Steve was getting coffee when he got the first hint that it was going to be a long day. And of course it had to be Tony. It just had to be Tony.
“So,” said Tony, expression one of suspicious innocence as he leaned on the counter. “Heard you had a hot date last night.”
Steve’s head shot up and he felt his face warm, violently. “It wasn’t,” he started to say, already thinking furiously of who would’ve – Clint? No, though that was a whole other matter. Not Loki. Thor? That was a possibility. Thor wasn’t exactly secretive. “I didn’t – it wasn’t like that,” Steve finished lamely, and Tony nodded sagely, eyes widening a little more.
“Oh, no, no, of course not. What’d you do,” he asked, “Dinner and a movie? I hope you didn’t try for a romantic comedy.”
“It was just dinner,” Steve said defensively, and realized that it’d been the wrong thing to say when Tony’s face lit up.
“So there was a date!” Tony crowed. “Bruce said no way but I was just betting- you just netted me ten bucks, Cap.”
His face was on fire. Steve used looking for a mug as an excuse to turn away. “It wasn’t a date,” he said desperately. “It was – dinner.”
“Romantic and candlelit? Who asked who?” Tony sounded positively gleeful. “I called it. I completely called it. When JARVIS mentioned that you and the man upstairs were stepping out, I thought…so, where’d you go? Somewhere nice?”
“I don’t think I want to tell you anything,” Steve said stiffly. Tony whistled.
“Very nice, then. Figures, seems like the kind of guy to appreciate the finer things…when he’s not, you know, flattening them.” Tony was grinning fit to burst. “I’d give you the whole talk of ‘do you know what you’re doing’ and ‘we just want what’s best for you,’ but I think you’ll probably get it six times today anyway. At least. I’ve gotta go collect my cash from Bruce.” Tony headed jauntily for the elevators, leaving Steve to gape after him. “Oh,” Tony added. “Yeah. If you get around to it? Just so you know, I am going to insist on all of the details.”
He was in the elevator with the doors closing before Steve could even start to think of a reply.
“Do you know what you’re doing,” Clint said, deadly flat tone of his voice an obvious hint that his answer was definitely no. “Cap. I know the bastard better than anyone.”
Steve took a deep breath and let it out. “I know he’s dangerous, Clint. I could hardly forget.” Though there were sometimes a few moments when… he brushed that thought aside. “It was just,” and he was going to be saying this a lot, today, he had a feeling, “Dinner.”
“Sure,” Clint said, “But he talks, right? Never stops. And it gets in your head, worms into your brain and twists everything up-” he cut off, abruptly, fingers of his right hand twitching at his side like they itched to reach for a weapon. “You’re a good guy,” he said, finally. “He’ll take advantage of that.”
Steve blamed Tony for the direction his brain went before he yanked it back on track. Not, he knew very well, what Clint meant. “I am careful, Clint. Loki knows the terms of our agreement.”
Clint glanced away and muttered something about leverage. More loudly, he said, “And if he decides it’s not worth it?”
He thought of Loki’s questioning, suddenly, when he’d first arrived. About execution and preemptive measures and the flavor of his mood, dark in a not altogether familiar way. He wondered what exactly had happened during the conversation between Clint and Loki. “If it comes up,” Steve said finally, “I will do whatever has to be done. That doesn’t change. My team comes first.”
“Yeah, okay, just - I get you have your standards of humane treatment or whatever. But you don’t need to make nice.”
Steve felt just the smallest twinge of irritation, and before he could think better of it was saying, “Making nice might be the best way to make sure this doesn’t blow up in our faces.” Clint looked slightly, briefly taken aback before he was expressionless again.
“I just don’t want to see you get in trouble,” Clint muttered. Steve reached out and clasped his shoulder, very briefly.
“I’ll be careful. I am being careful.”
They stood there looking at each other for a few moments of silence. Then Clint cracked a lopsided grin. “Well. Tell me you at least made him pay.”
Long, long day.
Bruce was the next one he ran into. On his way to the training room, in fervent hope that he would miss anyone else. All Bruce did was raise both eyebrows at him, but it was enough that Steve felt his face heat.
“You know,” he said, voice as mild as ever, “I don’t think I’ve seen Tony this happy since he beat us all at Monopoly.”
Steve sighed and rubbed his nose. “I’m sure I don’t know why.”
“Oh,” said Bruce, “He just likes being right. And he’s had this theory for – well, just about ever. About Loki having a thing for you.”
Steve was glad he had finished his coffee or he thought he might choke on it. “What?”
“Not that I agree with him,” Bruce said affably. “Necessarily. He just pointed out that even before this whole…thing, he visited you more than anyone. So he says this proves it.”
Steve sighed again. He leaned against the wall. “I didn’t…it was really just dinner. Does everyone know?”
“If they didn’t, they do now,” Bruce said, and gave Steve a sympathetic little smile. “You know how Tony gets.” He did. He did, and sometimes really wished he didn’t. “For what it’s worth,” Bruce went on. “I believe you. I mean, on your end. I have no idea what Loki was thinking. Never do, and I think I’m happier that way.”
