He turned at the sound of his name, just in time for his face to be caught between two hands, strong and a little rough from the work they did for hours down in the labs.
His breath caught in his throat, his heart threatening to stop completely. “Anthony…?”
Anthony didn’t respond. He simply continued to stare into Loki’s eyes, his own of deep brown shot through with honey-gold drawing at Loki until he felt lost in them. It wasn’t like Anthony to be so silent, ever, but silent he remained, letting Loki guess at what was going on in that mind of his, rather than just telling him. When a thumb grazed over Loki’s bottom lip, his stilled heart immediately began thundering against his ribcage.
“Beautiful.” He said the word quietly, reverently, like a confession or a prayer.
Loki’s voice was thick when he answered. “What is?”
Something flickered in Anthony’s eyes, so he seemed to focus even more on him, to be looking at him and not into him. “You are,” he said simply. “Every part of you.”
His heart restarted, but it was at the expense of his breathing. No, he wanted to say. You’re not seeing what’s actually there. There is no part of me that can be described as ‘beautiful.’ I’ve fooled you, Anthony Stark, into believing a lie of a person. What you see doesn’t exist. Run while you can, before you see what’s really there…
He never got the opportunity to say any of it, though. Because Anthony leaned forward, and stopped his mouth and anything which he might have said with a kiss, warm as the touch of summer against his lips.
And like the creature of winter and darkness he was, he melted before his touch of light and warmth…
He hadn’t meant to fall in love with anyone, let alone a mortal, and let alone this mortal in particular. To do so just seemed like courting disaster. It hadn’t happened in some time, but the history of relationships between Æsir and humans was spotty at best. The fact that Thor was trying with the human woman who had found him when he’d been banished was one looked on with doubt, to say the least. Humans were so fragile and short lived. Who in their right mind would wish to dedicate themselves to someone who would age and die within a mere handful of decades, when as Æsir they were like to live for many, many centuries longer?
Yet love did not confine itself to logic, or to rationality. Thor had fallen for his mortal woman and so pursued her, even knowing the heartbreak which would inevitably come, and all too soon. Loki pitied and mocked him for his foolishness. To be so ruled by one’s emotions, to infatuations even more fleeting than the creatures they were attached to.
And then came Anthony Stark.
The man was nonsensical, in the sense that he made no sense. A hero of Midgard, one of those who had fought against Loki during the Battle of New York - the one he’d thrown out of a window… And he had been one of the first who seemed to accept Loki when he came to Earth with Thor and the rest. He’d been met with some suspicion, of course, it was to be expected. In all honestly, Loki had been expecting something much more aggressive than what he’d actually been met with. Something involving more chains, perhaps. It was what he’d been met with in his own home, and his father holding the key. Expecting anything more lenient from the very people he’d done such damage to would have been foolish at best.
Yet the chains had never made an appearance. Nor had any other real form of punishment or confinement. Merely a warning, couched in the form of an instruction, that he was to mind himself and that others would be watching him very carefully. Words were exchanged with Thor, and he was certain that it ran along the lines of keeping a figurative leash on him until he proved himself trustworthy. Which, if the pattern of his life held true, would be somewhere in the vicinity of ‘never.’
Certain among the Avengers viewed him with more suspicion than others, but all of them gave him a wide berth at first. Loki did his best to ignore the nervousness which pervaded. Bringing any attention to the behavior - and why it was happening in the first place - would only make it worse. So he pretended it wasn’t there. Everyone else followed suit, treating it as a sort of taboo subject. As though they believed that if they all ignored it hard enough, it wouldn’t exist anymore.
Everyone except for the infamous Iron Man. Out of everyone, he seemed to have missed the memo which encouraged discretion as the watchword. Or, if he had gotten that memo, he’d decided to ignore it entirely. Given what Loki knew about him now, he was inclined to believe the latter.
He’d been given a room in the Tower, and as Loki had been arranging his things, he’d turned to find that Stark himself was standing just outside the door and watching him. His expression had been neutral and his body language closed enough that Loki had no way of knowing what was on his mind. Assuming it would be confrontational, he’d braced himself. “Yes, Stark?”
Stark had cocked his head slightly and waited a beat before answering. “I was told an interesting story by your brother. A little tactic the two of you use called ‘Get Help’?”
It wasn’t what he’d been expecting to hear. He blinked, and still expecting the track of the conversation to go somewhere insulting or mocking, was guarded with his, “Yes. Though it’s hardly my preferred distraction technique.”
