Okay, a few things to get through here first, so please stay with me.

1. The title comes from It's Time by Imagine Dragons.

2. For information on the superscripts please see the end notes.

3. If you have any questions about why I chose to portray something the way I did, please let me know. If there is enough interest I will turn my notes into an faq post.

4. My artist for this was wnnbdarklord. She is fantastic, absolutely fantastic. Links will be posted on my profile. Please check them out. I couldn't be happier!

5. Finally, I have to thank Bats for all her help with this. And everyone who has helped me with this in the last few months. Seriously, thanks to all of you for keeping me going. I really needed it.

/

"My brother is not insane!"

Thor's booming voice silences the room instantly. Smiles die on the rest of the Avenger's faces as they turn to the Asgardian, whose own gaze is locked on Tony. The inventor, true to his usual lack of self preservation, simply cocks an eyebrow. "From where I'm standing that's exactly what it looks like. I know he's your precious baby brother, but-"

"This is not insanity. It is mayhem. I…I have seen insanity in my brother before. This is not the same."

Not even Tony has an answer for that. There is so much pain and loss in Thor's voice no one is willing, or maybe brave enough in some cases, to ask for more information. Tony finds himself wanting to know, he refuses to admit that his curiosity level when it comes to the Trickster is rather high, but he knows better than anyone that some stories are private affairs.

/

Bad things happen when he voluntarily goes to sleep. He has told Pepper this again and again, but every time she gives him that look, and he knows he shouldn't argue anymore (but of course he does). Anyways, bad things, yes.

This time it comes in the form of a pretty guy with the cliché evil smirk standing in the middle of his room. Seriously, he looks like he has stepped straight out of an anime. He is tall, maybe as tall as Thor. Straight black hair falls down his back to his waist. Everything about him screams neat and clean, and well, evil. The only things even remotely out of place are the deep scars marring his cheeks. The one of his left looks as if it was carved into his flesh by a sharp instrument being dragged from the middle of his cheek down to his lips, while the one on the right is simply an ugly looking circle. The man wears leathers in the same style as Thor and Loki, his cloak held on by a pin in the form of a charging horse. Great, another insane Asgardian.

The man sneers and laughs at the same time, his dark eyes staring at Tony with a good deal of contempt. "Just look at you."

"I have. I'm awesome." Tony moves into the room casually, but never takes his eyes off the man. He is having flashbacks to the not so long ago time when he had a similar conversation with a very different type of insane. "You want to tell me why you're in my bedroom? If you came for some fun I'm up for a round or two, Buttercup," he says, using the codeword he has set up with JARVIS as a silent alarm. The A.I. will immediately contact the other Avengers now. (It had been Bubbles, but Steve demanded it be changed after a drunken night during which Tony had filled his room with no less than nine bubble machines and ran around naked.)

The man looks thoroughly disgusted at the very thought. "You always were one to flatter yourself. I will say that this time your personality is closest to your disagreeable true self; you've even regained that ridiculous beard. You can only imagine the joy that gives me considering you two are enemies this cycle."

"What are you talking about?" What are you on?

But the man continues on as if Tony had not spoken. "And yet I cannot let this continue. Loki finds you almost every time. Even with a handful of Ragnaroks behind us, he still finds you." What does Loki have to do with this? "And with every cycle your soul clings a little more to its original memory. I thought separating you two would be the end of my problems, but instead you have just caused me more."

Okay, so the man is definitely crazy, what with his talk of souls and everything. The best thing he can do now is stall for time, and for Tony that means banter. "Glad to be of service." While the man had been talking Tony had wandered over to the drawer were the bracelets that will summon the suit rest. He slides them on casually. He really hopes to avoid a fight, but it looks like he'll be needing the suit. He is rather hoping it is not because he finds himself suddenly in free fall again.

The man sneers again; actually his face seems to be eternally stuck like that. "I have dealt with your games long enough." He raises his hand and snaps his fingers. "It will end now."

Tony feels his body freeze. The breath escapes from his lungs and he cannot pull more in. Everything feels so surreal. Is he falling? He is falling. Well that's weird. He can't really feel it. He only knows he is falling because of the way the room shifts.

He doesn't feel pain when he hits the floor. Oh wait, there are arms there to catch him. Loki actually looks worried before turning angry when he looks up at the other Asgardian. "Svaðilfari! What have you done?" Seriously, what does Loki have to do with all this? And isn't Svaðilfari supposed to be a horse? Wait, why is Loki even here? Someone needs to start giving him answers, damn it!

Across the room Svaðilfari laughs, a sound that would have normal mortals trembling. "The destruction of a god's soul is no small matter, my dear. But you could still stop it."

"Even if I agreed to be yours you would not save him." Power, pure raw power, permeates throughout the room. Tony realizes then that Loki has simply been playing with them up to this point. This is the wrath of a god, and it is terrifying. Tony shudders, finally understanding what that means, but something deep inside him reaches out, demanding to be acknowledged. Before Tony can grasp it, it slips away, or more accurately, is pulled away. He hears himself whimper pitifully. He needs it.

"Stop that," Loki snaps at him.

But he needs it.

Svaðilfari lets loose a strong 'HA!' "You see, Loki? He wants to go. Why do you not let him?" Yes, Loki, let him go. Stop being a jerk. God, have his eyes always been that familiar shade of green? Has he ever seen Loki actually look worried before? "It is your fault he has been kept here so long."

Loki growls, clutching Tony tighter to his chest. "The last time we met I did not have the power to defeat you."

"You still do not."

"We shall see."

The Avengers crash through the door, their eyes immediately going to where he is on the floor being held by Loki. The Trickster does not even spare them a glance, and Thor is the first one to follow his gaze. Tony feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as static crackles through the room. Somewhere outside thunder booms so loud it shakes the windows. And yet again Tony is being shown that he has completely underestimated the might possessed by an Asgardian. "Svaðilfari," the Thunderer growls, lightning practically sparking from his eyes.

"Look at this," the not-horse spreads his hands out wide, crazy grin on his lips, "the brothers back together again. How touching?"

"Thor," Tony hears Steve whisper, "what's going on?" But Thor's focus is only on Svaðilfari.

"You have made the mistake of being the only creature in existence I hate more than my brother." Loki gently settles Tony on the ground and stands gracefully. "I will tear your soul from your ruined body and crush it to dust beneath my boot."

Whatever happens next Tony doesn't know. He finally gets his metaphysical hands around the thing. Just as he begins to feel gleeful Tony feels himself pulled from his body, dragged across space and time until it stops. He is himself, but someone else.

September 24, 1914
France

His name is not Tony anymore. Right now it is Etienne Fabre. For the first time in what feels like forever he is warm. There is a bright fire burning merrily in the hearth. He has a bottle of wine in one hand and a pretty woman pressed up against his side. A few days leave to laugh and bask in the victory at the Marne, to chase away the darkness.

The woman says something to him and laughs. Etienne did not hear all of it, and what he did he did not find humorous, but he is in such a good mood he laughs anyways. Across the room a woman with dark hair and green eyes catches his eye. She has been staring at him off and on all night, and every time Etienne catches her he feels his heart do little flip flops. He feels young and naive again when he looks at her, like he had when he was a student in Paris. God, had that really only been a few months ago?

But the green eyed woman is sitting with Jean, Jean who has saved his life more than once (Jean who is absolutely not Clint, but seems so very much like him). Etienne cannot take her from Jean, no matter how much he wants to pull her into his arms, to kiss those crimson lips, run his fingers through her hair, to feel her skin against his.

Etienne cuts off that train of thought before it can go any further. It will do no one any good for him to continue to do so. He shifts his attention back to the woman resting against him, the laughter and song that fills the old house, refusing to look back to where the green eyed woman sits.

But it becomes hard to ignore her when a little later she is standing next to him, those green eyes doing an excellent job in their attempt to penetrate his soul. The woman sitting next to him glares up at her. "What do you want?"

"I want him," the green eyed woman says boldly.

Etienne feels his heart nearly leap out of his chest, even as the woman bristles. "You have your own man. Go entertain him."

"He does not amuse me. I want this one."

He should feel bad for his friend, be mad at this woman for snubbing Jean, but all Etienne can feel is excitement. The dark haired woman reaches a hand out to him and he does not hesitate to take it. She pulls him up, not that he offers any resistance, and leads him through the room and up the stairs. They leave behind a stunned friend and angry woman who will bond over mutual complaints.

Etienne does not even know the woman's name, nor she his, but it does not seem to matter. She leads him to a small room, the dominating feature being a bed decorated in green. As soon as the door closes her dress falls to the floor, the only thing she is wearing apparently, revealing all of her to Etienne's eager eyes. He feels all he can do is stare. She is beautiful. He has taken many women to bed before, but this woman makes him feel like a virgin again, standing before his professor's wife who laughs at his nervousness.

"This would progress easier if you were unclothed as well."

Oh god, her voice! He had not heard it properly downstairs over the noise. It is like honey and smoke. She must be some sort of goddess come to earth. There can be no other explanation for her presence. "I'm sure this is not the first time a man has stared in wonder at your beauty."

The smile that crosses her face is bitter sweet, an old memory flashing through her eyes. "It is rather ironic that you would say that." She takes off his jacket and shirt with expert ease while she talks.

"How so?" He moves to help her rid him of his pants.

"Kiss me." Before Etienne can comply she leans forward to press her lips against his, soft yet demanding. Etienne cannot resist her, he just lets the green eyed woman take. No woman has ever made him feel like this before. Jean is always going on about love at first sight, is this what it feels like? Etienne had always been skeptical, but now his heart sores at the thought. It excites him that in the midst of this war he might have found a light, something worth coming back for.

She walks them both backwards to the bed, her lips never leaving his, allowing Etienne to lay her against the mattress. Their first time is quick, Etienne spilling himself inside her after only a few thrusts. He blushes and apologizes, but the woman smiles at him. It is not exactly kind, but for some reason it brushes the red from his cheeks. "Is it not a usual occurrence for men who have been too long from the beds of lovers?"

When Etienne moves to leave the bed she wraps her arms around his shoulders, resting her head against the back of his shoulder. "Do not go. There are days left to your leave, and I would have you spend them with me. Have I not pleased you?"

"I did not think you would want a man who could not please you in return."

She rubs her nose between his shoulder blades. "Oh, but I am willing to give you a second chance."

Etienne turns in her embrace, his blood heating again. "And I am not a man to throw away a second chance when it is offered so graciously."

He suddenly finds himself on his back, the green eyed woman straddling his hips. "I had hoped you would say that."

/

She takes a long drag on the cigarette after Etienne lights it for her. The smoke drifts up from her lips as she breathes out, and for a moment he thinks her a demon come to seduce him. That is fine. He would willingly fall into her waiting embrace every time.

Lithe fingers hold the cigarette out to him, and he kisses the back of her hand before taking it. Etienne takes an even longer drag before passing it back to her. "Do you enjoy riddles?" she asks, her voice low and heavy in the darkness of the room.

"Riddles? What brought this on?"

She smiles, that bittersweet look flashing through her eyes again. "There was a man I was fond of, a long time ago…he loved puzzles, studying them, forcing them to give up their secrets under the power of his mind and hands."

Etienne shifts so that his head rests against her stomach, feeling the rise of her body with each breath she takes. "I suddenly feel the need to be jealous."

"Aw," she runs her fingers through his hair. Etienne shudders as both content and pleasure rushes through him. "Only as jealous as I am of your past lovers."

He laughs lightly at the thought. "I doubt you even thought to be jealous of them."

"Of course not. If I held my hand out to you again I know whom you would choose."

It terrifies and excites him, but he does not have the heart to even try denying that he would choose her. Every time the choice would end with her. "So tell me, what is this riddle that has you bringing up past lovers?"

She takes another drag on the cigarette before answering. "If someone is taken from his life and forced to live another, if circumstances force him to become someone else, is he still meant for the person he was originally meant to be with?"

Etienne tilts his head so that he can place soft kisses along her stomach, moving slowly upwards across her chest and neck until he is at her lips. "I believe you have given me a riddle beyond my means to answer."

She smiles sadly and kisses him back. "No matter. It seems as if fate will forever hide the answer from me."

He takes the cigarette and places it on the ash tray resting on the nightstand. "I would not have you sad."

"Then make me happy."

/

The room smells of wine and sex. Etienne still does not know the woman's name, but it does not stop him from loving her. Outside it is dark, but not silent. The collection of night noises has become music to him over the past two days.

The green eyed woman lays tangled in the stained sheets, greedily taking in Etienne's form when he bends down to acquire another bottle of wine. "Only two left," he says, holding them both up. He looks between the two before setting the 1910 Chateau Saint Baillon on the nightstand. "I'm going to make a deal with you."

The woman raises an eyebrow. She stretches her arms above her head, the sheet slipping to reveal her breasts. Etienne stares. It does not matter that he has basically seen her naked for two days straight, the sight still takes his breath away and stirs his blood.

"We're going to drink this bottle tonight. But this one," he nods to the 1910 Chateau Saint Baillon, "we keep."

"Whatever for?"

He opens the bottle in his hand and drinks straight from it before handing it to the green eyed woman. He leans over the end of the bed, kissing his way up her legs as he answers. "Keep that bottle in your possession, and when this is over, I'll come back for it."

"Oh? So you will find me again just to sha-ah-share a bottle of wine?" Her composure breaks when Etienne's lips reach the inside of her thigh.

Etienne smirks against her skin. "And other reasons." He lifts her legs over his shoulders. "I promise to come back for that wine when this is over."

Her fingers tangle in his hair, forcing his head up so he will have to look her in the eye. "I will hold you to this promise. If you do not…" her voice trails off. For the first time she seems distressed.

"Do not worry, love. I would not dream of angering you." If she is planning on offering a further argument Etienne silences it when his tongue slips inside her.

He wakes before the sun. They have to head back today. He has to leave the warmth and light for cold and crushing reality. When he sits up, the dark haired woman, her back to him still wrapped loosely in the soiled sheet, says softly, "You do not need to leave. You can stay here for the rest of the war, stay with me."

Oh god, that offer is tempting. He had thought of staying with her, but never seriously entertained it. Abandoning his friends, well, that's just not who Etienne is. He will go, he will fight, and when it all ends he will continue fighting to return to her.

He runs his fingers through her hair for a final time, kissing her soft cheek. "Keep that bottle safe."

She curls her arms around the pillow, burying her face and refusing to look at Etienne as he dresses. He looks back when he opens the door, when he swears he could hear her release a soft sob, but he does not go to her. He cannot.

"I love you, my green eyed goddess."

/

2:00 a.m. February 21, 1916
North of Verdun-sur-Meuse, France

"Jean?"

"Hmm?"

Etienne leans his head back against the trench wall, a small smile on his face. "You remember those girls we spent our leave with after Marne?"

"I remember that green eyed woman who left my company for yours, and who you proceeded to spend the next two days locked in a room with."

He laughs softly, a bitter edge to the action. The years have not been kind to Etienne Fabre, as they have not been kind to any soldier. The innocence and youth he still possessed when the war began has been beaten out of him. He struggles to keep going, to find a purpose. Every time he thinks about putting his own gun to his head the image of the green eyed woman he spent those nights with, so many centuries ago now it seems, comes to him. He does not know if she will want him now, not as broken and defeated as he is, but he tells himself he made her a promise. Etienne is not a man to break a promise…well he is, but not to her.

"If I don't make it out of this-" and isn't it testament to how far they both come that Jean no longer tells him not to speak that way, "-I want you to find her."

"How? You don't even know her name."

Jean pulls out two cigarettes, handing one to Etienne. They light them before their conversation continues. "I left her with a bottle of wine, 1910 Chateau Saint Baillon. I told her I'd find it again, when all this is over…if it ever is over. If I don't make it, find her. I don't want her to spend forever waiting for me."

"Rather arrogant of you to think she'd wait," Jean teases. It is bitter, but that is all that is left to them.

Etienne shoves Jean playfully. "She will, this one will."

"You really are in love with her?" Of course Etienne had told Jean his feelings for the green eyed woman, but Jean had been skeptical. Not that he could be blamed, Etienne had never been a believer in romantic love.

"For some reason I am."

"You should have asked her name."

"No." He takes a long drag on the cigarette. "It's another reason to fight my way back to her, a reward for survival. I'll find her, we will drink that wine in celebration, make love, marry, have a family, peace."

"Strange concept after all this time."

They finish their cigarettes in silence, and wait for the German guns.

Seven hours later Jean is pressed into the floor of the trench, the sickly sweet smell of roasted flesh clogging the air. He cannot move. Etienne's body traps him, his friend having fallen on top of Jean to protect him from the German flamethrowers. Jean screams in terror, screams until his very soul seems hoarse, but it is nightfall before he is found and freed.

Jean never does fulfill his promise to find the green eyed woman. A mortar round takes his head off on December 15, 1916. The Battle of Verdun ends three days later.

Early 1891
London, England

Tony is still trying to shake the feeling of fire from his nonexistent body when he becomes someone else. This time he is Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, that one; consulting detective extraordinaire. But there is something else equally amazing going on that stops Tony, now Sherlock, from fanboying all over himself (which might be weird if he wasn't Tony Stark in the first place).

Sherlock is balls deep in Loki's tight ass, the god moaning his name in an absolutely sinful way that almost makes Sherlock come undone. Sharp nails bite into his chest, but he always did enjoy a little pain with his pleasure.

"Sherlock!" he hears John call as he climbs up the stairs before the door to his living area opens. But Sherlock is not in John's living room. "I know you are here. I am not playing this game again." John sighs, the noise carrying through the door as Loki bites back his moans. John waits, not saying anything. Sherlock knows he is waiting for his friend to try and goad him into finding him.

Loki rolls his hips, catching Sherlock off guard, and the detective lets lose a moan. A moment later, John opens the bedroom door. He is met with the sight for Sherlock smiling up at Loki, who is still enthusiastically bouncing up and down on Sherlock's cock. "Hello, John," the dark haired man greets.

"Irene," John returns, causing the man to grin. John speaks with the same patient suffering Bruce does, has that same resigned look in his eyes.

"Say hello to your friend, Sherlock," Loki commands.

"Watson," Sherlock gasps out, snapping his hips up to draw a moan from the man above him, "you're just in time."

"I have told you both multiple times that I am not joining you in bed. And why exactly are you having sex in my bed? You are lucky Mary is away."

"You were taking too long. We were bored."

"And thus decided to entertain yourselves. Oh, oh all right, just-just come talk to me when you finish." John diverts his eyes and closes the door behind him as Sherlock flips them over, pounding Loki into the mattress. Neither man hears him over Loki's loud moans and Sherlock's words of encouragement.

