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Bruce Banner hitched his knapsack a little higher up over his shoulder and set the carryall down for a moment, kneading his hand inside the down-filled glove as he looked up at the sky. The weather radio was predicting at least a foot of snow, and not living on anything approximating a main road, he'd stocked up accordingly. The snowpack was already a few inches deep, and although he'd cleared out paths from his tiny cabin, he was pretty sure he'd be stuck inside for a few days.

It was a good thing he was alone; he could probably manage to stay in control if he was by himself, even in such a small place, but he couldn't possibly endanger anyone else.

Besides, there wasn't anyone he particularly wanted to be snowed in with, at least not for the four or five days it would likely take for the track to his cabin to be cleared. Bella Coola, British Columbia was known for its snow and not much else, and he lived a few miles outside of town. His pickup truck was in town, still at the garage from having broken an axle in the last snowstorm, and he had gotten a ride back as far as he could from the guy who worked at the shop. It still left him with a bit of a walk, though. He picked up the carryall again and hiked the last few hundred yards up the hill.

Before he even got home, though, he realized something was strange. Not necessarily wrong, but not completely right, either. There weren't any strange footprints; the snow was churned up by his shovel and a few random deer, but nothing new. The door to the cabin wasn't ajar; everything outside looked exactly as he'd left it. And yet . . .

Bruce set the knapsack and the carryall on the ground as quietly as he could and hunched over, creeping up to the side of the house to look in the window. He'd left one unshuttered, hoping to catch a little bit of the last few rays of sunshine before the storm, and now he was glad that he had.

Someone was in his cabin.

His heart sped up, and the Other Guy tickled at the back of his mind, but he put his hand on the wall of the cabin and counted to ten in a lot of different languages, concentrating on his breath as best as he could despite the cold air. Once the Other Guy receded a bit, he looked through the window again.

The person in his cabin was gone, and--was that the door opening?

"Please come in, Dr. Banner. It's cold outside, and the snow is supposed to start any time now."

Bruce took two steps to the corner of the cabin and peered around the corner carefully, still breathing carefully. On the step in front of the open door was a tall, slender man, dark hair swept back from his forehead, skin paler white than even most of the locals. He was dressed in a full-length black wool coat and boots, and he had his hands in his pockets. "Who are you?" Bruce asked.

"I'm certainly not going to hurt you, and you cannot hurt me," the man said in lieu of answering, an upper-class English accent flavoring his words.

Bruce tipped his head to one side and said, "That's nice to know, but who are you?"

"Loki. Do come in; your bags are starting to soak through."

Bruce automatically looked at his knapsack and carryall, which were starting to get wet from the snow, and then turned back to--Loki. "Like the trickster god?" He'd read American Gods, like everyone else in his demographic, and some people named their kids weird things. He picked up his bags.

"Exactly like," Loki said, apparently amused. He stood back and gestured through the door into the cabin.

Bruce considered his options for the moment: take a few minutes to kick the strange guy out of his cabin, or desert the whole mess and go find somewhere else to wait out the snowstorm? Obviously the first was easier, so he said, "After you," and followed Loki inside.

The open door had let a fair amount of heat out, but Bruce put the supplies in the kitchen area and hung up his coat before he went to poke the fireplace. Loki was perched on edge of the bed, and while that was annoying, it wasn't exactly something Bruce needed to do anything about at the moment.

When he'd gotten the temperature in the cabin back up where he wanted it, he turned to Loki, still lounging, and said, "What are you doing here?"

"Why, Dr. Banner, I'm sure you're aware of the snowstorm coming. I needed somewhere to stay."

"There's a town about three or four miles that way," Bruce said, pointing. "If you leave now, I'll throw in my snowshoes for free."

Loki laughed. "I'm not going anywhere, my dear doctor."

"I don't exactly think there's room in here for both of us." The cabin was maybe twenty feet square; Bruce had lived in smaller places, and sometimes even with other people. The fact that this place had electricity and indoor plumbing was a bonus. But it wasn't really square footage that he meant.

"Oh, you mean your large green other self? I'm aware of his existence."

Bruce started. "Are you from General Ross?" Not yet, not yet, he told himself, trying to hold back the spike of fear. Don’t transform yet.

"Who?" Loki said. "Someone with your military? No." He lay back, sprawling, arms out. "I'm here of my own accord and I have no desire to tell anyone about your secluded little existence here." One hand raised and gestured in a circle.

"So why are you here?" Bruce resisted the urge to add a four-letter word or two (or ten) to the sentence and concentrated on breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth.

"Seeing the sights, of course," Loki said. "It's quite lovely up here."

"Yeah, no." Bruce turned and started pacing back and forth, counting in his head. He was starting not to care even the slightest why Loki was in his cabin, but he wanted him gone. "I don't believe you, and I don't actually give a fuck why you're here, but you're going to have to leave."

"Too late," Loki said. "The snowstorm has already started."

Bruce shook his head. "It can't have. It wasn't snowing five minutes ago."

"And yet." Loki indicated the window by the bed in another elegant gesture, and Bruce went to look out a completely different window in a fit of pique.

Yes, it was snowing out there, thickly enough that he could barely see the big pine tree not fifteen feet away. Damnit.

He sighed and turned to look back at Loki, who had taken his overcoat off and was wearing, of all things, a business suit in a medium gray. Bruce looked down and yes, Loki was wearing dress shoes, black leather perforated in a fancy design over the toe, complete with leather soles. "Seriously?"

Loki frowned. "I'm sorry?"

"You're wearing a wool suit and dress shoes. How did you even get up here? You know what, never mind." He sighed again and turned to the dresser, pulling out a set of thermal underwear, flannel-lined jeans that were a bit too long for him--and a belt, because Loki looked narrower in the waist than he was--a long-sleeved shirt, a wool sweater, and a pair each of cotton and wool socks. "Here."

Loki looked from the pile to Bruce's face and then back down at the pile of clothing. "Oh. You feel I'm insufficiently dressed for the weather. But is this a prelude to renewing your requests that I leave? I'll remain in my own clothing."

Bruce rolled his eyes. "It's already snowing. If I make you leave now, you'll die." He didn't add, if you stay you might die anyway, because he thought it was too obvious. "You might as well be comfortable."

"You think I'll be--comfortable--in that?" Loki said, disbelief radiating from every inch of him.

"You'll be warmer," Bruce said. He didn’t want the guy in his cabin, and probably he should have left Loki in his business wear, but he didn’t want him to have to ask for clothing later.

Loki raised an eyebrow. "If you insist--"

"I do insist," Bruce said, and turned to kneel by the fireplace again. He rearranged the embers for a moment, and heard a rustling noise. Turning to look over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of white skin--a long expanse of white skin--and turned back hurriedly.

"You're welcome to watch, Dr. Banner," Loki called.

"I'm good," Bruce replied, and replaced the poker in its stand. So it could possibly be said about him that he had a thing for pale-skinned brown-haired people; so what? Lots of people had types, even types that transcended gender and sex. Besides, this particular specimen was a jerk. An uninvited jerk.

"I'm fully clothed, Dr. Banner. You need no longer stare into the fire as though it holds all your answers."

Bruce straightened deliberately and shot a disgusted look at Loki. The disgust rapidly turned into amusement, as the clothing was simultaneously too big and too small: the sweater's cuffs ended an inch or so above Loki's hands, but was baggy around his midsection. The jeans were cinched rather tightly by the belt, but he'd had to turn down the cuffs--cuffs ironed in but not sewn by the original manufacturer--to get them to be long enough, and the fabric was kinked a couple inches above his feet.

"Are you warmer?" Bruce asked, still trying not to smile.

"Certainly," Loki said, and raised a hand to tug at the cuff of the sweater. "Am I to wear this clothing for as long as the storm lasts?"

Bruce shrugged. "If it's cold in here, sure." He gestured to the fireplace. "I only have so much fuel, so I can't keep it at a nice and toasty seventy-two degrees. Er, that is, twenty-two C." He would make a joke about putting on a cardigan, but he wasn't sure that Loki was old enough to remember when Carter was president.

And wasn't that depressing. Bruce shook his head and went over to make himself some coffee. "Coffee? Tea?" he asked.

