Loki wouldn't say the job as a barista at a chain coffee shop was all that he aspired to in life, but it was a comfortable compromise between his chemistry degree and aversion to routines. The transient nature of the coffee shop culture and the lifestyle of his coworkers, all early twenties and in college, meant some sort of scheduling shift every other month to accommodate classes or social lives. Loki had neither of these inconveniences, lingering at the upper end of his twenties and harboring a deep annoyance for most people he encountered. Which was why this job worked so well for his personality, all interactions were limited to a maximum of three minutes, per store policy to promote efficiency.
Most people were able to contain their idiocy for a few minutes, especially with the promise of caffeine on the horizon.
Tony was not most people, as Loki had begrudgingly learned.
Time had a way of distorting when Tony visited the shop. It either crawled by excruciatingly slow when Tony was pulling out all the stops in his flirtatious single-entendres, because why waste precious seconds on the more subtle double-entendres; or sped past at dizzying speed when Tony was perfectly brilliant and Loki wanted to bask in his light.
It was disorienting, and Loki had no idea how to respond so he settled for his default expression of a venomously bored glare. Tony seemed to find it charming, to Loki's intense but unspoken relief.
Natasha and Clint teased him mercilessly, making kissing sounds barely masked by the espresso machine and pestering Loki to write his number on Tony's cup.
Loki could admit to himself, and only himself, that he was tempted. Tony was good looking, intelligent, and snarky. The fact that he had yet to order the same thing twice, without inventing some sort of sugary drink that would no doubt cause nightmares for diabetics, after months of frequenting the café on a biweekly basis was impressive.
There was no guarantee that they were be compatible, however; and Loki was not inclined to find out.
A lifetime of being told he wasn't as interesting, as funny, or as popular as his brother did its damage. Loki was painfully insecure though he hid it well behind bland looks of distaste and timed interactions.
What they had was fine. A series of interactions constructed and restrained by its setting. Safe.
Then one day, Tony asked him out. Earnest brown eyes beseeching and soft lips suggesting dinner.
Loki panicked, his fantasy becoming reality was utterly terrifying. He barked out a harsh no before scurrying away to the back and pushing Clint out to finish his shift. He repeated this pattern until eventually, Tony stopped coming by the shop.
It took almost a month before Loki convinced himself that it wouldn't have worked out anyway so it was all for the best. So of course that was the moment Tony walked past the shop, carrying a coffee cup from a competing café down the street in one hand and eyes straight ahead.
Loki turned back to the customer whose order he was writing down, he pressed the sharpie through the cup in an effort to keep his hands from shaking.
Tony was a fine blacksmith, possibly the finest in all lands, but Loki hadn't travelled the world to make that claim truthfully and he enjoyed the way Tony would scowl in annoyance whenever Loki presented his reasoning and refused to feed Tony's ego. It was fed enough with the countless orders, sycophantic customers, and a royal contract. Though every bit was well-deserved.
Tony's creations were as deadly in their utility as their beauty. The shields glowed. The swords shone. The armors gleamed. Each piece was customized to its user, taking into account not only the usual physical measurements but also the more intangible traits such as fighting styles and personality. He spoke with a brilliance that Loki desperately wanted to covet.
Then want turned into need when Tony presented him with a collection of daggers.
The hilts carried no insignia nor crest, yet the blades were undeniably Loki's. His name was curved in the bent of the handle, glittered in the serrated edge, and reflected in the malachite tipped pommel. It was as though Tony had somehow captured Loki's very essence within the flames of his forge. The weapons were more than tools to be used, they were an extension of Loki himself.
It was the closest that anyone had come to understand him.
Soon, Tony's shop became the only place of comfort. Green eyes darted to track each swing of a hammer and the beads of sweat trailing and catching in Tony's scruffy jawline. Pale fingers longed to trace the fine engravings and lines of muscles. Thin lips pursed to contain the list of praises and the urge to press in closer for a kiss.
Loki hid his admiration of the crafter in his compliments for the craft, ignoring all signs of something subtle and substantial and simmering between them.
Nothing could come of it.
The second prince, however inferior to the rightful heir of the eldest prince, was still superior to a peasant. The friendship between them had already raised several disapproving brows and caused a few malicious rumors. To pursue anything more would be tantamount to political suicide.