Sherlock cannot bring himself to care, he is too absorbed in Loki. He knows it is dangerous to let anyone distract him like this, but Loki's mind, his abilities, everything about him is a mystery Sherlock wants to watch unravel in his fingers. No matter how much he discovers about Loki there is always more, more and more and more, and Sherlock is never bored with more. He could almost call it love, if he believed in such frivolous concepts.

Beneath him Loki breathes out his name, his back arching deliciously as he clenches tightly around Sherlock. With a moan Sherlock spills himself inside the man, pulling out and collapsing on the bed next to him. The detective pulls Loki close to him, kissing the top of that dark head. "This is the end then."

Loki props himself up on one elbow and punches Sherlock in the side. "If you are not here when I return-"

"You will be unable to do anything, because as you said, I will not be here."

The man tears himself from Sherlock's embrace, throwing his legs over the side of the bed. "You are insufferable."

"I thought that was one of the things you liked about me." Sherlock grins.

"Sometimes," Loki says as he pulls on his pants. "Sometimes it is beyond frustrating."

He watches with regret as his lover slides his arms through the arms of his shirt. "You are going to tell Watson."

"Of course I am." The coat is on now. "I want you alive." Their eyes meet for a moment, and Sherlock realizes in that moment that something has changed in their relationship. His fingers clutch tightly at the sheets, unable to put a name to that change.

And then Loki walks through the door, closing it behind him. Sherlock throws the sheets off himself and pads across the room on silent feet, putting his ear to the keyhole so he can hear whatever conversation goes on between John and Loki.

There is a rustling of papers, and then Loki's voice, "I see Arthur has reworked your latest transcript."

"Yes, and Sherlock becomes more popular than ever," John comments. There is more rustling, this time from John's newspaper by the sound of it.

"Hmm, well it is a good thing you arranged the deal with dear Arthur. There is no way Sherlock's brilliance could have been appreciated if it were your transcripts being published."

John chuckles good naturedly. "They would not be published if I was the one writing them."

Loki flips through The Strand. Sherlock can practically hear the smile on his lips. "This is my story. Well, that is appropriate."

John closes his paper and sets it on the table. "What has happened? No, do not give me that look, something has happened. I have not seen you or Sherlock for months, and suddenly you two are in my bed."

"I would not be one to dismiss that as outside our characters."

"No, but something is different this time." John's chair is pushed back as the man stands. "Loki…"

"Ask him about Moriarty." Loki's voice is stained. Then the man sighs, taking a few steps away from the table John has stationed himself at. "I will be leaving for a few days, family matters. Do not take your eyes off of him."

Sherlock turns around, his sharp eyes quickly finding his pants. He pulls them on and runs for the door at the same time, nearly tripping with every step. His friend and his lover both look up with exasperation in their eyes as Sherlock stumbles through the door with as much dignity as possible. "Leaving so soon?"

"You knew I was." Loki rolls his eyes, but the corners of his lips twitch upwards.

Sherlock walks over to him, gentle hands sliding across Loki's hips. "Don't leave angry with me."

Loki gives him a bittersweet smile as one hand reaches up to Sherlock's neck to pull him in close. "Never." The kiss is strangely soft, low passion, but all the heat, oh that glorious ember that sparked a forest fire, that they have both ever contained, lingers on Sherlock's lips when Loki pulls away.

He presses his forehead to Loki's, having to lean down ever so slightly to do so. "Come back."

"Be here for me to come back to." Loki pulls away before Sherlock can say anything else, his quiet footsteps echoing on the stairs, and with the close of the front door he is gone.

"So," John drawls behind him, casually picking up his paper again, "who is Moriarty?"

The detective tears his eyes away from the spot where Loki had stood, covering up the lapse in his demeanor easily. Of course he sees the slight raise of John's eyebrow which means he had not done so quickly enough. "First, I must beg you to be so unconventional as to allow me to leave your house presently by scrambling over your back garden wall."[1]

/

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland

The falls are an impressive force of nature. They thunder down into the great chasm below. It is both a magnificent and fearful sight.

"You are in good spirits," John comments. "One would hardly think we are running for our lives from the most dangerous criminal London has to offer."

"But therein lies the enjoyment, my dear Watson." Sherlock smiles brightly at his friend. "I think I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not lived wholly in vain. If my record were closed to-night I could still survey it with equanimity. The air of London is sweeter for my presence. In over a thousand cases I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong side. Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature rather than those more superficial ones for which our artificial state of society is responsible. Your memoirs will draw to an end, Watson, upon the day that I crown my career by the capture or extinction of the most dangerous and capable criminal in Europe."[2]

Before John can answer a young boy comes running up the path. He carries a letter with him from the hotel they had stayed at containing a plea for help. John, kind hearted John, rushes off to the dying woman's aid after Sherlock reassures him they will meet in the next town. He watches his friend go, turning away when John looks back. He cannot afford to give anything away at this point. That is the last he sees of Dr. John Watson.

Roughly an hour later another man hurries along the trail, heading for Sherlock. He would recognize those beady little eyes anywhere: Moriarty. This then is the final confrontation.

"It seems Dr. Watson has left you," the former professor comments.

"Gone to help a dying English woman who refused to be looked after by a Swiss doctor." He pauses a moment to gauge Moriarty's reaction. "An obvious lie."

Moriarty tilts his head to the side. "Not so to the good doctor."

"Well John has always had more heart than is good for any one person. But since your organization has been dismantled why do you not tell me how you orchestrated it in the first place."

Moriarty's lips turn upward in a deranged smile, the smile of a man who has lost everything. "I am sure you have your theories." He does. "Would it not be more in the spirit of the game for you to tell me them first?"

Sherlock hesitates, but only for a moment. Yes, they are at the end, but that is not reason to underestimate the man. He begins slowly, using the subtle changes in Moriarty's facial expressions to see if he has deduced correctly. This is what he has needed all along, this man, in order to solve the final piece of the puzzle, and oh how glorious this man's mind is in its sinister nature! He would feel frustration for not seeing it all before if he had not been up against a criminal of Moriarty's caliber.

"I thank you, for allowing me this piece of mind, but I would ask one more favor before we conclude our business." Sherlock pulls out his silver cigarette case from his jacket pocket.

"I am not so cruel as to deny a dying man his last words," Moriarty answers with a careless wave of his hand.

Sherlock scoffs lightly. "I believe you are, but still, the gesture is appreciated." He leaves the letter in the cigarette case. He leaves the cigarette case lying on a boulder near the edge of the Falls. He leaves his Alpine stock leaning against the boulder where John will notice it.

The struggle is brief but furious. When Moriarty's foot slips off the edge and the man falls, his hands tangled in the lapels of Sherlock's jacket dragging him along, Sherlock is certain that he is ready. He knew how this encounter would end from the moment he saw Moriarty at Victoria Station.

But Moriarty continues to struggle, and Sherlock finds himself looking back up to where they had fallen from. Loki reaches over the edge, terror and heartbreak so very clear in those green eyes. Sherlock's finally thought is, 'Forgive me.'

Ten years later, new stories are published, but this time that is all they are, just stories.

January 1787
England

This time when Tony is pulled from the in between he is a woman, and that is the weirdest experience in his already beyond weird life. Breasts are heavy! They just hang there being heavy. And his hips, holy hell, how do women walk around with hips so wide? But the feet, that is what really gets him. They are tiny! Yeah, he knows some women have larger feet, but right now his are minuscule. Tony is pretty sure Mary Haden is walking around on her ankles.

And then, oh that's a bad touch. Mary laughs as the man stumbles after her, his hand attempting to wander between her legs. "So eager," she teases.

The man does not seem to notice when Mary takes his overcoat. He thinks the only reason her fingers are sliding across his sides and hips is to give taunting touches, not because she is searching for his coin purse.

"I will make you beg," the man slurs. Mary is slightly impressed that he still retains the ability to stand with how much beer he has consumed tonight.

"You are not the first man to say so." So close now. Her breath catches at the slight pain in stomach that refuses to leave. "Not many live up to such claims."

He stumbles again, only staying upright by catching himself against the wall of the inn. "I shall teach you the truth of such –hic– statements."

"Oh I'm sure you will."

With a laugh Mary shoves him back through a doorway, closing said door and locking it as he falls to the floor. By the time he has realized what has happened, banging angrily against the wood for someone to let him out and to catch the whore, Mary is down the stairs and stealing through the back door, her profits hidden securely beneath her skirts.

Mary stares down John until the large man starts to grumble in a rough, rumbling voice. He swipes her coins off the counter with what sounds like, "Don' wan' ta kno'." With a triumphant smile, Mary makes her way to a table in the corner. It is late, but there are still enough people filling in the inn that Mary feels the need to be out of the way, preferably with her back against the wall so no one can sneak up on her.

The soup John throws down in front of her has thickened into a congealed paste over the night, but it is warm. The bread and beer that come with it are boarding on stale, but still filling. Mary can allow herself to find happiness in these simple things.

She manages to get through the entire meal before her stomach starts to rebel, churning violently in protest. Mary forces herself to stand just long enough to find her way to the hovel that serves as her home. This attack is particularly violent, and all Mary can think of is the pain.

She does not even try to run when the police break down her door.

/

The glower faced judge makes Mary/Tony think of Maria Hill with mutton chops. The damn fence she had attempted to sell the overcoat to earlier that faithful night had ratted on her, and now Mary stands before a judge after months of imprisonment. She knows she has already been found guilty. It just so happens the man she stole from is the son of this judge. Now all she can do is await her sentencing.

Unrepentant, still defiant, Mary faces the judge's sentence with no outward signs of distress. She is to be shipped off to Australia when the First Fleet leaves next month, one of the many convicts who will be sent to colonize the continent.

When she is taken back to her cell the guards shave her head, to remind her that she has fallen into disgrace. As if Mary is not already acutely aware of that.

/

She is immediately suspicious of the green eyed sailor who leads her aboard the Charlotte. There is something about him that makes him dangerous. Mary fully expected dalliances with the sailors and other male convicts to become routine on this journey. But every time someone approaches her he is suddenly there, and whatever man is pursuing her is sent fleeing. He seems to be protecting her, and while she is grateful she does not have to endure unwanted touches, and that no one sees the growing hard knot her stomach has been turning into, Mary would prefer to know what he wants. He must want something from her.

"What do you want?"

He raises an eyebrow at her demand, black hair falling in his face where the wind plays with it. So far the weather has been rather pleasant and the Captain has allowed the convicts to walk around deck. Mary has no illusions of that lasting much longer into the trip, not if the sailors' conversations have any truth to them.

"I was wondering when you would finally ask."

Mary feels her eye twitching in irritation. "This entire voyage is going to be one large headache for me, is it not?"

This time the sailor laughs, bright and full, but with a dark undertone that makes Mary shiver. "Surely I am not so horrible."

"Surely you are."

He leans back against the railing, smirk still in place as he studies her for a long moment. "You are the whore who stole from her client."

"What of it?" she snaps at him, crossing her arms over her chest to hide her shaking hands. She is used to dangerous people, so why does this one sailor unnerve her so much?

"I simply find it interesting is all." After a pause he adds, "That was not the first time, was it?"

There is no point in denying it now that she has been convicted. "No. I had been doing so for years."

He pushes himself off the rail and steps closer to her. "Why go through the trouble of stealing their possessions when you could sleep with them and be done with it?"

"Why are you so curious?"

"I find you interesting," he answers immediately.

Mary stares in those green eyes, searching for any sort of a lie. No one has ever been interested in her for anything beyond her body or what she could steal. He waits patiently, genuinely curious as far as Mary can tell, and that just frustrates her further. "I do not enjoy being touched in such a fashion."

There goes the eyebrow again. "A whore that does not like to be touched, there must be a rather interesting story behind that."

"Nothing beyond survival," she snaps back.

The sailor bows his head. "I have angered you, that was not my intention. Accept my apologizes, and know if you require anything you only need ask for Loki."

He begins to walk away, which is what Mary wanted to begin with, but she cannot help calling after him, "Loki? That is a strange name."

Loki turns, elegant as the king himself. "My father was a bit of an eccentric. He named me after the pagan Norse god of mischief."

Mary feels a severe case of déjà vu, but before she can find the memory tugging at her mind it slips away. Instead she answers, "Well that does seem fitting."

Loki smirks again before turning back around.

/

Cape of Good Hope

Mary's mouth starts to water at the sight and smell of the fresh bread in Loki's hands. "Are you going to give that to me, or are you just here to taunt me?"

Loki quirks that stupid eyebrow in a way that now only has Mary rolling her eyes instead of wanting to strangle him. "No thank you? Not even an ounce of witty banter?" The sailor hands the bread over despite his words. His fingers linger on her hand too long for a casual touch, but Mary allows it. She has found that she does not mind Loki's touches all that much, mostly because they are soft, completely devoid of sexual intent, and he knows to pull away before she becomes uncomfortable. No man has ever touched her like that, not without expecting something in return, and while it concerns her because she still cannot figure out what Loki wants, she cannot stop herself from finding comfort in those touches.

Mary tears into the bread, closing her eyes as the warmth fills her mouth. "Pace yourself," Loki warns. "Phillip wants all the convicts to build their strength up before we start the last leg of the journey, which means dinner tonight will include fresh meat and vegetables."

She could cry in happiness in that moment. "Thank you."

"Ah, there it is. There may be hope for you yet," Loki teases. "I am glad to see you happy."

Mary absolutely does not blush. She will deny it until her dying breath. "What do you want?" she asks again, the question that has found its way into every conversation between them.

This time Loki does not give some vague answer or shrugs the question off. "You," he says, as if that word does not carry so much weight to it.

Mary finds it suddenly hard to swallow past the lump in her throat. She tenses ever so slightly as a wave of nausea hits her, and suddenly tonight's dinner does not sound all that appealing. She must have eaten too fast.

Loki moves to take a step back, sensing her discomfort, but before she can even think about what she is doing her hand shoots out. She does not touch his wrist, her hand just hangs there in midair until Loki lifts his hand to entwine his fingers with hers. Mary doesn't pull away, and a strange sense of calm settles over her. It should strike her as strange that the first time in her life that she experiences calmness is while she is on a convict ship anchored in the last civilized harbor before their destination to some strange colony, standing with a man who is the very embodiment of chaos, and yet it seems so perfectly natural. Maybe her mind has finally broken under the strain of it all. "It will take more than a loaf of bread to win me."

And there is that infuriating smirk Mary finds herself mimicking. "The only things worthwhile in this world come with a challenge."

"You're not making yourself much of one."

Loki winces in an overdramatic fashion, causing Mary to roll her eyes. "It seems the queen can sting."

Mary shoves him lightly, laughing despite herself. No one has ever before called her a queen. Loki always seems to make her feel happy when she is determined to be pensive. "Not to lessen the challenge," she says after a silence, "but could you hold me? Just for a moment." She is no lady, and this is not the time or place to become one, but for some reason she feels as if she is being rather forward with Loki.

There is a look in his eyes she has only seen there before when Loki thinks she is not looking. Slowly he pulls Mary to him, stopping when she is halfway within his arms, letting her settle herself against his chest before closing them around her.

For the first time she feels safe instead of trapped.

/

February 28, 1788
Sydney Cove

"You love him."

Mary's head snaps up. Ruth, a convict who had crossed on the Prince of Wales, and since landing has become the closest thing Mary has come to calling a friend, sits near her. She isn't sure if Ruth means it as an accusation of approval, but Mary knows immediately who she is referring to.

"I am."

Ruth smirks, her fingers busily mending shirts. Mary watches as her hands practically fly across the fabric. "There is no need to be so defensive. You should have someone who cares for you as he does."

The thing Mary really likes about Ruth is that she knows when people need silence, and when they need distraction. At the moment Mary gladly takes comfort as Ruth rambles on about the discoveries made at their new home, or about the French sailors who had landed at Boton Bay and moved to the Cape with them. The day they left the Cape of Good Hope Mary had realized that the funny feeling she had in her chest when she saw Loki, the shortness of breath, and the desire for a smile to slip across her lips, it all added up to love, and that completely terrified her. Love is something that makes one stupid and gets you killed. It has no place in Mary's life, and yet here she is, in love. Loki realizes it is a completely new experience for her, and like no man Mary has known before, he is patient with her. Mary has termed the whole experience as frustratingly gentle. She wishes to both hold and hit Loki with equal intensity at all times. No one has ever mentioned to her that love is also so damn exhausting.

"Lovely Ruth," Loki sighs, suddenly there behind them, "one of these days my sweet Mary's ears will fall off to escape you incessant chatter."

Ruth rolls her eyes but returns Loki's easy smile. "And you, wicked Loki, will drive her to insanity."

"Surely I am not so bad."

"Surely you are," both women answer together, the phrase now common place in all their conversations.

"Sit with us," Mary orders, pulling on Loki's hand. Loki willingly allows himself to be dragged down where Mary instantly leans against him.

"It seems what you really wanted was a pillow," he comments, mild amusement in his voice.

Mary shrugs. "You make a fine pillow." She tries to stifle the yawn when it comes, but from the way Loki is rubbing her back she has failed. Unconsciously a hand flutters to her stomach, the ever present pain worse than before.

That move most definitely does not go unnoticed. Loki's hand covers her own, a look of concern in his green eyes. "What is wrong?"

"It is nothing. I am fine," Mary insists. She knows she is not, but to say otherwise is weakness. She has already given into her feelings for Loki, she cannot give into this as well.

"Perhaps you are pregnant," Ruth suggests.

"Perhaps she is not," Loki snaps back, his eyes flashing with danger. Of course they do, she and Loki have yet to sleep with one another, and as much as she feels for him, that is one desire she does not have. If Mary is pregnant it would mean someone else had touched her while under Loki's protection, and Loki will not stand for that.

"I am not pregnant," she snaps back with equal force. Mary has felt a pregnant woman's stomach before, and the bulge forming beneath her dress is much too hard. Besides, she highly doubts a woman like her would be chosen as the next Mary, mother of Christ.

Loki softens, leaning over to press his nose against her hair, inhaling deeply. "You are tired. It would be best if you rested."

Mary is too exhausted to put up any kind of resistance, drifting off immediately while Loki watches over her.

The next time she wakes all there is is pain. She clutches at her stomach and screams. Loki is there, sometimes Ruth is as well. She vaguely remembers vomiting on the other woman at some point. They force water down her throat, but Mary's body throws it right back. She cannot keep anything down and dry heaves end up wracking her body.

Loki brushes back her sweat soaked hair. His lips are cool against her forehead, and Mary clings to that sensation. "Why did you not tell me?" he whispers. His voice is so broken Mary instantly feels guilty. All Loki has done is care for her, and she has betrayed him by not returning that trust.