"Whatever you're having for yourself; I wouldn't want to put you out," Loki said.

Bruce turned to glare at him again, and Loki was sitting on the edge of the bed with a shit-eating grin on his face. He shook his head, and turned back to the hot plate.

He made two cups of tea, the most expensive kind he could find at the tiny grocery store in town; not his favorite, but drinkable enough. He'd certainly had worse, and if Loki hadn't, well, he'd have to deal with it. "Sugar, milk?" he asked without looking.

"Neither," Loki said.

Bruce picked up one mug in each hand--lucky he had two at all, but he disliked doing dishes after literally every meal--and walked over to the bed, setting one mug down on the bedside table and taking the other one over with him to the table in the corner. He flipped the lid of his laptop open and waited for it to wake up.

"Do you have access to the outside world?" Loki asked.

He only had to turn partway to see the other man, sitting cross-legged on the bed with the mug of tea in his hands. "Sort of," he said. "I don't have a phone but I can usually hack the satellite internet that the people in town use for a couple hours a day." The computer beeped, and he swiped a fingertip over the reader. "Probably not today, though. Satellite dishes don't work very well when they're covered in snow."

"Ahh," Loki said, and Bruce got the strange idea that none of what he'd said made any sense to him.

"There's a dish on the roof," Bruce said. "There's no cell phone reception--er, mobile phone--this far out, so most people use satellite for the internet if they can afford it. And none of this means anything to you, does it."

Loki shrugged. "It matters not." He set the tea down carefully on the bedside table and lay back down on the bed, head on the pillows. "You may continue speaking if you find you must fill the silence, Dr. Banner."

I don't. Also, get off my bed. But he resisted saying both things and just turned back to his laptop, checking in with a program that he had going through a pile of data for him.

No patterns yet, or at least no patterns that he didn't already know about. Oh well. He started writing a database query in another window, to look for a different pattern.

He surfaced finally when he felt someone standing behind him. "Don't do that," he said, as pleasantly as he could. "I don't react well to being startled."

"I'm hardly startling you," Loki said, still smooth as silk. "I've not taken care to muffle my footsteps, and although I am not wearing shoes, the floor in here creaks like an old woman's bones. Would you like more tea? I've made you some."

"Oh," Bruce said. "Tea. Sure." He supposed even if Loki had poisoned it, Loki would deserve the Other Guy coming after him. He took the cup that Loki held out--the same mug he'd drained some time ago, and apparently hadn't noticed its removal--and took a careful sip.

It was hot, exactly the temperature he preferred (just below taste-bud removal) and steeped apparently exactly the same amount of time that the previous batch had been, which probably meant that Loki was a fast learner. "Thank you," he said, realizing belatedly that it was what he should have done. He could get used to having someone else around to make the tea, really.

"What are you doing?" Loki asked, gesturing to the screen.

And in a flash, Bruce remembered why he didn't like people around making tea. "It's complicated," he said. "I've got some data and now I'm looking for patterns. That is, the computer is looking for patterns. I'm . . . directing it where to look," he added.

"Ah," Loki said. "Is this regarding the . . . creation, of your large green other self?"

"Um, well, no," Bruce said, "not this set." He stopped speaking, in hopes that Loki wouldn't ask any more, and he didn't.

A moment passed; Bruce stared at the laptop screen again for a moment, saved a couple of files, and closed the lid before saying, "Look, I haven't asked you any questions, really, and I don't care who you are or what you're doing here as long as you don't, I don't know, give away my location to the US government or any other government with an extradition treaty, and I'd prefer you extend me the same courtesy." He sighed. "We're stuck here for two or three days, maybe more, and I'd like to make this as painless as possible."

"I cannot see how idle conversation with me would be considered painful," Loki said, sounding miffed.

"We can--idly converse," Bruce said, "just not about my work."

"I doubt we have much in common, my good doctor."

"We both like tea," he said, after a moment.

Loki was startled into a laugh, and a stab of--something went through Bruce. He didn't quite recognize it at first, but a moment later he recognized it as attraction. Unwelcome, unwanted attraction to his irksome guest. He willed it to go away immediately, if not sooner.

"Yes, well," he said as he turned back to the laptop, opening it again. "I've got some books on the shelves over there." Mostly they'd been left by the previous inhabitants and therefore skewed a little towards westerns, spy thrillers, and romance novels for Bruce's tastes, but he'd read most of them anyway. "If you want, I probably have some spare looseleaf paper floating around, but I only have one computer."

"It is not a problem, Dr. Banner. I can entertain myself."

"You can call me Bruce." It wasn't meant to be grudging, but it came out that way.

"Bruce, then."

"Do you have a last name?" he asked, and then stopped. "You don't have to answer that."

Loki didn't say anything, and Bruce turned to see him leaning against the second chair, forearms crossed. "Laufeyson, I suppose."

Bruce nodded, but stopped himself from saying, You suppose? because it wasn't any of his business and lord knew he had enough issues with sharing a name with his father that he really shouldn't judge anyone else. Laufeyson sounded like a patronymic, but those weren't commonly used outside of Iceland, he didn't think. Perhaps he'd changed his name due to some tragic event? Or, he thought wildly, maybe in this day and age, Loki had changed his name upon marriage and had recently divorced.

Not your business, Banner, he reminded himself. He brought up a gedit screen and started typing a completely-bogus grocery list to distract himself.

A couple minutes later Loki straightened and walked away; Bruce heard him go over to the shelves, remove a book, and then return to the bed.

Some time later, Bruce twitched a little, realizing that Loki had spoken. "I'm sorry?" he said.

"This double-oh-seven person--he seems to be rather obsessed with his own technology," Loki said, with the air of someone patiently repeating something.

Bruce laughed. "That's one way of putting it," he said, and returned to his data sorting.

It was only twenty minutes or so later that he realized that despite Loki’s perfectly-cultured London accent and affectation, he’d shown no recognition whatsoever of Britain’s most famous modern export. Odd, Bruce thought.

* * *

He fed himself and Loki dinner--spaghetti with sauce from a jar, but the bread was fresh--and Loki volunteered to wash the dishes, which was unexpectedly pleasant. "Dish soap is under the sink," Bruce said, pointing, "and the towel is hung on the cabinet door."

Loki nodded again, and set to his task.

Bruce decided to take a look outside--at some point he'd need to get started shoveling, if he didn't want to have to shovel two or three feet all at once--and put on his coat and a hat.

"Where are you going?" Loki asked.

"Nowhere," Bruce said. "Looking out the door, to see how bad the damage is."

"Ahhh," Loki said.

Bruce waited a moment more, but Loki said nothing else, so he pulled on his gloves and opened the door.

It was definitely white-out conditions; the wind pushed the door out of his hands and slammed it back shut before he could see anything else, or figure out how deep the snow was. "Huh," he said. "Well, that's that."

"Oh?" Loki said.

"It's a little windy out," Bruce said, and he felt his mouth quirk up into a half-smile.

"I never would have guessed," Loki said, and looked up.

If he concentrated, Bruce could definitely hear the wind whistling around them in a circle, but the cabin was very well insulated so it wasn't exactly obvious. And his hearing was definitely better than average, had been even before the Other Guy had given him some marginal enhancements even when he was still himself. So Loki's hearing was probably even better than that. Huh.

Or perhaps he was younger. Bruce shook his head. There were perfectly normal reasons that someone would have better hearing than a forty-year-old academic who'd spent part of the last year working in a factory. He brushed the snow off his coat, stuffed the hat and gloves into his pockets, and hung everything back up by the door before taking off his boots and putting on an extra pair of socks.

* * *

It occurred to him maybe a half hour later that he only had one bed, and nothing like a couch that could be used to sleep on. The bed was large enough to share--the gendered selection of books implied that couples often used it--but still. Bruce hadn't shared a bed more than once or twice in years, and he'd woken up as the Other Guy before, a long time ago, due to nightmares. It could happen again, he thought, although it wasn't likely, and even if not, the nightmares didn't go away, just the transformation part.

Mostly, he didn't want to be asleep and vulnerable, but he couldn't stay awake for three to five days. Sleep deprivation was a very good way to fray his control. Ugh.

