a/n: Emily dared me. I don't know either.
She woke screaming in the middle of the night / terrified of her own insides. -— I Am Disappeared, Frank Turner
She sees him. That's why he sees her, at the beginning. He is invisible and she is not even tangible. Then she smiles at him, and suddenly she exists for him.
He is at the bar, that time. It's a weakness of his. He thinks Thor probably went for the coffee when he was here. But he is not his brother and coffee makes him twitchy and besides he likes the way the beer makes him feel a bit numb inside. So he is at the bar and he is drinking and being an Asgardian means he can hold his alcohol thanks awfully. But he's invisible because humans are kind of irritating and he'd like to get through his nine pints without being judged by ants, thank you very much.
But there's this girl who walks in on a blonde man's arm and she catches his eye where he's sitting and she smiles. She smiles at him, to him, through him; smiles.
Before he has time to decide how to react she has moved on and left him there, unsettled. He cannot believe he has just been uncloaked by a mortal. So he drinks two more of his pints and then he gathers his invisibility tighter around him, twines it like living armour, and sweeps past her towards the door of the bathroom.
He glances down at where she is sitting and she catches his eye again and smiles abstractedly, like she's barely thinking about it. The blonde man's hand is tight on her thigh and she is leaning away from him a little without realising it and Loki moves on before he can work out why he suddenly is seeing him and her and a bed somewhere near the back of his mind.
He spends a further half an hour amusing himself driving a large man mad in a dark corner with whispers and phantasms, and then he leaves the man twitching on the floor and heads for the front door.
He is unsure why he is surprised when a voice halts him.
"Hey," a girl says from behind the bar, "Hey, mate, aren't you going to finish those?"
He pauses and turns and he can barely believe she's talking to him because she can't see him, she can't; but then he turns and she is and she can and there's that.
"S'just a waste, that's all," she informs him, her eyes directed right into his, "You've paid for them so you might as well drink 'em. Otherwise I will and that never ends well."
Loki looks at her for some time, just stands there and looks. He waits for her to become unsettled like mortals usually do, for her to make some excuse to leave, for her to say something. But she just looks right back and continues polishing a dirty glass with a dirtier rag and waits.
So Loki dispels the last of his invisibility and unbuttons his suit jacket and retakes his seat at the bar. She smiles slightly and glances around to check that nobody is waiting to be served and then she moves closer and leans on the bar just opposite him. Loki closes his fist around his glass and withdraws a short distance. The heat of her is a bit exhausting, and it reminds him a little too closely of home and how Thor could turn his whole atmosphere to boiling just by walking too near. But this heat is different, he thinks, more female and less related and more tempting, somehow. More human but less mortal.
"So," she says when it becomes clear that he's not going to contribute anything, "What's the deal with the invisibility? None of the people I know would go to the effort just to get a drink or two."
Loki smiles into his pint and looks at the empty glasses all around him and replies, "Or two?"
"Eight, twelve, whatever," she corrects herself, but she's grinning too and looking unconcerned by his reticence. She studies his face for a short time and Loki is just wondering how long it will be before she gets bored and goes away when she ventures, "I'm Lily."
"Charmed to meet you," he replies without meaning it at all, "I'm Loki."
"Loki," she repeats quietly, tilting her head to examine him better. When he looks up to meet her curious gaze, there is something a little bit lost in the depths of her eyes. He finds himself leaning closer without knowing why.
"What are you doing here, Lily?"
She snorts and gestures around herself, full of movement, suddenly, "I work here, obviously. What about you? Are you just here to drown your sorrows or are you like plotting world domination or something?"
He smiles. "Both."
"Oh," she says, and it's not really a word but more of an exhalation, a sound of compressed confusion clearly designed to convey comprehension. Loki thinks to himself that, as liars go, she's not half bad. Not in his class, of course, but then she's mortal.
"I haven't seen you here before," she comments after another short silence where they have watched each other and learnt very little. Loki finds his eyes following the shifting lines of light in her red hair, wandering down the pale sharp curve of her jaw to the white column of her throat and the jagged lip of her collarbones.
"I'm new in town," he tells her softly, his mouth barely moving as his eyes journey downwards, outlining the gentle curves of her breasts and waist until her form is lost to the shadow behind the bar. Barred any further sight, his gaze flashes back up to meet hers. He watches her swallow, once, like she's trying not to react to him too overtly. He smiles, and wonders about her story, "How long have you been here?"
"Oh, couple of years," she informs him airily, knuckles white around the edge of the bar, and he's not sure if she's trying to not react to him or not react to the blonde man approaching whose reflection he can see in the mirror above the bar, "I live here."
"Lily," the man says in a light, clipped drawl, "You coming, or?"
"You go on, Scorp," she replies a trifle breathlessly, "I have another few hours of my shift left, I told you."
"I can't stay," the man says, totally ignoring Loki's presence, "Rose is expecting me home."
