By: Memory Dragon
Disclaimer: I do not own the Avengers movie-verse, nor do I make any claim to.
Characters: Steve Rogers/Tony Stark, Rhodey, Natasha Romanov, Pepper Potts, Bruce Banner
Warnings: Major Character death is the big one on this fic, and you can check the end notes if you're squeamish and want some spoilers. It does have a happy ending though, and I promise only those characters in the end notes die no matter what else the fic makes you think. Some dubious consented body changes (he agreed, but didn't realize all of what he was agreeing to), but no maiming or anything like that. Fair warning that I took a lot of inspiration from Clamp, and I hope I did them proud.
Rating: PG 13
Summary: After a big fight with Tony, Steve has gone missing. The last thing Tony needs when he should be looking for the leader of the Avengers is to be transported into a dark fairy tale to fight a dragon with a kingly version of Steve. But there are things that the King isn't telling him, and the dragon's eye is a familiar shade of blue...
Thanks: Many thanks to Narwhale_callin for betaing and Salmastyron for double checking my 616 facts. Also a great many thanks to my two extremely talented artists, neera_pendragon and fictionforlife! They've been amazing to work with, and I'm so lucky to be paired with two such amazing artists this year!
Notes: This fic came about because someone told me that I couldn't do worse than the Unicorn in Untameable, then threw my own prompt about Steve and Tony raising a baby dragon back at me. And, well, I'm never one to back down from a challenge. I have it on good authority this is way worse than the Unicorn. XD Also, it has been a life-long dream of mine to be as sadistic as Clamp. I like to think I made a decent attempt with this fic. I'm not sorry. At all.
Most importantly, this fic was written for the cap_ironman 2014 Big Bang. As stated above, I had the great pleasure of working with two very awesome artists. Please make sure to check out the art they did for this fic, because it's fantastic! You can find fictionforlife's work here 1 2 3 4, and a master post here on tumblr. (3 and 4 are slightly spoiler-y), and neera_pendragon's here on ao3 and 1 2 3 on tumblr!
A small note about Tony's phrasing: Shakespeare and the medieval period are two completely different time periods. Please do not believe Tony. You have no idea how incredibly painful it was for me to write that part, but it's a very Tony thing for him to say, so I went with it. The things I do for characterization. Bad Tony! Get your time periods right!
Part Two Part Three Part Four
"It wasn't your fault," Rhodey said, standing behind Tony as he put a hand on his shoulder, which Tony resolutely ignored in favor of taking apart his gauntlet. "Tony..."
"Never said it was," Tony replied, oiling a servo that had been giving him trouble. He tested it after, but didn't feel pleased like he normally would that it was working properly again.
"Of course you haven't," Rhodey said dryly. "You've been down here refusing to talk to anyone since Natasha broke the news. It's just been heavily implied by the sulking."
"Not sulking," Tony said, gritting his teeth as he put the gauntlet back together.
"Oh yeah? Then why haven't you come up since Cap's gone missing?"
Tony didn't answer. The silence was strong enough to answer for him.
Rhodey sighed, pulling Tony into a one-armed hug. Tony let him, because he wasn't one to argue with Rhodey hugs. "It's not your fault," Rhodey repeated.
"He left because of our fight," Tony said, closing his eyes. "I should be used to people leaving when they're disappointed."
Rhodey's arm tightened around him. "Some of us come back. It was a bad mission. You got drunk after, and Cap had been coming down off a week of nightmares according to Clint, who's been seeing him in the gym at odd hours. You both said things you shouldn't have, but him disappearing isn't your fault."
Tony stayed wrapped up in Rhodey's hug for a second longer, then he forced himself to pull away. "I should get back to work."
"JARVIS is scanning for any sign of him on the CCTV or anywhere else. I'll let the team know if he finds anything."
"Tony, that's not-"
Tony missed the rest of what Rhodey said as a sense of vertigo overwhelmed him. As he fell to his knees, his stomach twisting in protest, he heard Rhodey shouting his name. He fought down the bile as he felt hands on his shoulders steadying him.
Then the hands were gone. Tony looked up in panic when he heard Rhodey yell, ignoring the way the world tilted as he tried to stand. Rhodey was lying against the wall, unmoving as blood trickled down his forehead. "Rhodey?" Tony said, reaching for the gauntlet. It wrapped around his arm as he frantically looked for the source of the attack.
What he saw was a dragon.
The dragon was a rusted red color that reminded Tony of dried blood. He fought back a wave of nausea as he fired a repulsor at the dragon's swirling red eye. Singular, since the other eye was closed, scarred over in what looked like a painful wound. Tony aimed for the good eye, but he didn't have much luck. The dragon dodged, earning Tony a few scorch marks on the wall.
The dragon was large, so big that Tony didn't even know how it actually fit in his workshop. He tried shooting again, but his aim was thrown off as the dragon spread its wings and a gust of wind knocked him back. "JARVIS, call-" Tony said as two very large claws wrapped around his shoulders.
The last thing he remembered before blacking out was the single swirling eye turning an unmistakeable shade of blue.
* * *
Tony woke up with a start, the gauntleted arm coming up in front of him defensively. "Easy," someone said, his voice soothing. "You're safe now."
Tony knew that voice. "Steve?" he asked, looking for the super-soldier. Except it wasn't Steve, or at least, not the Steve he knew. He was older for one, by about ten years if Tony were to judge, and he wore some kind of medieval-Shakespearean outfit with a dark blue tunic that was intricately embroidered with stars and other symbols. His pants were a lighter blue and skin-tight, half-hidden by dark boots that came up to his thighs. It was all topped off by a golden circlet that rested on his head.
Tony's eyes widened, and he scooted back against the bed. It was then he realized he wasn't anywhere familiar. Instead of his workshop, he was in a big room with a fireplace and richly colored tapestries. The windows were open, letting in golden sunlight that filled the room. It was warm enough to be spring, and fuck, were those birds he could hear?
