Title: The Cellist, posted in 2 parts
Author: elpin
Summary: When Loki comes to Midgard he decides to infiltrate SHIELD in order to understand what he's up against.
Pairing: Loki/Coulson
Rating: NC-17

Warnings: slash and HET! Girl!Loki but no graphic descriptions (because ew, I'm a slash writer)

Word Count: 14 800 (WOW, Rokkis, you need to be kissing my arse way more)
Notes:Dedicated to my wonderful sister and best friend, Rokkis. May this be exactly what you hoped for, and DFTBA. More notes at the end!

-:-

The Cellist

Coulson wasn't in the mood for a night off - he never was - but Fury had set specific dates and times when he was obligated to take some "personal time". Coulson didn't understand what Fury was afraid of; he wasn't going to crack under too much stress. He simply did not consider his life stressful. And that was the important distinction: it was his life, not his job.

An evening out with Miss Potts, however, was more tolerable than he had ever expected. She never shifted the duty of conversation onto him, and always took him places that held his interest. They had done it three times now, and for tonight Miss Potts had promised a private concert at some New York art collector's penthouse.

The view was beautiful, though the recently completed Stark Tower marred the skyline. Coulson did not care for it, architecturally speaking. The string quartet had played beautifully, and now people mingled with champagne flowing as far as the dresses.

'Phil,' Miss Potts called. She was the only one that did so. She appeared all smiles and took his arm. 'I have someone you have to meet,' she said conspiratorially. 'I think you'll like her.' Oh no, that sentence had never filled him with confidence, not since his mother had arranged his prom date.

The crowd parted as they approached, and a stunning woman appeared - the cellist, Coulson noted. She was far more beautiful than his third cousin had been, that was certain. Coulson braced himself.

She was his height exactly, with high cheek bones, deep green eyes, red lips, perfect nose, and long flowing black hair that reached her waist. She was almost too perfect. Her green dress was discreet, however, in contrast to her overly sexual looks. Coulson found her immediately paradoxical.

'Lilian,' Miss Potts greeted. 'Allow me to introduce Phil Coulson. Phil, this is Lilian Olson.'

'A pleasure,' Lilian greeted and he shook her hand. She had a surprisingly strong grip. Coulson hoped he wasn't sweating quite yet.

'Likewise.'

'Lilian's just received the Stark Scholarship,' Miss Potts explained, going into a detailed life-story that highlighted all of Lilian's good sides. Coulson knew she was expertly avoiding talking about him. That was usually the conversation killer, as practically the only thing about him that wasn't classified was his name.

Miss Potts' name was called, and she excused herself with a knowing look and a nod of encouragement.

'I'm surprised to see a man like you here,' Lilian said when she finally got a word in.

'A man like me, Miss Olson?' She had a smile that was designed to put people at ease. Coulson wasn't sure if he should let it.

'A government man,' she explained, smiling to take the edge off the insult- or at least Coulson thought it was an insult. Normal people generally found him odd enough to insult him without meaning to. 'The suit is a dead giveaway.'

'You have something against the government, Miss Olson?' he asked casually, though he knew his voice didn't really do casual, so she might actually mistake it for interrogation. Pleasantly, she smiled and breathed a laugh.

'No anarchistic tendencies, I'm afraid.' She leaned in slightly. 'In fact, I'm quite the patriot. So if you ever need to borrow my cello case for a daring escape, I'm all yours.' Coulson recognised the James Bond reference- a secret pleasure of his- and found himself unable to resist smiling. He realised she was flirting. Woman who flirted with him usually wanted to distract him.

'I would never dream of bringing harm to such a beautiful instrument,' he replied looking towards the raised platform by the balcony where the quartet had been playing.

'I hope that's not the only thing you would be careful with,' she commented.

'I am sworn to protect all... patriots,' Coulson replied with a slight pause. She smiled at his rejoinder. It was strange, to be enjoying such flirtations without the usual awkwardness. Suspects and terrorists were easy- women? Not so much.

He could not detect any deceit in her, however. She seemed as surprised by her own enjoyment as he was with his, judging by her slight blush and the way she took more sips of her champagne than was advisable. He did the same when there was a pause in their conversation. It was these sorts of moments he dreaded. People never understood his failure to care about so-called "awkward silences". Why speak, after all, when they had not yet thought of something to say?

She did not fidget as other people did, however, but merely smiled softly and studied him a moment, before letting her gaze wander a bit. Finally, she breathed in and asked:

'Are you a fan of classical music, Mr. Coulson?'

'Fan is perhaps a strong word,' he said. The people around them felt restless compared to their calmness. He had never felt so unrushed in a social setting. 'I enjoy it when I come across it.'

'So, what's in your iPod, as they say,' she smirked. 'Let me guess, The Rolling Stones.'

Coulson chuckled. 'No, I'm more of a Beatles fan actually.'

'Really? That's actually quite disappointing.'

'Oh?' Damn it, he'd said something wrong to a woman, how unoriginal of him.

'I'd hope you'd be unpredictable.'

'Well, I also enjoy the occasional Tupac.' This only made her roll her eyes, but her smile was still kind. She leaned in conspiratorially.

'I love Justin Bieber,' she whispered. Coulson barely knew who that was, but he knew enough to understand why she confessed it so softly.

'Your secret shall die within me,' he promised, hoping she understood his joke.

'Along with many more far interesting ones, I'd wager.'

'You would be predictably shocked,' he said.

'Just tell me you know where the Arch of the Covenant is, and I'm yours.'

'Actually, I use it as a footlocker.' She threw her head back and giggled delightfully. Coulson was pretty sure that was the first time a woman had laughed at a nerd-joke of his.

'What's all this about?' Miss Potts asked with raised eyebrows. Coulson knew she had come to check up on him, and if her smile was anything to go by, he had done well. Lilian smiled wide, perfect teeth showing.

'Mr. Coulson was just telling me some state secrets,' she said, giving him a wink. For a moment he feared his face would heat up, but he managed to retain his compusure. .

XXX

He had made some error, but that was impossible. Yet, there the man stood.

'Agent Coulson,' he greeted. He had almost said Phil, which jarred him almost as much as his presence. The man was pointing a gun at him, a very big gun.

It all felt wrong. He couldn't even remember why this had been his plan. Get on the SHIELD ship. Why? Then what? It was all muddled in his brain now. Coulson greeted him with a calm nod. He was speaking, but Loki, although he could clearly see every detail of the man's lips moving, could not hear the words.

He had to move, or be put back in a cage. Move against Phil, or move back- an impossible choice.

XXX

Loki had made sure his appearance was just the right mix of seductive and conservative. He had researched the man extensively, and the key to his heart - and apartment - lay in being bold yet modest.

He had settled on the form of a cellist quite by accident when he had heard the music coming from the television- a most curious entertainment device. The instrument's somber notes spoke to him, and he imagined Agent Coulson might feel the same.

Since coming to Midgard there was one fundamental fact about humans he had learned very quickly: they loved screens. If he was to slip into their society the use of these displays for information had to be among the first thing he would have to master. So he had. Computers, TVs, smartphones, the lot. Then he set his eyes on SHIELD.

He had quickly come to the conclusion that to truly know what kind of a threat SHIELD, and "the Avenger initiative", was he would need direct access. He would lie his way to the center, but not as an employee - too many background checks. A lover of an employee would be vetted, certainly, but only after a few "dates". More than enough time for him to cement his identity with the false "papers" these humans used. If he was lucky, he would have what he needed before they even looked into him.

Or her, as he had decided.

A beautiful woman, a talented and down-to-earth cellist.

His next step had been research into Coulson, and then, research into the types of things a man like Coulson might enjoy. Loki had at first feared that the popular culture of Midgard would leave him bored out of his mind, so it came as a pleasant surprise that these "movies" and "rock music" were actually quite diverting.

You would never hear it from him, but he secretly found The Lion Kingto be one of his favourites, though he was rooting for Scar, the misunderstood uncle.

With all his preparation, however, he had not been quite prepared enough for the actual social niceties of Midgardian society. He knew he was in their upper circles, and the servers at the event were dutifully humble. Yet, there was an egalitarian air about the people he found unsettling. Even the host was being far nicer than necessary.

While in this woman's body, he would have to become her completely; that was why he was the King of Lies, after all. So, from the moment he changed his form shewas the Queen of Lies.

And she was a little tipsy.

She had played beautifully. The cellist was by far the easier instrument she had mastered. Miss Potts, Tony Stark's lover, was charmed. Lilian managed to turn her thoughts to Coulson, even making it seem as if it had been Potts' idea for an introduction. She hurried off to arrange it.

A surreal meeting took place.

