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Bright Lights and Cigarettes

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The Beverly Hills mansion behind them was lit up like a Christmas tree, all sparkle and glowing white elegance, one of those places that made it real obvious why it was people like these who gave Hollywood the nickname 'Tinseltown'. Practically a fairytale palace.

Mind you, the flashing beacons from the four or so cop cars out front were putting a bit of a dent in the ambiance right about now. But hey, that's life for ya.

"So, Laufeysson," Tony murmured, propping himself on the fender beside his partner to watch the body being hauled out and loaded into the meat wagon. "Make you nostalgic for the life of the rich and famous, does it?"

Loki shot him a fulminating glare. He had a towel full of ice pressed to the left side of his face in an attempt to soothe the truly spectacular shiner that was blooming under it, and an expression fit to put the frights up a stone-cold killer. Which Tony was not, for the record. What he was, though, was experienced enough with Loki's moods not to immediately fear for his life, despite not being the toughest guy who'd ever fallen on the wrong side of that glare.

But then, Tony was special, wasn't he? They were partners, and while that didn't necessarily guarantee anything with someone as off the track as Loki, especially not when their partnership had started out with them trying to plug each other, Tony was pretty sure that if Loki had ever been planning to kill him, he'd have done it while back, and a lot of complications ago.

So instead of quailing, he smirked into the glare that had made some of the hardest hoods in L.A. tremble, and offered his partner a nice cigarette to go with his split lip and swelling face. He even lit the match for him, like a real gent, and silently offered a shoulder to prop the man up as they leaned on the hood. Around them, in the white and blue glare of the lights, coppers in cheap suits milled around with panicky socialites in glad rags, and rubbernecking newshawks with more cameras than cares. Down the center of the drive, bulling through the middle of the mess, four thick-necked flatties led a man in bracelets towards the prison van, while a woman with more ice around her neck than you'd find in Antarctica trailed tearfully after them.

The perfect L.A. evening, in short. Two battered gum-shoes, a small army of cops, and a glamorous murder under the bright lights of Beverly Hills.

"... That'd be me, you know," Loki said suddenly, blowing out a plume of smoke and waving his cigarette lazily towards the murderer and his little escort. He glanced sideways at Tony, an odd little smirk on his mug. "Your question. Nostalgia for the life of the rich and famous. If I'd've stayed there, sooner or later ... that would have been me."

He took another drag while Tony stared at him, a glitter in his eyes that was less like tinsel and more like gunshine, a soft challenge in the deliberately easy rest of his shoulder against Tony's. Nothing new, as such. Old news, when their first meeting had involved Loki's knife ending up in Tony's shoulder. But definitely a more blatant acknowledgement that they usually went for.

"Of course," he went on, meditatively. "I like to think I'd have been classier about it. That I'd have gotten off scot free, or at the very least given a better show of it. Given the papers something to really chew on. You know?"

Tony blinked for a second, and then reached across to snag the cigarette from his partner's hand and pop it in his own mouth. Tasting blood from Loki's lip on the butt and grinning suddenly, blackly, around it. "I know," he said. "You'd have been the murderer of the century, sunshine. I've no doubt about that."

Loki sneered, bright and happy, and stole back the cigarette to wrap his lips around it and taste Tony in turn, a long, slow drag of that lethal mouth. He flashed a grin, the implication bright and clear from one gunsel to another, sitting pretty in the shadows away from the glare of the lights. A promise for later.

... Like Tony said. If they'd been planning to kill each other, once upon a time, it had been a lot of complications ago.

"What about you?" Loki asked, rough and lazy as the van doors clanged shut across from them, and the first of the cop cars started trying to nose its way through the crowd down the drive. "You ever miss the life, Mr Stark? Wish you'd stayed in the lights, instead of wandering down into purgatory with the likes of me?"

And for all the lazy confidence of him, there was a flicker of something almost shy in that bruised face, a touch of seriousness in what should have been an idle question. Tony looked away, eyes creasing in something that only looked like humour, as one hand idly drifted over the twin scars beneath his vest. The mark Loki'd left on his shoulder, and an older one, much older, almost exactly over his heart.

"Nah," he said softly, leaning just a little bit more solidly against the other man. "If I'd've stayed there, Laufeysson, I wouldn't be in the bracelets. I'd be in the meat wagon." He looked over, flashed a strained little grin as the smile faded on Loki's features. "All in all, I reckon the shadows turned out to be the healthier option. Don't you?"

Loki didn't answer. Instead, silently, he held out the cigarette, his eyes dark and glittering and possessive on Tony's face. And when Tony's hand fumbled a bit as the meat wagon trundled gently past, Loki reached out with delicate fingers and steadied it.

Like a real gent.