Chapter 1: Meet the Parents
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."
Chapter 2: An Apple a Day
Hey, guys! Sorry for the wait. Blame this chapter for being finicky, my illustration work for having deadlines, and Merlin for stealing my feels. *cough*
Anyway, as always, thanks for reading, and a cyber-cookie to anyone who reviews. Not that you should be accepting cookies from strangers, but. Yeah.
"Apples?" Tony repeated, nonplussed. "Hey, you know. We do have apples on Earth if you're looking to eat healthier. I mean, I could always–"
"Magic apples, Anthony," Loki sighed, patting Tony's cheek teasingly before walking back down the hall, willing his legs to remain steady this time. Golden pillars cast him in shadow one moment and left him exposed the next. "Magic."
Tony clunked down the hall after Loki, and the god bit back a smile, already steeled for what he had to do.
"Okay, well, we don't have magic apples on Earth, as far as I know. Anything else on the grocery list? Magic bananas? An Easy Bake Oven?"
Loki sighed. "I suspect you've made another reference that I do not understand."
"Just keeping you on your toes."
Loki stopped and spun, grabbing Tony's chin and kissing the grunt of surprise off his lips. He pulled back, smirking, as Tony licked his lips.
"Magic apples," Tony said dazedly. "Alright. I can do that."
Loki smiled, glad Tony was too distracted to ask questions. "Good," Loki purred, lips brushing Tony's. "Tonight then. For now, shall I show you the guest rooms?"
Tony growled and cupped the back of Loki's neck, smashing their lips together again. Loki rather liked how much taller Tony's suit made him, liked that he was the one craning up for once. He hardly noticed when he found himself herded into the nearest empty room.
"I don't believe this is a bedroom," Loki pointed out.
"Whatever," Tony growled. Loki arched an eyebrow. Tony grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him close. "Lose everything but the helmet."
The door slammed shut behind Loki's surprised laughter.
Loki watched the sun set from their room, fingers tapping out a staccato rhythm against the windowsill as he waited. Idun went home in the evening, leaving the golden apples unattended, and Loki knew when patience was a virtue.
The stakes were higher now. Loki had always thought he might have to steal the apples but for Tony, not for himself as well.
If his fingers shook a little as they moved, no one had to know.
Tony came up beside him and nudged his ribs with one armored elbow.
"Hey," he said. "You okay?"
Loki pointedly didn't look at Tony as he asked, "Why wouldn't I be?"
Another elbow nudge. "That's not an answer."
Loki smiled weakly, his gaze tracing the familiar Asgardian skyline. The sky bled to gold and pink. It was almost time.
"I suppose it isn't."
Loki blew out a shaky breath and turned a sickeningly bright smile Tony's way. "Time to get ready," he said. "Put on your helmet."
Tony gave him a searching look, lips pursed, before he pulled on the helmet of his suit, letting it click into place before pulling back the visor. "You're bossy today," he said, one eyebrow arched.
Loki's lips quirked up as he pulled on his own helm. "Don't pretend you don't like it."
Loki could see Tony's smirk even as he closed his eyes, breathing deep and reaching for his magic. Evading his father and Heimdall's sight was something Loki had turned into an art form centuries ago, and, even out of practice, it was hardly difficult.
"So you think this will keep Peeping God from noticing us?" Tony asked as Loki began working a spell. The human's nerves barely hidden under a cocky smile.
Loki looked at Tony and considered his armored figure. The red and gold suit was now back in place (after its hasty earlier dismantling), and it was hardly the sort of thing that screamed "stealth".
Then again, anything that screamed stealth was likely missing the point.
"No," Loki answered because he didn't always lie.
Tony blinked. "Pardon?"
Magic sizzled at Loki's fingertips. "Odin's no fool. He knows I want the apples and what I might do, but this is our only chance. The idea is to grab the apples and run."
"Ah. Good plan."
It was hardly a plan at all, really, but Loki had always been better at improvising.
He could feel Tony's eyes on him as he cast a spell that would obscure them – not making them invisible, just inconspicuous – and again as he summoned an illusion of the pair of them.
And because he could feel Tony's eyes on him, Loki pushed their illusory doubles into a tangle of limbs on the bed and into... a rather amorous embrace.
Tony's eyes were no longer on Loki. At least not the original Loki. "Well," he said, clearing his throat awkwardly. "Didn't realize you could use your magic to do that."
"You don't know the half of what I can do with my magic," Loki answered, his lips a wicked curve as he shot the human a coy look. Noting the sudden interest in Tony's gaze, Loki nudged him towards the door with an affectionate eye-roll and a hissed, "Later."
There was a garden adjoining the palace, hidden from the world by high walls that glinted gold in the sun and shone moon-pale that night. The garden was tended and guarded by Idun, a fair-haired goddess of few words, and was a favorite haunt of the queen. In the center stood a single apple tree, from which hung a cadre of beautiful golden apples.
The fruit of the gods, the humans had called them. The apples of youth.
Loki could almost see them, glimmering like stars, from where he stood at the other end of the garden, pressed up against a shadowed curve of the wall. Idun would be sleeping now, leaving them unattended, and this was their chance.
"I want you to notice, by the way," Tony whispered at his ear, "that I am not asking why we're stealing a bunch of apples."
Loki looked at Tony over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow. "And?" he hissed.
Tony shrugged, smiling disarmingly. "And I just wanted you to know," he said, "that I am not asking. Even though it's a bit strange, and I am an exceedingly curious person, I am not asking. I am trusting you and not asking."
A smile quirked at the edge of Loki's lips, but the god turned back to their objective. "Duly noted, Anthony."
Tony fidgeted beside him, and Loki could feel the nervous glances shot at the back of his head.
"Okay, Loki, seriously, what are we doing?"
"I thought you weren't asking."
Tony chuckled nervously at his ear. "What can I say, I'm a fickle man."
Loki smirked and reached back over his shoulder to pat Tony's cheek. "Do you trust me?" he asked sweetly, turning so that he could see Tony's eyes out of the corner of his.
"I trust you," Tony answered slowly, warily, "to keep things interesting. I do not trust you to keep us out of trouble."
"It's mutual, darling."
Tony let out an exaggerated sigh. "That's my problem. I never could resist a bad boy."
"Resisting me is futile; I am much too charming. Now hush."
Loki pulled Tony after him, smiling cockily, reassuringly back at Tony as they made their way through the garden, careful not to let his unease show. They should have encountered guards by now, and Loki knew better than to take that as a good sign. He suspected that Thor or perhaps even Odin himself would appear soon to stop him. The usual dance.
Loki cringed at the sound Tony's armor made in the dark, all creaking joints and screaming metal.
"Can't you keep it down?" he hissed as he padded along the dirt path. "That thing is a travesty."
He could feel Tony's scowl. "Whatever, Donner," he grumbled, indicating Loki's helmet with a jerk of his head. "Or should I call you Vixen?"
Loki stopped mid-eye-roll to scan the sky for unexpected thunderstorms and the like. "You are rubbish at this whole sneaking thing, you know."
Lightning flashed overhead, and Loki stilled, pulling Tony to a stop next to him. He cursed and pulled Tony with him into a shadowy alcove. Lightning flashed again but farther away, and Loki blew out a shaky sigh.
Tony eyed him curiously. "We are really not supposed to be here, are we?"
"Not even slightly."
Tony shifted, and Loki cringed at the rasp of metal on metal.
"Will you stop fidgeting?" he hissed.
"Oh, what, I can't breathe now?"
Loki cut Tony's diatribe short with a well-aimed glare. He looked anxiously back at the gate to see the hallway beyond lit with a golden glow. There was another screeching of metal on metal, this time farther away, and Loki swallowed a curse.
"That... wasn't me," Tony said.
"I am aware," Loki breathed, gripping Tony's shoulder.
There was more screeching metal and then the thud of heavy footsteps as the molten glow grew, and then the Destroyer turned the corner, blocking the gate and hallway beyond from view. It towered over the shrubs by the door, its "eye" molten and bright with suppressed energy.
Loki had been expecting more than the usual guards, of course. But to him that had meant Heimdall or Thor or even Odin – a challenge, sure, but Aesir he could reason with.
In all of Loki's planning, scheming, and calculating, however, he had never gambled on this.
And it made sense, really, stationing something by the apples that Loki couldn't smooth-talk.
"Oh, damn," he murmured as the Destroyer turned and zeroed in on them. He squeezed Tony's shoulder with a grip that would bruise flesh. "Run."
Loki turned and all but pushed Tony ahead of him. Behind them, the Destroyer hummed, readying to fire, as they raced deeper into the garden and crowded behind a tall bush, close to the wall.
"I hope you have a Plan B," Tony said, eyes wide and wild, "or was this part of Plan A?"
The air flared blindingly bright, and the earth shook. The ground beside the bush was a scorched hole when Loki turned to look, eyes tearing at the smoke. A warning shot.
Next to him, Tony cursed and pulled down his visor. Loki caught his arm as he tensed to move. "Don't even think about it," he snapped. "The Destroyer would incinerate you in seconds!"
"Alright, then what's your plan, princess?"
Loki spared a wistful glance at the tree with the golden apples, still far out of reach. "Retreat and regroup," he sighed. Blowing out a shaky breath, Loki closed his eyes and reached. He saw the familiar paths through Yggdrasil and focused on the closest one leading to Midgard. He frowned when his "sight" wavered but brushed it off.
"Yes, wonderful," Tony griped, and Loki heard him as though through a tunnel. "First, can you get us past the angry tin can over there?"
Loki arched an eyebrow. Tony sighed.
"Yes, yes, I'm one to talk," he added. "And?"
"And you'd better hold on."
Loki tightened his grip on Tony's arm and pulled him towards Midgard. They appeared standing on top of a snaking branch of Yggdrasil, in the cold and dark and silence of the In-Between. The Destroyer and the garden were nowhere to be seen.
The air was unusually oppressive.
"Loki, what – ?"
Tony bit off his words at Loki's smile.
We're safe, Loki almost said, even though he knew better, when the branch under him trembled, and the smile died on his lips. The very air around them seemed to shake, and Loki suddenly found it hard to breathe.
Tony's hand was on his arm now, solid and grounding.
"My magic," Loki wheezed, thoughts whirring frantically. "What's wrong with my magic?"
And then he remembered: mortal.
Yggdrasil gave way beneath them, and the In-Between shattered into reality as they fell.
Chapter 3: Sunburn
Okay, wow. This chapter just did not want to be written. I'm still not happy with it – but I just want to move on already, and you guys have waited long enough. And by "long enough" I mean forever. Urk.
Iron Man 3 doesn't come out here until next week, so. I'm not sure how that will or will not affect this story (likely not) but at least it should help kick my Marvel muse back into gear. Mostly it's been lying on the couch and eating Doritos.
Reviews also help, as always. :)
Oh, and I'm totally making this shit up about "Deshret", so just go with it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The ground tasted like dust. Loki choked and squinted through the sting of grit and the harshness of the sunlight. The earth shifted and sieved through his fingers as he tried to push himself up.
A shadow blocked the worst of the sun's glare, and Loki blinked his eyes open to see a world saturated with orange-yellow sand and blue sky, two planes of solid color meeting and clashing in the distance.
His head was throbbing. The blue and yellow-ness was too much, and he closed his eyes, bit his tongue to stopper a whimper.
Then he noticed the weight on his shoulder in the shape of a palm and four fingers, a weight that pressed and gripped and shook.
The heat was a second weight, a thick blanket he couldn't disentangle himself from. Smothering.
"Tony," Loki grated out. He licked his lips, tasted more dust. "Shush." He swatted at the hand on his arm halfheartedly. "M'tired."
A breath that sounded like a curse. The hand on his shoulder moved to pat Loki's cheek, clammy skin to clammy skin. Loki winced as the contact turned his head's throbbing into short stabs of pain.
"Nap-time later, Lokes. Up and at 'em."
Loki did not wish to get "up and at" anyone just now, but Tony's voice sounded strained for all its bravado. The god rolled onto his back to peer at him.
Sweat streaked Tony's face, sharpened his hair into tiny spikes, and though he smiled crookedly, his eyes were tight with concern. He was still in his armor, but the helmet was off.
Why was he in his armor?
For that matter, why was Loki?
"We're in a desert," Loki wondered aloud, slurring around a cottony tongue. "Why are we in a desert?"
Tony's answering sigh was a puff of air against Loki's face. "That was going to be my second question," he said.
Loki blinked, brow furrowing. "What was the first?"
"The first is: are you alright?"
Loki smiled weakly, crookedly. "Touching," he muttered.
"Well, are you?" Tony asked. There was an edge to his voice now.
"When am I not?" The slurring didn't help his case.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Well, that was quite the non-answer," he griped. "Can you at least answer question number three?"
"What the hell just happened?"
Loki frowned, stared off into the middle distance. The heat was suffocating his thoughts.
"S'posed to be home," he murmured, shaking his head sluggishly and feeling sweat slide across his brow. "Earth. Midgard. This isn't Midgard."
Tony wiped a hand over his face (hands free of the gauntlets, too) and asked, "Are you sure we're not just in the Sahara or something?"
Loki hummed and considered, tasting the air and feeling the hum of magic under his fingers. "S'not Earth," he said, unsure how to explain to a mortal. "Talk to JARVIS if you doubt me."
"Don't doubt you," Tony muttered. Loki suspected he'd already tried. "So where the hell are we then?"
"Deshret," Loki answered, pushing himself to sit up with shaky hands. He glared at Tony when he tried to help, but the human glared right back. "Same planet as Asgard, different region. Not a place we want to be, by the way."
"Great," Tony sighed. He had a hand between Loki's shoulder-blades now, a light support. "Don't suppose there are any five-star hotels around?"
Loki sighed and closed his eyes, reaching out with magic that was twitchy and temperamental in his now-mortal (temporarily mortal, Loki reminded himself) hands. He could feel the hum of voices and life in the distance, and he gestured vaguely in their direction. "I see your five-star hotel and raise you a palace," he said. "Over that way."
With renewed energy, Loki pushed himself to his feet, scowling when he staggered. Again, Tony was there with a steadying hand at his elbow. "Palace?" Tony asked, head tilted.
"Yes," Loki answered, "I know the gods here." With a wink, he added, "This isn't my first time."
"Somehow I doubt there are any firsts left for you, gramps."
"I could bury you up to your ears in sand. That would be a first."
Loki found his balance and pushed off in the direction of Ombos, a city he once knew far too well, and Tony followed suit, both helmets tucked under his arm.
"I could just fly us there," Tony pointed out. "This suit does more than make me look good, you know."
Loki had forgotten how much he hated the desert, with sand that found its way into his clothes and hair, that stuck to his sweat, and with a sun that glared with a vengeance.
The thought was tempting.
"I'm not sure they would respond favorably to a metal man flying towards their city. Plus you would have to be carrying me, and I do have my pride. It's not that far, anyway."
He could sense Tony's eye-roll. "Your loss. At least my suit's air conditioned."
When Loki turned to glare at Tony, it was to see the idiot wearing Loki's helmet, on top of everything. Loki stopped walking to give the human the full force of his scowl. "Really?"
Tony turned and waggled his eyebrows under the dip of the helm. "Feeling horny today, what can I say."
"Will you ever tire of that pun?"
