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The Scientist

Chapter Text

Soundtrack So Far

 

Friday lunch break wasn’t supposed to end like this. No lunch break should end like this. Lunch breaks were reserved for recharging halfway through the workday so you could power through the afternoon until it was time to go home.

Placing her lunch in the microwave, Luna wasn’t concerned about how her lunch break would end at all. They’ve all begun and ended the same way for her entire career at the new Avengers compound. She popped in her earbuds and put her playlist on shuffle, quite delighted when “Harlem Shuffle” queued up. The perfect tune to walk and groove to. Punching in 1, 3, 0, and “start” along with the opening notes. She moved around the kitchen, walking to the beat.

You move it to the left,” she mouthed along, spinning to the left.

You move it to the right,” again, moving to the right and taking this opportunity to fill her tumbler with iced tea.

The microwave still had about a minute more and so on she danced. Thank goodness no one was around. Fridays were out-to-lunch days for most folks around the complex so, as a result, no pair of eyes were there to watch. The security cameras didn’t count as her boss Tony knew she did this on the regular.

You slide it to the limbo,” sliding to check again how much time remained. Not too long. This time, Luna stayed in front of the microwave, watching the timer countdown. Her body occupied itself by rocking back and forth, her foot tapping along to the rhythm. The timer went ‘ding’ in no time.

She gripped it carefully with paper towels, wincing a bit at the heat. She made sure everything was held tightly before strutting straight for the elevator and pushing the down button with her elbow.

“FRIDAY, Level 1, please!” she said, stepping into the elevator, nodding along to the beat. As she made her decent, she swung her hips at each change in key, still careful not to drop anything.

No sooner had she left the elevator, the song changed, the opening drum beat of “Sound and Vision” instantly recognizable. She strode out into the sunshine with pep still in her step. What luck, a fair enough day in New York to eat outside. A perfect picnic for one. Not too windy, not too sunny, just right.

Before sitting, she placed her food and purse down and took a deep breath. The surrounding trees made the air smell and feel divine. Quickly, the aroma of her rice dish reached her senses, arousing her appetite.

As she ate, she read up on blog posts on her phone, laughing at the occasional meme in between bites. Upon finishing, she admired the clouds in the sky, although there were only a few. They were still beautiful to look at. Any squirrel or bird that crossed her periphery was also subject to her gaze. Just as a bird landed nearby, “Lake Shore Drive” graced through her earbuds. The feeling it gave made the day seem even more gorgeous. She tapped her foot as carefully as she could, hoping not to scare the bird away as it pecked at just about anything on the ground. Before long, it flew away in search of more food.

She decided to stare at the sky as every tree looked the same after a while, but nothing was seen. It was like she tried to peer past the clouds and atmosphere and out into space. Her thoughts drifted off to the Superfriends, as she called them. Where were they? Would she ever see any of them again? Were there others she didn’t know about? Questions, questions, questions. They seemed to go on for days if she dwelled on them, so she didn’t.

She scrolled through her music, skipping a bunch of songs until she found the perfect one to fit the moment. ‘I’ll listen to those later,’ she thought to herself. Yeah right. “Starman” seemed appropriate. It was always appropriate. She glanced again at her phone. No messages at all. Whatever.

No sooner had she glanced back up, something in the sky captured her attention. It looked to be a bird descending, but it was way too big and circular for a bird. She took her glasses off and checked for a bug. There was nothing, so she put them back on. She sat still, watching it as the object got closer and closer. She quickly paused her music and put it away. It looked like it would be landing quite close to the bench. She got up abruptly and backed away from her seat, brandishing her plastic fork as if it was a much more threatening weapon. The nearer the thing got, it became more apparent that this was a spaceship of some kind. The shape and colors gave it away. No human on Earth would make something that looked like that.

As it landed, a strong breeze was stirred up that knocked over all of the empty Tupperware, not that it was of anyone’s concern now that there was a huge spaceship on the ground. Oh man, Tony is gonna be so mad. He’s a stickler for lawn care.

When the sound of its whirring engines finally subsided, the air was quiet for a moment before the ship doors began to open. Luna was startled, not knowing what to expect. She backed away slowly and attempted to hide behind some shrubbery, not that it helped in the slightest. Her heart hammered in her chest, anticipating the next moment.

Movement inside caught her attention. There was someone in there, alive. She watched as the someone made their way to the open door and walked out, stumbling a little bit. They had shoulder-length black hair and light skin, from what she could see. They looked to be human. Were they human? It was possible.

“Hello,” their voice rang out. They spoke English. And they had spotted her. “Is Tony Stark available? It’s urgent.” She rose up from her crouched position and spoke back.

“Uh…I think so.”

Chapter Text

Per the stranger’s request, Luna led him inside the complex, abandoning her things outside.

“FRIDAY, is Tony available? I need to see him,” she said, pressing the elevator button.

“Mr. Stark is in his lab. I will alert him to your visit.”

“Thank you!” she said as she stepped into the elevator along with her visitor.

The ride up was quiet. Luna didn’t know whether to talk to him or stay silent, so she chose the latter. It seemed he made the same decision as he held his hands in front of him, his eyes slightly downcast. She affixed her glasses nervously and glanced at him occasionally, trying to get a better look at him without staring. He was very handsome despite looking like he’d just rolled down a hill. His face was smudged with black dust and his clothes were dirty, ripped in certain places and a little burnt. Where did he come from? What had he just experienced for him to look like that?

The ding of the elevator interrupted any thought the two were having to themselves. Luna stepped out first and ushered him to follow.

“This way,” she spoke briefly, making sure he was close behind. Now the situation was settling in her mind. Who was he? Was he a current threat? No, that would be a bit silly because if he was a danger, he could have harmed her at any point since the moment he saw her. He had to be here for a reason, though. But what reason was it and was it a good one? So many questions.

Going up to the lab door, she held her hand to the bio scanner to enter. As usual, Tony was inside, tinkering away on a suit piece. The sound of the door closing behind her alerted him to her presence. Upon seeing her, he smiled that dazzling smile of his, but when he laid eyes on the man behind her, it visibly faltered.

“Well hello, Dr. Fields. What have we here?” he greeted with an even tone, keeping his eyes set on the individual behind her. She pauses when she gets close enough to look him in the eye.

“I honestly don’t know how to explain it so I’ll say it,” she takes a deep breath. “An alien spaceship landed on the front lawn and he-” she points behind her “-insists on speaking with you.” There’s a brief moment of silence before Tony spoke again.

“Thank you, Luna. You can go now.”

“But I-” she started.

“You can go,” and with that, she turned slowly and walked out. The two men in the room watched her until she was out of sight. They turned their gazes back to one another.

“Alright, Rock of Ages, you have 5 seconds to start explaining yourself before I call the cavalry and send you back into the grave you’re supposed to be in.”

“Believe it or not, Stark, I come in peace,” Loki said with a slight smile.

“Haha, very funny. You got two seconds left.”

“Alright, alright,” Loki holds his hands up and pauses for a bit. “Asgard has been destroyed, and I had nowhere to go except here.” Tony crossed his arms.

“Yeah and I bet it was your fault too.”

“That’s not important.”

“Oh I beg to differ,” Tony said, taking a step closer.

“The ship we all evacuated on was attacked by,” Loki paused. He couldn’t say it. “Something massive, and I was the only one to escape. Now, I don’t know if Thor is still alive-” Tony interrupted.

“Wait, Thor was with you?”

“Yes,” Loki said matter-of-factly.

“And you left him?! Wait, why am I surprised?”

“Is that the only thing you’re hearing me say right now?” Loki said sharply. He was getting irritated.

“Your planet was destroyed, the spaceship you evacuated on was attacked, and you left Thor to escape and come here, of all places in the universe. Why here?”

“We were already on our way here,” Tony was slightly taken aback at this. “Thor’s idea.” Loki stayed quiet and watched the floor. After a few seconds, Tony spoke up.

“Ok, but why did you come here? You know what happened the last time you were here?”

“Thor wanted me to come and tell you about what has occurred,” Tony scoffed a bit at this. “And it was the only place within range.”

“Alright, you told me. Now get back in that ship outside and leave.” Loki looked back up.

“I can’t.”

“Why not? Feel like taking over the world again real quick?”

“I already told you, I come in peace,” Loki took a breath before continuing. “I used the last amount of the ship’s fuel to come here. I have nothing else.”

“Sounds fake. Why should I believe that?”

“When have I ever lied to you, Stark? You can check the ship if you like. You will see that I am not lying.”

“Oh, I will do just that since you dropped it right on my nice new lawn and you can leave when I’m done.”

“I told you, I have nowhere else to go, and Thor would want me here anyway.” He was telling as much of the truth as he could. How much more convincing does he have to do?

“You see, I would believe you if he was here and told me so himself but you left him in the middle of nowhere; in space, no less.” Tony just wouldn’t budge. He indeed was immovable in this instance.

“What do I have to do for you to help me?” Now that gave Tony an idea. He jabbed Loki in the chest with his pointer finger.

“How about you kneel?” This prompted Loki to bare an incredulous expression.

“I’m kidding! It was worth a shot.” He laughed and turned back to his bench littered with all his suit pieces. “So what, you’re a refugee now?”

“Would you help me if I said yes?” Loki knew from experience that acting as pathetic as possible got him almost anything he wanted. With Tony, he was grasping at straws

“Wow, I almost feel sorry for you. You’ve spent about 15 minutes here, and no one’s died yet, so that must mean something. Ok trickster, since Thor is such a good friend of mine and neither of us knows where he is right now, I’ll cut you a deal. You can stay until Thor gets here, then you’re all his.” Loki let out a small sigh of relief.

“I never thought I’d be saying this but thank you, Stark.”

“You better behave yourself, or I swear I’ll guillotine you in your sleep.”

“I expect no less,” Loki mumbled slightly.  It was a huge risk to be here, but he didn’t have anything else. “So do I stay here or…”

“Oh no, not here here. I can’t have any of my employees seeing you. That would be a terrible look for me.”

“Then how do you possibly think you can help me?” Loki snapped. Nothing was going how he wanted it to go.

“I’ve got an idea, but for now you will just have to wait.” FRIDAY chose this moment to alert Tony.

“Sir, the bots have successfully brought in the ship for inspection.”

“Thank you, FRIDAY. I’ll be right down.” Tony looked back at Loki. “Now let’s see if the liar is lying.” Tony walked past and out the door.

“And you will see that I am not,” Loki said, starting after him. They both walked in silence until Tony turned to enter a room that didn’t look anything like a garage and extended a greeting to someone. When Loki walked in after, it seemed to him to be more like a chemistry lab.

“Oh hey!” the other individual said. It was that girl from earlier, Luna. “Good to see you after only 10 minutes. What’s with the visit?”

"Yes, about that. While I inspect the nice alien spaceship that Reindeer Games here has so graciously brought, I need someone to watch him, and I designate that someone to be you.”

“Uh huh…why,” she said slowly. She squinted her eyes, her gaze shifting between the two men in front of her.

“Because you’re the only other person that knows he’s-” Tony pointed at Loki, “-here and I can’t risk any more people knowing right now. Plus, you know where all the best hiding spots are.”

“Fair enough. Just don’t take too long or I’ll have to charge overtime,” Luna joked. Tony laughed a bit and left the way he came. Now it was just her and Loki.

“So you’re Loki? Like the Norse god?” she said, not moving.

“Took you long enough,” he replied back. Luna pushed her glasses up her nose and glanced down at the floor.

“Alright, if I’m gonna watch you, it can’t be in here. Just…don’t touch anything.” She began to move about the room, hanging up her lab coat and throwing her rubber gloves away. She went to the back door of the lab and opened it, leaning her head out and looking in both directions. “Ok, the coast is clear,” she said. She turned around and gestured to him. “Come with me.” He started after her, and she led him down a short hallway to a small lounge room. “You can sit anywhere,” she said back to him, taking a seat in a plush armchair.

Loki ran his the tips of his fingers along the back edge of a bland-looking couch before sitting down. It was comfortable enough for him to rest his weary self. He looked over at Luna, who was now looking at a device in her hand. His eyelids felt heavy from being up for much longer than he could manage. But he couldn’t doze off here. He wasn’t safe. To stay awake for a bit longer, he attempted to make small talk.

“What is that in your hand?” he had seen something like it before but not used like that.

“Oh, this?” Luna held up her phone. “It’s my cell phone.”

“Cell? Doesn’t look much like one,” he said, leaning forward a bit to keep from falling asleep. Her eyebrows shot up slightly in surprise. She didn’t figure him as someone who knew what a cell was, but you learn new things every day.

“Yeah, I suppose not, but it does resemble a plant cell,” she said, looking at her phone and smiling a bit. Loki smiled back, not sure what a plant cell looked like. He would have to take her word for it. They were silent again for a minute before Loki spoke again.

“How come you didn’t recognize me at first? Surely everyone on Earth knows of me at this point.” Again with small talk but he did feel like knowing.

“Well, at the time all that occurred, I wasn’t in New York unlike most of the people that work here. I also didn’t watch the news much back then, not that I had a lot of time to,” she said flatly, scrolling quickly through whatever she was looking at on the small screen.

“Oh really? What, pray tell, were you up to?” he prodded her a bit, having a little fun. What could’ve possibly been more interesting than him?

“Maybe that’s for me to know and for you to find out,” she said, looking straight at him and smirking a little. She wasn’t about to reveal unnecessary information to someone she didn’t know. Loki grinned a little more and snickered quietly to himself, deciding to admire the carpet. He took momentary delight in her willingness to poke back. She caught his attention once again when she stood up.

“Would you like anything to drink? I was gonna get myself something, and I figured I would ask,” she asked a little sheepishly. She didn’t usually like talking with someone this long, especially someone that she didn’t know. She tried not to appear nervous as he pondered his answer.

“Just water, please,” he said finally, looking in her direction. Luna fetched a water bottle from the mini fridge and a cup from the cupboard and put some water to boil on a hot plate. Walking over to him, she twisted the cap a bit before handing it to over. He thanked her and accepted it. They fell back into silence, this one more comfortable than the last, the only sound in the room is the water in the pitcher coming to a boil. Loki went back and forth between looking around the room and at Luna, all while taking sips of water. It soothed his dry, aching throat and aided him feeling a little more alert. It also helped that he found the girl in front of him to be quite pretty. It was then that he finally started to feel relaxed, the silence helping to calm his thoughts.

Just as the water began to whistle, Luna turned it off to make sure the silence in the room persisted. She scooped in some instant coffee mix and leaned against the counter, holding the cup in her hands and stirring it. Just as she was about to take a test sip, Tony’s voice broke through the PA system, startling the both of them.

“Luna, come down to the garage and bring Mr. Tall, Dark, and Gloomy.” The two looked at each other before making their way to exit, leaving their drinks behind. Loki tried his best to move like his limbs weren’t about to collapse from underneath him. He kept up with Luna as they made their way through the back hallways and down a staircase to the garage Tony occupied.

“Ah, there they are,” Tony said as soon as he spotted them in the room. “Come on over here.” He looked like he had finished inspecting the ship. Well, on a top level, at least. A few parts lay scattered on the floor near one area of it. Tony put a hand on Loki’s shoulder when they were close enough.

“Looks like you weren’t lying this time. Whatever this thing ran on, it’s fresh out. You truly are stuck here.” This comment made Luna’s ears perk up.

“Wait, stuck here?” she said, feeling a bit shocked. She was confused as to why Loki was here, but she would have never imagined that he would be stranded. “What about Thor? Can’t he do anything?” Before Loki could say anything, Tony answered.

“From what he told me, his planet was destroyed, and he left his brother to escape.” Loki rolled his eyes and dropped his shoulders, sighing in annoyance.

“I didn’t abandon Thor. He helped me to escape, so I could come here and talk to you.” Loki spoke up.

“Oh really? And you couldn’t have told me that earlier?” Tony pressed him.

“I’m telling you now. Doesn’t that count?” Loki retorted.

“Fair enough. You haven’t lied so far.” Tony moved to pat Loki’s back, striking him a bit harder than necessary, making him wince slightly. “Well anyways, thanks for the cool ship. Now let’s see about a place for you to stay till Thor gets here.” He began to lead Loki away from where they stood. “I have a very nice prison cell with your name on it. I’ll even put a cot in there.”

“Hey, wait just a minute. Loki is a refugee, and you’re just gonna stick him in prison like a criminal?” Luna said, quite stunned by what she just heard.

“Uh yes because he is a criminal,” Tony replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Not right now, he’s not. Besides, he probably did time on Asgard, where there would be proper conduct in the punishment of criminals.” She pressed him, mustering up as much confidence as she could. Tony glanced at the floor before looking at her again.

“Perhaps you’re right,” he said sternly, abandoning Loki and walking closer to where she stood. “Since you’re so full of ideas, where do you think I should put him?” He was testing Luna a bit. He liked to get his way, but he did feel like hearing what she had to say. Luna racked her brain for a reasonable answer before speaking.

“Don’t you have any empty rooms? Peter barely uses his.” That made Tony step a bit closer, challenging her.

“Oh hell no. That room stays open and used by one person and one person only,” he said in a low voice. Luna sighed a bit in anger. “Besides, I’m not doing so hot with the press right now. Having him here would destroy me, and you know that.” Her eyes were now fixed on her hands. She couldn’t just leave Loki in Tony’s hands. As she felt Tony’s glare on the crown of her head, she wished that she was at home, hiding under her covers. Suddenly, she had an idea. A dangerous one, but an idea.

“He can stay with me,” she said in a low voice, though both men heard her and were equally taken aback.

“No, absolutely not!” Tony yelled.

“You got any better ideas? Because I’m not gonna let you treat him like a prisoner when he needs help, and I can do something about it!” Luna became more and more agitated.

“Don’t you think it’s a little above your paygrade to be acting like such a bleeding heart?” His tone cut her a bit, but she held on steadfast.

“Probably, but I don’t see anyone else around here that has the heart to help, no matter their paygrade.” She cut back. He deserved that. They silently challenged each other, the tension in the air weighing heavy.

“Alright. You do what you want, but if you get hurt, don’t come crying to me,” Tony spat, backing away slowly before turning to collect some mechanical parts from the floor. Luna clenched her jaw as hard as she did her fists. She closed her eyes and sighed, gathering herself before opening her eyes and looking over at Loki. The confidence she had just wielded was fading fast, so she used the last few remnants to approach him. For a god, he looked powerless and fatigued, but she was sure that wasn’t true. She looked at his slightly slumped form and chose her words carefully.

“All of Asgard? Gone?” She said as softly as possible. Her heart broke for him. He gave a small nod, not bothering to look at her. Luna felt a slight urge to hold his hand but instead tugged at the hem of her shirt.

“Come on. Let’s go get you cleaned up,” Luna said and moved past him, glancing back to make sure he followed.

Chapter Text

Soundtrack So Far

 

The drive back to Luna's apartment was quiet, albeit the faint tune of "Girls On Film" coming from her radio. The traffic was minimal, so the ride was smooth. She was a bit antsy if Loki approved of her music, but her fears were extinguished when she glanced over at him and saw that he had leaned back and closed his eyes. The sight calmed her a bit but only a bit. She was taking a stranger to her apartment and having them stay for an indefinite amount of time. She's never done that before in her life. Not only that, the said stranger is Loki, Norse god of mischief. This was as cool as it was terrifying.

The motion of her pulling into her parking spot prompted Loki to open his eyes and sit up. He didn't sleep, but he felt more rested than before. As Luna stepped out of the car, she scanned the parking lot for anyone that could be watching. When she saw no one, she quickly opened the passenger side door and beckoned for Loki to get out as soon as possible. They speed-walked to the entry door. Luna fumbled to get her key card and swiped to open the door when she got a good grip on it. Thankfully, the front desk manager wasn't paying much attention, deciding to monitor any action from their periphery.

Luna had her hand on Loki's forearm, practically dragging him to the elevators. She looked very shifty at the moment and was not keeping calm. Luna tapped her foot and pressed the up button a few more times than necessary. She was scared, but it was too late to back out now. So close to home. Only a little more.

When the elevator doors did open, they came face-to-face with an elderly lady. Loki kept a better poker face than Luna. She looked downright petrified for a split second. In any other situation, Loki would have laughed. Instead, he kept as quiet as he had been and flashed a friendly smirk at the other woman, stepping out of the way to let her pass. Luna then moved into the elevator with Loki and pressed the button for the fourth floor. She relaxed a bit when the doors closed.

Upon arriving at their destination, Luna walked out first and looked around for a few seconds. No one in sight. She gestured for Loki to follow her and began to make her way to her door, not bothering to look at any of the apartment numbers. She had the muscle memory down. Once they were both at the door, she unlocked it effortlessly and moved inside as fast as she could, closing it back when Loki had crossed the threshold behind her. Upon locking it back, she leaned against the door, closed her eyes, and let out a breath she had been holding since she had smuggled him into her car. She opened her eyes to look at him while he surveyed the new environment.

"Well, uh, welcome to…here," she said, taking off her shoes. "My only request is no shoes go past the entryway. Other than that, make yourself right at home." Loki did the same, placing his boots beside hers and stepping further into the room. It was modest and spacious: a couch, a couple of armchairs, a coffee table, television, bookshelves, a kitchen, and a hallway leading to other small rooms. Loki's observation of the area halted when Luna crossed into his path of vision.

"Alright, I'm gonna go change and start dinner so just sit wherever," she said before turning to go down the hall and into a room, shutting the door behind her. As soon as she was alone, she loudly exhaled. "I have a stranger in my apartment. I have a stranger in my living room right now. Loki, the god of mischief, is in my living room. Oh, what have I done?" She ran her hands through her short hair, grabbing it harshly and making it stick up everywhere. She leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor, breathing heavily. "Ok, what I'm not gonna do is panic. This is Loki we're talking about. Don't show any weakness." She took deep breathes in and out in an attempt to calm herself. After a couple of minutes, she felt like she could function once more and was able to change her clothes as she had planned. She took a look around her bedroom before stepping out into the hallway, ready to ask Loki something, but the words died on her tongue when she laid eyes on him.

He was fast asleep in one of the armchairs, head tilted to one side, his hands resting in his lap. Her heart warmed at the sight. She turned into her kitchen and prepared two cups of hot chocolate. Regardless of whoever was in her home, he was her guest, and her mother taught her always to offer refreshments to your guests. The silence was slightly unbearable. She missed her music. As the milk boiled, she fetched her phone and connected it to her stereo, starting the song over so once again, she was listening to "Starman."

How ironic it was that she had this song playing while there was an actual alien on her couch. A real Starman, no longer waiting in the sky. David Bowie would be proud, probably. She nodded her head and tapped her foot along to the soft tune playing through the air. There needed to be a sense of calm to even out the slightly chaotic day she had.

As she placed his mug on the side table beside him, she decided to take a good look at him. He was indeed just as handsome as he was when she first laid eyes on him. There was no doubt that he would look even better when he was all cleaned up and properly rested. She retrieved her mug and blew on its contents as she went about gathering any extra items for Loki to use. She took sips sparingly and grabbed a few towels from the hallway closet, Bowie's cheery voice fading out to a second of silence until very familiar plucky piano notes graced her ears.

"I g-g-g-g-gotta say honestly," Luna sang out softly as she moved around briskly on her toes and into her room. She couldn't help herself. With every sway and turn, the tension of the day rolled off of her. Music was like magic. The right song at the right time always did the trick, no matter what. She almost forgot what she was supposed to be doing until she saw Loki leaning against her doorframe, passively watching her.

"Oh, you're up," she said a little breathlessly. "I'm just getting some clean clothes for you." She turned back to search through her drawers, moving as quickly as she could now that she had a pair of eyes on her. It didn't take too long for her to find a large long-sleeved shirt, spare pajama pants, and a pair of large socks. She placed them on top of the small stack of towels and handed them to Loki. "These should fit. If not, we’ll go shopping tomorrow." She moved past him and showed him to her bathroom. "You can use whatever you need. The shower knobs aren't too hard to figure out. You can, uh… you can take as long as you need to." There were an awkward three seconds until Loki nodded his head, thanking her silently, and closed the door behind him.

Loki appreciated how tidy Luna kept her bathroom. All her various odds and ends were arranged neatly on each surface and shelf. Finding an unoccupied area, Loki placed his stack of clothes and towels onto the counter to test the shower knobs. As Luna said, they weren't hard to get the hang of. He desperately needed a shower, but first things first, he had to undress. It felt like it took forever. He let out low groans as he shed each item of clothing. Everything rubbed against his skin in all the wrong ways, and he was glad to be rid of them in privacy.

The water added a new discomfort as he stepped into it, but only for a brief moment. He stood underneath the water with his eyes closed to let it do its job before using the array of soaps at his disposal. All the blood, sweat, tears, and dust that had accumulated on his skin and hair washed off, making him look like nothing had ever happened. Like Thanos hadn’t found him after all those years and make him suffer for not completing his mission. Like he didn't have to trade the Tesseract for Thor's life. Like his home wasn't destroyed and the only pieces left of it were Thor and his memories. He could only hope that his brother had found sanctuary somewhere.

The water was long past freezing when Loki got out, not that he noticed or cared. He proceeded to dry himself off with the towels Luna had so graciously provided. The clothes she picked for him felt good against his pained skin. The shirt was a comfortable size, but the pants were too short for his liking. How perceptive she was to provide socks to make up for the ill-fitted clothing. He took a good look at himself in the mirror. His hair was a tangled, wet mess and his face had lost some of its luster, but at least he was clean. Laying a towel on his shoulders and wrapping his leather armor in his cape, he made his way out into the hall.

The atmosphere still rang with soft music. However, the sound and smell of something cooking were present as well. Whatever it was, it peaked his interest. After placing his clothes on the floor by the couch, he quietly moved over to the island table that helped to separate the kitchen from the living room area. Luna had her back to him, swaying and bopping to the beat of the song that was playing while cooking whatever it was she had on the stove. When he sat down on the bar stool, she glanced over her shoulder at him.

"Hi, how was it? I'm almost finished with dinner," she said, gesturing to the pan in her hand. "It's nothing fancy, but at least it's healthy." Loki didn't say anything, just settling on observing her. She took the mug of hot chocolate that he didn't touch and placed it in front of him. "If you think I'm gonna try and poison you in any way, I'm not. I wouldn't do that to the food or you." He shifted his eyes from the mug to her a couple of times before taking a sip. It was rather good. He drank from it slowly and watched Luna warily. To say she was kind for providing him shelter in her home would be an understatement but this wasn't like his time on Sakaar. She knew who he was so he couldn't lie to sway her, at least not now. In the moment, the truth had made her choose his side, but it could also be his immediate demise. He had to keep is guard up.

"Are you one of Stark's Avengers?" he said when he finished off his drink. That was the only possible explanation as to why she was so confident in having him here.

"Me, one of the superfriends? Never in my life," she said with a smirk, amused that he would think such a thought. She served up two bowls of the dish she prepared and leaned across the counter to place one in front of him. She kept her own in front of her, deciding to stay standing.

"Then what is your role with them?" Loki asked, holding his gaze on her. She was quiet for a moment, pondering her answer.

"I'm a genomic scientist," she said, glancing at him before eating a bit of food from her bowl. "While they do the fighting, I look at what they're made of." Loki copied her and ate his portion. As he did, he began to feel his strength coming back.

"Then why bring me to your home? Surely you know the dangers of that," he said with a slight grin and an edge to his voice. Whatever her motive is, he'll get it out of her, even if he has to scare her a little. She didn't speak for a moment.

"It's like Tony said, I'm a bit of a bleeding heart. You're in need, and I can help. I'm not a fighter, so if you're looking for a fight, you won't find one with me." Luna shifted her posture a little, so she was resting on her forearms and looking at Loki defensively. She wasn't going to hurt him but damn it if he tried anything. She diverted her attention back to her meal. It needed to be finished before it got cold. Loki did the same when he figured she had nothing else to say to him.

"What's in this? It's good," he asked.

"A menagerie of things: rice, frozen vegetables, eggs, spices, what have you. My mother's go-to recipe when she couldn't think of anything else to make," she said, stirring what was left in her bowl.

"Well, my compliments," Loki said warmly. Luna smiled a little. Though she didn't show it much, she was thrilled that he liked it.

They proceeded to finish their meals in silence. Loki observed Luna as she did the dishes. He had to make sure she kept her word that she wouldn't attack him. So far, so good. In turn, Luna held him in her periphery. Couldn't have her guest stabbing her in the back or however he would choose to harm her. Just because he had had plenty of opportunities to hurt her so far didn't mean that he wasn't still waiting for one. When she finished the dishes and wiped down the counter, she went into the living room, turned off her music and switched on the TV. The voice of a news anchor filled the space.

"Ugh, disgusting," she said with complete disdain. Loki walked over to see what could have elicited such a reaction.

They stood together and watched until Luna went to get some extra sheets and cushions so Loki could put himself up on the couch. She left the television on when she saw that he was still paying attention to it. He loved drama and chaos that he wasn't in the middle of. For a brief moment, he felt genuinely glad that he came back to Earth by himself. Infidelity, swindling, and lots and lots of lying. To miss out on this would be a crime.

Luna went back to her room to get ready for her bath, but as she started to pull up her shirt, she remembered that she had a guest. She couldn’t walk around unclothed like usual. Instead, she gathered up her sleep clothes, towels, and phone and made her way into the bathroom.

It still smelled fresh from Loki's shower. She hung the items in her hands on the towel bars that were currently bare. She watched her reflection as she disrobed. Sometimes she felt pretty, most times she didn't. She studied her skin and all its imperfections, specifically the scars that it was sporting. Her dirty secrets. Signs of weakness. She couldn't show this kind of weakness in front of Loki. She knew his type very well. He would wield it like a sword and destroy her without breaking a sweat or feeling guilty. Keep a smile on and quick words at the ready. Everything would be fine. She will survive this and think of it as an unusual life experience.

She rinsed the tub out and filled it with warm water. It soothed her tense muscles. As she warmed up, she decided to scroll through her social media. She smiled when she saw a boomerang of Peter and Ned in a hotel room jumping up and down on one of the beds. Oh right, it was decathlon weekend. On Peter's stories, there was a video of Ned looking at his laptop and describing someone as a ‘delicious yeehaw man' and Peter proceeding to laugh hysterically behind the camera. Luna giggled along with him. The rest of Peter's posts were pictures of him and his friends at the hotel and of the banner indicating the event that was being held the next day. Switching her music back on, she grabbed her body wash and proceeded to finish her bath.

"Candy, she's sweet like candy in my veins," she began to sing along. It was a song that always made her smile. As tempting as it was to dance, she settled on just moving her head and shoulders. She got a little more into it, belting out the chorus "All I need is to be struck by your electric love," perhaps a little too loud but that didn't matter. It was a good song. The words brought to life the feelings she felt whenever she thought of her crush. Well, former crush, but those feelings were real. It was a little bittersweet when the song ended, and the next one began. She still swayed along but with not as much passion. Whatever the song was, she didn't bother to think about it as she rinsed off. Best to get out before the water got too cold. As she dried off, she looked at her reflection once again. The color of her skin was a little darker than usual. The sun at lunch did her good.

She dressed quickly and walked back into the living room to see if Loki needed anything else, only to find him on the couch in a deep sleep. Luna nodded in approval of him figuring out the remote, but he seemed like an astute person, so it wasn't too surprising. After turning most of the lights off, she took one last look at him. He looked comfortable and at peace. She let her gaze linger on him a bit longer than usual. Was it a good thing to have him here? Should she bring him back to Tony in the morning? Just watching him sleep confirmed to her that the decision to open her home to him was the best one. As she tip-toed to her room, she smiled to herself. She did well today, but just to be safe, she locked her bedroom door.

Chapter Text

Despite the slight pain in his neck, it was the most restful sleep Loki had gotten in a while. It took a split second for him to remember where he was before he stood up and stretched a bit. It was indicative of the fact that the lights were off that his courteous host was still asleep or at least in her room. A walk into the hallway confirmed his suspicions as Luna's door was closed with no sound or light coming out. Loki took this opportunity to use her bathroom.

He looked like a mess. A clean mess, but still a mess. His hair by itself would take forever to tame, but to his dismay, there wasn't a hairbrush in sight. Luna must keep it in her room. He made a mental note to try and snatch it later.

To pass the time until Luna was up, Loki decided to snoop a bit. If he's going to stay for an undetermined amount of time, it would be worth it to know his way around without asking.

He started in the kitchen. Despite the excellent dinner he was provided with the night before, there wasn't much in the fridge. He moved on to the cupboards, noting how nicely everything was compartmentalized and organized. Luna's array of mugs stood out to him. They were all different sizes and shapes, each unique by themselves, though he did recognize a few of the designs as the symbols donned by the Avengers. Unlike the plates and bowls, none of these were parts of a set. He turned a few over in his hands to admire before moving on.

The bookshelves caught his attention next. They were lined up along one wall of the living room. Almost every single shelf was full and equally as compartmentalized as the kitchen cupboards. There seemed to be at least one book for every single genre, each put into place alphabetically. It reminded him of the private libraries back on Asgard. Though they were much more massive and held more of an extensive collection, they were always impeccably organized. As he skimmed through the titles and authors, his eyes landed on one seemed to be just his type. Easing it out, he glanced at the front and back covers. All he needed now was a cup of tea and he would have a perfect start to his day.

From his exploration of the kitchen, he knew where the teapot and tea assortment were housed. After studying the knobs on the stove and testing a few of them out, he put the water on and selected a tea bag along with a fresh cup. While he waited for the pot to whistle, he decided to lean against the counter and start reading the book he chose. In no time, the pot let Loki know that the water was at optimum temperature. He made his tea and sat down in the chair by the window to continue reading. Not long after, Luna stepped into the room, rubbing her eyes, apparently having been woken up by the teapot.

"Oh hi. You made…," Luna spoke, peering in his direction, "tea." She dry-coughed a bit while making her way to the kitchen to fetch herself some water. After doing so, she padded back into the living room. "How was the couch? Not too bad, I hope."

"It was ideal, thank you," Loki said, taking a sip from his cup. Luna leaned a bit against the back of the couch and looked at the book he had in his hand.

"‘Red Dragon'? Nice choice," she remarked. Loki smirked a little, keeping his attention on the page. Luna looked him over. He looked endearing in her clothes, like a new boyfriend that stayed the night for the first time. She looked around for a bookmark for him before speaking again. "So, for today, I was thinking we could go shopping for clothes and other things for you." Loki's attention was now on her, accepting the bookmark she handed him. "Not that you don't look fantastic in my clothes. You just might be more comfortable in your own." She said a little quieter than before, adjusting her glasses and briefly looking at the floor.

"Do you really think it would be wise for me to go out?" he said, eyeing her skeptically. She fidgeted a bit, wrapping an arm around herself.

"I could always do you up like Clark Kent. You know, a little bit of a different look so you can hide in plain sight," she said confidently despite feeling the complete opposite at the moment. She seemed to have convinced him a little.

"Oh I could do that myself, easily," Loki said, putting the book down and standing up. As he slowly made his way over to where Luna stood, he worked a little bit of his magic to change his clothes and appearance. Before her eyes, he went from wearing a simple shirt and pajama pants to a plain black suit and tie. Her eyes widened measurably at the sudden transformation. Loki smirked a bit, amused that something so simple for him could leave her speechless.

"Wow," she breathed out. Loki looked really good. "That…works." Luna sipped once more from her glass before turning around to set it down. "Alright, so I'll go get changed like a regular human, and we can head out." Loki was about to say something witty, but a familiar flash at his feet stopped his words.

"Oh not aA-," he began to say before he was abruptly cut off. Luna turned back around to see him suddenly gone.

"L-Loki?" she asked tentatively. She spotted a card where he had previously stood and bent to pick it up. "Wha- 177A Bleecker St? Who? What?" she looked around dumbfounded in search of some other clue as to what just happened. When she found none, she retrieved her phone and typed the address into the maps app. Much to her surprise, it was a real place and in driving distance. She dressed as quick as she could to go and see if this had anything to do with her now-missing new roommate.

 


 

 

"You have reached your destination," out spoke the GPS voice. Luna pulled up to the sidewalk and parked. As she got out, she surveyed the building in front of her. It looked kind of like a museum, what with the architecture and very odd window. Keeping her guard up, she stepped tentatively up to the door and pushed it open.

The inside was just as unusual. Not overtly so, but enough to make it questionable. Luna looked around for another soul but found none. It wasn't long before one found her, though.

"Well, you're not quite who I expected," a voice spoke from behind her. She turned to see a tall man descending the staircase in the middle of the room. He spoke again when he was at the bottom. "Who might you be?"

"I'm uh, I'm Luna. A business card told me to come here," she said, making it sound a bit like a question. She made a face after realizing how weird that must have sounded.

"And I sent that business card. My name is Dr. Stephen Strange," he said, holding his hand out. Luna's eyes narrowed a little as she accepted the handshake.

"Dr. Strange? Like the neurosurgeon?" she asked slowly.

"Former, but yes, I'm he." He said. Luna's eyes went wide with recognition.

"Oh my goodness, it is a pleasure to meet you, sir!" she smiled widely, now shaking his hand with more enthusiasm. "I am a huge fan! I took a neurology class during my undergrad and I read all of your medical journals and watched all of your interviews! The way you figured out how to stimulate neurogenesis in the spinal cord? Stuff of legend! So cool! Such a shame that the accident put you out. Oh wait, the accident!" she gasped, letting go of his hand abruptly and covering her mouth in shock of her thoughtless actions. "Oh no, was I hurting you? I'm so sorry." Stephen only chuckled at her.

"No no, my hands are perfectly fine, thank you," he said, smiling at her, holding his hands up. Even during his career as a neurosurgeon, never had he gotten a reaction quite like that from someone that wasn't a patient he had saved or a relative of one. Perhaps if he had surrounded himself with people like her, he might have, but that was in the past. "Now, I have some questions I'd like to ask you if you don't mind."

"Oh no, of course, I don't-," Luna started but was interrupted when she was all of a sudden transported to a different room and seated in an armchair “-mind." The doctor sat across from her.

"Would you like some tea while we chat?" he asked.

"Yes please," and just like that, there was a teacup in her hand. She took a sip from it cautiously. "Wow, is this barley?"

"Excellent palate," Stephen said, making a cup appear in his hand and raising it in cheers to her. She did the same. "Let's get started. I keep a watch list of all mystical beings in the universe that are a potential threat. Loki happens to be amongst them. So why were you with him?"

"Well, long story short, I was in the right place at the right time. He was in need and I could help him, but he's not so much of a threat right now," Luna said, taking a sip of tea.

"What evidence do you have that would suggest such a thing?" he asked.

"He risked his life and safety to come here and tell Tony Stark that his home, Asgard, has been destroyed," Stephen's brow slightly creased when she said this. "The ship he arrived in as well as his appearance made it clear to me that he was telling the truth."

"Asgard’s destroyed?" he repeated with emphasis. "Did he say by what?" He leaned in a bit.

"No, but whatever it was, it seemed to have hurt him to the point of extreme exhaustion, which I imagine is a feat for someone such as he,” Luna said, making eye contact.

"And how can you be certain that he wasn't lying? He is, after all, the god of such things."

"Perhaps, but what reason would he have to lie? To risk his life just to have an audience with Tony Stark? To even show his face here on Earth by himself? There has to be a reason bigger than himself," she said. Stephen was beginning to believe her. Why else would Loki be here without Thor? For what reason would he have to risk it all?

"Let's say you're right. Why was he with you and not Stark?" Stephen said, leaning back in his chair.

"Tony was going to throw him in a jail cell the first chance he got. From the way Loki looked, I just knew I wouldn't have been able to sleep if I allowed it, so I invited him to stay at my apartment." Luna drank again from her tea. Grimacing a bit, she instantly regretted mentioning that last part.

"He was at your apartment? Since when?" Stephen said, raising his voice slightly.

"Yesterday afternoon," she mumbled, shrinking away a bit and looking at her knees.

"And he hasn't attempted to hurt you? Not once?" he asked in a soft tone.

"No, not at all. He just took a shower, ate the food I offered, and slept," Luna said, looking back up at him. He had to know she was serious. Loki was not there to intentionally hurt anyone. Stephen stayed quiet, thinking about everything she'd said. He leaned back towards her, resting his elbows on his knees and taking a sip from his cup.

"Everything you've said makes sense so far, but one thing continues to elude me: why would someone like you provide refuge to someone like him?" Luna scoffed a little at him and smirked. Someone like her? Wow.

"I guess you can say I've got one hell of a heart. As a fellow scientist, you should be able to understand that," she said, raising one eyebrow and taking the last swig of tea. Stephen smirked back.

"I do,” he said, standing up. “Let's go get your guest back," he said and began to walk away. Luna stood to follow.

"By the way, how did you make him disappear like that?" she said when she caught up to him. She once again was transported alongside him to the lobby of the building.

"Kind of like this, but backward." And with that, he made a few sweeping circular movements with his hands to conjure up a golden glowing ring from which Loki fell.

"Ok I've seen a lot in my life but nothing like that," she said as she walked over to stand beside Loki, who was getting up from the ground and brushing himself off, groaning as he did.

"Took you long enough," Loki retorted, looking from Luna to Stephen.

"Hey I had to drive here," Luna said back in a sharp tone, turning Loki’s attention back to her. Before they could bicker some more, Stephen interrupted.

"Alright Loki, since you're going to be staying here for an indefinite amount of time, I'm going to make sure you can't do anything to jeopardize my planet," while he was talking, he made different movements with his hands, creating a set of golden mandalas.

"Should you really be making threats right now?" Loki said lowly, snapping his arm out to produce a dagger. Luna stepped back from him, not sure what to do now.

He charged at Stephen and attempted to stab him, but just when he got close enough, Strange grabbed his arm with one hand and put the other around his neck, holding him still. It all happened so fast. The longer Stephen kept him, the lower Loki sank to the ground until he was almost kneeling. At that point he had dropped his daggers and released the magic he had on his appearance, once again wearing the clothes Luna had given him the previous night. Only then did Stephen release his hold on Loki and resume his original posture. Loki bent his head and looked at his hands, shaking them slightly.

"What have you done?" Loki breathed out.

"I've put a seal on your magic. You see, I've gotten more skilled since our last encounter so I can bring anyone down, even you, so don't even try to break that spell. You'll only exhaust yourself," Stephen said, hands held behind his back and looking quite pleased with himself.

"You've ruined me," Loki whispered. All he had left was his magic.

"Oh, it's not the end of the world. I'll break it when I can know for sure you mean no harm while you're here. I give you my word," Stephen spoke while walking away from Loki, standing equidistant from him and Luna. He turned to speak to her. "You both are free to go." He pointed at Loki still-kneeling form. "Does he have any other clothes?"

"Unfortunately, no. I was going to take him out to get some but we were interrupted," Luna looked at Stephen when she said this.

"My apologies. Here-," he made two sweeping arm movements and produced a shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. "-these should fit him better." Luna took them from him and nodded her head in thanks. "Now get outta here," he said with a friendly smile. She shook his hand once more.

"Will do. Thank you for the tea, doctor," Luna called out as she walked over to Loki to yank him to a standing position. It took a few tries but he eventually relented. He shuffled his feet after her as she held onto his wrist and pulled him to the door.

"Drive safely," Stephen called after her as she exited.

"Thanks, you too!" she said as the door closed. She immediately smacked her forehead with her hand. ‘You too’? How awkward. She looked back up to see Loki walking down the sidewalk, away from her car. "Hey hey, where are you going? You gotta get some decent clothes on you!" He quickly turned around and snapped, startling her.

"What's the point? I lost my home, my brother, my mother, and now my magic. I have nothing left." He leaned in closer to her as he spoke, making sure his words had the intended effect.

"Really? Nothing? Nothing at all?" she said back firmly.

"Yes. Do I have to repeat myself so you can get it through that thick skull of yours?" he spat, glowering at Luna. His words and expression made her heart quicken a bit and her throat dry up but she inhaled deeply to keep her head level and clear. Show no weakness. He was just being dramatic.

"Not at all. It's just that you're wrong. Did yesterday mean absolutely nothing to you? My clothes may not be perfect nor my cooking nor my couch but did I deny you? Did I take you back to Tony so he can put you in a prison cell that actually has nothing? Did I try to kill you in your sleep? Did I poison you? Did I kick you out? Is my memory that faulty? Because what I remember is doing the exact opposite. I helped you the best I could when no one else would. Because I wanted to. Does that mean nothing?" While she was speaking, he had looked away from her. "Hey, look at me. Does it?" She waited for him to look her in the eye and speak. He took his own sweet time but luckily, she's a patient person.

When Loki finally did look at her, he couldn't speak, at least not immediately. Her eyes were lit up by the noon sun. They captured him, seeming to pierce him, burn him from the inside. They reminded him of a forest fire; golden orange mixed in with green, peering over the black frame of her glasses. From his hundreds of years of life, he couldn't remember ever seeing anything like them. The intensity with which she stared him down. The seconds he spent admiring felt like hours. He swallowed slightly and let out a breath before finally finding the words.

"No, it doesn't." His voice was soft but they were close enough that Luna could hear him over the traffic noises. She leaned away from him and flashed a warm smile.

"Good, I'm glad. Now, let's go home so you can change into these clothes and we can get you some more things. Maybe even brush your hair." She pushed her glasses back up and turned from him to walk back to her car. She let out a small exhale. That was exhausting. Too many emotions in such a short amount of time.

Loki followed her and thought about what she’d said. She did open her home to him: a complete stranger with a colorful history on just this planet alone. She did give him the clothes she wore. She did feed him when he was hungry. She did bathe him when he needed to. She did provide a place to sleep and a roof over his head. So yes, he found it within himself to admit that he had one thing. A small thing but one nonetheless.

Chapter Text

“Please hold still.”

“How can I possibly be still while you’re yanking like you are?”

Back in Luna’s apartment, she was forced to brush out Loki’s very tangled head of hair; with her own brush, no less. As soon as they got back in, he had headed straight to her room to grab her brush and do it himself, but he instead took his frustration out on it. He did his hair more harm than good, so Luna was forced to somehow convince him to let her fix it. So there they were: him sat on the couch while she stood behind him.

“Just be calm for five seconds,” Luna pleaded a bit. “I’ve almost got this one out.” The struggle continued with this particularly stubborn knot. She worked as quickly and carefully as she could, but it just wasn’t relenting. She decided to abandon the brush and use her hands to coax Loki’s hair into submission. It was near impossible to resist the urge to take a pair of scissors and solve the problem, but she persisted in her current efforts.

Loki hadn’t spoken or voluntarily moved, instead electing to stew silently in his mild anger. It seemed that old habits die hard. To his surprise, the movement of Luna’s hands in his hair began to relax him little by little. The sensation reminded him of the way his mother would fix his hair and soothe him as a child. He closed his eyes and pictured her. The fierceness in her eyes, the kindness in her smile, the comfort he felt whenever she held him, the eternal wisdom in her words. As intelligent as Loki was, he always seemed to learn something from her.

A few pricks on his scalp alerted him to the fact that Luna had returned the brush to his head for a few more passes, this time pain-free. When she seemed satisfied with the state of it, she put the brush back down and carded her fingers through Loki’s hair, prompting him to resume his musings. It wasn’t too long until she stopped her motions altogether.

“Alright, all done,” she sighed and leaned back to admire her work. It was just about perfect. Loki lifted a hand to pass it over his head. It felt so much better, perhaps the best it’s been in a while.

“Thank you,” he said, turning his head in her direction. She merely smiled in response before walking back to her room to rummage around in search of something. She returned a few moments later with something in her hand.

“Here, give these a gander,” Luna said, handing the thing to him. It was a pair of glasses. “They’re an old pair of mine. The lenses are functional, but they’re at a low enough power to be reading glasses.” Loki turned them over in his hand before unfolding them and putting them on. He could still see clear enough through them.

“Well, Superman, you’re officially Clark Kent.” He didn’t get the reference at all, but she smiled amusingly to herself anyway. He stood up when he felt that she was finished with her immediate tasks. “Ok, I’m going to check if I need anything else for the store real quick so you can get ready with the clothes Dr. Strange gave you.” She went back in the direction of her room once he stood to do as she suggested.

Once in the safety of her own space, Luna took her own glasses off, closed her eyes and placed her fingers over them, sighing deeply. It had been a very eventful 24 hours, too much for her liking. She appreciated that Loki wasn’t a very extroverted individual, but she liked her own presence most of the time. It wasn’t his fault, but she now felt that she bit off a little more than she could chew when she insisted on him staying with her.

But where would he be right now if she hadn’t spoken up? How would he be feeling? The very thought put an even more sickening feeling under her skin. She didn’t have to like it all the time, but it was the right thing to do, for Loki’s sake. She found the presence of mind to do what she intended on doing and checked the contents of her bag. Everything she needed was present and accounted for.

When she was back in the living room, Loki was standing by the door with his hands folded in front of him, patiently waiting for her. He had changed into the pants and shoes Dr. Strange gave him, but he had kept on Luna’s shirt. The sight filled her chest with pride, involuntarily making her smile. Straightening her shirt, she walked towards the door.

“Ok, let’s get going.”


 

So, are you a JC Penney or a Macy’s guy?” Luna asked Loki as they stepped into the shopping center. He looked at her in confusion. “Right, never mind. We’ll just go in whichever one comes first.”

And so they walked. For Luna, it was an inconvenience to be out, but for Loki, this was a new experience. Well, not too new as he had strolled the busy Asgardian marketplace in his youth with a handmaiden or when he had snuck out to cause a little trouble. As he walked along, he feasted his eyes on all the colors and displays.

When they passed by a food stand, the smell of candy and something toasty made his stomach lightly remind him that he hadn’t eaten yet. His newfound hunger almost made him stop but the desperation to feel and wear his own clothes proved to be stronger. He let Luna continue to guide him as he was pretty sure he would get lost, especially being without access to his powers. As she slowed her pace and looked around, Loki did the same. All he saw was a bunch of Midgardian clothes that just weren’t his style. However, Luna seemed to spot something that was.

“Ooh what’s that?” she gasped lightly, hurrying over to the stand where the desired item was hanging. “Oh Loki, you just have to try this on!” She held up a black jean jacket, eyeballing its fit on him. He slowly took it from her grasp and slipped it on. She walked him over to a nearby mirror so he could check out its fit. Not only was it comfortable, but he also looked quite good in it. Coupled with his tidy hair and fresh appearance, he was feeling and looking more like himself.

“So, what do you think?” Luna asked, causing Loki to divert his attention to her briefly.

“I think it’s quite splendid,” he said, grinning a grin that most definitely reached his eyes. Luna laced her fingers together and smiled, happy that he was pleased.

“Then let’s go get some pants to go with that,” Luna said, glancing at Loki through the mirror as she passed by. Loki gave himself one last look before following. He stood by her and surveyed the various kinds. He’d always had his clothes tailored to fit so this was very different. Luna’s eyes shifted from Loki to the display stand a few times before picking up a few pairs and handing them to him.

“Ok, I have no idea what your size is so just try these on, and we’ll go from there,” she said, not meeting his eyes. She ushered him in a direction away from the clothes to an area with a doorway and a sign above it that read ‘Fitting Room.’ He paused and looked back at Luna, who just shoo-ed her hands at him. “Just find a room that’s unoccupied and do your thing. I’ll be right out here.” Sighing, he turned from her and made his way in.

As Luna said she would, she took a spot on a nearby bench and patiently bided the time. She was appreciative to have this pseudo-alone time as she was eager to check her social media accounts in peace. Just in time, a picture of Peter and his decathlon friends popped up on her Instagram. As she had predicted earlier in the week, they had once again won the annual decathlon. The students all had their arms around their best friends. Even Michelle was snuggling up close to Peter and Ned. She matched the smiles they wore with her own. Luna was more than glad that Peter’s friendliness was reciprocated. He deserved it so much.

She scrolled down and saw that he had also posted a mirror selfie of himself in his school jacket while pulling a face to make him look suaver than he really was. She giggled a bit and commented a pair of eyes along with the 100 emoticon. She then went back to the decathlon group picture and put down a few clapping hands and dollar signs. She knew it would make him smile to see that she noticed. Movement in her periphery made her put her phone down. It was none other than Loki. He was still in the pants Dr. Strange gave him, but he now held a pile of clothes in each of his hands.

“These are good, in my opinion,” he said, raising the one he preferred. Luna got up and took the clothes from his opposite hand.

“Awesome,” she said with a smile while walking to set them down for an attendant to put back properly. “Next, some of your own shirts because you can’t just wear mine, although I do have good taste.” She went to the clearance rack and riffled around, nodding along to whatever song was playing over the PA system. Luna returned to his side with a few shirts and held them up to Loki’s person.

“Pick whichever ones you like. They’re all roughly the same size as the one you’re wearing now, but you can try them on anyway.” Loki took her advice and went back to the dressing rooms. If he would be on Earth indefinitely, he had to make sure he was doing so in clothes that fit him.

Loki was provided with five different shirts: two black, two green, and one a mix of the two. The black dress shirt fit well, and he already knew how he looked in it as it was a go-to for any recent visits to Midgard. The pure black thermal was the same. It wasn’t flashy, but neither was the suit he conjured this morning. The next one was long-sleeved as well, but while the body was a dark green, the arms were black. It was unusual to see and even more unusual to see on him. The last two held glimmers of an old life. One had a button-up portion halfway down the chest, and the other was in the shape of a V-neck. They reminded Loki of his Asgardian lounging clothes. Not only that, they felt just as comfortable.

While he didn’t have a shirt on, he took the time to look himself over. Any wounds he had sustained had all healed, but he could only think of Thor’s wellbeing. He knew very well that his brother was an excellent fighter, but he still felt slightly guilty for leaving him against Thanos. He had begged Loki to flee to Earth just like they had planned yet for once he wished that he didn’t listen like usual. Thanos was not a being of mercy –he knew that from experience – but maybe Thor was strong enough to hold his own and was on his way to build reinforcements against the coming storm that is the Mad Titan.

Once appropriately dressed, Loki emerged once more and placed the leftover shirt on the nearby rack. He scanned the area for his companion. He found her in front of a mirror, admiring a hoodie she had tried on that looked a lot like one of Stark’s Iron Man suits. As he approached her, his own reflection appeared in the mirror, causing her to turn and face him.

“Hey! You got your…,” she looked at his hands that held the clothing items. “Fantastic. Now, I believe a bit of sustenance is in order. What do you think?” She kept her gaze on him as she picked up a small pile of items for herself.

“I believe so as well.” Loki smiled and followed her. He was undoubtedly anxious to gain some strength back. He was a bit perplexed when she did not leave the store with him in tow but instead went to stand in line. He assumed it was to pay for the things they had chosen.

On Sakaar, he too had the privilege of picking out new clothes, but he had not been present for the purchasing. He had been playing a part on a planet that did not know him. Here, he was known all too well. To occupy himself, he looked over Luna’s shoulder at the things she had picked out and noticed a common theme.

“Are you sure you’re not an Avenger?” he said to get Luna’s attention. She followed his eyes to the effects in her hands and let out a small laugh.

“Oh, I am very sure. I just like to take advantage of my employee discount whenever I can.” Loki was unable to say anything else as it was their turn in line. As everything was being rung up, Luna pulled her wallet and cards out to speed up the process. Loki wondered how money could be kept on such a small plastic card and how one went about getting the money out. His thoughts were interrupted when a bag was held in front of him.

“Here’s yours.” He took the bag from her, and she led him away from the register to the exit, but she once again turned back to face him. “Oh, did you want to change into those while we’re here? So, you know, you can be in your own clothes?” She asked a little more timidly than she would have liked. She didn’t want him to feel like he wasn’t in control of himself. But on the contrary, Loki felt great to be doted on like he currently was.

“Well then, I’ll only be a moment,” he smirked and turned back around. Luna watched him until he was out of sight. She couldn’t help imagining what he would look like wearing modern earth clothes. Probably flawless as he always seems to look. Would he go for all-black or wear one of the green shirts? Both would look good. But she couldn’t continue mentally building Loki’s new outfit when her phone went off, signaling her that she had an incoming call.

It was none other than Tony Stark. She let out a small sigh and answered.

“Well, hello boss.” She put her fist on her hip.

“Oh thank goodness you’re alive,” Tony said on the other end, making Luna scowl a little.

“Yeah, I am. Why would you think otherwise?” Luna replied in a deadpan tone.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because our new visitor is a mass murderer and he slept in your apartment last night?”

“I told you, he’s not a current threat. Now, what did you call me about? It can’t have been to berate me for helping out an a-,” she looked around before whispering. “An alien refugee.”

“Once again, you’re correct, Lu. Some government folks noticed our…friend’s ship entering the atmosphere and have ordered a press conference so I wanted to concur with you about what I should tell them.”

“I don’t know, Tony, tell them the regular stuff. And why do you want to know what I think? You ask Pepper about everything,” Luna moved her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Because you and I are the only ones that know about it and I’m trying to keep it that way.”

“Oh right. Ok, just tell them that you’re making a new kind of quinjet and…”

Any words she was about to say decided not to come out when she saw Loki walking towards her. To say he looked flawless would be an understatement. He wore those clothes like they were made just for him. He had contrasted the black jeans and jacket with the green V-neck, his signature color. If she didn’t know he was a god beforehand, it was obvious now.

“And? And what?” Tony’s voice snapped her out of it a little, reminding her that she was in the middle of a conversation.

“Sorry. Uh…that’s all I can think of.” No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t tear her eyes off him.

“Sounds good. I can work with that.”

“Yeah ok bye,” she said absentmindedly and hung up. As Loki got closer, she begged herself to look away. Ogling at someone she met just a day ago was weird.

“To whom were you speaking?” Loki asked when he was finally in front of her. She looked down at his shoes, making a mental note to get him a pair that matched the rest of his outfit.

“Just Tony. It turns out some government people saw your ship, and he wanted my input on what to tell them.”

“And what did you say?”

“I told him to say it was some new project he’s working on. He tends not to tell people ahead of time what he wants to make, so it’s in keeping with his character.”

“Did you really?” he said with an edge in his voice. He was as scared as he was angry that anyone would sell him out, mainly when he was in such a vulnerable position. Luckily, Luna picked up on this. Sighing deeply, she put her phone back in her bag.

“Why would I lie about that? If you get caught, both Tony and I get thrown under the bus too. You are a literal illegal alien, but I’m not about to turn you over to anybody.” She said that a little more for herself than for him. She led a quiet, invisible life and intended on keeping it that way. “Now, let’s go get some food.” Looking him in the eye briefly before she turned to walk out with Loki following suit.

“So, what strikes your fancy?” She asked as they walked. Loki thought for a moment.

“What do you suggest?” Her eyes narrowed at him a little.

“Have you had earth food before?”

“Not for a very long time.” Luna slowed to a stop.

“Might I suggest…” she paused to look around, “those?” she pointed in the direction of the stand, making Loki look in that direction. To him, it seemed fair enough.

“After you,” he said, holding his hand out. Luna made her way to the front and picked up something for the both of them plus two beverages. Tilting her head a bit, she led him to a nearby bench. Once sat, she held out a bag to Loki. He took it and looked inside.

“What is this?” he asked as Luna pulled hers out like she’d done it a million times.

“It’s a hot pretzel. I find them quite good.” She put some mustard on hers and took a bite.

“Like the ones made by monks in Italy?” Loki asked, looking at it a bit before taking a bite as well. He found favor in it as well.

“Yeah. Is it true that they were first made in the 6th century?”

“As far as I can recall,” he said, taking a drink from his cup. The taste of it caught him by surprise, making him cough. “And what is this?” He held the cup up and looked at it as if it might reveal its secrets to him.

“Coffee. Is it not to your liking? It’s a bit of an acquired taste.” Luna tensed her shoulders.

“It’s just a tad peculiar.” He took another tentative sip and settled back. It took a little getting used to, but it wasn’t unbearable. They continued to eat in silence, thinking about different things, until Luna spoke up.

“So, Dr. Strange mentioned that he had gotten more skilled since the last time he saw you. What time was that?” She turned a bit, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Not too long ago,” Loki replied, hoping she would leave it alone. Alas, she did not.

“So this is your third time on Earth and not your second?”

“Since my…incident, yes.” Now he really hoped she would leave the matter be.

“For what reason had you to show up? Were you in trouble?”

“Does it matter?” He was close to snapping if she wasn’t going to relent, but all she did was match his tone and keep pressing.

“Not really, but since this is Earth and you’re staying in my house, I think it’s important that I at least know the reason.” She did have a good point. Loki would have to be sparing with his words.

“That’s fair. Well, my brother brought me to find our father.”

“Odin was here? Why would he be here?”

“So I could rule Asgard in his place.”

“And the people just let you do that?”

“They never found out until Thor exposed me as myself.” Did he let a little too much slip out? Probably but Luna wasn’t presently troubled by his words. Quite the opposite.

“Oh my goodness, so were you masquerading around Asgard as Odin?” She pictured it in her mind’s eye and forced herself not to laugh. Loki acting like Odin? That definitely would have been a spectacle to behold.

“Well, yes,” he mumbled against the coffee lid. Luna let out a small laugh despite her best efforts.

“What in the world were you doing all that time?”

“Being a better king than my father ever was,” he said harshly. He did a good job, no matter if anyone else thought he was lying.

“Vague, but ok. So what happened when you all got back to Asgard? How did the citizens react?”

“It’s a little…complicated.” He felt the need to end to the conversation before he said too much.

”Yeah, when is it not?” Luna took another sip of coffee. She sensed that he didn’t want to talk, so she found satisfaction in his answers. No need to probe any further.

Chapter Text

Soundtrack So Far

 

As if the events of the weekend weren’t odd enough, Luna was happy to get back to work on Monday. Leaving Loki in her apartment all on his own sent shivers of unease up and down her spine but the plethora of books in her possession seemed to keep him occupied.

The drive to the compound seemed like a blur through all the thoughts running through her mind. With a new person in the house, there was a lot more to do and worry about. As if there wasn’t enough food in her home to begin with, supplies were now dangerously low, so a stop at the grocery store was imminent. Not only that, Loki would need his own toiletries and such things. Luna liked her things to be hers alone so she assumed that he must feel the same.

After somehow using enough of her brains cells to park, Luna stepped out of her car and made the short trek into her workplace. She kept her head down a bit, avoiding the eyes of people that she saw every day but failed to recognize. Whether they were assistants or assistants of assistants, it didn’t matter. They were all there to do their jobs and go home.

“Good morning, FRIDAY,” Luna spoke as she put her bag in its designated cabinet and washed her hands.

“Hello, Dr. Fields. How was your weekend?”

“Uh, eventful. Any reminders for today?” As they conversed, she pulled on her lab coat and a pair of rubber gloves to begin doing the weekly inventory.

“You are currently scheduled for your bimonthly lab meeting with Mr. Stark at 11am.”

“So he’s available for that this time? Great, thank you.” As she replaced the last autoclave bag, a sudden thought struck her. “Hey FRIDAY, any messages?”

“No, miss. Would you like playback of the ones you have saved?” Luna’s shoulders fell slightly.

“No thanks. Just set my playlist to random.” With that, FRIDAY fell silent so she could replace her voice with music. The smooth synth notes of “Tokyo” and Matthew Murphy’s singing lifted Luna’s spirits just enough for her to continue working. She grooved to the happy tune around the lab with discretion, reorganizing pipette tip boxes and checking the contents of the walk-in fridge. Nothing missing and everything accounted for, as usual.

Stepping over to the digital table, she replaced her rubber gloves with the designated virtual pair. Once they were situated, she turned the table on with a wave of her hand and pulled up the 3D simulation.

“Alright, where are we today?” She mumbled to herself as she opened her most recent work file. Despite all her training and education as a biologist, it never failed to amaze her how lengthy the human genome was. She wished Steve was still around just so she could scold him again on having such a complex one. He would have laughed and smiled that gorgeous smile of his. She missed him, but for now, she would have to continue settling for his DNA. Most of her career at the compound was spent analyzing it, yet she had barely scratched the surface of all the secrets it held. Well, one day at a time.

Selecting the segment she had been working on the previous Friday, she turned it around in its 3D view and went over the processes she had put it through so far. Nothing noteworthy had come of it, but she knew very well that there were no absolutes when dealing with biological processes.

Just as Luna was in the middle of matching up amino acid sequences, FRIDAY’s voice cut through her music.

“Miss, Mr. Stark is ready for you now.” Was it 11 already? Evidently, it was. Time flies when you’re doing science.

“Thank you. Tell him I’ll be up shortly,” Luna said as she saved her file and shut the table off. Shedding her lab coat, she hung it up and took the back staircase. Unlike usual, it was a little unnerving to see Tony after their quarrel on Friday, but hopefully, they could reach a settlement through their work.

Walking into his lab, Luna noticed that he was still working on the ship Loki had arrived it, looking over a part and studying a rough digital schematic of the vehicle.

“Well hello hello, Mr. Stark,” Luna remarked to let Tony know she had just walked in.

“Top of the morning to you too, Lu. How’s your roommate?” He set the part down and got up to give her his full attention.

“You know, however he’s supposed to be, he’s like that,” she said as she looked around the room. It was stated as more of a side comment so he would leave the subject of Loki alone for now.

“So murder-y and overtly menacing?” Of course, he wouldn’t leave it alone. She sighed a little and shifted her feet.

“Not quite like that, but whatever, it’s lab meeting time.” She clapped her hands and walked up to the desk Tony was currently using. “What are you up to right now?” She said, placing her hands down and leaning on the edge. Tony walked over and pulled up a sizeable virtual diagram.

“As of right now, it’s been the troublemaker’s spaceship. This thing is really something else.” He spun the 3D model around. “I can’t even begin to fathom what it’s made out of. Its density-to-strength ratio is just…wow.”

“What hypotheses have you come up with?” Luna moved to stand opposite him.

“I first thought it could be vibranium or something related to it, but when I checked it out, the readings were just too different.” He let out a sigh before continuing. “It is fascinating, though. Did Loki tell you where he got it from?” Luna waved her hand dismissively.

“No. He doesn’t like to talk about personal things.”

“Well then, he’s just your type,” Tony said with a sly grin.

“Haha, very funny.” Luna used the driest tone she could in another attempt to dispel him. It seemed to work.

“Ok, since I showed you mine, it’s only fair that you show me yours, so…” Tony waved his hands to indicate that it was her turn to share.

“So far, I’ve found what codes for Steve’s perfect blue eyes. Other than that, just regular human stuff.”

“Tell me again what you’re looking for exactly?”

“I’ll let you know when I find it.” Luna zoomed in on a random part of the spaceship diagram and looked at it in thought. Her heart began to pound when a specific one surfaced in her mind. “You know, if you need help with this, I could bring Loki back in. Ask the right questions and whatnot.” If Tony had questioned whether or not he could get more perplexed than he already was, this moment was proof that it was possible.

“Bring him back? When you made such a fuss to get him out of here? You’re up to something, aren’t you?” Luna stood up straight and held her hands behind her back.

“I’m up to nothing. I just want you to have a little bit of a life. Besides, I’ll be here so he’ll cooperate.”

“Really? Since when are you able to handle the god of mischief?”

“Since I’m the one not treating him like a typical ex-con. And who said I could handle him? You know better than anyone here that nobody can.”

“Yeah, he tossed me out a window when I offered him a drink.”

“My point exactly.” She moseyed closer to him and did her best to look him in the eye. “Now, yes or no, would you like help?”

“I would say yes if it were Dr. Banner doing the helping.”

“But since the good doctor isn’t here, and I’m not one for this level of engineering, our next best thing is…” She held her hands out to the empty space beside her. Tony rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses and groaned a bit at the mere thought of what she meant by that.

“I hate it when you’re right.”

“Better get used to it. You’ll be a married man soon, and to a woman that’s more right than me.” Luna’s hands went to pick up the small picture of Pepper on the nearby desk. After pausing to admire it, she turned it around to display it to Tony. As if he needed a reminder. He smiled warmly at the image of his love.

“I take that back. I love it when you’re right.” Now it was Luna’s turn to smile. She placed the picture back down and strode around the table, tracing her hand along its edge.

“Are you picking Peter up from school today or is he going…Spider-Man-ing?”

“Oh, you know him. He always has to be the underdog hero.” Despite his pride in the boy, Tony didn’t sound too enthused. The tone shift made Luna stop and glance in his direction.

“Remember, we’re encouraging this.” She kept her voice even so as to keep him grounded. While the both of them were very protective of Peter, Tony was even more so.

“Sometimes I don’t want to, but he is a tough kid with a mind all his own.”

“Indeed. He would make a great Avenger,” Luna said, her smile evident in her speech.

“Great? He would be the best.” Tony said muttered, a little more to himself than in any kind of response.

“Speaking of best, how’s Rhodey? I haven’t seen much of him around lately.”

“Very well, actually. The upgrades I did to his leg braces plus his personal advancements in physical therapy have put him in almost tip-top shape.” Tony bragged a bit. Luna sighed in relief and beamed.

“Oh, that’s so great!”

“Yeah, it is. You should stop pretending you’re buried in work so you can come by more often. It’s lonely up here.”

“You should do the same. Need I remind you once again that you’re the one with a fiancée to take care of?” Tony sat at another table that was laden with tools to rearrange his screwdriver set.

“The work I do takes care of her. Both of us. And future us’.” He spoke, not bothering to look away from the mindless activity.

“Take it slow, boss. Not everything is a race you need to win.”

“My dear, life is short, so everything is a race.” Before he knew it, Luna was back by his side, leaning her hip against the edge and her arms crossed.

“Come on, Tony. Be a little selfish. Take Pepper out to that new place on 5th. Sleep in your own bed more than twice a week.” He tossed his glasses onto the desk a little harsher than he should have.

“I need to keep her safe. I can’t do that by…” He let out a sigh and hung his head.

“Yes, you can. She is a strong, independent, intelligent woman that appreciates and sees all that you do for her and everyone else.” Tony rubbed the heels of his hands against his closed eyes to alleviate the cloudiness, though it was to no avail. “Would you like me to…” Luna said softly to him, holding her hands up, hoping he got what she was trying to get across. He knew instantly.

“Please,” he pleaded with her. Pathetic, but he needed it. Just like she’d done countless times before, she placed one hand on the front of his head, over the frontal lobe, and the other close to the nape of his neck to cradle the cerebellum. As she applied the right amount of pressure, Tony instinctively closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders. His breathing evened out as the seconds passed and turned into minutes. It felt like her hands were the soap and water to wash the tension off of him. Just as he was about to fall asleep in her grasp, she slowly released him. He straightened up and inhaled deeply, feeling a sense of renewed energy. He looked up at her in awe and spoke in a voice barely above a whisper. “How do you do that?”

“You know I got that special touch.” She smirked as she wiggled her fingers. Tony fed off of the positive energy now circulating between the two of them.

“Oh, you got magic powers now? Wanna be an Avenger?” He flattered her a little. Luna broke her gaze from him and lightly ran a hand over his assortment of tools.

“And do what, relax the enemy to death? That’ll be the day.”

“It just might work. Could get Ross off my back.” She imagined it and let out a laugh.

“Ah yes, evil Ross, here to suck the fun out of everything.”

“I swear if that’s a pop culture reference-”

“Yeah yeah, I know,” she said, turning and giving him an endearing look which he returned. Her gaze was diverted when she caught her reflection in a nearby monitor. Her nose scrunched up as she swept at her bangs. “I need a haircut soon.” Tony reached up and ruffled her locks a little.

“If you keep cutting your hair, it’ll end up being shorter than mine one day.”

“Maybe that’s the goal; to beat you at something.”

“To quote a wise person, ‘not everything is a race you need to win,’” Tony said as he stood up. They both chuckled at each other.

A familiar feeling in Luna’s stomach prompted her to look at her watch. “Wow, is it really almost lunch time?”

“Time flies when you’re talking to your favorite person.”

“That it does. Wanna grab some lunch with your favorite employee and stare at the clouds?” Tony stretched out his shoulders as he considered her proposal.

“As much as I would love to do that, I think I’ll take your advice and surprise Pepper,” he said as he moved around the room, grabbing his jacket and glasses. Smartphone now in hand, he sent a quick text to Happy, notifying him to start up the car. Now that he was leaving, Luna walked out with him.

“That’s an even better idea. Just remember, no strawberries.”

“Do I ever make the same mistake twice? You know what, don’t answer that.” He interjected when he saw that she was about to respond. They strolled through the hall together until they reached the elevator. Opting not to ride down, Luna let Tony step in by himself. As the doors began to shut, Tony lifted a hand to bid her farewell.

“See ya later, boss man,” she spoke just before they were finally separated.

Alone once again. Making her way to the back stairs, Luna looked around at the various other individuals milling about, no doubt finalizing whatever work they were doing to go on their lunch break. Perhaps some would work through lunch, others would eat at their respective desks, and so on. Whatever their plans were, Luna didn’t care so long as no one disturbed her. It was a slight let-down that Tony didn’t accept her proposition to have lunch with her, but knowing he was going to see Pepper replaced that heavy feeling with a much lighter one. Besides, lunchtime was her time, and she was happy to have it.

Locking down the lab, she took her bag to the lounge room where just three days prior she had let Loki rest. She felt her thoughts and feelings move back to him. How was he fairing being all alone in her apartment? It wasn’t like she could leave work and check on him. She didn’t have the power and status that Tony possessed. Loki wasn’t a child that needed supervision, but he also wasn’t someone that felt comfortable with being in a strange place by themselves. Was he hungry? Was he bored? Was she going to come home and find that he had just up and vanished without a trace? With every question Luna asked herself, she swore she could feel her blood pressure rise.

In an attempt to distract herself, she boiled water and made some coffee. Ironic that coffee could be calming when in reality it was an accelerant.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted some movement on the floor. It was a stray spider making its way to a lone corner, most likely to build a web and await a meal. As carefully as she could, Luna pulled out her phone and snapped a picture of it before it got too far away. Opening up Instagram, she sent it to Peter with the caption ‘is this u.’ Too good of an opportunity to pass up. He’ll get a kick out of that.

The packed lunch was quite simple today: just an egg and some vegetables. Just a firmer reminder to do some shopping after work. Luna ate slowly to savor the taste as well as use up as much of her allotted break time as she could. To fill the silence, she watched some dog videos she had saved. It was hard not to choke while watching. In the middle of watching one of them, a notification popped up at the top of the screen. It was an Instagram message from @peterman.

oh yes my suit upgrade gives me teh ability to be an actual spidr lol webs come outta my buttt now

Luna let out a loud laugh. She did hope Peter was at lunch when he saw it and messaged her back. She didn’t want to risk him getting his phone taken away. She’d been in that position when she was his age, and it was very embarrassing.

After cleaning out her Tupperware container, she freshened up in the restroom and made her way back to her lab, refreshed and energized to continue. Donning the appropriate attire, she pulled up the file she had on Steve and resumed her work. There was just one thing missing.

“FRIDAY, what’s the mood for the afternoon: 90s grunge or 80s pop?”

“Both are excellent choices, Dr. Fields.” Not quite the question she was asking, but FRIDAY was an AI, so Luna didn’t blame her.

“Alright, 80s it is. Hit it.” A simple groovy guitar preceded that classic synth sound. A smirk appeared on Luna’s face as the tune proceeded to improve her mood. And with the improved mood, the lip-syncing came along as well.

The summit of beauty and love and Venus was her name,” she shamelessly tapped her foot and nodded along. It was these moments that made her grateful to Tony that her lab was hers until Dr. Banner felt like showing up if he was still alive. Though she had never met him, she held out hope for his return so she cherished being able to jam out alone while she still could.

I'm your Venus, I'm your fire at your desire,” she had caught her reflection in the small window of the walk-in fridge and pointed at it, staring at herself and singing along. Damn, it felt fantastic. In this small slice of time and space, Luna felt her confidence surge, like she could walk outside at that moment and command the world. An impossible and outlandish fantasy, much like the one her roommate had once possessed, but that didn’t matter. It was hers and no one else’s.

Chapter Text

Loki stared at the wall before returning his gaze to his novel. Well, technically it wasn't his novel, but since Luna's apartment was also his for an indefinite amount of time, it might as well belong to him. He found these Midgardian stories to be captivating.

However, the words on the page did little to deter him from lifting his attention every now and then to observe his surroundings. He didn't know where or when Thanos and his Black Order would show up and he really didn't feel like being found out at the moment. He had hoped that the doppelganger he left would steer them the long way around to give him and Thor extra time, but it did not work as well as he had intended. At least, for now, Thanos was not onto him. It broke his heart to know he had most likely broken Thor's in the process. Luna's seemingly infinite kindness served as a buffer for any negative emotions he felt, but her absence caused them to creep up the back of his brain once again. He gripped the book in his hands a little tighter.

Upon reaching the conclusion, Loki closed the back cover and stared absentmindedly at the words on the back. He slowly got up to put it back in its spot on the shelf and pick up the next one, but as he reached for it, he stopped and looked at his outstretched hand and then to both of them. He concentrated for a few seconds to create a simple illusion. A flower, a snowflake, anything. Try as he did, it was in vain.

He stepped back from the bookshelf, glaring at it but not at the books themselves. He sighed audibly and moved to sit cross-legged on the floor with a hand resting on each knee. He closed his eyes and made a concerted effort to even out his breathing. Like as his mother taught him when he was younger, he cleared his head of all superficial thoughts and focused only on the sound and feel of his beating heart. Time seemed to slow and the silence surrounding him grew louder. Just a little bit more.

There, he finally found it. The small flame of life in his soul. He slowly reached for it, but something blocked him. He tried again and was thrown back harder. He opened his eyes and let out a loud huff. He hated to admit it but the sorcerer was right, this was a hard spell to get around. Loki hoped with every fiber of his being that he would be granted enough time to break it before it was too late for him and the rest of the universe.

He stood up slowly and looked around the small living room. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he deliberated on what he should do to bide the time away. He could keep reading, but he believed himself capable of ripping one in half, and that would not go over well with his companion, so he left it be.

Loki went to grab a spot on the couch he slept on and switched the television on. What he was met with was a replay of Stark's press conference that was held the other day. Sneering, he shut it off. Luna had watched it when it was being played live to make sure Tony stuck to what they agreed with him saying. Loki did not want to endure it again.

He covered his face with his hands and shook his head a little. He felt a sense of hopelessness, and he hated feeling hopeless. Stuck on a planet by himself with no magic at the moment, his fate primarily in the hands of one person. One human person. How pathetic. He was, however, getting everything he wanted without having to use that silvertongue of his. A curious situation he was interested to see play out.

From his seat, he looked around once more, this time admiring the wall decor. There were pictures strewn about wherever they could fit. Some were photographs while others were works of art. Most were images or likenesses of different animals and landscapes. The ones containing people caught Loki's eye.

He approached the first one. Contained within the frame was a photo of a couple, a man and a woman. Loki assumed them to be Luna's parents. His suspicions were further confirmed as the woman had Luna's smile and the man had a similar shaped nose.

The other one showed only the woman but in formal attire. This outfit made her look close to royalty. For all he knew, she could be. The up-do her hair was in made it easy for him to study her features. Loki found her to be as beautiful as the man in the first picture was handsome. Luna looked a lot like her.

Stepping back, he looked at the other pictures. Upon closer inspection, he found a familiar signature at the bottom of a few. His roommate dabbled in the arts, so it seemed. She was good. The colors were a bit exaggerated but pleasant to the eye. As he admired a painting of a green finch, his stomach growled. Had that much time really passed since Luna made breakfast? Evidently so, as the clock on the stove read almost 1pm.

Grabbing an apple, Loki sat on the counter and bit into it. He thought back to that morning. When did Luna say she would be home? Around 5? How could he possibly wait that long? He felt like he did back in the dungeon: confined and bored. A good-for-nothing prisoner.

But he was not a prisoner anymore. He wasn't on a tiny cot in a sparsely decorated room. He didn't possess a small collection of books he was lucky to have in the first place. He didn't have to be bored with little to nothing. No, he was in someone's home, alone, surrounded by someone else's things. And there's only one thing to do when placed in this situation.

Hopping off the counter, Loki made his way to Luna's room. The last time he was in there, he was on a mission for one thing and one thing only, but now, he could take his time. She wouldn't be home for the next few hours, and besides, this was Loki's home now, and he be damned if he didn't familiarize himself with every inch of it when he could.

Chosen by proximity, the drawer set was the first victim. Nothing was interesting outright, some underclothing and spare clothes. Loki rifled through it a little, but there was only more of the same. In the bottommost drawers, he struck gold. There lay several small journals in neat stacks, all with differently patterned and imaged covers. Removing each one, he looked inside them. Atop each page was a date and log of the weather. He had found her used diaries. Realizing this, he flipped to a random page and read what it contained. She mentioned how she was still sad about something, whatever that something was. She continued on by recounting what she cooked, what was on the news, how many birds she saw and what species she thought they were.

Disinterested, he snapped the book shut and continued searching through the rest to see if any loose papers fell out. An old habit from when he was small and the palace got any new books in. He usually found a bit of money, a lost love letter, a half-written market list, or a pressed flower. He subsequently used those scraps of paper as his own bookmarks later, but the money and flowers he saved for his parents and brother, believing they would care. They did, but as he grew, the only one to continue showing the same gratitude was Frigga. But alas, he found no such scraps in Luna's journals and abandoned his search.

On the nearby desk, the display of various items were practically begging for him to look at. So, as any good gentleman, he did so. In what looked to be old mugs sat a surplus of pencils and pens. What could one person do with so many? Who wrote that much? It puzzled him but that was for another time as something much more interesting caught his eye. Beside the pencil holders stood an array of figures in static formation. They all had likenesses of the Avengers. He spotted Rogers, Stark in his mechanical suit, Romanoff, Bruce in his Hulk form, Barton, and his dear brother. He picked it up for closer inspection. The hair was the wrong shade and Mjolnir wasn't that dull, but nonetheless it was him. There was a strange pull in his heart again. Oh dear, more guilt? Regret? Loki hated such a feeling. It was all so foreign. What would Frigga say? Had she ever felt like this? Maybe, but he wouldn't find the answer in a doll set of some of his past Midgard enemies. Placing Thor where he originally was, Loki moved on with his journey.

He gently passed a hand over the comforter on Luna's bed. It was soft like the fur of a rabbit and lying on it felt so good he thought for sure he had died and gone to Valhalla. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation. So much better than the blankets and sofa he was forced to take up residence on. He opened his eyes back up as he felt his body grow heavier. He couldn't fall asleep and risk being discovered, no matter how comfortable he currently was.

Rolling onto his front, he was met with yet another bookshelf that had passed his inspection. This one was smaller than the ones in the living room, which only served to increase his curiosity. Why keep these here? All it housed were large books and binders. He stretched out an arm and grabbed the closest one. It read "Biological Science" along the top with a picture of a lizard on the front. So here were all her technical books. Everything she knew in one place. Loki laid it on the floor beneath him and opened it to the first page. What could these Midgardian scientists know that he hadn't already learned?

The more he read, the more the information enthralled him. He hardly felt the time pass him by. Rarely in his youth had he concerned himself with learning about biological processes and how things functioned on a cellular level but he gladly drank in this new information.

Around the middle of chapter two, he lifted his head and rubbed his eyes. How long had he been reading for? He begrudgingly got up and checked the stove clock. He was taken aback at seeing it read 5:30.

5:30?! Luna would be home any second and catch him red-handed!

Loki rushed back to her room and lifted a hand to put everything back to where it was, but nothing happened. Oh right, no magic. No telepathy. Nothing. He dropped his hand and rolled his eyes, walking further in to physically restore her room to how it was before he tampered with her things. The journals lying on the floor were in disarray, making it difficult for Loki to remember how they were placed in their drawer. He took a guess and put them back in even stacks like he had found them. Good enough. He picked the biology book off the floor and put it in its spot. There. No trace of him could be found.

He let out a sigh and walked to the living room bookshelf, his eyes moving back and forth between the books and the door. Odd, she should be home by now. He grabbed a random book to make it seem like he was busy in case she walked in. He peered over at the clock. It was nearly 6. Where could she be? Could Stark have convinced her to turn him in? Were the authorities on their way to stick him in a hole so deep that not even his own ghost would be able to find him once he'd died? Did she flee the country and leave him to be found by someone less kind? Oh, he had to sit down. The swirling number of questions made his head dizzy. What would be his fate now? No magic, no real home, no friend to call his own, alone on a planet that hated him.

A rattle and a shuffle came from behind the door. Wide-eyed, Loki stared at it, every one of his neurons ready to fight or flee if necessary. But he didn't have to do anything as he watched the door open to reveal Luna more bags than she left with.

"Hey, sorry I'm late. I had to go shopping. Plus, traffic was a bit of a nightmare." After closing the lock, she placed her parcels on the counter and walked to her room, closing the door behind her.

Loki went up to them and looked inside. He was greeted by the pleasant sight of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other food items. Luna's entrance back into the room caused his attention to break from them.

"Alright, I have a very nice dinner planned that I have a feeling you'll enjoy so you can either sit tight and wait or wash up while I prepare it." She spoke as she placed almost everything in the fridge or in spots on the counter, save one bag. She pushed the lone one in Loki's direction. "Oh yeah, I got you some extra things I felt you might need for yourself."

A bag? Just for him? He sat on the couch and went through his new possessions. Each one he pulled out, he lined up on the coffee table until the bag was empty. Now he could get a good look at everything he had. The packaging on each bottle and box was beautiful. The two largest things were individual bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Proper soap to clean his hair. Very nice. A shiny bottle of body wash caught his eye along with the bottle of charcoal facial cleanser. Loki had never used more than one kind of soap to wash up in the past. What was the use of different ones? The items that weren't soaps were self-explanatory: toothpaste, toothbrush, and lip balm, moisturizer, and hair ties. But those hair ties didn't look like ties at all. Just soft loops. He removed one and gave it a few tugs. It made a lot more sense for it to stretch. He gathered his hair at the back and looped the tie around it a few times so it sat taut. Placing his hands in his lap, he moved his head around a bit. It held remarkably well. A lot better than the ribbons and pins on Asgard. It seemed that Midgard did have some redeeming qualities.

A lovely scent was the next thing to hold his attention, beckoning him to follow it. He did so, and it leads him right to the kitchen. He leaned on the counter and watched Luna cook. She must have had something in the oven already because the smell was definitely not from the mixing bowl of dry ingredients.

"What are you making?" Loki asked, speaking for the first time since morning.

"This is my own recipe for chocolate cake." Luna looked at him from the side of her eye. "Have you ever had it? Chocolate cake?"

"Chocolate itself was a rarity on Asgard."

"Well, you're in luck because I have plenty." She smiled at him. He felt eager to have chocolate after so long without it.

"As nice as chocolate sounds, it couldn't possibly be all you're preparing."

"Oh no, of course not. I have a very nice piece of salmon in the oven as we speak." That explained the aroma. "After I'm done mixing this, I'll get started on some fresh rice."

"How come you're doing all this?" He asked as she poured in milk and broke some eggs.

"Because it's dinner time?"

"No, doing…this." He waved a hand in her direction. "Putting effort into making supper for just me and you. Why?"

"Not everyone needs to have an ulterior motive when doing something nice for someone else. The main reason here is I felt like giving you a ‘Welcome to Earth' night. To be frank, the both of us had a weird and stressful weekend, so I think a bit of calm and normalcy is in order."

"What is normal? For you, I mean?"

"I'm not quite sure, but with a nice meal, I'm sure we'll figure it out." Luna turned the mixer on low. "If you're going to hover, you could at least stand closer. I don't bite." Loki took his time circling the counter to stand by her. In went the dry ingredients, scoop by scoop until the container it resided in was empty. No need for awkward silences as the batter was taking on the desired consistency. The small room took on the distinct dessert smell from the open cocoa. Once smooth, the bowl was removed, and its contents split between two dishes. Luna stayed quiet to concentrate on not spilling any. Loki took this as an opportunity to resume the conversation.

"So you're alone here? All the time?"

"Gosh, with all these questions of yours, I'm gonna have to ask some in return. It's only fair." Luna licked the spoon and rinsed it off.

"And what makes you think I'll answer any of them truthfully?"

"This is my house you're in. I make the rules."

"Alright. What's your question for me?" This was it. Luna made a tight fist and asked what felt like the question of the year.

"Would you be amenable to coming to the compound on Saturday to assist Tony with your ship?" Loki blinked and leaned back. Unbelievable.

"You want me to go back there? And help him? You must be mad." He strolled out of the kitchen and away from the situation. But she persisted.

"Oh come on. You're a smart guy, Loki. Think about it. Tony Stark himself is having difficulty with something."

"Your point?"

"Wouldn't this be the perfect opportunity for you to impress him? To get him on your side? He has his flaws as everyone else does, but he's a fantastic ally. He could really benefit you, especially now." How did Tony describe him once? A ‘full-tilt diva'? Flattering words seemed to be the ideal weapon of choice.

"How do you know he won't put me in the prison cell that he apparently has with my name on it?"

"Because I'll be there to make sure you both don't try anything. Besides, I got my intern coming in, so I have to be on center anyway." Though the truth, it served well in her argument.

"You do make a good argument in his favor. I'll give you my answer if you give me one."

"Eh, ok."

"What were you doing 5 years ago?" Ah yes, his question from Friday that she never answered.

"During the New York thing? Sleeping off two all-nighters. University really sucked out my soul."

"You, a human, stayed awake for two whole days?"

"Yeah. I had a term paper to write, so in classic fashion, I waited until the last minute to do it." Loki looked away from her, a little bewildered.

"Wow," he said quietly. He regarded Luna's ambition, but to her, it was just all in a day's work.

"Oh yes. Now, what say you? You think you can out-smart the great Tony Stark?" Loki donned a sly grin at the thought. A ding sounded out, signifying that the fish was done.

"Sounds like a good bit of fun. One more question, though."

"Shoot."

"Who's Frank?"

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

The pavement was graced with the clacks of two sets of boots instead of one.

"Ok, if anyone asks you anything, say you're my cousin, and you're hoping to land a boring desk job."

"That doesn't sound too convincing."

"Nobody really cares here. Just don't say who you really are and everything should be smooth sailing." Luna and Loki pushed their glasses up in sync. "Act like you belong, and no one will look twice." An easy task for Loki in particular. Luna opened the door and slipped inside, holding it open for Loki. Not many people were around and even less looked in their direction. Only essential personnel were on site over the weekend, and they usually spent nearly the entire time at their workstations.

Luna unlocked the lab door and turned the lights on, letting it close behind Loki. She shed her jacket and placed it in the designated cupboard along with her bag.

"Just like I said last week, don't touch anything," she said, pausing to wash her hands. "You can wait in the lounge until Tony calls, whenever that'll be. I'll be right here if you need anything." She shrugged on her lab coat and gave Loki a warm smile. He mirrored it with his own and slowly walked to the lounge. Book in hand, he eased himself down and opened his book to read. Had he access to his magic, he'd manipulate the situation so he wouldn't have to deal with Stark. However, the thought of besting him in intellectual combat was too tempting to resist.

