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Bend Around the Wind

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Earth

 

Three months. That was the only peace he got after the Battle of New York, only three damn months and shit hit the fan again. Nothing global, mind you, just your average asshole with too much money and way too many weapons and personal soldiers at his disposal. So Tony didn’t have one but two of his properties totalled, which was just great really. The StarkTower was already under repair, just like the rest of New York, but his Malibu mansion would take even longer to fix and to be honest, he couldn’t find the energy to get the reconstructions started. He had to move into the family mansion in New York, he knew, but every cell in his body was against the idea. Every room reminded him of his childhood there, and consequently of Howard Stark. And if there was one thing he was most definitely not in mood for was a delightful trip down that particular memory lane.

Pepper was still in the hospital. That fact was like a parasite inside his chest, crawling twisting unpleasantly every few seconds, a lot more painful than the shrapnel ever could be. She was not supposed to get caught up in the crossfire, she was not supposed to get hurt, not when Tony got out of the whole debacle with nothing but a few bruises and a cracked rib. But Tony had his suit of course, Pepper was not so lucky.

So here he was trying to shove down every single one of his issues about the family mansion and get it ready for when Pepper was released. What was he doing instead? He was sitting in his half-destroyed tower with a glass of scotch avoiding the mansion like the plague. They could’ve decided to go somewhere, anywhere, Venice maybe, Rome, Tokyo, it didn’t matter, but Pepper was insistent. They couldn’t just abandon Stark Industries. Tony would’ve been more than happy to do just that, screw the company, but he didn’t have it in him to argue when Pepper, sweet perfect Pepper, looked at him with those determined eyes. The look was firm even on her bruised face and Tony gave in. He still had quite some time before they had to move in to the mansion, so a few nights in the tower would change nothing, but would give him some time to get his head in order, and his anger under control.

Anger, as in SHIELD not bothering to react to Tony’s mansion being blown to bits, as in Agent Whoever-the-hell in a suit having the nerve to show up in the hospital after everything was done and over with. Just to inform him that they would like to debrief him about the events that took place. That unfortunately, Captain Rogers, Agent Barton and Agent Romanoff are away on an important mission, that’s why they were not able to come to his aid. Tony told the agent where Fury can shove his debriefing. Sure, he could handle it alone. He did handle it alone, big fucking brownie point for Tony Stark for “keeping the situation under control”, but this was not about him. This was about Pepper getting hurt because Tony had no back-up, because fucking SHIELD had bigger concerns than the maniac trying to destroy Tony’s life. Sure, he understood perfectly. He didn’t know why he expected anything else. At least Rhodey got there in time, little late, but just in time, he didn’t want to think about what would’ve happened if he got there too late.

Strong wind blew through the room shaking Tony out of his thoughts. The breeze was cold and made him shiver while reminding him that there were still too many windows not replaced. He stood up and stretched his back and shoulders walking back to the bar to refill his glass. He stared at the floor while he drank, the dent the Hulk made with Loki was no longer there, but it would be hard to forget that spot, he would always see it.

‘Sir,’ sounded JARVIS’ voice suddenly. ‘I detect an unusual energy signature in the tower.’

Tony frowned and put his glass down. ‘What sort of energy signature?’ he asked.

‘Unidentified sir, insufficient data, further analysis is required. It is however rapidly increasing in strength.’

‘Just great. Keep your sensors sharp, I’m gonna take a look, where?’

‘It seems to be concentrated in the master bedroom, but it would be inadvisable to approach it without your suit on, Mr. Stark,’ JARVIS reminded him. ‘It may very well be a hostile presence.’

The Mark VII was still beat the hell up and he never bothered to fix the Mark VI, so he only had the Mark V, which was a floor below, where he planned to sleep later.

‘Well, I can get my suit after I took a look,’ he decided.

‘Still inadvisable sir,’ JARVIS told him. He wasn’t sure what made him ignore the warning, maybe the drinks he had, or that parasite inside his chest that reminded him that he got away scot-free because of his suit, while Pepper was going to lie in a hospital bed for weeks. It really didn’t matter which it was.

The wind was a lot stronger in the bedroom, because every window was missing here. The city was almost completely dark outside, too much damage still, too many buildings without electricity, too many ruins. The setting sun didn’t give enough light, so the room was basking in a quite ominous mixture of red glow and shadows. Tony did have electricity in the tower, but not in this room, the repairs were not finished yet. There were cement bags and buckets of paint around him, waiting for the workers to continue their job tomorrow morning. He quickly tried to find anything that may be the unusual energy signature JARVIS was talking about. It didn’t take all that long, because his AI was very correct about the “rapid increase”. His wardrobe door was covered with a large mirror, and the image was distorted in it in a way that had nothing to do with the large crack on it.

Tony took a cautious step closer to the mirror, watching how his reflection shifted and shivered ever so often. He was seriously considering that JARVIS was right about the suit when the mirror darkened, as if it was taken over by a dark storm. He barely moved back a few steps and had no time to react further when the darkness dissolved and an all too familiar dark figure literally fell through the mirror’s surface, flew a few feet through the air, and landed on Tony’s floor with a very unpleasant sounding thud.

Wide, angry eyes locked with Tony’s a second later and it reminded him of the stray dog that once tried to bite a piece out of him in the back alley of a bar, a beaten and vicious animal. He didn’t know what he would’ve said, because he didn’t get the chance to utter a word, the mirror flashed bright in front of him and Tony ducked the second he saw Loki do the same. He wasn’t sure what was hit, maybe his nightstand or his bed, he only heard the sound of cracking wood and Loki’s snarl. He pressed his back to the wall he managed to crouch down next to and his eyes widened when he finally could take a look at what was happening. Two large figures were inside his room, taller than Loki even and a lot bulkier. For a moment they reminded him of Chitauri, but the skin colour was off and so were the form of their skull and face, the armour and weapons were very similar though. One of the creatures aimed and shot with his weapon and there was a flash of gold in answer from Loki that seemed to absorb the attack. It did not stop the attackers though and both started shooting at him, which was the cue for Tony to try and dash out of the room and get his suit.

It was a good plan only the moment Loki stopped destroying the attacks and started deflecting them instead it became a lot harder to carry it out. Tony did his best to avoid the energy blasts raining around him, but that also meant that he couldn’t just dash to the door unless he wanted to be fried. Large chunks of the wall was falling down on the floor and one of the cement bags was most likely hit, because white dust swirled in the air like a dry fog. Loki seemed to switch from defence to offense because instead of his golden shield now he was also firing back at the creatures. Without any weapon whatsoever, he didn’t need any kind of glowstick to do this sort of thing then. That was good to know, if Tony survived this encounter he will definitely tell JARVIS to make note of it. One of Loki’s blasts managed to push one of the creatures off his feet, and he landed right in front of Tony. Orange eyes locked on his face a moment later. Tony started running towards the door, but the creature charged as well. He almost got there when a vicelike grip closed around his leg and made him fall, only his reflexes saved his face from slamming into the floor. The energy blasts were no longer tearing his room apart, but he didn’t have time to think about why. He kicked the creature in the head twice, but the grip didn’t loosen on his ankle. The alien started to stand up and pulled Tony closer in the process. He started trashing, moving, twisting his leg to get away somehow, but he was obviously too physically weak to do any damage. Fucking aliens.

The creature reached up and closed his other hand around his neck no matter how hard he tried to get away. The hand squeezed hard enough to bruise, but not enough to kill him. Tony gripped his forearm in return, tried to kick him again, but the creature ignored him for the most part and stood up. Fighting became a lot harder when he was dangling in the air, only held by his neck. Well that was it, he was fucking dead. Well, unless Loki somehow killed these things. The crazy god may have thrown him out of a window, but somehow Tony would’ve taken his chances with him instead of whoever the hell these aliens were. He glanced around the room to see what was happening, the blasts turned into close-range combat so it seemed, and Loki was down. He was fighting alright, a lot more successfully than Tony did. The creature fighting him had a large wound on his head and seemed to be missing an eye at this point, he was also bleeding in several other places and his armour was smoking like it was on fire not that long ago. But eventually Loki’s disadvantage of being on the ground ended the fight and Tony couldn’t help but flinch when the large creature started pummelling his face, again and again and again until Loki stopped struggling.

The creature holding Tony spoke in a deep growly tone in a language he couldn’t understand. The one kneeling over Loki grunted something in answer then continued to put the god in chains, tying both his hands and ankles. Loki’s face was one big swollen bruise and all that blood around him seeping into the carpet was also not a really nice sight.

‘You got your god,’ Tony managed to squeeze out. ‘Can you just take him and go maybe?’ he asked although it was very hard to speak. He barely had air, and his vision already started swimming. The creature turned his orange eyes on him again, but didn’t say anything. Tony saw a big fist flying towards his face, then after a flash of white-hot pain darkness followed.

Chapter Text

 

 

The first thing he noticed besides his stiff muscles was a low humming sound coming from all around him. It sounded electrical, a generator or an engine maybe. He opened his eyes and quickly shut it again as the light, albeit not so bright, kind of hurt. He squinted and tried to sit up. He was lying on what must have been the hardest, most uncomfortable bed in existence. And his hands were chained, awesome. He took a few deep breaths, not at all happy about the fact that he was out of breath immediately, without moving, what the hell? He managed to sit up and swing his legs over the edge of the bed. All his muscles were stiff and aching and he felt too weak. Now that his eyes finally started to adjust to the light and his vision cleared out he froze at the sight that greeted him.

Loki sat on a bed that was exactly like Tony’s on the other side of the grey room. He was chained too, Tony couldn’t decide whether to be glad about that or not, but for now he counted it as a good thing. He was without most of his armour, which made him look more slender, but not less threatening. The previous events rushed back into his mind and he was surprised that Loki’s face had almost no trace of the beating, must be nice to heal so quickly. Tony was too numb to assess his own injuries; he didn’t feel like he was dying, everything else could wait.

‘Come here often?’ Tony asked, then he cleared his throat. His voice was scratchy and his mouth really dry. Just how long was he unconscious? Loki glanced at him, but didn’t deign him with an answer, not that Tony expected any.

‘Where are we?’ he asked then, but got no answer again. ‘Trust me I have no problem with listening to the sound of my own voice,’ he said. Loki sighed, seemingly in annoyance.

‘I do not know,’ he said.

‘Okay, then care to tell me who your friends were?’

‘They are hardly my friends.’

‘No kidding, who are they? I mean, yeah I can imagine you pissing off people all over the place, but aren’t you supposed to be locked up in a nice cosy dungeon in Asgard?’

Loki stayed quiet for a little while, visibly contemplating whether he wanted to waste his breath talking to the human.

‘It does not matter who they are, they were hired to capture me.’

‘Well thanks for leading them into my tower, asshole,’ Tony snapped. ‘This is exactly how I planned my night to go,’ he said while he raised and tugged on his chains.

Loki scowled at him. ‘I need not explain myself to you, mortal.’

‘You got me into this mess in the first place!’

‘No, that was you when you destroyed the Chitauri ship!’

Tony snapped his mouth shut in surprise and blinked at Loki.

‘How the hell would they know it was me?!’ he asked. Then it clicked and cold anger started to burn deep in his gut. ‘You told them, right?’

Loki just scoffed. ‘I would have, but there was no need. That device in your chest makes you very easily recognizable and they saw enough through me to know where to find you.’

Tony thought about that for a second. ‘No, that’s bullshit. Whatever you did with that mirror, you came through first, you led them to me!’

‘Like I said, I need not explain myself to you.’

They sat in silence for a few moments, Tony looked at his chains, but it didn’t look like he could get out of them. The room looked equally hopeless in regards of an escape, but that didn’t stop him from searching.

Loki huffed and Tony raised his eyebrows when he looked back at him.

‘Something funny Reindeer Games?’ he asked.

‘The fact that you truly believe that you have anywhere to go if you escape this room,’ the god told him. Tony just looked at him for a second before it dawned on him what he was talking about.

‘We’re not on Earth anymore, are we?’

‘No.’

‘But you don’t know where?’

‘I will, once we get there,’ Loki stated simply.

‘There? We’re…’ he looked around again. It didn’t feel like they were moving, which meant that whatever kind of vehicle this was, it had to be big. ‘So this is…’ he prompted.

‘A ship,’ came the curt answer.

‘A space ship?’ Tony asked, Loki answered with an annoyed look, right, space ship, perfectly normal. Hell, he fought against Loki’s army, he should not be surprised about stuff like this anymore.

‘I really hate asking this, but… what are they going to do to us?’ Loki let out that sound again, that was somewhere between a huff and a very unhappy laugh.

‘Death… eventually.’

He really didn’t need that to be elaborated.

‘And you really just plan to sit there and do nothing?’

‘You already saw how my last escape attempt ended,’ Loki replied. ‘There’s nowhere to go from here.’

‘No,’ Tony replied immediately. ‘I’m not going to sit around and give up.’

‘Oh, then pray tell, what will you do once you get rid of your almost indestructible chains and flee out of this heavily reinforced room that only opens from the outside?’

Tony gritted his teeth. ‘I don’t know… yet. We can’t be that far away from Earth yet, there has to be… something.’

Loki literally rolled his eyes at him this time. Tony wanted to strangle him with his chains. After taking a deep breath the Aesir looked at him again.

‘I suppose it is better if I tell you, before you do something reckless that might endanger any of my future plans.’

‘Tell me what?’

‘What do you think how long have you been asleep?’ The question was unexpected.

‘Uhh… few hours?’ Tony guessed.

‘Oh you mortals and your pathetically limited perception,’ Loki commented. ‘Can’t you feel it? That something’s not right? Your muscles feel too tired, your lungs too tight, your throat too dry?’

Tony kept staring at the god, not liking what he was hearing.

‘A few days?’ Tony asked then. ‘It can’t be more.’

‘Yes, it can. If it was magically induced,’ Loki answered simply. ‘In this case, it’s hard to tell… I was unconscious myself, but the lingering effects are too strong to ignore.’

‘How long?’ Tony asked with a harsher tone.

‘At least a few weeks, but months seem more likely.’

A heavy silence followed the words, only the low buzzing hum disturbing it. Tony started at the other for long moments.

‘That’s not possible.’ Loki just did an almost eye roll and leaned back on the wall. ‘No, it’s not possible. I would’ve died of thirst… or hunger… I don’t even have a longer stubble… it’s not possible!’

‘I assure you, it is. Since this was something strong enough to keep even me under, I’d say it had to be a mixture between magical and alchemical methods.’

‘But…’

‘I tire of giving you explanations. They simply “stopped” our bodies, that is the simplest way to put it. Common practice when it comes to important “living goods”. No need for sustenance and they can be sure that we still live by the end of the journey.’

Tony leaned back to the cold wall and let that sink in. Weeks, maybe even months. Loki had to be lying, right? That just didn’t sound possible, even if the weakness in his muscles and his too dry throat said otherwise. He wouldn’t feel this way if he was only unconscious for a few hours, but there could be other explanations for that. On the off chance Loki was telling the truth, it meant that he’s vanished from the face of Earth maybe months ago. No, he didn’t let himself think about it. Pepper, god fucking dammit!

‘Why am I awake now then?’ he asked numbly, his mind running as fast as possible thinking over all possibilities. He also hoped to catch a lie, because there was a big chance for that. He would be crazy to take anything at face value with Loki.

‘Well, we must be close to our destination of course.’

‘You seem to be way too relaxed for someone who’s being shipped into their death.’

‘Death? Oh no Iron Man, Death is mercy, Death is a generous gift, Death is the freedom we will beg to receive. We do not have such great prospects. Eventually, yes, but that can be in the very distant future.’

Now that Tony looked at the god again he noticed that the indifference was nothing more than a very good mask. He had no idea what was actually going through his crazy head. His face was carefully blank, deliberately hiding what he was feeling. Not wanting to display any weakness. That made sense, who would want to give such an advantage to their enemy. Then he realized that there was one question he forgot to ask so far.

‘So who are they taking us to?’

‘To someone who promised I would long for something sweet as pain.’

The next few hours (or what Tony guessed were a few hours) they spent in absolute silence. Not like Tony wanted to converse with the bastard, and he doubted that he could get more useful information out of him either, so that worked out splendidly. His mind was racing with possibilities, while he did his best to not drive himself into a frenzy because of what was coming. It was easy to understand from Loki’s words what awaited them, if he was telling the truth that is. Tony could swear the reactor in his chest was aching, the scars around it burning like in those first few days. The worst possible déjà vu, but he refused to give up just yet. He doubted Loki gave up either, but he could not count on whatever the god was planning. He would leave Tony with their captors without a blink, or he would even do it with a smile on his damn face. Maybe he would even use him to escape himself. He had to keep an eye on him.

He was also thinking about the others. Pepper, Rhodey, SHIELD. If he really was gone for weeks, or months – months dammit, fucking damn it to hell – then it meant that a lot of people were looking for him. Well they couldn’t find him in a fucking Afghan cave, how would they find him who knows where how far away from Earth… on an alien spaceship… in space!

The silence was disturbed by a sharp clink coming from the door that made both of them look up. Tony tensed, he saw from the corner of his eye that Loki did too, but the Aesir managed to relax his pose a second later. The damn good actor he was. Tony did the same, although it was a bit harder to appear completely relaxed in this situation, but he managed. Spit danger in the face, and all that.

The heavy door opened and Tony recognized the alien that smashed in Loki’s face, he had a large scar on his head and one of his eyes was indeed missing, but it was not a fresh wound, but something completely scarred over. That did seem to confirm Loki’s words about how much time passed. Unless these aliens healed a lot faster, which was also plausible, but of course if they healed faster the wound wouldn’t have scarred in such an ugly way. Fucking aliens.

The scarred one took a few steps closer to Tony while another one stood at the door with a big-ass gun aimed at Loki. They did not underestimate him. Loki just kept a cold gaze locked on the creatures and remained silent. The scarred one started talking and gestured at Tony’s chest. The engineer raised an eyebrow.

‘Sorry pal, I don’t speak space gibberish.’

The alien stared at him with one angry orange eye before he turned to Loki and spoke again, gesturing at Tony. Loki held the creature’s gaze defiantly for a moment.

‘What does the device in your chest do?’ Loki asked then. Yeah, Tony had a hunch that was what the alien was on about.

‘It’s none of his damn business,’ Tony replied.

Loki waited a moment, then with an impassive tone he said, ‘You need not know.’

The creature growled, understanding, which made Tony frown, but he was too preoccupied to think about it right now. The alien said something in a louder tone.

‘He’s threatening you… not too creatively,’ Loki said in a way of translating. Tony stared back with his best devil may care unimpressed look. The creature then strode closer and grabbed him by his t-shirt, pulling him a little up. He growled something in his face again.

‘Is it a weapon?’ Loki asked in a pleasant voice.

Tony kept his mouth shut, but the alien didn’t have any patience so it seemed, nor was he in the mood for any games either. Because the next thing Tony knew his t-shirt was torn and a big hand was going for his arc reactor. He tried to get away, fighting him, but the chains didn’t give him too much room to move and his muscles still felt stiff and tired, not to mention that the creature was way stronger than him. When the alien finally managed to pin him down and had his hand on the reactor Tony was sure he had nothing to lose.

‘It keeps me alive!’ he blurted out.

‘It keeps him alive,’ Loki repeated. The alien tossed Tony back down in reaction and left the reactor in. He grunted something then and they moved closer to Loki, who stood up, but did not put up a fight as he was chained even more. Maybe the gun aiming at his face was the reason for that. After Loki was securely tied up, they unhooked him from the wall. Then the one-eyed one walked back to Tony. They didn’t chain him up like Loki, but he was obviously not that much of a threat either. They dragged them out of the room, Loki first, so that he was walking between the two big creatures, Tony merely getting pulled along after them. At least they didn’t pay that much attention to him, which had possibilities.

They walked on dark corridors for quite a while, without a word. Then they finally reached a door. It led to a glass passageway with another door at the end of it. When they walked out Tony immediately looked around and his breath escaped him in a rush. He would’ve stopped if not for the brute tugging him along. He felt, more than saw that Loki indeed stopped walking for a moment, and that their captors had to shove at him to keep moving again. Maybe even he didn’t expect the view outside. Said view was a completely barren land and the clear sky, well more like open space all around them, and something Tony only ever saw on super high resolution telescope images.

‘Is that a galaxy?’ he asked. It looked like one, the spiral kind, which was really not good, because how fucking far away were they from Earth then? It was large, large enough that it covered most of the view beyond the barred land around them.

‘Andromeda,’ Loki spat out, definitely not pleased about it.

Tony sucked in another breath, his insides freezing up all over again. No wonder it looked familiar. Andromeda being this close to them they had to be… at least 2,5 million light-years away from Earth.

Oh… Fuck.

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Andromeda. Fucking Andromeda was visible on the sky, and not just in a “bright spot in the distance” way, no in the “right in your face covering the entire sky” way. It’s not like he had enormous hopes of getting away, but this? This fucked all of his even remotely possible plans with a 14-inch strap-on. The engineer in him couldn’t help but wonder how fucking fast the ship was they travelled with. Every other part of him was just too shocked to do anything but put one leg after another. His mind was still a bit slow, which almost never happened, so he assumed it was an aftereffect of his long sleep. He knew he had to think of something in a way of escaping, but what was there? He couldn’t just run, there was nowhere to run! He was fucking millions of light-years away from Earth. The thought itself was too big to even think about it in detail. He was the first human who ever set foot in a different galaxy (as far as he knew) and he was walking towards horrible pain and eventual death. He would bet Magellan did not face situations like this.

He looked at the frankly magnificent shape of the Andromeda once more before he was dragged inside through a door and he lost sight of it. Beautiful, truly… he took a large shaky breath. He was not getting away from here, was he? It definitely felt like it. His chest felt too tight again, but he swallowed and pushed down whatever emotion wanted to burst out. Not the time, not the place, he had to keep it together for as long as possible. Maybe later he would find a way, he just needed time, he could come up with something… he always did.

He was too lost in his thoughts to pay attention to anything in front of him. They walked through another door and the second it closed his chain was tugged forward sharply. By the time he looked up again Loki already had his own chains around one of the creatures’ neck. He twisted around, swift and graceful, and Tony heard the sickening sound of bones cracking as the alien’s neck snapped. Loki pushed the dead-weight off, towards the other alien, who couldn’t raise his weapon soon enough because he was holding Tony’s chain. When the alien stumbled the momentum dragged Tony along, he was just about to try and get out of his grasp when shouts filled the corridor as the door opened on the far end. More aliens, wonderful.

Tony saw no point in fighting, they were outnumbered, he had no weapons, no protection and he was chained. People said he didn’t have any self-preservation instincts, well he was proving them wrong right now. He couldn’t say the same about Loki. He fought alright, viciously. Sure, he was not as vulnerable as Tony, since he could take a beating from the Hulk, but this was downright stupid. In the end they managed to subdue him, but boy he dealt out some serious damage before that. By the time it was over most of the aliens sported some sort of bleeding wound. Tony was pretty sure that if someone didn’t want Loki delivered alive these guys would’ve continued attacking him until he was dead. Instead the Aesir was left bleeding and stumbling, but still defiantly glaring. It kinda made him wonder why Loki accepted his defeat on Earth so gracefully.

The aliens shouted among themselves for a bit then they continued their journey in a lot faster pace. Loki really had a talent for pissing off others. Tony just hoped it would not come back and bite him in the ass. Although he really didn’t know how things could be any worse.

‘Godling,’ said the dark figure the second Loki was tossed down onto the floor. Tony didn’t see much of him as he was still standing by the entrance between two beefy alien guards. At least someone besides Loki spoke… English? Okay that was strange, but he dismissed it for now, not a priority. Loki spat some blood on the floor then got up to his knees.

‘You have been warned,’ the figure said.

‘And you have promised a formidable army, which was easily disposed by a handful of mortals… who exactly broke their word?’ Loki asked in a dark tone. The figure turned around. He looked different than their guards. Pale blue, almost white skin, Tony couldn’t see his face because of his hood, not that he wanted to, the six-fingered hands were creepy enough already.

You have failed,’ rasped the cloaked figure with finality. ‘And you will pay for it.’

‘I do not fear you,’ Loki answered. One of the guards yanked on Loki’s chains in answer and the cloaked one took a few steps closer to the Aesir.

‘You will.’

Loki started laughing. It was a low and sharp sound, amused and dangerous at the same time, and also a little insane. ‘I will take great pleasure in tearing out your heart. You will see it beating in my grasp as you scream,’ he spat at the alien towering over him.

The other snarled and was right next to Loki in a blink, a long curved blade in his hand pressed to the god’s mouth.

‘If you did not have still things to tell us, I would cut your tongue out right here, godling.’

Despite the blade sitting on his lips Loki smiled widely, not minding getting cut at the corner of his mouth at all. The two stared at one another for a few moments before the blade was drawn away.

‘Take him out of my sight,’ the cloaked alien ordered in a hiss. This time Loki didn’t put up a fight. Tony watched as he was dragged away with an impending sense of dread. When the door closed and Loki’s tall figure was gone Tony turned back only to startle finding the cloaked alien standing right in front of him.

‘Weak. Fragile. Human,’ he spoke slowly, his face only a few inches away from Tony’s. ‘Tell me, how could one Midgardian man kill more of ours than he from yours?’

‘I’m more awesome?’ Tony answered. He was pretty sure that his voice came out confident and nonchalant enough. He mentally patted himself on the shoulder.

‘You were certainly more effective,’ the alien answered. ‘My master is pleased by… efficiency.’

Tony kept his gaze even and his face as blank as possible.

‘Tell us what weapon you used,’ he continued. Tony did his best not to react much. So that was what this was about. He should’ve thought of this, he should’ve known! ‘He was most pleased with its strength.’

‘I destroyed your army and your boss is happy about it?’ Tony asked.

‘It was a great tribute to his Mistress,’ he answered in a theatrical tone turning away and walking a few steps to the right. Tony had absolutely no idea what the hell that was supposed to mean. ‘Tell us about the weapon.’

Well, this was a fucking familiar situation.

‘No,’ he answered evenly.

‘My master would reward you, most handsomely,’ the other replied.

‘No,’ Tony repeated.

‘He could give you power and knowledge beyond your imagination.’

‘No.’

‘Fool,’ he said turning back towards Tony. ‘We will get what we want. You will tell us.’

Hm, telling the aliens who sent Loki to conquer the Earth how a nuclear weapon works. Yeah right, that was very likely to happen.

‘No, I won’t.’

‘Yes… you will.’

He gestured with his hand and Tony was dragged away.

They tossed him in a cell, unsurprisingly. Unlike the one on the ship, this one did not have beds. It didn’t have anything, just bare walls and a very hard floor. His hands remained chained, but he was not tied to the wall. He counted himself lucky. Also, he was alone inside. Maybe they will keep him and Loki apart. He couldn’t disagree with that one. Loki was just as likely to murder him as his captors, or even more so, the Aesir did not need anything from him.

He spaced in the cell for quite some time. He counted that it was seventeen feet long and eight feet wide, the ceiling was too high and too dark to guess its height correctly. There was one deep hole in one corner that led into some sort of pipe. It didn’t take long to realize what that was for, it was too narrow for anything else. Oh joy, the luxury of this place. This was worse than the cave, much worse. He tried not to think about the last time he was captured, but it was hard not to. There was literally nothing inside that could help him come up with any new escape plans. Certainly not with any that would get him back to Earth. He wondered how they will try to persuade him to tell them about the nuke, but he had fairly good guesses. This was not his first rodeo… so to speak. He shivered, and it had nothing to do with the chill in the cell.

He must’ve been alone for what felt like hours, not disturbed by anyone. It left him on edge, the uncertainty, which was probably why he was left like this. Then he finally heard someone opening the door and he straightened up, turning towards whoever was coming. It was two of the guards, with a third standing in the door, not surprising. They were dragging Loki inside, which was a little bit unexpected. They tossed him down roughly. Loki just rolled over and laughed, his smile was wide, his teeth bloody. He was shackled at his wrists just like Tony, but one of the guards also chained him to the wall. Both guards had some large cuts on them, and the one standing at the door had so much blood on his face that it was dripping down to his armour. Loki must’ve lashed out again.

Once Loki was chained up all three of the aliens left and Tony was left standing and staring at the still laughing god. Loki slid closer to the wall and leaned next to it. His laugh quieted down and he finally turned his gaze at Tony.

‘Stark… why so serious?’ he asked with a smile.

‘Oh I don’t know,’ Tony spoke and all his frustration, all his powerlessness, his anger and everything else he tried to keep in check very hard was boiling in him, wanting to burst out so badly. He didn’t have the energy to hold it back. ‘How about the fact that I got punched in the face in my bedroom and I woke up months later right up in the ass of the FUCKING ANDROMEDA GALAXY!’

‘Or maybe that it was the crazy asshole that tried to conquer my planet that dragged me into it! Or that I’m chained up in a hellhole because your creepy-as-fuck friends liked how I killed off an entire army! And on top of it all I have you INSANE FUCK as my goddam roommate!’

He turned away and took a few large breaths, trying to get his temper under control. He was so fucking out of his depth here. How could he possibly end up like this, in a place like this? How was this happening? How was he going to get out of this? How?!

After he felt like he could talk without shouting he turned back towards Loki, who looked most definitely unimpressed by his outburst, which just pissed Tony off even more.

‘They want that weapon you used, don’t they?’ the Aesir asked after another few moments of silence. Tony contemplated ignoring him, but in the end decided against it.

‘Yes.’

‘This may sound peculiar coming from me… but I suggest you do not tell them what it was.’

Tony scoffed, because like he needed Loki of all people to tell him that.

‘I won’t,’ he said with a tone that made it obvious how idiotic it was to even suggest that he would even consider it.

‘Oh good,’ Loki replied lightly, wiping some of the blood off his face. ‘I do not have to wring your neck just yet then.’

Tony stared at him, his shoulders squared, his face even harder than a moment before.

‘Do not look so surprised… Iron Man,’ Loki said, his tone when he uttered the last part positively mocking. ‘You may be my enemy, but they are as well, and I do not want such a weapon in their possession.’

‘Well, something we agree upon. I think the world may be ending,’ Tony commented.

‘If it looks like, even for a second, that you are about to… cooperate with them. I will kill you before you have time to utter a word.’

His piercing eyes locked on Tony’s face in a very unnerving manner.

‘Got it.’

‘Good.’

After that, they stayed quiet, neither of them too keen to speak a single word to the other again.

Chapter Text

 

They didn’t do anything to him. Every time the door opened Tony braced himself for what may be coming, but they never came for him, only for Loki. He tried to guess how many days passed, but the thought actually made him laugh rather hysterically. “A day”, as if it mattered how many times a tiny speck somewhere very very far away turned around its axis.

Whenever the guards came for Loki, he called it a “morning” and “evening” was whenever they brought him back and gave them some water and something that could be called food, if one exaggerated. Not knowing the passage of time was driving him crazy, starting with the first few months that he slept through. So he started counting the days.

Including the day they were tossed into the cell, they have been here for eight days already. He had absolutely no idea how many hours these “days” had though, but he still called it that. For eight days now they dragged Loki out for quite a long time and brought him back bloody and beaten up. For eight days now Loki laughed at them when they tossed him back inside, and there was not a single guard that didn’t have some sort of injury acquired from the god.

And Tony just watched and waited, but no matter how much time passed, there was no way out. He couldn’t see any. So just as before, he just tried to keep it together.

Day 17 was the first time Loki didn’t laugh as he was brought back into the cell, but judging by the angry red marks around his neck and the amount of blood he was spitting out it had more to do with his injuries than anything else.

It was more than unnerving to see how Loki looked every morning and compare it to what state they brought him back. Watching how his flesh knit itself back together as the hours passed, then see how new damage was done all over again the next day. They never really talked to one another and the silence was also not doing anything good to Tony’s nerves. He couldn’t sleep. He could blame a number of things, the too uncomfortable floor, Loki being in the same cell, thus making it impossible not to be alert and on edge, or of course the nightmares that tried to take over his mind more frequently as the time passed. At least Loki didn’t threatened or attacked him. Small mercies.

He also noticed how Loki looked worse and worse as the days went by, he was healing rapidly, but the more injuries there were, the slower the process became and sometimes he was still bruised when the door opened for him to be taken away again. Tony had a fairly good idea why they did not touch him yet. He was mortal, a lot less sturdy than someone like Loki, and they needed information from him, so they couldn’t risk injuring him too much. He had a sick cold feeling in his gut that told him that making him see what was happening to Loki, what their captors were capable of, was their way of making him more agreeable.

It was happening slowly, very slowly, but it was happening. The guards having fewer injuries, Loki healing a little slower, they were all signs leading up to the inevitable.

On day 31, when Loki just sat next to the wall, his every breath a wheezing wet sound in the cold cell Tony could not take the silence anymore.

‘I can’t believe that you have no way of getting out of here,’ he said. His voice a little deeper and more scratchy than usual, he was not used to not speaking for so long.

Loki’s eyes slowly opened then focused on him. He stared for a moment then raised his hands up.

‘You may have guessed, that my magic is sealed away,’ the god told him. Now that Tony looked at it, Loki’s shackles were indeed different looking from his own. There were engraving on it, some looked like runes, and some were symbols Tony has never seen before.

‘So you can’t heal that either?’ Tony asked, gesturing at Loki’s chest. That wet wheezing breath had to do something with his lungs and one or two cracked ribs.

‘It will heal,’ Loki said.

‘What do they want from you?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I thought that there were things you needed to tell them.’

‘I always have things to tell, but not many are interested in my words.’ The god took a larger breath and straightened up a little, Tony heard the sound of bones shifting, popping back into their place. Loki then let out a breath and slumped back down to the wall. His face was mostly blank, but not as impassive as Tony was used to see it. He was probably tired.

‘So why are they--’

‘It does not concern you, Stark.’

Day 32 was the first time Loki was unconscious when they brought him back, for long minutes Tony stared at the dark lean figure lying on the floor not knowing what to do. In the end he didn’t have to decide as Loki came to pretty soon. He didn’t say a word, just slumped next to the wall in his usual spot. He was deadly pale, even more so than usual, when Tony caught the long deep gashes on his forearms he realized why, blood loss. Day 31 turned out to be the last time Loki laughed.

Day 37 brought them a new cellmate. Thin little guy, scared out of his mind, obviously his first time in a cell like this. He was a little green, literally, not Hulk-green, but green nonetheless and Tony couldn’t understand a thing he was saying, and vice versa. He contemplated asking Loki to translate, or whatever the hell he could do that made him understood, but it was fairly obvious that the Aesir did not care about the man. Not like Tony really needed to understand. He started wailing and crying and most likely begging at the door only after a few hours. Then he screamed. That was the moment Loki snarled some pretty colourful threat at him. After that green guy moved into the corner, as far away from Loki as possible, and stayed silent.

There was a part of Tony that kinda wanted to reassure him, or calm him down, something. But then he caught the man’s green eyes and it made him reconsider. He was not a coward, but ever so subtly he moved away a little. It brought him closer to Loki, which normally would not be good, but at least the god didn’t look at him like he wanted to have a bite at him, the literal bloody non-sexy kind of bite. He couldn’t say the same about the green guy.

The more time passed the more cautious Tony became, their new roomie was definitely tracking his every move with his eyes. He didn’t sleep at all that night and while the green one slumped down and slept, he managed to move even further away from him without having to be careful, putting Loki between them. At least the Aesir didn’t comment on it, again, small mercies. It was ridiculous though, that Loki was actually the lesser of two evils. Lesser of several evils even.

On day 38 when the door opened the green one covered in the corner, then started to screech again when the guards went for him. Loki sat impassively about five feet away from Tony, while the human kept his eyes on the guards as they dragged the green one out. He could hear his shouts even after the door closed, then it quieted down a little and tuned into the unmistakable sound of begging. There was silence for a while after. When the screaming started Tony was annoyed that he startled. He still recognized the green one’s voice. He was screaming, not in fear anymore, but in agony.

It went on and on for what seemed like hours before it quieted down again then vanished altogether. Tony could hear the blood pumping in his ears. The alien may have been dangerous, maybe even someone (something) horrible, but listening to this was a different matter.

‘Your instincts were surprisingly accurate,’ Loki spoke suddenly. Tony turned to look at him. They were sitting by the same wall now after Tony’s relocation.

‘About?’ he asked.

‘That beast…’

‘Wanted to eat me… yeah, it was hard not to notice.’ He shouldn’t be glad, not after what he was just listening to, but damn, it was good that the green guy was not coming back. It may have been problematic. ‘You on the other hand did not look so tasty to him,’ he commented.

‘Monsters rarely do.’

Tony had to wonder who the monster Loki was talking about was, because it didn’t sound like he meant the green man.

The guards came back for Loki not long after. Tony realized then that they could hear every scream, every cry, every single second of the green man’s torture, but there was never any sound from Loki.

After day 40 Loki dramatically worsened. He constantly had some unhealed wounds and his sickly paleness became constant. Tony was literally watching how they slowly and methodically broke him apart. Knowing how much Loki fought at first, knowing what he was capable of and seeing this happening was not doing anything good to Tony and his state of mind. He literally did nothing for the past forty days. He started to exercise some when Loki was gone just so his muscles won’t start failing on him. He’s taken on the habit of walking up and down in their cell, not that there was anywhere to go really, but he had to move. Forty days and he still didn’t see a way out, he didn’t really know where they could go beyond the door.

And also, he hated to admit it, but he dreaded the day the guards would finally take him out instead of Loki, because while he didn’t know exactly what they were doing to him, he could see its effects on the god. Tony was only human and these guys definitely knew what they were doing.

On day 46 Loki was unconscious again when they brought him back and this time he didn’t wake up immediately. Tony stared at him for a few minutes then reminded himself that he was supposed to be the good guy and went to move him to the wall, making him sit up. Loki didn’t wake. He was still unconscious when the guards brought them food and water. Seeing that Loki was not awake they didn’t leave his share in the cell. Tony left some of his for him. He was the good guy, he reminded himself again, so it felt like something he should do. Besides, Loki was the one losing blood and having to heal, not him.

When Loki finally woke up Tony already moved back away from him. After he noticed the food and the water beside him he looked at the human for one long moment before taking the water. He left the food though.

On day 48 Loki threw up blood, violently and Tony didn’t think before he moved closer and helped him stay upright. When they reached the wall and Loki sat down he shrugged Tony’s hand off and shoved him away, his eyes angry and venomous.

On day 51 Loki’s hands got broken, but he didn’t let Tony help him drink some water. Tony called him a stubborn asshole, Loki called him a pathetic fool, then they continued to ignore the hell out of each other.

On day 52 the guards were bloody and wounded and angry again, but Loki didn’t laugh.

On day 65 Tony tried to not pay attention to the way Loki shoved a broken bone back into its place, but he heard it. He had to grudgingly admire just how much damage the god was able to take, how he could heal stuff like that in a matter of hours… or lately, in a matter of days, if his wounds were not reopened.

On day 78 Loki didn’t shove him away when he sat down next to him to help him drink some water, but his eyes were still murderous. Tony was half exasperated by his pride but also respected it somewhat that Loki refused to give in.

On day 84 Loki screamed. He has been away for a long time, and Tony was walking up and down the cell again, stretching his muscles, when all of a sudden his scream echoed from somewhere outside. Tony froze and did not move again for quite a while. He could feel how his pulse quickened, how the blood rushed into his ears and he clenched his fists and shut his eyes tightly. He couldn’t shut out the sound though, so he heard everything. They were cries of pain, not fear, not the sound of begging and sobbing like they heard from the green man. No, Loki would not beg and he was certainly not afraid of them, that much Tony could say for certain.

When they brought him back the guards looked especially smug, no doubt being proud that they could finally tear screams out of the god. They tossed him down to the ground. Tony only moved once the door was closed and wordlessly helped Loki get to the wall to lean against it. He tried to shrug him off again, but Tony just gripped him a little firmer and helped him anyway. Once they were sitting Loki looked at him, his eyes hard, but seemingly searching for something in Tony’s face. Then he turned his head away and Tony didn’t know what he did or did not see.

The next day after Loki was taken there was silence for a long while again, but then just like the day before the screams started. Tony sat down and pressed his fists into his eyes, trying really hard not to listen to the sound, but there was nothing else to focus on. When the guards brought him back Loki was standing on his own feet, but barely. The guards still looked smug, one of the beefy aliens even said something as they dragged the god inside, to his pals or to Loki, Tony couldn’t tell. Loki spit in his face in answer, which earned him a massive kick in the stomach. The second guard held back the one who kicked Loki and after a few angry words they left.

‘You’re one badass sturdy stubborn bastard, you know that?’ Tony said as he moved closer to help Loki sit at the wall properly. The Aesir didn’t say anything in answer though, but he did look at Tony again with that almost searching look, turning away again finding or not finding what he was looking for.

On day 88 they came for him. Tony knew they would, he was expecting it for a long time now. Every time the door opened his muscles tightened and he braced himself for the inevitable. He didn’t need to guess what would happen to him. Not just because he’s been at the mercy of those who wanted a weapon from him before, but also because he saw what they were doing to Loki. Prideful, powerful Loki gradually breaking apart under their hands. Tony was only human, but he swore to himself that he would not give in easy, and that he would never tell them what they wanted to know. There was only one thing to do, bear it as long as possible and search for any way of escape when he was outside of their cell, taking a look at everything.

So when the day did come he squared his jaw and let himself be dragged outside. He was sure Loki’s eyes followed him, but he didn’t look back at him. Would he look pleased, that Tony was about to suffer finally? That he will have more time to heal while their captors were busy with Tony? Or was he wearing his indifferent mask? He couldn’t guess and he didn’t want to look. The six-fingered one was there first, asking him again to tell them about the weapon. After all, he knew what would happen if he didn’t. Tony told him with a smile that he could kiss his ass. Loki smiled, Loki laughed at them, fought them, and no way in hell some crazy god who wore a gold horned helmet would do better than Tony Stark. They could hurt him, but they would not break him, he would not fear them. So when he was dragged away to a room, that was all too obvious in its function, Tony quickly grabbed a nearby blade just before they could tie him down and sank it in one of the guards. He got hit for it, hard, but worse would follow and hearing the pained shout and seeing the deep stab wound was somewhat satisfying. He also promised to himself that he would not scream. Later, he would, he knew he would, but not now.

He kept his own promise for ten days, then he was unable to.

On day 100 he landed on the cell floor with a heavy thud. His injuries were painful, but never too damaging, they needed him alive after all. He still didn’t know a way out and it was getting hard to remember Pepper’s smile, because it seemed just so very far away and like something that he last saw years ago. He felt two hands on him as he was pulled uprights. He was not as prideful as Loki, so he didn’t push him away. He even thanked him for moving him to the wall. Loki didn’t reply, but also didn’t move away, sitting down a feet away from Tony.

On day 100 Tony stopped counting the days.

Chapter Text

 

Tony tried to think of Pepper every day, tried to recall as many details as possible to keep her fresh in his mind. At first it helped, but as time went on it just reminded him how very far away he was and how likely it was that he will never return to her. He wondered sometimes, was she still searching? Or has she given up by now? He had no way to know how much time passed since he was taken away from Earth, he didn’t know how much time it would take to get back, if ever. Thinking of her lately just made the cell look worse, made him hyperaware of the dirt, the dampness and the ever present stench of blood and how they didn’t smell any better than the cell itself either. He noticed that he also lost some considerable weight. It was not surprising with the small amount of food they got. His hair got longer too, which was another irritating sign of how much time actually passed.

They were careful with him, caused only little damage, but a lot of pain, he rarely got cut or made to bleed, it didn’t mean they were not creative in other ways. He kept it together, he may have screamed until he was hoarse, but he kept his mouth shut and was hanging onto his clear mind, his sanity and as much from his dignity as possible. Loki did too. Loki who was bone-thin and pale as a ghost still looked down on their captors and they could see it. His body was weak now, but his eyes were still blazing with hatred. The bastard. Tony hated to admit it, even just inside his own head, that he was impressed by that. Because that really took something, to be able to look down on men who could make him scream like a gutted pig. Maybe it was a royalty thing, or just a Loki thing.

He also hated that it affected him as much as it did. That seeing that look on Loki’s face made him grit his teeth a bit more, made him raise his head a bit higher. He didn’t have anything to prove, not to this guy! Not to this crazy asshole, who tried to take over the world, trashed Tony’s tower and tossed him out of a window! He did not have to prove himself to him! But it still made him toughen up, because if Loki could do it, then he sure as hell won’t break under the pressure either. No chance in hell.

It was an unspoken routine at this point, to help the other out when they were too weak to stand up on their own. They never talked about it, they never acknowledged it. Tony was fairly sure that Loki didn’t want to kill him at this point. Well, unless his death could be used for an escape or anything. At least Tony could fall asleep in relative peace, not having to worry that Loki would kill him in his sleep, because he was pretty sure that if the god decided to murder him, he would do it while he was awake.

Sleep of course carried the possibility of nightmares and so far he’s been lucky enough that none of them were too intense or vivid. When the waking hours were horrifying enough, his usual nightmares didn’t seem so terrible. His luck had to run out eventually though. He couldn’t tell, in the nightmare whether he was in the cave or here, it didn’t matter. There was pain and screams, cold water and burning fire. His arc reactor was aching like when the palladium was poisoning his veins, Yinsen stared at him with dead empty eyes and when he turned back around it was Pepper screaming on the table and he was holding the blade.

He woke up with a scream of his own, his entire body shaking, his dirty skin covered in sweat and he was hot and cold at the same time. He couldn’t get his breath under control and he was pretty sure he was crying. Fuck. He pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his head on them, wanting to close out everything only for a few moments. God, what he would’ve given for some alcohol right about now.

‘There is a place…’ sounded Loki’s voice in the darkness. ‘In-between spaces, between the branches of the Yggdrasil, which is not a place at all, it is nothing.’

Tony raised his head with a frown. His breathing was still erratic and he didn’t stop shaking yet. Loki was sitting in his usual spot a few feet away from Tony, looking straight ahead as he spoke.

‘It is a dark void, so silent that sound does not even exist, you cannot hear the sound of your own voice… nor your screams.’

‘Time does not matter there, nor memories, nor hopes. But if you are good enough, strong enough, you can catch a glimpse of the true sight of the branches, entwining all worlds, colours you would not think existed, lights that should have faded long before they reached you. That is the true face of the Yggdrasil. And when you see it, you do not wonder any longer why those who ever raised their eyes upon it went mad by the sight.’

‘You’ve seen it?’ Tony asked.

‘Oh yes… and it was magnificent.’

‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘Because there is no one else to tell.’

‘And gods forbid your awesomeness is not acknowledged by someone,’ Tony said.

‘Do not mock me.’

‘I wasn’t,’ he answered easily. There was another beat of silence then Loki turned away. ‘I sight worth going mad for… that really must be something.’ He said, but Loki didn’t reply. Tony was sure he could not go back to sleep, so he tried to get into a little bit more comfortable position. Then he realized; he wasn’t shaking anymore.

Loki was kept away longer this day. They usually brought him back sooner. Tony was walking up and down in the cell like usual, but this time his thoughts were racing as well. Did they kill him? Did he make a deal? Did he escape? All three was a plausible possibility and none of the three would’ve surprised Tony the least. Then the door finally opened and Tony was kind of… relieved… maybe… something like that. It’s been a while since the guards bothered to chain him to the wall. They probably thought him weak enough at this point. Tony thought that was idiotic, Loki would always be dangerous, but he sure won’t point it out to their captors.

At first he thought Loki was unconscious, but he was not. The god just stayed down on the floor, shifted until he was on his knees then started to get up. He fell down again, his arms not holding him up. Tony moved to help.

‘Leave me!’ Loki snarled at him and Tony stopped a few steps away from him. The god remained down, couldn’t get up. A low angry sound tore out of him then and he slammed his hand to the floor. His whole body was tense, and shaking a little, he was also sucking in deep breaths through his teeth and hissing it out again. As the moments passed his breathing became ragged and he hit the floor again in anger something unintelligible leaving his lips. His shoulders were shaking and the next sound that left him was either a cough or a sob, it was hard to tell. Tony moved again, but the second he touched Loki’s shoulder the god turned on him angrily. A hand closed around Tony’s throat and he was dragged down to the floor.

‘I said leave me you pathetic fool!’ he snarled, his eyes were hard and furious and the brightness of unshed tears did not make him look any less intimidating. ‘Or do you rejoice that they can bring me down to my knees like this?!’

‘I don’t enjoy watching anyone suffer,’ Tony answered. ‘Not even you.’

‘What is this then? Pity from the hero? A noble gesture you graciously bestow upon me? I have no need for such useless things!’

For some reason Tony didn’t feel as afraid as he should’ve been. Loki was well capable of killing him on the spot, but for some reason he stayed relatively calm. His heart was beating heavily in his chest, but his voice came out even and light.

‘Pity? It would be pretty hard to pity you after I saw how much it took them just to make you stop laughing and spitting on them.’ Loki’s eyes were still hard and were still locked on his face, the anger not wavering. ‘And I’m not noble or gracious, most of the time I really hate being called a hero too. So there’s that.’

Loki looked at him for another moment, that searching look on his face was starting to get familiar. Then he rolled off Tony and sat up, taking a deep breath as most of the tension bled out of his body.

‘I have a question,’ Tony said after he sat up too.

‘You may not get an answer.’

‘Likely… um… this isn’t your first time here, is it?’

‘What makes you think that?’

‘You don’t look like this is the first time you’re going through this,’ Tony said. He couldn’t really explain what made him sure of it, he just had a hunch. ‘Takes one to know one… and all that,’ he finished. Loki huffed, something that once may have been a laugh instead of just empty air.

‘Not here, but with them, yes,’ Loki answered after a long pause. ‘That place I told you about.’

‘The place in-between, where you can go mad from what you see.’

‘I eventually got out of there, but it landed me with them. Only last time their master was there as well and I had something to bargain with.’

‘What was it?’

‘The Tesseract. I knew it was on Midgard and I convinced them I could get it.’

‘I thought your main goal was… y’know… free from freedom, world domination, and all that.’

‘Midgard was to be my reward if I was victorious and this,’ he raised his head and looked around in their cell. ‘This is the reward for my failure.’

‘But how did they snatch you from Asgard anyway?’ Tony asked.

‘Let that be a story for another time,’ Loki answered as he stood up and slowly walked to his usual spot by the wall.

Tony moved to his spot as well a few feet away from Loki. He still had questions but he had a feeling Loki would not answer him.

He kept his mouth shut, that was the only promise he could still keep. It was hard and as the days went by it became harder. The worst thing was that he knew they would not kill him. They wanted to know about the nuke too badly. Tony also assumed that failure was not acceptable for their captors; he only had to look at Loki to know that. Whoever was the mysterious master of “The Other” – as Loki called him – they all feared him enough to not accept no for an answer. He wanted to ask Loki about him, but he wasn’t sure he would get an answer, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Someone who was feared by their captors, maybe even Loki himself.

The day came though, as he knew it would, that he had enough. He didn’t believe Loki at the start, that they would wish for death, but he was very close to hoping for just that. He didn’t know how much time passed, he still had found no way to escape and if this kept going he would go mad. Oh how he could see now how the shattered pieces of Loki’s mind came to be. This place was darkness and misery and quiet… too damn quiet. When he and Loki exchanged a few words at a time was the most pleasant time, because there was no silence and no screams. Screams-silence, silence-screams, oppressing darkness or white-hot pain. Just hearing Loki speak was the middle-ground, something in-between, like that place Loki mentioned, so magnificent that it drives you mad. He cared not what they talked about he just really came to like the sound of the god’s voice. When Loki talked things were peaceful, as peaceful as they could be in this place, so Tony liked to listen.

He was tired, but he couldn’t sleep, too many nightmares. A human could die from the lack of sleep, but it would be a really messy way to go, and painful. Although that was relative, it couldn’t be more painful than what they were doing to him… them.

‘Stark!’ He snapped his head up and looked at Loki. The god was probably calling his name for a while now. Tony blinked at him and waited. Loki moved closer and grabbed his chin, forcing their eyes to meet.

‘Remember what I told you?’ Loki asked his voice deep and even.

‘What?’

‘What I will do if it looks like you’re about to give them what they want?’ Tony blinked at him again, his mind shaking off some of the fog.

‘You’ll kill me.’

‘Yes.’

‘Good.’

‘What?’

‘I don’t want them to know, I won’t tell them, but… yeah, you might as well.’

Loki stared at him for another moment, then his face became hard.

‘Oh, so that is it? What did you call yourselves? “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”? And you’re ready to turn over and die? The Iron Man, Midgard’s great champion.’

‘I’m not a hero!’ Tony answered. His voice was a little stronger now.

‘What are you then? Were you not the man who destroyed an entire fleet with a single blow? Were you not the one who faced me without weapons or armour? Were you not one of those who defeated me?’

‘I’m--’ Loki gripped his bearded chin tighter, his grip was so strong that is was sure to bruise.

‘You know what I see right now? A snivelling vermin! A useless fool ready to sob at the feet of his enemies like an infant! Is that what you are? An ant waiting to be crushed? Because I will crush you, you are no use to me like this. You’re something not even worthy to clean my boots on.’

‘You’re not better than me,’ Tony said, his eyes sharper and his body tensing up. Loki was looming over him like a dark storm, all sharp angles and colours. It made Tony’s heart beat furiously.

‘No? Look at you. How would I be anything but better?’

 ‘If you need to compare yourself to someone like me just to feel superior than you are more fucked-up and pathetic than I thought you were.’

Loki’s face darkened with anger and he shoved him back to the wall, his grip still bruising.

‘Do not speak of things you do not understand.’

‘Oh I understand, I can see through your bullshit, your fucking issues and the attitude. Fucking takes one to know one. At least I turned my life around to do something better, you just destroy, throw your tantrums and try to convince yourself that you are above it all. That you are better than everyone, but you are not better than me!’

‘Prove it to me,’ Loki said in a dark dangerous tone. ‘Prove it that you’re more than just a useless sack of meat.’

‘I have nothing to prove to you!’

‘And yourself?’ Loki asked and it rendered Tony silent for a moment. ‘Takes one to know one, Stark.’

Loki let him go then and Tony just stared at him with wide, but angry eyes.

‘Why do you care?’

‘About you? I don’t,’ the god said simply. ‘But I cannot escape alone, not with these on,’ he moved his hands showing up his chains.

Tony blinked in surprise.

‘What? Escape? How? Why now? Why not say this sooner?’

‘Because it became clear to me by now, that I have nothing to offer them, but they want you alive, so they will be careful even in their pursuit.’ Loki explained. ‘I also needed information that was hard to come by while our guards were alert and careful. And I waited, because you would have refused if I offered sooner. You were not desperate enough to ally yourself with someone like me.’ His lips actually curled up in a ghost of a smile then, ‘And also, because I wanted to know, whether you would be strong or useful enough without your armour and your fellow brothers-in-arms.’

‘And now you think I am?’

‘Not considerably, but I have no better options.’

‘Well, you really know how to make a guy feel special,’ Tony said and after who knows how long the despair that was slowly consuming his every thought was subdued by a bright beacon of hope. He couldn’t trust the god though, not at all. ‘I don’t trust you.’

‘I do not trust you either,’ Loki answered.

‘But we have absolutely nothing to lose,’ Tony said. Even if Loki betrays him, it would make no difference, they would either escape, be would be tossed back in here or he would be killed.

‘Nothing at all,’ Loki agreed.

Chapter Text

His body was in pain and his nose filled with the unmistakable stench of dirt and blood. Darkness was never his enemy, neither cold, but in this hole, at the mercy of the henchmen of The Other he despised it. He should be insulted really that Thanos didn’t deem him important enough to show up himself, but in reality he was more than glad about the absence of the Mad Titan. On one hand he would’ve been able to bargain with him, The Other always disliked him greatly, so no wonder every offer Loki made this time around was disregarded. But in the end it was better to have Thanos far away. What he planned could never be made into reality if he were also present. His chances were already unfavourable as they were. His magic was sealed away and his body was weakened, he did not know where they were exactly either. It was not hard to figure out that they had do be in some dark corner of the Cassiopeia. It was the only inhabited galaxy one could see the Andromeda from in such detail. Not that their exact location mattered. They were too far away from the Nine Realms so even if his magic were available, he wouldn’t be able to walk on the secret paths, the branches of the Yggdrasil did not reach this far.

The plan was sloppy, to put it frankly, and his only help truly left much to be desired. Stark could be useful though, despite being a mortal, Loki could’ve ended up with much worse. If anything the human was one of the smarter ones of his kind and – as he proved before in their battle on Midgard – capable of immense amount of destruction with the right weapons at his disposal. What did Barton tell him? “Merchant of Death”? It certainly had a nice ring to it. Thor and the Beast may have been the most powerful members of the so called “Avengers”, Barton may have been the most resourceful and the Widow the most deceitful, but Stark, oh Stark was clever, very clever, unpredictable and a master of Midgardian technology, which had its own uses even if it was far less advanced than magic. Useful indeed, so there was no reason to get rid of him, not now anyway. The Widow or Barton would’ve been suitable too of course, but they would’ve been also a lot more likely to slit his throat than Stark. He did not expect the inventor to hold out quite so long though. It was surprising to still see fire burning in his brown eyes, Loki would’ve assumed that he would break much sooner. Usually he disliked to be proven wrong, and it would’ve been much easier to get him to do what Loki wanted had he been less hale in mind, but in this case Stark’s strength – or stubbornness – was to his advantage.

He was not easy to figure out still, not even after this much time. There was distrust in his eyes and he looked at everything Loki said with suspicion, but he still reached out with a helping hand whenever there was need for him. Sentiment, useless sentiment, that’s what it was. He would’ve been more comfortable if he would be able to guess what the human would do in any given situation, but somehow even in his weakened state he refused to behave like a pawn. It was infuriating, just like the lack of fear in his gaze. Suspicion yes, doubt certainly, but not fear. He was lucky that Loki had need of him. Stupid human.

‘So… tomorrow?’ Stark asked. ‘Morning I guess.’

‘We will not be as weak, so yes.’

The first part of the plan was rather easy and it really didn’t need much planning at this point. It took a long time and a lot of patience to get here though. Too long. Loki suffered many blows from their captors whenever he goaded them, but their anger made them foolish and they gave him too much information. And whenever they thought him unconscious they freely talked among each other. That is how Loki knew that there was an aerodrome in two days walk from their prison, literally the only place that could aid them in their escape. Many ships departed from there, it was ideal. Once they reached the Andromeda and were on Skrull territory, The Other and his men would have a hard time following them. Thanos was feared yes, but not enough for a whole empire to bow down before him because of two little prisoners. They would not want to get involved and The Other did not have enough men with him to force his will. Even if Thanos was pleased by the death-toll, the destruction of the Chitauri army was still a blow. And as far as Loki knew the Skrull Empire was in anarchy, which made the Andromeda all the better place for them to hide for a while. He only cursed his luck that it took him this long to get this small amount of information. The Other was a lot more careful than the last time.

‘I was thinking,’ Stark said, halting Loki’s train of thoughts. ‘I would be able to breathe outside, right?’

‘Most likely. Colonized planets do not always have an atmosphere, but wherever we are our guards seem to make regular trips outside. And you may have noticed that they breathe the same air here as you.’

‘That’s reassuring.’

‘It may be cold though, so if you can, you may want to grab something as we leave.’

‘Will there be time for that?’

‘Not much,’ Loki answered. He needed Stark until they reached the aerodrome, no, even until they reached the Andromeda. They would be less likely to simply shoot their ship to pieces if Stark was on-board. Loki knew Thanos enough to know, that if he wanted something he would do anything to get it, and it seemed like he really wanted whatever weapon Stark used against the Chitauri. Not that Loki blamed him, it really was quite some firepower.

‘Maybe we could get some extra time if we leave more quietly,’ Stark said.

‘How would that be possible?’

‘Okay, so like you planned. Two guards get in, we take them down… somehow. But instead of simply walking out we could leave quietly.’

‘I don’t see how--’

‘The ventilation system,’ the human interrupted. ‘Surely you noticed. Around halfway to the other room you can climb into it. It’s really big, I mean yeah since these guys are bigger than we are, and they make these things large enough for someone to fit in, in case it needs fixing. That’s logical, yeah? Same everywhere, well on Earth at least, I don’t know that much about other planets, but--’

‘Stop rambling.’

‘We take down the two guards, leave them inside here, go to the vent, hell, it probably leads into a service duct, it would make sense, I assume it does. And these things are always connected to the outside, because y’know… ventilation. I saw someone with some tools getting in there a few… weeks ago I guess, while they were bringing me back here. It should work.’

‘Hm, well you certainly haven’t been idle, Stark.’

‘The lot of good it did me, I wouldn’t have known where to go once I was outside.’

But with the information Loki gathered they had a destination. They should’ve done this sooner maybe. But then again, they always had at least three guards accompanying them at the beginning, heavily armed too. And the ones standing guard outside their cell have only vanished recently. Their chances would’ve been worse. No, this was the best time. Patience was always rewarded in the end and with Stark’s idea things looked even better than he first thought.

‘Once they notice we’re gone they are likely to seal all exits and they will search in the area of those. They would probably not expect us to be able to leave somewhere else,’ he said. Stark nodded.

‘I mean on Earth they would suspect the vents or the service ducts, there’s a chance for that here too, but I doubt these guys watched any action flicks.’

‘Watched what?’

‘Nevermind. We wouldn’t have to… slaughter our way out, which is well… the last time I was captured I actually left that way, well, I used fire, but I built an armour so that was different.’

‘Yes, we are more likely to succeed if we do not run into too many guards. Even if leaving a trail of bodies behind would have been more… pleasing.’

‘I have a feeling that I shouldn’t be encouraging any homicidal tendencies here, but I kinda agree with you there. Fucking bastards.’ Stark leaned back to the wall, his eyes were sharper than they were in weeks. The possibility of an escape really rejuvenated him. ‘It kinda sucks that we don’t have more weapons.’

Loki managed to grab one blade from the other room – that torture chamber – while they thought him unconscious from blood loss and turned their backs on him. It was not much, but it was enough. A few weeks prior, let alone a few months ago, he wouldn’t have been able to get away with it. Back then they watched his every move like hawks. Now they thought his spirit broken, they were less alert.

‘The guards usually carry some weapons. We can acquire something for you as well.’

‘Yeah, I won’t be too good with a knife… but I can use pretty much anything I can shoot with.’

‘You would be a very poor weapon’s constructor if you couldn’t.’

‘Oh, you know about that, huh?’

‘Barton informed me about all important details.’

‘Right…’

Maybe it was not the best time to remind Stark of all that Loki has done to his allies. It didn’t matter though, they had to work together for now, the past changed nothing.

‘I suggest you get some rest,’ Loki said. ‘Tomorrow will be very tiring.’

‘I suppose,’ Stark answered with a sigh and laid down. It was foolish, how easily he slept in Loki’s presence now. Stark knew he was needed, so he had nothing to fear for now. Stupid human.

The first part of the plan was both simple and carried great risk. Loki gave the blade to Stark, while he stood ready by the door. It was simple. Loki, even in his weakened state, would be able to take care of one of the guards, while Stark stood ready and took care of the other one. Loki was a bit doubtful that the human would be able to use the blade expertly enough to finish the guard in a single blow, but as long as he managed to do what he was told in relative quiet Loki would be willing to call it success.

He had to admit, that it was fascinating to look at him, dirty and bloody, standing in the darkness, with the long blade in his hand, his eyes sharp and determined. He really was quite a surprise in some things.

The second Loki heard the tell-tale sound of the lock opening his body tensed to prepare for the attack. Stark was silent and seemingly ready in his place. The guards walked in and it went surprisingly well, considering. They obviously didn’t expect their weak beaten prisoners to attack them, the fools. He is not to be underestimated, not ever! They would pay dearly for this mistake. He grabbed one of them by sliding his chains around his neck and twisting him back. The guard lost his balance. It was Loki’s current weakness that prevented him from snapping his neck immediately, but fortunately he could still keep him in place so that he couldn’t draw his weapon. He heard how the sound the other guard wanted to make abruptly cut off right after the unmistakable sound of a blade sliding into flesh, then the scent of blood filled the air. Very good Stark, surprisingly good. The guard he held finally went slack in his grasp and Loki was able to pull on the chain again until the guard’s throat finally crushed. He let the body fall to the floor.

He didn’t even need to remind Stark what to do. By the time Loki looked up he already took the guard’s coat and was going through his pockets. Searching for extra ammunition, Loki realized. He did not know how these types of weapons worked, only that it was energy weaponry, this close to Andromeda it was probably Skrull technology. Stark was quick and seemed to know what he was doing, took different things from the guard. After a thought Loki reached down to the other guard and took the same little black boxes, it seemed like it was what Stark was gathering. Once he was done the human looked at him and took the ones Loki found without a word and handed Loki the blade. The coat was too big on his frame, but it would give him some warmth and he would be able to hide the light in his chest behind it.

‘Shall we?’ he asked. Loki nodded and led the way. It left him uneasy to have Stark at his back, while he was armed this way, but the thought that the human wouldn’t know where to go without him made him relax. It was foolish to be cautious because of one human anyway… No, not just one human, Loki reminded himself, it was Stark, he was not to be underestimated.

The shackles on his hands made it slightly difficult to climb up into the vent, but he managed. Stark on the other hand was almost too short to leap up into it. Loki tried not to roll his eyes while he grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. If only he didn’t need the stupid human for this. He would not bother.

‘Thanks Reindeer Games,’ Stark said and pulled the vent door back into its place and swung the gun to his back by the strap so that it was not in his way. They were quick enough. They still had a few minutes before anyone would suspect what was going on.

They did not know where to go exactly, so in this they would have to rely on blind luck. Loki hated it, but there was nothing to do. It’s not like they could get a map. Loki was confident in his skills and instincts to help him find the right way, even without his magic.

The journey was long, too long maybe, and after a while Loki was sure that their captors were already searching for them. But Stark was right and the tunnels were wide enough for them to comfortably move around and eventually Loki caught the scent of sharp cold air once they reached what had to be the service duct. Getting the last vent door open didn’t work, so in the end Loki simply kicked it out. It fell to the ground with a loud noise that they hoped nobody noticed. Loki climbed out first, taking in their surroundings and was pleased to notice that there was no one in sight. Stark pushed the vent door back to its place then pulled the coat tighter around his body.

‘You were not kidding about the cold,’ he said. ‘I hope you know which way this aerodrome is.’

Loki looked up, it was not completely dark, but he could still see the stars of the Andromeda clearly and that was enough to give him direction.

‘Yes, let us go,’ he moved swiftly and surely. They had to move quickly if they wanted to reach their destination without getting caught. He was still injured and he knew that Stark would also not be able to walk for two days straight, so they needed a shelter, somewhere to hide, where they could rest. Hopefully as far away from this place as possible. Stark followed him a few steps behind, his legs were shorter, but he kept up with the quick pace. He was so determined to not fall behind. Like a mortal could ever hope to keep up with a god in everything. He thought Loki was no better than him, and it seemed like he was set on proving that. Stupid human.

Chapter Text

 

Cold was an understatement. Tony really envied whatever weird alien genes made it possible for Loki to not to feel the cold and simply walk outside here in a thin shirt. It was really not fair, he couldn’t feel his toes and fingers. He was glad that he was never really severely injured and also that he never stopped trying to keep his body as fit as possible. The walk was still tiring. The first part of their escape went well, Tony would be suspicious if not for how much of it was pure damn luck. Ever since Loki first mentioned their escape he was kind of annoyed that the god didn’t feel like sharing his little info about the aerodrome sooner. His majesty probably didn’t want to lower himself by asking some lowly human to team up with him. Tony also noticed the decrease in guards though, so some tiny part of him was almost glad that they didn’t decide to do this sooner. It probably wouldn’t have gone this well. Even if they were far from free yet.

He didn’t know how long they’ve been walking only that it was getting darker, not that it was all that light to begin with. The darkness was their friend, sure, but Tony still missed the sun, well any sun, his sun was too damn far away so he would be satisfied with any kind right about now. The fresh air, albeit cold did wonders to his head, he was not thinking this clearly in weeks. It was good to be outside, even if he was getting really tired. He didn’t use his muscles this much in who knows how long. Not that he was ready to admit his fatigue, he could go a little further. He survived the last fucking desert, he will survive this one too.

‘Let us descend here, we may find some shelter for a few hours.’

‘Shouldn’t we keep going?’ Tony asked.

‘I still need you alive, you need rest or you will not make it. I need to heal as well.’

Tony dreaded to be captured again, but a few hours rest sounded like just the thing he needed. He ignored the veiled insult in Loki’s words and followed him down on some not too steep hillside, and he was stupidly glad they’ve never taken his shoes. Frostbite and cuts would be a given. He wasn’t even sure whether this place was a desert or just some plain with too little vegetation. Everything was cold and dry. He also suspected that Loki could see in the dark a lot better than he could, because he didn’t notice where they were headed only when Loki was looking inside a cave mouth.

‘I wonder what lives here,’ Tony said, half as a joke, really.

‘Nothing that cannot be killed,’ Loki replied matter-of-factly and headed inside. ‘That would maybe even give us a decent meal.’

‘I wouldn’t have pegged you for the Bear Grylls type,’ Tony observed as he followed him inside.

‘What?’

‘Adventurer, survival in the wilderness, that sorta thing.’

‘You kill it then you eat it. It is hardly a skill worthy of praise. Even the simplest brute is capable of it’

‘Sometimes I forget that you’re a Space Viking.’

‘This should be far enough,’ Loki said as he stopped. ‘If someone looks inside they will not be able to see us.’ And with that he sat down.

Tony looked around so that he wouldn’t sit on anything then sat down as well.

‘Okay, so while we rest. How’s phase two gonna go?’

‘You may want to elaborate on that.’

‘We get to the aerodrome… which is now that I think about it, the actual phase two, since phase one was--’

‘Stop with the rambling.’

‘So we get to the aerodrome. How are we gonna leave? Just hop on a ship and play luggage?’

‘I was thinking more along the lines of hostile takeover,’ Loki answered.

‘Oh right, sure… I always wanted to be a pirate.’

‘Rest Stark, we cannot know how we will proceed unless we know what kind of ships are available.’

‘Sure, it’s not like I’m freezing my balls off in this place.’

‘We won’t be able to find water on the way, so you may want to consider talking less.’

Tony snorted at that and leaned to the wall. It was not so different from their cell. The air was colder and fresher, but other than that, the same feeling. He knew he wouldn’t sleep, but he drew the coat tighter around his torso and tried to stay warm.

‘Can’t we light some fire or something?’ he asked.

‘Inadvisable,’ Loki said. ‘Besides, we have nothing to light fire with, not with my magic still not available.’

‘Oh right, fancy shackles, useful,’ Tony told him and Loki glared in answer.

‘Our escape would be much smoother if I didn’t have them on.’

‘Your escape would be a solo mission, if you didn’t have those on,’ Tony corrected.

‘You of little faith, Stark. I told you I need you alive.’

‘Yeah? For how long? The longer you wear your bracelets the better.’ Loki finally turned fully towards him.

‘That may very well mean our demise,’ the god said. Tony searched his face, why was he pushing this? Then he realized.

‘Oh, I get it, you need me to get that off!’ he said.

‘If I could remove it on my own, I would’ve obviously done so by now,’ Loki answered angrily.

‘What if I say no?’ Tony asked. ‘I don’t see how it would help me to help you with that one.’

‘And if you do not help me why would I keep you alive after we are far enough?’

‘That kind of attitude is not helping your case.’

Loki glared at him for a moment then seemed to think it through.

‘Well, but I only need to reach the borders of the Nine Realms to be able to travel where I wish, but how will you get back to Midgard without me?’

‘And if I help you take that off, what’s the guarantee that you’ll help me? You won’t need me then, you could just as well abandon me or kill me. And I won’t let either of that happen.’

‘I could give you my word.’ Tony snorted again. ‘Even I cannot break an oath, Stark, and believe me I care more about getting my magic back and escaping The Other than I care about your life. Leaving you alive does not harm me, but gains me a lot. Your death on the other hand would put me on a disadvantage. Surely you can see that you are more useful to me alive.’

Tony looked at him. He had no reason to believe him, but what he said was true. He shouldn’t trust him though, he really shouldn’t.

‘I’m probably gonna need tools for that anyway,’ he said finally. ‘No reason to argue about it right now.’

One part of him was convinced that he would regret it if he did it, but another part of him was sure that they needed each other to get out of this, to get away from here and to safety and that Loki knew that too. He will cross that bridge when he got to it, now was not the time to decide.

They really only rested for a couple of hours and while Tony was really getting way too cold it also helped him to be able to keep going. Hell, it felt spectacularly good to be on the move again and get some blood back into his limbs. Even if there was wind outside, he still didn’t feel as cold as when they were sitting in one spot. He really couldn’t feel his toes at this point though, which sucked. He also kept looking around and listening to any noise that may be around them. After they left the cave they were no longer on a plain but walking among smaller and bigger hills. He would’ve been captious on such a terrain, but Loki moved forward with such certainty that Tony could be sure that they won’t fall off a cliff or something. He had absolutely no idea how long they’ve been going, his sense of time was fucked up since he was taken from Earth.

‘Tell me we’re at least halfway or something,’ shit his face felt frozen too. He could compare notes now, which was worse, burning in the sun after escaping torture in a desert cave or freezing to death after escaping torture in an alien prison. Fuck his life, fuck it so very much.

Loki abruptly stopped and Tony almost ram into him.

‘What?’

Loki shushed him – or hissed at him it was hard to tell – and simply reached back to smack a hand over his mouth. Rude.

Then Tony almost dropped himself to the ground when a loud noise could be heard and strong wind whipped around them. He followed Loki’s gaze after he was sure he would not get a heart attack and saw that it was actually a plane that was flying across the sky right above them. No, not a plane, space ship! It was really close to the ground so it was surely landing.

‘Yes, I do believe we are close,’ Loki observed as the ship descended further and vanished behind another hill. They started moving again and Tony felt the adrenaline pumping in his veins.

When they reached the hill Loki crouched down and Tony followed suit.

‘Whoa,’ was his first reaction when he noticed the aerodrome in the distance. There was one incredibly high tower with lights on it, kind of looked like a giant mushroom with the dome on the top of it. The whole thing was huge with ships landing and taking off all around the tower, cargo loaded and transported. It was busy with a lot of movement.

‘How are we supposed to get on a ship without being noticed?’ Tony asked. They were pretty close, so getting to the ships would not be a problem, but getting into one may be, especially with Loki’s “hostile takeover” plan. ‘And taking over one seems pretty impossible to me.’

‘Of course we won’t attempt to do that now. We get onboard, hide in the cargo hold and take over once we’re out in space, wait patiently and strike silently in the right moment.’

‘Silent attack from the cargo… we’re gonna be the snakes on a plane,’ Tony remarked.

‘Precisely.’

‘No, that’s a… nevermind.’ He should really stop with the Earth pop culture references with someone who’s not gonna get it. ‘Which ship then?’ he asked and was already taking stock of the available ones. A small inconspicuous one would be the most ideal.

‘Far side, second from the left,’ Loki said. Tony turned and searched and felt how his eyes widened, because it was the biggest fucking ship in the whole dock.

‘Look, I know the joys of megalomania, trust me I really do, but how about we tone it down a little bit this time and take a small one like reasonable people?’ He asked as he turned towards the god, because seriously. Loki turned to him and looked like he wanted to roll his eyes.

‘You see the smaller ships, yes? Do you see the insignias on their sides? Those are Skrull battleships. Fast yes, and heavily armed, but also full with soldiers, maybe even thirty to fifty onboard. I highly doubt we would be able to take them all down with one blade and your weapon.’

Tony turned back towards the dock to look at the smaller ships. There were quite a lot of aliens around them, so much was true.

‘Now the ship I meant on the other hand is a cargo ship. It has no insignia, so it probably belongs to someone independent, but definitely not to the Skrulls. It’s slower and larger, but it only has a small crew and most likely even those are not highly trained soldiers, not all of them anyway.’

‘Who are these Skrulls?’ Tony asked.

‘The ones who rule most of the Andromeda, a force to be reckoned with, I assure you. The Andromeda is where we are heading if you did not figure that out by now, so it would be unwise to take a ship they may recognize as their own.’

‘How big is a small crew then?’ Tony asked. He really hated to rely on Loki this much, but he was his only source of information. He wanted to get away from here too, so for now Tony would take his word on such things.

‘I know not for sure,’ the god answered. ‘But I assume it has to be around eight or ten at least, but even if it is more our chances are better than with any of the battleships.’

‘Okay, cargo ship it is,’ Tony said. ‘Now we only need to get there without being noticed.’

‘Verily,’ Loki said and got up. Tony was sure the god had more experience in sneaking around – he looked like the type – so he followed him once again, as silently as possible.

Tony’s heart was threatening to simply push the arc reactor out if its place it was beating so hard by the time they reached the first crates down at the dock. He was right about Loki being good at this sneaking around thing, which was really-really good right now. He was breathing hard, but still tried to keep silent, there was fortunately constant noise and movement around them, so he didn’t have to be that quiet. His mouth may have been dry, since the last time he had water was a really long time ago, he was also cold and he was dead tired, but his mind was alert. It reminded him of the days when he forgot about time while working in his workshop, he was used to the lack of sleep even before this whole thing, now he was even better at it. He needed that now more than ever. They couldn’t know how long the ship would stay here, so getting away may take quite some time even after they reached it.

Loki moved again and Tony followed closely behind, this time they hid behind some large barrels. The ship was really close now, they just had to climb in through the cargo door and find a hiding place. Nobody noticed them for now, timing was essential and Loki chose the right moments to move. It didn’t really help to calm Tony’s nerves down though. He stayed crouched down and waited to move again. Suddenly Loki got down even more and Tony did the same without knowing what was happening.

‘They are here,’ Loki whispered. He didn’t need to elaborate on it. Tony was sure from the beginning that they would be searching for them here. Obviously, since where else would they leave than here?

‘How many?’

‘Five,’ Loki said. ‘Search party, they don’t know we’re here.’ Tony nodded and took a few deep breaths. He didn’t need to peek out. He knew Loki would move once the air was clear. Shit seriously, they were so close, they couldn’t be caught now.

Loki went rigid and completely silent then and Tony didn’t have to ask what was happening, because he caught the sound of talking. He couldn’t understand, but he came to know the language their guards used by now. They got closer, fuck. Tony kept his breath even and even pulled the coat over his mouth and nose to hide his breath in the cold air. It looked like Loki stopped breathing altogether. Tony saw how the guards walked towards their chosen ship and talked with some other alien that was standing there, asking questions whether he saw anything most likely. The conversation went on for a few moments. If they chose to walk in their direction they had nowhere to run, not without getting noticed. Oh fuck seriously, they better not walk in their direction.

The conversation ended and the guards walked away. The alien by the ship, who was quite a lot more humanoid and had a whiter skin than their former captors, went inside. Loki and Tony stayed hidden behind the barrels for long moments. Loki’s body relaxed a little after a while and Tony breathed a little easier as well.

Then before he had time to blink Loki was on the move and Tony reacted too slowly. By the time he could’ve started running, he noticed movement from the corner of his eye and he stayed hidden. Two aliens walked past, not too close, but not far enough either, while Loki already vanished inside the ship. Fuck. Well, Tony still had time to catch up with him. He peeked out very carefully and waited for the two to turn their backs. When they finally turned he ran. The ship was no further than 40 feet, but it seemed like the longest distance he ever had to run.

Then he was inside. It was a lot lighter than the outside and there were crates upon crates everywhere, and no sign of Loki. He walked carefully forward, hoping not to get noticed. Where the hell did that bastard go?

‘Lok--’

A hand closed around his mouth and he was yanked backwards and down to the ground, a hold too strong to get away from and too fast for him to react much. He was dragged behind some boxes in a blink of an eye.

‘Quiet,’ Loki breathed next to his ear, barely audible. Tony relaxed in the god’s hold as they got down to the floor, hiding away from sight. Tony nodded, hoping that it would make the other let go of him, but it looked like Loki was focused on something else and didn’t ease up. Tony’s back was pressed to his chest and Loki’s hand was still covering his mouth. Uncomfortable didn’t even begin to describe this position he found himself in.

Tony heard some footsteps not that far away from them, then the sound of a voice. Again, Tony couldn’t understand it. Then he heard how the door mechanism started to move, all cargo was inside apparently and they were closing up. Thank fuck, maybe they would take off soon then. Loki was like an unmoving rock at his back and he only relaxed once the footsteps faded.

‘Now we wait,’ Loki whispered to him. Tony nodded again and this time the god let go of him.

Now, they wait.

Chapter Text

 

They stayed in their hiding place for a long time. Long after the ship’s engines roared to life and they took off from that wretched planet. He would be lying if he said he didn’t give a sigh of relief once they were on their way. Stark was sitting right beside him, their shoulders touching, since there was not much place behind the crates, the human’s attention waning, but he was still alert. Loki did not know yet whether he would need him in the disposal of the ship’s crew, but it was better to have him ready. He wanted to wait until they were far enough before making his move, but he had no idea how fast the ship was. He would have to guess.

‘How long are we gonna stay here?’ Stark asked very quietly.

‘Eager?’

‘Thirsty.’

‘Soon. We should be far enough in a little time.’

‘How’s this gonna go then?’

‘We move quietly, search through the ship and kill them, preferably one by one.’

‘Kill them,’ Stark repeated slowly and something in his tone made Loki look at him.

‘Yes, kill them. What did you think we were going to do?’

‘I don’t know,’ Star shook his head. ‘But I don’t like this.’

Loki resisted the urge to scoff. He was expecting this sort of sentimentality. This made all those noble “heroes” so infuriatingly annoying. That they let their personal emotions and irrelevant moral codes prevent them from doing what was needed to be done. They refused to make the necessary sacrifices for the greater cause, but always threw themselves into the arms of Death. Brave valiant champions, but as soon as a greater sacrifice was needed they backed down, hiding behind shields made of false ideas and rules. Fools, all of them.

‘I care not, whether you like it or not, Stark,’ Loki said in a quiet but firm tone. ‘We need this ship, so we will take it.’

‘Maybe we could take it without--’

‘Without what? You did not seem to mind to kill before.’

‘That was different! They held us captive, they fucking tortured us, but the crew on this ship had nothing to do with that. They are not involved, they’re innocent.’

‘Innocent? How would you know that? Maybe they’re all smugglers, or thieves and murderers, who butcher and rape across the galaxy.’

‘Or maybe they’re not.’

‘You really think that innocents would use that aerodrome we just came from, that innocents would bargain and trade with those filthy beasts that inhabit that planet? Would they be welcomed in the docks of a planet in such a shady part of the universe, if they would be so very harmless? Are you that naïve? Or are you trying to play hero again?’

Stark stared at him with fierce angry eyes.

‘Look at it this way, Stark,’ Loki continued. ‘If we leave them alive they will take us back or they alert The Other and his men.’

‘Maybe they won’t. Maybe they would help.’

‘Are you really willing to take that risk?’ he asked. ‘Risk going back there, into that filthy hole and the hands of The Other? Think. What would happen if you are taken back? How long would it take them to completely break you, to strip away your sanity along with your skin? They will not let you die, you know that, oh no, not until you told them all your secrets, sold out your planet, your race, your friends. They would keep you alive for years if they have to. And in the end you would even forget who you are. You’d be nothing but a broken puppet in their hands, trembling at their feet while your world burns. Think about it, Stark.’

Stark’s hands were clenched now, and so were his jaw. His eyes were hard and he was staring right ahead, his face a cold hard mask, carefully hiding most emotions. There was a light tremor in his body, but Loki could not tell whether it was the cold, anger or fear causing it.

Are you really willing to take that risk?’ Loki asked again, slower and more firmly. Stark sucked in a breath through his teeth and clenched his eyes shut. After a long moment he shook his head, although it looked like it hurt him to do so. Good, at least he would learn from this.

‘Let us go then,’ Loki said and got up. They had a ship to take over.

The first throat he sliced belonged to a man down by the engines. It was the closest to the cargo area, so they stumbled upon him first. The next two was a little harder to get rid of since while the first fell without a sound the second drew a weapon – a lot smaller than the one Stark was carrying – and managed to avoid Loki’s first attack. Fortunately, he could wound him before he got the chance to shoot and after he lost his weapon he fell soon enough. Stark did not do anything, not like he was needed, but Loki was sure that if the situation called for it he would pull the trigger. He didn’t want to be captured again, imprisoned again and certainly didn’t want to give knowledge to The Other and Thanos that would endanger so many worlds.

One more he killed in what looked like a small kitchen and noted that they would have plenty of provisions even for a longer journey. Two they found asleep, or at least slumbering, so they went silently enough. Stark looked a little pale, but his face was grim and hard, Loki knew that expression. He would stand by his decision and later battle his guilt. Oh Stark could feel guilty if he wanted to, it was his own fault that he could not accept a necessity.

Another one they ran into on a corridor and Loki was sure that the crew was already aware that something was not right even if they did not know what, because this one already had his weapon drawn. Loki could not get to him quickly enough and he suffered a wound to his leg from the small weapon. He hissed in pain and stumbled, but then another almost silent shot went off and the man fell from the blast that came from Stark’s gun.

‘Finally decided to participate?’ Loki asked.

‘Shut up,’ Stark bit out curtly, sending him a rather impressive glare. Loki stood up and while it hurt to walk now he was not incapacitated.

Finally they were at the command centre and Loki’s estimation about the number of crew members seemed to be proven correct. Inside they definitely had at least one or two pilots, maybe even a captain or someone else, but there couldn’t be more than three or four of them. Only they opened fire at them first so this did not go so well. On the bright side, it seemed like Stark was more set on surviving than caring about his moral issues for now. One was injured by Stark’s weapon and the other died when Loki finally had a chance to throw his blade. It was hard to aim and make a fine throw with his hands still bound, but he managed just fine. When the third one was shot they could move in and Loki retrieved his blade to make sure none of them was alive. Stark dropped his weapon with a heavy clash and leaned to the wall, he dug the heels of his hands into his eyes breathing heavily.

Loki wanted to comment, but decided that it would be unwise to completely alienate Stark when he had need of him. So he let him wallow in his anger or guilt or whatever else that was going through his head.

‘I changed my mind,’ Stark said after a while. ‘I don’t wanna be a pirate.’

‘Good, I do not really want more ships. Takeovers are so tedious.’

‘Tedious… you really are not alright in the head, are you?’ Stark asked and Loki froze for a moment then turned back towards the mortal.

‘I am willing to do what needs to be done. Whatever it takes to survive.’ Loki told him. ‘Not just noble reasons are good enough to justify the means to an end. No matter what, lives are ended, and the dead do not care about your reasons. Those are only tools to appease your own conscience. So spare me your moral lecture and come here. We need to make sure we’re heading in the right direction.’

Stark stayed silent once in his life and walked up to him to take a look at the controls.

Loki was not familiar with technology. Not this sort of technology at least. All the displays and data and numbers and various graphs meant nothing to him. Stark on the other hand looked at all and his eyes immediately turned sharp and calculating. Some of the displays were floating in the air like light transparent illusions and those were the first ones Stark approached. He reached out with his hands and moved some things on them around.

‘Look at that, I almost feel home again.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning that I am a genius and heading in the right direction with my own tech.’ Which really didn’t explain anything to Loki. Stark looked over everything again and sighed. ‘I am way too tired for this,’ he remarked and rubbed his eyes. ‘Have you ever been on a ship like this?’

‘No. Have you?’ Stark snorted.

‘No, but like I just said… I am a genius. Come here and translate whatever I point at.’

Loki did not like to be given orders like this, but he didn’t comment. They needed to turn the ship in the right direction before they got rid of the bodies. He walked up next to the human.

‘Can you though?’ Stark asked. ‘Translate, I mean. I noticed that you always understand and for some reason you are always understood, but I have a feeling it’s not because you’re so multi-lingual.’

‘All-speak, it’s not important. I can translate. We should proceed.’

‘All right,’ Stark agreed, not pushing for answers. He started pointing at various texts on the display and Loki read them out loud. It took quite some time. When he was done the human stopped for a moment just staring at the displays, then reached out and started moving things around on it.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Shhh.’

Loki bit back whatever he wanted to reply to that and just watched. Stark kept switching things around, his eyes once in a while sliding over to a second or third display that floated in the air. Then suddenly a fourth one appeared in front of the other three and Loki didn’t need to ask to recognize a star map.

‘So where are we headed exactly?’ Stark asked.

‘It does not matter, somewhere in the Andromeda,’

‘Okay, but shouldn’t we be heading towards the Milky Way?’

‘The what?’

‘Milky Way… our galaxy,’ Stark said.

‘You call our…’ Loki stopped and took a breath. ‘You mortals are ridiculous.’

‘Why? When you’re on Earth and look up, the rest of the galaxy looks like a big wide white road across the sky. It’s fitting.’

‘It is still a ridiculous name.’

‘Whatever. So shouldn’t we head towards the Milky Way? Because I’m not sure Andromeda is in the same way.’

‘It would be unwise to pick a direct route back towards… the… our galaxy, because if anyone is following us, they will look for us in that direction.’

‘Okay, good point, alternate route, a detour.’

‘Yes, besides I am not sure we have enough water, provisions or energy to reach Midgard directly.’

‘No, you are right about that,’ Stark said. ‘I know we have to be at least 2 million light-years away, if not more, maybe a lot more. I don’t even know how long it would take us to get there.’

‘I do not know exactly either, but considering that we have to take a longer route, make multiple stops to restock whatever is needed… fuel maybe.’

‘Nah, looks like we have solar panels,’ Stark said and then continued to speak when Loki just frowned at him. ‘It gathers solar energy, so we only need to get close to a star to get the generators recharged.’

‘Ah, I see… clever I suppose. You got that from…’

‘I may not understand all words, but the pictures are helping a lot.’

Stark reached for the displays again and moved one point on the star map into another, while a thick blue line stretched out between the points. A small window popped up.

‘Let me guess, it says calculating,’ Stark said.

‘Yes,’ Loki frowned again. The blue line turned green once the text vanished.

‘New route set,’ Stark announced.

‘That was it?’ Loki asked.

‘Yep, done and done,’ Stark answered. ‘Well, this was not that hard, there is some sort of auto-pilot already turned on, so I only needed to change the route, but there’s just still too many things about this ship I do not know yet. Nothing detailed about the navigation or about the life support or if we have any defensive systems or anything, I don’t even know how we’re not floating right now in what should be zero gravity. But all this would need at least a few hours of intense work, and I just can’t do that right now.’ Stark ran his hand down his face and took a deep breath. ‘For now we are heading in the right direction, I can change things up later once I slept… and drank something, and ate.’

‘Go,’ Loki said.

‘What are you going to do?’ Stark asked.

‘I get rid of the bodies,’ Loki answered. ‘Rotting flesh is not very pleasant.’

‘And how are you going to… get rid of them?’

‘I toss them out to space.’

‘Right, of course.’ Stark looked around, seemingly a little lost. ‘You may wanna take their stuff… I mean, weapons, keys, ammo, that sort of thing… we might need it.’

