A/N: So here is an Avengers fic I've been holding on to for quite some time. Originally, I was going to split this into a couple of chapters, but couldn't figure out quite how to do it, so here it is as a one-shot that may be just a tad too long. I apologize for the inconvenience. This was also supposed to be out about a week ago but, well, life can get in the way sometimes. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: If you think I own Avengers, not even Nick Fury has a judgment look strong enough for you.
Tony Stark glanced around the quinjet at the others, his fellow Avengers tense with expectation for the coming confrontation. They had been called out to handle a disturbance at one of the Hammer research facilities. Truthfully, Tony would have been more than happy to let this new villain decimate the entire company, but he'd been told he was a Superhero now and had to act like it, even when that meant coming to the aid of a business rival. Between Pepper and Steve, he never got to have any fun anymore.
The team arrived on the scene to find pieces of rubble and destruction everywhere. Their opponent wasn't pulling any punches when it came to taking Hammer down. Judging by the Captain's glare, though, he didn't appreciate Tony's comment about inviting the guy to join the Avengers. But, hey, when did Cap ever approve of something Tony did? See comment above.
They found their opponent inside one of the only buildings left standing, doing something with their computer system. A cord ran from the machine to one of the man's bracers, which was clearly more tech based than those of Thor or your standard medieval suit of armor. Both arm bands looked like enforced computer hard drives, complete with cables and flashing lights. The man turned at their entrance to give them a winning smile.
He was a touch shorter than the average man, but was powerfully built and moved with the grace of a man who had been a warrior for many, many years. His hair was touched by silver, giving away their opponent's older age. A metal mask covered the top half of his face, though, obscuring his features and curled horns like those of a ram sprouted from the temples of said mask. His armor consisted of a lot of leather, quite reminiscent of Asgardian fashion, but with plenty of tech worked into it as well. Tony had to admit he was impressed.
His forearms were covered by the bracers, but the rest of his arms were exposed. A chest plate of dark red metal hid what Tony was sure would be a well-defined torso and he had a flash of envy for this man's imaginary abs. One shoulder was covered by the skeletal design of a metal guard, leather straps holding it in place. A large sword was strapped to the man's back. His left hip and leg were covered by a similar guard and, as the man took a hitched step forward, Tony realized that both pieces were a brace. When he spoke, the voice was deep and commanding, but something about it still seemed off.
"Welcome, Avengers. I'm glad you could make it, though I wasn't expecting you quite so soon. If you wouldn't mind giving me just a moment longer, I am introducing a virus into Hammer's system that should leave them crippled for years to come."
"Oh, please, go ahead. We'll wait."
That got Tony another glare and he smiled at the Cap innocently, even though the other couldn't see it past the Iron Man mask.
"I'm afraid we can't let you do that. Surrender now, we don't want to hurt you."
"Ah, Captain America going for diplomacy, can't say I didn't see that one coming. I have to admit though; you're going to have to try harder than that. Show me what you can really do."
With a mighty bellow, Thor was soon rocketing towards their foe.
"Do not make light of your opponents, mortal! Only a fool invites violence!"
As the God of Thunder swung his mighty hammer at the man, the other ducked with speed he should not have possessed and was soon behind the blonde warrior, grabbing him by one ankle and hurling him across the room to crash into a bank of computers.
"A fool or a man with a plan. Can you guess which I am?" He turned to the others and swept into a low bow. "Now that I have your attention, I am Ramdring. Shall we commence with the fighting and the whipping of your butts?" The man chuckled. "Sorry. Naughty thoughts."
Tony raised both hands to let off a volley of shots in the direction of their opponent. If a few Hammer computer terminals got caught in the process, well…collateral damage and all that. With Tony providing the distraction, Barton headed towards the rafters for a better angle on their opponent and Steve and Romanov spread out to either side. Anyone with the strength to throw Thor around like a ragdoll was not someone they wanted to take lightly.
Steve's voice crackled over the radio as the dust began to settle and Thor picked his way out of the rubble that had been the terminal.
"Dr. Banner, please stand by. We may be in need of help from your green friend before this is over."
"The quinjet and I are standing by."
"Calling for back up already? I'm disappointed. I promise I'm not here to cause that much trouble."
The man was suddenly darting out of the dust, unhindered by his earlier limp, heading for Tony and covering the distance in a surprisingly short amount of time. The genius had to turn his repulsers on to full blast and shot into the air to avoid being hit. From his new position above the enemy, he released a volley of missiles from the launchers on his shoulders. Surely that would put a damper on things.
His plan was proved not quite so fool-proof, though, as Ramdring plucked the missiles out of the air and all but threw them in the Cap's direction. He used the momentum to propel himself towards Tony once again, this time reaching him fast enough to grab hold of the seam of the genius's shoulder piece and pull it off. The sound of rending metal made him wince, but he was much more worried about Rogers and decided to retreat for once, rather than stick around and duke it out.
Tony jetted across the warehouse to Steve's side, relieved to see that the soldier's shield had blocked the worst of the blast. His uniform was a bit tattered, but that was the extent of the damage. It was surprising, seeing as how those missiles, properly placed, would have easily been able to take off a limb. That kind of thing was something not even a super soldier could recover from.
Pivoting, Tony turned back to their opponent. Romanov had taken a few shots in his direction, providing a distraction to help Tony get away as well as taking the man's attention off of Cap. Unfortunately, that meant his attention had turned towards her. She danced back as the man advanced almost leisurely. He reached back towards his sword before several arrows rained down from above. Apparently Barton had finally reached the rafters.
Tony almost couldn't hold back his groan as their opponent shot into the air, propelled by air currents not unlike Tony's own repulsers. God dammit, he could fly, too? Life could never just give them a break, could it? Dimly, he heard Cap calling Bruce for back up from their Jolly Green Giant.
Ramdring made it up to the rafters in a matter of seconds, grabbing hold of the Hawk and throwing him to the ground. Romanov dashed across the floor to catch him, sliding in for the save, and the two tumbled off to the side. A loud crack from above was the only warning they got before a portion of the rafters started raining down all around them. Their opponent laughed, his voice snagging for just a moment…which was all Tony needed to know that it was computerized albeit a very good one. Whoever Ramdring was, he didn't want his voice recognized.
"Getting a little slow there, don't you think?"
"Perhaps, but you should really pay more attention to your surroundings, you dauf fool!"
Tony was so focused on Thor, who had appeared behind their opponent's back, he almost didn't register Jarvis's voice in his ear.
"Dauf, sir, is a Norse insult meaning slow or stupid."
He was confused for all of half a second before he remembered the program he had installed in his AI to translate the odd sayings his Aesir friend so often used. There was no time to dwell, though, as Thor slammed his hammer into the man's abdomen, sending him careening towards the ground. Having been on the other end of that hammer himself, Tony knew the blow was nothing to laugh at…if only their mysterious foe agreed.
"I hardly find a need to, meyla, when your swings are so light!"
"Meyla: an insult in which one is referred to as a little girl."
Thor gave a mighty bellow, distracting Tony from the interesting discovery of their opponent's familiarity with Asgardian insults. The God of Thunder proved his namesake by calling a lightning strike through the ceiling to careen towards the other man. Ramdring, however, was ready. A charge of power, not unlike Tony's repulsers, began to build up between the man's open palms. He threw the sphere of energy into the air, leaving it to meet the lightning head on.
The resulting explosion pushed both Tony and the Capitan back, the soldier almost losing his footing. Bruce, who'd had the misfortune of just making it into the building, was thrown to the side like a ragdoll. For a single, panic-filled moment, Tony feared the worst for his Science Bro. Then there was a tell-tale shift in the air pressure and the genius decided it might be a better idea to back up than run to his side…The Hulk was coming.
A roar ripped through the research facility that put Thor's frequent battle cries to shame. Tony couldn't deny the stirring of amusement when their opponent took a half-step back from the angry beast towering over him. It was the first time Ramdring had shown any signs of trepidation where they were concerned.
As the Hulk charged, the horned warrior stood his ground, though. For a second, Tony thought he was going to somehow try to meet the Juggernaut head on. This theory proved false, however, as the man jumped into the air seconds before collision, flipping upside down and placing one hand on the Hulk's head. An image of Ramdring's electrical sphere flashed across Stark's mind and that was all it took for him to fear for his friend's life once more.
