A/N: So, I could sit here and try to explain just where I've been, but you guys deserve more than to hear that sob story. Instead, I'll simply say life decided to shovel me in the face. Multiple times.
Forewarning, once again, this story is a slash and it's this chapter that it finally earns its genre. Don't like, well, I'm not sure why you're still reading this then.
A big thank you to everyone who loves this little story. I'm sorry for letting you all down. I hope you all enjoy the final chapter of this FrostIron journey anyway. All comments and commentary are greatly appreciated.
A special shout out to Selene-of-the-Moon2. Happy 21st Birthday hon. Thank you for being my friend. I couldn't have finished this without your support, which is why I worked extra hard to get it out today, just for you. I hope it doesn't disappoint.
Just a Rose on a Star
"The Little Prince went to look at the roses again.
'You're not at all like my rose. You're nothing at all yet,' he told them. 'No one has tamed you and you haven't tamed anyone. You're the way my fox was. He was just a fox like a hundred thousand others. But I've made him my friend, and now he's the only fox in all the world.'
And the roses were humbled.
'You're lovely, but you're empty,' he went on. 'One couldn't die for you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she's the one I've watered. Since she's the one I put under glass. Since she's the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she's the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three for butterflies). Since she's the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she's my rose.'"
~The Little Prince
It was, oddly enough, the taste that woke him. Each arc reactor before had had the same strange by-product, so it was nothing new. Tony rolled his tongue thoughtfully, squinting his eyes open. His first had tasted overwhelmingly of burnt eggs and rust, while the palladium took on the flavors of rhubarb pie and oozing copper. The new element was a kick of pure coconut topped with a generous dollop of iron but this, a sugar coating in the back of his throat, sickly sweet and bitter all at once, made him frown. Loki's magic and star power apparently reduced to a shaving of pure metal inlayed with Lucky Charms. Who knew?
"…alrighty then," he said warily, blinking in the intensity of the stars. It took him a moment to realize the storm had cleared, the only evidence it had ever been a few scattered clouds coupled with the hot smell of rain on the air and the drenched state of every available surface Tony could see, including himself. He shivered instinctively, expecting the aching twinge that had been growing the past weeks, but when no pain laced through his chest he frowned deeper, surprised.
It was then Loki came into focus, equally soaked. He looked like he'd been put through the ringer, more than once, exhaustion hinting in the wrinkles of his eye lids, the furrowed line of his brow. And he was saying Tony's name, over and over again, the tone of his voice hinting at how many times the god had done so and how irritated he was becoming that Tony had yet to answer him.
Tony was still chewing thoughtfully at the funny aftertaste when Loki leaned over him and heaved a tired sigh at the face he made. Trying to think of something witty to say in the silence proved difficult as reality slid more and more into clearer focus. Tony soaked in the graceful chaos of Loki's person, a half-assed joke about the sweetness on his tongue the best he could come up with before the magnet re-engaged and the arc reactor, with its brand new energy source, flickered to life.
And then, power kick.
"Oh hell yes!"
Hearty, incredulous laughter erupted from him. When the force of it failed to hurt, Tony laughed even harder until his eyes watered and the only sounds he could make were incoherent, erratic syllables, made all the more so when Loki's expression took a utterly hilarious turn. If he hadn't felt so amazing, so alive and light in that moment, he probably would've believed himself to have gone as completely off the deep end as the god seemed to think he had. Not that he would've cared all that much either way. He was alive, he was breathing, and Loki looked more than a little pleased about it.
Not to mention there was a freaking star in his chest.
"I'm about three seconds away from declaring my undying love for you," Tony huffed out like a complete idiot and lifted his head to see. A nightlight of white and blue greeted him and he traced the rim of the arc reactor with curious fingers, grinning stupidly when it immediately began to glow brighter in response to his touch. He had to bite back another round of ecstatic mirth when the light inside hummed at him, like a purring cat. In an odd way, it wasn't even surprising. He fought blood-thirsty freaks and aliens for a living. Of course he would be the one who, out of all the stars in the universes, would get one with personality.
"Actually scratch that, because as of right now I'm seriously considering saying hello to this thing and that totally makes me Sailor Moon. I may have to punch you in the face to counter that." Loki's brow twitched and Tony shook his head, grinning so fiercely his cheekbones burned with the effort. "I can't believe you really did it. I mean I can but God. A fucking star; this is awesome."
Some of the weariness seemed to ease off of Loki at the exuberant praise, a softness settling over him in its place. With a short chuckle, he pressed down on Tony's shoulders when he shifted to try to see the star better, a wordless insistence to stay down.
"Always in such a rush," he snarked and the light that hit his eyes right then made him ridiculously attractive, which was just unfair. Or maybe that was only stardust lifting Tony's heart sky high. He hoped so anyway. "I am pleased to hear my capabilities have exceeded your expectations."
Unspoken laughter was warm in his voice and the almost affectionate tilt of his lips let Tony know they were quickly falling down the dangerous Path of No Return. And he didn't care that they were. A warning bell went off somewhere in the back of his mind, cautioning if he didn't get something rational into his brain and quickly, he would do something beyond stupid, such as kiss the smirk clean off Loki's mouth like some rescued Disney princess. And that was becoming far more tempting than it should've been.
Sailor Moon indeed. Time to find some solid footing.
"Is it stable?" Tony asked, forcing his mind to business. The novelty of the moment was beginning to wear off as the gravity of the situation finally settled in. Fuzzy thoughts for sentient stars aside, there was a power source in his chest that he had no idea how to manage, or adapt, or work with, and that was enough to sober him up. Converting stars into energy was not something human science had conquered outside of solar power, which meant he was running blind with Loki the only one in control here.
Tony might be learning to trust the guy, sure, but two weeks playing nice didn't change a person's nature so easily, at least not in Tony's experience. Loki was still a God destined to destroy the worlds, a known liar and deceiver newly freed from a punishment that definitely hadn't endeared anyone to him. Being an object of Tony's curiosity and desires didn't mean Loki returned any of those feelings or gave them any credence. (His feelings didn't count for much of anything to anyone if he was entirely honest; never had and probably never would anyway. Pepper was the closest he'd ever gotten and that still had managed to blow up in his face. He was kidding himself if he thought anything with Loki could possibly be any different.)