He tucked his feet under him on the chair and let his hands rest on his knees for a moment, ignoring the light from the laptop, the faint whistling of the wind, and the occasional page-turn or sigh from Loki, who had returned to his book after finishing the dishes. He counted inhales and exhales, slowing his breath down until it was barely audible, and his heartbeat followed. He closed his eyes and focused on a point above his nose, behind his forehead, and relaxed, consciously, from his scalp down to his toes, pulling everything that was Bruce inside him, into a ball of light, and letting everything else go.

When he felt better, more in control, more himself, he opened his eyes, shook his head slightly, and put his feet back on the (cold, dear lord) floor, tapping on the track pad to make the computer wake out of sleep mode.

If he turned his head just a bit, he could see that Loki had shifted, no longer leaning against the stack of pillows on the headboard. No, instead he was lying on his stomach, feet crossed in the air, arms propping himself up on a pillow except when one hand reached out to turn the page.

It was . . . cute. Inappropriately cute, especially considering the person in question was (a) taller than Bruce, (b) a jerk who had invaded his secluded Canadian cabin and gotten himself stuck there during a snowstorm, and (c) appropriated his bed. Bruce sighed. It was only a little after eight, and even on his own time he'd be awake for a few more hours.

Although normally about this time he'd be switching to the bed, because wooden chairs weren't the most comfortable.

But Loki was on the bed.

He gritted his teeth and promised himself that he'd do yoga tomorrow morning to straighten his back out.

* * *

Another three and a half hours of data crunching--and zero results, although he might have discovered an ancillary use for one of his formulations of the serum in MS treatment--and his eyes were starting to burn. He really couldn't put it off anymore; it had been dark for a couple hours, despite the weird light from the snow, and sunrise was absurdly early. He sighed, shut down the useless processes, and put the computer into suspended mode. "I'm tired," he said, and it sounded more snappish than he intended. "Unfortunately, and despite the risks, there's only one bed, so if you were planning on sleeping, we're going to have to share. Were you planning on sleeping?" he asked, because that was a solution he hadn't thought of.

"I would rather sleep than not, yes," Loki said, closing his book after a quick glance down at the page. "What do you mean by 'the risks'?"

Bruce flicked his gaze up to the ceiling. "I'm sure you can extrapolate what might happen if I have a particularly awful nightmare."

"Ah," Loki said. "It seems no more of a risk than being here with you, in a log cabin, during a snowstorm, with heat provided by a fireplace."

It really wasn't the same, but Bruce shrugged.

"The bed looks more than large enough for both of us, even if we didn't wish to be close." Loki quirked an eyebrow.

"We don't wish to be close," Bruce said, rolling his eyes.

"I shall keep my hands to myself if you promise that you will," Loki said, his expression settling into more of a smirk.

There was really no answer to that. Bruce stood, found his pajamas--flannel pants and a long-sleeved knit shirt--and a spare set, and threw the extras at Loki before retreating.

The bathroom was one corner of the square cabin, blocked off to house a sink, a toilet, and a shower stall all in barely enough space to allow a full-sized adult to turn around, but he managed. It was a luxury to have running water, and hot water, at that. He didn't shower, though; just changed into pajamas, brushed his teeth, flossed, gargled with mouthwash, washed his face, and stared into the mirror for a moment. He sighed at his reflection. "Can't hide in here forever, Banner," he said under his breath, and washed his hands a second time just to make a point. (To whom, he wasn't sure.)

He left the bathroom a moment later and almost immediately ducked back in. Loki was standing, facing the bed, shirtless, pushing the jeans over his hips, and Bruce really didn't want to find out what exactly sort of underwear was favored in Iceland (or wherever he was from), although he--

Yeah. Commando.

Well, that image isn't going away anytime soon, he thought, and sighed.

Which was his second mistake in as many minutes, as the sigh caught Loki's attention and made him turn around. Bruce had half a second to decide whether to close his eyes and risk Loki laughing at him, or leave them open and see a lot more than he intended.

It wasn't much of a decision, really; he'd had enough derision in his life. He kept his eyes on Loki's face, though.

"Why, Dr. Banner," Loki said, grinning. "I'm afraid you've caught me in the middle of changing. You are, of course, welcome to watch."

With the odd feeling that he was doing something completely out of character, Bruce took a step to the right and leaned on the counter, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrows.

Loki laughed, bright and delighted, and started dressing.

Bruce thought about staring over Loki's head to make a point for about thirty seconds and thought screw it. Loki wanted him to watch, he'd watch. And it wasn't going to be a problem to keep himself under control. It wasn't. Really.

It wasn't the most seductive dressing he'd ever seen--that honor belonged to Morgan McKenzie his second year of college, even though the dressing happened right after she'd declined to go any farther than second base--but Loki wasn't exactly throwing his clothes on haphazardly. He turned back to the bed, bent over, stepped into the pajama bottoms, and slid them up his legs slowly.

He did have a nice ass, Bruce was forced to admit, even if just only in his mind. He bit his tongue just a little bit; the pain forced his concentration away from Loki and back to his own body, which was most definitely not reacting. Nope. Not even a little bit.

Next, Loki picked up the knit shirt, balled it up, and pulled it over his head, stretching his arms up to let the shirt fall down his body. It was a nice effect, and Bruce nodded appreciatively when Loki turned back around. "Very nice," he said, trying to sound disaffected and reasonably sure that he did not.

Loki's smirk confirmed it.

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, curled up on his side, facing the door, Loki lying on his back, an extra pillow forming an ineffectual barrier between the two of them, Bruce sighed again. How was this his life?

"If you are chilled, Bruce, I would gladly lend you my warmth."

"No, I'm not cold," he said through gritted teeth. He wasn't; the bed had a down-filled quilt and multiple thermal blankets, and it wasn't less than 60 degrees F in the cabin, anyway. He'd banked the fire properly, and anyway, after a few weeks in the cabin, he would definitely wake up if anything started burning improperly. Some vestige of proper manners prompted him to ask, "Are you?"

Loki chuckled. "I am comfortable," he said, and shifted, making the bed creak. "Do know, though, that you are always welcome to remove the pillow, should you need warmth in the middle of the night."

That does not sound like an invitation to cuddle. "I'll keep that in mind. Thank you. Good night."

"Sweet dreams, dear doctor."

Bruce did not sigh. Not outside of his head, at least.

* * *

All things considered, Loki was an ideal bed partner. He didn't move; he gave off enough heat that Bruce was toasty, but not so much that he was overheated; he didn't snore, talk in his sleep, or turn into an octopus. He even smelled okay; faintly like some sort of expensive, woodsy cologne that Bruce thought he should recognize, if he was the kind of person who recognized colognes.

Even so, there were hundreds of reasons why falling asleep was a bad idea. Bruce himself wasn't a great bed partner, and had been told as much by--by more than one person. He knew he talked in his sleep, at least occasionally; he kicked, and as a matter of fact, he did turn into an octopus. (Metaphorically.) He didn't think he smelled all that bad, but he certainly didn't smell like cologne.

But not sleeping was an even worse idea. Ugh.

He closed his eyes, thought stay in once place, damnit as hard as he could, and counted as he breathed in and out until he fell asleep.

* * *

It didn't work. He woke up the next morning wrapped around the middle pillow, the blankets all rucked up at the foot of his half of the bed. The weird grayish light coming in from the window next to the bed let him know that the snowstorm was still going, and the smell of oranges let him know that Loki had made tea.

"Good morning, Bruce," Loki said. "I trust you slept?"

Bruce sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Did I snore?" he asked.

"No," Loki said, "but I am rather intrigued to know who Betty is."

"That's none of your business." He did mean to sound harsh, but he felt a little guilty after he said it.

"Never mind," Loki said, sounding altogether too triumphant and awake for that hour of the morning--Bruce guessed it wasn't actually later than six in the morning. "I can guess. Very beautiful, very smart, and an absolute joy in between the sheets?"

Bruce almost said, Yes, yes, and it's been so long that I've forgotten, but that would be a lie--he remembered very vividly what Betty was like in bed and yes, she was an absolute joy between the sheets. One that he'd never get to experience again, most likely, because of too many stupid mistakes. "Still none of your business," he said, and got out of bed, heading quickly to the bathroom.

