Tony was just along for the ride, really. There was little else he could do when at the mercy of a pair of ancient gods.
He squinted into the sun. The sweat on his palms made the suit's gauntlets stick oddly to his skin. Generally speaking, he didn't think of his suit as separate from him anymore, and yet there were times when he was very much aware of the fact that he was essentially locked inside a tin can.
"Panic" was a word that came to mind, and Loki's solid presence to his left wasn't exactly helpful for once.
"Heimdall!" Thor called out to heavens. "Open the Bifrost!"
Tony swallowed thickly and pulled his stare away from the blue sky. He stared instead down at his armored feet and where they scuffed at the runes etched into the ground.
"Do stop fidgeting," Loki said in that bored way of his. On his other side, Thor laughed and clapped Tony's shoulder, hard enough to jostle him even through all the layers of armor.
Tony shot a glare at each god, though it went unnoticed behind his face-plate. "By the way," he said, "I hate you both."
Loki smirked but said nothing.
Breathe, Tony reminded himself. This was alien technology at work. Technology was good. Tony liked technology.
Granted, when the technology pointed at him could also be used to destroy planets, Tony liked it considerably less.
Then the earth seemed to tremble and the air to hum around them, and Tony grabbed hold of Loki's sleeve. The world turned bright and over-saturated, and when the ground left his feet and the world rushed by in a blur of light and color, Tony wondered if this was what it felt like to have a heart attack.
"Oh God." Solid ground reasserted itself under Tony's feet, and he clutched at Loki's sleeve with both hands as his legs trembled under him. "Oh God, oh God, oh God." It took him a moment to realize that the roar of sound had died down and that his lips, which had been moving soundlessly this whole while, were forming the same two words over and over.
It took him another moment to realize that his eyes were screwed shut. He blinked them open and looked about in awe at the golden dome that surrounded them. A third god stood upon a dais with a sword in his hands, eyes gold, piercing, and decidedly unimpressed as they stared at Tony.
"Thought I was gonna pee myself there for a minute," Tony muttered with a shaky, lopsided smile as he straightened. Loki had to pry Tony's metal fingers off his sleeve. "Oh, hang on. I think I did." He looked down at himself, face scrunched in concentration as he shifted in his suit. "Oh, no, wait. That's just cold sweat and the smell of fear. Okay then."
"That was an unusual amount of... turbulence," Loki remarked, shooting a glare at the other god – Heimdall, if Tony remembered Loki's angsty ramblings correctly.
"The Bifrost is still under repair," the Gatekeeper explained, showing no other reaction. "It will be days before we can even use it again. You are lucky."
Tony interpreted that as: nope, not sorry, you great horned douche.
"He is right," Thor added, and his voice seemed to echo off the dome's walls. "We have only just started using the Bifrost again."
Tony's eyes popped wide at those words. He pulled up his face-plate to better stare at Thor. "'Only just'?" he echoed. "'Only just'? And you thought, what, let's throw the human through and hope he doesn't die?"
Somewhere in the back of his head was JARVIS' voice, and then his own replying you have to run before you can walk.
Screw it, this was different.
Thor tilted his head, brow furrowing in confusion as he regarded Tony. "It is safe enough," he answered. "We are each of us in one piece, are we not? Besides, that is why you are wearing your armor."
Tony's glare swiveled to Loki, who was now the one shifting uncomfortably. "You told me to wear the armor because it would make a better impression"
"It was a factor," Loki agreed neutrally. He favored Tony with the big-eyed, sheepish look the bastard knew always worked on him.
Tony pursed his lips. "I hate you both," he said flatly and took off down the bridge, head held high in a show of injured pride. Not that he knew where he was going or anything, and not that he found himself gaping about him in open fascination at the foreign atmosphere, the golden turrets of Asgard, the glow of the Bifrost.
Tony did not need to look behind him to know that Loki was rolling his eyes. Thor and Loki quickly caught up to him, a looming shadow to either side of him.
Their armor clinked and glinted in the light as they walked. Tony found himself darting glances at Loki more than once. He rarely ever saw Loki in full armor anymore, and, as dorky as he'd always said it looked, in a twisted way, he'd missed it.
The great golden horns swung towards him as Loki caught his gaze and arched one eyebrow in a question. Tony answered by waggling his own eyebrows suggestively. Loki rolled his eyes again but smirked.