He tried not to let the small fear that the magic in his chest was some sort of back-stabbing, mind control spell show on his face, even if the calculated odds proved that if Loki wanted to betray him, he would have no finer opportunity than now. It didn't help that if it was stable, and Loki had truly saved his life, Tony was now in serious debt with the God of Mischief who was deep in the middle of a grudge match with the universe. Debt he would have to pay, no matter the price. Loki owed him nothing after all; Tony owed him everything. Leverage was more dangerous than emotions on any given day.
He gave the core another experimental touch, delighted when it once again purred against his fingertips. Tony could feel the power in it, a swirling mass of energy somehow fitted neatly next to his heart, warm and comforting, a wonderful contrast to his thoughts. It was incredible to feel and he couldn't make his smile fall, even with the uncertainty twisting his gut.
"Stars are individual," Loki told him, voice soothing over his unease. He swiped a finger around Tony's to make it glow a deep shade of blue. "This particular one should hold for nearly a month – a sufficient amount of time, I presume, for you to create a replacement."
So, that meant Loki had actually saved his life… with no strings attached? A silence fell as he waited for more, but all the lines he'd been expecting Loki to say, about being bound to him by debt, by owing him whatever he wished, never came. When it became clear the god was content to sit there and study him, expectant, Tony let his head fall back onto the cement to regard him better, hard pressed to hide his growing wonder behind his best poker face.
"I hope you decided on something you want then," he offered the opening carefully, voice even. "Best ask it now while I'm feeling especially generous."
"Oh?" Loki tilted his head, a mischievous slant to the corners of his smile. "And if I choose to wait? After all, my hatred for my former home has yet to be sated. Having the almighty Man of Iron in my debt would prove… most entertaining."
Playful sarcasm tone dripped off his every word, Tony's ruse easily found and toyed with. Tony choked on a laugh at that and Loki's smile grew more genuine, the brief wariness between them gone as fast as it had come. Two weeks dancing to their strange music and Loki had managed to see through him at last. The thought was disarming, the feeling of finally being seen wholly and completely both frightening and powerfully stirring. A pleasant burn lighted in his chest, his relief audible on his breath.
"Now I really need to give you something," he grinned wide, "just for that. Consider it a bonus."
Loki gazed down at him in open amusement, but Tony could see the interest lifting his mouth.
"And what could the great Tony Stark offer me?" He actually laughed, smug bastard.
"Don't play me off so easily, you," Tony scoffed, bumping his knee against Loki's side. He crossed his arms and the star hummed happily against his skin. "I can be a generous asshole when I want to be. Ask and you shall receive. 'Ask' of course being the operative word here."
He batted his lashes as annoyingly as possible and Loki chuckled, shifting backwards onto his heels. The last of the storm clouds were retreating finally, allowing the moonlight to fall fully on them, highlighting the water droplets on Loki's cheek and adding a glowing sheen to his hair. It reminded Tony when he'd read through the Prose Edda, how it had referred to Loki as beautiful. With the way the light caught on every crevice of his outline, some part of Tony was inclined to agree, though he would die before ever admitting it. Loki stared at the skies with a soft, considering hum and Tony tried to follow where his gaze was, wondering just what Loki would even ask for… if he didn't choose to wait and drag this out, a real possibility since Tony would probably go mad wondering and they both knew it. Loki, egomaniac that he was, would get a kick out of that, he was sure. He had a feeling Loki enjoyed making him twitch.
As far as gifts and favors were concerned, it wasn't as though he hadn't thought about it. Pouring through the Eddas had risen more questions and ideas than he'd known what to do with, ideas that could potentially get him into a lot of trouble. Getting more or less obsessed with the God of Mischief hadn't helped. Feelings and whether or not they even mattered and all that. It wasn't like he was worried about turning heads. He wouldn't be Tony Stark if he wasn't willing to sound all of SHIELD's alarms through one course of action or another. (Any chance to see that vein throb on Fury's temple was worth taking, if only for the laughs.) It was more Loki's reaction he was concerned with. And the possibility of inter-world war; always something to think about.
Tony studied Loki closely as an idea whispered in his mind, gauging Loki's thoughts from the flicker of his eyes. His fingertips traced the surface of the reactor and the star pulsed brightly, encouraging him. If Loki noticed his staring, he didn't acknowledge it, too busy counting stars. The small smile on his face and thoughtful look brought to mind the Little Prince and Tony couldn't help but laugh under his breath at the mental image of Loki raking out miniature volcanoes on his own round bit of rock, somewhere in space. The rush of fondness that followed, as well as a swelling of something Very Dangerous in his chest, made his mind up for him. Whether or not Loki needed an example, proof his offer was genuine and unlimited, Loki was going to get one. He could at least do that much.
Before he could even think to stop, he took the gamble.
"Jörmungandr was sealed in one of Earth's oceans right?" he asked, giving voice to the question that had bothered him the most and the longest, remembering the fates of Loki and his children from the Eddas. The genuine surprise on Loki's expression spoke volumes and Tony reveled in it. He would've patted his own back if that were possible, unreasonably happy and proud that his perception of Loki as a good father stood correct. It would make dealing this out a lot easier on his conscience and far more rewarding the longer Loki kept gaping at him like that.
"I'm sure by scanning some of your magic I can figure out where he is based off the signature," Tony told him with his most earnest I-may-just-be-planning-to-rule-the-world-and-you're-welcome-to-join-the-party smile. "Supposing of course your brand of crazy is genetic. It might take awhile, but at least you won't have to wonder anymore. Just no Earth-crushing. It'll be hard enough getting SHIELD to keep from executing me on the spot for even considering releasing your son, so that whole earth destroying urge of his? No más. Considering my line of work, I'm sure there's pills for that somewhere."
"Stark," Loki started then stopped, apparently stunned speechless. Tony took that as a good sign and plowed on.
