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Priceless

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The knocking on the door was what woke him up. With a groan, Loki rolled over in bed to reach for his alarm clock. His bleary half-opened eyes made out the red lines on the clock face showing 4:12. Loki sighed, but the knocking on the door was back, so he forced himself to half-roll half-tumble out of bed. He grabbed up the pair of leather pants he'd worn the night before and haphazardly pulled them up even while he stumbled out of his bedroom. Loki kicked the obnoxiously blue and white flower patterned couch that came with the apartment as he passed by it but the figure with his head buried under some pillows didn't stir even a little bit. Loki grabbed a knife from the kitchen as he passed by and then opened the apartment door. He sighed at the sight of the fourteen-year-old standing there with his book bag slung over his shoulder. Loki didn't spot any marks on the boy's face or arms, which was at least a good thing. "Dad locked me out," the teen muttered.

"Probably drunk off his ass," Loki sighed again and reached over to push the thin braids back behind the kid's ear before putting a hand on his slightly too thin shoulder. "Come on," he said with a nod to the apartment.

The teen trudged into the apartment and dropped his book bag on the ground. "You have homework, Sleipnir?" Loki asked as he closed the door and put the knife back. Sleipnir shook his head. "Are you lying to me?" Loki asked. Sleipnir hesitated and glanced up at Loki with big dark eyes, but then shrugged. "Uh huh. Best get started on it then."

Sleipnir made a face but sat down at the rickety table and dragged his bag over to start rummaging around it in. Loki started up the coffee maker in the kitchen and went to the couch. He rolled his eyes at the half-buried figure and reached over to shake the one sleeping there by the shoulder. That earned him a grunt and a halfhearted attempt to swat his hand away. "Wake up, Peter," Loki ordered.

There was an indistinct grumble from under the pillow and blanket, and Loki sighed. "Wake up. I need you to watch Sleipnir," Loki said.

"I can look after myself," Sleipnir volunteered.

"Of course you can, Sleipnir, but Peter should be awake anyway," Loki replied.

Sleipnir made a face. "He's only a year older than me," he grumbled as he flipped through one of his books.

Peter finally pushed himself up and yawned widely. His hair was a tousled mess and his eyes bloodshot. "When'd you get in last night?" Peter asked blearily. "You weren't when I fell asleep."

"You shouldn't wait up for me," Loki said instead of answering.

"If you'd let me help you-"

"Absolutely not," Loki snapped. "You're only fifteen!"

"You were doing it at fifteen!" Peter argued.

"And that's exactly why you're not!" Loki snarled. "You're a kid, and you should be in school."

Peter huffed and folded his arms. They'd had this argument about a hundred times ever since Loki had offered Peter a couch to crash on. Peter had run away from the foster house he'd been placed in after the car crash that killed his uncle and put his aunt into a coma that she still hadn't woken up from. Loki had caught Peter scaling the side of the building to get to an unlocked window, and while it was impressively bold, it was also incredibly stupid and dangerous. It had taken Loki a solid three weeks and a downpour to coax Peter into the apartment. "Pietro and Wanda work the street!" Peter argued.

"Pietro and Wanda don't live in my apartment!" Loki shot back. Not that Loki hadn't attempted to get the twins off the streets. But Pietro and Wanda only trusted each other and Loki wasn't even sure where they slept. Hell, Loki couldn't be sure of seeing them each week since they seemed to roam to wherever they wanted.

Peter huffed and glared off to the side. Sleipnir glanced between the two of them uneasily. He wasn't a fan of arguing although Sleipnir had to admit it was nice not to be the one being yelled at for once. "Today's Friday," Peter muttered.

"So?" Loki asked as he went to pour a mug of coffee and added several spoons of sugar to it.

"So... if you let me out this weekend, I'll go to school again Monday?" Peter offered.

Loki hesitated for a minute. Peter was insanely smart, and it was a real shame that he didn't go to school regularly anymore and Loki was continually looking for a way to get him to go back. But Loki also couldn't abide that particular bargain. He carried the mug of coffee over to the couch and handed it to Peter. "No dice, Pete."

Peter scowled even as he took the coffee. "But you need the money!"