“I’d imagine not,” Stark had replied, still neutral. “Though I’m not entirely surprised. Thor seems to function best when he’s throwing things around. I guess that includes his siblings. It also makes it a lot easier to see the family resemblance.”
He’d frowned at that, trying to find the correlation. “How is that?”
And just like that, all of the neutrality had left him, and Anthony’s face had lit up with benign humor. “Because you like to toss people around a fair bit, as well.”
It had probably been that moment. That moment when Loki had been expecting to be threatened, or at the least to have his measure taken by the man whom he’d thrown out of a 40+ story window a few years before, and instead he’d gotten a smile. Instead of anger - well deserved anger - he’d gotten teasing.
It had confounded him, a condition which had only worsened as the days went on and Stark acted as though there was nothing wrong, as though they were friends and had been for ages. He’d wanted to ask why, why it was that Stark treated him so kindly when he ought to be treating him as a volatile threat, a potential enemy living under his roof… And then he realized, he was living under Stark’s roof. Stark’s roof, Stark’s Tower, Stark’s home. No matter what the fools at SHIELD might have told him - or tried to tell him to do - unless Stark agreed to it for his own reasons, there was no way he would have done anything.
He shouldn’t have been so surprised that Stark would be more open than the others. If anything, he should have seen it coming.
But Anthony Stark was… difficult to predict.
That had probably been the moment, so very early on, when he’d begun to fall. When he’d begun to court disaster for himself.
Anthony Stark was certainly his own brand of disaster.
One would have thought, with just how affectionate the mortal appeared to be with everyone in general, that he would be a bit quicker in picking up when he was being flirted with. But no, he seemed to think that any… warm interactions with Loki were just play, or teasing, or just the norm for how the two of them were meant to communicate. Which, in a way, had become true. Loki could hardly picture them communicating in any way other than flirting or banter at this point. But it was hardly the way that Loki communicated with anyone else. Banter, yes; flirtation, no. Well, unless it was to deliberately make the one on the receiving end uncomfortable. But outside those exceptions, his usual method of communication with others was heavily skewed towards being sharp and sarcastic.
It was possible that Tony simply had a blind spot for people flirting with him. After all, he did it himself as a sort of default much of the time. Possibly he had a hard time differentiating when it was serious or simply their way of interacting with others, just as it was his. Or perhaps it was a case of so many people having thrown themselves at him over the years that he’d simply learned to tune it out. Perhaps he’d simply made himself deaf to anything like flirtation.
Or perhaps it was because the flirtation in this case was coming from Loki. It wasn’t likely to be high in Anthony’s mind as a possibility, that a once-enemy would be seriously interested in him in that way, and certainly not Loki. It would be easy to overlook in that case, if he wasn’t expecting it from him at all.
Really, he ought to have left off entirely. He didn’t have any real expectation of a return of his feelings. There was too much stacked up against him, and despite how friendly Anthony was with him… Well, he was friendly with just about everyone, wasn’t he? It wasn’t as though the treatment were special in any way. Loki rated no higher than anyone else in Anthony’s life, and probably rated much, much lower than anything Loki might dream of.
Who would Loki be if he didn’t try for what should be impossible?
He’d tried to be subtle, slipping in words or tones which were a shade friendlier than their association would merit. That had been about as effective as throwing pebbles at a bull. He’d gone slightly more blatant, finding excuses to spend time with the man - even more than he already had been doing, just to enjoy his company. Anthony never minded his company, in fact he lit up every time he saw Loki, but he also never seemed to clue into the fact that it actually meant anything.
He’d tried initiating small, glancing touches.
He’d tried holding the man’s eye for a few moments longer than was necessary.
He’d tried inserting affectionate words into his speech whenever referring to Anthony or any of his inventions.
Nothing. None of it seemed to strike Anthony as the least out of the ordinary or worth looking into more closely. Frustrating didn’t begin to cover it.
He was no fool. He realized that the best way to put himself out of this misery was to simply tell Anthony how he felt. At least then it would be out in the open and Anthony would be able to give his response, one way or the other, and Loki could have some peace of mind.
One way or the other.
And that was exactly what he was going to do. In a way. A non-verbal way. But it would be so blatantly obvious that even Anthony Stark wouldn’t be able to ignore it.
He had learned that there was a particular day on Midgard that was meant as a celebration of love in its many forms, including romantic. It was a day traditionally used to spend time with one’s partner. Loki intended to invite Anthony out for an evening together on that day.
