tone in her voice. He knew she wasn’t real. He knew it was his brain, his fear of death and the palladium doing all this. But it honestly felt like something the real Loki would say, and he couldn’t help his reactions.

Because, for the past five months after Stane’s death, Loki had continued appearing around him.

Not all the time, and not everywhere he was. Sometimes he could even go days without seeing her, in his life or in his dreams. 

But the majority of the time, she would appear in his day to day life at least once, and Tony was not exactly sure as to why .

He had tried to figure it out, with not much success. 

The first time he dreamed of Loki in a way that felt different from a normal dream was when he was in that cave in Afghanistan. He was being waterboarded by the Ten Rings and he had almost felt her scream his name in his head. He hadn’t seen her, but it was almost like he had sensed her or something like that.

And then, two nights later she had appeared in his dreams, almost frantic and telling him he wasn’t alone and asking him questions about where he was and what had happened. That first night Tony had not spoken to her, actually. It had been so unlike any other dream he had had before, he was convinced he had officially lost it and had refused to speak to her the entire time she was in his head.

But she hadn’t desisted. His brain kept bringing the hallucination forth almost every time he went to sleep, and Tony had given in. Because yes, she wasn’t real, but conversing with ‘her’ felt the same as it did in real life. Like some sort of weird placebo effect or something.

So he had assumed it was his near death experience and putting in the Arc Reactor would make her disappear.

Except, once the new palladium based reactor was placed in his chest, it felt almost like she was... more solid? Even realer than before?

But it was fine. Something was wrong with him, something that he couldn’t figure out, but it only happened when he went to sleep, so it was manageable. It was all right.

He looked behind him - she didn’t show up in the mirrors, obviously - and she was still sitting there, looking outside like the view was something new and interesting. Her eyes were sparkling under the lights, and her expression was thoughtful.

It was fine, except now, ever since Stane tried to kill him again, he hallucinated her in the real world too. She would appear while he was in the workshop, or when he was in his office double checking stuff for the EXPO, or when he was at a gala bored. She would just appear and... fuck, he knew he shouldn’t, he knew he should simply ignore her, but she would appear and Tony would talk to her. 

It was weird and confusing and nothing in Tony’s studies on the effect of heavy metal poisoning was helping at all. JARVIS had tried to help him with the research but he got nothing too, and his advice ended up being “you should talk to Miss Potts/ Colonel Rhodes/ Mr Hogan”, and Tony had no intention on doing that.

So he would talk to his own mind, and try to convince JARVIS that him consoling an hallucination when she had a ‘bad day’ meant nothing. Like him buying children toys and children stuff because of said hallucination meant nothing. And him hiding all that from Rhodey, Pepper and Happy meant nothing.

He side eyed Happy for a second, before quickly turning his head around and smiling at Loki. “How was your day?”

It meant a lot. It meant he could be deteriorating faster than anticipated. But he was dying anyway, so who cared?


“Wake up, Daddy’s home!” called out Tony, walking in his lab with a more relaxed grin.

Already the slight anxiety and general annoyance that came from dealing with Senator Stern and Justin Hammer was leaving him as he walked inside, the lights and screens of the workshop immediately lighting up and his usual classic rock playlist starting to play.

“Welcome home, sir,” called JARVIS. “Congratulations on the opening ceremonies. They were such a success, as was your Senate hearing. And may I say how refreshing it is to finally see you in a video with your clothing on, sir.”

Tony didn’t give him the pleasure of seeing him roll his eyes, his attention immediately caught by one of the robots trying to make one of his herbal smoothies. Without the lid - meaning he was making everything fly out of the machine.

“You!” he groaned, not even wincing when YOU tried to stop the blender and just knocked it over. “I swear to God I’ll dismantle you. I’ll soak your motherboard. I’ll turn you into a wine rack.”

If Loki - both real or fake - had been there, they would have glared at him for his words and immediately tried to console the bots. But for once, hallucination Loki wasn’t around, and Tony wasn’t quite sure if he should be happy about it or sad.

He shook his head, grabbing the chlorophyll glass he had picked up earlier. “How many ounce a day of this gobbledegook am I supposed to drink?”

“We are up to 80 ounces a day to counteract the symptoms, sir,” answered the AI, and Tony did his very best to hide a grimace as he downed the glass.

This was not good. 80 ounces was already a lot and the palladium levels in so far hadn’t even reached fatal levels. Shit.

Speaking of toxic, “Check palladium levels,” he asked, pulling out his blood toxicity reader and pricking him thumb on it.

“Blood toxicity, 24%,” said the AI, and Tony pressed his eyes closed for a moment as JARVIS continued speaking. “It appears that the continued use of the Iron Man suit is accelerating your condition. Another core has been depleted.”

JARVIS offered him a cute little diagram showing exactly how rapidly the palladium was filling his body, but Tony ignored it. He knew the AI was being helpful - this was what Tony had programmed him for, after all - but seeing the visual representation of how fast he was dying was not something Tony appreciated.

He pulled up his shirt, pulling out the core out of the reactor as quickly and efficiently as possible. Even now, he felt a twinge of panic every time he took out the reactor and changed it, even if it was just him doing so. Images of Stane flashed his mind every time, and Tony forcefully shook his head to ignore that.

Instead he pulled out a new core, ignoring the rusted one in he had thrown on the table. “God, they’re running out quick.”

“I have run simulations on every known element,” for the third time, he didn’t add, “and none can serve as a viable replacement for the palladium core.”

Tony put the new shiny core in the reactor, and then pushed it back into his chest while JARVIS continued. “You are running out of both time and options. Unfortunately, the device that’s keeping you alive is also killing you.”

There was a twinge of genuine fear and worry in the AI’s voice and had Tony been a better person, he would have deleted these files from JARVIS’ files. Because JARVIS might not be human, but he still had feelings. And having him watch as Tony kept trying to perform a miracle and save himself, a miracle Tony had already given up on, was cruel.

Perhaps this was why Tony allowed himself to speak to the hallucination Loki. To buy ridiculous items for a child he wasn’t having just to see her face erupt in a bright grin, and her eyes sparkle.

Because Loki and the child were fake, and allowing a miniscule part of himself to be excited about her excitement didn’t hurt anyone.

At the very beginning, when Loki had said she was pregnant, Tony had considered saying that he would not be involved even though he knew it wasn’t real. His childhood had been shit, after all, and Howard was a terrible dad. What if it was genetic? What if he became as much of a bastard as his dad had been? No child deserved that, not even a fake one.

But Loki had shut that down immediately. She had spoken to him about what a dick her father was, and how much he favoured her brother to her and how all that had managed to do was to teach her how not to be. 

And he knew the child was fake, he knew this Loki was not real, but for a moment, he allowed himself to forget that. He allowed himself to fantasize raising a child with Loki. Being with her. As a... couple? Parents who were friends with benefits? Friends?

It was a good image.

Not real.

But good.

God, he was seriously losing his mind here. 

“Miss Potts is approaching,” said JARVIS and Tony’s head snapped up, all hints of panic and pain gone from his face. “I recommend that you inform her-”

“Mute,” he answered, pulling his shirt back down and switching off the screens showing his scans. Because Pepper might not be a genius, or a genius in engineering and squishy sciences, but she was far from stupid. And a screen showing blue and red line on a standing diagram with an arc reactor in its chest was something she would understand far too easily.

“Is this a joke?” she asked, heels clicking on the floor as she walked up to him. She did not look happy. “What are you thinking?”

Tony finished his glass of chlorophyll, putting his mask of arrogance back on. “What?”

“What are you thinking?” She repeated, glaring at him.

“Hey, I’m thinking I’m busy. And you’re angry about something,” he said, standing up. Also was it just him or her nose looked a little red? “Do you have the sniffles? I don’t want to get sick.”

Could you imagine? After everything he went through, surviving Afghanistan and a fucked up heart operation and Stane just to die from a cold because his immune system was shot to hell?

Pepper ignored him, marching behind him as he tried to subtly put some space between them. “Did you just donate-”

“Keep your business.”

“...our entire modern art collection to the-” Ah, so that’s what she was mad about.

“Boy Scouts of America,” he finished, nodding with a straight face.

Her glare intensified. “Boy Scouts of America?”

“Yes. It is a worthwhile organisation,” he told her, face serious. “I didn’t physically check the crates but, basically, yes. And it’s not 'our' collection, it’s my collection. No offence.”

Okay, he was being a dick. But it wasn’t like he could physically tell her “Hey, Pep, I’m dying, so I’m liquidating as much of my assets as I can while also creating some distance between you and me so when I die, you suffer less and you, Hap and Rhodey are well taken care of”, could he?

He couldn’t say that and she seemed even more irritated and also slightly hurt. “No, you know what? I think I’m actually entitled to say 'our' collection considering the time that I put in, over 10 years, curating that.”

“It was a tax write-off. I needed that.”

“You know, there’s only about 8,011 things that I really need to talk to you about,” 

“Dummy,” he called, tapping his robot as he tried to keep more distance between him and Pepper. “Hey, stop spacing out. The Bridgeport’s already machining that part.”

She reappeared in front of him and how did she do that?! “The Expo is a gigantic waste of time.”

“I need you to wear a surgical mask until you’re feeling better. Is that okay?” It was a perfectly reasonable request. Doctors did it all the time.

“That’s rude,” she said, scowling and then coughing which - yikes.

“There’s nothing more important to me than the Expo. It’s my primary point of concern. I don’t know why you’re-”

“The Expo is your ego gone crazy,” she answered, which... not completely incorrect. It was a fun thing to do and it allowed him to show everyone how much more advanced him and SI were. So yeah, an ego trip but with like... advantages and stuff.

“Wow,” he said, ignoring Pepper’s words in favour of a small Iron Man print he didn’t remember ordering. “Look at that. That’s modern art. That’s going up.”

Pepper was unimpressed. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I’m gonna put this up right now. This is vital.”

“Stark is in complete disarray-”

“-no -”

“You understand that?”

“Our stocks have never been higher.”

“Yes, from a managerial standpoint-”

“You are... Well, if’s messy then let’s double back.”

“Let me give you an example-”

“Let’s move onto another subject,” he said, then noticing the perfect spot for his new Iron Man print.

“No, no, no, no. You are not taking down the Barnett Newman and hanging that up!”

“I’m not taking it down. I’m just replacing it with this,” he told her, jumping on top of the counter. “Let’s see what I can get going on here.”

“Okay, fine. My point is, we have already awarded contracts to the wind farm people-”

“Yeah. Don’t say “wind farm.” I’m already feeling gassy-”

“And to the plastic plantation tree, which was your idea by the way. Those people are on payroll-”

“Everything was my idea-”

“- and you won’t make a decision!”

An idea that Tony had been toying with for the past couple of moths - ever since he had realised he had an expiration date - came back to him. “I don’t care about the liberal agenda any more. It’s boring. Boring. I’m giving you a boring alert,” he jumped off the table. “You do it.”

Pepper frowned. “I do what?”

“Excellent idea,” he praised, smiling at her. “I just figured this out. You run the company.”

“Yeah, I’m trying to run the company!”

She was gonna make it more difficult than it needed to be, wasn’t she. “Pepper, I need you to run the company. Well, stop trying to do it and do it.”

“You will not give me the information-”

“I’m not asking you to try-”

“-in order to-”

“-I’m asking you to physically do it. I need you to do it.”

“I am trying to do it!”

“Pepper, you’re not listening to me!”

“No, you are not listening to me!”

“I’m trying to make you CEO,” he finally said, hoping that this would clear it. She froze. “Why won’t you let me?”

She sniffed at him, eyes wide as saucers, and had this been any other instance he would have laughed at her confused puppy routine. “Have you been drinking?”

“Chlorophyll,” he explained, before putting his hands on her shoulder. “I hereby irrevocably appoint you chairman and CEO of Stark Industries effective immediately.” He let go of her, while she kept staring at him in shock. “Yeah, done deal. Okay? I’ve actually given this a fair amount of thought, believe it or not.” 

Butterfingers stopped beside him with a tray with champagne and two glasses. “Doing a bit of headhunting, so to speak, trying to figure out who a worthy successor would be. And then I realised it’s you. It’s always been you.” He poured the champagne while Pepper sat down, shocked and confused. “I thought there’d be a legal issue, but actually I’m capable of appointing my successor. My successor being you.” He handed her the glass which she didn’t take. “Congratulations? Take it, just take it.”

She blinked at him in confusion. “I don’t know what to think.”

“Don’t think, drink,” was that a slogan already? It should be. Tony should copyright it and give it to Happy, so he got even more money. Reluctantly, Pepper took the glass and Tony smiled. “There you go.”

For a second Tony considered telling her. Telling her why he was doing all this, why he was selling everything and giving her Stark Industries.

Then she let a little laugh of happiness and shock, and Tony kept quiet.


“The notary’s here!” called Pepper as the sound of heels entered the gym. “Can you please come sign the transfer paperwork?”

“I’m on happy time,” called back Tony, exchanging a couple more blows with the man before he hit him in the face with his elbows when he came at him too fast. “Sorry.”

“What the hell was that?” The man looked so offended, Tony nearly laughed.

He managed to hold it in though, because he was not a complete asshole. “It’s called mixed martial arts. It’s been around for three weeks.”

Happy glared. “It’s called dirty boxing, there’s nothing new about it.”

The billionaire rolled his eyes. “All right, put them up. Come on.” 

His bodyguard did so with another glare, but before either of them could move, Happy’s eyes focused on something behind Tony. Tony followed his gaze and found himself staring at the woman he assumed was the notary. And wow. Weren’t notaries supposed to be all old grandma type ladies or sleazy Hammer types?

“I promise this is the only time I will ask you to sign over your company,” said Pepper as the notary approached her with the paperwork in her hands.

“I need you to initial each box,” she said, and while her voice sounded American enough, Tony had the hunch that she was not from around there.

Happy hit him in the back of the head to catch his attention. “Lesson one. Never take your eye off-” he started, and Tony got a lot of pleasure in kicking him in the padding around his chest and sending him crashing in the corner of the ring. 

“That’s it. I’m done,” he said moments later, taking a sip of water with a glove pointed at the notary. “What’s your name, lady?”

“Rushman. Natalie Rushman,” she said, and Tony nodded.

“Lie,” came another voice and Tony was not that surprised to find Loki’s projection sitting on the couch of the gym, watching the notary with curiosity and suspicion.  

“Front and centre. Come into the church,” he said, stepping out of the ring.

Pepper frowned. “No. You’re seriously not gonna ask-”

The man ignored her. “If it pleases the court, which it does...”

Natalie smiled at Pepper. “It’s no problem,” she assured, putting down the folder she was holding.

“I’m sorry,” still said the taller woman even as Natalie walked towards the ring. “He’s very eccentric.”

“What do you mean?” asked Tony in a low voice as he took out his head gear and quickly put an ear piece on in case someone turned their attention on him. “Can you give her a lesson, Happy?”

“No problem.”

Loki glanced as Natalie entered the ring with concentration on her face. “She was lying when she said her name was Natalie Rushman.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” asked Pepper sitting on the opposite side of him.

“I do not know,” answered Loki with a shrug. “Why would one conceal their identity? There are many reasons.”

Tony had met many people in his life and while names might escape him at times, faces didn’t. So he was quite sure he had never met Natalie before. And yet his subconscious - in the form of Loki - insisted on saying that she was lying to him. “Pepper,” he called, turning to the other woman.

“What?”

“Who is she?”

Pepper shrugged. “She is from legal,” she said, sending him a cautioning glare. “And she is potentially a very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit if you keep ogling her like that.”

Tony was observing thank you very much. Mostly observing Natalie and observing Loki observing her. 

Any other time and Tony might have tried to get Pepper to make her Tony’s new PA, but now Loki’s - his own mind’s - certainty that she was not fully trustworthy made him hesitate a little. 

“You ever boxed before?” asked Happy and Natalie’s eyes met Tony’s once more.

“I have, yes,” she answered, and her expression was not quite flirty. More seductive than anything else. 

“What, like, the Tae Bo? Booty Boot Camp? Crunch? Something like that?” Asked Happy again, and she finally looked away from Tony, who leaned forward and pulled up a screen on his holographic table.

“How do I spell your name, Natalie?”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “You heed my warning?”

Tony ignored Loki, instead listening as Natalie spelled out, “R-U-S-H-M-A-N.”

His dear new CEO frowned instead. “What, are you gonna google her now?”

Tony didn’t look away from the screen, moving away as to not disrupt her image when Loki also leant forward to watch. “I thought I was ogling her,” He pulled up her file, and his eyes widened slightly at the skillset displayed on it. “Wow. Very, very impressive individual.”

“You’re so predictable, you know that?” said Pepper with a slight sigh.

“That’s odd,” said Loki, tilting her head to the side. “She is a notary, is she not? She deal with rulings?”

“Yes,” answered Tony, to both of them. “She’s fluent in French, Italian, Russian, Latin. Who speaks Latin?”

“No one speaks Latin,” told him Pepper, with a huff.

“No one speaks Latin?” repeated Tony, a little amused.

“It’s a dead language,” explained the red head. “You can read Latin or you can write Latin, but you can’t speak Latin.”

“Modelling in Tokyo,” added Loki, and now she crossed her arms on her chest. “Anthony, surely you can see.”

Tony looked away from Pepper and made a show of pressing his earpiece in as if he was answering a call. “Hi, yes, it’s me. What do you mean?”

Loki gave him the same look she did whenever he had to employ the ruse. And well, what did his mind expect him to do? Broadcast the fact that he was losing his wits to the nine winds?

“She is a notary, you say. How useful would listing this capability help her with achieving such a position in your company?”

She had a point. Most companies saw the word ‘model’ in your dossier and either hired you as arm candy or simply did not take you seriously. And if there was one thing Tony had done in the past six months was an almost complete revamp of the staff, making sure to check for spies and leftover Stane henchmen. 

“It can be used to make it look bigger than it is,” he tried, and saw Loki give him a look from the corner of his eye.

“She is already over qualified and her dossier appears large,” she pointed out. “What advantage would stating her modelling career give her?”

“Well-” he started, but Happy was starting.

“Rule number one, never take your eyes off your opponent,” he said, going to take a simple swing at Natalie. 

Except he never managed to hit her before the notary was grabbing him, throwing her legs over his head and flipping him over with a move that was uncomfortably professional.

“Oh, my God! Happy,” called out Pepper immediately moving towards the man with clear worry in her eyes.

Loki made eye contact with Tony and he hid his grimace with a smile. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

“I just slipped,” said Happy, as he massaged his neck and got back onto his feet.

“You did?”

“Yeah,” managed the driver, but he looked like the chokehold had seriously hurt.

Loki remained seated as Natalie stepped out of the ring. “Warrior like abilities, yet she knows better than to list them. But she does list modelling.”

“Just... I need your impression,” came Natalie’s voice and Tony turned to frown at her.

Now that he observed her more closely... her eyes were somewhat analysing. Like she was scanning him and reaching some conclusions. Yeah, this woman was plenty more dangerous than she appeared at first glance.

“You have a quiet reserve,” he said settling for a joke to hide his own scanning of her. “I don’t know, you have an old soul.”

Her smile turned flirty and bashful way too quick for it to be natural. “I meant your fingerprint.”

“Right,” he said, not taking the paperwork from her hands but still pressing his fingertips were necessary. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around. You a new notary? Where are you from?”

“A substitute,” she explained, and Tony made a note to check on why the notary had been exchanged. “And I’m from legal.”

Pepper approached them, “So, how are we doing?” Natalie might not be able to notice, but there was a tightness around her eyes that meant she was as uncomfortable with the new notary as Tony was, after that display with Happy.

He gave her a smile, taking a step closer to her. “Great. Just wrapping up here. Hey. You’re the boss.”

Natalie blinked at them, expression completely zen. “Will that be all, Mr Stark?”

No , thought Tony. What were the chances that she just happened to say the same thing him and Pepper always said to each other? Even the Loki hallucination had moved not too far from the and was staring at Natalie in suspicion, clearly hearing the same thing Tony and Pepper were.

“Yes, that will be all, Ms Rushman,” said Pepper, before Tony could. Natalie did not as much as blink like her plans had been foiled, instead tilting her head to the side. “Thank you very much.” 

The moment the woman had walked out, Pepper turned to Tony, her gaze serious and slightly suspicious. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t need to.

Tony’s own lips were pursed. “Do me a favour, stay away from her?”

“What do you plan on doing?” asked Pepper, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with his request.

“What I do best,” he stated, throwing the rest of his gear back at a still pained Happy. “Get in trouble.”

Chapter Text

Harpa, Age of Odin, Asgard

“Your father is a very stupid man,” said Loki, both sitting and laying in her bed, the new light of the early morning flickering through her window and bathing her chambers in a warm golden light. Morning had just come, but already she could observe the slow rise of the warriors and the people outside, a hand pressed on her flat stomach and a half smile on her face.

She had spent the earlier night at Anthony’s side, and while the dream link did not drain her energy when she was asleep, it was still trying, especially as her pregnancy went on. And on top of that, Loki couldn’t help but be preoccupied about Anthony’s new plans of an activity called ‘speed racing’ in Monaco when he should be trying to uproot and find out the true identity of the woman who paraded around with the name Natalie Rushman.

That woman... Loki’s lips pursed automatically.

While she was astral plane transprojecting - as she had taken to call her new abilities - she was not physically present in the real world. She was only visible to Anthony, as the one she shared the dream link with, and could not physically be too far from him when she manifested. But her abilities remained, if not as accurate and precise as they would be in real life.

When she had seen that woman, a feeling not unlike the one with Stane had overtaken her. But at the same time there were differences; while Stane believed in the lies he had taken to telling to himself and others, the woman was able to become whatever lie she needed herself to be. She was almost like an actress, lied as easily as she breathed, moulding her body and her mind as a weapon, somehow.

But the focus and attention to details she showed as she marched into Anthony’s gym, were too unlike those of a simple advisor, as she pretended herself to be. There was skill and a certain presence around her that Loki knew better than to disregard because of the tidy formal attire she was wearing.

At least Anthony had believed her and looked into it afterwards. He had not found much - distracted as he was - but he had found enough to claim that none of her previous jobs explained the proficiency in battle she had shown them. In fact everything about her seemed completely ordinary and not suspicious, which in itself, made her even more suspicious.

But instead of firing her because of all the evidence presented, he said he was curious about her and how she passed the so called ‘background checks’, and wanted to find out more after Monaco. All this because he wished to find out who she was and who sent her, whether it was the government, a rival company or another agency.

As if it mattered in any way.

“A very silly man,” she repeated, finally looking down at her stomach. In her glamoured state, no one would be able to tell that she was expecting. She had thought perhaps Frigga might be able to find out, but Loki’s powers seemed to be enough to obfuscate even her mother’s view. “You won’t be giving me the troubles he does, will you, minn dyrr?”

The only place she felt comfortable enough to let go of her glamour at this point in the pregnancy was Idunn’s garden. Her garden was charmed to always tell her if someone was coming through, and their combined seidr allowed Loki to be hidden from sight even if someone managed to stumble past her spells.

Her bedroom was also charmed and protected by Loki, but it wasn’t as safe. Thor, Astrid, Frigga and Odin could still walk into it if they believed she was ‘unsafe’ (a word she had figured out that in Odin and Thor’s brain meant ‘if she was up to mischief’), and therefore she was not going to risk it.

But speaking to herself in her bedroom was not suspicious, so she could indulge with that if she wasn’t able to go to Idunn’s gardens. “Hm, I know better than to hope that you will be a nice well behaving child,” she said, with a small smile. “You are me and Anthony together and none of us are at all well behaved. No, you will be a little ray of mischief with more knowledge in sorcery and midgardian technology than anyone else in the Nine Realms. My perfect little Marshmallow.”

It was somewhat weird how easily she had settled into the idea of becoming a parent. She had never particularly craved having children. She knew she would be expected to provide an heir once she was wed - whether she sired or birthed them - and the idea was not unpleasant . She simply had not thought about it until the evidence had slapped her in the face nearly six midgardian months ago.

But now... now that her little marshmallow was on the way, she couldn’t help the flutter of excitement in her heart. She wanted nothing more than to tell everyone what was coming, but of course she knew better than that. That didn’t mean that she wasn’t exploding with unbridled excitement at the soon to be arrival.

She was glad she at least had Idunn and Anthony at her side during this time. Had she been alone, she might have ended up telling her mother and outing herself to malevolent words just so she would have someone helping her and standing at her side.

At first, she had worried Anthony wouldn’t believe the child to be his, or that he would walk away from her. He had not looked particularly happy when she had sprung it to him but, in his defense, Stane - and Loki smiled viciously at the knowledge of the mortal’s demise - had just tried to kill him and he was going to save Pepper.

Only when she had spoken to him a few weeks later - him having not brought up the conversation up again, despite the evidence of her growing stomach - telling him that she was willing to leave him alone and keep him out of the baby and hers life had he finally decided he would be in the child’s life, apologising for his behaviour and explaining to her his hang-ups about being a father.

He did still act oddly, despite that. He had not told anyone other than JARVIS about the imminent child arriving, which baffled Loki, but still bought copious amount of child rearing appliances that he showed off for her. He seemed to be buying them without much rule or thought, and Loki just sighed at the evidence of Anthony’s complete ignorance when it came to children. That was fine though - he would simply learn along with her.

She let out another sigh, eyes still gazing outside. Getting to know Anthony, even in this form, was incredible. The man was very fascinating, and so strong. He had survived Afghanistan and the procedure to embed the energy in his chest had been painful, but he had survived it.

In Asgard, he would be looked down for still exhibiting signs of stress and fear from the torture. But then again, torture was frowned upon in Asgard, and only reserved to the worst of the Aesir, or the worst criminals in the nines. Warriors did not get tortured - at least no warrior Loki had ever heard of.

But Anthony’s fear and pain did not make him weak, not in Loki’s opinion. Even when he couldn’t breathe, or when he startled at the feeling of water over his head, he worked against his body and forced himself to breathe again. Forced himself to overcome everything he had suffered through. It was a strength that Loki was proud of, and how she wished she could physically hold him and let him know.

“Your Highness?” came Astrid’s voice, and Loki sighed once more, letting go of her stomach and fluidly getting on her feet. Once she had ascertained her glamour was still in place, she walked out.

“Good morn,” she greeted, smiling at her guard. “Mother has sent for me, I imagine?”

“Yes, my Princess,” answered the other woman with her own smile. Probably glad that Loki’s mood had somewhat improved in the past couple of months.

Her moods were at times still fluctuating, but she managed to keep a rein on her temper most of the time. She would not become a second Thor, she had been raised better.

“Many thanks,” she said, walking away in happy spirits. 

She could feel Heimdall’s golden eyes upon her as she proceeded down the golden arches of Valaskjalf, which had become particularly irritating as of late. She knew both Heimdall and father were suspicious of her continued disappearance acts, especially when she was in Idunn’s gardens, but there was nothing they could actually do, seen as she was still in Asgard.

Through the Odinforce, her father was able to see or feel everyone in the Golden Realm. So he would be aware if Loki was off the planetoid; the fact that she could disappear from his sight when she was with Idunn most likely irritated him, but there was little he could do without admitting he was checking her far more than it was necessary.

It stung, being distrusted by her own father, but it wasn’t like she wasn’t up to something, so she allowed it. 

“Oh, here you are, dear,” called her mother, as Loki finally appeared in one of the seamstress’ chambers. “Seamstress Orlyg just got finished taking your friend, Warrior Hogun’s measurements.”

Indeed, her ‘friend’ Warrior Hogun was in the chambers along with her mother and seamstress Orlyg. 

Of the idiots four, Hogun was the only one Loki did not harbour too many hard feelings against. Sif always took any chance to tear down at her seidr and mock her; Volstagg’s ‘jests’ were in poor taste and he often called her too ‘sensitive’ for her reactions; and Fandral had still not gotten over her refusal of him more than 500 years ago and continued to mock her and make implications about her sexual prowess - he was the one who started those Norns awful rumors, Loki was quite sure.

Hogun on the other side, used to be a friend of Loki’s. He was the youngest of the group, older only than Loki herself, and on top of that he was Vanir, which made him mostly comfortable with sorcery. At the very beginning, this had caused him to be shy and nervous when he joined Loki’s ranks.

But he was incredibly talented with a sword - on the way of becoming a powerful soldier or future Captain - and after seeing him with Loki, Thor had readily allowed him to join his friends. 

Unfortunately for her, Hogun found a place among Thor’s friends that Loki struggled to maintain, and she had been left behind. And as vengeful as she was, Loki couldn’t begrudge him. It was self preservation, after all, and Loki liked to think of herself as a survivor. Had she been in his shoes, a Vanir among the Aesir, shipped by the Aesir army in Vanaheim to Asgard because he was ‘better than normal Vanir’, she would have joined and hid under Thor’s protection too.

Still, Hogun and her no longer were ‘friends’ as they had been, but seen as he did not make fun of her like the other three, Loki still liked him.

“Hogun,” she greeted, and he also gave her a small nod, standing stiffly at the side.

"Princess Loki,"

Loki allowed her mother to pull her closer, as seamstress Orlyg reappeared with three different outfits in her hands. “Very well. What do you think, dear? Which one will you wear for your brother’s celebrations?”

At this point in time, Loki even managed to hear about Thor’s imminent coronation without even smirking or launching in a tirade on why it was a terrible idea, and just inspected the garments she was presented with. 

“How many clothing am I to wear, mother?” she complained, picking up the first one. It was an exquisite green and black dress, that did not look very appropriate for an event such as a coronation.

“This one is for the feast after,” said Frigga. “Or this one,” she added, pulling out a garment of the same colour scheme that was instead made up of pants and a shorter tunic. “You have never been in your female form for so long,” explained Frigga at her daughter’s confused expression. “I was not sure which you would prefer. Your armour is perfectly androgynous, of course, unless you would prefer some skirt plates like Lady Sif?”

Loki grimaced at the thought of being in any way similar to Sif and then allowed a small smile for her mother. 

For all the wrongs she could claim her parents had done against her, for all the slights she suffered from Odin and Thor, this was one of the few things they did not care about. The fluidity of her gender was the one aspect of her that Odin never reprimanded - and it had been very odd, considering how many in Asgard did seem to care.

But Loki would present herself in her male or female form and Odin wouldn’t even blink, switching to calling her ‘my daughter’ mid scolding if he had previously pronounced the wrong pronoun. If Loki did not know better, she would say the first time she appeared in front of them claiming that she was a princess that day, they had both acted like they simply expected it of her. And Thor, for all his faults, learnt from example. If his father did not have a problem with it, then Thor would make sure no one would ever insult Loki’s gender fluidity in his presence on the fear of brutal and bloody retribution.

“The pants shall suffice,” she said, grabbing the ceremonial armour and rolling her eyes at the gold. “Am I to match Thor?”

“Not Thor - the house of Odin,” corrected her mother, then flicked her on the nose, completely ignoring Loki’s betrayed expression. “And there is nothing wrong with matching your brother on a day of such importance to him, surely.”

“Gold is not my colour,” she complained, even if she put on part of the armour to double check its fit. “It makes me appear even paler than I am. I do not look forward to being the shiniest thing in the palace.”

Frigga rolled her eyes, though she was fond. “You are much too dramatic, daughter mine. Now tell me, is it too tight?”

Loki would forever thank the Norns for her ability to shapeshift. That meant no clothing could ever be too tight for her to squeeze in, which was the case for her armour too. “No, it is acceptable.”

“Acceptable,” complained seamstress Orlyg, coming to a stop next to them after handing Hogun whatever garments he needed. “It is one of my best works!”

“You know my daughter doesn’t mean that,” said Frigga, smile a little exasperated when Loki did not correct nor sustain her mother’s argument. “Your garments are the finest in all the Realms, which is why we came to you after all.”

Seamstress Orlyg sniffed slightly. “Many thanks, your Majesty,” she said with a bow. “Oh, and before I forgot. My sister was in a vanir shop this very week, she brought me something that I think you would quite enjoy-”

Loki tuned out of their chatter, pulling out her horned helmet from her pocket dimension and checking the overall effect with the clothing she had been provided with. As much as Loki did not particularly like seamstress Orlyg - too much of a gossip in her opinion - her work truly was breathtaking. She was a wielder of seidr too, but she, of course, like every Aesir, had strong opinions on Loki using her seidr for battle. 

She was still inspecting the careful etchings across her dress when the sudden smell of lavender and milk hit her nose, and her stomach lurched as if she had just been covered in bilgesnipe piss.

“Oh Norns,” she managed to say, dropping everything she was holding and rushing towards the bathroom with a hand covering her mouth. She managed to reach the toilet just as her stomach completely gave up on her.

If there was something she would never forgive her marshmallow and Anthony for, was that now she was unable to even look at lavender milk tea - her absolute favourite night-time drink - without the nausea hitting her. It was the worst crime they had committed upon her person.

“Loki? Darling?” called Frigga, and Loki raised one finger, still heaving. 

She quickly cast a spell in the room, soundlessly taking away the smell of lavender before she slowly got back on her feet, acutely aware of her mother watching her every move. Then she flushed the toilet and washed her face, using her seidr once more to make her face appear healthier than before.

Not that her mother was particularly fooled when she walked out. “What is wrong? Astrid said your illness did not last long and was completely gone months ago.”

She shouldn’t be surprised that her guard had ended up mentioning her early morning sickness to the All-Mother but it was still irritating. “It has. And this isn’t illness. I accidentally cursed myself earlier today,” she said, the lie coming out easily.

Her mother didn’t seem convinced. “A curse?”

It was not that difficult to believe even though nowadays Loki did so much better with her magic and was not inclined to make such simple mistakes, but it could still happen. “Yes. I was practicing my seidr and things got out of hand. And now every time I smell lavender...” she trailed off, not finishing the sentence as she stepped outside. Thankfully her spell had fully taken the smell out of the room and seamstress Orlyg had put the offending drink away.

(seriously. She was gonna hurt Anthony for this)

“Can I help you get rid of this curse? Perhaps-”

“Worry not, mother,” said Loki, pretending to be at ease and not as if she was stiffening slightly at the proposal. “Tis but a simple spell. I am embarrassed that this has happened in the first place. I shall drink some water, try on the second set of garments and I will be okay.”

Her mother looked at her in worry for a couple more seconds before letting out a sigh. “As you wish, daughter. But if it gets worse and you become further ill-”

“When have I ever given you reason to worry, mother? Ah, do not answer that,” she said, finally making the older woman smile as seamstress Orlyg returned with a goblet of water.

Crisis averted for now.


Loki arrived at Lady Idunn’s garden more than a couple of hours later, exhausted from the day at court.

First she had to stay with her mother as seamstress Orlyg launched into tales about the court nobles and, as much as it annoyed her when it was her, Loki liked listening to the court gossip, as did mother.

Later on Thor finally appeared - more than an hour later than he was supposed to - and mother had shed a few tears when he had tried his armour and formalwear on. She had even made Loki try her own again, and had them stand next to each other for the ‘full effect’, claiming that she would have a portrait of the two of them made after the coronation.

Thor had, of course, been less than pleased about the prospect of standing still for hours and having someone retain his likeness on a canvas, but mother was mother. There was little he could do once she put an idea in her head.

After that, the two of them had joined with the Council and Loki had sat straight, listening and making a show of taking notes and asking questions about everything they were told. Thor was also paying attention, but he seemed truly out of his depth. Loki would have pitied him, but he made his own bed when he decided drinking ale and rushing into quests was more important than attending, and so she simply ignored him.

“You look tired, my Princess,” greeted Idunn, as Loki let out a loud sigh and settled down in the shade of one of the apple trees, the glamour shimmering away from her immediately. “Hard day?”

“You could say so, yes,” nodded the dark haired girl, a hand on her stomach.

Without the glamour covering her, it was very obvious she was far into her pregnancy. Her stomach was now unpleasantly swollen - which had brought a few embarrassing tears a while ago when it became more and more pronounced - and her body more round shaped than she would have preferred.

Idunn did not look pleased as she finished watering one of her trees. “You know that you should be taking it more easy, my Princess. It is dangerous, for both you and the child, if you are in a permanent state of exhaustion.”

“Not permanent,” pointed out Loki with a small shrug. “It is only because of the preparations for Thor that I am tired so. Normally I would have come here earlier and would be either in bed or speaking with Anthony.”

At this point, Loki was no longer hesitant in dropping the name of the Midgardian around Idunn. Her mother already knew that she was infatuated with a prince Anthony - though she did not know him to be from Midgard - and it created less confusion if Idunn spoke of him as ‘Prince Anthony’ rather than ‘the Midgardian’.

“Still. I cannot help but worry for your sake,” said the woman, and Loki’s smile turned warmer. 

“And I thank you and cherish you for this, Lady Idunn,” she said, bowing her head a little. “But while I am not a talented healer, my seidr protects the child. My magic recognises them and wants to keep them safe. If the child’s health were at risk I would know, and so would you.”

“You give me much too credit,” huffed Idunn, but she didn’t disagree with the notion outright. Seidr was powerful, after all, and even without being a sorceress, much of it filled the Garden’s Guardian’s blood. “Though you have to agree that the pregnancy is taking a little longer than what we are accustomed with. Aesir pregnancies would be nearing their end by now.”

There was an odd look in her face when she said this, a look that Loki wasn’t quite sure how to interpret.

To be quite honest, Loki herself was a little bit worried. An Aesir’s pregnancy lasted around four units, the Midgardian equivalent for 8 lunar months. But it had been 8 months, nearing the middle of 9 now, and the baby made no indication of being ready to leave.

“Midgardian pregnancies last 5 units,” she pointed out, though she saw it had little to do with her. She wasn’t Midgardian after all. But, “perhaps her Midgardian genes are dominant?”

Idunn’s expression remained that odd for a few more seconds, before it was blinked away. “Healer Eir would be able to know more about this, I presume.”

“Possibly,” agreed Loki. “But then again, I have learned plenty of her healing arts directly under her. And I have assisted plenty of mothers-to-be in giving birth.”

It was true. Not as Prince or Princess Loki, of course. But at times she shapeshifted in a random Aesir or Vanir woman and roamed among the commonfolk of Asgard. It gave her a lot of joy, since the common folk did not care much about the Royal family and mostly ignored them if they weren’t around them or hadn’t done something particular newsworthy.

In these instances, it was easy for Loki to become one of them and helping the people as much as she could. Some, she suspected, knew exactly who she was. But no one had yet scolded her (except for father) or reported her (Heimdall, the few times she hadn’t hidden herself from his gaze) and she was fine with that.

So she had had the chance of seeing a real natural birth up close more than once. She was aware of exactly everything the midwife had referenced and what the mothers had gone through, so she had more or less an idea of what she was going to go through.

She did not look forward to the pain, but she had an idea for that too. 

“I wish to project myself in my astral form during the birth,” she said after a few seconds, and Idunn’s eyes snapped to her in surprise.

Her face was impassive. “That is dangerous.”

“It is,” agreed Loki. It was incredibly risky, seen as, while in her astral form, Loki would not be aware of what her body was going through. While when she was astral travelling someone touching her or too loud sounds around her body could bring her back, astral projection took her fully out of her body. She could be getting slain and she wouldn’t feel a thing. “But then again I do not wish for a natural birth.”

Idunn’s surprise grew. “You do not?”

In Asgard, it was sign of a strong warrior woman to be able to deliver a child by themselves without ‘magic tricks’ or other women’s help. 

But Loki was practical. She was in a delicate situation, and she feared going through any of the healers in the castle or among the common folk as well. She wouldn’t be able to astral project, give birth and maintain a glamour, so whatever midwife came to help, would be able to see her and no one would be willing to stay silent on the Princess giving birth.

And Loki, for all her mischief, had never delved deep into mind magic. Sure she knew how to pull people’s memories forward, but mind control and anything of that vein was simply immoral, even for her. It was a deplorable magic and Loki would rather not have to learn it now.

“I do not,” she agreed, pushing down any unease.

Asgard would be dangerous for the child, she repeated to herself. These risks she was taking were to ensure the child’s safety. It might look dangerous right now, but it was the best option Loki currently had.

“I am not capable of wielding seidr, my Princess,” repeated Idunn, and Loki simply waved her concerns away.

“You are capable of wielding a knife, are you not?”

It took Idunn a couple of blinks before her expression went from wary to slightly disgusted. “My Princess, it’s a barbaric procedure-”

“- that was popular during Odin’s time, and with me casting protective spells in advance will be completely safe,” she said, trying to sound reassuring.

“You would have me butcher you-”

“It is not as terrible as you make it,” huffed Loki. “In fact it had less of a mortality rate for the child than a normal birth.”

Idunn was probably regretting making her vow, mused Loki, as she watched the goddess press her eyes closed and stare up at the light sky. “And I suppose if I refuse, you will try and do it yourself?”

If Idunn refused, Loki wasn’t quite sure what she would do. They had more or less figured how to open the passage to Midgard, but had found it remained opened for no longer than 17 minutes at a time, and it opened in the Torghatten mountain in Norway. The place was rich in magic, so walking the Yggdrasil from there to Anthony’s California wouldn’t be hard, but magic or not, she did not think she could convince Anthony would cut open her stomach even she said please.

“Mayhaps,” she said, because of course Idunn did not know that and Loki was very good at thinking on her feet and improvising as things happened around her.

Idunn let out another sigh. “Well, we cannot allow that to happen,” she said, and Loki kept her thankfulness from showing too easily on her face. “I made a vow to you after all.”

It would not be the first time someone went back on a vow or a promise from Loki if they felt she cheated them. It wasn’t very honourable, and Thor never let this go unpunished - except if it was the Warrior Three or Sif complaining - but it had happened before. In Loki’s defense, it was not her fault if the people of Asgard did not make ironclad demands and requests and left her ample room to wiggle and find loopholes. She was the silvertongue, they should know better by now.

Still, she was glad Idunn was respecting her vow. “Thank you, Lady Idunn.”

“It is my honor,” she said, finally sitting down next to Loki. “Now, have you thought of names for Lokadottir or Lokason?”

Loki lit up.

Chapter Text

“So JARVIS, what do we got here?” asked Tony, eyes still on the car he had been fixing while the AI's search ran in the background.

“The first search is complete, sir,” answered the AI and Tony pulled out from under his car to see a holographic screen coming to life in front of him. “The woman by the name of Natalie Rushman is no one other than Russian defect SHIELD agent Natasha Romanoff.”

Tony let out a gust of air between his teeth, eyes narrowing at the file JARVIS presented him with.

At the beginning, while wary about her, Tony had not immediately fired her. He had found out the notary she was replacing was alive and just sick - a stomachache that Tony was definitely going to hack into her medical files to find what had caused it - so he had tried to research everything about her clearly made up dossier and observe her to see what she wanted.

But then when he and Pepper arrived in Monaco, the woman - no, the spy - was there. Because apparently the board was more than a little irritated that Tony Stark had appointed a CEO with less experience than most of them without their input or knowledge, and had demanded that a PA of their choosing joined Pepper and Tony on Pepper’s first trip abroad as CEO.

Which turned out to be - Natalie? Natasha? - Natashalie.

And sure, everything she spoke about checked out. She had official paperwork and everything, and when questioned by Pepper as they flew back, the board said that they had specifically chosen Miss Rushmanoff.

That did not mean much considering she was a spy. She might have hacked them or convinced them or something. And what exactly did SHIELD think they were managing by putting a spy in Tony’s company? This was not going to endear him to the boyband Fury was so keen on creating, on the contrary.

“I don’t trust this. What is she supposed to do?” he asked once more, now sitting down at his table. “J, are you in SHIELD’s servers?”

“Not exactly, sir. I am in one of their servers. I can see several gaps, as if some of their work is safeguarded on a different cloud than most use.”

“Would you be able to break in?”

A small pause. “I’m afraid not, sir. I do not know what the cloud they are using is like. It would be like going out in the wilderness and shaking every tree hoping one has apples.”

Tony grimaced. “Troublesome and time consuming.”

“Indeed sir. However, I have found Miss Romanoff’s information on this particular server. I am sure there is much more I could find with a couple more scans.”

“Lemme see Romanoff’s file and then... search my name. Tony, Anthony, Stark,” he said, nodding to himself. “Even search Stark Industries. Perhaps-”

“Sir,” stopped him JARVIS, and Tony looked up at one of the cameras in confusion. JARVIS’ voice sounded a little off. 

“Yeah?”

“SHIELD is aware of the palladium poisoning,” he said, highlighting a paragraph in Natasha Romanoff’s file.

Tony blinked at it, for a second completely baffled.

They... knew? How did they know?

But then again fucking Vanko knew that Tony was dying. And if Vanko was with SHIELD-

But to what goal? Vanko seemed seriously unhinged and he hated Tony’s guts and the Stark name - no surprise there. Why would he join forces with SHIELD?

And why would SHIELD find out that he was dying and send Romanoff to infiltrate his company?

He looked at the paragraph Jarvis had highlighted for him.

Conduct character assessment to evaluate as possible candidate of the Avengers Initiative. Analyse his behaviour and how he reacts to the Palladium poisoning. If possible, secure funding for SHIELD before offering possible cure for symptoms. When goals discussed in person have been achieved, contact Agent Coulson and Director Fury to discuss with him Howard Stark’s previous research on the Tesseract element.

Howard. 

What did Howard have to do with any of this? Why the fuck would SHIELD have any of Tony’s father research?

He felt like he was spiralling and for once it wasn’t the palladium.

“And add Howard to the list of terms you’re searching, J,” he added, still reading the debriefing package for Romanoff. He felt anger boiling through his veins the more he read on. “Also, this supposed cure they have developed and refuse to give me because they want me to- to what? What the fuck is their game? What the fuck is a Tesseract element?”

“Did you just say ‘tesseract’?” came a voice, and Tony jumped half in the air.

“Sir?”

Tony turned to glare at Loki, whose eyes were on Romanoff’s file. “It’s just Loki,” he said, waving away the holographic screen from their faces.

Loki turned to him, eyes also narrowed. “Anthony, did you say the ‘tesseract element’?” Her eyes narrowed even more. “What are you hiding?”

The man rolled his eyes, even as his heart jumped at the thought of the palladium poisoning. Blood toxicity was at 53% last he checked, and that was before he put the suit back on to fight fucking Vanko. He had zero idea how high it was now and was not in the mood to check.

He hadn’t mentioned the palladium poisoning to the Loki hallucination, for one reason or another. First off, she was in his head, so she should know already. But she never brought it up, and Tony... she was somewhat of his safe space. Sure he was dying and hallucinating his... significant other? maybe, but anyway, the point was, that she was still some version of the real Loki.

And the idea of telling Loki that he was dying was just not that pleasant.

But at this point, all he could do was bank on whatever research SHIELD had stolen from his father and try to see if this tesseract element was a misnomer or if there was some sort of element (perhaps a compound one?) that he hadn’t considered before.

“Where have I heard the name tesseract before?” he questioned, blinking up at Loki and ignoring her questions.

Her expression went from irritated to confused and back to irritated again. “How am I meant to know that? It used to lay with the rest of Asgard’s treasures for centuries until father moved it. I knew not of where he hid it. It is with you?”

That was a convoluted answer, even for him. Perhaps he had read it in a mythology book?

“And what is palladium?” asked Loki and Tony nearly crashed against the table, looking up at her with wide eyes.

Her expression was not angry. It looked suspicious, arms crossed over her stomach, trying to read every flinch or blink of his.

“Heavy metal, as you already know,” he managed after a couple of seconds, clearing his throat.

Loki’s expression was edging uncomfortably close to angry now. “How could I possibly know that, Anthony? I have told you, repeatedly, that the science you are taught is different from the science I am taught.”

Tony should keep his mouth shut - hallucination Loki came equipped with all pregnancy quirks Tony had not even known his brain was aware of or capable of showcasing, including awful mood swings - but he couldn’t help his frown. “Science is science. The blocks are the same everywhere.”

Not in Asgard ,” she hissed, passing a hand through her hair. “Norns. It’s like you don’t listen to a word that comes out of my m-” she stopped herself and suddenly she frowned. Staring at him with penetrating emeralds, she sat down on the chair. “Anthony. How are you explaining this to yourself?”

Tony’s heart beat harder against his chest. “Uh?”

Self awareness? Tony wasn’t aware his mind could do that .

Loki’s expression was impressively blank. “How do you explain this in your head, Anthony? My presence at your side and in your dreams. You speak to me as you would in real life, and our conversations don’t end, they are just interrupted for a while. How do you explain this with your science?”

Your science. As if there was more than one science and not different approaches and studies of the basic same thing.

Tony did not want to speak. To tell the truth and have the hallucination disappear forever. That’s what happened in movies, right? Like you understood a cosmic lesson about yourself and the ghost, hallucination, dream or whatever simply disappeared.

But if there was something both hallucination and real life Loki had in common was being super fucking stubborn. She would not start any new conversation until Tony explained it to her.

Tony did not want her to disappear forever. Because then... because then he would be... he would be...

Alone. Truly alone.

But you’re already alone, said a voice in his head. It sounded like Stane. She is not real to begin with. All you have right now is JARVIS. And me, of course.

“Shit,” he said, pressing his fists over his forehead. He was truly losing it. Oh god, what if Stane was the next hallucination to appear? That’d be so fucked up. Tony would just kill himself or get himself committed, he did not want to be speaking to Stane about anything.

“Anthony?”

He pressed his eyes closed as tightly as he could and then looked back up. Loki’s expression was still searching, but she looked less angry and more worried now. 

Fuck. Whatever, here it went. “You appeared in my dreams when I was dying in that cave. I was being operated with no anaesthesia and got a magnet stuck in my chest. I am pretty sure there was chloroform involved in my operation.” He let out a sigh. “That was the first time I saw you. The first time I saw you outside of my head was when I was dying because of Obie. These are the facts.”

“Indeed,” she said with a nod.

Tony sighed again. “PTSD.”

She blinked. “PTSD? The illness of the mind?” she said, voice going slightly offended. "You think I'm an illness of the mind?!"

Tony did not smile, but it was close. “Not exactly. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I went through a bunch of dangerous and life threatening episodes, and this is the way my brain has decided to deal with it. You.”

Loki was looking at him with her mouth wide open. “Me.”

“Yes,” he said, now waiting to see what happened. Would she disappear? Would she not? Would she-

“You are the single most stupid and infuriating mortal I have ever had the displeasure of meeting,” said Loki, but she wasn’t shouting. Just staring at him like he was dumb.

Tony had never had that expression aimed at him before, and he wasn’t quite sure he liked it. “Hey-”

“How do you explain me knowing things that you do not ?! How do you explain me knowing that Miss Romanoff was lying about her name even before you found out?! And why were you buying children stuff if you don’t believe me to be real, let alone that I am with child?”

Tony very pointedly ignored the last part of her sentence, focusing on the first. “I have always been perceptive,” he said, shrugging slightly. “My brain alerting me of Rushmanova’s duplicity could just be a my gut being always right as usual.”

Loki cursed in a language Tony wasn’t sure he knew - was his brain making it up? - before turning her glare to him. “I am real you idiot! What did I call myself the very first time we met? What did I speak about?”

I’m a traveller of the cosmos. I’m Thor’s little brother. I’m a researcher. I am the second heir to the throne. I am a sorcerer. I am the shadow prince. I am a dweller of the Universe. I’m Loki.

“Magic, science... it’s all about the Universe.

Tony levelled her with his own incredulous expression. “Magic. You expect me to believe that you’re... what? A magic ghost?”

“The term I coined is astral traveller,” she said, shaking her head. “I cannot believe I’ve been around you for almost nine months and all this time you believed me to not be real.”

“All your proof is circumstantial,” pointed out the brunet, even though his heart was beating a little faster than usual. Because what if- but no. Right? No. “It’s all stuff that I could know.”

“Very well,” said Loki, still glaring daggers at him. She closed her eyes for a second, tilting her head to the side. “You want proof. You’ll have your stupid mortal proof.”

Again with the word mortal. Implying what? That she wasn’t?

Her eyes snapped open, a winning smirk on her face. “James’ car just stopped in the driveway and Miss... Rushmanova, as you called her, has implanted exactly 8 bugs around your living room. She is on the phone with the AP, I do not know what that is, while miss Pepper is on the phone with a lawyer talking about-”

“Alright stop,” said Tony, breathing now shallow and eyes wide. Loki’s eyebrow was raised and her arms crossed around her chest. “Holy shit. Hold on. J?”

“Yes, sir?” asked the AI, voice hesitant like it was whenever he spoke to ‘Loki’. 

“Did Rhodey just arrive?”

A pause. “He just stepped out of his car, sir. How-”

“Is Natashalie on the phone with a representative of AP?”

Another pause. “Yes, sir.”

Holy shit. “And Pepper with my lawyers?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh my god,” he said, trying to quell down the panic, and putting his face in his hands. “J, do a sweep for bugs in every room our resident spy stepped in, please?”

“Commencing scan now, sir,”

Loki’s smugness had left her now, and she was looking at him with worry clear in her eyes. “Anthony. Are you... well?”

Tony let out a little laugh. “Am I ‘well’? Jesus. You’re real. You’re actually real? I am not losing my mind. You’re astral transporting?”

“Transprojecting,” she corrected, still eyeing him warily.

“Because magic. You do magic,” he let another laugh. “Your people do-” he sat up straighter all of a sudden.   

Loki. Brother Thor. Asgard. Calling him mortal. “I do come from North, but I live in a rather secretive kingdom.” Not knowing who Tony Stark was. Science that Tony couldn’t understand. 

Traveller of the Cosmos.

Loki was looking at him nervously, and Tony’s eyes were wide in shock. “I couldn’t find you on Earth because you’re not from Earth,” he finally said, a hand going to his hair. “You are not human. You’re not named after the Norse god, you are the Norse god.”

“Goddess,” corrected Loki. “I can shapeshift.”

“You can shapeshift,” repeated Tony. Because that wasn’t breaking his brain. “You can just change form and-” He stopped. Looked down at her stomach. “You’re pregnant.”

Loki’s hand went on her stomach automatically. “Yes.”

“Oh my god. You’re pregnant.”

“Sir, Colonel Rhodes is now entering your workshop,” came JARVIS’ voice, and Tony’s eyes finally left Loki and went to where Rhodey was now walking inside the workshop, expression serious.

It became worried immediately when he walked in and saw Tony’s pale face and wide eyes. “Tones? Are you all right?”

Tony blinked at him, then nearly lost his balance, only Rhodey’s quick reflexes stopping him from making out with the floor. “Tony!”

“I should get to my desk,” he said, allowing his best friend to help him to said desk.

“Tony?” called Rhodey again, once he was sitting down.

“Loki’s pregnant,” he said, staring blankly at the air in front of him. “And there is a spy in SI.”

Rhodey blinked at him. “I’m sorry, what?!”

“She’s with child. Has a bun in the oven, a bat in the cave, a pea in the pod, she’s eating for two. She’s pregnant,” he pressed a hand on his forehead. “J, bugs?”

“Eight total bugs, sir. They have all been looped.” Answered the AI. He clearly wanted to ask Tony how he knew, but he stayed quiet, while Rhodey’s eyes widened.

“A spy? Are you sure?” he asked, and Tony nodded.

“Yup. I’m pretty sure I know who they are,” he knew, but he couldn’t tell Rhodey yet. “SHIELD.”

His best friend’s eyes narrowed. “Those guys who got involved with the Stane mess. What do they want from you now?”

Tony had yet to work it out. “Not sure. Probably the same thing everyone wants. The armour.”

Rhodey opened his mouth to say something, then eyed his best friend more critically. “She just told you now, I assume?”

Kind of, but also no. Tony tapped his fingers over the desk table. “She told me six months ago, when Stane died. It just hit me.”

His best friend pursed his lips. “And are you-”

“Yes,” he said, not even letting him finish the sentence. “100%.” 

Because if Loki had magic, she’d know right? And sure, Tony was one of the richest men in North America but she was a... traveller of the fucking cosmos. She lived in a golden city according to myths? Oh my god.

“Okay,” said Rhodey, allowing that. “So what are you gonna do, man? And what do you want me to do?”

See? Here is why Tony loved Rhodey. No matter how different they might be at times, Rhodey understood Tony. He knew better than to try and change Tony’s mind on anything, ever. He rolled with the punches, and tried to help him as much as he could because that’s what they did for each other.

And it was also because of that that Tony couldn’t tell him about the palladium poisoning.

“I have, plans. The guy that attacked me, JARVIS is researching him. He has a bone to pick with me and good dear old dad.”

“He died, actually,” said Rhodey, and Tony’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“How? He barely got into prison.”

“Explosion. Someone really did not want him breathing,” he said, and Tony’s eyes narrowed further. 

“J, give me what you got from the search on Vanko, and then start a second search on the other server,” he said carefully. Rhodey raised an eyebrow at him, clearly smart enough to hear the coded words for ‘I’m hacking somewhere I shouldn’t be’. The brunet shrugged. “You’re a military man. Plausible deniability.”

Rhodey snorted, while JARVIS opened a new holographic page.

“Query complete sir. Anton Vanko was a Soviet physicist who defected to the United States in 1963. However, he was accused of espionage and was deported in 1967. His son, Ivan, who is also a physicist, was convicted of selling Soviet-era weapons grade plutonium to Pakistan, and served 15 years in Kopeisk prison. No further records exist.”

Tony frowned. “Who accused him of espionage?”

“Howard Stark, sir.”

Tony put a hand on his forehead, letting out a deep sigh. “Thank you dear old dad, for shoving your personal problems at me. Because Hank Pym cursing my name every other month was not enough.” He pressed a hand on his chest. “See that cigar box?”

His friend turned around, spotting the package. “Yeah?”

“It’s palladium,” he said, as the other man opened the box. Then he removed the Arc Reactor, hearing Loki’s hiss in the background. She was still there, then. Good to know.

Rhodey frowned at the reactor. “Is that supposed to be smoking?”

Rhodey was a smart man, but his master was in Aereospace engineering. He could tell that something was not right about smocking palladium coming out of Tony, but he might not understand the extent of the problem. Hopefully.

“If you must know, it’s neutron damage. It’s from the reactor wall,” he said, handing the reactor to him. 

Rhodey took it carefully, pulling out the palladium with his hands. “You had this in your body?” he asked, frown deepening. Tony turned around, bracing himself on the desk, and he almost felt Rhodey’s frown growing. “And how about the high-tech crossword puzzle on your neck?”

Shit, Tony had forgotten about that. He needed to start wearing concealer on that damn thing. Natashalie had probably seen it already when she walked into the bathroom while they were still in Monaco as well, hadn’t she?

“Road rash,” he said, looking up to see Rhodey standing close to him with the replaced palladium core in his hands. “Thank you.”

He replaced the arc reactor, feeling the familiar surge of not quite electricity as it lit up in his chest, then picked up his daily dose of chlorophyll, hyperaware of both Rhodey and Loki - because shit, she was real. “What are you looking at?”

Rhodey’s voice was calm, but his expression searching. “I’m looking at you. You wanna do this whole lone gunslinger act and it’s unnecessary. You don’t have to do this alone.”

Tony knew that of course. It was why he had started on that second damn armour for Rhodey. His plan had been to groom him into being a second Iron Man, but he really had no idea how do that without letting him know about the palladium. And regardless, the possible SHIELD cure had him a little more hopeful. If he managed to get his hands on it and produce it himself, he would be golden. 

But for now, he had to be a lone gunslinger act. “You know, I wish I could believe that. I really do. But you’ve gotta trust me. Contrary to popular belief, I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“About the infestation or about you being a dad?” he asked, and Tony swallowed.

The fantasy safe space of having Loki and a child was real now.

Thank god he had bought all that children stuff to make the supposed hallucination happy. Did his unconscious possibly know that the baby thing was real? God. What the fuck? What the fuck.

“I know what to do with the infestation,” he said, twisting his chair and looking at where Loki was still sat, expression worried. He tried to appear calmer than he felt. “And Loki will be a perfect,” mom? dad? She was a shapeshifter apparently. A magic alien shapeshifter. “Parent. I’ll learn from her.”

Loki smiled tentatively, and Tony nodded a couple of times, clapping his hands. “All right. I can do this. Let’s do this.” He turned to Rhodey, suddenly decided. “Anything else for you, honeybunch?”

His best friend rolled his eyes at the nickname, before shaking his head. “Just get upstairs when you can and get on top of this situation. I’ve been on the phone with the National Guard all day, trying to talk them out of rolling tanks up the PCH, knocking down your front door and taking your suits.” As if. The suits would self destruct if anyone other than Tony tried to wear them. “If you have a plan it’s time to act.”

“I need time to implement my plan,” he said, looking at Rhodey with a hopeful expression. “Can you give me that?”

The other studied him for a couple more seconds. “No more racing in Monaco and risking your life?”

Loki’s eyes narrowed at him, and Tony nodded. “That was stupid. I won’t do that. I’ll keep my head down and fix this.” He maintained eye contact with Rhodey, who finally nodded.

“Then yes,” he stood back up, fixing his uniform. “I’ll give you some time.”

See? Rhodey was the best.

Once he was gone, JARVIS was speaking up again. “Sir, how were you aware of the bugs and Colonel Rhodes’ arrival?”

Tony rubbed his forehead. “Remember when we were brainstorming and I said that I was hallucinating Loki?” The woman - not an hallucination, she was real - scoffed, moving closer to him. “She is real apparently.”

Another pause from JARVIS. Wow today was a weird day if he had his AI hesitating in confusion every other minute. “I am unable to scan her or be in any way alerted of her presence, sir. I cannot understand this development.”

“Me neither, buddy,” he said with a sigh turning his eyes on Loki. “Why can’t he scan you?”

“I’m transprojecting, Anthony. This is not my physical form, just my astral one. You are able to see me and perceive because of our dream link,” she explained with a small shrug. Then, before he could ask more questions, “You failed to believe my existence for nine months but you seem quite sure that the child is yours.” She tilted her head, eyes searching. “Why?”

Tony shrugged too. “I’m rich, okay, but I am not go-into-his-dreams-while-he’s-being-held-in-captivity rich. Nor am I appear-at-his-side-while-his-godfather-is-killing-him hot. It would be too much effort even for a God of Lies and Trickery.”

“Mischief and Chaos,” she corrected, humming a little. “And you are correct, faking a father would be hard, considering I do not have many friends in Asgard.”

“Speaking of Asgard,” he said, frowning a little at her. “Why did you not tell me you were an alien? Or showed me your magic or something?”

Loki gave him a look. “It is prohibited of course. Father-”

“Odin,” said Tony, still shocked and she rolled her eyes.

“Yes, King Odin All-Father, has decreed back during the war with the frost giants that Midgard is to be left alone. I cannot simply appear here and let people know who I am. All I can do is give them enough clues for them to figure it out themselves,” she said, giving him a pointed look.

Despite his still confused and anxious feelings, Tony gave a little sarcastic laugh. “Okay but it’s not that easy to go from wormholes to ‘my baby mommy is an alien from space because the old Norse gods were simply magic aliens that humans were not quite sure how to deal with’. I am so stupid!”

“As long as you agree,” politely said Loki, finally quirking a real smile at the sound of outrage from Tony. “I jest, I promise.” 

“You better,” he grumbled, pulling out another Starkpad.

“Anthony?” she asked a couple of seconds later, and Tony turned back to her.

“Uh?”

“You told James,” she said, holding herself perfectly still. Unlike Tony, when she was stressed or anxious she would basically force her body to not move an inch, while Tony would fidget and move around when filled with nerves. “Does that mean... what does that mean?”

Tony swallowed, biting his thumb while his eyes went slightly unfocused. DUME was twirling around the workshop, adding motor oil to the smoothie he was making.

“I already started buying a bunch of baby things when I thought the baby and you were simply hallucinations,” he said in the end. “And you already know all the hang ups I have about being a father. But, like I told Rhodey, you are probably going to be the best parent in the history of Asgard and uh Madrugad?”

“Midgard,” she corrected, a little smile on her face.

“What you said,” he said, smiling back. “What is your plan for the baby? Will you raise them here? Over there? Speaking of, have you gotten an ultrasound yet? Do you have an OBGYN? A midwife? Wait, does Asgard have like super advanced technology? Do you have-” Loki raised a single eyebrow, clearly amused and Tony cleared his throat. “Right. Sorry. I’m curious.”

She just huffed, shaking her head slightly. “I do have a plan. Our... medicine, yes? It’s different from the one here. I have someone who will be assisting me with the birth, but, as I’ve said before, I could not raise my child on Asgard. The myths, you know of them?”

Tony nodded slowly.

Loki scowled. “They are blatantly false. I was a mere babe when the Great War ended, I did not have the time to give birth to anything. Most of those stories were added to your people’s history long after we were gone so most of them are fake. But the people who spoke of them? The people who made them up? They are real.”

The brunet frowned. “But you are the crown princess?”

“The shadow princess. Forever in Thor’s shadow, the moon to his sun,” she rolled her eyes, though there was some bitterness in her smirk. “Many hate me for my abilities to shapeshift and wield seidr.”

“Sidr?”

“Seidr. Tis another term for magic,” she explained. “So I would rather come to Midgard. I am more than willing to find my own abode if you-”

“Nonsense,” said Tony, shaking his hand. “You and... our child will get a room each. I’m gonna make a nursery. Uh, I wonder what I’ll need...” his eyes went faraway as he got lost into thoughts.

A child. A little Tony or a little Loki was coming into his life and Tony was very much unprepared. Well, he had a bunch of children bullshit laying around but still not that much. How was he gonna paint the nursery? Was he gonna have to wait for Loki to show up before starting anything? Was he going to-

“I will leave you now, Anthony,” she said, and Tony blinked back to attention. Her expression was slightly amused, but her eyes were soft now. He felt bad for her; what did she think about him randomly buying children stuff but never actually asking her about how they were going to deal once the child arrived? 

“I’m really sorry, Loki,” he said and her smile got even softer.

Mind you, part of his brain was still wondering if this all was fake. But the majority was convinced and at this point, he was either not crazy or he would just tell Rhodey it had all been a prank and move on with his life. And not at all be devastated.

She disappeared in a cloud of green and Tony let out a sigh, picking up his tablet again.

“Sir? Are you... alone?” asked JARVIS and Tony hid a smile.

Poor JARVIS probably thought Tony had either gained some new abilities or was losing his mind. Or both. “Yes, dear?”

“Queries finished,” he said, and Tony stood up straighter. “I have found the temporary antidote for your palladium poisoning. It is an injection and production will take less than an hour. It only hides your symptoms for a while, similarly to the chlorophyll. I have also found the digitized contents of Howard Stark’s research. I am currently downloading them onto a different mainframe for your use. It seems SHIELD has yet to be able to crack the code, though they are sure you will in a matter of hours.”

“Good,” he said, nodding a little. “That’s good.”

“SHIELD also suspects Ivan Vanko to be alive,” said JARVIS, and to be honest, Tony was not that surprised. “Around the time he blew up, the cameras picked up someone dressed similarly to him entering the prison and then leaving minutes after the explosion. They do not know who helped him or where he went, but are currently looking for him.”

“I’ll find him first,” said Tony, stretching slightly. “Remember how hard I looked for Loki when she first disappeared after Bern? We breaking all the rules again and making sure dear Ivan is not hiding anywhere.”

Though it was good to know that no technology on Earth - except for Wakanda, but Tony was working on it - was impossible for him to hack. The only reason he hadn’t found her was that she wasn’t on Earth. It was good to know.

“Very well, sir. I missed the thrill that came from you risking being thrown in prison,” said the AI and Tony snorted.

“Keep talking and you’ll find yourself at a community college with DUME,” he said, wiggling his finger at one of the cameras. “Let’s get this antidote working and beat SHIELD at its own game.”

Chapter Text

“Why do these... swatches have such odd names?” asked Loki, finally looking away from the pieces of paper Anthony had placed on the table.

The man in question looked up from his screen at her voice, blinking a couple of times. “Oh. To help differentiate them. There are so many shades of each colour, and some people have very particular tastes in term of colour and all that.”

Uh. That made sense, somewhat. Though in Asgard, while there was a variety of colours that the human eyes could never hope to grasp, the walls of the various houses were pretty standard. Gold everywhere, except for the peasants’ houses - those were brown or yellow.

“You wish me to choose one, yes?” she asked again, and he nodded, attention flickering between her and the screen in front of her.

“I mean, if you want different coloured walls, you can tell me too. I did some research,” he confessed, huffing when she raised an eyebrow. “Shut up. And anyway on Earth, those are the best colours to paint a... nursery in. I don’t know how you do things in Asgard but, you know...” he shrugged trailing off.

Loki had not thought about that. How to mix and match Midgardian and Aesir traditions. Because even if she had to hide for a while - perhaps a Midgardian decade or so - she knew eventually she’d have to go back to Asgard. Her child would be royalty, after all. They would be raised as a prince or princess even if they weren’t on Asgard themselves.

She turned her eyes back on the ‘swatches’ in front of her. “I like Infinity R146C,” she stated, nodding at that particular shade. “As well as Sapphire Sparkle, R170E.”

She could see it already, in her mind's eye. Two soothing blues that would envelop the room that Anthony insisted on building by himself. 

Loki had seen the plans he had made, and was not too worried about it. Anthony was a craftsman, and already had a basic understanding of what would help or hinder a child’s comfort. 

Of course Loki had spent the last six months in Asgard disguising her face so that she could purchase various baby items in markets and such, but having actual Midgardian things would only help her in the long run.

“Have you given thought to the names I have offered?” she asked then, coming to sit closer to him.

The man’s eyes had gone back to the screen after he took note of the colours she had chosen, but turned back to her. “Yeah. Hel or Amaya, Leif or Nijal,” he repeated, nose twitching a little.

“Hal or Njal,” she corrected, rolling her eyes and crossing her arms around her chest. “What’s wrong with them?”

Anthony raised up his hands. “Nothing wrong, it’s just... I’d rather not have my future kid hate me because I gave them a name that is unpronounceable for everyone but their mommy.” He tilted his head to the side. “Are you going to be their mommy? Or something else?”

Loki had actually given it a little thought. After the birth of the child she saw no need of remaining in her female form. And while Midgardians did not make a difference between being a mother and a mom, the Aesir did. There was no word that translated in Anthony’s language for someone who birthed the child despite not being biologically female at all times.

“I am not sure,” she admitted, sighing slightly. “Have you?”