"If you can get me onto Asgard, I can try to track down Narfi too," he rambled, his enthusiasm kicking in as an influx of plans began playing out in his head. "Though I'm not sure about that one. I'd have better luck sneaking into the stables to steal Sleipnir for you. Take him out for a joyride or something. And if you wanted him here, I've got plenty of spots to hide him… come to think of it, Pepper has this really big greenhouse he'd get fat in. His brother would be a bit trickier, but if you know where Fenrir is, I could cook up a wicked set of chain cutters for you to use and a big box of dog-treats… he likes those doesn't he? Or is he really a virgins-only kind of guy? Because that could get complicated, not gonna lie. Though we could just lure him out with Steve if we're desperate enough –"
"You know, now that I think about it, Hel would probably be easiest. I'd just have to convince Odin to give her some time off, or force visiting rights for you. As an Avenger, I have standing right? And I did sort of blow up the Chitauri single-handedly. That's got to have won me some brownie points with Big Daddy –"
"Holy shit that's it!" Tony grabbed for Loki's arms with flailing hands, dumbfounding the god further. Excitement thrummed wildly through him as the plots lined up into a solution so simple he wanted to scream. He settled for sitting up and laughing like the manic genius he was. "I'm an Avenger. I literally saved the planet. I defeated an army Asgard didn't even know about. Do you know what that means?" He gave Loki a curt shake, wide-eyed. "That means Odin owes me one. Holy fuck! I might be able to get your kids released with a single word! HA!"
Loki seemed to be in various states of bewilderment and disbelief as Tony beamed at him, triumphant and way too proud to be healthy. Surprise fit him well though and Tony wiggled a bit in place, the star flickering from white to blue to white in the most gleeful color show Tony had ever seen.
"I need this in writing," he grinned. Pepper would've said something witty regarding hot air and the size of his head if she could see him now. "One up on Big Thunder? Putting that on my résumé."
There was an undeniable glimmer of resolve in Loki's eyes, something over-bright and startling, emotions twisting his face too quickly to read. The effect of it was mildly unsettling, and as the weight of his own words – no, promises – hit him fully, Tony's thought train crashed into a spectacular heap. Silence fell as that sharp gaze measured his honesty, counted his worth, calculated the possibility. He had a half second breath of panic, that he had crossed way over the Daddy line and there was no taking his words back, no playing it off. And wasn't that just dandy? He'd meant every word and Loki knew it. They both did.
Well, damn. Seemed he was doomed to jump from one insane whimsy to the next, wasn't he? He really wished he had a working Shut Up Filter. Open mouth, insert foot.
"You would really do that," Loki cut across, voice full of glass and bleeding edges. It wasn't exactly a question and it wavered on the brim of wonder and incredulity, mere millimeters from tipping over and shattering, as though the very thought of someone willing to help regain his paternal rights was the strangest thing he'd ever heard. And it probably was with the way Loki was staring at him like he was a damn saint. God, what a heartbreaker.
Like a dam breaking, relief and something Definitely Dangerous flooded him, drowning out the doubt in a rush of warmth. Their eyes locked and Tony felt his world tip forward, shifting on its axis, everything blurred under the glow of the star, until it was only the two of them lost together in planes of gray and blue. The piercing lines of disbelief and utter hope on the god's face were doing nothing for Tony's self control and he reached out to brush away a tendril of damp hair off Loki's forehead, feeling himself soften at the contact, smiling his answer.
"Of course I would. Haven't you heard? I'm actually a pretty decent human being." Tony snorted at his own wit. "And who knows? I probably have a hidden talent for horse-thieving among my many numerous gifts."
Loki gave a low laugh and, after a soft exhale, something seemed to settle in him.
"Thank you Stark," he murmured, lips quirked upwards, and Tony was quite sure that fire in his eyes had not been there before. It was good to see. "I will consider it."
"Make sure you do," Tony grinned back. Now that the openness of the moment was wearing down, he was becoming more and more aware of far more pressing matters, such as how close Loki actually was just then, how warm he was, how fucking good he smelled. His hands twitched involuntarily, aching to touch, until he realized his grip was still vice-like on the god, lost somewhere in his tunic. He couldn't seem to find them anywhere. A brief alarm flared in response and, catching it, Loki's mouth was already starting to stretch into a very amused angle. Tony willed himself to let go, salvage some bit of his dignity before it was too late, and glared at his fingers when they refused to obey, the traitors.
It wasn't until a low chuckle lit up Loki's eyes that Tony realized his ass was asleep, and the sheer familiarity in their positions born of two weeks' worth of mornings pulled an answering laugh out of him as well. Oh, but they were dancing, weren't they?
"Is this going to be a thing for us from now on?" he snarked. Shifting a bit to stretch some life back into his backside, he managed to extract one of his hands and held it forward, palm first, feeling for the barrier that was no longer there. A pleased spark thrilled through him when Loki answered him easily, matching their fingers together.
An electric zing fired through the nerve endings in his skin, shooting down his arm. The engineer part of him flinched out of instinct, expecting the pain and heat that usually accompanied getting zapped with a wire. Instead, a low burn lighted in the low of his stomach, warming him to his bones. It was the same as when Loki had touched him before, the first time on his shoulder. Even the faint surprise on the god's face was no different.
"Either my life just turned into a cliché two-bit romance or your magic has a serious crush on me," Tony remarked dryly, shivering at the sensation. Loki shook his head faintly, as curious about it as he felt.
"It has never reacted in such a way before." They shared a look while his magic settled. The feeling receded and their palms connected again without incident. Loki blinked with the closest thing to a pout Tony had ever seen on him. And if that didn't bring to mind embarrassing things like 'cute' and 'unfairly handsome' to all parties involved, he'd pawn Jarvis off to Clint.
"I'm flattered." Tony forced his voice to even out, tone down the flirting, lest he make more of an ass of himself than he already had. Loki smiled a bit crookedly at that and rolled his eyes, and Tony knew that if he didn't get the hell up and move away, the next few seconds were about to hit a critical stage of awkward he wasn't too keen on exploring.