Mary struggles to answer but it's too much. She cannot make her voice work. She reaches a hand out, wanting to touch Loki in some way, but her strength is fading quickly. But Loki is there, a presence she cannot escape and does not want to.

He kisses the back of her hand when he catches it. "My independent Mary, you should have told me. It is too far gone for me to do anything now."

That makes no sense. Loki is no doctor. What would he be able to do? The next second she doesn't care, because Loki's hand is brushing through her hair again. There has never been anything so comforting. For the first time in nearly a year the pain is fading and she can finally close her eyes again.

"Sleep. I will be here when you wake."

Intermission

Natasha keeps her face blank as she watches the conflict unfolding above the city. There are bursts of light from Thor lightning and Loki's magic, and sudden dark spots from Svaðilfari's own magic. With so much destructive force it is impossible to get a quintjet into the air, most likely it would just be a distraction to Thor and Loki anyways. Fury is still screaming at Steve about Loki fighting with Thor, demanding to know how that makes any sense. Natasha is more concerned about Svaðilfari. Any enemy that has Thor and Loki setting aside their differences that quickly, let alone at all, is someone to worry about.

She tears her eyes away when she hears Bruce curse. The scientist is leaning over Tony's bed where Steve had carried him after the Asgardians had smashed the window and made the skies of New York their battleground. "How is he?" she asks quietly, making sure her footsteps are loud enough against the crushed glass that Bruce can hear her coming.

Bruce shakes his head. "I have no idea. I just…" he runs a hand through his hair and sighs, "I don't know."

Her eyes flicker back toward the open window. "But Thor and Loki do."

As if her words are a summons Svaðilfari's magic shield fails and a blast of green magic takes him in the chest. He goes crashing through the window on the floor above. Thor is quick to follow, and a second later the ceiling is coming down on Tony's personal kitchen. Svaðilfari lands on the rubble there with a loud 'oomph.'

"Bruce, you okay?" Natasha asks, noticing that Bruce is going slightly green.

"You might want to step back," he answers, his voice strained.

Loki teleports into the room, and Thor glides down from the giant hole he had just created. The Asgardians are completely oblivious to everything else going on in the room. Svaðilfari growls, his form beginning to shimmer. Loki, his eyes blazing with anger, steps toward the magician, but Thor stops him with a strong hand on his arm. "Tony needs you. Let me go after him."

Loki's eyes do not leave Svaðilfari, but after a second he nods, his magic wrapping around Thor. "The final blow is mine."

"Of course, brother."

There is a loud roar as Bruce loses control and the Hulk charges at Svaðilfari, but he is met only with air. Svaðilfari and Thor are gone.

Loki does not waste time in the confusion caused by Bruce's transformation. He is suddenly beside Tony's bed. Natasha draws her gun at the same moment Cap throws his shield. Loki ignores both weapons. The Trickster presses his hands against the sides of Tony's neck, and then they are gone as well.

Across the room the Hulk roars again.

1610
Osaka, Japan

The pleasant sleep is shaken off when Tony opens his eyes again, adrenaline pumping through his veins. The ambush had cost them dearly, but he is still alive, still staring up at the stars in the now dark sky. The wound to his head has left him shaking with confusion, blood pooling out onto the ground beneath him.

He does not hear the footsteps. The dark figure is simply there. The man's lithe figure is clad in black, the bottom half of his face covered, but green eyes have a clear view to laugh down at him. And then the figure is gone, and he allows his body the rest it has been screaming so desperately for.

/

1611

Izo grits his teeth when the cup of tea is placed in front of him. He does not touch it, despite the rudeness that will be perceived by his inaction. The tea master's assistant, a bald man of calm demeanor Tony has only even seen in Coulson before, hardly gives him a second glance after he drops off the tea and apparently attends to other business that requires him to be in the same room with samurai. Izo, on the other hand, hardly blinks as he concentrates on the man. A full hour passes before the tea master walks in and breaks the monotony. Green eyes blink when he sees his guest. It is unfair how gracefully he bows his greeting and folds his legs as he sits across the table from Izo.

"I apologize for making you wait," the tea master says. "Had I known we had company, I would have returned sooner."

Izo takes a long moment to look the man over. A week ago, this tea master had been summoned by Toyotomi-domo. He had only had the briefest glimpse, but Izo would recognize those green eyes anywhere. Even now they still seemed to be laughing at him. He has to remind himself to be careful. This man is in favor with his lord, but Izo will not tolerate disrespect to his status as a samurai.

"Was there something you needed from me?" the tea master asks, causing Izo to realize that he has been staring for the past few minutes.

He wants to shout that he knows what the tea master really is, that if the man tries anything to harm his lord, Izo will destroy him, but to do such a thing would be embarrassing and disrespectful. "I was simply curious," he finally says.

"Oh?" the tea master responds, his eyebrow quirking upward ever so slightly, in a way that makes Izo feel like a mouse being toyed with by a cat. "In that case, consider me at your disposal."

"You impressed Toyotomi-domo with your skills."

"I have studied the art of the tea ceremony for a long time."

"And yet, you look rather young."

The tea master bows his head humbly. "I am most likely much older than you think." The man turns his attention to Izo's tea cup. "Your tea has gone cold. I shall pour you another."

"No," Izo says stiffly. "I must be on my way." He stands, the tea master doing the same in such a graceful manner Izo is not sure such a motion could be made by a mortal. The tea master bows to him, but Izo walks as quickly as he can to the exit without seeming to be in a rush. He pretends to ignore the glint of mischief in the other man's eyes.

/

"This is your third visit in two months," the tea master, whom Izo has learned is named Roki, says in an almost teasing tone. "Should I be honored?"

Izo glares at the man, but otherwise does not answer. He is not fond of the way Roki can so easily get a rise out of him.

"I suppose if I offer you another tea, you will simply stare at it." Roki moves beside him, his arm brushing against Izo's, most likely to test how far he can push the samurai before he runs, but Izo will not give him that satisfaction…again. "As much as I enjoy your silent company," Roki drawls, "why do you not tell me what it is you want from me?"

"It is my duty," Izo finally answers at a steadied pace, staring out over the small garden, "to protect my lord."

"And you think me a threat," Roki finishes for him. "Why?"

Izo returns to his silent status, refusing to look at the other man. It does not deter Roki in any way. "I have seen the way you look at me." Roki's voice drops into a lower tone, sensual as it brushes over Izo's skin. "My eyes are rather unforgettable, are they not?"

Izo gives himself away with a quick turn of his head to look at Roki's smirking face. "What did you say?"

Roki actually rolls his eyes. "Do you think you would be telling your lord anything he does not know?"

Izo's wakizashi is held against Roki's neck the next second. It only infuriates him more that the tea master seems triumphant rather than scared. "I will not let you disrespect Toyotomi-domo with such words."

"Ah." Roki presses a finger against the blade, lightly, but the blade is sharp enough to cut even from the slightest pressure. The sight of that blood, in combination with the way Roki's eyes flash, it makes his heart speed up and his flesh feel hot. "I think you misunderstand the position you are in. Tokugawa has control of Japan now, and the Toyotomi clan is no friend of his. He means to suppress your influence, and if you rise against him, destroy you completely. Your lord is a child and seems to understand what you do not, that you cannot win in an all out battle with Tokugawa's forces. You would do well to realize that as well."

Roki takes a step forward, the blade drawing a drop of blood from his neck. Izo's eyes follow it as he disappears beneath Roki's collar. "Besides, I think you would much rather take your anger out by bedding than beheading." Roki laughs at Izo's wide eyes, and dances back without Izo's blade following. "For someone who tries to be so stoic, you have such an expressive face." There is laugher throughout every line of his body as he walks way. "Just so you know, I would not be averse to the bedding."

Izo hesitates for the briefest of moments before chasing after Roki. He does not manage to catch up to the other man until he walks into a room with a futon already laid out. Izo shuts the door behind him, and wraps his arms around Roki's waist, pulling him close. He swallows moans as his lips attack Roki's skin, and his hands expertly rid the other man of his clothes. "I am going to put you in your place," he murmurs against the cut on Roki's neck.

The tea master laughs, arching into Izo's touch. "Just try it," he challenges.

Izo shoves him back harshly onto the futon, following him down and pinning Roki's body with his own. They bite, and claw, and kiss at each other. Roki continues those angering sentences, causing Izo to become rougher. He knows it is exactly what Roki wants, but it is also what he needs. Roki wraps his impossibly long legs around Izo, forcing his cock in deeper, and oh, this is what Izo has needed for a year now.

By the time he rolls off Roki, he feels as if much of his anger has been drained from him. He stands to dress, not looking at Roki until he finishes. But oh, when he does, the sight before him, Roki's skin bearing his marks, a satisfied and completely fucked out smile on his face, fills Izo with a dark hunger. Those green eyes laugh at him, and Izo knows he will return for more.

/

Late November 1614

Izo does return, twice a month for three years. He is like an addict who refuses to quit, but the release he finds in Roki is something he never knew a person could experience. His injury has long since healed, but Toyotomi has kept him close anyways. He ended up spending three whole days in Roki's bed after he was told he would not be sent on any missions for the foreseeable future.

Slowly, yet faster than he would care to have done, Izo realizes that it is not just in Roki's body he finds release. The man's mind is a complex work of art, and the words that roll off his tongue control Izo better than any command. He finds he does not mind that so much. He really should, but when he is lying in Roki's arms, he cannot think of why he should. Of course, the fact that Loki and his assistant are ninja, the very antithesis of the samurai, should be more than enough to keep him away, but it is so easy to forget when Roki wants him to.

It is after one of these encounters, as soon as he sets foot on the castle grounds, that Izo is confronted by Fuwa. Izo has looked up to Fuwa as a father figure ever since his own was killed at Sekigahara, when Tokugawa effectively took control of all Japan, so when he approaches Izo with that grim determination, Izo knows something has happened.

"You will have to say goodbye to your lover," Fuwa says without ceremony.

Izo's mouth flops open, but he quickly recovers and stands a little straighter, waiting for his orders. "Tokugawa has not been stopped. He will be here within a few days. Toyotomi-domo has ordered that we join with Sanada to stop him. Be ready to leave in the morning."

Izo nods even as Fuwa continues on to make other preparations. He is thankful to the man for giving him enough time to say his farewell. He returns to Roki's home as fast as his feet will carry him. He finds Roki kneeling next to his assistant in the garden, the man clutching his chest as he gives his report.

Roki's head snaps up, some of the tension leaving him when he sees it is Izo before returning just as quickly. "Twice in one day." Loki attempts to remain calm, but there is an obvious nervousness about him that Izo has never seen before. "Do you need me to tend to you?" Roki asks his assistant.

The man shakes his head. "No, I can see to my wounds myself. They are not extensive." He brushes past Izo without even looking at him. The man has never approved of Izo's presence near Roki.

"Do not go to this battle," Roki says as soon as they are alone, stepping up to Izo. The samurai wraps his arms around Roki without any further prompting.

"There are times over the years where I have forgotten what you are."

Roki growls and pushes away from him. "Do not change the subject."

"You know I cannot stay. I failed my lord once before, I will not do so again."

Izo would be insulted that Roki had even asked, if it is not for the way Roki begins pacing around the garden, worry and fear practically radiating from him. "Your honor will get you killed. What good will it be to you then?"

"An honorable death is all I could ask for."

"Then you are a fool!" There are actual tears threatening to fall from those green eyes, no longer laughing the way Izo loves. "You always do this! Your damn honor gets in the way, and you never come back to me!"

Izo has no idea what Roki is talking about, and he very nearly pulls back. But Tony knows, even if he has not seen it yet. He knows Loki has lost so many variations of him, and now he is about to lose another. This isn't Loki dealing with one loss. This is centuries of sorrow that have finally worn him down. Frankly, Tony does not know how Loki hasn't broken down before. Tony doesn't know how, but he pushes, and this time it seems to reach his previous incarnation. Instead of taking a step back like he had meant to, Izo moves forward, pulling a struggling Roki into his arms.

"I have to go," he whispers, smoothing down the dark hair.

"No!" Roki grits out, still struggling, both trying to hold onto and push away from Izo. "You will not come back. I can't-" Roki slams a fist into Izo's shoulder. "I hate you."

"You are not really going to send me off with that, are you?"

Roki's head snaps up to look into his eyes. "I," he drawls out slowly, voice laced heavily with pain and sorrow. "Hate. You." The passionate kiss Izo is pulled into the next second tells him something else completely.

He has no memory of traveling to the bedroom, only of Roki's skin and lips, and all the love he is pouring into action instead of words. Izo presses Roki into the soft material of the futon, just as he has so many times before, but where those times had all been for release, this is restraint, trying to convince each other that for now they can hold onto each other. For the first time, Izo truly allows himself to make love to Roki.

In the early hours before dawn, Izo untangles himself from Roki as gently as possible. He knows from the way Roki's shoulders tense that he is awake anyways. But Roki does not move, he keeps those laughing green eyes closed, and Izo can almost convince himself the scene is peaceful. He burns the image into his mind all the same, holding it in the back of his mind. The only thing he wants now is to prove Roki wrong, and come back to this.

/

December 1614

"Arrogance."

Izo forces himself to wipe the small smirk from his lips as soon as he hears Fuwa's voice. He has spent too much time with Roki. "Forgive me, it is just that we have been doing well so far."

"We have," Fuwa allows, "but this is the man who changed all Japan at Sekigahara. Do not underestimate him."

"Of course." Izo bows his head in apology.

A loud 'boom' fills the air and rocks the ground. "Artillery!" Fuwa growls. "Izo-"

But Izo never hears what it is that Fuwa says next. Another shell smashes into the earthwork barricade, sending dirt everywhere. It is a fluke really, that when Izo is thrown back at just the right angle, his neck snaps when he hits the ground.

Intermission

He has lived more than a hundred lives in more than a thousand centuries; beyond a number mortal minds can comprehend. When he is pulled from each life into what lies in between, when he is given time to reflect, the immensity of it all weighs down on him. Each time the pull is less, and Tony fears that he will be lost, his soul slipping into a space where none shall ever find it again. Both Hel and Valhalla will be closed to him. Loki…

Those green eyes follow him, making him ache. He misses. Sometimes he is allowed only a single night to indulge in sweet passion, to tangle in the sheets with a green eyed lover whose embrace he does not wish to leave. Sometime by blade or axe, by mace or hand, the life in those green eyes fades before him, and the memory of something tugs of his mind, always haunting him until he drowns in wine or water. Sometimes Loki arrives only at the end, to hold his hand and make him feel at peace as his last breath slips from him. Sometimes Loki is not there at all. Those times hurt more than anything Tony has ever experience before, even more than waking up with his heart attached to a car battery. His whole life feels as if it has been wasted searching, always searching.

Each memory is a blow, another piece of his soul left behind. He sees through the eyes of another him, aware of both Tony Stark and the life he is sharing. But Tony has no way to interfere, the ability to touch or speak lies just beyond his fingertips. If his metaphysical self had hair he would pull it out in frustration. He wants to cry, but he has no idea how to do so anymore. At the end of each memory he becomes more aware of how much strain is being placed on his soul, how much it is wishing to rip itself to pieces to fill all of these lives at once.

Tony does not know how much longer he will last.

Late 1521
England
The Court of Henry VIII

The confusion that had been so prevalent a moment ago is immediately chased away by a wave of excitement. This time he is the spymaster for the King of England, going by the name of Jasper Randel, and Jasper is currently pacing his room impatiently.

Sitting at his table working on cipher, Rhodey…no, no, this time he is Henry Grey. He is both tall and strong, his dark skin distinctly shows his Moorish heritage. Henry has been with Jasper since they were young children and found themselves getting into difficult situations together. Usually it is Henry who pulls Jasper out before the man can get himself killed. As soon as he had been appointed spymaster, Jasper had asked Henry to be his right hand man, doing the work Jasper's notoriety had closed to him.

"Pacing shall not bring her to you any faster," Henry comments dryly, not looking up from the papers he is transcribing.

"I know," Jasper half snaps half sighs, "but she was supposed to arrive today. What if she has been delayed? Or attacked by brigands? Or fallen ill?"

"Then one of our many birds would have informed us," Henry returns. "It is still early in the day. Give her time."

Jasper makes a series of nods, but continues his trek around the chambers. A servant brings lunch. Jasper does not touch it so Henry eats his portion. Two hours after that another servant knocks on the door. Jasper very nearly tears the door off its hinges, having worked himself into quite the mood now, and snaps, "Is it her?" When the frightened boy nods Jasper flies down the hall, Henry sighing and securing the papers before following at a more leisurely pace.

Outside Jasper continues his breakneck speed, ignoring the beautifully trimmed lawns, until his uncle is stepping out of the way least he be shoved over, and helps a beautiful green eyed woman from her horse. He cares nothing for social mores as he pulls her into a passionate kiss.

When he pulls back for air his wife laughs brightly. "I missed you too, my love."

"I see your wife has arrived Randle." Jasper looks up to see King Henry with a longbow, his retinue following behind. "Or is kissing all our lovely visitors a new habit of yours?" the king jokes.

Jasper laughs as he bows. "Your Majesty, would you allow me the pleasure of introducing my wife, the Lady Loki?"

"Loki?"

"My father was a bit of an eccentric, Your Majesty," Loki answers. "He named me after the pagan Norse god of mischief."

"It is a rather fitting name for her," Jasper adds.

Jasper sees then in Henry's eyes the moment when he begins to entertain the thought of taking Loki to bed. Henry laughs, his followers following suit. "Well, I had hoped you would join us for a hunt, but I see you have other matters to attend to." He kisses the back of Loki's hand in farewell. "I do hope you will be joining us tonight. The Pope has awarded me with the title of Fidei Defensor for my work against the Protestant heretics."

"But of course, Your Majesty. Such a lauded title would weigh heavily on a lesser man, but it is well deserved when applied to my king."

The King grins at Loki. "You flatter me, My Lady."

"I give flattery only where it is due, Your Majesty."

"Then I shall take your words to heart." Loki curtsies, and Jasper bows again as the king and his retinue continues on.

Jasper's Henry appears then. "If you took any longer we would be facing Judgment Day!" he shouts across the grounds.

Henry shakes his head and does not answer until he is closer to the couple. "My mother taught me something called manners, and unlike some people I tend to practice them."

Loki smiles brightly, stepping in front of Jasper before he can offer retort. "It is good to see you, Henry."

Henry offers her a rare smile. "And you as well, my lady."

"Loki," Jasper whines, snuggling back up to his wife's side.