“Daddy, of course,” he said, with a ‘duh’ expression. “I’m already JARVIS’ daddy, even if he doesn’t call me that,” he added with a scowl to one of the hidden cameras.

The AI did not bother replying to that, and Loki let out a little chuckle. “All right, so you will be daddy.”

“You be both, if you want.” At her confused expression he rolled his eyes. “You shapeshift a lot, right? So depending what form you are in, the baby can call you something different. Mama, mommy, mum when you are in your female mode and, I don’t know, dada, papa, papi when you’re in your male form. Or zaza or moddy or something.”

She let herself smile a little at the man’s easy acceptance. Well, not easy per se. It was clear that he struggled with the idea of her being real or her being alien, with the way he randomly stopped and looked at himself with a ‘what the hell am I doing’ expression. But her shapeshifting had done nothing but tickle some of his scientific curiosity and no more than that. He did not see her a freak for her talents.

“Names?” she then tried once more, and Anthony’s nose twitched.

“I don’t hate Leif. And Amaya sounds earthly enough too. But... Hell and Nijal,” he made a face. 

“Hal and Njal,” she corrected again, rolling her eyes. “Fine. I will allow you to present one masculine and one non conforming name in case the child is a male.”

Anthony lit up, screens momentarily forgotten. “Oh cool, I know the first. Edwin. Edwin Stark.”

Loki kept her emotions from her face at the face of Anthony’s excitement at that truly atrocious name. What kind of name was ‘Edwin’ ? It sounded like a plant.

“Lokason,” she still said, and Anthony gave her his trademark shit eating grin.

“Not on Earth,” he sing sang, making her roll her eyes as he typed something else on the laptop. “And second choice, Drew.”

Loki tilted her head to the side. “Drew,” she repeated it, tasting the name on her tongue. “Drew Lokason Stark.” She nodded to herself. “Very well. Drew if the baby presents as male.”

“And Amaya if she presents as female,” agreed Tony, actually turning to smile at her.

It was odd, in a way, how he had changed in one day. Loki had not even noticed how pale he had become in the past couple of days, but after their chat he had visibly perked up. Or perhaps after whatever information JARVIS had shared with him that Anthony had not even wanted to share with what at the time he believed an hallucination.

The entire fact that he had thought her fake was both amusing and bemusing, to be quite honest. 

She focused back on Anthony once more. The agency called SHIELD was the one who had sent the Romanoff woman to spy on Stark, and they had also stolen items belonging to Anthony’s father.

Loki had shown up earlier just as Anthony was watching a video of the man calling him his ‘greatest creation’ and had heard the man scoff at his father’s words. She understood of course.

The way the man spoke, implied that Anthony was nothing more than a good to be displayed at the perfect time rather than a child he should have nurtured. 

Anthony was rather tight lipped about the man, but from what she had gotten from him he had never been good with showing him any affection. According to Anthony the man had never trusted him, never liked him and was a “piece of shit drunk who got mom killed”. 

Still, the depth of SHIELD’s betrayal went far. These items belonged to Anthony, and they were in their hands for one reason or another. The genius said he was still looking for all the information regarding his father, but was occupied with the ‘model’ of the ‘1978 Stark Expo’ in front of him. 

“What are you doing, anyway?” questioned Loki

Anthony hummed at the computer screen. “Not too sure. JARVIS, could you kindly Vac-U-Form a digital wire frame? I need a manipulatable projection. Can you pull it up from the video?”

“1978 Stark Expo model scan complete, sir,” said JARVIS, and Loki watched intrigued as the man pulled a holographic and in scale representation of the model inside the computer.

Anthony placed it down, blinking at the screen. “How many buildings are there?”

“Am I to include the Belgium waffle stands?”

Cheeky little AI. Anthony snorted, clearly thinking so too. “That was rhetorical. Just show me.” He clicked his fingers and the holographic model started to spin and lift itself upright, manipulating the technology not unlike a mage or sorcerer would their magic. “What does that look like to you Jarvis? Not unlike an atom.”

It was fascinating watching him, and Loki held her breath, waiting to see his finishing spell. “In which case the nucleus would be here.” He pulled out a sphere looking thing from the middle and made it bigger. “Highlight the unisphere. Lose the footpaths. Get rid of them.” 

He waved off part of the screen and even JARVIS sounded mystified when he spoke. “What is it you’re trying to achieve, sir?”

“I’m discovering... Correction. I’m rediscovering a new element, I believe. Lose the landscaping, the shrubbery, the trees,” said Anthony, flicking things away. “Parking lots, exits, entrances. Structure the protons and the neutrons using the pavilions as a framework.”

Loki had not known much about Midgardian sciences when she had visited the place. But after a few conversation with Anthony and a lot of time on the internet even she could more or less understand what was on the screen.

“Dad,” said Anthony, with a little snort.

On the screen, the sphere looked not unlike what she had learnt a nucleus was.

And then Anthony pushed his hands open and like the space around them exploded in blue light.

It was not magic and Loki was not even there personally, and yet she felt the energy of something washing over her as Anthony casted it. Like warmth bathing her own essence, a thrumming that she was completely unfamiliar with.

She couldn’t feel it, not really; but like one would know the potential of a spell by the way it was woven, she could tell that whatever Anthony had just done? It was powerful.

And he stood in the middle of it, eyes alight in the blue glow, essence bathed in it like he was born for it, a little smile on his face. “Dead for almost 20 years, and still taking me to school.” 

He snapped the thing completely in his hands, making it smaller and Loki let out a small breath. Norns, that was a feeling... she was not used to. Whatever that was that Anthony made? It held a lot of power.

“The proposed element should serve as a viable replacement for palladium,” said JARVIS, and Loki straightened up slightly. Again with that palladium that was capable of poisoning - according to the few sentences she had seen before Anthony had hid Romanoff’s file - that he was very tight lipped about.

“Thank Dad,” said Anthony, looking at the blue light. He had probably forgotten she was still there.

“Unfortunately, it is impossible to synthesise,” added the AI and Anthony rolled his eyes.

“Get ready for a major remodel, fellas. We’re back in hardware mode,” he said, standing up and then noticing her once more. “Oh, sorry. I forgot we were talking.”

She shook her head, waving away his concerns. “Don’t mind me. What is that you did?”

He gave her a half shrug. “Not super sure. But what I’m about to do is create Badassium. And,” his face twitched. “Depending if it works or not I’m going to be explaining a whole bunch of things really soon. And when I do, remember I’m half of what made Drew or Amaya Stark!” He finished, running to one of the corners of the room.

Loki’s eyes narrowed, as she followed him with her gaze. She did not like the sound of that at all.


When Loki reappeared in Anthony’s workshop the next day, for a second all she could was stop and stare.

The place was an utter mess and there were a couple singed piece of equipment that DUME was already throwing extinguishing foam at.

And among the carnage and destruction stood Anthony, looking very pleased with himself, with a pair of what he called ‘goggles’ on his face and wearing nothing but a short garment with very thin sleeves that left his very muscled arms out.

“That was easy,” he said. He didn’t even seem to notice her presence as he approached another blue light in the middle of the room.

Loki could almost feel it on her phantom skin. It was the spell that Anthony had started casting the day before, the energy that he had created with his father’s research, all concentrated in a small light blue triangle. It was mesmerising and dripping with power that Loki knew not of, and part of her, the part that thrived in chaos and fire wanted to touch it, wanted to see what it was capable of.

Instead she stayed very still, watching with curious eyes as Anthony dropped the goggles and picked up another instrument to pick up the energy core.

“Congratulations sir. You have created a new element,” said JARVIS, as Anthony moved slowly with the piece towards a table.

Loki followed closely behind him, and he seemed to notice her then, but said nothing, only giving her space next to him so she could see everything he was doing.

He pulled out another one of the stars he had made previously - the reactors - and placed the energy core inside it, slowly and carefully.

Immediately, the light blue expanded in a manner that was 10x more powerful than what he was using before (palladium, if she remembered correctly?), bathing the reactor in the energy of ten stars, the energy of suns and Musphelheim, the energy of a supernova.

“Sir, the reactor has accepted the modified core. I will begin running diagnostics.”

“Wow,” she said, letting out a shaky breath.

Anthony had made this. Created this in one night with his bare hands. Norns, this mortal, she couldn’t help but think, watching him with wide eyes. Midgard was lucky. Had she been in better stand with the All-Father and not with child, she would have immediately rushed to steal an apple from him, so that his light didn’t extinguish as soon as it could.

The mortal smirked, unaware of her thoughts. “Yeah. Wow,” he repeated, his eyes shining brighter, the normal whiskey brown shining even brighter in the unlit room.

“Sir,” called JARVIS, breaking their eye contact. Loki shook her head, trying to clear it while Anthony blinked a couple of times.

“Yes, J?”

“You will recall this morning, during my various searches we found out that Vanko was still alive and working with Hammer,” he said, and Anthony’s lips pursed in clear distaste.

“Yeah? And we sent the tip to the FBI and CIA,”

“Indeed. However, it seems that Vanko knew this would happen and has staged an attack at your EXPO.”

Anthony stood up so fast he sent the chair crashing on the floor. “Son of a bitch. Rhodey is there and so is- fuck.”

“What’s going on?” asked Loki, watching him moving around, that sparkle in his eyes replaced so suddenly by anger.

“A bunch of stuff. Shit,” he stilled then picked up the new reactors. “JARVIS, deploy my suit and the one I prepared for Rhodey. Looks like he will be learning on the job.” 

“Sir!” called JARVIS, voice clearly alarmed when Anthony switched the new reactor with the old one.

“You want to run some tests, run them,” said the man, blinking and breathing harder as the light grew brighter and brighter in his chest. “And assemble the suits while you’re at it. Put them together now.”

Loki did not even blink just wondering how had this man survived the number of years he had. Because seriously, this was almost Thor behaviour. If Thor had any actual scholarly teachings backing his decisions, of course.

“We are unclear as to the effects,” tried the AI again, but Loki could see in the background that he had started assembling the suits already.

“I don’t want to hear it Jarvis!” The star in his chest became impossibly brighter and Loki almost felt like she could feel it in her own body. “That tastes like coconut. And metal. Oh wow, yeah!”

Loki could relate to him more than a little.

She could... feel him in a way that she hadn’t before.

Loki had always been a talented mage, you see. And thus, after reading the books her mother gave her, especially about transprojecting, she had assumed that the magic to seal that connection fully came from her seidr. That the energy was a one way street.

And perhaps when Anthony had the car battery, it had been.

But the star in his chest made the hard beaten one way road Loki had formed a fully functional two way street. Her green seidr thrummed through the connection but Anthony’s blue starlight lit it up too.

What was this incredible energy? It wasn’t the tesseract, despite the name it held previously. Loki had never touched or seen the tesseract, but its energy had to be similar to that of the Bifrost, right? And this wasn’t. This energy could not be used to teleportation.

“Loki?” called Anthony, and she blinked back to attention.

He was already suited up in red and gold, but there was another suit next to him, similar in general appearance but much more armed and with a different colour scheme. His helmet was up and he was watching her with curiosity and worry.

“You good?” he asked. “Is it the baby?”

She shook her head. “You go and slay your enemy before he has the chance of causing more trouble. I will come back.”

He hesitated for a couple more seconds, and then gave her a nod, helmet closing as he prepared to fly away.

She watched him go and after a couple of seconds, flickered out of Malibu.

+++

Loki walked down the familiar road of the market, resisting the urge to run a hand through her glamoured short hair.

In her male form, her hair was slightly shorter than in her female form, but never this short. It made her feel particularly self conscious, and she couldn’t wait to shed the glamour and be done with all this deception.

After that short conversation with Anthony, she had reappeared in Idunn’s garden, but had quickly left the place, head still full of thoughts of Anthony and the new light in his chest. Therefore, she had decided to walk by the market instead of immediately teleporting home.

To be honest, she would have preferred to be on Vanaheim right at that moment. Or Alfheim. The vanir and elven markets were so much better than those of Asgard, filled with much more stuff that trickled from the Nines and beyond. Asgard, for all of its supremacy over every other place, liked to sell their own goods and disliked depending on anyone else for anything.

Not that the things to be found weren’t often interesting. 

But Loki was born and raised on Asgard, and frankly, after seeing some of the stuff Anthony bought and made plans for, she was quite annoyed with Asgard’s stagnancy. For such a short lived race, Midgardians were surprisingly quick.

Or maybe it was Anthony.

She quickly shook away thoughts of Anthony’s mortality as she stopped at a table containing many baby things. 

Her pocket dimensions would soon burst with the amount of things she had found - some from her own childhood that she hoped Mother wouldn’t notice were missing - and bought, but she couldn’t help it. Every time she passed by the market she felt the need to buy something for Amaya/Drew and without fail, each time she would let temptation win her over.

With her magic she could try at the very least to figure out the sex of the future babe, but she found that she would rather be surprised. It didn't matter, after all. She was already ready to deceive her father and mother for them, she was unsure if there was something she wouldn’t do for them.

She pursed her lips slightly at the thoughts of her full plan on how to get the babe out of Asgard.

Because the facts remained as they were before:

  1. She would soon give birth, and if not, she would induce an early birth with Idunn’s help
  2. Thor’s coronation was in less than a week
  3. She could not allow Heimdall or the All-Father to sense the child, so she would have to take them to Midgard as soon as she could stand
  4. She could not leave Asgard until the Bifrost was opened again or she was given permission by her parents

The conclusion was rather simple, when you had all of them together, but it did not make Loki’s seidr settle any more comfortably on her skin. Because even if she knew what she should do, what she had to do...

“Milady?” called the vendor, and Loki’s eyes snapped back open.

The vendor’s eyes were looking at her with a little suspicion. Which was warranted as Loki was standing still and holding a small toy in her hand tight enough to break it. “Apologies,” she said, offering a fake smile. “My I enquire about the price?”

She was told, now with a wide smile, and Loki forced herself not to roll her eyes as she dipped the gold coins from her pouch. She paused on handing it to the vendor, blinking at an item on her table. “Oh. This. Where is this pendant from?” 

The vendor looked at the item in Loki’s hand and frowned. “I believe it is from beyond the Nine. It is a very rare piece, milady, of old.”

Normally Loki would roll her eyes at the clear manipulation, but well, the vendor was right. It was a very rare piece of old, and it was from beyond the Nine. So old in fact, that she had only read of it. 

“I will take it,” she said, not even bothering to bargain for it as a peasant normally would. The vendor seemed startled at that for a couple of seconds, before she simply nodded. She told her the price, and Loki dipped more golden coins from her purse, handing them to her easily and taking her purchases. “Many thanks, vendor.”

“Please come again!”

Loki just hummed losing herself among the crowd and putting her purchases in her pocket dimensions. She continued walking among them for a while, and only shifted back to her natural face once she was fully away from the market and closer to the castle.

The closer she got to the castle, the more noble the people she passed became and the less greetings were called towards her. The merchants and the peasants did not particularly dislike her, mostly they didn’t know her or cared about the royal family that much.

The nobles and the warriors knew her well, however, and her dislike of them was very much mutual. They still would half bow and huff a greeting if she made direct eye contact with them but to Loki it felt even more like an insult than if they simply ignored her. So she pretended not to notice them, too busy walking and being lost in her thoughts.

“Sister!” called Thor’s voice, once she was closer to the castle.

Loki turned her head around and forced herself not to roll her eyes as she noticed the Idiot Four walking behind her brother, none of them particularly happy when they noticed her.

“Brother,” she greeted, not stopping to wait for him.

Thor immediately rushed until he was by her side, much to Sif’s clear disappointment and Loki forced away another eye-roll. For someone who claimed herself a shield maiden of the likes of the Valkyrie, she was particularly pathetic. Centuries and she was still fully in love with Thor, refusing to move on. 

Disgraceful little wench.

“Where have you been?” asked Thor putting an arm around her shoulder with a bright smile on his face.

Loki wrinkled her nose, sidestepping the contact. “Where have you been? You smell like bilgesnipe piss.”

“That’s impolite Lo-” tried Sif, but Thor just let a loud laugh.

“Apologies, little sister. We had to get dirty during this last quest before my coronation, and we were in the middle of a battle against-” he noticed her expression and let out a sheepish laugh. “But I bore you with my tales of conquests.”

“Indeed. I have been with a friend,” she explained, not at all surprised when Volstagg and Fandral laughed at that.

“What other friend do you have, Loki Lie-smith?” asked Volstagg clearly amused.

Thor frowned at that, ignoring his friends. “Is that why you didn’t come with us? Why, Loki, you could have invited your friend along with us! I am sure we could have all had fun!”

Put aside the fact that Loki was pregnant and had absolutely no desire to follow her brother in any dangerous quest that could in any way endanger her future child, the idea of Lady Idunn or Anthony walking around the muddy forests in the edges of Asgard for any reason was enough to put a little smile on her face. She quickly wiped it off before Thor could see, shaking her head. “She is a scholar, Thor. Not a warrior.”

“Perfect for you, then,” said Sif, with a nasty edge to her voice. “Two scholar friends.”

Before Loki could answer that, Thor turned around, a frown marring his dirtied face. “Lady Sif, my sister is both a scholar and a warrior. You insult her honour by saying otherwise.”

Loki just raised an eyebrow, amused, as Sif quickly backtracked. “Of course, Thor. I was just saying that they might have things in common. Like you and I have things in common.”

The thunderer frowned at his friend for a couple more seconds. “I suppose,” he said, then turned another grin on to Loki. “You haven’t asked me yet.”

This time Loki did roll her eyes. “I thought with you about to become King in less than a week our more childish traditions were being abandoned.”

The oaf had the gall of pouting. “It is not childish! What is childish about an older brother caring for his younger sibling?”

Plenty, thought Loki, but she didn’t say. Instead she gave him the most childish and petulant expression she could muster, ignoring his happy and fond and grin. “Brother, brother! What have you brought me from your quest?”

It was a small tradition that they had both been following since they were children. Thor was just a century and half older than her, but he often acted like he thought he was much older than her. When he grew old enough to believe that going around with his younger sibling was just embarrassing, they started this tradition.

Every time Thor would leave without Loki for one reason or another, Loki would wait at the gates of the castle for her brother’s return. And Thor, for all his faults, did love Loki, and always made sure that he brought something for her, to make up for the fact that he had left her all alone.

Loki would never say it, but she loved that little tradition.

Thor’s smile got bigger, and he opened the pouch on his side, pulling out a heavy notebook that had Loki immediately intrigued. “During our quest we came across a bandit, who had been stealing and killing those who had the misfortune of wandering in the forest. Many merchants and peasants have lost their lives to what they believed a demon of dwarfic origins. Anyway, I found this among his things and I thought the name looked familiar.”

Loki carefully accepted the notebook from his hands, turning it around to trace the runes on top of it. When she finally read the title, she let out a shocked gasp, stopping in her tracks and nearly forcing the idiot four to crash against them. “Thor!” she cried out, eyes wide.

Her brother just looked at her amused as her eyes literally lit up and she slapped his arm a couple of times. “Thor! Thor!”

“Loki, Loki!” he mimicked, grin growing bigger. “I assume I did well?”

“Thor!” she pushed the book against her chest. “This is one of Mimir’s lost notebooks, of his life and his studies and everything! Oh thank you thank you thank you! This is perfect! Oh, if you weren’t so filthy and disgusting right now, I would even give you a three seconds hug.”

The blond pouted at that, then a truly evil light sparked in his eyes. “Aren’t you going to bathe after this anyway? Before we have dinner with Mother and Father?”

She blinked at him, suspicious. “Yes?”

“Well then,” he said, and before she could stop him, he was wrapping his dirty hands around her, cackling at her screams of distress. “I deserve a hug for my heroic deeds, sister!”

“You deserve to be stabbed for getting my clothes dirty, brother!” she shouted back, but she did not pull out a dagger this time around. Instead, despite her screeches, she allowed exactly seven seconds of hug before kicking Thor and freeing herself from his hold, nose twitching in slight disgust. At his radiant and mischievous smile, she huffed. “Thank you for the notebook, Thor.”

“No problem. I’ll go and greet Mother and Father now,” he gave her a shrewdly knowing look. “Will you be joining us or will you be locked in reading everything you can?”

“Don’t ask questions you already know the answers to,” she huffed, turning to the idiot four. Sif looked very displeased as she gave him a little bow; Volstagg also looked annoyed, while Fandral looked amused at her reaction, going as far as to wink at her. Hogun just gave her a polite bow that she returned, before she was skipping quickly back to her chambers.

Chapter Text

Vanko was dead.

Tony had made sure this time that the man was gone, even though he hadn’t initially set out with the hope to kill him. He just mainly wanted to stop him, but Vanko did not want to stop, he wanted Tony dead. And after surviving palladium poisoning, Tony was in a rush to not be dead.

Him and Rhodey had worked together to stop both Vanko and the big army of drones the man had created in collaboration with Hammer - disgusting, truly - and Tony was not going to lie: it felt good going into a fight knowing there was someone there with your back.

Though he did notice the way Rhodey had looked at him with barely concealed suspicion under his happiness when Tony had handed him the armour and told him to get it. 

He hadn’t voiced it yet, and agreed that this was a perfect way to keep the army people calm and also making sure Tony’s weapons did not end up in bad people’s hands, but it was there, lurking in the shadows: the knowledge that Tony was keeping something from him.

“J, have you finished running diagnostics?” he asked, tapping his fingers over the wall of one of the various guest rooms in the house.

That was the room he had decided to turn into a nursery. It was big, but not too much so, and one of the few rooms without a glass wall. The room was directly in front of Tony’s and there was a second guest room beside it where putting a door in wouldn’t be difficult, so that Loki could have her own room if she wanted.

Part of him was excited about the child being real, the same excitement that came over him when he started a new project. Except this project was going to be 18 years long at the very least, and it was a real life baby.  

Tony had never imagined himself to be a father. He liked children well enough, and while he had never had to babysit any of them, he had hung around Rhodey’s younger sisters and had not done anything wrong.

But there was a difference between being ‘that cool rich white boy from Rhodey’s school who gave us gifts and played with us’ and being an actual parent. He assumed. 

He had read dozens of books on the topic already and kept searching random baby trivia on the internet but it still was not enough. A baby was coming and it was coming pretty soon and Tony felt like he had not enough control over the entire situation.

Hence, the building of a whole nursery from scratch instead of planning or caring about his now cancelled birthday party.

“Diagnostics complete,” said JARVIS. “Congratulations, sir. You are no longer dying. You may begin to lower the doses of chlorophyll daily until the after effects of the palladium poisoning are complete gone.”

Dying ?”

“Palladium poisoning?!

Tony literally jumped, turning around to see Rhodey and Pepper standing in the doorway looking at him with wide eyes.

He glared at one of the cameras. “JARVIS?!”

“I’m sorry, Sir,” said the AI sounding not sorry at all, “you did not inform me to alert you of Miss Potts and Colonel Rhodes’ arrival when you are alone and outside the workshop.”

Sneaky little AI, thought Tony. If it hadn’t been done against him, Tony would have marvelled at JARVIS’ cunning.

“Tones, what the fuck do you mean ‘palladium poisoning’?” demanded Rhodey, crossing his arms around his chest in his ‘I am not taking your shit’ stance.

Pepper’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “You were dying?!”

“But not anymore!” he tried, hoping that it would calm them down. 

It did not, seen as Pepper put a hand over her mouth and Rhodey’s expression turned even more furious. “Tony, what,”

“Alright,” he said, wiping his face with a hand. “Let’s go to the living room and sit down. I’ll explain.”

It took a little more coaxing before they were all in the living room, and while Pepper took a seat immediately, Rhodey remained standing, glaring.

Tony winced, looking away from his best friend. “So... the arc reactor. I could go in deep explaining all the particulars that make it work the way it does, but you wouldn’t understand it. Point is, the core is made of palladium.”

Pepper’s lips were pursed together and Rhodey’s eye twitched slightly. 

Yikes.

“And well, I have to keep the arc reactor because if I take it out the shrapnel in my chest will move and kill me. And the only core that successfully worked - and believe me, I tried - was palladium. However, palladium has the terrible side effect of trickling in people’s bloodstream which causes -”

“Heavy metal poisoning,” finished Rhodey, uncrossing his arms and sitting down on the couch, while Pepper covered her mouth with her hand.

“But everything is fine! I synthetized a new element with Howard’s research from SHIELD and turns out it’s perfectly compatible with the arc reactor, so yay!” He said, trying to get them more excited.

It did not seem to work, as Pepper’s eyes filled with tears. “So every time you were using the Arc Reactor-”

“It was poisoning you more and more. Jesus, Tones,” said Rhodey, looking at him with pain in his eyes. “How long have you known? When did you find out?”

Man, these two really did not like to look at the bright side of things, uh. He sighed, sitting down on the couch directly in front of them. “Since I got back. I didn’t realise the rate the poisoning was spreading at, in the beginning. But JARVIS always takes scans of me and noticed the signs.”

“When?” asked his best friend, eyes narrowed.

Tony swallowed. “Uh. I’d say two months after Afghanistan? Yeah, something like that.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Pepper, voice clearly heartbroken.

Tony wasn’t quite sure what to answer. At the beginning, he had not told them because he had genuinely believed he’d find another way to deal with the problem. A sure way to survive the poisoning, because, after all, he had survived Afghanistan, right? That had to mean something.

But then, the longer he went without finding anything, the longer it went with the symptoms getting harder and harder to manage, the harder the idea of telling his friends became. 

Because why make them go through all that pain?

His parents death when he was just 17 had been hard to deal with. They had not parted in the best of ways and suddenly they were gone and it had fucked with Tony in a big way. And that was when, most of the time, he didn’t even like Howard.

One thing the past months after Stane - and even before - had taught him was that his friends did love him.

And if one accident with people sometimes he thought he didn’t know at all had fucked him up so much, what could watching him deteriorate over a longish period of time do to his loved ones? How could he subject them to that?

Something must have shown in his face, cause Pepper’s expression turned even more hurt. “This is why you made me CEO,” she said, and Rhodey let out a hiss of surprise. “And why you were purposefully trying to make me angry and selling half of your possessions. You were trying to get your affairs in order and make me hate you in the process.”

Tony grimaced, and Rhodey took over. “That suit... you were always planning on giving it to me, weren’t you?” Damn him for making sure all of his friends were so perceptive. “Vanko was just an excuse - that’s why you weren’t worried when I warned you the military wanted to seize your armours.”

“I was just trying to make sure you guys would be all right after I was gone,” he finally said, ignoring the dejected look on both their faces. “And I was trying to make sure you wouldn’t miss when I was gone.”

Rhodey glared at him something fierce. “Seriously? Did you seriously think that a couple of arguments would triumph over a friendship we shared since you were 14 years old? Did you seriously think you’d manage to make us hate you? After everything we’ve been through together?”

“And,” continued Pepper, the tears refusing to leave her eyes as she scowled at him. “How do you think we would have felt when you did end up dying, if you had ended up alienating us? We would have blamed ourselves and each other for not being able to recognise you needed help. I cannot believe you would think that.” 

Tony was starting to feel significantly uncomfortable with this line of questioning. He hadn’t really paused to think about anything other than making sure his will was up to date and making sure his friends would be mad at him and give up on him. Hadn’t stopped to consider what this could do to them after he was dead. He had just assumed that they would give up on him and be happy and taken care of.

Now he was starting to feel a little stupid about his own plan - not enough to regret it, but enough to consider it not his best effort.

“In my defence, palladium poisoning affects your thinking and stuff,” he said, offering a smile that neither of them returned. “I’m serious. I was drinking chlorophyll to counter the symptoms but there were a lot of them and my mental facilities were slightly compromised. We cannot blame this all on me.”

“We can and we will,” said Rhodey, firmly, though his shoulders were less tense. “But you are okay now?”

Tony nodded, glad to be done with this argument. “I’m peachy. Aren’t I, J?”

“Indeed,” said JARVIS. “Sir’s blood is not yet fully clear, but he is improving rapidly with the new Badassium core.”

Pepper’s nose wrinkled as she discretely wiped her eyes. “Badassium?”

Her ex boss beamed. “Yes. As I was saying, I synthetized a new element based on dear old Howard’s research.”

“Right. Research from SHIELD, did you say?”

“From Howard,” corrected Tony. “But SHIELD nicked it after his death. From my research,” he said, looking pointedly at Rhodey, who just rolled his eyes, “turns out dad was something of a founder.”

Rhodey’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “What the hell was a millionaire inventor doing with a shadow para military organisation?”

“Remember the SSR and project Rebirth?” asked Tony, and Rhodey nodded, while Pepper looked confused. “The Captain America project that Erskine and dad worked on,” he explained and her expression cleared. “Right. After the Captain died in the ice, Aunt Peggy, dad and General Phillips founded it together. I have no clue what their actual objective was or is,  but here we go.”

Pepper’s frown grew. “Did your father mention SHIELD anywhere in his will?”

The brunet shook his head. “Nope. Which means all the research they have - and yes, I have found some of it already - has basically been stolen by them.”

“And the spy?” questioned Rhodey, to which Pepper’s stance went rigid.  

“Spy?”

Tony’s own expression went a little angry. “Turns out SHIELD did figure out about the palladium and they sent a spy in our midst. They even had a temporary cure that they didn’t bother sharing with me until I was ready to bend to their will.”

Pepper’s eyes flashed, and she arrived to the conclusion quickly. “Natalie Rushman.”

“Natasha Romanoff,” corrected Tony, though he nodded. “Something called Black Widow that, according to my research, is a Russian program that was supposed to have been shut down after the second world war. She defected.”

“I knew there was something fishy about her,” muttered Pepper, then she straightened up. “What do you want me to do about her?”

“Nothing yet,” he said, and continued when her expression went outraged. “She doesn’t know she has been outsmarted yet. She placed several bugs in my house when she came by the other day, and by the time she arrived at the Expo with you, me, Rhodey and JARVIS had dealt with Vanko and his dumb robots. Which means, she has not seen me since Monaco, when I was still very clearly dying. And they still think they have a temporary cure.”

She nodded slowly. “They’ll come for you,” she guessed.

Rhodey was clearly unhappy with that idea, and Tony shrugged. “I have strengthened the fuck out of JARVIS since we figured out what she was, which means when they come? I’ll know. And that’s when I will have the leverage to demand my stuff back. If we try to get her now, there is nothing stopping her and SHIELD from slinking back in the shadows.”

Pepper pressed a hand on her forehead. “I cannot believe Agent Coulson is one of them. I thought he was such a nice guy...” 

Tony and Rhodey exchanged eye contact at that, but neither said what they were thinking. That Coulson had taken her thankfulness at being saved from Obadiah and his ‘help’ with Tony, and twisted it to manipulate her into being an open channel for him towards Tony.

They continued fussing over him and threatening him if he “ever as much as thought of hiding something like that from them again, so help me God, Tony!” for a little while longer before they were seemingly satisfied. They left a while later with clear instructions for JARVIS to override anything else if Tony’s health became worse, much to the AI’s complete delight.

He let out a breath, now that the door was closed behind him. Don’t misunderstand him, it had gone better than he thought it would, but still.

“You were dying.”

His life had never once gone according to plan, so he was not at all surprised or confused when he turned around and found Loki standing right there, arms crossed around her chest. Her expression was impassively blank.

He grabbed a glass of chlorophyll from the table. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough,” she said, sitting down in the spot vacated by his two best friends.

Tony settled in his previous seat once more, and readied himself for even more time of grovelling.


“Sir, Agent Coulson, Director Fury and Agent Romanoff are trying to break into your systems.”

Tony looked up from where he was working, crouched on the floor of the room he had designated as the nursery, shirt still full of paint and a screw in his mouth. He let the screw slip out of his mouth and stopped fiddling with the piece he was working on, an eyebrow raised.

“Are they now,” he murmured, more than a little amused.

They had actually taken longer than Tony would have expected of them. No one had come to debrief him on the Vanko situation - well, the FBI and CIA had, since they sort of kind of knew he was the one who tipped them that he was still alive - and it had been more than three days.

He had expected them to show up at his ‘birthday party’, but then again, he had decided to cancel the party itself last minute, deciding to stay in with just Pepper, Rhodey and Happy.

He was more than a little curious of what they were making of his new behaviour, but he had absolutely no intention of rewarding bad behaviour.

Loki met his eye from where she was sitting on a chair - and he really had to figure out what degree of effect did she have on the physical world - also looking unimpressed. “SHIELD again?”

She had been none too pleased about Tony hiding the fact that he was dying from her. But her reaction had, thankfully, not been as drastic as Pepper and Rhodey. She had just asked him that next time he “found it within himself to speak freely and truly” with her, and not “bear the burden of an early death alone”.

In more than one way that was worse than having his best friends nearly shout at him for lying. 

He nodded, eyes going back on the dresser he was building. “How are their efforts going, J?”

“Not that well, Sir,” said the AI, and Tony could almost hear the vindictive tone in his voice. After Stane and then Fury himself getting through to JARVIS’ servers, neither Tony nor the AI had been pleased. And now with future baby Stark - that was still so shocking and scary - nothing that Tony himself didn’t allow was getting through to them. “They appear incredibly annoyed by the fact.”

“Hey, Lokes,” he said, tightening a squeaky spot of the dresser. “Your magic. Can you make uh... protection shields with it?”

She looked slightly amused and mystified by his words. “You mean, perchance, magical wards?”

“How am I meant to know the technical term?” he huffed, then nodded. “But yeah. Like, I know I am the best at everything technological and no one is getting through JARVIS with anything short of space tech,”

“The ego on you,” she huffed, which Tony ignored.

“But I always like a plan B of sorts. So when you move in: wards?”

Loki seemed to hesitate for a couple of seconds before she nodded slowly. “Yes. I can cast some quick wards when I arrive. Are you going to leave them standing outside your home for long? You don’t know what they could do.”

The engineer huffed. “I do, actually,” he said, even as he picked up his phone from the floor and tapped it for a few moments. Then he grinned at the screen, “You have reached the real life model decoy of Tony Stark. He does not appreciate secret agents trying to break into his home uninvited anymore.”

A beat of silence. “Stark, we need to speak.”

Tony’s grin was sharp, even if they couldn’t see it. “Cute. But I don’t march your tune, one eyed pirate. Leave a message and make an appointment with my CEO.”

“It’s urgent,” tried again Fury, and Tony rolled his eyes.

“Then leave it urgently ,” he scoffed. “I don’t take it kindly to people and spies breaking into my mansion anymore. Some bad experiences, you might understand.”

“Stark-”

“No,” he said, and this time his voice had lost that jovial tone. “Cut the crap, Director dearest . I don’t give a fuck what you want to do or what you want to say, you are not the boss of me. I don’t owe you shit. I don’t know you and I don’t like you. I don’t like people using agents to manipulate the new CEO of Stark industries or people breaking into my home or fake agents posing as notaries.”

Fury did not outwardly make any noise, but his silence spoke volumes already.

“Oh yeah, tell Agent Rushmanoff she’s fired. Make an appointment.”

The silence prolonged for a couple more seconds before the other man spoke again. “Very well. We will see you soon, Stark,” he finished, conceding to him but still trying to pull some sort of power play.

Tony just rolled his eyes, not bothering with a reply and turning off the call. He put down his phone and turned his attention on the dresser he was working on.

When the silence in the room persisted, Tony looked up to find Loki staring right back at him, expression hard to read. “You okay?”

“Was I here in Malibu in my physical form, and not terribly pregnant by the very same action I’m contemplating right now, I would have had my wicked way with you for this display,” she informed him, very calmly.

Tony’s eyes flashed, a leer finding its place on his face. “Oh? You liked what you saw, did’cha?”

The girl did not even pretend to be ashamed. “Yes. I liked it very much.”

“You should make an appointment too,” he told her, winking her way. “I am sure I can find a time and place for you, buttercup.”

“I am sure you can,” she acknowledged, then rolling her eyes with a smile. “Now continue building the thing for our child.”

Our child.

Tony shivered slightly, this time in excitement rather than fear.


“Your three o’clock, sir,” said Pepper’s PA - whom he had stolen for the day - opening the door.

Tony was already settled at the desk, a mug of coffee on the desk and his Stark Phone in his hands, not looking up even as he heard two heavyset boots and a lighter step walking inside the room.

Everything had been planned methodically, of course. Instead of his usual blazer shirt combination, today he was wearing a hoodie jumper on top of his usual shirt, so that his neck was fully covered and so was the Arc Reactor light.

“Mr Stark,” said a stiff voice, and Tony hummed in acknowledgement not looking up.

Yes, he was being a dick. Yes, they deserved it.

He could literally hear Fury gritting his teeth in front of him and proceeded to finish the candy crush level he was on before finally making eye contact with him.

He was both surprised and not to see both Coulson and Romanoff at his side.

His eyebrow raised. “I have to say, I am surprised you would show your face around here after I fired you. You have got guts, triple imposter.”

Her face did not betray the slightest expression change, and unlike the pirate with the swishy coat and the smartly dressed agent, she was still wearing her ‘Natalie Rushman’ clothing.

Tony’s eyes turned on Fury. “Hi Nicky. How can I help you?”

His expression remained as neutral as Romanoff’s and it was a little creepy, if Tony was honest. He wasn’t used to people not raising to the bait and he wasn’t quite sure he liked it. “The question, Mr Stark, is can we help you ?”

So they thought he still had palladium poisoning. Tony kept his expression politely interested. “Oh? I believe I dealt with Vanko just fine, between me and Rhodey. The FBI and the CIA took our statements.”

“I heard,” said the director, inclining his head slightly. “You gave your best friend one of your suits after your very interesting speech at the Senate and gave your other best friend your Company. Quite a busy week, you’ve had.”

Tony nodded slowly, affecting a more sluggish air than he felt. “I did, didn’t I? I honestly wanted to rest at home and instead here we are.”

“Agent Romanoff here,” said Fury, pointing at the red head like Tony didn’t know, “had been appointed as your shadow in SI once it came to our realisation that the Reactor you were using relayed quite heavily on palladium.”

“Oh?”

Fury nodded slowly, clearly unnerved by Tony’s complete lack of reaction about the news. Or at least Tony liked to pretend the man was unnerved. “Yeah. And she couldn’t help but notice, while you were in Monaco, an interestingly strange marking on your skin right there.” He didn’t touch Tony while saying this, but pointed at the right spot.

“Oh, that?” said Tony, taking great joy in opening his jumper and uncovering his neck. His slightly tanned and other ways unmarked neck.

It was honestly a delight to see the blank expression on the red head slip slightly to offer confusion before she composed herself again. Tony beamed at her. “You should have just told me you were worried about it, Natashalie! I fixed it.”

“Fixed it?” asked Coulson, Fury twitching slightly at his side. 

Tony nodded almost absently as he took a long sip of his coffee. Fury twitched a little more and Tony hid his smile in his mug before swallowing and nodding. “Yeah. Figured out that lithium dioxide could abate the symptoms for a while, and then I synthetized a new element to exchange for the one I was using.”

Fury stilled, and Tony turned his razor sharp grin on him. “See, my dear old father started working on the Arc Reactor, but he simply lacked the right items to fully finish it. The technology just wasn’t around yet,” he said, quoting directly from his father’s notes and enjoying the way Fury seemed to grow stiffer and stiffer with every word. “He left me clues, of course, clues that only I could figure out. And I did, and I just patented Starkanium for SI a while ago. Which was annoying, I wanted to call it Badassium but Pepper said no.”

Coulson took a look at Fury’s blank face and turned to Tony. “Where did you find all this information?”

Tony gave him a similarly bland smile. “Why? Where do you think I could find this information? A birdie told me.”

“Stark-”

“And the birdie also told me all sort of funny little things,” he added, teeth showing. “Like a certain shady little organisation that we shall not name stole my father’s research and kept it in their grubby hands despite having no legal right to it.”

“Your father founded SHIELD-”

“And yet,” interrupted Tony, “He stated that in case of something happened every inch of technology or notebook was to be given to me. And from my sources, there is a heap of stuff that should be in my hands right now that isn’t.”

“A lot of that is classified SHIELD property,” tried Fury once more, but Tony didn’t care.

“I don’t give a fuck,” pointedly said the genius. “I ignored your little home invasion stunt because you helped Pepper, so I thought, let me give them a chance. I told you I didn’t want in on your boyband and you decided to go ahead and commit corporate espionage.”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed. “I have not stolen any of SI’s information.”

“Perhaps,” said Tony, not inclined to believe her. “But you entered the company under false pretences and bugged plenty of spaces in my home.” Her expression turned blank once more and Tony smirked. “Why? Did you think that just because I didn’t remove them I was not aware that they were there?” He turned to Fury. “If you think me so stupid why would you want me on your team? Don’t answer that, I don’t actually care.”

“What do you want?” asked Fury, which: finally. 

“My father’s research and everything you have from him. Natashalie out of my company post haste. Any mole you might think of putting among my people gone .” He took another sip of coffee. “If something like Vanko happens once more, someone figuring out how to use my tech or any other sort of tech to hurt people, I will step in. But other than that, don’t call me.”

“Something like a consultant, then?” asked Coulson, pulling out a notebook from his pocket.

Tony smirked at him. “You couldn’t afford me,” he said, standing up. They stood up too. 

“But if your objectives align with SHIELD, you’re willing to work with us?” questioned Coulson once more, as they followed him towards the door, and Tony considered it for a second.

The answer was ‘yes’ because he would, of course. But right now he was playing with them and couldn’t have them thinking that their methods in any way worked. “Bring me Howard’s stuff first.” He opened the door. “And I mean everything, agents. Otherways, I’ll see you in Court.”

All three of them stared at him with varying degrees of blankness and, well, fury, before they left the room.

Closing the door behind them felt immensely satisfying.

Chapter Text

Harpa, Age of Odin, Asgard (1st June 2010 by Midgard rotations)

 

Some women and child bearers that Loki had spoken to in her lifetime always seemed to insist on the fact that, when the time came, a mother would always just know that their child was about to come into the world. That they would wake up on the day of the baby’s birth and simply feel different, even before their own bodies told them of any incoming changes, that a true mother simply knew. Loki had always called bullshit, of course; after all, how many times did those very same people claim to know their delivery date and then be completely blindsided?

She was a woman of magic, after all. Magic and science had explanations, they weren’t just feelings and the birth of a child? Well that was as magical and scientific as something could get.

And yet as she stood still in her bedroom watching the floor, she couldn’t help but think that perhaps those people were on to something, after all.

Because her original plan for the day had been joining her mother and helping out with double checking the last details before Thor’s coronation; and up until that very morning she had seen no reason not to go - especially since she wanted to double check the access for the Frost Giants.

However, when she woke up, something in her gut convinced her to stay locked in her room after breakfast and just relax.

And thanks the Norns for that, because Loki really did not know how she would have explained the whole water breaking to anyone who might have seen. Hel, she had not noticed until a couple of seconds ago, when she had stood up and looked down in confusion at the feeling of wet sock-clad feet.

Loki had, of course, carefully planned for how she would deal with the baby’s birth. She had heaps upon heaps of things and objects that would facilitate her and she had attended to a couple of peasant women in the outskirts of Asgard in the past few days, so that nothing could take her by surprise.

For all intents and purposes, Loki was readier than she had ever been. She knew what was coming, she knew why, and she knew how. There was very little of the entire affair that could astonish her at this point.

Despite this, however, she found it hard to move her legs forward and follow her own detailed plan. To do what she was supposed to do and prepare herself so that Amaya or Drew would be all right and safe.

“Okay,” she breathed, trying to keep herself steady on her feet and her breathing even. Her hands were shaking slightly and Loki pressed them into fists, breathing through her nose and out of her mouth. “I am calm. I am collected. Everything will be all right.”

It would. All she needed to do was move. To walk. Everything would be fine, no one would notice anything because no one knew there was something to be noticed and -

“Princess Loki?” called Astrid’s voice, and Loki flinched hard enough that her knee hit her table. Which was good, since the sharp pain forced her to gasp and breathe a little more normally. “Her Majesty wishes to speak to you. May she enter?”

For a moment, Loki felt an even stronger surge of panic running through her. Was this it, then? Had she spent the last few units walking on tip toes and trying to hide her pregnancy for nothing? Had her Mother just found out or had she always known? Had she sensed it, the moment Loki’s water broke?

After everything she had done to keep her marshmallow safe from Asgard and its court, was she to be discovered at the very end? Had it all been for naught?

But the despair was gone as quickly as it appeared.

Because her mother was smart, and her mother was kind, but Loki was a mage. Not a mere sorceress, not a dim-witted witch or wizard. She had learned to cast the strongest wards before anyone had even realised the power of her seidr.

She was the trickster, the god of chaos and mischief. She saved herself and her brother and the idiots four from impossible situations. She carried secrets of Asgard that no one other than Odin himself and perhaps Heimdall could ever know.

She would not be discovered, not now not ever. Not after everything she had done. She had a plan and she knew what to do.

So she stood up taller, and with a flick of her hand cleared the floor. Then she walked up to the doors, unlocking them and flitting her head through the gap.

Astrid and her mother were both standing a foot or two from the door, calmly speaking to each other, but both turned their heads to Loki when the door opened.

There was no suspicion or concern on their faces; in fact Frigga smiled broadly when they made eye contact. “Loki! Daughter mine, what are you still doing in your room?”

Loki frowned at her mother. “Did we have an appointment?”

Apparently they did. Frigga gave her an exasperated look, shaking her head at Astrid, who bit back a smile. “Indeed we did. Do you not recall offering to help me with enchanting protection spells against evil eyes and intentions on Thor’s armour and cape?”

“Oh...” Loki vaguely remembered saying something of the sorts. “Apologies, mother. Unfortunately, I cannot do that.”

The Queen was the one who frowned this time. “Loki...”

“I know, I know: a promise is important. But you see, mother, I forgot something regarding Thor’s coronation present and it just occurred to me earlier today as I prepared to swaddle it,” she gave her best pitiful expression. “I want brother’s coronation to be unforgettable and I refuse to allow anyone to upstage me when it comes to gifting the right thing.”

Technically, not all of it was a lie. She did want Thor’s coronation to be remembered, only not for the reasons the rest of the family might want. 

Her mother seemed to believe that, because her expression went from reprimanding to satisfyingly fond. “Of course you do. I don’t know why that surprises me in any way.” Her smile grew. “I wish everyone could see this side of you. Instead all they do is whisper on how jealous you must be of your brother when in truth-”

“Forget the nobles, mother,” said Loki, her words tasting bitter in her mouth. Because it was true, she wasn’t jealous of Thor getting the throne, just worried enough to make sure it didn’t happen. But lying to her mother, even a lie by omission, was never something she took particular pleasure in if it didn’t have anything to do with a clever trick. “Will you be fine, casting the enchantments alone? It might take me a while to conjure enough seidr for my present for Thor.”

Again, technically not a lie. Her real present for Thor had cost her a lot of seidr to make and it would have taken any supposed seidrmadr in Asgard a week to complete. Her? Way less.

Her mother beamed, and Loki pushed back any guilt she felt. “Very well, my dear. We will leave you alone. But don’t exhaust yourself unduly. Thor will love your present but he will love having you standing at his side as he gets crowned much more.”

The younger girl just smiled. “Of course, Mother. I will be careful.”

Frigga fussed over her for a little while longer before she finally left, and Loki carefully closed and locked the door behind her, a little bit of guilt gnawing at her insides. Her mother was clearly ecstatic at Thor’s coronation, and her brother was very happy too.

But he just wasn’t ready! She loved her brother, of course she did, but he was hot headed and a risk and at the end of the day, her plan only would show that she was right or that she was wrong. Either Thor showed more maturity than she believed he had and was in fact the king father and mother believed he was, or he flew into a rage, which would prove her own hand ups at having him appointed. 

If Thor blundered publicly, father would have to postpone the coronation and her brother would have to learn to listen to people who weren’t himself.

She was right. She knew what she was doing was right and necessary (and treason) but it did not make the guilt abate.

Instead she shook her head, taking another deep breath before pulling at her seidr. She had things to do, for now.

+++

Idunn immediately looked up when Loki stepped off the Yggdrasil and into her garden, her expression grim but still kind and calm. “My princess. I have received your message.”

“Lady Idunn,” she greeted, wincing slightly as she let her glamour fade but her cloaking spell remain. 

The Lady immediately took her arm in hers as she half pulled her half carried her towards her cabin. “You are using a lot of seidr, my Princess.”

The raven haired goddess gave a half shrug. “I am aware. I had very little choice on the matter, I am afraid.”

The other woman did not give the answer she clearly was thinking of, instead letting her through the front door.

Loki had of course been in Lady Idunn’s personal quarters before. However there was still something lovely about the homely atmosphere the goddess managed to recreate with no one else for company. It felt, in a way, more of a home than the Palace did, even though the palace was always filled with people and noises.

She allowed herself to be placed on a small bed, passing a hand through her face.

Idunn looked particularly worried as she moved around, eyes tracing her expression. “You look paler than usual, your Highness. Just how much seidr are you utilizing at this moment?”

For a second Loki considered not answering her, for she knew the reaction her answer would get. However, if Idunn backed away now... plus, Loki was a planner. She had contingencies.

So she let out a sigh, the contractions coming faster than before and making her slightly dizzy with pain. “I planted a clone in my chambers,” she finally said. “With enough magic that it would take father sitting on the throne and pointedly checking for me for him to notice. And I magically induced labour.”

Princess Loki !”

The goddess refused to make eye contact, huffing as she made a gesture with her hand, making a couple of things appear from her pocket dimensions. “The necklace. Please place it upon me?”

Idunn was fiercely glaring at her now, but she pressed her lips tightly together and obliged, clasping it around her neck. She paused when her fingers traced the pendant, a slight understanding on her face. “A Ljsor pendant.”

Also known as a magic reserve pendant, used by non seidrmadr for protection spells. “Yes. As you can see, my Lady, I know what I am doing.”

The other gave a half nod, but she still wasn’t pleased. “You still won’t have enough energy to both open the portal and project during the birth. And you are aware, of course, that my own seidr cannot help you with that.”

That was the only weak point in Loki’s flawless planning; but in her defence she had done everything else perfectly . And she was doing everything almost alone.

“Indeed,” she said, and she saw Idunn’s expression growing hopeful. Probably thinking or hoping that Loki would allow for a healer to be called for help. Which was not the case. “But you have enough seidr to cast a svefn spell.”

Idunn looked horrified. “You would like me to what ?!”

Loki huffed. Idunn was very lucky, no one else would be able to get away with talking to her in that manner. She spoke clearly and calmly. “I’d like you to cast a svefn spell on me.”

The older woman gaped at her. “You would like me to put your mind in slumber. During childbirth?!” She sounded distressed. “My Princess, it could kill you!”

“It will not,” said Loki, wincing when she felt another contraction. “As I am not planning on having a natural birth. Recall?”

Idunn’s horror abated slightly, but she still did not look any more enthusiastic. “The risks-”

“Are calculated,” interrupted Loki, laying back down on the bedding. “And I am particularly good at arithmetics.”

Idunn’s lips pursed once more. “I thought you wanted to be in your astral form so that you would miss nothing during the process.”

The green eyed mage just shrugged, ignoring any latent anxiety churning at the pit of her stomach. “I trust you, lady Idunn. My pendant and seidr will be on standby even as you cast the spell, and will stop you if either my or the baby’s lives are at risk. But I know they won’t be.” She raised an eyebrow and pointed at the items she had brought along. “Those are also enchanted. It would take very ill intent for you to manage in killing me.”

Idunn shook her head, a small tense smile appearing on her face as she placed her hands over Loki’s stomach. “If I’m accused of any sort of regicide, my Princess, I will drag you out of Valhalla kicking and screaming,” finally said the blonde, her hands glowing as golden as her apples.

“But of course,” said Loki, smiling a nervous smile as her eyes slowly fluttered shut.


It hurt. 

For something that was happening while she was mostly asleep and on her numbed body, it hurt a lot .

Loki couldn’t scream, shout or see anything while under the spell, wouldn’t know if anything was going okay or if it was going wrong. All she could do was stay exactly as she was, shrouded in darkness, the sharp cuts on her stomach burning with the intensity of a thousands suns.

She was aware, of course, of the pain of childbirth. She wasn’t an idiot and she had spent plenty of time hearing women and child bearers cry at these very same feelings while she helped deliver their children. Somehow, still, part of her brain had convinced herself that they were exaggerating or that she, for some reason, would have a better time than they would - after all, she was the one who incurred the least injures when she went on quests with her brother and the Idiots Four.

Oh, how arrogant she had been.

Another sharp cut.

The pain was blinding and sharp and indistinct at the same time, and Loki wanted the spell to be gone already.

Surely it wasn’t supposed to hurt this badly?! Because if it did, why would Mother even think of giving birth a second time after Thor? In fact why did anyone in Asgard or Midgard or anywhere agreed to have more than a single child?!

It hurt, hurt, it burned -

And she couldn’t move. She couldn’t run, she was trapped she needed to, someone, could anyone -

A feeling of refreshing blue calm suddenly overcame her senses. Not stopping the pain, but almost like it was reaching out for her in confusion, trying to soothe while not knowing exactly what was wrong in the first place.

Anthony.

Loki forced herself to ignore the nerve wrecking pain, trying to somehow reach for that blue calmness with her own seidr, trying to reassure.

She should have guessed that the new star in his chest would connect the two of them in this manner, that it would make the link between the two of them smoother, more easily and readily accessible.

Anthony must have felt her panic somehow, through it, and was trying to calm her through it.

She couldn’t hear his voice or feel him in any physical way, but she could feel something like nerves coming from him as well as something blue and comforting, like a hug. Like he was saying, “ I don’t know what the fuck is going on right now, but are you okay? You’re okay right? I’m here, kind of? Pat pat?

Or something equally as charming, eccentric and panicked.

With him - somewhat - at her side, things proceeded a little more easily. The darkness and sensory deprivation wasn’t quite as frightening even with the pain remaining as sharp. It was like Anthony was sitting beside her, holding her hand.

Loki was not a wimp or a coward, but it was nice that even as far away as they were from each other - for the time being - she wasn’t alone in this.


She wasn’t quite sure how long they she stayed in that painful darkness, but suddenly the pain seemed to recede, as her body started waking up and knitting itself together once more.

And then her eyes snapped open and she breathed.


The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was Idunn hovering over her, blood on her clothing and a slightly worried expression on her face that immediately relaxed when she noticed Loki’s eyes focusing on her face.

“Oh, my Princess. How are you feeling?”

Loki ignored the question, her brain coming back to full alert as she sat up, wincing a little in pain even as her eyes scanned the room. “Where-” she started, and then stopped, her eyes pausing on the small table like object next to her. And the small figure resting a top of said object. “Oh.”

Idunn was smiling, but Loki’s eyes did not move away from the wrinkly but quiet figure beside her. “Congratulations, Princess Loki. It’s a girl.”

Oh,” repeated Loki, voice cracking slightly. Her hands shook slightly as Idunn very carefully passed the bundle to her, and Loki held her breath, looking down at her beautiful girl, her beautiful marshmallow. She felt like crying as she finally held the baby in her hands. “Hi. Hello, princess Amaya Lokadottir Stark.” She greeted, ignoring the tears rolling down her cheeks.

But Norns... she was so beautiful. So completely and utterly perfect. 

In Loki unbiased opinion she had just given birth to the most perfect and beautiful being in the whole of the Nine Realms.

As if agreeing with her the baby’s eyes fluttered open, unfocused fresh emeralds staring in her general direction while her mouth opened and closed.

For a second, Loki considered changing her plans. 

As she sat there, the scar on her stomach still painful and limbs shaking more than normal but her precious baby in her arms, she considered not going through with her original plan. To simply confess and be able to stay with her baby and never letting go of her ever. She could make it work, surely mother would help her out if Loki pleaded hard enough.

Father wouldn’t separate her from her child once he realised how much she loved her, right? And Thor would be happy to be an uncle, and everything could work out. Everything could be fine.

She could perhaps even bring Anthony on Asgard. Have the best of both worlds-

But she couldn’t, and Loki’s breath stuttered a little in her throat.

Because tomorrow was Thor’s coronation and the Frost Giants would come, and the baby’s safety was of the most importance. Amaya’s safety meant that Loki could not - would not - risk her, not if she could help it. She would not be safe here, at least not now.

She would be safe with Anthony, and it would not be for long. She would be away from Loki for a week, maximum. And then Loki would finally be able to move to Midgard, or travel there every time she wanted considering the borders would at least be reopened. 

Everything would be fine.

“My princess,” said Idunn, and Loki did not have to look at her to hear the pity in her tone. 

“Don’t,” she said, voice hoarse and holding even more carefully on the still nursing Amaya. “Once she’s asleep I will move.”

A pause from Idunn. “Very well, my princess.”


Thank the Norns for the pendant, thought Loki, stepping off the Yggdrasil and onto Anthony’s property in a record breaking 57 seconds.

He was finally in his male form once more, feeling much more comfortable than before and saving some energy that the shapeshfiting had been taking from him. Amaya was asleep, carefully swaddled in his arms and he only stopped to check Anthony was home alone before stepping through the front door with ease.

“Anthony?”

“Good afternoon,” came JARVIS’ voice, wary. “How did you- Miss Loki?”

He grinned at one of the cameras. “I have missed being able to speak to you. And it’s Mister Loki when I am in this form.”

An uncharacteristic pause from the AI. “I see. Welcome back, Mister Loki. Sir is-”

“Loki!” came Anthony’s voice as he basically skidded to a stop on the top floor before rushing down the stairs. “Holy shit, it is you. Physically you. Male you!”

Loki smiled right back as he rushed in front of him, pausing a step away and staring at the baby in his arms with wide eyes. “Oh and that’s... that’s...”

“Amaya,” said Loki, nodding and looking at his daughter with loving eyes. “Amaya Lokadottir Stark.”

“Oh,” said Anthony, the wonder clear in his eyes as he took a step closer to the two of them. He stared at the baby for a couple more seconds before looking back up at Loki. He looked slightly dizzy. “Our daughter?

The emotion in his face was familiar. It was the same feeling that had ran through his body when he had first laid eyes on their baby. So he smiled, hitting his shoulders with his. “Come. Let us sit. I don’t have long.”

Anthony glanced up in confusion at those words, but immediately his gaze was stolen away from Amaya again as they settled on the softest couch in the living room. The engineer’s eyes were full of love and apprehension, and Loki felt familiar tears prickling at his eyes. He shut his eyes for a second, and breathed.

“Lokes?” Loki’s eyes opened again to find Anthony looking at him, expression now worried. “Are you all right? I felt you, I think, through our dream link and you were in pain-”

“I am quite all right,” started the mage, then pressed his lips together and shook his head. “No. I a not all right. But I do not have a choice.” Anthony looked alarmed at his choice of words, but Loki continued. “Would you hold her, so I can explain?”

“Uh... I don’t think that’s a good-” started Anthony, but Loki didn’t allow him to finish the sentence.

The second Amaya’s form was out of his arms, he felt cold, but yet again Loki kept his emotions at bay, fixing the mortal’s hold on their daughter.

Despite his reticence and slight fear, Anthony appeared to be a natural. Amaya didn’t as much as twitch as she was moved, remaining asleep in his arms, and something calmed down further in Loki. 

This was the right thing to do. For Amaya's sake.

“Tomorrow is Thor’s coronation,” he started after a couple of seconds of watching Anthony slowly relax with Amaya in his arms. 

The human looked up in surprise at that. “It hasn’t happened yet?” he questioned, confused. “But... you’re here.”

“The border has not been opened as of yet,” explained Loki, now looking down at Amaya. “I was able to find a passage but it does not allow me indefinite stay. It is unknown to most and hard to open for those who do know how to navigate it.”

Anthony’s hold on the baby seemed to tighten ever so slightly. “So you and Amaya will be returning for the coronation?” he guessed, expression falling slightly. Before Loki could reply, his frown returned. “Wait. But no one knows that you have a baby, that’s what you said. Where do you plan on keeping her while you’re at the corona- oh no.”

“Anth-”

“Oh no no no,” said the human, shaking his head increasingly fast. “Lokes, buttercup, hun... are you nuts?

Loki crossed his arms around his chest. “It’s the only plan I have,” he said, voice even, but Anthony was still shaking his head.

“It’s a shitty plan!” he hissed, then wrinkled his nose at himself. “See? You are still here and I’m already cussing in front of the baby! See what a bad plan leaving her with me would be? I know nothing about babies! How would I even feed her? Nope. Nu-uh!”

“Then give me a solution,” asked Loki, trying to keep his patience. He knew this reaction was out of worry and fear, but it was not helping them in the slightest. The clock was ticking and soon enough Loki would have to leave. “Who could I possibly leave her with? It is just by luck that mother and father have not found out the truth about my pregnancy. The woman who helped me is a citizen of Asgard - leaving Amaya with her, no matter how much I trust her, leaves her vulnerable to someone finiding out.”

Anthony opened his mouth again, and Loki allowed the tears in his eyes to become more visible. “Do you believe this is my first choice? Do you believe I spent so many Midgardian months carrying her just to want her so far from me less than a day after her birth? You know that if there was any other solution, I would not allow for myself to be separated from her.” He furiously swiped at his cheeks, ignoring the sad look on the other man’s face. “I do not have a choice Anthony. Midgard is the only safe space for her at this point. At the very least, until Thor’s coronation.”

The brunet stared at her, panic and acceptance warrying in his eyes. “And after that?”

Loki forced a happy expression on his face. “I have told you already. I have plans on disrupting said coronation. And if worse comes to worse, I will do what I have to, to make sure I am with her once more.” He blinked at Anthony. “With both of you.”

“Lokes...” started the other man, but he didn’t seem to know how he wished to finish that sentence himself. 

But he understood never the less. “I know. I have plenty of things that I have gathered for this particular instance.” He then said, piling objects after objects on the table. “Translated manuscripts on Aesir health, barnamatur, clothing...”

Anthony’s eyes seemed to grow more and more fascinated the more things he continued to pull out from apparently nowhere. “What the hell kind of pockets do you have?”

“Pocket dimensions,” explained Loki, cracking a more real smile at Anthony’s obvious interest on the subject. Then it dimmed once more, as he pressed a finger on Amaya’s cheek and looked up in Anthony’s once more fearful eyes. “I promise I will be back as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take me more than a day, and we have our dream link. That journal over there,” he pointed to one of the various objects he had dropped on the table, “it's called minnisbo'k. I have the identical with me. It acts like one of your text messages.”

Anthony eyed it, a little intrigued. “How quick is it?”

“Instantaneous,” answered Loki. “Any question you have, anything you can ask and I will answer. You are not alone. I would not leave either of you alone if I could,” he added, slowly raising his other hand to cup Anthony’s cheek. “You know that, right?”

He sighed, tilting his head in his palm. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.” He pressed a kiss on Loki's palm, and then looked at the small necklace around Amaya's neck. "And this?"

Loki touched the resized Ljsor necklace. He had used magic to cut the one he had been using - the one he had found all those days ago in the market - and put it around Amaya. "It's a protection spell. I do not have the time to cast wards around your house, right now, but it will help protect her from ill intent while I'm away."

Even though he had been the one worrying up until then, Anthony smiled encouragely at him. "She will be okay, Lokes. She's your daughter."

"Indeed," whispered Loki, holding back any tear that tried to leave his eyes. "Now, let me quickly explain the majority of this items to you, before I have to flee."


Loki did not pay attention to the way everyone in the great hall glanced at him in surprise as he walked inside, too busy keeping his heartache and sorrow from being plain for everyone to see.

When he had left Midgard, he had collapsed in Idunn’s gardens, the tears he had been keeping at bay consuming him immediately. He knew it was a temporary precaution, and he knew Anthony was Amaya’s father and would not, therefore, hurt her.

But his heart refused to acknowledge such things. All his heart was aware of was that his little girl had been in his arms for no more than a couple of hours and now she was Realms away, and if she woke up crying, Loki wouldn’t be there to comfort her.

It hurt incredibly.

But Loki must remain strong, because he had made the decision. And better this bitter pain that no one would be none the wiser regarding than what the nobles and the court could do to her. Better him suffer this pain ten fold than she go through anything like he had, growing up.

“Hello brother!” greeted Thor, grinning widely as Loki sat on the chair beside mother, facing him directly. “I haven’t seen you all day! How fare thee?”

Loki looked up at his brother and had to force himself not to reach over the table and strangle him. After all, Thor hadn’t done anything. He was an idiot, and ill equipped for the throne but it wasn’t like he had asked father to be put in command. Thor was not guilty of father’s plans.

“I am well,” he answered, briefly meeting his eyes before turning his attention on the meal and trying to swerve his mind away from Amaya and Anthony and what they could be possibly be doing at the moment.

“Are you sure, my son?” asked their father and this time Loki couldn’t help but allow a little flash of bitterness to appear in his eyes as he eyed the older man.

Odin frowned but Loki forced his expression back into a mask of neutrality before he could scold him. “Yes, father. Tis not but a small case of exhaustion. I have used much seidr today.”

The All-father’s gaze remained on him for a couple of seconds, the all-mother’s concern strong beside it. “You will be well by the morrow?”

“Yes, father,” agreed Loki, keeping the same blankness.

Odin nodded, pleased, while mother’s concern remained.

One day, Loki promised himself, when it was safe, he would tell her about her granddaughter.

For now, he continued eating and crying on the inside.

Chapter Text

1st June 2010, Malibu

 

A week ago, Tony Stark was dying.

A week ago, Tony Stark was dying of palladium poisoning while trying to create some semblance of domestic life with what he believed, at the time, an hallucination of the girl he met once ten years ago and then proceeded to spend a week with at his house.

A week ago, Tony Stark was very very ignorant.

He looked down at the crib in the middle of the nursery and swallowed nervously.

A week ago life was fucked but at the very least it was a fucked he could deal with. A sort of fucked he had understood. A fucked he had gotten used to.

And now there was a child, a human (?) being in the crib in front of him, asleep and covered in blankets and Tony was alone in the house with a baby, holy fucking shit who thought this was a good idea?! Who thought Tony should be left alone with children? 

Oh god, why was the baby still asleep? Was she supposed to sleep this long? Had he killed her already? Oh god oh god-

“Sir,” came the voice of his AI, steady as a rock as Tony tried and failed to control his breathing. “Everything will be all right, sir. Please follow this pattern to relax your breathing.”

Tony took a big gulp of air, eyes fixed on the lights ahead. They were flickering ever so slightly, JARVIS’ way of keeping him counting. Inhale, lights on, exhale, lights off. One, two, three, lights, one, two, three, exhale. One, two, three, lights, one, two, three, exhale. One, two, three, lights, one, two, three, exhale. 

“Very well done, Sir,” praised JARVIS, and Tony let out a half choked chuckle, eyes steady on the baby.

She had yet to wake since Loki left her with him, and Tony still wasn’t quite sure if this was normal behaviour or not.

People always went around and told you all the similarities you and your baby had, upon their birth. Saying shit like ‘oh, she’s got your nose’ or ‘look that’s definitely your mouth’.

In Tony’s opinion, this baby looked absolutely nothing like him or Loki. She looked like some sort of potato human hybrid with a tuff of dark hair at the top of her head. If someone put her in front of him and told him she was not his daughter, he wouldn’t doubt it for a second.

But at the same time, in some odd and unscientific manner she was the absolutely most beautiful sight he had ever seen in his life. Everything from the tip of her hair to her small wiggly toes was absolutely perfect.

From the second he had heard Loki’s voice in the house and spotted the baby in his hands something in his chest had completely melted. 

Now, anyone went around and said that he melted would be sued without prejudice, but... yeah. 

“She’s beautiful, sir,” finally said JARVIS, and Tony managed a small nod of agreement. The AI’s voice was soft, a burst of emotion hiding behind cybernetic words.

Love.

A soul.

“This is your sister, J,” said Tony, just as softly. Because JARVIS might not be corporeal, but he was very much Tony’s son as well. The youngest, before her. “This is Amaya.”

“Welcome home, Amaya Stark,” repeated the AI, and Tony’s smile grew.

Home.

His smile dimmed ever so slightly. 

Right. Home.

Home was were your family was. But not the entire family was here. 

Loki wasn’t here. Loki was stuck on another fucking planet, and no matter how hard he had tried to hide it, Tony had seen the tear tracks on his face as he had left the mansion. Had seen the way his fingers twitched to try and take the baby back into his arms, even as his mind convinced him that there was no other way.

“How long do you think she will remain asleep, J?” finally asked Tony, forcing his gaze away from the sleeping figure in the crib.

“Data specific to Miss Amaya is being collected, but according to studies and books I have been able to find online, babies should be fed every 4-5 hours. Considering the notes Mr Loki has left for you, two hours ago, we should have around two more hours before you should prepare her for feeding,” dutifully recited the AI.

Tony frowned a little even as he walked out of the room. “Don’t babies need to be breastfed or something? Is it different for Loki’s people?” he asked, looking down at the mountain of stuff on his coffee table.

Thankfully, this particular living room was directly in front of the nursery, which meant the slightest twitch from Amaya and Tony would be able to be back in there in 5 steps flat (that, and whatever happened, JARVIS would be the most trustworthy baby monitor in the history of baby monitors).

“According to Mr Loki, everything regarding children’s development will be written in the black notebook he has left on the couch,” said JARVIS, and Tony nodded, picking up said booklet. 

He sent an anxious look towards the room, before opening the first page.

For a second, when all he could see was neatly arranged runes, Tony panicked again.

He had a full second to think ‘oh shit, Loki forgot to write in English - wait, how does he even speak English - wait do I have to refer to him as they or her when they are in male form’ , before the runes seemed to... rearrange before his very eyes.

They moved around the page, and between a blink and the next the runic symbols twisted into familiar English words.

Tony’s eyes were almost boggling out of his head. “J... did you just see that?”

“Indeed I did, sir.”

“Woah,” said Tony, shaking his head ever so slightly, scientific mind leaping ten steps ahead and trying to figure out the mechanism behind this. It was a leather bound notebook and both runes and English letter appeared handwritten. Then why did it behave like some sort of hologram or computer? This was incredible, it was just-

“Sir. You are supposed to read it as much as you can before little miss wakes,” pointed out JARVIS in a very dry tone and Tony blinked again.

Right. Baby first. Science later.

Wow. Never thought those words would ever come out of one Tony Stark's brain.


