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Terrible Taste in Men

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You had been recruited by SHIELD while in your sophomore year at college. You were told that you fit a profile. Intelligent, capable, with a unique specialty that might come in handy one day. You now knew that the “profile” included the fact that you had no family to miss you and few ties to the world. You were an only child, never knew your father, and your mother had been killed in a car wreck when you were seventeen. Life insurance supported your unusual choice of study in school, which was what had attracted SHIELD's attention in the first place. Young, healthy, unattached, and eager for adventure, you had been easy to fold into their system and shaped into what they wanted you to be.

It had been mostly boring at first. You had been allowed to pursue your unconventional area of research: Ancient Folklore with a specialty in Pagan Deities and a minor in Medieval Demonology. You had wondered sometimes WHY a multi-national spy organization cared about something as arcane and obscure as your field of study. What were the chances of some cult or something popping up that would make your knowledge useful? But to be completely honest, you had just been happy that SOMEBODY wanted to fund your research. The money from your mother's life insurance wasn't going to last forever, even on your sparse student's budget and by supplementing with loans. It was an academic's dream! Then …. The Incident had happened. New York had been invaded by an ancient Trickster God with an army of aliens at his back. Sometimes, you still woke up covered in a fine sheen of sweat, seeing his piercing blue eyes and wide, wicked grin in the darkness, your heart thundering in your chest, the sound drowning out the silence of the empty room.

You had had your fill of adventure. Twenty-eight years old and you were sick of the world, sick of constant manipulation from your superiors, constant danger from missions you had never expected to be deployed on. You were a scholar, for fuck's sake, not a warrior or an assassin! You weren't, well, Natasha. The incident on the helicarrier and the ensuing Battle of New York would have been bad enough, but it wasn't long after that when you had met the demon that claimed to be the King of Hell. You had been given no time at all to process the existence of Gods and aliens, to lick your proverbial wounds, before you were sent to grapple with demons. And that particular demon would eventually be responsible for the end of your career at SHIELD…. Well, it didn't matter now, you tell yourself firmly. You were out. No sense dwelling on the past.

You pull your car over the defunct railroad track that surrounds your property, sighing at the sputtering sound of the engine. You need to get it to the shop soon, but money is in short supply. You had spent nearly all of your savings on building this demon-proofed retreat in the middle of nowhere. You had stayed with Sam and Dean for a few months at their bunker in Kansas – they said it was the least they could do, after what you did for them. It was only because of Clint and the plea deal that he made sure you got that you weren't considered an enemy of the state after helping them escape from the Shadow Ops government facility they had been held at. You couldn't believe Fury had been willing to let them rot. It wasn't fair. It wasn't their fault that Lucifer had been possessing the president at the time they took him down.

But they were hunters, and you were no more a hunter than you were an Avenger. While the world needed them, you just wanted peace and quiet. If you had stayed, you would have been drawn into more of this shit again. You didn't want adventure. Not with demons, not with Gods, not with aliens. You just want to feel safe again. You could barely remember the feeling.

As soon as you cross the threshold into your somewhat ramshackle little house, the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up. You weren't alone. It couldn't possibly be a demon; this place was covered in a dozen different kinds of wardings and spells. But there's an innumerable amount of other dangerous creatures that you are now aware populate the world, and one of them could be your uninvited guest. Still in the dark, you reach for your mace – laced with holy water and silver nitrate, of course – every nerve thrumming with the preparation for a fight.

“Nice place.” The deep voice is familiar. Damn him. The fear begins to ebb away, replaced instantly by anger. You pocket the mace – you probably won't use it on him – and flip on the light, scowling as the form of Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is illuminated. The man is standing as if he knew where the light would hit him for maximum dramatic effect, as if this is a damn movie. He looks exactly as you remember him: ebony skin, smooth bald head, eyepatch, neat goatee, dressed from head to toe in black leather. The master spy himself.

He continues as he surveys your home with one disdainful eye. “Solid iron fixtures, salt encrusted. Warding everywhere. Almost as if you're afraid of demons.” He pauses meaningfully. “Or just one.”

“Not afraid. Just cautious.” You set your purse on the floor as you address your former boss. “Why are you here, Director?”