Loki does not roll her eyes, because that is not something proper ladies do, but she comes close. "I swear, you are like a child."

"You did not see him this morning," Henry says.

Behind them someone clears his throat. "While I enjoy basking in your warm welcomes, I would remind you the king invited you to the feast tonight, and Loki cannot go looking travel worn."

Jasper smiles and peals away from Loki's side long enough to shake his uncle's arm. "Edward, you know it is always a joy to see you."

"Just not as much of a joy as it is to see Loki," Edward adds.

"Well, you are not my wedded wife, and I cannot take you to my bed."

Edward sighs, the smile staying on his lips, as he directs Jasper to follow Henry and Loki who are already heading back inside. "I do not know how she puts up with you at times."

/

Even as Jasper runs the wet cloth over Loki's flesh his whole being trembles with excitement. He stands close to her, but only touches with his hands. When the cloth dips between her legs Loki gasps softly, breath ghosting over Jasper's neck. He grins happily, which earns him a look from his wife, a look he promptly chases away when he kneels and kisses between his wife's legs. Another gasp escapes Loki's lips, her fingers touching his hair before she pulls back.

Jasper runs the cloth down her leg, giggly softly as he bites the inside of Loki's thigh.

"What amuses you husband?" Loki asks, her voice just hinting at breathless.

"'Such a lauded title would weigh heavily on a lesser man'," Jasper quotes, his voice taking on a high note. He spins her around even as Loki rolls her eyes. "'I give flattery only where it is due.' My Lady, sometimes your acting ability scares me."

"When dealing with kings one can never be too careful."

Jasper smirks as he bites down on Loki's ass cheek hard enough to leave a mark, listening with satisfaction as Loki tries and fails to suppress a moan of desire. "True, my love. Although, seeing you act as a good Christian wife always amuses me." Jasper and Loki have never been god fearing folk. Loki outright dismissed such values, while Jasper usually concerns himself more with the here and now.

"You will be my downfall one day."

Jasper stands, moving dark hair out of the way to run the cloth over Loki's back. "I do hope so." He kisses the back of her neck, enjoying the way she trembles in anticipation. "But right now I find myself desiring to worship." Loki's hand ran over Jasper's arm as it slinks around her waist, his fingers teasing against her clit. "My lady, my love, my goddess."

/

It is no secret that Henry has become increasingly frustrated with Catherine's inability to give him a son. It is also no secret that the King has made the young and beautiful Mary Boleyn his mistress, despite her recent marriage to William Carey. While the King may have a mistress, that does not mean his interest in other beautiful women has been sated.

Which is why Jasper drinks his wine with a slightly shaking hand, watching with a neutral expression when Henry hold his hand out to Loki and invites her to dance. He does not notice when the Queen summons him to her, not until his Henry elbows him sharply in the side.

"My Queen, how may I serve you?" he asks when he is beside Catherine.

She motions for him to sit in the empty seat beside her. It is not as if he can refuse, but already his mind is calculating a thousand different responses to whatever the Queen could want. Being between two royals is dangerous, but oh, this is the game and Jasper loves to play.

"Your wife?" The Queen keeps her eyes on the couple winding their way around the dance floor, fingering the cross hanging around her neck.

"Yes, Your Majesty."

"She is very beautiful."

Jasper bows his head. "I shall be sure to pass along your compliments."

Catherine's eyes slide over to Jasper, a spark of calculation coming to life there. Even though Jasper's loyalties to Henry have lately put him against the Queen, he is fond of her. She is a worthy opponent in this game of politics and courtly manners. They both know of each other's motives, but it is yet another of those issues that are not discussed out loud, least curious ears use such information for their own ends.

The two lapse into an easy silence, well as easy as they can be watching Henry smile wide at whatever Loki has just told him. "She is my partner," Jasper finally says. He does not bother hiding his emotions; he owes Catherine this.

"As he is mine." She moves to stand, Jasper following suit. "I wish you better luck in life, Lord Jasper."

"My Queen." And then she is gone, leaving the revealers to their laughter and light.

That night Loki crawls into bed beside him, straddling his hips and pressing her body to his. Her kisses are desperate and hurried, placed all over his face and neck. "I am yours, only yours," falls from her lips in a repetitious whisper.

Jasper hands slowly move over Loki, savoring his exploration of her body. "I know, my goddess, I know," he whispers back.

/

A month goes by without the King even looking at Loki again. Just when Jasper has begun to entertain the idea that the King has lost interest, Loki receives an invitation to join Henry for a walk in the gardens.

The head gardener does not even blink when Jasper appears that morning wearing a tattered coat and an old hat. One of the reasons Jasper has been so successful as spymaster is because of his ability to blend in with the common folk, which the nobility seems to think means throwing on an old cloak. No, he has to change the way he walks and holds himself, the way he speaks and looks at people, everything about Jasper Randel is reinvented until he is merely a new servant going to work in the gardens. It also helps that the head gardener is in his employ.

He has been there for hours for by the time Henry and Loki enter, walking side by side. Henry leans in close to speak to Loki, but neither looks as if they are particularly enjoying the conversation. No one notices when Jasper suddenly stops working with the roses to move to the covered walkway his wife and the King are heading towards.

"I made a vow when I married by husband, Your Majesty, a vow before God. No amount of riches or promises of titles will make me break it," Jasper hears Loki say once they have disappeared behind the wall of flowers hiding him.

"You are very loyal to him," the King responds. "It is a pity we met after you had already married. If you had no husband would you still be opposed to a night in my bed?"

There is a brief pause before Jasper hears Loki's answer, and he knows his wife is reminding herself that she is speaking to the King of England, who is not someone she can slap across the face. "Your Majesty, there is no point in dwelling on that thought. I am loyal to my husband because I love him, and if anything should happen to him I would spend the rest of my life in mourning."

Jasper only hears footsteps for a long moment in which he forgets how to breathe. When Henry finally does answer Jasper feels as if the great weight that had settled on his chest has been removed. "You are an impressive woman, Lady Loki. Randel is lucky to have you. I do hope we can still be friends."

"Of course, Your Majesty." They reach the end of the tunnel and Jasper can see them now walking arm in arm.

"And if anything does happen to Jasper-"

Loki actually has the gall to interrupt the King. "Please, Your Majesty, do not even joke about such things. I am sure you will find another woman eager and clever to give you a son."

"And yet he would still be a bastard, so long as Catharine is not the one to give him to me."

"Only if she is still your wife." It is said casually, but Jasper hears the dark undertone he knows Henry has not. Those words are Loki's revenge for even entertaining the thought of making her a widow.

/

"You cannot!"

Jasper has always been excitable, always optimistic despite the darkness his line of work brings. Now it is gone. He is facing down Loki at full fury, and all he feels is calm. "I have to."

"You do not." Loki's voice changes from anger to desperation in a breath. She steps close to her husband, hands coming up to frame his face. "Please, Jasper, you do not need to do this."

"And if I do not?" Jasper covers Loki's hands with his own. "These are orders from the King. What do you think happens if I disobey?"

Loki shakes her head and closes her eyes. "We can run, go to France or Spain. Your talents would be welcomed there."

"I have dedicated my life to finding their agents. Between Henry's anger, and their contempt, we would never be safe."

"He is going to kill you," Loki whispers.

"We do not know that," Edward interrupts. "And to suggest such a thing could cost you your head."

"It does seem suspicious that he would give you these orders after what he said to Loki," Henry cuts in, glaring at Jasper's uncle. The two have silently been at each other's throats ever since the messenger came carrying Jasper's new orders to investigate a supposed group of Protestant rebels. The King's orders are clear; Jasper is the only one Henry trusts to carry out this particular mission, so he is to go himself. Despite the initial reaction that he is being set up for a trap, Jasper has insisted he must go, and thus has invoked Loki's wrath.

"I have served Henry my whole life, and I will continue to do so."

"Why must you be loyal to him when he will show no such loyalty to you in return?" Loki pulls away from him, pacing around the room like a caged animal.

"I made a vow when he became King, a vow I will not break."

Loki freezes, her back turned to him. For the moment she seems set on ignoring him.

"I am coming with you," Henry finally says. "Someone has to look after you."

Jasper nods as his friend claps him on the shoulder. "I will see you in the morning then."

Edward steps in close to whisper to him, "You need not worry for Loki. I will watch after her."

"Thank you, Uncle."

"Try not to be gone long."

Loki waits until they are gone before she finally turns around. "There are times when I truly hate that I love you."

"No." Jasper pulls Loki into his arms, pressing as much of her to him as possible. "Do not say such things, my love." He buries his face against her neck, fingers entwined in dark hair. "Do not let those be the last words between us before I leave." He knows Loki will hear those words as, 'Do not let those be the last words between us.'

"I am losing you, always losing you," she whispers, her arms wrapping around him.

"Never. I will always be with you."

Loki half laughs at that. "Jasper, you are many things, but a romantic poet is not one of those."

"I am a veritable word-smith," Jasper counters, feeling a bit of his former cheek coming back.

"You are a terror, and I love you."

Jasper leans in to kiss Loki, long and slow, and so final it hurts. "I love you as well, my goddess."

/

The forest is silent. In all his years of adventure and misdeeds that has never once been a good sign. Without further prompting, Jasper and Henry kick their horses into a canter. A few minutes later they hear the sound of more horses coming up the road behind them. Without even having to share a look, Henry and Jasper rein in their horses, wheeling off the road and into the forest to hide in the thick undergrowth.

The riders come into view barely a heartbeat later. Jasper instantly recognizes the rider in the lead and, before Henry can stop him, the spymaster leaps back onto the road, waving his arms around and shouting to gain their pursers' attention. Hearing his shouts the riders look back and immediately turn around. A moment later Edward is on the ground and hugging his nephew to him.

"I was worried we would not catch up."

"What has happened?" Jasper asks, pulling back to look at his uncle's concerned face.

"Jasper, it is Loki." Jasper feels his heart stop in terror. "She denied the King again. He had her poisoned."

His hands grip his uncle's arms tighter in desperation for Edward's words to be untrue. "She is not-"

"No, but I fear she will not last long. I rode after to bring you back so you could have your goodbyes."

"No! Henry!" Jasper shouts. Henry is already emerging from the forest with their horses. "We are-" The whole world slows. He sees Henry's eyes widen in shock, but it takes Jasper a moment to process what has happened. He grunts, blood dribbling out his mouth when the dagger in his chest is twisted.

Edward's voice whispers in his ear, "Loki always was your weakness. One whisper of her name and all your defenses drop. I will offer one small piece of consolation, your trust in the King was not misplaced. Your death is solely by my hands." For a moment the part of Jasper that is Tony hears Obadiah's voice.

Jasper does not need to be told why Edward is doing this; his uncle gains his title and fortune in the event of his and Loki's deaths. "Loki…" he coughs out. Edward's men cut down Henry before Jasper's friend can draw his sword, and Jasper is helpless to do anything. His body refuses to move except to tremble.

Edward sneers and twists the dagger again. "Even now you only think of her. Do not worry, dear nephew, she will be with you soon."

There is a push at his back that sends Jasper falling forward. He feels the leaves crunch against his face. He sees Henry's eyes still open, staring at him in horror, and smells the scent of his own blood.

"Lo..."

/

Loki disappears before the news of Jasper's death reaches the court. Edward looks desperately for his nephew's missing wife, but it is all in vain. She is simply gone. The new Count and all his misbegotten fortune burn to ash a year later that is attributed to God's wrath.

But the words Loki had spoken to Henry that day in the garden continue to haunt the King. The next year the King visits Chateau Vert where a young woman named Anne Boleyn dances the part of Perseverance.

1240
Outside Novgorod
Russia

Tony hates horses. They're horrible creatures. Whoever first thought it was a good idea to jump onto the back of one must have been seriously insane. Of course, Viktor is much more concerned with the people trying to kill him than how much he hates horses. He urges his horse on faster, keeping low, and swearing at the bright moonlight that keeps him visible to his pursers.

The cloaked figure on the side of the road barely registers in Viktor's mind, that is until there is a flash of green. Horses scream and men curse, followed by crashes and snorting, then silence. Curiosity gets the better of him, and Viktor wheels his horse around to see what happened.

Both men are on the ground, one with a horribly broken neck, the other with a bashed in skull. If the blood on his horse's hoof is any indication, it was not a rock that killed him. As Tony said before, horrible animals.

With a sigh, Viktor dismounts and checks the bodies just to be sure. They have dressed themselves as brigands, but Viktor knows them to be in the employ of the boyars. "It wasn't enough they drove Alexander from Novgorod," he mutters to his horse, "they have to send assassins after his friends as well." He gathers up the reins for the other horses. As much as he hates them, they will need them at some point.

When he mounts back up, his eyes catch sight of the cloaked figure he had completely forgotten about. He lifts his head enough for Viktor to see that he is male, green eyes almost poisonous. And then he is not there anymore, leaving only the sound of laughter on the wind.

Viktor is not sure if he has been saved by an angel or a demon.

/

March 1242
Pskov
Russia

Alexander Nevsky laughs when he spots Viktor grumbling and wiping his sword clean. "We have just won a battle, and here you are complaining about something already. You're going to make yourself old before your time, my friend."

Viktor glowers at Alexander, whose blue eyes laugh in the same way Steve's do. "Novgorod banished you, and not even a year later, when the Teutonic Knights come knocking on their door, they come begging for your help."

Alexander sighs fondly, a heavy hand falling onto Viktor's shoulder. "They need us. Besides, would you really allow their crusade to further push into our beloved Russia?"

"No, but that is not what I have a problem with, and you know it," Viktor counters.

"I know." Alexander pats his shoulder. "Come, we will push on to Novgorod soon, but for now, we celebrate."

"If we must," Viktor grumbles playfully, a grin slowly spreading across his face. Alexander laughs and throws his arm around his friend, dragging him away from the battlefield. The two are so absorbed in their own discussion they do not notice the soldier that has only been pretending to be wounded. His hand tightens around his sword, standing as quickly as he can, the noise of his armor alerting the other two men to the danger, but they cannot do much more than place their hands on their hilts and turn before he is on them.

But the soldier's eyes go wide, and he drops as quickly as he stood. Standing behind him is one of Nevsky's own men, his sword dark with fresh blood. His bright green eyes freeze Viktor in the spot where he stands.

Alexander detaches himself from Viktor. "You have just saved my life."

The man bows his head. "I doubt he would have harmed you, my prince."

Alexander shakes his head, a laugh escaping his lips. "None of that now. I would show my thanks. You must celebrate with us. Isn't that right, Viktor?"

Viktor blinks, snapping his out of his daze. "Of course," he says slowly. The man bows his head humbly, but those eyes, Viktor knows those eyes, and he knows this is the second time the man has saved him.

/

Early April 1242
Near Lake Peipus
Russia

Loki, as the green eyed man is called, sticks to Viktor's side. Viktor finds he does not mind. The other man has wit, which is not something Viktor says often about people. They do not discuss their initial meeting outside Novgorod. To bring it up means to bring up Loki's sudden disappearance and the green glow that made the horses throw their riders. Viktor would really rather not find out that Loki is a demon.

Although, with as much time as his mind spends occupied by thoughts of Loki, the man just might be. Alexander had pushed west, tempting the Bishop Hermann into giving chase. Even now, when the army is retreating back east toward Novgorod, Viktor thinks more of Loki's soft lips and sharp tongue, than he does of the chase. But Viktor keeps himself from touching. To touch would be a sin, and he knows seeing the disgust in Loki's eyes would destroy him.

Viktor catches Loki standing a distance from the army as they prepare to cross the frozen lake. When he comes close, he can hear Loki muttering strange words under his breath. There is a long moment where Viktor stands there, waiting for him to finish. When Loki finally does turn around, the smug smile on his lips falls away. "Viktor," he greets reservedly.

"Are you a demon?" Viktor asks the one question that has been bothering him. "Have you been sent to steal my soul?"

Loki takes a deep breath, swallowing anger. "All I have done is protect you, and you think I mean you harm."

"Then what were you doing?"

"Insurance," Loki snaps, moving to rejoin the army. "Does Alexander not need you? Should you really be wasting time with me?"

Loki is gone before Viktor can answer. The conflicting feelings of guilt and doubt are raging within his stomach. Loki is obviously up to something, but Viktor is not sure if it is harmful or helpful. He has a choice before him, to trust Loki, or to accuse him of dark magic.

In the end, the need to get across the lake is too dominate for Viktor or Alexander to worry about anything else. If they survive, Viktor will think of it then.

Alexander leads them to the east side of the lake, taking up position where the terrain will make it difficult for the Crusaders to reach the army. Alexander's archers slow them even further, inflicting the first casualties of the battle. Alexander holds Viktor back until the Crusaders have finally reached them, and the armies are engaged in hand to hand fighting. Then the order is given, and Viktor brings the cavalry up to flank one side of Hermann's army, the mounted archers flanking the Crusaders on the other side.

After that, it becomes obvious that the Crusaders have lost the battle. They fall before Alexander's army like wheat in the fields. Hermann gives the order, and the Crusaders begin fighting their way back to the west side of the lake. Just as they begin to rally for another charge, there comes a creaking and groaning sound, which immediately has Alexander ordering his men not to give chase. Everyone knows what that sound signals. As the last remnants of the Crusaders reach the western bank, the ice cracks open, spilling a number of them into the frozen water. Viktor cannot be sure of how many drown, but it is the end of the battle. The Crusaders retreat in the wake of the breaking ice, their resolve broken, leaving Alexander once again the savior of Novgorod. All Viktor knows is that the ice has cracked in the exact place he stood with Loki this morning.

It is three days before he has a chance to be alone with Loki. They are in Novgorod, Alexander already plotting his next move. Viktor's own mind has been a turbulence of politics, and he is exhausted. He has no idea how Alexander can keep doing this without ever becoming tired.

Viktor is not even surprised when he returns to the room he had been given only to find Loki already waiting for him. "You weakened the ice."

"I did," Loki answers, even though it had not been a question. "Are you angry with me?"

"You used magic." Viktor has never been particularly religious, but he has always had a healthy fear of god.

"You asked if I was a demon," Loki says, stepping closer to him. "Perhaps I am an angel, sent to protect you." His lips are so close his breath brushes against Viktor's own, making the man's knees shake. He does not stop Loki as he leans in, unable to think of a reason to stop him. Viktor wants, and for a moment, that wonderful moment when their lips meet and the world narrows to only include Loki and himself, he allows himself to give in.