‘Fine.’

‘Seriously, anything that may look useful.’

‘I said fine, Stark. Go and rest, we will have a lot of work to do in the next days. I’ll wake you if anything happens.’

‘Pretty sure you should get some shut eye too,’ the human told him.

‘In a few hours,’ Loki answered. ‘You may want to clean up as well,’ he added with a meaningful tone. Not that he was any cleaner than the human, but he would get to that soon enough. He would get blood on him again very soon, so there was no point yet.

‘Alright, whatever,’ Stark shrugged then he grabbed his gun and headed out. Loki stared after him for a moment then he looked back at the displays that still didn’t make much sense to him, despite understanding the words written on them. He frowned again.

‘Hmm…’ But it didn’t matter. He shook his head and turned to the bodies lying around on the floor.

Chapter Text

 

Tony avoided the areas where he knew bodies lay. It was probably cowardly, not wanting to be faced with what just happened, but he didn’t care. It was unavoidable when he had to walk into the small kitchen, but he quickly grabbed a few things that looked edible and a bottle that smelled and looked like water without glancing at the pool of blood on the floor and the body that was behind the counter. He drank the water first while he searched for a place to clean up and sleep. He found a room. It had two beds in it, a table and a bunch of cabinets. When he looked around more properly he found a bathroom as well. A shower seemed to be not a purely human-invention, even if the showerhead and the stall looked kind of different, and so did the knobs. He also found a mirror and it was hard to recognize his reflection. His hair was long, longer than it had been in years and his beard was too. It was not his stylish goatee either, but a full-on beard. He would have to find a razor or a blade or something later, but he didn’t care for now. His face was pale and sunken, a lot thinner and sharper than he remembered it to be. His eyes had deep dark circles under them and stared back at him with a dull brown colour. He was too tired, too worn, almost lifeless, and way too dirty.

He ate first though, not much, just a little so that he wouldn’t starve. He’d been eating very little for a very long time so it would be stupid to get sick with too much food. He chewed methodically whatever it was that he was eating, he couldn’t taste anything. Then he took off his clothes for the first time in months. He was so fucking dirty, everywhere, it was disgusting. He figured out how to start the water and found some soap, again, it seemed to be a universal invention. The water was not hot at all, but it did wonders to his frozen limbs. Washing away the grime from his skin, out of his hair and beard felt really good. He remembered the first time he took a shower after he escaped in Afghanistan. It was in a US military camp and it was a surreal feeling, for the water to be good and not something used to hurt him, to look at his scars and new wounds closely for the first time. It was surreal now too, but mainly for different reasons. It was warmth he didn’t feel for so long and slowly the stink of dirt and blood was replaced by the clean smell of the soap and water. Looking at scars was the same though, even if he did not acquire too many of them. Most will heal and fade away completely. This one felt like the best shower he had in his life.

They were out, they did it, and they were heading home. They only had to murder a dozen complete strangers for it… fuck.

He leaned his forehead to the metal wall of the shower cubicle and let the warm water fall on the back of his head and neck. It soothed his muscles as it streamed down his back and he took deep large breaths. It neither eased the tightness in his chest, nor the chaos in his mind. He did this, he agreed to this, to escape.

Fuck, he couldn’t justify it, he shouldn’t justify it. He would have to look at himself in the mirror and live with it. He knew that he should’ve objected more, he knew that he should’ve said no, but not like it mattered. The dead didn’t care. Fucking Loki and his fucking little speeches. The dead didn’t care. Those bodies scattered around the ship didn’t care that he felt bad now, they were dead anyway. Loki was right, even if he had some good reasons for it, they wouldn’t care. It would only just make him feel less guilty. If he could figure out, that these were really some heartless murderers who made life hell for others, suddenly it would be okay then? No, he killed and let them be killed without knowing anything, even if it turned out that they were some sort of monsters, it wouldn’t change the choice he made. He would just feed himself platitudes to feel better.

Because what was the truth? That he was terrified, terrified to go back, to be captured again, to be at the mercy of others again. Loki said it right. He was not willing to take the risk. Not willing at all. It was this or risking that, he had no other… no, the dead didn’t care. And a voice in his head, a really annoying voice that kind of reminded him of Steve Rogers told him that a better man would rather have died than kill for such selfish reasons, that a better man would not have made this decision. But he was not that better man so he had not other choice. He’s been told that he was not one to make sacrifices, he proved those words wrong back then, and now he proved them wrong again, only in the worst possible way this time. He made a sacrifice alright, only he did not sacrifice himself. He wanted to live and wanted to get away. It was a choice and he would have to live with it. He would have to remember what it cost to get away from that place, what price he was willing to pay. What he was willing to do to survive.

He wouldn’t have thought himself capable of this. But he was a changed man when he escaped that cave, seeing his weapons, suffering in that cave, the shrapnel in his heart, the arc reactor, and Yinsen’s empty dead eyes turned him into someone different. It was foolish to think that he would be the same after escaping now, that it would not change him. This time he had Loki’s sharp green eyes, smooth dark voice and harsh truths to accompany him and not Yinsen’s wise patient words and gentle guidance. The cave made him better, made him want to do better, made him take a hard look at his life and the damage he was doing and gave him a new purpose. What did this do to him? What did this turn him into?

He hit the wall with his fist, hard, it hurt, but his whole body hurt, so it made no difference. So he hit it again and again until he could feel the sting of a new wound and blood trickled down his knuckles. He took large heaving breaths, but after a few moments all energy drained out of his body and he slid down to the bottom of the shower stall. He only noticed after a while that he was crying, that large, broken sobs escaped his mouth. The past months, the prison, the pain, the hunger, the fear, the last days spent in the cold just walking forward in the dark, and finally the past hours just crashed down on him. Loki was not here now to see him. He would not look down at him with disgust, scoffing at his weakness. He didn’t have to hold back right now and the warm water washed away the tears anyway. It hurt, so many things hurt, but at the same time something heavy lifted from his chest.

The dead didn’t care, but he just wanted to go home.

In the end he pulled himself together and got out of the bathroom. He felt numb. Like all emotions he kept bottled up in the past months finally just poured out of him, leaving him empty. He wanted to force down some more food, but he was rather sure he would just throw it up, so he went to search for some clean clothes. He opened the cabinets one after another, first he found tools, some seemed simple enough, like screwdrivers with different heads, wrenches in unfamiliar shapes, but most were things he’s never seen before. He was too tired for his curiosity to flare up, so he closed the doors again and kept searching. He found weapons too, small guns mainly. Then he finally stumbled upon some clothes. They were too big for him, but they were clean and would have to do for now. He planned to sleep anyway. He grabbed some trousers and tied them at his waist with a belt so that it wouldn’t fall off and pulled a large undershirt over his head. He surely looked ridiculous, but he didn’t care.

He simply walked to the bed and dropped himself down on it. He was sleeping on a floor for how knows how long, so the bed was again quite surreal to have. He left the lights on, because he was sick and tired of the darkness. He was too tired to think about it and fell asleep within moments, exhaustion finally kicking in.

He didn’t know how long he slept, but he was still tired when he woke up. Not surprisingly. He may have been exhausted, but his sleep was still unruly. Lying on a bed was unfamiliar, the environment was unfamiliar and probably deep down he was still cautious, that they were not far away yet, that suddenly The Other and his men will attack them and drag them back. So no, he didn’t sleep much. He couldn’t. It took him a moment to gather his thoughts and recall where he was exactly. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. He wanted to get up and drink some more water and try to eat again maybe. He looked around in the room and almost got a heart attack.

‘Holy fucking hell, what are you doing here?’ he snapped. Loki was sitting on the floor between the two beds. He also cleaned up by now, he was wearing some trousers, but he was barefoot and shirtless. His back was to the wall, his hands resting on his bent knees. It was a position Tony knew very well by now, Loki always seemed to sit like this.

‘And why the hell are you shirtless?’ he asked again.

‘It would be rather difficult to put anything on while I have these,’ he said and raised his shackled hands. Right. ‘I had to tear off my previous clothes just to get them off.’

‘Okay. What are you doing here?’

‘It would be… uhm… not advisable to stay too far from one another… in case someone catches up with us. Or we get attacked.’

‘Right,’ Tony frowned. Loki was not looking at him, but stared ahead seemingly at nothing. Tony stared at him for a while then recognized the look in his eyes, a haunted guarded look which he saw in the mirror many-many times. It almost always meant one thing; nightmares.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ he asked.

‘It’s better if someone’s always on guard in case…’

‘No listen, I get it.’

‘Get what?’ the clipped tone in Loki’s voice also indicated explosive anger just below the surface. It was good to finally be able to catch these subtle hints in his voice. He was better at guessing whether Loki would just curse, hiss or actually try and strangle him.

‘It’s the bed,’ he said after a long pause. Loki frowned and finally looked at him. ‘It’s too soft,’ Tony continued. ‘We’ve been sleeping on that fucking awful floor for so long that we’re used to it. Stupid bed just feels weird, makes it hard to sleep. Same with me.’

 Loki looked at him for another moment.

‘Yes,’ he said quietly and then turned his gaze away. He moved a bit, settling in next to the wall a bit more, his shackles clinking. ‘It’s the bed.’

‘Yeah,’ Tony agreed. ‘Stupid bed.’ He kept looking at the god as he sat there on the floor. His mind was shaking off the final traces of sleep and started working with regular speed again.

Well then. He got up from the bed and walked across the room to one of the cabinets. He opened the doors and started searching. He grabbed a few things then and walked back to Loki, sitting down to the floor next to him.

‘Give me your hands,’ he said. Loki turned to him again, still frowning. Tony showed him the few tools he grabbed from the cabinet. Realization dawned on Loki’s face and held up his hands for Tony to take a look at the shackles.

‘You suddenly trust me?’ he asked and Tony snorted.

‘I trust you as far as I can throw you,’ he said. He kept his gaze on the shackles examining it from all directions to figure out how the lock mechanism worked on it. A meaningful silence was the only answer he got, so Tony kept talking. ‘Here’s the thing, Reindeer Games. All that we talked about? Taking a longer, alternate route back home, having to make several stops, needing to figure out the ship, it means one thing; that we’re gonna be stuck with one another for quite a bit longer.’ He finally found where the shackles should be opening so he had somewhere to start taking it apart.

‘I know you already said that you need me alive, but you kind of need me more than just alive.’

‘That so?’ the god asked.

‘Yeah, correct me if I’m wrong, but I couldn’t help but notice that you have absolutely no idea how to drive this ship,’ he looked up at Loki. ‘Right?’ Loki just narrowed his eyes, but didn’t say anything.

‘Thought so,’ Tony remarked and went back to work. ‘So you need me for more than just to be your meat shield. Because yeah, I get it, they want me alive, but you not so much. It was obvious from the start why you wanted me with you even after I helped you take out the guards and get out of the prison. That’s why I didn’t want to take off this little accessory of yours.’

‘So what changed?’

‘What changed is that you need me with the ship.’

‘I could figure it out on my own.’

‘Sure,’ Tony shrugged, then looked up at the god again. ‘But are you willing to risk it?’

The way Loki’s eyes narrowed again, he didn’t miss that Tony was tossing back his own words at him.

‘So,’ Tony continued. ‘We’re going to be stuck with each other for a long time and while knowing that you won’t kill me is nice and all, we’re gonna have to do a little bit more cooperation if we ever want to get back to Earth. You’re following me so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Now don’t get me wrong, I still kinda hate your guts… a lot. That whole world domination stunt was not something I liked. You killing Coulson, that I especially despised,’ at this he twisted on the shackles which made Loki hiss. ‘My bad, this is a tricky lock… and also, using my tower to open your little portal… that was downright insulting on a personal level.’

‘Your point is?’ Loki asked.

‘My point is that I don’t like you and you obviously don’t like me either, but we need to work together. Efficiently, not grudgingly, not “sleeping with one-eye open are you gonna stab me in the back” kind of teamwork is what I’m talking about.’

‘A truce?’ Loki asked with a hint of surprise in his voice.

‘I’d prefer to call it a business arrangement. You need me, but considering I know nothing about this part of the universe and I don’t even speak any language here, I need you as well.’

He took a breath before he continued. ‘And for that to work, we’re gonna have to trust each other… at least to a certain extent, at least until we reach our destination.’

‘So this is you showing trust?’ Loki asked.

‘No, this is me giving you the benefit of the doubt. This is me believing that you realize that I am right and what I’m saying makes sense. And this is me making the first step,’ he said and then finally the lock clicked open. ‘Because you obviously won’t be the one to make it,’ he finished. He took the shackle off Loki’s wrist. The pale skin was bruised and bloody under it. Tony didn’t wait for Loki to say anything just took his other hand and started getting open the second lock.

It didn’t take that long, because now he knew how the mechanism worked. They both stayed silent while Tony worked. When he was finally able to remove the chains he looked up at the god again.

‘Well… that was underwhelming. I at least expected some fireworks.’ He said, finally dropping the tools down on his bed.

‘I am exhausted. Magic is very energy-consuming. I need to get my strength back before I can cast any spells.’

‘Okay, good to know, malnourished gods can’t throw fireballs.’

‘I can’t throw fireballs anyway,’ Loki remarked. ‘It is not the sort of elemental magic I am familiar with.’

‘That’s even better to know,’ Tony replied.

They sat in silence for a bit.

‘Do you think you could sleep?’ Tony asked.

‘No.’

‘Me neither,’ he answered.

‘Stark.’

‘Yes?’

‘I will not go back,’ Loki said. ‘I cannot, I will not. So if they somehow find us, I will not let them take me. Not again. Not ever again.’ Tony kept looking at the god, who was once again staring ahead looking at nothing. ‘So if they find us, I will do anything, anything at all to get away from them. I will not care what it takes, I will not go back.’

Tony took a moment to think it through what that actually meant and see that Loki was just as desperate to be far away from their prison and their captors as he himself was. They won’t go back, no matter what. That much was clear.

‘We won’t,’ Tony told him and he really meant it.

Chapter Text

 

Priorities, does the word mean anything to you? Cause I was under the impression that a simple word like that wouldn’t be too hard to understand!’

‘It is you, who obviously has a problem with understanding what the most important task at hand is.’

‘Argh, we need to figure out how the ship works!’ Stark said, again, he just kept repeating himself.

‘We have tried to move forward with it, we have been doing nothing but try. Now it is time to pay attention to other important matters.’ Loki explained. Again. Stark was bull-headed and refused to listen and Loki was really at the end of his patience with him.

‘Searching through the ship and the cargo is not an “important matter”!’ the human replied. ‘We are the only ones here and the fucking cargo won’t go anywhere!’

‘Yes, but if the cargo is something valuable, then there is a chance that the owner will be looking for it, so we need to be prepared,’ Loki told him.

‘I get that, but this is more important! Are you not understanding what I’m trying to tell you here?!” Stark was raising his voice now, clearly as frustrated as Loki felt.

‘I do not see how more could be done,’ Loki said firmly. ‘Nor why I need to be here for it.’

‘Because I don’t understand the fucking language!’ Stark snapped.

‘I have already translated every single text that appeared on that wretched display, no matter what you did nothing new showed up!’

‘And don’t you see how that’s a problem?’ Stark asked and turned towards him fully. ‘There’s something missing, okay? The displays only show a fragment of information about the ship, nothing more! And no matter what I do I cannot get more out of the computer! And on top of it I cannot even do any real input! The displays are useless for any real data entry and nothing in this room is even remotely suitable for it either!’

‘You could change our route just fine,’ Loki argued. Stark pinched the bridge of his nose and took a few large breaths.

‘Do you know what’s going to happen if the autopilot or any of the systems need manual input and I have no idea how to do it? Hm?’ Stark asked, his eyes were blazing angrily and his whole stance was tense and frustrated. ‘I could change our route because the auto-pilot was already on and I only had to change the direction, but there have to be dozens of systems running and I can’t access them. This is a ship, I need to be able to control it, because if I can’t you can bet your ass that this lovely journey will end with a lot of falling, crashing and a big explosive fiery death.’

‘Asking me to translate the same texts over and over again will not solve that problem,’ Loki told him. They have been trying to access the main systems for hours now and the only thing that changed was that they became angrier as time passed.

‘You know I’m really wondering what you would’ve done on your own, killing everyone who knew how to drive this thing before getting some information out of them.’

‘We have only been trying for a few hours, I am sure it cannot be that hard,’ Loki answered sternly.

‘No, it can’t be,’ Stark agreed as he ran a hand through his hair. ‘But this translation thing is making the process too slow, if I could read everything on my own I could work faster, but we don’t have time for you to teach me this… whatever language.’

‘I couldn’t teach you if I wanted to, I do not speak it myself.’ Stark frowned.

‘But you’re translating.’

‘All-speak, I told you. It’s different.’

‘Okay, maybe it’s time for this conversation,’ Stark said and sat down to one of the chairs, looking expectantly at Loki. ‘What the hell is All-speak?’

‘I use All-speak, and so do other gods and other old races of the Nine Realms. I understand all languages and I am understood by all.’

‘How is that possible?’ Stark asked. Loki could see how his mind was racing, trying to figure it out himself.

‘You would not understand my explanation.’

Stark snorted. ‘Try me.’

‘It is magical in nature,’ Loki started. ‘But only on a base, subconscious level, because even those who are not wielders of such powers are able to have it.’

‘But--’

‘When you speak I understand you, because what I hear is the meaning of your words and not the words themselves, and what you hear is what my words mean and how they exist in your tongue.’

‘So you basically get the definition of something, instead of the specific word.’

‘That is a simplified explanation, but still correct. A word is nothing but meaningless sound if there is no idea behind it, so the sound does not matter only the idea.’

‘But I suppose special phrases, colloquialisms or double meanings don’t always translate well.’

‘That is correct, some turns of phrases exist everywhere, but some are unique to one world or another and thus not so easily understood.’

‘Icons, indexes and symbols,’ Stark said after a beat of silence. ‘Audible signs have a correlation with their meaning, because words are just sound patterns and they get their meaning from their mental association with symbols. Symbols have strong association with other symbols, which anchors the meaning of the word.’

Loki looked at the human for a moment. ‘That is a surprisingly accurate description.’

‘I am a genius, although that was only like high school level linguistics. That’s how you read too, right? Written words are the same as spoken ones only they’re directly visible, so they are symbols linked to the same semantic content as spoken words and sounds.’

‘Correct again.’

‘I have absolutely no idea how that’s possible!’ Stark exclaimed. ‘I mean sure you understanding the meaning without having to understand the specific audible or visible signs is one thing, but being able to project the content to others, so that I hear the signs and indexes and symbols I know while you only speak the meaning… okay no, I am not getting into this, my head already hurts by the complete and utter unscientific impossibility of it all.’

Loki chuckled. ‘You do miss some of the basic concepts because of your limited knowledge about the laws of the universe and cosmic powers.’

‘Limited knowledge?’ Stark asked by raising an eyebrow.

‘I am able to understand the meaning, because words have power, so do symbols and signs, and their power comes from the cosmic energies that make up the universe.’

Stark stared at him for a long moment, eyes unreadable. ‘Okay that’s it, we turned way too new age-y for my taste. This conversation is over. I don’t wanna hear more about how your magic fairy powers work.’

Loki was ready to admit that he was amused. ‘But you are gathering higher knowledge, Stark. I think you should feel honoured that I am willing to share this much with you.’

‘Higher knowledge? I don’t think so,’ the human said in a distinctively unimpressed tone. ‘That’s not higher knowledge, that’s magical mumbo-jumbo voodoo bullshit that is going to drive me up the fucking wall. Can we get back to the fucking problem now?’

‘Fine,’ Loki agreed. The sooner they figured out how to operate the ship the better. ‘We are obviously missing something.’

‘No kidding.’

Stark went back to his displays while Loki started walking around the room. He started searching around the larger seat that was in the middle of the bridge, thus Loki assumed had to be the seat of the Captain or Commander. Just as Stark noted before there were no control interfaces or anything that looked like something that may help controlling the ship. Truly, it looked like the seat was nothing more than something to sit down on, but Loki doubted that. There had to be something. They noticed earlier that the bridge had a rather large viewport, but they were shielded from the outside. Obviously those viewport shields could be moved, but they did not figure out how yet. There had to be something that would give the controls over all of this. Loki kept searching and his eyes landed on a circular slot next to the commander’s seat. He ran his fingers over it.

‘What is this for?’ he asked. Stark looked over to him.

‘No clue, it’s empty though. It could be a holographic display or a simple cup holder.’

‘It is too large for a cup,’ Loki observed. The circle was about six inches wide and not too deep.

‘I think something has to be put… oh!’

‘What?’ Stark asked.

‘I’ll be right back,’ the god said and turned around and walked out of the room despite Stark calling after him.

He was still too exhausted, he should’ve thought about this sooner. Fortunately it did not take him long to get where he put down all the weapons and gadgets he found on the crew’s bodies. He searched through the pile then headed back towards the bridge.

‘Remember that you told me to take everything that may look useful before I threw the bodies out?’ he asked the human once he was back.

‘And?’ Stark asked. Loki in answer held up the thin metal he took off from the head of one of them. ‘Oh! Is that some headgear?’

‘Its previous owner was wearing it on his head,’ Loki said as he walked back to the main seat and put the little metallic band into the circular slot. It was the same size. When it slid into its place the whole thing lit up with a small glow, but otherwise did nothing.

‘Okay, so that’s where you keep it,’ Stark observed then picked it up. It was not a full circle, also it was rather thin and was not even an inch wide. ‘Well, no speakers or anything, so definitely not a normal headset, but it does seem to have sensors at the end on the inside,’ Stark remarked. He looked at it from all sides then slid his fingers over the edge where tiny lights lit up right away and a display appeared, similar to the floating ones, only smaller. ‘Oh, I see,’ Stark said and slid his fingers over the same spot again, now in the other direction. The small lights on the side and the display between the two edges vanished.

‘So what is it for?’ Loki asked.

‘Time to figure out,’ Stark declared and put it on. He adjusted it until it rested around his skull, the two ends touching his temples.

‘Do you have any idea what you’re doing?’ Loki asked.

‘Nope,’ Stark replied and slid his fingers over the side again. The lights lit up and Stark promptly stumbled forward, grabbing hold of the seat next to them not to fall.

‘Stark?’

‘I was not expecting that… I’m alright… oh… this…’ he shook his head a little then opened his eyes again, not letting go of the seat. ‘Oh this is brilliant… this is so brilliant… holy shit.’

‘What?’ Loki asked impatiently.

‘There are no manual interfaces beside the basic ones,’ Stark answered. His eyes looked glazed over and he was frowning very hard. ‘Cause you have to communicate directly with the ship.’

Stark straightened up and stared ahead, the display before his eyes shifting symbols and texts rapidly.

‘Oh this is like the big brother of my HUD… oh this is awesome, this is incredible.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Loki demanded.

‘I need to directly command the ship!’ Stark said and his voice lost that surprised tone and was turning into that of excitement and glee.

‘How?’

‘Shh… no wait… I need to figure it out.’ Stark frowned again, there was intense concentration on his face while Loki just stared at him. It had to do something with the device, but the god did not know what yet. Then Stark started mumbling under his nose, obviously talking to himself, just thinking out loud.

‘No… too abstract… computers need clear data… clear clear… no no… slower… oh my god this is really something… simple, numbers, codes… clear codes, data… come on… come on now.’

Loki looked up in surprise when several different displays appeared around them at once, all showing different data and numbers, various graphs and texts.

‘Are you doing this?’ he asked while he looked around.

‘Just getting info… oh… oh wait… I think I found…’

The shields over the viewport started to slide open revealing the space outside. Loki could see the bow of the ship before them, and space all around. Some starts were too blurry because of their speed, but the ones in great distance could be seen properly. It was nonetheless quite a great view.

‘How are you doing this all of a sudden?’ Loki asked.

Stark looked at him again, his eyes focusing on him once more. There was a smile playing on his lips.

‘This is a DNI! A direct neural interface,’ he said in a tone that implied that it had to be something wondrous, whatever it was. Then his eyes unfocused from Loki again and he was either staring at the display or nothing at all. ‘A highly advanced one, the speed of data transfer is incredible and it doesn’t even require any artificial intracranial receptors… oh this is unbelievable… I don’t even know how sensors are picking up everything this well… direct meaning… ha! Suck it alien language and magic speech, hello science, I missed you baby!’ Then the human fell silent. Displays were popping up, moving around without anyone touching them. The mortal seemed to be lost in his own little world.

‘Stark!’ He called his name. It took a long moment before the human’s eyes focused on him again. They were bright and wide and quite excited. ‘So what can you control on the ship with it?’

There was that smile… no rather smirk on the human’s face again.

‘Give me some time… and everything.’

Chapter Text

 

The technology on the ship was incredible beyond words. At first the holographic interfaces simply reminded him of his own tech and he was fairly confident that he would be able to control the ship through them. When that turned out to be untrue he was frustrated beyond words. Not just because his bargain with Loki was about him being able to drive the ship, but also because there was technology in front of him he couldn’t access or control. Then bamm! DNI.

Sure the energy weapons were interesting, quite interesting and Tony planned to take a closer look at their workings, because they seemed to be so very different from his repulsors and unibeam, but just as effective, so even if he did not make weapons anymore he could use the tech in it for something else, maybe even for his suit. He also still wanted to figure out how the ship compensated for zero gravity, he had some theories, but he needed confirmation. That was also tech he could use in many different ways, oh the NASA would eat out of his palms if he offered such tech to them… not that they weren’t already with the satellite software he made for them a few years back. He was also pretty sure that the ship had more advanced solar cells than the ones on Earth, so that was also something to look into. And he didn’t even have time to check yet whether there were any air or water filters installed. It would make sense. Who would want to carry around an immense amount of oxygen and water when one could simply clean and circulate everything? He couldn’t wait to take a closer look at those as well. These were all awesome, but the DNI… oh the DNI was the beautiful cherry on the top of this technology cake. He was going to reverse engineer the hell out of this ship. Oh yes.

He wanted to spend more time to explore the main computer and the ship’s systems, because it was such a new and incredible way of interacting with something. The first time he activated the band his mind was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information simply being tossed at him. Then he managed to focus and it was glorious. The language was not a problem anymore; the DNI did not project words in his mind, but concepts and pure data. It was strange, but he suddenly understood what Loki meant with the All-speak. It had to be similar. He still could call up displays, but he did not need them, they were obviously for other crew members, so that the commander could focus on being in contact with the main computer, while slight changes could be made by others. Similarly to the way Tony changed their course without the DNI. It was truly amazing. It was similar and nothing like being in his suit at the same time. Similar in a way that he got visible info as well and he just knew that he was connected to the ship and could change things easily, but different because he was not this connected with the suit. He did have plans to work on something like this, a more effective control system, but he was still far away from this level of tech.

All in all, he felt better than he did in a long time. He was still far away from home, there were still many dangers lurking around, but this lifted his spirits. He could think about the future again. He was actually thinking about what to work on and how he could use things. Oh the DNI would make his suit so much better he had no words for it. He longed to have JARVIS with him, he could hook him up with the main computer of the ship, which was highly advanced, but did not have an AI. That’s why a commander was needed of course. The possibilities in combining this alien tech with his own inventions and innovations were endless and almost mind-blowing.

He would’ve stayed in the main control room exploring the ship if not for Loki interrupting him. Since he already felt the edge of a headache coming up he decided to continue with this exploration later. He still needed to adjust to the DNI, so overdoing it would do more harm than anything. So he explained to Loki how the DNI worked, how it linked one directly to the computer, how information was transferred between the commander and the ship. The god looked intrigued, even if he frowned whenever Tony used long technical terms, those probably didn’t translate that well with All-speak. The god of course wanted to try and see for himself. Tony objected at first, but then Loki told him not to be greedy with his new toy and took the DNI away from him.

What followed was long hours of agitated argument, because Loki could not make commands to the ship. He understood the incoming data well, so probably Tony was right about it being similar to the way Loki understood all languages, but he couldn’t give commands to the ship. It made him angry of course, that some infernal machine dared defy him or something. First they were just arguing. Tony tried to explain to him how computers needed clean data and that Loki had to focus on that to be understood. Loki complained that the ship was too stupid to understand him.

Then the arguing turned to a discussion and after who knows how long they reached the conclusion that Loki as a magic-user perceived the world completely differently, could sense energies and workings that were invisible for non magic-wielders, thus his entire though-process was fundamentally different from what was needed. The discussion turned really interesting at that point. Tony explained that by programming, and mainly by creating JARVIS, he was more than familiar with the inner workings of computers, including how data process worked and what would be easily understood and what would be confusing and result in errors. Loki’s way of thinking was too abstract and he couldn’t follow the same logic the computer used.

It was like someone tried to solve a mathematical equation based on the frequencies and wavelengths of the colour of the numbers. Tony could solve the equation, the computer needed the equation to be solved, and Loki knew the answer, but not because he solved it, but because there was some sort of big cosmic power that stored all answers and Loki could hear its echoes and tap into it. That was the point where the metaphysical side of the discussion became too much for Tony. He ended the debate by telling the god that yes, his way of thinking was too different for it to be compatible with the computer, but of course he could learn it, he would only need time and focus, he would have to adjust his thoughts to the computer. Loki dismissed the whole thing then, saying that it would be a waste of his time to learn how to simplify his mind, because Tony could control the ship. Tony didn’t correct him, that Loki’s mind was not more advanced than Tony’s, simply different. He already realized that a little ego stroking would bring him a long way and made Loki easier to deal with. And it’s not like Tony had to lie, because it would be hard to deny that the god was indeed very intelligent.

They ate after finishing up in the main control room then walked down to the cargo hold to do the little search-through Loki had been demanding. The cargo area was just as large as Tony remembered it to be. They started their search on two different sides and called out whatever they found.

‘I found some food… I think,’ Tony started.

‘Here are some sorts of chemicals in barrels, I know not what kind,’ Loki called from the other side.

‘How much?’ Tony asked.

‘Five barrels. We should probably not open it.’

‘Wise choice, it could be poisonous,’ Tony answered as he went over the stuff. ‘Found more of the same probably food-like stuff. You know, there’s probably a list somewhere, telling us what they’ve been transporting.’

‘Not if they acquired their cargo in less than honourable ways,’ Loki answered. Tony didn’t reply, because it was a possibility.

‘Found some large tools,’ Loki said then. ‘Again, I know not what they could be used for.’

‘I’m gonna take a look in a sec,’ Tony told him while he opened another large crate. ‘I found… no clue what I found.’ He reached in an opened one of the smaller packages that were inside. ‘They look like glass bullets… but I don’t think it’s actually glass, only similar.’

‘Do they glow?’ Loki asked.

‘No.’

‘Then maybe they’re empty shells… I did see some weapons before that were loaded with small glowing cylindrical shaped objects.’

‘Maybe,’ Tony agreed putting the package back. That was also something he would have to look into.

‘Stark! Come here!’ the god called and Tony hopped down from the crate and walked over.

‘Yes?’

‘Look at this,’ Loki said and Tony looked into the crate.

‘Some metal?’ He asked. There were sheets of metal inside the crates, obviously prepared for manufacturing. It had a very deep red colour, almost black if shadow fell on it.

‘Not just some metal. It’s alyndor.’

‘What?’

Loki sighed. ‘That is the name of the metal. It is very rare in the Nine Realms and very valuable.’

‘That’s not good, is it? How valuable?’ Tony asked.

‘Very, in the Nine Realms most of if can only be found in Nidavellir and the dwarves greedily protect their stocks.’

‘Dwarves?’

‘Not now,’ Loki stopped his line of questioning.

‘Okay, what makes it so special?’ Tony asked instead, but he would definitely ask about the dwarves later.

‘It is very light, but strong, perfect to forge light armours or blades, but what really makes it unique is that it is one of the most perfect metal for enchantments.’

It was Tony’s turn to sigh. ‘Okay, we’re back at Dungeons & Dragons topics… explain.’

‘Every armour, helmet, blade or sword is but a piece of metal and while one can do considerable damage with a piece of metal, it would be hardly enough to wound a god or other immortal beings, or to protect you from one. Enchanted weapons cut like no other blade could, enchanted armour can protect you from attacks no metal or leather ever could. But not all metals are suitable for enchantment. The dwarves are the best at crafting magical weapons and armoury, but not just because of their skills, but because they have the best materials.’

‘Okay, and this metal here is really good for making magic weapons.’

‘Or anything else.’

‘How much of it do we have?’ Tony asked.

‘I already counted twelve crates, but I think the next few rows are all containing this.’

Tony ran a hand through his hair. This was not good.

‘So you say the owner might want this back, huh?’

‘Yes, possibly.’

‘Great,’ Tony looked around the hall and thought about it for a second. ‘Wait… rare metal used for weapons and armour, empty bullets, chemicals, rations…’ he looked back at Loki. ’I think they were heading to a war zone.’

Loki looked around as well, looking at the crates. ‘I think you may be correct,’ he agreed. ‘The Skrull Empire is rather unstable right now, there’s anarchy in many systems. There could be hundreds of armies clashing as we speak.’

‘And we’re heading that way? Why?’ Tony asked.

‘Because believe it or not, chaos is our friend, it is a lot easier to hide or disappear in a revolting crowd than in a peaceful place.’

‘It’s a lot easier to die in one as well,’ Tony remarked.

‘Not if we play our cards right… we have a lot to bargain with so it seems. A war is an expensive matter and all sides will be in the need of supplies.’

‘But you wanna keep the metal,’ Tony said.

‘Yes,’ Loki answered without hesitation. ‘Such valuable materials should not be given away.’

‘Okay, let’s see what else we got then.’

Loki nodded and they went back searching through the cargo. Tony was right about the warzone thing, because they found medical supplies, smaller toolkits, all kinds of hygiene products,  more chemicals (maybe fuels), barrier materials, obviously for tents or camouflage, clothing material, and things that Tony recognized as repair parts and components, he had no idea what kind vehicles they were for though. Well, they may have been at a completely different side of the universe, but war was war and armies needed the same things everywhere. The only thing they did not have were weapons, sure they had the empty bullets and the alyndor, but no actual guns or explosives. Tony was kind of grateful for that. They already had enough weapons to protect themselves and there was no way in hell he would start trading with some again. But the cargo all-in-all was really something they could barter with. There were always places, especially places struck by war that needed medical supplies or food or anything.

‘Stark,’ Loki called. ‘I found a door here.’

Tony climbed down from the top of the crates he was walking on and went to the god. They found the opening mechanism without trouble after a few moments and Tony just stared for a while after the huge doors slid open.

‘Does this belong to the ship or is it part of the war supply?’ Loki asked.

‘Well, it certainly has some big guns on it,’ Tony remarked and walked inside. Said thing looked like a plane, about the same size as the SHIELD quinjets and there were some impressive guns under each of the wings. Definitely not just for space travel but normal flight as well, the wings would be terribly redundant for space use only. ‘Maybe it’s a small transporter, so that they don’t have to land with the main ship unless they have to move large cargo. I mean taking off from a planet with a ship this big, getting out of its atmosphere and gravitational pull, it burns energy like crazy. It would be a waste to land with the main ship for small things.’

‘Whatever it is,’ Loki said walking closer and looking at the plane. ‘It’s ours now, it will be very useful.’

‘Yeah, we’re gonna need those guns when whoever all this stuff belonged to starts looking for it.’

‘I would not worry. One shipment will be missed yes, but whoever it belonged to certainly has bigger problems than hunting it down… like fighting a war.’

‘So they won’t have the resources to search for it.’

‘Probably not, or when they do start looking for it, we will be already far far away.’

‘Is it me or are our chances looking better and better?’ Tony asked then. He was also by the plane now. They should probably check it out on the inside as well.

‘Indeed.’

‘We might actually make it,’ Tony said. It was kind of only sinking in now. They had a ship, with incredible tech on it, they had supplies, they had weapons, they had a plenty of stuff to use for trade if they had to and now they even had a smaller extra plane.

‘Was there ever any doubt?’ Loki asked.

‘Uhh… yeah!’ Tony told him and Loki actually huffed out a laugh.

‘Come! Let us see whether I could fly this thing or if it also requires some simplistic computer mind.’

‘I knew it bugged you that you can’t control the ship.’

‘Be grateful that I cannot,’ Loki told him as he found the entrance to the ship and opened it. He was learning fast when it came to tech. ‘If I could… what would I need you for?’

It almost sounded like a threat, but his tone was light. Tony felt confused for a moment, but then he started to realize. Loki was in a good mood. All the things they found in the cargo, made their chances to get back home considerably better. Maybe especially the alyndor was the cause of it, rare metal that was good for magic use. That tone, that glint in his eyes… Loki was just as eager to take a closer look at the metal and do something with it as Tony was about the DNI and the rest of the tech he found on the ship. He shouldn’t be glad that he had something in common with some world-dominating crazy god like Loki, but it would help to keep up this truce between them and that was a priority compared to what Tony personally felt about the whole thing. He could agonize about it once he was home, once he had Pepper by his side, her smile to look at every morning, JARVIS answering his call, Rhodey to have his back when things looked bad… just home. Right now he only had this ship and Loki, that’s how he would get home and whatever helped to do so was okay.

‘Stark! Come already!’ Loki called from inside the plane. Bossy little bastard, but Tony followed after him all the same.

Chapter Text

 

In the past days both he and Stark seemed to decide that it was time to spend some time apart least they happen to murder one another because of a discussion of sorts. The human was obsessed with the technology their ship could offer and was content to do nothing but eat, sleep and twiddle with it. It suited Loki just fine, since he also had important matters to attend to.

Regaining his magic took more effort than just eating well and sleeping enough. It had been years since he had to be so long without his magic and on top of it all he was at an unfamiliar part of the universe. No doubt the reason The Other had taken them so far away from the Nine Realms was to limit Loki’s powers. Like that could stop him! He would only have to meditate and explore what cosmic energies this galaxy had to offer. He could not reach out to the branches of the Yggdrasil. But even though – unlike in the Nine Realms – he was not on a metaphysical plane, he would make do. He knew well that the races inhabiting this part of the universe relied on technology rather than on magic, like Midgard, but that did not mean his powers had to be weakened. If anything, this should give him the greatest advantage. Those who only know the power of weapons and their guns would not be able to fight against him. Although, he did hear that shapeshifting was a rather common art among the Skrulls. He would have to confirm that in person later.

He planned to forge some alyndor daggers first, but soon realized that they lacked some vital tools and materials for black work. They would need to make a stop and trade for some. It was something Stark agreed upon. Maybe he planned to forge a new armour for himself. Before now he was not sure whether Stark would be to any use as a forger, but it seemed like he knew exactly what was needed. Loki was quite talented in forging blades, if he could say so himself, but armour was a different matter. Surely Stark could be convinced to lend some of his skills with the right incentives. It might take some time though.

So he could not work on weapons, but he could work on his magic. He sat on the floor in the room that he still shared with Stark for some reason. It just made him uneasy to not know where the human was while he slept. The mortal was not likely to turn on him anytime soon, but Loki still liked to know where he was, just to be sure. He meditated, let his breathing even out and his senses explore all that was around him. All the energy running through the ship made it hard to reach out to the space beyond. It required the utmost concentration. If he could not familiarise himself with the cosmic energy of the non-metaphysical part of the universe he would be limited to his most basic magic. He knew others were more than capable to harness it, especially the Kree, so he would learn to do so as well. It was only a matter of time. He could feel it once he expanded his senses beyond the ship, it was there for the taking, and he would only have to learn how. It would not be a skill he could use if he returned to the Nine Realms. Well, maybe on Midgard, as it was part of both worlds. Physically it had its own place in the Sol System, while still being connected to the branches as of Yggdrasil. It made it such an important strategic point. Now that he could think about it with a clear mind, not consumed by pain, anger and revenge, he was sure that Thanos never would have let him keep it. Or he would have made Loki into a puppet-king, a pawn in his hand and that was no better than what Odin-King surely planned in the name of permanent peace with Jotunheim. Born to be king… the king of a dead frozen wasteland of mons--

His concentration broke and his senses lost their connection with the outside. His fists were clenched and he was panting slightly. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind again, but it was to no use, he would be unable to try again until he calmed down. He stood up and walked over to the other side of the room where they always kept some water on the table. His throat was dry and he felt cold, he was almost sure that the water would freeze upon touching his lips. It didn’t, but that did not help to improve his mood.

‘Loki!’ he looked up and around, but Stark was nowhere in sight.

‘Where--’

‘We do have an intercom,’ sounded Stark’s voice again and Loki realized that it came from one of the upper corners. ‘It means internal communications,’ Stark clarified without prompting. ‘So that we are able to talk with other parts of the ship even from afar.’

‘Yes, I understand perfectly,’ Loki called. ‘What do you want?’

‘You may want to come to the bridge.’

‘I am busy,’ he replied curtly. He was in no mood to be discussing things with Stark.

‘It’s important, trust me.’

Loki finished his water then headed out. He would not be able to continue anyway. But still, it better be important.

‘Make it quick, I have other things to do.’

‘Yes, sitting on the floor all by yourself. Real important,’ Stark answered. He had the DNI band on and did not look at Loki as he entered.

‘Were you spying on me?’ Loki asked, irritation creeping into his voice.

‘No, I just checked on what you were doing.’

‘So you were spying on me.’

‘Do not make it sound so bad,’ Stark told him then finally turned to look at him. ‘I got some bad news.’

‘Oh joy,’ Loki sighed and walked closer. Stark brought up some large displays and Loki looked them over.

‘This is a map,’ he said.

‘Yes, and what is wrong with it?’ Stark asked. Loki narrowed his eyes and looked again. ‘Considering that we want to go to Earth, that is,’ the mortal added.

It took Loki only another moment to realize what this was about.

‘It’s incomplete,’ he said.

‘Bingo,’ Stark said. Loki only just noticed the tightly curled annoyance in his voice. ‘We only have about half of the Andromeda. Beyond that? Nothing, blank, not a speck of map.’

‘Alright,’ Loki nodded. ‘Does this have to be problem? Do we need a map for navigation?’

‘Yes, we do,’ Stark said in a stern tone, indicating that this was not up for an argument. ‘Look outside,’ he prompted.

Loki turned his gaze towards the viewport and the stars blurring around them.

‘Do you have any idea how fast we’re going?’ Stark asked.

‘I have a rather accurate guess, yes,’ Loki said.

‘And do you know what would happen if we flew blind with such a speed?’ he asked again. ‘Let me demonstrate,’ he continued and raised his two hands. ‘This is the ship,’ he said and clenched one of his hands into a fist, ’And this here is a planet we do not know exists because we don’t have a map.’ He held out his palm. ‘We’re going so fast that it literally just appears out of nowhere. Our speed makes any sort of avoidance manoeuvre impossible, so the only thing that could happen,’ he hit his palm with his fist, ‘Is this!’ he finished. ‘Clear?’

‘It would’ve been even without the visuals,’ Loki replied drily. ‘Don’t we have anything that would warn us in case we are too close to something?’

‘We do, but like I said, if we’re going with this speed it would be too late, by the time the sensors pick up on anything and warn us, we’re already too close to avoid the impact.’

‘What can we do then?’

‘We need a map, or maps, in plural, I have no idea.’ Stark rubbed his neck. ‘Are there any regular trading routes or something between Andromeda and the Milky Way?’

‘Probably not,’ Loki replied. ‘I am sure even Midgard would have noticed if there would be such regular traffic.’

‘That’s what I thought… well, we’re gonna have to ask around. If we’re lucky we could find a map that has everything on it till the Milky Way or at least some of it… if we’re not…’

‘We could only go as far as our map,’ Loki continued. ‘Or as far as our new maps go.’

‘We can also make smaller distances just with coordinates, if we can get them, but even with that…’ Stark trailed off.

‘This could take years,’ Loki finished. They could get a map of the rest of the Andromeda, that was sure, but beyond that? Surely there were routes towards the nearby satellite galaxies, but their home galaxy was very far away.

‘Yeah,’ Stark agreed and finally took the DNI off to look at Loki properly. ‘I mean we could get lucky.’

‘I would rather not count on luck, but on facts,’ Loki told him. ‘It is better if we stay realistic.’

‘Yeah, I would also not count on luck,’ Stark agreed. He seemed quite upset about the news, all the energy the new technology brought him diminished.

‘Well, it is not like I have anything to rush back to,’ Loki told him with a shrug. Stark raised an eyebrow. ‘You need not look so surprised, as soon as I am back to the Nine Realms the All-Father will send Thor after me so I could be imprisoned and punished for my crimes. I am not too eager to return to captivity.’

‘Why are you returning at all then?’ Stark asked.

‘Because even if Thor manages to capture me, which is not a certainty, whatever punishment the All-Father comes up with will surely be an improvement compared to what The Other and his master want to do to me.’

‘So you don’t care that it’s gonna take this long,’ the human stated.

‘We will arrive back eventually. I care not how long it will take. It makes no difference.’

‘It makes a difference to me,’ Stark snapped. ‘I have people waiting for me at home! I have friends, my company, my whole life waiting for me and I have already been away for probably a year.’

‘Are you trying to appeal to my humanity?’ Loki asked. ‘It did not work last time.’

‘Last time I threatened you,’ Stark answered and Loki smirked.

‘It does not matter whether I care,’ he told the human. ‘It is not like I can change this and make us reach our destination sooner.’

Stark sighed and leaned back in his seat.

‘Yeah, you’re right… it’s just… I could finally see myself going home… and now it slipped from my hands again, back into some distant dream that only one day will come true. It doesn’t seem real anymore.’

‘Fret not!’ Loki told him. ‘It will not change a thing.’ With that he turned to leave. ‘Surely you have plenty of things to occupy your time with.’

Stark said nothing and let him leave.

Stark found him in the kitchen quite a long time later. The human grabbed some food and sat down across from him at the table without a word. They sat in silence for some time, Loki waited. Stark obviously wanted to speak, so he should do so without prompting.

‘So I guess you’re right.’

‘I am always right,’ Loki said. ‘What am I right about now?’

‘There are things I could occupy my time with. I mean yes, it sucks… really sucks that this may take this long, but… maybe they think me dead, maybe they’re still looking, whatever is the case I know things are relatively fine on Earth.’ Loki did not comment and Stark continued. ‘I am not the only one on the planet who’s good at kicking the ass of bad guys, so while they’re obviously not as awesome at it as I am, they will be fine.’

‘Stark, why do you think I care?’

‘Just let me finish.’ Loki rolled his eyes, but went back to eating. Stark continued. ‘My company will be fine, according to my will everything will be under P… the control of someone I trust, my tech, my suits, everything. So while they probably think me dead, they will be fine.’

‘Are you going to reach your point sometime today?’

‘If this is going to take this long… I just have to do… something… something productive, or I will go batshit crazy. So I might as well start working on everything I planned to work on, a lot of tech to explore.’

‘And what does this have anything to do with me?’

‘I want to build a workshop, and I’m going to need your help with it. Since you’re the only one here. I don’t even have an AI to assist me.’

Loki regarded him with a thoughtful look.

‘And what would I gain from this?’

‘It’s for science!’ Loki just glanced at him again. ‘Okay, fine. You would probably also benefit from whatever awesome tech I come up with.’

‘Are you going to try and rebuild your armour?’ Loki asked.

‘If I can,’ Tony shrugged. ‘Not sure I have all materials, not now anyway. I may have to come up with a completely new design.’

‘And you plan to use alyndor to make it?’

‘Well, you said it’s light and strong, sounds good. I’m going to have to make some tests to see if it’s as good as the gold-titanium alloy I’ve been using, I don’t know yet. I need to have a workshop and build equipment before I can get anything done.’

‘I may need some alyndor… equipment as well,’ Loki told him.

‘What, you want a horny helmet?’ Stark asked with a twitch of lips.

‘We can discuss the details later,’ Loki told him. ‘But if you require my help, then you should give me something in return. Surely some basic armour to protect myself better is not too much to ask for.’

‘An armour, which you will enchant.’

‘Naturally,’ Loki said. ‘Who knows, maybe I could be convinced to put some on yours as well.’

‘No thank you, I don’t want magic anywhere near my tech.’

‘Never say never, Stark,’ Loki smiled.

‘Fine, we have a deal,’ Stark said. ‘Basic armour.’

‘Not a full plate armour of course,’ Loki said. ‘Chest plate, vambraces, some under armour.’

‘Horny helmet?’

‘Stop it.’

‘You have got to be used to horny helmet jokes,’ Stark said with a smirk. Loki just gave him an unimpressed look.

Stark nodded again after a moment and Loki went back to his food, pleased how easily they came to an understanding.

‘We should name the ship,’ Stark said suddenly.

‘Why?’

‘Unnamed ships are bad luck… or so I heard.’

‘I thought we won’t rely on luck,’ Loki remarked.

‘It can’t hurt,’ Stark shrugged. ‘Any ideas?’

‘I care not.’

‘I’m gonna call the ship “Bob” if you don’t give me some input here.’

Loki huffed. ‘Fine. I assume you have some ideas.’

‘Well, I’d say that since we stole the ship together we own it… like fifty-fifty, right? So we could like, half of the name should be something about me, and the other half can be something about you.’

‘You are ridiculous.’ Stark ignored the remark.

‘So I was thinking “Iron” is a pretty good prefix to anything.’

‘How very predictable,’ Loki remarked.

‘Be glad I won’t go with “Stark”,’ he said. ‘Now, obviously we won’t use your name, or any title like “god”, because it’s just too pretentious.’

‘And we are such humble creatures after all.’

‘Yes, indeed,’ Stark said with an amused tone. ‘Maybe something with magic, cause you’re a sorcerer and all.’

‘Mage.’

‘What?’

‘I am a mage and not a sorcerer.’

‘What’s the difference?’

‘Sorcerers are usually seers and healers. They require magical artefacts and trinkets to aid them. I am well capable to cast any spells without the use of scrolls, books or runes. And I am a warrior, not some wrinkled old bore who wears robes and spends his life in dusty libraries.’

‘Got it, mage then… uuuhhh… Iron Mage?’

Loki sighed again. ‘Do what you please.’

‘I like the sound of it.’

‘I care not, Stark.’

‘I take that as a “yes” then,’ the human said. He stuffed the rest of his food in mouth quickly and got up to drink some water. ‘We can start on the workshop tomorrow,’ Stark said as he was leaving the kitchen. ‘And we should name the plane too,’ he called back just before he vanished.

Loki sighed again. By the Norns, will he really be forced to spend years with this man? Endure his useless chatter day after day? If he did not need him for as many reasons as he did right now, he would surely lose his temper and murder him long before they reached Midgard. Stupid human.

Chapter Text

 

It took at least a few weeks till they reached the Andromeda. Well, Tony assumed it was a few weeks, but he was not sure. The ship was using the Skrull Imperial Calendar, which at least showed them the passage of time, but Tony didn’t bother to synchronise it with Earth time. He had no way to know how much time passed on Earth since he was taken and while he could observe that an SIC day seemed shorter than an Earth day, their hours were a lot longer, so altogether a few weeks on the SIC was probably almost two months in Earth time. He made himself stop comparing the two after a few days because it just kept reminding him how long it would probably take to get home. And he really didn’t want to think about that.

By the time they were in the orbit of the Janoth System – as the map helpfully showed – both he and Loki had quite a list of things they needed and had to trade for. For Tony it was mostly things he would need for the workshop they already started setting up, things he could use to build equipment to get any real work done, but also tools and materials they needed if they actually wanted to make good use of the alyndor. Tony was a little bit surprised that Loki agreed to take part in it as easily as he did, but he would get some kickass magic armour out of it at the end of it after all, so maybe it was not so weird. Loki also had a list of things, weird things Tony had no idea what to make of.

‘Seriously, why do you need all these herbs and stuff?’ Tony asked as he strapped him into the seat and started the engine.

‘They are for spellwork,’ Loki answered. He also strapped himself in already.

‘I thought only sorcerers needed… “trinkets” and all that for magic,’ Tony commented.

‘I do not need it, but I can make use of it. It will be practical to have ingredients for various spells around.’

‘Okay, whatever, that’s your field so I’m not gonna argue.’

Tony was kind of giddy at the moment, so he didn’t care all that much, this would be the first time he could fly the Drake. “Drake” is what they finally named their small plane. Loki glared at every single name Tony offered and in the end remarked that looking at it from the front the plane’s shape reminded him of a type of dragon that lived on Svartalfheim. So Drake it was. At first it was strange, to use the name seriously, when it sounded like something out of a fantasy book, but then he realized that he was travelling across the Andromeda Galaxy with a thousand year old alien mage and decided that it was not so ridiculous after all.

Planet Galand was a yellow-blue planet, mostly deserts, some seas, lakes and rivers here and there. As soon as they were out of the main ship and flying towards the globe, the fact that he was in a different part of the universe, that he was using a space ship and about to land on a foreign planet sunk in again. Galand looked so very different from Earth from out of space. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the reality of it all.

First they wanted to land on Planet Guna, which would have been closer, but the atmospheric scans told him that the air was 40% oxygen and 50% hydrogen, so he quickly had to give up on that. He had no idea how the planet didn’t blow up with such a high concentration of hydrogen. It was probably thanks to whatever the last 10% was made up of. It was of course one more reason while he needed a suit or at least a helmet that would allow him to breathe even in an unfriendly atmosphere. For now they travelled further until they reached Planet Galand, which was a lot more suitable even for his lungs.

Based on the data he got about the gravity it had to be like 91% of the Earth standard. In comparison the artificial gravity on the ship turned out to be around 105% of Earth’s, but it was really not that much extra weight so it caused no discomfort. Or maybe the planet they were held on had an even larger gravitational pull and he just got used to it by now. He was too tired and hurt all the time back then to remember whether his own weight felt bigger or smaller. It did not matter and he didn’t need to ponder on it. It was just again something to keep in mind while building his new suit, different planets meant different gravitation. For now he’s going to feel light and fast, which would be definitely awesome. Loki didn’t seem to care about it one bit, but he had his stupid alien super-strength so a few extra pounds here and there probably meant nothing to him.

‘Alright,’ Tony said as they reached the exosphere. ‘First time flying this thing, so I’m gonna try to not crash, alright?’

‘Very reassuring,’ Loki remarked, but he did not seem worried. He was either confident in Tony’s skills or didn’t think that anyone could be so terribly unskilful to actually crash a plane.

‘I just hope the mesosphere won’t be too bumpy,’ Tony told him. He made sure that the plane was suitable to land on a planet without burning to bits, so he was not too worried, but still, first time and everything. Once again he had to learn how to run before he had time to walk.

The outside of the ship heated up considerably as they flew through the mesosphere and it was indeed a little bumpy as they reached the stratosphere. The difference between flying the Drake out in space and here was quite enormous because of the sudden air resistance. It took him quite a few minutes to get used to it, he could practically feel how the plane got wrapped up in the wind and it was harder to keep it steady. He was gripping the control wheel a little too tightly until they reached the troposphere. He breathed out a sigh of relief then as the plane stopped shaking.

‘Well, that went smoother than expected,’ Tony said. Loki seemed unfazed by the whole thing. ‘Alright, now we just need the right place to land.’

‘It would be better if we landed somewhere hidden and walked to one of the cities or aerodromes.’

‘You don’t trust the locals?’

‘I don’t trust anyone.’

‘Well, in this case I agree with you.’

They did not have any exact destination, but once they descended enough they would be more than capable to find what they were looking for. The ground was quite empty once they could see it, yellow and red desert as far as they could see.

‘I really hate sand,’ Tony said. The whole landscape was annoyingly Tatooine-like. ‘So I assume we’re looking for a harbour or a river, most settlements have to be next to water.’

‘Yes, we cannot be far from one so just keep going.’

They of course looked at the planet as much as they could from the orbit, but it was so much one could do without any actual hi-res telescopes. Maybe he should build one of those too. He stored the idea away for later and concentrated on flying.

After the desert was replaced by trees and bushes it did not take long to find a settlement. A large river led to a lake and on its bank was a city. It seemed big enough and there was some air traffic going on in the distance. Tony was surprised that nobody tried to contact them or anything, but maybe that was more of an Earth thing, where aircrafts did not have such advanced scanners like the planes and spaceships around here, and air control was needed.

Tony was only a tiny bit nervous about the landing, since even though he actually had a pilot's license on Earth, flying the Drake was so not like flying any kind of plane he flew before. Maybe the quintjets would be similar. He never flew one of those, so he could not know. In the end the ground was hard and even enough and while he put the plane down a little too hard it was still fine. He was just glad that he could hover and land like with a helicopter.

They did not plan to take all of the stuff they had to offer for trade with them, only small packages as samples so that they could show what they had. Fortunately, they managed to find more fitting clothes among the war supplies in the cargo. Loki assumed they were underclothes for soldiers who wore full plate armours. Tony didn’t really care, he was just glad that he finally had some fitting pants and boots again. The long sleeved shirt was still too loose, but nothing could be perfect. It seemed like Loki managed to clean his pants and boots, so he was in his usual leathers from waist down, but he also had the same type of long-sleeved shirt on. Tony also managed to fabricate a very simple duffle bag from some of the cloth that was originally probably meant to be a tent. And he also managed to shave finally… sort of. He was at least not sporting a homeless beard, but it was quite a messy goatee that he had going, since he had to shave with a knife, but surely he would get better with some practice. Loki’s face was absolutely without facial hair, like always, it was either magic – since he had no beard in the prison either – or he never had any, which was strange, but hey… alien. Although Thor did have a beard… whatever, it was not important. He really had to prioritize. Loki’s lack of facial hair did not deserve his attention when he had so many other interesting things to analyse.

‘Okay, so I’m carrying a gun, shouldn’t you be carrying the bag?’ Tony asked looking at Loki.

The god just huffed and walked out of the plane.

‘Figures,’ Tony mumbled. He put the bag on and picked up his gun. He brought the big one. Not that he was paranoid or anything… nah! He’s totally gonna make Loki carry whatever they managed to find from their list. Although neither the bag nor the gun felt that heavy, thanks to the light gravity. As he walked out of the plane he could already feel the difference from the main ship. It was a strange feeling, but awesome, just as he expected.

 ‘I hoped nobody’s gonna steal our ride,’ Tony said while he closed the plane up.

‘I thought of that,’ Loki said and started painting on the plane’s side with what looked like…

‘Is that blood?’

‘It’s a concealing spell,’ Loki told him. His hand was bloody, so yeah it was blood. ‘Even if someone walks by they will avert their gaze from the plane and will instinctually avoid its vicinity.’

‘That’s pretty cool.’

‘I came up with it after our horses were stolen too many times during hunts.’

The god walked to the other side of the Drake and drew the same symbols on its surface.

‘How long will it last?’ Tony asked him.

‘Until the circle is unbroken it should hold. I doubt there will be any rain around here so it should be fine even for a couple of days.’

‘I don’t plan to stay that long.’

‘Me neither, but one should always be prepared for all eventualities.’

When Loki was done they headed towards the city. It was almost an hour long walk and albeit it was hot out in the sun, it was not really tiring. Tony thanked the light gravity again.

The noise of a crowd reached their ears sooner than they could see the city itself, but soon enough they were walking into the place. Only the locals looked quite different.

‘Well, we’re gonna stand out a bit,’ Tony remarked. The locals were kind of… reptilian, their skin brown and purple or even yellow. They did not have tails or anything, but they also did not have hair or ears or noses. Humanoid enough though, and Loki could talk with anyone.

‘Worry not, I am sure they are used to travellers from other worlds,’ Loki told him and they kept going. Tony stayed close to the god as they got some curious glances from all around.

‘Hmm, it kind of makes sense you know. If they really are reptilian they are also probably cold-blooded, so a desert atmosphere is perfect. No cold to lower their body temperature.’

‘Save your curiosity for later, we came here for a purpose,’ Loki reminded him. Tony grumbled. He was on an alien planet, so he had a right to be curious. Maybe Loki saw all kinds of creatures already, but this was all new to Tony.

They continued their journey through what seemed like a market place maybe. Finally Loki stopped in front of a few of the locals and started asking who would be interested in trading some goods. It was strange to completely understand Loki’s side of the conversation and not being able to make anything out of the answers, but at least he could follow the conversation a bit.

Then Loki asked him for his bag to show what they had. It seemed like they did not need to search for any longer, there was already someone interested. Sweet. He still looked around cautiously once in a while and he was certain that despite Loki’s relaxed stance he was also on guard. The men seemed to like what they had to offer for trade so Loki started listing them all the things they needed. A yellow coloured man just shook his head after a few of the things, but then it seemed like they had some of it. Loki started bargaining with them then, arguing how much they should give in exchange for what they needed. He was scary good at it from what Tony could tell. His tone remained friendly, but stern, the kind of no-bullshit tone Tony also used when he had to meet with business partners. If he could speak with the aliens himself he could do this sort of thing too, really.

Loki and the man seemed to talk for a long time before they reached an understanding. In the end it looked like Loki was successful, since the man just grumbled while the god flashed him a big smile that might’ve looked charming if Tony had not known who he was. Hell, it looked charming despite that. Manipulative little shit, but it was to their advantage so Tony would not complain.

‘They will gather what they have and meet us in a few hours,’ Loki told him once they were far enough from them. ‘Half of our list is done with this, but it does not look like anyone else has the rest of it on this planet, definitely not in this city.’

‘Okay, I still call it a success. What do you wanna do in the meantime?’ Tony asked as he fished out his bottle of water from the bag to drink.

‘We might as well explore,’ Loki said. Tony shrugged and they continued their walk.

The rest of it should’ve been easy. Wait a few hours and then have the exchange, it really should’ve been easy. Tony should have known that nothing was ever easy. They only separated for a few minutes while Tony searched for a secluded place to take a leak. But when he was walking back he caught the sound of loud talking, almost arguing. He could not understand what was being said of course.

‘No, that is not what we agreed upon,’ Loki said calmly and Tony stopped and slid closer to a wall to figure out what was going on before walking back to them. Paranoid? Just a tiny bit maybe.

There was some almost angry reply to Loki’s words.

‘How could I? When I did not even see what you have to offer?’ Loki told him. ‘I have to make sure that it is suitable quality.’

Tony peeked out from behind the corner and was greeted by the sight of five or six of the reptilian locals. Loki’s stance was calm and confident as he stood in front of them. Tony contemplated whether he should reveal himself to stand by Loki’s side or not. He was not sure what the situation was for now.

‘That is not--’ Loki started then fell silent, Tony’s eyes darted around quickly and he noticed the reason right away. A few of the aliens had guns in their hands now, not aiming, but just held up visibly enough to be meant as a threat. Tony bit back a curse and stayed hidden.

‘Well, if you insist,’ Loki said with easy nonchalance. His voice did not betray anything. Then he started walking when the others led the way. Two were behind him, the rest in front of him.

Tony stared after them for long moments, his breathing harder than it was a moment ago while he noticed the all too familiar rush of blood in his veins. He tried to decide what to do. This should’ve been easy, but of course their luck couldn't hold out forever.

Chapter Text

 

Loki was irritated. It was like an unwritten cosmic law, whenever he tried to bargain honestly, it came back to haunt him. It was like the universe itself was trying to tell him that he was better off cheating people for what he wanted. Trickery may have gotten him in trouble many times, but it also helped him escape. Honesty on the other hand…

He contemplated whether he should just kill the stupid reptiles for daring to take such tone with him, but in the end he decided against it. He was not threatened per se, the threat was only implied. Normally that would be enough for him to grab the blade that was securely tucked in his boots, but in the end he decided that the situation did not call for it… for now. The one he bargained with before said that he had to “meet with the owner” about the trade. It did not sit right with him, but if the owner was the leader of this little group and Loki managed to find the right tone with him, maybe they would get even more out of this little deal than previously expected. Or things will turn much worse. He would soon find that out, but he was willing to take the risk. It was always better to bargain with a leader than with a servant after all.

The group of reptiles led him to the edge of the city, where storage-like buildings lined up. Where of course more of the damned creatures waited, they had some sort of vehicles with them as well. They reminded him somewhat to the ones he saw on Midgard, although they were less angular and had no actual hood, only brackets and support pipes at the upper portions. They seemed to have metal-wheels as well, not rubber ones, six of them, not four. Dune-runner, it was called, if he heard it correctly back in the city.

There was a bigger reptilian man standing by one of the dune-runners and Loki was lead to him. Most likely the leader he was here to talk with. As he looked at him he was absolutely convinced that he was not an upstanding citizen. Why couldn’t he just stumble upon a simple merchant? Why did everything have to be difficult? The reptile eyed him for long moments. He was a bit taller than Loki and quite big as well, his skin dark brown like mud and his eyes orange. That one unpleasantly reminded Loki of the guards in their prison. The man pulled a tarp off from the vehicle’s backseats, which revealed two larger boxes and a bag. He opened the bag and showed Loki its contents.

‘That’s what you’ve been asking for, right?’ the reptile asked.

‘Yes, although I do not see why we couldn’t meet for the trade like it was agreed upon.’

‘My men agreed to the bargain hastily, the goods are mine and they promised them in a too low price.’

Oh Loki knew where this was going, these were worse than the dwarves.

‘That is something you need to discuss with your men then. I was promised a trade, if you decided not to follow through, then good day to you.’

There was a large hand on his shoulder before he could turn and Loki sent an icy glare to the one that touched him. He stared him in the eye unblinkingly until he let go.

‘I am more than willing to trade,’ the reptile continued. ‘Only the price has changed.’

‘Really? How much?’

‘I want five crates from the supplies you have.’

Loki scoffed. ‘That is ridiculous,’ he stated. ‘What we need from you is not worth that much.’

‘But you are obviously in need of it,’ the reptile said. ‘And you will not get it from anyone else.’

‘We’ll see about that,’ Loki answered and turned to leave again. The one that grabbed him previously didn’t reach out to him this time, but the big one did. He grabbed his shirt and pulled him closer.

‘Look at it this way then,’ he said. ‘You either accept and get this much or we take all that you have and leave you with nothing!’ Loki narrowed his eyes but kept his anger in check for the moment.

‘Are there so many sick and wounded around here?’ Loki asked. He kept his voice light and his expression unfazed. It never failed to unnerve such thugs a bit, not getting a reaction out of him.

‘The medications sell good on the streets,’ the reptile answered. Loki resisted the urge to sigh. Oh, Lady Luck was a cunt today. Loki stared at the reptile contemplating what to do. Negotiation looked less likely as the seconds passed, this one seemed to be too thick-headed to reason with.

‘Now be good little warm-blood and tell us where you keep the rest of your stock.’

He felt his anger spread out in his body at the derogatory tone and he moved before he even had time to think about it. He clenched his first and hit the reptile in his face. There was a mild sound of a bone cracking which was very satisfying, probably some teeth loosened from their place. The brown one hit the dusty ground with a thud, but Loki did not have long to enjoy the moment because he felt a sharp pain in his side. He recognized the sting of an energy gun. He stumbled. It was not a big injury, but considering how many of the reptiles had guns, this was anything but good. With his magic still not fully available to him if they all shot at him at the same time he would be in grave danger.

‘Fools! Not out in the open!’ The big one yelled from the ground. Loki had at least four guns aiming at his face so when they dragged him away from the vehicles towards one of the buildings he didn’t put up a fight. He had to think fast. Fortunately, he already had a few possible solutions in mind.

They remained outside, but between two of the buildings where they could not be seen by anyone that easily, large barrels and wooden boxes were stored here. How predictable. As open fight seemed to be the best option, the smaller space would be to his advantage perfectly. These fools already lost the second they didn’t shoot him while he was at disadvantage out in the open.

Loki wondered where Stark was though. Long gone maybe. He would be a fool not to seize the opportunity to get rid of him. Despite his words Loki knew that Stark had no real use for him. He could control the ship perfectly on his own and while he could not speak freely with anyone, someone with his intelligence would surely be able to learn at least the Skrull language, which was probably understood by most in this part of the universe. Loki knew that he had to be on guard, had to be cautious in case the human tried anything, but it seemed like these stupid reptiles gave the awaited chance for Stark. And Loki could do nothing. If he got rid of them and headed back to the plane right now, he may be able to catch the human before he left. But he did not know how much time he had before that happened.

He was so lost in his thoughts that he did not even hear the threats the reptilian leader was throwing his way. Oh, if he got stuck on this planet he would find a way to leave and Stark would pay dearly for it. He was not so easily disposed of, not him, not ever.

‘Still stubborn?’ the leader asked. ‘Very well, I did not want to give away my properties anyway.’

Loki braced himself for the fight, already knowing what magic could be to his aid even with his limited powers and how he could get to his blade and attack while avoiding being shot. The reptiles looked all too eager to tear him apart, or maybe they would just try to rough him up a little so that he would give up the medical supplies they had. They did not know who was standing before them, so they knew not how utterly and completely useless it was to hope for him to break in the face of danger and pain.

The only warning Loki got was a flare of energy then half of the barrels were smashed to pieces in a blast. Both the towering barrels and the wooden boxes fell over. There were so many of them that it immediately resulted in chaos. Loki grabbed one of the guns and the reptile holding it, he broke his arm disarming him. The smoke and the dust were absolutely perfect for Loki to bash in a few heads, slice some throats and make a hasty exit.

‘Loki!’ He looked up and spotted Stark sitting in one of the vehicles he saw earlier. He really didn’t have time to be surprised to see him. ‘Come on!’ the human yelled at him and Loki started to run. The wound at his side was only irritating, so it did not hinder him. He ran out from between the buildings and jumped into the dune-runner. Stark started the vehicle right away just as the first energy blasts were shot in their way.

‘I could have handled them!’ Loki snapped at him.

‘Yeah, I’m sure,’ Stark answered immediately.

‘I was about to strike!’

‘But isn’t it a lot more classy to leave like this? Running is so last galaxy.’

‘So you took one of their vehicles?’

‘Yep.’

‘Is there anything you can’t drive?’ Loki asked as they turned out from the yard eyeing how easily the wheel turned under Stark’s hands.

‘Nope,’ Stark replied cheerfully.

‘They are following us,’ Loki told him. He turned around and the reptiles were indeed already jumping into their own dune-runners.

‘Yeah, no shit. I wonder why,’ the human said.

‘What are you even doing here?’ Loki asked him instead, raising his voice as the wind whipped around them.

‘I felt like going for a nice ride in this lovely neighbourhood,’ Stark told him. ‘What the hell do you think I’m doing?’

Loki’s next question was interrupted before he could utter a word when some energy blasts zipped past them.

‘Oh fuck, great,’ Stark remarked as he tried to evade the shots by constantly changing direction a little. Loki kept staring at the three vehicles behind them, his mind running with possibilities. None of his available spells could be to any help getting rid of them. Then he noticed Stark’s gun on the back seat on top of the two boxes he saw before.

‘You managed to steal the dune-runner that has the goods we came for in it,’ Loki remarked.

‘They wanted to screw us over first, right?’ Stark explained. ‘So we might as well steal their shit.’ Loki was suddenly inexplicably amused despite the raining shots and the sand exploding all around them. ‘And dune-runner? That’s what this is called? I would’ve gone with tracked buggy, but whatever. That sounds cooler.’

‘They’re catching up!’ Loki warned.

‘I am going as fast as I can,’ Stark told him.

‘We’re going to have to get rid of them then,’ Loki stated. He knelt up on the seat and hooked in one of his legs to secure himself then reached for Stark’s gun.

‘Oh hey! Do you even know how to shoot with that?!’ Stark yelled.

‘I saw you use it enough times,’ he answered.

‘That’s not the same!’ Stark argued. Loki looked at him and turned off the safety on the gun, exactly as he saw the human do before shooting.

‘It’s not too complicated,’ he said. ‘And I have great aim.’

It seemed like Stark didn’t want to argue as he said nothing more. The dune-runner was quite unstable, but if Loki could use a bow or throwing knives while riding a horse he definitely could fire a gun from a moving vehicle. He took aim, not even bothered by the wind and how it twisted into his hair.

‘It has a little kickback, so hold it steady,’ Stark told him, almost yelling over the sound of the engine, the wind and the energy shots. ‘And aim at the wheels or the engine!’

‘I know,’ Loki said and pulled the trigger. The first of the three dune-runners twisted and turned to its side sharply as one of the front wheels literally exploded from the blast. The driver tried to stop and slow it down, but the momentum was too big. As the half-destroyed front of the dune-runner got stuck in the ground it tipped over the whole vehicle, turning it upside down. It rolled one more time before it vanished in a cloud of sand and dust.

‘Holy shit you really have a good aim!’ Stark exclaimed. ‘Hold on, sharp turn!’ he warned a second later. Loki grabbed onto the seat as the human turned the wheel to evade some trees.

Two more was still following them. Once they were moving relatively straight again Loki raised the gun to take aim, only to duck immediately to avoid getting shot.

‘I’m going to obliterate them!’ he hissed angrily.

‘I would be satisfied if you could just stop them,’ Stark told him. ‘Not sure we have time for obliteration.’

Loki rose up to his knees to aim and shoot again. This shot was not as perfect as the first, but it still made the driver lose control over the vehicle, the dune-runner twisted to the side a little and Loki pulled the trigger again. The second blast managed to push the already unstable vehicle over.

‘Trees, watch out!’ Stark yelled and Loki ducked again quickly as they dashed through a few too low hanging branches. Some leaves rained down on them, but with the amount of dust and sand they were covered in, it did not really matter. When he knelt up again he could see that the third dune-runner was still after them, only a bit further away than before. Obviously they had to dodge the other one that turned over, it slowed them down a bit.

‘Can you get that one too?’ Stark asked.

‘Naturally,’ Loki said as he took aim again. Seemed like the weapons the reptiles were using were not suitable to shoot very far with as none of their blasts came even close to hit them. Stark’s gun on the other hand was just fine for the task. He pulled the trigger again and this time he hit the reptile that was shooting at them. The man fell out of the dune-runner from the hit. Loki smiled as he took aim again. He managed to hit the front of the dune-runner completely and while the wheels did not explode like the first time, the vehicle’s front mangled from the blast and broke off, stopping it as it lodged into the ground. Loki lowered the weapon, then grinned and waved at the reptile that tried to shoot after them.

‘That was impressive,’ Stark remarked.

‘Child’s play.’

‘If you say so,’ the human chuckled. ‘So what do you think? Will the dune-runner fit into the back of the Drake?’

‘I should think so,’ Loki told him.

They reached their aircraft in a few minutes, and while they managed to stop their pursuers, it did not hurt to hurry. Loki jumped out and opened the large backdoor so that Stark could drive in with the dune-runner. It was a lot easier to take the vehicle. They did not have time to unload the boxes from it. Loki followed and closed the door once he was inside. Stark got out of the vehicle too.

‘Secure it down,’ the human said. ‘There are belts and ropes around for that. I start the engine so we can take off.’

Loki nodded and tied the dune-runner down from both sides. By the time he was finished the engines already roared to life, Stark was ready for take-off when Loki finally sat down to strap himself to the seat.

‘Well, we’re gonna have a lot of enemies if we keep going like this,’ the human remarked.

‘It was not intentional,’ Loki said. ‘And as you said… they screwed us over first.’

‘Hey, you’re picking up slang there. Nice,’ grinned the human as they finally started lifting off from the ground. Loki could feel his heart beating erratically in his chest. It’s been a while since he had to flee like this, and for some reason it was a lot more amusing now than it was when SHIELD chased him for the Tesseract. Stark seemed just as energetic, such a chase obviously heated up the blood and the human felt its affects as well.

‘We might not wish to be pirates, but we seem to have a natural talent for it,’ Loki remarked.

Stark chuckled again. They were flying now and ascending higher and higher quickly. There was no need to keep close to the ground like when they were landing. The sooner they were out in space the better.

As they were flying back towards their ship, both of them stayed silent, just catching their breaths and letting the tension ease out of their bodies. That certainly was an interesting experience.

‘At least we have some of the things we wanted,’ Loki said after a while when they were in space already. The blackness and the stars were soothing compared to the dirt and the bright sky of Galand. ‘And we did not even have to give away any of our cargo.’

‘Yeah, we just almost died,’ Stark stated.

‘That is a calculated risk,’ Loki told him. ‘Whenever we land on a planet, there is a chance for hostility and danger. You surely know that.’

‘Yeah, I just wish we would run into some nice folk once in a while.’

Loki huffed in amusement and they both fell silent again. They did not speak until they reached their… the Ironmage. It still sounded foolish, but maybe he would get used to it. Some ship names in Asgard were a lot more ridiculous.

‘Okay, let’s load out everything,’ Stark said as he stood up once they docked in securely. ‘We have a dune-runner now! I might get an actual collection of cars if we keep this up.’

‘Why did you come back for me?’ Loki asked suddenly. Stark stopped and looked at him.

‘What kind of question is that?’ he asked.

‘A very simple question.’

Stark frowned. ‘Seriously? You did not get it the first hundred times I told you this?’ he asked incredulously. ‘Of course I didn’t leave you behind. I need you to get back home!’ he said. Then he obviously considered the conversation to be over. He lightly patted Loki’s shoulder as he walked past and left.

‘No, you don’t,’ Loki said quietly.

Chapter Text

 

The workshop was coming along nicely. It was set up at one end of the cargo area, close to the engine room and generators. He could not get any work done yet, because they were still busy setting up the whole thing. First the right equipment was needed and the right tools. They would definitely need to make a few stops to get what was still missing, but at least there was something to work with. Tony didn’t have to think about Earth and how far they were still when his mind was occupied. He had dozens and dozens of tools lying around everywhere and also some of the repair parts from the cargo. There was still too many he did not figure out what to use for. The whole workshop was one big chaos, but Tony could see how it would look like in a few months, how everything will find its proper place. Where he could set up the tools needed for forging, which desk would be used for delicate work – note to self: he needed to get or build a magnifying glass – and also which workbench would be perfect for assembling. He could see all that in the chaos that surrounded them for now. He already had extra lights everywhere, so at least that was finished finally. Once they were done the workshop will be pretty damn awesome. Not as awesome as his workshop at home, but on the other hand that didn’t have alien tech in it, so there was that.

‘Where will the forge go?’ Loki asked.

‘I haven’t decided yet,’ Tony answered, not looking up from the tools he was going through. ‘Depends. I’m really against middle age stuff, so no coal or anything. I was thinking gas forge with a cylindrical forge chamber, but then I realized that we don’t have any hydrocarbon fuel. And pure hydrogen, which we could get out of water, puts out too much ultraviolet light and I’m kind of sensitive to that stuff.’

He put some of the tools he deemed useful aside and kept searching through the chaos on the floor.

‘So some sort of electric forge, right?’ he continued the explanation. ‘Unless we want to get our hands on natural gas,’ he said. ‘Which is a big no, I don’t want to deal with that shit, so I’m gonna have to tap into the generators. I will need to power up quite a lot of things here actually. That will take time.’

‘What about the energy in the weapons?’ Loki asked. ‘Surely they could power tools as well as guns.’

‘That is a good question. The guns are not electric in nature though, obviously. I can’t study it before the workshop is done.’

‘This will take months,’ Loki said as he looked around the chaos Tony made.

‘It’s not like we don’t have all the time in the world,’ he shrugged.

‘I suppose.’

‘You could help me you know.’

‘What are you doing exactly?’

‘Sorting out tools that could be useful,’ Tony answered. ‘So pliers, clamps, tongs, any kind of screwdrivers, soldering iron, wrenches. All go into that desk. I’m gonna have to build a drill and a blowtorch, but it seems like I have everything I need for that, so no problem.’

‘We do have chisels, right?’ Loki asked. ‘I will need a small one for engraving runes into my armour.’

‘I will need a leaser cutter anyway, it won’t be too hard to make it suitable for engraving too, that’s a lot better, especially if you need to carve small symbols. Forget the traditional chisel.’

‘Alright,’ Loki said. ‘We’ll see I suppose.’

‘So you gonna help or what?’

‘It’s not like I have anything better to do.’

Loki was a lot more agreeable lately, the difference from the raging madman he encountered on Earth was huge. Not like he didn’t know that Loki was off his rockers back then, but seeing how he acted while being calm and collected was still fascinating. Or maybe being a bit less of an asshole was his way of saying thanks for the rescue back on Galand. Speaking of…

‘So I was thinking,’ Tony started. ‘Is there any way for someone to learn All-speak? Or get it or something… I don’t know how that works.’

Loki stayed silent for a few moments so Tony looked up at him. It seemed like he stopped mid-step on his way to put some tools down to Tony’s “useful pile” on the desk.

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘Cause it’s annoying that I can’t speak for myself on a foreign planet,’ Tony answered. ‘You wouldn’t have to translate for me then. It would be pretty cool, to understand everything and being understood. My big mouth is one of my best assets. It sucks that I can’t speak up.’

‘Maybe, but I doubt you would be able to handle it,’ he said and put the tools down.

‘How so?’

‘Human minds are not meant to work that way. I’m afraid it would be too overwhelming for you. It is the gift of the Aesir that they shared with some of the old races, but human minds are too simple for it.’

‘Simple? Are you kidding me?’

‘It is a fact. It would be too much for someone like you.’

‘But it’s like the DNI, right? I mean, I don’t hear the words, but the pure meaning. That’s what you said. The way the ship transfers data into my mind seems awfully similar to me.’

‘It is more complicated than that, there is not guarantee that your mind could handle it.’

‘I have a very awesomely advanced mind, thank you very much. I’m pretty sure that no amount of information could overwhelm me like that.’

‘You may be advanced among humans, but that does not mean you are advanced among gods!’ Loki said, almost snapped. This was some sort of superiority bullshit again, it had to be.

‘Oh really? You mean that someone like the thunder-boy, who walks around in a red cape with a big-ass hammer, is smarter than me? Really?’

‘It is not about intelligence. A superior mind can handle things an inferior one cannot even hope to.’

‘I’m gonna stop you right there and call bullshit,’ Tony said. ‘Yeah, you’re pretty damn smart, but you’re not fucking light-years ahead of me. You have no superior mind. Maybe the last time you spent time on Earth with the Vikings that shit was true, but not anymore.’ He was getting kind of annoyed at this point. Nobody got away with belittling his mind. There was an angry gleam in Loki’s eyes that Tony was very familiar with, but it didn’t stop him.

‘You have not said a single reason why it couldn’t be done. You just proclaimed a bunch of crap that sounds like fascist principles to me. Superior race my ass. You have no proof that you are in any way superior when it comes to the mind. You’re stronger and more durable and live longer, but that’s it. A fucking turtle can be stronger and older than me, but that doesn’t mean it’s smarter or superior. I said it before and I say it again: You are not better than me. If there are any real reasons why this wouldn’t work, say it, but don’t just iterate empty excuses.’

Oh the angry gleam in Loki’s eyes got worse, much worse. Tony was still crouched down on the floor among the tools. While the urge to stand up to be a bit more on the same level as the god was big, he didn’t move.

‘I see it now,’ Loki said. His tone clipped, the words uttered slowly, like he was trying to keep his anger in check. Not good. ‘Of course. You want the All-speak, it is the only missing piece, the last skill I have to offer.’

That took a moment to register. ‘What?’

‘The final advantage I have and the last thing you have need of. It would be so simple for you then.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Tony asked.

‘Do not take me for a fool!’ Loki exclaimed, raising his voice. ‘You think I cannot see through this farce! That I don’t know why you truly want the gift of the All-speak?!’

‘I already told you why I want it!’

‘Ha! Trying to trick a trickster, how pathetic.’

The angry gleam shifted into something different, something more unstable and wild, something mad, something waiting to burst out and destroy. Tony stood up finally, leaving the tools on the ground.

He could already feel the adrenalin pumping in his veins. Loki’s presence did not unnerve him like this in a long time. He never forgot that he was dangerous, suddenly faced with him like this was a great reminder of that too. Loki was like a tropical storm, once his anger reared its ugly head you could not be sure where he would strike and how much destruction he would leave in his wake. He should probably diffuse this situation. Only he could not understand why Loki got ticked off by the question this much.

‘Why do you think I want it then?’ he asked. He kept his voice calm. He hoped it wouldn’t annoy the god further.

‘Why? Why?! Is this a game? You truly think me such a fool? I have already known that you have no real use for me. The second the crew was gone I lost all my leverage. And now you would take the last advantage I have, the last thing to stop you from trying to dispose of me? I think not!’

‘Why the hell would you think that? I told you already! I need you to get back home!’

‘No! No, you don’t! You don’t need anything from me! You are well capable of controlling the ship on your own. You have weapons, you have provisions and all this technology, the only reason you still need me is because you cannot communicate with the races of the Andromeda. That was our deal. That we work together, because we need what the other has to offer. But that changed, right?! I cannot get back without you, but you could easily get rid of me and suffer no adverse consequences. So no, you will not have the All-speak, I will not allow you have such control over my fate.’

Tony blinked a few times and let that sank in. ‘So you’re worried that I’m going to backstab you? Why would I do that? We have a deal, if you don’t try to screw me over, I won’t try either. I thought that much was clear already.’

‘That was before it became obvious that this damned ship will only obey you!’

‘If I really didn’t need you, why do you think I went back for you on Galand?’

‘I don’t know!’ Loki snapped. ‘Why did you?! It makes no sense!’

Tony took a breath to calm down a bit before he spoke again. ‘We have a deal, alright? And I’m sticking to it,’ Tony started. ‘And just because I don’t necessarily need you on an average boring day, it doesn’t mean that I won’t need your help in the future,’ Tony explained. Loki still looked on edge, wound tight, ready to snap. So Tony talked quickly. ‘Even if I do manage to build myself a suit, I would still need you. You’re stronger and well-trained in combat, not to mention your magic. I would get my human ass killed pretty damn easily without backup.’

‘You were not in need of help on Galand.’

‘Yes, I was! I was driving, you were shooting. This is a fucking partnership! We need to work together, you and me, me and you, nobody getting rid of anybody, alright? I have no fucking reason to turn on you and not just because of the All-speak. You have done nothing to make me turn on you.’

‘Oh, so you have already forgotten about the things I did on your precious home planet?’

‘You have done nothing since we were imprisoned,’ Tony corrected.

‘You mean to tell me that all before that is forgotten then?’

‘No, it’s not forgotten, but--’

‘And that you do not wish for me to receive my “just punishment”? That you won’t try and get me captured once we’re on Midgard again, so that your SHIELD can hand me over to Asgard?’

‘You’ve been punished enough.’

That finally seemed to surprise Loki enough to shake him out of his anger.

‘What?’

‘You told me yourself, the dead do not care. It’s only the ones still alive who demand someone to be punished. I’ve been there with you, in that prison… I know what you’ve been put through. Punishing you even more won’t change a damn thing. The damage done to New York won’t be repaired and the dead won’t magically come back to life just because you’re locked up or hurt some more. It would not change anything.’ Tony sighed and crouched down again, back to his tools. Maybe it was not smart to do so, since Loki could still be in a murderous mood, but for some reason he doubted it.

‘So as far as I’m concerned, I’m moving on… you’ve been punished enough.’

‘Do you have any idea how much death and destruction I caused?’

‘And do you have any idea how much I caused?’ Tony asked in return. ‘I’m just saying. Until you do something again, we won’t have a problem with one another. We get back to Earth, you go one way I go another. I won’t try to capture you. I won’t try to hand you over to Asgard.’ He looked up again to look Loki in the eye. ‘But if you ever try to kill and destroy on my planet again, I will show up to kick your ass.’ He shrugged again, not really knowing what else to say. ‘That’s all what I’m saying. Until we reach Earth we’re in this together, so I won’t betray you if you don’t betray me. Simple as that. Get that in your head.’

Loki stayed silent for long moments. Tony let him think it through and went back to quietly sort out his tools. But the god stayed silent for a very long time.

‘You really have major trust-issues, huh?’ Loki had all kinds of issues for sure. Issues that made Tony’s issues look mild. He was interested why, because the Loki he was catching glimpses of, the one who was calm and easy to coax into banter, was hidden behind an angry, arrogant mask. And there had to be a reason for that. Something was broken in him, shattered to bits, and Tony wondered who or what was the cause of it.

‘I won’t betray you, if you do not betray me. You have my word,’ Loki said finally and Tony wanted to sigh in relief. The anger was gone from his tone. He looked up at him again. The god’s whole presence was different, his expression, his eyes and the tilt of his mouth, almost like he was a completely different person. ‘But if you do betray me, I will hunt you down and make you regret you were born, that I can promise as well.’

‘You got it,’ Tony acknowledged. He was glad that he could sort this one out without bloodshed or destruction. He should really be proud of himself. Loki didn’t even try to strangle him.

‘My magic is limited,’ Loki said after some silence.

‘Hm?’ Tony looked up at him again.

‘That is why I cannot give you the gift of the All-speak,’ he explained. ‘You wanted the real reason.’

‘Oh, I see. What’s wrong with your magic then?’ Tony asked. He tried to make his tone light so that they could move on from the previous argument.

‘We are too far away from the Nine Realms.’

‘Explain that one to the magic noob here,’ Tony prompted.

‘The Nine Realms exist on a metaphysical plane. They cannot even be approached by a spaceship. It is an altogether different plane of existence. Asgard is not even a planet, but a piece of land hanging on the Yggrdasil with the help of magic.’

‘A piece of land?’

‘Yes, like… in the shape of a disc of sorts.’

‘Oh, really? Is it also on the back of a giant turtle and some elephants?’ he asked with an amused tone.

‘I do not know what you’re talking about.’

‘I have to give you some books when we get back to Earth.’

‘I thought you would go one way and I in another.’

‘That doesn’t mean I can’t give you some books before you go,’ Tony said. Loki huffed and it almost sounded amused. ‘So magic… metaphysical plane of existence…’

‘We are not in that plane anymore,’ Loki explained. ‘The cosmic energies here are completely different from that of the Nine Realms’. I need that energy to perform magic, but I have yet to adjust myself to its power. I could use some simple, smaller powers by using my own energy reserves, but that would tire me out too easily, so it is not suitable for a battle. I would require immediate rest after using magic like that and I will not make myself vulnerable in such a way.’

‘You concealed the Drake though,’ Stark pointed out.

‘You really think that some finger-painting equals real magic?’ Loki asked. ‘Drawing runes or making potions is not beyond my skills even yet, but those are hardly the tools of a mage.’

‘Ah, sorcerer stuff, right?’

‘Yes. I may not be one of them, but I do know their spells. They can be useful once in a while.’

‘But it’s only a matter of time, right? Before you…’ he made a vague gesture with his hand. ‘Get to know the cosmic stuff of this place.’

‘Yes. I do not know how long though, so do not expect me to perform expert magic for a while. I thought it would be… fair to inform you about it considering this… partnership. You did come back for me on Galand, despite having nothing to force you to do so, so I am willing to… give you the benefit of the doubt.’

‘Thank you. I appreciate it,’ Tony said sweetly, which earned him an eye-roll. It was really interesting how quickly Loki’s mood could change. Tropical storm truly, one moment you’re basking in sunlight at a beach the next you’re running for your life while the sky’s falling down. Tony was honest though, this was quite a sign of trust from Loki, to tell him this much.

‘And once you got all your mojo back you can amaze me with all your awesome tricks.’

‘Magic.’

‘Hm?’

