The whole point of having a secret lair was that it was, in fact, secret, but no one seemed to have informed Agent Phil Coulson of that little detail.
Even if that secret lair was actually a less than secret penthouse registered under an alias. Loki needed a place to sleep, after all.
“Agent Coulson,” Loki said with a thin, blatantly insincere smile. He peeked surreptitiously behind Coulson for any sign of Thor and his new-and-improved merry band of destructive lunatics, but the agent appeared to have come alone. “This is quite the surprise. I usually don’t expect guests at four in the morning, so I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t invite you in for coffee.”
Coulson had seen better days, Loki noticed. There were heavy bags under his eyes and his suit was looking unusually rumpled between the badly buttoned shirt and untied tie—which were flashing warning signs of Coulson’s imminent mental collapse, as Loki had once seen the man come out of a one-on-one fight with a hellhound not only victorious but with his jacket somehow more starched than when he had started.
Loki was beginning to regret answering the door in his pajamas. As disheveled as Coulson looked, he was a sight more dignified than sweatpants, fuzzy slippers and a T-shirt. Which, while an effective enough disguise to convince his delightful landlady that he was not in any way, shape or form related to the charismatic, snappily dressed super-villain occasionally bent on world domination, was considerably less effective on people who actually knew who he was. And usually a great deal more humiliating.
The Loki of yesteryear in all likelihood would have committed ritual suicide before answering the door in his pajamas, but that was before he had discovered the wondrous Midgardian creation that was coffee. For all that it improved his work ethic during his late-night endeavors, Loki had noticed that he’d begun developing a rather worrying case of listlessness when he attempted to start his day without the aid of the savory beverage.
No, he wasn’t an addict. He could quit whenever he wanted.
His current overwhelming apathy towards the enemy agent who had apparently worked out at least one of Loki’s private hideaways without his knowledge was actually rather refreshing, in any case.
Coulson thrust a letter into his hands. “You’re responsible for this,” he said with narrowed eyes. “And I expect you to fix it.”
Loki blinked blearily down at the crumpled piece of SHIELD letterhead and tried to arrange the words into something coherent. Eventually they came into focus. He frowned.
To Whom It May Concern:
It is rude and hurtful to yell ‘I DO WHAT I WANT, THOR’ whenever Thor says something if you are not Loki. If you ARE Loki, then you should know that your brother is currently in the 2nd floor women’s bathroom and we would appreciate it if you would go comfort him because as far as we can tell from what he’s saying, he wants to hug you.
Loki read the letter over a few more times, and it failed to make any more sense than it had the first.
“This is dated several days ago,” he said finally.
The homicidal look on Coulson’s face was made infinitely more threatening by virtue of the fact that it was on Coulson’s face. “Yes. It is.”
Loki read the letter over again. When had he even said—ah, yes. He winced at the memory. “And I only shouted that once. In the heat of battle. Five months ago.”
The moment had been neither mature nor dignified, but it had shut Thor up for the rest of the fight and both Stark and Barton had gone down pretty easily once they were doubled over in laughter.
Coulson raised an eyebrow. “I had assumed you were familiar with the concept of an internet meme,” he said, nodding towards Loki’s shirt.
Loki glanced down at the Rainbow Unicorn Attack logo and shrugged. He’d only bought it because it reminded him of Sleipnir.
Coulson sighed. “Teaching you anything about our culture is probably against protocol, but these are desperate times. Technology is a powerful entity, Mister Liesmith. Any moment can be recorded and displayed for the entire world to witness. And some of those moments, such as the five minutes of footage a civilian recorded of that particular battle, including your outburst, are seized by the public as something of great shame, or wisdom, or amusement, or just for including a large number of grammatically impaired cats.” He smiled wryly. “The world seems especially taken with your eloquently expressed desire to go your own way regardless of your brother’s wishes. I believe there’s merchandise.”
Coulson seemed to finally notice his loose tie and began adjusting it. “Given that your brother is not the one with a reputation for transforming, hexing, setting ablaze or throwing the people who mock him into pocket dimensions, he’s been hearing that phrase repeated to him constantly by other enemies, passerby and occasionally his teammates ever since.”
