Loki has a few nightmares that night, and by morning has migrated from being tucked up next to Bruce to using Clint’s chest as a mattress, but on the whole it goes more smoothly than Clint was expecting. He’s pretty sure he wasn’t the only Avenger who spent the whole night wide awake and adrenalized.
Of course, after breakfast Loki announces he’s ready to try switching Bruce and Natasha, and the whole charade falls apart.
“Actually, we decided to do Thor first and Bruce and Natasha tomorrow,” Steve says casually. “Do you need to make any alterations to the spell?”
Loki looks panicked. “No, no major ones, but - I am unprepared. I, I do not think Thor would be the best choice right now. I had thought the son of Coul wanted to minimize the possibility of an accident, surely Thor can wait?”
“I thought you were looking forward to waking Thor up,” Steve says, confused.
Loki looks between them apprehensively. “You - you do not think he will be upset with me? For the trouble I have caused?”
“Oh,” Clint says, realisation dawning. He feels like an idiot - of course Loki would be nervous. “No, kiddo, remember we talked about how Thor loves you and none of this was your fault?”
Loki glances up at him and away. “I remember.” He tries for a smile. “Of course, you are right. You know him better than I. We shall wake Thor first.” His expression becomes suddenly thoughtful. “Has something happened to make you want Thor now?”
“No,” Clint says, and Loki’s eyes narrow.
“You promised,” he says.
Clint casts a desperate look at Steve. Steve shakes his head. Clint glares. Steve scowls and puts his hands up, giving in.
“Yeah, kiddo, something happened,” Clint says. “I can’t tell you what, but we really need Thor right now.”
Loki looks away. “Is it... something to do with the device?”
Clint frowns. “Why? Have you noticed something?”
Loki becomes very interested in the coffee table. “I am just curious if you have noticed something.”
An icy feeling takes root in Clint’s stomach. “Loki, yesterday when you said you wanted to not be brave, what did you mean exactly?”
Loki bites his lip.
“Loki, did you know something was going to happen if you used the device?”
“I... can feel him. In my head,” Loki says finally, in a small, strangled voice. “He gives me the nightmares. He is very angry and, and the device makes him stronger.”
Clint stares, horrified. “Loki, why didn’t you tell us? We could have figured something else out.”
“It is my responsibility,” Loki says, shrugging uncomfortably. “I may not remember it, but I caused this mishap in the first place. It is my responsibility to fix it.”
Steve looks just as appalled. “You’re a child, Loki,” he says softly. “It’s our responsibility to protect you, no matter what.”
“I - “ Loki clenches his fists. “I - wanted to. I wanted to prove, I wanted to do what that other me would not. I am not him, I do not wish to become him, I am me and I want to help - “ he gives a full-body shudder and goes still. “How pathetic. I cannot believe my logic was ever so childish.”
Clint and Steve draw back as one. “Loki?”
He smiles. It has none of kid-Loki’s warmth or humor, and the mischief in it is razor-edged. “You need not worry - I will not interfere with my brother’s revival. It will make me stronger and any defeat of the Avengers will be meaningless if he is not around to witness it and make that adorably idiotic kicked-puppy face. By all means, proceed with your cunning plan. I cannot wait to see how it turns out.”
He shudders again. “ - because you are my friends, and I... I...” he blinks at them. “Is something wrong?”
“Your... alter ego had a little chat with us,” Steve says. Clint’s mouth is too dry for speech.
“Oh.” Loki looks worried. “Was he unkind to you?”
Clint fights down a bubble of hysterical laughter. “Actually, I’m pretty sure he just called us adorable.”
“He called Thor adorable,” Steve corrects. “I’m pretty sure he called us ‘cunning’.”
Steve actually uses air quotes. Clint’s day becomes even more surreal.
“Well, that was condescending,” Loki says, wrinkling his nose. “I apologize?”
“Not your fault,” Steve and Clint say at the same time.
Loki takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders. “Shall we revive my brother?”
Steve and Clint trade helpless looks. Reviving Thor will play into adult-Loki’s hands. Not reviving Thor will leave them with most of the team permanently down and the rest waiting to see what adult-Loki will do if he’s feeling thwarted and vengeful.
Fuck hard choices, Clint thinks savagely.
“Yeah. Let’s go revive Thor.”