She had planned to be seductive yet playful. She had guessed Coulson to be awkward outside of his SHIELD interrogation room. He was awkward, sort of, if you compared him to the socialites surrounding them, but he was just being so damn straight forward and – dare she think it? - nice, that it was all bit off-putting.

She found herself wondering what Coulson thought of her, really thought. Did he ever wish he could be more open about his life? Lilian knew all about hiding one's true self. In her experience it was only taxing if you cared about who you were deceiving. Coulson had very kind eyes, she decided, so perhaps there was some regret at their constant and playful skirting around the subject.

'What do you do for fun, Mr. Coulson?' she found herself asking, genuinely curious. She had little experience in fun herself- no, that wasn't right. She enjoyed skiing and hiking outside of her playing. She had hiked through several routes in the Alps in her "gap year". Ugh, she found herself bored to tears as she listed her fake biography in her head.

'I do what other people do, I suppose,' Coulson shrugged. 'See a movie, hang out.'

'No, what else,' she insisted. 'Come on, give me something specific.' He sighed and looked off as if searching for an idea in the crowd. Or perhaps he was contemplating how honest he should be.

'I enjoy comic books,' Coulson suddenly admitted. She smiled as he attempted to say it without betraying his embarrassment.

'Which ones?' she asked.

'Captain America, Captain Astro, Superman, The Green Hornet,' he listed.

'I've never read a comic book before,' she said, which she immediately knew was a mistake. Surely most Midgardians had read at least one comic book during their life-time. He raised his eyebrows at her.

'Really?'

'I want to though,' she assured him.

'Well, there are many different types,' he explained. His voice had changed frequency, she noted. He was warmer, and his words came ever-so-slightly quicker. He was enthusiastic, she realised. 'I'm sure I could help you find one to suit your interests.'

'I should like to try your favourite,' she said.

'Oh, I don't think you'll like it,' he shook his head. He wasembarrassed, she was sure of it now.

'You don't know what I'll like,' she countered. 'Perhaps we could meet some time? And you could bring it?'

'My favourite comic doesn't leave my apartment. It's a mint condition Captain America, issue one.' She saw her chance and stepped up close.

'I guess I'll just have to come see it in person then,' she whispered. Professional though he was, he could not disguise that he was a man, and he stared at her hard. She wondered if she had overstepped, if she had been too bold and put him off. Perhaps he preferred shy women.

'Sure,' he said, nodding. 'We could go now, if you like?' She tried to mask her shock at him accepting so bold a proposal, but it quickly morphed into delight at her success. She carefully took his champagne glass from his hand and placed it, along with hers, on the tray of a passing servant. She took his arm.

'Shall we?' she prompted, and he led her out.

Back in his apartment, Lilian walked into the large living room while Coulson hung her coat. It was a beautiful space, spartan in decoration. She suspected a decorator had done it all. The view was beautiful. There was little colour except for the few personal memorabilia on the shelves. She noted a Captain America figure.

'I suspect you don't live here full-time?' she asked.

'I do when I have time off,' he replied.

'And how often is that?'

'Not often,' Coulson admitted. He walked towards the open kitchen area. 'A drink?'

'No thank you, I've had enough.' He stopped and looked at her. 'You're the type of man who's married to the job, am I right?' He walked towards her, very calmly, and Lilian felt her heart rate speed up. His slow deliberate steps echoed on the hardwood floor.

'It's easy when your job is your passion.'

'Passion?' she asked, raising one eyebrow.

'I enjoy my job, it gives my life purpose.' He said it so matter-of-factly that she couldn't find it in herself to tease him, and she mustn't forget that she wasn't suppose to know his job was working for the annoying SHIELD.

He came to stand right in front of her. 'You don't have a passion for the cello?' he half-asked, guessing the answer.

'I don't suppose I do,' she admitted. 'I guess it's more of a habit I've gotten really, really good at.' He looked at her, as if trying to read her mind and she felt her mask slip for one perilous moment. All her sadness, anger, madness and despair started rushing forwards, but she stopped it before it reached her face. At least, she hoped it did. She could not tell if he had seen it.

Abruptly, he gestured towards a large bookcase serving as a room divider between the living room and dining area. It had square shelves in a 5x5 arrangement.

'Shall we?' he asked. He went over to it, and she followed curiously. There, displayed prominently in the middle shelf, was Captain America, issue one. She almost couldn't believe her eyes. Not because she had doubted he possessed the item, but because he was taking it down ever-so-carefully and showing it to her.

'It's in mint condition,' he explained. 'Come.' He gestured for her to follow and they sat down on the nice couch made of black leather. She was now more certain than ever about the decorator.

He lay the comic down on the coffee table and carefully extracted it from within its plastic confines. He showed it off as he explained the Captain's origins and the history of the comic series. He went into detail about how difficult it was to get this particular copy. She nodded and "mmm"d at the appropriate times. She sat very close, and put a hand on his thigh while she pretended to lean close and inspect it.

He didn't bat an eyelash. He was entirely focused on selling the merits of Captain America.

Could a man so good at interrogation, observation and analysis really be this obtuse? She marveled at him. He glanced at her and paused.

'I'm boring you,' he stated. He put the comic down. She quickly put a hand on his arm.

'Not at all. It's just a lot to take in,' she assured him. He shook his head.

'I get excited.'

'I'd hardly call that excited. Women in wedding-dress sales, they are excited.' Lilian had seen Bride Wars enough to know of that phenomenon. The television had taught her many strange things. 'You are calmly passionate.'

'I like that. Thank you for being patient.' There was a moment, she was sure of it, as he stared into her eyes. If she leaned forward and took the first kiss, would it be enough?

'Are you sure you don't want anything?' he asked, ruining the moment.

'I'm fine.'

'I have a really great X-Men collection. I think you'll like those,' he said, getting up and hurrying over to another shelf on the far side of the room. She sighed and rolled her eyes skywards. This would take a bit longer than planned. She needed to be alone in his apartment to place the hidden camera by his computer. She had hired an ex-Stark employee as her hacker specialist. He thought he was doing cyber-terrorism. If she wanted the dirt on SHIELD, she had to get Coulson's password first.

She put on a big smile and braced herself.

XXX

Back in the apartment that doubled as Lilian Olson's home and a base for his evil schemes, Lilian closed the door with a sigh and slowly transformed into Loki as he strode across the hardwood floor to the kitchen. He wasn't in need of any sustenance, but after the wasted evening he needed a drink.

The apartment was a large penthouse. It was minimalistic to a fault. After the grandeur of Asgard he liked the coldness of it. It did suit his true self after all. He also liked the high ceiling and view over the city he would enact his vengeance on. He could see all the pathetic mortals scurrying about down below.

He didn't change into his Asgardian clothes, but instead chose a soft cream coloured shirt and slacks. Midgardians knew how to dress comfortably yet stylish, he would give them that. He took his drink - one called Cognac that he found to his liking - and sat down on the long sofa in the lowered seating area.

Agent Phil Coulson filled his mind. A most curious mortal. Paradoxical: simple yet complicated. Average, yet extraordinary. Loki shook his head. He would need to step up his game to win the Agent's favour. He would need to do a lot more research.

Finishing his drink, he went to his favourite new toy, the computer. It was as sleek and minimalistic as all modern Midgardian things. It was proving invaluable in his research.

There was a hum of magic from the bedroom. He tried to ignore it at first, but eventually the call became too loud to ignore. He went into the bedroom and opened the walk-in closet with a spell. Inside the staff lay suspended with magic, the orb of light pulsating softly.

Reluctantly, he took the staff and prepared to speak with his new "partners" in crime.

XXX

'Where are you taking me?' she asked, a tiny sliver of doubt running down her spine at the thought of twenty armed SHIELD guards waiting for her. Her arm was locked with Coulson's in a way she had not experienced on Asgard. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. She had dressed accordingly in a summer dress with yellow flowers on it. Her shoes and handbag were green to match the ribbon securing her long braid.

'It's a surprise,' Coulson said. The street was busy with shoppers and tourists. Lilian would have enjoyed it, if only the crowd did not bump into them so often. Coulson seemed to sense her discomfort and kept her very close.

It had taken over two weeks for another date to occur. Coulson was very dedicated to his job, more so than she had anticipated. He had called her, as promised, when a free day opened up. She had spent the two weeks doing nothing but more research into the popular culture Coulson seemed to enjoy so much. Her other plans had to be put on hold until she knew exactly what SHIELD was planning. She would be well prepared before she made a move on the Tesseract

'I do not like surprises,' she said, quite seriously. He glanced at her.

'Really? Many people say that, but generally it's not true.'

'I assure you, it is very true,' she told him.

'All right then,' he agreed. 'We are going to play lazer-tag.'

'Lazer tag?' She had to admit, it didn't sound like something boring at least.

'You said you wanted to try something different.'