Harold ‘Happy’ Hogan was Tony Stark’s driver and bodyguard. Everyone who knew anything concrete about Tony knew that as well as they knew that while he was nicknamed Happy, there was little ‘happiness’ coming from the surly and grumpy man.

What many did not know, was that, before Bern, Happy was simply Tony Stark’s bodyguard.

He was not his driver, because Tony used to have a different driver before that.

A nice and kind man just a couple of years his junior by the name of Ben Parker.

Ben Parker was a great man. He was the kindest and one of funniest person Tony had ever met, and he was a damn good driver. He didn’t have the bodyguard experience Happy had, but he had a secret agent for a sister in law who had trained him well enough that he could smack any journalist who got too close to Tony, back in the day.

Tony would hesitate to call the man family, but he was close to them all. Happy adored him and genuinely laughed when he was around him; Rhodey and him became fast friends over their shared love for american football; and even JARVIS had liked him (by the time Pepper came around, he was gone).

And Tony? Well, they were close enough that when he heard that the man was moving to the East Coast for family reasons that meant his wife (then girlfriend) would have to give up her doctoring career, he had sent Ms ‘call me May’ Parker a nice full ride nursing scholarship and fired him, giving him plenty of liquidation money despite his insistence.

“If you need me,” had said the man, almost in tears but resolute and grateful, “just give me a call. I’ll be happy to help.”

Normally Tony would have waved away this resolution. Ignored it.

But normally Tony did not have an half alien baby that any other doctor who came across her and managed to identify her as Tony Stark’s daughter wouldn’t immediately try and get a sample of her blood to check if they were really related. And Tony was not in any rush to discover the differences in their genetic make-up, thank you very much.

He needed discretion. And the best discretion came from those who felt somehow indebted to you.

Hello?” came the voice at the other side of the phone, and Tony smiled.

“Hello, Ben. You probably don’t recognise my voice but-”

Mr Stark?! ” immediately said the other man, and Tony blinked. “Is that you?”

“Apparently you do recognise my voice,” said the billionaire, quickly catching his voice again. “How are you doing?”

I’m good, Mr Stark, I’m good!” said the younger man, and Tony could imagine his half grin. "This is incredible, we were just talking about you!”

“All good things, I hope?” he joked, and Ben laughed.

The best. My nephew, you saved him the other day. With the Whiplash!”  he explained, and Tony’s eyes widened, recognising the media's name for Vanko. “We lost him for a second, and then I turned around and saw him facing off one of those awful robots. I didn’t even have time to panic or scream and you were already behind him blasting that thing to Kingdom come. And you told him-”

“Nice job kid,” finished Tony remembering. Well well well, will you look at that? For once, things were going his way. “Say, are you still in California? And is May there with you?”

+++

“Sir,” started JARVIS, tone of voice exasperated, “may I ask why, out of the people listed, this is your choice?”

“You may,” answered the engineer, cheerfully, moving around the items Loki had left behind. He had managed to sort everything in neat piles of ‘I know what this is for’, ‘I think I know what this is for’ and ‘what the fuck is this’. In so far, the ‘what the fuck is this’ list was the biggest, but as he slowly worked through the various books and notebooks Loki had left him with, he was able to move more and more stuff into the maybe pile. “It’s because she is a good lawyer.”

“And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Miss Walters has, in the list of her family members, the name Doctor Bruce Banner listed?” pressed the AI, voice knowing.

Tony paused for a second. “That name does sound familiar. Isn’t he like a famous physics man?”

“Sir.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Okay, yes. I did choose her in particular because her cousin is the famous Hulk from like last week, but it’s not what you think.” He put down the newly washed bottles in the kitchen. “She has kept her connection to Dr Banner a secret for years now. Which means that she doesn’t want whoever is hunting him - because I’m sure someone is - to notice her and use her as bait. Therefore they have been, at some point, close. She is the perfect candidate. If I believe she will rat off my secrets regarding Amaya, then I can rat off her connection to Banner to the right people.”

“That’s... clever. And a little bit manipulative.”

“Don’t sound so surprised,” said Tony with a slight huff. “I sort of think I can trust May and Ben, but lawyers are a complete different ballpark. NDAs can only be so good.”

“Anthony,” came another voice, and Tony’s head snapped up immediately, eyes widening up in surprise.

“Loki!” he called, moving towards the figure. “That was quick, how-” He stopped a couple of steps away from the man. Recalled that JARVIS had not announced him this time and let his smile fall. “Transprojecting?”

Loki gave him a smile that was just as sad. “Unfortunately.” His head turned towards the door of the nursery. “Has she been fed?”

Anxiety pooled at Tony’s stomach. “Not yet. Oh god, have I fucked up already? I read some of your notebook, but I didn’t finish it, and neither it or JARVIS told me how long after the first feeding should the baby be fed again, and I told you, I’m not good at this stuff- woah.” He paused, blinking with a hand on his chest. “Did you just do that?”

A sense of calm and relaxation seemed to be spreading from the Arc Reactor core in his chest. Loki’s frown moved from his chest and turned into a smug little grin when their eyes met. “Yes. I wasn’t quite sure it would work, but apparently I can do this now.” His eyes softened further. “And it is quite all right. If she was at any risk she would wake up crying and demand the food. As she is not crying, she isn't any danger. However, it would be safer for you to start preparing the food and feed her now.”

Tony was not very inclined towards the idea of waking up the baby, but he had read some books regarding earth babies and Loki was, theoretically, right.

So he nodded, moving towards the kitchen, not at all surprised that Loki remained in front of the door. Speaking of Loki,

“Hey, what pronouns do I use for you, now?”

He was focused on the task at hand, but he could almost feel Loki’s confused eyes on him. “I beg your pardon?”

“Pronouns,” repeated Tony, carefully mixing the powder as Loki’s notebook instructed. “When you were in your female form you asked to be referred as Princess and seemed fine with me referring to you as ‘she’ and ‘her’. What about now? You told JARVIS Mr, but-”

“I do prefer male pronouns when I am in my male form, yes. And female pronouns when I am in my female form.” A slight pause. “I don’t particularly care for your Midgardian ways of address. The Aesir have ways to address male, female, people who are both and people who are neither and every other gender. While you Midgardians still struggle with that, am I correct?”

Tony shrugged, checking the temperature. “Sort of. The west is more progressive, but there are places were it’s better and places were its worst. Though I’m mostly speaking about trangender people and you are talking about shapeshifting.” He explained, finally moving towards Loki. “This looks okay?”

Loki eyed the bottle carefully, then nodded. His curious eyes went back to Tony as they walked in the nursery. “So when you first met me in my female form...”

“I assumed you were trans, yes. I was going to ask, but then I thought ‘does it really matter?’ and just... didn’t.” He gave him a rueful smile. “I guess had I asked, things would have gotten much simpler much quicker.”

“I prefer that you didn’t ask, put the bottle on the table,” said and instructed Loki. “It made me feel like you accepted me and recognised me no matter my outward appearance. It was... nice.” He flashed him a smile. “Now when you pick her up, position your arms in this way. You need to support her head as you lift her up. She is too young to raise it by herself, and therefore needs your help with it.”

“Oh god,” managed Tony, looking down at the crib like it was some sort of dangerous experiment. “You want me to pick her up. Just like that?”

Loki crossed his arms around his chest, slightly amused. “Just like that.”

“Okay,” muttered Tony, hands reaching out. “Just like that. No biggie. Step up, Stark.”

She was so wiggly and squishy. Tony would like to set up a complaint with whoever had designed babies’ bodies because this shit was ridiculous. He wasn’t one for the squishy sciences but everything about them seemed defective and counterproductive. Cute to look at, but as an engineer he was very much unimpressed with the general set up of bones and squishy bits.

He managed to get his hands under her body, noticing the way Loki had uncrossed his arms and made to reach out to help him and feeling his chest hurting ever so slightly at the action, before he finally lifted her out of the bed.

Amaya’s nose scrunched, her mouth opening in one sharp cry. Tony would have normally freaked out about sending his daughter to tears so quickly, but there was something more pressing.

He looked up at Loki in surprised. “She’s got my eyes.”

Loki looked at the squirming baby and then back to Tony, frowning ever so slightly. “I don’t know how impaired Midgardians' eyesight is, but your eyes are far darker than hers, Anthony.”

Tony huffed at this, shifting Amaya slightly and taking the bottle with his mostly free hand before slowly and carefully sitting back on the lounge like sofa he had ordered for the room. “I meant when I was a baby. My mom had some pictures of when I was younger, and she’s got my same exact eyes. They got darker when I got older.”

Loki was standing extremely close to him, even though he made sure they weren’t touching - lest he disappeared. “Hold her almost upright but not quite. Keep your arm like that so you can support her head as she feeds. Brush the teat over her lips and-”

Okay, that was fucking cool. Tony watched entranced as her uncoordinated mouth felt the press of the bottle against her lips and and then she was automatically sucking on it like it was an automatic response.

Uh, he needed to stop relating his newborn daughter - holy shit - to his machines. Remember when he used to relate his AIs and robots to human babies? How the mighty had fallen.

“You are really good at this,” he said after a second of just watching in awe as Amaya’s eyes closed even as she kept suckling.

Loki didn’t immediately answer, and when Tony looked up he saw the love and pain warring on his face. When he felt Tony’s gaze on him, he immediately pulled a smile, but Tony wasn’t for a second fooled by the mask.

It made him feel like shit. 

Here he was, freaking out at everything and being awed by Amaya’s every move like some sort of cartoon character, and Loki, who had carried her and who seemed to know everything that had ever been said about raising a baby couldn’t even touch her and was forced to watch him make a fool of himself and teaching him while probably hoping he wouldn’t fuck up their child.

“Lokes-”

“How do you Midgardians possibly change your eye colour?” questioned Loki quickly, going back to the original topic. Tony knew a deflection when he heard one, but was also polite enough to ignore it. “I have noticed that your eyes do subtly change depending on your feelings and emotional state.”

“It’s not conscious decision,” explained Tony, glancing back down to make sure Amaya didn’t choke or something. “It’s a biology thing, when you’re younger. From what I remember, newborns hair and eye colour tends to change around the six month to one year mark, and then you’re stuck with whatever your genes decide. My mom had blue eyes, my dad had brown, and my hazel-blue six months genes decided brown was the best course of action.

“Regarding my eyes now, I don’t actually know. My mom’s eyes sort of changed when she was angry too. They went from calm sea blue to sudden glacial grey or stormy summer skies, depending on how she felt. I don’t know if there is an actual scientific reason, or if it’s just people’s interpretation clouded by the subtle psychosomatic signals.”

Loki looked intrigued by that. “Fascinating. It is actually nearly impossible for me to change my eye colour when I shapeshift,” he told him. “I mean, technically I can, but it’s noticeable that that isn't my natural eye colour. It's almost as if someone placed... those contact things Pepper insists on wearing.”

“Contact lenses. Why’s that?”

“Well, eyes are the windows to the soul,” answered the trickster, like it was obvious. “And in many seidrmadrs, their eyes colour reflects their seidr. When I use my seidr powerfully and with purpose, my eyes glow brighter, reflecting that. If I changed my eye colour and then proceeded to use my seidr, you would still be able to still see the green, no matter what glamour I use to conceal it. Unless, of course I am not using my seidr and someone is using me as a magical conductor.”

“That’s... kind of cool,” said Tony, impressed despite himself. “I still maintain that seidr or magic or whatever is science that I haven’t explained yet, but that’s weird and cool and I love weird and cool.” He watched Amaya still suckling, nowhere near half the bottle and spoke, carefully not looking at Loki as he spoke. “When you finish up what you’re doing and move here, I’d love to scan your magic.”

A beat.

“I’d like that.”

Tony smiled, and continued feeding Amaya.


“Sir,” called JARVIS’ voice, making Tony look up from the notebook.

Loki had left after telling Tony how to put Amaya to sleep, the coronation apparently only a couple of hours away. Once the baby had fallen asleep - much more easily than Tony had anticipated - he had left the nursery door open and headed back in the living room, picking up the notebook Loki had left.

It wasn’t that big, but it was surprisingly dense, and he had hoped to finish before his favourite people in the world showed up. “Yes, J?”

“Miss Walters has replied to your e-mail and is amendable to a first appointment. Would you like to schedule it now or after Miss Potts has approved? She, Colonel Rhodes and Mr Hogan have just parked in the driveway.”

“Let’s wait for Pepper,” he decided, standing up and stretching. “Ben Parker has my address, right?”

“Yes. I have sent it to them along with the NDA for both him and Mrs Parker,” he said, just as the sound of heels resounded in the mansion. “Mr Hogan, Miss Potts and Colonel Rhodes are now approaching.”

Tony forced himself to relax even as the anxiety and excitement in his chest threatened to make him throw up. He knew that, realistically, there was nothing to fear. These were his friends, his best friends even. 

His Iron Family. (Iron Fam was catchy).

But it was still nerve wracking. He really hoped they wouldn’t throw the towel at the knowledge that the baby was now here and that they would be the uncles and aunt Amaya so deserved.

Rhodey already knew, after all. But he hadn’t really mentioned since Tony had spoken to him about it.

Then again, it had been a week maybe since Tony had mentioned Loki’s pregnancy.

Holy shit, his baby wasn’t even a full 24 hours old and he was alone with her!

“Tony,” called out Pepper, and Tony pulled out from his slight descent into new panic to see the trio standing at the entrance looking at him with curiosity in their eyes. “You all right?”

“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head to clear it and standing straighter. He smiled. “Actually better than okay. I’m good.”

Rhodey eyed him with slight suspicion. “You’re not dying again, are you?”

Happy, who had clearly been informed by the two eyed him in disapproval even as Tony rolled his eyes. “That was one time," he complained. As they did not look amused, he hurried to ass, "and I think that was enough dying for the year. I wouldn’t nearly die so soon again this year.”

“How long ago was Afghanistan, again?” questioned Pepper, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I’m so glad you brought that up,” immediately latched on Tony, ignoring their confused expression. “My kidnapping in Afghanistan was nine months ago. Coincidentally enough, Loki stayed with us about nine months ago.”

Rhodey straightened up, understanding filling his eyes immediately, and Tony was very pleased to see an excited smile on his face. Pepper looked equally excited, though for seemingly different reason.

“Loki is here? Where is she?”

“Correction, Loki was here,” corrected Tony, wincing at everyone’s disappointed eyes. Yes, that was about how he felt about the entire situation. “Dropped something off, actually. Loki’s been working on it for nine months.”

Pepper and Happy frowned. “Worked on it?”

“Yup,” answered Tony, popping the ‘p’ loudly. “Left it in there, if you guys want to take a look.”

Pepper and Happy looked even more confused, but Rhodey moved quite quickly towards the nursery. Yes, he was going to be uncle number one, no question asked.

“Oh my god,” said his best friend, standing at the door with his back to them, and that was all the other two needed to rush to see what exactly it was that had him so surprised.

“Oh my god,” they chorused, both of them freezing at the sight of the crib and the already mostly furnished room.

Pepper was the first to unfreeze, turning at him with wide eyes. “Tony.”

He grinned, stomach lurching a little. “Pepper.”

“Tony,” she repeated, turning her head back towards the room where Rhodey had inched inside, quietly. She looked back at him. “There is a baby in that room.”

“Yes,” agreed the engineering, amicably. “I had a hand in making her.”

“Her?”

“Amaya Stark,” he said, very pleased with himself as he introduced his daughter to the first humans on Earth. “My daughter.”

“Your daughter,” repeated Pepper, voice slightly empty.

“My goddaughter,” said Rhodey, stepping outside the nursery, but with his eyes still on the sleeping figure in the crib.

Since Tony and Loki had not actually spoken about it, Tony chose to neither deny nor support that claim. Also, so far, Rhodey was collecting hell of a lot of ‘godfather’ points.

Happy’s shocked eyes turned accusing as he turned on the other man. “You knew.”

“That Loki was pregnant?” Rhodey winked. “Of course I knew.” For less than a week. “I’m Tony’s favourite.”

 Pepper’s face twisted in a number of different emotions before determination won out. “How sure are you that it’s your daughter?”

Tony met her eye evenly. “100% sure.” Actually 98.9%  but he was not going to give her any doubts.

Finally his new CEO’s face softened. “Then I believe congratulations are in order, Mr Stark.”

“Thank you, Pep.”

“Yeah,” agreed Happy, moving away from the nursery’s door to clap a hand on his shoulder. “Congratulations boss. Now, where is the missus?”

“We are not married,” pointed out Tony, rolling his eyes slightly. “Also, not a ‘miss’. Loki is actually the Norse deity Loki, who, turns out, is an alien from outer space. Also, a shapeshifter.”

Three completely unimpressed stares.

“You are saying that with a lot of confidence,” said Rhodey, eyeing him in worry now.

Probably thinking about all the crazy things palladium poisoning might have accomplished.

He couldn’t fault them, but at least he had proof. “JARVIS?”

+++

“Holy shit,” repeated Rhodey, for possibly the twelth time in the past ten minutes alone.

This time it was due to the rune to English instant translation notebook. 

Happy was still stuck on the image of Loki from hour prior - a Loki he immediately recognised as the Loki in Bern - side to side with female Loki and was trying to put ‘shapeshifter’ in his brain without losing his mind.

Pepper had, surprisingly (or maybe not?), taken it in stride and was double checking the NDAs Tony and JARVIS had prepared for Miss Walters and the Parkers, her agenda and Tony’s open in front of them as she quizzed both the AI and the human on what their next should be.

“You’re going to need to lie,” said Pepper, observing her calendar. “I’m assuming you are not getting a nanny any time soon.”

“Correct assumption,” answered Tony, grimacing just at the thought. He remember his nannies more than he remember his own father, and Tony wasn’t about to make that mistake. He would be there for his daughter.

“Then we are going to need to lie,” she repeated. “You’re going to have to make the palladium poisoning public.”

“How did you figure that out?” not that he didn’t trust Pepper, but still.

“You’re going to need time with Amaya, at least until your alien boyfriend is done sabotaging his brother’s coronation and gets to return to Earth,” she said, with a complete straight face. “If you suddenly go silent, SHIELD will get suspicious, and so will the rest of the world. You’ll risk your safety and Amaya’s.”

“But if I tell them I had palladium poisoning even as I saved the world from Vanko-”

“Saved Stark Industries and the people at the Expo,” corrected Pepper, which Tony gracefully ignored.

“- then people will understand me disappearing.”

“SHIELD would still be suspicious, but I saw your video of your meeting with them. You have them by the balls, they wouldn’t risk anything so soon,” said Pepper, tapping a couple of things on her StarkPhone. “You don’t need to come in SI to do a lot of your business, and I’m sure between us and JARVIS, we can get anything you need to sign or do to you without any major interference. Do you know when Loki will officially be back?”

Tony shook his head, grabbing the minnisbók - what Loki had called the instant translation notebook. “He’ll tell me either by transprojecting or via this. Look.” He took out the small pen like object stuck to the side and started writing.

So, I have told Pepper, Rhodey and Happy about Amaya. They miss you a lot, and can’t wait to see you. Amaya has not woken up since you left. How’s the coronation going?

Pepper looked over his shoulder in confusion, and not even she could mask her surprise when ink appeared under his sentence, runes swirling quickly and turning into a neat Times New Roman type English script.

“Oh my god,” said Rhodey yet again, and Tony smiled, pretending he wasn’t also impressed by how this thing worked.

You’ve told them I was Aesir? I cannot lie, I would have quite enjoyed seeing James’ reaction to it. Or Harold’s. I miss them too, and I am now in my chambers waiting for the seamstress and the servants to bring my armour and clothing. Please give Amaya a kiss from me, before you retire tonight.

“That’s really fucking cool,” said Rhodey, shaking his head. “Your boyfriend is a wizard, Tones! Magic is real!”

“Shame on you,” answered his best friend, yet again ignoring the ‘boyfriend’ bit. “You are an MIT graduate, I should wash your mouth for saying such words in my presence. I better not hear Amaya repeating such craziness.”

“Babies don’t speak until they are like months old,” scoffed Happy, with all the knowledge of someone who had not been around a baby since he himself was one.

Tony ignored him and Rhodey arguing about it, and exchanged a small smile with Pepper. 

Will do. Amaya can’t wait to be in your arms again.


Tony woke up to Amaya’s cries and the feeling of frozen fear crawling over his heart.

Chapter Text

Jotun.

A Frost Giant.

The word tasted bitter on Loki’s tongue and he wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to throw up or cry out.

He didn’t do either, watching the guards carrying away his fa- no, Odin. He wasn’t dead, they had reassured him. He had fallen into the Odinsleep.

Any other day, Loki would have laughed at the dramatic irony of it all. Now it just made his head and heart hurt, trying to make sense of the past day in one way or another.

How typical of fa- of Odin, to faint into the Odinsleep to avoid having a complicated conversation with Loki. 

So much made sense, now. Letting the whole of Asgard dub him ‘Loki Liesmith’ when he did not even know the biggest lie about himself. The twisted truth Odin had kept from him.

And why, Loki still didn’t know. 

Why take the son of an enemy? Why take the son of Laufey?

To gain a puppet King? Did he truly believe that Jotunheim and the Jotnar would idly let an Aes (not an Aesir, not by birth) sit on their throne?

Except he wasn’t Aesir, not really. Even his skin was a lie. Not truly his, something the All-Father must have forced on him to hide the truth from the people.

Because talented shapeshifter or not, Loki would have never been able to maintain that glamour for more than a millennia if he hadn’t known there was a glamour to maintain.

People must have known. How many of them were privy of Loki’s secret?

Frigga for sure. And the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper must have known the truth all along. Was it for that reason that the guards supposed to come and rescue them from Jotunheim hadn’t come? Did Heimdall want Loki to discover the truth? Did Odin?

Did they already know that he was the one who snuck their enemy inside the castle?

They must have. No matter how long and hard they tried to raise him as Aesir, his Frost Giant roots shone through him nevertheless. His allegiances were coded in his blood despite moth- Frigga’s nurturing. 

Why had Odin taken him?

Why had Odin allowed the son of his enemy inside his house? He claimed that ‘things changed’ and yet he allowed Thor to declare his intention of murdering all Jotnar since they were infants, ignoring the fact that he was raising a Jotun. 

And did Thor know?

No, Thor was not subtle. If he had known, then Loki would have found out.

What would Thor do, if he found out too? Would he kill Loki?

When were they planning to tell him the truth, if ever?

He felt Anthony’s concern through their dream link, and stifled another burst of fear and anger. Did Anthony even know what a Frost Giant was? What would he do once he knew he had laid with a monster? What would he do once-

Amaya.

This time Loki wasn’t quite able to force back the sob from clawing out of his throat. His own daughter, he had cursed her with this. He had made her the monster that children feared, he had forced his own disgusting progeny in her.

But how? She hadn’t been blue when she was born, she had looked quite-

Idunn.

Because Loki hadn’t quite been there when Amaya was born, had he? Idunn had woken him up from the sven spell after having cleaned her up and put her down.

And if Loki had been able to shapeshift the second he had been in his fa- in Odin’s arms, who was to say she wasn’t able to do the same? He had noticed she had seidr in her, but he had not had time to check the levels and calculate whether or not they were on par with most Aesir or not.

But Idunn would have seen, Idunn would have known.

Then why hadn’t she told?

She had been in Asgard for centuries, she had been there before Odin’s birth. Which meant she might have known he wasn’t Aesir. And oh, her comments and the looks she would give him at times made much more sense now.

Had she thought he knew? 

“Prince Loki,” came a voice, and Loki blinked back every emotion from his face, turning to look at the guard impassively. He had no idea who this Einherjar was, but he was looking at him with deep sympathy. “Queen Frigga requests your presence in her chambers.”

Did he know?

Loki couldn’t help but wonder as he followed the man. He couldn’t help but wonder if that was the real truth behind the castle’s and noble’s reaction to him. Did they all know? Was that why they behaved in such a poor way towards him?

How many knew about Odin’s stolen relic, the little Jotun runt he besmirched Frigga’s honour with?

The guard stopped at the door and Loki said something in thanks before he walked into the room.

Moth- Frigga was sitting at Odin’s side, holding onto his hand as he walked in. She was looking at him, but Loki refused to meet her lying treacherous gaze, instead looking at where Odin laid. 

The All-Father (father of all but him ) looked pale and lifeless on the in his pod of light and magic, the OdinForce crawling over him to keep him protected while he recovered, the lights of the outside covered. 

Despite his reticence and his struggling feelings of hatred, confusion and love, Loki remained quiet as he sat on the other side of Odin, Frigga watching him from over the sleeping man.

“I asked him to be honest with you, from the beginning,” she claimed, voice full of sorrow. Loki wondered how she had found out the truth, considering only him and Odin had been in that chamber when Loki picker up the casket. Perhaps she had seen it in her weaves of fate. Had she planned on this future? “There should be no secrets in a family.”

Family .

Was that what they were? Loki wasn’t so sure. And if Odin hadn’t told him, why hadn’t she ? She was meant to be his mother and Queen of Asgard, wasn’t she? Why couldn’t she have made the decision of telling him the truth instead of having him stumble into it by accident?

He didn’t say any of that. “So why did he lie?”

Frigga’s smile was gentle, kind. Loki couldn’t help but think if this was what he looked like when he lied and manipulated Thor for a jest. “He kept the truth from you so that you would never feel different.” Loki nearly scoffed at that.

He had felt different from the second he had become old enough to understand what the whispers around him meant. From the moment he understood that no matter how hard he worked or tried to impress what he then thought was his father, only Thor existed in the old man’s eyes.

He had felt different since the beginning. If they had told him what he was, at least then he would have known why . Instead of trying to please people who would never be pleased by him.

Was that why he could never raise Mjolnir, no matter how hard he tried? Because it was an Aesir weapon and no Jotun would even be worth half what an Aes was? 

Frigga continued talking, unaware of his meandering thoughts. “You are in every way our son, Loki, and we your family. You must know that.”

Did he? Loki wasn’t quite sure he did. 

He knew he was Thor’s younger brother (yet another lie) that everyone pretended to like for Thor’s sake (would Thor still protect him, once he knew the truth? Loki wasn’t quite sure).

He knew he was Odin’s second son (untrue) the less favored prince, someone who Odin cared little for, so little that even the rest of the Court had noticed.

Maybe he was Frigga’s son, but then again, she lied to him. Told him he just needed to work harder, when the cards had been stacked against him from the moment of his birth.

“You can speak to him. He can see and hear us, even now,” she told him and Loki wondered what on Helheim did she expect him to say to this man. To this man who Loki had known his entire life and claimed he got his cunning from when the truth was he got nothing from him.

He had nothing to say to him. He had questions, but not for him, not yet. “How long will it last?”

“I don't know,” admitted mo- Frigga. “This time is different. We were unprepared.”

Meaning this probably was the true reason Thor’s coronation had been so carefully planned. They were planning to put him on the throne and then leave him there to tempt Ragnarok while Odin took his usual nap.

Loki looked back down at the frail old man in front of him, wishing the concern in his heart would simply disappear. “I never get used to seeing him like this,” admitted his traitorous tongue. “The most powerful being in the Nine Realms lying helpless until his body is restored.”

Frigga nodded. “But he's put it off for so long now, I fear...” she said, voice trailing off.

Loki felt his body moving automatically towards Frigga’s, his hand taking hers in his. His brain and heart were clashing against each other, but Frigga had been, if not his mother, the woman who raised him.

If anything, he thought as she wiped tears from her eyes, she had never treated him as less of Thor. She had lied to him just like Odin, but he could try and see that her lies came from a place of... care if not love. She had been handed a disgusting Jotun runt and she had found place in her heart to love and care for the creature, raising him along her blood son like he was truly hers.

“You're a good son,” she told him and Loki looked down.

Was he? Was he truly, when his brain was still shouting at him to move his hand, to not believe her? To hate her for her lies, that were prettier than Odin’s but still lies?

“We mustn't lose hope that your father will return to us. And your brother.”

Loki’s eyes snapped back up to his mother, trying and failing to hide his panic at the idea. Thor coming back, Thor finding out the truth about Loki, and then about Amaya- 

“What hope is there for Thor?”

“There's always a purpose to everything your father does. Thor may yet find a way home,” she told him, hopeful. Happy even.

Did she not recall Thor’s childhood? Did she not recall his actions of mere hours prior? He raged a war against Loki’s race because they called him a ‘princess’. What did she expect would happen once he found out about Loki?

No, Thor couldn’t be allowed to return, not until Loki had found a way off this planetoid.

There were too many pieces spiralling out of control, Loki’s head could burst. Too much information, in such a small period of time- 

The doors of the room opened, and Loki found himself tensing when Einherjar guards appeared in the entrance, blocking his way out.

Had they found out the truth of his actions? Or had they found out he had taken the Casket?

“Thor is banished,” said Frigga, and Loki turned to look at her. “The line of succession falls to you. Until he awakens, Asgard is yours.”

Was that meant to please him? To comfort him in any way?

He had a daughter on Midgard, his brother might kill him, he just learnt that his parents had been lying to him his whole life and his true father had left him in a temple for some reason (why leave him in a temple if he wanted him to die? why not outright killing him?) because his father was an evil man from a race of evil beings and she wanted him to what?

Take the throne while everything he knew crumbled around him?

The Einherjar kneeled before him, as another entered, holding Gungnir before him, kneeling too and offering the spear to him.

Frigga smiled like she couldn’t see the panic and confusion and resentment in his gaze. “Make your father proud.”

And Loki’s hysterical mind could only ponder ‘which father’?


Loki watched the son of Could speaking to his brother, more than a little irritated at his presence. It had been no more than a week since Anthony had kicked him and Fury and his ‘merry band’ - as Anthony liked to refer to them - out of his life, and here they were again, trying to tangle themselves in things beyond their understanding.

And were they suggesting they would torture Thor for information? The man might not be Loki’s brother, not really, but Loki was very tempted to wring this agent’s neck for implying he would lay a hand on a prince of Asgard.

The hammer did not belong to them, and yet they acted like it did and like they were entitled to every information that existed on Midgard. 

Power grabbers, Loki knew the kind. SHIELD was not that powerful on Midgard but they lied and bullied those who couldn’t protect themselves, parading as stronger than they were. 

Once this entire thing was over and he was safe, Loki would team up with Anthony and lay waste to their pathetic organisation.

He watched the son of Could leave, and only then did he appear in a shimmer of green lights. “I thought he'd never leave.”

Thor looked up, showing his first reaction since he had been brought in the interrogation room, and a part of Loki who wasn’t terrified and so terribly confused, found his heart softening itself at the evidence of his brother’s wellbeing.

When fath- Odin had banished him...

“Loki? What are you doing here?” finally asked his brother, voice grave and low. He was very dirty, noticed his younger brother.

“I had to see you,” admitted Loki, heart beating faster in his chest. He had to see his brother - his brother who wasn’t really his brother.

As much as Loki huffed and puffed and called him an oaf and hated him, Thor had always been his older brother. He had always protected Loki from the scary world around them - not so much against words from their friends, but beware he or she who would lay a hand on Thor Odinson’s younger brother.

But doubt remained. The same doubt that had forced Loki to stop his coronation and had convinced Loki to not tell his brother about his pregnancy forbade him telling him the truth now.

Thor frowned, confused and still angry. “What's happened? Tell me! Is it Jotunheim?” Loki forced himself not to flinch at hearing the name of his true birthplace. If he needed any proof that Thor would kill him once he knew, there it was. “Let me explain to father-”

If Amaya had not existed, Loki would have lied to him. He would have told Thor something like ‘father is dead’ to secure his life until Odin woke up and they finally had words. He would have had time to prepare for the fallout, stop Jotunheim’s retaliation and come to terms with his parentage while his brother was banished.

But Amaya existed. So he said, “Father fell into the Odinsleep.”

Thor stared at him. “What?”

“Your banishment, the threat of a new war,” the truth of my birthright , “it was too much for him to bear.” Perhaps he was laying all of the blame at Thor’s feet, but Loki thought that he deserved a break, at least for now. “You mustn't blame yourself.”

He looked towards the door, where he knew the hammer his parentage will never allow him to lift laid. “It was cruel to put the hammer within your reach, knowing you could never lift it.” He shook his head. “The burden of the throne has fallen to me now.” And it truly was a burden, now. Loki could not believe he had ever wanted to become a King and now he was crown prince of two different Realms.

His bro- Thor looked at him with a slight hope in his eyes. “Can I come home?”

No

“Not yet,” he said out loud, willing his heart to calm down. “The truce with Jotunheim is conditional upon your exile.” Or it would be.

Until Loki was King, Thor would stay on Midgard. And when Father woke, he and Loki spoke and Loki was finally free to return here, then he would show Thor a way to return to Asgard, without having to tell him anything about his parentage. And then he would hide away on Midgard for as long as he could.

“But couldn't we find a way to-” tried Thor again and Loki shook his head.

“This is goodbye, brother,” he finally said, pushing back any feeling in his chest. He refused to be there when Thor found out the truth about Loki’s heritage and that meant that he might very well never see his brother again. His Thor. His big brother. “I'm so sorry.”

Thor shook his head, sadness in his eyes even though he didn’t fully know the truth of it all, yet. “No, I'm sorry. Loki... thank you for coming here.”

“Nothing could have stopped me,” answered Loki, truthfully, as Coulson entered the room once more. “Fare well, brother.”

“Good-bye,” answered Thor, and Loki stepped on the branches of the Yggdrasil, stopping inside of a familiar mansion before any tear escaped his eyes.

“Jesus Christ!” shouted a voice, and any other time Loki would have laughed at getting such a reaction from James and Pepper. As it was, it reminded him that James was Anthony’s brother and Loki might have just lost his brother forever.

“Welcome back, Mr Loki,” greeted JARVIS warmly, and Loki finally managed to wipe those stray tears from his eyes.

“Holy shit, it’s really true. You’re a shapeshifter!”

“Lokes?” called out Anthony walking into the room. His eyes were bright, his smile infectious and he had Amaya asleep in his arms. Everything about him was tired but warm and happy to see him.

Loki bursted into tears.

+++

The emotional outburst was embarrassing.

Loki had not even realised how close to the surface his own emotions were until they slipped from his fingers and now he was doing all in his powers to stop himself, with no good results.

He felt the slight panic from Anthony as James and Pepper crowded closer to him, immediately putting their arms around him. “Loki? Hey, Loki? Uh, I don’t know what’s going on buddy, please don’t cry?”

"Loki, what happened? Talk to us," added Pepper.

He was trying, he wanted to say, but all that left his lips was another sob that had James cussing and Pepper trying to hug him tighter somehow.

It lasted about a minute or so before he heard James muttering ‘thank god’ and they were gone, their warmth suddenly replaced by the scent of Anthony and baby powder. Loki’s fingers tightened on the younger man’s clothing, hearing his whispered encouragements and meekly following him to the couch.

It took a good five minutes then, for Loki to finally calm down. Anthony kept his fingers in Loki’s hair, humming and whispering reassurances, as he kept him tucked into his side. Loki would have given anything to remain in that position forever, but already his tears had chipped away at precious time he could spend with Anthony and Amaya before he had to return.

So he, very reluctantly, sniffed, using the back of his hands to wipe away his tears and looked at Anthony through still wet eyes.

The mortal had allowed him to move ever so slightly, but his hands were still on Loki, as if afraid he was going to leave if Anthony let go. His eyes were mostly worried, though. “Lokes? What happened?” He was doing an impressive job at keeping his panic at bay. “Is it... Amaya?”

“No,” immediately answered the Aes the Jotun, moving to right himself on the couch. Anthony moved along with him, his hands leaving Loki’s hair and ending on his back. “Not Amaya.”

“Then what? Cause you looked very upset to me,” informed him Anthony.

“I was. I am,” he tilted his head to the side. “I... discovered some... upsetting information today. A secret that was kept from me.”

Anthony winced. “Yes, those are the worse,” he agreed, taking Loki’s hand in his own. Would he still hold it, once he knew the truth beyond that milky skin? “Do you want to talk about it? Do you want something to drink?”

Loki shook his head slowly. “I don’t need anything to drink,” he answered, focusing on the feeling of Anthony’s fingers in his. Twirling their hands around, his fake pale and carefully curated skin against Anthony’s sun kissed calloused fingers.

“You’ll remember, I spoke to you about the Aesir, the people of Asgard. And how I was always scorned by them, for reasons I was never too sure about,” he started, allowing himself a little pleased squeeze when he saw Anthony’s dark scowl. “I have found out the reason.”

The brunet looked up in surprise and Loki let the words leave his mouth before he acted like a coward. “I am not an Aes by birth. I am not the son of Frigga and Odin, or the brother of Thor. I am a prince, but I am the stolen prince of a different Realm: Jotunheim.” His voice wavered and he savagely pushed away all of his feelings once more. “Everything I thought I knew is a lie. My own skin is a lie.”

Anthony did not let go of his hand, frowning ever so slightly at his words. “I don’t really know what part to focus on but let’s go by parts. Frigga and Odin are not your biological parents? Nor is Thor your biological brother?”

“No, they are not,” Frigga claimed them family, but that was not a family. “They have lied to me my entire life, for over a millennia. We are not even the same race.”

“Yes, race thing next. Stolen prince?”

“Ah,” scoffed Loki, trying to disengage their hands. Anthony did not allow that, pressing himself tighter against Loki. “Odin All-Father and King Laufey of Jotunheim went to war for many long centuries over Midgard. I was never fond of the past, so I never paid attention to what caused the war, but I know something ignited it and for a thousand year they battled against each other. The end of the war was secured when King Odin walked into Jotunheim and found the Casket of Eternal Winters, a relic belonging to the Jotnar that was their only real weapon against us.”

Anthony did not look convinced. “One weapon and they kept pushing the Aesir back for a thousand years? Sounds unlikely.”

Loki shrugged, unsure of what to reply to that. “Mayhaps. King Odin took the Casket from Jotunheim and that forced Laufey to give up and sign a treaty alliance with us.”

Anthony blinked at him, and yet again Loki was immensely grateful and surprised by how bright and quick this mortal was. “It wasn’t the only thing he took from Jotunein, is it?”

“Jotunheim,” corrected Loki, now incredibly still on the couch. He had stopped rubbing the back of Anthony’s hand with his thumb. “And no. He took another relic: me.”

Loki swallowed, keeping his eyes on the table in front of them. He had no idea what time it was or where was everyone else, but there still were several slices of pizza left on the table. They must have left when they saw Loki crying.

How shameful of him. “Fa- Odin claims he found the son of Laufey in an abandoned temple with the Casket, left to die. Because I was smaller than most Frost Giants.”

“Frost Giants?” repeated Anthony, critically inspecting Loki’s height.

It almost made him laugh. “That’s what we- what the Aesir call the Jotnar.”

“Uh. Kind of lowkey sounds like a slur, but I don’t know enough about intergalactic etiquette or Norse mythology to say shit,” mused the mortal, then frowned again. “Though it seems counterproductive to leave the son you apparently want to kill in a temple - usually a holy place of protection - with the most important weapon you have.”

Which was exactly what Loki had thought. “Those were Odin’s words to me before he fell into the OdinSleep.”

Anthony squinted. “You name your naps after yourselves?”

This time Loki did let a small chuckle. “No, the OdinSleep happens about once every couple of years, as of late. It’s a chance for Odin to rest and regain his energies so that the magic of Asgard - the Aesir Force - will continue to work as intended.”

The smaller man stared at him for a couple of seconds. “I have so many questions about your human powered electricity and wi-fi but let’s go back. So you found out that you are adopted. How?”

“Remember when I said my plan would prove that Thor did not have what it took to be the leader of Asgard and would spring us into war in a matter of days?” he asked, sardonically. “I was wrong.” Anthony frowned, and Loki sighed. “He did it in a matter of hours even though I foiled his coronation.

“We went to Jotunheim because some Jotnar somehow sneaked into the castle,” he started, smiling slightly at Anthony’s shocked - for effect - expression, “And Thor demanded an explanation. Laufey demanded that we left his Realm. I tried to get Thor to leave, and he told me to ‘remember your place, brother’. Things seemed to go well, as if we would return home intact, but then a Jotun called Thor a princess. And Thor attacked the Jotnar.”

As he expected, Anthony did not look impressed. “Are you kidding? He basically invaded a place that they had a war with without due process and then attacked their people because they called him a princess? What the fuck.”

“Precisely my thoughts,” said Loki, letting out a sigh. “The Frost Giants-”

“Jotnar,” corrected Anthony, another peculiar expression on his face that this time Loki wasn’t sure he understood.

Still, he nodded, “The Jotnar have a touch that is very harmful to Aesir. If they touch you, your skin will decay immediately.”

“Like frostbite.”

Loki wasn’t sure what this ‘frostbite’ was, so he didn’t agree nor disagree. “One grabbed me. Instead of turning black, my skin turned blue.” When Anthony just kept staring at him, Loki clarified. “Jotun blue.”

“Oh.” said Anthony, and Loki prepared himself for the disgust and the pulling away. 

Neither came. “That’s why you said your skin was a lie,” mused Anthony, nodding to himself. “You are a different colour. The Jotnar... what do they look like?”

“They are the monsters under the bed, the stories mothers tell their children to frighten them into behaving,” said Loki, and again that peculiar expression came over Anthony’s face. “They are tall, nine feet tall minimum, with skin that is as blue as it is cold. Their eyes are red like blood, and their parentage is scarred over their skin in ridges that are different by clan. They had nails black like coal and horns at the top of their heads. Their touch is freezing and they live in desolate ice fortresses in a frozen winter wasteland.”

He didn’t dare look back at Anthony after his terrifying description. Surely now he must be disgusted by what he just found out lied under his... lover’s? skin. Would he blame Loki for something Loki himself did not know? For, even as he was named Liesmith, Loki didn’t enjoy lying to those he cared about.

“Can I see?” asked the mortal, and Loki’s head snapped towards him in shock.

Anthony was staring at him with something like curiosity in his eyes and absolutely no fear. Had he not understood what Loki was?

Then again, the Aesir had faded from most Midgardians' memory. And probably so had the Jotnar. It is hard to fear something you believe is a myth.

Still... “No.” He answered succinctly, pressing his lips into a tight line.

Anthony nodded, like he had expected as much, and spoke up again. “So while you were in enemy land, a Jotnar-”

A Jotun. Several Jotnar. An Aes. Several Aesir.”

“So, a Jotun touched you and you found out you were blue. Then?”

“Fa- Odin arrived in the nick of time and used the Bifrost to get me, Thor and the Idiots Four off Jotunheim and back home. Then he cursed Thor for doing what he did and banished him to Midgard.”

Anthony’s eyes were wide. “Thor is here?!”

“Yes. I went to check on him and he is fine. Except that Odin has turned him into a mortal and he is now unable to raise his hammer again,” he explained and Anthony snorted.

“Euphemisms.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “Your SHIELD has him, right now. Odin has said he will not be able to return until he learns certain lessons. I know not of what that means.”

“Not my SHIELD,” muttered Anthony, which Loki ignored.

“I grabbed the Casket when I returned home. And found my skin changing colours. Odin came to me as I was doing so, and we had words in which he admitted the truth. Or his version of truth, at least. We were still arguing when he collapsed into the OdinSleep.

“So now Asgard is on the cusp of war with Jotunheim once more, Odin is asleep and Thor is banished. According to mo- Frigga the line of succession befalls me now. At least until Father wakes.”

“Oh...” said Anthony, and when Loki turned to look at him he did not look very pleased. “And uh, how long will that take?”

“Three days at least, one week at most,” he answered.

“Whew,” said the mortal, shaking his head. “Having to protect your entire planet from war in the middle of an identity crisis.” He patted Loki’s thigh with his free hand. “Sounds rough, buddy.”

Loki did not say anything, leaning onto Anthony’s shoulder slowly and carefully, ready to move away in case Anthony appeared uncomfortable. The human did not, actively putting his hand back into Loki’s locks. “So, Amaya...”

Loki pressed his eyes closed. “Is, at the very least, part Jotunn.”

“That’s cool,” said Anthony, and Loki looked up at him sharply. The human smirked. “History is written by victors, you know. What you know about Jotnar is what years of war propaganda and possible racism will have told you. My data shows me that Jotnar are pretty fucking neat.” He winked. “Then again, you and Amaya are the only Jotnar I know. But I am very hopeful with my findings. What do you think, J?”

JARVIS answered something snarky back, but Loki was not listening, an idea taking shape in his mind. 

A way out. A way to prove that he was different, a way to keep Amaya safe and perhaps to earn a place under the Odinson name.

Anthony was right: his data considered only two Jotnar. His data considered Loki and Loki had been raised Aesir. And how could Thor hate him if Loki proved his loyalty to his true family? 

Make your father proud, had said Frigga and finally Loki understood what she meant.

He had to finish what Odin started. What Thor had tried to do.

Only then would he be worthy, and only then would Amaya be safe.

He had to kill his birth father, King Laufey.

And he had to destroy Jotunheim.

Chapter Text

If there was one thing Tony doubted he’d never get tired of, it would be people’s reaction to his high tech mansions. It was a stroke to his ego Pepper would argue he did not need, but there just was something about the awe and shock in their faces as they walked in and were immediately greeted by JARVIS that made him puff like a peacock.

Ben Parker had not seen Tony’s house in like ten years now, but he had been familiar with JARVIS before then, so his delight was cleverly masked. May Parker had never set foot in his house before, so she was having a harder time not looking around like she might have accidentally stepped off Earth and in into whatever magical realm was popular with kids these days.

But their nephew? He looked like he was undecided between passing out and looking around the place like it was his own personalised Heaven. He was holding the fake mask he had been wearing at the Expo at his side, and he kept moving around despite May’s warnings, letting out sharp ooh’s and aah’s every couple of seconds.

Tony allowed them a little bit of time to enjoy their surroundings before walking out in the living room, a bunch of papers in his hands and a smile on his face that he hoped was relaxing and not at all threatening. 

May was the first to notice him walking up to them, and immediately straightened up with wide eyes, calling out a sharp ‘Peter!’ at the boy as she did so. Ben grinned too, while the boy stilled, looking up at his aunt with a pout on his bespeckled face.

Until he turned around to come stand beside her and noticed Tony Stark standing in the kitchen with them. He let out what could possibly be a squeak, dropping the helmet to the ground, and Tony controlled his laughter at the action, raising a single eyebrow at him.

“Hello, Mr Parker,” he greeted, and if possible, Peter Parker went even a deadlier shade of white.

Tony would have honestly started worrying about having killed Ben’s nephew if the boy had not, very faintly, answered, “H-Hullo, Mr Iron Man Tony Stark, Sir,” shaking like a leaf.

May let out a snort at her nephew, before stepping over him and offering him her hand, thought she too looked a little bit flustered. “Hello, Mr Stark. I’m May Parker, thought I’m sure you already knew that.”

The engineer shook her hand with a small smirk on his face. “Of course I did. I know everything. But nice to meet you, Mrs Parker.”

He was a little surprised when he was let go by May just to be suddenly hugged by Ben, but not surprised enough that his hands didn’t go around his old driver immediately. Peter made another squeak in the background, but Ben did not appear to deem him at any particular risk. “It’s been awhile, Tony.”

“It truly has, Ben,” he said, squeezing him tighter for a second before letting go. “Alright, everyone, if we could go into the living room now...”

They followed him quietly, though Peter and May kept looking around like they had never seen a mansion or a villa in their lives - which again, they probably had not. 

Peter kept loudly whispering to his aunt and uncle, and Tony’s lips twitched ever so slightly in amusement.

Before Amaya, Tony had not spent long amounts of time around children. Sure, he didn’t hate them - he wasn’t fucking Howard - and the few interaction he had with them while he was Iron Man were always nice - kids loved Iron Man. But those interaction never took longer than a few minutes so this was all uncharted territory for him.

They all sat down on the couch, the three Parkers on one side of the table and Tony sitting opposite them, winking at the still staring Peter, before ignoring his squeak and focusing on May and Ben.

“The trip was all right?” 

Tony had never been a particular fan of small talk and the likes but before he had decided to go off the deep end after his parents’ death, he had been raised a gentleman by Maria Stark. He could be more poised and polite than any European Royalty when he wanted, and right now he needed to keep them from freaking out.

“So,” finally asked Ben, after a couple more pleasantries had been exchanged. “What can we do for you, Tony? You weren’t super explicit.”

“Yeah,” agreed the billionaire, dropping two small stacks of paper in front of the couple. “I need Mrs Parker’s-”

“May,” interrupted the woman, still a little wide eyed.

Tony smiled charmingly. “May’s expertise with a rather... ah, delicate situation. Something completely off the books. Not illegal,” he quickly added, when he saw the uncertain look she shot her husband, “which will be confirmed by my CEO and an air force Colonel also being here. But it’s something important to me and I don’t know many doctors with the necessary skills that would also not immediately go to the press, NDA or not.”

“Ah,” said the woman, nodding quickly in understanding. “Of course.”

They both opened the small packets in their hands and double checked the terms while Tony occupied himself with his phone. He could see the curiosity etched in every part of Peter Parker’s face, but kept his mouth shut for now.

Peter Parker right now was a possible security breach. Don’t misunderstand him, Tony did not think the kid was particularly malevolent looking and he was Ben’s nephew. On the other side, he was a kid.

What kid wouldn’t want to go to school and tell all of his little friends that he had met Iron Man and Iron Man’s daughter?

But it wasn’t like he could make him sign an NDA too. It wouldn’t be valid - Tony had checked - and again, he could do it on accident. From what he knew about teenagers, and especially nerdy looking teenagers like the kid, they tended to be more trouble than they were worth.

The only thing he could hope for was that Ben and May managed to drill it into his head that everything he saw right now was to be kept secret. 

“Can I have a pen?” asked Ben, and Tony looked back up to the couple. The ex driver smiled at him, with a slight shrug. “It’s a classic NDA, nothing I haven’t signed before. Safe enough.”

“Perfect,” answered the billionaire, handing both of them pens and trying to hide his genuine relief at the quick acceptance. He had thought they would accept the NDA at least - especially Ben - but there was still the chance that they would want to double check with their lawyer and that was a bunch of more days wasted that Tony did not want to waste.

And now came the harder part.

+++

“Mr Stark,” started May Parker, looking ever so slightly faint. “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but what the fuck?”

Pepper looked very much disapproving while Rhodey bit back a smile at her reaction. Tony, for his part, remained pretty stoic, raising a single eyebrow at the woman. “I thought I was perfectly clear.”

May waved her hands in the direction of Amaya, not quite asleep in the man’s arms. “Mr Stark, I am not that kind of doctor! I am not even a doctor!” she hissed, quiet enough not startle the baby.

“I know,” said Tony, as if it was obvious. Which was debatable considering he had called her in to do the necessary checks a hospital would do to a newborn child even though it had not been her job. “However, I also know that every nurse does a small paediatrics training, and, of course, you have JARVIS to help you.”

“Jarvis,” repeated May, tonelessly.

“Hello again, Mrs Parker,” came the AI’s voice, and again Tony commended her for not screeching as she clearly wanted to. “I am JARVIS.”

May looked up at the ceiling and then at Tony like she wanted to smack him. “What?!”

“He’s an AI,” offered Pepper, a slight amusement in her eyes. She sobered up quickly enough. “He has all the knowledge regarding the medical side of things and all of the practices needed. He knows all the theory. You have the practice, and are able to pick up any signal the scanners fail to notice.”

Tony nodded, and spoke up before May could protest. “I have seen your records, May. You are a damn good nurse, and between you and JARVIS, I am sure Amaya will be in the safest possible hands.”

May pressed her lips together, then frowned. “I am a good nurse, sure. But I’m not the best. I would think Tony Stark would want only the best for his daughter?”

“Normally,” agreed Tony, rocking her gently in his arms when she begun fussing. “Unfortunately in our brand new world, best often is synonymous with ‘the one who is more famous and rich’ and if I involve any of these so called ‘best’ with Amaya? Then her name and every information regarding her will be on every front page come morning. Also, JARVIS is the best. He’ll help with whatever you miss.”

“Your words warm my circuits, Sir,” said the AI, and May relaxed ever so slightly, huffing a small laugh.

Finally she turned to the baby and walked farther in the room. It was the Med Bay he had started building after he became Iron Man, but ever since Loki had told him about Amaya, he had added several machinery and tools necessary for children’s health too. Getting the things necessary for the child vaccines had been complicated, but even though he was no biochemist, JARVIS had the necessary information and sensors to know what he needed and how to make it himself.

“Amaya?” she asked, looking down at the baby with a soft smile.

Tony did not bother hiding his pride. “Amaya Lokadottir Stark,” he informed, nodding down at the bundle in his arms.

May frowned slightly, probably at the middle name she didn’t understand, and then nodded again, pulling up her sleeves.

“Okay. Let’s do this. Could everyone except Mr Stark and Miss Potts leave the room please? I’ll wash my hands, get my hair out of the way and we can start.”

“Why Miss Potts?” questioned Tony, forcing his expression to remain fully blank. He was pretty sure he knew why, but it was more fun watching people flounder.

May blinked at him and the red head, who just looked confused. “Uh? As the mother, I assumed-”

Tony had never thought Pepper’s eyes could go that wide. “What?! No, I’m- Amaya- Mr Stark and I- I’m not the mother!” she finally said, looking so shocked at the idea and implication that Tony couldn’t help but laugh.

Both May and Pepper glared at him, but the former was too embarrassed for it to work in any way. “I- I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed, the papers always implied that... But I shouldn’t have assumed. Sorry!” 

Tony watched her scurry away towards the bathroom still deeply amused before turning to Pepper who was still scowling at him. “You know you didn’t have to sound so horrified at the idea of dating me.”

“Your boyfriend is the God of Mischief,” she pointed out. “I really don’t want to see what he would do if he were to come back and here people were assuming I was with you.”

Tony quickly avoided her eyes, looking down at Amaya. She was still awake, wide eyes focusing on nothing but still stuck on him. “Loki is not my boyfriend. We aren’t together.”

“And you need to fix that,” she said, with such vehemence that Tony looked back up at her. Her expression was softer but still pointed. “You like him. You like him very very much. And he likes you just as much. You have a baby together. You have a connection or a dream link or whatever. Honestly: what are you waiting for?”

What was he waiting for?

He was not an idiot. Loki had dropped several hints that their dream link had formed too quickly, much sooner than it should have. He had felt an instant connection to Loki the second they had met all those years ago in Bern, and Loki had spent years looking for him afterwards.

And sure, they hadn’t spent time together in the conventional way, but they knew each other. They spoke to each other, and Tony was honest even when he thought Loki was an hallucination.

Loki had come to him and told him the truth about his adoption, despite how much it clearly hurt him, trusting him more than he had trusted his whole family - and fuck Odin for that, seriously. 

They knew each other. They trusted each other. They... cared for each other (it was too early for that other thing, much too early).

They had a child together, for goodness sake! It didn’t get any more binding than this, Tony knew that.

When he didn’t reply, clearly deep in thought, Pepper just smiled, pressing a small kiss on Amaya’s cheek and straightening up again. “Will that be all, Mr Stark?”

“That’ll be all, Miss Potts,” he agreed, and she just winked at him, walking back out as May returned, hair tied up and clean scrubs on. He pushed his thoughts away for the time being, at least until Loki returned and he could test and prod and see where his thoughts were. “JARVIS, May. Shall we begin?”


Dealing with Jennifer Walters had been slightly more complicated than the Parkers, but in the end they had managed. With May, while she did the actions and took the samples, any evidence of alien data that came from Amaya was quickly hidden by Tony and JARVIS (so far they had seen that she healed slightly faster than a normal human, her DNA make up was a little different, and she ran colder than normal; at one point Tony was convinced her arm turned blue when she was vaccinated [according to Loki’s notebooks ‘Midgardian’ vaccines weren’t dangerous to her] but when he had touched her, she returned white), which was simple enough.

With Jennifer, the first part - aka proving the child was Tony’s - was easy. However, it was when it came to the ‘mother’ stuff that things were complicated considering the fact that Loki simply did not exist on Earth and therefore had no rights. 

He let out a deep sigh, opening the minnisbók Loki had provided and writing down on it. 

So, like... I’m gonna need to make you a fake identity

He expected to have to wait a long time until Loki replied, but the reply arrived almost instantly.

A fake identity?

Yeah. You sort of don’t exist on Earth, and I kind of need you to exist so that I can safely write your name down on Amaya’s documents.

I see. What do you need?

First off, I need a full name. For example, everyone knows me as ‘Tony’ or ‘Tony Stark’ but my official documents have to state that my full name is ‘Anthony Edward Stark’.

Three names?

American or mostly a western thing. A first name that everyone knows, a middle name that I don’t actually know the use for, and my surname which shows my link to my father. Spaniards go around with two surnames one for each parent.

I see. In Asgard we go by our first name but are usually referred to as the sons or daughters of our own parents. 

But we aren’t on Asgard. Which means you can go by anything you want. Hell, you can even go by Loki Stark if you want.

This was a gamble. A pretty huge risk. And yet Tony did not delete the text - could he even delete it? Loki had yet to explain how it worked - watching and counting in his head how long it took Loki to reply.

The answer? Not long at all.

It is my understanding that you have to propose and then wed me before I can parade around with your name attached to mine. And to the best of my knowledge, there has been a severe lack of going down on one knee from you, Anthony. 

Tony’s lips quirked in a small smile, feeling both his elation and the ‘happy vibes’ Loki was sending through their connection.

I’ll need to officially date you and then wait a few years to buy a ring, first. Don’t worry, it’ll happen soon enough.

Too on the nose? Maybe. But Tony Stark had never been known for being subtle.

Still, you’ll need a surname before you can take mine. What would you like me to put? I’m thinking to give you nordic roots - Iceland or Norway - and they usually have one name and one surname, but you can choose whatever you want.

Norway seems a safe bet. As for the name...  Loki Friggason seems apt, don’t you think?

Loki was very good at keeping his emotions from going through the connection when he wanted (did Tony's emotions even go through the same way?). But Tony did not need to feel his anxiety to know the struggle in his head at the moment, trying to decide between his birth father and his adopted father and everything to do with his fucked up family situation.

Yes, but I think it’d be better if we wrote it down as Friggasen which seems to be the preferred suffix nowadays.

That’s agreeable. So I will be Loki Friggasen of Norway.

We don’t usually go by ‘of’ anything, but sure. 

Unfortunately Earth has a thing about people declaring their ‘official’ gender/sex in documents. What would you like me to put?

Would it be better for it to say female? Seeing as you will have to put me as Amaya’s mother?

I think either will work. This is mostly to give you an identity, I am rich enough that no one and everyone will care about what sex you are. 

I suppose. If so, I would prefer for it to say I am male.

As you wish. Then, age-wise you look maybe... early thirties late twenties.

I am 1397.

And you don’t look a day past 30! Dermatologists hate you!

Dermatologists?

Uhhhh... skin doctors?

Why would there be need of healers... of the skin?

Not everyone is as handsome and pretty as me and my friends. Some people are born ugly.

(technically beauty is in the eye of the beholder but Eurocentric beauty standards are unfortunately adopted nearly worldwide)

Also, you know how Pepper has freckles uh those cute little dots over her nose? Well some people have them and hate them, so, they go to dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons who can fix that.

I... see?

It’s okay, us Midgardians are odd. But speaking of odd. I got a nurse/healer for Amaya. She is gonna be paid egregiously for her discretion and won’t blabber to the press and Amaya will be safe.

Midgardian ailments won’t bother her. I have never been sick in my entire life. 

Yeah, but she's mixed. How do you know which genes are dominant?

That's a valid concern. Very well, either she becomes immune thanks to your healing or it will do nothing to her

As I thought

I have to go now, Anthony.

That’s fine! I’ll talk to you later, before she wakes up again.

I will see you soon.


Loki did not know how it could have gone so wrong.

Everything was on course to be fixed. He was doing things Odin's way, he was fixing everything that had gone wrong. He was going to save Asgard and when Odin woke up, Loki could demand freedom to travel the Nine and beyond as a 'recompense' or simply use the power he had assimilated from the Odin Force to tighten the glamour around himself and Amaya and flee.

One way or another, the Jotunheim problem would have been over and Loki would have been free.

But then those stupid Idiot Four decided to commit treason along with Heimdall.

Couldn't they see? He did not ask for the throne, he never wanted the throne.

They were the ones who had been injured because Thor demanded Jotunheim itself pay for a skirmish caused by two Jotnar at most. And instead of trusting their King, who banished Thor, or their Queen, who gave Loki the throne before the Einherjar themselves, they collectively decided that they wanted Thor back.

They would rather face the executioner for disobeying the Crown and Odin than receive orders from Loki, and was he truly surprised?

But it didn't matter, he thought. 

He would leave Asgard once it was safe, and he would never come back. He'd be fine.

But he couldn't leave outright treason unchecked.

Loki did not care for the Idiot Four, they wouldn't be able to bring Thor even if they wanted - mortals couldn't go through the Bifrost according to Odin and Heimdall. 

The Council, however, did. And they expected him to be a good King to Asgard, and that meant squashing the poisonous whispers and challenges that opposed his rule.

So he had done as he had to, and sent the Destroyer to bring the Warrior Four back to Asgard, alive or dead.

After that... things got messy.

It took less than a Midgardian hour, all together, and Loki did not understand how things could have gone so wrong.

He had been fixing things, hadn't he?

He had made Laufey think he would be killing Odin and then striked him before Frigga - making his mother and father proud.

He had not expected for Thor to try and sacrifice himself for Fandral and suddenly becoming worthy again. Nor had he expected for Heimdall to will himself out of the ice that encased him and bring his brother back to Asgard. Nor had he expected Thor to say that Loki had been trying to kill him.

Because he hadn't. Loki had attacked the Warriors three and Sif, the Destroyer had never been meant for Thor.

And Loki had panicked. Because Thor was on Asgard, and what if Frigga told him about his heritage now and he grew angry at Loki? What if he decided to kill Loki just as Loki had decided to kill Laufey?

He wouldn't risk it, so he had ran to the bridge, and set the Bifrost on Jotunheim, just as grandfather Bor had against the Dark Elves all those years ago.

But Thor was not letting him.

He kept fighting him, saying that Loki shouldn't do it, that it was madness when mere days before he had been ready to do the same.

Had he been in his right mind, Loki would have stopped and listened. Tried to understand why his brother was so willing to break the Bifrost - the only way for him to reach his beloved - to save the Frost Giant.

Had he been in his right mind, he would have recognised that perhaps if his brother was willing to save the Frost Giants, then there was something worth saving in himself too (Amaya was half Anthony; of course she was worth saving).

Had he been in his right mind, Loki wouldn't have ended up dangling from the broken bridge, the observatory being suckered in the wormhole under them.

Loki looked up at Odin, who was holding onto Thor.

How had it all gone to Hel?

His father.

Why was he awake? Did he not know what could happen if he woke up too early from the Odin Sleep?

Did he understand? Why Loki had to do this? Why Loki chose to save his entire family - Asgard, the Odin name, Amaya - by destroying Jotunheim?

Did he see?

What Loki could have achieved had Thor not stopped him?

"I could have done it, father!" he shouted, heart beating erratically in his chest. It was so cold, he could barely feel himself, let alone Anthony. "I could have done it. For you!"

For the All-Father (his father). For the All-Mother (his mother). 

For Amaya (his darling daughter).

Certainly Odin saw.

He understood.

He did what Bor did for Odin and his brothers, to save Asgard and his family from the Elves.

Surely he-

"No, Loki."


Tony was in the living room with Pepper, Happy and Rhodey when he felt it.

Amaya was in her nursery, the Parkers had returned to their hotel even though May had agreed to help out whenever needed while refusing to accept his money (Tony had decided that he would simply make a college fund for Peter Parker instead), and the other three were all around the living room in various states of exhaustion.

They had finished dealing with the press following Tony’s announcement that he was stepping back because of the Palladium poisoning, dealt with the Generals trying to convince Rhodey to let them do as they pleased with his suit, and were very much tired, eating Thai food, mostly ignoring the Downtown Abbey episode Happy was forcing on them and Tony was now pondering with Rhodey the merits of letting Mama Rhodes know about Amaya.

“She’s basically Amaya’s grandma,” pointed out Rhodey, stabbing his stir fry. “You know the longer it goes on without Ma knowing, the harder the fires of hell will rain upon the both of us.”

“I haven’t seen her in a while,” hummed Tony, thinking. “But you know the second I tell her that there is a baby here, she’ll drop everything and fly in. Which I don’t mind, but also I am not dealing with your mother for three months.”

Rhodey rolled his eyes. “Come on. Ma wouldn’t stay here for three months.” A pause. “She’d stay here for five minimum.”

“Point. And how would I explain who Loki even is. I love Ma, but I think she’d struggle a little with alien norse god shapeshifter,” he added, snickering at the thought of Roberta Rhodes’ face if they ever told her. She’d have them in a psychiatric ward before Tony or Loki could offer proof. “Though I am pretty sure Loki could char-” his words died in his throat, a gasp leaving his lips as his container fell to the ground and his hands uselessly clutched at his chest.


No, Loki.

One sentence, and he understood.

Oh, he understood perfectly.

Odin was not proud of Loki. He did not see, he did not understand.

He did not forgive and he did not love.

He did not see a worthy son, he did not see Thor's equal.

He simply saw a Frost Giant pretending to be Aesir.


It hurt.


What had Loki expected?

For centuries Odin had seen him as lesser, for centuries he had ignored him in favour of Thor. For over a millennia he had made sure Loki knew he could never be half as much as Thor was.

He was nothing.


Loki. 

Something was wrong.


Something was pushing in the back of his mind, but there was too much hurt for Loki to focus on it.

Too much pain.

Norns, had he truly thought he'd ever be something to Odin other than a mistake, a disappointment?

Frigga had run to Thor the second he arrived, even though Loki had just saved Odin's father.

Sif and the Warriors Three had committed treason because he was on the throne.

Even Heimdall had tried to behead him despite not having any actual proof that Loki was behind the Frost Giant attack.


Grief. And pain. And cold.


There was no one for him, no one standing in his corner.

No one who would benefit from his existence.

Amaya. Anthony.

He was a Frost Giant, and a monster.

There a pain in his heart and it was sharp and biting and cold, like someone had taken a shard of ice and stabbed him through the heart with it, and it hurt

(Amma, pabbi. Please)

There was only one choice for him, truly.

The Norns knew what they were doing when they had him hanging over the edge.

He was terrified, and angry, and resigned, but he knew what he had to do.

He looked back up at Odin and his disappointed face, seeing Thor shout something from the corner of his eyes and understood.


LOKI!


He let go.


It was sharp and biting and cold, like someone had taken a shard of ice and stabbed him through the heart with it, and it hurt. And there was terror, and anger, and resignation and Tony thought he was choking on dark emotions he couldn’t classify that quickly.

“Tony!” called out his friends, but he couldn’t hear him over the sound of nothingness and the cold hands gripping at his everywhere.

And just like it had happened, in five seconds it was gone, leaving his ears ringing and his hands shaking.

“What the fuck,” he whispered, and why did his throat feel so parched all of a sudden? Why was he so fucking cold? “What the fuck.”

“I could ask you the same thing!” exclaimed Pepper, and only then did Tony realise that there were hands around him. Pepper was crouched in front of him, while Happy and Rhodey were at either of his sides, pulling him to a sitting position and away from the mess his food was making of him.

Rhodey stared at him with deep concern. “What happened, Tony?”

Tony didn’t know how, but he just knew. “Something happened to Loki.”

Happy frowned at him. “Something? Something like what?”

What a fun little question to which Tony did not actually have an answer. “I’m... not sure,” he said, passing a hand over his Arc Reactor. The reactor always hurt - it was shoved into his chest in a way that’d make any medical professional cry - but the feeling from earlier was not what he was used to. “It was just... cold. And... I don’t know.”

The memory was already fading from his mind and for the life of him he couldn’t remember why he thought something happened to Loki. He just felt like something had.

Pepper put a hand over his, clearly worried. “Is everything okay with the reactor? Did it perhaps malfunction?”

Well that was a horrifying thought. “No, it can’t malfunction. I don’t think it can. Can it? J?” 

“The arc reactor is functioning at peak performance as it has been since you incorporated Starkanium as the core,” immediately offered the AI. “All of my scans also confirm that you do not appear to be in any way hurt, Sir. The only thing I can find is that your blood pressure dropped significantly.”

Rhodey squinted at him. “Do you feel faint? Dizzy?”

Tony shook his head as one of the cleaner bots finally appeared in the room, quickly taking responsibility for his ruined meal. “I feel fine. I was actually hungry and enjoying my food, for once,” he said, with a sigh. When he noticed that his friends still looked a little unsure and worried he offered them a grin. “Hey, I’m okay. It probably was that annoying thing we were watching. Made me sick.”

“Oh hardy har har,” complained Happy, but both he and Pepper relaxed. Rhodey narrowed his eyes at him, and only when Tony quirked an eyebrow at him did he relent, squeezing his shoulder and sitting back on the couch.

Tony remained there for a few more minutes, until Pepper and Rhodey started chatting again, and only then did he slink away from the living room and into Amaya’s bedroom.

The girl was, surprisingly awake, seemingly content to entertain herself by staring at the mobile over her crib, and Tony just smiled slightly at her before sitting on one of the beanbags he had brought into the room the day before.

Then he grabbed the minnisbo'k.

The last message from Loki was still there, the impossibly perfect Times New Roman looking script unchanged from that evening.

King Laufey (my real father) will be here in a matter of minutes. I shall contact you as soon as I am able.

There hadn’t been a message after that, and he wouldn’t be worried, had it not been for that earlier sharp pain and the seed of belief implanted in his mind that was telling him something was wrong.

So he started writing.

Hey, how did everything go? I don’t know if it was you or not, but I felt something really weird in my chest just now, and I think it was from our connection. So just... talk to me as soon as you’re done? Even if you suspect I’m asleep, astral project or something so that I know you’re okay, all right?

He put down the notebook and shivered once more.

It was the beginning of July; where did this sudden cold come from?

Chapter Text

Loki remembered his life before the Chitauri. A life before pain and hurt, a life that was as golden as it was fake.

The Other and the Master ("do not speak his name, Godling") didn’t encourage such memories, didn’t like it much when his mind tried to escape return go somewhere that will never be his home again.

But for once, the Other said nothing as Loki’s mind wandered back to his childhood; back to the very first time he had learnt to skywalk. Perhaps it was because of the way the injuries from his mind assault were still raw and open, a connection not lost.

