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5 Times Loki Tried To Seduce The Avengers For His Own Ends And One Time He Succeeded (Sorta)

Chapter Text

After watching the twentieth girl press up against Tony Stark at a televised event he was hosting (or sponsoring) Loki realized that this was his way in – this was his way to destroy the irritating superhero band he had inadvertently nursed into being. Any direct threat only tied them closer together, strengthened the currently still-tenuous bonds of trust and mutual reliance, but what about a threat from within, that had insinuated itself into their midst through their own carelessness and vices.

Through their weak, animal lusts.

Tony Stark was both the inspiration and the obvious target for this. A womanizer by nature, whose appetites were widely known, getting into his bed would be simplicity itself. And, once there, Loki was confident he could make it worth Stark’s while to keep him there.

It wouldn’t have to be long, just a few weeks at most, just long enough.

Loki grinned as idea after idea flew through his mind. On one hand it was premature to make such plans, but on the other…

Well, it never hurt to be prepared, did it? And it was such an entertaining way to pass the time.

The Maria Stark Foundation provided funding for hundreds of non-profit organizations, through thousands of fundraisers and awareness drives. Tony Stark was involved in fewer than a percent of them, but those that he attended made the others more prestigious, and his notorious unpredictability made every event one he could show up at.

They saved lives and made the world a better place. And that clearly made it worthwhile to dress up in a monkey suit and walk among the wealthy and elite. Loki smiled to himself as he brushed past Stark, disguised as a serving boy, only barely grazing the back of his hand as he talked some rich old man into increasing his donation. It was more than enough for Loki to pull a rush of thoughts, desires, and secrets from Stark’s mind.

It wasn’t mind-reading per se, that had never been one of Loki’s skills. He could take those thoughts, but he himself couldn’t understand them. It was his magic that could, and it caught onto the one thing that Loki was currently interested in; Stark’s perfect ideal.

He finished his rounds and ducked out as soon as he could, finding a deserted room and letting the power loose over him.

The first thing he thought when it was over was that Stark had decent taste.

Between the short height and the large breasts, the dark hair and olive tanned skin, Loki wasn’t entirely sure what race he was, but he was certainly still mortal. Given Stark’s breadth of experience and famed imagination, in hindsight Loki couldn’t have been sure of that. He found a mirror and looked himself over critically, still liking what he saw. Asian, he decided, probably Japanese. And shorter than Stark himself, which was a new (and rare, Loki thought, sniggering a little) experience.

The temptation to dress in green was easily suppressed. It wouldn’t do to be predictable, after all. Instead, Loki chose a low-cut deep blue gown, one that hugged his new curves until it flared out a little to give him the impression of having hips. He adorned himself with silver jewellery, over his ears, neck, and wrist, adding the occasional diamond and sapphire where tastefully appropriate. His new face didn’t need much, just a hint of blue over his dark eyes, and he was set to go.

The only problem was the appropriate shoes. Anything above a two-inch heel would make him taller than Stark, which ruined some of Loki’s fun. He pouted slightly and scaled down the azure heels to a more sedate height, just enough to accent his calves. He added his final touch – a soft scent, the essence of elven pheromones magically distilled and guaranteed to take layers of inhibitions off even the most controlled libido.

Perfect.

The party was still in full swing when Loki returned to it. He watched Stark glad-hand a few more people, getting gradually more inebriated and louder with every drink he shared with a potential benefactor. Rather than trying to get Stark’s attention himself, Loki decided to wait until Stark came to him. The music was fast and getting louder as the DJ lost his inhibitions and indulged himself. It was fortunate for him that the guests were too far gone themselves, most of them, to notice or were enjoying the hard beats and simple melodies that echoed the rhythms of heartbeats, of battle, of giving into wild, passionate abandon.

Something Loki had never been skilled at, but had always been able to fake.

He positioned himself near a group of young up-and-coming businessmen and let himself move. The new curves and jewellery took some getting used to, but Loki had always been innately graceful and confident in his attractiveness. Wearing another, female, body wasn’t that much of a change for him to forget that, and his moves and body telegraphed that confidence and grace as he closed his eyes and raised his hands over his head.

Strong hands settled on his hips from behind and Loki’s eyes flew open, his head craning to see one of the men moving with him as if he had a right. Loki smiled, cold and sharp, and was unsurprised that all he got in return was a self-assured smirk.

“What’s your name?”

The sheer presumption of the man. “Are you familiar with the tale of Rumpelstiltskin?” Loki asked smoothly, pulling away. “You must guess my name in return for any reward.”

Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t enough to deter Loki’s pursuer. “Hey, c’mon, don’t be like that…”

Loki raised an eyebrow and was about to retort (“Like what, good sir?”) when Stark stepped between them like the hero he was always claiming not to be.

“Problem here?”

Reaching out to touch Stark’s arm, like a maiden in distress, Loki just smiled. “Nothing I can’t handle, thank you.”

Stark smiled back and moved closer, his body language clearly claiming Loki as his now. It was a more subtle gesture than Loki would have expected on Asgard, but the alpha-maleness of it all was certainly something that the two cultures shared.

“Well, if you two are done then, I have some people I want you to meet.”

Again, more subtle than in Asgard, but the idea was the same; take the woman, separate her from the other men, assert your dominance. So banal. Loki kept the pleasant smile on his face and went along with it, allowing Stark to place his hand on the small of his back to escort him to the bar.

“Where are these mysterious people?” Loki asked.

Stark grinned. “This is Clive. He’s the bartender. Been working for me for… thirteen years! Lucky thirteen…”

Loki smiled, meeting Clive’s eyes steadily with his own. “A pleasure, Clive.”

Clive snapped his gaping jaw shut and forced a pleasant, professional smile on his own face. “The pleasure’s all mine. What can I get you?”

“Oh, I think I have everything I want,” Loki all but purred, leaning into Stark’s embrace, pressing against his side. “Except, perhaps, a little privacy?”

Stark’s appreciative gaze was everything Loki had hoped it might be. He hadn’t even had to make up a false name, and already Stark was falling into his hands. While good intelligence was something to be proud of, Loki was a little disappointed that everything was moving so smoothly, so predictably. The lack of challenge was making him bored, and he felt as though his careful preparations had been somewhat overkill.

“If it’s privacy you want,” Stark offered, barely managing to keep his eyes above Loki’s cleavage, “there are several rooms available to my guests.” He grinned, his face lighting up with his infamous roguish charm. “Keeps them from messing up my parents’ old room.”

Loki turned to him, pressing his breast up against Stark’s arm. “Any… suggestions?”

“Ah, well.” Stark’s smile took on a nostalgic edge. “Pepper’s always been fond of the old accounting room, so I don’t recommend that. She’s not very romantic unless you pressure her into romance.” He sighed. “Seriously, I have to slip love poetry into progress reports and barefooted champagne drinking into post-construction feasibility assessments.”

