"Loki." Odin and Frigga stood in the rebuilt observatory near the ruined end of the Bifrost, looking at him sadly, as if they had any right. Thor held the Tesseract vessel in one hand, and Loki's elbow in the other. Loki still wore chains and that damnable muzzle, or he would have sneered at them all.
Then Odin gestured, and the muzzle fell away, so he did.
"All-Father. Mother. Pleased to have your pet on a leash where he belongs?"
Frigga looked pained at that, and surprisingly so did Odin. Thor shook Loki, because of course being physically threatening solved all his problems, and Loki shook him off with a glare.
"We failed you, Loki," said Frigga. "We only wanted—"
"You wanted to lie, and you did," said Loki flatly. "The only failing was in my finding out the truth." And in living when he meant to die, but they did not need or deserve to know that.
"The only failing, as you put it, was that we did not see how arrogant both our sons had become," said Odin. "And how resentful and jealous of one another."
Loki laughed bitterly at that, a harsh sound like the call of a crow. "You imply Thor was ever jealous of me. Resentful, certainly, that he had to be saddled with my company. But jealous?" He shook his head, grinning viciously. "I think not."
"Be silent, you overbearing oaf," Loki hissed. "We are not brothers. We never were. Odin lied to you as well as to me. Did he not tell you, while I was gone? I am nothing more than a stolen war-prize to him, one that has outlived its usefulness."
He turned the full force of his glare on the man he'd once called father, ignoring the part of him that still, quietly, hurt and wanted to come home. "So what now, All-Father? A swift execution, here, where no one in Asgard will learn that I did not die as you'd hoped?"
"I never hoped for your death. You are my son."
"'No, Loki,'" Loki quoted, and watched the old man's face pale. "Laufey's son. Left to die. Dropped into an abyss because I could never live up to Thor's golden greatness and I finally discovered why. That is what I am; do not pretend otherwise."
"Loki, stop this," said Frigga. Pleaded, really, and that was the only reason that he obeyed her.
"You believe yourself to have been perpetually overlooked," said Odin. "You told Thor before your fall that you never wanted the throne. That you wished only to be seen as Thor's equal. Is this true?"
"Would you care if it was?" countered Loki.
Odin's expression hardened, and that quiet part of Loki that he'd gotten so good at ignoring felt a thrill of fear. "If it is equality you want, then equality you shall have," he said. "Thor was banished, stripped of his power, until he should become worthy again. You shall receive the same, in hopes that you will regain the same."
Loki scoffed. "I do not carry a magic hammer to measure whether or not I am sufficiently humbled and willing to obey your whims once more," he said. "And if you think sending me to Midgard is a good idea, then I shall have to wonder whether your wits are failing you in your old age."
"No," said Odin. "Not Midgard."
"We will watch over you, my son," said Frigga. "We will know when it is time for you to return."
Loki bared his teeth in rage. "You presume you have any right to sit in judgment over me, to set your arbitrary standards by which I shall always be measured and never shall measure up. Does Odin try to convince you that I shall one day be worthy to return here? He lies, as he has always lied. And you lie to yourself, as I suspect you have always done, if you take his words at face value. This supposed banishment is merely a convenient way for him to toss me aside, while he avoids dirtying his hands with my blood."
"Enough, Loki," said Odin tiredly. "It is my hope—"
"Spare me your hope," Loki cut him off, his lip curling in disgust.
Odin merely sighed. "You will return, one day," he said, and then waved his hand.
"Brother—" "Farewell, my son—"
The words echoed strangely, as the world twisted and grew dim, and once again, Loki felt himself falling into nothingness.
Terror would have made him scream, but spite made him clench his mouth shut, until Loki knew no more.
"Okay, so, Janie, you're saying that you can predict gravitational anomalies that confirm both Einstein and Hawking's theories, and can pinpoint their location?" Tony was sitting on a work table, munching an apple with his feet rolling a computer chair back and forth.
"More than that," came the reply, "and it's Dr. Foster to you."