Luna took her time with inventory, her nerves on edge with Loki on center once again. Not even the beautiful voice of Nick Jonas could calm them. Having him interact with Tony wasn't the best idea of the year, but it wasn't the worst either. She hoped it would benefit the both of them. Tony needed to spend more time out of work, and Loki needed to be busy with something other than burning through her book collection. On her third recount of pipette tip boxes, a knock and a muffled ‘knock, knock, doc' drew her attention. There, in the small door window, was a familiar smiling face. Luna set her paper down and gleefully opened the door.

"Peterman! You are almost an hour early!"

"Well, you know, I felt like practicing being punctual for when I get a real job." Luna let out a dramatic gasp and put a hand over her chest.

"Peter, you don't consider this a real job? Just wait till Tony hears about this." She snickers at his wide-eyed expression. "I'm joking, I'm joking. So anyway, how was Homecoming last night?"

"Oh you know, it was good. I went with friends this time like you suggested," Peter said, yawning in the middle.

"Good. Friends are always the best way to go. Oh, and how's May doing?"

"She's good, she's doing real good." Peter put his bag in the cupboard next to Luna's. "She went on a date last night."

"A date? With who?"

"Take a wild guess." Luna accepted the challenge and thought, humming as an idea came to her.

"Sticky rice guy?" She whispered. Peter snapped his fingers and pointed a finger-gun at her. "No way!" She squealed.

"Yeah! He finally asked with free pad thai and a cheesy card. Aunt May loves those, so she said yes instantly." He rubbed his eyes and smiled.

"Oh, that is so cute! He better treat her right, or I'm gonna come for him."

"Get in line," he said, going to wash his hands but was stopped by the corner of a table. He groaned softly and rubbed the spot his leg bumped. He made it to the sink without another incident, but he was not as sneaky as he believed himself to be. Luna appeared by his side, being careful not to startle him.

"Peter, how much sleep did you get last night?" she asked him in a soft voice.

"Uh, enough." He didn't look at her, keeping his eyes on his soapy hands.

"How was Homecoming, really? For you?" He didn't answer, but he didn't have to. Luna saw right through him. "Nightmares again? Is that why you were early?" A slow, single nod came from him. "Same one, or different?"

"Same," he mumbled. He dried his hands and fiddled with the paper towel. Luna placed a hand on the side of his shoulder.

"Go take a nap, Peter. We don't want our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man feeling too tired."

"But Mr. Stark-"

"Doesn't have to know. I won't tell if you won't." She gave him a warm smile and pulled his bag down from the cubby. "Go. I'll be right here if you're ready to do something." With a heavy hand, he took it from her.

"Thanks," he said, leaving through the back door, but instead of taking the stairs to his room, he went into the lounge. He paused in the doorway, taking in the sight of the unexpected guest before him.

"Oh hey," he said tentatively to the occupant.

"Hello," the other guy said.

"Uh, I was gonna take a nap there." Peter pointed to the couch.

"Go right ahead. Nothing's stopping you."

"Ok thanks." Peter put his bag down at the opposite end of the couch and pulled out the spare set of clothes he got to carrying around after the previous year's incident.

He pulled off his shoes and jacket, bunching up all the clothes into a makeshift pillow. He lay down with his jacket covering his upper half and pulled his knees halfway to his chest, his sock-covered toes hanging a little over the edge. Not as comfortable as his bed but he didn't want Mr. Stark to know he went straight to his room right after arriving. Fatigue crept up his spine and relaxed his body. He could have fought it but after having only two hours of sleep, there was no fight left in him, and he gradually drifted off.

Loki shifted closer and closer to his side of the couch as he watched the boy beside him take a snooze. It seemed to him that as he slept, he got more and more comfortable with stretching out until his feet touched his leg. He reluctantly admitted defeat and moved himself to a nearby armchair, surrendering the couch. Loki creased his brow. Who was this child? Why was he here? None of his questions would get answers by staring at him, so he returned his attention to his book. The story at hand was more interesting anyway. A few pages down, there came a soft knock.

"Hey Loki, T-," Luna began. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I thought he went up to his room." She crouched down by his head. Oh, so she knew him? Maybe he could get some answers now.

"It's no problem. There are more places to sit here." Luna let out a small sigh and stood back up.

"Tony called. He's ready if you are." She whispered this time, in courtesy of the third person in the room.

"Lead the way," Loki said, holding his hand out. They stayed quiet throughout the trek down the back stairwell but one question still burned in the back of Loki's mind. "Tell me, who was that? Is he a child of Stark?"

"What? No. He's Peter, my intern. Well, our intern. Whatever. I'll explain later." Luna stopped at the garage entrance and entered the 4-digit security code. "And don't mention a thing to Tony about Peter being asleep." Loki broke into an amused grin and followed behind her.

"Ooh, a secret from Stark. How fun." Tony's head popped into view at the sound of his name.

"What's a secret from me?" He called out.

"That I can only fall asleep by listening to metal. Oh whoops, not a secret anymore." Luna spoke back.

"I didn't know Guns & Roses made lullabies." Tony picked up a tray of glasses full of his special green juice. Luna took one and raised it in thanks to him. He flashed a smirk at her and offered one to Loki. "You're not going to throw me out a window this time, are you?" Loki gave him a half-smile and gingerly removed a glass.

"Depends on where the day leads." Before Loki could take a sip, he turned to Luna and gave her a look that spelled concern. She shook her head at him and gestured for him to drink it. Tony wouldn't try to poison a god, especially not using the green juice that was basically his life's blood. Loki took a few sips as he followed Tony to the ship's door. Luna ambled behind them, taking her sweet time to get there but never taking her eyes off of the pair.

"Hey FRIDAY, play some music. It's not a funeral in here," she said.

"Of course, miss. What would you like on?"

"Whatever Tony had on last." At her command, the rhythmic thump of the drums introduced the song. Luna recognized it instantly. A song she had recommended to Tony some time ago. ‘Come on feel the noise,' Luna mouthed along and drank her smoothie. With the two men further away from her now, she rhythm-walked closer to where they were standing, ducking her head just in time to miss knocking it against the odd edge of the ship.

"-functions separately from the fuel reserves." She heard Loki say.

"No kidding. Well, let's open ‘er up," Tony said, giving the ship's side a couple soft knocks with his knuckles.

Loki set his half-empty glass down and reached up, tapping his fingers against the vehicle and causing a series of alien symbols to alight. With a soft beep and a click, the door folded down and offered a step up. Like he'd done several times before, he gripped the inside and hoisted himself up. Tony mimicked Loki's practiced movements and got in as well. Luna hung back to admire the interior décor from where she stood. Out of her earshot, conversation resumed.

"What kind of spaceship has a shag carpet in it?" Tony asked, bending down to touch the said rug.

"The leisure kind," Loki said back. Tony recoiled his hand and grimaced.

"Please don't tell me you mean what I think you mean," Tony said, shaking his hands out. Loki grinned to himself.

"Oh yes." Tony took his time to walk to the console, admiring the interior design. Loki seated himself and gripped the steering bars.

"Where did you get this from anyway?" Tony took the passenger seat

"From a distant planet in an even more distant star system." Loki hovered a hand above the various knobs and buttons. He turned one and pushed another, making the whole dashboard light up. "I don't believe there's an unlimited power source for the computer so our work will have to be efficient."

"I agree. Is there a user manual anywhere?"

"If there was, you would never be able to understand it."

"I will allow that," Tony said in a low voice, giving Loki a bit of a side eye. "Where'd you get the outfit?"

"From your delightful colleague." Loki kept his attention on the console, looking for something in particular. "This should be it." He swiped at a touch-activated scrollbar.

"What's what?" Tony's curiosity was peaked. Both sets of eyes looked on as a holographic projection popped up, displaying Loki's panicked visage.

"Ship's log." Loki pressed another button, and the image began to move.

Muted sounds of explosions played along with those happening visually on the screen. Video-Loki's hands shook as he steered away from the catastrophic events he had left behind. His jaw had been set so tight, Loki himself was surprised that his teeth hadn't shattered. Flashes came back into the frame but from the head of the ship this time. Video-Loki covered his eyes as the light increased in brightness and let out a pained yell. The light changed to darkness as if someone flipped the universal switch to ‘off.' A soft orange light illuminated video-Loki's figure. He blinked a few times and pressed a series of buttons, stopping the video recording in the process. Both Tony and Loki stared at the still image, finding themselves at a loss for words. Tony spoke first in a voice barely above a whisper.

"Loki, what was that?" The music outside the ship seemed much farther away.

"The Asgardian refugee vessel."

"And who did that?" Loki swallowed.

"I don't know." What a grand lie but it was what he did best. "A pirate, maybe." A little more accurate. "Finding us without any valuables, they destroyed the ship." Not quite so.

"And you left Thor in that?"

"I told you, he asked for me to go." Tony wound up some more sharp words to hurl at him, but the thought of something else entirely made him put them down.

"Play that again."

"Why would you want to see-?"

"Just play it again. I think I saw something." Loki eyed Tony suspiciously and did as he asked. The same images played over. The explosions, the flashing, the darkness. "You see that?"

"See what?" Tony pointed to a small number counter in the corner.

"That. Right there." Tony rewound the video and started it again. "Watch it very carefully." The both of them kept a close eye on the ticker. The numbers counted as they should, nothing out of the ordinary. However, from the darkness onward, something was definitely off about them. "You see that?"

"Yes," Loki whispered.

"Do you know what they mean?" It was Loki's turn to point.

"It stands for the log time and date. After the darkness hit, they changed."

"Oh my god," Tony breathed out. "Oh my god." He quickly stood up. "Do you know what this means?" No answer. Tony kept on talking, walking back out of the cockpit area. "That flashing? You must have gone through a wormhole of some kind, I don't know, maybe a black hole." He braced himself against the doorframe. "The point is…you went through time, and this ship was able to take the strain of it. Amazing."

For another time that week, Loki pondered his current predicament. It's not every day someone goes through a wormhole of time and space, let alone twice in their life. Not only was he stranded on Earth without his magic and his brother, but he was also in the wrong period. Where in time was he? Forward? Backward? No, it couldn't have been forward. Thanos would have long since destroyed the universe, securing Loki in the ship and making it his tomb. It must have been back, but how far back? He replayed the video and watched the log time change, paying very close attention. Not only had they changed, but they had also decreased by a factor of eight. Eight months, to be precise. Lightyears from anyone else he knew, and now a man out of time.

But was this indeed to his disadvantage? Thanos and his Black Order would not think to look for him in two places at once. Having his magic sealed meant that it could not be used to track him down and he had time to work on disabling the spell inhibiting him. Possibly, he could be considered safe for now. He could let himself breath.

He stood up, shutting off the console and exiting. Tony was off in a distant corner of the room, chattering away to Luna who was hanging on his every word. Loki walked towards the pair, catching Luna's eye, causing her to smile and wave at him. She jogged to meet him in the middle.

"Tony was telling me all about your cool ship. I've never seen him this excited about something since he proposed to his fiancé." Tony joined her at her side.

"That's a hell of a thing you got," Tony said, looking up to the exterior. "What's it called?"

"The Commodore," Loki answered. Tony paused.

"Ok, I'm naming my first kid that for sure." He broke from the group and grabbed his phone from the table.

"Tony, don't-," Luna pleaded a little.

"I'm gonna call Pepper and ask!" He was really doing it. Luna let out a small scoff and checked her watch. "Hey Tony, I think I left a Bunsen burner on!"

"Don't burn my building down, Fields! Take care of it!" Luna scuttled to the door, tilting her head to get Loki to tag along. He did so, and they left. "Just so you know, I don't have one of those things on." They walked down the deserted hallway to the stairs. Luna climbed a few steps, only to stop and look back at Loki. "How are you feeling?" Loki didn't know exactly how to answer.

"Fine." Luna faced him completely.

"Hey, you're a guy that just found out he went through time, so how're you doing?" She pressed him, sounding more firm. He couldn't seem to figure out why.

"Just perfect." She scowled a little.

"As a perpetrator of the same lie, I'm going to let that slide, but I'm keeping an eye on you." She continued the ascension to her lab, Loki close behind, but they bypassed it and continued to the lounge. Peter was still there, sound asleep. Luna gave him a small smile and snuck back to her lab. Loki stayed there and eyed the seats available. Peter had shifted his position, allowing Loki to have his spot again, so he retrieved his book and took it. Almost a page down and Peter began to stir, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"How long was I out?" He asked in a rough voice. "Oh hey, you're still here."

"Obviously," Loki said, not taking his eyes off of the words he read. No matter. Peter stuck his hand out in Loki's direction.

"I'm-I'm Peter, by the way." Loki stared at the hand in front of him. He placed his own hand in Peter's and gave it a firm squeeze.

"Loki." Peter's eyes went wide, every hair on his body standing on its end.

"What?! No way! God of mischief, Loki?!" Out of all the reactions, Loki didn't expect this one.

"Last time I checked." Peter let go of his hand and sat, so he directly faced Loki.

"Woah! Wait, if you're here, is Thor here too?" He looked around as if Thor was standing somewhere and he just missed him. "Where is he?"

"Sorry to disappoint you but it's just me for now." Peter looked a tad disappointed. He recovered quickly and resumed talking.

"Why are you here by yourself? Weren't you, like, the bad guy a while ago? Didn't you fight the Avengers? Are you in trouble or something?" Questions flowed from him like water from a tap. Loki flashed a small smirk.

"Of sorts, yes." Peter gasped and leaned in like he was about to spill a secret.

"Are you the trouble?" Peter whispered. Loki let out a low, vaguely menacing laugh.

"On a good day." A look of fear flashed over Peter's fair face. Luna popped her head in again, interrupting the two.

"Hi, Peter. Loki, Tony calls."

"It seems my presence is requested." Loki stood up, not getting a goodbye from the slightly stunned kid. Luna walked with him to the stairs but continued no further as Loki had stopped. "Stay with the child. He is in need of your mentorship. I know my way."

"But I gotta get the door open for you."

"I have eyes, do I not? I simply looked over your shoulder." Luna slapped a hand on her forehead.

"Of course you did. But how do I know you two will play nice?"

"You have my word." Her eyes narrowed.

"Ok, I'll take it. Get on down there." Loki walked back to the stair door, keeping his gaze on her until he was through the door. She half-smiled and shook her head. Peter stood up and walked over to her upon her entrance back into the room.

"Mr. Stark knows he's here?! And you do too?! Oh, this is wild." He carded his fingers through his hair.

"And no one else can know, you understand? This is the most important mission of all." Luna was serious, and Peter felt it all the way to his bones. He crossed his arms and let out a light laugh.

"Oh yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. You know I'm an expert at secrets." Luna gave his shoulder a soft pat.

"Good man. Now, you up for some science-y fun?"

"Hell yeah, let's do it."

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Loki got up from his crouched position on the floor, stretching out his back. He dusted off his hands with a spare rag and let down his hair from its position high up on his head. He walked to retrieve his glasses he had abandoned on the desk Tony was now sound asleep on, a pencil balancing in his loose grip. He had sworn he was just resting his eyes. That over an hour ago. Loki pulled down the sleeves of his shirt, covering the battle scars adorning his skin. One by one, he turned off the monitors and lights on his way out the door, leaving a trail of darkness behind him. He tucked his jacket in the crook of his arm and locked the door behind him.

Luna sat at a bench in her lab, reviewing notes from the day. She lifted her head to yawn and spotted Loki passing by the open door. She waved at him.

"Hey. Are you and Tony finally done for the night?" She clicked her pen and closed her notebook, standing to greet him properly.

"Stark has been done for a while. He clearly lacks the stamina I have." Luna could only guess what that meant. She rubbed her forearm against her brow.

"I keep telling him to go home and sleep there. FRIDAY, could you please tell Ms. Potts that Tony will be very late for dinner? Again? And let Happy know when he wakes up so he can drive him home."

"I will relay your messages promptly," FRIDAY said. Luna sighed loudly and put her fists on her hips. She looked to Loki and checked out his appearance.

"What were you guys doing the whole time?"

"Taking the ship apart. I never believed it would be such delicate work."

"Told you it would be a challenge. If you're ready to leave, just hang on for a bit. I need to clean and double-check everything."

"You know where to find me," Loki said with a smirk. He continued down the hall, Luna's eyes lingering on him. She walked back into the lab and grabbed a spray bottle and proceeded to clean the tables.

Peter was seated on the couch once again, sitting upright with a laptop in front of him and a notebook by his side. Though busy as he seemed to be, his head was tilted back, and his eyes lay shut. Loki tossed his jacket down, startling Peter with the thump it made.

"Asleep again, I see," Loki said.

"No, I was just resting my eyes." Peter rubbed his eyes and smoothed out his hair.

"Could have fooled me and I am a hard one to fool." They both laughed a little at Loki's jest. Peter closed his notebook and powered down his computer.

"Do you know what time it is?"

"Time to leave, I suppose." Peter checked his watch.

"Oh man, that late? May is gonna kill me." Peter bounced his leg up and down. Silence crept into the room, more awkward than comfortable. They weren't sure what to do with themselves.

"What's with the glasses, Mr. Loki?" Peter spoke out. Loki looked at him, and down to the spectacles he hung on his shirt collar.

"An attempt at a disguise. They've been deceiving thus far."

"But don't you have magic powers or whatever? Why don't you use those?"

"A petty sorcerer cast a spell that blocks me from using them," Loki grumbled, crossing his arms.

"Aw man, that sucks." Distraction presented itself in the form of Luna knocking on the door frame and stepping into the room, bag in hand and wearing a flowery smile.

"Knock, knock. Peter, you ready?"

"Yes please." Peter slung his bag over his shoulder and caught up to her side. Loki joined her, receiving a suspicious eye from Peter. "We all going the same way?"

"Since I'm driving you home, I'm taking Loki to where he's staying as well," Luna said.

"How come he's not staying here? There's lots of room."

"He can't very well be here and have someone recognize him. We're trying not to cause a scene."

Once outside, Luna walked ahead, leaving Peter and Loki to walk behind her. They admired the sky, painted in pinks and oranges from the sun setting quick on the horizon. One by one, they turned their attention back to where they were walking. Peter glanced up at Loki.

"If it's any consolation, I think the glasses are cool. They remind me of Clark Kent."

"You're the second person who's said that to me. Who is this Kent individual?"

"He's Superman. Clark Kent is his human name so he can go around and do human things."

"So you know him personally?"

"No, he's a comic book character." Peter's cell phone rang, interrupting him. "Oh hey, May. I'm ok, I promise. No, we just got caught up doing science stuff. Yeah, I did my homework. No, we're leaving right now. Ok, see you at home. Love you." He hung up with a beep. "Sorry. My aunt always likes to check up on me. Uh, but yeah, he's an alien, and he was sent here when his planet got destroyed, and he was taken in by some nice people, and he grew up to be a superhero. If you want, I could show you some of my comics. Are you gonna be here next week?" The three stopped outside of Luna's car. All eyes were on Loki.

"Well, Loki, are you?" Luna said with a smirk.

"And miss out on what he wants to share with me?" Loki opened the passenger side door and got in. Peter looked at Luna in slight confusion.

"That means yes," she whispered. Peter gave a thumbs up and got in the back as Luna got in the driver's seat. Music playing and Peter glued to his phone, Luna backed out and exited the parking lot.


 

Peter smiled and waved goodbye as he walked into his apartment complex. Once he was safely inside, Luna pulled out of park and continued down the street. A calm settled in the car.

"Is he always like that?" Loki said.

"Like what?" Luna kept her gaze on the cars ahead.

"Like he plans to make friends with every person he meets." A red light offered the chance for Luna to look Loki square in the eye.

"Peter's addicted to friendship so be prepared. Though he pretends, the guy doesn't have a mean bone in his body, so I beg you … please play nice with him," she said, more serious than the dead. They stared at each other, eyes shining from the lights outside.

"My reputation precedes me, but contrary to belief, I would never purposefully harm a child," Loki said, equally serious.

"Good." The light turned green, prompting Luna to look away from Loki. "He's been hurt enough in his life."


 

The elevator ride gave them a chance to rest their aching feet, if only for a short duration. They each leaned against the back wall and flexed their toes to the best of their abilities.

"Would you like anything specific for dinner? We have leftovers, but I can always do something new." There Luna was, giving Loki choices again.

"Anything you come up with will be fine. If it's all the same to you, I would like to wash up first." Loki gestured to his attire.

"Oh yeah, of course. I plan on doing some laundry anyway so just give me what you're wearing, and I'll wash it for you." The elevator came to a stop, and the pair exited.

Upon locking the door, the two shed their jackets and shoes and went their own way, Loki to the bathroom along with a spare outfit and Luna to her room to change. The soft thump of clothes indicated it was safe for her to come out with a small hamper in hand. It slowly filled with Loki's clothes, the sheets he used, dish towels, and the like. The muffled sound of falling water is heard, and Luna empties the contents of the hamper into the washer. She parcels out some soap and starts the machine.

Luna leans against the clothes washer, feeling its subtle vibrations, and stares at the closed bathroom door. It seemed to her that she was always worrying and thinking about Loki. At work, at home, going to sleep, out at the store, wherever. How he was feeling, what he was doing, if he wanted to start a war with the government. If he did, she could relate, but that was beside the point. He seemed easy to understand, but he is, in fact, far from it. He's menacing and shy, intuitive and distant, strong and hurt.

She knew he looked more ok than he was but to inquire such things of him so early in their acquaintanceship was absurd. How would it feel if someone she met a week ago wanted to know everything about her? All of her deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings? Incredibly intrusive, that's what. She was doing her best to make Loki feel like she wasn't probing at him. Luna knew it took a long time to get to that level of comfort with someone because she hasn't reached it yet herself. If he wanted to be open, he would do so himself.

She retrieved her phone from her bag and looked through her social media. Being away from it all day earned her a little indulgence. There was more of the same: concert dates, movie premieres, political happenings, and humorous blog posts. Peter had posted a picture from inside the lab while her back was turned. No matter how many times Luna tells him not to, he always manages to sneak one. He likes to show off about the Stark Internship now that it's a real thing and not another name for when he went around looking out for the little guy.

Seeing as Loki was still taking his shower, she opted to have a little fun in his absence. She switched on her stereo, like she did every day, and connected her phone to it. A long day called for a specific kind of music. A peppy, happy song would work. One like ‘Honolulu.'

Luna bounced along to the staccato guitar notes, being careful not to be too loud, occasionally stopping to reorganize or put something back in its proper place. She eased into a slower pace upon feeling her feet complain. She tossed the hair out of her eyes. A haircut was indeed in order. She came to a full stop to blow dust from her glasses, causing her to be able to hear the second verse.

"Oh, darlin' if you could read my mind. Oh, heaven knows what you would find."

Talk about a coincidence. What was she just thinking about not twenty minutes ago? She let out a breathy laugh. Sometimes music speaks what we cannot say aloud. What did Loki hear when he heard songs like these? Probably along the lines of ‘human nonsense.' A god would not be concerned with such things, especially one like him.

Luna swayed a bit as she listened to the song fade out. She hoped for a song that didn't remind her of any strange feelings. Lucky for her, she got her wish. A gleeful smile broke out on her face, singing along as best she could as there are very few people that can adequately do it to ‘Come On Eileen' from beginning to end and she's not one of them.

She danced around any open space she could, determined to get rid of any unsavory sensations. She felt the floor under her feet, the slight breeze as she moved her hands, her hair as she shook her head. It felt so good. She danced like no one was watching until, well, someone was.

"Must you always do that?" A low voice said behind her, startling her. She pressed a hand to her chest and faced Loki.

"Do what?" She said once she had caught her breath and her heart.

"What you're doing to the music playing."

"Oh, you mean dancing?" She raised her eyebrows amusingly.

"You call that dancing?" He furrowed his brow and contrasted it with a ghost of a smirk.

"On Asgard, did you not dance?" Luna moseyed closer to him.

"We certainly did but not like that."

"Well, if any Asgardian heard ‘Come On Eileen,' I have a feeling they probably would." She walked to the refrigerator and opened the door, silently swearing to herself for letting someone see her dance. She eyeballed the shelves and their contents before calling back to Loki.

"We have leftover pasta and the sauce I made. You liked that, right?" He hummed in affirmation. Luna felt a little relieved that she didn't have to make anything. It was late, and the two of them were tired.

Not ten minutes later, Luna and Loki were seated side-by-side on the couch, replenishing their energy while absentmindedly watching a show on the television. Something about the Arctic. David Attenborough was narrating. Luna cleaned her bowl first and took this opportunity to put the laundry in the dryer. She sat back down in her spot and watched the penguins on the screen hunt for fish. She glanced to the side at Loki, who was staring off to the bottom of the TV. She mused about what his mind was on. He had that far-away look in his eyes so most likely nothing rosy. She wished Attenborough would appear and ask him. With the way he said things, Loki would probably tell him anything. But David was not about to turn up in her living room, so Luna was still stuck doing everything.

"Why did you come to Earth anyway?" She said in a soft voice. Maybe he wouldn't hear her, and they could go the rest of the night without talking.

"Didn't Stark tell you by now?" Damn. He did hear her.

"No. I thought I would ask you. Seemed more polite." She took a sip of her water.

"My brother asked me to go ahead of him. Thor is king and a king stays with his people." He answered, taking a sip of his own water.

"Makes sense, but you didn't look like someone that was simply sending a message when you got here. What happened after Asgard was gone?" Nothing. "You don't have to tell me, but I have a feeling that something awful went down. Am I right?" He took his time, but he spoke up.

"Our refugee ship was attacked." Luna gulped and appreciated the fact that Loki's gaze was affixed elsewhere. Her own expression was indeed not one to behold. Her heart squeezed itself in her chest. He wasn't just alone, and out of time, he was grieving. She measured her next words.

"And Thor held the attacker off for you? That's why he stayed behind?" A single nod came from Loki. "Wow," she whispered and looked at him. "Do you think he's ok?"

"I've always believed him to be too stubborn to die." They each let out a breathy, empty laugh. The slight smiles they wore did not come from their hearts. Their eyes looked up at the television, watching the images but not seeing them. Hearing the sounds coming from the speakers but not listening to them. Loki silently grieved for the people he and his brother were to shepherd into New Asgard on Earth. Luna grieved for the countless innocent lives fleeing a desperate situation, only to have their hopes crushed by someone with no regard for them. She held onto her glass, feeling its biting chill against her skin. She got that urge again, the one telling her to grab ahold of his hand and never let go. Still, she ignored it. It was invasive and patronizing.

Luna felt her eyes grow weary. She rubbed at them with the sides of her hands and got up to rinse Loki's bowl. As she opened her bedroom door, she reversed and plucked everything out of the dryer and plopped it all on her bed. She quickly sorted out Loki's items, folding them and bringing them to him. She set it on the spot she had been sitting in, whispering a soft "goodnight," and entered her room to maybe let sleep claim her.

However, sleep did not come readily to either of them, least of all Loki.

The room he lay in was dark, but his mind was filled with light, and not the friendly type. It was the kind that hurt, the kind that burned every neuron in the body. Screaming rang in his ears, but he couldn't tell if it came from his people or himself. He willed his body to move, but no such thing happened. Hands restrained him without touching him. He shut his eyes to block out the light and prayed to the Allfathers for darkness to take him away.

He gradually came to, opening his eyes slowly to see if he had indeed escaped. He saw the darkness he craved for in his dreams, but he wondered if it was real or another cruel trick to break him further. He sat up and stood to search for a nearby light source. If he made it turn on, maybe it was real. He felt around until his hand bumped a familiar shape. His fingertips brushed against what felt like a knob. He took a chance and turned it. Low and behold, the light did as it should and illuminated the area around it. Loki leaned against the wall and took in his surroundings. It was merely a dream, a fabrication of reality. He was no stranger to them, but it didn't make him enjoy their occasional visits any more than he did right now. Sleeping back would prove to be challenging as the images threatened to show themselves once more before sunrise. A distraction was needed.

Though he was already in the process of reading a book, he plucked a fresh one from the bookshelf and opened it. No matter its contents. He needed new pictures in his mind's eye. He read each word slowly to draw out time and ward sleep away. The stillness of the air around him made him feel safe in the meantime. He savored the moment.

Time kept passing him by, and he barely read two pages. His position on the floor was anything but comfortable. He put the book down and tilted his head to rest. What was he to do now that sleep had left him? The sound of a door opening and closing jerked him back to the present. Luna rounded the corner, straightening her sleep clothes and brushing her hair out of her eyes with her hands. She met his gaze from across the room and leaned against the wall.

"Hey." Loki would greet her back, but he didn't want to. He hoped it went without saying. "Can't sleep?" Obviously. She looked down at her feet in thought. "Do you like fantasy stories?" What a question. He gave a slight nod. "Have you ever seen Lord of the Rings?" Wait, what? Loki pushed himself up to stand. What was she on about?

"Is that one of your Midgardian moving pictures?" He walked closer to her, step by step, and she did the same.

"Yes, indeed, and we're going to watch it right now." She bent down to a separate shelf lined with thin books, all a similar size. She opened one and revealed not pages but a flat disc. She pressed a button on a black box, making it show a platform on which she placed the disc and pushed it closed.

"Whatever for?" Luna stood back up and grabbed remote after remote, turning on this and that until soft theme music and a title screen played.

"To put it plainly, we both need to sleep, and this movie is three hours long so buckle up and enjoy." She moved Loki's sheets out of the way and dropped down into the empty space. She patted the cushion next to her to coax Loki to sit.

Curiosity got the better of him, and he did so. Thor had spoken of these things before, and he was quite interested now as an opportunity to see one had presented itself. He found the voices sounded familiar, but he believed it to be a coincidence. His shoulders dropped down ever so slowly as the movie played. He could almost feel the warmth right through the screen. He favored theater for this very reason, and now he had the privilege to watch plays whenever he desired.

He hadn't been this enraptured in a story for a while. To forget all about time. It felt good. It felt a little like home. He always loved watching other people's lives play out in front of him. But he had never done it in the living room of a Midgardian providing him asylum, especially not with said Midgardian resting their head on him.

He felt the soft drop onto his shoulder, pulling him from the action. Sleep had claimed Luna as some point. Loki did his best to gently nudge her off of him without waking her, but his efforts were futile. If he left her, he would have nowhere to sleep should he choose to do so. He glanced down at her. There was one solution to this.

He put his arms underneath her and lifted her up, carefully carrying her to her room and laying her down, not bothering with a blanket. Must she wake from a chill, she could cover herself. He removed her glasses and placed them on her dresser. He walked back out and closed the door behind him.

He watched the movie until its end and switched off the machines. It was time again for the birds to wake and sing their early morning songs. They serenaded Loki, easing his mind to a state where he could accept sleep.

Loki lay his head to rest on the pillow beneath him, his thoughts consumed with wishes to see the next part of the story. Tales of hobbits, wizards, and beautiful elves accompanied him as sleep slowly claimed his body and mind.

Chapter Text

Luna ripped off her gloves and put her head in her hands, tempted to tear at her hair. She felt as if she was searching for something but kept forgetting what it was. The deeper she delved into Steve's genome, the more buried she became. Like the man himself, it was overwhelming. The whole job felt a little pointless.

She saved and exited Steve's DNA file and opened up Wanda's. She may be biased, but Wanda's DNA was the most beautiful she had ever laid eyes on. She didn't bother to look at the nucleotides. Only the structure itself. Luna reminisced about looking at Wanda's cells alongside her for the first time. They had been dyed red, her signature color. Wanda had asked if her cells really were red like that all by themselves.

"Of course not," Luna explained. "It's from the dye so you can see them."

Luna leaned back in her chair. What was she to do? What was the point of it all? She was stuck at a wall in the middle of an endless road with no way forward or back. She looked over to the shelf housing the assortment of beakers and flasks.

"Who are you? You know what you do, but do you know who you are? You measure things out, mix things up, hold all kinds of chemicals and substances. You do so much for so many people but have you ever done anything for you? Have you ever done something that makes you matter to yourself?" Luna closed her eyes and let out a loud groan. "Oh my god, I'm trying to get existential advice from glassware. I'm going nuts."

She opened her eyes back to look at the DNA structure hovering above her. What would Wanda say to her at a time like this? Something positive, probably. But Luna didn't need positive. She needed something to help her.

She snapped her head up at the click of the front door opening. Who could it possibly be?

"Good day, Miss Fields. I trust that you are well." Luna smiled widely at the sight of her old friend.

"Hi, Vision. I'm doing pretty good. How are you? How's Wanda?"

"I am well, as always. Wanda is, too. I trust your work with Steve's genome is proving fruitful." Oh, if he only knew.

"Yeah, yeah, it's coming along. But I am happy to see you. Doing your regular check-ins?"

"Yes. I was just on my way to see Tony." He raised his hand to touch his forehead. "The stone has been behaving rather odd as of late." Luna stood up and approached him.

"How so? Has it been hurting, if that's possible?"

"Not so much pain, but rather a sensation. As if it has a mind of its own, but it doesn't know how to communicate." She lay a hand on his upper arm and smiled.

"Well, I'm sure Tony can figure out how to help with that." Luna paused. She knew she forgot something. "Oh! I have another song for Wanda to listen to. She liked the French ones, right?"

"She does favor those out of everything else."

"Should I give it to you the usual way?" She got her phone out.

"It is the most convenient approach." Vision smiled a bit.

"I am never going to get used to this, am I?" Luna said under her breath. She opened up the audio file and clicked to share it. Shaking her head, she tapped on the AirDrop feature and sent it to Vision. "Will we ever know how that actually works?"

"I believe that the mysteries of life are what make it worthwhile." Luna looked down and laughed silently.

"You always know what to say. Work right now is a mystery, but I'm not sure how worthwhile it is anymore."

"You're at an impasse. Perhaps a new idea could aid you."

"That's the thing: there hasn't been anything new since the team split. The only new thing I can think of getting is-." Luna paused. Deep in her brain, she felt the seed of an idea being planted and begin to take root. She affixed her gaze over Vision's shoulder, doing her best to hold on tight to that little idea.

"I can see you have thought of something, haven't you?"

"I believe so. Thank you."

"Oh, nonsense. You came up with it all by yourself."

"I am going to thank you anyway. But don't let me keep you any longer. Go and see Tony as you planned. I have to make sure this idea doesn't escape."

"Of course. As always, a pleasure to indulge in your company, Luna."

"Yours as well, Vision. Bye." He gave a small wave and closed the door behind him. Luna reveled in the fact that he had learned his lesson by using the door as the last time he neglected to do so, she had to clean up buffer solution and a shattered beaker.

She sat back at her desk, a renewed sense of purpose coursing through her veins. Wanda's DNA structure still sat open, spinning at its leisure. Luna could admire it for hours but now was not the time. She saved and closed all her open files and summoned an old database.

"FRIDAY, secure my wireless connection."

"Connection secured. Any reason for doing so?"

"Just paranoid about anyone knowing my search history."

"Oh? And what will you be searching for today?" Luna took a breath before continuing.

"Any old S.H.I.E.L.D. videos from when Loki attacked New York."


 

Loki's discovery on how the DVD box worked was a godsend, or rather, a gift from the Allfathers. He scrapped the bottom of the pint of ice cream in his hand as Frodo sailed away from his friends and Sam went home to his family. Loki was glad Luna wasn't there at the moment. He couldn't have anyone knowing about how one little hobbit made him a tad emotional with the line ‘I can't carry it for you ... but I can carry you.'

He sighed as the ending credits and music started, tapping the bottom of the carton with the tip of his spoon. The three-part tale had left him feeling contented, a rarity in his life. However, the ice cream did not. He lifted the container and read the graphic label.

"Whoever you are, Benjamin and Jerry, I commend you on your culinary skills." He furrowed his brow, concentrating on possibly refilling it with its original contents but no such thing happened.

He set it down a bit too harsh, resulting in an audible clang from the table. He crossed his arms and glared at it. How displeasing it was to not be able to get more of something he desired. He hated that, more than he hated most other things. He drummed his fingers against his bent knee, a bit at a loss for what to do next. He was never one for sitting still for long periods of time doing nothing productive.

He got up to toss out the empty container and reinvestigate the freezer. No more of the flavor he had. What was it? A Hunka-Hulka Burning Fudge? How ironic, but he enjoyed it quite a bit. No one had to know. He would need Luna to get more of that one the next time she went on a grocery trip. He took his customary daily apple and stared at the kitchen clock. He still had time to do as he pleased before Luna returned. He hadn't finished reading her textbook, so off he went to her room once again once he finished the fruit in his hand.

Upon entering, the plush dolls strewn around Luna's room caught Loki's eye. For whatever reason he hadn't noticed them before, he was seeing them now. He picked one up and examined it.

"What is your appeal?" He whispered and turned it over a few times. It was soft to the touch, like lamb's ear. Perhaps that's what made it desirable to have more than one.

He sat down in front of Luna's personal bookshelf once again, neglecting to put the stuffed animal back in its spot, and took the textbook he had been reading. As he read, he took note of all the scribbles and highlights Luna had added in. He contemplated over what made those sentences significant over all others. In his eyes, it was all relevant information. Over some of her additional notes, she put arrows to related pictures, within which were circles of different colors. The meaning of these additions kept evading him, but he wasn't cross with it. The possible satisfaction of solving her puzzle served to only motivate him into spending the time to figure it out.


 

"I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose." His voice came over the speakers in the room.

"Yup, I bet you are," Luna mumbled, cheek resting against her hand and a pen propped up in the other.

She reviewed the same videos over and over, picking each one apart in detail. It was unnerving to watch Loki act in such a heinous manner. This same person was in her apartment, doing and thinking who knows what. But her goal here was not to persuade herself into betraying him.

He's an alien. An extremely powerful alien, as demonstrated by the videos in question. Bullets didn't affect him, he could jump great distances with ease, and experience near-fatal physical blows only to walk away with barely a scratch. He was an accomplished fighter and a brilliant sorcerer. Where his enemy believed themselves to be ten steps ahead of him, he was twelve steps ahead of everyone else. He exuded physical and mental strength far beyond human comprehension.

Part of her job description was to pick apart Steve's genome, figure out what the super soldier serum did to him at that level, and possibly replicate it under jurisdiction. Comparing genomes from other enhanced Avengers proved to be fruitful at first but soon turned stale. She would have liked to compare his with Bucky's, but she knew she would never be able to lay eyes on him in her lifetime.

What she knew about Steve's genetic coding, she had known from her classes. What she didn't know, she couldn't find out quickly. The scientific documentation from over seventy years ago turned up as destroyed, botched, or falsified. Nothing could be taken seriously, no matter what language it was written in.

Loki seemed to have taken on the part of Luna's muse. He had super strength and stamina, so did Steve. Both are good fighters with a propensity for eternal youth. Both Steve and Bucky had survived fatal falls and frigid temperatures. Maybe Loki could too. They had gone toe-to-toe in Germany, and both got away without any serious injuries.

The physical similarities were too significant to ignore, especially in Luna's desperate situation. Her professional curiosity was getting the better of her, but she had to let it. She couldn't get fired for not doing her job purely because she was stuck. She's always helped herself so she'll do it again.

She scratched at her fingertips. Asking questions was always stressful but asking Loki was a whole new ballpark. The very thought felt like a step over their invisible boundary line. She had always believed that the worst thing someone could say is ‘no,' but there are indeed worse things. If those S.H.I.E.L.D. videos were any proof, Loki had displayed the capability of stabbing someone through the heart and not feeling the least bit sorry about it. He didn't appear to be in that state of mind any longer but to make that assumption so early on would be the end of her.

Maybe she could appeal to Loki's own intellect and innate curiosity. Present it as a challenge like she did to get him to help Tony. Frame her wishes as something he might think of himself. It may even genuinely become his if she played her cards right. He must have desires to know things about himself.

Luna smiled a bit. This whole time she had her mind wrapped around helping Loki until he didn't need her anymore but never had she thought about him helping her out. Even if her hypothesis of genetic similarities turned out to be a dead end like the others, at least she tried. Besides, it would take up her time and energy at work, maybe even challenge her a bit. And she was always one to be up for a challenge.


 

Loki couldn't sit for long in that position on the floor for very long. Luna's bed was better, and he knew that, but, first and foremost, he was sneaky. She had left her bed in a state of disarray, and she may see if he sat there.

He slowly got up to standing, carrying the plush back to its original spot and shoving the book back to where it belonged and walked back into the living room. He might explore some more. Being physically active was as good for the mind as reading.

Above Luna's shelf of movie boxes sat a level full of smaller plastic boxes. Loki picked one up and opened it. It looked similar to one of her movie discs, but they were all of a different design. Accompanying the CD was a booklet full of words and pictures. It looked to him like he had found a set of her music. She was always playing different versions of it and dancing when she thought he wasn't around to notice. She obviously underestimated him, but he would never correct her for fear of calling himself out. He had fun observing her and all of her possessions.

He removed a handful and looked through them. As he read the phrases in the booklets, he felt like he was back to reading poetry in his personal room. This way of making music had changed from the time when he had visited human villages in years long past. Less folksy and more along the lines of moving and emotional. Stories were told that spoke to the listener in ways that mere words could not.

Loki found most to be superficial, tales of love gained and lost. Few moved him to where he wondered what it would sound like alongside the instrumentation. Maybe he has finally found a use for his silvertongue. To ask his flat-mate outright that he wanted to listen to her music would be embarrassing. Loki was good at many things, but open communication was not one of them.

A half-circle of open covers and booklets lay scattered around him. He packed them away as carefully as he could. No point in being sneaky if he would be discovered in the end. A couple of the booklets snagged against the cover corners, but no damage was done. Loki had not lost his delicate touch.

He closed the last one and placed them back from where he got them. He feared they may be out of order, but perhaps Luna wouldn't notice. In the past couple of weeks he had been with her, he hadn't seen her use any of them. His secret inquiries would remain undisclosed for now. He took a seat in front of the shelves and observed his work. Good enough for now.

The door creaked open, causing Loki to scramble into a standing position. Luna greeted him and flashed a bright smile as she hung her jacket on the nearby rack.

"Hey! Did you finish Return of the King?"

"Oh yes, I did. A satisfying conclusion." Loki moseyed on over to her, hands behind his back.

"I think so too," She said in passing, walking on over to her room to change. Once she returned, Loki spoke up.

"I have a query I would like to make."

"Alright. I have one too, but you go first." Luna crossed her arms.

"When were you planning on making a trip to the market?"

"Not until the weekend. Why?"

"I may have found something rotting in the produce." Luna was visibly taken aback.

"What? But they were fresh this morning." She hurried over to the kitchen.

"Food of that kind has a tendency to spoil quickly, I find." She inspected every fruit but found nothing out of the ordinary.

"I don't see anything wrong with any of them. Are you sure?" Loki thought fast.

"Perhaps I misspoke. There was something in the freezer that didn't look proper." Luna opened up the freezer compartment and peered at its content.

"Really? Because everything is-." She stopped herself.

"What? Everything is what?" Was she on to him?

"Loki, did you have some of my ice cream?" Yes, she was. Out of her view, Loki held a clenched fist. She wasn't as easy as he believed her to be.

"No. Why?"

"Because a whole carton is missing and I don't think this apartment is haunted." She knew it was him.

"I may have had a bit."

"Is ‘a bit' Asgardian for the entire container, because if it is, then yes, you had just a bit." She teased him a little. "Loki, it's fine if you enjoyed it. I bought it for that purpose. You can just tell me that you want more and I'll get more if that's the case. Is it, yes or no?" He couldn't answer her right out, but he didn't have to. "I'll take your silence as a yes."

"You had something to ask me as well, right?"

"Oh yeah. Uh, how do I say this?" She wrapped her arms around herself and looked down at the floor. "Have you ever…seen yourself?"

"Myself? We had mirrors in abundance on Asgard."

"Sorry, not yourself as in your reflection. Yourself as in…what you're made of?"

"The content of my character?"

"No, what you're made of on a biological level. The genetic level."

"I've never found cause to wonder."

"But you're thinking about it now?" Luna got as close to Loki as she could without touching him. "Have you ever seen DNA in its raw form or while it's still in the nucleus? Have you ever seen what makes you…you?"

"When you say it like that…no, I never have."

"Would you like to?" Loki stayed quiet. Would he? Never in his life had he considered anything like what she was suggesting.

"Say I wanted to. How would I go about doing so?"

"Come to my lab on Saturday, like you planned. Allow me to take a sample from you: blood, saliva, anything you let me have access to. I'll show you how I stain the cells and look at them under a microscope. What do you say? Are you curious?"

"Very tempting."

"Then give in. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain." Loki circled around and sat on the other side of the island, leaving Luna in the kitchen to stand opposite him.

"Why are you trying to persuade me? What have you to gain?"

"It's quite simple: I'm a scientist. It's in my nature to be curious."

"Thor was on Earth for quite some time. Did you not investigate him?"

"I wasn't able to. He left before I was hired. All I have right now is you, and you are very interesting." Luna leaned against the counter. "So what do you say?"

"Sounds like a fun time."

"Is that a yes I hear?"

"Possibly. I do have one request before I do anything for you."

"Is it freaky?"

"No," Loki laughed. "Your music player. It takes discs similar to the box that plays your movies, correct?"

"Yeah, why? Did you want to listen to my CDs?"

"I simply wish to know how it works." Luna appeared to accept that answer. She walked over to show him.

"It functions in a very similar manner. Take a CD, open this drawer, place it here, and close it. Press this to turn it on and press this to play. These navigate the songs according to the tracklist on the back of the album." Loki followed her hands as they moved over the machine, committing every step to memory. "This is the remote you can use so you can play and pause the music without going up to the stereo itself. I don't use it much, but I like it. That should be about everything there is to it. You got it?"

"Of course. No need to show me twice."

"So do I get a yes on accessing your DNA?"

"I'll be at your work anyway so I suppose so."

"Yay! You won't regret it, I promise."

"I'll hold you to that."

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

"Ok, now do-."

"Don't touch anything. I got it." Luna fiddles with her glasses as Loki takes a seat.

"Good. Now, which arm do you want me to poke at?"

"Does it matter?"

"Alright, fine, I'll pick one." She held her hand out and gestured for his right arm. He lifted it up for her to grab hold of his wrist. As she pulled his sleeve up, she did her best not to stare at the scarring scattered about his skin. "Make a fist. It'll help the vein become more visible." Loki did as she asked, maintaining his clenched hand as she cleaned the crook of his arm and prepped a needle. But she couldn't bring herself to stick him.

"Why do you hesitate?" He asked, keeping eye contact with her. Luna lifted her eyes to meet his.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't hurt me, I give you my word." Loki gave her his typical knowing smile, similar to one she'd seen in the old S.H.I.E.L.D. videos. She let out a sigh and pushed the needle the rest of the way, but no matter how hard she struggled, his skin did not give one bit. Instead, the needle gave way, breaking in half. Luna looked up at him in disbelief.

"Did you know that was going to happen?" Loki continued to display that smile of his. "You did, didn't you?" Loki choked back a laugh. "Well, I guess we'll have to do this the slightly harder way. Sit tight. I'll be right back." Tossing out the needle in the biohazard box, Luna left out the back and walked in the opposite direction of the lounge.

As he waited, Loki sat in semi-silence, save for the whirring of a few nearby machines. He idled the time away, trying to guess where the sounds came from and what purpose the device served. The door clicked open behind him, startling him from his thoughts, making him frantically push his sleeve down.

"Oh hey, Mr. Loki! You're here! Awesome!" Peter's voice resounded, his excitement evident.

"Well, of course. I've upheld my promise. I expect you've upheld yours." Loki's eyes followed Peter as he circled around to put his bag in the cupboard.

"Oh yeah, yeah, I got the things. Just one second." Peter opened his bag and pulled out two worn comic books. Loki eyed him suspiciously.

"You said they were comic books. These aren't books, they're magazines."

"Well, comic books usually look like this, unless you get the big omnibus collection but whatever." Peter stood right next to Loki. "See, this is Superman," Peter flipped to a page inside, "and this is his alter ego, Clark Kent."

"People really can't tell that he's Superman? All he's wearing as a disguise are glasses. He hardly looks any different."

"That's true, but you see, I have this hypothesis. It's not just the glasses that help with the disguise. He plays off of other people's expectations of where Superman would be and what he would be doing. Clark Kent is a journalist, working for a local newspaper company. No one would expect Superman to be doing that."

"I see. Very clever." The sound of Luna's footfalls diverted their attention away from the pictures.

"Hey, Peter! I'm gonna need to borrow Loki real quick, but you can stick around if you like." From her hand, she produced several individually wrapped long cotton swabs. She set them down and reached into a cabinet to grab a box full of microscope slides, removing four and labeling each one. She moved all the supplies over to where Loki sat. "Now open up."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Your mouth. Open, so I can…you know." Loki let his jaw drop, a tad reluctantly at first. Luna held him steady with her free hand under his chin and gently rolled the cotton along the insides of his cheeks. Whatever had collected on the tip, she spread out onto the designated slide. By the last swab, he had relaxed to where he felt like putty in her hands. She released her loose grip on him. "All done. Not so bad, right?"

"So, what are you gonna be doing?" Peter stepped up to her side.

"Well, first, I'm going to douse these," Luna gestured to the slides she was carrying, "with some methanol so the cells won't slide around and it also helps the dye to be able to seep into the cell. This is a bit time-sensitive, so don't go too far." She dipped into the fridge and pulled out a bottle of the substance. Loki got up and walked over to watch her at work. Laying out the slides in a row on a tray, she carefully placed a few drops of liquid onto each one. The tray was carried into the fridge and set in the deepest part of it. Upon returning, she retrieved a digital timer and pressed a few buttons. "Ok, the timer is set. It'll go by fast so you guys can bide the time however you like." Peter tapped Loki on the arm.

"Let's go to the other room. I got more stuff to show you." He pulled his bag from its spot and led Loki from the room, leaving Luna behind.

She grinned once the two had left her line of sight. Letting Loki be with Peter made her antsy, but she knew Peter could hold his own. He was more than strong enough. She only hoped that he didn't have to display any of that strength at some point in time.

She pulled her notebook from her bag and made an entry for that day. She hoped to get some good images of the new cells. She could barely hold the pen in her hand to write her name and date. The mere prospect of seeing xenobiological DNA tantalized her. Every neuron in her body was alight, her brain thinking of the possibilities. This had never been done before, and here she was, doing it.

She took a seat and shook out her hands. Gotta calm down a bit. The work was just beginning, but she could feel the wall blocking her path begin to crumble.

Every lab procedure was written out alongside all the substances needed. Luna glanced at the timer. A minute left to go. She got out her cleaning solution and prepped a secondary tray for the slides to wash.

The timer went off as Luna came out with the slides. She carefully washed each one, making sure not to rub any cells off or drop the things in her hands. Once all were cleaned, she lay them out and selected her desired dyes and made a note of which slide got which dye. It was imperative for each to be colored differently as cells take to dyes differently. The timer was set again for five minutes.

"Hey, Lu, your sugar baby with you?" Tony's voice came through the PA system. Luna groaned softly.

"He's not my…yes, he's here."

"Great. I'm gonna need to take him for a bit if you don't mind."

"Oh no, of course, I mind. Whatever will I do without him?"

"Ten out of ten for that tangible sarcasm." Luna laughed at Tony's deadpan praise.

"Good to know my practice hasn't been in vain. I'll send him down in a bit. Hang loose, boss."

Luna went to check the rest of the contents of the back of the fridge. Everything still where she had put them. No harm in being too careful. The big Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. scandal of 2014 did a number on everyone.

With the timer reading a minute left, Luna made her way to the lounge. Inside, Peter and Loki sat side-by-side, engrossed in whatever content was on Peter's phone.

"So, as you can see, when you cross any dog breed with a Corgi, you just get the Corgi version of that breed."

"Fascinating." Luna's knock-knock on the doorframe diverted their attention.

"Hey you two, time's almost up." Luna held up the timer as it made its alarm sound. Peter got up and gestured for Loki to follow.

"This is gonna be so cool! I've never seen actual cells dyed before, like, in front of me! I wonder what they'll look like. What do you think, Loki?"

"I believe they will look exquisite, young one," Loki said, with a hint of pride in his voice. Entering the lab again, Luna handed each of them a pair of rubber gloves.

"Put those on so you can touch things," Luna said while opening a bottle of distilled water. "I just need to wash the excess dye off, and then we can look at them." She smiled widely, gently rinsing the slides and placing a coverslip atop each one. "Ok, first one." She carried one over to the bench supporting a microscope. The machine was turned on and the slide fitted into its designated spot. Luna let out a sigh and looked through the scope. Nothing much there. She upped the magnification. A little something appeared. It was magnified once more. She fine-focused and moved the slide around until her treasure showed itself. "Hello, you." She pressed a button on the side, snapping a picture and sending it up to the projection screen.

"Woah, that's so cool!" Peter exclaimed, taking the opportunity to have a glimpse inside the microscope once Luna had stood up.

"Yes, it is indeed." Loki was impressed. He had seen enough of Luna's textbook to know on a top level what he was looking at but nothing could have prepared him for viewing his own cells before him in a colorized fashion.

"See that dot right there?" Luna pointed to the dark spot in the middle of an opaque blue blob. "That's your nucleus. That holds everything that makes you, you."

"How come it's blue?" Loki wondered aloud.

"That's from the dye. I have red ones if you want to look at those. Every dye is finicky, but I find I have the most luck with the blue." What a coincidence that was. "Oh, before I forget, Tony asked for you, so you better get down there before he blows something up for science."

"You're helping Mr. Stark with something?" Peter said, at Loki's side once again. "What is it? Is it cool? Or is it a secret? You can tell me anyway. I'm good at keeping secrets."

"He's assisting Tony in the dismantlement of the spaceship he came in." Luna sat back by the microscope, switching out the slide for one dyed in red.

"A spaceship?! Awesome! Wait, is there anything super explosive on it? Like, stuff that reacts violently to radiation?"

"Sounds like you've had experience with this before." Loki almost had him caught. Peter needed to backtrack and fast.

"Uh, yeah, well, kind of. Mr. Stark needed my help with some work he was doing last year, and that's pretty much why I'm here now." Peter gave a breathy laugh, his nerves a little on edge.

"Why you're…with her?" Loki pointed over to where Luna was. Peter wondered for a bit on what he meant.

"I'm trying different things out. I'm still sixteen, so I don't have everything in my life figured out just yet." Luna could sense how Peter was feeling and came to his rescue.

"Peter, how about you join Tony? I have a feeling you just might like what you'll see."

"Really? Will you be ok here?"

"Remember this is my lab? I'll be perfectly fine. I need to start isolating some DNA anyway, and I don't want to bore you with the details so go have your own science-y fun."

"Wow, thanks! See you later!" And with that, Peter was out the door. Loki started after him but was stopped by Luna's hand on his sleeve. She shoved a test tube in front of him.

"Here, spit in this."

"You need more from me?"

"When you've been doing this kind of science for as long as I have, you learn that you can benefit from having more than enough. So yes, I need more so I can gather your raw DNA."

"But it's right there." Loki pointed at the screen, still showing the picture of his cell.

"That's just a picture of what's holding your DNA. I know how to crack open the cell and get the DNA inside. Trust me when I say that is definitely something you want to see."

"Well, alright." He took the tube and turned his back to her to do as she requested. He felt a tad undignified, but no one had to know. He accomplished his task and handed the tube back to her.

"Thank you, Loki. Now you may go." She smiled contentedly at him as she placed a cap on top. He sent her a slight nod with his head and left for downstairs. Her eyes followed him until he was out of sight and lifted the tube up to her eye level. "Now, let's see what else you got to show me."

Loki walked through the garage door to be greeted by the sound of Peter's excited voice chattering away to Tony. Peter caught sight of Loki advancing slowly towards them and decided to throw a greeting to him.

"Mr. Loki, your ship is really cool! I say a lot of things are cool, but that ship is really cool!"

"I'm glad you think so."

"Mr. Stark says it's all out of fuel. Does that mean you're kinda stuck here?"

"For now, yes."

"Oh man, no magic and you're stuck? That's awful."

"No magic, you say?" Tony joined the duo on their stroll over to the ship. "How in the world could anyone accomplish bringing down the mighty god Loki?" Loki sent a death glare in Tony's direction.

"You know I don't stay down for very long, Stark."

"Yeah, you really don't. Hey kid, run along and open the most recent file of the craft schematic. You'll know it when you see it."

"On it, Mr. Stark!" Peter ran off, leaving the two alone to their staring contest. Tony took a step closer to Loki and looked him square in the eye.

"Listen here, you get the privilege of me being nice only because she's here," Tony pointed to the ceiling, "but if you even think of laying a hand on him," he pointed over to Peter, "there won't be anyone in the universe to stop me from making the nice Hulk smash you got seem like a daydream."

"I do not doubt your wrath."

"Good. Now, let's get to work, shall we?"

"After you."


 

"Come on, come on, show me the money," Luna whispered to the Erlenmeyer flask she gently swirled in her hand. After adding the appropriate amounts of alcohol, buffer, and water, the DNA should have shown itself. But, so far, nothing. Loki's cells were resilient, that much was clear. All it needed was time and Luna had plenty of it for this. She put the flask down and got a glass rod stirrer. Maybe that'll help. "Calculate the entropy, running out of energy," she sang along to her music. How long had she been moving the liquid for? About two songs? Felt like two hundred. She let out a huff. It never took this long before.

But wait, lo and behold, what was that?

A white stringy substance slowly formed in the container. Luna perked up a bit and stirred the liquid with a renewed fervor. More of the white strings showed up, taking up the space that was once clear. She moved the rod around to gather up the strands.

"Well, aren't you beautiful?" she said fondly as she admired the substance. There it was, Loki's DNA out for the world to see, or rather, only her and a choice few. It didn't matter. Luna got her prize of the day.

She pulled out some tape and wrote "RePri DNA" on a piece with her pen, standing for Refugee Prince. A temporary codename. The raw DNA was pipetted into a large test tube and labeled with the tape. Luna made a note of everything she did down to the smallest detail. Can never be too careful at this point. She couldn't lose what she gained.

Once the tube was safely in the fridge, she let out a sigh of relief. She would leave its analysis for another day. The entire process took a while, and she didn't have the whole day to do that, but there was enough time to squeeze in a quick workout.

Luna changed in the barren locker room and stepped into the private Avengers rec room. She had never been so happy to have gotten lost somewhere than the day she had gone the wrong way and exercised in the wrong gym.

Nowadays, almost no one ever came in, save her, Peter, and Tony on occasion. Rhodey had used it during his physical therapy sessions, but he elected to use the regular one instead. This one must bring back too many memories for him. Luna could relate. The mannequins Natasha used for practice sat untouched, as did the many punching bags Steve used.

As a momentary distraction, Luna queued up her workout playlist and started with a little Led Zeppelin. "Ramble On" seemed an excellent song to warm-up to. She stretched a bit on her mat, occasionally checking her form in the mirror, and got on a treadmill. All on her lonesome, there was no shame in jamming out to every song. It made working out more fun.

In the shower, her stomach made a cacophony of hungry noises, as it always did after an exercise period. If her body was this desperate for nourishment, she figured the guys must be as well. Since no one was looking for her in the lounge or in her lab, she left with the perfect late lunch in mind.


 

Loki sat at the Commodore's console, listening to Peter's scampered footfalls on the roof, and the buzzing of Tony's saw on the underside. For every piece of siding Tony removed, a new spot on the ship hologram lit up, and for every emergency signal, Loki had to override it.  Tony could have taught one of his many AIs to read the alien language embedded in the ship, but getting Loki to do it saved time and the extra energy Tony would have spent.

"Hey Mr. Loki, what does this do?" Peter popped into view from the windshield, upside-down and holding a part of the spacecraft.

"That part," Loki pressed a few buttons, "is what transmits a distress signal."

"Oh…should I put it back?"

"No need. There isn't anyone to call." Loki wondered how Peter got up there so easily but brushed the thought aside for later. A light whistle from the outside drew his attention.

"Looking good, boss!" Luna had come for a visit, and she did not appear empty-handed. On a semi-cleared table, she placed a bag and a couple boxes.

"So nice of you to join us, Baby Driver," Tony greeted her, making her eyes grow wide.

"You finally saw it?!" She ran over to where Tony and Peter were now standing.

"Oh yeah. The kid insisted."

"You!" Luna pointed to Peter. "Thank you! And for that…" she ran back to the table and picked up one of the boxes. "Back at it again with the Krispy Kreme!"

"Oh my god, are you gonna backflip now?" Peter said, meeting her in the middle and taking the box from her hands.

"I would, but there's no sign for me to backflip into."

"You know what that's about?" Loki said, jumping down from the ship and standing by Tony.

"You got me, big fella." Peter ran over to the table and opened the bigger box.

"You got the good pizza! Yes!"

"Only the best for my favorite guys in the world. Now, let's dig into this before it gets cold. I didn't almost violate a few traffic laws for nothing."

"Pizza this good is worth breaking the law for," Tony said, clearing off the excess items from the table and pulling up a chair.

"You got that right." Luna set four places and distributed equal portions onto each plate. She took a sip from her cup and noticed the empty spot next to her. Loki was still standing where Tony had left him, shifting around as if he couldn't decide whether to join the group or go off somewhere else. Luna took it upon herself to make the decision for him. She got up and took hold of his wrist, leading him to the table. "Have you ever had pizza before?"

"Not that I recall." Loki sat down and eyed the contents of his place setting. Peter put his slice down and spoke up.

"This is your first time having pizza? Well, you're in luck because this is the best kind in all of New York! I mean, I haven't actually tried all the places, so I can't say for sure, but this is my favorite."

"Well, kid, we'll just have to try every place." Tony smiled at him and sipped his drink.

"So, what have you guys been up to till now?" Luna asked openly. Peter finished his first pizza slice to answer her. Whatever he was saying was drowned out by the swirling thoughts in Loki's head.

He couldn't help but notice many parallels between his current situation and the one Thor went through about six years prior. Stuck on earth, powerless, allied with a scientist and her intern, and tolerated by their aged mentor. What an ironic coincidence.

During his banishment, Thor's heart grew to be very tender. Loki remembered despising him for it. He had found it weak. Tenderness left one vulnerable to those wanting to take advantage and to the pain of losing loved ones. Loki had warned Thor against pursuing a relationship with that human, Jane Foster. Her life is a mere blink of an eye within the lifespan of an Asgardian. Her eventual death would have only given him a heartbreak he could have avoided. Humans were never appropriate for the gods to fall for but fall for them they did. But not Loki. Never Loki. He never fell. Not for anyone. He knew better than the rest of his so-called friends and family. And he still did.

Loki couldn't trust anyone, not entirely anyway. It would do no more good for him than for the people surrounding him at this very moment. In the end, Thanos would come for him, and he would involve the Avengers at the right time, but for now, he had pizza to enjoy.

Chapter Text

Vine referenced in the last chapter.

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Sundays were dull, to say the least. Both before Loki's arrival and afterward. It was reserved for cleaning, relaxing, and trying not to think about the gradual collapse of society.

Vacuuming happened to be the big ticket item of the day. Loki lay on the couch, a new story in hand, utterly unbothered by the activity of his companion. He had long since grown accustomed to maids busying about his room at any hour of the day, whether or not he was occupying it.

Soon enough, the boisterous machine ceased its commotion. Luna stretched her back and grabbed Loki's empty mug off the coffee table. The whistle of the tea kettle notified Loki to her intentions. She brought it back to him, refilled with the jasmine tea he had served himself earlier. She carried one as well, heading to the armchair by the wall and setting it on the side table there. She left momentarily and returned with a few new things. Loki peered at her over the top of his book. He hadn't seen those items before during his adventures in her room.

Luna took her seat in the armchair, getting as comfortable as she could. Being courteous to Loki's presence, she put her headphones on to listen to her music. No need to disturb him further. From the pouch at her side, she pulled out a pencil and eraser and opened the book in her lap to the most recently used page. From her phone, she selected the picture she was working with and started her music.

In this space she created, she was safe. Safe from judgment, bad memories, negativity, pain. The beautiful face on the page helped a lot. Swim Deep's "Honey" filled her heart with sunshine and set the pace for the project in front of her. Luna's pencil moved gently over the surface, her eyes glancing from the image on her phone to the one on the paper, erasing botched lines as needed. The forms being beckoned onto the page looked more and more real with each pencil stroke. It inched closer and closer to being finished.

Loki had been eyeing Luna on and off for the past several minutes. The headphones were new. She never used those around him before. She never shied away from playing her music out loud for him to hear so why now? And the book she was writing in. What did she use it for? Loki had an idea but no way to prove it other than to look.

He took a bold step and walked up to her. Her eyes remained downcast. She hadn't noticed him yet. He peered at the upside-down page and what he saw confirmed his hunch. She was indeed drawing something, or rather, someone. It was no one he recognized off the top of his head. The longer he looked, the more he racked his brain for answers. His train of thought was interrupted when the book was covered, obscuring his view. Luna had finally noticed him. Her slightly offended expression was evidence enough. She removed her headphones and hugged the book to her chest.

"What are you doing?" Loki asked. He already knew, but he wanted to see what she would say.

"Refining a sketch, and no, you may not look at it. It's still a work in progress."

"Who said I wanted to look?"

"You like to look at everything. Why would this be any different?"

"Who are you drawing?" Luna paused before answering.

"Nobody." Lies.

"It can't be nobody if you're drawing them."

"Well, it is. I just think they have a nice face." Her reply did little to convince Loki. He knew a bad lie when he heard one. He didn't pry any further, pretending to accept her response. "Weren't you doing some reading?"

"Yes, I was." Loki slowly walked back to his original spot, Luna's eyes trained on him. He found it adorable how it looked as if she was trying to send daggers in his direction with only her gaze. If looks could kill, hers may sting a little.

Once he was seated, she slipped her headphones back on and continued her activity. Loki continued to look over from time to time. Luna set her gaze off the edge of the page for a bit. The frequency with which she moved her hand grew less and less. She observed the culmination of her efforts and was happy with it.

"Hey Loki, what day is it today?" Luna said, signing the bottom.

"First of October," he replied, not taking his eyes off of his book. Luna gasped excitedly and wrote the date down before standing up.

"Really?! Loki, it's the first day of Halloween!" That got his attention.

"You must be mistaken. Your All Hallows Eve has always been at the end of the month."

"No, no. In this house, Halloween is celebrated all month long. Oh, are you ever in for a spooky time." She left for a brief moment to put her things back in her room. Once back in the room, she shooed her hands to get him to move so she could sit beside him on the couch. "I have to ask, though: you're not a guy that scares easily, are you?"

"I have looked death in the face more than once and come back from it every time. Very little frightens me." Luna clapped her hands together once and smiled widely.

"Good." She got up and crouched down to search through her movies.

"Why do you ask?"

"Because, for every night of October, I watch one scary movie. And since you're staying here, you get to be my first viewing partner." Luna spoke, not bothering to look away from her task.

"Lucky me," Loki mumbled to himself. However, Luna heard him clearly enough.

"You got that right," she said back in a deadpan manner. "So, what was Halloween like on Asgard, if you had anything like that at all?"

"We had our own celebration of sorts, yes. We called it Winter Nights."

"‘Winter Nights'?" She scooched over and sat near him on the floor. "A little pretty for a time to think about the dead."

"It was never intended to be grim. For the Norse folk, death was never far away. For humans, the time was used to honor the gods as well as their ancestors. The weakest animals were slain to mark the end of the harvest and offerings were left to appease the spirits."

"Sounds a little like the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos."

"Yes. Not as colorful, but yes."

"And what did you do, you know, as the gods in this story?"

"I personally didn't take part in the festivities. My father would take what was left out for him, and the dearly departed and bring them back to Asgard for our own feast for the spirits."

"What did you do, personally?" Loki raised his eyebrows.

"What do you think I did?"

"Oh, I don't know, something mischievous?" Luna shrugged her shoulders in an exaggerated manner.

"Wherever would you get that idea?" Loki said, his voice filled with sarcasm.

"I honestly have no clue." Luna mimicked him, the two of them laughing a little.

"I tended to visit the villages celebrating Samhain and trick those that wouldn't produce anything."

"And what would you do if you did get something?"

"I would take my spoils back with me and hide them in my room. Depending on where I went, I would get so much that I wouldn't have to go to the dining hall for an entire week."

"To get that much, you must have been a total sweetheart."

"If by ‘sweetheart,' you mean that during a previous visit, I turned all of the furniture in a minister's house into woodland creatures when he refused to give me a sweet roll, then yes, I was the best."

"Well, he had it coming."

"Indeed he did if he thought he could deny me treats that evening."

"But it made for a good story."

"If you think that's good, I have plenty more."

"Well then, I'll just hold you to telling me every single story you have." Luna stood and walked to the side table to retrieve her tea. She took a sip and sat in the empty space on the couch beside Loki, folding her legs and hugging them to her chest. "Tell me another?" Loki smiled to himself and thought for a few seconds, always the eager storyteller.

"What Samhain folklore do you know of?"

"Not very much, to be honest."

"Do you know of the lore surrounding the tradition to not eat any fruit the day after?"

"No, I don't. I imagine you have something to do with it?" Loki moved his head in a ‘well, sort of' manner.

"Of sorts, yes."

"Uh huh, and…" Luna moved her free hand in a forward motion as if she was trying to beckon the rest of the tale out of him.

"One of those nights, when my father was away collecting offerings and my mother and brother were attending the feast in the palace, I had snuck away as per usual. I brought my horse, Kol, with me and visited a new village. The bread presented were fair. I shared some with Kol as he had not been fed much that day. The rewards were sparse, so I was prepping to ride over to the nearest village when I noticed many of the fruit loaves had spoiled and made Kol unwell. I had paid no mind as to who had given me the bad ones, but it didn't matter in the end. As punishment, I placed a spell on the crops where if anyone ate of it within the next 24 hours, they would find it all to be bad, as were the loaves I was given." Luna spoke softly when Loki gave pause.

"What did you do after? Did you go to the next village?"

"No, Kol was too sick to ride, so I took him back to the stables on Asgard."

"Was he ok? You know, did he heal alright?"

"Oh yes. I had a healer make a cleansing potion. He was right as rain the following day." Luna let out an audible exhale, placing a hand on her chest.

"That's fantastic. And for the tradition to stick, did you go back year after year?"

"I believe it shocked them so much that they didn't dare touch their crops on All Saints Day since then. There were also stories about a black horse with red eyes that would steal you away into the night if you attempted to ride it and made all the berries sordid."

"Someone must have seen you both."

"Possibly. Kol's eyes were rather bloodshot at that time."

"Did anyone notice that you were gone?"

"No, no one ever noticed. I am the god of mischief. It's in my nature to be wily." Luna nodded and laughed softly. "So how did you like that story?"

"Oh, I loved it. They deserved it for making you and your horse sick."

"Displeasing a god in such a manner should never go unpunished."

"Yup." Luna raised her cup in cheers to him and drank the last of its contents. Loki reached for his and did the same.

"Speaking of stories, which one of your films is first? There are 31 to be seen, correct?"

"Oh right, yeah." Luna padded back over to her bookshelf to sift through the DVDs. "I was going to go with ‘Night of the Living Dead' for the first one, as it is a timeless classic, but since you don't scare easily, I might break you in a bit with ‘The Shining.' Also a classic." She pulled the disk box out and showed it to Loki.

"'The Shining'? That doesn't sound frightening whatsoever."

"That's because you've never seen it before." She placed it on the coffee table. "Freaks me out a little every time I see it, and I've seen it a lot." She plopped down beside him once more. "But since you, Mr. Loki, don't scare easily, you should be just fine."

"That sounds vaguely threatening."

"Perhaps. Depends on how creeped out you get." Luna got up and walked to the kitchen.

"And where are you off to now?" Loki stood to follow.

"Kitchen, obviously. Gotta start prepping some dinner. The earlier you eat, the better."

"Says you," Loki said, leaning against the doorframe to the kitchen and crossing his arms.

"Oh, yes, says I," Luna retorted with a broad smile.

"So, what's for tonight?"

"I'm not sure yet. I know you haven't been here long, but what have you liked that I've made?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes, please."

"Everything except plantain."

"Yeah, it can be a little weird." Luna stood and surveyed her array of vegetables on the counter. "Would you be amenable to trying spaghetti squash? I haven't made it in a while, but the one we have is ready to be used." Loki shrugged a bit.

"What's one more new thing?"

"That's the spirit." Luna grinned and picked up the large vegetable and gave it a fast wash in the sink. Satisfied with its appearance, she took out a cutting board and large kitchen knife. She set the squash on the board and made to cut it but stopped just as the knife's edge touched the rind. "Oh, now I remember why I always shy away from making it."

"Why?"

"It's terrifying to cut in half." She maneuvered the knife's edge and point over the top of the vegetable but the courage to make the first cut never showed up. Luna set the knife down and looked over to Loki. "Hey, you're really strong, right? Like your brother?"

"Well, yes." Luna picked the knife back up and directed the handle towards him.

"Would you please?"

"Do you really think it is wise to trust me with a knife?" Loki said, slowly taking the handle in grasp as Luna released it from hers. She put both her fists on her hips and looked him in the eye.

"Listen, I know very well that you are fully capable of shanking me at any time, but I'm pretty sure you won't if you want some nice home-cooked spaghetti squash and not cheap prison food or, worse, nothing at all."

"Fair enough. Well, step back." Luna did as he asked, making way for him to approach the cutting board.

Loki had used knives for many things but never for food preparation. But what was the difference between a vegetable and the body of one of his enemies? With his opposite hand, he held the top of the squash and placed the sharp knife point to the middle, getting a good grip on the handle. He inhaled sharply and drove the knife through to the other side. He changed the orientation of his hands and pulled the knife down, cutting the squash right down the middle. He heard Luna gasp lightly, making him smirk a little. Removing the blade slowly from between the newly-formed halves, he lay in down next to them and lay his hands out, palms up, presenting his handiwork to her.

"Thank you so much. I would have struggled with that for about a half an hour and nearly lost a finger in the process." She separated the halves a little more and began to scoop out the seeds.

"I'm glad to be of service." They gave each other a little smile. Luna continued to talk as she moved about the small area.

"Now, what kind of sauce or whatever would you like with it?"

"What do you have the resources for?"

"Pasta sauce, it is." She covered each half with foil and pre-heated the oven, placing the halves inside preemptively and setting a timer. "Ok, this won't be done for a while, so how do you feel like passing the time?" Loki opened his mouth to speak, but Luna beat him to it. "And don't suggest anything weird. I don't know you like that." He chuckled a little.

"Of course. How about more of your Midgard current events?"

"Really? You want to watch that?"

"Yes. Your government set-up in very entertaining to observe."

"Yeah, for you, maybe." However reluctant, Luna switched the television on to the news and left it. Loki made himself comfortable while Luna stayed occupied in the kitchen, washing some grapes to snack on.

She hated the news with a passion. It was never a fun time, by itself and even more so when it was brought into her home. It was clear to her why Loki would like it. She held out hope that he would only see it as entertainment and nothing more. She was never one to stay calm for long during arguments.

Grapes in tow, she sat beside Loki once more, taking one of the small fruits for herself before handing the bowl over to him. Their attention stayed trained to the screen and the voice of the anchor relaying information on recent efforts for hurricane relief.

"You seem to have a great many natural disasters in this modern age," Loki spoke during a commercial break.

"Yup. That's mother nature's way of telling us humans to stop polluting." Luna said, taking another grape.

"How come the Avengers aren't in the midst of it? Surely the combined help from them and Stark's wealth would fix the problem at hand." He plucked two grapes from the large stem.

"Yeah, about that…" He didn't know about any of the events from the past 5 years. Once more, Luna was between a rock and a hard place. "They…arenot allowed."

"Not allowed? People are in need of help."

"They can't make independent decisions anymore. If it were still solely up to them, they would be pulling out all the stops."

"Under whose orders?"

"The government. The top-of-the-top people that control the military, aid services, whatever."

"So unlike them to follow anyone's rules besides their own." Loki turned the stem over, having already cleared an entire side of the bunch.

"Yeah, well, they aren't keen on being locked up in a super-max prison with no way of contacting the outside world." Loki nodded. He knew what that felt like.

"And whose rules are they following now?"

"Can't tell you what I don't know."

"Do you know what your government calls this?" He gestured towards the screen, the commercial break long over.

"Oh yeah, they call it their ‘best.'" Luna made quotation marks around her last word, taking a few more grapes from the bowl.

"Well, their best is terrible." She laughed at Loki's remark, delighted that he at least agreed with her on this.

"And what would you do in this situation, Prince Loki?"

"Take the best rescue vessels available, go there myself, and take every person out before sending workers to start clean-up and repairs."

"You sound very sure of yourself."

"Of course. I've done a form of it before, and it worked quite well."

"With the Asgardians?"

"Who else would I help?"

"Well, Savior of Asgard, it seems we have finished all the grapes between the two of us. The squash should be done soon, so I'll go attend to that."

Luna took the empty dish and tossed out the bare stems. She filled up two water glasses and brought them back to the couch, handing one to Loki and setting the other in front of her spot. The timer dinged, summoning her back into the kitchen. The contents of the oven sat on the rack inside, mocking her with their hot temperatures. She grabbed two pot holders and reached for two halves, carefully setting each one on the cutting board. With the foil removed, she took a fork to test the insides. Seeing as they were soft enough, she took out a pan to start to the sauce.

"How come it's called spaghetti squash? It doesn't look like it." Loki called to her, once again leaning against the counter.

"Once it's cool enough, I'll show you." Luna moved the squash halves to cut up onions and garlic to sauté with olive oil.

Bottle after bottle of herbs and spices were plucked from a nearby cabinet and sprinkled into the sizzling oil. If Loki didn't know any better, he would have claimed her to be a green witch fixing up a potion for a customer. The scent wafting his direction was enticing, perhaps even bewitching. She dashed in another liquid and some chopped tomatoes, stirring the ingredients together and covering the pan to let it simmer. Her attention returned to the squash. She took the test fork and one of the halves and made a ‘come hither' motion with her other hand. Loki joined her by her side and watched as she pressed the fork into the soft inside, pulling up strands instead of mush. His eyes stayed trained to the sight before him, causing him to miss the amused grin on Luna's face.

"Sorcery," Loki muttered.

"Yeah, of sorts." Once finished scraping up the contents, Luna lifted the pan cover and scooped everything in. "Ok, this is going to be done any minute now, so you can go ahead and set up the movie if you like." Loki did as she suggested, eager to dine on the new concoction in the pan.

The menu screen played on the screen as he got himself comfortable, sipping on his water. Luna entered his periphery, carrying two bowls full of her creation. She sat in the empty space beside Loki, handed him a bowl, and pressed play. Loki took his first taste. It was indeed as good as he had hoped.

"Where did you learn to do all this?" He asked, eerie music playing just underneath his voice.

"My mom. She's been cooking since she was ten but she got me started even younger than that." Luna tasted hers and sighed contentedly. "She always said that knowing how to make your own food was a life skill."

"Wise lady."

"Yeah," Luna whispered. Loki crinkled his brow, expecting her to gush over a compliment directed towards her mother. He ignored it, settling for enjoying his meal and story.

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

"I gotta be careful, I gotta be careful, ooh I've really gotta be careful, or I'm going to mess everything up before I've even done anything," Luna sang to herself to ease her anxious nerves.

The tube full of Loki's DNA sat in a rack on her desk, reheating via the temperature of the room. Keeping track of the time, she busied herself with taking mandatory inventory and cleaning any available surfaces. Five minutes pass by, then ten, then twenty. She knew the hot plate would have gotten the job done a lot faster, but the risk of denaturing the proteins and losing the DNA wasn't a pleasant thought. Luna could spare the extra time if it meant preserving the sample. Besides, she was getting paid for it.

Thawing seemed to go at a snail's pace. Perhaps this was a result of it being of alien origin? Maybe, maybe not. To know for sure, Luna would need another alien. Too bad those were exceptionally hard to come by, especially those willing to participate in a scientific study. Her daily notebook entry was filling up fast with hypotheses and possible paths forward, an entire page already littered with multicolored scribbles.

Luna's lower back and neck ached from being seated for so long. It was tiring to sit on an uncomfortable stool and stare at the numbers of a digital thermometer slowly crawl to the desired temperature. She took her gloves and glasses off and rubbed her eyes. This stage of experimentation always reminded her of undergrad lab classes. She put her gloves back on, glanced over at the thermometer numbers, and wrote it down along with the current time. It was times like these that she remembered the wise words of her many professors as well as Adam Savage: the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down. In this case, the screwing around was staring at the wall for several minutes at a time and taking short notes when those several minutes were up.

Song after song, she went through what felt like most of her playlist, and yet, time seemed to pass slower and slower. It was difficult to resist nodding off, even while in a backless chair. To fight off the desire to doze, Luna thought about what Loki was up to. Were there enough leftovers for him if he wanted any? Was he as bored as she was right now? Would he remember that he shouldn't put tin foil in the microwave? Probably, but he might just do it anyway. As perceptive as she was, Loki remained unpredictably predictable.

Luna took another look at the thermometer. It was closer to the desired temperature but not quite yet. She wrote down the number next to the current time, and, for good measure, picked up the tube and gave it a few taps. The DNA portion would have to be resuspended with buffer solution, but overall, it was nearly all thawed out. Maybe one or two more songs and she'll check again. She swayed in her seat to the song currently filling up the lab. An oldie but a goodie. One from her childhood days spent listening to Bob Dylan while on the way to middle school. The innocence and carefreeness of life back then were enviable.

Deep in thought, wondering if her dad had brushed her hair one day in March seventeen years ago, a trio of sharp knocks pulled her back to the present. She braced her hands on the table edge and stood up slowly.

"This ain't heaven, but who's knock-knock-knockin' on my door?" Luna muttered, reaching for the door and opening it.

"Hello, Ms. Fields. How has your day been going?" A smooth voice spoke once the door was open all the way. Luna gave her new visitor a bright smile.

"To be honest, a little boring until about five seconds ago."

"And why would that be?"

"Because the stunning visage of Ms. Pepper Potts has now graced my doorway."

"Oh please, no need to flatter me." Pepper grinned, waving her hand to brush off the comment.

"Not flattery, Ms. Potts, the truth. I really am very pleased to see you, super boss."

"And that nickname. You know you can call me Pepper."

"I do call you Pepper, but only when I'm talking about you to other people that I'm fond of. Besides, I call your fiancé ‘boss,' so, by default, you're ‘super boss.'" Luna ambled back further into her lab, leaving the door open for Pepper to follow.

"Alright, I'll take it." Luna faced Pepper, leaning on the desk upon which the DNA rack sat.

"So what's brought you to the compound on this nice October day? If you can't tell me, I won't force you."

"It's not all confidential. Some wedding planning ideas I wanted to run by Tony before I forgot, plus some company stuff that is confidential but you know how these things can be."

"Do I ever, but you are an intelligent woman so I'm sure there isn't anything you can't figure out, especially with your equally-intelligent fiancé by your side." Pepper looked down at her feet and chuckled, doing her best to hide her bashfulness.

"Enough about me. Tell me, if you can, what boring thing you were doing before I walked in. I could use a little boring right now."

"Waiting for some DNA to thaw out before I put it into the MicroFluid machine." Luna paused, glancing at the tube by her side. "And it should be thawed out by now, so just wait a second, if you will." She wrote the current time down as well as the temperature on the thermometer.

"Of course, Lu. May I sit? These heels are killing me."

"Oh yeah, sure. Just don't touch anything without gloves. I don't want you to accidentally come in contact with nuclease." Luna picked the tube up and tapped it, causing the solution to finally shift around inside.

"Do I even want to know what that does?" Pepper asked once she was comfortably seated with her agenda folder held secure on her lap.

"Well, to put it as plainly as I can, it cuts up DNA into tiny little pieces and trust me when I say you do not want that to happen inside your body." Fitting the micropipette with a fresh tip, she transferred a small amount of buffer into the tube and swirled it gently.

"Then I will definitely keep my hands to myself." Luna adjusted the measurement dial and pulled two microliters – a drop's worth – from the tube. With a steady hand, she carried it to the MicroFluid machine, lifted the top panel, and carefully placed the single drop in the middle of the glass square. Closing it back, her sample sitting safely inside, she turned the machine on and set it to analyze and sequence.

"Ok, the DNA is in the machine. It should take about an hour or so to do its job." Luna picked the tube back up, capped it, and put it in the back of the walk-in fridge.

"Wow, what will you do to pass the time?"

"I was going to head up to see Tony for our lab meeting."

"Oh, that's great! I'd love to have an elevator buddy."

"It would be my honor, Ms. Potts. FRIDAY, is Tony ready for our meeting yet?"

"Yes. Mr. Stark is in his lab." Luna pulled her gloves off and gestured to the front door.

"Shall we go?"

"After you." The two women exited out the front door instead of the back. Luna loved her back staircase, but for the sake of Pepper's heel-clad feet, they rode the elevator. The journey gave them a view of the compound's beautiful outside. "So did anything come of that supposed-new quinjet Tony made and got nailed for by Ross? He hasn't talked to me about it at all," Pepper spoke, breaking the comfortable silence.

"Oh yeah, he decided against the design and is using the parts for something else, whatever that something else is gonna be," Luna replied. Only a half-lie.

"He's always full of surprises."

"He sure is, particularly more so with a little bit of spice in his life." Luna shot Pepper an amused grin, making the two giggle.

"Wow, that was a good one."

"Just your daily reminder that I'm hilarious," Luna smirked a little.

The elevator stopped and slid open its doors. Pepper led the way to her fiancé's lab, waving hello to and smiling at everyone she made eye-contact with. She was a vision of grace and power, hair silky and fitted to perfection in a suit that probably cost more than an entire year at Luna's university.

Stopping in front of Tony's lab door, Pepper typed in the entry code and placed her hand on the bio-scanner. The lock clicked open, and she stepped inside with Luna close behind. The click-click of Pepper's footsteps caught Tony's attention, making him look in their direction and flash a beautiful smile.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't Baby and honey." Luna slowed to a stop not far from him and quirked an eyebrow.

"Is that really gonna be your nickname for me from now on?" She said, crossing her arms.

"Until a better one comes along, yes."

"Baby as in ‘Dirty Dancing' or Baby as in ‘Baby Driver'?" Pepper chipped in.

"The latter," Luna replied to her.

"Wait, there are two Baby's?" Tony looked between the two ladies in his life.

"You really need to watch more movies," Luna chuckled.

"The kid tell you that?"

"He didn't have to."

"So what brings you both to my humble part-time abode?"

"For me, a lab meeting," Luna said, pointing to herself.

"And for me, wedding details," Pepper said, holding up the folder she had been carrying since she left her office. Tony snapped his fingers and pointed to Luna.

"Ok, Fields, in one sentence, tell me what you're doing right now."

"Sequencing some new DNA."

"Perfect." Tony clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Now, Ms. Potts, what surprises do you have for me today?"

"I was narrowing down the decisions for the flower arrangements as well as the chair décor, and I can't decide if it should match, contrast, or compliment." Tony picked up a paper listing various floral arrangements and companies.

"Did you have your eye on a specific flower or color? I know how you love chrysanthemums."

"I really do, but all the colors and selections don't sit right with me."

"And you chose to recruit little ol' me in the decision-making process. I'm honored." Tony bumped Pepper's elbow with his.

"Well, you are the husband here." They smiled and leaned in, giving the other a kiss as if it was the most casual thing they've ever done. It probably was. Looking at this happy couple planning their wedding ceremony, anyone would be tricked into believing they were the only two people in the world. And that's precisely what Luna thought, having stood momentarily forgotten by them.

It was moments like these where she envied those in love. She was content being alone, but there were times when she craved the feeling of being in love, despite not ever experiencing it. Dates in high school were boring, every past boyfriend were disasters of people, girlfriends were nonexistent, and university gave her no reasons to try anything with anyone. And as tempting as her super attractive former superhero colleagues were, a chance with at least one of them had never been possible and was never going to be.

Research sessions with Steve consisted of him confessing his feelings about this, that, and any other thing he felt comfortable sharing. Luna's listening ear and patience was everything he needed. Wanda had had her eyes set on Vision since the first moment she saw him. As weird as it was, they had a special connection, and they made each other happy. Natasha was, well, Natasha. Always emotionally reserved. As for Sam and Rhodey, their priorities and hearts lay elsewhere.

Luna respected and was cordial with all of them. They all lacked something and made up for in the best way they knew how. Some were better at it than others, but there was no lack of trying.

With each minute that crept by, Luna felt more and more like the invisible third wheel. Nothing new, of course, but if she wasn't needed, she wasn't needed.

"Ok, well, I'm just, I'm just gonna go. I got lunch to have and work to do," Luna called out to Tony and Pepper, interrupting their conversation. From the couple, resounding farewells spilled out. Luna didn't know who to say bye to first, so she gave a general valediction to both, and with smiles and waves all around, she left for her own lab. She took the back stairs, hoping the walk would do some good.

"Hey, FRIDAY, how is the DNA analysis doing?" Luna inquired upon reaching her lab's doorway.

"Everything is in working order, miss."

"Alright, thanks." Luna checked her watch. There was still enough time for lunch before the machine would be done.

Luna rode the elevator to the kitchen level, lunch bag and reusable cup in tow. In place of iced tea, her cup was filled with the expensive imported coffee Tony insisted on having. Once the Tupperware full of last night's leftovers was getting cozy in the microwave, Luna popped her earbuds in and hit play. Out of all the songs that could have played for her, one of her childhood favorites pumped its beat into her ears, molding her somewhat sullen expression into a happy one.

"Take this pink ribbon off my eyes, I'm exposed, and it's no big surprise," sang the glorious voice of Gwen Stefani. Luna was tempted to dance like she always did, but since it wasn't the time nor the place, she thought about Stefani's words instead and about how lucky she was to be herself at this moment: doing her work and living her life out of the public eye.

Tony had been the apple of the media's eye ever since he was born, always under scrutiny and criticism. She felt like he was doing better, but she hated how it seemed like he lived for other people and not himself. Wow, what would he do if he knew she was listening to No Doubt and thinking of him? Laugh, probably, but he deserved a little light-hearted humor.

Resting in the lounge, Luna scrolled through her socials as she sipped her coffee and ate her leftovers. All she saw and read was more of the same. Well, there was a little something different. Peter had finally posted the picture from his last visit to the compound. He had insisted Luna take it just the way he wanted: him and Tony sitting side-by-side, donning wide grins, and tapping their plastic drink cups together, accompanied by the caption ‘clink-clink, Mr. Stark' and a few money and dollar sign emojis. Judging by the likes and comments, it was easily set to be his most popular post yet. Anything that would trend more would be a post of him proving to the world that he's Spider-Man. She gave his picture a quick like and kept scrolling.

Tony shied away from social media. He didn't have the time, energy, or ideas to fill any potential accounts. He also didn't have to search for attention. Being a Stark and in the Avengers gave him more than enough access to the public eye. In turn, it made him value his privacy and savor it whenever he could get it. He enjoyed humoring Peter, though. He loved pretending to be mad when Peter caught him sleeping at his desk.

