Discovery: A category of procedural devices employed by a party to a civil or criminal action, prior to trial, to require the adverse party to disclose information that is essential for the preparation of the requesting party's case and that the other party alone knows or possesses.
The first time it happened, Tony Stark wasn’t prepared.
Well, that would be an understatement. Having the goddamn alien God of Mischief suddenly materialize in the middle of a guy’s kitchen floor isn’t exactly the kind of appointment a genius billionaire-playboy-philanthropist type has entered into his Outlook calendar.
The kitchen was a mess too, as Tony had just put a panful of eggs, onions, sausage, bacon, and cheese (cholesterol be damned) on the stove, and he’d left greasy knives, soiled utensils and discarded packaging in his wake. But, he didn’t have time to be embarrassed by his less-than-pristine cooking style because by the time Loki got through apparating, or whatever it was that he did, he'd made Tony’s previous mess look like the Royal Palace on inspection day. You know, what with the whirlwind of air displacement kicking up dust and throwing potholders, place mats and dish towels around like so much confetti.
“Hello, human.” The malevolent sounding voice seemed to swirl around Tony's head, and then Loki stood there, tall and majestic in his leathers, his long ink-black hair settling softly around his shoulders. His eyes were glittering with intent and he had a slight smile on his lips.
“Aw, shit...” Tony muttered, unable to take his eyes off a grocery list fluttering slowly to the floor. But then he got a glimpse of Loki’s eyes and quickly diverted his attention. “Well, hey there, Reindeer Games! It’s been too long, by which I mean, it hasn’t been long enough. What the hell are you doing here? And, I am armed, well, sort of.” Tony hastily picked up a slippery-handled kitchen knife, intending to brandish it threateningly, but it promptly slid between his fingers and fell to the floor. He dove to pick it up, but it disappeared. When he stood up, he saw it glinting in Loki’s hand.
And, oddly, Loki handed it back, handle first. “This is disgusting. What were you doing, preparing to roast a boar?” He had a puzzled sneer on his face.
Tony gazed at the proffered weapon and/or kitchen tool, and gingerly took it back. “No—I got a little nostalgic for my mom’s Sunday morning omelets, and I guess I got carried away. Oh, and why haven’t you plunged this thing into my guts yet, by the way?”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Didn’t my brother tell you? I’ve been rehabilitated. I’m a good little son of Odin now. Certainly no need to stir up my father’s minions by skewering lowly mortals. I’m simply paying you what I understand is known in this realm as a ‘courtesy call.’”
“Courtesy call. What the hell does that mean?”
Loki took in a deep breath, letting it slowly escape between his lips as if he were about to dip his hands into something rank, and then he said, “I’m... sorry.”
Tony stood in his typical cocky pose with his arms crossed, blinking at an unnaturally rapid rate. Then, he shook his head, a contorted expression squishing all his features together as he spat out, “Sorry? You’re sorry? For what, destroying half my town? For throwing me out a window?” He suddenly strode up to the god and got in his face. “Or, for killing my friend? Which is it, low-life?”
Loki met his eyes, then dropped his gaze to the floor. “For everything. All of it. I know my words mean nothing to you. I know I am fully deserving of your anger, your hatred—and more. Even so, I wanted you to know that I no longer believe myself to be above you and your kind, or any other living being for that matter. I wish I could make amends to you and everyone I hurt. It is impossible... yet I wish it all the same.”
Tony felt his fury rising. “Aw, poor baby. And, what am I supposed to do now, give you a hug? Tell you it’s okay, that that’s all I needed to hear and, woo-hoo, all is forgiven?”
Loki shook his head tiredly. “No. I expect nothing from you. No forgiveness, no kindness. It was just an attempt to... offer something.” He laughed softly. “I have little else to give, besides my words. It is my hope that I can one day use them to bring forth something other than misery. This was... a start.” Loki drew himself up and Tony could see he was about to disappear.