"I manage," Loki replied evenly. "Now, Sleip... you see the terrible trio around?" Sleipnir shook his head. Loki sighed heavily at that. "Fantastic. I'm going to go get them. Stay here both of you." Peter was still scowling, but Sleipnir nodded in agreement.

Loki didn't even bother pulling anything on over his bare chest as he left the apartment and went down the hall to a different door. He pounded on the door several times. "Boda! Boda, open up!" There was no answer and, after a long few minutes, Loki pounded on the door again. "Angrboda! Open up, damn it!" The door stayed closed even after that.

Another few minutes passed, and Loki reached for the knob. When the handle turned without a problem, he cursed aloud. "Can't even lock your door," he grumbled as he pushed the door open. The security chain wasn't even in place, so Loki had no trouble whatsoever getting into the apartment. One quick glance and he spotted Angrboda passed out on the couch with all her tools for getting high spread out on the coffee table. Loki scowled and didn't bother trying to wake the woman.

Instead, Loki went to the bedroom and opened the door. Three kids looked up immediately. The youngest, a little girl with half her face scarred from a burn lit up and reached for Loki. Loki couldn't help but smile back. "Hi there, beautiful," he said as he bent down to pick up the four-year-old. The two boys in the room looked up. Loki gave a quick glance over both of them to make sure they were alright. The oldest, Jormungundr, was unusually tall for his age and scrawny due to the speed that he'd gained height, and the middle of the three children, Fenris, had beautiful natural olive skin but his hair was shaggy and unkempt. "You two alright?" Loki asked, not seeing any marks but not going to take that at face value.

"Hungry," Fenris said.

"Mom didn't make anything for lunch..." Jory added in his soft voice. Jormungundr had a lisp that other children had teased him mercilessly for and so had grown quieter and quieter over the years.

Loki grunted in understanding. "Get your things," he ordered as he carried Hela into the main room of the apartment. He didn't put the girl down as he took an old past due bill and scribbled a note on the back of it. 'A, I have the kids. Don't come unless you're sober for once. -L' was clear enough and hopefully would convey to her how displeased he was to find her passed out with the kids not even having been fed. Again.

Jormungundr and Fenris came out of the bedroom with two bags. Loki held his hand out, and Fenris grabbed it instantly. Jormungundr walked behind as Loki led them back down the hall to his own apartment. Once they were back, Fenris ran over to jump onto the couch beside Peter while Jory went to the table and began pulling out several coloring books that he'd been half working on while watching his siblings as best he could. "Did you go to school today, Jory?" Loki asked as he locked the door to the apartment and then went to the kitchen to find something to make for dinner.

"No... Mom didn't make breakfast so I knew I shouldn't go..." he murmured.

Loki frowned at the news that Angrboda had apparently been out of it all day. At least he knew that the eight-year-old Jormungundr was able to make him and his siblings breakfast and reach up to snacks. Still, that wasn't exactly filling meals. Plus Hela could get finicky. And if Jormungundr hadn't gone to school that meant that the six-year-old Fenris hadn't either. Hela was only four, so her brothers wouldn't have left her alone with Angrboda drugged out of her mind.

"You going out tonight?" Sleipnir asked as Loki rummaged for something in his very barren kitchen. He really needed to go grocery shopping, he realized.

"Uh huh. You and Peter will be in charge," Loki answered as he found some cans of tuna fish. "There's cereal if I'm not home by morning. I'll go shopping before I get home," he added as he also managed to find a single box of Mac'n'Cheese. Not the stuff of a feast but it was infinitely better than letting the kids just starve.

Loki kept Hela on his hip as he quickly made up the Mac'n'Cheese and then added some condiments to the drained tuna. He also managed to find some bagels and, while that was hardly a typical way to eat tuna fish, it was better than trying to mix the tuna with cheese. So, the kids were quickly sat down with some tuna-bagel sandwiches and Mac'n'Cheese and eating before Loki headed into the bedroom.