A few news posts and a finished lunch later, Luna rinsed out her dishes and freshened up before getting back to work.

"FRIDAY, is the MicroFluid machine done?" She asked aloud, shrugging on her lab coat.

"Yes. It finished about ten minutes ago." Luna checked the time on her watch.

"Ten minutes ago? Seems about right. Ok, open up a new file under Project RePri and call it Analysis One. Save everything to that, and keep it on private for now." She pulled on a pair of virtual gloves.

"Of course. All information has been transferred and saved."

"Great. Let's see what we have." Waving a covered hand over the 3D table, she opened her assortment of files and selected the most recent addition. Leaving Loki's file up, Luna pulled up Steve's and put them side-by-side. "Alright. Draw up a comparison with Steve Rogers' genome and give me the percentage of amino acid sequences they have in common." The program matched the two at record speed. Perks of working for a billionaire who spared no expense in technology, both hardware, and software.

"There is a 99.6% match."

"Hmm," Luna hummed. Odd for alien DNA to be so close to a human's, but viable demigod offspring had to come from somewhere. "Makes sense. Ok, remove all commonly occurring sequences in unenhanced humans." Millions of nucleotides disappeared before her eyes, leaving several in two generated lists. One for Loki and one for Steve. "Huh," she breathed out. "Do we know what these are? Any of them?"

"There are no records of these sequences in any public databases."

"Where did they come from in the genome? Could they be activators or enhancers for something else? Check what comes after them." On the screen, two sequences lit up, one on each list.

"These appear before sequences designated for immune responses and corresponding immune cells."

"No kidding," Luna whispered, rubbing her quivering hands to try and still the shaking. This was the most exciting thing to happen since she got permission to study Steve's DNA. "That must be how they can heal so fast and never get sick. We'll look in depth at it later." She grabbed her notebook and wrote down her hypothesis and the sequences in question. "Alright, next one."

The longer time she spent going through the list, the more thankful she was for Loki's surprise appearance. Finding particular genetic abnormalities had never been easier or faster. So far, all she had seen were promoters, enhancers, and activators for other gene sequences down the coding line. Genes that improved muscle activity, increased strength, slowed cellular decay, increased resilience to frigid temperatures and tissue density, and more. They made things happen faster, in more massive quantities, or both at the same time.

"Ok, FRIDAY, we have time for one more sequence."

"Of course. Is there any specific one you would like to look at?"

"Nah. You pick one."

"Alright." FRIDAY highlighted one on Loki's side. "I regret to inform you, miss, that this cannot be found in any other organism on file."

"There has to be some similarities in at least one living thing."

"Unfortunately, there isn't. This is the only known sequence of its kind." Luna made a note to pay close attention to this in the future.

"Well, he is an alien." She finished out her notebook page and clicked her pen shut. "Ok, save what we have, and we'll pick this up tomorrow, bright and early."

"All files have been saved. Is there anything else you may need?"

"No, thank you. I'll just clean and pack up. Good work today."

"As always, have a safe trip home."

"I'll do my best, FRIDAY."

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Loki's eyes opened from underneath the book he nodded off to while reading. Removing it from his face, he marked his spot with a bookmark and rose to investigate what had disturbed his almost-nap. Luna stood by the door she had recently closed and locked. As Loki looked at her, his brow furrowed. Something was different about her. Shedding her jacket, she spoke to him.

"So, I finally got that haircut I've been talking about. What do you think? How does it look?" She held her hands out and slowly spun once in place.

"It's shorter."

"Yeah, but does it look good?" He looked over her appearance, neglecting to answer her. To him, she looked fine as always. She waved a hand to dismiss him. "Never mind. I know I look cute. I'm gonna go change real quick." She swiftly left to her room, shutting and locking the door behind her.

Luna shed her clipping-covered shirt and turned it inside-out to dust her head and face off before tossing it in the laundry hamper along with her pants. She opened her closet and looked inside, deliberating on what to wear to relax in. She absentmindedly ran her hands over her slightly dry skin, feeling the transition of the smooth area to the itchy raised ones. Making a mental note to put moisturizer on after her shower, she reached for a fresh shirt and a pair of clean workout leggings. While finishing dressing, something caught her attention from the inner corner of her closet: the outfit Loki had first arrived in.

It had changed since she last saw it. She picked it up and turned it around to the back and then to the front again. Keeping her gaze glued to the clothing in her hands, she slowly walked back out into the living room.

"Hey, wasn't this green when you came here?" She said, catching Loki's attention once more as he tied his hair up. He got up and walked closer to where Luna stood.

"It seems the charm I placed on it has worn off," Loki said, thumbing the cape fabric.

"How come it's blue? I thought you liked green."

"The leader of the last planet I was on liked blue. He was…is a bit of a tyrant but I needed to win his favor, so I chose this to wear."

"And did it work? Winning his favor?"

Loki grimaced a bit and nodded his head from side to side. "For a time."

Luna raised an eyebrow and turned the cape to reveal the opposite side. "And the yellow?"

"Something to contrast." He moseyed back over to the couch, having had enough of the conversation. Luna felt that much from him, but she needed to get the last word in. She held the suit at arm's length and visualized him wearing it in her mind's eye.

"I know green is your color, but you really do look good in blue."

She smiled warmly, more for herself than for Loki. She was content with her comment, and, unbeknownst to her, so was he. Though he knew she couldn't see, he still bent his head to hide the charming smile gracing his features.

Luna drew the suit closer, almost to an embrace, and ran a hand over the menagerie of leather, fabric, and armor, every piece as dinged and damaged as the last. The singed areas rubbed her skin in all the wrong ways, and the rips weren't any better. She was glad Loki didn't have to wear it any longer than he needed to. Still, it felt a little wrong to have something uniquely his be so damaged in her own home.

Setting the garments at the foot of the couch, Luna marched back to her room to get her sewing box. She toted it back out and put it down next to her on the ground. Unfurling the cape from the pile, she lay it secure across her lap and opened her box to pick a dark blue thread.

"What are you doing with that?" Loki said with a start.

"I'm mending it for you," Luna replied as she threaded a needle. "But don't worry, I'm a pretty capable sewer." After tying a knot, she began mending a tear on the blue side.

"I wouldn't have taken you for a seamstress." Luna looked up and gave Loki a smirk.

"Oh, Loki, there's a lot you don't know about me."

"I bet I could figure you out. I happen to be a very perceptive person." Loki leaned a bit closer to her side. Needle safe in hand, Luna mirrored his action.

"Go right ahead. Many men have tried."

"I think you will find me to be no mere man." He gave her a smirk of his own, accepting her challenge.

"Oh, of that, I am sure," she stated, leaning back and resuming her task. Loki eyed her for a few more seconds before picking his book back up and continuing the story.

Growing discontent with the silence, Luna reached for the stereo remote, turning the machine on and pressing play. She paid no mind to the album currently sitting in the slot. Whatever played would be better than the quiet. Luckily, the smooth R&B voice of Frank Ocean flowed through the room, setting the perfect pace for the activities the two were up to.

Luna nodded her head to each song, an expression of bliss on her face as she sewed up every rip and tear she could. Occasionally, she would find Loki glancing over at her, most likely to make sure she wasn't doing any unnecessary tampering.

Humming along to ‘Pyramids,' Luna lifted her head and massaged her hands, paying special attention to her pin-pricked fingers. She took her glasses off and rubbed her eye, moving her head in Loki's direction. With his hair tied back, she could admire the full expanse of his beautiful profile. He looked better and better each day she saw him. Hopefully, it wasn't wishful thinking.

The angles of his face had grown softer from what she had seen in the security videos. His hair was different too. It lay soft and wavy instead of slick and straight. It looked a little more him if that made any sense.

"Have you always had long hair like that?" Luna wondered aloud, instantly regretting the words as they left her mouth. However, Loki answered her before she could take back the question.

"It was shorter at one time, not unlike yours." She lifted a hand and touched the freshly-cut strands at the back of her neck.

"Have you ever thought about cutting it?" She clenched her hand, backtracking as fast as she could. "You know what? That's too personal. Forget I asked." Loki let out a dry laugh.

"I have, but I'm used to this now." He gestured to his head. Luna observed the few loose strands tucked behind his ear.

"It's nice," she said. Clearly, Loki responded well to diplomacy and respect. Luckily, for the two of them, she was good at both.

Finishing the last stitch, Luna cut the thread and packed away her supplies. The cape was done for the most part. Loki was a tall person, so there was a lot to his clothes. The other pieces would get the attention they deserved at a later time. Folding each piece neatly, Luna placing the cape on the bottom of the small pile, and carried it back to her closet along with her sewing supplies.

Luna didn't take work home often, but this new project just so happened to require her to do so, at least for now. She picked up her lab notebook and a folder full of print-outs and brought it back to the living room. It was something she had always done by herself as there was more room to spread things out. Having a long-term guest did little to deter her from her habit.

Returning to her spot beside him, she opened up her notebook and looked through each print-out, comparing and contrasting any ideas she had, both new and old. In the process of jotting down her interpretations of evidence, she had noticed Loki peaking over every so often. Granted he was sneaky, but she had years of practice in keeping her work safe, especially in front of other people. But none of those people had ever been the muse behind her mind.

"I have some cool science stuff to show you if you'd be interested," Luna said, angling her body a little more towards him, opening herself up. He looked from the book in her hand to her eyes, making contact.

"Show me, and I will let you know if I am." Luna scooted a little closer.

"I think you would be since it's all about you." She opened her book to the desired page and grabbed a loose sheet of paper by her side.

"Well then, I am all the more interested now."

"I just feel it's your right to know since it's your DNA I'm looking at." Luna looked down to the papers laid out on her lap and back up to Loki.

"I presume you've done this before."

"Oh yes. With every enhanced member of the Avengers. With their consent, of course."

"And what have you found on them?"

"Now that information is highly confidential, and if I told anyone, I might die instantly, but we're not here to talk about them. We're here to talk about you."

"I thought we were here because I required refuge and you were the only one who would provide me with it," Loki said, smiling at his own light jest.

"That's true, but please, humor me a little," Luna chuckled a little. "Ok, to start with, you matched fairly high with enhanced human DNA, but I sort of expected that to happen."

"Enhanced human? Who did you compare me with?" Luna had his full attention now.

She looked down and fidgeted with her hands. "Don't freak out, but it was Steve."

Loki blinked and furrowed his brow. "The soldier? Really?"

"Well, yeah." Luna drew her arms close to her body.

"What reason could you have for using him of all Midgardians?"

"It was based on a hypothesis I came up with one day at work. Both you and Steve are capable fighters. Five years ago, you two fought hand-to-hand in Germany and got away with barely a scratch. You're both strong, tough, possess impressive stamina, and have the propensity for eternal youth."

"That is all true, but what does any of that have to do with comparing us?" Loki's curiosity quelled the edge in his voice.

"Everything. There are so many physical similarities between you, I just had to know if it had something to do with your respective genomes. I've been studying Steve's almost the entire time I've worked at the compound, and I've had a tough time with it. His DNA is unique. There's nothing like it anywhere. I had nothing to use as a second reference, however vague it might have been. But then here you come with your fearsome self, chalk full of new DNA just waiting to be looked at." Luna caught herself and tried to soften her approach. "I know that sounds like I'm taking advantage of you, and you can tell me to stop at any time, but my intentions are based purely on professional curiosity, and it's against my scientific and moral code to disregard your voice if you feel I'm intrusive."

Loki stayed quiet and thought about what she had just said and subsequently done. She gave him a choice based purely on his own comfort, no matter if his decision disrupted her work or not. He stared at the vague patterns on the floor in the hope they could help him form a solid answer, but he was again left to his own devices.

"Never mind Rogers. Show me what you found about me."

Luna let her shoulders relax a bit. "Ok, so I found some pieces here that line up with Steve's in controlling immune responses. He never gets sick and heals very fast, so for the sake of this step in my research, I assumed it was the same with you. Since he's not an alien, his is coded differently than yours, but they rest along the same stretch of DNA." Luna fanned herself with her hand. "Sorry if I'm not explaining myself well. I get excited sometimes."

"That all sounds astounding, but it can't be all."

"No, there's lots more." She pointed to a picture and a string of letters on another piece of paper. "Here's this really interesting one I found in yours. I think I found a similar one in Steve, but I can't be sure right now. I have to look at it more, but it's my favorite so far." Loki waited for her to continue and waved a hand when she didn't.

"And? What is it?"

"Ever hear of the wood frog?" Loki crinkled his brow.

"I believe so."

"Do you know what's really cool about it?"

"I can't read your mind. Go ahead and tell me."

"Where it lives, when the frosts come, it can let itself freeze to the point where its heart stops beating. It can sit like that for months on end, and when the spring comes, and it begins to thaw, its body starts working again like nothing had ever happened to it."

Loki was torn between being intrigued by the abilities of a tiny frog and concerned over what Luna could discover about him. He chose the former for now.

"This is real?"

"Yeah, I saw a whole documentary segment on it years ago."

"How does it happen?"

"The whole process starts before the frog actually freezes. It accumulates the substances urea and glucose throughout its body to act as a sort of antifreeze, protecting the cells from the ice and keeping them from shrinking and rupturing when begins to take on ice. That's how I think Steve survived. Now, I can't know for sure that that's what happened, but I can give it my best guess based on hard evidence."

"You said it's similar in mine. What's different?" Loki asked, searching the papers nearest to him for anything to help him come up with his own conclusion.

"How it's coded. I only have a feeling it does something similar since those pieces don't match with anything in the surrounding amino acid sequences. Like I said, I need more time to look at it, but yeah, there you go."

Luna passed Loki the print-outs she made for him to look at, relinquishing control of the conversation over to him. Wherever his interests took him, she would let him go. For the time being, he remained silent, eyes moving over the papers in his gentle grasp. Luna had a hard time reading if he liked what he saw or not. She could only hope.

Having had enough, Loki lay the papers on his lap and looked up to her waiting eyes.

"What more have you found?"


 

"And here-" Luna coughed a little, "-is what I think causes your tissue to be denser and stronger than a human's." As Loki admired the information on the page, Luna's stomach let out a loud rumble. "My goodness, what time is it?" She stood and looked to the kitchen. "Oh, it's so late! I should have started dinner over an hour ago! And we still have a movie to watch." She darted into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and looked over the array of produce fridge contents in the hope of an idea popping up. Unfortunately, nothing was sprouting in her conscious brain. She couldn't let Loki go hungry in her own home. "Alright, since I have absolutely no idea what to make, what would you like that's here already? I stocked up on some good instant food the other day." Luna called out to Loki.

"You don't know what to make? That's a first," he said, making his way to her.

"A first for you. But yeah, anyway, what strikes your fancy?" Luna planted herself equidistant to the fridge and counter, fists pressed into either hip.

"Depends on what you have." Luna quietly sighed and opened the fridge door.

"We have guacamole, hummus, salsa, almond butter, various fruit preserves, some bread over there, and other such things. Oh, and ice cream for later."

"So just toast and spread?"

"Yeah, pretty much." Luna leaned in and grabbed the container of guacamole, passing it to Loki for him to hold. "I've made so many depression meals out of stuff like this. It's kinda how I'm alive right now." Loki examined the contents of the round dish in his hand. Luna stood back to her full height. "Anyway, toast." She twisted open the bread bag, popped four slices into the toaster, and pushed the levers down.

A slightly awkward silence settled over the two, the buzzing of the toaster heater barely audible. Luna leaned against the counter and stared at her feet to keep her eyes from wandering to where they shouldn't.

"So what's the story for tonight?" Loki's voice prompted her to look at him, a little confused at first as to what he was referring to.

"Oh right, the movie! I'll set that up." Luna padded over to the shelf by the TV and grabbed a DVD case. "We are watching ‘The Cabin in the Woods.' It's a bit of a reference movie to past horror films that take place at cabins in the woods and stuff like that. I think you'll really like this one. It's got old god and some good ritual human sacrifice." The finished toast revealed itself with a click, beckoning for anyone listening to remove it. Once the movie was queued up, Luna brushed past Loki and plucked a few plates from the cupboard to lay the slices on and a few pieces of silverware. "Alright, let's get this show on the road."

"You mean to start the film?" Loki sat in his spot, setting the container down on the coffee table.

"Yeah, let's do it," Luna said, sitting beside him and pressing play.

As the opening credits began, Luna divvied up the toast for the both of them, two for her and two for him. Immediately, Loki was drawn in, trying to figure out the concept before the story was underway. A small habit of his. He jumped at the reveal of the title card, nearly displacing his entire plate. Luna expected it but didn't judge. It was meant to be a jump-scare. Loki relaxed back, partaking of his meal as the movie continued and introduced more characters.

"Oh, she draws too," Loki said in between bites. Luna hummed in affirmation, a little tickled he would make a comment like that, whether or not he meant it as a throw-away. Loki remained settled, content with the meal balanced in his hand. His state of being was short-lived, his whole body drawing to attention as Curt made his first appearance on-screen. "Brother?"

"What?" Luna's head snapped in his direction.

"He looks an awful lot like…," Loki trailed off, pointing at the screen with his free hand. Luna's eyes grew wide at his discovery.

"Oh my, you're right!" She exclaimed. Loki sat staring at the screen, a bit petrified at the sight.

"It's not…no," he whispered, leaning back slowly, resting the empty plate in his lap and laying his hands at his sides. No need to get any hopes up over a look-a-like. This person was an actor. A human.

A light cloud of melancholia settled over him, expanding to include Luna in the dampened mood. He didn't have to say anything for her to know what could be going through his mind. The urge to touch him, to comfort him physically, returned to the forefront of her mind. His large hand lay empty his side, almost asking for someone to hold it tight and never let go. Luna clenched her own fist to keep from doing just that. She couldn't risk him clamming up further or making him feel demeaned. Grabbing all the empty dishes to return to the kitchen, the best remedy for the dense air came right to her.

Luna came back from her kitchen journey carried two new things in hand. Sitting back down, she held one thing out in front of Loki to take. His attention adequately caught, he took the item to examine it. Sure enough, it was his favorite ice cream, accompanied by a spoon and serviette. He looked to Luna, who held an opened ice cream bar in her grasp.

"He's ok. Thor. He's ok," she said before taking a small bite of her sweet.

"How are you sure?"

"Weren't you the one who told me he's too stubborn to die?"

"How do you know I wasn't lying?"

"I don't, but I believe you, and that's good enough for now." She settled back into the couch, finding a comfortable position to enjoy her ice cream. She sat closer to Loki, their shoulders mere inches from touching. He opened the carton slowly and partook of the contents. Each bit he took ebbed away at the intense feeling in his chest.

His hand, however, felt odder by the second. He glanced down to see the telltale wisps of blue start to stain his fingers, millimeter by millimeter, his nails already a deep navy. In fear of being discovered, he quickly switched hands and pulled the long sleeve of his shirt down over both hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Luna's gaze stayed affixed to the film. He sighed quietly and continued enjoying the frozen treat.

Yes. Good enough for now.

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

"If I were Dana, I would have shot Marty in an instant," Loki said, having finished his egg on toast.

"But wouldn't you have still been caught by the werewolf? What would you do about that?"

He hummed, sipping his tea. "Either shoot it or push the director into its path and escape."

"Ooh, yeah. I would have totally pushed her and saved my bullet for the redneck zombie girl. But then there's the problem of returning to the surface." Luna leaned back in her chair and drank the rest of her own beverage.

"The rest of the creatures should still be dispersed and occupied with any of the other humans they captured. Bypass them quickly and quietly, then take the elevator back up."

Luna rested her chin on her hand and stared off into space. "A bit of a risk, but I like it. It just might work. On a side note, how do you think they could just get away with all that and not gain the suspicion of at least one other person that's not in on it?"

"It's quite simple, really." Loki took his last sip and put his mug down. "Sleight of hand, magic, and the favor of the gods," he said, counting off each one on his fingers. "With those three things, a human could work miracles."

Luna got up and circled around him, picking up his empty dish to tote to the kitchen along with hers. "Sounds like you have some experience in that matter."

"Of sorts," he responded quickly, almost being cut off by the running of the faucet.

Once the dishes were rinsed and set aside to wash later, Luna spun back around. "Kinda changing topics, I am a little curious about something. You're not obligated to answer, of course, but I figured I could ask you."

Loki leaned back as far as he could in the small chair. "What would you like to know?"

"When you first arrived, how did you walk around and not have people notice you? The desk manager and the old lady paid you absolutely no mind."

He shrugged. "Easy. I cast a concealment spell. Only you were able to see who I truly was at that moment." Luna nodded, considering his reply with reverence.

"Huh. Very cool and useful."

"Though I did make the mistake of using another spell, resulting in my being caught by that awful sorcerer," Loki grumbled, crossing his arms. Luna quirked an eyebrow and packed her lunch bag.

"Doctor Strange was just following his protocol." She enunciated the good doctor's name. "I think he'd be very pleased with your recent behavior." She did her best to encourage him.

"Maybe so, but he will never be worthy enough for me to utter his name."

As Luna expected, there was no staying his disdain. She let out a soft exhale and grabbed a chilled bottle of water from the fridge rack.

"Suit yourself. Anyway, I need to get going, or I will be very late." Luna left to grab her bag and phone from her room. "Everything is where it should be, and if you absolutely must go in my room, don't touch anything," she told him, knowing full well he would only obey her if he wanted to.

"Now, what reason would I have to do that?" Loki gave her a little smirk, prompting her to return it with her own.

"Just a reminder. Anyway, I will see you later, hopefully with fresh dinner material."

"Looking forward to it."

Luna giggled and said, "Bye, Loki," in a sing-song voice as she walked out, locking the door behind her.

Loki waited to move, deciding to breathe in the silence he was granted due to Luna's daily absence. Her company wasn't something he minded, but he did like to have time to do as he pleased. Such time came in abundance during his youth, time he used to refine his magic and journey anywhere he liked. In recent years, he had less of it as his views and priorities shifted and changed along with the tides of his life.

A tad disgruntled, he lifted a hand and imaged a flower growing in his palm. He only wanted a sign of something, but none came, no matter how hard he concentrated or cleared his mind and heart. He clenched that hand into a fist, crushing the air.

Standing up, he shambled around the living room, idly rubbing his left hand. With the entire day available, he could do several small things or one thing for a very long time. Having had his fill of prolonged reading from the previous day, he chose the former option.

Going over to the stereo, he sifted through the shelf of CDs for something he believed he hadn't heard yet. Luna's taste in music ranged all over the place, from hard and passionate to fun and energetic and everything in between. From the select songs she played each day for the two of them, Loki found himself enjoying them, for the most part.

Loki's hand ghosted back and forth over the row of album cases. He hated being indecisive and have no one around to make a decision for him. To fix his dilemma, he closed his eyes and felt the edges slide under his fingertips. Moving onto one finger, he stopped his movement and randomly selected one. He pried it from its spot and took a look at what the fates decided to grant him.

His eyes were met with an old painting depicting the French Revolution, atop which was written "Viva La Vida" in crude white paint. As far as he knew, he didn't recognize any of the songs it contained so, as anyone would with a new CD, he slid it into the designated drawer and pressed play.

Letting the music fill the empty atmosphere, Loki ventured off to Luna's room. Day by day, whenever he could, he looked at a different part in hopes of finding out a bit more about her. So far, he had learned of her love for animals and science, the loneliness she experienced almost on a daily basis, and her talent for the arts, be it culinary or fine.

He carefully perused around each ledge and shelf, searching for the specific object of his desire. On Luna's desk sat organized stacks of various books, papers, and other miscellaneous paraphernalia. He crouched and tilted his head to get a better look at them. He thumbed through them, fervent to uncover what he looked for. Midway through the second small pile, he discovered it. Luna's sketchbook.

Why this find had been delayed for him to make, he couldn't remember, but it mattered no longer. Loki carried it out to the living room to gaze at his newfound treasure and indulge in the music a little. Pinching the corners of the front cover, he bent it back and was met with a simple portrait of Steve Rogers done up in blue line art. Choice areas were shaded in various hues of blue and purple with his hair accented in beige and yellow.

Loki thought about why he was portrayed with way. In the eyes of the Midgardians, Rogers was recognized as noble, patriotic, a living legend. Staring down at the image on paper, he did not get such an impression. He saw a somber, worn individual who had been tested by the waters of time. It made him wonder how well Luna and Steve knew each other. What things she knew about him that the general public did not. Refusing to dwell on the matter any longer, he flipped to the second page.

He observed the beautiful visage of Natasha Romanoff colored with reds and oranges, appearing as though she had been born of fire and flame. Unlike the forlorn expression wore by her teammate, she sported one more knowing and playful. A bit odd to behold on the face of the master assassin, but Loki couldn't deny how it suited her whole look. Luna captured this side of her as if she was a master.

The next few pages were littered with various studies of bird wings, facial features, hair texture, hands, feet, leaves, and such, some in better quality than others. Loki sifted through them to determine whether any piece was a study or part of unfinished work, and if so, what it could have become.

Digging deeper into Luna's book, he found more sketches and drawings of the Avengers. Stark in black-and-white graphite, the Iron Man mask and suit hand, a few people he didn't recognize, and more of Rogers and Romanoff. He smiled and let out a breathy laugh upon seeing one of Romanoff in black leggings and tank top doing a yoga pose under the title "Yoga Nat on a yoga mat."

Out of all the drawings, he noticed the most popular subject to be a beautiful girl with long brown hair. He had seen her once before when he had snuck his first peek the other week. There were more works of her than the in-progress one he had seen. Each one was different, some more detailed than others, all in a variety of colors and expressions. The dates on them went as far back as two years. On the top of an early piece, a title sat in perfect cursive penmanship: "Wanda."

Loki no longer had to assume who she was. It was quite clear now if the abundance of such works of art done in her name were any indication. The only question now was if this girl Wanda was still a key player in Luna's life. Judging by the lack of communication from anyone else, save Peter and Stark, she didn't associate with her anymore. To know for sure, he would need to pry the answer from Luna herself. Maybe now he could use his silvertongue on her. He smirked at the prospect.

As delicately as he had opened it, Loki closed the book and slid it back into the pile he got it from. Nodding his head to the music playing, he picked up the CD case and read over the track list. He was almost halfway through the album. The time spent with it on felt longer to him, but perhaps it was because he never sat and listened to music for fun. Loki grabbed his book with one hand, CD case in the other, and lay on the floor to read. He understood why Luna insisted on keeping it clean. It could be comfortable at times. He absentmindedly tapped his finger on the page as he read, paying no mind to the song as it closed out and let the next begin.

Robust string instruments met Loki's ears. He pulled the case closer and reviewed the list. He had only been consciously paying attention to the sixth song, so the seventh one was playing now.

Viva La Vida.

"I used to rule the world. Seas would rise when I gave the word. Now in the morning, I sleep alone. Sweep the streets I used to own."

Loki widened his emerald eyes, now vibrant with attentiveness. The lyrics stirred up the dull emotions in his chest, making him rise to his feet and approach the machine. The story being told sounded oddly familiar.

"I used to roll the dice, feel the fear in my enemy's eyes." He could still strike fear into one's heart, couldn't he?

"Listened as the crowd would sing, ‘Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!'" Such things were right, though the crown he wore had been shrouded in lies. Through his efforts on Asgard, it was possible he gained something from his people. Something close to trust? He could only hope.

"One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me and I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand." He remembered all too well the moment his pillars crumbled from beneath his feet. One of the lowest points of his life, if not his very lowest.

Was it a mistake to be moved by such words written by a human? By a song not explicitly made for him? For Loki, maybe it was, but at the moment, he hung on every letter.

"It was a wicked and wild wind. Blew down the doors to let me in. Shattered windows and the sound of drums, people couldn't believe what I'd become." Yes, who could have believed a son of Odin was in actuality the thing of nightmares? He truly lived up to the name of the monster. His actions in the last few years served as proof.

"Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate." Didn't people cheer when he was imprisoned? Or did they not care? He couldn't remember. Now, if he walked out the door, he would again be in danger, and whether he deserved it now or not, imprisonment wasn't something he wished to seek out.

"Just a puppet on a lonely string." Indeed, Thanos played him like a puppet without being seen as the puppeteer, much to Loki's demise, for who would believe the words of a liesmith saying ‘it wasn't me'?

"Oh, who would ever want to be king?" He did, once upon a time. Craved it, in fact. But from experience, having a throne was one thing, leading people was undeniably another.

Those days of his life had passed. The days of being pampered by people who didn't care about him in the slightest, going on quests with Thor and by himself, learning new things and gaining experience in almost anything he could think of. The whole universe at his feet, waiting to be seen by his eyes. Now, look where he was, where he stood. In a human apartment on Earth, powerless, no plan in motion. Pathetic. He was the fallen king, and this was his tale of woe.

"Never an honest word, but that was when I ruled the world."

‘But.' The big ‘however' to be taken into consideration. True, he had not been the recipient nor the giver of honesty during the height of his power, but now, where was he? Not in power, but he could have peace if he pleased. He had no set plan, but he could relax and come up with a solid one some other time. Sure, he was in a human apartment, but it wasn't owned by any typical human.

Loki sunk to the floor and propped his upper body up on the wall. The next song had already begun, but he still dwelled on the previous one. This wasn't like him, or maybe it was, and he had never experienced the feeling before. The sense of finding a tune that spoke to his heart. It seemed the fates had dealt him a fair hand.

He strained his ear for more music, but none could be perceived. Stuck in the silence once more, Loki drummed his fingers against his leg as he contemplated his next move. He looked to the left of him, to the right, then above. He pushed off of the ground and peered over at the kitchen clock. Barely an hour had passed since Luna had left him. Boredom crept up on him once more. Books, films, and music all sat to be used as he wanted. Might as well spoil himself with the recent emergence of his music taste.

He pressed play on the stereo with more fervor, eager to hear the enchanting melodies again. The quiet broke as the selection of siren songs resumed their calls. Loki plucked his book from his spot on the floor and carried it to the couch. He stretched out, making himself comfortable on his makeshift bed, and started back on the story he was currently fixated on. Yet, for the life of him, he could barely finish a paragraph without losing track and needing to reread it over and over.

The songs captivated him, instilling vivid images all throughout his mind's eye. Being someone with an extensive imagination, there was no stopping them once his beautiful phantasmagorias began their dance.

Wisps of Technicolor spirits made their way across his eyelids once he'd closed them. Had he access to his magic, he would conjure them into the physical plain and watch them perform for their audience of one.

As Loki steered his daydreams in time with each track, he recalled how he was serenaded to sleep by the stories his mother told in much the same way, magic and all. Ribbons of warm gold overlay his signature jade green, moving into a perfect partnered waltz. What would she say to him at this moment? "Be strong, my son, for this will soon pass"? Probably. "Enjoy this time while it lasts, but don't cause too much trouble"? A little more like it.


 

Having resumed his book, Loki let his music play in the background for the nth time, appreciating the feeling it bestowed upon him. He gave pause to the story whenever the album's namesake song graced the air. In those moments, he felt bold enough to claim it as his.

He peeked at the clock as it rolled over to 6 pm, heralding Luna's return to her humble abode. Right on time, she crossed her threshold, bearing fresh groceries in both hands.

"Hey! I got a fish and some fresh spices for dinner tonight and-," she paused, putting the bags on the counter and giving the tune a listen. "You're playing Coldplay, aren't you?"

Loki stood and inspected the bags' contents. "You should know. It's your music."

"I do know, especially since it's one of my favorite albums." Luna picked up the album case and matched up the track number displayed on the stereo. "Oh, ‘Lovers In Japan.' I love this one. Nice choice."

"I made no choice. I just let it play."

"Still, it's a nice song." Luna put the fresh food and spices in their proper places in the kitchen.

"Yes," Loki mumbled.

Luna walked back into the living room and sighed with her hands on her hips. "Would you object to starting the movie before I made dinner?" She asked Loki.

"Any reason why?"

"Eh, work was tough, and traffic was worse. You probably don't care, but I have zero energy at the moment, and I need to relax a little."

Loki shrugged a little. "Sounds fine."

"Great. Thank you." Luna said, making prayer hands and bowing slightly. She moseyed off to her room to change, as she did every day. Loki followed and stood outside the closed door.

"So, your drawing," he called, hoping she could hear him.

She heard him clear enough. "I have many drawings. Which one are you inquiring about?"

"The most recent work."

"If you want to know if I finished it, I have." She opened the door once she had straightened her new shirt. "Do you want to see?"

"If you'll allow me."

"Sure. I'll go get it." Luna went further back into her room and pulled out the very sketchbook Loki had admired earlier. She opened it and flipped to the picture in question before handing it to Loki's waiting grasp.

He did his best to pretend he was seeing it for the first time. "It's lovely. She's lovely."

"She is, isn't she?" Luna said, looking down at her artwork with a ghost of a smile on her face.

"What's her name?"

"Wanda. She was part of the team." Luna spared Loki of asking his follow-up question.

"Was? She is no longer?"

"Yeah. I'm not really at liberty to say. It's complicated."

"Was she your friend?"

"Kinda, yeah."

"Where is she now?"

"Off gallivanting around the world with her nice boyfriend. I have more things in there if you want to look at them."

"Then I will." Loki took slow steps around the couch as Luna paused the music and picked out their movie. Looking only half-heartedly at her art, he let his eyes wander to the DVD box sitting on the coffee table. "‘Saw'?" He read out the title.

"Yes. That's what we'll be watching." Luna opened the box and removed the disc. Loki set her sketchbook down to replace the space in his hands with the now-empty DVD case.

"You consider this relaxing?" He gestured to the gruesome images decorating it. Luna looked over and shrugged.

"Well, yeah. I've seen it enough times, I know everything that's going to happen, I respect it as an art piece, and I may have no soul. One of those or a combination of." She moved Loki's sheets out of the way and took a seat. "Anyway, you might like it."

Loki sat beside her in the empty area big enough for him. "You say that about every one you show."

"And have you liked them?"

Loki paused in thought. "That's fair."

"Now let's sit back and enjoy the torture porn."

"Excuse me?" Loki made no effort to hide the shock in his voice.

"That's what it's called. You'll see."

He took one more look at the box and set it down. "Oh, I imagine I will," he muttered and looked over at Luna's profile. She was a peculiar, pretty little human but fun to get to know all the same.

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Scribbling away with a bright orange pen, Luna continued her dissection of the mystery sequence within Loki's genome. Her mind ran in circles, trying to find the key to the answer she so desperately wished to see. As one hypothesis solidified itself in her mind, another popped up and pushed it out of the way.

She closed her pen and stuck it in between the notebook pages. "Hmm…no, not quite," she mumbled to herself.

Luna slipped a virtual glove on and turned the sequence over one, two, three times, looking at it forwards and backward. It was still similar to Steve's sequence, and Steve's was still similar to the wood frog's sequence, but nothing seemed to match up the way it should.

She sat down with a huff. Science was meant to be straightforward, provable, and based on irrefutable evidence. In moments like these, Luna remembered the saying she came up with during her undergrad years: the first rule of biology is that there are no rules.

She put her gloves and glasses on the table and tried to rub life back into her face, pressing her fingertips against her closed eyes until she saw pops of color. The clock on the wall told her the day existed in the midafternoon. At this point in time, Loki and Tony would have been working since before lunch. After stretching her back out, she slid her glasses into place and went to the lounge to grab a couple of chilled water bottles.

Entering Tony's garage, Luna scanned the area for the two men, expecting them to be hard at work. However, she spotted Loki all on his lonesome, pulling pieces from his spaceship with his bare hands, sleeves rolled to his elbows. By the time Luna got close enough to greet him, he had removed five more sheets of material.

"Hey, how's it going?" Luna asked, handing him a bottle. He pushed his sleeves back down and dusted his hands.

He took the bottle from her and uncapped it. "It goes." Luna nodded.

"Where's Tony? I thought he'd be here."

"He left some time ago to attend to a personal matter."

"And he has you doing the grunt work all by yourself?"

"Well, he did put this-" Loki gestured to the Iron Man suit in the far corner with eyes lit and flight stabilizers set to fire, "-here to guard me in case I cause any trouble in his absence."

"Wow, I wonder why he would do that." Luna grinned at her own quip. Loki gave her a nonthreatening sneer and tightened his high ponytail. "So, what do you think he'll do with all these pieces?"

"Examine them, probably. As any scientist would with something alien. You did the same to me."

"Yes, but you're different."

"How so?"

"For starters, you're not an object." Luna moved a notebook on a nearby desk and hoisted herself up to sit.

The click and swing of the entrance cut off anything else about to be said.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't my Baby, here for a visit," Tony called out. Luna chuckled and twisted to look behind her.

"Hi, boss," she replied, handing the other bottle to him once he got close enough.

"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

"Figured you both needed some refreshment in the form of dihydrogen monoxide."

"One of my favorite chemical compounds. You know me so well." Tony uncapped the bottle and took a swig. Luna slid off the table and followed him as he walked closer to what was left of the ship, letting Loki be to rest and drink his water.

"So what was so important for you to attend to that you had to leave Loki here by himself?"

"I got a call from Peter and another from Rhodey. They're both coming to movie night." Luna gasped and brought her hands together with a clap.

"No way! Awesome! I haven't seen Rhodey in forever!" Tony busied himself with organizing some digital files, standing on one side of the projection while Luna stood opposite him.

"He's looking forward to saying hi to you as well."

"What about Vision? Is he coming by too?"

"He's off doing lord-knows-what with you-know-who, so no, he'll be missing out on ‘A Nightmare Before Elm St.'"

"‘Christmas,' Tony. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.'"

"Right, yes." Tony beckoned Luna to stand next to him. Lowering his voice, he continued the conversation. "So, how is it going with our resident psychopath?"

She shrugged a little. "Eh, he's not really a psychopath, but he hasn't set my apartment on fire or given you a reason to wear the arc reactor again, so I think it's going pretty well."

"So he seriously hasn't tried anything with you? Like, nothing?" Luna shook her head.

"Nope. As far as I know, he's comfortable, and I haven't given him a reason to quarrel with me. He has everything he needs right now." Tony crossed his arms and glanced back at Loki, who was idly picking through mechanical ship parts.

"What he needs is a good smack in the mouth," he mumbled.

"Probably, if he acts up." Luna placed a hand on his strong triceps. "But for now, he's fine."

"Yeah, I guess. Well, you should get going if you want to make it back in time for the movie."

"Why would I be leaving?"

"To drop your refugee roommate back at your place."

"Uh-uh, he's coming to movie night too. It'll be our Halloween film for the day."

"That's a thing?"

"It's always been a thing. I just dragged him into it."

"You convinced Reindeer Games over there to watch movies with you?"

"Not just any kind of movies. Scary movies."

"Well, ‘tis the season."

"Spooky times must be had by all." Luna slowly walked backward, inching away from Tony. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I do have to go and get him a change of clothes because that ship is filthy."

Tony looked down at the state of his appearance. "It really is." He grabbed a spare rag and cleaned his hands with it. "So, I'll see you around what? 8?"

"Yup. Now go get cleaned up so you can start the popcorn."

"Whatever you say, little girl."

Luna snapped her fingers and threw a finger gun at him before turning around and walking forward the rest of the way. Loki had finished his water and was balancing the empty bottle on his pointer finger.

Luna bumped the back of her hand against his arm. "Come on, let's go." Loki stood from his spot on the table.

"We're leaving?" He trailed after her, picking up his glasses. Luna held the door open for him to exit.

"Yeah. Gotta get you cleaned up before we come back for movie night." She ascended the stairs with her companion in tow.

"We're watching our next film here?"

"Mmhmm, but don't worry. The group turnout won't be too big, and besides, you'll be with me, so no one will figure out that you're you."

"Why would you be the deciding factor?" Luna stopped and spun around.

"Because absolutely no one would believe that you would hang out with someone like me." She faced forward once more and finished the trudge to her lab.

As she approached the door, Loki saw fit to speak. "And what would make you believe such a thing?" Luna stood in the middle of the doorway and blocked it, her hands on either side of the frame.

"Just as people have their preconceived notions about you, they have some about me as well." Receiving no further replies from Loki, she let her hands fall and continued about her business, saving files and cleaning her workspace. Loki took a seat in a chair far enough away from her to patiently await the completion of her duties.

"So, what else have you found out about me?" He said, interrupting the soft shuffling of Luna's hands and feet.

"Quite a bit," she stated. She paused what she was doing and threw Loki a side glance along with a smirk. "You are one complex individual, Loki."

Loki leaned forward slightly and donned a sly grin. "Finally met your match?"

"Oh, he's got jokes now," she said in her best sarcastic voice. "I'll figure you out eventually." Luna gathered her belongings together and shut off the lights once Loki had left the room. Sliding his glasses back on, he took his place beside her on their way to the car.

"Alright. First to figure the other out wins." Luna looked up at him, a perplexed frown gracing her face.

"Wins what?"

Loki kept his gaze set in front of him. "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it."


 

With Loki in the shower washing up, Luna paced about her living room, doing her best to not fixate on the sound of the water flowing and hitting the floor unevenly. She took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes with one hand.

"Don't think about the attractive demigod in your shower. Just don't. You're better than this," she muttered. She groaned and put her glasses back on. Walking over to the stereo, she connected her phone, turned it on, and pressed play.

Another one of her favorite 80s pop songs flowed from the machine, daring her to dance to it. Still eager for a distraction, she did as she felt was right. Luna's feet moved from a simple two-step to a full-body sway. A few spins were made here and there, causing the longer locks of her pixie-cut hair to flip this way and that. She switched her gaze from the floor to the doorway, keeping in mind where she stepping and if she might get caught.

She danced herself to the far side of the room, hopefully out of view from potentially prying eyes. For a few seconds, she closed her eyes and felt the music moving her body in the empty space around her. She gracefully stretched out her hands, feeling nothing but the still air, and let her feet take her for another slow twirl.

"Do you really not know how to dance?" Loki's voice startled Luna out of the blissful state she had put herself in. She steadied her body on the back of the couch, one hand on the edge and the other on her chest. She let a few deep breathes fill her lungs to help herself form a sensible response.

"If you're going to criticize my dancing, then you're going to have to show me that you're one to talk." Luna closer to where Loki stood to pause her music. "And for your information, I do know how to dance. I just like to have fun at the same time." She disconnected her phone, ignoring any expression Loki made at her comment.

He ruffled his wet hair with the towel around his shoulders. "I know how to dance and have fun," he grumbled.

"Oh, do you?" Luna scrutinized him. She looked down at her watch and softened her tone as she passed him his glasses. "Well, as much as I would love to see you jam out to Phil Collins, we have somewhere to be."


 

The pair entered the compound as they had that morning, veering right instead of left to ascend to the living and lounge area. Luna drew her arms around her torso, unsure if it was a wise decision to show Loki where all the Avengers had stayed once upon a time, but regarding his current person, she let the issue slide for now. He was under the watchful eye of a very powerful select few and Luna wished to keep it that way for as long as possible.

A bit at a loss, Luna led Loki around a few hallways until a familiar jovial voice found itself audible to them. Smiles crept onto their faces at the prospect of seeing the friendly teen again, and, from the looks of him when they came into the sitting room, he was just as happy to see them.

"Mr. Loki! Ms. Fields! Hey!" Peter said loudly, walking over to meet them. Luna reached out and ruffled his brown locks.

"How you doing, kiddo? School good?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, school is good. We just had a big test in chemistry."

"Well, if there's anyone who can ace a test like that, it's you."

Peter scratched at the back of his head, a bashful smile playing its way onto his face. "You know, I did have to study real hard for it."

"And that's precisely why you'll do well."

Peter gasped aloud and swiftly lifted his head to look at Loki. "Oh, I just remembered! I got a super important thing to ask you."

"I just leave you two to it, then." Luna looked between them and left to sit by Tony, who was still waiting for Rhodey to show. Aside with Peter, Loki gave him his undivided attention.

"So, what would you like to ask me, child?"

Peter rubbed his palms together. "Ok, so you live in space, right?" Loki nodded once. "Is it more like Star Wars or Star Trek?"

Loki's eyebrows drew together. "These are films you are referring to?"

Peter quickly nodded. "Yeah. Which one is it more like?"

"I wouldn't know."

Peter did a double-take. "You haven't seen Star Wars or Star Trek?"

Loki's eyes narrowed a little. "No?"

Peter spoke as animatedly as he physically could, moving his hands to emphasize his words. "The doc hasn't shown you?! Oh man, you're missing out! They're totally my favorite! Well, Star Trek is my actual favorite, but don't tell Ned. Oh wait, you don't know who that is. Never mind. Anyway, they're both totally cool things about space and adventures and fights and stuff. You should totally ask Ms. Fields about it."

"I shall consult her after this film is done," Loki replied with a smirk.

Over by the couches, Luna was in a semi-heated dialogue with Tony.

"I mean, I was so tempted to come here, find out who that person was, and personally go and bully them to their face instead of over the internet. I just hate anti-vaxxers so much."

Tony chuckled. "Yeah, I bet. I rarely ever see you this angry." Luna pointed at him.

"Be careful there, Stark, I might hulk out." They shared a laugh.

"So my hypothesis was correct: you really are our replacement Banner," chimed a new voice from behind the two scientists. Both of them looked back to greet the newcomer.

"Colonel James Rhodes, aren't you a sight for sore eyes?" Luna beamed, getting up to give him a quick hug.

Rhodey hugged her back. "How you been, Moon Girl?" Luna, surprised and a little pleased, looked down to the still-seated Tony.

"See, Tony? Why can't you call me that like everybody else does?" He stood with a wide grin on his face.

"Because, unlike other people, I have an imagination as well as a sense of humor." Despite his jab, he gave Rhodey an even bigger hug, as one would bestow on a best friend. "How's your physical therapy going?"

"Good. I mean, look at me. You think a broken back can keep me down? Please." Rhodey waved his hand dismissively. His eyes wandered the room till they rested on the unique pair conversing at their leisure on the other side of the room. "Now who in the world is that?" He pointed right at Loki, making every hair on the back of Luna's stand on end.

"He, uh, he's my date. Yeah." She gave him a friendly smile, knowing all too well it did not reach her eyes.

"Your date, huh?" He responded tentatively.

"Yup." Luna held her breath.

"Didn't really figure you for the dating type."

Luna held her shaking hands behind her back. "Well, times change and I ain't getting any younger." She cringed inwardly at her words, hating every single one as she spoke, but she would say anything to him if it would stay his newfound interest in her guest.

Tony clapped his hands, centering the conversation back to him. "Well, now that everyone is here, why don't we get the movie started? As our Moon Girl so delightfully put it, neither we nor the night are getting any younger. Rhodey, ladies first."

"Don't mind if I do." Rhodey took the invitation to start the short trek to the movie room, leaving Tony with Luna. They walked close by each other and Tony took this as an opportunity to wrap his arms around Luna's shoulders.

"You little minx. You didn't tell me Gloomy was your hot date." He teased her. He absolutely had to.

"Oh, hush. I panicked, and it would have been really weird if I said he was my cousin."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever you say. Now get on over there before his hand gets too cold without you holding it," Tony giggled in her ear. Luna growled and broke free of his embrace. As she neared to where Loki and Peter stood, she sent a glare back to Tony, who was still incredibly amused by the situation she had put herself in.

Her presence drew the two from whatever they were talking about. "Hey, guys. We're all ready to get started," Luna said, gesturing to the opposite door.

"Awesome." Peter smiled and kept in step beside Loki. "Have you seen this one? ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas'?"

Loki looked down at the brown-eyed boy. "I can't say that I have."

"Ooh, you're gonna really like it. I watch it at least twice a year: once during Halloween and the other during Christmas, but I always end up watching it more than that since it's so much fun." The smell of toasty popcorn wafted through the hallway, pulling Peter to its source. He sprinted to grab a bag, keen on having some before it got too cold. Treat in hand, he called the front-and-center seat. As Luna and Loki returned to their place in Peter's periphery, he patted the empty spot to the left of him. Loki took the gesture and sat beside him with Luna on his own left. "Mr. Stark made fresh popcorn and everything. It's better than any movie theater I've ever been to. Not that I go to a lot of them. I just, you know, I think it's good."

"Well, I'll take your word for it." Peter held the opening of his bag out in Loki's direction.

"Here, try some." Hesitantly, Loki plucked a few popped kernels from the bunch and gave them a taste. He'd had saltier things in his life, that was for sure, but for Peter's sake, he embellished his enjoyment.

"Very nice, I must say." The kid gave him a charming smile; one that drew him to mirror. Being the willing third-wheel to the duo, Luna invited herself back into the moment.

"Hey Peter, did you show him your Thor impressions?" Peter's content expression dropped to one of alarm.

"My what? No, no, no, those don't exist." He laughed nervously.

Loki's eyebrows raised in interest. "Impressions? Do indulge me." As much as he loved Thor, he saw no harm in his innocent mockery.

"I can't very well show you something that obviously doesn't exist at all." Peter's gaze shifted from Loki to Luna, clenching his teeth and staring wide-eyed.

"What are you talking about? He's got some of the best impressions of your brother that I've ever seen." Luna teased him relentlessly as a sister would her baby brother, but as aggravated as he was, Peter took it.

"What? No, no, no I don't. No, I do not." He shook his head rapidly. Snickering, Luna yielded and reached across Loki to pat Peter on the shoulder.

"It's ok. You can show him after the movie is done."

As if on cue, the lights dimmed, enhancing the coziness of the atmosphere. Rhodey and Tony came in, presumably from loading the film into the projector, and sat in the empty seats beside Peter. The beginning narration started, capturing the interest of everyone in the room. Before Luna let herself get lost in the story, she moved stealthily and retrieved a popcorn bag, intent on sharing with Loki. Upon returning to her seat, she took a handful and passed the rest to Loki, who took it without looking. It seemed he liked it more than he initially let on. She hoped he would like the movie just as much.


 

Bags crumpled in hand, the lights slowly came back up as the endings credits scrolled up, illuminating the room as it did before.

"So, how did y-," Luna started, but was gently shushed by Loki.

The finger to his lips slowly lifted back and pointed at Peter, who was fast asleep, resting his cheek against Loki's shoulder. Luna mimicked his gesture and kept quiet as she deliberated with herself on how to get Peter up. Tony and Rhodey, now standing and stretching, lay eyes on the sleeping teen and stayed silent themselves. Tony approached him and knelt down to place a hand on Peter's jean-covered knee.

"Hey, bud, you gotta get up now. Time to go home," he whispered. The only response he got was a soft groan and shuffle to keep resting on Loki. Sliding his hand off, he pushed off the ground to stand back up. "Ok, we'll do this the hard way." Taking Peter's right arm, Tony slung it around his shoulders and scooped the rest of him into his arms. Whatever Peter's activities were earlier that day, they had utterly zapped him of any disposable energy. Tony nodded his farewell to the rest of his companions and left without another word.

"And that is why Tony keeps Peter's room open," Luna spoke once Tony and Peter were gone. Whether as an aside comment meant only for herself or otherwise, Loki heard her just the same and nodded. Luna bent to get Peter's empty popcorn bag and walked to throw it out. Loki started after her but was halted by a tap on his shoulder. He looked back to see Rhodey right behind him.

"Say, you look very familiar. Have we met before?" Loki tensed for a split second, but before he could get any words out, Luna rushed back to his side.

"Nope. No, you haven't. He just has one of those faces." She took hold of Loki's sleeve and smiled nervously.

"Makes sense. What was your name again?"

Luna cleared her throat. "Louie. His name. Mmhmm, yup. That's what he's called." She held Loki's sleeve a little tighter, hoping he would go along with it. To their luck, Loki relaxed his shoulders, threw on a charming princely smile, and extended a hand.

"Pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir." Rhodey took his hand and shook it.

"Colonel Rhodes. Please, the honor is all mine." He released Loki's hand and crossed his arms. "You from England?"

Loki put his hands behind his back. "Indeed I am."

"So what brings you to the big apple?" Loki gave pause before answering.

"Work. New assignment required me to move."

"Uh-huh. And how did you two meet?" He had shifted his gaze to Luna, prompting her to answer his question.

"We met at MoMA. That was a great exhibit, wasn't it?" Luna looked up at Loki and winked with the eye not facing Rhodey.

"Uh, yes. Yes, it was. Positively divine." Rhodey snickered at their answers, not entirely convinced, but he felt too tired to care at the moment. He glanced at the wall clock, confirming that it was, in fact, nearing the time for him to be home.

"Well, it's late, so I should let you two go before all us old people get too tired to drive home."

Luna laughed softly and reached out to hug him one last time. "Haha, very funny. I'll see you, Rhodey." He gave her small back a gentle pat before letting go.

"Catch you later, Luna. Take care, both of you." And with that, he left the two standing in the movie room, both still a little high-strung from the encounter. Slowly, Loki turned his head to look at Luna.

"Louie? Really?" He moved his whole body to face her as she sighed loudly and threw her hands up.

"If you got any better ideas, please let me know." She started making her way out of the room, not bothering to check if Loki was following. "He may have overheard Peter say your name, and I just couldn't risk anything too different." She put a hand to the side of her neck and felt her overly-quick pulse begin to calm. Loki caught up to her side and walked next to her in silence. Thinking back to the conversation, he pondered on something.

"By the way, what's a MoMA?"

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Traffic had been more hectic for Luna than usual, being cut off at least five times by drivers who forgot where their turn signals were and had to take two detours, but she was home safe now. She granted herself a short breather and leaned against the locked door with her eyes closed.

Blinking a few times, she stood back straight and did her customary dress-down by the entrance. Loki, now accustomed to and expecting Luna’s arrivals, paid her no mind as he busied himself with the pictures on her wall. He let her pad off to her room to change and freshen up before verbalizing the thoughts circling around in his mind.

“Tell me, is your mother royalty?” He asked, gesturing to the single picture on the wall. Luna didn’t need to see what he was pointing at to give him a definitive answer.

“Oh, no, she isn’t, but she sure looks like it in that saree.” She approached him, admiring the image as well.

His interest peaked, Loki moved his gaze to her. “Saree?” Luna nodded.

“Yeah, that’s what that’s called. The one she’s wearing is particularity exquisite.” Loki looked back at the photo.

“It is indeed fantastic,” he said softly. Luna’s mother beheld the same grandeur of someone he would easily assume to be a Midgardian queen and someone Frigga would very much enjoy the company of.

“Yup. Though she only wore it twice, my dad loved to spoil her regardless.”

“Have you one like it?” He wondered aloud.

“Oh, no, I would never wear something like that.” She walked away from him and turned the stereo on, allowing the music inside to quietly begin playing. “I do have one, and I like it a lot, but it’s nowhere near as nice as that one.” She kept putting distance between them until she stood at the entrance to the kitchen. Once there, she did her daily search through her fridge in hopes of coming up with something to make for supper. Intent on continuing their small talk, Loki followed her and leaned his shoulder on the doorframe.

“How come you play music all the time?” Luna looked over her shoulder, a tad surprised to see him standing there.

“It fills the quiet,” she muttered loud enough for him to hear. Taking a couple shrink-wrapped trays of vegetables from their shelf and she held them up, presented her idea. “Ok, so, for dinner, I’m thinking some roasted vegetables and rice, all done up with the appropriate spices. What do you think?” Loki flashed a smile.

“Sounds splendid.” He couldn’t care less what she made. He knew he would like whatever it turned out to be.

She gave him her own charming grin. “Awesome.”

Having nothing else to say, Luna went ahead and got started on selecting all the herbs and spices she desired to use and setting up a tray to roast the vegetables in. Loki stayed where he was, keeping quiet in regards to his present company. In the past, he had never thought of observing food preparation as a form of entertainment, yet here he was, looking once more at his evening meal being made before his eyes.

Luna grabbed a pot and parceled out enough rice for two people. After putting the bag back into its place, she took to washing it. With how often she made fresh rice for herself, and now for Loki, she thought about getting a rice cooker, but ever since she was old enough to eat it, there had never been a need for one. She made rice the way she always did, rinsing it in a pot one, two, three times and putting it on a free burner to boil. On a new cutting board, she did a rough-chop of mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and Brussel sprouts. From there, handfuls were placed in a large bowl and mixed together with spices, herbs, and olive oil.

With the stove and oven on and a timer set, Luna got to cleaning the counter space, Loki still ever the watchful eye. A perceptive person herself, she knew very well how he liked to observe his surroundings. In this specific case, the most exciting thing at the moment was her. It was perturbing at times, but his intentions remained innocent enough, so she let him watch as long as he stayed where he was.

Once everything was cleaned and put away, she stood back and watched the rice pot, ready to catch it in case it boiled over or burned. Loki had no interest in playing the waiting game, so he ventured back to his spot on the couch and continued his story. Now alone, Luna let the music to sway her head and hips this way and that. She too lost interest in waiting and moved on to dance lightly around the small surrounding space. On a spin too close to the fridge, she knocked her forearm against the edge. She winced and held the appendage against her chest, silently scolding herself at thinking any sort of dancing in the kitchen was a good idea.

Giving her arm a few rubs, she shuffled out to the living room. Loki spied her from the corner of his eye but paid her no mind until she deemed the area appropriate to resume her slow swaying and twirling.

“You’re dancing in front of me now?” Loki said, a bit more perplexed than he’d anticipated. Luna spun to a stop behind the couch and quirked an eyebrow at him.

“You already know I do, so I have nothing to hide.” Now she had the last word in, she returned to her task at hand. “Plus, this is ‘The Battle of Evermore.’ I can’t not dance to it.”

Loki’s gaze lingered on her a few more seconds before going back to his novel. She veered in and out of his periphery, occasionally brushing a soft breeze across the back of his neck. He didn’t bother looking again. It’s less fun when the individual is aware they’re being spied on.

He tapped the pad of his pointer finger against the book’s back cover. He still felt a bit peeved Luna dared challenge his dancing ability, despite the passing of a few days. Of course, he could dance, and he also loved to do so. Being a thousand-year-old prince, he had accumulated countless hours of practice, both in private and during ceremonies. No matter the participant, he enjoyed the thrill of having his talents appreciated and revered.

As the instruments concluded the tune, Luna took her finishing steps towards the kitchen to peer at the stove. No evidence of boiling yet. A few more minutes, perhaps. The vegetables were doing well enough for her to leave. A stillness settled over her, despite her heart thumping a little faster than normal. Sensing a shift in the air, she glanced behind her to see Loki get up, eyes trained on her, and approach her. In time with the next song beginning its intro, Loki outstretched his left hand towards her, palm turned up and tucked the other behind his back.

“What are you doing?” Luna leaned her head back and looked back and forth between his hand and his eyes.

“Taking you up.”

She furrowed her brow. “On what?”

“You wanted to know if I knew how to dance and have fun, and what with the appropriate song playing, I find it in my favor to show you.”

Luna relaxed her facial muscles and shoulders. It had been ages since she’d danced with someone else, especially to a song like ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ He was taking a bold step in asking for her hand, it was apparent to the both of them, but Luna found the drive within her to meet him in the middle.

Cautiously, she slipped her right hand into his. “Loki, you know this song is eight minutes long?” He walked backward, tugging her away from the counter.

He maintained eye contact with her. “Good thing I have a high level of stamina.”

He stopped and let her get closer. “And it gradually gets faster?” He was within arm’s reach now. She placed her free hand high on his bicep.

“You’ll find I am quite adaptable.” He nudged her hand up to his shoulder and placed his in the middle of her back, moving her even nearer. He neglected to let her know he had listened to the album earlier that day but it didn’t matter now.

She took a shaky inhale. “Well, I don’t doubt that.”

“There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.”

Loki took his first small steps, easing Luna into a steady rhythm with a slow waltz. If she was as good a dancer as she claimed, she should be able to follow him quickly enough. A quick glance at his feet helped guide her along. Loki took her over to the stereo and raised the volume. He needed to have the feeling of being in a great hall, though he was far from ever achieving the effects he truly desired. He worked with what he had, and it was good.

“There's a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure 'cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.”

Luna grew acutely aware of the feel of his hand and shoulder and how her chest would occasionally brush against his. She was thankful for the slight chill of his bare skin as hers didn’t seem to stop increasing in temperature. The muscles in his shoulder moved and flexed beneath her other hand, the thin fabric of his shirt barely doing anything to dampen the sensation. She gripped him as tight as she could and willed her body to relax. To her, he didn’t feel tense at all. But then again, he was, after all, the great pretender.

“And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune, then the piper will lead us to reason.”

They moved in progressive circles around the living room, down the hall, and back again. Loki’s right hand stayed true to where it sat on Luna’s back, save for the occasions where he spun her out of his grasp. Upon her returns to him, he made sure to touch her in the same spot. They took bolder steps with every crescendo, making wider circles and faster turns, drawing the other ever closer.

“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now: it's just a spring clean for the May queen.”

No longer jittery, Luna kept in time with him. Loki was more skilled and graceful than all of her past dance partners combined. They had never enjoyed dancing as much as Loki seemed to. She moved along with him confidently, letting herself enjoy a moment she never got to have in her younger years. Every spin made her feel like she was floating and she no longer worried about her body brushing against him. She lifted her eyes to meet his – something she had never done with any dance partner – only to find he had his gaze already trained on her.

“Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know your stairway lies on the whispering wind?”

The energy of the music grew, and so did theirs. They threw inhibitions to the wind and held fast to each other. Loki’s arm now fully encompassed the back of his dance partner, holding her flush against him, and Luna’s hand sat firmly on the back of his neck. She was so close, she swore she could feel the velvety ringlets of his hair brush against her cheek.

“And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our soul.”

He moved her hard and fast, keeping in time with the tempo. He spun her out and back in. Arm secure around her waist once more, he dipped her low, letting her back bend over his forearm and her outer arm sweep out and wave through the air.

“There walks a lady we all know,”

Loki took several wide steps, making a spiral down an empty space in the living room. His grip on Luna tightened, allowing her to put whatever little trust she had in him to carry her along, her feet barely touching the ground.

“Who shines white light and wants to show how everything still turns to gold.”

He twirled her away and let go of her hand, stalking proudly after her as she kept on spinning. He couldn’t help but briefly envision her in a traditional Asgardian gown, the fabric sweeping high with an elegance fit only for a royal. She stopped herself when she got too close to the wall and pushed off to meet him again.

“And if you listen very hard,”

Taking smaller steps, Luna was able to keep both feet on the ground as Loki took her in several fast waltz circles.

“The tune will come to you at last.”

He squeezed his hands into her waist, as tight as he could without hurting her, and allowed both her hands to grip his shoulders. With each percussive burst, she jumped in his arms, bringing her knees up to the side. She trusted his hands and strength to hold her up as long as need be.

“When all are one and one is all.”

Luna’s feet now firmly planted on the ground, Loki stepped back from her and slid his hands down her arms. She mirrored him and lifted them up until her hands were in his. He weaved one arm over the other, twisting and pulling Luna’s back to meet his front. She briefly rested the back of her head against his chest and let her body sway to the side with his.

“To be a rock and not to roll.”

The embrace lasted no longer than a second before Loki released her and turned her to face him. He risked making his final move, but like each previous one, Luna went along with his flow. He tugged her back into his hold and bent her backward, fingertips grazing the small of her back. She knew she was secure in his arms, but reflexes got the best of her, and her fists clutched at the material by his collar. Slowly, he slid his hands from their spot on her back to her shoulder blades, bringing his chest to gently push against hers. As he moved to stand at his full height, he took her with him, her arms fully wrapped around his shoulders and toes now hovering above the ground.

“And she's buying the stairway to heaven.”

Luna could feel the faint thud of Loki’s heart against her chest and, with her ability to think clearly starting to return, she wondered if he could feel hers. She couldn’t stop herself from panting, no matter how hard she tried to stop it tickling his neck.

Every sensation returned one-by-one: his hair against her arm, his heavy breathing right next to her ear, his hands splayed across the top of her back, the entire front of her body compressed against his. It quickly got overwhelming, and she steadily released her hold on him, hoping he would take the hint and let go. To her luck, he’s as perceptive as he claims and upon feeling her start to loosen her grip, he did so as well and lightly set her back down. She stepped back from him and smoothed out her shirt. He mimicked her motion and passed his hands down his front.

Luna stared at the ground and thought back to what could have spurred Loki to decide on taking her for a wild dance around her apartment. She remembered last Saturday and snickered at how the light jab she had made had led to this.

“What are you laughing at?” Loki asked. She smiled, still quite amused with herself.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that you’re very good at dancing.” Loki returned her smile with his own.

“I have to be. It was a requirement of all royals.”

Luna folded her hands and bowed forward. “Well, I am honored to have shared this dance with you, Prince Loki.” He took one of her hands and held it up.

“Please, it was all mine. You are indeed as good as you say you are.” Before he could plant a small courtesy kiss on the back of her hand, he hesitated, and his blissful expression changed to one of befuddlement. “You smell that?” Luna’s eyes widened as she took an inhale.

“Oh no, no!” She yelled, yanking her hand from his and bolting to the kitchen.

The entire rice pot was boiling over, spilling water all over the stove. Luna grabbed the handle, threw it into the sink, and hastily sopped the remaining water from the burner. She tossed the now-hot dish towel to a cooler part of the counter and let out a big sigh. Crisis averted.


 

 

Luna was able to finish cooking the rice and have it done in time with the vegetables. Though it was a frightful experience to have the pot boil over, all was not lost and the evening wasn’t completely ruined. To be fair, it may have had already been made well before the rice incident.

One of Luna’s favorites, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ played on the screen, but her heart wasn’t in it this time. She could still feel Loki’s hands on her, gentle and firm, holding her so tight. Nothing like what one would expect from the hands of a killer.

She rested her bowl on her lap and rubbed her right hand. His skin was cold, but not undesirably so. Callused and tough, yet not so much it deterred her from his touch. Maybe she was still overwhelmed. It had been a long while since she had been touched by someone else for an extended period of time. She also tended to avoid being touched by people she knew for barely a month. Loki tested the boundaries, and she could say he crossed a few, but she enjoyed the time with him. Glancing at him from the side of her eye, he looked utterly unbothered as he ate and paid attention to the movie. Luna copied him and let her conflicted feelings be for now. Her food was getting cold anyway.

Loki couldn’t help thinking about what he could have done differently and not done at all. He shouldn’t have danced with her, but he did ask politely. She could have said no, but she didn’t. He shouldn’t have had his hands on her, but hers were on him as well. It had been a long time since he had not been forcibly touched in a way meant to hurt or use him, even the ones he simulated to welcome and reciprocate. Thor had started giving him hugs and friendly pats again, but they were tentative and careful. Those unrestrained caresses he willingly gave and received; he missed those from the days when he believed himself to be someone else. But to get those back, he would have to risk breaking the boundaries set in his current residence, and right now, he didn’t want to be anywhere else, lest it is less kind.

Chapter Text

Luna suppressed a sneeze and did her best to not get water all over the kitchen floor. Having been home from work for about a half an hour, she took it upon herself to clean the jacket of Loki’s suit. With enough leftovers in the fridge to choose from, there was no need to make anything new. Loki sat in the armchair by the window, taking advantage of the dying light from the outside to read. At least, it looked like he was reading. From Luna’s perch on the counter, she peered over at him now and again, and occasionally, he did the same to her.

She had done the front and part of a sleeve when Loki popped in to refill his water glass.

“What are you even using to clean that with?” He questioned, taking a sip of his ice water. Luna glanced at him and kept at her task.

“Just soap and water and a spot of rubbing alcohol wherever there’s a particularly stubborn spot.” She pointed to a bottle with the hand holding the scrubbing pad. He hummed at her response and decided to stay and watch her work. Luna wet a paper towel with the alcohol and rubbed hard at a dark mark on the cuff. “What would you usually use to clean your stuff with back on Asgard?”

“I took to using magic, but we had servants trained to clean our clothing.”

“Must have been nice having people do everything for you.” Luna’s hands ceased their cleaning as she thought about how she may look to him at the moment. She looked up and pointed at him. “Ok, now don’t start getting ideas.” Loki let out a dry laugh.

“Of course not. This is your home and treating you as lesser would be highly undiplomatic of me.”

Luna regarded his statement and cringed inwardly at the slight tickle she felt in her heart. With the bar set so low, any amount of decent respect could be cause for celebration, but she forced herself to stop. He was right. Treating her like a slave in her own home would be entirely disrespectful and instantly warrant her kicking him out of her house and life. Luckily, she hasn’t yet found a reason to think about doing that.

She resumed rubbing the spot out of his sleeve but kept up the conversation with him. “So, it’s been about a month since you got here.”

“You’re very observant.”

“Uh-huh, so how have you been doing?” Loki straightened his stature and looked away from her.

“Just fine.”

“Are you sure? Losing your magic and your home all in a short amount of time isn’t an easy thing to deal with.”

“Why do you care?” He said defensively. Luna put the scrubbing pad down and looked him in the eye.

“Because, for the time being, this is your home too and I want to make sure you feel comfortable here.” She tried answering him in a way she would like to be spoken to. It seemed to work on him so far.

“I’ve dealt with harder. Asgard isn’t a place; it’s a people.” Loki paused and crossed his arms. “And concerning my magic, it’s not so much losing it as who took it. Sorcerer thinks he’s better than me. He’s not.” He glowered, making Luna scoff a bit.

“He doesn’t have to be better. This is his turf, and you’re on his danger list,” she paused before adding, “for now.”

“I can’t stand cow-toeing to him.”

Luna returned her gaze to the garment on her lap and resumed its cleaning. “You don’t have to cow-toe to him. All you need to do is hold out on causing trouble and make him see that you mean no harm.”

“He should know I don’t. I have no other reason to come here.”

“He’ll see eventually.” She looked up at him over the rim of her glasses. “Remember, Loki, he’s Dr. Stephen Strange.”

“I know very well what his name is.”

“Mmhmm, and before he was a sorcerer or wizard or whatever, he was a neurosurgeon. Best in the business, in fact, and he knew it too. Now, I may be a fan of his work, but I am completely aware of the fact that his ego was so big that if it were made palpable, no one would have been able to be in the same building as him, much less the same room.”

Loki snickered. “Well, that would have made hospital work very difficult.”

Unable to stop herself from imagining the joke, Luna covered her mouth with the back of her hand to stifle the giggles threatening to erupt. Despite her best efforts, a few slipped from her and elicited Loki to crack a wide grin. As she laughed, she couldn’t help but think about how good he looked when he wore a genuine smile and what he would sound like if he laughed out loud.

Her laughter died down until there was nothing but a ghost of a smile on her face. Loki lingered for some time to observe her clean his suit top. Though he had no intention of wearing the outfit anytime soon, he did appreciate having it taken care of in the time he spent out of it.

On his journey back to his novel, muffled chatter and a soft knock on the door halted him in his path.

“Is it really that time already?” Luna said, hopping off the counter and checking the clock. “Wow, they’re a little early.” She opened a nearby cupboard and took out a small bucket of packaged candy.

“Who’s early? Early for what?” Luna didn’t bother answering him and opted instead to open the door.

“Trick or treat!” Out rang the voices of two children, no more than eight years of age, costumed up as Black Widow and Hulk. A bright smile broke out on Luna’s face as she leaned down to their height and held out the candy for them to take.

“Oh, the Avengers are here! My day has now been saved!”

Each child grabbed a wrapped treat and called out a “Thank you!” Luna gave the parents standing nearby a friendly smile and wave.

“You are very welcome. Have a nice night!” And with that, she closed and locked the door. Loki remained where he stopped, arms now crossed and staring at her. Luna mirrored his stance the best she could without releasing the candy bucket from her grasp.

“So that’s how trick-or-treating is done nowadays?” Loki sauntered her way.

Luna shrugged. “Yeah. Good, harmless fun for the kids.”

“Have you ever gone?”

“When I was younger. The last time I went was when I was sixteen.”

Loki smirked a little. “Play any tricks?” Luna copied him.

“I haven’t found the need to yet.”

“Anyone play tricks on you?”

“So far, I have been lucky.”

“Your treats must be something.”

“I know my demographic.” She sifted through the candies. “Besides, who doesn’t like a free bite-size Twix?” She picked one out and tossed it to Loki, who caught it without so much as a flinch. He watched Luna unwrap one before doing so as well. He found the candy to be almost unbearably sweet, but somehow still enjoyable.

“Is this all you do on Winter Nights?” Luna nodded and paced about the room.

“Pretty much. Relax at home, watch a horror movie, pass out candy, and have whatever’s left over when all the kids have gone to bed.” She stopped by the movie shelf. “And speaking of horror movies, we have one left.” She plucked one out and flashed the cover in his direction.

“The namesake of the holiday,” he remarked.

“It’s only appropriate.” Luna crouched down, turned the box on, and set the movie up. “Ok. While that loads, I’ll clean the counter and heat us up some supper.”


 

Dinner for the night entailed some pizza from the previous day and what was left of the roasted vegetables. A few more groups of kids with their parents showed up, drawing Luna away from her spot beside Loki more times than she would like.

After giving candy to the fourth group, she excused herself to use the restroom. Loki continued watching the film in spite of Luna’s absence. He pulled himself away momentarily to sneak another piece of candy.

All was well until the familiar soft knocks came from behind the door. Loki stood still, unsure of what to do until the knocks came again, a little more eager. Tying his hair back, he straightened his posture and slid his glasses into place before unlocking and opening the door.

“Trick or treat!” Sang the voice of a child no more than four years old. Their tiny gloved hands held a bucket mimicking the visage of Iron Man’s iconic mask, clearly picked out to match the costume they were wearing. Loki knelt all the way down to their eye level, compressing his naturally large physique to one accessible to a toddler.

“My goodness, Iron Man,” he spoke gently, “it seems someone has put a spell on you and shrunk you. But never fear, for I have a very special antidote that will restore you to your original size.” He picked a wrapped candy from its container. “Just take this, and you will be as right as rain.”

The sweet was carefully plucked from his grasp and dropped into a new pile of candy with an enthusiastic “Thanks, mister!” and a scamper to the mother.

Loki did his best not to smile too fondly at the child. He lifted his gaze to bid the mom farewell, but she beat him to it.

“Where’s the girl who lives here?” She inquired of him, making him shift in his spot.

“She’s preoccupied at the moment.” A bit suspicious if he left it at that. He lifted his right hand, smiled, and said, “I’m Louie, her date.” He tried not to groan at his fake introduction. The lady warily accepted his handshake and looked him up and down.

“Huh, no kidding. Well, you have a nice night.” She released his hand and waved a small goodbye. Loki did the same as he eased the door closed.

“You as well, good miss,” he said before shutting and locking the door. As he made his way back to his spot on the couch, he spotted Luna back in hers. “Do you know them?” He asked her, assuming she heard at least the tail end of the encounter.

“Not well.” So she did hear them, if only for a moment. “I helped her once when she was struggling to hold her kid, her backpack, a stroller, and some groceries all at the same time.” As she spoke, Loki circled back to where he originally sat. “She was super grateful, so she says hi whenever she sees me, and I say hi back. She told me her name once but I completely forgot it, and it’s been way too long for me to ask for it again.”

Luna diverted her attention to the movie and rewound it to the beginning of the scene she had missed. Two more kids showed up to get their free candy before their parents decided it cut too close to their bedtimes. With plenty left over, Luna and Loki shared the remainders of the sweet bounty, designating it as their post-dinner dessert for the night.

On the last mini pack of M&M’s, ‘Halloween’ ended, leaving the companions with a cliffhanger, iconic piano theme music, and scrolling orange credits. Luna stifled a yawn and rubbed her chilled shoulders.

“So that’s it?” Loki asked in regards to the film.

“Yeah. There are sequels, but I like to leave it at that. Kind of like an, ‘ooh, he’s still out there. Spooky.’ You know?” Loki shrugged. He enjoyed the film and the night as a whole, but he felt like something was missing. Something he couldn’t put his finger on exactly. Luna’s voice again broke through his thoughts. “Um, so I’ve been reading up on Norse culture and stuff like that, and I wanted to ask you if you would like to put out an offering and take a walk outside.” His head snapped in her direction. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. Just thought I’d ask.”

He stayed silent for a second, shocked and a little honored she went out of her way specifically with him in mind. He remembered what he felt was missing and replied to her with a simple,

“Yes.”

Together, they assembled a small platter of fruit, bread, and cheese. None were spoiled, but they were things they could do without. Loki requested a candle to go with it, of which Luna had and apologized profusely for as she only possessed tea lights and not the traditional oil lamps. Loki amusingly forgave her as they walked outside.

“Don’t you at least need a sweater?” Luna queried as she tugged at the sleeves and bottom hem of her jumper. “I might have one big enough for you.”

He held his hand out, dismissing her. “Please, I’ll be just fine.”

“Are you sure? It’s pretty cold.”

“A little cold air doesn’t bother me.”

Luna shrugged. “Ok, Elsa. It’s your skin.” Loki’s brow creased as he tried and failed to recall the reference. He made a mental note to ask later.

In a semi-secluded area of the complex grounds, Loki lit the small candle and placed it in the middle of the plate far enough from the bread so it wouldn’t catch fire. His shaky hands lay it carefully on the ground, and he knelt before it, knees on the ground and his palms resting on top of them. Luna stood by him, courteously quiet, and bowed her head as he did.

Loki thought of his family. The ones that cared the most. Thor, the one who came full circle and was now proud to be called his brother. Frigga, his mother, who gave the most and never failed in her love for him, not even in death. Even Odin, his father, who didn’t care nearly as much as he should have, but in the end allowed him to have a loving mother and a strong brother.

He thought of his people. The citizens of Asgard. The ones who looked up to him as their leader, their prince, their savior. The ones Thanos killed half of for no reason other than to end half of life.

For them, for his family, Loki closed his eyes and prayed with his entire soul.

“I bid you take your place in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave shall live forever. Nor shall we mourn, but rejoice, for those that have died the glorious death.” He spoke loud enough for only the spirits to hear if they wished to listen. With a shivered exhale, he stood back up and dusted himself off.

He looked to Luna, who remained in her spot off to the side of him. Upon meeting his gaze, she gave him a gentle smile decorated with spots of sadness. Loki expected pity or a false comfort but none came, and he was thankful.

“Norse prayer for the dead. Very fitting.” So she heard him as well. Fair enough.

“It always is.” He held his hand out in a presentation of the path ahead of them. “Shall we?”

“Of course,” Luna smiled. “Oh, do you want to leave the candle or blow it out? I don’t want someone else to make a scene over it or take it down.”

“Right.” Loki leaned down and puffed the flame out. “It’s tradition to leave it, but I believe the spirits will understand the danger of starting a bushfire.” They both let out a soft chuckle.

Luna shoved her hands into her pockets. “Now we can walk.” And off they went on their stroll under the rising moon. They barely made a block before Luna stopped in her tracks. “Hey, hold my hand.”

Loki, taken aback, cracked out a “What?”

She held out the hand closest to him and snapped her fingers. “Just do it, please.” A few grabby-hand motions prompted Loki to take her smaller hand in his and hold it tight. She held him tighter and continued on her way, dragging him along at first. She held onto his arm with her outside hand and pressed her body as close to his as she could without losing step.

Loki was left perplexed. Luna hadn’t touched him much since their not-so-little waltz a few days ago and he, in turn, hadn’t tried breaching her space, yet here she was, clinging to him almost for dear life. He knew her long enough to know how practical she was with her touches towards him, however few and far between, so she must have a reason for doing so now. Following her fixed gaze, he found it.

A group of three adult men made their way down the street opposite them. They were boisterous as young people generally were, and every so often, at least one of them would look in Luna’s direction. Whenever they did so, she gripped Loki’s hand a little tighter than before. She shuddered against him, whether from the cold or the leering, he couldn’t tell, but he let her stay as close as she saw fit.

Soon, the chatter of the men faded as they continued down their path and away from the fake couple. As soon as they were out of earshot, Luna relaxed her hold on Loki.

“Sorry. I just get a little scared sometimes.” Her cautious tone let on how she was a little more than a little scared.

“Its fine,” Loki muttered. “Why would holding my hand do anything?”

Luna scoffed. “Have you seen you? You’re terrifying. Me? Not so much. But no earth guy would dare come on to me if they saw you on my arm.” Loki nodded.

“Fair strategy.”

A few more people crossed their path, all relatively menacing given the atmosphere of this Samhain night. The two grew more comfortable with their close proximity as Luna stayed glued to Loki’s side. He never got used to holding hands with anyone for extended periods of time, save for the moments he went on strolls through the gardens with Frigga. Holding hands led to expectations; expectations he never measured up to and never wanted to try to. But here and now, the two of them could take their walk and merely be, free from any possibilities.

They paused at a crossroads, and as they silently debated whether to keep going or turn back, Luna looked up and broke their peaceful silence.

“I look really pretty tonight,” Loki said nothing in return. His mind was slowly consumed with speculations as to why she made a comment like that. She sensed his unsettled demeanor and clarified her statement. “Sorry. I don’t usually make that joke around other people.” With her free hand, she pointed up.

Loki followed her guided line and got a glorious eyeful of the moon, hovering bright and solo against the starless night sky. Right, how could he have missed it? Of course. ‘Luna’ stood for ‘moon,’ and there she was, the moon herself, shining like a precious gem just out of the reach of man.

“No, you do look quite beautiful.”

Chapter Text

“Mr. Stark is ready for your lab meeting.” FRIDAY’s voice cut through Luna’s music.

“Tell him I’ll be right with him after I finish this,” she responded, not bothering to look away from her paper.

“Of course, miss.”

“Yup, I can make him wait,” she mumbled under her breath.

Resting her fists on her lab coat-covered hips, she admired the progress she had made during the week. Fed up with wondering and filled with an unknown sense of urgency, Luna spearheaded to the next step in her work, which entailed coming up with an experiment to transcribe the DNA in question and see what really lied before her instead of just the usual string of chemical structures. Ideas flowed anew from her, but she wasn’t ready to proceed yet. A lab meeting with Tony would open the door for her to keep going.

A quick glance at the wall clock gave her a clue as to how long she spent pondering her many avenues. “Ok, that’s long enough.” Luna tossed her lab coat onto the back of a chair and moseyed out the back door.

Tony, always elated to see her, flashed her his billion-dollar smile as she entered his lab.

“Oh, there she is; the prodigal daughter, still alive,” Luna smirked and shook her head a little.

“Mm, yeah. Surprising,” she said, her words laden with harmless sarcasm.

“Alright, first thing’s first, before I change my mind,” Tony put down the thing occupying his hand and reached into his back pocket, “I have a little something for long-haired Johnny Weir.” Avoiding eye contact, he handed Luna a check worth about three months of her apartment’s rent, notably addressed to her as Loki had no account of his own.

She grinned and caressed the edges of the flimsy paper. “Oh, look at you, Mr. Charitable.”

“Hey, we talked about you calling me that.” Luna put the check in her own pocket.

“And the fact that I’m the only one allowed to.”

“Yeah, and only about you. Anyway, I’m not one for slavery, and, though I hate to admit it, he has been a big help so far.”

Luna rocked back and forth on her feet. “I’m sure he’s enjoyed helping you, though he would never admit it either.”

“Good thing, too. Cabin fever would not be a good look for him.”

“You can say that again. Anyway, what have you been working on?”

“With just about all the exterior panels off of the ship’s skeleton, analyzing its molecular structure has been much easier.” Tony expanded his digital display for the two of them to look at it with ease.

“Have you found out more about what it is yet? Anything familiar to Earth?”

“Unfortunately, no, but I do know definitively that it’s an alloy of multiple materials.”

“Like how your suits have been gold and titanium.”

“Precisely, but this is next level.”

“What can be said? Alien technology.” Luna took it upon herself to scroll through a few new ship schematic details alongside Tony. “So, do you know what you’re going to do with it?”

“Build a suit, of course. Maybe even two.” He picked up a stray panel piece on the table and handed it to her. “It’s lightweight but strong and dense. It survived turbulent interstellar time travel so it would be able to provide absolute protection while taking up the minimum amount of space.”

She tossed into the air a few times, getting a feel for its weight as it fell over and over into the palm of her hand. “You got any design ideas?” Tony leaned his hand on the table edge and faced her.

“What would you, an Iron Man fan, think a cool suit design would be? What do you think would really ‘wow’ the people?” He awaited her answer, using his free hand to twirl his virtual pen.

“You up the stakes with every update you make, and they’re all fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but you’ve done a lot of the same kind of thing.” She hesitated at the end.

“What do you mean? They’re all different.”

“Well yeah, they are, but they’ve all been the kind you have to lug around one way or another.” Tony gave pause and opened up a blank document.

He began drawing a few pieces together, his hand working almost as fast as his mind. “So something more compact?”

“Yes. That would be so cool, and very practical for you.” Luna stood closer by his side and observed the master at work.

“Yeah, it really would be. But how? What?”

“I don’t know. You’re the mechanic here with multiple PhDs and dozens of suits under his belt. You’ll come up with something good. You always manage to.”

“I sure do.” He grinned, jotting down a few more notes and shapes before saving his new ideas. “Anyway, what are you doing? More of the same?”

“I actually think I’m onto something very interesting.”

He made a new panel. “Oh yeah? Pop it up.” Luna took the pen from him and opened her account.

She continued speaking as she selected folder after folder. “Ok, so by asking nicely, I got some DNA samples from Loki a-.” Tony interrupted.

“By ‘asking nicely,’ do you mean…,” he made a vague gesture, one Luna understood well enough. She gasped and grimaced.

“Ugh, no. I literally asked nicely, and he spit in a test tube. Don’t be gross.” She waved a hand at him as he chuckled.

“I’m joking, I’m joking. Continue.” Despite the crude humor, Luna couldn’t help but giggle to herself a little. “See? You think it’s funny.”

“Oh, it’s so horrible, it’s hilarious. Anywho, I was able to isolate some amino acid sequences and compare them with Steve’s, and I found some pretty noteworthy similarities. Now, the next thing I plan on doing is using some model organisms to see what these sequences actually do and what they may look like.” Tony pulled out another pen and went back over to his still-open note panel.

“I’ll put an order in. What do you want first, worms or fruit flies?”

“Worms, please and thank you.” He took down her request and closed his page.

He walked back over to her. “What are you hoping to find?”

“Well, as you know, there are no set results in biology, but I hope I can find something compatible or comparable with ours. Maybe something that could even enhance it, like the super-soldier serum.”

Tony crossed his arms and leaned on the edge of a table. “You remember what I told you when I hired you?”

“You said a lot of things.”

“About AIM? About Extremis?” Luna sighed and looked down at her feet.

“How could I forget?”

“We don’t play God here.”

“Nor do we plan to.” Luna saved and closed a page. “Yeah, I know. I don’t plan on making a product or pretending I can control evolution. I’m just looking.”

“Good. We don’t need Ross thinking we’re becoming something we’re clearly not.”

“I hear you, I really do.” She nodded as she spoke. “I'm careful. Don’t worry. I may be professionally curious, but I know what I’m doing.”

Tony gave her a proud smirk. “That’s my Baby.” Luna snickered at him.

“You still on with that?”

“Hey, it’s good and appropriate for you.”

“Once again, you are correct.” Luna adjusted her watch and checked the time. “Ok, since it’s almost lunchtime, I should back down before my leftovers miss me too much.” As she slowly backed away from Tony, he called out to her one more time.

“Wait, wait. Before you go, I have a little something for you.” Interest peaked, she stopped and quirked an eyebrow. Before her, she looked on as Tony instructed his favorite robot assistant in the carrying of a paper bag. “Now don’t drop that, DUM-E, or I will legally fire you.” She couldn’t help but laugh at his harmless jab. Once DUM-E was close enough, Luna carefully took the bag and thanked him, receiving a friendly series of chirps. “There you go. Happy birthday, birthday girl.”

“Oh, Tony, I love it! What is it?” She peeked in the bag but saw no easily identifiable markers.

“A medium-sized box, hand-wrapped by yours truly.” Tony put a hand over his heart and puffed his chest out proudly.

“This is exactly what I wanted! How did you know?” She teased his back, eliciting a light-hearted laugh from him. Tony waved a dismissive hand at her.

“Ok, that’s not what it is at all. You gotta open it to find out.”

“Whatever it is, I know I’m gonna love it. I hope it wasn’t too expensive.”

“You really think I’m bothered by a price tag? Me, your local billionaire?”

Luna moseyed on closer to him. “I only ask because sometimes, things that are expensive,” she put her unoccupied hand on his shoulder, “are worse.” Tony pondered her statement.

“I have a feeling that that’s a reference to something and now I kinda want to know what it is.” Luna gave his shoulder a pat.

“I’ll text you the link later. You might really enjoy it.”

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Now go ahead and open it. The suspense is killing me.” Letting out a little huff, Luna set her parcel down and began its deconstruction.

“Oh please. The only thing that could possibly put an end to you is something you made with your own two hands.” She concentrated on tearing away the semi-bland wrapping paper covering her present. Once finished, her brain took a second to register what she held in her hands. “A coffee-maker! How did you know I needed one?!”

“Well, first of all, I know it’s you who keeps stealing my specially-imported coffee, so I hoped this might take the edge off. Plus, I had a hunch you never replaced your last one.”

“Lucky for you, your hunch happens to be correct.” Luna turned the box over and over, admiring the pictures displaying its function and unique style. To her, it seemed her boss spared no expense in his surprise. “Thank you, Tony. I really do love it,” she said as she reached over and gave him a tight hug which he returned in earnest.

“You should take the rest of the day off, since, you know, it’s your birthday and all. Get some cake before the dinner rush, have fun with your boy toy,-” that earned him a tsk and a harmless swat “-you know, all that jazz.”

“Sounds like a ton of fun, but I want to do work today.” Luna put her gift along with its wrapping paper back in the bag it came in. “I have some really cool ideas that I want to flesh out a bit more.”

“Suit yourself, but you should have at least a little fun.”

“Oh, I will. I have some activities in mind for the weekend.”

“So I get Spider-Kid and Starman all to myself?”

“Just Peter. I got dibs on Loki first by default.”

All jokes aside, Tony spoke earnestly. “And what do you think you’ll be doing with him?”

“Taking him out with me, of course. It’s my birthday, and I should get what I want.”

“Can’t imagine he’d be good company.”

Luna shrugged. He didn’t know about their nighttime walk or dance session, and he didn’t have to anytime soon. “No matter how predictable he might be, he still somehow manages to prove our preconceptions wrong.”

“Maybe. Just don’t fall in love with him.” Tony waved an accusatory finger at her, which she returned with a wave of her hand.

“Oh, I don’t plan on it.”

“Nobody ever does. You think I thought about falling in love with Pepper?” Luna scrunched her nose, her shoulders beginning to tense.

“It would be a little weird if you didn’t since she’s amazing.” She hoped the subject change would work.

“And I spent an awful lot of time with her. More than most people I associate with.” Tony gave her what looked to be a suspicious eye. “You spend a lot of time with you-know-who.” Luna sighed quietly and closed her eyes. It was to no avail.

“Well, yeah. He is living in my house for the time being.”

“I’m just looking out for your wellbeing. You know that, right?” Luna relaxed a little.

“I do know that, and I really appreciate it.” She bumped the side of his arm with hers. “I care about you too, you know.”