'I did,' she admitted. They rounded a corner and she saw the sign immediately. It appeared to be some kind of war-game.

'We can go somewhere else if you like,' Coulson said without revealing any disappointment whatsoever. She smiled at him.

'Let's try it.' Although, she had a feeling she was wearing the wrong heels. He smiled at her and they went inside.

Apparently, it was a war-simulation game, which surprised her. She hadn't pictured Coulson to be the type to indulge in such a scenario outside his work. Why would he play at war when he could engage in a real one? Then again, Thor enjoyed sparring quite a lot- more than was probably healthy. It could be one of those warrior things Lilian had just never understood.

Despite her reservations, she donned the gear and learned the techniques and rules. Coulson led their assault, and she quickly realised this was not like war at all.

It was entertaining. She blasted away at small children, who seemed upset at being out of the game, but the disappointment lasted only briefly. They could always just play again. Many of them were quick little bastards too.

Coulson was a god among them.

'Oh no, it's him!'

'It's not fair!'

'Mister, please no!'

A young boy turned and ran. He was dead, figuratively, a moment later. Coulson stepped out from his hiding place. Lilian ran to him.

'You are really good at this,' she commented. They stood back to back to keep a look out.

'It's a good way to let off some steam,' he commented.

'Steam?' she laughed. 'Where do you keep it?' Suddenly, he turned on his heel, grabbing her and shielding her chest plate with his body. A young boy had popped up from behind a prop and fired. Coulson's chest plate blinked red.

'You, you protected me,' Lilian said, unable to keep from smiling.

'Of course,' Coulson replied. She suddenly had an incredible urge to... kiss him? Do something at least. Did he feel it? She couldn't say. He stepped back a moment later. Suddenly, both their chest plates blinked red and a cheer went up among the children.

The urge was gone just as soon as it had come. She stepped back. It had unsettled her. It had not been part of her act, but spontaneous. She had not kissed a soul since her youthful days of folly when such base emotions as lust and affection had been allowed free reign, though only briefly.

Control yourself, she scolded. Coulson did not act differently, so hopefully he had not noticed.

They left the place and went to find a restaurant Coulson apparently enjoyed after his excursions.

'Why do you do it?' she asked as they walked.

'Do what?'

'You work the government. You believe in their cause, their justice. You fight for them. With skills like that in lazer-tag, I know you don't work at a desk.' He didn't seemed upset or offended at her question, and thought hard before answering. He stopped so he could look her in the eye.

'I used to work at a desk, sort of,' he explained. 'I traveled a lot, inspecting things for the government. I spent a lot of time in airports.' She raised her eyebrows at this. What on earth did this have to do with anything? 'Airports are really stressful. People are angry, impatient, sick.' He shook his head. 'So, I just decided one day to not be surprised. Delays, annoying passengers, crazy situations, you name it. And... everything just cleared.' He shrugged. 'For some, getting angry helps them, but not me. It clouds my judgment. So, I just let it slide off. I also realised that being the only calm person is really helpful in some situations.'

'You became zen,' she surmised.

'Not really,' he chuckled. 'I don't believe in any meditation technique if that's what you're asking.'

'So, how did you leave your desk job to take on the real lazers?'

'A rather... difficult situation arose on a flight,' he explained carefully. 'I proved myself useful. I was recruited the week after, though I did start at a desk there as well.'

'You've never had your doubts?'

'Doubts aren't useful.'

'So, you never wished you'd stayed with the normal people?' she nodded towards the New Yorkers hurrying past, like so many ants.

'Sometimes,' he admitted. 'But not for the reasons you are implying.' He didn't say anything more, and took her by the arm to enter the restaurant. She wondered about his comment, but could not even begin to guess.

She had thought there would be a "deeper" reason for Coulson's calm and professional manner. Long training, or a troubled youth that might have hardened him. Instead, it was an average tale. Lilian studied the man as they ordered and chatted about inane things. How did such an unextraordinary man do the things he did? Lilian felt a headache coming on, and not due to any humming from the staff locked safely away in her apartment. It was all Coulson. Mortals shouldn't be allowed to be this complicated.

She ordered a strong drink to ease the pain.

XXX

'Step away from the console, please,' Agent Coulson requested. Loki kept very still, considering. The big gun didn't look very welcoming. He had to act, but how? Time was running out. Other agents were already moving towards their location.

'You like this? We started the prototype after you sent the Destroyer,' Agent Coulson explained. Loki eyed the gun suspiciously. It did look somewhat reminiscent. 'Even I don't know what it does.' Coulson hoisted it up a bit so it pointed directly at Loki's chest.

Time was up.

XXX

'What are you wearing?' Coulson asked as he approached her. She opened her brown blazer a bit more to show off the red t-shirt underneath.

'Spider-man,' she said, putting on a confused expression as if she couldn't understand why he wouldn't recognise the superhero.

'I see that,' Coulson replied. Was it just her, or was he blushing? She puffed out her chest a bit, pretending to look at the print.

'I like Spider-man,' she said. Yes, he was definitely blushing. She came close and took his arm. 'Come on.'

'Where are we going?' Coulson asked. She smiled mischievously at him.

This time, it had only been a week of waiting. She was getting closer, she was sure of it. All she needed was one night in his apartment. Tonight would be that night.

'It's a surprise,' she told him. He gave her a look that made her smile wickedly.

'Well, I don't mind surprises,' he said.

'I know you don't.'

'Will you be angry if I confess I have an idea?'

'I would fear for our country's safety if you didn't,' she assured him. He smiled, and she could feel his excitement. The tells were very small, but she was used to looking deep.

'Are you sure you want to?' he asked.

'I want to desperately,' she confessed with over-the-top dramatics. 'You've gotten me hooked.' She poked him in the chest. He kissed her softly and took her hand.

'I guess I'm pretty damn lucky to get a date for ComiCon.'

'You know it.'

XXX

It was... strange. Laughing with someone. She had done it several times now with Coulson. At first only because she knew she was suppose to, but he had a wicked sense of humour. Had their acquaintance been different... probably best not to think in those lines.

ComiCon was a true festival of fiction, she realised. She had known of course. She had read several comics in preparations, and some were even entertaining, though she found Coulson's favourite, Captain America, too noble and patriotic to stomach. Batman was far more interesting. Such darkness. She had also been entranced by The Watchmen. Why did they not have such stories on Asgard?

Coulson seemed like an eager child, though considerably more calm. When he found some rare issue he would actually babble at her. She didn't even tell him to shut up.

They spent the whole day there. Luckily, this time she had planned ahead, meaning no high heels, just sneakers. Coulson still wore a suit, but she honestly couldn't picture him in anything else.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the thought of what Coulson might look like completely undone, came to her. She felt an unexplained warmth in her cheeks.

'What are you thinking about?' he asked. She realised she had been staring absentmindedly at a very well-built man role-playing as Wolverine from the X-Men. He was eyeing her back appreciatively.

'Superpowers,' she heard herself say.

'What would you pick?' he asked, always eager for discussions of that sort.

'Invisibility,' she said at once.

'Why?'

'I could come and go as I please. I could take what I want. I could be... invisible.' She glanced at him and he had an odd look in his eyes. Had her answer been wrong for a woman of her kind? Then she realised she hadn't really answered as an Midgardian woman at all, but her true self. 'What about you?' she asked quickly.

'I wouldn't want a superpower.' He looked away, off towards more role-players.

'Why not?'

'It'd go to my head,' he said. 'Trust me, it always does.'

'It doesn't go to Captain America's head,' she pointed out. He looked down at the issue he was carrying around like a sacred object.

'There's only one Captain America,' he said with profound certainty.

'True. In real life it's more like to go the way of Anthony Stark and that suit of his.'

'He's not so bad.'

'You've met him?' It was fascinating to watch Coulson realise he had misspoken, and then realise that he hadn't really, because he had a perfectly valid excuse. Lilian just wanted to see if he had forgotten.

'I know Miss Potts, his former assistant-'

'And now CEO of his corporation, of course. I haven't had the pleasure myself of meeting Mr. Stark. Maybe you could introduce us?'

'Probably not a good idea.' Well, with an answer like that, she just had to, right?

'Oh, please,' she begged, touching his arm and leaning in close. 'I would so love to meet the man I can thank for my scholarship.'

'Well, I'm sure Miss Potts can arrange it.'

'You're right, I'll ask her.' Coulson looked far from pleased at that, but before he could answer the man playing Wolverine had approached.

'Hey there,' he greeted with the typical intonation of a brain-dead muscle man. Lilian felt very put off and turned towards the nearest booth to annoying him, browing the merchandise.

The man was persistent, however, and came round to her other side, leaning close.

'I see you're a Spider-man fan,' he mentioned.

