Loki was a master of Seidr and he was fond of illusions.
Frigga had always warned him not to cast those tricks upon himself, but Loki had often ignored her. When life never gave him what he wanted, what were a few manipulations that would please his eye and heart but hurt no one?
He should have known better, he should have listened.
But when he was living on Midgard and helping Thor rebuild New Asgard, he found himself paying attention to Anthony Stark.
The mortal was peculiar and entertaining. He arrived with a flourish and refused to leave. He accepted Loki with little more than an assurance from Thor and a nod from Banner. Loki was curious about him, and within a few months they were friends.
But, Loki liked him, and the moment he realised his feelings and their futility, he started to play with illusions.
They were small things; Anthony’s jacket in his room, a mug of coffee beside his tea in the kitchen. They were half-truths; a lie about being busy on the chance Anthony might be available, refusing a new lover by stating he already had another.
Loki created the world he wanted to see. He just hadn’t realised that Thor had seen it too.
His brother was perceptive now, and keen to see Loki happy. He hadn’t spoken a word or interfered, and that subtlety had left Loki oblivious - had he known, he would have corrected Thor’s assumption, had he known, he would have suggested alternative accommodation.
But, when Anthony decided to stay in New Asgard for a month to ‘make science’ and his accommodations mysteriously suffered damage, Loki had offered his spare room. Anthony had accepted.
Loki had kept all of this information from the general populace; to all that looked at them, Anthony had moved directly into Loki’s rooms for his four week stay.
Loki was a God of Lies; it was not hard to mislead the people around him, especially when it gained him Anthony in his rooms.
The jacket and coffee mug were now real, as were a dozen other things that Loki would not have anticipated but adored learning. He made notes on how to improve his own lies and he enjoyed all the time with Anthony that he could gain.
It was a week after Anthony arrived that his lies, his illusion and his enjoyment of being with Anthony was shattered.
They had been leaving Loki’s rooms and making their way towards Banner’s laboratory when Thor had intercepted them. He was almost vibrating with excitement as he shouted, “Brother! Stark! I am glad to have caught you this morning! I come bearing a gift!”
Loki raised his eyebrows while Anthony looked curious. “Oh yeah? What you got, Point Break?”
Thor beamed and brought his hands out from behind his back. He revealed a small black kitten with a pink bow tied around its neck. He held it out towards them and Loki felt the colour drain from his face.
“He is not the traditional breed,” Thor continued obliviously. “But he has a warrior heart and a mischievous mind. I knew you would both approve of him.”
“Thor,” Loki said, his voice strangled.
Anthony had reached out to pet the kitten, but he paused to look between them. He frowned and asked, “What do you mean?”
Thor’s brow furrowed. “It is customary to gift-”
“Thank you, Thor,” Loki hissed through gritted teeth. His heart was pounding and he was desperate to keep this from going any further. He couldn’t have Anthony know.
He reached out and took the kitten from Thor. It meowed at him curiously as he held it in one hand. Loki ignored the kitten to grab his brother’s shoulder and start shoving him down the hallway and far away from Anthony.
He lowered his voice to hiss in his brother’s ear, “Have you lost your senses? We are not newlyweds!”
“But, Stark has-”
“Say another word and I will gut you,” Loki snapped.
Loki didn’t want to hear another word. He shoved his brother forward and then pointed. “Leave now before I send you to places far less pleasant.”
His threat was not an idle one and Thor sighed, sending him and the cat a rueful look. “I merely wished to give you both my blessing, Loki.”
He sent Loki an apologetic look, but Loki was not softened and Thor was forced to leave with slumped shoulders.
Loki waited until the Thunderer had disappeared down the corridor before giving his attention to the small black cat. It wasn’t much larger than his hand, and it had taken the chance to start attacking it’s bow in an attempt to pull it off.
The sight made Loki’s mouth twitch. He had always been fond of cats, and while he would love to be welcoming this kitten into a home shared between himself and Anthony, he knew that wasn’t the case.
It was only confirmed when he heard Anthony walking over to him. Loki closed his eyes, already wincing at what was about to occur.
“Okay,” Anthony said, “what’s going on?”
“Uh huh,” Anthony said disbelievingly.
He felt the mortal's arm brush his and Loki's eyes snapped open. Anthony had leant close in order to pet the kitten’s head. Loki could feel the other man’s warmth and breathe in his scent.
It was a parody of intimacy; a moment that, in another life, they might have shared as lovers.
Now, it was a mortifying reminder of what Thor had misunderstood. He was now faced with either avoiding the truth or explaining it to Anthony.
“So,” Anthony said, “if I’m reading this right, your brother got us a cat?”
Loki stared at the kitten in question; it was so much easier than looking at Anthony. The cat was rubbing its cheek against Anthony’s hand. Its tail was twitching happily against Loki’s palm and wrist.
“Did we move in together when I wasn’t looking?” Anthony joked. Loki’s grimace deepened and his discomfort increased. Anthony noticed instantly and he stopped patting the cat. “Wait, wait. Is this some kind of housewarming-”
Loki pulled away from Anthony and headed back towards his room, taking the cat with him. Loki should have known Anthony wouldn’t leave the subject alone. He followed along at Loki’s heels. “Are you saying you asked me to move in with you? Are you interested in me? Loki? Loki!”