It didn’t matter, anyway. He had his orders and the Other had his, and Loki would not fail.

He focused on the weight of the scepter in his hands, using the signature from the Scepter to find the pathway left by the Tesseract. Loki had never actually held or even seen the artefact in his life, but it did not take him too long to recognise the unstable wormhole.

The energy... it was at the same time something Loki had never felt in his life but also something unnervingly familiar. It made him lose focus for a second, the slight familiarity in the blue energy the Tesseract was giving, but he pushed it away before the Other could notice and stop him or question him about it.

Then, in a familiar move that he had not taken in years now, he stepped into the doorway of the Tesseract wormhole and fell.


Loki remembered falling. 

He remembered looking at Odin, looking at Thor, both of them standing above him as they had his whole life. He remembered being tossed into the abyss and falling for so long he had thought he might never stop.

And then he stopped falling and started wishing he never stopped falling if that was the alternative.

As he fell through the Tesseract wormhole, he wondered how long had fell for? How long had he been with the Other and the Master? How long had it been since his life shattered around him?

He didn’t ponder how long they had pretended to look for him for Frigga’s sake. He didn’t wonder if anyone in Asgard had ever questioned the All Father and Thor regarding him, the lost prince that fell into the abyss. The Jotun runt that they all pretended could ever be Aes.

He knew he wouldn’t have like the answer.


16 July 2012, New Mexico SHIELD Base, Midgard

 

After what seemed like hours but was probably less (he didn’t know much about the Tesseract and the Other had never felt like Loki needed to understand what he had to procure for them) he finally stopped falling, managing to land painfully against some sort of electronic contraption.

He was sweating he could tell and his entire body ached and shook. His back still hurt from having been broken the day (was it a day? was it longer?) before. But he was already healing, the breathable and clear air of Midgard a complete improvement from the air on that accursed planet at the edge of the Universe.

He felt the presence of the Other, slithering into his mind to look through him, and forced down any rage and horror at the invasion, instead slowly standing back up again, his hold on the Scepter tighter than before.

He forced a smile that was probably too close to deranged on his face as he observed the mortals who had been tampering with something they knew not of, and therefore signed their own execution.

Then he frowned, a few familiar faces standing out from the group. The man with the eyepatch and the man with white hair next to him. He had met them before, he was quite sure, in one of his excursions on the planet.

“Sir please put down the spear,” asked the man with the eye patch, the man of Fury, if Loki remembered correctly (and he wasn’t quite sure he did).

Ah yes. The SHIELD that were not shield brothers, but in fact liars and betrayers. They had been there when Thor had been banished to Earth, he recalled that much. And he also recalled not liking them at all back then.

They wanted him to drop the spear? As they wished.

He moved quicker than any Midgardian ever could, dropping the scepter low and then firing a blast of blue energy at the man of Fury, before he attacked his various minions.

Midgardians, he couldn’t help but scoff in his mind. So primitive in their attacks; trying to harness the energy of the Tesseract, an energy they could never hope to understand and defending it with such back water weapons that probably wouldn’t injure an Aes infant.

Even with his still healing back, it was the work of a few seconds and couple of knives to disarm the more gutsy attackers, having most of them dead or injured on the ground immediately.

He would love nothing more than to kill all of them and proceed as he wished, but he knew he’d need at least a couple of them alive to ensure he would remain undetected and manage to continue with his plan. It would be tiresome to try and find everything he needed if he killed everyone around him.

When the next attacker tried to shoot him, using a short range gun and coming much closer to him than any of the others had dared, he didn’t immediately kill him. Instead he disarmed him efficiently, grinning at the look of anger - not fear, just anger - in his features.

“You have heart,” he praised, and, ignoring the way a part of him recoiled in disgust, placed the tip of the spear against the man’s chest. The man’s eyes turned black as the link between the two of them formed and then he stopped resisting.

None of the other men and women in the room seemed as trained as this man (Clint BartonHawkeye informed him their mind link), but he would need as many agents as he could produce. 

He was still turning an agent when he noticed the man with the eye patch trying to slither away with the Tesseract while his men fell all around him. “Please don't. I still need that.” 

Loki had thought him akin to Odin, but the All Father wouldn’t let his men fall in battle alone. He would remain on the field until all enemies had been slain, or at least those were the stories Loki was told as a child. Perhaps those were fake too.

The man of Fury didn’t turn to face him, his hold on the small container holding the Tesseract tightening. “This doesn't have to get any messier.”

Loki almost laughed. “Of course it does. I've come too far for anything else.” The man slowly turned to face him right on, and he felt the Other stirring even more in his mind. He forced his thoughts to remain on the Tesseract and nothing else. “I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.”

“Loki?” came another voice, another almost familiar voice. “Brother of Thor?” 

Loki recognised him as one of the people who had 'looked after’ Thor during his banishment and he forced himself not to grit his teeth. For centuries he had been coming to Midgard and enjoying the place within the constraints placed by the All Father and Frigga. And now Thor appeared once and suddenly Loki was once more the shadow prince, the second choice.

“We have no quarrel with your people,” said the man of Fury a single raised hand. 

Interestingly enough, he was lying.

Loki forced his gaze away from Thor’s friend, sneering at the man of Fury. “An ant had no quarrel with a boot.”

“You planning to step on us?” He demanded, still no hint of fear in his voice. If he decided to control that one, he would either gain a perfect ally or a dangerous man fighting him for control every step of the way.

He walked slowly towards Thor’s friend, still keeping what he knew was an irritating smile directed at the man of Fury. “I come with glad tidings, of a world made free.”

“Free from what?”

“Freedom,” he answered. “Freedom is life's great lie.” He had been taught that, from the Other and the Master. Someone had once told him that ‘freedom is a dream and a social construct packed into one’, but he couldn’t remember who had said that. He shook his mind free of those thoughts, feeling the Other’s not pleased reaction at his wandering thoughts.

“Once you accept that, in your heart...” He turned quickly, placing his scepter on the Thor’s friend, and watching them go dark (Erik Selvig, whispered the scepter) with a smile, “You will know peace.”

“Yeah, you say peace,” said the man of Fury, still not attacking. “I kind of think you mean the other thing."

“Sir, Director Fury is stalling,” informed him his newly acquired little hawk, coming to stand beside him. “This place is about to blow. Drop a hundred feet of rock on us. He means to bury us.”

“Like the Pharaohs of Odin,” said the man with the eyepatch, and for a second Loki allowed himself to be impressed. Willing to give his life and everyone else’s so that he could end Loki’s. Cute, if it weren’t for the fact Loki was quite sure he’d be the only one to survive a blow like that.

“He's right. The portal is collapsing in on itself. You got maybe two minutes before this goes critical,” added Selvig, double checking his... machine. 

Loki turned to the hawk, using their mental connection to tell him what to do. “Well then.” 

The hawk didn’t need any further instruction, the marksman in him shooting down the target in one neat shot and sending him to the ground. Then he grabbed the container with the Tesseract and they started walking towards the exit of the building as quickly as they could. Loki did not fancy having to lose these mind controlled allies and then struggle to procure some new ones with the relevant information he needed.

He still stumbled a couple of times, his legs and back screaming at him in pain, but he forced himself to remain standing and to continue moving. The quicker they moved, the quicker they could find somewhere safe to enchant and rest, and the quicker he could get his body to heal.

(and the quicker you will hand the Tesseract to us) told him the Other, and Loki didn’t answer. What was there to say?

Instead, he followed after the other men he had turned to their primitive vehicles. He had a flash of a memory for a second, sitting in something similar and yet different (“this is my favourite convertible”) with the hood down, his hair moving in the wind and a pair of ridiculous things (sunglasses) sitting on his nose.

It was gone just as quickly, and Loki frowned.

“Need these vehicles,” said the little hawk as everyone climbed onto them. Loki climbed in the back, barely sparing a glance at the suspicious woman observing them.

“Who's that?”

“He didn't tell me,” answered the man easily, as everyone got ready to leave.

Selvig had just climbed in the front when sudden noise came from the small communicator in the woman’s hands. “Hill, do you copy?” Loki glared at her back, but still not that surprised that the man was alive. He had just told the hawk to shoot him, not kill him, after all. Clever little hawk. “Barton has turned.

Because Midgardians learnt nothing, she immediately started raining bullets on him not hitting him once, and the hawk retaliated in kind against her as he moved towards the driver seat of the vehicle, pulling away as she continued to try and incapacitate them.

Loki kept himself anchored in the back of the vehicles, eyes narrowing slightly as the few alive and non turned SHIELD members (agents, they were called) started to give them chase, their smaller and therefore faster vehicles quickly threatening to overtake them.

They were nothing but ants, of course. And how do you stop a colony of ants from going somewhere? By causing a blockage.

He aimed his scepter at one of the cars and struck true, causing the car to crash sideways in the middle of the road and stopping the ones behind it from continuing their foolish.

The vehicle suddenly stumbled, and Loki turned a glare towards the hawk, before quickly determining that it wasn’t completely his fault. The female agent from before had somehow found a way to corner them from the front and had crashed against them in a bid to stop them from advancing further, but the hawk was as stubborn as she was.

They kept shooting close range and yet, none of them were hitting as they should. 

Sentimentality, he scoffed. Then, just before he could order the hawk to kill her, he pushed their vehicle to move faster, pushing the female agent’s car out of their way and almost crashing against the rock formation surrounding the facility.

They continued even faster than before, the female agent still in pursuit when the implosion the hawk had predicted earlier came to fruition. He heard the release of energy - unlike anything Loki had ever experienced - long before it happened, feeling the shift in the air as everything in its direct pathway groaned and was devoured and destroyed.

Chaos.

When the female agent’s car was caught in the explosion and her car surrounded by debris, Loki just shook his head slightly. Pity. She seemed to have as much heart as the hawk; had she managed to follow them out, he would have made her (forced her) his henchwoman too.

Just as they left the facility another vehicle/ship hybrid (not a jet)(how did he know what a jet was?) appeared into the sky, flying very close to them and moving faster that their own, following the hawk’s erratic movements quite easily.

It would have been impressive, but when the door of the vehicle opened and the man of Fury appeared in it, Loki just felt anger. Why wouldn’t this stupid man just die? And why was he still shooting at Loki? Was he not smart enough to realise how it did-

No, not shooting at Loki. Shooting at Loki’s hawk, trying to kill his own agent. Loki snarled in unconcealed anger, ignoring the pain in his back and standing in the back of the vehicle, pointing his scepter at the man of Fury and shooting a blast of energy at him.

It did not hit the man itself, but it did hit the flying contraption, and Loki smiled as fire started to engulf it and sent it once more crashing to the ground. 

Only once he was sure no one was coming after them again did he finally sit back down, his hold on the scepter never wavering.

Phase one, completed.


It took every trained part of Loki not to fall to the ground the moment they arrived to the secure meeting room the two other men had procured. He was tired, hungry, and while his injures were starting to heal, they hurt an awful lot. 

But he was prideful, and even thought all the people around him were under mind control and would not care about any perceived weakness he couldn’t allow himself relax.

So he sat down as gracefully as possible, back leaning against a wall, and kept his eyes half lidded as he watched the team he had assembled scurrying around, trying to come up with everything they would need for his plan.

“I have ordered you pizza,” came a voice, and Loki blankly looked up at the man standing beside him, with an equally blank expression on his face.

“Little hawk,” he greeted, frowning ever so slightly. “Pizza?”

“It’s a Midgardian bread based delicacy, with cheese and tomato sauce on top as well as a number of other toppings; some enjoy it with meat, some enjoy it with more cheese, some with different vegetables...” he explained, but he didn’t need to explain.

Loki, for some reason, remembered pizza. Remembered having had pizza before.

("Hey, what is Tones and Peps favourite pizza? Pepperoni!" said a dark skinned man, laughing at everyone's annoyed reaction)

Which was odd, because he did not often eat in his trips on Midgard. He drank - anything but ale, of course - but stealing a drink was much easier than stealing a meal. So where exactly had he ate pizza before?

“Very well,” he found himself saying, frowning slightly. He didn’t know how he remembered but if his memory served him right, the pizza was good. Pepperoni? “Order several.” As the man tapped over the screen in his hands, Loki studied him a little more. Their mental connection told him a lot about the man (and again a small almost dead part of him screeched at the invasion): he was a marksman, an assassin for SHIELD. He was also a family man, which seemed shocking considering his profession. One wife and two children. That was not a very smart thing for a man of his career to have.

Children...

He shook his head and turned back to the little hawk. “Now, do tell. What kind of protection will the leaders of Midgard have against us?”

The man turned his attention promptly back to Loki. Even when he was the rightful King of Asgard, no one had paid attention to him as quickly and clearly as they did now. He had never wanted to be King. “That would mean SHIELD has informed anyone of what is going on yet. Director Fury would much prefer to keep the news to himself, at least until he can flush out your goal. He will assemble a response team.” He tilted his head to the side. “Considering they recognised you as Thor’s brother-”

“He’s not my brother!” snapped Loki.

(Never again his brother, never again someone to be trusted) (he called for Thor for so long, but Thor never came)

The hawk blinked, then corrected himself. “Considering they think you Thor’s brother, there is a chance Fury might try restarting the Avengers Initiative.”

Loki’s anger disappeared for a moment, leaving a more intrigued expression. “Avengers initiative?”

“I am a level 7, so I don’t know as much as Agent Hill or Agent Coulson. But I heard a lot of chatter between Agent Coulson and Director Fury in the last couple of months, after it was scrapped. Coulson though that now that Captain America had been found, they had a chance at a proper leader for the team.”

Loki was even more curious and confused. “Been found?”

“Yes,” nodded the hawk. “Captain America aka Steve Rogers, a soldier from the 1940’s who’s moral compass and innate goodness made him the perfect choice for a super serum of sorts. He was sickly, and small, but after the injection he was suddenly much bigger and stronger and became an asset. He was presumed dead when went down with a ship containing bombs that would have destroyed Manhattan. He went down in the Artic and for over 70 years people tried to find his body. A few months ago we did, and he was completely frozen but still alive under the ice. He was finally thawed less than two months ago.”

That was very very interesting. A Midgardian that was stronger than others, able to survive in frigid weathers for an extended period of 70 years - what would account as a normal Midgardian’s lifetime - without decay. “A man out of time. This is who the Son of Could think should lead the... Initiative?”

“He’s supposedly a master tactician and able to rally soldiers wherever he goes,” explained the hawk, showing him a picture of this ‘Captain’. 

Immediately Loki’s opinion of the man soured. Blond, tall, big, blue eyed, able to rally soldiers and automatically chosen to lead a situation he probably shouldn’t be? If he squinted, he could literally mistake the man for Thor.

“Mh. Who else?”

“As I said, the details were never ironed out, but after his visit last year, Thor was also considered,” continued the man. Loki kept his face blank. “He proclaimed himself 'protector of Midgard', and considering he stood with us and is of alien origins, Fury wants him on the team, at least to help discern friends, allies and foes.”

Protector of Midgard! Him, who considered Midgardians ‘boring’! Him who had not been on Midgard since they were worshipping them! While Loki had been coming there for years, while Loki knew -

“Those are the easy candidates. Fury wanted to add two SHIELD agents on the team, just to keep an eye on the more volatile members of the team.” Easy choices. Loki nearly snorted. If the Captain was any similar to Thor, then SHIELD was severely underestimating them both. 

He focused on the hawk. “SHIELD agents. You?”

The hawk considered it for a moment. “I was not approached by Fury, but Coulson heavily implied that I and the Black Widow might end on that team. He is our handler, but he would also be the Avengers' handler, considering he more or less knew/was familiar with every picked member.”

That made sense. If they wanted a marksman - an assassin - on a team with a god and the most durable of Midgardians, they would need someone who would keep watch and aim when it became necessary. “And the more... volatile members?”

The hawk typed a couple of things on the tablet. “They are both volatile and dangerous in different ways. The most obvious one is Doctor Banner or the Hulk,” he turned the screen and showed him a shaky reproduction of a small insignificant man turning into an enormous green creature. “8 feet tall, weighs around 1400 lbs, impossible to communicate with unless you are one Doctor Betty Ross. Can level a city in minutes, and in so far bullets have done nothing to stop him. The Hulk comes out whenever Doctor Banner's emotions get away from him, from what we know so far. SHIELD has been keeping track of him and keeping everyone else away.”

So that he would owe them a debt, understood Loki, a plan starting to create itself in his mind the longer he looked at the destruction the monster was bringing. “And the other?”

“Tony Stark,” said the hawk and Loki’s body almost flinched when the Hulk disappeared from the display and another man appeared on it. There was nothing particularly special about the man on the screen, trying and failing to get away from another man with strange energy whips. And yet it was like every sense in his body was suddenly honed on him. “Or Iron Man.”

Truth is... I am Iron Man,” whispered a lost part of him and Loki reached out with both hands to grab onto that memory, unable to grasp it.

On the screen, the man was handed a bag of sorts, and in seconds an metal armour was enveloping him, making him able to finally fight back against the whip man.

“Tony Stark is first and foremost a genius, which already puts him on SHIELD’s radar. His father was one of the founders of the organisation too. He was a weapons manufacturer before he became a superhero, and made a very weaponised suit of armour.”

“And that makes him dangerous?”

“No. Had it been that alone, we would have been recruited,” he said, shaking his head. “He is unpredictable, a loose cannon. It is impossible to pin him down and get answers out of him; when we think we got him, we turn around and find him several steps ahead of us, having put us in a trap. He has power, money and a brain, cares for nothing but himself and has an ego the size of the sun. But he is also absolutely brilliant, and defies death like it’s a sport. He made his first suit in a cave with nothing but a bunch of scraps. He cured himself from poisoning with nothing but his own brain. SHIELD sent someone to curb him and shadow him and somehow it turned into him hacking us and almost blackmailing SHIELD. He is an asset, but also someone who has no interest in bending to our will and giving us his loyalty, which makes him a threat.”

Loki did not know the man, but every fibre of his body and his seidr did. And he had no idea how or why.

So he didn’t say anything, remaining still on the ground until the hawk finally left to retrieve the pizzas. He forced the thought away, near the part of his mind that he had sealed away when the Chitauri started their torture. He didn’t know what it contained anymore - he had sealed it so that the Master and the Other didn’t know, but in doing so ensured that he himself wouldn’t know either - but he knew it was precious and would need to stay hidden until the leash was off his mind.

The Avengers Initiative... yes, they could provide enough of a battle against the Chitauri. A rage monster, a weaponised armour, a Midgardian with extra strength and a god. He needed them all to come together and fight long enough for Selvig to... he had seen the designs for the machine. Selvig would do what he needed to do.

He could feel the Other in his mind, trying to read his thoughts and pushed him back as harshly as he could, following him through their connection of the Scepter.

And there he was, standing in that dark corner Loki had just managed to leave. He turned to Loki. “The Chitauri grow restless.”

Loki tempered down his disgust. “Let them go at themselves. I will lead them into glorious battle.”

“Battle? Against the meager might of Earth?” questioned him the Other.

Loki truly wanted to see them against that green creature. “Glorious, not lengthy. If your force is as formidable as you claim.”

His goad worked, making the Other’s tether waver slightly in his sudden anger. Not much, but enough. “You question us? You question him? He who put the scepter in your hand, who gave you ancient knowledge and new purpose when you were cast out, defeated?”

His own anger was as expected as it was not of use. “I was a king! The rightful kind of Asgard! Betrayed!”

He remembered Sif, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg, rushing on Midgard to ‘save’ Thor after Frigga had handed him Gungnir. He remembered Heimdall, raising his sword to behead the second prince, on nothing but supposition and conjectures with no confirmation. He remembered Odin’s ‘No Loki’ as he and his golden child tossed him into the abyss.

Those who he considered family, whom he considered friends. Who stayed at his side only so that they could push him down at the slightest provocation and then jammed their sharp knives against his back.

The Other’s mouth was different than he was used to, his features alien, but his sneer was unmistakable. It was ther sneer. Your ambition is little, born of childish need. We look beyond the Earth to greater worlds the Tesseract will unveil.”

Loki stared at him, impassively. “You don't have the Tesseract yet.”

The Other rushed at him, raising his hand in a gesture the god of Mischief had learnt to associate with pain, but Loki stamped down any hint of fear from his face, forcing his words out clearly and calmly. “I don't threaten. But until I open the doors, until your force is mine to command, you are but words.”

The anger was weakening the tether. Not enough to set him free, never enough for that, but enough that Loki would be able to plan without tipping his hand. 

The Other sneered once more. “You will have your war, Asgardian. If you fail, if the Tesseract is kept from us, there will be no realm, no barren moon, no crevice where he can't find you. You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet as pain.” He whispered and his hand touched Loki’s head.

(Memories rushed at him, memories of pain and blood, and tears and misery.

He remembered the bath he was forced in, two weeks after he arrived. He remembered sitting in the huge bathing chamber, the cold water refreshing until it was not. Until it started to heat, slowly, until it became boiling, blistering, until his skin became blistering and red, until his Jotun self started begging for mercy.

He remembered his first attempt at an escape. Being strung up in the air by his arms, with weights on his feet, pushing him downwards while his arms kept him upwards. The terrible stretch of his limbs and the fear that his limbs would finally snap, that they would finally break.

He remembered the flaying and whipping he suffered every other day, sometimes multiple times a day. He remembered the way his skin burned against any clothing he wore, the way he had stopped wasting his seidr on cleaning his armour, as it continued to be filled with blood.

He remembered the wheel, and broken bones and a broken back, struggling to win against the hoards of Chitauri that cut him and attacked him over and over again.

He remembered it all, and he believed him.)


Loki blinked away the last memories, the pizza he had tried to eat forgotten beside him. His plan had been explained, and the Other was still too far to question him or understand it in any way.

The hawk walked back in just as Selvig was finishing up on another part of the machine. “Put it over there!” He turned to the hawk. “Where did you find all these people?”

The hawk shrugged. “SHIELD has not shortage of enemies, Doctor.” He held up the screen in his hand, showing the ‘doctor’ something. Loki had not been aware that Selvig was a healer. “Is this the stuff you need?”

The healer nodded. “Yeah, iridium. It's found in meteorites, it forms antiprotons. It's very hard to get hold of.”

“Especially if SHIELD knows you need it.”

Loki wasn’t sure if he could approach him regarding his own health. He was a healer, at least according to the hawk, but how much could Midgardian healers help with his many injuries and affliction? Last he saw of Midgardian healers, they stabbed their injured and cut off body parts to ensure health. 

“Well, I didn't know!” the healer looked at Loki coming towards him. “Hey! The Tesseract is showing me so much. It's more than just knowledge, it's... truth.”

No it’s not. "I know. What did it show you, little hawk?”

“My next target.”

So no time for him to question the healer, after all. “Tell me what you need.”

“I'll need a distraction,” said the hawk, grabbing his primitive bow. “And an eyeball.”

Chapter Text

16th of July, STARK Tower, New York 

 

“You're good on this end,” came Tony's voice, as he shot out of the Atlantic Ocean in his suit. “The rest is up to you.”

“You disconnected the transition lines? Are we off the grid?” Pepper’s voice sounded slightly tinny from the coms, but her excitement was clear.

As it should. Even Tony couldn’t quite help his own smile as he flew past the other skyscrapers in Manhattan. “Stark Tower is about to become a beacon of self-sustaining clean energy.”

“Well,” said Pepper because she was a party pooper and lived to make him question everything. “Assuming the arc reactor takes over and it actually works.”

So. Rude. It was a Tony Stark invention, it was bound to work. “I assume. Light her up.” He then said as he finally arrived closer to the location of the Tower, watching with smugness as the building and the sign lit back up. 

“How does it look?” 

“Like Christmas, but with more... me.”

Chwistmas!” came a voice from another line, and Tony pretended to frown at the second screen JARVIS pulled up on his HUD. 

“I am sorry, did I just hear little miss 'should be asleep by now' on the line?” he questioned, finally arriving on the landing ramp of the Tower.

There was a childish giggle from the second screen, as he landed, his suit unmaking itself. 

Pepper was smiling at him from the couch, an holographic screen next to her showcasing two familiar faces. “Tony, we gotta go wider on the public awareness campaign. You need to do some press. I'm in DC tomorrow. I'm working on the zoning for the next three buildings.”

Tony let out a loud ‘ugh’ which caused even more giggles from the holographic screen. “Pepper, you're killing me. Remember the moment? Enjoy the moment.” He pointed a finger at the small girl in the screen. “And again, little miss. Why are you still awake?” He turned to the man next to her. “You’re babysitting, honeybunch. Why is she still awake?”

Rhodey shrugged, amused. “She asked JARVIS when you were coming back, and when she heard you were ‘lighting up the Tower like a Christmas tree’ she demanded to see it.”

“And you bent like a wet noodle,” he completed, which Rhodey didn’t even bother protesting or denying. Then he smiled at his daughter, because he too always caved to her. “So what do we think, Amaya mine?”

Amaya nodded decidedly. “It’s ve'y shiny! Can I come see it?”

“Soon,” he promised. “First we have to make sure the Mansion is back on its feet and then you can come to New York.”

“Sir, Agent Coulson of SHIELD is on the line.”

Amaya clapped, grinning. “And then we can go see Aunt May and Uncle Ben and” she let out a large yawn, “and Pete.”

“Sure we can,” said Tony, smiling fondly at her. “How about you go to sleep now? The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner you’ll wake up and the sooner I’ll be back.”

“Sir, I'm afraid he's insisting,” repeated the AI, and Tony rolled his eyes.

“Deal with him, JARVIS. Learning opportunity: make a call of judgement. I’m busy,” he focused back on the screen where Amaya was having Rhodey support all of weight now, clearly exhausted. “Be nice for Platypus now, babygirl.”

His daughter pouted slightly. “I miss you, daddy.”

“And I you. Love you tons.”

“Love you mowre! Night night, Aunt Pep, night night daddy.”

“Night, baby!” “Night, Aya!”

The screen turned off, and Tony looked at the empty air for a couple of more seconds before shaking himself. “How are we doing?”

Pepper had a small Stark Tab in her hands. “Levels are holding steady... I think.”

Tony scoffed, coming to stand next to her. “Of course they are, I was directly involved. Which brings me to my next question: how does it feel to be a genius?”

The strawberry blonde laughed. “Well, ha, I really wouldn't know now, would I?”

The engineer gasped. “What do you mean? All this came from you.”

“No. All this came from that,” she reiterated, pointing at his chest.

Which... fair. But also way too close to giving Howard credit, and that was a slippery slope Tony had no intention of finding himself in. “Give yourself some credit, please. Stark Tower is your baby. Give yourself... twelve percent of the credit.”

The flat stare he got for that was not unexpected. “Twelve percent.”

“An argument can be made for fifteen,” he tried to fix it, which of course didn’t work.

“Twelve percent? For my baby?” she demanded, walking back towards the couch.

“Well, I did do all the heavy lifting,” he pointed out, following after her. “Literally, I lifted the heavy things. And sorry, but the security snafu? That was on you.”

“Oooooh.”

Yes, he could see that he was making it worse though he wasn’t quite sure how. 

“My private elevator-” he tried again, and she gave him an even more unimpressed stare. 

“You mean our elevator?” Honestly she should have those stares trademarked and numbered, cause they said more than a thousand words.

“- was steaming with sweaty workmen." She did not look impressed, and Tony grimaced slightly. "I'm going to pay for that comment about percentages in some subtle way later, aren't I?”

She poured both of them generous amount of Champagne and gave him a sweet smile that would make a weaker man running for the hills. “Not gonna be that subtle.”

Tony did not drink that much ever since Amaya - ever since the Palladium poisoning to be quite honest, but indulging in a glass or two every now and then wasn’t so bad, so he accepted. “I'll tell you what. Next building's gonna say 'Potts' on the tower.”

She gave him a cheeky look. “On the lease.”

Now that was simply going too far. “Call your mom, can you bunk over?”

“Sir, Mr Coulson is now approaching your floor,” came JARVIS’ voice once more. 

Tony looked up with a frown. “What? J, what the hell? I told you to make a judgement call.”

“And I did, Sir.”

“You were meant to turn him away,” complained Tony, even as he stood up. 

“I was able to... ah, convince him to let me take a look at what he wanted to discuss with you,” explained the AI. “And following your choices and motivations, as well as my ethics and protection protocols, I have reached the conclusion that you will be interested in at the very least look over what he is bringing.”

Well that did not sound ominous at all, couldn’t help but think Tony as the elevator opened.

“Mr. Stark,” greeted the agent, his expression slightly strained. “I see you continue to improve your security systems. Miss Potts.”

“Agent Coulson,” greeted Pepper, eyeing him suspiciously. The man had tried to create some sort of bond between the two of them, but following Tony’s discovery of Natashalie and SHIELD, Pepper had firmly cut off anything that might have once been friends.

“You tried to hack JARVIS didn’t you?” questioned Tony, with a long suffering sigh. If he wasn't very confident in his security and did not seek to improve it every month or so, he'd be severely pissed. As it was, he was mildly annoyed. “You know, you make it very hard for me to want to help you in any way.”

“My apologies. Force of habit,” said Coulson, like it was in any way an excuse, before holding out a file to Tony. “We need you to look this over. Soon as possible.”

Tony looked at the file with disdain. “I don't like being handed things.”

Before he could say anything else, Pepper came to stand beside him, taking the file. “That's alright, 'cause I love to be handed things. So, let's trade,” she said, and, performing some sort of contortionism shit, took Tony’s champagne and handed him the file. 

“Official consulting hours are between eight and five every other Thursday,” still quipped Tony, even though he knew that if JARVIS had deemed it important enough to be looked at, he would at least look at it.

“This isn't a consultation,” said Coulson, watching him walk away.

“Is this about The Avengers? Which I... I know nothing about,” quickly said Pepper and Tony let out little snort.

“The Avengers Initiative was scrapped, I thought. And I didn't even qualify.”

It had been very funny to see SHIELD’s backhanded attempt at manipulation. Knowing that Tony had managed to gain access to their serves, they had left a slightly encrypted and easily hacked file on him on their servers, knowing that his curiosity would lead him to open it. Which he had, only so that he could laugh with Pepper, Happy and Rhodey about it.

“I didn't know that either,” said Pepper, and there was very badly concealed laughter in her tone.

Tony made eye contact with her, eyes wide. “Yeah, apparently I'm volatile, self-obsessed, don't play well with others.”

“That I did know. Rhodey told me at our last parent teacher conference,” she said, chuckling while keeping an eye on Coulson so that he didn't 'accidentally' plant a bug somewhere. 

The spy wasn’t moving or laughing with them but he too was amused. Tony could tell. “This isn't about personality profiles anymore.”

“Whatever,” huffed Tony, pulling the files on his own database. “Miss Potts, come here for a second.”

Pepper came to stand beside him as he started clicking away. “So?”

Tony shrugged ever so slightly. “I trust JARVIS. What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she said, half turning to the spy for a second. He was standing perfectly still. “This seems serious, Phil's pretty shaken.”

Tony squinted at the man, who stared back at him blankly. “How can you even tell- hold on. Phil?”

The CEO snorted, shrugging. “That’s what he presented himself as. Phil Coulson,” she squinted at the screen. “What is all of this?”

Who the hell named their child something as ridiculous as ‘Phil'? “This is, uh...” He expanded the images on his holographic screens and even he was impressed at the amount of images on it. “This.”

Many screens appeared, with various descriptions, information and videos attached. 

There was Captain America in action (Tony had heard that the man with a plan had been found in the ice about a month or so ago, but had yet to see what he looked like), the Hulk at Culver University (this was exciting, Tony had always wanted to meet Doctor Banner), Thor fighting a metal something (Tony had not had the questionable pleasure of meeting him last time) and on the last screen...

Tony stilled, staring at the last screen rigidly, afraid of letting out a single breath.

A punch in the gut would have hurt less.

Pepper didn’t seem to have noticed. “I'm going to take the jet to DC tonight.”

“Yeah...” He managed, voice a little strangled as he paused the various videos. “See you tomorrow.”

She frowned at him even as she moved. “You okay?”

“Peachy keen,” he promised, knowing his smile looked slightly manic. Coulson frowned at him for a moment, but then Pepper was politely and firmly ushering him out, so he had no choice but to leave.

The second they left, Tony un-paused the screen that had frozen him. “JARVIS.”

“Yes, Sir?” even the AI sounded cautious.

“How legit is this thing?”

“It does not seem manipulated in any way,” answered JARVIS, and Tony shook his head, running his fingers through his hair.

His eyes did not move from the screen, but no matter how long he stared at the looped video, its contents didn’t change.

And neither did the man on the screen.

Better yet, the alien on the screen.

He enlarged the image, ignoring the Tesseract and project PEGASUS for a moment, looking at the face he had thought lost forever.

The person who had left to meet his father and never came back.

“Loki...” he whispered, staring at the frozen still picture of his... his... his Loki. “What the fuck?”


It felt unreal to finally see Loki, after two whole years.

Tony never found out what had happened to Loki. He knew that he had felt something was wrong through their connection, but it had been so fast and untraceable that he hadn’t been able to determine exactly what had gone wrong.

He had then spent the evening trying to contact him through the minnisbók but no matter how many times he wrote to him, no matter how many times he tried to somehow summon him, reach through the connection, Loki didn't come.

That night he went to sleep with a fear in his eyes that he couldn’t fully hide from Pepper, Happy and Rhodey, but he had managed to convince them he was fine, more or less.

Until he had gone to sleep, of course, and started dreaming about falling, cold and the nothingness of space.

That was when he was 100% sure something had gone very wrong. 

He had immediately contacted Jane Foster about Thor - Loki had told him, back then, that Thor was human and living on Earth - and his worst fears were confirmed. Thor’s friend had disobeyed the King (Loki); Loki had sent the ‘Destroyer’ to stop them; the Destroyer had tried to kill Thor and the warriors; the Bifrost had disappeared from Earth.

The Bifrost had disappeared.

Loki had other ways of travelling, Tony knew this. He had done so when Amaya was born after all.

But he also knew there was a reason he had been dreaming about falling through space since that fateful day and would continue to do so for over five months after his disappearance.

He had put Jane and Darcy on his payroll and helped her with the knowledge Loki had given him about wormholes, trying to find another way to get in contact with Asgard. There were many of these wormholes, some in New Mexico, in Iceland, in New Orleans, in Sokovia... New York, they found, had one of the most stable wormholes hidden somewhere in its atmosphere, and Tony ended up deciding that that would be the perfect spot to create his Tower.

So that maybe Loki would find his way to him more easily, or somehow, between he and Jane they could manage to figure out something.

And then, five months after the beginning of their plan, the dreams stopped.

He didn’t physically feel the dream link shattering, but he knew the second it had. Like an awareness, a sense he didn’t know he had, had just shut itself down.

That was when the real panic and depression had started, and only Amaya's existence and the fact that she needed him, now more than ever, managed to keep him from going full self destruction mode.

Tony clenched his teeth, pushing away those thoughts as he saw the images of Captain America and Loki fighting over the Quinjet. 

He connected to the Quinjet speakers, blasting AC/DC’s Shoot to Thrill  trying to lift his own spirits at the thought of Natashalie's scowl at his action.

“Agent Romanoff, did you miss me?” he asked shooting down on the now empty area they were fighting in - ouch, his knees would not thank him for that come the next day.

He was glad for the helmet when he finally made eye contact with Loki, who had not even flinched or blinked at the sight of Tony. He might have made a very embarrassing sight if he had taken it off. Instead he pulled out half of his arsenal and aimed it at the demigod, forcing himself to remain professional until he gave Loki a chance to explain. “Make your move, Reindeer Games.”

(what was going on? why wasn't Loki reacting? Tony knew he was a good actor, but why wasn't he-)

Loki put up his hands in something like surrender, but not quite and his armour dematerialised to show off a getup that looked exactly like what he was wearing the last time-

(where had he been? what happened? Loki-)

He kept his voice level, and put away his weapons. “Good move.”

The Captain - Tony had honestly forgotten he was still there - stood beside him. “Mr. Stark.”

Tony’s eyes never left Loki (Loki, Loki, Loki), who was just staring at them not quite amused but... almost. “Captain.”


Loki was quiet in the Quinjet.

Both Romanoff and then Rogers tried to engage him in some sort of conversation, but he barely glanced at either of them. Instead he had sat down where Rogers had dragged him in and then strapped himself in

Even he himself had looked a little confused by his own gestures, but still, he had not spoken a word.

Tony had not spoken much either. Once they had gotten back on the Quinjet he had stood between the cockpit and the area where Loki was sitting, keeping the helmet on as he surreptitiously studied Loki, trying to find something (anything)  that would explain his behaviour.

Loki had looked at him at one point, but distractedly, boredly; in the same way he had looked at every other human he had come across.

He wanted to shake him, shout at him, demand that he explain his actions. Ask him what happened, ask him about Amaya. Ask him where he had been, why he had cut off communication. Ask him if he had forgotten them.

“I don't like it,” said Rogers, and Tony blinked back to attention.

Right. There were other people there with him. 

“What? Rock of Ages giving up so easily?” he asked, and was glad for the helmet hiding his face, because he would have otherways given up the fact that he knew Loki was listening in on their conversation. His head did not move, but Tony remembered Loki, and remembered all of his tells. And right now, he was listening in to them.

“I don't remember it being ever that easy,” continued Rogers, unaware of Loki’s enhanced hearing. Or maybe he was perfectly aware and just didn’t care. “This guy packs a wallop.”

Loki’s lips twitched in that way they did when Tony said something he didn’t fully understand, and Tony's heart clenched at the familiar gesture. “Still, you are pretty spry, for an older fellow,” he said, and this time the twitch was one of amusement. Which meant Loki had to be still there. Whatever he had done was not irreversible (had he done something?). “What's your thing? Pilates?”

“What?”

Tony was barely paying attention to him, reading every twitch of Loki’s lips as he continued staring straight ahead. “It's like calisthenics. You might have missed a couple things, you know, during your time as a Capsicle.”

He didn’t need to turn to know Rogers was staring at him. “Fury didn't tell me he was calling you in.”

Oh, he must be new around here. “Yeah, there's a lot of things Fury doesn't tell you.”

Thunder and lightning nearly hit the jet, making it shake violently, and Tony knew what was going on immediately when he saw the look on Loki’s face.

“What's the matter? Scared of a little lightning?” asked Rogers, possibly intrigued by the tightness around Loki’s eyes and misreading the irritation for fear.

“I'm not overly fond of what follows,” answered him the velvet voice, and Tony fists clenched, drawing the demigod’s attention for a fraction of a second. He had, of course, heard Loki’s pompous commentary on the file Agent had handed him, but it was quite different to hear him speak in front of him again. To hear his voice again.

Familiar.

Something - someone - hit the roof of the jet, and the sneer on Loki’s face was unmistakable. Tony knew exactly what other alien drama queen had just landed among them as he opened the ramp.

Still, he didn’t have time to even send one blast before Thor’s stupid hammer was hitting him against the chest and pushing him backward. The man did not even have the courtesy of explaining himself in any way: he pushed Tony aside, grabbed Loki by the throat and jumped out of the jet.

(NO, NOT AGAIN, HE DID NOT GET TO TAKE LOKI AWAY AGAIN NO)

“Now there's that guy,” he growled, standing back again. 

He had seen Thor before. In Jane’s pictures and SHIELD’s files, but he had also seen him in the dreams of space. Now, Tony wasn’t a 100% sure what had happened, but he knew for a fact that Thor was partially to blame as was Odin.

Was he biased? Yes. Did he care? No.

“Another Asgardian?” questioned Romanoff, which. Wrong. Aes. 

“Think the guy's a friendly?”

And that was enough team work, he decided, moving towards the ramp. “Doesn't matter. If he frees Loki or kills him, the Tesseract's lost.”

“Stark, we need a plan of attack!” demanded Rogers, and who the fuck did he think he was to command Tony around? He wasn’t Pepper.

“I have a plan.” Save Loki. “Attack.” 

Then he jumped out of the jet, chasing in the general direction Thor had disappeared in.

+++

It took him much longer than he would have liked to find their friendly neighbourhood Norse god aliens. He did not quite like seeing his- seeing Loki standing way too close to the edge of the mountain and Thor standing over him with that fucking hammer pointed at him, so he slammed into him and threw him over the edge and against the trees directly below them.

Thor stood back up way too quickly, battle ready once more, and Tony just watched him with narrowed eyes.

“Do not touch me again!” bellowed - because that was a bellow for sure - the blond.

Tony’s helmet lifted up. “Then don't take my stuff,” he told him, as evenly as possible.

He was biased, he knew this. But he was pretty sure the last time Loki saw him was before he fell, and he was also pretty sure the man - his brother - did not jump after him or try to save him in any way. And his gut told him it was very much Thor’s fault.

Thor pointed the hammer at him. “You have no idea what you're dealing with.”

“Shakespeare in the park?” he asked, unable to stop himself from ribbing at him. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” 

Which perhaps was not the best thing to tell the man who started up a war again because someone called him princess. “This is beyond you, metal man. Loki will face Aesir justice!”

“They committed crimes here, so they should face Midgardian justice first,” he pointed out. Thor stilled for a moment, his expression suddenly contemplating Tony in a way that made him uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. “Until then, stay out of my way... tourist.”

He said that last part under his breath like the mature adult he was, but of course that was what made the other lose his temper and knock him down into a tree.

Fucking bastard.

“Okay,” he said, standing back up again.

The fight that followed was a little hard to follow even when he was the one actually doing the fighting. Thor was very much stronger than his usual human foe, and had a lot more firepower. If he didn’t pretty much loathe the guy and wasn’t trying to survive his attempt at crushing the bones of one of the humans that were, apparently, under his protection, he would very much liked to dissect and study that hammer of his.

As it was, he ducked when he could and was very much intrigued when a blast of lightning hit him and instead of frying him like a turtle in its  carapace, it levelled him up.

They probably would have ended up fighting, trying to fry and headbutting each other for much longer if Rogers had not decided then to join the fight, hitting both of them with his mighty shield.

“Hey! That's enough!” he said, the over glorified physic defying dinnerplate back in his hands as he stood mostly facing Thor. “Now, I don't know what you plan on doing here.”

“I've come here to put an end to Loki's schemes!” snarled the blond, gripping his hammer tighter.

The same Loki who was still sitting and watching them like they were his very own movie, couldn’t help but notice Tony. 

“Then prove it! Put the hammer down,” demanded Rogers, and oh no.

“Um, yeah, no! Bad call! He loves his hammer!” he managed, just before getting backhanded by the idiot once more.

“You want me to put the hammer down?” shouted Thor, and could he seriously not speak in normal inside voices?

Then Tony had to watch him leap into the air with his hammer and hit Roger’s shield. The implosion that followed alien fabricated hammer hitting against a human processed vibranium was something to behold, even though Tony was pretty sure he was blinded and deafened for a moment.

Still, the immovable object meets unstoppable force was enough to stun them all out of their dick measuring contest - which Tony was pretty sure Rogers thought he won, if the smug way he put down his shield was anything to go by.

“Are we done here?”

He gave a curt nod, looking back at where Loki was still lounging. “Yep. Let’s collect Frosty and see what they want,” he said, and again Thor’s narrowed eyes found him, a curious and almost intrigued expression in his eyes.

“Let’s.”


Tony did not have much of a plan once they arrived back on the Helicarrier. 

Once he had put away his suit, he went into one of the currently unoccupied 'labs' (they were not real labs, no matter what SHIELD claimed) and spent an obnoxious amount of time spreading out his stuff as if he was ‘claiming’ his territory, ignoring the way Coulson just kept standing in the doorway and observing him mildly.

He would have continued being a general pain in the ass while he tried to figure a plan of action and ignored the Agent trying to get him in the debriefing room, had Thor himself not decided to find them at that point, stepping in their direct path.

“Prince Thor,” started Coulson, but the space Ken doll was not looking at him.

“Greetings, son of Coul.” Son of Coul? “May I have a moment to speak with your brave Man of Iron? I’d like to endeavour and clear the air between us.”

Coulson gave Tony a look, but the genius gave absolutely nothing back. Thor’s hammer wasn’t in his hand anymore, but if the myths and previous footage were to be trusted, that really didn’t mean much.

“Sure,” finally said Coulson, looking between the two of them. “I’ll just... leave you two be.”

Thor watched the Agent leave the hallway quietly, but the second he opened his mouth, Tony lifted a finger. He pressed something on his phone, then crossed his arms too, facing him with the same calm expression. “Now they won’t hear what we say.”

“You are familiar with my brother,” said Thor and. Okay. Uh.

It was a statement, but he didn’t know what Loki had or had not told Thor yet. If anything. So he just squinted at him. “What makes you think that?”

“You referred to him as ‘Frosty’,” he started, one finger going up. “You referred to him as ‘they’,” a second finger, “and referred to yourselves as Midgardians. That is not your preferred term.”

Ah shit. Tony kept his face blank. “I am friends with Jane Foster.”

Thor’s expression changed slightly, but then he shook his head. “That might explain the ‘Midgardian’ part. But I did not tell her about my brother’s ever changing nature, nor should she be aware of his Jotun ancestry. Whence I knew her, I wasn’t aware of such ancestry.”

“Ah yes,” said Tony, unable to bite his tongue. “Back when you went to Jotunheim and decided to start a war against an entire fucking planet because they called you princess?” Tony would not put human morals on aliens, that’d be stupid and pointless. But deciding to oust a civilization with five other friends because of one insult was dumb, and Tony could not stand dumbness.

Thor at least looked ashamed. “Yes. In my youth, I courted war.”

What the fuck. “In your youth?! It was two years ago!”

The hurt golden retriever look was very irritating when Tony knew him as a war mongering imbecile. “Aye... I-” he dropped that line of questioning and looked at him more carefully. “The people here referred to you as ‘Tony Stark’ or ‘Man of Iron’. Some spoke of a Tower herald in your name, which means you have riches. Are you perhaps Prince Anthony?”

Any urge to punch Thor in the face suddenly subsided. “What.”

Thor looked even more hopeful. “Mother and I grew closer after Loki...  after Loki fell into the abyss." Tony's inside chilled at those words. "She told me tales about him that I never knew, and spoke of the man that had charmed his heart when the Bifrost was closed in preparation of my coronation. She said his name was ‘Prince Anthony’ but Loki never revealed much more than that.”

Uh. That was. That was... “My full name is Anthony Stark,” he finally said, clearing his throat and trying to clear his mind too. “But I’m not a prince. Not strictly speaking,” because in Loki’s antiquated mind he could have been a prince. Rich, pretty, had galas, several mansions... 

“But you know my brother,” pressed Thor. “You know something isn’t right. This is not his usual behaviour.” 

In so far it did not look like Thor was lying. And Tony had noticed that something wasn’t quite right. He had not spoken directly to Loki yet, but he had seen him both in armour and not by now. And still, he gave no indication that he recognised him or knew him at all.

It didn't make sense. He couldn't have forgotten him... could he?

Thor said he fell into the abyss, but where did he land? What happened there?

“What do you want, Point Break?” he finally asked, studying him carefully.

The blond made a confused expression at the nickname, then stood taller. “I want my brother back,” he said, simply.

But there was nothing simple about this.

“You want your brother back or do you want Loki back? There is a difference.” Thor made a confused noise, and Tony huffed. “Who do you want back?” He remembered the words spoken over ten years ago. “Do you want the shadow prince? Thor’s little brother? The second heir to the throne? The sorcerer none of your friends has ever respected?” Thor’s expression was a mask of pain. “Or do you want Loki back, Loki with mischief at his fingertips and chaos in his veins? Because those are two very different people, and one I know for sure will never come back, and the other... I don’t know if he is even here.”

The heartbreak was strong in Thor’s eyes. “How long have you known my brother, Prince Anthony?”

Thor said his name differently than Loki did. Tony wasn't sure he liked it. “We first met twelve years ago. The last time I saw him was the day you left Earth.” He gave him a glare. “Few days after he found out about Odin’s lies.”

The demigod seemed unsure if he should feel insulted at Odin’s disrespect, shocked by the length of their acquaintance or frustrated by his lack of knowledge regarding it. In the end he settled for sadness. “You’ve known him for little over a Midgardian decade and yet you understand him in a manner only Mother ever has.”

Given by literally anyone else, this would have been a fetching compliment. Given by Thor, it was still an ego booster, but did not make him swoon. “Yeah.”

Thor reassessed him for a moment, and gave a half smile. “He has spoken of me, then?”

“Not that much,” bluntly said Tony, wrecking his brain to find something to say about him that did not involve treason or Amaya. “He told me he did not want the throne, but that he was sure once you got it you would plunge Asgard into war within days.”

Thor grimaced, then seemingly came to a conclusion and nodded again. “At first I wished to go and speak to him, try to make him see sense.” He shook his head. “But I gather now that I am not the person who knows him best anymore, and especially not in here. If I keep our comrades from disturbing and interrupting you, would you be willing to speak to him? To see if there is a way out of his madness or if the Void has taken him completely?”

Hey maybe Mr space GI Joe was not as awful as Tony would have thought.

Then he remembered all the stories Loki told him of their ‘battles’ and decided, nope.

Still. He didn't have a plan yet, but this could be the start of one.

“Lead the way, Fabio.”

Chapter Text

17th of July, Helicarrier, Midgard

 

Thor’s loud marching had completely drowned his footsteps, but Loki was still not surprised when the Man of Iron stepped into the room.

By now, he had a working theory. Whatever he had decided to seal away in his mind when the Other had started tampering with his mind had something to do with this man. 

The findings were clear: the strange kinship his seidr could feel whenever the man was around or his name was mentioned; the way he recalled simple Midgardian traditions (seatbelt, pizza) when he hadn’t been there in almost a decade, barring the short visit to Thor; and last but not least the man’s familiarity with Loki himself.

He had felt his gaze, heavy on him during the entirety of their travel towards the metal fortress. Had seen his rage when he knocked Thor down and the way he was completely unsurprised at his arrival. Had seen the pinched look on his face as Thor carried him back and as he was dragged away by armed men.

For a second, neither of them spoke, both of them staring at each other and trying to find something in the other.

He was not that tall, he noted, cataloguing everything he could find. Average for a Midgardian, and somewhere close to being middle aged. Soft looking brown locks, and dark eyes, narrowed as they searched him too.

When he still did not speak even after Loki was done with his inspection, the mage grinned at him. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Man of Iron?”

The man seemed to still at the sound of his voice, and then straighten up again. “You know why I’m here,” he finally said, taking one step towards the cage.

Even if it dropped, Loki wouldn’t die since it was not warded against his seidr, but he still pretended to flinch when the man came closer to the cage, taking one step backwards. “Careful now,” he said, injecting just the right those of nerves in his voice. “The Director was quite clear on what would happen if I touched the glass.”

Stark did not smile, tilting his head to the side. “You and I both know that cage is not keeping you trapped.”

Loki’s eyes narrowed of their own accord for a fraction of a second, and then he smiled once more. “I don’t know what you are talking about, Man of Iron.”

“You don’t, uh?” asked the shorter man with a huff. His eyes were hard, and though Loki had nothing visible to hide, the continued scrutiny made him uncomfortable. “Okay, let’s backtrack for a second. Where have you been these past two years?”

This time Loki could not stop himself from stiffening, the Other making his presence known as he surveyed the mortal in front of him.

It was awful, feeling that monster in his thoughts, sitting beside him at the wheel, and feeding him the lines he wished him to speak.

“I have travelled to the edges of space, of course. Seen things you could not possibly imagine-”

“Blah blah blah, burdened with glorious purpose blah blah,” interrupted Stark, rolling his eyes. But his ease seemed forced, something in his posture stiff.

Loki snarled at him. “Have care of how you speak to me, mortal. You are but an ant in the path to my victory, do not presume you have some sort of importance because you might have defeated me once.”

“But I haven’t defeated you, have I, Loke- Loki?” he stumbled on his name, and Loki could feel the Other grow curious at the display.

“Doubting your own skills, Man of Iron?”

Finally there was frustration on his face. “Don’t call me that!” 

Loki fought it as hard as he could, but the Other took over, speaking his own words through his mouth. “Then what shall I call you?”

Something quick and fleeting went through his eyes, something he was sure the Other hadn’t caught, and then he spoke again. “My name. Call me by my name.”

“Tony Stark,” purred the Other, a sharp grin forming itself on Loki’s lips. “The Man of Iron. Iron Man.” An even sharper smile. “Merchant of Death.”

Let go of me! He demanded, but the Other did not, seemingly having noticed Loki’s earlier intrigue with the man. And his intrigue seemed to have passed on.

Unexpectedly, Stark smiled at that. “Merchant of Death,” he repeated, letting out a little smile as he came even closer to the cage. “Haven’t heard that one in a while. Do you know why they called me that?”

The hawk had said something about it after his initial explanation of the Avengers Initiative. He could only snarl and bear it as the Other trifled through his memories to find the answer. “You leave death in the wake of any enemy who stands in your way. Admirable, for a Terran.”

Loki saw the flash of something in the man’s eyes, and Stark’s smile grew in a way that even the Other started feeling the danger of.

“Yes,” he finally agreed. “That’s way. Tell me, Reindeer Games... that glowstick of destiny that you go around using as a conductor for us little terrans'  minds,” Loki forced down any reaction the Other might notice, but the creature seemed more focused on Stark, “Who gave it to you?”

“My allies are strong and mighty, Merchant,” he told him, still using Loki’s as a connection. “Your puny mind would not understand their strength, no matter what the other people around you insist of claiming about your might. It does not concern you who they are, only that they will come and they shall win.”

They will, won’t they?” he asked, and there was something fierce and biting and sharp in his eyes that even the Other could sense. “Well then. The eyes are the window to the soul, and your soul seems to believe that at least.” Norns. Could it be?  “I guess let them come, Baby Blues.”

He stood up fluidly and waved at Loki, a determined expression on his face. “I will see you all soon.”

And then Stark walked out.

+++

Thor immediately perked up the second Tony stepped out of the room, expression almost cautiously hopeful. “Well? Have you convinced him to give up-”

“Not here,” he hissed, grabbing the man’s arm - or attempting to. His arm alone was as big as Tony’s head - and dragging him along, changing the settings of his jammer with his phone. Only when he was sure SHIELD wouldn’t be able to hear him he stopped, looking up at Thor.

Tony did not like Thor. He did not really know him either.

He knew what the Vikings valued - he had done a lot of research after finding out Loki was a Norse deity - and Loki had plenty to bitch about, in regards to his brother. He knew their stances on battle, being worthy etcetera.

But he also knew that Thor still considered Loki his brother. And Thor had approached Tony in a bid to prove that his brother was not as evil or as gone as everyone thought.

“The scepter,” he started, looking around. “It’s not an Aesir weapon, is it?”

Thor shook his head. “It’s an artefact that I have never seen before. The only ones who would be able to tell you what it was and its origins would be my father or my mother.”

“And your people call us Midgardians. Is that Universal or is that an Asgard thing? What do other people call us?”

The blond seemed confused with the line of questioning, but he replied nevertheless. “Across the Nine Realms you are known as Midgard, yes. I know the Xandarians, the Skrulls and the Kree have a different way of cataloguing each celestial body - they call Asgard A-8 and Midgard C-53 - and on some others refer to you simply as Humanity or Humies. It varies from Galaxy to Galaxy, and that depends on if the galaxy even knows who you are.”

“Who would refer to us as ‘Terrans’?”

Thor blinked, and then shrugged. “Terra... people who came across your planet before you evolved, so races that are vastly older than you. Certain factions of Ravagers.” He shrugged once more. “Why do you ask?”

“The scepter, whatever it is exactly that it does, is not fully under Loki’s control,” he stated, much more confidently than he actually felt.

Thor looked at him sharply. “What makes you think that? He is the one wielding it.”

“Just because you wield something, it does not mean it’s under your control,” said Tony, remembering the palladium core of the first Arc Reactors. “I don’t know if it’s exacerbating existing feelings, if it’s a leash or if it’s some sort of mind control. But it is doing something to him.”

Tony was sure of it. Loki had stood in front of him in that cage, but it was not Loki he had spoken to. He did not need their dream link to be able to say this, and his reaction just now? His explanation for calling him Merchant of Death? That wasn’t Loki.

“I want to believe you, Stark,” started Thor, expression pained. “But you are not giving me anything that can, without a shadow of doubt proof to me that Loki is not the one behind all of this?”

“What proof do you have that it is him?” retorted Tony, jaw clenching. “Look, if you want to believe that your brother fell from the bridge, was just given a scepter with the power of controlling minds, appeared through the tesseract looking battered with eyes that glow blue every now and then, and then decided he’d take over Earth, be my guest. But-”

“What do you know of my brother’s fall?” questioned Thor’s growing agitated.

Tony hesitated slightly. Then decided ‘fuck it’, and spoke up again. “I have known Loki for years now, I’ve told you that. We have- we had a dream link.” He licked his lips and then glared at Thor. “I saw it. I saw him fall and I saw you and Odin just standing there, watching him.” Without the suit he wouldn’t be able to actually injure Thor, but his fists clenched anyway. “You did not even try to go after him. You just stood there like two fucking morons, and watched as he fell! Do you have any idea how long he fell for? Do you?”

Thor looked stricken, but all the rage and fear Tony had been keeping at bay surged up abruptly. “For months, I dreamt of him falling. For months I dreamt of loneliness and fear, and the cold and silence of space, falling and falling without an end in sight. For months-”

“Is everything all right?” came Coulson’s voice and Tony pursed his lips very much aware of the tears that had formed in both his and Thor’s eyes. 

“Yeah. Peachy keen,” he said, smile as sharp as ever as he took a step away from Tony. “Aren’t we, Point Break?”

The blond still looked heartbroken, but visibly pulled himself back together. Not enough to not make Fury and his spy club suspicious, but enough that Coulson couldn’t question him. “Aye. Prince Anthony was giving him insights on the power behind his suits.”

Tony cringed slightly, but did not let it be seen on his face. Of all the excuses Thor could pull he had to choose the least believable one, didn’t he? Still, they couldn’t prove Tony hadn’t, so for now that was fine.

Instead of allowing more questioning, him and Thor walked more quickly into the room, catching the end tail of Doctor Banner’s explanation. “...I think it's about the mechanics. Iridium, what did they need the Iridium for?"

“It's a stabilizing agent,” he explained, walking inside and eyeing the people around the room quickly. “Means the portal won't collapse on itself, like it did at SHIELD.” He patted Thor’s shoulder, trying to signal for the man to stop following him around and drawing attention to their quickly formed alliance. “No hard feelings, Point Break. You've got a mean swing.”

Thor gave a half nod and stopped beside one of the chairs as Tony continued his path around the room. “Also, it means the portal can open as wide, and stay open as long, as Lo- Rock of Ages wants.” He was very proud of the way he only just stumbled on the man’s name. Also, as he watched the ship, he suddenly understood Fury’s obsession with pirate get ups. “Uh, raise the mid-mast, ship the top sails.” The SHIELD agents around turned to look at him like he was crazy, which wouldn’t do. He would prefer them not paying any attention to him and his actions. “That man is playing GALAGA! Thought we wouldn't notice. But we did.” He covered one of his eyes, immersing himself in his Fury cosplay. “How does Fury do this?”

“He turns,” informed him one of the agents whose name he totally didn’t know because he had never hacked into SHIELD in a fit of paranoia after Amaya’s birth. No sir.

He started pressing around the screens, giving the impression of being deeply unbothered but also kind of busy as he spoke. “Well, that sounds exhausting. The rest of the raw materials, Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. Only major component he still needs is a power source. A high energy density, something to kick start the cube.” He finished with a flourish, one hand dropping a screw like bug on the desk and giving JARVIS access to the files on the Helicarrier that they hadn’t been able to get their hands on the first time around.

Agent Hill raised an eyebrow, unwittingly impressed. “When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?”

“Last night,” he said, as arrogantly and irreverently as possible. “The packet, Selvig's notes, the Extraction Theory papers. Am I the only one who did the reading?” This was starting to feel like MIT all over again.

“Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?” asked the man in the American Flag cosplay, like it wasn’t the dumbest question ever.

“He's got to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier,” pointed out Banner. 

“Unless, Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunnelling effect.”

“Well, if he could do that he could achieve Heavy Ion Fusion at any reactor on the planet,” Banner seemed as intrigued as Tony himself had been when he had posed that hypothesis to himself. 

“Finally, someone who speaks English.”

Captain America said something, but Tony wasn’t listening as he shook hands with one of his favourite geniuses on Earth. “It's good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

Banner looked embarrassed, but Tony chose to see a faint amusement in the way he looked down. “Thanks.”

He barely listened as Fury walked back in and spoke with the American Flag cosplay, making eye contact with Thor for a second before they finally got the chance to leave.

“Shall we play, doctor?”

Banner almost smiled. “Let's play some.”

Loki was not as free as he appeared, of that Tony was sure. And as he walked back into the lab with Bruce, he vowed that he would find out a way to free him, no matter what.

He’d turn those baby blues back to green if it was the last thing he did.


After Stark left, Loki was left unnerved. Not even the Other’s snotty commentary on the man registered after a while, but even the creature seemed too bothered by Stark to worry about their mind link - which served Loki just fine.

Had he been alone in his mind, Loki would have used one of his illusions to follow Stark around, to try and hear what conclusion the man had come to - for he had to have come to a conclusion of some sorts. He had to know.

The words he had used, the names he had called him... he had to know.

But he didn’t follow him around because the Other was still lurking in the background. Instead he paced around the cage built for one of their own and checked on the hawk and the healer’s progress.

He was still pacing when he felt someone standing not too far behind him - even though he had not heard footsteps approaching. 

“There's not many people that can sneak up on me,” he said, an ugly grin as he turned to face... “Natasha Romanoff,” the words left his lips without his full consent or the consent of the Other. “Black Widow.”

If she was as harrowed by him knowing her name as he himself was - the hawk had never shown a picture of her, nor had he spoken her first name - she didn’t show.

“But you figured I'd come,” she said, simply watching him.

Loki’s mind remained asunder. (Natalie Rushman. How do you spell your name, Natalie? ) “After. After whatever tortures Fury can concoct, you would appear as a friend, as a balm. And I would cooperate.”

He forced his thoughts back on the double interrogation, feeling a heavy dislike and contempt for a woman he remembered meeting but didn’t remember how or when. 

“I wanna know what you've done to Agent Barton,” she demanded, and he gave her an even uglier smile.

“I'd say we've expanded his mind,” he said, and noted the slight tightening of the corner of her mouth.

He knew she was interrogating him, but did she know he was interrogating her back? Did she know how much he was spoonfeeding her, and how much she was easily giving away to him?

She took a couple of steps closer. “And once you've won. Once you're king of the mountain. What happens to his mind?”

Arms crossed around her chest. Attempting to appear aloof, as this was all about the interrogation when she truly wanted to know.

Loki wanted to know too.

Instead he raised an eyebrow at her, letting an irritating coo. “Is this love, Agent Romanoff?”

The ever so slight watering of her eyes - artificial. “Love is for children. I owe him a debt.”

Loki pretended to be taken by her, going back towards one of the benches. “Tell me.”

Many emotions flashed across her face, from anger (real) to resignation (fake), before she also pulled out a chair. “Before I worked for SHIELD, I uh...well, I made a name for myself.” Loki did not laugh. He was sure her clear manipulations would have been harder to see for someone who was not the Liesmith, but pretending was getting very hard when all he wanted to do was giggle at her. “I have a very specific skillset. I didn't care who I used it for, or on. I got on SHIELD's radar in a bad way. Agent Barton was sent to kill me, he made a different call.”

Was this truly the best Midgard could offer? “And what will you do if I vow to spare him?” he asked her.

She did not appear surprised at the demand, and there was a flash of anger in her poisonous green eyes. “Not let you out.”

Loki laughed, entertained despite himself. “Ah, no. But I like this. Your world in the balance, and you bargain for one man?”

She shrugged, raising an eyebrow at him. “Regimes fall every day. I tend not to weep over that, I'm Russian... or was.” She said ‘Russian’ like it should mean something to him.

(“Natasha Romanoff. Something called Black Widow that, according to my research, is a Russian program that was supposed to have been shut down after the second world war. She defected.” ) (who told him that? where had he heard it?)

“What is it you want?”

She slowly sat up again, affecting the image of an arrogant and sure woman. “It’s really not that complicated. I've got red in my ledger, I'd like to wipe it out.”

Suddenly the amusement left his mind. He recalled himself, standing over the void in the Observatory, the commands of the Bifrost at his fingertips as he turned the bridge itself upon Jotunheim, decided to destroy, once and for all, the Realm of monsters.

He pulled at the link between himself and Barton, not caring to be gentle this time. Why should he? He was already a monster in two of the Nine Realms; even if he was freed from the Other, how would he be anything else in this Realm?

“Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Drakov’s daughter? Sao Paulo? The hospital fire? Barton told me everything.”

He did not regret his approach. He did not regret anything, he had done as he should have to ensure his own survival. No matter how much you regretted, no matter what you did, red stained everything and never left. “Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything?” Saving a murderer? Her plan was pretending that saving an assassin made her true and proper? He stood up, angry. “This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer... Pathetic!”

Saving a murderer did nothing. Why would anyone save a murderer? Why would anyone save disloyal warrior? Why would anyone save Loki?

He had waited. He had begged and cried and prayed as his own skin was ripped off his muscles, but no one came. No one tried to save him, he had been left there to rot.

Thrown into the Abyss by those who loved you, whispered the Other and he shouldn’t listen. He shouldn’t.

But the Other was right. They spoke honeyed words to him for a millennia but the second he overstepped, reached for something he couldn’t have they threw him away like the monster he was, and no one came after him.

Nobody saved Loki, except Loki.

He glared at the woman in front of him, relishing in the tears (fake) and the fear (real) in her eyes. This woman spoke of redemption? She believed herself in the path of redemption?

“You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers,” he spat because that was what her precious SHIELD was. Hadn’t they invited a creature on board as if they cared for it and then built a cage to contain it and kill it? “You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors. But they are a part of you, and they will never go away!”

Are you speaking of yourself, little Godling?

QUIET! He demanded of his head, slamming a fist against his chest and making the woman flinch. The flinch was real the fact that she prolonged it for several seconds wasn’t.

How dare this disgusting Midgardian wench try to manipulate him! Him!

“I won't touch Barton. Not until I make him kill you! Slowly. Intimately. In every way he knows you fear! And when he'll wake just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I'll split his skull!” She moved away, trying to hide her raising fury at him under layers of tears, and he snarled at. “This is my bargain, you mewling quim!”

He heard her sniffle slightly (fake), before she spoke. “You're a monster.”

Yes. Yes he was. 

But he was tired of this, tired of the Other feeding off his anger, tired of speaking to this woman, tired of spouting horrific stuff. He forced himself to laugh. “No, you brought the monster.”

She turned around, as poised as he expected her to be, though he schooled his face in a mask of surprise. “So, Banner... that's your play.”

He pretended to stagger. “What?”

She moved away from him, speaking into a communicator on her wrist as she walked. “Loki means to unleash the Hulk. Keep Banner in the lab, I'm on my way. Send Thor as well.” She stopped once she was closer to the door and gave him a smile. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

Something about how she said that sentence actually had him feeling wary. He was sure he had not anything slip, sure that he had manipulated her into the answer he wanted her to get.

But at the same time, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she had known exactly what he was doing and allowed herself to be manipulated.

Because there was anger and fear in that smile, but there was something else there. 

Respect.

She walked out quickly, and Loki watched her leave, frozen.

+++

Barton worked quick, thankfully. Once he was in position Loki moved.

In a way, after they had seen his little show in Stuggart, it was pathetic that Fury and his mortals truly believed themselves capable of containing him. 

Oh, they knew he was there because he wanted to be there, but the ‘there’ was different from person to person. Only Thor and perhaps Stark knew he was on the Helicarrier itself because he wanted to be. 

He stepped out of the cage and replaced the himself inside it with a clone strong enough that it would confuse the people watching him.

He could feel the touch of the dastardly scepter on the Midgardian Heroes and Thor, and forced his face to remain devoid of disgust. That scepter... Morality was ambiguous when the Universe was so big, but that Scepter in particular was simply malevolent. He didn’t know if it had always been like that or the Master’s hold had caused it, but that Scepter had a way of bringing anger and misery everywhere it was placed in. 

So he remained put, listening to the explosions around the ship.

Agent Barton’s aim was truly remarkable, he mused steadying himself slightly as the ship shifted dangerously. Stark and the Captain seemed engaged in trying to make  sure the ship wouldn’t fall from the sky. His oaf of a brother and the Hulk were still fighting. Agent Romanoff was stalking the hallways for Barton. The Director and the woman from the chase - Agent Hill - remained covered, holding onto an illusion of control.

Only once the beast finally off the ship - and for a berserker, it seemed to have retained a lot of the healer’s mind - did they seemingly remember him.

Loki shrouded his real self in invisibility as he heard the thumping of his- of Thor’s footsteps running inside the containment room.

The man appeared in the doorway, frazzled, and the real Loki opened the door of the containment room, making his illusion look like it was about to step out of it.

“No!” predictably shouted Thor charging at what he believed to be Loki. Even when the Loki simply smirked and crouched, ready to attack, he didn’t seem to register there might be mischief at play, running through nothing and landing himself inside the cage.

He watched the oaf, hands crossed on his back. “Are you ever not going to fall for that?” he questioned him, as the remaining operatives walked around the room.

Uh. It seemed like the Widow had engaged his hawk in close range combat. She would unknowingly restore his mind pretty soon, which meant he had to leave sooner rather than later.

Thor glared at him and slammed Mjolnir against the glass cell. The cell, as the man of Fury warned, shook violently, but the glass gave way, ever so slightly.

Which meant he would most likely manage to survive even if Loki dropped the cage itself.

He smiled as wickedly as he could, ignoring the Other fanning the flames of betrayal and anger in him. Loki felt angry enough to make Thor fall, he didn’t need more anger.

Instead, he walked over to the control panel. “The humans think us immortal. Should we test that?” 

Before he could touch the controls, one of his operatives fell down on the ground. The son of Could bravely stood before him, holding a weapon that thrummed slightly with the power of the Tesseract. “Move away, please.”

Loki retreated ever so slightly from the controls, his seidr reaching out to try and categorise the level of threat the weapon could cause him. 

