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Loki wakes with the acute realization he’s been here before. 

The sharp throbbing in the back of his head pulls a groan from him, unbidden, and he squeezes his face back into what he assumes is a pillow.

It’s not the dizzying buzz that comes with a hangover; he’s been there, done that enough times in the past few months to know the difference. When you nearly get your head bashed in, however, and give in to the sweet numbness of unconsciousness, the pain is different: like lying sprawled on the ground with the aftershocks of a nearby explosion.

Loki squeezes his eyes shut until his temples burn with the effort. So he’d gotten hit in the head — nothing new. Though the pillow itself doesn’t seem familiar, and he curls his fingers into the sheets only to find they feel just as foreign.

Updated version of events: he’d gotten hit in the head, passed out, and woke up in a strange bed — tragically, he thinks, also nothing new.

He’s been couch surfing — inasmuch as you could use the term to describe his volatile traversing through the galaxy, seeking out trouble and instigating problems for his personal amusement — ever since his departure from Midgard. It’s been an acceptable cure for boredom, however temporary; with some drinking involved, some fighting, a bit of blood and a great deal of —

Loki blinks into the pillow.

— a great deal of sex.

There’s something missing, a familiar warmth at his side. The realization trickles into his concussed mess of a brain.

At some point, he’d brought on a companion: in part to aid him in his asskickery, in part for the wickedness that followed. They’d spend nights together, then go their separate ways, later roll around back to each other, stumbling, drinking, fucking, leaving. And again, and again. Like magnets on the fritz — drawn to each other, yet pushing each other away. Stupid, fearful magnets, daunted by the oh-so-dangerous prospect of accidental attachment. 

Loki lifts his head as steadily as he can, trying to avoid an onslaught of nausea. There’s stars swirling in the corners of his vision already; the last thing he wants is to keel over and vomit. He doesn’t know where he is or who he’s with, and his head aches with the effort of keeping his eyes open — it’s only rational to evaluate potential threats in such a position of weakness.

The timing is impeccable, really, when the wooden creak comes from somewhere behind him.

“Oh, goody, you’re awake.”

The familiar voice grates at his skull in a paradoxically pleasant manner. Threat level: still debatable.

It’s by sheer force of will that Loki repositions himself from his face-down sprawl, his body screaming in loud, violent protest. He props himself up on his forearms, ignoring the ache in his muscles and the way his fingertips tremble against the linen, and pushes himself onto one side, then onto his back. He flops onto the pillow with little grace and spits at the lock of hair that gets stuck to his lips. His throat feels dry; he craves water, or perhaps something more potent to dull the headache.

The voice doesn’t speak again, instead waiting for Loki to gather his bearings and peel his eyes open.

He tries and physically jerks at the gleam of sunlight, squeezing his eyelids shut to recoil from the brightness. It just adds to the list: he’s pretty sure there’s no longer a single spot on his body that doesn’t hurt, but he’ll be damned if he lets himself curl back up under the covers and give his dear companion the opportunity to bodily haul him out of bed and poke fun at him.

He blinks rapidly to make the transition less painful, and eventually focuses more or less on the sight in front of him. There’s a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows to his right, crystal clear and perfectly spotless. The sun beats down without mercy, flooding through the glass and lighting up the room with a beautiful glow. Or so it would be, minus the headache it aggravates. The sheets pooled around him are crisp and so white it startles him, how long he’s spent without a proper bed or sheets clean enough as not to be dubbed a health hazard.

Loki vaguely recognizes the apartment. He blames the gaps in his memory on the concussion.

It’s empty, sparsely furnished in tones of white and gray, dark hardwood flooring spanning the length of the room. It rings a bell, the bland color of the walls, how tall the ceiling is, how soft the pillows.

He must be frowning like a petulant child, because Valkyrie scoffs at him from her spot by the far wall, amused. Loki shifts his gaze in her direction.

She’s wrapped in a towel, hair damp and flowing down her back. It comes as another surprise — the places they crash at (sometimes literally: crashing as a result of inconvenient explosions, or straight through doors with their lips on each other) rarely have functioning showers, let alone bathrooms stocked with supplies.

He blinks again, like it’s going to help him remember.

“Where are we?” 

Valkyrie cocks her head as if to shake water from a clogged ear and opens her mouth to answer, then scrunches her nose up in an unreadable half-frown and clamps it shut. She flicks her gaze to the expanse of the city beyond the window. 

“I don’t know.”

The answer doesn’t bode well. 

“What happened?”

That brings a condescending twist to her lips. “Well, we were going to rent a room and get trashed in the inn on Vanaheim after your job, but everything went south when you started talking, as it usually does.”

Loki considers that; it sounds right — distant, foggy, in the back of his mind. He almost grasps the memory but it unravels again with another sharp twinge of pain at the base of his skull. 

A harsh grunt slips past his usually admirable self-control as he maneuvers himself into a half-sitting slouch against the headboard, trying to appear less wrecked than he feels.

“And then what?”

Valkyrie’s eyes widen and she scoffs. “Damn, he really got you good.”

“Who? Got me — what?

“See, dear,” she starts, her words dripping profuse sarcasm, “if you’d bothered to tell me your plan beforehand, then maybe one, I could explain the logistics of the whole mess to you in great detail now, or two, it could’ve been avoided entirely.”

Loki looks at her with his lips pursed. He’s surprised to feel a sudden wave of regret in his ribcage — she’s right, he should have told her. He cannot deny the degree of trust forming between them, the way it builds up brick by brick with each biting exchange and bruising kiss. It seems that spending so many nights with someone at your side often carries unintentional side effects: trusting the other not to bury a dagger in your back as you sleep, or worse yet, trusting them to protect you from someone else doing so. 

Still, Loki’s more mischievous plans are his own business, and it hadn't been his intention to drag her along to a gunfight with a gang of angered Kronans in the first place.

The memory blinks into existence again, and promptly disappears before Loki’s consciousness can chase it down.

“Anyway,” Valkyrie goes on. She’s closer now, edging towards the bed in slow, calculated steps that remind Loki of his own. “You met with the merchant and everything seemed to be going fine, until he miraculously snapped out from under your bullshit enchantment and realized he was being scammed. Then, he sent his cronies after you — us, whatever — and we put up an impressive fight up to the moment where got distracted by something and the biggest one bludgeoned your head in. I got him back for it, don’t worry.”

She finishes with a sweet, sarcastic smile meant to berate Loki on his poor life decisions. 

It takes a moment, but the general picture swims into focus in Loki’s mind. Distracted. Right. A huge guy with a huge club about to knock Valkyrie off her feet. Loki blasting him to bits before he swings it down. An agonizing crack at the back of his head, then nothing.

“You say I was — incapacitated. What are we doing here?” he asks when the ending of the tale refuses to come back to him. “This certainly doesn't look like Vanaheim.”

Making the final, damning move, Valkyrie gets up onto the bed, swinging one leg over both of Loki’s. He ends up immobilized, with a tantalizing lapful of cruelly underdressed temptation. 

She reaches out and takes Loki’s head in her hands; turns it one way then the other as if to gauge the degree of the damage. Loki lets himself be manhandled with little complaint. He’s too weak to push her off, and they both know it. 

“Fuck if I know. You were half delirious when you opened up the pathway, barely keeping your eyes open. You could hardly stand of your own accord. In hindsight, the possibility of ending up in the pits of Helheim seemed plausible with the way you were stumbling, but I followed you in anyway, and here we are.”

“Where exactly is here?”

She’s surprisingly gentle in resting his head back against the headboard, like she’s worried it’d roll back and crack open without her support. Her hands drop to her lap.

“You tell me, Loki. We arrived right here and you collapsed the second the portal closed — out like a light. For a moment, I thought you’d gone and died. The, uh, the shower is nice, though. Whatever this world is, I could do with a few more places like it.”

Loki dares a glance past Valkyrie, at the window. He breathes a shaky exhale and fights the sneaking suspicion that they’d landed in the one place he’s actively tried to avoid since his escape from Thor’s warm embrace. The skyline sure suits the image.