“That sounds frustrating,” Loki said, trying to bring Stark back on track. He was supposed to be seducing Loki, not talking about his secretary.

“Nah, it’s cute.” Stark grinned. “She shoulda been here when that guy was macking on you. She would’ve been way smoother. I wonder where she is. Hey, Clive? Seen my girl around here?”

Clive looked between Loki and Stark, like a rabbit caught in two opposing wolves’ gazes. “Ah, I believe Ms. Potts went downstairs to receive Mr. Rogers.”

“Great!” Stark grabbed Loki’s wrist. “C’mon, you should meet her. Hey, I almost forgot – what’s your name?”

Loki stared at him, wondering when, exactly, his plan had gone from working too well to not working at all. Clive, clearly taking pity on him, leaned closer to whisper to Loki just outside of Stark’s hearing.

“He’s kinda in love with Ms. Potts, and when he’s in a relationship, he’s totally loyal.” Clive shrugged. “Sorry.”

Loki pulled his arm out of Stark’s grip with more strength than his form would have seemed to posses. “I’m not.” He stormed off, irritated at how poorly he’d underestimated his mark, annoyed at his failure, and embarrassed at his ungraceful retreat.

Also, thanks to the pheromones, he had half the room watching him, and nearly a dozen men break off their conversations to follow him. The moment he was in the hallway, alone, he stripped off his disguise and disappeared.

At least the security guards would have something to talk about.

Chapter Text

The spell was still valid, though, requiring only the barest of skin-to-skin contact to allow Loki’s magic to take the form of his target’s physical ideal. And when the Black Widow slipped under his guard, almost managing to grab the Urn of Unbelievers that Loki was stealing (for a ‘friend’, it was always good to be owed favours), he couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Besides, there was something viscerally satisfying about backhanding a warrior woman across her face. One expected tears or blood, not the harsh glare or snarls that Loki remembered so fondly from Sif. A normal mortal’s neck would have snapped under the force of his blow; say what you would about the Widow, she could take a hit.

After Loki escaped with the urn, his minor victory a balm soothing his sore feelings over his failure with Stark, he preened in front of one of his mirrors in the form chosen for him and had to admit he was disappointed.

The form was male and strong, but otherwise completely unremarkable. Loki had felt that Hawkeye, with his harsh features and generally blank, expressionless face, was the epitome of the dull, unattractive, typical midgardian mortals that walked this realm. Stark and Banner had character, and Rogers could have passed for an Asgardian, but Clint was dull and mundane and had been perfect for Loki’s use.

It was strange that he, or at least his type, seemed perfect for the Widow’s as well.

There were differences. Where Hawkeye was build asymmetrically, his right arm and left leg larger and stronger than their opposites, this body was well balanced. While Hawkeye’s face was dull and uninteresting due mostly to its lack of expression, this face was dull and uninteresting no matter what Loki did to it. He had darker hair than Clint’s, darker eyes. His hands were soft, didn’t even have fingerprints. And, while Loki had never seen Hawkeye nude, he was sure that no one on Midgard, including himself and his bro– and Thor, were so… uniquely endowed.

It was like a sex toy jutting from his pelvis. Eminently practical, but physiologically unlikely. The more Loki looked at it, the more he expected it to come in multiple colours and flavours. And, possibly, to vibrate. Midgardian ingenuity at its best.

Still, Loki had worked hard at finding and learning this spell, and he wasn’t willing to waste it without at least giving it a chance. He tracked the Widow’s movements for a few weeks and, after finding absolutely no patterns at all, used his ability at walking through the threads of the universe to get to a dingy bar and order a drink moments before she walked in.

He had to admit this was exactly the type of place he would have assumed she would frequent. Filthy tables, filthy lighting, filthy patrons… Loki almost stood out by virtue of wearing clothes that looked as though they’d been bought this decade and washed within the past year.

Natasha stood out like a candle flaming in the dark.

Two men approached her, but she waved them off, still surveying her surroundings. She met Loki’s eyes and he tossed down his drink and slid off the barstool, making his way towards her.

He wasn’t sure how to approach this. Offer her a drink? Play the conquering male and pull her to his side? Bow his head and wait for her orders? It irked him that he couldn’t read anything but casual interest in her eyes as he moved towards her, the faint approval of ‘you’ll do’. He parted his lips, breathing in to speak, when she nodded her head briskly and took his hand, guiding him upstairs.

This was certainly farther than he’d gotten with Stark, despite the fact that they hadn’t exchanged a single word. The Widow’s body was liberally decorated with scars, some pale and small, some pink and larger, some tapering off into the distinctive star-shape of a healed infection. Scars weren’t new to Loki’s eyes, but scars that decorated a rounded breast, curved over a shapely hip, those were new and more than a little disturbing. Each one held a story, a painful memory of someone who’d seen behind Natasha’s delicate façade and lashed out against the warrior within.

Or someone who hadn’t, and that was disturbing in its own way. Loki might be evil and a monster, but he’d always had a visceral loathing of those who only harmed those they thought were weaker – women, children, those without the capacity to know how to fight back. Rule them; yes. Loki held himself above them as a general rule. But why harm them? How did that do anything but undermine his authority.

Natasha didn’t seem surprised by his fixation on her scars. She pealed off his shirt and undid his pants, pushing him back on the bed and crawling over him, letting her body press soft and warm against his. Loki let out a gasp as she sank down on him without any preparation or warning, immediately taking control and riding him until they both finished. Only then did she let him regain something of an equal footing, rolling her over and thrusting into her as soon as he recovered.

They never kissed or spoke. The only sounds they made were the occasional sigh or grunt as something surprised or pleased them especially. Their hands wandered everywhere, and Loki took the most pleasure in watching Natasha’s face over her shoulder as he pounded into her hard and fast from behind while toying with her clit, and Natasha seemed to enjoy Loki’s reaction when she slicked her fingers with a combination of their fluids and worked three fingers into him as he thrust into her with her legs over his shoulders.

Between Loki’s literally inhuman stamina and Natasha’s inexhaustible creativity and impressive endurance, Loki lost count of how many rounds they had gone before neither of them could gather enough energy to go again. As he lay on the uncomfortable bed, sweaty, sticky, and unspeakably satisfied, Loki almost forgot the point of this plan. It had been so long since he’d had this kind of athletic, satisfying sex, and he just wanted to bask in the afterglow for a while.

Still, he wasn’t an idiot. He pressed his palm to Natasha’s lower abdomen, lightly caressing as he checked to see if there was any chance he’d fathered a child on her.

The gesture, which probably seemed tender even if it was merely practical, roused Natasha out of her post-coital stupor and she pushed Loki’s hand away before slipping out of the bed to grab her clothes.