"Seriously? That makes you sound so old."
"No, it makes me sound like I actually have the degree I worked my ass off to earn," said Jane, and Tony could actually see the fire starting to light in her eyes. He liked her already.
"Okay, fine, Doc then. But come on. You were saying."
"I was saying I am this close to being able to create the anomalies myself, small-scale, and with your tech and computing power I should be able to finally reach that milestone. Right now, I'm…" She paused, and sighed, then blew a bit of hair out of her face. "I'm working with shoestrings and packing tape," she admitted with a grimace. "My machine still runs on Windows 97 for God's sake. All these grant institutions think I'm crazy, but I'm not asking for much. If I just had—"
"No, I get it, you're looking to bring your tech up to speed to match your theories, and if you had that and could do what you're saying, then all these bureaucrats behind the grants would be jizzing their jeans—"
"Ew, there's a lovely image—"
"—and you'd have a Nobel with your name on it," finished Tony. Which was, really, the point, even if Janie—Foster—didn't think it was. There was a reason he liked being independently wealthy so much, and it had everything to do with being able to make what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted it.
"I, well, I mean, that would be nice, certainly, but it's not really—"
Just like he thought she'd say. "Yeah, whatever, it totally is, but forget that. The point is, yes, and Pepper should be here any minute now with your move-in package and the keys to your lab."
"Yeah, I looked over this proposal of yours last night. Or was it this morning? Jarvis, if it was 4am but I've slept since then, does it count as yesterday or today?"
"It was eight hours ago, sir, but the date remains the same."
"You're—oh, my god, you're really?"
"Yeah, your intern started helping us pack up your stuff as soon as you got on the plane to make your pitch. Should be set up by this evening, although, Windows 97? We don't get our parts from Radio Shack, honey-yyy, Doc. I meant Doc. Don't sue me for harassment before you've even seen your space, okay? My point, you're going to end up throwing out or rebuilding a lot of your stuff. Or even more to the point, I'm going to end up rebuilding it, or you can tell Jarvis and he'll be able to build to spec if your specs are clear enough. We'll have you opening mini-wormholes inside of two weeks."
"Oh my god." Foster looked like she might be getting a little lightheaded, so Tony reached over for the celebratory bottle of champagne he'd been planning to hand her anyway, and helpfully popped the cork on it for her.
Of course, two weeks later, it all went to hell—because she did open a mini-wormhole, and Tony was there to see it, and against every possible measurement, it grew to something larger than "mini", sucked him in, and flung him only god knew where.
He saw blue sky, and tall grass, and just had time to think oh good, not hard vacuum before he landed and everything went black.
"Ow. Fuck. Ow. Son of a… ow."
Tony lay on his back in soft, tall grass, curling his legs up and trying to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him by his landing. He didn't think he'd broken anything, but fuck his lungs were burning as they tried to refill.
How he didn't fall from that into a panic attack, he'd never know. Maybe the cheerful blue sky overhead was keeping him from going back to the Cave. Or the Void. He didn't really care as long as he could breathe again.
Tony sat up eventually, struggling to get his bearings. There was just enough of a throb along the side of his head to tell him to take it easy standing, but he managed not to fall over on his ass, nor to get too dizzy when he turned in a slow circle, trying to find anything recognizable about wherever the hell he was.
Nada. Hip-high grass, waving in a gentle breeze. Come to think of it, the air smelled almost impossibly clean and fresh. But that was it, in every direction. If Tony squinted he could make out what might be a green blur way off in the distance to the… okay, assuming he was in the Northern Hemisphere, then the green was possibly to the northwest vaguely.
Was he in the Northern Hemisphere? He reached into his back pocket and slipped out the phone he kept there. Fortunately, the screen hadn't cracked upon his collision with the ground; unfortunately, he couldn't get a signal. GPS wouldn't come online, either, which for a Stark phone was… impossible.