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt to lay off stuff like saying ‘lowly mortals’ when you’re talking to one of us. Just a suggestion.”
Loki gave a wry grin. “Ah, yes. Old habits, Stark. Apologies.”
And with that, he was gone in a whoosh.
When Tony looked around, the kitchen was spotless. The mess in his frying pan was now a perfectly turned omelet that would have done his mother proud, and his grocery list was back on the refrigerator door.
The second time it happened, Tony was drunk.
Jane Foster was in New York for some conference or other and Thor had turned up at Stark Towers to invite him and Pepper to have dinner with them at a fancy restaurant. When the ladies headed off to the bathroom, Tony quickly scooted closer to Thor and said, “I saw your brother the other day.”
Thor was still eating, but he paused mid-chew. “Loki,” was all he said. He didn’t sound surprised, and the expression on his face told Tony how much sorrow the younger god had already caused him. “Did he attempt to harm you?”
“Uh... No, but of course, I was pretty heavily armed. I think he knew better than to mess with me,” Tony said in what he hoped was a nonchalant tone.
Thor did him the kindness of hiding a smirk. “Well, then, what did he want?”
“He claims he came to tell me he was sorry.” There was no missing Tony’s bitterness; Thor looked interested.
“Ah. And how did you respond to him, Man of Iron?”
Tony was aware that Thor’s clear blue eyes were on him, that he was being studied. “Well, to be honest, I wasn’t exactly gracious about it.” He took a sip of wine and then met Thor’s gaze. “Do you think I screwed up? Was that some kind of test?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. To see how far he could push me or something?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Thor sighed. “I cannot imagine that my brother is up to such childish nonsense, given his recent incarceration.”
“Speaking of which, what’s this about him being rehabilitated? I mean, like—really? Do they do therapy in the dungeons of Asgard?”
Thor glanced toward the ladies’ room and observed that there was a substantial line, giving them plenty of time to speak privately. He turned back to Tony and lowered his voice. “No. My brother was treated like any other criminal—beaten, starved, humiliated, made bereft of his magic.” Thor’s jaw was tight and Tony noticed he was gripping his fork so tightly that it bent. “I visited him as often as I could, trying to give him strength. But, he simply turned away from me. I couldn’t bear the thought of my little brother, my Loki, being lost forever. I pleaded with my father to... to find another way. He loves Loki, in spite of what my brother has long believed. And, at last, he sought counsel with a healer.
“Now, we have no shortage of healers in Asgard. It is a noble profession, worthy of much respect. But, most care only for the ills of the body. My father found one that cares for the mind. He was sent to speak with Loki. When he returned, he came to my father and told him he believed that Loki suffered from madness, and not just that put upon him during his dealings with the Chitauri.”
“The Chitauri? You mean those... things we were battling?”
“They come from another realm which is ruled by a being known as the Other. Do you recall how Loki took control of Agent Barton’s mind? And, that of Dr. Selvig? The Other did the same to Loki.”
“Whoa, there, Point Break. Are you saying Loki wasn’t responsible for his actions?”
“Not at all. But, you see, the healer said Loki’s sickness—his mind sickness—came from within himself, through no fault of his own. That happens sometimes, and your history tells me it happens to humans, as well. The healer said the sickness had been there all along, but when the truth of Loki’s birth was revealed to him, the shock caused it to become manifest. Had that not been the case, the Other would never have been able to exert his influence upon my brother.”
Tony waggled a breadstick as he pondered Thor’s words. “So, you’re saying Loki has some form of, what, schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder? Paranoid psychosis or something?”
Thor looked at him uncertainly. “I know not of the ailments to which you refer. But, Loki’s mind is wounded. My father allowed the healer to take him from the dungeons and bring him to a place where he could mend the damage.”
“Like, a psych ward?”
Thor wrinkled his brow and shrugged. “I know not the mortal term for it. But, when Loki was returned to us, he was healed.”