He considers reaching out with his magic to decipher where the hell they’d ended up, and stops short. He’s impossibly weary, all the way down to the bone, and the core of his very being trembles at the prospect of getting drained of its essence even further. It’s almost insulting, that he has to do the work manually instead.

Making to move, Loki motions at Valkyrie with a tilt of his head. It’s a soundless plea for her to get off him and spare him the indignity of failing to shove her off in his powerless state. 

She lifts her weight off him and rolls onto her back in a comfortable sprawl. She’s a tease even when she’s not trying to be one, and Loki bites down on reeling thoughts of a far more carnal nature — important matters have to come first: like dealing with the accursed head trauma and determining their exact location.

He bites back a whimper as he pushes himself into a sitting position; he wobbles but doesn’t fall. He’s out of his armor, at least. He almost thanks Valkyrie for getting it off him at some point in the night, then notices her humored expression at watching him stumble off the bed and thinks better of it.

He manages to stand, one hand flat against the nearest wall to keep his knees from buckling under him— his head spins and he feels seconds away from crumpling to the ground, and it’s an exceptionally pathetic notion. He’s been through far worse, he can survive a meager headache.

“Now, your skull might be fractured,” Valkyrie says as an afterthought, “I wouldn’t know. You should get it checked out.”

She watches him from her spot on the bed, flat on her back but head craned just enough for wary eyes to follow his every move, like she’s ready to spring up and catch him if he topples.

Loki bites his lip hard enough to sting, but not quite hard enough to draw blood. He lifts his hand off the wall and braces himself for the potential impact, in case his muscles falter and he slams face first into the floor. For all her poorly veiled compassion, he doubts Valkyrie would actually soften his descent.

The impact, blessedly, doesn’t come.

He shuffles to the window in hesitant baby steps. The outside world comes into view, and Loki has to blink past the irksome sunlight before the sight focuses. There’s a forest of tall and even taller buildings ranging as far as he can see: a concrete landscape of dull gray and polished chrome; and it’s accompanied by the unavoidable surge of hot anxiety burning like acid through his chest.

It’s almost poetic, how his hasty escape ultimately led him right back to where he started. Loki swears under his breath in a foreign tongue— screw fate, or destiny, or whatever the fuck else that drove him full-circle.

In the end, he’s not even that surprised by the turn of events. The day had to come sometime or another.

“Well, then,” he says, with a flair of dramatic finality like it’s a life sentence with no parole, “welcome to New York.”

 

/

 

In all the time it takes to get dressed and make an attempt at looking presentable without passing out midway, the seemingly significant fact that the majority of Earth’s population knows Loki solely as a mass murdering, extraterrestrial war criminal and would gladly see him publicly disemboweled seems to slip his mind. Blessedly, he manages to go unrecognized during the short walk —  teleportation, unfortunately, is socially frowned upon in these parts — to their preferred breakfast location.

His magic starts trickling back in along with the feeling in his legs, and he makes a special effort to fashion himself and Valkyrie a few more mortal-looking pieces of attire, absently noting that the whole armor and leather regalia tended to turn too many curious heads.

Bitter acceptance ends up being a strategically smarter move than magicking open a new portal and skedaddling off to fuck knows where whilst dead on his feet, and Loki figures it’s high time to suck it up and deal with what life throws at him head on, instead of blowing it to bits.

Which is how they end up at McDonald’s. 

It’s early enough to for them to order off the breakfast menu, though Loki would’ve found a way to get his bacon bagel regardless, through magic or, worst case scenario, homicide.

He pokes around in his coffee with the little wooden mixing stick, too busy attempting not to fall asleep to pick at his half eaten breakfast lying abandoned on the tabletop. In terms of lasting effects, the skull injury isn't catastrophic — though it supplies a horrid headache that lingers and refuses to subside.

Idly, he watches Valkyrie unwrap her third burger of the morning. His focus swims and distantly he feels himself zoning out again, tries to blink back to awareness only to fail miserably. It’s like weeks of exhaustion and poor self-care, minimal rest and heavy drinking had all come crashing down with the conveniently timed blow of the Kronan’s club on Vanaheim. Loki can’t find anyone to blame but himself, no matter how hard he wants to.

Valkyrie looks up at him every now and again to make sure he’s alive, and it’s a daunting thought: of the two of them, he’s usually the more perceptive one, the one to sniff out danger before it even rears its ugly head. And now, he’s being checked up on like a helpless child. It’s strangely nice, though, that she cares just enough to occasionally glance up from her breakfast. 

Even so, their whole arrangement still borders on casual. They’d come to a wordless mutual decision, weeks back, never to cross the line into uncharted territory — catching feelings would be an issue; a weakness, a big shiny opportunity for others to manipulate and use against them.

Yet despite their efforts, the whole attempt at emotional distance was doomed to fail from the start. They’re both damaged goods looking to heal, but they keep up the pretense of detachment for the sake of appearances.

As such, Loki had brought them here — the perfect location for not coming off as romantic. 

“You’re still pretty dazed, aren't you?”

“Hm?” Loki hums absently and lifts his head in her direction without removing his eyes from the foam swimming over the surface of his coffee. His fingers twitch around the paper cup and he blinks forcefully to tear his gaze away.

“You’re completely out of it,” Valkyrie adds, pointing out the obvious. 

“I got my head bashed in.”

“Don’t be a baby. You said yourself: nothing’s fractured, no damaged nerves.”

“It still hurts.”

“Baby,” Valkyrie repeats, and happily turns her attention back to her burger.

Loki can’t find the strength to wipe the fond smile off his face, instead praying she doesn’t notice. It’s almost worrying how often he finds himself doing so these days.

“Do you want anything else?” he asks eventually, intrigued at the sheer volume of breakfast food intake taking place before his very eyes. Granted, they’d skipped dinner the previous night due to unforeseen club-wielding circumstances, but her appetite is still impressive.

Valkyrie, of course, responds with her mouth full: “You’ve hardly touched anything.”

“I fear it would come right back up if I tried.”

She swallows and makes a careless sound in the back of her throat. “Suit yourself. I’m good.”

The food serves as a pleasant distraction for the questions dancing through her mind, though ultimately the curiosity gets the better of her. She swallows and crumples the wrapper with the hand she isn't using to wipe the corners of her mouth.

“I wasn’t going to ask, but I ought to, about why you carry around Earth currency, or why you have a perfectly lavish apartment here to your name. Or whatever name you used to acquire it.”

Loki cocks his head. “What you’re saying is, you’ve no trouble wrapping your head around the concept of me opening inter-dimensional pathways, or the sheer amount of blood on my hands, or my past dalliances with attempted world domination — that it’s the apartment that vexes you most?”

“And the helmet — ” Valkyrie says offhandedly, seriously. She crooks two fingers and puts them up to her forehead. “ — with the, uh, horns.”

Nonplussed, Loki raises an eyebrow.

Valkyrie lets her hands fall back onto the surface of the table in concession. “You’ve always been very open about your dislike for Midgard. It’s just odd that you’d come here willingly.”

Loki finds he doesn’t have an answer to that. He can’t explain what it is that continuously draws him to the wretched planet, over and over again, calling him like it’s supposed to mean something to him. 

“You’re too quiet.”

“I’m fine.”

“Talk to me.”

Loki’s brow creases. “What?”

“Anything — just start talking, so you don’t go brain dead on me. I don’t know, explain the apartment.”

“It’s not a very interesting story.”

Valkyrie groans. “Can you, for once, do as you’re told?”

Loki considers briefly, that perhaps the aggressive nagging is her attempt at concern. She’s making sure he’s truly alright by ascertaining just how well he can string together a sentence.

He fixes her with a long look, and gives in. “I played Odin for a few years, you know the story. It got boring on Asgard, between getting waited on hand and foot and pretending I had any real concern for politics, so I travelled. Took my leave every now and again for days at a time when Odin wasn’t needed too desperately, stirred the pot, dabbled in inter-realm relations.”

“You said no politics.”