He closed the door behind him; it didn't lock, and he held his breath for a moment to see if Loki was going to knock and insist on continuing their conversation, but nothing happened, so he relaxed a little and turned on the shower. His eyes weren't green, despite the ball of tension in his chest, so he was probably okay.

Well, other than the erection that had tented his pajama pants and bounced as he walked across the cabin. The one he couldn't do anything about other than his usual cold shower, and damned if he really wanted a cold shower. He turned on the tap and sighed. Morning wood, he thought.

And maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't, but it was gone by the time he stepped out of the shower, ten or so minutes later. He dried himself off and pulled his pajamas back on--because of course he'd forgotten a change of clothing--and stopped, his hand on the door. He couldn't hide in the bathroom forever, it was true, but . . .

"You cannot hide in there forever," Loki called out, and Bruce smacked himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. "Besides, why would you want to? I have successfully made breakfast."

Breakfast? Bruce opened the door about a foot and poked his head out. As soon as the door opened, he could smell some sort of toasted bread and, of course, the tea from earlier.

Loki was standing near the counter, holding a plate in each hand; he extended one to Bruce and said, "He emerges!" He was fully dressed in the clothes that Bruce had given him yesterday; he must have dampened down the sweater and stretched it out a bit, because the sleeves seemed longer than they had been the day before.

Bruce took the plate, ignoring Loki's remark; it held an English muffin, split and toasted perfectly, one half buttered, the other half with mixed-berry jam. At least, he assumed it was mixed-berry jam, as that was the only kind he'd bought. He looked askance at the temperamental toaster oven. Maybe he'd actually fixed it the last time he'd had to rewire the temperature sensor. "Thank you," he said, and stood awkwardly.

"I do believe it is customary to eat at a table?" Loki said a moment or two later.

"Usually," Bruce said, snapping his brain back into action. "Uh, I can get the other plate, if you want to bring the tea?"

Loki smiled and handed him a second plate.

Breakfast was tasty; the tea wasn't oversteeped and Loki had managed to keep it warm. He'd also managed to keep the English muffin at the exact right mix of crispy, warm, and squishy, despite the already-melted butter.

Really, if it wasn't for, oh, everything else about this situation, he'd keep Loki around for his food-wrangling ability.

After eating, Bruce collected their plates and took them to the sink, washing them quickly and setting them on the dish rack to dry. He pushed the curtain back from the window over the sink and looked outside: still poor visibility, although he could see some feet out ahead of him. "I should probably try to clear the front path some," he said, "so there's less to do tomorrow, or whenever this ends."

He turned, and Loki was right there, next to him, rinsing out his tea mug and turning on the electric kettle to make more. "That makes sense," Loki said. "I suppose you also have more data to peruse."

"There's nowhere to go; it's a one-room cabin," Bruce said. "What else is there to do? I don't have any card games."

Loki looked at him for fifteen seconds or so, a smirk slowly forming on his face, and then, right at the exact moment, raised an eyebrow.

"No," Bruce said, and closed the curtains. He tried to make it as final-sounding as he could, and punctuated it with a turn on his heel to go to the dresser to find clothing.

Loki didn't reply; he actually didn't say anything for close to three hours. Bruce managed to remove about a foot of snow from the front stoop and walkway before returning inside to change into dry clothing and ignore Loki, his attention back on his laptop, filling in sudoku puzzles during his downtime. Loki was reading on the bed again, finishing his James Bond novel and then picking up a Zane Grey paperback.

Silence--well, almost silence: the electronics still hummed, the fire still crackled, and the hot-water heater still clicked on and off--reigned, and Bruce was able to breathe a sigh of relief. However, when he got up to refill his water glass, Loki finally said, "You're not involved with anyone else, or they'd be here with you, and you're clearly interested; I am offering, so why deny yourself?"

Bruce very carefully set the glass down on the counter, turned to Loki, and said, "That's none of your business."

"All right," Loki said, and went back to his book.

It took fifteen minutes of deep breathing and another hour of sudoku before his mind would quiet down enough--and not think about Loki's question and offer--to let him dive back into his database. He let the numbers fill his vision until he finally lost himself in them.

He came back when his stomach reminded him, loudly, that he hadn't eaten, and--oh, huh, there was a sandwich near his elbow. He looked over at Loki who was still on the bed, an empty plate near his side, and said, "Thanks."

"You are quite welcome," Loki said without even looking up from his book.

Bruce was just fine with that. Or so he told himself.

Dinner was a similarly-quiet affair, eaten in two different locations, and afterward, he stood and stretched some. He hadn't bothered to change into looser-fitting pants, and he was well aware that the majority of the yoga poses he thought he needed to do involved his ass in the air, so he didn't do any of them, just raised his hands above his head and twisted from side to side to get rid of the kinks in his back and neck.

He didn't look to see if Loki was watching.

* * *

About fifteen minutes after they'd gone to bed for the night, Loki spoke up unexpectedly. "What is a black p-brane?"

Bruce blinked a couple of times, and said, "It's a part of M-theory. Well, what most people call string theory. Um, why?"

"There was a journal on top of your dresser, and it fell open to a particular article. I thought I'd read it, if you liked it that much, and although I'm certain I did not understand seventy-five percent of it, your physics textbook was quite useful in filling in some of the gaps in my education."

"Oh," he said.

"Although I don't entirely agree with the author's contention that it is an alternative to a regular p-brane. It seems that it is similar, although it doesn't describe the same thing."

"Well, it makes perfect sense if you consider it through the lens of Minkowski space." Bruce rolled onto his back and flipped into lecturer mode, fully expecting that a couple sentences of explanation would baffle Loki and he could go to sleep.

And then Loki asked a question, and another question, and then they were having a discussion about nuclear physics and M-theory, in the dark, albeit on a rather intermediate level, but Loki was smart, and oh, Bruce was in trouble.

* * *

He woke up alone again the next morning, which was just fine with him, because he was wrapped around a pillow again and he strongly suspected he'd spent some percent of the night wrapped around Loki instead.

Well, not entirely alone, as he could hear Loki in the kitchenette, and a moment or two later, he could smell tea and toasted bread.

"Good morning, Bruce," Loki said, sounding cheerful. Bruce lifted his head an inch or two and saw that indeed, he did look cheerful, to boot. "Would you like breakfast?"

Well, yes, and no: it was early, and the bed was warm and he didn't really want to move, but food. Food he didn't have to prepare himself. "Sure," he said, and swung his legs to the floor.

He rounded the end of the bed and took the plate and mug that Loki held out, and was heading for the table when Loki said, "May I join you?"

"Of course." The words were out of his mouth before he could think, or more accurately, before he remembered yesterday, but strangely, he didn't want to take them back. Instead, he set the dishes down, pulled out both chairs, and gestured to the one closer to the fire.

Which, apparently, Loki had stoked, as it wasn't freezing cold in the cabin. He'd also swept the floor at some point; the wooden slats didn't have the faint layer of grime that came from impurities in the melted snow. The rugs looked cleaner, too, but that wasn’t possible; there was no vacuum cleaner and Loki obviously hadn’t taken the rugs outside to beat them.

He’d cooked; he’d cleaned; he’d built up the fire—and Bruce was waffling over whether to let him sit at the table with him or not. Damn, Banner, you’re an asshole.

And not just that morning, either—looking back, he realized that in trying not to ask any questions that Loki didn’t want to answer, he’d crossed the line into rudeness there, too. He hadn’t asked any questions at all, and had stifled all but necessary attempts at conversation. Until last night with the physics, but even there, he’d tried to nip that discussion in the bud. It wasn’t as if M-theory was exactly a contentious topic, anyway; at least, not in the current context. Definitely an asshole.

He could fix this, though. “Thank you,” he said.

Loki raised both eyebrows at him.

“For breakfast. And for taking care of the fire, and for cleaning, since I guess you did some of that, too.” He sighed. This was difficult; then again, human interaction always was, for him. “And everything else you’ve done that I didn’t notice.”

“Invading your solitude and propositioning you multiple times?” Loki asked, only one eyebrow raised now.

