Neither of them chose to watch the Hallmark holiday movie. It just happened to be on while they were sitting in the den reading, and neither of them bothered to turn it off because the remote was lost again (those tiny one-eyeballed walking squid things had a real taste for AA batteries), which meant someone would have had to get up to actually switch the TV off on the set. It wasn’t going to be Loki, because he was quite comfortably ensconced in the crook of Stephen’s arm, and it didn’t seem likely to be Stephen, since, A) Loki was pinning him to the sofa, and B) one of his legs was hooked securely around Loki’s shin in a way that seemed permanent, at least for the next few hours.
So even though they started out barely paying any attention to it, focused far more on their respective reading, by the end, Stephen was shockingly into it, going so far as to surreptitiously swipe at his eyes.
“Do you like this?” Loki asked, letting his book fall closed, a finger stuck between the pages to mark his place.
Stephen cleared his throat and shrugged. “I guess I forget Christmas can be really romantic.”
“You. Forget. That Christmas can be…romantic?” Loki stared at Stephen. “I thought you didn’t like Christmas.”
“I mean, it’s okay. And I don’t know.” He made a vague motion at the TV. “This kind of thing makes you see the romance.”
Loki looked at the TV, then back to Stephen. “This kind of thing is designed to get you to buy jewelry, perfume, and home security systems, judging by the commercials.”
With a chuckle, Stephen said, “And I don’t really need a home security system.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say no to cologne,” Loki said musingly.
With a crooked smile, Stephen brought Loki’s hand to his mouth and kissed it. “I already bought your Yule present.”
“I take that to mean it’s not cologne.”
Stephen’s eyebrows went up in a way that was clearly meant to be mysterious. Glancing at the TV again, where fake snow was falling over an idyllic small town, complete with gazebo and skating rink, Loki said, “I always thought you found this stuff cheesy.”
“Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age.”
“You’re not old,” Loki said reflexively. He scratched a fingernail against his knee. This was a revelation, and not an entirely welcome one. Stephen didn’t find this stuff ridiculous? Stephen thought it was romantic? They didn’t really do Christmas, because it wasn’t Loki’s holiday, and Stephen didn’t care about it. Yule, fine, yes. They did that. Stephen had been coming to the Odinson Yule celebration since they’d started dating. And they went to Avengers Christmas parties, mostly because Thor insisted Loki had to put in an appearance—and Loki always wheedled with Stephen to come and keep him company.
They usually ended up tipsy and making out in a hallway, so that wasn’t so bad.
Speaking of making out—now that the credits were rolling on the movie, Stephen’s hand was slipping between Loki’s legs, squeezing his thighs and moving up towards his crotch. Loki shot him a sharp smile, tossed the book aside, and pushed Stephen back onto the sofa, where he covered his body and encouraged that hand to get to where it was going faster.
When he got home, though, he kept thinking of the look on Stephen’s face as they’d watched the movie. Wistfulness. That was what it had been. Wistfulness. And Loki felt guilty that he hadn’t seen this coming, that this sudden sentimentality of Stephen’s about Christmas had snuck up on him and taken him unawares. He was supposed to know Stephen Strange. To get him. No one understood Stephen like Loki did.
But he hadn’t anticipated this. He’d missed it. Loki didn’t like missing things about Stephen.
Alright, fine. He’d missed it. But just because he hadn’t seen it coming didn’t mean he couldn’t do something about it.
The plan was for Loki to spend the following weekend at the Sanctum again—but Loki had come up with a plan of his own, which meant he invited himself back mid-week without telling anyone. The Sanctum always let him in, so he strolled through the front door and bounded up the stairs, heading for the library, since that was usually where Stephen was at this time.
Whether Stephen knew Loki was there or not wasn’t really important—what mattered was that when Loki—having successfully located him in the library—swung a leg over his lap and sat down, Stephen looked up from his book and met Loki’s eyes with a crooked, pleased smile; the kind of smile that lit a slow fuse inside Loki that would, eventually, reach a critical burn.
He’d bank it for the moment, though, because Loki had his aforementioned plan, and it was important. Resting his fingertips on the sides of Stephen’s legs, Loki said, “Get dressed. We’re going out.”
Stephen glanced down at himself. “I am dressed.”