Let it never be said Tony Stark didn't own a shred of tact.
"I can't feel my ass." Not his smoothest line ever, but whatever got the job done. "Any chance of us taking this inside? You know, where it's dry and there's blankets? And a very comfy couch?" And a whole armory of booze with his name on it.
Loki obligingly shifted away, giving him ample room to try and find his feet again. His knee gave a twinge and he frowned at it, but managed to get his legs under him without tipping over, which he considered a win. Rolling his shoulders, he gave his body an experimental twist, and grinned when the star hummed gleefully at him.
The happy little light distracted him just long enough for two strong arms to get around and under him, and before he could even protest about it, he was in the air and Loki was walking them back towards his penthouse lounge as nonchalant as you please, looking more than a little smug about it, asshole.
"Is this really necessary?" He did not yelp just then, thank you very much. Tony turned his most impressive scowl on the god but Loki only smirked wider at him before assuring him that yes, yes it was with what had to be the most infuriatingly beautiful smile in his arsenal.
"You think you're so funny," Tony muttered and crossed his arms. When Loki threw his head back and laughed, he figured his man-card could've been up for forfeit for much worse.
But that still didn't mean he had to be happy about it.
Or go quietly.
He was halfway down a bottle of scotch when he realized he wasn't wearing a shirt.
The revelation came all at once and unprovoked, in the middle of an hour full of small talk and a rather amusing argument about the merits of star power as opposed to solar energy. Tony only really noticed at all when Loki's eyes drifted over his chest and stayed for longer than was strictly necessary, but upon glancing stupidly downwards to see what the matter was, the sheen of his own skin was like a shovel to the face. Even the star bubbled as he fumbled with his drink, laughing at him.
He'd never been self-conscious by nature, one of the perks of being a billionaire blessed with classically dark features surrounded almost daily by overly beautiful people vying for his attention, but seeing the way Loki was taking in every eyeful of Tony he could get, face impassive and unreadable, only made him squirm in place, itching for a shirt.
All his clothes were two floors up and he was suddenly faced with the fear that leaving the couch they were sharing would prompt Loki to disappear. It struck him for the first time just how slippery the god was, how hard to hold on to. An odd thought, considering Loki seemed in no hurry to leave his small throne of pillows, but as Tony watched him twirl his own glass, knock back the drink with a flash of pale throat, each movement he made a study in casual, lazy grace, Tony began to wonder just how the hell he could have ever thought it was even possible to keep Loki there, on his couch, in his home, in his life.
The God of Mischief, who hated practically the entire universe, was now free. Free to come and go and destroy as much as he pleased. Loki was a dark horse, a wild card, a god of vengeance with a smile worth a thousand secrets. Mischief and malice all in one. No matter what Tony wished for, or said, or offered, Loki would do what he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted, with whomever he wanted. And Tony had no say, no leverage to stay on page, no bid to play. Rather pathetic all things considered.
Oddly perturbed by the thought and unwilling to risk it, Tony settled for pulling a blanket around his shoulders and snuggling into the couch, half for the comfort of it, half to keep grounded. He purposely kept the arc reactor within easy sight, figuring the constantly flickering light was the only linchpin he had left to bait Loki's interest. That and a life-debt. When Loki's consideration had come to mean so much, he didn't know. Didn't want to know, really.
"You're gonna have to get me into the secret of this star power thing," was his attempt to steer back to somewhere broaching normal. And considering having a star in his chest was now his new normal, it was all he could do not to grab the scotch bottle from the coffee table and attempt to drown in it. It was bad enough being carted around like some new bride by a god he may or may not have a serious case of the stupids for. Coupling that with the fact his very straight arrow of sexuality had veered rather spectacularly off course during recent weeks, Tony found himself finishing off his glass with vehemence in silent protest against the idiocy of his own desires. He didn't quite know how this was his life.
Heedless to his internal screaming, Loki reached for the scotch and refilled his drink to a generous line. When Tony frowned at him, he smirked around a mouthful and set the bottle back down, decidedly out of reach.
"Rude," Tony pouted, a funny buzz in his ears. "Shockingly rude." Loki just smiled, cat-like and predatory, eyes sparking in the faint light.
"I would have answers from you," he declared after a moment, apposite of nothing, and sat forward from his corner in the cushions, contemplating him on the edge of his personal bubble. Tony blinked rapidly while he processed that, unsure how to respond for a few breaths.
"Bit random for you, but I'll roll with it…?" He managed to sound calm at least. Mostly calm.
A weird quiet stretched between them as Loki watched him, probably making sure he wasn't going to randomly jump out the nearest window screaming. Tony would be lying if he said the thought hadn't crossed his mind (been there, done that anyway), but he forced his body to relax all the same. It was undeniably comfy slotted in the corner of the couch like he was, and with the added warmth of alcohol in his bloodstream, moving was becoming less appealing by the second. He worked out his nerves by fiddling with the hem of the blanket, fingers drumming odd patterns on his empty glass. He gave the bottle a despairing glance but otherwise made no move towards it, something the other took in with a knowing look.
The smile slowly fell away from his mouth and Loki dropped his gaze to the arc reactor, voice low with intent.
"If I had not come to you this night, it is highly probably you would not have lived to see the morning. Perhaps comatose by some earthly miracle, but likewise indisposed to save yourself." Tony's grip tightened on his glass but he very carefully did not react further. It wasn't exactly news to him, though hearing it out loud had a bite to it he hadn't expected. Or maybe it was just the source that jolted him. Humming lowly, he swallowed hard, a sudden lump in his throat. The green of those irises seemed impossibly dark, pinpricks of light flaring blue across his pupils.
"You are not surprised," Loki stated, flat and dangerous. Tony only shrugged in response.
"What do you want me to say?" he couldn't help asking, jaw clenching defensively. "I'm probably the stupidest smart person this side of the cosmos. This shouldn't be news to you. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not. Otherwise you wouldn't be glaring at me like I stole all your candy or something."