Tony turned and continued walking – though "sauntering" was more the word.
"You are an idiot," Loki sighed, following.
"Don't hate me just because it looks better on me."
Loki could practically feel his skin peeling away where the sun hit it. He stumbled again, cursing himself and his weakness, and again, Tony caught him. This time Loki could feel Tony's stare piercing skin as well as the sun's.
"So are you gonna tell me what's going on?"
His eyes were hard, but his touch was gentle, careful as he steadied Loki. Loki smiled wistfully, thinking that that dichotomy was quintessentially Tony.
"I thought we'd gone to Asgard to tell your parents about us getting hitched, but the next thing I know we're trying to steal produce and fleeing for our lives. And now we're here."
"It wasn't the only reason we went to Asgard," Loki admitted.
He could practically hear Tony grind his teeth. At least the idiot had taken the helmet off again. "And what, exactly, was this 'other reason'?" he bit out.
Loki watched the ground pass under their feet. His smile was wan as he asked, "Do you trust me?"
Tony frowned and eyed him with a sideways look. "Sometimes," he murmured. "Look, Loki, I can put up with a lot, but... the king of the gods is pissed at us, we're stranded on a desert island –"
"-it's not an island-"
"-fine, stranded on a desert-whatever, and now you're about as weak as a kitten. I think I deserve to know why."
Loki bristled at the analogy. Then it occurred to him that this wasn't the first time Tony had been stranded in a desert, and he shut his eyes, grimacing.
Sometimes he wondered why Tony stayed with him, and he wondered if he would be this patient a hundred years down the line, should he become immortal.
He wondered if things would be better if Tony remained mortal after all.
"I will tell you when we get to Ombos," Loki lied, his voice turning brittle. "As for the weakening of my magic, I'm a Frost Giant. The desert sun does not agree with me."
Partial-truths were Loki's weapons of choice.
Tony's glare softened, turned a shade more concerned, and Loki cleared his throat, deciding to change the subject before Tony asked any other questions.
Most notably questions about why Loki's magic was weak before they fell into the desert.
"Now," Loki said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, "when we get there, let me do the talking, yes? I'm not sure who's king at the moment, so this could be... interesting."
Tony gave him a side-ways look. "You calling something 'interesting' is never good."
"I have a broader understanding of the word."
"Whatever," Tony sighed. "Just... what do you mean you don't know who will be king? They're gods, right? Immortal? Or do the desert-people have a more democratic system?"
"Gods, yes. Democratic, no." Loki frowned and licked his lips, feeling them start to crack in the dry heat. "But there's usually quite a bit of infighting and usurpation. Hopefully Horus will be king this time. He's not particularly fond of me, but he should help us get back to Asgard, at the very least. And if he's not king..."
Loki trailed off, biting his tongue. That wasn't an alternative he wanted to think about.
"And if he's not king?" Tony prompted.
"And if he's not king," Loki hedged, "that's when things will get interesting."
"You keep using that word. I'm not sure it means what you think it means."
They walked and walked, one foot in front of the other until Loki had a better understanding of the word "auto-pilot", and as they walked, Loki tried to peer into Yggdrasil and reach out to one of its smaller branches, discreetly testing his magic. He could see the World Tree but barely, sensing more its shadow than its shape. Loki directed a stream of curses inward. They would need to get to Ombos to get to Asgard, and they would need to get to Asgard to get to Midgard.
Loki was screwed in more ways than he could count.
Chariots met them as they approached the city, a fact which was, for some reason, an endless source of amusement for Tony.
"I want one."
"You can make yourself a chariot when we get home," Loki said, crossing his arms. "One that flies. And dispenses liquor."
Tony opened his mouth to argue only to close it again and hum appreciatively. "I'll make two," he replied decisively. "Then we can race. I promise not to do the Ben Hurr thing."
Loki's brows furrowed. "The Ben Hurr thing?"
"You know, the..." Tony made a singularly unhelpful twirling motion with his finger, "the Ben Hurr thing."
Then the chariots were upon them, and Tony was too busy choking on dust and sand to elaborate.
Tony gained a new appreciation for the term "horsepower" as the desert air whipped by, hot and dry like sandpaper against his cheeks. He squinted through the sand and dust and wind, hiding his euphoric grin behind one metal-clad arm while he braced himself against the edge of the chariot with the other.
He was so making one of these when he got home. He was already making calculations and adjustments in his head, thinking of ways to make a chariot that was sleeker and more aerodynamic. Maybe one that flew like the Chitauri's had.
His grin turned more grimace at that, and he darted a glance at Loki, who was pressed up against the other side of the chariot and looking much less impressed with their mode of transportation. They jostled against a charioteer who all but ignored his existence but offered a few curt answers to some of Loki's questions.
Tony didn't understand a word that passed between Loki and the men on the chariots, bronzed men in loincloths and eyeliner who looked like extras from the set of Cleopatra.
And that's when it hit him: a desert kingdom, gods, Horus –
He grabbed Loki's sleeve and tugged, and the god paused mid-sentence to spare him a glance that was equal parts annoyed and questioning.
"Are we in Ancient Egypt?" Tony hissed, and okay, so that wasn't quite what he had meant to ask.
Loki looked at him like he was an idiot.
Tony rolled his eyes and waved his hand in a "never mind" gesture. "The gods of Ancient Egypt," he said. "They live here?"
Loki sighed, pulled his sleeve free of Tony's grip. "Yes," he said shortly, but without looking Tony in the eye.
Tony had loved those stories growing up and, to his credit, he did not shriek like a little kid. "Can I meet Anubis? Does he really have a jackal head?" he asked in an excited whisper, and – yep – there was that "you're-an-idiot" look again.
Loki bent close to Tony and, licking his lips, enunciated slowly and softly, "Do us a favor, and shut up until I tell you."
Tony scowled, but Loki was giving him That Look, the one that made him feel like he was being skinned alive and that promised him he would be if he didn't tread carefully.
"Yes, dear," he offered, his tone somewhere between snide and sweet.
Then the chariots drew up to the gates of what was for all intents and purposes a fortress. The city was a giant sandcastle, the walls all sand-yellow with smooth sides, and Tony imagined gods the size of giants sitting by the beach, squishing wet sand between mammoth toes.
He glanced at Loki, who looked pasty under a burgeoning sunburn, his cheekbones and jaw marble-sharp and edged with sweat-lank hair. Tony was constantly reworking the mental image he matched with the word "god".
He knew it was pointless, but he was about to ask Loki if he was alright when the god spoke first. "Welcome to Ombos," he said. Despite the tacked-on smile and cheery words, Loki sounded more like he was bringing Tony into a funeral parlor than a city.
Tony frowned and wondered what Loki wasn't telling him.
Okay, so not much happens in this chapter. Seth should be along next chapter though, so buckle in, kiddies.
Chapter 4: Interesting
SO YEAH. Think I'm finally hitting my stride, here. Huzzah!
Also, a bit of a linguistics note on how I spell Seth/Set, since I've already gotten a few questions (feel free to skip over the rest of the AN if you don't care, you lazy thing, you): either spelling (Seth or Set) is equally correct and incorrect. The names I'm using for the Egyptian gods, which are the names most people are familiar with, are actually the English translation of the Greek translation of the original Egyptian names. So in Ancient Greek, Seth/Set is spelled with a theta, which we usually transcribe as a "th" (e.g. Athena, Athens, Thanatos, etc.). Generally, the ancient theta is pronounced like a breathy "t", which to native English speakers can sound like a hard "th" (as in "thin" or "thick" but not "then"), while the Greek tau is closer to the hard "t" sound we're used to. For the sake of consistency, I spell Seth with a "th" because, OCD person that I am, I would otherwise have to start spelling Athena "Atena", Thoth "Tot", etc. This is really just a personal choice that comes from studying Ancient Greek in college, so don't over-think it. Like I said, either spelling is equally correct. Don't mind me.
So yeah. Clearly I just need to learn Ancient Egyptian. :P
In other news, I've adopted a litter of kittens and named them after Loki's children. That is all.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony didn't realize he was fidgeting until Loki rapped a knuckle against his armored arm and hissed, "Calm down," in his ear.
"Calm", it turned out, was something Tony could fake. Patience wasn't.
"What the Hell are they saying?" he asked Loki, his voice a loud whisper. The loincloth-people had shooed them off the chariots and ushered them through the gates of God's Sandcastle, and now they hovered on the threshold, as stiff and still as chess pieces (at least in Loki's case), while Loincloth Guys One and Two exchanged fervent whispers.
From the hard set of their features and the curt way they spoke, Tony got the feeling that the sand-dudes weren't too happy to see them.
Loki heaved a great, put-upon sigh. "It matters not," he said. His gaze skittered away from Tony.
Tony pursed his lips. "Maybe not to you," he muttered. He had found himself hyper-aware of the noise his suit made as he walked, of the nails-on-chalkboard sound of metal-crunched sand. At least the kiss of air-conditioning against his skin made up for it. "I feel a little overdressed."
Loki's answering smile was wan, distracted. The opposite of comforting.
Eventually Loincloth Guy Two sped off down the corridor. Loincloth Guy One turned to the pair, bowed his head and said, "Come with me."
Tony's eyebrows rose. "You speak English?"
"Alltongue," Loki corrected around a sigh. He nudged Tony forward, and they followed the charioteer. "Now, what did I say about keeping your mouth shut?"
Tony gave him a sideways look. "You know," he grumbled, "you've already got the nagging wife thing down."
"You hear that? That is the sound of someone not shutting up."
"But – "
"Shut up, Tony."
Tony harrumphed, but Loki's answering glare was tired and half-assed at best.
"And I'll take my helmet back, please."
It turned out that "shutting up" was something else Tony didn't do well.
"This is so cool!" he said in a loud whisper that echoed back to him. "Look at all this! How old is this place, anyway?"
Next to him, Loki's lips pressed thinner and thinner.
Tony followed Loincloth Guy absently, gaze trailing up the hieroglyphed columns that loomed on either side. Stiff-limbed figures were carved in profile across the walls, depicting clashing armies led by large figures with the heads of animals. It was like a scene from The Mummy come to life. The palace was an archaeologist's wet dream.
He craned his head back to see the column capitals, which were brightly painted in jeweled tones, and he accidentally stepped on their guide's heels.
"Sorry!" he hissed.
Loincloth Guy's look could freeze water, even in the desert. Tony replied with his most disarming smile, but the man ignored him.
He looked around then and realized they were standing before a golden throne. It wasn't as massive or sprawling as Odin's, but it was more detailed and delicately made, with wings painted in red, blue, and gold spanning its curved back.
It was empty.
"Loki! It has been too long."
Tony turned toward the voice and nearly missed the flash of panic in Loki's eyes.
From a side corridor came a smiling man in gleaming armor. He was tall and well-built, with bronzed skin and his hair hidden under a blue helmet, curved up and back like a biker's but sleeker, more fitted. His sandaled feet trailed sand and dust, and his skin shone with sweat. Even from a distance Tony could see his eyes were a piercing gold.
"My lord," Loki answered with a politician's smile.
Loincloth Guy sank to one knee. Loki gave Tony a meaningful look and followed suit, bowing his head, and Tony took the hint, his armored knee clanking against the stone floor.
"Too bad," he whispered to Loki. "I was hoping he'd actually have a falcon head."
Loki still wore that fakely perfect grin, his lips barely twitching as he said, "It's not Horus," through his teeth.
Tony looked at Loki more closely and read "oh shit" in the squaring of his shoulders.
The king - pharaoh? - motioned them to rise. His smile was broad, his teeth shining white against his tanned skin. "Please. There's no need for us to stand on ceremony. "
Tony didn't like the way the desert god looked at Loki as he said this. He eyed the spear at the pharaoh's side.
Then Tony remembered something Loki once said about a particular Egyptian god and wondered...
"Hello, Seth," said Loki.
Tony hated being right.
He hated more the way Seth surged forward and pulled Loki into a crushing hug, the shaft of his spear clanking against Loki's back. Loki returned the gesture with a wooden swing of his arms.
"I'd heard you fell and feared the worst," Seth said, pulling back to grip Loki's shoulders. "It gladdens me to see that you're alive. That you've returned."
There was something triumphant and dangerously hopeful in Seth's eyes as he murmured this last bit.
Tony tried to catch Loki's eye, but the god was studiously not looking at him. Tony wondered if this was what it felt like to be invisible.
"I am actually here quite by accident," Loki said, smiling in a way that didn't reach his eyes as he stepped back out of Seth's grip. "Took a wrong turn, as they say. Good as it is to see you, I was rather hoping you would help me get back to Asgard before Mother starts to fret too much."
Tony grit his teeth. He was unimpressed with all the singular pronouns.
At least Loki's words had wiped the smug look off Seth's face. His eyes narrowed.
"Yes, of course," said the pharaoh distantly. Instead of elaborating, he turned pointedly to Tony. "And who is this?" he asked.
Tony straightened and smiled insincerely. He raised an eyebrow at Loki – see? not talking – and waited to be introduced.
Loki's eyes caught his – a flash of worried green – then looked back at Seth, as cool and collected as ever. "This is Tony," he said, "my – "
Tony held his breath. Lover? Fiance? Boy toy?
Tony blinked. "'Companion'?" The word was blurted, tone surprised and offended.
"Companion," Loki emphasized. This time when Loki caught his stare, there was only irritation in his gaze.
Tony gaped at Loki but bit his tongue. He wasn't an idiot: Seth was an ex and they needed to be on his good side. Macho posturing wouldn't help right now, especially since Seth was a god in a city of gods, and Tony was just one measly narcissistic human in a glorified tin can (JARVIS reminded him of this in a more sophisticated, British-sounding way).
But if there was one thing that Tony couldn't deal with, it was feeling insignificant, and he bristled to say something just on principle.
Seth eyed them both, expression equal parts impassive and calculating, and there was something in the tilt of his head and the cut of his stare that reminded Tony uncomfortably of Loki.
Seth turned to Tony. "Well, then welcome to Khemet, Tony," he said pleasantly.
Tony had shaken hands with enough politicians (and spent enough time with Loki) to know a fake smile when he saw one. He offered Seth one right back.
Seth's expression turned openly curious as he looked over Tony's suit. "I am intrigued by your armor," he said. Tony's skin prickled at the scrutiny.
"And I'm intrigued by your eyeliner," Tony quipped, gesturing loosely at his face. "Where'd you learn to do that? Adam Lambert?"
Loki cursed under his breath and ran a hand over his face.
Seth's stare flicked back up to meet his, and his smile sharpened in a way that said he knew he was being mocked. "Centuries of practice," Seth replied. "I would, however, love to know the inspiration for your suit. Rather reminds me of a cockroach."
"It's been a long day," Loki cut in, angling himself in front of Tony and resting a hand on Seth's arm. His fingers were long and pale against Seth's gold skin, and Tony wrenched his gaze away. "We're rather tired."
Seth's expression gentled as he nodded, ignoring Tony again. "Of course. My apologies. We can talk more after you're rested." There was that masking pleasantness again. Tony scowled at the back of Loki's head and said nothing.
Seth turned to Loincloth Guy, acknowledging him for the first time – which made Tony feel slightly better about himself and slightly worse about Seth – and murmured something to him in their native language. Loincloth Guy bowed his head and turned to Loki and Tony.