"Where am I? What happened to Rhodey?" he demanded, not lowering his arm.
"Peace, my friend. I mean you no harm," Weird-Steve said calmly, his hands in the air to show they were empty. "You are at my castle on Nimianne Lake. I'm afraid you came alone, so I know not of your comrade."
"Castle?" Tony croaked, still processing the fact Steve was talking like Thor. Rhodey would be okay, right? It hadn't been too hard a knock, and there didn't look like there was anything he could do for Rhodey now. Hopefully the other Avengers would get JARVIS's message and find Rhodey.
"Yes. The dragon has chosen you as the next challenger to its trials. It set you just outside of my lands." Weird-Steve had dropped his hands, and was now absentmindedly rubbing his left shoulder. "I thought you were..." Steve trailed off, looking out the window with a stare that both saw everything and nothing.
"Seriously, Steve, what's going on here? Why the sudden Shakespeare act?"
Weird-Steve turned to him with a sad look in his eyes. "I'm afraid you've mistaken me for someone else. I am Steven, the forgotten king of this forgotten realm. And you, friend, are going to have to face the dragon should you want to go home. I will give you what aid I can, but know it is a perilous quest you face."
"I have to fight a dragon," Tony said, disbelieving.
"It is the only way for the magic to return you home," Weird-Steve replied.
"You are of a silver tongue, Sir," King Steve said dryly.
Tony stared at Steve - Steven - for a full minute before flopping back on the bed. Though part of him was relieved, because if the dragon had brought him here, it couldn't be still terrorizing Stark Tower. Rhodey should be safe.
"What is this, a fairy tale? Fucking magic," Tony said, closing his eyes and wishing it would all go away. Seriously, he didn't sign up to be a super hero to deal with this kind of thing. Thor could fight dragons, or whatever weird-ass Norse name he had for them. Tony was just done with all of this. Maybe if he thought hard enough, he would wake up and this would all disappear.
Steven chuckled softly, a light, musical sound that Tony had never heard from his own Steve. "You have a flair for the dramatic, Sir. If I may..." Steve hesitated. Tony cracked open an eye to find a mixture of longing and grief in Steven's expression. It was replaced by a smile within the blink of an eye, and Tony wondered if he'd imagined it.
"May I have your name?" Steven asked finally.
"Tony," he replied. "Tony Stark, uh, not kingly, but I'm a billionaire if that counts. I think it counts. It's cooler and more badass."
Steve's smile softened, focusing inward. "This does not surprise me."
Tony had no idea what to make of that, so he ignored it. "Seriously though, I am not that kind of Stark. I don't deal with dragons and magic. I don't even have my armor."
"If you require armor, there is plenty in my hold," Steven replied. "But I doubt any of which I own would match the gauntlet on your hand."
"Yeah, probably a bad idea," Tony said. He didn't like to think about how clunky moving around in a medieval suit of armor would be. Fuck no. It'd be worse than the Mark I. There's a reason his armor was awesome, and now he had to deal with the low tech version? "Is there any way to go home and avoid the dragon?" he asked, because he was so done with epic quests.
"If my kingdom were at its peak, there may have been someone well-versed enough in magic to do so, but I'm afraid now..." Steve trailed off, once again looking out the window.
Tony sat up, following Steven's gaze. There was a forest outside (probably the source of the birds). It looked over-grown, but otherwise like nothing special. "Did something happen?" he asked, taking a closer look around the room. It looked clean for a castle, not drafty like the few he'd been in while he'd been a teenager touring Europe, but he could see the age of the tapestries fading colors and ragged edges. The fireplace looked like it hadn't been used in ages.
"The dragon, as you would say, 'happened'," Steven replied, sorrow coming into his voice. "I'm afraid there's no one but me who resides here now. I am tied to this place, but those that survived the first attack have long since fled."
"Er, that sucks," Tony said, still having problems imagining Steve as a benevolent dictator. It seemed so unpatriotic for Steve to be a king when the guy practically breathed democracy. Then he realized that was a tactless thing to say. "Sorry. I mean, it does suck, but-"
"Peace, friend," Steven said, holding up a hand. "I am not offended by your words, however ill-chosen. It has been a long time, and I've come to terms with the loss."
"So you've just been living out here by yourself for what, years?" Tony asked, baffled.
Steven stood, going to stand by the window he was so fascinated with. He touched the wall with a sorrowful half-smile that reminded Tony of his Steve whenever he thought of the life he'd lost in 1944. "Someone must protect these walls until it is safe to return. I'm afraid I've done poorly by my people, but I will stand guard over the place they laid their lives down to protect."
"But that's..." Lonely. Even Tony, who liked his long bouts in the workshop, was always glad when Pepper or Rhodey showed up after a day or two. "Really stupid," Tony said instead. "You're not... How can you just sit here and do nothing? You should get out, see the world! I dunno, start again! It's not like you to just..." It's not like Steve, but apparently it was like Steven.
Steven didn't look upset by the outburst. Tony was rather surprised to see a true smile on his face. "I think you are once again mistaking me for someone else. But what you say has merit. I have a promise to fulfill before I may leave, however."
"A promise?" Tony asked.
"Yes. A promise to make things right. I made a grave error in the past," Steven said. "Which is why I will aid you in any way I can. The dragon must be killed, no matter the cost."
"Didn't think personal vendettas were a Cap thing," Tony muttered under his breath. But then, this Steve was also a King. Maybe they really were two different people after all.
Dimensional travel made his head hurt. He was not meant for this kind of thing. Okay, he'd accept being blown to an advanced civilization he could reverse engineer tech from, but this was worse than the dark ages. At least the dark ages hadn't had dragons.