Back home, Tony had already made the requisite pun about Loki feeling "horny" today.
"A bit heavy-handed, isn't it?" he asked. "Walking across a rainbow bridge with my male fiance?"
Next to him, Loki huffed a laugh, while Thor watched them both curiously. "You know I don't do anything by halves, Tony dear," Loki answered.
And oh, did Tony know.
Tony decided it was probably best his dad wasn't around to see this. Despite the questionable amount of adoration Howard Stark had held for a certain Captain, that was one conversation he was glad to have skipped.
He just hoped the in-laws were of the more open-minded type. Considering the hairstyles they let their sons leave the nest with, Tony figured he was in the clear.
Tony wondered what it said about him that his first impression of Odin was that he looked like an alien-pirate Santa.
Then again... it probably said that he shouldn't have had that drink before coming here.
Judging from the look Odin gave him out of the one eye, he supposed the All-Father's first impression of him was that he was a bug to be squashed later. Staring up at Odin on his golden throne and surrounded by curious eyes – curious, immortal eyes – Tony felt every inch the bug. Next to him, the queen sat and watched him just as regally, if more kindly.
Try not to talk, had been Loki's advice. It's probably safer.
As affronted as Tony had been, Loki had had a point. When Tony was nervous, his mouth had a tendency to run away from him.
And really, Tony had been expecting to meet his future god-in-laws in a more intimate setting. Maybe they'd invite him over for dinner or something. Odin would throw a few burgers on the grill while Frigga regaled him with embarrassing stories from Loki's childhood. But this? Bowing before a throne with half of Asgard's eyes at his back?
Oh God, how drunk had he been when he'd thought coming here was a good idea? How drunk had Loki been?
At least said mischief-god looked no less uncomfortable beyond the proud tilt of his chin. Bastard. The sex tonight had better be good.
"My lord," Tony greeted, bowing his head as Thor had instructed, albeit stiffly. Subservience was really not his thing. The words felt awkward on his tongue, and he amused himself by envisioning Steve standing here and giving an indignant speech about America and freedom. He bit his lips to keep from smiling.
Odin acknowledged the bow with a polite nod of his head. His one-eyed stare darted between the three of them. "It is a rare thing for a mortal to step foot in Asgard," he said. Tony suspected that was Odin-speak for the fuck you doing here?
Tony wished he knew, really. His fingers twitched. Cold sweat was making things sticky again. Man, could he just go back to flinging nukes into space? Because that seemed like a picnic compared to this.
Then Odin's gaze swung to Loki, and Tony suspected that was the real focus of his attention.
"Loki," he said neutrally in greeting. Tony couldn't quite read all the emotions in those two syllables.
"All-Father," Loki replied in a similar tone. Not "Father" or even "Odin": "All-Father", a compromise. Tony had the suspicion that Loki would make a frightfully good politician.
Really, the tension here was thick enough to cut with a knife. He wondered what the Christmas dinners must be like. He exchanged furtive glances with Thor and found himself feeling for the poor behemoth.
Odin was a long time in responding, likely trying to find the right words. He settled for, "Welcome home."
Loki nodded courteously but smiled in that tight way he did when there was something he wanted to say. "My thanks, but Midgard is my home now."
Tony turned to look at Loki then, startled. Loki gave him a look that all but said, well, duh. Blinking, Tony thought about it, knew that Midgard was, technically, where Loki lived now and where Loki would live so long as they were together, whether he liked it or not.
Knowing that and hearing Loki say the words were two completely different things. He found himself grinning like an idiot.
If anything, Odin's countenance grew colder, more closed off. "And the mortals welcome you?" he asked. "After all that has happened?"
Loki bristled, and Tony wondered if he should say something, as the resident "mortal". Luckily, Thor cut in before he could. "Loki is atoning for his transgressions, Father," he said. "He advises the group SHIELD in the matter of magic and lends them his aid in battle."
While it amuses him, Tony added in his head.
He could feel Loki fighting the urge to roll his eyes, and he smiled to himself.
Some of the tension eased from Odin's shoulders at that. "Is this true?" he asked.
It took Tony a moment before he realized that the question was aimed at him.
"Oh, uh. Yeah. It's true."
Monosyllables. Let's stick with that for now.