Surely even he wouldn’t be so slow on the uptake as to miss the significance of that.
It was probably a bad idea, this whole thing. It had seemed dubious at first, when he’d first come up with it, but now, waiting for Anthony to come out from his bedroom or up from his lab or wherever it was he was sequestered away this time, Loki felt his heart starting to go into overdrive. Which was ridiculous, of course. He’d faced armies, gone hand-to-hand with creatures far more powerful than any human could possibly attempt, stared deep into the Void and come out of it whole - or mostly whole, at least. The hazards of taking a single human out for an evening ought to have no effect on him whatsoever. If nothing else, he was far too old to be fidgeting about like a stripling facing his first coupling.
And wasn’t that a wonderful, calming thing to be thinking about just now?
Loki about started out of his skin. It wasn’t often that Anthony’s AI spoke unbidden to anyone other than Anthony himself. It was easy to forget that he was, in fact, a constant presence in both the Tower and at Anthony’s mansion. He took a breath, convincing his heart to slow back down to its previous too-fast-but-not-this-fast pace. “Yes, JARVIS?”
“Pardon my intrusion into your privacy, but I couldn’t help but notice that you seem rather ill at ease this evening. Is there anything which I might do to assist you in any way?”
Loki smiled a little, his heart calming a notch. At least there was always JARVIS, he thought, keeping everything on an even keel. He’d been even less certain of the synthetic intelligence on his arrival than he had been of all the people whom he’d been expected to live near and work with. The computer had seemed little more than a security program installed in the Tower, spying on everyone within and given some rudimentary controls. He’d learned rather quickly how untrue that was when JARVIS had begun to spar with him verbally after Loki made some flippant replies to his polite inquiries. He was a true intelligence all his own, and he had learned how to respond to people from having to deal with his creator. It had given him something of a sarcastic personality.
“Observant as always, JARVIS,” he said. “Thank you, but I rather doubt there is anything you could do to put me at ease.”
The AI paused a moment. Then, “If you are anxious for Sir, he is at the moment preparing for your evening and will be ready within a few minutes.”
His heart really needed to learn what was worth jumping for and what was just… not. “Thank you, JARVIS. I appreciate that.”
There was another pause. It was long enough that Loki assumed that JARVIS was through speaking with him. He didn’t often pause in his conversation, as a rule. It was one of those subtle signs that he wasn’t, in fact, a living creature at all, in that he didn’t have much in the way of little pauses, gaps or filler words. One pause could be explained easily enough, but two was odd.
“I feel it would be best to inform you, Mr. Laufeyson, that under normal circumstances, I would be required to remind Sir of his engagement, in order to guarantee that he should have the time to adequately prepare.”
Loki hummed, fiddling with one of the little knick knacks on Anthony’s shelves. “He does tend to become wrapped up in his work. It’s understandable that he would lose track of time.”
“Yes,” JARVIS said, and his voice was colored with an unmistakable bit of emotion, of fondness. At least that was something he and the machine had in common. “However, this evening I found that such precautions were unnecessary.”
He blinked. “Is that so?”
“Indeed. It has been a regular occurrence that when Sir has an appointment, whatever the kind, he requires the reminders. It is rare that he would not need the outside prompt to bring him back to reality.”
“Well. That does sound like him. There have been a few times when I’ve been able to come upon him unnoticed because he’s been too involved in his projects.”
“Not at all bolstered by your ability to appear where Sir is without having to walk or make noise, I’m sure.”
Loki smiled. “Touché, computer.”
“In this case, however, Sir needed no such prompting.”
“Was he not able to ‘find his groove’ with his work?”
“In a manner of speaking,” JARVIS hedged, which got Loki to pay a little more attention. Hedging was another thing which JARVIS didn’t do often. “You are accurate in your presumption that Sir was unable to concentrate on his work. Instead of truly concentrating, he was instead preoccupied with the time.”
For the second time, Loki started, his heart in his throat. Though this time instead of settling again almost immediately, the sudden spike in his blood pressure stayed right where it was.
Anthony had arrived, coming from the direction of his rooms, confirming what JARVIS had been saying about his being aware of the time and actually wrapping up his work to clean up before going out to dinner. Other parts of his appearance also confirmed his activities just before coming out to the main room - his hair was still a little damp, his wore socks but no shoes, and he was still tugging slightly on the cuffs of his jacket.