“You have clothes on,” Loki corrected him. “That’s not the same as being dressed.”
The Smile went nowhere. If anything, it got sexier, and Stephen’s hands ran up Loki’s chest to skim over his shoulders. “You want to help me out of the ones I have on?”
“Mmph.” Loki hooked his fingers into Stephen’s shirt, pulled him close, and kissed him hard. “God, I do, but if we start with that we’ll never leave.”
With a tiny groan, Stephen said, “You’re the one who told me to get undressed.”
Oh, it was tempting to take Stephen up on this—rip his clothes off, sit on his lap, and ride him till they both saw stars.
But with effort, Loki got up, then hauled Stephen to his feet. “We’re going out, Strange,” he repeated. But god, the hard bulge at the front of Stephen’s sweatpants made that hard to say. He indulged himself a moment and looked at it, then twitched his fingers towards it.
Stephen’s eyes took in the movement. “I can’t decide if I want to say you can look but not touch, or if I want to let you touch.”
With even greater effort, Loki drew his hand back, stared at the ceiling, did a few multiplication tables in his head—he just started with thirteen times eleven these days, because it was more difficult, and thus more effective for purposes of distraction—and said, “The tickets were nonrefundable, so we have to go.”
Stephen chuckled—a low, extremely sexy chuckle that made Loki lose his place in his multiplication table. Thirteen times twenty-nine was…what? “Okay, fine. I can tell this means a lot to you…I’ve never seen you turn down sex that many times in a row.”
“It’s getting harder,” Loki said, staring fixedly at the ceiling.
“No,” Loki said, his eyes snapping to Stephen’s face, “I take that back—” But Stephen was already grinning, which made Loki snort with laughter, and then Stephen put his hands on Loki’s face and kissed him soundly.
“Be back in a second,” Stephen said, before he disappeared with a whoosh.
Loki plucked at the tented front of his pants.
Three-hundred and seventy-seven. Thirteen times twenty-nine was three-hundred and seventy-seven. Thirteen times thirty was three hundred and ninety…
A few minutes went by, and Stephen reappeared, wearing jeans instead of sweatpants and a navy blue sweater instead of that ratty old Columbia hoodie. He cleaned up very nicely, Stephen Strange. His hair still looked tousled, but to be honest, Loki preferred it that way, and Stephen was well aware of that fact. Sometimes, when Stephen slicked his hair back and made it all neat and tidy, Loki accidentally-on-purpose mussed it. Sometimes he didn’t even pretend it was an accident, and he’d pull that floppy piece of hair on Stephen’s forehead so it fell loose and messy over his face, chestnut brown over his beautiful eyes.
“How’s this?” Stephen asked. “You didn’t say what we’re doing, so I went for a classically handsome look.”
“Oh, is that what this is?” Loki arched an eyebrow.
“Effortlessly cool?” Stephen tried, smiling crookedly.
Loki wasn’t going to argue with either, but he did love keeping Stephen guessing, so he also wasn’t going to answer. With a shimmer of green, his coat decamped from his pocket dimension and draped over his shoulders; Loki slipped his arms into it and informed Stephen, “This is an outdoor activity.”
Dryly, Stephen said, “I put two and two together. I’ll get my coat.”
They went downstairs, Stephen calling from the stairs, “Wong! I’m going out!”
“Pick dinner up!” Wong yelled back from somewhere in the Sanctum.
Stephen looked at Loki, an eyebrow raised, and Loki shrugged, then nodded. His outing didn’t include dinner plans. “You got it,” Stephen answered. Once they were out the door—after Stephen wisely pulled on his black peacoat instead of that unflattering puffy thing he shoveled the sidewalk in and pulled his gloves on to protect his hands from the cold—he finally asked, “So, are you going to tell me where we’re going?”
“Nope,” Loki said.
“Can I guess?”
“You can, but I’m not going to tell you if you’re right.”
The way Stephen looked at him, that mix of amusement and affection and adoration—when Loki was being a little shit, too—was exactly why Loki had scrambled to pull this whole thing together. He was with the best man in the entire universe, who he unquestionably didn’t deserve, and this man, this wonderful, wonderful man, wanted a romantic Christmas. Even if Stephen hadn’t literally said those words out loud, the implication of him tearing up at the end of a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie couldn’t have been clearer. Stephen wanted romance at Christmas. The least Loki could do was provide it.
