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Christmas with the Avengers

Chapter Text

It was the first day of October and Loki had an itch to be outside in the middle of all the Autumn colours. However, despite the fact that he had been working with the Avengers for some time now, the people of Midgard were not always friendly and welcoming to him. There was no choice - he would ask someone to come with him. They would hardly refuse such a simple request, would they?

 

He found them all in the lounge, smiled when they were looked in his direction. "I wish to take a walk, perhaps go to the park... would anyone care to join me?"

 

Tony and Bruce looked at each other and stood up. For a moment, Loki thought that they would indeed join him but they quickly left the room, making excuses about the work they had to do down in the lab.

 

Loki's smile faltered only a little. He looked around the room and noted that the group had shrunk - whilst he had been distracted by Tony and Bruce, it seemed the two assassins had made their quiet escape.

 

That left just Steve - he turned to look at the Captain, aware that the desperation was showing in his eyes now but unable to push it away. It was not just about wanting to get outside any more - he needed someone to want to spend time with him.

 

He needed this group of Thor's friends to be his friends too.

 

Steve had never looked so uncomfortable in his life - not even after the time he walked in on Tony having sex... the Captain stammered and floundered as he tried to think of something-anything. He relaxed therefore as Thor came into the room. "Thor! Good to see you - Loki was just saying that he wished to take a walk outside!"

 

Thor had been in the process of giving his usual cheerful greeting when the Captain interrupted, expecting the rest of the team to be there as it was where they all tended to hang out there in there free time.  On hearing Steve's words, the bright smile died on his lips as he realised what must have happened to the rest of the group.

 

By the time he turned to Loki though, his smile was as bright as always. "Then let us go, Brother - Lady Natasha introduced me to a lovely dining hall that I am confident you will love!"

 

Loki perked up at that - it might not be what he had originally hoped for but, getting to spend time alone with Thor was still pleasing to him, given how hard it had been to get him away from his idiotic friends back on Asgard.

 

--0--

 

Loki visibly relaxed as he and Thor walked in the cool evening. He smiled and slid his arm through Thor's as they did so. "I love this time of year."

 

Thor smiled a little at that. "You never were one for the sun and heat. I suppose that makes sense now." He frowned as his words caught up with him, stopped dead to look at the other god. "Sorry, I.."

 

With his free hand, Loki reached over and patted his arm reassuringly. "No need to apologise, Thor. I might not be thrilled about being Jotun but I am what I am."

 

Thor smiled at him then. "Well, I for one am very glad that Father took you from that temple on that fated day. The thought that you and I could have grown up not knowing each other is deeply unpleasant."

 

Loki's answering smile was beautiful. "Odin informed me that I have brothers on Jotunheim but I can assure you that as far as I am concerned, I have only one."

 

Thor's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "You are talking of me, aren't you?"

 

Loki's delighted laugh was out before he could stop it. "Of course I mean you, you big oaf." He nuzzled against Thor for a moment then started walking once more, pulling gently on his brother's arm until he fell into step.

 

--o--

 

They had to go through the streets to get to the park. Usually this was something that stressed Loki out a great deal - he really did not like being surrounded by a lot of people.

 

That evening was different though - it seemed that every shop had some sort of display relating to their winter festival – Christmas.  In every window they looked, there were scenes of love and snow and lights. "I do not understand this obsession with Christmas - here we are in October and the shops are already trying to make people buy their wares for the end of December."

 

Thor shrugged as they stopped to look at a particularly adorable display - a male doll kneeling before a female doll; ringbox in hand, while reindeer and Santa looked on. "They do seem to spend a lot of money on it."

 

Still confused, Loki frowned even as a hand reached up to rest on the glass, something about the sight making him smile. "But what is the point of it all? They just buy gifts for each other they could get at any time of the year."

 

Thor considered his brother's question as he started walking again, pulling Loki along with him. "From what Anthony tells me, the gifts are meant to show someone what they mean to you - you cannot just go out and buy them a random gift - you have to put actual thought into it."

 

Loki stopped walking as Thor's words sunk in... It seemed the Midgardians put as much importance on obtaining a good gift as he did.  Perhaps this was something he could use - if he could get each of the Avengers something that showed thought and consideration, perhaps then, they would start to like him.

 

It was worth a try.

 

"Hmm..." He frowned as he turned his gaze to Thor. "Well, if it's important to them, then we shall have to partake also."

 

Thor's eyes lit up at that. "You have always bought the best gifts, Brother."

 

Loki preened a little at that even as his gaze became unfocused as he started to plan. "Three months is not really very long. I shall have to give this my full attention."

 

--0--

Chapter Text

The night before Christmas, they all went out and got very, very drunk - well, aside from Clint who stayed for only one drink despite Tony’s best efforts to make him stay longer, and Steve who was out chasing a lead on Bucky; Thor was there but not drinking because someone had to stay sober in case the Avengers were called on (mostly even Supervillains took Christmas off but, it was better to be safe than sorry).

 

Loki was in exceptionally good form, regaling the group with stories - admittedly stories that embarrassed Thor; such as the time he convinced Thor to don a wedding dress to retrieve Mjölnir. "It's such a shame really, that Odin did not put that 'worthy' clause on your precious hammer until recently." Loki's expression was serious but there was no mistaking the amusement in his tone.

 

Tony managed to stop laughing long enough to get some words out. "What, and miss out on that precious, precious image? I think not!" He could contain his laughter no longer.

 

Natasha didn't really get the humour in the situation - she would have done the same thing if she had been in Thor's position. There was just one thing that bothered her: "How exactly did you manage to pass off as a woman?"

 

Loki smiled and gestured to Thor. "Why 'Freya' was wearing layers, of course - lots of them as per Asgardian Wedding tradition."  Natasha raised a brow at that so he elaborated. "I told them we Aesir believe in making the husband work for it - before he can claim his prize, he must remove two hundred layers."

 

"So how did you make yourself more feminine, Loki?"

 

Loki shrugged. "Lipstick. No one pays attention to handmaiden - especially not if they believe Freya to be in the room – a goddess widely stated to be the most beautiful woman in all the nine realms. All they bothered to notice on me was long hair, a dress and some lipstick - if they noticed anything at all."

 

Tony couldn’t help the slightly lecherous look he threw Loki as he considered THAT mental image.  Somehow, it wasn’t nearly as funny as Thor’s image had been.

 

--o--

 

By the time they left the bar, they were all very drunk indeed. Loki especially, was leaning heavily on Thor as he staggered with the rest back to the tower. Thor seemed more than happy to wrap his arm around Loki and keep him upright.

 

Loki sighed as, too drunk to do it himself, Thor tucked him into the bed. "I'm very drunk!"

 

Thor smiled and stroked the hair back from his face. "You are... are you going to blame me tomorrow when you wake up with a sore head?"

 

Loki gave that some serious thought then nodded. "Of course. You made me do it."

 

Thor chuckled and sat down on the edge of the bed, taking Loki's foot in his hands so he could untie and remove his boot. "If you say so."

 

Loki stuck his tongue out at him. "What if they don't like the gifts I have chosen for them?"

 

Thor snorted. "They will."

 

"But what if they do not?"

 

"Loki, relax - you always put so much thought into them. Even if you get it wrong, they will appreciate the effort..." He continued before his brother could say anything. "...you won't get it wrong." Thor set Loki's now bare foot back, set the boot on the floor then leaned over and placed a kiss on his forehead before returning his attention to the other boot.