“Well, not that,” Bruce said. “But, you know, it occurred to me that I’d passed the line from ‘taciturn’ into ‘surly jerk,’ so.”

“So,” Loki echoed. “Your apology is accepted, and you’re welcome.”

Bruce nodded, and took a sip of his tea.

That having been accomplished, he still wasn’t entirely sure of the next step. He couldn’t think of a single thing to say to start a conversation that wasn’t inane or likely to garner him only a one-word answer. The food was simple and self-evident, and the weather was exactly as it had been for the last day and a half. So he didn’t say anything, which didn’t appear to surprise Loki.

He finished his English muffin and tea in what felt to him like a more companionable silence than before, but he couldn’t say how Loki felt. Collecting his own plate and mug, he held his hands out for Loki to stack his dishes on top, and Loki gave him a quick, artless smile in exchange.

Afterward he fled to the bathroom, remembering his clothes this time, at least, and took a quick shower. As he dressed, it occurred to him that he hadn’t actually seen Loki take a shower, and while the man was, obviously, doing things while Bruce slept, he hadn’t seen any wet towels, either, and his soap and shampoo were always exactly where he’d left them.

So maybe he should have pointed out that Loki was welcome to use the shower a day and a half ago, yeah, but how did one do that without making it sound like the other person smelled or looked gross? Loki didn’t look or smell gross; his hair was essentially identical to the first time Bruce had seen him, and he still smelled faintly of whatever cologne he’d been wearing.

Still. Showers were showers, and they were good for sore muscles even if not needed for cleanliness.

He left the bathroom, and Loki was on the bed again with another new book, this one by Nora Roberts. “The water pressure is surprisingly good,” Bruce said, “and the hot water lasts for a good ten or fifteen minutes, if you wanted to take a shower.”

Loki looked up over the edge of the pages. “Are you suggesting I might need one?”

Bruce was definitely glad he’d thought of a response for that. “Whether you do or not, hot water feels good.” He gestured. “You know where it is.”

“I do,” Loki said. “Thank you. I might, later. In the meantime, I am enjoying this story too much to stop now. Unless there was something you needed me for?" His tone rode the line between innocence and innuendo so skillfully that Bruce almost didn't realize that the words could have been read multiple ways. It was impressive.

Still, he responded to the literal meaning. "Nope."

He went over to look out the window, and it had either stopped snowing or was in the middle of a brief break. There were snowdrifts as far as he could see, and he really should go out and shovel some, but honestly, he didn't want to. Maybe after lunch. He sat down at the table with his laptop, one foot tucked under him, and tried to connect to the satellite internet.

Some hours later, Loki closed the book with a pleased sigh, and said, "That was very satisfying."

"It's a romance novel," Bruce said, looking up from his laptop screen. He'd gotten about twenty minutes of connection to the satellite internet before it had crapped out again, which was enough time for him to download a fair number of new articles from a couple of college websites. "They're supposed to be."

"I have never read a romance novel before," Loki said. "Also, I believe it is the first of four?" He flipped over the book and looked at the cover. "Yes. Perhaps the others are on the shelves as well."

"Mm," Bruce said noncommittally. He hadn't been particularly impressed with the random book selection, but maybe. If not, Loki could certainly find Nora Roberts books almost anywhere.

And then he remembered his resolution not to be an asshole. "Er. What was the book about?"

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Four women who run an all-in-one wedding business. Do you actually care, or are you trying to start a conversation?"

"Is it a problem if it's the latter?"

Loki chuckled. "No. But I'm certain you can find a better question to ask."

"All right," Bruce said. "Um. Seen any good movies recently?"

Loki shook his head. "Try again," he said.

Well, okay. Time to try something even more basic. "Where are you from?"

Loki outright grinned at that, somehow both joyous and sharp. "Asgard, or perhaps Jotunheim, depending on how you consider the matter."

"I don't know where those are." If the internet had been working, he'd have googled them; they sounded Norwegian or maybe Icelandic, and geography wasn't his finest subject. "Iceland?"

"No," Loki said, and he sounded amused. "Your world is Midgard. The world of the Aesir is Asgard. The world of the Jotuns is Jotunheim. I am Jotun by heritage and Aesir by upbringing."

Bruce blinked. "Wait, what?" Because it sounded as if Loki had said something, well, absurd. Impossible.

"Your world--this one--is Midgard," Loki repeated patiently. "There are other worlds--nine of them in total--and I am from a different one. Two, possibly."

"Okay." Apparently he was stuck in a Canadian cabin with a man suffering from delusions, which, well. It was nice that he didn't know that until the third day.

"I can tell you don't believe me," Loki said, and got off the bed, walking over to Bruce. As he did, his skin--turned blue? With odd markings, and small protrusions near his hairline.

Wait. Who was suffering from delusions now? Bruce took off his glasses--he'd been looking over the top of them anyway--and rubbed his eyes.

"You aren't seeing things, Bruce," Loki said. "Well, if you want to be precise, you are seeing things, but they are true things."

"You turn blue?"

"Not as you turn green," Loki said, and now he was close enough that Bruce could reach out and touch him if he wanted to.

He did, he really did, really wanted to see if the blue skin felt like human skin--not that he really knew what Loki's skin felt like anyway--wanted to trace his fingers over the markings, which looked like scars this close up. But he didn't, because Loki hadn't told him he could. So. Blue.

There were really three possible explantions for this. Well, four. Bruce still hadn't ruled out hallucinating himself. He surreptitiously reached down and pinched his leg. He couldn't really feel it through his lined jeans, so he pinched his wrist--ow. Well, not asleep, at least. It could be a really good hallucination. (He'd tried drugs before that made him hallucinate--it was an experiment, damnit--and it hadn't felt like this, not at all, but still.)

"Mutant?" he asked. He knew of a genetics researcher in upstate New York who was blue. Blue and furry, but still, blue.

"What is a mutant?" Loki asked.

"Someone with the X-gene," Bruce said, "or--well, it gets complicated. But a human, essentially, with extra abilities."

Loki shook his head. "I am not human, no."

"Were you born like this?" Bruce asked after a moment, because he'd realized that did someone do this to you? was sort of a rude question. Besides, he'd turned himself into a monster; who was he to deny anyone else's agency?

"Yes," Loki said.

All right. Probably not the result of some sort of scientific tampering, unless it was before he was born, and he'd heard horrible things about--"Are your parents like this?"

"My biological family, yes, they have blue skin and horns."

Ah, yes, Bruce hadn't recognized the horns for what they were until Loki pointed them out, but there they were.

So yes, probably not the result of science. Which left--science that hadn't been explained yet. He wasn't willing to call it 'magic,' even though lord knew that by the standard laws of science, he should have given everyone on the planet cancer by now. "So these nine worlds--"

"Asgard, Jotunheim, Midgard, Svartalfheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Muspelheim, Nidavellir, Niffleheim," Loki recited, in roughly the same voice that Bruce would have used to say, my very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. (Or, well, noodles now that Pluto wasn't a planet. But he digressed.)

"They're--" Bruce waved a hand generally in the direction of the ceiling. "Out there somewhere."

Loki nodded.

"So how did you get from there to here?"

"Normally by the Bifrost, which is a bridge, but most recently, I was--er--thrown." Loki looked uncomfortable. "Or I fell. Nonetheless, there was nothing, and then I was on Midgard."

"Can you go--home?"

Loki shook his head. "The Bifrost is closed to me now."

"Oh," Bruce said. So Loki was stuck here. "So what are you doing here? I mean," he said, "in my cabin specifically, not on earth--Midgard--generally. I don't believe that you just randomly ended up here before a snowstorm."

"And why should you," Loki said, "for it would be incredibly convenient. No, I heard of you from a colleague of yours, Erik Selvig, and I wanted to see for myself."

"You want to see me turn into the Other Guy?" Bruce asked, and he felt a little distant inside his own head.

"No," Loki said. "Of that, I have no need. I was, I will say, evaluating your usefulness as an ally."

"An ally? For what?"

Loki stared at him impassively. "Revenge."

"Against whoever threw you?"

"Among others."

"Ah." Bruce understood revenge, although it was yet another thing he'd had to set aside when he'd fled for Canada. "I can't help you with that."