He was still mad at himself for not noticing this change. Sure, this particular change might not be a big deal: he could rectify it easily. But what if Stephen changed in other ways, and it happened under Loki’s nose and he didn’t notice? Humans lived such short lives (god, his least favorite thought), and they could change so much in what felt like the blink of an eye to an Asgardian. What if Stephen changed, and Loki didn’t notice it happening, and suddenly they weren’t compatible like they were now?
What if Stephen changed in a way that made them not fit together? What if Stephen looked somewhere else for someone who understood him?
Deep down, Loki knew he was spiraling, and about something kind of stupid, too. They had watched a Hallmark Christmas movie. It was designed to get an emotional response. Emotional people bought jewelry, perfume, and home security systems. All the scenes were softly, warmly lit, and everyone was smiling and happy and had perfect teeth, and they all cried very prettily and lived happily ever after while snow fell around them—but they didn’t get cold. Who wouldn’t find that romantic? Who wouldn’t get the warm fuzzies about Christmas after watching it?
Not that it changed anything. Loki had arranged a magical, Christmassy date for them, and it was going to be deeply romantic, and Loki wouldn’t have to worry about missing out on little clues about Stephen changing under his nose.
This was all entirely sensible.
Glancing at Stephen, Loki asked, “So, any guesses?”
Stephen raised one gloved hand to his chin and rubbed his goatee, quirking an eyebrow. “Hm. You said it was outside, but maybe that was a misdirect…and it’s…mattress shopping?”
Loki laughed. “I’m afraid not. Though as long as we’re talking about it, you might want to consider getting a new mattress. Yours doesn’t have a lot of support.”
“It had support until we started dating,” Stephen said, a smile twitching at his mouth.
Bumping a hip against Loki’s, Stephen said, “We broke that bed, baby.”
It was hard to bite back a grin, but Loki did his best. “The sentiment is hot, but it didn’t need the ‘baby.’”
“It definitely needed the ‘baby.’” Stephen reached down and took Loki’s hand. Their fingers interlaced. “Okay, so not mattress shopping, but noted about the new mattress.”
Innocently, Loki said, “I’m happy to contribute some money to a new one, since apparently I’m responsible for breaking the one you have.”
Stephen squeezed his hand, that smile still tugging at one side of his mouth. “I’d say it was a joint effort. But if you haven’t gotten my Christmas present yet, there you go. Free idea.”
Actually, Loki had gotten Stephen his Christmas present, but in light of the whole Stephen-finding-Christmas-romantic-now, he’d decided he should get something else. There wasn’t anything wrong with books, but…they weren’t especially romantic. They were just books about magic, which, to be perfectly honest, Loki had given to Stephen before. And sometimes not even as a gift! Sometimes just because he felt like it, which meant he probably should just have done the same with these, instead of setting them aside as Christmas gifts, and putting them all in individual bags with red and green tissue paper so Stephen would have several things to open but wouldn’t hurt his hands prying wrapping paper and tape apart.
So, in fact, Loki didn’t have a Christmas present for Stephen, but he wasn’t sure a mattress was really any more romantic than books. Maybe if he got it into Stephen’s bedroom without Stephen knowing, then scattered rose petals all over it and sprawled across it in sexy underwear, waiting for Stephen to find him? Would he want to put the mattress protector on before or after that point? Would it be obvious it was new if the mattress protector was already on? If the idea was to present the new mattress as something to have sex on, wasn’t putting on the mattress protector after some making out and groping kind of a mood killer?
Should his underwear be red and green?
The thought almost made him laugh. Maybe not. Or—well, maybe, because it would make Stephen laugh, and that was always a good thing.
They cut through Washington Square Park, hand in hand, and Stephen looked musingly at Loki. “Are you taking me to the Rockettes, but we have to wait in line outside for hours?”
“I—what are the Rockettes?” Loki asked, feeling his heart sink. Something else he didn’t know Stephen had loved. For heaven’s sake—they’d known each other for a decade; they’d been together for three years. He’d thought he knew Stephen better than this.
With a crooked smile, Stephen said, “It’s this cheesy dance thing. They always do a big Christmas show. You know that part in Rogers: the Musical—”
“Oh my god, please don’t remind me.”