"An angel would not tempt me," he whispers once they pull apart, reminding himself that this is wrong, and hating himself for it. The one thing he wants is standing before him, willing to be taken, but he must refuse it. He takes a step away from Loki, moving to the side and leaving a path to the door. He cannot make himself say that Loki should leave, but his movements say it loud enough for him.

But Loki doesn't use the door. Those green eyes flash in betrayal. Before Viktor can stop him, before he can say he needs time to think, that he does not want to lose Loki, the man is gone.

/

1269

"Father, there is someone here to see you. I told him you were not to be disturbed, but…"

Viktor rouses himself enough to listen to his son's words. "It is all right. Show him in."

"But, Father-"

"Alexander, I know who it is," Viktor assures him. "I would like to see him."

Alexander, named for Viktor's late friend, still does not look happy, but nods and shows the guest inside. Loki looks the same as he did almost thirty years ago. Perhaps he really is an angel then.

"So," Viktor says slowly, not bothering to prop himself up on his pillows anymore. He is on his death bed. He has no need to please anyone anymore. "You are here at the end."

"I was not sure if you would see me."

Viktor shakes his head, blinking back the tears that spring up in his eyes. His son moves to his side again. "Father, perhaps-"

"No, Alexander. This is Loki. He was a good friend of mine once, and I sent him away. It is the one regret I have in my life. Do not send him away again."

Alexander glances between the two men, obviously wondering what had happened between them, but eventually relaxes into his chair beside his father's bed. "All right."

"You will stay this time?" Viktor asks, almost afraid. For so long he has been unshakeable, a pillar of strength for his family, and here Loki comes along, making him crumble.

"As long as you want me to."

Viktor smiles, nodding slightly as his head drops back against the pillows. It is good company to have for his final hours.

1000 CE

At the same time the Jotun Queen struggles to bring her first born into the world, worlds away, another woman is in her first labor as well. Around her women whisper to each other, but she can hear them. The baby is too early, there is too much blood, it is not likely either will survive.

She refuses to accept that. She and her baby are strong, even if he has decided to come two months early. They will survive this. Gods above, it is cold.

The baby finally comes when the world is dark and still. He does not scream, his little lungs have enough trouble just trying to breathe on their own. He sounds more like a warrior rasping out his death breaths, than a newborn taking his first.

The midwife places the baby on his mother's chest, allowing them to be of some comfort to one another. The mother shivers, holding her son close. It is cold, so very cold. And then she registers the fire blazing near them, the sweat on the midwife's brow, and realizes with a soft 'oh' that the cold is only there for her. She prays to Frigga to let her life be enough, to not take her son's as well. She prays he will have the strength of Thor. He is so small and helpless, but if allowed to live, she knows he will become a powerful warrior like his father. She keeps praying, the words tumbling from her lips in an undistinguishable chat, even after the death rasping has stopped, right up until her own breath abandons her.

And oh, she was right. Look at how strong her boy has become.

Intermission

The bed dips under the weight of the Trickster and the Man of Iron. Loki's hands slowly slide from Tony's neck to his temples. "You are not allowed to leave me again, not like this." His voice is demanding, but there is an undercurrent of pleading. He leans forward to press his forehead against Tony's. "Please, do not do this to me again."

Centuries of study are put to use as magic flows from Loki's fingers into Tony. The Trickster cannot chase him, but he can attempt to call him back.

Hours, days, months later, Loki does not know. A strangled cry rips its way from his throat, echoing off the walls of his stolen apartment. His entire magical career he has looked for a way to bring his lover back to him, but now he is nearly drained and no closer to bringing Tony's soul back than when he was first stolen.

Only someone with extensive magical training would notice when Loki drops the spell, the one that keeps him hidden from Heimdall's gaze. It is a silent, desperate appeal, the closest Loki will ever come to praying. On any other matter his pride would hold him back, but Tony would be the one to suffer this time. He would slip away, his very soul destroyed. There would not be anything for Loki to even search for.

A gentle hand lands on his shoulder, but Loki does not lift his head. He is exhausted and drained, barely able to keep himself from shaking. "My son," Frigga whispers softly, pulling Loki into her embrace. He gives only the weakest of protests at being separated from Tony before allowing himself to crumble into her arms.

Frigga holds him just like she did when he was a child, kissing the top of his head lovingly. "Rest, my son, there is no need for fear. We will bring Einar back to you."

c. 1255 BCE
Abu Simbel
Nubia

"Thutmose, if you scowl anymore, the new overseer is going laugh when he sees your face."

Tony blinks, the set of building plans set before him coming into focus. Architecture has never really been his main focus, just something he has drabbled in, but he always finds himself going back to it whenever an experiment is being particularly difficult. It is math given a shape everyone can appreciate. There isn't a much better feeling than watching an idea come off the paper into reality right before you. And right now, he is looking at ten years of his work that is about to be put into the hands of someone else.

"I don't care how much Pharaoh values this man's advise, if he tries to ruin my life's work, I'll…"

"Do nothing, because Pharaoh will have your head, and then you really will have your life's work taken from you." Ptah is always reasonable, and it always upsets him. Thutmose glares at his friend and second in command, who doesn't even pay it any mind. He is used to Thutmose's eccentricities. "Besides," Ptah continues, "this advisor has the Pharaoh's trust. I am sure he will want to make it as grand as you do."

"You've never dealt with courtiers before," Thutmose mumbles gloomily. "When is he supposed to arrive?"

"Now, if I am not mistaken." The surprised look on Ptah's face is more than enough to tell Thutmose just who answered him. He turns around to face the Pharaoh's advisor, Abu Simbel's new overseer, and for a moment his breath catches. The man is beautiful. The long lines of his face and body are impossibly mathematically possible. Thutmose wants to runs his hands over those lines to measure them, to figure out how they all fit together. "Architect Thutmose, I presume?"

"Overseer Loki," he responds with a small bow. What kind of name is Loki anyways?

There is a moment where all they do is stare, waiting to see who will flinch first. Ptah shuffles his feet nervously next to him, but Thutmose does not take his eyes from those beautiful green ones. Eventually, after only a few seconds, the overseer's lips turn up in a smile and he gestures to the worksite behind them. "Perhaps we should start."

"Of course," Thutmose responds, glad for the distraction. He guides the group through the Abu Simbel worksite. He cannot help but be fascinated by the way Loki's eyes take in…everything. He does not ask stupid questions like the last overseer did. Instead, he seems to actually understand what Thutmose is trying to accomplish here.

By the time they reach the small temple, Thutmose is actually excited to show it to Loki. And he is not disappointed. Loki's eyes widen for the briefest moment before he covers his shock, but that brightness, the hunger to drink it all in, does not leave his eyes. The small temple is not as complex as the great temple, but Thutmose can see that Loki understands the love that he has built into every line.

"The Queen's statues are as tall as Pharaoh's!" one of Loki's aides practically shouts in surprise.

Loki looks over his shoulder at the man. "Those were Pharaoh's wishes. This temple is being dedicated to Queen Nefertari after all."

"Of course, Advisor," the man immediately apologizes. It is rather unprecedented to have the Queen's statues anywhere close to the height of Pharaoh's. When Thutmose had received his orders, he knew Ramesses intention was to use this temple to show just how important Nefertari is to his reign.

Loki steps close to him, the back of his hand brushing against Thutmose's. The architect does his best not to flinch, although the spark of amusement in Loki's eyes makes it clear he has noticed that Thutmose has forgotten to breathe. "I am rather impressed by what you have accomplished so far. We will see to your future plans in the morning.

"My lodgings for the night?" he asks as he turns to another of the workers.

"This way, Advisor," the man says, bowing and leading them away.

Ptah stands next to him as Thutmose watches them go. "You are in trouble."

Yes, yes he is, but he is not going to admit that to Ptah.

As Chief Architect, Thutmose has his own home with the small village that had sprung up around the build site. It isn't all that big or elaborate, he had been more focused on Abu Simbel, and Sacmis has never let him hear the end of it. Gods above, he hates that woman, and he hates his father for making him marry her.

Thutmose steels himself when he enters his home, and sure enough, he is met with Sacmis' judging eyes. There are no words said between them as they go about their nightly chores, nor when Thutmose lays Sacmis down across their bed and fucks into her at a relentless pace. The two bite, scratch, and growl at one another, and Loki's name falls from Thutmose's lips when he finally comes. He does not look at his wife, merely rolls over and goes to sleep.

/

The next day is filled with more of the same, namely Thutmose unable to keep his eyes from Loki. The overseer takes one look at the plans, and then they're off. The only one even remotely able to keep up with them is Ptah. Thutmose has never had anyone who can truly appreciate the beauty of what he is trying to do here. There is more than building the glory of Pharaoh. Abu Simbel is Thutmose's life's work, and all this work is worth it for the recognition he sees in every line of Loki's body.

At one point, the questions from Loki's followers end up annoying him, and the advisor dismisses them. Ptah eventually takes away all of Thutmose's engineers and sculptures. By that time, Loki and Thutmose are in their own little world, and it is wonderful. Ptah brings them dinner at some point, and they must have eaten because the plates are clean by the time Thutmose registers their presence. "Oh," he says softly, "it is late."

Loki smiles at him in such a way as to say 'you only noticed that now?' Tony can't decide if he wants to smack or kiss that smile off Loki's face. "Would you like to stop?"

Thutmose rubs a hand over his eyes at the same time he tries to shake his head. "You are amazing, you know that?"

"I have been told, on occasion." Loki's body creates a perfect angle as he leans back. Thutmose wants to slide his hands over that back, to bend him further just to see how drastic that perfect angle can become.

"Can I ask you a question?" Thutmose asks, the mode shifting with his tone.

"You mean now that we are alone," Loki clarifies. He waves his hand to signal Thutmose to continue.

"Why are the Queen's statues the same height as Pharaoh's?"

"Ah, I was thinking you were going to ask me something hard." Loki's whole form relaxes, and Thutmose quickly calculates the slump in his shoulders. "Ramesses loves her. More than that, Nefertari has made herself a powerful member of the court, and she is his constant supporter. Ramesses trusts her above all others." Loki pauses, debating if he should add his next thought or not, but eventually says softly, so softly Thutmose has to strain to hear him, "He is bringing her here later this year to inaugurate the temple."

"Is it true?" Thutmose asks just as softly. "Is the Queen ill?"

Loki's head snaps up, his eyes hardening. "Are there rumors of this?"

"More like whispers, ideal speculation that no one is giving any credence."

"But are still hearing." Loki sighs heavily. "We have done our best to keep her illness a secret. I thought we were succeeding."

"You admire her."

"She is an astounding woman." Thutmose knows that Loki is not the type of person to say that lightly.

"It will not be done in time," Thutmose admits. "But its brilliance will be obvious."

Loki nods, his dark hair falling in front of his face. Thutmose has to ball his hand into a fist at his side to keep himself from reaching out to touch the strands. Loki rolls his head to look him, those black tresses falling back, and smiles. Oh that is radiant. Thutmose cannot ever begin to think of the mathematical formula to calculate it. "Pharaoh appreciates your dedication."

The overseer straightens himself, preparing to leave. Thutmose hates the way his heart drops at that simple movement. "I shall see you in the morning."

Thutmose realizes this obsession is unhealthy, this desire to reach out and just touch, to listen and kiss and study, but he finds no motivation to give it up. Loki sweeps past him, that little smirk on his face.

/

Thutmose's head is filled with thoughts of Loki when he enters his house. It is the reason it takes him a moment too long to process the scene before him. Sunset is standing close to one of Thutmose's engineers, his hands on her in an obviously intimate embrace. Her eyes turn to pits of hatred.

Sacmis recovers a moment before Thutmose, and that is enough. She moves forward with confident strides, and then there is a pain in Thutmose's stomach. "I was fine with the occasional wifely duties, despite how much your touch disgust me, but you will not take this from me, not when you think of another man while fucking me." Her voice is so very calm as she pulls the dagger from his stomach and stabs him in the chest repeatedly. "You have already humiliated and abandoned me. This is the last time you will wrong me."

"Fucking bitch," Thutmose gets out, glaring at her in return.

Sacmis growls, and stabs. She stabs again, and again, and again, without thought. Thutmose finds himself hating Sacmis, but beyond that, there isn't fear. He has given up his plan to Loki. Abu Simbel is in good hands as far as he is concerned. He just hopes Sacmis pays for killing him before he could see it completed.

Sacmis does pay for her husband's death. By the time Pharaoh arrives, Loki is ready to present his case against her. It takes Ramesses less than a minute to pass judgment. The advisor known as Loki stays until Abu Simbel is completed, before he, and all traces of him, mysteriously vanish from history.

c. 12,000 BCE
Chukchi Sea
Bering Strait

The ice groans and creaks around them. It terrifies the rest of the tribe, but Red Moon finds it oddly comforting. His calmness and unhurried pace annoy old One Eye, and Tony wonders if Fury has lost an eye in every life he has lived. It wouldn't surprise him.

"Why have you stopped now?" One Eye demands as he limps up to Red Moon.

The younger man just jerks his head up, keeping his eyes on the night sky. A shiver runs through him and he unconsciously pulls his furs closer to his body.

One Eye growls even as he looks up. It takes him a moment to see it, but the spread of the green glow, eating away at the darkness and covering the stars is quickly becoming hard to miss. It looks as if the sky is trying to rip itself apart.

A world dying, Red Moon thinks to himself, but he has the wisdom to not say it out loud.

A cry goes up and the tribe begins to panic as they become aware of what is happening. One Eye's loud voice echoes around them as he calls for silence. Some people begin to quiet down, although they do not take their eyes off the sky. Then another cry goes up that sends everyone panicking again. "The Heavens are dying! We will die too!"

"Enough!" One Eye shouts back with such force that stillness settles on the tribe.

It silences them long enough for Red Moon to say, "Until that happens, we must keep moving." He cannot tear his eyes away. It is beautiful, in a sickening sort of way. "If you wish to sit down and wait for the end then do so, but I will keep following the game as we planned. If the world ends then there is nothing we can do to stop it. If it does not, then our lives continue on in the same fashion."

It does not calm them, but it does set in them a sort of determination, the same that had then following Red Moon in the first place. One Eye growls, he is always growling, and nods to Red Moon before he moves to walk amongst the tribe, his strong presence reassuring them that they are safe.

Dancing Fox walks behind One Eye, offering them comfort in the way a mother does a child. She looks up to catch Red Moon's eyes and smiles. Those green eyes make him ache, as if he there is something that has always been missing from his life. He wanted her, lured her into his bed, and took her to wife. His child even now sits heavy in her belly, and yet it is not what he wants. Her eyes, so lovely and kind, are not right. There is no spark of mischief or danger. Even though she loves Red Moon unconditionally, Red Moon cannot say the same of himself. He tries to love her in the same fashion, but he doesn't, and it is not fair to her.

They continue traveling under the green glow. It no longer grows, but it ungulates in a way that makes anyone who looks at it too long sick. By the time they reach the end of the ice they have grown used to living bathed by green light. Red Moon and a hunting party bring down a mammoth, the first they have seen in so very long, and the tribe feasts that night. Dancing Fox is laughing one moment, screaming the next as she goes into labor. The baby tears itself from her and green eyes go dark, leaving Red Moon to raise his daughter without her mother.

She is a happy child, and she brings joy into his life. The pain of that missing something lessens now that Ice Fire is in his life. But those eyes, she has her mother's green eyes, and they always remind him. She is very nearly a woman in her own right when the green glow begins to fade.

And then it is simply gone. Red Moon does not come back from the hunt that day, so Ice Fire goes looking for him. She finds him slumped over and crying. When she asks why he is crying, Red Moon shakes his head and says he does not know. The ache in his chest settles there, stronger than ever, and never again leaves him in peace.

c. 60,000 BCE
Present Day East Europe

Everything is immediately strange. His face feels weird, and as he runs after his prey there is a surge of strength so powerful, Tony isn't sure what to make of it. It's the head shape that gives it away. Tony has never actually paid attention to how his skull is shaped, unless of course he's taken a particularly hard hit, but this time it is a bit hard to ignore. His first though is of how many people would love to know that Tony Stark once went through life as a homo neanderthalensis.

He cannot pronounce this one's name. He feels like he is ruining something sacred when he even tries. Their language makes it sound like they are singing. Not in an every day is a musical type way, it's just the tone that comes naturally to them. If he ever gets back…when he gets back, he is going to try to recreate that sound. The best Tony can do is feel for a translation. Language is understandable, but keeps its own qualities on the plane of the soul. This time they just went ahead and called his reincarnation Clever. Not very clever itself, but Tony has to admit it fits.

Swift runs alongside him, the two hunters trying to flank what Tony can only call a boar. The lake is ahead of them, and the boar will be left with nowhere to run. Clever grins. They have him.

Except when he burst through the undergrowth, there is no sign of their hunt. Instead they are met with a man bathing in the lake. He is strange, but he is beautiful in his strangeness. His face his slim, his body even taller than Clever, and his skin pale.

Swift takes a step behind him in his surprise. "A spirit!"

The spirit turns to them, and Clever feels as if those green eyes have just thrust a spear through his heart. Clever stands his ground while the spirit steps out of the water, revealing all of his beautiful body to the hunters. He hears Swift take another step back as the spirit comes closer.

Slim fingers caress Clever's cheek. The spirit says nothing as he drags Clever down to the ground, pushes his furs out of the way, and just takes. Clever gives in more than willingly. Fire says it is impossible to fight the spirits, that if they want something from you they will take it, and this spirit wants Clever. The spirit makes no noise until his pleasure is reached, and then only a soft cry drowned out by Clever's own shout. The spirit grins down at him, laughing with those green eyes, and disappears.

Clever straightens his furs as he stands, still in disbelief of what had just happened. Swift comes up to him again, eyes as wide as they will go in shock. Tony isn't at all surprised that Clint has a bit of voyeurism kink.

Clever shakes his head and points back toward home. The boar is gone, and the day's hunt has failed. At least, that is what he believes until he sees the two large boars, already dead, waiting for the hunters at the edge of the undergrowth.

/

He leaves the butchering of the boars to Swift and Shadow, who work with the efficiency expected of Clint and Natasha, and enters the hut where Fire cares for Honor. The best friend he has ever known lies still and silent on the sleeping furs. Nothing Pepper does seems to help Steve.

Still, he cannot stop himself from asking. "Any change?"

Fire does not even glance up at him. "He has grown worse." She never was a woman to soften the truth. Fire is old, her once red hair a shiny grey, and her knowledge has served them well. Clever is certain Fire is the oldest person in the world.

"You can do nothing else?"

Fire shakes her head. "We will soon have to prepare to send Honor to the spirits."

Clever sits beside her, letting a silence stretch between them as he studies his friend. "I saw a spirit today," he finally admits. If anyone will know what the sighting of a spirit means, it will be Fire.