Odin nodded to himself and let out a sigh that sounded like relief. "Then, Loki, I can leave any retribution for your crimes against Midgard in the hands of the mortals themselves. Thor, you will oversee this?"
"Of course, Father."
Tony fought the urge to fidget. Suddenly, he got the impression that he wasn't just here to meet the parents. Showing kinship with a human was a good way of showing "remorse", however false. You lying, sneaky bastard, Tony thought with some affection and much exasperation. Politics and coercion. Suddenly Asgard started to feel more like home.
Next to him, he could see Loki wearing the beginnings of a smile. He was getting off the hook easy, Tony realized. Smarmy bastard.
"Your crimes against Jotunheim are another matter, however."
Loki's smile disappeared, and Tony held his breath. "I was king at the time," Loki answered icily. "The king's word is law, is it not?" Odin's eye narrowed. "I did what I could to avert the war Thor started. It was my decision to make."
Thor shifted awkwardly to Tony' right. Odin seemed ready to argue, but then Frigga reached over and grasped his hand. It was a quiet gesture, a simple gesture, but one that silenced the king of the gods immediately. "There is time enough for politics later," she said softly, only loud enough for the king and the three of them to hear. "Our sons are home. Can we not enjoy that for the moment?"
Odin's expression softened, and he nodded.
Odin had a strong grip. Tony tried not to think about his bones grinding together as he smiled his best celebrity smile and shook hands with the king. "Tony Stark," he said – with only a hint of cockiness, thank you. "Sir," he added in a rush, eyes widening. "I mean, my lord. I mean, Your Eminence?"
See? Subservience. Not his thing. At least they were out of the intimidating throne room and in a smaller, warmer sitting area, complete with balcony. Real swanky stuff, and that was coming from Tony.
"That's what you call the pope, Anthony," Loki managed to snark over his mother's shoulder as he wrapped her up in an embrace with one arm, the other cradling that ridiculous helmet. The softness in his features as he held her, as she all but constricted the life out of him made Tony stop and look again. Daddy issues aside, it seemed that Loki genuinely loved Frigga, and Tony's heart ached as he thought of the mother he had once loved like that too.
Odin chuckled, and Tony realized that he was still gripping the god's hand. He jerked his hand away and smiled sheepishly – almost manically – at his soon-to-be father-in-law.
"Ah, nothing makes you feel young again quite like striking fear in the heart of a mortal," Odin said with an impish smirk that reminded Tony jarringly of one of Loki's.
"Glad to be of service," Tony answered automatically.
Odin smiled and eyed him appraisingly. "Thor speaks quite highly of you, Tony Stark," he said.
"Only Thor?" Tony asked before he could think better of it, darting a glance at Loki. He wondered if that look said too much when he turned back to Odin and saw the bemused look on his face.
"Thor is the only one I hear from," Odin answered, and the words sounded heavy. "He says you have a... balancing effect on Loki."
"Uh. About that."
A heavy hand landed on his shoulder, and Thor's shadow loomed beside his in a show of support, saving Tony from any further embarrassment. "Stark is a good man," the god said, his voice carrying enough to make Tony feel self-conscious, "and a brave warrior. A Midgardian prince of significant means, worthy of kinship with the House of Odin. I know of no one better suited for my brother."
Okay, so Thor was going to do the embarrassing himself instead.
Wait, hang on. Did Thor just say prince?
"Whoa, Thor, buddy, I'm not—"
"Indeed," Loki cut in, gripping Tony's other shoulder. Hard. "I could not have said it better."
"But—" Loki's grip tightened, Loki shot him a look, and Tony's mouth clicked shut.
Son of a bitch!
Odin eyed the three of them shrewdly, suspiciously. "Loki," he said frankly. "He's a mortal."
"You know as well as I do that that is not an issue in this instance," Loki replied. "I can bear any and all children myself to continue the line."
"Children?" Tony squeaked. "What—?"
Okay, his shoulder was definitely going to bruise, suit or no.
Odin sighed wearily. It was a sigh that reminded him of dear, long-suffering Pepper. "Loki, I know you will do what you want with or without my blessing." There was a hint of a smile in his words as he added, "I know better than to get in your way."
Tony glanced at Loki, and the smirking devil winked at him. These gods were going to be the death of him.