Director Fury cut right to the point.“Loki's back.” he lets those two words sink in,watches your eyes widen slightly, before continuing, “Thor says he's under control, but, he has a blind spot when it comes to his brother. I thought you might like a warning.”

You winkle your nose. Something about that smelled fishy. “Any reason to believe he might come after me?”

“Not as yet, but --”

“But you thought you'd take advantage of the situation and try to recruit me back?” His underhandedness disgusts you, but you aren't surprised. Fury might claim to be doing what he does for the greater good, but at times his methods were no better than his enemies. And when one of those enemies was occasionally the King of Hell, that ought to make a man pause and reevaluate.

But not a man like Fury. “You did insult a God, one who doesn't take kindly to such treatment. I would think you'd be glad of SHIELD's protection –” you scoff at his choice of words, but he talks over you – “And frankly, you should be glad I'd be willing to take you back after the incident with the Winchesters.”

Anger flares up in you at that, far more powerful than you had expected it to be. How dare he?! He had no right to talk about Sam and Dean that way. If it hadn't been for them, you would be dead. All you had done was return the favor, and you told him so. But to Fury, it was simple. “The world is still grappling with the fact that we are not alone in the universe. A army of aliens invaded New York, led by a fucking God. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if the public found out about demons and angels, too?”

“They aren't planning on exposing that.”

He just shrugs. “They're anarchists. You can never tell what an anarchist is going to do.”

“They're the heroes that you love to talk about so much. You're just worried you can't control them. And they defeated Lucifer – twice. You should be thanking them, not hunting them.”

Fury places his gloved hands on his hips, voice firm. “That's not your call to make.”

“No, its not,” you agree. “And it's why I'm not coming back.”

Met with your defiance and outright disregard for his authority, he switches to a different tac. “Barton has been asking about you.”

Guilt floods through you at the mention of Clint. He was really the only one of the Avengers that you had liked, who seemed like a real person and not some paragon of heroism. He had been kind to you, had tried to help you. Save you from yourself. You lean on the kitchen counter for support, suddenly weary. “Clint thinks that Crowley mind-controlled me somehow.”

“Can you blame him?” the Director's one eye seems to glint at you knowingly.

“No.” You heave a heavy sigh. Agent Barton had lost his free will completely, carrying out every order given to him, thanks to whatever magic was contained in that staff Loki had carried during his failed invasion. He had helped the rogue Asgardian prince spread his chaos. Poor Clint had been under Loki's thrall from the moment the God first appeared on Earth, killing many of his fellow SHIELD agents in the process. During the fight on the helicarrier, even as it burned and fell from the sky, he had even tried to kidnap you, but Natasha had fought him off, eventually knocking him out. Apparently a really hard hit to the head was all it took to undo the magic controlling him, because when he woke up,... well he was never really gonna be back to his old self after that, you supposed. “How's he doing?” you ask.

Fury crossed his leather clad arms and glared at you meaningfully. “He's been logging a lot of hours at the archery range. And it's not as if his aim needs improving.”

You wince. “You must not have told him you were coming to talk to me. He would have insisted on tagging along.”

Fury avoids that comment, of course. He can't possibly let himself lose control of the conversation. “What should I tell him?”

You let out a long slow breath, look him in the eye, and lie to the Director's face. “Tell him I know how to ward against anything.”

The brow above Fury's eyepatch raises ridiculously high, his lips turning downwards into a deep frown. Fury is not a fool. There is, as far as you know, no way to ward against Asgardians. You could keep demons out of your home; but if a God wanted in, he was coming in. There was no reason for Clint to know that, however. You hope Fury would pass along the lie. He had deceived you enough in the past, you think bitterly.


The first time you see him, you're shopping for groceries. Loki is wearing his civilian clothes. They were the same clothes he had worn when he had attacked Stuttgart. Director Fury had showed you surveillance videos from the museum before you had interviewed him, after his “capture”. The director had wanted you to understand just how dangerous he was before he sent you to talk to him. Of course, it was Fury who had underestimated him. The God of Mischief that planned the whole thing, including his capture. Loki was never anywhere he didn't want to be.