"Come," he said. "I will show you to your rooms."
Seth's hand caught Loki's wrist as he passed. Their shoulders touched, and Seth's lips nearly touched Loki's ear.
"It is good to see you," Seth whispered.
Loki swallowed. "I imagine it is," he said as he pulled away.
JARVIS informed Tony that he would develop TMJ if he ground his teeth any harder.
After showing them to their (separate, but equally luxurious) guestrooms, Loincloth Guy departed with a curt bow and an air of silence. Tony wondered what his name was.
Loki pushed his way into Tony's room, eyes flinty, and Tony sighed, straightening in the middle of manually peeling off his armor. He folded his arms across his still-armored chest and met Loki's advance with a glare of his own.
"What in Hel was that?" Loki hissed, hands cutting the air.
"What the Hell was what?" Tony asked in kind.
"I thought I told you to keep your mouth shut!" Loki's lips, tongue, and teeth exaggerated their curl around each syllable as though to make up for the lose of volume.
"Oh, I'm sorry, is the companion supposed to be mute? Believe me, there is a lot more I could have said."
Loki bristled, pursing his lips. "The last place you want to be," Loki said, still in a harsh whisper, "is on Seth's bad side. It's better he dismiss you as unimportant."
"What, you think I can't defend myself?" Tony grit out through his teeth. "Loki, I am getting real tired of you making decisions on my behalf."
Loki's anger seemed to die out as quickly as it came. His shoulders slumped, and he sighed, rubbing his forehead with long fingers.
"Hang on." Tony was at his side before he could think better of it. "Are you okay?"
Predictably, Loki glared and replied with a non-answer. "Why wouldn't I be?"
He really did look tired, Tony realized. His skin was gray under the sunburn, his eyes sunken and glassy. Worry tied Tony's stomach in knots.
He made a mental checklist of the symptoms of dehydration and fatigue.
They could always bitch at each other later. Tony was sure he'd still be annoyed then.
"We just spent the day wandering the desert," he answered with a one-shouldered shrug. "We're allowed to feel like crap, you know."
Tony was careful in his use of the plural pronoun. For someone who has lived so long, Loki was awful at taking care of himself.
Not that Tony was one to talk really. He could almost hear Pepper calling them Mr. Pot and Mr. Kettle.
"Don't know about you, but I'm parched," he said. There was a pitcher of water by the bed, and he poured himself a glass. He took a long, slow gulp, and it almost hurt against his dried-out throat. He refilled the glass and handed it to Loki, who gave him an odd look but sipped absently, automatically.
"And you might as well stay here, really," Tony went on, eyeing Loki. "The bed's pretty big, and I always did like a slumber party. We can have pillow fights in our underwear." He waggled his eyebrows.
The god smiled tiredly and set the now-empty glass back on the table. "Are you trying to get me into bed, Mr. Stark?" he asked with feigned innocence.
"Always." But Tony settled for kissing the corner of Loki's jaw and nudged him towards the bed, which was sprawling and inviting with gold, silken sheets. "The real question is why you ever leave bed at all. I'm just going to lure you back, after all."
Tony waited for a teasing rejoinder, but it never came. He frowned into the unexpected silence and looked more closely at Loki. The god looked on the verge of collapse.
Luckily, Loki settled for collapsing onto the bed, his movements sluggish and tired as he peeled off his boots. Tony eyed him for a moment and then went back to stripping off his armor. By the time he looked up again, Loki had slumped onto his side, loose-limbed in sleep.
Tony shook his head, arranged him more comfortably - the god was dead weight - then just sat and watched him breathe.
Tony wasn't an idiot. In fact, he prided himself on just how much he wasn't an idiot, Pepper's comments aside. He knew Loki was keeping something from him (probably somethings, actually), but the secrecy and headaches came with the package.
But he guessed it didn't matter. With any luck, they'd be back home tomorrow, and he'd be back to dealing with a more manageable number of gods.
I probably should have proofread this...
Chapter 5: The Best Laid Schemes
Just finished teaching Egyptian Mythology at a fine arts camp, which seemed fitting since I taught Norse Myth last year. I reeeeally wish I could have talked more about all the gay, but this particular group was too young to get the mature bits. Oh well.
(Seth/Horus is canon, btw. Look it up. Do itttt!)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Loki slept long, embarrassingly long, but still managed to wake before Tony. He tried not to think about how tired the human must have been to sleep so deeply, and he would have felt guilty for dragging him here had he not had the best of intentions at the time.
Loki laid there and considered his options, watching the gold bedsheets shimmer in slivers of sun. Lifting a hand to his face, he blew out a breath and called fire to him. A small flame flickered to life in the palm of his hand, held for a moment, and sputtered out into nothing.
Wonderful. So the mortality curse was affecting all of his magic, not just his more complex spells.
Even if he could get them to Asgard, the chances of them getting to and using the Bifrost before being captured were laughably small. He would have to talk his way out of trouble with Father again.
He wondered if he could have Seth send them to Mother's wing of the palace.
Next to him, Tony shifted and began to snore. Loki rolled his eyes and left him to it, deciding he might as well start his day.
Seth was sparring in the sun, grinning like a devil. Four of his soldiers maneuvered around him, circling him, and he bantered with them between blows, laughter drowned out by the clang of metal on metal. Today, Seth wielded a pair of sickle-bladed khopesh and moved with an effortless grace that Loki had forgotten. He was a whirlwind, bare to the waist, and, free of the blue crown, his hair was wild and red, catching the light like flame.
Surrounded by dark-haired relatives, Loki used to tease Seth about his parentage, asking if his mother had lain with a fire giant and not told anyone.
Remembering ice and blue skin, Loki supposed the joke was on him.
Standing in the shade, Loki lingered, watching the dance of muscle under golden skin. He'd meant to call attention to himself, to politely interrupt and have Seth speed them on their way, but he supposed he could wait a few minutes. Seth could be any configuration of asshole, but Loki had always loved to watch him move.
Someone cleared his throat behind Loki's shoulder, and Loki jumped, cursing under his breath.
He glared over his shoulder, glaring harder when he saw it was Tony, who was smirking much too widely for his taste. Loki cleared his throat and straightened, gathering his remaining dignity around him. "I was just – "
Tony chuffed and rolled his eyes. "Mhmm. I know what you were 'just'."
"No, really, I – "
"Oh, come on, Lokes. Can't say I blame you." Tony eyed Seth appreciatively. He let out a low whistle, his eyes gaining a dreamy quality usually reserved for thoughts of boobs. "I'd tap that. If I weren't tapping you, that is. Tapping and marrying."
"Already tapped that," Loki replied, watching Seth with open interest now. "Many times, actually. Lots of tapping." His throat felt suddenly dry, and he coughed into his fist, looking everywhere now but at Seth and Tony.
Tony eyed him for a long moment, one eyebrow raised. After a moment, he smirked and nudged Loki with his elbow. "Hey," he said, leaning in conspiratorially. "Think he'd be up for a threesome?"
Loki let his expression speak for him.
"Oh, what?" Tony griped. "You'll do a horse, but you draw the line at a threesome?"
"No, Anthony," Loki answered sweetly. "I draw the line at a threesome with Seth."
Tony's eyebrows shot up. "So you are open to a threesome?"
"Yes, but you're not invited."
Tony pouted, and Loki chuckled, patting his arm. "Now go find something to eat," he said. "I need to make arrangements with Seth. With any luck, we'll be home by supper."
Tony's expression soured. "Don't want me around for the 'arrangements', huh?"
"I just don't want to bore you," Loki lied with a smile.
The clanging of metal had stopped, and Loki's spine prickled with the weight of a familiar stare. Tony heaved a put-upon sigh. "Food. Alright. Try to behave, you."
"I believe that's my line," Loki said, making a shooing gesture.
Tony's parting smirk was almost convincing. Loki let him believe it was.
Tony had barely turned to leave when the flat of a curved blade tapped Loki's arm. Loki drew in a breath and turned, smiling, to Seth.
"Good morning, my lord," Loki said, keeping the pharaoh politely at arm's length, figuratively and literally. Seth's skin was flushed, and sweat pooled in the hollow of his throat.
Seth arched a red eyebrow. "I imagine it would be 'good afternoon' by this point," he said with a teasing smile.
"Not by much." Seth looked him up and down, taking his measure. "I tried to call on you this morning to see how you were. You did not look well yesterday."
Loki straightened and fought not to bristle. "I am well enough, thank you -"
"So I see." Seth's voice hardened as it cut over Loki's. "That was early morning's question, however. Now my question is: where were you?"
"I don't see why that is your concern -"
"Need I remind you," Seth said with a steely smile, "that the last time you were here you nearly decimated my palace? That makes your whereabouts my concern."
Loki bit back the childish 'you deserved it' on the tip of his tongue.
Seth eyed him for a long moment and sighed, shoulders drooping. "I would like us to be friends again," he said softly, long fingers fiddling with the weapons at his sides. "I have missed your company. But I know better than to trust you." Leaning in, he added, "And I do not like being lied to or misled, even in small matters."
Even though Seth no longer towered over him, his proximity made Loki's spine prickle. Loki wondered if staying the night with Tony had been a mistake.
"I was walking the palace halls," Loki said. "Reminiscing. "
He let his smile turn coy, hoping it would change the direction of the conversation, even if that direction was a dangerous one.
Seth's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. Gold irises studied his face.
"Liar," Seth murmured, but it was more sigh than accusation now.
Loki smiled, sweet and disarming.
"I should like to return home today, if it is not too much trouble, " he said pleasantly.
Seth studied him a moment more, hummed and arched a red eyebrow. "I'm sure you would, " he said evasively. He tucked his khopesh into his belt and walked past Loki into the palace, blithely ignoring the smile slipping from Loki's lips.
Eavesdropping was not really Tony's style. In retrospect, that was probably because he wasn't very good at it.
He leaned against the wall, cool stone against his back, and tried to look fascinated by his cuticles as Seth's voice carried around the corner.
A woman walked by his corner, and he found her curves and skin-tight dress far more interesting to look at than his fingernails. Her jet hair was shoulder-length and wound with colored beads, and her white linen dress complemented her caramel skin. Tony favored her with an appreciative look and gave her his best "I'm-just-standing-here-minding-my-own-business" smile, hoping he exuded nonchalance.
When she caught sight of him, the woman's – goddess'? – gait changed to a veritable slink, and she sauntered towards him, smirking in a way that told Tony he was fooling no one. She leaned against the wall next to him and folded her arms. The sly tilt of her dark eyes reminded him of a cat.
Loki's voice floated back to them, smooth as silk.
"Uh," Tony began, wracking his brain for an excuse.
She shushed him and cocked her head, listening for a moment. When there was a lull in the conversation, she leaned in and whispered, "Have they been saying anything juicy?"
"Oh, come on," she said in a soft hiss, eyes alight with mischief, "your Loki's human, right? We're all dying to know what's going on between him and Seth."
Tony bristled. "Nothing," he hissed back. "There's nothing going on!"
"Oh, really?" She arched an eyebrow at him. They both strained to listen for a moment, but Seth's voice was too soft to make out. "They had quite a fling last time he was here," she went on eagerly. "Seth was married, Odin was furious. It was quite a scandal, really."
"Really?" he whispered.
The woman's eyes canted to his. "Oh yes," she said with a chesire grin. "It's quite the story."
Tony's interest was piqued. This wasn't the sort of thing he could ask Loki about. He leaned in conspiratorially and put on his most winsome smile. "I'd love to hear it."
She considered him for a moment, biting her lip. "How about this," she whispered. "I'll trade you: story for a story."
Tony paused. "Not sure I have one."
"Oh, I doubt that." Another cutting, knowing look. "But later. Might you be free tonight?" She looked at him from the corner of her eye in a way that meant trouble.
Tony cleared his throat. "I doubt we'll be here that long."
She bit back a laugh and rolled her eyes. "Oh, darling," she all but purred, caressing his cheek with one finger. "There's no way Seth would let Loki go so easily."
Tony felt his smile slip. She pushed off the wall and started to walk away.
"I am Bast, by the way," she tossed behind her. Her beaded black hair followed the curve of her shoulder as she glanced behind her. "Tonight, then?"
Tony's eyes bugged. He wasn't sure if he answered or not.
Back in his room, Tony found himself alone with his thoughts.
"Hey," Tony said into his headset, "what do we know about Seth?"
Ombos may not have wifi, but JARVIS had an extensive data base (thank God for his awesome intellect) and Tony had told him to stock up on mythology after his first run-in with Loki.
Might as well make use of his time while Loki was off doing Heimdall-knew-what. Thanks to Bast, he didn't really get to hear much of his conversation with Seth, so Tony Stark was, once again, left in the dark.
At least he wasn't bitter about it or anything.
"Seth is one of the Ennead," JARVIS answered, "the nine core gods of Egypt."
Tony nodded distractedly. "Go on."
"He is the son of Nut and Geb, the gods of the sky and earth, respectively, and brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys."
"Yes, yes, get to the good stuff."
"Your patience, as always, is astounding, sir," JARVIS replied, "but perhaps this will pique your interest: Seth is generally considered the god of the desert, storms, and chaos."
"Chaos," Tony echoed. He frowned, remembering a few things he'd read about Loki.
"He murdered his brother for the throne. Once he was of age, Seth's nephew, Horus, deposed him. Have I gotten to the 'good stuff' yet, sir?"
Tony nodded, gritting his teeth. "I thought I remembered reading about that, yeah. Very Lion King."
He was really starting to hate being right.
"Need I remind you, sir," said JARVIS, "that these are merely stories. The truth may be quite different."
He remembered the stories of Loki. While they'd been off on a few details, they'd gotten the gist.
"Tell me about Horus, JARVIS."
Footnote: I don't know why, but the thought of Bast being a horrible gossip amuses me. I have this mental image of Isis scolding her for it but then hitting her up for info anyway.
As always, reviews are loved and welcomed and help motivate me to continue! Thanks for reading!
Chapter 6: Twist
Ugh, not happy with the pacing of this chapter, but I figured you guys have waited long enough.
As always, thank you for reading and for any and all comments! They always make my day.
The earth rumbled. Grains of sand shivered together like chattering teeth. It felt like an extension of Loki's rage.
The day was at full heat, and it made Loki's skin feel itchy and tight. The god trailed after Seth with hands curled into fists, teeth grit in the beginnings of a snarl. The red-haired god barely spared him a glance, and that made Loki's skin itch worse still.
Seth finally slowed to a stop when a pair of attendants began strapping him into his armor.
"I said," Loki growled, "what did you mean by that?"
Seth's lips pressed thin. "We will discuss this later."
Loki's smile was all teeth. "Why don't we discuss this now?"
"Loki, I'm warning you." Seth shoved aside his attendants and adjusted his bracers himself. His movements were clipped and methodical in a way that Loki knew meant he was losing his temper.
Loki remembered that temper, and he almost backed down. Almost.
"You will answer me, Seth –!"
A hand on his throat cut off further speech, and Seth's face filled his vision. Loki remembered this too.
The ground trembled again. The hall echoed with shouts and the clamor of soldiers arming themselves.
"What I meant," Seth answered in a low voice like thunder, "was that, no, I will not help you get back to Asgard. At least not until you stop lying."