She finally looks to him, her dark eyes boring into his brown ones with almost the same intensity as the spirit had. "And what did it take from you?"

"Pleasure."

Fire turns back to Honor. Clever begins to think she will not answer and moves to stand. "An unusual desire for a spirit, but it must be incredibly powerful if it was able to take physical form. If it comes to you again, it is you it wants. If it does not-" the old woman shrugs her shoulders, "-then you have sated its desire."

Clever nods and leaves the house, unable to stand the thick smell of medicine any longer. Swift and Shadow have finished with the boars, which are now being cooked by Loyal. Wise sits near him, preparing ochre. Clever cannot bear to watch it, and goes to the other side of the camp.

He does not even realize he has fallen asleep until he is opening his eyes to darkness. The fire Loyal is tending to seems strangely far off. The confusion is chased away when he feels those lithe fingers from this morning pull at him until Clever is lying on top of the spirit that has settled in comfortably between his legs. Once more he is entranced by the spirit's beauty. His eyes greedily take in the sight beneath him before Clever surges forward to kiss the spirit. The spirit responds fervently, and once more he takes from Clever, the hunter giving everything eagerly. The spirit holds him close once they finish, and Clever falls asleep within his embrace.

/

Bruce is the one to wake them in the morning. Wise seems slightly nervous to approach Clever when the spirit is so close, but it has to be done. Honor died in the night, and now they must bury him. The spirit lets him go, but does not leave. He waits, allowing them to their grief without interference.

Swift, Loyal, and Wise have already dug the grave at the edge of the camp. Beauty and Shadow have collected the tools that will join Honor in his grave. Clever collects his own prized spear to give to his friend so that he may hunt in the spirit lands. He and Fire are the ones who paint the body with the ocher Wise made last night, symbols of protection and strength popping up under their fingers. Loyal was supposed to help Fire, but he is frozen in place. He is new to the tribe, having only spent a few seasons with them, but it was Honor that welcomed him and fought for him to have a place among them. At the last moment, the loss becomes too great for him.

Before they can cover the grave, the spirit makes his way between them to kneel beside Fire. He reaches a hand down to touch Honor's body, a green light wrapping around him. The tribe stands frozen. They do not know what the spirit is doing, but they dare not interrupt. When the spirit stands he speaks the first words Clever has heard from him. "No one shall disturb him." And with that the spirit goes back to where he had watched them from in the first place.

Clever helps Swift and Wise to cover the grave before he returns to the spirit. "Could you have saved him?" he asks.

The spirit looks at him with those brilliant green eyes. "I know better than to fight death. She has more power than I."

Clever nods and sits beside him. The spirit rests his head against Clever's shoulder. Tony sees it then. Loki is not looking for him, but for someone else. He has seen that look way too many times not to recognize it, especially after watching Loki's expressions for years now. Tony wants to wake up, but at the same time he wants to know what happened to start this whole comic chase.

"What do I call you?"

The spirit stretches his long limbs and brushes his nose against Clever's cheek. "Loki." Hearing Loki's name in that musical tone makes Tony feel strangely happy, but it also makes him angry with himself for being happy in the first place.

"Are you staying?"

"If you wish me to."

"Why?" Clever is most likely offending the spirit at this point, but he needs to know.

The spirit blinks his eyes as he pulls away from Clever. "I desire you."

"Why?"

"It is not wise to question the ways of spirits," Fire interrupts, her eyes trained on Loki. "Their ways are not our own, and not for us to understand, until we join them."

"Wise indeed," Loki purrs. "I desire Clever for my own, and I shall have him."

"Do you desire this?" she directs at Clever. It is a bold thing to do, challenging the desires of the spirits no matter how indirectly.

Clever looks back to the spirit, Loki he reminds himself. It is a comfort to have Loki so close. For some reason he seems familiar. Perhaps Loki is the spirit of someone he once knew, someone who loved him but did not admit to it before they were taken. He wants to keep that feeling. "Yes."

Fire nods. "We will move soon. If we stay longer we may disturb Honor's spirit."

And if Honor's spirit is disturbed it will turn violent. Clever nods and stands to help. Loki follows along, not really helping or hindering, and that is fine with the tribe. He is a spirit after all, and it seems they keep their strange ways even when they join with the living.

/

The next seasons are the best the tribe has ever known. Even with the loss of their best hunter, they prosper. Loki seems to have brought his blessings to the tribe. Clever finds himself happier than he ever thought someone could be. Tony sees the transformation in Loki's eyes as the Trickster finds himself falling in love with Clever, but it is clouded by guilt when Loki realizes that Clever is not the person he is looking for. One day Clever wakes up and Loki is no longer there. He disappears without a trace, and Clever sinks into a depression no one can draw him out of. Fire says it is the way of spirits, but he cannot help feeling abandoned.

He forces himself to continue on, because the tribe needs him. They cannot afford to lose another of their hunters. But every day is a chore. Clever's eyes are always searching for signs of Loki.

Clever is returning from a hunt with Loyal and Swift when they hear the screams and smell the fire. They all recognize that scream as Beauty's. Tony has heard that scream once before, when Rumiko walked into the lab not knowing Ward would take her life. Swift runs off before Loyal or Clever can stop him. The two trade a look and follow at a more measured pace, hoping against hope that they are overreacting.

By the time they arrive at camp, the heat has become horrible. There is no fire to be seen, but littered around are the bodies of the tribe, their flesh burnt and scorched. A dark spirit stands in the middle of the carnage. His hand is on Swift's head, pulling him back to reveal his neck. The hunter doesn't fight. Shadow is broken and burnt before him. Clever can understand the desire to give up when the one you love is taken from you. The spirit looks up at them with a horrible grin and then pulls. Clever retches as Swift's head tears away from his body.

Loyal screams, grief and anger warring for dominance, and throws his spear. They are made for thrusting more than throwing, but the hunters have the strength to do so if the situation calls for it. Not that it matters, as the spirit simply holds out his hand and the spear stops midflight. It flips over itself slowly. There is a brief flash of fear in Loyal's eyes before it is covered by defiance. The spirit smirks, causing the scars on his face to crinkle, the motion tinged with hate. He waves his hand and sends the spear flying back at Loyal. The weapon catches him in the throat with such force that it severs most of his neck before burying itself in a tree. Loyal drops to the ground, his head rolling, only held onto his neck by the barest bits of flesh and muscle. The look of defiance is frozen into his now dull eyes.

Clever cannot stop his eyes from taking it all in. Fire's flesh has been burnt so badly it is slipping off her muscles. Only the patches of silver hair tell Clever the body belongs to their guide and leader. Wise lies beside her, his eyes opened wide in horror. There are burns on his arms and face from when he tried to save Fire.

Shadow, beautiful, confident Shadow, bleed out, desperation in her eyes. That hurts more than loosing her. Shadow's one fear was being helpless, and that is exactly how she died. And now Swift lies with her, the spirit having thrown his head off somewhere Clever cannot see.

And Beauty, Beauty who never feared to challenge him, or failed to make him smile, lies at the spirit's feet. Her body is twisted horribly so that while her feet and face are pointed towards him, her back is to him as well. It is an end she has done nothing to deserve. None of them have done anything to deserve this.

"You think this without reason, do you not?" The spirit steps over Beauty's body towards him. Clever cannot make his body move, not that there is much he could have done against a spirit anyways. "You stole from me," the spirit hisses, his scars pulling his mouth back in a twisted grimace. "That is why you will have the worst punishment of all. I will destroy you, and when you are reborn, you will know no peace. You will travel through this primitive realm knowing only pain and suffering." The spirit grips Clever's chin, forcing him to look at the carnage. "This is your fault, no other's. They are dead because of you."

Clever does not fight back. There is no reason to resist anymore. And besides, Fire always said it is impossible to fight spirits.

/

He wants to die. He wants to break apart and cease to exist. He cannot do this again. It is not the pain, it is the fear, that absolute feeling of helplessness. All power has been taken from him and placed in the hands of the sorcerer who wants nothing but to cause him grief in all its forms. He can't, he just can't do it again. The techniques are different. The Ten Rings needed him, so they were unable to damage him too badly. Svaðilfari has no such worries. His jaw and all his fingers are in ruins. His hamstrings are cut so that he cannot run, not that he knows where he would be running to anyways. The sorcerer fluctuates between eating in front of him while gleefully denying him the substance he needs, and shoving it down his throat until he is certain his stomach will explode under the strain. His limbs are stretched while he is trapped in small darkness. He has no way to tell how much time has passed. The days bleed together into one long haze of pain.

He hardly realizes when he is being pulled into an embrace; his body and mind are too broken to register the movement. "This is my fault," a sorrowful voice whispers in his ear. No, no that's not right. Over and over again he has been told that everything is his fault, that he deserves this suffering. He does not know why, what horrors he has wrought to bring this about, but he knows he deserves this.

Soft lips kiss his forehead. The gentle contact makes him want to cry. He is not even sure he still can until he realizes there are tears falling down his cheeks. Why show him kindness now? Why give him hope? It will only be ripped away. If he had the strength to push away this horrible being, this bringer of false hope, he would have done so. As it is, he does not think he even has the power to lift his arms. "Shh, my love," the voice tries to comfort. No, again this is wrong. His love left him a long time ago.

A warm sensation spreads itself across him skin. It makes the pain fade, and takes the fear with it. "I never should have left," the voice continues on. "I will find you again, I promise. The spell I use now ensures Svaðilfari will not be able to find you again, but…it will make it difficult for me to find you as well. Harbor no illusions, there will be times when I cannot make it to you, but know I will find you. I will not leave you again." Another kiss, this time to his broken lips. He makes no noise of protest. The pain is gone and all is fading. The promise sears itself into his soul, a reminder that he will carry within the core of himself in every lifetime. Once that promise has been made, it is all too easy to let go.

Intermission

Frigga stares down at Tony mournfully. Without even thinking of it, a gentle hand rests against his head. "He was so much softer with you," she says softly.

Behind her Loki gives a snort of derision from where he lies on a couch. "I was a naïve child."

His mother lifts her head to smile at her son. "And yet you two made each other better."

"The Allfather might not agree with you." Loki pulls the blanket they had draped over him tighter around himself, still tired from draining his magic.

"He does." Frigga turns her eyes back to Tony. "He may not have said so, but Odin was happy for you."

Loki remains silent, only lifting his head again when the goddess of healing kneels next to him. Eir holds a cup out to him. "Drink this, it will hasten the recovery of your magic," she orders. As gentle as she is, Eir has never allowed her patients to disobey her.

He forces himself to sit up and drink, grimacing at the bitter taste left in his mouth. "How is he?"

"Healing," Eir answers. "Lady Frigga and I have pulled Einar's soul back from the brink, but it had already sustained significant damage."

Loki's eyes snap over to Tony's still form, but Frigga cuts off his question with an upheld hand. "As Eir said, he is healing, but it will take time. Healing a soul is a much different matter than healing a body."

"It will not be long before he goes back to giving us all headaches," Eir adds.

Loki rolls his eyes and lies back down, turning his back to the room. Frigga and Eir share a look before each goddess shakes her head, knowing smiles on their lips. Frigga leans over to place a soft kiss on Tony's forehead. "Do try to hurry. You know he has never been one to wait when it comes to you," she whispers in his ear, too soft for Eir or Loki to hear.

Asgard
Eons Past

This time he is only Tony. What he sees are not the visions pulled from his soul's memories, but the memories of others: Loki, Odin, Svaðilfari, and Frigga, all woven together to show Tony a story he is pretty sure he does not want to see. At this point his soul is so close to breaking that another life would end it all. Except this is not a mortal vision, this is Einar's life, and an Asgardian's soul is not so fragile. Svaðilfari cannot afford to take the chance that Tony could regain Einar's powers and end thousands and thousands of years of work. So, this time Tony is forced to watch from the sidelines like he is Scrooge, but with a seriously messed up ghost guide.

Tony watches as years flash by in seconds. At least that is what it feels like, time has no power in this space. He sees when Einar befriends a young Odin, when Odin falls in love with the beautiful and strong shield maiden Frigga. Einar is there when Thor is born, and when Odin goes to war with Jotunheim. He returns from the frozen wasteland in triumph. He is there when nine months later Frigga emerges with another small babe. Einar is the only one to openly question Odin about the child, and for the first time Odin keeps a secret from his old friend.

Loki is a clever child. The second prince quickly outsmarts the best tutors Odin can find. Despite the secrecy, and Einar knows there is something about Loki that Frigga and Odin are not telling him, Einar finds amusement in watching the child's pranks. Loki keeps all of Asgard on their toes, which is something the old fuddy duddies, who have become much too comfortable in their old ways for Einar's liking, need.

The dark prince sneaks off often to find Einar, because the God of Progress is the only one who seems understands the value of brains over brawn. (Well, there is Odin as well, but he is usually too busy to teach the second prince.) Their meetings always end with Loki stomping off in anger, and Einar feeling smug. Odin has always told him he would make for a horrible teacher, but by the time Loki's face is turning red and he is spinning away, Einar knows Loki has taken something new away from the encounter.

It is a peaceful life, and yes, he is including the times Thor runs off on "adventures," Loki following along to make sure his brother does not get himself killed. Einar is grateful for it. He prefers to focus on inventions not meant for destruction and war.

It happens so suddenly Einar is not prepared to face it. He looks over one day and Loki is grown, not into the angry, "kneel before me" conqueror, but someone bright, and intelligent, and so absolutely breath taking Einar cannot comprehend how he did not see it before. The world slows for a moment, long enough for Tony to see the care in Einar's eyes turn into something more. The desire there is more than lust. They know each other too well for it to be something so simple as desire. He watches as Einar's eyes follow Loki whenever he is in a room, how they seek him out when he is not. Never one to deny himself, Einar chases after the prince, but Loki thinks it is just another of Einar's jokes. Loki pushes him away, no longer seeking out Einar's company, but Einar persists. He cannot help himself. The only way he knows to show Loki that this is not a passing fancy is to keep going. If he stops now Loki will see it as a sign his suspicions about the whole affair were correct.

The visions do not slow until Loki is storming away, the sounds of a feast subdued but still falling out into in the hallway. Einar chases after him. The older god reaches out to grab Loki's wrist, but the prince violently jerks to the side to avoid him. "Enough! I will not be one of the conquests you are so fond of boasting to Fandral about while you two are deep in your cups!"

"No," Einar snaps sharply, "and you will never, nor do I want you to be. You are so much more than that."

"Then what do you want from me?" Loki continues to back away until he is sure Einar is holding his ground.

"You."

Loki's face loses its anger as he processes that. Einar has just begun to hope that Loki will listen, and Tony realizes he has turned into a fangirl eagerly anticipating that moment before her favorite couple finally gets together, when the prince's eyes spark with fury again. "It is that simple, is it?" Loki hisses.

"I am making it that simple," Einar answers calmly. "I want you, not as some conquest, not as my prince, just as you."

"I do not believe you," Loki snaps. Tony can see Loki questioning, hear the waver in the prince's voice. If he can, then Einar most definitely has noticed as well.

Einar raises his arms in an open gesture, his final argument after so many years. "You are the God of Lies. You know if I speak truth or not."

Loki resists for another moment, his posture tense before it finally crumbles, his shoulders slumping under the weight of it all. "I hate you."

"You do not." Einar takes a step forward under Loki's hard glare, lips twitching slightly when Loki does not take a step back. "I have been attempting to court you for close to three years now. Do you really think this is just a passing fancy?"

Loki gives him a harsh side long glance. "You are very persistent."

"Not that persistent," Einar insists. "I prefer my conquests eager."

Einar reaches up to cup Loki's cheek, but Loki pulls his head back to avoid the touch. "If you think I will allow you to kiss me after saying that, you are truly mistaken. Goodnight, Einar Asksson." Loki continues on his way down the hall.

Einar watches him, a smile on his lips. 'Progress.'

/

It takes another two years of light touches, stolen kisses, and Einar forsaking the pleasure of another in his bed, before Loki begins to accept the older god's courtship. Even then they still keep whatever is happening between them a secret. The touches start to linger longer, the kisses become more passionate.

A combination of Einar's eagerness, and Loki's own inexperience in such matters, cause them to become more reckless the more time that passes. Frigga knows, Einar is sure of that, which means Odin most likely knows as well. Sif and Hogan continually cast them suspicious glances, but Fandral, and more importantly Thor, remain blissfully unaware.

Einar lets Loki set their pace. He does nothing without Loki's say so, which sometimes frustrates Loki, and causes the younger god to lose his temper, as he does not know what is expected of him. Einar is not so patient as to reign in his own temper when Loki loses his, which leads to some rather tense fights that leaves everyone else in Asgard feeling as if they are caught in an intense private moment.

And they are also how Einar finds himself in such situations as he does when time slows for Tony once more, pressed up against a column in a hallway, half hidden in shadow as Loki's lips try to devour his own, when Loki grows tired of fighting.

Einar groans quietly when Loki pulls away from his lips to nip at his jaw. "Your brother and father will be passing by soon," he manages to say with heavy breath.

Loki growls, pressing his lips against Einar's again. "Then we have need to find someplace more private."

Einar forces himself to stop, pushing Loki away, but still holding onto the younger god's shoulders. "Do you know what you are saying?"

"I would not have said it otherwise," Loki snaps. The next second Loki softens and curls himself back into Einar's embrace. "I would be you lover, properly."

If it had been anyone else Einar would have asked if they were sure, but this is Loki, who would only see such a question as an insult to his intellegence. So instead, he leans down to kiss hard against Loki's neck, mouthing "teleport" against his lips at some point.

The next moment the two are in Loki's chambers, still locked in a passionate embrace. Einar shoves Loki up against the bedpost, hands already working on the complicated belts. "I want you."

"I-" Loki cuts himself off, suddenly seemingly uncharacteristically unsure of himself. The faintest trace of a blush comes to his cheeks.

Einar pauses again. He presses his forehead against Loki's so that the younger god cannot look away. "If you are not ready for this we will wait."

"It is not that."

Even as Loki attempts to look away, Einar studies the Trickster. "Loki, have you never done this before?"

"No! I-"

"You have not," Einar interrupts, not commenting about that absolutely adorable blush growing brighter on Loki's cheeks.

Loki tries to shove him away. "If you insist on-"

"Loki," Einar interrupts again. He places a soft, reassuring kiss against Loki's lips. "I am honored you would even consider sharing this with me." Einar positions them so that when he falls back onto the bed Loki is lying between his legs. He wraps his legs around Loki's waist to hold him close, and smirks up at his lover. "I have so much to teach you."

