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Nothing That Soup and Cuddles Can't Fix

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Loki set a pot on the stove burner to heat, yawning widely as he clicked on the gas stove. It had been a long night, and although Loki was fine with losing sleep with Stephen, last night had been far from the sleepless nights they’d had in the past.

Stephen had returned from Kamar-Taj with a sniffles a few days ago, still finishing the project he’d left to work on. It took his full attention, and Loki spent most days curled up on the couch in the library and Stephen read and worked. But after two mornings straight waking up in the bed alone, Loki came to the consensus that Stephen was either refusing sleep or avoiding it. Whatever the case, the lack of sleep caused the slight sniffles to turn into a full-blown cold. By the end of the week, Stephen was coughing into his cloak’s sleeve and after a few times of it, the cloak visibly humphed and decided to float nearby rather than stay perched in its usual place on Stephen’s shoulders. 

Loki had done his best to beg, coddle, and force Stephen back into bed, almost going as far as to tie him to the bed. (Of course, Loki had done it before, but for different reasons.) At last he realized that Stephen had no intention of giving in, and Loki begrudgingly stayed awake as well, insisting that he had to keep an eye on the man. And sure enough, Stephen simply nodded and carried on working until the sun peeked over the horizon.

The pot sizzled slightly as Loki added a glug of oil, and then used magic to quickly chop the vegetables. First the onions, slicing them into an even dice, then the celery and carrots. He let them cook down before adding in the herbs and then the broth. He smiled as he heard Stephen's footsteps headed towards the kitchen. Loki had just put on the cover for the soup to cook, just as Stephen appeared in the doorway. He allowed himself a slow smile at the man’s presence, and then frowned slightly. 

Even from where he stood at the stove, Loki could see the traces of exhaustion over his lover’s face. Stephen's face was drawn and paler, and even as the man walked towards him, Loki could tell that his movements had gotten less graceful and more wary. Stephen's hair hung out of his usual styled look and hung around his forehead and face, making him look younger. He was dressed in loose pants and a cotton crewneck rather than his usual robes. 

"Mm, still fighting sleep, then?" Loki commented as Stephen entered.

Stephen pulled a face, pushing a strand of hair out of his face. "What are you making?" he asked, evading the question. He looked at the pot and the vegetables curiously, and then gave Loki a tired look. “Soup? I’m not even sick.”

Loki quickly used magic to chop the herbs and then pulled Stephen into his chest, taking a second to cup Stephen's head closer. "Something my mother always made when I wasn’t feeling well," Loki murmured. "If you won't sleep, the least I can do is make you something to eat."

"I'm hardly what you’d call sick," Stephen huffed, but immediately sneezed. His nose ran with runny mucus and Loki sighed softly, conjuring a tissue out of thin air.

"Not sick?" Loki said, raising his eyebrows and cuddling the man closer. "Then what term would you use to identify this sneezing, runny nose, and refusal to sleep?"

"Determination," Stephen replied, blowing his nose loudly. "I also don’t think I've ever seen you cook anything before," he went on as he finished wiping his nose.

It was Loki’s turn to give Stephen a tired look. The past few months Loki had thought about cooking a dish for Stephen, but there was something unsettling and slightly too vulnerable about cooking for someone he loved. Of course he could do it perfectly for his tastes and needs, but what if Stephen didn't like the extra grind of pepper at the end or wanted a half a shake less of salt? Those perfections he'd adapted for himself and his personal, but the thought of sharing them with Stephen still sent a nervous flutter through his chest. 

So until today, Loki had avoided the kitchen and focused on his other talents and spent most days curled up in the library reading and studying as Stephen worked.

"I don't think I've ever seen you so adamant about something so obvious," Loki replied. It was his turn to evade the topic of his cooking. He snuggled into Stephen's messy hair. "Is something else going on?"

They'd been together at the Sanctum for just over a year, and in that time it had mostly been himself that was plagued with nightmares or distressed but it had always been Stephen who had comforted him. He knew firsthand how difficult it was to put words to the dreams he had, of the terrible, out-of-control feeling he had under the Mind Stone, and how patient Stephen had been for him to find the words to tell him about it.

"No, no, nothing like that," Stephen assured, but leaned into Loki a bit more as if the question alone had brought a bit of his guard down. And almost on cue, he sneezed again, and then again, causing more mucus to run down his nose and lips.

Loki conjured another tissue. “Blow your nose,” he said gently, his hand rubbing Stephen’s shoulder. 