“—where Steve first gets turned into Captain America, and he’s doing USO shows with the chorus girls? The Rockettes are kind of like that.”
“I’ve expunged that show from my memory.”
Stephen laughed. “So I’m guessing you also didn’t get tickets for us to see Rogers: the Musical - on Ice!”
From Washington Square Park, it was a straight shot up 5th Avenue to their destination. Loki liked this street. In this neighborhood, it was quiet, mostly residential. They passed the Church of the Ascension, an Episcopalian church Loki had wandered inside one day to admire the architecture. The doors were open now—a service must have just ended, and Loki could see inside to the lit Christmas trees at the front. Stephen wasn’t religious. Or was he? Had he turned religious in addition to turning sentimental about Christmas?
Stephen glanced inside but didn’t say anything, so Loki assumed he was safe. For now.
“Out of guesses?” Loki asked.
“I’m going to let you surprise me.”
Loki squeezed his hand. Stephen might figure it out once they got close, but Loki planned on keeping it secret for as long as possible. What he had planned was romantic. Meaningful. To them. Specifically to them. Loki had to try not to bounce on the balls of his feet, but he knew he didn’t keep the flicker of pleasure out of his eyes, because Stephen looked at him and smiled. It was that same affectionate, adoring smile from before.
“People aren’t going to trust you to protect the planet if you keep looking at me like that,” Loki said. “You look too besotted.”
With a snort, Stephen replied, “Yeah, that would require people to know I’m protecting the planet. But you know what?”
“You’re too humble to ever want the masses to know how wonderful you are?”
“I can’t tell if that’s a sarcastic ‘wonderful’ or not.” When Loki just shot a sharp smile at him, Stephen said, “I was going to say, I think they’d appreciate the fact that underneath his incredibly handsome, intimidatingly intelligent, and devastatingly powerful exterior, Doctor Strange actually has a heart of gold.”
Wrinkling his nose, Loki asked, “Does he, though?”
“Okay,” Stephen amended. “How about, he’s a total sucker for a space Viking with great hair and gorgeous eyes?”
“And who would have thought it, considering the aforementioned incredible handsomeness, et cetera, et cetera?”
“Still not sure if this is sarcasm or not.”
A smile flashed across Loki’s face as he raised a hand to Stephen’s face and gave the hair flopping over his forehead a little flick. “I think,” he said, “that if the people of this planet knew the Stephen Strange that I do, you’d never have a moment’s peace. They’d want to be in your presence constantly.”
The expression on Stephen’s face got more adoring, somehow. “I think you just said something incredibly romantic to me.”
“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” Loki said, utterly unconvincingly. He wasn’t even really trying.
As they crossed 14th, Stephen glanced towards Union Square, just one block away. There was a holiday market there. Ha, had Stephen thought that was where they were going? Prosaic. Too easy. Overdone.
Er, not that what Loki was bringing them to was exactly a hidden gem of New York City. And not, frankly, that Loki didn’t enjoy holiday markets. Or markets in general. You never knew what you might find, and he liked buying things from people who made them in their homes. They reminded him of New Asgard and its cottage industries. People at home had taken a chance on them—first just in Tønsberg, then in Oslo, then all over Norway. Now, they exported some of their products all over the world.
Loki wouldn’t ever forget that. So he bought things from local people, things that were maybe unpolished or a little rough around the edges.
It was a damn good thing he’d stopped denying his own sentimentality years ago. No one would believe him if he tried to, these days.
Casually, he checked the time on his phone. He’d allowed them an hour and a half to reach their destination, even though it was just under an hour’s walk. Getting these tickets for this time slot had been a minor miracle. God, did he need to say it was a Christmas miracle? Was that the sort of thing his dry, sarcastic, smart-alecky wizard boyfriend would think, let alone say, now that he liked Christmas?
But his dry, sarcastic, smart-alecky wizard boyfriend had cried at a cheesy Christmas movie.
So maybe yes way.
The two of them had gotten to know each other taking long, wandering walks around New York City, and this was a route they’d taken before. In those days, Loki had been deep, deep into denying his sentimentality. He’d also been deep into denying the fact that he was falling for Stephen, one walk around Manhattan at a time. And Loki would always remember the day they’d gone to the place he was bringing Stephen to now: a chilly December afternoon like this one, just before Christmas, the sun getting lower in the sky like it was now, turning the light blue as shadows slanted between the buildings.
