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Hospitality

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He grabbed the coat and flung it around his shoulders, trying to block his body off from the man just now coming in the door. It was a foolish decision to run to here. The only way out was through a small window, and he even he couldn't fit through it. The breathless patron looked at him with confusion and disbelief. Not that he blamed the man. It must seem at least a little surreal to see him here of all places.

Bruce shook his head, looking from the clear platform heels to the face covered in glitter and contouring make-up. What do you even say to a sight like this. “L-loki?”

The god stiffened and held his chin up, trying for some shred of dignity. “Apparently you are incapable of reading.” he pointed stiffly to the door. “The sign says Dancers Only. While your counterpart might lack for intelligence, I did expect you to be possessed of some.”

Bruce ignored the insult. Well okay not ignored it but more figured it was the lesser of his concerns right now. “What are you even doing here? Does SHIELD know? Does Thor?” Bruce saw a visible twitch at the mention of the elder brothers name and backed up a little. Okay that told him a lot right there.

“It is of no ones concern where I am at the moment. Or do I seem appropriately garbed for conquest to you?”

“Conquest of a $5 spot maybe.” Bruce watched as the crows feet at the corners of Loki's eyes became longer and his expression more distressed. “Sorry. That was mean. Tony's been rubbing off on me.”

“I assure you I could not care less what you and the Iron Man do in your spare time.” Loki growls, looking past him to the clock. “If you aren't here to apprehend me, then leave. I...” he stops and suddenly seems much smaller than he is. “I have an appointment.”

For a split second, Bruce thinks he's talking about another set. But then it clicks over. “You...your hooking?” It's not funny, not even mildly amusing.

Loki scowls at him with dark eyes. “Such judgment from someone taking refuge in a stripping hall.” he stands up, grabbing for his bag. “Whats wrong, Banner? No one out there who can sate the green beast into passivity? Well unfortunately for you, I'm booked solid.” he hisses and starts to look for a way past the man. When it becomes apparent there is no way, he crosses his arms defensively. “Well? What do you want from me, monster?”

Bruce frowns, glaring at him over his glasses. “You expect me to just let you walk out of here?”

“I don't see SHIELD bursting in the door. Which tells me you didn't know I was here before now. And if you didn't know I was here, it's because you don't frequent the place. Which again, tells me you have no back up and are here alone. Or, at the very least, that Stark is in a VIP room.” Loki sneered. “Which means you would have to risk turning green to take me on. And I assure you that won't end well for the dear, 'innocent' ladies of the establishment.”

“You think your pretty smart.” Banner adjusts his glasses lightly and the moves, grabbing Loki's wrist and making the god wince as he grabs the collar. “But even good make-up can't cover bruises like that.”

Loki wrestles and jerks out of his grip, noticing the dark black and blue bruise on his shoulder. He covers it instinctively with his hand, but it's too late.

“You don't bruise easy. I bashed you into a floor and you were barely cut up. So either somebody out there has Puny God smashing powers. Or, you aren't as protected as you were.” Bruce pulls out his cell phone. “Now look, you can come with me, willingly, or I can dial the Avengers and have them come and get you.” He feels a little triumphant, until he sees the god shake with utter loss of his sterile composure.

“I...if the Avengers come...Thor will be with them.” he says quietly. “If SHIELD comes, he will see me soon enough.” Loki holds the faux leather of his coat tighter.

“Yeah. I guess he would.” Bruce slowly puts the phone down. “You don't want him to see you like this, do you?”

Loki glares at him. “Whatever else you believe of me, I am not here to conquer this world. Not this time. All you need do is turn your back. I...I will find another club. There is more than one pole in this city. You will not run into me again.”

“And in the mean time, you'll work the street corners.” Bruce responds stiffly. “Loki, do you know how dangerous that is in a city like New York? Never mind the STD rates. Do you know how many girls get killed out there?”

Loki laughs without mirth. “Do you think me so easy to subdue? I am not human Banner. Your diseases are impotent to my kind. And as for the threat of assault...I have made it thus far without complications. The pimps know better than to try and force me into service.”

“So there have already been altercations.” The scientist realizes, coming a step closer. “You think that will be last of it? You don't know how things work in this world.”