‘It’s magic. Wielding or spellcasting,’ Loki said firmly. ‘A trick is something a whore does for money.’

Tony barked out a laugh at that. ‘Duly noted.’

Chapter Text

 

‘I told you to bring a gun,’ Stark wheezed out.

‘Yes, you were right. Is that what you want to hear? Stay quiet!’ Loki hissed out.

‘I think they can follow the scent of blood anyway.’

‘They will be following a trail of your limbs if you don’t shut up!’

‘I can’t go this fast… we… we need to slow down…’

‘Yes you can, and no we won’t!’ Loki told him firmly and gripped Stark’s waist a bit tighter to urge him on.

Two days earlier…

 

‘You should bring a gun too,’ Stark remarked offhandedly.

‘I don’t need one,’ Loki told him. ‘I am well capable of protecting myself without one.’

‘It couldn’t hurt though,’ the human insisted. ‘You have a better aim than I do.’

‘No.’

‘Fine, whatever.’

Stark grabbed his bag and headed towards the Drake. Loki disliked guns, the energy pulsing in them never failed to make him feel strange. It felt like it was interfering with his magic. Maybe it was a harmless interference, but he still disliked the tingling feeling in his hands whenever he held one of the energy guns. Maybe after he managed to control the cosmic energies around them it will not be so, but for now his blade was enough. After this trip they could finally start forging. Loki planned to start working on some knives, maybe even a sword, and let Stark work on armours. Their so-called “workshop” was still chaotic, but at least semi-functional. Well, functional for what Loki needed it for. Stark was still not even halfway done with the equipment he needed for his armour and other matters he wanted to use the workshop for. Midgardian science was truly bothersome with the amount of tools and equipment that was needed for it.

When Loki got inside their shuttle Stark was already ready for take-off. So he closed the door and went to sit down next to him.

‘Do you wanna bet whether we get in trouble or not?’ the human asked cheerfully.

‘You are not taking this seriously,’ Loki told him.

‘I hate taking things seriously. Ready to go?’

‘I’ve been ready for an hour now. You were the one wasting time packing.’

‘I just like to be prepared.’

‘Oh, just let us go already.’

Stark chuckled, but didn’t argue and soon they were out in space over Planet Ki’eend. The second Stark saw it he insisted on landing. It was a green-blue planet, similar to Midgard. Stark said most of the planet’s climate was hot and damp and covered with vegetation. Loki did not look forward to it. It also seemed like the gravitation was higher than on their ship, but Stark said it would not be too hindering for him. The atmosphere was also suitable, which was the main reason they chose the Planet in the first place. But still, hot and damp? It sounded like the worst combination. Stark called it “tropical”, but it sounded more disgusting than anything. All kinds of vermin loved to populate such areas and he was none too keen to deal with them.

This time around they entered the planet’s atmosphere even without less trouble than before. Stark was getting good at flying. The landscape before them was indeed green. White clouds over endless forests and lake or two scattered among the trees.

‘It will be a bit harder to find a city in this land,’ Loki remarked.

‘Luckily this baby can fly a lot, if we don’t find anything we just head back to the ship,’ the human told him.

‘We really need a way to take a closer look at a planet from out of space.’

‘But where would be the adventure in that?’ Stark asked. Loki shot him an incredulous look that made the human chuckle again. ‘Just kidding, I am working on that. But seriously, I have like a hundred and ten different things to work on.’

‘What was that about priorities?’ Loki asked.

‘I think making a suit to be able to fight or protect myself is more of a priority than a telescope. It’s not like having to descend down here is such trouble. The worst thing that can happen is that we head back to the ship after a nice flight over the forests.’

‘If you say so,’ Loki told him. He really was in no mood to argue with Stark about things like this.

They flew for quite a while exchanging words once in a while. It was mainly Stark chattering away with Loki replying whenever there was actually something worthwhile to say. The human got better at making him participate in these idle talks. Many times Loki only realized that they were talking about basically nothing once they were already conversing for a while. It was irritating. At least Stark mostly had important things to say and only started the useless chatter when he was doing something that was not intellectually stimulating. Setting up the workshop took a long time, but it was hardly a task that required utmost concentration. Flying the Drake was again a mundane task, so it was not surprising that the human insisted on talking. Loki should’ve been more annoyed by this than he actually was. Which was very strange.

Stark was in the middle of a long monologue about how he might be able to make use of the empty bullet shells once he finished powering up his workshop when something big and green slammed into the aircraft. Warnings started flashing on the control panel and Stark cursed as he lost control over the plane. He was gripping the wheel tightly, but the plane spun around from the impact and they were falling. Stark was switching over things, trying to stabilize the shuttle.

‘Stark! We almost reached the trees!’ Loki yelled.

‘I know!’ the human replied. Loki felt how they slowed down a little as Stark obviously turned the engines to keep them up. They were too close though, so despite slowing down considerably Loki could already hear the cracking and breaking of branches under them as the Drake’s bottom reached the top of the trees.

‘Hold on!’ Stark warned before they turned again and descended even further. They were within the trees now and moving forward, branches smashing into the windshield, but luckily not able to break it in. Then they were suddenly out of the trees a little and they slammed to the ground.

‘Holy fucking shit!’ Stark cursed breathing hard still gripping the steering wheel. Loki was not much better off, he could feel his heart up in his throat.

‘Good job,’ he praised. At least they landed in one piece.

‘What the fucking hell was that?!’ Stark asked, yelled really. He was obviously not over the shock of it all.

‘It looked like a dragon,’

‘A dragon?!’ Now the human’s tone was almost frenetic.

‘Or a lizard with wings, I don’t know,’ Loki said catching his breath. Stark finally let go of the wheel and leaned back in his seat taking deep breaths to calm down.

‘Fucking hell.’

‘Do you think we can take off again?’ Loki asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Stark answered, but he leaned forward again and started checking the shuttle’s systems. The best way to prevent Stark from being overwhelmed too much was to give him a task to focus on. This seemed to work this time too.

‘Most things seem fine, I’m gonna have to restart the system somehow though, because everything went crazy from this landing.’

‘You do that,’ Loki nodded. He leaned forward to look outside; they were on a very small clearing. They landed on some fallen trunks, but at least they didn’t have any branches above them, so taking off again shouldn’t be a problem.

‘Something must be stuck in the left engine,’ Stark said suddenly. ‘Probably a branch, I’m gonna take a look.’

‘Want me to go?’ Loki asked. Wondering why he did a moment later.

‘Nah, just gonna look at it. If I need help removing it, I’ll let you know,’ he said as he stood up and went to the back. Loki heard the door opening and then Stark’s footsteps as he walked outside. Loki watched as the systems came back to life on the control panel, stabilizing one after another. Luckily the Drake was not so easily damaged. Surely if they suffered any damage at all they will be able to repair it once they were back on the ship.

He waited another few minutes for Stark then stood up as well. He didn’t want to waste time just because the stubborn human refused to come back and ask for help because he was too weak to move a branch. Stark was stubborn about the strangest things sometimes. He walked outside and was hit in the face with damp warm air. He was right, it was a horrible combination.

‘You know, I have offered my help to get out of here quickly,’ he said once he stepped outside. He walked around the plane to get to the left engine then promptly stopped when he saw no one.

‘Stark?’ He was immediately on alert. He heard nothing while inside the shuttle. ‘Stark!’ he called again. He quickly went to the other side as well, but the human was nowhere to be seen.

‘Stark!’ he called again, but there was no answer. The forest was unnaturally quiet around him. There should’ve been noise. The sound of life, birds and insects, but there was nothing. He looked around once more, but he saw nothing but trees and plants. The silence was mocking him with its perfection.

‘Damn.’

Since Stark would be not stupid enough to wander off on his own, it was obvious that he was taken against his will. It took Loki a little time, but he found some trails in the end, it’s been years since he had to track someone or something down in a forest, but it did not mean he couldn’t do it still. He concealed the Drake with a blood sigil then followed the trail. He had no time to waste. If he was fast enough, he would be able to catch up with them soon enough.

It became quite clear after a little time that that was not happening. First the trails only showed the footmarks of a few. One was Stark, one who held him, almost dragged him, two more following behind them. But then the trails turned into the tracks of four-legged animals. Three of them. Obviously the animals they were riding. Not horses though, the tracks showed four-fingered legs with claws. Considering the winged-creature that hit them, they had to be some sort of reptiles. He really started to hate reptiles. Were there any other species in this damned galaxy at all?

He had no idea how fast these animals could be, but he followed the trail. Maybe he had no chance to catch up with them, but obviously they had to stop eventually. Walking through the forest like this reminded him of all the hunts he went on. At least once a year, but sometimes more, whenever Thor…

This was not the time to think about that buffoon.

He kept going. The forest stayed suspiciously silent around him and it did not fail to unnerve him. Nothing that seemed to be so full of life should be this quiet. He really started to wonder what happened here. Also, this was the last time he let Stark pick a planet. He would be the one to decide where to land from now on.

The ground beneath his feet was damp and full with rocks and roots, which made walking difficult. There were lianas and vines hanging from the trees and not once he had to crouch down or climb over rocks to move forward. His boots were covered in mud, his hair started curling at the ends from the damp air, and his clothes were dirty already. If Stark was alive, he was going to kill him for this. It was ridiculous, that he had to travel through a forest like this to find one annoying human. He needed him for the ship, he kept reminding himself. He had to get Stark back.

Night fell and he still did not catch up with the ones who took the human. The trail was easy enough to follow and Loki did so until it was too dark even for his eyes to see it. He hoped that whoever took Stark also stopped for the night. He sat down on a log and used a spark of his power to light a tiny fire. Not for warmth, obviously, but for light. The silence of the forest was deafening. He was weary of beasts, but in this silence he would be able to hear whatever was approaching. He did not sleep though. He just waited for the sun to rise again.

He cursed the blasted creatures Stark’s captors rode on. The trail was easy to follow, but it was never fresh, it felt like he was always a few hours behind them. Stark better be alive. He was going to slaughter every single one of the damn creatures if he was not. Maybe he will slaughter them anyway, just for making him follow them through this wretched forest.

He was well into the day when he finally heard something. He quieted down his steps and sneaked closer, careful not to be noticed. The sun was already setting and the dusk would help to get closer unnoticed.

It was as he expected, three who walked on legs, and three quite disgusting looking lizards that were harnessed like horses. And Stark, luckily alive although a little beat up, was tied to a tree next to them. The men looked like barbarians. They were wearing roughly sewn leathers, carried spears and small blades. Probably they were scouters for a tribe. He really did not know why they wanted Stark, but he really did not want to guess either.

He waited until the three went to sleep, which did not take that long. Even their mounts curled up next to them into a slumber. He did not know how light their sleep was or how good the creatures’ smell could be, so he made sure the wind did not blow from his way and sneaked closer as quietly as possible.

Stark was luckily awake, but Loki did not reveal himself to him, not wanting to jolt any reaction out of him that would be too loud. It was the sound of Loki’s final step that made Stark stiffen in alarm, but Loki slid his hand over his mouth quickly before he could make a noise. The human relaxed right away, recognizing him. Loki slid his blade out of his boot and went to cut the ropes. He considered slowly walking closer to the reptilians and their lizard creatures to kill them in their sleep, but he was cautious of the beasts. They were huge, large claws on their legs, sharp teeth in their mouths, and their riders also had weapons. He was not sure about their chances against them. Stark was unarmed and Loki only had his blade. He should’ve brought a gun, unpleasant feeling be damned, but he did not expect the beasts when he started following the trail. He rarely felt this stupid. He should’ve thought this through instead of taking chase immediately.

Once the ropes were cut Stark turned and moved closer to Loki, his every step quiet. Not as quiet as Loki, but good enough. Loki grabbed hold of his elbow and started leading him away from the creatures on a relatively empty pathway among the trees. Neither of them spoke and even their breathing was silent as possible. The further away they were the quicker their steps became and soon they were moving forward in the dark a lot less carefully. Loki could still see quite well and he did not let go of Stark’s arm so that the human could keep up.

‘I have never been this glad to see you,’ Stark said once they were far enough. ‘I don’t know where they came from, I was walking to the engine and the next thing I know I have my mouth sealed and a rope around my arms. Fucking hell.’

‘Do you know what they wanted from you?’ Loki asked.

‘I don’t know. One of them kept talking to me, but I couldn’t understand of course.’

Stark’s voice was scratchy and breathless, he was obviously tired.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Loki said. ‘We have to keep going until they’re asleep. I really don’t want to fight those beasts they’re riding.’

‘Why didn’t you bring a gun at least?’ Stark asked. ‘My gun from the Drake at least?’ the human asked.

‘I did not think it would be needed.’

‘A gun is always needed! This is the new law, okay? Always have a gun!’

‘Quiet! We’re not that far away,’

‘I can’t see a damn thing,’ Stark complained.

‘I can, so just keep close to me,’ Loki told him. Stark did so without arguing.

It was almost dawn by the time they heard the noise behind them, branches breaking, the sound of feet moving on the ground. They caught up with them. There was not much to do, they ran. They were not that far away from the Drake, but also not close enough.

Running was useless in the end, but it was only one rider who found them. One moment the noise was coming from behind them, the next the giant beast lizard was on the trunk of a tree right before them. They both stopped and started at them. The lizard climbed down to the ground approaching them. Loki grabbed his blade and took a step forward. Stark would not be able to fight, but Loki would be able to defeat one of these things. Hopefully the other two were far away.

‘Run, Stark,’ Loki said quietly eyeing the approaching lizard and its rider.

‘You’re gonna fight?’ Stark asked in an almost panicked tone.

‘I can take them,’ Loki told him. ‘Just run as soon as they attack.’

Maybe Stark wanted to argue, but there was no time. The lizard leaped, Stark ran. Only the rider jumped off from the back of the beast and attacked Loki with his spear, while the beast followed Stark. Damn it!

Loki dodged the spear and sliced with his knife, but the man was skilled enough to avoid him. Fast too, but that did not mean he would be victorious. Some savage reptile could not defeat him. It took a few minutes but finally Loki managed to grab hold of the spear and stab the rider in the gut. He took both weapons and ran after Stark and the beast, hoping he was not too late.

Stark was cornered, it was a miracle he could avoid the lizard for this long. He was a smart human, he knew how to survive. He was almost impressed. Loki was running as fast as he could, because he was still too far away to aid the mortal. Stark held a thick branch in his hand, which was his only weapon against the vicious beast. The beast was only playing with him, waiting for his master to give him order to kill probably, but soon it would attack even without an order. Its tail was moving in an agitated manner. Stark managed to piss it off. He was very good at that.

Two things happened at the same time. The beast finally charged and Loki got close enough to throw the spear. Stark’s scream of pain came a second sooner than the beast’s screech. Loki’s spear was one moment too late. He ran again. Stark was on the ground, the lizard on top of him, its teeth had sunk into the mortal’s flesh while Loki’s spear was sticking out of its back. Loki wasted no time when he got there, he sank his blade into the beast’s head from the side, piercing its skull and killing it. Stark’s shirt was red from all the blood flowing from the wound and the giant lizard’s teeth were still embed into his flesh.

‘Hold on, Stark,’ Loki said. ‘This will hurt,’ he warned then he broke the dead creature’s jaw to free Stark from its teeth. The human put his hand on the wound right away.

‘Shit, fucking shit, goddamit!’ Stark cursed with a trembling voice.

‘We’re close enough to the Drake,’ Loki told him. ‘We only have to walk a while longer.’

‘I can’t walk,’ Stark said.

‘Of course you can.’

First he needed to tie up the wound with something. Stark’s shirt was in tatters, that would not hold, so for the lack of better options he pulled his own shirt over his head and tore it in half. He pulled Stark into a sitting position to tie it around his middle. The wound was on the side of his abdomen.

‘It looks worse than it is,’ Loki said.

‘Yeah I know… stomach wound. Bleeds like a bitch, but I won’t die for at least a few hours.’

‘You won’t die at all,’ Loki told him sharply. ‘We need to go,’ he said. ‘I doubt the other two is far away.’

He helped Stark to his feet. He put an arm around his middle and pulled his arm over his shoulder, he could carry most of his weight like this.

‘Can we reach the Drake before they find us?’ Stark asked.

‘If we hurry,’ Loki told him. He dictated the pace and while Stark was moving very sluggishly, he kept up as much as he could. ‘Just don’t lose consciousness.’

 ‘I told you to bring a gun,’ Stark wheezed out.

‘Yes, you were right. That’s what you want to hear? Stay quiet!’ Loki hissed out.

‘I think they can follow the scent of blood anyway.’

‘They will be following a trail of your limbs if you don’t shut up!’

‘I can’t go this fast… we… we need to slow down…’

‘Yes you can, and no we won’t!’ Loki told him firmly and gripped Stark’s waist a bit tighter to urge him on. The Drake was already in sight. Stark was stumbling and crumbled next to Loki by the last few feet, but the god easily kept him upright, taking him inside. Stupid human causing him this much trouble.

He barely took a step inside when he heard the sound of one of the beasts nearby. He put the human down and turned to close the door. The lizard creature slammed into the Drake a second after the door closed. It started clawing at the door immediately.

Stark was motionless on the floor of the shuttle when he turned back around. Loki’s shirt was soaked with blood over the wound. He crouched down next to him despite the sound of claws coming from the outside. The beast wanted to get in.

‘By the Nine if you die on me Stark, you will regret it!’ Loki told him, but the human was unconscious and did not react to his voice. ‘Stark!’

The beast climbed over the top of the shuttle and was now on the windshield, trying to claw its way inside there and Stark still did not react. So he shook him again.

‘Stark!!’ he yelled, but there was no reaction.

Chapter Text

 

He woke up suddenly to a sharp sting as something hit him in his face and knew that someone slapped him. Hard. For a moment it took away his attention from the burning pain in his side, but only for a moment. Now he was in agony again. He blinked open his eyes and saw Loki hovering above him. Shirtless Loki… bloody… wait… oh right that was his blood. Some space dinosaur tried to eat him. Just great. The image was a little blurry at first, but as he blinked again he could finally make out the furious expression on the god’s face.

‘Stay awake, you hear me Stark?’ Loki warned.

‘Okay,’ Tony mumbled. His mind was fuzzy and slow and he was in pain, he really didn’t want to argue with Loki.

The god was gone the next moment from his side, and then Tony heard how the engines started.

‘Can you fly?’ he asked. He knew the engine was fine, they even sounded fine, the damage should not prevent them from taking off, but Loki never flew the Drake before. Not that Tony didn’t believe that he could, he was smart. Loki seemed to be able to learn things very quickly by only watching and he saw Tony fly a few times now.

‘Of course I can,’ Loki replied. Tony tilted his head to look at him and noticed one of those fucking huge lizard things clawing at the windshield. He felt like he got tossed into JurassicPark, he seriously expected some sort of T-Rex to just appear out of nowhere. That was not a nice mental image and there was actually a small chance of it happening in some way.

‘Fuck.’

‘Don’t worry about it, just stay alive,’ Loki told him not even looking at the snarling beast in front of him on the other side of the window. Then the Drake actually started taking off. Yeah, of course Loki could fly with it. The lizard thing tried to hold onto the plane’s frame, but the second they lifted up high enough to increase speed it started sliding off. Its claws uselessly tried to sink into the Drake’s body. It was a god-awful sound, how the claws screeched down on the side of the plane.

‘That probably fucked up the paint job,’ Tony mumbled.

The journey back to the ship was a blur that Tony spent on the edge of unconsciousness. The pain was no longer sharp, but a constant ache in his abdomen. His skin felt warm and cool at the same time and he was sweating like a pig. He was losing too much blood, he knew it. The dizziness in his head got worse as the minutes passed by. He didn’t even know how bad the wound was. What if only the fucking shirt kept his guts inside? This was bad, this was so fucking bad.

He only realized that they arrived when Loki was with him again. The god basically picked him up this time, since Tony could not walk any longer.

‘I was such a moron walking out like that,’ Tony choked out weakly.

‘Let us discuss that later, shall we?’ Loki told him.

They were soon out of the Drake, but they did not go all the way to their room. Loki lifted him up to one of the still empty tables in Tony’s half-finished workshop. Then he looked at the wound, but did not lift the shirt away only for an inch or so.

‘Have you ever sewn a wound closed?’ Tony asked. He knew that they had everything they needed in the med supplies and it did not matter whether Loki had done anything like this before, it’s not like he had anyone else to help him.

‘That won’t work,’ Loki said. ‘The wound’s too deep, you would die of internal bleeding if I just closed it.’

That one sentence filled Tony with even more dread.

‘What can… just do…something…’

Loki’s face was suddenly over his again, his expression stern. He grabbed one of Tony’s hands and pressed it on the wound.

‘Keep your hand here, to slow the bleeding down some more. I’ll be right back.’

‘Where--’

‘Just stay awake, I’ll be back,’ and then he was gone.

Tony stared at the ceiling and the lights he put on to be able to work better in his workshop while warm blood painted his hand red. The silence was crushing down on him suddenly. If he was going to die, he didn’t want it to happen lying on a table in an alien spaceship, completely all by himself. Anything but alone. But who was he kidding? Someone like him always died alone in the end. He expected that for quite a long time now to be honest.

There was a darkness at the edge of his vision, like his sight was slowly narrowing down. The warmth he felt before was dissipating, now he was only shaking from cold. He was hanging onto his consciousness by sheer will. Loki told him to stay awake, that he would be back. Tony really wanted to believe him. It was hard, really hard to stay awake though.

The pressure he was putting on the wound tired his arm out quickly and he could no longer keep his hand in place. His eyes slid close, but just for a moment, because then he was shaken awake again by Loki’s sharp voice.

Tony opened his eyes again just as Loki arrived to his side. The god pushed his arm under him and lifted him up from the table a little. Tony didn’t have the strength to ask what was going on. The next moment a small glass was held to his lips.

‘Drink this,’ Loki ordered. Tony blinked at him in confusion. ‘Just do it!’ Loki urged him on. ‘Trust me,’ he said.

It was strange, to hear him say that. Tony parted his lips though and let Loki tilt the content of the glass into his mouth slowly. Tony swallowed. He almost chocked twice before the whole thing was down. God, he was shaking so bad.

‘What was--’ he didn’t finish his question, because he felt warmth spread out inside of him as the liquid slid down his throat, like it was some very strong alcohol. Loki tossed the glass away then, and laid Tony’s head back down on the table. Tony was still too much out of it to react much when the god climbed up to the table to sit on Tony’s thighs. He pushed something to Tony’s lips.

‘Bite down on this,’ he instructed. Tony did as he was told. ‘This is going to hurt,’ Loki warned as his hands closed around Tony’s wrists, pressing them down to the table, holding the human in place. Tony just stared up at him with wide eyes, his breath coming in short almost panicked puffs. He wanted to ask what Loki was doing. What was going to hurt? What could possibly hurt more than the wound he was slowly bleeding out from?

He couldn’t open his mouth to ask anything though. Then the warmth that was spreading out in him suddenly flared up to scorching heat. He would have screamed from the white hot pain if not for the piece of leather in his mouth he was biting down on. All his muscles tensed sharply, painfully, his spine arched up, but Loki pressed down on him and kept him in place so that he wouldn’t start trashing. What did Loki do? What? He was beyond coherent thoughts within moments and while he tried his best to stay awake the world slipped away as his body burnt in pain.

Tony woke up slowly, his muscles aching, his head hurting and he felt way too hot, almost like a hangover. It took him long minutes to remember. For a moment he hoped to open his eyes and see his bedroom’s ceiling, but what he saw was the Ironmage’s cargo hold. He was not in a bed, but lying on the top of a table. He was dying not that long ago, he realized, he was honest to god on the brink of death. It was not a new experience, but not any more pleasant than it was before. This one involved a lot more pain than the previous ones, including that time his arc reactor was ripped out of his chest. He also realized that it did not feel like he was dying anymore. He swallowed a few times, trying to decide whether he was in any real pain, but there was nothing. He was too hot and he was aching everywhere, but not dying.

He turned his head to look around and spotted Loki sitting on some boxes next to Tony’s already in-use workbench. He was still shirtless, so not much time could’ve passed. He had his elbows up on the desk, his chin resting on his folded hands. He seemed to be lost in thought, staring at nothing in particular.

‘Loki,’ he called, his voice breathless and scratchy. The god’s gaze found him right away and after a blink he stood up and walked to Tony.

Before he could ask Loki about anything, the god peeled away some sort of bandage from his abdomen. Oh, he was bandaged properly. Loki must’ve done it after Tony passed out. That didn’t explain why he was taking it off now though. Only when the bloodied bandage came off there was no wound underneath it.

‘What did you do?’ asked Tony staring at the healed skin in disbelief. There was still some sort of scar on it and the whole area felt tender, but that was quite an astonishing improvement from the wound he had.

‘I saved your life,’ Loki answered. He put his hand on the place the wound had been, his long fingers spread out on the still tender skin. He pressed his fingers down a little into the skin then he moved his hand a few inches before pressing down again.

‘How does that feel?’ he asked.

‘Umm… it doesn’t hurt… a bit sensitive though…’ Tony answered. Loki kept his hand there for another moment before his eyes shifted to Tony’s face again. He then put his hands on the side of Tony’s head.

‘Your sight? Do you see clearly?’

‘Yes,’ Tony answered with a frown.

‘Keep your eyes on my face,’ Loki instructed then moved Tony’s head first to the left, then to the right. ‘Alright, take a large breath, as large as you can.’

Considering that not that long ago he was bleeding to death, he did not feel like arguing, he was still too confused about the situation, but he was pretty sure Loki was making sure he was fine.

‘What was that stuff you made me drink?’ Tony asked.

‘Healing elixir,’ Loki answered. ‘Can you move your toes?’

Tony tried it. ‘Yes, my toes are fine. What are you doing?’ he asked finally.

Loki grabbed hold of one of his hands and started bending his wrist in different directions, then his fingers, looking at how the joints moved smoothly. After he was done he put Tony’s hand down and looked at him again.

‘Just making sure there is no permanent damage,’ Loki answered. ‘How do you feel in general? Your head? Can you think clearly? Do you notice any difference?’

‘My head hurts a little, but I feel fine. A little too warm maybe. Why do you have to make sure there’s no damage? Didn’t that stuff heal me?’

He was sure that’s what happened. There was no other way a wound like that could be healed this fast. Magic 1, Science 0, because this was something quite incredible, even he could admit that. Sure some doctors in a hospital could’ve saved his life too, but he would be in a world of pain with an ugly stitched-up wound on his side and a nasty scar even after weeks and months of recovering.

‘Yes, well… there was a chance that it would kill you.’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘The potion was something made for Aesir anatomy and physiology. I wasn’t sure your body would react positively.’

‘And you made me drink it anyway?’ Tony asked.

‘You were dying. If I did nothing you would have bled to death. There was not much of a choice.’

He didn’t have to think too much to realize that Loki was right. If one option is certain death and the other just possible death, then obviously the second one is the winner.

‘You’re right, sorry. Thank you.’ He tried to sit up then, but Loki put a hand on his chest, stopping him.

‘You’re still weak. The elixir used your body’s own reserves to heal you. It also could not replenish all the blood you lost.’

‘Yes, but I can’t rest on this table,’ Tony told him. ‘If I have to stay lying, I’d rather do it in a bed.’

Loki crossed his arms over his chest and looked at him for a moment. He looked kind of weird, still shirtless, covered in blood on most places, his dark hair in disarray, but still prideful and regal in every inch of his body, completely unfazed by how he looked. Tony was not surprised, after all it took quite some charisma to be able to pull off a golden horned helmet and a cape. A little blood and a missing shirt was nothing. Suddenly Tony had the mental image of Loki holding one of his world-conqueror speeches looking like this. People would be not one bit less terrified, maybe the blood would make him look even more dangerous. It gave him a sort of feral vibe.

‘Fine,’ Loki said then and let Tony sit up. The second he was upright he almost tilted to the side and down to the floor. Blood loss, yeah, awesome.

‘I might need some help,’ Tony said.

‘I would’ve been surprised if you didn’t,’ Loki told him and offered his arm to him impassively. Tony got off from the table and immediately gripped Loki’s upper arm to not fall over. After a moment Loki slid his arm around him to keep him upright.

‘This is kind of humiliating,’ Tony said as they started walking. ‘Aren’t you going to make some remark about my weak mortal ass?’ He really shouldn’t prompt him, but his mouth kind of went off on its own to compensate for his embarrassment.

‘If you would be really that weak, the potion would’ve killed you,’ Loki told him. ‘Somehow you pulled through.’

‘Yeah, I love kicking expectations in the ass.’

‘You’re just stubborn.’

Tony laughed tiredly at that. ‘Maybe,’ he admitted.

It took way too long to reach their room with Tony moving like a senior citizen. It really was horribly humiliating. He was astonished that Loki didn’t complain, well… that he didn’t complain verbally. The look on his face spoke louder than thousand words. He was definitely irritated by the whole ordeal. Once they were by Tony’s bed he let go of the god and sat down. Then he noticed the chaotic state of the table. Loki’s cabinet was open and all the herbs and other stuff they managed to acquire back on Galand was lying there scattered. He was obviously in a hurry when he made the elixir.

‘Loki.’ The god did not turn around to look at Tony, just kept putting his things in order.

‘Yes?’

‘Thank you.’

‘You already said that.’

‘Yeah but… really, I would be a pile of meat in some lizard’s stomach if not for you so… thanks for coming for me and getting me out of there.’

‘The ship does not obey me, do not forget that. It’s not like I had a choice. Do not read anything into it.’

Tony wanted to roll his eyes. It would’ve been too simple to say a simple “You’re welcome”. This was Loki after all.

‘Fine. Moment’s over. I said my thanks.’

‘Noted.’

Tony slid down on the bed and tried to get comfortable while he listened to the sound of glasses clinking and packages rustling as Loki straightened up on the table. He was almost asleep when Loki’s footsteps approached him again. Tony opened his eyes to look at him. Loki stood next to his bed with a glass in hand that had a glowing golden liquid in it.

‘What’s that?’ he asked.

‘Same elixir. The first helped your body with the most critical damage, but a second should help you heal completely.’

Tony eyed the glass warily. ‘Didn’t that stuff almost kill me?’ he asked.

‘The first, yes, but you survived. It means your body adjusted to it and is now fully receptive.’

‘Adjusted? Did it change something in me?’

‘Not in any way you would notice,’ Loki told him. ‘It just means that your body and its natural defences will not fight it any longer. The elixir itself basically just strengthens and quickens your natural healing process and increases regeneration. Once it runs its course you are back to normal.’

Tony still looked at the glass dubiously.

‘If I wanted to kill you, I could’ve just let you bleed to death,’ Loki told him impatiently. ‘It will not hurt this time, it will merely raise your body temperature for a few hours, but you will be asleep, so you won’t even notice. Now drink this bloody potion before I shove it down your throat. I’m tired of being covered in your blood and two days worth of dirt.’

With that he pushed the glass into Tony’s hand and darkly glared down at him until he drank it all. Tony felt the same warmth spreading out in his body, but this time no burning pain followed.

‘Thank you,’ Tony said as he handed back the glass. Loki snatched it out of his hand angrily. It seemed like his patience with Tony ran out for now.

‘Does this stuff heal everything?’ he asked.

‘Only things your body would be able to heal on its own or what can be repaired by replacing damaged tissue.’

‘My liver’s gonna love it then,’ Tony said making himself comfortable on the bed again. Loki did not deem that with an answer. He just grabbed a few clean clothes and headed to the bathroom. Tony was fast asleep by the time the shower started running.

Chapter Text

 

Stark recovered quickly from the events on Ki’eend. With the elixir working its course through his body he was back to normal in no time. Well, maybe better than normal. The day after the incident he was quite vocal about his recovery and a certain… side effect.

‘You said it did not change anything I would notice,’ Stark said as he walked out of the bathroom with a scowl on his face.

‘Yes?’ Loki asked without looking up from the blade he was sharpening. He lost the one he was using before on Ki’eend and he needed something until his alyndor blade was made. This was just a small knife he found in the kitchen, but it would do.

‘Are you fucking kidding me? I look like five years younger… or more!’ the human exclaimed. Loki looked up at him. The mortal was freshly shaved, only his small goatee remained on his face that annoyingly reminded Loki of Fandral. His hair was wet too, falling before his eyes a little. Now that he really looked at him, the skin on his face did look a little smoother. Some of the crow’s feet were gone from around his eyes as well. He did not look considerably younger though.

‘Or maybe this is how you’re supposed to look like. If you’d live healthier that is,’ Loki told him. There was a small chance that the elixir might have “fixed” things like some of the sings of ageing. Ageing was the accumulation of damage in the cells and organs, almost like a disease really, and the elixir was meant to help the body repair damage.

‘No. I know how I’m supposed to look like. This is not how I’m supposed to look like. This is how I looked like a few years ago.’

Loki shrugged. ‘Ageing is a type of damage in the body, so I suppose the elixir repaired some of that. I have never seen it used on beings that actually age so quickly as you humans do, so I do not know.’

‘Right, you don’t age.’

‘We age, just very very slowly,’ Loki told him.

‘So you’re really a thousand years old?’ Tony asked. He assumed that it was correct, but he never bothered to ask.

‘In Midgardian years? A 1040 or so, it’s not like I know my actual birth date.’

‘How come?’

Loki looked up at him and hoped his expression was easily understood. ‘I do not wish to discuss that.’

Stark frowned at him. ‘Is this about the adoption thing?’

Loki slammed his blade down to the table and glared at the mortal.

‘I will not discuss that!’ Not now, not ever and especially not with some stupid mortal. Stark put up his hands up in a placating manner.

‘Fine, okay. It’s just weird like hell.’

‘There was no other option, Stark. Do not forget that. You’re alive, so you have no reason to complain.’

‘Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t mind a full list of possible side effects though.’

‘Unless you start noticing negative side effects, I couldn't care less.’

‘Fine,’ Stark huffed.

‘Surely losing a few wrinkles is not something so terribly bothersome.’

‘No, not really,’ Stark shrugged and started towelling his hair dry.

‘Then stop bothering me,’ with that Loki went back to sharpening the knife.

‘So I was thinking.’

Loki put the blade down. He really started to dislike everything that came out of Stark’s mouth when it started with that sentence.

‘That thing you said about the All-speak, that my mind couldn’t handle it. How much of it was true?’

‘I thought we discussed this already, why are you bringing it up again?’

‘Because if we get separated, I’m screwed, and I don’t like that,’ the human said.

‘I doubt being able to speak with those savages would’ve helped you.’

‘Who knows?’ Stark asked. ‘They did talk to me about something. If they could’ve understood me, maybe I could’ve done more. Offer them something, lead them astray or at least fucking slow them down a little. It’s easier to play someone or even fucking trick them if you know what they want.’

That was certainly true. Stark had quite a mouth on him and a quick mind to work with. His inability to speak to anyone robbed him of one of his biggest assets… and also from his biggest liability. Sometimes the human did not know when to shut up, his mouth could also get him in trouble.

‘Considering you survived the elixir,’ Loki started. ‘Maybe you could handle it, but there is still a risk. There will always be a risk, it is just smaller now.’

‘Yeah, that’s what I thought,’ Stark said as he put the towel down and sat on his bed. ‘Give me some numbers, on a scale from one to one hundred, how much chance there is that I will be able to use the All-speak without any damage to my brain?’

Loki had to think about that for a moment. A few days ago he would’ve said that there was more chance for failure than success, but now it was different. Stark’s body could handle the elixir, as a matter of fact he adjusted in only a matter of hours. Maybe humans in general were more resilient than he thought or just simply Stark was a special case. The second elixir worked on him how it was supposed to work on any Aesir. Also, Stark’s intelligence and his ability to control the ship so effortlessly was something to consider as well. His chances were rather high, considering Loki’s knowledge of magic and how the All-speak worked. With some average sorcerer the chances would be lower, but Loki was skilled enough to work such delicate magic with the required caution.

‘About 85 maybe,’ Loki told him. ‘Or better with suitable preparations, depends on how you would react to magic.’

‘That’s pretty good.’

‘You would really risk your sound mind just to be able to talk to anyone?’

‘I am willing to risk it so that we don’t end up in a situation like that again. Maybe it would’ve changed nothing, but maybe it could’ve. Maybe next time I will have to be able to answer a damn question instead of gaping like a fish. What if we get separated and I can’t find you because I can’t even ask anyone if they’ve seen you? What if I have to find my way back in a city on my own but I can’t even read the fucking street signs?’

‘Well, we could not get separated maybe,’ Loki offered.

‘Yeah, cause we totally planned the previous ones too,’ Stark remarked. ‘I know we need to rely on each other to get back home, but having to rely on you in this… It’s like I’m dead weight, unable to do anything outside of this ship on my own. You can’t tell me it’s not a redundant burden, a problem for the both of us.’

Loki sighed. In a way it was a problem, any sort of emergency could require Stark to speak with someone, just like the occasion could call for Loki to carry a gun. Not being able to communicate with anyone could one day very well cause them even bigger problems, especially considering how great their luck was with foreign planets so far.

‘I told you my magic is limited,’ Loki told him.

‘You also told me that you can use magic, only it tires you out too much. But it’s not like we’re going anywhere, so I was wondering if you had enough in store to do something like this.’

It would tire him out very much, but he could do it, if he wanted to. It would just make him more than useless for the rest of the day, and this was not even a truly energy-consuming spell. It made his skin crawl, the thought of making himself so vulnerable. This was Stark though, and while his instincts screamed against the very idea, he was quite certain that he knew the mortal well enough to know that he was not in danger in his presence, not even in a vulnerable state.

‘And you would really let me so close to your mind? How foolish is that?’

‘I did not betray you, right? So I have nothing to worry about.’

Stark was a fool to trust him. Well, Loki did give him his word. But he was still a fool. Everything Loki did, he did it for himself and his own benefit, could the stupid human not see that?

‘Fine, it’s your head,’ he gave in.

‘Lie down.’

‘Why?’

‘What did we agree upon?’

‘That I follow your instructions without questioning them,’ Stark recited dutifully.

‘Very good, now lie down.’

The human did so without arguing this time. Loki sat down next to his head. He already explained how this would go to Stark, now being successful in reality was a different matter. He did manage to make the human drink some mild calming mixture, he would be unable to quiet his brain for long enough without it. Even like this it would be challenging Loki imagined. Stark was not someone to stop thinking, Loki could understand that well enough, but it still made this a little bit more difficult.

‘So, can you manage? To not think of anything?’ Loki asked.

‘Believe it or not, I did that quite a lot in the past… only there was more alcohol and sex involved.’

‘I don’t even know whether my concoction loosened your tongue so or not.’

‘My tongue is always on the loose,’ Stark replied then his lips curled up into a lazy smile. ‘Does “performance issues” ring any bells?’

‘Quiet now, Stark. Silence your mind. This will hurt you if you are not prepared well enough.’

The human closed his eyes at that and breathed in deeply.

‘I do not think you are someone to meditate much, but this time, do try. Focus on your breathing, listen to the sound of your heartbeat.’

Loki quieted his voice down a little, his tone deepened as well, soothing rather than harsh. It’s been a very long time ago since he worked such delicate magic. No one trusted him with something like this, least he decided to play some game or prank, or so they feared Loki assumed. They rather went to the healers or the Sorcerers’ Guild than Loki, even if he was much better suited for the task. If he remembered correctly, the last time it happened was in Alfheim, when one of the Ladies in the court was bitten by a venomous snake during a trip. The poison had attacked her nervous system. Loki was the closest mage and the elves did not even hesitate to ask him for his help. It was delicate work, to fix the damage done to the mind. No simple potion could heal something like that. A magic-wielder had to be there to control the flow of the medicine to the right places. It had to be done very quickly, but with great care. Loki was never a true healer, but his skills were well known, at least in Alfheim. He was rewarded with a beautifully crafted dagger for the deed, which Loki accepted gracefully. The elves were also quite impressed, all the mages in the court spoke of him highly. Not that it brought him any praise back on Asgard, healing some girl, not exactly a tale one could tell in the Great Hall during a feast.

The girl was an Ice Elf, he remembered suddenly, merely visiting the Ljósálfar court as an ambassador of the Kaldálfar of the Frozen Lands of Alfheim. The memory of her bright blue skin burned in his memory brighter than ever despite how many years passed. Her eyes were blue as well, just like her long hair. It was strange to remember that now… considering…

He pushed the memory away, focusing on the task at hand again. He placed his hands on Stark’s head and shushed him when he moved a little at the touch.

‘Do not fight me,’ he said. ‘Just let it happen, like when you open your mind to the ship. If the path is free, the magic won’t cause any damage.’

Stark tensed for a moment when Loki finally reached inside and grabbed hold of his power, letting the magic free. He immediately felt how it started draining him. The All-speak was old magic, and something that’s been in his very core for as long as he could remember. He only needed time to understand its inner workings, but its presence he could always feel. Sometimes he wondered how the Aesir could be so ignorant, not being aware of the presence of such magic inside of them.

There was a bit of resistance at first, so Loki did not push.

‘Do not fight me, Stark. I will not hurt you,’ he told him. He waited a few moments then. The human took a few deep breaths and Loki felt the resistance crumbling away. Very good.

He wasted no time in reaching out with his power linking it to that core, that bundle of magic that was anchored deep in Loki’s mind as it was anchored in the mind of all those that carried the gift. He only needed to plant it like it was a seed, and urge Stark’s mind to make it grow, so that it may bloom inside and grow large enough to be of use. For small children the seed of magic was planted before they could speak, thus they knew nothing but the All-speak. Oh how long it took Loki to be able to learn new languages for magic. To be able to speak words as they were meant to be spoken, instead of in All-speak. This will be different for Stark, he already had his own tongue to use, or even several, since there were many different ones on Midgard.

Stark tensed again as the magic took root, but Loki shushed him again and slowly drew back from his mind. He only cut the connection once he drew back completely. He noticed then that he was panting slightly and as soon as his attention shifted back to his body he became aware of the tiredness that seeped into his every bone. He did not remove his hands from the human’s head.

‘Loki?’ Stark asked.

 ‘The main part is done… Congratulations, you did not suffer any brain damage.’

‘Well, yay, good for me, but I don’t feel any different,’ Stark said. ‘Unless I count how my head feels like it’s stuffed full with cotton.’

‘No, you wouldn’t feel anything. First you need to learn to use it, become aware of its presence.’

‘And how can I do that?’ the mortal asked.

‘You only need to listen,’ Loki told him. ‘Long ago I learnt the language of the Elves. The tongue they used and still use for many reasons, despite having the gift of the All-speak.’

‘Why?’

‘For magic of course,’ Loki answered.

‘But how did you learn a language if you can already understand everything?’

‘That would require quite a long explanation which I do not feel like giving.’

‘Your fingers are cold,’ Stark said out of nowhere. Loki pulled his hand back from his head. ‘No, um… it made it better… the cotton situation in my head I mean.’

Loki did not reply to that.

‘I will speak to you, in the Elven tongue,’ Loki said. ‘You will only have to try and understand me. The more you try, the closer you will become to make use of that speck of magic I planted in your mind. For now it’s like a muscle you have never used before, you need to be able to move it, so first it needs to be strengthened.’

‘And after a while I will just suddenly understand?’

‘It will happen gradually and it might take a few days, but since I am drained and would prefer to not move at all, it is a good as any time to start. You will be able to understand some of it from the start, but not all.’

‘So I just listen?’ he asked.

‘Yes, just listen.’

‘What are you going to talk about?’ Stark asked then.

‘Is there any specific topic you’re interested in?’

‘Well, you said bits and pieces about the Nine Realms so far, so you could give me a full picture of that one.’

‘Very well,’ Loki agreed. That was general enough, least likely to turn unpleasant talking about it.

‘Just don’t get too technical on me when it comes to magic or I won’t understand, All-speak or not.’

‘I will try and keep it very very simple for your benefit then.’

‘Don’t get cute, Reindeer Games.’ Stark sounded as tired as Loki felt, only his tiredness was the exhaustion of the mind and not of the body. Oh, if they got attacked right now, they would die a horrible death.

‘We do have some sort of automatic defence system on this ship, right?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, sure. It’s always on. We have some pretty nice guns here and there, but we’re quite far away from everything right now, so I doubt we would run into anyone.’

‘That’s good,’ Loki nodded.

‘Can I bring in some food for this? I’m kind of hungry… and thirsty.’

Loki thought about it for a moment.

‘That… is a great idea,’ he decided. The fastest way to get his strength back was plenty of sustenance. And he would need some water as well if he was going to talk this much.

Chapter Text

 

‘The Nine Realms of the Cosmos are linked to one another by the branches of Yggdrasil, the Worlds Tree. Sprawling like a quasar, a twisting nebula, its branches of glowing energy stretch out into the black void of space. It is a realm of wonder, beauty, and terror one can barely comprehend,’ Loki started his tale.

And for once Tony did not speak, did not ask questions, and just listened. The words were more than just words, not just foreign sounds. It was more… it was hard to put his finger on it. It was like the DNI, but completely different at the same time. He could picture everything with the utmost detail as he listened to the sound of the god’s voice. He was not sure if it was the All-speak, or because of the way Loki talked. Maybe both. His voice was quiet and soothing, perfect for telling stories. Tony feared he would fall asleep, but his mind raced as he absorbed every detail he was given. He doubted many humans knew this, if any at all. Thor may have been on Earth before, but Tony doubted he ever bothered to tell all of this to anyone, maybe some of it. Tony preferred Loki’s version. Thor would’ve told sagas of great noble battles no doubt, he would’ve praised his people and his world. Loki spoke the truth, brutal bloody truths. And wasn’t that the greatest irony of the universe? But Tony knew liars knew the biggest truths. Those who listened to whispers in the shadows, who could sneak behind the curtains and take a look at what was really going on instead of being distracted by the smoke and mirrors and shining bright lights on the stage. Tony wanted the truth, not pretty stories.

‘Asgard is the land of the Aesir, the Golden Realm Eternal, Thor’s world, which you already know many things about, even if as mortal you will never set foot in it. Vanaheim is the home of the Vanir, the old gods, masters or sorcery and magic. They may have lost some of their former glory, but still it is quite a kingdom to behold. Alfheim is the land of the elves, the bright Ljósálfar and the free-spirited Kaldálfar. The world is the land of eternal spring in the South and bright white winter in the North. Elves are, even you may have heard so, great masters in archery, but even greater is their knowledge of magic and magecraft. They’re the ones who first learnt how to use the gifts of the Yggdrasil, the cosmic powers of the realms.’

‘There is of course Midgard then, your world, right in the middle of the other eight. Ever changing, just like the humans who inhabit it. You may be part of the Nine, but you are also separated from it. Humans were ignorant of the other worlds for long, and so they were ignored in return. Midgard is young and the humans even more so. That is how the other worlds look at you.’

‘There is Jötunheimr then, land of Giants, the sons of Ymir, ruled by the Frost Giants, but home of the Storm Giants and Mountain Giants as well. It is a cruel world of ice and frost and eternal cold, its mountains reach high up in the sky and its seas are deep and dark home for the greatest beasts in all the realms. It is never changing, but ever feared.’

‘Svartalfheim is the land of elves as well, but that of the Dökkálfar, the Dark Elves. Endless forests cover its lands and labyrinths of caverns are underneath it all. While the Elves of Alfheim are bright and beautiful, the Dökkálfar strike fear in the hearts of others with their appearance. They are of course just as strong and skilled as the other elves, both in battle and magic.’

‘Nidavellir, the “dark fields”, is the land of the dwarves. They live underground working in the caverns, crafting the greatest weapons of the Nine Realms in their giant forges. Mjölnir is something the dwarves have forged and so is Gungnir the spear of Odin. The dwarves are, as you may guess, small and also quite unpleasant. Especially when it comes to trade, but the other realms do trade with them despite their nature. No wonder, with the skills they have to offer.’

‘Muspelheim is the realm of eternal fire and the land of the Great Fire Giant Surtur and his fierce offspring the fire demons. They’re a nomadic race within their lands, and might be primitive, but their numbers are vast. Wise is the one who fears them, because there is indeed much to be feared.’

‘And finally there is Niffelheim, the house of mist, the region of icy fogs, darkness and cold. Its coldness is greater even than that of Jötunheimr’s. Niffelheim was the first of the Nine Worlds, created in the empty Abyss Gunnungagap. Within it by Nastrond, the Shore of Corpses, is where the Realm of Death is found, Helheim. No living soul should be fool enough to venture in these lands unless Death is already upon them.’

‘A fool like Thor would say that Asgard is the Guardian of the Nine Realms, the protector of peace and the beacon of hope in desperate times… a fool, who still believes in children’s tales. The truth is never as perfect as one might hope.’

‘Many years ago, when the realms were still young Asgard was under the rule of King Bor, Lord of Asgard and his wife the Giantess Bestla. Bor was a born warrior. He led his people in a time of power and prosperity and won their loyalty both through his leadership and his triumphs. Bor and Bestla had a son, Odin. Bor thought his son a great many things, how to fight, how to rule, how to serve, and also how to defend his dreams. He made one mistake though, he did not encourage his son to dream on his own, and when inevitably Odin went against his will, he was driven to rage. In his anger old Bor King visited every possible horror imaginable upon any who dared defy him.’

‘Legend says Bor fell in a great battle in the mountains of Jötunheimr, and that in his dying moments he and Odin made peace and Bor could enter Valhalla without anger darkening his soul. Now whispers on the other hand, say something quite different. Whispers say Bor did not fell like a warrior, but have been cursed by a great sorcerer and that he begged his son for help, asked him to find him a magic wielder strong enough to save him. Whispers say Odin did not attempt to do so, instead declared himself king and sat upon the throne of Asgard to follow his own ambitions. Whispers say Bor cursed his name in his last breaths. No one is sure what is truth and what is not. History is always written by the victor after all and there was no one else but Odin to tell the tale of Bor’s death. If I were you, I would not mention what the whispers say in Thor’s presence, he might have the urge to introduce you to Mjölnir quite thoroughly.’

‘So Odin took the throne of Asgard. Again, history says that he wanted nothing but peace and prosperity for all the Nine Realms. Fools may believe that, but I am not a fool. Odin was young and he had plans and ambitions. War was inevitable. No one speaks about why it started. Nowadays they do not even mention that it happened at all. Fact is that one day war broke out between Asgard and Vanaheim and Odin led his armies into battle. The war lasted for centuries, but no battle ever disturbed the Golden Realm, only Vanaheim suffered as her lands were painted red with blood. They say there were many reasons why Odin had to march into Vanaheim “for the good of the Nine Realms”. That evil sorcerers threatened the worlds, that their King planned to conquer Alfheim and slaughter all mages. Tales… the truth is simple, but never spoken out loud. Odin was a warmonger, he sought triumph, glory and power. His idea of peace was Asgard governing over the other realms, with the greatest power in his hands. The Vanir were proud people and would have never bowed down to Asgard’s will, so Odin made them bow.’

‘The war ended with Odin’s victory and he took the son and daughter of King Njord to Asgard. Then he married the daughter, Frigga. Nobody had mastered sorcery better than her among the Vanir, and after their marriage she taught Odin these secrets of magic.’

‘Seeing how mercilessly Odin crushed the Vanir’s resistance Alfheim quickly swore alliance to Asgard and its King. Odin, to ensure Asgard’s control over the realm, put Frey, Frigga’s brother, on the throne of Alfheim. The elves accepted of course, but even today Frey is no true king. Elves do not believe in absolute power, every Ljósálfar city decides their own fate and so do the Kaldálfar. Frey never forced them to change their ways, so he just sits in his palace and assures Odin King that the elves are loyal to him till Ragnarök. The dwarves of Nidavellir offered Odin mighty gifts to avoid war, in a sign of loyalty and alliance, the weapons Mjölnir and Gungnir, the necklace Brisingamen for Queen Frigga, and the sword Hofund, the weapon of Heimdall, Gatekeeper of Asgard. It was quite a price to pay, but Odin accepted, so there was no war on Nidavellir. Muspelheim, Svartalfheim and Jötunheimr were too powerful to take on after the long war with the Vanir, so Odin did not seek battle again.’

‘So peace may have been possible, at least for a while, if not for King Laufey of Jötunheimr attacking Midgard. Now again, fools may believe that the Frost Giants attacked for no other reason but to kill and destroy mindlessly, and that the noble Odin had to intervene in order to save the weak defenceless mortals from the monstrous beasts. It was the honourable thing to do, right? Thor still believes that. That Odin’s only reason to defend Midgard was honour, that it’s the only reason why Asgard still protects the realm. Asgard, the great protector and its noble warriors… what a joke.’

‘The truth is again more complicated than that, and a lot less respectable. King Laufey was wary of the way Odin gained power after Alfheim and Nidavellir bowed down without a fight. He feared Odin will want Jötunheimr next. It was a justified fear. Bor himself tried to be King of Jötunheimr many times, but he always failed to conquer his wife’s homeland. So Laufey set out to strengthen his own armies, but he needed a land richer than Jötunheimr for that. He hoped for a quick victory, so he decided upon Midgard. Humans were no match against the army of Laufey and surely they would have been conquered if not for the Aesir siding with the humans. Sounds like the Aesir did the right and noble thing. Only it was not the humans Odin was so worried about.’

‘Midgard is part of the Nine Realms, that is true, it hangs on a branch of the Yggdrasil, but unlike the other Eight, it also exists in the physical world beyond the Worlds Tree. Asgard and the other seven realms cannot be approached only through the Yggdrasil. They exist on a metaphysical cosmos. We are outside of it now and despite having this ship, we could search for as long as we wanted, we would never find any of them like this. Midgard on the other hand, exists in both worlds. I can see it in the look on your face, that you already figured out what that means. Midgard is the gateway between the Eight Old Realms and the physical universe. There are of course other gates, but none is as secure as Midgard. If Laufey would have conquered your world back then, he would have not only gained power of the realm, but the only secure pathway in and out of the Nine Realms. Now Odin surely could not let the Frost Giants have such an important strategic point in their hands.’

‘So Odin intervened, fought Laufey’s army and eventually beat the Frost Giants back into Jötunheimr. Then he did as he did before with Vanaheim. He took… a prince… and the Heart of Jötunheimr, the Casket of Ancient Winters. Taking that he tossed the land in eternal darkness and decay, left the giants to slowly die and waste away. They are cut off from the other realms like this, forced to live on their dying world until the end with no way out. History is written by the victor though, so Asgard is the noble saviour of mankind and the Jotnar the evil monsters of every tale.’

‘This leads us to why Odin did not discourage Thor to become a protector of Midgard. The gateway must be protected. If anyone would happen to conquer your world, someone from outside of the Nine Realms, they would suddenly have a path in their hands that leads straight to Asgard. Humans are lucky, because if not for this role as a gateway, no help would ever come from the Aesir. Odin is a great king, a cunning king, even more so for he hides his clever schemes behind a shield of valour, wraps his lies in false honour and coats himself in noble ideas. And the Nine Realms celebrate him for it.’

‘You may as well know this, since it is in the past, that the Tesseract was not the only thing The Other’s master wanted, but the way into Asgard as well. He would have never let me rule Midgard. He would have slaughtered you all and used the globe as a base of operations. He would’ve used the Tesseract to open a gate to Asgard and through there into Odin’s vault. For there lies something he is very eager to have again.’

‘You never say his name,’ Tony spoke for the first time in a long time.

‘No, and I won’t ever do so.’

‘Why?’

‘Because his hand reaches far and deep and I want anything but invite him to my mind by speaking his name.’

‘He can do that?’

‘That and more, I have not suffered much in his hands, he wanted nothing but than to grab hold of and tear out any valuable knowledge from my mind. He saw the Tesseract before I could close him out again and soon enough the deal was done. Well, after they… convinced me you see.’

‘So he didn’t mess with your head?’

‘Depends on what you mean by that. I was in control of my own actions. Nothing forced me in that manner. But you already know, I was in the void, the world between worlds, before they found me, I was… unstable, let’s say. He tore the last of my mental defences down. My mind felt like a raw wound that never stops bleeding. Only it’s not blood that pours out, but everything you hoped to seal away forever. Every demon, every nightmare, every fear. And the truth of the Tesseract was the only balm, the only relief and light in the darkness. Power, I have never felt before, not even the true sight of the braches of the Yggdrasil could have prepared me for what it showed me. You are unmade… and reborn. I held onto my own mind with every speck of will I still possessed, fought with tooth and nail to not be wiped clean and mindless. Then the more time I spent away from that place and him, the stronger I got, but he was never far. No, I could always feel his presence lurking in the void. So I won’t say his name, because he would hear it, and notice me again… and then he would know where I am.’

Tony started up at the god wordlessly for long moments. ‘And there’s no way to get rid of him forever?’

‘He knows my name, he knows my power, the only way would be if he died, but I think his Mistress is fond of him still, so that won’t happen anytime soon.’

‘The Other mentioned the Mistress too… who is that?’

‘Mistress Death, Stark. And before you ask, yes… The Death.’

Tony just stared at him in disbelief, but he forced his mind to just accept it, even if was hard to believe it.

‘There has to be some name for him, I won’t call him The Other’s Master.’

‘The Mad Titan,’ Loki answered. ‘That’s how the Aesir call him.’

‘So they know him in Asgard.’

‘Bor and his allies fought him, a very long time ago. He managed to win and banished him from the Nine Realms and our Galaxy. That is where he was born, only a few planets away from Midgard in fact. Bor also took something from him, something unimaginably powerful. An artefact that now lies in Odin’s vault in Asgard. A gauntlet. And he wants it back. That’s why he wanted the Tesseract, that’s why he still wants to conquer Midgard, he wants to reach Asgard and the vault, and his possession. He sent me forth, because I could reach Midgard on my own to open a path for the Chitauri. I failed, the Chitauri is gone, but you already know he’s not too concerned about that. He’s patient and he will try again, and again, and again, until he succeeds. Defeating me did nothing more, but gave him an idea about how big a force he needs to defeat you.’

‘Do you know when that will happen? Is he going to attack?’

‘Yes, but not now. Losing the Chitauri was a set back for them and so was losing the Tesseract. It can be years, even decades before he starts marching towards Midgard. I do not know.’

‘So we won some time, but also showed our cards, is that what you’re saying?’

‘Slowing him down and dealing a blow was more important and at least the Tesseract got secured,’ Loki shrugged.

‘Was more important to deal a blow? You were leading that army!’

‘Well yes, officially, with The Other and the Mad Titan breathing down my metaphysical neck, but it was quite obvious after a while, especially when Thor showed up, that killing them all would be more favourable to me.’

‘What?’ Stark sat up. ‘That makes it sound like you betrayed them, but I did not see any betraying from your end.’

Loki smiled lazily, still sitting on Tony’s bed, with his back to the wall. ‘Well thank the Norns for that, if you would have been able to see it than the Mad Titan would have been able to see it as well and would have never let the Chitauri come through that portal.’

Tony just looked at him with slightly widened eyes at that.

‘I did nothing heroic, so do not look at me like that. I was merely a… quite terrible general. And everyone is always so eager to underestimate me, that no one noticed. Even you, Stark. You all just watched the show, the bright lights and great performance and ignored the rest. Do not make any mistakes. I still despise Thor. And you lot and your SHIELD still annoyed me and it did not cause me any distress to do all the things I did while on Midgard, but I could’ve done a lot better… well, a lot worse, depends on how you look at it. I could’ve been silent, hidden, attack you with the full army at a more strategically important location than your tower.’

‘How on Earth--’

‘Because the lie was hidden in truth,’ Loki told him. ‘The destruction was real, so were the deaths, my oh so low opinion about humans was true, and the danger itself was very real.’

‘But you were a lie.’

‘I am never a complete truth,’ Loki corrected.

‘You could have just not open the portal and--’

‘Oh, but then the Chitauri would still be alive and neither you, nor Asgard would have taken the threat seriously. The emphasis is on Asgard of course. Odin had to see, and he did. He will be prepared by the time the Mad Titan gets close.’

‘My head hurts just listening to this,’ Tony said. ‘I’m gonna need some time digesting it.’

‘Nothing complicated. I had no other choice, but side with them after I was pulled out of the void. I was angry, half-mad from what I’ve witnessed and I was craving destruction and revenge. He could feel that while I was there, and used it to his own purpose. Tore into my mind and left me no choice, but agree to his plans. Then I came to Midgard through the Tesseract and with the distance between myself and the Mad Titan I could slowly put myself in order again. I followed the plan that was made by The Other, while searching for other possible solutions for my predicament. I made myself known to Midgard. I held some grand speeches so that you would know what was coming, even if I did not really count on your success at that point. Then Thor showed up and I knew I had Asgard’s attention finally, and your chances to eliminate the Chitauri grew significantly with him on your side. That of course, if things were set up suitably. The gateway I made Selvig open was perfectly imperfect. The city was not a strategically important location. The gateway was not large enough for a whole ship to pass through… all these little things. You certainly outdid yourself by destroying them all single-handedly. Pity I did not see that personally. Your beast was redecorating your floor with me around that time. That was unpleasant.’

‘Then you did not flee, because you thought you would be safe from The Other and the Titan in Asgard.’

‘Unfortunately my prison was not as safe from intruders as I would have hoped,’ Loki finished.

‘I’m sure you could’ve come up with a plan that did not involve such a big body count and destruction,’ Tony accused.

‘Yes, maybe. But I’m the God of Chaos, there is always destruction in my wake, so do not ever expect anything else. I enjoy chaos, and it follows me like storms follow Thor. And I did not really care about the damage done to Midgard. It was minimal, considering…’

 ‘Would you do anything differently this time? With knowing what you know now?’

Loki just smiled again. ‘Maybe, maybe not. I’m unpredictable like that. Maybe you could convince me of a better plan, maybe Thor would show up and anger me so much that I would just want to burn something down. Who knows?’

‘But you don’t have any plans conquering Earth again, right?’

‘Did you not pay attention? It wouldn’t work, it can’t be done. Even if you humans can’t protect yourselves, the other realms would never let anyone conquer you. You are protected, because the gateway has to be protected.’

Tony stayed quiet, just thinking everything through once again. It was a lot to take in, not just all the information he got about the Nine Realms, but about the rest as well. His head was buzzing with it all, thinking about every detail of the invasion. He did not know Loki as well as he did now. In retrospect there were a few things that were out of character in a way, but he had no way to notice that back then.

‘Stark.’

‘Hm?’

‘I’m still talking in Elvish,’ the god said and raised an eyebrow.

‘Oh yes, look at that,’ Tony smiled. He didn’t even notice that Loki didn’t switch back to All-speak. His mind was occupied with more important matters.

‘I guess you won’t need a few days then,’ Loki remarked. ‘You’re also talking half in All-speak already.’ That he also did not notice, weird.

‘I am a genius, you know.’

‘I almost believe that,’ Loki smirked.

Chapter Text

 

Loki walked into the workshop to find Stark sitting with his forehead down on the workbench, practically oozing misery.

‘I’m almost afraid to ask,’ Loki said.

‘My wires suck,’ Stark replied. His voice was muffled a little bit, because he did not raise his head to speak.

‘Want to elaborate?’ Loki asked. Stark finally straightened up and gestured at the mess on his workbench.

‘That’s one thing that we finally managed to make armour out of the alyndor, but my suit needs more than just that,’ he started.

Loki was more than satisfied by the blade he forged for himself and while Stark’s craftsmanship was a little crude, it was more than suitable. Loki spent quite some time engraving runes after his chest-plate and vambraces were done, then he made some random patterns as well. Stark was not one for decorative armour, so his design was plain and simple. No sense for finery. At least the laser chisel Stark insisted was better than a traditional one, truly turned out to be better. Loki was quite satisfied with the serpent-pattern he engraved on his vambarces. The chest plate still needed work, but it was also ready for use. It was just tight enough and comfortable and while it was not a colour he was used to wear, the deep dark red metal looked fine enough. Stark did not work on anything else for Loki so far, he was busy with his own armour.

‘Yes, I am well aware,’ Loki nodded.

‘The alien tech on the ship is clashing with my original design. The alyndor is awesome, so I could start out with the Mark V design without having to worry about losing strength, which is great, but the power in the generators is messing everything up.’

Loki understood no real information from that explanation. He looked at all the tech on the workbench.

‘Explain the problem,’ he said.

‘You wanna help?’ Stark asked.

‘Just explain it, in terms I can understand. Lose the technicalities.’

So Stark did. How he needed to power up the suit without having to rely on his reactor completely, because he could not make a replacement for it, since he lacked the resources to recreate the element powering it, so he had to add a second power source to the suit. Then he explained how the energy in the generators, that he successfully tapped into to power their forge and the rest of the workshop, was behaving slightly differently from normal electricity and thus his wiring – the conductors – were not suitable. They were not able to conduct energy without burning up. The ones he used to bring power to the workshop were thick large cables and could handle it, but his suit required thin wires and cables, it was a lot more delicate technology after all. His original design clashed with this type of energy and he could not think of a way to incorporate a transformer in the suit, nor did he know what material could be used as a better conductor or how to strengthen the cables without making them considerably thicker.

Loki looked at the small device Stark used to experiment with the energy coming from the generators. How the glow was a deeper, but brighter colour than the lightning blue in Stark’s chest. It felt different as well. Loki managed to move forward with his exploration of the cosmic energies, not enough to harness them, but enough to be able to sense them properly. The energy coming from Stark’s reactor felt different than the one coming from the generator. So the problem was fairly obvious. Conductor, something that transferred energy… He looked at the burnt wires Stark was clearly experimenting on before and the new ones he didn’t fry just yet. Obviously he needed something better, more suitable to transfer or ever store…

‘Hmm… I might just know something…’ he said and walked away from the desk towards the other side of the cargo area to the crates. After all this time he knew where to look for what he needed. One of the boxes was open, so Loki just reached in and grabbed a fistful of the “bullet shells”, as they named it. He walked back and put them down. Stark eyed him curiously.

‘What do you want with those?’ he asked.

‘You said they were glass,’ Loki said as he took one of the small cylinders to put it in Stark’s energy experimenting device after turning it off for a moment. He did not know its name.

‘Oh hey, that doesn’t look like a good idea,’ Stark said when he saw what he was doing.

Loki did not listen to him and continued.

‘Only, they’re not made of glass,’ he said and turned on the device again when he was done. Stark instinctively jumped up from the table and took a step beck. There was no sparks or explosion though. ‘They’re made of crystal.’

Stark and Loki both watched as the small cylinder started to glow from the energy transferred into it through the little machine until it was bright and pulsing with energy.

‘How the hell did you know that?’

Loki frowned. ‘You told me.’

‘What… when?’ Stark asked in confusion.

‘Your theory about how these bullets can be filled up with energy.’ Stark still just frowned. ‘Before we crashed on Ki’eend,’ Loki clarified.

‘Oh… I was kind of just babbling. It was not a sound theory.’

‘It was, if you consider that these,’ he picked up one of them. ‘Are made of crystal and not glass like you assumed.’

‘Why is crystal such a difference?’ Stark asked. ‘I mean, I suppose if I knew what kind of crystal it is I would know.’

‘No, it’s not about the type of the crystal, but its purity and perfection. Some are better for certain tasks than other types, but that is irrelevant in this case. These are obviously artificially grown crystals, no natural one has such a convenient shape.’ Loki told him. ‘Crystals are widely used to store energy. I did not think of them being suitable to be used as weapons before you told me your theory about how they could be filled up with energy. Not all types of energy guns require such ammunition though, that much is certain. Sorcerers usually store energy in crystals for other practices, scrying mainly.’

‘Crystal balls… those are actually used by real magic users.’

‘Why yes, naturally.’

‘Naturally,’ Stark repeated with that strange tone he had whenever he felt like magic was ruining his worldview, or was just plainly offending him. It was an amusing tone. ‘Okay, but if it’s so good at storing energy, it helps me jack-squat with my wiring problem. Although, it’s cool that we can make energy bullets.’

‘Think outside of your science box once in a while, Stark,’ Loki said. ‘A crystal is good for storing energy, yes,’ he said and turned the device off again to take the crystal in hand. ‘But only as long as they do not lose their perfection.’

He held up the glowing cylinder before Stark, then turned and threw it at the far wall, where it smashed and exploded in a bright flash of light. Very similar to the energy gun blasts indeed.

‘Don’t make a hole in the ship!’ Stark scowled at him. Loki just smirked. ‘So if the crystal cracks the energy bursts out of it,’ the human summarized.

‘Yes, because it can no longer store it. If it’s smashed to pieces, the already stored energy escapes out of it, violently. This type of crystal seems to break easily, I assume because it was meant to crack, how else would it be used as a weapon? Now, if we start out with an imperfect crystal to begin with…’ he picked up a piece of metal that looked like a wrench and started smashing the crystals on the workbench to bits.

‘Stop smashing things,’ Stark complained once Loki crushed at least three-four crystals. ‘It’s a chaos god thing, isn’t it?’ Loki chuckled as he dropped the wrench. Despite his complaining he knew Stark was not actually annoyed. He did his fair share of smashing and cutting and burning in his workshop. He enjoyed chaos.

Stark kept looking at him as Loki picked up a few larger pieces of crystal and started arranging them in a neat line, connecting them to the machine. At the end of the line he put a perfect crystal. Then he turned on the device again. The broken crystals all flared up as the energy flow started, then Loki turned the thing off again and this time only the perfect one remained glowing, the rest darkened as soon as the energy was cut off.

Stark was looking at the line of crystals.

‘So if I… let’s say grind the crystal to small pieces, like… dust almost. It would still do this?’

‘Yes.’

‘So I can like melt them into the wiring, or better, cover the normal wiring with crystal dust?’

‘That sounds feasible,’ Loki agreed.

‘Why couldn’t I come up with this on my own?’ Stark asked, still looking at the crystals with his brows furrowed. ‘You based it on my theory.’

‘Your theory was imperfect because you lack knowledge in sorcery and cosmic energetics.’

‘Yeah, cosmic energetics was kind of missing from my MIT education. I don’t even know why it’s not included in electrical engineering. I should’ve gone to Hogwarts maybe. I would know how a fucking crystal ball works then.’

‘I don’t really know what you’re talking about.’

‘Never mind. Just makes me feel uneducated, that’s all. It’s a new… unpleasant feeling.’

Stark started putting things in order on his workbench, throwing out pieces of wires that he surely planned to experiment on. The look on his face was sort of familiar.

‘You are grasping not just basic concepts swiftly without any prior knowledge. It’s more than I would’ve expected from a mortal. I am telling you magical theories and cosmic knowledge sorcerers and mages have spent thousands of years exploring and perfecting. It’s ridiculous to assume that something as new as Midgardian science could have ever prepared you for it.’

‘Was that an insult or praise?’ Stark asked.

‘You tell me,’ Loki replied. The human looked at him for one long moment.

‘Well, I guess probably nobody ever made a flying, weaponized, crystal-wired alyndor armour with DNI control system before.’

Loki huffed out a laugh, oh the ego of this man.

‘No, nobody,’ Loki confirmed. Stark grinned.

‘I’m using my light-weight armour design too, cause the alyndor is strong enough to protect me even if I make it thinner than my normal gold-titanium alloy.’

‘Sounds practical.’

‘I plan to like have boots, vambraces and a sort of… chest armour and it will like… just fold in on me into a full suit if I turn on the DNI and command it. The idea came to me when I was making your stuff.’

‘Well, then I am looking forward to it,’ Loki told him. It would be a lot more suitable to have someone at his side with formidable weaponry and defence.

‘I better get to work then.’

‘Not now.’

‘Why?’

‘Your displays started blinking on the bridge. We’ve arrived.’

‘Oh goody, alien planet visit.’

He was a lot less excited than on the previous occasions, it was quite understandable.

‘What’s this?’ Loki asked as he stared at the sheet of… paper, maybe, stuck to the wall next to the entrance of the Drake’s dock. He was already in his new armour. His black leather pants and boots, light alyndor chest-plate and vambraces. He felt a lot more like himself this way, not to mention that he was less vulnerable too. He enchanted his armour for energy absorption besides making it more durable than normal alyndor. Energy guns would not make much damage on it this way, Loki felt very pleased about that.

‘Those are… “The Rules”,’ Stark said as he approached.

Loki looked the strange list over.

Rules and Regulations for Planetary Expeditions

  1. Don’t go alone anywhere. Ever.
  2. Always carry a gun! (No, a blade is not enough as a weapon)
  3. Don’t pack more than you can carry.
  4. Have sustenance for a minimum of two days.
  5. Weather and atmosphere suitable clothing is mandatory.
  6. Carry a basic medical kit.

Loki read them through and didn’t know whether he should be amused by Stark’s list or offended that the rules were set up without him.

‘So I have a gift for you,’ Stark said. Loki turned around in surprise. The human was standing right before him and his arms went around Loki’s waist without warning.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked in confusion. Then he felt that Stark was tying something around him, so he looked down. It was a belt, sort of, modified. ‘What is that for?’ he asked.

‘That is a holster,’ Stark said as he fastened the belt. It hung loosely on Loki’s hips and the small straps on the right side were hanging down a little, like a little pocket or bag.

‘And this is your gun.’ The human held up one of the smaller energy guns they found on the ship. It easily fitted in one hand, so it was probably meant to be used in such a way. Stark then reached out again and slid the gun into the holster. Again, Loki did not know whether to be insulted by Stark’s behaviour or pleased that he made a suitable gun-holder for him without having to be asked. ‘You gotta follow the rules. So also…’ he took a step back and turned around. Loki only just noticed that he had not just his usual bag, but a second with him too.

‘Food, water, med kit, extra ammo. Next time, you pack for yourself,’ he said and pressed the bag in Loki’s hands. ‘I also added clothing to our shopping list. Cause I’m getting tired wearing exact same looking shirts every day.’

‘We should acquire some better crystals as well,’ Loki told him. ‘You might need some for your armour, to store extra power like you mentioned, and I can think of many ways I could use them as well.’

‘Sounds good,’ Stark agreed.

Loki looked into the bag Stark shoved at him, to know what exactly he had with him. ‘I should probably carry some of my own healing supplies,’ he remarked.

‘Feel free,’ Stark told him. Like Loki was asking for permission, like he was the one deciding such things, like he could ever hope to order Loki around like this. The gall!

‘You want to add anything to the rules?’ the human asked, oblivious to Loki’s annoyance, or just completely ignoring it. He held out something that was probably used for writing. ‘I left plenty of space for future rules.’

Loki took it and turned to the list to write:

     7. Stark is not allowed to choose which planet is to be visited.

Stark started laughing when he read it while Loki headed back to their room for his own medical supplies.

‘Maybe third time’s the charm.’ Stark said as they were flying towards Planet Wobb-Lar in the Drake. The planet itself was again mostly blue, but its terrain was more varied than just deserts or just forests. Its climate had to be as changeable as Midgard’s.

‘Maybe this time we won’t get in trouble.’

‘Now we will,’ Loki grumbled.

‘Why?’

‘Because you said that.’

‘Hey no, it’s not like that,’ Stark argued. ‘You’re the Chaos God, if anyone, it’s you who’s attracting trouble with your godly aura and chaos vibes or some shit like that.’

‘No, you just jinxed it,’ Loki knew he sounded like a superstitious old hag, but he did not care.

‘No, I did not! This time will be different. We will follow the rules, do everything right. Carefully,’ Stark said. ‘I have a good feeling about this. There won’t be any trouble.’

There was trouble.

Chapter Text

 

They took the dune-runner with them. It was luckily also using solar energy instead of fuel, like everything seemed to in this galaxy. It made sense, sunlight was free and their solar technology was way more advanced than that of Earth’s. If Tony would not be so busy with his suit he would definitely research it some more.

Wobb-Lar was a lot like Earth, the gravity was almost completely the same and it seemed to have a similar climate. The part where they landed had green fields and some forests, but not a jungle thankfully. They loaded a few crates of repair parts they planned to sell into the dune-runner and also some other stuff they could bargain with. Tony had absolutely no use for the parts, because he had no idea what kind of vehicle they were for, plus they had plenty of it.

They could have waited until his suit was ready to make their next landing, but Tony decided against it. Loki was armed and armoured, Tony was armed and could finally be understood by anyone. Also, this was the last planet they could land on in this system, after this they had a few months of nothing but empty space ahead of them. So it was best to try their luck here.

The similarities to Earth ended when they reached the city, the buildings were nothing like on Earth in their shapes and the planet’s inhabitants were well… purple. They were small too, smaller even than Tony, about 5 feet in average, even if there were some taller ones in Tony’s height. They had some sort of antennas on their heads and also only two fingers on each hand. It was weird, but at least they were not lizards. Tony really started to dislike lizards. Loki was ridiculously tall to begin with, but compared to the locals he was a giant. Tony told him as much, which weirdly earned him a very murderous glare. He had no idea what that was about, but he shrugged it off. Loki was easy to piss off, but he easily calmed down too with the right words even if he collected grudges like a magpie. Maybe that was also a Chaos God thing. Loki, the God of Chaos and Fiery Temper… hm, there was something about fire now that he thought about it, he would have to ask when Loki was in a better mood. Tony was getting better and better at using the right tone with him, but sometimes he felt like he said the worst things without knowing why they were wrong. There was nothing to do about it, but keep them in mind.

The Wobbs – as it turned out they were called – were easy to deal with. Or maybe they were just intimidated by Loki and Tony towering over them. Or maybe just by Loki. Tony was all smiles to compensate for it and he enjoyed that he finally could speak to someone who was not Loki. Not that it was boring to talk with Loki, but it still felt good to speak and be understood by others.

They sold two crates of repair parts to a merchant, after making sure that he was not screwing them over with the price. Then they used the freshly acquired local currency to buy stuff they needed. Tony got his lenses for a telescope, some crystals and a few other things he needed to build the new DNI for his suit. Loki again bought a bunch of weird stuff Tony had no idea what was for.  He was pretty sure one of them was a bag of some sort of animal bones, but he didn’t say anything. Loki’s little collection of weirdness saved his life once already, so it was not his place to argue. They also managed to get a few smaller things that were still needed for the workshop. Tony would certainly have plenty of things to occupy himself with in the upcoming months of boring travelling.

Then they went and got themselves some clothes. Nothing fancy, nothing too extravagant, just thing that were necessary. Tony got himself some thicker and better fitting boots, a thick coat and some other clothes in case they went somewhere cold. Some shirts and underwear, and finally some pants that fit perfectly and not just so-so. He was really glad that he was not so tall right about now. No clothes would’ve fit otherwise, it was hard to find some even like this. Loki was not so lucky, so he just got himself some leather, surprisingly. When Tony asked, he just shrugged and said he could at least make something suitable instead of having to wear such horrible garments. At least he could buy a pair of knee-high boots that fit, and he could also pick up some normal things like socks and underwear that were not too little. Clearly Wobb tailors never had to make clothes for someone over 6 feet tall. He bought a scarf too, who the hell knew why, because as far as Tony knew, he did not get cold, but he didn’t ask. He was just glad Loki didn’t want a cape of some shit. Tony bought a scarf too then, who the hell knew, he might need it.

Tony also bought a bucket of paint. When Loki looked at him curiously Tony reminded him of the claw marks and other scratches on the Drake. Loki did not see why it needed to be fixed, but he did not argue. It’s not like they had anything else to spend their money on. After they had everything important they could buy in the city they spent the last of their currency on some fresh food, because while they had plenty of food on the ship, those were all like astronaut food. Plenty of nutrition and all that you needed to stay alive and healthy, but not too big on taste. They also never went bad, so that was good, but still, it felt good to have something new. Loki was a fruit eating type as it turned out, because he wanted a lot of it, and Tony couldn’t decide whether that fitted him perfectly or not at all. All in all, this was their most successful trip yet. Nobody tried to kill them or eat them and they bought everything they could. Tony knew his rules were good, he knew this trip would be different, and he was right.

 

The sun was setting by the time they drove out of the city to head back to the Drake. After the noise of people vanished Tony started chattering away as per usual, while Loki listened and sometimes offered some commentary. It was pleasant, Tony liked it, the whole day put him in a good mood. Then all of a sudden he heard a scream and he stopped the dune-runner before he could think twice about it.

‘What?’ Loki asked.

‘Didn’t you hear that?’

‘Yes, and?’ Loki asked, obviously not concerned. Tony frowned and looked around in the almost darkness, trying to figure out where the sound came from. Then there is was again, a shout or a scream, obviously female. He moved right away, reaching back for his gun and getting out. Loki grabbed onto him though.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he asked.

‘Someone’s in trouble,’ Tony answered.

‘No, this has nothing to do with you,’ Loki argued, not letting go of him.

‘That doesn’t matter! I’m not gonna just walk away!’

‘Stop with this heroic nonsense, we have our own problems, we do not need the burden of others!’

‘Maybe you can just turn your back and ignore something like this,’ Tony started. ‘But I’m not that kind of guy.’ Finally he managed to slip out of Loki’s grasp and he was out of the dune-runner the next second. ‘If I can help, I will.’

He headed towards where the scream came from, while Loki cursed behind him.

‘Stark!’ he called after him, but Tony did not care. Maybe he was not the best kind of hero, maybe he was not a hero at all, but he would not drive by after hearing something like that. He couldn’t. If he ever turned into someone like that, someone capable of that, he would never be able to look himself in the mirror again. It was already hard enough to do it.

He almost ran down on the path that lead away form the road they were driving on. It took him only a few minutes to get there. Local guys, four of them, one was a little bit taller than average, and dressed a bit better than the other three. Those were smaller, but thicker, muscle guys. Tony was still taller than them and had a big-ass gun, so he was not too concerned. They all looked in his direction when they heard him approaching. When he was close enough he could finally see who screamed before.

Not one, but two green figures were lying on the ground. One of them was obviously unconscious, she had long dark hair that hid her face and was only wearing some sort of very thin dress not even shoes, she was dirty and her dress was torn, she obviously struggled before they knocked her out. The other one had the same sort of green skin and pointed ears, but she looked taller, tall as Tony at least or bigger. She had shorter hair, a purplish grey barely reaching her shoulders, messily cut. Reptilian, obviously, now that Tony looked at her. There were ridges on her chin, but otherwise Tony could not see any scales on her or anything of sorts. Her eyes were wide and green and shining, scared but hard at the same time. She kept one hand on the unconscious girl as she stared at Tony, but she did not turn her back to the Wobb men standing there.

‘Well, good evening,’ Tony greeted, keeping his gun in his hand. ‘What’s happening here?’

‘Nothing stranger, walk away!’ one of the Wobbs told him.

‘Yeah, you see, that’s not gonna happen. How about you step away from the girls while I’m still in a good mood and nobody gets hurt, hm?’

The taller Wobb narrowed his eyes at him, but neither of them moved.

‘Do you have any idea how much damage this gun can do in something so little as you?’ Tony asked in an even tone. ‘And whatever you’ve been doing here makes me really eager to pull the trigger, so I won’t warn you again.’

‘I treat my pets how I want!’ the taller one answered angrily. ‘They’re mine, I paid good money for them! Don’t think I’m gonna let some bandit steal from me!’

Bandit, that was rich, but it also told him more about the picture in front of his eyes. The girl that was awake was still staring at him. There was intelligence in the gaze, so pet did not really apply, which probably meant slaves or something, and that just left a really unpleasant feeling in Tony’s gut. The three smaller Wobbs had some sort of guns with them too, slightly different from the energy guns Tony saw so far.

‘Don’t risk your hide for some disobedient beasts,’ the taller one spoke again. Yeah, wrong answer.

‘You should really just walk away,’ Tony told them.

‘You don’t scare me,’ the Wobb replied.

‘How about me?’ came Loki’s voice and holy crap Tony did not even notice him. He was right behind the small group of Wobbs, who all spun around immediately, very startled and kind of panicky. One of them raised a gun just to be backhanded by the god. Loki looked pretty damn pissed and Tony knew it was not the Wobbs he was pissed at. Oh joy.

The one Loki hit went down without a sound, crumbled like a sack of potatoes, not dead though, just unconscious. Loki was clearly more intimidating, judging by the reactions of the remaining three, especially that not even the tallest Wobb reached the level of his chin. They kind of just stared at him for a long moment, frozen in place like tiny deer in the headlights of big scary monster truck. One of them was stupid enough to shoot at him, but of course it did nothing. Tony was kind of fascinated by how the small energy blast simply vanished upon impact and how very unfazed Loki was about the shot. The god then reached out and grabbed the tallest one by the neck to lift him up to the level of his face.

‘How about you run away before I rip out your guts and hang you up on a tree with it,’ he said in a low threatening voice that made a small shiver run down Tony’s spine. He also felt a rush of adrenaline in his blood. He knew that voice. Yes, he definitely heard that voice before, but not in a long time. Oh, he really pissed him off this time.

Loki dropped the Wobb and a second later they did the smart thing and gathered their fourth companion and ran. Loki followed them with his gaze for a moment before his furious eyes landed on Tony.

‘You set up some ridiculous rules,’ he started as he walked closer to Tony. ‘And then you run off on your own just so you can play hero!’

‘I told you, I’m not the kind of guy who can just walk away from something like this!’

‘You can and you will!’ Loki hissed.

‘No, I won’t!’ Tony shot back, his voice a little angrier. ‘And I don’t care if you agree or not! If there’s something I can do, I will do it! I’m not some selfish bastard who only cares about himself!’

It was strange to say that, because that was exactly what he was accused of so many times, but he knew it was true, he had to believe it was true. That he still cared, that all this time away from Earth, all that he’s been through, all that he did to survive, did not change him that much. That it did not change this.

‘Yes, you are! When you endanger yourself, you endanger me!

‘Well, guess what? My life does not revolve around you! I can do whatever the hell I please and you will have to fucking deal with it!’

Loki’s face darkened further in anger, but Tony kept his face stern and resolute. He will not back off and he will not be intimidated.

‘You listen to me, Stark,’ Loki started. Almost the same threatening tone he used with the Wobbs. ‘If you think, even for a second that I--’

‘Thank you.’

Loki stopped abruptly and both of them turned to look at the green girl sitting on the ground with the unconscious one half in her lap. Shit yeah, he still needed to deal with them. It looked like Loki wanted to keep arguing, but Tony side-stepped him and went to the girls.

He went down on one knee to be on eye-level with her.

‘How is your friend?’

‘Sister,’ the girl corrected. She had a firm even voice, a hard tone with a hint of suspicion. Tony did not blame her.

‘Okay, how is your sister?’

‘She’s fine, she’s been hit harder before,’ she answered curtly while she ran her hands though the other’s hair, getting it out of her face. The one lying on the ground looked more delicate in a way. The shape of her face, her body structure, maybe she was younger. The short-haired one had more flesh and muscle on her bones, and a lot more scars too Tony noticed now that he was close. And oh fuck, they even had collars on, that was so fucked up on so many levels. It turned his stomach just thinking about it.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Juyu,’ she replied.

‘Do you have anywhere to go, Juyu?’ Tony asked in return and she shook her head, as expected.

‘Don’t even think about it, Stark,’ Loki warned. He was probably glowering behind him, scowling and looking all dark and murderous. Tony didn’t really care at the moment.

‘I assume you’re not from this planet,’ Tony said. She frowned at him in confusion.

‘We’re Skrulls,’ she replied, like it should have been obvious. And yeah, in this part of the universe, it probably was.

‘Oh, okay,’ Tony nodded. He knew about the Skrulls by now of course, Loki told him plenty about them. Tony did not expect them to look like green elves though. ‘Do you know what planet you’re from?’

‘Stark!’ Loki barked at him again.

‘Fucking hell! Would it kill you to not be a complete asshole for two seconds? If you’re not going to help just shut the hell up!’

He was angry yeah, but that came out even angrier than intended. He seriously expected to be at least punched in the face for it. Loki glared at him, oh did he glare. His fists were clenched tight as well, his whole body tensed in anger. He was starting to think that Loki was going to make him regret this. He still would not give in, no way. He could deal with a pissed off Loki, no problem, it’s not like he did not have to do it before.

‘We’re not from anywhere,’ Juyu replied. ‘We’ve always been just taken from one place to another.’

‘I thought the Skrulls were in charge of this galaxy,’ Tony said.

‘In other systems maybe,’ Juyu told him. Her sister started to stir then. ‘Step back,’ she told Tony immediately, holding out a hand as if to push him away.

‘What?’

‘Just please!’ she said and Tony did so just before the smaller one opened her eyes. And wow okay, that was unexpected, because her eyes were red and not green like her sister’s, two large angry rubies staring out of her delicate face. She shot upright immediately and if not for Juyu putting an arm around her middle she would’ve been on Tony in a moment. He was pretty sure her nails were about to go for his eyes.

‘It’s alright, they helped. They helped. Bee, calm down, it’s fine!’ It took a few moments before the girl stopped struggling and attempting to murder him. Tony stepped back a bit more and tried to look non-threatening. She looked at Tony for long moments, looking him over, her eyes fierce and unblinking.

‘She’s just upset,’ Juyu said.

‘No, it’s fine,’ Tony reassured her. The girl – Bee – was still staring at him, then her red eyes finally slid to the side and locked on Loki. If it would have been Tony, he would have been unnerved by the blank face and the unblinking stare, hell he was unnerved even like this. But Loki just stared right back, definitely not making any attempt to look harmless, not that he could ever look harmless, but he really could’ve tried for the sake of the traumatized girl. Asshole.

Both Tony and Juyu stayed silent for a few moments, but the staring did not stop. So Tony went back to find a possible solution for the problem. He really could not think of many things. Obviously he could not just leave them here.

‘Okay so… do you think you would be fine? In the next system, on some Skrull planet maybe?’ he was surprised that Loki did not object again, but he seemed to be busy with the weirdest staring match ever.

‘I don’t know,’ Juyu replied.

‘Right… okay, we can’t stay here. Let’s just… go somewhere else and we can talk about what to do. Alright?’

Juyu nodded then touched her sister’s arm. ‘Bee?’ she asked. ‘Is it okay? To go with them?’

Bee just kept staring at Loki then she got to her feet silently, pulling away from her sister’s touch. She was small, that was the right word, small and thin and delicate, barely 5’1.

‘That’s a yes,’ Juyu said as she got up. Tony was right, she was his height.

Loki scowled at Tony, then rolled his eyes in annoyance and started walking back to where they left the dune-runner. Bee started following him without a word so Tony and Juyu did too.

‘How old is your little sister?’ Tony asked.

‘She’s my elder sister,’ Juyu replied. ‘I’m just… tall,’ she said. ‘But she’s not a child, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not a child either.’

Tony nodded even if he did not really believe that. He looked at the angry lines of Loki’s shoulders and how the little Skrull girl followed him, then to Juyu walking beside him. Her face looked young, very-very young damn it, despite the scars and the hard stubborn set of her jaw.

Then he realized that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing.

Chapter Text

 

Stark was a fool, insufferable, sentimental, damn wretched fool! Like they needed more problems in their lives! Because he had to be the hero, run to save some damsels in distress. Although damsel was not a word he’d use to describe the females. The fact that they seemed to be in a system where keeping Skrull slaves was acceptable told a lot and left Loki uneasy. It meant that Filipima was not just not part of the Empire, but obviously hostile towards it. Their ship was not Skrull of course, but it still meant that they were not exactly in a safe zone.