They had about thirty minutes until dusk, and it was very important that they be in a specific place at that moment, so Loki tugged on Stephen’s hand as they crossed 49th and hung a left into—
“Rockefeller Center?” Stephen asked.
A bit of a rhetorical question, really, since yes, clearly this was Rockefeller Center. The giant Christmas tree rose up in front of them, towering over the swarming crowds of tourists. Probably some locals, too. After all, the two of them were there. Or maybe Loki wasn’t considered a local? Did he count if he spent practically every weekend at the Sanctum, plus multiple unplanned nights during the week?
“You’ll probably guess now,” Loki admitted. There wasn’t all that much to do at Rockefeller Center at Christmas.
But Stephen squeezed his hand and said, “Nah. I’ll let you surprise me.”
They walked through the crowds, heading for the Rink. When they got there, rather than stop at the railing above the skating rink, Loki led Stephen to the ticket booth. After a short wait in line, he brandished his phone with his electronic tickets. The woman behind the counter scanned them and waved them through.
As they headed downstairs for the skating rink, Stephen gave Loki a surprised look. “We’re going ice skating? At Rockefeller Center? Really?”
“It’s the sort of thing you like, isn’t it?”
Stephen’s forehead crinkled. “Well, I—”
But then they were at the skate rental hut. Loki had already pre-purchased those, too, so all he had to do was show the email, and ice skates in their sizes were plunked down on the counter. Loki snagged them and led Stephen to a free bench.
“Here,” he said, leaning the skates against Stephen’s leg, then bending over to put his own on. He hadn’t been iceskating since he was a child and wasn’t actually convinced he’d still be able to do it, but—this was romantic, right?
Stephen struggled to loosen the laces on his skates so he could get his feet in, and Loki mentally cursed himself. Of course the laces would be hard for Stephen—they were tight and sort of annoying even for Loki to manage, and he didn’t have severe nerve damage in his hands.
Wordlessly, Loki knelt in front of Stephen, loosened the laces on both skates, and slipped them on Stephen’s feet before lacing them up. The help wasn’t the kind of thing Stephen normally appreciated. Even after all this time, he had an unfortunate tendency to think he was being pitied, even though he knew full well that Loki had never pitied him for his disability.
Historically, Loki just didn’t look at things when he Didn’t Want to Know, but he raised his eyes to Stephen’s to check his facial expression. Mostly Stephen just looked bemused, his hands resting on the bench on either side of his legs, tips of his fingers curled onto the edge. “Tell me if the skates are too tight,” Loki said.
“No, they’re good.” A piece of Loki’s hair fell over his face as he bent it over Stephen’s right skate, and Stephen reached forward and tucked it back behind his ear. “I didn’t know you liked iceskating.”
“Well,” Loki said, “it’s been years since I’ve been.”
“Years as in like, a decade? Or years as in centuries?”
“Centuries.” Loki got the skates tied, then gave the knots one final tug each to make sure they were secure. He stood, taking a moment to accustom himself to the feeling of balancing on the blades. Then he extended a hand, which Stephen took. When Loki pulled him to his feet, Stephen actually wobbled, which made Loki grin. Stephen had always been light and steady on his feet—he was a great dancer. But now, he threw his arms out, teetering from side to side. Loki grinned and put his hands on Stephen’s waist to steady him. “C’mon, Strange,” he said. “This is supposed to be a sunset skate.”
Stephen still looked mildly befuddled by this whole thing, but he allowed Loki to lead him from the bench to the Rink. They paused at the entrance for a minute, watching other skaters. There was a spectrum of skill levels represented out there—from people clinging to the sides or to their partners, to others skating but definitely not winning any awards for their moves, to possible Olympians, or maybe hockey players, whizzing by, their skates hissing on the ice.
“You’ve been iceskating, right?” Loki asked.
“When I was a kid,” Stephen said.
Loki swung a foot out onto the ice, then the other, and made sure he wasn’t going to fall promptly on his face before he shuffled, then held his hand out for Stephen. “We may both look a bit stupid, much as I hate to admit it.”
“Oh, c’mon. You love when I look stupid.”