Loki watched her, content in the knowledge that what they’d done, while pleasurable, had been ultimately fruitless. “Leaving so soon?”

The Widow (no longer Natasha, not with that expression and her clothes back on, over the sticky mess they’d made in and on her body and hadn’t bothered to clean up) gave him a mildly critical look, as if scolding him for breaking their silence. Loki didn’t care – this wasn’t about the (fantastic, amazing, surprising) sex, it was about infiltration. He needed to be something more, something remarkable if he wanted to use her to get into the Avengers.

“Perhaps I’ll see you again,” Loki said, getting out of bed himself, standing between the Widow and the door.

The Widow’s eyes narrowed, but it was Natasha who answered. “Perhaps.”

Not good enough. “What’s your name?”

Natasha disappeared again, leaving only the Widow. “You get my cunt. You don’t get my name.”

Vulgar, even in that bland, inoffensive tone of voice, but Loki wasn’t fazed. He hadn’t pushed enough with Stark and had missed his window. He wasn’t about to make the same mistake here. As the Widow moved forward, towards the door, Loki reached out aggressively, aiming for her shoulder and letting her twist his arm and press him against the wall.

He gasped in a combination of renewed pleasure and painful discomfort as she pressed her clothed body against his overly sensitive cock, the sensation almost distracting him from his purpose. But her face was not even inches away from his own, so focused and fierce, and Loki still had one hand free to cup the back of her head and press a demanding kiss against her lips, hooking one leg over her hip as he worked his way into her mouth, hot and greedy.

She bit him, splitting his lower lip in another burst of pain that made the kiss salty and metallic and Loki moan. When she finally twisted and pulled away, her mouth covered in blood, her eyes fiery with anger, Loki knew he had pushed too far.

“And perhaps not.”

He didn’t bother to follow her out the door, and knew that by the time he pulled his clothes on and returned to the bar she would be long gone. He leaned against the wall and laughed, tasting his own blood and breathing in the scent of sex and cheap, stale beer. He’d lost again, but at least this time he’d gotten something out of it.

And at least the Widow hadn’t figured him out for anything but a horny human male. The fact that only one of those adjectives didn’t accurately describe him was a little disturbing, but at least now Loki was sure he could keep his libido under control the next time he tried this.

After all, if at first you don’t succeed…

Chapter Text

Try, try again.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

A superhero and a supervillain walk into a supermarket.

Loki smirked as he watched Captain America, super-soldier and first Avenger, frowning at the variety of mayonnaise on the shelves. It was like the start of a joke, but one where the punchline was as disturbing as it was amusing. Not that Loki had a problem with that; disturbingly amusing and amusingly disturbing were two of his fortés.

Generally, the Avengers had their groceries delivered. Keeping an Asgardian god, the artificially elevated metabolisms of a gamma-irradiated monster and serum-modified super-human, and three other active adults fed took a great deal of specially selected food, particularly given that one of those adults was Tony Stark who, while he would occasionally eat anything that stood still long enough, generally had a very sophisticated palate.

But Steve Rogers was the kind of man who, transplanted from a past where mangos and microwaves were unheard of and the only equivalent choice in shopping was between Pepsi and Coke, decided that getting out and grocery shopping were ways to help him adapt to this new world. He was occasionally accompanied by the others (least usefully Thor, whose only interest was between the different types of pop tarts and otherwise just really liked food and advocated for all of the above) who helped navigate, but on his own he would occasionally have to stop and stare at the useless, pointless degree of variety that cluttered up store shelves.

Loki, in the guise of an older woman, came up beside him and chuckled.

"I recommend the one with olive oil. It's smoother."

Rogers shot him a grateful look and tossed it in his cart. "Thanks, ma'am."

Loki fought the urge to roll his eyes. If Rogers was sincere in his desire to fit in, he should really have stopped that phony-sounding 1940's politeness, even if it was totally sincere. "My pleasure, dear. When my Sammy moved away, he used to call home every other day about shopping or laundry or cooking." He sighed. "Of course, now he's married and his Mary takes good care of him."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Rogers said. "But it's great if a fella can help his gal too."

Was he for real? Loki bit back the urge to snap something sarcastic at him. Maybe this was because he was wearing the face of a woman from Roger's time. He was probably more comfortable talking like this with older people and better and more modern turns of phrase with others. Still, Loki was beginning to doubt his commitment to adaptation.

Still, an opening was an opening. He patted Roger's hand, feeling his magic take hold. "Such a sweet boy. Have a nice day!"

"You too!" Loki debated retuning in the form of Roger's ideal, but eventually decided to return another day.

If he'd been pleased with Stark's sexy choice and disappointed but amused by the Widow's functional one, Rogers's choice was just too cliché for Loki to even bother feeling anything. Blond, slightly curly hair bounced cheerfully just below shoulder-length, dimples graced his cheeks when he smiled, his eyes were soft and warm, his body curved and gentle, his hands perfectly manicured, his feet gracefully tapered. The only thing even remotely interesting about this body was the small birthmark just above his right hip.

It seemed the good Captain had some fantasies after all, if he'd imagined such detail on such an intimate part of his ideal's body. That would certainly make things easier.

There were many things Loki didn't like about Steve Rogers. His naïve idealism, his pompous self-righteousness, the fact that he hid a quick and agile mind under his strong muscles. But his regularity and punctuality, as exasperating as they were from a man who lived with assassins, was something Loki currently appreciated.

So he knew that he had five minutes to wait until Rogers jogged past him, turning a blind corner at a speed that even his superior reflexes couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't accidentally knock over a passing pedestrian on her way to… church or something. Loki would figure out the details later. It was early in the morning and five minutes wasn't that long. Loki hadn't expected any trouble, but this was New York and Loki attracted trouble like a trouble-magnet.

Or, more accurately, like moths to a flame, Loki thought as three young toughs came out from nowhere, flanking him.

"Hey, babe, what brings you here?"

Loki smiled at the dual thoughts that they wouldn't be out of place at one of Stark's events and also that he could kill them with his brain. "I'm waiting for someone."

They laughed. "Sure y'are. How 'bout having some fun with us 'till then?"

Loki didn't have time for this. "How about you back the hell off before you ruin my sting operation, you stupid punks?"

One of them was bright enough to get that. "Shit. A cop?"

"You must be the brains of this group." Loki sneered at them.

"No way, not a chance," one of the others protested. "You don't look like a cop."

"Try me," Loki said dryly. The three boys exchanged looks and backed away, each looked to the others for reassurance that they weren't being cowardly. Loki sighed as they left and turned around to wait for his prey.

Who was standing right behind him, smiling somewhat sheepishly. "Ah, sorry. I was going to intervene, but… guess you had it all under control, officer."