"So, dragon," Tony said, sitting up. He swung his legs over the bed side, looking down at his gauntlet. It had a very limited power supply. "I don't suppose you know anything about electricity?" If he was actually going to have to fight a dragon, he needed something that he could actually use. Swords were really not his style, and he'd sucked at fencing.
Steve looked at the gauntlet with a thoughtful expression. Then he smiled. "I may know of something that could benefit your quest," he said. "But first, you should change into something more suitable for traveling. Then we should eat, for we have a long journey ahead of us."
Tony groaned, not looking forward to a romp in the wilderness. There'd better be no giant spiders between him and the dragon. He refused to fight giant spiders on top of dragons. He had limits. He sent the command for the gauntlet to disassemble before picking it up and following Steven out to find new clothes. Steven didn't even blink at the gauntlet flying off, and Tony resolutely told himself that science was way cooler than the magic that the king probably assumed it was.
The meal itself was simple, and Tony tried not to think about how the meat was probably something Steven had killed himself. He wasn't all that fond of stew, to be honest, but he knew better than to complain. He'd eaten worse. And really, anything he tried to cook would come out burnt anyway.
"You aren't eating?" Tony asked when he noticed Steven hadn't touched his bowl.
Steven started, then smiled ruefully. "I apologize. I was drifting on a thought." He brought the bowl to his lips, drinking the stew straight from the bowl rather than using a spoon. Tony shrugged and went back to his own bowl.
Still, when they had finished, Tony was left with the impression that Steven hadn't eaten much. Or maybe he was just used to his Steve with the serum. Steve needed more calories than normal people, and Steven may have eaten a regular amount. That was probably it.
He looked down at the gauntlet he hadn't let stray too far from his sight. "You say there's a way to get more power for this?" he asked when they had finished the meal.
"It's not half a day's walk from here," Steven replied, sharpening a sword with a whetstone as Tony watched. He was now wearing a simple blue tunic and pants instead of the fancy expensive-looking one, but the crown stayed. Tony had snorted when he saw it, but didn't comment. As far as kings went, he supposed Steven wasn't really too decked out anyway. He just had a regal nature about him that made up for the plainness of his crown or his clothes.
"Are you certain you won't take any armor or weapons from the armory?" Steven asked, concern in his eyes. "I know your gauntlet is of a like I've never seen, but-"
"The leathers work well enough," Tony said, looking down at his own change of clothes. They weren't flashy, just a dull brown with some leather armor on top that made Tony miss Kevlar, but that was neither here nor there. It felt strange under his fingers, though he'd worked with leather gloves before. This felt different, though he couldn't say exactly how. They would protect him better than his band t-shirt would, at least. He wouldn't be able to move in one of the clunkers he'd seen down in the armory.
Steven apparently arrived at the same conclusion, but he didn't like it. He pushed his shield on his arm, and Tony marveled at it. It wasn't round, but it had three crests on the top. In the center was a highly ornate silver star surrounded by a sea of blue. Underneath the star was a small gold dragon with a familiar blue for eyes that Tony couldn't quite place. It was like the color was just off enough, because the artist hadn't been able to find the right shade. Tony stared at it, a pang of worry running through him. While he was running around fighting a dragon, his Steve was still missing. And Rhodey had been hurt...
"I apologize for only having brown left," Steven said, drawing him from his thoughts with a lopsided smile. "You are, I think, someone who likes colors with more flair."
"Red or gold," Tony said automatically, watching Steven's smile grow. Tony was nonplussed, unsure of his place with Steven. The king seemed to know a lot about him, but every time Tony thought he was like Cap, he was proven wrong.
"If you won't..." Steven started, then held out a beautifully crafted golden dagger. Tony stared at it. "You may not wield a sword or arrows, but this may be the only weapon capable of piercing the dragon's hide."
"Then shouldn't you keep it?" Tony asked, taking the knife anyway as he ran his fingers along the hilt. It was beautiful, with a gold dragon spiraling around it with two sapphires as its eyes. It fit his hand like it was meant for him.
"I can only aid you," Steven said sadly. "The dragon brought you here to pass its trials, and only you can kill it. But I will help where I can, even if it only amounts to a distraction."
"I hate magic," Tony complained, accepting the belt Steven passed him that included a sheath for the knife. "Seriously, the whole 'only the fated one can kill the dragon' shtick is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. And I've heard some pretty dumb things in my life."
Steven clasped his shoulder good-naturedly, patting his back after a moment. "Some things are this way for a reason. Do not forget that, my friend."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, King Thorin. I still say science is better. At least that makes sense."
Steven grew grave for a moment. "I would prefer it if you called me Steven," he said quietly. "My kingdom has fallen and there's naught here but the ghosts of the past."
"I..." Tony said, floundering in the face of sudden emotions. "Sorry. That was- I'm not good with.... I'm kind of tactless, but I can do that. I mean, call you Steven, not keep calling you, you know."
"Your silver tongue betrays you, Tony," Steven said, a slip of a smile reappearing. "I can see why the women all flock to you."
The sass, at least, was the same no matter what version of Steve he was dealing with. "How would you know?" he grumbled, shouldering the pack of supplies that Steven had given him. They started to walk through the courtyard, out the castle gates.
"You remind me of an old friend," Steve replied, looking out into the woods. "You and he are very similar."
Tony may have been tactless, but he knew better than to ask about what happened to that friend. Though he was a little curious as to how his potential other self had died.
"We should start moving," Steven said, looking at the sun. Tony looked as well, estimating it was just past one in this world, even though it had been early evening when the dragon attacked in his world. "The glade we seek will be a safe haven for us," Steven continued, "But it's still half a day's walk away before we can make camp."
Tony winced. First magic, now camping. Joy. It couldn't even be useful magic. He'd accept Steven magicking up a hotel or something. But no. Still, it had to beat a cave in Afghanistan. "Okay, just let me-"
As he turned to face the castle again, Steven caught his arm, holding him in a tight grip that bordered on painful. "What the fuck? That hurts. What are you-?"
