'How about that cup of tea I owe you, before we start?' Maia offered as they entered the mall and the smell of freshly roasted grounds greeted them from various establishments. She knew he was no lover of coffee, but he was a lover of good tea.
'And perhaps form a strategy?' He suggested as he took a map of the mall from a dispenser on the wall as they passed.
'That's a much better plan than wandering aimlessly.' She pulled on his arm, towards the nearest café and he happily stayed close by with their arms still entwined.
They joined the short queue to the counter and had to stand single file, but Maia could still feel the heat of Loki's body behind her, and every time someone walked by he stepped closer, his hand on her arm as though to protect her. It made her smile, not to mention making her heart and stomach flutter.
The woman in front of them in line made a frustrated noise and checked her watch as the person in front of her left and she stepped up to the counter. The young barista smiled before giving a warm welcome and apologising for the delay due to understaffing. The woman snapped something and reeled off her order. Maia smiled sympathetically. The girl was obviously flustered but she read it back correctly, rung it up and went about making the order while the perfectly presented blonde customer tutted and huffed.
The girl bustled efficiently behind the counter and soon had most of the order filled, but not quick enough for the impatient woman.
'Come on, I have more important places to be, how hard it is to make a damn coffee?' She snapped and Loki felt Maia tense as the girl behind the counter apologised again, but Maia wasn't having that. To his surprise she stepped forward until she was up beside the woman at the counter.
'Excuse me?' Maia said firmly and the woman glared at her.
'What?' She said with obvious contempt.
'I think you owe her an apology.' Maia glanced at the girl making drinks.
'An apology? It's not my fault she's not smart enough to make coffee.' She scoffed.
'And you are?' Loki blinked in surprise at Maia's obvious insult to the woman who stood a whole head taller than her in her heels. The woman opened her mouth to argue but Maia didn't give her the opportunity. 'You spat six different drinks at her, which she has made individually and correctly, with a smile despite how obviously pressured she is, and people like you trying to belittle her while she's doing a fantastic job when you couldn't do the same is pretty pathetic.'
'How dare you!' The woman sputtered but again Maia cut her off.
'No, how dare you? How dare you come in here and bully this girl, who is quite frankly a caffeine alchemist, just because you're not organised enough to get here earlier. Now, you say you're sorry, leave a tip and take your drinks to whatever it is you can't do without amazing people like her to set you up for the day.'
The entire coffeehouse had gone quiet at Maia's words and Loki had stepped close enough that her back was a solid line against him with his hands spanning her hips and upper thighs, backing her up with his presence, but the woman didn't even glance up at him, and he wished he could see Maia's face, as whatever was there made this woman afraid to look away, and it was only when Maia authoritatively said; 'Now!' That the woman seemed to snap out of her wide-eyed fear and she scrambled in her purse, shoved some notes in the tip jar, grabbed the two trays of drinks and hurried out. Conversation resumed and Maia stepped to the counter, Loki instinctively moving with her.
'Thank you.' The girl smiled gratefully at her.
'Don't worry about it.' Maia said, her voice back to its usual pleasant tone. She placed their order, left a tip and carried their tray to a vacant table.
Maia stirred her drink as Loki watched her. She was very aware of his attention, had been at the counter, but she was unsure why she still had it. She put her spoon down and looked up at him.
'What?' She asked simply.
'I suddenly realise why you make such a good tutor. You were very firm with that woman.'
'No one else was going to stand up to her. There's never a need to be rude and I don't tolerate bullying, in or out of the classroom.' She picked up the map from the table for something to do.
'I, for one, would not argue with you, if you used that tone.' He toasted her with his tea before taking a drink.
She laughed quietly. 'I don't know whether to be insulted or flattered.'
'Flattered, definitely. Not many can speak with enough authority to impress me.'
She shrugged dismissively. 'I didn't do it to impress anyone. There's just nothing wrong with standing up for the little guy.'
'You sound like Captain Rogers.' He replaced his cup in its saucer.
'I've been the little guy. Being an overworked, yelled at barista is no fun.'
'You have been a barista yourself?' He watched her hands as they toyed with the map.
'Coffee'd my way through college, in more ways than one.'
'Which explains why you are so passionate about it.' He reached over to where she sat beside him and took her nearest hand, using it to open the map. 'What sort of outfit are you hoping to acquire?'
'I don't really know.' She turned to face him just as he rested his arm behind her to see the map better, putting her closer to him than she expected, and for a moment she lost what she was going to say.
'As far as I have been able to tell these things tend to involve a lot of people dressed to impress and copious amounts of alcohol.' Loki lowered his voice, finding himself almost intimately close to the blue eyes he had become fascinated with in just days. 'I for one would like every head to turn when you enter on my arm.'
'On your arm?' She murmured in surprise. She had been assuming she would be left mostly to herself, as she really only knew Loki and Tony, but having him offer to escort her filled her with as much relief as it did joy.
'Of course. I would not abandon you when you barely know anyone.'
She smiled brightly and Loki knew the offer was welcome, not too presumptive of him, as he feared it may be taken. 'Thank you, I'd like that.'
'For the night, I shall be your guide, as you have been mine, and you deserve something befitting the lady of a prince of Asgard.' He turned to look down at the map and she did the same as he moved closer, his cheek resting against her. 'Shall we start here? If we use unisex outfitters we may find something coordinated.'
'It would not do to have us clash.'
'I suppose not. What are your thoughts on bright pink?' She said teasingly.
He leaned back and gave her a look that said he knew what she was doing and she couldn't keep the smile off her face. 'I was thinking more a dark green, a coordinating contrast with your hair.'
'And it doesn't hurt that you look amazing in it.'
'You think so?' He raised an eyebrow and noticed the blush on her cheeks at her admission.
'You know you do.'
'I have had a good many years to discover what suits me.'
'Must be nice, to be so confident.'
His smile broadened. 'If you are confident enough to berate a complete stranger in public then you should be confident enough to wear whatever you please.'
She glanced down then back up at him, still so very close. 'There's a difference between having confidence to do the right thing and having confidence in yourself.'
'You deserve both.'
'Maybe one day.'
'Maybe tomorrow night.' He held her gaze and for a moment considered kissing her, but it was too soon, he decided. He would claim those soft lips, that were slightly parted, but not yet. 'We should drink up and get on with our task.' He said quickly, leaning away from her to pick up his cup.
'Of course.' She turned back to her own drink. Her heart was pounding in her chest, she had had a moment where she thought he was going to kiss her and she felt disappointed that he hadn't, although she had no right to. She was sure he was just being friendly and not flirtatious, his offer to escort her to the party was as her guide, not a date, and she had to remember that, but damn if his mere presence didn't get her blood pumping.
They finished their drinks in silence then left to shop for the party.