Loki was able to shower and then fix his hair in under fifteen minutes. Loki pulled on a mesh shirt that had ripped at the neck ages ago and now would only stay up if it was hanging off one shoulder. Over that he put on a green tank top that was so worn it was practically see-through in several spots. Several necklaces went around Loki's neck, leather cuffs around his wrists, chunky rings that he wore more for defense than anything else and a long black coat was pulled on to cover his otherwise mostly exposed arms. Loki didn't bother closing the thin coat as he would most likely be taking it off several times tonight. Loki pulled his boots on and grabbed his wallet. He chained the depressingly thin bit of leather to his studded belt before shoving it in his back pocket.

The kids looked up as Loki came out of his bedroom. "Usual rules apply," Loki said as he went around the apartment gathering a few last things. "Don't open the door for anyone, make sure the windows are locked, and listen to Peter and Sleipnir."

"Yes, Loki," Fenris said while Jormungundr nodded in agreement,

"Loki!" Hela called out with her arms out.

Loki went over and picked the four-year-old up to give her a hug. "I have to go out, Hela. But you'll see me after you wake up, alright?"

"No!" she said clinging to his neck.

Loki sighed but rubbed her back in an attempt to soothe her. "I have to go, Hela baby, but when I come home tomorrow morning you can take a nap with me, alright?" That was usually what ended up happening if the three kids were in Loki's house rather than Angrboda's. Loki would sleep most of the day and when it was time for Hela's nap she would curl up with Loki.

"Nooo, stay!" Hela ordered.

"I can't stay, baby," Loki said as he carefully pried the girl's hands off of him. "But I promise I'll be back," he said as he handed Hela off to Sleipnir, who happened to be closest. Hela looked about ready to start wailing, but Sleipnir started rocking and bouncing her in an effort to keep that from happening.

Loki did lean over to kiss her forehead before ruffling Fenris' head. "I'll be back," Loki said as he grabbed his keys.

"Stay safe," Peter said even though he still looked to be upset.

"Always," Loki agreed before leaving the kids in the apartment. At least two of them were teenagers so they should be able to handle most anything that could happen. Peter even knew that there was a secret stash of money if something happened. It wasn't a lot by any means (forty bucks wouldn't do a whole lot), but hopefully, that was enough for any emergencies that might occur while Loki was out.

The sky was still abnormally light out when Loki made his way onto the street, but it was quickly getting darker. Not too much darker since the neon on all the signs were lighting up to give everything an artificial daytime glow. Since he had a little bit of time before anyone might possibly be looking for him, Loki took a longer route to his usual spot. He was cutting through territory that Pietro and Wanda tended to work and since Loki hadn't seen them around in a while he thought he might stumble across the twins soon.

Sure enough after only a few streets, Loki spotted the nearly white hair of Pietro in an alley with his sister counting out money behind him where she was guarded. The haul she had from their pick-pocketing was hard to see due to Pietro and the dumpster she was half behind, but Loki guessed it was a pretty good amount. "You two alright?" Loki asked without getting too close. Pietro would whisk both of them off if he thought even for half a second that Loki was looking to steal from them.

"We're fine," Pietro replied. "We can take care of ourselves, you know."

Loki held his hands up. "I know. Just making sure," he said. "You don't need anything?"

Pietro narrowed his eyes. "No," he insisted.

"Alright. I'll see you two later," Loki said. He knew when to back off and the twins might be young, but they were not a pair that people should casually cross. Pietro was wicked fast and Wanda tricky to the extreme. Working together they were able to handle most anyone that might try to cause them trouble. Pietro continued to glare until Loki was out of sight but the older man didn't take it to heart. If he had been in that situation, he wouldn't have trusted him either. Loki was just glad to see that the two teenagers didn't look too much worse than they had the last time he'd spotted them.

By the time Loki made his way over to the street he usually hung out on it had grown fully dark and the kind of people he was looking for was bound to be out and about. "Hey, Loki," he was greeted as he turned to lean against his favorite light post.

"Hi, Tasha," he answered.

The vibrant redhead in a skimpy blue dress made her way over to him and hooked one arm over his shoulder. "You look unhappy," Natasha stated with deceptive neutrality.

"Don't try and play your hooker-therapist shtick on me, Natasha," Loki said without glancing at the redhead.