“I do not,” Loki said, actually feeling a bit hurt. He thought about it. “Well, maybe sometimes. When you’re extra insufferable about something and brag about it for too long.”
Carefully, Stephen stepped out onto the ice. Loki grabbed him around the forearm to steady him. “I haven’t bragged about iceskating, have I?”
“Not that I recall, no.”
“Okay, good, because I’m really bad at iceskating.”
“Really?” At the look Stephen shot him, Loki decided he probably should dial back the delight in his tone. “I mean, you’re just normally so graceful.”
“Uh huh. Nice save.”
“Well, you are. More than me. I can’t dance.”
The two of them were still hugging the outside of the Rink, which was going to become a problem within a minute, because a toddler in a huge, puffy coat was making her way towards them, hand-over-handing her way along the wall while her father hovered at her side. Loki glanced up at the sky, which had taken on that soft, fading transience of late afternoon as it tumbled into evening. Blue into deeper blue, streaked with a watercolor winter sunset.
They couldn’t be clinging to the Rink’s wall when the sun went down. That was hardly a romantic Christmas movie moment, and that was the whole point of this.
Loki looked at Stephen. “We can do this.”
Stephen wrapped his fingers around the top of the wall. “I mean, you’d think. We kicked Nightmare’s ass last week.”
“Yeah, so we can skate to the center of this rink.”
“The center of the rink?”
Sucking in a breath, Loki pushed off from the wall, bringing Stephen with him.
By some miracle, they didn’t fall. They weren’t really skating, but they were at least moving, so Loki was going to count that as a win, and unsteadily, they made it to the center of the Rink. They weren’t the only people gathered there, which was also sort of romantic Christmas movie-esque, Loki guessed? Though he would have preferred the rest of the gathered skaters didn’t know what was going on, and at the relevant moment, everyone would turn to ooh and ahh. But Loki and Stephen would already be at the center of the Rink, and they’d have a Moment, and it would be exactly the sort of romantic thing Stephen apparently loved, even though Loki hadn’t had a clue.
Loki slid slowly to a stop at the edge of the crowd and Stephen bumped into him, almost taking both of them down. Stephen threw his arms around Loki while his knees knocked together, and Loki grabbed Stephen around the midsection. All around them, other skaters were holding their phones up, most of them facing away from the tree. Loki and Stephen, though, faced towards it.
“Remember when we came here ages ago?” Loki asked, his arm still snug around Stephen’s midsection. “Back when I lived at the Sanctum?”
“Back when we were doing the whole oh-my-god-they-were-roommates thing?” Stephen asked, his smile crooked.
“Back when I was homeless, and I couldn’t quite decide if you’d offered me a prison or a home,” Loki said with a snort.
Stephen’s smile got slightly more crooked. “I’m not sure you really offer someone a prison.”
So pedantic. Loki wanted to kiss him. “Right, well, we’ll call it a home with the benefit of hindsight, then.” Stephen leaned into him. Or maybe that was to keep his balance. Hard to say. “Anyway, you remember? We stood up there”—he swiveled at the waist to point at the railing behind them, where people were lined up, taking photos—“and acted like we didn’t like each other very much, and the tree came on, and—”
“And it was really romantic, even if you didn’t want to admit it?” Stephen asked, an eyebrow quirking up.
Before Loki could respond, the huge Christmas tree above them lit up in glowing, multicolored lights, the star on top gleaming across the plaza. A few scattered cheers went up and camera flashes winked like tiny supernovas. Loki’s heartbeat ratcheted up a few ticks as his eyes turned from the tree to Stephen’s face.
Stephen wasn’t looking at the tree at all—he was looking at Loki. “It was romantic,” Loki said. “And I’m sort of trying to re-create it. Did you just miss the big moment?”
Letting out a whoosh of air, Stephen said, “Odinson,” before he tilted his face up and kissed Loki.
Which was a moment all of its own, and it always felt pretty big, regardless of how often they did it.