Looking up, Tony spotted a divot in the grass that he'd overlooked before, a little bigger than the one right behind him from his landing. With a little frown, he stepped closer to it and looked down.
And promptly jumped backward, and oh look, there came the heart-pounding sensation of an impending panic attack after all.
What the hell was he doing here?
Tony stepped forward again, moving as quietly as it was possible to move in hip-high grass. Loki was still there, splayed out on his back, unmoving, eyes closed, arms flung up around his head, hands loose and open. A moment's examination showed the steady rise and fall of his chest, which was… yeah, Tony had no plans to get any closer and check his pulse or anything, but it was probably good that he wasn't a corpse. Maybe.
So… what was he doing here? It had been several months since the whole New York thing. Thor had taken him home and no one had heard from any extraterrestrials since.
Then Tony thought of his phone, and wondered. Never mind the Northern Hemisphere… was he even on Earth?
After a moment's thought, he discarded the question as irrelevant. Tony had been stuck in the middle of nowhere before. An absence of torture and sand were pluses, in his book. He could handle this.
As for Loki? Well, forget him, Tony thought. Just looking at the unconscious alien was bringing back nightmarish memories that he'd prefer to keep suppressed just now, and Tony had no interest in getting into a fight with the guy without his armor. The green blur probably meant trees and might mean civilization. At the very least it would mean shade and a better chance of water.
He set off walking, trying to ignore the itch in his shoulder blades at the thought of what he was leaving behind him. It pissed him off no end when he realized that he was looking over his shoulder every few steps to make sure he wasn't being followed.
So of course when Loki actually did wake up, he nearly gave Tony a heart attack, because of course Tony wasn't looking when Loki leaped to his feet with a scream.
He spun around at the same time Loki did, and they faced one another with wide eyes. Loki made an odd sideways gesture with one hand, closing his fist around nothing… and then he looked down at his hand, frowning, and did it again.
Loki swallowed, and tried whatever he was trying one more time, but still, his fist closed on empty air.
"Performance issues again?" Tony couldn't help but ask, and his mouth was going to be the death of him someday but the joke was right there, so how could he not say it?
Loki drew himself up, some thirty paces off in the grass. "How came you here?"
And, damn. Tony hadn't realized he'd actually been hoping for the skinny bastard to know something about that. "Experiment gone wrong," he called back. "You?"
Loki sneered, and didn't answer.
"Nice face. Your mother ever warn you it'll freeze that way if you keep doing that?"
"Be silent, Stark."
"Come on, I thought you picked Barton's brain and knew all about me," said Tony. "I don't shut up on command."
"And I do not answer inane questions."
"Okay, here's a less inane one, then, smart guy—where the hell are we?"
Loki pressed his lips together, and turned in a slow circle. Tony let him get the same view of absolutely nothing that he'd gotten, then blinked when the guy snapped a few heads off the weeds growing around him and crushed them, rolling them between his palms and then bringing them up to his face for a long slow sniff.
"Alfheim," said Loki finally, in a tone of disgust. "He would choose Alfheim."
"And for those of us who've never been on another planet before?" Loki appeared to ignore him, tossing the crushed bit of plant matter away and dusting his hands off on his pants. "What's Alfheim like, who would choose it, and choose it for what?"
Loki began walking toward him, and Tony did his best not to tense up, but he found himself sliding into a martial arts stance before he could stop himself.
"The man who pretends to be my father has decided on a punishment for me," he said, still sounding disgusted. "He wishes me to believe I can be redeemed here, after whiling away sufficient time and becoming sufficiently repentant. I know better."
"How's that?" asked Tony reluctantly. Hey, if the man was talking he was probably not throwing anyone out any windows, or whatever the grassland equivalent was.
Loki paused before answering. "Odin All-Father does not keep what he has no use for."
"Harsh." He tensed a little further as Loki waded closer, but the other man had chosen an angle of approach that kept them both out of each other's reach. "But he kept you this long. I mean, it's been months since the thing with New York."
Loki froze, at that, and turned slowly around to face Tony. "Months?"