"It is not wise to turn your back on this quest," Steven said, not letting go of Tony's arm, though he did loosen his grip. He reached behind Tony for the bed roll that had been leaning against the side of the castle that Steven had packed while Tony ate, and placed it on Tony's pack. "Do not question this, Tony Stark. Please. I beg your trust on this."
Tony had been all set to snap and argue, but the please caught him off guard. He didn't know what to do with that, other than nod numbly.
They set off soon after that, and despite his curiosity, he did as Steven asked and didn't look at the castle again. It didn't matter much after the first few minutes anyway, since the forest was so overgrown that it was impossible to see one way or the other.
It took them an hour picking through the forest to find a proper path, and even that one was rarely used. Still, Steven seemed to know where he was going, stopping every so often to check his compass, and the weather was fair, not too hot or too cold. The birds were even pleasant once he got used to them, and he wasn't being bitten by half a dozen mosquitoes every five seconds like he had the one time Rhodey had convinced him to try camping.
The trek itself wasn't as unpleasant as Tony might have thought. Every time he'd start to worry about what he was missing back home, Steven would tell a tale about life at court, or how he'd become the king of this land. It was as disgustingly simple as the people asking him after he'd saved it single-handedly, but it kept Tony's mind off his own Steve being missing, his worry over Rhodey, and wondering how Pepper was covering his absence from SI. His feet started to hurt after a while, but Tony bore it quietly. It wasn't like they could do anything about it.
The sun was just starting to set when Tony considered asking Steven to forget this holy glade they were searching for and just camp for the night when they came to a small clearing. It was beautiful in the sunset, and the grass turned a dark red in the light as the sun ghosted over the tops of the trees. The forest had formed an almost perfect circle around the small clearing, and it was eery in a way that pricked at Tony's nerves. "What is this place?" he asked, shivering a little as they stepped past the line of trees.
"This is Thor's Glade," Steven replied, walking forward as if the feeling didn't bother him. And maybe it didn't, which was entirely unfair. Tony hated magic.
"Thor's Glade?" he asked, wondering if Thor was the same in this world as well.
"He was a good friend," Steven replied, and Tony resolutely did not wonder about the 'was'. "And his power still rests in this field. This is a safe place for you tonight."
"What about you?"
Steven looked startled, then thoughtful. "For me as well, though I haven't needed its power for a long while. Come, there is something you should see before the light dies."
Tony didn't know whether to be offended by that comment or to just let it pass since he really was out of his element here. He followed anyway, not wanting to be too far behind in a place that positively reeked of magic.
It was easy to see why they'd come here once they got closer to the crater in the center of the glade. "That's Mjölnir," Tony said as he stared at the hammer that lay hidden in the grass.
"It has rested here ever since Thor fell in the last battle," Steven said with a nod. "And so it shall remain until one worthy of its power comes forth."
Tony stepped forward, touching the handle reverently. He knelt down next to it, looking for differences and finding none. He didn't grab it, or try to move it, but he trailed his fingers down the familiar hilt. Thor was...
"You could try your strength," Steven said, gentle amusement in his voice.
"Nah, I'll pass." The last thing he needed was to feel unworthy of a friend's weapon. Or, well, the likeness of a friend from another universe. Tony reminded himself of this firmly, because Thor had been just fine last time he'd seen him.
"If you needed her, I think she would move for you in dire circumstances," Steven said cryptically as he crouched down beside Tony.
Tony started as he felt Steven's arms bracing around his, and Steven's hands guiding his along Mjölnir's sides. "What are you-?"
"But I do not think you need her power. You've always been better off on your own." Steven's voice was right next to his ear, his chest pressed against Tony's back. The intimacy made Tony shiver again, and he felt his heart rate quicken. He was so distracted that he didn't feel the crack until a small stone came away as his hands brushed against it.
He reached down to pick up the small stone without Steven's prompting, holding it up to see it clearer in the fading light. Steven moved away, leaving Tony bereft of the warmth the King's body had given him. "Though it seems we do need part of her; she is willing to lend you the stone's services," Steven said as he grinned.
Tony wasn't sure what to make of Steven's smile or the stone. He stared down at the pebble - a part of Mjölnir - that they had collected, starting to see where this was going. He was supposed to use this as a power source? It made his head hurt just thinking about it. This was why he hated magic.
He was about to complain about this when a flash of silver darted by his cheek. Steven rolled to the side, barely dodging the missile. He brought up his shield, standing in front of Tony protectively.
That didn't help either of them when the silver dart attacked Steven from behind. "Look out!" Tony called out, frantically pushing Steven down. Steven only hesitated a second before dropping.
Nothing hit Tony though. When he looked up, there was a silver... was that a baby dragon? Whatever it was, it was hissing at them angrily, its wings beating as it tried to find an opening. Which was weird, because Tony was a lot squishier than Steven's shield.
Tony looked closer at the small dragon, now that it wasn't actively attacking them. It was small, only about the size of his forearm if stretched out, with a triangular head and multi-colored eyes that were swirling reds and oranges. It didn't really have scales, but a tough hide that was a dark silver. It glinted in the dying sun, and its wings probably spread about the width of Thor's shoulders. They were nearly translucent and very fragile-looking compared to the rest of the dragon's hide. It was topped off by a long, sleek tail that ended in a point, and four stumpy legs that had what looked to be pretty vicious claws.
Hesitantly, Tony started to get off Steven. "Do you think it's stopped - Whoa!"
He pushed Steven back down, only barely missing a set of claws to his face as the dragonet pulled back at the last second. "What the hell?"
Steven merely sounded amused. "I mean him no harm, little one."
The dragon started to dive at Steven's head again. "Hey, no!" Tony said, crawling up and covering Steven's head with his arms. "Stop that!"