“Well, there’s a difference between diplomacy and sightseeing, for lack of a better word,” Loki says with a tilt of his head. “Other realms have always fascinated me. In my youth I learned to create and perfect my pathways while Thor and all the rest stayed stagnant, pummeled the shit out of each other for sport and good fun. I was curious. I learned which realms are too hot for my liking, which are lawless and chaotic, or on which it’s illegal to wear socks, and so on.”

There’s a loud slurp from across the table and Loki finds Valkyrie pouting at her now empty cup of Coca-Cola — another newfound favorite of hers, up on the list alongside junk food and sweatpants.

She clears her throat, and asks dubiously. “And this explains the apartment?”

Loki curls his lip. “I’m getting to the point.”

“Because it sounds like you’re droning on about something else entirely,” Valkyrie teases. “They’ve got healers here, no? Maybe you ought to check your head after all.”

“I’d gone down to Midgard a few times in the past two years, among my other travels,” Loki continues. He pays no mind to Valkyrie’s pseudo-mocking interlude. “I don’t altogether know why. Always New York — like I was missing something. Muscle memory, I don’t know.”

Valkyrie watches Loki curiously. In turn he looks back at her, oddly vulnerable with the ghost of a distant frown lining his face.

He goes on. “Eventually I got my hands on the apartment, for the sake of comfort. I’m not particularly fond of this realm, no, but I found myself here often enough to warrant a residence. You said yourself, the shower’s a bonus. As well as the news reports on the television — just last year I caught a glimpse of the Avengers caught in a very public, very nasty spat amongst themselves. I almost intervened to see how they’d react, but I was presumed dead at the time. Ultimately, it would’ve upset the whole balance I’d tried to craft for myself.”

The mention of the Avengers seems to snap Valkyrie to attention. It’s like a lightbulb comes on over her head, and she clasps her hands together in realization.

“Right. Since we’re here, I ought to go see Thor.”

“No," Loki snaps immediately. He flinches, as if surprised by his own voice.

Valkyrie glances up at him sharply. If he were anyone else, she’d be swinging herself over the table and roundhouse kicking him across the linoleum for daring to tell her no.

“I owe him an explanation,” she says, her tone a practiced sort of calm, “for leaving.”

“What’s there to explain? You popped off for a drink.”

“It’s been months.”

“A few drinks, then.”

“You said, very clearly — though you may have been drunk at the time, but my point still stands — that you and Thor hugged and made up. So, what’s the big problem with stopping by to say hello?”

Loki, again, finds himself speechless in the face of Valkyrie’s perfectly sound reasoning. It’s some subconscious prejudice, tucked away in the back of his mind, that shuts him down at any mention of his brother.

She leans forward, elbows on the table, drawing Loki to meet her eyes. “Another thing you did say, that this tower of — whatever his name is — has particularly comfortable beds.”

Loki feels a twinge of something hot and inviting at the implication. Valkyrie’s smiling up at him, eyes narrowed and sparkling, trying to seduce him into doing her bidding. Usually, it works like a charm. This time around, Loki suddenly jolts at the hidden meaning behind the suggestion.

“Beds?” he asks slowly. “Do you want to say hi or spend the night? Those are two wildly different proposals, neither of which I’m a fan of. To be perfectly honest, the latter is entirely out of the question.”

She shrugs in apparent nonchalance. “What’s the harm? I thought they didn’t want to kill you anymore.”

Loki leans back into the plastic chair like all the fight’s gone out of him.

“They? You want to meet the Avengers?”

Valkyrie leans forward even more, chasing after him with a vicious grin. “Oh, I’d love to meet the Avengers.” 

It’s only natural for someone who loves poking fun at Loki as much as her to want to meet the mismatched team responsible for his most infamous humiliation.

The thought of it happening sends a poorly controlled spark of irrational rage through Loki’s bloodstream. He has no right to keep her all to himself, let alone dictate her decisions, but he can’t help that he wants to. He especially doesn’t want to share her with Earth’s most annoying heroes.

He holds eye contact, watching Valkyrie go from unimpressed to outright challenging — daring him to refuse her. He knows very well she’d knock him on his ass in seconds if she caught a single glimpse of his unreasonably possessive thoughts.

He unfolds his palms, undoing the tightly wound fists he’d clenched them into, and counts down from ten in his head — weighing the possible alternative outcomes. 

In the end, he accepts that between the two of them, he's never been the one calling the shots.

Loki swallows, and takes his coffee to go.

 

/

 

There is never an uninteresting day in the life of Tony Stark — between the barely avoided apocalypses and numerous fascinating housemates shoved among hours of incessant tinkering, there’s little room for overthinking trivial matters like boredom.

Sometimes, even, megalomaniac princes from outer space override the main elevator and show up in the communal floor living room uninvited.

Tony chokes on his coffee.

“Oh, look. Our favorite psychotic murderer is back.”

Thor whips around from his spot on the couch. He’d been sitting with his back to the elevator door and had initially mistaken Tony’s sputtering breakdown for yet another eccentricity. 

It’s just the two of them in the room, Tony and Thor, but Loki can’t help the unsettled feeling creeping under every inch of his skin. He didn’t think he’d be back in the tower so soon, and the only reason he hadn’t gone straight for his floor was Valkyrie’s inexplicable desire to meet the team as soon as possible.

“Loki,” Thor breathes, and it’s a sound of such raw relief it makes Loki’s chest clench up. He fixes Thor with a decidedly neutral air of politeness and hopes he can avoid the bone-crushing hug this time around.

“Sparkles,” he greets, and Thor’s appalled surprise is rewarding enough to fuel Loki for the next few millennia. 

“I’m never going to sleep soundly again,” Tony announces then, and sets his mug down. “You cloaked yourself from the cameras and overrode the security protocols without breaking a sweat, you crafty bastard.”

Thor notices Valkyrie behind Loki and refocuses his attention. At the same time, so does Tony. 

“ — and you brought a friend.”

She looks almost wary in anticipation of Thor’s reaction. Then his face splits into a grin and she huffs a sigh of relief that only Loki seems to notice, before mirroring the expression.

Thor stands and twitches like he means to hug her, before forcing himself still. It jolts Loki, the realization that both him and Valkyrie have a tendency to deter Thor from physical contact — they’re equally prickly that way.

“I did not think you’d ever come back,” Thor says honestly.

“Neither did I,” Valkyrie responds, just as honestly. “You can thank your brother for that. Sort of — ” she corrects herself upon catching a glimpse of Loki’s outraged frown, “ — it’s nothing more than a convenient accident that we’re here, actually.”

“I never thought I’d see the two of you side by side without knives at each others’ throats.”

Loki looks to Thor, then makes a special effort to enhance the unnerving quality of his smirk, and locks eyes with Tony. “I didn’t think Stark would take kindly to knives on his premises. Especially not in my hands.”

Tony shoots off a pair of finger guns in agreement. “You got that right. Who are you?”

He directs the last part at Valkyrie, who regards him like a vulture would their prey, albeit more curious than carnivorous. 

Thor answers in her stead. “This right here is the warrior who aided us in the battle for Asgard. May I suggest you not get on her bad side.” 

Tony wolf-whistles. “Oh, the, uh — ”

“Valkyrie,” Valkyrie supplies.

“Valkyrie,” Tony echoes. “You two need a place to crash? Some sort of honeymoon suite? Or are you being chased by intergalactic cosmic beasts and hope to seek refuge in my humble abode? Because in that case I’ll have to turn you down on account of not endangering the other houseguests.”

Like it’s the talkativeness that does it, Valkyrie says: “You must be Tony Stark.”

Tony pulls back, lifting a hand to his chest in faux shock. “Goodness, the elite of the galaxy knows who I am; be still my heart.”

Loki, watching the exchange with distaste from a few steps away, bites at the inside of his cheek to stop himself from snapping (or snapping Tony’s neck for good measure) and politely excusing himself to sulk upstairs. His head reels from the earlier trauma and the heightened feeling of exertion following sneaking himself and Valkyrie into the tower unseen.