 

Loki smiled affectionately up at the blonde. "I thought I was supposed to be the Silvertongue." He yawned and closed his eyes, almost asleep already.

 

Thor smiled affectionately at the younger man, removed the other boot and set his leg back on the bed. "Sleep well, Loki." As he stood, he pulled the cover over Loki before preparing for bed himself.

Chapter Text

When Thor woke the next morning and headed into the kitchen to break his fast, he was glad indeed not to have drank the night before – the people in the group who were up and about were rather reminiscent of the zombies from Tony’s current favourite television show – The Walking Dead.  It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why they were up if they were feeling so wretched but, he remembered then exactly what day it was and a grin spread over his face as he turned and walked back out of the room to go wake his brother.

 

Loki groaned and pulled the blanket over his head when someone tried to make him get out of the bed.  “Go ‘way, Thor.  Head’s sore, want to die.”

 

“Loki, it’s Christmas day.”

 

“Don’t care.  Want to die!”  From the tone alone, it was clear that Loki was pouting.

 

Thor laughed (softly).  “All right Brother.  I shall bring some of Tony’s medicine to make the pain go away then I’ll come back for you in an hour.”  His smile only increased when Loki muttered something that could have been either a curse or his thanks.

 

He returned two minutes later and even managed to get Loki to lower the blanket and lift his head long enough to swallow the painkillers that Tony had given him as well as a drink of water to wash them down with.  He shook his head and set the glass onto the bedside table when Loki had enough.  He smiled ruefully and brushed his brother’s hair out of his face.  “Perhaps someday you will gain some tolerance for alcohol.”  He stooped down to place a kiss on Loki’s temple.  “Sleep well, Brother.”

 

--0--

 

When Thor got back to the room, he noted that the rest of the group were sitting around the tree that Tony had got some men to install in front of the window at the start of December, rooting through the parcels there and dividing them accordingly.  “Are you not going to wait for everyone to get here?”

 

Tony was the one to speak.  “Yeah, sure Point Break, we just figured we may as well get them all into piles – y’know, one for each of us.”  Thor nodded in understanding at the logic and moved over to sit in between Natasha and Bruce, forcing the duo to move further apart in the process.

 

Ten minutes later, they were finished and Thor was looking upset.  The rest of the group picked up on it quickly enough; gave each other uncomfortable glances.  Finally Natasha spoke up.  “Thor?  Is something the matter?”

 

Thor blinked back to attention and looked at her.  “I-it’s just… there’s nothing here for Loki, other than my present for him.”

 

Talk about awkward.

 

Bruce sighed as everyone looked away again.  “It’s just… we weren’t sure that he would be interested in the celebration.”  While Thor was willing to use just about excuse for a celebration, Loki had been pretty scathing of any religious festival that didn’t have its roots in celebrating the Aesir – and therefore him.  Add to that the fact that there were no presents from Loki for any of them under the tree. 

 

Tony wisely thought about leaving the latter unsaid but, don’t let it be said that Tony ever listened to his wiser instincts.  “There’s nothing under the tree from him for any of us, Thor – not even for Pepper and I know he likes Pepper!”

 

That confused Thor a lot.  “Seeing as she isn’t here, my brother gave Lady Pepper her gift before she left,” he paused in reflection, trying to think of the right words, “I thought this was a celebration of giving.”

 

Tony coughed and looked away.  “I… well yeah, but….”  Damn, he had him there.

 

The thunderer interrupted him.  “Well, regardless, Loki has presents for you all – even for Happy though he has only met him a handful of times – because he seems to be important to YOU, Man of Iron.”

 

Ouch. Yep, even Tony was starting to feel bad now.

 

“Truth be told, he was a little embarrassed to be so excited about the holiday so he has kept your gifts locked away in the closet – I think he intended to put them under the tree this morning before everyone else had risen for the day but, he never did deal well with the pain that comes with drinking too much alcohol.”

 

Never mind the proverbial pin, you could have heard a feather drop in the silence that followed.  Thor looked around them all and watched the dawning expressions of horror and guilt that slowly spread over their faces and felt a little better.  Not because he had made his friends feel bad but simply, because he had come to his brother’s defense.  He would never not be there for Loki again!

 

They couldn’t help but picture what it would be like when Loki realised…

 

Tony let out a groan.  “Ah hell.  Just picture it guys – Loki will come into the room and we’ll all be sitting here, opening our gifts.  He’ll pull out whatever gifts he’s gotten for us… when we open them up, they’ll be absolutely amazing… he’ll sit there expectantly, waiting for something that’ll never come – the only thing that will come to him is the realization that we don’t give a shit… he’ll sit there and do his best to pretend that absolutely nothing is wrong and he’s happy just being here but he won’t be.  Hell, we suck as people.  We’re going to put ourselves in the same league as Fan-“  He stopped talking when Natasha pinched his arm.  He growled and eyed her but a warning look reminded him that he should not diss Thor’s Asgardian friends in front of Thor – no matter how condescending and nasty they happened to be.  “Uh… some really shitty friends?”  He finished lamely.  Damnit, he’d fix this, he would.  Loki may well have defenestrated him a few years back but that was in the past – the guy was a part of the team now so it had to be.  “Shit just got real guys – we gotta fix this!”

 

Tony chewed on his lip for a moment then brightened.  “JARVIS, see if you can buy me an actual solar system, would you buddy?”  He turned his gaze to Thor.  “Do sort-of-gods have a use for a Midgard-bought solar system?”

 

Thor shook his head sadly.  “I am afraid that such a claim would not hold in the rest of the realms.”  Bugger.

 

Clint was the first to snap out of the horror.  “Eh, he’s probably gotten me a toy Bow and Arrow set.  Well, I can probably find something – there’s that garage two blocks over... they never close, right?”  I can get him a box of chocolates maybe?  He has rather a sweet tooth so he’ll probably like them well enough.” He paused in the action of standing up to go do that as he noticed Thor’s expression falling further.  “What?  What is it, Thor?”  He had a horrible feeling he did not want to hear what Thor had to say next.

 

Thor sighed.  “My brother does not give thoughtless gifts, Barton.”

 

Chapter Text

Thor sighed.  “My brother does not give thoughtless gifts, Barton.”

 

Yup, should not have asked – shoulda just rushed out the door.  “Ah hell.  Meaning what, exactly?”  He sat back down again.  At Thor’s slightly blank look, he clarified.  “Give us some examples so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.”

 

Thor frowned as he thought back on all the examples, trying to find the best one to show them just how serious he was.  “You asked a while back about the story of Loki cutting Sif’s hair.  I never got to finish - what I meant to tell you was that it was not Loki who cut Sif’s hair but Amora.  She has that…thing…for me, as you are all undoubtedly aware of by now.”  He shifted and looked away for a moment, uncomfortable.  It didn’t seem to matter how many times he told Amora he wasn’t interested – in her or any woman for that matter.  He sighed and closed his eyes and forced his attention back to his explanation.  “She was jealous enough that she viewed Sif as a threat, figured that if only Sif didn’t look as she did, I would have no time for her… she used her magic to sneak into Sif’s chambers the night before her Name Day and cut off her hair.”  Though even now, the memory angered him, he smiled faintly as both Natasha and Tony gave outraged gasps at that.  “Sif was naturally distraught – our hair grows slowly.  It would have taken her hair at least two centuries to grow as long as it is now.”