“Oh? And you have extensive knowledge of prostitution, do you? I can't imagine you'd find any satisfaction from any woman of class.”

But of course, the man is much harder to provoke than that. “I've worked in third world countries as a doctor for years. I go where people need the most help.” he explains. “I've reset the arm of an eleven year old girl because she resisted when her father sold her to the brothels. I've gotten medication for women who've become so riddled with disease that they can't stand anymore.” Bruce says softly. “Yeah. I know a little about the slums of the world.”

Loki goes white as a sheet. Perhaps he never thought of himself as dwelling in slums up till now. He looks heartbroken. Or perhaps just broken.

Bruce sighs, sliding the phone back into his pocket. “You're coming with me.”

Loki shakes his head. “I will not be put into a cell to be trapped for the next century...”

“Not with SHIELD.” His voice is firm, but his doubtful expression clearly says this to be a stupid decision. “You're coming back to my place.”

“I have my own place. I am not sleeping in Central Park.”

“Right. Let me guess. Probably somewhere between 6th and 8th Avenue. Half the windows are boarded and the cops only drive through, never stop.”

Now the god looks outright fearful. “I...I am not taking on any new clientele.”

“Not for that! For...look I can't just leave you to wander around New York like this. And I'm not going to let you stand on a street corner and sell yourself out.” He insists, looking around for the bag Loki was holding and takes it. “You're coming with me till I can decide if you're dangerous enough for SHIELD to get involved.”

Loki's eyes are whirling, you can almost see the cogs clicking around in his head. “You are far too sympathetic a creature, Banner.”

“Yeah probably. But I've got make up the damage somewhere.” He gestures to the door. “Come on. Unless you've got another song.”

Loki sniffs at the jibe and then thinks. “I...I have to go to my apartment for a few things.”

Bruce rubs his bridge of his nose. He's already regretting this decision. “Okay. Fine.”

The car ride over is long and silent. Loki has no desire to speak, or perhaps can think of nothing to say as the wet streets create mottled designs from the neon lights. Bruce looks across the seat at him once in a while, but Loki is silent still. Every time they pass under a street lamp, it catches the glitter off his face. He looks much more thin and worn. Exhausted in fact.

Bruce locks the car, following Loki up the steps as they pass a woman with missing teeth and dirty blond dreads. She glances over at Loki and sucks air through her teeth. “Hey Lola! You know we don't bring johns back home!”

Loki winces in embarrassment. “He's not a john. He's...I'm moving out.” he excuses himself quickly, fumbling in his pocket for the keys.

“Oh!” the woman takes a long drag from her cigarette and peers down at the car, whistling. “Lola baby did you get yourself a sugar daddy? As if if he's got room for one more!”

Bruce doesn't say anything, just gives the same plateau of a smile he does when he feels awkward and too much attention is on him as the woman winks.

He didn't know what to expect when the door opened, but this would have been about it. The place is relatively clean, stains on the rugs that have probably always been there. The plaster is cracking but it looks like someone has tries to put some effort into keeping things up. There are two twin cots in the studio apartment and a dresser. Loki grabs a duffel bag and starts shoving clothing into it.

A thought occurs to Bruce and he coughs. The air in here smells of smoke and must. There are fast food wrappers in the trash bin on Loki's 'side' of the room. He notices how the once god is quickly wrapping up his belongings, stuffing rolled up dollars and suspicion comes to mind. “Look uh, I'm not judging or anything but I don't allows drugs in my house...”

Loki's laughter is full of bitter flavors. “The amount of drugs it would take to even have a mild effect upon me would be enough to OD a mortal.” he shoves the bag at his apparent host and shoves past him rudely. As they walk down the stairs, Loki tosses they keys to the woman.

She looks down at them and sighs. “Raleigh is gonna be pissed you skipped out on rent!”

“If Raleigh wanted the damn rent maybe he should have fixed the damn water heater last month.” Loki snorts and turns as Bruce shoves the bag into the back seat. “Take care of yourself Talia.”

She grins big and shakes the keys. “You too Lola baby. I always know you were too good for this shit.”

