Tony had been close to death a lot of times. It came with being a hero. He always managed to find a way out of it. He beat the bad guys, he recreated the arc reactor, he saved the world.
But, sometimes, it wasn’t enough.
The Avengers had been fighting HYDRA. They’d created a horrible concoction that was a bastardiastion of extremis. People didn’t live once they got a dose of it. They had a few hours tops before they melted from the inside out. They’d managed to stop HYDRA and destroy the toxin – but one of them had gotten through his armour.
Tony hadn’t told anyone. He’d sworn JARVIS to secrecy and flew straight back to the tower. He’d run all the tests with Bruce. He knew he was fucked. He knew he had an agonising death in store. Unless, he called in a… favour.
“JARVIS,” he rasped. “Call Loki. I know you have his number.”
“Sir, I would advise talking to Dr Banner rather than Mr Liesmith. He is not known for his charitable assistance.”
“Yeah, well, it’s worth a shot.”
“Do it, J. Don’t make me fight for it.”
The silence didn’t sound approving, but Tony knew that his A.I. would be following his request. It was practically a dying man’s wish. Tony walked to the bar with heavy feet and poured himself a drink. He waited and hoped that the mage would accept his invitation.
Loki was an enemy, after all. But they bantered as often as they fought. Loki laughed at his quips. Tony wouldn’t call them friends, but there was a level of respect that neither of them saw fit to deny. Loki might hate every other Avenger and distrust them – but, Tony? He’d be curious enough to swing by.
At least, that was Tony’s hope.
And, luckily, it took less then five minutes for Loki to appear. He was in his battle armour but there was no staff in his hands. He was ready to attack should he need to, but he wasn’t immediately on the defensive. That was good.
“Stark,” Loki remarked. “Your artificial servant said you require my assistance.” He looked Tony up and down. “I must confess, I cannot fathom what you hope to gain from me.”
“You know I’ve been developing anti-magic technology,” Tony said, seeing Loki’s eyes sharpen with wariness. “It’s still in the early stages, but I’m willing to offer up all my documents on it in exchange for a favour.”
Loki’s eyebrows shot up. His disbelief was obvious. “Why would you offer me that information?”
“Because, I’d rather it not fall into the hands of SHIELD.” He gave a wry smile. “And because, it’s the best leverage I’ve got.”
“And what do you want in return?”
Tony took a sip of his alcohol. He hadn’t run this part past JARVIS. It wasn’t going to go down well.
“I want you to kill me.”
Loki’s expression went blank. “What?”
“Sir,” JARVIS exclaimed, sounding horrified.
Tony walked around the bar and as he did, he held out his arm, revealing the puncture mark in the undersuit. The visible skin underneath was already turning an angry red.
“I’ve got three hours, at best,” Tony explained grimly. “I’ve seen what happens and it’s not something I want to go through. No one in the Avengers would snap my neck, no matter how humane it might be. I’d inject myself with something, but I’ve seen how little that helps. I need someone to kill me and if it has to be anyone, I’d rather it be you.”
Loki looked down at the wound and then back up at Tony’s face. His confusion was only growing, and beneath it, there was something that looked almost horrified.
“You are in earnest,” he murmured.
“Yeah,” Tony said, his voice quiet but firm.
He didn’t want to die, but the moment the toxin had started showing up and he’d seen the futility of those who were injected with it – Tony had started planning. He couldn’t help it. He always had a plan and a way out. He’d known if he got a dose, he wasn’t sticking around for the finale.
Loki’s eyes narrowed. They weren’t just calculating, they actually looked angry. When Loki’s hand darted for him. Tony couldn’t help his flinch. He expected to have a hand around his throat, but Loki grasped him by the upper arm.
JARVIS made a sound of protest and distress, but Tony barely heard it as the world disappeared. There was darkness, there was light – and later, if you asked Tony to describe what he saw he wouldn’t be able to tell you. There was too much input and when he blinked open his eyes to find himself in a place of golden buildings. He could almost believe he’d blacked out.
Loki didn’t let him go. He started dragging him forward. Tony stumbled and tried to keep up with Loki’s wide steps. The mage’s grip was vice-like on his upper arm.
“Loki? What the hell-”
“Shh,” Loki hissed. “I am masking our appearance, but that will not last for long, especially if you speak.”
“Shh,” Loki hissed again.