"Then go," Lily says, and Loki watches the soft line of her lips press tightly together, watches anger gather in the corner of her eyes, "I told you I didn't want you here, anyway. You push me too far."
"I don't push far enough," the man replies, and Loki is already so bored of this whole exchange that he sends whispering shivers of fear down the man's spine and sneaks a few demons into the depths of his mind to keep him busy for a while.
Loki and Lily watch the man leave together, and Loki isn't sure whether to wonder that she doesn't question her friend's dreadfully sudden departure.
"Nice guy," Loki volunteers eventually, and Lily makes a sound that is half laughter and half scorn.
"My cousins' husband," she explains shortly, "He's been trying to get me to fuck him for two years now."
"Classy," Loki comments disdainfully, draining his last pint. Lily smiles at that and then is dragged away to serve a new customer.
Loki stays. He doesn't know why, but he stays.
At one o' clock in the morning Lily is finished with her shift. She comes to find Loki at the bar and hops up onto the stool next to him. She's changed from her black trousered work uniform into a yellow dress and Loki thinks the contrast of her hair and her eyes and that dress is the closest approximation to the rainbow bridge he's seen since he fell from Asgard.
"Where are you staying?" she asks him, her long left leg swinging in the gap between them, wandering dangerously close to his shin. Loki shrugs in response and thinks that she looks rather lovely in the halflight.
She smiles and hops off her barstool and extends a hand towards him, and he's not sure why he wants to take it but, but, he really never prepared himself for this situation and he is after all a man and she is awfully pretty. So he looks at her hand and the delicate maze of grooves pressed into the palm and watches the way they web towards her fingers, stretched so far towards him, the nails bitten short and painted black.
"You might be a psycho," she's saying with a smile, "But I think I'll take my chances. You seem a bit lonely to be much harm."
Loki thinks that he's plenty lonely to be harm but he doesn't say it. Instead he stands and presses his fingertips to hers and slides them down her hand until he has his palm against hers and the feeling of her skin on hers is almost-burning, but nicely.
She smiles over her shoulder and leads him out into the night.
Her home is small and cluttered and he has to pick his way through the mess in the hallway and it's not a patch on his father's palace on Asgard but he thinks that there's something about the feel of the place that he could definitely learn to like.
She lends him an ex-boyfriend's pyjamas and shows him to a bed and he doesn't realise that it's her bed until the light is out and he's lying staring at posters of music-makers and writers and he hears sofa-springs squeaking.
He gets out of bed and pads across to the door and presses his hands against it and watches her through the wood with his magic. She is settling down onto the couch, her face pressed into the cushions, her back turned to him, a black cat nestled into the small of her back and her long hair twisting messily around her and the feline.
He thinks about going and insisting that she takes the bed but to be honest she's a mortal and he's Loki and sofas aren't really his style. So instead he goes back to bed and closes his eyes and dreams of Thor and Asgard and falling falling falling and being trapped with no escape.
He wakes at four am to a scream. He is out of bed in mere seconds, staff materialising in his hand as his need calls it, every nerve in his body wired as he listens for the attacker. The scream comes again, and then is cut off suddenly. Loki stands frozen in the middle of the messy bedroom and listens as the sound of hastily-muffled sobs drift through the door. Cautiously, he crosses the room and presses his hands to the door again to see. He finds Lily with her fists bunched up against her mouth and her shoulders heaving and no attacker in sight.
He tests the atmosphere around it and feels the weight of the demons barging around her mind and winces just a little. Before he knows how he's abandoning his staff and opening the door and going to her.
"Lily," he says, crouching down by her head and almost putting a hand out to touch her before he thinks better of it, "Lily, why are you crying?"
"It's nothing," she gulps, not looking at him, "I'm sorry I woke you."
"It's not nothing," he argues, and this time he does dare touch her, long fingers pressing lightly against the strip of bare skin across the top of her shoulders, "You screamed."
"Nightmare," she says shortly, her breath shuddering, "Don't worry. I'm fine."
To be honest he's quite tired and she's just a mortal and all that so he does as bidden and turns to go back to bed. In the doorway he pauses and turns to look back at her. He thinks the monsters in her head feel quite familiar, like he's encountered them before in his own.
"If you need anything," he begins, but ends up letting the sentence trail off because he doesn't really know what he's offering her. He doesn't think comfort is particularly one of his strong suits. She doesn't answer, so he stares at her for a moment longer and then returns to bed.
Ten minutes later he is just drifting off back to sleep when the door opens quietly and a slim shape detaches itself from the darkness of the sitting room and crosses the room towards him. Unthinking, he shifts sideways as the duvet is lifted, and before he quite knows why Lily is sliding into bed next to him and pressing against him, her forehead hard against his shoulder and her left foot draped across his shin.
"Sorry," she murmurs in a voice thick with crying, "You don't mind? I sleep so much better with company."
He doesn't really know how to tell her that he does mind. It would be no trouble usually to just make her get out but she's opened her home to him and his mother brought him up well so he's good at the laws of hospitality and it is her bed, after all. So he just makes a non-committal noise and tucks his free hand under his head and lies and stares up at the blank white ceiling until she is asleep again next to him.