"No idea what you're talking about," she said as she used him for balance and adjusted her golden pump. Once she'd fixed it, Natasha straightened fully. "What happened? One of the kids?"

Loki glanced over at her finally. Though Natasha often got on Loki's nerves (they were a little too alike, he thought), he knew that she did very much care about the kids that Loki was taking care of. If it weren't for Natasha's living arrangements not allowing it, Loki was sure she would have taken in a few of the street brats herself. "Angrboda passed out sometime this morning. Hadn't fed her kids all day," Loki answered.

"Bitch," Natasha hissed. "You know you have to do something about that."

"What the hell am I supposed to do?" Loki asked back.

"Call child services and claim you're their father. Then you'll be granted custody," Natasha replied instantly. "Not like Angrboda is gonna argue with you. She has no idea who the hell she slept with."

Loki frowned but had to admit that other than the fact that he knew it wasn't true, that wasn't all that far-fetched. "Yeah maybe..."

"I wouldn't be surprised if they thought you were their father," Natasha continued. "You take care of them more than their mother does. Hell, they probably see you more than they see their mother and you don't even live in the same apartment."

Loki sighed. "I know," he said. "I don't even know if she'd care if I took them or not."

"Probably wouldn't notice," Natasha said. "Crack heads don't tend to notice anything other than their drugs. You hear what happened to Lisa?"

"No, what?" Loki asked.

Natasha pulled out her phone and flipped to a news article. In big bold letters were the words 'Prostitute found shot in river' followed by a mug shot of Lisa looking far less than her best. "Figure it was her pimp," Natasha said as she put the phone away again.

"Probably," Loki agreed. "That's why I don't have one."

"Hey, I've been meaning to talk to you about that," Natasha said suddenly.

Loki cast Natasha a glare. "I'm not getting a pimp and neither should you. Bad enough you live in that godawful Red Room Hotel. I keep telling you to move out of there."

Natasha sighed, "I'm not talking a pimp. I met this lady who runs one of those fancy escort services... it's safer, the pay is better, and we can get enough money to move to a safer place. Out of Red Room for me and to a place with working heating for you."

"An escort," Loki repeated. "Are you serious? Whoever heard of a high-class male escort?"

"I'm sure it happens."

"What about your favorite customer?" Loki asked. "I doubt he'll be able to afford you if you become an escort."

Natasha frowned. "I'm sure that I could cut a few deals for special occasions. But come on, how can we pass up a chance like this? And it wouldn't be illegal. No more having to duck cops. Isn't that appealing?"

Loki sighed. "I suppose..."

"At least come and meet with the lady with me. What could it hurt?" Natasha asked.

"When are you meeting with her?" Loki asked.

"Two days from now," Natasha answered instantly. "They want to run blood tests and drug tests and all that fun stuff but apparently they do all that in-house. And even if you don't like it, free STD check. Bonus."

Loki rolled his eyes. "Alright alright, stop trying to be a saleswoman already. I'll go with you to the stupid meeting," he told her. Natasha grinned and kissed his cheek. Loki made a face and reached up to wipe the lipstick from his pale skin. "Thanks."

"You won't regret it," Natasha promised. "I'll pick you up in two days at noon."

"Right right," Loki said even as a very nice bright red sports car pulled over a little ahead of where they were standing. "How much you wanna bet he's here for you, Tasha?"

"Maybe he wants us both," she said as she straightened and fluffed her curls a bit.

Loki snorted. "Like I'm that lucky. Go get 'em, Tasha," he said.

Natasha gave him a wink and sauntered over to the car. Loki couldn't entirely stop from smiling as Natasha bent over at the passenger window to talk to whoever was inside. Even though Natasha drove Loki up the wall she was, unlike most others on the street, dependable and not utterly horrid to everyone else. Just kind of pushy and had a habit of worming secrets out of people when they'd really instead her not do that.

Since so few people would pick up Loki over Natasha when they were both standing right there, Loki was caught off guard when Natasha let out a sharp whistle. Loki couldn't help but blink and stare for a few heartbeats before pushing off the lamppost and pulling his coat off and hooking it over one arm, showing the meager covering on his top half more fully. Natasha met him only a few steps from the car. "He looks rich," Natasha said. "I'm kinda jealous."

