Steve was a fool to listen to Tony. "It's a quick buck," Tony had said. "Look, you don't want me loaning you money, let me give you some extra work. It'll be easy."
It'll be easy, sure. But Tony decided not to inform him that “modeling” meant underwear modeling with other scantily clad men and women while Tony made them pose in suggestive tableaus.
"Come on, come on, more pout, Carol," Tony babbled as he worked. The clicks from the camera were rapid and unending. "Now you’re looking sick. Think sex. Good, good, a little to the left, Thor."
Steve was relegated to the background, lost among the mass of arms, legs, and torsos he found himself in. He glanced to the left to find a pair of rather robust breasts in front of his eyes, and he struggled to keep his blush down.
"Look to the right, everyone, to the right."
After far too long, Tony called for a break. Steve felt hot, exhausted, and exposed. He slipped on his bathrobe, although a number of the other models didn't bother. They accepted their make-up touchups and sips of water through straws with the calm grace that came from professionalism.
Steve decided that this would be the last time he took Tony up on his work offer.
He asked an assistant if he could step out for a moment. She told him to be back in five.
The fresh air invigorated him. Thankfully, the location was an old warehouse, so there weren't any busy streets nearby or curious onlookers from windows. Even with the robe, Steve would have felt indecent. A bird twittered somewhere overhead. He shaded his eyes from the sun to look for it.
"Excuse me." Someone stepped up beside Steve. It was a tall man, well-dressed, with a mild sneer on his face. Steve bit his lip, embarrassed.
"Oh, sorry." He stepped to the side, letting the man through. He realized that he should head back in, too, but the door swung shut. Now it would just be awkward to go in.
He waited as close to a minute as he could before entering, certain he’d been out for more than five minutes. But no one noticed him. Instead, they were watching the stranger and Tony argue. Neither spoke loudly, but their expressions were clear.
Steve approached the assistant he'd spoken with earlier. "Can I ask what's going on?" he said.
She shook her head, sighing. "Creative issues, apparently. Don‘t worry about them, they‘ll get their heads out of their asses eventually.” She glanced up at Steve before saying, “Look, have you had your make-up fixed yet?” The assistant - Pepper - began ordering people back to work.
Tony and the man's argument finally ended, and the man left as abruptly as he had come. Tony, clearly channeling his anger, snapped at people to take their places. Pepper pointed out they already were, but Tony appeared to not listen.
This was definitely the last time Steve would work for Tony.
"Eyes up, Steve! Focus!"
Tony called him early the next morning to set up a lunch date. Steve had planned on studying during his lunch break, but he eventually gave into Tony's pleading.
They met at Parker's Sandwich Shop. When Tony offered to buy Steve anything he wanted, Steve knew something was up.
"I've told you, you don't need to treat me."
"Come on, Steve, just this once. Consider it as further payment for yesterday. Actually, you know what, you should let me treat you more. I mean, it makes sense, right? You working class man by day, art student by night, me famous photographer, well, all the time-"
"Tony. What is it?"
Tony’s tendency to ramble was perhaps one of his most frustrating traits. He finally let his sunglasses fall down his nose to meet Steve's eye. "Look, could you do some more work for me? I know you said-"
"Tony, I'm not-"
"Steve, let me finish, I know you said you were done, but, look, you were awesome yesterday, really awesome. It'd just be a couple more days, nothing too big, just, you know, a couple more shoots for the same line-"
Steve held up his hand. "Tony, I told you, I'm done." He sat back with a shrug. "I wouldn't have even taken you up on it the first time if I'd known it was underwear."
Tony took off his glasses. He looked desperate. "Look, Steve. I really need your help. I'm going to lose a client if you don't agree. The designer saw the photos from yesterday, and he hated them. The whole shoot, down the drain. But, you, Steve," and Tony gestured grandly at Steve, "he wanted you in all of them."
Steve laughed. "Tony, stop joking around."
"I'm not." Tony grabbed Steve's hand and held it up. "Look, you want me to beg, I'll beg. I'd prefer to not bother with this guy at all, believe me, he's a spoiled princess, but this is Loki Odinson we're talking about. I turn him down, I get shut down."
