"What can you tell me about Stephen Strange?"
"Yes, Thor. The wizard."
"A man of great talent." Thor appeared to think for a moment before he averted his eyes begrudgingly. "Great hair."
"I agree," Loki said quickly. "But what of his temperament?"
"What's with all the questions, Loki?" Thor laughed, before his laughter dwindled. "Oh. Oh."
"What?" Loki snapped.
Thor peered into his brother's face. "I don't know how to tell you this but I am certain that you are under the influence of what Midgardians call a crush - "
Loki reared his head abruptly. "I am not!"
"One hundred and ten percent certain," Thor beamed and pinched Loki's cheeks, first the left, then the right, with each enunciation. "Crush. Wizard."
Loki slapped Thor's hands away. "You dare - !'
"Pray listen to me, Brother, for I have more experience than you in this matter," Thor urged. "You must not appear too eager, it is most unattractive."
"I do not have a crush on the charlatan!"
"You have to play it cool. A good-looking man like him, I wouldn't be surprised if he had a line of women knocking on his door all the way down the street."
A stab of jealousy almost shanked the heart out of Loki's chest.
"How…" he cleared his throat. "How cool?"
"Looking for common interests is a good start, but be sure to act natural. If he offers you tea, pretend you like it. Compliment it."
"His brewing skills, obviously," Thor said matter-of-factly. "I've been told tea-making is quite labour intensive."
"The best tea on Midgard is harvested by hand," Thor said. "It said so on the Discovery Channel."
"You watched a show about tea?"
"No, it was an advertisement between Storm Chasers and How The Universe Works."
Loki counted the ways he could murder his brother silently while still keeping him talking. "What else, Thor?"
Thor drummed his large fingers on the armrest. "I think he likes books?"
Loki perked up. "Books?"
"Yeah, he had plenty. Now don't get your hopes up, they may have only been faux books for decorative purposes, but they smelled old and dusty enough."
Loki rolled his eyes. "Very helpful, Thor."
A silence befell the brothers, and Thor found himself studying his little brother's morose countenance.
"You look troubled, Brother," Thor observed. He would have said lovesick, but that would be a crime in Loki's book, punishable by lots and lots of stabbing, and frankly Thor wanted a good, painfree sleep tonight.
"Call him. Ask for an audience."
Loki scoffed. "Never."
"Thought you might say that," Thor sighed. He rummaged through the bric-a-bracs in his desk drawer before fishing out an object that looked suspiciously like a mobile phone, and began to type.
"What are you doing?" Loki asked in alarm.
"Shhh." Thor held up a finger, before bestowing upon Loki a mysterious smile and resuming his typing.
"Thor, are you - " Loki leapt out of his seat, " Are you texting him?"
"There. Sent," Thor said proudly.
Sanctum Sanctorum (On the Doorstep.)
"Codex Leicester?" Stephen said, raising an eyebrow. "You might have more luck knocking on Bill Gates' door. He bought it at an auction back in the nineties."
"How could you have let such an important manuscript fall into the hands of a layman?"
For someone uninvited, his royal guest sounded very entitled.
"If you have thirty million dollars lying around I could go ransom it for you," Stephen said sweetly. "No, wait. That'd be fifty million in today's money."
Loki's forehead furrowed.
"You must have heard of the concept of inflation?" Stephen tried again; sometimes he had to tell a joke twice before Wong found it funny.
The Asgardian shook his head slowly. "Shall I retrieve it for you?"
"You mean, steal it?"
"There are secrets in there not meant for the mortal mind."
Stephen let out a laugh; the night was well and truly taking a bizarre turn. "What is this, the Da Vinci Code?"
"Is that another codex you have let slip past you?" Loki asked with an effusive politeness.
"No, it's a novel by Dan Bro - " Stephen stopped himself before he could tear his hair out by the roots. "Why are you here, Odinson?"
"I demand an apology."
"I believe one is owed me," Loki said, tilting his chin haughtily, "Yes?"
They could be out here doing this dance till the twelfth of never, or Stephen could just give Loki what he wanted.
"I apologise for casting you into a free-falling portal. It may have only lasted for thirty minutes, but I'm sure to you it had felt endless."
Loki's mouth opened and closed, like he was trying to breathe but not quite remembering how, before he finally mumbled, "Apology accepted."
Clearly the Asgardian did not expect for the ordeal to end quite so quickly; soon Loki was shifting his weight from one foot to the other, something the eagle-eyed Sorcerer Supreme could not help noticing.
"Now this is awkward," Stephen said dryly. "If there are any more grievances you would like me to address, maybe come back tomorrow? It's pretty late for a holmgang to the death."
Loki scoffed, "I am not going to challenge you to a duel." A sullen mumble, "Not when you've already apologised."
"Why are you really here, Loki?" Stephen asked, not bothered with keeping the exasperation out of his voice. "Not to talk books, surely."
"My interest in you, Doctor, is unfortunately, strictly scholarly."
"That is a shame," Stephen murmured. "The night is rather young."
"Most of the stars that will ever exist have already been born, so I don't know about young - " Loki was beginning to babble again and as much as Stephen was beginning to like the sound of the sorcerer prince's voice, it really was cold outside.
"Would you like to come in?" Stephen interrupted. "There's a packet of bourbon creams I need to finish before they go off and...I can make us tea?"
Stephen did not know what he said, but suddenly Loki's eyes lit up like stars; he was pretty sure he had never seen anything quite as beautiful.
"I would like some," Loki said, and then he smiled.
Yeah, scratch that, Stephen corrected himself, struggling to keep his own treacherous lips in check.
Beautiful and contagious.
Boy, were they going to have some wonderful tea tonight.