He hadn't been aiming to push buttons, but Tony had a natural talent for it, and when the lights suddenly went out, the shine in that glare flickering, he knew he'd royally fucked things up without even trying. Somehow.
Tony tapped the star to make it glow brighter and it happily complied, picking up a brilliant silver-white to highlight the room. The glow it drew over Loki's outline did nothing to settle his nerves, and as his protective barriers rose to the vanguard, he slowly stretched for the table with his glass, setting it down with a solid thud.
"Care to explain to me why you give a damn?" Tony bit out, desperate to get a word in edge-wise before the oncoming shitstorm had a chance to blow his way. If Loki wanted to pick a fight, he was in for a rude surprise.
"I saved your life," the god snapped back, wholly unimpressed. "That is explanation enough."
"Is it now?" he chuckled without humor, sinking more fully into his blanket, smothering the starlight. "News to me."
His words hovered over them far longer than he'd expected them to. The hair on his arms and neck rose in the deafening silence he'd garnered and he tucked in against a sudden chill. Then he heard the shifting of fabric, the sigh of a body, and then Loki was suddenly just there, sharing his space, a solid weight against his drawn up knees.
"Still do not trust me, Stark?" A fingertip traced up the line of his jugular; a promise, a dare. Even in the haze of dark, Tony could feel his razorblade smile and answered with one of his own.
"I trust you to be you," he admitted and wondered why his voice had softened, despite the cold dread tightening in his chest. The hand against his windpipe stilled and Tony leaned into it with a dare of his own. "I'm just not sure where I fit."
"A truth for a truth, from the God of Lies." Loki breathed out in a strangled release of tension, breath hot against his mouth. Confused and on edge as he was, Tony knew that all he had to do was tilt forward just so and he could steal the moment and hold it in the crease of their lips. A heady idea that made the air catch in his lungs. "Never have I believed a soul could exist so like my own."
The palm over his heart was unexpected and Tony stopped breathing as fingers splayed over his skin.
"You will ruin me, Tony Stark," Loki whispered somewhere behind his ear, voice thick with ghosts. "By the Nine, you will break me open in my own obsession, little more than a tamed fox waiting upon the hours. That is how you 'fit'." Tony smiled when he caught the reference, ducking his head with a breathless exhale. A shoulder was there to catch him and he pressed his forehead into the folds of Loki's tunic, dizzy on the smells that wafted in his wake. Fingers wrapped around his elbow, securing him in place.
"I would have answers from you," Loki said again, resolute, mouthing the words into his neck. "And one way or another, know that I will have them."
"Only if I get a guarantee on the same thing," he murmured in return. "Because honestly, I'm still waiting for the punch line."
"You believe this all a jest?" Loki's grip tightened on him, unmovable. "This is no trick, Stark."
There were about a thousand things Tony wanted to say to that, but nothing rational was willing to come because Loki was suddenly holding him as though Tony were the one impossible to hold on to, not the other way around. Tony wasn't sure just what Loki was expecting or how to react, but his heartbeat was firm and strong against his temple, stirring his thoughts to its rhythm, willing Tony to trust his words, even though they were crafted by a Liesmith. He was utterly lost like this, unable to understand how they'd even gotten into this position, or how to untangle them out of it. If he even wanted to.
A shiver shot down his spine. Taking steadying fistfuls of blanket, Tony slowly tilted his head to catch Loki's gaze and took a leap of faith.
"You want to know why I was willingly killing myself, because I was more interested about my time with you," he offered. A flicker in his eyes let Tony know he'd guessed correctly. "All right. Short, short version then: I'm stupid. And we already know that. Even shorter version: it's got nothing to do with you."
He shifted backwards before Loki could protest and Tony met him stare for stare, determined that if he was really going to do this, sober, then the god needed to understand the sheer breadth of honesty he was going to give him in this moment, a sacrifice. He could feel his stomach drop away, fear like ice in his veins, making him shake. Alarms were going off in his head, shouting reasons as to why this was a terrible idea, that he was about to ruin everything. True to form, he ignored them all, set his jaw and took the plunge.
"Full story… I'm fucking tired." Once the words were out, it was like he'd ripped something vital inside, something heavy and buried deep. It left him out of breath, like a sucker-punch to the gut. Tony twisted into Loki's grip on him, needing an anchor to keep him grounded as he tried to give voice to the reasons he had never been able to understand. "The truth is, it's like… it's like I'm not afraid anymore. Can you believe that? I put my life on the line nearly every day for this city, for my team, and I'm not even afraid. Like fuck. Do you know what that means?"
He had to pry his fingers out of the blanket, knuckles white. Tony snorted harshly at that, staring down at them in morbid fascination.
"It means I don't care anymore. I don't care. Disappear in a cloud of smoke? Poof. At least I went up in flame and glory. Splattered against the sidewalk? Konk, ker-splat: Iron pancake. I won't give two shits either way."
Hands, cool and firm against his face, forcing his gaze back up. He blinked hard at the sudden burning he felt, staring unseeingly at the darkened ceiling, and there was just something about the gesture that caused the dam to break, and abruptly it came pouring out of him, a rush of emotion.
"Stark," Loki murmured and Tony dredged up a bitter laugh for him, shaking his head.
"I mean really," he plowed on before Loki could stop him, "who the hell decided it would be a brilliant idea to let me be a hero when I couldn't care less about myself? Because I'm Tony Stark? An Avenger? Because fate or destiny determined I am just better? Bullshit. I'm not better, I'm alone. And you know what happens when I'm alone for too long? I get curious. And when I'm curious, I get stupid, and I get reckless. But you know all about that, don't you?"
It was coming back to him, the last time he'd allowed himself to fall apart like this. It had been over a year ago, and Pepper had been easier to hold on to, a perfect fit in his arms. Her dark eyes on him, the way she'd smiled so lovingly at him, letting him know it was perfectly all right to be human, to be flawed, to be himself. It was almost odd now to be staring into green depths looking for the same understanding, the lines blurring every which way in the dark, the hazy glow of the star switching from blue to white. It colored them both a sickly pale, but could not hide the surprise written in every line of the god. Tony closed his eyes and leaned into the touch cradling him like a starving man, giving in to a tired smile.