“You like this?” asked the son of Coul, approaching him with the weapon aimed and hands steady. “We started working on the prototype after you sent the destroyer. Even I don't know what it does. Do you wanna find out?”

The weapon could hurt him but not kill him. Before the son of Coul could even think of hurting him, Loki’s real self stabbed him from behind with the scepter he had retrieved.

“Nooo!” shouted Thor.

He let the Midgardian fall against the wall, not yet dead, and turned a fake smile onto his not brother.

The look Thor was giving him... it was slightly unsettling. There were emotions at war in his eyes, emotions that Loki wasn’t sure should be there. 

When he reached the control switch his hand shook. 

He didn’t care about Thor, he knew this. Thor had never once looked for him, he had left him to rot. Loki saved Thor so many times during their lives, but how many times had Thor saved Loki?

Only Loki saved Loki.

His hand still shook.

And this would hardly stop him anyway. Mjolnir was stronger than some Midgardian glass, he had already proven this. Not that Loki would care if he died or survived. Thor certainly hadn’t when he Loki fell into the abyss.

When you were thrown.

When he was thrown into the abyss. 

Thor had thrown him into the Void and made him wish for death. So why shouldn’t Loki do the same thing?

He sent the man one last smirk, and then pressed the button.

And Thor fell.

Chapter Text

There was no love lost between Tony Stark and one Agent Coulson. The man was part of the organisation that tried to blackmail him while he was suffering from heavy metal poisoning, and had always struck Tony as a little bit of a psychopath.

He was also the man who had helped save Pepper while he was dealing with Stane, though, and Tony had never wanted him dead. 

Now, as he sat with Captain America and Director Fury, he wondered if he should at least look like he was mourning and if his detachment from the entire shitshow was a symptom of his coming madness. 

“These were in Phil Coulson's jacket,” said Fury, making Tony turn his attention back on him. “Guess he never did get you to sign them.”

With that, he threw Coulson’s Captain America trading card - wow - stained with blood on the table. Tony merely stared at them with a hint of vague disgust, but the Captain picked them up with his bare hands.

Fury spoke up again. “We're dead in the air up here. Our communications, location of the cube, Banner, Thor... I got nothing for you. Lost my one good eye. Maybe I had that coming.” Tony hoped for a rally the troops story there, but the man picked up a thread of conversation only he was following. “Yes, we were going to build an arsenal with the Tesseract. I never put all my chips on that number though, because I was playing something even riskier.

“There was an idea, Stark knows this, called the Avengers Initiative,” started Fury and Tony had to fight an even bigger grimace at those words. Because this was his rally the troop story? Really? “The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could. Phil Coulson died still believing in that idea, in heroes.”

Tony did not want to sit and listen to more of this. He did not have time to deal with this, so he stood up and walked away back towards one of the lower bridges.

There was only one thing Tony knew, as of now. Loki wasn’t Loki. Loki was still there somewhere but right now he was not himself.

Because the Loki Tony knew had sibling issues with Thor, sure, but he wouldn’t have thrown him to his death, no way (and there was also the fact that Tony was quite sure Thor wasn’t dead).

Because the Loki Tony knew had been half beside himself over finding out he was adopted but he had never been an evil guy. Tony might have known him for months - which were nothing in comparison to the centuries Thor had - but Loki had made it clear that Tony understood him like no one else.

And Tony understood him enough to know that this plan? This whole take over the world business? It was stupid and silly.

Why did he bother getting on the Helicarrier? Why did he let them capture him in Germany if he was going to free himself right after? Simply to stop them from tracking the cube?

It did not make sense. 

A sound plan would have been not letting himself be caught. It was simply useless to allow the enemy the sliver of a chance to break him.

Unless you were trying to get time.

And even so, there were countless other ways to gain time, and Loki was smart enough to figure those out.

He heard someone approaching the room he was in, but it wasn’t until they spoke that he recognised the Man with a Plan. “Was he married?”

Tony did not look at him. “I don’t know. We weren’t friends.” 

“He seemed like a good man,” offered Rogers and again. What was this? An attempt to connect? Making small talk?

“He was a SHIELD agent,” he told him simply. He wasn’t speaking ill of the dead. Just he was pretty sure good men did not decide to work for ‘we can do what we want as long as we say it’s for the greater good’ type of teams.

“He was doing his job,” informed him the Captain and Tony rolled his eyes visibly this time around. Rogers continued. “Is this the first time you've lost a soldier?”

This time Tony did turn around to face him, a fierce glare on his face. “We are not soldiers!” He clenched his teeth. “I am not marching to Fury's fife.”

“Neither am I. He's got the same blood on his hands as Loki does,” said Rogers and this time Tony could not stop a slight flinch. Which did not escape the geriatric super soldier, damn. “You know, I have been wondering. You and Thor seem... surprisingly well acquainted for two people who have never met each other until today.”

Tony kept his expression blank. “What are you saying?”

Roger’s gaze was severe. “Super soldier serum does hell of a lot of thing. I have better healing rate, better endurance, better stamina...” a pause. “Better hearing.”

Impressive: a lying boy scout. “You heard us talking.”

“I decided to give you two your privacy. But I find it interesting that you knew him and yet did not inform SHIELD of it,” he tapped the railing in front of him. “And then I found out that SHIELD is making HYDRA weapons and has everyone of us on a threat list. Considering you’ve known them for longer, I understand why you would keep this from them.”

Tony glanced at him and tampered down his surprise at the slight support. “You don’t think I’m compromised?”

“You did not help him escape. You helped bring him to justice in Germany and then again when Thor tried to free him,” said Rogers with a shrug. “You seem to understand him better than Thor does. So if anyone can hope to-”

Tony had been looking at the wall where Coulson’s blood was splattered and blinked back to attention. “He made it personal.”

Rogers frowned. “What?” 

“Loki. He made it personal,” he shook his head, walking quickly and trying to gather his thoughts in a manner even a soldier out of time would understand. “I’ve been wrecking my brain this whole time, trying to figure out why would Loki let us take him. It did not make any sense. But that was the point. He hit us all where we live. Why?”

“To tear us apart.”

My Loki has never been bloodthirsty, thought Tony, but did not say it out loud. Instead he shook his head. “He knows he has to take us out to win, all of us. That's what he wants. He wants to beat us and he wants to be seen doing it. He wants an audience.”

Finally the blond seemed to be catching on. “Right, I caught his act at Stuttgart.”

“Yeah. That's just a preview, this is opening night. Loki's a full-tilt diva. He wants flowers, he wants parades, he wants a monument built in the skies with his name plastered...” The realisation hit him like a sledgehammer. “Sonofabitch!”

+++

As he flew towards his Tower, Tony couldn’t help the uncomfortable churn in his stomach.

Steve - and how odd that Captain America was Steve now - had not seemed too worried about sending Tony against Loki, but it was different from before. Before he had people watching his every move from over his shoulder, had SHIELD literally breathing behind down his neck during every interaction with his... his Loki.

He had never fought him one on one, however. He had never stood in front of the one who carried his child for nine months and shot him to try and stop him. Aimed to injure him.

And would he be able to? To aim to harm?

He had reviewed several files on Loki’s arrival while he was on the Helicarrier, more than what Coulson had previously given him. He had seen the way Loki had looked when he had stepped through the portal. He had heard his words, the carefully and purposeful manner in which he had spoken. Had seen the way he had stumbled as he and his allies rushed to make their way out of the SHIELD facility.

He had watched and more importantly, he had seen. And if he, a normal civilian had seen, there was no way that Fury hadn’t.

And yet, nowhere in his debrief or Coulson’s did they mention how sunken his cheeks were, how much he was sweating, how he was favouring his left leg, how he was walking around with a hunched back for the entirety of his arrival on Earth.

Knowing all this, knowing his Loki had been tortured, could Tony strike him? Could Tony seriously try and harm him?

“Sir, I took off the arc reactor,” informed him JARVIS as he approached the tower. “The device is already self-sustained.”

“Shut it down, Dr Selvig,” he ordered to the man standing on his roof.

Selvig had a truly manic look on his face that reminded Tony of his day long science binges pre-Amaya era. “It's too late! She can't stop now! She wants to show us something... A new universe!”

Yeah, he was insane. “Okay,” he said, before aiming at the whatever the fuck it was and firing.

Just to be blasted right back from whatever shield - if it was magic Tony would find the will to kick Loki’s ass - and leaving the device itself unharmed.

“The barrier is pure energy. It's unbreachable,” said JARVIS, unhelpfully, and Tony clenched his teeth together.

“Plan B,” he decided, looking down.

Loki was standing right there, looking pretty smug and holding his little sailor moon scepter. He looked so different from the last time Tony saw him, and still his throat seized up at the sight of him.

What has happened to you, Lokes?

“Sir, the Mark VII is not ready to be deployed.”

Tony did not pause, going down the Iron Man landing pad. “Then skip the spinning rims. We're on the clock.”

He wondered what JARVIS felt about the entire situation. For all intents and purposes, he knew Loki too. Loki was his friend too. JARVIS had loved Loki at first sight, and now, as they both walked inside the penthouse, the AI was watching quietly, offering no words.

“Please tell me you're going to appeal to my humanity,” asked Loki, in his usual posh British accent. And that right there? The slight sneer when he said humanity? Even if his eyes were bright green, Tony would have known something wasn’t quite right just by hearing him speak.

Loki had boasted about a lot of stuff Asgard had, and while he turned his nose up at some of the choices of words Earth had, he had never been not fascinated by their cultures and ideas. Because Earth was chaos, and Loki loved chaos.

“Uh... actually, I'm planning to threaten you,” he started stepping down the stairs and towards his bar. It was very well stocked, despite the fact that Tony no longer drank that much.

It was almost startling to see the slight differences when it was Loki speaking and when it was the person controlling him speaking. It was subtle, and a lot of it was in the flicker of colour in his eyes, but mostly Tony could see it in the way Loki’s expression changed ever so slightly - from angry to slightly tired, from collected superiority to wild edges. “You should have left your armour on for that.”

Tony shrugged, basically skipping the last few steps like he wasn’t getting dangerously close to a dangerous alien wearing his ex lover’s face. “Yeah, it's seen a bit of mileage. You've got the blue stick of destiny.” He stepped behind the counter. “Would you like a drink?”

Loki looked incredibly amused, twirling said glow stick in his hands. “Stalling me won't change anything.”

And yet he didn’t immediately blast him to hell and back. “No, no, no! Threatening. Are you sure you don’t want a drink? I’m having one. Would you like one?” A slight pause as he watched him ever so carefully from where he stood. “I don’t know, a Pink Raspberry Cosmo?”

Less than a second. A minute flinch and a slight frown that was all ‘I know this one but I don’t know why I know this’, that was gone between a blink of the eye and the next. But Tony had been looking for it and he had seen it. He was right.

“The Chitauri are coming,” finally said Loki, voice a little rough. “Nothing will change that. What have I to fear?”

It was said like a question, like he truly was trying to wind Tony up or something. But the quirk of his mouth when he said it, the way his eyes shifted to the scepter and back, that told a different story.

It was a rhetorical question phrased as if it needed an answer.

Loki did not remember him but he still remembered of him.

And Tony would take that.

“The Avengers,” he said easily enough, pouring a finger of scotch in a glass. At Loki’s adorably confused expression, he rolled his eyes slightly. “It's what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type of thing.”

“Yes, I've met them,” said Loki, a shit eating grin on his face.

On the surface, another taunt. But when you spoke Loki? Delight with an edge of slight insanity.

Tony smiled right, back ignoring the ache in his chest to reply to the ‘taunt’ from Loki. “Yeah, takes us a while to get any traction, I'll give you that one. But, let's do a head count here.” He reached for colantotte bracelets, keeping an eye on Loki as he quickly slipped them on. “Your adopted brother, the demi-God,” a slight flinch from Loki, but no outward reaction. “A super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and you, big fella, you've managed to piss off every single one of them.”

“That was the plan,” said Loki and he smiled.

Tony fought back a flinch because that smile? That grin with the dimples peeking out and teeth showing? That was pure Amaya.

When you looked at Amaya, she looked totally like Tony’s daughter: from her hair, to her nose, to her smile and the mole on the back of her neck. Except for the everchanging hazel eyes, anyone who met her would swear up and down that she was a mini Tony. 

But in everything she did, from the way she smiled mischievously to her giggles of happiness, Tony saw Loki. And here, as Loki smiled, proving Tony everything he had thought regarding this very idiotic plan, Tony saw Amaya in him.

He took a sip of his drink. “Not a great plan.” He started to get closer to Loki, motioning for JARVIS to film everything that would be said from now on. He’d need proof, after all, to back-up his words. “When they come, and they will, they'll come for you.”

Loki still looked terribly amused. “I have an army.”

Tony simply shrugged. “We have a Hulk.”

The mage - and yet another point in how Loki wasn’t trying to win: where was his magic? - raised an eyebrow. “I thought the beast had wandered off.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed slightly, and Loki’s smile faltered. Which good. Slept with or not, it was not nice to make fun of Banner or the Hulk. “You're missing the point. There's no throne, there is no version of this, where you come out on top.” Loki’s other eyebrow joined the first and Tony fought back an amused leer of his own at the accidental innuendo. Because it was just so Loki. “Maybe your army comes and maybe it's too much for us, but it's all on you. Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we'll avenge it.”

The change was instantaneous, and oh so very clear when he was standing directly in front of him. His eye twitched and his expression was panicked for a fraction of a second before it turned into the cold gaze of a blue eyed killer and he stalked towards Tony. “How will your friends have time for me, when they're so busy fighting you?”

For a second Tony actually panicked as he heard the whirring of the scepter as it moved to hit his chest. How was he supposed to find a way to help Loki if he was the one-

The scepter hit his Arc Reactor with a clink that made him cringe slightly. But did not mind whammy him. Lo- No, the other person hit his chest again, with the same result.

“This usually works,” frowned the other.

Tony shrugged. “Well, performance issues. Not uncommon. One out of five-” he started, only to be grabbed by the throat by the not-Loki.

Tony made eye contact with him and he saw panic and rage fighting one another, green versus blue, before Loki snarled and threw him on the ground.

Yeah, Tony really did not have the lung capacity for asphyxiation anymore, he thought, gasping a couple of breaths. “Jarvis. Anytime now.”

Loki took another step towards him, before freezing and falling on the ground too as the suit was getting ready in the other chamber. He let out another snarl, but stayed put, wild eyes finding Tony again. “Run.”

Tony stilled even as the suit powered up. “Loki?”

“I said run, Stark! I can’t-” he let out another snarl, and Tony bit down his lip hard enough to make it bleed.

He didn’t want to. He had to save Loki, had to help him, had to-

JARVIS did not allow him time to think, the armour flying at him and giving just enough time to jump out of the window entrance Loki had walked through minutes ago before wrapping itself around him.

“JARVIS!” 

The AI did not reply, but not-Loki did, looking at him with a sneer. “You will all fall before me!”

And then a portal opened in the sky.

Tony just managed to shoot a low beam of energy at Loki before glaring at the machine Selvig made and the sky over them. “Right. Army.”

+++

Tony lost Loki in the fight. 

He saw him at several points, fighting Thor and then rushing after Romanoff, but there were so many of the chita-something aliens and just one Loki. Even he, with the biggest guns, and a pretty high kill count so far was starting to get tired.

If he didn’t stop the big bad in time and didn’t find a way to cognitive recalibrate Loki’s hard ass Aesir/Jotnar head... No, he couldn’t think about that. He didn’t have the time to think about that.  

Because if he did-

“Stark, you hearing me?” suddenly came in Fury’s voice, and his tone had him straightening up in the suit. “We have a missile headed straight for the city.”

A missile? What kind of missile could-

No.

“How long?” he asked, voice cold and flat, belying the rage simmering under it.

Because were they insane? Clearly from Fury’s tone he hadn’t wanted to send it, but someone had. Someone was sending a missile at the city.

“Three minutes, max. The payload will wipe out Midtown.”

He didn’t say anything else, and he did not need to. Because what he didn’t say and how he said the little he did say, said enough.

A nuke.

Someone had fired a nuclear missile at New York City.

He needed- fuck. No time to panic, he forced himself to breathe as he fought off as many of the Chitauri as he could. He had three minutes to get the nuke off trajectory, he needed to get it aimed somewhere else-

“Jarvis, put everything we got into the thrusters!” he demanded.

“I just did,” said the AI, just before Tony managed to fly up into the sky, shaking off any other alien who tried to leave with him.

“I can close it!” came Romanoff’s voice as he flew over the island to intercept the nuke. “Can anybody hear me? I can shut the portal down!”

“Do it!” called Steve and-

Oh. 

Oh.

“No, wait!” he called out.

“Stark, these things are still coming!”

“I got a nuke coming in, it's gonna blow in less than a minute,” he said back, hoping the panic did not seep into his voice. “And I know just where to put it.”

He caught up to the nuke from behind and sped up until he could grab it from behind, hoisting it on his back. It did not look like it could auto correct its course, but Tony did not have the time to try and check, using his thrusters and to rocket it off its course and steering it towards the portal, holding it tight.

“Stark, you know that's a one-way trip?” asked Steve.

No fucking shit.

“Save the rest for return, J,” he told him and forced himself not to panic. He had people to save, because if he didn’t do this then everyone would die, him included -

“Sir. Would you like to pass a message to Miss Amaya?” asked JARVIS and Tony’s breath stuttered slightly.

Amaya.

God, Amaya.

The last time she had seen Loki, she was two days old. And now, she was two years old and she was going to lose him too.

This wasn’t fair. This was just, he wanted-

“Hey, Amaya-oh-mine,” he said, looking up at the portal and the darkness that approached as he flew. “I just want you to know one thing, to remember just one thing. I love you. No matter where I am or where you are, I love you and I am proud of you. You are my stars and my moons. I love you more than all the characters of pi. You are my universe, baby girl. Forever-”

He flew through the portal and then...

silence.

And cold.

And oh, thought Tony, watching the nuke slip away from his fingers and launching itself at the fucking armada that had been heading towards Earth. Oh shit.

He was falling? Was he falling? He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Everything was so cold, so silent, he was feeezingcoldfalling.

He saw the nuke hit the biggest of the vessels and the warmth of the explosion did absolutely nothing for him. 

No oxygen in space.

He was going to die as he floated in space for all eternity. 

Loki sky walker. Tony space floater.

At least now Loki would be free of the min-

He couldn’t breathe anymore. Tony’s eyes closed.

And he fell.


Tony was in a cave in Afghanistan, his head shoved into the water over and over again-

His lungs were burning, and his eyes stung and electricity sparked against his chest.

He was in so much pain, pain that did not stop no matter what he did.

Why was he in Afghanistan again? 

Hadn't he left the cave? Had it all been a dream? Had he-

The water was sofuckingcold, as his head was slammed against the cold surface once more. It burned his face, and it burned the whole in his chest and Tony couldn't breath, could only shake-

What did they want from him? It couldn't be weapons. Tony no longer made weapons, and Stane was dead.

Coldfreezingcold

Nothing. No one came for him. No one ever came for him, he had to free himself, but how could he? How could he-

"Anthony," said the sweet voice of his mother, and Tony opened his eyes once more. 

It was cold, but he wasn't in a cave anymore. He was sitting among the snow in nothing but a shirt and a pair of shorts, and his mamma was standing in front of him, in her favourite red sundress. Her hair was in a bun on top of her head and she was wearing a straw hat. She had no shoes on, even though it was freezing.

"Mamma?"

She smiled at him, looking as beautiful as Tony remembered. And beside her-

Tony!”

- was Jarvis, the original Jarvis. He too was smiling, in his most polished butler outfit. He too was smiling at Tony. "Hello, young sir," he greeted him, and Tony felt tears building in his eyes at the familiar English accent.

"Anthony!"

Tony found himself frowning and looking behind him. He could have almost sworn someone had just-

"Come on, bimbo mio," said his mother, offering him a hand. But she did not come closer to him, just offering him her hand and expecting him to stand up and reach for it. "We need to go."

Tony looked at her in confusion. "To go?" His head hurt, and he was so cold. Why wasn't she cold? "Mamma where are your shoes?"

They kept smiling. "Come on, young sir. We need to leave now," said Jarvis, also offering his hand.

But...

But...

"How are you here?" he asked, confusion clear on his face. "You guys, you..." died.

"Daddy?" came a soft voice, and Tony felt his blood froze in his veins. "Daddy, can we come home?"

"Amaya?" he asked, shocked.

What was she doing here?

She shouldn't be here!

Where was here? Where was she-

"Amaya!" he shouted, turning away from his mother and Jarvis - who called him back, told him to come - but they were dead Tony remembered the funerals - was he dead? - Amaya, where was she -

and then there was a roar-


There was a roar, louder than anything Tony had ever heard, that scared him back awake. “What the hell?” He shouted, looking around in a panic. Breathing. He was breathing- Cap was there. And Thor. And Hulk. “What just happened?” He had been falling (falling falling) and then- his mamma- 

Jarvis-

(Tony!) (Anthony!) (Daddy?)

“Please tell me nobody kissed me?”

Cap shook his head, looking around himself in half shock. “We won.”

They won. Tony was alive and they won. He was alive.

Loki.

He remembered Loki, and he remembered-

Tony needed to get to Loki, and he needed to get to him now.

Because if the bad man was dead, then it meant...

It meant something.

Chapter Text

His bones ached. His stomach hurt. His back was burning. His head felt like someone had played pinball with with. He felt like he was dying, and painfully at that.

But Loki was free.

As consciousness slowly returned to him and his seidr moved to repair all the damages done to his body, he could feel that his thoughts were once again his own. The Other and the Master no longer had a hold on his brain, no longer knew everything Loki knew.

No longer spoke their lies through his lips and saw their vision through his eyes.

He was truly free and-

He could wait. He knew he could wait, but he knew it was important, he knew that a lot would be explained if he did it.

Slowly, with his eyes still closed, and after successfully checking with his seidr that no enemies remained close by, he reached to the cluster of memories he had hidden away so long ago.

He undid the careful spell he had wrapped them up in and,

You say that know, but I know you’re hooked, little trickster.

Freedom is a dream and a social construct packed into one. But if I was free? I’d like to go to space .”

You are the most fascinating person I’ve ever met. Who are you, Loki ?”

You don’t know what marshmallows are? You poor poor soul .”

What’s up, buttercup?

"It's a saying. American thing."

"You monster, you can't just eat pineapple pizza in this household like some sort of barbarian!"

"A PhD. A Pretty Huge Dick."

"You're insane and I love it. Tell me more?"

"Are you sure your brother Thor exists? Cause I don't think dumbasses like that actually exist in real life, you're pulling my leg."

I couldn’t find you on Earth because you’re not from Earth. You are not human. You’re not named after the Norse god, you are the Norse god .”

You be both, if you want. You shapeshift a lot, right? So depending what form you are in, the baby can call you something different. Mama, mommy, mum when you are in your female mode and, I don’t know, dada, papa, papi when you’re in your male form. Or zaza or moddy or something .”

You should make an appointment too. I am sure I can find a time and place for you, buttercup.

Hi. Hello, princess Amaya Lokadottir Stark.

(beautiful hazel eyes framed by dark hair staring unseeingly at her )

Our daughter?

She will be okay, Lokes. She's your daughter .”

That’s... kind of cool. I still maintain that seidr or magic or whatever is science that I haven’t explained yet, but that’s weird and cool and I love weird and cool. When you finish up what you’re doing and move here, I’d love to scan your magic.

[Will do. Amaya can’t wait to be in your arms again .]

… oh.

Oh.

It took everything in Loki not to start crying as he felt the presence of the Avengers sliding inside the Tower, right after all of his carefully hidden memories slammed back against him once more.

Because it had been years. 

It had been years since he had dropped off his daughter with Anthony (was he still Anthony? Or was he Stark now? Loki didn’t know ), years since he stood on that Bifrost bridge and was refused by the man he had done everything for.

Why had he let go? He should have never let go.

Amaya probably did not even know who he was. Anthony had probably moved on - and why shouldn’t he have? 

Norns, Amaya.

And if he hadn’t before, he was sure to do it now.

He drew in a deep breath that was too close to the side of shaky and ignored the burning pain from the Hulk’s treatment of him as he dragged himself out of the hole he had been pushed in (and wasn’t that the story of his life?). The Avengers were a steady presence behind him that Loki ignored until he was fully out.

Only then did he turn around, schooling his face to remain impassive at the glares he received from everyone around him, from the Widow, to the Hawk, to the creature and Thor-

But not Stark-

But not Anthony.

There was something in Anthony’s eyes, but it wasn’t the pain and disappointment in Thor’s. He wouldn’t call himself an expert reader of Anthony Stark (maybe two years ago, but no longer not anymore) but there was... hope in his eyes.

Could it be?

“If it’s all the same to you,” he started and how long had it been since Loki heard no echo of the Other in his voice? None of their lies leaving his throat? “I’ll have that drink now.”

The beast grunted. The Hawk tightened his hold on the arrow. The Widow’s expression did not change. The Captain’s eyes narrowed. Thor frowned at him.

And Anthony smiled.

It was small and fleeting, and nothing the others would have caught on but it was there. Loki didn’t dare draw attention to it, thought.

“Thor,” said Rogers, turning his attention on the big blond. “You can secure your brother, right?”

“Ye-”

“He’s not my brother,” immediately rectified Loki, his expression shutting off, as well as his hope.

Because it did not matter what Anthony knew or felt, he was done for. He had brought an army to Earth, and Thor would have him in the dungeons soon enough. He’d probably be executed for his crimes, and he’d never see Anthony or Amaya again.

Even if he fled the room that same instances, Asgard would continue hunting for him until he stood trial or died in his escape.

He longed to see his sweet daughter one more time, but he knew he couldn’t.

He was a monster, now. Anthony would never allow him in her presence again, and Thor could not in any circumstances know about her. Norns knew what punishment Odin would demand for him lying to his King about a child. What if he stole the child from Anthony?

No, Loki would not allow this. 

“Romanoff, let’s get you and Barton in contact with Fury. Hulk please help me with the debris outside or see if you can let Banner out,” continued the blond, eyes flicking to Anthony. “Tony, can I ask you to interrogate Loki and take a couple of minutes to reaquaint yourself from being dead while we do so?”

Anthony looked surprised at his words, as did Romanoff. “No offense, Captain, but I’m usually the one who does the interrogating.”

Rogers was a terrible liar but great at deceiving people with half truths, found Loki. “Yes, but Fury wants you to hold on to the scepter for now, and we can’t have that thing close to Loki.”

She did not appear to believe him in the slightest, but she nodded in acceptance, managing to usher an annoyed Hawk out with her while Hulk simply chose to jump out of the window.

Anthony looked at Rogers once the spies were done. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Rogers gave him a small smile. “The whole ‘strategic genius’ is not just a moniker, Stark. Strategically speaking this battle made no sense.” He straightened up. “I am sorry for what I said about you on that Helicarrier. You made the right choices, and your instincts were solid. So I’m giving you this chance.”

Loki looked away from them and found Thor looking at him, pensive and silent. His disappointment was still clear on his face, but there was a calculating glint in his eyes that Loki had never associated with him.

He was growing into the man Odin had always wanted him to be, he recognised, and felt bile in his throat.

He heard the sound of the elevator pinging and then, before he could turn his head, there was a sudden weight in his arms that made him wince in pain. But his nose recognised the scent and his arms moved before his brain could catch up.

“Stark-” started Thor, but neither of them looked up at the blond oaf.

Anthony had rid himself of his suit, and was basically leaning on Loki, cradling his face in his arms, fingers running through the old and new scars as inquisitive brown eyes catalogued every part of his face.

“Green eyes,” he said, and Loki felt the tears building in his eyes. This Norns damned mortal. “Eyes are the window to the soul, that’s what you told me all those years ago. And you have green eyes, so this is you, Lokes, right? I killed him. I blew up a third of his stupid fucking armada, and you are free now, right Bambi?”

No. So long as the Mad Titan lived, Loki would never be free, but that did not matter. He let a single tear slip out of his eyes, his heart still painful in his chest but no longer silent. “Hello, Anthony.”

Anthony’s eyes filled with tears too. “Hey, buttercup,” he answered, voice steady. “I’ve missed you.”

Loki did not reply, allowing their foreheads to rest against each other and ignoring Thor’s shocked gasp. He didn’t have the energy to ponder at his not-brother’s reactions, not when there were more important things he needed to know, things he had to-

“Is there any chance you’ll leave this room for five minutes?” questioned Anthony, moving his head from Loki to turn on Thor.

The blond blinked. “I cannot do that. My brother will need to face Aesir justice.”

Now Anthony was full on glaring at him. “For what? For things he was coerced to do on Earth?”

“No,” patiently answered Thor. “For the crimes that he committed against Jotunheim-”

“What crimes, Odinson?” snarled Loki, enjoying the flinch on the oaf’s face. “The crime of imitating you and your father? Tell me, what have I done that is different from you have done?”

Thor gave him a glare. “You took the throne-”

“I was given the throne. By your mother, the Queen.”

This time Thor looked pained. “She is our mother, Loki. They are our parents, we were raised togethe-”

THEY ARE NOT MY PARENTS! ” he shouted at him.

Thor’s expression went from hurt to angry, and he finally pulled out the muzzle from his pocket. “I will not have you disrespecting the All-Father and All-Mother no longer, Loki. I will-”

“Take one single step towards him and I’ll blow your head right off,” informed him Anthony, voice polite and jovial even if his expression was anything but.

The two non humans startled, having nearly forgotten he was there. Anthony had a gauntlet on one hand and a glass of pink raspberry cosmo ("A Pink Raspberry Cosmo for my new friend... Loki.") (Norns had Loki missed him) in the other. 

“Man of Iron, you don’t understand-”

“Oh, I understand perfectly,” told him Anthony, voice still perfectly pleasant as he handed Loki his drink. Loki automatically took it, even as his eyes remained trained on the two men. “I understand that what Loki told me of you was a severe underselling of things. I understand that your brother let go after a confrontation with you and your father,” how did he know this? “and instead of asking what happened, you are trying to make your abusive dad sound like a good guy and gaslight Loki. I understand that this entire time someone else was speaking through your brother’s mouth, and his eyes were tesseract blue and not once did you notice that your brother’s actions were not his own. And I understand the second he tries to speak his mind, the second he says something you disagree with, you try to muzzle him.” He raised his gauntlet and pointed it at a shocked Thor. “Put that thing away or I will blow your head off. Let’s see how well you survive a head shot at 100% power. So far, I’ve never used anything higher than 37% on another person/being, but you're making a persuasive argument for trying.”

Why? Why was he doing all this? Risking his life, risking throwing himself in the sights of the All-Father and Thor for him? After what he did?

“It is all right, Anthony,” he said, because he wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t allow Anthony to become a target for himself. He needed to be safe so that he could protect Amaya. “It is the law on Asgard. To muzzle the prisoner, it’s-”

“Shut up, Loki,” answered the mortal, in that same calm tone. He did not look away from Thor. “We are not in Asgard yet, and you will not go back until you are debriefed. Until then, that thing stays in your not big brother’s pocket as long as you are in my Tower.” He gave Thor a look. “Unless of course you’d prefer to go and stay with SHIELD. You know, the same people who have created weapons using the Tesseract, who have already threatened to torture your brother again,” Loki flinched and Thor’s eyes narrowed, “which is the same threat they gave you when you arrived on the planet, so I cannot imagine what they’ll do to someone they consider an active enemy. And that is the same SHIELD that responds to the WSC, who sent the nuke on Manhattan. Yes, that big bomb that destroyed all the Chitauri? It was not meant for them. It was meant for us. So what will you do, Point Break?”

It was a gamble, of course. Thor could take offense with Anthony and take Loki and himself back on SHIELD grounds. The Thor from before his banishment certainly would have; he would have killed Stark, killed SHIELD for their dishonour and then dragged Loki back to Asgard by the hair if he had to, without speaking to anyone else.

But this Thor paused. “How sure are you that his actions were not his own?”

“I have enough lawyers to clear his name on Earth and prove mind control on the stand,” told him Anthony, which was... incredible. Impossible. Why would he do that? “And you call any seidr expert on Asgard and show them my files and pictures and they’ll back me up.”

At this Loki snorted. “You think I’ll have a trial on Asgard?”

That was most amusing.

Anthony frowned, while Thor looked at him with big wide eyes. “Loki, father will have mercy on you once he knows all this.”

Once he knows all this?” questioned Loki, with a sneer. “Does Heimdall not see all? Does Father not sit on Hliðskjálf and know? He knew of the Chitauri when he sent you, and still he sent you with a muzzle to stifle me. He will not hear a word out of my mouth.”

“Then mother surely will! All you have to do is speak the truth when you are asked-”

“When I am asked? When I asked what? You call yourself my brother, Thor dearest, and even you have yet to ask.

Thor looked like Loki had just punched him in the face. “I... I-”

Loki took great relish in his discomfort, usually, but now he found he did not have the energy to care. “It matter not. If I’m lucky, I will be given solitary confinement for the rest of my wretched life instead of execution.”

What?!”

He'd never see Amaya again.

“Mother will speak on your behalf,” pleaded Thor. “I’m sure she-”

“When? Do you seriously believe that the All-Father will allow me one second to speak to her before I am dragged at his feet in chains? She won’t have the chance to speak on anything because your father will not allow me to tell her anything.”

He wanted to say that she wouldn’t care either, that she would ignore him as Odin had, but despite all the hatred in his heart, he knew she wouldn’t. He knew that if Frigga knew a fraction of what he went through she would throw herself at Odin’s feet and beat her chest until his decree was no longer 'too much'.

“Then you speak favourably in your own behalf!” cried out Thor. “Lay yourself at his mercy, cry and beg-”

“How dare you!” shouted Loki, painfully climbing on his feet and ignoring the pain in his back. “After everything he did to me you would have me ask for his forgiveness? If I do not kill him where he stands, it will be a mercy!”

“You would really throw away your only chance at survival for pride?” 

“Pride?! The court already calls me womanly and degrades me at every corner. And now you would have me become the ergi they have always called me for a mercy Odin will never give?”

“Loki, we mourned you! He mourned you! You might not feel so, but father loves you,” begged his not-brother, but Loki was no fool. Loki had seen what Odin’s love looked like and he did not want anything to do with it.

“No,” he said, voice final. “I will not beg for scraps, I will not-”

“Yes, you will.”

Loki faltered, narrowed eyes turning on Anthony. The mortal was looking at him with equally narrowed eyes. “I beg your pardon?”

“I will give Thor the proof. And you will beg at Odin’s feet, and Thor will beg right beside you, because he claims to love you, so he will show you that love. And I’ll make sure Frigga knows everything beforehand too, so that she too will be ready when you arrive on Asgard.”

“Anthony, you do not understand-”

“You will plead, and cry, and put on the best performance of your life, Loki, because that gives you the smallest chance of seeing her again,” he told him, and Loki’s mouth clicked shut. Anthony relaxed slightly, and the fear and sadness became more easily seen on his face. “If there is any chance for you to cut down whatever sentence Asgard plans on giving you, Loki you have to take it. I don't want you to go, and if I knew of a safe way to keep you here, I would. You know I would. But I don't, so you have to throw yourself at their mercy, at least for now.

"If I had to beg Howard for a chance of seeing her again, I would. I would work with the Ten Rings and SHIELD 100 times over if it meant I would have one hour to stand beside her. I would go through that cave again if it meant she was safe and that I would see her when I was done.”

Loki would go through the Other and the Mad Titan 100 times too, if it meant seeing her once more. He’d destroy Asgard, and Jotunheim, and Midgard over and over if it meant securing her safety. “She doesn’t even know who I am.”

Anthony smiled. “I made sure she would. I never forgot you, and neither did she,” he said, and Loki slid back down on the ground, tears spilling out of his eyes. Anthony slid down beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder, and for a second it was all those years ago again, when he first found out he was adopted, and they were sitting on an expensive couch in Malibu with Loki crying in Anthony's arms. “I will clear your name here on Earth. I will prove you were not of your own mind. And you will do your part on Asgard, because then it means you have a chance to return and she will have a chance to see you again, and that’s the most important thing.”

Loki doubted it could work. Doubted he could save himself from execution, doubted the All-Father would believe a single word from his silver tongue, doubted Thor would do what he promised he would.

But Anthony was right.

For a chance to see Amaya again? 

He’d do it.


It was easier said than done, of course.

Sitting in front of Fury and telling him the truth about Thanos and the Other, while he smirked and sneered and outright called him a liar. Listening to Thor and the WSC haggle over him like he was some sort of relic instead of a person who could speak for himself. Being watched like a piece of meat while he sat in his cell...

He wanted to shut up and tell them all to go to Hel, but then he remembered the small picture Anthony had showed him as Thor and SHIELD secured him in his chains, and he swallowed back his hurt and continued speaking.

It was a picture of Amaya, mischievously smiling at the camera with both of her hands covered in paint. She looked so much older than the last time Loki had seen her, her brown hair wavy and shoulder length and her eyes much greener than Loki remembered.

He had missed so much of her life.

A knife through the heart would have hurt less.

He knew better than think that he’d ever be allowed outside of Asgard again - barred an escape attempt - but the idea of missing any more of her development? The idea of losing more years until his daughter no longer knew him?

It was intolerable. So Loki spoke, kept his head down, and begged the Norns for Anthony’s plan to work.

He heard the click of heels coming towards his cell once more and took another deep breath, readying himself for another onslaught of question. He truly did not want to have another round of questioning from the Widow, who’s main interest right now was Anthony and his relationship. She did not know of it, of course, but she was suspicious of them.

He looked up, ready to play the game once more, and then his words died in his throat.

He had seen Anthony. Seen a picture of Amaya. Heard JARVIS’ voice, though he had yet to speak to the AI in any way.

But he hadn’t spared much thought about the rest of them. The rest of Anthony’s friends.

(He had. But he had assumed they’d like to pretend to have never known him )

Virginia “Pepper” Potts was standing in front of his cell, and even in the light of the new day, he could not make out her expression.

“Miss Potts,” he started, and she shook her head.

“No. No, don’t you dare try to push me away, don’t you dare try to distance yourself from me,” she said and Loki watched in horror as she opened the door to his cell and threw herself at him. 

He expected the alarms to go off, or JARVIS to caution her against this or someone to bust in and twist the situation against Loki, but none of it happen.

Instead Miss Po- Vir- Pepper was hugging him, holding him close and sobbing slightly over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Loki, I’m so sorry this happened to you, you didn’t deserve this, you didn’t-”

He was... confused. “What? You don’t... you don’t hate me?” he finally managed.

She ought to hate him. Torture or not, mind control or brainwashing, he brought an army to her planet. He got people killed. 

It didn’t make any sense for her to-

“How could I possibly hate you, Loki?” asked Pepper leaning away from Loki and cupping his cheek in one hand. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I did it.”

Coerced !” she shouted, her hold on his cheek tightening. “No, I won’t allow you to try and make yourself the villain of the story. I won’t, Jim won’t and Happy won’t. We won’t because we know you and we know the truth. That mess?” She made a vague gesture towards the walls to indicate the invasion. “That’s not you. You are crazy, but you are cunning and you are smart and you have been on Earth at the very least since 1999. And not once have you tried to invade us.” She gave him a brittle smile, tears spilling from her eyes. “You are part of the Iron Fam and we don’t give up on our own. We would not have given up on Tony even if he ended up making the terrorists the Jerichos they asked for. We would have protected him, the same way we are protecting you now. Am I clear?”

Loki would genuinely like to stop crying now, but it did not seem like Tony and Pepper were going to give him a chance.

“Mr Loki,” called out JARVIS once Loki had managed to compose himself once more. “I am sorry I did not speak with you earlier. I was monitoring your brain waves to make sure that the effects of the brainwashing were completely gone. I can now confirm they are.

“On top of that, Miss Potts, Mr Loki, I am now 100% sure every picture of Mr Loki has been deleted from anyone who was in Stuggart. No one was able to get a visual of you while you were in New York, which of course makes it harder for the WSC and SHIELD to link the army to you. I have also taken the liberty to gain the details pertaining the implosion of the New Mexico facility where you arrived. There is nothing to prove you caused it, and everything points to SHIELD’s handling of the Tesseract to be the cause. You have a number of deaths directly on your hands, but those are under extenuating circumstances.

“It will be a challenge, but Sir and SI have the best lawyers ready. You will be cleared, Mr Loki, by the time you return to Earth.”

It didn’t make sense. JARVIS sounded normal, like this was just another day, and not like he sounded when he spoke to Fury and the rest. Even with the Avengers - especially Romanoff and Thor - he sounded annoyed and irritated.

He should hate him. Why were they basically forgiving him for murder?

“You’ve known me for a week, at most,” he managed, looking at Pepper in confusion and shock. “Why would you do all this for me?”

Pepper took his chained hand in hers with a slight smile. “One week and you created a permanent place for yourself in our life.” She shook her head. “You are our friend Loki. You are my niece Amaya’s mom. Or dad.” She shrugged. “Tony calls you her moddy. We are not a mob family, but you are still one of us. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Tony would move Heaven and Earth for his family. You're Amaya's parent and Tony's... Tony's. What do you think we’d do for you?”

Loki found he did not have an answer.


Anthony was wearing sunglasses, was the first thing Loki noticed as the human walked into the facility near the large gardens.

Thor had just finished arguing yet again regarding the Tesseract, but immediately gave them space when he saw the shorter mortal, pointedly turning his back on them to give them some privacy.

“Hey.”

Loki forced a smile on his own face, even though he felt no happiness inside him.

How could he? Anthony said he would be able to clear his name but the destruction he had wrought to his planet... how could anyone see this and forgive Loki? It wouldn’t happen, it just wouldn't.

“Hi,” he answered, his smile softening when Anthony’s palm came to rest on his cheek.

“Look, Lokes. I was pretty rude to you, that first day.”

“Anthony-”

“Let me say this. Please.” Loki shut his mouth, and Anthony took a deep breath before continuing. “You went through hell, and then were beat the fuck down from the Hulk and all I could tell you was ‘you have to at least pretend to forgive your father so that you can come back to me and Maya’. That wasn’t fair to you,” he continued, stroking his cheek with his thumb. “All I know is that I care for you, buttercup. And I know you care about,” a quick look at Thor, “her. And I know I still don’t know for sure what happened between you telling me you were adopted and you re-appearing on Earth, and you and I are both different people than who we were two years ago. But I know I never once gave up on you and I made sure she knew who you were the second she started asking questions. I made sure she knew that you loved her, and everything you have ever done, was out of love for her.

“So, I can’t demand things of you, but please, Lokes. Please come back to us.”

Anthony could ask him for the moon and Loki would find a way to get it for him. Amaya could ask him for the head of Odin himself and Loki would not even blink before handing it over.

I love you, he wanted to say, but he couldn’t. Not after all these years, not after what he had done. He wasn’t worthy of Anthony, and he certainly wasn’t worthy of Amaya.

But he’d do anything to become worthy of that love. To become worthy of his family once more. “I will do my best,” he finally answered, and Anthony smiled, even as a tear rolled down his cheek.

“Loki-” came Thor’s voice, and the green eyed man closed his eyes, readying himself.

He gave Anthony a small smile and then turned to walk towards his not-brother.

He managed three steps before Anthony was rushing at him once more, and suddenly there were lips on his.

For a second his mind went blank; and then he was kissing him back as desperately, feeling Anthony’s hand sinking in his hair while the other was firmly tucked on under Loki's armour, holding something tight against Loki's waist.

He wasn’t sure when was the last time they had kissed - before or after Amaya’s birth? before or after Iron Man? - but it was this, more than anything, that reminded him of being free.

Freedom was a dream and social construct packed into one, but kissing Anthony felt like being free again. Like Loki existed,  like Loki could breathe once more.

The thing remained tucked on his side as Anthony broke the kiss, but Loki did not comment on it, lest Thor confiscated it.

Anthony was looking at him oddly, a hand going on his Arc Reactor. “Did you feel that?”

Loki’s tried to focus on Anthony's words instead of his very soft lips. “I felt a lot of things.”

Thor cleared his throat loudly, while Anthony gave him a leer before turning serious. “I think you did it again.”

Loki frowned. “Did what?”

Anthony looked at the chains around his wrist. “Prevents you from feeling your seidr, right?” When Loki nodded, he smiled, satisfied. “You’ll figure it out once you are back on Asgard.”

Loki had no idea what the man was babbling about, but he made a point of fixing the object attached to his form so that it wouldn’t fall during their travel through the Tesseract, before straightening up again.

This time Anthony walked beside him as they followed Thor outside.

The rest of the Avengers and Fury were already around and Anthony gave him one last slight smile before he moved towards his car, where the creature was standing and looking nervous.

Everyone around was looking at him with interest and/or hatred, but Loki did not particularly care as Thor finally set the muzzle over his mouth.

Anthony tensed visibly and then crossed his arms around his chest, a dark scowl not at all hidden by his sunglasses.

Thor was saying something, but Loki refused to listen to the platitudes from his not-brother. He took a hold of the Tesseract, and then found Anthony’s eyes once more.

The mortal - his mortal - waved at him, and behind his muzzle, Loki smiled.

Then the Tesseract activated and he was gone.  

Chapter Text

21st December 2012, Malibu

 

“Ow!”

“Sir,” came JARVIS’ slightly exasperated voice. “Please may I request just a few hours to calibrate-”

“No,” immediately answered Tony, injecting himself once more. “Forty-eight. Ah! Micro-repeater implanting sequence complete.”

If JARVIS could breathe, then he would have sighed. “As you wish, sir. I've also prepared a safety briefing for you to entirely ignore.”

Tony dabbed the blood on his arm with a piece of paper. “Which I will. Right, let's do this.” He stood up, nearly rolling his eyes when he noticed that DUM-E had oh so subtly left his corner and was now ‘cleaning the floor’. “Dummy. Hi, Dummy. How did you get that cap on your head?” 

DUM-E let out a whining chirp and Tony gave him a look. “You earned it.” He reminded him. “Hey. Hey! What are you doing round in the corner? You know what you did. Blood on my mat, handle it.”

DUM-E whirred, obviously excited at having something else he could fail at.

JARVIS spoke up again (and why did he insist on doing that, knowing Tony was not going to listen to him either way?). “Sir, may I remind you that you've been awake for nearly sixty hours hours?”

Tony gave one of the cameras a pointed look. “It’s a clear improvement, J.”

After the events of New York with the Chitauri and the wormhole, Tony had had a... difficult time. He had had PTSD and panic attacks since Afghanistan, but he had become adept at handling those. He wouldn’t call them easy, but he knew how to deal with those.

But aliens falling from the sky? Flying with a nuke on his back?

Thinking that he would never see Amaya again, remembering how it had felt to fall in the nothingness of space?

That was a complete different can of worms.

And in a different lifetime, Tony might have ignored his own descent into panic. He might have accepted that he no longer could fall asleep unless he passed out with a combination of working on his suits and drinking.

In a harsher lifetime, he would have retreated on himself, forced himself to deal with all of this alone (“Stark men are made of Iron”).

But in this lifetime, Tony Stark had a daughter.

A beautiful daughter, light of his life and apple of his eyes, that depended on him. A daughter he had raised and protected and god damn it, he wanted to be the best version of himself for her.

So even before May or Rhodey could suggest it, Tony had JARVIS look up the best psychologists in Malibu and New York, and then rank them by least to most trustworthy.  

It had not been easy to find someone qualified, but aliens fell from the sky. He might be the only one afraid for what he had seen beyond the hole in the sky, but he wasn’t the only one afraid.

So now he saw/spoke to Doctor Hyllman once a week, a reputable young Scottish woman who, according to JARVIS, was somehow enhanced - an empath of sorts. She looked a couple years younger than Tony, but she was feisty and unafraid of telling Tony the harsh bitter truth. 

She knew a lot about him and knew that there a niece of sorts living in his house for long periods of time (he had not trusted anyone other than a selected number of people regarding the truth beyond Amaya’s existence, he was not about to start now, therapist or not), and she had helped him as much as she could, considering he refused most medication if he could avoid them.

He only took sleeping pills if he was having a very bad week, Rhodey or Pepper was present and his armour was in perfect shape; other ways he did his best to actually sleep, with mixed results.

It was slow going, but he truly felt as if he was improving. He still had nightmares and night terrors, and thoughts of the wormhole were enough to have him break out in cold sweats, but it wasn’t like the beginning.

Therapy truly worked wonders.

He shook those thoughts out of his head and came to stand in the middle of the workshop, in front of his many suits of armour. “Focus up, ladies. Good evening, and welcome to the birthing suite. I'm pleased to announce the imminent arrival of your bouncing, bad-ass, baby brother.”

He looked over at U, who was holding the camera in his face. “Start tight and go wide, stamp in time.” Then he turned back to his suits. “Mark 42 autonomous prehensile propulsion suit test. Initialize sequence.”

He raised both hands, eyeing the various piece of tech that were slowly coming to life around him. “JARVIS, drop my needle.”

The sound of Jingle Bell started filling the air and Tony couldn’t help but sway around for a second, feeling the groove. 

Growing up, he had never been that fond of Christmas. His family barely celebrated and when they did, it was a media affair. And then his father had to go and kill himself and his mother barely a week before Christmas.

But then came Amaya, and she seemed rather fond of Christmas - for a number of reasons. 

And let’s be honest: the songs were iconic.

He striked a pose worthy of any karate kid, trying to summon the suit. It took a couple of tries before a piece of the armour finally rose from the table and flew at him, attaching itself to his hand and then extending to his arm and shoulder.

He striked the same pose with the opposite arm and the result was even smoother than the first time around, making his eyes widen in delight.

Man, he was the best.

“Alright,” he called out. “I think we got this. Send 'em all.”

The next part was an equal part success and failure that he would make sure Rhodey or anyone else would never see. He managed to grab onto several parts of the armour while other parts crashed against the walls and the glass. He was pretty sure JARVIS was doing some of it on purpose, actually.

He looked over at the last piece still standing, his helmet hovering slightly. “Come on,” he called, giving the piece of tech a challenging look. “I ain't scared of you.”

The plate flew towards him quite rapidly, and Tony exhibited an impressive flip, the helmet fixing itself over his face as he fell in a perfectly executed ‘superhero landing’.

He grinned as the HUD came to life. “I'm the best.”

Maybe he could show Rhodey some highlights from the footage-

A stray piece of the suit - and he was not sure what piece - chose that moment to fly straight at him, knocking him over and breaking off the suit, leaving him groaning on the ground with only the helmet still in place.

This footage is never seeing the light of day, he decided, blinking and pulling out his helmet as a familiar giggle reached his ears.

“As always, sir,” said JARVIS, sounding very amused (Tony was 100% sure this was all somehow his fault) “a great pleasure watching you work. And you have a visitor.”

“And how did the visitor get in?” questioned Tony, slowly pulling off the last pieces of the armour, including the helmet.

Tony was not his father, and he would never choose the lab over his daughter if he could. That being said, the workshop was dangerous. So he had to be 200% more aware of his surroundings when Amaya came to visit.

JARVIS still sounded amused. “She knew the code, Sir.”

She knew the- Why was he even surprised?

Amaya stopped in front of him, holding tightly on her stuffed teddy bear and looking at her father with glee. “Daddy! You made a big mess!”

“Uh-uh,” he agreed, dropping the last bits of the armour and bopping her on the nose, causing a little bout of giggles. “And what are you doing down here, little miss?”

She gave him her best puppy eyes, all but shoving her teddy in his face. “We missed you.”

Tony was slightly soft when it came to her, sue him. He got onto his feet, pulling her in his arms as he did so. “Aw, I missed you too.” He shifted her on his hip and ignored the pieces of armour laying around as he moved towards the door. “But you should be sleeping, and you know it.”

Amaya pouted, putting her head on his shoulder. “But that’s too bo’ing, daddy. And Jay said you we’e doing you’ suits!”

“And you came to help?” he guessed, making a mental note to change his workshop access code. Again. “Well, then, thank you very much, Princess Aya.”

The little girl gave a little giggle, putting her hand in his face. “Silly daddy! I didn't do anything.”

Tony gave her a wide eyed look. “Oh, you’re so right. Daddy is so sleepy, he’s not even making sense anymore,” he agreed, as he made his way towards his bedroom.

Normally, he’d drop her off in her room, but he knew right now she would just wait until he left to start wandering the house or try to find him once more.

She gave him a look that no two years old should be able to pull off, an ‘I’m seeing through your trickery’ sort of look, before pouting even more than before. “But I’m not ti’ed. Can we go outside?”

While there were many parks in Malibu, there weren’t any in which Tony or even Pepper could easily go with her and not be recognised. Because of that, Amaya only ever got to go with Happy, when he was in California or they went down to Tony’s private beach.

“No can do, missy,” answered Tony, throwing her onto his bed and making her laugh at the impact. He was already in casual wear, so he did not bother change out of his shirt before climbing in bed next to her.

Despite her complaints, she immediately snuggled beside him, putting her teddy between them. In the moonlight, her necklace shone ever so slightly. “Tomowwo?”

“Maybe. If you’re good, and it's not too cold, and I finish all of my work,” he immediately clarified when she whooped, pressing a kiss on her forehead. “Now, sleepy time.”

“Song?” she begged eyes wide and hopeful

And damn it, did she have him wrapped around her little finger.

Instead of answering he pressed his fingers through her hair, humming the rhythm as JARVIS took the cue and brought down the lights of the bedroom.

It was a song from his childhood, one of the best memories Maria Stark had left with him, and he had continued the tradition with Amaya.

Ninna nanna, ninna oh,

questa bimba a chi la do?

La darò al lupo nero,  

che la culla un anno intero.

Amaya got more comfortable in his arms, closing her eyes and putting her head next to the arc reactor (or, as she called it, ‘daddy’s night light).

Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Questa bimba a chi la do?

La darò al cavallo bianco,  

che ci gioca tanto tanto.

Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Questa bimba a chi la do?

La darò alla befana,  

che la culla una settimana.

Despite her insistence that she was not tired, her breathing was evening out quickly. Tony let his voice drop lower.

Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Questa bimba a chi la do?

La darò al suo papà,

che le canta la ninna nanna!

Ninna nanna, ninna oh

Ninna nanna, ninna oh.

The lyrics did not make much sense, but the rhythm was soothing. Amaya loved it so much that everyone in the Iron Family knew the lyrics, despite no one other than Tony and Amaya herself knew Italian.

Well, everyone except the final member of the Iron Family.

Tony let out a slow sigh, fingers still playing with Amaya’s hair as he let thoughts of Loki fill his mind once more.

Loki... he had been having a hard time.

After the mage had left Earth, the first thing Tony had worked on was making sure that Loki would not and could not be charged with anything on Earth. He and JARVIS systematically deleted any evidence Loki had left over; they worded things in their statements to push the attention on the Chitauri and made sure no one mentioned Loki's name out loud. Then Tony met with the 'higher ups' including the president, the Secretary of State and various intelligence agencies to make sure that if Loki were to come back he wouldn't be arrested on sight.

It had been a little hard, but Tony had enough proof of Loki's character, his compromised mental state and Loki's range of power that no one could really argue with him on that. They could try, of course; but SI had the best lawyers for a reason.

Tony was aware that things had been rough for his baby mama. Rough enough that he had fallen off the Bifrost (let go) and then things had gotten progressively harder after. He remembered those six months in which he dreamt of nothing but space and falling and cold.

And he knew that, while he had told them a lot, Loki had not told him everything regarding Thanos. And he had told him exactly nothing about his pre-fall dealings.

Tony understood that he needed to give him space, and that Loki was stuck in Asgard dealing with people he hated until he managed to escape.

Still, was it too much of him to want some sort of explanation? To ask for more clarifications on what happened, and why Thor seemed to think Loki had tried to kill him and take the throne?

He had stuck out his neck for Loki with the trial and all, and he did not regret it, but he still needed a little bit more than ‘things went out of my control and I fell’.

But every time Tony tried to press for answers, Loki would either disappear for days or show up and watch Amaya with an expression of pure heartbreak, fully ignoring Tony. 

Something told him that whatever Loki was hiding was big; but didn’t he have the right to know why he spent an year and half trying to convince himself and everyone around him that his ex lover and father/mother of his child was still alive?

Didn’t he have the right to know why he spent a year and half explaining to Amaya that she too had a second parent and that her moddy had gotten caught up in something dangerous and was stuck somewhere, but they would return and that they loved her?

Loki was giving him nothing, though.

Tony hated it when someone was more stubborn than he was.


The next morning found Tony and Rhodey in the kitchen, with Tony making breakfast for both of them.

While Tony had never been a bad cook, per se, he had never been a good cook, either.

But like most things in his life, having Amaya had changed that.

He couldn’t let her live on take outs all the time, and May and Ben lived in New York, Pepper ran the company, Rhodey was a Colonel and Happy couldn’t cook. So it was up to him to feed a growing child properly.

It had been a lot of trial and error, especially at the very beginning because of her alien physiology and trying to understand how much food it too much food, but in the end Tony had succeeded - like he did with anything else.

Now, he was able to live for over a week without having to order out once, and he knew how to ‘properly’ do grocery shopping, even without Pepper or JARVIS helping him.

Aunt Peggy would have been proud.

“I can’t believe you would do this to me,” complained Tony, putting a plate of perfectly well cooked french toast in front of his best friend and sitting down beside him.

Rhodey rolled his eyes. “It tested well with focus groups, alright? Pass some blueberries.”

“I am Iron Patriot,” mocked Tony, even as he passed him the fruit. “It sucks.”

Rhodey just grabbed a couple with a sigh. “Listen, War Machine was a little too aggressive, alright? This sends a better message.”

Tony did not agree at all. Iron Patriot sounded and looked like Iron Man and Captain America had an illegitimate child, and while Steve looked cute for a 90 years old man, he was too ‘for the good of the world’ for Tony’s tastes.

War Machine was more epic, and he had a AC/DC song named after him.

Instead of voicing that, he picked up his cup of coffee, looking at his friend more seriously. “So what's really goin' on? With Mandarin. Seriously, can we talk about this guy?”

Tony had heard of him in the past few weeks, and he did not like what he was seeing and hearing. A terrorist with this high reach, openly threatening America? Hadn’t been done since Tony came out as Iron Man.

After dealing with hostile aliens from outer space you’d think terrorists would calm down a little, not try and attack the country the Avengers had just got done defending.

“It's classified information, Tony,” started his Platypus. When Tony just stared at him, he cracked a small smile. “Okay, there have been nine bombings.”

Tony pursed his lips. “Nine.”

“The public only knows about three,” continued Rhodey. “Here's the thing, nobody can ID a device. There's no bomb casings.”

While Tony himself was unlikely to be able to help him, there were still things he could do for his best friend. “You know I can still help, just ask. I got a ton of new tech, I got a prehensile, I got a... I got a new bomb disposal. Catches explosions mid-air.” He gave a half shrug. “I’m not even gonna scratch the paint job.”

Rhodey squinted at him. “When's the last time you got a good night's sleep?”

“Einstein slept three hours a year. Look what he did?” immediately quipped Tony. When Rhodey remained concerned, he rolled his eyes and quelled down the annoyance. They knew he could take care of himself, and they knew he’d die before letting something affect the way he looked after Amaya. Still, they worried. “I’m doing... better. I have good days and bad days. So far, the ratio favours the good days.”

“That’s good,” said Rhodey, pushing Tony’s hair out of his face. “And you are still sure about New York?”

Tony shrugged again. “The Mansion was not hit at all, and reconstruction are going. My Tower’s been fixed too.” His voice got softer. “And I know it’s no one’s fault, but Amaya misses you guys. Misses Pepper and Happy especially.”

Everyone in the Iron Fam had ended up moving to the East Coast. May, Ben and Peter had always lived there, but Peter was in middle school now, so they managed to visit less often than before. Pepper had decided to move their base of operation there, and Happy had to move along with her. 

Rhodey was the one who managed to stay with them the most often, but he too was busy with being Iron Patriot, who was mostly stationed in DC.

Before the Invasion, Tony and Pepper’s plan had been to open the Tower to the public the same day the Mansion was finished. Everyone would think Tony was living in the penthouse, while in fact he and Amaya would be staying in the Mansion.

It had taken him a while to decide that.

At first, he had thought of really moving to the penthouse with his daughter, but a penthouse was no place to raise a child. Amaya liked the outside, and it would be increasingly more complicated to have her slip out everyday when he lived in the highest skyscraper in the city.

The Stark Mansion... he had not been in that place ever since his parents died. 

It had not been a good place for him, filled with ghosts of his father’s disappointment and his mother’s valium-fuelled well-meaning neglect. He had been fairly certain he’d never come back, but for Amaya.

Of course, he could buy a new piece of land - perhaps in someone’s else’s name and then proceed to ‘secretly’ buy it off them - and build a new house, but there was something significant and poetic about turning the place in which he learnt his father never loved him (and fuck that ‘what will always be my greatest creation... is you’ bullshit) and make it a place in which Amaya would grow close to her family.

Queens was less than an hour from the Mansion, which was less than 10 minutes away from the Tower by walking. There was no beach close by, but between Tony and Pepper they had changed the interior and exterior décor and turned it from a cold, clinical place to a warmer and more familiar space. Like the Malibu Mansion, but more cluttered, in a way.

“They missed you too,” told him Rhodey, bringing Tony’s attention back on himself. “And so do I. We’re just worried about your mental health-”

Just because Tony knew he was being truthful, it didn’t make it feel more annoying and intruding. “You're gonna come at me like that?”

Sensing the return of bull-headed Tony, Rhodey quickly pulled back slightly. “No. No, look, I'm not trying to be a dic-”

The door opened and Amaya slipped out, one hand on her teddy while the other rubbed her eyes.

“...tator,” helpfully finished Tony, earning a glare from his honeybear.

Then Amaya registered his presence and she dropped her teddy, rushing towards her godfather. “Uncle Wodey!”

“Princess Amaya!” Rhodey stood up and caught her mid leap, twirling her in the air and making her shriek in happiness. “Oh my, did you get bigger?”

“I’ve beens eating my veggies!” she informed him, clutching at his neck when he finally stopped turning her around, and then pressed a fat wet kiss on his cheek. “Are you staying with us today?”

Rhodey grinned at her. “Yup. Until Uncle Happy comes here.” He gave her a penetrating look. “You do remember what today is, right?”

Amaya looked between her uncle and her father’s poker faces. “Jays?”

“Today is the 21st of December, young Miss. Coincidentally, tomorrow, Mr Hogan will be taking you to Queens to help with the Christmas preparations at the Parker House.”

“Tattletale,” complained Rhodey, while Amaya let out a shrill scream, clapping her hands together. 

“We’re going on a plane to Pete?!”

Sometimes Tony wondered if Amaya understood that Peter was not really her brother, but he doubted it. He gave her an equally happy grin. “Yes, we are. We’re gonna have the best Christmas ever.”

Amaya squealed again, before her face turned a little serious. “But daddy, how is Santa going to bring me my presents if I change house?”

Tony scoffed, taking her out of his best friends arms. “Kiddo, I’m Iron Man. I will call him and let him know.”

She giggled, poking his nose. “That’s silly, daddy! Santa doesn’t have a phone!”

“Then how does he use his GPS to find everyone’s address?” countered Tony, taking her to brush her teeth and ignoring Rhodey fond ‘can’t argue with that logic’.

The next hour found him, Rhodey and Amaya back in the living room, the latter two concentrating on water colours on the floor while Tony sat on the couch, a holographic screen coming to life beside him.

It didn’t take too long for the call to connect and a large forehead to appear on his screen.

“Hello?”

Tony couldn’t help a snort at the large forehead taking over his screen. “Is this forehead of Security?”

Happy moved the screen enough that his eyes were caught on camera. “What? You know, look, I got a real job. What do you want? I'm working, I got something going on here.”

“What? Harassing interns?” he asked him, before looking over at Amaya and twisting his screen. “Maya mine, say hi to Uncle Happy.”

The girl happily waved a brush at him, making it splatter all over Rhodey’s shirt. “Hi, Uncle Happy!”

Happy Hogan softened immediately. “Hey, mini boss! Are you being good?”

“Yes! I’m doing paint!”

“You’re painting,” corrected Tony, and she nodded solemnly.

“I’m painting with Uncle Wodey.”

“That’s our girl! I’ll come and check your paintings as soon as possible,” said Happy, then huffed when Tony’s face was on his screen again. “And you, mister, let me tell you something, I needed a new job. You know what happened when I told people I was Iron Man's body guard? They would laugh in my face.”

Tony laughed because... yeah, that was hilarious.

Happy did not think so. “I had to leave while I still had a shred of dignity. Now I got a real job, I'm watching Pepper.”

“Mhm,” said Tony. He doubted she would agree with that statement, he had read her texts ranting about how overboard Happy was going. Tony was supposed to ‘talk him down’. “What's going on? Fill me in.”

“For real?”

“Yeah.”

Happy settled slightly. “Alright, so she's meeting up with this scientist. Rich guy, handsome.”

Tony wasn’t sure if he was talking for himself or for Pepper. The man had never come out to Tony. “Right.”

“I couldn't make his face at first, right? You know I'm good with faces.”

That was true. “Oh, Yeah, yeah. You're the best.”

Happy gave him a slight smile. “Yeah. Well, so I run his credentials, I make him Aldrich Killian. And I met this guy. Where were we in '99? The science conference?”

Tony startled, looking at Happy in surprise. Was he seriously asking him about one of the best nights of his life like Tony could possibly forget?

“Bern, Switzerland.” He frowned at him. “Weren’t you basically with me the whole night?”

Happy shook his head. “No, when you went to speak to uh, Loki, I stayed with Hansen, remember?” No, Tony did not, but Happy continued. “He came up to us, Aldrich Killian, and Maya said she was waiting for you. He was going to wait with her and they started talking about science things. That’s when I noticed you were leaving the room with Loki, so I went with you.”

Even if he had met the man, Tony would likely not have remembered him, considering he barely remembered Yinsen when he met him. That whole night had been about Loki for him, from the second he had bailed on Hansen.

“Uh.”

“But yeah, it’s him. At first it was fine, they were talking business, but now it's like getting weird. He's showing her his big brain,” he told her, and Tony worked hard to keep his face blank.

“His what?”

“Big brain,” repeated Happy, and why did he make this so easy. Even Rhodey looked up from his painting to smirk at him. “And she likes it. Here, let me show you. Hold on. See?” He held his tablet up and gave him a better view of himself - which Tony assumed was not the intended effect. 

“Look at what? You watching them?” he asked, fondly. “Flip the screen and then we can get started.”

Happy glared at him. “I'm not a tech genius like you. Just... just trust me on this. It’s getting weird.”

“Flip the screen, then I can see what they're doing,” tried to explain Tony.

Not that he did not trust Happy’s instincts, but he liked to corroborate facts.

Unfortunately, Happy and tech had never mixed that well. “I can't! I don't know how to flip the screen!” He hissed the last word, and then forced himself to calm down. “Trust me on this, Tony: I don't trust this guy. He's got another guy with him, he's shifty.”

Trust me on this.

According to the world - who of course did not know about Amaya’s existence - Tony Stark had become incredibly paranoid after his palladium poisoning. His security made Azkaban weep. Journalists and the media now had boundaries that they couldn’t press with him, and the second anyone tried it, Stark Industries was on their assess.

A lot of it came from JARVIS and - therefore - Tony himself.

But not all of it. 

Some of it came from having Happy ‘it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you’ Hogan as his left hand man (cause even with the military, Rhodey was his right hand man). And Happy had almost a sixth sense when it came to sensing duplicity, almost as sharp as Tony did - which probably came from having shadowed Tony around since 1995.

So when Happy told him to ‘trust him on this’? Tony did.

“Fine,” he said, rolling his eyes when Happy gave a slight fist pump. “Okay. Feed the information you have to JARVIS and JOCASTA. They’ll know what to do, and will be able to observe his behaviour and follow him around more efficiently than you ever could.” Happy looked offended, and grumbled something about ‘robots taking over their jobs’ that Tony ignored. “When are you getting here? Late night or tomorrow morning?”

“As soon as Pepper is safe from giant brain we should be ready to come pick up Princess Aya,” agreed Happy. “We got a good hotel, about 30 minutes walk from the Parker’s house. Discreet, promised they won’t tell a soul about you until you are ready to leave.”

The only thing Tony caught was, “Giant brain?”

Happy nodded gravely. “Yeah, there's a giant brain and there's a shifty character, keep up. I'm gonna tell JO everything immediately.”

For someone who was so bad with tech, Happy was amazingly good with JOCASTA.

Tony gave him a slight smile. “I miss you, Happy.”

Happy gave him a fond eye roll. “Yeah, I miss you too. But the way it used to be. Now you're off with the 'superfriends',” not really, Tony hadn’t seen or spoken to anyone other than Banner (and Loki) since the Invasion, “I don't know what's going on with you anymore. The world's getting weird...”

Nope, Tony was not in the mood for a rant. “Hey, I... I'd hate to cut you off. Do you have your taser on you?”

“Why?” asked the former bodyguard with a frown.

Tony grinned. “Cause I think there's a gal in HR who's trying to steal some printer ink, you should probably go over there and zap her,” he said, ending the call before Happy could confirm the veracity of the rumour or otherways reply.

“You are a mean one, Tony Stark,” said Rhodey, valiantly keeping his amusement at bay. “Poor Happy.”

“Poo’ Happy,” agreed Amaya, not looking up from her painting.

Chapter Text

Ýlir, Age of Odin, Asgard

 

While he had been on that desolated strip of planet on the edge of the universe and succumbing to torture, Loki had spent months dreaming of the delicacies and the savoury and tasty foods of Asgard. He had never been a big fan of meat, but all he could think - and wish for - while he was in Thanos' clutches was how long it had been since he had a plate of mutton - or boar - with a side of leat leaves and potatoes, or the ptarmigan stew,  or the hamborgarhryggur and jólagrautur. It had been a driving force - survive this long enough and he would be back ‘home’, eating his favourite foods and cheeses once more.

Now, sitting in his chambers, with a plate of well roasted boar and well cooked cheese and salad platter, he couldn’t summon a smidge of the excitement from those dreams.

Instead he played around with his food, eyes troubled and heart filled with more sorrows than usual.

‘More sorrows than usual’. That statement said much, did it not?

Loki was not sure his heart had been filled with anything but sorrow and pain ever since the moment his father announced that Thor was to take the throne of Asgard.