He hadn't wanted to deal with the uniformed security staff at the front desk, or explain to the disembodied voice in the elevator that he had precisely zero murderous intentions this time around, and his visit was purely a social courtesy.

“Your name’s come up in the conversation already,” Loki snaps. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

Tony clicks his tongue. “Testy.”

Loki, as per usual, takes great offense at being patronized by the likes of Tony Stark. “It’s like you want me to attempt the stunt with the window again.”

“Brother — ” Thor warns, like that single word could stop Loki from smashing Tony through the glass before anyone could move a muscle.

“No, we’re good here,” Tony assures him, patting one of Thor’s arms right below the sleeve of his t-shirt. “We’re all good, aren’t we, Rudolph? Or should I assemble the Avengers?”

Loki sets his jaw, and it takes him a second longer than it should to realize Tony’s bluffing and stringing him along for the sake of theatricality. He's almost impressed.

He smirks at Tony, sharp and dangerous. “All good.”

Valkyrie looks from Tony to Loki like she understands their particular brand of humor better than Thor, like Loki’s clued her in on things Thor has never been privy to. Thor, in his defense, had learned over time not to delve too deeply into the recesses of Loki’s mind in attempts to assess what he’s thinking, for the sake of his own sanity.

Tony clasps his hands together, loud and decisive. “Alright, now that we’ve decided no one’s getting murdered in their sleep, where do we stand with you?”

Valkyrie seems to take all of Tony’s exuberance in stride, never once shying away from his overbearing personality. 

“I’m thinking I'll stick around for a few days,” she says with a self-satisfied smile, and feels Loki’s eyes snap to her as soon as the words leave her lips. He tenses in a way that’s almost perceptible, like the temperature in the room drops exponentially in a matter of moments. She turns to Loki with an innocent tilt of her head, glaring daggers at him to remind him that murder is bad. “I’d love to meet your team, Stark, if that’s alright.”

“Not my team, per se, but it’s all the same to me,” Tony quips. “Any friend of — yeah, no, any friend of Loki’s sure as shit isn't a friend of mine. But you have Thor vouching for you, so that’s good enough for me.”

Loki fails to restrain himself from taking another jab at Tony. “Oh, but you have Thor vouching for me, too. Am I to expect the same courtesy?”

“Hey, as long as you don't break anything or anyone, and keep your glowy magic hands to yourself, we’ll get along just fine. As for you, madam,” Tony drawls, lowering himself into a mock bow towards Valkyrie, “I’ll have a floor set up for as long as you need, and grant security clearance for all the goodies around here: there’s two new pools and a silent disco.”

Loki almost snaps that he and Valkyrie are perfectly amenable to sharing a room; then forcibly grits his teeth together as to not disclose that particular bit of information. 

“You’re too generous,” Valkyrie says to Tony. Her voice takes on a more clipped quality, formal and borderline posh in a way Loki’s never heard it before. He frowns, minuscule lines drawn between his brows, before putting two and two together. 

Smart as she is, Valkyrie had learned over the past months to read Loki like an open book. And with his obvious dislike of Tony, it was predictable she’d make an effort to be overly polite to him, merely to grate on Loki’s nerves.

“Only the best for you,” Tony babbles on, and Loki snaps.

“Is all this necessary?” he demands before he can help himself.

Tony flicks him a look over his shoulder on his way to the bar. “Don’t mind me; just trying to be chivalrous.” 

“Lovely,” Loki bites out. Admittedly, he’s overreacting, but his head still aches and Tony Stark seems to be crafted for the very purpose of making it worse.

Thor, conveniently, stays out of the altercation. It’s almost as if he’s trained himself not to pay any mind to Loki’s behavior. It sparks an odd hurt in Loki’s ribcage, a momentarily paralyzing agony, the thought of Thor being so indifferent.

Tony, of course, keeps pulling on the thread, like he wants to unravel Loki’s temper and actively get himself killed. “What has your leathers in such a twist today? Or no, you're not wearing leather. Good lord, not a scrap of leather, ten points for character development. But you sure are angrier than usual. You could give the Other Guy a run for his money — y’know, if you weren’t best friends now or something.”

“You’ve not seen the half of it. Pray you never have to.”

Tony uncaps a glass bottle of something at the bar. He’s acutely aware of the rise he’s getting out of Loki, and revels in it in vivid amusement. “Ooh, threats. We’re back to threats.”

“Stark, I will gut you.”

It’s at this moment that one Clint Barton, casual and unsuspecting, arrives via elevator, sees Loki, and walks right back inside before the doors slide shut. He’s gone without a word.

“Hm,” Tony hums to himself, “and here Thor was telling us what a good guy you were nowadays.”

“Why must you bring Thor into this? I hardly see how that’s relevant.”

Tony motions at Thor with his glass. “He’s right there. Pretty relevant. Look, I’m pushing your buttons on purpose; if you’re gonna start hurling daggers at us just because I say something that offends your ego, then I’m gonna have to call in the team after all, and no one’s gonna have a good time after that.”

“That would imply we’re having a good time now.”

“You wound me.”

Loki opens his mouth to retort but Valkyrie beats him to it before he can manage a sound.

She glares at him with an exasperated sort of irritation. “Be quiet, Loki.”

Loki falls silent instantly.

Tony’s hand freezes midway through lifting his glass to his lips. His eyes bulge ever so slightly.

“Did she just do that? How did you do that? I’m keeping you.”

The glower Loki fixes him with is violent enough to freeze the blood in anyone’s veins. Tony merely arches an eyebrow, examining Loki’s expression like it could grant him the answers to all the mysteries of the universe.

Then, it clicks.

“Oh, sweet baby Jesus, he’s jealous. Does Loki have a girlfriend? Is that what’s happening here? Am I seeing this right?”

Loki reigns in his glare for the sake of secrecy and Valkyrie mirrors the attempt, schooling her face into a mask of pure neutrality. Tony squints like he can magically see through it, taking a long, calculated sip of his liquor.

It’s Thor that breaks through the tense silence, clapping Loki on the shoulder so unexpectedly that Loki jerks away in shock.

“Tony is merely having a bit of fun, brother,” he says, so sure of his words that Loki almost believes him, “don’t pay his jests too much mind.”

Valkyrie huffs a laugh so forced that Loki’s amazed Thor doesn't see right through it. Tony, however, doesn't appear too convinced. 

Still, Thor’s comment conveniently draws the unwanted attention away from the small fact that neither Loki nor Valkyrie had openly denied Tony’s implication.

The situation molds itself into a now-or-never moment, and Valkyrie's senses pick up on it as soon as Loki’s do. It’s the perfect opportunity, the ideal lull in conversation to make a break for it.

Valkyrie, of course, deems it preferable to do so in a more diplomatic fashion, unlike Loki’s instinctive idea of swerving towards the elevator door without a single word of goodbye.

She takes a few steps towards Tony and twists her features into an apologetic frown. It’s not part of her everyday repertoire, instead a fluid transformation from her usual vicious beauty to something meeker, more inviting and innocent.

“Look, we’re both awfully exhausted from the trip — we literally travelled halfway across the galaxy, and Loki’s getting twitchy. So, if you'd be so kind as to direct me to my room, we’ll both take our leave and sleep off all this negative energy.”

Tony looks past her at Loki like he knows more than he’s letting on, and shrugs in nonchalance. 

“Sure thing. Wouldn’t want a repeat of the Tesseract tantrum on account of poor sleeping patterns.”

“And if I could trouble you for a drink — ” Valkyrie adds hastily before Tony can take a step away from the bar, “ — your collection is truly impressive.”

Tony quirks his lips in a lopsided smile like he's just found a kindred spirit. However begrudgingly, Loki has to admit they’re a perfect fit, at least in the alcohol consumption department. 

Tony turns his back to fetch another glass and in that moment Valkyrie swipes the entire bottle he’d poured from earlier.

She meets his eyes with a devious smirk when he spins back around, and takes the glass from his fingers.

“I’ll take the whole thing, if you don’t mind. Housewarming gift — to break in the room.”