"Sleep, friend. There will be a time for smashing later."
And the Hulk did just that. Instead of making the great beast's head pop like a grape, Ramdring showed a surprising amount of strength in lowering him gently to the ground. Moments later, the form had reverted back to that of Dr. Bruce Banner…which didn't make Tony feel any more secure about his friend's safety.
Thor was quick to rejoin the action, engaging Ramdring in a flurry of blows that drew him away from the unconscious and helpless doctor. Cap, seeing an opening, launched his shield in their direction before turning to look at Tony.
"Stark, I need you working on that virus, now! Let me and Thor handle the rest of this guy."
Judging by the way Ramdring had just caught the Capitan's shield; it was going to take a lot more than just the two of them. Still, Tony knew the damage that a virus could wreck. It would be better to shut the electronic threat down first before turning his attention back to their physical opponent.
He was at the computer terminal in a matter of moments, typing in access codes he really shouldn't have known to gain access to Hammer's main frame. He'd have to track down the virus before he could do anything to stop it and he was soon tapping away at the keyboard. Technology was his element, lending him an edge even without his suit.
Behind him, he could hear Thor getting ready for another attack with lightning and braced himself for the explosion to come. He loved Thor, really he did, but the God did have a penchant for blowing up more things than were perhaps strictly necessary. A glance over his shoulder revealed that Cap's shield was still being held hostage by their opponent, the man standing on the opposite side of their foe than Thor.
Tony really couldn't spare the time to watch, however, as he delved deeper into Hammer's systems. The virus was like nothing he'd encountered before, clearly very sophisticated. As impossible as it seemed, it was almost as though the virus was running away from him. Every time he tracked it down through the system, it would move to another file, evading capture and termination. He was immensely glad the bug was in Hammer's system and not his own.
A sharp cry behind him told Tony that Steve had been hit, possibly by the lightning Thor had just thrown in Ramdring's direction. Belatedly, the genius thought about the countless arguments against the strategy of standing directly on either side of your opponent. Hadn't he and Clint had an argument about that just the other week?
"Man of Iron! Look out!"
Thor's warning came too late, though, as a weight bore down upon the unlikely hero's shoulders. He could feel it as Ramdring's fingers slipped between the cracks of metal in the Iron Man suit to flick off the emergency latches, entire pieces of the suit falling aside and clattering to the ground. Tony was left utterly defenseless in the face of a man who had easily taken out trained assassins, the Hulk, and held his own against a God.
Despite the imminent danger he faced, Tony couldn't help but fume over the treatment of his suit. How had this guy even known about the emergency latches? The manual release were a closely guarded secret that only Tony, Pepper, and the team knew about. He'd installed them after he'd been stuck in an inoperable suit for five hours after being hit by a particularly powerful electrical attack courtesy of Dr. Doom.
The only way someone else could have found out about the latches, and their placements, would have been to pull the information out of JARVIS. Had Ramdring hacked the AI? Such a thought seemed impossible, but Tony's brain circled back to the virus in Hammer's system…could it be?
He didn't get the time to dwell on it, though, as he was swung around to face the room. One unimaginably strong arm was wrapped across his neck, keeping him pinned to the foe behind him. Ramdring's other hand pressed against the side of his head and Tony couldn't help the hitch in his breath.
Oh, God. He did not want to die.
Romanov and Barton had finally managed to shove the rafters off of themselves, but were still too far away to be of any help. Similarly, Steve was picking himself up off the floor on the other side of the room. Bruce sat up weakly, but was practically as helpless as Tony without the Other Guy present. Even Thor was too far away to do any good. The chest that was pressed up to Tony's back rumbled as the man spoke again. Close as he was, the genius could just faintly make out the man's actual voice. It sounded oddly…familiar.
"Now, let's not do anything stupid, shall we? One wrong move and I can blow his brain to bits in less than a second. Do any of you think you can get to me before then?"
"Release our friend, Ramdring. No warrior who wishes to see Valhalla would take a hostage. Stand and fight instead of hiding behind him like a hrafnasueltir!"
"Raven starver? You call me a coward? No, I simply use those things which I find at my disposal. And I have no need of a trip to Valhalla; it is Asgard that I am trying to get to."
Judging by the looks the others were shooting back and forth, Tony wasn't the only one confused by Ramdring's destination.
"Asgard? What business have you there?"
"I suppose you will find out. Call for Heimdall, Prince. I am sure that he is watching."
"Heimdall is charged with the protection of the Realm. He will not open the bridge as long as an enemy is present."
Tony really, really wished Thor would stop arguing with the man who had the equivalent of a gun to the genius's head.
"Perhaps I am less of an enemy than you think. Your hata will blind you to the truth if you let it, Odinson. Call your watcher."
"I do not believe it is my hate blinding me that leads to my distrust. You are currently threatening the life of my friend."
"Oh, God dammit, Thor! Just do as he says! If I get my head blown off because of you, I am going to haunt your ass till the end of time!"
The blonde hesitated before nodding briefly and shouting Heimdall's name to the sky. Meanwhile, Ramdring was slowly crouching, taking Tony down with him. The speed was obviously meant not to alarm anyone as well as to allow Stark time to follow his movements without choking due to the arm wrapped around his neck.
"Pick up your helmet and remove the earpiece inside. Where we are going, you will want to be in contact with your AI. At the very least, that program for translating Asgardian terms will come in handy."
Not wanting to think about how the man knew so many things that he shouldn't, Tony did as he was told. Stubborn though he may be, he was much more willing to follow orders when his life was on the line. Besides, he had a hard time thinking of how the earpiece would hinder anyone else's safety. As they stood back up, Thor swept his arms out to indicate the warehouse, almost entirely destroyed as it was.
"You see? Heimdall will not send the bridge in the presence of an enemy."
No sooner were the words out of the blonde's mouth than a column of light struck the ground between them. Ramdring smirked at Thor.
"I do hope you remember your words, Hammer Time."
Then Tony was being dragged across the floor and towards the column of light. He could see the others circling around, cautious not to get too close and seem threatening. Tony could feel the vibrations in the chest behind him as Ramdring chuckled, turning to look at the Avengers scattered about the room.
"I appreciate you guys giving me my space and all, but I do intend on having you all come with me. Just remember," he tapped Tony on the side of the head, "you're not as fast as I am."
With that, the man stepped backwards into the Bifrost. Tony felt a sensation as though his entire body were being stretched and pushed together at the same time. Flashes of light and color flew by disorientingly for several moments before their feet slammed into the ground. Ramdring's hands had slipped to Tony's waist, providing him with a steadiness that kept him from falling. Taking advantage of his unbalanced state, the man pulled him further into the giant gold dome, putting distance between them and Tony's allies. By the time the other Avenger's arrived, the masked man's arm was once again around the genius's throat…something that Tony was growing very tired of.
Thor's eyebrows came together is a thunderous expression as he turned towards the raised dais in the center of the circular room. A tall black man stood atop the platform, pulling a great sword from the floor. The dark man's helmet and armor was as intricate and flashy as any other Tony had seen from Asgard. Really, it should be renamed The Land of the Pretentious Douchebags…ok, so maybe he was getting a little bitter about this whole 'held captive' thing. What was he, a fairy tale princess?
"Heimdall, explain yourself! Why did you open the Bifrost when an enemy was present?"
Despite the obvious anger in Thor's voice, the dark-skinned man showed no signs of being at all intimidated. His impassive yet piercing gaze swept over the group before him. It lingered a tad longer on Tony and, by extension, Ramdring…or perhaps it was the other way around. When he spoke, his voice was rich and confident.
"It is my sworn duty to our king to protect the realm through all of the Ages. My eyes see much that you do not, across space and time."
"Are we to trust this stranger, then, who threatens the life of our friend?"
"That is for you to decide. Who you do or do not trust is a decision that cannot be made for you. However, I can tell you this; he is no more a danger to your friend than he is to himself."
Tony felt Ramdring shift uncomfortably behind him, clearly put off by the Guardian's words. The genius could only hope that his words proved true.
"Alright, alright, enough of the chit chat. I'd love to stand here all day and get to know each other better, but I'm on a bit of a schedule. Thor, it's time for you to be useful once again…Take me to the dungeon where your dear brother Loki is being kept."