The black suit hugs his slim figure and the green scarf brings out the green flecks in his pale blue eyes, which look positively vivid set again his pallid skin. This time, his long black hair is gathered into a ponytail at the back of his head. The dark strands being out of the way just accentuates the sharpness of his features when he catches your eyes and flashes you a predatory, hungry grin. Your stomach twists and your pulse is hammering under your skin. Even from across the store, with the crowd between you, you could feel the power radiating off of him. He was a predator, a hunter, a wolf. And you were the rabbit. He was hunting you. Your breathing quickens slightly at the thought.

Your …. association with Crowley had taught you how to deal with men like him. Loki wanted you to be frightened. He wanted to see you shaking and tearful. So you do the only thing you could think of. You wave, projecting as much casual nonchalance in your posture as you possibly can. The wicked, threatening grin melts into an expression of confusion. You will yourself to hold his gaze, even though your instincts are screaming at you to run. He wanted you to run. After a heartbeat, he disappears. You let out a ragged breath.

It's another two weeks before you catch sight of him again. You were bent over in front of a vending machine, pulling a KitKat out, and when you stand he's right in front of you. Those intense blue-green eyes are staring at you, boring right into your skull, as if he's trying to scoop out what's inside with just his gaze. Your heart picks up speed again, and he smirks, as if he can hear your pounding heartbeat. You silently break the KitKat in half and offer him some of the candy. He doesn't take it. Once again he gives you that perplexed look before disappearing. And so begins the far too familiar game of cat and mouse.


“Why aren't you afraid?” Loki demanded, the first words he had spoken to you since he had started following you. He had been standing right in front of you as you turned a corner on the street. Your breath had hitched in surprise but for the most part you could control your reaction. Crowley had pulled these same tricks, too. Loki was nowhere near as unique as he thought he was.

He's standing too close to you, invading your personal space. You rock back on your heels, but refuse to take an actual step back. That would be giving ground, surrender, an admittance that he makes you uncomfortable. You are far too used to this little power game he is playing with you. “I'm not the little girl I was when we first met. I know how to deal with men like you now.”

He looks taken aback at that, his brow furrowing slightly. “There are no men like me.”

You actually laugh in his face, to Loki's shock. “He thought the same thing.”

That enraged him, of course. “I am a God, puny mortal!”

Your heartbeat instantly picks up seed. Maybe that was a stupid thing to say. The twisted, angry expression on his face is terrifying, and his eyes are damn near glowing, making every nerve in your body thrum, and you are suddenly reminded that you were dealing with an honest-to-goodness God. Well, maybe not goodness. A God with a reputation for capriciousness, certainly, and a violent temper. But it was too late. All there is to do now is pretend to be calm.

“All men think they're Gods.” You shrug, flipping your long hair behind your shoulder. “Is there a point to this, or can I go about my day? I have shit to do.” Projecting a bravery you didn't feel, and hoping with all your might that he couldn't read your mind, you carefully step around him and continue walking.

“Ah, and what could be so vital?” he sneers as he fell into step behind you. You sincerely hope he didn't know what that sneer did to you, and not for the first time, you silently curse your terrible taste in men. “You used to have a purpose, a mission. Your life has gotten so small since last our paths crossed.”

“What purpose?” you respond flippantly. “Didn't you call me Fury's errand girl? At least my life is my own, now.” When you turn around, he was gone.

“What, no response?” You yell into the wind, the first time you had lost your temper since he had started following you. “That was cowardly!”

You ignore the looks from some of the passersby.


“Is this revenge for the horse comment? Following me is kinda lame, isn't it?” You offer him a
beer when he shows up in your kitchen one night. His hair is unbound tonight, and it waves a little as he cocks his head to the side to regard you. You start to feel a little stupid and self conscious, in your short shorts and unbuttoned plaid flannel shirt over a faded tank top, arm extended and holding out the beer. Was he too good to drink with you or something?!

“Loki, just take the fucking beer.” You say impatiently, waving it at him. “It's not poisoned, and if it was, it wouldn't do any good against an Asgardian, would it?”

“No, it wouldn't.” He laughs a small laugh, and the sharp features of his face soften when he does. His smile is almost mesmerizing, and you find yourself wishing he would smile more often. No! You chide yourself. Bad thought!