And there it was; modern speech, modern address. The Captain was rather more of a chameleon than Loki had given him credit for. He smiled and shrugged.

"I'm not really a cop. I've just found that most minor-league kids aren't willing to call that bluff."

Rogers laughed, openly delighted. "That must've taken some guts."

"I can't just wait around for a brave random jogger to rescue me," Loki said, turning on the charm. Rogers blushed faintly, and Loki smiled. "Though I do appreciate the thought. If I'm not interrupting your exercise regimen, would you care to join me for a drink?" Loki flushed as if a thought had just struck him. "Or… perhaps a cup of coffee, seeing as it's too early for drinks…"

As expected, Rogers rushed in to save Loki from his own embarrassment. "Sure! I mean, I'd love that."

They exchanged numbers after their coffee meeting and started seeing each other regularly. Between trips to museums and art galleries, Loki learned that while Rogers liked his women soft-looking, since that was what he'd been told he wanted almost all his life, what he really appreciated was a woman who could take care of herself. Strong will, intelligence, bravery… these were all far more important than the blond curls and soft curves that Loki had taken from his mind. Loki had truly lucked out at being harassed by those punks. It was a far better story than going to church on a Wednesday morning.

But it was a month later, and Steve hadn't yet told Loki that he was Captain America. Loki, even if he hadn't known before, could have guessed it by now, given that he was always called away when chaos struck Manhattan (or wherever chaos struck) and had once been picked up by Iron Man, and once by Thor.

Loki had had a mild panic attack at seeing Thor, wondering if his disguise would be seen through. But Thor had always had about the same sensitivity to magic as he'd had to Loki's feelings, and so noticed nothing.

It was only then, after the adrenaline rush, that Loki realized he'd been risking everything by allowing this relationship to progress without any progression with his plan. Discovery wouldn't just mean failure; it would mean mockery. The only person would wouldn't taunt him over this would be Rogers (since he would be just as easy a target for falling for Loki's trap) and Rogers was the one least likely to mock him in the first place!

And it wasn't as if Loki was really getting anything at all, other than the 'pleasure' of Rogers's company, out of this arrangement. A full month they'd been together, and Rogers hadn't even initiated a single kiss. Loki had kissed him twice, and each time Rogers had responded positively before pulling away and changing the topic or wishing Loki a good night. At this rate, even Thor would figure out Loki's deception before Rogers allowed anything more than platonic hand-holding.

At least with the Widow, the sex had been thrilling and a reward in itself. With Rogers, the chances of that were so remote that even Loki wasn't willing to bet on them.

Although, given Rogers's tastes and the Widow's tastes, Loki could easily imagine them together, giving each other what they secretly most wanted.

But Loki couldn't hold the Widow's attention long enough to use her, and he couldn't push Rogers far enough to use him. Neither of them were Loki's way in, and Loki had had just about enough of being Captain America's 'best gal'. He needed a vacation. Something to distract him from the saccharine sweetness of this relationship and his continuous failures.

Maybe he'd enchant Big Ben to take a stroll down the busy, narrow, streets of London.

And, if Steve occasionally looked at his phone over the next few weeks, waiting for a call that never came, or trying to connect to a number that was no longer in service, well… that was life in this new modern world.

Chapter Text

This was where Loki should have started.

Of all the Avengers, Thor excluded for obvious reasons, Clint 'Hawkeye' Barton was the one Loki understood best. It was all but impossible to reach into the heart and soul of a person, to turn them into a puppet, without accidentally learning things about them they'd hidden from everyone else.

So Loki didn't even have to set up physical contact to feed his magic the image of Clint's ideal. It had been a long time since Loki's magic had touched him, but some things were harder forgotten than others, and there was still enough of a residual connection that Loki's form shifted into what Clint wanted.

Blond again, but only as soft as the Widow was. Loki liked this form. It had character. The breasts were slightly larger than was practical, but between the muscled arms and legs, and the specifically calloused fingers, Loki was under the impression that this wasn't just an idealized woman, but the idealized form of a woman Clint had already been intimate with.

Which could be problematic. Loki could be the man, or woman, of anyone's dreams, but he wasn't nearly as sure he could fit already formed memories of an actual person. He was just as unsure, however, what to change to differ just enough from this ideal to not bring up those memories, but still appeal to Clint's desires.

In the end, it required a lot of minor mischief, a near miss with Iron Man and the Hulk, a run-in with Coulson (which was always entertaining – Coulson was a natural straight-man, and taunting him was always amusing) to break into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s files and find out that Clint had not mentioned a large part of his life when he'd talked with Loki.

He'd been married.

Barbara Morse had been a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as well, as well as a scientist. Nothing Clint had said or done while under Loki's command indicated an interest in science, but Thor had his Jane, so perhaps opposites did attract.

Still, the more he read, the less Morse (code named 'Mockingbird' which was, well, a lark) seemed like Hawkeye's opposite and more like his compliment. Clever, amoral, vengeful when appropriate, Loki could almost come to admire her simply from reading her profile and mission briefs.

There was only a short mention in each of their files, as there had been about the marriage, regarding their divorce. Apparently, they were still cleared to work together, so the divorce must have been amicable. Loki smiled; in Asgard, divorce wasn't really an option. A man could kick his wife out for various offences, and a wife's brothers could challenge her husband for another, albeit overlapping, set of offences, but both parties agreeing to walk away and find someone else, under the careful watch of Frigga, goddess of marriage, was unthinkable.

It was an oddly mature method of solving issues, as messy as Loki knew things could get when love and lust were involved. But it certainly complicated matters. This body wasn't one Clint knew physically only. He knew this woman's mind and soul, as much as anyone could know another's mind and soul, and that Loki couldn't fake for any length of time.

Also, Morse was a known entity to S.H.I.E.L.D. and, therefore, to the Avenger's handler. Even if Loki could fool Hawkeye, he wouldn't get very far before he had to deal with Coulson, who would be less emotionally invested.

And Clint would be very emotionally invested. The fact that his ideal woman was his ex-wife (with larger breasts, but Loki couldn't blame Clint for that) spoke of a deeper desire than mere lust. It would be almost worth risking discovery to see what Clint would do…

It was a tantalising idea. Loki spent less than a minute trying to talk himself out of it before deciding that he was the bad guy and was allowed to follow unhealthy impulses.

It wasn't hard to set up. Clint was less unpredictable than the Widow, albeit not by much. Loki managed to find a few 'friends' of his, men trusted to a certain extent, at least not to move against their own interests. Loki made nice for a few days, in the same illusion he'd worn as Stark's serving boy, but decidedly different clothes. A few Asgardian and elven drugs, a few rough nights in discreet hotel rooms, a few whispered promises that he could make any dream come true, and word got around surprisingly quickly.