Seth's fingers were pressing grooves into Loki's windpipe. Loki's fingers were pressing grooves of their own into Seth's wrist. Black spots blocked out all but Seth's gold eyes.
Loki wished Tony was here.
(He was glad that he wasn't.)
"Now tell me," Seth said more softly, "is there something wrong with your magic?" His eyes narrowed as he held Loki's stare.
Warning bells rang in the back of Loki's mind.
"No," Loki managed to choke out. The last thing he needed was for Seth to know he was weakened.
Seth's fingers shifted to press into Loki's jaw instead, allowing him to draw in shaky, gasping breaths but still holding him in place.
"Then you can leave on your own. You have no need of my sorcerers. Which begs the question..." Seth smiled as he leaned in, a ghost of a breath tickling Loki's ear. "Do you even want to leave?"
Loki shuddered, as much at the words and at Seth's proximity. He smelled of sweat and sand and metal, and it made Loki remember things...
Again the earth shook.
"As I said," Seth whispered, his lips brushing the shell of Loki's ear, "we will discuss this later."
Seth traced the edge of Loki's jaw with his thumb before releasing him, grinning as he turned to take the spear his attendant held out. Loki massaged his throat with shaking fingers.
"That, erm." Loki's voice came out croaky. He coughed and tried again. "That shaking. Apophis is attacking?"
Seth's grin turned wicked. He nodded and brandished his spear.
Loki remembered the monster serpent from his earlier stay centuries ago, the fierce, giant cobra intent on driving away the gods from Deshret. At the time it had been impressive, watching Seth fend off the creature, but now it reminded him of his son, Jormungand, and of his cruel fate.
Seth approached again, and Loki fought the urge to retreat. The desert-god was all warmth and smiles again. "Will you fight at my side?" he asked. "It would give me great strength, knowing you stand beside me."
Knowing when he was cornered, Loki plastered on his best fake smile and said, "I will get my armor."
"Get your armor."
"Your armor, Anthony."
"But – "
JARVIS stopped speaking in his ear, and Tony sat up, sliding on silk sheets, and pressed his socked feet to the floor. He eyed Loki who was now flitting about the room and gathering up pieces of gold and green armor. There was something distant and hollow in his stare that bothered Tony.
At a look from Loki, Tony threw up his hands in surrender and began pulling on the pieces of his armor.
"Sorry," he said. "Just used to you using that tone of voice to tell me to take off my clothes."
He waited for a smile or eye-roll that didn't come. He turned, frowning, and saw Loki wrestling with his pauldrons. There was something off about that image, but he couldn't put his finger on what.
Tony was armored and ready long before Loki was. He crossed his arms across his chest and sat back to watch.
Loki glared at him as he pulled on his bracers. "What?"
Tony frowned. "You sound hoarse," he said.
"Dry air," Loki supplied. "Unless you're making a 'horse' joke, in which case, I'd just tell you to kindly screw yourself."
"And don't go turning that into a horse joke either."
"Seems to me like you're making them all on their own."
"Oh, do shut up."
Tony walked over to Loki and picked up his helmet, holding it out in a question. Loki eyed him a moment and then nodded. "So why are we suiting up, exactly?" he asked as he pulled the horned helmet down over Loki's head, adjusting it until it sat balanced. He stepped back to admire the effect. "I do love a man with goat horns."
"Ha ha," Loki replied flatly. Standing, he answered, "We are to help Seth defend the city."
"Against what?" Tony wracked his memory for what JARVIS had told him about Seth's enemies.
Loki smirked. "A giant cobra."
Tony nodded and watched surprise color Loki's expression. "Right," he said. "Apep, was it? Apophis?"
Thank you, JARVIS.
Loki raised an eyebrow.
"What?" he groused. "I read."
For once, Loki seemed at a loss. Tony counted it as a minor victory.
"Giant venomous snake, huh?" He grinned. "Sounds like fun."
Or at least it did until he found out that Loki would be riding in Seth's chariot.
"Do you trust me?" Loki asked with a strained smile.
Tony smiled tightly. It was only after Loki had left that he answered, "Not sure."
He didn't like the way Seth looked right at him and smirked.
Tony grit his teeth and took to the skies, scowl hidden behind his visor. He kept pace with Seth and Loki's chariot and kept watch for anything snake-like. Mostly he just saw a whole lot of sand.
It was in the air that Tony realized what had been off: Loki hadn't used magic to put on his armor.
"What the – Oh." Agitation was an itch between his shoulders. "Oh! Dammit! That horned bastard never tells me anything."
"Does this surprise you, sir?"
Tony grit his teeth. "Shut your cake-hole, JARVIS."
"I'm afraid I do not have one, sir."
"Then I'll make you one when I get back. For now, just... be quiet, okay?"
He wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed when JARVIS didn't respond.
"Sorry, JARVIS," Tony muttered as he saw the sand twist and shift somewhere to their right. "But right now daddy needs to focus."
Loki's eyes tracked the streak of gold and red in the sky, and tried not to think about Seth's solid presence next to him. The shaft of his borrowed spear was slick against his sweaty palm.
He could only hope that this battle was over quickly, before Seth noticed the distinct lack of Asgardian magic. The lies and excuses Loki could come up with were flimsy at best.
The jab of an elbow to his ribs told Loki that that battle was imminent.
Loki followed the line of Seth's extended arm and finger. He could estimate the size and shape of the serpent from the coiling curves of raised sand, the rise and slide of countless grains over a form thicker than he was tall.
Loki took a measured breath and tried not to think about the pounding in his ears or about words like giant or monster.
He did not – could not – think about the similar snake form his son favored.
And when he looked at Seth and the gleam in his eyes, he tried not to think of Thor but did think of words like hate.
The sand shifted by their wheels, and Seth pulled hard on the reins. The chariot juttered and swung sharply, and they narrowly avoided a capsizing. Loki cursed and gripped the side of the chariot. Seth steadied him with a hand on his shoulder.
The wind drowned out the sounds of shouting and the whinnies of frightened horses behind them. Seth steered them expertly, and they careened towards the head of the snake – of Apophis – as it broke the surface of the sand. Sunlight bounced off sleek black scales and edged them with gold, until it reared, and the cobra's hood blocked out the sun. Black scales, red eyes and fangs filled Loki's vision, and the spear was out of his hand before he could think.
Whatever pity he might have felt for the serpent, when it came down to kill or be killed, Loki knew better than to be distracted by sentiment.
The spear connected, catching under the corner of Apophis' jaw where the skin was soft, and the creature hissed and reeled back.
Seth whooped and clapped Loki on the back. "First blood is yours," he said.
The wound was barely deeper than a papercut, and Loki bit back a curse.
They swerved left as a pair of fangs came crashing towards them. The chariot rocked and jostled Loki, spilling him out onto the sand, in the shadow of the giant, snarling cobra.
Chapter 7: Instinct
Millenia of instinct had Loki reaching for magic that was not there. He could feel the power in the air, the spells taking shape, but he couldn't command them. Energy sparked from his outstretched fingertips but fizzled into nothing.
Oh, he thought as the snake sprang upon him. What an ignominious way to die.
A smear of red and gold crossed his vision, and then a metal-clad arm pulled bruisingly tight about his waist. There was the hum of energy at his right ear and then the flash of blinding white Loki recognized as a repulsor blast. He shut his eyes.
The serpent shrieked, and the air filled with the stank of burnt flesh. Loki blinked the spots from his eyes to see the snake twisting and recoiling, hissing and snarling. Bolts of lightning repelled it further, and Loki turned to see Seth still in his chariot, standing tall as he commanded the storms.
Loki thought of Thor again and tasted bile.
Loki glanced over his shoulder at Tony, who had retracted the face-plate. Loki sighed wearily and patted the armored hand still about his waist.
"Might have skinned a knee, but I suspect I'll live."
Seth's chariot pulled to a stop beside them. Loki gulped, hastened to think of an excuse for why his magic hadn't worked. Tony pulled the two of them up and finally let go of Loki's waist.
"That was quite the spell," Seth said, grinning as he stepped from the chariot and eyed the pair. "I don't believe I've seen anything quite like it."
"Ah, yes," Loki hedged, glancing at Tony. "Well, that..."
Tony patted Loki's shoulder, cutting him off. "Something Loki picked up on Earth. Midgard. Whatever. The place with the universe's best hot dogs. Well... not that I've tasted hot dogs from other planets or whatever. I mean, as far I know Uranus could have some pretty awesome – "
"Erm. Well, you get the idea."
It was only then that Loki realized what Tony was implying. He looked sharply at the human, who arched an eyebrow but said nothing.
Tony was covering for him, which meant...
"Fascinating," Seth murmured. "I was unaware that Midgard had such magics. Perhaps you will teach me later, Loki?" His smile was too friendly.
Loki floundered for words. "Of course," he answered, at a loss. He could hear metal creak as Tony clenched his fists.
The ride back was silent and tense. Loki spent it trying to figure out what Tony really knew and what Seth really saw. He rubbed at the knot of tension forming in the middle of his forehead. Juggling lies was always so exhausting.
Tony was already at the palace when the chariot pulled up, and he was giving Loki that grim "we need to talk" face Loki had only seen on a handful of occasions but had learned to dread. Tony indicated the guestrooms with a jerk of his head, and Loki nodded meekly, ducking away while Seth was distracted.
The walk to their rooms was just as tense and silent as the chariot ride. Loki cast furtive glances at Tony as they walked, but the human didn't look at him. His jaw was squared, his lips pressed thin.
Loki jumped when Tony slammed the door behind them.
"What the hell," Tony hissed.
"Tony – "
"No. Don't even start." Tony jabbed an accusatory finger in his direction. "Don't start with the excuses. Or the lies. Just – just don't."
Tony turned away with a muttered curse and yanked off his helmet, tossing it to the bed. It bounced to the floor with a clang.
Loki eyed Tony warily, picking nervously at his fingernails. "Then where would you like me to start?" he asked slowly, playing innocent.
Tony laughed drily. "Well," he said, "you can start with telling me what's going on with your magic."
Loki's blood ran cold. "Tony," he sighed, closing his eyes. "There's nothing wrong with –"
"Just shut up and tell me the truth, Loki. For once."
Loki winced. "Bit hard to do both, don't you think?" he asked with a thin smile. One look at Tony's glare and that smile wilted. "Look, it's... merely a temporary thing," he hedged. "Probably. Possibly."
Tony didn't so much as blink. Loki cleared his throat and licked his lips, gaze landing everywhere except on Tony.
"There is a chance that I... may currently be mortal," he said softly.
Tony glare shifted to a look of surprise. "You... you may be what, now?" he grit out, taking a step closer. "How? Why?"
"My father," Loki answered with a stiff smile. He swallowed past the angry lump in his throat.
"Why would he do that?"
Loki said nothing.
"Not... not because of you and me, right?" Tony studied Loki's down-turned face as though searching for an answer, which apparently he found because the next moment he was approaching, swearing all the while. "Shit," he breathed, running a hand through his hair. "Shit, shit, shit on a fucking platter. That one-eyed twat..."
He trailed off and leaned in close, pressed his forehead to Loki's, his hand warm and solid against the back of Loki's neck. Loki closed his eyes and leaned into the contact.
"Dammit, Loki, you should have told me." There was no real anger in his voice anymore, and Loki fought back a relieved smile.
"I know," Loki murmured, turning to nudge their noses together. "I was hoping to fix it before it really became an issue, but..."
"'Fix it'?" Tony echoed. Loki felt Tony's brow crease against his. "How?"
Loki stilled, wondering if he had said too much. The desert heat was making Loki careless.
"It doesn't matter." He shifted closer, tilted his head to slide their lips together. Long fingers gripped a metal-clad waist, leaving fingerprints on metal the way he planned to leave bruises on skin.
Tony fell into the kiss, gauntleted hands pressing a shade too hard against newly-mortal flesh. Loki winced but said nothing.
"You know," Tony murmured against his lips. "This doesn't answer the question."
Loki renewed his assault, hoping he could distract –
Loki's lips met air. Those gauntleted hands were around Loki's shoulders now, holding him at arms' length. Tony's stare was hard again.
"Loki, what did you mean by 'fix it'?"
Loki sighed. "The one time you choose not to think with your dick..." he muttered.
Tony squinted at him, stared at him as Loki were a complicated piece of machinery he was trying to understand.
"Oh man," he breathed as he stepped back, away from Loki.
Loki saw realization dawning in his eyes and held his breath, knowing he had to tread carefully now.
"The apples. Right." Tony shook his head, eyes wide and dazed. "It's true, isn't it? You guys really do have some crazy-ass apples of immortality?"
"Yes, Anthony," Loki answered with a soft smile. "'Crazy-arse apples'. Loads of them."
"Well, okay, guess that's one mystery solved. I was wondering why Odin was so touchy about his fruit." Tony turned a wry, almost sad smile on Loki. "But why couldn't you have just told me that? I could have helped you. I mean, I know firsthand how much it sucks to be mortal, after all."
"I don't know why I didn't tell you," Loki lied. "Instinct, I suppose. Keep your cards close, as they say. But we'll have all eternity to break me of bad habits." Loki slid his hand up the arm of Tony's suit, his fingertips tracing the graceful seams between plates. He leaned in for another kiss, but Tony stopped him with a hand on his chest.
"Eternity?" he echoed with an uneasy laugh. "Maybe you have eternity, but – " Loki's heart leaped under Tony's palm, and he realized that – by the Nine – he finally had said too much. He watched the smile slide from Tony's lips and scrambled for an excuse, for another lie. "Oh my God."
"I misspoke," Loki rushed to say. The hand on Loki's chest pushed him back a step, and Loki clutched at it, not letting Tony draw back. "Tony – "
"Loki." The words died on Loki's lips. "Were the apples just for you?"
It seemed pointless to lie now. "Not necessarily," Loki muttered.
He watched the muscles in Tony's jaw flutter under his skin. "Were the apples your real reason for bringing me to Asgard?"
"I..." Loki licked his lips. "Possibly."
"Are you kidding me?"
The light push became a shove, and Loki staggered back into a chair, knocking it clattering to the floor. He caught himself with a hand on the wall and eyed Tony as he paced, took note of the rigid set of his jaw and brow, the hard look in his eyes. Loki himself was still but tense. Carefully, he spoke. "I fail to see why this would upset you—"
"Because you didn't even think to ask me!" Tony shouted, spinning on Loki.
Loki blinked. "Ask you?"
Tony stared at Loki and shook his head. "Unbelievable," he grumbled. Louder, he said, "About whether I even wanted immortality in the first place."
Loki felt everything still in that moment, felt his lungs forget to breathe. That was one contingency that hadn't occurred to him.
Or, to be fair, that was one contingency he was planning to avoid altogether by giving Tony the apples before telling him why. Better to ask forgiveness than permission, as the humans said.
And now Loki didn't have the apples, and Tony was furious anyway.
"If this," Tony said, gesturing between him and Loki, "is going to stay 'this', then you cannot make those kind of decisions for me. Were you even planning on telling me, or were you just going to sneak the apples into me? 'Glad you liked the apple pie, honey, and oh, by the way, you just ate the fucking fountain of youth'!"
"I was only—"
"I know what you were 'only', Loki. But you cannot do that to me. I need to know I can trust you, as fucked up as that is, with you being the God of Lies and all, but..."