Loki feels a smile tugging at his lips and he doesn’t fight it. He mentally applauds her quick thinking, and considers a number of other ways they could break in the room upon finishing the bottle.

It’s not until he catches Thor watching him with an indecipherable expression that he wipes the look off his face and puts a stopper on the detailed thoughts running through his mind. The last thing he wants is for Thor to pry.

Within moments Tony’s walking past him and towards the elevator, punching in a security code to clear the floor directly above Loki’s for Valkyrie’s disposal.

Valkyrie pauses by Thor to let him know she’ll swing back around to properly chat after she sleeps off both the exhaustion and the soon to be hangover, and Thor laughs despite both their knowledge that Midgardian alcohol doesn’t even come close to potent.

“Ladies first,” Tony says from behind them, and Loki turns to find Tony eyeing him expectantly. Very funny.

Still, he steps inside, followed by Valkyrie.

Tony says to Thor, “I’ll be down as soon as we finish orientation, big guy. Unless your little brother dismembers me on the ride upstairs.”

And the doors slide shut.

 

/

 

“I still can’t believe you played the innocent bystander with Stark. Your adorable smile was so fake even Thor could see through it.”

Valkyrie rolls over to face Loki, raising an eyebrow at the frivolous use of the word adorable. She props her head up on the pillow with one arm and narrows her eyes. “Even Thor? He’s really not as dull as you make him out to be. Besides, I wasn’t going to antagonize our host, especially since I meant to snatch one of his bottles the moment I laid eyes on that bar. I had to even out the evil with a bit of wide eyed innocence.”

Loki had snuck up to Valkyrie’s room not ten minutes after Tony had shown her around, ditching his own quarters for good. It’d taken naught but a few charms to shield his actions from the security feed.

They’d drained the bottle and made good use of the admittedly comfortable bed, then crashed and slept off the last recesses of exhaustion, well into the next day. At some point upon awakening, Loki had adopted his female form to chase away the fleeting threat of boredom within the confines of the room’s four walls, and the fine cotton sheets had once more come in handy.

“You’re itching to get out of here,” Valkyrie observes, when Loki says nothing for a while.

“I’m itching to do anything at all,” Loki corrects. “I’m all for it if you want to head downstairs and make some new acquaintances if it means we’ll be on our way soon enough.”

The idea flashes through Valkyrie’s mind before she can reign it in.

“Would the Avengers recognize you like this?”

Loki blinks and knits her brows into a momentary frown before Valkyrie’s intention clicks. “No, they’ve never seen this form before.”

“Well, there’s your game.”

It’s beautiful in its own macabre way, how Loki’s eyes physically light up with malicious joy at prospect of pulling one over Thor’s precious team. 

“Very well,” she says, “what do you propose?”

As if equally invigorated by the idea, Valkyrie lets a sly smile slip onto her lips. She’s much like Loki in that aspect — too much silence, too much time alone with the buzzing hum of the overhead lights leads to boredom, which leads to too much thinking, then too much overthinking, ultimately sending her slipping over the precipice and tumbling back into a past she’d rather forget.

“We go downstairs and see how far we get before one of them recognizes you. I assume Thor knows?”

“Of course,” Loki says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “If he’s there, you can forget about the element of surprise.”

“On the off chance he’s not, then.”

“We’ll need some ground rules.”

Valkyrie gives Loki a pointed look. “You follow my lead. They know me, not my lady friend, after all. What else is there to establish?”

For the sake of the game, of creating a challenge complex enough to entertain them both for at least a few hours, Loki meets Valkyrie’s eyes and says, very solemnly: “No lies. Any questions they pose must be answered with the utmost honesty.”

“And if they ask your name?”

Valkyrie, likewise, doesn’t shy away from a dare. It’s not a uniquely Asgardian trait, the stubbornness, but it’s almost comedic how seriously their kind takes activities meant as fun and games. 

“That’s going to require some creative maneuvering, is it not?”

Valkyrie hovers over Loki for a moment, before drawing her into a kiss with a hand on her jaw. It’s the equivalent of a firm handshake to cement a decision.

“We have a deal.”

 

Fate is kind enough to ensure Thor’s absence when they arrive on the common floor. 

The only occupants of the living room are Bruce Banner, and an intense-looking man Valkyrie does not recognize. In turn, he stares at the television too fervently to notice her.

“Hey, big guy.”

Bruce looks up. “Hi. They told me you were here.”

“It’s good to see you again,” Valkyrie says earnestly. “I’m sure you must be thrilled to be back home.”

She takes a few steps closer and Loki follows suit, hanging on the to shadows as dearly as she can despite her taller stature. The game doesn’t stand a chance at lasting very long if they don’t bide their time well.

“Very relaxing,” Bruce admits, “in comparison. It’s gonna take a while to wrap my mind around everything, though. Outer space, the, uh, apocalypse — it feels like a dream I had in another lifetime.”

“Then you’re luckier than most.”

Before anyone can pipe up and ask after the meaning of Valkyrie’s rather cryptic response, a new voice rings out from the general direction of the bar. Predictably, it’s Tony.

“Wonder Woman’s awake!” he announces with a grand gesture, then zeroes in on Loki and narrows his eyes “ — and now you brought a friend. Not to be the tyrant in these parts but you’re really gonna have to tell me when you decide to bring friends over; especially with our friendly neighborhood supervillain lurking about upstairs. I need to keep tabs on the comings and goings.”

Valkyrie barely blinks. “It’s alright. She’s my girlfriend,” she says evenly.

The man watching TV snorts at that, amused at the sudden deflation of Tony’s default smile. Tony shoots him a look, and Valkyrie looks between the two of them in hopes of an explanation.

“Sorry — don’t take that the wrong way. I’m Clint. Nice to meet you,” he starts, nodding at Valkyrie in lieu of a proper greeting. “See, Mr. Matchmaker over there started a betting pool that you and Loki were — how’d he put it — romantically involved, which is obviously absurd because he’s, like, a psycho. What you’re witnessing right now is a front row view of the defeat of Tony Stark.”

Said Tony Stark stalks around the bar with a bottle of clear liquid and four glasses pinched together in his other hand — one for each of them, minus Bruce. Valkyrie has to admit she’s impressed with his drinking capabilities — for a mortal, that is.

He motions to the sitting area and Valkyrie throws herself onto the cushions beside Bruce, gratefully accepting the drink Tony pours and hands her.

Loki occupies the armchair furthest from Clint, for logistic reasons. She catches Bruce watching, and smiles sweetly. 

“I feel like I know you,” Bruce mutters.

Loki doesn't miss a beat. “I feel like I know you, too.”

There’s an explosion onscreen and everyone spares a glance at the television before turning back to mind their own business. A fight scene ensues in the movie: a superhero flick, one of Clint's favorites. He enjoys the irony. 

Loki accepts the drink Tony offers her with deliberately controlled movements, trying to fake the nonchalance of someone thrown into a strange environment among complete strangers, without losing the core of her integral self-assuredness in the process.

“You Asgardian?” Tony inquires, like he’s given the matter thought and ultimately failed to arrive at a solid conclusion. 

Loki makes a face like it’s an absurd notion. “No.”

Eyebrows raised, Tony purses his lips. “Huh. Okay. I guess we’re good, then. No offense, I just gotta make sure no magical warlords reduce half the tower to rubble again. The insurance paperwork was a bitch. I mean, Pepper delegated it to the interns, but I’m pretty sure it was a mess.”

“Is Thor around?” Valkyrie asks. “I promised him a talk.”

Loki eyes her in an attempt to decipher her intentions — it’s quite impossible to tell whether she’s merely trying to pinpoint Thor’s whereabouts for the sake of their pre-planned conversation, or if she’s pushing her luck to mess with Loki’s carefully constructed game plan.

“He’s, um, ransacking the gym with Rogers. Steve. Steve Rogers. Captain America,” he lists off the names like they ought to mean something to Valkyrie. “They’re sparring, I mean.”

Valkyrie knocks back her drink. “I know who all of you are, by name. As you can surely imagine Thor told quite a few stories.”

