Warnings: bad grammar and multiple mistakes
Disclaimer: most of the characters are not mine
Chapter 2 part B
Loki was approximately 48 midgardian minutes late.
He did all he could to be punctual, but that damned powder was a real challenge to get out of the hair. It seemed though that when the dark brown slurry came into contact with his body, it made skin much softer and smoother...
When royal locks were clean and clothes were properly fitted, Loki allowed himself a little pleasure of sweet revenge and went back to the kitchen to exploit the damned machine. Now, with power back on line it took the coffee maker only 3 minutes to produce the brew, and what a beverage it was!
Dark, almost black but with hint of amber to its color, earthy, slightly bitter taste that could compete with the best ales Asgard could offer, at least when it came to Loki's choice.
But the most importantly- its alerting effect.
It was as if an invisible hand took off a veil from the prince's eyes and made the world look much clearer and his mind work much faster, eliminating any signs of tiredness and alerting all senses at once.
The effect reminded the Prince of a herbal concentrate he managed to produce in the past, but that potion required about a dozen of herbs and hours of assiduous work, and this...this was so easy and simple and could be his open door into the days and weeks of productive learning without wasting precious time on sleep. He just needed to work out the perfect proportion.
But it was a minor detail. Loki had already sketched a plan for the machine he was going to build upon returning home, a bigger one that required only sun light to operate.
He also had to fix a constant supply of the powder as he wasn't interested in growing the plant himself.
Perhaps agent Coulson would be gracious enough to list coffee as one of the products subjected to import to Asgard when the treaty is signed?
And even if the negotiations fail for some reason, I could always acquire it from the ...independent sellers.
Loki smiled at the last thought, picturing his father's face at the news that the younger prince of Asgard founded a black market with Midgard to smuggle coffee.
Oh, the All Father would be pissed.
But the risk was worth it.
To Loki's slight disappointment, the club was nothing special, just a big by midgardian standards room furnished by a green table with several colorful balls put together in a form of triangle in the middle, a huge screen (TV, as Loki was told, a special device for producing moving pictures), several couches around it and another smaller table in the corner, where people were evidently playing poker.
Loki noticed Rogers the very moment he walked in, but it took him good several seconds to recognize the captain because Steve was for some reason completely naked.
Well, not completely, Loki corrected himself as he spotted Steve's briefs. The captain had curled into a ball on one of the chairs and looked as miserable as he could ever be, face glowing as a crimson beacon of embarrassment in the dimly lit lodgement, staring at the players like a betrayed by the whole world puppy.
The situation called for immediate intervention.
Loki wasn't familiar with the game prior to lady Darcy's invitation, but he of course made himself acquainted with the rules and strategies before heading to the meeting as elementary knowledge of the activity was required by the common etiquette. He certainly didn't want the humans to waste time on teaching him the basics, nor he wanted them to think of him as an inferior adversary.
Poker at first seemed to be simple and boring, but in fact the victory required applying so many skills including that of trickery and deception, that Loki quickly changed his opinion.
As the prince navigated his way to the table, he took some time to scope the players.
There were five of them, lady Darcy, naked Steve, and three navy personnel.
The oldest one sitting to Steve's right was reserved, stern looking man with neat mustache and a camouflage color bandana on his head. He barely talked to other players, responding in brief short sentences and infrequently raising his eyes from the cards.
To Steve's left was a slender shorter man with messy black hair, huge dark eyes and a mouth that never closed. That might have been a distraction strategy, but it didn't work as well as in should have, because the man was flashing naked torso, covered with elaborate patterns of body ink.
On the opposite side of the table from Steve sat another sailor, most likely the leader of the group. He was a well built tall man with dark bronze skin, cunning smile and rather crafty hands as he managed to acquire Roger's leather aviator, t-shirt and the talkative man's sweatshirt.
But the most curious of all was sitting across Rogers with the biggest pile of clothes at her feet.
Apparently Steve was right earlier, Darcy indeed had not only a hidden agenda of getting the men naked, but all means of reaching her goal as well.
Well played for a lady, well played indeed.
Darcy greeted the prince first, smiling widely as he approached the group.
“Prince Loki, how nice of you to join us!”
Loki gave her a curt nod and looked around the table.
“Forgive me for the lateness, I hoped I didn't miss anything important.”