Loki hadn’t told him exactly the sort of evening he’d planned, only that there would be a meal and some entertainment involved, and so his dress was left entirely to Anthony’s judgment. It appeared that he had erred on the side of caution, dressing in one of his more relaxed, less eye catching suits. Muted colors and no outlandish stripes, but still cut and fitted to his frame perfectly, and with a vibrant red dress shirt peeking out from beneath the jacket.
He couldn’t have cared less for how Anthony had chosen to dress, though. The one thing he looked for and was happy to see that he was wearing was the wide smile. It was the smile he wore whenever he saw Loki and which made the Asgardian feel as though the sun were turned towards him, warming him through to the core.
“JARVIS was saying that you’d shown up,” he said, giving the sleeves a last tug. “Punctual when you want to be, aren’t you?”
He was already smiling on seeing Anthony, so he only succeeded in smiling wider. “When I am given sufficient motivation, I can be accurate to the second.”
“That right?” He chuckled, and Loki felt his insides twist ever further. If this kept escalating the way it was, he wouldn’t be able to eat any of the meal he had planned for the evening. “That must come in handy. Though, finding something which you really consider worthwhile must be the challenge. I’m not sure there would be much that would get me where I need to be at the time I was meant to. I think even Happy is starting to give up on that fight, honestly. Rhodey gave up a while ago, but he doesn’t stop with berating me about it. Military training,” he added in a conspiratorial tone.
Loki snorted, enjoying listening to Anthony ramble. It was his way, whenever he was caught in a good mood or in a project which was energizing him, to just spout whatever was in his head. It was fascinating to listen to when he was caught in one of his creative moods, to witness the stream of consciousness which led to his inventions. “I’m sure you’ve tried the patience of each and every one of your friends.”
“I’m fairly certain I’ve completely broken the patience of more than a few of them,” Anthony said, still grinning. He looked around the room, then once he spotted his shoes, sat down on the couch to put them on. “But thankfully they give in to the charm and forgive me. Thank you, by the way, for inviting me out for the night.”
A little warmth unfolded in Loki’s chest at the words. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad, perhaps he had reason to hope it would all go as well as he wanted…
“I was about ready to go stir crazy up in here, and I’m pretty sure that Happy could tell. I’m sure he was getting ready to try and convince me to go out on what he would consider a good night out, and… I’ve done that before. Not exactly my bag. So thank you for beating him to the punch. I get the feeling whatever you’ve got panned for us will be more my speed.”
And that… that didn’t necessarily put out all the warmth trying to bloom in his chest, but it certainly dimmed. It wasn’t a complete dousing of his hopes… it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Anthony at least preferred his company to some others. That was a step.
“Well, I certainly hope that I can provide for an entertaining evening,” he said, keeping his voice carefully neutral.
“You always do.” Anthony lifted his head, grin still in place.
And Loki was lost in a moment. Anthony had a terrible habit of doing that, where he would just look at him in a certain way, his eyes shining, and Loki would lose track of whatever it was he had been saying or thinking.
Thankfully Anthony never seemed to notice. He would take any sudden pauses from Loki in stride and just continue on with whatever train of thought he already had going. “So, what do you have planned for us? I appreciate the change of pace, but you never did say what the itinerary was.”
He allowed himself a slow smile at that, and also allowed himself to believe that, just for a second, Anthony’s eyes flickered down to watch as he bared his teeth in a grin. “A meal. Some entertainment. And perhaps a surprise.”
“Well, color me intrigued.” He stood up, giving himself a quick brush to resettle his clothes, and gave Loki another eye glinting grin. “Show me what ya got, Lokes.”
Taking him to Vanaheimr for their meal certainly got Anthony to stop and stare, and Loki had stood to a side and simply enjoyed his reaction. He watched as Anthony became aware of their surroundings, as it came to him that, no, they were not on Asgard, which he had at least visited before on occasion. He had never been here. Not on Vanaheimr, and it took only a few moments for him to realize that and to start looking about himself with the kind of wide eyed stare which took in everything, leaving not a single detail uncataloged. When Loki took him gently by the arm and led him inside the hall where they were meant to eat, there was no resistance, and no objection to the familiar gesture.