Thor's brows furrowed again and, if anything, the rest of the team tensed up even more. Tony found himself even less sure of their predicament than he had been previously. They were standing on a very fine edge and he, for one, did not want to find out where it led.
"My brother's cell? What do you want with that?"
The arm around Tony's neck tightened and his hands scrambled uselessly against his captor's powerful arms. Several terrifying moments later, the arm relaxed. Ramdring had made his point.
"If you have questions, you can ask them just as well on the move. So, if you would be so kind…"
Tony thought it might be a good time to throw in his two cents.
"Yeah, you know, I'm gonna say we go with his plan on this one. I know I can be an ass, guys, but I'd really like not to die."
The scowl that decorated the blonde god's face was deep enough to leave permanent lines, but there was little he or the others could do with Tony so close to their enemy. Thor nodded once in acknowledgement before setting off towards the city that rose majestically in the distance. Under different circumstances, Tony would have been inclined to admire the beauty of Asgard. However, his current predicament left him with little taste for sightseeing.
It was Clint who eventually broke the silence that had fallen over the group as they trudged along the bridge, Heimdall having stayed in his dome room. The archer's expression wasn't happy and Tony could tell it was from more than just his current status as hostage. Clint always had a touchy spot where Loki was concerned.
"So what do you want with him? Loki, I mean."
"I wish to right matters to what they should be, undo the wrongs that have been committed against him."
"So you plan to release Reindeer Games, then? You a friend of his?"
A small smile twitched the edges of the man's lips at Tony's interjection.
"You do know he's killed, like, thousands of people, right? And tried to destroy an entire race? What were they? Yokaks? Yopuns?"
"They were the Jotuns, Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Rest assured, I would not seek Loki's freedom if it were not deserved. I probably would not even seek it if it weren't for his conditions. I cannot abide by torture as a means of punishment, no matter the crime."
The man's voice was far away, clearly having had experiences of his own to add to the mix. Tony could understand, though he wouldn't admit it in a hundred years. Thor, though, was even more enraged by the insinuation about the treatment of his family member than he was by Tony being taken hostage.
"My brother was imprisoned for his crimes against the Realms, but he is not being treated unfairly! Do you think I would stand by while my own family was tortured?"
"Well, I for one hope he is being tortured." The words left a bad taste in Tony's mouth, but he didn't let that stop him. He'd always had a defense mechanism of saying the exact opposite of how he felt. "He tried to destroy an entire planet because he, what, found out he was adopted? Grow the fuck up, man! And that's coming from me."
Ramdring stilled momentarily and Tony feared that his big mouth was going to get his neck snapped. Why, oh, why did he always have to have the last word? When his captor spoke again, though, his voice was even and not angry, just a little bit…disappointed.
"I expected better of you, Tony Stark. No one deserves such agony, where there is no foreseeable end and the only escape is death…except you cannot die because your captors will not let you. Your entire existence is consumed by pain and agony until there is nothing left. It becomes everything to you because all that you once were has been taken away. You, of all people, should know better than that…or have you forgotten your own nightmares?"
Flashes of Afghanistan flew through Tony's head and a shudder ran down his spine. Ramdring was right…that wasn't something he would wish on another, even someone as evil as Loki. Which brought about another question, how did Ramdring know about his time in the cave? Or his nightmares? He was pulled from his thoughts as the masked man began to speak once more.
"Imagine, if you will, being told your entire life that there are monsters out there, evil, vile things that steal children and kill without remorse. You are told they are stupid and ugly and that they all deserve to die, even your own brother went on a mission to destroy them for little more than an infraction. He wanted to march into their homeland and slay them for the acts of but a few. The most glorious stories you know are of when your father valiantly fought against them. They are hated and feared, thought less of by everyone, even you. Then you find out that you are one of them."
Ramdring paused to look at each of them in turn, ensuring he had their complete attention.
"It's more than just finding out that you are adopted. Suddenly, all the things you've ever been told about them are suddenly true about you. You are an evil, vile monster. You steal children and kill without remorse. You are stupid and ugly. Mostly, though, you deserve to die. Your brother who had always been at your side thinks so. Your father who you have tried your entire life to impress thinks so. The only thing you can think to do is try and distance yourself from them at all cost; destroy the very thing that threatens everything you've ever known. Only that's not good enough. The actions you've taken to distance yourself from your fear have only made you more of a monster in the eyes of those you held most precious. You're faced with the truth that, by trying to escape your heritage, you have proven it to those around you."
The whole group had come to a stop, taking in what the man had said. Thor's head hung low, his eyes searching the ground as though it held some magical answer for him.
"I didn't know…I had always tried to see things from his point of view, but I never…I didn't think-"
The shout came from further along the bridge, closer to Asgard. Four warriors charged towards the group, flanked by guards on either side. One of the guards launched a spear at Tony's captor that likely would have skewered them both if it weren't for Ramdring's quick reflexes. He rolled to the side, pulling Tony with him, before shoving the brunette into Steve's chest.
"Keep him safe. He will not have the reflexes to survive this fight, not with those idiot guards trying to kill everyone."
Similarly, he shoved Bruce at Thor…what was that about? Was he seriously trying to keep them safe? Tony's suspicion that Ramdring had bigger plans for their group than simply having a guide was growing. With his skills, he could easily have killed them back at the warehouse, but he'd chosen not to. In fact, he hadn't even injured any of them. Even Clint and Natasha, who he'd brought the rafters down on top of, had escaped with nothing more than some scrapes and bruises.
There wasn't much time to ponder, however, because the Asgardian forces had finally reached them. Thor's friends, Sif and The Warriors Three, concentrated their full efforts upon taking down the man who so clearly outclassed them. Tony at least assumed they were Thor's friends who he'd heard so much about, the descriptions seemed to fit.
Bruce and Tony taken care of, Ramdring took to the air, using the same odd propulsion unit that he'd used in the warehouse. He focused of the guards first, flipping over one of their two hover carriers with a well-placed blast. The shuttle spun wildly several times before crashing into the bridge and skittering along its length. Sif, the lady warrior, took the opportunity to charge, using Volstagg's back as a spring board to reach the proper height to swipe at the enemy with her spear.
Ramdring saw her coming, though, and easily maneuvered out of the way. His free movement through the air gave him an edge over the other Asgardians. One brave guard launched himself off of the other carrier in an attempt to stab their armored foe, but the man was having none of it. He grabbed the guard easily and threw him to the ground.
"Oh, come on! At least make this a challenge for me!"
He let himself drop back to the ground, apparently deciding to give his opponents a handicap. The grin that stretched across his face said that he was finding all of this rather fun. An Asian-looking man with a flail attacked next, with no warning. Ramdring had to dance backwards to avoid the blows. Suddenly, the masked man dropped to the ground, swiping his leg across to take the other out. Hogan stumbled; teetering on the edge of the bridge, before their foe grabbed the front of his tunic and threw him into the blonde warrior with the rapier…Tony couldn't quite remember his name…
The more powerful warriors preoccupied, Ramdring leapt onto the remaining boat scooter thing…Tony really needed to figure out what they were actually called. His strategy was clearly to wipe out the weaker opponents before taking down the strong ones, not that any of them seemed to be posing much of a threat anyway. The guards put up a valiant fight though. Their masked opponent took out four of the five with little trouble, sending them tumbling off of the craft and onto the bridge.
The final guard, though, made the mistake of trying to be a bit more creative with his attack. Taking control of the ship's steering, he attempted to drive the ship into one of the supports of the bridge. His plan backfired, though, when Ramdring just took off in flight. He chuckled humorously and turned in the air to look down at Thor.
"You should retrain your troops! When you are king, I would like to think you will have better protection!"
His mirth was cut short, however, by the sound of creaking and then a sudden snap. The pier that had been part of the bridge's support had been damaged in the crash and was falling freely…right towards Hawkeye. There was no way the archer would make it out of the way in time. Tony's heart stuttered. He'd always known that losing one of the other Avengers was a possibility, but he wasn't ready. Clint was his friend.
Luckily, Ramdring didn't seem keen on losing the archer either. Blasters at full power, the horned fighter shot across the bridge, knocking Barton out of the way and taking the brunt of the structure's collapse. Clint stared at the crumpled beams, inches away from his feet.
"Did he just…save my life?"