Stephen nodded and blew his nose and sniffled and then sneezed again.

Loki conjured another tissue and winced as Stephen coughed harshly. In seconds, Loki held him upright as the coughs wracked his body. Loki whispered small encouragements into Stephen's hair as the coughs tapered off, leaving him breathless and breathing heavily through his mouth. The sound made Loki’s chest squeeze with worry.

"Alright, you sound terrible. You're going to either lay down on our bed or on the couch,” Loki said seriously.

"I’m fine,” Stephen grumped. “Sleep will only make it worse.”

Loki pulled away and looked at him quizzically. "What do you mean?”

Stephen rolled his eyes but sneezed again and cuddled back into Loki’s chest. “I can’t get comfortable. I’ve tried. At Kamar-Taj, I usually don’t sleep much anyway, so I usually catch up when I return.”

He sniffled, and Loki was unsure if it was from his confession or from his cold. Either way, he let the man continue.

“ But with this–”, he gestured to his face and tissues. “It’s impossible.”

Loki nodded slowly, understanding. He’d only been sick with a Midgaurdian cold a few times, and the few times he had were enough. The feeling of a stuffy nose and constant thumping headache and sore sinuses were enough to make anyone uncomfortable. Against him, Stephen sniffled and then yawned widely. 

“But you need to rest,” Loki said softly into Stephen's hair. “It’ll help you feel better.” He kissed the man’s temple. “Let me help?”

Stephen groaned slightly, but then slowly nodded. 

“Well first, let’s get you in the shower,” Loki said and turned the soup to low and then led Stephen upstairs. Slowly and wordlessly, he pulled the man into the bathroom and started the shower. 

Stephen sniffled pathetically as Loki pulled his shirt over his head, and Loki couldn’t help but stare at the man’s muscular, yet soft build. The shower heated quickly and started filling the bathroom with steam, and Stephen sighed in relief and coughed as the steam helped soothe his stuffy breathing. 

“It should be okay to go in,” Loki said, reaching past the shower curtain to touch the falling water. It was warm, but not too hot. 

“Come in with me,” Stephen said, looking Loki up and down. Loki was still dressed, but Stephen knew he could change that easily.

Loki chuckled and flushed as memories of what this shower had seen flashed back in his mind. “You just want an excuse to get me naked.” He placed a hand on Stephen’s shoulder. “But you need rest and time to recover before we focus on other types of entertainment.”

Stephen sighed, which turned into a cough and he coughed wetly into the crook of his arm. “You’re no fun,” he said breathlessly when it had tapered off, but climbed into the shower and sighed deeply as the way ran down his tired body.

“Better?” Loki asked from outside the shower.

When Stephen hummed in response, he smiled. “Are you alright to be alone?” he asked, suddenly worried that the man would faint or slip. 

“Loki, I can still take a shower,” Stephen laughed lightly. “It’s just a cold.”

Loki lingered for another minute before nodding and heading back downstairs. The smell of the soup made his chest squeeze; it was his mother’s recipe and one of the few that he had from her. He’d found it tucked in a book of hers years ago, and although he had it memorized now, the slip of paper was still kept close. He uncovered the lid and watched the soup simmer and gave it a mix and a taste before spooning it into a bowl.

He carried it carefully upstairs and set it on the bedside table to cool. 

“Loki?” Stephen called from the bathroom.

Loki was at Stephen’s side in seconds just as the man yawned. 

“Just wanted to see if you were still downstairs,” Stephen explained as he toweled off. His towel-dry hair hung around his face, and he tucked his gray hairs behind his ears.

Loki’s eyes lingered for a second. How was he this cute? He forced himself to blink and compose himself.  Stephen was sick. He needed soup and rest and not anything else.  “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Stephen admitted. “It’s a bit easier to breathe.” He pulled on a clean, loose pair of pants and had just gotten them on when another fit of coughing wracked him. The coughs were loud and wet, and Stephen wheezed through him, trying to clear his throat between coughs.  

Loki rubbed his back calmly and led him to sit on the toilet as he wheezed. He threaded his hand through Stephen's as he continued to cough wetly. 

“I-It hurts,” Stephen managed with a wheeze.

Loki stood and let the sink water run until it was warm, and then conjured a cup and filled it. “Here,” he said, kneeling beside Stephen. “This might help.”

