“Did you guys have - what happened?” Bruce says, shocked, as Clint storms in.
Clint deposits Loki in one of the kitchen chairs and says “Sit.” Loki takes one look at Clint’s face and does as he’s told, looking terrified. “I’m going to get Steve,” Clint says curtly to Bruce on his way out.
Steve is in Tony’s lab, apparently mediating between him and Dummy. They stop and stare when Clint comes in.
“What happened?” Steve says. “Did Loki do something?”
“I need you to come up and be the voice of reason,” Clint growls. Dimly he knows he may be overreacting to this a little, but he’s too angry to care. He feels weirdly betrayed, like he didn’t know from the beginning that he was dealing with a child who would one day grow up to be a supervillain who tries to kill his brother on a regular basis.
It was stupid to bring him to a playground anyway. What was he thinking, that Loki would play well with others? What ever made him think that would work?
Neither Bruce or Loki has moved in the time they were upstairs - Loki’s still sitting in the chair, pale and wide-eyed, and Bruce is hovering anxiously on the far side of the kitchen island.
“Would you like to tell Steve what happened at the playground?” Clint asks, leaning up against the counter with his arms crossed.
Loki looks nervously from one of them to the other. “We played?” he says cautiously.
“Oh no,” Clint says. “That was not playing. That was warfare.”
“Yes?” Loki says, as if expecting a trick.
“Clint, maybe you’d better provide some context?” Steve says.
“Mr. Mischief here started a war at the playground. I’m not being hyperbolic, it was an actual war. Half the kids were bleeding by the end, it took us fifteen minutes to split them up, and they’re going to have to do some serious repairs,” Clint says through gritted teeth.
“No one had weapons,” Loki says swiftly. “And all the injuries were very minor.”
“How do you explain what happened to the bridge and the tire swing, then?” Clint asks. To be honest, he’s still not entirely sure about that himself.
“They controlled the high ground,” Loki says slowly, “so we constructed a siege engine with distance capabilities. We acquitted ourselves well - the Avengers were well-represented.”
Steve frowns. “Loki, did you do this because someone said something bad about the Avengers?”
“No,” Loki says. “There was a girl in a Fantastic Four tunic. Clint told me to tell her the Avengers were better.”
There’s a moment of silence. Everybody looks at Clint, who’s staring speechlessly at Loki.
“I allowed her to choose her soldiers first,” Loki says in a small voice, shoulders hunching. “I allowed her the high ground as well. It was a fair battle - I did not use magic or resort to trickery, nor did anyone under my command. I - I understand that I may have conducted the assault under Asgardian rules of engagement and perhaps that was unwise but none of the others seemed well-schooled in Midgardian battle tactics...” his voice trails off. “That is not playing?”
“It’s... not usually the way it’s done here,” Bruce says delicately.
Loki looks miserable. “I apologize. On Asgard that is what children do, so I thought... despite the presence of the castle, I should have understood that the absence of available weapons indicated a reluctance to engage in such training. I am sorry.” He looks at them sideways. “I did try very hard to minimize casualties. On Asgard play on such a scale would have resulted in broken bones at a minimum. I am sorry for the Fantastic Four leader’s bloody nose - she was a worthy adversary.”
Tony starts giggling. Clint glares at him, still a little upset, but that makes him laugh harder. “I’m sorry!” he says. “I’m just imagining the looks on those yuppie mom faces when their kids started acting out Lord of the Rings!”
Bruce hides a smile. Loki starts to look tentatively optimistic about his future.
“Besides,” Tony says, “what the hell were you thinking? A playground? Those are so boring! You should have taken him to the science museum. It’s interactive and shi- whatever.”
Loki perks up. “There is a museum of science?” He looks guiltily at Clint. “Though I am sure that it would not be as fun as the playground.”
Despite himself, Clint feels a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. “I think maybe the playground was a little too much fun.”
Loki puts his fist over his heart. “Agent Barton, I am sorry I caused you distress,” he says sincerely.
Clint sighs. “I think we’re going to put this one down to cultural differences again, kiddo. Just check with one of us before you start another war, okay?”
“Or a battle, skirmish, fight, melee, or fracas,” Steve chips in quickly.
“Fracas?” Tony says, and starts laughing again.
Loki nods, ignoring Tony completely. “I understand.” He gives Clint a hopeful look. “Have I gathered enough fresh air?”
“You can go read,” Clint says, waving him off. “But you have to stop for dinner!” He calls after Loki’s retreating back.
“How bad was it?” Steve asks when he’s gone.
Clint shakes his head. “We’re probably going to have to find an anonymous way to repair the playground,” he says. “It was pretty trashed. None of the kids were too badly hurt, although so many of them all at once wasn’t good. And I think any parents who have ever read Lord of the Flies are pretty creeped out now.” He rubs his forehead. “I think it was genuinely just a misunderstanding on his part, but seeing him in the middle of all that chaos looking so pleased with himself...”
The other three wince. “Yeah, okay, I probably would have completely overreacted too,” Tony admits.
“It makes you wonder,” Bruce says. “At what point did he go from this Loki to the other one?”
Nobody answers; after a little while everyone drifts back to what they’d been doing before. Clint stands in the living room doorway, watching Loki read. He’s tucked his little Thor toy back into the collar of his shirt and he has Mjolnir’s handle in his mouth. He looks ridiculously innocent and nothing whatsoever like Thor’s asshole brother who fucks with their heads just to watch them suffer.
When did you change? Clint wonders. And how much of you right now is what we think it is?