Rating (both art/fic): PG-13
Universe: Movie-verse Alternate Universe
Word Count: 4500+
Fic Summary: He really was trying to be responsible...
Link to Art: Sunryder's gorgeous art pieces (two!) are right here
Link to Fic:
It started with flowers.
They were beautiful flowers, the kind he’d send to one of his dates the morning after – well, the kind of flowers he used to have Pepper send to his dates the morning after anyway. It seemed sort of gauche to make her send them after they’d broken up, so now Jarvis handled that for him. Wasn’t as if he had a lot of time for “dates” anymore with this “consultant” position he’d taken on. Honestly, if he’d known how big a pain in the ass this was going to be –
They’re red roses – big-headed blooms with full velvety crimson petals, tips perfectly curling away – with white Calla lilies acting as bursts of color. His mother had grown lilies like that out in Malibu. The whole presentation is huge, nearly two feet tall standing on his work table. He wonders who they’re from – perhaps Happy got up the nerve to ask Pepper out? They seemed like the sort of flowers that Happy would pick for Pepper – cliché, true, but classic. It was just the sort of thing to pierce the armor of Pepper’s Armani blazer.
The light from the window catches on the cut crystal vase, scattering rays of color across the metal work top – and then he saw it. It was gorgeous – the pale violet ray of an intensity that was rarely seen in nature – he’d been searching for a cut of crystal at that angle for ages to focus his laser, and here it was wasting it’s life acting as glorified bucket.
The flowers are in the trash can a moment later, which is practically the same thing as the crystal vase; they both can hold water and flowers after all. He’d even taken care not to damage the stems too much – although why he bothered seeing as the flowers were probably just going to wilt in a few days. Really, he’s saved Pepper time by putting them in the trash, since that’s just where they were going to end up anyways.
Enter the girl.
Well, she’s not really a girl, seeing as Stef’s about nine hundred and sixty years older than him. She doesn’t look a day over seven hundred – well, if seven hundred years old looked like a good twenty-seven years old in “Midgardian” years. She’s everything that Norse goddess should be based off of – tall, blonde, blue-eyed, statuesque, and strong enough to fling a manhole cover like it was a Frisbee.
She also happened to be Thor’s baby sister, which made her off limits. He knows the rules about younger siblings of your friends – and he does consider Thor a friend, the big oaf. If Tony had so much as laid a finger on Rhodey’s baby sister, Rhodey would be forced by brotherly code to kill Tony. He had had made it explicitly clear to Tony, in graphic detail, all the gruesome wounds that would be applied to Tony’s genitalia and the hours of agony that would be inflicted before death. Rhodey needn’t have worried – fourteen year old girls, no matter how well-developed, had never been to Tony’s taste, even when he was fifteen. He’d spent the rest of that summer shamelessly flirting with Ms. Rhodes, still a stone-cold fox even in her forties, just to watch Rhodey squirm.
He’d been too busy polishing up the crystal to see her expression as she walks into the room and sees the flowers discarded. He’ll watch the security tapes for hours later, watching her hopeful expression as she enters fall as she spots the flowers new residence and the way her lips tighten into a disappointed pucker.
He doesn’t even realize she’s there because he’s so focused on working out the best way to cut apart the vase without running the risk of cracking it and ruining the cut he’s after. Not until she says something:
“You did not enjoy the flowers,” She asks, and it’s the tone that catches his attention at that time, because it sounds odd – strained, when really, it was such an innocent, albeit odd, question.
She has a better grasp of modern English than her brother, but then apparently she’s spent a lot more time here than him. She had been the one to show Thor the alternative routes to Earth after the Bifrost had been destroyed. Apparently, sneaking off to Midgard for some fun outside of their parents’ view was popular amongst the Asgardian sept-centennial set. They’d had a fun night on Google images using proprietary Stark face matching technology to play a game of “Where’s Stef?” with all the images that came up, spanning from the Renaissance, the civil war, the 1920s in Paris, and even a shot of her standing beside “Captain America” himself, Bucky Barnes, at some USO show in Europe.