Darcy grinned, “Not at all, we are just getting started.”
Even in the dark Loki could see how the girls eyes kindled with hunger as her gaze wondered along his lean and regrettably fully clothed body.
The prince chuckled to himself.
Rogers had been too innocent to notice the hint of mischief on Darcy's face, but Loki was a professional in mind games and certainly was not inclined to let a human outsmart him.
He glanced across the wooden surface at Steve, who was thorn between an urge to hide beneath the table from Loki's inquiring stare and square his shoulders in respect for Loki's presence.
When the captain finally made up his mind, he straightened up, nodded in salutation, then established an eye contact and tried to mouth something that looked like“don't”. Loki smiled.
“Would you mind introducing me to the gentlemen?”
“Oh, of course.” The girl gestured to the man in the bandana first.
“Chief Medical Officer “Doc” Macmillan here,”
The mustache man nodded ,”just call me Doc.”
“Yeah, he lost his first name after years of futile serving the country. US Navy does that to people some times.” The talkative one wiggled his brows at the prince.
Darcy nodded at him, “Now the chitchat here is Communications Officer Jay Cleary. Don't pay too much attention to him, he likes to talk and most of the time his vocal cords don't correspond with his brain.”
“Hey, Missy!” Jay grabbed his heart in mocking gesture of shock, “I'm very nice! Plus I like him,” - he shot Loki a look, “he called me a gentleman.”
“He called us gentlemen, not you, you dirty son of a trailer park prostitute!” the leader of the group hushed playfully at Jay.
Cleary pouted and poked a finger at the man, “she was a stripper, not a prostitute, know the difference, man!”
The man grinned, “Oh, forgive me for my incompetence. I'm Chief Warrant Officer Javier “Snipes” Espinoza. Care to join us?”
Loki turned to Steve, the captain looked like he was trying to stop Loki from moving with the power of his mind, but when it failed, he again tried to mouth “don't” to the prince, slower and more articulate this time.
Honest and honorable Mr. Rogers, trying to protect me from the human web of deceit. How nice of you to be concerned for my sake so much, taking into account that you are the one currently sitting nude.
Loki winked at him conspiratorially.
“It would be my pleasure.”
The Doc considered Loki for a second, then warned, “Be careful, these bastards will strip you naked in no time.”
“Oh, I doubt that.”
Javier looked at the prince with approval, “Cocky, aren't we? We'll see how you'll talk when I'm wearing that fancy jacket of yours.”
Loki smiled wider without breaking the eye contact, “I don't think that's going to happen.”
Javier's brows shot up, “Oh, look at you, another pretty white boy coming to my land and saying that I cannot win, is that it? ”
“No, I'm just saying the jacket wont fit.”
Jay snorted at the comment, “I told you, Javi, that you are getting fat!”
Javier fired a dignified glance at Jay, “It ain't fat, you bimbo,” he motioned over his body, “This is nothing but pure muscle!”
Jay snickered, “Muscle my ass!”
Steve hushed at him, “Do me a favor, watch your language!”
then turned to Loki, frowning and pursing his lips apologetically, “I'm sorry, they completely lack any manners.”
“Don't worry, Steve, it doesn't bother me at the slightest.”
Steve leaned on the back of the chair, deep frown never leaving his face, “But it still does bother me.”
Jay straightened up and put his palm to his heart as if to say an oath, “No more cursing, boy scout’s promise.”
Darcy gaped at him in surprise, “You were a scout?”
“Well, technically no, I got expelled...”
Javier cackled, “Let me guess, for teacher's harassment?”
“Word to the fucking command, – I was expelled for running around naked!”
Javier sneered, “I bet your teacher didn't appreciate the view!”
“Are you saying you would expel me too only for that? Only for my desire to be closer to Mother nature?”
“No, I wouldn't expel you, I would simply shoot you.”
Jay pouted, “Do you even know how good it feels when your cock flatters freely at every step you take and a light breeze tickles your balls?”
Loki rolled his eyes and chuckled, “Such a lovely imagery.”
The foul language should have insulted him but the prince knew the men meant no offense, and the whole conversation served only a purpose of entertainment.
Loki wasn't usually fond of profanities, but this time found the exchange rather amusing as it showed not so much of the men illiteracy as the bond of brotherhood they shared despite great personal differences.