When Thor ascended to the throne, Loki would serve as his brother's advisor. A role, arguably, of equal or more importance to the king. Thor was beloved for his pleasant deposition and carefree laughter, unaware that ruling and sustaining a country was neither pleasant nor carefree. Loki would be the voice of reason, and to do so required him to have the court's respect.
Which he would not gain from Tony's company.
Tony glanced up from the molten metal and his face alight in such a way that Loki felt a fleeting impulse to throw caution to the wind and chase after what, or who if he dared to be honest with himself, he truly desired.
It was terrifying.
Loki bid Tony a hasty farewell and silently vowed to never return. Tony deserved more, yet if Loki dared to give him anything at all, he would end up offering everything.
The servants gossiped about a near-crazed blacksmith who sought an audience with the second prince and was swiftly and severely refused. Commander Heimdall was always quick to point out disparities in statuses, first with Loki and now with Tony.
Loki ensconced himself within the library, eyes scanning over text but not reading the words, with Tony's daggers serving as ineffective bookmarks and overqualified paperweights. Such wasted potential.
Loki met Tony online. Theories ranged from professional networking site to a dating service, and Loki just smirked ambiguously and hummed delightedly at his friends' and family's confusion.
They would never guess that Loki met Tony playing the World of Warcraft.
Loki's alchemist warlock had met Tony's engineering hunter while both were attempting to solo a group quest. The nature of playing a pet class meant they could defeat the more difficult bosses without assistance from other players, though not this particular one.
After hours of watching the other player's failed but valiant attempts and switching between helpful critique and snarky commentary, a sort of tentative partnership and grudging respect had emerged. They had slain the monstrous dragon effortlessly on their first try then added each other to their friends list.
Loki trolled the trade channel and caused mischief while Tony played the auction house and disrupted the market.
Loki mocked Tony's sentimentality toward his pets and Tony decried Loki's callousness toward his minions.
Loki denied his obsession with pet battles with the same exaggerated effort Tony had with his protests against the cheesiness of holiday events.
Both enjoyed exploration and soon realized it was better with a friend, especially one who flirted outrageously.
One night, as Tony was logging off, he mentioned flying to Seattle the next morning and complained about looking up weather reports in order to pack, which was predictably put off until the very last moment.
Loki answered that it rained all week and unlikely to change before his mind quite caught up with what he just disclosed.
It seemed only logical to meet up, though less logical to spend the night together. But the kind of night they shared had no need for thinking.
A new pattern emerged. Loki and Tony texted back and forth during the day, sharing details and sending photos. Their interactions were no longer confined computers. Visits to each other's cities became frequent and expected, so were the logic-defying nights spent together.
When Thor commented on Loki's long-distance boyfriend and asked how they had met, Loki smiled angelically and said they met online. Tony reported a similar incident with his friend Rhodey.
It was all going so well, of course everything would come crashing down.
Tony had called to say that he received a transfer offer to Seattle. He was understandably excited, chattering on about spending more time together and joking about being a damsel in a strange land requiring a Loki in shining armor.
Loki couldn't breathe, a crippling terror seized his mind and heart. Tony was giving up his entire life in Malibu for Loki, leaving behind his best friends, beloved apartment, and favorite take-out places. Loki would be the only thing, everything, Tony had.
It was too much.
He was not enough.
With blood rushing in his ears and heart pounding painfully in his chest, Loki barely heard all the hurried and harsh and hurtful things tumbling from his lips but he knew he went for Tony's emotional weaknesses ruthlessly. Dimly, he heard Tony's startled gasps and muffled sobs, but they were drowned out by words like pathetic, needy, and useless. It went on and on and on, until Loki's throat ached and his voice grew hoarse.
Tony must have hung up a while ago, because the phone screen was silently dark and reflected every line of anguish on Loki's face.
Loki threw it against the wall.
Loki was sprinting through the hills and weaving between the trees with a focused aggression that belied his sleek wolf form. He reveled in the flattening of earth and leaves under his strong paws and, for a moment, free of the jeers and taunts of the other members of his pack.