Steve didn't follow fashion, but the name did sound vaguely familiar. Tony had likely mentioned him once before while talking about work. "Why would that shut you down?"
Tony stared at him like Steve had lost his mind. "Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve. Are you listening to yourself?"
Steve shrugged. "What?"
"Odinson. As in the son of Odin."
Steve shrugged again.
"Odin, Odin Allfather, the name, I know, over the top, but this guy owns all the magazines worth knowing, all the stores worth shopping at, all the advertisement companies! You can't spit without hitting something Odin controls. Jesus, Steve. When'd you last poke your head out from under your rock?"
"It's not my thing." Steve didn't care who owned what or who was in or who was out. Sure, Tony made his life on it, but none of Steve's other friends cared, as far as he knew. Odin Allfather, Loki Odinson... what was it to him?
"Steve, you're killing me here. You're in art school, you could be working for one of these guys some day!"
"I'm not interested in graphic art or design. I like painting."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Right. Painting. Monet for you, sorry."
"I prefer Gauguin."
"Whatever. Just, Steve, please. I need you. I'll pay you double, I swear."
Double would give him a nice sum of money. He could buy new art supplies, get something nice for Bucky's birthday, which was soon, take everyone out for a drink maybe. He could put it towards a new motorcycle. That would be nice. Maybe he could pay for more classes or not worry about rent for a few months.
He sighed, having a feeling not even a new bike would be worth this. "Okay, Tony. Just a few more days, right?"
Tony let his head fall forward. "Oh, thank you, I thought I was going to have to guilt you into it."
Yes, he was already regretting this decision. But Tony needed his help, and Steve couldn’t leave him hanging.
Loki leaned back in his chair. Yesterday had been trying. Stark's shoddy work was absolutely ruining his creations, and Thor had been there. Yeesh. Loki had thought he'd made it clear to his father that Thor was not to work on any more of his projects. He was tired of trying to make Thor look good. Thor, Thor, Thor, it was all about Thor, Odin’s golden boy.
He picked up one of the test prints from the day before. In one corner of the photo, behind Thor's overly bronzed body, a young man with just the slightest hint of red in his face stood. Loki ran a finger over the man. There was something about him that was inspiring. He had potential.
Maybe he would drop in on the next photo shoot and see how things were coming. Clearly, Stark couldn't be trusted.
There was a knock at his door. Loki dropped the picture to the desk. "Come in."
His assistant, Sif, popped her head in. "Your brother's asking to see you. He says it's urgent."
"I'm not in."
"He says he knows you are, sir."
Likely because Sif had told him. She was far too fond of his brother, like everyone else. He waved his hand. "Fine, send him in."
Thor stomped in with his usual manner of buffoonery. He was a walking stereotype. "Loki! What is this about cutting me from the Mischief line?"
Loki stood and smiled as good naturedly as he could. "I thought you were too busy, what with all your other works."
"Nonsense." Thor shrugged a shoulder, and he swept his long hair back. He was always sweeping his hair back, and Loki just wanted someone to inform him that the Fabio look was out. Loki would have done it himself, except he didn’t like repeating himself unnecessarily. Blond bricks never understood anything the first time around. "Your work always takes precedence. You're my brother."
It was the simplest and most obvious explanation for Thor. To Loki's ever growing frustration, it never entered his mind that family did not grant him a carte blanche when it came to Loki, his things, or his projects.
"Don't feel pressured. You can sit this one out."
"Thor. As my brother, I'm telling you I want you to sit this one out."
Thor's face fell with honest disappointment.
Loki slung an arm around him and slowly led him to the door. "Think of it as a chance to explore other options. You cannot always be chained to my side. Try new things, new experiences." Fall off a cliff while you're at it, Loki thought.
"Perhaps... you are right," Thor replied, but he sounded uncertain.
"Trust me, Thor."
At that, his brother grinned at him. "Always." He hugged Loki tightly. "Best wishes, then."
After shutting the door behind him, Loki straightened his coat and smoothed down his hair. His brother was such a nuisance. If their father didn't insist, Loki would never let him wear his designs.
Well, never mind that. He had other things to deal with. While better than most, Stark was an still incompetent fool, so Loki was going to have to intervene directly.
"Okay, people, let's try to do this right the first time," Tony said, clapping his hands for attention.