Having two Skrulls with them would not help with that at all. They did not need the hostility of whoever ran this system. They had one ship, one, and a cargo ship at that, and it was just the two of them, this could end horribly wrong. Would Stark listen? No, of course he would not. He was too idiotically sentimental to realize what danger they were getting into. And for what? Two random slaves they have never seen in their lives! Who did that? Who risked their safety for something like this? It made him think of Thor and that just made him angrier.

He would have to convince Stark of leaving the Skrulls behind, but he knew that it would not be easy. Stark was stubborn and Loki saw it in his eyes that he was serious about this. Damn it all. He fought down the urge to beat the human’s stupid face in and drag his unconscious ass back on the ship and kept walking until they reached the dune-runner. All the while he could feel that pair of red eyes staring at him.

When they got there Stark made some place in the backseat for the Skrulls, then reached out to help the small one get in. Only for his arm to be smacked away with force, Stark pulled back with a hiss of pain and put his other hand on the angry red lines that appeared on his forearm from the attack.

‘Please don’t touch her,’ the taller Skrull told them. ‘She’s just… just don’t.’

‘Okay,’ Stark said looking at the two, then shaking his arm, probably to get the sting of pain out of it. ‘No touching, no worries, just get in then.’

The Skrulls did so, albeit uncertainly.

‘Stark,’ Loki called.

‘Not now,’ the human told him.

‘Yes now, Stark,’ Loki insisted angrily and went to walk a bit away from the dune-runner. Stark followed after a few moments. ‘I’m not leaving them here just like this.’

‘You are getting us into greater danger than you realize,’ Loki started.

‘I’m still not leaving them,’ the human insisted. ‘I can’t.’

‘What do you think you’re proving with this?’ Loki asked. ‘Are you this eager to placate your own conscience? Pretend to be a hero?’

‘Maybe I am!’ Stark said. ‘Maybe I need to prove myself, alright? Maybe I have to show myself that I’m not turning into a heartless machine! That I can still care!’

‘This proves nothing. It’s just for your own benefit.’

‘I’d say the girls get something out of it too. I don’t think it’s so irrelevant for them.’

‘Don’t pretend you’re not doing this for yourself.’

‘I won’t,’ Stark answered. ‘It is for me too. Maybe this can make me hate myself a little less.’

‘Stark--’

‘You won’t convince me,’ the human told him firmly. ‘I will do this. You can fight me about it, you can glare and yell and threaten, but I’m still gonna do it. You can either help me or shut up.’

Loki grabbed him the next moment, pulling him close with a tight grip. He did force himself to just hold him instead of squeezing and crushing, but his anger did not allow him any more self-restrain than that. He remembered the last time he did something like this, before he tossed the big-mouthed human out of his own tower. Stark’s eyes widened a fraction, but he kept his face as calm as he could.

‘Or I could make you stop,’ Loki told him in a low voice. ‘Don’t forget who I am or what I’m capable of.’

‘You’re not gonna kill me, so you might as well drop the act,’ Stark answered. Loki knew he was not calm, he could feel Stark’s pulse beating rapidly under his fingers, but his words still came out even and confident. Just like before.

‘We both know there are worse things than death,’ Loki reminded him.

‘And we both know you won’t do anything like that to me,’ Stark replied without a beat, leaning closer, not away. Still confident, still resolute, not backing off. Loki let go of him, but did not step back.

‘I never know whether you’re brave or stupid,’ he told him.

‘I’d say both,’ Stark replied, his voice turning lighter, less serious, a hint of humour in it, obviously trying get rid of the tension between them. The worst thing was that it was working. Loki felt some of the strain slip out of his shoulders. Stubborn, stupid human. ‘Loki, come on. We have plenty of space on the ship, you don’t even have to see them. We take them to the next system, that’s all.’

‘This is going to end badly.’

‘Or maybe it won’t, you can’t know that for sure.’

‘I thought you didn’t want to be a pirate,’ Loki told him, crossing his arms.

‘This has nothing to do with piracy,’ Stark protested.

‘We attacked a man and his guards and stole his slaves.’

‘Yes, but I am like 100% against slavery. Consider it an extreme form of protestation.’

Loki just shook his head and turned to look at the Skrulls in the dune-runner. He was not that surprised when he noticed the pair of red eyes locked on him.

‘She’s dangerous,’ he said.

‘What? Juyu? Nah… I mean, sure she looks like she could pack quite a punch, but--’

‘No, the little one.’

‘Bee? Are you serious? Have you looked at her? She’s like a china doll.’

Loki wanted to roll his eyes. ‘You look Stark, but you do not see,’ he told him. ‘Believe me, she’s dangerous.’

Stark turned and looked at the Skrulls as well, then back at Loki and shrugged.

‘So are you.’

He could not argue with that of course.

‘We don’t know anything about them,’ Loki told him in a low tone. ‘What if they try to slice your throat in your sleep, hm?’

‘Well, you’re a light sleeper, so you would probably notice if someone sneaked into our room like that.’

‘Stark.’

‘Oh for fuck’s sake, look at them! They’re basically kids,’ Stark answered. ‘We’ll keep an eye open and we’ll see in a few days how they’re behaving, okay?’

Stark turned and walked back to the dune-runner. Loki took a deep breath to keep as calm as possible.

By the time they reached the Drake it was completely dark. The Skrulls have not said a word on the entire way and neither did Loki, but Stark babbled away in his usual nonchalant manner.

‘We leave the planet and we’re out of danger, right?’ Stark asked when they’ve arrived and they got out of the dune-runner. Stark to open up the Drake, Loki joined him, because he had enough of the red-eyed Skrull staring at the back of his head. She was probably staring at him for the same reason Loki felt an unpleasant tingling because of her gaze. She probably realized that he was the bigger threat and not Stark.

‘Unless they come looking for them.’

‘We hide them,’ Stark shrugged.

‘Because two bright green Skrulls are so easy to miss,’ Loki replied.

‘We can shapeshift,’ the bigger Skrull girl said. Both Stark and Loki turned around. She was still sitting in the Drake though. ‘And we have good hearing,’ she added.

Which of course meant, that they heard their previous conversation as well. Wonderful.

‘Shapeshift into what?’ Stark asked.

‘Anything,’ the girl replied.

‘A different skin-tone and less sharp ears should suffice for now,’ Loki told her. The rumour about the shapeshifting ability of the Skrulls was true then.

‘Well, we can’t shapeshift now,’ the girl said.

‘Why is that?’ Stark asked. He opened the door of the Drake and headed back to the dune-runner to drive inside. The Skrull girl lifted her chin and tapped the collar around her neck.

‘Because of this,’ she explained.

Loki looked at the device distastefully. ‘It blocks shapeshifting,’ he said. ‘How?’

‘I don’t know, it just does,’ the girl answered. Stark got back into the dune-runner and drove inside.

‘No problem though,’ Stark said as he turned around in his seat to look at them. ‘Let me just grab some tools and I’m pretty sure I can take it off.’

Loki frowned while the human went to get his tools.

‘Why did they put it on you?’ he asked.

‘So that we can’t hide if we run away,’ the girl answered. Loki narrowed his eyes.

‘Now how about you tell me the complete truth?’ he asked. The girl stared at him for a moment. ‘You do realize that we’re the only ones who would lift even a finger to take you away from here.’

‘Not you! Just your friend,’ she answered.

‘Oh believe me, Stark is not overly fond of lying either.’

The girl looked away, then scowled at Loki before opening her mouth.

‘They did it so that Bee can’t shapeshift.’

‘Why?’

‘Because she shifted into things they did not like,’ she said.

‘Like what?’

‘Like something that could tear them apart!’ She answered, this time a little angrier. ‘Because they were afraid, because they could’ve never hurt her unless they bound her like this.’

‘And you?’

‘They did not care about me that much,’ she said.

‘Why?’

‘Cause Bee’s pretty, so they wanted…’ she fell silent then and Loki recognized from the way she clenched her jaw that she would not speak of this any more. Loki could not think of many reasons why a slave needed to be pretty, so he could make some educated guesses about what the girl did not wish to speak of.

‘It doesn’t matter why they put them on,’ Stark interrupted. ‘They’re coming off. They’re offending my liberal American soul. You can get out of the dune-runner now by the way.’

The taller Skrull girl did so first, the little one followed after a moment.

‘Anything you might want to add?’ Loki asked looking at her.

‘She doesn’t speak,’ the other answered instead.

‘Which is fine,’ Stark said. ‘Juyu, how about I take off yours first? So that your sister can see what I’m gonna do. Maybe she will let me close then?’

‘Fine,’ she nodded and sat down where Stark gestured on the row of seats at the side. ‘Bee, he’s taking my collar off.’

The small one turned her gaze away from Loki and looked at the way Stark reached out and searched for a way to open up the device. It took some time before he found it and another few minutes until he got it open. He took it off from the Skrull’s neck then.

‘See?’ he held it up for the other girl. ‘Stupid thing, away with it,’ and he literally threw it in the back of the Drake. Loki was sure he would pick it up later, because there was no technology Stark was not interested in. Even if this one was something Loki did not want him to study. Such an infernal device, he almost shuddered at the though of his shapeshifting abilities being blocked. It was a very unpleasant though.

‘Do you think you could let me close enough to take it off?’ Stark asked holding up his tools to the smaller girl. ‘I promise I will do my best to touch as little as possible.’

The girl stared at him some more.

‘Bee, please!’ The other asked. ‘He did not hurt me, see?’ The girl’s skin rippled and changed. Green was replaced by tan skin, her hair turned more blond than grey, her ears turned small and round and her ruffled chin smoothed out, her eyes remained green though. It was but a little cosmetic change, nothing extraordinary, but Stark was looking at her with amazed eyes. The human did not have the chance to meet any shapeshifters as of yet. Nor did he see Loki use this power. There was no real use for it so far after all. None of the situations they were in could have been solved by shapeshifting.

The girl finally seemed to give in and went to stand before Stark. The bigger Skrull girl grabbed onto the hand of the other when Stark reached out. They managed to take the thing off without the human losing an eye or something else, even if the little one was tense and her body tight, ready to snap. The small one stepped back and away immediately as the collar popped open and took it off herself. Then her red eyes slid back to Loki. That was really starting to get annoying. When her skin rippled and she started to change her skin turned into something paler than her sister’s. Her dark long hair remained, but her red eyes bled into dark green. The sight clenched something in Loki’s stomach, how the blood-red colour faded away, got hid away behind green irises. He turned away. He was rather sure the little thing mimicked Loki’s skin and eye tone just to irritate him. He had to watch out for her.

Then they heard the sound of some vehicles approaching.

‘That is definitely our cue to leave,’ the human said as he dashed into the front of the Drake. Loki closed the doors then followed him.

‘You two sit down and strap yourselves in,’ he ordered before he went to take his own seat.

The engines started and the systems flared to life just as Loki strapped himself in.

‘Do you really think they will follow us?’ Stark asked. Then small vibrations shook the shuttle’s body accompanied by the unmistakable sound of energy guns.

‘Well, they are shooting at us,’ Loki replied.

‘Yeah, I noticed,’ Stark said as they lifted off. Another few shots got them, and while some tiny screens flared up red to warn them about the attack it did not look like there was any serious damage. Yet.

Some of the blasts flew right past them as they got higher and higher, but it looked like they got away easily enough.

Loki shook his head.

‘This will end badly,’ he said.

‘Who’s jinxing things now?’ Stark asked.

‘Oh, I am just stating facts,’ Loki answered. ‘This will not be the end of it, believe me.’

‘Whatever comes, we’ll deal with it, like we always do.’

‘We really did not need more problems, Stark.’

‘It’s not always about us, Reindeer Games,’ the human answered.

Loki said nothing, not all the way till the IronMage and this time even Stark seemed to be able to keep his mouth shut. When they’ve arrived Loki went to the dune-runner, but he only grabbed his own things before heading out.

‘You’re really not gonna help me load out our stuff, just because you’re angry with me?’ Stark asked.

‘You’re the one recklessly dragging us into a stupid, completely avoidable situation. Consider it a punishment.’

‘Come on!’ That tone was really close to whining. ‘Okay fine, I’ll make some alyndor plates for your new fancy boots,’ he offered.

Loki stopped and slowly turned around.

‘Are you seriously trying to placate me with gifts?’ he asked incredulously.

‘Depends,’ Stark shrugged. ‘Is it working?’

Loki narrowed his eyes at him. The Skrulls where just looking around in the cargo bay for now, not interrupting them. Armoured boots…

‘Plates for my boots and another pair of vambraces,’ Loki told him.

‘Fine.’

‘I might want to put crystals in them, so you need to come up with a new design.’

‘Fine!’

Loki put his bag down then and curled his lips up into fake warm smile and looked at the Skrulls.

‘Welcome on board,’ he said then went back into the Drake for the rest of their things.

‘You’ll get used to him,’ Stark said, obviously to the Skrulls. ‘We finish here up, then you get a room, alright? Just… don’t touch anything in my workshop over there and I guess yeah… welcome on board.’

Stark could bribe him with gifts all he wanted to reduce his anger, but that did not change the fact that this was going to cause them problems. He knew, and he was sure that Stark was not stupid enough to not know himself. Not everything was about them… pff… nobody would’ve done the same for them, so why should they? Sentiment, useless and pitiful…

‘Thank you,’ Stark said quietly when he arrived next to Loki to grab some of the things from the dune-runner as well.

‘You’re going to regret this,’ Loki said equally quietly. Not as a threat, but as a warning.

‘No, I won’t. I have a lot of things to regret, but I never regretted doing something good, not even when it almost killed me.’

‘You’re an idiot,’ Loki told him.

‘I’m fine with that,’ Stark chuckled.

Loki just sighed and turned to take the things he grabbed outside and no matter how hard he tried Thor came to his mind again.

‘This was stupid.’

‘Aye, Brother. But look around you and tell me it was not worth it.’

Loki did not see. He did not know what he was supposed to look at, what it was that made it worth it. He could not see back then and he could not see it now. He only saw that Thor was barely on his feet, blood painting his golden hair red and how black scorch-marks dirtied his cape. He could not see what could have possibly been worth such a close brush with death. Loki thought it was Thor’s foolish wish for glory and praise, which he got plenty of. But there was no glory here. Nobody would sing great praises to Stark for this foolishness. He would get nothing out of it. Nothing!

‘You want me to help you?’ It was the taller Skrull girl. Loki looked at her then kept walking.

‘Just don’t get in my way,’ he said.

He heard Stark accept the help behind him a moment later with a cheerful tone and just sighed again.

Chapter Text

 

Tony thought Juyu looked young when he first saw her, then she shapeshifted out of her green skin and yeah, she looked even younger. In fact she looked like a teenager, a tall high school wrestling team member teenager, but a teenager still. At least her sister Bee looked like she had to be at least in her twenties, he couldn’t know for sure with either of them, because hello shapeshifters, they could look like anyone, but that was his hunch. It made the way she acted even more strange. Even Tony was unnerved a bit, even if she did not try to attack him (or Loki) since that first time. That was a good sign, but Tony did not need to observe her much to know that she was not 100% okay in the head. He knew crazy, he’s been with Loki almost constantly for who knows how long, he recognized an unstable person when he saw one. The only problem was that he knew Loki’s brand of crazy. He also knew that the god was a lot less unpredictable than a few months ago and definitely not as destructive and homicidal as he was back on Earth, that was sort of a rock bottom period for Loki and he definitely got better since. He knew nothing about Bee.

So yeah, right now Loki was still a little pissed at him and suspicious of the girls. Juyu was quiet and suspicious too, Bee was simply weird and had a habit of staring holes into Loki whenever he was in sight and Tony… Tony still had no idea what the hell he was doing. He definitely needed more information to properly handle the situation, but the fact that neither of the girls showed any sign of real hostility towards them in the past days was good at least.

Juyu seemed more approachable, and the only one who actually talked out of the two, so Tony decided to ask her the necessary questions. He let them just eat and rest for a few days, out of civility, since they were in a pretty bad shape, and also to keep them out of Loki’s sight. Just until Loki calmed down, like when his new vambraces were done. Then he couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer. So when he caught her eating alone in the kitchen he took the opportunity.

‘Hey there.’

‘Hello,’ she greeted after swallowing. Tony grabbed a piece of fruit he still had no idea what was called, but didn’t taste weird, and sat down in front of the girl.

‘I’m pretty sure you know what’s coming,’ he said then took a bite out of the fruit.

‘You have questions.’

Tony hummed a yes in response while chewing, then swallowed. ‘You see, I’m pretty sure I’m entitled to a few answers. Don’t worry, no interrogation, it would just put my mind at ease, not to mention Loki would be less… unpleasant if we knew more.’

‘Your friend doesn’t want us here,’ Juyu replied.

‘Loki is an asshole nine out of ten times, don’t expect that to change.’

‘What do you want to know?’

‘This is gonna come across quite insensitive, but what is wrong with your sister?’

Juyu clenched her jaw and her face immediately became more closed-off.

‘Loki told me she was dangerous,’ Tony started. ‘You were there, I know you heard him say it. Now Loki may be an asshole, but he’s anything but stupid, and I kinda trust his judgement when it comes to things like this. So how about you tell me?’

It looked like she was not going to talk for a few moments, but then her shoulders slumped a bit and she sighed.

‘She’s been fine… up until a few years ago,’ Juyu said. ‘She’s been taking care of me. I don’t remember, but she told me our planet was struck by the war. Not the big war, but by those who wanted to get rid of the Skrulls in this system while the Empire fought its wars far away and was unable to help. I don’t remember any of that, I know there were other Skrulls with us at the start, but then it was just the two of us… I was little and she took care of me.’

‘What happened then?’

‘Bee got older, and pretty, and really good at shapeshifting. I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out what that means,’ she scowled quite deeply then, looked like she would stab Tony with her fork if he forced her to say it, so Tony didn’t push it. He could guess. He made a “go on” gesture.

‘She was fine… for a while. She became quiet, but she was still fine, but then…’

‘Then?’

‘She killed them,’ Juyu answered plainly. ‘The ones that owned the place we lived at. One night she shifted, grew some claws and fangs, blades… whatever she could think of… and killed them all.’

Juyu looked up at him, straight into his eyes, as if waiting for a reaction to that admission. Only, Tony was not in the position to judge someone who killed their jailors and torturers to escape. There was that whole kettle-pot and throwing stones thing and Tony was not a hypocrite.

‘We ran, but we were captured rather soon, by some others. I don’t think they knew where we came from. If they did, they probably would’ve killed her, but… even if we’re Skrulls, they never look at her and think that she’s dangerous… your friend is strange, to say that only after such a short time.’

‘He knows the advantages of being underestimated,’ Tony said. ‘And he’s very observant.’

‘We were on a new place, but Bee was different, she didn’t let them do anything. Didn’t let them touch her. Attacked the first chance she got. But there were too many of them and… that’s when they put the collar on her, then on me too, as a precaution maybe.’

Juyu drank some water and poked at her food for a moment or two before continuing.

‘I had to work, all kinds of things, hard work, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I didn’t see Bee for a long time. When she was finally brought back to where I was, she was different. She was like she is now. She stopped speaking, first I thought they did something to her to make her unable to speak, but that wasn’t it. She just stopped. She only lets me touch her when she’s hurt or weak, if anyone else tries… well, you know… sorry about the scratches.’

‘So you don’t know what they did to her while she was gone.’

‘No, but it’s not that hard to guess,’ Juyu said stabbing her food with her fork viciously. ‘They wanted to tame her, make her placid… only it didn’t work. My sister’s not some beast to be chained and disciplined and I’m sure she proved that to them. I’m sure they regretted even trying.’

‘So they sold you.’

Juyu nodded. ‘They probably just wanted to get rid of her, but keeping us together was the only way to make Bee look… manageable. Most Skrulls fled the system when the war really started, ran to somewhere closer to the Throneworld in Drox, so owning one or two is rare. They probably wanted to make some money by selling her. Killing her would’ve been a waste you see. That’s how we ended up on Wobb-Lar, after we were sold like five times. She did not stop attacking whoever tried to lay a finger on her, so we were never in one place for long.’

Tony fell silent, chewing on his fruit while he thought about what the girl just told him. It was not a nice story, but he did not expect a nice one. He guessed right about the traumatized part, the not-speaking, the staring and the aggressive reaction to touch were all quite telling. He could only hope that these obvious signs were not accompanied by other more dangerous things, like delusions per se. He was no expert of course, and it’s not like he could call his therapist to ask for an opinion.

‘So, as long as she’s left alone, she’s not gonna flip out and try murder us?’

‘My sister is… not well, but she’s aware of the things around her and she always listens carefully. She knows you helped us and has no reason to attack you if you do not try to hurt her… or me.’

‘I really want to be reassured by that you know, but I’m not yet convinced with the way she keeps staring at Loki the way she does.’

‘Your friend… feels strange,’ Juyu frowned.

‘Strange as in?’

‘I don’t know… he looks like you, but he’s not like you.’

‘Yeah sure, he’s a different race. I’m human you see, mortal. Loki’s not, he’s pretty old and powerful. You might want to give your sister the head’s up about that.’

‘Oh, she knows that already. It’s not just being able to change forms quickly that makes a good shapeshifter, but all the other things you’re able to notice just by looking. Bee knows how dangerous your friend is, and so do I. He just feels cold, it’s unpleasant.’

‘Cold?’

‘Colder than you,’ Juyu said. ‘When we’re in our original form we are sensitive to that.’

‘Right, you’re reptilian. So you can sense infrared thermal radiation like snakes?’

‘Infrared?’ Juyu frowned in confusion.

‘You can sense heat and cold,’ Tony clarified.

‘Yes, sort of. You’re warm-blooded, he’s not. He’s only warm on the surface, not inside. We’re not comfortable with cold things, not without shifting. Now, it’s alright. It’s just… strange.’

That was interesting to say the least. Tony suddenly had the urge to build an infrared camera, just to check. Or he could ask Loki… which was probably not that smart, he seemed to be quite easily angered when it came to personal crap. He was already pissed at Tony right now to begin with.

‘Loki doesn’t trust you,’ Tony said. ‘But I’m willing to give you a chance, one chance only, so don’t prove me wrong, alright? I’m sure we can reach the next system in relative peace. We’re taking a risk here, Loki and I, to help you out, you surely know that.’

Juyu nodded, getting up.

‘Thank you, Stark.’

‘You can call me Tony.’

The girl frowned. ‘Why?’

‘Cause that’s my name.’

‘I thought your name was “Stark”,’ she said.

‘Yeah, both are my name. Tony Stark.’

‘Why do you have two names?’ she asked, still frowning.

‘Well one is… you know what, never mind. Stark is fine, we talk about it later.’

Juyu nodded again and left the kitchen. Tony finished his half-eaten fruit before heading out as well.

Tony was tinkering away in his workshop, working on the crystalline wiring for his suit. He never really dug into piezoelectricity this much before, especially not with such a different form of electricity, so it was a challenge. He was just about to make the first tests when the alarms went off. His heart started pounding in his chest and he dropped everything to run to the bridge. He met Loki on his way there, who was looking at him in a very displeased manner. Tony got that, but he still hoped this had nothing to do with the girls. The second he was on the bridge and looked out of the viewport he knew why the alarms blared. They were stopped. Who the hell could do that? How? And why?

One display was up, showing an incoming signal. Tony looked at Loki for a moment, but the god just gestured at him to get to it. So Tony put on the DNI and took a deep breath as always for the first rush of information. They were forcibly stopped, but he did not know how, the engines shut down when they were slowed down in order not to overheat, which was good, but still distressing. He finally saw who did the stopping then. Another ship. A big ship, a quite disconcertingly big fucking ship. He took another breath before he opened up a channel for the incoming signal.

The voice on the other end was gruff and stern, the kind of no-bullshit soldier tone Tony knew well. ‘This is Captain Der’keen from Filipima Space Patrol. You are travelling through a checkpoint zone. Identify yourself and contact your superior.

Oh, shit. Shit. SHIT!

Tony looked at Loki again, who had his arms crossed and glared. No wonder. Tony’s mind was racing, trying to think of anything. Maybe this was a random thing, maybe they stopped every foreign ship. Just the cops pulling you over, he dealt with cops a million times, he could do this.

‘This is trading ship IronMage,’ Tony started with a calm tone, hopefully hiding all anxiety well. ‘From--’

‘Cassiopeia,’ Loki whispered helpfully. Thank god they could only hear Tony through the DNI.

‘Cassiopeia,’ Tony finished. ‘And this is--’ well it’s not like he actually had a superior. ‘This is the Commander.’ Yeah, that sounded official enough, below the rank of Captain too. It should do. ‘Commander Stark. How can I help you?’

This is a routine inspection, Commander,’ came the reply. ‘We are searching for possible Skrull fugitives.’ That was when something very cold landed in Tony’s stomach. ‘Turn off your defence systems so that we can scan your ship.

Tony was staring at Loki while his mind came up with the only answer that could win them at least a few minutes.

‘Yes, sure, absolutely. I’d like to ask you for a few minutes patience though, because we had some issues with that system recently, so it needs to be turned off manually to be on the safe side.’

He did not really listen to what the Captain answered, but luckily it was a positive response. He silenced the channel so that he couldn’t be heard and turned fully to Loki.

‘What do we do? What do we do?’ He was not really good at hiding his panic at the moment.

‘We could hand them over,’ Loki said.

‘No!’

‘They’re just causing trouble!’

‘Loki!’

‘Why are you so insistent about this?’

‘Because I want to help!’

‘Nobody helped us!’

‘We didn’t even give anyone the chance to help us! I listened to you and we didn’t risk it. Loki, I have to do this, please.’

Normally he was not one for pleading or begging, not over his dead body, but time was already running out and Tony had absolutely no way to hide the girls. He didn’t know what kind of scans they had, he didn’t know anything.

‘If you have any way to help… we’re gonna be in trouble anyway, even if we hand them over, so just… is there anything you can do?’

Loki started at him for another moment, then he turned on his heel angrily and headed out.

‘Let them scan once I tell you,’ he called back.

Tony did not sigh in relief just yet, only pulled up another display to see where Loki was going. They did no have much time, surely the Captain will get impatient very quickly, they could not delay them much further.

Loki headed into the room they gave the girls. Once he entered he swiftly closed the door and cut his palm open with the knife he pulled from his belt. While he painted he started talking.

They’re here for you. Unless you want to be caught and sent back, come here and stay close to me in silence until I tell you otherwise.

His voice was stern and commanding. The girls looked at one another, but then Loki barked out a “Now!” and they both went over to him without arguing. They still kept a foot distance, so that they were not touching, but stayed close. Even Bee, she was even standing closer than Juyu.

Loki turned towards them, his back to the door and the symbol he painted on it and he closed his eyes.

Now Stark,’ he said after a moment.

Tony turned off their defence system while adrenaline pumped in his veins and opened up the channel to the Patrol Ship again.

‘Sorry for the wait, manual controls are horrible. You’re free to scan now.’ His voice came out quite natural, he congratulated himself. Not like he felt like his reactor was going to fall out because of his pounding heart, not at all.

Scanning in progress. What is your destination IronMage?’ the Captain asked. That Tony could answer at least, because he really did not have to tell the full truth.

‘Bawa Kawa System is our last stop, and then we’re heading back to Cassiopeia,’ he said. Even the thought of going back made him feel uneasy.

Space Station BK-Wont in Sector 56S has been critically damaged in an attack, I would suggest you avoid that area.

‘I appreciate the information, Captain,’ Tony answered pleasantly. He glanced at the display that showed the girls’ room. Loki was motionless, his back pressed to the wall and his eyes tightly shut. Tony was practically vibrating from tension, expecting the other ship to start firing or something at any moment.

The scan is complete, Commander. No hostile presence has been detected,’ came the sound of the Captain again and Tony almost breathed out loudly in relief, but he managed to control himself. ‘Thank you for your cooperation.

‘My pleasure, Captain,’ Tony answered, again as naturally as possible.

Have a safe journey, IronMage.’

‘Thank you, and have a nice day,’ Tony managed to answer even if he just wanted them gone already. The system showed that the hold the Patrol Ship had on the IronMage withdrew in the next moment. Then they were already turning and leaving, not wasting any time, thankfully. Tony waited another moment before he turned on the defence systems again while the engines restarted to get them back on their route.

‘Loki, they’re gone,’ he let the other know. Then he glanced at the display just in time to see Loki’s knees buckle. Juyu stepped forward quickly to catch the god before he hit the floor.

‘Stark!’ she yelled. Something cold gripped Tony’s chest and he was dashing out of the control room and towards them without bothering with removing the DNI.

He heard Juyu yell again when he turned down on the right corridor and he slammed the door open with force. Juyu was able to hold up Loki’s weight, even if the god seemed to try very hard to get out of her grip. So Tony moved to get him out of her arms. Loki was dead-pale and trembling.

‘I got him,’ Stark said. ‘I got him, just leave now,’ he told them. He did not have to ask twice, they were out of the door right away.

‘Loki? What’s wrong? What happened?’ he asked. The god was barely conscious, his eyes were glazed over.

‘Complex spell,’ Loki answered, then his brows furrowed seemingly in pain as his head tilted forward, blood started dripping from his nose. Fuck.

‘What do I do?’ Tony asked as he tried to move him. The bed sounded like the right place to go. Loki was heavy, but Tony gritted his teeth and pulled him up as much as he could, taking his weight to stumble to the bed. It took some struggling, but he managed to get him down on it. Loki looked feverish so Tony put his hand on his forehead.

‘Fucking hell, you’re freezing cold,’ he said. ‘I thought magic just tired you out!’ he said.

‘Overstrain,’ Loki said quietly.

‘You should have told me!’ Tony told him. He would have really liked to know this in advance, that tiring out from magic included this. ‘But you’re gonna be fine, right? What do you need? What should I do?’

‘I need rest,’ Loki said. He really looked like he was about to pass out, maybe it would have been the best. He looked as bad as that time they bled him out in the prison, only this time he looked even less lucid. Tony helped him move on the bed, so that he was completely on it.

‘Okay, okay, rest fixes it. That sounds great, that sounds awesome. Rest then,’ he said. He was about to get up to let Loki pass out, but the god gripped his shirt and stopped him.

‘What?’ Tony asked.

‘Can't… protect... myself,’ Loki managed to say. He was really half-unconscious at this point, his eyes were not even focused on Tony anymore.

‘You're on the ship. You're safe...’ Tony told him, but Loki’s grip did not loosen. His pale white fingers were twisted in Tony’s shirt tightly even if they were still trembling. Fuck, seeing Loki like this really brought back some unpleasant memories.

‘But I guess it would make me feel better if I stayed here,’ Tony said and climbed back on the bed to sit down next to the god with his back to the wall. Loki’s fingers relaxed a bit when he did, but did not let go completely. When Tony looked down at him again his eyes were already closed and he was unconscious.

Tony sighed and was not surprised when he felt a tingle of guilt crawling forward in his mind. He put his hand on Loki’s forehead again and while he was sweating, his skin was still ice cold. He managed to move around a bit to pull the covers out from under him without disturbing the sleeping god, who did not let go of him even while being passed out. Stubborn. He was not sure if it would help, but he covered him up with the blanket. Then he pulled a pillow under his back, because the wall was digging into his spine. When he was done he leaned back again. He could feel Loki’s cold fingers even through his shirt, his skin was getting cooler from it right below the arc reactor, but he did not pry them off.

It was only probably an hour later when Tony heard footsteps approaching them. Loki was still out, but at least did not feel as cold as before. It was a good sign. He looked up and blinked in surprise when he noticed Bee standing in the doorway. It was even more surprising that a tray was in one of her hands and two bottles of water in the other. She looked at him for a moment before silently walking to the nightstand on Loki’s side of the bed. Tony tensed up a little from her proximity, because he knew Loki would not like her being this close while he was unconscious.

She did nothing though, but put down the tray that had quite a lot of food on it and placed the water bottles next to it. She looked at Tony again then turned to leave.

‘Your sister tells me you’re a lot more aware than you look like,’ Tony said. He kept his voice down, even if he was sure that Loki would not wake up. The god did not even move since he passed out, hand still holding Tony’s shirt right below the reactor, his head lying on the bed next to Tony’s waist. Bee stopped in the doorway, not turning back, but obviously listening.

‘He did not have to do this. You know that,’ Tony said. ‘He did not have to hurt himself to hide you,’ he continued. ‘He only did it because I asked him to.’

And yeah, there was the guilt again, even if he did not know that helping would do this to Loki. It was still Tony who asked him.

‘I warned your sister and I warn you too. You two have one chance only. So if you ever make me regret letting you set a foot on my ship, it won’t be Loki you’ll have to worry about. Are we clear?’

Tony looked at her sternly when she finally turned back, he knew what expression he would see in the mirror right now, and he was absolutely sure that he made himself perfectly clear. It was the expression that promised cold-blooded revenge and destruction. He wanted to do the right thing, so he would help, but he was not stupid to blindly trust anyone, no matter how young or damaged they looked and Loki sure as hell was a priority over them. Even this happening almost made him regret it.

Bee looked at him for a moment then raised her chin before lowering it again. It was a nod and while her gaze still unnerved Tony, he knew she understood. She left then, her quiet footsteps slowly fading away into silence. Tony looked down at the sleeping god and slid down a little bit more on the bed to get comfortable. He did not sleep though, just turned off the DNI and relaxed to the sound of Loki’s even breathing.

Chapter Text

 

The first thing Loki became aware of was the dull deep ache in his head. He recognized the pain, even if he did not feel it in centuries, this bone-deep exhaustion in every part of his body. He knew that he needed more rest even before he tried to figure out what happened. He became aware that he was lying on something soft, a bed, with his head resting on something firmer, warmer. It smelled familiar even if he could not put his finger on it, something that moved slowly… wait. He tired to move and open his eyes, but it took him a moment to gather his strength to do it. A small groan escaped his lips without his consent when he finally moved to get up, because the pain in his muscles was anything but pleasant.

‘Hey! You okay?’ he heard and felt an arm steady him by the shoulders. When his vision cleared out he saw Stark. Loki frowned and looked around, the blanket that just slid down from him, the bed, Stark… it did not make much sense.

‘What are you doing in my bed?’ he asked.

‘Well, technically it’s Juyu’s bed,’ Stark answered. Loki’s mind was too foggy and slow to answer that so he just scowled some more. Stark looked at him for a moment, before he probably realized that Loki’s question was indeed not rhetorical. ‘You used magic, remember?’

‘I know I used magic, I know what overstrain feels like,’ Loki grumbled.

‘Yeah well, then you passed out too,’ Stark added helpfully. Loki groaned in annoyance. So he fainted like some wilting flower, excellent.

‘I really hate you right now,’ he said and let himself flop back to the bed. Stark’s presence be damned, he was exhausted.

‘I know you do, sorry,’ Stark said. ‘You want me to make you a horny helmet?’

Loki snorted, ‘There’s only so many times you can bribe me with gifts.’

‘Don’t underestimate my bribing abilities. I had a lot of practice.’

‘Oh just shut up, your voice is making my headache worse,’ Loki told him and buried his head further into the bed.

‘I didn’t think this could happen,’ Stark said a bit more seriously. ‘You always hid the Drake without problem.’

‘It’s harder to fool machines than sentient beings, and I told you using magic without an outside source would tire me out,’ Loki grumbled, voice half muffled from the bed.

‘Yeah, but you forgot to mention that it includes nosebleed and cold fever and whatever the hell.’

‘You’re not stupid, Stark. I was not wary of using magic because it would simply make me sleepy.’

‘Yeah I… did not really think too much about it,’ Stark admitted.

Loki did not feel like moving, he hated this, he never wanted to get himself in such a state. It was all Stark’s fault. No, it was his own damn fault for going along with this madness. Time was essential at that moment and he knew Stark was too stubborn to listen, so he did what he had to do. By the Norns, he knew this would cause them trouble. He knew it! And he was right! He should’ve said no, but he also did not want more strangers on the ship. Who knew what they would have done to them just for finding the Skrulls here, or after they took a closer look at the cargo, or after they asked some more questions. He really did not have a choice, and it was Stark who made it so. He was too tired to be as angry as he should’ve been.

‘You did not answer my question,’ Loki told him.

‘Which one?’

‘What are you doing in the same bed as me?’ Loki managed to sit up again to look at the human. Stark was looking back at him, his eyes confused and searching for a moment, then he smiled. It was a strange sort of smile that made Loki frown again.

‘I guess at the end you were too out of it to remember,’ he said.

‘Remember what?’ Loki asked, but Stark just looked at him for another moment, his smile even widened some more. What in Valhalla had Stark to smile about like that?

‘You were in a bad shape,’ Stark started. ‘You really should have given me a warning. I had no idea what to do.’

‘Oh please,’ Loki rolled his eyes. Gods, even his eyeballs hurt. ‘It’s not like my life was at risk.’ Not with this spell, with other magic it may have been, but he did not have the energy to get into yet another lecture about magic with Stark.

‘Well, I did not know that!’ Stark said. ‘It looked like it. You were bleeding, you were ice cold, sweating, shaking. How was I supposed to know whether it was life-threatening or not? It looked bad.’

‘Your concern is unnecessary,’ Loki told him with an unimpressed look. ‘As you can see I am well.’

‘Yeah, you look like death warmed over. “Well” is not the word I’d use,’ Stark replied.

‘I was not in danger,’ Loki said again. ‘It’s just pain.’

‘That’s bad enough.’

‘You still did not answer my question,’ Loki said. Stark’s proximity did not irritate him per se, but he was not fond of prolonged unnecessary contact and since just a moment ago he was sleeping on… by the Norns he did not just sleep right on top of him, did he? He took in his position and where Stark was sitting and yes, it looked like he did indeed. He did not know whether to be mortified or angry. What was Stark doing here anyway? The human must’ve noticed something about his expression because that strange smile returned to his face.

‘You were… unconscious,’ he said. ‘And you looked horrible, near-death sort of horrible, I didn’t feel like leaving you alone,’ he shrugged. There was something strange in his tone so Loki narrowed his eyes.

‘Well, you can leave now,’ he said firmly.

‘Well, this is still Juyu’s bed. So how about you eat, drink and then we get you to your own bed?’

‘I am perfectly capable--’

‘Just eat,’ Stark said, gesturing towards the other side of the bed before he stood up to stretch his muscles. Loki turned and noticed the food. He was indeed really hungry, so he let it go for now.

Their journey back to their own room started with Loki trying to walk on his own. It did not go well. The only reason why he did not hit the floor was that Stark was close enough to steady him in time. He was irritated when Stark had to put his arm around him to take some of his weight. Everything since he woke up was humiliating. The food helped some, but he was still in need of a lot of rest. He did not want to lie around doing nothing, but it did not seem like he had a choice. He tried to walk on his own as much as possible, only leaning on Stark when it was absolutely necessary. The human stayed quiet for a while, but then all of a sudden he sighed loudly.

‘You don’t have to do this you know,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘This! Acting all tough.’

‘I’m not--’ Loki started, but Stark did not let him speak.

‘I’ve seen you beat, cut up, burnt, bled out, basically in every horrible shape possible. Now you’re a little shaky, so what? It’s just me for fuck’s sake. Cut it out and let me help you!’

Loki bit his lip to stop form answering.

‘I know you hate being weak,’ the human said in a quieter tone. ‘But it’s just me. I already know what a badass you are, you really don’t have to put up a front.’

‘I am not doing anything for your benefit,’ Loki answered. Even the idea was ridiculous. Stark sighed again.

‘Sometimes you are so fucking stubborn it makes me look reasonable.’

Loki did not answer, but after a few steps he let Stark take a bit more of his weight. Stark wisely kept his mouth shut about it. They walked in silence for another few moments before apparently the human got tired of the quiet and spoke again.

‘You know why it was scary as hell?’ he asked.

‘What?’

‘Watching you crumble like that,’ the human continued. Loki stayed silent. ‘Because anything that can to knock you off your feet like that, has to be some damn scary shit.’

‘Oh, don’t be so dramatic.’

‘No, I was seriously thinking that. It’s one thing to blow yourself up in a lab accident, it doesn’t happen if you’re not reckless, but magic doing this to you… it’s dangerous. It’s like you’re playing with fire all the damn time and the second you lose control it burns you to dust. I can’t even imagine. I mean sure, it must be quite something to have all that power at your disposal knowing that if you’re not good enough it’s going to slip from your fingers and destroy you. It’s… power and danger and… the more I try to wrap my head around it the more…’

‘Exciting it seems?’

‘Exhilarating,’ Stark said, turning to look at him. His eyes were a tiny bit wider than usual, his brain obviously running on full speed thinking about it. ‘I remember the first time I really flew with my suit. I kept going higher and higher until I almost killed myself.’

‘You must’ve felt alive.’

‘More than ever before that,’ Stark agreed. ‘But you and magic… you know what a fire dancer is? I don’t know if you have them on Asgard. They’re like performers. Fire breathing and spinning and--’

‘Yes, we have those.’

‘It was the best example I could think of, because it’s spectacular and dangerous and one wrong move and you end up with a nasty burn or losing half your face.’

‘I am the God of Fire as well,’ Loki told him.

‘Really?’ Stark looked at him. ‘I knew there was something with you and fire, it’s like the perfect manifestation of chaos. Destruction and creation, the whole she-bang. I don’t even know what’s up with you and green. Shouldn’t you be running around in gold, orange and red?’

Loki stayed silent for a moment then simply said, ‘It would make me look pale.’

Stark burst out laughing as expected. ‘You mean paler,’ he snickered. ‘But you’re right, we can’t have that. Style is a serious matter.’

Even Loki had to chuckle at that even if his muscles hurt from it.

‘So is the cold thing something to worry about?’ Stark asked and Loki almost stopped walking.

‘What?’

‘You were cold, when you passed out, icy cold. And Juyu tells me you feel cold all the time.’

Now he really stopped walking and felt how his muscles tensed.

‘You talked about me with them?’ he asked, anger rising up immediately.

‘What? No! I just told her I did not like Bee staring at you all the time, so she told me that you felt cold to them. They’re reptilian, they don’t like cold things. So they were kind of weirded out by it. They could sense that you had a lower body temperature than me.’

Loki took a breath and started walking again. Stark did not stop him, but helped him along.

‘It does not matter,’ Loki grit out.

‘I just want to know what to do,’ Stark said firmly. ‘You were sweating like you had a fever while you felt freezing cold to the touch and I did not know what to do about it, or if I needed to do anything or not. You said you needed rest, but how am I supposed to know what’s normal and what means something’s wrong? You were unconscious and I felt like a fucking idiot for not doing anything.’

Loki closed his eyes for a moment, willing his mind to not think about it, not even a little bit.

‘It’s normal,’ he said after a moment.

‘Both?’

‘Yes, both,’ Loki said sharply. Stark better drop this line of questioning.

‘Wow, a cold Fire God,’ he chuckled after a moment. ‘You really are chaos incarnate through and through, aren’t you?’

‘And you find that amusing?’ Loki asked, his tone still a little sharp.

‘Yeah, I mean, if you would feel hot to the touch that would be like… predictable, right? Something that’s the way the natural order dictates it. You’re like screwing up the natural order just by existing, if that’s not Chaos God Supreme stuff, I don’t know what is.’

Loki felt suddenly amused and it chased away his anger. Glancing to the side he noticed that Stark was also smiling.

The taller Skrull – Juyu – was standing outside of their door. When Loki noticed her he stood up a little straighter, even if it was currently hard to hide his weakened state. They had to be there when he lost consciousness.

‘Hey Juyu,’ Stark greeted her.

‘Stark,’ she nodded, then looked at Loki. ‘You look better,’ she observed. Loki just stared at her, wanting her out of the way so he could rest some more. She kept her gaze on Loki for a moment to which in answer Loki narrowed his eyes considerably. She looked away and let out a huff.

‘Fine, I won’t waste your time, then. Thank you. That’s all I wanted to say,’ and then she walked past them and left without another word.

Stark did not comment and Loki did not feel like saying anything either. He most definitely did not do it for the Skrulls, but to get rid of the Patrol Ship as quickly as possible without having to argue and deal with Stark’s idiocy again. They headed inside the room.

‘I don’t think you need the tough act in front of them either,’ Stark said, out of all the ridiculous things to say.

‘I disagree,’ Loki said. It’s risky to show weakness in front of strangers, even Stark knew that.

‘No, believe me, they know that you’re dangerous. They know it very well. A little passing out is not going to make you less scary all of a sudden. You should be proud. Big, dark and intimidating is like your basic setting and it is indeed scaring the crap out of people.’

Loki finally sat down on the bed, his muscles grateful for not having to move more. The walk tired him out a lot, he felt like he could fall asleep again right away.

‘They cannot be trusted,’ Loki said.

‘Maybe,’ Stark shrugged standing before him. ‘But Juyu told me she thinks you’re dangerous, but her first reaction when you collapsed was still to catch you, so that you don’t smash your pretty face in with the floor. What does that tell us?’

Loki wanted to roll his eyes.

‘You’re reading too much into it.’

‘It’s really hard to hide or fake subconscious behaviour,’ Stark said with a smile again. ‘You sure know that.’

That was true, but Stark’s example did not prove anything. Some could fake things that looked like they were subconscious, especially when they were completely in control of themselves. It was easy. The girl would have to be in distress or pain or something similar in order to believe that her reactions were true. He did not feel like arguing though.

‘You should sleep,’ Stark said stepping back.

Loki caught him by his clothes before he could leave ‘Wait,’ he said.

‘Yeah?’ Stark asked.

Loki looked at his hand, how his fingers were clenched in Stark’s shirt and suddenly he remembered what happened before he lost consciousness. He must’ve been too slow in schooling his expression, because Stark smiled knowingly. He finally knew what that smile was about, the infuriating little--

Stark put a hand on top of his to pry it off from his shirt.

‘I’ll lock the door so that nobody can get in,’ he said. ‘Just sleep.’ Then he put Loki’s hand down and left without saying anything else, closing the door behind him. Loki expected at least some sarcastic remark about his behaviour.

How could he even do that, cling to someone else like he was a scared child? He was obviously not in his right mind on the verge of losing consciousness, but this was still ridiculous. The amount of humiliation was making his blood boil. He flopped down on the bed.

Stark probably felt guilty, since he was the one demanding Loki’s help, that was probably why he did not bring up Loki’s disgraceful behaviour. He could not think of any other reason. Well, of course Stark also knew how Loki felt about displaying weakness, but this was still not acceptable.

He should be angrier, he should be a lot angrier than he was right now. He should be thinking about a way to punish Stark for allowing Loki to abase himself in such a manner. How could he even trust the man if he allowed something like this to happen? He knew Loki was not in a condition to think clearly, Stark should have not allowed it. Gods, he slept with his head resting on him, this was so degrading.

Stark allowed it and had the gall to smile about it. Stupid, big-mouthed, infuriating human. What was he thinking? Did he really believe that Loki may like..

No. Not one bit. It was demeaning and humiliating and never in his life would he have done something like that if he would have been in complete control of…

He opened his eyes again and stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, his breath stuck in his throat. His heart was already beating heavily from anger, this little revelation did not help in slowing it down. Subconscious… …oh no. No, damn it all. No!

He groaned and closed his eyes in annoyance. This cannot be happening. It cannot! He did not…

‘Damn,’ he cursed quietly. He needed sleep.

He needed sleep and he needed to forget about all of this.

When he next woke up it was to the sound of muttered words. It sounded afraid and it took his sleep-heavy mind a few moments to recognize Stark’s voice. He sat upright right away in the dimly lit room. Only the small light next to the table was turned on, they never slept in complete darkness. The sound came again and Loki turned towards Stark’s bed to see the human thrashing, his covers twisted around his legs and torso.

Nightmare, he knew. They were a regular occurrence. It was shameful to admit, but for both of them. Loki had too many horrors hiding away in his mind to have restful nights and Stark was the same. Normally, Loki left him alone, because Stark always awoke rather quickly. This time he was out of his bed before he thought twice about it.

Stark’s skin was burning under Loki’s cool fingers when he touched his forehead. His brows were furrowed, his eyes clenched tightly shut, his whole body tense in distress.

‘Stark,’ he called quietly, letting his hand rest on his forehead with his thumb on the frown, smoothing it out just by keeping it there. It took a little time, but eventually the human relaxed and woke up, opened his eyes tiredly. He turned and looked at Loki. His eyes were wide, his nightmares still lurking darkly behind the warm brown colour. His skin was too warm and damp, his breathing too heavy. He did not say a word, but he did look surprised to see the god so close.

‘You’re safe,’ Loki told him simply. Then a moment later he stood up to walk back to his own bed already berating himself for such a ridiculous sentimental display.

Fortunately, Stark did not say anything and Loki knew that he would not sleep again, he never went back to sleep after nightmares. He was indeed out of his bed after some time, putting on some clothes and most likely heading to his workshop. Loki listened to him leave and only opened his eyes again once the door closed and the room fell silent.

‘Damn,’ he sighed again.

Chapter Text

 

Loki’s been… irritated, angry, and snappy a lot more than usual in the past two weeks. Tony expected him to be a little more… well, bitchy after the whole passing out thing, but this surprised even him. The god spent an incredible amount of time meditating in their room, when he was absolutely not to be disturbed. Sure, the whole thing with the Filipima Space Patrol was a reminder that he was nowhere near his full-power, so it was no surprise that he wanted to work more on regaining it. It was still ridiculous. He talked with Juyu more than he spoke with Loki, which was saying something. Most of the time he was silently brooding or glaring, but once in a while Tony caught him looking at him with an unreadable expression for a few moments before he turned and left, looking angry. So yeah, Loki was definitely still pissed about the extra trouble Tony hung around their necks.

He was also certain that Loki was bothered by showing his cards, so to speak. Tony did his best to not even hint at what happened after they got away from the Patrol because of that. Loki trusted him, he knew that for sure. He considered him safe and trusted him to keep him safe when he was weak. That was a big deal. A big fucking deal. He also knew that Loki never wanted him to know that, so bringing it up would be just like rubbing Loki’s nose in it. And Tony was not that big an asshole to point at a moment of weakness like that. Loki was prideful, it would make him angry beyond words. It was best to treat it like it was no big deal. He did that with most things about Loki. Sometimes Tony felt like Loki expected to be pointed at or looked at like he was a freak of nature when it came to his peculiarities. He wondered about that, but he did not know enough about Asgard to make any accurate guesses and he knew for a fact that it would be unwise to ask Loki about it. He turned against his own people and family for a reason, right? And there was that whole adoption thing Thor mentioned that he still knew nothing about. But he did not ask, not now anyway. Don’t disturb the sleeping lion as they say, especially when said lion is very grumpy to begin with.

For that exact reason, while he was busy working on his suit, he still took the time to make the armour pieces he promised for Loki’s boots. He could not do the vambraces unless Loki told him exactly what kind he wanted, so those were not ready yet. He left the metal to cool after he finished with the straps on them while he cleaned up on his workshop table.

He was finally finished with the DNI prototype for his suit. It was nowhere near as complex and perfect like the one the ship had, but he would not need to control so many systems with it either, so in theory it was supposed to work. He was also almost completely finished with the boots and the gauntlets. Now modifying the Mark V model – when he did not even have the original blueprints – was really quite a feat, if he could say so himself. Well, who was he kidding? It was an incredible feat, the modified design was better than the original, he was a genius. Unlike the original Mark V, he needed this suit in three main pieces instead of one. Luckily the smaller crystals they bought last time proved to be just what he needed for it. Each boot and gauntlet had a small energy source to operate on its own to a certain extent. They certainly had enough power to keep them connected to the DNI and to start the automatic assemble when needed or even to operate on their own for a while without having to connect to the main part of the suit. To not make any of them too thick and heavy, the boots contained the full-length armour for the legs, the gauntlets for the arms and the main chest piece had the helmet, and waist areas. It was great too, that in their deactivated form, the gauntlets almost looked like vambraces, so he had his fingers free. He would have to make quite a few tests in order to make sure that the three pieces connected smoothly. Well, it was technically five pieces, but the controls for the two boots and two gauntlets were connected, because they would always be activated together. The suit would still use power from his arc reactor of course, but the additional crystals gave him a lot of extra energy, so he did not have to rely on his reactor alone. The reactor kept him alive, it would be not too smart to tinker with it much, unless he had a sure way of building a new one. He did not.

With the DNI done he could get to his favourite part. Test flight. He was absolutely sure that everything was working just fine, but with the addition of the crystals along with the new energy type he used, he could not know for sure how to calibrate them. He had enough space in the cargo area for a little lift-off. Bigger tests would have to wait until they reached the next suitable planet.

The main piece of the armour, the actual chest plate, was half-done. He still needed to do a lot of work on the electronics, find a way to add a few crystals and of course all without making it too heavy. He had to be able to carry its weight without activating it. Luckily, alyndor was perfect to solve that problem, but it would still take some time to get used to it. At least it’s going to keep him in shape. He still needed to work on the helmet, but he would be done after that. It felt good to see the end of a project. If all went well he could be done after a few days of hard work. Worst case scenario was two weeks, if the tests did not end well.

When he was done putting his tools away he grabbed Loki’s armour pieces and headed towards their room. He could’ve called Loki to the workshop through the intercom, but being face-to-face always made it easier to get the god to actually listen.

He found him sitting on the floor in their room, like many times in the past days.

‘What do you want, Stark?’ the god asked as soon as the door opened. His tone was biting again.

‘Hello to you too, grumpy. I have your new armour pieces.’

Loki opened his eyes and turned his head towards him, taking in Tony’s dishevelled look, his eyes glancing up and down for a second. Yeah, so his sleeveless shirt was dirty as hell and his hair was way too long and chaotic, but he never really bothered with appearances while working.

‘Yes, I know. I stink and I’m dirty. That happens when it comes to metalwork, you know with the hot as hell forge and the heavy physical work.’

Loki stood up without making any comment and Tony held out the armour pieces for him.

‘You’re getting better at this,’ Loki remarked after taking them.

‘Yeah, practice makes master,’ Tony shrugged.

‘Indeed.’

‘Don’t expect me to ever learn your fancy engraving skills though,’ Tony continued.

‘That is quite alright,’ Loki answered. ‘I would not trust your taste anyway.’

That came out a lot less sharp as his previous words, so Tony took it as a good sign.

‘By the way, I’m ready to test out my new fancy boots,’ he told him. ‘Wanna come?’

‘Now why would I be interested in that?’ Loki asked while he walked to put away the armour pieces. He did not want to work on the enchanting just yet then.

‘Because I will either fly around so I need someone to witness my genius, or I miscalculated and will crash into a wall, in which case you are allowed to laugh, well snicker, a little… quietly.’

Loki turned back around and Tony caught a hint of a smile on his face.

‘Oh very well, if you insist so,’ he said. ‘And while I’m there I could give you my instructions for my new vambraces.’

‘I knew you did not forget about those,’ Tony said and followed Loki when he turned to leave the room.

Tony did not like the silence, so he continued talking on their way there.

‘So, the engraving you did for your vambraces look pretty damn awesome. Snakes are not really my thing, but even I could see that there is quite some talent--’

‘Save your flattery and just say what you want,’ Loki interrupted.

‘I was thinking whether you could be convinced to do just a little something-something for my suit.’

Loki frowned a bit. ‘I thought you did not want magic anywhere near your technology,’ he said.

‘Oh, I’m not talking about enchantment, but the regular engraving.’

‘You want me to decorate your armour?’

‘Okay, so the reason I came up with this new suit design is because I want to be able to have it on me without carrying around a big conspicuous case. It’s impractical. Rule #3, don’t pack more than you can carry. So this way whenever we land I will be already wearing my suit, only it will not look like a suit. It will look like regular armour.’

‘Practical and hidden in plain sight,’ Loki concluded. ‘That is indeed smart.’

‘Thank you. Now, after I looked at what you did with your armour and vambraces, I realized that even in its deactivated mode it’s still too… unusual looking. Especially with the crystals, cause some of them are on visible places. But, if it would have some vaguely similar designs to your armour, then…’

‘It would be believable that it is just personalized armour, while making the energy crystals look like simple decorations,’ Loki finished instead of him. ‘I imagine that the weapons in your armour are also hidden while it’s deactivated.’

‘I don’t have as many weapons in it as in my usual suits, but yeah, what little I have are not noticeable.’

‘Very well,’ Loki nodded. ‘What did you have in mind?’

‘Nothing over the top, okay? I was thinking like on the outer side of the gauntlets, the side of the boots, and maybe shoulder area.’

‘Helmet?’

‘That doesn’t need decoration.’

‘And not fond of snakes, what exactly do you want to have on it then?’

‘I don’t know, something non-figurative?’ Loki huffed.

‘That is so ordinary,’ he said. ‘Symbolism is important even if it is not magical in nature. What warriors wear on their armours is always symbolic and has its own personal meaning, not to mention it is supposed to send a message to all that see you.’

Tony thought about it for a bit, his mind completely blank. ‘I have absolutely no idea,’ he admitted.

‘Your name means something that is strong and powerful, but also violent and fierce. Maybe you could do with some wolves.’

‘Wolves?’

‘Although you’re more likely to follow your own mind and pursue knowledge and you do not necessarily have the spirit of a warrior. Stark can also mean something complete and absolute. Technology and science is the closest craft you humans have to the magical arts. The Yggdrasil maybe?’

‘Yeah, but I’m Iron Man, I can’t have a tree on my armour. It would confuse people.’

Loki chuckled. ‘You are proving yourself quite a forger, an inventor, a creator.’

‘Fire then?’

‘I say creation, you say fire. Most would not turn in that direction.’

‘There’s no creation without fire, there’s always a big bang somewhere and it always includes some fiery inferno. Birth of a star, right there, huge explosion, the star is the sun for the planets, without its heat no life can exist. I’m not even gonna get into details, I proved it in one sentence.’

Loki smiled widely, this time even his teeth showed. ‘Are you stating your opinion or are you flattering me again?’

‘Don’t let it go to your head Mr. God of Fire,’ Tony chuckled. ‘Fire sounds good, unless it’s some tacky flames. Those are so out of style.’

‘Dragon is a cliché. Phoenix?’

‘Phoenix is not a cliché?’

‘Not insofar as they are purely magical beings. A symbol used by sorcerers and alchemists, not warriors. It is a burning sun, rebirth after destruction by fire.’

‘Chaos?’

‘Sometimes,’ Loki smiled.

‘My armour, remember? Not yours.’

‘Oh, but you have such a chaotic nature, Stark.’

‘From you, I’ll take that as a compliment.’

‘Take it as you please.’

‘Yeah alright, I actually like that. I even used it before.’

‘Did you now?’

Tony thought back on his speech at the Stark Expo, the wild cheering crowd, the dancing Ironettes, and how he forced the wide smile on his face even if the palladium poisoning was almost the only thing he could think about around that time.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘The crowd loved it. It was something like; “From the ashes of captivity never has a greater phoenix metaphor been personified in human history”.’

‘How humble.’

Tony laughed in answer to that. ‘I built my first armour in captivity, so in a manner it was true. They tried to bring me down, steal what was mine and make me disappear, but instead I created something greater than ever before.’

‘And destroyed them,’ Loki finished.

‘Barton told you that too?’ Tony asked.

‘No, it is just something you would do,’ Loki said simply before glancing at him, his lips curling up into a smile. ‘You have this thing for avenging.’

Tony couldn’t help it, he laughed again.

When they arrived back to the workshop, they found Bee standing alone in the cargo area, just staring ahead of herself. The usual creepy display, Tony started to get used to it. Loki was not delighted to see her at all, and that was putting it mildly. He stayed at the workshop area while Tony walked a bit closer to the girl. He was starting to figure out how big a personal bubble she needed in order to not get tense and edgy. If you left her enough space, she was just a calm silent presence.

‘Hey Bee,’ he called, but he did not get a reaction. So Tony walked in front of her to get in her line of sight. ‘Bee,’ he called again and after a moment her currently green eyes focused on him. ‘Doing alright there?’ She blinked a few times, like she was just noticing where she was and nodded at Tony. He turned around to see what the girl was looking at, but there was nothing but a few boxes and crates.

‘Did the boxes insult you or something? I could dish out some retribution,’ he said, then smiled a little. She did not of course, but her brows did furrow a little in a curious manner. It was a lot better kind of look than the emotionless staring.

‘Okay then,’ Tony said, since he had nothing better to say. ‘Feel free to stay, I will be flying, and I love having an audience.’

He smiled again and went back to the workshop area to put on the boots and gauntlets and the new DNI.

‘You should not let them see what kind of technology you have at your disposal,’ Loki warned leaning against the workbench.

‘It’s fine,’ Tony told him.

‘It is said that Skrulls are excellent spies,’ Loki added.

‘Yesterday, when Juyu didn’t notice you coming into the kitchen, she chocked on a sip of water when she startled so hard that she almost fell out of her chair. Yeah, I can see how she’s a master of subterfuge.’

Loki just sent him a mild glare in answer to that. Tony didn’t care. It was funny. The first completely normal, innocent and ridiculous thing he saw her doing.

When he was done putting on everything he walked a bit further away from the workshop so he wouldn’t destroy anything important in case of a miscalculation. With the gauntlets being operational he should have no problem with flight stabilization and everything else. He was still excited. This suit was like something new he had to build from scratch, and not just an upgraded version of the previous ones. He did not even have JARVIS this time. He had to do all calculations on his own. Alright, so Loki had a little input here and there, but mostly theoretical ones, and it was always Tony who had to work out the details and implementation.

Bee was looking at him curiously and Loki was also paying attention. Well, hopefully he won’t smash to a wall. That would be embarrassing. He activated the new DNI and compared to the ship’s controls there was a ridiculously small amount of incoming information. It was basically just two signals that told him that the boots and gauntlets were successfully connected. With this DNI he won’t be getting too much input only after it was completely ready.

‘Okay, if I catch on fire I do hope one of you will be kind enough to put it out.’

‘I will try my best to save you from such a humiliating end,’ Loki droned.

Oh well, here goes nothing. Since he was used to control the whole ship and all its systems via DNI, compared to that starting the thrusters and activating the gauntlets was nothing. He did not lift off from the ground that fast, but it was still a bit more sudden than he anticipated. He could luckily stabilize himself mid-air before he hit anything. The boots would have to be able to lift him up along with the full weight of the armour. Tony himself was too light in comparison. He took a few moments to get used to the connection, the feel of being in the air, but at this point he had a lot of practice with flying so it really did not take long.

‘I accept congratulations right about now,’ he said as he descended down a little and flew closer to Loki. The cargo area was really not big enough to properly test things out, but he had over a hundred feet in width and almost thirty feet in height even with the cargo and the workshop taking up a lot of space.

‘Yes-yes, well done,’ Loki said with the expected amount of enthusiasm. That is, none at all.

‘I am writing history here. I’m combining technology from two different galaxies,’ Tony insisted.

‘Please, do not expect me to sing praises,’ Loki said, but there was a mild smile on his lips again. That was basically a Loki seal of approval.

‘Yeah, whatever,’ Tony told him and flew a bit higher again, closer to the ceiling. ‘I can fly, so I am awesome.’

He changed directions, slowed down, descended and flew up again to test his controls, but it was perfect. No glitches, no nothing. He certainly outdid himself with this one. It did not look like Loki would give him the deserved praise so he flew a bit down where Bee was standing looking at him.

‘I bet you appreciate my genius,’ he said. He grinned encouragingly, not that he expected any sort of reaction from the girl, but it could never hurt.

She tilted her head, looking at him hovering in the air. Then the skin started to ripple on her bare shoulders, the flesh shifting. Before Tony could open his mouth to ask what was going on something started to grow out of her back. Tony felt as his eyes widened at the sight. It was like the skin came alive. It stretched out and formed like it was skin-coloured plasticine, then it turned green like the girl’s original skin. It took only a few moments, but Tony just stared in surprise all the while. Then the strange green appendages moved a bit, then shook and took on a more solid shape. In a blink it became clear. Wings.

‘What the…?’ he asked. Not feeling like a genius at the moment. The wings were green and thin, looked like something between batwings and insect wings. But he could not look at them for long, because the wings started beating, very fast to that, again like that of an insect’s or like a hummingbird’s. Bee lifted up to the air easily and reached the spot where Tony was hovering smoothly.

‘Okay,’ he said. It was a strange sight really. ‘So you can fly too,’ he stated the obvious.

He wanted to look at Loki and ask if he knew Skrulls could do this, but he was at the moment too fascinated by the rapidly flapping wings on the girl’s back.

‘I told you we could shapeshift into anything.’

Tony looked down where Juyu stood, looking up at them. He did not notice when she came in.

‘I know I’m no expert, but I kinda just expected you to be able to shift to other people. You know like, changing colours, mimicking faces.’

‘No, anything,’ Juyu said. Bee started flying around a bit, with no care to the world. Maybe she was just inspired by Tony flying around.

‘Animals?’ Loki asked.

‘Yes,’ Juyu replied. ‘But not all of us can change size considerably. That is a special skill.’

‘And you can also shift partially as I see.’

‘It is almost easier,’ Juyu replied then her eyes slid over to her sister and watched her flitting around in the cargo hold. The expression on Loki’s face told Tony that he was a lot more curious about it than he let on, but did not let him ask further questions.

‘She did not fly for the sake of flying in a long time,’ Juyu said wistfully while she walked a bit closer to where her sister was.

Tony landed and walked a bit closer to Loki. The god had his eyes on the flying girl.

‘She totally stole the attention away from my new boots,’ Tony said.

‘We need to ask more questions about their powers and abilities,’ Loki said.

‘You think so?’

‘We must know how great a danger they can actually be,’ the god said. He knew that the girls could hear them, so Tony didn’t even try to lower his voice.

‘Or how great an asset,’ Tony said. Loki finally looked at him. ‘They’ve been behaving, no sign of ill intentions. It’s been weeks. If they’re our allies, their strength is our strength. Am I right?’

Loki seemed to contemplate that for a moment.

‘I suppose,’ he agreed finally. When Tony looked back at the girls again Juyu had wings too and she was up in the air with her sister. It was a strange sight, even for him.

‘Come on,’ he bumped Loki on the shoulder. ‘We have a bunch of stuff to so, forging, engraving, time’s ticking.’

He was surprised when Loki simply bound his hair together in a low ponytail with a leather band he pulled out of his pocket, then turned towards the workbench without arguing. Tony turned his attention back to his gauntlets.

‘Next time you have a bad mood you could just come join me here,’ he said. Not looking up at the god again. ‘Something to work on always helps me clear my head, something to focus on, you know. It gets my mind off of things.’

‘Yes, that would be good right about now,’ Loki told him.

If Tony would have been the sharing and caring type, or someone who believed that everything could be solved with some talking, he might’ve asked more about it. But he knew himself and he liked to think that he knew Loki, so he was sure that this was not the time to push for answers. It would just make things worse. So instead, he asked what kind of new vambraces Loki wanted while answered Loki’s inquiries about the engraving that would go on his suit. This was better, at least Loki looked a lot less angry. In fact, he looked almost completely peaceful, and that was very rare.

So he worked on his suit in the company of the God of Chaos while two Skrull girls were flying around in the cargo hold. Life was sometimes strange like that.

Chapter Text

 

‘I’ll clean it up,’ Juyu said after Stark managed to spill something bright and sticky all over the kitchen floor. Loki just put his legs up to the chair next to him to avoid getting his boots dirty.

‘Really?’ Stark asked. He was a mess, his clothes looking only slightly better than the floor. ‘That would be great. You’d be better at it. Not that I think cleaning is a woman’s job or anything. Not at all, but I wouldn’t know where to start.’

Juyu just shrugged and started searching in the kitchen. ‘You took us in. We have beds to sleep on and plenty to eat. I might as well help and earn my keep,’ she answered.

‘Well, thanks then. If I tried I think I would just make it worse,’ Stark said. Loki could very well believe that.

‘It’s just mopping up a floor. I’m sure you’ve done it before,’ the girl said after she found said mop.

‘Uhh… not really,’ Stark shrugged as he carefully went to the sink to wash his hands and clean up his shirt.

The Skrull stopped and looked at him. ‘What do you mean not really?’ she asked.

‘Hey! I’m not the only one,’ Stark said right away. ‘Loki, have you ever mopped a floor?’ he asked. Loki snorted derisively and went back to eat his fruit. Even the idea was ludicrous. ‘See?’ Stark shrugged.

‘How could you have never cleaned before?’ the girl asked, quite shocked, if her tone was anything to go by.

‘Well, you know… he’s a prince, I’m a billionaire, which means I’m disgustingly rich… at home at least.’

‘Stark!’ Loki scowled.

‘What?’

‘Risks of voluntarily spilling out personal information,’ Loki reminded him. Stark was chatty. Loki assumed that he was used to everyone knowing everything about him and his life, so he never bothered with hiding much. Well, only certain topics. As time passed he was more and more willing to casually talk about them to the girls. Loki gave up on stopping him after a while, because at least it was always superficial information. He still did not want others to know who he really was, so Stark should learn to keep his mouth shut.

‘You’ve always had servants then,’ Juyu concluded.

‘Yeah, not that you’re a servant, you’ve been totally freed from servitude,’ Stark insisted.

‘I know, Stark. I do not mind. I will go mad if I can’t do anything,’ she said. ‘I am not used to being idle.’

‘You could clean up the bridge too,’ Loki suggested. ‘Or the bathrooms.’

‘Loki,’ Stark chided.

‘What? She just said she was bored,’ he pointed out.

‘Juyu, do whatever you want. If you feel like helping out, thanks, but it’s not mandatory.’

‘Go clean up, Stark,’ Juyu said. ‘I don’t mind.’

‘Thanks,’ Stark said again and left. Juyu was silent for a while, cleaning up the mess the human made.

‘So…’ she spoke then. ‘Prince, huh?’

‘It’s none of your business,’ Loki told her firmly.

‘There are no princes around here,’ she said. ‘There’s only the Royal Family of the Skrull Empire, and you are not a Skrull.’

Loki looked up at her and narrowed his eyes, but she was not looking at him.

‘And?’ Loki prompted.

‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I already knew that you have to be from somewhere very far away. Only someone who’s not from here would know so very little about the Skrulls. Even those who live in the nearby satellite galaxies know plenty about us.’

Loki looked at her silently. They already asked the girl about all the abilities the Skrulls possessed a few days prior. It was enlightening. Loki was a natural shapeshifter as well, not that he felt like sharing that piece of information, but the way the Skrulls could manipulate their bodies was something completely different. Loki could change into animal shapes, mimic faces and voices, change his skin colour or even gender, but he could not shift into objects, not could he simply grow extra limbs. A small curious part of him could not wait to see the rest of their shifting powers, it was fascinating and not magical in nature at all. He would’ve felt if either of the girls had a speck of magic in them, but there was none. However they shifted it was a physical ability, something in their very bodies, in their flesh and bones, allowing them to be so very fluid in their shapes.

‘You’re from the Silver Galaxy, aren’t you?’ Juyu asked and finally looked at him. Loki was wondering how their home was called in this part of the universe. He assumed right as it looked like. They used a very similar name in the Nine Realms, Silfrám, the SilverRiver that birthed the Yggdrasil. The girl was more perceptive than he gave her credit for.

‘You won’t be here long enough for that to matter,’ Loki told her.

‘It is good to know regardless,’ Juyu said and went back to cleaning. Loki left when he finished his fruit.

It was only a few hours later when Juyu found them in Stark’s workshop. The human was working on his suit while Loki was finishing up the half-done engraving on his own armour. She strode up to them and stopped right before the workbench. Stark did not bother to look up or did not notice her entering. He was quite engrossed in this work. So Loki shoved at him a little to get his attention, Stark looked up at him questioningly. Loki slid his eyes in Juyu’s direction, that was when the human finally noticed her.

‘Hey! Is something the matter?’ Stark asked. The girl stared at them for a moment before her face turned resolute and she crossed her arms.

‘I have a deal to offer,’ she said. Stark put his tools down with a frown.

‘And what deal is that supposed to be?’ Stark asked. Loki turned around fully as well to look at her.

‘I know you want to go home, and I know that your home is in the Silver Galaxy,’ she started.

Stark looked confused not recognizing the name, but he did not interrupt.

‘And I know that you are running from something,’ Juyu continued. ‘I know not what, but you are.’

‘I would be very careful about what you say next,’ Stark said, his voice suddenly hard, his face even more so. Juyu fell silent for a moment, then she took a breath and raised her chin stubbornly.

‘You need a map, am I right?’ she asked. ‘This is a Cassiopeian ship, so it cannot have a map to the Silver Galaxy. Not even the traders of Andromeda travel that far.’

‘Your point is?’ Stark asked.

‘You won’t be able to get a map that goes further than the satellite galaxies from the streets,’ she said. Loki glanced at Stark to see what he thought about that. From his expression it seemed like he was contemplating whether to believe that.

‘Let’s say that’s true,’ Stark said. ‘Why are you telling us this right now?’

‘I could help you get one.’

‘And why would a little slave like you know where to get something like that?’ Loki asked. Juyu clenched her jaw.

‘The Empire fought wars in the Kree Galaxy. It orbits the Silver Galaxy, your home, it is one of its satellites, like the Cassiopeia is to the Andromeda. So obviously the Skrulls have maps there, since they sent armies one after another. Once you’re in Kree territory, you can easily find a way to the main Galaxy,’ she explained.

Loki shared a look with Stark again, who looked intrigued now. Loki was ready to admit that his interest was sparked as well.

‘Let me guess,’ Stark said after some silence. ‘The Skrulls don’t just give out their maps to anyone.’

It was the logical conclusion, Loki thought the same.

‘No, but they would be willing to give it to other Skrulls,’ she answered meaningfully.

‘You said you are offering a deal,’ Loki said. ‘So I assume that means you would be willing to help get our hands on a Skrull map.’

‘Yes,’ she nodded firmly.

‘And what do you want in return?’ Stark asked.

‘I want you to take me and my sister out of the Andromeda,’ she said. ‘Away from the Empire.’

Loki narrowed his eyes.

‘Now why would a Skrull want to be away form the Skrull Empire?’ Loki asked.

Juyu fell silent again for a few moments, obviously contemplating the answer, or deciding how to put her reasons into words.

‘I worry that being on Imperial territory would not be good for Bee,’ she said finally.

‘Why?’ Stark asked.

‘The Empire is not the oldest and largest interstellar empire without a reason. We are a warrior race, born and raised to serve the Empire and fight its wars. And there are many wars to be fought. I did not have to live in the Empire to hear plenty about it on the many planets I have lived on. You are to fearlessly and loyally execute any duties the Empire bestows upon you. Maybe we would be expected to join the ranks of the army. I’m young yet, healthy, I can still be trained, but Bee… she’s strong and a great shapeshifter, but she would not bow down and follow orders. She would not. And I don’t know what they would do to someone who’s… not completely sound in mind,’ she clenched her jaw tight and her fists clenched. It looked like saying that last part left a bitter taste in her mouth.

‘I do not know what would happen, but I do think they would want to separate us. I won’t abandon her, so I rather not go to the Empire.’

She was wound tight like a bow when she finished talking, her whole body tense. Her voice lost its firm tone and in the end she sounded like the almost child she was. Stubbornly trying to look brave, grown up too soon and afraid to act like anything else but an adult.

‘And where would you want to go?’

‘I don’t know,’ she shrugged. ‘Somewhere far. It doesn’t have to be the Silver Galaxy,’ she added quickly. ‘I’m sure there are enough planets on the way. I just want it to be far enough from the Empire, somewhere where Skrulls are not the menace children are frightened with.’

Loki felt his breath get stuck in his throat for a moment, before he was able to relax again. It did not look like either Stark or Juyu noticed.

‘We would not be a burden,’ Juyu started again. ‘I can help get the maps you need, but even after I can help… on the ship. I can work, I can do anything. I can fight too, I will fight if you want me to, against whoever’s chasing you… I’m useful,’ she ended with. ‘Stark, it’s… it’s a good deal for you too.’

Loki turned to look at the human who was leaning on his workbench looking at the girl.

‘Yeah, I get that,’ Stark said before he rubbed at his neck. He took a breath and stood up straight. ‘It’s up to Loki,’ he said.

Loki felt his eyebrows rising while Juyu let out a breathless, ‘What?’

‘I brought you on the ship without his consent and I promised we would only take you to the next system. It’s his ship too, it’s not just me calling the shots,’ Stark told her, then he turned to him.

Loki was staring at him with a slightly surprised expression. He expected Stark to agree and argue if he had to, he was always so intent on getting his way so far. He looked like he meant it now though, which was a pleasant change. He was sure that Stark had an opinion as well, but he kept his mouth shut and just looked at Loki. Pleasant surprise indeed. Loki felt a coil of satisfaction in his chest at the way the decision was handed over to him so easily. Someone so stubborn and head-strong like Stark giving away control like this, looking for all intents and purposes like he was ready to accept whatever decision Loki made. Very-very pleasant indeed. He did not try to stop the small smile that curled up his lips.

He held Stark’s steady gaze for another moment before he turned and looked at Juyu. She looked like she already lost a battle. Loki was never quiet about his dislike after all. He contemplated the advantages and disadvantages of agreeing for a few moments, this was not something to be hasty about.

‘Well,’ he started. ‘I doubt this far away anyone would be pursuing you two,’ he started. ‘So let us put it like this. It you can really aid us in acquiring one of these Skrull maps, you are allowed to stay longer. However, I want more details about how exactly you can help us. Once I made sure that you are not lying, that the Skrulls are truly the only ones in possession of such maps, you have yourself a deal, but not sooner than that.’

Juyu looked surprised for a split second then she nodded, her shoulders visibly relaxing a bit. The girl had a lot to learn about hiding her emotions. She clearly tried her best, but she was obvious like an open book.

‘We’ll talk about it again before we reach our next destination,’ Loki told her.

‘That’s still gonna be at least a few weeks,’ Stark added. ‘So no need to get into details just yet.’

Juyu nodded. ‘Thank you.’

‘Don’t thank us yet,’ Stark answered. She just nodded again and left without any other word.

‘Are we from the Silver Galaxy?’ Stark asked once she was gone.

‘Yes, Stark, that is indeed how they call your “Milky Way” around here.’ Stark hummed in a contemplating manner, obviously trying to decide whether he liked the name or not.

‘How long do you think she was gathering courage to have this discussion?’ he asked next after some pause.

‘A few days I would assume,’ Loki shrugged. ‘Maybe more. She’s been quite overly curious and fidgety.’

‘Yeah, she kind of really wears her heart on her sleeve,’ Stark agreed.

‘And you still spill too much personal information around others,’ Loki told him.

‘But since we established that they’re not spies, or if they are, they are really horrible at it, I don’t see why I need to be careful,’ he explained. Loki huffed out a small laugh.

‘Your big mouth will get you in trouble one day… well, more trouble that is.’

Stark grinned, ‘But I’m gonna have you to pull me out of it.’

‘Yes, you’re lucky you’re so useful,’ Loki chuckled.

‘Careful, you’re smothering me with affection,’ Stark smirked as he went back to tinker on his armour.

Loki turned on the laser chisel again as well to continue with his engraving.

‘I was not sure you would say yes,’ Stark said after a while.

‘The advantages this could give us outweighed the possible dangers,’ Loki explained. ‘You wanted to say yes, didn’t you?’

‘Yeah, I kinda did,’ Stark shrugged.

‘And would you have argued if I’d said no?’ Loki asked. Stark stayed silent for a few moments before he cleared his throat.

‘No,’ he said.

‘Really? I would have told you that we’re kicking them out at the next planet and you would have not said a word?’

‘I would not have been too happy about it, but yeah, I would’ve shut up,’ Stark said. Loki frowned.

‘Why?’

Stark looked up at him again.

‘That’s the thing about partnership,’ Stark told him. ‘It’s you and me, we’re a team. I’m not saying that I won’t ever do something you do not agree with, because I totally will, but when it comes to things that concern you as much as they concern me, I will try to not do that.’

‘And I assume you expect me to do the same,’ Loki said.

‘Yeah, that would be nice. I could appreciate that.’

Loki looked at him again for a moment. He couldn’t remember anyone who ever tried to keep up equality this much. He did not seem to want to lead, but Loki knew he also refused to follow. It was something he could actually understand. The one who leads is the one carrying the weight of responsibility, which was a heavy burden. While following meant bowing down to another’s will and that was something every fibre of Loki’s being rebelled against. He did not like to lead, but he hated to follow. What was left? To walk side-by-side, only most refused to allow that, or were not capable to do so. The either took control or surrendered to others, they either forced others to bow or were born to bow down. Loki tried to take the place of the one in control, but it suited him ill, the weight of those who needed to be led chained him down. He spent most of his life bowing to the will of others and his very spirit revolted against it until one day he snapped free and tried to burn everything in his way in his newfound freedom. Could he walk beside someone? He hoped for too long to walk beside Thor instead of behind him, but all his hopes were for naught, he was never allowed to step up next to him.

Thor followed a path that was set by others, the road of honour and valour and battle. He was order, the one who was meant to lead, the one others willingly bowed to, the one they looked up to, and the one who proudly wore its weight like he wore his scarlet cape. Loki was chaos, he walked paths no one ever walked before, the road of shadows and fire and destruction.

Stark was a child of chaos, he walked the road of fire, the burning flame of life and creation. There was destruction in him in the purest form of revenge and there were shadows of death trailing behind him to taint the perfection. Create and destroy, destroy and create.

‘It’s you and me,’ Loki said in the end. ‘We do walk this road together.’

‘Aw, I knew you liked me, Reindeer Games,’ Stark told him. Loki did not have to look up to know how the smirk on his face looked like.

‘You wish, Stark. You wish,’ Loki replied in a similar tone. Child of Chaos, a little Phoenix burning in the heart of a mortal man. Maybe he could truly walk the road of fire beside him. Loki would have to wait and see.

Chapter Text

For the hundredth time that day when Tony glanced up from his work he found Loki’s eyes on him. It was not a novelty, since Loki always seemed to try and figure things out only by staring at them for a long time. If he did not know what kind of reaction it would cause, he would have told him already how Bee seemed to be the same. There were subtle things about her face when she stared at something. Tony could read curiosity, confusion and wariness, once he was almost certain that he saw a tiny hint of amusement in the way her eyebrows lifted. Loki was easier to read in a way, he had incredible control over his face and body language, but Tony spent enough time around him to pick up on the small things. This stare he could not identify.

‘What is it?’ he asked in the end.

‘What is what?’ Loki asked. He blinked and his face smoothed out to a neutral expression. Sometimes not showing anything was the biggest tell with Loki.

‘You’ve been staring,’ Tony told him as he raised an eyebrow questioningly. Loki stayed silent for a few moments, looking at him, his neutral mask not changing.

‘Your hair,’ he said then. That was not something he expected.

‘What about it?’ he asked.

‘It’s hideous. Cut it,’ Loki told him firmly.

‘Why are we talking about my hair?’ Tony was confused. Okay, so his hair was ridiculously long at this point, he never had it this long in his life, but he was not overly concerned about it.

‘For our plan to work you will have to look and act in a certain way. No one will take you seriously if you look like some common hayseed.’

‘Uh, excuse you. Have you looked at yourself and that mane you’re walking around with?’ He was still very confused about this conversation. And Loki’s hair was indeed very long, it reached his shoulder blades, he had to tie it up if he wanted to do something otherwise it always fell into his face.

‘That is different, you do not have the face to look dignified with it.’

‘Did you just call me ugly?’ Tony asked. He was so utterly confused that it was starting to morph into ridiculous amusement.

‘I believe I called you a hayseed,’ Loki replied. ‘It means peasant, if you were wondering.’

Loki’s face was still neutral, but his tone was not. He was amused.

‘Oh, I’m sorry your highness, is my hair offending your delicate royal sensibilities?’

Loki looked up at him for a moment before he stood up and walked to where Tony was sitting near his workbench.

‘Yes,’ he said simply. ‘Cut it.’ It took a moment before he realized that Loki was actually holding out fucking scissors for him, he was serious.

‘I don’t like being handed things,’ Tony replied automatically. Loki looked unimpressed. ‘Where’d you get the scissors anyway?’

‘Medical supplies,’ Loki answered holding them out for Tony. ‘Cut it, I mean it.’

‘No,’ Tony said.

‘Stark.’

‘No.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I’m gonna look like a pre-schooler after a serious gum incident if I try it,’ Tony explained.

Loki look confused. ‘What?’

‘I don’t know how to cut my own hair, I’ve never done it before and I'd rather not try. It’s better to look like a… hayseed, than like a complete moron.’

The expression on Loki’s face told him that the god already believed him to be a complete moron or something equally flattering.

‘Fine,’ Loki huffed then pulled the chair Tony was sitting on away from the workbench with a single movement.

‘Hey-hey, what are you doing?’

‘Just stay still,’ Loki ordered. It took Tony but a moment to figure it out what as happening when Loki stepped behind him.

‘No, hey hell no, you’re not cutting my hair,’ Tony objected.

‘No one is going to believe you’re a serious ship captain looking like this,’ Loki told him.

‘No way.’

‘Don’t be a child, Stark,’ Loki told him firmly.

‘Have you ever cut hair before?’

‘Don’t you trust me?’ the god asked.

‘I trust you not to kill or hurt me. I don’t trust you not to amuse yourself on my expense,’ Tony answered.

Loki stayed silent for a moment, then chuckled.

‘Yes, I cut hair before,’ he said simply. ‘Stay still.’

Tony resigned himself when he felt Loki’s hand turn his head forward.

‘Commander,’ Tony said after a moment.

‘Hm?’

‘I’m gonna go with Commander and not Captain, sounds more… space-y.’

‘Whatever you say, Stark.’

It was a strange feeling to have Loki’s fingers comb through his hair, smoothing it out.

‘I don’t want some ridiculous military cut though,’ Tony told him. He had his hair that short once, he looked like a criminal.

‘I’m going to leave a couple of inches, do not worry,’ Loki said. Tony still almost moved away at the first cut. Loki did not work fast the way hairdressers or barbers always did, but he seemed sure about what he was doing, so Tony relaxed after a few moments. That was the thing about haircuts, the way Loki ran his fingers through his hair over and over again was really relaxing. Tony already knew he had a steady and precise hand, he watched him work on his armour enough to see that, how his long slender fingers never wavered. Tony wondered if he played any instruments, he could surely draw, that was obvious from the engravings he could make. It was not something he would’ve expected from someone like Loki. But contradiction seemed to be his thing, so Tony tried not to be surprised. He also made use of the leather he bought on Wobb-Lar. He only made simple vests and tunics not designer clothes, but it was still more than Tony could’ve done if it came down to it.

‘You’re a prince, why can you do things like this?’ Tony asked.

‘What things?’ Loki asked.

‘Things like forging blades, engraving metal, clothes… cutting hair. Maybe it’s different in Asgard, but on Earth princes are not famous for having such skills.’

‘No, it is not so in Asgard either,’ Loki replied after a pause. ‘Now elves on the other hand are quite different.’

‘The ones in Alfheim?’ Tony asked. He remembered there were several types.

‘Yes,’ Loki answered. ‘The elves value skills of creation, they are not a warrior-race like the Aesir, and they do not expect their nobles to learn nothing but battle and politics. In Asgard the best way to prove yourself is through battle. You need to know how to wield a sword, a spear or an axe. You need to be good at hunting. Those are the most important skills for a man. Gutting and crushing and killing.’

‘Sounds dull,’ Tony remarked.

‘Incredibly so,’ Loki agreed. ‘Battle can be exciting and so can be training, but there’s only so much mindless hacking and smashing one can bear before it becomes infuriatingly monotonous.’

‘And the elves?’

‘Elves value the crafts of creation, forging, sewing, carving, currying, engraving, magecraft. They do not believe that picking up a weapon and knowing how to pierce or smash someone with it is a true skill on its own. An elf warrior needs to make his or her own weapon, carve their own bow or forge their own blade. They need to be able to make their own armour out of leather or metal and be able to enchant it at least with some basic runes. A weaponsmith mage is one of the most respected members of elven society. Care to guess how much respect such a man or woman would get in Asgard?’

‘From your tone, I assume not much.’

‘There was an elven seamstress. She was a mage and she created the most magnificent enchanted cloaks, simple silk and wool that could not be burnt by fire, cloaks that made no sound in the wind. She was treated like a simple handmaiden by most when she visited Asgard. They called her creations pretty and asked if she could make some gowns for the court ladies. One of the most skilled mages I have ever met and they expected her to sit down and make silly dresses with jewels and laces. She was wise and did not take offense. I would have.’

‘Did you spend a lot of time with the elves?’ Tony asked.

‘Not as much as I would have liked to,’ Loki answered. ‘I had duties to attend to in Asgard and the court did not look kindly at such crafts. Most of them are considered to be womanly. Others are considered too inferior for noble Aesir. A Prince of Asgard should be an honourable warrior, who fights true battles with blood and steel, he should only get dirty in the training yard! Leave the forging to the dwarves; it’s their place to sweat next to burning coal.’

‘You’re kind of pulling my hair,’ Tony interrupted him. Loki was getting angry, it was best to calm the flames before they really erupted.

‘Apologies,’ Loki said and ran his fingers through Tony’s hair again a few times, almost soothingly. Then he made him turn his head down.

‘So you’ve been with the elves once in a while to learn magic and while you were there you also picked up some other skills.’

‘I did not see the point in doing nothing but training, hunting and feasting like a proper prince,’ Loki said. ‘I did learn the arts of war as it was expected, I did learn to fight like a warrior, how to hunt and how to gut and skin your kill. The Aesir are not barbarians, but they look down upon many great skills they feel like are below of a man in my status. Well… my old status.’

‘They would not like me up there,’ Tony said.

‘You would be treated like a simple blacksmith, or like a magic-wielder. I do not know which is worse to be honest. Warriors at least respect a blacksmith’s craft, even if they do not consider it to be on their level. I do not think that most think about how much skill it actually takes to forge a blade or prepare armour.’

‘Or wield magic?’ Tony asked. Loki chuckled.

‘Oh yes, how could simple “tricks” be as worthy a skill as the wielding of a blade? It takes such incredible practice to be a true warrior, hard training day after day, while magic is just a few flicks with a hand and nothing more.’

‘Ouch, that sounds like a quote,’ Tony winced.

‘One of Thor’s friends,’ Loki agreed.

‘The elves sound better,’ Tony concluded. ‘I like them more already.’

‘You would. I am sure they would be most fascinated by your creations.’

‘Okay, so elves are like “You’re not a real man unless you can make your own pants”?

Loki laughed quietly. ‘It is more like “you’re not an adult if you need others to do everything for you”. There are of course those who perfect one skill or another and there is no shame in asking for their work. You can buy a sword or a bow, but most rather just ask the help of a master in forging their own weapons. Sometimes they ask a tailor or a seamstress for a piece of clothing and then they decorate it themselves.’

‘I’m totally not an adult among the elves,’ Tony chuckled.

Loki finished cutting his hair at the back and slid his hand under his chin to tilt his head back.

‘At least you finally learnt how to shave on your own properly,’ he said. Tony rolled his eyes.