Tony passed a hand over his face, pressed his thumb and forefinger into the creases of his eyelids. "And you need to be able to trust me, Loki," he said.
"I do," Loki said, eyes pleading under a furrowed brow. "I trust you." Which was true. "I am sorry." Which was not. He looked Tony square in the eye as he said, "But I am not watching you die. I can't—" Loki gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, swallowing past the tightness of his throat. He thought about the aging curse and how he'd almost lost Tony. "I can't do that again."
Tony was wavering, Loki could tell, but he wasn't there yet. "You told me," he replied, "that you would be with me to the end. Do you mean that even if I choose to stay mortal?"
"Yes or no, Loki."
Loki swallowed. "Yes, of course," he said. "Of course, but... there doesn't need to be an end."
He gazed at Tony across the room, and in that moment it felt like the space between them could hold oceans. "Forever is a long time, Loki," Tony murmured. "And it's my life we're talking about here, my decision."
"I know, I know, of course," Loki interrupted, raising his hands in a placating gesture. "I merely wanted to have the apples on hand first. When I asked you."
Lies on top of lies, but Tony needn't know.
The anger seemed to leak out of Tony, leaving him looking tired.
"I asked Father for the apples," Loki went on, picking once again at his fingernails. "I told him I didn't want to outlive you. He refused and made me mortal instead. Said it was a kindness." Loki barked out a dry laugh. "The old, sadistic fool."
Tony was staring at him again, with that intense, dissecting, soul-searching look. "You really want me around forever?" he murmured, awed. "Like... forever?"
Loki shrugged. "Why not?"
Tony smiled crookedly if mirthlessly as he said, "Wouldn't you get tired of me?"
Loki smiled, leaned forward to press his forehead to Tony's. "I doubt I could get tired of you," he answered softly. "Irritated, perhaps, but not tired." His thumb rubbed tiny circles along the nape of Tony's neck. "Besides, I'm already stuck with Thor as my brother for eternity, and you can keep me from trying to strangle him ad infinitum."
Loki watched Tony's adam's apple as he swallowed. "I need to think about it," he murmured. "This is... too much."
"Of course," Loki answered just as softly. He held his tongue to keep from arguing, from complaining, from demanding an answer now.
He pressed a kiss to Tony's lips, the touch feather light. This time Tony pressed back, crowding Loki against the wall. As their kisses grew harsher, their hands more fumbling on the layers of their armor, Loki wished more than ever that his magic were working properly.
As it was, they ended up in a tangled, half-dressed heap on the floor, but they made do.
Tony's fingertips traced fresh bruises and scrapes on Loki's pale skin, half waiting for them to heal, to lighten and shrink before his eyes. They didn't, and Tony didn't like it. Despite all they'd gone through, all they'd seen, Tony still thought of Loki as invincible. He didn't want to think of Loki as fragile, as breakable. If nothing else, he decided, they would get the apples for Loki. Tony didn't think he could deal with something horrible happening to him.
He guessed that made him a hypocrite, but whatever. The media's called him worse things.
For now, he pressed chapped lips to the slowly-healing hurts, tasting the salt of sweat as Loki hummed lazily next to and under him. A scoured knee and bruised shoulder from the fall off the chariot. A bruised hip from banging into the chair ("Sorry I pushed you." "Oh shut up, I'm not made of glass.") Bruises in the shape of fingertips around Loki's neck. He paused and narrowed his eyes at this last one.
"Thank you, by the way," Loki murmured. His voice rumbled though Tony. "For making Seth believe your repulsor blast was my magic. He was growing suspicious."
Tony shrugged, pulling back to look at Loki. Without the high collar to hide them, the bruises on his throat were a livid purple, stark against pale skin. "Didn't look like you wanted Seth to know about your magical dysfunction."
"Is there a reason for that?"
Loki opened his eyes lazily. He ran a hand through Tony's hair, his fingernails lightly scraping Tony's scalp. Tony sighed and leaned into the touch. "It matters not."
Tony frowned and stared down at him for a long moment and at the ugly bruises around his neck. "You're afraid of him, aren't you?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Loki growled, but the downward sweep of his eyes told Tony he was right.
"He hurt you, once, didn't he?" he asked, and he felt torn between wanting to soothe Loki and wanting to beat Seth into a bloody pulp. He supposed he could do one and then the other. "Loki?" He had to fight to keep his voice soft and level, reached out to cup Loki's cheek.
Loki smacked aside Tony's hand and sat up with a frustrated growl. "I am not some distressed damsel, Tony," he groused. "Don't treat me like one."
Loki started to get up, but Tony grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him back. Loki could easily pull free - could easily punch a hole in his face too, but that was beside the point - but he didn't and allowed himself to be steered, though the look of annoyance remained on his face.
"Loki, I'm not, I'm - just tell me, please. Did he hurt you?"
"It was a long time ago, Tony."
"Did he do this?" Tony ghosted his fingers over the bruises on Loki's throat and watched the god's eyes go wide.
Tony could feel Loki's adam's apple bob as he swallowed, and the god gazed no higher than Tony's shoulders. "Let it go, Tony," he said softly.
Tony wanted to protest, but Loki was starting to shut himself off, and he suspected that any further prodding on his part would only make things worse. He frowned but nodded, pulled Loki to him in a kiss to soothe away the lines of tension written in his face and along his shoulders. Loki relaxed slowly, in increments, eyes glinting with mischief as he turned the sweet kiss into something lewd.
In the back of his mind, all Tony could think was: Seth must have done something bad for Loki to react like this.
Seth fielded questions from his attendants, posted guards around the perimeter of the city, and set about reopening trade routes. They'd defeated Apophis fairly soundly, and the snake would likely hide itself away and lick its wounds before it tried to strike again. He looked about, but there was no sign of Loki. He sighed and pushed aside his disappointment, his expression grim. There was a time when Loki would have trailed after him, helping him peel off his armor and looking up at him with moon-eyes.
"He's off with his human, I take it." He glanced at Bast.
She smiled and shrugged. "They do seem rather close," she answered, arching her eyebrows suggestively.
"Very," Seth agreed, grating the word through his teeth. He rolled the spear in his hands and considered his next move.
Chapter 8: A Cat's Curiosity
This chapter's alternate title is Story-time with Tony and Bast.
(I'm not sorry.)
"And here I thought you'd forgotten about me." Bast leaned back, her elbows against the rail, and favored Tony with a lazy smile.
"Never," Tony answered with all his patented Stark charm.
He joined her at the railing and looked out over the streets, at beautifully painted buildings and linen-clad figures back-lit by a dimming evening sun. A hot breeze fanned his skin, and, for the moment, all was still.
"Where's the Trickster this eve?"
"Sleeping as of five minutes ago," Tony said. "He's not really a fan of the heat and the whole desert thing." He waved his hand to indicate all of Deshret.
Bast hummed softly. "Yes, I imagine it would be draining on a Frost Giant."
Tony's gaze slanted to hers. "You guys know about that, huh?"
"Oh yes," she said with a toothy smile. "Hermes is quite a gossip, you know."
"Herm... Hermes. Right."
So the Greek pantheon was a thing too. He felt like he was living in some sort of crossover fanfiction.
Bast nudged his arm. Tony looked down to see her offering him an earthenware jug.
"What's this?" he asked.
"Beer," she said. "Our specialty. I expect you might need it."
Tony didn't even think of declining. He grabbed hold and took a long swig. It was bitter, stronger than any beer he was used to drinking, but good. There was a spark of blue, and then Bast was holding another jug. She touched it to his and took a drink herself.
"Are you enjoying your stay in Ombos?" she asked, a touch wryly.
"Not even slightly." He took another drink and swallowed a burp. "This helps, though."
"It generally does." She watched him for a long moment, and in the orange light, her eyes seemed to glow. "What are you to him, really?" she asked softly.
Tony stared down at the jug in his hands, tilted it back and forth to hear and feel the slosh of beer inside. "You'd have to ask him," he said.
"I suspect he'd lie, especially if you're as dear to him as you seem."
Tony eyed her for a long moment, wondered how much she saw, how much she knew.
How much he could trust her.
Bast licked a plush bottom lip. "Allow me to rephrase the question: what is he to you?"
Tony wished she'd given him a stronger drink. "Is this you asking or Seth?"
"Please," she huffed, drawing up and back as though stung. "I'd rather not be the bearer of such a story. Not to him. You know not his temper."
Tony thought of purpling bruises on a pale throat. He clutched his jug in a white-knuckled grip.
"But you promised me a story," she singsonged, her posture again relaxing. "You still wish to know Loki and Seth's, do you not?"
Tony gritted his teeth. "Yeah."
"Then tell me, little mortal. What is he to you?"
He didn't have the heart to lie, not tonight. "We're engaged," he said. Her eyebrows shot up, and he straightened, almost defensively, tilting his chin up. "We went to Asgard to get his parents' blessing."
And the apples, apparently, he reflected bitterly.
Bast chewed at her thumbnail, her eyes glittering with amusement. "My, my," she all but purred. "I assumed you were his plaything, but I was not expecting that. Seth would have a conniption!"
"Seth can mind his own business," Tony growled, bristling. Someone vote him off the island, please, because he was so done with all this godly bullshit.
"Seth very rarely does," Bast said pointedly.
Tony sobered at that and took a long swig of his godly beer to make up for it. Bast sipped at her drink somewhat more gracefully.
He could barely keep up with all these gods and their politics. But this was Loki's world, and he figured he had to at least try.
"What kind of a king is Seth?" Tony asked, gazing out over the sand-colored buildings that rose from the earth as though a part of it, at the brightly-painted designs and hieroglyphs that gave them texture.
Bast followed his gaze, her nail picking at a scuffed mark along the railing. "He is a good king," she said after a beat. "He and Horus, they both are. The difference is that Horus is a better man."
Tony nodded. Good men and politics were usually worlds apart.
President Stark had a nice ring to it, though...
He thought of Loki as First Lady and bit his lips to keep from grinning.
"Alright," he said. "Though I'd have more of an excuse to hate him if he were some tyrannical oppressor or something."
"He does like to get his way," she said, "but he does rule well. Sorry to disappoint." She smiled crookedly. "But now for your story. Tell me: how does a mortal steal the heart of a god?"
Tony smiled, ignoring the unintentional condescension in her words. "Completely by accident," he said. "He threw me out a window, you know. When I first met him. Well, second. First time I shot him the chest."
And so he told her, about New York and the Avengers, about how they were enemies first and how Loki seemed beyond redemption. How Loki got in trouble with the Horseman and hid as Tony's cat for months (Bast seemed to find this particularly hysterical). How Loki saved his life while still acting like a little shit.
About their first night together and all the other firsts that had followed.
Bast listened raptly. Her eyes grew soft and reflective as he finished.
"You seem like a good match," she said.
"Yeah," Tony murmured with a crooked smile. "Yeah, I thought so."
"I think," she said softly, tapping her bottom lip speculatively, "that I shall be rooting for you."
Tony's eyes narrowed. "Excuse me?" he said.
Her smile turned from sweet to apologetic. "It is, I believe, my turn to tell a story."
Tony bit back a snide comment and bent to give her his full attention. They had settled on the floor by then, nestled in a secluded corner of the balcony. The stones beneath them were still warm from the sun's touch. They could only be seen by the people below, and only if they glanced up at the palace walls.
"I'm all ears."
Loki tugged at his collar and wiped away the rivulets of sweat that lined his face. He hated heat. He hated summer in Asgard and how his skin reddened and peeled during the peak hours of the day. He hated the pervasive stickiness of sweat and how the heat blurred his sharp mind.
He was not surprised that he hated the desert, even if the palace of Ombos provided enough shade to fend off heat stroke. Loki decided that his presence here in Deshret was yet another sign that his father did not favor him.
But no. It was an honor to be here, he reminded himself. He was still considered a child by Asgardian standards (though only just), and he should be honored that the All-Father had brought him along on a diplomatic mission.
A future king should know his allies, Odin had told him and Thor.
And Deshret was an old ally, though under a different ruler, Horus. Its new ruler was proving more formidable, and Odin had hastened to smooth things over between the two kingdoms, to prove himself a friend to the usurper, despite a past allegiance with his enemy.
Loki wondered what Horus might think of that, wherever he'd escaped to, and if he would be so understanding if he ever returned to power.
Odin had scolded him for his cheek when asked, and the desert heat made Loki too sluggish to care.
"Wait, so, he was a kid?"
Tony didn't like where this was going.
"Oh, he was hardly a child," Bast replied. "He was like a – what do you humans say – a teenager. Young and reckless, yes – and Loki was more reckless than most – but still more man than child."
Tony frowned and settled back. Something about it still made his skin crawl, even if the the thought of a teenaged Loki was a frightening and interesting one. He didn't envy Odin and Frigga.
Loki was not one to describe another man as "beautiful", but "handsome" did not seem adequate in this instance. Loki was used to the men in Asgard, hairy behemoths like his brother who were all brute strength and no finesse. Seth was unlike anything he had ever seen, with red hair and gold skin that reminded Loki of desert sand. His skin was flawless and smooth over corded muscles, his torso bare save for a gold collar and bracelets. His eyes shone gold and harsh against the heavy kohl lines, and he looked every inch a king among gods.
Those sand-gold eyes raked over Odin and Thor but barely so much as glanced at Loki. The Trickster hid his disappointment behind a mask of indifference.
Seth rose from his gilded throne and descended from the dais until he stood eye to eye with Odin. He was shorter than Thor by a few inches and a great deal slighter, but he had the hardened look of an experienced warrior.
"Is he wearing make-up?" Thor grumbled. Odin silenced him with a glare.
Seth's chuckle sounded like the rumble of thunder. His voice, when he spoke, was like steel under silk. "It is to keep the sand and sun from my eyes so that I might better see my enemies."
Loki sighed. Another war-monger.
"Forgive my brother," he said, stepping forward. Odin sent him a sharp look that said he was speaking out of turn. "He is the brawn. I'm the brains."
That earned him a laugh and a crooked grin from the pharaoh, who finally took a moment to regard Odin's youngest son.
"You must be Loki," he said. "I have heard much about you."
Loki rather liked how Seth said his name.
"Then you have my sincerest apologies, since it's likely all true."
Seth's lopsided grin curled higher, and Loki shivered despite the stifling heat.
Odin cleared his throat and smiled tightly at the pharaoh. "This is indeed Loki, my youngest," he said. "And this is Thor, my eldest." Seth inclined his head politely. "I thought that this would be a good time for them to learn tact." He cut them each a glare at that last word. Thor hung his head, but Loki did not bother pretending to be ashamed.
"To be honest," Bast murmured, "I think Seth took to Loki for the same reason he took to Horus."
Tony nearly choked at that. Wasn't Horus his nephew? "Oh?"
"He was young, dark-haired, and bold. He had to remind Seth of a younger Osiris."
Tony rubbed his forehead, at the knot of tension forming there. "Osiris, his brother?"
"Indeed." Bast laughed at the look on his face. "Oh, darling," she said, patting his arm, "love amongst siblings is not so strange a thing amongst gods."
Tony stared at her. He would need to have a chat with Thor when all this was done.
As though reading his thoughts, she added, "Less so amongst the Aesir, worry not." She chuckled softly.
"So, um." Tony cleared his throat. "Seth had a thing for his brother?"