The next few months were fun. Loki forgot how much enjoyment he used to get out of toying with people, pretending to be innocent and helpful and everything he wasn't. And he'd forgotten how ego-boosting simple gratitude was. He barely had time for his usual plots, although he made sure to keep up appearances, and he figured the Avengers were cluing into the fact that his heart wasn't into it when Captain America literally sent Banner and Iron Man home, stating that they had more important things on the go back at the tower.

Not that it mattered. Loki had more interesting things on the go than his brother's – than Thor's – little band of mortals. He had a small empire of favours owed and debts due, and a following of delightfully untrustworthy minions who fed from his scraps. Loki loved the ways they danced to his whims, the way he could incite rage or terror with a few carefully spoken words, the way attitudes changed around him from disdainful to leery to respectful to a kind of worshipful fear. He was having fun, real fun, for this first time in what felt like a long time.

And then Hawkeye ruined it all by knocking on his door and falling for his trap.

"Blonde," Clint said, not quite meeting Loki's eye. "Strong, cheerful, playful…" His voice broke.

Loki smiled. "I can do that. Come back in a week."

It was almost pitifully easy after that. Loki had changed small things; hair length, eye colour, skin markings; but overall he was the spitting image of Clint's ex-wife. He smiled at Clint. "I hope this is acceptable?"

Clint swallowed hard. "Y-yeah. Is this… are you okay with this?"

Loki looked him over, from head to toe, and smiled. "Oh, yes. Very much so." He held out a hand and Clint reached for him, helplessly.

It was, in its way, as enjoyable as Loki's time with Natasha had been. Clint was far more considerate, far more grateful, and far more intimate a lover. They kissed until they couldn't breathe, Loki's fingers managing to tangle in Clint's short, manageable hair. Even when Clint moaned "Bobbi" as he came, Loki had to admit that the sex itself was worth all the mistaken identities.

Perhaps that was why Clint hadn't asked his name.

They hadn't used protection and Clint, when he finally worked off his mindless lusts, voiced his concern over that. Loki just smiled and assured him that it was taken care of.

Then Clint asked if he could see him again.

Loki bit back a victorious grin. "Of course. I was chosen specifically for you." Clint looked uncomfortable at that, but Loki leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'll let you know if I'm not happy with anything, I promise. But right now… I'd be very happy to see you again."

They met irregularly, but often enough to placate Loki's sense of time and patience. Their meetings were a mixture of dates and booty calls, all at locations Loki chose and at times Clint chose. The sex never stopped being good, and Loki learned to love lingering in the afterglow, tracing Clint's muscles in the pale light from the moon or the streetlamps outside their window.

He was getting closer to his goals. He knew it. And yet…

There were times when Clint looked at him and seemed saddened. There were times when he looked anywhere but at the blonde beauty in his bed and seemed lost. There was disappointment when he remembered Loki wasn't Bobbi, and relief when he realized that Loki wasn't Bobbi, and far too many complicated and painful emotions for Loki to handle.

He could manipulate regret. He could manipulate loss. He could manipulate anger and resentment and grief and guilt. But he couldn't manipulate them all at once. At least not in Clint.

Because there were still signs of what Loki had done to him when the Chitauri had invaded Earth. There were haunted looks at his reflection and twitchiness with Clint constantly looking over his shoulder.

There were nightmares.

Loki had thought himself above the emotions he saw and toyed with in others. But he had nursed his anger at Odin and Thor, his resentment for all of Asgard, his loss and grief for his mother and the few friends he'd had, and now…

He could add to that the regret and guilt he felt as he watched Clint peer at the reflection of his own eyes. They were still the stormy blue of a churning ocean, rather than the bright blue of the Tesseract, but Clint was unlikely to every fully trust that again.

When Loki decided to disappear from Clint's life, he convinced himself it was for the best. He'd toyed with the man before. It was time to let him have his peace.

It was so easy to lie to himself like that, especially when it was easier than examining his true motivations.

Chapter Text

The Avengers weren't the enemy, Loki decided after a week of (sulking) private contemplation. Feelings were the enemy.

He'd let himself fall into the comfort and simple pleasure of directing a small empire, a soothing balm on harsh memories of the empire he'd built in Asgard. He hadn't been adored like Thor was, or revered like Odin and Frigga, but he'd earned his own kind of respect with the people who mattered – the lawmakers and the merchants, the lifeblood of the realm. When he'd taken the throne, most of Asgard had shrugged and accepted it. The eldest son was off learning important life lessons, and the Allfather would wake soon enough, and the Allmother was watching her younger son as he ruled. Most of Asgard had been appropriately obedient and respectful of the proper way of things. After all, how much harm could Loki do in such a short time?

Most of Asgard wasn't Sif and Heimdall and the Warriors Three. What would have been treason in any other situation was lauded as loyalty when used against Loki.

But there weren't any Sifs or Heimdalls on Midgard, no Warriors Three to push their way so self-importantly against Loki's plots. There were enemies from without, and untrustworthy snakes from within, but there were no noble hypocrites who pledged their life and loyalty and then turned around and betrayed that promise to the accolades and praise of everyone from the lowest thrall to the Allfather himself.

Here, broken promises were punished, and demands were made to ensure (or, more accurately, insure) those promises. Here, no one pledged anything as ephemeral as loyalty. There were promises exchanged, 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours'. There were promises of service, enforced with a paycheck and the threat of broken bones. There were promises that no one expected to be kept, promises of love whispered in moments of vulnerability. Everyone distrusted everyone else, and that made Midgard more honest than Asgard, home of the hypocritical gods, could ever be.

Loki was homesick.

The most impressive spires and elegant castles were nothing compared to the palace he'd grown up in. The sunniest day was nothing compared to the brightness of a spring shower. The clearest night was nothing compared to the canopy of stars that danced across Asgard's sky. Midgard, for all its admittedly impressive accomplishments, was grey and dingy and dull compared to the splendour Loki was used to.

He hadn't missed Asgard for so long. There was a brief time, after he'd been released from his imprisonment for his crimes against Midgard and Asgard, exiled but free, when he'd pined. But he'd been over that for such a long time that the rush of nostalgia and melancholia took him completely by surprise.

He'd thought himself free of this. Frankly, it was one of the reasons he based himself out of Midgard. Apart from the convenience of hiding in a world essentially without magic, the brightest and most Asgardian part of Asgard was right here.

Thor. Damn him.

He was, in a way, just as arrogant and headstrong as he'd been before being banished to Midgard. He refused to fit in, like Steve was trying to do, and regularly made belittling comments about technology the way he'd used to mock Loki's magic. Even Hawkeye and the Widow weren't free of his patronizing condescension every time they were injured by an attack that wouldn't have fazed an Asgardian warrior for a moment.