‘I used to shave on my own, but I had my own razors. Action movies totally lied to me. It is not easy to shave with a simple blade. I’m glad I did not accidentally cut my own throat.’

His goatee was still not like it used to be. It was more circular and thicker, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. He stared up at Loki’s face while the god ran his fingers through his hair at his forehead.

‘I’ve been meaning to ask,’ Tony said. ‘How come you don’t have a beard?’ he asked. Loki’s face was always completely smooth, not even in prison did he grow a beard, not even stubble. Thor had a beard, so he doubted it was an Aesir thing.

‘Curious?’ Loki asked.

‘Kinda,’ Tony shrugged. ‘I mean your hair grows and you have eyebrows and eyelashes, but no facial hair. It kinda made me wonder if…’ he fell silent realizing where his sentence was going.

‘If?’ Loki prompted. He was not smiling; not really, it was a smile without an actual smile, if it was possible. His whole face was a bit soft, like when he was smiling, only his lips did not curl.

‘I mean, I saw you shirtless,’ Tony said. ‘Not that I was paying attention, cause I was bleeding to death at the moment.’ His mind went back to that day, how they’ve arrived back to the ship, how Loki had to pin him down while the elixir started working on him. He really was not in the best shape, but he could remember that Loki had a smooth chest, his skin white and pale just like on his face and neck.

‘And?’ Loki asked while he cut off another few locks of hair.

‘So I couldn’t help but think if, you know… if that’s the case everywhere.’ Okay, so his mind decided to spill all kinds of unfiltered crap out of his mouth. Not that he was embarrassed or anything, he made a dick joke while Loki was invading Earth, he obviously had no decency.

Loki put two fingers under his chin again to lift his face up and look down at him. There was a strange glint in his eyes and quite a lot of amusement as well.

‘Stark,’ he said smoothly, his voice pleasantly light. ‘What’s under the belt is for those to know I get naked for.’ Then he smirked and pushed Tony’s head forward again so he was forced to look right ahead. Tony cleared his throat and sat straight. He did not know how they went from elf blacksmiths to what Loki did or did not have under the belt. It was weird, in a bizarre entertaining way. He became also a lot more aware of Loki’s fingers combing through his hair now.

‘So silent all of a sudden?’ Loki asked.

‘You’re doing your sweet voice,’ Tony realized. It was the tone that either meant that Loki wanted something, or that some incredible violence was coming up in the immediate future.

‘Really?’

‘Yes. The question is why,’ Tony continued.

‘I feel like being kind today,’ Loki told him.

‘Why?’

‘There’s this saying about gift horses and their teeth, Stark,’ he said. ‘So do shut up.’

‘Seriously, it makes me suspicious. Are you up to something?’

‘No.’

‘Why don’t I believe you?’

Loki just chuckled in answer before he started sweeping off the hair from Tony’s neck and shoulders. It prickled Tony’s skin and he felt that a lot of hair got under his shirt.

‘You should probably clean up,’ Loki suggested before he ran his fingers through his hair again. Then he moved and stepped in front of Tony, grabbing his chin to tilt his head up again. He combed a few locks to the side then. Tony looked at him, but the god’s eyes were on his own fingers in Tony’s hair.

‘Loki.’

‘Hm?’

‘You’re weird today.’

The god’s eyes slid down to Tony’s face and he grinned widely. It was one of his shark smiles, as Tony called it, all teeth and strangely glinting eyes.

‘Aren’t I always?’ he asked. He had a point, but there was still something strange going on that Tony could not put his finger on.

‘So… I don’t look like a peasant anymore?’ Tony asked.

‘No,’ Loki said as he let go of him. ‘Go clean up while I finish up your armour.’

‘I still wanted to check the helmet’s--’

‘You already checked everything. Go. Now,’ Loki insisted and shoved him out of his chair. Tony huffed in annoyance, but stood up and headed towards their room.

‘Bossy bastard,’ he grumbled.

‘Petulant brat,’ Loki replied without a beat, not even bothering to turn around. Tony snorted and left. When he could check himself in a mirror finally he felt strange for a moment. He already got used to his face looking slightly younger over the past months, but now that his hair was short again it was like he was hurled back in time. Loki did not cut his hair too short, it was about as long as it was after Afghanistan, he could even comb it into the same style. Only his eyes were different. He could not hide all that he’s been through even if the wrinkles caused by too little sleep and too much alcohol and stress were gone. He thought about Loki’s porcelain smooth skin and how everything always faded from his face. No wrinkles from stress or the lack of sleep, and even if he was hurt and weakened all trace of it was gone in a few days. You could not look at him and just know all the things he’s seen and suffered and he was a lot better at not showing it with his eyes. Sometimes Tony caught glimpses of it, Loki’s true age, all the centuries behind his gaze and felt very-very young.

He got into the shower and chased the thoughts away. If he started thinking about it, he would drive himself crazy with questions. Or even worse, his curiosity would take hold of him and he would drive Loki crazy with his questions. Maybe he could get away with it today. Loki seemed… he didn’t even have a word for it… nice… no… amused… a little… almost playful… yes… bossy without being a complete asshole… something like that… flirty… … Tony snorted. No, definitely not that.

Chapter Text

 

As straightforward as the plan was, Loki had quite a lot of misgivings concerning it. Planet Yirb, and the Yirbeks who inhabited it, were loyal servants of the Skrull Empire. Juyu’s information about the planet was not too bad, but it could have been better. Yirb was not a major base of operations, so they could not expect too many Skrull soldiers if any at all, which was to their advantage. It was said that the Yirbeks themselves sent out probes towards the Silver Galaxy, so there was a chance that they would be able to get the much needed maps from them, they would not have to search for any Skrulls then. Juyu and Bee helped themselves to the clothes found in the cargo, after that they looked a lot more like soldiers or spies than slaves. Bee even shifted her hair short without anyone having to ask her. It was another proof that she paid a lot of attention to what was going on around her. Maybe it would have been better to leave her on the ship, but Stark and Loki agreed that it was not a good idea. It was better to have her in their sight.

There were problems of course. The biggest was that Yirb’s gravitation was 150% of Midgard’s. Stark had to carry a considerable weight now that he had his armour finished to begin with, the gravitational pull made it a lot worse. Considering Stark’s weight, the armour and the extra gravitation… he must’ve felt like he was almost three hundred pounds heavy. First Stark said he would be fine, but in the end Loki stared at him angrily until he caved and activated his armour and let the machine carry the weight for him. Juyu informed him that they had their ways to adjust to such circumstances. Loki assumed they shifted something inside of their bodies, but he did not ask. They could walk without a problem, only that mattered. Loki himself was not bothered by the extra weight at all, it took him a little time to get used to it, but it did not tire him out. Stark seemed to be envious of that. The atmosphere was suitable at least, so Stark did not have to put his helmet on as well.

Now Yirbeks were also obsessively hateful towards any race that was not their masters the Skrulls. This also meant that Stark and Loki would have to stay in the background and let Juyu play leader. The girl shifted before they landed. She remained in her Skrull form, but made herself even taller and broader and slightly older looking. This way the clothes she picked fitted her perfectly. The Yirbeks could not see through shape shifting, so if they did not do anything to indicate otherwise, they would most likely assume that Loki and Stark were Skrulls as well, only in a different form. They had a suitable explanation in case they realized this was not the case.

Having non-Skrull clothes and weapons was also easy to explain, since the Skrulls were indeed remarkable spies and did venture outside of the Empire in disguise quite a lot. Again, most likely there would be no questions asked. The Yirbeks would do what they are told, Juyu assured them. She heard plenty of stories about the loyal brutes of the Skrulls. Besides, Loki thought of plenty of plans in case something did not play out as expected. He would have been a fool to land on a planet unprepared, led by two Skrulls like this. He was still slightly surprised when Stark sat up in his bed the previous night and asked Loki what their fail-safe plans were. Loki smiled and asked him if he did not trust the girls. The human’s only reply was that not as much as he trusted Loki. Satisfaction coiled warmly in him whenever Stark said something like that. So Loki told him some of the possibilities they had in case something went wrong. They were prepared.

Once day landed, this time in an aerodrome and not outside of the city, they let Juyu talk to the Yirbek who came to greet them. Loki was standing by the Drake with Stark and Bee, but he still tried to listen to the conversation. When Juyu was back she motioned them to step back inside the shuttle.

‘I’ve been told that a man named Murrow is the one to ask for any sort of data and maps for ships. They also told us where to find him. It’s not even far, still inside the aerodrome.’

‘Great,’ Stark said. ‘Let’s go then.’

‘It would be very strange if we let the shuttle unguarded,’ Juyu said.

‘I thought the Yirbeks were supposed to be loyal to the Skrulls,’ Loki said.

‘Yes, but loyalty is one thing, trust is another,’ Juyu said. ‘Skrulls do not trust others, sometimes not even each other.’

‘Plus maybe we have to make a hasty exit,’ Stark said. ‘I don’t feel good about leaving the Drake here just like that either.’

‘We need to separate,’ Juyu said.

‘That is never a good idea,’ Loki told her immediately.

‘I do not see any other option,’ Juyu replied. ‘I could go with Stark to Murrow and you could…’

‘I am not staying behind,’ Loki said right away.

‘I definitely have to go,’ Juyu said. ‘And who knows what is needed better than Stark? We cannot leave Bee here alone.’

 Loki glared at her, but then Stark put his hand on his arm.

‘It looks like that is the way to go,’ he said.

‘You cannot be serious,’ Loki objected. ‘You’re not walking off on your own.’

‘I won’t be alone. I’ll have Juyu with me, and I have my suit now too.’

‘Stark.’

‘It’s not ideal, but we’re wasting time,’ Stark said. ‘If we’re not back in two hours, you can come and rescue me again.’

‘You better not get into trouble, Stark,’ Loki warned him. They talked about what to do in case they got separated, but it still did not sit right with Loki to do it so willingly.

‘You got it,’ Stark smirked and stepped out of the Drake with Juyu. Loki looked after them for a moment then he looked down at Bee. The girl was staring after the two with narrowed eyes as well.

‘At least I’m not the only one who hates this,’ Loki remarked.

They were still within the two hours, but Loki was pacing the back of the Drake impatiently. Bee stood silently on the side, either watching Loki or gazing out of the open doorway.

‘It was stupid to let them go like this,’ Loki said, even if he knew he would not get an answer from the Skrull girl. He should’ve just gone instead of Juyu, but then the Drake would have been left with the two Skrulls, which was equally unacceptable. He could see why Stark felt like this was the best solution, but it still annoyed Loki. He was also starting to feel like they should’ve been back already.

‘In case we need to go after them,’ Loki stopped finally and looked at Bee. She tilted her head curiously. Her red eyes focused on him intensely, which was still slightly disturbing for Loki. ‘If they’re not back in time, it means that not just Stark, but your sister is in trouble as well,’ Loki continued. ‘So if we have to go after them, you will have to follow my lead and do what I tell you.’

She narrowed her eyes at him.

‘Come now. Surely your kin is more important to you than defiance,’ Loki said. Bee still looked vaguely unimpressed. ‘And the opportunity to spill some blood again must be also quite tempting.’ Her gaze hardened slightly at those words. ‘Do not look at me like that. I recognize bloodlust when I see it. I’ve been around berserkers my whole life, I do not miss the signs. There’s quite a vicious beast lurking behind your pretty face.’

Loki couldn’t help but be a little fascinated by that. Aesir berserkers were always robust men, raw power in their every muscle and the lust for battle behind their gaze. He easily recognized when a warrior like that was eager to let his rage loose. Seeing a very similar glint in the eyes of someone who looked so breakable was quite interesting. Stark informed him about what Juyu told him of their past. Loki couldn’t help but wonder if the girl missed some very vital things about her big sister. Little Bee certainly did not look like she minded spilling blood, it did not matter what forced her to do it for the first time.

‘We may have to reach them quietly,’ Loki continued. ‘But maybe we have to make… quite a mess…’

Bee’s face twitched a little, but it was enough for Loki.

‘I see you understand what I need from you now,’ Loki said. The girl was a feral little thing, she could be guided, but not controlled. A lifetime with Thor, who always wanted to smash something with his hammer first and foremost, made Loki very good at guiding such a storm. You could not stop it, but you could turn it in the right direction.

Some time passed in silence again and Loki was growing impatient. He had at least a dozen scenarios running in his head about all the things that could’ve gone wrong already. He knew Stark was good at taking care of himself, especially in his armour. Juyu was armed as well, Stark made her carry a gun (Rule #2), so they were well prepared in case they were attacked. He was also rather sure that Juyu would not risk her sister by betraying them. Loki would not hesitate to wring Bee’s neck if something like that happened and Juyu had to be aware of that.

Bee and Loki turned towards the door at the same time when they noticed someone approaching. Three Yirberks were walking towards them, not armed, but considering how physically impressive they looked, Loki was not surprised. He walked closer to stand in front of them. Juyu was not doing a bad job at playing leader, but she was nowhere close to Loki’s expertise. He was raised to be a general, a king, you could not fake things like that easily.

‘You are to take us to your ship,’ the one standing at the front told him.

‘No,’ Loki replied right away. Tone even.

‘Do not argue.’

‘You forget your place,’ Loki told them slowly, only subtly threatening.

‘She is a child,’ the one standing at the front gestured at Bee. ‘And you and the metal man are no Skrulls, so I take no orders from you,’ he said. Ah, so something was indeed happening with Stark and Juyu. ‘You do what we tell you.’

He saw from the corner of his eye how Bee straightened up. She was ready to attack, Loki was sure. The Yirbeks eyed them in a way that was surely meant to be intimidating. It was fortunate that Loki did not fully trust Juyu’s skills of deception, but that was why more than one plan was needed. He raised his chin and sent one of his most chilling glares at the three Yirbeks before he started to shift.

There was a reason why he insisted asking many-many questions about the Skrulls, not just because of their powers. He needed to know as much as possible for something like this. He would’ve needed more magic if he wanted to change his clothes, but shapeshifting, that was something base, something deep in his bones, in his every cell. He did not need extra power to change something so very simple like skin texture and colour, body heat, the shape of his ears, he could even leave his eyes green. He even remembered Juyu’s remark about Skrull men not having any hair on their heads. Certainly, it was not the most attractive look, but watching the Yirbeks’ faces as he turned was quite satisfying. He was sure he made quite a fine Skrull.

‘I think you realize now, that you’ve just made a very big mistake,’ Loki said in a cold tone.

‘But we were--’

‘Bee,’ Loki said. ‘I think they just threatened us.’ The little Skrull’s red eyes locked on the Yirbeks and one of her arms started rippling and shifting. Loki was right about her, with the collar she had to wear before, it must’ve been quite a while since she could let go and fight. Let the beast roar. That berserker rage locked up so tightly within had to be one of the reasons why she was so very tense all the time.

‘We need only one,’ he added. Bee’s arm took on the new shape and Loki was not that surprised to see that it was some sort of an axe. It looked crude, even if its blade was sharp. She had probably never seen a real finely made battle axe.

Loki knew that there were not many options. No place for glares or verbal intimidation. The Yirbeks were supposed to be obedient servants and follow the orders of the Skrulls unquestioningly. This was blatant disobedience and from what he knew of the Skrulls, no man in a position of power would let something like this go unpunished, he was absolutely certain of that. He would have to make a point now or they would not be able to get what they came for. Again, it was lucky that he was prepared for this possibility.

Bee moved the same moment he did. Loki grabbed the one standing at the front by the neck. He was bigger than Loki and wider too, but he still managed to grip him tightly and lift him up from the ground a little. He did not fight him, not now when he looked like a Skrull. So Loki just locked his eyes on him and kept him dangling in the air without blinking, not even glancing to the side. Not when he heard the first crunch of bones, an axe sliding into flesh, a sound he knew very well. There was an aborted shout, so the axe was obviously aimed at the neck and the snapping bone was the spine. He heard how Bee landed on the floor before she leaped up again. The other Yirbek moved back to get away, but his step was abruptly cut off and there was another familiar sound, the sound of a skull splitting open. Loki did not move, and he did not look away from the one he had in his grip, just stared at him evenly while it was happening. By the end, when the second body hit the floor as well, he looked suitably terrified.

He was right about little Bee, she was dangerous, very dangerous indeed.

‘Now I suggest you take me to the others,’ Loki said. He had to play leader now, it was necessary, but at least he would be better at it. The risk was greater of course, as he was not a real Skrull, but he was good enough to fool these reptiles. He did not think anyone but the Skrulls could shapeshift here in the Andromeda, so he already proved himself suitably.

The Yirbek nodded without a word and Loki let go of him. Bee still had her arm turned into an axe, blood and bits of flesh and bone dripping down from the blade while she eyed the man as he lead the way. The Yirbek did not look at the two dead ones, but hurried along. Loki followed and when he reached Bee the girl smiled. Others would have probably found it an unsettling smile. Well, at least Loki found the right tone with her.

She walked beside Loki as they followed the man. There were other Yirbeks staring at them, but none made a move, none even looked them in the eye. They made an example. Their position was secured for now. There was also something very satisfying about walking around like this, looked at like this. Sure, he used their fear of the Skrull Empire to achieve it, but they won’t be here long enough to suffer any consequences. Well, if they hurried, that is.

He did not tell about this plan to Stark, mostly because he did not expect to be apart like this, nor was he sure that he would be forced to take on a Skrull disguise. This was one of the riskiest plans he had, but now there was no turning back from it. At least he could be certain that Stark would take everything in stride and follow Loki’s lead. It was a reassuring thought. He never had this sort of certainty before. This guarantee, that he could count on the man to follow him. It would make everything easier. In the past it did not matter how brilliant his plans were, they were never executed correctly. Mostly Thor, but sometimes Sif and the three idiots decided to act on their own, to disregard Loki’s plans and charge into battle or speak up when they should have stayed silent. Stark was stubborn, not someone to follow orders and likely to let his mouth run, but Loki still knew that he would follow a plan. So as he walked towards the tower-high building his confidence was not faked. Bee was vicious, but not out of control, Juyu was too young and careless, but smart enough to do what was needed to be done. And Stark was someone he could trust, no matter how dire their situation was. That thought alone made him feel stronger than he felt in a very long time.

Chapter Text

 

Murrow was suspicious from the get go. He seemed too helpful in a way. He reminded Tony of unpleasant businessmen who kissed your ass when you were there and tried to undermine you the second you turned around. He was also a lot older than the rest of the Yirbeks they saw. Juyu was curt and confident in everything she said, which was a good enough act. She asked for the maps while being suitably vague and used a tone that made it clear that she was not to be argued with. Considering this was her first rodeo, she did very well. Then the old man gestured and asked to be followed so that the right maps were chosen, so this time only Tony followed. They did not go far, only to the next room.

‘That is a very interesting armour you have there,’ the man grunted once they were on their way.

‘Indeed,’ Tony replied.

‘I can’t decide whether you’re a Skrull, or some strange little lapdog,’ Murrow said next. Tony had quite a lot of things he could’ve answered to that, but he swallowed all down. Not the time to be bothered by some poking. So he just kept walking.

‘There are not many warm-bloods in the Empire,’ Murrow continued not acknowledging Tony’s silence. ‘Well, not anymore.’ Murrow looked at him again to see if he got any reaction out of him. Tony realized the old man wanted to figure him out. ‘Makes me wonder which kind you are out of the remaining few.’

‘What happened to the “maybe I’m a Skrull” theory?’ Tony asked.

‘We just passed a gate that would have let me know if you were a shapeshifter,’ the man answered. Tony bit back the curse that wanted to escape his mouth. This was not a problem. He had a few suitable explanations up his sleeve.

‘Hm, clever,’ he said instead.

‘Technology from before the war,’ Murrow continued when they finally reached a heavy door. Tony could’ve tried to see what the Yirbek entered to the panel on the side, but it would have been even more suspicious. ‘I’ve fought in it, you see.’

‘Which war?’

‘The Skrull Invasion,’ the man answered then stepped inside. Tony followed. He was not concerned, he had his suit on, the DNI was active, repulsors available.

The room inside was a bit bigger than the previous office. There were dozens of displays active in the air, most of them star maps, but some of them showed different parts of the aerodrome and the tower they were in right now. Tony also noticed that in the end of the room the displays were projected in a smaller form. When he looked more closely he realized that there were small almost translucent little discs lined up one after another and every one of them had a different picture coming out of them. They had to be some sort of optical discs, only none of them was bigger than a dollar coin. They were probably not the same kind of technology as the discs on Earth.

‘I still remember how the propaganda changed,’ Murrow said again as he gazed at the displays. ‘One day we were told to hold on, that we will stand victorious and that we shall not allow the oppressions. Next everything was about how the Empire has brought the golden age, how we have been lifted up to stand beside the greatest race of the universe.’

‘Not that I don’t appreciate the history lesson, but I also don’t really care. Can we get back to what we came here for?’ Tony asked. He did not like where the conversation was going. That kind of tone reminded him of bitter veterans, those who lost a limb, a friend or family, or their sanity in the war, and decided that Tony deserved a punch in the face or even better a bullet in his head for his contribution as weapon manufacturer. Oh how ignorant he was back then. He shrugged at the crazy PTSD soldier and smiled at the cameras while the police dealt with his attacker. He really hated to remember those times. He sort of wondered why there were only a handful of attempts like that, there should have been more probably.

‘You see I wonder,’ Murrow talked again, still standing more by the door than the displays. ‘Are you from a planet like this? Some great imperial territory? Or are you one of those spineless little worms who joined them for power and money?’

Oh not good, not good conversation at all. Tony turned fully towards the old man to look at him.

‘How about we get this over with and then you won’t have to wonder?’ Tony offered. He kept his stance relaxed for now, well as relaxed as he could be in his suit.

‘No, a lot depends on your answer,’ Murrow said. The door behind him slid close, the heavy metal locking into place while the man stared at him with his red eyes. ‘And on what you decide to do.’

Tony was not even pretending to be relaxed at this point. And he wondered if their luck was that bad that they actually stumbled upon one of the few Yirbeks who were not as obedient to the Skrulls as they were supposed to be. He almost wanted to snort, because of course their luck was that bad. When was their luck not bad? He was really starting to think that Loki’s whole chaos god nature really attracted all this crap. It was not the time to think about that though.

‘Yeah? Do any of my options include turning you into a bloody smear on the wall?’ he asked.

The Yirbek chuckled. ‘You won’t get out of this room if you do so.’

‘Don’t be so sure of that,’ Tony replied. ‘How about you reconsider whatever it is you’re doing and then maybe you get out of this relatively unharmed?’

‘And how about you stay put while my boys take care of the Skrulls?’ Murrow asked in return. ‘And then you’re free to go.’

Tony just stared at him.

‘You see why your answer is important?’ the old reptilian asked. ‘If you were forced to serve, like me, now’s your chance to get rid of your leash.’

Ah great, freedom fighter. Those were always so delightfully not fanatical… nope, not at all.

‘Murrow, these are not the kind of Skrulls you should be worried about,’ Tony told him.

‘All Skrulls are to be worried about, if you do not know that yet, boy, you will find yourself dead very soon,’ the old man’s eyes were burning with anger as spoke. ‘You have some time to decide, once the Skrulls are dead we’ll see if you will follow their fate or not.’

‘You really think that I couldn’t just kill you right now?’ Tony asked. Sure the reptilian was big, huge and muscular, but Tony had weapons. Murrow did not know that.

‘And like I said, you would stay locked inside here even if you managed to do that,’ the reptilian answered. ‘Do not be a fool, boy. Don’t risk yourself for some Skrulls. I’m willing to let you go once they’re in pieces. You only have to behave.’

Tony knew that was not going to happen. Not just because it didn’t sit right with him to let the girls get killed. Juyu was not helpless, she was armed and if they did not catch her by surprise she could fight back very well until Tony got out. Only Murrow said “Skrulls”, plural, so they were after Bee too, which meant that they were going to Loki. And Loki was not going to screw around if he’s threatened, he would turn things very bloody very quickly instead. Tony was sure of that.

‘You could make this beneficial for you,’ Murrow spoke again. ‘Why did the Skrulls want maps to the Silver Galaxy and its satellites?’

Tony wanted to laugh really. At least it was certain that their cover was perfect, only they managed to find the one crazy old Yirbek that still wanted to rebel. There had to be chaos god vibes at fault in this. Now he was left with the dilemma of what to tell. Old Murrow definitely wanted the girls dead one way or another, telling him that they were not actually with the Empire would not change much. At least for now he believed Tony may have valuable information. He was also contemplating just shooting the reptile and trying his luck with the door. Even if it really looked thick and heavy, like a safe-door, not sure his repulsors would do much damage in it.

‘You sent someone to our shuttle, didn’t you?’ Tony asked. Murrow smiled.

‘And they’re probably already done with the girl,’ he said. That meant that Loki was probably already stepping over some corpses and was on his way here. He was more worried about what was happening with Juyu, she was alone. Loki and Bee were definitely fine.

‘I doubt that the other Yirbeks like your little rebellion.’

‘The other Yirbeks need not know when a Skrull or two goes missing,’ Murrow replied with a wide grin that showed all his yellow sharp teeth.

That was lucky, so they only had some Yirbeks to worry about, not all of them in this place, but he wondered how many stood on Murrow’s side. It was time to act. He wasted too much time locked up here already. He was just about to shoot the reptile in the knee or something to get this show on the road when something blinked on Murrow’s clothes. He did not take his eyes off of Tony, but he gestured until a new display came up on his side of the room. Tony recognized the office-like room Murrow welcomed them in. The big desk the old man used was turned over and Juyu was crouched down behind it, gun in hand. She must’ve taken cover across from the door and she remembered how to use the gun too. Good girl.

There were a few Yirbeks lying around on the floor, probably dead, but the most interesting sight was the one by the door. Bee was standing on top of one of the bodies. She ripped out a bloody axe, not wait… that was her arm. She just ripped out her axe-shaped arm from a dead reptilian, she probably killed him a moment ago. Then Tony noticed the tall figure standing there and he felt his eyes widen. What was another Skrull… then he noticed the armour and his eyes widened even more… Loki, son of a bitch. Loki, with Skrull-green skin and pointed ears, no hair, but it was definitely him. It was really not the time to figure out how that was possible.

‘Dawa, Kroll,’ Murrow shouted almost irritably. ‘Get everyone to the top floor!’

That was when Tony shot him. The blast made him stumble into the wall, his skin and his clothes were smoking from it, but it was obviously not a mortal wound, not even a serious wound. Thick skin on these reptilians. Then the old man charged, and damn he was fast for a senior citizen, how long did reptiles live? Oh right, very long. Tony let his helmet slid into place around his head and charged as well. He flew into the Yirbek, punching him in the face. He felt how his metal fist connected to thick skin and bone and the old guy stumbled again, but he was still standing. Tough bastard. Even if Murrow was not armed his clawed fists and his sharp fangs were intimidating enough and Tony hoped to hell that they were not strong enough to cut through alyndor.

He got tossed into a wall when Murrow managed to grab hold of his leg, but Tony immediately pushed himself off of it to kick the reptilian, this time Murrow hit the wall on the other side. For some inexplicable reason Tony remembered his fight with Thor. It was not often that someone was strong enough to fight him when he was in his armour. He did not have time for nostalgia though, because Murrow charged again and while Tony punched him in the gut he felt how strong claws dug into his helmet. The DNI-HUD showed him the damage, but it was not excessive, only the surface was scratched. Tony really-really loved alyndor at the moment.

He could not pay attention to the displays and what was going on in the other room. He was sure that Murrow sent more men against Loki, Juyu and Bee, but they sure as hell had to handle them alone, because Tony was really fucking busy wrestling with a fucking dragon-man. He managed to toss Murrow over his shoulder when he first heard the yell from the other side of the door.

‘Stark!’ It was Juyu.

‘I’m a little busy!’ Tony yelled back as he shot two blasts at Murrow so that he hit the wall again. What the hell kind of armour and thick skin did this bastard have? Seriously.

‘I can’t open the door!’ Juyu yelled. Tony could barely catch her voice. Then she must’ve opened up some sort of intercom next, because while Tony flew up a little to dodge a full-body slam, the girl’s voice came over a lot more clearly. ‘Loki and Bee are holding them up,’ she said. ‘You have to get out of there!’

Tony grabbed Burrow again and kicked him into a wall to get him off of him.

‘Get back from the door!’ Tony yelled and turned towards it. He did not have much hope, but it was worth a try, so he went with the unibeam. The blast dented the door, a little, but definitely not enough. He did not have time to try anything else because he was knocked off his feet by an angry lizard again. Murrow tore and clawed at his suit trying to get pieces off it and Tony knew that it was denting, not even the alyndor could hold out forever.

‘Stark!’ Juyu yelled again.

‘The door is too strong,’ Tony yelled when he finally kicked Murrow off.

‘You’re not getting out of here!’ Murrow snarled. ‘I will tear you apart along with the Skrulls!’

‘Have you tried the wall?!’ Juyu asked hurriedly. That was a good idea. Who reinforced the walls this high up? It’s not like everyone could fly. The next time Murrow attacked, Tony held his ground and grabbed hold of him, used his own momentum against him, and spun him around into what he hoped was the outer wall. He saw how it cracked upon impact so Tony directed power into the thrusters and flew at him with as much speed as he could with such a short distance between them. The wall cracked even more. Before Murrow could grab hold of him Tony jumped back and aimed both of his repulsors at him and fired. The reptilian snarled and yelled again and the wall was still not fucking broken, so Tony went for a full body slam again. This time when he hit the huge body the wall cracked and broke and they both fell through it.

Murrow grabbed him, preventing him from flying away, so they were falling and falling with Tony trying to punch and kick or shake him off and Murrow holding onto him with ten claws. The ground was approaching fast and while he was sure that the reptilian would not be bad at absorbing some of the impact he still did not want to try it out. Finally he managed to squeeze one arm between them and shot him in the chest with a repulsor blast. Murrow slid off him, his claws scratching the surface of Tony’s suit again. Tony shot up in the sky right away while Murrow slammed into the ground beneath.

He flew back to the top of the tower, but this time towards the windows of Murrow’s office. The large desk was now barricading the door, with Loki keeping it in place. There were still quite a lot of dead bodies inside, so they probably did not block the entrance right away. There must have been a lot of Yirbeks on the other side if Loki felt like fighting them outright was not the best course of action. He was about to fire at the windows and fly inside when he remembered the maps. There were a lot of maps in the room he was locked up in. Maybe some of them were not destroyed in the fight. He flew back through the hole he made with Murrow’s body and looked around quickly. The main panel that had most of the discs on it was half-destroyed and Tony winced, but still went over to it to search for anything salvageable.

‘Stark!’ came Juyu’s voice from the other side of the door again.

‘I’m fine, go back to Loki and Bee!’

Juyu did not answer so she probably listened and did just that. Tony retracted the gauntlet fingers so that he could pick up the small discs scattered everywhere. There were a lot of broken ones, but he found a bunch that was not. He had a small slot in his left gauntlet he made as a container for extra energy crystals, but for now it was empty so he put all the still impact discs he found in there. It was a lot of discs but it did not take up more place than a handful of change. He flew back out and turned back towards the office windows without wasting any time. Juyu was with Bee and Loki and luckily none of them stood too close to the windows so Tony aimed and broke them with a blast. The glass shattered and rained down everywhere.

‘Maybe it’s time to go, huh?’ he asked as he landed inside.

‘There are dozens of them outside,’ Loki informed him, he still looked like a Skrull. Maybe turning back required concentration.

‘I have the maps, we need to go,’ Tony said.

‘How exactly?’ Loki asked. Tony looked back at the broken window.

‘Time to fly,’ he said. ‘Girls, grow some wings and get going, I’m faster, so we’ll catch up with you.’ He walked to the makeshift barricade that Loki still held in place, which was quite impressive even if Tony already knew that he was strong. He gripped the other side of the desk and pushed, some of the strain eased out from Loki then, it must’ve been hard to keep the door secured on his own.

‘Don’t keep us waiting,’ Juyu said already sporting wings on her back. Then she jumped out of the window with Bee following closely behind.

‘I can’t fly,’ Loki remarked.

‘I wasn’t sure,’ Tony said. ‘With this whole green thing you got going right now.’

‘I can shapeshift, but not like the girls,’ Loki said.

‘I would have still liked to know about it,’ Tony replied. He actually felt now that whoever was on the other side was pushing and slamming into the door, trying to get in.

‘It never came up,’ Loki answered.

‘Weak excuse, Jolly Green,’ Tony told him.

‘I still can’t fly, Stark!’

‘No problem,’ Tony said and he grinned even if Loki couldn’t see it. ‘Just hang on.’

That was the only warning he gave the god before he grabbed him around the waist and took off flying across the office and through the broken window. Loki let out something close to a yelp then hissed out some curses Tony could not catch. But he did slide his arms around Tony’s neck to hold on a moment later.

‘You’re insufferable,’ Loki told him. He did not yell, but Tony could still hear him.

‘I could’ve picked you up bridal style,’ Tony teased. That would have been hilarious. Loki would have punched him in the eye for it so damn hard.

He was just starting to feel okay and thinking that they got away when he heard some sort of buzzing from behind them. He could not turn around to look with Loki in his arms, but the god did so instead of him. Tony heard him curse again.

‘Let me guess,’ Tony said. ‘Something that can fly is following us.’

‘With Yirbeks riding on it,’ Loki added.

Awesome. Just awesome.

Chapter Text

 

The only thing that made things slightly better in Loki’s opinion was that Stark actually had the maps. Everything else just got out of control. It seemed to be a recurring theme. No matter how much you planned, something always went wrong. In their case things always escalated with incredible speed. It was a special talent of theirs, Loki was sure of it. Being held in Stark’s arms like some rescued damsel, while the Yirbeks closed in on them was more than a little inconvenient as well. He did not fear for their lives just yet, but things really could’ve gone better. He could see the girls flying not much ahead of them. They flew fast, but Stark’s armour was faster and so were their pursuers. Loki was already thinking about the ways they could get into the Drake and away from this place. He really hoped the Drake was still there, but probably the dead Yirbeks next to it were enough of a warning for others to stay away from it.

‘Okay, so we’re pretty close to the Drake, but we won’t be able to take off with these guys on our trail,’ Stark said.

‘Any suggestions?’ Loki asked. Best would’ve been if they could’ve shot the Yirbeks down before they reached the Drake, but Loki doubted his handgun would do much damage. He was going to start carrying a bigger gun, this was ridiculous.

‘Yeah. I’ll put you down. You run to the Drake and take off with the girls while I lead them away. Then I join you once you’re high enough.’

‘This is a stupid plan,’ Loki said.

‘Best I have,’ Stark told him. Loki wanted to disagree some more, but he didn’t have a better solution either.

‘Fine,’ he said. Stark started descending almost immediately and Loki slipped out of his grasp the second the ground was close enough. Stark shot out into the air and took a sharp turn and luckily the Yirbeks followed him. Loki started to run. He encountered other Yirbeks on his way, but none of them attacked him. He was rather sure at this point that this Murrow in the tower had some sort of rebellion going on against the Skrulls. Loki wanted to curse their luck again.

He dashed across the aerodrome landing pad while bypassing very startled Yirbeks on his way. Oh yes, he still looked like a Skrull. Juyu and Bee landed next to the Drake a few moments before Loki got there.

‘Where’s Stark?’ Juyu asked while Loki got to the front to get the engines started.

‘He’ll join us later, don’t close the door,’ Loki instructed as all systems came to life. Juyu nodded and walked back grabbing hold of some of the straps that were on the side seats in the back. Bee was also back there, her arm no longer an axe, but her wings remained.

Loki lifted off from the ground. The whole interior was very turbulent, but he paid no attention to it. He tried to spot Stark as soon as he was in the air, but he did not see him anywhere. At least they were out of the aerodrome, even if not out of danger.

‘I see Stark!’ Juyu said after a little while.

‘Where?’

‘Behind us, but a little above… he’s not slowing down,’ she added and the next moment Loki saw Stark sweeping past them, the Yirbeks still close behind him. He had a perfect view of what was happening. Stark was shooting at the Yirbeks while the Yirbeks were shooting at him in return. Stark was too quick to be shot, he always managed to change directions very fast, while the vehicle the Yirbeks rode got hit several times, but it was not enough, Stark’s blasts did not damage it excessively. His mind immediately started running with possibilities again. Then he remembered that the Drake did have some sort of weapons. He was rather sure Stark showed him how to use them. He looked over the control panel quickly and found what he was looking for after a few moments. The clever machine even showed both the Yirbek vehicle and Stark as potential targets. After a moment Loki managed to pick out the Yirbeks. This was more than a good solution. Hopefully the firepower would be suitable as well. He sped up to get closer to them and even moved a little higher before firing.

There were two energy blasts from the Drake and Loki couldn’t help but think about how fitting the name was again, the blasts were large and looked like blue fireballs. For a brief moment Loki remembered the Chitauri sceptre he had in his possession for a while. One side of the flying machine tore off from the shot and it started spinning around in the air uncontrollably.

‘Suitable firepower indeed,’ Loki remarked quietly.

The spinning vehicle was moving from one side to another, while the Yirbeks were dropping like flies from it. Then someone probably accidentally hit a weapon, because there were a few heavy blasts coming from the vehicle before it backfired and destroyed them in an explosion. The blast wave shook the Drake viciously and Loki gripped the wheel a little tighter to keep it steady.

‘What was that?’ Juyu yelled, which meant that they were at least still inside the plane. Then he noticed that Stark was not flying straight. Loki increased speed again to get closer to him and noticed that only one of his boots was working. He did not know what happened to it, maybe the Yirbeks managed to hit him before they exploded, but Loki was sure that Stark won’t be flying for long like that.

‘We need to get Stark inside,’ Loki said. A few moments later Juyu was next to him looking out at what was happening. ‘He won’t be able to fly into the Drake like this.’

‘Get ahead of him, I pull him in,’ she said.

‘How?’

‘Just do it!’ she replied and went back. Loki did not argue, but he sure hoped she knew what she was doing. Loki changed direction to bypass Stark and get ahead of him. It was not easy because the man kept twisting from one side to another with only one boot working. Then Loki was finally past him.

‘I see him, now just keep it steady!’ Juyu yelled from the back of the shuttle. Loki glanced back because it was not like he could hit anything this high up in the air, and he saw how the Skrull girl wrapped one of the longer belts they used to secure cargo around her arm before walking to the back, almost leaning out of the shuttle.

What in Valhalla was she doing? Loki looked forward again, but since there was still nothing ahead of them he turned back again. Juyu’s free arm stretched and stretched, out of the Drake towards Stark, while she held onto the belt around her other arm to keep herself secured. Elasticity, right, of course.

Loki did not see when she finally managed to reach Stark, but heard as she yelled out, ‘I got him!’

Loki focused on flying again and a few moments later there was a horribly loud crash coming from the back. When he turned around a little to see what was happening Juyu and Stark were both in a heap down on the floor. The impact was most likely not a pleasant one. Someone shut the door then finally and the wind inside the Drake died down. Loki heard how Stark thanked Juyu for giving him a hand, and also heard how the man started laughing at his own words for some reason. Then he walked up to the front to Loki. He took his helmet off, he was sweaty, and panting heavily.

‘Want me to take over?’ he asked and gestured at the wheel.

‘I got it,’ he told him, so Stark just sat down next to him while Loki finally turned the Drake up and towards space.

‘We have the maps,’ Stark said then and Loki did not have to look at him to know that he was grinning.

‘We almost got killed… again,’ Loki answered.

‘Calculated risk,’ Stark said with another grin. Loki huffed out a small laugh as well.

‘Green is such a good colour on you,’ the man said next. ‘Especially with these ears, and the whole… bald situation.’

‘Oh, shut up,’ Loki told him. Then he finally took a large breath and focused on changing back to his normal shape. It was pleasant, to slip back into it.

Stark’s armour was damaged. It had claw marks on it, dents and some burns as well, so Loki was right when he thought that the Yirbeks managed to hit him at least once. Loki was kind of irritated about how one of the claw marks damaged the engraving on the left shoulder.

‘But I’m intact underneath,’ Stark told him when they docked in to the IronMage. ‘That’s what matters. Most of the damage is just cosmetic, easily fixed, well and the boot.’

‘What happened to it?’ Loki asked.

‘No clue yet,’ Stark replied. ‘It looked like the energy crystal in it overloaded and it short-circuited the whole thing, but I don’t know what caused it.’

‘Maybe you flew too fast,’ Loki suggested. ‘When did it happen?’

‘When one of the blasts grazed me,’ Stark replied. ‘Just before the explosion.’

‘Maybe it absorbed some of that energy,’ Loki suggested. ‘Or maybe the crystal got damaged in the fight before that.’

‘Or maybe I need to make a few tests to find out instead of guessing,’ Stark said. ‘I did not fall from the sky, so it was not a bad first flight, but something is obviously flawed in the design.’

Neither Juyu nor Bee changed back from their Skrull form. Juyu was mostly just dirty and had a few singes here and there and some torn clothing. Bee on the other hand was covered in blood and grime, because she was hacking and slashing up the Yirbeks instead of shooting at them like her sister did. Loki looked at her for one long moment then let a smile spread out on his face.

‘Well done, Little Bee,’ he said. Bee tilted her head and smiled that strange little smile before turning around and walking away, hopefully to clean up.

‘Look at that,’ Stark said. ‘She actually smiled. Well, she smiled about violence and murder, but it was a smile nonetheless. Let’s call it improvement.’

‘You told my sister to kill?’ Juyu asked.

‘I told her to follow my lead, which she did,’ Loki answered. ‘I was certain she would be very useful in close-combat, and I was right.’

‘She is not a weapon for your use,’ Juyu said sternly. Loki turned around and looked at her. Naïve child.

‘No, she is a weapon in her own right,’ Loki answered. ‘I merely pointed her in the right direction.’

Juyu scowled even deeper and stared at Loki. Stark just looked at the both of them, obviously contemplating whether to interrupt or not.

‘You will not do it again,’ Juyu said with a harsh tone. No, not just harsh, commanding. Loki felt a spike of anger in reaction and took a step closer to her.

‘You do not get to tell me what I cannot do,’ Loki told her evenly. He hoped she was not too stupid to realize that she was treading on thin ice right now. He was not in the mood for childish arguments.

‘When it comes to my sister, I do,’ she said, her tone not wavering, her gaze still stern and locked on Loki’s face.

‘You? You do not even understand. You think she’s broken. You do not even know her.’

Loki most definitely did not expect her to charge at him in immediate fury, that was the only reason she managed to get in a punch before Loki grabbed her by her clothes and slammed her to the side of the Drake.

Don’t try that again,’ Loki hissed angrily. An armoured arm came across his chest and rested on his shoulder right away as Stark stepped close to him.

‘Loki, let her go,’ he said calmly. ‘Come on.’

Stark did not put force behind his touch, only pulled a little. Loki levelled one last look on the girl before stepping back.

‘Juyu, go clean up, eat something,’ Stark said. The girl sent one more glare towards Loki before leaving.

‘And you come and help me get out of my suit, okay? I want to get away from this planet as soon as possible.’

Loki nodded so Stark let go of him and they both walked to the workshop. Loki still felt some anger boiling within him, but only with Stark there next to him, it was dissipating.

‘The release mechanism is--’

‘I know, Stark,’ Loki reminded him. He saw how the armour was built, and he was there when Stark put it on, of course he knew how to get it off.

‘So… do you really think that letting Bee loose to freely slaughter others is the right way to deal with her?’

Loki stopped what he was doing and glared up at Stark. The human looked like he meant the question though and he also did not seem like he was aiming for an argument.

‘She cannot be fixed, for she is not broken,’ Loki said simply. ‘She is different. She won’t get better and she won’t get less violent. It is in her nature to be like this. She won’t magically change back into whatever sister Juyu remembers.’

‘You sure about that?’

‘Yes. She can learn control, but she won’t get better,’ Loki said firmly. ‘The best is to give her an outlet, suitable targets. Let her sate her hunger for blood and violence in the right moments, so that she can remain peaceful in the times in-between outbursts.’

‘I don’t think that’s healthy,’ Stark remarked.

‘She’s a berserker, a wild creature and she won’t ever be anything else. If we do not guide her against our foes she will lose control in a much more inappropriate time and she may turn her wrath towards those who are not quite so deserving of such a gruesome end.’

Stark sighed. ‘That makes sense to me, maybe I should be worried,’ he said.

‘Do not get squeamish about death all of a sudden,’ Loki said. ‘The difference between a highly praised berserker warrior and a horrendous monster is not all that significant. One manages to target those who deserve to die, the other is too out of control to do anything but lash out mindlessly. Juyu cannot heal her, it’s impossible, it is foolish to try. She can either be a monster or she can be a berserker. Which one is more useful and reliable?’

‘Juyu won’t see it like that.’

‘She’s stupid.’

‘She’s young and she loves her sibling, of course that makes her stupid sometimes.’

Loki sighed. He was not going to continue this conversation. He was not going to touch it with a ten-foot pole. He made his point clear and it looked like Stark at least understood it. Loki finally got the armour open and pulled it off. Stark immediately let out a hiss of pain.

‘Are you injured?’ Loki asked. Stark lifted his clothes where a large bruise was already visible on his side and stomach.

‘I don’t think anything’s broken,’ he said. Loki put the armour down then slid his hand over the darkened skin. He pushed gently, probing with his fingers to figure out the extent of the damage. Stark hissed again.

‘Maybe you cracked a rib,’ Loki frowned.

‘That’s nothing,’ Stark said.

‘I’ll make you an elixir.’

‘No need, really. It’s just light injuries,’ Stark objected.

‘And what if you need to be fully functional tomorrow?’ Loki asked. ‘What if we get into some trouble again? It’s better to deal with something like this as quickly as possible.’

‘But if I keep drinking your healing stuff I’m gonna end up looking like a teenager again.’ Stark’s tone was scarily close to whining.

Loki huffed. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Then he noticed that there were also some bruises forming under the man’s jaw. They never should’ve separated.

‘The first time was different,’ Loki told him. ‘You had to adjust and I made you drink a lot.’

‘I’m okay, I don’t need it,’ Stark insisted. Loki put both of his hands on his face and leaned a little closer to lock their eyes. He noticed how Stark’s eyes widened for a moment and also how his breath stuttered, startled by the sudden movement.

‘You’re hurt. I can heal you. So let me,’ he said. Stark stared for a few seconds before nodding, then he cleared his throat.

‘Yeah okay,’ he said. Loki slid a finger over the bruise on the man’s jaw lightly before letting go of him. He wanted the mark gone, wanted all of them gone, every scrape, every bruise, as soon as possible.

‘Turn the ship, let us get away from here,’ Loki said. ‘I’ll find you on the bridge when I’m finished with the elixir.’

‘Yeah okay,’ Stark said again. His voice still a little uncertain, he looked confused and he also blinked a lot. Loki just smiled before he walked out.

It was dark now, outside as well, but in the tower and in its rooms too. The wind blew freely inside because of the broken windows, while glass and debris covered almost every inch of the floor.

‘Let me see if I understand this correctly, Murrow,’ the tall wide figure rumbled in a deep tone. ‘Three Skrulls and some ridiculous warm-blood in a flying armour marched in here, slaughtered more than half of your men, and took not only most of your maps but the blueprints for our new warp drive as well? And you let them get away?’

‘I did not think his armour would make him so strong,’ Murrow replied from where he knelt on the floor, his whole body bruised and bloody. The tall figure just growled in answer. ‘And the tall Skrull, he should not have been so powerful, maybe he was a Warskrull, we did not expect that.’

‘Did you let them get away?’ the other repeated the question.

‘I was thrown out of the tower! I am lucky to be alive--’

‘Did you let them get away?!’ the tall figure thundered.

‘Yes, sir,’ Murrow answered lowering his head even more. The other stood in complete silence for a few heartbeats before with an inhuman snarl he charged at the kneeling old man. His long claws dug into his skull piercing thick skin and he tore the head off with one clean movement. He tossed it aside like discarded trash as the body hit the floor. The room was utterly silent while the bloody head rolled away and knocked into one of the walls silently, not a single soul dared to speak a word.

The tall figure let out a furious roar a moment later, splitting the silence. ‘Prepare my ship!’ he ordered with a bellow. Some immediately ran out of the destroyed office, while others stood motionlessly, waiting for the next order. ‘Time for a hunt,’ he grunted.

Chapter Text

 

Pepper. Pepper, Pepper, Pepper. He did not think about her much lately, which is… not at all and it suddenly made him feel very guilty. He avoided thinking about Earth and everything related to it as much as possible, not wanting to imagine how things were back home. Not wanting to think about how long he’s been gone and how long it would still take him to get back home. He was not much for Greek epics, but this was a fucking Odyssey if there ever was one. Well, that guy had to slaughter a bunch of people who wanted his wife and kingdom when he got home. His “kingdom” was definitely safe. His will made it perfectly clear that in case of his death (or long-term disappearance like right now) most things went to Pepper. She would be the CEO and major shareholder of Stark Industries. She would also get the Malibu and New York mansions and everything that were inside them. Rhodey would get most of his cars and a few of his smaller estates while the Stark Tower was named as “Avengers Headquarters”, if they kept the business and R&D floors running as Stark Industries property that is. He knew that he made sure that his suits were secure. JARVIS had dozens of protocols for times he was not there ever since the Afghanistan incident, his workshop was definitely closed off to most. The only one who could get to his suits would be Pepper herself and Tony knew she would not give them to SHIELD or the military, not even if Rhodey asked. She knew Tony wouldn’t want that.

But the more he thought about how everything was alright, because he was prepared for his sudden death in advance, he couldn’t help but accept that it also meant that everyone actually thought him dead. That was not a pleasant thought. Pepper was still in the hospital the night he was taken and Tony just couldn’t think about how it must’ve been like for her to wake up the next morning to the news that Tony was gone. How much time passed? A year? Maybe two already? It was possible. Too long, that was for sure.

Now he made himself think about her, because he had to. He had to remind himself that she was still there, at home, running Tony’s firm, protecting what was his. He had to remember her. He couldn’t just stop thinking about her just because it made things easier, it would not be fair. He had to keep her in mind.

He did not need to use any of the new maps so far, he didn’t even check them over yet, because this System was still covered in the ship’s database. So he decided to fix his suit and work on whatever mistake caused his boot to fry mid-flight first. Working on his stuff always made it easier to think. Plus Loki and Juyu were still glaring at one another all the time so Tony was not too keen to be in the same room as the two of them. Juyu rarely came into his workshop, so it was a safe place.

‘Stark,’ he heard and looked up to see Loki walking inside. No, it was a strut. Loki always walked with a certain rhythm in his step, light and balanced, like a dancer or a martial artist. It was probably the latter, but Tony was sure he could dance too, nobody had so very coordinated limbs just from fighting.

‘What can I do you for, cupcake?’ he asked, then mentally winced. He had a really bad nicknaming streak in the past few days, but he totally blamed Loki for it. But he didn’t know why he kept thinking of desserts.

Loki was as impressed by the moniker as usual, but he did not voice his disapproval, again as per usual.

‘Oh you need not do anything,’ Loki said. ‘I merely wanted to show you something.’

Tony raised a curios eyebrow and watched as Loki strolled closer in his usual leather-pants loose shirt combo until he was standing right next to him. Pepper, he really needed to think more about Pepper.

Loki looked around Tony’s workbench and grabbed one of the glowing energy crystals.

‘I’ve made some progress,’ he said as he closed his long fingers around it. Then he put his other hand over it. Tony leaned to the table and watched. The crystal started glowing a little brighter between Loki’s fingers then its colour shifted from its usual shade to electric blue. Loki next lifted his hand away from the crystal and thick beam of electricity stretched out between his palms. Like a mini lightning.

‘That’s pretty cool,’ Tony said while he looked at the sizzling, crackling electric bolt. Loki put his hand back to the crystal and a moment later the colour shifted back to its original. Loki’s lips stretched out into a pleased grin.

‘So how did you do that? I thought electric stuff was Thor’s thing,’ Tony said. Not even the mention of his brother’s name seemed to diminish Loki’s good mood.

‘It is certainly not my element, but lightning is still the closest one to raw energy, the easiest to summon if you have some at your disposal.’

‘So you turned the energy in the crystal into lightning?’ Tony asked.

‘More or less, I used the raw energy in the crystals to summon lighting. A very small lighting though, I give you that.’

‘Huh,’ Tony stared at the crystal and thought about it for a moment. ‘So that is progress, right? In the whole harnessing the cosmic energies for your magic thing? You’re closer to figuring it out?’

‘The energy used by the guns we have and the energy in the generators is very similar to the one I sense all around us. So I decided to focus on this first and see whether it brings me closer to the bigger picture.’

‘It looks like you’re able to work with this,’ Tony observed.

‘It’s the best way to go for now,’ Loki nodded. ‘With enough practice I would be able to use the power in the crystals for other things. Summon things that are different in their nature. Shields, eldritch blasts, fire.’

‘So this is a breakthrough,’ Tony concluded.

‘Exactly!’ Loki agreed. ‘The true cosmic energies are still there, just beyond my fingertips, I can feel them, I’m almost there!’

‘You’re gonna get it in no time,’ Tony said.

Loki chuckled. ‘Your confidence in my abilities is appreciated, Stark,’ he said. He then spun around to lean against the workbench and look straight at Tony. ‘And since I spent a significant amount of time analysing the energy that now runs your armour as well, maybe I can be convinced to help you with that little miscalculation that happened.’

Traditional roundabout way of offering help, some things never changed about Loki.

‘You are such a benevolent god,’ Tony smirked.

‘I’m really not,’ Loki answered.

‘So it’s just me who gets the special treatment,’ Tony said mirthfully.

‘Yes.’

Tony looked up at him, because he expected something more biting as an answer, something about Tony’s ego and his mental capabilities.

‘Oh… that’s… nice,’ he managed to say.

‘Let us get to work,’ Loki told him with a smile. One of those smiles Tony still could not fully figure out.

Until very recently Tony did not really pay attention to certain things. Things like the way Loki easily slid closer to his side when looking at something on the workbench. Close like… shoulders touching close. How Loki leaned in when explaining something. He started to think about whether this was a new phenomenon or something going on for a while. He wasn’t even really paying attention to what he was doing, because this was something strange, very friggin’ strange considering this was Loki. He wouldn’t go as far as saying that he knew everything about the guy, but he knew him pretty damn well and casual touching was most definitely not his thing. He was more of a “don’t you dare put a finger on me, you peasant” kinda guy. Unless he was very badly hurt, then he grudgingly accepted help and later pretended it did not happen. He eased up about it in emergency situations for a while now and seemed to not mind having to be close to Tony, but this was actual mind-boggling initiated contact.

They were also not the kind of “bro gestures” he was used from Rhodey. Although yeah, Loki was a prince and all and even if he was a tough guy there was that martial artist grace or whatever that Rhodey wouldn’t be able to pull off if his life depended on it. Then he pictured Rhodey in a leather tunic sitting on a chair with a straight back and his legs crossed and he barely contained an amused snort. No, there were things only Loki could pull off without losing even a speck of his masculinity. It was one of his special talents. Show him another man who could idly pick on his nails while in a power stance and did not look ridiculous doing it. Again, Tony’s mind went back to the cape and the horned helmet, because what even? How was it possible to look cool in those? It was beyond his comprehension. It was a Loki thing, he could do it. Tony would look like a mutant goat suffering from growth retardation. Yeah, so Loki made him feel small sometimes. But who wouldn’t, huh? Who wouldn’t feel small? Fucking god. Tall and lean and still muscular, like he was a marble sculpture or something.

Loki was his own category. There was no point in trying to put him in any sort of stereotype box. It’s what made him interesting in the first place. But there were a few constant things about him, so when one of those changed it made Tony really suspicious. He tried to shrug it off as Loki just being “friendly” in a physical way, but that sounded so damn uncharacteristic that Tony couldn’t believe it. Loki didn’t do “friendly” just like that, he did things for a reason.

He was deep in his thoughts and only noticed Loki leaning closer again when he was already there. He put a hand on the small of Tony’s back as he reached across the table for a previously discarded crystal. Only he didn’t need to lean on Tony to keep his balance, obviously. It was a completely redundant touch.

‘You seem distracted,’ Loki remarked lightly as he pulled his hand away.

‘You know damn well why I’m distracted,’ Tony huffed.

‘Do I?’ Loki asked. Feigned ignorance and innocence, albeit not hidden well, so it was probably meant to be seen as an act.

‘Oh, cut the crap, what the hell is going on with you?’ Tony asked. ‘You’ve been weird for at least a couple of weeks now and I have no idea what’s happening! I’m not exactly familiar with this new “I don’t know what’s personal space” Loki.’

The god had the gall to smile and chuckle in a very amused manner. ‘You did not seem to mind.’

‘That’s not the point!’

‘Ah, but that was exactly the point,’ Loki said.

‘Huh?’

Loki leaned against the workbench to be face-to-face with him.

‘Let’s say, I’ve been testing the waters.’

Sometimes his mind deliberately didn’t pay attention, mostly to things he did not want to acknowledge, but it didn’t take a genius to understand this one. Add Loki’s steady gaze, it was quite telling really. And his mind suddenly did not know whether to freeze or start running a mile a minute.

‘You know how you react whenever I do this?’ Loki asked in a quiet tone as he leaned forward and slid his left hand up to Tony’s right cheek. Two of his long fingers slid behind his ear while his thumb rested on the edge of his goatee. Loki leaned even closer until their faces were only a few inches away and Tony couldn’t move. He just stared into darkened green eyes.

‘Your breath quickens,’ Loki said, almost breathed the words. ‘Your pupils dilate,’ he continued. ‘Your lips part,’ he finished and moved his thumb until it slid across his skin just below Tony’s lower lip. ‘It’s quite a sight.’

‘Loki…’

The god leaned in even closer until his face was right next to Tony’s, their cheeks almost touching, but he still did not move his hand away.

‘I wonder… if I slid my hand down to your neck, would I feel your pulse racing,’ he was close enough now that Tony could feel his breath on the shell of his ear. And still he had nothing to say, he just stood there, his mind running too fast and his body not operating right.

‘Tell me, Stark. Is your heart beating faster now?’

‘… Yeah…’ he answered in a whisper, just as quietly as Loki spoke. It was true. His heart did start pounding harder in his chest even if he did not want to take a closer look at it why.

Loki moved again, moving his face closer, closing the distance until Tony could feel the way his nose slid over his skin. How if Loki turned his head just a little more, if he titled his head just right they would be lip-to-lip. He would feel that almost cool breath on his mouth instead on his skin, he would be…

His brain kicked into gear in one sharp moment and he pulled away just before it happened.

‘No,’ he managed. Loki’s hand was still on his face and he was still not exactly far away from him, but their faces were no longer touching.

‘Stark?’

‘I have someone,’ Tony said quickly, before he swallowed and licked his dry lips. ‘I have someone waiting for me… back home.’

Pepper, dear god, sweet kind Pepper, he should’ve pulled away sooner. He did pull away now, Loki’s hand sliding from his cheek. But it stopped at his arm before he could move away even more, gripping him to keep him in place.

‘Who?’ Loki asked.

‘You don’t know her,’ Tony said right away, getting his breath under control, trying to get this whole situation under control for fuck’s sake. He tried to pull away again, but Loki would still not let go of his arm.

‘You did not mention her before,’ Loki said.

‘It was not any of your business,’ Tony told him and that did it, Loki let go of him. Tony almost stumbled back when it happened. He did not move too far away only a step back, to have some of his personal space back.

 ‘Of course. Why would it be?’ A colder expression replaced Loki’s previous one and yeah Tony preferred the playful, almost kind-looking one better.

‘Loki, look--’

‘No, far be it from me to deprive you of that foolish dream,’ he said in a cutting tone, it gave Tony flashbacks to the way things were between them at the start.

‘Excuse me?’

‘I must admit that I did not expect you to be quite that naïve. Thought you to be more of a realist, but I’ve been wrong before.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘This ridiculous idea of yours. That some woman is going to wait for long years despite all signs telling her that you’re dead.’

Tony gritted his teeth at the unpleasant words.

‘She’s not just “some woman”,’ Tony gritted out, but Loki did not heed the warning in his tone.

‘No, of course not. She must be perfect and her eternal love for you will help her to keep waiting and waiting no matter how hopeless it all may seem. She will just keep waiting forever. It happens all the time… in bedtime stories.’

He knew Loki was deliberately cruel, he knew it, and if he would have taken a deep breath to look at things clearly, he may have been able to figure out why. But right now he did not care.

‘You don’t know anything about her.’

‘Oh spare me your praises or how she is “one of a kind” and “not like any others”. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard that from men over the years. You know how things always turned out in the end? That they were all exactly like the others.’ Loki face scrunched up in distaste. ‘Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone from Midgard?’ Even the way he raised his eyebrow was a mocking gesture instead of the curious arch Tony was used to see. ‘Trust me on this, she has long moved on to live her life with a new man to warm her bed.’

Tony stepped back closer again and gripped Loki’s clothes in two tight fists, pushing him hard against the workbench. His heart was now beating for an entirely different reason.

‘Don’t ever dare talk about her like that again. You understand me?’ Oh he was angry. Furious right down to his very bone and Loki’s still cold expression did not help to calm down at all.

‘I won’t waste my breath,’ Loki sneered. ‘I only speak the truth, that’s why it makes you so angry!’

‘NO! You don’t get to talk about this! If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t even be in this mess! You’re the one who dragged me into this! If you wouldn’t have shown up in my tower I would still be home! This is all on you, so don’t you dare lecture me!’

‘Let go of me,’ Loki hissed in a dangerous tone and Tony did so even if the anger was still boiling inside of him. ‘You’re done with your tantrum?’

‘Me?! I’m throwing a tantrum?! You’re the one being a bitch about this, just because you’ve been rejected. Well, boohoo, grow the fuck up! I have a life that was taken from me! People waiting for me back home! People who care about me, who won’t give up on me so easily, no matter how much time passes! And Pepper loves me and I love her! Don’t push your bullshit views on me just because you don’t have anyone who gives a crap about you!’

Tony could literally see the moment a mask slid down on Loki’s face, hiding whatever true reaction wanted to show itself. He saw the moment his green eyes dulled for a second, and then glazed over before going completely blank. He did not clench his fists or changed his stance. He did nothing, just stared at Tony. Then he huffed out a breath that was probably supposed to be laugh and a wide sharp grin – that nowhere near reached his eyes – spread out on his face for just a brief moment.

‘Well, at least that one is quite true,’ he said in a light charming tone, it rang so fake that it jarred Tony’s ears. Loki turned and walked away, back straight not even tense, his steps wide and confident, but also a lot more forceful than any other times. Only now that Tony was familiar with Loki’s light and graceful way of walking was the difference so striking. He really wanted to take his last words back.

‘Loki,’ he called after him, but the other did not stop or turned around, he just left.

Tony pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and just breathed for a few moments. He was still angry, but now it was topped with a healthy dose of guilt too. It didn’t even make sense! He had a right to be angry, but he still wished he would’ve kept his mouth shut.

‘Fuck!’ he cursed and leaned on his workbench with both hands, hanging his head down between his arms.

Chapter Text

 

In the past few hours he cleaned his armour, his gun and his blades, rearranged his potion cabinet twice and changed the sheets on his bed as well. Then he stared at the bed for a few minutes contemplating whether he should just move into a different room altogether. His head was pounding and he knew that if he actually had access to his magic there would be sparks flying from his fingertips every few seconds. All his attempts to clear his head were futile so far, his mind just kept spiralling around the same things over and over again.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! He let himself go, he lowered his guard. A mistake, always a mistake. He was not a fool, he should’ve known better. Sentiment, wretched cursed sentiment, as always. He was so furious at himself! He should’ve never allowed Stark to get this close, get under his skin, but he let himself be lured into a false sense of security by pretty words and heroic actions. When was he ever going to learn?! He knew better, at least he thought he knew better. He should’ve expected this. He stopped himself just before he kicked his bed, because this… this was just getting pathetic. So damn pathetic.

So he just sat down on the bed instead to calm down and gather all back what accidentally spilled out. Push it down to where it all belonged and where it should’ve remained. He still needed to learn his lessons the hard way so it seemed. What was he even thinking? Stupid, so very stupid. He wanted to just burn something or destroy something, but of course there was nothing on the ship he could wreck, so he was left sitting on his bed while his mind reminded him of his utter idiocy over and over again. He didn’t even know how long he sat there like that. He just felt numb after a while.

‘Loki.’

He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. He did not turn towards the door, not even when he opened them again.

‘What do you want, Stark?’

‘Have you been sitting here all day?’ Loki did not deem that with an answer. Stark continued after some silence. ‘Look, I’m really shitty at this talking deal, alright? Back at home everyone would be already looking at me like I was ten kinds of weird just for making an effort. Well, it’s not like I’ve never tried to make an effort before, but it never really worked out too well. I’m not good at this, I said that already.’

‘What do you want, Stark?’ Loki repeated to cut off the tirade of words.

Stark took a large breath. ‘How about we try this exchanging of words thing again, but this time without deliberately tearing each other apart?’

‘There’s nothing left to talk about.’

‘That’s where I don’t agree with you,’ Stark said and walked further into the room. He didn’t even hesitate before he sat down on the bed next to Loki.

‘I’m not exactly interested in what you want to say,’ Loki told him simply.

‘Too bad,’ Stark answered easily. ‘I’m going to talk anyway and the ship’s not big enough to run away from me.’

‘By all means, speak then.’ Stark was stubborn and Loki couldn’t avoid him forever, he might as well get this over with. Stark surely wanted to placate his conscience, so Loki would let him speak his empty words. He did not expect him to show up this soon though, but it did not really change anything.

‘You’re a real bastard sometimes, you know that?’

Oh this conversation was going to be just as delightful as the previous one.

‘I know,’ there was no point denying it.

‘Well, so am I,’ Stark answered. ‘It seems to me that some of that… was a long time coming.’

‘If you’re just going to keep babbling about nothing, you might as well leave,’ Loki told him.

‘Are you really not going to even fucking try to make this easier?’ Stark asked.

‘You have made your thoughts perfectly clear. I do not see the point of wasting more words on this,’ Loki told him firmly.

‘Give me a fucking break, would you? This! This is… I don’t know how to handle this! God.’ Stark leaned forward resting his elbows on his thighs hanging his head and resting it on his hands.

Loki finally looked at him now that Stark was looking somewhere else.

‘I have not lied.’

‘You were still a cruel bastard about it,’ the man answered. ‘I… refused to think about it. What it means to be away for this long. That things are not going to be the same when I get home, that I… actually lost the life I’ve had. I didn’t want to think about it, because the thought of going home was what kept me going, okay? And damn it, but you were right… I’m not going to get that back, there’s no chance that I will ever get that back, but fucking hell, Loki it was not…’

‘It was not my place to say it?’ Loki guessed.

‘Damn fucking right it was not. You don’t know about my life and the people in it. You may know me and the things Barton told you, but those are just headlines, empty words, the same as the crap in the newspapers, so you don’t know what it took me to get there…’ he shrugged and let the words trail off into silence.

‘If you’re quite done,’ Loki said and moved to stand up, but Stark grabbed hold of his arm before he could do so.

‘No, damn Loki, listen to me. You can’t just shove this in my face and then act like an asshole, just because I have some shit to sort out. And it’s me saying this. I’m like the poster boy of acting like an asshole… as I proved it again not that long ago.’

Loki swallowed back down whatever words threatened to come out of his mouth and took a breath.

‘Fine. You eased some of your guilt. Are we done?’ He did not care to hear more about this, so he stood up to walk out of the room, but it was too much to ask for to be left alone.

‘Dammit, wait,’ Stark cursed and grabbed his arm again, so Loki wrenched it free and glared back at him. Of course he should’ve known that the stubborn fool won’t back off so easily. The next moment Stark grabbed his clothes and held onto him with both hands, so tight this time that the only way to remove him would be by force. If he really thought that hurting him would stop Loki from walking away…

‘Stop walking out on me!’ Stark said angrily, his brown eyes burning with too many emotions.

‘You are so childish!’ Loki hissed.

‘So are you!’ Stark shot back and refused to let go.

‘What more do you want? I listened already.’

‘No, you did not listen to a word I said,’ Stark told him. ‘Because I’m telling you, that I was an asshole. I’m telling you that you were right, that I got angry because you were right. But I was not. I lied.’

‘What?’

‘It not true,’ Stark said. ‘Okay? It’s not true that you have no one--’

‘By the Norns Stark if you dare bring up Th--’

I do!’ Stark said. ‘That’s all I’m saying. I do give a crap… more than a little.’

Stupid infuriating human, what did Loki care about that? Such useless things, why would he even want… damn him, damn him!

‘Loki, look at me,’ Stark asked. Against his better judgement, he did. He almost opened his mouth to hiss in the human’s face where he could shove his pity, but he knew Stark, knew his expressions and knew when he lied. What he saw right now was something else.

‘You know how it is,’ Stark said in a calm tone. ‘You and me, me and you… on our way home, dealing with shit… that’s not going to change all of a sudden. I don’t want it to. I’m just…’ Stark sighed and looked away for a moment. ‘I’m gonna need some time here… just to… think… I guess.’

‘Fine,’ Loki said curtly.

‘You’re really not going make this easy on me?’

‘Have you met me?’ Loki shot back right away and Stark huffed and smiled a little.

‘Fair point,’ he said, nodding a few times. ‘Should I offer to make you that horny helmet again?’ He asked tentatively.

Out of all the ridiculous things to say! And to say it now of all times!

‘Stop joking,’ Loki groaned.

‘Sorry, defence mechanism,’ Stark shrugged lightly.

‘I’m angry at you!’

‘I’m kind of angry at you too, but… well… I’ve never told you anything about… well, anything. Not even Pepper. So I’m kind of angry at myself too. It balances things out.’

They stood in silence for a bit, Loki did not move, but Stark did not let go of him either.

‘Such a strange name,’ Loki remarked. Stark understood what he meant though.

‘It’s a nickname I gave her… it kinda stuck,’ Stark replied with a fond smile.

This… this… he could not… did not want to deal with this.

‘Let go,’ he said quietly and after a moment of hesitation the human did. This time when he turned his back he was not held back.

‘Are you gonna stay in the room?’ Stark asked just before Loki stepped out. It made him hesitate in the doorway for a moment or two. He shouldn’t, he really-really shouldn’t.

‘Yes,’ he said and left.

‘What’s with Stark?’ Juyu asked the second Loki stepped his foot in the kitchen the next morning. Both of the Skrulls were inside, but only the younger one was sitting by the table. Loki did not answer her, just raised a questioning eyebrow.

‘He’s been very quiet,’ Juyu said. ‘I don’t think he left his workshop all night.’

He didn’t. That Loki knew for sure.

‘It’s none of your business,’ Loki told her firmly. The girl scrunched up her nose and sent a glare his way before going back to her food.

‘Whatever.’

Loki rolled his eyes and walked to the counter and was surprised when Bee held out a mug towards him. Loki did not like to use the mugs on the ship, they were small ugly little things. Whatever was in it was hot and steaming, but he did not recognize the smell.

‘We found some sassafras roots,’ Juyu commented. ‘You put boiling water on it and drink it,’ she added as an explanation when Loki stayed silent.

‘I see,’ he said. ‘I did not think we had such things on the ship.’

‘You’d be surprised how many things you can find while cleaning cupboards,’ Juyu told him. Loki took the mug of reddish brown liquid that Bee was still holding out for him.

‘Thank you, Little Bee,’ Loki said. The last time he drank any sort of tea was with his… with Frigga. That was really not a memory he should be recalling right now. His mood was not exactly splendid to begin with. He sat down on a chair, the furthest there was from Juyu because the girl still got on his nerves, and tasted the hot liquid. It was good and not sweet luckily.

‘You two had a tiff or something?’ Juyu asked again.

‘What part of “none of your business” escapes your understanding?’ Loki glared.

‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ the girl smirked and stabbed another piece of food with her fork. Bee hopped up on the counter to sit there. She liked to be on high places, observing things. She seemed calm, calmer than ever before, so Loki was right about this at least.

He knew that he should just leave, but he did not sleep much during the night and this strange kind of tea tasted good so he ignored the smirking Skrull at the table and went back to drinking it.

‘If you want to hear my opinion…’ Juyu started again.

‘I don’t,’ he interrupted right away, but of course his opinion was ignored.

‘You could always just stay in a room together until you get bored of being mad.’

Loki levelled her with a look that most likely told her what he thought about the idea. She just shrugged.

‘Both of you get bored pretty fast. You would talk just to not go crazy. I think it would work,’

Loki drank the last of his tea and left the room without commenting. He did not need some child to lecture him about such things.

‘What in the name of sanity have you done to yourself?’ Loki exclaimed when he walked back into their room late in the afternoon.

Stark had a bunch of normal med supplies out on his bed and he was trying to bandage his right forearm. His fingers were red and blistered and there was blood pooling on the bed sheets next to him. Stark winced when he looked up.

‘I had a little accident when I was testing something on the energy crystals,’ he said.

‘It exploded in your hand,’ Loki concluded. Deep cuts and heavy burns, it had to be it.

‘Yeah,’ Stark nodded.

‘You could’ve lost your fingers or even your whole arm like that! What were you doing? What were you even thinking?!’

‘Like is said, just experimenting,’ Stark said defensively. ‘But I guess I was kinda… tired,’ he admitted then.

‘You idiotic… just… guuh!’ he just groaned angrily and walked to the bed to take the bandage away from the man and look at the damage. ‘You have to get all the shards out before you try and bandage it!’ Loki yelled at him right away when he took a closer look.

‘I thought I got them all,’ Stark answered in return. ‘And I didn’t want it to keep bleeding.’

‘Obviously you did not,’ Loki said through clenched teeth and looked around and spotted the bloody tweezers and the bigger crystal shards Stark already pulled out from his flesh. Stubborn, infuriating man. He picked up the tweezers and took hold of Stark’s arm over his elbow where the burns were not so excessive.

‘Hold still,’ he instructed. ‘If I didn’t know you were not that pathetic, I’d say you did this on purpose,’ Loki grumbled as he picked out a few shards.

‘Yeah, I shredded and burnt half my arm so that you can play Florence Nightingale,’ Stark snapped back irritably.

‘You should have called me right away,’ Loki told him when he picked out another small piece of crystal.

‘You’re still mad,’ Stark said.

‘That doesn’t mean I want you to blow yourself up,’ Loki snapped. ‘Or that I want you to make an injury like this worse by not treating it right, you infuriating fool!’

Stark winced again when another shard came out, his whole arm was shaking with pain. Stupid human, stupid irresponsible, irritating, human.

‘I know… sorry,’ Stark breathed out. Loki only glanced up at his face for a moment. He was pale and trembling, and Loki did not know whether it was from the pain and blood loss or the lack of sleep. Stark’s eyes had dark circles under them, his hair was a sweaty mess and his clothes were burnt and dirty. Mortals… their skin and flesh and bones, all fragile, almost too easy to break, they were so easily harmed.

He put the tweezers down when he couldn’t find any more shards and grabbed some bandages and loosely wrapped up the wounds. Well, the entire forearm was one giant wound, but he focused on the bleeding parts.

‘Just hold this here for a bit while I mix up an elixir. I don’t want you to bleed all over the place ever more.’

He was going to run out of ingredients if Stark kept this up. A human should be a lot more aware of his own mortality and how easily his body was damaged. Stark should know better.

‘I wanna talk with you,’ Stark said then while Loki was getting the components for the elixir out of his cabinet.

‘You are going to drink the elixir and then you will sleep,’ Loki told him firmly. ‘And don’t think that I will let you play around with the crystals when you’re not completely focused ever again.’

‘Yeah, I really don’t do well with such restrictions,’ Stark told him.

‘You’re going to kill yourself!’ Loki snapped as he turned around.

‘No, I’m not! Sometimes I mess up, so what? I’m human, it happens! But I’m not gonna let it stop me!’ Then he continued with a quieter tone, ‘And you can’t tell me what to do.’

Loki just gritted his teeth and went back to work.

‘I’m gonna be more careful,’ Stark said then.

‘I don’t care, Stark,’ Loki hissed.

‘Nah, I know you do,’ he answered. ‘This would take months to heal on its own,’ he said. ‘So thanks.’

‘The elixir is not a license for you to be reckless! Just because I can fix something, it doesn’t mean I will be always there in time to do it!’

Loki slammed a vial down on the table and fought to get rid of the tightness in his chest, because he remembered the last time he said these words. He remembered looking at stupidly trusting, smiling blue eyes as he yelled and how his words were for naught, because nothing changed, nothing at all, no matter how many angry words he spat out. What did fools care as long as Loki was there to magically solve their problems and get them out of trouble? What did they care that he dreaded the moment when he would be too late? When he wouldn’t be able to jump in and help. They did not care, because why wouldn’t he be there? Like the loyal shadow he was.

‘I’m not taking you for granted,’ Stark said. ‘And I don’t expect you to fix me every time I screw up. It’s not your job, you’re not my servant. Most of my life I let others clean up my messes, I don’t want to go back doing that.’

Loki stood frozen for a moment then swallowed and went back to preparing the mixture. It was a shame that it always had to be prepared freshly in order for it to work. It would be practical to have some ready bottles around, especially with Stark’s tendency to get hurt.

‘That stuff’s gonna knock me right out,’ Stark said after some silence. ‘But I meant it when I said that I wanted to speak with you. You gonna be here when I wake up?’

Loki glanced up for a moment taking a large breath. His shoulders sagged as the tension of finding the stupid human like this finally eased out of him. Why was it so hard to just dismiss his every word? Why couldn’t he just turn his back? Why couldn’t he just stay angry? It was easier with Thor. Even the Thunderer pleading with words and begging with his eyes did not manage to do this to him. Did not make him waver, not for long anyway. Just how much did he let the human in? How did he not notice it sooner? Why him? Ah, no, he knew why him, he just did not understand how. How did this run so deep? Like a blade sliding to and through him, right into his heart. He could tear him out, like he tore others out… but… maybe it would bleed too much, maybe the wound would be too great, maybe it would not heal…

By the Gods, how did this happen?

‘Your bed’s bloody… you can sleep in mine tonight,’ Loki said after he finished the elixir and turned back to Stark.

‘Loki…’

‘Just drink this and sleep,’ Loki told him. Stark took the glass from his hand without arguing and drank the golden liquid within.

‘Loki, will you be here when I wake up?’ Stark asked again when he moved over to Loki’s bed. His eyes were too large and bright, glazed over with pain and tiredness and filled with emotions Loki did not want to take a closer look at. It already felt like it would consume him whole. Should he fight more or was he already conquered? He moved closer and put his hands on the back of Stark’s skull, his fingers slid into his hair just a little bit as he tilted his head back. Then he leaned down pressed his lips to his forehead, resting them there for a few heartbeats.

‘Yes, I’ll be here,’ he whispered into the too-warm skin.

Chapter Text

 

Tony woke up to a loud thud coming from somewhere in the room. He was thankfully pain-free and relatively well-rested even if he was jolted awake by the sudden noise. He sat up in the bed and rubbed his eyes to take a look around. He was in Loki’s bed, the table had food on it and Loki himself was standing by the closed door. Even before taking a closer look Tony noticed the tense line of his shoulders.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked. His voice was rough and scratchy from sleep, he should drink some water.

‘The door is locked,’ Loki said in an irritated tone and that made Tony a lot more aware immediately.

‘How on Earth could be the door locked?’ he asked.

Yeah, that was me,’ sounded from the intercom. Tony raised both his eyebrows in surprise, but he did not actually start to worry just yet.

‘Juyu…’ Loki uttered the name in warning.

Relax, we’re not doing anything… devious… well, nothing bad,’ she answered.

‘Juyu, open this door right now,’ Loki ordered.

‘Juyu, what’s going on?’ Tony asked instead.

‘Who cares?’ Loki asked glancing back at Tony angrily. ‘Open the door!’

Yeah, okay no… remember what we talked about yesterday?’ she asked. After a moment Tony was sure that the question was directed at Loki. ‘About how you should stay in the same place until you get too bored to be angry?

‘You have got to be joking,’ Loki answered, both angry and exasperated.

Not really,’ Juyu answered.

‘You open this door now, and I will consider not strangling you!’ Loki told her.

No!’ she said. ‘No, you will stay there and talk or something until the tension on this ship is not so thick that I can basically cut it! It’s for all our safety.’

Loki literally growled in answer to that and banged a fist to the door again.

‘Juyu…’ he started.

No!’ the girl answered right away.

‘I will skin you!’ Loki hissed angrily.

Yeah-yeah, we’ll see about that,’ she said and Tony thought that the girl acquired the “how to piss off Loki” skill rather admirably. Hell, she was totally on the master level.

‘You little…’ then Loki cut off abruptly. ‘Bee! Are you there? Open the door,’ he asked.

Juyu actually snorted from the other side. ‘Nice try, big guy, but she’s the one who sneaked in the food while you were sleeping,’ Juyu replied.

Tony managed to stay silent, but he had to bite his lips in order to do so. He had no idea why, but he found the whole thing extremely hilarious. For now at least.

Loki groaned loudly and rested his head on the door.

Relax,’ Juyu said again. ‘If there’s any sort of emergency, we’ll let you out,’ she promised. ‘So just have a nice day you two.’

‘Juyu, don't you dare... Juyu!’ Loki yelled after her. ‘I will… Juyu!

Tony really cracked up this time, he tried to keep quiet, he really did, but he just couldn’t, he had to laugh. Loki turned around right away and his eyes were narrowed and poisonous.

‘I think the kids are getting bull-headed, honey,’ Tony said before he could stop himself. Loki stared at him incredulously for a moment before pointing a finger at his face.

‘You… quiet!’ he walked away from the door then. Crossed his arms and paced the room. His whole body screamed anger.

‘Come on, it’s not so bad,’ Tony said.

‘Not so bad? Did you know about this?’ he asked.

‘No… well, I may have mentioned that I wanted to talk to you yesterday so…’ Loki groaned again. ‘I think they’re just trying to help,’ Tony said and finally got out of the bed. ‘In a spectacularly pain in the ass way.’

‘Why are you so calm? Are you not even a little worried about what they might be doing out there with our ship?!’

‘I think we passed the point of having to worry about betrayal,’ Tony shrugged. He really believed that, even if he knew Loki didn’t. The girls were not good enough actresses to stay with them for so many months while waiting for the right opportunity to strike. Juyu was way too transparent.

‘Why are you not angry?!’ Loki asked, almost yelled.

‘Like I said, I want to speak with you,’ he answered, then shrugged. ‘You can’t walk out on me like this.’

Loki let out that “you’re insufferable” sigh that Tony was so familiar with. It was almost relaxing to see it, when Loki was baffled by his behaviour he was less likely to be actually seriously angry.

‘Look, I’m going to take a shower then we can have breakfast or something,’ he said. ‘I’m pretty sure they had good intentions. Well, and Juyu probably wanted to piss you off so she could have a good laugh.’ Loki narrowed his eyes in annoyance again. ‘I’m starting to think that’s how she shows affection.’

Loki’s face told him enough about what he thought of that theory.

‘Riiight… shower,’ he said and went to the bathroom. He was still very amused when he stepped into the stall, but then he remembered what exactly he wanted to speak to Loki about and his mood darkened a little. This was not going to be a joyride, not for either of them.

Tony had enough time to think, the first few hours after the argument, then the night afterwards, and yesterday as well. He tried not to think about Loki first, because this was Tony’s shit mostly, he had to sort it out on his own. For himself, not for Loki. He may have been the one to trigger it, but it was time for Tony to take a good hard look at his life anyway. It was not just about Pepper, even if she was at the forefront of his thoughts, it was about everything. How would people react to him when he got back after so many years? How can he fit back into that life after all this? He pictured himself in his workshop at home, JARVIS assisting him, DUM-E making a mess, Pepper persisting him about contracts he needed to sign and meetings he had to attend, Rhodey dropping by just to see if he was alive. He imagined his fully packed bar and the immense amount of coffee he inhaled every day. He imagined putting on his suit for publicity and only fighting when some psycho decided to make a mess. He imagined press conferences and giving autographs, posing for photos…

It all seemed so distant and most of it silly, especially the publicity events. Here he had his new makeshift workshop of alien tech and Loki’s sharp mind and even sharper tongue accompanying his work. Loki doing engraving sitting not that far away from him, his long hair tied up or even braided sometimes. He thought about the super-healthy super-tasteless food they mostly ate and Tony got used to by now. Holy hell he did not even drink a sip of alcohol in what had to be almost two years. That did not happen since before MIT. He put on his suit to not get killed or maimed by reptilian aliens, he fought to get by, to save his own skin and Loki’s. He had a ship to control and crazy space villains somewhere out there still looking for him. He thought about how carrying a gun became a necessary rule. Instead of his firm, many houses and fancy cars he had the IronMage. He was Commander Stark – if anyone official asked – and he wore alyndor armour engraved with phoenixes instead of his red and gold titanium suit. He had the God of Chaos and two shapeshifting Skrull girls as back-up, not Rhodney, not the Avengers, not SHIELD. How was he supposed to slip back into the role of Tony Stark, billionaire superhero when he got back?

They had new maps now, but reaching the Milky Way was not the end of the road. It was a big galaxy, so he still did not know how long this journey would take. How much more was he going to change till then? How many things would change on Earth? He did not even think about how SHIELD would react when he finally got home.

One thing he knew for sure, things irreversibly changed. There was no going back to that life. Not really. Even if he did get back his firm and suits and everything, it would be different. Tony would know about the Mad Titan and The Other, he would know about the Skrull Empire and everything else that became his life. Tony had the All-speak and advanced DNI and piezoelectric technology at his disposal, he used energy guns and forged alyndor armours. He would know the vastness of space and all the worlds and galaxies and those who inhabited it. How was he supposed to look at things the same way as before? How was anyone on Earth supposed to understand all that Tony had already seen and went through? How was anyone supposed to understand that right now Loki was the one he trusted more than anyone in the whole universe?

And Pepper… how was she supposed to take him back? Did Tony want her to? Did he want her to mourn and suffer for years and then accept Tony back like nothing happened? How could he expect that of her? Loki was cruel with his words, the truth had been spat in his face harshly, but it did not make it any less true. He was not the same man he was before. What worked with Pepper then may not work again. She would not know him as well as she did in the past, there would be too many things that Tony would be unable to explain.

He knew that, he knew all that. One question remained. Even if he knew all that, was it possible to let go? To stop clinging to the memory of his past-life, the life he focused on getting back to? Could he let go? Was he capable of that? There was a different future waiting for him now, he knew, but accepting it was a whole other thing.

He stepped out of the shower, dried up and put on some clothes and walked back to the room while towelling his hair. Loki was sitting by the table sullenly munching on some food. At least he was not full-out furious anymore.

‘I want to tell you about Pepper,’ Tony said. Loki looked up at him and did not seem to be delighted by the idea.

What started as an explanation of Pepper and who she was in Tony’s life, turned into a story about Tony’s life before Afghanistan. Because it was not possible to explain Pepper’s impact, if you did not know about how much of a careless, heartless asshole Tony was before. Of course he had to mention Rhodey too and after a while things inevitably turned towards Obadiah. That was when Tony ran out of words, because talking about that was a whole different can of worms he did not feel like opening just yet.

Loki did not interrupt him, which was strange because Tony talked for what felt like hours. First he looked irritated, agitated even, but the more words spilled out of Tony the calmer he seemed. Tony took that as a good sign. Maybe he finally got what it meant that Pepper was not just some girlfriend.

‘Alright, alright stop,’ Loki said finally. ‘I did not have to listen to something so disgustingly romantic in centuries. So first of all never subject me to something like this again. And secondly, I get it, the picture is clear, the message is received, I understand, she’s your one true love, your heart forever given away etcetera etcetera… can we move on now? Maybe we could start with convincing our unruly Skrulls that we’re wonderful friends again, so that they let us out of this room.’

‘No, you don’t get it. It’s like you have selected hearing. Do you like only pay attention to the worst parts when someone’s talking to you?’ That would explain a few things.

‘What are you talking about?’ Loki asked.

‘What I’m trying to say is that she has been one of the most important people in my life and she always will be, she’s a lot more than just my girlfriend. And I know that I won’t lose her completely, no matter how long I’m away, but I won’t be able to just bounce back into that relationship. Into her life sure, but I won’t be able to be with her.’

‘Oh… Oh!’ Loki leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Selfish bastard,’ Tony shook his head. It figured that Loki would start paying more attention once the conversation was slightly turning back towards him and his interests.

‘I feel like I’m repeating myself, but… Have you met me?’ Tony had to smile at that.

‘So yeah, that’s the thing,’ Tony continued. ‘I don’t want her to be miserable. I don’t want her to wait for me for so long. I want her to be happy, even if I’m not there. I just… for the longest time it felt like that if I could make it work with someone, it would be her. That nobody else would ever be able to put up with all my bullshit the way she did. It’s not easy to let go of that, to accept that it’s… over. Hell, it’s been over for a long time now, I just didn’t want to think about it.’

‘Because you always thought that it’s either her or being alone?’

‘Well, “alone” is not the best word, cause I always had chicks hanging off of me left and right, if you know what I mean.’

Loki rolled his eyes, ‘Yes, Astrild. I know what you mean.’ Tony wanted to ask who the hell Astrild was, but he felt they would go off-topic if he did, so he let it go.

‘So, it was more like a feeling, that if I couldn’t make it with her, I won’t be able to make it with anyone.’

‘And now you don’t think that you can make it with her?’ Loki asked.

‘I think I’ve changed. I think there’s too much she would not be able to understand, she would not be able to look at things the way I do now. The whole “Iron Man” thing was almost too much for her. This…’ he trailed off, he did not even know how to name any of this.

‘Yes, what fair maiden would want some bloody space pirate?’ Loki asked and Tony started laughing immediately.

‘We’re not fucking pirates,’ he said. Loki grinned sharply.

‘I don’t know about that, we keep stealing, cheating and shooting things.’

‘I’ll have you know that I was perfectly willing to negotiate or bargain like a good boy, it’s your chaos vibes that keep attracting danger.’

‘I do not have chaos vibes!’

‘I don’t believe that!’ Tony answered, even if there was a grin trying to take over his face. Loki looked amused and indignant at the same time. ‘Every time we set a foot out of the ship someone tries to kill us… or eat us!’ Tony did not forget the space dinosaur that took a bite out of him.

‘That’s because you’re always reckless!’ Loki argued.

‘Nope, chaos god attracts chaos! I am almost one hundred percent convinced of that!’

Loki huffed and crossed his arms over his chest like he was deeply insulted. It was such a “princely” thing to do that Tony almost found it cute.

‘So, back to our main topic,’ Tony said after a bit of silence.

‘You do want her to move on and be happy, but you are having a hard time accepting that you do not belong to each other anymore,’ Loki summarized.

‘Pretty much,’ Tony agreed. ‘Accepting that is like accepting that I’m giving up on the person I used to be before, accepting that I’m someone different now. It’s difficult, don’t you… you’re different too… I mean…’

Loki looked down at his hands before speaking, like he was observing his fingers or his nails.