"Yeah, yeah. Try to contain your fangirl squeals."
Ramdring stood from beneath the rubble, shoving aside debris. He grabbed Clint's arm and hauled him to his feet, pushing him, too, towards Thor.
"Keep an eye on that one, too. Honestly, I shouldn't be surprised he got himself nearly killed…again."
Sif and The Warriors Three were shifting into position behind the man, clearly ready for Round Two, but Thor held up a hand. He stepped forward to face their masked foe himself.
"Enough. You say that you wish only to ascertain my brother's safety?"
"I wish to ensure he is being treated fairly, yes."
Thor nodded thoughtfully and frowned for several moments before nodding his head sharply.
"Very well. I will take you to his cell so that you may see his condition for yourself. Then you will leave this place in peace. Do I have your word?"
"I swear to you that no harm will come to any citizen of Asgard, nor any of your friends, so long as Loki is unharmed."
Thor gave another nod before calling upon one of the guards who still remained conscious.
"Go ahead of us to bring news of our arrival. There shall be no more attacks, or the perpetrators will have to answer to me."
The guard nodded and hurried off. Tony, however, stomped his foot angrily.
"Are you telling me that my being held hostage was utterly unnecessary?! After all that you're just going to show him right on in?"
Clint's teasing grin was entirely unappreciated.
"Oh, don't worry, dear. We know you enjoyed getting to be the Damsel in Distress."
"I don't even want to hear that coming from you, Mr. 'I had to be saved by the enemy'!"
Bruce sighed in a put upon manner and stepped between them.
"Now, now, children. I think we should focus on the task as hand, don't you?"
Sif and The Warriors Three joined them as the group set off once again towards the citadel of Asgard. Tony was more than relieved not to be worrying about his life anymore. Sure, he was still suitless other than his radio, but at least he didn't have a hand that could make his brain explode pointed at his head anymore. He sent glances at his former captor as they walked.
Finally, curiosity got the better of him and he flipped around to walk backwards, facing the man with the horned mask. Ramdring's face, what he could see of it, remained impassive, but Tony liked to think he could see some mirth dancing within those dark eyes. That sense of humor made him like the man a bit more…even if he wasn't going to forgive him that quickly for threatening Tony's life.
"So…you've got an explanation for good ol' Lokes attacking Jotun-whozits. What's your excuse for Earth?"
A smile twitched Ramdring's lips before he was able to repress it. The devilish thought crossed Tony's mind that he would have to try harder.
"Ah…the invasion was…unfortunate."
Clint scowled at the man.
"He tried to take over our world and killed thousands of people. That's a bit more than unfortunate."
"Let me start by giving you all a little bit of backstory. What do you know of Thanos the Titan?"
Thor and the other Asgardians stiffened at the name, but the remaining Avengers were at a total loss. Apparently Ramdring could tell, as he continued speaking.
"He is another of the beings out there that make Nick Fury curse in his sleep. I'd say he sleeps with one eye open, but…I think you get the point. Thanos is from a race known as the Eternals, living on one of Saturn's moons. They were sworn to peace, not a single one carried or even touched a weapon…but Thanos was different from the others. He craved power and was consumed by darkness."
Here, the man heaved a sigh. It was not a pleasant tale.
"Eventually, he was banished from their home. The exact reason is unclear, too many different stories to know for sure, but it was for something terrible. A number of sources say he eviscerated his own mother." That got winces all around. "He led an army back to his home world, though, and nearly destroyed it. In answer, he was restrained to a dimension between the realms. Without help and a whole lot of power, he would never be able to escape."
"Look, that sucks and all, but what does this have to do with Prince Crazy Pants trying to take over Earth?"
"While in this dimension, Thanos made contact with the Chitauri, I'm sure you remember them as the army Loki was going to bring through the portal. He took control of their race and waited until the perfect time to use them. He needed more power than they could provide, you see…Then a lost princeling was deposited into his lap by a wormhole created by the destruction of the Bifrost…Some would consider Loki lucky for being alive…The Chitauri thought he'd be great fun to torture."
The man's pained look was all Tony needed to see to know he truly cared for the dark haired prince. This wasn't just some alliance or rescue of convenience, Loki meant something to Ramdring. After a moment, he pulled himself back together.
"They used illusions and sensory deprivation to drive him to the brink of madness, not including what they did to him physically. The fact that he was Jotun probably was what saved his life, in the end. When he could take no more, they dragged him before Thanos and the Mad Titan offered him a deal. He would let Loki go, give him and army, and give him Midgard to rule, if Loki would get him the Cube."
"Wait, wait, wait. So you're saying that Loki tried to take of the world to save his own ass? That makes this better, how?"
Ramdring chuckled at Tony's display of anger.
"Calm yourself…that is not quite what happened. The confines of Loki's agreement with Thanos were that he had to try to get the Cube and that he had to actually open the portal onto Earth. Loki had to figure out a way to accomplish both of these tasks while not actually allowing the invasion to occur. He knew that if Thanos were to escape, he would not stop until he ruled all of the Realms."
Tony stopped walking abruptly, looking at his former captor like he'd lost his god damned mind.
"Maybe those horns of yours are screwed on a bit too tight. Are you trying to tell me that Loki faked the invasion of Earth?"
"Do you honestly believe you could have defeated him if he'd been making a true effort? Loki is cunning and underhanded, which I mean completely as a compliment. If he'd wanted to conquer Midgard, there were a thousand and one ways for him to do so without you even knowing he was there until too late. Yet he announced his presence the second he arrived and ensured that SHIELD, the foremost authority on such matters, had a reason to come after him. After that, he repeatedly gave you blaring hints at what his next move would be."
Tony couldn't believe what he was hearing. Were they actually supposed to believe this? A glance at the others said the opinion was split. Capsicle, Thor, and Bruce seemed to be considering it. Volstagg seemed to be casting his vote in that direction, too, for what it was worth. Sif, Hogan, and the blonde one Tony still could not remember the name of all looked to be sharing Clint's opinion. The archer's stormy expression showed that there was no way in Hell he would be cutting Loki any slack. As ever, Romanov was impassive, giving away nothing. She was the one who spoke next.
"How can you be so sure that he would have won?"
The look Ramdring leveled at her clearly said he was wondering about her level of intelligence.
"Loki is a centuries old strategist with more experience leading battles than all of you combined. Ask Thor how many bad situations his brother has gotten him out of with his quick thinking."
Thor's guilty look was all any of them needed for confirmation, but no one spoke as they resumed walking once more. Tony, for one, just couldn't seem to wrap his head around the idea. Loki as a distinctly-not-good-but-still-not-really-bad guy? It couldn't be real.
Except…things made a little too much sense with the new explanation of events. There were a number of things that had never quite added up for Tony about the invasion. For one, why Earth? Sure, it had the Tesseract, but why couldn't Loki just take it and transport his army somewhere else? Surely there were other Realms that provided more of a reward, like Asgard, for example.
The hints Ramdring had mentioned had bothered the genius, too. They'd been a little too…convenient, just like the fact that Dr. Eric Selvig had built in a way for them to shut the portal. Still, he wasn't so sure he was prepared to believe Ramdring's claims. If Tony was right and Ramdring's feelings for Reindeer Games were what Tony thought they were…then it could be explained that he was blinded from the truth.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Tony heard a tiny voice saying that perhaps they were the ones blinded from the truth.
Clint still wasn't looking so easily swayed, though. He was glaring at Ramdring as though it was the masked man who'd lead the invasion instead of Loki.
"He killed Coulson. Whatever else happened, he will never be forgiven for that."
The only sign of Ramdring's surprise were his widened eyes. Tony was pretty sure that his eyebrows were raised behind that mask, too, though. He seemed to struggle with what to say.
"I…There are many things I must be careful in saying to you on the matters of what happened. This, though, is much too important for me to hide from you. When you return to Earth, I suggest sitting down for a chat with your Director Fury. Agent Coulson is not dead."
That brought about an expression on Natasha's face.
"What do you mean, he's not dead?"
"He's alive? Still breathing? Heart pumping? Doing just dandy? Take your pick of phrasing. He was badly wounded in Loki's escape from the helicarrier, true, but he survived. Fury chose to use his 'death' as a way to bring you all together."
"That son of a bitch!"