'Please go away,' Lilian told him. 'I am not interested.'

'Oh, come on. You want to hang out with Mr. funeral director here?' he asked, nodding towards Coulson, who was browsing the merchandise at the next booth. Clearly, he wasn't going to stake a claim. This was troubling. Usually, when an Asgardian warrior was courting, he was take great pains to warn off all others. Coulson could easily best the man-beast despite his size. Why didn't he?

'Your hair is amazing, by the way,' Wolverine continued. 'You should do cosplay.'

'I am not interested,' she repeated. He huffed and moved on, finally. She approached Coulson, knowing without a doubt that he had heard their conversation.

'Some men,' she sighed. 'Can't take a hint.'

'He did look the part,' Coulson remarked.

'I'd rather have a Professor X than a Wolverine,' she said. 'Though Magneto is my favourite. Oooh, look over there,' she pointed at man cosplaying the latest Batman incarnation. 'Now that's a cool superhero.'

'Batman? I've never understood his appeal.'

'Exactly, he's misunderstood,' she said. 'Dark and mysterious.'

'Dark and mysterious is overrated,' Coulson half-mumbled. She realised she might be working against herself. Trying to rectify her mistake, she leaned close and took his arm, pulling him away from his browsing.

'You're right. Let's go find Captain America.'

Unfortunately, he was ever the gentleman, and no amount of hinting and blatant come-ons could crack his armour.

Lilian began observing the other participants of the festival. She realised there was an overabundance of boys. Not just young boys, but perpetual children in the form of adult males.

During her research into Coulson's interest she hadn't truly considered how they fit into the rest of society. Clearly, these were specific interest that appealed to a certain type of youth.

She made eye contact with several of them, and noted their pathetic reactions. Then she looked to Coulson. He was calm, but he was also trying to hide his nervousness.

'We can leave, if you're starting to get bored,' he commented.

Having completed her analysis, she smiled and shook her head fondly.

'I enjoy being here. Since your introduction I've read several comics and enjoyed them all. I like it here.' She looked around at the crowd. She would endure a hundred more annoying socially retarded youths as long as she could get Coulson to take her home with him.

Unfortunately, his phone rang and he had to go to work. Another outing wasted.

XXX

Loki couldn't believe the stubbornness of that man! How could he be so intelligent and dense at the same time? Lilian was practically throwing herself at him and he was more concern with standing in line to meet some writer?

Loki stopped his pacing suddenly and felt a smile forming. No! It was not cute. Coulson's behaviour was childish. His enthusiasm might be infectious for Lilian, but she was separate from Loki. Still, he was certain he would never get the image of Coulson's stunned face as he received Stan Lee's autograph. He was such a child.

The last time Loki had been that genuinely excited about anything it had been his eighth birthday and the Allfather had taken him to the Great Library to roam the deepest reaches that he had previously not been allowed to see.

Why did Coulson allow himself such joys when he was clearly devoted to his work? Why did he risk looking ridiculous just to meet his "hero"? Loki paced a bit further as he pondered. Clearly, Coulson didn't think it mattered. To him, finding joy in little, meaningless mortal entertainment didn't detract from his professional pride at SHIELD.

It was unlikely Loki would ever feel such simple pleasures again. He was resigned to his fate, and his mission.

As if sensing his thoughts, the staff called to him, causing him to wince. He hesitated to move, but then he remembered something:

Doubts weren't useful.

Just as he was about to obey the call, the doorbell rang. The only person who knew his location was the dimwitted computer hacker he had used to plan his infiltration of SHIELD. He cautiously approached the door and looked through the peak-hole, a very convenient invention.

It was Coulson. Lilian opened the door.

'Phil,' she greeted.

'Sorry to bother you,' Coulson apologised, 'but you left these with me.' He held out the comics Lilian had purchased at ComiCon.

'Oh, thank you,' she said, taking them from him. 'Would you like to come inside?' The staff hummed at her, but she pushed it from her mind.

'I really shouldn't,' he said. 'But... if you're not busy...?'

'Not at all,' she stepped aside so he could enter. He looked about with an agent's eye for detail. She put the comics on the coffee table. 'Please sit down, can I get you a drink?'

'Whatever you're having.'

'I think I'll have a cognac, but I have whiskey, if you prefer.'

'Yes, thank you.'

As she made the drinks, a very large burst of magic from the staff caused her hands to shake. She paused in her pouring. Luckily, the bar cabinet stood at the opposite end from where Coulson was seated, so Lilian's back was to him.

'Are you all right?' he asked. Observant little mortal.

'Fine,' she said. She brought the drinks over and sat down close.

'The Stark Scholarship seems to come with a few perks,' he remarked.

'Yes, but that's Stark for you,' she said. 'I only keep the apartment for a year though.'

The staff's hum was getting very distracting. Lilian shifted in her seat and tried to keep her smile light. Coulson wasn't buying it. After only fifteen minutes of conversation and Lilian's constant attempts to stop fidgeting, he set his drink on the table and got up.

'I should get going. You're probably tired after a long day.'

'No, don't go,' Lilian insisted, following him to the door. 'Please, stay. Finish your drink at least.' He turned as he opened the door and smiled at her.

'I had a great time today.' The incessant hum made Lilian shoot off an annoyed glance in the direction of the bedroom.Wait a damn minute.She smiled brightly at Coulson.

'I did as well.' He nodded and left before she could try and kiss him goodnight.

All right. I'm coming!Loki hurried to the bedroom.

XXX

It wasn't like him to be late. It was only a minute, but for Coulson on one of their dates that was a life-time. This would be their sixth. A part of her knew she should have just given up long ago, but now there were principles at stake. She had gotten him to her place for a "movie night" but that had been a wasted evening on all accounts.

She stood on the corner of the street, looking each way. Her hair blew in the wind. She had kept it lose today because she was almost certain Coulson liked it that way, though he'd never said as much.

Finally, she picked a direction and rounded the corner. He usually took the subway, probably because he didn't own a private car.

She spotted him immediately. He was crossing the street very slowly with an elderly lady. Lilian sighed and shook her head. Of all the reasons to be late. Coulson was speaking to the woman, and she was smiling and animated despite her age.

Lilian watched, both confused and fascinated. This man killed people to protect others. He handled superheros and defected threats to mankind. He was without a doubt more important than any of the mortals walking the street. Why did he bother with this nameless woman? Yet, he took the same care as if it were his own grandmother. Lilian was there when they reached their destination. The old woman smiled and thanked him again and again before she finally shuffled on down the sidewalk.

Coulson straightened, took one look at Lilian's face and asked: 'What?'

'Nothing,' Lilian dismissed. She knew if she admitted her thoughts he would think her strange or cold. Although, it was clearly not ingrained in humanity to help one another. They had enough wars, murder and jealousy to prove than a hundred times over. So, perhaps she could admit some curiosity.

'How do you do it?' she blurted out, at a loss.

'Do what?'

'Careso much?' Coulson merely shrugged in response. Lilian felt her teeth grind. 'Last week when that horrid boy delivered our pizza wrong and twenty minutes late, you didn't bat an eyelash. You said being angry took too much energy. But I don't see how caring could take less. It looks exhausting!'

'You're forgetting that when you care for people you get something back.'

'But you can't help everyone.'

'I would if they asked, and if it was within my power,' Coulson explained ever-so-calmly as usual. It was maddening. 'I would help my enemy up if he asked.'

Lilian could not say anything to that. The concept was ridiculous. She shook her head. It was impossible to even look at this man. This ordinary, human man. He stepped close.

'I know you-'

'No you don't,' she cut him off. Her mask was slipping. This was bad. She should leave. 'You don't know me.' The information wasn't worth all this... doubt.

'Not really, no,' he agreed, giving her pause. 'I only see a ripple on the surface, but I know you've been hurt and ignored, and you've bottled a lot of things up.'

'How could you possibly know that?' she asked, eyes widening. He shrugged his usual shrug when the answer was suppose to be simple. He held out his hand.

'Let's just go have some dinner.'

She shook her head.

'I don't feel like being around people.' She was sick to death of mortals.

'I'll cook something,' he offered. This was it, her opening.

'Well, in that case,' she conceded. She took his hand.

XXX

Coulson was a great cook. Lilian had never seen food prepared before. It was actually kind of fascinating.

He was much more relaxed than when they had first met. Hopefully, he might actually take a hint this time.

'You cook as well,' she remarked. 'Is there anything you don't do?'

'Play the cello,' he said. She chuckled appropriately. 'I confess I'm not that good at dating either.'

'You've done a marvelous job with me.'

'Most of the time,' he agreed as he cut some herbs. She was seated on a barstool across from him.

'I've enjoyed all our excursions,' she insisted. Had she seemed less enthusiastic than was expected?