He was by far the smallest of every werewolf he had encountered. While his human form towered over most, his wolf form was barely half the size of Thor's. A comparison pointed out often and maliciously. With a snarl, he doubled his efforts and hoped the euphoria from physical exertion would soon flood his senses and soften the sting of his wounded pride. He crashed forcefully into a solid mass that somehow vanished upon impact.
Blinking, Loki shook his dazed head and sniffed cautiously. There was a scent, foreign but pleasing, lingering in the night air and a pile of discarded clothes on the ground. A fluttering of wings caused him to look up and stare directly into the intelligent eyes of a brown owl, which transformed into a dark-haired man with a shimmering shiver.
This was how Loki, the werewolf runt, met Tony, the half-shapeshifter.
Loki shared his insecurities and knew Tony would not label them as childish grumbles. Tony spoke of the challenges of being in-between and nowhere at once, with Loki's hand rubbing soothingly at his back. They remained in their human forms most of the time, Loki's transformation only happening during full moons and Tony's shifting was more of a defense mechanism than conscious choice.
Their friendship blossomed and tipped toward romantic, much to the delight and wonder of both.
One day, after a particularly nasty confrontation with Sif, Loki curled up against Tony and mumbled a wish to be anywhere else. Tony hummed contemplatively.
Tony was a gifted inventor and paid handsomely for his work, choosing to forge his own path rather than follow in his human father's. He had multiple properties across the world, from the metropolitan apartments to countryside farms. If Loki wanted, Tony's eyes glowed like birthday candle flames that promised wish coming true, they could leave all this behind. Loki's answer was an immediate and enthusiastic yes. They agreed to meet the next day, Tony to finalize travel plans and Loki to say goodbye.
Odin and Frigga, along with a stranger, were waiting for him, when Loki returned home with light steps and a lighter heart. Then the sky crashed down and the ground fell away.
The man was Howard, Tony's father. He had learned of the budding romance between Loki and Tony and sought to intervene. Tony was his only son and heir to his empire, a business mogul did not need a werewolf as distraction. Howard spoke of the antagonistic relationship between him and his son, how Tony would pursue any action or choice if it would displease or contradict Howard. He eyed Loki meaningfully.
Loki wanted to scoff, to laugh, or to scream yet he kept silent. Tidbits of Tony's words floated through his mind, the childhood stories of purposefully ordering a dish Howard hated or selecting a career opposite of Howard's own. There was validity to Howard's words and that terrified Loki.
The frown on Odin's face and the pity in Frigga's eyes solidified his decision.
He would not be meeting Tony the next day.
Tony was on the cover of Rolling Stone, clad only in a bowtie and a top hat with the headline Stark Naked. The hat, instead of sitting atop his artfully tousled hair, was strategically placed in his lap.
Tony was on the cover of GQ, hair shorn and eyes soulful. The fine suit he had on was barely in the frame, though the expertly cut lapels made quite a statement regardless.
Tony was on the cover of Men's Health, midair and mid-strike. There was a focused grace to his ferocity, coiled muscles creating tantalizing dips and shadows emphasizing their powerful strength.
Loki stared them all with awestruck and lovelorn eyes, drinking in every detail thirstily and feeling his bruised heart thud relentlessly within his chest. Three short raps on his door broke him out of his daydream and schooling his features into friendly teasing before he stood to greet his visitor.
Tony barreled past him, nearly running into the coat rack in the foyer of Loki's small apartment, and threw himself down on the couch. He stretched and let out an obscene grunt when his back crackled in a series of pops. Muffled, his face buried in one of the cushions, he listed off a litany of complaints about his most recent tour and press schedules and the strictness of his media-ready diet.
They had been friends since high school and somehow managed to sustain it throughout college and Tony's rapid ascend to fame. All because Loki uploaded a video of Tony singing Sherry Darling on YouTube a decade ago, a drunken prank that backfired because fate was a cruel and fickle mistress.
While Tony thrived under the recognition and praise for his talents, the spotlight made Loki, and his feelings, retreat to the shadows. He'd loved Tony for, literally, half of his life and would continue to do so for the rest. Silently. Because there would be no reciprocation, only the loss of the best relationship Loki ever had. The sheer terror of not having Tony in his life was enough of a deterrent to quiet his aching heart.