To his great surprise, the dragon did. It landed on the handle of Mjölnir, its wings spread and hissing violently, but it didn't leave its perch. He stared at it suspiciously, but it didn't move.
"I think it's safe enough now," Steve said from underneath him.
Tony didn't get off in a hurry though, instead pulling away slowly in case he had to move back. Steven didn't appear to mind that he lingered either, which was an odd fact that Tony pushed away for later.
They both looked at the small dragon, who was still hissing in displeasure. This time, Tony could see its whirling multi-colored eyes were glaring at Steven. "What does it have against you?" he asked.
"He has made his home here in the glade," Steve said with a shrug. "The beast may be in-tune with Mjölnir. The hammer merely tolerates my presence here because I wish no harm."
"What? Why?" Tony looked over at Steven with a startled look.
"It is... a long story," Steven said, his eyes going distant. "We should set camp before it gets too dark. You should try to invite the little one to join our meal."
Tony sighed. "I don't suppose you'd tell me that story while we eat?"
"We'll see," Steven replied, crushing any hope Tony had of actually hearing it. This place just got better and better.
Making camp was at least an easy undertaking. Steven showed him how to set up the medieval tents and collect firewood, and the stew they had for dinner wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't terrible either. He was going to be very sick of stew by the end of all this, however. All the while, the little dragonet watched Steven suspiciously, hissing and diving whenever Steven got too close to Tony. It still wouldn't come closer when Tony tried to coax it over.
"I thought dragons were evil," Tony grumbled, giving up his sixth attempt to cajole the silly little beast with a piece of meat on his knife as he drank the stew from the bowl like Steve did. When in Rome...
"The big ones are," Steven said, looking far too amused by the whole proceeding. "Little ones like our friend are mostly harmless, so long as you do them no ill. They're quite intelligent when they age."
"So you're a baby, huh?" Tony said to the dragon, slowly moving toward it. It fluttered away again.
Steven laughed. "He does seem quite young. Here. I have eaten my fill and you might lure him to you with some of the meat."
Tony eyed Steven's bowl suspiciously. "But you've barely eaten anything!"
"I did, but you were so busy luring this pretty fellow to you that you didn't notice," Steve replied, gesturing to the pot. Tony looked, and it did actually seem lower than he remembered it.
He shrugged his unease off, accepting Steven's bowl. He picked out some of the meat, lining it up on the ground in a small trail that led to where he was sitting. He saw the dragonet's eyes whirl with light blues and purples as it watched the meat from its place not far off. When Tony didn't move, it hopped forward hesitantly, its small head darting forward to grab the first piece of meat.
"Stay still," Steve said quietly as Tony shifted. "Let him come to you."
Tony fought down the urge to fidget as the small dragon ate its way closer. Staying still wasn't necessarily one of his strong points, but he'd be damned if he scared the silly beast away now.
Finally, the dragonet was close enough for Tony to touch as the greedy little bastard gobbled down the last piece. He looked over to Steven, who nodded, then slowly reached down to pet the tiny dragon's head. Instead of flying away like it had before, the dragon pushed up into Tony's hand, humming softly in contentment. It looked at him, and Tony shivered. It was like the tiny dragon could see straight into his soul.
That was when Tony's world exploded.
It felt like his mind was being torn open, but any pain he might have felt from it was washed away by what filled the gap. He saw himself in that moment, but it wasn't the face he saw in the mirror. He was practically glowing with light, chasing away all of the darkness that the sun had left behind with a light from the center of his chest. He felt the awe at that, followed closely by complete and total adoration and love.
Tony gasped, feeling weak in the knees. There was nothing attached to the love, no desire for his money, no disapproval of his life choices, no want for stardom and attention that being rich and famous brought. Just pure, unconditional love that rocked the ground under Tony's feet. He had never felt that way before, and certainly never felt it directed at him. Tony had no idea what to do with the profound emotion of a love that expected nothing of him in return. There was a question there that Tony could barely comprehend, but he couldn't refuse. Yes.
The love doubled, washing over him followed by a happiness stronger than Tony had ever felt. Tony was lost in the emotion, set adrift by the sheer volume of something that strong directed at him.
When he came back to himself, he was shaking, cradling the humming dragon in his arms as he knelt on the ground. He felt the dragon's head rubbing against his chin reassuringly, and Tony automatically reached down to stroke him, scratching behind the ridges around the dragon's eyes. The humming got louder as the dragon closed his eyes and radiated love and pleasure.
Tony looked over at Steven to - he didn't know. Ask what the hell just happened? See if he'd had the same mind blowing experience? But when he looked across the fire, Steven's face was a picture of raw and twisted grief. He stared at Tony and the tiny dragon like Tony had personally betrayed everything Steven stood for, and he would never recover.
"Steven?" Tony asked uncertainly.
Steven took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes, visibly packing the grief away. Then he stood, coming to sit closer to Tony. "It's alright, my friend. It's a bit of a shock, so just take it easy."
But when Steven reached out to his shoulder, the dragon in Tony's arms reacted immediately, his long neck snapping out as he tried to bite at Steven's hand without leaving Tony's embrace. "No, hey, stop that!" Tony said, trying to shift away so the dragon couldn't reach.
The dragon shrank against him, and Tony was flooded with feelings of hurt that reminded him of when his father... "No, sweetheart. You're okay. Shh," he said frantically, scratching the dragon's eye ridges again. "You're fine. Just don't hurt him, okay? He's a friend."
He could tell the little dragon wasn't quite convinced, but he didn't try to bite this time when Steven reached out again. Steven pulled Tony into a hug, his chest against Tony's back so that he wouldn't agitate the dragon further. "It's a shock," Steven repeated gently. "Just breathe."
