Pepper is back, and has also not lost her sense of humor.
“A tunic with Thor on it?” Loki says slowly, holding the garment at arm’s length. It’s one of the ones the PR team came up with - Thor’s exploding out of the front, wielding Mjolnir and looking extremely heroic. His name is written underneath in big, excited letters.
There’s a pause while everybody but Pepper waits to see if Loki’s adult personality is about to rise up and smite them all, and then he beams at them.
“This is most novel! Are there other things with Thor on them? Can I see them?” He pulls on the shirt, tugging the hem straight so he can admire it from above. “Do you have a mirror? I wish to see myself.”
Pepper smiles. “There is a mirror, and yes, I also got you Thor sneakers and pajamas. Put on your socks, please.”
Loki complies, looking as though his life holds every single wonderful thing a boy could ever hope for. “Thank you very much, Lady Pepper,” he says. “This was most thoughtful of you.”
“Okay, he’s definitely just a kid,” Steve mutters out of the corner of his mouth. “Even a really determined adult Loki couldn’t have pulled that one off without setting something on fire.”
They wait patiently while Loki fastens his sneakers (the Velcro demands several minutes of delighted investigation and a half-comprehensible stream of commentary on Midgardian ingenuity) and makes use of the room’s mirror.
When he’s done, Steve asks for his help. “You’re actually the closest thing we’ve got to a magic expert right now,” he explains. “We’re not expecting you to fix this or anything, but could you take a look at what we’ve got and tell us what you think?”
“Certainly.” Loki is abruptly all seriousness. “Although I do not remember you, you are all clearly my brother’s friends. I will render whatever aid you require to the best of my ability.”
“Uh, thanks,” Steve says, caught off-guard.
Loki leans closer conspiratorially. “Are there garments with the rest of you on them?”
Steve smiles and ushers Loki towards the door. “Most of us, I think.”
“I have Thor pajamas. Does Thor have Loki pajamas?”
Clint chokes. “N-no.”
Fortunately, Loki misinterprets Clint’s reaction. “He sleeps in the bare, doesn’t he? I am sorry. I see he has not grown into any class.”
It’s so catty and said with such resignation that Clint is startled into a bark of laughter. Loki smiles, triumphant.
Bruce has finished setting everything up by the time they arrive and is waiting patiently by his laptop. The remains of the device are laid out on a stainless steel table under strong lights. Loki goes up to it but doesn’t try to touch it, content to walk around and examine it from all angles.
“It is most impressive,” he says. “I do not recognize it, although I have learned some of the runes on the sides. I wish it was in better shape.”
“So do we all,” Bruce mutters.
Loki flashes them a knowing look. “It was struck with Mjolnir, was it not?” He sighs. “Thor never did pay attention in our lessons. Do you know what it was intended for? Or who created it?”
Clint makes an executive decision. “Actually, you had it,” he says. “But I’m not sure you were the one who made it and I’m not sure what it was supposed to do.” That much is true, at least. Time to see if the God of Lies was able to spot falsehoods when he was a kid. “I think Thor hit it by mistake.”
Loki frowns. “Did I leave behind any notes? If I did make it I would have had to diagram something this complex.”
Steve shakes his head, shooting a glance at Clint that lets him know they’ll have words later. “Not with us, I’m afraid - you’d only just gotten here.”
Loki’s shoulders slump. “A pity. Has your own technology been able to tell you anything?”
“I’ve got some energy readings - they’re pretty faint, though,” Bruce says, positioning his laptop. “And I’ve started to work on reconstructing the device from the surveillance footage - maybe if we can see it whole it’ll make more sense.”
Loki climbs up the side of Bruce’s chair and peers over his shoulder. “What is an MHz?”
“Megahertz,” Bruce says, and falters. “A... it’s an Earth method of measuring frequencies... this could be more complicated than I was anticipating.”
“It is Midg- it is Earth magic?” Loki asks.
“Science,” Bruce corrects.
“Magic,” Loki says, nodding. “The application of an organized system of thought and scholarship in order to understand and manipulate the natural and unnatural forces.”