Steve almost blushed at the rather vivid picture that popped into his head of Loki licking a few drops of soup away, but managed not to. “Me neither,” he muttered. “Though sometimes I wish I did.” He eyed Bruce sideways. “You’re not going to lecture me?”
“Already got one of those?” Bruce said sympathetically. “No, I don’t think I need to. I mean, I figure if anyone Loki’s the one who needs the ‘if you mess this up there’ll be trouble’ speech more than you do. So where’d you go? If you don’t mind my asking.”
Steve looked down and then up and down the hallway. There was no one else there, so after a moment he said, quietly, “…um. Paris.”
“Paris? As in-” Bruce whistled. “Well,” he said. “That explains why…well. Guess the guy doesn’t pull punches, huh?” He smiled, just a little. “I’ll let you train.”
“Wait,” Steve said, frowning. “Explains why what?”
“Oh,” said Bruce, looking ever so slightly uncomfortable. “Um. You might want to check your phone after you train.” Drat, his phone. He’d forgotten again. “Anyway,” Bruce was saying. “I’ll see you around?” and was gone around the corner. Steve stared after him with a small feeling of apprehension, wondering if he shouldn’t go check his messages now.
Couldn’t be too urgent, though. Bruce had seemed to think it could wait, and Steve did like his routine.
Natasha came in a half an hour into his workout routine. “Hello ma’am,” he said politely, and received one of her cool stares in recompense. That didn’t, Steve thought with a sigh, bode well. Though Natasha was always quiet. Maybe he would-
“Clint thinks you’ve lost your mind.”
Nope, no luck there.
Steve paused and set down the weights he was lifting. “I did get that impression,” he said after a moment. Carefully. Natasha narrowed her eyes at him, and then turned away, reaching up to a bar and beginning to do pull-ups.
“Is he right?”
“No,” said Steve, with confidence. More, perhaps, than he truly felt. After his day so far, he was starting to wonder. “He’s not.”
“Then what’s your angle?”
Steve’s mind snapped back to the conversation over dinner, Loki’s near snarled demand, what is this? all prickly suspicion and sharp edges, and wondered what Natasha would say if he told her she sounded like him. “Why do I need to have an angle?”
“Everything has an angle,” Natasha said smoothly. “Even if that angle is ‘I just want to make friends.’ That’s still an angle. So what’s yours?”
Steve eyed Natasha’s back. He could freely admit that she made him nervous. More than anyone else, including Bruce, at this point. The Hulk might be dangerous, but at least you knew what you were getting into. Steve always had the vague feeling that Natasha might kill him in his sleep without much compunction if he stepped wrong, and he would never even know where. “Well,” he said, finally. “Guy helped us out, for whatever reason. Probably gets bored, and… I figure might as well reinforce good behavior.”
Natasha dropped from the bar, landing lightly on the balls of her feet, and turned around, arching an eyebrow at him. “Like training a dog?”
Oh dear. That wasn’t- Steve could almost see Loki’s reaction to that comparison and it wasn’t… “No,” he said hastily. “No, not – just…bribery?” He tried, but that didn’t feel right either, felt dishonest and unfair. “—I just think – give him a stake, an interest, in us, maybe it’ll…” he gestured, vaguely. He felt irritatingly foolish when Natasha looked at him like that. Like he was some kind of naïve idiot.
“So his stake is in you?” Natasha said, eyebrow still raised, and Steve didn’t think that was supposed to be a double entendre.
“Not just me,” Steve protested. “If I just happen to be the one most willing to – reach out, I can manage that.” How did she always manage to make him feel so wrong footed, just by looking at him?
“So that’s it,” Natasha said after a moment. “You’re just making sure that Loki has a personal interest in not going nuclear if things go south.”
That made it sound so…mercenary. It wasn’t like he didn’t enjoy the time he spent with Loki. Most of the time. But it was…sort of true. He hesitated.
Natasha shrugged, moving for the door. “Might want to think about that a little more. Don’t get so far out you can’t swim back.”
“I,” Steve said, awkwardly, still feeling wrong-footed and uncertain. And wishing he’d thought of a better answer, and faster. “Um. I won’t?”
“Oh,” she said, pausing in the doorway. “Before I forget. Fury wanted to see you. I think he called your phone but I guess you haven’t checked it.”
“So. What were you doing in Paris?”
How did you know I was in Paris was probably not the right answer, though it was what Steve really wanted to know. He did not fidget. And certainly did not blush. He sat perfectly still, back straight, and faced Fury on the screen.
“Not certain what I do in my downtime is any of your business, sir,” Steve said, which was probably pushing things a little, but. Long day, he was running short on patience. Was always running short on patience, with Fury. He didn’t like the feeling that he was always only being told what was convenient.
“It is when you turn up in France in the middle of the night without bothering to book a plane.”
Ah. Steve tried to look confident and sure of himself. “I was having dinner.”