 

Thor lifted up the piles of presents at his feet and moved them off to the side so that he could stretch his legs out a bit better.  “I was ready for Loki when he walked in – I would have smacked him senseless if he had dared to make fun of her.  He didn’t though.  My brother just stopped dead and stared, his mouth hanging open.  He stood like that for a moment then turned and walked out.”

 

For a moment Thor fell silent, lost in the moment.  Natasha nudged him to get him talking again.  “What did he do?  Did he go cut off Amora’s hair and make it into a wig for Sif?”

 

Thor snorted at the notion.  “Oh no… my brother went to see the dwarves.”

 

Tony wracked his brain for a moment.  “The dwarves that sewed his lips.”

 

Thor’s expression darkened at that.  “Yes.  Brokkr and Eitri.”  The blonde looked like he wanted to spit at even the thought of them but he pushed it aside to focus on the tale.  “The last time he had gone to see them, he had engaged them in a wager – which of course he won.  They told him if they ever saw him again, they would sew his lips shut…”

 

Bruce’s brows raised at that.  “And he still went back to them?”

 

Thor shrugged.  “There was no one else more talented at what they do – they were the ones to create Mjӧlnir all those millennia ago.  Loki told me later, after I had removed the stitches, that it was worth the pain and humiliation not to have to see that broken look on Sif’s face.”

 

Bruce nodded slowly in understanding.  “So the part of the Myth where Loki got them to make hair is true.”

 

Thor smiled.  “Indeed.  He went to them and they immediately moved to fulfill their vow.  He held his hands up, told them that they could sew his lips but first he required something – he would pay whatever price they wanted.  They were quite content with the idea of sewing his lips shut.”  Thor shook his head in wonder, remembering the look on Loki’s face as he had come bounding into the room where he had been sitting with Sif, trying to cheer her up.

 

“He just bounded up to us, grinning widely despite those damned stitches and the pain he must have been in and held this yellow blob out to Sif.  Of course she had no clue as to what it was and he couldn’t tell us.  When she wouldn’t take it, he gestured between the blob, Sif and his head.  When she still refused, he just rolled his eyes, still smiling and plopped it down on her head.  Before anyone could react, Sif had a full head of hair on her head.  No one knows why it changed to black and it took a while to get used to but Sif was so happy that she actually hugged him.  For quite some time after, the younger women of Asgard took to dying their hair the same colour because they were so envious of just how well it suited her.”  He smirked then.  “The next time that Loki met Amora in training, he wiped the floor with her.  We didn’t see her around for a century after that.”

 

“That’s so much more interesting than the story we had.  I Wonder if Amora was the one to share it with our ancestors.”  Bruce pondered. 

 

Thor shrugged.  “Most likely.  She never did like to be painted in a bad light, no matter how much she deserved it…”  It was time to get off the subject – Thor was always wary that just talking of the Enchantress had the power to summon her.

 

“Anyway, my friend Hogun, as you are all no doubt aware by now, is a very serious man indeed - I have seen him give a full smile exactly once in his time with us – that was after receiving a gift from Loki.  He never told us what it was but, if we mention it even now, it has still been known to bring the faintest of smiles to him.  Still.”

 

“What about Volstagg?”

 

Thor smiled and shook his head.  “My brother used a very dangerous spell – one that a user can only ever do once… it allowed him to go into the past long enough to retrieve his mother’s recipe book that had been lost in a fire.  His wife too, was thrilled – Volstagg finally stopped lamenting that her cooking was not as good as his mother’s had been.”  That anecdote at least received the laughter it should.  “Another year, he gave him a small bag – a bag no bigger than my fist.  I remember the look of absolute bewilderment on Volstagg’s face as he wondered just what he was supposed to do with it… when Loki explained that it was a magical item, enchanted so that he could carry anything he liked and it would weigh no more than a flower, well, naturally Volstagg used it to carry around a month’s supply of food for an army.”  Thor grinned and shook his head.  “That bag goes with him everywhere to this day.  I think he keeps the recipe book in there too.”

 

Bruce sighed wistfully.  “I would almost be willing to kill for some of my mother’s chocolate cake.”  Sadly, that recipe too, was lost to time.  “What about Fandral?”

 

Thor grinned at them all.  “He introduced him to the love of his life – his now-wife.”  Of course they all boggled at that.  “Oh, Fandral will flirt with anything that moves but believe me, since meeting his lady, he has remained entirely faithful to her.”

 

Tony allowed himself to consider that for a moment then stood determinedly and looked at Thor.  “Can you give us a hint as to what he would like?  Maybe a new helmet or something, bearing in mind that he never uses his old one any more?”

 

Natasha snorted and he turned his attention to her.  “What?”

 

She shrugged.  “You never get serious gifts, Tony – if you get Loki something like that, he’s going to feel even more alienated –no pun intended- when Thor opens his gift to find a white wedding dress or you get Bruce a toy doctor set or whatever the presents of choice are this year.” She smirked as she effectively ruined the gift he had been planning to get for the blonde god next year.

 

Tony sagged a little.  “Right, right.  Good point…”  He looked over at Thor as a glimmer of hope surfaced.  “Maybe he didn’t put that much thought into it?  I mean, he’s not exactly our biggest fan is he?”

 

Thor looked perplexed at that.  “If my brother buys someone a gift, he always puts his heart and soul into it.”

 

Tony eyed him.  “Yeah, yeah you mentioned something like that already but, maybe… I mean, given that he hates my guts, maybe he got me like, I don’t know… Soap on a Rope?”

 

The blonde blinked a few times, opening and closing his words as though struggling to find words.  He finally thought of what he wanted to say.  “Friend Tony, I do not know what that is but… is that what you all think?”  Looking around the group, he realized that they actually did believe that.  “If my brother hated you all, believe me, he would not be sharing this home with you all.  He would simply come by when necessary – he has always been fond of you and wants to be friends.”

 

Dumbfounded, they all stared at Thor.  “You never thought to mention that to us before?”  Tony slumped down on the sofa.  “What are we going to do?”  Natasha shrugged and walked out of the room.

 

The mortal men left behind all nearly had a panic attack when they heard footsteps coming towards them.  It wasn’t Loki though, it was Steve, loaded down with presents and an exhausted expression.  “Merry Christmas everyone.”  He beamed at them all regardless.  “I’m glad I didn’t miss the gifts…”  He paused, finally registering the distinct lack of merriment in the room.  “What?  What’s wrong?”  They all looked like someone had died.  Had someone DIED?  “Where is everyone?  What happened?”

 

Tony sighed.  “Calm down, Steve – no one’s died.  Except maybe Loki’s self-esteem.”  His head fell into his hands so Bruce explained:  “None of us thought to get Loki a gift.  We sort of assumed he wouldn’t be interested except Thor tells us that he is.  Very.  In fact, he’s a really, REALLY great gift-giver.  So basically we’ve all messed up.”  (Deep calming breaths Bruce.  Deep calming breaths.)

 

Steve looked at them all in turn, shocked.  “He lives here with us all, he watches our backs and has saved each of us more than once in battle and no one thought to buy him a gift?”