Tony tried to relax, holding the tiny dragon closer as he focused on breathing. It was a lot like coming down from one of his anxiety attacks, but he wasn't exactly scared. He felt numb, except for the constant stream of love and affection that came from the small beast in his arms. And it was from the dragon. It seemed impossible, but all of those feelings came from such a tiny creature and were directed at him.
When he finally stopped trembling, Steven pulled back. The dragon gave a short hiss, his eyes whirling orange in displeasure when he saw the king again, but he didn't try to attack Steven this time.
"I don't think he likes you," Tony said, feeling a little more like himself.
"He's jealous," Steven replied with a lopsided grin that was tinged with sadness.
Tony blinked, looking down at the silver dragon. The dragon blinked back at him, his eyes turning a happier blue. "Why would he be jealous?"
"You can spot lust a mile away, but honest affection is always lost on you," Steven muttered under his breath.
"What? How do you-?"
"He'll remember he's still hungry again soon," Steven said, fishing out more of the meat from the stew, then passing the bowl to Tony. The dragon immediately peeked out, his head darting into the bowl as he gobbled down the little pieces of meat. So Steven coming near Tony was bad, unless Steven was bringing food. Was that how it was?
The little dragon sent a wave of happy eating thoughts and colors, and that was just weird.
"What just happened?" Tony asked, sounding more dazed than he wanted to admit.
"You're bonded," Steven said, the sorrow returning to his eyes for a moment before he swallowed it down. "But this shouldn't have happened, not so soon. It takes weeks before such a pact can be formed. I am... I'm truly sorry. If I had known, I wouldn't have..."
"Why? Is this wrong?" Tony asked. He had the feeling he should be much more upset about this than he was, but he also couldn't let go of the little silver dragon. Any time he started to panic, he got fresh reassurance of love from the little guy, and it was kind of addicting.
Steven closed his eyes, and Tony almost regretted asking. "Not wrong," Steven said, shaking his head. "But it's not... He's bonded to you now. There's no reversing it, not without nearly killing you both."
"Oh." Yeah, that was a bit of a disadvantage. It would make going back home awkward. Because obviously he couldn't leave the dragon here. He had to... would the dragon even want to come with him?
The dragon pushed his head against Tony's cheek, a burst of love coming through the link. That meant the dragon was fine coming with him, right? So he just had to find a way to explain this to Pepper. Pepper was going to flip, but this wasn't the worst thing he'd brought home.
"You..." Steven started, his voice choked. He looked away. "You'll have to take care of him now."
Tony nodded, petting the now sleepy dragon absently as he finished the last of the meat. Steven was... Something had happened to Steven, Tony could see that. He didn't know what to do about it though, and he certainly wasn't the right person to talk to about emotional things. Nine times out of ten, he said the exact wrong thing. The look of grief on Steven's face haunted him though, and he wondered if the King had ever been bonded to a dragon before. If he had, it hadn't worked well.
"The creation of the bond is draining," Steven said. "You should rest while you can. No harm will come to you in this sacred grove."
"What about you?" Tony asked, feeling his own eyes start to droop. He shouldn't be this tired, not really, but the dragon was half asleep already and Tony was willing to blame him.
"I will rest, after a fashion." Steve was laying out the sleeping roll and Tony started to get up and protest, before he realized doing it himself would require putting down the dragon. He debated long enough for Steven to finish, then let the king lead him to the makeshift bed to lie down. Steven was very careful not to touch the dragon and remind him of his animosity. "You will be able to think clearer in the morning," Steven continued. "Just sleep for now."
"You won't crush him," Steven said with a sad smile. "He'll move if he's not comfortable."
Tony nodded, letting Steven pull up the blankets. He knew that this was embarrassing and that he should be protesting the child-like treatment. But that part of him was locked away at the moment, as the dragon in his arms shifted, sending a brief flair of annoyance that Tony was keeping it awake. The dragon didn't speak in words, but in images and emotions that Tony shouldn't have understood but did. Tony could feel the dragon's heart beating against his chest, soothing and constant, trying to lull him to sleep.
He closed his eyes, letting the little dragon's exhaustion drag him under. He thought he felt a pair of lips ghosting against his forehead, but he was asleep before he could be sure.
* * *
Tony woke up feeling very hungry. He tried to ignore it and push it away in favor of sleeping. That's when he felt a long tongue against his ear, slipping behind to-
"Stop that," Tony said, trying not to laugh. The tongue just tickled him more. He sat up and glared at the dragon, who merely watched with swirling eyes of hungry orange mixed with an amused blue. Then he sent more feelings of hunger.
"Can't you feed yourself?" Tony asked. He got back an unimpressed feeling. "Fine, whatever. Go find - hey! Stop that! Alright! I'll get up!"
The dragon curled smugly against Tony's neck as the tail wrapped around him. He should have felt strangled by the tail, but it wasn't too tight and it felt more like a comforting weight. He felt a wave of absolute love as the dragon's small head pushed against his cheek. Tony faltered as he stood, his breath hitching. There was a twinge of sadness and anger from the dragon before the feeling of love redoubled, as if he were showing Tony that it was possible.
Tony didn't know what to do in the face of that much love. He was shaking a little as he rolled the bedding away, absently petting the dragon as he worked. "Okay, I get it," Tony said, his voice only a little choked. "You love me, for whatever weird reason. Let's - Let's find Steven to see about breakfast." He didn't think there was enough meat in the stew from last night to keep the dragon happy, and he didn't know how the dragon would feel about the rest of their rations. Steven was his best bet.
The dragon just nuzzled his neck, content with the promise of breakfast for now.
Tony didn't have to look very far to see Steven. He was on the edge of the glade, and what a sight he made. He'd have been content to watch the currently shirtless man do pushups all day if not for the light tickle in his ear and the reminder of hunger.