Tony could not control the anger coursing through his veins. How could Fury think that was okay? If he hadn't thought the man was a smarmy bastard before, he certainly did now. None of them had seen Coulson's body after he'd died, but he hadn't thought anything of it previously. He didn't completely trust Ramdring's story, but there was no way to confirm or deny it until they got back to Earth.
Whatever the truth was, it would have to wait until later to be discovered. The group had walked in predominate silence all the way to the towering building in which Thor and his family lived. Tony ogled at the grandness of the building, which was saying something. It was certainly impressive, if nothing else. Guards swung open golden doors that were easily three stories tall.
Tony had to get himself one of these. It'd be prefect for press conferences.
Still more guards stood inside the grand entrance hall. They flanked a man who appeared to be in his late sixties and a woman of no more than fifty. The feeling of royalty seemed to exude from their very pores. The five Asgardians of the group bowed deeply. The older man did not look pleased, his only remaining eye glaring at them. There was something about the man that set Tony on edge, but then he'd never taken well to being looked down upon.
"Mother, Father, may I present my fellow Avengers, the heroes I have worked with from Midga-"
He never got to finish as Odin cut him off.
"What is the meaning of this, Thor? How dare you provide passage to this enemy of the Realm!"
The words were clearly directed at the presence of Ramdring, but Tony still felt himself bristling. This was not what he had expected when Thor had talked about the wisdom of his father. Ramdring, though, didn't seem too bothered by the threatening aura. He sauntered forward to stand before the King, completely ignoring the guards who leveled spears his way.
"I would not be so quick to call others enemies of the Realm, All-Father. I am no hafkitta who lies at the bottom of a lake to lure in children with my illusions." Jarvis informed Tony that a hafkitta was a water monster from Norse legend, but the genius ignored him in favor of listening to Ramdring speak. "I wish only to ascertain and ensure the safety of the man you call your youngest son. Surely that is not so inconveniencing…unless you have something to hide, Barnet Stjele."
The title of Child Stealer surprised Tony, but he supposed it was appropriate given how Loki had come to join the house of Odin, if a bit misconstrued. Either way, Ramdring definitely did not like the All-Father, and the feeling was clearly mutual.
There was a tense silence, and Tony was sure another battle was about to break out, before Thor's mother placed a hand on Odin's arm and they shared a meaningful look. After another moment, Odin nodded and turned back to the group.
"Very well. You will be allowed passage to Loki's cell, but then you will leave. If you return again, for any reason, you will be killed."
Ramdring bowed low and, when he spoke, his voice dripped with enough sarcasm to leave Tony feeling thoroughly impressed.
"Oh course, my liege. Your generosity and understanding are truly second to none."
Odin grit is teeth, but said nothing. As they set off walking again, Odin, Frigga, and their guards now joining the ever-growing party, Tony's mind drifted back to what Ramdring had said to the King. The entire speech had an undercurrent of accusation that surprised the genius. Sure, Ramdring thought Loki was being tortured, but did he think it was Odin who had ordered it? That certainly seemed a viable option. From what little he'd seen of the King, he didn't seem like the type who hugged his kids much.
His thoughts were brought back to the present as he heard Frigga strike up a conversation with Ramdring, first asking his name before delving into deeper topics.
"Tell me something, if you would."
"Of course, My Queen."
Completely opposite of his animosity towards Odin, their masked…companion seemed to have nothing but respect for the regal queen. The gleam in her eyes told Tony that it hadn't escaped her notice, either.
"What is my youngest son to you?"
Another silence stretched as the entire group waited to hear Ramdring's response. The man considered his answer carefully, the queen waiting patiently as they continued to walk. Finally, as they neared their destination, he spoke again. His eyes held Frigga's gaze, letting her judge his truthfulness for herself.
The answer seemed to satisfy her and she nodded with a small smile before turning her eyes forward once more.
"Good. See that you take care of him."
Suddenly, Tony's gaze seemed to catch Ramdring's attention and he suddenly found himself pinned by dark eyes as Ramdring responded.
"I will, my Queen. You needn't worry about that."
There was no time to examine the unsettling feeling in his gut, though, as they arrived at the cell block held deep underneath the Asgardian palace. It struck Tony as kind of stupid to keep your most powerful prisoners right under the royal family, but, hey, he lived with the Hulk so who was he to judge?
That being said, Tony had to marvel at how awesome their prison looked…and that wasn't a phrase he used often. The cells were all white on the inside, sleek and sexy like a brand new lab, with a force field of golden energy keeping their prisoners at bay. Loki's cell was at the front, a corner cell closest to the entrance. Unlike the other cells which only had one force field wall, Loki's had two. Assorted furniture decorated the cell, and a stack of books sat atop a table off to the side. The man himself stared out at them disdainfully.
"What's this? No visitors for so long and the suddenly I get a whole group of them? Don't tell me you were waiting to all come at once; I'm not sure I could handle that much stupid in one room." His eyes flickered to take in the humans. "Ah, and The Avengers! Today is a special treat, isn't it?"
Tony felt irritation well up inside him. So all of this really had been for nothing? That douchebag was standing there, all smug and smirky while Tony was having his suit disassembled and being held hostage. For a minute, he'd almost believed Ramdring…what a fool he had been.
Odin stepped forward, all satisfaction and preening. He, at least, was enjoying the fact that Ramdring was wrong.
"You see? No torture is going on here. Loki is safe and sound, now if you would take your leave-"
He was cut off by the masked man, sounding more enraged than ever before.
"Kringlaugd weird, ein spadi for qvoki ne skeifr drpr munni ne svinhqfdi!"
Tony's blood ran cold as Jarvis translated.
"Gaze upon thy destiny, with this sword I will cleave your lying maggot mouth from your swine head."
Ramdring drew the large sword from his back, wielding it with one hand as he rushed forward before any of them could stop him. Tony's mind flew a mile a minute.
They'd been tricked. Ramdring had played the concerned loyalist, believing the best in Loki, to get them to drop their guard. He'd been escorted right into the heart of Asgard for one, singular purpose…to kill Loki. 'Lying maggot mouth'? It didn't take a lot to figure out whom that might be referring to.
With the hand that wasn't holding his sword, Ramdring sent out an electrical shock that short-circuited the force field. It hissed a popped momentarily before giving in and dying, but it wasn't enough time for the guards to catch up. Ramdring strode purposefully into the cell as Loki scrambled backward in fear…only for Ramdring to pass right by him.
The masked man walked right up to the opposite wall and thrust his sword between two panels, prying one open. A hidden compartment was revealed, a shining, blue crystal floating within. Ramdring grabbed it and turned to face the others. Frigga's face drained of color.
"An Illusion Stone…"
Ramdring's scowl was firmly in place.
"Gaze upon the treachery Odin had committed against his own house, now that he has nothing to hide behind."
And then Ramdring crushed the stone in his fist.
For a moment, nothing happened, but then it seemed everything happened all at once. The pristine, white walls faded to a dank cement-like stone. Water dripped down from the ceiling, leaving everything damp and chilled. The only defining feature of the room was a slab of stone that rose from the center of the floor to about waist-height. Loki, the real Loki, was splayed across its surface, limbs tied to each of the four corners.
He looked a mess. His bare torso was covered in burns. In many places, the skin had been charred black and the wounds leaked a clear puss that couldn't be a good sign. The edges of the wounds were steeped in a deep blue color, fading back to pale flesh the further away from the wounds it got. There were so many wounds, though, that there was hardly any flesh tone to be seen. Tony would have found it more worrisome if it weren't for his knowledge of Loki's heritage. Still, Loki's injuries had to have been extremely severe if his Frost Giant ancestry was poking through.
The carnage to his flesh was so grotesque that Tony almost missed the way the once-proud man's ribs were jutting out. He'd been deprived of food, and for quite some time. His stomach drew back so far that Tony was pretty sure he'd be able to wrap one arm around him and still be able to touch his own chest. It was horrifying, but not as horrifying as the state of Loki's face.
Loki's lips had been sewn shut with thick black thread, and trails of dried blood streaked down his cheeks. The flesh was ripped where he had tried to scream, but had long since scabbed over. If it weren't for the routine twitches of Loki's body, Tony would be almost certain he was dead…because he hadn't even gotten to the worst part yet.