Pepper rolled her eyes and said to Steve, "Half the time, it's his fault."
"I heard that, Pep." He snapped his fingers. "Come on, let's go."
Pepper patted Steve on his back. "I'm amazed he has voluntary friends."
"He's not that bad," Steve said. But, no, Tony could be that bad. "Not all the time."
When they were ready for Steve, he met with the other model. She was very pretty, great eyes, soft face, cute haircut, and she had a very nice, uh, bosom that was artfully clad in a lacy bra.
"Pleasure to meet you. I'm Steve," he said. “A friend of Tony’s.”
She looked him up and down. Steve wished he was wearing more than the tight underwear.
"Natasha," she said at last.
"Alright, kids, on the couch."
Steve tried to concentrate. This was work. No pressure. No awkwardness. They sat on opposite sides of the couch, Natasha's legs draped over his. She was fantastic at this. The way she moved her body just screamed sexy. In comparison, Steve felt out-of-place and clumsy. Tony didn't make him feel any better.
"Come on, Steve, loosen up. Seduce me here."
"I'd rather not, Tony."
"Less talking, more pouting."
Steve turned and twisted as Tony instructed, but nothing seemed to please him. Natasha was perfect. Tony only needed to say, "A little more... yeah," and she would move in just the right way.
Steve had never heard that “being psychic” was a requirement for models.
The shoot was interrupted when someone said, "Have you screwed up yet, Stark?"
The man who had argued with Tony the other day strolled in. He was dressed just as fine today. No one looked happy to see him.
"Ah, now, see, with that little confidence, what can I possibly hope to achieve?" Tony said. "What are you doing here anyway? I've got everything you wanted already."
"Observing." The man picked a spot by one of the fill lights. "Oh, please, continue."
Tony grumbled to himself, but he went back to work. Steve tried his best to follow his snapped instructions, but he felt hot and anxious all of a sudden.
The man stopped them five minutes later.
"This isn't working," he said.
"Let me do my job, then you can gripe," Tony said, still snapping away. "Natasha, if you- perfect, thanks."
The man walked onto the set, looking disdainfully at everything. "I don't like this set-up. We'll have to redo it."
"Will you just-"
"Stark. We're done for today. Now."
Tony wanted to throw a tantrum; it was easy for Steve to see that. But he held back and called wrap. Natasha, without a word, slipped away. Steve fumbled for his bathrobe.
The man approached him. "Excuse me," he said. "Steve Rogers, isn't it?"
"Uh, yeah." Steve attempted to tie the belt. It wouldn't cooperate, and the robe didn‘t want to stay closed. "And, uh, you are?"
The man smiled slowly at him. He held out his hand. "Loki Odinson."
"Oh." Steve stared at the hand a moment too long, then grasped it. The robe won out, falling open. "Nice to meet you."
It wasn't his most graceful introduction, meeting a man whose briefs he was wearing and showcasing. He tried as subtly as he could to close the robe once more, but Loki’s eyes dropped down as he did so. Steve’s face heated.
“So, uh, what can I do for you, Mr. Odinson?”
It took far too long for Loki’s eyes to meet Steve’s again. “Loki, please. I think I need to design something a little more fitting.”
“Yes.” Loki began to circle Steve, which made him feel vulnerable. “Meet me next week, would you? There are some things I’d like to try.”
Steve stammered out his response. “I don’t think I-”
“Loki!” Tony marched up to them. He was angrier than Steve had ever seen him. “This is my shoot, and I say when it’s over, not you. I’ve given you everything you wanted, so what is the problem? You want me to bleed for you, is that it?”
Loki patted Tony on the shoulder. “It was better. But not good enough. I’ll be in contact with some new ideas, Stark.”
“I am not your-”
“Here you are, Mr. Rogers,” Loki said, handing Steve a business card. Tony, ignored, threw up his arms and walked away, muttering.
Steve glanced between Loki and Tony. “Tony was-”
“My assistant will set something up with you.” Loki leaned closer to Steve, and he could smell whatever fancy cologne Loki wore. “I’m sure it will be a pleasure working with you.”
He smiled, waved, and left, leaving Steve still almost naked, red, and not quite sure what he’d gotten himself into.