 

Natasha walked back in then.  “Speak for yourselves.”  She waved a parcel around that she held in her hand.  At the questioning looks, she shrugged.  “It would be horribly disorganized to have not gotten something just in case.”  She set her present down in Loki’s pile and at least it didn’t look just as bad as it had previously.

 

Steve shook his head and set his pile of presents down on the nearest surface, pulling one from the bottom of the pile and setting it down beside the gift that Natasha had set down.  Well, that just made Tony feel more shitty, didn’t it.  “Of course Captain Perfect bought him something.”  He murmured in a tone meant to carry.  Steve blushed a little at that but didn’t say anything.

 

Clint looked at his watch and sighed.  “I’ve gotta be back in two hours but that’s time enough.”  He cast his gaze over at Tony.  “I have an idea for something – something I think he’ll like actually.  I mean, it’s tempting to get him some toy weapons or something but that’d be kinda shitty if he’s actually taking it seriously so yeah… if I give you the details of what I need...”

 

Tony nodded.  “I’ll get it for you.  Gimme details!”  He considered that again.  “Actually, give them to JARVIS – I really need to go figure something out.”

 

--0--

 

Chapter Text

Two and a half hours later, the doorbell went.  “What the hell?  Who’s calling around and using the doorbell on Christmas Day?  JARVIS, tell them to take a hike, wou-”

 

Loki walked in then, looking a little green around the edges and carrying a small bag no bigger than Thor’s hand.  “No need, Anthony - that would be Steve’s Christmas present.”  He looked over at the Captain who was looking bewildered.  “You really should go and get that.”  He smiled softly at the blonde man.

 

After a moment of staring, Steve snapped out of it and went to see exactly what Loki had gotten for him.  Perhaps he should stop and get his shield… no, he scowled to himself at that errant thought – Loki was reformed now.  Most likely it was a puppy or something because the other man kept commenting about him being lonely.  He sighed and reached for and opened the door.

 

It was not a puppy…

 

Bucky stood there, on the doorstep of Tony’s tower, a faintly sheepish smile on his face.  “Hello Steve…  Loki seemed to think that you might have a place here for me.  He’s certainly spent enough of the last month drumming it into me…”

 

Steve could only stare.  “How… but… What?”

 

Loki appeared then, nudging Steve out of the way gently.  “Come in, Bucky.”  He reached forward and took the other man by the arm and ushered him inside, closing the door behind him just in case he decided this was a bad idea and chose to leave.

 

Steve turned his gaze on Loki, briefly but couldn’t really take his eyes off his oldest friend for long.  “You’re… really here?”

 

Bucky returned his gaze uncertainly.  “Unless you don’t want me to be…”

 

Steve snapped out of his shock then, at least enough to grab his friend’s arm – not tightly just securely.  “No!  I want you here.”  He gently pulled his friend off to the side to a quiet room where they could talk without anyone interrupting.

 

In his shock, he never even thought to thank Loki.

 

--0--

 

When Loki returned to the room, the rest of the group bar Thor were looking at him strangely.  “You found Bucky?  I mean, that’s what JARVIS is telling us… you FOUND him?”

 

Loki shrugged.  “It was easy enough to do so, when you know what to look for.  I found him back in November, in a tavern not too far from here, actually.”

 

“Yeah but… he’s here willingly.  Of his own free will.  The pictures that JARVIS brought up onscreen… he looks like he’s right where where he wants to be.  Did you use some sort of magic on him?”

 

Loki rolled his eyes at that.  “Yes Anthony, that’s exactly what I did…”  He eyed him but let the sarcasm drop.  “I do not have the power to control minds – even if I did, it would not last – we… talked, I made him realise that Steve was genuine in what he said.  I also told him that you had welcomed me here – into the Tower and into the Avengers and I have done far worse than he has.  If you can do that for me, why could you not do it for him, too?”  It wasn’t quite the truth of course but, where they were wary of him, he knew that they would all welcome the Captain’s friend.  His expression turned puzzled.  “Though how anyone who knows Steve could think otherwise is beyond me.”

 

“Uh… yeah.”  Time for a subject change before Tony’s head exploded.  “What’s with the bag, Reindeer Games?”

 

Loki blinked and looked down at the bag and set it on the counter.  “Oh, Christmas gifts…”  He really didn’t want all the attention back on him just yet.  “Are you all opening gifts now?”

 

Actually Tony really didn’t want to open any other gifts – he was curious about that bag at the very least because, surely there was no way he had all their gifts in there – unless it was a bag like the one that he had given to Volstagg.  If it was that sort of bag, he REALLY wanted to see it.

 

Natasha rolled her eyes as she guessed at Tony’s sudden preoccupation.  “Come join us, Loki.”  After a moment of consideration he did that, lowering himself regally onto the sofa between Natasha and Thor.  Natasha smiled and handed him his gift.  After a nod of encouragement, he opened the gift slowly, knowing from experience that the gifts that people gave him usually lacked any real thought.  He used the time to prepare the right expression of surprise and pleasure.

 

His eyes widened at the gift inside as for the first time in a very long time, he did not have to fake a pleased reaction to a gift from someone other than Thor or Frigga.  “Oh…”  Daggers so exquisitely carved and beautiful.  He lifted one up and smiled at the way it fit in his palm.

 

Natasha frowned faintly.  “Hopefully they are to your taste.  The weight is right because you and I have similar taste in weapons.  I figured you would want to inscribe some runes on there so I left them blank rather than adding any ornamentation-”

 

Loki interrupted then, a dazzling smile on his face as he took his gaze off the daggers to look at her.  She would almost swear that there were tears in his eyes but surely that was a trick of the light.  “They are perfect, Lady Natasha, thank you.”  Indeed, it wasn’t just the daggers – it was the fact that she had thought to leave space for his markings – actual thought had gone into the gift.  Someone had actually taken time out of their life to think about what would he would like.  He looked away then, embarrassed as his eyes misted up.

 

Pleased, Natasha bestowed a smiled upon him.  “You’re welcome.  I’m glad you like them.”  And she was – they might not be best friends but he was a part of the team.

 

--0--

Chapter Text

Tony being Tony, insisted that all of his presents were opened next.  Joke presents, of course as was to be expected – he already funded their weapons, clothing and the food in the tower and, if they needed anything, they just had to ask JARVIS.

 

Clint laughed as he unwrapped a toy bow and arrow.  He immediately used it to try and get one of the rubber-suckered arrows to attach to Tony’s head.  Natasha could only roll her eyes at the book:  A Beginner’s Guide to Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism.  “I assure you, Tony – I could teach the author a few things.”  

 

Tony grinned at her.  “Remembering how you enjoy pointing out the stupidity of the moves in action films, I figured you’d like to spot all the glaring mistakes in the book and write a strongly worded letter to the publishers.”  His grin only increased as she rolled her eyes.

 

 Bruce snorted in amusement as he unwrapped a bag of weed and a contact number for the supplier.  “Thanks Tony.  I don’t think it’d really be wise for me to get stoned though.”  Tony shrugged and took the bag.  “Your loss.”  After a moment of clinging to it jokingly, he handed it back.  “I bought it for you, if you don’t want it then I guess you’ll have to flush it.” 