Bruce is surprised to see a flicker of a warm smile on Loki's face as he gets willingly into the car. “Friend of yours?”

“As much as one can be friends and not competition here.” Loki shrugs, locking his seat belt. He rolled his eyes when his keepers face remained curious. “Her pimp was beating her in the alley. I have something of an unwritten rule about hitting women.”

“And that would be?”

“I don't.” Loki snapped, reaching for the radio. “And I maintain a strong dislike for those who find it permissible.”

“I thought your people had female warriors.”

“There is a distinct difference between a trained warrior with a sword and a downtrodden whore.” Loki answers and returns to staring out the window sullenly.

As they turn out of the more desolate streets and into nicer sections, he can see Loki's eyes flicker about with interest. They park and Bruce grabs the bag, hoping Loki is actually attached enough to his possessions not to make a run for it while he does so.

Loki is standing by the car, looking up. “You live here?” he stares at the building of light and glass, the apartments climbing higher.

“Yeah. Surprisingly enough being a professional best friend to a billionaire means a decent wage.” Bruce gives that awkward smile again. Tony had offered multiple times to put him up in the penthouse. But as much as he loved his friend, sometimes being friends with Tony Stark meant maintaining a level of distance before you got overwhelmed.

The security guard at the desk gives Loki a long, somewhat disgusted look. And while the trickster keeps his nose up, it's not the last one of those looks he receives before they get to Bruce's apartment. The man is quickly trying to concoct bullshit excuses as to who this person is before the apartment board is on his case about it in the morning.

Loki peers around at the red brick wall and the wall of glass overlooking the city. He's like a new kitten, pacing an unfamiliar environment, sniffing about to see if there is an escape route. He even jumps a little when Bruce sets down the bag.

“Two bedroom, but uh...one is my office. We'll...you'll have to sleep on the couch till we can get you a bed.” Bruce points down the hallway past the kitchen. “Bathroom and closet is down there. Fridge is usually stocked. Hopefully you don't mind vegetarian cooking. I can make something if you're hungry...”

Loki shrugs, but his stomach answers for him and he looks disgusted with himself.

Now, under sharper, brighter lighting than the dim bulbs of a strip club, it's easier to see just how wrung the failed conqueror really looks. The contoured make up is hiding thin cheek bones in an attempt to make them look graceful. There are dark bags under his eyes and the all over sensation of being stable, but still not quite enough to feel secure. Bruce fiddles with his own keys and starts taking off his blazer. “Look uh...why don't you get a shower okay? I'll make us something to eat.”

Loki notices Bruce put his shoes by the door and coat rack and kicks off the platforms, lying them next to the frame before walking down the hall. He closes the door, starts the water and watches as hair gel, make up and dirt washes off from his body and down the drain. As the heat of the water surrounds him, he looks at the simple, but calming minimalism of his surroundings and then back to the grayish brown stuff crusted under his fingernails.

Softly, with his knuckles shoved into his mouth, he starts crying.

The door opens only once and Loki stiffens, not knowing what to expect. What he sees is an arm extend and drop a fresh towel inside for him before disappearing. Before the door closes he can smell garlic and something savory drift in and his stomach growls again.

Bruce is setting up two bowls when he sees Loki walks into the kitchen, a large towel covering him from the waist down. His eyes linger and he feels a stirring of worry for the god.

The bruise on the shoulder is but one of many.

If Loki knows what he's gazing at, he says nothing. “Supposing you do not want me in my work wear, I need something to dress in.”

Bruce nods, pouring out the stir fry into a big serving bowl. “I've got some pj's that should get you through tonight. Tomorrow I'll go buy you some real clothing.”

Loki eyes him doubtfully. “I have some money. I do not need charity.”

“This isn't charity. It's...” Bruce can't come up with a suitable word and sighs. “Okay fine it's charity. But since getting the mail in fishnets and a thong is generally frowned upon in this society, I figured this might be the better options.”

Loki's hands clench and un-clench nervously. “And I am expected to compensate you...how?”

Bruce looks over the rim of his glasses and almost stammers. “Okay, a few house rules we should probably go over. You aren't working anymore. At all. Period. I find you here with a 'client' or anything and I'll call SHIELD. No debating it.”