Loki returns the smirk, making Einar shiver when he reaches between them to trace the outline of Einar's hard cock. "And I am so very eager to learn."

An hour after Loki learns the pleasures of taking a man, Einar teaches him the pleasure of being taken. Loki is an enthusiastic student and a quick study, which leads to the two disappearing for four straight days. When they finally stop, reluctantly admitting that it would not be good if someone came to look for them, and Einar returns to his own chambers, Odin is already waiting for him.

"Are you here as my friend or his father?"

"The Father."

Einar motions for Odin to sit at the table he has set up, covered with notes and drawings of new inventions, the tension creeping up on him at the need for formality. Usually such procedures are deemed unnecessary between them. Before he goes to join the Allfather, Einar uncorks a bottle of wine, pouring the liquid into two cups and handing one to Odin.

"You stink of sex," Odin comments as he takes the cup.

"Well, you did not exactly give me time to bathe."

"While Loki is an adult now, and the choice is ultimately his, I do not approve of you using him in such a way." Blunt and right to the point, exactly unlike Odin. Einar is not sure if that should worry him or not.

"I am not using him." The skeptical look Odin levels at him spurs Einar into adding, "Yes, I have a reputation, but I assure you I have no intentions of throwing Loki away when I tire of him. I have no intentions of ever tiring of him. I love Loki."

Odin takes a long drink from his cup, using the action to draw out the silence. Even though Einar has faced down this tactic many times, it still makes him squirm. He has just become better at hiding his discomfort over the years. "Why?" he finally asks.

Einar blinks. "Why do I love him?" Odin remains silent, knowing that Einar does not truly need the question repeated. "He is beautiful," Einar finally responds, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. He cannot hide the fondness in his voice even if he tried. "In a land of beauty, Loki stands out. He is like a beckon drawing me from the darkness. He is clever, smart, so willing to learn even more. I love Loki because he is Loki."

"I am gladdened to know your interests are not simply physical. But you must remember Loki is a Prince of Asgard. He will be expected to marry at some point in the future, and what you have will have to stop. His marriage cannot be plagued by scandal." The Allfather downs the rest of his wine, and sets the cup down lightly on the table.

Einar remains silent as Odin stands and makes for the door. "I do wish you happiness until then."

Einar stays in his seat, staring into his wine cup for a long time. Eventually he forces himself to stand, heading off to the baths as if under an enchantment. Of course he knows Loki will eventually have to marry, but to be confronted with it is something else entirely. The hot waters do nothing to drive the thoughts and worries from his mind.

Without meaning to, Einar finds himself crawling back into Loki's bed. The younger god grumbles at the disturbance, but settles down again to curl up against him. Einar finally drifts off to sleep surrounded by Loki.

Tony only gets a quick glance at the scene before time speeds up and years go flying by. He decides then and there that if someone invents a successful time machine he is going to break it.

/

"It does not make sense," Loki complains. The Trickster rolls to the other side of the bed, throwing an arm over Einar's waist and resting his chin on his lover's chest. "Why would Father not have you build this wall?"

"Because," Einar answers, running his fingers through Loki's dark hair, "your father is cheap, and I am not." Loki gives him a look that clearly says he is not pleased with Einar's answer, but it leaves Einar chuckling. "Another offer has been made, and it has peaked Odin's interest, to say the least. Apparently this builder has assured the Allfather that he has the ability to build the wall faster than I could."

"I do not like him."

Einar chuckles again and puckers his lips. Loki rolls his eyes, but lifts his head to kiss Einar. "You are perfect."

"Of course I am."

"We should sleep," Einar sighs. "You will need all your wits if you are to drive away this strange builder in the morning."

Loki surges upward, straddling Einar's hips. "I can think of a much better way to stimulate my mind."

Einar cannot help but grin. "You remember when I said you are perfect?" He is rewarded with a soul searing kiss.

/

Never before has Tony wanted to scream so much, but metaphysical bodies trapped in the memories of gods are not conductive to such activities. He rages and lashes out, unable to affect anything. Tony sees it and can do nothing to stop it. Einar could, if only Einar would pay attention where he should be. The Progress God is focused on the Builder, large muscled and unflinching under the gazes of Odin, Frigga, Thor, and Einar himself. They do not see the unassuming sorcerer, whose focus is only on Loki.

Svaðilfari looks the same as the last time Tony saw him, same egotistical attitude and charging horse pin clasp. Only now, when Tony looks closer does he see that the scars on Svaðilfari's cheeks are not there. He really hopes he gets to see how those scars got there in the first place.

Svaðilfari bows to Loki in greeting, the Allfather too focused on the Builder and his outrageous demands to pay the action much attention. The sorcerer's eyes never leave Loki's. After a moment, Loki's green eyes glaze over and he takes on a much more complacent demeanor. His mouth opens and that silver tongue weaves a deal: the sun, the moon, and the Lady Freya only if the Builder and his assistant can do as they claim and build the wall within three seasons.

Einar can only stand there and allow Loki to sway Odin's decision, only noticing too late that there is something wrong with his lover. If he speaks out now, without the backing of his own lover, he will only seem jealous, and it will shove Odin further toward the Builder.

Odin accepts and the deal is struck. The Builder and his sorcerer are dismissed. Loki does not take his eyes from Svaðilfari until the dark haired man is out of sight. As soon as he is able, Einar drags Loki from the throne room into the privacy of their own chambers. "What is wrong with you?" the older god demands.

"Nothing," Loki answers much too calmly given who he is and the situation. He tilts his head to the side, offering Einar a bright smile, one Einar has never seen on Loki before and it terrifies him. This is not his Loki. "It is simply a good day and I am happy."

Einar stares at him in shock for a moment before he surges forward to grab Loki's shoulders, shaking the Trickster god roughly. "This is not you!"

"Einar!" Loki cries out, trying futilely to push Einar away. "Stop!"

"Not until you come back to your senses!"

Loki cries out again. This time his demeanor changes, and his eyes blaze at being manhandled in such a fashion. "Unhand me!"

Einar notices the shift this time, and while he does not remove his hands, he does stop shaking the second prince. "Are you back to yourself now?"

"What are you talking about?" Loki snaps, glaring at his lover. "What-" His face falters. "Oh. I…Why did I do that?"

The Progress God growls deep in his throat. "It seems that sorcerer is more powerful than we gave him credit for."

Loki absolutely does not like that answer, but before he can respond Odin sweeps into the room, closely followed by Frigga. "What is going on? Why have you so unceremoniously dragged my son away from his duties?"

"Your son was enchanted," Einar snaps at his old friend. "You would think you would have seen that."

Odin glares at Einar with his one good eye. "You dare-"

"Do not do this," Frigga interrupts them, standing between the two. She has seen too many of their arguments to not know where this would head if she does not stop it now. "The deal has been made, Odin has given his word, and it cannot be unmade. Now, they obviously think they can accomplish this task in three seasons, but that does not mean they can. We must watch them carefully, and if it seems like they can succeed at this endeavor, then-" the Queen shot a sharp look to Odin, a silent understanding passing between them, "-we will make sure they do not."

Odin took a moment to reign in his anger. "Loki, you will see Eir before the day is out, and you will stay as far from this sorcerer as possible. Einar, oversee this Builder and make sure he does as intended. I will not allow them to bring disorder to Asgard." He leaves as dramatically as he entered. Frigga hugs Loki to her tightly, whispering something in his ear, before she follows her husband.

"Einar," Loki says softly once they are gone. "Einar, what have I done?"

"Nothing," Einar responses ferociously, pulling Loki into his arms. "We will not let that sorcerer outsmart us."

"He controlled my mind," Loki whispers into Einar's shoulder. His fingers tighten in the older god's clothing. The wrath of the Trickster has been awoken. "I will make him pay."

Einar gives a vicious smile and kisses the top of Loki's head. "That we will, my love."

/

The three seasons go by too quickly, and it becomes all too clear that Svaðilfari's help is all the Builder needs to finish on time. Only three days remain, but only one is truly needed for the project's completion. Loki has been blamed for the situation, with threats coming from Freya, Freyr, Óðr, the Warriors Three, Sif, and even Thor. Odin cannot offer Loki protection against their words, not without revealing that Loki had been compromised. That is something he cannot do, not without Asgard's royal family seeming weak, and even then they would still blame Loki.

Of course, they knew this may be the outcome. Loki and Einar have not been idle. Einar had used his closeness to Svaðilfari while working to uncover the reason the sorcerer wanted Loki was the second prince's magic potential. He had never met another mage who came close to matching his power, so when Svaðilfari had seen Loki, the sorcerer had decided he would claim the Trickster. Einar had promptly punched the sorcerer in the face, and been blasted through a section of the wall with magic in return, the sorcerer's laughter echoing in his ears. Odin had assigned someone else to the task of watching the Builder after that.

However, the plan Loki has come up with does not have Einar's approval in any way. "We underestimated him once before and it did not end well. I do not like you using yourself as bait."

Loki bit her lip, looking at her new form in the mirror. "Svaðilfari is attracted to me because of my magical potential. If I go in as myself he will know it is a trap. It has to be this way."

"It does not have to be anything. We can come up with another plan."

"In three days?" Loki snaps back.

Einar sighs and walks over to Loki, holding onto her arms loosely. "You are young-"

"Do not finish that sentence," Loki growls. "Either I am your lover and equal, or a child you have been manipulating. Which is it?"

"Oh no," Einar growls back, "you forget I know you better than any. Your words do not have the privilege of using me. You are young, but you are smart, smart enough to know that Svaðilfari is much more powerful than you. He will hurt you,he will catch you, and…" he trailed off, pulling Loki in and resting his forehead against her. "I am terrified that I am going to lose you."

Loki refuses to relax under his touch. "Do not say such things. If you say such things I will not be able to go through with this. Asgard cannot afford to lose Freya. I have to do this."

"But I cannot lose you," Einar insists. He steps back and begins to pace the room. After a moment he becomes bored of the motion and sits heavily on the bed. "I love you."

Loki slowly walks over to him, her face blank as she kneels over her lover. "And I love you, but I will not forsake my duty to protect Asgard."

Einar sighs and rests his head against her chest. "I might very well grow to despise Asgard by the end of this."

"No." Loki runs her slim fingers through Einar's hair. "Do not say that. Despise instead the sorcerer that has forced us into this situation."

"I already do," Einar growls, his arms wrapping tightly around Loki's waist.

"Einar," Loki says softly as she pushes on his shoulders until he is lying back against the sheets. "I want you to do something for me."

"Name it."

Loki bites her lip, a type of vulnerability only Einar has ever seen before in the Trickster. "I…I do not want to hate this form, not if I need it again. I do not want Svaðilfari to have claim to it."

Einar pulls her down on top of him, their chests pressed together. The Progress God kisses his lover, slow and desperate, and unwilling to let go.

"Would you make love to me while I am in this form?" Loki whispers against his lips.

"Gladly," Einar growls possessively, rolling them over until Loki is pinned beneath him. He sits back to admire her new body. "You are beautiful."

Loki offers him a mischievous smirk. She slowly slides her foot up and down his side. "Actions, Einar. Make me believe you."

Einar returns the smirk and surges forward.

/

Loki kisses his lips and slips out of bed before Einar can properly wake up to stop her. It's a good plan really. He would not have let go of her otherwise. She is long gone by the time Einar paws at the cold side of the bed where Loki had slept, and rolls over to groan loudly into his pillow.

He allows himself to slam his fist into the bed just once before taking a deep breath to calm himself. Nothing will be done if he lies in bed all day. He is going after Loki, and if Svaðilfari attempts to touch his lover, Einar will rip the sorcerer apart.

The Progress God forces himself up out of bed and dresses quickly. It is when he is looking over his inventions, deciding which ones would help him best Svaðilfari, that the dread chill chases itself across his skin and freezes his limbs.

"You two are so sweet together," a voice drawls behind him with barely concealed insanity. Einar can still hear the slow, deliberately loud, footsteps coming up behind him. They only stop when Svaðilfari is standing in front of him, "It is sickening really," the sorcerer says as if making a comment on the weather.

Einar cannot speak. His jaw has clamped itself shut and refuses to respond. And this is why he keeps telling Loki there are times he really hates magic.

Svaðilfari offers him a deranged smile. "I did tell you I was going to make Loki mine, but as long as you are around that cannot happen."

Einar grits his teeth and his fingers twitch, but that is all he can manage.

"I could just kill you," Svaðilfari continues, seemingly only half paying attention to the man before him. "That, however, poses a problem. You will just end up in Fólkvangr or Valhala, and Loki will find a way to follow you." The sorcerer makes a 'tsk' noise with his tongue. "Why such a brilliant and talented mage wastes time with you I will never understand. As you can see, this problem needs a creative solution, and I believe I have finally found one."

Einar manages to lift his arm slightly. The spell is wearing off fast, but not fast enough. Svaðilfari levels his eyes on Einar, and the Progress God knows he is out of time. A hand is suddenly inside his chest, pulling and twisting. It is painful, but not in any way Einar has felt before. Svaðilfari is attacking his very soul.

Tony looks on in horror as Svaðilfari pulls Einar's soul out of his chest. Einar looks up, and for a moment he could swear the god has seen him, before brown eyes go lifeless and he slumps to the floor. Svaðilfari laughs and crushes Einar's /Tony's/ soul between his fingers as it tries to escape. "I do hope you enjoy Midgard," the sorcerer sneers giddily. He waves his hand and Einar's soul simply is not there anymore.

Svaðilfari is moving then, and so is Tony. He is being pulled along as the sorcerer continues at an unhurried but deliberate pace, his progress to obtaining Loki now unhindered.

/

The trees close in, blocking off any escape. Loki spins wildly like a trapped animal. Svaðilfari's laugher echoes around the river bank. Loki shivers violently as the noise crawls under her skin. "No escape, my little mage," the sorcerer sing songs at her, still hidden somewhere in the shadows.

Loki growls and fingers a dagger in each hand. "Come out so I can rip open your throat."

"That is a horrible thing to say. You Asgardians are always so violent." A sudden shove of magic has Loki falling forward onto her knees, daggers dropping from her grip. The laughter comes again. "Did you honestly expect this to end differently, Loki? Oh yes, I knew it was you."

Loki feels the air leave her lungs and fear freeze her body. He had known, he had known this whole time. He had let her carry out her plan so that he could play with her. It is then Loki realizes Svaðilfari cares not for the completion of the wall, only about making Loki his. "No," she whispers before she can stop herself. How could she have been so blind to this?

"Oh yes," Svaðilfari repeats, voice shaking with badly concealed excitement. His weight is suddenly against Loki's back, pressing her against the cold earth. One of his legs moves between her own, a hand coming up to gently knead one of her breasts. "My lovely prince…ess. I like this body. There are so many things I can do with it." He pulls Loki up, the strong hand around her throat tilting her head back until it rests against his shoulder. Loki makes a choked sound and tries to kick away, but she can't get the angle to do so. She begins to struggle more when she feels the sorcerer's growing hardness against her back. The hand moves from her breast to caress her stomach. "I think I shall place my child here."

Loki growls weakly, most of her air still cut off. She begins to try and shift. Svaðilfari can still violate her body if she returns to her male form, but he will not leave her with child. But there is pain, horrible mind-numbing pain that rips through her body and cuts off her transformation.

"None of that now," Svaðilfari says once more in his sing song tone. "We are going to have so much fun, Loki."

Tony throws himself at Svaðilfari, but nothing works. Loki curses as her legs are forced apart and clothes ripped away. Tony does the same, wanting to cry in frustration at his uselessness. Metaphysical bodies are horrible for getting anything productive done. There is nothing he can do when Loki throws her head back and screams as her body is violated. It goes on for so long, and for so long he is useless. The weight of it almost causes him to break there, but Svaðilfari's magic forces him to stay together a little longer. There is something that comes after this he still wants Tony to see.

The first day Loki curses and threatens.

The second day Loki cries and begs, calling out for Einar, Thor, Odin, Frigga, and even Sif and the Warriors Three. She calls for anyone who could help her, but no one comes.

The third day Loki is silent. She stares up at the sky with blank eyes as Svaðilfari uses her body one more time. She does not fight or try to force him off. She simply lets him take. If it was not for the rise and fall of her chest, Tony would think her dead.

Svaðilfari laughs when he finally finishes. He leans down to kiss Loki's lips softly. "I thought you would have been harder to break. Still, you were enjoyable. Thank you for the distraction, my lovely Loki."

He moves, but so does Loki. It is so unexpected the sorcerer does not have time to defend himself. Loki grabs the pin from his clasp and slams it through Svaðilfari's cheek. The sorcerer's eyes widen and a shocked noise forces its way from his lips. Loki takes advantage of the moment. She pulls the pin forward, ripping open his cheek from the puncture wound all the way to his lips. A flap of cheek hangs grotesquely off his face as he gapes down at Loki.

Svaðilfari waves his hand. Loki's hand slams against the ground, held down by an unseen force, and the pin goes flying across the ground. He bends forward again to grip her chin, forcing Loki to look into his black eyes, not that she had planned on looking away now. Instead of anger, Svaðilfari laughs. "Oh yes, you are perfect. Such spirit. Thank you, my Loki," he coos. "I had not thought to find your kind within any of the realms. You have made me very happy."

His laughter echoes around her again when he disappears, leaving Loki alone in the forest. Loki curls up as tightly as possible, hands over her ears. She does not cry. All her tears were spent yesterday. All she wants is to go home. She wants someone to take her home, /Einar/ but no one has come. Why? Why has Einar not come for her? Where is Thor? Where is Father? Why did they not save her?

Tony stays with Loki, even though he knows she will not feel him there. He can't leave her, not like this. I'm so sorry.

/

It is Volstagg who eventually finds her. There is hope in Loki's eyes when she turns to him, but when she sees the horror in his own, she curls back in on herself. Volstagg shakes his head as he kneels next to her. His cloak is off his shoulders and wrapped around her a second later. The large warrior picks Loki up, apologizing for the necessity of touching her when Loki whines, speaking to her softly as if she is one of his own daughters as they head back towards Asgard.

"Where is Einar?" Loki finally whispers. The sun has nearly set, but Volstagg seems determined to keep going until they reach Asgard.

"I have not seen him. We assumed he went looking for you."

Loki goes silent again, hiding further within the folds of Volstagg's cloak.

When they near Asgard, Volstagg forms a hood in the cloak so Loki's face will be covered. Everyone will know who he is carrying, but that does not mean they should be allowed to see the second prince in this state. Volstagg takes the least used path to Loki's rooms. The only people who see them are servants, and they do not dare try to stop their progress. Volstagg puts Loki to bed, leaving her the cloak she is still griping to tightly, and tucks the covers around her. "I will bring the Queen. She has been worried about you."