‘I… don’t have anything to let go of, since I did not have anything to begin with, nor do I have anyone’s happiness to be concerned about,’ he said finally. ‘And there are some things that I am unable to change, so I cannot let go of them, not even if I want to.’

Tony looked at him for a while, how his expression became sombre. Tony really wanted to know what was going through his head, but Loki just kept staring at his hand. Maybe he was thinking about all the things he did before, the blood he spilled. Maybe something else.

‘Do you want to be fair?’ he asked. Loki looked up at him, his eyebrow raised questioningly. ‘I kinda poured out my heart here and it was… painful and awkward and I don’t want to do it ever again, so… how about you tell me something to make me feel better?’

‘I did not have anyone like your Pepper,’ Loki answered.

‘Someone else? I’m going to make a wild guess here and assume that you don’t want to talk about your brother.’

‘He’s not my brother,’ Loki said, but at least it was not said angrily. It was more… resigned.

‘I’m not going to press the family topic, because believe me, there is nothing I hate to talk about more than family. But really, give me something.’

Loki stayed silent for a while, but at least he looked like he was thinking. Tony waited, because it was hard for him to talk, he knew it was even harder for Loki.

‘It was not intentional,’ Loki said finally.

‘What?’

‘Dragging you into this, as you said. I did not do it intentionally,’ he said. ‘It is a recurring theme with me,’ he added. ‘Causing damage unintentionally, destructive, chaotic things,’ he huffed out a tired laugh. ‘There might be some truth in your chaos vibes theory after all, because the way things always get out of control with me… it’s almost ridiculous. I always have plans, but they just…’

‘Explode?’ Tony guess.

Loki chuckled quietly. ‘Dramatically.’

‘So how did you end up on my tower?’ Tony asked.

‘I was taken from my cell in Asgard by being yanked over to the secret paths. I could not get out of my cell, but they could obviously get in, I know not how. It’s easy to get lost in the void when you walk those paths, so the fight that broke out between us was a dangerous one. I tried to get away from them over and over again until I could finally do so. The struggle tired me out, but I had a clear path to Midgard. It was the closest realms, obviously since they had to get out of the Nine Realms to the physical plane. You must understand that walking between the worlds like this is like using a beaten path.  The Bifrost and the Tesseract are the exact opposite, they build a road and do not use an existing one.’

‘So you can only walk on paths that were previously built by one of them?’ Tony asked.

‘Or by some other powerful force,’ Loki nodded. ‘When the Bifrost or the Tesseract opens up, it carves out a road and a gateway between to places. There are a limited amount of suitable gateways on Midgard.’

‘There’s one on the top of my tower, because the portal was opened there during the invasion,’ Tony concluded.

‘Yes. There’s a second one in the desert where Thor landed,’ Loki continued. ‘A third up in North… Norway it is called nowadays I believe, and a fourth in the park where Thor and I left.’

‘Okay, so Norway, New Mexico, Central Park or my tower,’ Tony said. ‘And you picked my tower?’

‘It’s a bit more complicated than that,’ Loki said. ‘Stepping off the path requires a great deal of concentration and something that can be used as a gate.’

‘Mirror,’ Tony said. Remembering the huge mirror in his bedroom, how its surface shifted and shivered then darkened before Loki appeared in it.

‘A reflective surface, yes. Calm water works, ice is better, mirrors are the best.’

‘And there’s no ice or water in the desert or in Central park,’ Tony said.

‘There used to be a SHIELD establishment at the Bifrost site, it had plenty of mirrors, but it is no longer there.’

‘And you did not want to go to Norway?’

‘Unknown territory, I have not been there in a long time. I had no way to know what to expect there or if I would have be able to run or hide. But I have been in your tower before and the city of New York is large and full of people, it is easier to vanish in a crowd.’

‘Only that plan did not work out.’

‘Yes, as I just said, it is a recurring theme with me,’ he shook his head. ‘I assumed that in case you were in the tower you would maybe attack the intruders and I could use the diversion to run away, but I did not plan to lead them there and get you captured. I did not really think about whether you would be there or not, you were but a fleeting thought. It was not like I had any other gateway to use, so it did not matter. I believed I had more time, but they were too close and well… you know the rest.’

‘I do not blame you, you know,’ Tony told him.

‘That’s foolish of you.’

‘No, it’s… their fault. The Other and the Mad Titan and all their bastard henchmen, they captured me and took me, not you.’

‘I lead them there,’ Loki said.

‘You were running away, and yes, that was what ultimately dragged me into it, but if they wouldn’t have taken you from Asgard, it wouldn’t have happened. I’m angry at them and not at you. And they would have come after me anyway sooner or later, Mr. Death-lover wants big Earth-bombs, remember?’

‘You would not have been locked up with me though,’ Loki pointed it out.

‘Then it’s better that it went down like this,’ Tony said. ‘I don’t want to think about what would have happened to me if I would’ve been on my own. I would be long dead or worse.’

‘I would be dead,’ Loki said. ‘No question.’ The way he looked up at Tony and how he said it, showed that he really thought that. That he was absolutely convinced that he would’ve died without Tony. But it was not strange, because Tony felt the same way, he would’ve died without Loki by his side, he knew.

‘Yeah, we’re a really good team,’ Tony told him, looking back at him.

‘We are,’ Loki agreed with a small smile.

‘You wanted to kiss me…’ he said before he could think about it.

‘I did.’

‘Do you still want to?’

‘I do.’

Not even a moment of hesitation and Tony had to swallow hard. He did not know, he… wanted it. Fuck, but he wanted it. He knew that. But was he ready? Was he ready to let go and turn towards a new future? Was he ready to jump even deeper into the flames, into chaos and danger? He was not sure, but his mind lost the battle. His heart was beating in his chest wildly and he did not want to think. He felt like he could get lost in the too-old gaze of the god. Eyes, that only ever softened when they were locked on his face, for him, just for him, like right now.

‘Okay,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m… okay.’

Loki slid down from his chair, smoothly, gracefully and completely silent. In a blink he was in front of him already, but down on the floor between Tony’s legs, half on his knees maybe. Loki’s long slender fingers slid up his thighs and the god pulled himself up a bit, leaning in, tilting his head back. His face, his lips only a few inches away from Tony, but he did not move, did not close that small distance between them, he did not say a word, just waited. Waited for Tony to make the final step.

Tony closed his eyes and did it. Leaped into the unknown, stepped onto the new path, sealed his lips on the inviting mouth. They both stayed still for a second or two, then Loki’s hands slid further up and to his hips and waist, and Tony’s fingers found their way into Loki’s obsidian hair to pull him closer.

He could not decide whether he was drowning or breathing freely for the very first time.

Chapter Text

 

‘So… do you think it’s time for a rescue?’ Tony asked.

‘They’re only a little late,’ Juyu shrugged.

‘Yeah, a little late can mean a lot of trouble.’

‘Loki’s right, you’re always jinxing things,’ the girl answered. Tony was about to answer when Juyu nodded with her head. ‘There they come… oh.’

‘Oh,’ Tony groaned.

There was Loki and there was Bee walking quickly next to the god. Then there was a very-very tall bald man with dark grey skin and midnight black eyes walking behind them. He had to be way over seven feet tall, he had tattoos all over his face and his wide shoulders and he was at least twice as wide as Loki.

Tony stared at Loki as they arrived, while Juyu was blinking up at the tower of muscle that looked like a guy.

‘This is Drongo,’ Loki said when he stopped. ‘He’s coming with us.’

Tony turned to Juyu. ‘What did I say? Trouble.’

The day before…

‘You’re a tease,’ Stark said the moment Loki’s hands slipped to his hips from behind. ‘The most teasing tease in the history of teases ever,’ the man continued. Loki chuckled and leaned down to bite at the skin just below his ear.

‘I enjoy courting,’ Loki said with a sly grin.

‘This is not… courting, this is torture,’ Stark replied. ‘You do realize that I haven’t got laid like… in a long time.’

Loki had to chuckle at his tone, then he slid one of his hands forward to Stark’s stomach, sliding his fingers behind his undershirt to stroke languidly at the skin there.

‘This is more than just an itch I want to scratch,’ Loki said in a low tone. It was not that he did not want to liberate Stark from his clothes, but everything had its right moment. If he only wanted a good tumble in the sheets, he would have taken a different approach. He could be very persuasive if the need arose. No, he wanted something a lot more gratifying. ‘Call it seduction then.’

‘You just want to make me crazy about you,’ Stark said, but he did lean back into Loki’s chest a little. In a way he was right, but clearly he had no problem with being a little seduced. Loki wondered if he was ever at the receiving end of such attention. When one was surrounded with willing admirers, who were all too happy to lose clothes and jump in a bed, there was no need for finesse, nor any real seduction. Some men bragged about their conquests, but how could the spread legs of a half-drunk bar wench be as satisfying as someone whose eyes burnt with true desire. When kisses were fuelled by true need, not just by the lust of bodies, when hands were desperate to explore, not just kneading flesh mindlessly. It took time to get there, it took softly exploring lips, it took confidently travelling fingers, it took knowing how the body beneath you would react to your every word and every touch. It was sort of like a dance really, first you had to learn the steps. Loki enjoyed learning how Stark’s body fitted to his, getting used to the feel of one another.

‘Yes, that is what I’m doing, you have unveiled my dastardly scheme,’ Loki told him.

‘Are we playing superhero-supervillain here?’ he asked in return.

‘Only if you want to,’ the god replied and bit his neck one last time before he stepped back to lean to the workbench next to the man. To be fair, Stark had not made any significant move to take things that much further just yet either. So he probably liked their little dance. It had only been mere weeks and Loki planned to enjoy this for a long time, so there was not need to rush. Every step gave a special brand of satisfaction. And indeed, he could already notice the changes in the way Stark reacted to his touch, how there was less and less hesitancy and more and more want as the days passed by.

‘What are you working on?’ Loki asked then.

‘Well, the idea came to me after I realized that I found myself on the wrong side of a locked door a lot recently,’ Stark started and just like that his focus was back on his beloved creations. ‘So I’ve been trying to figure out a way for the DNI to connect me to other systems, not just the host.’

‘Host as in your armour?’ Loki inquired.

‘In this case, yes,’ Stark nodded. ‘The idea is actually, well… sort of hacking. Hacking is exploiting weaknesses and breaking into computer networks, or security. I used to do it a lot… with SHIELD mainly, they’re secretive and I did not like not knowing things. Anyway, it’s not just for gathering information, but accessing control systems.’

‘Like opening some doors,’ Loki concluded.

‘Or shutting down security, turning off communications and so on. Only normally I need my own computers and software to do any sort of hacking. One computer talking with the other, but there is no universal network that connects different computers here, because we’re talking about different planets and galaxies, but with the DNI maybe I could do it directly with my brain. The DNI would make the connection, and it wouldn’t even have to be compatible to everything, I would have to be the one to understand and adjust to unknown systems, the DNI is just like… plugging in a cable and connecting me. It would project my commands to other systems, the way it sends it to the ship or my suit. There is no way any sort of system or network has protection against the way a human mind works, especially not against my mind. You get what I’m talking about here?’

‘I understood enough. It sounds intriguing,’ Loki admitted.

‘Yeah, of course you’d like it, you villain,’ Stark answered. Loki just grinned sharply.

‘Wouldn’t it be dangerous?’ he asked. ‘Exposing your mind to unknown systems?’

‘That’s why I’m trying to make it a mainly one-way connection and I also want to figure out some sort of good protection. I don’t know how yet.’

‘You don’t need a machine to be able to protect your mind,’ Loki told him. ‘You could learn to put on some mental walls on your own.’

‘You think that would work?’ Stark asked, he sounded interested.

‘It would give you a more precise control over your mind. The very least you would be able to notice if someone tried to get in your head, you could shut the DNI off in time then.’

‘Isn’t this a magic thing? Because I’m pretty sure I can’t do any of that,’ Stark said.

‘More advanced telepathy, yes. Not the basics.’

‘Sounds just as good as any sort of firewall idea I had so far, the DNI can only do so much.’

‘If you think you need it, Stark. I can help you with it,’ Loki offered.

‘Why won’t you call me Tony?’ Stark asked suddenly.

Loki thought about it for a moment. ‘I like Stark better,’ he said. ‘It sounds… fierce.’

‘Tony can sound fierce too,’ the human argued.

‘No, it really can’t.’

‘Fine.’

‘I can call you Tony, if you insist,’ Loki said.

‘No, it’s fine, it sounds weird coming from you now that I actually heard it,’ Stark chuckled. ‘So, we could start on this mental thingy tomorrow.’

‘We’re going to reach Sakaar tomorrow,’ Loki reminded him. ‘We will orbit the planet for a few days to recharge our generators. We’ve been considering risking a landing for some provisions…’

‘Ah yes, it would be nice to get some extra food,’ Stark said. ‘We’ve been in space for a very long time and we didn’t get anything but the maps on Yirb.’

‘At least those are good, right?’

‘We got here with one of them, but I did not check all yet, cause I grabbed like two dozen. We can definitely get pretty damn close to the Milky Way at least, to satellite galaxy at least. It won’t be hard to get new maps once we’re there if we have to.’

‘We will land on Sakaar then,’ Loki nodded. ‘I’ll let the girls know.’

He leaned in then to put a kiss on Stark’s lips before he left, but the human grabbed his clothes and dragged him closer.

‘Not so fast,’ he smiled and tilted his head up. ‘You can’t just grope me and not even give me a real kiss.’

‘Of course, what was I thinking?’ He did enjoy that Stark was becoming demanding when it came to this, so he slid in as close as he could, pressing their bodies together. Stark put his arms around his waist so he in turn slid his own over his shoulders and pried open the inviting mouth with his tongue.

‘I have bad memories of deserts,’ Stark announced as they stepped out of the Drake.

‘We have bad memories of all kinds of landscapes at this point,’ Loki told him. They were on the edge of town. It was the most suitable landing spot, they knew from experience at this point. Most of the locals were pink-skinned, and not reptilian for a change, but there were quite a lot of other races scattered among them. It made for a colourful view. They already had the argument on their way here about separating in order to get things done quickly. First they needed to sell some things from the cargo to get local currency. Then Loki would go to get ingredients he needed for his potion cabinet – accompanied by Bee – while Stark and Juyu handled getting more provisions. Stark was not completely happy with the arrangement, but it would have been ridiculous for all four of them to go together everywhere.

Everything worked out well this way. The merchants were fair and used to dealing with strangers. Bee kept close to his side, avoiding being touched by anyone even accidentally, but she seemed well in-control, so Loki did not worry about the crowd. It took a lot of time to find any sort of dealer who had even some of the things Loki needed. The ingredients for the healing elixir were the most important, he could do without the rest.

He got into an argument with an old lady over the price, then some kid tried to pickpocket him – unsuccessfully of course – but other than that, things went quite well. The streets were a lot emptier after a few hours and Loki assumed it was because deserts got very cold after the sun set and it was indeed close to dusk. He had his bag thrown over one shoulder and contemplated whether he should keep searching for the things he did not manage to buy yet, when he noticed that Bee’s silent presence was gone from his side. He stopped a turned around to look for her right away. She was only a few feet back, staring at something motionlessly with that tiny head-tilt of hers.

‘What is it Little Bee?’ he asked her. He knew he would not get an actual answer, but he was getting rather good at reading her face, she could say so much with her eyes alone, no matter if they were their original red or green like right now. She started walking in the direction she was looking at and Loki turned to follow while searching for what may have caught her eyes. Not many things made Bee curious.

It took but a few moments for him to see what it was, or rather… who. It would have been hard to miss now that he was looking this way. There was a man, a giant of a man, bigger than anyone they had seen in town. If he would have been standing up, he would’ve towered over Loki, his muscles were impressive as well. He wore nothing but torn trousers. His skin was dark grey and decorated with black markings, but there were also deep red wounds all around his torso and arms, bites and slashes. Some looked like claw marks, but some were probably done by a blade. He was sitting in a secluded place, almost completely out of sight of anyone who walked down on the street.

Bee did not hesitate walking up to where he sat on the ground and when she stopped the giant turned his head. That’s when Loki heard the clanking of chains. The man had markings on his face as well, a small rhombus in the middle of his forehead, thick lines over his eyes instead of eyebrows, two thin ones next to his nose, and some other lines running down on his neck connecting to those on his shoulders. The big man stared at Bee for a moment, then he smiled and tipped his head forward in greeting.

‘Hello there, little lady,’ he said. His voice was just as deep and rumbling as one would expect from someone of his size, but his tone was friendly.

‘She does not speak,’ Loki said and the man looked up at him. His eyeballs were black, but his irises green.

‘That is quite alright,’ the man said. ‘I grow tired of too much chatter easily, silence can be very pleasant.’

His tone, it wasn’t just that he was friendly. He spoke a lot more finely than any of the locals Loki had met today. The way he looked, Loki would’ve expected some mindless brute, but he did not speak like one. It made his appearance all the more confusing.

‘Why are you chained up?’ he asked with a frown. The man glanced up at him again and this time he quickly looked Loki up and down.

‘You are not from this galaxy, so you would not know,’ he said. ‘You also look too much like a noble to me, so maybe you could not even understand.’

Interesting. ‘What makes you so sure of that?’

The man raised his tattooed eyebrows for a moment, like he did not actually expect the question, like the answer should’ve been obvious. ‘Maybe it was the way you lift your chin when you start talking, or how you straighten your back like you were taught to stay in a proper pose, but it could be that condescending commanding tone of yours. Pick one.’

‘And that I’m not from around here?’ he asked. His curiosity was piqued, that was for sure.

‘I might consider changing that alyndor armour if you do not want that to be apparent,’ the big man answered. ‘And that’s a Cassiopeian gun on your belt.’

Loki looked down at the energy gun. It was small and only some of it was visible when it was in the holster. He hummed thoughtfully.

‘Let me guess,’ the man said again. ‘You expected me to growl.’

A smile curled up Loki’s lips a little, he couldn’t help it.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Does it matter?’

‘My name’s Loki, and that is Bee,’ the god told him. The man looked at Bee again.

‘Nice to meet you, Bee. My name is Drongo,’ he said. Bee nodded at him, still staring. ‘Is she your sister?’ he asked.

‘Friend,’ Loki replied. ‘Why are you chained up Drongo?’

‘Well, maybe they plan to starve me to death, but there might be an actual execution coming up. I’m not really sure.’

‘Why?’

‘Why do you care?’ Drongo asked in return.

‘I don’t. I’m just curios by nature and Bee seems to like you already. That just makes me even more curious.’ Bee did not look at just anyone like that, they crossed paths with dozens of different beings in the past hours and the girl did not even glance at anyone. Maybe she was just curious because the man was so huge, but maybe her instincts told her something more.

‘What would it change, if you knew?’ Drongo asked him.

‘Who knows? I’ve been told I tend to be unpredictable.’ He put his bag down and walked a little closer. ‘But the wounds on you cannot be more than a few days old, maybe even less, so whatever happened, it was not that long ago. You look like a brute, but you do not speak like one, you’re no slave or some common labourer. So tell me, do you deserve to be chained up in the dirt like a dog?’

‘We’re nothing more than that to them,’ Drongo said.

‘Them?’

‘The pink-skinned ones, you saw them. They are the Imperials, I am one of the Shadow People. They rule, we serve. They thrive in the cities, we wander the land. They are called cultured, we are called savages. They decide our fate, we are to accept it.’ He moved a little until he completely turned towards Loki and locked his dark eyes on him. ‘I did not accept.’

‘What do you mean he’s coming with us?’ Stark asked right away when he turned back, eyeing Drongo in surprise.

‘I'll explain later. Right now, we need to go,’ Loki said quickly and started shoving Stark inside the Drake.

‘What happened to making decisions together?’ the human protested.

‘Need I remind you how Juyu and Bee came to our ship?’ Loki asked.

‘But that was before!’

‘Stark!’ Loki stopped and turned him around. They were up at the front already, while the girls and Drongo just walked into the back. ‘Once you hear what is going on, you will agree.’

‘Is he in trouble?’

‘Partially,’ Loki said.

‘And you’re… helping?’ his tone was bewildered and Loki might’ve been insulted if he wouldn’t have been so very baffled by himself too at the moment.

‘Just let us go, Stark!’

‘Just explain it to me,’ the other insisted. ‘You don’t do this! You hate this, unnecessary trouble, useless heroic nonsense, as you call it. What’s going on now? Why is this different?’

Because it is!’ Loki yelled angrily. Stark’s eyebrows lifted significantly and he stared at Loki in surprise for a moment or two. The god took a breath before he looked at him again. ‘It’s… different. We have to go.’

‘Okay,’ Stark said, still looking at him a little strangely. ‘Okay, of course. You can tell me later.’ He reached out and touched Loki’s arm, it was maybe meant to be reassuring, or an apology for demanding answers instead of acting right away. Then he slid into his usual seat and started the engines without any further questions. When Loki looked back the door was already closed and Drongo was holding onto something to keep steady. Bee was standing close to him and Juyu obviously took notice of that. The girl had the strangest instincts, but it was worth paying attention to them.

Loki did not need to catch Drongo’s eyes or nod at him or say anything to him, there was no need. So he sat down into his own seat when the Drake took off.

‘You know,’ Stark said. ‘I did not think you could still surprise me this much.’

‘I surprised myself too,’ Loki answered truthfully.

‘He must have one hell of a story.’

‘That he does.’

Chapter Text

 

Juyu was very curious about the strange giant Loki brought on-board and she had more than one reason for it. First of all there was Loki, the grandmaster of merciless bastards, showing even a speck of care towards someone that was not Stark. That alone made things interesting to say the least. Then there was Bee. Juyu knew that look on her face. She was interested, even if it was hard to guess in what and why just yet. She looked at Drongo with open curiosity. There was not even guarded hesitancy in her gaze like there used to be with Loki. It made little sense to Juyu. While it was obvious to anyone who looked twice that Loki was dangerous, no one in their right mind would think him more dangerous than this Drongo fellow. Although size was not everything of course, since most would fear a punch from Juyu more than a strike from Bee, and oh how wrong they were to do so.

Still, Drongo was huge! She had never seen anyone this big before in her entire life. He also felt warm like a furnace. She could not sense temperature as well as in her true form, but she could still feel the warmth radiating from him when she stood next to him. The markings on his skin were also interesting. Reptilian skin was too thick for such decorations, so it was very rare sight in the Andromeda. He also spoke in a strangely rich and differently pronounced version of the Imperial common tongue, the kind Juyu only heard once or twice in her life. Those she knew before were not much for fancy words, and they were not from the smart variety either. Juyu felt oddly self-conscious about her roughly spoken words right now. She hated when others though she was stupid. Loki sometimes looked at her like that, but well, he looked at almost everyone like that, except for Stark of course. He looked at Stark like he was the one who put the stars on the sky.

Her eyes then landed on the wounds scattered all over the big man. Stark and Loki were on the other side of the cargo hold, discussing something. Juyu didn’t bother with eavesdropping.

‘Want something to clean your wounds with?’ she asked. ‘We have medical supplies.’

Drongo turned to look at her. His eyes were searching and calculating, in that they reminded her of Loki, but the gaze was also warm, maybe even honest, so that was different. Loki’s hard and sharp gaze rarely softened… unless he was looking at Stark of course. Stark was always the exception when it came to Loki, it was ridiculous.

‘That would be kind of you,’ Drongo answered in his deep rumbling voice. Juyu shrugged and looked around in search for the nearest med kit box. It was absurd how much of the stuff they had on the ship. She still did not dare ask what was up with all the cargo, but from what she knew of Stark and Loki they probably did not buy all of this. Maybe she should take the time and ask Stark to tell her what exactly the two of them were running from. It would be fair. They knew almost everything about Juyu and her sister. She grabbed a few things then walked back and handed them over to Drongo.

‘You can sit down on some of the boxes here,’ she said. ‘I don’t think Stark wants you to go deeper into the ship just yet.’

‘Thank you,’ Drongo said, and he did just that after he found a box that was large enough for his size. Bee climbed up to a nearby stack of crates and kept staring down at the big man. He did not seem to mind. He opened up a bottle of cleaning salve more quickly than Juyu would’ve expected from someone with such thick fingers and poured out some on a piece of gauze to wipe the slashes and other wounds on his arms with it.

‘What did that?’ Juyu asked.

‘Spikes,’ Drongo replied. ‘Insectoid creatures,’ he clarified.

Juyu felt her eyes widen. ‘Those had to be some massive insects,’ she said.

‘Big enough,’ Drongo replied. ‘I don’t think we have been introduced,’ he said next and looked up at her again.

‘Right, I’m Juyu. I’m Bee’s sister,’ she said.

‘Pleasure,’ Drongo nodded then looked up where Stark and Loki were still discussing things in the workshop area. ‘Is he your leader? Stark, was it?’

‘Well, he is sort of the Commander, but he and Loki are partners, so things depend on both of them.’

‘And you are?’

‘I’m nobody,’ Juyu shrugged. ‘Stark just picked us up.’

‘Oh, so they have a habit of doing that.’

‘Not really. Loki is… distrustful and suspicious… or he just generally hates everyone on principle. I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.’

Drongo actually chuckled little bit at that remark. ‘Yes, I can see that,’ he said. ‘Nobles are always wary of being stabbed in the back, usually with good reason.’

‘You know he’s a prince?’ Juyu asked with a surprised frown.

‘I do now,’ Drongo replied calmly after a moment of pause.

It took a moment for Juyu to realize that her mouth ran away with her again. ‘Oh, crap.’ Loki was going to be pissed at her… again. He barely stopped giving her the death-glare for the locked door thing, even though it absolutely helped them. He should’ve thanked her, but all she got was the evil eye. Ungrateful bastard. At least Stark was nice about it.

‘You’re calm,’ Drongo observed. ‘Not afraid of me?’

Juyu thought about it for but a second. ‘I don’t get scared easy,’ she told him right away, then she shook her head. She was not some skittish child and nobody should assume that. ‘Besides, Loki brought you here and he’s more cautious than anyone, and my sister’s not wary of you. I trust her judgement.’

Drongo turned to look up at where Bee was sitting on the crates still staring at him intensely. He smiled at her then went back to cleaning his wounds. ‘That’s good.’

‘Others tend to be more… disturbed by her,’ Juyu said quietly.

‘I’m used to being stared at,’ Drongo answered simply. ‘There is no harm in it.’

Stark and Loki walked back to them finally and while Juyu had no idea what exactly they were talking about, at least it looked like they had an understanding about Drongo.

‘Okay, so here’s the deal, Goliath,’ Stark started. ‘Loki and I agreed to give you a ride to where you want to go from here regardless of what you’re going to tell me. But it looks like you may need more help than that, and that help I can’t promise you in advance, because that really depends on your story. So I guess you should just start talking and tell me what’s going on. And I’m not gonna lie, I am expecting a big story here.’

‘Fair enough,’ Drongo replied. ‘I also believe that you should be aware of what you’re getting into.’

‘Go on then,’ Stark prompted. Loki moved to the side and sat down on some boxes as well. Only Juyu and Stark remained standing.

‘My people are wanderers,’ Drongo started right away. ‘We have roamed the universe for many-many years and have more than one planet we can call home, but our oldest home is Sakaar. We have not tried to build up cities or change the land beneath our feet, but it is still our home. We wander the lands of Sakaar, just like we wander the universe.’

Drongo finally put down the gauze he used to clean some of his wounds before he continued.

‘But we are not the only ones who live on the planet. The Imperials ruled the land for a long time now, ever since Angmo, the Father Emperor, saved the planet from an alien invasion. The immediate danger was averted, but even after that victory the threat was never completely dealt with. That threat was the Spikes.’

‘Spikes?’ Tony asked.

‘Sentient spores,’ Drongo replied. ‘Mad insectoid creatures that consumed everything they touched before they were finally contained to one of the moons of Sakaar. It was Angmo who did that, who saved the planet, so he is the great hero of our land.’

‘Now his son rules, Angmo-Asan, the Red King,’ Drongo continued and his deep voice became suddenly a little harder as he spoke. ‘I have been away from Sakaar for a many number of years and only returned recently. I heard rumours first, whispers that some Spikes were still roaming the land, that somehow they were not contained with the rest. There was nothing suspicious about it at first, but then I heard that it was not just a village or two that got attacked, but over a dozen of them. And it became quite clear that only my people were attacked. Not the Imperials and not even the Natives, just us the Shadows. Spikes are not smart, they don’t pick targets. They attack what’s in front of them mindlessly. It made no sense.’

‘So I went and started to search for answers. Any Imperial I asked assured me that the attacks were all just unfortunate accidents. My people were told to wait and let the Red King deal with it. He’s the son of our great hero, so we waited. But then more attacks happened, and I could not accept to stand idly by, I could not leave our fate in the hands of the Imperials alone. So I kept asking questions.’

‘I wanted to know what the King planned to do against the Spikes, but I’ve only been told to go back to my tribe. That I needn’t know the complex strategies of the King’s Armies, that they could not waste the long time it would take them to explain it to me. No matter how many questions I asked, I got no answers in return from anyone. With nothing to do, I decided to go back to join my tribe again. To be there with them, to make sure they were all safe. It was the only thing I could do.’

‘Not a day passed after my return and Spikes were pouring out of thin air in the dark of the night. They infected almost everyone, but we fought, we fought hard, with all we had. I thought all was lost, we all did, but then we heard… just as the sun was coming up the Imperials showed up in their golden armours, led by the Red King himself. We thought we were saved, that they came to help us, we rejoiced.’ Juyu did not need to listen too hard to catch the bitterness in the last words.

Drongo looked up at Stark then and locked his dark eyes on him. ‘But he just stood there, his men standing behind him, not making a single step forward. He stood there… and watched. Watched how my people screamed and died one after another. He watched how the Spikes pierced their skin and tore the very flesh from their bones, consumed their bodies, and he did nothing. He just stood there and kept watching.’

His voice trailed off and he took a breath. Stark did not interrupt him, but Juyu could see the tension in his body, the hardness on his face and in his eyes.

‘You probably wonder how I’m alive,’ Drongo said after a moment of silence. ‘There are some members of my race, who are born with a gift. The gift of the Old Power, we are called the Oldstrongs. We have the ability to channel the strength of the land itself. There have never been many of us, but nowadays there are even less and less children who are born with the gift. We are stronger in many ways thanks to it. It also makes it harder for the Spikes to infect us. So when all ended there was only me and two children left. As soon as all the others fell the Imperials moved in. The Spikes were feasting on the dead, so the soldiers were not bothered by them. The children were taken right away and it became clear to me then. The questions I’ve been asking, the picture I’ve been looking for, it was all in front of me all of a sudden with the utmost clarity. The Red King has been collecting the Oldstrongs, he infected our tribes and our villages with the Spikes in order to find those who had the Old Power and he has been doing it for a while.’

He paused again, but only for a moment. It looked like that was all the time he needed to gather his thoughts again and continue.

‘I was drained from the fight against the Spikes, I overexerted myself, so I could not battle them, and they chained me up. The Red King only glanced at me and told his men that I was too old to be taught, so I was of no use to him. He left and I was dragged across the desert into the town where we crossed paths. I’ve been sitting there for a little over a day when Loki and Bee walked up to me.’

‘Why didn’t they lock you up somewhere more guarded?’ Stark asked. He had a dark frown on his face and Juyu was rather sure that her own expression was not much better.

‘There was no need. There are mainly just Imperials living in that town and they knew that the King’s soldiers left me there, so of course they would not lift a finger. All would assume that I deserved to be there and none would care to listen to what I had to say. I was left there to rot on the sun. I do not know what else they planned to do to me.’

Stark turned and shared a look with Loki. The prince’s face was closed-off and Juyu could not read anything from his body language either. It was like he was a statue. Her sister was silent up in her spot, but her eyes were not wide with curiosity anymore.

‘Over the past years over a dozen tribes and villages were attacked by Spikes, thousands were infected and killed, men, women, from young to old, everyone. Just so that the King could take the few still young Oldstrongs, raise them to be loyal to him and use their power to his gain. And nobody knows, because those who were attacked did not live to tell what they saw. I am the first to survive, that is my story, Commander. That my people are slaughtered like animals, while the few surviving children are taken to be weapons in the greedy Red King’s hand.’

‘Holy fucking shit,’ Stark breathed out and ran a hand down his face then covered his mouth, looking at nothing for a moment or two. ‘How are you calm? How can you possibly be this calm?’ he asked then, staring at Drongo. Juyu could see Stark’s point. How could the man sit there and speak so evenly, smile at Bee and thank Juyu for small things, when he watched his whole tribe get slaughtered only a few days ago? He should be angry! Juyu was angry! She could feel a familiar pulse of rage in her veins that made her muscles tight with tension. She was sure that she could not utter a soft word, not after listening to this and here was this giant of a man speaking calmly, even kindly. How?

‘There is more than one type of anger,’ Drongo said. ‘And there are right and wrong times and places for it.’

‘I don’t even have the words to say how fucked up this whole thing is,’ Stark said finally, this time running his hand through his hair. He started pacing, he was agitated, disturbed by all this and he did not try to hide it, not even a little bit. ‘It’s so many levels of fucked up that I can’t even… comprehend this… fucking genocidal psycho. Jesus Fucking Christ. How is anyone capable… fuck.’

‘What kind of help do you need?’ Juyu asked and was surprised when her voice came out lighter and quieter than she intended. She should be able to keep her composure, dammit.

Drongo looked at her, but he obviously addressed them all when he started speaking again. Juyu really envied how calm and collected his deep voice still was.

‘I overheard the soldiers while we were walking into the town,’ he said. ‘The Oldstrong children are always taken to Aakar, it is one of the moons of Sakaar. They are kept and trained there.’

‘You want to rescue them?’ Stark asked.

‘I will try,’ Drongo said. ‘There will be a transport-ship leaving to Aakar in two days’ time. I heard that from a merchant who argued with someone a little too loudly not far away from where I was chained up. I hoped to escape and use it to get to them.’

‘How many kids are we talking about here?’ Stark asked. ‘Where did you plan to take them anyway? It doesn’t sound like your planet has safe places to hide them if the fucking king is slaughtering you all.’

‘I do not know how many, but there is a tribe who is going to leave Sakaar and the Fornax Galaxy altogether very soon, I hoped to take the children to them, they would surely take them in. It would be the safest. They would be far away from the Red King. Many tribes are planning to leave Sakaar actually. Too many of us died in the recent years. Even if they do not know that the King is behind the attacks, they don’t think that the planet is safe anymore.’

‘Loki?’ Stark asked and turned to look at the other. They just stared at each other for a few moments silently, then Loki nodded and Stark nodded back at him before turning back towards Drongo.

‘It looks like we don’t want any kids to be raised to serve this fucking bastard of a king, so I guess that means we’re in,’ he said, then he turned to look at Juyu, then at Bee too. ‘Girls, this is not mandatory. You can stay out of it, wait on the ship, it’s up to you.’

‘I hope you’re joking right now,’ Juyu told him angrily right away, crossing her arms. ‘There’s no way I’m going to sit on my ass. You’re going to need us.’

Stark smiled and nodded, ‘Good.’

‘I expected more questions from you,’ Drongo said to him.

‘Oh, I will be asking you more questions, but Loki tells me that it’s very unlikely that you’re lying and Little Bee does not look murderous around you, so I’m more inclined to trust you than not.’

‘Your trust is appreciated and so is your help,’ Drongo told him and bowed his head a little.

‘There’s one rule,’ Stark said in a darker tone. ‘Don’t try to screw us over, because I may not look like it, but you don’t want to get on my bad side and I’m not even going to mention what happens to those who piss Loki off.’

Drongo did not seem bothered by the threat, but it didn’t look like he took the words lightly either.

‘You’re a good man, Commander. I can respect that you want to protect what is yours,’ he said. ‘I am already grateful for Loki’s aid, but if you help me rescue the children, I will be in your debt and I will be happy to repay you in any way I can. That is my promise to you.’

Then his eyes slid to Loki. ‘And you need not warn me about Loki. I’m not foolish enough to play with fire.’

‘Okay,’ Stark nodded. ‘We have two days. We need a plan, a damn good plan.’

‘I already happen to have one,’ Loki spoke up for the first time. ‘Not sure you will like it though.’

Chapter Text

 

‘We’re fucking pirates,’ Tony said.

‘It’s useless to deny it any longer,’ Loki agreed.

The general idea of Loki’s plan was pretty straight-forward, and yeah… kind of pirate-esque. It was a good kind of piracy though, they were stealing people from bad guys after all. So, simple plan. Ambush and take over the transporter, use it to get on the Moon Aakar, find the children, get them in the transporter, get the hell out of dodge, take them to the tribe. The devil was in the details of course.

They were all still in the cargo area, but now everyone was paying attention to Loki instead of Drongo. Tony was still not over that one. He was very-very much not over that, genocide stories did that to a man. Juyu looked a little pale herself and Loki was still behaving in a way that spoke louder than words. It meant that he was hiding something – probably anger – he had that calm before the storm thing going for him. Bee looked like she always did, she had a problem with displaying emotions, so it was hard to guess what she was thinking. Drongo though, the man was so fucking zen it was unbelievable, he was putting Bruce Banner to shame and Tony knew that the big guy had hell of a control. He suddenly had a mental image of the two them in the same room, but he pushed the thought away. His mind was running away with him, it was probably still the shock of what he just listened to. He should focus more.

‘What do you mean we can’t ambush the transporter before it takes off?’ Juyu asked and Tony realized that the conversation continued while he got lost in his head.

‘It’s too risky,’ Loki answered. ‘Who knows how many soldiers are going to be around?’

‘Where then?’ Tony asked.

‘When it’s already on the way to Aakar,’ Loki replied. Tony frowned.

‘Okay, do you also have an idea about how we’re supposed to go from one ship to another out in space? Because my suit is not yet space-proof,’ Tony told him. “Yet” was an important expression here, he had plans, he had ideas, but he was constantly working on two-three things at the same time and he only had two hands.

‘We fly in close, I teleport inside and open up a way for you to connect either the Drake or the IronMage to the transporter. Preferably the Drake, it’s a faster.’

Tony blinked in surprise and saw from the corner of his eyes how Drongo’s eyes narrowed in interest.

‘Um, Loki, correct me if I’m wrong here, but you passed out cold from hiding the girls. Are you sure you have enough juice to pull this off safely?’ Tony was pretty sure he could pull it off, but there was no way in hell he wanted him to overexert himself again.

Loki held up a finger in a “wait” gesture then stood up and swiftly walked over to the workshop area. Tony did not see what he grabbed from one of the tables at first, but then he recognized the box. He frowned again. He filled up a bunch of crystal cylinders with energy for testing and stuff and Loki grabbed a box from those. It took a moment for him to remember.

‘You mean you can--’

‘Yes,’ Loki answered even before he could finish.

‘Like you did with the--’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you mind including the rest of us in this conversation?’ Juyu interrupted before Tony could speak again. Loki looked over Tony’s shoulder.

‘I can safely teleport into the transporter,’ Loki said. ‘That’s the important part.’

‘And after you’re in?’ Tony asked.

‘I’ll take it over so that you can get on board too.’ He did not doubt that Loki could handle himself alone, but it still made him uneasy. No wonder Loki said he wouldn’t like this plan.

‘We’re going to need to be in constant connection,’ Tony said. ‘You’re not bad with tech, but you might need some help, so we have to be able to talk.’

‘Can you make us something that can help with that?’ Loki asked.

‘Of course,’ Tony said. He barely stopped himself from saying “duh”. ‘Communicators are quite simple, the IronMage can be the centre that connects us all together, keeping a personal channel open.’

‘That solves it,’ Loki nodded then looked away from Tony again. ‘Juyu, you’re going to have to learn how to fly the Drake.’

The girl blinked then her eyebrows lifted in surprise and disbelief. ‘In two days?’ she asked.

‘It’s not overly complicated,’ Loki told her. ‘You’ll do fine. We’re going to need the Drake close around as protection, it’s the only weaponized vehicle we have and Stark and I will be in the transporter.’ Juyu muttered something under her nose, too quiet for Tony to hear, maybe she was cursing.

‘How do you mean to find the children?’ Drongo asked then.

‘Trickery, of course,’ Loki answered. ‘A little shapeshifting here and there, and some convincing words are all we need. I can be a Sakaaran Imperial and Bee can play a little Oldstrong.’ Drongo did not seem fazed by shapeshifting entering the picture so suddenly. Tony wondered if there was anything that could possibly faze him.

‘And I play a Shadow who’s loyal to the Red King?’ Drongo asked.

‘And decided to hand over the Oldstrong youngling he found,’ Loki added. Drongo nodded.

‘What about me?’ Tony asked.

‘You will need to wear your full armour so that they can’t see how you look like,’ Loki started. ‘And you will have to be the one to fly the transporter, so you will have to figure out how it works very quickly once we’re on-board.’

‘I think I have to work on the system hack function of my DNI,’ Tony said. ‘Maybe I can get it done in time to use it.’

‘We did not have time to work on your mental shields yet,’ Loki frowned.

‘I’m only going for a simplified version,’ Tony said. ‘Just in case.’

‘This is a lot of preparation,’ Juyu remarked. ‘Do we have enough time?’

‘Yes. There is no need to rush,’ Loki said. ‘We have two days. First we need to rest.’

‘Yeah,’ Tony agreed and looked at Drongo. ‘I’m sure you could use some sleep. Juyu can help you find a room, we still have one or two empty ones. I don’t know, maybe you can shove two beds together to make it big enough.’

‘It would be indeed unwise to form further plans with tired minds,’ the big man agreed. ‘I thank you again for your kindness.’

Tony shrugged. ’Sure.’ He was not used to polite people, not anymore. It’s been a while since he heard anyone waste time for pleasantries.

He watched as Juyu and Drongo walked out of the cargo area with Bee hopping down from her spot to follow them.

‘I don’t know why I don’t have more reservations about the guy,’ Tony mused once they were gone. ‘But I guess someone that doesn’t make you suspicious is obviously below my danger radar. The question is why.’

‘I thought it was obvious,’ Loki said.

‘It’s obvious why I want to help, but I’m not quite sure which part ticked you off,’ Tony told him. Loki looked at him for a moment then sighed.

‘Can we not talk about this now?’ he asked. He sounded just uncomfortable enough for Tony to let it go.

‘Sure,’ he said. ‘C’mon, we better get some rest too, we’re gonna have to do some serious brainwork tomorrow.’

Loki nodded, but waited until Tony was next to him before he started walking. Tony hesitated for a second before he decided to screw it. So he slid his arm around the god’s waist to get them closer. Loki looked at him curiously for a moment but he didn’t object or pull away.

‘I’m glad you decided to bring him here,’ Tony said after a few moments of silence.

‘It was not some sort of stupid heroic--’

‘Hey, it doesn’t matter,’ Tony cut him off and he stopped so he could look at him fully. ‘I know a lot of people who would disagree with me, but personally I think that your actions are what really matter and not the reasons behind them.’

‘So you’re not even curious about my intentions?’ Loki asked in return.

‘I think we both know how very little intentions count on the grand scale of things,’ Tony told him. He had the best intentions when he was constructing weapons, but that did not change the fact that many innocents died because of his carelessness. From the way Loki always talked about things getting out of his control, he was rather sure that the god knew what he was talking about.

‘So what? You can be selfish and greedy as long as others see it as a good deed? And it does not matter how much good you intend to do if you--’ he cut himself off abruptly and Tony was sure that they stumbled upon some touchy subject again.

‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’ Tony said. ‘That’s something we say on Earth.’

‘How fitting,’ Loki agreed.

‘Intentions may not matter when it comes to the big picture,’ Tony continued. ‘But it could mean a lot to those around you.’

‘Are we still talking about Drongo?’ Loki asked.

‘I don’t think we are.’

Loki took a breath and Tony wasn’t sure whether he would say anything else, but he still did not pull away or shook the arm off from around his waist, so that was a good sign.

‘I don’t know anymore,’ he said finally, his voice was quiet. ‘I used to be sure, but now I don’t know.’

‘You could always tell me,’ Tony offered. It was hard to get things out of Loki and it was basically impossible to get him to talk about anything from his past. He sure as hell couldn’t be forced, so probably offering to listen was the best Tony could do. Loki looked at him again, his body tense with something very painful and broken in his eyes.

‘I can’t,’ he said shaking his head. ‘I just…’ Tony leaned in and kissed him on the lips. The way Loki relaxed after a moment made him want to keep his lips on his for as long as possible. He stroked the small of Loki’s back soothingly and it seemed to work even if they were both still wearing armour.

‘When you want to,’ Tony said after they pulled apart. Using “when” instead of “if” was deliberate on his part, because he was sure that they would get there eventually. ‘It’s not like I’m going anywhere,’ he added more lightly and smiled. He didn’t know how he (mostly) managed to say the right things when it came to Loki, when in the past he tended to screw this part up a lot. But seeing how the lurking pain vanished from Loki’s gaze made him stupidly glad that he did manage somehow.

They did not go to sleep right away. Tony’s mind was too active, too many things were swirling around in it and Loki seemed to have the same problem. Tony grabbed shower first then he sat down to check over his suit. It worked well, but it was still sort of a prototype and Tony just couldn’t stop tinkering with it. He always found new things to change and adjust. He was pretty sure that he was going to build a new suit. He just needed to do more testing first. Sadly, he could only test his suit on planets and instead of actual testing he was more likely to use it in some life and death situation. At least he got plenty of results either way. He even figured out how his boot got fried the last time he flew, now there was only 3.8% chance of something like that happening again. His new suit had to be more stable, and it was going to be better in every way, once he got around building it that is.

When Loki emerged from the bathroom he grabbed the box of crystals from the table after dropping his towel. Then he got some leather out from his closet and picked up a pair of scissors. Tony looked up from the gauntlet in his hand.

‘I can’t just carry the crystals around in my hands,’ Loki explained once he noticed him watching. ‘And they have to be in direct contact with my skin.’

‘Okay, need some help with it?’

‘No, I got it,’ Loki shook his head then sat down on his bed. Tony watched as he cut off a long piece of leather and started putting holes in it silently. ‘What is it?’ Loki asked without looking up at him.

‘Using the crystals to power your magic, to teleport,’ Tony started. ‘Can you tell me that it’s completely safe?’

Loki raised his head to look at Tony and after a moment one of his eyebrows lifted as well.

‘Can you tell me that your DNI hacking system is going to be completely safe?’ he asked in return.

Tony sighed. ‘Fair enough,’ he admitted. ‘But I don’t have to like it.’

‘Stark, don’t waste your breath on unnecessary concern.’

‘I’m allowed to be worried about you,’ Tony told him. He still remembered that cold tight feeling that gripped his chest the last time Loki overexerted himself. He remembered his dead-pale face, the shaking, the cold fever and the blood dripping from his nose. He didn’t want to see him like that again. He was allowed to be uncertain about the whole teleportation part of this plan or the whole taking over the transporter alone part too as a matter of fact.

‘You do not have to,’ Loki said as he went back to work.

‘Someone has to,’ Tony shrugged. Loki looked up at him again.

‘I can take of myself, you know that,’ he said and there was something defensive and irritated creeping into his voice. That won’t do.

‘That’s not what I meant,’ Tony said and put his gauntlet down to walk over to Loki’s bed and sit down in front of him. He had to put the box of crystals down on the floor. ‘And I know that I don’t have to explain this to you.’

Loki just sighed and looked up again. ‘Can we not have another emotional heart-to-heart today? I am way over my limit.’

The statement surprised a laugh out of Tony. ‘No heart-to-heart,’ he promised and put his arms up in surrender. Loki smiled a little. ‘I just hate seeing you hurt, so I want you to watch your ass,’ he said. ‘I have big plans for that ass,’ he added a moment later and it was Loki’s turn to laugh. Tony seldom managed to make him laugh like this. Small chuckles and snickers were one thing, actual laughter was rare. He always felt pretty damn pleased about himself whenever it happened. Loki dropped the leather and the scissors down beside the bed and reached forward to grab hold of Tony’s undershirt and drag him close. Tony went willingly and a moment later they were kissing. Loki leaned back which put Tony basically on top of him.

Tony loved kissing and Loki was an excellent kisser. Tony could spend a lot of time like this. His position was probably anything but attractive with the way he was sprawled half on top of the god, but at least he did not have to worry about crushing him with his weight, because probably not even a truck over his chest would be too heavy for him.

They parted a little when Loki bit his lower lip, but it just prompted Tony to slide his mouth down to his neck.

‘Big plans you say?’ Loki asked and Tony really liked that tone of his. He could tell just from the way he said the words that he was smiling. There was also a certain lightness in his voice that Tony only ever heard when they were close like this. Like this was the only time Loki really managed to push away the ever-present darkness from his mind.

‘Big, amazing plans,’ Tony answered and mouthed on the god’s neck, kissing and licking the pale skin.

Loki’s hands ran down his back slowly. ‘What a coincidence,’ he said. Then slid his hands down some more and grabbed Tony’s ass tightly, pulling him even closer. ‘I have some big plans for yours as well.’ The last words were spoken directly into his ear and yeah, fuck this.

He lifted himself up and moved his leg to straddle Loki’s hips and leaned down to capture his lips again, he slid one hand into his hair, the other to the side of his neck. Loki opened his mouth as soon as their lips touched and welcomed Tony’s exploring tongue with his own.

In this new position it only took one little slide forward to feel how much they both enjoyed kissing. The low throb of arousal flared up to burning need in Tony’s veins. He moved and rolled his hips down moaning into the kiss at the feel of it. Oh, it’s been so long, so very long and Loki felt absolutely fucking perfect under him. He felt how Loki’s fingers tightened on him before he pushed his hips up to meet Tony’s. Loki drew in a sharp breath through his nose and it made Tony break the kiss, because he had to see him.

His green eyes were dark and intent, his normally pale lips were red, slick and kiss-swollen and invitingly open. Tony wanted him to pant, wanted him to moan, wanted to know if he could make his skin flush pink with warmth.

‘Oh fuck, you’re gorgeous,’ he said and dived back down for another kiss while he rolled his hips down again, sharper and heavier this time. Even through layers of clothing the feel of Loki’s hard length pressing up to his own was incredible. It would feel better without clothes on, he realized. Then wondered why the hell he was not losing clothes already.

He let go of Loki’s lips and pulled his undershirt over his head, tossing it away. Loki got the message and sat up. The movement brought them closer again, almost chest to chest, but also gave him enough space to get rid of his shirt.

‘I should make you walk around shirtless all the time,’ Tony told him after he took a long appreciative look at the revealed skin. It earned him a sharp smile. So he pushed Loki back down onto the bed and kissed him again. He dug his fingers into his skin, sliding his hands down on his sides.

The more time passed the more urgency Tony felt, to touch more, to feel more, to have more. He was rock hard and knew Loki was too, he could feel it, but there were still too many fucking clothes between them. He wanted to see him and touch him, he couldn’t wait any longer. He pulled back from Loki’s mouth again and moved away just enough to get enough space between them. He slid his hand down Loki’s chest, down over his stomach to his pants and licked his lips while he hurriedly unlaced it.

‘This is not how I planned this,’ Loki said.

‘Screw plans, I want to touch you,’ Tony replied and yanked Loki’s pants down just enough to free his cock. He looked down for a moment before smirking up at Loki. ‘I knew you were smooth everywhere,’ he said then wrapped his hand around the hard length when Loki opened his mouth to reply. The god closed his eyes and finally a moan escaped his lips. Tony moved his hand up and down, stroking slowly at first, getting used of the feel of him. Loki thrust up into his hand then. The way his muscles clenched and how he arched his neck and moaned made Tony’s skin heat up even more with want. His pants did not have any buttons or laces luckily, since he was dressed for sleep, so it took no time to push them down and out of the way. He wanted to press their dicks together, spread the pre-come with his hand and make them both slick. But then he got distracted from the way Loki lifted a hand to lick at his palm before he reached down and wrapped his beautiful long fingers around Tony’s cock. Tony sucked in a breath and moaned loudly. Loki’s hand was wet, tight and skilled and just fucking perfect altogether.

The other hand gripped his nape and pulled him down for a deep open-mouthed kiss. Usually Loki was teasing, biting and exploring with his kisses, but now he shoved his tongue in Tony’s mouth like he wanted to crawl inside. The change in their position made it a bit difficult for him to keep his hand on Loki’s dick, but it did not matter, because the next thing he knew Loki batted his hand away and wrapped his own around the both of them, pressing their dicks tightly together and stroking. Tony did not even try to hold back his groan.

‘Fuck yes,’ he breathed when Loki let go of his lips. He started moving his hips, thrusting forward into Loki’s hand, quickly losing himself in the rhythm.

‘Look at me,’ Loki said then and Tony opened his eyes, not even realizing he closed them. If Loki looked delicious before, he looked downright sinful now, pleasure was written on every inch of his face, in his darkened eyes and panting mouth.

He almost complained when Loki let go of their dicks, but then his ass was grabbed tightly and he was pulled down while Loki lifted his hips up… Oh, it was delicious. Their cocks were slick from arousal and with Loki’s spit the feel of it all was just wet enough. Loki controlled his movements first, but soon Tony could feel how pleasure was building up and coiling in him and it pushed him to move harder and faster and Loki let him of course.

Loki was making sounds now too, small moans and large breaths escaped him, his composure was gone, his control flew out of the window. Tony thought that he was going to lose his mind from the sight of the god looking like this underneath him. He was so not going to last much longer.

‘Yes! Oh yes, let me see you,’ Loki said, breathless and urgent, his hips moving just as hard and fast as Tony’s own, he had to be close too.

Tony felt his muscles tighten when the burning tension in his body finally snapped. It washed over him in a powerful wave of ecstasy and he had to bury his head in Loki’s neck, biting the skin there as he groaned in pleasure. The slide of their dicks became even more slippery right away, warm and wet with Tony’s come. Their movements did not stop though, not for a moment. Tony forced himself to move, to lift his head up, because he had to see, he had to. He put his hands on Loki’s head and looked at him, his brain was too fried to say anything sensual or even dirty, but he knew the look on his face said enough. He just kept their eyes locked as he panted, coming down from his high but still moving his hips.

It did not take long, only a few more thrusts and Loki threw his head back, letting go. His neck stretched out deliciously, muscles and tendons went tight from pleasure as he let out a breathless moan. He gripped Tony’s hips so hard that bruises were sure to form. Tony watched, because the sight was breath-taking.

Then they both finally stopped moving, but Loki pulled him close and held onto him before he could roll off. Neither of them said a word, they just tried to catch their breaths for long moments. They were sweaty and covered in come, but Tony did not give a damn. He felt incredibly good and comfortable.

‘You surprised me,’ Loki said then and Tony pushed himself up to be able to look at him.

‘Really? I don’t think it was surprising,’ he said. He was still not breathing right, but at least he could talk as his brain was putting itself back together. He slid down from Loki to lie next to him, but did not move away, so the god did not protest. ‘There’s this thing with me and sex. I really-really like it. Like… a lot.’ With that he flopped back down on the bed, but still almost half on top of Loki.

Loki chuckled and started stroking Tony’s back with his fingers.

‘I still did not expect to be jumped like this,’ he said. He was completely relaxed, while a small smile was tugging at his lips. Tony could only see gentle lines, no hard edges or tense muscles, he looked so much younger. But there was something in his tone, so Tony propped himself up to his elbow to look down at him.

‘Loki, I don’t have doubts anymore,’ he said. ‘I want this… I want you.’

Loki looked at him for a few moments in silence, his eyes searching, like he wanted to make sure that Tony was telling the truth, that he was sincere. After that it did not take long for Loki to smile. It was not his usual shark-smile, it was brighter, because his eyes were smiling too and there was something happy in his gaze. It was like a punch in the gut. It made Tony’s breath stutter and get stuck in his throat. What did he do to deserve to be looked at like this?

Tony just blinked a few times then leaned down to kiss him, because that smile deserved to be kissed.

Chapter Text

 

‘Showtime everyone. Time to take over, Juyu,’ Stark said.

‘I’m really not sure about this,’ Juyu answered, but still moved closer.

‘You’ll do fine,’ Loki told her as he walked into the back.

The girl took a large breath then took the seat from Stark, gripping the wheel just a little too tightly.

‘I hate you both,’ she grumbled.

‘Communication is open, we’re going to hear each other constantly,’ Stark started and indeed Loki could hear his voice coming from the earpiece as well. ‘If someone gets offline the others will know something’s wrong, don’t take it out or turn it off.’

Loki was ready to go. He had the crystals, his blades and his gun. The transporter was almost close enough. Bee and Drongo stood in the back too, but they kept their distance of course. Loki focused on his breathing. This was not going to be a simple task. Stark was now standing in front of him, his eyebrows furrowed in worry, his armoured arms crossed over his chest. He was looking at Loki like that since that morning. It looked like he wanted to say something, but he refrained. They already talked about all risks, the flaws in the plan, there was nothing left to say.

‘Wait,’ he said then walked closer. Loki really hoped he was not about to repeat his concerns again. In the end, instead of words, the man just put a hand on the back of his neck and pulled him close for a short hard kiss. They looked at each other for a moment when they parted and Stark just smiled as his fingers trailed down the braid Loki had today. ‘Go get ‘em!’ Loki smiled back and reached out to the constantly-pulsing energy swirling in the crystals and for the first time in a long while his magic burst into life. It filled his body, overwhelmed his senses, it was like the most exhilarating free-fall, but there was no need to worry. He had wings now.

Loki?’ came Stark’s voice through the earpiece even before Loki completely managed to take in his new surroundings.

‘I’m inside,’ Loki replied quietly and pulled both of his blades out. His alyndor daggers were flawless twins, thin straight blades almost as long as his forearms, the handles were wrapped in soft leather, his grip on them couldn’t have been better. He did made them to be perfect for his own use after all. They were one of the best blades he had ever crafted. The enchantment he placed upon them made wounds bleed longer. Not that much enchantment was needed to make these weapons magnificent. Alyndor blades were marvellously light and deadly to begin with.

He was in a small room at the back of the transporter. He listened for a moment, but when no noise came from the other side of the door he started moving. Suddenly he remembered the day they took over the IronMage, but this was different. Stark was not entirely correct, reasons did matter, not just deeds. He would spill blood again, like he did many times before, but it still did not feel the same and he was very much aware of that.

He did not kill them all, since he learnt from their previous mistake. There was only a crew of six on the transporter and he only had to kill two of them. The other four he knocked out, tied up and locked into a room. They could have valuable information regarding the spacecraft or something else, they were Sakaaran Imperials after all. He barely heard any sound from Stark and the others, so he assumed they stayed silent in order to not distract him.

‘I’m finished,’ Loki said then.

Everything went smoothly?’ Stark asked.

‘I even have some hostages,’ Loki replied.

Good, we’re closing in. You need to disable the primary defence system and enable the airlock so we can dock in and get inside,’ the human instructed.

Loki was glad that in the last two years he became significantly better at handling the technology on spacecrafts, so he knew what Stark was talking about. The displays were completely different from that of the IronMage and the Drake, but it looked simple and the security was easy enough to find.

‘Defences down,’ he said when he managed to find the right control panel. ‘I don’t see any controls for the airlock though.’

No problem,’ Stark said. ‘It has to have manual controls, so if you can’t see anything there, just find the airlock itself.

Loki looked around one more time, but he didn’t want to waste time so he took off to get to the airlock. That he could find without a problem so he was standing in front of the large metal door only after a few minutes.

‘There are three separate control panels here,’ he said as he arrived in front of them.

Describe them to me,’ Stark asked, so Loki did. The left one he realized controlled some sort of hydraulic system even before he finished describing it, the middle one and the right one were very similar though.

Definitely the right one,’ Stark said after Loki was done talking.

‘The middle one also has pressure control,’ Loki reminded him.

But an airlock doesn’t need energy stabilizing, so the middle one cannot be it,’ the human answered, which should’ve been obvious really, but asking Stark was a lot faster than figuring it out on his own. ‘You need the right one. First turn it to zero pressure, then open the outer doors. Once we docked in you need to raise the cabin pressure back to normal again.

‘I know the rest,’ Loki said and lowered the pressure. The IronMage had a lot simpler dock and airlock system, but maybe having to control this one manually was what made it seem overcomplicated.

The whole process did not take much time, but it would’ve been a nightmare without the constant communication link. When Loki could finally open the airlock Stark, Bee and Drongo walked in. Stark already activated his suit, only his helmet was not in place.

‘Juyu, dock out and pull back. Stay close, but out of sight,’ Stark said once the airlock gate closed behind them again.

Sure thing,’ the girl said.

‘You’re our sentinel, Juyu,’ Loki added. ‘Keep your eyes open. Warn us if you see anything getting close, no matter how insignificant it may look.’

You got it, big guy,’ Juyu answered and Loki could even hear when the Drake docked out.

‘You good?’ Stark asked him then. ‘Not too drained?’

Loki pulled up the sleeve of his coat that revealed the three rows of crystals he fastened around his forearm instead of his usual vambrace. More than half of them were completely dark, a few were still glowing dimly, but some still burned brightly with energy.

‘Only these are,’ Loki answered.

‘Excellent,’ Stark smiled and while it may have seemed like a flippant answer Loki could see the relief in his eyes. ‘Let’s move on to Phase Two!’

Loki nodded and they headed back towards the control room with Bee and Drongo following them. So far so good.

‘Need any help with the transporter?’ Drongo asked.

‘No, everything seems fairly obvious. It’s ridiculously simple technology,’ Stark answered while his eyes still roamed the various displays. ‘Loki, are any of the hostages a captain or some sort of officer?’ he asked then.

‘Probably,’ he answered.

‘Might be the time to bring one of them here to get some questions answered.’

They talked about this before. How they could avoid unpleasant surprises. Both of them were certain that it was unlikely that they would be able to get to the children easily. Only they did not know before whether Loki would be able to take over the transporter without killing the entire crew. Stark was surprisingly accepting towards that possibility, but Loki knew why he was, so he did not need to ask.

‘Do not use your real names around them if you plan to leave them alive,’ Drongo warned, which was indeed a reasonable precaution.

‘Be right back,’ he said and headed out towards the small room – almost a box really, maybe it was a storage room – he used to lock the still alive members of the crew up. Actually he left the two corpses in there too. He had plenty of reasons for doing that, striking fear into their hearts by showing them that he had no qualms about disposing of them was only one of them.

The one Imperial he chose to take back to Stark was completely awake and aware of what was happening, he did not struggle, but his eyes darted around quickly in obvious search for an escape. That was not going to happen. When they arrived back to the control room the Imperial stiffened in Loki’s grasp at the sight of Drongo. He was probably getting a better idea about what was happening. Loki kept his grip tight as he dragged him closer to the others.

‘Ah, here’s our songbird, just in time,’ Stark looked up from the control panels in front of him. He turned fully around when Loki stopped with the man. Bee was standing between Stark and Drongo, eyeing the Imperial with a narrowed gaze, not in a curious way. The Imperial kept his eyes on Stark.

‘So here’s what’s going to happen,’ the human started. ‘I ask you some questions, you answer them all, and then you have a chance to get through this alive.’

The Imperial scoffed. ‘I would gladly die for my King.’ It made Loki snort, because he knew this. This loyalty to one’s king the man was so proudly proclaiming. He also knew that no matter how solid and unbreakable it seemed, in reality it was like cold metal, easily shattered by applying the right pressure.

Stark stared at the Imperial for but a moment. ‘I don’t think you would,’ he said calmly. ‘I want to know about the security on Aakar, I want to know any sort of codes or identifications that are needed to land, and you are going to tell me all this.’

‘I won’t,’ the man answered. ‘You cannot make me, because you do not scare me.’

Stark smiled a little. ‘Oh, pinky, I’m not the one you should be worried about,’ he said easily.

‘None of you scares me! You will fail, you will be crushed like the worms you are!’ the Imperial snarled angrily and for some reason the only thing in Loki’s mind was that he hoped he did not sound like this when he was angry. He was quite certain he could use a superior tone better than him, surely he did not sound so ridiculously theatrical like he did.

‘None of us?’ Loki mused and caught Bee’s eyes. When she looked back at him Loki was sure that she understood what was needed here. He was not scared? Oh, they could change that very easily without wasting much time.

Bee took a step forward and slid her eyes back to the Imperial in front of her. By the time the man turned to look at her Bee’s skin already started rippling and changing. First it looked like she was changing into her normal Skrull-green form, but then thick and hard scales started to appear on her as the muscles and bones shifted under her skin. Well, Loki did want to see her do more than the basic partial shifts he’d seen so far. While the Imperial tensed as his breath picked up, Loki watched the girl in fascination. Skrull shapeshifting was truly remarkable.

Her limbs started to grow longer and thicker and the scales hardened even more, and then there were even spikes coming out from under her skin. Her head reshaped too and her hair disappeared, her small jaw widened and a set of very-very sharp teeth grew out in her mouth. Hands shifted into thick clawed forelegs as the oversized undershirt she wore as a makeshift dress stretched out over the new larger form, the too big boots she wore now fitted perfectly too. She looked a little bit like a green Yirbek, but also like some sort of an animal, maybe she copied and mixed together several different reptilian creatures she knew, she even grew a large thick tail. Her red eyes had yellow slits as pupils now, locked on the Imperial’s face of course.

The man in Loki’s grasp was trying to twist away now and move back, even more so when Bee got down on all fours and a low deep growl rumbled in her chest. She moved closer, slowly approaching like a stalking predator circling its prey and the closer she got the more panicky the Imperial in Loki’s hand grew.

‘What-- what is--’ he tried to get out of his mouth. Loki held him in place as Bee moved slowly closer, all her fangs in sight.

‘Still not scared?’ Loki asked in a calm voice and Bee got even closer. Stark and Drongo both had suitably neutral expressions on their faces, not that the Imperial was paying any attention to them.

‘Get it away!’ the man yelled then. When Bee suddenly leapt forward Loki let go of the Imperial and allowed the girl to tackle him down. The panicked scream was out of fear and not pain, because Bee only dug her claws into the metal next to his head. She growled and snapped her fangs close to his face while the man was stuck between trying to get away and flailing mindlessly.

‘No! Please, get it—No!’ he babbled and whined.

‘Speak!’ Stark said. ‘And speak quickly.’

‘The transporter’s identification code is CEN-54RU, our docking access code is 675-333-FYG, we are under the command of Ole-Oman, I’ll tell you anything, just get it off me!!

Now that the man was close to hysteria, it was not going to be hard to get answers out of him. Loki reached out and touched Bee’s shoulder lightly between two spikes with his fingertips, only for a second, but it was enough. She got off the Imperial with one last growl.

‘Well done,’ Loki praised then grabbed the shaking man by his scruff to yank him up to his knees so he would face Stark again. He was a perfectly well-behaving songbird now and answered whatever question they asked. Bee staying in her reptilian beast form even after she crawled back between Stark and Drongo definitely had something to do with that.

Is everything quiet… Sentinel?’ Stark asked, their Imperial songbird was obviously still with him. They tied him up and gagged him, but Stark could need him to answer questions, so they left him in the control room.

Juyu easily understood that the question was directed at her. ‘No one in sight either near or far, the orbit is clear,’ she replied. ‘Commander.

Uh, I get “Commander”, I like that,’ Stark said delightedly. ‘Not like my ego needed anymore boosting.

‘Focus, darling,’ Loki told him over the communication link and he heard Stark chuckle in a pleased way in reaction to the petname. Loki was in Imperial form, this time he even reshaped his face to look like the captain they held hostage. The Oldstrong Shadow form Bee wore was something she already took on a day before, Drongo told her all the small things she needed to change in order to look convincing. The three of them were on their way out of the docks while Stark remained with the transporter, keeping it ready for what was obviously going to be a quick departure. Their arrival was without problems with the information they gathered in advance. “Data is everything” was what Stark said and Loki definitely agreed with him.

The kids will be probably guarded,’ Stark spoke again. ‘I don’t like not being there to fight.

‘Assuring our safe escape is more important, Commander,’ Drongo answered before Loki could. ‘And most of the children will be able to fight along with us once they know that they have a chance to escape.’

You need to find them first,’ Stark said.

‘I don’t think that will be a problem,’ Loki told him when he caught sight of the three Imperials walking towards them.

‘You found another one,’ the one standing in the front said without any sort of greeting. Loki nodded. ‘And him?’ he nodded towards Drongo.

‘Loyal to the King, he brought the youngling to us himself.’ Drongo bowed his head towards the Imperials in what looked like a sign of respect and obedience.

‘Good,’ the Imperial said again. ‘We take her from here.’

Loki shook his head. ‘I’ve been given strict orders to not let her out of my sight until she is with the others. She had escaped twice already. We will accompany you.’

The Imperial looked at Bee for a moment, but then nodded.

‘It never hurts to be cautious,’ he said. ‘Your assistance is appreciated…’ he let it trail off as a question.

‘Eman,’ Loki answered with the name of their hostage captain.

The Imperial nodded in acknowledgment and lifted his arm ‘This way.’

Stark was silent on the other end and so was Juyu, but they definitely heard enough to know that they were on the right path to get what they came for. Loki counted them incredibly lucky that this galaxy was not as familiar with shapeshifters as the inhabitants of the Andromeda were.

Loki didn’t want to fall in the trap of overconfidence so even if everything went exactly as planned he stayed alert. His mind ran with possibilities constantly, he thought about a new possible plan every second minute. He was ready for an attack, any sort of attack. The three Imperials lead them down the corridors without trying to make small-talk. Sometimes the utter loyalty demanded by an absolute monarch could be exploited in the best possible ways. That was the only reason they did not need to answer more questions. Loki didn’t even wear Sakaraan armour, even if he refrained from wearing his alyndor one. That would’ve been too out of place. His simple black coat was perfect though, it hid his blades and his crystals as well.

‘Here we are,’ the Imperial that lead their little group said as they reached another door. ‘The younglings are to start their training soon. We can hand over the new one to Master Ging-Dian right away.’

The door opened a second later and they all walked in. Well, that was easy. There were at least twenty children inside though, which might be problematic. On the other hand, there were no guards inside the room, probably the whole building was only accessed by Sakaaran Imperials, so they only guarded the entrances and exits. The master the Imperial mentioned was also not in the large room, well it actually looked more like an arena. Loki turned to catch Drongo’s eyes and he raised a questioning eyebrow. Was it time or should they wait? Drongo nodded so it looked like he agreed with Loki that it would be foolish to waste time.

‘Thank you for your assistance,’ Loki said and as soon as the Imperial turned to look at him he whipped one of his blades out and stabbed him in the throat. Drongo’s heavy fist went flying and it smashed the second one to the far wall with bone-crushing strength. The third one already had one of Bee’s axe-arms in his chest by the time Loki pulled his bloody dagger out. She shifted into her Skrull-shape, her axes looked a lot less rough than the last time Loki saw them.

Loki also shook the Sakaraan form off, because these younglings had to know that they were not sent by the Red King. Drongo already moved forward towards them. The youngest children were at least as tall as Bee, the older ones easily reached Loki’s height. Drongo still towered over them all, but they were not scared of him, not even a bit.

‘We came for you,’ Drongo told them. ‘A tribe will take you away to safety,’ he said. ‘Where the Red King can never touch you again, but we need to hurry and you need to fight!’

‘We’re tired,’ one of the older boys told him.

‘Calm your hearts and clear your minds,’ Drongo said in a deep even tone. ‘The Old Power is there for the taking, reach out and let it seep into your bones, let it sharpen your senses. Grip it tightly, I will lead, you only need to follow.’ He spread his arms and took a deep breath while his hands clenched tightly. It took only a moment for the younglings to follow suit, some closed their eyes, some put their hands together, all breathed in and out a few times. It was strange, what Loki felt in the air. It was nothing like the power of the Yggdrasil and it was not exactly the Power Cosmic either, but it was something powerful, something just for the Oldstrongs. Loki could never reach out to it, but he could still feel it crackling just on the edge of his perception.

Then Drongo turned around. His gaze was heavy with power, the black in his eyes seemed even darker, the green irises brighter. The younglings were calm and focused and like they were all listening to the same tune only they could hear, like even their hearts beat together right now.

‘We are ready,’ he rumbled.

‘I’ll lead the way,’ Loki said and turned to run with Bee close on his heels. ‘We’re coming Stark,’ he said.

Just in time,’ the human answered. ‘It looks like I’m going to have quite a situation over here very soon.

Loki cursed and ran faster.

Chapter Text

 

Things went smoothly, almost too smoothly, so Tony was twitchy and waited for the other shoe to drop. For something to go wrong, the way things always seemed to go wrong. Loki was incredibly good at the whole deceive and infiltrate gig and it definitely wasn’t just because of the shapeshifting. When he changed he changed a lot, the look in his eyes, his gestures, the way he spoke all shifted along with his appearance. Juyu could be like him too if she took time to perfect the skill of deception, because shifting her shape was not enough. Tony knew that was the reason Loki made her the sentinel/back-up instead of taking her along. It worked out very well so far.

Tony listened as Loki, Drongo and Bee successfully made their way into the depths of the base towards the children, but it didn’t actually make him relax. Tony hated to be the one to wait, but he knew how important it was to secure their escape route, and it’s not like anyone had enough firepower to hold the transporter against any possible attack. It had to be Tony or Loki, because they couldn’t trust Drongo that much just yet, it would’ve made them both uneasy to leave him here alone. So Tony listened and waited. He hated it.

The Imperial was tied up and silenced again. He was now sitting in a corner where Tony could keep an eye on him. They agreed with Loki that they would hand over any possible hostages to the Shadow People, it was only fair. It was Tony of course who wanted to keep the body count to a minimum and he was pretty damn pleased with himself when Loki shrugged and agreed. He killed two out of six, which meant that about 66.67% survived, pretty awesome when it came to Loki. It also cemented his belief that Loki did not enjoy killing, he merely had no qualms about killing those who stood in his way or attacked him. It wasn’t much, it was still a moral slippery slope, but it was a big difference, huge difference. It was the difference between ruthless and downright evil. He knew Loki was not “evil”, but it was still great to see some evidence once in a while.

Then he noticed some sort of guard approaching the transporter. He disconnected his mic from the network to not disturb the others, but he still listened in. His helmet shifted into place as he headed outside, it was important to hide his face. He also switched one of his gauntlets to electric mode. He noticed a while back that the crystals were perfectly capable of storing electricity when he was experimenting on them. It turned the normal “energy bullets” – as he tended to call filled up cylinders – less lethal. Energy blasts burnt and were pretty damn deadly, literally capable of taking chunks out of people, burning flesh and bone so viciously that it left a giant smoking hole in the body. Filling the cylinders with electricity on the other hand made for a pretty damn impressive stun shot. He couldn’t use electric crystals to power his suit, they drained too quickly, but storing one or two in his gauntlets gave him an extra non-lethal weapon. He was pretty sure he could modify or rebuild some of the energy guns to include a stun mode in them, but right now he only had his repulsors compatible to the electric crystals. He was still a tad uneasy about working on weapons again, and the guns were only one project on the long line of things he planned to do. But at least he was thinking about making non-lethal weapons. That had to count for something.

The guard was already standing by the door by the time Tony got here.

‘Spacecraft number?’ he asked right away.

‘CEN-54RU,’ Tony answered.

‘Cargo?’

‘I’m not authorized to say,’ Tony replied.

‘Aakar Security is authorized to know,’ the guard answered.

‘Captain Eman is not on board, until he returns I have to follow his orders. He’s the only one who can decide who’s authorized.’

The guard looked at him for a moment.

‘Any objections to the mandatory routine check-up?’ he asked then. Oh well, he was the one who insisted. Tony shrugged and stepped to the side.

‘None at all,’ he said. The guard walked in and Tony followed. He waited until they turned two corners before releasing a bolt of electricity. The shock locked up the Imperial guard’s muscles and he shook before he dropped like a puppet whose strings have been cut. He twitched a little after he hit the floor, but he was breathing and all.

‘Okay, stun mode works,’ Tony remarked then grabbed the guard and swung him over his shoulder to tie and lock him up with the others. He hoped this was the last guard he had to deal with before Loki and the others came back.

So he had four unconscious guards locked up by the time he heard that Loki reached wherever the kids were kept. He was pretty damn pleased to hear that. He caught some of what the Imperial on the other side of the line said about training, but he didn’t pay attention, because four other guards were approaching the transporter. All of them at once this time.

‘You have got to be fucking kidding me,’ he grumbled. He only just tied up the last one not five minutes ago. Maybe the disappearing guards were getting suspicious, but it was not like he could allow them to search the transporter and find their Imperial hostages. These guards looked different, their armours looked sturdier and they had bigger weapons. Awesome. At least he still had a few stun shots left, once those run out he was going to start punching them in the face.

We’re coming Stark,’ he heard Loki say then and he connected back to reply.

‘Just in time,’ he said. ‘It looks like I’m going to have quite a situation over here very soon.’

He heard that Loki cursed, but his mind was already running with ideas about what to do with the guards. If the others were on their way back then an outright fight was not so bad. He didn’t know how many children they were bringing, but there had to be more than one or two and it sounded like they were running, so things were bound to turn explosive soon. There was no time left to be careful, he had to secure the transporter before the others got back. He had a feeling that the trick he used four times (on those dumbasses) won’t work with these guards, especially not since they looked like they were some sort of elite guards. So he switched his repulsors back to normal mode and made sure that the transporter was ready for take-off before he headed towards the entrance.

Moments before he turned the last corner to get outside the sound of fighting started coming through the communication link, the sound of a lot of people fighting. Dammit.

Beast on the loose,’ Loki commented calmly. It was a suitably fitting name for Bee, and apparently they were still keeping to the “no real name rule”. It also meant that their tiny Skrull was in bloodbath mode.

You better keep an eye on her,’ Juyu warned.

‘Just hurry back,’ Tony said. Then somewhere outside an alarm started blaring. ‘Fuck!’

He darted out from the transporter and fired with his repulsors right away, not giving a chance for the guards to open fire with their own weapons. The docking area was not too high, but there was enough space for Tony to jump up and hover in the air. It also looked like the weapons the guards carried were not guns after all, but some sort of close-range melee weapons, which was very good. He had the element of surprise on his side, so the four went down easily enough, but the alarms were still blaring so he expected more to show up. Unless they were all busy trying to stop the others, that was a likely possibility.

Commander,’ sounded Drongo’s voice. ‘In case of an attack they can shut down the docks, you have to make sure that the transporter is not locked in.

Yeah, he should’ve thought of that. ‘On it,’ he said. He knew already that there were individual panels by each docking station he saw that their access code was entered to it after they landed. After he got down next to the interface it didn’t take long to see that it was unresponsive.

‘Central lockdown,’ he announced.

We’re getting close, can you fix it?’ Loki asked. His breath was quick and there were slight glitches in his voice. He was fighting.

‘I tested one prototype today, no reason not to test another one,’ he answered. Having only a limited amount of time and the constant possibility of being attacked any moment were not exactly the most ideal circumstances to test how well he could hack with his DNI enhanced brain. At least he functioned very well under pressure. He tried to tune out the sound of fighting coming from the earpiece to focus. He set up the mental image of an hourglass to activate this function of the DNI, because reasons, it was fitting. He felt it the moment he was out of the comfortable safety of his suit’s inner system. The technology here was crude and not nearly as advanced as the one on the ship. It was sharp and too bright and a little bit like having to walk through a sand storm. Definitely uncomfortable, but he was in, he knew he was in, he knew he entered a different system. It felt strange. It was hard to navigate, because it was so different from the Iron Mage’s system or his HUD. But he would have to make do.

He didn’t need to open all docks, only their own. He didn’t know how hard it was going to be, but he knew how computer programs worked, it didn’t matter what type they were, some basic rules always applied. He did have to search for a little while. Then there it was, the transporter, he knew the ID, he knew the access code, so he definitely found the right one. Releasing it from the lockdown was like opening a lock, not even a complicated lock. The technology here was seriously substandard even compared to Earth. Then he thought about possible pursuers and had the mental image of battle ships on their trail and started breaking the locks on the other docking stations. Hell, he started doing damage in everything he could find. He knew how viruses worked and how some little error could do a lot of damage. He sure as hell didn’t want anyone to leave these docks for at least a couple of hours, hopefully more. He felt like a bull in a china shop the way he trashed the system on his way out.

He drew back the moment he was done and he could immediately feel the start of a headache. He hoped this was going to be more pleasant once he perfected the technology, he shouldn’t have to use tech that was still in beta-testing phase, but needs must. He barely shook the slight dizziness off when he felt someone was standing behind him and he spun around, repulsors charging up right away.

Only to find himself face-to-face with Loki. The god stayed motionless for a moment.

‘You didn’t hear me?’ he asked.

Tony let out a breath and made the faceplate of his helmet open while he lowered his arm. ‘Sorry, hacking,’ he explained. ‘Where are the others?’ he asked and Loki gestured with his head behind himself. It looked like Drongo was barricading a gate with the help of some similarly grey, but smaller and less bulky other Shadows.

‘Can we take off?’ Loki asked.

‘Yeah, get everyone inside,’ Tony nodded.

‘Get into the transporter! All of you!’ Loki yelled.

‘That’s a lot of kids,’ Tony remarked as the (relatively) smaller kids all started running and dashing into the vehicle.

‘Don’t underestimate them,’ Loki said. He was a little out of breath and his braid was messy, he had blood on his clothes and his blades, but he seemed energetic and there was a pleased sort of smile playing on his lips. He was impressed, Tony could tell.

‘Get back to the control room,’ Loki said then. ‘We need to keep the gates closed as long as possible.’

‘Got it,’ Tony said and didn’t waste any time racing back into the transporter. He had to dodge a few kids while running, but they easily got out of his way.

‘I’m ready to go, just give me the word,’ he said.

Is everyone inside?’ Drongo asked then.

Only you’re left,’ Loki answered. ‘You have to make a run for it.’

Tony heard a large crash and he assumed that Drongo let go of the gate and started running to the transporter. Tony was wrung tight, ready to go the second he could.

Now!’ Loki yelled and Tony closed up everything and was moving out of the dock a second later.

‘Sentinel, is the orbit clear?’ he asked.

Nothing else took off from Aakar so far,’ Juyu answered.

‘Well, the docks are still locked up,’ he said with a pleased smile. ‘Come closer to us and keep your eyes open,’ Tony instructed. ‘Is everyone okay?’

We are,’ Loki answered. ‘Head towards the meeting place, we’ll be in the control room in a minute.

‘Already on course,’ Tony answered. It would only take a few minutes to get far enough from the moon to speed up.

Why are there more Imperials here than before?’ Loki asked suddenly and Tony had to chuckle.

‘They were sniffing. I did what I had to do. I hope you find my hostage-taking skills attractive.’

‘Very,’ Loki said, now standing in the same room.

‘I sent the younglings to the back,’ Drongo announced as he entered the room. Little Bee trailed behind him. She was even bloodier than Loki, not surprising. The fact that she was trailing Drongo instead of Loki was slightly strange though. ‘Told them to hold onto something and wait.’

‘Good, it shouldn’t take too long to get to the landing point,’ Tony told him. ‘I hope that tribe is still there.’

‘Most definitely,’ Drongo answered.

Um, Commander,’ they heard Juyu’s voice as they approached Sakaar. ‘Someone’s getting closer.

‘How many?’ Loki asked before Tony could get a word out.

Just one,’ Juyu replied and as soon as the words were out of her mouth Tony saw that whoever it was, they tried to make contact.

‘Are we gonna take the call?’ he asked. The transporter didn’t really have good scanners, so he knew nothing of the spacecraft. ‘How big is it Sentinel?’

Smaller than the Drake,’ she replied.

‘Huh.’ Tony was surprised.

‘Accept the call,’ Drongo said. Loki nodded and Tony opened up the channel.

‘Yes?’

Speak who you are,’ said the stern female voice on the other end.

‘Caiera?’ Drongo asked in apparent surprised.

Drongo?’ asked the woman in return. ‘I should’ve known it was you.

‘How did you get here so fast?’ Drongo asked.

I have ears in all places,’ she answered. ‘We thought you dead.

‘I almost was,’ he answered.

What happened… is a great loss,’ she spoke then.

‘There were many great losses, not just my tribe.’

I know,’ Caiera said.

‘If you knew, how can it be--’

Let us talk about this once we land,’ she interrupted. ‘Are you heading to the Cold Valley Tribe?

‘Yes.’

I’ll let them know and I’ll meet you there,’ she said. ‘I’ll keep the orbit clear,’ with that the channel closed.

It’s leaving,’ Juyu reported.

‘Who was that?’ Tony asked.

‘A friend,’ Drongo said. ‘A very good friend.’

‘Trustworthy?’ Loki asked.

‘She is an Oldstrong,’ Drongo said. ‘She would want the children safe.’

‘Not an answer,’ Tony said.

‘I trust her,’ Drongo said. ‘We won’t be walking into a trap.’

‘That’s going to have to be enough for now,’ Tony decided. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Loki. The god gave a nod after a few moments.

The fact that they didn’t run into anyone seemed to prove that the chick they talked with said the truth about keeping the space clear. Said chick was seven feet tall with more muscle on her frame than Tony could ever hope to gain. She also had the sort of aura around her that made Tony want to call her “Ma’am”. The fact that she could probably break Tony in half with a hand tied behind her back may had something to do with that. He didn’t feel this kind of unease around Drongo, the guy radiated calm, Caiera not so much.

There were other Grey Sakaarans standing behind her, some taller than Drongo, some smaller, some of them thin and wiry, some big and bulky, all with the same metallic grey skin and dark eyes. Bee was openly staring at them all and Juyu also stood with her arms crossed, keeping her cool. Loki was the least impressed, but he was Loki. Tony decided that unless there was need for it, he was going to keep his distance from the giant lady. Drongo and Caiera talked with one another a little further away for a while, then they walked back to the Drake. Time was surely running out, Tony was definitely eager to leave.

‘The tribe will take good care of the children,’ she said.

‘There are some Imperial hostages inside the transporter too,’ Loki said.

‘I will handle them,’ Caiera said and her eyes lingered on all of them for a few moments.

‘Did you know where the younglings were?’ Drongo asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Then why did you not act sooner?’

‘We had plans. Not as reckless as yours was, but we would have freed them.’

‘Time cannot be always wasted on long plans,’ Drongo said.

‘You and I disagree on a great many things, but do not think I am not grateful,’ she said. ‘Believe me, the Red King will not forget this blow quickly.’

‘And do you have further plans?’

‘You know I do.’

‘I can help.’

‘No, the King thinks you dead, his men reported you dead, it’s better if he thinks it’s true. You have to go and stay safe.’

‘I will not hide while my people suffer.’

‘Drongo… you need to go, there is nothing more for you to do here. Return to your journeys, find us more allies, that’s what you can do. That is what will ensure our future.’ Her eyes slid back to Tony, Loki and the girls.

‘We are grateful for your help,’ she said. ‘But you must also leave at once, because I won’t be able to guarantee your safety.’

‘Believe me, we’re off as soon as possible,’ Tony replied.

‘Good,’ she nodded then turned back to Drongo. ‘You can leave with the tribe.’

‘No,’ the man shook his head. ‘If I must go I will follow a new path. I have a debt to repay for the help I received.’ He gestured in the general direction of Tony and Loki.

Caiera frowned for a moment then asked, ‘Where exactly are you going?’

‘Silver Galaxy,’ Loki told her. Tony was a bit surprised by the honest answer, but it was vague enough to be safe.

‘That is very good. It is neither too far, nor too close,’ she said. ‘We do need more allies there. Go and repay your debt, do what you always do, and stay in the Silver Galaxy,’ she told Drongo. ‘Once the King is dead you can come home.’

‘I trust you, that you will protect our people,’ Drongo said.

‘I will, I swear,’ she nodded. ‘Go now. Wander far and wander long.’

Drongo smiled and stepped forward embracing her tightly. ‘But never forget to wander home,’ he said in return.

‘Take care, Drongo.’

‘We’ll meet again,’ the man said stepping back. Tony was pretty sure that this was their cue to finally leave. The children and the transporter were with the tribe, Drongo had his conversation and indeed Caiera already turned her back and walked away.

‘She sounded so sure that the King would die,’ Loki remarked.

‘Oh, if she said so, he will,’ Drongo said.

‘Why?’ Juyu asked.

‘Because she’s the King’s bodyguard,’ the giant answered. Loki actually snorted, and yeah, that sounded like a solid death sentence somewhere in the future.

‘So, you’re coming with us big man?’ Tony asked.

‘If you’ll have me Commander,’ he answered. ‘I did say that I would be in your debt if you helped me and the younglings, and I intend to keep my word.’

‘Loki?’

‘Yes, he can stay,’ the god answered.

‘Girls?’ Tony asked.

‘Oh, we get a vote now?’ Juyu asked.

‘Just a little one,’ Tony told her. Juyu shrugged, Bee nodded.

‘We should go,’ Loki said as he headed inside the Drake.

‘Yeah, welcome and all that,’ Tony said. Drongo just nodded in that entirely serene way of his. It was probably a good idea to have someone less chaotic and explosive around. He also kind of knew what Loki saw in the guy. Bee also really did seem to like him. Things were bound to get interesting on the ship and Tony was sort of looking forward to it, which was definitely a new feeling.

Chapter Text

 

‘Again,’ Loki said.

‘No, come on! We’ve been at this for hours now.’

‘Because you are so hopelessly incapable of focusing that it’s pathetic.’

‘You say the sweetest things, dear,’ Stark answered with a smile. ‘But seriously, I need a break.’

‘You need to train and strengthen your mind.’

‘My mind is pretty damn strong, thank you.’

‘I’m not talking about your intellect,’ Loki told him with a sigh. ‘You are using your mind in ways you have never done before, it’s like a weak muscle you keep overexerting.’

‘I was not overexerting anything,’ Stark argued. ‘I am handling all the tech very well.’

‘You had a headache for three days after Aakar,’ Loki said and this time his voice hardened.

‘The hacking system was still in testing phase. I’ve worked on it a lot since then.’

‘Why do you argue about this?’ Loki asked finally standing up from the bed. They pushed the two together not that long ago and they both sat with crossed legs on top of it for their now regular sessions.

‘I’m just saying…’

‘And I’m saying that I will not let you fry your stupid brain when it is perfectly avoidable. You know the risks, you know you need this, why are you arguing with me?’

Stark looked at him for a moment and sighed. ‘I’m just tired… this is exhausting, like all-nighter in the workshop exhausting. I’m human, I need a break once in a while.’

Loki crossed his arms and he knew he was glaring, but then he took a breath to get his temper back under control again.

‘Fine,’ he grit out then.

‘Thank you,’ Stark said and flopped down on the bed right away. Then he reopened his eyes to look at Loki before he raised an arm invitingly. ‘Come back down here?’

He should be able to resist this man a lot more. He did not argue though and sat down again, only to be tugged down by Stark into a horizontal position. He was not against being close to his lover, so he did not object.

‘Sooo… Milky Way, we almost reached it,’ Stark spoke after they settled down comfortably next to one another.

‘Indeed.’

‘Juyu and Bee didn’t make any noise about leaving. I think they’re gonna stay.’