 

Their gazes fell to Thor who was looking puzzled by the card in his hands.  “Anthony, what is this lifetime’s supply of Frizz-Ease you have gifted me with?”  Tony laughed and shook his head.  “It’s a hair care product – I figured that with all the lightning you’re dealing with, and how fuzzy your hair gets, this would be a good thing.”  Thor nodded in understanding even though his expression showed the opposite.  “Ah, thank you, my friend.”

 

Tony turned his attention to Loki who looked surprised at the sudden attention.  “I’ll be honest – it shames me to say it but, I couldn’t think of what to get you, Reindeer Games.  I mean, I considered getting you the rights to a Solar System but, as Thor pointed out, that’s only valid here on Earth… then I thought that maybe you might enjoy one of those little cards that entitles you to something – like, you would have a free chance to throw me out the window again – you seemed to like that a lot…”  He chuckled awkwardly but stopped when he saw the shamed look on Loki’s face.  “Sorry.  Too soon.” 

 

He leaned to the side and grabbed a box from the floor, reached over and set it down on Loki’s lap.  Loki peered down at it, wondering idly if it was a bomb.  He looked at Tony questioningly.  Tony sighed and lifted the box back up, pulled the device out and turned it on.  “It’s an e-reader.  Top of the range – hasn’t even hit the shops yet. Thor mentioned that you’re an avid reader but I haven’t seen you reading much since you came to the tower – I mean, maybe that’s because our books are boring but, there are so many out there that surely something has to be to your taste, right?  Anyway, use this to download whatever the hell Earth books grab your fancy.  It’s all set up for you and will be charged to me.”

 

Loki blinked suddenly to try and get rid of more tears – he had missed reading but nowhere nearby seemed to stock actual books any more and, although he had been told to ask JARVIS for things he needed, books had seemed entirely too frivolous to ask for.  Yet here Tony was, giving him something designed solely for the purpose of allowing him to read anything he wanted.  Damn, this group was good at gifts – that was supposed to be HIS domain.  “I… thank you, Tony.”

 

Tony lit up at that.  “Aha!  ‘Tony’ – making progress here everyone.  Mind you, even Anthony was a step up from ‘Man of Iron’.”  He eyed Thor mock-evilly then focused on showing Loki how the reader worked.  Loki laughed with genuine amusement as he saw the email registered to his account – Reindeer-Games@starkindustries.com.

 

Natasha threw the nearest thing she could find (a discarded sock – probably Clint’s as he had a bad habit of taking socks and shoes off at every given opportunity) at Tony.  “What did you get Steve?”

 

Tony grinned at that.  “A year’s supply of Brylcreem.”  This was met by a mix of laughter and groaning and facepalming.  “Oh come on, how was I supposed to resist?”

 

Bruce sighed and shook his head.  “Alright… well here you go…”  He passed an unmarked envelope to everyone.  “I got the same thing for everyone, before you ask.”  Apart from Natasha.  He had taken a trip with Thor a couple of weeks back to get a bottle of perfume for her, all the way from Vanaheim – apparently it made the wearer smell like an Angel.  He would give it to her later.

 

Curious, Tony opened the envelope and snorted as he saw the contents.  “A spa break.  Nice.  I can take Pepper, right?”  Hey, he wasn’t going to knock it – it’d be nice to have a break at a spa that wasn’t even owned by him either.

 

Bruce nodded.  “There’s one for her too, in her pile.  I figured you all are tense.  Almost as stressed as I am and it’s not great to have so many stressed-out people in one place.  Especially when one of those is me.”

 

“Oh!”  Loki exclaimed suddenly and jolted forward to get him bag.  Before anyone could ask, he dipped his arm into the bag and started rifling through it.  Tony’s eyes widened as he realised that his arm was going in DEEP.  (Eeep, Magic bag!  Shut up, Tony – you are not five any more.)

 

Loki’s expression turned satisfied as he stopped searching and pulled something out.  He looked pleased for a moment until he was holding the small object.  After eyeing it for a moment or two, he turned his attention to Bruce.  “I…”  What if Bruce hated it?  He mentally shrugged off the thought and practically shoved the small package into the man’s hands.

 

Bruce blinked but took the time to carefully unwrap the gift until he was holding a small amulet.  He looked curiously at Loki.

 

Loki looked slightly uncomfortable as he explained.  “You will undoubtedly think that I am doing this for myself but, I think that it is worth you thinking me selfish…”  He looked away for a moment when he looked back, he wore an expression of determination.  “If you choose to wear it, it will keep…him…at bay.”

 

Bruce boggled.  “…what?”

 

“Him… the Other Guy, as you call him…  Not all the time, of course because you do have use of him – but with a simple word spoken, it will allow you to choose when he comes out.  I also added a little extra something that will allow you to be aware when he IS out and put him back in his box, so to speak.” 

 

They were all staring at him again, shocked.  Was that a good thing or not?  He bit his lip, worried.

 

Bruce tried to get a word out.  “I… I can… He… I…”

 

Loki continued on.  “You are under no obligation to wear it, of course – you can even just take it down to your lab to study if you so desire.  Perhaps it will be a useful study object.”  Though he doubted it as while they could feel the effects of magic, the Mortals didn’t seem to be able to sense it by themselves or with the aid of instruments.  “There’s a spell on it to ensure it can’t be destroyed – or taken from you by an enemy for that matter.”

 

Thor’s hand touched his leg then.  “I think he needs a moment to take it all in, Loki.”  Loki looked at him and nodded.

 

Bruce was stunned.  His gift of a Spa Break now seemed kind of lame.  Really lame, actually.  Loki had given him his life back.  He could have a normal life…

 

Without conscious thought, his gaze fell on Natasha.  The woman gave him a soft, encouraging smile which he couldn’t help but return.  He turned his attention to Loki.  “How…”  He stopped to clear his voice, bringing it down to a more normal level. “How do I use it?”

 

“Just like a normal necklace – put it around your neck –whether under or over your clothes is entirely up to your preference- and the magic will do the rest.”  Natasha moved over and took the pendant from him.  She smiled at him as she slipped it over his head and straightened it where it fell against his shirt.  “There.”  She moved back to her seat.

 

Bruce’s eyes widened.  “I… can sense him!”

 

Loki nodded.  “It should be faint but there in the back of your mind – a… knowing.  It will be stronger when he is out but when you are …you, it’s just a hint.”

 

Tony frowned.  “Hey, one thing – what about if, say, someone attacks him unexpectedly.  They’ve done that in the past you know.  Bruce has been saved by the Other Guy… but if he can only come out at Bruce’s instigation..?”

 

Loki paused.  “Well, he has always been able to know what is going on with Bruce – if Bruce’s life is endangered, then he will resurface.  However, as already stated, Bruce will always be aware and can take control as soon as the danger is passed.”

 

Bruce bit his lip hard then, sure that he was about to cry.  It wasn’t the cure that he had hoped for… it was BETTER.  If he could stop the Other Guy from destroying things randomly, then that was good – he became an asset rather than a liability.  Plus, he got to have a normal life too.  He sensed that this solution seemed to even please the other because he wasn’t actively trying to get rid of him or even stop him from having fun.  A slightly broken sigh escaped him.  “Thank you, Loki.  This… means more than you will ever know.”  If his voice wasn’t its usual strength, no one was going to pull him on it – not even Tony.  And wasn’t that something!