'Despite yourself,' he said, glancing up at her briefly to gauge her reaction. She didn't know what to say to that. So flummoxed was she that she broke eye contact and looked out the windows instead.

'I'm not sure what you mean,' she finally said.

'Nothing. Let's eat.'

Dinner was... strange. It was delicious, and Coulson managed to keep prolonged silences to a minimum, but there was something in the air Lilian could not quite get at.

After dinner there was more wine and a movie, then another, and then some cartoon that was surprisingly funny. All the while Lilian's mind was on Coulson's comment earlier.I would help my enemy up if he asked.Such a foreign notion, but in light of what Lilian had learned about Coulson, it really shouldn't surprise her that he was such a-

She glanced at him. He was focused on the television. He smiled every now and then. Lilian's mind would not keep the thought out, it forced its way upon her: would Coulson help Loki if he asked?

The clock struck two. The chiming of the X-Men themed clock in the kitchen made her jump.

'We should probably think about calling it a night,' Coulson remarked. 'You've been yawning for twenty minutes.'

'I do not yawn,' Lilian insisted. 'Do you think... could I sleep on your couch? I don't feel like going all the way across town to get to bed. I won't make a noise.'

'You can have the bed,' Coulson offered.

'No, nonono,' she objected. 'I insist,' she was firm. After a bit more perfunctory objections, Coulson finally agreed, and gave her a very soft blanket.

Around an hour later, she used all her skill to make sure she did not make a sound as she entered his home office. She quickly fastened the hidden camera on the bookshelf so that its eye could see the screen while Coulson was seated there. She was just tiptoeing back to the living room when the bedroom door opened. Coulson appeared... in Captain America pyjamas.

'Are you ok?' he asked.

'Yes, just been to the bathroom.' She eyed his attire. He shifted his weight.

'A Christmas present from Miss Potts,' he explained. Lilian nodded, biting her lip to keep from laughing. 'Did you want to brush your teeth? I have a spare in the ensuite bathroom.' He directed her inside. The bedroom was plain and modern except for the Captain America clock, which neither commented on.

He left her in the bathroom and she used the toothbrush thoroughly just to calm herself down. He didn't suspect. It was done. She could leave in the morning and be done with it.

He was waiting outside for her.

'Is there anything else you need?' he asked. There it came again- the sudden, unbidden desire to move closer. Lilian shivered involuntarily. Coulson noticed it and stepped closer. Very close in fact. Far closer than was appropriate. Was he really doing this now, she thought. After all the hints and seduction, he was going to make a move after she had already completed her task without having to rutt like an animal? The irony was sour in her mouth.

Her original plan had him bedding her and then falling asleep on the first date. She had not engaged in such base desires since her youth with a certain pretty stable boy. That had not ended well, so she had not exactly been looking forwards to the experience.

Coulson reached out and cupped her cheek, pulling her in.

'Wait,' she said, but he kissed her anyway. It was nothing like Asgardian kisses. They were not known for their gentleness. Many a maiden had exited Thor's room with a pleased smile and proud bruises. She placed her hands on his chest - it was very muscular- and pushed until the kiss broke.

'I...' she shook her head. She wanted to swear, but she wasn't at all familiar with Midgardian swear words. A gap in her research. His hands snaked around her waist, a few fingers dancing on the skin revealed as her t-shirt rode up.

'You want me to stop?' he asked. She could give no verbal answer. For the first time, she was entirely speechless. He kissed her again and she returned it. It was too late, she was too afire; baser instincts were taking over. Coulson had her, but she didn't feel that mixture of fear and lust like when an Asgardian warrior gave her looks. This time it was a calm passion.

He was maneuvering her towards the bed, his hands sneaking up under her t-shirt. He pulled it off completely. The moment it was off, she reached for his pyjama top and ripped all the buttons loose without a second thought.

'Oh,' she said when she realised that probably hadn't been a good idea. 'I'm sorry.' He pulled her close and kissed her hard in response, shrugging the garment off. She clawed gently down his chest, finding the hair there pleasing to the touch.

His kisses slowed down, but he held her firmly against him. She forced her eyes open. After one last wet kiss she pulled back to look at him. His eyes were very intense.

'It's... it's been a while,' she stuttered. Why had she said that?

'We can stop, if you want.'

'I don't.' He kissed her again, slow and deep, then lowered her to the bed, kissing her collar and shoulder as he slipped her bra off. She closed her eyes, then opened them again at once.

He moved down her body slowly. He was intent on his purpose, which was her entirely.

She let her eyes shut again, and relaxed back into the bed. He undressed her very carefully, his hands smoothing over the pale skin and raising goosebumps. Once she was naked, he kissed his way up her legs reverently, across her hip, along her stomach, between her breasts, once on her chin and then her lips once more as he lowered himself down on her.

His weight was comforting instead of disturbing. He did not press her in order to gain control, but rather to touch every inch of her at once. She felt his "warrior bulge" as it was called affectionately, and it spurred her heart rate to an even faster beat.

'You're beautiful,' he whispered. 'So beautiful.' He put his head in her hair and breathed in. She turned her head and touched his cheek. It was scruffy from a long day. She urged him to kiss her again. Whenever had she thought kisses were silly? There was a time she had sneered whenever Thor had grabbed some lucky maid after coming home from battle, still flushed with victory. Now she understood that rush more than words could say.

She spread her legs wide and felt him settle comfortably between them. She reached for the top of his pyjama bottoms, pushing at them to get him to move on.

He broke the kiss and reached into the nightstand suddenly. Lilian frowned, but then recalled her research into Midgardian courtship rituals, as well as the practical aspects.

Despite the pause in their activities to prepare, Coulson's renewed gaze upon her and his stroking of her hair put the mood back in place, as well as finally feeling his naked body against hers.

Lilian almost opened her mouth to protest. This gentleness wasn't necessary, but Coulson somehow banished all thoughts from her. He teased her ear- why in the Nine Realms should that have such an effect on her?

His movements were focused, practically professional. When she bit her lip and turned her head away in shock at the sensations, he slowed down and kissed her cheek and neck until she was composed.

'Okay?' he whispered.

'Yes, yes,' she gasped. She arched her back to urge him on. Her skin was heating up, her mind muddled, almost as if she had drunk too much, only it did not disturb her as drinking did. She did not fear a loss of control. Coulson... Phil was in control.

He kissed and touched her all over. His breathing was becoming laboured, but he held his pace exactly until she had to beg him to quicken it. He obliged immediately, a moan of relief forcing itself through.

At the sound, she could hold her own noises to herself no longer. Her moan was obscene, but it could not be taken back. He kissed her, and she was grateful to him for shutting her up. The sensations were building to a precipice much more slowly than she was used to. Phil's muscles were tight with strain. Without thought, she suddenly wrapped her legs around his waist.

'I-' but whatever she would have said was obliterated as ecstasy took her.

Phil buried his face in her hair as he gave a great grunt that sent shivers down her spine. She heaved a great sigh as the vibrations subsided. What in the Nine Realms had she done?

'I feel like swearing,' she mumbled. She stroked down his back. It was damp with sweat.

'Most people prefer to shout God or Jesus in these situations,' Phil answered. He withdrew gently and discarded his seed. He helped her rearrange herself under the soft covers, getting in after her and pulling her close.

'Jesus,' she sighed, the name sounding odd on her tongue. Phil chuckled softly. She fell asleep to the feel of the rise and fall of his chest.

XXX

The light streamed through the window, but it was the headache that woke her.

What had she done? She looked at the man sleeping beside her. What utter folly.

She got up slowly and pulled on her underwear, jeans and t-shirt. She sat down on the bed to do her shoes as Coulson stirred. She hoped he hadn't woken, but as usual she had the worst luck.

'Leaving?' she heard him say. She shifted so she was facing him. He was sitting up in bed, his dark chest her ridiculously enticing. Lilian had always snorted at brain-dead warriors who thought chest hair was masculinity incarnate, but with Coulson, as with everything else, it was different.

'I think it's for the best,' she said.

'Because you're afraid?' he asked.

'Because... I'm... I'm moving to Portland.'

'Portland?'

She nodded. 'I didn't know how to tell you.' She got up and left the bedroom, crossing to the front door and grabbing her jacket. By the time she had it on, Coulson was in the living room in his trousers and an unbuttoned shirt.

'Goodbye then,' he said. She looked at him. He was calm, resigned to the situation.

'Let me guess, you're not surprised?' He made a slight move. 'If you shrug your shoulders I will punch you!' she suddenly screamed. She covered her mouth in shock. This was not good.

'How would you like me to react?'

'Get angry!' she yelled. 'Be upset!'

'And what would that get me?'

'I don't know.' She felt tears sting her eyes for some reason. These were not Lilian Olson's tears.