Ever since then he had had no respite; it had been pain after pain, interceded by grief at every corner. 

The only real respite had been the week before Asgard and the Bifrost had closed in preparation for Thor’s coronation.

That week that he spent on Midgard with Anthony at his side the entire time, sharing donuts with Anthony’s family, laying and talking with him, drinking tea with Pepper, needling James and relaxing with Harold.

That had been pure and unadulterated freedom, if only for 7 morns. And that freedom had brought forth a gift, the most wondrous of joys: a child.

Everytime he thought of Amaya, Loki could feel his heart constrict in his chest, a pain that went beyond words and was just that: agony.

Two whole Midgardian year. The passage of four seasons on Asgard, that was how long he had missed. He had put her down in Anthony’s arms with a promise on his lips of returning once everything was dealt with and then he had proceeded to allow himself to let go; on top of that, instead of dying, he had allowed himself to be captured by an enemy of Asgard and Midgard, nearly bringing ruin upon the place Amaya was, protected by Anthony.

Anthony had gone through the void with a weapon SHIELD had aimed at them because of Loki’s Invasion and he could have died. He could have died, Loki could have been the reason the man he cared about was gone; the reason his daughter no longer had her second parent too.

He did not think he’d ever forgave himself for such tremendous slights against his daughter.

Was she, his daughter?

Anthony claimed that he had made a point of letting Amaya know who he was, but that did not mean much, did it? What did Amaya even think happened to him? Did she think he left her, because he did not care enough about her? Did he think she was to blame for his disappearance? Or did she think him the monster that he truly was? Did she even know the truth that laid behind her skin?

He couldn’t ask Anthony.

Loki pushed the plate of food away from himself, feeling sick to his stomach.

At times like this, he wished he could willingly place the memory altering spell on himself once more. To forget about all of it, to forget about the pain that remembering her and being unable to go to her brought forth.

But he couldn’t.

He had already missed two Midgardian years of her life. He had missed all the major stops of her early development.

He did not know her first word, when did she first learn to walk, what she liked and disliked, whether she possessed any seidr or not, whether she had managed to cast any spell or not. He knew next to nothing, and it was heart wrenching. 

The first thing he had done once he had been brought to his ‘cell’ - which really was just his bedroom - had been reach out through their reinstated dream link and transproject himself at Anthony’s side once more. Well, the first thing had been fall asleep and reach out to Anthony through a dream.

Somehow their kiss before he was escorted back to Asgard had been able to reconstruct the connection Loki had viciously destroyed to protect himself and Anthony from Thanos. Loki had not become aware of it until he was dreaming of Anthony once more, back on Asgard.

But the second thing he had done, was transproject himself back to Anthony.

The man had not noticed him, upon his arrival, busy as he was laying on the couch with a tablet in his hands. He looked very tired like this, even though it had been possibly a Midgardian week since the Invasion, but Loki’s attention had not been on him.

Of course, it had been the driving force behind the decision to transproject himself at Anthony’s side instead of continuing to see him in dreams, but it was still a shock to see Amaya, for the very first time since that day.

She was so much bigger than he remembered. Where once she was barely the length of his arm, now she was sat taller - taller than his knees but not quite at his waist yet. Her eyes were greener than they had been, and her hair was plaited in two straight tails at each side of her head, in the same shade of Anthony’s.

She looked incredibly focused on the blocks in front of her, creating shapes out of them with her tongue poking out of her lips.

Loki had not been able to say anything. He had just avidly watched her - his baby - playing beside Anthony in an image that was so calm and natural, it must be routine. A routine Loki was not aware or part of, because he had been gone for so long his daughter would not even recognise him.

He stayed there, quietly watching them with tears in his eyes for close to an hour. Amaya at some point abandoned her blocks for a book, and Anthony seamlessly put down the tablet, allowing her to ‘read’ the story to him.

That’s when Anthony noticed he was there, but before the man could say something, Loki had disappeared from the living room and returned to his own chambers. There, he had proceeded to cry himself into a restless sleep, ignoring the new messages Anthony was sending through the minnisbo'k. 

He had gone back plenty of times after that, but it was still impossibly hard to be around them. To be so close to Amaya but with her not knowing he was there. Because only Anthony and he shared the link they did, which meant that Amaya was not aware of his presence when he showed up.

Anthony was patient, but Loki could see he had many questions and things he wanted to know in regards to what had happened with the invasion and before. They spoke to each other, mostly during the dreams or using the notebook, but Loki had become a pro at dodging the harder conversation the Midgardian wanted to have.

Truth was... he was scared of having those conversation. Loki was a being that had lived for over a millennia already. He was the God of Chaos and Mischief, and he was raised Aesir, a Prince of Asgard. He might be something else, but what he was raised as mattered.

And apologising for his actions? That wouldn't defeat, Odin is the worst of the worst.

He pulled out the phone Anthony had slipped him before he was dragged back to Asgard in chains. Back then he had not realised what it was, but once he had managed to find himself alone in his bedroom once more, he had pulled it out.

Loki was a 1000+ years old mage, and yet, right now, he was sure he owned no other object that was half as important as that phone.

It was filled with many pictures and videos of Amaya. Amaya crawling, learning how to walk, her first steps, her first words (‘pah’, which video!Pepper claimed it was obviously her way of saying ‘Pepper’). Funny videos of Amaya trying to walk in Pepper’s shoes, Amaya giggling while ‘flying’ over James’ shoulders, Amaya going ‘trick or treating’ with an elaborately masked Anthony and another youth who seemed to go by ‘Pete’. Amaya on her birthday, Amaya in Anthony’s workshop, Amaya sleeping, playing, singing, dancing.

They were chronologically ordered and Loki felt like he was watching her grow up as he slowly made his way through each picture and video, rewatching each one ten times sometimes. 

It was simultaneously the best thing he had ever seen and the worst kind of torture.

Loki looked at his phone once more, starting another video (because no matter how slow he went, he had managed to see every video in a matter of two Midgardian weeks). One of his favourites.

The video was started a little shaky, which meant that Anthony was probably the one who had taken it, not JARVIS. Amaya was standing beside the youth Pete, who’s face was cut off from the screen, and was standing on her own two feet dressed in some sort of garment that imitated animal likeness.

Her attention was on something off screen - the television - and when the video started, the sounds of a Midgardian song filled Loki’s soundproofed chambers.

Big blue eyes

Pointy nose

Chasing mice

And digging holes

The youth beside Amaya was singing and ‘dancing’ - pointing at his eyes and nose, and pretending to chase mice - along, which the girl was imitating, eyes alternating between him and the screen in front of her.

Tiny paws

Up the hill

Suddenly you're standing still

Anthony joined in with the youth in singing the next verse, which Amaya ignored, eyes fixed on the screen in anticipation.

Your fur is red

So beautiful

Like an angel in disguise!

But if you meet

A friendly horse

Will you communicate by

Mo-o-o-o-orse?

Mo-o-o-o-orse?

“Mo-o-o-o-orse?” shouted along Amaya, starting to jump excitedly as the tempo of the song went up. 

How will you speak to that

Ho-o-o-o-orse?

Ho-o-o-o-orse?

“Ho-o-o-o-orse?” she sang, missing the pitch and mauling some of the letters in her attempt while Anthony chuckled in the background of the video, the video shaking slightly with his laughter.

What does the fox say?

And then James jumped out from behind the couch, making Amaya scream in delight and surprise as he joined in with the ridiculous and nonsensical song on the screen.

"Jacha-chacha-chacha-chow!

Chacha-chacha-chacha-chow!

Chacha-chacha-chacha-chow!"

 

What the fox say?

"Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow!

Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow!

Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow!"

She was dancing and shouting along, laughing as the youth and James repeated the nonsense perfectly while she butchered it all except for the ending. Anthony was trying to stifle his laughter off camera, but it was still audible, and it made Loki’s chest clench even more painfully.

What the fox say?

"A-hee-ahee ha-hee!

A-hee-ahee ha-hee!

A-hee-ahee ha-hee!

What the fox say!"

The video ended there, and Loki stared at the still of the video for a couple more seconds before. He missed her so much.

Missed them.

But at the same time, he knew they were better off without him. What could he give them other than even more heartache?

Anthony had clearly managed to be fine eventually, managed to raise her into the best version of herself without needing Loki, despite his earlier misgivings. What would Loki showing up in her life give her instead of more pain and confusion? Other than put her at risk?

He looked down at the magic dampening bracelets Odin had slapped on his wrists so that Loki could always be tracked and his magic usage controlled. Honestly, he was just glad that their dream link was a form of Jotun magic that Asgard was unable to sense, otherways even his small transprojecting trips would have been cut off.

The knock at the door served to finally pull him out of his thoughts and Loki carefully put away the phone, a blank mask falling over his face. “Come in.”

He was glad he had at least managed to convince the All-Mother and Odin about letting him maintain his privacy.

Once, at the very beginning, he had been in his bathing room when Thor had decided to walk inside his chambers. Loki had found him a few minutes later sitting on his bed, and looking at the phone in his hands with curiosity and had nearly killed him where he stood.

There had been a huge argument between them, with Thor demanding to know why Loki had kept such a device secretly on him, and Loki claiming he had had it with him in his pocket dimension ever since before he fell off the Bifrost and Anthony had simply updated it with more footage of his daughter - not theirs, just hisAs it should be.

Thor had left very much upset with him, but had decided to keep his secret and while part of Loki was glad he had not seen the other man since, another part of him was bitter. Thor had spent so long apparently mourning and missing him, and yet one single argument between the two of them and Loki had not seen him in months.

It was, of course, Frigga who walked inside the room, and Loki pushed down another wave of disappointment. It wasn’t like he wished for Thor to be there with them anyway. Loki was fine with his not-brother forgetting him. He did not care.

“How are you today, my son?” questioned Frigga, coming to sit beside him.

Their relationship was still stilted. 

While he still harboured some rancour in his heart over the knowledge of her part in the lie, he also missed the relationship with his mother he had had in the beginning. He didn’t know how much came from what he suffered through Thanos, and how much of it came from the fear of what would happen once Loki or Anthony had to reveal Amaya’s parentage to her, but it made him want to try more with her.

And he missed her.

“I’m okay,” he said, not taking her hand in his but also not moving away as he had done at the very beginning either. He shook his wrists, the magic inhibitors shrouded as bracelets glinting in the sun light. “I have not tried to take them off again.”

What? Just because Loki had accepted his punishment and was more or less glad he wouldn’t be for the axe (sometimes he wished Odin had just swung it), it didn’t mean he had not tried to see how far he could push the magic dampeners.

Frigga gave him a worried look. “You have also not used any of the simple spells the bracelets allow, or left your chambers at all,” she pointed out. “All you’ve done is use your dream link. It is not healthy to remain in your chambers for such long- what?”

Loki stared at her feeling tense. “You... you know?”

The All-Mother gave him a look that was both fond and exasperated. “Elskam min, remind me once more, who was it who divined your titles and assessed your seidr before you started to learn magiks? Who gave you the book on magiks of the Nine Realms?”

When she put it that way...

He frowned at her. “And you allow it?”

She took his hand in his, and while he tensed, Loki did not pull away. “Tis not for me to separate two who love each other so much that a natural bond develops between them.”

Loki bit back the natural response to that.

For the bond did not form because they ‘loved each other so much’. Loki had read upon it, trying to figure out what had caused such powerful magic to push upon their fledgling connection. For, while they understood each other in a manner very few did, they had not loved each other upon first meeting one another.

The reason the bond between them had formed, the reason the link had appeared was because of the being Loki had carried within him during their stay. 

Amaya.

But his mother did not know of Amaya, and Loki could not tell her about her. He was already lucky that they both still wore the Ljsor necklace he had given them so many years ago, and that those continued to shroud them from Heimdall’s eyes. 

He was not about to tempt the Norns.

Instead he looked towards the window. “It matters not. Even if I were able to leave Asgard before his untimely demise, I have done unforgivable things. If he knew...”

“He’d understand,” started his mother, and Loki laughed.

It was a bitter laugh.

“He is a hero, Mother,” he said, shaking his head. His eyes were still on the window. “He saves the world. I started an Invasion that got his people murdered and he was the one who carried the weapon away to save them all. He still has nightmares of the affair.”

Thankfully their dream link helped with that, as well as something called 'therapy'. Anthony had mentioned it offhand a couple of times, but he had not explained what it consisted on.

“And yet, he recognised you weren’t in your own mind when you did so, and collected the evidence that saved you from rotting in solitary for the rest of your days,” said the All-Mother, voice kind. “Not that anyone would know, seen as you did not as much as leave this room ever since you finished helping with the Bifrost.”

Loki ignored the latter part of her sentence. “That was because he does not know the things that I have done. Because he still thinks me to be the same man from... from Bern.” Frigga looked confused at the word, but Loki did not bother explaining the significance. “When he found out his father figure was taking his weapons and selling them to the enemy, Anthony halted his weapons crafting all together. He claims that his hands are filled with the blood of the people who died because of that, and became the Man of Iron to combat that.”

“That’s... naive,” said Frigga, slowly. “If the blame is on anyone it is on that father figure of his. Not on your Prince.”

“I agree with that,” said Loki. He truly did: it was silly of Anthony to believe himself to blame for the actions of another. “But that is the logic of Midgardians. That’s Anthony’s logic. And if he feels this way, what is he going to think once he knows that not only I directly killed my birth father, but used our strongest weapon against an entire planet and would have destroyed it, had Thor not stopped me?”

Frigga’s hold on his hand tightened. “Loki-”

“I would have killed them all,” he told her, candidly. He knew he spoke the truth. “I would have destroyed Jotunheim that day, had I not been stopped.”

His mother studied him carefully. “And do you regret it?”

Did he regret it?

Trying to kill an entire civilization to, at least from his point of view at the time, protect Amaya?

He wasn’t sure he did.

“I was trying to save Asgard by destroying our enemies once and for all,” he told her, but his voice wasn’t as strong and full of belief as it had been on that bridge.

Frigga let go of his hand and Loki looked down. But she did not go away, instead reaching in her own pocket dimensions and pulling out a small book. “Did you know, Loki, that once upon a time, Vanaheim was Asgard’s sworn enemy?”

Loki did know this. It was a well ignored truth, that Vanaheim and Asgard hadn’t always been sister planets. That once upon a time, Frigga had arrived on Asgard as a war bride and that she and Odin were not always so devoted to each other.

A truth so ignored it became forgotten.

Once upon a time, Vanaheim had been Jotunheim.

He looked down at the book in her hands. “Fables?”

Frigga nodded, opening a particular page. “And instead of the devils with horns who ate you if you weren’t behaving properly, Aesir children of past shook in fear of the Vanir witches who stole them from their beds if they weren’t asleep by a certain time.”

What was it that Anthony told him, back when he had first revealed his heritage?

What you know about Jotnar is what years of war propaganda and possible racism will have told you.

That seemed to be what his mother was implying.

“I was trying to save Asgard,” he repeated, his voice sounding hollow.

“What you need to ask yourself, elskam min,” said Frigga, sitting up once more, “is who were you saving it from?”

Back then, Loki would have answered with ‘monsters’. He would have said he was saving Asgard from savages and iced demons. He would have said he was protecting Amaya from the truth of their people.

But once upon a time, the Vanir had been the monsters and savages and demons, whispered a voice in his head. And now the Aesir know better. Who’s to say they aren’t wrong about the Jotnar too?

Loki did not want to think about that. 

So he pushed the book off the bed when Frigga left the room, and curled on his bed.


Other than Frigga, not many people came to visit him in his chambers.

Odin had come, once, but Loki had spent the entirety of that meeting staring blankly at the wall, and the man had not returned. Thor had similarly stopped coming ever since their argument.

Astrid came in every now and then to exchange words with him, and he saw maids and servants often enough when they brought him fresh food every morn. 

The Warrior 3 and Sif had not taken a single step in his chambers ever since he turned 600 and learnt how to place a ward around the room that was specifically tailored to keep them out, and Heimdall did not usually need to come in to know what he was up to.

So when the door of his room was knocked on again for the second time that day, he frowned slightly. “Come in?”

And when Idunn herself walked inside the room, looking as beautiful and unchanging as the last time he had seen her, Loki’s eyebrows just rose to his hairline in complete bafflement.

Idunn gave him a short bow. “My prince.”

Loki shook himself and stood up. “Lady Idunn. I- I was not expecting you.”

Of course he was not expecting her. Loki could count on one hand the number of times Idunn had left her orchard in the entire time he had been alive: three. To have her in his room, of all places, was shocking.

“Please, take a sit.”

“Thank you, my prince,” she said and Loki just shook his head as he sat in front of her.

“You have seen me through one of the most intimate moments in my life. I think you can simply call me Loki,” he told her. After all, he was hardly a prince anymore. Well, he was. But he also wasn't.

She smiled. “Then I’m sure you can drop the Lady, Loki.” At his uncertain nod, she gave him a soft look. “As you’ve said, I’ve seen you at one of your most intimate moments of your life. Then why was I not aware of your return until common servants came to retrieve the apples for the castles and gossiped about it to each other?”

“I did not think you’d care.” He gave her a penetrating look. “Surely you now know what I am.”

Idunn had definitely been aware since the beginning that he was not of Asgard. Wasn’t biologically related to anyone in the family. But from what he knew of glamour spells and child birth, Loki would have definitely shifted into his Jotun form, however momentarily, when his body had started to try and give birth naturally - before he was cut open.

Idunn would have seen his Jotun form. 

And yet, she had not said anything. Had not even hinted about something being wrong, had not tried to keep distance from him.

Granted she hadn’t had time to react. Loki had spent one hour with her and Amaya before taking her to Earth. And then, about 24 hours later he was learning the truth and he had no time to actually think about everything.

Idunn shrugged. “The colour of your skin changes nothing to me, Loki. I did not spent six months with either a Jotun or an Aes. I spent six months with Loki. Where this Loki came from, matters not.”

“Surely you can’t mean that,” he tried, and she gave him an amused look.

“Prin- Loki, I have been around longer than Odin. Longer than the war of Jotunheim, longer than the war of Vanaheim, longer than the existence of the Nine Realms. You think I care or notice the petty squabbles Odin dedicated his life to?” she scoffed. “The All-father and I have a mutually beneficial agreement. I do not care for the Aesir themselves.” Her expression became pointed. “But I do concern myself with you.”

Loki did not what to say.

Her gaze softened. “You do not have to say anything, Loki,” she said, linking their fingers together. Loki did not stiffen, simply stared at their conjoined hands. “Are your rooms warded?”

He nodded slowly. “People can still walk in, but they cannot hear what I’m doing inside. However they are able to monitor the magic and seidr I use in here.”

She waved her hands like it didn’t matter and took her hand from his. “That is good enough for me. Now,” she gave him a smile. “Tell me of Amaya.”

And Loki did.

It was like a dam broke. He was finally able to speak to someone that knew she existed but also did not know more about her than he did. He knew he was trusting Idunn with a lot, but this was the same woman who despite everything, despite his presumed death, had not gone to the All-Father speaking of Loki’s daughter.

He could trust Idunn, he knew that.

So he did, showing her the pictures on the phone, explaining the basic of the Midgardian technology, and sharing videos of little things she did. And Idunn smiled and listened, even when Loki stopped speaking directly of her and started speaking about the ache in his heart, when he started talking about Jotunheim, and what he had almost done, and Anthony and his fears of what would happen next.

He spoke and spoke and spoke, and for the first time since Anthony and his family on Midgard, someone listened.

+++

When Loki transprojected himself at Anthony’s side the next morning, he found Harold and Pepper in the house with Anthony and Amaya. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but everyone including Amaya seemed to be busy with something.

He wasn't sure he was ready to talk to Anthony about everything that had happened, but the talk to Idunn had invigorated him.

Pepper was clicking away on her laptop, while Harold was alternating between complaining on his phone and following after Amaya, who was putting all sort of things on a small bag she was pulling behind her.

Anthony gave him a smile when he noticed him from the corner of his eyes, but his attention was on his own phone.

“No, listen May, Rhodey said he’s bringing and extra Turkey when they’re done with lunch in Georgia. Mama Rhodes would get offended if you do make one yourself,” he told whoever the woman on the other side was.

Amaya stopped and stared up at Harold and Anthony in excitement. “Is Grandma coming?”

Mama Rhodes, James' mother. Considering Anthony's parents had died, of course he considered her Amaya's grandmother, thought Loki, pushing away thoughts of Frigga - who knew nothing.

“No, honey, she can’t,” told her Harold, snorting at her pout. “If the Mansion is done by next Christmas though, she might come then.” He turned to Anthony. “Do not let May poison us with her Tofurkey bs.”

“Swea’ jar!”

“Tell you what, if she doesn’t deliver, I’ll order us something,” continued Anthony. “Plus you’re already making half of the food. Let me, Pep and everyone else bring something.”

“I’m making cupcakes with Pete!”

“Christmas cupcakes?” asked Anthony, grinning at her. “Yum! Thank you, May, I’m sure they’d love your help.” He was saying that, but he was making a face at Loki that indicated the direct opposite.

Loki forced a smile at his antics, even as his heart clenched even more painfully than before.

It was all so painfully domestic.

Anthony and his daughter and his friends, who all knew Amaya and loved her. Celebrating a Midgardian tradition and basking in the feeling of family together.

Anthony claimed he cared for him, and Loki believed that (a little), but did he need him?

“Tony, are you and Amaya sharing or am I sharing with her?” questioned Pepper, looking up from her screen. “Also, for the record, it would simply be easier to go to the Tower’s penthouse and let Amaya stay with May and Ben.”

The little girl stopped whatever she was doing, looking very much sold with the idea. “Can I, daddy? Can I stay with Pete and Uncle Ben and Aunt May?”

Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  People Amaya considered dear family but that Loki had never met in his life.

Anthony looked unsure. “Queens is far from Manhattan...” he started, and then perked up when the woman on the other side started speaking. “Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to intrude... Of course you’re family too! But Pepper, Rhodey and Happy...”

Family...

Pepper stopped typing. “We could get the hotel I was booking or go to Manhattan instead, and the two of you can stay in May’s guest room.”

“Yes!” cheered Amaya, and Anthony rolled his eyes fondly.

“I haven’t even agreed yet!”

“But you will,” sing sang Pepper putting down her laptop and picking up a still cheering Amaya. “Won’t he, princess? He always folds.”

“He does, he does!”

“Hey!”

Anthony grumbled something as the two women giggled, and Happy clapped him on the back in fake solidarity as the woman on the other line started up on the menu once more.

When Loki slipped out and returned to his chambers, he doubted Anthony had even seen him leave.

Chapter Text

23rd December 2012, Malibu

 

Building suits was relaxing.

Tony wasn’t sure if his therapist was right and it was a coping mechanism for his PTSD, or if it was his natural love for all things engineering that made him feel so relaxed while he worked on them.

Alone in his workshop, with music softly playing over the speakers, and with the knowledge that Amaya was being monitored by JARVIS, he could simply relax. Not think about anything, just follow the rhythmic movements of his fingers on circuits.

The thought of Amaya made him still in his work for a second, and he looked up from the piece he was assembling. “J, she’s still asleep?”

“Yes, Sir. Miss Amaya has not woken up,” calmly told him the AI.

Tony nodded to himself and continued his work, remembering what had driven him back in the workshop in the middle of the night.

While therapy helped and he had medication when his insomnia really kicked in, nightmares were still a personal enemy of his. And earlier he had a particularly horrible one that had ended with him waking up in his large Californian bed with the suit hovering over him because he had activated it in his sleep.

Amaya was old enough to sleep in her own bed in her own room. But often enough, she somehow ended up in his bed at night, and all Tony could think about was what would have happened if she had been in his bed tonight.

She thought that Iron Man was the coolest superhero ever; what would she have felt like if she woke up and found the armour pointing its weapons at her? She could have gotten hurt or worse.

“Fuck,” he muttered to himself, feeling his anxiety raising once more. He had not slept so well the night before, and he was driven away from his bed once more tonight. The only good thing about this situation was that Amaya and Happy would be leaving in the morning and stay at the Parkers’. So Tony would have time to improve the safety requirements of all of suits so that, no matter what, Amaya was never seen as a threat.

He would not leave even the slightest chance for his fucked up mental health to be the reason Amaya was injured, he’d die before that happened. 

Thinking about dying, made him think of Loki.

Loki... Tony did not know how to feel about the snub from the day before. Loki had been there while they were making last minute preparations with May regarding their Christmas dinner, but by the time Tony was done with the call, he had been gone.

He had tried to use the notebook to communicate, but Loki had left him with an excuse and had yet to get back to him.

Tony did not know what to think.

He was pretty sure Loki wanted to be in Amaya’s life. He knew Loki still cared about him, and he could feel/see the sadness and depression in his eyes whenever he transprojected while Tony and Amaya were busy doing things together.

But Loki refused to speak to him, refused to tell him what had happened.

And Tony wasn’t gonna push, of course he wasn’t, but more and more he felt like something terrible had happened. Especially with the looks Loki sometimes gave him, like he was afraid of what Tony was gonna do once he found out about something. 

Tony did not think Loki was a bad person, and he knew Loki was an alien with a different set of morals than him, but sometimes he felt nervous.

Sometimes he was afraid.

What could be so awful that Loki did not want to tell him?

“Sir,” called JARVIS, and Tony sighed, focusing back on what was in front of him. “I have just received a packet from JOCASTA regarding the man Mr Hogan considered a threat.”

Right, the shifty individual. Tony rolled his shoulders and pulled up a screen. “Alright, talk to me. What we got?”

“Eric Savin, former Lieutenant Colonel for the US Army,” spoke the AI. “He was a Veteran who received an honourable discharge following an injury on the job. The injury is not specified, but it is heavily implied that it became some sort of handicap that made it impossible for him to continue serving. Last connection of employment for him seems to be a company named AIM, but there is nothing to indicate whether or not he is still working for them.”

Tony frowned. “AIM? Never heard of them.”

“New military contractors, sir. Former Lieutenant Savin was tracked going into the Chinese theatre by JOCASTA, and seen communicating with another, as Mr Hogan would say, shifty character.” The visual appeared on Tony’s screen, of the Savin man sitting beside another. “Jack Taggart, a simple foot soldier in the US Military. There is no other link between the two men other than their choice in employers. Taggart was dishonourably discharged.”

“What for?” asked Tony, vaguely curious.

“Sexual assault.”

“Ah.”

The visual continued. “They are seen in the video speaking to each other, but JOCASTA was not able to gain anything more than what the camera was recording.”

Tony watched as the two spoke to each other in voices too low for any CCTV camera to pick up. Then Savin handed the other man a small case whispering something more to him before he left.

“JOCASTA felt it prudent to both record Savin’s actions and Taggart’s, so we were able to see this. Savin got into a car and seemed to return to his home, but Taggart...” The video continued, and Tony frowned as the man opened the bag and pulled something triangle shaped out of it. He seemed to breathe/drink it in before getting up, ready to leave. And then his skin started rippling.

No, not rippling. But almost shifting, like there was a pool of lava directly under his skin. He moved, shouting Savin’s name as his skin glowed brighter and brighter, and people started screaming and then.

Tony stared at the suddenly black creen. “What did I just see?”

“He blew up, Sir. Took out the entire area,” explained JARVIS, while Tony frowned, brain starting to think. 

“How long ago was that?”

“Last night, Sir.”

Fuck. If Tony hadn’t convinced Happy to come home with Pepper so that he could look after Amaya,  he might have been there instead of JOCASTA. And unlike her, he wasn’t fireproof.

“What else does JOCASTA have?” He wanted to be upset that the events had taken place the night before and neither AI had spoken to him about it, but he knew why they hadn’t. They wanted to find every scrap of information they could before bringing it to him, and they didn’t want to put him in the situation where he had to choose between his ‘heroing’ and spending time with family.

“The heat from the blast was in excess of 3000 degrees Celsius,” said JARVIS. “Any subjects within 12.5 yards were vaporized instantly.”

“And Taggart was the man who blew up,” he felt the need to confirm. “No bomb parts found in a three mile radius of the Chinese theatre.”

“No, sir. But less than five minutes ago, the Mandarin just stated that this attack was also his doing.”

A new screen popped up, and the detested man was once again speaking in Tony’s workshop.

True story about fortune cookies. They look Chinese, they sound Chinese, but they're actually an American invention. Which is why they're hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth. My disciples just destroyed another cheap American knock-off, The Chinese Theater. Mr. President, I know this must be getting frustrating, but this season of terror is drawing to a close. And don't worry, the big one is coming; your graduation.”

Tony frowned, putting his feet on top of the desk. “He’s claiming responsibility for the man who blew himself up?” The man who had looked like he didn't actually expect to blow up. “So, somehow, either he was already going to blow up, or whatever he drank/breathed made him blow?” He made a face of distaste. Was Savin in with the Mandarin? But Taggart had seemed to know what he was doing with the thing. He just looked like he hadn’t expected to blow up doing it. “That doesn’t make sense.”

A bomb that was not a bomb. Ex Military guys walking around with drinkable bombs? Why would the Mandarin do this? Why involve the US Military, if he hated America so much?

“What’s the link with the Mandarin? What’s the point of all this pageantry?” he pondered, pulling out another screen. “Bring up the thermogenic signatures again, factor in three thousand degrees.”

A new hologram appeared, taking over almost the entire floor. “The oracle cloud has completed analysis. Accessing satellites and plotting the last twelve months of thermogenic occurrence now.”

Tony looked at the various numbers thoughtfully. “Take away everywhere that there's been a Mandarin attack,” he said. He watched more than half of the graphs disappear. “Nope. Not that...” He focused on one in particular, which displayed more than 3000 degrees. “That. You sure that's not one of his?”

“It predates any known Mandarin attack,” explained the AI. “The incident was the use of a bomb to assist a suicide.”

A bomb to assist a suicide. Was that what Taggart was doing? Could it be possible for both of them to be linked to the Mandarin? Or was that where the Mandarin got his bomb from? Where he found the idea from? “Bring her around.”

JARVIS moved the hologram towards him. “The heat signature is remarkably similar. Three thousand degrees Celsius.”

Another military guy. Killed himself and killed several other people too. People never thought he’d do that. Blah blah blah, the usual.

Tony pulled away from the screen. “That's three military guys with two of them now dead, one in an alleged suicide, the other in a seemingly unwilling suicide.” There had to be more to the picture. More information than he was missing. And there was honestly only one way to get that particular information. “Ever been to Tennessee, Jarvis?”

“Creating a flight plan for Tennessee.”

+++

Arriving to Rose Hill, Tennessee was complicated. As much as he wanted to simply take a jet there, land in the middle of the town square and investigate what was going on, he was a little high profile.

Because of that, he decided to arrive with his armour to the edge of town with the Mark 42. He could have brought his suitcase armour, but Mark 42 needed some field testing, and what better testing than the one that actually happened on the field?

Plus, this was a simple recon mission. JARVIS had bitched at him about going off on a recon mission by himself with an untested armour, which Tony promptly tuned out. He wanted to be in and out as quickly as possible, and Rhodey was the only guy he was comfortable having his back, and he was currently on a mission in the middle east.

The Avengers could have been cool back up, but this was not the sort of thing that fell under their jurisdiction. And it was not like he was friends with any of them, not really.

Bruce had accepted working for SI on a mostly consultant basis, but mostly stayed in New York; currently he was in India on a biology conference thing. Rogers he had not heard from since he handed him a StarkPhone and watched him rev away on his motorcycle. Thor was in Asgard keeping Tony's Loki away from him. And the spy twins had been re-absorbed into SHIELD.

There wasn’t anyone really he could ask to have his back, not unless he was willing to wait. And Tony was not willing to wait, not when there were lives at risk and nobody knew when the Mandarin would next strike.

He was thankful that they had already decided ages ago that Amaya and Happy would go to New York together, first. The girl had been a little teary when she had realised her daddy was not coming with them immediately, but as soon as she was handed her travelling bag - a small present from Rhodey for her birthday, not her actual clothing bag  - she completely forgot that Tony was not coming.

He would have been a little disappointed, had this not worked out in his favour.

He was gonna come up to Queens a day later with Pepper, but the woman had a meeting with a Doctor Hansen and he had this recon mission, so they would arrive later.

Rhodey would arrive most probably on the 25th and then they would all (him, Amaya, Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, May, Ben and Peter) have a nice Christmas dinner. It wasn't exactly a family Christmas, considering Loki was not there with them, but it was the closest thing to one. After that, Tony would double check on the now complete Mansion, and he and Amaya would move in there by the end of the year. 

He had not had a chance of showing Loki the place yet, since he hadn’t really gone to New York much since the Invasion. He had been there to supervise the Tower’s reconstruction, and the Mansion was not in centre Manhattan or very close to where the Invasion itself had taken place - the area around it had been mostly untouched by the fight - but still he had thought it best to avoid the area until things were calmer and more reconstructed.

He pushed thoughts of the Invasion out of his mind as they finally reached Rose Hill, using the woods and altitude to stay mostly undetected by the normal folk.

Once he landed, it wasn’t very hard to find a mostly functional but unoccupied garage. There was a 76% chance of the owners of the place walking in and catching him in hiding, but there was also 81% chance that they were Iron Man fans, according to his approval index.

As much as he liked the Mark 42, it was far from inconspicuous, and for this to work, he had to be inconspicuous. Even if it left the armour in a bush somewhere and someone managed to find it, there was a higher chance of it blowing up than them being able to get use it in anyway. And it could lead to him being noticed by the Mandarin’s people, if the first victim had something to do with him after all.

So garage of perhaps Iron Man fans it was.

He was busy doublechecking that the micro-repeater implants in his arms still worked when the door opened and a small pubescent kid appeared in the doorway, pointing a toy gun at Tony.

“Freeze!” he said, voice surprisingly strong for a tween who thought there was an intruder in his house. “Don't move.”

Tony fought against himself to not laugh, and put both hands up. “You got me. Nice potato gun. Barrel's a little long. Between that and the wide gauge, it's gonna diminish your FPS.” He informed him. Far from impressed, the boy pointed at a glass on the shelf, shooting it and breaking the glass. Tony’s lips twitched. “And now you're out of ammo.”

The boy looked a little sheepish, but immediately focused on the Arc Reactor. “What's that thing on your chest?”

Everyone did, and it wasn’t like Tony did much to cover it. They just didn’t know exactly what it was for. “It's a electromagnet,” he explained. “You should know, you've got a box of them right here.”

“What does it power?”

Being Amaya’s father and a sort of Uncle/father figure in Peter’s life had made it so that Tony knew that no amount of deflection could sway a child when they truly wanted to know something.

Plus this boy, who had clearly built his little gun by himself, reminded him of Peter. So he moved out of the way, allowing him to see where Mark 42 was standing in all his glory.

The boy’s eyes were wide in disbelief. “Oh my God!” His potato gun clattered on the ground as he moved past Tony and towards the suit. “Oh my god! That... that's... Is that Iron Man?”

Rude. He was right here. “Technically, I am,” he informed him. He had the sudden bizzaro thought that if his Iron Man suit was sentient it would pull more dates than Tony himself.

The boy leaned over the couch, carefully touching the suit with reverent air. When the suit turned its head to look at him he floundered, and then let out an excited laugh. “He moves by himself? That’s so cool!”

“Thank you,” he said, then felt the need to elaborate. “And he doesn’t move by himself. He moves how I want him to move. I built him, I take care of him, I fix him.”

“Like a mechanic?” he questioned, waving at the suit and looking delighted when it waved back.

Tony’s lips quirked in a small smile. “Yeah.”

The little boy nodded. “Oh. If I was building Iron Man and War Machine-”

“It's Iron Patriot now,” couldn’t help but interrupt Tony, trying not to show his active distaste.

The boy’s eyes widened even more. “That's way cooler!”

This time Tony did not hide his dislike. “No, it's not.” Rhodey had said something about how it ‘tested well with the focus group’, he shouldn’t feel betrayed that a little kid preferred the Iron Patriot to War Machine.

“Anyways, I would have added in um... the retro…”

Oh. “Retroreflective panels?”

The boy nodded, excited. “To make him stealth mode.”

“You want a stealth mode?”

“Cool, right?”

“That's actually a good idea,” mused Tony. It would have definitely helped with the hiding and making sure no one would be able to find the suit. And since it was able to find him with the chips if he was in danger regardless... “Maybe I'll build one.”

He shook himself out of his thought when he heard the whirring of his propulsors, and quickly took back control of the suit. The boy, who had accidentally activated them by touching the hands, looked sheepish. “S...Sorry.”

“Are you?” Yikes, the dad in his voice was showing. He was a step away from saying ‘what are you sorry for and how are you going to fix it?’. “Just don’t touch it again, please. So, uh, who's home?”

The boy pouted at the suit and focused back on Tony. “Well, my mom already left for the diner and dad went to 7-Eleven to get scratchers. I... I guess he won, 'cause that was six years ago.”

Tony thought about Loki and Amaya for a second. He hoped Loki would manage to get out of house arrest soon enough, but what if it was years before he was able to return? What if by the time he did, Amaya had grown bitter towards him? Resented him?

Amaya’s situation and this boy’s weren’t the same, Loki hadn’t chosen to step out of her life, but would she realise that?

He couldn’t afford to spiral into those thoughts now. “That happens; sorry your dad was a dick.” How could a parent willingly leave their child? But then again, that was basically what Howard had done, so he shouldn’t be that surprised. “Here’s what I need: a laptop, a digital watch, a cell phone, the pneumatic actuator from your bazooka over there, a map of town, a big spring, and a tuna fish sandwich.”

The boy - and Tony really needed to stop calling him the boy in his head - looked at him with a suspicious look. “What's in it for me?”

“Salvation,” immediately said Tony. This boy was a nerd with a potato gun that he probably needed to protect himself with. There was one logical conclusion. “What's his name?”

He looked at Tony in confusion. “Who?”

“The kid that bullies you at school,” he specified, “what's his name?”

“How'd you know that?”

Lived through it and have been watching Peter go through it, he mentally thought, but did not reply. Instead he opened a compartment on the suit and pulled out a small object. “I got just the thing. This is a piñata for a cricket. I'm kidding, it's a very powerful weapon. Point it away from your face, press the button on top. It discourages bullying. Non-lethal, just to cover one's ass.” He shouldn’t be giving something like that to a child, but there was not much else he could to for him right now. “Deal? Deal? What'd you say?”

He tried to take it, looking grateful. “Deal.”

Tony smirked. “Deal?” When the boy nodded he gave it to him. Speaking of which, “What's you're name?”

“Harley,” said Harley. “And you're...”

“The mechanic. Tony,” he said and then watched him for a couple more seconds when he just smiled gratefully at Tony. “You know what keeps going through my head? Where's my sandwich?”

+++

It took a while for things to be straightened up. Apparently Harley was home alone because his mother - Evelyn - was still working, and his sister was at a sleepover. Which was perfectly convenient for Tony, as it gave him a guide as he walked around Rose Hill in his perfect disguise of a hat, sunglasses and a weird jacket that chafed.

He had tried to get him to stay, but the boy wouldn’t stay put when he knew that Iron Man was walking his streets.

“The sandwich was fair,” he said as they walked down the secondary roads of Rose Hill. Mark 42 was sleeping in the barn, still. “The spring was a little rusty, the rest of the materials, I'll make do. By the way, when you said your sister had a watch, I was kinda hoping for something a little more than that.” It was an adorable little pink thing that Amaya would have loved.

Harley laughed. “She's six! Anyway, it's limited edition.” It did not look limited edition, but what did Tony know. “When can we talk about New York?”

Tony stiffened only slightly. When people wanted to talk about New York, they wanted to talk about one thing in particular - aka the one thing Tony never wanted to talk about. “Maybe never. Relax about it.”

“What about The Avengers, can you talk about them?”

Tony had been under the seemingly wrong assumption that all the teenagers he’d meet would be like Peter Parker. Polite little nerdy fanboys who spoke too fast and caused trouble if you left them alone in your workshop (had learnt that the hard way) but were mostly well behaved.

Harley was doing his utmost to prove him wrong.

“I don't know, later.” Would it crush him to know that they didn’t hang out? Like those girls who felt heartbroken when they found out their favourite band members did not even like each other all that much? 

They finally came to a stop in front of the local explosion site that Tony had been wanting to check on. It had been turned into a small memorial space. “What's the official story here? What happened?”

JARVIS had given him the bare bones of information when it came to this particular guy. There really wasn’t anything intriguing about this man that could be found on his online footprint, and the only thing that pointed to some connection was the fact that he was military.

Hence why he was in Rose Hill to begin with.

Harley shrugged. “I guess this guy named Chad Davis, used to live roundabouts, won a bunch of medals in the army. One day, folks said he went crazy and made, you know, a bomb. Then he blew himself up right here.”

Tony looked at the shadows over the wall. “Six people died, right?”

“Yeah.”

Tony kept staring at the five shadows on the wall. “Including Chad Davis?”

“Yeah.”

There hadn’t been shadows like this at the Chinese Theatre. A bomb to assist a suicide; a bomb that no one had found the remains of, just like in Taggart’s case. And if it was a mishandling of whatever was making them explode, just like Taggart, it explained the shadows. “Six dead, only five shadows.”

Harley nodded. “Yeah, people said these shadows are like the mark of souls gone to Heaven. Except the bomb guy, he went to Hell on account of he didn't get a shadow. That's why there's only five.”

Tony wasn’t one to mock other people’s beliefs. While his father was atheist and Tony had never been a man of church, his mother was catholic. Still, “Do you buy that?”

The boy shrugged. “That's what everyone says. You know what this crater reminds me of?”

“No idea,” said Tony, thoughts running in his head. Why would Davis commit suicide with people around? Why would he use a bomb for that? He went ‘crazy’ according to people, but from the reports he could identify no one had been there when the bomb detonated. And those who had been there were dead, so who was spreading the rumours he went crazy?

Someone was pushing a narrative on Davis so that he was-

“It reminds me of that giant wormhole, in um... in New York,” said Harley, bringing attention to himself once more. “Does it, uh, remind you?”

Tony scowled at the boy, trying to unsee what he had just pointed out. “That's manipulative. I don't want to talk about it.”

Harley kept looking at him expectantly. “Are they coming back? The aliens?”

Just because Tony was going to therapy, it did not mean that the panic over what he had seen on the other side of the wormhole was simply gone. The panic was there, and bubbling inside of him. “Maybe. Can you stop?” Already his throat was constricting. “Remember when I told you, that I have an anxiety issue?”

“Does this subject make you... make you edgy?”

His lungs were starting to ache, memories threatening to come through. “Yeah, a little bit. Can I just catch my breath for a second?”

He needed to breathe, that’s what the therapist had told him to do. That’s what he did, force himself to breathe.

Just usually he didn’t have a mouthy kid beside him making everything worse. “Are there bad guys in Rose Hills?” His breathing came out a little shaky. “Do you... do you need a plastic bag to breathe into? Do you have medication?”

“Nope.”

“Do you need to be on it?”

He had some that he refused to take unless it was a last resource. “Probably.”

“Do you have PTSD?”

Ah. “Yes,” he said, trying to force his breathing to even out. There was no shame in having PTSD, at least that's what Miss Therapy said. And admitting it meant being one step towards handling it, and keeping Amaya safe.

“Are you... are you going completely mental?” What had Tony done to end up in this particular kid’s garage? This was a literal attack. “I can stop, do you want me to stop? Do you want me to stop?”

God, he was worse than Peter. “Remember when I said to stop doing that? I swear to God, you're going to freak me out!” He managed, looking at him. Somehow the confused worried look on his face did it. He imagined Amaya looking at him like that, and Amaya made him think of Loki, and Loki made him think of the Invasion, aliens falling from the sky -

He stood up abruptly, lungs burning between his struggles to breath and the press of the Arc Reactor. “Ah man, you did it, didn't you? You happy now?”

Harley said something that Tony did not listen to, rushing to get as much space between himself and the wormhole-looking crater, focusing back on the online tricks he had learned between JARVIS and his therapist. 

Didn’t Rhodey once told him something about the shock of cold? He did not want to go through the what can you see, hear or smell’ thing with Harley Keener standing in front of him and possibly making it worse, so he thought fuck it before shoving a bunch of snow in his own face.

Apparently whoever told him that was right. The shock of the cold forced him to gasp and focus on something other than what his mind and lungs were trying to tell him. It sort of reset his breathing to a more natural state, and he slumped against the wall he found behind him, feeling more than a little exhausted.

“What the hell was that?” asked Harley, once Tony caught his breath again.

Little bastard, thought Tony, throwing a bunch of snow in his face. Bullied or not, this nerd was an asshole.

“Your fault, you spazzed me out,” he told him. Harley only looked minimally guilty at that, and Tony couldn’t help but like the kid’s guts. “Okay, back to business. Where were we? The guy who died... relatives? Mom? Mrs. Davis, where is she?”

“Where she always is.”

Finally. “See, now you're being helpful.”

A few minutes later, he found himself walking towards a trashy looking bar, the likes of which he hadn’t set foot in since he became CEO of SI. He had been at a lot of joints like that between the death of his parents and his appointment, finally old enough to go in those establishment without someone laughing in his face or his mother finding out and being all angry about it.

After he became CEO Stane dissuaded him from going there anymore.

He was almost at the door when he bumped into a woman. “Sorry,” he automatically said, before noticing her wallet on the ground. “Lady, this uh...”

She turned around, and Tony forced the surprise to not show on his face when he spotted the burn marks on one side of her face. 

“Thank you,” she said, giving him a smile.

Burn marks and she was hanging around the area that Mrs Davis usually was?

Tony had gotten good at listening to his gut and trusting his instincts, ever since he became Iron Man.

And something told him his recon mission no longer was a simple recon mission anymore.

He hated when JARVIS was right.

Chapter Text

Ýlir, Age of Odin, Asgard

 

Regret was a very odd concept, found Loki.

It wasn't something Loki ever really worried about, before. It wasn't in his nature, or in the nature of anyone on Asgard, really.

There were, of course, actions he had taken or things he had done that he later on was not too happy about; but there had never been something he full on regretted doing.

But the uncomfortable feeling in his chest that had started when he realised he’d have to tell Anthony the truth behind all of his actions after he had left him and Amaya that fateful day, had only grown after his mother had given him the account of how Vanaheim, fair and beautiful Vanaheim, had been seen as a land of cursed creatures and wretched witches during the war between the Aesir and the Vanir.

And it was all because of a simple message Anthony had left him on the minnesbok a few hours ago, a message that he could not stop staring at.

It was a simple message, but the implications behind them...

Lokes, I’m not gonna be at home for a number of hours, I’m conducting a small investigation for Rhodey. Don't worry, Amaya is not with me, she’s gone with Happy to the Parker’s house cause we’re celebrating Christmas. Question, her hands turn blue when she is playing in the snow, but she doesn’t seem to get hurt by that. Should we get her gloves or is she fine to play bare handed?

Loki had been shocked.

Logically, he knew that he was Jotun. He knew that it was his shapeshifting and Odin’s powerful magic that had managed to keep him undetected in the halls of Asgard, that stopped him from showing his true self until he was in contact with an actual Jotun.

He had sensed a little bit of seidr in Amaya, but nowhere as strong as what Loki was capable of. And she didn’t have an enchantment stopping her Jotun self from showing.

But somehow he hadn’t realised that she had a Jotun self in her. Or perhaps he had, and hadn’t want to address it.

She had looked Midgardian, and he had assumed she was Midgardian, even though Aesir genes were usually dominant.

The thing with his shapeshifting was that he didn’t simply appear to be different. He was different. So while he was shapeshifted in the form of an Aesir, he was, for all intents and purposes, Aesir.

That wasn’t the case with Amaya. She was half Jotun and half Midgardian, with no trace of Aesir in her. And Loki was only now realising he knew absolutely nothing about the Jotnar.

The Aesir described the Jotnar as monsters, nothing more than awful creatures, but they had said the same thing about the Vanir, once upon a time. And the Vanir were so full of life, so full of cultures and traditions!

But they also had traits that Aesir did not have, traits such as a lower susceptibility to the cold (which Thor had inherited from Frigga) and to heat. They were, however more prone to injuries, having skin that wasn’t quite as thick as an Aesir’s.

These were all things that Odin, Eir and others had learnt regarding the Vanir because Odin had married one and Thor and Loki, supposedly, were half Vanir. They had learnt the dos and don’ts, to make sure no harm would come to the All-Mother and her children.

What kind of ailments could befall a Jotun or half Jotun? What kind of things should Amaya steer clear of? Midgardians had things like ‘allergies’ and took ‘vaccinations’, what about the Jotnar?

With horror, Loki realised he knew next to nothing regarding his native race, regarding Amaya’s race.

He had rushed to destroy Jotunheim in a bid to ‘protect’ her, but, with the lack of knowledge of Jotnar heritage and life in Asgard, he might have condemned her. For while his shapeshifting protected him, it wouldn’t do the same to her.

It was selfish that this was what made him realise his mistake when dealing with Jotunheim, but it was like someone had ripped his skin right off his bones.

What had he done?

+++

Loki was sitting on the ground of his bedroom, the entire room a mess, when Frigga walked inside.

She might have knocked beforehand, but Loki wasn’t sure, he hadn’t really been paying attention.

“Oh, my son,” she sighed, and he felt her arms around him.

Loki did not cry, but he allowed himself to seek comfort in the warm embrace of his mother. “I’ve made a mistake. I’ve made several, grievous mistakes,” he told her and her hold on him tightened.

“I know,” she answered, because while Frigga was loving and warm and kind, she was also the Queen of Asgard. She did not mind her words, not with her family. “But what matters is what you do next.”

Loki let go after a few seconds, eyeing her for a second. “You have Seen?”

She shook her head. “I do not need to have Seen to know that. You were always the smartest of my children, Loki, and the most like me. I know you’ll do the right thing.”

“I have done the ‘right’ thing for centuries, and it has brought me naught but scorn and pain,” he told her, though it wasn’t a protest. He had already decided on what he would do, long before she had shown up.

Doing good for selfish reasons did not negate the good.

He wasn’t sure he regretted what he had done - he was unhappy with the consequences of his actions, but was regret that simple? 

He was willing to apologise, if only for Amaya’s sake, so that he could try and gain some sort of information on the Jotnar that would help him keep her safe; and if he couldn’t do it himself, some information to give to Anthony in order to protect her.

“That is not a reason to stop,” told him his mother, and Loki nodded, not letting go.

There was really only one thing he could do, to fix this and gain information.

“I am aware that I am confined within my chambers,” he started, careful. “But I wish to rectify my wrongs, somehow. I wish to apologise to the Jotnar.”

His mother did not appear very surprised by the statement, and let out a silent breath. “It is the right thing to do. You are aware that Jotunheim wishes for your head on a platter, yes?”

If they had any sense, they would, yes. As should Midgard, to be honest. 

He nodded.

“And you are aware that, no matter how noble your intentions are, your father,” he gave her a sharp look and she look pained, but amended, “the All-Father will be unlike to lift the seidr dampening cuffs you’re wearing?”

Loki had figured as much. Sure his intentions was not to escape; he truly wanted something resembling a relationship with the Frost Giants, though not for entirely pure reasons.

But if he was given the slightest chance?

The cuffs on his wrist stopped him from accessing his magic, they didn’t drain it. The second those things were off his wrists, Loki would be able to wield his seidr as he had been able to before Thanos, and could skywalk away and hide himself from Heimdall’s gaze within a couple of hours.

And he would.

He wasn’t ashamed to admit that. This was for Amaya, and he’d do anything to try and reunite with her and Anthony once more.

Frigga watched him carefully for a few seconds and nodded, smiling. “Very well. I shall contact Eir and speak to Odin, and see if we will be allowed to venture in Jotunheim so that you can make amends.”

Loki was surprised at her words. “You would come with me?”

She gave him a look. “The Jotnar are not the savages our history tries to teach, but they would still rip you to shreds before you had the chance to explain, if you appeared in their lands. Of course I shall come with.” Then her smile returned. “You are my son, Loki. And I’m proud of you.”

Just like Odin’s avoidance from using Loki’s full name and title at the trial meant something, so did Frigga claiming him as her own while they spoke of visiting his native Realm.

Loki felt a few more vestiges of the anger he still felt for the woman wither in his chest.

“Thank you... mother.”

His mother had tears in her eyes, but she just nodded a couple of times before leaving the room.

Loki watched the door close between them, feeling like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. She had made mistakes, and she wasn’t the perfect woman he had believed her to be in his childhood.

But she was still his mother.

And he loved her.

hopefully Amaya would love him too


Despite requesting and accepting his mother’s help, Loki hadn’t expected the answer to come so swiftly.

The next day he was just finishing the breakfast handed to him by Astrid when his mother walked into his chambers once more, dressed in very heavy clothes.

“The All-Father has accepted your request,” she told him, not a hint of a smile on her face.

Loki had nodded, though more than a little wary.

Whatever discussion had happened between the King and Queen of Asgard had quite obviously not gone well. Had it been three years ago, Loki would have pried and tried to understand what could have transpired between the two of them.

Surely nothing short of a catastrophe could have pushed them away from each other!

But as it was, Loki found that he truly did not care much about the petty things Odin could have thrown in his mother’s face. Because there was no doubt in his mind that whatever had transpired was the All-Father’s doing and not his mother's.

He got himself ready in a matter of minutes, dressing himself in warm and heavy winter cloth. 

To be honest, Loki wasn’t sure if the cold of Jotunheim could injure him or harm in any way. He had long ago noticed that the weather affected him even less than it affected his mother and Thor, but at the time he had just thought that the Vanir genes were stronger in him than they were in the other two.

And while he had gone to Jotunheim before, his mind had been too asunder and plagued by self loathing and hatred to notice if his false skin struggled with the weather or not.

It was better to be safe than sorry. If he found himself too warm, he could simply take off the extra layers, but he doubted the Jotnar would offer him coats if he found himself too cold.

Once he was ready, he stepped out of his chambers with his mother at his side and they proceeded towards the stables.

It had been a while since he had been outside of his chambers and walked through the castle and Asgard as a whole, and the looks and whispers he could sense directed at him as he did just so were the main reason behind that.

He had done what he had done out of promise to Anthony and out of bond to Amaya. Had told the truth despite knowing that his people would either not believe him or think him weak for falling.

Now, the people of Asgard knew what he had gone through, and he could see the fleeting pity in their eyes when some brave noblemen and noblewomen made eye contact with him, when they eyed him and the cuffs around his wrists.

It made him sick to his stomach, made him want to snarl and attack them; remind them that falling at the Mad Titan’s might did not mean he would allow them to disrespect him or think themselves his betters.

But he couldn’t do anything.

That was why he had remained in his chambers long after he had finished helping with the reconstruction of the Bifrost, why he hadn’t left, not even to visit Idunn or attend any feast/family meal that had taken place since his return. The All-Father had not decreed that he not take place in such meals and celebrations, but Loki had no intention of showing his face.

Frigga kept a hand on his elbow, and Loki focused on it, on the familiar weight of it and avoided everyone’s eyes while not once looking down. He was still their prince, for the time being.

He would give up the title in a heartbeat to be with Amaya and Anthony one more time, but right now he was still a prince. And he was walking beside the Queen; the people of Asgard would do right to remember who he was and what his powers were, should they anger him.

It took no time at all for them to arrive to the new rebuilt Observatory, where Heimdall was once more standing post with Hofund in his hands.

When they reached him, Loki did make eye contact with the man.

Loki’s actions were his own, of course, but he could trace everything wrong back to the man currently standing before him, and he hoped his hatred was clear in his eyes.

The Watcher, the man supposed to be royal to the throne of Asgard who instead followed his own agenda under the thought that ‘he was doing it all for the good of Asgard’. If he had listened to Loki and sent the Einherjar directly after them, they wouldn’t have fought long enough for Loki to find out the truth about his birthright. If he hadn’t allowed the Idiots Four to go after Thor, Loki wouldn’t have ended up falling off the Bifrost.

This man had committed multiple crimes against the Crown, including the fact that he would have taken Loki’s head clean off, had Loki not had a weapon on him, and he was allowed to continue guarding his post with no so much of a slap on the wrist.

He claimed himself protector of Asgard and of the people of Asgard, said that nothing was hidden from his sight, and yet did not see or hear Loki, no matter how much he shouted for him, Thor, Frigga-

“All-Mother,” he greeted with a heavy voice, the golden gaze that knew too much and nothing at all settling on Loki for a moment before looking away again. “For Jotunheim?”

His mother nodded, and pulled Loki with her when he remained there, glaring at the Gatekeeper, who pretended he couldn’t feel the burning hatred in his poisonous green eyes.

Had Loki been in command of his power...

“Listen for our call,” commanded the Queen, and Heimdall nodded, moving Hofund on the Bifrost lock.

Loki felt a slight shudder going through him as he stepped beside his mother.

The last time he had been there, standing in front of the Bifrost... he shuddered, trying to push away the memories of coldcoldcold and painpainpain.

Then the bridge activated.

+++

They landed on their feet, and Loki let out a breath, feeling the cold seeping and borrowing in his bones once more.

He hadn’t noticed this, the first time he had landed on Jotunheim with Thor and his friend. Had been too busy worrying, or perhaps he had noticed and just assumed everyone else felt the same way.

The cold wasn’t... cold. It was hard to explain, but it was as if it seeped through his Aesir glamour and settled on his Jotnar bones like a heavy blanked, not at all dangerous or painful.

Frigga shivered slightly, pulling her wool tighter against her before she reached once more for his hand.

The Loki of three years ago would have blushed and complained that he was a child no longer, that he did not need his mother’s hold.

The Loki of now accepted the grounding touch, following in her stead as they started walking towards... something.

It was hard to say what time of the day it was on Jotunheim at the moment. Everywhere around them was covered by snow, and even his superior Aesir sight failed him.

He briefly considered shifting in his Jotun form simply to see how differently his senses would reply to the environment, but the thought made him sick to his stomach. 

Even if the Jotnar turned out not to be the monsters that he had been taught they were, even if they turned out to be incredibly kind and hospitable, the idea of pulling at his glamour and witness his false true skin was unthinkable.

It terrified him.

Frigga remained quiet as they walked, and Loki followed after her, keeping his ears open so that they wouldn’t be attacked out of nowhere.

And yet, he didn’t even sense their presence until Frigga stilled mid step and straightened up, tightening her hold on Loki’s arm.

Only then did he notice the shadows moving a little behind them - shadows that must have been following them for a while now.

They have been hearding us towards here since our arrival, projected his mother in his mind.

Loki gave a half nod to show that he had heard her, but did not try and project anything back.

Mind magic had been the one he had been worse at since the beginning, the one he liked the least. Like blood magic, there were many ways for it to go South. Unlike blood magic, however, it did not need consent to be utilised on someone.

And that was before Thanos turned his greatest weapon - his mind - against him, before he had been forced to perform the unspeakable on other people’s minds.

They came out of the snow slowly, as the mother and son duo remained standing where they were. Tall Jotnar, most of them naked except for the small cloths they were wearing to hide their modesty. 

“What is a Vanir Witch doing on Jotunheim?” asked the one directly in front of them, a staff like weapon in his hold.

There was nothing in him or in his features that foretold his position above everyone else. He looked perfectly average, above 7 ft tall, with the blood red eyes and the strange ridges against his skin. He was wearing shoes, but so was about half of the creatures people with him. He was hairless, but for two sharp horns on his forehead, much larger than the ones Loki had spotted on himself after his transformation.

His mother looked at him with a flame in her eyes that Loki had not seen in a long time. “Queen Frigga All-Mother, Jotun,” she said, sharply. “You’d do well to not insult me if you know what’s good for you.”

It was a tone that had calmed countless arguments between Loki and Thor, but it did nothing for the Jotun. “We will address you as we wish, Queen Frigga, when you bring the half bred with you back into our planet.” He sneered at Loki, who refused to be cowed. “What? Have you come to finish your handiwork, Odinson?”

Loki did not flinch back, keeping his expression as blank as possible.

While the hostility was not familiar - though it was expected - the situation was something he was used to. Normally it was Odin that he and Thor shadowed on his diplomatic visits, but he still knew how he was supposed to act and what he was supposed to do.

Which was nothing.

So he allowed his mother to speak on their behalf. “We are here to speak to seek an audience with King Helblindi, son of Laufey,” she said confidently and again Loki had to school his expression, lest it gave his surprise away.

King Helblindi. 

He of course knew that killing Laufey meant a successor would take his place, but he hadn’t stopped and thought about the implications. Hadn’t stopped and thought that another son of Laufey would take his place.

That he might have other brothers who had not been sacrificed - if so had he been - brothers that Laufey had raised as his own and put in the line of succession for the throne.

The Jotun’s eyes narrowed at her. “And why should we bring you to him, Queen daughter of Njord? Why would we bring him,” he nearly spat when he pointed his spear at Loki, “the halfbreed kinslayer to our King? When he killed the last one?”

Frigga remained unmoved, staring at him. “Because I knew of your presence behind us the second you started following us, and yet I allowed it. You know who I am: Frigga Queen of Asgard and Princess of Vanaheim, daughter of Njord and wife of Odin; seidrmadr, and High Witch of Asgard.” She jutted out her chin in defiance. “I could have chosen to directly appear in your castle and demand an audience, as it would have been my right. But I chose to follow the line of diplomacy, and the Prince of Asgard did the same. Whatever you might think of Asgard and the House of Odin, Loki is Friggason too. Would you scorn me and Vanaheim?”

It was not often that his mother reclaimed her birth right as Princess of Vanaheim, usually content to allow Aesir supremacy to take care of everything for her, so Loki was more than a little startled.

The Jotun watched her carefully for a few more seconds then he nodded, finally bowing. “Very well, Queen Frigga. Dhofr, proceed ahead of us. Tell the King the Queen of Asgard and the kinslayer seek an audience. You, follow me.”

Frigga did not demand that they spoke his name, and Loki did not ask for it either.

Had a Jotun prince who killed Odin showed up on Asgard and demanded an audience with Thor, he would have been slayed before he could speak his irreverent tongue. He could handle name calling.

+++

Loki did not know truly how long it took them to arrive at the place of the audience.

He had the suspicion that they had been taken down a longer route than usual just to annoy them, but it did not matter much. The cold did not seem to bother Loki all that much, and his mother had been using her magic to keep herself warm.

Instead of a castle, however, they were taken to a covered area directly beside what looked like a scar in the ground. The ice over it looked like crystal glass - if crystal glass could be blackened and horrible in a field of white snow.

He didn’t need his mother’s hold on him to tighten to know that it was the site of his attack on Jotunheim, and the settlement around the large scar made him feel slightly ill. 

Settlements around the scar meant that there had been, quite possibly, settlements where the scar had been. Settlements that had burned to a crisp when the Bifrost had been set against Jotunheim. Where there people inside those settlements?

They finally came to stop in front of two Jotnar, and these two looked remarkably different from the ones surrounding Loki and Frigga and the others guarding them.

They were both of the same stature as the rest, but that was where the similarities ended. Where everyone else was almost naked, the two of them were half covered by heavy looking furs instead of tunics, furs that covered them from most of the cold but also proudly displayed the ridges over their chests.

One of them had dark hair over her head, while the other was bald. The one with the hair did not have horns, while the other one did, and both of them had countless trinkets and silver jewellery wrapped along their limbs.

“Queen Frigga,” said the bald one, in a masculine voice. “And the half bred Prince.”

Frigga did not bow, but she did incline her head. “King Helblindi. Queen Farbauti. Thank you for allowing us this audience.”

Queen Farbauti.

Loki did not know much about the Jotnar, but he did know enough to know who she was.

Queen Farbauti, wife of King Laufey.

Which would make her... his birth mother.

He looked at her from the corner of his eyes, trying to find any sort of familiarity between himself and her. But other than the fact that she was one of the few with hair, there was nothing about her that seemed familiar to him. 

King Helblindi made a motion with his hands, and two small sitting benches seemed to emerge from the ground, as well as two thrones for himself and his mother. “I couldn’t help but be curious as to why Odin would send someone we cannot help but respect with someone who tried to destroy us.” His smile lacked any warmth, and it had nothing to do with the frigid weather. “So tell us, Odinson. Why are you here, and why shouldn’t we slay you where you stand, as you and your family have slayed us?”

For the first time since the beginning of the trip, Loki was allowed to speak. He stood up, and put both hands behind him, taking only one step forward.

Farbauti’s gaze was cold as she watched him.

“I am here to apologise for my actions against Jotunheim-” he started, and a deafening roar immediately silenced him once more.

Helblindi was standing, his before now passive face contorted in rage. “How dare you, kinslayer! You come here in our kingdom, knowing we are weakened because of your actions, knowing you have the protection of Asgard and the All-Mother to say sorry? After what you’ve done?!”

Loki opened his mouth to try and protest, offer something more, but Helblindi was still speaking. “Look around you! Look at what you did to us!” With a snarl, he pointed at the charred ground in front of them. “Those are your actions. That’s what you did! Do you know what stood there before you attacked?” Loki did not want to know, but Helblindi spoke nevertheless. “A school stood there. Children! Younglings who have never done something wrong in their lives, who’s sin was to be Jotnar and the victims of some temper tantrum from Odinsons!”

Children.

Children.

Innocent children had suffered because of his actions, because he had wanted to- what had he even thought he was going to achieve?

“104 Jotnar died because of your actions! 28 of them had not even reached the age of majority, and you, like your father before you, killed them!” Helblindi spat to the ground. “Following the footsteps of Odin, killer of children.”

There was bile threatening to spill from his lips, Loki could feel it, and oh. 

Oh, this. This sickness inside him, this crushing feeling, this was regret.

This feeling that was crushing him, that made him want to go back and stop himself, not out of anything other than guilt. This horrible sense of wrongness that he could never right.

He had done this and he couldn't take it away.

He had done this.

“My words will not wipe my wrongdoings,” he said, voice shaking horribly. He didn't want it to, but this... this... Helblindi was breathing harshly, but Farbauti looked surprised by the clear emotion in his voice. “What I did to you can never be fixed. I could offer my life as compensation-”

“Loki!”

He ignored his mother. “But my life 100 times over will not give you back what I took from you. I can offer no explanation for my madness of that day, three years hence. I cannot ask for no forgiveness.”

“Then what do you expect from us, half breed?” questioned Farbauti, watching him carefully. “Forgiveness, you won’t find. Understanding, you surely can’t expect. A clear conscience, perhaps? Is that what you want?”

Loki shook his head, not looking at the woman that maybe, in a different life, would have been his mother. “I don’t expect nothing of you. But I can offer something. I cannot bring back the lives I so carelessly took," children, trapped as the Norns damned Bifrost went straight for them, what had he done?!, "but I can give something else that was taken from you.”

He had not been sure, before coming to Jotunheim, of what he would do. Offer apologies, express his regret... nothing more than that.

But now he knew. Now he understood why Frigga had handed it to him when he had returned to Asgard, claiming it was his birth right and therefore belonged to him.

He reached inside his pocket dimensions and pulled out the Casket of Eternal Winters.

The silence that befell the area around them seemed to be a heavy presence when the Jotnar noticed what he was holding in his hands. 

Loki did not think it possible for Frost- for Jotnar to turn pale, but it was the impression the King, Queen and their subjects were giving all around him. Loki steadfastly did not look at his rapidly blueing skin.

It was a small place to pay when in a erroneous bid to protect his daughter, he had condemned 28 children to death. He deserved worse.

“The Casket...” said Helblindi, taking one step forward before stopping and looking at Loki in complete shock. “You wield it, you... who are you, half bred?”

The mage frowned slightly. Surely they knew who he was? They had seemed to already know of his Jotnar genes, so why did they appear shocked now?

At his confused expression, Farbauti stood up, pulling Helblindi back and stopped mere feet away from Loki, an expression of shock and almost fear in her eyes. “We believed you a bastard of Odin and a Jotun,” she admitted, as if she could read his mind. “But no common Jotun could hold the Casket in their hands and not fall under its magik. So I repeat you the question my son asked, son of Frigga: who are you?”

Loki swallowed, but he did not get the chance to answer before Helblindi himself did. “Laufeyson," he said, eyes wide as he took in the ridges that had now solidified against the skin of Loki's face. “Impossible! What trick is this!”

“It is no trick,” calmly said Frigga, but Helblindi wouldn’t hear of it.

“No, Odin killed my half brother when he stole the Casket,” he said, shaking his head wildly. “He marched his armies in the temple of Winters and killed everyone who stood there in the last battle of Utgard. He killed the priests, the guards and the child, stole the Casket and burned the temple to the ground.” He glared at them both. “I don’t know what magic trickery you are doing, but my half brother Loptr died over a millennia ago.”

“Helblindi,” quietly said Queen Farbauti, as Loki’s mind swam with the new information. “His hold on the Casket is not trick.”

Odin was liar.

He wasn't sacrificed.

He had killed children.

His name was Loptr.

104 casualties, all of them from him.

Odin had lied.

Too much. It was too much. 

But one glaring detail was still begging for his attention, one detail that Loki’s mind had latched on, trying to drown the guilt, fear and confusion in his mind.

“Half... half brother? What do you mean Loptr was your half brother?” he asked, voice tinny and perhaps a little desperate.

Helblindi glared, but Queen Farbauti spoke, her eyes full of wonder and resentment. “He means his mother. Loptr’s.” A beat. “His mother was Aesir.”

Chapter Text

25th December 2012, New York


“What the hell happened?” cried out May, looking at the dynamic trio standing in the hallway in front of her door with horror.

Which was warranted: Tony’s clothing was still singed, Rhodey looked battered, and Pepper still had traces of dried mascara on her cheeks. They all looked like they needed a shower, a meal and a nap, but they were grinning like loons in her doorway.

Tony shrugged, one eyebrow raised and eyes twinkling with mischief. “Merry Christmas?”


It was funny how many things could go wrong in the space of only few hours, mused Tony as he was stayed strung up against a bed frame, both wrists zip tied. Everything had been going so well too!

After he, with Harley’s direction, had found Davis' mother and spoken to her, he had been attacked by a bunch of fire-breathing lava skin people. Except that, unlike the one from the Chinese theatre, they hadn’t blown up and destroyed everything around them. Instead they seemed to be able to control themselves pretty well, and had decided to attack Tony with extreme prejudice.