"Do you know why I became Iron Man in the first place? Most would say vanity, or because I wanted to. Only I knew that by putting on that armor, I could find my true self, a real purpose. A chance to do real good in this world, leave my mark. Now, I put on that armor because I can not care enough to get the job done. I can do the bad things, the hard jobs, because I can keep my personal shit out of it. Tony Stark, fuelled by math and science, self-sacrifice for the greater good. Sounds great on paper, I imagine. But really, what the hell is so good about being practically suicidal? Why do people praise me for it? Is this the kind of hero people want me to be? Someone who can't even function with his own emotions? Is this Tony Stark what they all expect and need?"
Tony grabbed Loki's wrists, matched his stare once again, tried to find his breath. Sighed at the sheer madness of it all.
"Even if I believed in things like fate or destiny like you… I know this isn't what I'm meant to be. I don't want to be this. I can't be this. This life is mine. I carved it for myself. Every road I have walked, everything that I've done was because of choices I made. My ideas, my screw ups. That's why I don't care, because all I can think now is, what gives them the right to force me to be like this? Hell, what gives me the right to even protest this? Maybe I'm wrong and the greater good is worth being alone…"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not," Loki told him. "But I do not see how it would be worth your life. These past weeks you have deliberately tried to die with no opposition, no greater good to reason it away. Even if the heroic path has overtaxed you, it cannot be your excuse for this." He leaned in closer, pupils fully dilated in thought. "Explain Stark, why death is your preferred course?"
"It's not," Tony defended quickly, before his brain could catch up. "It's not… huh. Not really." He sighed deeply when Loki just stared at him, expression saying quite clearly that the god believed to have caught him in a circle of his own stupid. Tony pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, cursing under his breath. "It's just. Flirting with death, okay? No opposition. Just me and a choice, my choice. Not as a hero, but just as me, myself, and I. I needed to know that I could still do that. Choose, I mean. That my own death, my own choices did not just ride on Iron Man, or the Avengers, or this city, or anyone the fuck else. I needed to know that I could still be selfish, because I am selfish. I'm the most selfish bastard on the face of this planet. And people have forgotten this. Yes, I took it took far. What I did wasn't fair for the others. But I didn't do it for my team, or for this city. There's a reason I'm not a team player, because one day there will be a standard I cannot maintain, an expectation I cannot meet. And what the hell am I supposed to do when that standard is my own self? People slapped the hero label on the worst person possible."
He let his hands drop and slowly pulled Loki's fingers away from his face, dropping them onto the arc reactor, over the skin still bruised from where the palladium had wrought havoc, the still fading roads of silver ruin branching outward to kill his brain, his heart. Tony's tongue felt like lead, the words awkward and heavy in his mouth, and willed the other to understand, even though it was worthless, that what he felt meant nothing, just simple facts that weren't even simple, pieces to a puzzle. Answers to a question.
"What the hell am I doing? Why am I so frank about death? I can't even break even with my own suit, okay? What Iron Man is expected to do is something I'm afraid can't do anymore. So I just… I needed to remind myself that I was still human, still me. Before I can no longer live up to my own creation. That the Tony Stark that belonged in that suit isn't actually gone for good. I needed to make sure he still existed somewhere, that I could still be me."
Hearing the words, he could only laugh, drown out the sound of his own voice.
"God, I'm certifiable."
"And stupid," Loki inserted in and Tony couldn't even refute that, just smiled and looked away, wondering not for the first time what the hell he was doing and why he couldn't shut his emotions off completely like everyone thought he was capable of doing. Life would be so much easier if he was just a brain without a heart, schematics and ratios instead of expectations and standards, regrets and failures.
"Maybe one of these days I'll build a legion of Iron Men who can fly and fight and follow orders and be perfect. Rogers would cry I think. He could finally have the soldiers he deserves."
"You give the Captain too little credit," Loki said in a surprising defense of Steve. Tony raised an eyebrow at him, gaping, wondering if he had somehow misheard. Loki just shrugged, clearly in a loop Tony didn't even know was there, and continued on with his weird. "He is not so blind once pointed in the right course of action at the very least. Especially if it's made painfully apparent to him."
"…that is so far left field I don't even-"
"My brother wishes to court him, properly." Without preamble or context, Loki still looked rather smug about it. "If the pause in rainfall is to be any indication – as well as my personal knowledge of the fool, sad as it may be – the good Captain has finally given him an answer after far too long dancing away from the issue. That or Thor is simply dead, which would also allude to the end of the storm and its subsequent precipitation. Either case, a positive outcome, wouldn't you say?"
Tony couldn't help it. There was a beat of dead silence, then the dry tone coupled with the arrogant tilt of Loki's mouth had a bark of laughter trembling out of him before he could swallow it down, and then he was chuckling for real, helplessly, while Loki pinned him with an affronted look, which only set him off more. It was inappropriate, and so off topic Tony was sure he had whiplash from how quickly the subject had changed, but then Tony's mirth began to die down and Loki finally grinned wide, all sharp teeth and thin lips, so very pleased with himself, and it all made sense.
Tony shook his head, not quite sure what the hell that had been, but ridiculously happy Loki had played such a stupid card to cheer him up, even if it probably meant he'd had no idea how to deal with Tony's angst any more than Tony had. He'd probably gotten desperate and took the first opening he could, disguising his unease with his trademark charm. But Tony knew, somehow, in the odd way Loki had done it, that he'd still been understood. It wasn't a solution, no, but it was a step in the right direction, a good foot forward. And that left him feeling inarguably lighter than he'd felt in a long, long while.
But, still. "That is the stupidest - why the hell am I laughing at that?"
Loki's hands slowly drifted off his chest, tracing his ribcage, feather-light over where his sides were most sensitive. Tony flinched in surprise and Loki immediately firmed his hold, his gaze tracing down the path his touch had just formed.