He leaves before she wakes up in the morning.
He spends a while in America to cause mayhem and destruction because there's nothing more fun than that – but he finds himself back in that bar in London one week later and Lily sees him again and invites him back again and this time she starts the night in his bed rather than entering it halfway through.
He wakes up and leaves before she does.
He finds a pattern developing in himself and he thinks he should stop it but he's started to look forward to seeing Lily. He thinks that's probably not a good think but she can't do any harm, surely, not even a little. Not if he doesn't permit it.
They pass two months this way, meeting once a week to sleep and her waking up the morning after to his imprint on the sheets and the faint lingering scent of something a bit like what she imagines rainbows to smell like on her pillow and in her hair.
Little changes until one night when he's there and she wakes him screaming. He jolts awake and upright and leans over her, pinning her arms down to stop her flailing and hurting herself.
"Lily, Lily, stop," he demands, giving her a shake of impatience, "Lily, stop!"
"Oh, God," she says, and then she bursts into tears. Loki, sitting there with her slim wrists under his palms and her face pressed into his right forearm, thinks that maybe this wasn't the plan. He has a mental image suddenly of what Thor would tell him to do right now, and even as he's hissing at the picture to get out and leave him alone, he's following the imagined advice and gathering Lily closer, feeling like the warrior he always wanted to as she clings to him and cries like he's the thing keeping her safe. He reckons he could get used to this feeling.
"Tell me," he whispers into her hair, drafting the words against the soft round shape of her skull, "Tell me."
She swallows and hiccups and then, hesitantly, slowly, she mutters a story about a famous father and newspapers into his shoulder, weaves tales of cameras and lies and rumours into the thin blue material of his borrowed t-shirt, confesses to breakdowns and how hard it is to resist the urge to throw everything she has into blasting her name away from her father's so she can be her own person without everybody following her around waiting for her either to make mistakes or be that hero all over again.
"Sometimes," she says breathlessly, her fingers fisting in his shirt suddenly, like this is something awfully important for her to convey, "Sometimes I get so tempted to just go mad."
"It's underrated," he jokes lightly, closing his arms around her and feeling twenty feet tall as she tucks her head under his chin and relaxes against him.
He tells her stories of Asgard and its history for hours until they both fall asleep again, and he doesn't leave in the morning. Instead he wakes to find her sitting at the end of her bed and staring at a poster of something to do with a man called Hemingway. She turns to look at him when he sits up, her hair all rumpled with sleep, and she smiles and blinks and gives him this look like she's half-tempted to give him her heart right then and there.
He leaves before she can.
The draw of her is too strong, though, and he finds himself back in that bar before three nights are out. He takes her a present and doesn't let her open it until they're back in her flat and sprawled out on her bed with cups of tea. She peels the paper back with a touch of reverence, and Loki can't help smiling at the look on her face as she withdraws the heavy silver compass from its wrappings.
"For when you need to get away," he explains, gently taking it from her and flipping it open, his fingers tracing the swaying needle even as his eyes dart up to meet hers, "Just follow it. You'll find your best escape."
She smiles halfway, with this air like she's too distracted by the wonder of the gift to do anything properly, and he turns his gaze towards the needle too as they sit in silence together.
When the needle settles on him he can't help a smile. He risks a look up at her. She's staring down at the compass, hair shielding her face, long cuffs covering the hands she's got clutched around the device. Tenderly, firmly, Loki takes the compass from her hands and places it on the bedside table and then with a touch defter than he'd have hoped, pushes her hair back from her face and waits for her to raise it towards him.
"Come with me tomorrow," he suggests to her, so quietly he's barely audible, "Come and go mad."
She stares it at him for long moments, her fingers resting lightly against his jean-clad thigh, her brows drawn just slightly over uncertain eyes. He feels like time is freezing around him as he waits for an answer, so he takes matters into his own hands and kisses her.
She kisses him back, and the wonder of it leaves him breathless.
He finds himself rolling her over and pressing her down into the mattress, his hands working at her clothes, and he spares a moment to be astonished with himself for not dominating her the way he'd always thought he'd be able to. He finds himself unable to be rough, unable to take what should be his right. Instead he is gentle and tender and when her eyes flash open and her nostrils flare and she gives off this quiet little gasp, something like a moan but not quite, at the touch of his fingers in just the right places, he feels like a true god.
Afterwards she puts his shirt on to pack and they leave before the sun comes up. She leaves a note to her family that says sorry, but without feeling, and later when Loki asks her why she didn't stop to say goodbye she mutters something about loneliness and them not being able to deal with her having been a Slytherin and he hopes that she'll still be so lovely even when she's surrendered to the demons in her mind.
If not, he can always chase them out, send them on to wreak havoc elsewhere. For now he'll let them roam there, though. He thinks she might be perfect if he leaves them long enough.