“But mostly Stark,” said Loki with a slight grin, leaning against the doorframe.
Coulson tightened the tie. “Yes, mostly Mister Stark,” he admitted. “And on one very noteworthy occasion, Mister Stark’s AI. Several days ago, your brother reached his breaking point. We had already taken the necessary precautions for a violent outburst, but we were unprepared for his mental breakdown. Which, from what we have been able to decipher from his occasional rants, is more your doing than the fault of the internet meme. The meme just brought it to the surface.”
Loki drummed his fingers against the door thoughtfully. “And you’d like me, your first and greatest enemy, to walk unprotected into the heart of your facility and comfort the man who not only fails to be my blood relative but whom I have loudly and vehemently expressed my hatred for on multiple occasions? And you expect me to do this for the sake of the organization that has thwarted me time and time again and would like nothing better to see me locked up for all eternity?” He flashed Coulson a bright smile. “No.”
Loki slammed the door in Coulson’s face.
Or he tried to, anyway, but the agent wedged his foot in the door before it had fully closed. Coulson wrapped a hand around the door and forced it open again.
If Loki were eighty percent more awake, he was certain he’d have already thought of a spell to roast the mortal where he stood. Actually, he would’ve taken fifteen percent more awake. Then he probably would have thought of something more effective than door slamming. Like punching Coulson in the face, then slamming the door.
“First of all,” Coulson said through gritted teeth, “a magic user such as yourself is never unprotected. Second, you showed up in the middle of the SHIELD base just last week and didn’t seem to have any problems with it. Third, and most importantly Mister Liesmith, I know where you live.”
Loki scowled at him. “Moving is of no concern to me, mortal.”
Not entirely true, especially since this particular penthouse had a spectacular view, but as a bluff it would serve.
Coulson stared at him steadily, his expression cold. “I have on file eight separate locations you tend to frequent during your downtime, and if you don’t help me I am sending them all to your fanbase,” he said.
Loki froze in horror. He may not have been internet savvy, but certain things leaked over into real life all too easily. Such as the obsessive enthusiasm of the preteen hive mind.
He knew when he was beaten.
Loki shoved past Coulson and locked the door on his way out.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Agent Coulson had a Styrofoam cup of coffee in his car. Against all odds, it was still steaming. Loki stared at it predatorily as Coulson picked it up off the dashboard.
“Give me that.”
Coulson eyed Loki over the plastic lid as he took his first sip. “No.”
“I deserve compensation for helping you,” Loki insisted, reaching over to take the cup. “You have no idea the grief this is going to cause me.”
Coulson smacked his hand away and somehow managed to drain the cup in under thirty seconds before tossing it out the window, where it landed squarely in a garbage can. He started the car in stony silence.
Loki resolved to kill him before the night was out. And then perhaps steal his shiny shoes. And his doubtlessly plentiful collection of coffee vouchers.
Somehow they both made it back to the SHIELD base alive, sane and no less annoyed with one another than when they had left, although Loki suspected that was mostly because he had dozed off at one point. He’d woken up to find Agent Coulson standing over him with a taser and an expression bordering on murderous.
“I take it we’ve arrived, then,” Loki said brightly, and most certainly did not proceed to stumble out of the car like a drunkard.
He’d had a long night and little sleep to compensate for it. Never mind the business with the coffee.
Thor’s obnoxiously loud sobs could be heard the moment they entered the building. Coulson silently pointed Loki towards the stairs before taking off down a different hallway, slipping in a pair of earplugs as he did.
Agent Romanoff was camped outside the bathroom in a robe and slippers, keeping a shotgun trained on the door. She pumped the shotgun warningly as Loki approached.
Loki sighed and spread out his arms in surrender. “Shoot him or shoot me, either way you’ll be putting me out of my misery.”
Natasha seemed to consider this for a brief moment before uncurling herself off the floor and walking away, the gun slung over her shoulder.