'You want me to be angry so it'll be easier for you to leave,' he told her. 'But I am not inclined to give that to you.'

'Well, I guess I'll just be angry for the both of us,' she snapped.

'You're afraid.'

'No.' She shook her head at him. 'I am not.'

'You're afraid of letting me in.' It was comical, that's what it was. She palmed her face and took a breath before looking at him again. What an intolerable man!

'I have lied to everyone all my life,' she said. 'I have shown one emotion while feeling another. And they have all in turn lied to me. When I discovered their deception... I think I snapped,' she was whispering now. 'And now I can't stop snapping.' A small laugh erupted from her. She covered her mouth. 'So, I am going to Portland to see if I can't find my own way of being calm.' She nodded decisively to herself.

'I see,' Coulson responded. He stuck out his hand and Lilian stared at it. 'Goodbye Miss Lilian Olson.' Having no way or reason to go back, she took it and shook.

'Goodbye, Agent Coulson.'

She couldn't look him in the eye, so she just left. She pictured him going back to bed and falling asleep within minutes. Perhaps she would be utterly gone from his mind by the time he got up for work. As she exited his building the thought occurred to her that she had never gotten to meet Stark and make Coulson jealous.

XXX

Time was up, and Coulson had fired.

Loki's form shivered out of existence. The great blast went straight into the wall, and through it, but the backlash from the explosion was enough to shoot Coulson off his feet. He hit the wall, his head making a horrible gong sound, and then slid to the floor.

He managed to remain conscious, taking a hand to his head to steady the dizziness.

Loki appeared at his side.

'You idiot,' he hissed. 'You didn't know what that thing would do.'

'I do now,' Coulson mumbled. His head lolled a bit, his eyes focusing vaguely in the direction of Loki's face. Their eyes met.

Somewhere in the distance Thor was still hammering on the cage glass, and SHIELD personnel were running down corridors towards them.

'What made you think that was a good idea?' Loki asked. He gently took Coulson's hand off his head to look at the point of impact. There wasn't any blood.

'Aren't you suppose to be running away?' Coulson asked. 'That's generally the point of escape.'

Loki glanced around them. Thor had stopped hammering and was staring at the pair. The ship was making an awful lot of noise.

'Where will you go?' Coulson asked. His eyes were fluttering and Loki feared he would lose consciousness. 'Back to Portland?'

For a moment Loki thought he had mistakenly shifted into the disguise of Lilian. The words coming out of Coulson's mouth made no sense otherwise. The blue eyes were serious and gazing upon the shape of Loki, however. Speechless was definitely the right word.

'How...?' So many questions, but he had no time for any. He hadn't even removed his hand from Coulson's head yet.

'I knew you weren't Lilian Olson when I checked your background the day after we met,' Coulson explained and Loki silently promised to slowly murder the computer hacker he had hired. 'I couldn't figure out who you worked for, so I decided to keep you around to find out.' Loki shook his head. He had been bested at his own game. 'I started to suspect you weren't from this earth soon after. Certain comments, how you spoke.'

He stopped to take a breath. A guilty expression crossed his face. 'I found the camera while you were in the bathroom that night. Sorry if the information you stole was faulty.' Loki closed his eyes briefly at how much he had underestimated this man.

'Then, of course,' Coulson finished, 'You called me Agent Coulson, which I had never mentioned.' This produced a small chuckle of despair from Loki, master of mischief. He had been truly bested. His mask had been pulled without him ever realising it. Coulson sighed deeply. 'I didn't know it was you until you looked at me just now.'

'Why that night?' Loki wanted to know. 'You could have exposed me instead.' Coulson did not seem the type to have his way with a woman, even if they were enemies.

'I was angry.'

'Angry? You?'

'Because every time I meet a woman she's a spy or an ex-spy trying to manipulate me. I was sick of it. So, I wanted to manipulate you.' Loki nodded. It was a perfectly reasonable explanation. For the first time he felt he utterly deserved of whatever Coulson had planned. As he accepted this everything cleared in his mind, and he let his hand slip away from the agent's head. A calmness settled.

'I didn't expect to lose so much control,' Coulson whispered, then he suddenly gasped. He had been growing paler, Loki realised, but not due to a bump on the head. He glanced down and lifted the jacket to reveal a reddening shirt. A piece of shrapnel had embedded itself in his side.

'Phil,' Loki breathed. There was a great deal of blood loss. Loki looked into the blue eyes. Agents burst into the room. Thor started hammering again for them to release them. Nick Fury did so. They surrounded the pair.

'Loki,' Thor commanded. 'Get back in the cage.'

Loki obeyed.

XXX

Loki waited as patiently as he could in the cage. He felt the staff's power from afar. It was angry that he had failed in his escape. He knew what he had to do now.

Rising, he looked towards the camera closest to him.

'Tell Director Fury he needs to get the staff off the ship,' he said. He waited. There was a hum of energy in the air as the staff realised Loki's intent.

The more he used the staff, the more its true power was revealed to him, and the more he could no longer fight its true purpose. It would make a slave out of him. If Phil had not made him stop he might have been lost already.

Nick Fury entered the chamber and came to stand in front of the cage. Loki stared at him, willing him to believe.

'Where do you want us to take it?' the man asked.

'Away,' Loki said. He hadn't meant to; he had meant to say Stark Tower where Erik Selvig was preparing to open the portal, but the words stuck in his throat. 'Just get it away from me and I can tell you.'

'You really expect us to fall for another one of your tricks? The Hulk is already gone by the way. He fell from the sky along with one of our planes.'

'I don't care about the Hulk anymore,' Loki hissed. 'You don't understand.'

'No, I don't,' Fury agreed. 'Tell me why you stopped your escape to look after Agent Coulson.' Loki turned away, hesitating. Perhaps the truth would earn him some trust? No, the truth was never an option.

'Is he alive?' he asked.

'Answer my question and I'll answer yours.' Loki cursed under his breath at the Director's singular ability to be annoying no matter which side Loki was on.

'Tell me,' he heard himself beg. Fury sighed.

'He's fine, sleeping off the meds.' A great sigh of relief escaped him. 'You care about him.'

'He is an unusual mortal.'

'That we can agree on.' Loki forced himself to turn back and walk towards the Director. When they had only the glass between them, Loki took a deep breath.

'The staff has power. It wormed its way into your minds. Tell me, do you not feel more on edge than usual?'

'It's an unusual situation,' Fury countered. Loki nodded at that.

'It unleashed the Hulk.'

'An explosion did that. One that you caused.'

'Agent Barton,' Loki argued. 'He is under its direct influence.'

'And you control the staff.' Loki shook his head.

'No, I'm not sure I do anymore,' he whispered. 'You need to take it to-' A sharp buzzing noise stabbed at his brain. His knees buckled. His magic could not protect against it. The staff was serving its true masters now. He held his head lest it burst.

'Where?' he heard Fury shout distantly. He heard his brother's voice as well, and arguing. He tried to convince himself that his original plan was still in effect, and that he would escape after this cunning ruse, but the staff knew his true intention.

'Loki!' Thor's arms were around him and he felt cocooned in his brother's massive embrace. It was a small balm.

Slowly, the pain began receding. Thor was murmuring something.

'It's off the ship, Loki. It's on a plane heading far away.'

'Stark Tower,' Loki whispered. 'Pierce the tesseract with it, and its power will be absorbed.' He could take no more pain, and so let darkness take him.

XXX

He awoke very slowly, which was unusual for him. He was lying on a bed somewhere. The lights were harsh even with his eyes closed, so he hesitated to open them. Judging by the sounds, the air and the smell of the room, he was still on the ship, though he couldn't be certain he was in the cage.

He knew he had to face the inevitable eventually, so he slowly blinked his eyes open. He wasn't in the cage, but some sort of hospital room, and his brother was looming over him, waiting patiently for him to focus on him.

'Loki,' Thor breathed. It hurt to see him so concerned. Loki had felt that same stab of pain every time Thor looked at him since his folly on Asgard. He realised now his madness had driven him to search for power he could not control. He had let himself be duped into accepting the staff. It seemed at every turn, he was wrong. It made him wish the Allfather had left him to die as a child. Usually, when such feelings came over him he twisted them into anger, but with the staff gone and his plans in ruins, he could not change them. The calmness was still there, he realised, all thanks to Phil Coulson.

A shape moved and he turned his head too quickly. He blinked and almost blacked out again from the wave of dizziness. Thor squeezed his shoulder and muttered 'easy there'. When Loki could focus he saw Coulson standing by his bed, looking a little pale, but in his suit at least.

'Agent Coulson,' Loki said. 'You're alive.' He had lost his mind, for the Silver Tongued God had been reduced to stating the obvious.