“Dinner. I see. And with whom were you having dinner?”
“I suspect you already know the answer to that question, sir,” Steve said, “Seeing as you somehow knew my whereabouts despite claiming you weren’t tracking us.”
Fury didn’t even look phased at the barely veiled accusation. Which was a little bothersome. “All right, so maybe I do. Maybe I wanted to see if you could admit it with a straight face. Do you have any idea of what kind of fire you’re playing with? Cause it ain’t the candle kind.”
“Yes, sir,” said Steve. “I am aware of the risk. As I was when I brought the proposal to you and you approved it.”
“Even so.” He planted his feet on the floor, even sitting. “I told you we – I – could handle it. That still stands.”
“Oh? Want to tell me how you got to Paris without benefit of a plane or an Iron Man suit, then?”
No, Steve thought, not particularly. He cleared his throat. “Couldn’t properly explain it, but from what I can tell some kind of interdimensional teleportation.”
If Fury had been another man, Steve thought he would have been gaping. “You’re telling me,” he growled, “That you let Loki, the hostile Loki, take you on some kind of space adventure?”
‘Space adventure’ was really not the way Steve would have chosen to describe that kind of trip. At all. “Yes, sir,” he said after a moment. “I suppose I did.” And he was definitely not mentioning anything else. Like language lessons. Nope.
The conversation mostly just went downhill from there. Steve had the feeling he got out of it as well as he did because Fury mostly knew by now that his control over the Avengers was tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst. Or maybe he had just managed to apall the man that thoroughly.
Steve wasn’t sure if the thought was disconcerting or gratifying.
At the rate things were going, it was a relief to see Thor. Thor, whose face burst into a broad grin.
“Steve! My friend. Tony has been telling me-”
“Never,” Steve said sternly, and perhaps a little disgruntled, “Believe anything Tony tells you. It’s generally a good policy.” Thor looked briefly baffled, and Steve sighed. “Sorry, buddy. It’s been a long day.”
Thor’s eyebrows furrowed. “Have you troubles?”
“No,” said Steve, after a moment’s pause. “No, not really. It’ll be fine.” He didn’t really want Thor to bawl anyone out on his behalf, and he really suspected he would. Thor would probably see it as his responsibility.
“If you say,” said Thor, sounding a little dubious.
“…Thor,” said Steve, after a pause. “You didn’t…tell anyone, about…about our talk last night, or…that. Right?”
Thor blinked, looking a bit wide-eyed. “I did not,” he said. “Should I have?”
“No,” said Steve quickly. “No, no no, that’s good, actually, that’s…good. That’s…what I was hoping.” It was probably the cameras, then. And JARVIS. And Clint. Fury, though, that was…a little more disconcerting. “That’s actually. If we talk about it again, I would really like you to not mention it to Tony. Especially.”
“Why?” Thor asked, and then frowned a bit. “He knew already when I spoke to him. He said that you and my brother were courting, is that-”
Steve doubted very much that was how Tony had put it. “No,” he said vehemently. “No, that’s not – no.” He could feel himself turning bright red. One directional flirting that Steve suspected was purely to make him squirm was not courting. “Tony’s exaggerating.
“Oh,” said Thor, looking…disappointed? Surely not. “That is well. I suppose there has been some misunderstanding.” He paused, a moment. “…are you certain you are well? You look…troubled.”
“Yeah,” said Steve quickly, glancing around the hallway and feeling a sudden terror of being caught by someone else. “Yeah, I just – I’m tired, I kind of want to-” he gestured vaguely in the direction of his room. Thor nodded, sagely, and reached out to clap him on the shoulder.
“Of course! Rest well, my friend. When you see Loki next, you will…” he trailed off, expression getting that pathetically hopeful look that just kind of…hurt. Maybe if someone just sat down with the two of them-
Not that he was volunteering. Oh no.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course.”
Steve sagged against the door as it closed behind him and breathed out a sigh.
He was so relieved to get back to his room without further incident that it took him a moment to notice the presence of something that hadn’t been there when he left. A box and a slip of paper perched in the middle of his bed.
Steve made his way gingerly over to it and picked up the piece of paper first. Thank you, said the note, in neat, angular script, for a most pleasant evening. In the hope that we may repeat the experience sometime. A package sat beside it, neatly wrapped. Steve stared at it apprehensively.
After a moment, he unwrapped it to reveal a wooden box. Hesitating a moment longer, he opened it, half expecting – he didn’t even know, a severed head, something. It took him a moment to fully register what he was looking at.
Art supplies. Pencils, pens, brushes – and he could tell just by looking, the nice kind. The kind that cost money. The back of his neck felt embarrassingly warm. A present. It was…a present. From Loki.
He sat down slowly on the bed. He hadn’t thought it’d gone that well. There’d been a few tense moments and it was really just dinner.
Maybe, when you were as lonely as Steve sometimes thought Loki had to be, that was enough.
In the hope that we may repeat the experience sometime. Steve didn’t think he would really mind that. Scolding or no scolding.
It was, after all, Paris.