‘Stay?’

‘Yeah… all the way to Earth.’

‘You might want to ask them about that instead of assuming,’ Loki said.

‘I guess. It’s just a hunch. Drongo’s staying though, him I did ask, he’s coming to Earth.’

‘Hmmm.’ There was really nothing to say to that, Loki presumed as much himself. Also, Stark decided to start stroking his hair, which was not a good way to keep him invested in a conversation. He even closed his eyes.

‘Soo…’

‘So?’

‘What about you?’

‘What about me?’ He didn’t have to look at the mortal to know that he rolled his eyes.

‘Will you stay?’ That made him focus on the conversation again. He opened his eyes.

‘We talked about this before,’ he said.

‘No, we had an agreement, at the very start,’ Stark objected. ‘You go one way I go another… but… things changed since then.’

Loki moved away from Stark as he sat up, the man followed him and stayed close.

‘I can’t stay on Midgard,’ he said.

‘Why not?’

‘Have you forgotten that I tried to conquer it? With an army?’ he asked incredulously.

‘No, but… a few years passed already, even more time before we actually get there… we could figure something out.’

Now Loki really had to turn around to look at the man, because he did not know how they ended up discussing this. Stark was maybe thinking about this for a while now, that could be the only explanation.

‘I doubt the humans would be very forgiving,’ Loki started. Not like he wanted their forgiveness, because he could care less about the mindless Midgardian masses. ‘But it is not the reason why I cannot stay,’ he continued before Stark could interrupt. ‘If I stay on Midgard, not matter how well I intend to hide, Asgard will know about it sooner or later and they’ll just send Thor again to drag me back there. And like I told you before, I am none too eager to return to my prison.’

‘Okay, but… if we can figure something out about… compensating for the invasion, then maybe…’

‘The attack on Midgard is not their only reason to lock me up. I have committed crimes before that.’ Loki tried to stand up from the bed, but Stark’s hand on his arm stopped him. They were in silence for a moment then Stark shifted even closer to him. Loki wasn’t sure if he was willing to acknowledge the relief he felt when the human did not pull away.

‘Tell me then,’ Stark asked. ‘Tell me what happened so we can figure out what to do.’

Loki turned a little to look at him and knew that the request was sincere. He thought about opening his mouth and telling him. Speaking of all the things that happened that lead him to this point. But then he looked at Stark’s warm brown eyes and remembered how hard and angry they could be, and how cold they looked when he looked at those he despised.

‘I… I can’t,’ he said quietly, turning his gaze away. Tell the man who looked at him with warmth and affection what he has done, tell him what he was? Tell him the lie that was his very skin? ‘I can’t,’ he repeated, shaking his head, he already felt like his skin was colder than before.

‘Okay,’ Stark said after a moment of silence and Loki whipped around to stare at him in surprise. His eyes must’ve been ridiculously large, like some stupid frightened animal.

‘What?’

‘Okay, you can’t… we still have time till we reach Earth… I mean, I want to know, I kind of need to know if we want to figure something out, but… there’s still time.’

‘You? With your endless curiosity and bull-headedness, you are willing to wait for answers?’

Stark huffed. ‘It’s not like I told you everything either,’ he said then. ‘So we’re kind of even.’

‘I see,’ Loki nodded, even if that kind of left him with an unpleasant feeling.

‘That means I know how much it sucks to bring it up… like digging fingers into a half-healed wound.’

‘Hm, accurate,’ Loki commented.

‘Sometimes doctors have to cut wounds open to clean them out though,’ Stark continued. ‘Otherwise all that dirt and taint just rots you from the inside out.’

‘Did you cut your wounds open?’ Loki asked.

‘Some,’ Stark nodded. ‘Not all to the same person, some know some bits, others know others. Most did not need me to tell them, because they were there to see it first-hand. They lived them through with me, even if they never asked for my side of the story.’

‘And we know very well how different something may seem through the eyes of others,’ Loki added.

‘Exactly,’ Stark agreed.

They stayed in silence for a while, both of them just sitting on the bed. Then Stark leaned back down after a while.

‘Tell you what,’ he started. ‘Lie back down here with me and I tell you my story.’

‘Which story?’ he asked. In answer Stark raised a hand and tapped on the reactor in his chest.

‘You know it keeps me alive, but I never told you more.’

‘I never asked.’

‘Probably for the same reason I never asked you to tell me your story before now.’ It was true in a certain way. Loki knew that the story behind the reactor was something close to Stark’s heart. It had to be something he kept well-hidden. He never asked, because he was certain he would not get an answer. Now the answers were offered, it was strange.

‘You…’ his words trailed off and he shook his head. Then he lay down next to this brilliant foolish man. After a moment Loki rested a hand on his chest. The reactor glowed brightly under Stark’s undershirt, buzzing with energy. Loki let a few of his fingertips rest on it and was pleased when the man did not tense or pull away. Stark told his story and Loki listened to every word.

And after the final sentence left Stark’s lips and the last sound trailed off into silence, when Loki knew about the Ten Rings and the cave, Yinsen and Obadiah Stane, the shrapnel that threatened to tear his lover’s heart apart, he leaned closer and put a single kiss on the glowing device before claiming the man’s lips as well. Oh how very well Loki understood the pain of betrayal, the agony of lies from someone who was meant to be family. It was astonishing how something as fragile as a human could be so very strong. Fractured and scarred, but never broken, still whole. Iron Man, with or without his armour.

‘I’ll go to Midgard with you,’ he said then. The smile that spread on Stark’s face was not wide, on the contrary it was small and soft and pleased.

‘What about Asgard?’ he asked. Loki sighed.

‘Well, if Asgard tries to tear me away from you, I will certainly not make it easy for them.’

Stark chuckled quietly, his talented fingers wandering up to Loki’s hair again.

‘Okay, but let’s think of other possible solutions, alright? Some that don’t include blood, destruction and possible manslaughter, okay?’

‘Killjoy,’ Loki droned, which earned him another soft chuckle.

‘Loki…’ Stark spoke again after a moment.

‘I’ll tell you,’ he interrupted. ‘I will, I just…’

‘I know you will,’ the man answered confidently. ‘Just not yet, I get it.’ Loki wanted to warn him that it would change things, that he would be unable to look at him the same way after he told him, but his lips stayed firmly shut. Stark had such faith, for all he claimed to be rational and sceptical, sometimes he was desperate to believe in good things. Loki stopped believing in those a long time ago, but here he was lying in the arms of the best there was.

Loki did not force Stark to continue their training, it was better to let him work on his many inventions. It would clear his mind and ease the tension in his body that appeared as he talked about his past. So Loki let him be and stayed in their room to meditate and work on his magic. The trick with the energy crystals was a brilliant substitute, but in no way a permanent solution. He contemplated whether he should let it be, he was going to get his powers back as soon as they reached the Nine Realms and he could use the crystals until then, but his pride did not let him give up so easily.

He kept thinking about it, the day their journey would end. He did not like Midgard, not at all, but he generally disliked humans as well and now he had Stark. He assumed that he ought to take his previous assumptions and experiences with the realm with a grain of salt. Stark couldn’t be the only human above the level of the brainless mob, there were billions of them, there had to be at least a handful who came at least close to such as Tony Stark. His mind kept going back to the Avengers, but the more he thought about it, it was only Banner – the beast – Stark talked about with relative respect. Certainly there were others who had interesting (even exceptional) qualities, like the dear little Widow or the Director, even Barton, but spies and assassins were not the sort Stark would ever look at with true respect, he just acknowledged their usefulness and necessity. He could also clearly see that the good Captain was the same kind of fool Thor was, dazzling noble heroes looking down at them from their moral high ground. The perfect, golden protectors.

He shut down that line of thoughts, he would just get angry. He was not convinced that it would be a good idea to stay on Midgard for long, not convinced at all. But he would not be made a coward, he would not hide, not from any of them. And he would not be alone, not this time. And all of Asgard could go to Hel for all he cared. He won’t let them ruin this.

Stark was right. There was indeed a plan that needed to be formed.

An impossibly loud noise blaring from all speakers wrenched Loki out of the depths of his mind and he was up and running towards the bridge a second later. Juyu caught up with him in one of the corridors, but she did not ask any questions, just followed him.

Stark was already inside and so were Drongo and Bee.

‘What is happening?’ Loki asked.

‘Some ship,’ Stark answered, the DNI was already up on his head, his eyes looking at everything at nothing while different displays appeared one after another. ‘And they’re not playing nice.’

‘What do we do?’ Juyu asked.

For a second Stark was silent and Loki was undecided whether to wait for him or to start telling the others what they could do at all, but then the man snapped himself out of his silence.

‘The first shot they let go was a warning, but I already had to slow down and change course so that we don’t hit anything. So yeah, we’re gonna have to fight back. I can control defence and the small close-range turrets through the main system, but not the big cannons. Someone definitely needs to take the one on top, I guess…’

‘I’ll handle that,’ Drongo interrupted.

‘Use anything like that before?’ Stark asked.

‘There’s been precedent,’ the giant replied. ‘I’ll figure it out,’ he said and already headed out without another word.

‘Okay, good,’ Stark said. His eyes flickered to the side, probably checking the other ship again. ‘They’re bigger than us and faster too… this is… okay side cannons. Juyu, do you remember how they work? I know we only talked about it once…’

‘I do,’ she nodded.

‘You take one, and I guess that leaves you to…’ he turned to Loki, but he shook his head.

‘Bee, take the other one,’ Loki said looking at the girl. She nodded and left with her sister.

‘Does she even know how to use it?’ Stark asked.

‘She was there when we explained it to Juyu. Trust me, she’s observant,’ Loki reassured him.

‘We don’t have the firepower to defend ourselves,’ Stark said then seriously. ‘Not really, not at all.’ Loki knew he was right. He did not have to know everything about the other ship. The IronMage was a cargoship, it was slow, and while it was sturdy with a heavy defence system, their firepower left indeed much to be desired.

‘How many energy crystals do you have in your workshop?’ Loki asked.

‘Few boxes, if that’s enough. Depends on what you need them for,’ Stark answered. Loki thought about it for a moment, because that would not be enough. He used up almost a dozen for a simple teleportation spell. But then he realized how Stark charged the crystals.

‘How much energy do we have in the generators?’

‘We charged them on Sakaar, so almost full… you think you can take energy for magic directly from the generators?’ Stark asked with slightly widened eyes.

‘If I can… we may have enough firepower,’ Loki said.

‘Do you have any idea how much energy there is when the generators are full?’ Stark asked, his eyes focused and calculating.

‘A lot… I know,’ Loki said and headed out.

‘You better be careful,’ Stark told him.

‘Make contact, figure out what they want, maybe it’s not too late to get out of this without a fight.’

The alarms blared up again, several displays turning red in warning and this time even Loki could feel a small shake under his feet. They were either hit or something exploded very near to them.

‘Yes, because we’re always so lucky,’ Stark said. ‘Go, do what you think is best, just let me know in advance.’

‘I will,’ Loki promised and ran out. When the generators were full they could travel for months (5-8 months depending on the route) without having to stop, so he knew exactly how much energy there was. He couldn’t risk taking too much – if he could make this work – the shields, their turrets and cannons, their systems, everything was powered by the generators and so was the life-support. Also their engines, so if the generators were too drained they would be stuck with no means to reach the closest star to recharge them. So Loki kept calculating how much he did have exactly as he made his way there.

‘Can you hear me Stark?’ he asked then.

Of course,’ the man answered, his voice coming from some nearby speaker.

‘Whatever I come up with, it has to be the last resort. I will only try it if we run out of all other options. You need to tell me if we reach that point.’

How risky is this?’ Stark asked.

‘We don’t have time for this,’ Loki answered right away. ‘I know how to handle power, even great power, you need to trust me.’

Okay, yeah. Drongo is in place, the girls are almost there,’ Stark informed him.

‘The other ship?’

Closing in, so you better hurry,’ Stark told him. The next moment the whole ship shook again, more vehemently then before. Loki kept his balance easily, but he had to touch the wall for a moment.

That was a hit,’ Stark said. ‘Everyone hurry up! Drongo get that big boy up and running.’

I’m in my place,’ Loki heard Juyu’s voice, so Stark literally opened up all communication channels within the ship.

He was running down to the main generator on the narrow stairs that led there when the ship shook again. This time he was not so successful with keeping his balance. He slid down the stairs barely able to catch himself in the last second, even so he cut his palm open on the edge of a step. He bit back a curse and continued running.

Incoming call,’ Stark announced. ‘I guess you all want to hear this.’

Loki kept going, but he paid attention.

Oh how long it took me to find you… warm-blood,’ sounded a deep voice from the speakers. But not like Drongo’s, calm and soothing, it was jagged and sharp, like the edge of a saw.

I don’t think we’ve met,’ Stark answered. Loki finally reached the generators and he started looking over everything Stark installed there in order to get energy in his workshop, he had to use that to get to the energy.

Not personally,’ the voice answered. ‘But you and your little Skrull friends took something that is mine.

Loki lifted his head. “Warm-blood”… and now this? Someone reptilian, it had to be.

I think you got the wrong ship, pal,’ Stark answered.

I stored something on Yirb,’ the voice continued and Loki knew right away that they were indeed the right ship. ‘Something I had Murrow guard for me… and you stole it.’

They were most definitely the right ship, but they only took maps. Which one could’ve been that important?

No, that does not ring a bell at all,’ Stark answered and Loki was impressed by how very much it sounded like the truth.

I will take back what is mine,’ the deep rumbling voice continued like he did not hear Stark at all. ‘And then I will take great pleasure in killing every single one of you for making me chase you this far.

Well, that sounded just delightful. Loki sighed and focused his attention back to the device in front of him. They needed something back, so they won’t destroy the whole ship. That was a great advantage. Unfortunately, it was also their only advantage.

Chapter Text

 

Mr. Doom-and-Gloom on the other end sounded menacing enough. Luckily, Tony had his way of dealing with bad guys. Again, his mind drifted back to that memorable day when he offered Loki a drink, his lips twitched and curled up into a smirk. He fought Loki, stood up to him when he was in the very depths of his madness, spreading destruction and chaos on Earth. This guy with the booming voice and cruel tone could most definitely not intimidate him. Hell, he spit in the face of The Other too! Who the hell did this guy think he was? He obviously did not know who he was up against. Tony knew exactly how to deal with death threats.

‘Yeah?’ he spoke up after only a moment of pause. ‘Dear god, overcompensating much? I mean I get the appeal, deep growly voice, emphasis on every slowly pronounced word. It gives a scary impression, but there is a point where it becomes too much, you know. You probably also have the face down to it, thin lips, dark eyes. I bet you even have the expressive eyebrows going for you. Can you move your eyebrows separately? Wait, you’re some lizard, right? You’re totally missing the expressive eyebrows. That must hurt. The eyebrows are kind of important. Not as much as the outfit, but I’m not even going to doubt for a second that you’re wearing black on black on… metal maybe. Do you have spikes on your armour? You sound like the spikes on the armour kinda guy. I’d really hate to burst your bubble, buddy, but those are not as intimidating as you might think.’

There were a few moments of expected stunned silence on the other side. Then Tony heard snickering, but that did not come from the other ship, he would recognize Loki’s voice anywhere.

You insolent fool, you dare…’ spoke the guy from the other ship again, voice angry.

‘Yeah-yeah, spare me,’ Tony interrupted. ‘You threaten me, I insult you, then you threaten me again, it’s a boring game of tennis… although you probably don’t know what tennis is. It’s a sport… okay, so maybe you don’t know what sport is either.’

Loki’s snickering turned louder. It sounded like he was holding back, like he was biting his lips to not laugh out loud. It made Tony grin. He could already feel adrenaline pumping in his veins, so it was not hard to keep the ball rolling.

Killing you will be the first thing I do!’ snarled the man from the other side. ‘I will make your death slow and painful and you will beg for my mercy!

Tony simply started to laugh, because really? Really? This fucking bastard really had no idea who he was talking to. He had never been more confident that the threats were empty. Sure, he could kill him, but there would be no begging, not ever. What sort of pain was he supposed to be afraid of? There was nothing left that Tony had not dealt with before.

‘Listen here Big Bad Wannabe,’ Tony said then. ‘I don’t care what you think we took, I don’t even care if we actually took it or not. But tell you what: you set one foot on my ship and I will fucking obliterate you. I’m not gonna make you beg, you just die. Plain and simple. How’s that for a threat? Hope you liked it.’

And with that he cut the communication line. Well, at least he had the last word. Then he noticed that Loki was still quietly laughing.

‘Enjoying yourself, dear?’ he asked.

Stark,’ he said. ‘You’re insane and I love it.

He was about to answer when all warnings flared up again right before a new shot shook the ship’s body. Now he knew that they won’t be shot down, so these were almost harmless warning blasts.

‘Okay so… they’re gonna attack, so be ready everyone,’ he said, focusing on the task at hand again.

Did you actually steal what they want?’ Juyu asked then. ‘I thought we only took maps.

‘No clue,’ Tony replied. ‘After I found the first few suitable maps I didn’t really take the time to look over every single disc,’ he said. ‘They’re somewhere in my workshop, I don’t know what’s on them.’

Loki just snorted.

Not that I’m not a fan of life and death fights, but… couldn’t we just give it back?’ asked Juyu again. Ah, Tony sometimes forgot how young she actually was.

He did not sound like the kind of man who would simply leave after getting what he wants,’ Drongo answered before Tony could.

‘Yeah, he would try and kill us either way,’ he added. ‘No objections because of our questionable deeds, Drongo?’ he asked then, just to be sure.

Many would call our attack on Aakar very questionable too,’ the giant answered.

‘Okay, good that we cleared that up.’

Tony turned his full attention back to the ship. His main focus was on the defence, but he did not take his eyes off the other ship either, not for a moment. It did not look like they were going to be shot at again, so he wondered what was going to happen next. How were they going to try and get on their ship?

That question was answered in the next moment, when dozens of small vehicles (pods?) ejected from the large ship and headed their way with rapid speed. Seriously, it looked like a whole swarm.

‘Here they come,’ he announced. Well, it wasn’t so bad. Definitely not bad, they could deal with this, no problem. The computer let him know that all three cannons switched online almost at the same time. ‘I hope you all have good aim,’ he remarked.

Paying attention to every single defence system and the turrets required more focus than any task he completed with the DNI before. He was pretty damn sure that in case of an attack there were supposed to be others on the bridge too, controlling some of the things through the displays, because having to pay attention to everything at once all by himself was getting a little overwhelming. He tried to listen to the conversation going on between Drongo and Juyu as they were firing at the pods circling around them like flies, but he couldn’t really do that for long. The pods did not have heavy weaponry, so it became quite clear after a little while that they were supposed to stick onto the ship like leeches. Tony had a horrible suspicion that once any of the pods managed to do that they were going to cut themselves into the ship.

Then their true attacker, the main ship started firing at them again and now Tony knew that its only purpose was to weaken their defence for the pods to be able to attack. Good tactic. He won’t let them succeed. He needed to take control of some of the turrets now and then to focus their firepower on something that came too close to attaching itself to the ship and it was hard dammit. When the DNI was active he was getting information about all things constantly and he had to provide commands in return and while he was amazing at multi-tasking really, it was a lot. He was never going to bitch about Loki’s mental training lessons again. He needed to know how to focus better. He really fucking needed it, because he was not going to be able to keep this up indefinitely. He was going to have to suck it up for now though.

He was momentarily distracted when he got a warning that the main generator had been disconnected for a moment and he cleared his head enough to be able to focus on other things than the incoming pods.

‘What are you doing down there Loki?’ he asked.

I needed to gain access to the energy in the generators. I depowered your workshop for now.

Normally, Tony would’ve been pissed if anyone – even Loki – did something to his workshop without his consent, but at the moment he was just impressed that the god was actually able to do something like this. The rapid way in which Loki absorbed knowledge still fascinated him. But he still didn’t really want to think about what necessary “adjustments” were happening with the generator and Tony’s stuff.

One of the pods almost landed on the viewport so this time Tony could see it with his very eyes how it tried to fasten itself to the ship. That wouldn’t do. It only took him a thought to close up the shields on the viewport and the heavy metal barrier effectively swiped off the pod while it closed. Like a windshield wiper. He opened them up again after, because he felt better being able to look outside with his own eyes.

‘Please don’t butcher up my stuff too badly,’ Tony asked then, because yeah, Loki could handle technology, but still… he built almost everything himself from scratch there.

Do not worry darling, there will be no permanent damage,’ Loki answered. ‘Probably,’ he added with a tone that meant he was smirking, because he was an asshole. Okay, so now that he thought about it, it was actually nice of Loki to disconnect the workshop. He was going to mess around with the generator. If something went wrong while it was connected, it could fry all his equipment. Well, hopefully it won’t fry any of their internal systems… that would really suck.

‘Okay, do whatever, just don’t blow us all up,’ he said.

I was not planning on it,’ Loki replied pleasantly. At least he didn’t sound worried.

We can’t shoot them all down, Stark,’ said Juyu then.

‘Shoot down as many as you can,’ he replied firmly and he managed to keep his balance when a new blast shook the ship. ‘If they get in, we deal with them.’

Get in?’ Loki asked. Right, he was the only one who did not see what was happening.

‘The main ship sent out some small pods, I think they try to attach to the ship and cut their way inside,’ Stark explained. Another blast, not a direct hit, the floor barely shook under Tony’s feet.

Oh, wonderful… good to know,’ Loki said. ‘Warn me in case they do get in.

‘We will all know if that happens,’ Tony replied. He would’ve loved to keep in touch with the others, but the turrets required his attention. It was pretty damn bad that he couldn’t focus on everything at once, but he had to admit that there were limits even to his brain.

It looked like they managed to hold back the attack when the main ship started to catch up with them, getting closer and closer. He couldn’t say that he had enough experience in space battles to know what the hell was happening. It bothered him to no end.

The pods seem to focus on the underside of the ship now,’ Drongo said then. ‘Is there any blind spots what our defences cannot reach?

It took a moment for Tony to calculate that from the position of the side-cannons and the lowest turrets.

‘Yeah, that would be some parts of the underside,’ he replied. Where the turrets did not reach and the cannons could not turn. Another blast shook the ship then.

Do you have any way to know if they attack us there?’ Drongo asked.

‘If anything starts to cut itself in, I will know,’ Tony reassured. ‘Focus on getting rid of as many of those bastards as possible.’

He had to find a way to monitor the whole ship without having to focus his attention on it completely, but there was no chance to do that. If any of the pods attempted to get in through the underside, then the cargo (and his workshop) was the most vulnerable along with the lowest service corridors, one of which lead from the main generator to the life support system. Which yeah, fuck, not good. They were fucking defenceless to an attack from down under. If they got into one of those corridors down there, they could cut off their air and heating, not the energy, because Loki was at the generator. But still, not good.

He was seriously contemplating whether it was time to put on his suit, but he wasn’t sure he could afford leaving the bridge for that long. Which seriously… it sucked so much.

A new wave shook the whole ship and Tony lost his balance. He caught himself before he could fall on his ass luckily. He was about to ask if everyone was okay when the whole bridge darkened. The way the DNI cut off from his mind so suddenly gave him a bit of a backlash, but it did not hurt… much. It still left stars dancing before his eyes and he had to shake his head a few times before he stopped feeling dizzy. He knew the engines cut off and that the whole ship stopped, it only took one look outside to know that. All his displays were gone and Tony ripped the DNI band off his head. It would be unwise to wear it when the system came back.

‘Can anyone hear me?’ he asked. He was pretty sure that their communication was off too, but he had to try. There was no answer, predictably, and Tony cursed. Well, in this case, he had time to put on his suit. They still stored some guns on the bridge so Tony grabbed one and headed out in the darkness. He already knew every corridor like the back of his hand, so at least he knew where he was going even in the darkness.

That last shot either hit something critical, it was some sort of special EMP-like shot, or these guys were already inside the ship. None of those options appealed to him too much.

Some emergency system must’ve managed to come back online, because not long after Tony left the bridge the lights came back up, even if only very dimly. It was enough to see, but not for much more. They still had artificial gravity, that system was operational. It gave him hope that all other life-support was still online as well. He asked if anyone could hear him again, but when no answer came he decided to stay quiet from now on. If someone was already inside the ship, it would do no good to give away his position.

He needed to get to his workshop. He had become a lot better at relying on his senses and a gun in his hand, but he still would’ve felt a thousand times better if he had his suit. Or even if he had his usual big gun, not the sidearm he grabbed. He decided to get working on those guns he planned to modify as soon as this crisis was averted. He couldn’t rely on his suit alone, he just couldn’t. He kept listening to any sort of noise and wondered what the others were doing. Obviously they were not able to communicate with one another either and Tony was pretty damn sure that the cannons were offline now too. He hoped Drongo and the girls managed to shoot down the pods before it happened, but he suspected that some of them survived. That meant that even if there were no enemies on the ship just yet, it was going to change very soon.

He was sure that Bee was going to leave the cannon and head somewhere to find her sister or Loki, or maybe Drongo, those two were getting along like a house on fire. If she ran into someone who was not a member of their little team, she was going to kill them. Tony was not afraid for her. She was a tough cookie and could scare the crap out of anyone easily. The darkened corridors may be to her advantage too in that regard.

He did not know Drongo that well just yet, but the man was smart and Tony did not have to worry about him doing anything reckless. Whatever he did, he would be careful and smart about it. He knew how to use firearms and he was strong as hell, good at fighting too. He was going to wipe the floor with any lizard-man who was unfortunate enough to get in his way. So no worries for the big man either.

Loki was down at the generator and Tony knew that he was going to finish whatever he started before going anywhere. If Loki could tap into the generator he was going to have enough juice to do… a lot. Tony couldn’t even imagine what large-scale magic that amount to energy meant. Maybe that was what they were going to have to rely on at this point. He had no idea what Loki planned to do, but it was going to be effective. He was absolutely sure of that. Loki could also defend himself perfectly well. He couldn’t help worrying just a bit, but he could trust Loki to keep himself safe. Loki was a survivor, much like Tony himself, he would be alright.

Now Juyu though… Juyu he did worry about. She would want to know where her sister was and she was damn reckless when it came to Bee. She did not have a gun with her when she headed to the cannon and Tony did not know whether she would stop to get one before she ran off to find her sibling. Sure, she was neither weak nor stupid, but Tony couldn’t always predict her. So yeah, he hoped she would stay put, but knew that actually there was not chance in hell for that.

He quickened his pace, wanting to get into the workshop as soon as possible. He had no idea what the other ship was doing, but he had a horrible foreboding that it was very-very close and along with it the reptile with the deep growly voice. Tony detested him with every fibre of his body already. That raw sharp edge in his voice just rubbed him in the wrong way. Plus well, death threats.

Noise caught his ear and he spun around, gun already raised and ready to shoot. He lowered it when Bee’s familiar shape came forth from the shadows. Her skin was green, although a lot darker shade than normally, almost black. Even her eyes were black like Drongo’s and not their usual scarlet.

‘Oh, camouflage, nice,’ he remarked. She could blend into the shadows effortlessly like this, her grey clothes helped with that too. ‘Workshop,’ he said. ‘Then we check the service corridors to see what’s broken.’ He started walking and knew that the girl followed even if he could not hear her steps. ‘And we may have a little pest infestation problem,’ he added quietly. ‘So we’re gonna have to go with the “strike first and don’t ask questions” approach here, okay?’

He did not have to turn around and look at her to know that she was okay with that, if there was one thing he learnt was that Bee was always up for something like this.

The shot came out of nowhere, but Tony ducked and so did Bee, so the blast only hit the wall next to them. Tony rolled and slid to the other side of the corridor, his back pressed to the wall, down on one knee, gun raised. He shot back right away even if he did not see the attacker immediately. Then he noticed him and could aim properly. The corridor led to the cargo area, so the fact that this fucker came from that direction was not good at all. One of Tony’s shot must’ve hit the attacker, because he could hear a hiss of pain, but there was still an answering blast. Tony had to jump back to not get scorched. Bee only registered as a swift dark shadow as she rushed past him. Tony wanted to yell at her, because she had to stop doing this, bringing axes into a gunfight and attacking without a second of hesitation. Whoever it was that shot at them must’ve been surprised about the small swift girl charging at him, like everyone else usually was. The yell of pain was cut off almost right away and Tony stood up to catch up with the Skrull.

‘I know you’re tough, Little Bee, but you can still get shot,’ he told her as soon as he was close enough. She just looked at him in return. It was the sort of unimpressed look he saw on Loki’s face too sometimes. Tony translated it into something that meant: “You really think I don’t know what I’m doing?”

‘Just be careful,’ he said. ‘Don’t get hurt.’ She nodded after a moment and Tony took the lead again.

He was not stupid to charge into the cargo area with guns blazing so to speak, because now it was clear that they indeed had some intruders. The question was how many. So when they reached the cargo hold he plastered himself to the wall and started listening, hoping to catch the sound of any talking or moving from the inside.

‘Is it really the time to hide, after you threatened me so confidently?’ Tony knocked his head back to the wall as he bit back a curse, because fuck, he knew that voice all too well already. How the fuck did this guy get here so quickly? His mind was racing and he wondered how many of them were in there. He was cut off from his suit, that was for sure, and he really should’ve grabbed a second gun.

‘I have no patience for games, warm-blood,’ the deep scratchy voice called again. ‘Get in here… unarmed… or I’ll tear off a limb from this one.’

There was a sort of coldness Tony felt when he was beyond rage, when his pulse skyrocketed and everything became sharp and focused. It was the sort of coldness that made him capable of many things, unthinkable things. He felt that coldness gripping his heart now.

‘I wouldn’t hesitate if I were you,’ the deep voice warned. Then there was a pained whimper that turned into a sharp cry of agony. Tony could hear the sound of a bone snapping even from where he stood and he could recognize Juyu’s voice just as easily. He was about to call out and walk in, dropping his gun if that was what it took, but before he could do anything at all Bee was off, without a chance to stop her. Not often could Tony hear any sound coming from her, but the furious snarl was loud and clear this time. Tony barely reacted before chaos broke out, energy guns came to life, and blast after blast lighted up the darkened cargo area. No chance to drop his weapon now, so he charged in and just hoped to get out of this alive. It was ridiculous, but when could he finally see what was happening inside, his very first though was: “Hey, I was right about the spikes.”

 

Chapter Text

 

It was not the first time she broke some bones, not at all, but there was a difference between an accidental quick snap and a slow deliberate crush caused by a strong unyielding grip. She screamed before she could even think about silencing herself. Spots appeared in her vision right away as the hot flash of pain made her dizzy. She stopped struggling because every single movement sent new waves of agony through her body. The man who grabbed her was tall, almost as tall as Drongo. His scales were deep green almost brown, but he was not truly reptilian. His pupils were round, his skin too warm to the touch, half-breed maybe, or something completely different. Four thick fingers were digging into Juyu’s arm, sharp nails deeply embedded into her flesh, blood trickling down her arm and onto the floor. She shifted back into her original form on instinct, pale flesh getting replaced by green, not that the large man did not know what she was already.

By the time she managed to shake off the shock of pain there was fighting all around. Startled yells cut off one after another while guns were blazing. The lackeys of the tall man were shooting chaotically, screaming at one another in alarm. It took some time for Juyu to notice her sister, but the moment she did, she was yelling and struggling again.

‘No! Bee! Get out!’ she tried to warn her. Her sister was strong, but she was not invincible. Struggling made the pain in her arm worse, her whole left side burned from it, but she did not stop. Bee was too fast to be easily shot down and the invaders attention was divided when someone started shooting at them. She was still captured, she was still in pain, and they were in the middle of a battle, but just seeing Stark caused a burst of relief to surge up in her. Stark always knew what to do, and also because where Stark was, Loki couldn’t be far behind.

Bee was furious, her movements fast but almost mindless, she hacked and slashed anyone she could reach while energy blasts rained around her. Stark took cover behind some boxes, his shots were quick but precise, even if not always lethal. He was hidden and far away enough that their invaders couldn’t get to him without risking to be shot and most of their attention was on Bee anyway. The tall man who still held her captured did not seem concerned about the fight even if he took a few steps back to make himself less of an easy target. The crushed bone in Juyu’s arm shifted with the movement and she hissed out in pain before biting her lips to stay silent. She had to get away from him.

‘Really, spiky?’ yelled Stark over the sound of fighting. Another one of the dark man’s men screamed as he lost an arm. He was writhing down on the floor while his comrades tried to corner Bee in the far side of the cargo.

‘You’re using a girl as a shield? How does that go along with your big bad image?’

‘I am using your weakness,’ the man rumbled back as he drew a gun from his belt as well. ‘You could have already shot at me, but you are too afraid to harm your little Skrull pet.’

‘So scared of me, spiky?’ Stark asked. Juyu tried to turn to see what was happening with Bee, but she couldn’t, she could only hear the sound of fighting, the yelling and screaming.

‘Call back that little animal,’ the man ordered.

‘I don’t think she will stop before all your men are dead by her feet,’ Stark shot back. ‘I can wait until she’s done with that.’

‘My men are not so incompetent to be bested by a little girl!’

Juyu felt pathetic, hanging in the grip of the man, being used like this. She wanted to hope that Bee would easily defeat all of them, but there were a lot of them, even more…

‘Stark! There’s more of them! Sent out to search the ship!’ The last word was barely out of her mouth when the tall man tightened his grip again and twisted her arm, silencing her. She cried out in pain as the broken bone shifted.

‘Juyu!’ This time it was Stark who yelled. His voice angry and hard.

‘I want what you took from me!’ the man spoke again, loud enough to be heard even over the still on-going fight. She did not know how Bee was doing! She could not see her. Was she fine, was she injured? She could still fight, but she could be wounded!

‘We are way past the point of negotiating,’ Stark answered him.

‘It was an order, not an offer,’ the man growled angrily. Despite the pain throbbing in her body and the mind-numbing fear that threatened to overwhelm her every second she did not know what was happening to her sister, those words still almost made her want to smile. Because one thing she knew for sure; Stark did not take orders from anyone, especially not from someone like this.

Stark laughed. It was not a joyful laugh or a teasing one or any of the friendly ones Juyu was used to hear from him, it was sharp, angry and incredibly mocking. The way the man’s face hardened, he knew he was the one being mocked.

‘Following orders isn't my style,’ Stark answered finally. His taunting made something loosen up inside Juyu’s chest. There was fighting still, they were in danger, even mortal danger, but somehow Stark acting like he always did made everything seem less oppressing and hopeless. “Calculated risk”; was what both Stark and Loki called it. They always expected to be in danger, but they were always ready to fight their way out of it too. And they did not just struggle through it, they thrived. Fear always made her numb, made it hard for her to think, to act, to even speak. Fear made Stark mock, laugh and fight twice as hard. It was like throwing oil on fire, it just made him more dangerous.

A cry of pain jolted her out of her thoughts and it made her blood run cold right away, because it was Bee, it was her sister, she was hurt, she was in danger and Juyu was still captured like a pathetic child! She could not shift as quickly as Bee, but she could still do everything she could do. Shifting just a small part of her body was hard, but also something easily hidden. So she locked out the pain and locked out the noise and just tried to do it as quickly as possible.

‘We got her!’ yelled one of the lackeys, but he continued right away with a different, less certain tone. ‘No! Hold her!!! Watch--’ Then his voice abruptly cut off. The tall man’s attention shifted for a moment, and immediately Juyu turned to grab hold of his armour and bite down on the arm that held her trapped, now with teeth long and razor sharp. Warm blood filled her mouth as she bit through thick skin and hard muscle until she reached bone. The man cried out and let go of Juyu’s arm right away, only to grab her by the hair, to yank her off his forearm. She was having none of that, so she held on as strong as she could for as long as she could. They struggled for a little time, the man trying to get her off, while Juyu kicked him wherever she could. Eventually the man managed to rip her off and toss her away. She hit a larger crate and landed on the floor jolting her broken arm again. She spat out the chuck of flesh she tore off with her teeth and tried to roll away and find cover when the man raised his gun at her.

A smaller blast hit his shoulder, making him stumble and Juyu got to her feet to get behind some crates as Stark shot at the man again and again, finally able to aim with her out of the way. The man quickly gave up on attacking her and ducked behind some barrels. Stark did not advance, but he was a lot closer now than before.

‘You will pay for this!’ the man yelled. ‘I will kill you and your Skrull whores, warm-blood scum!’

She couldn’t help it when she started to laugh. It was probably because of the pain and the blood still dripping from her arm, but she had to laugh.

‘You’re no reptile either,’ she spoke then. She was still close enough to the man to be heard well. ‘I have your warm blood on my teeth. You’re a Gegku!’

‘Silence, Skrull!’ the man snarled and she laughed again. She was out of breath and both her hands were shaking, no, her whole body was shaking, but she laughed.

‘So you’re just another warm-blood!’ Stark interrupted. ‘Just another scum forced to bow to the Skrulls, are you?’ He was probably drawing the attention away from her or just trying to anger the man further, she did not know. She had to go to Bee. She moved despite the pain, quickly sliding through small spaces between crates. She explored the ship many times and knew how to get there without being noticed.

‘Goza, kill the Skrull!’ the man yelled and Juyu knew he was not talking about her. Her heart started to beat even more vehemently in her chest and she ran. She no longer cared for staying hidden. She had to get to her sister.

The lights came back fully the next second, the half-dark cargo space filled up with bright light right away. It startled everyone into silence for a moment. Everything looked more real and less like a nightmare, colour returned to their surroundings and chased away the grey shadows.

‘Drop your weapons,’ rumbled Drongo from the side where Bee was. Juyu was smiling and moving again even if she did not see him yet, because he was fine, and he was here, and they had more help now. When she finally reached the end of the crates the sight that greeted her was both frightful and reassuring. Three of the invaders had Bee pinned to the floor, while two others were aiming their guns at Drongo. There were corpses around them, four or five, it was hard to tell as some of them were in pieces. The giant stood in a doorway that Juyu knew led down to the engines and generators. He had a big gun in his hand aimed at the men around Bee, it had to be the one she saw Stark use in the past.

‘If you’re waiting for your friends to show up, you will be sorely disappointed,’ Drongo spoke again. His voice just as calm and collected as always. ‘I already had the pleasure of meeting them,’ he continued.

‘You think you have defeated me, just because you disposed of a few of my men?!’ the leader of their attacker boomed. ‘I am Ryasur, son of Ksaddural, I have hundreds of soldiers on my ship, waiting for my orders! We will tear this ship apart with you along with it and I will show no mercy!’

We don’t need your mercy,’ sounded Loki’s cold voice and it took a moment for Juyu to realize that it came from the speakers.

‘My soldiers are already on their way,’ Ryasur said as a way of answering. ‘Soon this little game of resistance will be over. You cannot fight them all.’

And no matter how badly Juyu wanted to believe that they were doing well… they couldn’t fight hundreds. This time the fear was not so numbing. This time she could see her sister even if she was trapped. Drongo stood tall and certain, his gun still aimed at the men in front of him. Stark was with them and Loki was close, listening and waiting. Her fear was not numbing her, it was just an insistent itch in the back of her mind. They were all here and they were all going to fight. They were past the point where fear mattered at all.

There were a few moments of silence after Ryasur’s words, then Loki’s voice sounded from the speakers again, but this time he only said one word.

Drongo.

The giant moved right away, fast despite his size. He did not shoot at the men holding Bee captive, but simply charged at them. One of them shot him in the leg, but it did not slow him down. He grabbed one and tossed him aside, punched a second to get to the ones holding Bee on the floor. He peeled them off her one by one, his grip crushing, all his movements fast and efficient. As soon as he could he grabbed hold of her and yanked her away from their attackers. Bee started to struggle and Juyu almost shouted at Drongo to let go of her, but there was not enough time for that. Drongo backed off from the men with Bee held tightly in his arms.

‘We’re ready!’ he called out then. Every light flickered, like the power was fluctuating. She remembered then where Loki was, down with the generator. But she couldn’t even guess what was happening. After a few more flickers everything turned incredibly bright. First, Juyu thought that it was only the lights turning back to normal, but it didn’t stop. In but a few seconds she had to close her eyes and throw her uninjured arm up to cover her face because of the impossible brightness.

She heard some voices, like yelling coming from somewhere very far, like echoes in a deep well. Then abruptly it was silence, she only heard the quiet buzz of the lights above their heads and her own panting breath. She slowly pulled her arm down and opened her eyes when her eyelids no longer burned with bright red colour.

The first thing she saw was Bee, struggling in Drongo’s hold. She had claws buried in his arm and teeth biting down on his hand, but the giant still held her close, not letting go. When she moved closer she realized that he was talking quietly to her, his tone even and calm, like she wasn’t slashing his arms up in her attempt to escape.

‘Is everyone alright?’ Stark asked as he jogged closer and only now did Juyu notice that their invaders were gone.

‘We’re fine,’ Drongo answered.

‘Umm,’ Stark’s voice was uncertain as he looked at them.

‘She just needs to calm down,’ Drongo replied, then turned his attention back to Bee. ‘You’re safe now,’ he said. ‘They’re gone. Nobody’s going to hurt you.’

She stopped the violent struggling then, but her claws and teeth were still deeply embedded in Drongo’s arms.

‘Drongo,’ Juyu spoke up, because he had to let go of her.

‘It’s fine, we’re fine. She’s not hurting me,’ he said. Which was absurd, really. ‘She just needs a little time, you’ll see.’

Bee was shaking, Juyu noticed, she was hurt too, she had a wound on her head. She moved to get even closer even if she hissed in pain when she started walking. Stark was there a second later and wrapped an arm around her waist, grabbing hold of her uninjured arm.

‘Just sit down, take it easy,’ he said. ‘You’re hurt too.’

‘No, let her come a little closer,’ the giant said. Stark didn’t argue, he helped Juyu to get there then to sit down on the floor next to Drongo and Bee.

‘Loki! Are you okay?’ he asked then loudly.

I’m fine,’ Loki answered after a pause, but he sounded out of breath and a little faint.

‘I’m coming to get you,’ Stark told him.

No, stay,’ Loki said. ‘I’m on my way.’

Juyu stared at Bee silently before reaching out slowly. She was just staring ahead of herself while still biting down on Drongo’s arm, but Juyu kept her hand in the line of her vision.

‘Bee,’ she called. ‘It’s over,’ she added. ‘Can you hear me? They’re gone.’

It took a few long minutes for her to react and even then she only blinked and shifted her gaze to Juyu’s hand. She looked at it for a moment before her jaw finally relaxed and she let go of Drongo’s arm. Juyu was never going to be able to get used to the sight of her face covered in blood like this, it always turned her stomach painfully, twisted something in her gut.

‘We’re fine now,’ Juyu said again now that she had her attention. Bee unclenched one of her hands, her claws retracting, and she reached out to wrap it around Juyu’s fingers. She didn’t look at her while she did it, but it was enough. It took another moment for her to get her other hand off Drongo’s arm. As her claws slid out of the abused flesh she stared at them, then down at the bloody arm, and then she turned like she wasn’t sure whom the arm belonged to. Drongo smiled serenely as she looked at him, like she didn’t just try to tear the flesh off his bones a few minutes ago.

‘It’s just me,’ he said.

Bee looked up at him for a moment then her muscles relaxed and she slumped down in his arms, resting her weight against his chest, but never letting go of Juyu’s hand.

‘Oh God, Loki!’ Stark exclaimed as he ran off. Juyu turned and saw him rushing to the door Drongo came through earlier. ‘What the hell happened?’ Stark asked. He seemed to be torn between wanting to reach out and not knowing whether he should, because Loki looked injured. It took some time for Juyu to see how exactly. As they got closer she noticed that Loki’s hands and forearms were dark and red, but only when they were almost by their side did she see that he was burned. Both his hands and most of his forearms were red and black, blistered and charred, the skin peeling off of it. Stark looked pale and a little sick as he hovered, still not knowing where he could touch without causing further damage.

‘Are you alright?’ Loki asked from him, looking him over, his eyes lingering on the bloody spot on Stark’s shoulder.

‘Are you fucking kidding me right now?’ Stark asked in return. ‘I’m fucking fine! What the hell happened to you?!’

‘I needed direct contact,’ Loki explained. ‘As in skin contact, just like with the crystals before, to be able to harness the available energy.’

‘Skin con--’ Stark frowned. ‘Did you fucking grab hold of a cable or something?’

‘Several cables actually,’ Loki said. ‘Every single one that normally leads to your workshop.’

‘You could’ve fucking burned yourself to… completely!’ Stark yelled. ‘Burned to coal! Literally! Until there was nothing left but a pile of ash!’

‘I’m sturdier than that,’ Loki replied. ‘I’m fine, it’ll heal.’

‘Don’t tell me--’ Stark started then he cut himself off and took a few deep breaths, turning away and running a hand down his face. He turned back after a few moments, but his face was still furious. His eyes locked on Loki’s hands instead of his face.

‘Is it just… just your hands and arms?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Loki replied.

‘You fucking lunatic,’ he bit out then stepped closer to kiss the other man holding his face firmly between his hands, carefully avoiding his arms. They stayed close like that for a while and Juyu averted her gaze, looking back at her sister, who was still calmly sitting encircled in Drongo’s arms.

‘So my arm’s broken,’ she spoke up, breaking the long silence that surrounded them. Everyone’s attention was on her almost immediately. ‘And are we sure they’re not coming back?’ she asked.

‘Yeah, where did you send them?’ Stark asked looking at Loki.

‘I did not send them anywhere,’ Loki replied. ‘They’re still exactly where they were before.’

Stark frowned at him and so did Juyu, because there was a very definite lack of enemies around them.

‘We’re the ones who changed location,’ Loki explained.

‘What?’ Stark blinked.

‘I teleported… all of us… and the ship,’ he said. ‘But I left them there in the process.’

‘You’re shitting me!’ Stark gaped. ‘How far?’

‘Far enough,’ Loki reassured. ‘They won’t find us again. Especially since that… Ryasur most likely found himself suddenly surrounded by space instead of a ship. He’s probably dead.’

‘Okay, awesome,’ Stark said. ‘I mean, you almost fucking burned yourself to death to do it, but fucking awesome… impressive as hell. Where did you bring us exactly?’

There was a noticeable pause before Loki answered. ‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’ Juyu asked.

‘It’s not like I have a star-map in my mind,’ Loki answered. ‘I went as far as my magic could reach, as far as I could see with the energy in the generators powering me.’

‘Please tell me that at least we moved somewhere closer to home and not further away,’ Stark spoke then carefully.

‘I don’t know,’ Loki repeated. ‘We’ll have to wait and see.’

Chapter Text

 

First order of business was tending to their injuries. They moved to the kitchen, because it had plenty of space, water, food and everything else they needed to regroup so to speak, and also because Loki did not want everyone to bleed all over their room. Since Stark was the least injured of their company he was the one who hauled a frankly excessive amount of medical supplies in.

‘Can I like… make the elixir for you?’ he asked eyeing Loki’s hands with the same horrified expression he wore on his face since he first laid eyes on them.

‘No… you’ve never tried to make one before and it’s unnecessary,’ Loki told him. His hands and arms were burning with pain, but it was something that would heal without a problem.

‘You need to heal your arms,’ Stark said.

‘It will heal on its own in a matter of days,’ Loki answered. ‘I just need you to bring me the ointment from the top shelf, light green jar.’

‘Why the hell would you wait a few days…’

‘Stark, the elixir is for severe wounds.’

‘You made me drink it when I was a little beat up,’ Stark argued. ‘You have third degree burns on both arms!’

‘You’re mortal, even smaller wounds take weeks to heal. I will be fine in a few days. Stop arguing with me, just bring the bloody ointment.’

Stark stared at him for a moment, then turned and left the room without a word.

‘He’s just worried, you know,’ Juyu said.

‘Yes, thank you. I’m aware of that,’ Loki snapped.

‘We need to set the bones in your arm, Juyu,’ Drongo interrupted before she could open her mouth to reply.

‘Have you done anything like this before?’ Loki asked him.

‘I’m no healer,’ he answered. ‘But I’ll manage.

Loki nodded and let him get to it, it’s not like it was a complicated task. He could check it in a few days himself after his hands healed. Juyu seemed to be fine with letting the giant treat her wounds. Bee was sitting quietly in a chair next to her sister, only slightly wounded and completely calm, Drongo did a good job with her. Drongo was altogether a valuable addition to their crew. When he lost all contact with Stark and the others he was torn between continuing his task and investigating the problem. In the end he remained by the generator in hope that Stark would be capable of handling the situation. He was still wary and very much aware that their defences had been breached. It did not matter that he had found a suitable – albeit painful – way of reaching the energy in the generators, when he did not know the full extent of the danger they were in. He was just about to leave the generator room when Drongo showed up. The giant explained what he knew about their situation swiftly and told him about his encounter with the invaders. It was not hard to fabricate a plan after he had someone to execute some parts of it.

They found a way to re-established lighting and communications. After that, Drongo could leave to find the others while Loki headed back to the generator. His escape plan was simple, but it required everyone on the ship he wanted to pull along with his spell to not touch anyone unwanted. Drongo had the task of reassuring that. It was not easy to map out the full ship and wrap it in his power, but it was surprisingly simple to separate the others from the hostile life-forms. He got more severely wounded for less in the past, so he really could not complain about the burns. His mind was clear and he was not significantly weakened. More importantly, everyone was alive and relatively hale. Their escape was a success.

He could of course still understand where Stark’s ire was coming from. He saw injuries differently. Indeed the amount of tissue damage he had would surely scar a mortal for life, maybe the delicate muscles and sinews would be unable to heal completely at all. For someone like Stark, who worked with his hands, it must have been a terrifying prospect. Nonetheless, he had to learn that what counted as a severe injury for a mortal was only light damage for someone like Loki. Yes, it hurt and it did not look well, but it would heal in a matter of days, so he did not need coddling.

Stark returned with the ointment Loki asked for, his brows still furrowed and his shoulders still tense though. He looked at Loki questioningly while he held up the jar, and while he would have been perfectly capable of applying the balm on his own Loki held out his hands. Stark pulled a chair closer and sat down right in front of him, unscrewing the cap.

‘I know you’re humouring me, you know,’ he said as he gathered some of the salve in his hand and reached out carefully to smear it on the burns first on Loki’s right hand and arm.

‘Then at least you know how perfectly fine I am, since I am indeed humouring you,’ Loki answered. ‘You know I have no patience for sentimentalities when I am truly injured.’

Stark huffed out a breath and focused on the task at hand, at least his shoulders relaxed a bit, even if he was still frowning and squinting a bit.

‘Are you well?’ Loki asked with a frown of his own.

‘Yes, I already told you,’ the man answered.

‘No, you’re squinting… you have a headache.’ It was meant to be a statement, but it came out slightly as an accusation.

‘I hate it that you’re observant,’ Stark sighed.

‘DNI?’ Loki asked while Stark moved on to his other arm.

The man nodded. ‘Yeah, the system shut down mid-use, so it gave me backlash,’ he said.

‘How bad?’ Loki asked.

‘Manageable,’ Stark answered. Who was being stubborn about injuries now?

‘On a scale of one to ten?’ he asked pointedly. Stark sighed again.

‘I’m fine.’

‘Humour me, Stark,’ Loki said. It was only fair.

‘I don’t know… five… six,’ he shrugged.

‘That’s bad enough,’ Loki told him. ‘Any bleeding? Nose, ears, mouth?’

Stark stopped what he was doing and looked up at him. ‘No, and I’m okay. This is not something that happens every day, so it’s nothing to worry about. I just had my whole attention focused on the system, so I was deep in, that’s why it hurt when I got cut off.’

‘We are going to continue your mental training, no more excuses,’ Loki told him sternly.

‘I know. I’m not an idiot.’

‘Only sometimes.’

‘Well, so are you,’ Stark countered.

‘As entertaining as is to listen to you two,’ Drongo interrupted. He was wrapping up Juyu’s arm now. ‘We have some other, more pressing issues to discuss.’

Stark looked up at them and frowned again.

‘Shouldn’t we uh… make an elixir for Juyu?’ he asked.

‘I’d rather not experiment on her,’ Loki told him. ‘There are more similarities than differences between Aesir and Human physiology, so while there was a risk, your body reacted favourably. She’s reptilian, everything is different, right down to her very cells, so I have absolutely no idea how she would react to it.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ Juyu said then. ‘It’s gonna be fine in a week or so.’

‘Damn, I’m the only one who heals slowly? That sucks,’ Stark grumbled.

‘It would also take my body to heal broken bones more than a week,’ Drongo told him. ‘Although, it is quite hard to break any bone in me to begin with.’

‘That actually makes me feel better,’ Stark smiled as he got some gauze bandages for Loki’s hands. ‘But not that much better… it’s like I’m the loser in the evolution game.’

‘Do not be so hard on yourself,’ Drongo said pleasantly while he started cleaning out his own wounds, starting with the slashes on his forearms. ‘Skrulls are, after all, the result of centuries of genetic experiments.’

‘I… did not know that,’ Stark said.

‘It is also the reason why they are still exactly the same as they were millions of years ago, they do not evolve anymore.’

I did not know that,’ Juyu said.

‘Well, you did not grow up among Skrulls I assume,’ Drongo said. ‘You would hardly be so far away from your kind if that wasn’t the case.’

‘You know a lot about Skrulls?’ Loki asked while Stark started bandaging his hand.

‘I know a little about a lot of things,’ Drongo said. ‘But the Skrulls are rather important if one wanders the Andromeda, so I learnt a bit more about them.’

‘We did not really run into Skrulls,’ Stark said. ‘Well, beside the girls.’

‘You were lucky then,’ Drongo said. ‘The only reason why I mentioned it in the first place, is because it is a mistake to compare the Skrulls to other reptilians. Their genetic pool is quite unique, one might say. I know not of any other race that can change their shapes so effortlessly and to such an extent for example. It is fascinating of course, how they can mentally cause the unstable molecules that comprise their bodies to become pliant, assume other forms through muscular expansion and contraction, let that form be organic or inorganic. I do not know if there is any other race capable of such things.’

‘Unstable molecules?’ Stark asked.

Drongo chuckled. ‘Again, as entertaining and interesting it is to discuss such things, we have other matters to talk about.’

‘For example, I’d like to know what it was that almost got us all killed,’ Juyu said. Her arm perfectly bandaged now, she only needed to put it in a sling.

‘I am very curious about that as well,’ Loki agreed. Stark huffed.

‘Yeah and like I said, I have no idea. We were in a bit of a tight spot when I grabbed the discs randomly. And we have a lot, so I started to look them over, but after I found some maps that were good for us I stopped. I had other things to do rather than looking over a bunch of maps we have no use for.’

‘Well, obviously there is something very important on one of those discs,’ Loki told him. ‘So we need to look them over properly.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ Stark said. ‘But we need to get all systems back and running first. I have to know the extent of the damage in the ship. Those figgin’ pods obviously cut their way inside, the engines were shut down, I don’t know how much energy there is left in the generators and oh yeah, we don’t know where we are.’

‘I do believe that the ship will be able to recognize our location based on the visible constellations around us… well, if the ship has any suitable maps for this location.’

‘One more reason to look over every single disc, we need to enter every map we have into the database,’ Loki agreed.

‘You guys do realize that if we have no map for this area we’re in deep shit,’ Stark commented idly as he finished wrapping up Loki’s arms. ‘We will be forced to move with minimum speed, we won’t know which way the closest star is, or a suitable planet where we can get the rest of the repairs done. If we run out of energy before we reach something…’

‘Let us worry about that once we got everything back online and the maps added,’ Loki said. ‘We can worry about the energy, our resources and provisions after that.’

‘It would be of course wise to run on bare minimum until then,’ Drongo suggested. ‘No need to waste energy, maybe we will need everything there is.’

‘Okay,’ Stark nodded as he stood up. ‘We’re gonna shut down everything that’s not strictly necessary then. We search the ship, assess the damage, then we get on to those stupid discs.’

‘Aaand that’s another map,’ Stark said as he activated yet another disc. Loki, Stark and Drongo gathered on the bridge after they were done with the most pressing tasks. Stark managed to convince the girls to rest. Well, he only wanted Juyu to rest, because she needed it, but Bee joined her, which was fine, since she was unlikely to contribute to the upcoming discussions. They still did not know the full extent of the damage done to the ship, but it was safe to say that they were going to be able to travel. At least for a while. The pod that cut its way into the ship was still attached to them securely, so while it was definitely not optimal, they could leave it there for the time being. They needed to land the ship somewhere in order to repair that.

The generators were not emptied of course, Loki knew that he did not take that much, but it was still better to be on the side of caution. They closed up and locked down every room they did not need and limited the lights and heating to the areas they actually used. Stark did not power up his workshop again either. They actually closed up the whole cargo hold after bringing in everything they may need later, like Stark’s armour, food, clothing, medical supplies and so on. They also only left life-support, basic defence and the main control systems running, secondary systems were also shut down in order to preserve energy. Now Stark was opening up one disc after another to find whatever it was that Ryasur and his soldiers wanted. So far they only found maps, which were promptly added to the ship’s database as planned.

‘Oh… that’s… not a map,’ Stark said and Loki turned to pay attention to the displays again.

‘What is that?’ he asked as he looked at it. The circular design looked complicated and it exceeded his current technological knowledge. Why couldn’t they just all use magic like sensible beings? It was such a pain.

‘I’m not really sure it’s what I think it is,’ Stark said as his eyes were focused on the images before him. ‘I mean… I have three different ideas actually.’

‘It’s a warp drive,’ Drongo said after a long moment of staring. Stark made a tiny and high aborted noise, it sounded utterly undignified, but also managed to tell Loki a lot right away. There were not many things that made Stark that excited.

‘No way,’ Stark said staring at the plans. ‘I mean… is that like a thing… that exists? Like… it was already invented and it’s in use?’

‘The Skrulls have the technology,’ Drongo nodded. ‘A few other races as well.’

‘What does it do?’ Loki asked.

‘A warp drive in theory,’ Stark started, then he looked at the displays again. ‘Well, not in theory, but in reality, because I am looking at actual blueprints here… wow, okay… so a warp drive is a faster-than-light propulsion system.’

‘Use simple terms, Stark,’ Loki reminded him.

‘It creates an artificial “bubble” or a “field” of normal space-time that surrounds the ship so that we can accelerate,’ Drongo said before Stark could speak again.

Stark turned and looked at the giant silently for a moment.

‘Yes?’ Drongo asked.

‘I would not have expected for something like that to come out of your mouth after all the hippie-crap I’ve been hearing,’ Stark said.

‘Thank you, I think,’ Drongo replied evenly. Stark turned back to Loki.

‘Okay, so normally you cannot travel faster than light,’ he said. ‘In theory a particle with subluminal velocity would need infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light,’ the man continued. ‘Which would be pretty damn impossible to accomplish, but in case of an actual working warp drive, we would be exceeding the speed of light within our local frame of reference, no need for infinite energy, just the same we use for normal flight. The ship would cross distances by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it. So, we would be traveling faster-than-light.’

Loki raised an eyebrow.

‘In simple terms;’ Drongo added. ‘We cannot accelerate to the speed of light within normal space-time, but the warp drive generates a field that shifts the space around the ship. This way we can arrive to our destination faster than light would in normal space,’ he finished. ‘Without needing infinite energy, like Stark said.’

‘I’m really-really starting to like you, big man,’ Stark said pointing a finger at Drongo. He looked back at Loki. ‘I could write down the math for it, but I’m not sure it would help.’

‘No, I understand well enough,’ Loki told him. ‘It sounds like something very valuable.’

‘It is, even in the Andromeda,’ Drongo said. ‘Like I said, the Skrulls and their allies use the technology furthermost. They are almost the only ones who can reach great distances without having to travel for years. As you can imagine there are many other races who would love to have this advantage as well.’

‘It certainly is useful for trade or war,’ Loki guessed.

‘Yeah, you kind of lose the element of surprise if you have to travel for years to reach a planet,’ Stark said.

‘The Chitauri did not have this technology,’ Loki commented absently.

‘They’re supposed to, if they’re still in alliance with the Skrulls,’ Drongo said.

‘If they were allies, they’re not anymore,’ Loki answered. ‘Could you build this?’

Stark huffed. ‘Not with what I have now,’ he said. ‘I mean, not for this ship, it’s not suitable for it.’

‘But it’s still a very valuable technology,’ Loki concluded.

‘Definitely reason enough to hunt us down all the way from the Andromeda,’ Stark agreed.

‘It would be wise to keep it a secret that we have it in our possession,’ Drongo told them.

‘I agree,’ Loki nodded.

‘Yeah, no kidding,’ Stark agreed too and closed the displays. ‘There are too many would-be-conquerors who are only limited by distance.’

Stark did not need to elaborate for Loki to know who he was referring to. If the Chitauri were still in alliance with the Skrulls like Drongo said, then they would have been able to reach Midgard without the help of Loki and the Tesseract. He knew Thanos had other reasons for wanting the Tesseract of course, not just for its ability to open up portals, but it was still very likely that he did not have faster-than-light ships at his disposal. The Skrull Empire was powerful, they would never bow to Thanos, and so they would not hand over their valuable technology to him either. But Thanos couldn’t be the only one who wanted such technology.

‘The question is whether Ryasur wanted this for himself,’ he said out loud. ‘Or if he had someone pulling his strings.’

‘Either way, they didn’t get it,’ Stark said. ‘So if it was not for spiky himself, then we pissed someone off very much, but that’s nothing new.’

‘Offering up such a technology could also be a valuable bargaining chip,’ Drongo said. ‘Maybe Ryasur wanted to win someone’s favour. He did hate the Skrulls and he sounded like an ambitious man.’

‘It’s useless to theorize,’ Loki said. ‘We do not know and maybe we won’t ever know. The fact is that we have it in our possession, so while it’s useful and valuable it may also cause trouble.’

‘And we cannot let it end up in the wrong hands,’ Stark added. ‘So, not a word to anyone then. Hopefully, whoever were Ryasur’s allies they lost our track when we teleported.’

‘You do plan to build one though, right?’ Loki asked. ‘Once we’re back on Midgard.’

‘Of course I am,’ Stark said. ‘There are too many big and scary things out here that my tiny vulnerable planet is not ready for. I’m going to need every piece of advanced technology I can get my hands on if I want to protect it.’

‘That is your long-term plan?’ Loki asked. ‘Gather technology to protect Midgard?’

‘It’s my planet,’ Stark said simply but with fierce conviction. ‘Nobody’s going to mess with my planet, not on my watch. Anyone decides to give a go to conquer it again, I’m going to fucking take it personally. I will be better prepared than last time, and they’re going to regret they ever set foot on Earth.’

‘You and your heroism,’ Loki shook his head. He still smiled fondly, because the determined glint in Stark’s eyes was really quite something to behold.

‘Defending you and yours is not the mark of a hero,’ Drongo said. ‘It is perhaps the most selfish desire there is, but it is still one of the noblest ones.’

‘See?’ Stark grinned. ‘Not heroic nonsense,’ he said. ‘I have a purely selfish motivation, kicking the ass of those who try to take something that’s mine.’

‘Well, if you put it like that,’ Loki smiled. ‘I cannot really argue.’

‘Before we fabricate more plans for the distant future, maybe we could continue figuring out where we are,’ Drongo said then.

‘Yes, first things first. I can’t kick anyone’s ass if I’m not there,’ Stark agreed and turned back to open up new discs one after another.

Selfish motivation, albeit a noble one, it was certainly true for Stark. Loki had no desire to become a self-proclaimed protector of Midgard of all realms, but it certainly seemed like that it would be their home-base once they reached the planet. It was Stark’s home. He had his wealth and his inventions, his kingdom so to speak. He had no reason to protect Midgard, but he did have an invested interest in preventing Stark from a stupid heroic death. That could be his selfish motivation. Stark wanted to protect what was his, so Loki was going to do the same.

Chapter Text

 

‘A warp drive?’ Juyu asked again.

‘Yes,’ Tony nodded.

‘Why would they hunt us down for something like that?’ she asked then with a frown. ‘I thought all long-distance ships could go that fast. I thought we were already able to go that fast.’

Juyu may not have been a genius scientist, but she always asked the relevant basic questions. Tony liked that about her, she had both feet on the ground and always focused on the important things.

‘We are going fast,’ Tony said. ‘Only not warp drive level fast. What we have is, well… I guess hyperdrive is the best name.’

‘Suitable name,’ Drongo confirmed from his spot at the back of the room. They used to gather up in the cargo area for such discussions, but since they locked that up the bridge and the kitchen took over this function. They put in some boxes in the control room so that everyone could sit down. It looked a little chaotic and crammed, but it would have to do. Bee was perching on a different box next to the giant silently listening as always.

‘And why is a warp drive so much more special?’ Juyu asked again.

‘Faster, more stable,’ Tony said. ‘The way the hyperdrive works is different. Ok, so I didn’t have time to study both in detail, because I always have like a million and one thing to do all the time, but the way the hyperdrive works is that it… pushes us over onto a shortcut. On Earth we call it “hyperspace”.’

‘He means the cosmic pathways,’ Loki interrupted.

‘Yes, that,’ Tony pointed at him.

‘I don’t know much about that either,’ Juyu said.

‘To keep it short, the hyperdrive system we have simply pushes us over into hyperspace so that we can cross distances faster, which is well… pretty damn awesome, especially compared to the technology I was used to back home, but the warp drive is a whole new level of speed. What takes weeks or months for this ship, would only take a few days for a ship with a warp drive.’

‘Oh I see,’ Juyu nodded in understanding.

‘Not to mention that it’s a lot more controlled. Most likely nobody would be able to just yank us out of it, like the patrol ship did in Filipima, remember that? I don’t know how they did it, but they just pulled us out of hyperspace into a full stop, but they can’t do that with the warp drive. Correct me if I’m wrong, Drongo.’

Tony was absolutely sure about his theories, but since the giant seemed to be familiar with the technology it did not hurt to double-check.

‘No, you’re correct. Warp drive ships cannot be forced to a stop the way normal hyperdrive ships can be.’

‘Because hyperdrive ships use the pathways while a warp drive creates one for itself, isn’t it?’ Loki asked.

‘Accurate enough,’ Drongo said.

Tony thought about that for a moment. ‘Now that I think about it, it really is similar to the--’

‘Walking on the branches of the Yggdrasil compared to using the Bifrost,’ Loki finished. ‘Yes, indeed it is, but only the basic concepts. These cosmic pathways are very different from the secret paths of the Nine Realms. I do not know them as well either, they’re a lot vaster and stretch much further, there is a lot more of them as well. It was a lot harder to keep us on track when I teleported.’

‘Yeah, speaking of teleporting,’ Juyu spoke again. ‘Do we know where we are yet? Isn’t that why you called us here?’

‘Right! Yes, I did. Sorry, we got off-track,’ Tony answered and turned back to his displays to bring up some of the star maps he picked out earlier. It actually took an all-nighter and some creative use of all their maps combined to pinpoint their location.

‘So I have some good news and some not so good news,’ he started. ‘I feel moderately good, since none of them are completely bad news. We should count ourselves lucky. So the good news is that I kind of know where we are, which is somewhere in-between the Draco Galaxy and the Milky Way, AKA Silver Galaxy.’

‘That is really far away from where we were before,’ Drongo commented.

‘Yeah, from the route between Fornax and the Milky Way, but compared to the Milky Way Galaxy itself, not that much. We’re on a different side of it now, we were approaching it from one direction and now I had to turn around because we were actually moving away from it, so we will reach a completely different part of it than we originally planned.’

‘And to Midgard?’ asked Loki.

‘We are definitely a lot further away from it now than before,’ Tony told him. ‘So, we’re going to have to cross a few systems in the Milky Way to reach it, a lot more than we planned.’

‘So what’s the bad news?’ Juyu asked.

‘I told you, it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just not that good,’ Tony reassured them. ‘Our maps from this area are incomplete, so… no hyperspace jump.’

‘But if we cannot go with full speed it will take years to even cross a small distance,’ Loki frowned.

‘I said “incomplete” not “non-existent”,’ Tony reminded him. ‘That means that we’re gonna have to go slow for at least a couple of months until we can even think about switching on the hyperdrive again. We have to reach the edge of our map if we want to avoid crashing into anything.’

‘That is going to be very slow, in comparison,’ Drongo said.

‘I’m aware,’ Tony nodded. ‘And also, since we’re going to be moving so slow we will be a lot more vulnerable to attacks and other unpleasant things found in deep space, like asteroid fields and other wonderful things like that.’

‘What about the energy?’ Loki asked. ‘Do we have enough to travel that long and use the hyperdrive after?’

‘Well, I made some calculations and while it’s going to be a little too tight for my liking, I wouldn’t worry about it,’ Tony answered. ‘Going this slow uses a ridiculously small amount of energy, but just to be sure we’re still going to have to keep the energy use to a minimum, so most parts of the ship is going to have to stay locked down.’

‘This is going to be a longer journey than what we planned after leaving Sakaar,’ Juyu pointed out. ‘Do we have enough food and everything?’

‘We have enough water, that’s for sure. We have a filtering system so we literally cannot run out of water. As for the rest? We might want to pay attention to that. We’re not going to die of hunger, but it would be smart to ration everything just to be sure, so that we don’t run out.’

‘How are these not “bad news”?’ Juyu asked.

‘Well, we could’ve been lost in deep space with no idea where to go, just wandering around until our generators ran out of energy and then we all would have slowly died, well… maybe except for Loki. You’re immortal, can you die of hunger or cold?’ Loki just shrugged. Tony assumed even he did not know if it could happen or not.

‘Okay, so eating a little less for a few months sounds incredibly good compared to that,’ Juyu admitted.

‘We were lucky,’ Drongo nodded solemnly.

‘I find it incredibly disturbing that this situation counts as “lucky” for us,’ Tony snorted. ‘But yeah.’ There was a general air of agreement after his words, so at least Tony knew that he was not alone with feeling that way.

Somehow the days felt even more uneventful than before. Tony knew it was just because he was very much aware of how slow they were going. It made everything feel sluggish for him. He was sure that after a few weeks, when everyone healed and got used to their new limitations, he was going to stop feeling like this. For now he did his best to take his mind off of it. That meant work, with no workshop of course. So ever since it had been shut down Tony took over Loki’s table in their room. Well, it was not like Loki could use it, because of his injuries, but it still earned him quite a few narrowed-eyed looks in the past few days since the attack.

Loki was as prickly about his cabinet and his table as Tony was about his own work area, but just because Tony couldn’t access his workshop it didn’t mean that he could stop working, because he really-really couldn’t. Loki was not pleased at all. Tony got the first murderous glare from him in a long time when he put one of his vials on the wrong shelf while cleaning up the table. Tony was pretty sure that if Loki didn’t like him he would have ripped his head off, or would have at least broken some bones. It was that kind of a murderous glare.

Tony didn’t even try to placate him with words, he knew that wouldn’t work. So instead he put his mouth to better use later that day to smooth his ruffled feathers. Oh boy, did he ever. He still couldn’t help smirking a little when he thought about it. Loki was not a talker in bed, but oh he still made the most delicious sounds. Nobody could accuse Tony that he was afraid to play dirty. He had the table to work on and Loki was only mildly displeased. Tony counted it as a win on all accounts. Especially since Loki knew when he was being bribed and had absolutely no objections about it.

Tony caught onto this little fact after the first time he managed to placate him with gifts. To anyone else it would’ve seemed shallow, but Tony knew what it was about. Words could lie, deeds were honest. Tony spending hours to make him an alyndor armguard as a peace offering was a better and truer gesture than a few well-spoken words of apology. Especially at the start when they did not trust each other that much. Anyone could speak words, could fake sincerity. Loki knew that better than anyone. Sometimes talking was inevitable of course, because some things had to be told or made clear, but gifts were better for most things. Pepper would cringe – or even glare – if she heard him say something like that, because with the amount of money he had luxurious gifts were a given in his old life. Buying an expensive car or jewellery was about as difficult as ordering pizza, as in simply telling JARVIS to do it. And sometimes Tony really did have a knee-jerk reaction of buying gifts when something seemed wrong.

Things were different here though. He didn’t have his money. The only things he could give were what he could make with his own two hands or his attention. He had nothing else to give, but it was enough. He was not rich here, he was not famous or a beloved hero. He was an inventor who could build things in his workshop, kind of a space-pirate on top of that, maybe a half-decent commander of a ship. It was bizarre, strange and weirdly liberating. But it was enough. Enough for Loki at least.

‘You seem to be very deep in thought,’ said the man who was just occupying his thoughts. That was not strange. Loki occupied his thoughts very frequently.

‘Yeah, thinking about how weirdly used to I am being without everything I’ve always had before.’

‘And what is that?’ the god asked as he walked closer to where Tony was standing next to the table getting his tools out. ‘Your fame, your riches, the adoration of the masses, the string of lovers?’

‘All… but the last one I don’t even miss.’

‘I would definitely hope so,’ Loki told him slyly as he slid up to him, wrapping his arms around his waist until his back was pressed to Loki’s chest.

‘Ow, hey, watch your hands, aren’t you still injured?’ he asked and he looked down right away. Loki pulled his hands away from his stomach to turn his palms up, and then he pulled up his shirt to show off his forearms. The skin looked pink and not the usual pale, so it must’ve been still thin and sensitive, barely healed, but no longer burned at least.

‘I’m fine,’ he said.

‘Still looks a bit tender,’ Tony told him.

‘It is,’ Loki agreed as he rested his chin on Tony’s shoulder. ‘New skin tends to be like that. So while it would be unpleasant having to wield a blade, I am well and perfectly capable of using them.’

It’s not that Tony didn’t believe him when he said that the burns would heal in a few days, but it was still a relief to see him whole again. The almost-wince he saw every time Loki picked something up with the tips of his fingers, like food or a glass or anything else, made him wince as well. If he didn’t know for a fact that he would have died a horrible and painful death he would have forced him to let Tony feed him. He didn’t though, because Loki was proud and he would have felt insulted. He knew that. He was totally nailing this relationship thing this time around. It felt good not to worry about screwing up something every second day. And he still got away with helping with a few small things, like tying the strings on Loki’s clothes, so he didn’t feel completely useless. Again, everyone’s a winner.

‘What is that ridiculous smile on your face?’ Loki asked.

‘Contemplating how awesome we are,’ Tony answered.

‘And why are we?’

‘Just in general.’

‘Well, I cannot argue with that,’ Loki said with mirth in his tone. ‘We are of course,’ he continued as he leaned closer to Tony’s ear. ‘Exceptional.’

‘And brilliant,’ Tony added when he felt Loki’s lips on his ear. Loki hummed in agreement. ‘Not to mention attractive,’ he said then and Loki bit down on his ear a little before moving down to kiss him on his neck. Loki liked his neck, and Tony was very pleased about that fact. He tilted his head to the side to give the other more access and the god did not hesitate to slide his lips and tongue lower to explore the offered skin.

‘We didn’t have time to celebrate,’ Loki said quietly, keeping his lips pressed to Tony’s neck, breathing on the skin where goose bumps appeared right away in reaction.

‘Celebrate?’ Tony asked with a small smile.

‘That we’re alive,’ Loki answered, biting down on the spot where shoulder met neck, his arms tightening around Tony’s waist.

‘I don’t know, we did a little celebrating yesterday,’ Tony told him. Loki huffed out a laugh.

‘That was not celebrating,’ he said. ‘You were blatantly bribing me for my table, just because you were too lazy to bring in another one.’

Tony grinned. ‘Guilty, but you love it and you know it.’ That got him bitten again, this time harder and Tony sucked in a sharp breath. One of Loki’s hands wandered down to grip his hips tightly, pulling him even closer. He was already hard from what Loki was doing to his neck, but feeling Loki’s answering hardness pressing up to his ass made his pants feel even tighter.

‘Hmm okay, let’s celebrate. Let’s celebrate a lot,’ he agreed. ‘I’m open for all kinds of celebrating.’

It’s not like they’ve been “chaste” or anything, but there were way too many life and death emergencies and work to be done to really enjoy each other’s company. Tony had to work on the tech and his suit, Loki meditated a lot, familiarizing himself with the cosmos around them or something, and then there was Tony’s mental training. They had decisions to make, choosing routes, planets to land on, deciding what they could sell, what they needed to buy, and that was not even counting all the trouble they were getting into on a ridiculously regular basis. There was just no way they could spend a full day together just lying around enjoying themselves. The last time that happened was when Juyu locked them up. So they’ve been exploring, with hands and fingers, mouths and tongues, always satisfying, thrilling, intoxicating, but never enough. Tony didn’t think there could be enough of this, ever. Loki was very unlike anyone he’s ever been with and not just because he tended to pull towards women more than men.

He was different in the way his long fingers explored Tony’s skin, the way his talented mouth found all the right spots on his neck and jaw. The way he gripped Tony tightly, holding him close. He was always aware of Loki’s strength, but in moments like these the proof of it sent delicious thrills down his spine. He pushed his hips back and Loki ground forward in answer, making him hum in a very pleased way. It’s not like it was difficult to get hard around Loki, because he was outrageously gorgeous, but he was still not used to the way his cock was straining in his pants just from this. And the fact that Loki was always exactly as eager as he was just turned him on more.

Tony was always sure about what he wanted in bed and he’s never been shy about voicing his needs. He reached behind with a hand, burying his fingers in Loki’s long hair, gripping it tightly and pulling him closer, twisting around just enough to seal their lips together in a hard, open-mouthed kiss. Loki kissed back eagerly with a deep moan grinding his hips forward harder. Tony pulled back after a while to suck in a few harsh breaths. Loki’s red lips were in stark contrast with his pale smooth skin now. That was a sight Tony was never going to get tired of seeing.

‘Fuck me,’ he breathed out, not even letting go of Loki’s hair. From this close he could see the way Loki’s pupils dilated before the god pulled him back into a kiss. When Loki let go of him, he pulled back completely and turned Tony back to face the table. Then without a word he yanked on his belt and opened his trousers, shoving his hand unceremoniously down Tony’s pants to grip him tightly. Tony groaned and put a hand down on the table to keep his balance then tightened his hold on Loki’s hair.

‘Eager, huh?’ he asked.

‘Always, if it’s you,’ Loki replied as he started stroking him. The hand on his hip moved to push the trousers down some more to make more space and Tony was really not complaining at all. Loki’s grip was tight and certain and he already knew how Tony liked to be touched. He tightened his fingers whenever he moved his hand up, squeezing the head just a little harder, then rubbing his thumb over the head.

‘I’m not complaining, but do you really want to fuck me next to a table?’ he asked after licking his lips. His hips were moving now, lightly trusting up into Loki’s hand.

‘I’ve been thinking about bending you over your workbench for some time,’ Loki answered in sinfully suggestive tone.

‘Yeah?’

‘Hmm, I would have stripped you bare and pinned your hands down on the table top while taking you. So then every time you started working there you would remember it.’ Tony let out a long moan, maybe from the mental image and the way Loki breathed the words into his ear, or maybe because that was the moment Loki decided to let go of his dick to cup his sack.

‘We’ll do that later,’ Tony decided, letting his head fall back on Loki’s shoulder.

‘Oh yes, we will,’ Loki promised.

‘But since we have a bed here…’ Tony started.

‘Get on it then,’ Loki suggested and pulled his hand out from his pants, stepping back after kissing Tony’s neck again. Not about to start arguing, Tony yanked his shirt off, tossing it down on a chair, then he pulled his trousers back on to not trip over them. He watched as Loki walked over to his cabinet while he flopped down on the bed to get rid of his boots and then his pants. No need to waste time stripping when he could be naked. So he hastily tossed his clothes away and spread out on the bed. Nobody could accuse him of being anything but shameless either.

‘What’s that?’ he asked when Loki turned back around and he very much enjoyed the way the god’s eyes took in the sight of him, legs carelessly spread, one hand behind his head, the other resting on his stomach, cock hard.

‘Flower oil,’ Loki answered smoothly. ‘Bought it back on Sakaar,’ he added as he walked closer dropping the vial down on the bed. Then he started unlacing his tunic. Oh Tony liked getting a show. He didn’t even pay attention when he started lazily stroking himself, he just watched as Loki got rid of his tunic, then pulled his undershirt over his head, revealing his wide shoulders, smooth chest and stomach. Tony wanted to lick him, run his tongues over his abs and his chest, suck on his nipples and bite on his collarbone. The tight dark pants were low on his hips and Tony stared at his delicious hipbones while Loki undid the laces there. Yeah, he wanted to lick those too.

If his whole body wasn’t buzzing with need, with a very specific deep-aching need, he would have asked to change plans, because he just couldn’t imagine many things more perfect than Loki’s long legs wrapped around him, his powerful thighs gripping him, entrapping him. Later, yes, there really was no end to all the things he wanted to do with Loki.

Loki pulled the band out of his hair once his clothes were off, since Tony already ruined his ponytail before. Then he finally climbed into bed and Tony wasted no time pulling him on top of him to kiss him again and feel his body pressed close to his.

‘We really should be doing this more often,’ Tony said between kisses while moving under Loki, grinding their hips together.

‘Yes, we should tell the universe to give us more free time,’ Loki answered. Tony laughed, the sound muffled by Loki’s mouth. ‘Now turn around.’

Again, Tony didn’t argue, it’s been a very long time ago since he did this – on his thirtieth birthday if he remembered correctly – so he was all for the most comfortable position. Loki kissed the back of his neck as he leaned over him, then he licked down his spine and mouthed on the skin between his shoulder blades. His hands ran down his back, his fingers spread wide and digging into his skin, a greedy possessive touch. His skin was cool, like always, so the touch left goose bumps in its wake.

‘No more teasing,’ Tony told him then.

‘Who’s eager now?’ Loki asked playfully, but his hands did move away. Hopefully to get the oil.

‘That’s right,’ Tony said as he lifted himself up to his hands and knees. ‘I’m here, eager and willing. So do something about it.’

Loki’s answer was a slick finger trailing down between his cheeks, over his hole then down behind his balls, pressing down on the small patch of skin there. Tony moaned again, because that was more like it. It looked like Loki was indeed done with teasing him, because he immediately started rubbing his finger over the tight rim, spreading the slick oil on it and around it. He didn’t look back, but he knew Loki was watching his own hand, watching his finger as it finally pushed inside, he just knew it. Tony loved his fingers, he really did, but he never loved them more. God, he’s been thinking about this so fucking much.

Loki played with the rim, moved his finger around, in and out, not too fast, but not overly gentle either. Tony didn’t have to ask for it before the second one was pushing inside of him. Loki leaned back over him again then, putting his mouth on his skin, kissing, licking and biting while he moved his fingers first slowly and shallowly, but faster as the seconds ticked by. Tony was turned on enough that it didn’t hurt, not yet, he knew it was going to, but for now there was just pleasure. He was losing himself in it. His mind was clearing out, his thoughts slowing down to the point where he could only think about the feel of his rapidly beating heart, the soft lips on his skin and the skilful slick fingers stretching him open. He wasn’t even aware of the noises falling from his lips, the harsh breaths and pleased groans. Then his quiet sounds were replaced with a loud moan, because Loki twisted and curled his fingers just the right way to make his toes curl with pleasure.

‘Oh, keep doing that,’ Tony told him, then he clenched his hands in the sheets tightly, because Loki did. He was going to lose his friggin’ mind very soon. The sweetest kind of torture, that’s what it was. He knew he spread his legs wider and also that he was pushing back into the fingers, making them slide deeper into him. He’s never been shy about his pleasure and he was not going to start now.

The third finger stung a bit more than the first two, but he was on a sweet endorphin high, so the pain barely registered, it just made the jolts of pleasure sharper. His whole body was wired and excited. Eager didn’t even begin to cover it. He started to feel the urgency, for more, a lot more. He also said that out loud and the answering sound from Loki sent a shiver down his spine. It was almost animalistic in a way Loki rarely was. This time he was not consumed by anger though, far from it.

It’s been very long since he did this, so maybe more than the three fingers would have been better, but he honestly did not care at this point. He knew he was stretched enough. He wasn’t sure if he asked for it out loud or if his body was making his thoughts clear, but Loki got the message either way and pulled out his fingers. When one of his hands returned to grip at one of his cheeks tightly, spreading him open, he bit down on his lips. Then there it was, the feel of the thick slippery head of Loki’s cock pushing into him. Fucking finally. He’s been having the most distracting daydreams about this.

As soon as the head was inside Loki’s other hand spread out on his other cheek, exposing him. Tony didn’t even think about it, he just spread his thighs just a bit more further apart and tilted his hips up, because if Loki liked to watch, liked to look at the way he slowly slid inside, how the rim stretched around his cock, then he was going to give him the best view. The deep broken groan and the tightening of Loki’s fingers was his reward, it was more than satisfying to hear it and feel it. Loki went tortuously slow, but even if his mind tried to convince Tony to make things go faster, his body was going to thank him later for not hurrying. He always imagined that he and Loki would collide explosively, that there would be torn clothes, scratches and bite-marks, that they would end up being a tangle of limbs on the bed for a fast and hard fuck. He liked that image, he really did, but this was better, it was a slowly burning desire, lighting up his body, like embers and smouldering iron. Not explosions, but a deeply searing fire right in the very core of him.

Loki wrapped an arm around his waist when he was fully inside, attaching his lips to Tony’s back again, breathing harshly into his skin, Tony could even feel his vehemently beating heart. Then he was straightened up, pulled to Loki’s chest, up on his knees with most of his weight resting on the god. The angle changed with the change of position and Tony moaned from the way Loki’s dick shifted inside a little, sliding in even deeper. One arm remained around his waist, the other came up to his chest. Loki rolled his hips smoothly forward when his fingers spread over the arc reactor and Tony gasped. He reached back again, needing to hold onto something, so he twisted his fingers in Loki’s hair again. His other arm he rested on top of Loki’s down by his waist. If not for the other keeping him in place, he would have toppled over, that was most definitely what Loki wanted.

Loki started to move, the slow rolling of hips turning into deeper thrusts and Tony switched his mind off. That’s why he loved sex so much, it was the only time he could do it. Loki fucked him slow but deep at first, making him feel his entire length as it slowly dragged out then pushed back inside. Then his movements became harder even if he did not increase his speed. It took him a moment to realize that the small broken sounds were not coming from him and it made him want to get Loki even closer and deeper, never mind that it was physically impossible to be even closer to someone.

Loki buried his face in his neck, to bite and suck on his skin, but after a moment Tony yanked on his hair, pulling him off.

‘No, I want to hear you,’ he panted and Loki basically growled and pushed into him even harder. Oh, he would have to do more than that if he wanted to silence him. Tony pushed his hips back into Loki’s movements, meeting him, urging him on. The hand on his stomach moved down to his hips and gripped him so hard that he was sure it would bruise a little, but Loki did start to move faster. Faster, but not fast enough, because Tony could feel that he was getting close and he was dead set on getting more before that happened.

He pulled Loki closer by his hair and twisted his head until their mouths almost met. He did not kiss him, just kept them close, breathing the same air.

‘Come on dammit, I want to feel this for days,’ he told him. ‘Give me a good pounding, I can take it.’

Loki didn’t even give him time to see what effect his words had, because he immediately picked up his pace and it literally took Tony’s breath away. God, fuck yes, that’s more like it.

The slick slapping sound of their bodies meeting with such vehemence was drowned out by their voices. Tony was loud and he didn’t give a fuck if he was, because this felt good, this felt better than he imagined. He was moaning and talking, babbling out words in pleasure. Loki’s breath was harsh, right next to his ear, the sounds coming out of him were urgent, almost desperate. Yeah, this was not going to last much longer. He didn’t even need to prompt Loki to do it, the hand on his hip moved down to grip his dick tightly, stroking him fast. Tony closed his own hand around Loki’s and it was not just the residue oil on the god’s hand that made the sensitive skin slick. He was dripping, leaking precome, he was close, so close. Just a bit more, just a little more.

He didn’t simply just reach but hurtled into his climax, thrusting up into Loki’s hand and back down on his dick as his muscles clenched and his senses whitened out. He knew he was gripping Loki’s hair maybe a little too tightly, but his orgasm was too mind-numbing to care about it. If he were the type to get self-conscious, he would definitely be embarrassed about the sounds coming out of his mouth, but he wasn’t, so he didn’t.

The moment before Loki came he bit down on Tony’s shoulder again and that ripped another loud groan out of him. There’s definitely going to be a mark, even if the skin did not break. Loki’s hips came to a halt after a last few powerful thrusts and he licked and kissed the bite-mark he left before resting his head next to Tony’s. He sat back on his heels and pulled Tony along with him. His dick was still hard inside, so Tony let out a pleased moan as he was basically pulled into Loki’s lap. He was dirty, covered in sweat, spit, oil and come, but he felt absolutely amazing. He most definitely needed this.

‘Wow, yeah,’ Tony said, trying to catch his breath. ‘That was awesome.’

Loki was still holding onto him. He let go of Tony’s dick for a while now and put that arm back around his waist where it was before. Tony didn’t even care that he was smearing come on his skin with that. Loki just kept breathing quickly, did not answer.

‘I am definitely demanding a repeat performance,’ Tony told him as he grinned. But there was no answer again, so he frowned. ‘Loki?’

The god’s arms tightened around him, over his chest and his waist. Something was… off.

‘Loki, something’s wrong?’ he asked carefully, trying to get his brain back in gear.

‘No,’ the other answered quietly, almost breathlessly. ‘No,’ he repeated a little more certainly. ‘Everything’s… perfect. It’s perfect,’ he said and buried his face in Tony’s neck again. Okay, something was definitely off, more than a little off. He did not like hearing the edge in his voice, that raw tone he didn’t quite manage to hide.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Let me go,’ he asked. ‘I want to look at you,’ he added when Loki’s arms did not loosen their hold right away. Then he could lift himself up to his knees, Loki slipping out of him, yeah that’s never not going to feel weird, especially since he could feel the come and oil dripping out of him now. Clean up could wait though. He sat down on the bed and pulled Loki along before he could do something stupid like standing up from the bed, because it looked like he was planning to do that. He did not lie down, but sat by Tony’s hip. Tony searched his face, but it was frustratingly closed-off and the few things that were visible in his eyes and his tight lips were not reassuring.

‘Tell me what’s wrong,’ he asked. He did not know how they went from awesome after-glow to this, so he had to know what was going on around in Loki’s head and what caused it.

‘Nothing’s wrong,’ he answered, unconvincingly, for the record. He moved his hand to stroke at Tony’s stomach gingerly.

‘Well, something obviously freaked you out just now,’ Tony said. Loki sighed and finally leaned down, sprawled half on top of Tony’s body, resting his forehead on his shoulder.

‘I will do this right,’ he said quietly after a little time. ‘I will not… fail and ruin this,’ he added with a hint of anger on the last words. Tony frowned again.

‘Why would you…’ he started to ask, but thought better of it. ‘There’s nothing to fail,’ he said instead. ‘It’s not some trial, where you need to succeed. I used to think like that… sometimes. But we’re not like that. We are most definitely not like that at all.’

‘It’s not…’ Loki started, but Tony interrupted.

‘You’re not going to ruin anything,’ he said firmly. ‘I know you won’t, you don’t need to prove it. I trust you.’