 

Loki didn’t even bother to hide the slightly embarrassed but pleased flush that crossed his face.  He had gotten it right.  That was good.  Maybe now, in time, he could actually have friends among these people.  Maybe…

 

Chapter Text

Clint reached across and set his gift for Loki on his lap.  Loki blinked and wondered if he should expect a bomb but that was silly, right – after all, he would hardly try that when his friends were in the vicinity.  He really was expecting SOMETHING unpleasant though… he felt both confused and ashamed when he stared down at the chequered board revealed to him when he opened the box.  “A tafl board.” 

 

Clint shrugged “It’s probably not exactly what you’re used to but, I remember you said that you would like to play it.  It’ll probably be Tony who learns to play it with you first, given his competitive nature.” 

 

Loki grinned at him, pushing down the slight annoyance that once again, someone had brought him close to tears.

 

“I spotted it a while back, figured it was near perfect for you, with the red and green pieces and all.”  It was true, he had but, back then he had no plans to buy it for Loki but he refused to be outdone by the god.  “I mean, if it’s not right, you can make some sketches for me and I can make you up your very own, if you’d prefer.  Of course, you could always just go and get your own one from Asgard…”

 

Loki cut him off, almost placed a hand over his in emphasis but stopped himself.  “It’s perfect, thank you Clint.  Truly.”  It was all Loki could get out at that moment.  Words failed him.  This was a disturbing day for the Silver-tongue indeed.

 

Clint nodded then turned his attention to Tony before pointing to the box sitting in front of the genius, billionaire yada yada.  “All right, Stark – open the box.  I know you’ve been itching to.”

 

Tony grinned.  “Damn, and I thought I was hiding my curiosity so well.”  He tore into the thing, laughed as he saw what Clint had chosen for him.  “A train set… awesome.  I always wanted one of these but…”  Howard had believed that such a frivolous thing would hamper his schooling.  To heck with him though – he was long gone and he could do as he pleased! He ignored the slight guilt that thought brought him and grabbed the box, moving to an empty space on the floor so he could set it up, not caring that the others laughed at him – they weren’t laughing, they were laughing with him… or pleased for him.  Whatever.  He didn’t care.

 

Loki shook his head and smiled before taking two small packages out of the bag in front of him.  When that was done, he took the bag over to Tony and set it down beside him.  Tony looked at it.  “Are you giving me a magic bag, Loki-doke?”

 

Loki snorted.  “Not yet, no.”  He tapped the bag.  “I’m giving you the contents of the bag.”

 

“…which is..?”

 

“A block of dwarven metal – enough for you to be able to make your next suit with.”

 

Tony wasn’t really sure whether to be impressed with that so was glad for the distraction that came in the form of Thor’s dismayed gasp.  “Loki, please tell me you didn’t go back to those two sons of-“

 

Loki shrugged.  “It’s no big deal, Thor.  They wiped the slate clean when they were paid last time.”

 

“Paid by being allowed to sew your lips shut, you mean?”

 

Loki laughed.  “That was a lifetime and a half ago, brother.  It was worth it so forget it.”

 

“What did they charge you this time?”

 

He waved a hand dismissively.  “Nothing I couldn’t afford to give.  Stop fretting, Thor.”

 

Tony coughed to bring their attention back to him.  “So… dwarven metal – that’s magic, right?”

 

Loki nodded.  “Indeed.  It has all the properties of your strongest metal but is as light as air to hold or wear in your case.  At the same time, used in battle, it will not be so gentle towards your enemies.  Like Mjolnir, I suppose.”  He eyed the silly hammer in question.

 

Tony was quite impressed.  There was just one problem.  Well, two actually:  “I tend to change my suits a lot – y’know upgrades and whatnot.  Also, how do I turn into something other than a block?”

 

“Ah, for that you will need a forge.”

 

“A magical forge?”

 

Loki shook his head.  “Just a regular forge.  As soon as you put it into substantial heat, it will melt down, back to the original block form.”

 

Bruce butted in at that, looking worried.  “Loki, what happens if an enemy with a fire ability launches a prolonged attack on Tony?  Wouldn’t that mean he would get… melted or squashed or whatever along with the metal?”

 

Loki frowned at the image but shook his head.  “Excellent question but no – the fire alone won’t do it.  There’s a special incantation that needs to be said too.  Before you ask, the dwarves did not supply it to me – at my request.  Brokkr will be here within the hour no doubt to tell you himself.  Or he will be if he wants paid.”  He grinned a little evilly then but didn’t say any more.

 

Tony threw his head back and laughed.  “A dwarf is coming here?  Fury is going to pitch a fit!”  This made him happy.  Perhaps even happier than the metal waiting for him did.  “So I can really make anything I want out of this?”

 

“Anything you would normally make out of metal, yes.”  Loki shrugged.

 

“That is… really cool!  Thanks man!”  He grinned at Loki as ideas started taking form in his mind.  Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do much until the dwarf got there and, he would actually have to get the old forge up and running again but, they were minor details really. 

 

It was tempting to run off right there and then to plan things out with JARVIS but, the small part of his brain that he called ‘Pepper’ reminded him that it would be really bad to leave his friends to go and play in his lab.  He manfully held back a pout for a moment until he remembered that he had a train set to play with…

 

--0--

Chapter Text

Clint wandered off to the kitchen to get a drink.  While he was there, he rang home, just to check how everyone was doing.  Ending the call a few moments later, Clint sighed and rinsed out his glass and set it into the dishwasher before heading back into the main room.  He sat down on the seat beside Natasha.  “I have to go.”

 

Hearing that, both Thor and Loki looked over though it was Thor who spoke.  “Go?” 

 

Clint nodded.  “Yup, need to get back to the family.  I’m actually running late.”

 

Thor nodded and stood up and started distributing presents – there was nothing particularly exciting about them but no one was about to complain either – Thor had bought weapons for everyone despite Loki doubting that weapons were suitable for the holiday: daggers and such from Muspelheim that were enchanted with spells of protection and also to return to the owner if thrown.

 

Loki picked one of his three remaining gifts off the table and hesitantly passed it to Clint.  Clint eyed it for a moment, on edge because of the phone call and because of the nervous way that Loki was acting.  He pushed it all down though, for the moment, deciding to try and trust Loki - if only for a moment.

 

When he opened the package, it revealed… a quiver.  Made of cloth, not exactly handy as the edges would close in around the arrows as soon as something was taken out of it – not that that really mattered in the long run…  It was a strange feeling, being disappointed in a gift while at the same time, feeling smug that you have put more thought into the gift you got for that person.

 

Loki saw the confusion on his face and shook his head.  “It needs to be lined to give it a more solid shape but I’m afraid it wasn’t my top priority.”  He flushed a little as he registered his choice of words.  “I don’t… I…”  He let out a frustrated sigh and shook his head.  Where was his infamous silver-tongue this day?  “Anything you put inside it – apart from the lining, obviously, will be replaced.  If you use it, you will never run out of arrows again.  If for some reason you wanted to get rid of whatever was inside it, you would have to take them all out in one go – but taking out an arrow – or even two or three as I’ve seen you do in the past – will mean that another exactly the same will be created for you.”

 

Clint nodded, a little distant now – he knew he should rise above it but it hurt to be dismissed so – especially when Thor had said that Loki gave these great gifts with a lot of thought put into them.  He had half a mind to throw the stupid quiver into Loki’s face – even if it did sound amazing - and walk out of the room but he refrained.