Loki twists and turns this in his head before continuing. “If you do not wish this to be charity, and I am not compensating you then this is...hospitality.” He says as though trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. “I am required to provide you with some manner of gratitude.”

Bruce gestures openly. “What? Why? Is this one of those Asgard things?”

“It is precisely one of those Asgard things! A prince being given shelter and showing no display of thanks? I would be an absolute scandal!” Loki, damn him, actually looks like he is scandalized by the though.

“Okay well this isn't Asgard.”

“As I am increasingly aware.”

Bruce puts the bowl down just a little hard. He sees Loki take an apprehensive step away from him. “If you want something to do...hell I don't know dust. Put a load in the dish washer. Whatever. Just settle down.”

“Dishes? You expect me to maid for my room and board?”

“Oh and I guess that's a step up down from prostitute in Asgard?” He's not trying to sound so mean, but somehow it's coming out that way. Loki's face draws to a blank expression as he stands there, holding the towel with white knuckles. Not knowing what else to say, Bruce bring him the pj's and scoots out the chair for him to sit.

Loki eats one small bite of the tofu and kimchi. Then takes another. Then it becomes apparent that he is actively avoiding shoveling it into his mouth.

“Better than McDonald's right?” Bruce says and the god turns a light shade of pink, going back to eating small bites quietly. When his bowl is almost empty, Bruce doesn't say anything, just fills it again. “You want some tea? I've got tea, water and almond milk.”

Loki blinks. “How does one go about milking an almond?” He accepts the glass of tea with a quiet thank you and when he finishes the second bowl, waits for Bruce to finish before collecting the plate ware and placing it in the sink, running water and dish soap into it.

“Wait.” Bruce digs under the sink. “Here. I've got some gloves.”

Loki eyes the things. “Do you think dish soap is going to melt my skin now, Banner?”

“No. But they keep your skin from getting dry.” he tosses them on the counter. “You seem like the kind of guy who worries about that sort of thing.”

Loki rolls his eyes but takes the gloves, making it clear that close proximity to the man who slammed him into the floor is unwanted.

Bruce holds his hands up. Backing off slightly and heading for the couch to turn on the tv. Out of the corner of his eyes, he watches Loki wash, rinse and dry. To his surprise the god then seems to take this job seriously, wiping down the counters and table before sweeping up the floor, taking his time with each task before looking around nervously. Maybe Asgardinas really do take hospitality to heart.

Or maybe chores was an excuse to avoid engaging with his host.

“You can sleep if you want to.”

“Are you going to sleep.”

“Not yet. I like watching Conan.”

“Then since I am to sleep on the couch, it would be seem I am awake until you go to bed.” Loki observes.

Bruce sits up, debating going to the bedroom, then deciding not to. No. This is still his apartment. He'll go to bed when he's ready. “You can read.” he gestures to the bookshelf. “It's mostly science stuff and dissertations from college but...”

Loki scans the shelf, and stops at a set of seven hardback books. “Harry Potter.” he says with a light tone of amusement in his voice. “Really Banner?” he touches the spine and looks them over. “I read two and three when...when I was here last time. Borrowed them of course.”

Bruce nods. “Go right ahead. They're good.”

He takes the first book, cloistering himself into a neat little ball of limbs and pj's in a chair. Within a minute, Loki has gone entirely still, his focus wrapped up in the book as he steadily turns the page. For three hours, he looks like a living statue. You'd never know he was still breathing if he didn't move a curl from his forehead now and again.

The man keeps a little bit of an eye on him till Loki closes the book, stands, and picks up the second one. “I thought you said you read two?”

“It is an all together different thing to read them in order.”

Bruce kinda smiles a little, turning off the tv. “If you want anything to eat or drink, the kitchen is yours.” Loki gestures absently, meaning he's heard him and doesn't want to vocally respond. Bruce pauses at the doorway. “If I wake up tomorrow, and you aren't here, I'll call Thor immediately. Right after that, I'll call SHIELD.”

Loki doesn't move save to raise his eyes from the pages solemnly. “Understood.” his soft voice is a whisper in the room and Bruce nods, shutting off the main light, leaving his guest the small side table lamp to illuminate him.