The hands on either shoulder were replaced by Frigga's arms as she pulled Tony into an embrace of his own, uncaring of the press of the armor that had to dig uncomfortably into her skin.
"Welcome to the family," she said.
"So that's it, right?" Tony said after the king and queen had left. He finally remembered what it felt like to breathe. "Mission accomplished?"
"Mmm," Loki hummed in not-quite-agreement.
Tony turned to see Loki looking distracted, staring off into space and chewing at his thumb-nail. "Loki," Tony prompted, narrowing his eyes.
Loki's stare finally focused back on Tony. "I need a word alone with my father," he said.
Tony frowned as he watched him leave. Loki had to be distracted to call Odin "father" without even a trace of irony. He glanced at Thor, but the thunder god looked just as puzzled as he.
Loki followed Odin, walking in the king's shadow. Odin did not look behind, but then, he didn't need to.
When they encountered an empty stretch of hallway, Odin slowed, matched his gait to Loki's so that they walked side by side.
"Master Stark seems like a good man," Odin said, and Loki nodded obligingly. Odin cut a look at his youngest son as he asked, "What are you gaining from this, Loki?"
"Excuse me?" Loki replied, affronted.
Odin's look hardened, and he stopped, turning to give Loki the full force of the look. Loki swallowed but straightened, matching that stare. "I know you, Loki," Odin sighed. "Perhaps there is genuine affection between you and the human, but why marry him? He'll be dead soon enough, of battle wounds or old age, it matters not. You did not need to seek my approval for something so fleeting. I doubt you came back just to introduce your future husband." Softly, so that Loki barely heard, he added, "As much as I wish that were so."
Loki scowled and swallowed past the tightening in his throat. "No, I did not," he admitted, staring down the colonnaded hall into the cityscape beyond. "I wouldn't come back here unless I had no other choice."
He could feel Odin's eyes upon him. He traced a nick in the wall with his eyes and the tip of one long finger. He remembered Thor putting that dent there when they were children, play-fighting up and down the halls with wooden swords.
Such memories saturated Hlidskjalf, soaked up the air that filled Loki's lungs, that made each breath heavier than the last.
Memories from someone else's life.
"And it is my hope," Loki finally said, breathing deep, "that this not be something 'fleeting'. Which is why I brought him here."
The furrows along Odin's brow smoothed over. "The apples," he said.
Loki pursed his lips and nodded.
"For Tony, Father," Loki said, squaring his shoulders. "Not myself."
Not just myself, he amended mentally, but Odin need not know.
Surprise sparked through Odin's eye. "You want me to give one of Idun's apples to a human?" he asked, as though he couldn't quite grasp that concept. Perhaps he couldn't.
"Yes, 'to the human'," Loki answered, his tone perhaps more clipped than was wise.
"And you think that, after everything that has happened, I could trust you or him not to abuse such a gift?"
Loki's face hardened at those familiar, hated words. Odin reached to touch Loki's shoulder, but Loki pulled back, out of reach.
"As your father, I am glad to see you have found someone who you care for," Odin said. He looked old in that moment, older even than before his last Odinsleep. "But as your king, I cannot ignore your crimes."
"You are not my father," Loki growled, "and you are not my king – !"
"You belong to Midgard now, yes," Odin agreed, his countenance as hard as Loki's. "That fact alone is what keeps you from the dungeons."
Loki reeled back as though slapped.
"You tried to destroy one world," Odin all but shouted, "and to conquer another! That is not something I can just overlook, my son or not! You ask too much of me."
Anger and humiliation were a burning lump in Loki's throat. "I did what you were too much of a coward to do, Father." He all but spat out the title.
This time when Loki reeled back, it was because Odin had slapped him. His ears rang with the sound, his cheek smarting with the imprint of Odin's palm.
There were tears in Odin's eye when Loki looked at him, tears of anger or regret, he did not know.
"Even now," Odin said in a voice deceptively soft, "you don't regret your actions?"
Loki shook his head. "I regret needing to do them, but I had no choice."
Something like guilt churned in Loki's stomach, not for trying to destroy Jotunheim, which he did to prevent war and Asgardian deaths, not even for trying to conquer Midgard, which had been part of his deal with the Chitauri, but for saying – believing – something he knew would disappoint Tony.