And yet, he was loved. Steve found an old-fashioned ally in him when he needed to retreat from modernity; Stark had a drinking buddy while everyone else ignored them or frowned disapprovingly; he was the only possible sparing partner for Banner's green monster; and he understood, better than the others, the blood Clint and Natasha had on their hands, and the regret that came with it.

Loki understood them too, but that meant nothing. He could converse with Steve about the art he loved, he could easily learn to tinker with technology and physics with Stark and Banner, and he could play mind games with the best S.H.I.E.L.D. had to offer. But he knew better than to try.

Even if he hadn't been a villain, they would have turned from him and towards Thor. Loki knew full well that the only way to earn someone's respect or love was to target people Thor ignored. Otherwise, they overlooked Loki in favour of his golden brother, every time.

Unless they were Frigga, of course. But every rule needed an exception. And, in the end, even she…

But no matter. That could change now. He and Thor were no longer brothers – not by blood, and not by shared ideals. Loki could deal with people on his own terms now, wholly separate from his former brother.

Or he could deal with Thor on his own terms.

There was no reason not to. Thor loathed trickery, hated games. If he found out what Loki had been doing, there was no doubt in Loki's mind that they would have fought, with Thor yelling some self-righteous nonsense and Loki mocking him so that none of the words could hurt him. But Thor still thought of him as his brother. If he could snare Thor, push him over the edge of what he considered conscionable, then Thor would be the one forced to deal with the consequences.

Yes, if Loki seduced Thor under the guise of his ideal lover, it would be Loki's fault, but he was used to being blamed even when it wasn't. Now that he was 'evil' and a 'monster', his dastardly actions would be expected, glossed over. And he wouldn't have been the one who had slept with his brother – that was all Thor's idea. Loki no longer saw Thor in that light, not at all. Not even a little bit. Nope. It was Thor alone who laboured under the delusion that a lifetime of being overlooked and unfavourably compared to Asgard's golden son made Loki his brother, despite his Frost Giant blood. Loki knew full well that was completely untrue.

And maybe this would be the push that would convince Thor that they weren't brothers as well. Or, at least, would rally his noble friends into convincing him that they weren't, that Thor hadn't done anything wrong. That, once again, he was completely blameless and a victim of Loki Liesmith.

Just that would be worth it, worth the reflexive disgust that Loki felt welling up in him at the mere thought of seducing his… Thor.

It took some time to work his nerve up. A few encounters where he'd been breaths away from Thor and hadn't had the courage to reach out and grasp at his golden skin. Thor would have let him and, indeed, seemed to take the fact that Loki kept distance between himself and everyone except Thor as some kind of encouragement. It wasn't, it was a trap, but explaining that in order to wipe that damned sunny smile off Thor's face would rather defeat the purpose.

Loki just needed to man up. Or rather (as Thor's tastes ran to the fairer sex) woman up.

His next opportunity, above a 'secret' S.H.I.E.L.D. research base, Loki breathed out, braced himself, and ran Thor through his spleen with a borrowed (…stolen) katana. The graceful blade was far too thin to do anything more than knock the wind out of an Asgardian, but it distracted Thor long enough that Loki could wrap his fingers around Thor's throat and let his magic feed.

Thor's blue eyes stared earnestly into Loki's, and Loki swallowed down a rush of bile. That he had been forced to this point, that Thor had forced him to this point, was enraging. And even now, when faced with Thor's sincere hope and desperate love, Loki faltered.

That was why he needed to do this. So that Thor's eyes never looked at him like that again.

Thor's lips parted and Loki felt a flutter of panic at the realization that Thor was about to speak, to call him 'brother'. Loki couldn't take that right now.

He released Thor's throat, and stepped back in a quick two-step of retreat before vanishing, leaving the katana where it was.

It took him three more days to gather up the will to put the next logical stage of his plan in action. He hadn't even managed to work up enough courage or curiosity to take on the form of Thor's ideal, and pushed aside the fear that it would be Jane and Loki would know that Thor was absolutely lost, not only to Loki, but to Asgard.

If Thor belonged to Midgard, that was another door that would always remain shut to Loki.

If that was the case then none of this mattered, and Loki would wrap himself up in his own despair and give up. At least for as long as these mortal lives lasted, as long as it would take them to forget the threat of Loki.

Catching Thor was even more difficult that catching the Widow, not because he wove the intricate webs of patternless habits that she did, but because he only went to two places – the Tower and Jane's. Transport wasn't even an option because he used Mjölnir. Loki took the chance when it came, on a foggy evening when Thor landed outside the Tower due to poor visibility.

Loki took a deep breath, let his magic flow over him, and stepped out of the fog, towards Thor.

Thor's eyes widened in shock, the confusion on his face melting into his brightest smile, momentarily blinding Loki.

"Sif! What brings you here?"

Loki's brain shut down and his spell faltered and failed, leaving him exposed before Thor and all the cameras around the Avenger's Tower, his terrified instincts managing to navigate him back home as he turned tail and fled from Thor's betrayed expression.

Chapter Text

The old plan had been superficially simple, but layered with complexity. Seducing the Avengers was, in a general sense, possible. Meaningful, useful seduction was… less so.

The new plan was far more straightforward. Kill every single one of them.

As a target, Stark, once again, was easy. Although, apparently, not easy in that way. Steve was a little more complicated, with Clint and the Widow difficult only to set up. Thor… would be like ripping his own heart out, not that Loki would ever admit to that, but after a century or so he'd likely forget that Loki had spared him.

But the others… oh, yes. The others would have to die. Painfully, if possible, but swiftly if not. Loki would be sure of their deaths. No leaving them in a cave with metal shrapnel threatening their hearts, or frozen in ice for the better part of a century. They would breathe their last breaths in front of him, the light would leave their eyes, and Loki would be able to shrug off this whole incident as one of his rare humiliating failures.

He refused to think about horses and great, towering walls. Even that, he had managed to spin to something of an advantage with the gift of Sleipnir. This…

Loki couldn't think of a single way out of this that didn't end either in fruitless humiliation or a bloodbath. Given the choice, he'd choose the latter every time.

But that could require a certain amount of planning of his own, connections to be made, profit from organizations such as HYDRA and even the American military once he figured out how to dispose of…

"How'd you do it?"

Loki didn't flinch. He didn't flinch because he had been raised on Asgard and had the blood of the fierce Frost Giants flowing through his veins. He didn't flinch because Banner, for all he hid a monster as cruel and destructive as anything Loki could imagine, was just a mortal creature so far beneath Loki's notice that flinching would have been like kowtowing to a worm.

"…sorry. Didn't mean to startle you." Banner slipped onto the stool beside Loki and stared at the green drink Loki was nursing. "Absinthe?"