"Oh, I suspect so, yes. Only real love can drive someone to do such hateful things. Osiris loved their sister Isis and married her. Seth married their other sister, Nephthys, but it was a rather flimsy cover. I hear he's never lain with her once."
Tony took a long pull on his drink. The alcohol was finally starting to affect him, leaving a pleasant, spreading warmth. "Not even once?" he mumbled. "Yep, sounds like he's exclusively into dudes."
Bast nodded. "Osiris rebuffed him at every turn, and Isis needled him with her wit and her magic tricks. He grew to hate them both."
"And then he chopped Osiris up into little pieces?"
Tony held his breath, hoping his JARVISpedia had been off, but Bast nodded. He groaned.
"So let's see: he couldn't have Osiris, so he murdered him; he couldn't have Horus, so he tried to murder him." He looked at Bast helplessly. "Where does that leave Loki?" he asked.
Bast took a long drink. "Why do you think I'm telling you all this?" she asked pointedly.
Tony ran a hand through his hair. This was bad. This was very bad.
"Alright, just... just go on with your story."
Seth's lips were hot against his, and he tasted of ozone and desert. Loki clung to him, pale fingers pressing divots into tanned skin.
Loki's head swam with more than wine, his body one single pulse.
"My lord," he gasped. Seth bent to lick a line up his throat and –
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. They made out. It was hot. Moving on."
"Are you sure you don't want the details? I saw you... appreciating Seth earlier."
"How do you know the details?"
"There are eyes and ears everywhere in the palace, and they weren't exactly discrete. I also may or may not have been a cat at the time."
Tony was familiar with that tactic.
"That and a good storyteller knows what to embellish."
"Okay, right now I'm trying to decide if I'm more nauseated or aroused, so let's just skip the dance, shall we?"
Loki was smitten. There was no other word for it. Seth was charming, handsome, clever, and he could melt Loki with a look. For the first time, the Trickster found himself fully under someone else's sway.
He slunk from his chamber to Seth's every night after Thor was asleep and slunk back in the early hours of the morning. Seth showed him much in the hours between.
"You could stay in Deshret," Seth said one night, the words breathed over the sweat-slick skin of Loki's neck. "You could stay with me."
Loki stilled under his hands. He'd been love-drunk these past few days, but Seth's words sobered him in an instant. Seth was glorious, yes, but Loki wasn't about to leave his family, his home, just to be his bed-warmer. "Seth, my lord, I -"
"You are about to refuse." Seth dragged his lips over the curve of Loki's shoulder. "I will convince you."
Loki let him try.
Bast paused to refill their jugs with a twitch of her long fingers.
"Loki politely declined," she said. "Then less politely when Seth pressed the issue. That's when everything started to unravel."
Hathor was young and beautiful. She had the shapely thighs of a dancer and the throaty voice of temptation personified. Loki started to spend less time with Seth and more with her, exchanging books and discussing politics and philosophy.
In comparison, their time together was innocent, but Seth noticed and was displeased.
He said the worst thing one could say to a god of mischief.
"You forbid me?" Loki bit out.
Then Loki did the worst thing one could do to Seth.
He laughed at him, bitterly and mockingly.
Seth clenched his fists as thunder clouds gathered above the palace.
"Oh please, my lord," Loki sneered, his face right in Seth's, in challenge this time instead of invitation, "as though you have a say in whom I do or do not spend time with."
Seth smiled tightly. "I think you'll find I have every say, child," he said softly.
Something in his eyes sent an uneasy shiver down Loki's spine.
"I am king, and you will do as I command."
Loki scoffed. "Not my king!"
He moved to push past Seth, but the pharaoh grabbed his arm, his grip painfully tight.
"You are in my kingdom," Seth said in a too-calm voice, "in my palace. That puts you under my command."
Loki wrenched his arm free and took a step back, rubbing at the marks Seth had left on his skin.
"Do not presume to touch me," Loki said, voice dangerously soft. Suddenly he wished his brother were there, in all his bluster and his rage. He wished he hadn't left their rooms that night.
Thunder rumbled overhead as though to mock that thought. Seth took one step, then another, until he was crowding Loki and the younger god had to stumble backwards in retreat. "I will do what I wish," he growled. "And you will obey. "
For the first time, Loki found himself truly afraid of Seth and of the gold eyes he'd once found so alluring.
"You'll break the jug."
"Hmm?" Tony blinked, looked down at his hands and the way his fingertips were white where they clutched his jug. He cleared his throat and set it down. "Right. Sorry."
Bast's smile was knowing. "Save your anger for when you can use it," she said. "The worst part is to come."
Loki was still shaking as he sneaked back to his and Thor's rooms, fingers trembling around the door handle.
"Back so soon?"
Loki stiffened. He turned wide eyes towards the voice and saw his father walking slowly towards him down the hall, his one eye sharp, piercingly so. Father had known he was gone?
Loki stared at Odin, looked at him for the first time. There was something accusatory in that one-eyed stare. Loki's lips worked around aborted syllables for long, long moments, before he said, forcing the words through the tightness in his throat, "You knew?"
Odin barked a laugh. "Of course I knew," he groused. "The question is, what are you doing back so early?"
And then Loki realized that the accusation in his father's stare wasn't from dallying with Seth but rather from retreating from said dalliances. Loki's heart faltered, and his eyes narrowed as this realization set his mind awhirr. He found himself thinking of chess, a Midgardian game that had amused him on his last visit, a game that was a metaphor for politics.
Slowly, it clicked into place why Odin had been so adamant he come along.
"You planned this, didn't you?" he asked, accused. He rocked back half a step.
Something almost like guilt or apology flit through Odin's eye. "We needed to strengthen relations with the new regime," he said, and all traces of apology or remorse were gone. "I knew what kind of a man Seth was, and I knew that, out of anyone in my court, you would be the one he'd take a liking to. He has always had an appreciation for cleverness, for boldness, and for... youth." Odin's gaze flit away uncomfortably at this last word.
"So, what then?" Loki sneered. "You thought you'd just whore me out to get into his good graces?"
"No, of course not!" Odin said, shaking his head as he held up his hands. "I knew that he would take an interest in you, but that was all that was necessary. The reciprocation is entirely on you," Odin added, his eye hard as flint now. "But now you've become entangled in this whole political mess. We can't afford to lose Deshret as an ally." He approached Loki, who gaped back at him, feeling small under that one-eyed stare. "So whatever has happened, you need to smooth it over."
"What?" Loki blurted. "No! You don't know what he can be like, Father!"
Odin's expression softened, but only just. He laid a hand on Loki's shoulder. "I am sorry, Loki," he said, "but you have to understand. As a king, I have to put the good of my people above myself and even above the good of my family. As a potential heir, unfortunately the same burden falls to you." He looked sad then, old, and as he turned away, Loki felt panic tighten its grip on his throat.
"No," Loki said in a shaky hiss, "I am finished with you. Both of you." He ran back out into the night, frustrated tears blurring at the corners of his eyes.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me!" Tony stared at her in disbelief. "How the Hell could he do that? And to his own son?"
Bast sighed and said nothing.
Good men and politics, Tony remembered. Odin might be a good king, but he was a terrible father.
He thought of Loki's newly-minted mortality and felt his blood boil. Seth and Odin were very much alike.
He wondered what that said about Loki.
"So, what, Loki had to go grovel to the asshole?" That, Tony suspected, would have been a worse torment to Loki.
"Not exactly," Bast replied. "After two days of wrathful silence and finding a nest of snakes in his bed, Odin threatened to leave Loki here when he returned to Asgard. Loki left one last snake in Odin's shoe and took off into the desert. He told Seth that Loki was distraught over losing his favor, and Seth was prideful enough to believe it."
Loki had shouted himself hoarse yelling at the sky, asking and then demanding Heimdall to open the Bifrost. Sand crunched under his feet as he paced in tight circles, and the dry air was making his eyes itch. Now he settled for cursing at the sky, making all manner of uncouth suggestions about Heimdall's mothers (all nine of them).
Still there was silence.
Loki growled, kicked at the sand and wrenched at his hair. It was onto option B, then: pray to the Norns that there was a passage to another world somewhere nearby and that he wouldn't die of heatstroke on the way.
He wished he'd had a plan when he'd left. Or had at least taken a chariot.
"Okay, I know you weren't around to see all that."
"You should have a drink with Heimdall, sometime. He's seen all manner of interesting things."
"So, wait, he knew Loki was wandering the desert and just ignored him?"
"Oh, he was paying close attention, but Odin had forbidden him from opening the Bifrost for Loki."
"Odin's kind of a dick, isn't he?"
"The same could be said for Loki, but I suppose one's 'dickishness' is subjective. And I'm sure Heimdall just heard you say that."
The Norns had never been kind to Loki, and that day was no exception. He hadn't gotten far when the heat had seeped into his pores and cast a fog over his thoughts. This was foolishness, he knew, ill-timed and ill-planned, and it was only his bullheadedness that kept him marching forward.
He could practically feel his skin sizzling, and he staggered, sinking to his knees, without hearing the clop of horses' hooves behind him. They grew closer, and for a while he mistook their tread for the trembling thud of his heart in his ears. It was only when a merciful shadow fell over his face that he looked up.
Seth's face looked blurred, but Loki would recognize that red hair anywhere.
Loki sighed and bowed his head, defeated.
"Oh, child," Seth murmured. His hand felt cool on the back of Loki's neck. "The desert is especially unkind to you."
"My lord," Loki said, slurring around a cottony tongue, but Seth told him to hush.
A strong arm wrapped around Loki's chest and drew him to his feet, bearing his weight when his legs shook under him. "I am sorry for my harsh words," he murmured. "I should not have spoken to you so. Will you return to Ombos with me?"
Loki relaxed against him slowly. He liked being given a choice, and he liked the softness and apology in Seth's voice. He didn't dwell on the fact that Seth had apologized for his words but not for the thinking that had led to them. He could do this, he thought. But for him and for Seth, not Odin.
He nodded, and Seth kissed his hair and half led, half carried Loki onto his chariot. He held tight to Loki's waist on the ride back and whispered soft words in his ear.
Tony was on his back now, staring up at the stars. The hot breeze had turned cold, and Bast had summoned up a pair of blankets for them. He snuggled under his now and it reminded him of being a kid, camping outside and telling stories under the sky. "So they made up," he said.
Bast paused to stretch, arching her back. "Well," she said. "I think you humans have a wise phrase that applies: history repeats itself."
Tony looked up at her and arched an eyebrow. "So, what? Seth caught Loki canoodling with Hathor again?"
"Not Hathor, no," she said. "He had her sent away as soon as he had an adequate reason to." She heaved a sigh. "Thor."
"Are you kidding?" Tony blurted.
"Well, no, they weren't canoodling," she added, laughing. "Loki and Thor were being... well, Loki and Thor." She shrugged and settled back against the wall, burrowing into her blanket. "Loki started spending more time around Thor, I suspect as a defense mechanism. If Seth were anything other than adoring around him, there would be bloodshed. Seth, for his part, was, I suspect, once again reminded too closely of his relationship with Osiris."
"This guy has some sort of complex," Tony said, shaking his head. "They could name a disorder after him. Seth Syndrome: symptoms include douchiness, incestuous obsessions, and no sense of boundaries."
Bast chuckled uneasily. "Anyway, Seth once again tried to assert himself, and the more he tried, the more Loki defied him. You know how Loki is when he's been insulted. He knew just how to provoke Seth, how to rile him, and it quickly escalated from a simple argument. It..." She trailed off and gave Tony a measuring look.
Tony frowned and sat up. "It what?"
"It got ugly," she said softly. "Ugly enough that Odin threatened to spear Seth's genitals. Ugly enough that he brought Loki and Thor home that night."
Tony's hands twisted in his blanket. "What happened, exactly?" he forced himself to ask. His rage was back, boiling again just under the skin, and he wished Loki were there with him, so that he knew he was safe.
Bast opened and closed her mouth a few times. "You do not want the details," she murmured.
Chapter 9: Possessions
Holy hiatus, Batman! :U
Sorry about that! I have a bunch of creative projects debuting soon, and I've been working my butt off. Or working off some brain cells. Would explain a lot.
So short chapter, but the wait won't be nearly as long this time, I promise! Everything's coming to a head now...
Loki almost didn't find him. When he did, it was to see him lounging on a quiet balcony and sharing a drink with Bast. They spoke like old friends, laughed and teased and swatted each other's arms.
Loki expected to feel rage, jealousy, something. Bast was beautiful, after all, and there was a time when Tony would have bedded her in an instant.
When the outrage never came, Loki realized it was because he trusted Tony, because he knew the lengths Tony would go to – has gone to – for him. It was an odd feeling, this contentment, especially when jealousy had for so long been a part of his nature.
Loki watched them for a long moment, watched Tony's eyes widen in rapt attention, his expressive face twist in ways he knew by heart. He could not make out what they were saying, and a part of him didn't want to know.
Loki looked up at the high ceiling, imagined he was looking through it at a cloudless sky and beyond into the stars. "Heimdall, I know you can hear me," he murmured. "I know you see me and what I plan to do. I don't expect your aid and nor do I want it. I only ask that, if something should happen, you make sure Tony gets home safely. You owe Thor that if not Tony and myself."
There was no answer, of course, and Loki scoffed at the ceiling before turning away.
Loki's fingers trailed over the graceful whorls of ink on papyrus. The parchment was coarse to his touch, coarser than white, 8-by-11 printer paper humans were so fond of. More than the heat, the smell of papyrus brought back memories of his youth, of sitting, cross-legged, in a corner of the library with scrolls curling about his knees. Memories of Hathor teaching him to read the hieroglyphs instead of relying on the All-tongue to translate.
"Thought I might find you here."
Loki's nostalgic smile slipped at Seth's voice. He rolled up the papyrus he was reading and placed it back on the table, sitting back in his chair. "I did not realize you were looking for me, my lord."
Seth smiled his softest, most charming smile as he approached and leaned his hip against the edge of the table. It was a look that once made Loki shiver. Now it just seemed hollow.
"You left rather suddenly after the fight with Apophis," Seth said. "I wanted to make sure you were uninjured."
"And so you see I am," Loki said, distantly polite.
"That pleases me."
Loki bit back a snide comment but stiffened as Seth reached for his face and traced a thumb over his cheekbone. Loki winced, his skin sore and hot under Seth's touch, and the pharaoh chuckled.
"You should be more careful in the sun," he said. "Your cheeks are as red a blushing virgin's."
Loki scoffed and brushed Seth's hand away. His skin still burned unpleasantly where Seth had touched him and not just from the sun. "That is something you and I both know I am not."
Loki's skin itched under Seth's stare, and he cleared his throat, rising to his feet. The library was silent and still, unattended by guards. He and Seth were alone in a desert of another kind. It was not a place he wanted to be.
"Excuse me, my lord." Loki pushed past him.
"Must you keep running from me?" Seth's hand stopped him, fitting into the crook of his elbow and pulling him back. "I would speak with you a moment, dear one."
"I thought we were already 'speaking', my lord." Loki bit out the epithet.
