It was the late shift, and Brianna the barrista was wiping down the counter with one eye on the clock. Twenty minutes to closing time, and then this living-hell of a day would be over and she could curl up on the couch with her boyfriend to watch sad MTV reality shows that made her feel comparatively normal and well-adjusted.

At quarter of, she started to pack up early when the glass doors swung open and a pair of drunken idiots stumbled inside, laughing far too loudly and far too happily considering the late hour.


Brianna sighed and cut a look at Brian, who was too busy making a straw fort in the back to care one way or the other. Because her manager thought it was cute to team up "Brianna and Brian" whenever possible. Whatever. She rolled her eyes and stepped up to the counter, baring her teeth in an approximation of a smile.

The borderline hostile "how-can-I-help-you-assholes?" caught in her throat.

"Assss... asssk her fer allthemuffins again."

Leaning on the counter was a giggling Tony Stark. Leaning on Tony Stark was a giggling Loki. They smelled of sweat and alcohol and... was Loki wearing Mardi Gras beads?

"Oh... migod," Brianna said, because – really – what else do you say in that situation? Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Brian edging closer.

Tony mumbled something into Loki's ear, which sent the green-eyed god into a fit of snickers.

"Uh. Can I... help you?" She glanced at Brian, who was standing next to her now, eyeing the scene with wide eyes and a raised eyebrow.

"Oh. Oh, yeah, sorry," Tony slurred. He cleared his throat and straightened as though just remembering that he was out in public. "We jusss... we juss came back from N'Orleans, and... and s'crazy down there, and we thought... we thought. Y'know whass awesome? Muffins."

Brianna opened her mouth to speak, only to realize that she really had no words for this.

Loki had an arm around Tony's shoulders, and his eyes seemed to glow as he looked at the man next to him. Finally, he glanced at her and then stared at Brian as though only seeing him for the first time. He smiled toothily, almost predatorily.

"Why, hello, Brian!" Loki said far too sweetly.

"Yes. Hello, Loki," Brian answered wearily. Brianna bit her lip.

"I'm dreadfully sorry about last time," Loki said, over-enunciating his words. It was hard to believe the gorgeous asshole when he was smirking like that. "I wasn't aware that a grown man could cry quite so much."

"Yeah. I'm sure you are." Brian's tone said he was anything but. "So what can I get you this time?"

"This time," Loki said sweetly, "I would like a non-fat, decaf, sugar-free, iced-expresso-java-mocha-latte-frappuccino."

"But... but that's not even a real – "

"Make it work, minion!"

Brian looked close to tears again. Tony and Loki were too busy making out to notice, and Brianna was too busy recording said making-out on her phone to care. Brian grimaced and mumbled something about sanitation or the lack thereof, but Brianna waved him off with her free hand.

"Jess is so going to wish she had taken this shift," she all but squealed.

"Ugh," Brian tsked, turning to scowl at the nearest coffee maker. "What the hell do I give Your Highness over there?"

"Just make them whatever," Brianna told him, sotto-voice. "Right now, you could hand them a sousaphone and tell them it's coffee and they'd believe you. Plus I think Loki's mouth is too preoccupied for coffee right now."

Brianna blushed and giggled as Loki got to third base.

"How much you think a tabloid would pay for these pictures?"

Doom decided that now was a good time to catch up on his reading. The tropical heat and sun were like a caress on his scarred skin, and he could at last relax here, on his private island, a world away from Latveria and its troubles.

As the hours passed, he relaxed further, until his book and eyes fell closed, lulled by the warmth and the stillness.

He dozed.

Until he heard a percussive hiss that his sleep-drugged mind told him he should recognize, and a shadow fell over him, leaving him suddenly chilled. Doom snapped awake, muscles tensing and hands groping for anything to use as a weapon. He felt exposed like this, without his armor and his mask. Open. Vulnerable.

The shadow that fell across Doom's face had a pair of horns, and he looked up to see Loki standing over him, fully cloaked and armored, chin held high. He smiled, but his eyes were cold.

Doom felt his mouth run dry.

"Loki," he rasped.

"Good day to you, Victor." Loki's voice held that honey-sweet quality Doom knew spelled Trouble. "Pardon me for interrupting your vacation – I do know how hard you work – but I have an old friend here who has been dying to meet you since our last little... incident."

Loki's smile was more like a baring of teeth. The smile of a wolf or a serpent.

"I believe you remember the Horseman?" Loki gestured with one long hand, and the cluster of shadows behind him coalesced into a shape that Doom knew too well. "The real Horseman, of course."

A face as pale as death stared out at him, and Doom felt his blood run cold.

Once he was satisfied with Doom's shrieks and pleas for mercy, Loki stopped by to thank Hela on his way home.

Tony texted to remind him to pick up the pizza, and Loki smiled.

The End (for now)

A/N: Thank you, guys, for sticking with me through this little experiment of mine. As of the moment I'm writing this, Nine Lives is just shy of 600 reviews, and I can't tell you what an honor that is! It's your comments and your feedback that inspire me to write, so thank you, guys, for being so awesome. I LUV YOU GAIZ!

Keep an eye out for my next piece, The Devil You Know. ;)