“I do know, or you wouldn’t have stuck around after last summer’s debacle.” They shared a chuckle.

“Without me here, you might have gotten into more.”

“Speaking of which, Pepper suggested that we start doing yoga again.”

“I agree, but don’t you want to hire an actual professional to teach you? You can afford the best in the world.”

“Yeah, but I like the way you do it.”

“Well, since you asked so nicely.” Tony gave her a classic, endearing little ‘yay!’ and glanced at his watch.

He tapped the face twice. “Wow, look at the time. I promised a long lunch with the fiancée so I should be off.” Luna tracked his movement with her eyes as he busied around his lab, closing documents and putting the odd stray tool back where he got it from.

She brought her hands together with a clap. “Yes. Can’t keep the good lady waiting.” Tony grabbed his glasses and Gucci jacket on his way to the door.

Before he walked out, he turned back around. “Walk with me?” Luna took hold of her gift bag and flashed him a bright smile.

“Gladly.”


 

 

Out of the open car window, Happy yelled a courtesy ‘happy birthday’ to Luna as she waved him and her boss goodbye. The vehicle picked up speed and disappeared down the road, leaving her alone once again.

Alone, but content.

Luna walked back to her lab with a little more pep in her step than usual and passed on a friendly greeting to anyone she had eye contact with on her journey. The main floor felt brighter and more open as she admired her surroundings. Tony had had nothing new done to it that she was aware of. Must be the occasion as well as her brand-new appliance making her day feel shinier.

Free from any indication she was the resident biological scientist, Luna enjoyed her lunch at her leisure, feet up on the lounge couch and enjoying the latest PVRIS album. She had listened to it many times before, as she did with all her music, but today was her day. Doing something, no matter how small, to make herself a little happy was a requirement.

One science article and ‘happy birthday’ message from Peter later, she was ready to get back to work. Luna’s Tupperware was cleaned as well as her hands before stepping back into the lab.

She rubbed her newly-gloved palms together. “Alright, where was I?” She turned on her table and brought her files back up. “Oh yes.”

When she had taken a sample of Loki’s DNA all those weeks ago, she never planned to become so fixated on it. But, to be fair, any biologist would be fascinated with the inner workings of an actual alien being, be it the physiology or innate behaviors or, in Luna’s case, the cellular and molecular functions. All she had wanted was to speed her long-term project along and maybe get some new ideas, but now, with something so new at her fingertips, it was impossible to feign indifference.

Her present task seemed simple enough: cut up the DNA, take the desired piece or pieces, insert it into the genome of a model organism, and see what it does. It may do something or nothing at all. Either way, Luna anticipated the outcome.

“Ok, first thing’s first: restriction enzymes. Do we have any that can cut up alien DNA?”

“I’m afraid not. There are none in storage with the known capability,” FRIDAY answered. Luna rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. She wondered briefly how it would be if JARVIS was still around and was presently helping her.

“Let me rephrase that. Are there any that go with the sequence segments here-” she pointed to the left “-and here?” She pointed to the right.

“There are two with the ability to cut those areas.” They popped up on the screen for Luna to read.

She rubbed her jawline with the back of her hand. “And we have them both in stock?”

“Yes, in adequate quantities.”

“Fantastic. Thank you, FRIDAY.”

“You’re very welcome, miss.”

Luna wiggled her fingers and brought up her virtual lab supplies. “Let’s start a simulation with them just so we know what to expect.” Her hands grabbed and pinched at the 3D images, hesitantly at first but gradually easing into the movements they have been doing for many years. The microcentrifuge tubes and hot plate may be fake, but the knowledge was anything but.

She would pause every so often to rub the quivers out of her fingers. It was really happening. She was starting down an unpaved, unbeaten path with no definitive end. It was as frightening as it was exciting. Luna took a deep breath and continued. All she had were possibilities. No use getting worked up over potentially nothing. Once her nothing was something, then and only then would she celebrate.

The simulations can only get her so far, but until she knew the DNA at hand could be successfully replicated, exercising caution was imperative. Lucky for her, working with Tony Stark allowed her access to the most exceptional computer programs in the known world, giving her near-realistic results.

With the lab mockup underway, Luna took the wait time to update her notebook, keeping a close eye on the results as they popped up. As she noted the fifth check, a gentle knock came from the front door. Slowly rising from her seat, she finished her word and went to greet whoever came to see her, shedding her gloves in the process.

Again, she was met with a familiar face. “Hey, Vision! You’re back!” He mirrored her smile.

“Yes, I returned not long ago. I see Mr. Stark is not here.”

“No, he’s out with Pepper. So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company at the moment?”

His forehead creased. “It is your birthday, is it not?”

She grinned, flattered he took the time to remember. “Yes, it is.”

“Well, as it were, I stopped by to wish you a happy birthday and give you a gift.” Vision brought a hand from behind his back and held out a small gift bag.

Luna took it from him. “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” She peeked inside and took out a tiny box.

“It’s, it’s from myself and Wanda,” he stammered, sounding almost anxious. Carefully, Luna opened the box and revealed a simple silver ring, adorned by a small green jewel. She touched the gem and smiled.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you so much.” She pulled Vision into a one-armed embrace, which he respectfully returned.

“I do hope it fits. Wanda tried it on a few times as she remembered you both have similar sized hands.”

“I imagine it would fit just perfect. Tell her I said thank you when you see her next.”

Vision smiled at the prospect of seeing his love again. “Of course.” He peered over Luna’s shoulder at the simulation still moving and making its way to the end result. “I see your work has progressed.” She looked back as well.

“It has. Thanks for noticing. Oh, how did Wanda like the song I suggested?”

“She adored it, as she always does.”

“That’s great. How’s she doing?”

“Fair. She’s with Captain Rogers and the others right now. They’re doing well also.”

“Yeah, I imagine.” She pointed at his forehead. “How’s the Stone? Has it been giving you any trouble?”

“Not since it was last checked. For the time being, everything is in working order.”

“I’m happy to hear that.” They paused and regarded each other.

Vision looked as good as he always did, seeing as he was an android who could control their appearance at any point in time. To him, Luna looked as she always did, though her hair was a little different and her eyes possessed a certain spark he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

He folded his hands in front of him. “Well, it seems I have taken up more than enough of your precious time, so I will take my leave.” For a brief second, Luna wished he wouldn’t leave, but she did have work to get back to and monitor.

“Ok. I’ll see you.” She gently tapped his arm.

“Yes. Have a good rest of your day, Dr. Fields.” He slowly stepped back from the doorway, nodding his farewell.

Luna grabbed the door handle. “You as well, Vision.” She sent him a little wave before shutting the door with a soft click. She repacked the gift, allowing one last lingering gaze on the ring, and put it in her personal cubby. However she would wear it, she couldn’t wait to do so. Retrieving her gloves from the nearby table, she tugged them back on and made her way back to her original seat. “Ok, let’s on with it.”

Chapter Text

“Where did you say we were going?” Loki called to Luna, who was in the kitchen, as he cooled off his fresh cup of coffee.

“The aquarium. You know, it’s kind of like a sanctuary for fish and other marine lifeforms.”

“Is that where you get our fish from?” She giggled lightly before answering him.

“No, no. I get that from the grocery store. The aquarium is just for looking at them.” She returned to him with her own mug in hand. “I go there just about every year for my birthday. Well, since I moved here, anyway.”

“Your birthday? How old are you?”

“I am pleased and pained to say that I have reached the ripe old age of 28.” Luna held her free hand out in mock presentation of herself.

“Only 28? You’re still quite young.”

“Well, I sure do feel old much more than I feel young.” Taking a sip, she watched the program on the television and grimaced.

“Bitter?” Loki said, pointing to her cup.

“Nah, but that sure is.” Luna gestured to the news content on her TV.

“Really? But it’s such fun.” He plopped back down onto the couch and crossed one leg over the other.

“To you, yeah, but to me, not so much.” Luna sighed and sat down beside him, taking another sip. “Since only a select few know you’re here, including me, you don’t have to face the government’s wrath. But believe me, having your basic existence debated and tossed around like it means nothing puts a huge damper on everything.”

Loki fully turned his head to look at her. She was still watching the news program, thank goodness for that. She would say something like that to someone like him? Curious.

He quickly went back to watching the program before she could notice him staring. “I do believe you,” he mumbled, taking another sip of his now comfortably warm coffee.

The two sat in a comfortable silence, listening to the news anchor go on and on about the current events, discussing few in detail and most quite briefly. They only half-listened, but neither knew that of the other. They let enough time pass to finish their coffee and know for sure their intended destination was almost open.


 

Stepping out of the car, Luna pocketed her phone and grabbed her bag from the back. Loki followed suit, moseying behind her as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and fiddled with the brim of the cap Luna had handed to him.

Having had enough with trying to adjust the thing upon his head, he brought his hands down to his sides with a huff. “I look positively ridiculous.”

“Come on, no! You look great!”

“Why must I wear it? My disguise has always fared well before.” Loki adjusted his glasses with emphasis.

“That’s true, but there are a lot more people here than you're used to, and we can't risk the possibility of anyone recognizing you." She spoke quieter as they neared a gathering of people.

“If it’s such a risk, why take me out at all?”

“Because I don’t want to be alone and I also want you to see the oldest aquarium in the country while you still can.” Luna looked up at him once he’d reached her side.

“While I still can? Is something going to happen to it?”

“No, nothing’s going to happen to it. I don’t expect you to stay forever, so while you’re with me, I think it’s a nice place for you to visit.”

“If you say so.”

They stopped upon reaching the back of the line. Individually, they grew more and more aware of a large number of people, the majority of which were parents with young children. Luna looked down are herself and then – discretely – over to Loki. It could merely be the nerves of bringing a supposed intranational criminal to a very public place he did not need to be at, but she felt as if everyone had their eyes on them and knew exactly who they were. Luna’s mouth went dry.

She rethought the decision to take Loki out with her. He was right. It was dangerous for him to be out and about, but, when push came to shove, she liked having him. He was so tall and scary when the moment demanded he is. Her first nighttime walk outside had gone rather well and, for the entire time he had been by her side, she felt almost safe with him.

Sure, she did tell him she would be the best piece in his disguise, but now she couldn’t deny how secure his hand had felt in hers.

Reaching the front of the line, Luna pulled out her phone to retrieve the electronic tickets she purchased earlier in the day. A glance from the ticket-taker told her all she needed to know before walking further into the building: they must look like a young couple on a date. A frightening thought, but not one they couldn’t play on.

After pocketing her phone, Luna reached her hand out and grasped Loki's tightly, doing her best to act as if it was second-nature.

“Alright, what’s this one for?” Loki asked, lifting their newly-clasped hands a little.

Luna leaned closer and whispered. "Sometimes people come here on dates, and since that's what it looks like we're on, we gotta act the part."

“We don’t need to hold hands for that.”

"True, but it's easier, and it takes more attention away from you."

Loki tightened his grip around her hand. “Fair point.” They slowed to a stop by the first watery enclosure.

The pair admired different things about the tank, for the fish weren’t all too interesting at first. After a bit, Loki found them soothing to watch as they swam in and out of his immediate view. Luna looked at the how the water moved, the colors of the inhabitants, and such things. Though animated chatter went on around them, they stood together in comfortable silence, occasionally taking slow steps to a new spot.

The advantage to Loki having cool skin is Luna could keep contact with it for more extended periods of time than with anyone else she did so in her life. But, as muscles always do when activity is low, her fingers needed to move a little. Not intent on letting go quite yet, Luna unclenched her soft grasp on Loki’s hand, making his shift around as well. One of his fingertips – doesn’t matter which one – brushed against the ring decorating her pointer finger. Caught off-guard by the new sensation, he lifted her hand to his line of sight.

“This is new,” he uttered. He had gone through Luna's jewelry box a dozen times over, even taking it upon himself to try on a few items, but he had never laid eyes on this one before.

Luna looked up at him. “Oh, yeah. It’s a gift from Vision and Wanda.” Loki’s brow furrowed as he brought their hands back down to their sides.

“Vision?”

Luna snapped the fingers of her opposite hand. “That's right, you haven't met him. It's kind of a long, confusing story how he came to be with the Avengers, but it was before my time at the compound, so I only know some of it.” She moseyed forward with Loki in tow.

“What do you know?”

She shrugged and turned her head enough for him to hear her. “Well, I know he was supposed to be a new body for some security robot Tony made that went rogue and tried to obliterate all life on the planet. Obviously, it didn't work. The Avengers team intercepted it, and one weird thing led to another, and now we have an android who's becoming more and more human every day.” Luna stopped to read some information on the fish on an adjacent tank. “You know he has the Mind Stone?” She whispered to Loki. He took a step back from her.

“How could he have gotten that? Where could he have gotten it from?” Loki said back, frantic at this newfound piece of information.

Again, Luna shrugged. “Like I said, one of the weird things that I don’t know much about that led to him being with us. Apparently, it also had something to do with Wanda getting her powers.”

He took a step closer. “Really? What powers does she possess?”

“A bunch of cool stuff, like telekinesis, mind reading, energy blasts. Basically, the works. They’re all over the place. I could never keep track of them.” Luna snickered, remembering how Wanda would have trouble getting ahold of her abilities. Loki was at a loss with nothing to respond with, so he remained silent.

The background noise of children’s chatter, the gentle tones of the parents, and the movement of water took a backseat in Loki’s mind. He busied himself not with idle nonsense for he was far above any of that. With Luna by his side, he needn’t worry about being seen and recognized as who would think the God of Mischief would be at an aquarium attraction, holding hands with a human? Surely not even he would think of doing such things, yet here he was, doing exactly that.

He shifted his gaze from the fish in front of him to the ring on the hand he was still holding. How coincidental it was that Luna wore his color and it hadn’t even been her original choice. He ran his thumb over the jewel set into the silver band. The green shone elegantly against her light bronze skin, like a newly-born leaf on an olive branch. From two people he didn't know, their gift indeed became her.

“You know,-” Luna’s voice startled him from his thoughts, “-since they were both affected by the Mind Stone in some way, I guess I have you to thank for them.” Loki blinked, trying to shake his previous musings from his head to make way for hers.

“You lost me,” he muttered.

She moved forward again, pulling him along to further down the hall and stealthily evading people when she looked back at him. “Ok, so, you come to Earth with the stone in your stabby thing.”

“Scepter.” He corrected her.

“Yes, that.” She shot him a finger gun “You leave it here, the government gets ahold of it, they do experiments with it and whatever, one thing leads to another and another and another, and then suddenly, boom! I have two new friends. Well, not really friends. They’re more like acquaintances, but you know. Nice people in my life. So, in part, thank you.”

Loki couldn’t help but chuckle a little. “You’re very welcome.”

Luna gave his arm a gentle swat. “Hey, don’t laugh. I’m being serious.” Despite her plea, she began giggling as well.

“Oh yes, I can tell how serious you are.” He harmlessly teased.

They come to a stop once more in front of a coral reef display. The colors of the fish dazzled Loki. In all his hundreds of years of life, never had he seen such vibrancy. With caution, he leaned closer. Though he knew very well of the presence of the thick glass separating him and the creatures inside, there still sat the itching thought of the water swallowing him whole.

He stretched his vision past the glasses sat on his nose to the farthest corner of the tank, trying to get a glimpse at any animal he may have missed. His search was cut short by a looming shadow moving up the side of the glass. He leaned back, startled by the newcomer, but Luna was hardly fazed by it.

“Oh, he’s saying hi. Hello. Hi!” She whispered, smiling and waving to the shape as it moved away from them.

Loki looked at her, having had enough of the beast. Luna, however, watched it swim, drinking in every second as if she may never see it again. Fingertips resting on the glass, she looked away and met Loki’s gaze.

“Rays. They’re friendly,” she stated as if it were common knowledge. Perhaps it was, but not for him.

He allowed her to lead him to every edge of the room and tell him about all the fish she knew of. As he listened and looked with her, he found he had a favor for the tropical species, the angelfish holding a certain elegance he felt drawn to. Following one with his eyes as it moved about the coral reef, Luna whispered again to him.

“What were birthdays like on Asgard? Like, the celebrations and things like that?” Loki smiled at the memories.

He kept his gaze fixed on the fish. “Grand, from what I recall. Thor’s had slightly larger turn-outs, but I enjoyed mine all the same.”

“What did you usually do for them?”

“Feasts, gifts received from royal court members and citizens with trade jobs, special dances, and performances from professional groups. Like I said, very grand things.”

Loki knew what he said was vague, but he had nothing more to add or begin to brag about. He told her as much truth as he could muster up.

“When is your birthday?” Luna asked. A harmless question, but Loki still felt the blood in his cheeks grow colder than usual.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, toneless, as he relinquished his hold on her hand and walked away from her and the inquiry he did not wish to reply to.

He stopped in front of a tank displaying coral growing on the shelf, but he looked past them. They didn't deserve it, for they were beautiful and deserving of admiration, but Loki needed a distraction. The fates seemed to think he didn’t need one as Luna rushed to his side and carefully touched his arm.

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She felt like she was pleading a little. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” Once again, she didn’t force anything from him.

Despite her close proximity, she kept her distance. Loki couldn’t tell if she was afraid of him or considerate. Maybe a bit of both. He relaxed his body back to normal, free from the potential burden of revealing information he didn’t wish to think about, but he forwent reaching for her hand. He didn’t expect her to not reach either.

No longer connected, the pair still strolled about side-by-side, reading about where each fish came from and the conservation efforts to save individual species. Neither strayed far from the other, Luna fearing she would lose him and Loki not particularly in the mood to be left. Having made almost a full rotation around to each tank, Luna tapped the side of his arm.

“Ooh, let’s go see the sharks next,” she said gleefully.

Loki clasped both hands behind his back. “Lead the way.” And that she did, speed-walking to the next destination. Loki hastened his pace to match hers.

“You’re going to love the tiger shark. They’re totally harmless but so scary at the same time.”

Loki paused, letting the new information sink into his brain. “Tiger shark?” He mumbled under his breath.

“Yeah. They swim around with their mouths open so you can see all their teeth. It’s so creepy.” Loki believed her, but her obvious excitement contradicted her words. Then again, he knew how she favored such things.

Luna moved quickly, rubbing her arms as her sweater felt more and more flimsy with every minute she spent outside. Loki had no issue keeping up with her once he was by her side. The cold bothered him not in the slightest, a fact going noticed by Luna. She sneered inwardly, jealous of his superhuman genes being enough to keep him comfortable in his long-sleeved shirt.

With the shark exhibit still under construction, the select animals available for viewing sat in a large tank outside. Possibly to placate impatient adults and children eager to catch a glimpse, but nonetheless, there they were.

Loki had never seen sharks before, never having taken the time nor the brain space to think about such things. Sure, he had seen depictions, but never a live one. He had never cared to. Should he care to now? Did he have much choice? As he stood beside his enthusiastic companion and stared into an almost-barren watery enclosure, any sort of decision was made for him.

The animals were undoubtedly fearsome. Loki could have sworn at least one of them looked him in the eye on purpose. They appeared to peer deep into his soul and steal all of his secrets, dirty and otherwise. It was almost as if they knew him already and accepted him for what he was: a monster, a beast, a creature like them. So out of place in a world such as this little blue one.

It took almost all his strength, but Loki was able to tear his gaze away from the large fish in front of him. A small crowd had formed around the tank, and many of the patrons gasped and awed at the effortless ferocity the sharks beheld. If animals like these could command such respect and legitimate fear, maybe being a monster wasn't so bad.

Loki’s attention was diverted once more by a small tug on his sleeve.

“I hope it's not weird if I say thanks for being here with me," Luna spoke quietly, barely audible over the sound of the other visitors. Luckily for her, Loki heard her clear enough.

“For what reason are you thanking me?”

She took a deep breath in. “I don’t mean to be sappy or a bit of a downer, but as you can see, I live an isolated life. The only sort-of friends I have right now are my boss, who’s pushing 50, and our 16-year-old intern. For obvious reasons, I can’t very well hang out with them for fun. So, thank you.” She looked up at him and gave him a friendly smile.

He mimicked her. “You’re quite welcome.”

The pair turned back to admiring the sharks, letting their eerie calm wash over them. Whether from the glassy-eyed stares or the chilly air, Luna shivered a few times until a shudder too violent to ignore rocked through her body.

“It’s kinda cold. You want some hot chocolate or something?” She asked Loki out of consideration.

“Is it any good?”

“It's chocolate, and it's warm, so it can't be too bad.”

He nodded. “Alright.”

“Great. Stay here. I’ll be right back.” She patted the side of his shoulder twice and walked off to the nearest food stand.

True to his silent word, Loki waited patiently, the minutes slowly ticking by. Having looked at every shark about three times, he let his gaze wander to the people around him, minding those who felt they had the right to crowd near him. Loki had never been one for large groups of people if it wasn’t for him, so he stepped back and let his spot be filled in by a father and his child.

He crossed his arms and looked around. The area was well decorated enough for being an ‘in progress’ attraction. If feasible, he may return when it was complete. How grand it would look by then. He could almost imagine it.

His musings were interrupted by a small body colliding with his leg and tiny arms holding him captive.

“Daddy!” The little human yelled excitedly.

“Oh dear,” Loki muttered. He contemplated bending down and asking the child where their real parents were, but luckily, the mother ran over and pried her kid from him.

“I am so sorry! He thinks anything with long legs is his father.” She laughed nervously. In her arms, her son struggled but relented upon seeing Loki’s visage. A stranger, not his father. Oops.

Loki smiled at the pair as nonthreateningly as he could. “It’s quite alright.” He expected the woman to leave with her son in tow, but she stayed up, giving him a once-over with her eyes and staring him down.

“I feel like I know you. Have we met anywhere?”

Loki’s tongue caught in between his teeth. As he knit together a believable lie to tell her, yet another woman came to his rescue. A woman he greatly preferred over the one in front of him at the present moment.v

“Honey!” A very familiar voice called in his direction. “Here you go.” Luna made it to his side, a cup of steaming hot chocolate in each of her hands. “Warm and sweet, just like you like it.”

Loki took the cup, a sweet smile on his face. “Just like you.” Luna slid her empty hand into his and interlaced their fingers. He matched her grip, aiding her in embellishing their on-going fib. “Thank you, love.”

The woman looked between the two of them, her son now preoccupied with looking at something more interesting in the opposite direction. “Sorry to bother you both. Have a nice day!” She waved goodbye and walked to where her kid wanted to be.

Luna guided him to a nearby bench to sit. “What was that all about?” She asked once he was sat next to her.

“Her child mistook me for his father.”

She shrugged. “Common mistake. I did that a few times as a kid too.” She held her cup close to her face, blowing off the steam and taking a cautious sip. The warmth comforted the chilled ligaments and muscles in her hand.

Loki, in her other hand, held two warm things: the hot chocolate Luna so graciously got him and her hand still tight in his. The chocolate was much too sweet for his liking, but he drank it anyway. He found he liked Luna’s concoction more. He reminisced on the first day they met, how kind she was and still is.

He wanted to tell her more, but like always, he bit back his words. Communication was never his forte; ironic since he could easily string the prettiest words together and use them as weapons or tools to his benefit. But he needn’t a weapon or a tool now. He wasn’t in any immediate danger or in a position he needed to barter his way out of.

No, he was at an earth aquarium, holding hands with a human, and partaking in sweet hot chocolate. Everything was different. Luna was different, and, dare he say, he was different.

Loki pondered on the question she asked near the coral reef. She had proposed it utterly free of malice or mockery. How could she know everything about him to taunt him in such a way? She knew of a terrible piece of him, but not the entire otherworldly picture.

Loki rested the bottom of the cup on his knee. “I’m not sure,” he said low. He needed her attention, however small.

Luna did the same with her cup. “Not…” He was vague. No surprise there.

Loki cleared his throat. “I found out most unpleasantly, but I am not Thor's brother by blood.” Luna took in a shuddered breath. She felt like she made him open a whole can of worms he would prefer stayed closed for all eternity. But, like a jukebox, once he began his tale, he wouldn’t stop until he was done.

“When I was adopted, neither of my parents knew the exact day I was born. Queen Frigga, my mother, felt it unjust to pick a day, so she devised a system. I was keen to catch on to it, but none of that matters now.

“In our gardens, we had many different species of plants and flowers from all across the Nine Realms. One such plant was a rose bush from Midgard. My mother placed a small spell on it so during each spring, when the flowers would bloom, one rose would bloom blue. Every time, she would tell me all about how that rose bloomed the day I was born and had ever since. That it was mine and mine alone.” A sweet smile graced his charming façade in honor of the happy memory.

“My birthday would be celebrated a week after its appearance. She always saved its bloom day for the two of us. She never told anybody, so after she,” he let out a light cough, “after she passed, there wasn’t anyone to color it. I had already known the truth at that point, but it still seemed to mock me.” He scoffed. “Just another lie amongst the thousands I’ve been told.”

It was a brush-off comment, made to sway Luna into thinking he didn’t care or it really didn’t matter now. But she knew better. She knew him a bit better than that.

“I think it’s beautiful,” she whispered to him. “I don’t know your mother at all, but your story makes me wish I did. It proves she really loved you and did her best.” She kept her words sincere in hopes he would feel it.

He did. “With the utmost grace, if I might add," he replied with a broader grin.

“I can imagine. What did she look like?” Loki adjusted his hand in hers, holding it flush against his palm.

“Not unlike your own mother, though her skin was like mine and her hair like golden silk. She could take on any color, but yellow was her best.”

Luna let out a soft chuckle. “Yellow, like the sun.”

Yellow, like the inside of his cape. It couldn’t have been a coincidence.

Loki felt the warm rays of the said star sneaking out from behind the clouds. “Yes,” he uttered.

Chapter Text

Loki opened and closed the door for Luna, seeing as both of her hands were taken up with bags from the grocery store and aquarium gift shop. No matter how he offered his assistance, she insisted on carrying them all by herself. Carefully placing everything on the ground, she pulled her shoes off, glancing back to make sure Loki locked the door. Once he did, she picked up her gift bag and went to her room to change, leaving Loki to do the same.

After taking his boots off, he pulled off the new hoodie Luna demanded he get because ‘there's one in your size, you need it, and it can commemorate your first modern Earth outing.' He didn't need it. He was a Frost Giant. He could be in Antarctica and still feel comfortable in his regular daily clothes. But it was comfortable and buying it pleased her. Using money from Stark was odd, but having something to call his own felt nice.

After changing to a long-sleeved shirt and dark leggings, Luna opened up her gift bag. She wasn’t one to hold out on treating herself when she could afford it, especially on her birthday. Sat on her bed, she admired her new purchases: a moon jellyfish necklace and a jellyfish nightlight. Of course, she had a need for neither of these things, but the point of a treat wasn't about needing something. Thinking of the groceries, she placed the nightlight on her bedside table and hung the necklace as she left her room.

Loki was how Luna expected to find him: clothes changed, hair down, sitting at the counter, sipping a glass of water, and perusing the contents of the grocery bags. Luna walked on as casually as always, rounding him quickly and pulling the rest of the things out. Loki had already retrieved his new hair and skincare products and lined them up beside him in order of ascending size.

Luna started on the refrigerated items first.

“Ok, so, for dinner, I have something planned that you may have never had before.” She was a little apprehensive. Loki could tell.

“There seem to be no end to firsts with you.”

She smiled at his semi-sweet words and took the box of tamarind from him. “Maybe for you. It’s a very cultural dish, so I must warn you.”

“Warn me about what? Are you actually going to poison me this time?” He smirked, lightly teasing her.

“No, no. It’s just,” Luna paused, wondering if it was worth explaining. “Some people get scared when confronted with new things from another culture, and not the good kind of scared.”

Loki snickered. “You know I don’t scare easy.”

“Yeah, but still.” Luna looked down and rubbed her left hand; an action not going unnoticed by her intimidating companion.

She wasn’t looking for his permission. He knew she was the master of her household and he was the lucky guest residing in it.

He silently observed her before speaking. “Go ahead and make it.” Snapping her head up, she caught his gaze. “As a god, I give you my word that I will not be frightened in the slightest.”

She gave him a timid smile and answered with a small “Ok.”

No, she didn’t need his permission. Only some reassurance and respect.

Loki stayed where he was and watched Luna set up. He's seen the pans and bowls many times before, but some of the spices she brought down were new. She opened the jars and took slight whiffs of the contents. Curious.

Grabbing a spice grinder from a cupboard, she looked back at him. “What were some traditional dishes on Asgard, if any?”

“Large roasts were very popular. They were usually made to flaunt the talent and strength of the hunter.”

“Those sound nice. Do you remember how they were prepared?”

Loki was taken aback. Not a question he thought he’d have to answer in his life.

“I’m afraid not,” he muttered. “Royals never prepared their own meals.” Luna stopped her motions and leaned the small of her back against the counter edge, beholding a wide smirk.

“My, my. Prince Loki of Asgard can’t cook?” She couldn't help being amused at the thought of him unable to do something while it was as natural as breathing for her.

“Can’t be too hard.” She crossed her arms and cocked her head to the side.

“Well then, why don’t you get up and show me how easy you think it is?” She challenged him, but he wouldn’t let his ego give in so easily.

“I don’t have to prove my ability.”

Luna shrugged. “Ok. I’ll just assume that it’s too difficult for you,” she said, slowly turning back to face the spice-decorated counter.

“Now, hold on.” She stopped. “There is nothing too difficult for me,” Loki enunciated, pointing a finger at her.

She leaned her forearms on the counter across from him. “Then cook with me and prove me wrong.”

“Alright.” He relented, getting up circling around to her side.

Luna stood tall, not at all equal to Loki's height, but it was hardly her purpose. In a way, she felt as if she had him right in the palm of her hand. He set his closest hand on the countertop, and she mirrored him.

“Ok, which of these would you choose first when making masala?” She gestured to the spice lineup.

Loki was utterly at a loss. “Excuse me?”

“I’m only teasing,” she chuckled, waving her hand to dismiss her question. “Not many people know. There’s no real set recipe, but I always choose coriander seed.” She placed a fingertip on the lid of the largest jar containing round seeds. “It takes up most of the flavor.”

“And the second?” He asked, his curiosity now rearing its little head.

“This.” She tapped a container next to the first one. “Cumin. It’s about half the amount of the coriander.” She waved a hand over the rest. “And all of these are placed in sparingly as the amount can really influence the end taste.”

Loki admired a small jar full of black mustard seeds. “Such a delicate balance.”

“Well, yeah. That’s part of why it’s cultural. You can’t learn this in a book. You just have to,” Luna waved her hands and rolled her shoulders along with them, “feel it. I used to joke with my mom and say that our ancestors were guiding my hand when I would cook by myself.” She twisted open the coriander jar.

“They could have been.”

The ease with which Loki said such a comment made her hands fumble a little. He could have taken her for a fool, but of course, he wouldn’t, what with how Norse culture is and what their views on death are.

“Yeah, they could have.” Luna smiled. From one ancient culture to another, they weren’t all too different. “Anyway, here. Hold your hand out, palm up.” He obeyed, and she carefully cradled his hand with her own. She tilted the coriander seeds out into Loki's palm, stopping only when most of the space was covered. “For the two of us, about this much should be good.”

“So little?” He whispered, his attention ensnared by the tiny things in his hand.

“We don’t want it too strong, especially if this is your first time having it. Ok, now put it in the tray so we can measure out half of the amount in cumin.”

Loki slowly tipped his hand to the side and spilled the seeds into their new enclosure.

“And you can just tell?” He asked, dusting his now-empty palm of any stray spice.

“Mhm.” Luna nodded as she opened up the cumin. “It takes a trained eye and special touch. Plus, your hands are pretty great for measuring things." She gestured for him to lift his hand again. He did so, and she parceled out a smaller pile.

She took her time in judging if her instincts were correct. With the jar set back on the counter, she looked back and forth between the two spices. Loki was on the edge of his proverbial seat. Had she taken out the wrong spice? Was it the right spice but the incorrect amount? He was knowledgeable in many areas, more so than most of his rivals and supposed friends, but cooking had never once graced his aged mind. He was entirely out of his comfort zone.

With a single nod and wave of her hand, Luna affirmed the amount she took out, prompting Loki to place it alongside the other.

“Alright. With these two set, just tiny bits of the rest are needed.” Luna took over, adding pinches of mustard and fennel seeds and several whole black peppercorns.

Loki picked up a jar half-full of deep yellow powder. “What about this?” Luna glanced over and shook her head.

“Not yet. Turmeric powder goes in separately.” She set the oven to broil and slid the tray in after giving the spices a roll-around, leaving the door slightly ajar.

A cutting board atop the available empty space, Luna grabbed a fresh onion and a couple cloves of garlic. With those on the counter as well, she turned her attention back to where Loki stood, still clutching the turmeric jar.

“Ok, now, while I’m chopping the onions and garlic,-” she gently took the jar from him, “-I'm going to need you to watch the spices, so they don't burn.” She redirects him to the open oven. “As soon as you see even a few wisps of smoke, take the tray out immediately and set it on this hot pad-” she tapped a thick woven pad on the opposite counter, “-to cool. Every second is precious, and it happens quickly, so keep your attention there.”

Loki looked from the oven to the hot pad and nodded. Easy enough instructions to follow. He stood with his hands behind his back and kept a watchful eye on the toasting seeds. They seemed to take their own sweet time getting ready, so he let his gaze wander, if only for a second here and there.

Luna worked expertly on her part, quickly and carefully chopping the half onion into tiny squares and the garlic so small it almost became mush. She handled a knife a little too big for her hand, but she did so quite beautifully, almost as if it were an extension of herself. Loki couldn’t seem to get used to it, but he enjoyed finding excuses to watch her.

As delicate tendrils of translucent white made themselves known, Loki opened the oven door a tad wider and grabbed the tray. He lifted it out, being mindful not to spill the contents as he made his way to the other counter. Once he had set the tray down, he dusted his hands, ridding them of the tingles from his singed nerves. They dissipated as fast as they had appeared, leaving nothing but a slight blush across his palm.

“Did you take that out bare-handed?!” Luna practically shouted, giving Loki a start.

“Well, yes.” She dropped what she was doing and rushed over, grabbing his hands and inspecting them.

“Why didn’t you take a pot holder? You could have hurt yourself!”

Loki snickered. Her panicked nature was unnecessary. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m quite alright. See?” He spread both hands out to her. “A little heat never hurt me.”

With each line Luna traced on his palms, worry vanished from her until she could comfortably move and go back to what she was doing. Of course, he wasn't hurt. It would take a lot more than a small piece of hot metal to put so much as a blemish on his porcelain skin.

“Ok, so since you can take the heat, how would you like to prepare the tamarind sauce?”

“I might say yes if I knew what that entailed.”

“Oh, it’s so easy.” Luna rinsed her hands and dried them with a dish towel. Out of the fridge, she presented the box Loki had been admiring. “This is tamarind. It’s a kind of tropical fruit.” She reached in and picked one up. “It does have a hard exterior, but I will show you how to remove it without so much as breaking a nail.”

Drawing hot water from the tap, Luna placed a few tamarind pieces in a bowl and filled it until they were covered. She set the bowl down and, with great care, pressed her thumbs into the now-pliable shell. It shed off with ease, slowly revealing the softer insides. Once finished, she stepped back and gestured for Loki to try. And try he did. No dignified prince would be intimidated by a foreign fruit, least of all one like him.

Luna, in turn, checked on the spices and got on to sauté the onions and garlic. With lack of communication, she felt the silence build through her little apartment. No music, no talking. Only the sound of the oil in the pot heating up and the water nursing the tamarind. She wanted to leave – if just for five seconds – and turn on some background noise, whether from the television or the stereo. But she didn't.

The noise she loved would keep those awful intrusive thoughts at bay for as long as she could muster. But now, with Loki by her side, his presence alone was enough to dispel any wild imaginings from making a home in her mind for the night. Once more, she appreciated his company and was thankful for it.

Loki picked the last shell piece from the water. “Alright, is this it?” He tilted the bowl enough for Luna to see.

“It’s perfect.” She smiled. “Now drain that out and fill it again with fresh hot water. With this step, you really get to make the sauce.” She turned the heat down and stepped closer to him. “Your goal now is to break it all up. See the little veins along the outside? You got to take those off first.”

“And how would I do that?”

“Just pull it. After that, crush the pulp in the water until all you have are the seeds. It’s a little weird and scary at first, but you’ll get the hang of it real fast.” She gave his shoulder a pat and rechecked the spices. The pan they sat in was now at room-temperature, indicating they were ready to be ground.

Luna made short work of the seeds, grinding them into a fine mixed powder. Behind her, Loki made quick work of the fruit, having almost wholly dismantled it all by the time the masala was ready. The scent of Luna’s finished product further captivated him. Though smell was the strongest of all sensory memories, he couldn’t for the life of him remember ever experiencing something even remotely similar on Asgard. Again, another virtue of being on Earth.

The aroma was stronger now, with the masala and a bit of water heating up in the pot. Loki could almost swear it was bewitching, slowly drawing him in under a spell. Along with him, Luna revelled in her success. She had been around such scents since before she could remember, but she always knew how it made her feel. It was the feeling of home, comfort, and love.

Adding a dash of the turmeric, she peered over to see Loki finishing the tamarind. “Oh, that looks amazing.” Luna beamed. “Whenever you think it’s ready, you can add it in.” She gave the curry sauce a stir before dusting her hands and heading to her room.

“Wait, whenever I think it’s ready?” Loki called out to her.

“Yeah,” she smirked back at him, disappearing through the doorway.

All on his own, Loki was at a little bit of a loss. He gets to gauge how ready the tamarind was? The very name of the fruit had never crossed his mind before hearing of it barely an hour ago. As he cleaned off the last seed, he admired his work. Sauces were meant to be smooth, for the most part. The contents of the bowl were almost so.

Luna carried a bag of her tea light candles and lined the windowsill and sparing counter space with them. Loki contemplated asking for guidance, but she entrusted this task to him, and he would finish it. She’d praised the job he’d done till the present point, so it must be right.

With great care, he tipped the liquid into the already-simmering curry sauce, watching how it moved so as not to spill. He rinsed off the bowl and his hands and stirred the updated mixture, mimicking Luna’s practiced movements. Still, little bubbles rose from the bottom, providing heat to the surrounding air and any of Loki’s bare skin. He found it to be rather pleasant.

The sight before Luna was one to behold. She, a little human nobody, had successfully gotten Prince Loki, god of mischief, to cook. Well, help her with cooking, but it was an accomplishment in and of itself. She leaned against the counter outside of the kitchen and watched him. Appearance-wise, he looked comfortable and content, but she could only imagine what was going on in his mind.

She knew what displacement can feel like, the taste of isolation and hopelessness still bitter in her mouth. A wish she held for him was one where he didn’t have to feel such things and, maybe, she could change a few negatives to positives. Cooking was a good start.

Luna took a whiff of the spicy-sweet aroma and circled back around to Loki’s side. “Smells good.” He sent her a brief smile. She grabbed a small spoon and took a taste, judging the quality. Discontent, she sprinkled in some more salt and tasted it again. “Ok, now it’s ready for the very last part.”

Loki stopped stirring. “There’s one more step in this?”

“Yeah, but it’s the last one.” Luna took out a package of fresh flounder filets. “I mean, you could have just that over rice, but that’s not what we’re doing right now.” She rinsed each piece before placing them gently in the curry. “The nice thing is this only takes a few minutes to cook through since the surrounding area is hot enough.” With all the pieces cooking together, she covered the pot. “Ok, now it’s all done. Not bad, right?”

"Hardly," Loki smirked. Luna walked back out to the living room area and beckoned Loki to follow.

“So, while we wait, you can help me light a couple of these-” she waved a hand in the direction of a line of tea lights “-and set up our movie.” She opens a spare drawer and grabs a book of matches.

Loki takes the one she hands to him and strikes a match. “I can’t very well do that if I don’t know what we’re watching.”

“Oh, we’re going to be watching one of my all-time favorites: Baby Driver.” Luna lights the candles by the window and Loki starts on the ones near the kitchen.

“Isn’t that the reason Stark always calls you by such a name?”

“Yes, and you’re going to see why.”

Once finished, Luna doused her match with water before tossing it out and checking on the food. She microwaved two bowls of leftover rice and served up Loki’s first. The container sat pleasantly warm in his hands. He took in the smell of the completed dish, rice and all. If the term ‘comfort food' had a more elaborate name, the contents of his hands were more than deserving of the description.

Luna gathered her bowl together and made her way to the couch, straightening up both their spots upon her arrival.

“I guess you could consider this a part of our Diwali celebration, even though it’s a bit early.” She set her bowl down on the coffee table and put the movie disc in.

“Our what?” Loki asked, sitting down in his spot.

“Diwali. You know, the festival of lights?” Luna sat down next to him. “Do you guys not have something like that?”

He shook his head slightly. “Not that I recall.”

“Another first.” Luna bumped his shoulder with hers. “Lucky you.” She grinned, reaching for the remote and starting the film.


 

 

Loki enjoyed the movie. He undeniably saw why Luna would be nicknamed after the main character: the love of music, the casual dancing, and the vaguely boyish charm. It was all there.

“Yes, you are a bit like him,” he stated, shutting himself up with another spoonful.

Luna puffed her chest a little. “See? Obviously, Tony doesn’t call me that because I’m a master behind the wheel, but yeah. There it is.”

“Do you like blond serving girls as well?” Loki lightly teased as he watched Baby innocently interact with Debora.

“And serving boys,” she said too quickly. Her breath caught in her throat. She had gotten too comfortable and assumed the tolerance level of her roommate. Her careless, joking words may have just dug her into a hole from which she could not escape. “Does…does that weird you out?” She timidly asked. There was no taking back her answer.

Loki, unbothered as always, furrowed his brow. “What? No. Why would you think it would?” Luna unwound her shoulders a bit, but she wasn’t out of the woods yet.

“It’s just…some people here, on earth, think it’s weird. Was it weird on Asgard?”

Loki shook his head. “No, of course not. As long as the other person was willing, there was no problem. People did what they liked with whoever they liked.”

Luna tapped the side of her bowl. “That sounds really nice,” she muttered.

“Yeah, it was.”


 

After the movie was finished, the dishes were washed and put back where they belong. Loki washed up and made the couch back for himself. Luna had left the candles on, and he did the same, allowing their gentle flickering to lull him to sleep.

Luna took her bath after him, opting to take her time and enjoy some fresh bath salts and the like before sleeping. The warm water was soothing after spending much of the day in the growing cold.

Mindfully, she busied herself with her phone in the bathtub, scrolling through the same social media apps as always and playing a few levels of a puzzle game. It seemed everyone else had a flawless, beautiful life, unwrought with problems. Luna knew this to be untrue, but it was difficult not to indulge in falsities like those.

She checked her messages like she did every day. One would think she would get one from her mother saying ‘happy birthday,' at least, but none came. Not the days before, the day of, nor the ones after. Luna let her tears flow over her already-wet face and stifled any sob attempting to make an escape from her. To disturb Loki with her emotions would not turn out well for either of them. He needed sleep, not to comfort her and offer false kindness.

A dangerous tingle crawled up her skin and circled around the thick scars on her thighs. She rested her hands on them. ‘Later,’ she thought. Her bath was not yet through. It itched most unpleasantly, though. It was hard to ignore, becoming more so by the second. She clenched her fist beneath the water. She needed a distraction, if only for a few more minutes. Searching her brain for a good, strong one, she stumbled upon something new. She dries her hands off, grabs her phone, and types in the internet search bar, ‘How to grow a blue rose.'

 

Chapter Text

Soundtrack So Far

 

Luna busied about her lab, a tad impatient to finish any and all simulations so she could get to the real hands-on experiments. From a technological standpoint, her set-ups have gone off without much of a hitch, but the beautiful garbage fire that was the laws of nature could dispel all predictions and hypotheses made. Only time and resources could reveal any real answers.

“Miss, your mail has arrived,” FRIDAY called out, interrupting the soft music in the lab.

“Oh yes! Thank you, FRIDAY! I’ll go get that real soon,” Luna replied as she cleaned one of the benches for good measure.

She glanced to the clock on the wall. Loki was still working with Tony and Peter was occupied by a homework assignment in the next room. There was enough time to sneak out and grab her parcels before anyone noticed.

Now, one parcel was a known arrival amongst her higher-ups: the roundworms Tony ordered for her. Once Luna had a direction to go with her experiment, those microscopic organisms would come in so much handy.

The other one had to be kept secret, at least for the time being. Having it sent to her home would have exposed her as she was sure Loki regularly snooped through her things. Nothing was missing or tampered with, but she knew. Call it ‘woman’s intuition.’ Hers was almost never wrong.

Upon receiving them, Luna cradled her boxes close to her chest as if they were her own children. In a sense, they would be. She carried them back to her lab, setting the box of worms ever so carefully on a clean and clear table. The other box still in her hand would be hidden, it’s whereabouts privy only to her.

“Hey, what’s that?”

Well, not anymore.

“Seeds,” Luna said as she faced Peter. “I’m planning on growing roses.”

“Woah, cool.” She handed the box to him. “Is it, like, a biology thing or a personal thing?”

"Mm, a little of both," Luna smirked. "They'll be set up in the greenhouse if I get Tony's permission.”

“Mr. Stark would totally say yes. Roses are awesome.” He shook the box a little before putting it down on a supply cart. “And what are these?” He pointed to the larger box atop the bench.

“Those? They’re roundworms, scientifically named C. elegans. I am not pronouncing the C. part.”

Peter chuckled. “What’re you gonna do with ‘em?”

Luna opened the box and pulled out the small assortment of dishes and vials. “A little genetic manipulation. You know, put one thing there, turn another thing off, and see what happens.”

“What’re you hoping happens?”

“Not sure. Something, I hope, but that’s why we do these experiments. Also, it’s quite fun to expect the unexpected.”

There was a brief pause before Peter spoke, moving the conversation. “When are you going to look at my DNA?”

Luna let out a soft huff. "Like I told you when you're old enough."

“I almost am.”

“You only just turned 16, Peter. You’re still a kid.”

“Yeah, but not for long.”

“You’re still developing, spider-boy.”

“Spider-Man,” Peter corrected with a groan.

“Not yet, you’re not. You’re going through enough changes without the superpowers. Just hold out till your body settles down a little more. Trust me, it feels like forever, but it'll be over before you know it.” Luna slipped a glove off and ruffled his hair. “So impatient,” she said with a sly smirk. “Now, if you finished your immediate assignments, we can head over to the gym.”

Peter tucked his head down. “You know, you don’t have to come with me.”

“And leave you to bench all by yourself? I don’t think so.” She shed her other glove and followed it with her lab coat. “And, if you promise not to complain, you get to have first song pick after we stretch.”

“Oh yes! I promise!” Peter responded, excited at the prospect.

Luna tilted her head towards the open door as she passed him by. “Well, come on then, Spider-Man. Time’s a-wastin’.”


 

Peter was barely huffing as he finished his ninth set of weights. He knew he could bench-press a helicopter if he wanted to and barely break a sweat, but strength building wasn’t his goal at the moment. The spider that bit him already saw to that.

He paused for a moment, holding the full weight bar over his torso as if it were made of feathers.

“Why do I have to do this? I already have P.E. at school,” Peter whined. Luna towered over his lain figure, holding onto the weight bar to steady it as she peered down at him from upside-down.

“I know, Pete, but does your school know you’re Spider-Man?” He didn’t answer, only looking at the far wall. “That’s answers your question. Now let’s finish up your endurance training so you can practice basic agility.”

He powered through the last set, marking ten full, before slowly setting the bar back in its resting place. Dusting his hands and rubbing his eyes, Luna patted his back in praise of his persistence. The gesture pulled a small smile from the boy, though it was out of her view. She knew he had life hard, but he did well despite everything that had caused him pain.

As Luna set up her spot on a treadmill, Peter wandered nearby, rotating his shoulders and wrists.

He stopped close by the front entrance. “Hey, do you think if I shot my web from here, I would reach the other end?” He called out to her.

“Go for it, kiddo. I’ve been curious myself.” She took her glasses off, had a swig of her water, and started on a brisk walk to warm up to an energetic jog.

Peter took to shooting his webs across the room, aiming at random targets in the distance and judging how far he would need to be to reach maximum accuracy and precision. He dabbled with the numerous combinations he had access to, not bothering with where they landed.

Luna jogged in time to the music – Peter’s choice – and did her best to keep a watchful eye on him at the same time. He could practice in secret in the Avenger’s gym without fear of letting his true identity slip. She, Tony, and May all did their part in keeping everything about him safe.

He switched between the chin-up bars, the specially-fortified boxing bag, and treadmills until he started to get parched.

“Hey, I’m going to go get some water,” Peter projected over the music.

“Ok, be safe!” Luna called after him as he trotted over to and out the back door. In his opinion, the hallway back there had the best water fountain.

Luna could feel her feet dragging on the rotating material, threatening to trip her. She opted to get off before she seriously did. Falling on a treadmill wasn’t at all pleasant.

She slowed the machine to a stop and stepped off carefully, forgoing a tempting hop. A few shakes of her limbs loosened up her joints, feeling a snap here and there. Had she been in any present company, Luna would have made a ‘getting old’ joke, but for now, she kept it to herself and stoked her own humor.

Not bothering with a yoga mat, she made a few lunges for some extra rotation to her pelvic joints and leaning stretches to her back muscles. She put her hands on her hips and twisted at the base of her spine. Back-and-forth and side-to-side, she stretched to cool her muscles down.

Luna walked to the large mirror along one side of the room and gave her reflection a look-over. A bit sweaty, but she believed she looked good at the present moment. Must be the endorphins.

Her attention broke as Peter skipped back into her view and over to where she stood.

“Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I feel like I’m done, so I’m gonna go shower.”

Luna nodded. “Alright. Head back to the lounge once you’re done so we can all have a bit of lunch together.”

“Sounds great. I’ll see ya.” And with that, he turned back around and left for the showers.

Alone once more, Luna continued about her business, doing as much stretching as she could without lying down on the floor. She looked in the mirror again.

She fixed her posture and let her body settle into a fighting stance. A little shift and slide of her foot gave her the reassurance she needed. A jab with the right hand, then the left. She still got the moves.

Luna’s gaze wandered to the punching bag in the corner, still dusty and unused. It was tempting, but like every other time, she let it be. To the other side sat the practice mannequins in the same condition. Again, tempting, but soon forgotten.

A few steps were taken back, and she practiced high kicks and roundhouses, still keeping a close eye on her form. A bit sloppy and uncontrolled, but nothing a little more practice and an exercise tape couldn’t fix.

Another high kick and Luna switched her stance, spinning her body backward for a reverse roundhouse. Her joints rotating fluidly and her muscles clenching to support her speed and weight on each turn. If only Natasha could see her.

Luna had lost count on how many she had done – perhaps around 6 – when a firm grasp stopped her fast-accelerating foot. If the mystery hand on her ankle had not held onto her with such strength, she would have easily toppled over.

She whipped her head around to see her unknown visitor, but upon laying eyes on an overly-familiar face, any anxiety was quickly dispelled. Of course, she had been too preoccupied to notice him, let alone anyone, enter the large room.

“I thought you said you couldn’t fight,” Loki remarked, his surprised expression drifting into one more along the lines of astonishment.

Luna caught her breath before replying. “I said I didn’t. Never said I couldn’t.” He slowly let her foot down to the ground. She eyed him nervously as she straightened her top. “So, what are you doing here? Wasn’t Tony keeping you captive?”

Loki smirked at her light tease. “He has decided it would be better for him to think alone.” Luna nodded. How in character of her beloved boss.

“How did you find this place and get inside? This is the private Avengers gym.”

“I asked the disembodied voice where you were, and it pointed me here and let me in. That being said, how did you get in if you’re not one of them?”

She sighed, taking a sip of her water. “Early in my employment, I got lost one day looking for the gym and ended up here. I didn’t realize it was the private one until the Black Widow herself walked in like she owned the place and started doing some stretches not ten feet from me while I was on the machines.” She stared off at a distant wall, remembering the sheer terror she felt of potentially offending the fearsome redhead only by being in her presence. Luckily for her, it did not turn out how she expected it to.

“What happened then?”

“They let me stay. I worked closely with Steve, Tony, and Wanda, and they liked me enough to let me be here if I wanted.” Loki nodded before developing a puzzled look. Luna almost giggled. He looked cute when he was confused.

“Why stay if it’s not for you specifically?”

“I like to exercise in private, and I like the security this place gives me. Plus, I get to blast whatever music I want as loud as I want for as long as I want. It’s basically paradise.” She gave him a small smile, hoping he would take her statement. He did and returned it with his own little grin.

“That being said, it is interesting music.”

Luna smiled a little more full. "I’m glad you think so. Peter likes to call this one the ‘Thor Song.’”

“Fitting.” Luna moseyed about the open space, still nervous about being caught, and Loki followed. “So how come you were practicing though you do not fight?”

She shrugged. “Just that: practicing.”

“Where’d you learn?”

She gave a brief point to the ground. “Right here.” She took another swig of her water before continuing. “All employees are required to know some level of self-defense. Because I work with very sensitive material, I really have to know how. High steal items and whatnot. If someone comes in to take a piece of my work, I can't sit around waiting for someone to help me, so I have to know how to protect everything by myself, or at least hold my own long enough until better help arrives. I haven’t needed to defend myself, but you never know when the moment may arrive.”

Loki smirked. “Yes, quite. As my father always said, ‘a wise king never seeks out war, but must always be ready for it.’” Luna pondered his proverb.

“Very wise. He would have liked my maternal grandmother.”

He gave his head a little tilt. “Perhaps.” Luna gave pause, thinking of something else to say.

“Oh!” She clapped her hands together. “I’ve been meaning to ask: did you like my Diwali? I apologize for it not being as grand as it should have been. I work with what I have.”

“No, I enjoyed it very much. The desserts were excellent.”

Luna was thrilled, to say the least. “I’m so glad you liked those! Which one was your favorite?”

“The, um, the…” Loki held one hand out and moved his opposite one in a spiraling motion with his index finger pointing down to his open palm.

Upon recognition of what he meant, Luna snapped her fingers. “Oh yeah, the jalebi! I have always loved those. Perfect little sugar swirls.”

“One way of putting it, yeah.”

Luna shot him one more brief smile before heading back to collect her glasses and spare towel. She never needed it, but it felt better to have it nearby. On her way back to Loki’s side, she dabbed her brow of the sweat it accumulated.

She pointed a thumb to a door in the far corner of the gym. “Ok, I’m going to go take a shower real quick, and since this is a women-only area, I’m going to need you to shoo,” she said as she waved a free hand in a ‘begone’ manner.

Loki simply shrugged. “I can be a woman. Not right now, but I can be.” Luna quirked an eyebrow in response.

“I imagine, but right now, you’re not, so shoo. Go find Peter. He’s probably updated his list of 101 things to ask you. Oh, and when you do leave, tell FRIDAY to stop the music. It doesn’t need to play to an empty room.”

“I will do that,” Loki said pointedly.

Having nothing more to say in farewell, Luna gave him a finger-gun and jogged to her designated locker room. Once the door was closed behind her and she was out of his sight, she set her water bottle down on a bench and gave her forehead a scolding smack with the heel of her hand. A finger-gun as a goodbye? What, was she still in high school or college? Indeed, there was no escaping the term ‘awkward,' especially when queer and especially when in front of beautiful people.


 

After finding himself alone, Loki hung around in the gym for a few more songs. In this time, he freely enjoyed the new music while admiring the training area. Had he the attire, there was a possibility he might use the equipment. If it could take a punch from the Captain or a blast from an Iron Man suit, it would surely withstand a swing from him.

Having had enough, he signaled to the ever-present AI to switch the music off, making a mental note to inquire to Luna the songs she had on. He imagined it was the ‘metal’ genre she had mentioned she liked.

Loki sauntered about the halls, hands behind his back and his posture impeccable, searching for nothing in particular until he spotted his smaller friend in the distance, holding his cell phone. Once close enough, Loki spoke up.

“Those things on your wrists. What purpose do they serve?”

Peter jumped a little, spooked out of his selfie moment, and silently damned his Spidey-sense for never working at the right times. Remembering the question his new visitor posed, he glanced down at his exposed wrists and quickly pocketed his phone.

“Oh, these?” He held up one of his hands and brandished the shiny web-shooter. He had mere milliseconds to fashion a convincing lie. “I, uh, I really like Wonder Woman, so Mr. Stark made me functional bracelets like hers.” He rapidly nodded, emphasizing the truth in the apparent fib. Loki didn't seem to doubt him, but it was hard to tell.

“Wonder Woman? Is she like your Superman?” Loki gently probed.

Peter shrugged. “Kind of. She’s, well, I don’t know. She’s, like, a goddess and stuff. She’s really cool.” He smiled and nodded again. He had to change the subject and fast. “So, uh, has the doc shown you Star Wars or Star Trek yet?” He pulled the sleeves of his sweater down over his wrists.

Loki shook his head. He had wholly neglected to ask, but Peter didn't need to know. "Unfortunately, she has not.”

“Aw, what? That sucks. Oh! You know what? Thanksgiving is coming up in a little bit, and my best friend Ned is coming by. I can ask him to bring his Star Wars box set.”

Loki crossed his arms. “Alright, but what does that have to do with me?”

“Oh yeah, right.” Peter chuckled, his nerves trying to get the best of him. “You guys can come over and watch it with us. You and the doc.”

Loki blinked a few times in brief disbelief at what he was hearing.

“You’re inviting us into your home? Me?” He asked, pointing to his own chest.

Peter mirrored him and crossed his arms as well. “Well, yeah. I think it would be nice. Have you ever had Thanksgiving here before? Like, on earth?” Loki shook his head. “Oh, you guys would love it at my house. Well, it’s not really a house, you know that already, but anyway, it’s really nice. My Aunt May makes a duck, even though she always says we’ll do a turkey. I like the duck anyway. Ooh, and we make an awesome cranberry sauce together.”

Loki nodded in thought. “Sounds delightful, but I would take it up with your mentor as well.”

“Oh yeah, no, I will. She should be showering now, right?”

“She was on her way when I left her, or rather when she banished me from the area.” The pair snickered a little.

“Yeah, well, she likes her privacy.”

“That she does, young Peter.”

Chapter Text

Though earlier than usual, Luna popped into work with a fresh spring in her step, full of hope in regards to how her experiment would go.

“Good morning, Ms. Fields,” FRIDAY greeted as Luna slipped on her lab coat.

“Hello, FRIDAY. Any messages for me?”

“You have one from Mr. Stark.”

“Fantastic.” Luna snapped on a rubber glove. “Can you tell me what it says?”

"He has approved your personal use of the greenhouse, and a reserved spot will be available for you within the week."

“Awesome! Thank you.” With fresh paper towels in one hand and a bottle of cleaner in the other, she cleaned every available bench space. The next phase of her experiment was inbound.

Throughout the last few days, her population of C. elegans embryos had shown signs of proper development and growth. Ergo, all the available eggs had formed and hatched as expected, as did the larvae as they grew into strong egg-laying adults. This indicated the next step of her experiment could take place. Though, over those days of watching and waiting, Luna did not sit idly by and watch the larvae grow. No, not at all. She had taken it upon herself to design a guide RNA to aid in editing the genome of a single worm and watching how it grew with its new DNA. The new DNA in question would be the one isolated from Loki along with a green fluorescent tag.

She worked diligently, and for long hours, up until the moment Loki might have begun to worry. On one such night she had come home later than expected, he inquired on what had taken her so long. ‘My experiment took longer to finish than I thought and I couldn’t leave it before I was done,' she had answered him, and he had accepted it. He knew enough of her work to not grill her further.

Identifying the position to insert the alien sequence was tough. She needed to be as precise as she could be or it could cause a cascade of failures, maybe resulting in the death of her embryo. She was willing to do anything to prevent such a thing from happening. In the end, she was able to make the RNA an exact match to the DNA in the cell line she had cultivated by matching the base pairs of Loki’s DNA to that of a human’s, and then back to that of her desired C. elegans cell line. Her hard work paid off, little by little and hour by hour.

The target sequence and motif were set alongside the guide RNA, all paired with the proper Cas9 protein. Its role was to act like scissors to the double-stranded target DNA and allow the integration of the foreign – or in this case, alien – sequence.  It was scary and new, but she was excited. She needed to hang onto the feeling and ride it out to the end.

Within the Petri dish, Luna found a newly laid egg, still in the early stages of cell division. From the microscope, it looked like a little grey blob inside of a grey ring. Though unappealing to her colleagues, it was the most beautiful thing in the world to her.

Carefully, she picked it up from the nutrient media on which it sat to grow and placed in on a microscope slide. A micromanipulator on one side of the cell to hold in place and the tip of the microinjector in view on the other side.

“I’m gonna call you Sammy. Ok, little one?” Luna muttered to the egg. She was attached now. No turning back. She took a deep breath.

With steady hands, she slowly punctured the soft eggshell and microinjected the CRISPR components into the developing embryo. She held her breath until the microscopic glass pipette was out of the cell and everything remained intact. Another look-over and back into a fresh Petri dish he went. One crucial step down, many more to go.


 

Luna returned from an afternoon restroom break and snapped on a fresh pair of rubber gloves.

“Ok, how’s Sammy doing?” She asked aloud, waking up the ever-present AI.

“The condition of the specimen is unchanged and is almost ready to hatch.”

She smiled brightly. Everything was coming along as scheduled. “Doubly awesome. I will keep an eye on him.” She opened up her lab notebook and recorded the time of day.

New things were happening, and Luna was elated. Nothing could prepare her for what was in store. Not one of the countless hours she’d used to study or various exams she'd taken in her lifetime could properly ready her for the next step. They had gotten her this far, helped her pave the road to where she was today, but any further she would have to lay the brick and mortar by herself. She was more than capable of doing so, but the future was frightening and uncertain. Sammy could help ease her anxiety.

Luna peered over to the corner of the bench containing the Petri dish where Sammy was developing under the watchful eye of a microscope video camera. Through the lens of the bright-field microscope, Sammy was still indistinguishable from any other nematode egg ready to hatch. No noticeable phenotypic changes could be observed.

Cradling the container as if it were a real newborn baby human, Luna walked it to the microscopy room and over to where the fluorescent microscope sat. Once seated, she turned off all unneeded lights and slid the dish carefully under the viewer. A press of a button and a flick of a switch turned the large machine on and allowed her to see the growing larva.

“Hi, my little baby. Hi,” she cooed softly to the glowing green dot in the middle of the darker background. Luna snapped more pictures of him before he was free from the confines of his egg.

He moved in tiny circles inside the transparent egg. His space was tight, making it hard for him to take it any longer. Freedom was imminent, and he wished to discover the big new world.

“Are you ready to come out now? Come on, I’m right here. Show us what you can do.” Luna continued her whispering. She knew he couldn't hear her, but she spoke softly anyway, coaxing him out by willpower alone.

Sammy wiggled slowly, sensing his surroundings. Minute by minute, he pressed against the inside of his egg with all the energy he could muster. Luna held her breath. Any second now, he’ll crawl out and start his new life and grow into a strong adult roundworm.

With a timer set on the recorder, Luna had neglected to keep track of the time. She could have been sitting at the eyepiece for an hour, and it would still feel like five minutes. She was alone in this voyage and Sammy was so close to hatching.

Before her eyes, something changed. Sammy’s body was moving outside of the edge of where his egg was. She pressed a button, snapping a still image of the tiny glowing lifeform.

“Yes, come on. You’re doing so good. You can do it.” Luna resumed her praises as Sammy struggled against the egg still encasing him. “Come on, handsome. Come on. Show Mama your strength.”

Sammy's body thrashed about, using momentum to crawl and wiggle out. With every micrometer he traveled out, Luna took a picture and a note of the time. He was making record time in fighting his way until all of him was out and about in the nutrient media. Now, Luna looked at a little wavy green line, poking around and exploring the new environment. She broke out into a wide grin. He appeared and behaved utterly normal. He was everything she could hope for.

“That’s it. Oh, look how beautiful you are.”

She watched him move about and eat the bacteria provided for him as a food source. He stopped every so often as if he kept hitting a fork in the road and didn't know which way to turn. He turned left, right, right again, another left, and so on. Luna could watch him for hours, but she didn't have much time at her disposal, especially when someone specific was waiting for her to come home.

Having recorded enough, she checked if the still photos and video footage were saved to the proper file and turned the microscope off. Petri dish in hand once more, she carried it out as carefully as she had taken it in. Upon exiting the tiny room, she placed the dish on a nearby clear bench and shut the door behind her. Everything was safe and secure.

Turning her attention back to her specimen, Luna opted to take a few more bright-field microscopy images of the newborn Sammy. As she scrolled around in search for her baby worm, something else caught her eye: strange growths on the surface of the nutrient media. Her heart stopped in fear of possible contaminants. She had done everything by the book. There was almost no way there could be contamination from the outside environment.

“What the hell?” Luna muttered. To her, it looked like a kind of bacterial spore or mold, but she knew of no such organism to form so fast.

She turned the dials at the side of the microscope slowly, sliding the plate upon which the Petri dish was resting on. More little growth colonies popped up, looking nothing like what she had observed in past labs. An experiment using dyes could tell her if they were a mold or bacteria and what kind, but before she could take a sample, movement caught her attention.

A lone worm crawled along the surface, seemingly unaffected by the organism causing the suspicious growths. It was Sammy. Luna let out a sigh and watched him closely. Micrometer by micrometer, he made his way, unbothered by the strange surroundings. On the trail behind him, a spot grew, and then another and another and another.

“What?!” She exclaimed.

As fast as Luna’s pulse, they sprouted before her wide eyes. Never had she seen or studied such a phenomenon. She took another look. Sammy kept moving as if nothing had happened, more tiny things popping up behind him. Oh, if he only knew what was happening. Would he be as surprised as Luna? Perhaps, but the only one who does and ever could know about this was the dumbstruck scientist in the room.


 

Luna had been quiet for most of the night, filling the air instead with music, sweet scents from her homemade meals, and any stories Loki felt comfortable sharing with her. She enjoyed the sound of his smooth voice over her own as hers was lost along with her thoughts. It was a balm to her wandering mind and soothing when she couldn’t easily find sleep. The next day couldn’t come soon enough.

When it did, she was back in the lab before anyone else, armed with a mission and without so much as a hunch, but she knew how to make one. She didn’t bother cleaning the benches. Curiosity had her in a vice grip. The Petri dish was where she had left it, and she wasted no time rushing to it.

More growths were seen all along the surface of the media. So much so, they were now visible to the naked eye. Hurriedly, Luna picked the dish up and brought it to the fluorescent microscope. She held out hope for Sammy to still be moving and growing, and sure as the day, he was as spritely as expected.

No strange growths could be perceived on him, but such observations couldn’t be left to stand for conclusive evidence. Though he appeared to thrive in the altered environment, it was not the end of the search for Luna. Far from it.

The dish was whisked back out into the open lab. Luna cleaned a single bench and took out a vial of buffer solution, a microscope slide, and a single sample swab. She dipped the swab in the solution and took a sample from the corner of the dish where she knew Sammy would not be. A quick swipe onto the slide and peek through the microscope should show her everything she needed to know.

Luna saw nearly nothing. Whatever was on there was transparent enough for the light to pass through almost entirely. Faint shadows were detected on the slide but nothing more. Nothing conclusive. She let out a low growl. It was irritating not knowing, but there were more ways to get proper results.

Using the tip of a plastic pipette, she picked up the most significant growth and inserted it into a small tube of buffer solution. She shook it vigorously by hand and placed a drop into the MicroFluid machine. Once set, she turned it on, and it began processing.

“Ok, FRIDAY, this could be a long one or a short one, so tell me what I have here that’s not buffer solution or bacterial DNA.”

“No problem. This will take a few minutes if you don’t mind waiting.”

“I got nowhere else to be and nothing else to do, so ding me when it’s ready.” And wait she did, not bothering with music until after she got results. There was enough anxiety coursing through her veins to occupy her busy mind.

Five seconds, five minutes, five hours, it didn't matter. Time felt slow and cumbersome like the grey clouds outside. Luna did her best to be patient, tapping her fingers against the tabletop and puffing a lock of hair off of her brow. She had a mighty need to know and know now.

“Miss, the results are ready.” Luna sprung off of her chair and hustled to the virtual table.

She pulled on her set of virtual gloves. "Great, great, this is great. Throw it on-screen, would you?" A wave from her hand turned it on, and FRIDAY took over the rest of the commands. "So what do we have here?"

“Aside from the buffer solution and bacteria from the nutrient media, the only discernible compound here is ice. Very robust ice.” Luna crossed her arms.

“Ice? Why would there be ice?” She scrunched her face in confusion and slowly sat back down. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she muttered under her breath. This was bigger than previously thought, but the proverbial can of worms was opened, and there was no sense in closing it back now.

Chapter Text

Taking a bite of her sandwich, Luna pondered her upcoming statement to Loki. Once done, she spoke.

“We should go out.”

Loki nearly inhaled the bite he had taken. He sipped his tea to clear out his throat. “In what way do you mean?”

“You know, out. To have fun.” Luna could keep up the confidence charade for only so long. She needed a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and fast.

“Any particular reason?”

Luna grinned. “Actually, yes. I had a very productive day at work, and I feel like celebrating. You’re included, of course.”

Loki tapped his fingers against the countertop. He did feel cooped up. Wherever he ended up, it almost didn’t matter at the moment.

“Did you have anywhere in mind?”

Luna fiddled with her thumbnail. “Depends. Are you a ‘bar’ kind of guy?”

Loki smirked. “Where you plan to go, I will follow.”


 

Loki quirked a brow, observing his new surroundings as discreetly as he could. “So this is what passes for a bar on Earth?” He moved out of the way of someone stumbling past him.

“Eh, yeah.” Luna shrugged the opposite way. "Not particularly glamorous, but at least it's in walking distance from home. I'm a lightweight, and I don't want to be behind the wheel. Speaking of which, I strongly suggest a two-drink limit. These things are expensive.” She moved slowly through the small crowd, clutching Loki’s jacket sleeve in fear of losing him. If anyone in the room recognized him, it would be pandemonium before she could say the word.

Luna pulled Loki to the bar and waited for the attention of the barkeep to be turned on them.

“What can I get ya?” He asked once he was close enough.

Luna held up a hand. “A Jack-and-Coke for me, please.” She glanced to her side.

“Martini, dry.” Loki requested, his hands folded atop the counter.

“You sure know your way with drinks,” Luna commented.

“Simple mixtures don’t change much. The names vary, of course, but they’re easy to catch onto.”

Luna giggled. “My goodness, space alcohol? Those drinks must be a trip.” Loki smiled humorously.

“Depends on the system. Though, Asgardian mead is to die for.”

“Literally or figuratively?”

Luna posed her question as innocent rhetoric. Loki picked this up and sent her a sly smirk with a twinkle in one eye.

The two stared at the array of bottles lining the back of the bar, each independently trying to read the labels and guess the contents. No sooner did they identify a bottle of vodka, their drinks arrived, Luna’s in a short crystal glass and Loki’s in the signature martini glass. Luna extended thanks to the man and shelled out a few bills, getting only a brief tight-lipped smile from him in return. The bar had grown in volume and capacity, so he was ungratefully looking forward to serving potentially less polite patrons.

Anxious he wouldn’t hear her, Luna leaned in close to her companion. “Come on, let’s go sit at a booth. It’s a little quieter,” she spoke into his ear. He gave her a brief nod and trailed after her in search of an empty, clean place to sit.

A ways away from their previous seats, they spotted one. A tad secluded, but they preferred it so. Luna slid in first, letting Loki sit next to her. He left some room between them, enough for their elbows to jut out a little. Luna swirled the dark liquid and lifted it up, propping her elbow on the table, and angled her body to Loki.

“To Biology,” she began. “For bringing us to where we are today.” Loki grinned and tapped his glass against hers. Together, they took the first sip. Luna grimaced at the burn in the back of her throat, coughing a bit to ease the discomfort. “And speaking of biology, the really cool thing at work. I mean, if you’re interested, I can tell you a bit about it.”

Loki put his glass down, granting her his full attention. “Please, go on.”

Luna sipped her concoction and clear her throat. “Ok, so you know I took a bit of your DNA, right?”

“How could I forget?”

“So I took that and spliced the uniquely alien sequence from your DNA into a nematode.”

“Excuse me, a what?”

“A nematode. It’s a type of roundworm that’s used in lab experiments that need an organism to model procedures on and are determined to not be inhumane.”

“Alright. So you put a piece of me into this little creature?”

“Yes. And you will never guess what it did.” Luna smirked, excited to share her findings with a fellow intellectual.

“Do enlighten me,” Loki mumbled against the rim of his glasses as he took another sip.

Luna, armed with an excited grin making a home on her face, leaned in close and spoke quietly into his ear.

“It made microscopic particles of ice!”

Loki struggled to not do a violent spit-take, opting instead to cough and hit his fist against the table top. Luna covered her mouth, trying not to laugh. She expected a reaction, but not one so humorous.

“What?!” Loki exclaimed once he could form words.

Luna placed a hand on her chest. “That’s what I said!”

“What else did it do?!” She had him now.

“So far, nothing.” She sipped her drink. “It’s growing at a normal rate, so that's the only external factor as of right now. Who knows, maybe its lifespan will be extended. How old are you again?”

Another rhetorical question, so Loki neglected to answer. He let his throat and chest settle after the coughing fit, taking the time to reflect on Luna’s discovery. From what he knew, she still had no idea of his true nature. Why he couldn’t bring himself to confess, he didn’t know. In the beginning, very little about him mattered, but now, the time had passed for such a thing to be mentioned.

She believed him to be Asgardian, and he is. Raised on Asgard in the royal palace, surrounded by its culture and partaking in everything it had to offer every day of his life. It was all he knew. He didn’t ignore his genealogy, but no purpose was served in talking about it now. In the past, he had used it as a weapon, confessing the truth to his enemies to throw them off or make them see him as a traitor to his home. But to somebody kind, someone he was on favorable terms with, it wasn't necessary and most likely never would be.

“So you made a new lifeform,” he stated. Luna nodded her head, shrugging.

“In a way, yeah.” Loki took a side glance down at her, letting his gaze linger as she drank more of her beverage, finishing it in one go.

“Fascinating.” He remarked. Luna responded with a little nod and a smile.

“Mmhmm, yeah. It never gets old, no matter how many times you do it.” She traced her thumb along the geometric designs cut into the glass and bit the inside of her lip, repressing the smile she wore from growing. Loki could have patronized her or made it about himself like so many other people in her life. There was no denying how flattered she felt, but she hoped he couldn’t tell.

Peering inside at the stray drops of dark liquid, a hankering for another crept its way into Luna’s brain. Patting Loki’s shoulder, she rose slightly from her seat and brandished the empty glass.

“Hey, I’m gonna go get a refill. Be back in a bit.” He nodded and took a sip from his glass. He was smart, taking his time and savoring the drink. Luna, on the other hand, was eager. A fault of her own making.

The bar was filling up, but space remained open for her to wait for the barkeep. Luna went back-and-forth between looking at the array of bottles and art and tapping on her glass. Not five minutes went by before she felt a presence settle in beside her. From the corner of her eye, she could see it wasn't Loki or anyone else she recognized. Maybe if she pretended no one was there, they would leave her alone.

“Hi. What’s your name?” Spoke the individual next to her. He had his head turned towards her, giving her his undivided attention. So much for pretending.

“Holly,” Luna answered. There was no way in the world she would give a stranger her real name, no matter how common it was.

“Holly. Very nice. I’m Jacob. Since you’re here by yourself, let me get you a drink.” Jacob leaned against the bar much too close to her for comfort.

“Thank you, but I’m here with someone.” She was tempted to look around for her someone, but her body wouldn’t listen. Every nerve in was on high alert, ready to run if need be.

“Well, I don’t see him.” Bold of him to assume she was with a man, but nonetheless, she wished he would do one of his appearing acts and flash a trademark menacing stare.

“He’s at a booth.” Luna relaxed a little, safe within the truth.

“Then why are you at the bar and not with him?” Jacob would not give it a rest. Typical.

“Just getting a refill.” Luna lifted her empty glass. Perhaps he would leave now he knew she had plans.

Jacob put on a smug smile like he knew a secret she didn’t. “Allow me to buy you a drink. Maybe try something different.” He apparently never heard of the word ‘no’ before in his life.

“Thank you, but I’m going to have to decline.”

“Oh come on, you don’t have to be shy. We’re nice,” spoke a new voice to the other side of her.

“Huh?” Luna looked at the newcomer full-on. His audacity baffled her.

“Yeah, we’re nice. No need to be a prude. Just let loose with some new friends, ok?” Luna wanted to scream, but her voice refused to cooperate. She was cornered. They had her trapped, and they knew it.

She managed to squeeze out a little “uh-huh.” For the meantime, it was safer for her to go along with them than to fight.

The second man placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed a little. “That’s my girl.”

The barkeep, making his rounds, came close enough for Jacob to yell out. “Uh, three of whatever she was having.”

Luna was close to breaking out in a cold sweat. There was a reason she rarely went out by herself, and this was it. Staring down at the counter, she prayed to every god and spirit she could think of for someone to come and help. Lucky for her, there was one not too far away.


 

Loki had waited five minutes too long, and now, he was beyond impatient. He had taken his time on his drink, intent on only having one glass and finishing it with Luna by his side so they could leave. On his list of quality bars he’d visited throughout his life, the one they were in ranked quite low. He drummed his fingers on the table, counting down precisely ten seconds until he got up and searched for his roommate.

The ten seconds passed him by and up he went, looking around for Luna. Through Loki’s upset at being left for longer than anticipated, a shred of fear and anxiety shone. Had she purposefully left him? Had she grown tired and abandoned him? If he were honest, he would become tired of himself as well. But he didn’t like being alone, especially in a place such as this one.

The bar he had picked up his drink was noticeably more crowded, but he knew what to look for. It didn’t take him long. He could recognize Luna’s fluffy black head of hair anywhere. However, he did not recognize the two additional figures on either side of her.

Loki was a bit put off. Luna never told him about having friends outside of her workplace. She said she had no one and he believed her. Had she tricked the trickster? Impressive, if she had, but this wasn’t the case. Whenever one of them leaned in too close, she leaned away. Her arms were drawn close to her body, and her shoulders almost touched her ears. Loki was not only good at reading books, but also body language. Luna was frightened and stressed, and these individuals were the furthest things from friends.

Had he his magic, he would have transformed the two into headless chickens, making them run in circles around each other as he escorted Luna to an area out of the public eye. But he had no magic. No special illusionary powers. Only his mind and his hands, and he could do wonders with both.

Loki pondered on how to intervene. He had a flair for the dramatic, but he could be discreet when the moment called for it. As the duo chatted Luna back and forth, Loki spied the one to her right drop something into her drink while the other held her attention. An odd thing, he wondered, but the look on the man’s face was not so strange to him. It was one of dastardly mischief and utmost of no-good, almost evil in nature. He had to act, plan or no plan.

Downing the rest of his martini and placing the glass on a nearby table, Loki adjusted his glasses and strut over to the undelightful trio.

“Darling, there you are,” Loki greeted, turning on the charm. Luna did nothing to hide the relief she felt, letting it flood her face as she looked at him. She turned her whole body towards him, leaning her left arm on the counter.

Luna placed a gentle hand on Loki’s shoulder and slid it down his upper arm. Through his jacket, he could feel her trembling. “Oh, this is my date. You know, the one I was telling you about.”

Loki moved slowly behind her, blocking her from the man on her left with his body. “Boasting about me to your new friends?” He put his hand on her left shoulder and slid it all the way down until it reached and enveloped hers. “I’m flattered.”

“You know I can never shut up about you.” Luna reached her right hand back and touched his cheek. The simple action set the two men a little on edge.

“I know all too well,” Loki said, sounding as fond as he could. “But please, what of all of you?” He questioned the duo, putting them on the spot. He took pleasure in their unease.

“Uh, you know, we’re just here after work, getting drinks,” Jacob stammered out and cleared his throat.

Loki smiled, feigning ignorance. “Celebrating? We are too.” He placed his empty hand on Luna’s other shoulder, further pressing her back to his chest.

“Yup. Big promotion at the office,” she falsely bolstered. Loki tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

“As intelligent as she is beautiful if I do say so myself.” With his hand still by her head, he cupped it around her ear and whispered into it. “Act like I said something lewd.”

Continuing their little performance, Luna let out a loud gasp and gave him a soft swat. “You animal, we’re in public!”

Loki placed a hand on her waist and tightened his grip. “Then let’s go somewhere more private.” The discomfort the two men felt grew too much to bear, and they averted their gaze to the floor. Loki saw his chance and lifted his left hand off of Luna’s, grabbing the untainted glass.

Luna straightened her posture, having had enough public attention. “Well, I guess that’s my cue to leave. You guys have a great rest of your night!” Loki stepped back from her and helped her down from the chair, showing her the glass he had so she wouldn’t take another. Keeping a hold on her hand, he led her away from the bar. “Thanks. I thought they were never going to shut up,” she said, deeply grateful for his intervention. Loki flashed a broad grin and veered sharply to the right, situating them at another booth occupied by two other people. “Wait, I thought we were leaving.”

Loki sat down. “And miss the show? I think not." He gestured to the spot beside him, and Luna took it.

“What show?” She took the glass from him. “Loki, you’re doing that face.”

“What face?” He asked innocently.

“The I’m-up-to-no-good face. What did you do?”

He leaned close, not taking his eye off of the two men they recently left. “I spotted one of them slipping something into your drink.”

“Ah!” Luna yelped and pushed the glass away from her.

Loki chuckled. “No, not that one.” He slid the glass back and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “That one.” He pointed to the one still sitting on the counter. “I switched the glasses while their attention was elsewhere. Now, let’s see what his concoction does.”

Loki listened in carefully to the duo. They seemed to be in a quarrel, and it was too tempting not to eavesdrop.

“Idiot!” Jacob hit his hand against the table. “She really was with someone! And that was my only packet!” He picks up the glass closest to him and drinks it down in one go. A sinister smile graced Loki’s facade. Everything was going as smoothly as he could hope.

“You know how girls like that are,” Jacob’s nameless friend retorted. “They always lie. How was I supposed to know?” Loki’s grin faltered. What was so wrong with Luna they felt the need to slander her? They knew nothing about her.

Loki’s iron gaze was diverted as he felt Luna’s smaller hand press against his collar. “What are they saying? I know you’re listening in,” she spoke strongly into his ear. How intuitive.

He turned his head closer to her. “Things imbeciles say,” he replied. She didn’t need to know.

Jacob scoffed. “Whatever, man.” He held the now-empty glass in front of his face. “God, I forgot how much I hate Jack and Coke. Could I get a beer?” He called out to the barkeeper.

His beverage of choice now in hand, he drank it leisurely, chatting up any girl who wandered near him. No luck with any of them. They were spared from his advances by the friends at their sides.

Loki kept Luna close to him, his grasp on her unwavering. He did not want a repeat of their incident, especially not as his hastily-cobbled-together plan was slowly running its course to the end. Any glance from a stranger would reveal quite a sight: a man possessing a terrifying aura with his arm tight around a woman his complete opposite, both comfortable in each other, her entirely off-limits for any outside interaction.

Jacob started swaying once he had finished his beer. His friend caught his arm, playfully reprimanding him for not being able to hold his alcohol like he used to. Jacob waved his hand, letting out a breathy laugh as he sat down in a bar chair. The dizziness wouldn’t let up, no matter how many times he blinked and shook his head. He gripped the table edge and groaned softly. Five minutes pass him by, and he feels worse. As he pushes himself up, telling his buddy, he'll use the restroom real quick, but he can barely finish his sentence before he collapses to the floor.

Loki cranes his neck, trying to get one more look at his vanquished foe. “So that’s what his little drug does,” he mutters and inwardly sneers. A cruel trick to play on someone currently on the right side of a trickster god.

Luna felt bittersweet nausea crawl up her throat. She looked down at the untouched drink by her hand. If it hadn't have been for Loki, it would have been her passed out on the floor and not the sham of a human calling himself a man. Though, through the sick feeling in her gut, she felt satisfied. He got a literal taste of his own medicine. She held no sympathy for him. Only gratitude for the individual at her side and a burning desire to go home.

She lay a hand over Loki’s. “Come on, let’s go." Luna got up, and Loki followed, hand-in-hand as they were meant to be. She took the drink with her, set on tossing it out elsewhere. Loki took one more look at the small crowd forming around the downed man, trying to get him to his feet. He smirked, feeling proud of the success of his plan.

No sooner were they a few yards from a door did a loud, slurred voice call out through the crowd.

“Hey, you! Tall guy! Yeah, you!”

Luna's blood froze, and her hand began to shake again. Loki took it upon himself to glance behind him. A shorter, inebriated young man stood before him with another person behind him, holding onto his arm.

“May I help you?” Loki spoke calmly.

“You think you can fool people, but you can’t fool me, guy! No, you can’t fool me.” The man shoved an accusatory finger at him.

“You must be mistaken. I am doing nothing of the sort.”

“I have no time for your games, dude. I know who you are.”

Loki snickered. “You couldn’t possibly.”

“No, no, I know you. You’re the bastard that destroyed New York. You’re Loki!” The young man was close to shouting, his friend tugging on his arm with a little more force. Loki tightened his grip on Luna’s hand.

“What? No, he’s not,” Luna interjected, squeezing Loki’s hand back.

“Don’t tell me what I know, woman!” He jabbed at Luna. She was taken aback, a bit confused by his logic. He looked pointedly back to Loki. “You took everything from me, and now I’m gonna get payback.”

Loki leaned down and scowled. “And what, pray tell, would you take from a broken man with nothing?”

More people were looking on to the commotion, inquisitive and excited at the possibility of a bar fight. Nothing of the sort could happen.

Luna stepped in closer to Loki, putting a hand between him and the drunk stranger. “Now, now, let’s break it up. It’s too late in the afternoon for us to lose our heads.” She chuckled dryly, trying to put them at ease. Loki leaned back and stood at his full height, the glower he sported not once refraining.

Picking a spot on the far wall, Luna stared at it in surprise and let out a loud gasp. “What the hell is that?!” At her exclaim, the man and his friend both looked back, seeing nothing in particular. In a flash, Luna splashes her drink at the man’s face and bolts for the door, tugging Loki behind her. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

The pair ran out the door, entirely neglecting to check if they were being followed. The cold wind bit at the thin skin on their faces, but neither felt it. Neither of them cared as adrenaline flushed through their veins. Loki loved the chase, however imaginary it may be at the moment. For Luna, it was an astounding amount of excitement in a short amount of time.

Out of breath and jittery was how she felt upon reaching her apartment building, bursting through the door of her home and slamming it shut. Running as exercise was one thing, dashing down the street and holding somebody’s hand was another. Having no more strength, she resigned to lying on the floor. Loki followed suit as their hands were still intertwined. Both felt too buzzed to bother.

Taking calculated deep breaths, Luna turned her head and looked at Loki. His close proximity made it easy for her to admire his appearance. His cheeks were a bit flushed, and his hair was wind-blown and scattered. He almost looked frazzled. An amusing contrast to his usual calm and collected demeanor. The god of mischief and chaos, flat on his back, fresh from leaving a place where he had caused, of course, a little mischief and mayhem. And he had almost been caught. Luna couldn’t help but laugh.

Loki heard the growing giggles and turned to Luna, puzzled. His bemused expression made her laugh harder, and she covered her face with her free hand. He resided to joining in her jovial attitude, her laughter quickly becoming contagious. Laughing felt good. He hadn’t done it in a while. And seeing her smile the way she did felt even better.


 

Refreshed from a shower, Luna emerged from the bathroom, clad in clean sleep clothes. She brushed stray strands of damp hair away from her eyes and squinted. Being nearsighted was a drag, but at least she was sober. Striding into the living room, she slipped her glasses back on and got some water from the kitchen. Walking back out, she greeted Loki with a passing smile, set on retiring to her room. But, short of disappearing through her door, she stopped.

“Why did you help me?” She asked, leaning one shoulder against the edge of the doorway. Loki looked up from whatever program he was watching.

He was at a temporary loss for words. Why did he help her? He could have watched the events unfold and witnessed some form of harm befall her. He’s done it before to other people. He hadn’t the terms to describe it, so he told as much truth as he could.

“Have you forgotten so quickly? I am the god of mischief. I know a bad trick when I see one.” Luna nodded. A good answer. They both thought so.

“Well, I’ll say goodnight now.”

“Oh, yes. Goodnight, Luna.”

She moseyed to her room and shut the door, locking it as she did every night. Away from prying eyes, she let a smile grow wide on her face. Setting her cup down, she lay back on her mattress and bit at her thumbnail. Keeping composure was hard. She shouldn't feel elated, but she did. Loki had helped her out of a dangerous situation when he didn't have to. She knew he had fun doing it, and his enjoyment of the matter was the primary driver, but it made her feel good.

Still awake on the couch, Loki rested his chin in the palm of his hand, the program he had on no longer held his interest. His mind took him back to the bar. He had fun playing a trick on an unwitting human. It was his specialty, a favorite pastime of his spanning most of his life. He was used to it. The visceral reaction to seeing Luna is distress, however, was foreign. He was back in dangerous, uncharted territory. Was he getting attached? Or was he changed, as his brother encouraged him to be? Could it be both? Possibly. And saying her name out loud. The first time he had done so. Beneath his hand, he mumbled it again. She had a good name, and he liked saying it.

Chapter Text

Story Soundtrack

 

A comfortable feeling settled throughout the apartment space. Loki sat at the counter, enraptured by a book on jellyfish, and Luna stood at the stove, preparing a vegetable rice dish and swaying along to The 1975’s ‘Somebody Else.’ It was a brief time of bliss and peace for the two unlikely friends, and they appreciated each second they could spare.

“Did you know these creatures have no brain?” Loki spoke, too occupied with admiring the artist’s rendition of a Portuguese man o’ war to look away.

“Mhm. Nor do they have hearts,” Luna replied, glancing back at him.

Loki turned the page, revealing another for his enjoyment. “Amazing how they can be considered a living being.”

Deeming the food done, Luna turned the stove off and bent to get an insulated Tupperware container.

“From a biologist’s view,” she called to him, “an organism has to do three things to be considered alive: produce waste, expend energy, and intake some kind of fuel. For example, take a single algae cell.” She opened the container and carefully scooped the fresh food into it. “Though it is only one cell, it takes in light and carbon dioxide as energy sources, produces oxygen as waste, and expends energy through its cellular processes. Now, take a virus.” She turns around and places the filled container on the counter in front of Loki, pressing the lid down. “Even though it can infect its host and lie dormant for many years, it doesn’t do any of those three biological activities. So, it’s not alive.”

“Yet it can kill so mercilessly.”

“Yeah. Pretty freaky, right? I love it.” She grinned. “But don’t get me started on bacteriophages. I could go on and on about those, and we have somewhere to be really soon.”

Loki closed the book and folded his hands together. “You can tell me in the car.”