It was possibly the longest time Loki had managed to render the man speechless. As they walked through the hall, all of Anthony’s attention and focus was spent on looking around, examining the hall itself, the people, all of the dishes passing by. He watched as Anthony’s head tipped to and fro, obviously trying to catch bits of conversation as they walked by. Had Loki not had a hand on him, guiding him to their table and benches, he was certain he would have stopped in place, or wandered aimlessly, just taking in everything around him.
Loki could hardly blame him. Vanaheimr was a beautiful place, priding itself on its splendor, its advancements and its freedoms. Anthony was used to Asgard’s ostentatious grandeur, glittering with gold and unsubtle homages to the Æsir preoccupation with martial strength. It was a place where one could hardly miss their advancement compared to Midgard, as it was deliberately put on display wherever it could be.
Vanaheimr was a place where Loki often came when he felt the need to rest from such things. The Vanir were a people much more accepting of such things as seiðr, indirect action, and quiet study for its own sake. Unlike his own home Realm, he never felt as though he needed to downplay his abilities or conceal his personality in order to make those around him comfortable. And unlike his home Realm, the Vanir were not so overly fond of covering everything in enough gold to make a man go blind. Here, there was an inclination towards understatement. Everything was well made and beautiful, but also practical and relatively simple. It was reflective of the Vanir themselves, who were much more practically inclined than their Asgardian counterparts, and more approachable overall.
When they got to their seats and sat down, Anthony finally came back to himself and looked at Loki with wide eyes. “Alright, I’m going to admit that I didn’t see this coming for a night on the town. I was kinda expecting the town to be on the same planet as where we started.”
“Well, there was your first mistake,” Loki smiled. “You were expecting something, when I was the one in control of what would be happening next.”
It earned him a laugh, warm and full as a glass of fine spirits, and just as heady. “That’s true enough,” he agreed. “I ought to know better by now, shouldn’t I? There’s never any predicting you.”
The statement, spoken with such warmth and sincerity, and none of the snide undertone he could have expected out of anyone else, earned its own grin in return. “And the same might be said for you.” He said it, and he meant it. There was very little chance of ever predicting Anthony Stark. It was one of the many things which made loving the mortal so easy.
And perhaps a little of that feeling colored his words, because Anthony didn’t reply directly. He simply held Loki’s gaze, still smiling, eyes warm in the muted light of the Vanir hall, his expression soft. Was it too much to hope that, even if he didn’t realize the depth of Loki’s feelings, that he might also feel the same way…?
The meal went well. Anthony insisted on trying a little of everything. Loki reminded him more than once that there was no reason they couldn’t come back some other time and try everything which Vanaheimr had to offer, but as was his wont, Anthony ignored the advice and just kept going. Loki could only shake his head and let the man shovel every kind of food within reach into his mouth. He watched and took note of everything which he seemed to like the best, remembering for the future and considering what else he might like for the next time they went out together.
The next time. Because there would be a next time. He would not let himself believe anything different. Not until it was proven otherwise.
They ate, they talked, they shared a few laughs, and the evening went on.
“Not expecting to go to a second new Realm on the same day?”
“Ah. No. Not really.”
Loki allowed himself a smile, and looked around them. This new Realm with something of a contrast to either Asgard or Vanaheimr, and was still quite different from Midgard. Here, there were no grand structures of stone and glass, or of gold, or even of beautiful understated things threaded through with magic. Here what met the eye immediately was a sprawling landscape, nearly devoid of anything resembling civilization.
Together they stood on a hill overlooking the new Realm. The hill itself boasted a clearing, but both it and the world which rolled out before them were thickly covered in forests. Trees ancient and twisted pressed close in on one another, a sea of tangled branches and softly whispering leaves. It might have been anywhere at all, save those details which betrayed the uniqueness of the Realm they were now a part of. Here, the trees were all of dark hues - deep, deep greens, blues, purples and even reds and blacks. Whether the bark, the leaves or the needles, trees or smaller cousins, every single one was of some deep color, as though every one were attempting to bleed into the night air and disappear.
Because it was night, here. The moons hung high in the sky, the stars of unfamiliar constellations pinning the heavens in place, the light of them all casting the dark world below into a blush of murky color.
Anthony stared at it all, transfixed. The odd foliage, and double moons, the air heavy with night and scented with alien perfumes would have been enough to captivate him, Loki thought. But it was probably the soul-glimmers which held him so still.
The stars shone above, but down on the world itself there was another universe of tiny stars, moving together in waves and swirls through the branches and leaves below them. They illuminated the forest is gently shifting bands, following no rhyme or reason save their own. It was hypnotic, and Loki could see Anthony slowly relax, slipping beneath the spell of their dance.