A snake was suspended from the ceiling, though it was no variety found on Earth. Its gaping mouth and protruding fangs dripped venom down so that it fell, fell, fell…Drop after drop sizzled like acid as it hit the burnt husks that had once held Loki's eyes. Each drip coincided perfectly with the twitching of Loki's muscles. He was clearly conscious, a thought that made Tony sick, but too weak to put up any sort of resistance.
Natasha swore something foul in Russian, while Frigga rounded on her husband. Rage poured off of her in waves, making her look more dangerous than Tony would have thought possible.
"What have you done?!"
"He was a monster!"
"He is our son!"
All Hell broke loose then as Thor lashed out against his father. The guards responded immediately, going to the aid of their king. Still, they stood little chance against the assembled Avengers and the Asgardian queen and prince. Sif and The Warriors Three sided with Thor as well, apparently putting aside their hatred of Loki in the face of such unspeakable horrors.
Tony wasn't paying attention to any of that, though. His focus was on the man who lay on that stone slab. Flashbacks of the cave in Afghanistan flitted through his head, but he shoved them aside. Now was not the time. He needed to help the man who had once been his enemy, who had once thrown him out of a window.
He was at the stone slab in moments, Bruce right behind him. They each fumbled with Loki's restraints, unsure how to undo what was clearly done with magic. Moments later, Ramdring grabbed the both of them and shoved them behind the stone slab just as a streak of golden energy erupted overhead and took a sizable chunk out of the wall.
"Stay down. Do not come up for anything, understand?"
Then Ramdring was standing up again, dispensing with Loki's restraints and pulling him down to join them. The masked man ran a tender hand over Loki's cheek before pressing a hand to his forehead and whispering a short series of words that Tony didn't quite catch. When he removed his hand, Loki's entire body relaxed.
"He's asleep now, which is what he'll need. His body will regenerate from these wounds, but it will take time. He's all yours, Doc."
Bruce nodded once, not even commenting of the familiarity of the nickname before setting to work on his patient. He wasn't technically a medical doctor, and this was way beyond anything he'd dealt with before, but he had some experience to bring to the table. His time in Calcutta was good for more than just figuring out how to stay calm.
Tony's gaze didn't leave the man who had gotten them so far. Ramdring was crouched beside them, pulling some tiny device from the brace on his hip. Clicking the button on top, he threw it at the wall. Moments later, a swirling vortex of light came into existence. It was a portal. Ramdring was leaving them.
As the man moved to flee, Tony's hand shot out to grab his arm. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to happen, but Tony just knew that he couldn't let the other man go.
"Wait. What are you doing?"
"I am going home…It is time I returned."
An inexplicable feeling of panic blossomed in Tony's chest.
"But…what about Loki? He's the reason you did all this and you're just going to leave him?"
Ramdring gave him a soft smile, affectionate in its own way. He brought his free hand up to grip the back of Tony's neck and pressed their foreheads together…something no one but Tony's father had done to him. Even then, it'd only been a handful of times when the man had been feeling oddly affectionate. It was the closest to 'I love you' the man had ever come. Tony was so surprised by the action, his grip slackened enough for Ramdring to easily pull free.
"I could not imagine leaving him in better hands."
And then he was gone, the portal closing behind him. Tony couldn't even do anything but stare until Bruce's commanding voice brought him back to the task at hand. Then everything was a blur as they worked to tend to Loki's wounds, all the while with a battle waging at their backs. Bruce carefully snipped the thread that held Loki's lips together, but Tony nearly vomited when the skin tore once again upon pulling the thread free.
Who could do such a thing to their own son, even an adopted one? Tony's relationship with his father had never been great, but he felt utterly sure that it never would have come to this. It was truly awful.
As soon as the fighting was over, Odin defeated, Thor rushed to their side.
"How is my brother?"
Bruce frowned deeply.
"He is stable, but badly injured as you may imagine. He needs medical attention, and sooner rather than later."
"I will call for the healers."
To everyone's surprise, the denial came from Frigga. The queen wore her pain on her face as she stared down at her youngest son, but there was strength in her gaze as well. Tony had to give her respect for that.
"We do not know how deeply your father has corrupted those here on Asgard. If we wish to keep him safe, your brother cannot stay here."
"He'll come to the Tower." It took Tony a second to realize that the words had come from his own mouth, but he didn't even think about taking them back. "I have an entire floor dedicated to medical, and he'll be safe there. You have my word."
He probably ought to have asked the rest of the team about their opinions on the matter, but fuck it. He was Tony Stark. If he wanted to bring an ex-super villain into his Tower then he was damn well going to. Let them try to stop him.
The queen nodded to him in approval.
"Your generosity is greatly appreciated. We will not forget it."
And so there was another flurry of activity as they transported Loki back to the Bifrost and down to Earth. Heimdall was able to pinpoint the top of Tony's tower perfectly and, less than five hours since the beginning of the entire mess, Tony Stark was staring through a glass window as several of his personal doctors worked to make sure Loki was okay. Thor stood beside him, having been assured by his mother that he should stay with his brother while she took care of things on Asgard.
The other Avengers, even Clint, had been pretty alright with bringing Loki back to the Tower. At least they would be able to keep an eye on him there. Besides, it was pretty hard to stay mad at a guy who'd had his eyeballs burnt out of his skull. They would focus on trying to track down Ramdring, though they didn't have much hope of accomplishing that given that he could be anywhere in the Nine Realms. Still, they had to look. Clint had taken the initiative to go to Fury and find out the situation on Coulson, a fight that Tony would have loved to be present for under different circumstances.
Thor and Tony were the only ones observing Loki's medical procedures, though Bruce was on the other side of the glass, having been appointed by Tony as the Aesir's primary. The genius felt awkward as the silence stretched between them. In the end, though, it was Thor who broke it.
"Man of Iron…I cannot express the depth of my gratitude for your generosity in taking in my brother…I will repay you this debt-"
"Whoa, whoa, Point Break! Chill out. There's no debt to repay. No one deserves to go through something like that, so if there's something I can do, I'm gonna do it. Don't go worrying your pretty little head over it, okay?"
Tony brushed aside Thor's protests, unwilling to listen to praise he would normally bask in. He couldn't let this be a big deal. If it was he might actually have to think about why he'd done it…and something told him he wasn't ready for that. So he shut down anyone who brought the topic up with him and went about his business.
So what if he spent almost all of his time at Loki's bedside? Someone had to be there in case Reindeer Games went ape shit upon regaining consciousness, after all, and Thor was clearly too biased to be a good choice. If Tony never wore his suit for these silent vigils…well, it was his Tower. So kindly shut up or get out. Besides, Ramdring had been right about Coulson (who was now reunited with the team, thanks to Clint's insistence) so why not take the man's word when it came to the rest of the information?
Loki slept for a week and a half before regaining consciousness. By then, his eyes had regenerated and the majority of his burns had healed. The malnutrition, though, was proving to be a bit harder for him to bounce back from. The first words past his lips upon realizing where he was had been a wish for death. He'd then proceeded to demean, insult, and intimidate everyone in the room until only Tony was left. Even Thor could not take his brother's infuriating behavior.
The injured man eyed Tony skeptically.
"What's this? Decided you like the abuse, mortal?"
"Yeah, well, this is nothing compared to what you already put me through trying to save your dumb ass. Seriously, you couldn't just keep things simple? I got held hostage by your man love, had my suit dismantled, was transported to another world, got attacked by Asgardian guards, not to mention I was condescended to by Odin, seriously, I'm surprised you didn't go psycho sooner with that man for a father, got caught in a firefight between Norse Gods, and I'm pretty sure I broke a nail somewhere in there!"
Loki gaped at the genius before painstakingly hauling himself up into a seated position. Clearly, the malnutrition was still taking its toll.
"Are you seriously complaining to me about breaking your nail when I was just tortured, by my father?"
"Oh, now he's your father? Now that it's convenient, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Emotionally Crippled? Don't try and make this about you."
"I'm making this about me? I'm pretty sure I had my eyeballs burnt out of my skull by acid! If anyone has the right to complain, it's me!"
"Maybe you didn't hear the part about my suit being dismantled! Do you have any idea how long that's going to take me to fix?"
"Three, tops, but that's not the point."
"You brought it up!"
"Don't change the subject!"
"I'm not, you infuriating mortal! I should skin you alive!"