Luna nodded a little and let her smile fall as a strange sense of dread flowed over her.

“Do you think they’ll like this?” She asked. “I mean, I haven’t had or been to a proper Thanksgiving in forever, so I don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t know either, but by the look and smell, I think it would be appropriate.”

Luna leaned closer. “Do you really think this is a good idea? I mean, to go? I'm not family, and I'll probably be intruding on their good time. I'm basically the same as a teacher's assistant at Peter's high school, and the thought of me being at their table for Thanksgiving is just weird. What do you think? Is this weird?” She rambled, her nerves getting the better of her self-control. Loki tapped the counter and looked to where her hands rested.

“I will be honest, this is all new to me as well, but the boy did invite us to his home to spend time with the people he considers his family. He seemed rather confident when asking.”

Luna’s smile returned, albeit smaller. “Yeah, he’s getting better at that every day.”


 

Loki knocked thrice on the new apartment door. He and Luna didn’t have to wait long for their teenage friend to open the door and greet them with his trademark $100 smile.

“Hey, you guys! Come in, come in. May is the in the kitchen, and Ned's already here,” he chatted as he led them into the living room. “It’s so great you both could make it.”

“I’m just honored you invited us,” Luna said. She lifted the Tupperware in her hands. “I did bring something if that’s ok.”

“Oh yeah, awesome. You can put it wherever it needs to be.”

“Alright. I’ll go set it in the kitchen and say hi to your auntie.”

“Cool, cool. We’ll be here.”

Once Luna was out of earshot, Loki and Peter spared about five seconds of awkward silence.

“I must say, you have a lovely home.” Loki smiled down at him.

Peter chuckled lightly. “Aw, thanks, Mr. Loki. Here, let me introduce you to Ned before it gets weird.” Loki was ushered further into the living room. There, seated politely on the couch, was another boy around Peter’s age. As the two neared him, he stood and stepped closer, meeting them in the middle. He possessed an air of apprehensive excitement. Peter stood by his side and gestured to him. “So, uh, this is my best friend, Ned.”

Donning a charming smile, Loki put his hand out. “Ah, yes. Pleased to make your acquaintance, young Ned. I am-,”

“Yeah, you’re Loki.” Ned takes his hand. “Wow, so cool.” Loki looked to Peter, bewildered.

Peter held his hands up. “Ok, before you freak out, I told him.”

“Your hand’s touched space,” Ned breathed out, gaze locked on his hand still holding Loki’s.

Loki snickered a little. “In a way, yes.” He gently let go and straightened his posture. “Excuse me for one moment, please.” Keeping his composure, he hurried in the direction of the kitchen. He didn’t have to make a far journey as Luna was on her way to see him as well.

“Hey, there’s a bit of a situation here,” she muttered as she stared up at him.

Loki pushed his glasses and put his hands on his hips. “Make that two.”

Luna creased her brow. “Wait, what’s your situation?” Loki waved a hand.

“Come with me.” She followed him back to the two teens chatting quietly. They stopped once the duo was close enough to hear. Loki situated himself beside Ned. “He knows, about...,” Loki said, waving a hand at himself. Peter’s accompanying expression gave Luna all the information she needed.

“You told him?!” She whisper-shouted.

“Please don’t freak out!” Peter begged. Luna closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“How long has he known?” She continued calmer, keeping her sanity for the teens’ sake.

“Since the first day.”

“Oh yeah, it was so funny,” Ned chimed in. “It was, like, nine at night and I was finishing up my Spanish homework, and then Peter calls me up and in the sassiest ‘spill the tea' voice, he's all like ‘Ned, you will never guess what just happened.' But don't worry, we haven't told anyone else.”

Luna's eyes flitted between the two boys. "Nobody?”

“Nobody,” Peter parroted.

Ned held up a hand. “Scout’s honor, ma’am. And I’m amazing at keeping secrets.”

Luna sighed. “Alright. But nobody else.” The boys shook their heads fervently. “Four people breaking the law is bad enough. What about Aunt May? What does she know?”

“Not much,” Peter said. “Only that he’s your date and that he hasn’t seen Star Wars and if you come over, he does too.”

“Wait, Peter, what-,”

“Oh, you must be Luna’s beau,” May greeted, slinging a hand towel over her shoulder. “So pleased to meet you. I’m May Parker, Peter’s aunt.” She held her hand out for Loki to shake. “You’re more handsome than I thought you would be. I didn’t catch your name, though.”

Loki smiled, turning on the charm. “It’s Louie, and please, the honor is all mine.” He shook her hand firmly.

May placed a hand on her cheek, concealing her blush. “Peter didn’t say you were from England. What’re you doing here in New York?”

Loki released her hand and held them in front on him. “Work assignment.” She nodded in affirmation.

“Uh-huh, very cool. And what is it you do?” Loki glanced to Luna. He hadn’t thought about such a thing.

“Uh, hey, Aunt May,” Luna interjected. “Shouldn’t we check back on that turkey? I don’t want it to burn while we’re working on it.”

“Right you are.” She patted Loki’s bicep. “We can talk more over dinner, ‘kay?”

“Very well, Miss,” Loki smiled. “But may I borrow Luna for a moment?”

“Oh yeah, of course. Take all the time you need, you two.” May turned and left, tossing a wink to Luna over her shoulder. Luna quietly groaned and led Loki further from the other people.

“Ok, so what did you need me for?” She asked, crossing her arms.

“I told you my situation, so what’s yours?”

“Oh yeah, right. Uh, she’s preparing a turkey for dinner.”

Loki shrugged. “And this is a problem?”

"Yes!" Luna whispered frantically. "In all the time you’ve been with me, when have you seen me eat meat?” Loki put a hand over his mouth, trying to recall any memory. He came up short. “See? Save for the occasional fish, I’ve spent most of my life without meat, and if I eat it now, I'll be up all night throwing up and trust me when I say that is not something you want to be around for.”

“Then tell her you can’t partake,” he stated.

“But it’s rude,” she whined a little. “She spent so much energy and time making a nice meal for us, so I can’t just outright refuse. I’m a guest here. I can’t be insulting.” She looked at her feet. “They’ll probably think I’m one of those self-entitled vegetarians. Most people do.” She made eye contact with him and sighed. “Never mind. I’ll deal with it.” With a wave of her hand, she stepped away from him. “We should get back to them.”

Wordlessly, Loki followed back to the living area. Luna parted ways with him and headed back to the kitchen, leaving him with the two teens. May busied about with the bird, checking and rechecking the temperature, stopping only once Luna was in her line of sight.

May leaned in close and whispered. “My god, he is so firm!” Her incredulous smile made Luna flash a reserved grin of her own. She bent her head to hide it.

“Hell yeah, he is,” Luna hummed.

May gave Luna’s shoulder a gentle swat. “You better hold onto that. He does look kind of familiar, though.” Luna waved a dismissive hand.

“He just has one of those faces. He looks like a lot of people.”

“Yeah, but there's one guy, in particular, I'm thinking of. Super famous for a little while there.” May surveyed her array of fresh spices, ready to be used to their fullest. “Alright, change of topic. Since you made that amazing-looking rice dish over there, could you be a dear and guide me along with this? I’m not the best cook.”

“Of course, Aunt May.” Luna washed her hands. “It would be my pleasure.”

In the living room, Peter knelt by the DVD box and turned it on. As he concentrated on loading their movie, Ned sat with Loki on the couch.

“Hey,” Ned murmured, getting Loki’s attention. “Peter told me that you’re kinda stranded here. I’m sorry, man.”

Loki glanced down at him, surprised by the sentiment. “Thank you, young Ned.”

“Earth is such an awful place to be stuck on. If I had to pick, it’d literally be anywhere else.”

Loki tilted his head. “Mm, I’ve been on worse planets, stuck or otherwise.” From the kitchen, the soft chatter and laughter of the two women caught his ear and his attention. “This one is alright.”

Ned leaned back and followed Loki’s line of sight. He paused, regarding the relaxed expression on his new friend’s face. “So you’ve really never seen Star Wars?”

Loki whipped his head back around. “No, I have not.”

“Oh, you’re going to really like it. It’s one of my favorite movie series ever.”

“Series?”

“Mhm, yeah. They’re in the middle of the third trilogy right now, but for you,” Ned reached and grabbed the empty disc case, “we’ll start on the first one.”

Loki let Ned slip it into his hand for him to read. “‘A New Hope.’ How fitting.” Not five seconds later, Ned let out a loud gasp, remembering something he had mentally set aside earlier.

He held a hand out and waved to Peter. “Peter! Can we ask him the thing?”

Peter turned around. “The thing?” His eyes went wide. “Oh, the thing! Yes! Yeah!” He ran over and sat in the empty spot beside Loki. “Ok, so we’re having this on-and-off debate, and we were kind of hoping you can settle it for us.”

“About?” Loki asked.

Ned glanced to Peter. “If Thor and the Hulk got into a fight, who would win? Like, a real fight. My figurative money is on Hulk.”

Peter placed a hand on his chest. “And I’m for Thor. What do you think?”

Loki looked from one boy to the other and smirked. “You know, I did recently witness a fight between them.”

Both teens paused, taken aback at the new information, and proceeded to let out a series of “What?!” “No way! Awesome!” and “Who won?!”

Loki, beyond delighted, was more than ready to tell a new story. “It was rigged, but the way it was going, Thor would have won.”

“Wait, rigged?” Peter inquired.

Ned pushed for more, their film was wholly forgotten about. "Where were they? What was happening?”

Loki eased himself up from the couch. “Well…”


 

Luna stood beside May, sautéing fresh garlic and onions with olive oil as May finished the mashed potatoes with the seasonings Luna helped her pick.

Luna picked a bell pepper to wash and chop for the stir-fry. “Hey, how did that date go with sticky rice guy?”

May sighed and let her arm relax. “So Peter told you about that?”

“Well, when I asked him, I guessed it right, but I want to know how it was from you.”

“It was nice. We had fun.”

“You think it’ll go anywhere?”

May chuckled. “Oh no. It was fun, yeah, but there weren’t any sparks. You know?”

“Mhm, I sure do.”

With a clean knife in Luna’s hand, the two ceased their idle talk. Once all the vegetables were cooking in the pan, May resumed the conversation.

“So, what are you doing up in that fancy lab of yours? Anything I can’t know about?”

Luna smiled and laughed a little. “Just some genetic experiments to quell my curiosity.” She sprinkled in salt, ground black pepper, and dried basil. “At the moment, I can’t tell you much else, but as soon as I do, we’ll need to have tea together.”

“I’ll hold you to that, girlfriend,” May smiles and laughs. She was blissful. Luna was a comfort for her to have around. “You know,” she started back, “you’re the main reason I let Peter keep up his internship at that big compound.”

Luna couldn’t help the bright smile showing itself on her features. “Oh, Aunt May, you’re too much.”

May nudged Luna’s elbow with her own. “I’m serious! You help keep his head where it should be.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s all you. You’re his maternal figure, not me.”

“Who says a kid can’t have more than one?”

“Well, I must say I am honored to have your approval.”

“Oh, and how is he with the...you know,” May whispered, making a webshooter motion with her hand.

“As far as I know, he’s really good. I’m sure he would tell you if anything worrisome was going on.”

“I like to think so, but he still keeps secrets. You know, he still sneaks out sometimes.”

“Seriously?” Luna said, concerned.

"Yeah. I don't know what for, and he never looks hurt, but he still does it."

“Huh. Curious.” Luna turned the heat down and covered the pan. For the time being, her work was complete.

“You’re telling me.” A raucous of animated yelling and mirth erupted from the other room. May and Luna leaned over to view the trio of boys in the living room, the teens seated on the couch and Loki standing up, arms and hands moving this way and that. He seemed to be telling a lively story; one Peter and Ned thoroughly enjoyed. “They seem to be getting along pretty well.”

“Yeah. He loves to tell stories. Never shies away from an audience.” Briefly, Luna caught Loki's eye, and he drew a small smile. She mirrored him, thrilled he was enjoying the time.

“What does he do, exactly?” May peered back out. “Is he an actor?”

Luna looked at the floor. “I’m not sure how to word it. He explains it better.”


 

“Woah, so you can transform?! Into anything?!” Peter chimed as Loki sat back down.

“Anything I need at the moment I need it,” Loki said with a grin.

Ned tapped his shoulder. “So, you could make yourself into a dragon that actually flies and breathes fire?”

“It’s been a while, but yes, I could.”

Peter lay a series of taps to Loki’s other shoulder. “Can you do other people?” He patted his chest. “Like, could you do me?”

“Oh, easily,” Loki said as he adjusted his glasses, a little bit smug. Peter sat back and imagined two of him swinging around New York. It was beyond amusing in his mind’s eye.

“Hey, I didn’t know you needed glasses,” Ned said, indicating Loki’s.

“Oh, I don’t really need them.” He slipped them off. “They’re just a part of my disguise. I can’t use magic, so…these.” He put them back on and brushed back a strand of hair.

Ned nodded. “Right, right. Peter used to wear glasses, but that was before he got, uh…,” Ned’s voice died out as Peter, wide-eyed, violently shook his head, “before he got Lasik. Yeah. Laser eye surgery.” Peter let out a quiet breath.

“Yup,” he affirmed. “Perfect eyesight now. Yeah, they were terrible before. Blind as the proverbial bat.” Peter laughed nervously.

“Alrighty, boys,” May announced as she walked over. “Dinner is just about ready! Would you three like to eat at the table or while you watch your movie? I’m cool either way.”

“Yeah, she’s not a regular aunt. She’s a cool aunt.” Luna remarked from behind her, drawing a short laugh from Peter and Ned. Loki, missing the reference, looked to Ned for an explanation.

“It’s from a movie.”

He nodded. “Right.”

“Could we eat here?” Peter asked. “We’ve been so busy talking, we never started it.”

“Sure! Could you help me get some plates and utensils?” May asked Peter, and like the proper boy he was, he complied and got up.

“Ooh, I’ll help!” Ned called and followed the Parkers to the kitchen. He caught up to Peter and took hold of his arm. “I still can’t believe you got Loki to come to your house! Like, the Loki!”

Peter chuckled. “Yeah, he’s kinda scary at first, but he’s pretty cool when he’s chill.”

Ned let his head fall back. “Ugh, he’s awesome. But yo, your mentor? I think he likes her.”

“The doc?” Ned nodded. “Well yeah, he better. She’s really awesome.”

“No, like, like her, like her.”

Peter’s forehead creased. “What? Nah, he hasn’t known her long enough.”

Ned paused as May handed him a stack of plates. “Dude, I remember your exact face the first time you saw Liz and every time after that. I know a crush when I see one.”

Peter opened the silverware drawer and took out handfuls of utensils. “Seriously? I think you’re the one who needs glasses. There’s no way.”

Ned quirked an eyebrow. “Alright, I’ll make a bet with you. By this time next year, they’ll be a thing. For sure.”

“A ‘thing?’ What are we, in junior high?” Peter laughed.

“You’re just chicken because you know I’m gonna win.”

Peter stopped and faced his friend. “Ok, guy, I’ll take it. How much?”

“$10.”

Peter nodded. “That’s fair. And hey, if you’re right, which you won’t be, I’ll pay twice that.”

“Oh,” Ned rushed to the table and set down the plate stack, “can you say that again for the camera?” He pulled out his phone. “I’ll need proof when the time comes.”

Peter scoffed. “Dude, later. When they’re,” he tilted his head towards the couple in question, “not here.”

“Aha.” Ned put his phone away and tapped the side of his nose. “I got you.”

Peter set his handfuls of forks, knives, and spoons down with a clatter. May brought the turkey out first and surrounded it with the vegetable dishes she and Luna finished together, and the one Luna made for the house.

May clapped her hands. “Alright, everyone help yourselves so we can have a good star war.” Ned and Peter let out a low groan, knowing full well May couldn’t pass up the moment to make a joke for the kids.

Luna and May went first, taking a bit of everything. Hovering around Loki, Luna took her portions carefully, purposefully passing over the turkey, hoping no one would notice.

May, however, did. “Luna, aren’t you going to try some of the turkey? It’s really good.”

Luna stopped her movements, looking wide-eyed at her host. “I, uh,” she stammered. Was it so difficult to say ‘no?’ Obviously.

“She doesn’t eat meat.” Loki stepped in, speaking the words for her. “Never did so it does her no good in having it now.”

Peter extended a hand to her. “Doc, is that true?”

“Eh,” she managed, shrugging a little and tilting her head side-to-side. Peter took it as a ‘yes.’

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” May said sympathetically. “You don’t have to have anything you’re not comfortable with. This is a liberal household. Well, you know what I mean.” She smiled kindly at her guests and received ones back from them.

Luna added a few more vegetables to her plate and moved from her spot, the tension slowly leaving her body. She came to a stop in front of Loki and planted her hand on the center of his chest. "Thank you," she whispered, and let her hand slip from him as she walked to the couch.

Loki’s gaze lingered on the back of her head. He could still feel the heat of her skin through the fabric of his shirt. It was tempting to lay a hand over the spot, but he shook it away.

Peter waited for Luna to situate herself beside him so he could speak to her. “How come you didn’t say you were a vegetarian?”

She set a napkin on her lap and placed her dish on top. “When I was around your age, my friends at the time bullied me for not eating meat. Thought I would shame them and try to change their eating preferences, but lo and behold, they were the ones to do the shaming.” She turned a few carrots around, avoiding eye contact.

Peter huffed. “No offense, doc, but your friends sucked.” He lay his own napkin and picked up his plate from the nearby side table.

“None taken, kiddo. Glad to be long rid of them.” Luna smiled, drawing one from Peter, glad he didn’t offend her. He started on his dinner, taking forkfuls of the different portions at random.

“Hey, this rice is really good,” he said, words muffled behind his hand.

“Yeah, it really is,” Ned affirmed from beside him. He spotted Loki advancing towards them and scooted over to make room. Peter moved along with him, and Luna did so in the opposite direction.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m glad you two think so.”

“‘Think so?’” Loki quipped, sitting between them. “Dear, you weave magic in the kitchen. Even a mere fool would ‘know so.’” The words were out before he could stop them. Unnecessary flattery, but in his mind, it was genuine.

Peter coughed and grabbed the remote. “So, uh, I’m just gonna start…” He brandished it for his friends to see.

Luna nodded, thankful for the change in subject. “Mm, yeah. Do that.”

May joined her by her side, squishing her a little bit more. With Peter now having to sling a leg over Ned’s lap, the couch was quite cramped. Luna’s entire left side was pressed against Loki’s right. She still had reserves about him, as any woman would, but he kept his hands where they should be. Peter was less inhibited, allowing himself to lean more onto Loki. He may be half his size, but he’d put his fist through a brick wall more than once. He knew how safe he was and how to keep it that way.

Loki acted like a natural, but he was a stranger to the comradery. Being royal allowed him many privileges, but in a place where it got him nothing and his words didn’t help in any avenue, he hadn't a clue what to do with himself. Still, the teens to his left accepted him into their heart, and the beautiful women to his right gave him their house and home to occupy; though, one more so than the other. An odd scenario for the lost prince, but it was one he found comfort and a little bit of satisfaction in.

The mismatched quintet enjoyed the movie and the food, their hearts and bellies filled with warmth and good feelings. During the scene where Han and Luke were en route to save Leia, Luna separated from the group to put dishes away and refill any water glasses. May begged her not to, but Luna pleaded, saying it was the least she could do to thank her for inviting them. May relented and let her bus the empty plates to the kitchen. Ned took the pause to use the restroom, leaving Peter and May alone with Loki.

May was inspecting a cuticle at risk of splitting when she gasped aloud and looked at Loki full-on. “I know who you remind me of now!” She exclaimed.

Loki froze. “You…you do?”

May was elated. “Yes! That one actor from ‘The Night Manager!’”

Peter threw his hands up, groaning. “Really, May? That guy?”

May leaned forward to look at her nephew. “Don’t tell me you don’t see it, Peter.”

Peter glanced up at him, and they nervously locked eyes. “No, I do, but really? Him?”

“Yeah!” May nodded. “The voice is what really does it.”

Loki rubbed his hand. “Is he, uh, savory, at least?”

“I like him, but I have no doubt you’re better than his character on the show,” May smiled, patting Loki’s tense shoulder. Oh, if she only knew.

Chapter Text

 Story Soundtrack

 

Luna held the same position she had been in for the last hour: hunched over, glasses off, and staring through the eyepiece of her microscope. She looked away every now and then to take meticulous notes about her observations of Sammy, but she stayed put. An impasse had been met, and she wasn't one to quickly back down.

She leaned back and rubbed her eye with the back of her wrist.

“Why aren’t you dead already?” She moaned out. The life cycle of C. elegans lasted around four days, and it had been over two weeks since he hatched.

Sammy was on his third Petri dish of nutrient bacteria, and he kept making little trails of ice. So long as he had food, nothing could stop him. Luna was tempted to poke him and see how fast he healed, but he was much too small. She would need a larger specimen for such an experiment. An event for a future time.

With a final glare at the dish, Luna picked it up and took it into the fridge. Unlike the other worms she had grown, Sammy tolerated the cold. He shouldn’t have been able to live in conditions below 60°F, but he was able to do so and keep up all normal behavior.

Luna let Sammy sit for 30 minutes in the cold, contrasting the hour he had previously spent at room temperature. He adjusted well and quickly to each temperature change. For an extraordinary organism, he acted as per usual.

The little scientist rubbed the top of her head with her forearm. She was at a loss. Could her endeavors lead to a dead end? No, it was too early to assume. There was no end in sight, but she had endless possibilities. For the time being, however, a mental and physical break was called for.

Luna turned the microscope off and put Sammy’s dish in its designated place on the counter. Snapping the rubber gloves off, she tossed them in the trash bin and hung up her lab coat. Rubbing her hands and stretching her arms out, she made the long trek to the greenhouse.

The entire compound was a tad colder than usual, but the greenhouse was always warm. It was large, holding a wide variety of plants used for the kitchen and Tony’s personal garden. A view of the river and surrounding forest could be seen from any of its windows. If Luna weren't a biologist specialized in genetic science, she would have gone for a job here instead.

She spared a few passing ‘hello’s to the employees working there on her way to Tony’s private section. To avoid any outside tampering of her plant, he opened up a small space in his collection for her. She needed but one pot, a watering can, and the occasional spot of fertilizer. He had more than enough of everything to spare.

Wrapping her arms around herself, Luna crouched down and stared intently at the soil, still undisturbed by signs of life. She poured a bit of water and watched it seep into the warm dirt, hopefully giving life to the minuscule prize buried beneath. Again, it was too early to tell. Such things require time and patience of the caregiver. For the sake of the little seeds, she had both to give.

With a gentle finger, she stroked the rim of the pot. She hoped it would work and the flowers would bloom before Loki was forced to leave her. It was disheartening to dwell on. She would be happy to keep watch over the roses if he never got the opportunity to lay eyes on them, but the initial purpose for their existence would be taken away. They would serve henceforth as a grim reminder of the space she had made for him in her little corner of the universe.

The cold and the promise of snowfall soon further dampened her spirits. The plants should be fostering serenity and happiness in her heart, but a touch of sorrow took its place. Satisfied with the care of her roses, Luna moved about the room, touching the leaves of ferns and tomato plants and the petals of peonies and chrysanthemums. Tony had an entire row dedicated for Pepper to come and tend them at her leisure. Luna wondered if he grew them for their wedding, whenever and wherever it would happen. Tabloids tossed out hundreds of ‘confirmed’ theories, but no one had a clue.

A cool mist erupted from the irrigation system, covering the majority of the area with a layer of fresh water. Luna’s pullover did little to protect her from the slight chill racing beneath her skin. Shuddering, she wrapped her arms around her torso and moseyed back to her lab, stopping once to grab a free cup of iced tea.

Finishing her refreshment, Luna rounded the corner and spotted a figure peeking through the window of the door to the lab. As she neared, she recognized the short brunette hair and called out to them.

“Peter, hey. What’re you doing here?”

Peter whipped his head to look in her direction and smiled. “Hey, doc. I was just looking for you. Is this a bad time?”

“No, no, it’s as good a time as any. I just came back from taking a short break.” Luna tapped the door. “Did you need anything here?”

“No, I just stopped by to see you, actually.” He set his backpack down and opened it.

“Oh, ok. Did I forget something at your house?”

He shook his head. “Uh-uh. I just, uh, I wanted to give you this,” he held up a small gift bag, “you know, before I forgot and I wasn’t able to. It’s for, uh, it’s for Loki.”

Luna carefully took it from him and admired it, a bright smile making its way onto her face.

“Peter, that is so nice of you.”

He chuckled and bent his head. “I hope he likes it. Just something I made in art class. It’s kinda fragile so be careful.” He pointed loosely into the bag. “The shirt I wrapped it in is for him too. I got that from a thrift store.”

Luna glanced inside at the mass of fabric rolled around a small object, hiding it from her view. “Oh, I’m sure he’ll love it. He’s a gift type of guy.”

Peter paused, a bit taken aback, but he recovered before Luna could comment.

“That’s good,” he laughed nervously. “Oh, and uh, I got this for you.” He handed Luna a smaller wrapped package. “That is not fragile at all, so you don’t have to worry.”

Luna beamed and received it carefully. “Thank you, Peter.” She reached and pulled him into a brief one-armed hug.

Letting go of her, Peter stooped down and closed his bag.

“Well, uh, that was all I came to do.” He slung his backpack over his right shoulder. “I’ll just say hi and check in with Mr. Stark and be on my way.”

“Alright. I’ll see you, Pete.” Luna bid him farewell, waving him off as he walked to the main elevator.

Alone with the new parcels, she strode into the lab and placed them beside her personal effects. Safe and sound, for now. She wondered how long she could keep Loki’s gift hidden from him and out of his snooping habit. A ‘don’t open till Christmas’ tag might deter him, but she still had no tree for it to nestle under. She made a mental note to propose the idea of getting one once she got home. With the subject of presents still sitting fresh in her mind, Luna snapped her fingers, remembering a different mental note from earlier in the week.

“FRIDAY,” she called out, “is Tony still busy with Peter?”

“Yes, they are still conversing in his office.”

“Ok, thank you.”

Luna put her fists on her hips and huffed. She didn't feel like working, and she couldn't return to the greenhouse. There was no reason to. It was too cold to walk comfortably outside and admire the scenery, so she opted to wander inside next to the windows.

In the time to herself, she listened to her music in peace, earbuds in and the world out. Peter could have the longest heart-to-heart with Tony as he liked. Luna was in her own space, admiring the forest from the warmer indoors and indulging in Corey Hart’s freshman album.

Touching the chilled glass and tapping it along to beat, Luna swayed to ‘It Ain’t Enough’ with a faint grin on her face. A sentimental, slow groove song coupled with lyrics of unequal love and devotion. An enjoyably sad song, but how many of its kind existed? How many would come to be in the future, near and far?

“I know that I'll never be afraid to say that I'm here by your side and I'm gonna stay.”

What a nice thought.

 ‘Does She Love You’ was more upbeat and moved Luna to rhythmically tap her feet as she walked. She kept an eye out for on-lookers who weren’t supposed to be seeing her out and about during afternoon work hours. She wouldn’t get reprimanded, but it would be embarrassing.

Conveniently, in the middle of the album, FRIDAY interrupted.

“Ms. Fields, Mr. Stark is available to speak with you now if you like.”

Luna clapped her hands together. “Fantastic. Thank you, FRIDAY.”

Bounding up the stairs, she finished the song and part of the next one prior to reaching Tony’s office. Lifting her hand off of the bio-scanner once the door unlocked, she discovered Tony supervising a spec-run on a set of new web-shooters.

“Hey, boss!” Luna called to him. “Talk about anything fun with Peter?”

“Ah, so he saw you too? Yeah, he wanted to say hi before I left.”

“Good, good. And did you show him that?” She pointed to the screen, still running numbers and simulations.

“Heh, oh no. This is a surprise for a later date. Remember the Iron Spider suit I tried giving him?”

“It’s too cool to forget.”

Tony waved a hand at the screen. “Think of this as version 2.0.” He nudged Luna’s side. “And you can thank your not-so-little friend for all the help when you get home.”

She smirked and side-eyed him. “Oh, I will. I’ll tell him all about how you gushed and you ‘couldn’t’ve done it without him.’”

Tony chuckled. “Don’t play it up that much. I could have easily done it alone. It just would’ve taken a little longer.”

Luna nodded and hummed. “Mhm, gotcha.”

“Careful, it’s the holiday season. Try not to sound so sarcastic.” They shared a brief laugh. “Speaking of which, why don’t you come to the office Christmas party this year? You missed the last two.”

Smirk still on her face, Luna glanced Tony’s way. “Oh, you mean the party that you won’t be attending again because you’ll be vacationing with Pepper in…where is it this year?”

“Paris. For a month. But it’s the thought that counts, right?”

Luna shook her head. “Pretty sure that doesn’t apply to parties.”

Tony faced her, the numbers on the virtual screen wholly forgotten. “Why don’t you show up anyway? I’ll even let you bring Loki if you think he’ll miss you too much. Just dress him up in one of those surgical masks and say he’s recovering from TB. No one will know it’s him.”

“Thank you, Tony, but I’ll have to pass again.” Luna needed a nonnegotiable lie and fast. “My mom is coming.”

“Great. You can bring her too.”

Luna grimaced a bit. “She's not keen on big parties, and I don't want to just leave her. Besides, with Loki in my home, I’ll have enough of a party going on to think about another one.” She chuckled nervously.

Tony eyed her. “Ok, sourpuss, you don’t have to go, but you do have to make up for it with a nice present when I get back.”

“Already working on it, boss.” Tension left her body. He believed her, for now. “And speaking of presents, I would very much like you to help me out with one in particular, please.”

“Well, since you said it so nicely, I really have to do it now. What’s the thing?”

Luna crossed her arms. “Uh, it’s a phone…for Loki.” Tony’s face dropped.

“Are you being serious right now?! Do you have any clue what he could do with one of those things?!”

“Yeah, but I still think it’s a good idea!” Luna exclaimed. Tony dragged his hands over his face.

“How could this be a good idea?! You do remember who he is, right?”

“Of course!” Luna threw her hands up. “That’s part of the reason why I think it’s a good idea.”

“And what’s the other part?” He groaned. “Oh, please don’t tell me you went and made him your boyfriend. You can’t be that lonely.”

“What?! No!” Luna screeched and took a deep breath. “It’s just that he’s in my house all alone during the day and I think it’d be good to be able to check on him whenever. You know, make sure he doesn't try to microwave tinfoil.”

“Come on, he’s not a puppy, although you may think he’s cute like one.”

“I know, but think about it. So please?” Luna laced her fingers together and held them in front of her face. “Will you help me out?”

Tony sighed and relaxed his shoulders. “Alright, fine.”

“Yay! I promise you won’t regret this.”

He pulled out his phone. “Uh-huh.” He typed a message out, eliciting a few clicking noises and a whoosh, and tucked the device back into his pocket. “Ok, it’ll be here by Monday. Everything in it is already set up so just activate it like always. Or I could give you one now since we’re here.”

“I like getting things in the mail. Tony, you know that.”

“Yeah, and it’s really weird.”

“You’re just mad about that one delivery guy calling you ‘Tony Stank.’” Luna couldn’t help giggling.

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Rhodey’s still teasing me about it.”

“Hey, it’s funny.” Her laugh grew, making Tony join in with a few chuckles of his own. It was a funny memory. “So when are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow. Just closing up some stuff here.” Tony gestured to the screen and table littered with tools and metal samples. “I promised Pepper that I’m not going to work over the holidays, so I’m not going to work. At all.”

“You’re lucky I’m more than willing to babysit the kid when you cant.”

“And this is why you’re great.” Tony slung an arm around Luna, pulling her into a side hug. “Hey. Consider this my gift to you.”

She shot him an incredulous look. “Really? Your Christmas gift to me is my Christmas gift to Loki? Wow, classic.”

Tony gently poked her shoulder. “Just don’t say I never did anything for you.”

“Nothing?” Luna wrapped both her arms around Tony’s torso. “Oh, boss, you’ve already done so much for me.”

Chapter Text

The voice of the newscaster resounded about the shared apartment, holding the attention of one Norse god. His human companion sat near him, on the floor, still in the process of fixing his damaged armored suit. The rips and tears littering it were all stitched up using various techniques, and the scuffs and stains all distant memories. The boots and shoulder pieces, however, were a challenge. They were not ripped but scraped and frayed. Such damage to hard material could not be sewn back together or scrubbed clean with soap, water, and alcohol.

Luna grabbed a few extra items from her room – quick-dry epoxy, a scrap piece of cardboard, and a flat stick – she believed would work in laying down and repairing the tattered areas. Loki kept a watchful eye on her, as he always did when she handled his close personal belongings. She didn’t mind. It was the one time she meddled in the things she hadn’t bought him, so as per common decency, she handled them in front of him.

“You think that’ll work?” Loki chimed, his green gaze set on the woman seated on the floor.

She lifted her eyes to meet his. “In fixing it? I sure hope so.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“I just keep trying different things until I feel like giving up.” Luna returned her attention to the shoulder piece.

She smoothed the clear epoxy mix firmly and carefully till it was too tacky to continue. Slowly, she switched to the other side. The layers made it tricky, but she had all evening if she didn’t want to leave the house. Loki was satisfied for the moment, the fridge was stocked with enough leftovers to last them the weekend, and, in case they were plagued by unwanted sleepless nights or the occasional dark emotion, the freezer had plenty of ice cream pints.

Loki stuck to his program. The subject matter interested him in a way Luna could not fathom. To each his own, she reminded herself. If he didn’t attempt to create unrest under her roof, he could do as he liked. She liked the peace in her home too much to let someone else disturb it. It seemed he liked it as well and took steps on his own to ensure it.

Satisfied with the job she had done, Luna slowly got up, suit top in hand, and walked it to the empty chairs by the counter. She set it down on one, resting the undried epoxy patches away from any surface. She dusted her hands. Another job well-done, if she said so herself.

Upon returning from putting her supplies back where they came from, Loki called her attention.

“Tell me, who is that?” He pointed to the television playing a local news station, in particular at the figure the story was about.

“Him?” Luna confirmed. “That’s our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

“Oh, I know that but who is he exactly? Beneath the mask?” Loki was a tad perturbed.

Luna shrugged and lied. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t think anyone does.”

“They trust a hero they cannot see? Odd concept.” The master of lies believed her. Another victory of the day.

“I'm sure people are skeptical, but he's never done anything malicious, and he helps out the little guy. You know, the underappreciated.” A little slice of truth for him.

“Huh. I suppose he is appealing.” Loki crossed his arms and observed the individual clad in red and blue. “Is he an Avenger?”

Luna chuckled, shaking her head. “Oh, no. No, he is not. Good thing, too.”

“How come? He seems capable enough.” Luna paused.

“Because, uh, he, uh, that’s his job. You know, he’s more of a freelance vigilante than one tied to an organization like the Avengers.” She could see the look on Loki’s face. He didn’t believe her for a second. “You know, I don’t really know. You know I mainly keep to myself, so any newbies go right under my nose.” She waved a hand in the air.

“Mm-hm.” Loki eyed her, not sounding convinced, but he didn’t need to be yet. Luna feigned ignorance well enough.

The pair watched the rest of the program with Luna now perched atop the couch arm. She was at a loss for what to fill the rest of her afternoon and evening with. The oncoming snow storm looked to be getting worse each day it didn't show. There was residual fear of being snowed in, or at least cautioned to not venture outside. Shopping needed to be done, and additional activities had to be seen to, for either of the apartment occupants could easily succumb to cabin fever. Loki was a patient fellow and didn’t show his restlessness easily, but he hated being cooped up as much as Luna did.

An idea popped into her head, making Luna snap her fingers. “Hey, after we do some shopping, how about we do something?”

“What kind of something?”

“A fun something, at least before it snows. Like, uh,” she tapped her lower lip, “ooh! Like ice skating! If we go now, we can make it before there are too many people.”

“Ice skating?” Loki was perplexed. “Where would we be going?”

"Rockefeller Center," Luna said as she scurried to her room. “It's stunning this time of year." She called out. She shuffled back into the living room, phone in hand. “Ok, I can reserve some tickets online. So, yes or no?”

“This place is not in Manhattan…is it?” Loki asked tentatively.

Luna paused. “Yeah, but you’ll be fine. It’ll be fine,” she said quickly, waving a hand around. “Come on, let’s get ready. We need to at least get you a coat before we’re snowed in for a week.”


 

“You know, I don’t even really need the coat. My jacket is enough,” Loki said, grabbing cradling his rental skates. The new garment reminded him a bit too much of his Stuttgart outfit, and it was wholly disconcerting.

Luna picked up her pair after him. “I am aware, Mr. The-Cold-Never-Bothered-Me-Anyway, but it is about 30 degrees out and getting colder, and since we’re going to be around a lot of people, you not wearing a coat would be cause for alarm.” She hastened over to a free bench and sat down. Loki followed suit and took his place by her side.

He watched as she pulled her boots off, stretched a foot out, and force it into the bladed skating boot. She repeated the action with her other foot and laced them up with practiced precision. Loki looked at his own and copied her to the best of his ability. The crisscross of the laces he was able to get, but their desired tightness proved more difficult.

Luna had tested her laces a few times – loosening them, retying them, standing up, and repeated the procedure – before Loki first finishing his. Luna stood upright and firm as though she were on the flats of her feet, not balanced on the edges of twin blades. She shifted her weight from left to right and felt satisfied. Loki mimicked her, but he did not feel the same.

With a stumble, he sat down and roughly undid his laces. Luna, noticing his agitated state, sat back in her spot.

“Aren’t you supposed to be an expert with the blade?” She joked, hoping to dissipate some of Loki’s frustration.

“Yes, in wielding them. Not wearing them.” He quipped back with an evident edge in his voice.

Luna knocked the edge of her boot against his. “You can wield these too. They can cause some serious damage if they’re sharp enough. I’ve pricked myself on my own skates more times than I can count when I was younger.”

Loki fiddled with the stray lace. “You did this a lot?”

“Oh, yes. I used to be quite the figure skater.” Luna smiled, recalling the memories from her youth.

“Figure skater?” Loki pondered, knitting his brows. None of his investigative endeavors have yet provided an inkling of this kind of information. He was curious.

“It’s like ballet, but on the ice.” Luna glanced down at Loki’s still-undone boots. “Here, let me do that for you.” She twisted around to straddle the bench they sat on and spun her hand around, gesturing for Loki to do the same. He did as she asked and faced her full-on.

Wishing to get on with the task, Luna gave Loki’s left leg two firm pats for him to lift it. She had to scoot back once he stretched it out. It was easy to forget how long he was. She maneuvered his foot into a proper resting position and got to work, loosening and retightening his shoe.

Loki felt the tap-tap of her fingers through the thick material, but her light touch barely preoccupied his thoughts. It was clear he did not know everything about her and his snooping could only take him so far. He wondered how much her Avengers knew. If they knew more than him. He felt jealousy grow at the prospect of missing out. However inconsequential it may be, Loki loved being the first in the know about everything.

Tentatively, he continued the conversation. “You miss it?”

Luna looked up from her task. “Hmm?” With his head, Loki gestured to the skate in her hand. “Oh. Uh, yeah.” She nodded, a little despondent. “I almost completed my training when I had to stop.”

“What made you? Stop, I mean.”

“School.” She jerked his foot a bit as she fastened the laces around the metal loops. “I had to choose between spending my time practicing triple axels and working on homework and, well,” she chuckled, “my three science degrees should be enough to tell you what my decision was.” A few more tugs and a knotted bow finished the job. “Alright, circle your foot around. You want it to feel firm on the joint, but not painfully so.” Slowly, Loki lifted his foot and rotated it clockwise, switching directions once he felt satisfied. “How is it?” Luna asked.

“It’s good,” Loki muttered.

“Good,” Luna echoed, smiling lazily and placing a hand on his opposite knee. “Now for the next one.”


 

Loki, gripping the edge of the rink wall, stood as static as his body would allow. “So how on earth do you move with these?” He was capable on the ice, but the kind he has experienced in the past was always blanketed with a thin layer of snow. The surface beneath him now beheld no such traction.

Before him, Luna kept a watchful eye on his posture. “You just, you know, stand. Like this.” She presented her feet, the blades positioned in a small V. “And push with the edge.” Her foot facing away propelled her forward to Loki’s side.

“I've been doing that, and it's not working.”

“That’s because you’re treating it like you’re walking.”

“Oh, you make it sound so easy.” Loki sneered a little.

Luna let out a low groan and moved backward to stand face-to-face with him. "Pretend you’re dancing. Feel the ice beneath you and use it. Follow it as you would a partner. And, if you want,” she held her gloved hands out, “I can help lead you.”

Loki kept watch of her open hands as he slowly extended one of his towards them. Settling a firm grasp on the one he held, he let the other follow. “Don’t worry, I got you,” Luna sent him a sweet smile, careful not to lose her grip on him. Loki presented himself as calm. He had captured the attention of the right person and, though he loved attention, was intent on not drawing more.

“Now, stand up a little straighter and push gently.” Loki did as he was told and pushed with the blade at an angle. Luna glided backward, guiding him steadily over the shallow divots in the ice. “And again. And again. See?” With a pivot of her foot, she swiveled to stand beside Loki, still holding onto the hand furthest from the wall. “Not so hard.”

Loki looked down at her, smirking a little, and nudged her. “Well, I have an excellent teacher.”

Luna giggled and bumped him back. “Hey, don’t jinx it just yet. The last time these skates were sharpened was probably during the time of Lewis and Clark, and this ice is already pretty cut, so it’s very easy to trip on.” A glance down confirmed her feet to be at a safe distance from Loki’s. “Fresh, smooth ice is like heaven to be on, but you probably know that already.”

Loki hummed in response. He had an idea of how it would be. Being on the ice at this moment was pleasant. In tandem, they skated in silence, staying close to the wall for safety but far enough away to let other struggling patrons cling to it.

The cold crept up on Loki, quickly and quietly. It didn’t hurt him like it would a human, but he knew it was there. The air alone took less from him than if he came into contact with the ice itself. One touch from his bare hand may expose him. He wasn’t willing to take the risk. Not in a crowded area filled with people whose lives he had directly affected. He was lucky to be holding the hand of someone with a giving and forgiving heart. The couples and families around him would not grant him as much grace, no matter what pretty lies he may spin.

His eyes strayed from the people in front of him to the decorations above and around him. The settling darkness in the sky enhanced the brightness of the colored lights. The ice reflected them, making it seem like he was floating above a white sea of rainbow stars. The Christmas tree stood high above them, a beacon of glad tidings during a happy season. A sweetness settled within Loki’s heart, but it did not come without a thin lining of bitterness.

“Answer me something,” he asked Luna.

“Okay,” she replied, keeping her voice hushed.

Loki paused, feeling the words circle about, and spoke. “Was this place destroyed?”

“When?” Luna knew what he was referring to, but she had to make sure.

“During…,” Loki looked down, “my first visit.”

“Probably,” she stated, “but look how nice it is right now.”

Loki didn’t bother. Visions of destruction plagued his mind, obscuring his view. He enjoyed the place and his present company. Thinking of it no longer existing didn’t sit well with him.

Luna sensed the storm brewing inside him and squeezed his hand. “Don’t dwell on it.”

“Why not? It’s my wrongdoing.”

“Because it doesn’t do any good. Dwelling never fixes anything.”

Loki blinked and looked down at the crown of Luna’s head as he regarded her statement. The first time she had confronted any issue regarding his past, and it was over and done with before he could spare any additional words. And how nonchalant she was about it. Loki was almost convinced she had forgotten about the incident or never heard of it. No, she was worlds smarter than that. Loki was the one who forgot and took her for granted. She was as merciful as she was gracious.

Yes, dwelling doesn’t fix anything. He would follow her example and brush it off for a time when it is a problem, for it wasn’t now.

Carefully, Loki changed the subject. “You know, many centuries ago, people used these as a method of transportation.”

Luna peered up at him, eager to know the context with which he spoke. A tilt of his head towards the ground gave her what she needed to continue.

“And you traveled with them, I suppose?”

Loki snickered. “Heavens, no. That was well before my time, around the era of my grandfather Bor’s rule.”

“Did you know him?”

He paused. “Also before my time.”

“I never knew my grandfathers either. One died of cancer; the other, a stroke.” Luna caught herself. It was early enough to stop. “Sorry. You didn’t need to know that.”

Alas, more information Loki couldn’t find in her diaries. “What do you know about them?” He had to know more.

“Well,” Luna assembled her words, “I know I would have liked one more than the other. But isn’t that how it is with all family?”

Loki let out a laugh. “How right you are.” Memories of times passed surfaced here and there in his thoughts. Yes, how right she was. If she only knew how much.

Unabashedly, as his gaze fell elsewhere, Luna admired him. She had gotten him to smile out of genuine amusement. And his laugh. A reward in and of itself. ‘Tamed the beast,’ an onlooker might say. But such a statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. He was no beast.

The two skated further around the rink, passing straggling children trying to stay on two feet and teens doing their best not to get too rowdy. No one bothered to notice them. Glances were spared only to prevent any unnecessary collisions. They spoke naught for they felt no need to. The peace they achieved at home had extended out past the threshold. To say the least, it was nice. Others could do the chattering in their place. Until, of course, one decided to take the reins.

“So, is it true?” Luna asked, a slight smirk making its way onto her face.

“Is what true?” Loki asked back, not bothering to look away from the ice before him.

“About Sleipnir?”

Confusion passed over Loki, as such a thing had not crossed his mind in many a moon. But, he caught on to what she meant and snickered lightly. “Dear, no. He was real, yes, but he was another being from before me. I took a liking to the creature while in my youth and most people mocked me for it, aptly calling me his ‘mother.’”

Luna smiled at the sentiment. “That’s nice you gave him company, though. How beautiful he must have been.”

“Quite so. A magnificent animal. Odin didn’t appreciate him properly, but then again, he rarely did with anything." Rather than get into another tense topic, Loki dispelled any increasing strain. “However, perhaps in another universe, he would have been my true son.”

Luna paused and tittered a little. “Yeah, and you would have vibrant red hair and a whole wife.”

“My goodness, just imagine!” Loki bolstered, pulling a laugh from her.

Moments like these granted him a precious second to admire the beauty of his young friend. Could he call her ‘friend?’ As he thought on how delightfully warm he found her smile, he found himself treading back into dangerous territory. Friends, in his experience, were never around for long and he was so blinded by the wishful thinking he couldn't catch their lies until it was too late for his heart. Maybe they did like him, but they never preferred him. Then again, they were not her. None from his past were like her, and perhaps it would be alright for him. But, for now, only the Norns could tell.

Before long, announcements were made for all active skaters to vacate the rink for the Zamboni to makes its rounds. Luna and Loki took their sweet time, unlike a select few who thought it would be fun to race to the exit. The loud, rapid scraping of their blades alerted those around to their oncoming presence; a presence Luna did not keep track of.

Heads were turned, and gazes averted. The instance spelled disaster. Luckily, Loki possessed a distinct taste for it. He felt the moment coming a breath before anyone else did. One individual was going too fast, got bumped by a friend, and was careening towards the spot Luna was gliding towards. With a rough yank, Loki took hold of her and moved her out of the stranger’s path. He held her tight against the wall to prevent her from slipping and rendering his efforts naught. The stranger recovered quickly, threw them an apology, and continued on their way.

The two stood for a spell; Loki’s arms around her torso and Luna’s hands gripping his coat’s collar. Slowly and steadily, he leaned back.

“Are you alright?” He asked, a bit breathless.

“Uh-huh, yeah.” Luna moved her hands to the sides of his shoulders. “Thanks,” she whispered. He was closer than usual. Not something she was used to.

“Of course,” he whispered back as he stared into her eyes. They were full and dark from the night sky, shining in the lights from above. Again, they captured him. Inconveniently, at best, but it couldn’t be helped.

Time caught up, and Luna slid her hands down to his biceps with the sole purpose of gently pushing him off, but one touch and she stopped. The words of May Parker surfaced in her mind. Loki was indeed firm and strong by the way he held her. She knew so from her first dance with him but feeling him again like this was a whole other matter. Coupled with the intenseness of his gaze, he made her feel hot under the collar. A completely involuntary reaction. It couldn’t be helped.

Dragging herself back into reality, Luna gave his arm a tap. “We, uh, we should get going before we’re forcibly removed.”

“Oh, yes,” Loki muttered, pulling back and standing at his full height. He gestured to the ice in front of them on the path to the gate. Ever the gentleman, he allowed Luna to go first if she wished. Eager to escape the awkward situation, she took the invitation and skated off with Loki trailing behind her.

In the sitting area, they sipped on individual hot chocolates and let their minds scramble in different directions. No thought led gracefully to another. The abruptness of their proximity left no room for control. They faked it well, though. Luna gradually regained it by tapping out the beat to a song playing over the speakers.

The first thing she consciously felt was comfortable. A bit rattled from the experience, but not wishing she could get away from Loki. She didn't have to try with him, in the best way. She'd admit it was scary, for it might be too good to be true. She wondered how he was in his past. If anyone else felt like this around him. Perhaps they did. Maybe it was none of her business. No harm in imagining, though.

“You must have had a lot of friends on Asgard,” she said, snapping Loki out of whatever musing he was in.

He turned the cup around in his hand. “Why would you think something like that?”

“Because it takes no energy to hang out with you.”

Loki creased his brow. “Thank…you?” In all his years, never had he heard something like that.

Luna laughed, a little nervous. “No, no, it’s a good thing. It’s inviting, at least to people like me.” She fiddled with the plastic lid, trusting he could see what she meant. The growing grin on his face gave her a hint of what he felt.

“Well, for your sake,” he held up his half-empty cup, “I’m glad,” and tapped it gently against hers.

Cheers to someone who preferred his company. Cheers to someone he liked to be around. Cheers to his beautiful friend named after the moon.

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Trudging through the doors of the apartment complex, Luna stamped her boots off and shook the loose snow from her hat.

“Phew! We made it,” she breathily praised, brushing the shopping bags she’d set at her feet.

“Yes, good,” Loki replied. He was glad to be back inside. The new gloves and hat he got helped with blending in, but style-wise, they could be better.

Setting down the cardboard boxes he was tasked with carrying, Loki mimicked Luna in dusting the snow from his clothes. As he did so, he wondered about the contents of the containers he moved. He hadn’t been paying attention when Luna picked them up, being too preoccupied in studying what the shop referred to as ‘mistletoe.’ Alas, it was vastly different than the thing he knew growing up.

He could have taken everything into his arms, but like always, Luna insisted on toting the groceries while he took up the larger items. Something about preventing him from accusing her of using him as her ‘pack mule.’ He knew she would never be so derogatory towards him, but nonetheless, he complied.

Upon entering the apartment, they took turns in putting their parcels down and shrugging off their outer layers. Luna pulled off her boots and rubbed her cold hands together.

“Alright, everything is in. I’ll go get changed and then we can put the groceries away.”

Loki nodded, pulling his own shoes off, and watched Luna shuffle away to slip into something more comfortable. In her temporary absence, he opted to do the same. He had to be quick about it, for there were minor chores to be done and he couldn’t risk being seen unclothed.

Odd, he felt, for him to be concerned about such things. He never had been. Well, of course not. Everything was done for him before any semblance of thought could be spurred about it. Luna did so for him as well, but not out of obligation to him. It was her culture and personality. However, those pieces of the puzzle did not make up the whole picture, and he was intent on completing it. Luckily, he liked getting to know his new friend.

Of course, think of the devil, and she may appear. Back into the living room walked Luna, now clad in blue-and-white patterned leggings, fluffy socks, and the same concert shirt Loki had seen earlier that morning. Not a warm outfit, but comfortable enough for the house.

Without a word, the two got to work; Loki dividing up the items to go in the fridge and Luna putting everything in their appropriate places. They were done in half the time it took for Luna to do it alone. Smirking to herself, she noted another excellent reason to have Loki around as a friend: receiving tidbits of help without having to ask made life feel nice.

Sipping from a glass of fresh water, Luna stepped back out into the living room.

“Ok, so I was thinking we could set these up first,” she pointed to the unopened boxes still sitting by the door, “before I do any cooking. Is that ok?” Loki nodded. “Great.” She smiled, setting her glass down. “I’ll get the box cutter.” And off she was again to her room.

Loki moved one box further into the room for Luna to have more space to open it. Knife securely in hand, she sliced through the tape as if it was hot butter. Inside sat more packaging material surrounding the object of interest. Curious, Loki crouched down to Luna’s level on the floor and inspected her deconstruction of the Styrofoam and plastic.

“What is it, exactly?” He asked as he watched the thing in question slowly reveal itself.

“Oh, it’s a little electric fireplace, just for us,” Luna smiled sweetly.

Just for us.’ A nice sentiment. It allowed Loki the temporary belief he could stay with her forever, the two of them enjoying a fake fireplace.

“Very nice,” he said absentmindedly, no longer investing in his wishful thought. As he had said in the past, it was easier to let it burn.

In his mental distance, Luna had pulled everything out of the box and laid it all out in front of her. It was indeed a simple and small electric fireplace, fully capable of warming a room and providing a light show of fake flames.

Luna read over the user manual as Loki settled onto the ground, wrapping his arms around his legs and drawing them into his chest. He observed her as she concentrated, anticipating her next move. It didn’t take her long to figure out what she needed to do.

“There is some assembly required.” Clearly, by the pieces on the ground. Luna picked up the tiny bag filled with black screws. “Do you know where the screwdriver is?”

“Oh, yes,” Loki nodded, rising from the ground and venturing to a drawer in the kitchen. Luna paid him no mind as he rummaged around for a bit and brought back the tool she needed. “Right here.”

She observed his outstretched hand grasping the screwdriver and gently took it from him. “Thank you,” she smiled. She didn’t recall telling him where it was.

Brushing it off for later, she knuckles down and screws on the legs of the machine. She has Loki hold the screws in his hand and give her one each time she needs it.

Loki thumbs the four remaining screws in his palm. “So, why do we need this? This place is warm enough.”

“Yeah, it is. I just figured it would be nice. You know, with Christmas coming up and all.” Luna stops and looks up at Loki. “No, sorry. Not Christmas. Yule.” She takes a screw from Loki’s hand and fits it into its proper spot. “Christmas is pagan in origin.”

“Indeed it is,” Loki grins. “But why do we need this?”

“Oh yeah. Uh, since we would get in all kinds of trouble if we lit a fire any bigger than a tea candle, I thought this would be the next best thing. You know, for symbolism.” She shrugs. “Keeps the occupants warm inside and ward off evil little spirits, even though we are warm enough without it.”

Loki propped an elbow in his knee. “I never would have thought of that. Using this.”

“Well,” Luna smirks, “that’s why you got me: to fill in any gaps you miss.”

“Oh, I thought I had you because Stark was ready and willing to put me in a maximum security prison if you didn’t offer your home,” Loki harmlessly teased, hoping she would get the humor. The light laugh she let out granted him reassurance.

“Ah, yes. Can’t forget that.”

The two sat quietly, the only noise being the metallic tapping of the screws and screwdriver. Once she was done, Luna made sure to check all four legs were tight before standing it upright. She checked and double-checked the instructions, taking a tally of the switches and dials and what their jobs were. Content with her work, she plugged it into the nearest outlet, adjusted the temperature dial, and flicked the switches to the ‘on’ position.

The heater and flames came to life, producing a soft orange glow accompanying the warm, gentle breeze. Luna sat in front of it and admired her new décor piece. Loki stood a ways behind her. He was underwhelmed, but the point of the thing wasn't to impress him. He knew so. He was honored she considered him, so he appreciated the new heater as well.

Having had enough, Luna got to cleaning up the spare cardboard, Styrofoam, and plastic scattered across the floor, tossing it all into the box it came in. She made a note to take care of it on another day. Dusting her hands, she sauntered over the counter and rested her elbow upon it. Loki mindlessly looked over her book collection as he contemplated her next move.

“Have I ever made pancakes with you here?” Luna asks. Loki spares her a glance and returns to his original activity.

“You’ve made cakes before.”

“Yeah, but like, in a pan. Have I done that?”

He lets his gaze take hold of her. “Not that I recall.”

She stands straight and brings her hands together. “Alright, let’s make some pancakes,” she states, making her way into the kitchen. “Nice, warm, fluffy boys.”

Loki followed her, intrigued by what is to come next. He had partaken in the Midgardian pancakes of old from many cultures, but he was eager to try her recipe. He stood by her side, head bent, and surveyed her as she took out the ingredients.

“Ok, to start off, I obviously don’t have a mixer,” Luna gestures to the counter, “so you might have to help me with something if you want it to go faster.”

Loki smirks. “Oh no, whatever shall I do?” He exaggerated, teasing her again. To his mild mockery, he received a soft scowl and placid swat on the arm. He could take it. He was a big boy.

“For now,” Luna took out a set of measuring spoons, “you can stand right here,” she placed her hands on the sides of his shoulders and maneuvered him a tad to her right.

Satisfied, Luna parceled out and mixed the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, all the while Loki peered over her shoulder. She was tempted to commandeer his help, but she remembered she wasn't a user by nature. She could do everything by herself, and everything she couldn't, she could learn. He was still a comfort to have around if only to fill the space for the moment.

Loki studied her movements, memorizing the measurements and the order the ingredients were added. How she turned the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into one uniform mix. The way she haphazardly added vanilla extract, but carefully measured and poured in a cup of milk. By her concentration, he assumed she had forgotten he was there. He didn’t mind. He preferred to watch in peace.

He saw her hand slow the stirring and folding of the batter, continuing to do so to a stop. Luna stretched and flexed her aching fingers. The pain wouldn’t ebb as fast as she would like, so she switched hands and kept going. With the mixture smooth to her liking, she set it aside and shook both hands out as she took the few steps to the fridge. From inside, she retrieved the carton of eggs and took two out. She broke them with ease, producing at most two taps from each of them, and emptied the whites out into a separate bowl.

A rotary egg beater in hand, Luna mechanically whipped the egg whites. It was times like these she wished she had the proper appliances, but she recalled how her mother always said that if you can do something without a machine, never bother getting one. It was easy to deal with as she had less expensive things to break or replace, but as she lived away from her mother and by her own rules, it greatly tempted her to buy a few. Not to say the thought hasn’t gone through her mind in the past. She never bothered when the opportunity came up.

The desire to purchase new equipment came to the forefront of Luna’s mind as the gears of the egg beater jammed in her hand and snapped apart. She bent her head and silently seethed at the pieces in her hands. Defeated, she slammed her right hand down on the counter.

“Dammit,” she growled and slid a hand over her forehead. The change in attitude caught Loki off-guard.

“What?” He said, creeping slowly to her side.

Luna lifted the piece in her left hand. “The egg beater broke.” She looked up at him sadly. “I’m sorry, Loki. I have to whip the whites to make the pancakes the way I need to make them, and without this, I can’t.” Her eyes fell to the bowl of eggless batter. She was faced with two options: toss it out or cover it for a later time. But she wished to do neither of them.

“Surely there’s another way.”

Luna huffed. “There is, but I would wreck my arm doing it.”

“How? And with what?” Loki pressed, placing his hands on his hips.

Luna looked back up at him dubiously. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. Now, do you have the instrument in question?”

Luna sighed and opened a drawer full of large metal utensils. Carefully digging around, she pulled out a whisk.

“It’s this.”

Loki held a hand out. “Here. Give here." She handed it to him, and he took it upon himself to take the bowl with the partially-beaten eggs in the other.

“Are you seriously planning on whipping those eggs by hand until they peak?” Loki shrugged. He was serious. “Can you really whip it fast enough?”

“Seeing is believing, so you’ll just have to watch.”

Luna could hardly believe him, but she was willing to let him prove it. “Alright. While you’re doing that, I’m going to go set up the other thing we got. You’ll need the time to yourself.” She threw the broken tool in the trash and made it a couple of steps out of the kitchen, but stopped. “Oh, and if you hurt yourself, don’t say I made you do it.”

Loki was surprised how accusatory she believed him to be, but he shook it off and turned the whisk around the bowl. He had been called worse things, and she was within her rights to practice caution. Faster and faster, he moved the egg whites to the best of his ability. Luna was right about how difficult it was. Lucky for him, he had the stamina and strength.

In his periphery, he spotted Luna taking apart the second box and extracting the object it housed. A slip of his hand drew his attention back to the bowl. He would have to keep his curiosity at bay for now. Judging by the faint white color of the eggs, he was making progress.

Soft music graced Loki’s ears. He had heard the tune before and found favor in it. A lively song by Ultravox. He paid no attention to the lyrics and title. His primary interest was to finish his job, but he allowed his body to sway and his foot to tap to the beat. No harm in enjoying some good music.

The steady rhythm coming from the stereo kept his whisk in time. Quickly enough, Loki found the eggs turning into white foam. He wondered if this was what Luna meant by ‘whip to peaks.’ He stopped and swirled the bowl around. It moved too fluidly for his liking, so, on he whisked. The eggs fluffed and stiffened more to his expectations, but Luna wasn’t there to inspect his work. He couldn’t know if they were up to her standard, and he would hate to disappoint.

Bowl and whisk cradled in his long arms, he padded over to his friend. A side glance from her confirmed she acknowledged his presence. He sat down beside her and placed the bowl next to him. The object she attended to took his attention for the time.

“What is this?” He asked.

“A Christmas tree. I didn’t think I would be allowed to have a real one in here, so I got this." Luna bent the wire branch until it sat perpendicular to the small trunk. “I know it’s fake and smaller than usual, but again, the symbolism counts for something.”

Loki grinned a little. “You could say, yes.”

Luna pulled at another branch and paused to admire her little tree. Pleased with it, for now, she sighed and gave her attention to Loki. "Are you done? With the thing?”

“I think so.” Loki took a last look inside the bowl and handed it to her. “Here.”

Slowly moving the whisk into the whites, she was dumbfounded. "You did this by hand? Completely? That fast?” They peaked the way she wanted them to.

“So unbelievable?” Loki contrived confidence, but he was still unsure.

“Uh, yeah,” Luna affirmed, a broad smile forming on her face. “Oh, Loki, it’s beautiful. Thank you.” The tension slowly gathering in Loki’s shoulder fell from him. She held nothing back. There was no reason for her to hide her appreciation. “Come on,” Luna rose to her feet, “let’s go finish it.” She looked down at Loki and nodded to the kitchen. “I really think you’ll like this.”


 

As they ate, the two friends took care to upkeep idle chatter between them, keeping the music going in the background. Neither was in the mood for television. The subdued company of the other was enough.

Taking a bite of her second pancake, Luna pieced her words together and posed another question to Loki. “What traditional dances did you have on Asgard?” She sipped her tea. “There has to be at least one.”

Loki snuck another pancake from the main stack, making it his fifth, and dug into it. “A good few, actually.”

“Do you remember any, or is that something aristocrats didn’t participate in?” Luna snarked with a smirk. Loki chuckled and shook his head a little.

“No, we did. From kings to commoners, everyone danced.”

“Which was your favorite, if you had one?”

Loki paused, pondering over the length of his life. “The Asgardian Wedding Dance,” he answered, a little more timid than he would like.

Luna rested her chin on her hand. “Sounds romantic.”

“It was the tradition.” He shrugged, taking another bite of his meal. “Every marriage, no matter how high or low, enlisted the participation of the patrons in attendance. Aside from the children too young and those incapable, it was required of everyone to know it and join in.”

“And I assume you knew how.”

“Oh, of course," Loki stated, as though the thought of him not being able to perform it was blasphemous by itself. “For royal marriages, the newly-wedded couple go first, then the king and queen alongside them, then the princes and princesses,” he gestures to himself, “and so on until everyone got a turn or two.”

“And the newlyweds keep dancing? Until everyone gets to?” Luna had trouble imagining such a feat.

“Yes.” He took another bite. “The stamina required was symbolic of their commitment to each other. At all the ones I’ve been to, never have I seen a couple falter.”

“And the king and queen?”

“Likewise.” He reminisced on watching his parents dance together, a pleasant image in his mind. “They never stumbled or quit before everyone got a chance.”

“What about you?”

“Oh, I could dance until the sun rose twice over.” Loki thought back on his own jovial days of old. “My selected partners, however, could not. It was no fault of theirs. I was a little over-zealous at times.”

“You say it’s your favorite. Do you know why at all?” Luna tread lightly. She didn’t want Loki to suspect her of probing and clam up.

Luckily, he did not. “It was one of the very few times I could be seen as an equal prince of Asgard, not just the younger brother to the crown prince.”

Luna was taken aback a bit. “You mean no one did during any other time?” She brushed her fingertips against his arm. He shook his head. “Well, that’s disrespectful! Shame on them.”

Loki snickered. She was offended for him. How cute.

“There’s no use defending my honor. There’s nobody else here.” He waved his hand in the empty space.

“Yeah, but still. Shame on them.” Luna echoed herself, using her position as his friend and holding fast by him. “Do you remember how it goes?”

“I don’t think I could ever forget.”

Luna leaned in close, as though she were about to utter a secret. “Would it sacrilege if I asked you to show me?” Not a secret, but still scandalous in nature. She was not Asgardian, and surely not a princess by blood or marriage. He knew he would break multiple rules by taking her hand for this particular dance, but he was never one to listen to them, and there was no one around to see.

“Not in the slightest,” he lied, throwing in a charming smile, “though I do need a dance partner.” He dusted his hands off, stood up, and extended his hand to her. “If she be willing.” She eyed his open palm and moved her gaze to meet his.

“Lucky for you,” she said, slipping her hand into his, “she is.”

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

On a peaceful, snowy morning, Loki woke to the smell of fresh breakfast and the sound of soothing music. It was a usual start to his day, but he always welcomed them. Stretching and rubbing the back of this neck, he rose and followed the spicy aroma to its source.

Out of the corner of her eye, Luna spotted him and threw him a charming smile.

“Morning. Merry Christmas. Or should I say ‘Happy Yule?’” She pointed with the spatula to the yellow-white mixture in the pan. “I’m making some eggs and toast for us if you don't mind."

“Of course not. Smells good,” Loki said, voice rough from dehydration. He envied the smoothness of Luna’s voice.

Sensing his discomfort, Luna gestured to the coffee maker. “I just brewed a fresh batch. It’s a good one if you want.”

Loki did, so he shuffled past her, took a clean mug, and poured himself a cup. Leaning his hip on the counter edge, he felt the warmth of his beverage seep into his tired bones. He clenched and unclenched a hand, stretching out the ligaments, and eyed the decal on his mug of choice. The familiar red-white-and-blue shield drew a muffled chuckle from his throat. Of course, he had to pick this one out. But he didn’t mind. It amused him. Given his past with everyone else, he held an inherent dislike for them, save his present company.

The music caught his ear over the crackling of hot oil. He doesn’t remember hearing the voice of the artist or the song playing. Curious, he gives it a listen.

“These lyrics,” he says absently, “they’re so macabre.”

Luna spares him a glance. “Yeah, but the feeling is romantic.”

“What’s so romantic about being dead and buried? And then have the corpses be found later on?”

“Nothing, really,” she reaches and grabs the toast, “but it’s the way it’s said. Like, ‘I would do anything – even die – so long as I did it with you.’ You know?” Luna took down two plates, handing one to Loki. “Romantic, I guess, whether or not you believe in that stuff.” The soft smile she was sporting dissipated.

“What stuff?” He asked as she served him a portion of eggs and a toast.

“You know, love.” Luna scooped her own portion and stood across from him. “That stuff.”

“You don’t believe it?” Loki probed her.

Luna waved a hand as though she were swatting away his question. “Eh,” she sneered a little. Not a topic she wished to get into on a holiday morning. “I put red pepper flakes in here, so be careful. Sometimes I can’t tell if I put too much in.” She hands him a fork, and he tastes her new creation. The bite of spices was commonplace in her home, and he welcomed it.

Content, he affirmed to her, “As always, it’s delightful.”


 

A book in his right hand and a plate of cookies to his left, Loki lounged on the couch and finished up his story. It was a rousing tale of murder, mystery, and a charismatic serial killer. But, alas, as all stories do, it came to an end. Closing the novel, he did a visual sweep of his surroundings.

The album had finished its first full play, and in its place, a movie was on with the volume set low. ‘Home Alone,' it was called if Loki remembered correctly. Luna mentioned how she watched it every year around the holiday season and how he may take a shine to Kevin. True to her word, he did. Kevin’s tricks and independent spirit pleased and reminded him of his own childhood.

He watched the film in silence, gathering the plot points he’d missed and slowly partaking in the sugar cookies. He made a mental note to find time to watch it from the beginning. Near the end, he let his gaze wander over to where Luna sat. Diligently, she decorated their little tree with a small set of ornaments, a box of candy canes, and a bag of Hershey Kisses. Loki felt an itch to participate. Having enough of media, he stood and approached his friend.

“Hey,” Luna greeted, scooting to the side to give Loki some space. “How does this look to you?”

He took the space she gave him and assessed her decorating. “It’s good.”

Luna couldn’t help but beam. “Good. Glad you like it.” A Kiss in hand, she placed it on a central branch. "Little sweets," she adjusted an ornament, "baubles and such,” and folded her hands in her lap. “It’s good.”

Loki reached for the side table and plucked the object of his interest – a bundle of mistletoe – off it. “What about this?” He held it up to Luna’s line of sight. “Where would you put it?”

“That,” she took the thing from him and put it down, “is going nowhere.”

Her reluctance amused him. “Hypothetically, where would it go?”

Luna sighed. She knew he was faking it. “You know where it goes.” Loki couldn’t trick her.

He crossed his arms. “So, why not put it up?”

“Because if one of us stood under it, we would have to kiss, and the only kiss you’ll ever get from me,” Luna grabbed a Hershey Kiss from the bag, “is one of these.” She tossed it up into the air, and he caught it without a fumble.

Maintaining eye contact, Loki unwrapped it as carefully as he could and placed the chocolate in his mouth. “I’ll take it.”

Luna huffed, a little embarrassed, and softly pushed his shoulder. Loki leaned back on his hands and chuckled, her bashful grin satisfying him for the time.

The small packages and bags under the tree caught his interest, the number of them piquing his curiosity. He wondered if anyone else would be joining them. He hoped not.

As if she read his mind, Luna chimed back in, saying, “We’ll open these later, after I make some of the hot chocolate I know you like.”

Loki felt it necessary to voice his concern. “Will anyone else be coming?”

“Nope.” Luna shook her head. “Just us. Why? You already tired of me?” She smirked, teasing him. Loki chuckled and held his hands up in mock defense.

“Oh dear, you got me.” His sarcastic tone gave him away, for he could never have a boring moment with her. Chaos was his specialty, but he favored her tranquility. Though, he was confused. “But really, what of the rest of your family?” Luna had praised her mother many times to him. In his mind, if he removed himself, they should be together at this time. He was concerned as to why they were not.

Luna ground her teeth, doing her best to hold the truth back. Yes, Loki was her friend, but no one in her life now knew of her personal life details.

She scoffed lightly. “You don’t need to worry about them.” With a swallow, she buried her secrets down in the deepest part of her soul. “They can have their own day. We have ours.” A slow smile took its place on Loki’s handsome face. He took the bait and sated his curiosity for the time being.

Silence overtook them; one Luna wasn't comfortable with. Desperate to fill it, she changed the subject. "Hey, uh, can we go over those steps from the other day? I don't really feel like I got the hang of them yet.”

“You did them well enough the other day.”

“Tell you what: we go over the dance, and then after, we see what the elves brought us for under the tree? Or rather, in your case, the dwarves.”

Loki stood to his full height and extended a hand down. “It’s a deal.” Luna took it and pulled herself to her feet.

Fingers intertwined, they moseyed to the stereo. Not bothering to change the CD inside, Loki turned it on and scrolled through the tracks to find the one his heart desired.

“I see you like Hozier.” Luna smiled. “I’m glad.”

“Oh, he’s exceptional,” Loki praised as he selected a song. “And, to our luck, he has crafted an appropriate song for us.”

Pressing play and leading Luna into an open space, he took his position as she did hers. It was the song he had the privilege of waking up to and, oh, how appropriate it was. A bit forward, but he took to it nonetheless.

Circling each other slowly, they moved into the dance Loki knew by heart, mind, soul, and muscle. A rotation in one direction, a quick pivot of the foot, and a rotation in the other.

“Babe, there's something tragic about you; something so magic about you. Don't you agree?”

Changing direction again, they touched their wrists together. Luna’s hand was tempted to grab Loki’s, but his correcting remark from the first time she did it reminded her to not. They repeated the move again as their feet changed and took them the opposite way.

“Babe, there's something lonesome about you; something so wholesome about you. Get closer to me.”

It was protocol to maintain eye contact with a dance partner, but Loki was magnetic; Luna couldn’t look away, no matter if she wished to. A flustered feeling bloomed in her breast, but she dismissed it in turn for concentrating on her timing and footfalls.

He brought his hand down and molded it into the curve of her waist. Hers did the same, their touch as gentle as could be. The warmth emanating from her skin soaked through his shirt. He expected the sensation, but it never ceased to usher a slight tingle.

“No tired sigh, no rolling eyes. No irony.”

A wide sidestep took the two from each other’s grasp, but the dance commanded they not stray far. Hand still outstretched, Loki took hold of Luna’s and, with a swift pull, brought her back into his embrace. Closer than the previous step, but the next called for it.

Arm set firmly across her back, he tilted her backward, supporting her full weight. The arm she encircled around his neck gripped him tight in fear of slipping. But she held steadfast in her confidence in him and let her head tip back a bit further, allowing her an upside-down vision of her living room. He delighted in the carefree giggle she let out.

“No ‘Who cares?’, no vacant stare. No time for me.”

Bringing Luna back to a standing position, Loki took her hand from his shoulder and spun her away. He couldn’t let go, however. It would be improper to break contact now. Bringing her back to him, one held the opposite hand of the other, forming a small circle between them. Though, from how they held each other, the existing space separating the two was mere inches wide.

“Honey, you're familiar, like my mirror years ago.”

In time with the song’s signature, Luna stepped to Loki's side, and he stepped to hers; her right to his, his left to hers. She shook aside temptation and looked to her feet. Accidental entanglement with Loki’s feet had been embarrassing, and she was determined to not make the same mistake again. Loki spotted her conduct violation and released a hand to tilt her chin back up.

“Eyes on me,” he mumbled, holding Luna’s gaze as he retook her hand.

"Sorry," she breathed out. Loki held no grudge against her, for he did the same as a youngster.

“Idealism sits in prison, chivalry fell on his sword.”

Once more, Loki spun her, but not far. Gently guiding her under his arm, he lay the back of his hand on the far side of her waist, close enough for her to keep hold of his fingertips. Luna draped her free arm across his mid-back and bent her wrist far enough for him to grab her hand.

They locked eyes and made another slow rotation. Luna strained her neck a bit looking up, for he was so tall. It made her wonder if the princesses he danced with in the past had a similar problem. An idle thought. Maybe they didn’t. But who’s to say? The issue could be overlooked for the sole sake of dancing with a prince of Asgard.

“Innocence died screaming; honey, ask me, I should know.”

Finishing the turn, they separated, turned in their place, and did the steps again in the other direction. Loki took Luna around slowly, feeling her against him. He reminisced on how he performed the dance in the old days: adorned in gold and green, fresh-faced, a bright glint of mischief in his eye, and a partner on his arm he routinely forgot the name of.

He entertained the fantasy of Luna being a visiting royal from a neighboring kingdom. Oh, how he would jealously guard and horde her attention. As the other princesses would silently compete for Thor’s hand, Loki would indulge himself and dance with his own princess until the sun rose and set over the edge of the world. His darling friend, all to himself, for as long as they wished.

With the dance nearing its end, Loki grabs hold of Luna’s hand and brings her back around to face him. He spins her once more for good measure, releases her, and gives her a gracious bow. Brimming with pure joy, Luna waves her arms out to either side of her and reciprocates his gesture.

“See? You got it,” Loki praises, making no effort to hide his proud smile.

“Glad you approve.” Luna holds her hand out to him. “Ready for another round?”

Loki takes it, soft and natural. “Need you ask?”

“I slithered here from Eden just to sit outside your door.”


 

Together, they finished out the song, going for two more rounds of the routine. Amidst her lifted spirits, Luna congratulated herself on entirely diverting Loki from the topic of her family. Friend or not, it wasn’t his business to know anything about her past further than the things she casually told him.

Turning the music off, Luna shuffled to the kitchen. “How about some hot chocolate?” She stooped and took out a small pot. “As promised.”

Loki rubbed his hands together, already tasting it. “Couldn’t say no if I wanted to.”

“You can always say ‘no.’” Luna poured out two servings of milk. “But, by the way you said it, I’ll take it as a ‘yes.’”

“Oh, please do.” Loki situated himself on the sofa and turned the television on again.

In place of an Irishman's soulful voice, the chiming of an eleven-year-old Macaulay Culkin made its way to Luna's ears. Unable to resist, she giggled and made a comment.

“Lost in New York? The streets are numbered!” Her obscure reference and uncharacteristic word enunciation caught Loki’s attention and confused him completely. Suspecting him to, Luna turned her head and called out. “It’s a line from a John Mulaney show. I can show it to you later if you want.”

Of course, Loki was interested. “I just might take you up on it.”

In his time with her, Loki had watched many quality films. Luna had good taste, lucky for him. The movie in question wasn’t good, but he kept up with the story regardless. Kevin’s charisma made up for where the direction and writing lacked.

Twirling a lock of his hair around his index finger, he took a look at the array of gifts beneath the tree and another at the kitchen. Channeling his inner child, he grew impatient; curious about what was for him and what was for Luna. She had neglected to label them, so all he could do is guess. The dwarves of old granted him and the rest of the royal family with lavish gifts, many beyond compare to the other realms under the Allfather’s rule. But, far away from all the glitz and glamour, anything meant for him was more than good enough.

The appearance of a steaming mug of hot chocolate broke any new thought manifesting in his head; its accompanying aroma drawing him in further. Loki leaned towards it to take it, but Luna carried it out of his reach.

“May I tempt you enough to pull you away for a bit?” She said, nodding to the tree in the corner.

Loki stood. “If that’s part of the deal,” he points to a mug, “tempt away.”

“Well,” Luna took a step closer to the tree, caressing the side of the mug, “you better come and get her before she gets cold.” She takes a spot on the floor and sits with her feet tucked beneath her.

“Ooh, we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?” Loki sits to her left and gingerly takes the mug from her.

Luna takes a sip of her hot chocolate. “Alright. So, I have a couple gifts for you and some from Peter.”

Loki, a bit perplexed, eyes his friend and the presents she’s referring to. “Peter?”

“Mhm.” Luna nods. “Isn’t he just the nicest? Apparently, he handmade something for you. How about we start with his things?” She passes him the bag Peter gave her and takes a smaller gift for herself. “Here, this one’s yours. He said to be careful because it’s fragile, and no, I have no idea what it is.” She sips from her mug, anticipating Peter’s gift.

“I will take the utmost precaution,” he mutters as he opens the bag and draws out the wrapped object.

Beneath the soft fabric, he feels something small and hard. He takes excellent care unfolding the cloth surrounding it. Resting in a sea of black is a small ceramic snake, coiled up and painted a vibrant green, with a gold horned helmet encasing its head. Loki traces the curves with a finger, barely touching the shiny surface. Luna scoots closer and leans in to get a better look.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she coos, restraining herself from touching it. “And he put your helmet on it too.”

Loki flashed a smile. He was utterly taken with his new miniature. “He must have remembered my story.”

“Which one?”

“One from when I was a child.” Loki set his little snake on the coffee table for safe-keeping. “My favorite prank to pull on my brother. It never failed to get him.”

Luna drew her legs to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. “What would you do?”

“Thor’s favorite animals are snakes, so I would regularly transform into one to surprise him.”

“And he never caught on?”

“Oh, he did, but we were having fun, so we never stopped.” Loki reached over and brushed the snake’s tiny curved horn, feeling a familial affection for the boy settling in his heart. Yet another human has earned their place on his good side.

“Don’t forget the shirt.” Luna placed a hand on the crumpled cloth. “He says that’s also a thing for you.” Haphazardly, Loki straightened out the shirt and held it up. A retro design sat on the front of two boys facing each other, knives in hand, with a bold-print caption reading ‘My First Knife Fight.’ Loki’s amused laugh stoked Luna’s curiosity, so she leaned closer to get a better look. “Is that part of the story too?”

“Oh, yes. The most crucial part.”

Luna looked at him suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you stabbed him.”

Loki chuckled. “Alright, I won’t tell you.”

Luna threw her hands up. “Of course you would stab him.”

“What gave it away?”

“Literally everything. You’re an expert in sharp objects, and you Asgardians heal really fast, so a regular stabbing wouldn't do too much damage. Besides, it’s kinda your style.”

Luna shrugged, smug and proud. “Surprise.” He eyed the gift Peter intended for Luna. It was still unopened. “So what did he give you?”

“Oh yeah," Luna said in realization. She unceremoniously tore into the colored paper and unfolded the little bundle of fabric. “Aw, Spider-Man socks.” She held them close and smiled gratefully. Pulling them on, she made a mental note to give Peter a big hug the next time they meet. “Of course, he’d know.”

Loki was suspicious, as evidence of her secrets continued to pile on. “Yes, they are nice.”

“Ooh, ok. My turn now.” Luna moved to her original spot. “The rest are your presents from me. Let’s do,” she hovered a hand over the remaining three objects and plucked one from the pile, “let’s do this first.” She held it out for Loki to take at his leisure.

It was soft and small, not unlike Peter’s gift for Luna. Loki ripped the package open and held up his own pair of socks. They were bigger than Luna’s and decorated with simple insignias of trees, ornaments, sprigs of holly, and reindeer.

“These are… interesting.”

To Luna’s dismay, Loki was impossible to read. He looked neither impressed nor disappointed. “Patterned holiday socks.” She tried explaining, but she felt like a fool. “You don’t have to wear them. It’s just … I've never gotten socks for anyone before, and I wanted to get those for you. I can always return them or give them to Tony if you don’t-,”

Loki held the pair close to his chest as though he expected someone to snatch them away. “Now, why on Earth would I let you do that? They’re for me.” He pulled the plastic tabs holding the pieces together and slipped them on his feet. “Now, no one can take them.”

“They suit you very well.” Luna was proud of herself. The first of three was a success. “I hope they’re comfortable enough.”

“Indeed they are.” Loki rubbed his feet together, feeling the soft cloth against his skin. “What else do you have for me?”

“Ooh, yes. I have two more things.” Luna handed him a hard, rectangular box a bit longer than his hand. “I didn’t plan this one, really. I just saw it and thought you’d like it.”

Loki uncovered it and revealed a flat gold chain necklace long enough to encompass his neck and rest easy along his collarbones. He dropped the cover and lifted the chain out. The metal shined bright and slid smoothly in his fingers.

“You are indeed right.”

Luna clenched her fist and grinned. Another victory on her part. “Here, let me.” She took it carefully out of his hands and shuffled on her knees to kneel behind him. Avoiding his hair, she draped the chain around his neck and latched it closed. She leaned to one side of him and admired his new piece. “Gold looks good on you.”

Loki couldn’t help but smirk. He was hardly immune to her flattery. “It’s lovely,” he said, giving it another feel with his fingertips.

“I’m glad you think so.” Luna crawled back to the tree and handed him the remaining box. “Ok, last but not least, this one.”

It was another hard box. Loki made short work of its wrappings, no longer able to withhold any self-control. Embellishing the lid was the Stark Industries logo. Loki was puzzled. He knew Luna knew how he disliked Stark, so why gift him a product? He placed the box on the floor and lifted the lid. Inside sat no jewelry or mug or other paraphernalia; it was a glass rectangle similar to the one Luna possessed. No, not similar. It was the same one.

“Is this… is this what I think it is?” Loki eased it out of its packaging, watching the tree lights reflect off the surface.

“Mhm.” Luna nodded, doubly excited “I don’t have a phone here, so I figured you might want a way to reach me if you need anything while I’m at work. Or if I’m running late, I can call and tell you. I activated it already, so you just have to turn it on and work it. Like this.” She clicked the top button, making the default display screen come to life. “FRIDAY is connected to it, so she’s always there if you need help or whatever.”

“Thank you for this. All of it.” Loki was honest, through and through. It was a scary feeling, but Luna helped quell his fear a little.

A broad smile took place once more on Luna's face. Today was full of them, it seemed. “You are very welcome, my friend.”

Chapter Text

The first few days of the New Year progressed as they had for the past few months as though nothing had changed. Interactions went as desired, and peace in the home remained sustained. Luna's holiday break from work would last for another long weekend, as would the snow surrounding her apartment complex. Once the time was gone, it was back on the grind.

Loki was getting his fill of her, watching her every move whether she was aware of it or not. He carefully gauged their conversations, asking questions to things he felt she may shy away from, each time toeing the line set between them. It was tempting to cross it or sway Luna to move it, but he staved off such desires. It was too soon to take such heavy risks.

Engrossed in his new device, Loki perused the internet, reading clickbait-y tabloids and watching cat videos, all from the palm of his hand. If he had such a thing on Asgard, he would have never bothered to venture outside his room. As much as he detested Stark, his products were fantastic.

On the opposite end of the couch, Luna was deep into her own activity, her own phone sitting in her room. In its place, she busied her hands with a bundle of strings and a piece of paper dictating instructions on how to tie them.

“What are you doing?” Loki inquired.

She threw him a side glance. “Making a friendship bracelet for Tony. I promised him a Christmas present, so here it is,” Luna said, tying another colored knot.

“I thought you said he wasn’t really your friend.”

“Yeah, but what do you get a man who has everything and can buy anything?” She held up her partially-done creation. “Something handmade, of course.”

Loki gave a light chuckle. “Of course,” he echoed.

She set the bracelet back in her lap and continued. “If you’re jealous, I can make one for you too. I used to do it for all the Avengers, no matter if they liked jewelry or not.”

Loki put his gaze back to his phone. "If you wish, I won't object,” he said, missing Luna’s little smirk. She could read him well, but sometimes he suspected she forgot how well he could read her. Or rather, how hard he tried.

He could assess her emotions with ease, but their origins were tricky. He got a goodly amount of information from her diaries and the personal belongings he looked through, but the blank spaces were a mystery. Any piece he came upon, he filled in with his own experiences involving other people. Such things have been unreliable in his past. However, when push came to shove, he was forced to make do with them now.

Forgetting the random blog post on the screen, Loki pondered on his findings in regards to his unlikely friend. She was kind, headstrong, loving, intelligent, and realistic. Any problems she had, she dealt with and didn’t try to create more. She kept a sturdy house despite being alone in it. It perplexed him, but he accepted it wholeheartedly.

But Luna’s sides didn’t stop. Peter and Tony were closest to her, but she wasn't entirely comfortable with them. Mentions of her family were met with quick diversions, and talks of love or past relationships were countered by indifference and disdain. She hid something from him. As impressed as he was by her ability to do so, he craved the unknown.

And now she makes friendship bracelets for people she’s not friends with. Interesting.

Clicking his phone off, Loki angled his body towards Luna. “I think I’ve got it.”

Luna glanced his way. “Got what?”

“You.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Me?”

“Yes. I’ve finally figured you out.”

She scoffed and returned her attention to the assembly of the bracelet in her lap. “Alright, tell me what you think you know about me.” She acted as unfazed as she felt. She’s heard such lines from the boys she was acquainted with in college. In this instance, Loki is no different from them, so she expects falsehoods and misconceptions.

Loki threw an arm around the back of the couch, his hand inches away from Luna’s shoulder. “You’re all alone here.”

“Obviously.”

“And that makes you lonely.”

“Again, obviously.”

“Though you’re friendly, you don’t cling to people. You keep them close, but far enough so you can push them away at the right time. You do this with Stark, Rhodes, and Peter. You guard yourself from friends and from love.”

Luna shook her head. “You know, you’re really going to have to try harder because that sounds just like every depressed teen going through puberty.”

“You find some aspect about yourself undesirable. Whether someone told you or you decided it is, you can’t get rid of it, and it eats at you.” Loki gripped the back of the couch and pulled himself closer to her. “Your cordiality is a façade to cover up for something seated deep within you, something dark.”

Luna's hands stopped their knotting. Her skin felt icy and hot, her jaw clenched tight, and her heart beat like a bird’s wings in flight. The air unsettled around her. Could Loki feel it too?

“Again, Loki, try harder,” she said quietly.

Loki leaned back. “Oh, I intend to, so long as you play these games with me.”

Luna gasped and whirled around, aiming her pointer finger at Loki’s chest. He pulled back more, surprised. “Don’t ever say I play games with you! I do no such thing!” she yelled, her nerves and face on fire.

Loki knew she was right, but old habits die hard. “Well, what do we have here? Is that anger?” He leaned his face closer to hers and watched as her expression contorted into one of shock, then rage.

Using her finger like a spear, Luna stabbed the center of Loki’s sternum, pushing him further into the cushions. “Don’t,” she growled.

Grabbing her craft and its instructions with a crunch, she got up and marched back to her room without another word. Pushing the door shut and locking it, Luna sank down to the floor, hands covering her face. The raging fire in her veins simmered down as it was joined by the telltale prickle of fear. Her temper got the best of her. Loki’s words deserved to be silenced in the manner they were, but they made Luna lose herself. It was embarrassing and disgraceful and made the scars on her legs itch and ache. She scratched her thighs over her leggings, but it did nothing to help.

Loki was dangerous. His inquisitive nature proved as much. It was clear he snooped through her things, but what else did he know and think? He was capable of toying with her emotions and not feeling the least bit sorry if he poked the wrong area. Luna knew so, but she let her guard down enough for him to hit her where it hurts.

But he was right; right about her harboring a dark secret close to her heart. Much of it was written out on her skin. He showed no signs of knowing what it is, but he was determined enough to make her spill it if he wanted to. Luna ground her teeth.

On the other hand, he accused her of playing games with him. Manipulating him. She never did and had no intentions to. How dare he charge her with such a fault? Luna rose back to her feet, whipped her glasses off, and face-planted on her bed. She hoped Loki was happy with himself because she certainly wasn’t.

Loki sat quiet, one hand lying still by his side and the other over the spot where Luna jabbed him. He stared at the wall – mind blank – trying to see through it, past it. Over the many people he’d angered in his life, being on the receiving end of Luna’s anger felt like the worst of them all. His snide comments got the better of him, and he touched a nerve he wasn't supposed to. A place no one was meant to tread. And here he went in and walked all over it without her permission.

Bringing his hand up and covering his mouth, the last words his mother spoke to him surfaced in his mind: ‘Always so perceptive about everyone but yourself.’ With an anguished groan, he put his head in his hands and shook it. He made the mistake of mistakes. He transgressed in a way he may not be able to redeem himself from.