Tony cleared his throat. "I, uh, have a hungry dragon," he said, watching the muscles in Steven's back and arms ripple. He noticed three claw marks on Steven's right arm, that looked to be about the width of the silver dragon's claws. But these were old, far older than anything the silver dragon could have given him.
But when Steven stood up, Tony's eyes weren't drawn to his amazing abs and pectoral muscles. They were drawn to the giant wound on Steven's left shoulder. It was gruesome and knotted, looking only half healed. He felt his eyes widen. "Steven, you-"
Steven looked down at the wound, his hand ghosting up to touch it before he reached for the shirt that was hanging on a low tree branch. "It's an old wound," Steven said, pulling the shirt over his head.
"You shouldn't have survived whatever gave that to you," Tony heard himself say distantly. He wasn't an expert on wounds, but that had been right over Steven's heart.
Steven merely shrugged. "The healers did their jobs."
Fucking magic. Still, Tony found that in this case, he couldn't be too ungrateful for it. It unnerved him, but modern medicine wouldn't have been able to heal that and Steven was too much like his Steve for Tony to not be selfishly glad he'd been saved. Even if the wound did kind of haunt him.
The dragon, as if sensing his thoughts were about Steven, nipped at his ear. Not hard enough to damage, but enough to make his displeasure known.
"Ow! You ungrateful little..." Tony said, glaring at the dragon who merely sent back feelings of hunger.
Steven laughed, and it was a good thing to hear after the grief Tony had seen on his face last night. "Jealousy and hunger does not mix well, little one. Careful, lest your hide turns green."
"Don't antagonize him," Tony said with a sigh, scratching the hissing dragon's eye ridges.
"Not before breakfast, at least," Steven agreed, paying no mind to the dragon's anger.
He followed Tony back to their camp. Tony restarted the fire while Steven skinned a rabbit to add to the stew from last night. He hadn't seen the rabbit earlier, but he was going to assume magic had nothing to do with it. It was big, and there was a lot of blood that Tony was trying not to think about. "Where did you get that?" Tony asked, trying not to be too repulsed by the sight. He was going to be eating it, after all.
"Caught her this morning. I figured our friend would appreciate the meat." As if to prove it, he threw a piece of it near Tony. The dragonet was off Tony's shoulder in a heart beat, gobbling down the meat and licking up the juices in a way Tony decided he wasn't going to think about.
Tony found that his hypothesis of being tired of stew was being proven right, but at least it was better fare than he had gotten in Afghanistan. He very nearly lost his appetite anyway watching the dragon tear into the rabbit, but he forced himself to eat.
"Have you thought of a name for him yet?" Steven asked.
"I..." Tony looked down at the dragon, then quickly turned away. The rabbit was still recognizable. "Argentum?"
He got a wave of scorn as Steven laughed. "I do not think he liked that name."
Tony closed his eyes and stuck his tongue out in the direction of the dragon. He sensed amusement. "I don't know then. High-ho, Silver? The moon is silver, right? Twilight?"
He got images of teenaged vampires and a firm no. "Hey! Don't pick references out of my head! I wasn't thinking about that," Tony said with a pout, though on second thought, he had to agree with the dragon.
"How about Astron?" Steven suggested.
There was a grudging approval from the dragon at this. "Really? You don't even like him, but you'll accept his names?" Tony asked.
"My suggestion is more befitting a dragon," Steven said with a smirk.
Astron settled on Tony's shoulder, tail wrapping around his neck possessively. "Oh, sure. Take his name and then expect love from me. I see how it is. I should call you Quick Silver. He was a brat too."
The dragon snuggled an apology, but repeated that his name was Astron. Tony sighed. He'd rather liked Argentum too.
"Your bond grows well," Steven said, a hint of wistful sorrow in his voice. "It is a good match, even if I've never seen one so fast."
"This bond," Tony said hesitantly. "How far does it go? Will he always wake me up to feed him?"
That gained Tony a small smile. "You will never be alone again," Steven replied, saying words that rocked Tony to the core without realizing he'd struck a nerve. "And you will know his thoughts as he grows older, and he yours. He'll make your life longer as well."
"What?" Tony had the feeling he should be more disturbed by the fact he'd never have his thoughts to himself, but never being alone? After the battle of New York, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. He was used to being alone in his workshop, but he talked to JARVIS constantly and had Dummy and You wandering about. The thought of being truly alone still scared him.
Living longer, that was also hard to believe. How would the dragon...
"You already look about ten years younger than you did when you arrived here," Steven replied.
Tony started, looking at Astron's whirling eyes. They were a smug, deep blue that Tony wasn't sure what to make of. "I..." he said, then stopped, wishing he had a mirror. Now that he thought about it, he'd felt better than he had in years, and that was after a night of sleeping on the ground. He should be sore and achy from yesterday's trek and his rocky bed.
"It's true," Steven said. "You'll be teaching him language skills soon, among other things. But it goes two ways. It wouldn't have worked if you hadn't accepted the bond. You may not have known what he'd give you, but you agreed to it."
Tony wondered about that. "It's hard to say no when that much..." he trailed off, unable to vocalize the sheer amount of feeling that Astron was sending him, even now.
"I do wonder how he formed such a strong bond with you so quickly," Steven said quietly, almost too softly for Tony to hear.
Or why at all. It wasn't like Tony had a winning personality. And there was still so much darkness that clouded around him from his past that he had to fix...
The tail around his tightened around his neck, not threateningly, but comfortingly, as Astron snuggled up against him. Images of Tony with the light in his chest hit him, glowing brighter than the arc reactor ever had. His hand automatically went up to his chest that now only had scars, not the reactor's casing. "I'm not..." he started to say, trying to look down at the little dragon. But Astron was too close to his neck to see properly.
"Whatever he's showing you, I doubt he'll be moved," Steven said with a grin. "His eyes are a determined brown. He's not backing down."
"I don't know what to do with any of this," Tony admitted.