'Good as new,' Coulson assured him. 'Just a flesh wound.'

'Nonsense,' Thor insisted. 'It was an admirable wound.' Loki rolled his eyes at Thor's warrior manner, as he had done often during happier times. It felt strange to do so again now, but Coulson seemed to appreciate it for a corner of his mouth quirked slightly.

'How are you feeling?' Coulson asked.

'My head hurts,' Loki admitted. 'The staff,' he looked to Thor. 'Is it gone?'

'The staff's power was drained by the Tesseract, as you said,' Thor confirmed. 'The Tesseract itself is ready to take us home.' Loki felt his stomach drop at that and dropped his gaze. Calmness, he told himself. 'Have no fear brother, we won't leave until you are fit for the journey.' A small comfort of perhaps a few hours, judging by the rate at which his headache was receding.

'Could I have a moment,' Loki said slowly. 'With Agent Coulson.' He did not see it, but he felt the weight of the gazes being exchanged across his bed. Finally, Thor patted him on the shoulder and left. Loki tried desperately to hold on to the calmness that was serving him so well, but Coulson's closeness was clouding his thoughts. Was he Lilian or Loki? For the first time, his mischief was confusing him.

'I wish to apologise,' he began, not looking up. 'And to thank you.'

'You don't need to do either,' Coulson told him.

'I tricked you,' Loki argued. 'I lied to you.'

'I lied to you too,' Coulson shrugged. Loki could not resist looking at him a moment longer. The agent's face was as calm as ever, but there was something else- regret? Pain? Resignation? It was too well hidden to tell.

'Then thank you,' Loki said softly. He knew others were probably listening, but he had to say it. 'For teaching me.'

'What did I teach you?'

Loki shook his head. He did not know where to begin to count. This insufferable man had caused such a paradigm shift, he was still spinning from it.

'Just... thank you for helping an enemy who didn't even ask for it,' he whispered, his eyes closing as he felt the full weight of his sins.

'You did ask, just not with words,' Coulson whispered. Loki looked up into his deep gaze. They were quite blue, as Thor's.

'Lilian-'

'No, not her,' Coulson shook his head, a little fierceness peaking through. Loki swallowed and nodded. He would not separate them anymore.

'I...' he took a breath, uncertain. 'I will miss your cooking.' There was a pause.

'And I regret not hearing you play again,' Coulson replied. He nodded once and turned to go. Loki watched him, but Coulson suddenly stopped when he had rounded the bed, his shoulders stiffening. He turned, marched back to the bed, grabbed Loki's head, and kissed him.

It was not a particularly well-placed kiss, and Loki's shock made it very unsatisfying. He had only just adjusted and started to return the kiss when Coulson pulled back. He stared at Loki for a few seconds, both of them shocked by his actions, and then nodded once as if something had been confirmed. He turned and left, leaving Loki more stunned than he had ever been in his life.

Thor entered after a moment, looking very awkward. Clearly, he had been watching. Loki decided the best course of action was nothing at all. In fact, that was his new favourite plan for all situations.

Calmness settled again as he made his decision.

XXX

Phil sighed after a long day. With the Avengers spread to the winds, the work at SHIELD wasn't as exciting as it had been, but that didn't bother him. He hung up his jacket and went to check the fridge to see if he could make something out of its contents.

Months had passed with no word from Thor about Loki's condition. Phil tried not to think about it. It wasn't his concern anymore. Loki was no longer a threat to Earth.

Then why did he find himself staring at the comics he had bought at this year's ComiCon with a strange hollow feeling inside? Even Miss Potts had noticed his occasional melancholy. It was unprofessional, and he needed to reign himself in.

He had just placed all the needed vegetables on the counter to make a nice lasagna, rolling up the sleeves of his light blue shirt, when the doorbell rang.

As he walked to the door, he went over the possible visitors in his head. Most likely the neighbour needing some assistance. He opened the door wide in his distraction, and found Loki standing right there.

His hair was shorter than last, making him seem smaller without its wildness. He wore a very nice dark suit with a coat over, and a green scarf. His expression was one of apprehension.

'Agent Coulson,' he greeted carefully.

'How did you get back?' Coulson asked, noting the lack of magical staff.

'I have recovered fully from my... ordeal,' Loki explained. 'And I have always had ways to travel between worlds. Thor let me go on the condition that I check up on his woman.'

'He let you go?'

'I was not in prison, if that's what you're asking,' Loki said. He glanced down the hall, an awkward movement as if he was waiting for a rejection. 'The Allfather's first mandate was that I recover from the staff's power. I have been in a healing state.' Phil didn't know what that could mean, but he hoped it meant Loki wasn't about to trick him. He let himself hope, even as he calculated how quickly he could contact SHIELD and get a weapon in hand. He was nothing if not thorough.

'Why are you here?' They both knew he wasn't asking why he was on earth.

'Not to face your judges,' Loki answered anyway. 'The Allfather decreed your people did not have the full knowledge of the events to be capable of sentencing me fairly.'

'You must be relieved.'

'I am... calm,' Loki looked him straight in the eye when he said it. 'Resigned to whatever life may bring.' Phil felt his heart rate speed up. He didn't let it show.

'I was making dinner,' he heard himself say. Loki's eyebrow peaked in interest. 'You want to join me?' A ghost of a smile passed over Loki's lips.

'I would love to.'

So, there he was, Phil Coulson, making dinner for the God of Mischief. Loki removed his coat and jacket, revealing a very fitting grey vest. He wore no tie, and Phil wondered how an alien would have better fashion sense than him. Not that he had much of one, but still.

Loki kept very close, offering to help with small tasks, and Phil again wondered if he was being manipulated, or if the Asgardians had different ideas about personal boundaries. He noted most interestingly of all that Loki very, very slowly, began to smile and speak in the same lilt as Lilian had allowed herself by the end of their acquaintance. Loki and Lilian were not entirely the same, but Loki seemed to have merged them into someone Phil had been missing far more than he had realised.

'Taste this,' Phil said, bringing the spoon with a sample of the sauce to Loki's lips, just to see what he would do, being careful not to spill anything on either of them. Loki leaned down without hesitation and tasted it, letting his eyes fall shut as he savoured it.

'Delicious,' Loki purred. Yes, he was definitely being manipulated. When Loki's eyes opened they were a deeper shade of green, Phil was sure of it. The million dollar question was: what was he being manipulated into, and would he like the results?

Loki rolled up his sleeves to help with the assembly of the lasagne. His arms had a sprinkling of dark hairs, which for some reason made Phil smile. He had pictured Loki too well groomed for such a common trait. Finally, their dinner was in the oven. Phil poured some wine he had let breathe. They stood in the kitchen tasting it.

'I have missed Midgardian wines,' Loki sighed as he sipped gratefully. 'On Asgard all everyone wants is mead and ale.'

'I have a cognac, for later,' Phil admitted. He had bought it about a month ago when he had been refilling his liquor cabinet. He hadn't opened it, yet. Loki smiled, though the tightness of his cheeks seemed to indicate he never let his smile bloom all the way. Phil knew this because he often did it himself when he knew smiling wasn't appropriate. Ripple on the surface, Phil recalled. Would this creature ever let himself smile? It was a miracle they had come this far.

'I look forward to it,' Loki said, pleased.

'Should we sit down? Dinner will be another twenty minutes.'

'Certainly.'

As they moved towards the seating area, Loki stopped, wine in hand, and looked over the large bookshelf that divided the areas.

'This is new,' he remarked, indicating the framed Captain America card with Captain Rogers' signature on it.

'Yes,' Phil confirmed, coming over to admire it. 'Captain Rogers was kind enough to sign it for me.'

'Must be strange,' Loki mused. 'To meet your hero in the flesh.'

'It was nice.'

'He didn't disappoint?' Loki's eyes held some deeper meaning, but Phil could not get at it.

'Not at all. He was every bit as honorable and hard-working as I pictured him.'

'Well, that was lucky.' Loki studied the card again. Phil didn't know what to say to that. He took a fortifying gulp of wine. He wanted to move things along, to get to the bottom of this visit. He wanted to push himself as well, so that he could understand what he wanted for himself.

'Why don't we sit?' Loki obeyed his suggestion, sitting close but not unbearably so on the sofa. They both put their glasses down.

'What do you want, Loki?' Phil asked. Sometimes you had to go the direct approach. Loki studied his hands, his eyes occasionally flitting around the room. Telling gestures all - he was nervous.

'To find more of that calmness,' he said. 'To be myself in these rooms to see how much of a difference it makes.'

'It doesn't have to be different,' Phil pointed out. 'You don't have to be afraid.'

'You are always telling me that I'm afraid,' Loki huffed, fixing Phil with a shrewd stare. 'What is it you think I'm so afraid of?'