“What do you think, Anthony?” He said it quietly, the peace and stillness of the air around them affecting even him.
For a moment he didn’t answer, simply watching at the sea of shadow and light, his gaze and his mind far, far away. When he was able to recall himself, he shook his head. “I think… I think it’s amazing, but amazing isn’t the word.” He too was quiet, even as he chuckled slightly at himself. “I don’t know what to call it. None of it seems like enough. It’s like… looking down on the universe, sped up beyond comprehension to watch as it unfolds over on itself…” He looked up at Loki, the reflection of the stars and the sea of light below shining in his eyes. “Where are we?”
“Myrkheimr,” he said, barely more than a whisper, lost in the galaxy unfolding in Anthony’s eyes. “The dark abode. Home to the myrkálfar, the greatest of smiths.”
A smile slowly dawned on Anthony’s face, and the world around them knew its first touch of sunlight.
“Dwarfs? You brought me to the Realm of dwarfs for our ‘entertainment’?”
“What better place for such a sharp and inquisitive mind? You seem to take no greater delight than in creating new out of the old. Here you may observe a race which has dedicated itself to almost nothing but invention, perfecting their craft for millennia.” He gave Anthony a sly smile, seeing his eyes grow bright and thoughtful as he described what awaited them. “I have no doubt at all that you will be able to improve on anything you learn from here, and I look forward to your creations.”
“That silver tongue of yours really is a weapon, I hope you realize that.” Anthony sounded slightly breathless at the prospect of new knowledge, of things which no other human would ever have the advantage of seeing - or at least none for quite some time. “So… where do we go to see these great smiths?”
Loki gestured behind them, into the forest atop the hill. “Below ground. This is a dark world, yet the myrkálfar still find the open sky too bright for their comfort.”
“Good to know that some of the myths and stories which made it to Earth are at least a little bit accurate.”
“Indeed,” he agreed, and began to lead Anthony into the glittering shadows of the dark forest, back to where he knew there was a secret entrance into the underground caverns where the myrkálfar dwelt. As they walked, he added, “On that subject, we will have to conceal our appearances somewhat. The people here are not overly aggressive to outsiders, but… there was an incident some time ago which may still be remembered, and put me in a poor light, here.”
He was sent a sideways glance, Anthony’s lips tugging up into a wry smile. “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. What happened?”
“A simple misunderstanding. There was no way of knowing at the time that the otter I had seen wasn’t truly an otter…”
They descended into the earth, Anthony laughing brightly at the stories of Loki’s past as they went. He led them downward until they found one of the few smiths whom Loki had kept friendly relations throughout all the centuries, and Anthony was shown the myrkálfar way of creating. In the darkness tinged with the surly light of fires and dim globes - all the residents could stand comfortably - Anthony lit up with new knowledge and the dawning of new ideas all his own. Often he would look Loki’s way, sharing the excitement of what he was learning, or would reach out to touch him lightly, or would ask him questions to confirm what it was he was learning… and Myrkheimr seemed much less dark than it had before, even so far below the ground.
“Nowhere in particular. The edge of all things, and so nowhere of its own.”
“…you being cryptic on purpose? If it’s for effect, you don’t need it. I’m enthralled already.”
Loki smiled, his heart still somehow managing to skip a beat on the words which might have meant something, or might have meant nothing at all. In truth, his heart had missed so many beats in the course of a single evening that it felt as though he had been suspended in a state of non-time. With no steady rhythm to mark the passing of minutes, it was as though the two of them existed apart, separate from everyone and everything else. Just the two of them…
It was just the two of them now, unless one counted the universe spinning up above them, and all around them. It was a place which truly existed in its own space, not a world or a Realm, not a planet or even a bit of flotsam left to drift through the cosmos. Theories abounded as to what they really were, at least among those scholars of researchers who still cared enough to consider such things. They were places which resembled worlds so much that they were survivable to visit, and yet they had nothing in the way of life of their own. Places where science, magic and even time sometimes bent and warped into new shapes, and yet which never seemed to change. They were rare, and yet they were scattered throughout the entire universe, so far as anyone could determine. The theory which Loki preferred to believe was the one which suggested that they were seeds from Yggdrasil. Pockets of potential, filled with the beginnings of an entirely new reality, just waiting for the time to take root.
Places where the old rules were in flux, and new beginnings were possible.