Loki truly wished he could slam the door on the mortal and pretend this whole morning hadn’t occurred, but he didn’t have the option. Anthony was staying in his rooms, and while he might wish to relocate after today, Loki knew that ignoring the situation would get him nowhere.
It was his mistake. His foolish illusion. He had no choice but to accept what its revelation would mean.
He paused just inside the doorframe and pulled in a deep breath. He looked over his shoulder at Anthony’s confused features.
“A cat is a gift to newlyweds or committed couples. They are a good addition to any household and are a sign of approval from the benefactor. They are also a blessing and a means of wishing the couple a long and prosperous relationship.”
Anthony’s eyes widened and his face slackened. Loki looked away, trying not to let the pain in his heart show. He stared at the small kitten instead. “Thor is an idiot, but he did not act without reason. I might have given an impression to the Aesir that you were... taken.”
It hurt to admit that; his pathetic pining and wishful illusion, but he pushed it down. He sighed and pulled off the kitten’s bow, dropping it to the floor.
“Explain the truth,” Loki said, giving a shrug and trying to appear unaffected. “They will not be surprised to know I lied.”
Loki didn’t wait to hear Anthony’s response, he stepped into the room and shut the door – or, he attempted to, but the weight of Anthony’s hand kept him from doing it. His head jerked to find Anthony standing close and staring at him.
“You told everyone in New Asgard we were dating?”
“I said no such thing.”
Anthony's eyes narrowed. “So you implied we were dating?"
“I...” Loki winced. “Presented an image I was fond of.” He had to look away from astonished brown eyes. It was not his grandest moment or his proudest confession. “I will look after the cat and send your things to another room.”
He put more pressure against the door, wanting this conversation to be over. He wished to retreat to his room and work through his rejection in private. His heart was cracking with every moment in Anthony’s presence and he didn’t want it to break until he was alone.
“Shit, Loki,” Anthony murmured, his voice soft and it made Loki tense. He didn’t expect to feel a hand touch his wrist. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Warily, Loki turned back to Anthony; he expected sympathy, maybe even pity, but what he found was nervousness and something remarkably bashful.
“I’m not saying I’m ready to move in or get married, hell, I’m pretty sure if given enough time you’ll want to dump my ass the first chance you get, but...” he gave a self-conscious shrug and glanced away. “I wouldn’t have a problem with dating you.”
“You...” Loki could hardly believe it. “You would court me?”
Anthony flicked his eyes back and gave a rueful smile. “I would. Would have offered ages ago if I thought you’d ever be interested in a middle age mortal with a dozen scars and even more hang-ups.” He shrugged awkwardly. "Figured I wouldn't be anywhere near your type."
It stunned Loki to hear. He had imagined a hundred scenarios where they might form a relationship, but not once had he imagined that Anthony thought he was undeserving of Loki.
“Anthony,” he murmured, his voice filled with too many emotions to name and many of them too strong to admit in such a fledgling relationship, “you are perfect.”
Anthony’s eyes jerked to his, wide and vulnerable. Loki was starting to move, wanting to lean down and kiss that insecurity away, but he barely managed to shift on his feet before a loud meow made him jerk down to look at the kitten in his hand. It was starting to squirm, wanting to be put down.
Anthony gave a rough laugh.
“Come on,” he said, his uncertainty locked back up behind his many masks. “Let me help set him up.”
He pushed on the door and Loki let him inside. Anthony reached out and picked up the cat, raising him above his head. He grinned warmly up at the kitten. “We’re going to need a name for our kid,” his eyes flicked to Loki, a hint of nerves showing once again, “especially if we’re going to parade him around the Aesir.”
Loki sucked in a breath. “You would continue my ruse?”
“Well, it wouldn’t exactly be a ruse, just a small exaggeration, right?”
The idea had Loki’s heart flaring with warmth and pounding with hope. He smiled softly at the other man. “I would enjoy that, Anthony.”
“Good,” Anthony said firmly. He then shifted enough to bump their shoulders together. “Now, how about we call him Werner?”
“Yeah, after Werner Heisenberg.” Anthony’s eyes twinkled as he lowered the cat, holding it against his chest. “He came up with the ‘Uncertainty Principle’.”
Loki narrowed his eyes. “You are making one of your varying ‘reference’ jokes, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” Anthony admitted while leaning closer. It took only a small movement from Loki and the other man was pressed against his side with Loki's arm around his back. Anthony didn't seem to mind. He curled against Loki and tilted his head to look up at the mage. “Let me get away with it?”
Loki swallowed, unable to look away from the other man so close and in his arms.
“Werner it is," he agreed.
Anthony grinned and although a part of Loki was expecting it, he was still taken by surprise when Anthony shifted and brushed their mouths together in their first kiss.
It was warm, perfect and real – and it was broken all too soon by the meow of a very insistent kitten. Anthony just laughed while Loki found himself smiling.
He was incredibly thankful that this – that Anthony was no longer his untouchable, impossible illusion.