"Close enough," Loki agreed, pushing the drink away. "Where are the others? Or," he laughed darkly, "did you come alone?"

Banner gave a self-deprecating shrug and Loki had never wanted to punch someone (other than Thor) as much as he did at that moment. "I figured it was pretty safe." Loki snorted. "After all," Banner continued, "I'm not sure how you managed to find everyone else's heart's desire, but I do know that you never even tried with me, did you?"

He sounded confident, self-assured, but Loki knew a bluff when he heard one. Either Banner wasn't sure about the 'heart's desire' thing, which was inaccurate in any case, or he wasn't sure that Loki hadn't at least tried to figure Banner's out.

Loki laughed. "It doesn't take anything more than half a brain to know your heart's desire, beast."

"Yeah, fair enough," Banner agreed. "I haven't really bothered hiding it, have I? But that doesn't answer the question of how you do it."

"Why should I tell you?"

"Because I'll be impressed?" Banner suggested. "I will, I promise. Thor has no idea, and Tony hasn't been able to figure it out either." Banner grinned. "It's been driving him nuts."

Loki didn't smile back. "So you want to know in order to lord it over you colleague?"

Banner's grin faded, and he looked a little sad. "You know what? Let's go with that."

It there was one thing Loki couldn't stand, it was pity. He looked Banner in the eye. "I will find a way to kill you. No monster is every truly indestructible."

"Aww, that's sweet. You do know my heart's desire."

Thor wasn't the only impulsive son of Odin. Well, actually he was, but Loki could be impulsive too. He threw up a quick and sloppy 'don't notice us' spell and pinned Banner against the bar, using his height to good advantage. "I will rip that heart out of you, you irreverent, plebeian…"

"Not… a good idea," Banner said, his voice strained, his eyes glowing an alien green. Loki realized how precarious his position was, but he couldn't help but grin.

"Try it. My spell will fade and all anyone will see, all they will remember, will be the beast tearing through this city, dead bodies and ruined buildings in its wake."

"You're nuts." Banner laughed, light and easy, his eyes returning to their normal shade as if he hadn't been moments away from losing control and transforming. "How did you do it?"

Loki leaned back, Banner's amusement intimidating him more than his potential rage. "Shall I show you?"

Banner nodded. "Please."

Under the cover of his spell, Loki could do just that. And a part of him wanted to. There wasn't really anyone in Midgard Loki could show off to. There hadn't been that many people in Asgard he could show off to either. He missed being… appreciated. Impressive. He missed the rare, treasured moments where he'd been congratulated for something without also being damned for it.

If Banner mocked him or derided him, Loki decided he wouldn't wait. He'd risk the Hulk's wrath and tear Banner's heart out of his chest. Or possibly his spine from his back. Loki was nothing if not adaptable.

He held his hand out and waited for Banner to get the hint. Banner's highly reputed intellect was up to the simple task, and he placed his own palm on top of Loki's.

"The first step is touch," Loki said, letting his magic do its thing. "Simple contact. The second step…" Loki closed his eyes and let his magic wash over him.

"…yeah?"

Loki frowned. It had worked. He should be some toothsome blonde or brunette or whatever took Banner's fancy. He knew the feeling of a failed spell and this one had worked.

But he was completely unchanged.

"Here's the thing," Banner said, taking his hand back and leaning against the bar that Loki had so recently pinned him up against. "All those years training to try to control The Other Guy? It's given me some insights and some control over other things."

"I… I don't understand."

Banner smiled, with that sadness that… that actually wasn't pity. "I know. But that's okay. So the first step is skin contact, and then what? Do you read our minds?"

"Wouldn't help," Loki said, more than a little disturbed. "The mind doesn't interest my magic. It takes the figure of the target's idealized sexual partner straight from the target's psyche and…" His eyes narrowed. "What kind of insights and control?"

"Tit for tat, is it?" Banner asked easily. "Fair enough. I'm not sure what would happen if I tried to have sex. But I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be pretty."

Loki snorted, amused, and Banner inclined his head in concession. "So my… idealized sexual partner would have to be someone who could fight back or at least walk away if worse came to worst."

"It doesn't work like that," Loki protested. "It's not a conscious decision."

"It is for me, I guess," Banner said.

The implications were clear. "And you chose me?"

Banner shrugged. "You and Thor are the only two people I know who could take the Hulk's rage without dying. And… I like Thor too much to risk anything with him."

"How flattering."

"It's not meant to be," Banner said. "Just honest. We're still not sure why you did what you did, but you certainly didn't hold anything back."

Loki felt his anger returning, his shame and desire for revenge. "So because I'll spread my legs for your companions, you expect me to do the same for you?" He sneered. "For you and your monster?"

"Not really," Banner said, pushing off the bar, moving towards the door and outside of Loki's distraction spell. "But now you know one of my few secrets. That I want it." He shrugged. "I still have the same needs and desires as any man. I just have only, and exactly, one option to explore them with." He smiled in the dim light of the tavern. "So, if you're ever interested, the offer's open."

Loki had to admit, once the indignant anger faded, he was intrigued. If desire and opportunism was all that was behind Banner's offer… well, Loki had been seduced by less than that in his time. At least Banner was offering rather than just taking. And, as unnerving as the image of the great hulking monster was, it was also… intriguing. Loki wasn't one to back down from a challenge, especially not such an interesting one.

"Wait."

Banner turned and Loki smiled, putting as much wicked promise into it as he could. "We should probably do this outside the outskirts of the city."

Banner's smile wasn't as wicked, but there was an attractive mischievousness in his eyes. "I hear New Mexico's nice this time of year."

"New Mexico," Loki said, each word cutting and dripping with disdain, "is never nice." He held out his hand, as he had to demonstrate his power to Banner. "But it will do."

Banner took his hand. "You know what?"

"Hmm?"

"I think I am going to lord it over Tony that I know how you did it and he doesn't."

Loki laughed.

Chapter Text

"I know not why Loki has chosen to do this. If his purpose was only to disturb me, he has succeeded in that, but I fail to see what gains he's made."

Tony frowned at Thor's half-explanation. "No offense, big guy, but it's not like half of the things your brother does make any sense."

"Bag of cats," Bruce added, leaving his hand out for Tony to high-five. Thor huffed, clearly miffed that they weren't taking this seriously.

"He's not that hard to read," Natasha disagreed. "We just have to figure out why he chose Thor's Lady Sif's form."

Clint, still looking at the security feed that showed all fifteen seconds of Thor and Loki's encounter on a loop, shook his head. "I don't think he chose it. He seemed just as shocked as Thor was, and didn't push the advantage at all." Everyone crowded around him as he slowed the video to half speed. "See, you're completely open here. Loki's not slow, he could easily have taken advantage of that."