Tony had been doing pretty well, evading them without the armour - that had been left in sleep mode in the garage - until Harley had been caught. Thankfully, the little gadget (not a weapon, Pep, don’t worry) he had given him had helped them unstick themselves from the very sticky situation, and get away from the various goons milling around. 

By then, between him, JARVIS and the file from Mrs Davis, they had managed to narrow down the place where the Mandarin’s transmission was coming from to Miami, of all places. 

And yes, it was supposed to be a recon mission, but Tony was curious, okay? It was one of his fatal flaws, whatever.

Plus the Mandarin had to be stopped and, the quicker he was stopped, the best chance there was that Rhodey got to actually come with them to Queens for Christmas.

Except that when Tony had arrived at the Mandarin’s residence - fully inconspicuous, of course - he hadn’t found the Mandarin. No, instead he had found a wannabe actor by the name of Trevor Slattery who had apparently been pretending to be the Mandarin, for whatever reason.

And now here was; strung up - and not in a sexy way - with a throbbing headache and what was probably the beginning of a concussion.

And before him stood someone incredibly familiar. “Ah...” he said, sighing slightly. “Okay.”

It might have been 12 years since they had last seen each other, but while he pretended otherwise, Tony was pretty good with faces. 

Doctor Maya Hansen smiled at him, clearly not very happy to see him either. “It's just like old times, huh?”

“Oh, yeah. With zip ties,” he drawled, “It's a ball.” Then he huffed. “So it was you who had the appointment with Pepper. I did think the name was familiar,” he said and then affected a bored expression. “So what is it? I didn’t sleep with you that day so you decided to become a serial killer?”

Tony wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t met Loki at the bar when he went to get Maya a drink. He probably would have slept with her, but other than that? He wouldn't have Amaya, that was for sure, which meant it was already a terrible timeline.

Hansen pursed her lips together. “It wasn't my idea,” she finally said.

A bit rich, coming from the woman who had him strung up like a turkey, but there was something he had learn from Trevor, while he had him at gunpoint. “Killian, then. You decided to take his card.”

“I took his money,” she corrected and Tony snorted at the way she attempted to distance herself from her own decision. God, what had he seen in her? Right, pretty face, fancy brain, interesting research.

“And here you are 13 years later, in a dungeon,” he commented.

She gave him a look at this. “No.”

“Yeah.”

“No, you're in a dungeon,” she sweetly corrected. “I'm free to go.”

Tony wasn’t sure if she truly believed that or she was simply talking. “Yeah?”

He had never met Aldrich Killian in his life, but he knew the type. Pepper had a lot to vent about after she had returned home from her meeting with him, retelling him all about what it was like to work for the man. 

It wasn’t pretty. The man was delusional and kind of stalkery, and that was Tony being polite.

Hansen sighed, walking towards him. “A lot has happened, Tony. But I'm close. Extremis is practically stabilised.”

“I'm telling you it isn't,” hissed Tony, feeling his temper raising. But give him a break. Could she not see the people blowing up all over the place? “I’m on the streets. People are going bang. They're painting the walls. Maya, you're kidding yourself.”

“Then help me fix it,” she demanded, eyes bright with a strange sort of intensity.

Tony gave her a look of intense confusion. “I’m not a botanist or any type of biologist. What makes you think I can?”

“Tony if there is anyone on Earth who can, at this point, it’s you!” she said, shaking her head. “The ideas you gave me while we were talking, before you disappeared? You were drunk out of your ass, and still 85% of them worked!”

“I don’t remember any of that,” told her Tony, flatly. 

“Doesn’t matter what you remember,” she said, coldly. “You can fix it. I know you can. You created a new element out of a construction toy your father gave you.”

Was that what the news said?

“Honey, all I remember of that night is the pretty guy I left with,” he said, quite honestly. “Long hair, longer legs, sinful tongue? Yeah. I don’t even understand what the fuck Extremis is supposed to be. All I remember of you was that you were a botanist.”

She looked vaguely crestfallen at that. “You don't remember your ideas?”

Of course he remembered. Tony remembered enough to know that while he might not be able to fully fix it, he could somehow reduce and minimize the effects as well as the outputs. 

But he wasn’t gonna tell her that.

“I can't help you,” he lied, shaking his head. Then he forced his expression to soften slightly. “You used to have a moral psychology. You used to have ideals. You wanted to help people. Now look at you.” There were the beginnings of tears in her eyes, but considering what she had helped create? Tony did not feel an ounce of pity for her. “You sold your soul to the devil and you didn’t even get a good deal for it. But you can stop it. You can put an end to it.” He stared at her intensely willing her to believe in him. “Get me out of here. Do it, and we can maybe-”

But Maya was already walking away from him as one of the doors to the dungeons suddenly opened and a blond man walked in.

“You know what my old man used to say to me?” he said, apropos to nothing, as he went down the stairs. “One of his favourite of many sayings... ‘The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese’.”

Tony blinked at him, not answering. He knew who he was, but despite Pepper’s complaints, he had not actually checked to see what he looked like. Though he had gotten the impression from Pepper that he used to be ugly and now was no longer so. “Who the hell are you?”

The man just gave him a smile. “Don’t play stupid, Tony. It doesn’t suit you,” he said, putting down the box he was holding. “You know, you and I were supposed to meet.”

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t think so. I’m not CEO.”

“No, no, not at SI,” he said, shaking his head. “Bern. Switzerland.”

Just how many things and people had the Universe lined up for him to meet in Bern? Yinsen, Wu, Hansen, Loki and now this guy.

“Spent almost my last dollar buying a ticket to the conference because I knew you were gonna be there. Wanted to pitch you my idea, my think thank: Advanced Idea Mechanics, AIM. I even had a shirt.” His smile dropped slightly. “Spent hours at that event looking for you, and you never even gave me a chance. It was by chance that I even heard your bodyguard telling this lovely lady,” he pointed at Hansen, who didn’t look at him in the eye, “that you had ditched her and gone off with someone else.

“You know, I should thank you,” he continued, and Tony frowned at him, in slight confusion. “You gave me the greatest gift that anybody's ever given me. Desperation. I invested all I had to meet you there and then you didn’t even have the decency to be around. I thought I was done for. That I shouldn’t bother returning home, that maybe I should toss out my cane and becoming one with the snow, if you know what I mean.”

If he was looking for empathy from Tony while he had him strung up on whatever the fuck torture device this was, he was looking the wrong way. “Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out what happened to the first mouse.”

Killian continued as if he hadn’t heard him. “But as I considered it, as I watched everyone eventually leave the venue for their New Years celebrations and after parties, I realised something: nobody knew I was there. Nobody could see me, no one was even looking. I had a thought that would guide me for years to come." He smiled. "Anonymity, Tony. Thanks to you, it's been my mantra ever since. Ruling from behind the scenes. Because the second you give evil a face, a Bin Laden, a Gaddafi, a Mandarin, you hand the people a target.”

Great, this man wasn’t simply insane. He was a fanatic. A fanatic that blamed Tony for his own failure at budgeting. “You're something else.” 

“You have met him, I assume?” asked Killian, as if this was a normal conversation.

Tony needed more data, so he allowed it. “Yes. Sir Laurence Oblivier.”

Killian grimaced a little. “I know he's a little over the top sometimes. It's not entirely my fault. He has a tendency... He's a stage actor.” Good god. “They say his Lear was the toast of Croydon, wherever that is. Anyway, the point is, ever since that big dude with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety has kind of had its day.”

Thor. Tony didn’t like the dude much, but he was getting used as a scapegoat everywhere; first Fury excusing his WMD with him, now Killian... “What's next for you in your world?”

He smiled, and Tony felt a chill of dread. “Well, I wanted to repay you the self-same gift that you so graciously imparted to me.” He rolled three balls forward and when they stopped, there was an image being projected. “Desperation.”

Tony looked up, and everything inside him froze.

Pepper. Killian had Pepper strung up in a sports bra and yoga pants, restrained by heavy metal things and burning alive from the inside with the Extremis virus. Her face was contorted in pain, and even without hearing her voice, he could tell that she was crying, agonized.

That second was the moment that Tony decided, with absolute certainty that Killian was gonna die.

No one fucked with his family. That was a lesson everyone knew about Tony Stark. Very few tried it and those who did, did not walk away unscathed. Tony did not simply kill the people who went after the ones he cared about. There was a reason, after all, that despite how close to him Pepper, Happy and Rhodey were, they never got kidnapped in his stead.

Tony ruined the people who touched those he considered his.

Killian had just signed his death warrant and Tony would take pleasure in destroying him until he was a dark spot on the wall.

“Now, this is live,” continued Killian unaware or not caring about the unbridled rage in Tony’s eyes. “I'm not sure if you can tell, but at this moment the body is trying to decide whether to accept Extremis or just give up.” Slowly. He’d kill him slowly, cut him to pieces and make him eat them. “And if it gives up, I have to say, the detonation is quite spectacular.” And when he was done, then Tony would cut off his head and rip his heart out of his body. Let’s see how well Extremis regenerated that. “But until that point, it's really just a lot of pain. We haven't even talked salary yet.”

Suddenly Killian was standing in front of him, a hand on his throat and skin heating up. Tony welcomed the pain, cause at least he wasn’t staring at Pepper’s burning body anymore. “What kind of perk package are you thinking of?”

“Let him go.”

Killian looked irritated. “Hold on, hold on,” he said, turning around. “Maya...” He started and then stopped.

Tony looked up and away from Pepper to find the young scientist with a needle pointed at her own neck, voice steady despite the slight fear in her eyes. “I said, let him go.”

“What are you doing?”

She did not vacillate. “1200 CCs. A dose half of this size, I'm dead.”

Tony had not forgotten the fact that Hansen had obviously something to do with Pepper being kidnapped, but at the moment, he’d take any ally he could.

“It's times like this my temper is tested somewhat,” said Killian, sighing. “Maya, give me the injector.”

She took a step back, not letting go. “If I die, Killian, what happens to your soldiers? What happens to your product?”

“We're not doing this, okay?” he told her, taking another step.

Hansen kept walking backwards, forcing him to move further away from Tony. “What happens to you? What happens if you go too hot?”

Killian looked back at Tony with a calculating look on his face. Then, without giving either of them a chance to react he pulled up a gun and shot Hansen straight in the chest.

Tony looked at the botanist crumple to the ground, red spilling from her wound and staining her shirt and feeling vaguely sick. He had no feelings for Hansen - at least no good ones - but this... if Killian could do this to someone he had been working with for a year at the very least-

Killian smiled at him quite affably. “The good news is, a high-level position has just been vacated.”

Hansen looked at Tony with wide panicked eyes as the blood continued spilling out of her wound. 

God, he felt sick. Tony was not new at witnessing death (Yinsen, the Ten Rings, Obadiah, Vanko...) but this... “You are a maniac.”

“No, I'm a visionary,” counterargued Killian, walking back the way he came from. “But I do own a maniac. And he takes the stage tonight.” 

With that, he left the room, leaving Tony alone with a dead botanist.

+++

On the plus size: Killian seemed to only hire complete idiots. 

Once the man was gone, it was the work of minutes to get the suit to get there from the 832 miles distance between Miami and Tennessee. Once all of the goons were taken care off, Tony had found Rhodey walking around the base without his armour on, and had the dubious pleasure of introducing him to the ‘Mandarin’.

Rhodey was very unimpressed with it all. 

With his help though, the two of them managed to find out where to go next in regard to saving Pepper and the President - who was apparently Killian's real target (it was all very confusing).

The bad news: they did not manage to save the President.

The good news: they managed to save a bunch of other people who were on the plane and kill another Extremis soldier.

In the end, while the suit was mostly operational - spare a couple bumps and scrapes courtesy of Extremis soldiers who could fucking melt part of his suit, apparently - they left it a couple of steps behind them under JARVIS’ control as they proceeded towards the ship Mr Method Actor had said the entire thing was gonna take place on.

Tony kept in contact with JARVIS the entire time, cannibalizing the tech from the Mandarin’s boat’s radio to do so. Rhodey mostly ignored them as the two of them spoke equation after equation to each other, trying to find a base formula that would work on Pepper once they got their hands on her.

Because Pepper wasn’t dying on Tony’s watch. Tony would fix Extremis if it was the last thing he did.

He even had JARVIS communicate with Banner once they found three equations that might be able to stabilize it, so that he could help them pick the best one while JARVIS ran diagnostics (like he had done when Tony had been suffering from the Palladium).

It worked to keep his mind off the fact that they were on a boat surrounded by the freaking Ocean, at least.

Now, Tony had gone to therapy, and it had worked pretty well, but that did not mean he was comfortable being in the middle of that much water - ironic, for someone who lived in California and made it a habit to go to his private beach with his daughter in the summer and had a swimming pool in his house.

Fear wasn’t logical.

“We’re here,” called Rhodey, a few hours later. “Keep the suit on here for now, we’re gonna scale the ship.”

Tony grinned at him, trying to focus on anything but the water. “I like it when you take leadership, honeybear. You sound hot.”

Rhodey rolled his eyes at the comment, but didn’t chastise him for it. They had been friends since MIT, after all; he understood Tony and all of his quirks, even his incessant need of using humour to make a dangerous situation feel somehow less serious.

Together, they took the few weapons they had found stashed all around the ship and climbed on board of the Norco. Were they not trying to stay undetected, Tony might have even made an ill appropriate joke about pirates. That might have gotten him a slap over the head from Rhodey, though.

“Come on,” called said man as they climbed aboard, rushing to hide between one of the huge crates in the room. “You're not gonna freak out on me, right?”

About the water, or Pepper, or the entire situation? “I hope not.”

They moved quickly and quietly on the ship, and it took a couple minutes of Tony following after Rhodey for them to find the President.

“Oh, my God,” said Rhodey, pointing at where the Iron Patriot (god, the paintjob was so ugly) suit was basically in the crucifixion position over a tank of oil. “He's strung up over the oil tanker. They're gonna light him up, man.”

Fuck. “Viking funeral,” Was that an Aesir culture leftover or was it a fucked up human ritual? “Public execution.”

“Yeah, death by oil,” said Rhodey. Somewhere, a Buzzfeed writer was typing an article with that very catchphrase.

Then Rhodey gave him a nod, and they were rushing towards the President at an even quicker pace.

Broadcast will commence shortly. Take final positions,” came the announcement, and Tony focused on Rhodey instead of what the situation could mean for Pepper (and the President, sure. But mostly, Pepper).

It was interesting to watch Rhodey in action. Sure, Tony had always been aware that his best friend was a soldier. He had the moral compass and the attitude and everything. There was no soldier-er soldier than Rhodey Rhodes.

But it was quite another thing to watch him in action. Gone was the goofy and sarcastic man Tony knew, and someone more imposing, more focused showed up. Someone who knew what to do and when to do it.

Watching footage from the Battle of New York had shown him that Rogers was a natural leader. Rhodey’s presence was even more powerful than his, somehow, and Rhodey did that without even being a super soldier. It was impressive, really.

“Is your gun up?” questioned Rhodey.

Tony immediately lifted it. “Yep. What do I do?”

Not that Tony didn’t know how to shoot or how to use a gun. He made the guns (or used to). He knew how to use them. He was just showing Rhodey that he was following his lead.

His best friend shot him a knowing look, but his gun remained trained. “Stay on my six, cover high, and don't shoot me in the back.”

“Six, high, back. Alright,” he said, and as if they jinxed themselves, they started getting shot at. They quickly took cover from the fight, trying to shoot at their assailants. Running while shooting was not very conductive method of fighting, so half of Tony's shots went wide. “You see that? Nailed it.”

Rhodey did not look impressed, which was hurtful. “Yeah, you really killed the glass.”

Tony glared at him, offended. “You think I was aiming for the bulb? You can't hit a bulb at this distance.”

Instead of answering, Rhodey quickly looked up and aimed for said bulb, hitting it like he was goddamn Hawkeye. Then he raised an eyebrow at him, as if to say ‘and that’s that’.

“You know, this newfound heroism is making me very attracted to you, Rhodeybear. Wanna try make out for a second?” he asked him, wiggling his eyebrows at the disgusted man, as the announcer spoke up again.

All personnel, we have hostiles on east unit 12,

“That’s not good,” muttered Rhodey, as the Extremis soldiers started to move again.

I repeat, hostiles on east unit 12.

Tony quickly stood up, trying to see if anyone was heading their way, and then sat back down.

“What'd you see?”

“Too fast. Nothing,” said Tony, then moved back again, quickly scanning the place in a way only years of using the armour could have taught him before sitting back down again. “Okay. Three guys, one girl, all armed.”

Rhodey swore under his breath. “God, I would kill for some armour right now.”

“You're right. We need backup,” said Tony, checking the horizon. Were those stars or...

“Yeah, a bunch,” sighed Rhodey.

Tony smirked a little as the stars continued to move. “You know what?” he said, then nodding in direction of the ‘stars’.

Rhodey stared between Tony and the 'stars' in confusion for a second before it clicked. “Is that...?”

“Yep,” said Tony, finally giving up pretences and grinning.

“Are those...?” Rhodey looked truly stunned.

“Yeah,” he repeated, as the Iron Man suits finally came into view, surrounding the entire ship. “Merry Christmas, buddy.”

Rhodey looked back at him, both impressed and horrified. “Dude, please never go evil and decide to take over the world?”

Tony did not deign that with an answer, instead speaking to the comm/radio he had made earlier. “JARVIS, target Extremis heat signatures. Disable with extreme prejudice.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the AI from all the armours in creepy synchronicity.

Rhodey was wrong, if there was someone gunning for world domination, then it was clearly J.

“What are you waiting for? It's Christmas,” he then said, coming forward and crossing himself. He wasn’t really religious, but it was Christmas and Maria Stark was devoted. Also, dramatic timing. “Take them to church.”

What followed was hard to follow even for someone as used to the suits as Tony was. Rhodey did look at him funny when he heard Tony calling them by name, but what did he expect? Him to call all of them by number? That was dehumanizing, and he wouldn’t do that to his children.

As the fighting progressed, JARVIS sent him a suit and Tony separated himself from Rhodey. That had been the part one of the plan: he got Pepper out, and Rhodey got the President. 

“Sir, I've located Ms Potts,” told him JARVIS, and Tony let out a breath.

“About time,” he said. “Has Bruce gotten back to you for the equation?”

“He had a lot of questions, but it is as safe as an experimental substance can be. I have calculated that there is a 98.632% chance of Miss Potts’ survival. With the parameters we already have, we won’t be able to go any higher,” finished the AI as they landed in the middle of one of the containers.

Not the perfect odds, but the best he had.

He found Pepper quickly, half buried under the debris but thankfully unharmed.

The second he started moving them, however, she startled back into consciousness, looking panicked as the structural integrity of the room went further down. “Stop! Put it down. Put it down. Put it down.”

Tony did, swallowing thickly. “See what happens when you don’t listen to me about an early Christmas vacation?” he asked her, keeping his voice light.

Pepper half laughed half cried, but there was relief on her face. “You're such a jerk.”

“Yep,” agreed Tony. “We'll talk about it at May’s.” He reached out and she reached out too, sobbing as she tried to grab onto him. “Come on. A little more, darling,” he pleaded, feeling a second of hope when her fingers touched his.

And then suddenly Killian climbed through a hole in the ground, making Pepper cry out in fear as he pushed a hand on the Reactor, and Tony wince in pain.

“Is this guy bothering you?” he asked, obviously trying for that arrogant/cool type of charm Tony was famous for and failing miserably. “Don't get up. Ooh,” He put a finger on his suit, again, quickly heating up the entire material - note to self: invest on suits that are better at conducting heat because this was ridiculous at this point. “Is it hot in there? Stuck? Do you feel a little stuck? Like a little turtle, cooking in his little turtle suit.”

“Tony,” whispered Pepper, barely audible over the sound of his own groaning.

“She's watching,” told him the maniac, sounding gleeful. All of this because Tony slept with Loki and didn’t meet him. What kind of bullshit was this? “I think you should close your eyes. Close your eyes. Close your eyes, you don't want to see this,” he said, and with that he made to punch him in the face with a fist of fire.

Tony was quicker than him though, and he immediately cut down that limb before it could do any harm. Killian groaned in pain even as the limb started regenerating, and Tony felt a sense of vindictive satisfaction at that. “Yeah, you take minute,” he said, and then blanched when the cut limb opened a hole on the floor and made Pepper fall.

Shit. “JARVIS, give me a suit right now!” He demanded, as the suit he was in disassembled and he chased after the machinery moving Pepper’s platform around. “Come on!”

The President is secure, Tony, I’m clearing the area,” came Rhodey’s voice from the comms. So he had gotten the President and the suit back, that was good.

“Nice work,” he said, breathing harshly, still running after the moving platform. While he still had a pretty good stamina despite it, the Arc Reactor really did not help his lungs.

He kept moving until he located Pepper again, stuck in a very uncomfortable spot and way too close to falling for his tastes. The goddamn... thing was still moving. “Pep, I got you,” climbing on the railings and leaning forwards. “Relax, I got you.”

There was a loud clang noise that had her whimpering, and Tony reached out even further. “Just look at me!” She was too far, he couldn’t move any further without plummeting to his death. “Honey, I can't reach any further and you can't stay there, all right? You've got to let go.” Tears shone in her eyes when she met his. “You've got to let go! I'll catch you, I promise.”

She gritted her teeth together, terrified out of her wits, but still tried to reach forward towards him, to-

The machinery they were on caught against something and, almost in slow motion, Tony saw Pepper losing her grip. “No!” He shouted, feeling a chilling fear in his bones as he watched, unable to say anything else or move, as Pepper fell into the fire.

As she fell to her death.

As she fell.

Died.

Pepper.

His Pepper.

The woman who had stood by him for over ten years now. The woman who had trusted him when he decided he could no longer make weapons. The woman who had taken the reigns for SI because she trusted Tony’s trust in her, even when she did not believe in herself. The woman who had become one of his best friends for life.

Amaya’s favourite Aunt.

His Pepper.

He didn’t know how long stared at the burning fire beneath him, feeling the numbing and all encompassing grief rush all over him. Could have been seconds, could have been minutes, he wouldn’t have been able to tell.

(Not Pepper... why Pepper? She didn’t belong to this world of terrorists and fights and superheroes...)

But then Killian was there and Tony had a target. He had something to hit, something to blame.

Because he was the one who brought her here. He was the reason she was dead.

He killed Pepper.

When Tony attacked him, this time, he meant it. He ran at the man, feigning at the last minute and sliding inside his suit as they faced off against each other.

Mark 42 unfortunately met a sudden and unexpected death, but Tony could not find it in himself to care. He flew and kicked at Killian with everything he got, only the knowledge of Amaya making him take care of not falling to his death himself.

They flew at containers after containers in a frenzy of suits and flames, and kicks and punches - and none of them seemed to actually faze the man.

Even after Tony blew the fuck out of his own armour with him inside and ended up crashing against the bridge of the ship, surrounded by flames, the man somehow reappeared down with him, burnt to a crisp but still burning. If Maria Stark had been here, she’d have believed Killian to be the Anti Christ or something.

“No more false faces,” said the man voice guttural as he stumbled towards him. “You said you wanted the Mandarin. You're looking right at him. It was always me, Tony! Right from the start! I am the Mandarin!”

Tony prepared himself for the impact of the flames on his skin, but before Killian could touch him a piece of rebar struck his neck and sent him flying.

And there was Pepper. Alive. Flamey. Alive. Angry. Alive.

Pepper.

Alive.

Tony just stared, unsure if he was hallucinating or if he should believe his eyes, because at this point? After playing Super Mario against Satan himself? “I got nothing.”

And then he got to sit down and watch as Pepper Potts (she was alive, holy shit) single handedly hand Killian’s ass back to him and absolutely annihilate him.

It was hot. Really hot, no pun intended.

“Pep?” he called out, once Killian was finally dead, looking over at her a little worried.

Pepper turned to him, looking freaked out. “Oh my god,” she said, as her eyes returned to their normal blue. “That was really violent.”

There is my Pepper, he thought, approaching her slowly. “You just scared the devil out of me. I thought you were-”

“Dead." She finished for him. "Why? Because I fell 200 feet?” She gave him a smile that was on the edge of hysterical. “Who's the hot mess now?”

“It's still debatable,” he said, opening his arms to hug her.

Thank whatever force was out there for her being alive. 

“No,” she said, flinching back. “Don't touch me, I’m gonna burn you.”

“Don't worry about it,” he said, touching her arm to show it was okay. Honestly, he was taking a bet, but he was glad to see it didn’t burn. “See? Not hurt.”

Pepper choked back a sob. “Am I gonna be okay?”

“No. You're friends with me,” he joked, and then turned serious. “Me and JARVIS had been noting down possible equations and solutions my whole way here. We have it narrowed down to three. If we’re lucky, we can still make Christmas dinner.”

Pepper didn’t stop her tears this time around, and Tony just held her as the flames continued to roar around them.


“And that’s what happened,” finished Tony, sitting on the floor of the Parkers residence with Amaya between his legs, showing him the gifts she had opened already.

Pepper rolled her eyes. “Sure, if we completely ignore the part where we went back to Cali first, and Tony and JARVIS injected me with an Extremis fix they had been working on the entire time, and then we grabbed clothes, got into a jet and rushed here because Tony is a softie who refuses to be ‘at work’ on Christmas when he could be with his girl.”

Amaya looked up from the plushie Ben had gifted her. “I’m his girl!”

“Yes you are,” agreed Tony, glad that May had demanded for them to wash their faces and get changed before the little girl had jumped him. Now he got to kiss and cuddle her without worrying about getting her dirty.

“I’m glad you’re okay, Pep,” said May, offering the other woman a hug that she immediately reciprocated. 

“So the Mandarin is gone?” asked Peter, looking at Tony and Rhodey in awe. “You are so cool, Uncle Tony and Uncle Rhodey.”

“Best superheroes on both coasts,” declared the Colonel, hand raised high.

“Avengers who?” answered Tony, grinning as they high fived.

Yes. They would all be okay.

For now he would enjoy Christmas with his family.

Chapter Text

Gormánuðr, Age of Odin, Asgard 

 

Loki inspected her reflection in the mirror critically, lips pursed as she brushed her hair. It was far longer than she was used to keeping it, but for once she felt no rush to find a pair of scissors and decrease the size of her mane (oh, how many times had her mother run into the room and screeched like a banshee at the sight of her child standing in front of a mirror with a dagger in her hands and strands of hair on the ground!). 

She considered braiding it, momentarily, but in the end chose to let her hair remain as it was. Perhaps her mother would be willing to braid it for her, if she decided to come by later on. Normally Queen Frigga showed up in the morn, or the early evening, but Idunn had chosen to come visit Loki today, and Frigga hadn’t wanted to intrude.

She looked down at the silver circlet she had been wearing during their chat, now resting on her dresser, fingers tracing the outline of the emerald. It was given to her by Jotunheim, and while it was not exactly a tiara or a crown, the intent behind it was clear.

It was more honorary than an actual claim from the Jotnar, but Loki was content with it nevertheless. When she had gone to them the first time, almost a year ago, she had just wanted to make amends for the hurt she had caused. And now, they almost considered one of their own.

Her relationship with Jotunheim was still... rocky, to say the least. While the Royal family had mostly accepted her by now, there was a lot of dissent in regards to her position by the other Chieftains.

They had been mollified when Loki had stood next to King Helblindi in her Jotun form and clearly forsaken her claim to the Crown of Jotunheim (while at the same time letting the Jotnar know that she did belong to the Crown Family), but Loki knew they would never truly be happy with her and her existence.

And she understood it, of course. After all, she had caused so much destruction among their people, among their families. It was perfectly understandable that they be wary of her.

She had not truly expected anything when she had gone to the planet with her mother that day, almost two seasons ago. She had expected to come, beg for mercy, mayhaps give them the Casket of Ancient Winters and hopefully manage to get at least one Jotun to share some information on the Jotnar and their biology with her.

It wasn’t what happened, though.

After being attacked with the news that she was half Aesir after all - which meant that Amaya was ¼ Aes, ¼ Jotun, and ½ Midgardian - Queen Farbauti had indicated for the guards to leave herself, King Helblindi, his mother and Loki alone.

There, she had given her the bare bones of what she knew about Loptr, the lost child of Laufey. 

Loptr, a young Jotun born out of the union of Laufey and an Aesir of royal descent. A powerful sorceress, powerful enough to terrify Odin, when he learnt of her union to Laufey. Powerful enough that Odin had gathered all of his energies and magic and cast a powerful spell over the entire of the Nine Realms.

A memory altering spell - not unlike the one Loki had casted on herself when she had wanted to keep the information of Amaya and Anthony away from the Mad Titan - that effectively erased the existence of the woman from the minds of everyone in the Nine Realms. 

Laufey had been the only one to remember anything about the Aesir, in the end, and had shared the information with Farbauti once Jotunheim had demanded for him to re-marry and produce more heirs.

He had told Farbauti about how enraged Odin had grown when he had learnt of their union, a rage that could have made the war last a 1000 years more. So when he and the sorceress had given birth to a beautiful and magically powerful child, they had scrambled to hide them in the most holy of their places: the Temple of Ancient Winters, surrounded by holy priests to keep the babe safe.

And while the child was being hidden in the temple, the Aesir sorceress and Laufey descended into battle with Odin, the same battle in which the All-Father ended up losing an eye.

According to Farbauti, Laufey’s recollection of the events following that were hazy at best. He claimed to have returned to the temple alone, days later. Odin had left the battle once he had lost his eye, and he and the Aesir woman had been victorious. But mere hours later, he had woken up in the snow to find the woman gone and his memory altered; things he recalled of her, simply escaped his mind, and he knew this meant something terrible had happened.

So he had rushed back to the Temple of Ancient Winters, just to find it burning among the ice, the dead bodies of the priests the only things remaining, and both the Casket and his child gone. There had been one survivor, but he too died not long after informing Laufey that Loptr was ‘gone’.

Frigga had looked away at this, her hold on Loki’s arm tightening, but Loki had been just too shocked about Farbauti’s words to reassure her that he remained her son. Instead he had listened as Farbauti continued narrating what Laufey had told her.

About how, despite everyone recalling the lost child, no one no one had seemed to recall the Aesir woman, not even Laufey himself. The tales of Odin, slayer of children, began to circulate around Jotunheim in memory of Loptr, but other than the few Royals who believed Laufey and the mages, who still felt the traces of the spell that had been cast in the air, no one mentioned or thought of Loptr’s mother anymore.

Eventually, Laufey was pressured into marrying Farbauti herself; but, despite the marriage giving him two strong children, the King was never the same after the loss of his first born.

“He became harsher, more cruel. Bitter,” said Queen Farbauti, pouring a cup of tea for all four of them. Frigga accepted hers with a polite thanks, but Loki had remained frozen where he was. “Some people thought his soul died with Loptr, that day.”

Loki hadn’t known what to think or say.

Finding out she had not been abandoned for being a ‘runt’ - apparently, height among the Jotnar directly correlated to their magic abilities - had not brought her as much joy as one would have expected. All it had brought Loki was a sense of loss and a new wave of self hatred for having so callously killed the man who had been plagued with grief ever since the All-Father had decided to, for all intents and purposes, kidnap her from her home world.

Odin must have been so pleased, she had thought bitterly. He had stolen away his enemy’s child, made the entire galaxy forget his enemy’s lover, raised the enemy’s child to hate his own kind and in the end his enemy had fallen at the hands of his own blood, never knowing the truth.

They had gone home after that, thought Frigga had made it clear that they would return. Loki had mustered enough attention to vow to them she would return to fix the damage she could, leaving the Casket with them as a sign of good faith, even though no one other than her would be able to use it (apparently, while Jotunheim boasted a number of mages, only one who the Casket itself had accepted would be able to wield its magic; and the Casket had chosen Loki), but she had been out of it as she followed her mother back to Asgard.

She hadn’t even glared at Heimdall when they had returned, and instead retreated to her chambers as soon as Frigga allowed her to do so. There she had transprojected to Midgard, the only place she knew she could go and have a chance to be listened to with no prejudice (other than Idunn’s garden, but Loki couldn’t very well just go and see Idunn).

The only bad thing regarding the situation was that it meant Loki had to explain herself to Anthony, which meant telling him everything. But she gone ahead anyway: it had been high time that he knew the truth, anyway.

That had been months ago.

With her mother as her guardian, Loki had returned to Jotunheim plenty of times, afterward. While the Jotnar were wary, especially at the beginning, they became increasingly more thankful as she first healed the scar in Utgard and then the most high at risk areas of Jotunheim with the Casket. Loki did not think she deserved their gratefulness - no matter how much she helped, it wouldn’t bring back those 104 Jotnar she had so carelessly killed - but it was nice to not be referred to as kinslayer and half breed all the time anymore.

Working with the Casket had also forced her to interact with her Jotun heritage, seen as she was unable to use the Casket without her skin turning a deep turquoise. She wasn’t happy with it, and it caused a great deal of discomfort having to see the ridges in her skin and the different shade, and the blood red eyes.

But it was part of her, and Loki couldn’t change it even if she wanted.

She wouldn't say she had embraced that part of her, but she had at least stopped cringing away from reflective surfaces when she was in her Jotun form, which she considered an improvement of sorts.

Frigga, after all, did not seem to mind the change. 

The Jotnar seemed to actually prefer her in her Jotun skin, which made sense, of course, but did not make Loki feel any better.

King Helblindi had even tried to call her Loptr, once, while she was wearing her natural skin, but Loki had shut down that quickly.

And speaking of the King.

For someone who had been born after Loki, Helblindi looked and acted a lot like he was far older than Loki. While it had taken him a while to adjust to the idea that the person who killed his father was his long lost sibling, the more time Loki was forced to spend in her Jotun form to help Jotunheim, the easier it seemed to become for him to seemingly accept her.

He was still wary of her, especially when she was in her male Asgardian form - a possible pavlovian response, according to Anthony - but he had thawed enough to chastise the last Chieftain who had demanded she stopped coming to Jotunheim.

On the other side, his sibling Býleistr took to Loki immediately, much to everyone’s consternation. They were married to one of the Chieftains’ daughters and thus did not live at Court. But they were there the third time Loki showed up, and barely gave Loki a chance to politely greet them before they were enveloping her in a hug and literally lifting her from the ground (did she mention Býleistr was 9 ft tall?!).

Loki had been embarrassed beyond reason (and more than a little confused), while Býleistr had simply laughed off his brother’s hiss and Queen Farbauti’s scolding. Even Frigga had been hiding a little grin behind her hand, Loki just knew it.

Now she was grateful for them.

It had been Býleistr that Loki went to, when she needed/wanted more information regarding the Jotnar. From them, Loki had learnt about the fact that most Jotnar were of both genders. That magic aptitude was common on Jotunheim, and celebrated. That the ability to freeze people with a touch was nothing more than a defence mechanism, rather than something that happened continuously.

That, like she suspected, she had both Aesir and Jotun magic, because of her upbringing, who her parents were, and ‘the power she wielded within herself’. Her shapeshifting was a form of Jotun magic, and Loki had been able to shift between genders again under their tutelage, despite the magic constraints on her wrists.

Býleistr had also shown her the library, and that was the main reason Loki continued to return to Jotunheim with her mother even long after her work with the Casket was done.

No one stopped her, and while the Chieftains still complained, no one dared kicking her out. 

It was healing, and it gave Loki a chance to learn more about Jotunheim and the Jotnar. If her mother or Queen Farbauti were confused by her rush to learn as much as she could regarding the Jotnar, they did not show it.

Slowly, with Helblindi’s favour and Býleistr’s care, Loki had started to learn more about herself, about her Jotun magic and about Amaya. And even slower, she started to heal of the mental wounds being raised under Odin had given her.

Odin.

Loki huffed, snapping out of her memories and putting the circlet back over her head. 

Just thinking about the man made her blood boil.

To distract herself from it, she opened the minnisbók, her mouth automatically curling into a smile when she saw the familiar scrawled runes that were Anthony’s handwriting. Then she frowned a little, as she read the words.

Darce says your brother showed up and kidnapped Jane?

She had a half a second where she wondered which brother, before she realised he of course meant Thor. The Jotnar (Anthony was right, they did not care for the name ‘Frost Giants’, it was apparently an Aesir insult) weren’t allowed on Midgard, after all.

I heard nothing of this. Why?

You two still haven’t spoken? 

I haven’t seen him since he left my chambers the day we argued over the phone you gave me. All I know comes from Mother, and according to her he has been everywhere but Midgard for the past two seasons, working on keeping stability among the Nines.

Okay so ~ just colonizer things ~

According to Darcy dearest, Jane went missing for like five hours. She called me to come and investigate at hour four, but by the time I got there, Thor had arrived. Darcy says she ate or touched something space-y, and Thor was very worried about it and is gonna make the healers check up on her.

Have not heard anything regarding that yet. Then again, I was in my chambers with Idunn all morning. According to her and Astrid, the Convergence is close.

Yeah, that’s the same thing Jane and her team were investigating. They went to London for a couple of days because of it, because they need to gather some sort of proof that it is happening before I can demand that Greenwich and surroundings be evacuated. 

Apparently, “I’m Tony Stark and an alien told me that once every 5000 years the ‘barriers’ between worlds become thin enough that they basically create small portal wormholes” is not excuse enough. Can you believe them?

Loki smiled, feeling the childish anger Anthony was projecting through their mind link. The magic dampeners had made it hard for her to feel him at first, other than for transprojecting; but since she had started learning more and more about Jotun magic, she had been able to tap into it again.

She could feel Anthony fully once more, and it was both a blessing and a curse.

Though her mind had started to heal, her heart continued to bleed and be in pain. It had now been 3 Midgardian years since she had seen her daughter, and every time she thought of it, Loki wanted to curl into herself and cry.

She had tried to be there for the celebration of her third year of life (an odd but intriguing Midgardian tradition), but she had had to leave early, unable to stand being so close to her but unable to reach out and touch her. Watching as Pepper, James and Harold filled her with anything her heart could want was hard enough, but seeing those... Parker people who were now part of Anthony’s family too, being close, playing and singing with her while Loki herself couldn’t do the same was heart-breaking.

She missed them terribly, but, unfortunately, teleportation was a form of Aesir magic, and the power dampening bracelets were of dwarfish creation. She had not given up on her plans to escape - especially now that she knew Anthony still wished for her to be back - but it was hard not to feel hopeless.

Part of her wondered if her mother would allow her to flee, if she knew the truth. But a bigger part of her was always afraid her mother would do something like she had done in the past, and go back to old habits. Worried she would tell Odin and that neither she nor Anthony would see Amaya again.

So she did not dare speak.

I shall tell you when I find out more regarding your friend Jane’s situation, thought I doubt I’ll be allowed in her presence.

Remind me to punch Thor, next time I see him.

I shall do no such thing. 

I’d prefer for your hands to remain in their state so that you can continue building amazing things.

1) I am immensely offended. I’d wear the suit before punching him, I’m not stupid.

2) If you want to hold my hands you can just say so, Loki.

She rolled her eyes but she was smiling.

Isn’t night in Midgard anyway? You should be asleep.

Crr… crr… sorry th… lin… is shak..y, you’re breaking…. skkkk, out

Anthony, this is a written conversation.

Skkk… I’m losing you, byee

+++

It was two days later that Loki got to meet the famous Doctor Foster, though it was under less than stellar circumstances.

Loki had been reading a Jotun book on Alfheim and their culture - it was interesting seeing their views on the the Ljósálf - when an alarm that Loki had not heard in her entire life sounded.

Asgard was under attack.

Loki was on her feet in a matter of seconds, confusion and a cold fear grabbing hold of her immediately. 

It was the Mad Titan. 

Thanos was here and he was here for her.

It had to be him, who else was powerful enough to attack Asgard?

He had come to take the Tesseract and then show how displeased he was with her before he finally finished her off. 

Norns, Loki had hoped she’d have more time, had hoped she would-

The door of her chambers opened, and Loki picked up one of her spare daggers on the table, pointing it at Astrid with fear in her eyes.

The guard, to her credit, did not flinch.

“Princess Loki, your mother called for you to go in her quarters immediately. The Svartalf have returned,” she said.

Loki stared at her dumbfounded, ignoring Anthony’s confusion at her sudden fear in favour of following Astrid. “The Elves of Svartalfheim? But... King Bor defeated them.” Didn’t he? “Shouldn’t they be dead?”

“If they were, they wouldn’t be shooting at the castle’s defences,” dryly said Astrid, grabbing Loki by the wrist when a crash sounded. “They have breached the walls.”

Loki wanted to ask why and also demand to be released at once, but she knew this wasn’t the time. So she ran alongside the guard, holding her skirts with her other free hand.

Just how many lies had the Kings of Asgard told their subjects and families? First, Odin lying about how he found her, now Bor not actually having killed the Svartalf.

The doors opened by themselves once the reached Frigga's chambers, and Loki found her mother inside the quarters with another woman.

“Daughter,” called Frigga, looking relieved. “Come. Asgard is under attack.”

Loki watched Astrid closing the door behind them with worry, and turned back to her mother. “What is going on? Astrid claims the Svartalf are attacking. I thought Svartalfheim was a wasteland?”

“Both statements are true,” said Frigga, approaching the other woman in her chambers. “We do not know how, but Malekith survived the attack on Svartalfheim and is now attacking.”

After all those years? It did not make sense-

Loki froze mid step, looking at the other woman with alarm bells ringing in her head. 

When she had walked in and seen her, she had seemed unassuming. She was clearly Midgardian, and Loki had assumed her to be the Doctor Jane Foster. Probably put in this room with her mother for protection of some kind.

But now that she stood close to her, Loki could feel the energy coiled inside of her, an energy that was both a stranger to her and also terribly familiar.

She took a step back. “Mother. Why does this Midgardian have an Infinity Stone inside of her?” she demanded.

Jane Foster had been looking at her in surprise and curiosity, but she looked startled at Loki’s words. “Uh... it’s not a stone. It’s the Aether.”

The Aether was an Infinity Stone after all. 

Anthony had said that Jane had gotten in contact with something of alien origin. The last time the Aether had been around, the Svartalf had tried to take it. If it had reappeared because of the Convergence’s approach and Jane Foster had gotten it, it made sense that the Svartalf were attacking Asgard, considering what they had sought to do with it the last time around.

They probably could sense its presence, somehow.

“The Reality Stone?” she guessed, looking at her mother with a worried expression.

Frigga nodded. “Indeed. We have been trying to get it out of her, but so far we have not had any breakthrough. You’ve been reading about the stones, do you have any insights?”

“I’m sorry,” interrupted Jane, looking between the two goddesses with a little confusion. “Are you Thor’s sister? I did not know he had a sister.”

Loki smiled thinly. “I’m Loki. I believe the term is genderfluid?” Or was it trans? Twas hard to recall Midgardian terminology.

Jane looked at her in shock, and then glared. “You’re the one who attacked Puente Antinguo!”

Loki inclined her head. “You can see it that way, certainly. I sent the Destroyer, but I sent it after the Idiots Four. Not against your quaint little town.” Though it was interesting that she did not mention New York.

Anthony had said he would deal with it and that he did not have any charges on Midgard, but Loki had expected the people to know about it anyway. But if Jane Foster, who was deeply entangled with Thor, Anthony, and possibly SHIELD did not know...

“Idiots Four?” she asked, bemused.

“My preferred term for Sif, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg,” answered Loki, ignoring the little glare her mother sent her (though it lacked any real heat, noted Loki with satisfaction; apparently her mother did not like them very much either, not anymore).

Jane looked like she was about to smile, and then glared once more. “It doesn’t matter who you sent it after. You still destroyed a lot of the town.”

That was true, mused Loki. “You are right. My apologies,” she offered, and Jane looked shocked at the admission and apology both. What kind of tales had Thor been feeding her? 

When Jane offered nothing more, Loki turned to her mother, who was watching her with a soft look, and pretended it did not warm her heart slightly. “Not much is known about the Reality Stone: only that it can alter its own shape at will, and it usually tends to kill its hosts very rapidly. Doctor Foster is not the first one to be attacked by it.”

Frigga looked worried. “Nothing on how to rid oneself of it?”

Loki cringed. “Unfortunately nothing I have found,” she said, regrettably. She noticed the worried look on Jane’s face. “Asgard and Vanaheim’s libraries are mighty. I am sure we will find a solution-”

The sound of the guards shouting and fighting entered the room, and Loki and Frigga made eye contact. The Svartalf were already in the castle, and they were coming straight for Jane.

Frigga looked grim, as she whipped out her blades from her pocket dimensions. “Do exactly as I say.” 

+++

“Mother!” shouted Thor, as he and the All-Father rushed inside the room, both of them looked frazzled and afraid.

Frigga looked up at them from a bloodied shirt, with a frown on her face. “What are you doing standing here? Malekith went that way!”

Odin looked at her with hope and fear on his face. “You are okay, my wife?”

“Jane?” asked Thor, looking around in desperation.

“We are all fine,” stated the All-Mother, standing up and putting down her bloodied sword, and hiding a wince at the stab wound on her side. “Malekith might be a fine warrior but he was no match for me and Loki.”

Loki chose that moment to re-enter the room with Jane at her side a wet cloth in her hands. She paused and pursed her lips at the sight of Thor and Odin in the rooms, but then banished them from her mind, walking towards her mother as Jane threw herself at Thor.

“Sister...” said the oaf, but Loki ignored him, passing the towel to her mother. 

“What happened?” questioned Odin, putting his hands over Frigga’s, seeming to need physical evidence of her continued well-being. 

“I fetched Loki from her chambers when I heard the alarm,” explained Frigga, shrugging off her husband in order to clean the wound before it could become infected. Thankfully it was not life threatening. “She knows the most on Infinity Stones. Malekith and the Kursed attacked, but they underestimated what the both of us together can do, magic or not. We drove them back, and he fled when he sensed Thor’s lighting approach.”

“Do you know how to free Jane?” asked Thor, looking at her hopeful.

Figures, thought Loki, bitterly. The first time he spoke to her ever since he walked out over one simple argument, and it was because of what she could do for him. “No,” she answered. “But Malekith can.”

Odin looked at her with a frown. “What makes you think that?”

Loki did not lash out, breathing deeply. “He cannot touch the Aether with his bare hands. Either it will reject him and attack him, or it will accept him and possess him. Not even the Svartalf can survive the Infinity Stones, and he doesn’t strike me as the suicidal type.

“This means he has the means necessary to extract it and contain it.” He turned to Jane. “He shall come for you again.”

“And when he does, we will stop him once and for all,” added Odin, which made Loki squint at him, irritated.

“You are not seriously hoping for his return to Asgard? When he has already breached our walls once and vanquished many of our Einherjar?” Astrid herself had been injured, and Loki had heard nothing from Idunn so far. She doubted Idunn had joined the fight at all, but she was still worried.

“You overestimate these creatures,” stated Odin.

“No, she is valuing the lives of our people,” answered back Thor, looking as incensed as Loki. “I'll take Jane to the Dark World and draw the enemy away from Asgard. When Malekith pulls the Aether from Jane it will be exposed vulnerable, and I will destroy it and him.”

Loki glared at him this time. “You will destroy it, will you? You will use your mighty hammer to smash something that has been around since the dawn of the Universe? The power of uru against an Infinity Stone?”

“If you fail,” added Odin, as if she was agreeing with him, “you risk this weapon falling into the hands of our enemies.”

Frigga shook her head. “Listen to them, husband. The risk is far greater if we do nothing. His ship could be over our heads right now and we'd never even know it.”

The King was stubborn. “If and when he comes, his men will fall by ten thousand Asgardian blades.”

“And how of our men shall fall on theirs?” sharply asked Thor.

Odin raised his chin, anger overtaking his features. “As many as are needed! These... things,” he said, and Loki forced her expression to remain blank, “Attacked us in our home! Attacked your mother and sister! We will fight! Until the last Asgardian breath, the last drop of Asgardian blood, we will fight!”

Sometimes, Loki wondered how Thor had become as bloodthirsty and battle-ready as he had.

Odin was reminding her of just how.

Frigga had an odd light in her eyes. “And how are you different from Malekith?”

Her husband looked at her with battle lust in his eyes. “The difference, wife mine, is that I will win.”

Frigga kept watching him for several seconds. “Your wish is my command, my King.” She finally said, and Loki stared at her, disappointment churning inside of her. “Jane, Loki. Come with me.”

“Is she to be a prisoner, now?” asked Thor, but there was something about how he said it. Something...

Just follow my lead, Loki, said her mother in her mind, and Loki kept her face impassive. Your- the All-Father cannot be reasoned with. Thor will play his part.

“It is for her own good,” insisted the All-Father, and Loki did not look at him lest her true feelings for the man came to the surface.

She did not say anything, following after the All-Mother with Jane. The Doctor looked nervous, but she did not lash out. Loki did not know if it was because mother had communicated with her or because she trusted them enough.

Only when they reached her mother’s chambers did the Queen finally speak. “I should have stood up to Odin’s questionable decisions a long time ago, but I didn’t. This is my way of doing so now.” With that, she pulled out a key from a pocket dimension and Loki felt her insides freezing up.

She knew that key.

The last time she had seen that key was at her sentencing, after all.

She looked at her mother with wide eyes as Frigga approached, maintain eye contact. "Malekith threatens not only Asgard, but the whole of the NIne Realms, including Midgard and Jotunheim. He must be stopped, with any means necessary. Odin might not understand that yet, but I do."

Loki swallowed as her mother took her hands in hers, Jane watching them curiously from the side. "Mother..."

She had to know this wasn't a good decision. She had to know that no matter how hard Tony regretted her actions, the second she could she would flee Asgard. That she would not willingly come and continue to serve her punishment after all was said and done, especially after everything she had learnt of Asgard and Jotunheim, she was not going to return.

"Ég treysti þér til að gera það sem er best fyrir þig, dóttir mín," said Frigga, with a smile.

And with that, she opened the locks.

Chapter Text

15th November 2013, New York 

 

“All right,” said Tony, coming to a stop in front of the condo in a clearly illegal parking job. But it was fine, he wasn’t planning on sticking around long anyway. He turned his head to look at the two passengers sitting behind him, one looking all kinds of judge-y, and the other one just looking excited to be there. “You’ve got everything?”

“I’ve got everything!” answered Amaya, literally vibrating with how much she wanted out of the car seat.

“You got your bag?”

She patted the small, mostly decorative, yellow bag in her lap as Peter, who was sat beside her, undid her belt buckle. “I got my bag!”

“You got your sunglasses?”

She nodded fiercely, making said sunglasses drop on her nose. “I got my sunglasses!”

“You’ve got your ducky?”

Amaya paused, looking around worriedly for a second, but Peter waved the item in her face. “Don’t worry, I got it.”

The girl took it from his hands, pointing a thumbs up at her father. “We’ve got him!”

“Alrighty then,” said Tony, forcing down a chuckle at her excitement as he stepped out of the car and opened the door for her.

Amaya did not even wait for help, jumping out of the car and rushing towards the apartment’s door without waiting for Peter to be done.

“Hey, where’s my kiss?” complained Tony, watching her go with an exaggerated pout.

Amaya stopped and turned around, running back to him and quickly wrapping her arms around his legs. She looked up at him with puckered lips and Tony huffed, pretending to be offended, but still leant down and allowed her to press a big wet smooch on his cheek. “Love you daddy!”

“Love you too, baby,” he said, watching as she rushed at the door again with amusement. He turned to look at the other passenger in the car. “Pete, you’ve got your bag?”

“Yup,” answered the young boy, holding his school bag from the back of the car, Amaya’s toy in his other hand (how did she kept forgetting it?). Usually he would take the bus home from school, but since Tony was bringing Amaya to stay with May and Ben for the evening anyway, and Peter's school was on the way, he had picked him up.

While people had been plenty curious about who was picking up Peter Parker in such an expensive looking Audi, Tony had his windows tinted and no one had been able to see him though them.

Not that he wouldn’t be willing to let himself be seen around Parker. But Peter had insisted for some reason, and Tony was willing to allow it for the time being.

“Be good, champ,” he told the brunet as he passed him, messing up his hair.

Peter looked at him like he had killed his dog. “Uncle Tony, why,” he whined, batting his hand away.

Uncle Tony.  

The name still made him feel all warm inside whenever Peter bestowed it upon him. There were still times where he called him ‘Mr Stark’ - mostly to annoy him - and there had been a couple of times where, by mistake or because of Amaya, he had accidentally called Tony ‘dad’, but usually that was what Peter called him, nowadays.

He had grown so much from the first time he had met him.

Back then, Peter seemed to be under the belief that Tony could do no wrong. That Tony was some sort of perfect being who they were all lucky to be sharing air with.

The hero worship had faded the longer Tony remained in his life, and by the fifth time he had witnessed the genius with pieces of Amaya’s lunch stuck in his goatee and hair he had started to calm down a little.

Now he treated Tony almost the same way he treated his Uncle Ben; which was a lot of sass and teenage angst.

Tony had also kept in contact with little terror Harley from Tennessee after the whole Mandarin thing - going as far as to gift him with an entire lab in his garage since, unlike Peter, he had the free space - and after a while had the brilliant idea of introducing the two to each other.

It had taken a hot minute to convince Harley that Peter was not his secret son because, according to him, Tony was apparently a ‘total dad’, but eventually he had managed it. Harley had loudly said that he couldn’t wait to meet Tony’s secret child - and how did he even figure it out? - before the two of them had started talking quickly about some new internet game called ‘Flappy Bird’ or something.

They had become instant friends after that, and every now and then Tony felt a slight sense of unease when Peter was over at Tony’s house doing homework, or Tony was at the Parker's residence and he heard the sound of Peter and Harley chatting up each other on Skype. 

A little sense of ‘what have I just unleashed’. Mostly though, he was happy that they both had at least a friend in each other, considering their truly appalling nerd levels. Between their nerdology, Peter’s asthma, and Harley’s lack of brain to mouth filter, neither was campaigning for Mr popular.

“Pete, hurry up!” demanded Amaya, and the boy shot him another glare before hurrying up towards the girl, pulling out a key out of his pocket.

Tony stayed there until Peter opened the door, ushered both himself and Amaya inside and opened the apartment’s kitchen window to wave at him.

Only then did he get back in the car, and proceeded to drive towards the Tower.

(okay, maybe he was a little bit paranoid; but it had kept him alive so far, so who was the sucker now?)

He couldn’t help but sigh slightly even as he made it to Stark Tower in record time.

He had been hoping to take Amaya down to Georgia for the weekend, since Mama Rhodes wanted to see her. Then once there he would lay the breadcrumbs of his intentions of hosting Thanksgivings at the New York Mansion this year, and hopefully he’d have his second mother immediately booking a flight to New York big enough for herself, her husband, and all of the cooking she had probably already started working on.

The Mansion was big enough to accommodate them all, Tony was sure of that, and Tony knew Roberta would love the kitchen in particular.

The Mansion.

When he had left the place at seventeen years old, after the death of his parents, Tony had never thought he’d ever return. In fact, he had been ready to burn it to ashes, and the only reason he hadn’t was that Rhodey had taken the matches from him when he had tried after the funeral and forced him back to his apartment in Essex until he sobered up.

To think that one day not only he’d return to it, but live in it with his own family... it was sort of insane.

And yet here he was. After having lived there with Amaya (and JARVIS) for almost a year now, he almost did not see the ghosts of Howard everywhere he went anymore. The fact that he had the place fully renovated helped - and how interesting it had been to find the SHIELD bugs in the walls and ceilings and floors when he had done that! - so it did not actually look all that much like the house he had grown up in.

“Welcome back, Sir,” greeted JARVIS as Tony stepped into the penthouse of the Tower.

Despite the fact that Tony did not actually live in there, the penthouse was fully furnished and looked perfectly lived in. He had clothes and a completely functional workshop and bedroom in there, though he did not use either all that often.

It was mostly to keep up appearances. If people believed Tony lived in the Tower, they wouldn’t go looking at the Mansion and find out something they shouldn’t. Sure, SHIELD might suspect that he wasn't living there, but Tony had made both the penthouse and the Mansion Alcatraz level impenetrable, and the only time they had tried to hack him after the New York Invasion, Tony had fried half of their equipment both at the base in DC and on the Helicarrier, and they had taken it for the warning it was meant to be.

“Hey, J. Is my armour ready? And is Jane back?”

“Your armour is close to being finished; however, Doctor Foster has yet to return to Earth,” he said, and Tony pretended he was not pouting at that.

It’s not like he was jealous Jane got to go to Asgard.

It wasn’t her fault that she got infected with an alien artefact and Thor had come to get her as soon as possible.

It wasn’t her fault that she was now on an alien world, getting to see cool alien tech and meet her future in laws.

It wasn’t her fault that she was closer to Loki than Tony had been in almost a year and half.

Gods, he missed the man terribly. Seeing him through their dream link and when he transprojected was cool, of course. It had been cool when Loki had been pregnant and Tony had thought he was having losing his mind, and it was even cooler now that he knew that it truly was Loki.

But it wasn’t the same as having him around in the flesh again.

He was sure Loki had a plan on how to escape from Odin - he pretended he did not, but he saw the heartbreak and the pain Loki couldn’t really hide whenever he came by and Amaya was there with him - but the longer he was away, the more worried Tony became. 

And now Jane was on Asgard, and, perhaps, if Tony had been there when Thor had kidnapped her... 

He shook his head. He couldn’t have left the planet and left Amaya behind. It was one thing leaving her with people he trusted while he was doing superhero stuff or SI things. But leaving the whole planet? Nah. 

Tony pulled out a carton of juice from the fridge as he waited for the suit to be ready, and took out the minnisbok Loki and he used to communicate. Usually he kept it in the Mansion, but he had grabbed it when leaving that morning and forgot to put it back.

There was a message already waiting on it.

Asgard is under attack by the Svartalf - also known as the Dark Elves.

Tony stared at the notebook, his heart immediately racing at the words he saw written down in front of him.

But could anyone really blame him for his response? The last time Loki wrote down about a race of somehow mythological creatures with a slur like nickname attacking Asgard, Tony had not seen him for two years because he had attempted to kill himself. 

So yeah, he was a little bit apprehensive about it.

Are you okay?

I am fine. They are here because of your Doctor Foster. The item that took residence inside of her is called the Aether, and it is yet another Infinity Stone. The Svartalf have sought it for millennia now. The last time a conflict with them started, t hey were defeated by Bor, father of Odin. I am sure we will push them back again.

Infinity Stones? Isn’t that the things You-Know-Who wants to collect?

He didn’t really understand what they were or what they were used for, since Loki had been pretty tight lipped with information regarding them during his debrief. But he knew the Tesseract and the Scepter were two of those, and that it was dangerous to keep them too close to each other for... magic reasons.

Indeed. Fortunately - or unfortunately - the Mad Titan is not the only being who seeks the Infinity Stones.

The Svartalf want to used the Aether to plunge us all into eternal darkness. King Bor of Asgard fought them before, and they were supposed to be gone.

And part of Tony couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that Loki chose to use what he assumed was the species’ real name instead of the nickname (slur) the Asgardians chose to call them by. 

He had been worried when Loki had stated he would be returning to Jotunheim and speaking to the people he had hurt, to create something of a working relationship between the two of them.

Not because he didn’t want Loki to make amends. Mostly because he was afraid of what those people could do to Loki if they were mad at him, especially since he was fighting with a slight disadvantage (no magic) against creatures that could stomp on him and kill him.

But even he could see now how much the Jotnar and learning of them was helping him, especially psychologically. Tony might have made sure to treat Amaya the same even those days she turned blue because of the snow, but Loki had not had that chance.

Loki had grown up with propaganda being shoved down his throat and living as the son of the people who had once killed his... biological people? Then he had found out he was one of the ‘enemies’. No wonder the guy had snapped and reacted so badly.

Between King Helblindi, Queen Farbauti and Prince Bylesteir, however, Loki was thriving. Every time Loki went to visit them, he would write Tony and tell him everything he had learned regarding the Jotnar. He had many hot tips regarding Amaya and how her Jotun form, about things that could help her control the change in skin, things that could harm her or things related to her general Jotun-ness that Tony, as a human, wouldn’t be privy to.

He still refused to show Tony his Jotun form, but Tony wasn’t gonna push him on that. When Loki was ready to show him, Tony would be ready to sit, watch and listen.

After all, recovery did not happen in one single step, Tony of all people knew this. Sometimes you accidentally went backwards, but it didn’t matter so long as you kept trying to move forward.

Bor... where have I heard before?

Father of Odin, grandfather of Thor.

Also the man who used the Bifrost to destroy Svartalfheim the first time around.

Right. Now Tony remembered.

Loki had told Tony everything that had happened to him following his fall from the Bifrost on Christmas night/Boxing Day morning the year before. Had told him about everything: killing his birth father, trying to commit regicide, trying to commit suicide, the torture from the Grape of Doom, his arrival to Earth and then his return to Asgard.

He had also told him about trying to make amends to Jotunheim for his mistakes, and going there just in time to learn that Odin was the real liar liar pants on fire. That his biological parents had cared for/loved him, and Odin had basically kidnapped him from Jotunheim - who believed their prince dead -, erased the existence of his birth mother from all the Nine Realms, and basically drove his birth father to cruelty and depression.

Yeah, Tony had gone through like an entire bottle of scotch trying to figure out how to handle the situation. 

As he had said the first time Loki had told him about the attack on Jotunheim, in the end it was not his place to forgive him for what he did. Loki had seen the error of his way and was striving to make it better, to help in any other way he could - just like Tony had. It did not bear bringing it up over and over again.

Plus, their... relationship (was it a relationship? A friendship?), had grown since they had put all the cards on the table. They were back at the relationship they had when Loki had been pregnant with Amaya, only this time with a lot more pain because Loki had not seen his daughter in the flesh in over three years now.

That definitely sucks. You guys will keep Jane safe, right? She’s not like you people. I mean, she’s kickass, but she’s not a superhero or anything.

Rest assured, we shall do anything in our power to protect your friend. Thor himself will lay down his own life before something befalls his precious mortal.

What did we say about calling humans mortals?

Ah, yes. I recall you saying something about how it make me seem as if I have a superiority complex, and I recall telling you that it is not a complex: I simply am superior to you all.

Tony grinned at the familiar snark. At least, Loki was healing. Returning to be the bastard with good intentions that Tony remembered him being when they first met. 

You are such a dick.

Now, tell me again what happens during the Convergence?

The veil between the worlds thin enough to allow travel between them. It is as if portals for the Nine Realms are created and placed over one another, and allow for travel and passage. There is a chance for spill over, and, if not contained properly, a risk for the portals to crush the planets when they are aligned. 

Have you ever seen one in real life?

Just how old do you believe me to be, Anthony?

Tony could almost feel the annoyance and haughtiness in Loki’s tone, and it made him smile. 

I am going to plead the fifth on that one.

I will allow that for the time being.

Are you okay, though? I think earlier I felt some really strong and weird emotions from you, but it was intense and quick.

Oh, that. Do not worry too much about it. Mother gave me some good news, but I believe I shall wait to share it until it is more appropriate and your friend Jane isn’t about to die again.

What? Darcy would kill him if Jane died, it didn’t matter if Tony had something to do with it or not!

Why is Jane dying?!?!? And what do you mean 'again'?!

Oh, Thor and his friends are committing treason again. Odin seems to have gone senile for the time being, so mother is taking the reins.

Uh, now that I think about it, it appears as if mother is committing treason too.

The family who commits treason together, stays together <3

“Sir, the suit is ready,” called JARVIS and Tony nodded, finishing a message before standing back up.

Okay, now I really have to get going so that we don’t get destroyed by other worlds pressing on ours. See if you can keep Jane alive till then? I really like her work, she’s my second favourite scientist.

The first is Bruce, btw.

He did not wait for an answer and got ready to leave the Tower.


He was already in the air and flying towards London when Darcy called him.

“Bossman!” she said, and Tony snorted, amused at her greeting.

“Hey, Darce, what’s up? I’m on my way to London right now.”

While he liked both women and found Jane incredibly intelligent and intriguing, Darcy was completely refreshing and hilarious. She was a bit of an asshole with sass in spades and as much disdain for SHIELD as the rest of the Iron Fam (trademark pending). Jane hated SHIELD too, so that wasn’t that special, but Darcy was petty as hell to boost, and egged JARVIS on to troll them whenever she could.

“Oh perfect! I just got Selvig out of prison,” Tony raised an eyebrow, he had been unaware the man was in prison to begin with, “And he’s saying a lot of sciencey stuff about the Convergence? You said you needed proof so that you could evacuate when the time came.”

“Yes. How long do we have?”

Loki hadn't been able to give him a straight answer because while time passed similarly in Asgard and on Earth, it did not all happen at the same time. The Convergence somehow happened across space and time, so it might appear on Asgard at a completely different time than it did on Earth. 

“A couple of hours, according to him,” said Darcy, and Tony nodded, despite the fact that she couldn’t see him.

“That’s fine, I’ve already got the Mayor of London and the UK Prime Minister on dial,” he assured. “You have the materials you need?”

“Mostly,” answered Darcy, and he could hear the sound of pieces being assembled in the background. “It’s kind of hard without Jane, since Erik’s brains are scrambled egg most of the time.”

“Let me guess: SHIELD examined him and then let him go?” Tony had tried to get Selvig to stay, but the man had left as soon as he could, since Loki was being kept in a holding cell at the Tower. While he had learnt that Loki was not fully in his right mind during the invasion, he still saw him as the reason everything had happened, and had chosen to return to SHIELD despite Jane and Darcy’s protests. Tony hadn’t realised he left SHIELD.

“Yup.”

“Not surprised,” he muttered then continued, raising his voice slightly, “Okay, I’ll land in an hour or so. I’ll leave you in JARVIS’ metaphorical hands, call the Tower and tell him what you’re gonna need next, and he’ll make sure you’re covered.”

Technically, JARVIS could have just hacked Darcy’s phone and gotten in contact with her himself, considering he could hear their conversation just fine even now.

But the only people who actually knew JARVIS’ full capabilities remained Pepper, Happy and Rhodey (and Loki) - and that was just because they had been around when Tony was in Afghanistan and had seen the way the AI had coped and all he had done to try and locate him.

They had not run away screaming at the display, but they were freaks of nature. JARVIS was fully sentient and capable of rational thought and self reflection, capable of making his own decision: any ‘normal’ person would be incredibly agitated and worried, if they found that out.

Thus Tony continued to keep the AI a secret from everyone else who met him.

He would risk putting JARVIS in harm's way, so telling anyone was a big pile of nope. Though he was convinced that if Harley and Peter managed to convince Evelyn, Harley’s mother, to let the boy come to New York for a summer, they’d figure it out in less than a day.

Why had ever thought that letting them meet could be a good idea?

Darcy quickly gave her assent and bid her goodbyes, ending the call.

“J, you up?” he asked, as he continued flying towards London. 

“For you, Sir? Always.”

Tony smiled. “Good. Now get me the mayor on the line.”

+++

Despite having worked ‘with’ SHIELD when the Invasion had happened, Tony had made it very clear to both SHIELD itself and the world that Iron Man was not affiliated with the shady organisation.

First he had done so by going over their head to secure Loki’s freedom (so that he'd be free to move as he pleased when he returned to Earth), greatly pissing off Fury in doing so.

And after, he had made sure to communicate with the proper authorities regarding what had happened, even taking a copy of Rogers, Thor, Loki and Banner’s debrief’s to share with the Government, FBI and various others. Doing the same thing he had been doing since Vanko, basically, and re-affirming his position on the global chess table.

Because Tony had seen what was on the other side of the wormhole, and, especially after starting his therapy, had realised that, even though the Avengers were remarkable, they weren’t the only ones who should be informed if something like another Invasion happened. And especially SHIELD should not be the only one aware of what was going on, should not be the only organisation taking the shots for protecting the world - not just America - from aliens.

Them winning this time around was due to Loki deliberately fucking up the mission. Otherwise, 6 people, no matter how powerful, would never have been able to take down an entire army.

Who knew, maybe if more government agencies had known, SHIELD and the WSC wouldn’t have had the chance of launching that nuke. Or maybe they would have, but they would have faced worse consequences than the ones they were facing now.

So Tony had used the connections Rhodey had managed to acquire for him - the military had not been very amused with his performances following Afghanistan, and, with hindsight, Tony could see how he could have done better - to let them know of the threat, and had created contracts between himself and the UN in as many countries worldwide as he could. 

The Avengers, as much as he had liked Banner, respected Rogers, and tolerated Thor, were a SHIELD dream. Rogers, Romanoff and Barton (who Tony did not even know still) were SHIELD agents, and Tony did not care for SHIELD, so he mostly ignored.

And it wasn’t like any of them other than Banner had reached out to him in regards to the Mandarin attack, even when the President himself had been kidnapped.

The Avengers were cool, but Earth needed a far better global protection system.

[There had been a very baffling interview in which a brave journalist had asked Tony if he would rename Stark Tower ‘Avengers Tower’, since the fight against the Chitauri had knocked down all the other letters and only left the A. According to the journalist - and many other random people on the internet, later discovered Tony - that was a ‘sign’.

Tony had made it very clear to her that: a) the Avengers barely knew each other and were nothing other than unlikely co-workers, so why should they live together? b) so many other businesses had lost their signs in the battle of New York. Were those signs from above to? Should the bakery 'Crumpets' become a sex shop now that they had lost all letters except for C, U and M? And c) he wasn’t the leader of the Avengers, he had not even created the Avengers. Why should he be the one to give them a headquarters?

The journalist had not had any answers for that, and Tony had just scoffed mentally before picking out another journalist. Renaming his Tower after a bunch of people he barely even know, what a ridiculous notion.]

The point was Tony had made a point of showing that Iron Man would respond in case of necessity, and that he was not beholden to the US only (thought that was his base of operation).

Therefore when Tony had contacted the UK and told them to get ready for a big scientific event called the Convergence that could possibly cause alien races to appear in London and provided them with proof from Jane and Selvig’s calculations, they had believed him.

They had been a little annoyed that Tony also had proof and information from Asgard, since ‘Asgard should not have contacted a private citizen with their warnings, they should have contacted the UK themselves’; but Tony had convinced them that the Aesir did not understand a multi-national system since they lived under an absolute monarchy, and Tony was also the only ‘Midgardian’ they actually knew and trusted.

Oh, Tony knew it was going to bite him in the ass sooner rather than later (so much for ‘I am not the leader of the Avengers’).