Normally, Tony would argue and continue to complain, but he was quickly distracted by the people and buildings around them. It didn’t take long for Tony to make the connection: Asgard.
But, why the hell had Loki taken him there?
“Do you plan to dramatically kill me on the throne or something?” Tony asked, morbidly curious. “I mean, you’re Diva enough for it. But, wouldn’t that be more hassle then it’s worth? Killing me in the tower means at least JARVIS will back the story.”
Loki didn’t say anything. So, Tony kept theorising.
“Are you worried no one will believe you even if JARVIS backs you? I mean, they do call you the God of Lies. Kind of a bullshit title, in my opinion. You don’t lie half as much as people believe you do. But, I can see why you took advantage of the bad press.”
Loki yanked his arm when they turned a corner, more violently then was necessary in his opinion.
“Hey!” He complained.
“Quiet,” Loki snapped. “We are almost there.”
Tony looked in front of them at a dead-end street. “Really? You’re going to kill me in a back alley? Honestly, Loki, I expected better from you. Better for me. We might not be friends, but where is the respect? Where is-”
Tony fell silent as Loki had them walk through the wall as if it wasn’t there. Which, it clearly wasn’t.
Once they were past the illusion, Tony could only gape at what looked like a magical glen. Only the edges of the glen faded into buildings with no doors. A single beam of light illuminated a gorgeous tree with golden fruit. A moat of crystal-clear water surrounded it and you could see the roots underneath.
Loki dragged him across the grass, made him jump over the moat and stopped him at the foot of the tree. Loki had to stretch up to be able to grab one of the low hanging fruits. He then shoved it under Tony’s nose.
“Eat it,” Loki growled. “Quickly.”
“Um,” Tony muttered.
“Will I have to force feed you?” Loki snarled.
He pushed it right up against Tony’s lips, actually hitting his nose. Tony jerked back but took the fruit in self-defence. He scowled.
“Why are you-”
He stopped talking when Loki conjured a dagger and pointed it at him.
“You put your life in my hands, Stark,” Loki said, his voice low and threatening. “It is now my choice what to do with it. Eat that apple if you wish for me to complete my favour to you.”
Tony still wasn’t happy about it, but the sooner he went along with Loki’s weird ‘last supper’ rituals, the sooner he’d get what he’d asked for. The spot of the injection was already beginning to burn. It wouldn’t take long before it became more than a mere annoyance.
“Fine,” Tony muttered.
He bit into the fruit. Feeling pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. Like the sweetest, juiciest apple ever grown.
Maybe he’d forgive Loki his weird traditions if it meant eating a really damn good apple. Tony had just finished the last bite and was about to ask if he should throw the core when he heard the sound of running feet and armour.
Loki’s hand tightened as a dozen men wearing gold armour and carrying spears burst through five different ‘walls’ to enter the glade. They looked from Loki to Tony. The look of horror on every man’s face as they spotted the apple did not fill Tony with comfort.
But, before anyone could say anything the world was going topsy-turvy again only this time, Tony didn’t miss a moment.
He felt like he was walking across a tightrope of bark and light. Time itself seemed to swirl around them and fall in front of his face like leaves from a tree. The stars seemed close enough to touch and yet lightyears away. Loki pulled him down a path that seemed to have no destination and yet what felt like hours was also the blink of an eye as he appeared on top of his tower.
The wind blew his hair and as Tony looked around everything seemed sharper. He’d never needed glasses, but he felt like he was seeing with a precision that had never been possible before.
Loki let Tony go and he tore his gaze away to look at the mage. Loki was focused on his wound. Tony glanced down at it, only to do a double take. He lifted it higher – but there was no mark, no angry red skin. It was as if it had never existed.
The core of the apple was still clutched in his hand and he looked at it before back to Loki. The mage’s expression was impassive.
“Did you… did you heal me?” Tony asked, feeling shocked.
“Next time,” Loki said, “I would think twice before asking a Trickster for a favour.” He started to turn only to pause. He looked back at Tony and added, “Especially one who happens to be fond of you.”
In the next moment, Loki was gone.
Tony blinked and looked back at the apple in his hand. He had a feeling he’d miscalculated when approaching Loki.
But he was healed, he was going to live and that was something he’d never thought was possible.
Because Loki is fond of me.
Tony rubbed his thumb against what was left of the golden skin. He smiled faintly. He’d have to do some tests to find out what all of this meant for him, but he was suddenly feeling a lot more excited about the future.
And about Loki.