He knew that saying he didn't regret what he'd done to Midgard would anger and confuse Tony, so he played recalcitrant when he had to. He was the God of Lies, after all.
Odin sighed. All the weariness of his long centuries echoed in that quiet exhale. "I cannot grant you what you ask, Loki."
Loki shook his head. "I do not wish to outlive him," he said – admitted – and his throat closed up around the words. Much of Tony's prime was already long past, and Loki shivered as he thought of the aging curse.
"Is that so."
Loki surprised himself with the naked honesty in those words. He was damned now, and he knew it.
Odin studied him for a long moment, his expression unreadable. Loki felt like a child again under that sharp stare, the years peeling back and away to expose his vulnerable core. Loki fought the urge to hunch into himself.
At length, Odin asked, "What would you be willing to give to stay by his side?"
Loki swallowed, chewed his lip. That was the question, wasn't it? A question he'd already answered to himself when Tony had asked to marry him, in that stumbling, roundabout way of his. "Anything," he admitted.
There. Now all his armor was stripped away, and Odin could see all of him, could kill or save him in one breath.
"Anything?" Odin echoed softly. His face twisted through too many emotions to count, expressions that said Odin wanted to believe Loki but that he wouldn't, expressions that were knives in Loki's heart. "Are you certain?"
Loki nodded. There was that lump in his throat again.
"Then this is my sentence," Odin said. He approached, and Loki eyed him uncertainly, snapping straight and gathering his shields up and around him again. Odin laid a hand on Loki's shoulder, and this time Loki dared not turn away. The air crackled with magic. "In punishment for your crimes, I make you mortal."
Loki's breathing still, his eyes popping wide. His half-formed words of protest warped and stretched into a roar of pain as magic seared through him, dug bony fingers into his flesh and tore. He staggered, the world flaring white, and Odin caught him, guiding him to his knees, ancient hands strong and steady around his arms. His helmet clattered to the floor.
The pain was gone as soon as it began, leaving Loki hollow and wrung out. He shook with exhaustion and the aftereffects of magic, his vision marred by dark spots. Odin released him, and Loki fell forward, supporting himself on his hands and knees, whimpering softly.
He felt... weak. Diminished.
"What... what did you do?" he asked. His voice was little more than a croak.
"You are mortal," Odin answered. "And now your life is your own. Should you wish to stay with your human, you will remain mortal. I will give you one month to change your mind. I cannot give your human immortality, but I can give you this. It is up to you to decide if you truly wish to outlive him or not."
Odin's feet left Loki's line of sight, and the All-Father's retreating footsteps heralded his departure.
"I can't believe you," Loki growled after Odin. "How can you do this to me?"
His shouts echoed back to him, unanswered.
The floor was cold and unyielding under Loki's palms as he tried to push himself up, snarling and clawing and angry. It was colder and harder still against his cheek a moment later when he failed.
Tony found him like that soon after.
The god cringed at the sound of scraping metal, the sound of Tony's armored knees hitting the stone floor. A hand-shaped weight dropped onto Loki's shoulder, and the god sighed and pushed himself back onto his heels, cursing the shakiness of his limbs.
"I'm alright," Loki groused, swatting aside Tony's hand. Loki picked up the helmet he had dropped and set it back onto his head, the horns heavy and making him bow forward slightly. The human bent to catch his gaze, his dark eyes round and worried under furrowed brows. Those eyes always said too much, Loki believed. He could read them plain as day. "I'm alright," he said again, more firmly, glaring without rancor.
Tony scoffed and rolled his eyes. "I'm sure," he replied. "Since, you know, the floor's always a good place for a nap."
Loki pursed his lips. As much as he wanted to meet snark with snark, he didn't have the strength right now to bother. Instead he grabbed hold of one of Tony's shoulders and used it to lever himself back to his feet, perhaps resting more of his weight on said shoulder than he would have liked.
Tony followed him up, grabbed his elbow when, embarrassingly enough, he found himself tilting at a dangerous angle.
"What happened?" Tony asked. His jaw was set, his eyes hard: it was the look Loki associated with Tony Stark the Avenger, all business and banked fury.
Loki licked the roof of his mouth as he came to a decision. "Tony," he said. His smile was sweet but with a hint of steel. Tony eyed him warily. "I'm going to need you to help me steal some apples."