Tony opens his arms in a there you have it gesture. “Hate to break it to you, but the rest of the gang is MIA. Romanoff’s off with Barnes and Wilson doing classified things in a classified location, and — actually, I have no idea where anyone else is. Yeah, no, I got nothing.”

“Pity. I would’ve liked to meet them.”

“Stick around and they’ll show up. Eventually. Maybe.”

He finishes with a satisfied quirk of his lips and glances at the television before turning to Loki. Loki, who sits in a casual yet measured manner, holding her now empty glass in both hands, nestling it against the soft fabric of her overlarge sweater.

Tony, eerily enough, feels like he recognizes the look. He tries not to dwell on it lest he lose his mind to paranoia.

Instead, he follows the line of Loki’s gaze to the bottle on the coffee table in the middle of the room, and fires off a snappy, “Help yourself, sweetheart.”

Valkyrie has to bite her lip to keep herself from laughing at the infinitesimal flash of rage across Loki’s features. 

There’s a few tense seconds where Loki tries to decide between wringing Tony’s neck and pouring herself another drink, and luckily for everyone involved, she opts for the latter. There’s a charade to keep up, and nothing would blow her cover faster than murdering an Avenger in broad daylight.

Bruce clears his throat and turns to Valkyrie to discuss something Tony’s evidently not privy to — damn the space friends and their space secrets — and he uses that opportunity to really focus on Loki, giving her his undivided attention. There’s a beautiful, unsettlingly familiar stranger in his tower, and he wants to know more.

“You have a name?”

“Yes,” Loki says, matching his tone.

“I mean, I gotta call you something.”

Loki hums into her glass. This is the part she enjoys, truly playing the game, holding on tight to the upper hand and toying with the prey. “You’ll have to work for it.”

That gives Tony pause. He makes a face so utterly, casually Tony-like that Loki almost scoffs at the absurdity of the situation: he really has no idea who she is.

“No chance you’ll just tell me?”

“Good things come to those who wait.”

Tony whistles and hastily waves a hand in Valkyrie’s direction. “I think your girlfriend’s flirting with me.”

Valkyrie looks away from Bruce and meets Loki’s eyes. She doesn’t break contact as she replies, “She flirts with everyone. Don’t take it personally.”

Clint walks back into the room with a brimming bowl of popcorn no one had even noticed him leaving to make. Super-spy and all that — with a stealth even Valkyrie takes a moment to admire. She lets herself wonder, briefly, what led Loki to hate a group of perfectly tolerable people with such a burning passion.

“C’mon, entertain me,” Tony says then, out of the blue. “How’d you two get together? It’s not every day a mythological warrior from outer space brings her significant other home to meet the family.”

Loki ignores the irrelevant babbling part and leans back into the backrest of the armchair; traces the rim of her glass with a single finger as she answers.

“It was at a bar. I got into a, shall we say predicament, and Val decided to go through the trouble of rescuing me.”

She looks over at Valkyrie, who in turn smiles at the fond memory. None of it’s a lie, after all. 

Tony, on the other hand, momentarily freaks out at the surge of sheer emotion suffocating the room. He'd put his money on Valkyrie and Loki for a reason — there’d been tension — and he finds himself genuinely surprised at his own lapse in judgement. These girls, however short he's known them for, are obviously and irrevocably in love.

He covers up his too-long silence with a snarky comment. “And the fact that she brought you back to Avengers HQ for the night — nothing weird about that?”

Loki almost shudders at the thought of Tony Stark mentally envisioning her and Valkyrie’s sex life; but the sharp, coy facade stays up.

“Presumptive, are we?” she asks, and when Tony offers nothing but a nonchalant shrug in response, she goes on. “I suppose here in New York, you learn not to be surprised by anything anymore. Aliens, gods — ” she trails off and eyes Bruce, “ — creatures beyond our understanding.”

“Yeah, well. Welcome to the madhouse. How long are you two planning on sticking around? Not like I’m kicking you out — just, security. Gotta clear you with the system.”

Tony blinks and freezes. He must have passed out in his workshop hunched over the latest reflective panel prototype, out cold, to miss the system picking up on a new arrival last night. Even as Valkyrie’s plus one, Tony should have been alerted to the presence of the stranger. He makes a mental note to review the footage.

“I guess that’s for Loki to decide,” Valkyrie answers. “He’s my only ticket out of here. As I hear, your planet has yet to develop interplanetary travel.”

Tony nods. Yes, the fact disappoints him, too. “And he’s still out cold, huh? He looked like shit when you two showed up.”

Valkyrie visibly stills and Loki barely conceals her smirk. It’s a tough question to work around without outright lying. Of course, Valkyrie would rather chew her own arm off than lose to Loki, and she gathers her bearings and shrugs at Tony.

“I’ll discuss it with him later. I’ve yet to talk to Thor, or meet your fellow teammates.”

Tony fails to find anything off about her answer, and pours himself another helping.

It’s then that Loki feels the eyes on her: a burning, knowing gaze. She turns towards Bruce, who’s smiling like he’s found the missing puzzle piece and slotted it into place. Loki’s eyes widen in an uncontrolled panic, and Bruce’s smile broadens, his suspicions confirmed. 

It’s unclear whether he intends on disclosing this particular bit of new information to his friends.

Loki’s saved from worrying herself to death by Tony’s voice breaking through the silence once more.

“Y’know,” he drawls, waggling a finger between Valkyrie and Bruce, “I can’t believe you two know each other because you met on an actual, foreign planet. You’ve been on Asgard. Like, yeah, the god of thunder was eating cereal in his underwear in my kitchen this morning, and I can roll with that, but I can’t wrap my head around my good pal, Bruce Banner, hanging out with aliens— in space. I continue to be amazed. How are you so cool with all this?”

Loki looks up when she realizes the question is directed at her. 

Tony steamrolls on. “Nothing impresses you, does it? I feel like you might just have some secret superpower — like super patience. Or super poker face.”

Valkyrie watches Loki as she skims through possible responses. It’d be so much easier to drain her glass and toss it at Tony’s head than beat around the bush with calculated, creative half-truths. Which is, after all, what makes it all so fun.

“When you meet someone like her,” Loki says, nodding her head in Valkyrie’s direction, “you tend not to focus on anything else.”

Valkyrie’s reaction is almost palpable in the air: near-jaw drop, the unspoken sentiment of you smooth motherfucker

“Wow, alright, Nicholas Sparks. Look, I may have lost a bet, but deep down I’m relieved you’re not actively dating a homicidal alien invader.”

Instead of ignoring the jab, Valkyrie ups the degree of the challenge. It’s like walking on thin ice with a blowtorch in steel capped boots.

“Oh, come on. Loki’s not that bad.”

Bruce looks at her with a look so pointed she finally comprehends he’s fully in on the joke. Loki’s impressed with how quickly Valkyrie conceals her split-second of panic. And from there it becomes that much more entertaining: they seem to simultaneously realize they can gossip about Loki right to her face, with her unable to interject or defend herself in fear of Tony catching on.

“He tried to kill you on Sakaar. You had to chain him up to get him under control.”

“Please. He could have magicked his way out of those bonds if he so desired. Admit it, he stayed put because he wanted to. In the end, without his aid we wouldn't have gotten off the planet.”

Bruce makes a face. “What you’re saying is, his knowledge of the orgy ship saved our lives.”

Tony sputters and actually spits a mouthful of vodka onto the floor. “The what now? I feel like Thor left out an important chunk of his story.”

Loki laughs. “Oh, it’s a gripping tale.”

The comment earns her a dirty look from Valkyrie, who fires back a snappy response without thinking twice:

“Oh, you like that one? Wait ’til Stark hears what good, old Loki did to get on the Grandmaster’s good side in the first place.”

The ice is close to shattering beneath their feet. 

Loki looks incredulous for a moment, then lifts her hands placatingly, balancing her glass in her lap. She concedes; no more tempting fate.

“God,” Tony mutters at Loki, “you already know all the juicy team secrets, don't you? You two must have had a busy night.”