“Wonderful,” Loki muttered, and knocked on the door. “All right, Thor, I’m here, what do you want?”
Thor sobbed something along the lines of SHIELD’s imposter not fooling him and his brother sounding a lot less whiny.
Loki rested his head against the door and reminded himself that if he really intended to kill Thor he had already vowed he would do so in a suitably epic and meaningful fashion. Which ruled out tracking down Agent Romanoff and stealing her shotgun.
“Brother, if you do not get out here and present yourself with the dignity expected of Asgard’s Crown Prince, I’m going to the city of New York to enchant their tallest tower into rampaging the streets.”
He was met with more sobbing. This was probably going to take a while. He leaned his back to the door and slid down to rest on the floor.
“All right, you caught me; I was going to do that anyway.” Loki stifled a yawn. “What’s this all about, then?”
Thor immediately launched into a long, sob-ridden, half-incoherent speech about the deterioration of their familial relationship, Loki’s anger management issues and Thor’s own inability to help his brother resolve said issues. At some point there was mention of how all the time they spent together seemed to involve fighting nowadays, and couldn’t they just sit down and have a discussion like old times every so often?
Loki very tactfully did not point out that they had never sat down and had civilized discussions in the past—mostly Thor had dragged him out to bars, tried to get him drunk, and then proceeded to brag about whatever ill-conceived adventure he’d just went on once Loki was too inebriated to protest, even though more often than not Loki had accompanied him on that very journey.
It was possible that they may have had one or two discussions worth having somewhere down the line, but Loki had developed the ability to ignore those in favor of the numerous bad ones. It made all the fighting and vendettas less awkward for them both, he felt.
“Thor,” Loki said after his brother’s rambling had come to a stop and he felt reasonably sure he understood what had been said. “While you are the elder between the two of us, I would like you to acknowledge that we are both full-grown men capable of making our own decisions. I am perfectly satisfied with the life I’ve chosen to lead, even if you are not. As of right now, our respective life choices pit us against one another, but given time that could very well change and I would prefer that it do so without your ham-handed interference.” He thought for a moment, then added, “And perhaps we could even have a discussion over breakfast if you ever leave that damned room.”
Thor whimpered something from the other side of the door. Loki scowled.
“No, I’m not going to give you a hug—” He paused as Agent Coulson materialized from around a corner, glaring at him. He sighed and picked himself off the floor. “Fine. One hug.”
Thor came barreling out of the bathroom to tackle Loki in a tight embrace and—oh, by the Nine Realms, the stupid oaf was still wearing his armor.
Everything of Loki was getting crushed. Everything.
And as the Hug continued, Loki retreated into his happy place, or blacked out due to lack of oxygen, or perhaps lost track of time due to sleep deprivation, because when he next realized what was going on around him, he and Thor were in a miscellaneous kitchen eating strawberry Pop Tarts and ten minutes into a heated debate over That One Midgardian Soap Opera Neither of Them Followed But Had Caught on Occasion While Changing Channels. Surprisingly, Thor was winning.
Somehow the world made more sense than it had in hours, despite this recent development. Loki looked down and saw he was gripping a half-empty mug of coffee.
Ah. That explained it.
Sitting down and talking with his brother was neither as exasperating nor as one-sided as Loki remembered it; it seemed as though banishment, time and the influence of Thor’s more reasonable teammates had made him a more patient and slightly less haughty man. It was a change for the better Loki almost regretted missing out on.
Almost, but not quite. He still had an agenda, after all.
“Well, this has been entertaining,” Loki said about an hour after all the Pop Tarts and coffee had been demolished, “but I’m afraid I must be off. Places to go, buildings to animate and all that. I expect we’ll meet again in Manhattan in oh, about fifteen minutes. Farewell, brother.”
SHIELD had managed to find someone capable of putting up eight different varieties of wards designed to prevent Loki from teleporting within the premises. It was actually quite touching. He tore them all to shreds and vanished from the kitchen for the Empire State Building.
And that was that.
Or at least it was until Tony Stark uploaded the whole thing on to Youtube.