A faint smile still tugging at his thin lips, Loki reaches out and takes the bottle from your hand. His long slim fingers brush yours as he does so. A bolt of electricity goes down your spine at the touch, which you do your best to ignore. You cough, looking away. “So, you gonna tell me why you're following me?” you picked at the label of your own beer.

Loki considers for a moment, before he responds. “You are …..odd, for a human. And this home, while …. shabby ...”

You roll your eyes. “Thanks.”

“ – Has lines of power woven into it. They're not as strong as the magic of Asgard, of course,”

“Of course,” you echo in a deadpan tone. You don't think Loki is oblivious to your sarcasm – he's far too clever for that – but he ignores you. “But I am still surprised to encounter such a thing in this realm. And from one such as you. I am not often surprised.”

“Glad I could give someone as old as you a new experience.” You tease.

He's giving you the unnerving stare again, like he's trying to look right through you. “Are you a witch?”

Thinking of Rowena, it's your turn to laugh. “No, no, definitely not. I'm just a folklorist.” When you see that explanation didn't seem to do the trick, you continue. “I study …. well, things like … you.”

“But there is a power that flows off you, as well.” Loki places the half-drunk beer on the counter, and proceeds to step right up to you. You can't control your breathing picking up. He's so much taller than Crowley, you find yourself thinking, before viciously shutting down any comparison of the two and where that line of thought would lead. His electric eyes hold yours as he speaks, but you have to focus to hear the words. “It's faint, but it's ….”

He reaches out to move aside the over-sized flannel shirt, and your heart pounds. Your mouth is dry and the sudden images flashing in your mind aren't helping you to get your breathing under control. His eyes focus on your cleavage exposed above the tank top, and he licks his lips, the flash of pink tongue making you shiver.

“Here.” he breathes, confusing you for a moment, “Coming from this.”

Oh. Your tattoo. You're suddenly deeply, deeply embarrassed. How could you think Loki would want you? He was a God, he was incredibly beautiful, a thousand years old, and you were ….. just you. Stupid, stupid girl! You chide yourself. He was just fascinated by a magic he didn't understand. The irony is you had gotten the anti-possession symbol tattooed on your chest while you were still in school, long before you ever met a demon. Before you had believed in magic and devils and Gods.

“You are afraid,” Loki says softly, so softly. His eyes are still glued to the tattoo, as if he's studying it. “But not of me.”

“I'm not afraid.” You protest automatically. “I know how to protect myself.”

His fingers reached out and traced the lines of black ink etched into your chest.

You gasp at the touch. “Your hands are so cold!” you blurt without thinking.

His demeanor instantly changes. Loki pulled his hand back as if he had been burned, his face hardening. No fascination. No curiosity. No gentleness. Only anger. You had said something wrong, you knew it, but you had no idea what.

“Loki....?” You hate the uncertainty in your voice.
When his eyes finally raise to meet yours again, you see regret flash in their depths for just a moment, before they become calm, placid pools once more. And then he's gone.


That one light touch began to haunt your dreams. Loki's fingertips had been cool, and in your dreams you imagined those cold fingers dancing lightly across every angle of your naked body. You imagined his long hair tickling your chest as his cool lips nipped and nibbled your exposed flesh. You imagined that wide wicked grin as he slid down your body with serpentine grace and demonstrated his skill with that legendary quicksilver tongue, the intoxicating cold from his touch cooling the fire he awoke in your skin.

Crowley's touch had been warm, far hotter than a human's would be. He was practically burning, literally, and his touch was a fever. His breath had been as hot as hellfire, the weight of his body heavy as he held you down. You wished you had never given into his advances, and not because it had ruined your career and reputation. After having Crowley as a lover, no human man could possibly compare. He had ruined you for mortal men. Perhaps that's why you were obsessing over Loki.

Loki was the ice to Crowley's fire. He was cool and collected when Crowley was passionate and fiery, tall and slim where Crowley was short and compact, pale where Crowley was ruddy in complexion, skin smooth where Crowley sported a scruffy beard. Yet they were similar in many ways. They were both incredibly intelligent and took charming to a new level when they wanted to, most skilled in magic and trickery. They each had out-of-this-world egos, and deserved them, to a degree. And they were both utterly amoral and self-serving. Why, why, why, did you have to have such awful taste in men?