"Then do nothing and accept that he loves you," Steven replied. "Enjoy the bond, for it is a special gift."
Tony reached up, stroking along Astron's long neck. He got a pleased hum, and he hesitantly sent back some of the warmth that Astron gave him in spades. He wasn't all that good at it, but the dragon didn't seem to mind.
"The stone..." Steven said, looking at Tony with an expectant expression.
Tony pulled it out of his pocket, turning it over in his hands. He'd forgotten all about it. "I still have it. What do we do with it? It's not like I can plug it in and use it as a battery."
Steven nodded, then pointed to a near by rock. "Strike them against each other, but be careful."
This reeked of magic. Tony took the stone grudgingly, not wanting to do as Steven said. But Steven for some reason wouldn't touch Mjölnir, so that meant he had to try it for himself.
Carefully, he hit the two stones together, nearly dropping them at the spark it caused. But it wasn't fire. It was... "Lightning," Tony said, looking down at the stone in his hand. Thor's lightning.
"Will it work to power your gauntlet?" Steven asked.
Tony didn't need JARVIS to answer that one. "It'll give me plenty of power," he said, putting the stone away in his pack next to the gauntlet. He didn't want to lose that.
Steven looked at the sun, which was getting quite high in the east. "Good. We should begin moving soon, or we won't make the next campsite. The dragon's den is a two day journey from here."
Tony groaned inwardly, then helped clean the pot and dishes. There was a little stream not too far off that they used to freshen up and restock their water. By this point, Astron had fallen into a deep sleep against his neck. "Is this normal?" he asked, glad that he wasn't also feeling tired.
"He is young and the bond is new," Steven replied. "Do not worry. He won't spend all of his time between gluttony and sloth. Forming the bond is tiresome for one so young."
Tony just hoped that they'd all survive this encounter with the big dragon so he could find out for himself.
* * *
Astron woke around noon, drowsily chirping from his perch on Tony's neck. The trail was hard through the overgrown forest, and Tony could only spare a short caress in acknowledgement. He was bruised and scratched from all the tree branches and bushes that he hadn't quite avoided, even with Steven's help. Steven, of course, didn't look even a little dirty. And no, Tony wasn't resentful.
Okay, maybe a little.
Astron chirped, his eyes swirling a playful mix of bright colors. He launched himself from Tony's shoulder, flying up into the trees. "What was that about?" he asked.
Steven shrugged. "We should keep going. He will find us again."
Tony wasn't too worried, since he could still feel Astron's presence in his mind. The dragon was definitely up to something, but Tony couldn't tell what.
That is, until a nest of some sort dropped right on Steven's head.
Steven automatically drew his sword, twisting around to face the attacker. Tony himself only caught a brief flash of silver and a pulse of merriment through the bond. "Um, that wasn't me," he said, straining not to laugh.
Steven put two and two together, then sighed, sheathing his sword. He started to brush the twigs and egg shells out of his hair, only to have another handful (or clawful) of leaves thrown on him. "You little..."
Tony doubled over laughing, because the look of indignation on Steven's face was priceless. He'd only just managed to stop laughing when a bunch of half crushed berries dropped on Steven, the juices turning his hair a light purple where they touched.
"If you could stop braying like an ass, you could control him," Steven said, trying to wipe away the berries and only creating a bigger mess.
By this point, Tony was pretty much in tears, so stopping Astron was out of the question.
Then Steven got a wicked gleam in his eyes, standing perfectly still. Tony wiped away the tears, a little worried about what Steven was planning. When Tony saw the tell-tale silver coming from above, Steven was the one who moved faster than Tony could follow. Before Tony could blink, Steven had a hissing Astron by the right wing, holding the dragon at arm's length to avoid the claws. He could feel Astron's annoyance, but Steven's smug, lopsided grin was ruined by the purple still dripping down his face.
"Your dragon," Steven said, handing over the hissing creature.
Tony stifled another laugh as he took the eggs from Astron's claws and scratched his eye ridges. "No, no clawing Steven. Be nice," he said, though he sent faint approval as he looked up to see Steven once again battling the berry juice. "Don't worry. I'm sure you'll get the better of him soon."
Steven raised an eyebrow at him, and Tony was reminded of his Steve so painfully that it hurt. Astron gave a small chirp, his eyes swirling red with anger as he looked at Steven.
"No. It's not something he's done to hurt me," Tony whispered, trying to calm the dragon down. "It's okay. Don't hurt him."
He felt Astron's tongue flickering behind his ear in an apology, and this time, Tony felt more of an annoyed tolerance for Steven as the man stepped closer. "He doesn't like you all that much," Tony said, baffled by their continued rivalry.
"He should realize I'm not a threat to your affections," Steven said, giving up on getting the berry juice out of his hair with a sigh. "Though I am a little hurt you don't try to soothe my ego as well."
"You won in the end," Tony said, forcing a smile to his face. He didn't really feel it, but Astron sent some of his earlier laughter back to him, and that helped. "Come on. There's bound to be a river around here somewhere, though admittedly purple is a good look on you. It's royal."
"You think so?" Steven asked. He leaned forward, closer into Tony's personal space. If he didn't know any better, he'd have said Steven was leaning in for a kiss, and Tony was a little breathless at the thought. But Steven didn't kiss him. Instead, he squished some of the berries against Tony's nose before Tony had time to step back.
"Hey!" Tony shouted, trying to wipe the berries off and getting purple all over his hands. "You're sneakier than people give you credit for. That's not fair."
"I think it suits you," Steven said, laughing softly. "Come, we both look ridiculous now. Let us find a stream to wash the berries away."
Tony only paused to move Astron to his shoulder, getting purple finger prints on Astron's flank that he knew would end up on his neck as well. The tail wrapping around him now was both welcome and startlingly familiar though, so Tony didn't mind as much.
How much was this little dragon going to change him?