After the library incident, Loki takes to following Thor silently about the mansion. Had Thor not been so attuned to his brother’s presence he might not have ever noticed it, but as it is every time he turns to look for his brother he finds him there, watching Thor with a pensive expression.
It is somehow both reassuring and unnerving. Thor likes having his brother close, but it has been quite a while since he has been on the receiving end of one of Loki’s most calculating looks. The experience has not gotten any less unsettling with time.
A few mornings after Loki’s unexpected outing, Thor walks into the kitchen for breakfast and is greeted by the sight of Clint choking on his coffee and spitting it all over the table. Thor pounds him helpfully on the back, which oddly does not seem to aid his breathing.
“Clint, Jesus - “ Tony begins, annoyed, and then he catches sight of Thor and bursts out laughing.
“Is something the matter?” Thor asks, puzzled.
“Nice hair, buddy,” Clint wheezes, cackling.
Thor reaches up and brings a strand of his hair into sight. It is the same bright pink color as Darcy’s musical device. A cross-eyed inspection of his beard reveals (he thinks) that it is the same hue. Thor looks around until he spots Loki standing in the corner, the very picture of mild innocence.
“Brother, are you responsible for this?”
“Thor, I have not been near you all morning,” Loki says sweetly.
“You played a trick,” Thor says, astonished. “Brother, you played a trick on me!” He whoops, picking his brother up in his happiness. Loki squawks in protest. “It was most clever, Loki, well done!”
“Put me down, you troglodyte!” Loki snaps.
Thor deposits his brother back on the floor. “Is it not excellent?” he asks his teammates delightedly, but they are both experiencing respiratory difficulties and are unable to respond.
Steve, Natasha, and Bruce, when Thor finds them, are also most impressed. In fact, Thor thinks it may be the first time he has ever seen Natasha smile.
The son of Coul is less enthusiastic. “Loki, change your brother’s hair back, please,” he says wearily. “I can’t have the Norse god of thunder running around looking like an extra from My Little Ponies.”
Thor does not know what this means and does not particularly care. “But I like it!” he protests. “I wish to keep it. I think it is most becoming.”
Loki changes it back, just to be perverse. Thor winks at Coulsson as he leaves, and is surprised when Coulsson looks startled. Really, Thor may be the idiot Loki sometimes claims, but he is no fool and he has been Loki’s brother for quite some time now.
A few days later, Loki plays another trick. This time it is on Steve, who walks in at lunch and says, “Loki, do you know why there’s suddenly a pinup of Rosie the Riveter painted on my shield?”
Loki blinks, wide-eyed. “Who?”
“Uh-huh,” Steve says, unconvinced. “Well, I guess it’s still patriotic, at least...”
Loki corrects Steve’s shield soon enough, but the incident - while amusing - does make Thor think. It is very good to see Loki returning in whatever small way to his former self, and Thor thinks he will probably be willing to let Loki get away with quite a bit of mischief on the strength of relief alone, but he has seen how others sometimes react to Loki’s amusements; it is not always favorably, and he has a regrettable habit of targeting those closest to him.
Thor finds Tony in his lab, just returned from his duties as a businessman.
“Tony, may I speak with you?”
“Sure,” Tony says, looking up from the mess of wires on his table.
Thor seats himself on one of Tony’s tall stools. “It is about my brother and his propensity for mischief.”
“Uh-huh,” Tony says absently, deftly stripping the colorful outer coating from a wire.
“I just wish to warn you,” Thor says slowly. “I love my brother dearly and I am very glad of his friendship with you, and I do not want to sour it. But I feel I must warn you that with his return to mischief-making you may begin to experience some... inconveniences. I would not wish for you to become overly irritated by this. It is just his way - he means nothing unkind by it.”
Tony works for a few minutes in silence. “You want to know why Loki and I get along so well?” he asks, and continues without waiting for a response. “It’s because we’re a lot alike. Same reason we sometimes hate each other, actually, so I think I can make a few observations here. Asgard, there are a lot of people like you there, am I right? Who value the same things you do, like doing battle and quaffing ale and all that jazz?”
Thor parses this statement carefully. “Yes.”
“Mm-hm.” Tony sets down his wires and turns his attention to a series of buttons and switches. Thor is not offended - he knows that it is Tony’s way to always be doing several things at once. “And when you’re in battle - that’s pretty much the happiest you ever are, right? You like the feeling of being in the middle of everything and having to use all your skills to fight your way out?”
“Of course,” Thor says, waiting patiently for the point to this line of questioning.
“And after the battle you sit around and everyone says ‘Thor, that battle was most mighty, you’re an excellent warrior, the way you split that last guy’s skull was practically poetic’ and that feels pretty good, right?”
“Well, yes,” Thor says, wondering if he’s about to be condemned for hubris.
“Okay, so, here’s the thing. On Earth we would call somebody like you a ‘jock’. And that’s not a bad thing - it takes a lot of skill and strategy and hard work and whatever - but people like me and Loki and Bruce, we’re different. Our battleground is all in the head. If we can figure out a way to outthink an enemy, if we can do something so smart that everybody sits there and says ‘Holy shit, I wish I were like that,’ it’s just like when you storm an enemy castle and emerge victorious and plant your flag, or whatever it is you do.”
“Usually we demand their surrender and then negotiate a forfeit - “
“Irrelevant to the discussion at hand,” Tony says, waving this off. “The point is, here on Earth our culture has just enough respect for brains that somebody like me, who’s a little too smart and a lot too mouthy, can still get that same admiration by standing up and demanding it. On Asgard I’m betting it wasn’t so easy.”
Thor frowns, trying to follow this string of reasoning. “You’re saying that Loki felt unappreciated?” Steve had made a comment, back when they were still in Puente Antigua with Jane, that had led to an admission of so much from Loki. “I have spoken to my brother about this. I am sorry for it but I confess that I am unsure what relevance it has at the moment.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Thor, playing tricks was your brother’s way of standing up and making everybody admit he’d done something well even though he didn’t like to hit people. Even if they didn’t like what he’d done they had to agree it was clever. I’m trying to say I’m not going to get mad at him for it because it’s what I do all the time too. Overly intelligent and emotionally damaged is something I have a little bit of experience with.”
“Oh,” Thor says, surprised. Now that Tony suggests it, he does remember the grudging respect on Fandral’s face at one of Loki’s tricks, the resigned way Volstagg used to admit that Loki had outthought them, Sif’s irritation when Loki did something just to be clever.
“But we are here now and he has you and Bruce, who are also clever. Surely he does not feel the need to prove himself?”
Tony gives him a dry look. “Come on, when do you ever stop needing to prove yourself? Besides, he’s mostly just doing it now to make you feel better.”
“He is?” Thor says, floored.
“Sure. He saw you freak out, it made him notice how much you still worried about him, and now he’s trying to do things to make you relax.”
Thor stares. Abruptly Tony’s attention shifts. “All right, get out. I need to finish this.”
Thor gets out.