Next in the imaginary line to whisper words of wisdom in his ear was his brother: ‘Life is about growth. It's about change.’ Yes, indeed it was. Loki had changed enough to gain a worthwhile companion. Someone not looking to use him or hurt him to get what they want and pervert the title of ‘friend,' but someone who knew the value of him. Someone who liked him – free of all illusions and disguises – but he gracefully dashed those prospects away. The look in Luna’s eyes told him enough of how he hurt her and how deep it went.

‘But you seem to just want to stay the same.’

No. Loki did not want to stay the same. He wouldn’t stand idly by and let his beautiful friend slip away from him. She clothed and fed him when no one else would, stayed up with him when he couldn’t sleep, danced with him solely for the sake of having fun with him. Nothing was worth maintaining her fury against him.

Grabbing his phone, he opened up the text app and sent one to Luna: ‘please come back out.’ Loki heard a ping from her room and watched the screen with anticipation, willing a response from her to pop up. A little ‘read’ appeared beneath his message, but nothing more of note. He tried again, but no sound was heard. Another ‘read’ marked his text, and he was granted no more.

Loki kept up a repetitive motion, of sorts. He would choose a spot to sit, send a text, and pace, waiting for a response. He never received one, but he’s as stubborn as they come. Luna had to emerge from her room at some point. She couldn’t stay in and go hungry. The thought to break her door down drifted into his mind, but it left as quickly as it came. The apartment was public property. If he destroyed it, Luna wouldn’t be the only person cross with him.

She did come out about an hour after the sun had set. The glance she shot him on her way to the kitchen burned his heart like a hot knife. Albeit calm, her upset emotions hadn’t settled. He didn’t blame her. He would be mad too.

“How about leftovers? I don’t feel like cooking,” Luna called out. Reluctant to raise his voice at her, Loki shot up from his seat and made his way to her side in front of the open fridge. “I'll have curry and rice. You can have whatever." She pulled a bowl and water glass from the cupboard.

“I’ll have the same,” Loki said evenly, treading lightly with his words. Though Luna wasn’t looking at him, she was speaking to him, and he wanted her to keep it up.

From the cold pot of rice, she pressed into it firmly with a clean spoon, slowly breaking apart the mass into pieces she could scoop into her bowl. Once done, she pushed the pot and spoon in Loki’s direction for him to take as much as he liked. He copied her method and served himself.

They filled their bowls the rest of the way with as much leftover curry as they liked, effectively emptying the Tupperware container. Luna heated hers up first with Loki waiting patiently for his turn. Bringing everything they needed to the couch, Loki sat in his spot and switched on the television. Luna placed herself as far away from him as she could. It made Loki antsy. She always sat closer.

Leaning towards her, Loki spoke, pleading with her. “Talk to me.”

Luna didn’t bother looking at him. “I have nothing to say to you,” she stated, taking a sip of water and changing the channel to a nature show about Indian wildlife.

Loki took the hint. She was intent on not talking to or hearing him. However, circumstances as they were, he still admired her. Personally, he would have started a fight as soon as he could and argued his way to receiving an apology from his offender. Luna's method ensured she gets her way as well as keep the peace in the home, her silent treatment stoking Loki’s guilty conscience as it was meant to.

They took their time eating, hungry for good food but lacking in a proper appetite. Luna finished hers first and rinsed her bowl out at the first chance she got. She didn’t rejoin him. On the way back to her room, she stopped at the doorway to the little hallway and gave him one last look.

“I’ll be up for a while so you can shower first if you want to.”

Loki didn't get a chance to respond. She was gone, the door shut and locked behind her, allowing her to have the last word. He opted to let her sleep on it. In the morning, her temperament would be cooled down enough for her to hear him with a level head. He would have a proper apology ready by then.

He did take her advice and freshen himself up enough to sleep comfortably. Leaving the books alone, he read anything and everything he could find on his phone until it slipped from his weak hand. He took the hint from his body and turned it off, eager for sleep to take him.

Chapter Text

In the wee hours of the morning, sleep left Loki to fend for himself in the dark. He opened his eyes slowly and searched for any threat or presence daring to stir him. He spotted none, but lo and behold, someone was fiddling with the window latch.

Loki quietly rose to his feet, ready to attack if need be. He crept to the corner by the lamp and lay a finger on the switch. A surprise would be best, he reckoned. The shadowy figure slowly slid the window open and reached one hand in, then the other. They felt around and grazed against a table beneath the windowsill. The hands hovered and grasped either edge of the open window.

A head appeared through the open space, followed by the torso and a leg. The stranger raised a hand up onto the wall, gripping the flat surface, and put the other above it. Loki was dumbfounded. The intruder was crawling up the wall and onto the ceiling. It wasn’t the strangest thing he’d seen in his life, but he could not have envisioned this at such a time and in such a place.

Loki waited for them to make a silent landing on the ground to turn on the light.

“What are you doing here?!” he commanded, eliciting a muffled shriek from the masked individual.

“Loki! Wait, wha-what are you doing here?!" They pointed at him. Loki took three wide steps and grabbed them by the shoulders.

“How do you know who I am?!”

The confrontation was interrupted by some loud swearing, clattering, and the door to Luna’s bedroom swooshing open. With a well-placed scowl, she charged at the two.

“Loki! Peter! What is going on?!” She looked at Peter. “Why are you here?!”

The discoveries never stop for Loki, it seems. “Peter?!” he exclaims, letting go of the boy.

“Why is Loki in your apartment?!” Peter says, frantic and winded from the old mask over his face.

“Why is he dressed like Spider-Man?!”

“Because he is Spider-Man!” Luna yells louder than the two boys, stunning them silent. “Peter, why are you in my apartment at 2 am?!”

Peter yanks off the mask and reveals his wet face, skin flushed from the cold. Loki is at a loss for words.

"I was out swinging around, and I ran out of web fluid, and I forgot to pack extra so I fell and I was too tired to go back home, and yours was closest, so I thought I could just crash here." He paused and took a few short breaths. "I was gonna leave you a note under your bedroom door and sleep on the couch. I didn't know he was here!" Peter finishes rambling and hangs his head. "I'm sorry."

Luna’s shoulders drop as she places a comforting hand on his arm. “It’s ok, Peter. It’s ok.” She cradles his cheek, lifting his head up. “Oh, you’re freezing. Come on, let’s get you something nice and warm to drink before we do anything else.” She leads him to the counter and seats him. “And give me your shoes.” He pulls them off and hands them to her. She puts them by the door and strolls into the kitchen. “Tell me, why’re you wearing your old suit? The other one would’ve kept you warmer.”

"I didn't want Mr. Stark tracking me." Peter fiddles with his cold hands. "He gave me hell when I took it out the first time, and I didn't want to bother him on his vacation with Ms. Potts."

“Yeah,” Luna says sympathetically, recalling the drama surrounding the incident. “You want some hot chocolate?”

Peter nods. “Mhm. If it’s not too much trouble.”

"Of course not." Luna squeezes Peter's forearm reassuringly, and she catches him wince. "Peter, you're hurt."

“Nah, I’m fine.” He waves his other hand. “I heal real fast anyway.”

“That I’m sure of, but after this,” Luna gestures to the jar of hot chocolate powder, “I’d like to make sure you didn’t seriously injure yourself.”

“Sure. That’s fine.”

As the milk boiled and Peter’s drink mixed, the trio kept a tense silence. Luna contemplated what to ask him once they were alone, Peter silently wallowed in shame, and Loki observed the scene in front of him. He had much to think about before the morning came and more to talk about with Luna than he previously believed.

Peter drank his beverage, doing his best not to guzzle it down. The early hours of January took more from him than he planned, but the chocolate gave some of it back to him. He was grateful, and he made sure to voice it.

“Thanks. That was really good.”

Luna smiled, happy he liked it. “Come on. The bathroom is the best place.”

"Ok." Peter complied and followed. Luna had him enter first as Loki had followed them and leaned against the wall beside the door. Confusion apparent on his face, it was clear he demanded an explanation. If Luna weren't so upset with him, she would have laughed.

"Give us a minute, and I will give you all the context you need," she answered his wordless question and disappeared into the bathroom.

Peter stood under the single ceiling light, looking drained and defeated. Luna felt for him. He needed someone, and she be damned if she left him to fend for himself.

“Hey,” she greeted as she imagined a mother would. He looked at her and gave her a weak grin. “Before we start talking, I really do want to make sure you’re physically ok.” He nodded. “Ok, breathe deeply and tell me if your ribs hurt and where.”

Peter did as she asked, grimacing a bit as his lungs filled with air. He exhaled and brought his hand to one side of him.

“Hurts a little here,” he touched a spot on the back of his ribcage, “but it’s not bad. It’ll be fine by morning.”

"I'm sure it will. Do you have any numbness or soreness that's not from the cold?"

“I don’t think so, and I’m feeling warmer now.” Peter rubbed his arms.

Luna nodded, but she wasn’t done with him. “Now, will you tell me what really happened?” Peter nodded. “Did you have another bad dream?” he nodded again. “Same one?”

He nodded again but caught himself. "A bit different this time, though."

“What was different about it?”

"I was trapped, and I couldn't move, like usual," Peter spoke quietly, "but Ben was there too."

“No,” Luna breathed out.

"And I still couldn't escape, and he got, you know, he, you know." A tear fell from his eye as the other one brimmed. "I couldn't do anything, just like the first time."

“I know, Peter, I know, but that wasn’t your fault. None of it is.”

"And when I woke up," his voice cracked, "I went to be with May, and I found her looking at his picture, and she was crying." Tears streamed down his pink cheeks and dripped on the front of his sweater, darkening the red. "I just couldn't burden her, so I left and just kept swinging till I got here." He fought it well, but a few sobs made their way out from him.

Luna gave in and held his tense body against hers. “It’s ok,” she affirmed to him. “None of it’s real, you’re safe, and no one blames you.” She rubbed his back. “You’re ok.”

Peter hugged her back. “I don’t feel like it sometimes,” He said, voice muffled against Luna’s shoulder.

“And that’s ok, too.” She stroked his head, soothing him. “You’re still young. There’s enough time for you to be ok and for you to know it.”

Luna pulled back from him and handed him a tissue. Exhaustion catching up to him, Peter sat on the toilet seat cover and cleaned his face off. Luna crouched by his side so he could see a friendly face. She may be underslept and furious, but the poor boy shouldered a heavy burden. She’ll stay by his side as long as he needed her to.

“Hey, did you hurt your head when you fell?”

Peter shook his head. “No. Why?”

“I want to try something. It might help you feel a little better, but I won’t do it if you don’t want me to.”

“Sure. What is it?”

"I'm going to hold your head in a certain way and squeeze it a little. I do this to Tony all the time when he's feeling anxious, and it really helps him. Would you like me to do it to you?" Peter ponders her offer, rubs his forehead, and nods. "Ok. Stop me if you feel any discomfort."

Luna stands and, as she did with Tony, places one hand on Peter's forehead and the other on the back – over the cerebellum. She holds his head steady and gradually applies pressure. It's an odd sensation, but Peter welcomes it, allowing his eyes to flutter shut. Luna keeps no track of time, only staying cognizant enough to feel Peter lean against her, his body relaxed. She lets go, and he comes to, shaking his head and blinking the sleep from his eyes. His face is calmer and his breathing evener.

“That was really cool,” he remarks. Luna smiles, glad he feels better. Feeling more in control, Peter sniffled and cleared his throat. “So, you guys are roommates, huh?”

“Yup, you got it.” Luna spots him tapping his knee and relents. “Gosh, go ahead and say it.”

“Oh my god, they were roommates.” They share a laugh. “So why is he here, exactly? Like, in your house?”

“Well, when he first got here, he was in pretty bad shape.”

“How so?”

"His clothes were torn, and he was covered in soot and blood. He looked so hurt and haunted. He would deny it if you asked, but I could tell. Anyway, Tony was going to put him in that RAFT prison they set up via the Accords, and I just couldn't let him do that, so one thing led to another, and now, Loki is here."

“Wow, Mr. Stark was really going to do that to him?”

“Yeah. Sometimes, I wonder if I did the right thing by bringing him here.”

“I think you did. Probably one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for anyone.”

“Thanks, Pete.” Luna gives his knee a pat. “Ok, I think the next course of action is for you to take a warm bath.”

Peter shook his head and stood. “Oh, no, I don’t need to take more from you. I already showered at home.”

"You were out in the freezing cold, and you fell on the icy street. You need a rinse, at least. I have a fresh set of clothes for you anyway.”

“Because of last time?”

“Yup. One of those ‘just in case’ scenarios. So, what do you say? I can wash your suit for you.”

“Ok.” Peter gave in, his body craving warm water and clean clothes.

“Great.” Luna opened the door and led him out. “I’ll get you some fresh towels. Just wait here.”

Peter placed himself beside Loki. He didn't wander far after being left to his own devices. Peter's gaze wandered to his tall alien friend, and they looked at each other, one studying the other.

“She do this for you too?” Peter asked, keeping his voice low. Loki was a bit taken aback, but he answered.

“Yeah.”

Peter hummed and dropped his eyes to his mentor making her way towards him, arms stacked with towels and folded clothes.

"Here's everything you need." Luna handed him the bundle. "The shower is clean, and you can use whatever soap you want if you feel like it. I'll be right out here if you need anything else."

“Thanks, doc. I really appreciate it.”

“You’re very welcome. Now, hurry it up so you can rest.” Peter nodded and closed the door behind him, only reopening it to toss his suit into the hall. As the sound of running water hit Luna’s ears, she picked up Peter’s clothes and threw them in the washer. “Ok, what do you want to know?” she asked Loki.

He crossed his arms. “Why is he Spider-Man?”

Luna sighed. "When he was 14, he got bit by a radioactive spider during a class trip, and he got powers from it." Loki's form relaxed, his arms dropping to his sides. "Wall-crawling, super strength, heightened intuition. The works. It was a freak accident, but he took it in stride. He's Spider-Man because he feels that so long as he has these powers, he should use them for the betterment of his community."

Loki’s worry for the boy increased tenfold. “Why is he here?”

"He gets nightmares. Recurring ones." Luna bit the inside of her lip. "He's been getting them since he dealt with this bad guy one time and the guy collapsed a cement roof on him. He was able to get out by himself, but in his dreams, he can't, and he stays trapped. He had one tonight, but this one was really bad, so he left his home to clear his head. The rest is what he said."

“What of his aunt? Does she know?”

Luna shook her head. "No, not entirely, but I should tell her he's here, so she doesn't worry." She went to her room, grabbed her phone, and sent a text to May, letting her know Peter was with her, and she'll bring him back in the morning.

Taking the time by herself to think, Luna looked at her bed. She was a kind and hospitable person, but she would be hard-pressed to let anyone sleep on her bed, especially a teenage boy she wasn't related to. The only option she had for Peter was the couch. She would have to kick Loki off of it, but he would be forced to sleep on the ground. Unless she decided on the unthinkable.

She exited her room and stepped past Loki to grab extra linens. She changed everything: the pillowcase, the sheet covering the couch cushions, and the blankets.

“What on earth are you doing?” Loki inquired as Luna shook out his sheet set and folded it.

"I'm going to have Peter sleep here. He's had a very hard night, and he deserves a clean place to rest his head."

“Could I have my set?”

She handed the stack to him. “Sure, but I don’t know why you would.”

“Since the couch is taken, I shall sleep on the floor.”

Luna was tempted to let him, but she hadn’t the heart. “Oh no. Uh-uh. I may be pissed at you, but not enough to let you sleep there.”

Loki shrugged. “Where else do you suggest?”

Luna put her fists on her hips and looked him square in the eye. “I have an idea, but I don’t know if you’ll like it.”

“So long as it’s comfortable.”

“I don’t know if I can promise that,” she took the sheets from him and led him to her bedroom, “but we’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Peter lay on the couch in the living room, settled to sleep with all the lights off but one. Standing side by side, hearts beating in their throats, Luna and Loki stared down at the tiny twin bed appropriately decorated with choice pillows and stuffed animals.

Sighing heavily, Luna broke the silence. “It’s not a big deal.”

Loki shook his head. “Nope.”

“It’s only for a few hours.” Luna rationalized.

“Mhm.” Loki nodded.

“It’s just a bed.”

“Mhm.”

“How big was yours on Asgard?”

“Oh, massive.”

“Uh-huh.” Luna flexed her jaw and took a deep breath. “Ok, you get in first.”

Loki whipped his head around to look at her. “What?”

“You heard me. Now, go on.” She waved her hands forward, shooing him forward. Loki thought it best not to put up a fuss, so he complied and rounded off to one side. He lifted the covers and settled in. “How’s that?”

“It’s fine.” In all the times he lay on top of the comforter, he never imagined he would end up underneath it. Though the area was small, it was soft and cozy. Resting his head on the pillow, every breath he took filled him with Luna’s distinctive scent. It was sweet, soapy, and little spicy with a hint of lavender.

Luna rubbed her hands together and walked to the other side. She took off her glasses and snuggled herself in, doing her best not to brush against her larger friend. Eager to take up as little space as she could, she turned on her side, facing away from him.

“Now, keep your hands where they ought to be, or you will be sleeping on the ground. Outside. Got it?”

Loki knew better now than to doubt Luna. He turned – facing the opposite direction – and nodded. “Understood.”

Reaching out to the side, Luna flicked the switch on her bedside lamp, turning it off and flooding the room with silence and darkness. The tension in her chest and shoulders tightened. Never had she ever had a man in her bed for any reason. In such a context, Loki was frightening without having to do anything at all. Feeling around above her head, she grabbed her stuffed frog and held it close. It eased her fear as she suspected it would.

Luna’s mind a whirlwind of thoughts, she settled on one to help her fall asleep faster. “Loki?” she whispered into the dark.

“Hm?” he answered, soft as can be.

“Are you happy here?”

He swallowed, the question catching him by surprise. “Happy? How so?”

“With me, here. Are you happy?” Luna received only silence from him. It was a silly notion, one not meant for pillowtalk close to 4 in the morning. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Now try to sleep.”

They forced their eyes closed and curled into themselves. In this space and moment, time was a lost concept. They let it wander off and welcomed the constant buzz from the City That Never Sleeps. Irony paid them a visit and used the noise to lull them off into their dreamscapes, intent on keeping them there till the world needed them back.


 

The bright sunshine flowing through the window blinds pulled Peter from his – thankfully – dreamless sleep. Rising to a sitting position, he stretched his arms and rubbed the back of his neck. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, not recognizing his surroundings, but his memory of the previous night came back to him soon enough.

The rumble of his stomach called him to his feet and over to the kitchen. He sifted through Luna’s fridge and found a bit of toast and avocado spread. The hot and cold contrast comforted him and sated his hunger for the time being. He didn’t want to insult May if she offered him breakfast and he had to refuse.

The room was eerily quiet and lonesome for Peter. He wasn’t used to being alone in someone else’s home. Taking a look over each shoulder, he deemed it too much for his liking.

“Hewwo?" he called out, still chewing a bite of his toast. He snickered lightly at his own joke, and he listened for a response. Hearing none, he went in search of any other living soul.

He knocked gently on the closed bedroom door and pressed an ear to the wood, hearing nothing but muffled breathing. It was a comfort knowing he hadn’t been abandoned, but he wished to check if everything was alright. He grasped the doorknob and turned it slowly, pushing the door open at softly as he could.

The sight he was greeted with was an unexpected one indeed: Luna and Loki, sleeping in each other’s arms. Oh, how he wished he had a camera if only to look into it. He couldn't turn away, but it wasn’t like he wanted to.

Luna lay with her head and hand on Loki’s chest, and his arms came around either side of her and held her close, wholly unintentional and without the knowledge of either of them. Loki’s feet hung off the edge of the bed, the covers now bunched around his and Luna’s waists. Any cold from the air went unnoticed in the depths of their slumber.

Peter’s moment as a voyeur ended as the sensation of being watched roused Luna to waking, her small movements waking Loki along with her. Remembering her threat, Loki quickly released her, holding his hands next to his head in surrender. Luna scrambled off of him and fell off the bed in the process. Her shock ebbed away as she heard the crunching of toast and Peter’s amused voice from the doorway.

“Hi!” he greeted.

“Peter!” Luna pushed herself to her feet and straightened her shirt. “Hey. How long have you been up?

“Not too long.”

Luna nodded. “How long have you been standing there?” she asked nervously.

Peter smirked. “Long enough.”

“Ok.” She hung her head, embarrassed. “You, uh, you having breakfast already?”

“Oh, yeah.” Peter looks down at the last bit of toast in his hand. “Guacamole and toast. This is all I took. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don't mind," Luna reassured him. “I can prepare something else for you if you like.”

“No thanks. This is enough for me right now.”

“Alright. Let me at least put something together to take for your aunt when we get you back to her.” She gently ushered him out of her room and into the hall. Recalling Loki was still in her space, she looked back at him and beckoned him to follow.

“Oh, she doesn’t know I’m here!” Peter whirled around and put his now-empty hands on his head. “May’s gonna kill me!”

Luna steadied him. “I messaged her last night, saying that you crashed here and I’d bring you back when you woke up. Everything’s ok.” She paused and creased her brow. “Speaking of which, I should get ready. I need to brush the car off before we do anything else.” Stepping back, she brushed past Loki as she heads into her room and closes the door.

Alone with him, Peter flashed Loki a tight-lipped smile, neither of them prepared to deal with the scenario they were in.

“Uh, coffee?” Loki offered.

“Sure. What you got?” Peter asked, following his giant friend to the kitchen.

“I confess, I am not well-versed in the various flavors of the beverage,” he takes a few bags from the cupboard, “but here’s what we have.” We. A nice notion, but did he still have it within his grasp? Only the Fates could tell.

“Ooh, you guys got Colombian?” Peter grabbed a bag for a closer look. “Do this one.” Loki took it from him and went through the process of making a pot of coffee, fitting in a clean coffee filter and parceling out the correct amount of water.

It was a funny feeling, making coffee for Peter in his sleep clothes, but neither commented. The uneasiness in Loki’s throat grew heavier as Luna wordlessly passed them by and exited her home, covered from head to toe in proper snow attire.

As the coffee brewed, Loki took the wait time to ready himself for the day, brushing his hair and changing clothes in the bathroom. He gazed at his reflection as he tied his hair back, pondering on how he offered the coffee to Peter. Luna was influencing him, it seemed. He would have never hospitable on Asgard. He always had people to do it for him, never sparing them a thought. Perhaps he liked Peter enough to think of his needs.

Satisfied with his appearance, he emerged and headed to put his socks and necklace on. He’d wear his gifts regardless, but now, in his mind, donning them in front of Luna could help gain her favor back. He wasn’t one to beg, but he could be desperate.

As Loki fixed his hair once more for good measure, Peter admired his footwear.

“Hey, those are nice, Mr. Loki,” he commented.

Loki looked down at them and smiled. “Why, thank you. They’re a gift.”

“From who?”

“From her.” Loki nods towards the door.

“The doc gave them to you?” Another nod from Loki. “Did you get her anything?”

He shook his head. “No. I haven’t the means to.”

Peter tread lightly with his next question. “Do you want to get her something?”

Loki nodded to the side. “I feel it would be proper.”

“How about I help you out, maybe?”

“You would do that?”

Peter crossed his arms, shrugged, and nodded. “Yeah. Do you have a phone?” Loki retrieved his cell and handed it to Peter. “Here, have my number.” Peter opened the device and typed away. “We can text, and I can help you find something. I-if you want to, that is.” He turned it off and handed it back with a nervous smile set on his young face.

“I do.” Loki took it from him. “Many thanks to you, young Parker.”

Peter cleared his throat a little, his eyes straying to the shimmer surrounding Loki’s collar. “And that’s a nice necklace, too.”

“Also a gift from her.”

“Hm. Makes my gifts seem kinda lame, right?” Peter laughed self-consciously.

“Nonsense.” Loki stood tall, his hands folded in front of him. “You had me in mind when you procured them. That alone makes them exceptional.”

Loki's silver tongue seems to have loosened up as Peter's nervous smile grew into a genuine one; his first victory for the day. Silently, he hoped to the Allfathers he could keep it up.

The soft moment was interrupted by the steady beeping of the coffee maker. Loki led the way back to the kitchen and took two clean mugs. He took the milk out and poured a little in his cup, turning the dark liquid to a light woody color. Peter did the same, adding a scoop of sugar to his. Done with their elixirs, they both drank.

“Mm, this is really good,” Peter commented, his shoulders shuddering. “You ever tried iced coffee?”

Loki contemplated the subject. “I’ve never even thought of it.”

“Oh, you’ll love it. Well, I think you would.”

“I’ll just have to take your word for it till the opportunity arises.”

The two spent the rest of the time alone finishing their drinks. As Peter held onto a thought, Luna returned to them, fresh and chilled from the outside.

“Alrighty, boys. I brushed and scraped the car as much as I could.” She shed her coat and hat. “Ready to go soon?”

“Yeah, just give me a sec,” Peter said, searching the room for his suit. “Oh, doc,” he paused his search, “could I borrow your phone, maybe? I need to tell Ned something really important before I forget.”

“Yeah, of course.” Luna pulled off her boots and journeyed to her room for her phone. “Here.” She passed it to Peter on her way to the kitchen.

“Thanks.” He held it close to his face. “FRIDAY, can you pull up Ned’s number?”

“Sure thing, Mr. Parker,” the AI’s voice resounded from the speaker. She did as he asked and he typed out a quick text.

Placing the device on the counter, he resumed his quest. Upon finding his suit, he departed to the bathroom to change into the pants and turn the sweatshirt inside-out. He exited and strolled back into the living room, alerting Luna to his presence.

“Mm,” she hummed over the edge of her mug. “You’re ready?” Peter nodded. “Ok. Just let me finish this and fix something for your aunt and we will be on our way.” Luna reached for a small Tupperware container, one she could part with.

“Yup. No rush.” Peter smiled and held his hands behind his back, innocent as ever. He needed time for Ned to get to his apartment before him.


 

Peter knocked on his apartment door, Luna hovering behind him with her gift bestowed. Faint footsteps from inside grew louder and stopped at the door as it swung open to reveal the casually gorgeous May Parker.

“Hey, May,” Peter greeted her sheepishly. May said nothing as she took him into her arms and held him tight.

“Oh, Peter, I’m so glad you’re back.” She pressed a kiss into his hair and looked on to Luna. “Thank you for keeping him safe.”

Luna held up a hand. “No need to thank me. I’d walk the world for this guy.” She gave Peter’s hair a harmless ruffle as May released her hold on him and he walked into his home. “I, uh, I have this for you, too.” She held out the small container. “You know, can’t visit someone without bringing something over.” May took it gently from Luna’s grasp and looked it over. “Just some leftover Christmas cookies.”

“You are just the nicest.” May opened her arms to Luna and embraced her. “Thank you again, really.” She pulled back a little. “We really should have tea sometime. I know a great recipe for Italian cookies.”

Luna smiled at the present promise. “Well, we’ll have to make them together to go with that tea. When it’s warmer and not so icy out.”

“Absolutely.” May took Luna’s hand and squeezed it. “Well, have a safe drive home and say hi to that gorgeous boyfriend of yours for me,” she said, smirking a little and winking.

“Hm? Oh yes, Louie. My boyfriend,” Luna said a slowly, avoiding any stumbling. “I sure will.” She stepped back, giving her an awkward thumbs-up and a smile. “Bye, Aunt May.”

The two waved each other off once more, and May closed the door, ready to demand an explanation or two from her nephew.


 

As she left the apartment building, Luna scuttled to her car and jumped in. She left the vehicle running, keeping the inside warm and Loki occupied with the radio. Luna slammed the door shut and let out a huff, breathless from the cold. As she rubbed her hands together, Loki settled back into his seat and eyed her, gauging her mood.

“So, you lied to me,” he stated.

Luna checked her mirrors, not bothering to spare him a glance. “Did I now?”

“Yes. You told me you didn’t know who Spider-Man was. And I believed you.”

She looked behind her and out into the street. “You mad about that?”

Loki smirked. “On the contrary, I’m impressed.”

Luna unknowingly mimicked him. “Only you would be.”

Judging the space around her, she backed up and out onto the road. The car was silent, save for the pop music coming from the radio. Loki didn’t bother listening. His head was abuzz with other concerns.

Eyes on the bumper of the car in front of them, Loki bent his head a little. “I feel like an apology is in order.”

Luna scoffed and signaled for a right turn. “I’m not apologizing to you for anything.”

“Not you.” Loki swallowed, hoping for the best. “I overstepped and made you cross with me. I acted wrongly, and I apologize.”

Luna came to a stop at a red light and faced him full-on. “You’re saying sorry?” She sounded surprised.

“Yes,” Loki replied, nodding. “I am truly sorry. I never wish to make you upset or cause you pain.”

Keeping the red light in her peripheral and one hand on the wheel, Luna leaned back and rested her shoulder on the seat. Aside from the ghost of a smile gracing her lips, Loki found her nearly unreadable. She let the corner of her mouth turn up a bit more as the light turned green. Facing forward, she released the break.

“Apology accepted,” Luna muttered, loud enough for her companion to hear. “You’re forgiven.”

Loki rolled his coat-clad shoulders. The weight upon him dissipated and he grinned.

“And, for the record, I am happy with you here.”

Luna’s smile grew to reach her eyes. “Good. I’m glad.”

Independently, they sighed, appreciating the newly-cleared air between them. A strange feeling to each of them for different reasons. Loki knew his. He rarely felt sorry for his actions, and genuine apologies came either too little or too late. But with Luna, he was still curious.

“Could you answer me something, perhaps?”

Luna turned onto another street. “Ask, and I’ll decide.” She didn’t appear upset with him any longer, so he continued.

“How come you get angry about being accused of things you didn’t do?”

She snickered. “Is that really a question you want answered?”

“You’ve believed I would blame you if I found something distasteful. I only wish to know – as a friend – where this comes from, and why you feel the need to defend yourself so.” Confessing truths to an ally left an odd taste in Loki’s mouth, but he knew Luna’s wrath would leave him feeling worse.

Luna felt her heart rate increase and her fingers tremble, but she pushed past them. “Well, Loki – my friend – it comes from my past friends and my dad doing it to me. Particularly, the friends who were boys.”

“That is why you lack them now? Friends?”

“Part of the reason, yeah.” Luna's voice warbled, and she cleared her throat. Taking a leap of faith, she let the truth tumble out. “My dad would accuse me of playing mind games with him.” Loki held his breath. “Wouldn’t really matter what was happening, just so long as he was upset enough, which didn’t ever have to be a lot. To this day, I don’t know if I actually did anything, or if he was lying straight to my face. And if he was lying, he never apologized or acted like he was sorry.” Luna cleared her throat again, her nerves a little shot.

Loki clenched his teeth tight together. Was he destined to repeat misbehaviors and mistakes? Perhaps, but he had the power to stray from any path he pleased.

“Does he regret it now?”

Luna shrugged. “Wouldn’t know. Haven’t spoken to him in ages.”

Loki rubbed his left hand. He did almost lose her over a bad habit. She was stronger and more like him than he believed. He couldn’t have known the truth, but he felt an inkling of shame for assuming. For the time, he sensed a kindred spirit in her.

“My father never apologized for his actions either, and he regretted very little in the matter of his treatment towards me. And though Thor was always his favorite, neither was he spared.”

He pulled another truth out of his proverbial hat. Luna must have put a secret truth spell on him, for his tongue freed itself in her presence.

Smirking his way, she reached over and patted his shoulder. “Well, looks like you fell from the sky in just the right place. Welcome to the Daddy Issues Club.”

“Thank you?” he said slowly.

Hearing the confusion in his response, she elaborated. “Tony has issues with his dad, I have issues with mine, you have issues with yours, and Peter’s dad and uncle are both dead, so he has issues in that department. Hence, the Daddy Issues Club.”

“Aha,” Loki replied pointedly, something Luna found comedic enough to laugh at a little. Loki smiled along with her. It was a pleasant sound to his ear.

As her laughter died down and her facial muscles relaxed, she took a deep breath and sighed.

“It’s just,” Luna pauses, shaking her head. “I don’t know. It’s complicated. My life is complicated.”

About what, Loki couldn't tell, but he knew she was in no mood for another inquisition.

He went with it. “Not so complicated now.”

“Well, I made it that way. It’s easier to forget.”

“What?”

“The past. Easier to forget than to face and share it.” How eerily similar to the things he’s said.

“Yeah.” Loki looked out the window on his side and watched the buildings and sparse trees whizz past.

“Hey,” Luna said, gaining back Loki’s attention. “Besides green and gold, what colors do you like?”

“Why do you ask?”

She smirked and did a half-shrug. “I just want to know what else to put in your friendship bracelet.”

Loki smiled wide, involuntarily. He thanked the Norns she wasn’t looking. “How about blue and red?”

“Sounds like a plan.”


 

May locked the door behind her. “Peter, come here. Let me look at you.” She took Peter’s cheeks and checked his face. Fussing a bit, Peter maneuvered out of them.

“Aw, May, don’t worry. I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” he said dismissively, taking a cookie from the container.

A wave of terror moved over May. “You sneak out in the middle of the night, you swing God knows how far away, and then I get a text from your mentor at 3 in the morning saying that you’re at her house? Do you know how worried I was?” Her voice grew in volume as she spoke. Peter sneaking out was a common occurrence, but he never strayed so far from home. To her knowledge, at least.

Peter stepped closer to her. “I do know, but I just needed to clear my head. I wasn’t doing anything bad, I swear.” His puppy-dog eyes swayed her heart.

“It’s ok, honey. I believe you.” She drew him into another hug. “I was just so scared and worried, but I’m happy you’re home safe.” She gave his head a pat and pulled back. “She treat you ok?”

Peter nodded “Yeah. You know she wouldn’t hurt me.”

“Yeah.” She released him and picked up the cookies. “So why is Ned here? He just said it was urgent and you needed to talk to him.” She took one and put the box with the rest of the snack foods.

Peter gasped. “Yes! I had a very important thought about a thing we're doing, and I just have to talk to him in person about it.” He chattered quickly, impatient to tell his best friend what he had been thinking about all morning.

“A thing? Like a project?”

“Yes. Exactly like a project.” Peter backed away slowly, inching closer to his room. “We’re still working on it so we can’t really talk about it with anyone else, but I should really get in there so we can start on it. I don’t want to lose any important details I thought up of on the way here.” He laughed nervously.

“Well, alright.” May shooed him. “Get on in there, but I expect you both to be present for brunch.” She pointed at him.

“Thanks, we will.” Hurriedly, Peter completed the last few steps to his bedroom and went inside. “Ned,” he started, closing the door behind him, “you will not guess where I just came from.”

Ned couldn’t decode Peter’s excitement. “Uh, yeah. Dr. Fields’ house,” he said matter-of-factly.

“But I bet you can’t guess who else was there and what happened.”

Ned blinked. “Wait, what? What was what?” Peter had his hooks in him.

“Dude,” he started off slow, “Loki lives with her!”

Ned’s honey-brown eyes grew large as he slapped a hand over his mouth. “Oh, dude! This is huge!”

Peter beamed and nodded his head. “Yeah! And that isn’t even the best part!”

“How could it get better?!” Ned exclaimed, his voice a little higher pitched.

“I slept on her couch, so this morning, I saw the two of them in her bed, and they were totally cuddling!”

Ned grabbed Peter’s shoulders. “Shut up!”

“Yeah!”

“Bro, you have to give me the $20 right now.” Ned dropped his hands and held one out, palm up. “Like, I totally called it.”

Peter lowered Ned’s hand. “No, no. This is a total game-changer. We have to redo the bet.”

Ned scoffed, rolling his eyes. “You just want to redo it because you know you’re gonna lose.”

“But that was before we knew they were living together! Like roommates!”

“Oh my god, they were roommates.”

“That’s what I said!” They giggled. “So I say we redo the bet.”

Ned put his fists on his hips and shrugged. “Ok. I see your point.” He gestured to Peter. “State your terms, my good Spider-Man.”

“Ok, $10 to me if they at least kiss by the end of the year.”

“And $10 to me if they kiss by the end of the summer.”

Peter held his free hand out to Ned. “You got yourself a good, solid bet.” They shook hands as Peter took his first bite of the cookie Luna gave them. As the taste settled in his mouth, he rushed over to the trashcan and spit it out with a loud groan. Ned approached him worriedly.

“Woah, are you ok?”

Peter stood straight and looked at the rest of the sweet in his hand. “They got peppermint in them.”

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Tony Stark did his best to be a generous man. He was responsible; always trying to upkeep his space and the relationships he was blessed with. Sometimes things fell apart and out of his grasp, but he took it in stride. Tony may have been wealthy and famous his entire life, but he was no stranger to struggle and failure. Based on the positive influences he surrounded himself with, he always found a reason to pick himself back up and keep going.

At the compound, Tony did what he did every time it snowed and arranged for his robots and designated workers to clean the roadways and parking spaces for the employees coming back to work. His vacation renewed him. Devoting time and full attention to his betrothed was a gift in and of itself. As he stood in his office, he made a mental note to take more time away with his love. Pepper Potts would reiterate herself time and time again how much he needed to rest. He complained but never fought her. She was always right.

“Welcome back, boss,” FRIDAY greeted. “How was your trip?”

“Romantic as Paris could be.” Tony waved a hand, summoning a display. “Say, I forgot. How were the specs on the kid’s new suit?”

“Compliant, but a bit tricky.” A full-body digital image of the suit spun above the virtual table. “The material from the Commodore spacecraft is an excellent medium, but it requires more physical testing than the usual.”

“When do you think it’ll be ready?”

“I can have simulation ready within the hour.”

Tony plopped down into a desk chair and spun around. “And what about Mark 50?”

“I can do a simultaneous run.” An image of his new suit appeared beside Peter’s, both rotating in tandem.

“Yup. Do that.” Tony got up and jogged over to his bar and fridge, all set with a variety of spices, fruits, and vegetables. "Has our favorite little biologist arrived yet?"

“Yes. Ms. Fields has been here the better part of an hour.”

“An hour?!” Tony fiddles with the spoon in his hand, nearly dropping it. “Why didn’t you tell me when she got here?”

“It wasn’t important. You don’t have a meeting scheduled with her today.”

“I sure don’t,” Tony mumbles as he scoops a few spoonful’s of turmeric into the blender. Blessed be to Luna for showing him the wonders and benefits of Indian spices. “How about we surprise her?”

"That can be arranged. Will you need her packages as well?”

“Mm-mm.” He shook his head, voice muffled behind a dollop of Greek yogurt. “I’ll bring her to it. Make a little adventure out of it.”

“Of course, boss.”

Tony made a delightful blend of leafy greens and juicy reds, portioned appropriately for two. As he waited for his concoction to smooth out, he shrugged on a crisp blazer and a clean pair of Gucci sunglasses. A chiming from the machine drew him to it once again. Careful not to dirty his outfit, he filled two lidded cups and journeyed down to the labs, greeting everyone he could along the way.

The riveting tunes of Duran Duran graced his ears as he slowly approached the biology lab. It was the title song off of his favorite album, ‘Rio.’ A grin on his face, Tony took the remaining steps to the door and bumped the edge of the doorway with his shoe.

“Knock-knock, Lulu,” he greeted. Luna lifted her head from the microscope and flashed him a toothy smile.

“Hey!” Even without her glasses, she could recognize Tony’s silhouette anywhere. “Let me wrap this up real quick so I can give you a proper two-armed hug.”

Slipping her glasses back on, Luna covered the Petri dish she was examining and turned off the microscope. She hurriedly took off her lab coat and gloves, impatient to wait one moment more. She shuffled over to him and into his open arms, squeezing him tight in her own.

“Ooh, now that’s what I call a hug,” Tony gushed, holding her as close as he could without losing his grip on their drinks. Feeling the chill of the smoothies in his hands, he released her and led the way down the hall to the lounge. “How was your winter vacay? Hope you didn’t miss me too much.”

“It was good, and we missed you just the right amount. Well, me more than him, but you know.”

“‘We?’ Oh, right. You and your guy.”

Luna scoffed. “He’s not my guy.”

“Yeah, sure.” Tony let Luna take a seat first. “How’d your mother take him being there, by the way?” He dropped down onto the couch beside her.

“Hm?” She tilted her head, his inquest taking her for a spin.

“What’d you tell her about Mr. Tall, Dark, and Ominous?” he reiterated.

“Oh, right.” Luna shook her head out. Tony almost caught her on her lie. “Um, I just told her he was my new boyfriend, and he was spending the time with me since his family is overseas.”

Tony nodded. “And how’d she take it?”

“She bought it. It was a nice time.” Luna shrugged, forcing the tension from her nerves. “Suspected absolutely nothing from either of us.”

“I would expect no less from the Master of Lies.” Tony handed her a cup, prompting a change of subject.

“Aw, Tony, you didn’t have to!” Luna thanked him as she cradled it with both hands.

Tony dismissed her gratitude. “Oh, please. I wanted to.” He couldn’t let her know how it made him feel, but his smile gave it away. To hell with it. “Cheers to you, sad girl.” He tapped the lid of his cup against hers.

“And to you, Mr. Charitable.” They took a unison swig. The taste settled from sweet to a tang, finishing off with a bite from the spice. Luna crossed on leg over the other and angled her body towards Tony, elated with his little surprise.

Tony threw an arm over the edge of the couch, letting his thumb graze lightly against Luna’s shoulder. “So what’d you do to ring in the New Year? Nothing I would do, I hope.”

Luna giggled. “Not much. I got some sparkling apple cider and a large assortment of designer chocolates. We watched some ‘Star Trek,’ then the ball drop, and then some more ‘Star Trek’ until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.”

In his best monotone voice, Tony replied, “That’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” Luna’s loud laugh made him suppress his smile. He couldn’t break his character now. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” He giggled a little. He couldn’t contain it.

Luna pats her chest and lets her laughter die down. “Ok, fine. What did you do?” She took a sip of her drink.

“Oh, you know. When in Paris, do as the Parisians do.”

“Which is?”

“Watch fireworks, kiss under the Eiffel Tower, and celebrate with a bang in more ways than one.” Luna let out a scandalized gasp as her eyes went wide and her mouth agape.

“And you’re calling what I said ‘sexy’? Wow,” Luna said as sassy as she could. They share a brief laugh.

“Say, did Loki do anything with that phone you said you were gonna give him?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s been good with it so far, I think.” Luna put her cup close to her mouth. “Apparently, Peter gave him his number.” Her statement was muffled, but Tony heard well enough.

“He what?!”

Luna nodded. “Mhm. They’ve been sending each other memes the entire weekend.”

“Has the kid Rick-Rolled Loki yet?”

Luna furrowed her brow. “I’m a little surprised you know what that is, but no, he hasn’t.”

“The kid sent me that darned song a few months ago under the guise of it being a video of him drinking five Red Bulls in under five minutes,” Tony explained and threw a hand into the air. “Can’t believe I fell for it.”

“It’s a good song, though. Not gonna lie.”

“Yeah, it is.” He paused, tilting his head back and taking a long swig of his smoothie. With a satisfied gulp, he moved on to his next point. “Hey, you know what? We haven’t had one of our lab meetings in a good while?”

“No, we have not.”

Tony placed his cup on the table and brought his hands down on his thighs with a loud slap. “Let’s have one right now.” He pushed himself off the couch to standing. “I really want to see what you've been working on.”

“Oh, I think you’ll really like what I’ve done so far,” Luna said, giddy about his willingness to take the initiative. In her turn to lead, she took him to the lab, discarding their empty cups along the way. “Alright, so you remember how I told you I was investigating Loki’s DNA?” She handed Tony a pair of large rubber gloves and took small ones for herself.

Tony snapped his pair on and checked his shoes. “Mhm. Did you find the source of his crazy?”

Luna scoffed a little. “He’s not crazy, but I did get some interesting results when I spliced it with that of a C. elegans.” Taking great care, she shifted the Petri dish and lifted the lid. Tony stepped closer, peering inside.

“What is that?” he muttered, seeing the uncharacteristic tracks left by the tiny worms.

“Ice,” Luna whispered back. Tony’s head snapped up, his face and silence communicating his dumbfoundedness. “Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. They survive in room temperature as they should, but they love the deep cold.” Luna placed it back on the bench. “I even put them in a tub of dry ice, and they were fine. Nothing I did could hurt them. They even laid eggs.”

Tony leaned on the table edge. “When did you do all this?”

“A couple months ago.”

“Months?!” he exclaimed, taken aback. “These things are only supposed to live half of a week!”

“I know! I was surprised too! They can’t seem to die!” Luna grabbed her lab notebook and opened it to the latest entry. Standing next to Tony, she showed him her data. “Just from that sequence I used, their lifespans have increased 1000% already.”

“Already? You’re saying it could keep rising?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Luna closed her book.

Tony’s shoulders dropped. “This is dangerous stuff, Lu. I mean, in the wrong hands…”

“I know.” Luna held her hands in front of her. “I’m keeping all digital files on my private server and all papers under lock-and-key.” She pointed to a storage cabinet with a clear lock on the front. “No work is brought outside of this room.”

“If Loki knew you were doing this, it spells ‘danger’ for you.”

“He does know, but on a top level. I told him about the worms because I was happy my hypothesis worked, but that’s it. I’m careful.” Luna took off a glove and put her bare hand on Tony’s arm. “You can trust me on that.”

“I do. It’s just… I just…” Tony shakes his head.

“I know. I understand.”

“I know you do.” He covers Luna’s hand with his and smiles, grateful for her counsel. “On a lighter note, I believe Christmas presents are in order.”

Luna gasped and pointed at him. “Yes! Yes, they are!” She took her other glove off and lay it beside the first one. “First off, I have two for you.”

Tony smirked proudly and crossed his arms. “Two? I knew Santa was real.”

“Tony, you flatter me,” Luna giggled. “Let me get my bag.” She strode over to her personal cabinet and opened it.

“Hey, come on.” Tony nodded his head towards the door. “We’ll do it on the way.”

Luna bunched up the handle and held it tight. “To where?”

“To where I have your present.”

“Ooh, I get one?” She followed close behind him out of her lab and down the hall. “Now it’s my turn to be excited.”

Tony waved her off. “Yeah, yeah. Come on, kiddo, time’s a-wastin’.”


 

A short trek down the stairs and the duo found themselves entering the lower garage. It had been freshly cleaned during the holidays, and the available cars polished and waxed. On their way to a table, Luna eyed them with desire. Tony loved his expensive toys.

“So,” Luna set her bag down and brought her hands together with a clap, “who should go first?”

Tony raised a hand. “Uh, it should be me, because I’ve been waiting since the end of November.”

“An awfully long time to wait, so I won’t keep you any longer.” From her bag, Luna pulled a small white box and a framed piece of paper. “Ok, so first, we have this.” She placed the frame on the tabletop and slide it over to Tony. He adjusted his glasses and took a gander at it.

“Is…is that-?” He picked it up, getting a better look at it. In his hands, he held a detailed portrait of his likeness, done up tastefully in reds and oranges.

“Yup, that’s you.” Luna grinned, leaning over the table. “Loki kept sneaking peeks at it while I was working. Little devil,” she snickered.

“He’ll look at anything if you keep it a secret long enough.” Tony didn’t bother looking away from his new art piece.

“Mhm,” Luna hummed, pleased with his reaction to her gift. “And the second one.” She held the little box and took the lid off, revealing a handmade string bracelet in colors of red, orange, gold, and silver.

Tony's eyes flitted to it, and he smiled tenderly. Reaching with one hand, he took it around his fingers and rolled it onto his wrist. It was his third one from her.

“You know me so well.”

Luna smiled back. “I try. A billionaire is hard to buy for, so I make due.”

“Oh, this is more than ‘make due.’  "He held up his picture and turned it for Luna to see. “This is going in the center of the art wall at home.”

“Again, you flatter me, boss.”

“Unlike some people, I speak the truth, and this,” he looked to his artwork, sighing, and chuckled, “is gorgeous. Makes my present for you seem a little subpar.”

“A subpar gift from you? Never in your life.”

“Since we’re on the subject, we should get that show over with.” The frame tucked safely under his arm, Tony tilted his head towards one area of the garage and led the way to it.

On the counter by the wall sat four boxes, all wrapped in colorful paper and of varying sizes. Tony stood beside the lineup and gestured grandly to them.

“Tony,” Luna started skeptically, “this can’t all be for me.”

Tony held his hands behind his back and rocked on his feet. “No, the one on the far left is for you, the second one is for DUM-E, and the biggest ones are for FRIDAY and the kid.” He paused, not taking himself seriously. “Yes, it’s all for you. Now open the darn things, or I’m keeping all of it.”

“Alrighty, boss, but you’re gonna have to help me.”

At a loss for which box to pick first, Tony stepped in and pulled the tape off of the third box from the right. Luna moved up beside him and held the top flaps open as he pulled the Styrofoam-encased object out. With great care, they worked together in uncovering it, occasionally stopping and brushing stray foam and plastic from their clothes.

Their efforts weren’t all for naught. Upon a clean space on the counter, Luna’s gift sat for her to look at. She passed her fingers over the edges, trying to decipher what she was looking at. Under a Plexiglas cover, it housed a round disc, a small lever, and a weighted arm with a small needle on the end of it. The needle caught Luna's eye and helped her tie her pondered thoughts together.

“Tony, what is… is this…,” she stammered a little. She didn’t want to jinx what her heart was telling her.

Tony rotated his hands around to coax out the rest of her question. “Come on, genius. Use your words. It’s a…”

“Is this a record player?” Luna whispered. Tony snapped his fingers.

“Bingo! And she gets the prize!” he praised, eliciting a gasp and an ecstatic response from his young friend.

“You got me a vinyl record player?! Tony! This is amazing!” Luna grabbed his arm and shook it. “Wait, is this because of that one time I casually mentioned how jealous I was that you had one?”

Tony tilted his head from side to side. “Mm, probably, but I wouldn’t count on it.” Luna laughed, brimming with joy. “You’re very welcome, by the way.” She took a hand off of him, fanned her face, and covered half of her mouth. “Oh, don’t get all teary-eyed on me. No need for that.”

Luna groaned, throat tight from emotion. “I’m sorry. I’m just really happy." She bit the inside of her cheek, but nothing could suppress the smile she wore.

“I can tell,” he said tenderly.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

He waved a hand. “Oh, come on now. None of that.” He patted the hand she still had on him. “Now, I can show you how to connect all the pieces, or I can leave that up to you and your intellect. Either way, you're putting all this -” he gestured to the unopened boxes “- in your car by the end of the day and making your boy toy very jealous.”

Luna chuckled, giving up on correcting Loki’s unfortunate nickname. “So, uh, what are all the pieces?”

“We have the turntable itself,” Tony placed a hand on it, “the power amp,” he moved to the first box by them, “pre-amp," he stepped out of Luna's grasp pointing the second box, “a set of speakers,” he indicated the box furthest from them, “and all the necessary wiring and instructions included. I may have gone overboard on the wires, but hey, can’t go wrong in having lots of backup supplies.”

“No, of course not.” Luna paused, taking everything in: the lavish gift, his generosity, the expense he considered to be pocket change. No, it was pocket change for him. “Tony, this is so much.”

“But do you like it?” He folded his hands, hopeful for a positive answer.

“Oh, I love it. I love it so much,” Luna affirmed, smile broad and shining.

“Good, because I only treat my friends like this.”

The two scientists shared their moment for only a second longer as FRIDAY chose the next one to break it.

“Boss, the diagnostic run on the suits is complete. Would you care to see the results now?”

Tony stepped back from Luna and stood straight with a proud smile. “Since I’ve seen your work, do you want to see mine?”

Luna mimicked him. “When do I ever refuse? Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

As one song transitioned to the next, Loki glanced away from his book to the back of the CD case. Luna wasn’t around to enjoy the music with him – the reason he spent most of the morning sending high praises to the Allfathers. She would be able to tell how quickly he lost interest in the wonders of evolution over a new album. New for him, normal for her.

Marking his place, Loki put his book down and strode over to the newly set-up record player. He traced a finger around the edges as he tapped his foot to the beat, imagining how a track might sound played through it. It escaped him as to why Luna would need another thing to play music. ‘You have one already,’ he had reasoned, but it was a lavish gift from Stark. It would have been rude to not accept it.

Loki had the privilege of carrying the boxes into her apartment and assembling everything with her. A different science than he was used to, but it was no less entertaining. Ignorantly, he had pondered out loud which album they could play. ‘We don’t have the proper format,’ Luna told him and expanded on what a vinyl record was. Loki remembered them from a trip or two to Earth during the early 20th century. A surprise people still used them, but he figured it was purely for the nostalgia.

He pressed the on button on the front, awakening the turntable. It spun clockwise in a lazy fashion. Loki was tempted to lift the cover and touch it. Feel the material move against his skin, but Luna was firm. ‘Don’t touch it unless you’re putting a record on. It has to be kept clean.’ Would she be able to tell if he defied her? Perhaps. She was more perceptive than he previously took her for.

Feeling peckish, he switched the turntable off and grabbed his phone on the way to the kitchen. Peter teased him with the promise of sending pictures of the inside of his school and his other friends. It was a naughty and dangerous idea, and Loki was all for it. Finding nothing of interest on the counter or in the fridge, he settled for an ice cream pint. No need to worry about his hand turning blue, so long as he was alone.

Loki’s phone pinged to life as he was finishing the first half of the container. It was a message from Peter. He shook his hand out, getting some warmth back into it, and opened it.

‘Hey! Im in math. Is boring’

Attached is a hastily-taken picture of a whiteboard covered in diagrams and equations. Portions of it were blocked by the many students in front of Peter’s phone camera. Loki snickered and typed out his response.

‘doesnt look so’

Two minutes pass by – enough time for Loki to fish out a few more scoops of ice cream – and Peter messages him again.

‘its one of my best subjects so it doesn’t bother me too much. Ned and MJ are in another block from me so I miss them’

Loki's brow creased. He held his spoon in his mouth, so his hands were free.

‘MJ?’

‘oh yeah right you don’t know her. Shes my other really good friend’

‘what’s she like’

The long delay for Peter’s return message put Loki a bit on edge. Intent on calming his nerves, he put the rest of his ice cream away and ventured to Luna’s room. He could hear his music still, only muffled a little.

Beneath her bed sat a row of shoeboxes, containing everything but a pair of shoes. The first Loki opened housed all of Luna’s keychains and charms. A few piqued his interest; a simple black skull, a Darth Vader figure, a mini Mjolnir, and a crescent moon with two stars attached. He smirked, turning over the little moon in his hand. He expected no less from her.

Through the concluding music, Loki’s phone chimed anew with a message for him. Careful not to step on the charms littering the floor, he shuffled back to the kitchen and opened up his device. Again, it was from Peter.

‘hey! Srry for the wait. Teacher almost caught me txting lmao’

Loki grins.

‘first rule of mischief: never get caught’

‘ooh neds here now. He says hi’

Attached is another picture, taken at a low angle, of Peter and Ned. Both boys smile into the camera as Ned waves down to it, greeting Loki through the phone.

‘hello ned. Grand to see you again’

‘we r at lunch now. MJ is here too’

This photo was not of either of the two boys, but of their friend sitting across from them at a table. The friend – Loki assumed – was MJ. She held a book in one hand as she shot someone an irritated look.

‘is this MJ?’

‘yeah. We interrupted her reading but its ok XP’

‘does she know about me being here?’

A pause in the messaging held the air still. It was as though Peter deliberated in secret. Loki was impatient for the outcome.

‘no, but she might suspect. She’s really observant. Lolol shes already commented on my txtin’

‘may not be wise to communicate in front of people’

‘maybe not. txt u later?’

‘sure’

‘kk! Talk l8r!’

A loud silence took the apartment once more. Loki was desperate to banish it, so he started the album over again. He didn't mind. It wasn't the first time he'd exhausted the work of a musician in a day.

Feeling antsy, he went back to Luna’s room. He always liked looking at her little treasures, no matter if they were new to his eyes or if he’d seen them ten times before. Tucking her box of keychains back where it belonged, he moved on to another corner of the room: her closet.

Clothes were always crucial to Loki. Being a royal meant looking his best, both in the ballroom and on the battlefield. He was consistently stereotyped as the brother with the more developed fashion sense, but Thor knew his way around an outfit as well as he. Presentation was critical in any scenario.

Loki pried the door open as careful as he could, should anything come tumbling out. Luckily, everything inside was placed smartly and in order. The upper shelf supported a few boxes and spare sheets, the clothes hung on the rack in a beautifully organized fashion, and the remained floor space kept extra bags and larger boxes. Many places to start, not enough time to go through them all.

He started with the clothing. It was a surprise to see Luna hanging her T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts up as Loki preferred to fold his, but he liked it. It made them look neat and presentable. Beside them, her pants were placed in the same way. She had a few different kinds, so Loki took a look at each.

He’d seen her in leggings and joggers in the house and the gym. Which one she wore all depended on her mood and how the day went. One pair of dress pants sat suspended amongst them. Her skinny jeans – a black pair and a dark red pair – she wore any time they went out. Today, she put the dark red ones on for work, leaving Loki with the black pair. He tried to pick a favorite, but Luna wore both exceptionally well.

Sweaters and jackets squeezed in next to them. Luna possessed a broader assortment than previously believed. The first of the group Loki spied was the sweater she wore the day they went to the aquarium. It was light grey with a graphic on the front of a dark forest. Loki passed a hand over it, tracing the trees from the exaggerated sharp tops down to the bases on the drawn ground. Simple and practical yet stylish and unique. He snuck a hand into the sleeve, feeling the inside. It was soft and plush, like wearing a blanket. A whisper of jealousy passed through his head as he imagined feeling something so comforting against his skin; a far cry from the leather and rougher fabrics of his homeworld.

He peeked at the others he hadn’t seen: a black pullover with a small cartoon alien spaceship on the left side of the chest, a dark grey hoodie with a geometric skull design, a plain black suit jacket, and a notably large black hoodie with a four-letter abbreviation embroidered broad across the chest. Loki tilted his head and unhooked it from the bar. In front of the mirror, he held it up to his frame. In theory, it could fit him, but the forefront of his mind was occupied by one question: why was it so different from the others? Looking crossly at his reflection, Loki stepped back from the mirror and put the sweater back. Better for him to move on to something else lest he leaves a trace of his meddling.

Shoved into the far side of the closet were the clothes he considered to be more formal and fancy. Things Loki never bothered to think he would see, much less worn by his friend. His eyes were first met by a dress. Luna never seemed the type to wear such a garment. Loki found it difficult to imagine it on her, but he kept inspecting it. It was black with a fit-and-flare shape and long sleeves. The fabric was soft and stretchy, and the neckline left less to the imagination than Loki was used to. He tucked it back and pushed it towards the opposite side. Enough with it for now.

The outfit behind it lay draped over the hanger in three pieces. To the untrained eye, they were indistinguishable as to what they might be. Possessing such a sight, Loki took a bold step, unhooking the hanger and laying it on Luna’s bed. One piece had a red-to-black gradient, the other was plain black, and the last was small and wine red. He took the black garment out first and held it at eye-level. Seeing it clearly, he discovered it to be a long skirt with a drawstring waistband. The fabric was a bit flimsy, as though it was meant to go underneath something. He set it down – keeping its proposed purpose in mind – and picked up the gradient piece.

The color shifted along the entire length of the cloth, and it was long. It looked to be a scarf or a wrap skirt. Perhaps it could be both at the same time. The fabric was soft, and Loki couldn’t stop touching it. It was made of silk and felt like cool water in his hands, flowing and moving as though it was alive. He hastily pulled up his sleeves and let it fall across his bare arms. To say it was heaven to touch would be an understatement. He could wear an entire robe of the material and never want to take it off.

He retrieved the final raiment and held it as he did the skirt, feeling the soft material. It was made of stretchy velvet and resembled the sports bras Luna kept in her drawer set. The neckline of the tiny top scooped a bit lower than the one on the black dress, and the short sleeves were made of embroidered red lace. Loki turned it from back to front and back again. It held no zipper, buttons, or strings to tie. Only a simple tug was needed to put it on.

Loki lay it down and stepped back. With all the pieces on display, he surveyed them properly and built up the outfit in his mind in various ways, but nothing seemed correct. Again, he was at a loss. But, to his luck, Luna’s voice came floating into his mind as he recalled a past conversation.

“I do have one, and I like it a lot, but it’s nowhere near as nice as that one.”

One. One what? Loki had an idea and a heavy feeling.

Racing out of Luna’s room, he charged through the open space to the picture of Luna’s mother. The one of her wearing an expensive saree. His eyes widened, realizing he'd snooped in the wrong place and disturbed the wrong item. Loki glanced at the kitchen clock. He had enough time to put everything back before his friend came home. He walked back to Luna’s room, swallowing nervously.

Gently, he ran his fingertips along the saree wrap cloth, feeling the energy it held. This was Luna’s one. Her one outfit representing her culture and heritage – what made up the core of her being – and he’d gone and disturbed it without a care in the world. For shame. Loki groaned and closed his eyes. He had an apology ready, but no one to apologize to.

He closed his eyes and, with his soul, reached out to Luna’s ancestors. Her family members from the mother country. The ones who survived so she could exist. Loki acknowledged the boundary he crossed and asked for their forgiveness. He folded and hung the clothes back where he got it from, hoping they would listen and grant his request. Feeling light in his chest, he smiled. They knew he was sincere.

Loki pushed the clothes into the order he found them in and closed the closet door. Enough snooping for today. He shut the bedroom door on his way out and ambled to the kitchen for an apple. The skin was crisp and the inside as savory as he liked. The apartment was quiet again. For now, Loki deserved it. A bit of hushed contemplation would do him some good. It was a curve, but he was learning.

Throwing the apple core away, he rinsed his hands and got a fresh glass of water. He took the book he had been reading and sat in the armchair by the window. Luna warranted a bit of good behavior from Loki, even though she was not there to see.


 

Close to 3pm, Loki’s phone dinged with a new message from Peter. He marked his spot in his book and opened the text.

‘finally done! Wow the day felt long’

Loki grinned and responded.

‘I bet’

‘so where r u now? R u at the compound?’

‘no, im in lunas home’

‘ooooooh what do you do there all day’

Loki paused, deciding what to tell him.

‘read her books, watch her movies, listen to her music’

‘noah fence, but that sounds kinda boring :P’

“‘Noah fence?’" Loki muttered under his breath. "Oh, ‘no offense.' Right.”

‘it can be, but we go to the compound on Saturdays and out anywhere else’

‘nice nice nice! U comin by this weekend??? to the compound???? ?????’

Loki snickered at Peter’s apparent excitement. He humored the boy.

‘I might’

‘pls bcuz I have some stuff I wanna show u’

‘looking forward to it’

‘:D I have decathlon practice now, so txt l8r??’

‘sure. You know where to find me’

‘lol yeah’

Loki didn't bother texting back. Peter was busy studying with his friends, or so he imagined. He got up and turned his music back on, again, not bothering to change the CD. Good music deserved to be listened to.

His enjoyment was short-lived as his phone rang with a different tune, this one constant and more musical. Luna had shown him what it meant. Someone was calling him.

Loki looked at the screen and saw Luna’s name lit up. He pressed the green button and held it to his ear.

“H-hello?” he spoke.

He heard a light muffled gasp. “You answered! Yay!” Luna praised.

Loki smirked. “Yes, I did.”

So, uh, hi.

“Hi.”

Loki heard a distant cough. “Um, what are you doing right now?

“Waiting for you. Listening to music and reading.”

What are you reading? Anything interesting?

"Oh, yes. In fact, it’s one of your biological science books.”

Ooh, which one?

Loki read the cover. “‘Four Billion Years’ by William Loomis.”

Mm, good choice.

He opened the book to a random page as though Luna was watching him and he had to prove it. “The genetic code is so complex. It’s no wonder you study it.”

Yeah. There isn't a dull moment with it. So, which artist are you listening to?

“A wonderful lady by the name of,” Loki picked up the CD case, “Marina.”

Oh! Awesome!” Luna exclaimed. “And how do you like her?

“Very much. She’s fantastically accomplished.”

I had a feeling you would like her stuff. Which song do you like most so far?

“I couldn’t possibly choose. They’re all good.”

Just one. The other songs won’t feel less liked, I promise." She giggled, and so did he.

“Let’s see.” Loki flipped the case to the back and read the track list. "Uh, ‘Fear and Loathing.’  "

Ooh, nice choice. I love that one. They're all good. I have several favorites.

He hummed. “So, what are you doing now?”

Taking a bit of a break. I called to tell you that I’m going to be late. Traffic is horrible right now, so it’s not safe for me to leave yet. I’m also working out some ideas for a new experiment.

The fire of Loki’s interest was stoked. “Oh?”

Mhm. It’ll be a DNA manipulation using CRISPR like last time, but I would have to redo an RNA template for the new organism.

“Which one might you be using?”

Zebrafish. I want to test healing time.

“Why use a new one when you already have the first one?”

Because zebrafish are larger than the worms and transparent, so I can see all the inner workings, even the blood vessels in real-time. I can nick one a little and see the movement of the cells as it heals the wound. They also have an organ system similar to humans so I can visualize things more easily than with a worm.

Her job never ceased to capture him. He felt like he could watch her work all day.

“Amazing,” Loki breathed out.

Yeah! I've seen a bunch of videos where they do that, and it's really cool, so I'm hoping to get some good results. Even if they don’t change from the average results of a non-mutated fish, it’s not nothing.

“Of course, but may I speak freely?”

Luna chuckled low into the phone. “You may.

“I think you will get a difference." He didn't wish to give anything away, but he was confident she would get something. If the worms could produce ice particles on their own, the fish would do the same.

I will keep that in mind.

“I suppose I should let you get back to work.”

Yeah, I have some more things to finish up before I leave. Hopefully, the traffic will be a little more merciful on me.

“Here’s to hoping.”

Hm, yeah. Well, bye, Loki. See you at home.

“Yeah. Bye.”

Loki listened to the buzzing silence on the other end of the line. Pressing the red button, he set his phone down and wandered back to the record player. A present from Stark. Luna got a pair of socks from Peter. And what from Loki? Nothing. As he pulled gently at the string bracelet around his wrist, he thought of her. Luna was the best friend he wished he had earlier in his life but never got. Now, he had her, but how has he repaid her kindness?

Loki gave to his kingdom for four years as its king, proving to his people he was better than the person he used to be. He had the capacity but lacked the resources. What could only he offer? Stark and Peter had more stable connections, but what did Loki have? What did they have together?

He looked around the room and noted all points of interest. They shared film, music, food, and dancing. Yes, dancing was a good place to start. She only did it with him. With nothing Asgardian to gift, he would have to settle for something earthly. Something she didn’t currently possess but would greatly enjoy.

Loki perused the CD shelf. He knew most of the artists, but he didn’t know what Luna didn’t have or if she would like something new. His eyes flitted from album to album and stopped on one he recognized: ‘Led Zeppelin IV.’ Their first dance was in there. Reading the spine of the case, Loki laughed under his breath. Luna was influencing him again, making him sentimental. But now, as an idea formed in his head, sentiment felt good.

His phone dinged, providing a momentary distraction.

‘done with the stuff. About to go on patrol so my messages will be here and there’

It was from Peter. Perfect timing.

‘alright, but one thing before you go’

‘yah??’

Loki took a deep breath and, with shaking hands, typed out his question.

‘how much do you know about vinyl records’

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Luna sat hunched over her microscope. This was a common occurrence for her in recent days. She would investigate her subjects, going from the C. elegans worms to the zebrafish embryo and back again. To her luck, the embryo was growing as expected, and at the rate it should be. Its hatching time was any minute now, and it held her at the edge of her seat.

Pulling away from the eyepiece, Luna shook out her hands and squinted at the clock. She huffed, still unable to see, and put on her glasses. Not yet lunchtime, but it mattered not. The homemade French toast with herbs and coffee she had for breakfast sated her well enough. She smiled, remembering how Loki enjoyed his and made a point to tell her twice – once when he was done and one more time as she was leaving. If they weren’t already friends, it would be a call for suspicion on her end.

Taking her glasses back off, Luna yawned and leaned back over the microscope. The embryo twitched and wiggled inside the egg, teasing its urge to come out into the world. As it stilled its body again, Luna watched its little heart beat inside its body, and she smiled. She could watch it a million times over with a million different embryos, and they would all bring her the same amount of joy. The joy of creating life and welcoming it into existence.

"Come on, baby. You can do it," Luna muttered. It moved again, and she snickered, making fun it could hear her. “FRIDAY, are you getting this?”

“Of course.”

“Excellent,” Luna whispered. Excitement coursed through her veins like a fast-burning fire, but she kept her breathing even. No need to disturb the serenity of the tiny baby fish. She drummed her fingers on the table. Any second now.

With a final hard thrash, the embryo broke through the chorion and out of the confining space.

“Yes! Oh, yes!” Luna exclaimed. “Hi there, little one. Are you gonna make some ice for me, maybe?” As though it was listening, miniscule frost particles formed around where it swam. Her mouth split into a proud grin. “Very good. Good job.”

She gazed at her new baby and recorded its every move. Appearance- and size-wise, it was normal. It moved comfortably in its space, and the yolk sac it retained was an appropriate size. Luna was content, feeling like she won the world.

“FRIDAY, are you able to get a read on the water temperature?”

“Right now, it is at room temperature.”

"Alright." Luna pulled away from the microscope and slipped her glasses on, turning to look at the clock. It wasn't lunchtime yet, but she could take a few extra minutes. "Keep an eye on the little guy, will you? I'm gonna take my lunch break. Alert me if there are any changes.”

“Will do.”

She made one last note in her lab notebook before closing it and locking it in a drawer. The dish of fish eggs was placed in an inconspicuous corner, and the microscope turned off. Pulling off her gloves and lab coat, Luna hung it and grabbed her lunch, bag, and tumbler from the cupboard.

The upper kitchen was barren. Luna had it all to herself, assuming Tony was out to lunch or for the day. She looked this way and that. No sign of anyone approaching, so she took out her earbuds and put them in. Pressing 'play' on her music, the bass thrum of a Fleetwood Mac song met her awaiting ears. She whispered a victorious “yes” and closed the distance to the microwave.

"Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom."

Luna snapped her fingers to the beat and used the other hand to punch in the time to heat her food. Today, the Tupperware held leftover acorn squash curry and rice. Watching the container turn slowly through the opaque window, Luna smiled as she remembered making it. Wishing Loki to help her cut the squash in two and bake it. Him hovering close by and watching her cook, like a curious hummingbird.

The timer was close to finishing, so Luna took the remaining seconds to fill her tumbler with Tony’s expensive coffee. Her maker at home worked as perfect as it did the day she got it, but sometimes stolen things tasted better.

The spicy aroma permeated the air. It had the power to turn heads if there were any in the room, save the individual who made it. A fresh paper towel in hand, Luna took her hot dish and coffee to her place on the sofa. She situated herself – careful not to spill anything – and started her hour of rest.

She took her time as her food came out hotter than desired. A few stirs and puffs of air did the trick. Halfway done with her lunch, some movement caught her eye. Someone had entered the room. Luna looked up and took out an earbud.

“Vision! Hi!” she greeted her new guest.

“Hello, Dr. Fields,” the android said back. Luna put her container and utensil down and stood to embrace him. “I say, you look well.” Vision pulled back and held her at arm’s length.

“Thank you. You look good too. Well, you always look good, but you know,” she chuckled a little. Luna sits back down and gestures to the open space beside her. Vision accepts the invitation and joins her. “When did you get back?”

“Not long ago. I figured I would stop by and say hello if you’re not too busy.”

Luna grins. “No, not at all. I’m always happy to talk to you.”

“That’s good. Wanda says hello too.”

Luna crossed one leg over the other and turned her body towards him. “Oh, how is she?”

“She’s doing well. Training with Ms. Romanoff and helping with the secret missions that I know nothing about.”

“Good, good.” Luna nodded, smiling a full-tooth smile. Vision silently regarded her, and she took notice. “What?”

“Nothing. You seem different. A good different.”

Luna wanted to probe on what he meant but didn't bother. "Yeah, I’m feeling good.”

“Excellent.” Vision jumped, remembering something previously forgotten. “Oh, I have something for you. A very late Christmas gift from us, if you will.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small cubed box.

“Really? Thank you.” With great care, Luna took the box and opened it. Inside was a ring; all silver, with a little tree sitting in a circle. It was simple and elegant, like the last one he gifted. “Oh, Vis, I love it. Thank you so much.” She reached around him and pulled him close into another hug. He placed a hand on her arm, reciprocating as best he could.

“You are quite welcome." He gave her arm a pat, and they pulled away from each other.

“Do thank everyone else for me when you get the chance.”

“I will.”

“And I’m sorry I don’t have any friendship bracelets for you guys. No offense, but I didn’t plan on anyone showing up.” Luna cringed a little. Vision held up a dismissive hand.

“There’s no need. Knowing you think of us is gift enough.”

“Gosh, you have such a way with words,” Luna gushed.

“Well, I do possess the collective consciousness of five separate entities.” They shared a little laugh.

“Speaking of which, how’s the Stone been treating you?”

Vision brought a hand up to his forehead, touching the gem lightly. “It whispers occasionally. I still haven’t a clue what it’s telling me.”

“You seeing Tony about it or did you already see him?”

“I will, at a point. It’s nothing too alarming right now.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

Vision paused and looked down to Luna’s barely-steaming lunch. “As I seem to have caught you in the middle of your meal, I believe I should take my leave now and let you get back to it before it gets cold.” As he rose to his feet, Luna followed suit.

“Ok. See you later?”

“If you like. Farewell.” Luna opened her arms; an open invitation to hug him goodbye. He took it and embraced her one more time.

“Bye.” They let go of each other and Luna waved Vision off. He reciprocated the gesture and, instead of using the door, phased down through the floor. Once he was out of sight, Luna inhaled and put her hands over her face, minding her glasses. “I will never get used to that,” she sighed, voice muffled.

Dragging her hands down, Luna took her spot back and resumed her lunch, not bothering to turn her music back on. No need to let someone else sneak up on her. She was lucky it was Vision and not someone she’d rather not interact with during break time.

She concluded her lunch faster than desired, leaving plenty of time for anything else unrelated to work. As she rinsed her Tupperware and spoon, she pondered on what to fill the time with. Walks outside were off. The air was too chilly, and she lacked the proper clothes to trek through the snow blanketing the ground. An exercise session was out of the question unless she wished to lose the lunch she finished. Drying her things off in a daze, Luna decided to check on her – or rather, Loki's – rose.

She tucked her lunch bag in her personal cupboard and moseyed across the compound to the greenhouse. Taking her time, she looked nonchalantly through every window, doing her best not to disturb anyone inside meeting rooms. Unbelievable how employees could have regular meetings during lunch hour. They seemed to be no fun at all.

The greenhouse stood delightfully heated, as always. Plants turned out their leaves, and annuals continued their cycles of growth. Luna passed a hand through a few of them, feeling their smooth textures. So much life in one place. She reveled in it.

She reached her little clay pot and bent to behold it at eye-level. A spot of soil lay disturbed by the green shoot emerging from beneath it. Luna beamed and grabbed a nearby water can.

“Hey, good-lookin’,” she murmured to it. “How are you? Feeling ok?” She tipped the spout over the pot edge and allowed a bit of water to fall and seep into the dirt, turning it a color close to black. How warm and comforting it looked. The sight eased Luna’s spirit. “Yeah. You’re ok.”

Lowering herself to a squat, she wondered about how Loki would take the gift when the time came to give it to him. It was a personal thing he told her about once. Would she be overstepping? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Their relationship was going well enough, but she couldn’t tell where it would go or if he would stay long enough for the flower to bloom. She touched the stem, delicately tracing a line from the base to the top. All she could do now is hope things turn out alright.

Standing up, Luna stretched her arms out and yawned. She tucked the watering can back where it belonged and left. Her brain was abuzz with new matters and thoughts. Ones concerning her work, the future, and her best friend. Friend, or best friend? Hard to say. It tickled her brain like the beginnings of a headache. She rubbed her forehead and sighed. Loki wasn't the type to feel or think of feeling the same. She was thinking too much about nothing.

But Loki wasn’t nothing. He was something. A big something. If word got out he was alive and well and on Earth, he could have the world at his feet writing hate-gossip about him or idolizing him for trying to take over and rule them. Both were horrid avenues, and Luna did her best to avoid exposure. So far, it was working. The incident in the bar could be chalked up to someone having one-too-many to ease their aching heart and made a false drunken accusation. She imagined it happening more than once.

Each time they were out together, it was a risk, but it was a risk they enjoyed. It ebbed Luna's fear away, and Loki found entertainment in the mundanities of human life. They would never voice it, but the holding of hands was the most anticipated part of any excursion. The closeness and sensation of the other’s touch provided an air of safety.

Trekking down the last hallway to her lab, Luna held her own hand, pretending it was someone else’s. It was foolish. The gesture was nothing more than a clever tool used to mislead the public, as a close-up magician would utilize misdirection in a performance. They put on a show each time they went out, and their unassuming audience adored them.

Luna took a fast peek in her lab and went to freshen herself up in the restroom. She took her time. She could afford it. Looking in the mirror, she studied her reflection. The difference Vision saw was lost to her. Her eyes were the same. Her hair, a bit longer and due for a cut. Her skin, dull from the lack of sun. The only significant difference in her life was Loki, but no one could tell by looking. Could they? Luna frowned and swatted away the intrusive thoughts. Never mind them for now.

Back at the bench, Luna took a record of the zebrafish larvae. To her eye, it had no apparent impairments, though one thing on its body caught her attention.

“Hey, FRIDAY, what happened here?” she called out, keeping her gaze trained on the little yolk sac on the larvae’s abdomen.

“I was going to alert you to it, but you were already on your way back.”

“Ok.” Luna leaned back from the microscope and sighed. “Do you know by how much the yolk sac shrank? Like, how much more is gone than usual?”

“About 60% more than it should have by now.”

“Hmm.” She peered into the eyepiece. “Guess he’s really hungry,” she muttered under her breath. “Do we have protozoa for him to eat when he’s able?”

“I can make an order.”

“Yes, please do that.” Luna grabbed her notebook and jotted down her findings. “How are the vital signs?”

“They’re strong and holding steady.”

“Good, good.” She clicked her pen. “When do you think it’s possible to embed it and make an incision?”

“The usual wait time is six days post-fertilization, at the least.”

“And this is only day three.” Luna drummed the side of her pen against the table edge. “We can’t change too many variables. Make a note of it to do the next step of the experiment in four days, just to be safe.” She added the note to her page. “Do we have enough Petri dishes with agarose in stock?”

“Yes.”

“Great. Make a log of this in my private server and keep taking a record of any and all changes. We don’t want to lose anything.”

“Of course.”

Changing pen colors, Luna wrote down her plans and goals for the experiment. A habit from her undergrad days, fostered and encouraged by her many professors. They instilled in her the drive and desire to record everything, so she kept it up, for no information was useless and no step a waste of time.

Finishing her writing, a wave of fatigue washed over her, threatening to make her put her head on the table and doze off. She shook her head and took her gloves off. No sleeping in the lab. Rubbing her eyes, Luna slowly slid from her chair and to her feet. A little eye-break would do a body good.

She hung her lab coat and ambled to the lounge, phone in hand to read up on a science journal or two, and get some ideas on what else she could do. Getting comfortable in the armchair, Luna found a couple on zebrafish larvae and CRISPR-Cas9 gene therapy, but it didn’t take long for her attention to drift to her social media and lifestyle blogs. She would get mad at herself, but she hadn’t the energy or the will.

Every other post, companies and brands advertised their Valentine’s Day sales and special offers. Luna groaned – feeling a touch of second-hand embarrassment – and switched back to her CRISPR article. She could count the weeks left to the holiday on half of a hand, but the ads had been growing for over a month. In her mind, it was silly and superficial. Money-makers cared not for love, especially the love Luna held in her heart. To them, it was unnatural and worth as much money as she could give them.

She ground her teeth and put her phone down. No need getting upset over nothing, but it couldn't be helped. The exhaustion she felt shortened her temper, and the subject matter made it more so. It was invalidating, and she was sick of it. Everyone else seemed to always get what they wanted. But what did she want?

Coming down to it, she wanted basic things: respect, her time valued, her presence appreciated, and to be thought of as irreplaceable. Unfortunately for her, they were hard to come by. Closing her eyes, she put her head in her hands and sighed. Her heart desired a genuine friend.

In response, her head recalled one crucial detail: she had a friend. A good friend, sitting in her home, one phone call away. Luna rubbed the heels of her hands into her temples.

“Don’t. Don’t. It’s so stupid,” she mumbled, trying to convince herself to leave it alone. She glanced to her phone on the table. One call away. She moaned angrily and growled. “No. No. Ugh.” She stamped her foot on the ground. Two sides of her will waged war against each other till one of them won. Grimacing, she snatched her phone up and pulled up the recent call list. She pressed the top one and held the device to her ear. “Sure, the worst thing he'll say is 'no,' but then I'll be embarrassed forever."

The dial tone clicked off and was replaced by Loki’s smooth, low voice. “Hello?

“Hi!” Luna forced a bit of cheerfulness, going so far as to don a smile. “Uh, how has your day gone so far?”

Well. How has yours gone?

Luna rubbed her forehead. “Lots of work, but my egg hatched.”

Oh, that’s good,” he praised. “How is it?

“It looks really good so far. And before you ask, yes, it did produce little particles of ice.”

She heard him chuckle, making her smile a little wider. “I expected no less.”

“So what are you doing right now?”

I got onto your Netflix for a bit, and I started watching this fantastic show called 'Stranger Things.'  "

Luna gasped and exclaimed, “Oh, I love that show! Who’s your favorite character so far?”

Eleven, for sure. She’s so strong yet so tragic. You could write an entire story only about her.” Loki sounded as enthusiastic about it as she felt.

“Yeah, I really like her too. She’s great.”

He hummed quietly. “So, uh, for what reason are you calling?

“Oh, yeah.” Luna cringed, getting ready to tell him her reason. “There are actually a couple things I wanted to tell you before I forgot.”

Ok.”

She decided to stall a little. “First off, I’m going to be a little late. I’m still in with this experiment, so I’m not sure when I can leave. I’m just taking a break right now.”

Good. Breaks are good.”

She paused, feigning a faulty memory. “Oh, and the other thing I want to half-tell, half-ask you.”

She heard a spot of shuffling on his end like he was nervous too. "Alright.”

Luna inhaled and built up enough confidence to last her the next 10 seconds. “I have an idea about what we should do for Valentine’s Day.”

Do enlighten me.”

“There’s, uh, there’s this really nice restaurant on 5th Street. Tony's gone there with Pepper a few times, and they say it's good, so would you be amenable to going?”

Going with you?” He toyed with her. How cruel.

“Well, yeah, unless you’d rather go with Tony, then –”

No! No." The thought created a visceral reaction, and he stopped her as quickly as he could. “I’d be delighted to accompany you.

Luna dropped her tense shoulders and breathed a sigh of relief. “Great! Um, so since I’m not a Stark, I have to get a reservation before they all fill up, so does 7pm or 8pm sound good?”

Ye-yeah.” Loki cleared his throat. “Sounds quite fair.

Luna did a fist pump in the air. “Great. I’ll set that up.” She was on a roll. “And, uh, would you want to go shopping this weekend for a proper outfit? It's kind of a fancy place, and since you don't have your magic to conjure your John Wick getup, you’re going to need something to wear.”

Oh, sure. And what about you?

“Don’t worry, I have a little something.” She smirked and admired her nails as she pictured it. “Who knows? You might like it.”

I think I just might.

The tone in his comment made her do a brief double-take, but she shook it off and continued. “So, uh, I should make the reservation before it gets too late and all the spots are taken.”

Oh, yes, you should do that.

“I need to, uh, get off the phone to do it.”

Mhm. Well, goodbye.

“See you at home. Bye.”

Bye.

Luna hung up and set her phone in her lap. Folding her hands and resting them against her mouth, she beamed. She did it. She asked him, and it went better than expected. Rising from the chair with a surge of newfound energy, she pocketed her phone and sauntered back to the lab, snapping her fingers with each step and muttering,

“Snaps for you, Lu. Snaps for you.”

 

Chapter Text

The Soundtrack So Far

 

The door creaked open by a smidge at most. Loki looked up from his phone and furrowed his brow. How odd Luna didn’t come sauntering in like usual.

“Close your eyes!” Luna’s voice called from behind the door. She poked her head into view. “I have a surprise for you.”

Loki smirked, willing to go along. “A bit concerning, don’t you think?”

She huffed. “It’s not anything bad. Just trust me for at least five seconds.”

He sighed and shut both eyes. “Alright,” he said in a questioning tone. His ears were met with the sounds of footsteps, rustling, and the shutting and locking of the door. The slight footsteps drew nearer and stopped beside him.

“Ok, open.” Loki did as he was commanded – hearing the smile in Luna’s voice – and was greeted by the sight of a single red carnation flower and a heart-shaped box from Russell Stover. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Loki. Will you be mine?” He grinned and received the gifts from her hands.

“Do I have a choice in the matter?” he joked back.

Luna stood from her crouched position and continued putting her things away. “Of course. That’s why I asked.”

“I hope being someone’s Valentine entitles me to more than a carnation and a box.”

She whirled around from where she stood and looked at him pointedly. “You know it does, lover boy.” Rolling her shoulders back, she straightened her posture. “I know they’re not the best things ever, but I’ve never had anyone to buy for, and since you’re here, I figured why not?” She paused, as did he, and let the residual silence tell Loki she was serious. She opened her bag and rummaged through it. “And I got you this too, so you don't just have flowers and chocolate.” Approaching her friend, she held out one last thing for him: an iridescent green tie. Loki put the flower and box down and took the tie, admiring the shifting colors in the light.

“Oh, this is very nice,” he complimented, holding it closer to the lamp. Luna smiled.

“Glad you approve.” She glanced at the stove clock and made way to the kitchen. “Now, I’m going to take a quick restroom break and start getting ready. I suggest you do the same so we can make it to the restaurant on time. It’s anyone’s guess as to how much traffic and wait time there’ll be.” She popped her lunch containers in the dishwasher, stopped in the bathroom as she said she would, and completed her journey to her room.

Loki waited for her bedroom door to close to change into his suit. It wasn’t the most expensive one in the store – as he insisted on paying for half of it with his earnings from helping Stark in his lab – and it was less fitted than the one from his illusions, but it was comfortable and, dare he say, looked good on him. A black tie came with it, but he settled on the new one. A pop of color never did him ill, and it was his favorite of all of them. He popped the collar of his dress shirt and draped the tie around the back of his neck, but he hadn't a clue how to proceed. He could picture a tie all the livelong day but tying one was another story.

He ventured to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. Turning the tie this way and that, Loki was at a loss. Any crafting knot he tried didn't look right, and it frustrated him. Thumbing the smooth fabric, he thought of asking Luna for assistance. She wouldn't patronize or shame him for not knowing how to do something. As she’s mentioned before, though, in a playful manner, she filled in his gaps.

Sitting back on the couch, Loki reached underneath and pulled out the shoebox containing his new dress shoes. He opened it and caressed the cap toe. Luna had been so patient as he tried on what seemed like a hundred pairs before settling on the ones he held now. Smiling sweetly, he placed them on the floor. Now, they sat ready for him when the time came to leave. Loki preemptively pulled on a pair of argyle socks. No harm in being as dressed as he could be.

Passively, he wonders what Luna is up to. Was she fixing her face? As if it needed anything. What jewelry is she picking out to wear? Maybe something to match his colors so they’d look like a couple in public. Would she wear her saree, her black dress, or the suit pieces? Loki drummed his fingers against his knee. The suspense was killing him, and he was a hard one to kill.

A soft ping emanated from his phone and broke the imaginings of his mind.

‘hey hey is this the right one?’

A late message from Peter, with a picture attached. In his Spider-Man-gloved hand, he held the large square flat envelope encasing Loki’s object of desire. Loki snickered, picturing what it must have looked like to bystanders seeing Spider-Man walking through the aisles of a record store.

‘yes that’s it’

‘awesome but remember you owe me’

Loki huffed. As if he would take advantage of a child. He had the means to earn the spotlight and glory. No need to steal it.

‘of course, young Parker. I have it covered’

A sharp clatter and an alarmed ‘woah!’ captured his attention. He let his phone linger a bit in his hand, screen open on the messaging app. Nothing else alerted him to possible assistance, so he turned to a word puzzle game. It wasn't anything complicated, but he needed to pass the time without staring at the wall.

Some minutes later, Luna’s bedroom door gently swung open. Loki heard the rustling of clothes and padded footsteps growing closer.

“Ok, I know I look like I’m on my way to a goth cocktail party, but how is this?” Luna called out to him, timidly.

Loki clicked his phone off. “Hm?” he hummed and looked up. The grip on his phone loosened, and he let it slip from his hand as he stood to attention. He gasped softly, and his shoulders went tense.

Luna read his reaction well and let a knowing smile grow on her made-up face. “Woah, you got up quick. Who lit the couch on fire?” No need for verbal communication to tell what he thought.

Loki’s mind held a whirlwind of words, but none could make their way out. She wore the black dress with black-out tights underneath. The garment had looked different – simpler – on the hanger, but he couldn't say such a thing. Her teeth and eyes shone brightly through the dark red and black makeup – unobscured by her usual black-rimmed glasses – as she passed him to put her grey suede heels by the door. Beneath her gaze, he was transparent and powerless. As beautiful as she looked, her presence was the one to take his breath away. She held enough power in her stride and stance to tempt him to drop to his knees and call her ‘your majesty.’

In this moment, beauty was assuredly the demise of the beast.

Loki swallowed and cleared his dry throat. “Sorry. Force of habit.” He rolled his shoulders. “Are you sure your mother isn’t of royal blood?”

Luna stood from her crouched position by the line-up of shoes. “Well, some of our ancestors came from Rajasthan – Land of the Kings – so who knows?” She shrugged lightly. “She could be.” Making her way closer to Loki, she gave him a puzzled look and pointed at his chest. “You didn’t do your tie. Busy with something else?”

He chuckled nervously. “I confess, I’ve never tied one before.”

“But, if I remember correctly, your illusion suit had one.”

“And it was just that: an illusion.”

Luna stood by a lamp and beckoned him over. “Come. I can tie it. And off with the jacket.”

Loki pulled it off, minding his tie, and moseyed over to a spot in front of her. He felt her nails graze his neck as she shifted the tie. He watched her concentrate on the knot she tied so swiftly. Was it a trick of the light, or was she wearing black glitter eyeshadow? Whatever the case, she displayed it with expert ease.

“Where did you learn?” he asks her.

“Taught myself. I liked to wear them in high school,” she looked up to make eye contact, “and not as part of a uniform if you catch my drift.”

Loki narrowed his gaze. “I think I do.”

“You know, as you are more than a man, I am much more than a woman.”

“Very good to know,” he mutters with emphasis. “But what of your father and his ancestors? Might they be royal too?”

Luna laughs, breathily. "Your guess is as good as mine.”

“From where do they hail?”