It was almost impossible in Asgard to indulge in a friendship with one of another social status or race, a noble warrior would never make friends with a servant, nor an Asgardian would form a bond with an Elf. It was an unspoken rule of hierarchy.
A rule completely forgotten on Midgard.
Jay flashed him a smile, “See, finally a man smart enough to appreciate my talent.”
“It ain't no talent, bro, if you had a talent you wouldn't have joined.”
“You're just jealous, my Mexican friend, cause all you can boast is your skill in stealing car parts.”
“Yes, dude, and I am proud of it.”
Loki chose to interfere, “Why did you join if you were good at stealing cars?”
Javier grinned at the prince, “Because ship's parts sell at a higher price.”
Rogers rolled his eyes in desperation and buried his face in both palms, too ashamed for his clotheless position and for the misbehavior of his fellow servicemen to look at his alien friend.
Doc glanced at both men and shook his head, “You keep talking like that, the Captain will throw you both overboard.”
Javier turned to the Asgardian, “First rule of a thief, bro - never get caught.”
Loki acknowledged his advice with a tilt of his head, then turned to the man in bandana, “What about you, Doc? You seem like a man of great intellect, why did you join the military?”
Doc smirked, “I guess I just wanted an unlimited access to the live experiment material.”
Loki arched his eyebrow and Jay hurried to clarify to him, “Doc just likes to cut people.”
The healer's smirk widened. “Keep talking, and you'll be banished from med bay forever.”
“What? No! Your nurses need their Jay-Jay!”
“If you get your scrawny ass anywhere near my nurses again, I'll tell every breathing woman on the base that you have gonorrhea.”
Jay's mouth flew open in shock. “You wouldn't...”
Doc pointed a finger at him threateningly, “Gonorrhea, Jay.”
Loki positioned himself comfortably in the chair, letting his long legs fall apart under the table, and moved closer, eager to apply his acquired knowledge of the game.
“May I inquire?”
Javier nodded, “Sure, shoot.”
Loki looked at him questioningly, “Is there at least one decent officer serving in the Navy?”
Javier's face split into a toothy grin, “Of course there is, bro.” He paused for a second, then continued, “ Just not on our ship.”
The three men burst out laughing, and Loki couldn't help but smile.
It took Loki two rounds to perfect his skills at the game and realize that everyone was cheating.
Well, almost everyone because Steve didn't count – the captain wasn't playing since he didn't have anything left to bet.
And it cost Loki his newly conjured silk scarf and a left boot to collect the data on how and why they were doing it.
The Doc was cheating against everyone but maintained a solely defensive mode, using his fraudulent techniques only to protect his own possessions.
Jay was cheating against everyone, but mostly Darcy in a loosely hidden attempt to get the girl naked, because a half-hidden view of her cleavage was not satisfying enough for him.
This strategy backfired quickly because he let his attention disperse and thus couldn't concentrate enough to keep his play at one level.
Javier was cheating against Darcy and Loki but mostly Loki, as he was obviously trying to establish his dominance over the prince.
Darcy was cheating solely against Loki, getting more and more frustrated as her efforts to get him shed his clothes failed over and over again.
After the Intel was acquired and the conclusions drawn, Loki's little quest for revenge was only a question of technique.
Seven rounds later the dignity was returned to Steve along with all of his clothes, and the brave captain finally wasn't looking as miserable as before, stirring back to life and suddenly displaying more and more interest in the game, especially when his opponents were getting closer and closer to sharing his previous unenviable fate.
Although for some reason the captain's interest was directed not so much on the Loki's opponents, but on the prince himself.
The Aesir could see the question burning at the bottom of Steve's eyes, and it was not the one about Loki's winning streak. Steve was well acquainted with the prince's abilities prior to the game, it wasn't too difficult to put two by to to conclude that Loki was shamelessly cheating with the help of magic.
Something else, something a bit more personal was bugging Mr. Rogers and Loki wouldn't pride himself in character judgment if he didn't know what it was.
Oh, why, Mr. Rogers, why exactly do you find it so strange that I chose to direct all of my efforts to winning your clothes back first?
Of course I'm inclined to achieve unconditional surrender from all present at the table, but my plans could wait in the light of your misfortune. I wasn't going to pursue my goals blindly while you were sitting next to me, being publicly humiliated.