And it was a very nice kiss; the cold tip of Loki’s nose smooshing into Stephen’s cheek, Stephen’s mouth opening just enough to make the bottom drop out of Loki’s stomach but not enough to be inappropriate in public. Loki moved his arm from Stephen’s midsection to cup a hand around his face—
—Which was a giant mistake, as it turned out, because it shifted their balance, and Stephen wasn’t ready for that to happen. His feet shot out from underneath him and he broke the kiss with a distinctly un-sexy sucking sound as he crashed onto his arse. Without Stephen, Loki’s center of gravity abruptly changed, and he only stayed on his feet another second by virtue of inertia. But then he toppled over as well, landing next to Stephen.
The impact sent a judder up his spine. Stephen rubbed at his lower back and winced, but when he caught Loki’s eyes, he smiled. “You know I was already in love with you on that day, right? Standing there with you while the tree lit up, after we spent the whole day walking around? I remember thinking how all I had to do was move my hand a couple inches over, and I could hold yours.”
“I may have stabbed you,” Loki snorted. “Or at the very least, threatened to throw you over the railing.”
“Yeah, but deep down, you wouldn’t have meant it.”
“Mm.” Loki touched Stephen’s face and said, “You might be onto something.” Carefully, Loki levered himself to his feet, then helped Stephen up, too.
They hung on to each other to keep their balance, and Stephen said, “What did you mean, you were trying to re-create it? Not that it wasn’t a nice moment, but you’re not usually into commemorating random nice moments from our history.”
Now that the tree was lit, people were once around skating around the Rink in loops, leaving the two of them standing by themselves in the center. Loki chewed at the inside of his cheek, furrowing his brow and looking at Stephen. Stephen gave him a searching look. “What?” Stephen asked.
Letting out a breath, Loki said, “I thought…I mean, I figured you’d be really…” He waved a hand vaguely. “I don’t know. Swept away by this.”
Stephen’s brow furrowed even more. “Uh, no offense, but being ‘swept away’ doesn’t really sound like me.”
“No, it didn’t sound like you, but then—” Loki stopped talking though, because even though he actually generally didn’t know when to stop talking, and was excellent at getting himself into messes, his gut told him to shut it right now.
Stephen frowned. “But then what?”
“Nothing.” Loki blasted air through his nose. “Just—nothing. Should we go? We’re both bad at iceskating, anyway.”
When he started to turn, Stephen held onto him harder. “Odinson. But then what? Why are you trying to make a romantic gesture?”
Loki pressed his lips together. “Because you said you think Christmas is really romantic.”
Stephen’s expression flipped back to bewildered. “Huh?”
“When we watched that movie,” Loki said, looking away. “You cried. You said Christmas is romantic. And I thought…”
Of course, now that he found himself on the cusp of explaining what he’d thought, it all sounded idiotic and overwrought. It had all made the utmost sense in his head. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time something had made sense in his head, but as soon as he went to explain it, its absurdity became plain.
Letting out another hard breath, Loki said, “I thought I should do something romantic. I thought that was the sort of thing you wanted now.”
“Now that I…find Christmas romantic,” Stephen said, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.
A smile twitched at Stephen’s mouth. “I really, really love you, you know that?”
“No but. I love you.” One of Stephen’s legs started to slide out from underneath him, and Loki hooked an arm around him, pulling him close. Stephen rested a hand on Loki’s chest, then tightened his fingers around a fistful of Loki’s jacket. Loki didn’t mind the feeling of being the one to hold Stephen up, not at all. Things usually felt very much like they were the other way around, at least in a metaphorical sense. Once Stephen had steadied himself, though, he quite neatly turned the tables back to the way Loki was used to, as he asked, “What’s really going on?”
No one saw through him like Stephen Strange.
Loki chewed at the inside of his cheek again, then relented. “I never would have thought you’d think Christmas was romantic. I thought you didn’t really care about it. And then suddenly, you…did. And I missed it. And what if I miss other things? What if you change, and I don’t even notice it’s happening? What if…”
It would be nice if Stephen would fill in the blanks for him so Loki didn’t have to actually say it. But Stephen just waited, watching Loki, letting him speak on his own time and his own terms—just the way he’d always done. What a maddening, wonderful man.
Loki pressed his lips together, tempted to roll his eyes at himself. But he didn’t want Stephen to think the eye roll was meant for him, so instead he raised his eyes to the Christmas tree, sparkling in the deepening darkness. Lights all around the Rink had turned on, flooding the ice with brightness. In the very center of the Rink, with skaters orbiting around them, Loki felt a bit like he was under a spotlight. Him and his sentimentality, him and his insecurity, him and his inability to just function in a relationship like a normal person without being afraid every other moment he was going to mess something up and lose it.