'Yourself,' Phil replied easily. Loki looked away immediately, then slowly, he nodded. Phil decided he had gathered enough information; he knew what Loki wanted, and what the attempts at manipulation had been. Not true manipulation, but habit, because he couldn't simply ask or take what he wanted. He had to be sure he had tricked someone into it, to prove his worth, if only to the small child within him.

Phil scooted close and gently placed a hand the back of Loki's head, causing him to look up. His eyes were glassy, wide and hopeful. Phil gently urged him closer, and Loki seemed to flow towards him immediately. Their lips met.

Loki locked onto him like a lifeline, grabbing at his shirt and pressing as close as their positions could allow. The kiss was desperation. Phil kept a firm hold and did not let himself be pushed or moved. He needed to calm the kiss down. It was far too early in the evening for this amount of passion.

Loki seemed to realise he would get no further and pulled back. Phil quickly stroked down his face and gave him a reassuring peck on the lips. Loki nodded, almost to himself, to confirm that he was composed.

He took a deep breath and reached for his drink, finishing the glass. Phil made a mental note to keep the drinking to a minimum.

'Let's eat first, maybe watch the new Spider-Man movie, and then see how we feel,' Phil murmured. He wanted Loki a lot more desperately that he had ever imagined he could want a man, though of course, Loki wasn't technically a man. It didn't matter - all that mattered was the slow build-up to Loki's ecstasy. Phil had a very calculated plan in his mind to achieve this.

Dinner was... suspenseful. Loki kept casting him the most distracting glances Phil had ever seen, let alone been the recipient of. Loki's eyes burned into him, and by the end of the meal, even Phil was losing a bit of his calmness. When they got up to move to the sofa, Phil observed Loki's long and lithe frame, and before Loki could take more than a few steps, he had caught up with him and pulled him down for a kiss.

Loki was caught by surprise, and his hands hovered as if unsure of his welcome. Phil physically took hold of them and placed them on his sides as best he could, but Loki did not need much instruction. The kiss heated up when Loki realised where things were going. Phil directed their joined bodies towards the bedroom. He knew the layout well enough not to stumble, and Loki moved backwards on his instructions without hesitation, ripping at his shirt and kissing him desperately.

They fell on the bed still mostly dressed, and Phil was glad their height difference was no longer an issue. Once his shirt was all the way open, Loki rolled them over and buried his face in the hair, kissing and smelling him. The shock of arousal this action produced in Phil caused him to gasp.

Loki sat up with his knees on either side of Phil's hips and removed his vest and shirt. He leaned down, their faces inches away.

'Have you done this with a man?' he half-purred, half-growled.

'Not since college,' Phil admitted. 'But I was stoned at the time.'

'I find it very hard to believe you've engaged in an illegal activity, Agent Coulson,' Loki teased. He studied him almost as an animal would, teasing with the tip of his nose but not letting his lips touch: down Phil's neck and along his collarbone.

'We've all done things out of character at some point.'

'I like that,' Loki murmured, his nose inches from a nipple. 'Out of character.' He started teasing it with his tongue and Phil closed his eyes. He wasn't used to being this way with a lover. He was letting things get a little out of hand, but then, so was Loki.

'Why do I find you so irresistible?' Loki groaned, mostly to himself. Phil decided to roll them over. He stopped a moment when he was on top and looked down at Loki's face. The God of Mischief was very disheveled, but his eyes were open, in more ways than one. Phil stroked down the pale, hairless chest. Its musculature was perfectly sculpted, but far from as intimidating as Thor's physique. Irresistible indeed; it was truly like a statue. 'Will you be as meticulous now as before?' Loki whispered.

'Did you enjoy it?' Phil asked. His hand trailed downwards. The trousers were low on sharp hips, and there was a small trail of black hairs showing. Phil teased them and heard Loki's sharp intake of breath. Encouraging for such a slight movement.

'Yes,' Loki breathed. He shut his eyes as Phil unbuttoned him. 'Yes.' The flesh inside was hard and eager. Loki's hips twitched as he pumped him a few times. Phil moved so he could better take the trousers off completely. Loki lay still afterwards, letting Phil admire him.

'You could have done that with your magic,' Phil observed as he pulled off his own clothes.

'Hmmm,' Loki hummed, eyes intent of Phil's form. 'But that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.' Phil allowed himself a smile, earning one in return, as he crawled up the long body. Loki spread his legs just as Lilian had, but settling between them was a very different experience, though far from unpleasant. Loki bit his lip to keep from moaning, and Phil kissed them so they could both be distracted. Loki's large hands found their way to Phil's buttocks and the usually stoic Agent let out a very odd sound when Loki started massaging them firmly, pressing their groins together and grinding upwards. Phil had to pull away to gasp in more air. Loki's face was flushed, a beautiful sight. Blushes don't lie, Phil's mother used to say to him. Loki's flush went all the way down to his chest.

'More,' the God of Mischief demanded. Phil tried to clear his head enough to think for a moment. He looked towards the bedside table. 'No need,' Loki said. 'Trust me.' Phil did.

Loki's body accommodated him with magical ease, literally, and the sensation was without a doubt otherworldly. Loki bit his lip almost enough to draw blood, his eyes screwed shut.

'Let it out,' Phil ordered as he began moving rhythmically, spearing his partner with deliberate and slow thrusts, deeper and deeper.

'What's the word?' Loki gasped as he arched his spine. 'Jesus?'

'Right now I think fuckis more appropriate,' Phil moaned. He decided he really wanted to suck at Loki's neck, so he did. He slid his hands up and down, everywhere he could reach, as he tried to keep his pace down. Loki's body felt so right around him, however, that his usual meticulousness was wavering. Judging by Loki's moans, this wasn't a problem. Loki's nails dug into his back.

His pace quickened further, beyond all consideration, but his partner matched him, egging him on even more. Loki pressed his head back into the pillow, exposing his long throat for Phil to feast on.

'I'm sorry,' Phil muttered when he felt his precipice nearing. 'I'm close.'

'You better be,' Loki moaned. He reared up, and Phil was certain they had lifted off the bed, but he couldn't be sure because all he could feel was Loki's lips against his own, and Loki's body all around him. He couldn't even feel himself moving. His ecstasy washed over him, and he was sure he heard Loki swear a few times.

Then they fell to the bed in a heap.

Stillness for a long time. Deeper than any stillness Phil had felt, as if Loki was shutting out every sound from the room, or maybe shutting them inside.

Phil eventually rolled off, staring up at the ceiling. He hadn't had such exuberant sex in many years. Loki gave a deep contented sigh and Phil turned his head to study his profile.

'Did you get what you came for?' he asked the alien creature lying next to him.

'I'm not sure,' Loki replied lazily. Phil thought perhaps Loki had intended to start teasing him, or to make a joke of it, but he seemed to have changed his mind, because when he turned to look him in the eye, he was all seriousness. 'I did find something, even when I first came here, but I'm afraid I can't take it with me. Does that make any sense to you?'

'I think so,' Phil answered. 'You're welcome to come back whenever you need...' he didn't really know how to refer to what Loki needed, but the way he had said it, it might be taken as sexual innuendo. Loki realised this at the same time and a smile broke free. Phil allowed himself a chuckle, which made Loki laugh softly.

'I'll be sure to visit whenever I am... in need,' Loki said. His smile was almost full, though there was still reservation in his eyes, as if he couldn't quite let himself believe his own feelings. Phil knew that state all too well when it came to relationships. Either of them could be tricking the other. It wouldn't be easy, but somehow it was the easiest thing Phil had ever done.

After a long silence of sort of, but not quite, staring into each other's eyes, Phil decided he needed to break whatever tension was left.

'Want to watch Spider-Man now?'

Loki smiled, a full-blown smile, and laughed.

The End.

End Notes:

This idea is entirely Rokkis'. I'm pretty sure this pairing is here OTP, but it is not mine, even though I really like it, so it might not contain as much enthusiasm as I tried to convey.

The scene with lazer tag is stolen from How I Met Your Mother because I really think Barney's childish side would be the sort of thing Loki would secretly crush on. So I tried to give Coulson a littlebit of that.

The idea that the staff is controlling Loki is wishful thinking on my part.

Note on epilogue(s):There will be (according to Rokkis) some scenes added to this story whenever I find the time. She's thinking some sort of "Avengers seeing the relationship and their reactions" type of drabbles. I don't know when this will be, but hopefully during the summer.

Finally, I just wanted to mention the ridiculous amount of time it took me to decide what type of liquor Loki would prefer. I landed on cognac because Norwegians (aka Vikings) drink more cognac than any other people (including the French) so I thought it fitting.

Thank you all for your time and I hope you enjoyed the story. (You had better, Rokkis, or I will skin you alive XD... )