After a short exchange of glances, brow lifting and lip curving the captain seemed to understand Loki's order of priorities and now was wearing a smile of praise and gratitude. His happy face was lighting up the room like a well-polished shield shining in the summer sunlight, and Loki could have sworn if Steve grinned a little bit wider he would go blind from the brightness.
All as well that let Loki freely concentrate on the game he was intending to win which could be guessed by the state of his opponents undress.
Doc was proudly wearing his shorts and bandana and Loki itched all over from curiosity, from the burning desire to know what Doc was hiding underneath it, but Loki restrained himself from dominating the game against the officer as Doc turned out to be the nicest of all players, and the prince owned him some respect for that.
Plus the Asgardian wasn't completely sure Doc would choose to take off the bandana first and not his shorts. Prince had shared the company of naked men before, it was unavoidable especially in the palace baths, but he would always prefer forfend the spectacle if he had that option, because it tended to turn into measurement contest, quite literally sometimes.
Besides, he wanted to save Steve from further embarrassment.
So, instead of defeating the healer in the last round, the prince allowed him to gracefully back up and relinquish his cards, leaving the game, though Loki succumbed to curiosity and asked the question that was bugging him the whole time,
“Would you mind me asking why are you so attached to your head cover?”
That owned him a dirty look, “Yes, I would.”
Jay cheered up, “Doc, c'mon, tell us what you are hiding! Is it an embarrassing tattoo? Oh, is it a naked woman with big tits? Or may be, a small teddy bear?”
Javier grinned, “No, it is a Mohawk, bro, Doc is an undercover Mexican.”
Darcy snickered, “Riiiight...”
Doc endowed them all with a look promising slow and painful death without any anesthesia, then turned back to Loki and pronounced in very official tone, “it's US nuclear launch codes.”
Loki couldn't help himself and laughed along with the others at the ridiculous idea.
He found it extremely pleasant to be able to display his emotions without disciplining himself or without fearing being laughed at.
He was so used to hiding his true opinions behind the intricate masks of lies that this new experience was very unusual and even more enjoyable.
Honesty was cherished and expected in Asgard, and he tried to live up to expectations, he truly did, but it earned him nothing but rejection, disdain and disapproval, even when he was right.
He didn't remember how it started, or why, or what was the trigger, if it was something he did or something he said, but as he grew older every attempt to speak freely or to show his emotions ended in pain.
He remembered the look in his Father's eyes one day he openly spoke his mind, a look of fear and disgust, and although Loki knew he was right, his confidence was shuttered beyond repair.
From that moment and on he swore to himself to hide his thoughts from the world. After many years of futile attempts to understand his family's unjustified attitude he gave up and resolved to trickery.
Sometimes the prince felt disgusted with himself for all that lying, sometimes he couldn't even look at himself in the mirror because the mask he wore made him sick of himself, but after a while in the stillness of the night he convinced himself again and again that it was better then constantly being hurt by others.
And now, on an alien planet, among inferior race, side by side with the humans he barely knew, he suddenly felt the walls he had so carefully built inside his heart cracking.
The feeling scared and exited him at the same time, and Loki balanced on the edge, not sure what to do.
“So, you want to finish the game or not?”
Darcy looked agitated. She lost most of her clothes and came no closer to getting Loki naked as she was before the game started.
The scarf and the boot didn't count because both items were lost to Javier for the sake of research.
Loki smiled slyly, “Lady Darcy, are you certain of your challenge?”
“Yes, prince, all or nothing.”
Javier and Jay exchanged looks and simultaneously threw cards on the table, “We give in.”
They both were already stripped down to their underwear, and in no way they were walking back to the living quarters in their birth suits.
Steve looked at Loki tentatively, concern written all over his gentle face, though Loki wondered if the captain was troubled about his well being or about saving lady Darcy's honor.
The Asgardian smiled and nodded to Rogers as if saying mentally, Do not worry, my friend, everything is going to be just fine.
And to his surprise Steve seemed to grasp the meaning of the look as he smiled back at Loki and visibly relaxed.
My friend. A friend. Mine. Not Thor's , not my fathers, but mine.
The word rolled silently off his tongue, leaving a sweet aftertaste like a fruit he hungered for for a long time but couldn't have.