“What if you change and I don’t change with you?” Loki made himself ask. “What if I’m not any good for you anymore?”
Stephen’s eyes widened under the floodlights, and it gave Loki a perfect view of them, the way the blue bled to green in his irises like watercolor blurring together, or the way reflections on water mingled at their edges. Then, a wry expression crept across his face. “That’s never gonna happen,” Stephen said bluntly. When Loki sucked in a breath to argue, Stephen tugged on the fistful of jacket in his hand. “Hey. Listen. Of course I’ll change. So will you. But nothing could…” He hesitated, then smiled a little. “Nothing could make us not perfect for each other.”
God, it was tempting to argue. Loki always argued. Habit. Routine. Maybe even necessity. “People change. I know all about divorce rates.”
“Yeah, but we’re not married,” Stephen said.
Which was frankly, a state of affairs that Loki would happily put an end to, if it weren’t for Stephen’s aversion to marriage, courtesy of the way his parents had made a mockery of their own.
Loki just pursed his lips, and Stephen’s expression grew more serious. “Forget me thinking Christmas is romantic for a second. You want to know where I get really sentimental? You. You and the obvious fact that this is meant to be. And it wouldn’t matter if I decided to give up magic and…I don’t know, become a politician, or want to move to New Jersey, or start a podcast—”
“You’ve talked about starting a podcast.”
“That was Wong’s idea and I was just going along with it to make him feel better.”
“You had a title.”
“I listened to the two of you plan out your first three episodes.”
“Okay, look, I think the podcast could have gone somewhere—rating restaurants by the quality of their takeout and the delivery experience? It’s fun but mundane, and you don’t have to think too hard about it.”
With a snort, Loki said, “I thought it was Wong’s idea.”
Stephen chuckled before he traced a thumb over Loki’s cheekbone and down his jaw to his chin. “The podcast isn’t the point. The point is, I could change. But the way I feel about you isn’t ever going to. So…” Stephen’s smile came back, just a little crooked and a lot comforting. “Don’t worry about that.”
One of the things Loki loved about Stephen was how he had the ability to make Loki’s insecurities seem silly—but not in a patronizing way. Stephen never made him feel stupid for this sort of thing. He made him feel seen and heard, and then the way he shut the anxiety down was so complete that there wasn’t any room for Loki to keep feeling that way.
For a moment, Loki just looked into Stephen’s eyes. All he could see reflected back at him was love and the conviction that this was absolutely true: that the two of them were meant to be.
And that was sentimental.
“So maybe,” Loki said slowly, “you’ve always been a massive romantic, and Christmas just happened to pique your romantic fancy this year?”
“Maybe I just liked the idea of finding some mistletoe to stand underneath with you.” Stephen slid a hand around the back of Loki’s neck and into his hair, tilting his head down for a kiss and proving very much that mistletoe was hardly a necessity. “There’s nothing,” Stephen murmured against Loki’s lips, “nothing, that could change me enough to change how I feel about you. Even if the waterworks start every time we watch a Hallmark movie.”
Loki closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Stephen’s. “Then I guess I don’t need to do my final big, romantic Christmas gesture?”
At that, Stephen pulled back. One of his eyebrows arched. “Of course you don’t need to. But I’m pretty sure you want to.”
Loki flashed him a bright grin, raised a hand to Stephen’s face, and brushed his fingers through his hair before he pulled him in for another kiss, this one deeper and longer and feeling infused with magic. Or maybe the magic Loki was actually doing was infused with the feeling in the kiss.
When they both opened their eyes—at the same time, which was very movie moment, Loki smiled and jerked his head to get Stephen to look around.
Snow was falling softly from the inky, cloudless sky, sparkling more than seemed strictly possible, maybe glittering a bit too much for mere snow. Stephen watched it, then flicked his eyes back to Loki. “Pretty,” he said, though his eyes were on Loki’s, not the snow.
“This is the part where the camera pans out while the couple kisses passionately,” Loki informed him.
Stephen grinned and wrapped his arms around Loki. Loki did the same, and their mouths met in a kiss that was worthy of any romantic holiday movie.