"I know," Loki said.

Bruce frowned. "You know?"

"I see things," Loki said. "I cannot create illusions without seeing to the heart of the matter first."

"Oh," Bruce said, although that didn't make any real sense.

"I was content at the idea of having your other self for an ally until I realized it would cost me this self as a--" Loki closed his mouth with an audible click.

"As a what?" Bruce asked, although he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know what the end of that sentence was. Also, it was slowly sinking in that Loki had trapped himself in a cabin with him with, essentially, the intention of testing his control to see if he was good to use as a weapon, and that was . . . not good. Not good at all. He stood, to move more than a couple feet away from Loki, and said, "Don't answer that. I don't need to hear the answer right now."

"Why not?"

Bruce turned to give him a hard look, and Loki swallowed and took a step back. "What do you need from me?" he asked, tone even.

"Silence," Bruce said. He had more control than this, he really did. He went to the kitchen sink and ran the water until it was hot, and then washed his hands for a few minutes. Grabbing a yoga mat and a blanket, he set them down near the fire and added a log before replacing the screen.

He spread out the mat and rolled up the blanket, sitting on it, facing the fireplace, far enough away that he could feel the warmth on his face and knees but not so much that it would be uncomfortable any time soon. The fire crackled loud enough to cover any incidental noises from the rest of the room, but Bruce was doing his best to pretend that Loki wasn't there.

He'd had a good deal of practice blanking his mind over the last year--over the last six years, for that matter, but it was only in the last few months that he'd actually had a significant amount of success.

He had to be successful today.

Spreading out his fingers, he rubbed his palms on his knees until his hands were warm and tingling. He angled his tongue in his mouth and listened to his breaths hiss through the back of his throat as he did for more serious yoga practice. Counting to five for each inhale and exhale, he concentrated on his breathing until it smoothed out.

He closed his eyes and waited a few more minutes, until he knew he had control, and then he opened them, staring at the flames as they danced for a few more minutes. Only then did he stand and turn to look at Loki, who was sitting very still in the center of the bed, skin still blue. "What do you want from me now?" he asked.

"I don't know," Loki said.

"Okay," Bruce said. He turned and went to the sink, filling a glass with water and draining it before returning to the fire to re-roll his yoga mat and return it and the blanket to their places.

"I would like your friendship," Loki said suddenly, into the silence, and Bruce turned.

"Is that all?"

Loki shook his head.

Bruce sighed. "I'd thought this would be obvious by now, but I can't."

"Can't what?"

"Have sex."

"You can't?" Loki asked, looking surprised. "The parts seemed to work all right."

Bruce felt his face turn hot, but he said, "It is by far more of a risk than I've ever been willing to take. If I transformed during sex, it would be guaranteed death for my partner."

"You've never even tried," Loki breathed.

Bruce shook his head.

"Hm," Loki said, and a speculative look took over his face.

"No," Bruce said.

"But you've only contemplated sexual relations with a human before this, correct?"

Bruce blinked. "Well, obviously."

"Well," Loki said, lips curling up into a smile, "I am not human."

"That . . . doesn't actually make me want to have sex with you," Bruce said, grimacing.

Loki rolled his eyes. "You have seen me nude," he said. "I am made the same as you, in effect, and I am certainly of an intelligence level comparable to yours. I am perhaps alien, but I'm not incompatible."

"That's true," Bruce said, relenting a bit. "I could still kill you."

"You cannot," Loki said. "You forget--your people worshipped me as a god."

"Well, not mine exactly," Bruce said; he didn't think he had any Scandinavian heritage. "But I understand what you're saying." He wasn't willing to concede the point yet. Also, he wasn't sure he believed that Loki was a god, or even an alien, but he wasn't sure he didn't believe him, either.

"I believe the phrase here is, 'try me,'" Loki said.

"What?" Bruce said. "No. I don't . . . intentionally hurt anyone."

"And I am saying that you will not hurt me because you cannot," Loki said. "But that’s not what I meant. I meant that we should try amorous activities, because I apparently believe in your control more than you do."

"You can't mean that," Bruce said, his hands clenching into fists. "You've seen me almost lose it just from--from conversation with you."

"You haven't even come close to losing control," Loki said. "And if you did, I can handle it."

"You can't," Bruce said. "That's what I keep trying to tell you." He wanted to go look in the mirror, to see if his eyes were green, because he thought they probably were, but he couldn't leave. He needed to convince Loki of this, that he was dangerous, and that it just wouldn't work.

"Who are you trying to convince," Loki asked, tilting his head to one side in an uncanny echo of his thoughts, "me, or yourself?"

"You," Bruce said without hesitation. "I can't hurt myself. I can hurt you."

Loki disappeared; winked out of apparent existence. Bruce took a step backwards and looked around him. "Loki?" he said. He took three steps forward and ran his hand over the bed.

"Over here, my dear doctor."

Bruce spun around; Loki was leaning up against the door, arms crossed. "How did you do that?" he asked.

"Magic," Loki said, "or perhaps incredibly advanced science, if you wish. At best, if you lose control, you will lose the cabin, which, I admit, has its charms." He gestured lazily at the cabin. "But nonetheless, I feel I can guarantee my own safety."

"Oh," Bruce said, and then again, "Oh." He paused, let Loki's teleportation or whatever it was sink in, and then said, "So you can--you can escape."

"I can escape in the blink of an eye," Loki said, "and from what I have been given to understand, your transformation isn't as instantaneous as that."

"Oh," Bruce said again, and he was aware that he was repeating himself, but he couldn't think of what else to say. "So you--you could the whole time."

"I am not actually disappearing, merely misdirecting, and it works best via line of sight, but yes, I could have concealed myself from you and left the cabin at any time. And yet, there is still snow and I am woefully underprepared for . . . roughing it." He wrinkled his nose. "So," he said, "should you actually wish to try, I am the safest, ah, lab partner, that you could get."

Bruce smiled faintly at the phrase 'lab partner,' but went over to the table to sit down. "If I--if we do this," he said slowly, "the, ah, the greatest danger would be at climax."

Loki shrugged, an elegant gesture, and came over to lean on the back of the other chair. "You've not even tried to bring yourself to climax?"

"Uh, no." Bruce flicked his gaze up to Loki's and then back to his hands. "In the beginning I had no control and then it . . . stopped being important."

"Ah." Bruce looked up again, and Loki was surprisingly not smirking. "Well, go ahead and try, if that would make you feel more comfortable."

"You think I should--" Bruce refrained from making the obvious crude gesture. He raised an eyebrow at Loki, his mind whirling, but really, he'd already decided. Now he just had to figure out how to make it work.

And actually, Loki's suggestion wasn't a bad one. If he could retain control by himself, he'd definitely feel a lot better about his chances of retaining control with another person, and that would, of course, give him better control overall. "Okay," he said. "But there's one, uh, problem," he said.

Loki raised his eyebrows. "And what is it?"

"I'm not exactly nineteen anymore," Bruce said. "By which I mean, I'm middle-aged, for a human. I assume you're a little older than forty Midgardian years but you look much younger than I do." Get back to the point, Banner. "Anyway, uh, I mean, if I get off now, it might take me a while to get it back up again."

Loki shrugged. "I can wait."

"Even until tomorrow?" His refractory period had been a little better than that--well, a lot better--last time he'd tried but he really had no idea anymore.

Loki shrugged again. "Well, if it is going to take that long, I might request your hands or mouth, or maybe I shall seek my own pleasure, but it still isn't a deterrent."

"That's awfully generous of you," Bruce said, the side of his mouth quirking in a half-smile. What the hell, he thought. Reckless endangerment of property a go. "Okay."

"By which you mean, you will achieve climax on your own, and then I shall join you?"

"Yes," Bruce said. At first, the idea of masturbating with someone else in the cabin, even if it was someone he was planning on later having sex with, sounded a little strange, but the more he thought about it, the hotter it sounded. "Is now a good time for you?" he asked, and his voice sounded a little strangled in his ears.

"Well, I believe it's lunch time, but I'm not particularly hungry. Are you?" Loki had a mildly-inquisitive look on his face, as if he were actually thinking about lunch, and Bruce smiled and shook his head.