He looked at Anthony. Sometimes it felt as though that was all he had done since the moment he’d arrived at Stark Tower - look at Anthony. Look at him, listen to him, and wonder over him. Somehow he had become a central figure in Loki’s long, long life in such a short amount of time… and he was still uncertain if he took up anything more than a small corner of Anthony’s consciousness.
He was watching the skies. Here they were full of color and light, the emptiness of space made a lie by the nebula they floated within. A star nursery, where new suns could be born, their light reflected and intensified by swirling clouds of dust and gases.
A riot of color and creation, Loki’s ‘bouquet of flowers’ for Anthony.
The missing beats of his heart all seemed to catch up with him at once, and Loki tried to remember how to breathe.
He turned back to look at Loki, he face caught in enraptured joy. He smiled.
He said the word quietly, reverently, like a confession or a prayer.
Loki forgot how to breathe entirely, the words on his tongue abandoning him. He tried to swallow, but his mouth had gone dry. His voice was thick when he answered, “W-what is?”
Anthony swept a hand out, taking in everything around them. “Everything. I mean… everything. This entire night has just been… amazing, Lokes. I don’t know if I’ve said that enough to you or not, but it’s just…”
He trailed off, his hand dropping back down to his side. He truly seemed at a loss for words, which was an event in and of itself.
Loki wet his lips.
“There’s very little which I would not do for you, Anthony.”
There was a pause, and Loki felt himself age a century waiting for Anthony’s response. When he did, it was to simply turn round, his expression unreadable. “… what was that?”
Breathing was a little easier now. Maybe because he’d already stepped off the edge, and now all he had to do was fall. “There is little that I would not do for you,” he repeated, more firmly than before. He watched for any sign of rejection, of revulsion to his declaration. When there was none, he went on.
“There are very, very few whom I have ever known who I would even consider a friend. So few that I could tolerate, let alone come to like in any meaningful way. Such has been true throughout my life, and I just considered it a… a given that I was always meant to be solitary. Isolated. It was a state I was prepared to endure until the end of my days. I am too… contrary to be well liked by my peers.” He paused, looking down at his own palms, remembering a day not so long ago, when he’d looked and found out just how contrary he was…
“I am too unlike to be liked,” he said, making a fist, and then deliberately releasing it again. He looked back to Anthony, who was watching him with so blank an expression it made his heart ache. “Until you.” He licked his lips again, willing the words forward, out, where they could be heard. Out where they might be judged, and he would know… one way or the other.
There wasn’t much distance between them. Only a few steps to close that distance, and yet it felt like an eternity to reach him. “I… don’t know if you realize just how much your friendship has meant to me. I don’t know if you could realize how much it has meant, but. It has meant… everything to me. I wouldn’t dare to risk losing it, losing you, for anything. …And yet.” He reached out, taking one of Anthony’s hands in his own. He jumped a little at the contact, but didn’t pull away, Norns, he didn’t pull away…
“Yet, I am a selfish creature. I think I would destroy the ground beneath my feet for a chance to touch the stars. I would risk your friendship for the impossible chance that it could be… more.”
Anthony still wasn’t pulling away, still wasn’t retreating. Gingerly, Loki raised his other hand, cupping Anthony’s cheek, thumb stroking along the sharp curve of bone. “And I do wish for more, Anthony. More of you, more than I deserve…”
A warm hand over his stopped him cold. Anthony was staring at him, eyes reflecting galaxies being born, and it was impossible to know what he might be thinking…
Until he smiled. Until he came forward, and pressed his lips to Loki’s, and it felt as though all of the color and hope around them were blooming in his chest.
Anthony’s kiss was warm, made of light.
When he pulled back, he still wore that same smile. His hand had come up to cup Loki’s neck, holding him steady, and the warmth sank in deep. “It’s about time you said something.”
Loki blinked. “About time…?”
Anthony nodded. His thumb moved at his throat and Loki shivered. “I’m not completely blind, you know. I could see there was… well, something. I was pretty sure I knew what, but…” He grinned, and chuckled at himself with a small shrug. “But I couldn’t risk being wrong and scaring you off, now, could I?”
Loki huffed, his heart far too full for anything but joy and elation. He pulled Anthony closer, and he came willingly, sinking into their second kiss with just as much warmth and even more enthusiasm than the first. When they broke apart, Loki pressed their foreheads together, simply breathing in the scent of him.
“Happy Valentine’s, Anthony.”