"Oh shut up, you have ten times as many regulars as I do," Loki answered. "Bout time I got a rich one."

"Catty," Natasha comment. "Be safe."

"I'll call you," Loki promised.

Loki inclined his head and made his way to the car door to lean over. "Hey there. Looking for something specific are you?" he asked. The man behind the wheel wasn't what Loki would call a looker (although not ugly either. Fairly average), but Natasha was right that by the car and suit he was rich.

"Not me, my employer," the man said. "Get in."

Loki was mildly surprised but took it in stride. "Don't you want to know my prices? I'm not cheap."

"Good. Boss doesn't like cheap anything. Sex included," the driver said. "Like I said, get in."

There was just a moment of hesitation, but then Loki climbed into the car. Almost instantly the driver was pulling away from the curb. "So, this employer of yours... closet or kinky?"

"What?"

"Closet or kinky," Loki repeated as he let himself sink into the plush Italian leather. "I mean, he sends... you to come get a male hooker so either he's closeted or into some heavily kinky shit," Loki explained even though he fumbled slightly when he realized he had no idea this man's actual job.

"Perhaps it's both," the driver replied. "I just know that he said 'different' when I asked what sort of person I was to come out here looking for."

Loki couldn't quite help but snort. "Well, I am that," he muttered. He really hoped whatever guy he was being brought to was at least flexible enough to try out a guy otherwise this would be one hell of a waste of time.

"In case boss forgets to ask later, what are your rates?" the driver asked as he turned a corner and took off down another street.

"A hundred," Loki answer instantly.

"A night?" Driver asked.

Again Loki snorted. "Please, a hundred an hour," Loki corrected. "I told you, I'm not cheap."

The driver nodded a little but then didn't ask any further questions. Loki found himself a little unnerved by the lack of discussion. Usually, by this point, they'd have found a hotel or something and would be getting to business. But this driver was taking him well out of where Loki frequently roamed. The streets got cleaner and the storefronts classier. Fewer bars on windows and less clashing colors of neon. "Where are we going?" Loki finally asked as they came to a stop at a red light.

The driver pointed ahead. "Right there."

Loki raised an eyebrow and bent forward to better look at the building. He felt his jaw wanting to drop at the sight of the glimmering monolithic Stark Tower right down the road. "I... guess some exec at Stark Industries wants a late night booty call at the office?" Loki suggested.

"Something like that," the driver said even as the light turned green and he took off again. Loki was having second thoughts about this because he was pretty sure a business mogul like Tony Stark wouldn't like his underlings bringing prostitutes in for kinky office sex or whatever this was. Plus there were sure to be cameras right?

But Loki eased himself with the knowledge that he was unlikely to get into trouble with Tony Stark about this although cops might be an issue. Then again, cops were always an issue. The driver pulled into an underground parking garage and found a spot right beside an elevator.

Loki got out and made sure his coat was with him even as the driver unlocked the elevator with a key. Loki was a little surprised a key was needed but got into the shiny and surprisingly plush elevator without argument. "So, am I going to have to call a cab back to my corner?" Loki asked purely to break the tension.

"I'll drive you back," the other man said.

"Oh, so gentlemanly," Loki couldn't help but sass.

"Well, it's unlikely you'll want to walk all the way back," the driver said.

Loki stared in surprise for a moment before he couldn't help but let out a laugh. "And here I was starting to think you had no sense of humor."

"Oh trust me, I have a sense of humor," the driver said.

Just then the elevator dinged. Loki was very surprised by that, judging by the time it took Loki didn't expect to have gone up that high but Loki knew how money worked and knew that the only execs who would have the money for something like this would be on a high-level floor. "I'll come and get you to take you home when you're done," the driver said as the door to the elevator slid open.

Loki was still a little bewildered but walked in despite that. He came up short almost immediately when he came face to face with a sleek modern penthouse full of what looked to be obscenely expensive things. "Mr. Stark will be right with you, sir," a voice said from nowhere.

Holy shit.