"Because I know you," he stated, and there were more than a few secrets hanging on his words, in the sing-song quality of his voice. He smiled down at the arc of his fingers over the flat of Tony's stomach. When his gaze shifted back, all of Tony froze, like a rabbit caught in a snare. "More than you believe I do."
He could feel the hair on his neck begin to stand on end once again, a shiver traveling down the length of his torso. Any pretenses he could've made fell away to nothing when Loki leaned in, easily breaking through the barrier of his legs, eyes almost over-bright under lit by the star.
"There is something you have yet to guess of my magic, Stark," Loki told him plainly, clearly enjoying having one over on him.
"Uh… it actually has a crush on me?" He couldn't quite keep a note of panic out of his voice. Loki smirked when he caught it and continued impossibly closer until Tony was all but scrambling back into his corner of the couch, the god a heavy weight pressing him down.
"I suppose that is one way of looking at it."
"My magic is sentient," Loki huffed at him, like he totally wasn't almost completely on top of him now, like it was perfectly normal to stretch over Tony like a cat who wanted attention… which probably wasn't too far from the truth, come to think of it. Out of the two of them, Loki would be the only one singled out as the bat-shit crazy guy with a thousand cats. "As much as it is a part of me, I am also a part of it; two beings working in tandem. Most of my magic and tricks were a gift from my mother, who taught me everything I know. But some of it, the more… chaotic fragments, I inherited through the unfortunate circumstances of my true lineage."
Tony processed that as best he could, which was a feat in itself considering the way Loki was looming above him like that. "…so just your Smurf side wants in my pants, then? Which is totally cool with me, by the way. Just so we're clear."
"Your attempt at wit does you no favors, Stark. And you are missing the point." Loki accentuated this by pressing his palms back over Tony's chest, pushing him all the way down onto the arm of the chair. "This side of my magic has the innate ability to sense the vague impressions of emotion, though I do not understand the need those monsters may have in this gift, nor do I hold any desire to find out."
"Wait," Tony swallowed thickly, hands scrabbling for purchase on Loki's shoulders, keeping him from closing the last of the distance. He could feel the snow wind of power rolling gently over his skin and felt the familiar zing tingle down his arm. "Is that why it keeps zapping us? Because your inner Frost Giant totally has the hots for me? Oh, hell yes. This is now my new favorite thing. The rest of you can go home now."
Loki sighed and rolled his eyes, clearly unimpressed with his use of puns. "Don't be obtuse."
"Did you just use a math word?" Tony gaped at him.
"I have just told you my magic can read your emotions Stark," Loki countered with a Look that told Tony he was, once again, missing the point. A very, very important point. "Are you even going to venture into how I accomplish this?"
Oh, well. That got his attention. Tony snapped his gaze to match Loki's, interest peaked, glancing around briefly as though some device had magically appeared somewhere under his tunic or on his belt that held the answer. Until he noticed the truly wicked curl hiding on the edges of his smile as Loki flexed his hands over his skin… his bare skin, fingers digging hard into the muscles beneath. And then it clicked, and Tony was an idiot, because that was obvious, even by his standards, and he couldn't help the way the blood rushed to his face once it all sank in, flushing down his neck and shoulders.
"Would you like to know what you're thinking?" Loki purred at him and Tony's mouth went completely dry when he realized all that implied, what the god intended on doing, what the whole point of this had been. And then the god was pushing past his grappling hands before his mind could recover, as graceful as a snake, and a warm mouth closed over his, confident and eager. Tony gasped at the contact and Loki slid his lips easily over the gap, breathing him in with a devilish smirk.
Like an over-heated wire on a circuit board, Tony's brain went up in smoke. He arched up into the kiss, sliding his hands into dark locks of hair, raking his fingernails against Loki's scalp, until a soft moan escaped the god for his efforts. Possessive fingers slid down his sides, gripping painfully tight into his skin as he tilted Loki's head just so for better access to his mouth. Tony responded with just as much demand, urging their bodies to pull flush together, Loki sliding up and up until his long legs were straddling Tony's waist, the full weight of him pressing Tony fully against the pillows. He rocked his hips upward, drawing gasps from the both of them because goddamn, he hadn't even realized just how much he'd wanted this until now and he'd be damned if he lost his chance. Not that Loki seemed to mind much, canting his body forward in response with a breathless laugh, biting down on his lower lip appreciatively until it was kiss swollen and red, his own lips bearing Tony's imprints.
When Loki finally pulled back, Tony was panting and stunned, because that had actually fucking happened and the bedroom eyes he was getting were making the drunk butterflies in his stomach spontaneously combust. Somewhere in that mess of hair were his hands, and he didn't much care that he'd lost them. Again.
"What was that for, Mr. Spock?" was the best he could come with, but considering he just locked lips with an S-Class SHIELD villain and Destroyer of Worlds with powers that would put any Vulcan to same (his inner Trek-nerd was screaming), Tony figured he was allowed to have a lacking sass drive, especially since it felt like everything in his head had just short-circuited. He didn't stop the funny sound his throat made when Loki raised a solitary eyebrow though, unwittingly adding to the reference he didn't understand.
"Just how long have you wished to do that?" Loki took a leaf from his book, a question for a question. Tony tried to muster up enough air to chuckle properly.
"You're the one with the magic fingers. You tell me."
"I cannot. I only sample the vaguest of emotions." An easy smile. "I cannot read your mind, Stark."
"Probably a good thing," Tony allotted, grinning back. Smooth curls slid over his fingers and Loki's eyes grew hooded, darkening the color. Tony licked his lips. "What did your magic tell you then?"
"You are broken, and alone," Loki admitted. Tony snorted at him.
"Unbelievable," he mumbled before claiming another kiss, mostly because he could, and there was absolutely no way in hell that was all that magic had picked up. His lips started to tingle, letting him know the Smurf side was at least agreeing with him, and kept the contact punishingly thorough but short, a challenge plain on his face when he parted them.
"Anything else, Radar?"
"A great many things." Loki reached out a careless hand, tracing over his lips with a secret smirk and something almost warm crinkling in his eyelids. "You desire me."