"Uh, yeah. About five of them. Does your calendar even measure months on Planet Viking, or is it something diff—"
"I was in Asgard barely a few minutes," said Loki. "Thor and I arrived, Odin pronounced his judgment, and then I was sent here."
Tony blinked. "We were working with wormholes, trying to open stable ones. But we were practicing with miniature ones, micro-wormholes really, nothing a person could fit through, only the thing expanded and then I fell in."
He could have sworn he saw Loki shudder at the description, but his face remained stuck in the same annoyed sneer he'd been wearing. "And what were the odds of such a mishap occurring?" he asked.
"Uh. None? Factoring in power usage, we shouldn't have been able to get a wormhole large enough to transport a person without draining the power grid for the entire Eastern Seaboard. We were trying to confirm a theory, not put it to use."
Loki rolled his eyes in a truly epic display of disdain. "And a temporal distortion besides. Wonderful."
"The likely odds are that someone meddled with your experiment, in order to bring you here. Which means you are meant to keep me company."
Tony could feel his eyebrows going up. "Excuse me."
"I am as thrilled as you are, I am sure," said Loki, and began walking again. Away from Tony, so that after a moment's gaping, he struggled to catch up.
"Are you serious?" Tony demanded. "You get sent into timeout after killing however many hundred human beings, and I get roped in to, what, babysit you? Be your little playmate?"
"Thor violated a treaty that had stood for a thousand years, traveled to a forbidden realm spoiling for a fight, and when one of them called him a little princess, he slaughtered over one hundred before he was stopped."
"We weren't talking about Thor, damn it—"
"In response," Loki raised his voice until Tony quieted, "Odin banished Thor to a backwater planet without his powers, until he should learn humility rather than continue as a spoiled, vain warmonger. He suffered for three whole days, succored by beautiful women who fed and sheltered him and aided him in his stupid schemes, and rescued him when those schemes failed. Poor thing. But then he nearly died and would have rendered moot Odin's attempt to bring him to heel, and so Odin restored his powers and brought him home."
"And this relates to you—us—how?"
"I have been banished to the middle of nowhere, but I suppose I cannot learn to abase myself before Odin's greatness without someone to keep me company. Apparently, his preference is for a mortal to teach me the error of my ways."
Tony wondered if he was supposed to just not notice the part where Loki carefully didn't say he'd been stripped of his powers, too. That explained the weird hand gesture, probably. Performance issues, indeed. Still, Tony decided he wanted to go on living for a little while longer, so he kept his mouth shut on that score.
"You don't plan to play along, do you?" he asked.
"I do not."
"Gonna kill me?"
Loki eyed him sideways. "You are here through no fault of your own, and despite what you may think you know of me, I am no murderer, Tony Stark."
"And also, you'd have no one to talk to and you'd go nuts inside of three days," Tony pointed out.
It looked like the man was beginning to smile against his will, before he got himself back under control. "You cannot kill me," he said; "I intend no insult, but even without his powers, Thor was formidably strong compared to your kind, and you are without your weapons. So. You cannot kill me. I have no intention of killing you. This almost seems like the beginnings of a truce."
"Yeah, almost." He refused to admit that he needed Loki around if he wanted to survive on a planet where he knew literally nothing about the environment, languages, people, food, anything.
Except, of course, "You require my knowledge for survival," said Loki. Damn. "And I require your company, for the same reason."
Well, that part was a surprise. "Do you?"
"I have had enough of enforced solitude to last me a very long time," said Loki quietly. "I will reassure you that I am not the madman I presented myself as, on your world, but I do not pretend I am precisely stable, either. Madness is not a fate to which I desire to consign myself."
"Sounds like there's a story there."
Loki stalked a few more paces in silence. "I suppose if we are trapped here long enough, I may one day tell it to you."
"So what do I need to know about this part of the world?" asked Tony. He resolutely refused to let himself huff and puff while he talked.