In an intense downer moment, Natasha happened to read the caption underneath the photo aloud, revealing that it was the last known picture of Bucky Barnes, film star, before he’d been captured, tortured, and brutally murdered by HYDRA agents as some shitty morale breaking tactic. God, Tony had loved those comics as a kid – and Stef had seemed more upset, leaving the room shortly afterwards –
“—the flowers? Did you not like them?”
“They weren’t for me,” He replies, putting the vase down on the table and facing her. “Pepper should know by now not to leave things lying around in my workroom and expect them to be there when she gets back.”
“I do not understand – do Midgardians not give flowers to announce their intentions anymore?”
“Of course they do – guys buy girls flowers all the time, especially when they screw something up. There are whole industries based on the certainty that eventually the guy is going to fuck it all up and need to apologize: Flowers, candies, jewelry, greeting cards...”
“Then what do your women give their men as a sign of their affection?”
“Blow jo—” It takes a second, but he finally catches “Wait – those were for me?” He stares at the flowers with a vague sense of horror – no one’s ever sent him flowers before. “You sent those to me.”
Well shit. Here Tony was, trying to be a good guy, be responsible like everyone has been telling him to be for the last thirty years – why is it that being responsible always has to be so unpleasant. There wasn’t any that this could happen between them. He imagined the consequences of dating the baby sister of a thunder god were probably even more severe than the ones that Rhodey had outlined to him that long ago summer. That wasn’t even getting into the Norse pantheon that made up the rest of her family and what they would do to him if they found out. He didn’t believe in magic per say, but the Asgardians were definitely capable of things that were beyond his explanation (yet) and being the target of their malice would probably make his stay at Chez Ten Rings look like a stay one of those decadent Saudi resorts that had indoor ski slopes in the middle of the goddamn desert.
There wasn’t a single universe where a romantic relationship between him and someone else didn’t end in flames, not while that universe also had an Iron Man. The tragic demise of his relationship with Pepper had spelled that out clearly enough.
“You hungry? I’m hungry, let’s get something to eat,” She stares at him like he’s grown a second head, “We need to talk, and I don’t want to do it here,” He rubs the back of his neck, feeling the tension growing there.
“Alright. Lead on and I shall follow.”
They take what has be one of the most awkward elevator rides since the elevator was invented down to the garage level while he tries to think. The easy part is what he’s going to say -- No, they can’t be together, he likes her as a friend, it would be bad for the team et cetera, et cetera…
The hard part was figuring out where to go and how they were going to get there. There had been paparazzi staking out the building ever since he’d made it his residence, desperate to get a shot of him. Their numbers had increased once he’d invited the rest of the Avengers to come stay with him. If the two of them left the place together, alone, the paparazzi would follow, take pictures of them eating together, and then US Weekly would have him and Stef married and expecting triplets by the end of the week. The bloodsuckers knew all his cars on sight, so even if he managed to avoid them at the entrance it wouldn’t be long until they’d have a swarm of them on his tail. Then there was a restaurant – a nice place, but not one that would call the paparazzi that he somehow managed to avoid in order to get some free publicity as the place where Tony Stark came to dump an unbelievably scorching hot Norse goddess.
It’s the bike and Mikey’s then.
The motorcycle, a 1940s Harley Davidson that his father had ridden over in Europe in the war, was a leftover from when he’d still been living on the east coast as a teenager, back when owning a motorcycle made you a bad ass instead of someone who was environmentally conscientious. He hadn’t taken it with him to Malibu – hadn’t frankly wanted to die as a smear on the interstate system over there – but he’d always (well, Pepper had always) made sure that the bike received annual tune ups and full inspections, just in case he happened to be in New York and happened to want to ride the bike.
There are two helmets nearby and he tosses one to Stef, before pulling on the other one. He throws one leg over the motorcycle, feeling the familiar bounce of the frame, before he puts up the kickstand and puts it into gear. The motor roars to life.
“What do you call this two-wheeled steed,” Stef shouts, staring at the bike in fascination.
“It’s a motorcycle; get on.”