No, I can't give in to the urge of rejoicing, I can not allow myself to let my guard down, to believe that I found a person who wants to befriend me for me alone and for no other purpose. I cannot get my hopes up, because it will end in nothing but pain again.
Though I still could play around and enjoy the show while it lasts...
Loki turned his attention back to the game.
The last five-card deal was given out, and he watched merrily as Darcy stealthy reached for the hidden slack of cards in her decollete and changed two of them.
It was one swift motion, almost undetectable by human eyes, but Loki was no human, and little tricks of the woman couldn't outsmart him.
Javier bellowed, “OK, lads, cards on the table!”
Darcy smiled triumphantly, “I'm sorry, your royal Highness, but, “ she laid out her cards open for everyone to see, “it is Three Queens over a pair of nines. I win.”
Javier whistled in appreciation and Jay patted Loki's shoulder in sympathy.
Loki just grinned foxily, “Oh, milady, there is nothing to be sorry about.”
He twitched his fingers, letting the magic flow and change the cards in his favor.
Then he opened up his set to everyone's surprise- an Ace, a King, a Queen, a Jack and a ten of one kind.
“I do believe it is called “Royal flush”, isn't it? Which means,” he held a dramatic pause for the sake of the moment, “That I win.”
The men burst into whopping and clapping and Loki even felt a sting of sympathy for lady Darcy, but it instantly passed. Steve deserved to be avenged and the prince was absolutely sure ms. Lewis was the main culprit.
Though again, his respect for the ladies couldn't let the girl be humiliated in the presence of other males.
“Lady Darcy, I would very much appreciate if you choose to get the gentlemen here some beer instead of shedding your clothes.”
Darcy nodded shortly and excused herself to the bar, cheeks burning with indignation and eyes ...obviously planning revenge.
When the laughter and excitement slowly faded, Doc stood up to leave.
“Aren't you going to stay and celebrate my victory with us, Doc?”
Doc's face showed nothing but concern.
“No. I have a lot of work to do for tomorrow, not every day you get aliens on board.”
Loki froze in shock, eyes darting back and forth to all the face's on the table. Steve frogot how to breathe.
Javier smiled at Loki's predicament and waved it off, “Aw, c'mon, don't worry, we all know you are from another planet.”
“Well,” Loki was surprised he could speak at all, “You all seem to be taking the news rather...serenely.”
Snipes grinned, “Well, yeah, considering that we all are aliens here. I mean, I'm an illegal alien, well, was, you are an extraterrestrial, Jay...” The man paused for a second. “No, Jay is not an alien, he is a freaking mutant.”
At that Jay sent a wet kiss to Javier, the other grinned wider. “Anyway, all said, this is by far not even close to the weirdest shit we've seen on our duty, ain't it right, Doc?”
Doc nodded, “you mean, like that time when Jay striped himself to the watching tower completely naked and sang “My heart will go on” for two damn hours until you dragged him down?”
Jay snickered, “Hey, I was drunk, and it was totally worth it.”
He turned to Loki, big dark eyes displaying nothing but tranquility and friendliness. “Trust me, dude, its not a big deal. Well, it is but not that much...I mean, don't worry, we'll be gentle.”
Loki couldn't decide at that confession if he should be relieved or shrieking in horror.
“We are pretty used to it, cause seriously, our captain is totally an alien.”
“I recall being a vampire last week,” a quiet low voice echoed from behind Loki's back and all the players instantly rushed to stand up at attention.
Steve and Loki stood up as well to face a very tall man with blond hair swiped to the side and icy blue eyes revealing no emotion whatsoever.
Jay was the one the Captain addressed.
“Permission to speak, Sir? That theory didn't...check out.”
The captain considered him for a second and Loki noticed how Jay tried to suppress a shiver.
“Well...you don't seem to sparkle in the sun.”
The expression on the captain's face didn't change, but Loki felt the air warming up in the room as the other men visibly relaxed.
“Now, gentlemen, the party time is over. I believe, you all have some work to do.”
The chorus of voices shouted, “Yes, Sir,” and all three men immediately left the room, Jay and Javier crashing into each other in the doorway as they tried to go through it at the same time.
“I'm Captain Alexander Iceman, I'll be commanding the fleet group for tomorrow exercise. Prince Loki, would you mind taking a walk with me?”
“Not at all.”
Loki nodded to Steve and followed the Captain through the corridor.
Now that should be interesting.