“Magic,” Bruce agrees, looking helplessly at Steve and Clint.
Loki hops down off the chair decisively. “Very well, then I require an introductory volume on your magic in order to understand the appropriate terminology.”
“We can go to the library tomorrow,” Steve says, giving in.
Loki blinks. “Would it not be more useful to commence immediately?”
“It’s late, kiddo,” Clint says. “The library’s closed now.”
Loki’s mouth sets. “Can you not demand that it open? This is of some importance.”
Clint quirks an eyebrow at him, amused. “No, we can’t. We’ll have to practice patience and go tomorrow.”
Loki tips his head back and glares, every inch the princeling of Asgard. “Disappointing. Very well, then I shall do it myself.”
Fuck me sideways, Clint thinks. I’m about to try and impose discipline on a Norse god of mischief. He’s seen what an uncontrollable Loki can cause. He doesn’t want to see how much worse it could get later if he doesn’t put his foot down now.
Steve and Bruce are looking nervously back and forth between the two of them. Clint takes a breath, reminds himself that as the only one present who hasn’t been inconvenienced by random magic it’s really his turn, then scoops Loki up and throws him over one shoulder.
“Sorry, kiddo. I shouldn’t have brought you down this late anyway - it’s past time for dinner and bed.”
Loki shrieks in outrage. “Unhand me!”
“I’ll put you down when you’ve demonstrated that you can act like a civilized person,” Clint says, realizing with a dull kind of shock that he’s totally impersonating his old kindergarten teacher.
“Unhand me now!” Loki screams. There’s a flare of green light, a shock like a kick to his ribs, and Clint finds himself flat on his back and gasping for air.
“Loki!” Steve exclaims. “Clint, are you all right?”
Clint’s first instinct is to lash out, hit back - at bare minimum to get himself between Loki and his team - but a lifetime of getting his butt kicked and an adulthood of working undercover have taught him not to lose his temper without assessing the situation first.
He turns his head. Loki’s sprawled on the hallway floor, staring at Clint in horror. As Clint watches, his eyes well up with tears.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
“M’fine,” Clint wheezes. He pushes himself upright with a groan. “Am I a newt?”
“No, Clint,” Steve says, sounding infinitely more worried than he was a moment ago.
“Then no harm done.” He levels a stern look at Loki. “I’m not saying I’m not pissed, kid, because that really hurt, but I believe you when you say you didn’t mean it.”
Steve and Bruce are looking at him like he’s a) crazy and b) insane, but apparently his instincts were right for once because he’s barely finished talking when he has an armful of sobbing miniature Asgardian.
Steve gestures frantically to catch Clint’s attention. What did you just do? he mouths.
Clint shrugs hopelessly and pats Loki on the back in what he hopes is a soothing way. Fucked if I know. He has a little experience with kids, from the circus mostly, and likes them in a vaguely generalized kind of way. He is emphatically not cleared to handle a mini-god with mood swings and anger management issues.
Bruce manages to lean down next to them without falling over. “Hey, Loki, when’s the last time you ate something?”
Loki sniffles into Clint’s shirt. “I don’t know,” he whimpers.
“Are you hungry?”
“I don’t know!” Loki wails.
“It’s been a long day, you’re pretty wiped out. Let’s find you some food and put you to bed, okay?”
Clint winces, waiting for another outburst, but Loki just hiccups and says “Very well,” in a tiny voice.
“Do you want to take him?” Clint asks in a quiet voice that mostly doesn’t sound hopeful.
Bruce shakes his head and stands up, wobbling a bit. “That’s pretty much the extent of my child-rearing skills,” he says. “I know you’re supposed to feed them regularly, and then they have to sleep from time to time.”
“Please tell me you don’t think he has to be watered or taken for walks,” Clint says, getting to his feet. Bruce probably wouldn’t have been able to take Loki anyway - the kid’s clinging to him like a limpet.
“But shouldn’t he get exercise?” Steve asks uncertainly.
“We are so unqualified for this,” Bruce moans.