“Listen, big guy, I’ve gone a few rounds with a shrink from time to time, and I can tell you—what Loki’s got wrong with him doesn’t just go away. He’s, like, Hannibal Lecter-crazy—you know, with the hockey mask and the two-wheeler?”
Again, Thor appeared mystified, but he shook his head slightly and said, “I don’t know about all that, but on your main point I agree, my friend. And if the healer had simply spent time attempting to talk with Loki, I would have no faith in his continued recovery. But, Loki underwent numerous forms of healing.” A sad expression crossed the god’s face. “Extreme forms. I have seen it work on others. True, none were so greatly deranged as Loki. But, the healing has proved to be successful in the past. I have great hopes that it will continue to mend Loki, as well.”
“So, that’s it? He’s now free to roam around and everyone just hopes he won’t suffer a relapse and destroy a small town? Or, a big town? Aren’t psychos supposed to be locked up, so they can, you know, weave baskets and take their pills on time?”
“There are no ‘pills’ that I know of, although I believe there is a draught he must take every so often. But, the healer has sworn upon his own life that Loki no longer poses a threat. And...”
“My father could not allow Loki to remain free in Asgard. His subjects would have lost respect for him. They would not understand the conditions Loki is living under, believing only that my father would give his son leniency when he should be living out his days in captivity, or be put to death. So, Father banished him from Asgard.”
Tony started to ask another question, but the girls returned to the table, laughing at a shared joke as they sat down. Pepper observed the somber expressions on the men’s faces and asked, “Everything all right?”
Jane frowned. “Yeah, you two look way too serious for such a pleasant evening. What’re you talking about?”
Tony pulled a cheery smile out of his hat and said, “Aw, no big deal, gorgeous. You’re right, we need to cheer up. How’s about another bottle of wine?” He caught the waiter’s eye and in no time, everyone had another full glass of the best merlot the place had to offer, and by the time everyone decided to call it a night, Tony was pretty well snockered.
Happy dropped Pepper off at her place and then took Tony home. The billionaire made his way up to his living room and collapsed on the couch. He liked being horizontal, because when the room began spinning, he didn’t have to worry about falling down. In fact, he was willing to bet that that was how the couch came to be invented in the first place.
He was almost asleep, when a soft voice said, “So, my brother told you my story.”
Tony forced his eyes open, just to be sure he was properly hallucinating like a nice, normal drunk, but it was hard to deny what appeared before him—Loki was back, perched on the arm of the far end of Tony’s couch.
Loki looked wild, his hair a wind-swept mess, his leathers dusty, his boots caked with mud. “I said, you now know the details of my recovery. What do you think? Am I to be trusted?”
Tony woozily pulled himself into a sitting position, rubbing his eyes. He still wasn’t entirely convinced he wasn’t hallucinating, and he kind of hoped he was, but he responded, “I have no idea. Right now, I’m too drunk to care. But, the real question is—why do you? Care what I think, I mean.”
Loki stared at Tony for a long moment, and then he looked away. “I don’t know. I suppose it doesn’t matter. But my oaf of a brother is so pathetically hopeful that, now that I’ve been released, everything is going to be all right, it’s difficult to maintain an objective viewpoint. I suppose I thought you might offer another perspective. But, I can see you’re in no condition to assess the mental health treatment methods of another realm.” Loki’s eyes took on a mischievous expression. “I’d think you’d do well to look into some sort of twelve-step recovery program, yourself, mortal. I understand extreme amounts of alcohol do the puny human liver no good. Yours must be well-pickled by now.”
“Hey! I can stop anytime I want—”
“Just a suggestion.”
Before Tony could finish his thought, Loki grinned and then somehow, the place where he’d been was nothing but a lot of thin, wavy air.
Tony lay back down, but the room had stopped spinning, and the contours of his furniture were all too solidly real every time he opened his eyes, so he just went to bed.