Her hands tighten and push the knot into place. “Nowhere special,” she says dismissively, steps back from him, and plucks his necklace off of the side table. Luna opens the clasp and reaches behind Loki's neck to close it, keeping watch of his hair. 

“And before nowhere special?” Loki asks, his voice a low rumble next to her ear. Luna sighed as she leaned back, her breath tickling his jawline.

She tilted her head and said, “Germany.” They share a brief chuckle, the exact reason lost to both of them. Luna lay the gold chain gently on the curve of his tie and circled around him to pick up his jacket. She held it up for him to shrug it on. She smoothed out the padded shoulders, walked back in front of him, and tugged the opening closed. “There. Perfect.” She slid her hands up his chest to flatten his lapels.

“Thank you,” Loki muttered as he fixated on his friend’s gorgeous façade and forced his lungs to fill with air.

“You’re very,” Luna looked up and met his intense gaze, “welcome.” Her voice failed her near the end of the word. He was so close. She swore she could feel his heart fluttering beneath her palm.

With each rise and fall of their chests, they were mere centimeters from brushing against each other. It was impossible to look away.

“What?” Loki murmured. Luna clenched her teeth, trying to keep her composure and dignity.

“Oh, nothing.” She cleared her throat. “You just look,” her hands fell from his chest and came to rest by her sides, “really good.”

“So do you,” he spoke softly, refusing to break eye contact. Luna was the first to do so, taking a deep breath in and gesturing to the door.

“Shall we?” She regained control of herself and remembered her goal for the night. Loki glanced behind him and grabbed his dress shoes from the floor.

“Absolutely.”

-------------------

The car ride was silent, save for ‘Maneater’ on the radio. Loki was thankful for it, though the song did nothing to stay his shifting eyes. He wished there was an edge of the world to jump off of or someone to swallow him up so he could be spared the embarrassment of being caught looking back-and-forth between his friend and the car tail lights ahead of them.

“You’re staring.” Luna stated bluntly. Loki tensed and bent his head. She didn’t have to look his way to know. “It’s ok,” she laughed. “I didn’t say you had to stop. So, you like the look, yes or no?”

Loki nodded and hummed out a "Hm.”

“Is that a ‘yes?’  "she coaxed him.

“Uh-huh,” he admitted. Luna nodded and smiled.

“There we go.”

“You’ve done this before? The whole…,” Loki waved a finger around in a circle, indicating Luna’s ensemble.

“Yup. When I want to dress up and go out, it’s my go-to look, not that I go out a lot. And it’s a home run every time.”

“How so?”

She cleared her throat. “Not to be a huge gay, but it’s really popular with the girls.” She giggled nervously. “Boys, on the other hand, not so much, but I’m not trying to impress anyone.”

Loki’s brow creased. “Why wouldn’t they like it?” Luna shrugged.

“My guess is I look good enough to steal their girlfriends away, and they know it, and they're intimidated. Then again, just about everything about me intimidates them, but we won’t get into that.” She waved a dismissive hand. “It’s Valentine's Day, and we're going out to have fun together. No need to bring the past into the mix.”

“So true.” Loki settled back into the seat and fiddled with his hands. He was unsure of what to do with himself, but knowing it was a common thing with her, he didn’t feel so out of place. Intent on distraction, he turned the radio up a bit. No need to talk for now.

--------------------

Traffic wasn’t the worst Luna had ever driven in, but the parking in front of the restaurant was a disaster. She found a lot a few blocks away and drove there, grumbling and groaning the entire trip. Her dark red shawl would do nothing to shield her from the dusk chill. Loki would be unaffected by the cold, and she knew so. For a split second, she hated him for it.

But her disdain quickly left her, and she settled instead for enjoying his company on the final walk to their destination. One arm looped through his and the other holding onto his bicep. Luna enjoyed his close proximity and the security she felt from it.

Coming through the door behind a blond-haired duo, Luna checked her watch. They were a bit early. No rush in checking to see if a table was ready for them. She tugged Loki to the front desk and got her bag ready.

The employee spotted Luna approaching and made eye contact. She greeted him with a non-threatening smile.

“Hi. We’re here for a reservation for two under ‘Dr. Fields.’  "

He click-clacked away on the keyboard and checked the list he brought up.

“Yup, you’re right here, and your table is ready.” He directed his gaze to Loki. “I’ll just need to check your ID real quick.” The two were taken aback, both at a loss for words. Luna recovered ahead of Loki and flashed a grin.

“Oh, you won’t be needing his.” She pulled out her wallet and opened it to her driver’s license and the employee ID card stating her formal title. “I’m doctor.”

The man blinked a few times and took her wallet, matching the name and face. Loki heard a gasp and a soft snicker behind him, and he couldn't help but sneak a peek. A rosy-cheeked woman covered the lower half of her face with an impeccably manicured hand, suppressing the laugh sitting behind her teeth. The man beside her mouthed ‘nice' and held up an OK sign with the hand not holding hers. Loki smirked, turned his head back around, and puffed his chest a bit.

“O-of course. My apologies,” he stammered, grabbing two menus from the row behind him. “I’ll, uh, show you to your table, and your waiter will be right with you.” He ushered them to follow.

“Thank you so much.” Luna expressed her gratitude, though Loki believed it to be a bit misplaced. Still, he couldn’t help express his own sentiments to her.

“Very smooth,” he muttered in her ear.

She smiled proudly and whispered back, “Glad you approve.”

They were sat at a square table set near the middle of the seating area. Booths were filled to the left and right with expensive-looking individuals. Loki undid his jacket as Luna draped her shawl over the chair and placed her bag between her knees. She trusted no one to not pilfer her belongings.

Pairs of eyes settled onto the duo. They felt at least three at any one time. They shifted a bit in their seats, burying their heads in the menus. Loki looked for anything he recognized as Luna looked for something vegetarian.

“Hey,” Luna whispered over her menu, catching Loki’s attention. “Sorry for the lack of discretion here.” She nodded her head to the side, indicating the voyeurs surrounding them.

Loki smirked and chuckled quietly. “Believe me, they’re all looking at you.” Luna smiled and bent her head, bashful from his compliment.

A waitress came by – introducing herself as Angela – and filled the glasses at their table with water. She asked if they would want any other drinks. Luna requested hot water, and Loki asked for a glass of red wine. He wouldn’t be driving, and it would take a lot more for him to get a little tipsy.

Luna laughed breathily as she recalled a thought she had before being interrupted by their waitress. She held up her water glass.

“To quote the late great bisexual icon, Freddie Mercury, ‘I dress to kill, but tastefully.'  "Loki smiled and tapped his glass against hers and took a sip.

“Oh yes, him. I believe I remember who he was.”

Luna tapped her nails against her glass. “He was the lead singer of Queen.”

“Yes, he was a singer.” Loki leaned in closer and muttered, “Legend has it that he made quite the entrance arriving in Valhalla.” Luna gasped as an amused grin made a home on her face.

“I would expect no less from him.”

Angela returned with a basket of fresh bread and their personal drinks. Luna was famished from a day of hard work, so she helped herself. Loki tasted his wine. He approved of it and considered a second after he emptied the one he was holding.

He waited for Luna to finish her first roll to start any idle chatter.

“So what are you doing at work right now?”

“Ooh, something so cool.” Luna took a sip of her hot water. “Ok, so you know how I wanted to test healing time using your DNA fragment, right?”

Loki scooted his chair in a tad. “Yeah?”

“Well, I finally did, but you can probably guess how it went.”

“Probably, but,” Loki forwent his manners and placed his elbows on the table, “tell me anyway.”

“Alright.” Luna dapped her mouth with her napkin. “So, I was able to embed the zebrafish embryo with the agarose gel like I planned-”

“Embed?” Loki interrupted.

Luna nodded. “Yeah." She propped her elbow on the table edge and extended a hand to him. “Give me your hand. This’ll explain it better.” He reached over and placed his hand on hers. She turned his hand so his palm faced up. “So, pretend your hand is the gel, and my hand is the fish, like so.” She placed a hand back in his, and he held it firm. “It doesn’t hurt it. It just holds it in place for experimentation purposes. Then, I take a sharp utensil and lightly scrap one side of the fish’s body.” She dragged her pinky along the back of her held hand. “Because it’s transparent, I can see in real-time how the cells move through the vessels and heal the wound. Cool, huh?”

“Very, but we know this already.”

“We do, but that isn’t even the coolest part. How I wounded it was I cut off the tip of its tail. It’s been done before by other scientists, and the tail tip is easily regenerated, so I went with that as a starting point. It usually takes about three days for that piece to completely grow back, but not this one.” She leaned in closer, the table edge now digging into her stomach. “It grew back in less than six hours,” she whispered. Loki leaned back from her, surprised.

“No,” he whispered.

“Yes!" Luna said louder than intended. She put her empty hand over her mouth, a bit embarrassed. "Oh, I still get chills just thinking about it. I mean, can you imagine? One sequence responsible for so much in an organism? One that came from you? Never in my life did I think I could see something so amazing.”

“Yeah,” Loki breathed out, regarding his friend from across the table.

Hand-in-hand, he felt his heart soar, and his ego grow. Gone were his home, princely robes, and public title, but in it all, he felt marvelous. He wasn’t in a jail cell, but out on the town with the ideal someone to enjoy it with. An intelligent, stunning, bright someone. Someone making him the envy of anyone who laid eyes on them. No, he wasn’t a king, but he felt like one.

Chapter Text

 

The Soundtrack So Far

 

After pondering and going back-and-forth between the pages of the menu, Loki settled on shrimp alfredo. Luna encouraged him to pick something she would never make at home. The only animal she cooked was fish, and he remembered liking the taste of shrimp in the past, so he made his choice. She settled on a bowl of tomato soup and Caesar salad. Loki passively inquired on her simple pickings.

Luna took a tentative sip of her soup and replied,

“I never order a complex dish or one with any kind of meat from a restaurant, even if it’s fish-based.”

Loki twirled his fork about his plate. “How come?”

Luna took a sip of water and rubbed her hands together, getting ready to tell a story. “Ok. So, years ago, when my white grandma died, all the family went to this restaurant after the funeral. My aunt and cousin both had tons of coupons for it, so that’s why we were at that particular place, but that’s irrelevant. Anyway, I ordered a salad with salmon that was supposed to be topped with pecans or whatever. Now, it’s important to note that that was the only dish like it on that menu.”

“Now, let me guess: they botched it,” Loki interjected.

“Yes,” Luna said firmly. “They messed it up so bad. Instead of salmon and pecans, they gave me chicken,” Loki gasped, “and bacon.”

He was deeply affronted for her. “No,” he breathed out.

Luna nodded vigorously, making her earrings shake. “I only had a tiny bit of it by mistake because I don’t know what meat tastes like anymore, and I had a terrible stomach ache for the rest of that night. Thought I was going to throw up everywhere. My mother was all like, 'don't make a scene. Everyone here is grieving.'  "She scoffed. “To hell with them. Like, how could you mess up a dish that bad? There was no way they could have easily made that mistake. There was nothing else like it on the menu.”

“Did they correct it?” Loki was on the edge of his seat.

“Mhm. They made the dish again the way it was supposed to be, but I had no appetite for it, obviously. I took it home in a box and ate it the next day. Ugh, I was livid.” Luna put a hand on her hot cheek to cool it. “I still am if you can tell.”

“As you should be,” Loki said justly. “I would have had them all flogged.” He waved his fork in front of him.

Luna smirked. “Honestly, I would have let you do your worst.” They chuckled. “So, for lack of better words: trust no bitch.” Luna picked up her water glass.

“Truly.” Loki took the invitation to pick his up and tap the edge against hers. How wise she was. He was in excellent company. She tilted hers to take a sip and Loki did the same, but stopped partway as his eyes caught a ring on her finger beside the green one from her birthday. This new one looked suspiciously like Yggdrasil. “Oh, that is nice,” Loki commented, gesturing to her hand.

Luna set her glass down and looked at her rings. She smirked, knowing what he meant.

“Thanks.” She held her hand out for him to admire it at a closer range. “It’s a gift.” He took her hand in his empty one.

“From whom?”

“Vision and the others.” Loki looked up at her. “He stopped by a bit ago and dropped it off as a late Christmas present.”

Loki felt the glass give a little in his hand. They had beat him to the punch, leaving him to be the last of Luna’s gift-bestowers. “Oh, really?” He lessened his grip and put the glass down. No need to cause a disaster. He was having his gift to her handled as they spoke.

“Yeah.” Luna sensed his tone. He was jealous, and knowing so stroked her ego. “It’s nice of them. Pretty sure Wanda got it and the other one from some street vendor in Europe, but I like them, so it doesn’t matter.”

Loki brushed the rest of his harsh emotions and focused on the positive: Luna enjoyed the things she wore. “Yes, very nice of them.”

They released hands to finish their meals, but it was a challenge. A commotion had stirred up three tables away. Patrons all around them gasping and chattering away. A shrill 'yes!' pierced the air and the area resounded with applause and the occasional whistle. Someone got engaged. Luna didn’t bother joining in, deciding to give them a side eye.

She scoffed and picked at an arugula leaf. “And so it begins,” she muttered.

Loki leaned in and tilted his head to the happy couple, still hugging and admiring the shiny new ring. “This is customary?”

Luna sneered. “Eh, kind of. Gag-worthy, really. Just feels,” she stabbed at her salad, “impersonal. Not that I’m one to judge. They can do whatever they like.”

“And what would you like?”

Luna answered him with a soft huff and a brief smirk. Yet more information lost to him within the depths of her personality. Loki knew better than to egg her on, but the possibilities teased him. He never knew everything about her, but he was eager and ready to see all the pieces making up his precious friend.

As Loki took the last shrimp from his plate and Luna the last crouton from her bowl, Angela appeared by their sides. She bused the empty dishes from their table, receiving a smile and soft 'thank you' from the two of them. She promptly returned to make further inquiries.

“May I interest you two in some dessert this evening?” she asked. The two looked between each other.

“Uh, would you, uh, do you…?" Luna tripped over her words, trying to not sound like she was the one entirely in charge.

Loki shrugged and held a hand out to her. “If you would like, then…” He did his best to be considerate of her desires.

She nodded and looked up at Angela. "Then yes,” she said with a smile.

Angela returned it with a quick "fantastic" and listed the available options. Loki listened for the keyword: chocolate. Luna knew he was and let him pick what they would share. He settled on a seven-layer chocolate cake; something too much for one person but enough to share with another.

Partway through the division on the cake, Loki requested to take another look at Luna’s rings. She obliged and held out her hand. An excuse on his part to help keep up appearances around folks romancing each other, but Loki needn’t romance her to hold her attention. He liked that about her.

Another bout of clapping and cheering turned their heads the other direction. Two proposals in one night. Luna snickered, set down her fork, and held up two fingers for only Loki to see. He smiled, amused with her attitude.

“Let’s see if anyone goes for lucky number three,” she spoke quietly to him. He tilted his head, accepting the chance it would happen before they left.

They finished off the dessert quicker than anticipated. Luna took a few sips of her water to clear out the sweet aftertaste. Spying the leftover dark lipstick on the glass, she frowned.

“I must have totally worn off all my lipstick.” She sighed and dabbed her mouth once more with her napkin. “I’m gonna go redo it, ok? I’ll only be a minute.” She took her handbag out from underneath the table.

“Please, take all the time you need.”

“Ok. Just don’t go anywhere unless you really have to," Luna got up, circled around the table to Loki’s side, and put a hand on his shoulder, “and don’t let anyone give you any trouble.”

He touched her hand and muttered, “You have my word, your highness.” Luna smiled wide – snickering – and left.

Loki took his glasses off and covered his face. It slipped out, and in public. How unbecoming and embarrassing. He slid his hands down, revealing his eyes, and peaked at the people surrounding him. No one seemed to have heard. He lay his hands on his thighs and sighed. He felt truly pathetic.

Reaching up to rub his eye, Loki noticed a crucial detail: his glasses. They were off and sitting on the table, leaving his face bare to the room. His hands quaked at he snatched them up and slipped them back on. He kept his eyes down and wished no one took notice they were in the presence of a well-known war criminal.

The tap of a check tray and pen being set down gave him a start. He glanced up to see the charming smile of their waitress.

“Here’s the check, sir. Take your time and have a nice night.”

“Thank you.” Loki did his best to not let the nervousness reach his voice.

To mask their shaking, he kept his hands moving, shelling out a few bills to cover the cost of the dinner laying them on the paper. He would have enjoyed haggling with Luna over who paid for the evening, but the urge to leave overcame him. The seconds felt like hours, and he wished his friend was back in his company.

He slid down in his chair and observed the couples chattering away to themselves. Out of the corner of his eye, he spied one in a deep and quiet conversation. Out of a jacket pocket, a shiny diamond ring was produced. No fanfare, no showmanship, and no grandeur. Love-filled smiles, a silent 'yes,’ and a chaste kiss were all Loki observed. Their soft expressions and caressing of hands warmed his cold heart. Perhaps romance was good.

Somewhere in the time his head was turned, the paid check was collected, so, upon Luna’s return, he would graciously ask to leave.

And, like the divine creature she appeared to be, Luna strut past him and sat back in her seat, lipstick fresh and eyeshadow fixed.

“Hey,” she greeted with a toothy smile. “You ready to go? I can flag our waitress for the check.”

"She already came by, and I took care of it.”

Luna did a double-take. “Wait, what?”

“I said,” Loki began slowly, “I took care of it, and we may go whenever we like.”

“You … you took care of it? Like, you paid it?”

“Yes.” He nodded and shrugged. “I needed a reason to use Stark’s money.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Luna said softly.

“I know, but I needed to.”

She put a hand over her chest. “I don’t know how to thank you. I can’t even pretend to fight you on it." Luna laughed under her breath, and Loki smiled back. Great minds thought alike.

“Then don’t.” Loki pushed his chair back and stood. “Just leave with me in tow.”

Luna wrapped her shawl around her shoulders as she stood. “Now that I can do.” The motion of a suit-clad man dropping to one knee beside his date made Luna sigh and sneer. “Gladly.”

Slipping her hand into his, the two strolled back to the entrance they came in. Each table they passed by, they felt the eyes of the occupants, but they kept their heads high and gazes fixed forward. Loki was tempted to look and gloat. He knew why they stared and stared past him. He would too if the most striking person in the room was on someone else’s arm. But they were at his side, holding his hand.

The night air bit at Luna’s exposed neck and collarbones, making her wrap her shawl tighter and squeeze into Loki’s side. She shuddered violently as she fought the cold. The promise of a warm seat spurred her to continue the journey, but she needed a distraction for the time being.

“So, three times a charm,” she chimed over the clicking of her heels against the pavement, holding up her left hand and moving her ring finger for emphasis.

“No, I counted about four proposals.”

Luna frowned. “Four? When was the other one?”

“Must have been while you were fixing your makeup.”

She gave his chest a gentle swat. “Now, that’s not fair, you trickster.”

Loki snicker. “I am who I am.”

“So you admit to cheating?”

“I will not confirm nor deny what really happened.”

“So we settled on three tacky proposals?”

“Three, it is, but I swear I saw a fourth one.” Loki moved Luna’s arm so it was looped around his. “So, homeward bound?”

“Oh, no,” she sang with a knowing smile. “The night’s not over yet.”

Loki looked down at her and narrowed his eyes. "Now what do you have planned?”

“I’ll give you a hint.” She poked his shoulder. “It has something to do with 80s music and lots of dancing.”

The hint did nothing for him, but for the second time in the night, he readily put his trust in Luna.

--------------------

Luna parked in another parking lot and made another journey in the cold with Loki close by. She couldn’t tell if the stinging in her toes were from the frigid temperatures, her shoes, or both, but she clenched her jaw and walked through the discomfort.

“What is this place?” Loki muttered as he approached their new destination.

Luna spun away from him and walked backward, leading him by the hand. “It’s a dance club! I heard through social media that they were having an 80s night on Valentine’s Day, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go, so here we are.” She slowed and fell back in step with him. “Have you ever been to one of these?”

“We only ever had the banquet halls to dance in.”

“Well, this is obviously no banquet hall, but I can promise it will be just as fun. So, what do you say?” Luna opened the door and gestured inside. “Wanna try?" The booming synth from inside captured them both in a spell, but still, they stood.

Loki smirked and took a step closer to the entryway. “Why, of course.” He held his hand out, and Luna took it back in one of hers. Together, they entered into a new unknown.

Luna paid the entrance fee and continued down a smoky staircase, holding tight to Loki’s hand. She couldn’t afford to lose him in a dark and crowded place. Any anxiety surrounding the possibility melted away as the song playing made itself apparent and known to her.

Luna gasped and pulled Loki to the dance floor, excitement flooding her body along with the heavy vibes from the speakers.

“We're losing control. Will you turn me away or touch me deep inside?”

“Pat Benatar!” she exclaimed. “Yeah!” She tied her shawl in a tight double-knot around her waist and let the music move her. Loki was at a loss, not knowing how to dance to such melodies, so he watched her as he always did. Never mind if she knew.

“But if we get much closer, I could lose control. And if your heart surrenders, you'll need me to hold.”

Luna did her best to involve him, but he stood still, no matter how she circled him and pulled on his sleeve. She got the message and pushed her bag into his chest. He was set on observing his surroundings, so Luna tasked him with holding her belongings until he felt like joining her.

He took a seat by the bar and kept his steely gaze on Luna as she danced to her heart’s content. She was alluring and captivating, but he knew he wasn’t the only one who thought so. Every bump of her hip, flip of her pixie-cut, and twirl of her wrist gained someone else’s attention. Loki didn’t blame them, but she was his friend. He stared not with ill-intent.

A new song came on – another Loki hadn’t heard before – and Luna lit up, changing her tempo and step.

"Sometimes, I feel I've got to run away."

She mouthed the words as she danced and made purposeful eye-contact with Loki. He laughed to himself, realizing she was putting on a show for him. How coy she was on their first night together. But now, if he wants to look, she gives him something to look at.

“Once, I ran to you. Now, I run from you.”

Amidst Luna’s carefree enjoyment, a stranger approached her with a question, ruining her rhythm. Loki scowled at her apprehensive expression and the stranger's misplaced comfort with putting his hand on her shoulder. Straightening his jacket, he passed on Luna's purse for the barkeep to watch and marched onto the dance floor. Using the element of surprise, he slapped a firm hand on the stranger's shoulder and squeezed.

“Is he bothering you?” Loki said devilishly sweet as he met Luna’s grateful gaze. His hand slipped from the man’s shoulder as he moved around to her side and drew her body close to his.

The stranger put his hands up and took a step back. “Hey, man, I don’t want any trouble.”

Loki placed his fingertips on the man’s sternum and gave him a soft shove.

“Then don’t touch her,” he hissed, his words dripping with venom. The stranger murmured a halfhearted apology and scurried away.

Loki took Luna’s hands and spun her around. He knew how to dance with her now.

She pushed down on his shoulder and leaned to his ear. “Took you long enough.”

“I caught up, didn’t I?” She responded to him with a smile, but concern quickly replaced it.

“Where’s my bag?”

Loki nodded his head to the counter. “With the bartender.” Luna relaxed and fell into step with him. She could happily dance alone, but she preferred to do it in his company. His hands settled on her waist as she swayed his hips from one side to the other. She held onto his upper arms. They were close but not by much. Her clothes barely grazed against his.

It was a short song, fading out before Loki got the opportunity to fully enjoy it, and the next started strong and powerful. Luna’s face broke into an excited smile, and she let out a little scream.

“Have you ever listened to ABBA?!” she yelled.

“The what?!” Loki yelled back, but Luna didn’t repeat her question. She slipped from his grasp and let the music retake her, her skirt flying up as she spun and jumped with enthusiasm.

“I wasn't jealous before we met. Now every woman I see is a potential threat.”

It was no secret she liked to dance like this, but she made it look so fun and becoming. Loki gauged the rhythm and tempo. He couldn’t be caught making a fool of himself.

“And I'm possessive, it isn't nice. You've heard me saying that smoking was my only vice.”

Luna sang along as she danced around him. Loki had to laugh. As if such things were her vices. She traced a hand along his chest, his arm, and shoulder. He followed her if she moved too far, shuffling his feet and keeping her dark form in view.

“But now, it isn't true. Now, everything is new, and all I've learned has overturned. I beg of you.”

She grabbed his arm and spun herself into his embrace, her back hitting his chest. It wasn’t a new move for them, but she lingered longer than usual. She slid her free hand up to his cheek. How she found it, he couldn’t say, but they were close enough for it to be easy. She knew what he felt like. Her palm was warm and soft against his bare skin, and he wished to keep it there, but she slipped away and stepped back from him.

“Don't go wasting your emotion. Lay all your love on me.”

She held her arms out with her head tilted back as though she expected Loki to meet her in an embrace. It wasn’t her intention, for she brought her arms around her chest as the verse ended. Luna’s carefree grin suggested she was again performing for his enjoyment, but as her hands fell, he caught them. No more watching. He wanted to dance with her for the rest of the night.

“It was like shooting a sitting duck. A little smalltalk, a smile, and baby, I was stuck.”

Loki couldn’t ballroom dance to such music, but he picked on pieces of the Wedding dance and modified them. He took Luna in the paired circles, dips, and classier moves than the other patrons in motion. She loved to spin and twirl about, and with her hand in his, he helped her go so fast he felt the air turning around her.

Like most of her favorite pieces of music, he took to it, and by the end, he knew the chorus by heart. He wouldn’t dare say it, but he might have inaccurately mouthed along to a verse or two. No one saw, so it wasn’t a problem.

They took a break as the song transitioned to the next one. Luna dragged him off the dance floor and requested two small orange juices at the bar. Loki could keep going into the next two days and a night, but Luna needed to preserve a piece of her energy for the drive home.

The duo sat out for a few songs and danced a few more, rarely taking their hands off each other and touching in ways they only allowed the other to. Luna welcomed Loki’s boldness as he caressed her back during Whitney Houston, and she returned it by taking his hair out of its tie and threading her fingers through it to 'Sunglasses At Night.’ He didn’t complain. He trusted her with it.

But she couldn't do it forever, though she desired to. In the middle of a Eurythmics song, she wrapped a hand around the back of his head and lowered his ear to her level.

“I have to use the restroom! Can you wait by the door for me?!” she asked. He met her gaze and nodded.

She intertwined her fingers with him and hunted for the telltale sign of her required destination. Spotting it, she tugged him along and held up one finger as she went inside. He need only wait a moment.

The time by herself allowed her body to catch up. From her knees to the soles of her feet, she felt stabbing aches and pains. Her suede shoes were made for style, not for dancing. She sighed as she washed her hands and checked her face in the mirror. The night would have to end. Loki would be disappointed, but she didn’t have the luxury of napping in the car.

Luna re-tied her shawl around her and stepped out – her champion swagger diminished to an offset limp – and was met with the sight of another unfamiliar individual with their attention set completely on her friend. He looked off-put, leaning away as they spoke to him. Luna ignored the pain in her muscles and slid over to Loki’s side.

“Hi, honey,” she greeted him sickeningly saccharine as she wrapped an arm around him. Luna shot the stranger a scrutinizing glare. “Uh-uh, he’s my Valentine, honey. You’re gorgeous enough to get one for yourself. You don’t need mine." Loki worked an arm around her waist as she shooed them away. They scoffed and sauntered away. Luna felt his grip loosen and pressed it back. “Ok, whatever you do, don’t let go of me,” she spoke as loudly as she could.s

Loki was understandably concerned. “What is it?”

“My feet hurt so bad, they feel like they’re gonna fall off.” She groaned. “I’m sorry, but can we go?”

He nodded and held her tighter against his side. “Of course.”

Loki guided her to the bar and retrieved her bag. She listened to the song playing and gasped.

“Oh man, 'Careless Whisper?’ I love this song,” she whined. “If only my feet weren’t killing me. Sorry we gotta leave.” Luna looked painfully apologetic as she ambled up the stairs. Loki answered her with a little laugh.

“Now, no apologies. You're in pain, and I'm here to help. It’s my job,” he boasted a bit.

Luna pushed the door and inhaled the fresh air. “Oh yes, because you’re the valiant savior of Asgard.”

“And I’m your friend.”

She beamed and repeated fondly, “And you’re my friend.”

--------------------

Everything went at a snail’s pace: the walk to the car, the drive home, and the frigid shuffle to the elevator. Loki stood politely with his hands folded in front of him. Luna leaned against the wall, gripping the handlebar and willing her feet to stay beneath her.

“Don’t ever let me do that again,” she murmured, throat gravely.

“What? Dance until you drop? But it’s much too fun to watch.” Loki joked lightly.

“For you, maybe. These shoes are not for dancing. Next time I say I can handle more than one song in heels, remind me that I can’t.” The elevator came to a stop on the fourth floor. Luna pushed off from the wall and moaned in pain. Loki didn’t let her take one more step; he maneuvered her arm around his neck and swept her off her feet. “Woah, what are you doing?” Luna said with a start.

Loki was nonchalant as the door opened and he stepped into the hall. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m carrying you.”

She made no effort to fight him beyond using weak words. “Loki, you don’t have to carry me. I’ll be fine.”

“And have you slow us down even more trying to walk on sore feet? I don’t think so.” Luna was hyperaware of the feel of his hand and forearm under her knees.

“Yeah, but I still drove us home.”

“You were wincing the entire time you had your foot on the pedal.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want people here to see us.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “They’ll get the wrong idea.”

Loki’s brow creased. “The wrong idea about what? That we’re romantic? I thought that was the point.”

Luna relented. “Oh yeah, you’re right.”

He stopped in front of the apartment door. Trusting his strength, Luna let go of him and got her keys from her bag. She reached, unlocked the door, and scrunched herself against him as he stepped over the threshold. Loki toed off his shoes and walked further into the room, kicking the door closed.

“Just set me on the floor there.” Luna pointed to the spot in front of the electric fireplace. Loki set her down and left her to take his jacket off and turn the kettle on. Luna pulled her heels off, tossed them in the direction of the door, and turned the fireplace on. “Mm, that feels good,” she muttered and lay flat on her back, feet directly in front of the heat. “Hey, could you be awesome and put on some music?” she called out.

“Certainly.” Luna could hear the smile in his voice. Loki pulled out his phone. “What was that song you mentioned?”

“Uh, Careless Whisper. By George Michael.”

“Ah, yes." He found the song he assumed was the correct one and pressed 'play.' Luna didn't protest, so he left his device on the side table and sat next to her. “A calm selection for the end of a night?”

Luna chuckled. “You have no idea.” She sat up and braced her hands on the ground behind her. “Oh, and can you turn the thing on?” The low rumble of the kettle answered her question for him. “Ah, you did. Great.” She rubbed and flexed her hands to warm them, stopping as she felt a tickle on one side of her neck. Loki had reached over and touched her earring.

“These are very nice.”

Luna smiled, doing her best not to act flustered. “Glad you think so.” Loki didn’t need to know how sensitive she was. “They’re jhumka earrings. Gold-plated and straight from India.” She shrugged. “I felt like wearing them.”

“As you should.” He dropped his hand. She let out a soft breath. “Gift from anyone?”

“Only from me to myself.”

A whistle from the kitchen interrupted their conversation. Ever the gentleman, Loki prepared two cups of tea using Luna’s box of loose jasmine. He returned to his spot on the floor and hands her a cup.

“So is this how all your Valentine’s nights end?” He loosened his tie. “A little bit of music, tea, and savory company?”

She laughed humorlessly. “Nope.”

More exciting?” He teased, getting another chuckle from her.

“For me, this was the best night of my life with anyone other than myself.”

“But you’ve gone out before. With other people?”

“Only boring white boys, though I don't even think I would consider what we did as 'dating,'  "she made air quotes with her fingers, “but it’s whatever.”

“But there was an exchange of some sort? Gifts for one another and such?”

“Just on my end.” Luna takes a cautious sip of her tea. “I would get them the chocolates and trinkets in exchange for nothing but bland company.”

Loki was borderline offended. For him, the night was anything but bland. “So you mean to tell me that the boys you’ve courted have never given you anything for Valentine’s Day?”

“Yup, but it’s ok.” Luna tried to wave off the topic. “They were plain with no personality. Besides, I never liked them anyway.”

He took a sip of his tea and set it down noisily. “Unacceptable. No matter who the boy is, it should never excuse him from a proper courting.” An idea popped into his head, striking him calm. “In that case, please allow me to show you how a real date should be treated, as that is what you are to me right now.”

“Yeah, in public. In private, we’re just friends. You're just you, and I'm just me. That’s all we’re ever going to be.”

“True, but it is Valentine’s Day, as I have been reminded many times, and it would be unjust and foolish to let you give me things while I give nothing in return.”

Luna contemplated his motives. “Fine, but don’t bring this up later and say I made you in order to shame me.”

“Really? Say you made me? Now that’s just cruel.” He turned his body to face her full-on. “Now, what can I do you for?”

She tapped a nail against her jawline. “If you had your magic, I would ask you to make everything below my knees stop hurting.”

Loki pondered her request. “I may not have my magic, but I still have my hands.” He lifted them to show her and gracefully gestured to her feet. “May I?” He hoped she understood.

She nodded. “Oh, yeah, yeah.” Luna turned in her spot and pushed her feet him his direction. “Go ahead.” She fixed her dress so he had no opportunity to look up it and leaned back on her hands. Loki gently took her left foot – keeping it near the heat – and squeezed her heel. “Oh, wow,” she muttered. He smirked to himself and continued his work.

His hands encompassed her entire foot, and he used this to his advantage. He took his time, pressing from her toes to her heel and back again, working and shifting all the delicate bones and muscles and giving equal attention to the opposite foot. As he moved up to her ankle, he allowed himself to admire the gold chain anklet draped elegantly at the joint.

He looped a finger and turned it, listening to the petite bells on the clasp jingle and chime. “Ooh, I like these.”

“I’m glad you do.” Luna sounded a bit breathless. “They’re called payal.”

Loki minded them as his hands crawled up to her shins, careful not to snag them with his clothing. Each time he compressed a tight calf muscle and Luna grimaced and groaned, he tried again with a gentler approach.

A hard press of his thumb on one side of her shin elicited a sharp moan from her. Wide-eyed, Luna slapped a hand over her mouth as Loki stilled his movements. She couldn’t look at him. She knew he was staring straight at her, surprised, and caught off-guard.

She cleared her throat and shifted her hand. “Sorry. You’re just,” she sighed, “really good at that.”

“Glad you think so,” he said quietly.

Loki resumed her massage but made a point to pay closer attention to his friend. Certain muscle points made her squeeze her eyes closed and hide her face. He wasn’t sure if it was in pain or pleasure, but she hadn’t asked him to stop, so he proceeded as he liked.

He tested the waters, moving his hands up to the sides of her knee, then up and over, his fingers brushing close to her mid-thigh. The air in the room flipped on a dime. Luna jerked her head up, pushed his hands off, and scrunched her body as far away from him as she could. Loki felt slighted for a split second, but a look into her eyes dispelled all ill emotions, save for heavy guilt. She looked at him with something he hadn’t seen in her before: fear, directed at him.

“Uh, thanks for that.” She looked away from him, her voice trembling a bit. It broke his heart. “I feel a lot better now. Um, I have to take all this stuff off,” she gestured to her makeup and outfit, “so you can go shower first if you want.”

Luna sprang to her feet and darted to her room with her bag and teacup in tow. Loki scrambled after her. He couldn’t let her leave without an apology.

“I’m sorry,” he managed to say, kneeling on the ground by the other couch arm. One hand on her bedroom doorknob, Luna looked back at him sympathetically.

“You didn’t do anything wrong. Goodnight, Loki.” She opened her door and slipped inside, away from his view.

Loki pushed himself to his feet and pulled his tie the rest of the way off. He threw it on the couch but backpedaled and draped it carefully along the back of the armchair. His necklace, he placed on the coffee table and his clothes he set aside for washing. He could dance for days on end, but he worked up a sweat like anyone else.

In the bathroom, he took a good look at his reflection. He looked spent, but not unhealthily so. His hair was curled and wild. The opportunity to have it professionally cut never presented itself since the day he fell from the Bifrost, but the look took to him. But it wasn't the only thing he got from his time lost in space, appearance-wise.

Scores of stab wounds, burns, slashes, and abrasions littered his torso – front and back. Not ones a warrior wore with pride, but those of a prisoner, worn with shame. And here he was, without his illusions to make them disappear. Things to remind him of what happens when he failed to obey, placed in areas only he saw and felt. Thanos and his children were never kind, though they did lie and convince their victims they were. Thanos was skilled in deception – so much so, Loki believed him from time to time. But where the lies and pain failed to persuade, the Mind Stone stepped in. The counter edge creaked under his tight grip. Pathetic.

Loki liked playing pathetic to get what he wanted, but behind closed doors, he hated feeling it. He felt weak and wrong. And he’d done so much wrong and hurt so many with the hands he lay on his friend. Luna, his beautiful pure friend who was never wrong and never failed to care for him. How she must find distaste in him now. And she was well within her rights to, the reasons – unbeknownst to her – written on his skin. She always reserved the ability to shove him off, but any fear of him was his fault alone. Having enough of himself, Loki turned the shower on. He was tired, and he needed rest.

Hearing the water turn on, Luna released the breath she was holding since she closed her door. She got all her makeup off, but she had rubbed the cloth so hard, her dusty brown skin was now tinted pink and red. She felt like a ball of pure anxiety, caught between a rock and a hard place. The look in Loki’s eyes and on his gorgeous face ruined her. He believed he had hurt her or overstepped, and her reaction proved his suspicions correct. She gave him no reason to doubt his thoughts, but as wrong as he was, she couldn’t tell him the truth. What she was truly afraid of.

She liked how he touched her. How his hands felt. Luna knew the blood and baggage they carried, but none of it was her problem, so long as Loki didn’t make it hers. No, the problem lay with her.

Having shed all her jewelry and adornments, she concluded with her clothing. Bare-faced and bare-bodied, she stared into her mirror, eyes moving from her hair down to her feet and up again. Loki did help make her feet feel better. She wondered what he could do with his magic. Multitudes, most likely. She dreamt of the possibilities sometimes and if he would ever care to show her when he got it back.

But if he caught wind of her little secret – the mishmash of raised marks stretching from her hip to her mid-thigh – he may never want anything to do with her again. Tears welled in her eyes at the thought. Someone so powerful and majestic would never want someone like her. Someone so broken and hurt on the inside, it showed on the outside. Scars were scars, but they all told their own tales of agony. She knew he would hate the story hers told and judge her to the ends of the universe for it.

Luna lay a hand over them. She knew they could be felt through her clothes, and to think Loki almost did. He was so close, and now, he believed she feared him. It wasn’t his fault. Nothing was. He helped her forget how bad the world was to her, but in turn, she also forgot the potential of how unforgiving he could be. She had to keep her guard up, but it was more of a challenge than she bargained for.

 

Chapter Text

 

The next few days were quiet. Loki was on edge each time Luna was in the room or spoke to him. She was understandably cautious, but he walked on eggshells around her. He didn't hover in the kitchen as she cooked or sit right next to her on the couch. And he didn’t ask her to dance, no matter what music was on.

Luna wanted to tear her hair out as she thought about it at work. He was being ridiculous and obsessing over a non-issue. He spooked her, but he wasn’t at fault. She tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen. She sighed and groaned for the fourth time in the morning. If he wanted her to be upset with him, he was doing a marvelous job.

“You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with this,” she said to the tiny zebrafish under her microscope. It didn’t answer. She didn’t expect it to. “But you do have to deal with this.” She scraped one side of it. “Sorry ‘bout that,” she muttered. “FRIDAY, start the timer.”

“Certainly,” the voice said.

Luna leaned back and rubbed her eyes with the backs of her wrists. She contemplated getting up and leaving to stretch her legs, but it was only a small scrap on the fish’s body. If the regeneration time of an embryo’s tail tip was reduced by 93%, healing time should be more notably decreased. She opened her notebook to a new page and made an entry for the day.

“Hey, what’s the average healing time for an adult zebrafish, again?”

“About 24 hours post-wound.”

“Right. Thanks.” Luna took her original math and modified it. Per her calculations, she estimated it would take an hour for complete tissue repair. She closed her notebook with her pen in between the pages. “Keep an eye on it for me, will you?”

“Of course.”

Luna felt heavy fatigue weigh in on her brain. Sleep didn’t come easily the previous night or the one before it. She took off her gloves and rested her chin in her hands, allowing her breathing to slow as her eyes shut. Dangerous at the bench, but it wouldn’t be for long. Ten minutes, at most. She wouldn’t miss anything.

A sharp beeping jolted her awake. Luna rubbed her eyes and looked around, wincing at the painful numbness in her arm from resting her head on it awkwardly.

“Oh, what’s going on? How long was I out?” she mumbled groggily.

“It’s been about thirty minutes since you made the incision,” FRIDAY reminded her.

Luna blinked the sleep out of her eyes. “Uh-huh. And?”

“The organism has experienced complete tissue repair.”

“He what?!” Luna leaned over the microscope eyepiece, and, true to the AI, the scrape along the fish’s side had disappeared. “Please tell me you got a visual recording.”

“I certainly did. Would you like to see it now?”

"Yes. Oh, yes, please." Luna turned her back to the bench. On the holographic screen, FRIDAY pulled up the video and played it. “Can you speed it up a bit?”

“Of course.”

The video played at a higher speed, showing cells and extracellular fluid whizzing through vessels. Luna watched in anticipation as lymphocytes crawled up to the wound site and started the process of stitching it up. The damaged area filled and closed in less than a minute. The video ended, leaving Luna in stunned silence, her mind was abuzz with ideas and thoughts not stringing themselves together. Again, her plan of action was lost.

“Ok. Ok, ok, ok. Uh…" Her hands hovered over her notebook. She opened to today's page and clicked her pen. "Uh, the percentage of healing time decrease. Let’s start there.” Using her original regeneration time formula, Luna plugged in her new values. “98%. A 98% decrease in healing time. That’s almost instantaneous,” she muttered to herself. Her brain was catching up. “Ok, say a non-fatal wound on a human takes 10 days to heal. You use this value, translate days to hours,” she scribbled away in her notebook. “It would take five hours. Five hours to complete tissue repair. Oh.” She thanked the gods she was sitting down. “Oh boy, I need a breather.” She let the fish go in its little aquarium. “Don’t go anywhere.” Hanging up her lab coat, Luna left without another word.

She moseyed down the hall and up the main staircase. A few people lingered in the lobby, but they paid her no mind. Hushed voices kept up conversation, chatting about proposals for lunch outings and potential dinner dates. They served as extra noise for Luna as she took a seat on an empty black couch and stared out the floor-to-ceiling window. Birds flew above the trees as their branches swayed in the breeze. She wished she could appreciate it properly, but the implications of her findings weighed too heavily on her mind.

All her results and research were kept secret. Tony was need-to-know, but he didn’t know everything. He expressed concern of Secretary Ross finding out and taking over the project, privatizing it and putting a patent on whatever he found of value and throwing away what he didn’t. Luna bit at her thumbnail. He would take Loki away and, with her data, make his own troop of genetically-edited soldiers with increased stamina and lifespan, decreased healing time, and the potential of regenerating missing tissue.

Luna’s heart beat into her throat.

It was Extremis all over again.

Tony would fire her first and erase everything before any of it saw the light of day. He would toss Loki into the RAFT and throw away the key. Luna nervously tapped her feet on the floor. It was so easy to go back to the lab, pull up her folder, and scrub it clean of Project RePri. Put all physical pieces in the biohazard bag and forget about it. Go back to passing the time away, playing around with Steve and Wanda's genomes and waiting for something more exciting to show itself.

But she already did the waiting. And something more exciting did show up.

Luna sighed. Loki was her new exciting something. Tossing her work would feel like she was throwing away a piece of him. Her inspiration. Her muse. A part of them. The thought preemptively hurt her heart, for he was near and dear to it. She’d grown more attached than she planned. She took a deep breath. No use getting worked up over nothing. If her work became an issue, she would deal with it then. Not now. Now, she made another choice. Rising to her feet, she rolled her tense shoulders and walked to the greenhouse.

Loki’s rose was coming along nicely. The shoot was taller, greener, and a bit thicker at the bottom. Three leaves had sprouted from the base up, and it looked like a fourth one was on the way. She gingerly stroked the smooth surface of each leaf and drizzled a few drops of water into the soil.

Soft whispers of doubt crept into her brain, telling her she was overstepping and her gift would be rejected. Luna shook away the intrusive thoughts. Loki needed it. He deserved it, and she was going to be the one to give it to him, no matter what they meant to each other.

As she was deep in thought on her way back to the lab, Tony messaged her.

‘Hey Lu, you hungry?’

She smiled.

‘Possibly :P’

‘Well, turn that possibly into a definitely because we’re having lunch in my office’

‘Now?’

‘The sooner the better, moon girl’

Luna went to her lab, grabbed her lunch bag, and trekked up the stairs. He rarely offered lunch one-on-one. Either he was lonely, pressed for time about work and needs feedback, at a dead-end on a project, or a combination of them.

Letting herself in, Luna spied her suave boss on the couch being kept company by three take-out containers and a paper bag.

“Ah, there she is,” he greeted and patted the space beside him.

Luna smiled. “Yes. Here I am, to keep my favorite boss company.” She sat next to him and unpacked her bag.

“‘Favorite boss?’” Tony opened up the first container of stir-fry noodles. “Thought I was your only one.”

“Oh, you are. But not if you count the other boss of me, which is me,” Luna faux-boasted.

“Ooh, I love that.”

“I thought you would.”

She got up, toting her filled Tupperware and empty tumbler with her to the kitchenette. As the plastic bowl spun in the microwave, she poured out some of Tony’s iced tea. On her return to the sofa, Tony caught a whiff of her now-steaming hot meal. He couldn’t help leaning over and taking a deep breath.

"Oh, wow, where'd you get that?" he inquired. Luna smiled, taking pride in her homemade potato curry and rice.

She held the container closer to him. “I made it. Ground the masala myself.”

“And Loki gets to have stuff like this every day? No wonder he hasn’t caused any trouble yet.” Luna laughed.

“What can I say? It’s like magic.” She turned it about a few times and took her first forkful. Tony copied her, not wanting his take-out to get cold.

“Speaking of which,” he said between bites, “how is everything at home with your little boyfriend?”

Luna huffed. “He’s not my boyfriend, and he is definitely not little. And before you say anything at all, no; I am not referring to his cock, not that I’ve ever seen it or ever will see it.”

Tony choked a little, visibly taken aback by her words. He pat his chest harshly and coughed.

“Beat me to the punch.” He snickered, voice scratchy. “You know me so well.”

“Great minds think alike.” Luna smiled, passing him his water. “I’ve probably said that before.” Tony took a sip.

“Probably, but who’s counting?” He drank a bit more and let his breathing return to normal. “But, being serious, how are you guys? He hasn’t tried anything, has he?”

Luna hummed, shaking her head. “Oh no, he’s been great. A bit aggravating lately, but overall good as always.”

“Aggravating? What he do?”

“We had a little,” she tilted a hand side-to-side as she carefully chose her words, “misunderstanding, and now he’s avoiding me.”

“Avoiding you? You?” Tony looked at her pointedly. “In your own home?”

“Yeah. Ridiculous, right?”

“How’s that even possible? Don’t you guys sleep in the same bed?” He giggled, earning a half-hearted swat on his shoulder.

“Hey!” Luna felt her cheeks and ears get hot. He couldn’t know about the midnight visit from Peter and the subsequent events. “You know I only have a tiny twin bed.”

Tony nodded, unaware of her anxious nature. “I do know. That’s why it’s funny.”

Luna cleared her throat and took another bite of her meal. "He sleeps on the couch, and it's great. But yeah, he's talking to me at the minimum."

Tony patted her on the back. “That’s gotta suck. Sorry about that.”

“Thanks.” He meant it, and she knew so. “I don’t know. It’s just, ugh, he’s just so frustrating right now.”

“Ok.” Tony took a sip of his water. “Not to invalidate your mixed emotions about your boy toy, because truly, I care about them a lot, but that just gave me the best segue into what I wanted to ask you.”

“Go on,” Luna said monotone.

“Yoga. You and me. This weekend. It’ll be good for you, good for me, and very good for Pepper.”

Her brows raise. “Pepper’s joining us?”

“No.” Tony waved a dismissive hand. “She just really wants me to finally get with the program and do it. So, what do you say?”

“Uh, yeah," Luna said matter-of-factly. “Of course we can do it.”

Tony clapped his hands. “Yay! You’re amazing.”

“Nah. I’m just reasonably skilled in more than one thing that you can take advantage of.”

“True.” They took a few more bites of their meals and thought of something else to mention. Tony was the first to interject the silence. “Mm, and another thing. Could you make sure Loki comes by again?”

“Mhm,” Luna hummed and nodded. “I was going to bring him by anyway, but what do you need him for?”

“After our thing, I'm going to be testing the suits, and I need his help."

She slowly turned her head to him. “You mean you’ll be testing the suits and you need him for target practice.”

“Eh.” Tony shrugged. “To-may-to, to-mah-to. Don’t worry. I’ll compensate him.”

“Not exactly what I’m worried about. Why don’t you use mannequins like normal people?”

“Because A, what I’m doing is not normal, and B, he’s way tougher than those things, and C, he can give me input in real-time without the use of mechanics.”

“Makes sense, but don’t break him. I need him around.”

“What could he possibly be doing for you that you need him around that bad?”

“Well, uh, nothing.” Luna scratched the top of her head. “Just … nothing. He’s nice company, I guess.” She looked between her knees and the coffee table.

“Ok, look. I know I tease, but don’t actually go falling in love with him.” Luna gasped, her head snapping up.

“Tony, I don’t fall in love with anyone,” she explained, feeling a tad offended. “I just get lonely, and he's company. You know, kind of like a cat."

Tony didn’t relent. “I’m serious, Lu.”

“I am, too!”

“He’s dangerous. Don’t think for a second he’s on our side until we know for sure.”

“Okay!” Luna exclaimed. “Tony, I’m careful. And besides, didn’t you just say that my cooking is so good, you get why he doesn’t cause trouble? Hm? Just by the smell of it?” She leaned her head towards Tony and allowed a little smile to grow. She knew she was right, and so was he, but she needed to come out on top.

“You can handle yourself. You’ve made that very clear.” He paused, letting her take the win. “I just worry.”

“I know you do and I completely understand.” Luna put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and gave him a soft pat. “If you weren’t my boss, I’d call you Dad.” He laughed aloud.

“Ha! That’ll be the day.”

“You bet, Big Papa,” she bounced back, riding the positive energy away from the subject of Loki and her feelings for him. “You gonna have fruit pops with me at midnight when I can't sleep, and you're up late working?"

“Absolutely,” he jibed. He entertained the fantasy of doing so with his own child, though without the factor of working late at night. Only a twinkle in his eye and a song in his heart and he would already do anything for them. Luna’s shuffling dragged him out of his daydream and back to her. “Wow, you done already?” She was packing up her now-empty lunch containers and bussing them to the sink for a rinse.

“Mhm. It’s satisfying and full of nutrition, so I don’t need a lot,” she called back. Tony followed her so they wouldn’t have to speak louder than they wanted.

“Alright,” she dried off most of the water from the plastic and placed them neatly in her bag, “I have a direction I need to decide on with my special project – if you know what I mean – so I’m gonna go to the lab and stare at the wall until I get an idea.”

Tony snapped his fingers. “Great idea. I shall do the same.”

“And by ‘do the same,’ you mean work on the suits?” Luna looked over her shoulder as she walked away from him.

“Exactly.” He pointed at her. “And I will see you later!”

“You sure will!” Luna opened the door and disappeared down the hall.

In the safety of the back stairwell, she stopped and braced herself against the wall. It was a close call, but she made it through the conversation. She huffed. Her head was topsy-turvy, and she had to get it back on track.

Lying to Tony was exhausting, and it grated at her soul, but she had to do it. If he caught wind of what Luna and Loki were doing for fun, he'd doubt her sanity. Loki was dangerous – it was a known fact – but he was her friend. The first real friend she'd had in a long time. Tony was a worrier – it came with the anxiety – and she couldn't worry him any more than she already had, though she did admit he had the tendency to reach for impossible ideas on occasion.

Anticipating another alien attack? Without question. Being wary of newcomers? Made sense. But claiming she was falling in love with Loki? Or there was a risk of her slipping up? It was outlandish. She cared deeply for him, but her feelings were far from love.

Standing firm on her feet, Luna shook her head and arms out, releasing any remaining tension from her muscles, and descended to the floor of her lab. She packed her things away, pulled on her lab coat and a pair of gloves, and plopped down at her bench.

“Hey, FRIDAY,” she greeted, leaning over and admiring the fish, “How’s our little specimen doing?”

“Life signs are all healthy and stable.”

“Good, good.” Luna got out her notebook and pen. “Uh, water temperature?”

“About 65°F.”

“Ok. Great.” She jotted it down. Clicking the pen a few times, she sighed. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what else to do here.” She dropped the pen onto the table and closed her book.

“Something will come.”

Luna laughed humorlessly. “Easy for you to say. You’re sentient software. You can get whatever you want just by thinking it.”

“Not everything.”

“How so?” she grumbled.

“Well, I have no body to speak of.”

"Heh," Luna smirked. “A body ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Take it from someone who has one.”

“I don’t think so. It is capable of much more than I can possibly adapt to over the net.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Luna groaned quietly and leaned back in her chair.

She could call it quits now, turn in her results, and get fired and blacklisted for keeping sensitive material secret from her authority figures. Thinking about it set a sick fire alight in her stomach. It was all too precious; her progress, her results, and Loki. She couldn’t place everything into someone else’s apathetic hands and risk them sticking it into another unsuspecting organism without a lick of compassion for it. Luna had the power and autonomy. She had to keep going.

“Autonomy,” she whispered, her brain knitting together a complete thought. The words in her mind completed their formation, and she snapped her head up, inhaling sharply. She shot up from her seat and turned on the virtual table. “FRIDAY, could you pull up my genome?”

“Certainly.” The AI did as she asked and displayed her personal file.

“Thank you.” Luna hovered her hands over the projection and concentrated on rotating it. “Ok, now see if there’s a point the RePri gene sequence can be spliced in, like with the other model organisms.” She took a step back and watched FRIDAY do the work.

“The genome will have the highest percentage of stability success if the sequence is placed here.” A point on Luna’s DNA sequence highlighted orange.

“Great.” Luna grabbed her notebook. “And what’s the number?”

"Rounding up, it comes to 99.998%."

She quickly wrote down the number and put both fists on her hips, vigorously nodded her head.

“Good, good. This is good.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “Extremely illegal, but good.”

Chapter Text

It was a chilly day in New York. Luna knew so when she woke up that morning. She left her apartment prepared, all bundled up in her coat and scarf. In one hand, she toted her regular work bag filled with her usual essentials. In the other, she held her gym duffle.

Loki brought an extra tote along as well, but not for the gym. He needed a covert way to transport the vinyl record back to the apartment while keeping Luna none-the-wiser. He also had no exercise clothing and did not count on being included in such activities. He was content with reading the book he brought, browsing the apps on his phone, or taking a walk somewhere private; anything to keep his idle hands to himself.

At the compound, Luna guided him to the lounge and set her duffle by the armchair.

“Ok,” she said, shaking her coat off and draping it on the back of the chair. “I’m going to go do some work until Tony calls me for our exercise session. You know where everything is, and Peter should be coming by today."

"Oh, he is," Loki interjected as he took his place on the sofa. "He messaged me earlier."

“Wow, look at you two," Luna smirked jokingly. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d be jealous.”

Loki chuckled quietly and looked at the ground. No playful banter on his end. Luna was reaching her limit of passiveness with him, but she was in no mood to start anything now. She wanted to get a good bit of work done. She shed her scarf and jacket and left for the lab without giving or receiving a ‘goodbye.’

“Ok, FRIDAY.” Luna shut and locked the door. “We will be operating under, as they say, ‘deep shadow conditions.’ Keep everything on my private server and under my personal code. If anyone other than me tries to look, lock them out.”

“Even Mr. Stark?”

Luna sighed. “Even Mr. Stark.” She didn’t like keeping more things from him, but she was curious as any scientist would be. If anyone should be doing human-alien gene research, especially involving Loki, it should only be her.

A pinprick of fresh blood in the MicroFluid machine and she was ready to begin. She was focused, but her mind strayed as she ran one virtual trial after another. She thought of officially using the cells and DNA from mice instead, but her own were working well. Mice were expensive and laborious to keep in a lab and to care for. Currently, it was her goal to get to human testing before the risk of anyone else taking it over presented itself. She walked further into danger, but she knew the risks the moment she decided to bring Loki home with her that first day. Any rules she got she bent them as far as she could, and she made up the rest. She’d keep her work – and Loki – safe and sound until it was impossible.

“Ok,” Luna groaned out as she rubbed her eyes. “Can we do an RNA template? Or is that too soon? Probably too soon. Let’s do more trial simulations. See how those go.” She gave FRIDAY no chance to respond. Her cells were on the line and, in turn, her life in its most raw form. Caution was imperative.

“Miss, Mr. Stark is calling you,” FRIDAY alerted her.

Luna forced herself back into the moment. “Hm? Oh, yeah. Uh, patch him through.”

“Hey there, Lu.” Tony’s voice flowed through the PA system in place of FRIDAY.

“Hey, boss. What can I do you for?”

“I need your guy.”

Luna sighed, frustrated. “He’s not my guy.”

"Just because you know exactly who I'm talking about, that makes him your guy." Luna groaned purposefully loud, and Tony laughed. “No, but seriously, I’m going to need him soon. Do you want to do stretches before or after?”

“Uh, before. And, depending on what you two do, after as well.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine, but he’ll probably need an ice pack.”

Luna laughed mockingly. “Haha, funny. Just give me some time to wrap up what I’m doing and change. I’ll meet you in the gym.”

“Ooh, goody! See you in a bit.” He clicked off. Now Luna had to hurry.

The simulation she had going was finished, so she closed and locked everything away. She secured the lab door behind her as she stepped out into the hallway and walked to the lounge. There, she greeted Loki with a smile.

“Hey,” she said as she grabbed her gym bag. “So, uh, I agreed to help Tony do some yoga before you got to work with him because he hasn’t done it in a while-”

“Wait, yoga?” her puzzled friend interjected.

“Yeah. Yoga. It’s, like, stretching and whatever. Did you guys not have anything like that on Asgard?”

He shook his head. “No. No, we never did any of that.”

"Well, then, you have to join us!" Luna was enthusiastic, temporary forgetting their imaginary spat. "You haven't been too active in the apartment, so this should get all your blood and muscles moving like their supposed to." She turned to the doorway, but Loki was slow to follow.

“I, uh, I haven’t any proper clothes.” He gestured to his outfit made up of his usual denim jacket, long-sleeved shirt, black jeans, and boots. Highly inappropriate for physical activity. Luna looked him up and down, thinking of a solution to his problem.

“Never you fear.” She had an idea. “I think I know where to get some that are just your size.” She put her bag down and started out the door again. “Now, we got to be quiet, so just keep your head down and follow me.” Loki was skeptical about being alone with her, but he trusted her instincts.

“Oh, hey, guys!” Peter greeted from down the hall.

“Hey, Peter!” Luna waved to him.

“Where, uh, where you going?”

"Tony asked me to do yoga with him, and I invited Loki along, so I'm getting him a proper outfit." She gasped. "You should come join us! I know they don’t do yoga in Midtown Tech gym class.”

Peter laughed. “Yeah, they don’t. Uh, sure, I’ll come.” He nodded. “I’ll just meet you guys in the gym, I guess.”

“Sure. We’ll see you.” Luna ascended the staircase, but Loki neglected to tag along. He strayed further from the bottom stair, moving to stand close to Peter.

“Do you have it?” he whispered.

“Yeah, right here,” Peter whispered back, patting his backpack. “Does she know?”

“No, and I’d like to keep it that way.” Loki ushered Peter closer to the lounge. “Put it in the flat bag on the sofa as carefully as you can.” He slipped him a few bills, pre-counted to the right amount.

“Thanks, man.” Peter pocketed the money. “I do hope she likes it.”

“Oh, she will.” Loki turned back to the stairs and climbed them quickly after his dear friend.

To where she led him, he didn't know. Luna took him higher than he'd been at the compound, or so he thought. Going through the top doors, he recognized part of the living area. He'd been there once before. Around Halloween, they watched a movie together in the personal theater. He smiled at the memory. Good times.

“Ok,” Luna turned a corner to an unfamiliar hall, “I’m going to take you to Steve’s room.”

“Steve?” Loki echoed.

"Mhm. You two are roughly the same height, and he left most of his things here. He's a tad more built than you, so all of his clothes should fit you fine.” They stopped at a closed door. Luna scanned her keycard to unlock it and turned the doorknob.

The bed came into view first, made neat as a pin. Save for a few items, it was as if Steve never left. The desk in the corner was as it was the day he got on a plane for Ms. Carter’s funeral. A drawing of himself sat in a frame behind a stack of loose sketches and an open drawing book. Loki snuck a peak. He didn't recognize the individual in question, but it didn't matter. He wasn't here to inspect.

“The closet is over here.” Luna opened up the doors to a walk-in room. “He lucked out with a big one. Anywho, you can try on whatever you think works. I’ll be right here for you, ok?” She smiled so sweetly, Loki felt his teeth start to disintegrate. He nodded – keeping his hands close to his body – and proceeded to racks of clothes.

Luna shut the door behind him and wandered to the desk. Her fingers traced the edges of the framed portrait she did for him before the incident. It was all such a mess. She never could wrap her head around it. She missed him. She missed them all.

Her gaze fell to Steve’s half-finished drawing. In her limited knowledge, she recognized it to be of his best friend, Bucky. She felt sorry for him too. He got mixed up in a mess he should never have been involved in. The rumor was he got the help and shelter he needed. Luna hoped it was true. He deserved a life free of pain and deception.

Gently, she turned the pages back and skimmed through the rest of Steve’s works. A few studies of hands and hair, a drawing of Natasha, another of Wanda, one of Bruce, a few of Tony and Thor, and a couple of herself. Luna smiled, flattered he thought of her outside of the gym or the lab. He had a good memory of her features as well, capturing the fluff and curls of her hair with ease.

“I found one!” Loki called from the behind the door.

“Come show me!” Luna called back and heard it click open. Her eyes lifted from the paper and were greeted with an unexpected sight: Loki, standing with both fists on his hips, dressed in Steve’s old Captain America outfit. She gasped and covered her mouth, eyes wide.

“You want to have a rousing discussion on truth? Honor? Patriotism?” Loki imitated Steve. Luna clutching her stomach as she howled with laughter.

“Oh my god, you look amazing!” she cackled, making Loki break character and giggle along. Luna clapped her hands. “Do another one! Do another one!”

He took two steps closer, cleared his throat, and looked at her with purpose. “I can do this all day.” Luna was on the floor.

“He sounds just like that!” she couldn’t help scream through her laughs. She clutched the edge of the desk and gasped loudly. “Peter has to see this. FRIDAY!”

“Yes, miss?” The voice came over the PA.

Luna coughed and took a deep breath. “Send Peter up here now.”

“Of course.” The system clicked off.

“Oh, he’s going to go insane.” Now it was Luna’s turn to look at Loki with purpose. “Ok. When he comes in, I want you to say something very specific.”

--------------------

Luna sat patiently on Steve’s bed for the youngest of the superfriends to appear in the doorway. Not long after her request, she got her wish.

“Hey, what’s up?” Peter greeted as he let himself in. She sent him a smile and settled her line of sight over his shoulder. He turned his ear to the soft thump of the chair behind him, and his eyes followed.

“So, you got detention,” Loki spoke, impersonating Steve near-perfectly.

"Oh, no!" Peter yelled and backed away, inching up the far wall. Luna resumed her laughter, finding ecstatic amusement in Peter’s shocked expression.

Loki kept up with his performance. “You screwed up. You know what you did was wrong.”

Peter pointed at him. “This is wrong! This is so wrong!”

“You’re just don’t want to admit how hilarious it is!” Luna managed to say clearly enough.

“I had to watch so many of those videos! It was literally the worst!”

“Exactly! You should see your face!” She clapped her hands and rounded out the moment with a few more cheerful snickers. They settled out and left her with a wide smile. She rubbed and rotated her jaw. It had been a while since she’d laughed so hard. She forgot how it hurt after.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said, jumping down from his spot on the wall and took a few choice steps toward Loki. “You weren’t responsible for those, were you?”

Loki entirely broke character and tucked his hands behind his back. “I cannot confirm nor deny that I even know what you’re talking about.”

Peter narrowed his eyes and looked warily at him. “Uh-huh.”

Loki shifted on his feet. “That being said, I suppose I should get out of this ridiculous outfit and into something more suitable.”

“Yes! Yes, you should.” Luna got up and ushered Peter out of the room. “See you in a bit, Peter. Ok?”

“Ok, see you guys.” His brunette head disappeared around the corner. Luna closed the door, leaving her and Loki alone.

“You should go too.” Loki looked down and rubbed his hand. “I imagine you have your own clothes to change into.”

“I do, but I can wait for you so we can walk down together.” Luna took a step towards him, but he took a step back. Another step forward, an accompanying step back. She clenched her jaw and dropped her shoulders. “Loki, you’re being ridiculous.”

“Oh, am I?” he said cuttingly.

“Yes!" Luna's voice raised in pitch. “Now cut it out!”

“I overstepped, and you were forced to shove me off, so no, I'm being completely within reason. That was my fault.” Loki turned away and took a few steps closer to the closet to change. Luna lunged forward and took his sleeve.

“Hey!” He pulled out of her grasp. “No! Don’t you walk away from me. Now, you look at me!” She tugged his shoulder toward her – turning his body back to face her – and held his head, a cheek in each hand. The bold gesture shocked Loki into silence, her fiery gaze further trapping him. “I am not afraid of you or scared of you,” Luna spoke quieter. “You did nothing wrong. The problem lies with me, not you. Ok? You have to trust me on that.” The shift in his eyes let her know her words had stuck. She hoped they would stay with him and remind him when he forgot.

But Loki was a bit at a loss. “And what problem is that? What could be so bad?” Luna’s breath hitched, her neck muscles tensing.

“That’s all you’re going to get. Just believe me, ok? So you can stop with the whole distance thing? Please?” She sharpened the last word with the hope that pleading would convince him. She missed her friend.

He lay a gloved hand over one of hers still on his face. “Alright,” he said softly.

Luna smiled and whispered a, “Thank you." Loki opened his mouth again, ready to say something else, but decided against it. The moment was good as is. Luna dropped her hands and stepped back. "Now, go get changed into something that's not," she gestured to Loki's entire self, "this."

--------------------

Loki did find a suitable change of clothes – a long-sleeved grey Under Armor shirt and black joggers – and joined Luna in the journey to the gym. He found himself drifting closer to her side. He was a fool to derive himself of her company, and he wanted to make up for it in full.

“So, Stark asked you to do this for him?” he idly inquired.

“Mhm.” Luna nodded. “Kinda confusing, but I get it. Kind of.”

“What’s confusing?”

“I mean, he could hire an actual trained instructor. Like, he can afford the best in the entire world. And yet he asks me.”

“It’s clear he trusts you more over some stranger.”

“Yeah, but a stranger could do more for him than I could.”

"Perhaps, but maybe he already knows what's best for him, and it's you."

She smiled a dazzling, toothy smile. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re one hell of a wordsmith?”

Loki beamed. “Me? Never in my life,” he said in a playful, sarcastic tone. The two shared a brief laugh and took a detour to the lounge to retrieve Luna’s gym bag.

Tony and Peter had beat them to the punch, already donning their designated clothes and laying out their mats. Two extra sat out for their tardy companions.

“Hey, Lu!” Tony called out as she entered the room.

"Tony! Hey, Peter! Sorry, we're late." Luna stepped to him and gave him a brief hug. “I’m going to get changed real quick, so Loki,” she looked up to him, “you can take off your shoes and take your place on the mat right there.” She pointed to the empty one between Tony and Peter. “I’ll be back out shortly, and then we can all start.” She gave his arm a pat and made her way to the locker room.

Loki slipped his shoes and socks off and stepped onto the mat. It was an odd texture. Nothing he was used to, but he could try for the sake of the moment. He fidgeted and adjusted his feet and sat down. It wasn't bad. Much more comfortable than a bare floor. He stretched his long legs out, and his heels almost went over the edge.

“You two took your time. What were you up to?” Tony asked, side-eyeing Loki.

“She was helping me pick an appropriate outfit.”

“And where’d you go?” Tony pointed to the dark-grey hawk emblem on the shoulder of Loki’s shirt. “This is S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued.” He looked down and back up to meet Tony’s piercing gaze.

“So it is.”

“You go to Cap’s room?”

“Maybe.”

“Alone? With her?”

“I’m alone with her every single day.”

Tony leaned over and spoke softly. “Loki, I swear, if you lay a hand on her-”

“Against her will?” Loki was scandalized. “Why, I would never.”

Tony put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Hard. “She may be blinded, but I’m not. I know what you are.”

“And what, pray tell, is that?”

“You’re a liar,” Tony hissed. “The most dangerous kind. The kind who’ll use someone like her to get what they want, and when you’re through with her, you’ll leave her broken and alone to pick up the pieces of herself. Well, not on my watch. She’s had enough of liars.” He withdrew his hand and straightened his posture, but Loki wasn’t done.

“Who?” he asked, voice low.

“What?” Tony was exasperated with him, but Loki couldn’t care less. He put his hand on Tony’s shoulder and forced him to face him.

“Who lied?”

Tony opened his mouth, but Loki got no answer. Luna walked back into the room, dressed in grey leggings and a form-fitting t-shirt; entirely unaware to the tense air between the two.

“Oh good, you three didn’t eat each other alive. That would have been such a bummer for me. Anyway, let’s get this thing started.” She slipped off her shoes and sat on her mat in front of them, feet tucked beneath her. “FRIDAY, how about a little music? Something serene?”

The soft sounds of smooth flute music flowed through the air. Luna took a deep breath and smiled. The atmosphere was ideal.

“Oh, wait. Here,” Tony interjected. “I got a few things for you if you like.” He passed her a small plastic bag. She opened it and pulled out a lighter, two boxes of incense sticks, and a wooden holder.

“Tony,” she started, opening a box and taking out a stick. “You really know how to set a scene.”

“I sure do. Just ask Pepper.” His telltale smirk and eyebrow quirk made her snicker.

“I absolutely will not, so I’ll just have to take your word for it.” She lit the stick, blew it out, and secured it in the holder. The scent caught her nose, and she read the box it came from a little closer. “Agarbatti.” Luna’s eyes tilted up to meet Tony’s. “How did you know?”

“I remembered a few things from my vacation in India.”

“Well, this is very nice. Thank you.” Luna slid the incense away from her mat and sat back, cross-legged. “Ok, we’ll begin with some breathing exercises to clear the mind, slow the heart, and get more oxygen into the body. Take a deep breath through the nose and exhale out the mouth.” She demonstrated first, and the others followed suit. “We’ll do five counts of those. Take your time. We’re all here to feel better.”

--------------------

By the end, Loki felt heavy. He had contorted his body in ways he would never have thought of before, but he felt more relaxed than he had in a long while. Longer than he could remember. Luna had them all lay on their backs. He looked left to Tony and right to Peter. They appeared as relaxed as he felt, though Peter may have fallen asleep.

“Alright,” Luna spoke softly, “to end this session, I’m going to come around to each of you and touch your head.” Loki furrowed his brow. “Some of you already know what this is about, but you can always decline.” She crouched by Tony’s side. “Tony? You want to go first?”

He opened his eyes and looked up to her. “You really have to ask?”

She smirked. “I’m going to take that as a ‘yes’ and proceed.” Luna slid her hand around the back of Tony’s head and lay her other on his forehead. He didn’t protest. “Now, I know you know what this is all about, but I don’t think I’ve ever done this while you were laying down, so bear with me.” She gradually applied pressure. "You may feel like you’re sinking into the ground, but trust me that you’re not. I’m right here with you.”

Luna squeezed the rest of the way and held him, tight and firm. She felt the pulse at the base of his skull as she watched the clock and counted five minutes. Some moments, she wondered if she was hurting him, but his expression – free of any pained grimace – gave her the answer she needed.

By the end, his face had become eerily still, and his eyes were still closed. Luna released his head slowly and carefully, in case he had fallen asleep like Peter appeared to have. But they fluttered open, and he flashed her a brief smile. She returned it as he let his eyelids close again.

Next, Luna tiptoed to Peter’s side and crouched by his head. He sensed her presence and opened his eyes, blinking a few times and rubbing them.

“Oh, sorry. Is it over now? Did I miss anything?” He slowly pushed himself up, but Luna set a hand on his shoulder and let him lay back down.

“No, you didn’t miss anything. It’s good you fell asleep. Means I did my job well. I was going to ask you if I could do that head touch I did before. You know-” she bent down lower and whispered, “-the night you stayed over.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. Sure. Go ahead.” Peter rolled his shoulders, getting comfortable again. “That was nice.”

“Glad you liked it. Now, as I said to Tony, this will feel different laying down than sitting up. You may feel like you’re falling-” Luna slid a hand behind his head and placed the other on his forehead, “-so just trust me.” Peter hummed in affirmation as she applied more pressure. She held him for the full allotted time, but he fell back asleep within the first minute. The poor boy worked so hard, whether it be in school or being a superhero. He deserved a little time to do nothing.

Lastly, Luna made her way to Loki’s side. Unlike his compatriots, he was fully awake and patiently awaiting his turn. Keeping eye contact, she hunkered down next to him.

“Hi,” she whispered.

“Hi,” he replied.

“I have a sneaking suspicion that I don’t have to explain to you what I plan on doing, but I still want to ask-”

“Yes,” he interrupted. “Proceed as you planned.”

Luna accepted his eager consent. “Ok.”

Loki lifted his head enough to make space for her hand to sit beneath it, but maneuvering it into place was tricky. Unlike Tony and Peter, his long hair could make it uncomfortable for him. Luna went with another approach and threaded her fingers through the soft strands. Her palm cradled the base of his skull desirably so.

“Now,” she whispered above him, “this is all quite new for you, so I don’t know if you’ll like it or not.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will.”

She smirked. “Still, stop me if you don’t. Now, close your eyes and just … relax. Feel my hands and know that it’s me.”

Loki did as she asked. He found it quite enjoyable, so protesting was the furthest thing from his conscious mind. The warmth emitting from her hands was distinct. Perhaps he was biased, but he couldn’t think of a sensation similar to it. Her grip tightened around him like an elastic band. He felt no initial change, but steadily, his limbs grew limp as though he was drifting off to sleep.

It took an immense amount of strength and concentration to lift one of his fingers, but he didn’t bother to try. His head was pleasantly blank. He forgot about Tony and Peter, though they still lay feet away from him. He heard and saw nothing. The scent of the incense tickling his nose, and the feel of Luna's hands were the only things anchoring him to reality. It was a smell he was unacquainted with – the incense – but it was still so uniquely part of her; his beautiful friend named after the moon. So appropriate.

Though the passage of time was lost to Loki, it was pointedly known to Luna. His five minutes were up, and she let him go. A ghost of a frown passed over his face as his eyes opened. It was too short a time. He made a mental note to ask her to do it again in the comfort and privacy of the apartment.

“Magic,” he mumbled. She smiled and huffed humorously.

Luna lifted her hands and gave her fingers a wave. “Nope. Just good, old-fashioned pressure applied to specific nerves.” She brought her hands down and brushed Loki’s hair from his face. “I can show you a diagram later if you like, but never mind that for now. I need to finish this.” She stood, strode back to her mat, and called for everyone to sit back up.

Loki followed instructions as Luna closed the session, but his thoughts stayed far away. Mainly on how she touched him. She'd felt other parts of him many times before in public: hands, arms, shoulders, and hair. Unless they were dancing, they seldom engaged in physical contact in private.

But, no matter the setting, she’d never full-on taken his face in both hands and held him. Maybe it was her purpose to shock him to listen to her, but it was also a desperate tactic. She was smart. She didn’t need to do it, but perhaps she was desperate.

For what?

For him?

He selfishly hoped so.

The quartet put their mats back where they came from, changed to their regular clothes, and went their separate ways; Tony and Loki to the hardware lab, Peter to the lounge, and Luna to her lab.

Trailing two steps behind Tony, Loki rubbed his hands and wished he could have been a bit bolder. He had his chance and let it slip by. Luna was right within his reach. He could have caressed the smooth curve of her cheek as she did his and returned the favor. But never mind it for now. He was still going home with her. He’d have other opportunities.

Chapter Text

 

 

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Sitting on the opposite side of the counter, Loki waited patiently for his hot chocolate. He hovered, as per usual, but without making the effort of sneaking around. Luna knew he would be there. He didn’t mind.

“It’s slated to rain soon,” Luna said, her back still facing him. “Thunder and lightning, too. The streets might freeze overnight.” Loki hummed in acknowledgment. “Do we have everything we need?”

“Last I checked,” he mumbled through his folded hands.

"Good." Luna turned around, holding a mug in each hand. Loki took the one she handed him, and he raised it in salutations. She copied him and took a sip. She grimaced. Way too hot. As she rounded the counter to sit next to Loki, a flash of light outside the closed window blinds caught her eye. “There she blows,” she mumbled.

Not ten seconds later, a rumble of thunder touched down. Loki’s ears perked and his head whipped around on reflex. He caught himself, but it was too late. Luna knew what was ailing him without him saying anything.

She lay a sympathetic hand on the back of his shoulder. “How about some music, hm? I have just the thing.” Abandoning her still-steaming hot chocolate, she got up and sifted through her CD collection. She found the one her heart desired and popped it into the disc drawer. She skipped a track and pressed play, gracing the air with a soothing guitar melody. “You recognize this one?” Luna asked.

Loki shook his head. “Don’t think so.”

“It’s called ‘The Rain Song.’” On cue, drops of rain pelted the window from outside. The pair smiled, finding wit in Mother Nature. “Fun fact: even though this album is called ‘Houses of the Holy,’ the namesake song is not on this album. It is, in fact, on,” Luna pulled another CD from the shelf and approached Loki, “this one; ‘Physical Graffiti.’” He took it from her and admired the cover art.

He laughed breathily. “Tricksters, were they?”

“Maybe. ‘Houses of the Holy’ is the older of the two, but still. Why name a song after an album you already released? Eh, it doesn’t matter. They both have stellar tracks.” She put down the CD cases and picked up her mug. “Come. Sit with me.”

She walked to the couch and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the window. Loki brought his hot chocolate and accompanied her, though he didn't know what was so exciting about the rain. He stole a glance and felt like asking, but the look in her eyes silenced him.

Luna was calm and content. She found favor in the storm, and Loki knew he didn’t need to understand why. He did, though, understand why she picked the song. It set the mood and atmosphere ideally well. He made a mental note to listen to it to again if he was ever caught alone in the apartment with the weather brewing outside.

Shuffling in his spot and accidentally brushing his knee against Luna's, Loki looked over his shoulder at the space under the couch where he'd hidden the vinyl record. It was the only safe place for it to sit undetected until he deemed the moment right to gift it. But he hadn’t thought far enough to know when the right moment was or what it felt like. He figured he would go with the flow, but he was getting impatient. Each second passed up was a second stolen from him seeing her eyes light up with surprise and, hopefully, gratitude. He’d go so far as to wish for her to look at him with happiness.

Sooner than he wished, the song ended, and he was nearly done with his beverage. Luna had guzzled hers down as soon as it had cooled down enough. She wasted no time in enjoying it.

“Hey, want to do something different tonight?”

“Perhaps.” Loki took the last bit of his drink. “What did you have in mind?”

“I was thinking of doing a jigsaw puzzle with a little twist.”

Loki was a bit perplexed, but he agreed. “Sure.”

--------------------

Luna cleared the coffee table and poured out the pieces on the floor beside her. She divvied up the 2000 pieces into two piles: one for her and the other for her companion. Loki took his place on the other side and admired the art on the box. When it was all finished, the image would depict over 100 different bird species. He smirked. Of course she would have something like this.

“So what’s the twist?” he asked as he set the lid down and pulled his pile of pieces closer to him.

“Well, I was thinking we do a little quid pro quo. I ask you things, you ask me things,” Luna said in an uncharacteristic tone of voice. Luckily for her, Loki understood the reference.

“So, I’ll be the Clarice to your Hannibal?” They share a brief chuckle. “Questions about what, exactly?”

Luna shrugged and tilted her head. “Just questions. My teachers and professors would call things like this ‘icebreakers,’ but I always hated those. Since we know each other, this’ll just be a fun thing to do on a night in. Unless you don’t want to, then we don’t have to.” She laid out the edge pieces in proposed intersecting lines.

“There’s no harm in it. I’ll cooperate.” Loki copied her strategy and searched through his pile.

“Great. Uh, how about I go first? I kinda already have a question in mind.” Loki turned his attention to her. “Ok. What’s your favorite animal?”

 “Ooh, tough. I would say … the rabbit.”

Luna lay down a few more pieces. “Good choice. I like them too.” Loki grinned.

“I do enjoy how they look like little thieves.”

Luna stopped her movements, a little confused as to what he meant. “How do the ones on Asgard look?”

“Same as the ones here.” Loki grabbed his phone and scrolled through the pictures. “See?”

He held the screen up for her to see. Luna looked from the image to Loki and back to the image, for what she was seeing was not the type of rabbit she had in mind. No, she was looking at a raccoon. A tastefully-posed, adorable raccoon, but a raccoon nonetheless. She believed Loki was making a fool out of her as friends usually do, but the expectant look on his face gave him away. He was absolutely serious. She let her features soften as she looked affectionately at the animal in question.

“Aw, yeah,” she cooed. “He’s cute.” Loki tossed his phone onto the couch, a satisfied smirk making an appearance on his façade.

“What’s your favorite?”

Luna held up the puzzle box cover and gestured grandly to the picture. “Behold the obvious, though I am partial to the more reptilian-appearing organisms. All in all, I favor anything descended from dinosaurs or are even remotely dinosaur-looking.”

“Snakes?”

She snapped her fingers and pointed at him scoldingly. “Ah-ah, that’s two questions in a row. But I’ll give you that one. Yes, even those guys.” Loki felt a tiny boost in his ego. Unusual, but not uncalled for.

Luna connected a few of her pieces to the ones Loki laid down. “Ever gotten a manicure?” she asks.

“A what?”

“You know, your nails done up nice.”

Loki held his hand up and admired his bare nails. “I’ve used my magic in the past to do them.”

“Well then, I must give you a manicure one of these days. I have to warn you, though, that I don’t have a large range of colors.” She turned a puzzle piece around a few times, feeling a bit nervous. Doing Loki’s nails would mean holding his hands for an extended amount of time. In private. Away from watchful crowds and behind closed doors.

“I’m sure what you have is good.” They paused for Loki to think of a question to ask. “What was your biggest obsession as a child?” Luna shot him an amused, yet puzzled, look. “What? I’m sure everyone had one. Even I had one.”

“Oh yeah? What was yours?”

“Tell yours first, then I’ll tell mine.”

"Got the hang of the game," she praised. "Uh, my biggest one, for sure, was dragons."

“Dragons? You?”

“Surprised?”

"Only a reasonable amount."

“Yup. I just loved ‘em. Thought they were the neatest thing in the world. I mean, I still do. You should have seen me when ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ came out. I almost lost my mind, I was so excited.” Loki tilted his head. “Oh, it’s a movie. I can show it to you later. I think you might really like it.”

He smiled. “Probably.”

“Ok, now you go. What were you obsessed with?”

“Oh, but it is ever so embarrassing.”

“Come on! It’s just me.” Luna places a hand over her chest. “Trust me. If I laugh, it’s because I find it amusing and sensible.”

Loki did trust her, so he told her. “It, uh, it was interesting-looking tree branches,” he looked down and fidgeted with a lock of his hair, “but that stopped as I aged.”

“No kidding! You do anything with them?”

He lay down and connected a few more pieces. “Magical items and such. Wands, imaginary broadswords, and the like.” He formed a picture of a bird.

“Any walking sticks?”

Overt recognition passed over him. “Yes, actually.”

“See?” Luna grinned and shrugged. “Not so ridiculous.” She put down a piece on the edge and another in the middle of the empty space. “Now you go because my question for you was the same as yours for me.”

“Goodness,” Loki mumbled. He thought back to a few days previous and his conversation with Tony. He was still curious, so he posed a question. “Who lied to you?”

Luna was unfazed. “What do you mean?”

“Stark told me you’ve had enough of liars.” She stopped moving her hands. “Who lied?”

“Loki, did he threaten or insult you? Because I explicitly told him not to.”

“No matter if he did or didn’t. Who told a lie so bad, he’s concerned about it? About you?”

Luna’s hands trembled a bit in her lap. She folded them and stuck them between her thighs, gritting her teeth. She took a deep inhale and dictated her practiced half-truth.

“He’s an inherent worrier. Because I’m, well, me, it’s easy for him. And yeah, I may have told him in passing about someone lying, but everyone does it. Plenty of people have lied to me and deceived me. It doesn’t have to be one person for it to be bad." Her hands ceased their shaking, and she brought them back out to shuffle through her pile of pieces. “And you are the liesmith, Loki. So he’s concerned for a reason that makes sense to him." She picked up a piece and tapped its edge against the tabletop. “But, I think I got you handled.”

“Oh, you think you can handle me now?” Loki joked. Luna smiled along with him, inwardly delighted she successfully diverted him from the topic at hand.

“I said ‘I think,’ not ‘I know.’” Loki didn't need to know the whole truth. The entire, embarrassing, shameful truth. “Ooh, I got a good one. What was one of your favorite tricks you ever played on Thor? Doesn’t matter when.”

“Uh,” Loki drawled, tapping his chin in thought. Ceasing a memory, he let out a pleased giggle. “There, um, that one time I turned him into a frog. That was very good.”

Luna gasped aloud. “You didn’t!”

“Oh, yes.” Loki nodded. “Took our mother three days to finally convince me to change him back, but those were three very entertaining days. It was grand.”

Luna struggled to hold back her laughter. "I bet it was." Her smile wouldn't die down, and she put a hand over her mouth. "Sorry. It's just really funny to think about."

“Glad you think so.”

Together, they finished the entire outer edge of the picture. Neither minded the quiet between them. It was expected and embraced. The rain pattering against the glass persisted and aided in calming them.

Though it was Loki’s turn to ask a question, he couldn’t think of a single one past the frivolous. He wasn’t in the mood for it. No, Luna awakened a feeling deep in his heart he couldn’t name. With each puzzle piece he lay down and connected to another, his brain thought logically about what he was feeling.

Nothing overt. It was quiet and ominous. Much like him, but it was older. Guilt? No, that had nothing to do with her. Suspicion? No, he was nearly past it. He couldn’t place it or understand it.

Or maybe it was what he couldn’t see that was the trick. What he didn’t understand about her. She had been right all this time. He didn’t know her as well as he believed. His snooping got him far, but with all his strength and cunning intelligence, she guarded her heart well. So well, in fact, perhaps only Heimdall could see what it contained. Loki wished to see it and what it spelled out for him.

He had his question, so he asked.

“How can you show me such kindness yet have knowledge of what I’ve done?”

Luna’s brows shot up enough for him to see. “I don’t know everything you’ve done. Only some of what you’ve done here and whatever else you’ve told me.” She lay two more pieces, hoping he would take the answer.

He didn’t. “But what you know is enough to warrant much harsher treatment. Why do you think I deserve what you give me?”

Luna laced her fingers together, lay them on the table, and made direct eye contact. “Because, Loki, what you’ve done in the past is literally not my problem, unless you make it my problem. Then we have a whole other situation on hand, but that’s another thing. It’s against my value system and moral standing to not be kind and hospitable to everyone I meet or needs help. But don’t misunderstand me.” She pointed at him. “I do not, under any circumstances, throw my pearls before swine.”

“And what about me?”

She scoffed. “What about you? Are you saying you’re a swine? Because you absolutely are not. Ok? You’re my friend, and you’re very deserving of what I give you.” Luna concluded her answer with a smile.

She’d gotten the last word. Her friend in question looked taken. He stayed staring as she resumed her work in the puzzle. He was a fighter in every sense of the word, but she was more refined and cultured in her own way. Different from him, but similar enough he could see her reasoning. He bent his head and grinned. He indeed met his match in her.

Loki withheld anything he wished to say or start saying, opting to continue his puzzle work. It was her turn to ask something, and he didn't want to distract her. She kept her eyes on her side and stayed quiet, letting the gears in her head turn and grind.

Luna could tell he was in the mood for more profound questions, as his was one of specific abstraction. It was one not easily found on a deck of question game cards, if at all. She didn’t know if she could pose one like his, so she went for something more generic, though she knew his answer would most likely be anything but.

“Have you ever been in love?” she spoke quietly.

“Me?”

Luna nodded. “Mhm.”

Loki lay a few more pieces in the gradually diminishing empty space. “Not that I recall,” he said a bit above a murmur like he was shy.

Luna shrugged. She empathized with him. “Yeah, me neither.”

His brow creased. “But you’ve courted others.”

“Like I told you before, I hardly liked them, so love was out of the question.”

“Did you ever like anyone?”

Luna measured her words carefully. “I liked Wanda for a time.” Loki knew enough for her to confess such a secret and not be chastised.

“Why not pursue her?” Screw the rules of the game.

“She already had her eyes set on Vision, and his on her. They didn’t know it at first, but I did. They weren’t very inconspicuous about it.”

“You still could have gone after her.”

“I didn’t know for sure if she liked people like me. I still don’t know. But you know, it’s for the best that she’s with him and not me.” Luna shuffled her pile of puzzle pieces. “She wouldn’t have been happy.”

“Why do you say that?”

She felt the familiar tickle of nervousness in her chest. “She just wouldn’t have been.” She waved a dismissive hand. “It was a passing crush. Everyone has one at least once in their lives.”

“Did you ever have another?”

“That remains to be seen.” Still, Luna was sly. She kept the wheels turning. “How about you? You have a crush recently?”

Loki shot her a smirk. “That remains to be seen.” It wasn’t fun if they were candid the entire time.

Though now, it was unclear whose turn it was. Luna had asked her question, and Loki had asked a few after her. They waited out some time, chiming in when a puzzle piece needed to go on a side of the table that didn't belong to them. The awkwardness crept in a little. They were supposed to be talking; conversing as friends do.

Luna took the silence to think of something. Unlike the grown people she knew now, she never got to play question or dare games as a younger person with friends. The ones she did have never cared or bothered. Their concerns lay elsewhere. She picked her brain for a question an anxious teen would ask their giggling acquaintances. Those years were long gone from her, but she could make up for one moment with a real friend.

True to her predictions, her cheeks grew warm as her heart quickened. She cleared her dry throat and took the leap.

“Ok, so,” she cleared her throat again for good measure, “first time?”

Loki looked at her and quirked a brow. “First time doing what?”

Luna clenched her teeth and repeated herself. “You know,” she tensed her shoulders up to her ears, “canoodling and such … activities.”