"You're welcome." Clever fingertips chased the words over his mouth. A flutter of eyelashes as Tony reburied his hands into the inky curls. And then, a slow-building smile, one that boded nothing good and everything explosive and fun. Being the recipient to such a look, Tony found a matching smile building on his own face. "What?"
"It is not often I extend a leaf of gratitude," he murmured after a moment of contemplation. "But suddenly what I wish to receive from you is very clear to me."
The light in the god's eyes turned downright feral, the kind of predatory look that had most people running away screaming. Tony's heart started to race, shrugging off the brief pang of unease with a rush of bravado. "What do you want then? Weapons? Armor? Magic blockers? Your own Krispy Kreme Donuts?"
"You," Loki said simply, his voice rich with meaning and intent, and everything just sort of stopped.
"I – what?" was all he could manage as his brain caught fire once again, until he was sure there was smoke coming out his ears. He didn't know what he'd been expecting, but it hadn't been that. Loki only looked more amused.
"I want you," he repeated, slowly, accentuating each word so Tony couldn't possibly misunderstand. "What you flaunt, what you hide. Everything you are and all you possess. I want your deepest fears and most piercing regrets. Your nightmares, your genius. I want your every thought, every breath, to be turned to me, to be as lost and obsessed as I am by you, until such obsession removes its hold and releases our desires. I want what allows you to look upon a monster without a trace of revulsion. I want what has driven my world to madness."
Their noses brushed for a split second and Tony could count each dark eyelash, feel the other's breath against his mouth. There was no denying how serious he was from so close and Tony studied him openly, trying to catch any hint or trace of a lie. Loki merely smiled at him when a flicker of panic rose at finding none, showed on his face.
"You are not the only broken one here, Tony Stark," he whispered, "and I mean to have you, all of you, as reparation."
Oh. Well now.
"You… want me…?" Tony echoed lamely. It was strange how incredible and unbelievable those words sounded to his own ears, as though the notion had never even been a possibility (which, it hadn't been). Frankly, it had been easier to swallow the news about powering up like Sailor Moon. The notion that he was an object of fixation and wanting twisted his insides into a tight coil of apprehension and anticipation; that not only were Tony's feelings acknowledged, but accepted and matched. He wasn't sure if the feeling was one he could welcome easily or not.
And yet, there it was.
A lump formed in his throat, choking him. "…why?"
"Why not?" Loki countered, as effortlessly as breathing. As though he hadn't just brought reality to every dream Tony had had for the past two weeks. He seemed greatly thrilled about something and tilted his head, studying Tony closely. "Surely a man with your talents can see the possibilities. What we can create in our joint curiosity."
Oh, he could see it all right, and everything else he'd come to want these past weeks. Everything he had dismissed because it was far too impossible, too bizarre, to uncomplicated.
"Seriously. Me?" For some reason that part was tripping him up, skipping like a broken record. "Out of everything I could possibly give you… you want me."
His astonishment took some of the confidence out of Loki's expression and the god eased back just slightly, his lips pressed in a thin, disgruntled line.
"You doubt my intentions are sincere?" he bit out, brows furrowed. Tony shook his head.
"No, I believe you. It's just… wow. You want me."
It was a feeling he hadn't felt since Pepper and the rush of security that brought felt terrifyingly like coming home. Which was stupid and ridiculous, because Loki wasn't promising him a future, or a forever, or even another two weeks. The overwhelming surge of relief he felt was way too early, months and months too early. But he could feel the way their broken edges seemed to line up, shift and fit together, and suddenly Tony wanted it all, no matter what it cost him in the end. Somehow, he knew it would be worth something.
When he and Pepper had fallen apart, what had hurt him more than the separation was the fact she hadn't been willing to fight tooth and nail to keep him. Story of his life: people came and people went. Sometimes they stayed around but at the end of the day, Tony was still alone. Yet there was something there, in the steady gleam in Loki's eye, in the satisfied, almost fond smile on his face that told Tony all he needed to know: that he'd fight for this if he had to and wouldn't stop weaseling into Tony's world until everything went up in flames. And even then Tony wasn't sure he'd be able to shake him off completely… or if he'd even want to try. It was unprecedented, bizarre, amazing.
The rush of exhilaration was explosive and Tony had to choke back a round of inappropriately loud, ecstatic laughter. "Oh my God. You want me," he gasped out instead, misty-eyed. The star hummed happily against his heart in agreement, warming his insides. "So, I'm pretty sure this has never happened to me before."
Mirth spun inside him, even as the reality of it all sank in. He was a broken hero, in deep, dangerous like with an equally broken villain; Tony knew it would probably end in fire, and maybe some ice. They were a messed up pair, two souls that no one would ever pair up, and yet here they were. And Tony didn't want it any other way. Even the regret wouldn't come the more he thought it through, nor the weight on his conscience, and that was a good a sign as any to try.
Ready, fire, aim.
("Are you sure about this?" Tony will breathe later, words heavy with want around swollen lips. "Because Hell, I don't even know what this is."
Loki's eyes will be bright, words full of laughter as he leans down, without breaking rhythm. "I'm sure because I know what I want. And I want you. You are this, whatever this is. There is nothing else. And it is enough."
And Tony can only laugh, because how they fit is frightening, and fulfilling, even in this early exploration. There's a familiarity here, the understanding of two lonely souls meeting for the first time, or perhaps reuniting after a lifetimes apart.
"What am I to you, Little Prince?" And Tony will grin wide, considering the only question that will ever really matter anymore. "Just a Fox to tame and play with? Or a Rose on a star to annoy and delight you, all at once?"
And Loki will not hesitate, for there will no longer be reason to. It is the only answer left to give.
"A Rose of course, for there are none as vain as you, nor as confusing…")
So, again, a huge thank you for everyone who stuck in there with me. I hope I didn't disappoint anyone, and a thousand apologies for letting you all down.
I'm curious what everyone's favorite scenes where throughout this little journey. I love you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for reading and for all the lovely comments and encouragement I've gotten. Thank you.
Until next time my lovelies, stay awesome!