The third time it happened, Tony was naked.
He’d been in his lab for the better part of thirteen hours, and things just weren’t coming together for him. He decided he needed to give his brain a break, and his muscles had that tight, under-appreciated feel to them, so he headed for the Olympic-size pool he’d had built on one of the lower floors.
He stripped off his clothes—he preferred swimming in the nude, kind of fun, feeling the water skim around his privates—and dove in. He swam a few slow, lazy laps up and down the length of the pool, letting his mind wander and his body recharge. When he was sufficiently tired, he swam up to the shallow end and sat himself on a ledge made for lounging.
He stretched out and wiggled his toes in the perfectly temperature-controlled water and became vaguely aware that his stomach was empty. But, just as he was considering actually getting up and doing something about that, a water spout appeared in the middle of the pool. Tony watched transfixed as the column of water dissipated, revealing a raven-haired form hovering over the water. It was Loki, naked, and he appeared to be balancing himself on some sort of invisible fulcrum before simply diving into the water, much as Tony had done earlier.
Tony watched the lithe body wriggle along underwater, and he frowned as Loki came up for air and sat himself beside Tony on the ledge.
“Hello, human,” Loki said, shaking water from his hair like a dog.
Tony wiped the spray from his eyes and snarled, “What the living fuck are you doing? Can’t you see I’m trying to relax?”
“Oh, I don’t intend to interfere with your relaxation,” Loki said cheerfully. “I merely wished to seek some advice.”
“Advice. You’re coming to me for advice.”
“Yes. Is that unusual in some way?”
“Kind of. You know, with the whole you trying to kill me and take over my planet thing that happened, yeah.”
Loki gave him a reproving look. “I did apologize for that, did I not?”
“Well, yeah. But, still.”
Loki now looked uncertain. “You wish me to leave?”
Tony took a moment to actually look at the god. There was something rankling in the back of his mind that he’d always made damn certain didn’t inch forward into the front of his mind, or his pants, but it was sort of, you know, hanging there now, and it was kind of hard not to notice.
Loki looked good. He always did, with his freakin’ leather coat and boots, his mane of hair, his goddamn green eyes that could go from pools of pure sorrow to innocence to murderous deviltry in a fraction of a second. Even so, it had always been pretty easy to ignore that stuff. Having your life and the lives of those around you in jeopardy does that to you, he supposed.
But now, here, sitting less than a foot away and naked, it was just about impossible not to notice that Loki, the alien God of Mischief, was a pretty damn sexy motherfucker, and...
Tony cleared his throat.
“Uh, well, no. You’ve got me curious. What did you want to ask me?”
Loki sat back, stretching out his long legs, much as Tony had right before his arrival. He raised his eyes toward the ceiling and said, “I recall coming upon a certain comestible in your realm—at the time, there was no opportunity to partake of it, but the smell was intoxicating. I’ve always wanted to try it, but I am unsure of the procedure, as there are apparently numerous different ways to prepare it. Do you think you could help me identify it?”
“What... ‘comestible’ are you talking about?”
“The name escapes me—it’s an odd term, but the item is round and appears to have a doughy base covered with some sort of red sauce, to which a layer of fermented milk is then applied. I’ve seen a variety of vegetables and meats placed on top of that, although it does not appear to be mandatory. Do you know of this alluring foodstuff?”
“You mean, pizza?”
Loki’s eyes widened. “Yes! That’s it. Pizza. Have you tried it?”
“This is New York, buddy. We have an entire style of pizza named after us, it’s sold on every block. Yeah, I’ve had pizza. Do you want some?”
“I do. If you can just tell me how to go about acquiring it—”
“Look, I’m starving, myself. I tell you what, I’ll order one for us, and then you can go on your merry way and leave me alone, how about that.”
Loki shifted, regarding Tony suspiciously. “You would take a meal with me?”