He realizes his mistake as she sits behind him, strong arms wrapping around his waist. He can feel the warmth of her body through his leather jacket. She squeezes tighter to him as he kicks off, her chest pressed against his back and he can feel the muscles in her thighs clenching He’ll have to get her a cab after dinner, because there’s no way that the ride back is going to be anything but horribly awkward. At least if he’d taken a car she could have sat in the back seat and pretended he didn’t exist. He was so busy trying to will away the start of an erection that he nearly missed the turn to Mikey’s – his go-to dive restaurant whenever he felt like not being disturbed.
“I must learn how to ride such a wondrous beast,” Stef says admiringly at the motorcycle after she dismounts.
Mikey’s is a literal hole-in-the-wall, crammed in off an alleyway in Brooklyn, the décor hasn’t changed since the 1970s, and the floor probably hasn’t been mopped since the place opened, but they do make killer meatball grinders and other basic Italian fare. He has come here more than once pre-hangover to load up on carbs. They grab a booth and fortunately the first twenty minutes of what is likely to be an incredibly painful conversation deciding on what to eat and then waiting for it to arrive. The waiter gives Stef a look of disbelief as she orders a meatball grinder as well as a plate of pasta (both good choices), while Tony sticks with the salad, because if he has to make a break for it, he doesn’t want a stomach full of pasta weighing him down.
“Stef, you’re a really nice girl, but I just don’t think this is going to work,” He begins diplomatically – because he can be diplomatic, he just doesn’t want to be most of the time.
Her blue eyes narrow at him, lips pinching into what is most definitely not one of the sexiest pissed off pouts that he has ever seen while he lets her know that this could never work out between them, how it’s not her it’s him, and that he doesn’t want this to be awkward, but he’d really like them to just be friends.
“Why,” She asks, once his speech has drawn to an end, frowning at him. “You have told me that there are reasons we cannot be together in many flowery words, but you have not told what these reasons are.”
Then, in a devious move that reminds him that her other brother happens to be Loki, god of lies, she leans forward, the barest hint of cleavage visible from the collar of her blouse, her chin resting on her hand as she says, peeping up at him through her eyelashes, “Are you not attracted to me?”
She’s doing that, being all seductive on purpose, because Tony has never in the six months that he has been living with her at the mansion, ever seen her do that to anyone else – and she has him there, because yes, yes he is attracted to her. He has been since the first time he met her because she is weapons-grade plutonium hot, but that hadn’t mattered because she was Thor’s sister and he was not going to risk getting beaten into the ground like a tent pole by the man.
“My brother,” Stef’s nose crinkles and she looks a little pissed, but fortunately not stab-you-with-a-fork pissed, even though her hand clenches around the piece of silverware tightly. “What say would my brother have in any of this? He will not be joining us in our love-making,” Her expression becomes suspicious, “Unless that is what you desired?”
Please kill him now.
“No! No – it is just that, on Earth, you don’t date your friend’s siblings. In case the whole relationship goes wrong so that then he doesn’t have to choose between you.”
Stef’s eyes narrow and wow did that sound really dumb out loud – he’s pretty sure he can feel Pepper’s disapproving glare already.
“I don’t want Thor to strike me with lightning because he’s mad that I touched his baby sister,” It’s slightly humiliating to admit, but it does take the disapproving frown off of Stef’s face thankfully.
“On Asgard, a brother would be comforted to know personally that his sibling is in a relationship with a warrior who has proven themselves to be loyal and true,” She raises an eyebrow at him skeptically, crossing her arms over her chest. “Now what were these other reasons that made courtship between us ill-advised that you were speaking of?”
Seriously, he’d take lightning bolts over having this conversation right about now. She’s effectively destroyed his ‘bros before hos’ defense and yet still wants to pursue a relationship with him. That she wants to pursue him for a real relationship is one of the clearest signs that she is from a completely different planet than him. He should have Jarvis show her his Wikipedia page, specifically the relationship section, to illustrate to her what a very bad, no good, rotten idea having a relationship with him was.