Tony's lips twitched upwards at the anger Loki displayed, a fire lighting his eyes that had been absent since his awakening.
"There you are…That's the Loki I know. Good to have you back. Well, not really, but your brother is happy to know you're alright."
"He's not my brother."
"Oh, but Odin is still Daddy? Pick your side, Sleeping Beauty!"
"I hate you."
And so they developed a routine of sorts. Tony would hang around the medical floor to keep Loki reigned in. They'd trade sarcastic banter whenever Loki started dwelling too long on what had happened to him. It helped that Tony understood, and they didn't have to have an awkward discussion about it. Things just sort of…fell into place.
By the end of the week, the others were pushing for information about what had happened on Asgard. Thor needed to know so that he could properly deal with Odin and the rest of the team wanted to know what they had gotten themselves mixed up in. Loki had been surly but cooperative, most of his more acidic remarks tempered by Tony's presence and rebounding snark. When they came to asking questions about Ramdring, though, Loki professed to know nothing about the man. They weren't quite sure if they believed the Aesir but there was little they could do about it, so the issue was eventually put to rest.
Two weeks after Loki awoke; Thor had to return to Asgard. Frigga had handled things so far with expert precision, but Thor was technically the King and he needed to be there to settle matters. Namely, he would have to decide on and carry out a suitable punishment for his father. Loki made it blindingly clear that he didn't care about the events, but Tony still kept him posted and brought him updates. Loki appreciated that more than he would ever admit out loud.
With his new duties as King, it became harder and harder for Thor to visit his brother. In general, he was only able to show up every two or three weeks. Tony brought Jane Foster to live in the Tower to make Thor's visits easier, and soon they were all settled into a normal pace of things.
Tony and Loki were mostly left to themselves and, as the ex-villain recovered, the two moved from the medical wing to Tony's labs. Within the month, their snark-fests had turned into actual discussions, comparing science and magic. Loki took a distinct interest in the artificial intelligence of Tony's robots and seemed impressed that Tony had made them so young. Dum-E, in particular, reciprocated Loki's interest. The robot arm seemed to appoint himself chief nurse whenever the alien prince came to visit, hovering constantly by his side. Loki seemed to take great pleasure in ordering the robot about.
Mostly as a way to insure Loki got his references, Tony began to slowly introduce him to pop culture. Much of it, Loki belittled and cast aside as drivel, but it was still fun. They eventually started having movie nights, on an entirely impromptu basis that usually meant one or two each week. Bruce was the first of the other Avengers to begin joining them, dragged along by Tony, but the entire team soon came around to spending time with their unexpected house guest.
Before any of them knew it, six months had passed, and Loki had become a part of their lives. He and the team, especially Clint, couldn't be considered friends, but they were more than acquaintances. Coulson's continued presence, a constant reminder that he hadn't been killed, helped. Tony in particular had become close to the god, someone Loki might even be able to admit he valued.
Tony never expected him to be anything more than what he was. He didn't try and make Loki into 'one of the good guys' or try to 'reform' him. He just let the Aesir be. They laughed and joked and had serious debates…It was more than anyone had ever spared on him before. But Tony didn't know that, he couldn't know that…just as Loki couldn't know that Tony felt the same exact way about him.
Sometime over the course of the month passing, Loki finished healing. His wounds were no more than faint scars and his ribs were once more hidden beneath his lithe frame. Still, he didn't leave the Tower…and Tony didn't make him. Without any fuss at all, Loki ended up with a floor all to himself. Clint, especially, didn't seem to be completely comfortable with it, but Tony had made it clear that Clint could make the rules when they all lived in the archer's personal tower. It wasn't until Loki had been with them nearly a year that the team's worries were officially put to rest.
They had been called out to fight Dr. Doom, who was once again wreaking havoc in Washington DC, leaving Loki alone in the Tower as per usual. What they hadn't expected was for Magneto to be there as well. SHIELD was generally pretty good about giving them a heads up when it came to that sort of thing, so Tony could stay out of the field. Putting a man in a metal suit up against someone who could manipulate metal was never a good idea.
Long story short, the team almost lost Tony that day. They would have, too, if Loki hadn't shown up out of the blue. One minute, Magneto was trashing Tony while Dr. Doom's Doombots kept the others occupied, the next Tony was crumpled to the ground and the God of Mischief was holding their mutant enemy by the throat.
"Let it be known that anyone who invites insult or injury upon Anthony Stark invites my full and unrestrained wrath upon themselves."
He'd then proceeded to decimate the remaining Doombots with magic, barely twitching an eye. Tossing Magneto aside as though he weighed nothing, Loki went to Tony's side. The rest of the team gathered around, their fallen comrade providing enough of a distraction for their two enemies to escape. For Tony and Loki, though, they may as well have been the only two on the planet.
"You're an idiot, Stark."
"My highly advanced robots and cool-as-fuck tech would suggest otherwise."
Tony tried to sit up, but groaned and collapsed back to the ground, sending Loki into a flutter of nervous energy. He immediately began removing the suit for the shorter man.
"What is wrong? Where are you hurt?"
"Oh, God…How about everywhere? Nothing's broken, but I think I'm going to be Hell'a sore for the next few days."
Loki's face split into a relieved smile. He leaned down to press his forehead against Tony's, the first time they'd had such contact.
"I am glad you are alright."
After that, things seemed to shift between the pair. It wasn't spoken aloud, but it was more than obvious. Natasha would walk in on them cuddling on the couch during their movie nights. Steve or Clint would look up while the team was eating breakfast to find one or the other staring across the table with a dopey smile. (Clint would follow up the sighting with gagging noises, but even he had to admit that the Aesir had grown on him. You know, now that he wasn't a homicidal maniac.)
As for Bruce, well, he'd bet Tony a pair of tickets to Bill Nye's yearly lecture with Neil Degrasse Tyson by the end of Loki's first week in the tower that the two would end up in a relationship. At the time, Tony had laughed and called the notion absurd. After the scientist caught them making out on the couch instead of watching the end of Swinging with the Finkles, though, two tickets showed up on the Gamma specialist's work bench. (Bruce figured it all worked out in the end because the only person he had to go with was Tony anyway. Besides, this year's lecture was on the possibilities of time travel and he really wanted to go.)
The transition from friends to…more seemed to go rather smoothly for the pair. They still spent practically all of their time together, though Tony still made time for his other friends; don't think they'd been forgotten. Loki, with an opening for best friend to fill, found an unlikely kinship in Natasha. She called him on his bullshit and took it as well as she shoveled it out. Tony was just glad that Loki and the other Avengers were getting closer.
Loki and Tony didn't even fight. They bantered and traded snarky comments, but they didn't have full-blown fights…until they did. The first time they got into an actual altercation (over chocolate pudding cups, no less), Tony had stormed out and gone to stay at his Miami residence. In retaliation, Loki had used his magic to make it snow across the entire state of Florida for a week.
Neither budged on the issue until Fury got sick and tired of the whole thing and told Tony to man the fuck up and apologize. Tony had, of course, passed the issue off with loads of snark, but ended up still doing what he was told. Turned out, as much as Tony hated fighting, he loved the make-up sex.
The public and the media were, understandably, not too keen on the idea of having Loki back on the planet. There was general outcry when it was discovered that not only was the former-would-be-invader dating Tony Stark, but he'd been made a member of the Avengers…or maybe it was the other way around. Luckily, due to some creative PR work and the support of pretty much the entire internet, the hubbub had died down after a while. As Loki helped the Avengers more and more, he became accepted by the people of Earth. It was…an odd feeling for him.
He and Tony had been together for three years when Thor came to Loki for help. The Dark Elves were not as wiped-out as everyone had thought and they had mounted an attack upon Asgard. Numerous guards had been slain, and they had threatened Frigga, but everyone had come out alright in the end. Unfortunately, the dark energy they wished to use to destroy Asgard and rebuild their own planet had somehow taken up residence in Jane's body. If left unattended to, she would die.
Loki, with many exasperated sighs, had gone to help his brother. Within two days, he'd contained the entire situation and delivered to Thor the head of the leader of the Dark Elves who had threatened their mother. (Tony would tease Loki relentlessly for being a momma's boy.) It helped matters that Loki had also taken a blow during a fight that had been meant for his 'dear' brother. Thor, in his usual overabundance of gratitude, promised Loki any prize he wished as a show of thanks. Loki's answer surprised all of them.