Seth chuckled, and his eyes were soft, admiring as he said, "Oh, how I've missed that sharp tongue of yours." His hand was still on Loki's arm, its grip tightening when Loki tried to pull away. Loki eyed Seth warily as the flame-haired god stood to his full height. Loki found himself face to face with gold skin and blue eyes, and Loki hated his body for letting Seth's presence set his heart pounding now the same way it did back then, even after... everything. Seth reached up to caress his cheek, finally releasing Loki's arm, and Loki flinched away from the touch, his glare intensifying. Seth's smile twisted, turned bittersweet as he pulled his hand back.
"I am sorry," he said, "for how I treated you. I have changed much over the centuries, you must know. I would never hurt you thus again. You have my word."
He was standing awfully close now. Loki didn't notice their game of advance and retreat until his back met the shelves and he could feel the heat of Seth's body inches from his. Papyrus crinkled against his back and under his palms. He swallowed, tried not to look at the lines of exposed flesh before him or to remember what those same lines had once felt like against his skin.
"Seth," Loki murmured. He hated how breathless the name came out and how the sound made Seth smile.
"I know about you and the human," Seth whispered back. Loki's eyes widened, and Seth chuckled. "I am hardly surprised, and worry not, I am not mad. He seems like a fun plaything.
"But you and I," Seth said, leaning forward to murmur in Loki's ear, "we were always meant to be." Loki shivered at the feel of hot breath against his ear. Seth's hand trailed up to his throat, fingertips light and caressing but a veiled threat against his windpipe. "So have fun with your human toy – he still has a few good years left – but you are mine and always have been."
Loki swallowed past a dry throat, sweaty hands clutching at the shelving behind him. "He is no 'toy'," he said, voice hard. "And I am not 'yours'."
Loki knew he should push away, but there was still that ingrained mix of fear and desire he felt around Seth, left over from his youth.
"I told you not to lie to me." Seth's voice was sweet, but his hand tightened on Loki's throat, pressing into finger-shaped bruises he'd already made.
Suddenly, the heat of Seth's body jerked back and away from him, and Loki looked, startled, to see Tony's hands on Seth's shoulders, pulling then pushing the god away. Tony's eyes were dark, his face livid, and Seth glared down his nose at him.
"Don't you fucking touch him!" Tony growled, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists. Loki stared. He'd seen Tony angry before but never so wildly furious.
"Go back to your sand pit, little child," Seth sneered. "Loki and I were having an adult conversation." He looked Loki up and down suggestively as he said this, and Loki only just managed to grab Tony's wrist as his arm swung back ready for a punch.
"Tony," Loki hissed, pleaded, maneuvering himself between the human and Seth. Without his armor, dealing with Tony would be like stamping an ant. Seth eyed Tony narrowly, muscles tensed for a fight, but Loki held a palm out in a placating gesture. "Don't," he snapped at Seth. His hand kept its vise grip on Tony's arm.
"Then tell your pet," Seth growled, "to learn his place."
Loki tightened his grip on Tony's arm when he tensed as though ready to swing again. "He already does," Loki said, and Tony stilled to look at him. "And he's not my pet."
Seth's stare snapped to Loki's face, and he looked startled by this answer. Loki met that stare with a hard look. He could all but see the gears turning in Seth's mind as he tried to puzzle through this. "Very well," Seth said haltingly before he turned and left the room, his shoulders a tense line. Loki watched him go, slowly released his grip on Tony's wrist.
"Loki." There was so much emotion and heartbreak in Tony's voice, in his eyes when he turned to look at the god. It made Loki's eyes narrow. "Did he hurt you?"
Loki bristled, shrugging off Tony's hand as it reached for his shoulder. There was something off about Tony's voice, and Loki couldn't shake the feeling that he knew. "I am not a distressed damsel," he snapped. "How many times must I say it?"
"Really? I can't ask if you're okay?" Tony sighed and rubbed his forehead.
"There is no need, as I am fine."
Loki folded his arms across his chest, tucking his trembling hands against his sides.
"I am capable of protecting myself," he growled. He wanted to punch something, tear something, watch the desert go up in flames. "I am not helpless" – not anymore, never again – "and I am not some fragile doll for you to keep safe and locked away."
"Loki – "
"I am not his to own, and I'm not yours to protect! I belong to no one but myself!"
Loki stormed from the room, and though Tony stared after him with wide, wounded eyes, he did not follow. He stewed and stomped down the halls until he could start to disentangle his knot of emotions.
Loki didn't miss the irony that it had been easy for him to shove Tony aside but not Seth. Perhaps that was the crux of the matter: Tony allowed himself to be shoved aside, where Seth would have punished him. Tony wanted Loki to choose to be with him.
And Loki had just walked out on him. He cursed and turned back, but Tony was already gone.
Tony closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "Well, that could have gone better," he muttered.
Bast had told him everything – everything – and Tony would rather fry in the desert than keep Loki in the same building as that crowned douche-bag. He considered following Loki just to make sure Seth left him alone, but he knew Loki would take that as a personal affront. Plus Tony was kind of useless without his armor.
Seriously, why couldn't they have just had a normal engagement party? Drinks and shawarma, that's what he'd said. But no –
A hand grabbed him but the throat, pulling him back against a hard chest and cutting off his windpipe. "You, little mortal, have overstayed your welcome."
Hours later, Loki still hadn't found Tony. Not that he was actively looking for him. He'd just been weaving through the palace, then through Ombos in the hopes of stumbling into him. If he had been searching the passing faces for a familiar goatee, well, that was just habit.
By the time Loki had returned to the palace and to his rooms, it was closer to morning than night, those semi-sweet hours before dawn. Loki's eyes were shadowed, his shoulders slumped but his face tight as he peeled off his boots and jacket. He looked exhausted, disheartened, and more than a little worried.
Seth smiled when Loki finally noticed his presence and stilled, one arm still in the sleeve of his jacket. Seth could see the scowl forming, and he held up his hands in a gesture of peace. "I am only here to apologize," he said, brows tilted in a plea. "I misread the nature of your attachment to the human. I should not have pushed so."
Loki pulled off his jacket the rest of the way and tossed it to the floor. "You should not have pushed so regardless of Tony," he said, jaw clenched.
Seth nodded and dipped his head, abashed. Something inside him thrilled at the sight of Loki angry, at the fire in his startlingly green eyes. He'd always loved Loki like that, fierce and bristling, like some wild creature of legend. It was hard to bite back a smile when Loki was glaring at him so very beautifully.
"Forgive me," Seth said, clasping his hands behind his back. "You are a difficult temptation to resist."
Loki scoffed as his eyes flit up and down, looking him over. "Perhaps you should try harder," he muttered. "So where is Anthony?"
Seth blinked, affected a look of surprised puzzlement. "Why ask me?" he replied, perhaps too innocently.
"I think you know why."
Now Seth affected a look of hurt. "Do you distrust me so very much?"
"In a word, yes."
Now there was real hurt under the affectation. The contempt in Loki's words stung even as the flare of his temper thrilled. Seth dared an approach, slowly, a step for each reply. His hands stayed clasped behind him in a non-threatening but superior manner.
"My dear," Seth said. "I would not harm one you love. Whatever you may think of me, whatever my past foolishness, I have always loved you, in my way. I wish you to be happy."
Something uncertain softened the edge of Loki's glare. Seth resisted the urge to touch the planes of his face, hardened and sharpened now with age.
"That still doesn't answer my question, Seth."
Seth sighed heavily and turned away, putting a strategic amount of distance between them. "Yes, about that," he replied. "You fought for him so strongly, that I thought it best you not know. At least not yet."
Loki straightened at that, and this time he was the one approaching. "What do you mean?"
They were of a height, with Seth a hair or two taller at the most, so that, when he turned, he was staring into those angry green eyes that fascinated him so. He'd thought once of plucking them out when Loki had riled his temper to its greatest heights centuries ago, if only to keep them from provoking him so.
"I mean that, perhaps, you should ask Bast."
Green eyes narrowed, sharpened, studied. "Just spit it out, my lord."
"I mean," Seth said sweetly, "that he is in her bed even now."
Loki showed no reaction, merely stared and stared.
Seth knew he had to be careful here. He cleared his throat and continued, "Did you two quarrel? Because he seemed rather upset when he ran into her arms earlier. I thought he'd be back by now, but clearly he means to spend the night."
Green eyes flamed, and a muscle twitched in Loki's jaw. "I don't believe you."
Seth leaned forward so that their faces were inches apart. "Then by all means, go see for yourself."
Loki's stare trailed to his lips then back up to his eyes, and there was something dark there, hidden under the anger. Before he could think about how badly he longed to touch him, Loki surged forward and pressed lips to lips himself.
Seth quickly overcame his shock and pulled the younger god against his body, his very blood singing in victory when Loki let him deepen the kiss. Loki's frosty lips tasted like home. Cold hands traced the lines of his torso and squeezed him through his loincloth.
Seth snared his hands on Loki's long hair, pulled back long enough to laugh against Loki's lips. "All these years," he breathed. "I knew you'd come back to me."
Loki smiled back and swallowed his laughter before Seth could see the sadness in his eyes.
For someone who could afford the finest silk sheets, Tony seemed to wake up on dirt and stone an awful lot.
He groaned through a bruised throat which sent pain through his bruised head as he sat up on his bruised knees. The quality of the sand and dirt was familiar under his palms, tasted familiar on his tongue, and then the air felt stale and close and Tony couldn't find air couldn't breathe couldn't breathe he couldn't couldn't –
Half an hour later, Tony sat huddled in the corner of his cell, shaky, sweaty, and drained as he slipped from the clutches of a panic attack.
This was a different dungeon in a different desert, he reminded himself. He'd gotten out of that other place.
Just to make sure, he peeked down his shirt to see his arc reactor, polished and pristine and very much not the one he'd made in Afghanistan. Tony let out a shuddery sob at that and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
He was in Deshret, he told himself. Knocked about by Loki's ex, and – Loki.
Oh, shit, Loki. He was alone, and Seth was -
The scrape of metal on stone startled Tony out of a second panic attack. He dropped his hands into his lap and looked up to see Bast in the now-open doorway. She was cowled and the shadows hid much of her face, but Tony recognized her long fingers and the pretty bend of her lips. Those lips were pressed thin in worry or fear.
"Tony," she whispered. "'Tis I."
"Hey, Bast," he choked back warily. "You gonna get me out of here?"
Bast smiled thinly. "Of course."
Bast hesitated. "With the pharaoh," she answered. She gestured for him to come through the door.
"No, wait." Tony gestured for her to stop. As much as he wanted to get the hell out of here, there was something he needed to do first. "Before we go, is there any way you could get me in contact with Horus?"
Bast pushed back her cowl to look at him more easily, and the shadows lightened over her furrowed brows. "I imagine so, but why do you need to?"
Tony drew a deep breath and squared his jaw. "Because I'm going to need help to kick Seth's ass."
Bast's eyebrows rose. "Oh, Tony. He hasn't told you, has he?"
Tony sighed in frustration, anxious to leave, anxious to make Seth hurt. "Who hasn't told me what?" he grit out.
"Loki's been in contact with Horus since the day you arrived."
Seth's hands and lips left burning trails on Loki's skin. His tunic was in a tangled mess on the floor alongside his boots, his jacket, and Seth's crown and collar. Loki's heart thudded in his chest and in his ears, and Seth laughed through lips at Loki's pulse-point, taking it as a symptom of Loki's need. It wasn't, Loki knew; Seth's touch and taste and weight brought back sickening memories, but each time Loki shivered, he covered it with a breathy sigh, and Seth was none the wiser.
When Seth reached down the front of his trousers, Loki reached down the back of them, slid out a thin dagger and struck. With a startled shout, Seth recoiled in time to get a slash across his chest instead of his throat. Loki cursed and slashed, but Seth caught his wrist as he tried to strike again. Seth squeezed, and Loki cried out, the bones of his wrist giving way with an audible crunch, the dagger slipping from nerveless fingers.
Seth continued to squeeze, and Loki's fragile mortal form all but screamed in agony. Loki only let a choked whimper escape, clenching his teeth hard enough to make them crack.
"You dare," Seth growled, his face and neck flushing red with rage. There was something fierce and wild and terrifying about the way his eyes flashed, the way his jaw seemed to tremble under bared teeth.
With his free hand, he backhanded Loki, hard enough for Loki to taste blood. Then Seth had a hand on Loki's jaw, an inch away from choking him. Loki clawed at Seth's hand, his nails leaving small, bloody welts that did nothing to break Seth's grip.
"Let me go," he snapped. He kicked and bucked as best he could with Seth's weight on top of him.
"You treacherous little slag," Seth snarled, pulling Loki's face closer and shaking him, his fingers leaving bruises on top of bruises. "I thought we – I thought you -"
But then Seth was relaxing his grip and squinting at Loki's throat. He grabbed hold of Loki's face and turned him towards the light to get a better look. Loki let him, staring back defiantly.
"What is this?"
Loki knew he was looking at his bruises, the obvious finger-shaped marks on his throat. "Do you not remember leaving those, my lord?" he grated out.
Seth turned Loki's face back towards him. "Those should have long healed by now."
Loki laughed. "See?" he said with a crooked, dizzy smile. "You still have no idea what he means to me, do you?"
Seth squinted at him for a long moment, then another, obviously not understanding. And then his gold eyes widened, and his grip on Loki's face tightened painfully. "You're mortal," he said, voice menacingly soft, and Loki watched fascinated, amused and wary as his face darkened in rage, a dangerous, mindless rage usually saved for Apophis and mentionings of Osiris.
"That's why your magic – you godsdamned fool," Seth growled, and he stood and threw Loki away from him, hard enough for Loki to smack into the wall, jarring his shoulder and rattling his head. Loki grunted with the impact and pushed himself to his feet, laughing wetly through the drip, drip of blood down the side of his face.
"Guards!" Seth roared at the doors.
"It rankles, doesn't it?" Loki sneered. "Knowing that I chose a human over you." Seth bristled, clenched his fists, and the wind whistled outside as a storm brewed overhead. "Osiris at least chose another god."
Seth was upon him before he could finish that sentence, hand in a tight, bruising grip on Loki's throat, cutting off words, laughter, and breathing. Loki's teeth clicked together as his head jarred against the wall.
"Do not toy with me, Liesmith," Seth growled, gold eyes wild but wet with tears.
Loki clawed at steel-strong fingers, pulled them loose enough to sneer, "Then do not toy with me. Where is he?"
"Dead by now. I gave Bast the order to have him killed."
Loki felt his blood run cold. "Liar," he said in a small voice. He had to be lying. He had to.
Seth answered with a sneering smile. He turned to the door again and shouted, "Guards!" His brow furrowed, and he growled in frustration.
Loki chuckled softly, and Seth narrowed a glare at him. "It's taking them an awfully long time, isn't it?" he asked sweetly.
Seth's eyes widened. "What did you do?"
Loki smiled as the world exploded.
Or rather, the doors seemed to, bursting from their hinges in a blaze of heat and light. Loki screwed his eyes shut against the blast, but dark splotches still dotted his eyes when he opened them. He laughed through the vise of Seth's grip.
There in the ruined door-frame stood Iron Man, his armored hand still smoking and aimed now at Seth. Beside him stood a handsome young god with golden skin and blue eyes – or rather, one blue eye. An angry whorling scar took the place of the second, gruesome and bared to the world.
"Hello, Uncle," said the one-eyed god knuckles white around a golden spear.
Loki could feel Seth bristle.