But in the end it he managed to placate them enough to get them to evacuate the city in the perimeter Darcy, Darcy’s Intern and Selvig had calculated from Jane’s research, so Tony was happy for the time being.

Now, they only had to wait.

Chapter Text

Gormánuðr, Age of Odin, Asgard 

 

She could flee right now, considered Loki.

Her wrists were free, and she could feel her magic once more in her hold, could see the seidr she was familiar with cursing through her veins.

As much as she had gotten used to Jotnar magic, and as quickly as she had managed to master it, it wasn’t her preferred magic; it wasn’t what she was familiar with.

So having her magic once more in her grasp, was liberating.

It symbolised her freedom. And while freedom was nothing but a dream and a social construct packed into one, no chains meant that Loki could run away, if she so wished. Loki was longer beholden to Asgard.

She could go, right at that moment, and never look back.

Loki scowled at the air around her, more than a little annoyed with herself.

Because of course, while it was a nice sentiment, a nice musing, she couldn’t actually go forth with it.

Sure, Thor was a mighty warrior; but this was a matter involving the Infinity Stones. This was a matter involving creatures able to harness the power of the stone through unknown means, and who’s only goal was to shroud the entire Universe in a dark veil of darkness. To rob all of the worlds of the light. To throw them all back into primordial darkness.

Loki couldn’t allow that.

Not because she was a hero, of any kind.

That ship had long since sailed, look what happened the last time.

No, Loki was going to help put a stop to the Svartalf because she was one of the idiots living in said Universe; and she would very much appreciate the chance of seeing her daughter, when she returned to Midgard.

So, as much as she itched to flee, to leave, she couldn’t.

Not yet.

... and as much as Asgard had wronged her, as much as she had hated her stay in the Valaskjalf, cut off from the people she truly wanted to see, there were people she cared for who still resided on the planet. People whom she considered hers

Astrid. Her guard, who pretended not to notice that despite her magic restraints, Loki could perform small spells every now and then. Who had spent Loki’s entire childhood acting as if unable to see when the young princess committed some mischief. Who would defy the All-Father himself for Loki's powers, so long as it was within her powers.

Idunn. Maybe it was juvenile of her, but Loki could not help but consider the woman her best friend, after everything they had been through. She whom Loki had gone to when she was pregnant and alone; who had helped Loki deliver the baby; who continued to keep Loki’s secrets to this day, listening to her like no one other than Anthony had done before. Who had defied the All-Father for her. 

If that did not make her Loki's best friend, she wasn't quite sure what would.

Mother. Queen Frigga of Asgard. Who had finally started to have a real relationship with Loki. Listening to her grievances and not dismissing them at Thor or Odin's words. Who had never once stopped considering Loki her child, no matter what had happened between them. Who had made mistakes - grievous ones - but did not shy away from them, did not pretend they had not occurred.

Who was the  reason why, despite wondering about who the sorceress who had given birth to her was, Loki knew she already had a mother.

They were important to Loki. 

Certainly not important enough to make her stay. But still, she knew in her heart that she would miss them once she was gone.

Because, unless she had irrefutable proof that Asgard had changed their ways, she did not see herself returning, once she was gone. 

Though...

Loki looked at her desk for a second, the books that she did not have a need for anymore laying on a messy pile on its surface. She picked up a small book in particular, and then made a quick decision. 

When she left Asgard, she couldn’t risk incriminating her mother or Astrid in her escape, couldn’t leave anything for them. Those would be the people Odin would go at the hardest, and while he was old and senile, the man was still very powerful, and they, at the end of the day, his subjects.

But Idunn was not.

She left a clone in her chambers, splitting her consciousness between the two, and then sky walked directly into Idunn’s gardens.

The goddess had been sitting outside among her newly bloomed apple trees, watching over Asgard with a thoughtful expression on her face, but she immediately lit up when she felt Loki’s energy signal appear close to her.

“Loki!” she said, a huge smile overtaking her features when she saw her naked wrists. “You have freed yourself!”

Loki pretended to frown, even as she allowed the older woman to embrace her. “What makes you believe I did not behave so well that Odin decided to free me?”

Idunn let go of her after a few seconds, and gave her a look that was far too knowing. “Do you have any ideas how many millennia I have on you and the All-Father both? As the Midgardians say, you cannot teach an old animal new tricks.”

Loki scoffed, but it lacked any bite. Idunn did know her well.

She forced her expression to turn more serious. “So you know that I am leaving?”

Idunn fixed the small Jotun crown over her head with nimble and gentle fingers. “I know that if you weren’t, I’d kick you out myself.” She smiled once more. “Are you here to bid me farewell, Loki Friggadottir?”

“Has sentimentality ever suited me?” teased the younger of the two, pulling out the unused minnisboks she had picked off the table from her pocket dimensions. “Besides, I know we will see each other once more.”

Idunn took the notebook in her own arms, her expression softening at the gesture. “I’ll have to admit, I shall miss you. Your presence always made Asgard less dour.”

Why did Loki feel as if there was something lodged in her throat? “As did yours,” she said, swallowing calmly and collectively. Why did her eyes feel suddenly uncomfortable?

She looked at the blonde woman in front of her, feeling a strange fondness in her heart. No... stronger than fondness. Something... else.

This woman had been there for Loki when she had had nobody else (granted, Loki had not looked for other people, but still). When she had nothing, when Anthony was too far from her and she didn’t dare speak to Astrid or her mother, Idunn had been there.

When she had returned to Asgard and Odin had sentenced her, when Thor had ignored her, when Amaya and Anthony had been too far from her, Idunn had been there.

And now Loki was about to leave her behind.

Now Loki was leaving her.

She wanted more than anything to ask her to come with her. To ignore her responsibilities and join Loki on Midgard.

But Idunn’s place on Asgard was different from Loki’s own. The Royal Family might cease to exist, but Idunn’s garden would not. Until the end of times, until Ragnarok: she’d be there, planting her apples and catering to her orchard.

There were so many things she wanted to tell her. So much gratitude to offer.

Loki opened her mouth once more - to thank her? wish her well? apologise? - but then she felt Thor’s presence through the awareness of the clone.

He was calling for her, as mother had explained he would earlier.

Which meant that Loki's time with Idunn was up. That she had to go now, rather than later.

“I shall write as soon as I am able,” she promised, that... fondness from earlier mixing with a large dose of melancholy.

Idunn simply nodded and smiled, waving at Loki.

And then Loki was sky walking back into her chambers, the taste of tears still at the back of her throat.

It was the right thing to do, of course. She knew that.

But it did not make the hurt any easier.

She barely had time to school her features into ones of polite blankness before there was another knock at her door. Then she opened the door, coming face to face with Thor.

+++

They didn’t talk as Thor led Loki towards the room where it all would take place.

Well, Thor summed up the plan mother had already told her about, but nothing other than that was spoken between the two of them.

He kept glancing over at her every couple of seconds, but Loki kept her gaze focused on the passage in front of her (where they would be meeting the rest of Thor’s friends and Jane).

Loki, after all, had nothing to tell him.

He was the one with access. He was the one who could go anywhere in the Nines whenever it struck his fancy. He was the one who had decided to stay away after Loki sent him away once.

Loki was stuck in her bedroom for the most part. She couldn't move as she pleased. 

So if he had any excuse to make, any words to share, any explanation to give, he would speak now or hold his tongue because she was done.

They came to a stop in a room where Sif was standing with Jane, a scowl on her face that she wasn’t quite able to hide despite her years as a shield maiden.

Loki wondered, for a moment, who the scowl was directed at. At Loki herself, for her continuous existence? At Jane, for daring to be the woman Thor fancied? Or perhaps Thor himself, for making her fetch and protect her Jane, the woman he loved?

It was really anyone's guess,

The two lovers embraced like they had not seen each other in months, when it had merely been an hour, and Loki mentally rolled her eyes at the nauseating display.

(Norns, she missed Anthony)

“There they are!” came the sudden voice of the guards and Loki straightened up. So Odin had wised up to the fact that mother was lying to him. “Take them. On my command!”

“I'll hold them off,” said Sif, drawing her sword out. “Take her.”

Thor gave her a ‘meaningful’ look. “Thank you,” he said, before rushing off with Jane at his arm.

Loki made to follow after him, and Sif suddenly drew her sword way too close to Loki’s face. “Betray him and I'll-” she started, then suddenly gasped when green seidr wrapped around her arm and stilled it in its tracks.

“Do not,” she said, sneering venomously at the woman. “Presume that you can threaten me, wrench. I am still your princess.”

Sif gave her a look of pure hatred, which Loki gladly returned. She finally looked away from Loki, giving a small nod in acquiescence, knowing that with Loki holding onto her power in this manner, she had no chance of beating her. After all, against the Idiots Four in an all out fight, Loki had never once lost.

She let go of her and gave her a smile that showed all of her teeth. “Good to see you too, Sif.”

+++

Volstagg seemed to notice the lack of bracelets on Loki earlier than Sif had, and did not approach or try to threaten her.

Instead he gave her a look that, perhaps, in his head, was threatening and simply let all three of them pass.

Then Thor was taking command of the Svartalf spaceship, failing at making it fly. Loki looked heavenward for a few seconds before losing her battle with silence in face of Thor’s mediocrity, and speaking first. “I thought you said you knew how to fly this thing.”

“I said, ‘how hard could it be?’” corrected the oaf, continuing to press harshly at the buttons.

That was not what he said. Loki had been hesitant of his plan before, when mother had illustrated it; she would have never climbed on board if she had heard those words leave his mouth.

“They're on the ship!”

Loki pursed her lips, checking that Volstagg still had them at the ropes before focusing on him once more. “Well, whatever you're doing, Thor, I suggest you do it faster.”

“Shut up, Loki,” he said through gritted teeth as he continued to punch the commands of the ship. 

Loki passed the Doctor Foster, who was looking a little pale but had so far remained silent, studying Thor’s movements. “You must have missed something.”

“No, I didn't,” he said, in that same annoying voice he used when they were children and he knew what he was doing was wrong but did not want to admit it. “I'm pressing every button on this thing.”

“Punching more like,” said Loki, tutting. “No, don't hit it, just press it gently.”

Thor somehow saw this as an invitation to punch the things harder. “I. Am. Pressing. It. Gently. It's not working!” And then, somehow the ship did come to life all of a sudden, and Loki rolled her eyes at the smug look on Thor’s face.

Especially since the second they tried to fly away, the ship tried to knock every single column left in the palace like in that game Loki, Anthony, James and Pepper had played all those years ago in Malibu. Bowling, was it called?

Loki watched the destruction they left behind with a disenchanted look, and if she had any doubts of the fact that she was not coming back, this would have buried them forever. “I think you missed a column.” 

Thor glared at her once more. “Shut up!”

Somehow, as they flew out of the castle, Thor found more things to crash against. Doctor Jane Foster was looking nauseous with the continued shaking of the ship, and, while Loki had never ridden a Svartalf craft, she had been on other spaceships before. “Look, why don't you let me take over? I'm clearly the better pilot.”

“Is that right?” asked Thor, not looking at her. “Well, out of the two of us which one can actually fly?”

Loki gave him a look. “Out of the two of us, which one needs a hammer to do so and which one learnt a spell that allows them to fly but doesn't use it very often because it would be seen as ‘upstaging’ you?” she fired back.

The oaf looked surprised at her words, but whatever he wanted to say stopped being relevant as Jane suddenly collapsed.

“Oh, dear. Is she dead?” That wouldn’t be good. Anthony wanted her alive, and her intricate knowledge of the wormholes around Earth were interesting.

“Jane?” called Thor, looking worried.

The woman thankfully raised her head, looking weak, but alive. “I'm okay,” she said. Loki huffed and then moved to stand closer to her, ignoring the look Thor shot her at that. Slightly unreadable; not the sort of awareness or look Loki usually associated with him.

“Are you well?” she asked Jane instead, looking at the other woman with concealed worry. “Are you in any pain?”

Jane shook her head. “Not pain, not really. Just... exhausted.” She seemed to consider Loki for a second. “I guess it makes sense.”

Loki frowned at her. “What makes sense?”

“Why Stark looked for you for so long,” she said, and Loki’s eyes widened in surprise. Jane offered a smile. “I mean, he never told me what he was looking for, but I am not a genius for nothing. Plus you are totally his type.”

Loki narrowed her eyes slightly. “His type? He has bedded women similar to me, ever since you’ve met?”

Loki knew that Anthony and her were not together. Knew that the relationship had never quite been defined, between the two of them. First they had cared for each other in a manner neither of them quite understood. Then Loki fell pregnant and a link was formed between their minds. Then they spent even more time in each other’s company, and even started joking about marrying one another.

But Loki had fallen for two years, and their relationship had changed because of that. Sure, Anthony had hugged her upon meeting her again, and kissed her before she left, but the first one could be constructed at relief for having saved the mother of his child, and the second one as a ruse to hide the phone device on her person.

And they had spoken between then and now, Loki going as far as to tell him the truth of her actions - all of her actions - but that did not mean anything. It did not mean they were together.

However, Loki was a deeply jealous person when it came to her affections. And, for her, those 2 years had not truly happened. She had hidden Anthony and Amaya’s memory for those 2 years, so she did not recall them. Therefore the love she felt for them had not shrinked at the separation because, to her, there hadn't been one.

She felt for him the same way she had before her fall. Communicating with him as she served her sentence had only strengthened that bond.

She... loved Anthony.

Fully and wholly.

She loved him, and the thought of him being with other men or other women or others in general made her teeth grit.

Jane seemed amused by her reaction. “No, actually. I meant that he obviously surrounds himself by smart and interesting people and, as a genius mage princess from another planet, you fit the description to a T.”

“Oh,” said Loki, and refused to allow herself to blush. Because she was neither pleased by the assessment or embarrassed by her own behaviour.

“Get ready,” said Thor, his voice carrying over. He was looking over at them with a serious expression. “Fandral is directly under us with his ship. We’ll need to ju-”

Before he could even finish the sentence, Loki had taken Jane’s hand in hers and skywalked them directly on Fandral’s ship.

The blond looked startled for a second, before he offered them a charming smile. “The two fairest ladies of all the Nines,” he greeted them. “I see your time in prison has made you no less capable of surprising us, Loki.”

“Fandral,” she drawled, holding onto Jane - least she felt sick and fell. “Charming as usual.”

“It is my default-” he started, just as Thor landed on the ship with them.

He looked pissed off. “Where are your magic inhibitors?”

“Mother took them off me,” answered Loki, glaring right back at him. “Why? Did you expect me to fight the Svartalf  with one hand tied behind my back?”

“Of course not,” he said, waving her concerns away. “But you are skilled with the blade. You defeated Malekith handling a blade only, a very short time ago.”

“I fended him off, not defeated him,” she corrected, more than a little irritated with his behaviour. “Magic is my specialty, and my help involves magic. I do not care if you see my use of it as womanly and cowardly, because, guess what? There is nothing wrong with being a woman - your dearest Jane is one. And there is nothing cowardly about wanting to survive. You fight for your honour, if you so please: I’ll continue fighting for my continued existence.”

Fandral and Jane both looked uncomfortable at the words exchanged, especially Jane. Which made sense. Anthony had made it clear, before, that the morals of Midgardians were different from those of the Aesir.

“Fandral,” called Thor after a second, as several ships stopped following the Svartalf craft and instead started to come after them.

“Right,” said the swordsman, seemingly happy to be leaving. He picked up a rope and stepped to the edge of the ship. “For Asgard!”

“For treason, more like,” muttered Loki under her breath, not checking to see if Fandral was safe before piloting the ship towards the passageway she knew would lead them to Svartalfheim.

When Mother had first told her the plan, right after taking the cuffs off her wrists, Loki had been unsure of it. But she was right in the fact that no one other than her could find the road to Svartalfheim. Only her and Odin apparently knew of every passageway between Asgard and the rest of the Nine Realms, and Odin would never allow them to use one.

The plan hinged on her mother’s trust on Loki's abilities and loyalty. And had it been 3 years ago, it would had been enough to make Loki remain.

But now Loki’s loyalty was to a couple of Midgardians they did not even know and, while they thought she was fighting for Asgard, she was simply fighting against the Svartalf. No Svartalf meant no Aether in their hands, and no Aether in their hands meant the Nine Realms and beyond continued to exist in relative tranquillity for a while longer.

Until the Mad Titan came.

“Loki!” called Thor as she continued to steer the craft towards a rocky formation, seidr thrumming through her veins as she unlocked the enchantments that kept the doorway from being discovered.

“If it were easy,” she said, “everyone would do it.”

Are you mad?”

She was actually saner than she had been in a very long time, she wanted to tell him. But she needed her concentration.

At the last possible moment she struck out with her seidr and unlocked the ancient charmed lock, gliding the ship through the magic passageway.

And then they were suddenly inside of the dusty ruins of Svartalfheim.

“Ta-da!”


About a month after Loki had started to regularly visit Jotunheim, Odin had come to Loki’s chambers.

It was the second time the man came in since he had sentenced her, and Loki was no more inclined to speaking to him than she had been the first time around.

Though he was slightly curious as to what had brought him there.

Until he said, “I heard you spoke to the Frost Giants,” and then he knew what he was looking for. What information he wanted to learn of.

He had looked at the All-Father with a look colder than Jotunheim itself. “Indeed,” she answered, clearly.

Odin had looked surprised that Loki would answer him, but he had not allowed himself happiness at having confused him, speaking once more. “They told me everything. The whole truth behind my heritage. My birthright.”

“About how they left you to die in the snow because you were too small?” asked Odin, condescendingly. As if he knew anything.

God how much did Loki loathe him. 

“No," he answered. Odin started to smile, and Loki continued, blood boiling in his veins. "They told me about how, in Jotunheim, small children mean two things, usually: that the carrier was not of Jotun origin; or that the child is going to be a powerful mage.” He grinned at Odin, viciously and angry. “And guess what: I am both.”

Reading the man had always been hard, and Loki hated him more for the fact that she couldn't quite work out whether he was unsettled by the breadth of his knowledge or simply did not care.

"They still left you to die.”

“They put me in a temple,” corrected Loki, but Odin shook his head, frowning in disappointment and derision.

“You were in a box, surrounded by ice and snow." His voice was for stern and more than a little irritated. "They were watching you scream and struggle without taking actions. Those monsters in the temple were simply watching as you froze to death and cried out, without moving a finger. Had it not been for me, you would have died!”

When Odin had said that, filled with righteousness and belief in his own actions, that's when Loki had finally figured out the truth.

That was when Loki had understood the secret behind her kidnapping/salvation.

When he finally worked out that truth of his birth, the reason behind Laufey's descent into madness, the reason why he had been born Jotun and raised Aesir.

“Did you know,” he had said, voice coming from far away. He felt lighter and heavier at the same time. Unmoored. Without roots. “That Midgardians have a celebration called ‘christening’ in which they repeatedly drown their children in what they call ‘holy water’?”

Odin had just frowned, not understanding what this meant. Loki had continued, staring at nothing. “The Elves of Alfheim have the 'marvelauh', where the babe, still bloody, is left in the sun to dry. Only once they are dry they are brought back to the mother, who will clean them fully and cleanse them of every evil magic the pregnancy has attracted.”

He had looked up at Odin, who had stiffened slightly. “In Jotunheim, they have the prufameðís. It means that they place the babe surrounded by ice so that they are able to determine what magical affinity the babe would have.” 

A misunderstanding.

The truth of his birth, the things that tore apart two generations, two planets, two crown families was borne out of a misunderstanding.

“Loki...” had started the All-Father. The man that Loki had once believed to be his own father. But he couldn’t... he couldn’t do this.

“You entered a sacred temple you had no business being in. You cast a spell that made everyone forget who my mother was. You killed every priest in that temple because you did not understand a culture different from your own. You stole me, and took their most powerful weapon with them before forcing them to sign a treaty, which sent my birth father down a terrible path. Then you raised me to hate my own kind,” he surmised, his heart feeling like it would break.

Loki had stopped caring for Odin a time ago, but that did not mean, unfortunately, that he was not still able to cause him  pain.

Odin did not deny any of the allegations. Did not offer an explanation for any of it, simply stared at her with those sad eyes and said, “I did consider you my son, Loki. All this time? I considered you one of my own.”

“Get out,” he hissed and for once, Odin listened.

And left.

+++

That was what Loki could think about as she laid on the ground, bleeding from the wound in her chest, Thor begging her to hold on beside her.

Odin had never apologised for his actions. Never taken responsibility for all the wrong he had done to her and to the Nine Realms.

And however you looked at it, this? All of this needless death and pain and destruction? Loki blamed it on him. On him, and his father and Asgard’s damned supremacy over the Nine Realms. Their beliefs that they had the right to police how everyone else lived their lives.

She had to blame them, and hate them. Had to think about them in the worst possible light.

Had to spend her last energy hating them with every fibre of her being.

She had to, because otherwise she’d think of... she'd think of... them.

And she couldn’t do that. She just couldn't.

This was not how it was supposed to go.

This was not how it was supposed to go.

Loki was not a hero. What had made her think that she should move and save Jane Foster?

she thought that Anthony would be sad if his friend was dead, that Thor would be sad if his lover was dead

Things had been going well, at the beginning.

Her argument with Thor regarding Asgard’s treatment of her had worked in drawing Malekith and his followers out of hiding. Then Malekith had managed to steal the Aether from Jane Foster’s body without killing her, just as they had expected him to.

But then getting the Aether out of Malekith’s hands had become harder than they would have liked, and they had started fighting in earnest. With magic, with blades and hammers, all the while half of Thor’s attention was on Jane Foster and making sure she stayed safe.

And perhaps Loki was far more romantic than she allowed herself to think of herself as, because as much as she hated Thor for the way he had pushed her away and never visited while Loki was imprisoned, she couldn’t watch him perish in front of her without doing something about it.

So she had fought for him, fought to keep him safe and keep his woman safe and keeping the world she lived in safe.

She had not seen the Kursed’s blade coming, despite the fact that it was in front of her.

And now Loki paid for it, laying on the ground in excruciating pain, blood seeping out of her wound and filling her mouth with the taste of death.

“No. No, no, no!” begged Thor, hands shaking as they cradled her form. “Oh, you fool, you didn't listen!”

Suddenly as she died, he cared? “I know. I'm the fool.” she said, lips filled with blood.

It hurt. It hurt so much, and she just wanted it to stop.

She didn't want this. This wasn't meant to happen, this wasn't how it was supposed to go.

“Stay with me, okay?” begged her Thor, trying to stop the bleeding. “We were supposed to have more time, Loki! you can’t go, not now, please-”

Immortal. They were supposed to be immortal, and yet here Loki was. Dying. “I'm sorry,” she managed, uncontrollable tears pouring down her cheeks. “I'm sorry.”

“Shh-”

She wanted to go home. Home to Anthony and Amaya.

God, Anthony. Amaya. “Tell him... tell him I'm sorry.”

“It's okay,” said Thor, heartbroken. “It's alright. I'll tell father what you did here today.”

No. Not Odin!

“I didn't do it for him,” she forced out, darkness threatening to overwhelm her.

She barely felt a second hand on her. “I’ll tell Tony. We’ll let him know.”

Jane. Jane was Anthony’s friend. She’d tell him, if their connection did not tell him already.

Loki had truly wanted to see him one more time.

And then everything went dark, and Loki died.


“Hi. Hello, princess Amaya Lokadottir Stark.”

Loki remembered what she had felt as she held Amaya in her arms for the first time in her life. She remembered that rush of unconditional love that she had felt when her daughter had been sitting in her embrace, safe and sound.

She recalled thinking of how she would do anything to keep her safe from the world, from Asgard and from Odin. That had been the decision that had pushed her to hand over her child to Anthony, after all.

The love she had felt for her daughter.

And with the exception of that time on the Mad Titan’s ship, where she had forced herself to forget about her and Anthony and everything to do with either of them so that she could protect them, Loki had always felt that thrum of unconditional love in her chest. That rush of ‘I will always protect you’ in her heart.

But now, she couldn’t feel it.

Now Loki was floating in darkness and nothingness, and she felt absolutely nothing. She thought there was water around her, but she couldn’t be sure.

She wasn’t sure where she was. She wasn’t sure why she was there. 

She recalled a fight. She recalled Thor and another woman. She recalled Amaya and Anthony.

But nothing more. Everything was dark and impossible to see and Loki’s magic was no longer swirling within her.

And she was blue.

Jotun blue.

Loki was not a fan of turning blue, but she had stopped flinching everytime something caused the transformation and she was faced with the reflection of her blood red eyes.

Byleister had the same eyes, after all; and their eyes were always kind.

So she was used it.

What she was not used to was the darkness and the person.

Someone was in there with her, Loki could sense them.

But she couldn’t see them.

She wanted to ask; open her mouth and speak. Demand to know who hid in the darkness around her.

But she did not have a voice; and couldn’t make a sound. 

There was no sound around her at all. Just the trickling of water she couldn’t see, and the gaze of the other presence in the room with her.

She could sense rage. Anger, from the other figure. Hatred? She wasn’t sure. 

I will make him pay for this.

She could also sense that she was a woman. Her energy was distinctly female, Loki was able to tell (a Jotun trick).

I will make them all pay for what they've done to you.

The woman’s energy was black. A black somehow darker than the darkness she shrouded herself in, but there was also a flash of green when she moved.

Asgard will burn, and the All-Father's head will roll at my feet!

And an imprint of cold.

My beautiful daughter...

But a strange cold. Not the cold of the Void. Not the cold of Jotunheim.

I should have fought harder.

It was comforting and terrifying at once.

But trust me, I will fix this.

Wrong. But familiar.

I won't let them do to you what they did to me.

She moved around once more, and Loki wished her body could move so that she could see her. She wanted to see who this woman was, to ask her what she was doing. 

It is time for you to return.

But she was numb. And her body did not move, too heavy to do so.

“It is not your time yet, little one,” said the voice, rich and velvety. Familiar. Loki felt like she knew that voice, but she had never heard it before in her life. “You will not be allowed in my Realm any time soon. Odin shall pay for what he has done to you. Return to the Realm of the Living, for I cast you out!”

What? What did she-


Loki had died.

She knew she had died, she had felt her soul die. She had felt her magic leave her body. She had felt every spell on her body unveil, leaving her in her Jotun skin.

But she still woke up alone in the arid lands of Svartalfheim with a scream on her lips, a bleeding wound in her chest and completely alone.

Chapter Text

15 November 2013, Greenwich, London

 

The mind link between himself and Loki... Tony was not sure he truly understood what it was for. Wasn’t sure he understood what it did, what it meant, what it was.

From the beginning of their... relationship (was that the right word?) Pepper had said that the two of them had a connection. That they understood each other in a way that did not make sense, in a way that shouldn't be possible, since they had known each other for a total of seven days and one magical night.

The dream link was created, or at least started manifesting while Tony was in Afghanistan. He thought he had heard Loki’s voice in his head when the bomb had first exploded, and then again when Yinsen had been trying to save his life, but it wasn’t until the day after the torture had begun that he had started to see him.  

Was it his fear and pain from the water bombing that had called her forth? Was that what made her realise she could see him, feel him? She had not realised when he was in arguably, the most painful operation of his life, so what gave?

And when he was getting his Arc Reactor ripped out of his chest, Loki was also there. She had known something was happening to him, and she had come to... save him? Help him. Help him sounded like the best word.

Between that and Amaya’s birth, Tony had not felt anything from his link to Loki. Had not felt her emotions unless she was transprojecting and he could guess what her expression meant. Which he assumed meant she could cut their link at least from her side.

Or maybe he had not felt anything because he had not realised there was something to feel. Perhaps he had felt Loki’s mood swings, but had just assumed it was him or the palladium core making him feel weird - it was hard remembering those 6 months where he had been sure he was gonna die.

It wasn’t until Amaya’s birth that Tony finally felt something coming from Loki. Had felt something that was pain and fear wrapped into one, a high discomfort that seemed to permeate her being. He hadn’t known what it was at the time, and just clumsily attempted to send positive thoughts and vibes Loki’s way, believing it was probably not working or helping, until the feeling seemed to dissipate.

After that, he had felt a strange sense of cold loss when Loki had found out he was adopted, and an even colder blunt pain when he had let go of the Bifrost. He hadn’t been able to recognise the feeling at either time, but he had known that it wasn’t happy (now that he thought about it, the only warm feelings he had ever felt from Loki was when she had tried to stop him from freaking out. Wasn't that depressing?).

When Loki had cut off their mind link while in the Other’s clutches, it hadn’t hurt; but Tony had felt it anyway. Because he barely felt anything from Loki, so any feeling from his Arc Reactor was immediately classified in his head as suspicious.

So when, as Tony surveyed that the area had been fully evacuated, he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his chest that had him nearly losing control of the armour, Tony knew something was wrong.

“Sir?” called JARVIS, automatically taking control of the suit of armour when he saw Tony momentarily vacillate. “Is everything okay?”

Tony tried to reach towards the mind link once more, but it was like trying to touch water. The pain had started to fade, but Tony seemed to be unable to offer any support, to make any contact with Loki.

He did not like it.

“J,” he said, wincing when speaking pulled at the pain, somehow, “Tell me that I somehow managed to bring the minnisbók with us and that I can use it when I return to Darce's apartment?”

“Then I would be lying to you, Sir,” answered JARVIS, and Tony swore.

But he could breathe and move more normally by the second, the pain fading away. Tony wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

He came to a conclusion about twenty minutes later, when he finally landed in front of the only occupied hotel, where Selvig, Intern and Darce were working, and reached out for the link once more to try and send some sort of emotional comfort Loki’s way.

Only to find absolutely nothing there.

+++

The last time their connection, their dream link, had faded, Tony had felt it. He had spent months dreaming of space, and cold, and fear, and then, one day, as he put Amaya to sleep, he had felt a strange sense of loss, and the link was gone.

This time he hadn’t even felt it.

And was that better or worse? Tony could not see how this could be better.

Last time he had lost the dream link with Loki, the man had been tortured for two years on an evil grape’s ship of doom.

And he did not even have the minnisbók to check whether Loki had left him a message, an explanation for the sudden disappearance.

The Mad Titan had not found him, had he? Sure, he was looking for the Infinity Stones, but Asgard was strong, right? Stronger than Earth. Plus Loki knew what to expect, he’d know how to defeat the Chitauri a second a time - Earth had given him an example.

And the Grape Supreme did not have the mind control scepter, this time around. But what if he had one of the other Infinity Stones? Tony had assumed there were just the Scepter and the Tesseract, but now this Aether was one of them... who was to say there weren’t more and the Mad Titan did not already have them. Maybe a Time Stone, since there was a Space Stone. And wasn’t five or seven usually the best number for magical bullshit like this?

“Tony?” called Darcy, looking over at him with a frown. “You okay?”

Tony forced a smile on his face. “Yep, just fine," he'd feel much better once he was in his tower and could communicate with Loki, or when Jane was back, but for now he had to keep a brave face on. "Everyone was evacuated, how far are you guys with the work?”

“Still doing our best,” said Intern, looking at the standing suit of armour with curiosity.

“I’m getting us all a coffee,” he said, looking at the pile of work and grimacing. His anxiety was not doing him any favour between the attacking aliens and the the lack of contact from Loki, hopefully doing some calculations and helping the astrophysics experts would take his mind off things.

Tony had never thought he’d say this, but he wished he knew how to do magic, for once. Just so that he could transproject and make sure Loki was okay.

He was just finishing preparing the coffee when he heard keys jingling and the door of the apartment opening once more.

“Jane!” cried out Darcy and Tony felt a knot loosen in his chest. He had been worried about the scientist.

“Hey-”

“You can't just leave like that,” complained the younger woman, and Tony felt a small smile twitching on his lips as he picked up the tray with the mugs, sugar and coffee. “The whole world is going crazy! All the stuff we saw is spreading, and- Did you go to a party?”

Tony appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, and felt his eyebrows raising to new heights when he noticed the... interesting Victorian-esque dress the other woman was wearing.

And Thor was there.

Jane did not notice Tony, instead looking over at Selvig instead. “Erik?!”

“Jane, how wonderful!” said the half naked scientist, wrapping his arms around the girl. Right, Tony recalled them saying something about how he and Jane’s father had once worked together, now that he thought about it. “You've been to Asgard.”

Jane just frowned at him, obviously weirded out by his own fit. “Where are your pants?”

“Oh, uh... he, uh... he says it helps him think,” informed her Intern - damn it, Darcy was infecting him. He should try and remember the poor man’s name, at least.

Jane just shook her head, as if she had seen odder things. And considering, you know, Asgard, she probably had. “Okay. Well, I'm gonna need everything you got on this. All the work you've been doing on gravimetric anomalies, everything.”

Tony made to bring attention to himself, but then Thor spoke.

“Are you well, Erik?” asked the blond, concern on his face.

Selvig chuckled, raising his arms in a hug. Then he frowned, looking nervous. “Your brother is not coming, is he?”

Tony was ready to introduce himself by gently reminding Selvig that Loki himself had been under mind control, but then Thor spoke before he could.

“Loki is dead.”

Tony stilled where he was standing.

He was hearing things. He must be hearing things. Thor couldn’t have said... he couldn’t have said...

What?

He must have spoken out loud, because everyone turned in his direction. Thor’s expression went even more pained when he noticed him, but Jane was staring at him with tears already pooling in her eyes.

Which meant...

“I’m sorry, shield brother,” said Thor, taking a step towards Tony. 

Tony took a step backwards, not even noticing when the tray and its contents fell from his hands and broke.

Everyone around him flinched, except for Thor, who looked like he was holding back tears of his own.

“We were battling Malekith and his Kursed,” explained Thor, voice somber. Like any of those words made much sense to Tony (no... Loki could not be dead. He could not). “The Kursed made to attack Jane, and Loki... she stabbed him from the back. Only, instead of dying, he turned and used the blade protruding from his chest to impale her.”

The pain in his chest...

Tony knew that he was letting a lot of people who shouldn’t know, know about his feelings for Loki, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Not when Loki was dead.

(Oh god... he had spent the past three years of Amaya’s life telling her about how Loki would eventually return to them. How would he tell her that her moddy was now dead?)

Loki was dead.

(Oh gods... Loki was dead.)

Loki was dead.

“Tony?” called Jane, voice shaking, and Tony noted with horror that she looked very blurry.

Loki was dead.

He couldn’t be sad. Because the Convergence was coming and he needed to stay focused, he needed to...

But Loki was dead. Loki wasn't supposed to die.

Not when she had been just joking with Tony hours before.

Not when she had started making amends for the hurt she had caused.

Not when she had promised she'd come back.

She promised she'd come back.

“Prince Anthony,” said Thor, moving to put a hand on his shoulder. To commiserate or something, and Tony shoved him backwards (or maybe Thor allowed himself to be shoved backwards), refusing the touch.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” he hissed. Yes, anger. Anger was good, anger meant he would be focused during the inevitable fight. “This is the second time I let Loki go with you and he winds up dead.”

It was his fault. It was his fault.

Thor reared back like he had been slapped, and Tony turned his eyes away from him.

He’d feel guilty for this later, he was sure. From what he had heard, it hadn’t been Thor's fault. Really, if he wanted to blame someone, it would have to be Odin.

It was always Odin's fault, somehow.

But Odin wasn’t here, and if Tony wasn’t angry at someone, he’d have to confront the fact that Loki, his Loki was dead.

And if he did that, he’d fall apart.

Why Loki? Why?!


Tony wouldn’t be able to explain what had happened after Thor had informed them of Loki’s death.

He recalled helping Jane, Darcy, Intern and Selvig with the gravitational device the astrophysicist had created,. Jane had tried to corner him to offer some sort of support, but Tony had evaded her everytime. Then the holes in space and time were opening, so Tony had to go and stop the various aliens from taking a stroll through the empty roads of London, while Thor battled Malekith.

He had wanted to battle Malekith as well, since the Kursed who had killed Loki (don’t think about it, don’t think about it) was dead; but keeping Earth from becoming a pancake was the most important thing for the time being.

He hadn’t stuck around long, once the Convergence was over and Thor had disappeared with Malekith. Jane had tried to talk to him again, but Tony had focused on giving his debrief to the relevant authorities, and making sure SHIELD could not steal any of Jane’s property.

And once that was done, he had barely given her and Darcy a chance to say goodbye before he was flying at Mach speed over the Atlantic headed straight back for  the New York mansion.

JARVIS had also tried to speak to him once he was in flight, but Tony did not want to speak to him. His chest was burning in grief and he knew that if he stopped working through math equations in his brain, then he would think, and if he thought, he’d break down.

Why Loki? Hadn’t she been through enough? She hadn’t deserved this, any of this.

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it.

The minnisbók was still sitting in the penthouse of Stark Tower. What would be worse? Finding a last message from her that Tony hadn’t seen, or seeing nothing other than what she had told him before he had left for London, earlier that morning?

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it

Tries to protect her daughter, ends up tortured for two years. Kills her biological father to prove her place in the family, gets sent over the edge instead. And then it turns out her biological father had loved her, and her adoptive father was the dick. 

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it.

He landed on the landing pad built near the Mansion’s entrance, barely taking care of making sure he wasn’t seen (JARVIS would make sure of it anyway). 

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it.

“Sir,” tried JARVIS, as the suit disassembled from him, but Tony shook his head.

“Don’t.”

He needed to think maths, maths was easy, maths was simple, maths didn’t die, it was immortal, but apparently even immortal gods could die and now Loki was gone, oh my gods.

Much for not thinking about it, bitterly thought Tony, chest constricting in pain as his eyes watered.

But Loki was gone, and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right. Loki had only ever wanted to keep Amaya safe, and she had only seen her twice in his entire life; the day she was born and the day she found out she was adopted. 

After that, she had never seen her daughter in the flesh again.

It wasn’t right, thought Tony, wiping his eyes as he headed towards the living room.

It wasn’t as full of alcohol as the penthouse was, but he had drinks, he was pretty sure. And while he had not gotten drunk once since Afghanistan, he felt like this was a fair opportunity to do so, since Amaya was still at Ben’s for the day.

After all Loki was gone, and Tony was just supposed to live with this knowledge.

She was gone.

Loki was gone.

Loki was on the floor of his living room.

Tony stopped mid step, standing in the doorway of the living room, unable to believe his eyes. Had he cracked? Was Loki transprojecting again? But Thor had said Loki was dead, so how-

“JARVIS,” he rasped, and god his chest ached. Let it be true, please let it be true. “JARVIS do you... do you...”

“As I was attempting to inform you, Miss Loki appeared in the living room about two hours ago, as you were flying back-” Tony wasn’t listening, because JARVIS could see her, and if JARVIS could see her, she was real and oh god why wasn’t she moving?

“Lokes?” he called, dropping on his knees with his heart in his throat. She was curled together, and her face was pale and half covered by her hair. She had been unmoving since Tony had appeared, but when he touched her, her eyes flickered open a little.

She smiled, green eyes unfocused as she looked at him. “Hello. I was stabbed,” she managed, and then passed out again.

Tony let out a choked and wet bark of laughter, way too close to a breakdown and going hysterical. “JARVIS?!”

“Miss Loki’s injuries seem to be slowly repairing themselves, through her magic. There has been a 4% improvement in the wound since she appeared in the living room,” informed her the AI. “I believe that attempting to aid her by performing first aid would improve her situation.”

Tony wasn’t so sure about it, but he also knew it wouldn’t hurt trying. 

He looked over at Loki, laying on the ground, still not quite believing his eyes. She was still here. She was alive and he could touch her. He could physically feel her, she wasn’t a projection, she was real.

She was home.

Tony's eyes filled with tears once more, even as he started to move.

He had things to take care of.


When Loki woke up again, it was almost two hours later. Tony had managed to drag her - she was far heavier than she looked, which he was pretty sure had not been the case last time he had held her (pre-Afganistan, in his bed in the Malibu Mansion) - to the bathroom and clean out her wounds and administer first aid.

The stab wound was angry looking and Tony nearly threw up when he saw the matching hole in her back. But other than letting out whimpers in her sleep, and looking paler than usual, Loki looked fine. The wound was healing and she did not seem as if she was getting any worse, which meant that she was not at risk any longer. That she would be fine.

After that he had found an old sweatshirt of his - that once belonged to Rhodey - and wrapped it around her, letting her rest on his bed while he cleaned the pool of blood in the kitchen.

He hadn’t been happy leaving Loki alone in the bedroom (what if she woke up and he wasn't there? what if she got worse?!), but he had JARVIS’ baby monitor protocol, so he could keep an eye on her even as he worked, first while he cleaned, and then while he prepared some light soup in case she was hungry when she woke up.

When she did wake up, Tony was once more in his bedroom, sitting on the bed beside her and alternating between ‘working’ on his Iron Man suit, and checking every couple of minutes that she was alright.

“Anthony?” she whispered as she came to her senses.

Tony turned to face her immediately, feeling a dumb relieved smile on his face when he saw that her eyes were much clearer than before. And green. “Hey, Buttercup,” he greeted, leaning over to help when she winced as she tried to sit up. “Easy, there.”

She stared at where he was touching her, brows furrowing. “Anthony.”

“I don’t know how or why,” he said. “But I found you passed out in my living room. You got enough sense to tell me you got stabbed and then passed out again.”

Loki blinked at him for a second, before touching her bandaged chest through her shirt and grimacing. “Ah. So that’s where the indescribable pain is coming from.” 

“JARVIS says you are 38% healed already; your magic is doing things science says are not humanly possible, but whatever.”

The woman seemed to freeze for a second, and then she focused on him once more, green eyes boring into his. She looked away after two seconds, immediately finding JARVIS’ camera. “JARVIS?”

“Miss Loki,” greeted the AI. “It is a pleasure to see you on the mend.”

“Oh,” said Loki, voice going faint as she looked at Tony once more. “I’m... I’m on Midgard.”

Tony felt his eyes filling with tears at the same time as hers did. “Yeah.”

Her hand shook as she raised it, putting it on his cheek with hesitation. “Anthony.”

“Welcome home, Lokes,” he answered, covering her hand with his, feeling her skin (real) on his.

She looked distraught and in pain as the tears started rolling down her cheeks, realisation settling in. “Anthony.”

“I love you,” he answered, shaking his head and failing at stopping his own tears. “I fucking love you, okay, Lokes? I love you. And I cannot have our dream link disappearing or hear about you dying from your brother, I can’t do it. You can’t leave again, because I love you and I can’t-”

“I love you,” she answered, her other hand coming to cup his face, not even trying to stop her tears or her smile. “I love you Anthony Edward Stark, and I’m not leaving, I’m not going away, never again, I’m staying. I love you. I love you so much. I’m never leaving again. I promise.”

"Good," he managed, knowing his happiness and pain were clear to anyone with eyes to see. He wrapped his arms around her, as they both couldn't quite stop the sobs. "I'm never letting you go. Never."

Loki held him tighter.

+++

Loki only asked about Amaya once after that. She asked JARVIS, not Tony, and when the AI told her she was at the Parker’s residence and would return the next day, she had gone quiet.

But when Tony had proposed that he could go get her, or, better yet, ask Happy or Ben to bring her over, she had grabbed his arm and quickly shook her head.

“It is fine, Anthony. I cannot disrupt her schedule, when she most probably had this trip planned already.”

It was not really a trip, but Tony had not pressed the issue - he wanted Loki to be healed by the time Amaya showed up - but he knew what it was. 

While she had never said it in so many words, Tony knew Loki felt as if she didn’t truly belong in their family. That she didn’t truly have a space in Amaya’s life.

He had done his best to make her believe she did, that she was important but with very mixed results. But now she was physically here, he realised later that evening, after he had helped her with the soup. Now he could physically show her.

Her stab wound was almost completely healed, but Tony still insisted on helping her up as he took her to Amaya’s room. 

“Where are you taking me?” complained Loki, even though she was allowing herself to be manhandled towards the room. “I could heal more quickly if you simply left me in your bed, Anthony.”

“I have a lot of dirty jokes to say in reply to that, but you’re too injured for life re-affirming sex so I shall refrain for the time being,” he answered, reaching with one hand to open the door.

“How magnanimous of... you...” Loki’s features had slackened in surprise as light filled the room and she realised where she was.

Amaya’s bedroom was, in Tony’s personal opinion, the best money could buy when it came to children stuff. It was bathed in the same shades that Loki had picked for Amaya’s nursery right at the beginning, with silver and white accents all over the place.

Soft plushies, trains, and all sort of toys were in the ‘play corner’, and several children books were on the small library. There were drawings all over the room, but the biggest art piece in the room was a big frame - too high for Amaya to reach and pull - filled with pictures.

And not just any pictures: pictures - or better yet, screenshots - of the footage of Loki from every time she had been in the Malibu Mansion with Tony. The biggest picture was in the centre, and it was Loki with baby Amaya in her arms, mere hours after the baby had been born.

Loki stared at the picture in utter shock and disbelief. “What?”

Her knees were shaking, so Tony tightened his hold on her, as he moved towards the small sofa in the room, just in case he couldn’t hold her up anymore. “I never hid you from her. I made sure as soon as she could say words and understand basic concepts, that she knew who you were. That she knew that you hadn’t left her willingly, and that you loved her more than anything else in the world. She needed to know-”

Loki stopped him mid sentence, crashing their lips together in a salty kiss that still tasted of tears, her body shaking like a leaf. Tony kissed her just as surely, and pretended not to notice when she started crying once more.


By the time Rhodey dropped Amaya off the next morning, Loki was fully healed.

Tony had woken up before her, and spent several minutes just drinking her in. It was still sinking in. Loki was real, she was alive and not sequestered in Asgard. He had a lot of questions as to what exactly had happened and why Thor thought her dead, but he had not had a chance to ask her about it (and to be honest? He didn't really care, so long as Loki was safe).

Loki looked incredibly peaceful, and somehow younger, as she slept, and Tony felt his heart grow even further. She was here and she was safe.

It took him a good ten minutes to leave the bed so that he could prepare breakfast - Amaya was due to come home soon, she had a peeve about eating breakfast that was not prepared by Tony's hands. Once breakfast was ready, he returned to the bedroom, only to have a few moments of panic when he found the room empty.

“Miss Loki is in the living room, Sir,” said JARVIS, before Tony could even ask, and Tony's racing heartbeat calmed down slightly.

It was definitely going to take a while for him to be comfortable away from Loki, uh?

Hopefully she wouldn't hex him for being suffocating.

He found her in said room seconds later. She was still wearing the sweatshirt and wearing a pair of his sweatpants, and was making green magic with her hands, eyes closed and face furrowed in confusion. It was almost as if she was writing code or painting with her bare hands. Manipulating reality in a way only she could see and understand.

It was really interesting to see, especially since this was effectively the first time Tony saw Loki's magic in front of him, but he knew better than to disturb her. He reluctantly left her to her work, and returned to the kitchen to finish up things.

By the time he returned she was done, and smiled at him when he appeared. “Good morning, Anthony.”

He felt his lips turning into a smile automatically. “Good morning, buttercup. Hot chocolate?”

“With marshmallows?” she asked, rhetorically, accepting the mug with a soft look on her face.

“As if you need to ask,” he joked, settling down on the couch. “What were you doing?”

“I believe you called them ‘protection shields’?” 

Oooh.

“Hey, Lokes. Your magic. Can you make uh... protection shields with it?”

She looked slightly amused and mystified by his words. “You mean, perchance, magical wards?”

“How am I meant to know the technical term?” he huffed, then nodded. “But yeah. Like, I know I am the best at everything technological and no one is getting through JARVIS with anything short of space tech,”

“The ego on you,” she huffed, which Tony ignored.

“But I always like a plan B of sorts. So when you move in: wards?”

And she was casting them now, because she was moving in.

“I can’t believe you’re really here,” he said, taking her free hand in his. “I am so happy.”

“I can’t believe I’m here myself,” she admitted, plucking a marshmallow and staring at it with an expression that was both wistful and ecstatic. 

The bell rung before she could add more, and Tony jumped to his feet in excitement. Loki looked at him in slight confusion as he did so, but Tony was not gonna tell her anything yet. And her Asgardian hearing would tell her everything soon enough, anyway.

“Who-”

“Give me a sec,” he stated, not waiting for an answer as he rushed towards the main door.

Amaya and Happy were both standing in the doorway when he opened, and the girl squealed when she saw him. “Daddy! I came back!”

Tony leaned down to catch her when she threw herself at him, a grin on his own lips. Honestly, he was not sure he had stopped smiling since yesterday. “I can see that. Were you a good girl for Aunt May, Uncle Ben and Uncle Happy?”

“Perfect little terror,” answered Happy in her stead, passing Tony her bag.

Normally Tony loved chatting with Happy, and would have invited him in to get a cup of coffee before he went to work. But right now, Tony couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.

If Happy noticed anything, he did not mention it, and two minutes later, Tony was closing the door behind him, only half listening to Amaya’s happy chatter in his arms.

“Okay,” he said, putting down the girl and dropping her bag in the doorway. “Amaya, there is a very important person that I’d like you to meet.”

She looked up at him with wide green eyes, brows furrowed in thought. “Is it a princess?”

Tony tilted his head to the side. “Kinda? But not one of the princesses from the TV,” he quickly said, when she began to look very excited. “Remember how I told you that you are a little princess as well?”

She nodded. “Because my moddy is also loyalty."

"Royalty."

"Royalty. Prince and Princess of Asguard and Jotunnein.”

“Asgard and Jotunheim,” he corrected, taking her by the hand and pulling her forward towards the living room. “Amaya... your moddy is here,” he finished, letting go of her hand as they stopped in the doorway of the living room.

Loki had heard them when they had come in, of course, and was already standing when they arrived in the living room. Her hands were shaking despite her best tries, and even from that distance, Tony could see the sheen tears in her eyes as she let out a small “Oh,” and stared at Amaya, heartbreak and love leaking from her eyes.

Amaya had come to a stop when Tony had and was for her part staring at Loki with equally shocked eyes, mouth open. She turned to Tony after a couple of seconds, still looking shocked. “Wow! Daddy, she is so much prettier than in the pictures!” She said, looking between her and Tony again. “And she is tall!”

Loki let out a little wet laugh at that, while Tony snorted. “Yes, that she is. Wanna go say hi?”

The girl nodded decidedly, and Loki immediately dropped to her knees as she approached.

Amaya walked like it was everyday she met her space goddess other parent she had not seen since she was born, and Tony only thanked their collective lucky stars that Amaya had never been a particularly shy kid.

She stopped in front of Loki, and immediately wrapped her hands around her moddy’s neck, pressing their cheeks together. Loki froze at the sudden contact, which Amaya did not appear notice. “Hi, moddy. I’m happy you came back! Me and daddy missed you very much, but daddy said you were going to come back when everything was better and you weren’t in danger anymore.” She pulled back slightly to look at Loki. “You’re not in danger anymore are you? You’re going to stay with us?”

“Y-Yes,” managed Loki, voice shaking as tears spilled down her cheeks. “I’m gonna stay.”

“Oh noes,” said Amaya, using her hands to try and dry Loki’s tears away. “Don’t cry. Why are you crying?”

“I’m... happy. I’m crying because I’m happy,” she said, letting a little a laugh that was on the edge of crying. “Norns, I missed you so much, elskam min,” she said, and then finally she was hugging her back and Tony had to look away, lest Amaya caught him crying too. "I missed you so much."

Loki was home. Loki was safe.

Their family was finally back together again.

Chapter Text

16th November 2013, New York, Midgard

 

When Loki had woken up on the arid lands of Svartalfheim, completely and utterly alone, she had been terrified. She was in pain, her wound was burning, her magic was going haywire trying to heal her while it was still replenishing, her connection to Anthony was a whisper of what it had been mere hours before and she was alone.

There was also the fact that Loki was 90% sure she had just died and yet, for some reason, continued to live.

The pain was unbearable, and she knew she had to move before something attacked her or worse.  

But it was grief that hit her first.

Because she remembered dying, remembered Anthony’s friend Jane and Thor being beside her as she lost consciousness. They had been there, in her last moents.

And yet, Loki was alone.

She was grateful that she had not had to claw her way out of a hole, of course. But to think that Thor had cared so little for her even as he ‘mourned’ her that he had left her without a proper burial or a funeral, to rot on Svartalfheim? Had not even moved her somewhere where she would be spared from the wrath of the elements and the hunger of whatever beasts still roamed these lands?

It hurt.

It hurt a lot.

She did not allow herself to feel that pain for long, however.

Somehow, against all odds she was still alive. She'd have time to feel grief at Thor's actions and ponder her survival, but for now she needed to move.

She had to get herself out of there and some place safe to rest, before the pain overwhelmed her and she was left in a vulnerable state in enemy land.

For once, the Norns chose to smile upon her. She found a portal to Midgard (the Convergence must have started) and with the last energy she had in her body, skywalked to Anthony’s house.

Even as she passed out on the carpeted floor of Anthony’s mansion, with JARVIS’ voice ringing in her ears as he tried to discern her health, Loki had not truly believed that she had made it. Had not truly thought she had managed to make her way back to Midgard.

Back to her family.

Part of her had still thought that she was simply delirious, in that place between life and death, still laying on the ground of Svartalfheim.

It was not until she had woken up in a warm bed, Anthony’s firm touch at her side and JARVIS’ soothing tone in her ears that she had realised that she had done it.

That she was free of Asgard, of Odin, of the Idiots Four, of everything.

That she was back where she was supposed to be, back with her family.

And then Anthony had professed his love to her mere minutes after she had woken up, as if Loki wasn't happy enough.

Loki had hoped that he still had feelings for her, but she had not been sure. He might have had them, once upon a time, but things had changed. Their lives gotten more chaotic, so she couldn’t be sure; couldn’t assume that he would continue to care for her the same way he had once upon a time.

But he had.

It had felt like the perfect dream... with just one disjointed note.

Ever since the Hulk had smashed her and she had recovered the memories she hid away from Thanos, Loki had wanted nothing more than to have Amaya in her arms once more. Wanted nothing more than to speak to her daughter, to drink her in with her eyes. To be at her side once more.

However, once she knew it would be happening, she couldn’t help feeling slightly anxious about the reunion.

With Anthony, they had known each other. They had time to speak to one another, between the Invasion and now. Yes, they had lost contact for two years, but had stayed in contact for over one year and half after that. She had time to make her apologies, and he had time to understand her position and accept it.

Amaya had none of that. To Amaya, Loki was a no one. At best, she had no idea of who she was. Worst case scenario, she recalled her as the parent who had abandoned her and then never came back.

Or so Loki had thought.

Because Anthony - wonderful, incredible, amazing Anthony - had not allowed their daughter to forget who Loki was.

Seeing that composition of photographs depicting Loki and her time on Midgard sitting proudly in Amaya's bedroom had stirred strong emotions in Loki. Anthony had claimed that he had told Amaya who Loki was, but to see it so clearly... Lokihad been overcome with joy, and heartache.

And then the next day came, and Loki saw her daughter in the flesh for the first time in over three years.

She couldn’t describe the feelings that arose in her when she saw Amaya.

The joy at seeing how beautiful and perfect she was; the fear of a rejection from her; the despair at having missed so much time; the hopefulness that she would still care for Loki, despite her shortcomings.

Those were just the tip of the iceberg in that regard.

Then Amaya had gone above and beyond Loki’s expectations and hugged her. Claimed to have missed her. Called her beautiful. Wiped her tears.

Loki might have considered Asgard her home for a long time, but she had been so severely wrong. This, this feeling: that’s what home was.

+++

It was hard to keep Amaya out of her eyesight after their emotion filled reunion.

Part of Loki could not help but fear that if she moved too far away from her something terrible would happen. Even though she had erected several shields around the house already, and both Anthony and Amaya were protected from Heimdall’s gaze, she couldn’t help but worry.

In her defence, the past few years of her life had been a nightmare.

Just the day before she had thought she’d be able to sneak away safely and come here and had died. She felt she was allowed a certain degree of paranoia.

Amaya, for her part, did not seem majorly concerned about the continued attention.

She had had breakfast with them in the living room, which Anthony had stated was “an exception to the rule, Missy, don’t get used to it”, and proceeded to tell Loki everything that had ever happened in her life (well... in the past 24 hours, at least).

Loki had just listened attentively to everything she said. 

She learned that Amaya had been at ‘Uncle Ben’s house’ the day before, with ‘Pete’ and that they had played the entire day and watched cartoons. She still wasn’t quite sure who these people who clearly were part of Anthony’s family were, despite having seen them on the phone Anthony gave her plenty of times, but it was clear they were important to the man and Amaya both.

So she listened carefully to Amaya’s words, wondering if she’d ever get to meet them and if they would care for her presence in their family or hate her for coming into it so late.

She was not going to let them get her away from Amaya, for sure, but Loki would prefer it if they liked her.

Then, once breakfast was done, Amaya had insisted on dragging Loki around the house to give her a ‘tour’. The tour consisted of going to Anthony’s room, the kitchen, the dining room, the bathroom and then Amaya’s own room, where they remained for the rest of the morning.

There were apparently a lot of interesting factoids about everything in her bedroom, from how Aunt Pepper bought her her favourite toy to how Uncle Happy never did the voices right when he read the book, to little tidbits Anthony had shared about Loki with Amaya regarding the various photographs attached in the room. According to Amaya, it was of the utmost importance that Loki learnt all of these details and corroborated her father's stories.

It was, arguably, the best morning/day of Loki’s entire life.

+++

Anthony was in the kitchen once more when the two of them finally re-emerged from Amaya's room. Loki’s eyebrows rose to her hairline when she noticed the ridiculous apron the man was wearing as he prepared whatever Midgardian dish he was supposed to be making.

He pointed a threatening finger at her. “I don’t want to hear it. I look cool as hell, and all the cool kids are doing it.”

“I am sure,” said Loki, trying her damnest hard to hide her smile.

“I have one too!” said Amaya, rushing towards the cabinet near the door. She pulled out a smaller apron with green motifs all over it and showed it off to Loki, proudly. “Look! This is my one! I use it when I help daddy cook.”

Loki looked over at her, love immediately filling her eyes. “Do you cook with your daddy often?”

Amaya shook her head. “No, cooking is boring! But sometimes we make cookies and daddy doesn’t let me make cookies if I’m not wearing my cooking uniform.” She explained, climbing on the chair beside her.

Both Loki and Anthony instinctively reached to still the chair as she did so, and then smiled at each other.

Part of Loki was still a little worried about the entire thing. 

What if Amaya was just excited because Loki was the shiny new thing? What if she became bored with her and decided it was time for Loki to leave them? What if she started resenting her presence?

What if Anthony started resenting her? It was easy to fall in love when you were not actively living in each other’s pockets all the time. And he already had a routine in place with Amaya, a routine that did not involve Amaya. He had done things alone for the past three years, would he even want or need her help? What if he did not like her opinions? What if Loki was not allowed to share her opinions on things related to the girl?

Would she have to leave Midgard? Would Anthony be content with her gaining a different abode and still seeing her every now and then?

Would she-

She felt the tip of something hit her forehead, and went a little cross eyed as she tried to keep it in her sights.

Anthony pulled the wooden spoon back, squinting at her suspiciously. “Stop thinking so hard. Whatever you are thinking about, it’s wrong and you don’t have to worry.”

She glared at him. “You have no idea what I’m thinking of.”

“You are overthinking the entire situation and pondering the what ifs,” he guessed, giving a quick stir at the red sauce in one of the pots.

Loki pouted a little. “Okay, you might have some idea of what I’m thinking. But you can’t, for sure, say-”

She was poked once more with the spoon, which made Amaya giggle a little and Loki scowl. Anthony did not even try to look apologetic. “I know it’s scary. I have had scary. I have been in a situation where I couldn’t stop thinking about what ifs and how I might end up messing everything up.”

Right. Loki had not only left Amaya, when she had fallen off the Bifrost. She had also left Anthony with Amaya. His entire stance at the beginning of her pregnancy was that he was afraid of how to be a parent, and the only reassurance he had had was that Loki would be at his side.

And then Loki had disappeared.

She had-

“If you poke me with that thing once more I will put it somewhere you’ll find unpleasant,” she threatened, slapping the spoon away when he made to poke her forehead with it once more.

Amaya giggled again, while Anthony gave a slight adorable pout. “You’re so mean to me. Did you see that, Aya? She’s being mean to me.”

“You’re being annoying, daddy,” counterargued the girl. “Of course she’s being mean.”

“Me? Annoying? I’d never!” 

Amaya leaned over to Loki to 'whisper' in her ear. “Daddy annoys Auntie Pepper all the time. And Uncle Rhodey. And Uncle Happy.”

“Go ahead, gang up on me! I’ll have my revenge, one day, and you’ll never see me coming!” 

And people dared to call Loki a drama queen. She rolled her eyes a little, but she was still smiling. She was pretty sure she had not stopped smiling since this morning. “What are you making anyway?”

Last she had heard of, Anthony spent the least amount of time possible in the kitchen; and now here he was, back in it for the second time in the same day. 

“Spaghetti all’arrabiata,” he answered, giving another stir to the sauce. He pulled out the wooden spoon and offered it to Loki. “Don’t know if spicy stuff burns your royal tongue or if you’re fine with it.”

“I finished your pho for you last time because it was ‘too hot’,” she reminded him, even as she leant forward and took the offered scoop with her mouth.

Unsurprisingly, it tasted very good and had plenty of spice. Though, “It’s fine for me, but is that not too spicy for Amaya?”

“She won’t eat this anyway,” said Tony with a shrug. “There is some risotto ai funghi leftover from yesterday, and she is currently on a strike against spaghetti because, apparently they are worms that will turn into butterflies inside of her stomach.”

“It could happen!” insisted the young girl, pausing mid colouring to pout at her father. “And then how is the butterfly going to come out of my tummy?”

A little fancy that Amaya had.

But Loki wouldn’t have known that. There were so many little whims and habits that Amaya had that Loki knew nothing about. Countless things that were second nature to Anthony at this point that Loki did not have any experience with.

What was Amaya’s favourite colour? What was her favourite food? Did she have what Anthony had once referred to as ‘allergies’? Was there something that most found banal that in fact frightened her greatly?

Loki knew none of that, and-

She felt Anthony’s palm against her cheek, and looked up to find a soft smile full of understanding on his face.

“You have time to learn,” he promised her, before pressing a quick kiss on her cheek and darting back towards the food.

Loki couldn’t have stopped the smile from forming on her face even if she had tried.


The next day, they were all sitting in the living room when the door of the house opened.

Loki had spent the entirety of the previous day all over Amaya, with Anthony close by the entire time. Amaya had not seemed to grow bored of Loki’s presence around her, which Loki was perennially glad for. She mostly stayed out of the way as she went through her daily routine.

The only time she actively took part in the entire thing was when Anthony told her how to cut up Amaya’s hot dogs at dinner. She was perfectly aware that he was ‘subtly’ trying to get her to see herself more as part of the family, but considering the joy that came from doing so and not screwing up in any way, Loki was inclined to allow the blatant manipulation for now.

They had been alone all day, and other than JARVIS no one had bothered them.

So the arrival was sudden and out of place.

Loki looked over at Anthony in slight confusion. Amaya was sitting on the couch between them, and he had not said that someone was coming.

Anthony looked equally confused, but her wards had not pinged anyone with hostile intention or of not Midgardian origins coming. So who-

“Tony!” called out a voice and, oh. Now Loki saw why her wards had not pinged.

Pepper Potts and James Rhodes rounded in the room seconds later, and then froze in the doorway.

The woman’s eyes were red with unshed tears, and James looked very somber, as if he had just returned from a funeral or was heading to one. They looked upset, but their expression both turned into ones of shock when they spotted Loki sitting on the carpeted floor next to Amaya, all three of them watching a strange Midgardian show about a man named Bob who built things.

Amaya just waved in their general direction, not even looking away from the television, while both Anthony and Loki stood up.

Pepper appeared to vacillate, looking very faint all of a sudden, her hands grasping at the door beside her. “Am I hallucinating?” she asked, eyes wide.

Tony moved closer to Loki, eyeing his friends with worry. “Uh, I was gonna text you the good news soon enough?” He tried. Then he sent a glare at one of the cameras. “J, why did you not warn me they were coming?!”

“You said, and I quote: “JARVIS, engage protocol Apocalypse: if the world isn’t ending, I don’t want to hear anything from anyone for the next three days”, Sir. I followed your protocol. Miss Potts and Colonel Rhodes used their override codes.”

“Uh. That makes sense...” he muttered, still looking at the cameras in suspicion, like he felt JARVIS had somehow tricked him.

“What the hell is going on?” demanded James, looking between Tony and Loki like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to feel. Happy, confused, or angry. “Is that Loki?!”

Were they cross with her? She had not considered that possibility. Pepper had seemed genuinely happy to see her, that last time, and that had been directly after Loki had brought an army to her home. She had assumed that her return, this time without an army, would please her even further. But she did not exactly look pleased.

She looked upset.

“Jane called us yesterday after that whole thing in London to say that you were... d worded,” said James, after a quick glance at Amaya, still fully absorbed in the show. “You look very not d-worded to me.”

“Oh,” said Loki, relief and understanding returning. They had believed her dead, so they had come to help Anthony through his grief.

Only to find her standing at peak health at his side.

That ought to be jarring.

“It’s a very long story,” she hedged, not exactly ready to repeat it fully. There were a couple of things that she had started to remember from the time between her ‘death’ and her re-awakening that she was not quite sure what to do with, and was not ready to speak of them.

Pepper did not seem to mind either way. “Oh, who cares,” she said, tears spilling out of her eyes as she leaped towards her and wrapped her in her arms. “You’re back!”

Loki felt herself softening immediately, reciprocating the hug. “I’m back.”

“To stay?”

“To stay,” she promised. It was almost a vow, because, short of being physically removed, Loki was not going anywhere.

James approached her once Pepper had let go of her, giving her a smile. He, like Pepper in the Tower, looked genuinely happy to see her again, though he was not crying. Still, he hugged her. “Good to have you back, Loki.”

“Thank you, James.”

He nodded against her shoulder before letting go. Then a thought came over him. “Oh, someone is gonna need to tell Happy that she is okay, because he was also devastated that his donut buddy was gone and promised he’d swing by after work.”

It was so... warm.

Their care, their genuine happiness at having her back. Pepper had stated that she was family and that their family protected one another, but she still had not expected this care. This genuine feelings at her return.

No one in Asgard had reacted that strongly when-

Uh. Someone in Asgard had.

And if Jane had told Anthony’s friends that she was gone, burial or no burial, there was a chance of Asgard believing the same. 

Part of the plan concocted by Thor and her mother to stop the Dark Elves had included Heimdall being imprisoned for treason. His powers were less powerful when he was not on the Observatory, so it stood to reason that he would not have seen her wake up again and leave Svartalfheim.

Which meant that to Asgard, for all intents and purposes, Loki was dead.

Which meant that the people of Asgard believed her dead.

Which meant that Loki needed to send some messages to a couple of other people as quickly as possible.

She allowed herself to soak up the ‘Iron Fam’s’ - as Anthony insisted they be called, regardless of the others’ complaints - kindness and love for almost an hour, until it was time for Amaya’s ‘nap time’. Only then did she pull out the other minnisbók from her pocket dimension.

I am not dead.

That ought to do the trick.

It took only three Midgardian minutes for Idunn to answer.

I had hoped that would be the case. You have found your way back to Midgard, I assume?

Indeed. 

How is Mother?

Loki did not much care for Asgard anymore, that was true. But she couldn’t deny a slight worry for the people she had left behind. Not enough to go and check on them, of course. But enough that she couldn’t help but ask after them.

The All-Father did not take very well to the news of your death. We don’t know if it was his age, the shock, or what, but he the rumours are that he fell into the Odinsleep right after Thor returned to him with the news.

The All-Mother has decided to take her place as Queen of Asgard, until Thor is ready to be given the throne. She is in mourning, over you. Had a funeral in your honour since your body was not returned - the main theory is that it’s on a different world because of the Convergence - but I believe her gift of sight has given her insight into your death that no one else has. 

I cannot say for certain, but I believe she knows you are not truly dead.

That was interesting, but no less than Loki had expected from her mother. Frigga would be the only person who could end up finding out about Loki’s deception, but at the same time, Loki knew she was the only person who wouldn’t go after her for it.

She had known exactly what would happen when she freed Loki of her magic inhibiting bracelets, and she had done it anyway. It was safe to assume, Frigga would not hunt her down and return her to Asgard.

Loki wished with all of her heart that this was the Frigga she had grown up with. If so, then perhaps her life would have been different.

She did not much care about Odin’s predicament. It was interesting to note that he had cared about her enough to fall into shock and Odinsleep at the news of her death, but Loki was truly done with the man. If he had cared as much as he claimed he had, he would not have behaved towards her in the manner he had. He would not have let her fall. He would not have measured her against Thor her entire life, knowing that she would never win against him - not because she was not worthy, but because Odin’s idea of worthiness was flawed to begin with. 

How did you survive, if I might ask?

Loki frowned at the minnisbók, twirling the pen through her fingers for a second before writing.

Truth to be told, I am not sure. In fact, I believe I died on Svartalfheim.

I recall being wounded. I recall feeling my body shutting down as my seidr left my body. I recall feeling the moment of my death.

And then everything goes a little blurry.

I recall green and black. And water. And rage. A lot of rage.

But I don’t think it was my own rage. I feel like there was someone else with me, not Thor or the Doctor Foster. But someone I could not recognise.

But I could recognise their rage, and their pain. It was not my own, but it was familiar, like my own feelings.

Then I recall these words:

It is not your time yet, little one. You will not be allowed in my Realm any time soon. Odin shall pay for what he has done to you. Return to the Realm of the Living, for I cast you out!   

And then I woke up in Svartalfheim once more.

She stopped writing then, waiting eagerly for Idunn’s reply.

This time it took her almost ten minutes to write something quite simple.

Loki... what do you know of the Queen of Hel?

Loki felt her eyebrows raise.

You think I went to Hel?

That did make sense. According to her mother, Hel, or Helheim, was where the spirits of the dead travelled to once they died. There, they would face the judge, the Mistress Death, who would send them to whatever afterlife she deemed them worthy of, depending on who they were and were they came from.

But at the same time,

How and why would I be sent back, then? The Queen of Hel is not known to be merciful, and if legends are true, then her lover is the Mad Titan. And considering how it went the last time I faced off against him, it would make more sense for her to keep me and punish me forever.

The Qu