During the day you felt guilt for your desire, just as you had agonized over your desire for the King of Hell. You had agonized over your desire for the King of Hell for years before you had finally tumbled into bed with him. And knowing how you had eventually given into that passion, and where it had led you, you feared for what these dreams could mean for you now.


“You would have been happier if I had won the Battle of New York.” Loki was stretched out on your couch, lounging like a damn cat. The most annoying thing wasn't even how comfortable he looked, completely at home taking over yours, but how you had actually come to look forward to his little visits. You were aware of how unhealthy that probably was, but it wasn't like you got out much. It was kind of sad that most of your social interaction came from your divine stalker, but you were the one had chosen to live the life of a hermit after …. everything. And choice was the subject that Loki seemed to want to discuss tonight.

“Oh, really?” You challenged him. You were sitting in a broken-down chair nearby, legs tucked underneath you, and you weren't entirely sure how the subject of how you had met had arisen. The two of you did have interesting discussions/arguments, and Loki seemed to enjoy the fact that you challenged him.

“Oh, not you, personally.” He rolled his eyes dramatically. “Your entire species.”

“And why is that? The whole 'freedom is a lie, you need to be commanded' spiel again?”

“Belief is a powerful thing.” Certainty and smugness rolled off of him as the speech began. It was maddening. “Your kind used to have it; it ennobled you. Now you're small, riddled with self-doubt, empty of purpose, meaning.”

“Purpose is over-rated,” you mutter.


You turn your empty beer bottle over in your hands, contemplating every angle. “Belief gets you into trouble.” You sigh. “I believed in SHIELD, I believed in its mission. And Fury used that.” It must be the alcohol that was making you so forthcoming. “Used me. Put me into situations that I was never prepared to handle …”

Loki leans forward slightly now, interest alight in his blue-green eyes, a slightly manic gleam that was almost frightening. “These situations are why you now live in the middle of nowhere, in a shack laced with spells against dark creatures?”

“Hey, it's not a shack!” You cry, genuinely offended. That only seems to amuse him. “We aren't all royalty, you know. This place cost me a lot of money to set up.”

“Then I fear for the state of your sanctuary if you had been a pauper.” Loki chuckled briefly at his own joke, but he wouldn't be distracted from his chosen subject. “What happened?”

Your answer is soft, and you look away from his intense gaze. “I did bad things.”

The smugness seems to intensify. “So, you came to regret your choices.”

“Yes, but not the way you're thinking. Most of my problems came from NOT thinking for myself.” You gestured with your bottle. LIE LIE LIE. “How's that fit with your little narrative?”

Loki smirks. “It means you were taking commands from the wrong person, not that there's anything wrong with the narrative itself.” The low purr is so sensual, the smirk so promising, and your body responds against your will.

“Oh for the love of -” you sigh in exasperation. Loki's smirk widens as he sits back into the couch. His eyes sparkle, and the green in them seems to intensify. It seems like there's an invitation there – You swear he knows how he affects you, but he has never tried to touch you since that time in the kitchen when he caressed your tattoo. You honestly don't know if you should be relieved or disappointed, but you can't deny that his presence is extremely frustrating, in more ways than one. Many times, as soon as Loki leaves, you have to, ah, satisfy some primal urges.

Deciding you had had enough of looking at that maddening expression on his too-handsome face, you stand. “Another beer?” you offer, more to distract yourself from the memory of those long fingers then an effort at playing the good host to your uninvited guest.

“Please.” He inclined his head magnanimously.

At least he had stopped insulting your choice of drink, you thought as he handed the empty bottle to you. You pad to the kitchen and pull two more beers from the fridge, when the lights flicker briefly. Your heart skips a beat, and you barely have time to contemplate running for the salt before a familiar, accented voice purrs in your ear, making you jump. “Hello, darling. Miss me?”

Oh. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no!!! Both of them, the King of Hell, and the God of Mischief, in your house, at the same time. An Asgardian in the living room and a demon in the kitchen, both with massive egos and explosive tempers. This was not going to end well.

After all, you had absolutely TERRIBLE taste in men.