"A golden apple from the tree of Yggdrasil? But, brother, you are already immortal? What do you wish with an apple from the world tree?"
Frigga's smile was knowing and she nodded to her younger son in approval. His face, though, remained impartial, refusing to give anything away.
"The apple is not for myself. Now, this is the prize I request, will you give it to me or not?"
That night, as he explained his adventure to Tony, the genius had asked what he planned to do with the apple. Loki responded by pulling the fruit from his pocket and passing it to the other man.
"I have had to save you from death six times in the past month and frankly, it's getting old. Since I have no faith in your ability to grow up and take care of yourself, I am dealing with the issue another way. Eating the apple will elongate your life, as well as granting you superior reflexes, strength, and speed. I doubt it is enough to fully combat your general stupidity, but it will at least help."
"Oh, gee, thanks. I don't know why anyone ever thought you, of all people, would be evil. Really. It's a complete mystery to me, what with your caring attitude and concern for others."
Frigga's exasperated sigh could be heard all the way in Niflheim.
After the incident with the elves, Thor began to call upon his brother's wit and quick thinking more and more often. While Thor had the charisma and good heart to make an excellent king, he'd never been grand at dealing with things such as court politics or the details of running a kingdom. Loki quickly became a key advisor to Thor's rule, guiding him with derision and judgment that could not be matched.
The people of Asgard did not easily trust the return of their younger prince, despite the common knowledge of what had happened to him at Odin's hand. Slowly, though, as he solved more and more problems, they began to welcome him back as one of their own. So frequent were Loki's trips to his home realm, that he began taking Tony along with him. Tony enjoyed the opportunity to study more about combining his technology with their magic and was soon offering up suggestions of how to use his new knowledge to their advantage, as well as Earth's. It didn't take long for the people of Asgard to accept him, as well.
Time brought more than just gain, though, especially to those as long lived as Asgardians. Rhodey was the first of Tony's friends to die, killed on a mission as War Machine. The Avengers had quickly come together to take vengeance for the man, but it didn't lessen the sting. Clint and Natasha went down together when a bomb set by Dr. Doom caught them in the blast. Tony would never forgive himself for not getting there faster.
Coulson passed away at 63 of a heart attack, though Tony had gone to extensive lengths to make sure they weren't being fooled again. Bruce and Pepper both lasted significantly longer, passing away from old age. Bruce at 87 and Pepper at 94, they'd made it to a remarkably old age. It was painful for Tony to watch. He still aged, but at a much slower pace, and he looked almost the same even when Pepper's hair was grey and she couldn't remember his name.
Eventually, the only original Avengers left were Tony and Steve. Thor was too busy with being king to have been considered an Avenger for many, many years and though SHIELD kept bringing in new blood, things were never quite the same. Steve had been reunited with his friend Bucky and, after they'd managed to get Bucky his mind back, they'd stuck close to one another's side. At the age of 140, Tony made the final move to living on Asgard, Earth full of too many memories of too many people he'd lost.
He did, however, invent a device to produce portals on demand so that he could easily return to help if needed. It wasn't his only new invention. Over the years, he's reduced the bulk of his suit over and over while at the same time upping its power. He found that, with the abilities granted to him by the golden apple, it was easier to fight without all the metal holding him down. He used nano-technology combined with the power of his arc reactor to allow himself limited access to the magic used by Asgardians, even if it was weak in comparison.
He was able to manage basic spells, such as creating energy that he could then manipulate through magnets and electrical currents in his new and improved gauntlets. He could even manage to do other things, such as levitate light objects and put people to sleep.
He reveled in the chance to use this technology and often joined Asgard's soldiers when there was a militant threat to be handled. The people of Asgard loved him and he quickly gained a reputation for his prowess in battle. Neither he nor Loki could figure out why the people had decided to appoint him the sigil of a mountain goat, but they just laughed and went with it. Loki suggested that it was perhaps due to his tendency to rush into battle head on.
They had been together for nearly a thousand years when a magical boar attacked Vanaheim. As one of the realms under Asgard's protection, Tony took a group of warriors and went to her aid. The battle was epic, as the boar was near the size of a small house and much more vicious. In the end, Tony managed to kill it by sticking his hand in the animal's mouth and blasting its brain out where there was no thick hide to protect it.
The cost was great, though. One of the boar's tusks caught Tony low on his abdomen and gauged out a portion of his hip. Not even Asgard's great healers could fix the destroyed portion of Tony's body completely and Loki spent hours at his love's bedside, awaiting his awakening. It was the god who delivered the terrible news that Tony had lost the use of his leg.
Tony locked himself away in his workshop, refusing to let anyone inside for nearly two weeks. Loki hovered nearly, worried for the man he treasured above all else, but not sure what to do. At the very least, he was able to ensure that Tony took the food that was placed outside the door. At the end of what seemed like a lifetime, the inventor emerged from his self-inflicted solitude. Loki was stunned beyond words.
Using the technology for his suit, Tony had built himself a brace that was permanently grafted to his own leg. It would bend and move the hip area however Tony needed it to. He couldn't stand the thought of being held back or a burden to Loki. The king's advisor was just glad he was safe. He could never think of Tony as a burden.
"That's not what you said when you gave me that apple."
"Yes, well, it was that or tell you I couldn't bear the thought of being without you."
"Aw…who knew that Sabrina the Teenage Witch was such a softie?"
"Yeah, I love you, too."
More years passed as Asgard flourished. More battles were fought and won. Tony constantly worked to improve his tech, never forgetting where he came from. He also never forgot the man who had given him the greatest gift he'd ever received and then disappeared. They had never found Ramdring, not even a whisper of his existence, which only puzzled Tony further. How was that even possible? But it'd long since faded into the back of his memory.
It wasn't until the people of Asgard gave him a new title that he thought back on the man too seriously. It'd started within the group of troops he personally lead and spread throughout all the realms, Tony Stark, Foe-Rammer. He'd laughed the first time he'd heard it. It reminded him of a book he'd read back on Earth, about a different world and a different time. There'd been a quirky wizard and a small hobbit and a sword called Glamdring, the Foe Hammer. Only this was more like Ramdring…
That's when the laughter had stopped.
That night, Tony had looked in the mirror, at the grey in his hair and the braces on his hip and shoulder. He was much broader now than he had been all those years ago, more muscle on his frame, but the basics were still the same. He knew what he needed to do.
It took only a matter of hours in his forge to make the mask he needed, with curled horns protruding from the temples. Everything else was already equipped into his armor. He grabbed the sword that had been presented by the Dwarves, their thanks for him helping out with a mining accident that had caused a cave in, and headed to the bed chambers he shared with Loki.
The man he loved was as beautiful as ever, if older now. The lines of his face were those of laughter and smiles and the gleam in his eyes was happiness, not madness. Tony's chest swelled with love when he came back, he was going to put a ring on one of those long, delicate fingers. He should have done so ages ago.
Loki looked him up and down with interest over top of his book.
"Where are you going?"
"To Heimdall, there's something I must do."
Loki went to mark his page and set the book aside.
"I'll come with you."
"No." Tony crossed the room to capture the other's lips in a kiss before pressing their foreheads together. "I'm afraid this is something I have to do on my own. I'll be back soon, though. I promise."
Years ago, being kept out of a part of Tony's life would have hurt the Aesir. He would have seen it as a sign that he was unwanted, a burden. Now, though, he was more secure in himself and simply smiled gently.
"What are you doing?"
Tony smiled back and kissed him again.
A/N: Alright, so there you have it! Let's be honest, who say that ending coming? In general, I hate time travel anything. I have often said that if I were to find a time traveling device, I would destroy it and then kill its creator to save the world from sure destruction. (Yeah, I REALLY hate time travel.) This, though…well, I'm still not totally happy with it, but it'll do.
I would love to hear what you all think! This is only my second Avengers fic, the first one being Coward(Also FrostIron…nudge nudge wink wink hint hint) but I have a couple more in mind and I would be very interested in what readers would like to see. I take prompts and suggestions happily! (I also take constructive criticism, even regular criticism, if you've got it.) I am constantly trying to improve and love to get feedback!
I hope you all have enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! Toodles, now!