He’s been down this road before, with Pepper. He’d loved Pepper and Pepper had loved him. They had tried – he had actually really, honest-to-god tried to be a good boyfriend to her. It just hadn’t been enough. He’d come after an extended mission in South America to find a red-eyed, croaky-voiced Pepper waiting for him, looking like she hadn’t slept in days. She hugged him tightly, tears soaking into his shirt as she whispered that she just didn’t know if she could stand always wondering if this mission was going to be the one that killed him – not while being his lover and maybe in the future the mother of his children. Fearing that she might never know what happened to him because it was all locked away in a top secret file for national security. Having to bury an empty casket because they hadn’t found big enough pieces of him to identify. Knowing that if she asked him to choose between her and Iron Man that it wouldn’t even be a competition and she wouldn’t be a winner.
He could have fought her – lied to her and said that he would choose her or that it really wasn’t a choice at all because he could do both. He’d done the responsible thing then, though, and told her that it was her decision, that he understood why she had to go for own sanity, why that was okay, that there were no hard feelings, and then he gave her keys to the condo in the Bahamas for well-deserved two-week vacation.
After their breakup he’d sort of resigned himself to being alone – not in a tragic way, of course, but more like Jack Nicholson on a boat with twelve bikini models alone kind of way. Superficial, no strings attached relationships seemed best, what with all the dangers of being a superhero, even part time, there seemed to be.
“This career field pretty much guarantees a short lifespan, and of the six of us, out of my armor I’m one of the weakest. I don’t have magic powers, ninja skills or the ability to turn into the Jolly Green Giant on a whim. You complain about how reckless I am on the battlefield, how I’m going to kill myself one of these days—”
“So we shouldn’t be together because you’re an idiot, I see it now,” When he starts to protest – because he is trying to be responsible here, what is it that people don’t understand about that – she cuts him off. “No, all you Midgardians talk and talk, but the only thing it seems to do is confuse you more. I am a warrior – I was a Valkyrie – and you will not let you lecture to me about the inevitability of a warrior’s death. If you are too cowardly to try, then say so and we will forget that this ever happened.”
And that was how sweet Stef Odindatter, sister of Thor, ex-Valkyrie, and current Avenger managed to bully him into a trying to have another long-term relationship. He’d be lying if he said it hadn’t turned him on a little bit – he’d always loved a woman who knew exactly what she wanted.
He’d been surprised to find that he really liked her – possibly maybe even loved her a little. They get along even though she’s hard-headed and opinionated (probably the side effect of everyone thinking you’re a god all the time). So, maybe he can totally relate to that (the god part), but really, that’s exactly why this whatever-it-is shouldn’t work. They used to never be able to agree on anything without having a screaming match about it first. She could be infuriatingly narrow in her concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (or really, ‘honorable’ versus ‘dishonorable’), and would only concede mere fractions after hours of argument.
She could also be kind and compassionate, and believed that justice would prevail so strongly that Tony was half-certain that she might be able to make that true by the strength of her will alone.
They’d kept their relationship a secret – a little bit because Tony really really didn’t want to have a conversation with Thor about his intentions with Stef, but mostly because when you share a house with four other people it’s nice to have something you don’t have to share with the group. Tony, as an only child, was terrible at the general concept of sharing. He was pretty sure Stef liked being able to sneak around behind her family’s back every once and while, considering her apparently routine unsupervised forays into Midgard as a teenager. He imagined it was quite hard to have anything private when your father was known as the “All-Father” and your siblings were all gods.
When you both were superheroes it also made things easier, he found. They understood why they were laying their lives on the line, and neither of them had to be the one to stay behind and worry about the fate of the other one. Although, if one of them were going to die, it’s to be him just because he’s not a semi-immortal Asgardian that’s immune to most forms of injury. She was okay with that though, it seemed, and he tried not to tempt fate too often for her sake.
It had all been going so well – and of course that’s precisely when it all went horribly wrong.
She’d not liked Tony Stark at first – he was loud, crude, and insolent. He bellowed even the most minor of his accomplishments from the tops of mountains. He was reckless in battle, putting himself at others at risk. While she would never demand to be treated as the princess she was, she was quite certain that he delighted in being deliberately rude to her. He thought he knew best – even when it was blindingly obvious that he could not have been more wrong if he had tried. He only occasionally followed orders – which was more frustrating than if he never obeyed them at all, because then at least she could have planned for that.