Everyone stays silent at that. Tony figures he must have crossed some sort of personal mind-your-own-business boundary, but he can’t bring himself to care.

He daintily holds his glass up. “Whatever. Let’s drink to that. Here’s to keeping secrets from Tony Stark.”

Bruce scoffs, because Tony would drink to anything.

Loki drinks as everyone else does, and feels Tony’s dark eyes tracing every inch of her body; from the cascading sweep of her black hair, to the damn sweater Loki should have known better than to wear: Tony’s seen her — him — in it before.

“No, I really feel like I should know you. Have we met before?”

“I’m not from around here.”

“But you’ve obviously been to New York before,” Tony asks, however inexplicable his logic; and though it’s not exactly phrased as a question, Loki feels compelled to answer.

“Yes.”

“So, you can't deny the possibility.”

“No, I suppose not. I feel like you’d remember me, though.”

Tony’s eyes narrow. Loki’s tone had danced the line between a pick-up line and a threat. 

“Alrighty, tall, dark, and gorgeous, no need to bare your soul.”

Loki’s lips almost twitch into a snarl, breaking past her innocent mask, but she’s saved from actively dissuading herself from murder by the soft ding of the elevator doors.

As the mortals would put it, shit hits the fan.

One Steve Rogers steps out and heads straight for the kitchen, temporarily unaware of the guests residing in the living room; sweating through his obscene scrap of a shirt as he seeks out water before he can begin to focus on entertaining company.

And then comes Thor. 

Loki braces herself for the boom of her brother’s voice. With her back to the elevator, she gives it an extra ten seconds before recognition dawns. She counts down in her head, second by second, waiting for the guillotine to drop.

Thor walks around the armchair. Three, two, one —

“Brother!” he greets, and Tony blinks, “ — I didn’t think you’d actually stick around.”

Loki looks up, not making a single effort to hide her irritation. “Don’t thank me. We’re solely here at Val’s insistence. Do redirect your bumbling gratitude towards her.”

Thor’s grin recedes just a fraction. He looks to Valkyrie. “I trust you rested well. You both looked exhausted from your journey.”

“We did,” she says.

Bruce mirrors her smile, Tony gapes on in stunned silence, and the tension hangs in the air like it’s the last few seconds before the detonation of a nuclear weapon.

It’s Clint who snaps. He puts two and two together and it clicks with such ferocity his popcorn ends up spraying halfway across the room, accentuated with a single passionate, “Fuck.”

He shoots Loki a menacing death glare, which she responds to with a sharp, condescending smirk. Clint, predictably, storms out of the room, leaving the explosion of popcorn for someone else to clean up. He doesn’t trust himself to remain in the same room as Loki without anyone getting stabbed.

Tony’s jaw hangs inches from the floor. “You lying little shit.”

Loki holds up a single finger. “I never lied.”

Bruce interjects before Tony can spit fire. “She didn’t. I paid attention.”

Tony’s head whips to Bruce at the speed of light. “You knew?”

“Not from the start. But then — yeah. It’s obvious.”

There’s a noise from the kitchen as Steve tosses his emptied bottle into the recycling bin; he then takes a few steps closer towards the apparent commotion.

He rakes his eyes over Tony’s expression, the casual fondness practically radiating off Thor, finally landing on Loki herself. He’s a smart guy, capable of thinking with his head instead of what’s in his pants when there’s a pretty girl in the room.

“Loki,” he greets.

“Captain.”

Tony sputters again. “How is this — I don’t — how did you? But that — hold on a fucking second.”

Everyone watches him as he slams his glass down onto the table and sucks in a massive breath, like he’s discovered the meaning of life, or reached peak scientific awareness and mentally concocted a cure for death itself.

He focuses his mad stare on Valkyrie.

“That means you and Loki — you and Loki. You said you didn’t lie. You said,” he excitedly points at Bruce, “they didn't lie. That means I win. They're together. You two are together, scamming us poor mortals together, and I was right. I gotta go find Clint, he owes me fifty bucks. You kids have a good night.”

 

/

 

Valkyrie has her overdue chat with Thor, all smiles and solemn nods. Bruce sticks around because he’s part of that narrative, after all, while Steve leaves as to not intrude. He disappears off to his own floor, most certainly not intending on breaking SHIELD protocol and calling Barnes on his encrypted number in the middle of a high-stakes mission.

Loki sits off to the side, having slipped back into his usual form for the sake of familiarity. He’d been there with them: on Sakaar, on Asgard, in all the places in between. He still doesn’t feel nearly as comfortable as the rest of them calling each other a team.

The sun sets, and they head their separate ways.

He’s silent for a very long time after he and Valkyrie return to their room. He catches her watching, once, twice, and has no idea what she’s thinking.

They’d decided — the two of them and Thor, that so long as his darling Earth was in relatively good condition, without otherworldly threat and so on, Thor was perfectly amenable to them being left to their own devices.

“Where will you go from here?”

Valkyrie turns away from the window. Her brow is furrowing into a frown.

She answers like Loki was stupid to bother asking in the first place. “Wherever you go.”

“Because I’m the one with the portals?”

Her frown deepens. “Are you trying to get rid of me? Antagonize me? What is this?”

Loki’s lips quirk like he wants to speak. He seems just as confused by her line of reasoning as she is by his.

“I thought you wanted to leave.”

“The others won’t be coming back anytime soon; it’s no use loitering around ‘til they show up. What would I do in the meantime — sightsee? You said yourself, the bars are shit here. Of course we’re going.”

“We?”

Valkyrie drops her hands to her sides and they smack audibly against her hips. 

“Can you be blunt, for once? I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

Loki lingers in his spot beside the bed. His fingers curl and uncurl from fists. He feels too-small without his armor and leathers, even though it’s just Valkyrie staring up at him, rather than, say, an army of mad Chitauri.

“I’m — you’re saying you want to come along with me, wherever I go, and not only because I’m your doorway out of here. For the company?”

Valkyrie snorts. “Of course, we’re drinking buddies.”

Loki raises an eyebrow in such a contemptuous, unimpressed manner that Valkyrie can’t help but feel, for a moment, that she’s looking at Odin himself. 

She shakes her head and supplies a more somber answer: “You said — or Stark said, rather — that this,” she extends a hand and motions between them, “is some sort of relationship. And you let Stark sprint out of the room thinking he’d won his bet. You didn't deny it. Not once did we deny it.”

“No, we didn’t.”

Loki’s words are so quiet they’re almost incoherent. He says it like he’s muttering it to himself, lost in a spontaneous bout of introspection. Now, Valkyrie is more familiar with the thick glass at the bottom of an empty bottle than she is with reading emotions, but she knows panic when she sees it.

She crosses the room to stand inches from Loki, wraps her hands around his wrists and squeezes until he looks at her.

“What is it?”

Loki stays quiet.

“At some point, as we were downstairs, you clearly snapped and decided you need to get rid of me. Why?”

Again, nothing.

“Is it Thor? Something he said? It’s always Thor, isn't it.”

Loki flinches so imperceptibly it would have gone unnoticed if Valkyrie wasn’t looking for it. Still, she doesn't get an answer.

“Does it bother you that Thor knows about us — this, whatever it is?”

Loki’s eyes finally swim into focus and his expression twists into something ugly. “I don't care what Thor thinks.”

“But you care that he knows. Why’s that?”

Loki considers the alternate outcomes of lying versus telling the truth. Yes, lying is easier but Valkyrie will know. Telling the truth goes against his very being, but paradoxically, it feels right.

“He doesn’t trust me; not implicitly. I don’t blame him. But he considers you his friend; he wants to protect you, naturally. The way he looked between us, I fear he’ll never trust me around you. Nor do I think you should trust me around you.”

Valkyrie finally relinquishes her grip on Loki’s wrists.

“He knows how easily I can kick you into the ground.”

Loki tilts his head with a dangerous ghost of a smile. “Yes, but breaking bones and breaking hearts are inherently different actions. You may protect yourself against the first, but if I hurt you otherwise — ”

“Are you implying you’ll break my heart?”