 

He snapped out of his angry thoughts as he registered something being waved in front of his face.  When he focused, he realised it was a scroll of some sort – even had a rather official seal on it.  He thought vaguely, that it might be Odin’s handiwork but wasn’t a hundred percent sure.  “This became my main priority – it’s your main gift.”

 

What?  Clint took the thing and looked at Thor who shrugged – he had absolutely no idea what Loki had managed to come up with but he knew it would be good. 

 

Clint sighed and broke the seal, rolled out the parchment, then read what was written inside.  As the words inside registered, his hand flew to his mouth to stop any sound escaping.  He didn’t notice the tears that fell from his eyes. Shocked, the others could only stare at him.

 

He read it three times before he felt sure.  He raised his gaze slowly and looked at Loki who sat perfectly still, watching.  “You sonofabitch….”  There was no hostility in it whatsoever or the others would have moved to intervene when he lunged at Loki – no, when he glomped Loki.  There really was no other word for it as the god was engulfed in a hug.  “I fucking love you, man!”  He actually laughed and kissed Loki on the forehead as the rest stared at him, both bewildered by Clint’s behavior and stunned to realise that this was the most animated that Clint had been in months.

 

Steve was the one to ask:  “What exactly is the gift?”

 

Clint was grinning too widely, far too happy to even bother answering.  He just handed the very precious letter to Natasha when she reached for it.  “I have to call Laura!”  He fumbled in his pocket for his phone and jumped up, rushing into the kitchen for some privacy.

 

Natasha’s eyes widened as she read the letter.  Slowly, she raised her eyes to Loki.  “Please tell me this is not a joke.”

 

Loki sobered at that – looked a little hurt then but, he rallied well.  It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve the mistrust, after all.  “It isn’t.  It is exactly what it says.”

 

She shook her head.  “Thor said that Odin wouldn’t help with Jane – why would Clint’s wife dying of cancer be any different?”

 

Loki shrugged nonchalantly – or tried to at least.  “It seems I had something that he wanted.”

 

Now Thor was just as worried as Natasha though, for different reasons.  “What did he make you do?”

 

Loki sighed.  “Thor, really… does now seem like the time to you?”

 

“What other time would you suggest?”

 

With an angry scowl on his face, Loki turned to him.  “He didn’t ask for anything I wasn’t willing to give, okay?  It’s FINE!”

 

“You keep saying that.”

 

“Because it is fine, now shut up!”

 

Bruce in the meantime, had taken the letter from Natasha.  “He never said a word.  How bad is it?”

 

Natasha sighed and rubbed at her forehead.  “Bad.  The doctors said she had maybe a year left – that was six months ago.”

 

Loki shrugged.  “Well, now she can tell them they were wrong.”

 

A thought occurred to Natasha then.  "Wait - how did you even know?  He told me but he swore me to secrecy.  He didn't want anyone feeling sorry for him or getting sad because of the futility of the situation..."

 

Loki actually looked a little embarrassed then.  "I could not think of anything to get Clinton - not anything special enough anyway, to even try and make up for what I had done to him.  I decided therefore, that perhaps I could use my magic to follow him discreetly, in the hopes that he would let something slip.  It was only after trying to do this for a while that I realised that he was not around as much as he had been previously... I found out the truth one day when I followed him in to Coulson's office."

 

Perhaps someone really should berate him for such actions but, who could bring themselves to do it when the result had been so incredible?

 

Ll.  Oo.  Kk.  Ii.

 

On a high, Clint came back into the room and immediately rushed over and hugged Loki again.  “Thank you.”

 

Loki patted him.  “I know it doesn’t make up for what I did to you but…”

 

Clint blanched a little at that.  “Are you kidding, man?  You must be kidding!  You’re forgiven.  Completely.  You are now officially my second favourite adult in the world!  Sorry Nat.”  He grinned over at his friend who merely looked amused.  “I think I can deal with that.  So when are they going?”  She turned her gaze to Loki.

 

Loki shrugged.  “As soon as Laura gets here.”

 

Clint’s eyes widened.  “Shit.  Really?”  He fumbled about for his phone again and quickly rang his wife to tell her that very important news – there wasn’t a moment to waste after all.  Tony clapped his hands together as he thought of something.  “Happy can be at your house in five minutes – he’ll bring her here in style.”

 

That sobered Clint up enough to remember what had been going on prior to the best news he had heard in a very long time.  “Oh, gifts…” He moved over and grabbed the corresponding items – a pair of skechers for Steve; a book of photographs that Natasha had been after for a long time; Bruce got an I.O.U. for any home improvements he wanted to make when he finally settled on a new home – he knew that Bruce enjoyed spending time with them of course, but, he also like time to himself. 

Natasha and Bruce smiled at the idea of Steve wearing sketchers.  “Aw, c’mon guys – you know they’d be a lot better to run in than those ridiculous boots he always wears.  Plus, I even got them to match his outfit… what’s not to like?”

 

Tony smirked and plopped the Train Conductor’s hat on Natasha’s head.  “Oh, I’m gonna make him wear them!”

 

--0--

 

Chapter Text

Given that there was still no sign of Steve coming back, Natalie guessed it was her turn to give out the rest of her gifts.  She nudged Tony and grinned widely at him – it disconcerted the billionaire slightly to see such a bright smile aimed at him.  “I didn’t get you a physical gift, Tony – I do however, promise in front of our friends that I will not try to hack into your systems for the next month.”

 

Tony grinned.  “But I will so miss our games, Miss Romanov.  It’s like the funnest game of chess ever!”

 

Natasha smirked at him.  “I only promised you a month – I assure you I will be back after that.”  She turned her attention to Clint.  “As for you, it’s the same thing I give you every year – free babysitting services as and when.”

 

Clint smiled a little sadly at her.  “No better babysitter in the world!”  He pulled her into a brief hug but he was too wired to stand still for longer than that.  “I need to pack – how long will we be there, Loki?  Can I bring my weapons?”

 

Thor frowned.  “You will be there as a guest, you do not need weapons.”

 

Clint snorted his eyes at that.  “Loki was the second prince and he got picked on.  I’m shorter than he is, probably not as muscly and I use a bow and arrow… I want to take my weapons.”  The smile on Thor’s face dimmed a little but sadly, he saw Clint’s point.  “Take the daggers I gave you.”

 

Natasha looked around the room and her gaze locked next on Bruce.  She smirked and then walked up to him and kissed him quite soundly.

 

“Huh.  Didn’t see that coming.”  Loki snorted and rolled his eyes at Tony’s comment.  “Are you blind?”  Tony shrugged helplessly.

 

Natasha smiled against Bruce’s lips before breaking the kiss.  “Will you be my boyfriend?” She whispered it quietly, a little embarrassed at the question but she didn’t know how else to put it.  For a moment, she saw panic rise in Bruce’s eyes but then she assumed he remembered the amulet and he relaxed.  The nod and soft, sweet smile that came to his face were the icing on the cake of the Best Christmas Ever. She grinned and stole another kiss before breaking away from him to bring Thor his present.  “This is really for both you and Loki – and it’s from Clint, Steve and I: my idea but Clint did the frame and Steve what’s inside the frame.”

 

As he opened the package and stared down at its contents, Thor’s eyes filled with tears at the sight before him.  He just about managed to croak out Loki’s name and gestured for him to come over.