He was a fellow Avenger and Thor’s friend, though, which meant unless he quit or died, she was stuck with him. Slowly though, creeping over her like a fungus, he’d somehow managed to move away from being an irritating pest and into something… else. The more she learned of him, the more she saw underneath his armor of acting like a complete jackass, the more she liked him. She’d never seen someone so afraid of letting it be known that he was a good, compassionate person.
It did not hurt that his physical form was greatly pleasing to her eyes. He had the hands of a craftsman – strong and roughed by years of labor as a smithy. Brown hair was an exotic trait in Asgard; she enjoys the feel of his locks and the way their dark color contrasts with the color of her skin. His backside was well-formed from all his physical labor, high and firm, each half just the right size to fit into her hand –
He is clever too – too clever at times for his own good – but he can make wonders that she has never seen out of nothing that she sometimes wonders if he isn’t descended from one of her kinsmen and a Midgardian woman… That he chooses to focus his energy in making Midgard a better place, instead of solely focusing on betting his life, is fascinating to her. He never gives up, even in the face of certain doom, despite his own despair he will continue to fight for his world and everything that is right about it?
How could she not love him for all of that?
Which is why she knows that her father – the All-Father – is wrong when he says that Tony is inferior to her just because is from Midgard. Tony is everything that is right with Midgard contained in one frail mortal body – even if there are unpleasant things about him there are unpleasant sides to many Asgardians. She has seen no fault or crime on Midgard that she had not already seen on Asgard – perhaps Midgardian’s crimes seems larger in comparison to the short lives they live. Their brief life spans should also, it seemed to make their accomplishing in a decade what takes her people a millennium.
If anything, she would say that Midgard was the superior of the two worlds. Most places on Midgard, it would have been shameful for her father to try to force her to choose between Asgard and Midgard, to threaten her beloved and to demand that she forsake him for the honor of their family when it really isn’t a choice at all.
He makes it so easy to fall.
She is cast down, just as Thor was ages ago – but unlike her brother, she descends joyfully, eagerly anticipating all the frailties that come with being Midgardian. Tony finds her on the abandoned battlefield – she’s disoriented and her body has never ached so badly, not even after one of Brunnhilde’s practice drills back when she’d been training to become a Valkyrie –
“Are you okay – because I will kill that fucker if he hurt you, I don’t care if he is your adoptive brother or a god, there are some ties that you just have cut—”
“I’m fine,” She assures him – and then she tells him everything. That the All-Father that what they had between them was shameful for someone as high-born as she – that she had to leave Tony and Midgard or be banished from Midgard and her father’s heart forever.
“Why would you do that? Are you crazy?” He shakes her new form roughly as her story closes, and even though she understands why he is acting like this, she cannot deny that his actions hurt more than just physically. She had thought he would be happy with her choice –
He flies her back to his workshop and together they disassemble his armor, in silent agreement that what needs to be said next should be done flesh to flesh – as equals now.
“Why,” He asks her again, watching her warily as he leans against the worktop where she’d once placed a bouquet of flowers to announce her intentions to court him –
“Because he shouldn’t have tried to force my hand,” She lies as she moves in closer to him, cupping his face and feeling that spark of pleasure as his arms come around to embrace before she kisses him.
She cannot tell the truth, because the truth – that she loves him enough to give up everything that she has ever known for him – is precisely what he’s afraid of. He fears death, like most Midgardians do since their lives are so short and there is so much yet to be done in them. He lives in fear that underneath all of his armor that he is not strong enough, smart enough or good enough to bear the mantle of Iron Man or Avenger. That he can push through his fears to fight anyway is why she loves him.
He probably found it easier to love her while she was Asgardian because he hadn’t had to fear her death – it was most unlikely that he would ever have outlived her. Now she is as mortal as him, as breakable, as likely to fall in battle as he is, if not more so since she has no armor to protect her.
He’d leave her if knew the truth, too terrified of disappointing her or of losing her to even try to love her again. He would be terrified that since she gave up so much for him that she will try to make him give up one of the few things that he feels gives value to his life – when she never could ask such a thing, especially since she didn’t plan on leaving the Avengers herself.It will just have to be her secret, for now at least, until he’s ready to know.