See? Loki knew what he was doing all along. Well... mostly.
Chapter 11: Aftermath
I've gotten some fabulous Mortality-related fanart:
If you have fanart you'd like me to squeal over, please message me!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
First, Tony saw Seth holding Loki by the throat, a bleeding, half-naked Loki, and next, he saw red.
His helmet echoed with his roar of rage, and all he saw was a pair of startled gold eyes before his gauntlet snared in red hair. He yanked Seth back and away from Loki and held his hair by the roots with one fist as he pummeled him with the other. Bone and cartilage crunched under metal knuckles, and blood streamed from Seth's nose. By the time Tony stopped, Seth was hanging weakly from his grip, swelling eyes dazed.
Tony looked him over and stomped on his crotch for good measure.
Loki and Horus cringed in unison. Seth's eyes popped wide and he let out a long, rattling wheeze. Tony let him go, and Seth crumpled, curling into a fetal ball on the floor.
Horus and Loki exchanged looks. "So this is the fiancé," Horus said, gesturing at Tony with his thumb. Loki nodded. "I like him."
Tony lifted his faceplate and turned to Loki, concern replacing rage, but his "Are you alright?" died on his lips when he got a good look at the Trickster. Smiling, Loki leaned back against the wall, legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankle, his hands folded behind the back of his head. If not for the blood trickling down the side of his face, the swollen wrist, and bruised throat, Loki would have looked for all intents and purposes like someone enjoying a show.
Like someone who was exactly where he wanted to be.
Tony pursed his lips, but in the end, he asked, "Are you alright?" anyway.
A few feet away, Seth whimpered. Loki smiled and answered, "Never better."
Tony was grateful Horus was on their side, because the man clearly meant business. There were bodies everywhere throughout the palace, guards with their throats slit, soldiers with missing limbs. Tony choked back bile at the sight. Knowing these were all gods made it all the more discomforting, and Tony was grateful for his suit.
For his part, Loki seemed unfazed and unsurprised, and it made Tony wonder just how much and how long Loki had planned this. He supposed he should be upset with Loki for not telling him, but right now he just wanted to get the hell out of Deshret.
Tony considered offering to help Horus' army, but he wasn't exactly needed and he wasn't interested in fighting someone else's battles, whether he owed them or not. Loki didn't even put on his armor, insisting he'd already done his part anyway.
In the end, Tony and Loki stayed out of the way, sitting in a stairwell and listening to the echo of battle sounds. Eventually Bast came across them, her linen dress splattered with blood, her hands dripping red up to the elbows.
"Hello, boys," she said, smiling tiredly.
"Uh." Tony stared at her blood-drenched hands. "Hello to you too."
"Hello, Bast," Loki added. His voice was weak, and Tony glanced at him worriedly. Loki was slumped against the wall, his skin pale and blood still dripping down his face, and Tony cursed, remembering with a jolt that Loki was currently mortal.
"You do not look well, Loki," Bast said.
Loki hummed, closing his eyes.
Tony fumbled with his gauntlets, pulling them off and setting them down on the stair next to him. His bare hands hovered awkwardly over Loki, unsure where to land or what to do. Loki gave him an odd look.
Looking at Bast, Tony licked his lips and smiled helplessly. "Do you, uh, have any-?"
Bast nodded and took off before Tony could finish the sentence.
"Right," he mumbled.
Loki looked at him, eyes fond but also tired and exasperated. "You're fretting."
Loki smiled and patted one of Tony's bare hands. Tony sagged, deflating, and turned his hand palm up to clasp Loki's, smiling back as war and carnage raged all around them.
"You know," Loki said, "he tried to convince me that you were sleeping with Bast."
Tony chuffed. "Who, Seth?"
Tony thought about it, nodding approvingly. "She's hot."
Loki arched an eyebrow.
"Uh. That is, not that I would -"
"I know you wouldn't, idiot."
Tony blinked, surprised. He did have a certain reputation, after all. "You do?"
Loki squeezed Tony's hand. "Darling, I may call you an idiot," he said, "but cheating on a God of Mischief is a whole other level of idiocy not even you can reach." His smile was not the reassuring kind, one that earned a nervous laugh from Tony.
Still, something eased in Tony's heart to know that Loki trusted him. Whether it was out of pride or love made no difference. Well. For the most part.
Bast returned with (mostly) clean hands and scraps of cloth. Tony reached for them, but she waved him aside, tending to Loki herself.
Loki rolled his eyes but let her, wincing only a little when she put pressure on his head wound. His hand stayed curled around Tony's.
By the time Bast had bandaged Loki's head, the sounds of battle had died down. She paused, ear to the wind, and grinned before getting to work setting and splinting Loki's wrist. Loki's hand tightened around Tony's, and Tony could tell he was biting his tongue. Bast hummed as she worked, ignoring Loki's show of discomfort.
Tony laced their fingers and tried not to fidget. The combination of a stone step and metal posterior was less than comfortable. "So what now?" he asked.
"Now," Loki murmured, "Horus takes his father's throne back from his uncle, and he graciously sends us back to Asgard."
Tony slumped dramatically in relief, metal joints creaking. "Oh, thank God."
Then he remembered why they had left in the first place.
"Indeed," Loki hummed, jaw set.
Sensing their heavy thoughts, Bast left them alone once she was done. Tony thanked her, and she left them with a smile and a wink.
"Take care of yourselves, boys," she said, voice and eyes fond in a way that was jarring next to the drying blood on her hands.
Loki's hand was cool in Tony's, not as popsicle-cold as it usually was. "How are you really?" Tony asked. He thought of Seth, of what Bast had told him, of the angry bruises around Loki's throat, of cats and love and mortality.
Tony's thumb traced the ridge of Loki's knuckles. "I think you're lying."
Loki looked at Tony, green eyes pensive but saying nothing. "Do you trust me?" he asked.
Tony thought for a moment, lips between his teeth. "Yeah," he finally decided with an upward curve of his lips. "Yeah, I think I do, crazy as that is."
Loki smiled. "Then trust my words." After a long pause, he added, "Even if they are lies."
Tony wondered what else Loki wasn't telling him.
In the throne room, Horus and his supporters sang and laughed as they cleared away the bodies. Those who had cheered Seth's victory over Apophis now cheered Horus' victory over Seth. Such was the way of things in Deshret.
And in the dungeons below them, Seth sat alone in the dark, shackled and defeated. He dreamed of the brother he'd loved and murdered, of the nephew he'd spited and the wife he'd spurned, but mostly he dreamed of Loki, of both kissing him and wringing his throat, and despaired.
Up next: more quality family time in Asgard!
Bast's bloody hands here are a reference to her connection to Sekhmet in some iterations of the mythology. Sekhmet is pretty bad-ass. If you don't know what I mean, you should look it up. Not quite as awesome as the story where Seth seduces Horus by telling him he has a nice ass, but it's still pretty cool.
Chapter 12: Home, Sweet Home
So here we are, at the end of things. So much has happened in my life since I started Nine Lives back in 2011. It feels strange to look back on it now.
I wanted to have the final chapter up for Christmas, so here ya go! Merry Christmas!
Thank you so much for sticking through this! My plan is to keep this series as a trilogy, though I might write one-shots in this 'verse from time to time.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Asgard welcomed them with spears at their throats.
Tony shook his head and blinked the spots from his eyes, still reeling from a teleportation hangover, but the spears were still there. Behind them were horned helmets and grim faces, the rainbow light of the Bifrost washing gold and skin in a kaleidoscope of colors.
"Yeah, that seems about right," he said, nodding.
Loki and Tony looked up and saw a red and blond blur overhead. When Thor landed, the bridge trembled. Tony didn't like how that made the spears by his throat jump, armor or not.
He nodded at Thor. "That seems about right, too."
Thor pushed aside the guards to stand in front of the pair. "Loki, Tony, I am to take you to the All-father at once."
Thor paused mid-breath. His brow creased as he looked at Loki, and it occurred to Tony that Loki made a pitiful sight with his bloody bandages, sun-burnt skin, and bruised throat. Loki leaned more heavily against Tony in a way that would have worried him had the god not trotted up a set of steps minutes before. Tony fought not to roll his eyes and played along, winding an arm around Loki's waist.
Thunder boomed. "What is this?" Thor growled. "What has happened? Who has harmed you?"
Loki sighed with exaggerated weariness. "It's kind of a long story, big guy," Tony answered. More snappishly, he added, "Now, if you don't mind, I've got a few things I'd like to say to the All-father of assholes."
Thor blinked, taken aback. "Of course. Come with me."
"All-father of assholes?" Loki repeated, sotto voce, brow arched in amusement.
"What? That isn't his official title?"
Apparently their arrival didn't warrant the royal treatment this time. Instead of the throne room, they were led to Odin's private study, which was more than fine with Tony, who stalked right for the king until everybody started yelling. There were spears at his throat again.
His visor up, Tony glared at the guard nearest him. "Easy with the harpoon, Free Willy."
Odin waved his hand, and the guards lowered their spears. Hands clasped behind his back, Odin approached Tony, standing dangerously within punching distance. Loki stood behind Tony, Thor's hand on his elbow, and Tony wondered if they were officially prisoners this time.
"Master Stark," Odin said, his expression a pleasant mask. "It is good to see you well."
"Right. Pleasantries," Tony muttered. "Screw them. Great wedding gift, huh? Making your son mortal?"
Odin's mask turned decidedly less pleasant.
"Father?" Thor's voice, both a question and an accusation. Tony knew Loki's injuries spoke for him.
Odin spared his sons a glance. "That was my sentence," he said, "for Loki's crimes. Now, as for the attempted theft of Idun's apples…"
"That is an unfair—"
"Loki is grown man," Odin snapped, interrupting Tony, "and as such needs to take responsibility for his actions!"
"And so do you!" Tony shouted, his voice echoing down the hall. His own anger surprised him. "Who gets to stand in judgment for your crimes?"
"Stark," Thor said, a warning in his voice. "Remember that you address the King of the—"
"Oh, I know exactly who I 'address', Thor. Your father! Loki's father!" He jabbed a finger in Odin's direction (the guards readied their spears) and added, "And that is the only Godsdamned title I care about right now!"
Odin was struggling to keep his expression neutral, and Tony could tell. His eyebrows barely twitched, but it was enough to soften his expression, somehow. Tony hoped he read guilt under the king's mask.
"And what crimes do you accuse me of, Master Stark?" Odin asked in a too-calm, too-neutral voice.
"Crimes?" Tony sneered. "This isn't a trial, Odin, but hey—how about being a shit father? How about what happened in Deshret? How's that for a crime?"
Odin's impassivity cracked, a wince crumpling his careful poise. Thor tightened his grip on Mjolnir, gaze darting back and forth between his friend and his father, brow furrowed in a question. Loki's hand curled around Tony's shoulder and squeezed.
"As touching as this is, Love," he murmured, his voice at Tony's ear, "I'd rather not have you reduced to paste in the middle of Hlidskjalf."
Tony spared him a glance. "I'm too angry to ask what the heck a 'hillid-what's-it' is right now," he muttered.
Loki smiled wanly.
"You are a bold mortal, to speak to me thus," Odin said. He drew himself to his full height and looked down his nose at Tony, who swallowed but didn't waver. "Know that my son's regard for you is the only reason you are still living."
"Yeah, well, your son's 'regard' for me is the only reason I'm putting up with this bullshit in the first place, but I've about reached my limit." He took Loki's hand off his shoulder and held it in his. "We're going home. I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I swear to God, the next person who puts a spear in my face is getting it shoved up their ass! Come on, Vixen."
Loki allowed Tony to lead him out of the study, hands firmly clasped, and looked for all the world like he was fighting not to laugh. Or stick out his tongue. Thor stepped aside with a respectful nod and glared at the guards to do the same.
"That was incredibly foolhardy," Loki murmured as Tony steered them back towards the Bifrost.
"Yeah, well, I don't care." Tony slowed, stopped, and looked at Loki, the god's hand still clutched in his. "I will always, always, stick up for you, you know," Tony said, "even when you're being an incredible pain in my ass and don't tell me anything. Always."
That brought a softness to Loki's eyes Tony wanted to hold onto forever. "That's the sweetest way anyone's ever called me a pain in the arse," he said, but Tony knew he meant thank you.
Frigga's heels clicked against stone as she approached, drawing Tony and Loki's attention. Golden curls spilled about her shoulders and an enigmatic smile curled her lips. Tony fidgeted, wondering what the protocol was for addressing the queen after dressing down the king.
"Sound carries down this hall," Frigga said, eyes laughing as Tony winced.
"Uh… sorry about that. My lady."
Frigga laughed. "Oh, no need to apologize. And I suspect my husband is more impressed than insulted at this point. Or at least I'll make sure he is."
Tony smiled awkwardly. Loki was no help.
"Now, the king cannot retract his sentence," Frigga said, "but the queen can show mercy."
She slipped something smooth and cool into Tony's empty palm, something that glinted gold when he held it up to the light. Loki stiffened beside him, and Tony looked at her sharply, fumbling for words. "Is this—?" She nodded, her smile enigmatic.
Frigga shushed him gently and stood on tip-toes to kiss Loki's cheek. "Consider it a wedding present."
Tony's shoulders slumped as he stared down at the apple. "This was Odin's plan from the beginning, wasn't it?" he muttered. As king, he had to punish Loki, or at least make it look like he was punishing Loki. Okay, now he felt like a bit of an ass.
Frigga chuckled softly. "My dear, I do not know if it was Odin's plan, but if I know my son, I suspect it was his." She gave Loki a knowing look before pressing a kiss to Tony's cheek as well. "Look after him, won't you?" she whispered in Tony's ear. He nodded automatically, and she sauntered away.
Tony looked at Loki, his hand still curled around the apple. The god looked altogether far too innocent. "You sneaky bastard."
"She's giving me far too much credit," Loki replied primly. "I certainly didn't plan on Deshret."
Tony believed that much at least. He traced the pads of his fingers across the smooth gold surface. "What about you?" he asked. "Don't you need one too?"
"We'll share," Loki said. "I'll eat half when you eat half."
"And," the weight of forever was heavy on his mind, "if I choose not to eat my half?"
"Then I won't eat mine."
Tony looked up at Loki. The god eyed the apple wistfully a moment longer, then met Tony's stare. He smiled softly, sadly, and squeezed Tony's hand in his.
"Either way," he went on, "I plan to be stuck with you for the rest of my life."
Tony didn't know what to say to that. Even if he did, his throat had decided to close up on him and choke off any words. Probably safer anyhow.
He slid his arm around Loki's waist and pulled the troublesome god into a kiss. Loki chuckled against his lips.
"This is getting much too saccharine," he murmured, eyes crinkled in amusement.
"You're right," Tony said, kissing his neck instead. "Let's have palace sex one more time."
Loki laughed and pushed Tony away. He looked… relieved, almost happy, and his smile was contagious. "I'd much rather get to the Bifrost and have 'thank-the-Norns-we're-home' sex."
"Hmm. Good thinking."
Tony tugged on his hand, and they raced towards the Bifrost, towards Heimdall, and towards home.
Lying awake that night, bone-weary and content, Tony played with Loki's hair and listened to the god's breathing.
"Hey, Loki." Tony nudged him to see if he was still awake.
"What do you think about getting a cat?"
Thanks for reading!