Loki dropped the puzzle piece in his hand and sat up straight. “That’s what you call it?” She had his full attention. “Alright. Uh, well, the first time was with a very old friend of mine who has since passed. Fandral.”

“Fandral.” Luna echoed with a lazy smile. “Nice name. What were they like?”

“He was good. Noble and strong. Part of the Warriors Three.”

“Sounds like quite the boyfriend.”

“Oh, we were never romantic.” Loki placed his piece where he intended it to go. “Just having a little fun during the curious years of our youth.”

“Bet he was handsome.”

“Ooh, devilishly so.”

“Like you, I suppose.” Luna slapped a hand over her mouth as her eyes went saucer-wide. She bent her head. Filled with shame and embarrassment, she couldn’t look at him.

Loki, however, was filled with pride and delight. “Like me? You find me handsome?” He teased with a growing smirk.

Luna picked up a puzzle piece and hunted for a place to put it. “What’s it to you if I think so?” Quick as he could, Loki reached across the table and snatched the piece from her hand. “Hey, give that back!” she exclaimed and lunged after his recoiling hand.

He held his arm as far behind him as he could. “Not until you confess.”

“Confess what?”

“That you find me attractive.”

“You already know the answer,” Luna scuttled on her knees around the table to Loki’s side, “so give it!” Without anything in the way, she reached for Loki’s fist again. He turned and shuffled backward.

“I’ll give it when you tell me what I want to hear.”

“You already know what!” Luna crawled up to him and stretched her arm as far forward as she could, pressing her entire front flat against his. “Give! Give it!” She was determined and stubborn, but so was he.

She pressed the top of his shoulder to hoist herself up, but Loki was a fast thinker and mover. He wrapped his other arm around her back and restrained her. With nothing to support him, he toppled down to his back as Luna clawed at the sleeve of his still-outstretched arm. She almost had him, but his hand gripped the notch of her waist tight and firm.

He was unmoving. “Say it and I will.” He demanded she submit. With a deep sigh, Luna’s body slumped on top of his, her head dropping beside his.

“Ok fine, yes!” Groaning in a frustrated manner, she planted her hands on the floor and pushed herself up to hover over him. “I find you very attractive. Happy now?”

“Quite.” Loki’s squinty-eyed smile made her ears burn. Luna hated herself for inflating his ego, but true to his word, he produced and presented the stolen puzzle piece.

Lowering herself and resting on a forearm, she plucked it from his long fingers, feeling a little undignified and thankful no one else had seen their childish tussle. Luna settled both hands on either side of Loki’s head, intending to get off of him, but she made the mistake of letting her eyes lock with his.

His irises were the first thing she saw. In with the earthy green were flecks of blue and light woody brown. They were beautiful. Captivating. She could admire them forever and never have enough. His gaze was intense and nonhostile, capturing her like gentle emerald fire.

He could easily overpower her, but he stayed entirely at her mercy. Before her, he was vulnerable and demure.

They maintained a closeness longer than ever before, their noses mere centimeters apart. No need for words to be exchanged. The presence of one another was all-consuming. Every lost and ignored detail exposed itself: a shadowed scar by Loki’s hairline, a fading blemish on Luna’s jawline, the uneven upturn of his brows, the bits of brown in her eyes, the tips of his front teeth peeking from behind his slightly-parted lips, the brownish-pink color of hers.

Loki’s hand still rested where he bent it to give Luna her piece back. From there, he could feel the heat radiating from the delicate skin of her cheek. Away from prying eyes, he indulged in inspecting it. To him, it looked cared for and so, so soft, like polished wood from the finest of trees. He was tempted to reach out and touch. To close the distance and humor himself the same way she did him.

So, he gave in.

It was a feather-light touch from the backs of his bent fingers and an upstroke to the side of her cheek, but it was enough. It felt like the velvet he could only dream of being privy to as a royal. Nothing like it existed during his thousand years of life, but here and now, it did. Not at a thing, but as a person. His person. His friend.

Loki’s touch sent shivers down her neck and arms, making every hair stand on end. Luna let out a shaky exhale and tilted her face away, eyes closed. A reflex, at most. He was gentle. It felt nice.

“Loki,” she breathed out, his name now written on the wind. Something he’d like to hear again in his lifetime.

“Yes?” he whispered, his eyes still lingering. He stayed perfectly still and anticipated the answer. What answer to what question, he wasn’t sure. He wanted her to say something.

She opened her eyes back, and they caught sight of a dark shape beneath the couch. Not something she recognized or remembered being there a week ago.

“What is that?” It captured her full attention.

Loki’s hand fell to the floor as he drew his brows together. “What is what?”

“That. Under the couch.” Luna got up and off of Loki and reached under the furniture. Carefully, she pulled out the shrink-wrapped record Loki worked so hard at keeping a secret. “Now, I really don’t remember getting this.” She sat with her feet tucked under her and turned it over one, two, three times.

Loki smoothed his hair nervously and rubbed his left hand. “Oh, that’s because, uh, that’s because it’s, uh,” he stumbled over his words, “it’s from … um, it’s from me.” She looked at him, intrigued.

“From you? To whom?”

“To you.” Luna looked staggered. “It’s a very late Christmas gift, and I wanted to find a good moment to give it to you, but now is as good as any.”

She was silent for a spell as she admired her new thing. “You got me a vinyl?” she said softly, the smile Loki wished to see on her started to show itself.

“Surprise.”

“How did you …”

“I did have some help from a certain little spider, but he can have thanks later,” he boasted a little. He watched as she tore through the plastic and slid out the inner folder. It took her a few looks to analyze the specificities of it.

“But, I already have this album on CD,” Luna questioned him.

Loki nodded. “I know. I just … it felt right.” He stood and held his hands out to take the record from her. She passed it to him, keeping her fingers on the edges, and he set it into the player.

She approached him slowly as he turned on the amp and speakers. “What are you on about?” He set the needle a bit past the middle and closed the lid. The familiar introductory notes to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ graced Luna’s ears. “Our first dance? Never took you for the sentimental type.” Her smile was full, and her eyes bright. It was everything Loki could have asked for.

“Never have been.” He held a hand out to her. “Will you?”

“Of course,” she slipped her hand into his and met his embrace. “But what about the puzzle?”

He swayed her back and forth. “It’ll still be there. We have time.” And he intended to take as much as the gods allowed him to.

 

Chapter Text

It was the tenth simulation of the day and the tenth positive result. Luna's fingers were sore from all the pricking and poking, but it was worth it. She'd tweaked and corrected the guide RNA sequence to perfection, or something close enough to it. As she reminded herself, ‘there are no absolutes in biology.'

"Oh, FRIDAY, this is fantastic, if I do say so myself," Luna praised. She was every word that stood for ‘happy.'

"Truly, miss," FRIDAY responded.

"It really is amazing how well it fits, though," Luna muttered and rubbed her chin with a bent wrist. "Why do I feel like I'm on the verge of doing something dangerous and even more illegal again?"

"Shall I call Mr. Stark?"

"No!" Luna exclaimed. "No. I'll figure this out myself." She plopped down in her seat and leaned back as far as she could. "I am inclined to think that I need to proceed to the next phase of this experiment, but I'm feeling opposed to it."

"How so?"

"I'm scared. What if someone finds me out and pulls the rug from under me?"

"My security measures are as advanced as they can be at this moment. No one has access unless you authorize it."

"Thanks, FRIDAY." She sighed loudly. "Alright, enough with the simulations." Luna brought her hands down on her thighs with a slap and stood up. "Let's get some palpable results." She made a short trip to the supply closet and retrieved an unopened syringe with a cap, a sanitary wipe, an elastic band, and a bandage.

Back in her lab, she stripped off her lab coat and rolled up the sleeve of her pullover. Over the fabric, she tied the elastic tight around her bicep. The air was chilly, and Luna was a tad dehydrated, but soon enough, a vein appeared in the crook of her elbow. She felt it out and cleaned the area. "Now this is the real scary part," she mumbled, tearing the plastic encasing the syringe and uncapping it.

She winced as the needle pierced her. She should be used to the feeling by now, but she stayed calm and drew back the plunger. Slowly, the plastic tube filled with blood. Luna concentrated on her speed, keeping it steady so as not to hemolyze the sample. She was not in the mood for taking more than one in a day.

Luna slowed to a stop as the liquid line met the mark for 2ml. It was more than enough for the experiment. Carefully, she removed the needle from her skin, capped it, and applied pressure to the tiny wound with the bandage. After ten seconds had passed, the plastic tabs were removed, and the adhesive strips were pressed down flat. She rolled her sleeve down and picked up the syringe.

"Alright. Let's see if I did this correctly." Luna uncapped the needle and squeezed a drop onto the chip of the MicroFluid machine. "FRIDAY, can you check this sample for hemolysis?"

FRIDAY did a quick analysis. "Hemoglobin levels are in the low range, and the red blood cell count is normal. It is safe to proceed."

Luna brought her hands together with a clap. "Fantastic. Onwards and upwards, as they say."

She took an Erlenmeyer flask from the shelf and checked it for any smudges. Seeing none, she slowly poured in her blood sample, followed by alcohol, buffer, and water. As expected, the cellular breakdown occurred quicker than it had with Loki's cell sample. From the liquid, Luna took her raw DNA and dropped it into a new, larger tube.

She took a fresh test tube from the box and a rack to hold it and brought it to a bare area on the bench. She pipetted in one milliliter of her DNA for experimental use. From the fridge, she retrieved the vial of Loki's DNA and the guide RNA. First, in went a milliliter of free DNA and another of the guide RNA with the proper Cas9 protein. With all the components inside, Luna put a square of Parafilm over the tube opening, gave it a gentle swirl to get the process going, and set it upright in the rack.

The hard part was done. Now, the waiting began.

"I'm going to go for a little indoor stroll while this works itself out," Luna spoke aloud as she pulled off her gloves and tossed them out. "I'll be back in a half-hour." She had confidence in FRIDAY to alert her if she was wasting time, but she carried her watch and knew she wouldn't be wandering aimlessly.

She had a goal and destination in mind and a direct path to it.

It'd been a few days since Luna had checked how Loki's rose was doing. The last time she saw it, it had sprouted another leaf. As she walked, a spring was evident in her step. She was excited to see how her little project had progressed.

The warmth of the greenhouse welcomed her first. Then came the smell of clean water and plant life. To her, it was the smell of pure bliss. The room was uncharacteristically void of human life, but Luna welcomed the seclusion. She was free to admire without feeling like she was intruding on anyone's work.

In amongst Tony's flowers sat her rose. Its leaves were bigger and a darker green. It looked happy and content. Luna smiled and felt as it did. She picked up a watering can, filled it, and gave her plant a drink. The stem was a tad taller, by half an inch or so. She stroked a leaf and gazed lovingly upon her creation, mentally crossing her fingers for a bud to soon appear.

The reality of Loki's presence resurfaced in Luna's mind. He wasn't destined to stay forever. She knew so, but each time the thought came to her, it left a deeper and longer hurt in her heart. She didn't want him to go. She wanted him to stay forever in her little corner of the universe. It was selfish. He wasn't hers. He never belonged to her, and he never will. She kept him safe until the time came for his brother to take him away, and that was it. It was an agreement with a definite end, happening at an indefinite time.

Luna wasn't ready to give up the most genuine friend she'd gained in a long while, and she didn't think she ever would be, but she needn't grow the flower with a heavy heart just yet. Loki was still at home, waiting for her inevitable return before dusk settled on the horizon. For now, she put her trust in nature. The rose will bloom when it feels it should; when it's ready to reveal itself to the world and her awaiting eyes.

As a passing courtesy, Luna gave the rest of the water to the surrounding flowers and plants. Any whose soil looked particularly parched received proper nourishment. Stray water droplets glistened like jewels on the green and yellowish leaves. They helped make the outside look less cold than it was.

Luna checked her watch. Her break time was almost up. Shaking a water drop from her hand, she strolled back to the entrance – sparing a few seconds here and there to glance at the fruit and vegetable plants – and left. The wound from the needle was still sore, and she gently clutched it. The warmth through her thick pullover soothed the dull pain. She hoped it would be fully healed by the time she got home. She didn't feel like answering Loki's probing questions with blatant lies.

Walking back into the lab, she rubbed the chill out of her hands and snapped on a new pair of gloves. Luna didn't bother with a lab coat. She picked up the test tube and gave it a little shake. It looked as ordinary as it could be.

"Ok, how long has it been since I left?"

"A little over a half-hour," FRIDAY told her. Luna nodded and pulled the microscope closer to the edge of the bench. She sat down in front of it and turned it on.

"Alright. First, let's see how everything looks."

She took out a microscope slide and coverslip and set them on a Kimwipe. She uncovered the test tube and, with a clean disposable pipette, took out two drops and placed them on the slide. Covering it with the coverslip, Luna eased the thin piece of glass into place and adjusted the magnification. Peering through the eyepiece, she moved the stage around and observed the sample. Finding nothing but bits of intercellular debris, she made a note of it in her notebook and moved on to the MicroFluid machine. She cleaned the area and placed a drop on the chip and closed the lid.

"Time to dive a little deeper," Luna muttered to herself and turned the machine on. "FRIDAY, can we see if the DNA sequence has incorporated itself into the genome?"

"Certainly." She turned the virtual table on and watched the AI proceed with the analysis.

But Luna was impatient. "Will this take long?"

"No time at all, miss. It's almost complete."

She still tapped her foot on the ground and a finger against her leg. Anxiety built up in her body, and she felt the oncoming signs of nervous sweat. She blinked and took a deep breath, trying to relax. But her efforts were to no avail. The seconds seemed to slow to minutes and the minutes to hours. Luna ground her teeth. It was a bad habit, and her dentist would give her a talking to if they found out, but it didn't matter now. She craved the outcome, whatever it turned out to be.

A ding drew Luna away from the buzzing in her brain and back to reality.

"The test is done. Would you care to look at the results now?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Show me!"

FRIDAY brought up the full edited genome for her to observe.

"The final DNA sequence is stable and fully functional."

Luna gasped, and her mouth remained agape. She was at a complete loss for words except for a distinct two circling around in her head.

It worked.

She cleared her dry throat and took a shaky inhale.

"Uh, thank you, FRIDAY. I'm going to step out again for a few minutes. Um, save and close the file, please."

"Certainly."

Luna didn't stick around to make sure her requests were followed. She needed to get out of the room and fast.

Her slow walk gradually sped up into a brisk jog. She let her legs guide and take her to the private gym. She was sure it would be unoccupied at this time in the day, and she was glad. She needed to be alone.

Pulling the door open, Luna slipped through the gap and leaned against the other side. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the silence broken only by her own breathing. Turning her head, she opened her eyes back and was greeted by her reflection in the sizeable floor-length mirror.

From afar, her hair stood out the most. Its fluffy appearance was characteristic. She made fun and liked to think it had a mind of its own. She stopped bothering to tame it years ago. The short strands on top stood almost straight up into the air. Others curled up at the tips or lay obediently neat against her head. It always changed as it grew, and she loved it.

Luna strolled closer to the mirror and gazed into her eyes. They were warm, jovial, and content. They'd seen a lot in their 28 years of operation, but they never failed in finding things they liked. And right now, they liked what they were seeing.

She smiled a wide grin and tried to contain herself. A foolish notion. She'd isolated herself so she wouldn't have to. Luna had held herself back long enough. Taking a step back from the mirror, she threw her head back and let out a loud yell in jollity.

It was a small step, but she was abundantly proud. She'd done what she thought she'd never be able to do or would fail doing.

It worked.

Her persistence and her efforts paid off.

With a hop, a skip, and a jump, she took off running. Her boots and skinny jeans were nowhere near conducive for such activity, but at this moment, she cared not for practicality.

As Luna ran around the edge of the gym, her arms outstretched and feeling the wind on her face, she wanted to give Tony a hug. He would be proud of her and her accomplishments.

She wanted to take Loki by the hand and go out to see where the night took them. He would be proud of her too, and without him, she wouldn't be reveling in anything.

But, she would do neither. This was her victory – one no one could know about – and she needed to enjoy it in solitary.

Chapter Text

 

The Soundtrack So Far

 

It was another lucky Saturday. Luna was beaming with excitement to continue her work, and Loki was looking forward to seeing Peter again. The teen had explicitly asked for him to come by, whether or not Tony had a job for him to do. Luna’s good mood eased any apprehension he had about it. Tony never held back during his testing periods.

Loki situated himself in the lounge as he always did. Luna made sure he had everything he needed – book, coffee, phone, a spare granola bar she conveniently remembered for him – and left him be. The quiet – save for the muted buzzing of the lights and air conditioning – put him off, so he turned on his music. Luna was kind enough to let him share her list with him. How generous she always was with him.

He put in his earbuds, hit shuffle, and skipped a few tracks. There were many songs he liked, but he was in the mood for something new. A soft, plucky synth tune greeted his ears. One he hadn’t heard before. Loki bent his head and read the title of the song. ‘That Thing.’ He didn’t recognize it, but he liked it. The vocals, as they started, were hushed and melodic. It soothed him.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, tapping his finger to the beat. If he was at home and Luna wasn’t busy, now would be the time he would ask her for a dance. How he would dance to such a song, he wasn’t sure, but he would make it up as he went. It wasn’t his best skill – going with the flow – but with her, his beautiful friend, it didn’t matter.

In the quiet between songs, he heard a door slam, the tap-tap of scrambling feet, and a faint exclaim. Getting up to inspect, he spotted Luna running to the end of the hallway and zooming around the corner. Loki frowned. He was tempted to investigate the matter but decided against it. It was wiser to stay put. Luna would come back and explain when she was able.

In the meantime, he was not yet content with his song, so he started it back and over again. In the middle of a repeated listen, he felt an oncoming presence to his left. He opened one eye to spy on whoever could be sneaking up on him. But lo and behold, it was no one he should be concerned about.

He took out an earbud and was greeted by a cheery voice.

“Oh, hey, Mr. Loki, you're here!” Peter dropped his bookbag on the floor and sat next to Loki.

“Yes, I am,” Loki chimed back, his little smile giving away his delight to see him.

Peter got right to it. “Ok, I have a lot to tell you and whatever, but first things first: did she like it?”

Loki didn’t need any further context. “She sure did,” he said, his smile growing. Peter’s shoulders relaxed as his face displayed a delighted grin. “I must thank you for your assistance.”

Peter shook his head. “Oh no, you don’t have to. I was happy to help. And besides, I offered.”

“That you did, but I truly am grateful.”

Peter said nothing more, his bashfulness taking his words from him. He was happy to assist in the progression of their relationship. He greatly wished to know where they were in it, but he couldn’t come out and ask. Loki would clam up, and so would Luna if he got the chance to ask her. He remained silent on the issue and would probe later, for he had another thing on his mind.

“Maybe you can help me with something.”

Loki paused his music and put away his earbuds. “How may I assist you?” He folded his hands neatly in his lap.

Peter turned in his seat a little more. “Ok, so my friends and I are having a debate about something, and we've reached a stalemate, so your opinion is super important.”

“Can’t you ask Stark? He may be more in touch with the subject matter.”

“He’s busy cleaning up a corrosive acid spill.”

“What about Luna?”

“She’s helping him.”

Loki nodded. “Alright, what do you have to ask me?”

“Ok, here it is: if you water an orange tree with orange juice, is it cannibalism?”

He paused and pondered the question. Peter and his friends were a curious bunch. “Only if you tell the tree.”

Peter gasped quietly. “Of course.” He got out his phone and typed away into an app. Loki assumed he was texting his new revelation to a friend. He hoped it was the boy he met at Peter’s home. The one with the kind smile and friendly eyes.

Peter's gaze stayed lingering on his phone screen, and his fingers scrolled through and tapped on a few more apps like he was trying to remember something. He muttered a quiet ‘oh,' and his attention diverted back.

“Hey, you’re old, right?”

“Compared to you humans, yes.”

“Do you know if all dinosaurs had feathers or just some of them?”

Loki’s brow creased. “I’m not that old, Parker.”

“Dang it,” Peter said a little dejectedly.

Though it was a joke, Loki thought of something to lighten his mood. “Stark would be able to answer you, though.” Peter looked up, confused, and befuddled.

“Why?” His eyebrows shot up as he gasped loudly. “Oh, it’s a-!” His words died out and were replaced by boisterous laughter. He gave his knee two slaps and threw his head back against the edge of the couch. Loki chuckled along, proud of himself for making the boy laugh.

Peter’s laugh faded out to a trailing chortle as he stopped. He gave his cheeks a rub and sighed contentedly.

“Can I ask you a question?” he asked Loki.

“That’s the only thing you can ask me, but go ahead.”

“You’ve had New York pizza, but have you had a New York hot dog yet?”

It was Loki’s turn to be puzzled. “I beg your pardon?”

“New York hot dog. Have you had one yet?”

“Why in this universe would I eat a heated dog?”

“What? No, no, no, it’s not an actual dog! It’s,” Peter tilted his head, trying to come up with a plausible explanation, “well, to be honest, I’m not sure what it is, but it tastes good.”

“Why would you eat something and not know what it is?”

“Well,” Peter counted off on his fingers, “number one, it’s New York, number two, it’s a hot dog, number three, it tastes good, and number four, I’m not rich, and so I make do. Anyway, you want to blow this Popsicle stand and go get one?”

“You mean to leave?” Loki said in a hushed tone.

“Well, yeah,” Peter stood and looked down at his larger companion, “unless Mr. Stark has a stand of the best hot dogs this side of New York, which I don’t think he does.”

Loki kept his gaze fixed on Peter as he slowly rose to his full height. “This is dangerous, Parker.”

“I know,” Peter says nonchalantly and picks up his backpack. “But you have nothing to worry about, so long as you’re with me, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” He flashes Loki a bright, million-dollar smile and leads the way out. Loki fixes his hair and glasses and follows with his own bag on his shoulder.

Head held high, Peter strut down the hallway and out the lobby, greeting any random passerby with a sweet grin. He was a master at it; keeping scrutinizing stares off of the tall shadow behind him. Without a word, he led Loki outside, across the parking lots, and to the edge of the woods. Under the cover of a few trees, he knelt and put his backpack on the ground. Loki shot him a concerned look.

“What are we doing here?”

Peter pulled out his mask. “We’re, uh, taking a shortcut.”

“Through the forest?”

He stood back up. “Yeah. Whenever I swing over, I always come through here.” Peter shrugs his backpack back on and tugs on his mask.

“What’s this for?” Loki gestures to him. “We won't be traveling through a public space, and I already know who you are.”

“Yeah, I know,” Peter says, his voice coming through muffled. “It protects my eyes and helps me focus.” He pushes up his sweater sleeves, revealing his webshooters. “Race you?” He takes a running stance.

Loki smirks and copies Peter’s footing. “Need you even ask?” He was never one to turn down a competition, especially a friendly one.

--------------------

Faces flushed and lungs heaving, the duo arrived at the other side of the woods. Given his years of practice, Peter was incredibly skilled at using his webs and flinging his body through the air for extended periods of time, but he didn’t count on how fast Loki could run. More than once, Loki had gained on him, but in the end, they arrived at their destination side-by-side.

Loki fixed his glasses as Peter yanked off his mask and ruffled his hair back into shape. He shoved his mask into his backpack.

“Alright. On we go.”

Peter led the way to the nearest sidewalk, and from there, he relied on sight and muscle memory. A left here, two right turns there, a cross of an intersection, and two more lefts a block down. Loki trailed close behind, not making a sound. Unwanted memories flooded back of the buildings he saw toppling over, cars whizzing by catching fire, and bystanders on the other side of the street covered in ash and blood. He felt the stares of a million eyes, though not a single one was looking in his direction. Without Luna’s hand to hold, he shoved his hands into his pockets and kept his gaze set on Peter’s heels.

As Luna would tell him, if he kept his head down and stayed quiet, he would be alright. He hoped and prayed she was still right.

Peter stopped at another junction and turned around in his spot, scratching his head. Loki slowed to a stop next to him and crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"Oh man, I thought they'd be here," he whined. He looked up at Loki apologetically. "Sorry 'bout this. Hold on a sec." Peter pulled out his phone, opened an app, and typed into the search bar. Loki didn't bother looking. It wasn't his concern. He had less of an idea than Peter did.

The sound of sirens and tires screeching in the distance set Loki on edge. As they got closer and closer, his shoulders tensed up to his earlobes. Had he been spotted? Had someone seen him and called the police? If so, he suspected Luna wouldn’t hesitate to unleash the very fires of Muspelheim upon them. Where his safety and awareness was concerned, so were hers.

Loki watched in mute terror as the cars sped down the street he stood by. But they passed him. His shoulders dropped, and he turned to consult Peter, but the boy was no longer next to him.

He was running down the sidewalk at breakneck speed.

Loki's eyes widened, and he ran after him, watching as he turned a corner and disappeared. Loki found the alley he turned down and saw Peter hurriedly removing his clothes from his person and stuffing them in his backpack.

“Peter, what are you doing?!” Loki whispered and strode towards him. Peter took notice of him and flashed him a quick smile as he jumped into his suit.

“Oh, hey! Duty calls!” He zipped his bag closed and flung it at Loki. “Here, hold this.” Loki caught it with a start. “I always lose them whenever I leave them behind.” He slipped on his mask and tapped his chest. The suit sprung to life, fitting to his body. “Anyway, fight crime now, hotdog later!” Peter crawled up and over the building wall, again vanishing from Loki’s view.

“Peter!" Loki called after him but received no response. “Ugh.” He shouldered Peter’s bag and sped-walk in the direction he felt he may be heading. Distant shouts of ‘oh look, it’s Spider-Man’ helped guide his feet and make them move faster along the pavement.

Loki went with the sparse crowds and anyone exhibiting excited chatter about the webslinger currently perusing the streets from the air. He kept a vice grip on the bag’s shoulder straps, his teeth clenched tight as his hands and knees trembled. Never before in his life did he wish he had his magic like he did now. All he needed was a cloaking or illusion spell. Something easy and harmless. Loki wished he knew where things were. He still possessed the physical strength to walk into Dr. Strange’s Sanctum and throw him through the top window.

Having enough of the crowds and fruitless searching, he turned around and walked back to the alleyway Peter left him in. He leaned against a clean patch of wall and slid his hands over the top of his head. Loki hoped Peter was as efficient in his work as he believed him to be. If he were gone any longer, Luna would be searching and calling his phone in a cold-blooded panic, or worse, someone would recognize him, and he would be dragged off to an underground prison cell, never to be seen again.

Loki tilted his head up and counted the birds flying over the gap in the alleyway. On the sixth one he spotted, a series of light footsteps alerted him to approaching company. He pushed off the wall and kept an eye on the open areas. He was ready to fight if he had to. From the top of the wall, he saw a little red face peek over. It was Peter, still wearing his mask.

“Hey!” he called down. “Sorry that took so long. It usually doesn’t, but,” he jumped and landed on his feet with enviable grace, “I took a little bit of a detour after I was done.” He raised both his hands. In each of them, he held a neatly-wrapped hot dog, all decked out in condiments Peter felt they would like. Loki silently studied them. “I saw the stand close to where the thing went down and this really nice couple got them for me. Said I saved their car. Uh, here, hold these real quick.”

They traded items to hold so Peter could change back into his regular garb. Loki turned away to give the boy some privacy and dignity. There was no need to watch him, and he presently chose to look at nothing in particular.

“Well,” Peter said, tugging his backpack on, “that’ll definitely be on the six o’clock news and all over YouTube’s trending page.” He noticed the distant expression of his tall companion. “Hey, you ok?” he asked, treading lightly. Loki met his gaze and smiled disarmingly.

“Just perfect.” The smile was far from his eyes, but Peter didn’t ask anything else. He knew where a look like that came from, and it wasn’t his business.

“Great!” Peter took the cue to move away from the subject. “Uh, we better eat those before they get cold. Come, follow me.” He strolled out of the alley and to a nearby sidewalk bench. On any other day, he would have chosen another rooftop or high ledge, but he wasn’t alone.

They took their respective seats with a foot’s worth of space between them. Compared to Loki, Peter had no reservations about digging into his snack once he got comfortable. Loki was understandably cautious, so he took his time trying his if only to humor the boy and sate his own innate curiosity. Tasting it, he hummed in surprise. He found favor in the mystery food.

“Good, right?” Peter said, smirking widely.

“Absolutely.”

Loki finished it in no time, dabbing the corners of his mouth as he crossed one leg over the other and watched the people pass him by. Thankfully, none spared him a second glance. There would be unwanted mayhem if they did.

 “Hey,” Peter said, getting Loki’s attention. “Want to go get some iced coffee? There’s this really good place close by.”

Loki gestured to the path ahead of them. “Lead the way, Parker.”

Crumpling his wrapper and napkin, Peter stood and started the path to their next destination. He spotted a trashcan and tossed in his trash, amusingly muttering a little “Yeet!” as he did.

But Peter wasn’t so sneaky. “What was that?” Loki inquired.

“What? Yeet?”

“Yes. What is that?”

“Oh, that’s just something people say when they throw something.”

Loki nodded. “Fair." A few steps forward and Loki put a hand on Peter's shoulder. “If you ever come across my brother, never let him know what that word means.”

“Uh, ok.” Peter wanted to ask. He wanted to ask a lot of things, but he figured it was best to save it all for the coffee shop.

As they walked, the two made idle chatter about everything and nothing. Peter gushed longer than usual about a colorful billboard he saw advertising the movie ‘Love, Simon.' Loki was interested to know more and made a mental note to pose a question to Luna later on.

He was more comfortable with his surroundings and took opportunities to admire the new architecture, but the punishing whispers in his mind wouldn’t stop trying to distract him. For each new building or bright screen he saw, they reminded him of how many he was responsible for breaking. How satisfied he was with their ruin. How it was unjust for him to enjoy something he once wanted to conquer and destroy.

They were difficult to reason with, but Loki did his best on his own. If Peter noticed, he would tell Luna upon their return. He didn’t want it to come to that. If it continued to be a problem, he would bring it up to her of his own accord. It was a touchy subject, but he knew he could speak to her if he desired.

As Peter pushed the shop’s door open, Loki was hit first by the strong coffee aroma. The space was quaint and noticeably chilly, but the atmosphere made up for it. Tiny potted plants decorated the tables and countertops, and the walls displayed pieces from local artists. It was comforting and homey. He could see himself spending a few hours there, drinking any assortment of hot beverages as he wrote or read.

Peter ordered for the both of them; a light roast with milk for himself and a plain black coffee for Loki. Ever the gentleman, Loki paid for both drinks and brushed off any attempt for Peter to pay him back. It was a courtesy for the gift assistance. Without him, Loki would not have been able to make Luna smile.

They sat at one of the small outdoor tables set for two. The weather was pleasant enough, and the sun was shining.

“So yeah, I’m really excited to see that movie,” Peter chimed. “I don’t go to the movie theater much, so this is exciting. I’m going with May, so I hope she’ll like it too.”

"I think she will," Loki encouraged, and he sipped his drink. "Do tell me about it afterward."

“Sure thing. I don’t know if you’ll like it, though.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, it’s a romantic comedy, and people usually don’t like those that much.”

“I like many things, Peter. I just might like that too.”

From his bag, Loki’s phone let out a loud, continuous ring. He was receiving a call. He pulled it out to check who it was, but he already knew. It was Luna. He held up a finger to Peter, signaling he’ll only be a moment, and stood up to take the call.

He pressed the little green button and held it to his ear.

“Hello?” he said smoothly.

Loki!” Luna’s voice came through the earpiece loud and clear. “Where are you?! Where did you go?!” Loki winced, feeling as though the whole square could hear her. Behind him, Peter ducked his head to hide his amused smirk. He felt like he was watching his older sibling get scolded for a stupid mistake he helped keep secret.

Loki remained calm. “Oh, I went out with Peter. He offered.”

You … you went out?” Luna’s tone was softer. “With Peter? Where?

Now was the hard part. “Around, uh, around Manhattan.”

Manhattan?!” she shouted and quieted down. “Did anyone spot you?

“No, no. No one’s been the wiser. Being with the child serves as excellent cover.”

Luna sighed audibly into the phone. “Oh, good. Uh, is he still with you? Peter?

“Yes, he’s right here. We stopped for iced coffee.”

Ooh, how do you like it?

“Quite a good amount.”

Well, then we’ll have to make it at home. It’s not too hard.

“Looking forward to it.”

So do you have any idea when you’ll be coming back? Should I come get you two?

“I’m sure we’ll be fine making it back on our own.” Loki paused, having nothing else to say. But he didn’t want their call to end yet. “So what have you been up to?”

Tony had an acid spill in his lab, and since I’m the only one on-site qualified to clean it up, he called me in to help. But if you ask me, he deserved it. Apparently, while he was working, he was listening to Bollywood music. Without me! And my favorite tracks too! The nerve of the guy.

Loki chuckled. “You can always listen to them at home and tell him about it to make him jealous.”

I like how you think.” He could hear her smirk through the phone. “Uh, anyway, I was going to spend some time in the gym. I’m going to have my phone on me, so call me anytime if you need anything and tell Peter he can do the same.

“Certainly.”

Thank you. Stay close to each other, and I'll see you both later, ok?

“Of course. Farewell.”

Yeah. Bye.

Loki heard the click and dial tone on her end. He turned his phone off, pocketed it, and sat back down. He stayed quiet, taking two more sips of his coffee.

“Who was that?” Peter asked. He knew who it was, but he needed a way to start conversation.

“Luna.” Loki held the plastic cup and swirled the ice around. “She saw we were gone and called in a panic, but all is well now.”

Peter leaned back a little. “I think you mean she saw you were gone. She barely saw me.”

“True, but she cares a lot for you.”

A loud car horn drew Loki’s attention away, but Peter remained unaffected. He saw an opportunity. Loki was calm and already thinking about their mutual friend. All he had to do was ask what he wanted.

“You like her, don’t you?”

Loki looked back to him and gave pause, pondering an answer. “It would take a right fool to not.”

“Yeah, but you,” Peter pointed his straw at him, “like her, right?”

Loki bent his head and the hand not holding the cup fiddled with the lid. “I suppose, as any friend would.”

Peter narrowed his eyes. “Sure.” A touch of movement caught his eye, and he looked down to where Loki gripped his beverage. “Woah, your hand,” he said with a start.

“What?” Loki questioned and looked down. Due to the length of time he’d held his ice-cold coffee, his fingertips and nails faded out to the classic Frost Giant blue. He pulled his hand away and stuck it between his thighs. Damn the Allfather for dying, and damn his spell for weakening.

Loki’s actions worried Peter. “Is your hand ok?”

“Perfectly. It just gets cold easily.” Loki was anxious, but he kept a calm exterior.

“Is that, like, an alien thing?”

“Yes. Exactly that.”

Peter shrugged and let it go. “Hm. Cool.”

--------------------

Grabbing a few more napkins from the shop to insulate Loki’s cup, the two set off on one more stroll around the area. They chatted idly as per usual. Peter showed off where he liked to swing and hang out while on patrol. Loki hung on his every word, sipping the last remnants of his coffee.

Discovering he’d drank the last drop, he searched for a proper bin to throw it into. He spotted one by the side of a wide building and jogged over to it. Hearing the cup drop down, Loki dusted his hands and took a second to peek at the face of the building. It was beautifully aged with oxidizing copper and curved designs near the roof. But one particular detail caught his eye. It didn’t look old like the rest of the building.

Loki took a step back, then another and another. He almost had to stand in the road to clearly make out what the design was. He observed a group of stone-carved people in dynamic poses, all underlined by a title set along the curve of a giant clock: ‘The Battle of New York.’ His stomach dropped to the ground, and his heart leapt into his throat. He couldn't hear the cars anymore, and his body grew cold from the inside.

“Oh yeah, that’s the monument they built after all the debris was cleaned up,” Peter said, coming up to Loki’s side. Getting no response, Peter looked up. One word he would use to describe the look in his tall friend’s eyes was ‘sorrow.’ Uncharacteristic, but worrisome. “Hey, w-we don’t have to stay.”

“No.” Loki held a hand up and peered down at him. “Tell me, Peter, is there a shop near here that sells something to light?”

“Like a candle?” Loki nodded. “Uh, yeah. Should be this way.”

--------------------

Armed with a lighter and a pack of tea lights, Loki found a proper spot on the ground by the side of the building. He took out a candle and set it on the ledge. Peter stood a ways behind him to give him a bit of privacy.

A light breeze swept over them. It wasn’t bad, but it made Peter draw his arms closer to his body to keep warm. Loki tried to light the candle, but each time, it was blown out. He grew more frustrated with each attempt. Seeing his distress, Peter walked up to him and stood by his side, blocking the wind. He threw Loki a little thumbs-up and bent his head in respect.

Lighting the flame for the last time, Loki knelt and recited the age-old prayer. “I bid you take your place in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave shall live forever. Nor shall we mourn, but rejoice, for those that have died the glorious death.” He couldn’t turn back time and undo his mistakes, but he could make amends when appropriate.

“That was really cool, Mr. Loki,” Peter muttered. Loki met his eyes and smiled.

“Glad you think so.” He leaned over and blew out the candle. All was well, for now.

Chapter Text

 

The Soundtrack So Far

 

Luna's day began like any other: wake up, do the morning skincare routine, put on day clothes, make breakfast, have it with Loki, and leave for work. Traffic was a little heavier than usual, making her arrive twenty minutes late. She knew she wouldn't be reprimanded, though. Tony had a forgiving heart, and he favored her enough to let her have a piece of it.

But she made one change to her daily schedule: she placed an exercise session at the gym into her lunch hour, making a promise to herself to eat lunch after she was done. One small change with no significant consequences. Right?

She ran briskly on the treadmill to her favorite hard rock and metal songs played over the loudspeaker. They were part of her private collection of music. Before Loki, she would play them casually, whenever she liked, but now, she didn’t know if he would like them or not. It was of no importance to ask. Her things were hers to share at her discretion.

As Luna mouthed the words to ‘Shadow Moses,’ the music cut out and was replaced with FRIDAY’s voice.

“Excuse me, miss, but I have an urgent message from Mr. Stark.”

Luna stopped the machine and took a few seconds to catch her breath. “What is it?”

“He wanted me to tell you that an underground pipe has burst and there will be no water available in the compound for the rest of the day.”

“What?!” she exclaimed. “But I need to shower!”

“All the employees have been given paid leave for the remainder of the afternoon, starting now.”

“Ugh.” Luna leaned against the handle of the treadmill. “Tell him I copy and that I’m almost done here, so there’s no need to kick me out. I’ll just finish up and go.”

“I will let him know.”

“Thanks, FRIDAY.” The AI cut off and put Luna’s music back on. Half-heartedly, she resumed the machine and completed the mile she was on.

Begrudgingly, she made a point to steer clear of the locker room. Sweat covered every inch of her body, and it got more uncomfortable with each passing second. She hurriedly packed her bags, rechecked everything in the lab, locked the door, and bolted to her car. On the way, she dialed Loki.

“Hello?” he greeted.

“Hey!” Though Luna’s mood was soured, she answered with a smile. “Uh, I’m just calling to let you know that I’m heading home early, so you don't have to get all weird when I appear earlier than usual.”

“Oh, really? Any particular reason why?”

“Actually, yes.” She opened the car door and threw her bags into the back seat. “A pipe burst at the compound, so there’s no water for anyone to use and they’re kicking everyone out. Plus, I just finished in the gym, and I need a shower really bad, so I will be racing home quite literally.” She got into the driver’s seat and locked the door. The bare skin of her arms and hands stuck to the seat and steering wheel. She silently cringed.

“I guess I will see you very soon.”

“Indeed, you will. Bye.”

“Goodbye.”

Luna started her car, checked her mirrors, and carefully drove out of her spot and down the road. The gate was blocked by a line of vehicles all eager to start their journeys home. Luna swore loudly and hit the steering wheel with her fist. It might be another long trip on the road.

--------------------

Slamming and locking her car, Luna ran through the complex doors, to the elevator, and down the hall as fast as her tired bones could carry her. Inside her apartment, Loki was contently watching a film and drinking a glass of water. He heard the door opening and averted his attention from the screen.

“Wooh!” Luna charged through the door, locked it tight, and pulled off her shoes. “Hey. I am so sweaty and cold, and I feel like my skin is going to break out any second.” She unpacked her lunch bag and put her main dish in the fridge and the ice pack in the freezer. “We’ll chat more when I’m out.” She tossed her bags haphazardly into her room and slammed the bathroom door behind her.

As Luna set her glasses down and pulled off her damp exercise clothes, she felt guilty for not letting Loki get a word in edgewise. It was hard not to dwell on it, but she couldn’t allow herself to. She knew he didn’t blame her, and would speak to her when she was finished. Once her body was bare, Luna checked it in the mirror. She shivered and rubbed her arms. Not wanting to waste another second, she turned on the tap, checked the temperature, and got in the shower.

Under the warmth, she took her sweet time getting back to her ideal state of comfort. The water soothed her skin and calmed her mood. Everything was ok now. She was home, there was food in the fridge, and both of them were safe and satisfied.

Ruffling her hair dry with a hand towel, Luna stepped out onto the mat and finished drying off. She frowned, feeling like something was missing.

She ran a mental tally on everything she did and had with her. She had washed her hair, face, and body as she always did, so her routine wasn’t faulty. There were towels on the rack, and her glasses sat in the same spot she left them. So what was it?

Slipping on her spectacles, she surveyed the countertop and gasped.

Luna had forgotten a fresh change of clothes.

In the flurry and panic of wanting to feel clean again, she completely neglected to get a fresh set of clothes from her room. Typically, it wasn't a problem. She would walk out, select her new outfit, and get dressed again. But now, it was. Loki was not far, and there was no way he wouldn’t see her leaving the bathroom.

Luna frantically searched the small cabinets and shelves for a full-length towel to wrap around her torso, but she couldn’t find any. Then she remembered setting them aside in her laundry basket for washing. Her heart beat heavy and loud in her ribcage. She felt so exposed, and she hadn’t left the room yet. Hands trembling, she bent her head and stared at the mass of scars on her skin. She couldn’t breathe or think. She wanted to cry, but she held it together. Loki was busy with a movie. Chances are he wouldn’t see or hear her shuffling to her room. Those were chances she’d have to take. All it took was a few seconds and a few feet, and she would be home free.

Luna bent down and picked her gym clothes up from the floor. She gripped them in one hand and slowly turned the doorknob. Peeking out the gap, she could see the edge of the couch and part of Loki’s arm. She was right in his peripheral. One tiny glance, and he would see. She had to be careful.

Glaring in his general direction, Luna took one daring step out into the hall. And another, and another. She turned off the light and inched the door closed. No noticeable movement from her companion yet. As stealthily as she could, she crept closer to her room, her knees quaking with each silent footfall. She was almost there. She almost made it to safety and cover, but two distinct noises made her stop.

The thud of something hitting the ground, and a sharp intake of air.

She whipped her head around and saw him standing still as a board, his hand held out like he was holding an invisible glass of water, mouth agape, and his eyes staring at her. No, not at her. They zeroed in on the healed-and-healing welts littering the lower half of her body.

Luna’s own startled gasp drew Loki’s attention to where it should be. His body tensed, and he slapped a hand over his eyes. But it was far too late. Luna bolted to her room, threw herself inside, and slammed the door.

Loki lowered his gaze to the clothes she’d let slip from her hand as she ran from him. Forgetting the water glass he dropped, he gingerly approached the little pile, picked it up, and put it in the clothes washer. His feet carried him to Luna’s door. His hand would not raise to knock or turn the doorknob, but his ear asked to rest against the smooth surface. He granted it permission and leaned his head down.

From behind the door, he didn't hear much, save for ragged breathing, pained sobs, and the occasional moan of agony. For each soft cry his little friend set free, he felt his heart crack and crumble. He didn’t think it could do that anymore, but alas, he did not know everything. Luna did, though. She knew everything.

Tears welled in his eyes as he sank to the floor and kept listening. She was so smart, so strong, so wise, and so in pain. Evidently, her multitude of scars was the reason she pushed him away after their night out together. He lay a hand on his abdomen. He understood, and from the looks of them, it had been going on long before any thought of him graced her beautiful mind. But for how long? And why?

He wanted to ask. There had to be a story behind them, for she would never create problems for herself. It wasn’t in her nature. But his curiosity for Luna’s personal life and past would have to wait. First, he needed to apologize, for the pain she felt now was because of him.

--------------------

It took hours for Luna to dry the last of her tears and get her body to listen to what she told it to do. How many hours, she didn’t know. It was hard to keep track of anything through all the noise in her head. But thankfully, it has since quieted. Through the window in her room, she could see the sun still shining. She envied it. Compared to it, she felt dim and drained.

She got dressed slowly. A set of undergarments first, plaid pajama pants second, and lastly, a basic t-shirt. She swiped her glasses off her bed and put them on. In the full-length mirror, she checked her face. Her skin was washed out, and there was a touch of red in the whites of her eyes. She looked like a shell of her former self. Loki would be able to tell. By now, he knew her better than anyone else.

Unable to look any longer, Luna turned away and sat back on the floor with her legs outstretched. On top of her pounding headache, her stomach churned, and her mouth was bone-dry. Though the thought was tempting, she couldn’t hide in her room forever. She needed to face Loki before the day was out.

She bent her head and stared at the floor. She knew she needed to open the door and step out, but she couldn’t budge. What would she see when she finally did? The uncertainty was terrifying. Would his gorgeous green eyes be alight with fiery anger? Would he scowl down at her like her father used to and express how disappointing he finally found her? Or would he feel justified in laying upon her an unwanted hand, as her mother sometimes threatened to do? Tears gradually returned and blurred her vision. For once, under her own roof, she felt unsafe. Loki had the upper hand now, and he stood on dangerous ground.

He couldn't possibly understand, and she wasn't going to prepare to make him. She had nothing to prove if he didn’t want her anymore. A teardrop fell from her eyelash and onto her hand. There was no ‘if.’ Of course he didn’t want her. All it took was one look for him to know she had been lying to him the entire time they were together. It was all an air. She was weak, and he would never want or keep a weak friend.

Sluggishly, Luna stood back up and made for the door, purposefully avoiding her passing reflection. She turned the doorknob slowly and opened it with ease. Her breath caught in her throat. She had neglected to lock it. Loki could have come in at any point during her fit, and she would have been powerless to stop him.

Luna took a tentative step out into the hall and spotted him leaning against the wall. She kept her gaze fixed to the ground. She couldn’t look him in the face. Wrapping her arms around her torso, she breezed past him and to the kitchen for some water. She was thankful he didn’t try to touch her, but he followed her. She felt the burn of his eyes set upon her. No matter what she wore or how many clothes she put on, she was as naked under his watch as the midday sun. He had seen her soul in its entirety. Something he was never meant to.

As Luna set a water glass down on the counter, Loki slid up next to her. “Look, I’m sorry,” he said in a hushed tone, his hands out like he was pleading. “I didn’t mean to.”

“Mhm,” Luna hummed. “Could you sit please?" she croaked out. He obeyed and took a seat by the counter. Luna filled her glass and drank until she was done. By the end, her head felt less cloudy, and her vision was clearer. She rubbed an eye and set the now-empty glass away from her. Eyes downcast, she spoke plainly. “I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it.” Her voice was on the verge of breaking, but she kept it together. “You can’t stay here anymore.”

Loki shook his head, visibly taken aback. “What?”

“I’ll call Tony and make sure he treats you well and gives you everything you need.” Luna started back to her room, but Loki bolted from his seat and intercepted her path.

“Now hold on a minute.”

Her face threatened to scrunch. “Please, don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”

“Make it harder? Why does it need to happen at all?”

“Because it does, now please, just let me do this." She tried to move around him, but he was faster and blocked her again.

“No. No, I won’t.”

“Please, Loki, I need to fix it.” Luna’s voice rose in volume, but it took everything from her. She was so exhausted.

“Fix what? What’s broken?” Loki took a step closer. In tandem, she took a step back.

Her tone fell. “Us. Everything. Everything I touch, I ruin.”

“What? No.” Loki moved a hand up, and she shrank back.

“Yes,” she pressed, trying to convince him otherwise. “You see now I’m no good for you anymore. You’ll be better off without me.”

“No!” he spoke loudly. Luna winced and backed herself into the wall.

She was close to whimpering. “Please don’t.” She cowered before him like an injured bird would a fox looking to have it as an easy dinner. But, unlike the fox, Loki didn’t advance forward. He didn’t move a muscle.

“Don’t what?” he said as softly as he could.

Luna hung her head and hugged her body as tight as she could. “Hurt me,” she whispered. “Just … don’t.” She threw her pride out the window and begged. But it was to no avail.

Loki stood silent in front of her. Unbeknownst to her, her words strengthened his resolve rather than shattered it. She didn’t have to beg him to not do something he never intended to do. He knew how it felt to be at the end of the rope. Words were useless, no matter who they came from. So actions would have to speak for him.

Little by little, he moved towards her. Luna braced herself, but she made no attempt to scurry away. She’d given up. Loki stopped with his toes sitting inches from hers. He gradually lifted a hand and reached for her. She squeezed her eyes shut and shrugged her shoulders up to her ears. Seeing her afraid and turning her face away was upsetting, but he stayed strong. For her, he had to. He took a page out of her book and, as gently as possible, rested his palm on her cheek. She flinched, but he refused to pull away. He leisurely rubbed her cheekbone with his thumb and waited for her to relax.

“Look at me,” he muttered. Luna eased her eyes open and looked up at him. “This is the hardest my hand will ever touch you.” He paused and allowed some time for her to say something, but she stayed quiet. “I won’t beg you to let me stay, but I will ask you this: do you want me to leave? Would you feel better if I was gone?”

Luna had not prepared an answer. She didn't expect Loki to ask anything like that or anything at all. Her mind was blank. She took her time with her response, and Loki patiently waited for her to speak. She was still scared he would force her, but the longer she took, the more her fear ebbed away.

She contemplated and pondered between a ‘yes,’ a ‘maybe,’ and a ‘no.’ Another soft stroke of his thumb pushed her answer further to one side. She grabbed his wrist, holding his hand still. She had her answer, but the closer she got to saying it, the closer her tears were to showing themselves again. Clenching her jaw, she gathered up all the strength she had left and spoke.

“No.” It was feeble, but he heard it.

Loki remained gentle. “Then there’s no issue.”

Luna still had a little fight left. “But there is.”

“What?” Loki asked. He was genuinely curious.

“What you saw. You weren’t supposed to.”

“I imagine.”

“You can’t want to be friends with me anymore. Not when I do the things I do.” With each word, her voice wavered more and more, but it didn’t matter. He either wanted her or he didn’t. Nothing could change it now.

“But I do want to.” Loki took a deep breath. “We have more in common than you think.” He wanted to tell Luna his truth, but he felt her fear too, and the moment wasn’t about him. He needed to keep himself out of it, for now. He adjusted his hand to cradle the side of her jaw. Using the new leverage, he lifted her head higher so he could see her better. In turn, she saw him. Glossy eyes met empathetic ones as he leaned in – his forehead almost touching hers – and spoke again. “Do you want me to stay?”

Luna gripped his wrist harder as her brows turned up, and a tear fell over the edge of her eyelid.

“Yes,” she managed to say before a sob tore through her. Shoulders shaking, she tore her glasses off and covered her face. Loki threw away the last of his reserves and wrapped his arms tenderly around her, guiding her head to rest on him. Her physical touches always calmed him, so he had nothing to lose and everything to gain if he tried it with her. Broken apologies tumbled from her as she wept. “I’m sorry, Loki. I’m so sorry.”

He continued his efforts to comfort and stroked her hair. “Sorry about what?”

“I messed this up.” Luna uncovered her face to hide it in his chest. It didn’t take long for him to feel how damp his shirt was becoming. “I just keep messing things up, no matter how hard I try.” She sniffled and shuddered to seemingly no end, but Loki stayed steadfast.

“You didn’t mess us up.”

Luna’s hand tapped slowly against his chest. A reflex, at best. “No, I hurt you. I insulted you, and I made you think I don't want you here and I just can't do anything right.” Another sharp sob came from her. “Oh god, I tried to push you away.”

“I don’t think any of that.”

She shook her head. “I still said it, and it's just so bad.” She breathed in deep, trying to calm down enough to speak. “I don't have anybody, so I try to protect myself, and I shove people out, and I tried to do that to you, and I just don't want to." A few more sharp breaths. “I don't know. It's all so mixed up, and you don't need to hear any of it.” She still tried to push him, but he pushed back.

“Well, I like you enough to listen.”

“I don’t see how you would anymore.” Luna’s voice cracked. She cleared her throat. “There’s so much of me to not like.” Loki rubbed her back in between her shoulder blades as her breathing evened out. He silently praised himself. His consoling was working. But outside of it, he remained truthful.

“Trust me, dear, there’s plenty to like.”

Chapter Text

 

The two unlikely friends stood embracing each other, the only sound being Luna’s gasps as she gradually calmed down. Loki didn’t say another word, and neither did she. Nothing could be said. They weren't good with emotions or properly expressing them. Whenever they felt something, they preferred to do so in private. But here and now, in front of someone else, they moved far outside the boundaries of their comfort zones. They were in uncharted territory, and it was nothing they had ever prepared for.

Eventually, Luna’s tears ceased, and her breathing returned to normal. Letting the last of them dry on her lashes, she kept her face averted from Loki’s line of sight. She was embarrassed, as anyone would be. She felt a sneeze tickle her nose and pulled away from him to stifle it. In doing so, she spotted the darkened wet patch on his shirt.

"Sorry," she sniffled, gesturing to it. Loki looked down and huffed.

“Don’t be. It’ll dry.” It truly wasn’t a big deal. Loki fleetingly considered changing his shirt, but he imagined the action would make her feel worse. He needed to soothe and lift her spirits, not do the opposite.

He guided her to the couch and had her sit her down. Luna grabbed the tissue box from the side table and used them to tidy up her appearance. Loki stayed silent beside her, using one hand to rub the other. His mind burned and stirred with a thousand questions, but he remained apprehensive. Agitating her now wouldn’t prove fruitful in his efforts to know her better. And he would be a hypocrite to investigate her, all the while keeping his comparable issues buried deep down. No, he’d return the favor and allow her to come to him.

The silence hung heavy between them, but he didn’t want to fill it with his own voice or force her to speak. Tentatively, Loki grabbed the television remote from where he had set it down earlier and held it towards her.

“Do you mind?” he asked. Luna shook her head, keeping her gaze directed to the floor.

Loki turned the screen on and browsed the options for what was on. As usual, he had been engrossed in the news channel before Luna came home, but now, he was sure it was the last thing she would want to listen to. On a movie channel further down the list, he recognized a title; ‘Hellboy.' He had seen it twice before and liked it a fair amount. It was a beautiful story with captivating, well-rounded characters. He favored the ragtag team much more than the Avengers. It would serve them well to take a few notes on the misfits’ dynamic.

From his periphery, he spotted Luna lift her head and watch the scenes before her. She didn’t appear put off by it. Loki considered it another victory for the day. She adjusted her glasses and relaxed onto the cushy back of the couch, though her body remained tense.

Close to dusk, she saw fit to be the first to speak.

“Aren’t you going to ask?” Her voice had a bite to it.

“Ask what?”

She fiddled her hands in her lap. “About why I do it?”

Loki rolled his shoulders. “I have since learned my lesson in asking unwanted, aggravating questions.”

“But you want to know, don’t you?” He felt like saying no, but she would be able to tell he was lying. And he was afraid to say yes. “I’ll tell you about mine if you tell me about yours.”

His stomach dropped a little, and he gulped nervously. “Which ones?”

Luna tapped his forearm. “These ones.” The tension in his shoulders released. “Quid pro quo, Clarice. If you will.”

“That’s fair." He took a deep breath and spoke slowly. His choice of words meant everything. “There was a, um, brief time. A recent time, actually, during my rule on Asgard where I would wake up during the night and not know if what I was seeing was real.” He tugged at his sleeve. “I would, um, it helped me make sure I was really home and in my bed. There’s no pain in dreams, and everything is properly distorted. Makes for an uncomplicated distinction between reality and something that's… not.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

He shrugged. “It’s alright. My mind is nearly back to the way it was.” He tried to make light of the situation and move it away from him.

But she wasn’t done with him. “But can’t you guys heal without a mark being left?”

Loki tilted his head. “Normally. It takes a certain kind of blade to, um, leave a discernible trace.” His hand moved to the bottom hem of his shirt. He thanked the Norns she hadn’t seen the other ones. He was never in the mood to explain them. “Is that why you didn’t say anything when you saw them for the first time?”

“Yup. As you know now, I’m not really one to talk when it comes to these things.” Luna sighed and sniffled. “I do it for a different reason than you, though. Do you really want to hear it?”

“You listened to my reason. To you, I extend the same courtesy.”

“I really don’t know how to sum it up.” She crossed one leg over the other and rubbed her brow. “I’ve felt a lot of abstract pain in my life, and this is how I process some of it, I guess. Makes it into something real. Something I can touch, and see.” Her voice wavered. She cleared her throat. “But don’t think I do it because I think it’s a good idea or that I want attention. I know it’s not, and I don’t.”

“I don’t think that.” His hand twitched. It wanted to hold hers, but Loki hesitated. She was a little heated, and physical touch may make it worse. "But why?” He lowered his tone. “What hurts?”

“A lot.”

“Who hurt you?”

She bent her head and stared down at her folded hands. “People,” she muttered.

Loki scooted a tad closer. “Who?”

“Not including you and the superfriends, just about everyone.”

“Why would they?”

Luna scoffed. “Pick something about me. There’s at least one person who’s hated me for it.”

“You worry about strangers. They mean nothing.”

“You’re right, but it doesn’t stop there.” She turned and looked him in the eye. “My family are not exempt.” Here, she allowed Loki to peer into her soul. He saw – and felt in his own – a deep-seated ache.

“What have they said?”

The muscles in Luna's jaw flexed and loosened in a rolling pattern like she was grinding her teeth. She blinked and looked away from him. He didn't like her neutral demeanor. She shouldn’t have to take so long to build an answer.

"My father's a bully, but you know that already." She met his gaze again. "The rest of his family are bigoted towards me. My mother and her side are too, but for different reasons." She swallowed dryly, her voice growing meek. “Part of the reason I moved out here was to get away from them all so they have no power over me, but I can still hear them,” she rests her fingers on her temple, “in the back of my head. I still remember what they said, and I have to pretend like it doesn’t bother me.” The fine muscles in her face began to twitch. The storm was brewing again. “I have to act like its ok that they don’t love me or want me,” she muttered as her voice broke.

“But, your mother,” Loki started, but Luna frantically shook her head as her eyes watered. He backpedaled. “You make her sound so loving.”

Luna tilts her head. “She is. Just not about everything. I thought the distance would make her willing to hear me and accept me, but I made a mistake that nearly cost me everything. I don’t know what I was expecting.”

She was vague, and Loki was growing impatient, but he let her lead. He shifted closer and leaned forward. “What happened?” he whispered. This was her tale, and she could tell it how she wished.

She rubbed her hands together. "I let loneliness get the best of me. This was three years ago; before I met Tony and the rest of them. I was working a nice lab job here, and I lived in a different apartment. I had no friends, and I got lonely, so I called my mother when I got home from work, and she comforted me. I guess I got too comfortable and thought it would be a good idea to come out to her. You know, tell her I was bisexual, so I did. I thought that the distance would make her go easy on me and help her accept this unknown truth about me. I’ve never been so wrong in my life.”

Loki shifted and turned his body towards her. “What did she say to you?”

Luna shrugged limply. “I don’t remember everything. She was screaming a lot.” Loki felt sick to his stomach. Her face scrunched, and she put a hand over her mouth. "She was so mad," she whimpered. "I blocked out most of it, but she was like, ‘what did I do to deserve this,’ ‘why would you choose this life,’ ‘you never listen to me,’ ‘I should have stopped you from cutting your hair short.’” She quickly brushed a teardrop off her cheek. “I didn’t say anything, but the moment she said she was going to come up here and set me straight, I couldn’t listen anymore.”

She lifted a hand to her throat. "I hung up and just threw my phone across the room." She let her hand drop onto her thigh. "Broke everything else too. I think I got a noise complaint. When I went to work the next day, I dropped and broke three micropipettes and snapped at someone. Got laid off on the spot. Next thing I know, I’m throwing most of the things I didn’t break into my car and driving to the nearest bar.”

“But you don’t drink,” Loki interjected.

“Indeed, I don’t, which is precisely why I went there.” He was shocked by her impulsive, unfounded decisions, but he remembered doing destructive things when he was at rock bottom. He wasn’t allowed to judge her, but he could be troubled. She sighed as she reminisced, sinking deeper into the couch seat. “Wasn’t all bad, though.” She lolled her head to the side and looked up at him over the rim of her glasses. “As luck would have it, that’s where I met Tony.”

“At the bar?”

"Mhm. It was after the whole Sokovia incident, and he was feeling real down on himself too. I guess he wanted to have a drink or five without Pepper knowing about it. You know, drown the sadness without letting your girlfriend know about it.” Luna turned her head back to facing forward. “Don’t think he got that drink, though, because he ran into me instead.” She pointed a thumb at herself. “I was six glasses deep when he walked through those doors.”

“Six?!” Loki recalled her explicitly mentioning how much of a lightweight she was.

“Yeah.”

He also remembered her rejecting alcohol altogether, in favor of being safe behind the wheel. “But you were driving yourself.”

“I didn’t care. No one loved me, so I just,” she shrugged, “didn’t care what happened to me at that point. Tony cared, though. I guess he took one look at me and saw someone more pathetic than himself.”

"No wonder he worries if that was his first impression of you."

Luna chortled humorlessly and points at him. “You got it. I don’t remember much after that. Let’s see,” she taps her knee, “I remember talking to him, then him driving my car, him pulling over, me throwing up in an alleyway, and then me crying over a bottle of water. He wanted to know where I lived, but I think I yelled that I couldn’t go back because I would die or something. I don’t know, I was being very dramatic.” She chuckled, and Loki echoed her.

“But I begged him not to take me back to my apartment. My mother knew where I lived, and I wouldn't put it past her to actually drive up here and condition the queer out of me. But Tony relented took me to his place, and let me stay in the guest room. Pepper watched over me most of the time.” She rubbed her nose and sniffled. “He took me back a couple days later and helped me clean up what I could. We got to talking, and when I told him what I specialize in and that I had no job, he offered to interview me. I laughed, but he was serious. He also helped me find this place.” She limply gestured to the room.

Sighing, Luna saw fit to clean her nose again. In the time she was busy, Loki didn’t make a sound. Luna waited for him to say something or ask a question, but it was all for naught. She looked up and saw him staring at her with an unreadable expression on his beautiful face.

“What?” she muttered.

“He saved you, and he didn’t even know you.”

“Yeah.” She brushed the bangs away from her brow. “It wasn’t a favor, but I still owe him a lot.”

“Your very life,” Loki whispered.

“Yeah. Wouldn’t be here without him.”

Loki clenched his teeth together. Without Tony, Luna wouldn’t be here to be his friend. Without her, he wouldn’t be happy right now. The billionaire wasn’t as insufferable as he liked to think. Far from it, in fact.

Luna’s voice interrupted his musings. “Don’t tell him about any of this.”

He blinked. “What? Why?”

“Any of what you know. If he knows, he'll freak out, and I’ll be at risk of getting fired. I work with very sensitive material, and I know he wouldn't want someone like me handling it. And if I get fired, I lose this apartment, and I have nowhere safe to go.” She twisted her body towards him and held onto his bicep with both hands. “I’m begging you. Please, don’t tell him.”

Loki lay a hand over hers. “I won’t say anything. You know how good I am at keeping secrets.”

“Promise me.” Luna was firm. She had to be.

He rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. “I promise.” He removed his hand, and she relaxed her grip on him, but she didn't let go. "So, truly, no one else knows?”

“No. You’re it.”

A little smile graced Loki's face, but it left as quickly as it came. He called to mind their first meeting and the apprehension that came with it. How he had despised Tony and was wary of Luna. Now, his feelings were different. It was frightening, but he had heard of such things happening when relationships were forged. The fear and uncertainty. He’d never experienced friendship the way he did with Luna, and with the new information and insight, they only served to deepen his spirit. He didn’t have to be so alone anymore, and neither did she.

Everywhere else he'd ended up against his better judgment, he'd been forced to survive it. With Luna, he could live a little, and he liked it. No longer did he have the heart to tell on her. If anything happened to her, he would be next in line to be affected. If she sank, he was going down with her, and he would do anything to keep it from happening. Out of all the things he hated and feared, solitary confinement was in the top three.

“You were right, you know,” Loki murmured. Luna tilted her head a bit higher. “About the punishment of criminals on Asgard, mine in particular. I did serve my time, and I am grateful to not be in a cell again.”

Luna appreciated his thankful statement, but the stormy look in his eyes made her think he meant something else. “What happened?”

Loki swallowed and looked away. “I was not allowed visitation from anyone, not even my mother,” he pulled at the fabric of his pants, “nor was I permitted to leave and attend her funeral.”

Luna gave his arm a sympathetic squeeze. “Loki, I’m so sorry.”

“I was told when the whole ordeal was over, like an afterthought. And my father, you know what he said? At my sentencing? He,” Loki lingered on the sentence. “‘Your birthright was to die.’ I deserved to die as an infant if not for his compassion." He sneered as he said the last word. Though six years had passed, the anger within him still burned.

“You didn’t deserve that, no matter what you did.”

He valued the comment, but the comfort was misplaced. He should be reassuring her, not the other way around. He took a deep breath and reoriented himself. “I know how it feels. To be thrown away.” He put his hand back over hers. “So your father is a bully.” Luna hummed. “And your mother refused to accept you.” She affirmed him again. “What of the rest?”

Luna shrugged. “I’m not what they want.”

“How so?”

“I’m just,” she tilted her head, “not right.” Loki was still perplexed. “You know, I’m too much of some things, not enough of other things.”

“Which things?” In his eyes, she was perfect in all her attributes.

A roll of her shoulders shifted her closer into his side. "When I started looking less and less like my father, and more and more like my mother, his side of the family didn't really like that, if you know what I mean.”

"You mean," Loki looked from her to the picture of her parents, and back, "no."

“Yup. Nothing I can do about it.” She withdrew a hand from him, held it out at arm’s length, and gazed upon the back of it. “My skin wasn’t fair, my hair wasn’t straight, and my eyes weren’t the same color or shape as theirs.” She let her arm fall to her lap. “Nothing I could do about it. I didn’t look like them, so they didn’t want me anymore.”

Loki clenched his other hand into a tight fist, fiery rage nearly overtaking him. Such pain had no place in her heart, and those who instilled that pain had no place anywhere. But it was all in the past. Luna had advanced far ahead of them and made her own life outside of it all. Loki didn’t have a job to do, or a quest to go on to help her. She had already helped herself. The only task he could think of was to remain her friend.

“Tony doesn’t know about this either?”

Luna shook her head. “No. Nothing about my personal life at all.” She snickers. “He thinks it all came from a nasty breakup with a boyfriend. Heh, as if." Her hand curled around Loki’s arm so it was looped over his elbow. “I don’t want him, or anyone, knowing everything about me.” She rests her cheek on his shoulder. “You can’t pick a side to hate if you don’t know them all.”

“It’s a good way to survive.”

“Yeah, but it does get lonely pretty fast.”

Soon, Luna grows all too aware of where her body is and how it feels. How dry her lips are, how hungry and thirsty she feels, and how much of her is touching Loki. Through his clothes, she can feel how tight his muscles are, but they aren’t stressed. She lays a discrete hand on his bicep. He feels her, she knows he does, but he remains unperturbed.

Like they’ve been doing it for decades.

It eases her to know he finds equal comfort in her as she does in him. The new information acquired about her didn’t put him off, but rather, it had the reverse effect. She hadn’t counted on it. He proved her preconceptions wrong. He was as with her as she was with him.

They turned their attention back to the movie at hand. It was nearing the climax. They’d chatted away for the majority of it, but it was alright. Luna possessed a copy and could watch it again from the beginning anytime she wished.

But Loki’s concern was still with her. “How are you feeling now?” he said, his voice soft and even.

“Hungry. And thirsty.” Luna carefully rubbed her eye under her glasses. “But I’m too tired to cook.”

“How about something small? An apple, maybe?”

She considered his offer for a tick. “Ok,” she muttered. She shifted her feet, preparing them to take her weight, but Loki beat her to the punch.

He reluctantly withdrew his arm from her grasp and left for the kitchen. From her seat, she could see him move about the small space as he opened drawers and ran the tap. She heard the slicing of a knife and the muted thuds of things dropping into a ceramic bowl. She craned her neck to see what he was doing, but all she spotted was the back of his head and broad shoulders. The faucet ran for a second time, and then a third.

Loki returned promptly with a small white bowl in one hand and a full glass of water in the other. Sitting back down beside her, he set the glass on the coffee table and passed her the bowl. Luna peered into it and saw the white pieces of an apple, having been peeled and cut the way she preferred it. The last time anyone did that for her was back in her childhood home. Notably, by her mother.

Thanking him, she picked up a piece with the fork he provided for her. The fruit was sweet and crisp in her mouth. It was perfect. Little by little, tears pricked into her eyes, but she made no effort to stop them. For five seconds, she allowed herself to pretend that he loved her.

“What is it? Is it bad?” Loki inquired, worried he made a mistake. Luna shook her head.

“No,” she sobbed. “No, it’s really good.” She sniffled and ate another piece.

“Then what is it?” Loki was beyond confused. He’d made sure to prepare it the precise way she always did for the two of them. He leaned forward and gazed at her lovely face, shiny with fresh tears.

Luna let out a faint gasp. “I’m just,” she started and put a hand over her mouth. Gaining back control of her words, she continued. “I’m just really happy you’re here,” she whined. She set the bowl beside her, put her head in her hands, and cried a little. Not out of sadness. She hoped Loki didn’t think she was sad, but she couldn’t bring herself to check.

Loki felt a tug in his throat, and his brows turn up in the middle. He knew he should feel pride in knowing someone like her liked having him around, but he couldn't find its feeling anywhere. Instead, he felt like he was looking in a mirror. He’d been alone for so long, without proper care or compassion. He was happy to have Luna as a friend, receive care from her, and give it in return. Where she was grateful, he was too.

Leaning back, he put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. “Me too.”

Through silent tears, Luna was able to finish the apple and take a few sips of water. By the end of ‘Hellboy,’ she had reached a suitably calm state of mind. Loki kept quiet beside her as their high emotions simmered down.

The sequel was lined up to play after the ending credits of the first one. They didn’t bother changing the channel. Luna liked both movies, and Loki had yet to see the second one.

Still feeling famished, Luna retrieved her uneaten lunch from the fridge and heated it up in the microwave. She sat back in her spot and stirred the contents of the container.

“By the way, Loki, I know you’ve been going through my things,” she said, taking a forkful and giving him an innocent side glance.

He couldn’t deny it. “When did you figure it out?”

“When we went out for my birthday, and you commented on my ring and how it was ‘new.' How could you have known if you hadn't have gone through my jewelry box?”

He gives her a cheeky smirk. “Really gave myself away, didn’t I?”

She laughs. It was a sweet sound to his ear. “Yeah. Yeah, you did. And remember when I asked you where the screwdriver was?”

He nodded justly. “That was a test.”

“Oh yeah, and you passed it with flying colors.”

Loki tapped his leg. “I’ve stopped, you know.” Luna hummed, a little surprised. “But I still like reading the books you have in your room.”

She grinned and nodded. “Well then, you’re allowed to keep looking through them.”

--------------------

It was well into the night when Luna was docile enough to sleep. She felt awful for not doing any chores, so she jumped to an easy task to check off: do the laundry. The delayed task that started off the whole rotten afternoon. It didn’t end badly, though, and of that, she was glad.

Loki insisted he be the one to stay up and collect it. She thanked him profusely as she brushed her teeth. To him, it was a menial task. Something he’d seen her do a hundred times already. He had every step memorized, from start to finish. No sweat off his brow, but in doing so, he would make her happy. And, in his eyes, that alone was worth its weight in gold.

As Luna did her nightly skincare routine, Loki kept her company. On asking about the rosewater she sprayed on her face, she shared some with him. ‘For hydrating the skin,’ she told him as she massaged some moisturizer into her cheeks. He had to admit, it felt nice. Jokingly, she permitted him to steal some later if he wished. He tittered and made a mental note to take her up on the offer.

Once she’d changed into her proper nightclothes, Luna stood by as Loki put the laundry in the dryer.

“Thank you, Loki,” she remarked. He looked down at her, a little puzzled.

“For what?” he asked.

She fiddled with the hem of her tank top. “For being you.”

He shut the dryer door and leaned on the edge. “And who do you believe me to be?”

“My best friend,” she said, almost shy.

He set the dial on the dryer and turned the machine on. “I must confess, I’ve never been called that.” He took a step closer to her. “And I feel the same way.”

Luna rubbed the ball of her foot on the floor. “Really?”

“Yeah.”

Never in his life had he seen someone look at him the way she was right now. The promise of a smile with starlight in the eyes, all accompanied by a bright warmth he could feel only in the deepest, darkest parts of himself. Whatever he was feeling now, it was scary, but it was a good scary. So long as he got to experience it with her, he would be alright.

They would be alright.

Chapter Text

 

The Soundtrack So Far

 

The pipe at the compound got fixed as promptly as it could. By the next day, it was like nothing had happened. But – little did Tony Stark and the rest of the employees know – something did happen. Something that would not be easily erased from time or the minds of the individuals involved. Something Tony did not desire to come about.

What to call it, no one was sure, but it wasn’t something Loki wanted to disappear.

He felt a bit smug knowing that by being Luna’s best friend, he was going against Tony’s wishes, but the extent to which he craved to displease him had greatly diminished over the last few days. His core reason for coming was to get Tony on his side to fight Thanos, the moment the past caught up with the present. The combat suits they worked on were near perfection. He needed Tony to be ready for the impending war the Mad Titan will undoubtedly dole out.

Loki knew he would need Tony’s complete trust so he could warn him adequately about the threat at hand, but it would take an amount of trust Loki did not have in him or anyone. No one, except maybe Luna.

His dearest companion. His little scientist.

Currently, his favorite person on the planet and his primary concern.

Since she got home from work, she kept up a tense silence. She greeted him at the door, and he returned the gesture, but onward, her head was bent, and her brow retained a tight crease. She was in deep contemplation about something, and as per usual, Loki wished to know what it was.

He stealthily approached her as she chopped up an onion half and a few garlic cloves. She didn’t mention what she would be making or ask him what he would like, but it mattered not. He knew he would enjoy the end result. His present craving was for whatever troubled her.

Loki put a hand on the counter, close enough for him to appear in Luna’s periphery, and spoke.

“You’re quiet.”

“Hm?” Luna stopped cutting and looked up at him. “Oh. Uh, yeah.” She bent her head and continued working.

“What are you thinking about?”

She shrugged. “Something work-related.” Her head tilted from one side to the other. “Something personal. Both, I guess.”

“Are you at liberty to discuss them?”

“The personal one, I have to. I’d have to be painfully vague about the work one.”

Loki leaned his elbow on the counter edge and clasped his hands together. “Tell me what you need to.”

Satisfied with the size of the onion pieces, Luna rinsed the knife and set it on the far edge of the cutting board. She glanced over and caught Loki’s eye. “I have a few days blocked out for a spring break, of sorts. It’s in a couple weeks.”

Loki raised a brow. “Really? How long?”

“A full week.” Luna doused her hands with water and dried them with a dish towel. She was fidgeting, at best, and didn’t want to arouse Loki’s suspicions before she had a chance to speak. Taking a deep breath, she rushed to get it over with. “I wanted to ask if you’d like to come with me to see where I’m from.”

Loki blinked and took a bit to respond. Luna wished she had put some music on. Anything to fill the moment. “Your hometown?” he affirmed slowly. It was infuriating.

“Yeah.” Luna fiddled with her fingers. “You can say no, and we can stay here. I haven’t booked anything yet.”

“But I can say yes, can’t I?”

“Yeah?”

“Then yes," Loki said, simple as can be. “I’d very much like to see where you’re from.”

“Really? Great!” Luna’s mood lifted considerably. “Uh, after I’m done with this,” she gestured to the onions and garlic, “I’ll book a room.”

Loki smiled and nodded. With a renewed vigor, Luna poured some olive oil into a pan and turned the heat on. As the base ingredients sizzled away, Loki continued with the second part of the conversation.

“And the issue surrounding your work. What is it? And please,” he held his hands up in mock surrender, “be as vague as you need to be.”

Luna clenched her jaw and pondered on how vague she could go. “I’m at a bit of a crossroads again with the project I’m on.” The ‘crossroads’ in question being whether or not she should make a viral delivery system for the gene sequence she took from Loki’s DNA and affixed to her own. “I have a path I can go down, but I don’t know if I should.” The ‘path’ being making the delivery system and testing it – on her own cells.

Loki took a step closer. “Is it dangerous?”

“Very.”

“Can you, in theory, complete the journey?”

“Yes.”

“Then do it,” he said, making it sound like it was the most obvious thing in the universe.

Luna shook her head. “But it’s not a complete thought, and I’m trying to get there.” She took out a large plastic spoon and stirred the onions around.

“Well, if you are privy to advice, I say stop thinking about it.” Loki put a hand over hers, ceasing its movement. “Just for tonight.” He lay his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. “Don’t think about it at all until you get to the compound tomorrow. Maybe a break for one night will give you all the answers you need.”

Luna nodded slowly. “Yeah. I’ll do that.” Smirking, she turned back to the pan and resumed sautéing. “Hey, you think you can turn on some music?” she called back to him.

“Certainly,” he said, nodding curtly and making way to the stereo. He connected his phone and turned it on. “Any requests?”

She waved a hand. “Pick anything.” Her shoulder tilted up. “Just have fun with it.”

With pleasure, he obeyed and looked through the various colorful genres available to him. But Luna’s command to ‘pick anything’ provided him with no ideas for what to select. At a loss, he blindly scrolled through and let this thumb choose.

From the speakers came a man’s silky voice, singing low and backed by the soft hints of a guitar. Listening to the beginning lyrics, Loki tilted his head. The vocalist wasn’t singing in the English he was used to hearing, but he was captivated all the same. Possibly more.

A metallic clang and the shuffling of feet could be heard advancing towards him. As the singer started on the second line, a hand shot out and slammed on the ‘pause’ button. Loki faced the hand’s owner – ready to demand an explanation – and met wide eyes accompanied by a flustered expression. He preemptively softened his tone.

“Now what did you do that for?”

Luna chuckled nervously. “I’m sure you don’t want to listen to that.” She was reluctant. Hesitant to not continue the song.

Loki put a hand on his hip. “On the contrary, I do. Play it.”

“Are you sure?”

“As the Black Plague.”

Luna pointed up at him. “Don’t lie to me. This is my music.”

“I swear to you, I’m not. And your taste in music is excellent, through and through.”

She moved her fingers to rest over the ‘play’ button. “Alright, but if you don’t like it and you insult it…” She drew out the sentence, letting her unsaid words drive her point across.

“Oh, I wouldn’t stoop that low.”

“I’m taking your word for it." She drove the last nail into the coffin and resumed the song. She lingered for a bit and snapped to attention. “Oh, I can’t let that stuff burn.” She rushed back to the kitchen to attend to the oncoming dinner.

By now, it was a tradition for Loki to follow her and hover around as she prepared their meal, but he dawdled by the stereo. It was different than the other songs he’s heard with her, and he was enjoying it immensely.

Soon, his feet carried him to his spot by the counter, and he rested his chin on one hand.

“It’s a beautiful song. What’s it called?”

Luna’s shoulders pronouncedly rose and fell. “‘Tujhe Dekha To.’ It means, ‘When I Saw You,’ but you probably already knew that.” She waved a dismissive hand, but Loki disobeyed and held onto her comment.

“Why would you say that?”

“Because.” She allocated seeds and spices into a tray for a fresh masala. “Can’t you speak and understand, like, every language in the known universe?” Shifting the contents around, she placed the tray in the oven and hit ‘broil.’

He smirked. “Perhaps.”

Taking a bundle of Swiss chard from the fridge, Luna unknowingly mimicked him with a smirk of her own. “Kind of appropriate you listening to this one first.” She took a knife from the block and whirled around to point it at the stereo. “The movie this is from was the one to turn Tony on to Bollywood.”

“Really?” Loki was notably surprised.

“Mhm. He told me he saw it during a stay in Mumbai.” She giggled. “When he came back, he visited the lab and was like, ‘Lu, have you seen this movie? It’s incredible. No, it’s more than that. It’s art.’” The knife lifted into the air like a conductor waving their baton. “And I was like, ‘uh, yeah, been watching it since I was practically a baby. And I am literally so happy you like it too.’”

Loki’s interest piqued. “An entire film to go with this?”

“Mhm.” Luna nodded. “A whole story and more songs like this.”

“Do you have it?”

“Uh, yeah. Should be over on the shelf somewhere.” Loki looked over his shoulder, but he turned back around. He had no idea what he would look for. “I can get it when I'm done with this if you like."

He nodded curtly. “Please.” Luna answered him, simply, with a smile.

Onward, she chopped the vegetables, stopping once to take the jar of turmeric from the cupboard. She let her hands sway and head bob in a way she wouldn't to other songs. Loki noticed the difference. To him, it was like her soul came alive and danced with the music. This was a part of her, too, and he felt lucky to appreciate it with her.

Luna finished chopping the vegetables and washed the knife. Placing it back in its designated spot, she tossed the vegetable scraps into the trash, taking the opportunity to peek at how the seeds were toasting. Wisps of smoke came off of them. Quickly, she slipped on an oven mitt and pulled the tray from the heat. As she placed it carefully on a hot pad, Loki caught a glimpse of her blissful expression. The little smile tugging on her lips and shining its twin through her eyes. It was rare and beautiful, and he would enjoy seeing more of it.

All too soon, it faded to one of disappointment. The song was over, and neither of them were ready.

“And, of course, it always ends before I want it to,” Luna remarked. “Eh. At least now I can grind the spices.” She touched the tray edge and winced. “Maybe not right now.” Opening the fridge door, she took out a container of mushrooms. “I can put this in, too.” She set it on the counter, lowered the heat on the stove, and stood watch over the spices. The heat wafting off of them smelled divine to both her and Loki. “You know, my grandmother’s masala had eighteen spices in it.”

“For truth? Eighteen?”

“Mhm. And it was as good as you think.” Luna hovered a hand over the cooling tray. Still too hot to grind. “My father didn’t like it, though. He always thought her cooking was,” she waved a hand around, trying to find a good description, “too much.”

“How did he find yours?”

She looked down and nodded. “Good.” She touched the tray again. It was nearly bearable. “Out of all the relatives in my generation, I’m the only one who knows how to do this. Oh, and make roti from start to finish.”

Loki grinned. “So I’m getting a rare delicacy, then.”

"Indeed, you are." Luna brushed a finger against the edge of the tray. It was cool enough to hold. "Alright, she is good to go now.” On the opposite counter sat the spice grinder. She poured in the toasted spices along with some salt, covered it with the lid, and turned it on. Soon, the masala was ready to be added, along with a few cups of water and a scoop of turmeric powder. As it simmered, she tossed in the vegetables. Now, all they had to do was wait. “Hey, quick question: did I ever make roti while you were here?”

Loki thought for a bit. “Not that I can recall.”

“Really? Shame on me. I should make some soon.” Luna checked the amount of flour left in the bag. There was enough for maybe two small pieces. “Just my luck, I don’t have enough. Eh, I’ll go to the store tomorrow.” She shoved the bag back in its place and took leftover rice from the fridge.

“Is it like a flatbread?” Loki leaned forward.

Luna turned around and smiled. “Yeah, it is, but a little more magical.” Giving the curry a few more stirs, she covered it down and lowered the temperature. Everything she was done using got a good rinse and were set in the dishwasher. “Alright. Oh, yes! I need to book the thing!” She shuffled out of the kitchen and grabbed her laptop from her room. At a loss with what to do, Loki took a spot on the couch and waited for her. She hurried back and plopped down beside him. “Ok, before I start looking, do you have any preferences for what you want in the room? Because I do.”

He shrugged. “As long as it’s clean, has a full washroom, and a place to rest my head.”

“I can definitely,” Luna opened the computer, “arrange all that around what I need.”

Loki patiently watched as she perused hotel sites, room prices, and possible attractions occurring during their week there. He was apprehensive, but he knew he shouldn’t be. He trusted her to make the best decision based on their mutual interests.

It took her longer than he thought to narrow down the available choices, but she soon came to a verdict and groaned annoyingly at the screen.

“What?” he asked.

“I was trying to find a room with a kitchenette and two beds, but none of those are available.”

“What do you have?”

“We can either get a room with two beds and no kitchen, or one with a kitchen and the one bed.” Luna looked up at him. “I need a kitchen because I physically cannot eat at a restaurant every single day for seven days.” They maintained eye contact, nervous about what else to say. Luna let out a small huff and turned back to the screen. “We’ve slept in the same bed before. It’s not a big deal.”

Loki shook his head. “N-no, of course not.”

He felt a tinge of nervousness. He knew he shouldn’t be, but she had made herself quite clear the first – and supposedly, last – night they spent in her bed; she did not like to be touched while she slept. He was thankful she didn’t reprimand him for the accidental embrace he had pulled her into, but to keep it up for seven days? He inwardly hoped the room had a comfortable sectional couch so he wouldn’t have to be concerned about making the same mistake.

As Loki pulled himself out of his worrying headspace, Luna finished typing in her information. “And, done.” She pronouncedly pressed the ‘enter’ key and looked at him and smiled. “Got it.”

He reciprocated. “Good.”

“Ok, so,” Luna closed her laptop and set it on the coffee table, “change of subject: do you still want me to put on the movie?”

“Well, yes.”

“Great. Next question: since the movie is three hours long, and it will not take three hours to finish dinner, what would you say if I offered to do your nails the rest of the time?”

“Since you theoretically asked so nicely, I would not object.”

“Fantastic.” Luna brought her hands together with a clap and rose from her seat. “Let me just put some rice in the microwave, and then we can start the movie.”

 --------------------

Luna felt the beginnings of nervous sweat – uncomfortable as ever – but as the story started and the film progressed minute by minute, her anxiety ebbed away. Loki was captivated and appropriately entertained. He remained respectfully appreciative, unlike those in her past, and it delightfully tickled her heart.

“So,” he began, halfway done with his meal, “I’m going to guess that this is where you first learned to dance.”

Luna looked over at him and back to the movie. “Yes, in fact.” She nudged him gently with her elbow. “Told you you just don’t know how to have fun.”

He smiled and snickered quietly to himself, reminiscing on their past bicker. How the times had changed, and for the better.

But as he remembered more, his smile disappeared. “But I do take back what I said. From when we watched ‘Baby Driver.’”

“Which was?”

“That you resemble him.” Loki gestured to the actors singing on-screen. “You resemble them much more.”

She looked away and rubbed her feet together, feeling bashful. “Mm. Thank you.”

The two continued their dinner, fully enraptured in the tale before them. Luna kept her face tilted away from Loki’s line of sight. She had no reason to be coy. He meant it as a compliment, and it was taken as such. And she had no doubt he knew how it made her feel and was pleased with himself. Still, she let the moment pass.

As she gathered the empty dishes to rinse and wash, Luna continued her contemplating. It wasn’t hard to figure out why she still felt closed off. Emotional openness was difficult. She fully expected Loki to forget or drop the ‘nice’ act, but he didn’t. In matters of the heart, he never acted. If he has, he wasn’t good at it. But it must be as hard for him as it was for her.

She knew he kept his secrets close to the vest. The dark ones. The dirty ones. In respect to those things, they were the same: survivors of cruelty, trying to build a better life. Luna felt like she was doing alright. Loki made things a little topsy-turvy, but she never blamed him. It was in his nature, and he meant no harm by it.

All in all, he made her feel seen, and in the best way. And she hoped she could instill the same feeling in him if only to return the favor.

Luna put her hand on the side of the pan. It was still too hot to put away. Leaving the chore for later, she took out some chocolate ice cream for herself and Loki and mixed in pieces of banana. As she handed a bowl to him, he received it with a napkin under the bottom and a grateful smile.

After rinsing and putting everything away, Luna took a detour to her room and grabbed her collection of nail polish. Sitting back next to Loki, she lay them out in her hands and displayed them so he could point and pick. He spared her a few side glances, not wanting to pause the film. It didn’t take him long to select one: the classic lacquer black.

She took the hand closest to her and started off with a clear base. Loki flinched at the feeling the polish and looked at her, startled. Luna gave him a curt nod and rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb. He relaxed, feeling reassured, and let her continue without interruption.

They’ve held hands before in different scenarios, but each time, it was a little different. Here, Luna wondered if it was her imagination, or if his hands had gotten softer the longer he was with her. Any calluses on his palm and fingers had diminished and left behind smoother, suppler skin. The chill of his touch left behind tingles on her hand. It wasn’t a new thing, but to focus on it was.

Doing the next hand proved more difficult. It would be vastly more advantageous if Luna could sit in front of Loki like a proper manicurist, but circumstances didn’t let her. Quickly, she moved around to his other side and continued without much pause. She blew on the finished product and set his hand down to rest on his thigh. Now, the first hand was ready for a coat of color.

Luna patiently painted each nail. If one flaw came out, she would be furious with herself. Would Loki mind? Probably. He preferred looking put together, and a lousy nail job would set it all off. Or maybe he wouldn't care. Perhaps he would leave the errors be and admire them anyway. He knew she wasn't perfect, and neither was he. But he didn't seem to care. His goal was to get to know her, and it looked like he accomplished it.

Luna waited for a break in the film’s dialogue to speak. “I guess you win now.”

Loki blinked, feeling caught off-guard. “Win?”

“Yeah,” Luna continued, not bothering to look away from her task. “You figured me out, so you win.”

He thought on her statement and remembered the playful wager they made many months ago. “With all due respect, dear, there’s more to you than I previously thought.” He waited for her to make eye contact with him. “And that’s the truth.”

Luna smirked and eyed him. “Ooh, he tells the truth. So dangerous.” He took the humorous jab and grinned along with her.

But again, it fell, leaving him serious. Days had passed, but the incident with her was still fresh in his memory.

“Why would you think I would want to hurt you?”

Luna’s cheeks grew warm. It was embarrassing. She still felt guilty about what she said; more so now because he didn’t easily forget either.

She lay his hand down, screwed the nail polish bottle closed, and set it on the table with the others. “My mother always told me that if someone knew how much you hated yourself – or worse, if you hurt yourself – the people in your life would spare no expense in making you hurt more. And I’ve never found a reason to second-guess anyone.”

Loki measured his next words with great care. “While she’s not wrong, I have never once thought of hurting you.”

Luna patted the back of his hand, minding his nails, and gave a little half-smile.

“Good to know.”