"No."

He stood up just enough to be able to lean forward and press his lips to Loki's, at least as much a promise as an actual kiss, and oh, was that a good idea, because it was the spark that lit the tinder somewhere deep inside Bruce. He got hard in record time, somewhat uncomfortable in the confines of his jeans, but he'd fix that as soon as he could stop kissing Loki, who tasted sweeter than he expected, with just a hint of the tea he'd been drinking.

Finally Loki stopped the kiss himself, with a hand on Bruce's cheek and a thumb placed gently between their lips. "That was lovely," he said, and smiled without a trace of irony. "I think you and I will get on quite well together. But in order for that to happen, I believe there is something you must do first."

Bruce smiled. "Yeah," he said. "Where, uh, will you be?"

"Where would you like me? Out of your sight?"

He thought about it for a moment and said, "No, I think I'd like you nearby."

Loki's lips curved. "How nearby?"

"Not touching me," he said, "but close. Still on the bed, I guess." He wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to relax enough with Loki right there, but it was worth a try. Having him in the bathroom wouldn't be more relaxing.

"May I speak?" Loki asked.

Bruce looked up at him, eyes wide, and had to swallow twice before he managed to say, "Yeah. Yeah, let's do that."

Thirty seconds later he was undressing, while Loki turned down the bedsheets. He seemed to be hesitating, hands smoothing over the sheets in a strangely nervous gesture, and Bruce said, "Is something wrong?" while he balled his socks together and set them on top of his jeans.

Loki looked over at him, but a little past him. "Would you prefer that I wore my Aesir form?"

It took Bruce a moment to translate that into something he understood, but once he did, he said, "No," immediately, and then backtracked. "Unless you'd like to? I mean. I like blue," he said, realizing it was ridiculous even as he said it, and winced. "Well, that was racist."

"Perhaps," Loki said, and Bruce shook his head a little at the understatement, "but also honest, I suppose. I like blue, as well, but I also like brown." His skin didn't change color, though, and Bruce finished undressing, stripping off his layers of shirts and pants and then sliding between the sheets.

Which were, of course, a little cold against his bare skin, and he shivered for a moment until he warmed up. Loki lay on the bed to his right, still fully dressed, propped up on one elbow, watching Bruce, who felt a little self-conscious until he read the heat in Loki's red eyes properly. "It's too cold to let you watch," he said apologetically.

Loki shook his head. "I am more than satisfied to watch your face," he said.

Oh. "Well, then," Bruce said. He closed his eyes for just a moment and ran his hands down his body in a way that he hadn't in longer than he wanted to think about. He settled his breathing down to a rhythm as best he could, and heard Loki match it, which helped, and also warmed him inside a little. He reached down and cupped his balls, which felt good, and then wrapped his hand around his cock, which felt better.

"What are you thinking about?" came Loki's voice, quietly.

"Nothing?" he said, and then realized that that wasn't particularly flattering or sexy, but damn it, he was hoping Loki would do all the talking because he was kind of bad at it. Dirty talk, that is. "Nothing yet."

"What do you normally think about when you touch yourself?" Loki asked. "Former lovers, nameless fantasies, people you have never met?"

"All of the above," Bruce said. "And, uh. Hopefully potential future lovers, too." He rubbed his thumb just below the head of his cock and opened his eyes to look at Loki.

Who was staring at him with a sort of intensity that made him want to curl in on himself and come at the same time. Bruce's cock jumped in his hand, and he licked his lips, squeezing a little bit.

"You should," Loki said. "You should be thinking about me, about my hands, my mouth, the heat of my body. The touch of my skin. The weight of my cock in your hand, so similar to yours, and yet different."

"Oh, fuck," Bruce said, and his eyes shut again, not entirely of his own volition. He started pumping in earnest, fingers tight around himself.

"You should be asking yourself: do I want him on top of me, riding me so I can see every inch of him? Or below me, on hands and knees, spread for my pleasure."

"Mmf, oh, God," Bruce said, crying out; the images Loki described played behind his eyelids, and he wanted all of them, now, as soon as possible.

It occurred to him that he was losing control, but it wasn't in the least about the Other Guy, and that knowledge settled through him slowly but surely, even as Loki whispered about seductive images, about Bruce's tongue tracing lines on Loki's shoulders and Bruce's fingers sliding slickly inside Loki's body, and other, filthier things that Bruce--ohh--wanted to do right now.

He brought his hand to his mouth quickly and spat into his palm, his saliva providing just enough slip to make it perfect, and now it was all about keeping up the rhythm and digging his heels into the mattress and hearing Loki's voice in his ear and then--and then--

"Oh, fuck."

It had been so long that coming almost hurt; it felt like he shot out his heart and lungs and brain as well as seven years' worth of need and longing and two and change days of intense frustration. He kept stroking himself even through the aftershocks, shaking against the sheets; Loki had helpfully held them up over his groin without Bruce asking, so he thought he'd probably missed messing them up too badly. He sighed in pleasure and reached for the box of tissues on the bedside table.

"May I?" Loki said as Bruce folded the covers down, a little overheated now.

Bruce nodded, even though he wasn't entirely sure what Loki wanted to do, but when Loki leaned down and licked an errant drop of come from his chest, Bruce gasped, and took a moment to give thanks to whoever was listening that he'd managed to test a drop of his own pre-come once, finding out that it was no more toxic than his saliva.

Of course, Loki was a god, or an alien or something, so he could likely survive a bit of gamma radiation, but it wasn't worth taking chances.

"That appeared to work," Loki said, as he finished mopping the mess off of Bruce and threw the dirty tissue onto the nightstand.

Bruce laughed, still a little--a lot--drained. "Yeah," he said. "That definitely worked. It's going to take more than a couple minutes to recharge here."

Loki shrugged. "As I said before, I can wait."

"Do you want to--" Bruce bit his lip, because he wasn't really sure that Loki was the cuddling type.

Loki apparently was able to guess, though, and maybe he was or maybe he was just willing to oblige Bruce at the moment, because he said, "Let me remove my clothing first."

Bruce mustered enough energy to raise his head and watch Loki strip, and yes, the markings formed a pattern everywhere, one Bruce wanted to trace with his fingers and his tongue. But not yet. Maybe when he'd regained some energy and everything wasn't hazy around the edges.

Loki joined him in the bed a moment later, curling up against his side, head on his shoulder, horn carefully not poking into Bruce's neck, and one hand on his chest. "I enjoyed the show," he said a couple minutes later.

"It wasn't much of a show," Bruce said, "but, uh, thanks." He smoothed his hand down Loki's back, feeling the slight ridges under his hands. He followed one line absently with a fingertip before asking, "Is this okay?" Now that he thought about it, he could be falling into all sorts of cultural taboos without knowing it, and he froze.

"Indulge yourself," Loki said, with a warm puff of laughter against his neck.

So Bruce did, finding the patterns on Loki's back with one hand and, when he couldn't reach any farther, on his shoulder and arm with the other, tracing concentric circles and maze-like lines.

Finally Loki sighed in mock exasperation and rolled over on top of Bruce, straddling his waist before sitting up. "Here, so that you may use both hands," he said, catching both Bruce's hands in his and placing them on his ribs, just above his hipbones.

Bruce stared for a moment in wonder and awe, looking at the contrast of his own olive-tan hands against Loki's blue skin, and said, "You're gorgeous."

"Thank you," Loki said. "You are, as well. Now touch me."

Bruce snorted. "Pushy, aren't we."

Loki leaned down until he could place his hands on either side of the mattress by Bruce's head, and said, "You have no idea."

That . . . shouldn't have been as much of a turn-on as it was. Bruce swallowed, and then slid his hands up Loki's sides, rubbing thumbs across his nipples to see if he was sensitive there.

He was, exquisitely so, if the way his body arched under Bruce's hands was anything to judge by, and Bruce circled again and again, just to get that reaction. He'd try his tongue as soon as Loki would let him up, or as soon as he had enough energy to move that far. He followed every single line on Loki's chest and abdomen that he could find, down to the cut of his hips and the sparse black hair at his groin. He avoided Loki's cock, hard and heavy and dark-bluish-purple and, yeah, a little weird, but not off-putting for all that; nonetheless, he wanted to touch Loki a little more before he went there.