"Alfheim is somewhat like your own world," Loki replied, "in that there is great climatic and environmental variation. If I do not mistake my guess, we are on the Tandoor Prairie."
"Not as such. The people who dwell here are nomadic, and at this time of year will not be anywhere nearby."
"So your dad dumped you literally in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but the clothes on your back and me?"
"Perhaps he was hoping that by the time the elves returned to this part of the prairie, I would be so desperate for companionship that I would do anything to keep it." Loki sneered. "Alternately, he knew I had friends on this world and wanted to keep me from them."
"Hard to imagine you with friends," mused Tony. Loki glared, and Tony reminded him, "Hundreds of people are dead on my world."
"Yet thousands, hundreds of thousands, die every day."
"Generally not from someone invading—"
"Oh please," Loki laughed. "Your faction, your America, may not be subject to invasion, but the rest of the planet faces considerably more violence on a daily basis, I assure you."
Tony sighed. He couldn't really argue that, except: "Not from another planet, though."
It was Loki's turn to sigh, which again, kinda surprised Tony. "No, I suppose not."
They trudged along in silence for perhaps half a mile; Tony couldn't be sure, but he thought Loki might be adjusting his steps to accommodate Tony's shorter stride. Which was… oddly generous for a former would-be dictator.
"If I decided I didn't want to be your playmate, would your dad send me back?"
"Unlikely," said Loki. "Our technology for such things remains broken. I will be stuck here until either the Bifrost is repaired or your people find a way to locate you, craft a stable wormhole of their own, and come to rescue you. Most likely Odin took advantage of your own technology and altered it to accommodate you. I have my doubts he will repeat the effort to bring anyone else to us from your world."
"Okay, but this still doesn't make sense to me. He throws you out with literally nothing, and lands you in the middle of nothing, and you're supposed to, what? Survive? Hang in there until Daddy decides you're sorry enough—"
"—to bring home?"
"No food or water?"
Loki shrugged. "There is both food and water here in plenty. We will simply have to acquire it. And shelter, as you may have guessed, is going to be something we create rather than merely locate."
"Stop." Loki held up a hand and turned to him. "The man calls himself my father, and Thor still acknowledges him as such, but I refuse to do so. I would appreciate it if you would make the distinction as well."
Tony shrugged. No skin off his nose. "But he wants to… he wants to bring you low, doesn't he? Scrambling for food and water, no companionship, no shelter, no civilization? He thinks you need humbling, so he's going to strip everything from you and do everything short of torture to remind you that you have nothing without him, isn't he?"
"That is likely not how he interprets it, but then he never sees the fault in his own behaviors that I have ever been able to determine. He raised Thor to be bloodthirsty and arrogant, then punished him for it, while taking none of the blame for himself."
"What did he raise you to be?"
Loki's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps I will tell you that someday as well," he said evenly, "but today is not that day."
They walked for another four hours before Tony gave up. "I have to stop," he said. So much for not huffing and puffing while he spoke.
"Are you injured?" Loki looked him over with a mild frown, but nothing more. Like he really couldn't…
"I'm human," Tony panted. "We don't last as long as space Vikings." He bent over and rested his hands on his knees, willing his heart to stop racing.
"And this frailty is normal for your kind?" Loki seemed honestly bewildered. "Agent Barton said your heart took an injury."
"Yeah, you want us to continue this truce thing, don't bring up Agent Barton," said Tony. He dropped to sit in the grass, uncaring of the way Loki loomed over him. "Just give me about a half hour to rest, and I'll be good to go some more."
"…Have you eaten? As we walked."
Tony squinted up at him. "Eaten what?"
In response, Loki reached out and snapped a few heads off the grass stems around him, and passed them down to Tony. "The red ones are edible this time of year. The others do not ripen for some time." He picked a few more and demonstrated, pulling the seed heads apart and popping the inner bits into his mouth.
Tony could only hope that what was edible to Loki would be edible to a human. "Down the hatch," he muttered, and gave them a try. The little seed heads tasted kind of like sunflower seeds, only maybe a touch sweeter. "Huh."