Loki purses his lips. “I suppose that would depend on whether I have a hold over it in the first place.”

Valkyrie knows she walked right into that one. She answers in a fashion all too diplomatic for someone who prefers punching her way out of confrontations.

“To an extent.”

“Then, yes,” Loki says almost instantly. “I’ll likely break your heart.”

The way he says it, short and clipped, so concise and decisive makes it sound like it’s meant to close the gates and keep out further negotiations. He’s dead certain in his conviction.

It’s so absurd that Valkyrie can’t hold back her laugh. “You're so harsh on yourself; so sure you’ll fuck up again.”

“My track record speaks for itself.”

“Because you let it,” Valkyrie snaps, like Loki’s an utter moron who can’t grasp the obvious. “You act like you don’t want to change.”

“I — ”

Valkyrie interrupts. “If it’s a change for the better, what’s there to be scared of?”

Loki snarls and makes to turn away, only to be intercepted by Valkyrie shooting out to grasp at his hand again. She pulls him back but doesn’t hold on, and he stays put regardless. It’s as if part of him wants to spill every thought in his head, and the other wants to run and never look back.

He says, measured, but with an edge to his voice: “I’ve made a reputation for myself.”

“Yes, an awful one.”

“I don’t want to be looked at differently,” Loki retorts with a frown, like she should know this about him already. “I don’t want to suddenly be seen as something I’m not.”

Valkyrie takes a step back and throws her arms up in disbelief, caught somewhere between amusement and outrage. 

“See, that’s your thing; your problem. You keep — festering in the same darkness. You think people perceive you as a monster because that’s how you perceive yourself. And that’s not what you are. And not how they see you. Not anymore. If you got your head out of your pompous ass for a moment, maybe you could see that. The only idiot holding you back is yourself. In here.”

She reaches out and taps at his temple none too gently.

Loki’s response comes in the form of a chuckle, low and cruel.

“You’re getting soft,” he says. “All this time spent with Doctor Banner seems to have rubbed off on you.”

Valkyrie gapes at him. “You’re impossible.”

Loki quirks his brows. He almost looks satisfied. “I’ve been told.”

“That was no compliment.”

“Why are you trying to fix me? You can’t. Many have tried — ”

“I’m not. I’m trying to point out your delusions so you fix yourself.”

“You know nothing about me.”

“I know everything about you.”

Loki goes quiet.

Valkyrie lets him glare at her for a little while, blow off some steam, before she continues:

“And I know that you’ve never told anyone as much as you’ve told me. I have no idea why, but I think that means something. You reach out, and I offer a hand, and you slap it away. Over and over and over again. Have you considered even once, how hard that is on me?”

She jerks and clamps her mouth shut like the last part of her confession comes out against her will. Despite her very best intentions, she’s said too much.

And that’s all it takes for Loki to understand. “You’re masking your worries with mine.”

“Don’t — ”

“You’re right,” he interrupts. His words come too quickly all of a sudden, spilling over each other in his haste. “I imagine one day I’ll break your heart because I'm a monster; because I tend to destroy everything and everyone in my path. Chaos follows me. I push away everyone who cares enough to reach out in fear they’ll get caught in the crossfire. That’s my story. Now, tell me — why are you so afraid you’ll break mine?”

Valkyrie attempts to play it cool; she tries to suffocate the spark of anxiety burning at her chest, and slaps on a humored look of surprise. 

“Where, pray tell, did you the idea that — ”

“You don’t talk about your past. Never. Once, when drunk, and briefly. Still, you always insist I do. What for — are you comparing notes on how fucked up we are?”

This time Valkyrie stays quiet and Loki fixes her with a steely, pointed look. 

“You lost someone you loved. Is that what you fear will happen again?”

The accuracy of his suspicion hits hard. Valkyrie slips on another mask to discourage him. It’s cruel, her smile.

“Now, that would imply that I love you.”

It gets the reaction she aimed for. Loki freezes; goes so still she can almost hear the blood screeching to a halt in his veins, can almost see the way his heart seizes up with an agonizing jolt. He looks, for all intents and purposes, like he’s just been struck across the face with a Hulk-sized fist.

“Look at you,” Valkyrie drawls. Her voice stays cold and detached, because if she hurts him, he won’t hurt her. “You ache for it: the tiniest scrap of affection. And every time I try to provide it, you close yourself off. And you still dare to wonder why I’m afraid. I’ll tell you, Loki. I've offered all of myself to someone before, and yes, she was taken from me. And now, an eternity later, although you might not see it, I’m doing it again — giving myself to you, piece by piece. But it seems you don’t want me to.”

“I do — ”

She pays Loki’s interjection no mind. “I’m afraid I’ll give whatever’s left of me to someone who won’t give anything in return. And I’ll drink; and I’ll continue to wither away. You close yourself off whenever it all becomes too much, so — I fear I’m nothing more than a distraction in the grand scheme of things.”

Loki’s expression matches hers in terms of cruelty, but he slips on a self-deprecating smile before providing his grand summary.

“I told you I’ll break your heart.”

She slaps him. 

Loki’s head snaps to the side at the unexpected blow and his eyes widen in surprise rather than pain.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, princess, you haven’t yet.”

Loki turns back to her slowly. There’s an underlying hint of rage simmering beneath his expression, but it’s softened by the knowledge he’d gotten exactly what he deserved.

“Okay, Loki. Last chance; answer truthfully, if you’re capable. Are you using me?”

He sets his jaw. “No.”

“Am I a means to an end?”

“You’re not.”

“Do you — ” she trails off. She’s not a child, she’s not as naive as she once was to throw around the magic L word. It’s preposterous to ask Loki, of all people, about it, like he’d even know what it means.

“Yes,” he answers anyway. 

Valkyrie bites her tongue until it stings. Loki’s a gifted liar, she knows that. She stares at him anyway and wants desperately to believe he’s telling her the truth.

He gives her another moment to understand; to see that the conviction in his words is as raw as it’ll ever be.

Then, he poses a question of his own:

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you truly think you can change me?”

“I already have.”

He grits his teeth. “Are you afraid of me?”

Valkyrie's face softens. Of course that's what Loki's most afraid of. “No.”

Her words come with a tangible certainty so strong that Loki crumbles.

They stand motionless and silent for the better part of a minute; faces blank and eyes hiding the turmoil of thoughts howling in their minds. It’s the last seconds of a storm, before it departs to make way for a clear, blue sky — well, somewhat clear; and perhaps a dusty gray, but calm all the same.

“We’re quite the pair.”

Valkyrie shrugs — it’s a dejected sort of acceptance. “We might just destroy each other.”

“And until then?”

“Until then we make it work.”

Valkyrie falls silent with a flair of finality — it’s decided, then. There’s bits and pieces about them, a patchwork of things have in common, yet in the end they’re vastly different people with completely different lives.

They’ll meet in the middle, as they’ve done so far: in a bar, in a bed. They’ll make it work for them.

Loki watches the expressions flickering over Valkyrie’s face, almost too quick to catch. It’s a familiar feeling, so many thoughts rushing in all at once. She looks like she hasn’t allowed herself a quiet moment of weakness for centuries, like fragility is foreign and tears a distant fantasy.

He huffs with a smile and tugs her into a kiss. His hands gravitate to her hair, holding her in place; and she goes for the folds of his sweater. Of course, Valkyrie’s motives are far less innocent in nature, and she uses Loki’s distraction to kick his legs out from under him and send him sprawling backwards onto the bed.

Before he can even think of returning the favor, Valkyrie strengthens her hold over him, straddling his lap and slamming his wrists down on the mattress over his head. The way Loki looks up at her is almost reverent; like he’s making a promise he’ll try his damnedest to keep.

She releases him but his arms stay put, obedient, and she curls a hand around his throat to keep him still as she presses another kiss into his mouth. They both accept the challenge in silence: to keep each other from falling to pieces, and keep themselves from tearing the other apart.

Valkyrie pulls away enough to whisper against Loki’s lips,

“Let’s make the most of it, then.”