There were more lines on Loki's hips and thighs, and Bruce found all of them, or tried to, spreading his fingers to span the narrow width of Loki's quads. "Shall I shift, so you can reach every last inch of me?" Loki said, and there was a hitch in his voice between a couple of the words. Bruce loved it, loved that he'd put it there, and ran his nails lightly just inside the ridge of Loki's hipbones.

"No," Bruce said, realizing he hadn't responded. "I like you right here." He reached for one of Loki's hands, which were resting at his sides, and traced the lines up his hand and arm. "Unless you want to move?"

If he'd just been listening to Loki's words, he might have thought that Loki was humoring him; that it was a burden, or uncomfortable in some way, to have Bruce running his hands over him, but it obviously wasn't. In addition to his erection, unflagging the whole time, his breaths had gotten faster, and his face was still heated, expression intense.

Loki's expression twisted into a wry smile, and he shook his head. "No, I'm quite comfortable right here." He shifted from side to side, and Bruce groaned, because . . . Huh.

"You appear to be rising to the occasion," Loki remarked.

"Apparently," Bruce said. It had been maybe a half hour, which was a little fast for him seven years ago. It may have been his new favorite gift from the Other Guy. He chuckled at the thought, and tugged Loki down to kiss him.

Loki held himself a breath away from Bruce's lips and slid backwards until he was pressed against Bruce full length. Despite the disparity in height they were chest to chest and groin to groin and oh, it had been too long, and the heat was building fast, touching another person skin to skin. Bruce tilted his head up just a mere fraction of an inch and took Loki's mouth again.

He wasn't careful, or studied; he was a little desperate, and he knew it, and he really didn't care. It wasn't as if Loki didn't know that it had been a long time since he'd kissed with intent and had known that something would come of it. His hands roamed up and down Loki's back as he mapped out the inside of Loki's mouth with his tongue and let him return the favor; he pushed his hips into Loki's and groaned in his chest at the feeling.

He reached down and cupped Loki's ass in his hands; there were lines there as well, but there were none on his cock. The scientist part of Bruce's brain noted the difference, catalogued it, and then went back to rest.

"Please tell me that somewhere in this cabin there is something that can be used as lubrication," Loki said against Bruce's lips, and Bruce huffed a quiet laugh.

"Yep," he said. "This cabin is apparently a favorite of a certain, strange kind of honeymooner, so there's some in the nightstand."

"Hm." Loki rolled over, opened the drawer, and said, "Hm," again.

Bruce leaned over and looked in the drawer; inside were several boxes of condoms and four or five different kinds of packets of lube. "Huh," he said. "Pretty good selection." He picked out a plain lubricated condom and a couple packets of lube that would work with it and checked the expiration dates. "And they're still good."

Loki still looked bemused, and it occurred to Bruce that Loki might actually not know what they were. "Condoms," Bruce said, holding up the packet. "It's a . . . very thin sheath. Assuming you still want me to top, you don't need to worry about it; I'll handle it. These are lubricant." He held up the other packets. "And, well, frankly, I can handle those too." He smiled at Loki. "I'd like to, if you'll let me."

Loki nodded. "All right," he said. He pushed Bruce flat onto his back, and straddled him again. "Can you, from this position?"

Bruce nodded, and ripped open one of the packets of lube. Coating his fingers, he reached behind Loki and rubbed a slippery finger over his asshole before dipping a fingertip in.

He really had to think very hard about everything but what he was doing, prepping Loki for sex, because if he did think about it--think about what was about to happen--he'd probably be overwhelmed quickly. So instead he concentrated on discrete impressions--heat around his fingers, Loki's hair falling on his face, one of Loki's hands sliding into Bruce's hair--and counted his own breaths.

"I think," Loki said, panting, "that I am ready now."

Bruce looked up at his face, which showed only pleasure and a little impatience, and crooked his fingers to try to find Loki's prostate, if he had one--which he apparently did, based on his abrupt movement.

"I am definitely ready now," Loki gasped, and wrapped his hand around Bruce's wrist, pulling his fingers out.

Bruce let him, but before Loki could line himself up over Bruce's cock, he stopped him, and said, "Kneel up for a moment."

Loki did, and Bruce shifted himself forward enough to roll the condom onto himself. "Cunning," Loki said, watching him, and Bruce laughed.

"Yeah," he said. "You won't notice it, and I barely will."

"Do we need to discuss the matter any further?" Loki asked, running a finger down Bruce's cock. "Because I would rather like to get back to what we were doing."

"Yeah," Bruce said. "Yeah. Please."

He reached for Loki's hips, but Loki pushed his hands away and said, "Lean back."

Bruce did, and watched very closely as Loki lined himself up and sank down an inch. Oh, fuck, it was better than he'd even imagined, better than he'd dreamed, better than he'd allowed himself to picture while jacking off and even while fingering Loki minutes ago. Loki was hot, oh so very hot, and tight, and his muscles were standing out in sharp relief as he strained to hold himself up. It was so very hard to hold still, but he did, didn't jerk up into Loki's body, didn't so much as shift his feet until Loki had taken him all the way in.

When Loki's ass met Bruce's hips, though, Loki just smirked down at him and said, "Hold on, my dear doctor."

And that was nearly all Bruce could do, his hands resting on Loki's thighs just above his knees, watching as Loki lifted himself nearly off Bruce's cock altogether before lowering himself back down. It was slow and measured for perhaps three or four strokes, and then Loki was off and riding.

It was hard, and fast, and it was exactly what Bruce wanted, needed, and damn, he was glad he'd gotten off so recently, or otherwise he would have exploded in a minute or less. As it was, he still had to hang onto his control by his teeth and toenails, hoping he could just last long enough to let Loki finish first--

As he thought that, Loki's hand went to his own cock, stroking up and down in counterpoint to his hips moving, and Bruce watched, mesmerized, as Loki finally threw his head back, cried out wordlessly, and came, spilling all over his own hand.

The sight of it--Loki so abandoned above him--and the feel of Loki clenching around him was irresistible, and Bruce only had to thrust into Loki's suddenly-pliable body a few more times before he gasped and shuddered, emptying himself again, hard and intense and so, so good.

Loki pitched forward, his lips seeking out Bruce's in an uncoordinated kiss, and Bruce returned as best he could, despite the fact that he couldn't seem to make his limbs do anything he wanted them to. "I presume you enjoyed that," Loki said, his voice hoarse, and Bruce only laughed in response. He lifted Loki off of him as gently as he could and removed the condom, fumbling his way through tying it off and throwing it in the general direction of the tissue pile. Holding his arms out, he watched Loki's face soften a little before he curled up against him again, sweat-slick skin sliding against each other.

"Yes," Bruce said, a couple minutes later. "I enjoyed that very much. You?"

"Even more than I had expected," Loki said.

"It'll be better next time," Bruce said. "It always is. At least, in my experience. That is, if you wanted to do it again." His tongue was getting ahead of his brain, and he needed it not to do that or he'd be professing eternal love in the next half hour.

Not that he loved Loki, but, well, he was pretty fond of the man--alien--Jotun--whatever.

Loki chuckled. "Did you really think I would let go of you so easily?"

"I'd hoped not," Bruce said. His eyelids were starting to grow heavy, but he was also starting to get hungry, and he wasn't sure which would win. "Are you leaving once the road gets plowed?"

"Do you wish me to?"

"No, not particularly," Bruce said.

"Then I suppose I shall stay," Loki said, as if it didn't matter either way, but the tension draining from his muscles said otherwise.

Bruce felt almost drunk between being tired and post-orgasmic, and that was probably the only reason that he was able to say, "I still can't help you with your revenge."

"I know," Loki said, and he didn't sound mad, not that that really meant anything. “I can wait.”

“I’m not going to change my mind on that.”

"Please bear in mind that I am over a thousand Midgardian years old. If you could wait years for pleasure, I can wait for revenge."

"Oh," Bruce said. "Oh."

"Indeed," Loki said. "Sleep. There will be food when you awake."

"I knew there was a reason I kept you around," Bruce said. He closed his eyes, and slept.