"If I were to starve to death before I learned my lesson, the All-Father would be disappointed," said Loki with a smirk.
"And we can't have that."
Loki's smirk grew a little wider.
"You said you don't plan to play along with his plan," said Tony. "How do you figure?"
"It's quite simple," said Loki with a little shrug. "He wants me desperate and repentant. I refuse to be either, for him."
"You're going to turn this banishment thing into a great time, out of spite."
Now Loki's smirk blossomed into a full-on, mischievous grin, and damn if it wasn't difficult for Tony to resist smiling back. It was the kind of grin that invited you to come play, and Loki's next words did not help: "You seem one of the few people who might be able to understand the healing power of spite, Tony Stark." He glanced down to Tony's chest and back up, a little pointedly. "Or of turning your circumstances to your advantage, regardless of the wishes of your oppressors."
And yeah, this situation was already way better than a cave in the desert, but it was still meant to be a cage for Loki… and yeah, Tony could see it, Loki would be the sort of asshole, like Tony, to turn a cage into a penthouse and say fuck you to everyone who had tried to lock him in.
After about twenty more minutes, Tony climbed to his feet. "I'm guessing those are trees, way the hell over there, that we've been heading toward?" he asked.
"Indeed. Setting a fire here on the prairie is tremendously dangerous, and burnable material is scarce in any case. Once we are into the forest a little way, we will have many more resources at our disposal. Are you ready to continue?"
"Yup." He squinted ahead a little ways. "Think we'll make it by nightfall?"
"We shall see. In a way, I hope not, at least for this first night. We will be able to survive one night on the plains, and the sky is quite spectacular."
Tony stumbled a step without meaning to. "Lots of stars?"
"Not for me," said Tony. "Not anymore." He'd managed not to have any panic attacks in front of Loki so far, and he was by god going to keep that trend going for as long as he could help it.
Loki frowned at him for a moment before his expression cleared in realization. "You have seen the Void," he said. Quiet, solemn. "As I have."
"You brought your army through it," said Tony.
"No," said Loki. "They dwell there. I fell in."
So it was a silent agreement between them that kept them going till sunset, and even a little past it, to make it into the woods. Tony was tired from the walk, though having a steady supply of snacks helped, but the shakes and the sweats were all down to the immensity of the sky overhead, growing darker and larger as the sun sank down in the sky. When they finally stepped under the canopy of trees, dark as it was, Tony couldn't help the sigh of relief.
To his surprise, he heard an almost identical sigh from the alien walking beside him.
"Are you well, Stark?"
"Thought I'd ask you the same thing," said Tony.
"I have endured worse." He sighed again, more heavily. "I hear water nearby, but would prefer to search for it in the morning. For tonight, will you be able to sleep in a tree, or must we cobble together some other shelter?"
"What are the odds of my falling out of these trees?"
"The main idea is to keep you off the cold ground for the evening," said Loki. "You needn't go very high. There are no large predators in the area. Snakes might be attracted to your body heat, I suppose."
"They won't be looking to eat you, only shelter under your warmth," said Loki. "A bite would be in self-defense."
"You would like snakes, wouldn't you."
"I tend to appreciate creatures who are reviled for no reason," Loki replied, ambling up to a nearby tree. "They are merely following their nature." He hoisted himself up into a low fork and straddled the limb, leaning back against the trunk. "Do you require assistance?"
"Why are you being this nice?" Tony almost thought Loki could see his narrowed eyes, even in the deepening twilight.
"It is to my benefit to treat you well," said Loki, and while Tony's night sight wasn't that great, he could hear the tone of resignation in the other guy's voice. It almost made him feel sorry for being suspicious, but, well, New York. "Get some rest, Stark," said Loki. "Tomorrow we begin."
"Okay, we've found water," Tony said the next morning, "but I can't sleep in that tree a second night."
"Is this another aspect of your species?" Loki wanted to know.