As soon as he is gone Loki slips back out of bed. She traverses the halls wrapped in shadows, quietly making her way to Einar's chambers. "Einar?" her voice cracks when she steps into his room. "Where are you? I…Einar, I need you. I need you to be here."

Loki takes another tentative step into the room, and then another, and another, which sends her falling to the ground when she gracelessly trips over something. It would be just like Einar to leave a piece of some invention lying around-

The breath leaves Loki's lungs when she looks back at what caused her fall. "No," her whisper echoes through the room. "Nonononono." She crawls to Einar's still body, pulling him into her embrace. "Einar, no, Einar please, please answer me!" Loki begs, tears falling down her cheeks.

Once again Tony feels completely useless as he watches Loki cry over her lover's body, as she begs him to wake up. But no matter what Loki does, Einar's eyes stare wide and lifeless at the ceiling. And when Loki realizes that it is futile, a cry rips its way from her throat, more devastating than any of the previous ones. It is primal and animalistic, like sorrow given voice. Tony cries out as a break forms in his soul at that sound.

Loki continues to scream, and those screams shake the very foundations of Asgard. Thor was right, this is Loki insane. And it is nowhere near anything Tony has seen before. He has never been so scared in his life, not even when he woke up inside that cave.

There are crashes and more screams as the palace begins to fall apart, Loki's magic lashing out and destroying everything it touches. It does not end until Odin comes. He shouts something, inaudible over the noise Loki is causing, but a moment later the noise dies down and Loki bonelessly slumps over Einar's body.

/

Tony doesn't want to see more, but once again Svaðilfari's magic keeps him together. There is something else the sorcerer wants him to see, the last thing that will completely destroy him. Tony wishes the asshole would just let him go already.

When Loki wakes, she says nothing. She stares at the ceiling, and no matter how much the royal family pleads with her, Loki acts as if they are not there at all. She stays in bed, her belly swelling with child. Eir and Frigga are at her side constantly through the next nine months, keeping both Loki and the child healthy, physically so at any rate.

The first sound Loki makes is when she goes into labor. The Trickster screams in pain, fingernails clawing at her stomach. "Get it out!" she screams, her voice hoarse from disuse. "I want it out!"

Eir and Frigga are there a second later, holding her down as Loki screams and fights against them. Thor, who has taken up position outside his sister's door these past months, rushes in and takes over when Frigga shouts for him to do so. That leaves the two goddess free to see Loki through the birth she is fighting against. It is a long and tiring process for everyone involved, but eventually Loki begins to work with them once Frigga tells her it will birth the child faster. Still, a full day passes before the child comes screaming into the world.

"You have done well, Loki," Thor tries to comfort her.

Loki just cries into his shoulder, refusing to look at the child. "Get it away from me. Get that thing away from me!"

"Loki-"

"Thor," Frigga says softly. When Thor looks up at his mother she shakes her head. Loki is too emotional right now to be reasoned with. "Let her rest."

Eir checks Loki over, the Trickster cursing her as the healer's fingers continue to prod at her. Frigga meanwhile cleans her first grandchild out of Loki's line of sight before leaving her second born in Eir's capable hands. "I am so sorry," she whispers to the whimpering child. She says something else, but it is cut off as Svaðilfari's magic finally stops protecting him.

Tony's soul starts to crumble like his last serious relationship. For a moment he gives in and lets it, but he notices the magic rushing, trying to destroy him completely before the scene moves on. There is something Svaðilfari does not want him to see. Whatever happens next will build him up again. No! Fuck you! he shouts into the ether. You do not get my soul! Not after all this! He struggles, trying to put himself back together. Svaðilfari fights back, trying to rip him apart, but the sorcerer hasn't counted on having Tony Stark as an opponent. He built the suit, an extension of himself, inside a cave with scraps; he sure as hell can rebuild his own soul. Fuck off, asshole.

Tony brings each piece that fell away back to him. He calls out to them and they answer like the pieces of his armor once he got those implant chips working. He isn't going to be defeated by this.

Soft laughter and warm hands brush aside the dark magic. It wraps around him, helping him to piece his soul back together. Watch the warm voice commands as the scene shifts again, the spell now held by whoever has come to help him.

Tony looks back. He is still in Loki's bedchamber, the Trickster finally have shifted back to his male form. He sits on the edge of his bed, staring down at his hands. He looks broken. Tony drops a piece of his soul, but it is caught by the other. Trust me it whispers to him.

Frigga walks in, Loki's week old son cradled in her arms. Loki immediately growls and backs away. "I want nothing to do with that thing! It is monstrous!"

"He is your son, Loki," Frigga says softly, but forcefully.

"It is that monster's spawn, therefore it is a monster as well!"

The Queen of Asgard walks over to sit on the bed next to where Loki had just been. "Tell me, my son, did you not sleep with Einar while in your female form?"

Loki flinches, his face crumbling at the mention of his lover. "Your point, Mother?"

"My point, Loki, is that there is a chance, however small, that this is Einar's child."

Loki freezes. He clearly has not thought of that possibility. "Will you deny Einar's child?" Frigga asks when the silence has stretched on too long. Beyond that she does not push him. Loki steps tentatively toward the bed. He looks down at his son. The child has dark hair, like Svaðilfari's own, but it could also have come from Loki. The child opens his eyes and Loki lets out a soft cry. His eyes are dark, as dark as Svaðilfari's, not green or brown like Loki's or Einar's.

Another moment passes before Loki sits back on the bed, forcing himself to believe that the child is not Svaðilfari's. He reaches his hands out for the baby. "He could be Einar's," Loki says softly as Frigga hands him over. "I…what have you named him?"

"He is your son," Frigga answers. "The honor of naming him is yours."

Another long silence stretches as Loki looks over his son. "Sleipnir," Loki finally says. "His name is Sleipnir."

Come the voice orders. There are other matters to attend to now, such as having you wake up.

Tony laughs. I'm not going to argue with that.

/

When Tony wakes, actually wakes in his own body without someone else's memories competing with his own, he smiles up at the ceiling. He knows this ceiling, he helped build this ceiling. It might very well be the most beautiful ceiling Tony has ever seen.

"You certainly took you time," a smooth voice says softly, stealing Tony's attention from the ceiling.

Tony doesn't need to turn his head to know to whom that voice belongs, but he does so anyway. "Hey, Princess. Who let you in?"

Loki gives a calm laugh, exhaustion clouding the brilliance of those green eyes Tony has become so familiar with. "Mother can be very persuasive," the Trickster offers as way of explanation.

Tony snorts. "Yeah, tell me about it."

There is a beat of silence before Loki asks, "How much did you see?"

"All of it." No point in hiding that.

"I see," Loki responds slowly. He sounds composed and collected, but Tony can see past that. He sees past Loki's façade so easily it scares him. Loki is terrified of what happens next, of how Tony will react.

"Soooooo…what do we do now?" Tony asks, doing nothing to alleviate Loki's fears. He isn't even sure how he should be reacting right now. There isn't exactly a manual for what to do after waking up from reliving multiple past lives to the person who spent centuries tracking you down and loving you every chance he received.

"You may do what you wish. Svaðilfari will not harm you again. The Allfather saw to that." Loki's voice drops into a growl, clearly not pleased that Odin had taken the pleasure of killing Svaðilfari from him.

"Yeah, okay, but I meant what do we do about us?" Don't get him wrong, Tony is ecstatic the asshole is dead, but that hadn't really been what he was asking about. "Are you in love with me?" Hello world, I'm Tony Stark, and I ask inappropriate questions at inappropriate times.

Another beat of silence. "No," and fuck him if that doesn't hurt like the truth. "But I find you intriguing," Loki continues, "and that is usually how it starts."

Oh, okay, wow. "Oh."

Loki lets out another of those mirthless laughs. "There is no reason this has to change anything, Stark. I will gladly go back to throwing you through buildi-"

"I'm not them," Tony interrupts. He can't go back to that, not after everything he has seen. He doesn't want to go back to when he and Loki were enemies, but more than anything else, he cannot be a replacement. "I can see how you'd confuse me with him…with any of them, but I'm not them. I'm not Einar."

"I know," Loki says after a pause that last just long enough to make Tony's heart try to beat its way out of his chest. "I have known since the first time I tracked down Einar's soul. I am not looking for another Einar, not anymore. I…I accepted long ago that he has become lost to me. And yet, every time I looked there was someone with his soul, someone with his brilliance, but never Einar himself, that made me fall in love." I kept looking because there was someone who I knew could love me.

Well shit, Tony isn't sure what to do with that. He ends up just sitting there like a dumbass. "It is a generous amount of information to process. I shall give you some time to do so," Loki says once he realizes Tony isn't going to respond. He hesitates as he stands, making the impulse decision to lean in close to Tony. The inventor jerks away from the attempted kiss, staring at Loki in shock. The Trickster God's eyes narrow and he stands fully. "I see," is all he says before he vanishes.

Tony flops back against the sheets, staring up at the ceiling that only a few minutes ago gave him such joy. "JARVIS?"

"Sir?"

He breathes a sigh of relief when he hears the A.I. respond. "I think I might have done something idiotic."

"Given your track record, sir, that may very well be the case."

Despite it all, Tony smiles. Yep. He's home.

/

"What happened to him?"

Tony is propped up against his pillows when Frigga enters. He barely glances up at the Queen as she glides over to his bedside, instead keeping his focus on the tray before him. Bruce can make some ridiculously delicious soup.

Frigga raises an eyebrow at his brashness, the same motion he has seen on Loki so many times. But he knows Frigga, and he knows that while Loki can differentiate him from Einar, Frigga will not be as good at doing so.

"Something obviously happened," Tony continues after a spoonful of soup. "The Loki I fought against is not the Loki Einar fell in love with, and certainly not the woman from France. So, what happened?"

The Queen of Asgard sits gracefully on the bed, her gaze off somewhere else. "He found out the secret Odin had been keeping."

Tony nods and takes another sip of soup. He knew something was up, well Einar had, but the point still stands. "And the secret?"

"Loki is my child, but not of my body."

"Yeah, Thor mentioned the adopted bit. But there's something more to it, isn't there? Finding out would have messed him up, but not this badly."

Frigga makes a noise halfway between a sob and a laugh. "His mind is open to you now, is it?"

Tony places the spoon down on the tray, but does not look up. "I just spent what felt like an eternity observing him. I've known him even longer than you have, through multiple cycles, but not once has he been…this," he finishes lamely. Okay, so maybe being not so subtly hostile to the goddess isn't a good idea, but…yeah, no, he's got nothing.

The Queen is silent for a long moment, until Tony pushes away the tray. She takes it and sets it on the floor. "Loki is Laufey's son."

Tony sucks in a sharp breath. Oh, well that explains a few things. That actually explains quite a few things. Damn it, he wishes he could go back to when that statement didn't automatically make sense to him. "What the hell was Odin thinking?"

"He thought to protect Loki," Frigga says in a tone that makes it clear she does not agree with her husband's decision.

"He thought to use him," Tony counters.

Frigga's jaw clenches as she holds back her words. "He came to think of Loki as his son. Loki is his son."

"Try telling Loki that."

"He will not listen to me."

She sounds so broken, and Tony realizes he has pushed her too far. Tony reaches out to awkwardly place a hand on her shoulder. It's the closest to comforting Tony can get.

Frigga smiles sadly and places her hand over his own. "Do not abandon him." Tony can't tell if it is a demand or a request. The Queen reaches out to place something on Tony's nightstand before she rises. "If you decide to rejoin us," she explains before gliding back out of the room.

Tony is too busy looking at the golden apple on his nightstand to watch her go.

/

Regret and guilt are horrible emotions. Absolute worst, Tony would not recommend. Knocking on the door to Loki's apartment, location known courtesy of Frigga after two weeks of begging, is one of the hardest things he has ever done. Waiting for Loki to actually open the door is up there too.

When the door finally does open, and Tony sees Loki's face, he holds out the bag of food he brought as a peace offering. Loki eyes it for a moment before stepping aside to let Tony in. Okay, good, this is good. Step one down.

"What do you want, Stark?" the Trickster asks as soon as the door is closed. He sounds so tired, and Tony realizes immediately the gravity of Loki not hiding it from him.

"I brought food," Tony answers, because he really isn't sure what else to do. He even holds the bag out again.

"I can see that," Loki drawls. "Why have you brought me such a measly peace offering?"

"Hey! This is from a five star restaurant! One of the most honored chiefs in the world made this for us!" Tony defends his food.

Loki is completely unmoved. He just continues to stare Tony down until the man sighs, arm dropping back to his side. "Okay, look," he starts, running a hand through his hair, "it's hard for me to admit, but I messed up. I…waking up from all that and trying to deal with, well, everything, it was just too much to process at once. I'm not good with emotions!"

Tony fidgets and messes with his hair again. Damn, he really needs to stop doing that. Loki isn't saying anything. He's standing there, silent and still, and it's doing nothing to help calm Tony down. "Can you not look at me like that? This is hard enough to say as it is."

Loki raises an eyebrow and tilts his head, silently calling Tony a moron.

"Okay, okay, where was I? Processing, right." And now he is rambling. He forces himself to take a deep breath before he continues. "I said it before, but I need to say it again. I don't want to be a replacement. This-" he pauses to motion between them, "-whatever it is, can't work if I'm a replacement. And yeah, I want to give it a shot, 'cause the absolute worst times were when you weren't there. Damn, that sounded lame." But Tony is on a roll now, and he can't make himself stop. "And, you know, crap, I'm just going to say it, I love you. After seeing…reliving…whatever that was, after all of it, I love you. And fuck it, you gave them a shot, you should give me one too! I know you better than any of them, I've seen it all, been through it all with you, and I more than deserve the chance you gave them!"

The silence that follows when Tony finally talks himself out is deafening. Loki just stands there, doing nothing, and damn it why does he keep doing that! And then, Loki moves, but he moves away from Tony, and Tony feels his heart sink.

He is left standing in the middle of Loki's dining room, completely alone. Had he really ruined things that badly? All he had done was pull away when Loki tried to kiss him. Tony scoffs at himself. All he had done. Loki is sensitive and emotional, and he takes things way too personally. Yep, Tony absolutely missed his chance. Because why wouldn't he mess up yet another potentially good thing in his life?

As Tony is getting into full on mental beratement, Loki returns. He rolls his eyes at Tony and takes the bag of food still hanging from the inventor's hand. "Stop doing that."

Loki sets the food on the table, followed by the bottle of wine he had gone to retrieve. While Loki wanders off again to grab plates, Tony looks at the label on the wine bottle. It's old, he can tell that before he picks it up. There's something about it that seems familiar. He doesn't wonder long. The label is in French, clearly marked 1910 Chateau Saint Baillon. Tony can't help the ridiculous grin that spreads across his face. "You kept it."

"I said I would." Loki sets two plates and two wine glasses on the table. The Trickster efficiently sets out the food and takes a seat, motioning for Tony to do the same. Loki uses magic to open the wine bottle and pours a generous amount for both of them.

Tony raises his glass in a toast. His mouth opens, but he finds that he has already said everything. "I-I got nothin'. I guess, to the memories and hopefully a better future."

Loki laughs at him, but clinks his glass against Tony's. "Very elegant."

Both of them tip their glasses back to take a sip, and a moment later they are both grimacing. "This is awful," Tony sputters.

"Indeed," Loki confirms. The Trickster sets the glass down, his face twisted in both displeasure and bright with laughter.

"No, I mean, that is really bad." Tony breaks out in laughter himself. "Of course it'd happen that the start of our relationship-" and wow that is weird to say, "-is commemorated with bad wine."

"Stark-"

"Tony, if we're doing this you need to call me Tony."

"Tony," Loki says a bit more forcefully so that Tony won't cut him off again, his lips stretched in a smirk. "This is the part where you should kiss me."

Oh, oh yeah, he should. Tony doesn't even realize he has stood until he is taking a step towards Loki. The Trickster moves to meet him halfway, and this time there are no doubts. Tony doesn't hesitate, and he certainly doesn't pull away. He kisses Loki like it's the only thing in life that matters, and Loki kisses back just as desperately. Loki might not love him yet, but fuck it, Tony is willing to wait around. He has seen Loki at his worst and his best, he has been with Loki through most of it, through multiple cycles. None of Loki's other lovers, Tony's past lives, not even Einar, can say that. He knows Loki inside and out, every habit and every peeve, and he also knows the Trickster is still going to surprise him at every turn. They're diving into this stupidly fast, but Tony knows and he aches and he needs. And okay, the whole enemies thing is going to have to come up at some point, especially since Tony isn't going to give Loki a pass if he tries to destroy, well, anything. Besides, Tony has a reputation for making stupid choices when it comes to relationships. And okay, as much as he doesn't want to pull away from Loki's seductively sweet lips, he needs air.

"Um, okay, wow. That was-"

"Tony," Loki interrupts, his hand still fisted in Tony's shirt. The Trickster is breathing somewhat heavily, his cheeks flushed a beautiful pink, but it is the smirk on his lips that sends a shiver through Tony. Loki pulls him back in, and Tony lets himself be pulled.

When Tony wakes, at a ridiculously early hour on a ridiculously comfortable bed, there is a cool body next to him. A wide grin spreads across his face and he rolls over to wrap his arms around Loki, burying his face between the god's shoulder blades. "Hey."

"Mmm," Loki moans in response even as he snuggles back against Tony's touch. "Early. Sleep."

"Or we could do something a little more fun," Tony suggests.

Loki chuckles. "Sleep, then sex."

"Well, now I'm just going to be too excited to sleep."

"Mmmm," Loki moans again, louder this time. "Insatiable."

Tony rests his chin on top of Loki's arm so he can look at the Trickster's face. "Yes, yes I am. Besides, we have a lot of lost time to make up for here."

Loki sighs and turns over onto his back so he can press his lips against Tony's. "Fine. Sex, then sleep."

Tony chuckles as he kisses back. Content has never really been a word he associated with himself, but that sure as hell is what he feels now. "Sounds like a plan, babe."

/

1. Yes, the superscripts in the Sherlock section are from the Sherlock Holmes story "The Final Problem." I wanted to use the original sources when I did this. I do not own Sherlock Holmes.

2. The names Dancing Fox and Ice Fire in the Bering Strait section are a reference to a book called "The People of the Wolf."

3. There were a few more sections I wanted to add. I ran out of time to research and write them. If I get a chance I may add a semi-sequel/continuation with more past scenes.

Thank you all for reading this giant work that took me forever to write!