Fenrir and Hela, two of Loki's three cats, nuzzled Tony's dangling legs while Jor remained perched on his tower, waiting for the most unexpected moment to make his presence known to his previous owner. Jor had been Tony's cat for literally half a day, between their visit to the shelter and the phone call that summoned Tony to Los Angeles, before Loki had claimed him. The feline seemed to harbor some kind of abandonment complex regarding his first-choice human, though, and it won't be long before Jor pounced on Tony's head and groomed him with a vicious sort of affection.
The oven's timer beeped and Loki went to retrieve the cauliflower pizza he had made especially to accommodate Tony's reduced caloric intake. When he returned, Jor was pinning Tony down with one determined paw and chewing on a lock of hair. Tony had propped himself up on his elbows and the smile he shot Loki was equal parts breathtaking and heartbreaking.
Loki extricated Jor carefully and settled in next to his friend on the couch.
Tony sang exaggerated praises in Loki's name both for the rescue and the food.
Hastily, Loki took a bite and winced as the scalding cheese burnt the roof of his mouth. The burn was a small price to pay though, since it kept more dangerous pains at bay.
"What is the meaning of this?" Loki snarled, wrenching himself away from the enchanted mirror.
Frigga sighed. "Do you truly not see?" She remained seated and watched her adoptive son pace agitatedly around her solar. "The common thread among your other selves and the Man of Iron?"
"Failure is what I see." Loki's scoff was a pained and ugly sound. "I thank you for your caution, All-Mother, though it is unneeded. I was aware of the impossibility of what I seek and have plans to end this fruitless endeavor."
"Cease." Frigga's tone was one that commanded immediate obedience and attention, not from a queen to her subject but from a mother to her son. "Even now, you continue to be your own worse opponent in matters of the heart."
Loki wanted to object the absurdity but centuries of experience held his tongue.
"My Loki." Her hand grasped Loki's trembling one. "In every iteration, your fear bound you from embracing the one who would complete you. You refuse to even try, hiding away or letting go all too easily." Frigga shook her head in a gentle reprimand. "Be brave, my Loki. Courage will lead to happiness, and you so very much deserve some joy."
"I am no coward." It was phrased like a statement but sounded like a question, an understanding dawning behind dulled green eyes. "I, I had come to–"
"Secure one of Idunn's apples for your mortal." Frigga supplied with gentle encouragement. "Then promptly dissuaded yourself of your motivation."
Loki couldn't deny the truth in her words. Anthony had vowed, sleepily but nonetheless genuinely, to be Loki's forever the night before. As his mortal lover slept, Loki agonized over the disparity between their lifespans. Anthony could spend his forever with Loki, but Loki could not spend his forever with Anthony. It was the same curse that befell Thor and Jane, to watch the one you love wither away with eternally young eyes. Thor had requested one of Idunn's apples for Jane, which was the goal that brought Loki to Asgard, but Jane had refused, which was the cause of Loki's hesitation.
"Anthony is brilliant." Loki said haltingly, as though he couldn't quite believe the words from his own lips. "Such brilliance should not be so brief."
Frigga agreed. "No, it should not."
"He may still decline." Loki whispered.
"Or he may accept readily." Without warning, she withdrew something from her pocket and tossed it at Loki. He caught the blur of gold midair by some luck and pure reflex, then gaped at the apple he held within his hands. "You will not know until you try."
Loki stared at her, awestruck and dumbfounded. "Thank you."
"Bring him by sometime." Frigga stood and headed for the door. "I should like to meet him."
"I should like you to meet him as well." Loki smiled, soft and sure. Idunn's apple gleamed as he vanished in a flash of emerald.
A ripple traveled through the multiverse.
A barista dropped his sharpie and chased after a man on the street, choosing reality over fantasy.
A prince stormed out of the royal library, clutching a set of understatedly elaborate daggers to his heart and paying no heed to suffocating conventions.
An alchemist warlock frantically messaged an idle engineering hunter, in lieu of a working phone, and begged forgiveness for a momentarily lapse of sanity.
A werewolf raced through the woods to a pre-agreed meeting spot, hope outweighing doubts and faith overpowering fear.
A friend somehow found the courage to offer a glass of water along with a confession of long-held love and invitation to a date.
Loki kissed Tony unhurriedly, tasting apple and forever, they had all the time in the world.