"That and my age. Damn. I might have been able to do that when I was twenty. Or a lot drunker than I am nowadays."
Loki looked at him again, with the faintly bewildered, partially disgusted expression on his face. "How old are you, then?"
Tony splashed through the water a few steps until he found what he was looking for. "I'm pushing fifty," he grunted, picking up a large stone. "This has a decent edge on it already, plus I think it's granite. Think it'll work?"
"Granite is better than I'd hoped for," said Loki. "Until we can craft better it should do admirably. Also, when I was nearly fifty I had learned to lace my own boots and could write my name. How you people accomplish anything in the brief time you are given is beyond me."
"We mostly try not to waste any time," said Tony. His lip quirked as he admitted, "Some of us are better at it than others. It helps if you're a genius, you can accomplish more in less time and still be able to screw around."
"You are talking of yourself."
"Yep." He pitched another rock onto the bank. "So where did you learn all this survival stuff anyway, space Viking?"
Loki raised an eyebrow at him, and Tony resolved to use that nickname more often. "As much as I would prefer to use my magic for all of this, I was an apprentice once. On Alfheim, as it happens. I suspect Odin must have forgotten that, or he'd have sent me somewhere less hospitable."
"What does being an apprentice have to do with anything?"
"Young students often try to treat their magic as a solution to all problems. One way to get them to see otherwise is to force them not to use their magic for anything, for as long a period as necessary until the lesson sinks in. As it happened, I was not merely gifted with seidr, I was insatiably curious at that age. When presented with the opportunity to learn a new way to do things, I took it. I quite enjoyed the lessons, in fact."
"Plus, lemme guess, you and Thor and the rest of your people are the type to go out trophy hunting and live off the land in manly-man fashion." Tony sloshed his way back up onto the shore, a couple of smaller stones in his hands.
He was surprised to hear an actual chuckle out of Loki, who was bent over collecting the heavier rocks that Tony had found. "I cannot deny that building a shelter for myself while making Thor and the others sleep on the bare ground was highly entertaining." He stood, carrying maybe a hundred pounds of rock on one shoulder like it was nothing. "What of you? Humans are primitive, but even I know that most of your world has technology beyond this."
"You're too kind." Tony shook the worst of the water out of his Keds and started walking back to camp. "I'm an engineer, first and foremost. This? It's primitive engineering but it's still engineering; the laws of physics still apply. Material properties, tensile strength, leverage, friction, heat transfer. I'd give a lot for a laser cutter or even a carbon steel blade, but if I have to make do with a sharp rock?" He looked over his shoulder at Loki, eyes narrowed and expression heavy with memories of the Cave. "I'll make do with a sharp rock."
The two of them actually made a decent team; they took turns chopping wood, basically pounding at saplings with the sharp chunk of granite until the tree broke, and they had something to use as a handle and turn it into an axe. Loki gathered enough seed for them both to eat for the day while Tony made fire (and resisted imitating Tom Hanks in that one movie). Loki showed him what vines to collect for fiber and cording, while he went back to the prairie for grasses to use for bedding and roofing material. They had a thatched dome shelter built by the end of the day. It looked like a haystack but it was dry inside, warm at night, and a hell of a lot softer than the trunk of a tree to lie on.
"I'd be happier if I knew the water was safe to drink," said Tony. "I know you said it wasn't polluted, but. Fish and duck shit. Leeches. Single-cell organisms."
Loki snickered for a moment, but had the decency to sober up and answer him respectfully. "We have fire. We'll need clay from the riverbank and perhaps a day to craft pots. They'll need to be dried before they can be fired, or they will explode in the kiln. But after that, we will be able to boil water for everyday use."
"Clay, huh?" Tony leaned back and started thinking about what he could remember of ceramics properties.
"What is it?"
"Hm?" Loki was looking at him like he'd asked the question several times. "Oh. Just. You really want to stick it to your old man?"
Loki tilted his head, clearly intrigued. "You know I do."
Tony began to smile.