Loki raised his head finally to look down at him. The last traces of his mask fell away in the past moments. Tony wasn’t sure if he ever saw him this… uncertain, maybe even vulnerable. He was looking down at Tony, searching his face, taking in all details, like he was reassuring himself that he was really there in front of him.

‘I just…’ he started, then swallowed. His voice came out stronger and steadier after that. ‘I don’t get what I want,’ he said. ‘I never get what I want.’ He sounded so sure when he said that, like he was talking about some sort of universal law of nature. ‘I break things. I ruin them. I…’ he shook his head. ‘Everything goes up in flames.’

Tony stared at him for a moment and wondered about all the things, the hundreds or maybe even thousands of things that happened in Loki’s long life that made him convinced of that, everything that integrated this in him so very deeply that he was incapable of hiding it right now. It made something ache inside of him painfully.

‘You get to have this, okay?’ he said, reaching out to lay his hand on his cheek, to keep their eyes locked. He needed him to believe this, and because he saw no reason not to say it, he continued. ‘I love you, you know.’

Loki inhaled sharply and his features softened just a bit, the pain in his eyes dimmed a little.

‘And I you,’ he said and leaned down until their foreheads touched. ‘I did not think I was still capable of that,’ he added. Tony buried his hand in his hair, stroking down his skull and untangling the knots he made earlier.

‘Nah, you’ve had your heart all along, Tin Man,’ Tony said with a smile that threatened to morph into a grin. Loki huffed.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said and slid down to lie comfortable on the bed, his head resting on the usual spot on Tony’s shoulder.

‘Another silly Earth thing,’ Tony told him. ‘I’ll show you when we’re there, but I’m telling you right now… I’m not figgin’ Dorothy. I’m the Wizard at least, maybe the Lion.’ Loki jabbed him in the side sharply and it made Tony laugh. Earth references always frustrated the god.

‘Stupid human,’ Loki grumbled without any real displeasure in his voice.

Chapter Text

 

Once they had a real taste they were both insatiable. Not that Loki minded, quite the contrary. The human was like the most delicious addiction. Their days were dull and uneventful, stagnation truly, so he was not against wasting a ridiculous amount of time in a very pleasant manner. He still put down his foot when it came to Stark’s lessons though. That was non-negotiable and scheduled for every second day. No excuses. But everything else seemed unimportant. The possibility of a sudden threat raising its ugly head was constantly there, but not as a definite lurking danger on the horizon that put them all on edge. It was strange, but for the first time in so many years Loki felt relaxed. As the days went by without any sudden mess thrown in their way Stark lost a certain edge of his behaviour as well. He was more playful, joked even more and was not constantly obsessed with his work.

That was the reason why Loki stared at the man’s warm brown eyes and the softened lines of his still sleepy face a little longer than usual one morning.

‘What?’ the human asked with a sluggish smile. Loki smiled back at him.

‘It is nice to meet Tony at last,’ he answered. Tony frowned and looked up at him in confusion.

‘Huh?’

‘I always thought that name fitted you ill,’ Loki explained. ‘Now I think that I simply not had the opportunity to see you like this.’

‘Like what?’

‘Calm,’ Loki answered after thinking about it for a moment. It was not the only difference from his usual behaviour, but the one most easily noticeable. ‘More thoughtless, less worried.’

‘I thought you liked “Stark”,’ the man asked curiously. ‘You said it sounded fierce.’

‘It does, and I do,’ Loki told him. ‘Because you are; fierce, dangerous, and foolishly brave.’

‘Oh keep going, you know I love getting my ego stroked,’ Stark grinned.

‘Well, you are none of those things right now,’ Loki retorted simply.

‘Whaa? I’m totally fierce,’ he objected while he rolled onto his back. He was still naked with only the sheets wrapped around his legs. Bite-marks decorated his neck and shoulders, he needed to shave and his hair was also standing up in every which way. Loki did not dignify the statement with an answer, just looked at him wriggling around on the bed trying to get into a comfortable position. Fierce… like a kitten.

‘Okay, so you’re saying that… Tony is my bedroom name?’ he asked. ‘You’re actually going to call me Tony? When we’re alone?’

‘Sometimes maybe,’ Loki answered.

‘But you’re still going to call me “Stark” in front of others.’

‘That is who you are whenever you’re on the other side of our door,’ Loki told him. ‘You have a role to fill when you put on your clothes and step outside. You’re the Commander of this ship after all.’

‘Does that mean you’re also going to call me “Commander”?’ Tony asked cheekily, grinning again.

Drongo and Juyu already referred to him as such in front of others, which meant that he had to be the authority figure in any given situation that warranted the need for one. For the sake of the impression of a united front, he had to do the same. Besides, Loki worked significantly better when he was not in the centre of attention. Stark had an air of charming confidence around him, he was charismatic and easily perceived as a leader. No wonder he was so beloved in his homeland. Loki never learnt the fine art of charming crowds and acquiring their love and respect, sometimes their gratitude maybe, but mostly just fear and suspicion. If they would not love you, let them fear you. But what did that lead to? Betrayal, that’s what, he learnt that first hand. Loki was good at pulling strings from the shadows, whispering in ears while the attention was on someone else, all the delicate and less honourable sides of politics. Some were meant to hold grand speeches before an adoring audience; others were left with cloaks and daggers.

He knew of course how similar this seemed to the way things used to be with Thor, but he also knew that this was fundamentally different. Stark was smart, appreciative. He knew that one could not exist without the other. He did not look at necessary scheming and manipulation as disgraceful acts only worthy of shame and ridicule. He did not look down on skills other than his own, and he did not take things for granted.

‘If we are amongst enemies,’ Loki said finally. ‘I certainly will.’

Tony stared at him for a moment before he spoke again. ‘I’m kind of ridiculously turned on by that right now.’

Loki laughed, not surprised at all, and let himself be dragged back into bed.

‘Fun morning?’ Juyu asked the second they stepped inside the kitchen for a late breakfast. Loki ignored the question in favour of getting some food.

‘Aren’t you supposed to like… not want to know about that?’ Stark asked her. Juyu shrugged.

‘Natural curiosity. And it’s not my fault you two are ridiculously loud.’ Loki snorted, but did not say a thing. He was not one for embarrassment, although Stark seemed to be a little bit disturbed by the words.

‘Aren’t you supposed to be shy about this or whatever?’

‘When was I ever shy, Stark?’ She had a point there. She may have been wary and uncertain at the beginning, but that was certainly not out of shyness, only reasonable cautiousness.

‘Fair enough,’ Stark shrugged. ‘I just don’t want to be responsible for soiling your innocence or something.’

Juyu scoffed. ‘My innocence? I can shoot people in the face and you’re not worried, but I can’t know about sex?’

‘Oh, touché,’ Tony chuckled. ‘You’re on fire this morning, Ju.’ With that he finally went to get himself some food too while Loki sat down by the table. Stark joined them a moment later. He made a face after the first bite, like he was not already used to their tasteless eutrophic menu.

‘So, I’ve been meaning to talk to you,’ Stark spoke up again, looking at Juyu. She just looked back waiting for him to continue. ‘It’s been a long time ago, but back when we first made our deal we only talked about taking you and Bee out of the Andromeda--’

‘We don’t have anything else to offer,’ Juyu interrupted. Stark fell silent and Loki glanced up. It was not easy to notice, since her skin was a lighter green than her sister’s, but she visibly paled in the past moments.

‘What?’ Stark asked in return with a frown.

‘I know you didn’t agree to anything more, but… we’ve been useful! Bee more than me, I know, but still!’ Her hands were clenched tightly into fists where they rested on the table and it looked like Stark finally understood what she was saying.

‘Oh! We’re not kicking you out,’ he said. ‘Why would you think that?’

‘Why bring it up now?’ the girl asked in return frowning deeply, she then turned to scowl at Loki too.

‘Juyu, I mean it, we don’t want to kick you out,’ Stark reassured her.

‘He does!’ Juyu stated.

‘Excuse me?’ Loki raised an eyebrow.

‘You only ever think about usefulness, so I know you think me deadweight,’ the girl told him. ‘Bee you find useful, because she can fight, but I can’t do the things she can, now can I? Maybe the things I do on the ship are not that important, but I’ve been trying!’

‘Juyu, calm down, of course you’re useful too,’ Stark interrupted.

‘Yeah, like a maid. That’s all I ever do,’ she stood up from the table then, taking her plate and glass with her and tossing them into the sink. ‘You two might not think much of such work, but someone has to sweep the floors once in a while.’

‘Okay, first of all, we are not keeping you as a maid,’ Stark said. ‘And okay, in retrospect we’ve kinda been assholes apparently, letting you do all the work by yourself.’

‘Drongo’s been helping,’ she answered. ‘Since he got here.’

‘And with that he just took the “responsible adult” title,’ Stark said.

‘I doubt there was ever a competition,’ Loki added quietly.

‘Okay, so we’re spoiled brats,’ Stark told her. Loki made an objecting sound, but the human shushed him. ‘It doesn’t mean we don’t know that all type of work is important and equally needed.’

Loki could have argued that controlling the ship for example and swiping its floors were not equally important tasks, but he stayed silent. It would have been counterproductive to speak up in the process of resolving this… issue, whatever the real issue was. He was absolutely certain that the girl was not actually worried about getting sent away from the Iron Mage.

‘Is this about the attack then?’ she asked, her back was still turned to them as she scrubbed her plate clean.

‘Why would you…’ Stark started, but she interrupted again.

‘That I got myself captured,’ she explained. ‘That I was taken hostage. Because if it is, I don’t know what you’re expecting of me.’

Then she just turned around and stormed away, leaving everything in the sink.

‘What just happened?’ Loki asked after a moment of silence.

‘I have absolutely no idea,’ Stark answered. ‘You want to go after her?’ he asked then.

‘From the glares she’s been sending me, I doubt she would be pleased to see me again,’ Loki told him.

Stark sighed and stuffed the rest of his food in his mouth before standing up. ‘Wash our plates when you’re done,’ he said on his way out.

‘Are you serious?’ Loki asked incredulously.

‘Yes, I’m deadly serious,’ Stark told him. ‘We’re grown fucking men! A teenage girl should not have to clean up after us all the time.’ And then he was gone.

Loki finished his breakfast at a slightly slower pace then grabbed their plates to take them to the sink. He knew he was scowling. So he was a little too old to make a problem out of such a small task. He still didn’t have to like it though.

‘This is so demeaning,’ he grumbled under his nose as he rolled up his sleeves, not wanting to get his clothes wet. At least nobody was there to witness it.

He was not concerned, not at all. It was simple and completely understandable curiosity. There was also nothing wrong with wanting to know if peace had been re-established or not, for purely strategic reasons. Discord among them would be a significant disadvantage in an emergency situation. One small crack in the foundation could lead to a horrible chain of events. Cause, effect, consequences, all three had to be kept in mind. He saw the effect and was aware of the possible consequences, so now he needed to know the cause to smooth over this little problem, whatever it was. Suddenly, he felt like he was back in the court again, keeping an ear open for all the things happening. It was not ideal to be thinking about that though, so he pushed away the memories.

There weren’t many places to be with most of the ship in lockdown, so it did not take long for him to find Stark and Juyu sitting on the floor in a closed off corridor. He stayed out of sight and listened to the conversation. He never had qualms about eavesdropping. Information was too valuable to be worried about such trivialities.

‘I really suck at this you know,’ Stark was telling her. ‘Saying the right things, really not my area of expertise.’

‘It is not that I mind, Stark,’ Juyu replied. ‘I want to be useful, but… I know I’m not. Not the way Bee is, she’s strong and a very good fighter. I can’t do that. As far as I can remember I’ve never done anything else but clean and look after animals and any other work that needed to be done. I never had to fight. I’ve never even had a gun in my hand before you gave me one.’

‘You weren’t so bad, considering,’ Stark said.

‘I’m a horrible shot,’ Juyu replied. ‘It wouldn’t matter if I could do anything else, but I’m not even smart like Drongo is or like you and Loki are.’

‘Oh come on, no,’ Stark objected. ‘You learnt how to fly the Drake pretty quickly, and how to use the cannons too.’

‘I’m not saying I’m stupid, I’m just not that smart either,’ Juyu replied. ‘I can’t even read and write well. Bee taught me before… but then she couldn’t anymore. I never learnt anything that could be useful here. So I don’t know what he’s expecting of me.’

Loki felt his brows furrow while Stark sighed before answering.

‘Ok, so I can help you with the gun thing. You need to be able to better protect yourself, so as soon as we have the cargo back we can practice. No big deal. You definitely need that. You were pretty good for someone who never used guns before, you can only get better.’

They should have thought about this sooner, but she seemed adept enough. And Loki disliked guns, so he never really thought much about them.

‘Also,’ Stark continued. ‘Just because you’re not a certified genius and you don’t have many years of studying behind you, like I do, or Loki does, it doesn’t mean you’re not smart. We’re just different. Loki and I were born in good places, right on the very top. We were given things others just dream about. You were born into a hard life, had to learn things on your own and with very little help. But listen to me, you are so incredibly young, you have a whole life ahead of you to learn everything you want to. Do you have any idea how old Loki is? How many years it took to have all that incredible knowledge stuffed in his finely-shaped skull?’

There was a little pause, probably for dramatic effect. ‘Over a thousand years, Juyu. That’s… over nine hundred years even with the Skrull calendar. Believe me; it’s pretty damn hard to feel smart next to him for everyone.’

‘I don’t care that he’s smarter,’ Juyu answered and Loki could hear the hostility in her voice, probably Stark could as well and that was why he remained silent for a few moments.

‘I didn’t think you disliked Loki this much,’ he said with a fairly neutral tone.

‘I don’t… dislike him,’ the girl answered. ‘He just makes me feel… small and stupid… worthless.’

Loki leaned to the wall he was standing next to, his frown still firmly on his face.

‘Ju, I told you before. He’s kind of an asshole, not always, but often, but that’s not going to change and it’s not personal, it’s just how he is.’

‘No, he is not!’ Juyu argued vehemently. ‘He’s kind to Bee, he is, and I’m happy about that, ‘cause she deserves it, but he’s looking at me like I’m just the annoying extension of her, like he has to put up with my existence for the sake of staying on Bee’s good side. I already know I have little worth on my own, I don’t need him to remind me of it!’

The silence this time was a lot longer and heavier. The words were rushing around in Loki’s head, made him think about the past year. He could have Bee on his side in a fight, but not Juyu, obviously. She was untrained that much was clear from the start, it made her a liability in battle. It was better to give her other tasks instead of direct combat. Loki preferred melee and hand-to-hand fight and so did Bee, it was only logical to keep her close. But why did that matter to her? Why would she even care? Everyone had their roles to play and they did not have time to nurture a child’s--

Ohh…

… a child’s need of approval.

Oh, he might as well gauge one of his eyes out to make his visage more fitting. He did not listen to what Stark said in answer to her. He left. There were preparations to be made.

It was for the sake of peace on the ship. He knew the cause, he knew the effect and he knew the possible consequences. He had a fairly good guess at a possible solution. Well, at least the more practical side of it. It was unacceptable to have a crew member they could not rely on in battle. It was a risk, while it did not have to be. They were as weak as their weakest link. The girl was smart enough to realize that on her own, that is why she brought up the attack on their ship. If she’d been suitably prepared for a hostile invasion – or any other confrontation really – she would have been considerably better at protecting herself.

What was he thinking? How could he allow someone on board to be so clueless about proper hand-to-hand combat? She was most definitely not a hopeless cause. This was undoubtedly a grave error from his and Stark’s side.

Stark and Juyu were no longer sitting in the closed-off corridor, so he headed to the girls’ bedroom instead. Bee was sitting on her bed with her legs tucked under her, while Juyu was lying on the floor drawing tiny symbols on a piece of paper. Practicing to write, the way it looked like.

‘Juyu, come with me,’ he said as he stopped at the door. The girl looked up and frowned.

‘Why?’

‘Because I want to have words with you,’ Loki told her. She sighed and got up. Loki couldn’t decide whether Bee’s eyes were suspicious or confused, maybe a mixture of the two. At least she did not follow them.

‘What did Stark tell you?’ Juyu asked sullenly as she started following him down the corridor.

‘Nothing,’ Loki answered honestly.

‘Can’t you start talking then? Where are we going anyway?’ Loki turned down on a corridor and headed towards one of the storage rooms they still used without a word.

Juyu was still frowning when she stepped inside and eyed the room curiously, taking in the sight of the shoved aside shelving units and boxes and the cleared out area in the middle of the room. The cargo would have been the best place for this, but that was of course not available. Loki had never realized how much they were using it before they had to lock it down.

‘Alright? Why are we in remote storage room… away from the others… completely alone… are you going to kill me?’

‘No, I won’t kill you,’ Loki answered easily turning back towards her. ‘Come,’ he gestured. ‘Hit me.’

‘What?’ she asked with her arms crossed.

‘Come and hit me,’ Loki repeated.

‘Why?’

‘Well, I’m fairly sure you actually want to, for one,’ he told her. ‘It’s training.’

‘You want me to hit you… for training.’

‘Yes, training. You have more brain than this, girl. I used simple words. Try and hit me if you can, which I doubt you will be able to do, but that is the exact reason why you need training in the first place. Now stop asking stupid questions and do what I told you.’

‘You’re right, I really want to hit you,’ she glared.

‘Of course you do, almost everyone does,’ Loki said. ‘It’s part of my charm,’ he added with a sharp grin.

‘But why?’

‘What did I just tell you about stupid questions? You need training, you are well aware of that.’

‘Yes, but why would you want to train me?’ she asked. The glare dimmed a little and there was a hint of uncertainty noticeable on her face. He needed to teach her how to mask her emotions better as well, she was too transparent.

‘Because I am the best suited to do it,’ Loki told her. Then he continued with a slightly quieter tone. ‘And because I’m not my father’s son,’ he said, even though she would not understand it. He still had to say it out loud, for himself. Just to say it with pride instead of shame. ‘So I will teach who needs to be taught.’ He took a breath and squared his shoulders again, adjusting his stance a little.

‘Now will you finally try or should I make you angry first?’ he asked, his tone was sharp again. ‘Believe me, I’m good at that.’

‘Oh no, I have plenty of reasons already. I punched you before, remember?’

Loki snorted. ‘You got lucky.’

She did launch into an attack then. Her enthusiasm was truly remarkable, but her execution was horrifyingly disastrous. Well, at least they had plenty of time and a lot of room for improvement.

Chapter Text

 

It wasn’t that they didn’t travel for this many weeks and months in a row before. It was the fact that he knew exactly how slowly they were moving that drove him up the wall. It was also the limited space they had inside the ship with most parts in lockdown. Tony definitely had problems with enclosed spaces since his first captivity, so he was surprised that he didn’t feel like crawling out of his own skin sooner. Now it was like a constant itching in his brain and under his skin. He focused on the future and tried to distract himself with anything that caught his interest.

Now that he knew that Juyu and Bee had no qualms about coming with them all the way to Earth, he could make even more plans about what needed to be done once they got there. They had a lot of planning to do, even if they did not have to do it immediately. He didn’t believe for a second that walking back into his old life was going to be a piece of cake. On the contrary, he expected a lot of annoyance and headaches. Sure, he was absolutely 100% certain that Pepper – being a wonderful human being – was going to help sort things out. He was also about 85% sure about Rhodey too. His best friend only lost that 15% perfect in the first place because of his position in the Air Force. Fortunately, he had a few ideas how to push it back to 100%.

He didn’t even dare guess about the other Avengers. He simply did not know them well enough. Banner definitely got the highest percentage. Bruce was a bro, he had a willingness to listen, and he was smart enough to understand different standpoints. The Captain was a lottery, on one hand he was a hopeless goody two-shoes with a head stuffed full of noble ideas, but he was also a morally unwavering soldier who was bound to object to the presence of a war criminal. And while he knew that Natasha was going to consider all advantages and disadvantages, Barton was a big obvious 0%, which would probably sway even the practical Miss Romanoff against them. Now Thor… was interesting. He still did not know the full story about what went down between the brothers, and until he knew all variables he couldn’t predict him completely. One thing he could rely on; even when he was furious at Loki and ready to fight him, there was fierce resolute hope in his eyes. He still called him brother and would not leave him in Fury’s clutches. But still Thor… it depended on Loki, and he was really not looking forward to that particular confrontation. He did not have any siblings, but he heard enough heroic stories from his father about one Steve Rogers to get at least a tiny part of the roots of Loki’s problems. He still needed the full story. At this point he had more assumptions than facts and he couldn’t build anything on those.

Now, trying to ask Juyu whether they wanted to come with them or not opened up a can of worms he didn’t even know existed. Even after she was willing to speak up and tell him everything, he did not know how to go about fixing things. He had no idea how to even approach Loki about it. He was so glad that he didn’t have to do anything in the end. He noticed that Loki was training the girl in close combat a day after that first argument. Since he had his own experience with Loki’s teaching methods, he was not at all surprised about Loki’s hard-ass/smart-ass approach. But at least it made Juyu annoyed enough that she forgot to be worried about what she was saying to him. She had to learn that cursing or even yelling at Loki was not going to get her in trouble, especially if she had a reason to curse and/or yell. He was never going to disagree that Loki was a dick, and it would do Juyu good to learn how to stand up to him. Once she was tired and mad, it came naturally so it seemed. That first day Tony just stood in the doorway and listened to their conversation with amusement.

‘I thought the whole point of this was so I can hit someone!’ Juyu said, argued really.

‘You need to know how to punch correctly, yes, but that is never going to be the most efficient way to fight, because you’re a woman.’

‘What is that supposed to mean?!’

‘It means that your legs are your strongest limbs, which should be obvious. You have to know how to land a punch, but for the most part you need to use your hands to dodge, block and grab. Your legs are at least three times stronger than your arms and as a woman you have a lower centre of gravity as well, so stop trying to copy my every move instead of doing what I tell you. I have a height and weight advantage, if you try to fight like a man you will definitely lose. Always keep your physical advantages and disadvantages in mind.’

‘So you’re gonna teach me how to kick people?’ she asked.

‘Among other things, now get back to stretching. Don’t think I will keep pulling my punches indefinitely.’

It was not the last time he stopped by just to listen in. He suspected that Loki knew that he was there, but Juyu never seemed to notice. So yeah, things turned out well, all things considered.

Tony was also really not surprised that from that day on the most often heard phrase coming from Juyu’s mouth was “I hate you” when it came to Loki. To be fair, she looked like a very-very sore sack of potatoes at the end of training days. She didn’t want to stop though; she never once said anything about not wanting to keep going. She just complained about Loki’s sadistic tendencies, and that he was a very-very evil man who enjoyed Juyu’s suffering. Loki always just smirked and told her not to be so overdramatic.

With Loki preoccupied for many hours almost daily Tony found himself in Drongo’s company a lot. Before this little training thing started he and Loki spent many days in their room. Seriously, Tony didn’t have this much sex since before his pre-Iron Man days when he was still living the full-blown playboy life. So yeah, Loki was busy, Tony was bored and Drongo was surprisingly smart. So he noticed that already of course, but the more time he spent picking his brain, the more obvious it became. As it turned out the big man spent over four decades wandering the Andromeda Galaxy. So he picked up a lot about all kinds of things. He knew a lot of races, their strengths and weaknesses, knew about different weapons and ships. Tony was mostly interested in technology of course and once again he missed his workshop badly. Loki helped with the suit a lot, especially with the crystals and crystalline wiring, but now Tony really wanted to get Drongo to give some input too.

He also noticed that since Juyu was busy Bee spent a lot of time with Drongo as well. Mostly she just wandered in and sat down next to the giant silently to listen to what they were talking about. Other times she was already there when Tony knocked on the doorframe interrupting whatever story Drongo was telling. He had a lot of stories about his travels and Bee liked to listen to him talk. She also didn’t mind being close to him, dare he say maybe she even enjoyed it. She was of course fine with Juyu being close and she did not mind Loki’s closeness either, but usually only in battle situations. She still kept her distance from Tony, even if it was a lot smaller distance than at the beginning. Drongo was different though. She sat close to him, even if it meant that their sides brushed together. Drongo never acknowledged the proximity, just like he never bothered with her silence. Maybe that was what made her so relaxed.

Lately, he also noticed an improvement when it came to his control with the DNI system. He didn’t think that he was clumsy with the ship before, but now he couldn’t help but realize that he actually was. His control was so much more smooth and precise now. He couldn’t wait to test out the hacking system some more. Things just seemed sharper and clearer whenever he activated the band and while he did not have the chance to truly experiment on it, he doubted he was going to get anymore headaches. The improvement was astonishing. He really had to thank Loki… thoroughly.

So yeah, there was peace and understanding on the ship and all that jazz, nobody was angry with anyone, they were all… bonding or whatever the hell and things with Loki were better than ever. So he had every reason to feel pretty damn good. It also made him a little worried, because they were bound to run into some fucking trouble again and he really did not want to deal with that shit. But even that couldn’t ruin his good mood. Not today.

He turned on the internal communications and ceremoniously cleared his throat before speaking.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Commander speaking. I hope you’re enjoying a very pleasant day. I’m about to make it even better. I’m happy to announce that I’m minutes away from turning on our hyper drive again. Rejoice!’

He liked to imagine that the others applauded, but only because there was zero chance of that actually happening in reality… ever. Nobody answered, which also didn’t surprise him much. What did he have to do for a little recognition around here? Scandalous. He also did not expect everyone to come running either, but he was also not surprised when he heard Loki’s familiar footsteps approaching.

‘So, where are we going?’ Loki asked when he stopped next to him.

‘Tilnast System,’ Tony told him. ‘And I know… Rule #7, but it’s not like there’s a selection.’

‘I think I can make an exception this time,’ Loki chuckled. ‘Planet?’

‘Sarka, third from its Sun. It’s supposed to have a suitable atmosphere, but to the very least we will be able to recharge our generators by orbiting it for a while even if we cannot land,’ Tony told him. ‘Sound alright?’

‘We’ll have to wait and see,’ Loki shrugged. Tony nodded. It’s been a very long time ago since he was worried about landing on a planet, but in a way he was reluctant to break the relative peace they had right now.

‘Let’s get this show on the road then,’ he said and turned on the hyper drive. They still had a ship to repair, their generators were in dire need of recharging, not to mention their lack of supplies and provisions. It didn’t feel right, not having an option, but they’ve been through worse. A lot worse. They just have to hope for the best.

‘So… energy levels? Any chance we can open up the cargo hold again?’ Loki asked. Tony chuckled.

‘So you miss it too, huh?’

‘A few more weeks closed-up like this and I’m afraid we are going to start murdering each other,’ Loki informed him. ‘Bee actually growled at me yesterday.’

Tony smirked. ‘I think Drongo’s temper is getting worse too.’

‘Really?’

‘He frowned and his lips tilted down, I think he may have even narrowed his eyes.’

It was Loki’s turn to chuckle. ‘How long until we arrive?’ he asked then.

‘About two weeks,’ Tony told him. ‘You think we can survive that long?’

‘We have good chances,’ Loki answered. ‘Now come,’ he instructed.

Tony took off the DNI gear and followed him out. ‘Any chance we can celebrate the successful activation of the hyper drive?’

Loki snorted, but did not say no.

They did open up the cargo hold again, which was a little anticlimactic all things considered, because there was stupidly cold in there for hours and Tony couldn’t power up his workshop again. They were not doing that well with energy. Not that he didn’t have plenty of things he could do even without some, so he was still glad to have his workshop back in a way. Juyu and Loki needed the extra space for their training, so they relocated from the storage room as well. Juyu’s curses and Loki’s firm snappy instructions gave Tony quite an interesting background noise. Then Drongo and Bee took up the habit of spending time there as well. Most of the time Drongo just kept telling his stories while Bee listened, sometimes she would watch Loki and Juyu and then Drongo always migrated closer to Tony’s workshop to inquire about his work. It was good, but the way they approached the next planet still felt like a countdown.

That reminded him of a certain Rule #8 he wanted to add to their list of “Rules and Regulations for Planetary Expeditions” for quite some time now. He calmly walked over to the Drake’s dock, careful not to disturb Loki and Juyu in their training, because they could throw such a fit about that. He was thinking about how exactly to phrase the rule he had in mind when he realized that there was already a Rule #8 written on the bottom of the list.

8. Always search through the loot.

He felt his eyebrows lift then he started laughing. Yeah, that was definitely aimed at him and it was definitely written by Loki. It was even fair after the fiasco with the maps and the warp drive blueprints among them. He shook his head, but couldn’t stop chuckling as he added the new rule he had in mind.

9. Never use real names outside of the ship.

He was thinking about it since Aakar, when Drongo suggested the same thing. They were getting closer to Earth, he did not need any potential enemies knowing who they were or have any means of following them there. Better safe than sorry and all that.

‘And what exactly are we supposed to call each other then?’ Loki asked and Tony startled pretty damn embarrassingly. He didn’t even hear him approaching.

‘Jerk,’ he grumbled, Loki was unfazed. ‘Well, we did a pretty good job on Aakar,’ Tony pointed it out.

‘You just want to be called “Commander”,’ Loki concluded with an unimpressed look.

‘Yes, I do, but it’s also a reasonable precaution,’ he explained.

‘I suppose so,’ Loki contemplated. ‘We are getting closer to the Nine Realms, my name might be known in some places.’

‘My point exactly,’ Tony nodded.

‘And what names do you suggest for the rest of us… Commander?’ he asked. The way his tongue curled around that one word did very nice things to Tony’s lower section.

‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,’ Tony shrugged.

‘You already have a name for everyone, don’t you?’

Tony grinned. ‘Oh, you know me so well.’

‘Alright, let’s get it over with. Please, tell me it’s not “Mage”.’ Tony laughed again.

‘No, don’t be obvious,’ Tony disagreed right away. ‘You get to be “Scout”.’

‘Scout?’

‘Well, if there is need for it, you’re obviously going to be the one doing reconnaissance,’ Tony explained to him. ‘Since, the rest of us totally suck at stealth, infiltration and sneaking around.’

Loki remained silent for a while, then nodded. ‘Acceptable,’ he agreed graciously making Tony smile again. ‘Juyu! Break is over,’ he said then and walked back to where the Skrull girl was getting up from the floor with an enthusiasm that suggested that standing up was the single most horrible thing she ever had to do in her whole life.

Bee was standing by his workbench just looking at everything scattered on top of it, while Drongo sat by the other end of it. It looked like he finished his latest story. Now he could’ve taken the long way to bypass the desk, but instead he stopped abruptly a few feet away from the girl.

‘Oh-oh, obstacle,’ he declared. Bee lifted her eyes at the words and Tony started to edge away from her in wide a circle. ‘Little Bee’s big personal bubble,’ he explained as he flattened his back to the line of crates on the side and pretended to squeeze himself forward as it was a narrow passageway. When he reached his other table, the one with mainly boxes and tools on it, he proceeded to climb over it. Bee’s eyes were still following him, with that special “what sort of strange creature are you” look. Then he jumped down on the other side, putting up his arms like a gymnast for a moment.

‘Tadaa,’ he added with a grin. Sue him, he was in a good mood.

A short quiet laugh bubbled up from Bee and several things happened one after another. Tony felt his eyes widen and he breathed out a stunned ‘Oh my god.’

Only a moment later he heard a loud crunch from somewhere further away, then something heavy hit the floor with a big smack. Juyu’s horrified ‘Oh Fuck!’ drew his attention away from the absolutely stunning phenomena that he just witnessed. He was greeted with the sight of Juyu standing with her hands clamped over her mouth, her eyes wide and shocked and Loki down on the floor.

‘What just happened?’ he asked loudly. Juyu looked at him and removed her hands from her mouth long enough to answer.

‘I kicked him in the face,’ she said hurriedly in a high, obviously alarmed voice. ‘So sorry,’ she added, looking down at Loki again.

‘Good for you!’ Tony told her cheerfully, which made Loki burst out laughing. It wasn’t one of his normal little collected chuckles either. No, it was full-blown uncontrollable laughter, with a little wheezing too, because now that Tony looked he could see that his nose and lips were bloody. He even rolled to his side after a moment. Totally unattractive, and yet Tony felt his lips stretch into a wide smile as he looked at him.

‘I don’t think he minds,’ he said when the god managed to quiet down a little. Loki sat up then and wiped most of the blood coming from his nose and his split lip in his sleeve. That was wow, quite a kick if it could do even this much damage in Loki. His nose was probably not broken, but it did bruise and the skin broke, it was impressive. Such a kick would have maybe broken Tony’s neck or at least would have given him a concussion.

‘It was a good kick,’ Loki nodded and huffed out a laugh again. ‘And the first one you managed to land,’ he said.

‘You were distracted,’ Juyu argued.

‘Not an excuse, everyone can be distracted, you would have been stupid not to take advantage,’ Loki told her, then grinned, which showed his bloody teeth nicely. ‘It was a good one, really.’ Tony could see from the way his nose looked that it was going to stay a nice deep purple for maybe a few hours.

‘Ugh, no, you’re nice. Did you hit your head? It’s creepy. Stop it!’ Juyu groaned right away, scrunching up her nose. Tony snorted then turned back to look at Bee again.

‘I didn’t forget about you,’ he said while pointing a finger at her. ‘That was a laugh Little Miss Bee, I heard it loud and clear. It’s going to be my new pet project to make it happen again.’

She was staring back at him with her familiar unimpressed expression, but her eyes were soft and calm, so Tony just smiled. Drongo sighed loudly and shook his head, like he did not understand how the hell he ended up here with them.

Chapter Text

Loki was already in full armour with his bag ready by his feet when Stark finally appeared in the cargo hold. To his surprise, he was not wearing his own armour yet. The others immediately turned towards him as well, because it was not like him to be late.

‘Slight change of plans people,’ he said when he got closer.

‘Really?’ Juyu asked. ‘What could’ve possibly gone wrong already?’

‘Nothing wrong per se,’ Stark shrugged. ‘But Rule #5 just got priority.’

Drongo, Bee and Juyu all turned their heads towards the list to see what Rule #5 was. Loki didn’t need to do that.

‘The atmosphere is not suitable after all?’ he asked with a frown. Stark must’ve just finished with the surface scans then, that explained why he was late.

‘No, the air is fine, but the temperature seems to be really low. It’s cold as fuck down there.’

Loki felt how his muscles stiffened for a moment, but he was rather certain that the others did not notice it.

‘How cold?’ Drongo asked.

‘It’s below freezing, but we’re just going to have to put on some extra layers and we should be fine.’

‘Well, I do not have any extra layers as of yet,’ Drongo said. ‘So I’m going to have to stay here for the time being.’

‘Yeah, I figured as much,’ Stark nodded. ‘I can’t wear my suit either. I can’t put enough layers underneath it. Not to mention the helmet, I would get frostbite everywhere.’

‘What about me and Bee?’ Juyu asked.

‘Well…’ Stark scratched at his head.

‘Bee will stay here on board with Drongo,’ Loki interrupted. ‘Juyu, you should have enough clothes, you’re coming with us.’

‘Really?’ she asked, visibly excited that she was picked.

‘Yeah,’ Stark nodded. ‘That’s fine with me. I even have an extra coat you can use. Come on.’

She immediately turned to follow Stark out, but she still stopped for a moment to look at Loki.

‘Aren’t you going to change?’ she asked. Loki only had his usual leather pants, boots and one of his long-sleeved undershirts on besides his armour, shin guards and vambraces. He was dressed lightly, as always.

‘I don’t get cold,’ he answered simply.

‘I’m still grabbing your cloak,’ Stark said before she could ask any other questions. ‘For appearances sake.’ Stark learnt long ago not to question him about things like this, so he did not say anything else on the matter now either. He just turned to leave with Juyu on his heels. He trusted Loki to know what he could handle.

‘Is your home world a cold place?’ Drongo asked.

‘Why would you think that?’ Loki asked calmly.

The giant just shrugged easily. ‘It’s a simple observation, really. In my experience races are mostly resistant to the type of climate they originate from. So I was just wondering about your home. Call it curiosity.’

‘I am resistant to every sort of climate,’ Loki answered with a clipped tone.

‘I meant no offense, Loki,’ Drongo said after a pause with a strange tone, noticing his change of mood. He did not ask any more questions.

Loki took a long deep breath, folded his arms over his chest, and started tapping his nails on his arm without even noticing as he waited for Stark and Juyu to get back. It was ridiculous to be concerned. There was no possible way that it was cold enough for… anything to happen. Something deemed safe by a human was nothing compared to the endless cold of Jötunheimr. He was being unreasonable and he needed to get control of himself before Stark noticed his strange behaviour.

Stark was more vulnerable like this than Loki would have liked. He was wearing thick boots and pants, several layers of shirts and the thick beige coat he bought all the way back on Galand. He also brought his big gun, the one he stopped using after his suit was ready. Juyu was wearing the standard military clothing they had in the cargo, only her coat was a light blue-grey. She also found a large piece of thick cloth that Loki assumed she meant to use as a scarf, but then she started to wrap her head in it, the way those who lived in deserts tended to do.

‘That is actually a good idea,’ Stark said when he glanced at her in the Drake on their way to the surface. ‘I don’t even have a hood.’

‘I have another one if you want it,’ she answered. ‘I cut up a big cloth I found a while back.’

‘Yeah, I’m going to need that,’ Stark agreed. Loki already wrapped his cloak around his shoulders and he also had a hood, not that he needed it.

The sky was clear and endlessly blue as they entered the atmosphere, not a single cloud to hide the sun away. The bright light dressed everything in brilliant white, it almost hurt his eyes. It was nothing like the dark frozen land of Jötunheimr. Loki could already feel some of his irrational tension seeping away. This was a simple winter, not some cursed eternal cold of a dead land. As he took in the white land beneath them he realized that his dark clothes were going to stand out a lot. Even his cloak was a dark grey.

‘I hope you do not plan on being stealthy,’ Loki remarked.

‘Not at all,’ Stark answered. ‘We’re going to have to land with the Iron Mage, so we can’t afford to just get in, grab what we need, and get out. We need a docking place. I will probably need special tools and materials for the repairs. Hell, maybe it would be better if we found someone who could get the repairs done, because that would be a lot faster.’

‘So, we sell some things, get clothes for the others and ask around for someone who can help with the repairs,’ Loki concluded.

‘If the place is safe enough to stay here while the repairs are finished,’ Stark added.

‘Can we even talk with the locals?’ Juyu asked.

‘Loki and I can,’ Stark told her. ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll explain later. Let’s test out communications now that we’re this far.’ He fiddled with the control panel for a bit. ‘Here’s the Drake, can you hear us Iron Mage?’ he asked.

Loud and clear, Commander,’ Drongo answered almost immediately.

‘Good,’ Stark nodded. ‘I doubt we’re going to be able to keep in touch once we’re out of the Drake, but we won’t be away from it for more than a few hours at a time. I want you to keep your eyes open and let us know if there’s any trouble up there.’

Understood. The generators are already recharging,’ Drongo replied. ‘I am gradually turning back on every system. I started with defence and our weaponry, we should be safe.

‘And that is why you leave the responsible one ship sitting,’ Stark grinned. Drongo huffed out a small laugh.

I will stay on orbit,’ Drongo said. ‘But if there is any suspicious activity I can move the ship further away and out of sight.

‘Got the DNI under control?’ Stark asked.

I’ll manage,’ Drongo replied.

‘Oh good! I hereby declare you second pilot, Tiny.’

They heard Drongo give a longsuffering sigh from the other end. ‘I knew you were going to give me a name like that,’ he said. Even Loki had to smirk.

‘Well, I hope you like it,’ Stark told him. ‘And I guess you can handle the landing too then if we find the right place. No need for me to fly all the way back, right?’

There should be no problem,’ the giant agreed.

‘Great, I’ll keep you posted,’ Stark said and cut off the line. ‘I swear this guy knows everything. I’m starting to think that he’s actually a robot, it really doesn’t sound far-fetched. It would explain so much.’

‘What is my name?’ Juyu asked, her head appearing between Stark’s and Loki’s seat.

‘You’re Sentinel, you should remember that from Aakar,’ Stark replied.

‘Oh, right,’ she nodded and pulled back.

‘You’re unusually quiet,’ Stark said then and it took Loki a moment to realize that he was being addressed.

‘For the most part Asgard is the land of eternal summer,’ Loki said. ‘I am not used to such a… sight.’

‘Right,’ Stark drawled, turning his head forward again. If Loki did not know him this well, he might’ve mistaken his tone for simple acceptance. But he did know him better than that. His tone meant that he noticed Loki was not giving a straight answer and he was only temporarily letting it go, since they had more important things to do. Loki resisted the urge to sigh.

The city they were fast approaching was the largest settlement they have ever visited. They always chose smaller port towns before, to keep out of sight and possible danger. This time they needed a bit more than just food and small tools, so they had to take a risk with a bigger city. This was one of the largest they could find on the planet. It was even visible from space. They had a better chance at finding everything they needed.

Loki felt Juyu walk up to them to the front the second the city appeared on the horizon and he wasn’t sure if she had ever seen a place like this. There were tall white, grey and silver towers in the distance, most of them covered in glass windows, the glass reflecting the sun, dressing them up in bright light. It reminded him more of Midgardian cities than of the golden towers of Asgard. From the look on Stark’s face, it reminded him of his home as well.

‘That is enormous,’ Juyu breathed. ‘How many people live in such a place?’

‘Probably millions,’ Stark replied. ‘On Earth we call this a “metropolis”.’

‘A mother city,’ Loki mused. ‘Quite fitting.’

‘How are we going to find anything?’ Juyu asked.

‘I’m a New Yorker,’ Stark said right away with a cheerful tone. ‘No big city is going to be a problem. If I can handle Manhattan in the summer and rush hour in Chinatown, I can handle anything.’

‘I have no idea what that means,’ Juyu answered.

‘You’ll see… I plan to show you guys… I mean Loki’s already been there…’

‘Yes, my apologies.’

‘There’s a story here,’ the girl looked at them both.

‘Another time,’ Loki told her. Oh yes, he had yet to share the story of his dark days with the rest of the crew. Just another delightful conversation in his future he could look forward to.

Something silver appeared right next to them the next moment and startled Stark so badly that the whole Drake wavered when he yanked his hand.

‘Holy crap, that was fast!’ he exclaimed, looking at the other aircraft. The incoming signal notification was already blinking on the control panel and Loki pushed down the buttons to allow communications to be established while Stark stared at the vehicle.

Welcome to Dalekanium,’ a pleasant female voice greeted.

‘What are they saying?’ Juyu asked right away, but Loki raised his hand to silence her.

This is Air Contol Unit 0051,’ the voice continued. ‘Please state your order of business.’

‘Trade and repairs,’ Stark answered.

Is your current aircraft in need of repairs?’ the voice asked.

‘No, a cargo ship,’ Stark told her, sharing a look with Loki. Well, there was no reason to lie when they needed to land with the ship.

Are you affiliated with any local, interstellar or galactic military organization?

‘No,’ Stark said. ‘Strictly commercial.’

State your base of operations.’

‘There isn’t one,’ Stark said after a short pause. ‘We are constantly travelling.’

You fall under the jurisdiction of the zeDat Corporation. Please follow to the District 12 docking area. Thank you for your cooperation.

The line immediately cut off and the swift silver air patrol moved in front of them to lead the way.

‘What is happening?’ Juyu asked.

‘Are we concerned?’ Loki asked at the same time.

‘I’m pretty sure this was standard procedure,’ Stark answered. ‘A big city like this, they should get incoming traffic from space all the time. Plus we’re non-military, that usually means certain liberties.’

‘Unless they prefer military affiliation,’ Loki told him.

‘Again, big city, there should be commercial ships arriving constantly. No need to get paranoid right away. Plus, they were using that polite administrator voice, not the fake-polite police voice. That’s a good sign.’

Loki nodded after a minute. ‘We should not be considered a threat,’ he agreed. ‘Not for a city this large. And if we want to get the repairs done, we are going to have to play by their rules.’ Then he turned around. ‘And Juyu, be careful when you talk, we don’t want to advertise where you’re from.’

‘Why can you talk then? And how do they understand you anyway?’ Juyu asked.

‘It’s a special magic thing Loki and I have, Ju,’ Stark said. ‘And Loki’s right, we know Skrulls don’t have the best reputation, so it’s better to keep quiet.’

‘Alright, but I’m going to ask about this magic thing again,’ she said. ‘It’s not the first time I noticed.’

‘Fine, but later,’ Stark told her. She nodded again and moved away from their seats. The rest of the flight they spent mostly in silence as they followed the air patrol to the city.

‘Oh crap!’ Stark cursed the second the back door opened. ‘I knew it was going to be cold, but shit! This is really not okay.’ There was no wind and it did not snow either so Stark refrained from wrapping his head up for now, but it was obvious that he was cold. Loki on the other hand did not feel the chill of course. It could have been pleasant spring weather as far as his body was concerned. Juyu shivered too when she stepped out and put on the pair of leather gloves that Stark must’ve given her from Loki’s closet. He did not mind, since he did not need it.

A group of three was walking towards them and the second he laid eyes on them he felt his muscles tensing again. He calmed down on their way here, but now this ridiculous wariness was back. This must have been some sort of a cosmic joke!

‘Oh hey look,’ Stark said. ‘Seems like the locals are blue. That’s new. Do I count as yellow or orange? Because we have probably seen the full rainbow palette at this point.’

Loki did not even listen to Stark’s chatter, but kept his eyes on the approaching men. They looked nothing like the Jotnar of course. They were only around six feet tall for one. Their skin was a pale light blue, smooth instead of marked, and their eyes were normal white with dark irises. They were also dressed in winter clothing, so they were obviously not fully resistant to cold either.

‘Greetings,’ the man at the front spoke as soon as he reached them. ‘I am Vismio, I’ll be your contact person with the zeDat Corporation for the duration of your stay. Before anything, we need to discuss the local laws if you are not aware of them already, the goods you are here to trade, the reparations you require for your ship and the fees you need to pay for docking and other necessities.’

‘Yeah, this sounds bureaucratic. I got this,’ Stark announced and walked closer to him. Loki could’ve listened to the conversation that began in a quieter tone, but he was not all that interested. Stark was more than capable of dealing with such things. He was so keen on being Commander, he might as well do the talking. He turned back to Juyu.

‘Get back inside and tell the others that we landed,’ he told her. ‘And that we’ll let them know if they can land in a few hours.’

The girl nodded and headed back inside while Loki leaned to the side of the Drake to take in their surroundings. The dock was empty. He assumed it was because they told them that they needed to repair a bigger ship. There was more than enough space for the Iron Mage to land. He saw other ships further away, and he noticed the fences that separated each and every dock. The other spacecrafts seemed to be cargo ships as well. He did not recognize what kind, since he had never been in this part of the Silver Galaxy before. The movements around the other ships were the usual ones. Cargo was being unloaded, crates, barrels and boxes stacked up high around the ships, just as any other aerodrome.

The concrete beneath his feet was wet, the snow cleaned away, salt or something similar crunched under his feet, keeping the ice melted. But there was frost on the buildings and snow on top of the fences and crates, icicles hanging on ships that must’ve been here for some time. Even with the colours of the boxes, crates, and ships, everything was stark white and sharp from the sun and the cold air. He wasn’t sure if it made everything look eternal or fragile.

He blinked and focused his attention back on his close surroundings. Stark was standing next to him and the men from before were walking away.

‘You spaced out,’ Stark remarked. ‘Unusual.’

‘But not unprecedented,’ Loki retorted. ‘How do we look?’ he asked before Stark could continue. The look he received spoke louder than a thousand words.

‘Pretty good,’ Stark said, not pressing the matter. ‘But we’re going to have some costs.’

‘Obviously.’

‘Right, so… we have two options. We either sell our stuff to the zeDat or we can try and sell it to an outsider, but then we need to pay extra for a trading permit.’

‘I see no reason why we can’t sell to them,’ Loki shrugged.

‘I could mention corporate abuse of power and economic exploitation, but it would be so very hypocritical of me,’ Stark said. ‘So yeah, we’re going to sell them stuff so we can pay the fee for the dock. They asked if it’s big enough or if we need a larger one, so they were pretty accommodating.’

‘A larger one would cost more I assume,’ Loki said.

‘Naturally, but this one should be fine. Now, we can also require the repair team of the corporation or we can employ outsiders. No extra fee is needed if we use non-corporate mechanics, but they cannot guarantee the quality of work. The corporate guys are more expensive, or at least that’s what I understood from his vague answer.’

‘Do we want them to repair our ship?’ Loki asked.

‘Well, I definitely don’t want to spend a fortune on things I would be able to fix myself. I just need extra hands.’

‘Do we need to worry about the costs?’ Loki frowned.

‘I don’t know yet. We need to see how much we get for the things we sell.’

‘We’re selling the usual, right?’

‘Mainly, yeah, but I don’t know how much that’s going to bring us. We might need to consider the possibility that we have to sell some of the alyndor.’

‘I don’t want to sell any of that. It’s our most valuable property.’

‘I know! I don’t want to sell any of it either, but I don’t know how much this is going to cost.’

‘We can sell every last crate of repair parts and even most of the medical supplies. The alyndor is lot more important than that.’

‘I know,’ Stark stressed. ‘Look, let’s agree that we can sell most of the other stuff and we only touch the alyndor if it’s absolutely necessary. Okay?’

‘Fine,’ Loki nodded. Stark did too.

‘How about we look around in the area, what’s it like outside of the docks, before we decide if it’s safe to land with the Iron Mage or not?’ Loki nodded again.

‘I told the others that we landed,’ Juyu said quietly when she got back out.

‘Is it safe to leave the Drake here?’ Loki asked then.

‘It should be. A corporation like this would quickly lose credibility if they cannot keep their docks safe.’

‘We did not pay for the dock yet,’ Loki reminded him.

‘Yes, and they will be back in a few hours for that, because I told them that the goods we want to sell are on our ship, which is not that unusual. If we leave the Drake here, they’ll know we’re not going to bail.’

‘Fine, let us go then,’ Loki nodded.

‘We need to leave everything here that doesn’t qualify as light weaponry,’ Stark added as he held up his gun to take it back inside. Loki had his blades and his usual sidearm, while Juyu carried another small gun strapped to her side. They made extra holsters while they were approaching this planet because of Rule #2, so now everyone had one. Well, except Bee, but nobody argued with that. Stark came back, now his holster and handgun with him and they headed out after closing off the Drake.

They found a massive crowd as soon as they stepped out of their dock. Not everyone was local, it was obvious right away. All kinds of races with different skin-colours were walking around, hurrying to do their business. Traders were yelling at one another, others were offering their services, and some were probably passengers grabbing a quick meal while waiting for their ship to take off.

Juyu immediately got closer to their side, such a crowd was most likely unusual to her.

‘Yep, just like New York,’ Stark remarked. ‘Even the smell is similar, cheap food, wet dirt and sweat. Let’s go.’

‘Whoa, what is that?’ Juyu asked quietly only a few moments later. Stark and Loki both followed her line of sight and saw a pink-skinned woman with an infant in her arms.

‘That’s a baby. You should know what a baby is,’ Stark said.

‘I don’t think something that small should be out of its egg,’ Juyu told them, eyeing the fat little child.

‘Out of its egg?!’ Stark looked at her with round eyes. ‘No way! Are you telling me you guys lay…’ then he frowned and raised his hand, gesturing something. ‘But then why do you have…’ he stopped abruptly and Loki realized he meant breasts with that aborted gesture. It was amusing.

‘Her kind lays eggs,’ Loki confirmed in a low tone. The crowd was loud and it was unlikely that anyone could overhear them. Stark’s expression was rather comical, so he felt obliged to inform him about something he should’ve realized on his own already. ‘Reptilians, remember? But mothers do nurse the hatchlings.’

‘Wow, I did not even think of that,’ Stark said.

‘Wait, how does it work without eggs?’ Juyu asked with a deep frown. Stark’s expression just turned even more horrified.

‘Yeah, I definitely did not expect having to answer such questions,’ he said. ‘They just… y’know… inside the body of the mother and then… come out… when they’re big enough… no eggs.’

Loki couldn’t stifle his laugh at that excellent explanation and Stark glared at him for it.

‘Ugh,’ Juyu grimaced. ‘That sounds disgusting.’

Stark did not seem to know how to react to that and Loki just laughed some more.

‘Let’s just keep going,’ Stark grumbled then. ‘No more procreation talk.’

Juyu still stared at the infant for a few moments before they got out of sight.

Nothing seemed suspicious to Loki as they continued their walk. Different races mingled and while he spotted some armed guards once in a while and assumed there was some sort of surveillance system in the area, it was nothing over the top. In fact, well-functioning law enforcement was to their advantage in this situation. They needed to be safe for as long as they had to remain here.

They spent a little more than an hour exploring the area and they did not encounter anything that was reason enough to leave without getting the repairs done. Stark seemed to be on the same opinion, otherwise he would have spoken up already.

‘Okay, I’m freezing my balls off! Let’s get back to the Drake and tell the others to land with the ship,’ Stark spoke up after some time. ‘I doubt we’re going to find a better place to fix the Iron Mage.’

‘I agree,’ Loki nodded. It was really not worth the risk to search for a different place.

But then… ‘Loki!’ someone called from the crowd behind them. He stiffened immediately, and Stark almost stumbled in surprise.

He forced himself to keep going. ‘Keep walking,’ he said quickly and searched the area for somewhere to go, out of the crowd and into relative safety. He grabbed hold of Juyu for a moment so that she wouldn’t fall behind. Stark did not need to be guided. He quickened his steps to follow Loki’s pace right away, just as alert as Loki felt.

He knew there was a risk of someone knowing his name in this galaxy, but he did not expect to be actually recognized! His mind was racing, trying to figure out who it could be and what they might want. Without knowing who it was, the possibilities were endless. He did not feel very optimistic though.

He finally noticed a corner that led into a smaller passageway and he quickly turned down, Stark and Juyu followed. He plastered his back to the wall as soon as he could and luckily the others followed suit without a word. He pulled one of his blades out of his belt and waited. Whoever it was, he doubted they lost him in the crowd, he would most likely follow. It was hard to pay attention to any approaching steps since the noise of the people around them was too loud, but he still stood still and ready for whoever was coming.

He moved quickly as soon as a tall figure ran into the passageway. He grabbed hold of his clothes, spun them around and slammed him into the wall, pressing his blade to his neck.

‘Who are you?’ he demanded.

‘It’s really you,’ the hooded man answered and he yanked down his scarf and hood before Loki could stop him from moving. As the cloth fell away it revealed pale skin, snow-white hair and a familiar pair of pale violet eyes. He was speechless for a very long moment as the other stared at him, his mind not even able to comprehend what was happening. He probably did not even blink for several moments. One thing was certain, he knew this man all too well.

‘Hatchet.’

Chapter Text

 

Tony watched the scene unfold before him with tensely coiled muscles and with his gun in his hand, albeit the weapon was lowered and hidden from the stranger. He watched as Loki grabbed the man and slammed him to the wall. He also watched as the man pulled his hood off and how Loki’s hold on the blade loosened in reaction.

‘Hatchet,’ Loki called him. So he knew him, obviously. It did not make Tony relax just yet, because he knew what sort of company Loki ended up with sometimes. The man in question had white hair, not blond, but actual white. His face was thin and angular, even more than Loki’s. His cheekbones were almost unnaturally high and prominent, like the skin on his skull was a size too small. His eyes were almond-shaped and seemed to be way too big for his face. He couldn’t look human even if he tried, not with that skull-shape.

The man stood utterly still for a few moments, then when Loki lowered his blade his thin lips stretched into a large smile, sharp and all teeth. When he moved, he moved very fast and it took Tony a moment to realize that he did not launch forward to attack Loki. No, instead he threw his arms around the god’s shoulders and pulled him into what looked like a bone-crushing hug. That’s when the hood slid down the rest of the way, revealing his very long pointed ears. It did not make what Tony was seeing any less confusing, but it did give him a few ideas.

Loki, for his part, did not try to get away. He almost looked too stunned to react properly, which was really not something that happened often. The stranger let out a laugh, then squeezed Loki one more time before letting go of him and taking a step back.

‘How did you get here?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ asked Loki and the man almost at the same time, which apparently was amusing for the guy, because he laughed again.

‘Well, trying to be kind, which was followed by an unfortunate event and some complete unfair horseshit, then of course my own special brand of ingenuity that led me here,’ answered the man vaguely. Not answering at all really.

Loki looked at the man for a long moment, taking in the sight of him. Even if Tony couldn’t see his face completely, he knew that he was contemplating what to do next. Then he slid his blade back into his belt and started speaking.

‘Harsh truths, followed by bad decisions, then the clutches of some utter bastards, followed by more bad decisions and more bastards, then lastly some good survival instincts and the help of a true friend.’

The man raised his eyebrows and whistled. ‘That sounds like an interesting story,’ he said.

‘No,’ Loki shook his head. ‘You talk first. I want to know how exactly you’re standing before me right now, on this planet so far away from your home, in this city, on this very street.’

Tony may have holstered his gun again, but he was glad that Loki was his usual suspicious self. It did not matter whether he knew the guy or not, it was always better to not believe in accidents. Tony had about a million questions, but he figured it was better to ask them after Loki got his answers from the man… elf? Was he an elf? He looked like an elf. Full on Lord of the Rings… well, a bit more… ethereal. Even the shape of his jaw seemed unnatural, too sharp, and too pointy. Not that he had ever seen an actual elf before, maybe the thing with the ears was not true and the ones from Alfheim looked completely different. He had no way to know, but he did not want to ask right away.

The man did not look disturbed by Loki’s request at all. He tipped his head forward, a little to the side, not really taking his eyes off of Loki.

‘Of course, my prince,’ he said with ease. ‘But maybe we should get off the streets.’

‘Loki?’ Tony spoke up finally. He was pretty sure that he didn’t need to speak more. Sure enough, Loki turned and looked at him. Since Loki knew the guy, he had to be the one to make the decision about him. Loki nodded at him. So the guy wasn’t potentially an enemy. That was good. It still did not make him any less suspicious.

‘Friends of yours?’ the elf-looking guy asked then.

‘Yes,’ Loki answered without pause.

‘Alright, then friends of mine,’ the man declared, smiling again. ‘There’s a place two corners from here. Warmer, inconspicuous, they have decent food…’ he looked at Loki like he waited for him to nod or do something else.

‘Fine, lead the way,’ Loki agreed. The man looked at Tony and Juyu for a moment then turned to leave the alley. Loki waited for Juyu and Tony to walk up to him before he started following.

‘Do you trust this guy enough to follow him someplace?’ Tony asked quietly.

‘This guy can hear you,’ the man glanced back over his shoulder.

‘I don’t care, pal,’ Tony shot back.

‘Hmm, is he Midgardian? He looks Midgardian,’ he asked Loki, like Tony wasn’t even there.

‘Yes, he is,’ Tony answered instead. ‘Is he an elf?’ he asked in return, but not really addressing Loki. He got a sharp smile in answer.

‘Indeed he is,’ Hatchet said.

‘He gets the benefit of the doubt,’ Loki spoke finally. ‘Regardless of how suspiciously he appeared.’

‘You wound me, you really do,’ the elf said. ‘There was nothing suspicious about it.’

He slowed down until they caught up with him, so that he could walk beside Loki as they moved through the crowd. Juyu was eyeing the guy with furrowed brows, but Tony couldn’t tell whether she was suspicious or just curious. Maybe it was the ears. The girls had very similar ones in their true form.

‘Nothing suspicious?’ Loki asked.

‘Why the Norns must’ve decided that our paths must cross again,’ the elf continued seriously.

‘The Norns?’ Loki asked with a raised eyebrow. ‘In this part of the Galaxy?’

‘We might be far away from home, but we are still the sons of the Nine Realms,’ the man continued. ‘Our fates always lie in their hands, no matter where we are.’

‘You cannot honestly expect me to believe that,’ Loki said incredulously. From what Tony could hear in his tone, he was not angry or wary, only suspicious.

‘Of course not, don’t be ridiculous,’ the elf snorted. ‘There’s the place,’ he said then before Loki could answer. He pointed at a door on the other side of the street and headed that way.

Loki sighed and turned to follow.

‘You know I have like… a lot of questions,’ Tony looked at Loki.

‘He’s from Alfheim,’ Loki said.

‘I figured as much.’

‘He’s a… was a… friend.’

‘I heard past tense,’ the elf called from a little further away. ‘I am deeply offended. Deeply, I’m telling you.’

‘He’s a friend,’ Loki said. ‘We just haven’t seen each other in a long while.’

‘Over five decades!’ the elf exclaimed. ‘And it was not up to me,’ he added and pushed open the door, stepping into the building.

‘He probably doesn’t know…’

About Loki’s recent troubles with Asgard, Tony guessed after Loki didn’t continue.

‘So, are we going in?’ Juyu asked.

‘I want to know what he’s doing here,’ Loki answered and moved to get in. Tony was not sold on the idea but he followed anyway and Juyu did not question it either.

Only after a few minutes they were walking across the only semi-crowded room of the… bar, restaurant, saloon? Tony couldn’t tell. People were drinking and eating, while there was some sort of music playing in the background too. Maybe a tavern, that seemed accurate. So it didn’t take but a few minutes for Tony to learn two things about the elf, Hatchet. A, he liked to talk and B, he really had a thing against personal space. Tony didn’t generally mind talking, but talking so much without actually saying anything had to be some sort of a special talent. Hatchet was bitching about the snow and the slush while he wiped his thick-soled combat boots. Then he started bitching about how it was too hot inside while he pulled his cape and scarf off, draping it over his arm. Tony noticed that he had a gun strapped to his side. Then he started bitching about the crowd and Tony was this close to actually shooting him. Maybe in the leg. Okay, so maybe he was not that annoying, but he still rubbed Tony in the wrong way. And really, there was no reason to lean this much into someone’s personal space just to say something. Now that Tony saw his light violet eyes and thick white eye-lashes from up close, the elf seemed even more alien.

Hatchet led them to the back of the tavern where there was a lot quieter. One of the blue-skinned waitresses – or barmaid Tony really wasn’t sure what to call her – noticed them approaching and walked closer to them right away.

‘Is my table free, sweetness?’ Hatchet asked her.

‘You ain’t gonna do trouble again, are ya’?’ the girl asked flipping her black ponytail over her thin blue shoulder.

‘I always pay extra for trouble,’ the elf smirked.

‘Well, keep it down, will ya’, Snowflake?’

‘I’ll do my best.’ She grunted and walked away, while Hatchet moved even further inside, leading them to a booth. Loki did not seem fazed by the short conversation and followed the elf to the back. Hatchet dropped down onto the bench on one side while Loki, Tony and Juyu took off their coats.

‘So, hungry?’ he asked.

‘We won’t be staying that long,’ Tony told him.

‘Oh don’t be like that. Have something, maybe soup, it’ll warm you up.’

‘I could eat,’ Juyu said and Tony shot her a look. ‘What? He’s going to be talking for a while. I can tell.’

‘Soup is fine,’ Loki said as he sat down, Tony moved to sit next to him. Which left Juyu to sit next to Hatchet, but she did not seem to mind. She was not easily intimidated and Loki labelling the elf as not-enemy definitely made her relaxed.

‘I don’t think the young lady and I have been properly introduced,’ Hatchet said.

‘Emphasis on young,’ Loki told him.

‘There you are insulting me again. It’s really hurtful.’

‘Can we get to the explanations part?’ Tony asked. Hatchet just looked at Loki expectantly.

‘Stark and Juyu,’ Loki said pointing at them. ‘This is Hatchet, as you probably heard. He’s an old friend from Alfheim.’

‘Can we get to the explanations part now?’ Tony asked again.

‘So what’s it gonna be?’ asked the waitress from before as she appeared by their table.

‘Best soup you got for my friends,’ Hatchet told her. ‘And the usual for me, sweets.’ The girl nodded and walked away.

‘So… the weather’s a pain in the arse, isn’t it?’ the elf said then.

‘Hatchet,’ Loki warned with a glance.

‘Fine-fine, I know. I sort of wanted to wait for my drink, but it should get here soon enough. Time for me to tell you the unfortunate tale of my exile.’

‘Frey banished you from Alfheim?’ Loki asked in surprise.

‘Oh, if you think that’s bad, wait until I tell you how it happened,’ Hatchet said. ‘It was no fault of mine, I’ll tell you that much in advance.’

Tony sincerely doubted that, but he did not say anything. He let the elf talk.

‘When did this happen?’ Loki asked.

‘Over a decade ago,’ Hatchet shrugged. ‘Depends on how you count the years.’

‘What? Why didn’t you--’

‘I’ll get to that. Let me tell you,’ Hatchet interrupted him. Loki leaned back on the bench with a frown firmly on his face.

The elf scratched one of his thin eyebrows then he clasped his hands together on top of the table.

‘It all started when I ran into this girl…’

‘Please, tell me this is not going where I think it’s going,’ Loki interrupted.

Hatchet scowled at him. ‘Right there, an insult again. Stop it.’ He waited for a moment before he started talking again. ‘I was in the outer palace gardens, minding my own business, when this young girl walked down the path towards me. I’ve never seen her around before, so I introduced myself, asked her if she was lost, the usual. She said she was waiting for her brother. I told her she could join me while she waited, so she sat down. I asked her who she was and it turned out she was the daughter of Lord Tanathron, the one from Lake Aer.’

‘I’ve heard of him,’ Loki nodded. Tony didn’t of course, but he didn’t ask.

‘Yes, so the daughter of a Lord, you know how I am. I smiled, I flirted, told her a few amusing tales, nothing untoward. Just to appear friendly. When her brother was approaching I helped her up, put a small kiss on her hand and sent her on her way. And I swear to you on anything that’s sacred, that is all what happened.’

‘And then?’ Loki asked.

‘I did not see her again for a while, but I did ask around about what was happening, why the girl was in Lord Frey’s court. After a few days I managed to figure out that Lord Tanathron and Lady Yára decided to wed their children to end the thousand-year-old feud between their families and unite their lands. Lord Frey was the negotiator, so that the talks could happen on neutral ground, maybe even the wedding. So the little lady I’ve met was meant to be the wife of Lady Yána’s son. I did good being friendly with her, was what I thought to myself, she was going to be a powerful lady one day.’

‘So what went wrong?’ Juyu asked, obviously invested in the story. Hatchet turned to her.

‘What happened is the fickle heart of a young maiden,’ he said. ‘Normally, I would never call the heart of a lady wrong, but in this case it did cause me quite some trouble. The young lady Miressë, upon hearing the news of her upcoming nuptials, well… threw a bloody tantrum. I’m not talking about crying or shouting. No, she was screaming at all and everyone, left her room in tatters, broke everything she could and so on. I did not care about it. I heard the gossip of course, I like to know what is happening, but it had nothing to do with me.’

‘Two days later there was a knock on my door, and as you may guess, it was the young lady Miressë. She was in tears, started sobbing about how her life was ruined and that she would rather drown herself in the Sea of the Dead Moon or be torn apart by the beasts of the Storms Wood than marry the arrogant young lord Rission. She was being quite dramatic.’

‘I have a feeling I know where this is going,’ Tony remarked. It was not like he was an expert on things like this, but he still had enough experience to never underestimate a young girl’s dramatics, especially if it came to her love life. He heard too many “I will kill myself if you don’t love me back” speeches that almost ended in tragedy. Not in recent years of course, but back in his teens and early twenties, when he was not really good at recognizing the crazy delusional ones. Those who thought a few drinks meant wedding bells. He never lied, never made promises, and yet it still happened.

‘She wanted me to elope with her!’ Hatchet said incredulously. ‘I talked with her only once, kissed her hand and told her two stories and she wanted me to save her from her nightmare marriage, because “she felt we had something special”.’

Loki groaned quietly, shaking his head.

‘So what did you do?’ Juyu asked.

‘I told her to go back to her father, brother and fiancé and that I was most definitely not going to elope with her. I am many things, but not a fool.’

‘She overreacted,’ Loki concluded.

‘Oh, did she ever!’ Hatchet shook his head. ‘Because it turns out not just her words were over-dramatic, but her actions as well. So, when I ushered her out and told her to go back to the palace, she promptly jumped out of a tower.’

There was a moment of silence after that.

‘Did she survive?’ Loki asked.

‘North Tower,’ Hatchet told him.

Ugh,’ Loki groaned again.

‘Well, yes. And while I am not in the habit of saying bad things about dead girls, she put me in such deep shit I still did not manage to dig myself out of it.’

The waitress arrived with their food then, so Hatchet fell silent. They all stayed quiet while she put the bowls of hot soup down on the table and one pitcher in front of the elf.

‘Thank you, love,’ Hatchet smiled at her.

‘Just yell if ya’ need anything else, Snowflake,’ she told him and walked away, leaving them alone again.

Tony looked at his soup for a long moment, trying to figure out what on Earth was in it. Some chunks in it looked like meat, maybe. Other bits looked like purple mushrooms, but maybe he was wrong. It actually smelled good though.

‘It’s edible, I promise you,’ Hatchet said. ‘Only her desserts are shit,’ he added with a wide smirk. Then he raised his pitcher and started to drink. It looked like it was enough encouragement for Juyu, because she grabbed her spoon and started eating. She was never picky when it came to food. Tony started eating a bit slower. The soup was salty, and the meat bits tasted like… fish, maybe. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. It was good to eat real food though, not just their nutritious gunk and cardboards.

‘So why were you held responsible?’ Tony asked. Hatchet put down his pitcher, wiped his mouth and sighed.

‘Well, the young lady Miressë was rather close to her handmaiden. Just before she headed out to talk with me, she told her that she had a way out of the marriage, told her how she was going to elope with me. So guess whose door they knocked on when they found the body.’

‘Frey knows you better than that,’ Loki said and also started to eat.

‘He does,’ Hatchet agreed. ‘But not Lord Tanathron and Lady Yára, those surly fool-borns, they were convinced that I filled the girl’s head with all kinds of nonsense, that I strung her along with love promises, that it was my fault she refused to wed young lord Rission, and that I broke her heart when I refused her. I never even touched her, how is that fair? But I did not matter what I said.’ The last sentence came out angry and he raised his pitcher again to drink some more.

‘The conflict had to be solved, and I am made of scapegoat stock as you well know. So to keep my head attached to my neck, the way I like it, Lord Frey managed to convince them that banishment was a severe enough punishment for me.’

Loki dropped his spoon back into the bowl with a loud clank and scowled at the elf.

‘Why didn’t you come to me?’ he asked.

‘I couldn’t! Running to you would have been like running to Odin himself, dragging Asgard into internal affairs. You know how the Lords and Ladies are about their autonomy. It would have just caused more trouble for me and for Lord Frey and friction between Asgard and Alfheim.’

Loki rubbed his temple with two fingers then he raised his spoon again.

‘Vanaheim?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Hatchet nodded. ‘Lord Frey said there was no need to inform you. That I should just stay out of sight and trouble for a couple of years on Vanaheim first, and then when things calmed down I could go to Asgard.’

‘But you didn’t,’ Loki said.

‘Well, I ran into this sorceress…’

‘Hatchet, dammit,’ Loki cursed and dropped his spoon again.

‘What? What?! Sometimes I just run into folks, it’s not my damn fault!’

‘But you always insult sorcerers the moment you open your mouth,’ Loki said.

‘Well they’re a bunch of ruttish fools, who constantly overcomplicate things and can’t take a bloody joke even if their ill-bred life depended on it!’

Loki groaned again and literally facepalmed.

‘No offense to your Mother of course,’ Hatchet added a bit more quietly. ‘She’s a very noble sorceress, a true exception really.’

Tony snorted and shook his head, because this shit was getting amusing.

‘Go on,’ Loki prompted.

‘So I made this sorceress I ran into angry,’ Hatchet said after taking another swing from his pitcher. Tony was starting to wonder what was in it. It was steaming a little, so it was definitely something warm.

‘It turned into a fight… a bloody, vicious fight. I could’ve taken her, but only if I killed her, and I was supposed to keep out of trouble. So I tried to flee… through the secret paths.’

‘You’re horrible at teleportation and dimensional travel,’ Loki said.

‘I know that,’ Hatchet scowled. ‘But for the record I know the path between Alfheim and Vanaheim perfectly… I just couldn’t go back to Alfheim. Nor could I go to Asgard.’

‘You should have,’ Loki told him.

‘Should have, could have, would have, it doesn’t matter anymore,’ the elf shrugged.

‘Where did you go then?’ Loki asked.

‘I figured I could hide on Midgard for a few days,’ Hatchet answered. ‘It was a better option than the other realms. So I gave it a try. I never reached it though… when I stepped off the path, I was someplace different. I did not know where. It was dark, it stunk and the locals were really unfriendly. I was also outside of the Nine Realms.’

‘I thought the gate was Earth,’ Tony frowned. ‘Isn’t that the only way in and out?’

‘You know a lot for a mortal,’ Hatchet remarked.

‘There are small rifts, here and there,’ Loki explained. ‘Old paths created by powerful objects, small passageways that were torn open with immense might in days long past. They are large enough for a magic-wielder or maybe even several, but not enough for an army, so most do not bother with them.’

‘So I was outside and did not know how to find the rift again,’ Hatchet said. ‘It took me weeks to figure out what sort of planet I was on. I managed to get off of it after a while, but no ship goes to Midgard. So I’ve been moving around the galaxy ever since,’ he finished.

‘That is your home world, right?’ Juyu asked looking at Tony. He nodded. ‘Why don’t ships go there?’

‘Stark’s kind was unaware of the existence of other races in the universe for a very long time,’ Loki told her. ‘A powerful king decided that it should remain so for their own safety.’

‘That’s utter crap,’ she said.

‘Indeed,’ Loki agreed. ‘But it is also a very important planet, so it had to be protected from intruders.’

‘So how are we going to land there?’ she asked.

‘It’s my planet,’ Tony said, finishing his soup finally and pushing away the bowl. ‘I’m allowed to go back there.’

‘Going to Midgard, huh?’ Hatchet asked him.

‘You finish your story first,’ Tony told him. ‘Then we can talk about other things.’

‘Let me just finish my drink first then,’ Hatchet said in return. ‘I probably need another one too.’

Like she was summoned, the blue girl who served them appeared by their table, but she did not look like she was there to take more orders.

‘Do not make trouble in my tavern, ya’ hear me?’

Hatchet looked at her in confusion for a moment. ‘I’m just sitting here. What trouble I am doing exactly?’ he asked. The girl just nodded her head towards the entrance and Hatchet followed her gaze. He searched with his eyes for a moment, then he clenched his jaw and sighed.

‘Oh, that fucker,’ he groaned.

That did not sound good.

Chapter Text

 

‘You don’t mind switching places, do you love?’ Hatchet asked Juyu without taking his eyes off the entrance. Juyu was not one to argue when there was obviously something dangerous happening, so she stood up to let Hatchet out.

The tension in Hatchet’s shoulders was obvious for Loki even if his face remained calm. It was one of Hatchet’s finer skills, to hide how much something was affecting him. Sometimes even Loki had trouble pinpointing how worried or angered he actually was. Many said in Asgard that the older an elf was the more they resembled a marble statue. Most Aesir never bothered to learn how to mask their emotions, but elves on the other hand were spectacularly good at it. Hatchet was not that old so he still had his tells. You had to know him to recognize them though. Right now he seemed more agitated than worried, so Loki was not concerned.

Soon enough two bulky men appeared by their table – one of them a blue native, the other slightly brown – and while they tried their best to hover menacingly over the sitting Hatchet, he paid them no mind. He even averted his gaze from the entrance.

‘Paano wants to have a word with you,’ one of them said after a few moments of silence.

‘Then he can come down to District 7 just like everyone else,’ Hatchet told them.

‘Not up for a debate,’ the blue one said.

‘No, it really isn’t,’ Hatchet said. ‘Now get lost. I’m busy.’

‘He was not satisfied with the quality,’ the brown one added. Hatchet sighed dramatically.

‘I do not renegotiate,’ he said. ‘Especially not after delivery. He was the one being stingy about the original price, so he’s going to have to deal with the lower quality. If he wants something better, he can buy from the corps or he’s going to have to pay more. That’s how it works. Now get lost.’

The two men looked at one another for a moment, then the blue one walked back towards the entrance. The other remained a few feet away from their table, scowling at Hatchet.

Loki raised an eyebrow when Hatchet looked at him. The elf just rolled his eyes and shook his head.

‘I’d really appreciate it, if you’d tell us now if we have to get out of dodge,’ Stark said.

‘Do not worry,’ Hatchet said. ‘I’ll handle it.’

When the blue man walked back to their table Loki was immediately certain that this was not going to end peacefully. From the look on Hatchet’s face, he knew that as well.

‘Paano does not like to wait,’ he said. Stark silently snorted at the dramatically delivered line. Hatchet’s eyes glinted with amusement as he glanced at him, then he turned his gaze back on the glowering man. ‘You either do what you’re told, or we’re just gonna take what we need.’

There was no mistaking the way Hatchet clenched his jaw this time, nor how his eyes hardened at the words. He stood up with his usual grace and stepped closer to the blue man. He was bulkier, but Hatchet was taller and he of course used that to his advantage. He moved until he was inches away from the other man and stared down at him with unblinking eyes. Their noses almost touched, but the man squared his shoulders and did not step back, even if he looked like he wanted to.

‘Did you really just threaten to steal from me?’ he asked evenly. ‘I do not think you thought this all the way through.’

It was almost admirable how the man held his ground, rapidly blinking up at Hatchet and swallowing constantly.

‘You should have treated Paano with more respect then.’

‘Respect has to be earned,’ Hatchet answered. ‘And he did not earn it.’

‘Renegotiate. This is your last warning.’

Hatchet narrowed his eyes and Loki knew that expression, he saw it plenty of times. Hatchet was at the end of his – admittedly very limited – patience. Loki resisted the urge to sigh.

Hatchet tilted his head to the side to look over the shoulder of the man in front of him.

‘Hey Paano!’ he raised his voice. ‘If you’re so eager to use your mouth, why don’t you come here and suck my cock?!’

Hm, classy as ever.

The two henchmen gaped at him in utter shock for a moment or two and even some part of the tavern fell completely silent.

‘Excuse me for a moment,’ Hatchet said looking back at them at the table and a second later he was jumped by the brown-skinned man from behind. Hatchet grabbed hold of him and tossed him over his shoulder. Then the blue-skinned one smashed into him from the side, pushing them away from their booth.

Juyu was watching the fight and even Stark turned around on the bench to be able to see what was happening.

‘So uhm… do you want to like… interfere or something?’ he asked. Thoughtful of him to ask, really, even if he did not look like he wanted to move.

‘No,’ Loki answered.

‘You don’t seem surprised,’ Juyu observed.

‘No, I’m really not,’ Loki said, and he really wasn’t. Hatchet was very likely to try and beat some sense into someone, when he thought his words would fall on deaf ears. This was obviously the case here.

He finally turned around as well when he heard the sound of cracking wood. Some chairs got broken in the fight, so it seemed. Hatchet had the blue-skinned man by the hair, slamming him face-first into a table. The elf had a cut on his lip, but he looked like he had everything under control. He would be outraged if someone helped him when he was not in mortal peril, the bull-headed idiot.

He quickly let go of the blue man when the brown attacked him again. He spun around to grab a hold of his clothes and kneed him in the gut, making him double over in pain. Then he followed up with a swift kick in the chest.

‘See what I mean about kicking being better than punching?’ Loki said turning to Juyu. She nodded, not taking her eyes off the tussle. Some glasses and plates got smashed as the blue one got up again.

‘Not that I’m an expert,’ Stark said. ‘But aren’t elves supposed to be like… gentle and elegant? You know… glamorous and all that?’ Stark almost winced when Hatchet had a pitcher thrown at him.

‘Generally,’ Loki agreed. ‘He’s a special case.’

‘I thought elves are supposed to be gentle,’ Loki said as he was hauled over a giant fallen tree trunk, none too gently.

‘I thought Aesir are supposed to be tall and fearless,’ he replied. ‘Just keep walking, kid.’

‘I am not afraid!’ he declared. ‘And do not talk to me in this manner! I am a Prince of Asgard, the nephew of your king!’

‘You know what you are out in these woods? A tasty meal on two legs. So less whining and more walking, all right? The sun is setting soon.’

‘If my uncle hears about this…’

‘He is going to be horrified that his nephew was stupid enough to get lost here of all places,’ the elf told him.

‘You are going to be…’

‘Rewarded for putting up with you.’

‘You can’t just…’

‘Watch me.’

Loki huffed and fell silent. They walked quietly for a while, climbing over giant three roots and cutting through thick bushes. The elf did not seem to mind, but he was tall, even taller than Uncle Frey. Loki’s clothes on the other hand constantly got caught in branches and spiky leaves. He knew his hair was full with dirt and twigs too. He must’ve looked completely ridiculous. Even the thought of having to walk into the palace looking like this was horrifying. Empty handed to boot, such a disgrace.

‘How did you get lost anyway?’ the elf asked. It was the first time he spoke to Loki without being prompted.

‘I was not lost,’ Loki told him stubbornly. ‘I was just hidden from others.’

‘Of course, what was I thinking? So why were you hidden from others in the woods?’

Loki did not want to talk about it. It was not something to talk about, especially considering his utter failure. What right did some scruffy elf have to ask questions like this? He didn’t even look like the other elves. His hair was shorter and tightly braid, his clothes were worn and he didn’t even carry a bow. What sort of elf didn’t carry a bow? Strange ones. Elves loved their bows.

‘Silent all of a sudden? I wish I knew a few hours ago that this was the way to shut you up.’

‘I was hunting,’ Loki declared. The elf stopped and turned to look at him.

‘With your bare hands?’

‘No, I had weapons with me!’

‘And now they’re hidden from others too?’

Loki glared at him viciously, but the elf seemed unfazed. He turned around and continued walking. Loki had to jog to keep up with him and his long legs.

‘So tell me then,’ the elf spoke again. ‘Why would a little princeling like you come out to the woods alone to hunt?’

It was a good question, but Loki did not have an answer that would not make him sound like a foolish child. It was irresponsible to come out alone, but it was not like anyone would have agreed to take him.

‘It is none of your concern,’ he said then.

‘Did you run away?’ the elf asked.

‘No, I did not run away. I told you I was hunting!’

‘Why not go hunting with the rest of the court? They do that quite a lot as far as I know.’

‘Because they wouldn’t take me!’ Loki snapped angrily. ‘Only my brother was allowed to go. They just told me that I can go when I’m bigger and strong like Thor! It is not fair! He’s not even that taller than me! He’s just stronger, but I’m quicker, so I could have gone with them! Now everyone’s praising him for that stupid doe he killed. I could have killed a doe or even a boar. I’m better at throwing spears than he is, because he always practices with swords and maces.’

‘So you’re angry at your brother.’

‘No. He wanted me to go. He’s really happy that he killed that doe too, but if I could have gone with them, I could’ve killed something as well and we could both celebrate.’

‘Deciding to hunt out here alone was still not very bright,’ the elf told him.

‘I did not… think it through. Don’t you dare laugh!’

‘I won’t.’

And he really didn’t, he just kept walking in silence as he did before. It made Loki all too aware of the noises around them. As the sun was going down most birds fell silent, while the insects became louder, and once in a while he could hear something larger moving among the trees not that far away from them. He was glad they kept their distance, whatever they were.

‘Do you live here then?’ he asked when he could not stand the quiet any longer.

‘Yes.’

‘With your family?’

‘No.’

‘How come?’

‘I don’t have one.’

‘Oh. Why don’t you live in the town with the other elves then? Don’t you get lonely here?’

The elf stopped to look at him for a moment, but he only said ‘Keep walking.’

‘You’re the grumpiest elf I have ever seen,’ Loki remarked. Elves were supposed to be fun. Every elf he met was happy and smiling all the time, except this one.

‘And you’re the brattiest Aesir I have,’ he answered.

‘You have not met my brother yet.’

The elf suddenly started laughing, his voice ringing loud and bright among the trees. He stopped to look at Loki again, eyes twinkling with amusement, but he did not say anything. He just shook his head and moved forward.

It did not take much longer until Loki spotted the towers of Frey’s castle in the distance. He ran forward when he did, eager to be out of the darkening forest finally. He only stopped after he was walking on a familiar trail, but then when he turned around the elf was gone. No sight of him anywhere. It was truly getting dark, so Loki turned to run back to the palace, only standing still for a few moments to wonder why the elf did not come to get some sort of a reward.

He almost managed to sneak back without being detected, but his mother caught him just outside his room. She was not happy about his dirty, torn clothing at all. He told her that he was only at the edge of the forest, because there was no reason to worry her, and he did not want anyone to know that he got lost either. That part was embarrassing.

A large man, who must’ve been Paano, approached Hatchet just as the blue-skinned man finally stayed down on the floor. Hatchet had his full attention on him by the time he got there. That was why it did not turn into another fight. When the man lunged at him, Hatchet grabbed his arm and twisted it around until Paano’s shoulder was in an unnatural angle. He let out shout of pain immediately, trying to get out of the elf’s tight grip. Hatchet did not let go and kicked his feet out from under him. The man hit the floor heavily, but turned around to reach for his gun right away. Hatchet was faster and the next moment he had his knee on the other’s throat and his own gun in his hand.

‘Don’t,’ Hatchet warned him and Paano moved his hand away from his holster. The elf was only slightly out of breath even if his face was covered in small bruises and cuts, blood dirtying his pale skin. The tavern was still mostly silent, watching the spectacle without anyone interrupting.

Hatchet shoved the gun in Paano’s face, the barrel literally touching the larger man’s mouth. Considering his earlier taunt, the gesture certainly did not go unnoticed. Not by Loki anyway.

‘I don’t think I need to tell you, that we won’t be making business any longer,’ Hatchet said. ‘And the next time you get any ideas about fucking with me, I want you to remember this exact moment. I want you to keep in mind that the only reason I don’t pull this trigger right now is because I don’t want to make Hani’s floor dirty with your useless brain. Do we understand each other?’

Paano nodded after a moment, so Hatchet reached down to take his gun away before getting off of him.

‘Now get out or Vorlu will hear that you’re in a district again you don’t belong to.’

The man got up and so did his two henchmen, only slightly supporting one another. Hatchet stared after them until they were out of the tavern. Like on cue the chatter of people started up again inside, everyone was turning their attention away from Hatchet and back to their own business.

Hatchet let out a sigh and walked back to their booth, holstering his gun and dropping the other one down on the table.

‘Well, that was enlightening,’ Stark remarked before picking up the gun with a curious head tilt.

‘I’ll say,’ Hatchet nodded wiping some blood from the corner of his mouth. ‘Never trust anyone from the District 4 syndicate. We should leave.’

Before they could move the girl from before was stomping towards them, glaring at Hatchet.

Loki did not pay attention to the argument, but pushed at Stark to get him to move, before he got too wrapped up inspecting the gun.

‘I couldn’t help but notice that he still did not tell us how he found you here,’ Stark said. Loki wrapped his cloak around his shoulders and looked at Hatchet as he talked with the barmaid.

‘He will tell us,’ Loki reassured him.

‘It’s not like you to be so trusting,’ Juyu told him.

‘I know him, he will tell us,’ he repeated. Stark looked at him and it seemed like he had something to say, but he just glanced at Hatchet and stayed silent. But it was not like Loki did not already know what he wanted to say.

They walked in silence back on the cold street, the crowd only slightly smaller than it was before. Hatchet was busy cleaning the blood from his face with a handful of snow he grabbed as soon as they were out of the tavern. He did not ask the gun back from Stark either, so he probably did not mind him keeping it.

‘I don’t believe in accidents,’ Loki said quietly then. ‘How did you just find me on a street like this?’

‘Not accidentally,’ Hatchet agreed. ‘I always keep an eye on the District 10 to 12 docks. The ships there are always non-military freelancers, more likely up for trade and such outside of the corps. So when I caught a glimpse of you… what I thought was a glimpse of you, I wanted to make sure. I actually ran over from the other side of the city.’

‘That does not explain why you’re in this city, this planet,’ Loki told him.

‘Trading routes,’ Hatchet said simply. ‘Sarka is a node, a major port planet. Everything that comes from the Draco and Dorado Galaxies stops here first, and Dalekanium has the biggest interstellar traffic.’

Loki frowned, trying to make sense of that explanation.

‘Did you expect me to show up here? That doesn’t make sense.’

‘Well, there might have been a locator spell involved in making an educated guess.’

‘What?!’ Loki stopped to face him. Stark and Juyu stopped as well right away, turning back towards to them. ‘You were searching for me? Why?’

‘What do you mean why?’

‘It means why! Why were you searching for me?!’

‘Because five bloody decades Loki!’ Hatchet yelled suddenly, getting a few looks from some pedestrians, so he lowered his voice again. ‘Because what else was I supposed to do? First, I was just trying to contact you somehow, but you were not in Asgard, you were bloody nowhere! I had to find you. Do you have any idea how much time and money it took me to get the ingredients for a spell strong enough to search as far as possible? Three years, you hear me? Just to get everything together, just to be able to try. So when some months ago I finally knew where you were, I came here. This was the closest planet to your location. I asked around, nobody ever seen anyone who looked like you, so I assumed you were on your way here. So I waited, even though I fuckin’ hate big cities.’

‘But why did you…’

‘I had to find you, you know that,’ Hatchet argued.

‘I really don’t,’ Loki said. He was still trying to wrap his mind around the words just spoken to him, familiar and foreign at the same time. He was not who he used to be and he was always reminded of that usually in the most cruel ways. This was not cruel, but it still twisted something in his gut.

‘You were lost, so I had to find you,’ Hatchet told him, like it should have been obvious. ‘That’s how it works.’

Such an absurd thing to say. He really did not think it still worked like that. He was no child, he did not need to be found. Those who searched had malicious intents, wanted to use him, break him, and imprison him. They did not look just for the sake of knowing where he was. But Hatchet did not know, not any of it, nothing of what happened, so of course he would. It was a harsh reminder of all the things he turned his back on.

‘I was not lost,’ he said in the end.

‘Just hidden from others?’ Hatchet asked in return and it made Loki huff out a small laugh before he sobered again.

‘I had reasons to hide.’

Hatchet opened his mouth to ask, but Stark interrupted.

‘We really need to get back to the dock. Land the ship, get things started,’ he said. He had a displeased frown on his face that Loki was not really familiar with. But he was right nonetheless. They had a lot to do. They couldn’t waste more time on words. Not right now.

‘Yes, we should get back,’ he agreed. Stark looked at him and Hatchet, then turned his back and started walking. Juyu shot him a confused look, but followed the man.

‘He’s lucky he’s handsome,’ Hatchet remarked staring after Stark.

‘He’s more than that,’ Loki corrected right away then started walking as well. ‘And don’t even think about it.’

They were far enough that Stark and Juyu probably did not hear their conversation.

‘Ooh, good for you, my prince... he looks... exciting...’ Hatchet decided with a smirk. ‘And that's a damn fine ass.’

‘Just shut up,’ Loki told him, but the elf just laughed of course, no surprise there.

‘Admit it, you missed me,’ he said with a wide grin.

No, Loki was most definitely not going to do that.