"Or so he wants you to think," Tony said, throwing his hands up in the air. "This is a guy with his finger in more pies than he has fingers. It's impossible to say what he wanted to get out of a single encounter." Bruce nodded encouragingly, and Tony continued. "We need more data points to find a pattern! It's not like the guy poofed in front of any of the rest of us in another form."

There was an awkward silence as everyone mentally re-evaluated if that was, in fact, true.

"Actually, Tony…" Steve looked apologetic. "Remember that charity gala with that girl who just 'disappeared' before you could introduce us?"

"Oh, no way…"

"I'm just saying, there aren't many people we know who can do that. And none of them are Japanese jet-setters."

Clint took the cover of the argument between Steve and Tony to sidle up to Natasha. "You think maybe freaky-penis boy was…"

The nice thing about Natasha was that, even if an idea completely repulsed her, she never answered without giving it due consideration. "What about your Bobbi look-alike?"

That was as good as a 'yes', or a 'probably'. Clint frowned. "Has anyone not had a run-in with Loki-in-disguise over the past few months?"

Tony stabbed a finger in Steve's chest. "What about that girl who ditched you?"

"What about her?" Steve shifted immediately to the defensive. "Just because you couldn't find her…"

"That's just as suspicious as physically vanishing from a crowded party, trust me," Tony said, victorious. "Natasha could've pulled off that stunt, but I'd've been able to find her after." Natasha looked like she could argue that, but was deciding not to. "That girl was totally a Loki!"

Bruce had been watching Thor carefully, and caught the look of resigned distaste. "Would he actually do that, Thor?" Bruce asked. "Manliness is a big thing for Asgard, isn't it? Would he willingly transform into a woman?" Other than a warrior-woman, like Sif.

Thor nodded. "It is no less than our father… than Odin Allfather did in his youth. There would be no disgrace to it, as long as he merely used the form to beguile and tease without allowing himself to be…" Thor nodded stiffly to Steve and Tony. "I thank you both for your courtesy to my brother in that form. It was more than he deserved, but I am grateful for it nonetheless."

Natasha smothered a laugh behind her hand and Clint elbowed her in the side. He'd seduced enough little sisters to know that if Thor knew what he'd done, he was as good as dead. Steve shot them both an admonishing look before turning to Thor. "It's nothing. I just wouldn't have felt comfortable. She… he was such a… lady."

Another awkward silence as everyone processed that.

Then Tony clapped his hands. "Alright! Data points! Let's get pattern finding."

They wrote down everything they could think of regarding Loki's forms and their own reactions to the forms. Thor's were honest and clear, the same love and respect he had for all his companions, Tony's were as vulgar as expected, Steve's were still faintly romantic with a touch of understated bitterness, Natasha's were quick and to the point ('useful') and Clint's…

Clint, as it turned out, still had something of an issue with being mind-fucked by Loki. While understandable, it made open and honest sharing difficult. It took a while, and a lot of help from Natasha, but eventually his history with Bobbi was brought out and Bruce made a muffled 'aha!' sound around the whiteboard pen he was using.

(The whiteboard was so that everyone, including Steve who preferred a tactile interface and Thor who distrusted the floating windows of information in the Tower, could write.)

Tony, rather than pointing out that the windows would have been less unhygienic, yanked the pen out of Bruce's mouth. "What?"

"I can't be certain… it's just preliminary…"

"We're still in brainstorming phase, here," Tony said impatiently. Sometimes getting Bruce to share was like getting blood from a rock. "Spill."

Bruce gestured towards the board. "Well, Tony has a… thing for Asians–"

"Pepper knows, and we're cool," Tony reminded everyone quickly. "The trick to not getting blackmailed is not having stupid, pointless secrets. Also, Pep looks amazing in a Japanese Schoolgirl outfit."

"You're oversharing again," Bruce said, continuing gamely on. "He chose a clone of Clint's ex-wife, and basically Ingrid Bergman for Steve."

Steve flushed. "Casablanca was the last movie I saw, before…"

"Hey, no shame," Tony said firmly. "She's still hot. Or she was until she died, like, three or four decades ago."

"Natasha's… partner was, I assume, just what she wanted?" Bruce suggested delicately, getting back on track, and Natasha nodded easily. "And Thor…" Bruce frowned. "Actually, Thor's doesn't quite fit in with my theory. See, I was guessing that Loki was taking the forms of everyone's secret desires, but I assume that if Thor had really wanted the Lady Sif, something would have happened."

Thor's face went as pale as Loki's usually was. "Ah…"

Tony was already waving that off. "Nah, Thor's head over heals with Jane. Besides, have you seen Sif and Thor together? Total bros."

"It is… not that simple," Thor said, slightly shamefaced. "I will admit that, while my love for Jane is very real and true, my… attraction to Sif has lasted centuries, and will likely never fully fade away within a mortal lifetime."

Everyone looked at Thor with varying degrees of sympathy and understanding. Tony just shrugged. "Hey, I'm seeing a freckled red head when I have a thing for Asians. Cap here's still idealizing the blonde bombshell while Carter was a brunette. Clint as a thing for his ex-wife and current coworker, and Natasha… actually, no. I'm not even touching that."

"Wise," Natasha said, her lips quirking up in unashamed amusement.

"And Brucy here…" Tony trailed off. "Hey, Banner. You're missing from this list."

Bruce smiled, not quite managing to filter the pain out of it.

"Yeah. That's weird, isn't it?"

It was pretty widely known, amongst those who worked with him, how (generally) Bruce controlled the Hulk. If he lost that control, through strong emotion or any kind of increased autonomic activity, the results were unpredictable at best. He'd practiced enough to be able to barely rein in the worst of the Hulk's impulses, but it was like saddling a tiger – a tentative hold at best, easily thrown.

The middle of a fight was safe enough. If the Hulk had enough acceptable targets, he rarely went after civilians or allies. But in a more… intimate situation…

Loki could have appeared in front of Bruce as his greatest fantasy, picture and tone perfect, everything Bruce could have ever wanted. And Bruce would have pushed him away as far and as fast as he could. He didn't have Tony's experience with saying no without breaking ties, or Natasha's ability to keep her needs and relationships in carefully controlled categories, or Steve's boy-scout honour, or even Clint's protective paranoia. He had The Other Guy, and the terror and anger that he carefully suppressed every moment of every day lest The Other Guy take control at a bad moment.

Bruce couldn't think of a worse moment than in the middle of sex. He remembered what had happened to Loki, a supposed god, when he caught the Hulk's attention. If Bruce had given a damn about Loki, that would have haunted him.

But he didn't.

He legitimately didn't care about Loki. Not one little bit.

And that… Bruce smiled. That was, in its own way, rather empowering. Freeing.

He left the others to their discussion over what to do about the newly discovered threat from Loki and made plans of his own.