 

As Loki looked down, his breath caught in his throat at the beautiful framed drawing held carefully in Thor’s hands.  “Mother… how did you get this?”

 

Natasha spoke up then.  “Steve drew it off some of the photographs that Tony got of your mother when she visited that time.  We thought you might like to have it.”

 

Thor swallowed hard as he looked back down at the picture in his hand, tracing the lines of a much-missed face.  “It is beautiful.” 

 

Loki nodded in agreement, the tears that had been threatening to fall finally sliding down his face.  “It is.  Thank you.  All of you – we do not have many images of Mother.  Just one, in fact – and that is back in Asgard and is a rather formal affair… Steven is truly gifted - he has caught her essence magnificently.”

 

Natasha smiled at them both, glad to have come up with the perfect gift for them both, even if she had not been the one to make it come to life.  “I got Steve an MP3 player and filled it with songs I thought he would like – some golden oldies, some more modern stuff.  I guess we will have to wait and see his reaction.”  She smiled and shook her head as she walked back to her seat but, before she could reach it, Loki stopped her with the simple expedient of his hand wrapped around her wrist.  She looked down at it, slightly annoyed that someone dared to touch her but… but it was Christmas and Loki had done something amazing for her friends… was clearly a friend too.  She raised a brow as she looked at him and he smiled lopsidedly as he realised that he had her attention.

 

“My apologies, Lady Natasha.  I have yet to give you your gift…”  He passed it to her with a flourish and she opened the box…

 

… and just stared down at the yellow apple inside with some confusion.  This seemed to be a common trait with Loki so she turned her gaze to him and waited for further explanation.

 

“Ah, you don’t realise the significance.  It is one of Lady Idunn’s golden apples, Lady Natasha.”

 

Tony shot up and was at her side in a heartbeat.  “Wait a minute – you’re making her immortal?”  Did immortality beat his block of dwarven metal?  Tough call.

 

Loki’s lips lifted in an apologetic smile.  “They do not have that effect on mortals, I’m afraid.  They do, however, have the ability to regenerate tissue.”

 

Tony eyed him.  “Can you be any more cryptic?”

 

Loki didn’t bother to respond to that – he focused his gaze solely on Natasha as he spoke.  “You’re wondering why I didn’t give this to Clint for his wife.  The apples cannot remove foreign matter, they can only repair that which is damaged.”

 

Probably for the first time in years, Natasha had not a clue what Loki was getting at.  “I don’t … I don’t understand.”

 

Loki patted her hand gently.  “I’m afraid I must confess to overhearing a conversation between you and Clint – you told him about what happened to turn you into one of the world’s best assassins – what they took from you…  if you eat this apple, it will repair that damage completely.”

 

The shaking hand she lifted to cover her mouth was just a little too slow to hold back the strangled sob that escaped her.  She just stared at Loki through increasingly blurry eyes as tears welled.  “I… could be a…a Mommy?”

 

Looking at her, at the multitude of emotions that were for once clear to be seen, he felt his own tears start once more.  “Yes.”

 

Natasha wanted to say something, she really did but, the words wouldn’t come out – all that would come were shallow breaths as she tried not to break down in front of everyone.  With a shake of her head, she finally broke eye contact and fled from the room.

 

Loki cursed softly and looked around, panicked.  “I swear, I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

 

Bruce patted his arm.  “She’s not angry – she just needs a moment to process.  You gave her something she never thought she would have and it’s a shock, that’s all.”  He excused himself and went after his… girlfriend.

 

Tony was of course the one to break the silence that followed, giving a long, low whistle.  “You are one impressive piece of work, Reindeer Games… you come in here and break every bloody heart in the room… but in a good way.  Which is nice.  More than nice, actually – keep doing that and I might actually have to start believing in Norse Gods.”  He grinned at Loki, shaking his head.

 

Loki snorted at that and rolled his eyes in amusement.

Chapter Text

The group had once more congregated in the main room by the time that Happy and Laura arrived – Happy was pushing Laura in a wheelchair and there was not a person in the room who wasn’t saddened to see a once so vibrant woman now so clearly sick.  Laura paid them no mind, however as her husband came over to her and hugged her as tightly as he dared before showing her the parchment.

 

Laura beamed so brightly that for a moment, they were all reminded of what she had been before she had gotten sick.  She raised a shaky hand to Loki and gestured to him to come over to her.

 

Loki did so, kneeling down in front of her.  “…I hated you.  For the longest time.  Now, you shame me…”

 

“That was not my intention, I ass-“  Laura cut him off by placing a finger over his lips and Loki blinked at that – when was the last time anyone but Thor had initiated physical contact with him.  “I’m trying to say thank you, Loki.”  She smiled tiredly at him.  “Thank you – I was so scared of leaving them alone.”  She nodded towards Clint who was still at her side, holding her other hand.  “Especially this one because he’d fall apart without me.”

 

Clint nodded fervently.  “Laura is my very better half.”

 

Loki smiled at them both.  It might have cost him his freedom but he would gladly do it again.  “You are both very welcome.”  He blinked in surprise as he was suddenly pulled in for a hug by Clint and the three of them just knelt there for a moment until the sound of an activating bifrost reached them.  Loki separated looking rather… wrecked if truth be told.  So much positive emotion – it really was not something that he had ever had a chance to get used to.  “I believe that is Brokkr.”

 

--0—

 

The happy mood was only dampened a little when Sif was the one to escort the dwarf into the building.  She eyed Loki but otherwise said nothing about him.  She did however, beam at Thor and hug him.  “I am here to collect a couple of your mortals, at the Allfather’s request.”

 

Loki snorted a little at that but allowed himself to be tugged away by Tony as Brokkr insisted on seeing where Tony worked his magic.

 

Tony smirked as he looked at Loki.  “I’ve gotta hand it to you, Reindeer-Games – you won this round but you just wait… I’ll be starting on your gift as soon as the New Year is through.  We’ll see who cries most next Christmas.”

 

Loki smiled softly at that.  “I think you all did a more than good enough job as it is, Anthony.”

 

Tony grinned and patted Loki’s shoulder companionably – and Loki wasn’t even that surprised by the contact this time.

 

--0—

 

Later, when it was just the two of them, Thor pulled Loki into a hug.  “So are you going to tell me now – what Father asked of you?”

 

Loki’s arms wrapped around Thor in turn.  “If I must…  He made me swear my loyalty to Asgard and to the Throne… and that I would return to Asgard with you when you were ready.”

 

Thor startled and pulled back as much as his brother’s would allow.  “You gave up your freedom?”

 

Loki couldn’t help but roll his eyes.  “Don’t be so melodramatic, Thor – these are things I would have given anyway, when you decided to take the Throne.  Father just insisted on it ahead of time.”

 

There was something strange about that sentence – something very strange indeed but he didn’t have time to work it out before Loki spoke again.  “I love you.”

 

Thor’s answering smile was beautiful.  “As I love you.”  He smiled against Loki’s lips when they met his in a lingering kiss.

 

--0—

 

It would be a further three days before Steve remembered to give out his gifts – by that time Clint and a much healthier Laura were back and Bucky had moved into the tower and was talking about joining the Avengers, Natasha and Bruce had gone on their first date and Tony had had a brand new forge installed in the basement.

 

The year ahead was going to be amazing.