Stephen sipped slowly and sighed as the warm water soothed his chest. He sipped again, taking in slow, deep breaths through his mouth as his coughing subsided. His nose was red from sneezing and running and Loki could tell there was a feverish flush to his cheeks. “I think you might be running a fever,” he guessed, reaching to touch Stephen’s forehead. He wasn’t surprised when he found it warmer than usual. “Do you have a thermometer?” 

“Under the sink,” Stephen mumbled. He sipped at the warm water again and studied the cup. When he finished the water, the cup refilled on its own. 

Loki found one and stuck it under Stephen's tongue, his hand resting on the man’s knee as he waited.

“How are you so good at this?” Stephen asked around the thermometer. 

Loki felt a smile tug at his lips. “I’ve been taken care of so many times by you,” Loki responded slowly. “I’ve learned a thing or two.” 

He thought of the times that Stephen would bring him dry toast after a night of nightmares and nausea or simply rub his back after a panic attack. It was through those touches and comfort that Loki finally felt safe, not only enough to allow the touches and care, but enough to want to reciprocate them.

When the thermometer beeped, Loki looked at it and bit his lip. “Higher than usual,” Loki concluded. “Do you feel anything else?”

Stephen shook his head. “Just kind of hot and achy with sniffles and a cough,” he sighed. “Nothing else.”

Loki let himself relax slightly. Stephen would be fine. “Do you want to try some soup?” 

Stephen nodded and the two made their way to the bed and the effort left Stephen shaking slightly. Loki helped Stephen to sit under the covers with enough pillows to support him sitting up. Loki bit the inside of his cheek. This was just a cold. The cough had progressed a bit more than he’d like, but nothing was out of the normal cold. Still, a heavy worry wrapped itself around Loki’s chest and he reached for the soup. 

“Tell me about this soup,” Stephen asked, his voice tired. “I can’t smell it, but it looks good.”

Loki gave it a stir, smiling slightly as the vegetables floated in the flavorful broth. “It’s a bit like chicken noodle, but with veggies and rice instead,” Loki explained. “My mother never used pepper, but I’ve found it adds a bit more depth.”

Stephen took it and sipped, then shook his head in amazement. “You never told me you could cook,” he mused. Stephen reached out and gave Loki’s hand a squeeze. “It’s delicious, Loki. And you’re right about the pepper.” 

Loki flushed slightly at the man’s earnest stare, avoiding his eye by preparing another spoonful. 

Stephen squeezed his hand again and Loki looked up at him. 

“I’m glad you’re here,” Stephen said carefully. “I-I don’t know if I’d be able to–er, if I would be able to do..” He wasn’t sure where his words were, but he knew it had to be something about looking Loki in the eyes. He gave Loki’s hand another squeeze. “I’ve liked having you here, especially now.”

“I’ve liked being here,” Loki responded softly. He rubbed Stephen’s cheek. “This place feels much more like home than my home ever did. I haven't felt like this in a long time.”

Stephen smiled and pulled Loki close to him for a quick kiss. “You better get used to it,” Stephen smiled. "I don't think I can let you go now that I know you can cook." He nodded to the soup. “So are you going to feed me more soup?”

Loki was glad when the man ate half the bowl before yawning again. “I think it’s time you got some rest,” Loki said softly. The pang of worry in his chest tightened as he took in Stephen’s face and form; he’d never seen him so tired. Paired with being sick, he looked exhausted. Loki adjusted his pillows again so Stephen could lay back. By the time he’d finished, Stephen was already dozing off. 

“I should let you get some rest,” Loki whispered and stood. Although they now slept in the same bed, Loki was sure Stephen would want the bed to himself for optimal rest.

“Join me?” Stephen asked, his eyes half-mast. 

Loki felt a warm rush of comfort at the question. He suddenly could feel how tired he was and remembered how many nights he’d spent watching over Stephen as he worked. Loki slipped easily into the bed next to Stephen. He winced at the warmth that radiated off Stephen, but the man snuggled into him, relishing at the fact that Loki’s skin was always a few degrees colder than usual. 

Loki snuggled him, and Stephen curled against his chest, already asleep. Loki found himself fighting to stay awake to keep an eye on Stephen. Stephen snored slightly as he breathed out of his mouth, but his breathing was even and free from wheezes. Loki felt the pang of worry loosen slightly as he cuddled into Stephen. 

Loki’s hand found Stephen’s and even in sleep, Stephen’s hand tightened around his own. Loki felt a warm plume of comfort rush through him, allowing him to relax into the bed and fall asleep to Stephen’s even breathing.