“Sure. No big deal, right? I mean, you’re not going to try to kill me or do the window thing again, I’m assuming. So, why not?”
“I don’t wish you ill, Tony Stark.”
“Okay, I’ll get right on it. But first, would you mind, you know, putting on some clothes?”
Loki looked down at himself as if he’d forgotten he was naked. He gave a nod of understanding. “Of course.” He stood up and Tony had an eyeful of taut muscles flexing under pale skin, rather substantial genitalia, and then a firm, round ass as Loki made his way out of the pool. He watched as Loki made a fluid move, and in one second he was clothed in a black t-shirt, skin-tight black jeans stuffed into sleek boots, and a tailored wool jacket that fit him like a second skin. Even his hair was dry. “Is this acceptable garb?”
“Yeah. I’m feeling a little underdressed now, though. Turn around, will you?”
Loki gave him a questioning look, but did as requested. Tony hastily stood up and grabbed a towel, wrapped it around his waist, and then picked up his clothes. He went to a nearby changing room and dressed. “All right, let’s go to the den. We can catch a game while we eat.”
In the elevator, Tony pulled out his cell phone and punched the speed dial number to his favorite pizza joint. “What do you want on the pizza?” he asked Loki.
Loki frowned thoughtfully. “What are those little red discs of meat? They appear to be some sort of sausage amalgam.”
“Pepperoni? My fave. Okay, you’ve got it. How about onion, anchovies and hot peppers?”
Loki raised one corner of his mouth in distaste and shook his head.
“Not as adventurous as you look, are you, bub? Okay, no problem, I’ll have them put ‘em on my half only. Hello? Yeah, I want to order a pizza...”
A half hour later, they were sitting on Tony’s couch, each balancing a paper plate full of pizza on his lap. There were two bottles of cold beer on the coffee table in front of them, and a football game on the giant TV.
Tony was wolfing his slice down with relish. He looked over at Loki and noted how slowly he ate, long elegant fingers gripping the pizza in such a way as to prevent drips of grease from staining his shirt.
“You don’t eat like your brother, that’s for sure,” Tony observed. “Did he miss out on table manners 101 or something?”
Loki glanced at Tony and then shrugged. “I’ve never cared for stuffing myself. Food is nothing more than sustenance and I don’t require a lot. But, this is quite delicious.” He bit his lip and then added, “Thank you.”
“Well, you can get the next round.”
Loki chuckled. “Surely you’re not suggesting we make a habit of dining together?” He sounded scornful, but Tony thought he picked up on a hint of something else.
“Hey, look, I got no problem with you, man. Your brother tells me you’re trying to get your head on straight, and I respect that. I believe in second chances. God knows, I’ve been lucky enough to get a few. Just prove to me that I can trust you, and we’re golden.”
Loki chewed for a moment, and then asked, “And, what would I have to do to gain your trust, in order to achieve this state of gold you mention?”
“Well, not killing me is a great start. Not killing anyone else is good, too. Let’s see how you do with that, and then we’ll go from there.”
Loki broke into a smile, and it hit Tony right in the crotch. He shifted uncomfortably, crossing one leg over the other and forced himself to take an interest in the game. Eventually, New York scored a goal, and he whooped in delight. “That’s what I’m talking about...” he said proudly. He looked at Loki, who was observing him with a bewildered expression.
“What? Don’t you like football?”
“I... am not familiar with the rules, so it’s difficult for me to know when one of the competitors has gained an advantage. I take it your warriors have brought honor to their side?”
“Uh, yeah, they just scored against the Steelers. Don’t they have team sports in Asgard?”
“We have something like this, but it’s traditionally played using the head of a vanquished enemy in place of a leather ball.”
“Jeeze. No wonder you guys are so bloodthirsty.” Tony shook his head wonderingly, and the two finished their food in silence.
When the game was over, Loki stood up and faced Tony. “I thank you for this evening. It was... pleasant. However, I should allow you return to your solitude now. Goodbye.” He closed his eyes and drew in a breath in preparation of departure, but Tony put his hand on Loki’s arm.
“Wait! Hold on, hot shot, don’t run off just yet. You want to play some pool?”
Loki eyed him warily. “Forgive my suspicion, but we have already enjoyed your pool. Why would I wish to repeat the experience so soon?”
“No, no, I mean... It’s a game. Like, billiards? You know, little balls on a green felt table, you push ‘em into holes with a stick?” Tony pantomimed playing and Loki watched with interest.
Tony led him to the game room and began racking up the balls. “It’s real simple, but it takes a little practice to get the balls to go where you want them. Here, I’ll run this round to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.” He cued up and broke the rack, then proceeded to drop ball after ball into the pockets.
Loki followed the balls’ trajectories, nodding. “I see. Very intriguing. May I try?”
“Sure. Now, look, here’s how you hold the cue...” Tony took Loki’s hands and placed them on the cue, noticing how cold they were. He stood beside him, demonstrating the proper stance to take when he took his shot, explaining the rules as he went.
Loki made an experimental stab at it, but the cue ball sailed past his target. His eyes narrowed. “Blast. That was... disappointing.”
“Now, it’s your first time, don’t get down on yourself. Here, let me show you something.” Tony stood directly behind Loki, leaning against his back and reaching around to put his hands on the god’s arms and guiding him in his next shot. Loki leaned forward, and somehow his butt pushed back against Tony’s crotch.
And, somehow, Tony’s erection jumped to life.
And, somehow, he sort of... pushed forward.
There was that horrible moment when he realized that Loki realized that he was hard. That tense moment when he wasn’t sure if Loki would punch him in the nose or cause fire and brimstone to rain down upon his oak-paneled designer game room. But, Loki merely looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Obviously, there are subtleties to this game of which I am not aware. Perhaps that green felt has a secondary purpose?”
“Aw, shit. I’m sorry, man. Damn it.” Tony backed away and strode out of the room, his breath coming hard. What the hell was he thinking? Or rather, what the hell was little Tony thinking? Not that his dick had a stellar history of using wisdom and logic when it came to getting boners, but damn. This was kind of terrible.
Loki came out of the game room and went to stand in front of Tony. “Stark—it’s all right. A little drink of ale, a little exchange of warmth... It happens. Do not feel ashamed.” A very naughty grin crossed Loki’s face. “I rather liked it. Thor tells me that mortal women—well, woman, he’s only had the one so far—are quite satisfactory companions in the bed chamber. I’d be most interested to find out if the same is true of your men.”
“Okay, now hold on, tough stuff—that was a mistake. I just, you know, had a lapse. Not a big deal—”
“It felt like it might be a rather delightfully big deal.”
“Ah, ha ha. You’re scary when you flirt, you know that?” Actually, that wasn’t even a little bit true. Loki’s eyes were a soft smoky emerald and the smile on his face was languid, teasing. Tony’s erection unhelpfully quivered against the fabric of his jeans, and Loki seemed to know exactly what it was doing, as his eyes trailed down Tony’s torso and landed right on the tent in the front of his pants.
Tony gave a choked little cough and turned his back. “I think you should go,” he said. Tony didn’t like saying the words, but the alternative was too freaky to contemplate.
“As you wish.” Loki shrugged and there was that thin air again.
Tony felt caught up short. He’d been prepared to argue; it was a little disheartening to find that the guy he’d just had a sort of intimate moment with, a guy who’d definitely seemed interested in him, would just disappear, literally, at a single word of dismissal. But, of course, it was for the best. The last thing Tony needed was to have a roll in the hay with a goddamn alien being, one with mental health issues, to boot. Still, he felt a little... let down.
A little lonely.
But it was late, and he was tired, so he headed to his bedroom.
Where the goddamn alien being was lounging, naked again, on his bed.