Beware the Sequels
The man is still grumbling when a tip of a very long knife suddenly appears in the middle of his chest. The guy looks down, stares at it without comprehension and then promptly collapses. Loki bends and takes out his knife, casually wipes the blood on the guy's trousers. Justin can do nothing more but blink, with his eyes as wide as deer's that got caught in the headlights.
"Did you just--did you just kill him?" Justin asks and waves his hands wildly in the general direction of the body now oozing blood onto his office floor.
"Yes," Loki replies in a bored voice. He sounds bored. Jesus Christ. "How was the charity party?"
"Fine," Justin immediately replies. And it was fine, mainly because Loki was not in attendance. But also because the lovely Christie Everhart talked to him - and just him - for the entire evening and promised to get him an interview with Vanity Fair. Maybe later they'll go on a date, it would be lovely and-- "You're changing the subject!" Justin realizes. "Oh God, did you have to kill him?"
"He was boring." Loki shrugs. "He was not helpful to us."
"Oh, no-no-no. There is no 'us', Loki," Justin says and points at the body. "Not after this. Seriously, we talked about it. No pointless killings, right? They're a bad press and, man, press is everything nowadays. And don't believe that bullshit about even bad publicity being worth it. Been there, done that, it's so not worth it."
Loki raises his brows.
"Are you done, Hammer?"
"Done?!" Justin lets out an unidentified noise, something akin to a cross between a yell and a moan. "I'm not done. You've just killed someone for no reason! Do you--do you honestly think that killing people will make them like you?"
Loki doesn't reply. The smirk disappears from his face and he looks to the side, avoiding Justin's eyes. Justin opens his mouth in shock. Oh.
"Oh," he says, "you actually do think that. How--" He shakes his head disbelievingly. "How can you think that?! Newsflash, Loki. Killing people does not make them like you. But you know what it does? It makes people dead."
Justin carefully steps over the body and makes it to the door of the office. He takes out his cell and scrolls through his contacts list, looking for his cleaning company.
"And another thing," he continues when he's by the door, with his back turned to Loki so he can't see his expression. "When everyone else is dead, you're all alone. So you might want to reconsider this one, buddy."
Loki is fuming. That's what happens when you trust mortals, bloody Justin Hammer. Loki should have stuck by Amora and Karnilla, even if the former represents everything he hates about Asgard and the latter is - quite literally - a back-stabbing wench. Pain of having to work with those two would still be preferable to the utter disaster that Loki's association with Hammer turned out to be. Hammer was... nice, if a bit unstable. Charming. As of late he seemed to develop a strict non-violence policy and now, every time Loki looked at him, he was reminded of Thor, of all people, for some reason. Worse still, some of Hammer's attitude was rubbing off on him and Loki was being mocked by the large villain community.
Loki didn't want to (couldn't) go back to what used to be.
Loki sighs and takes a box of chocolate ice cream out of the freezer. He sits on a giant beanbag - a few weeks ago, one Friday evening, in a fit of unexplained sorrow-rage he had set his sofa on fire - and turns the TV on with a flick of his hand. Nothing catches his immediate attention and Loki's already resigned to another evening of boring channel-surfing when something blue flashes on the screen. Loki goes switches back to that channel and--
"Stitch not bad. Stitch fluffy!"
Not this, not again. But Loki has a perfect memory and this scene doesn't look familiar. Against his own better judgment - and the tiny voice of reason in the back of his head that sounds altogether too much like Odin - Loki keeps watching the irritating cartoon. He hopes that the monster will finally snap, destroy the island and that everyone will die. After all, that's unavoidable, that's what monsters do, he tells himself as a means of justifying the decision. monsters destroy. Monsters don't dance hula and they certainly don't have happy endings.
Loki detests happy endings and he might as well enjoy the inevitable disaster. Justin Hammer, however, might say that Loki simply has masochistic tendencies.
"You're my ohana, Stitch," the little girl - who's so stupid, so trusting, too forgiving and too good for her own good - says as she holds the blue monster close. "And I'll always love you."
Loki doesn't wait for the end of the movie. He turns the TV off that same exact moment, wraps his arms around himself and sits quietly in the darkness.
Something moves in the dark. Thor goes from sleeping to fully alert in a matter of seconds. It's a warrior's sense, strengthened by Stark and Hawkeye's love for playing jokes on their sleeping comrades. Thor's eyes sweep the room two times before finally making out the silhouette of a person perched on the verge of his bed.
"I'm lost," Loki whispers. He doesn't know that Thor's awake, he can't know. He wouldn't still be here if he knew. "Thor, I'm lost."
"I know, brother," Thor answers because he doesn't know what else he could say. Loki doesn't want to listen to what Thor has to say to him. Thor will never be able to say what Loki wants him to.
"Am I still your brother?"
"Yes," Thor replies without hesitation and sits up on the bed. He says that because that's true and because that's the only answer he'll ever have, the only answer he'll ever give. "Always."
Loki sounds so sad, so broken, that it breaks Thor's heart in turn. So unsure. He doesn't believe. No matter what Thor does, Loki still doesn't want to believe.
"Because I love you, little brother," Thor tries again. He licks his lips. "So do Mother and Father. We love you. We always will, just like we will always miss you. We're family, Loki."
"This family is broken," Loki says, but there's no anger in that declaration. None of the usual hateful passion with which he delivers his statements. He sounds--hollow. So it's not hatred anymore, it's closer to indifference. Thor hangs his head. It will not work. Thor seems to never be able to say what Loki needs him to. He doesn't know how to help. "But... It's still good."
Thor's head snaps back up. Loki often mocks him for it, but Thor never gives up hoping. No matter what happens, no matter what Loki does or doesn't do, Thor keeps hoping that he'll find a way to make it work, to make them better. Maybe he is too simple to accept the truth of the status quo, just like Loki claims. Thor prefers to think that he knows his little brother better than Loki thinks he does.
"Yes," he confirms hopefully. "Still good."
"And it's mine," Loki carries on in that resigned voice, like he hasn't heard a word Thor said. "All mine."
He finally looks at Thor.
"I don't know what to do," he admits quietly.
"Come back home with me." Thor reaches out blindly and tries to find Loki's hand to squeeze it reassuringly. "Come back home to us."
"Can I stay here... tonight?"
Thor finds his hand. He grabs Loki's thin - too thin, he thinks - wrist and pulls him closer towards himself, wraps him in a bone-crushing hug.
"You can stay here as long as you want, brother."
He doesn't say 'forever' and not because Stark might have something against such an invitation. Thor has simply learnt a lot of valuable things since that fateful day at the Bifrost. One of those things was to never again take anything for granted. The other to give Loki all the space he needed because then he might be willing to come back once more.
Tony overrides the code Natasha has set up for Thor's bedroom and enters the room with a cheerful smile plastered in his face. In all honesty, he was planning on pranking Thor this morning, but - as Steve's birthday was coming and all that jazz - he thought that the good old (pun intended) Cap deserved it much more. Instead, he decided - in the sad absence of Clint who was sadly deployed in Bulgaria for the moment - to enlist Thor's help. Norse Blondie would agree, of course, having no idea what the prank was actually about.
"Thor, my friend--" Tony starts saying and immediately stops. He doesn't stop because Thor's not asleep and he shoots Tony an angry-slash-murderous look, complete with a nasty grimace and narrowed eyes, no. Tony stops because there's someone in Thor's bed, sleeping soundly under Thor's covers and with their head nested half on the pillow, half on Thor's chest. And Thor is watching them sleep. If that person was Jane Foster, everything would just explain itself. Or if Thor was even naked. Or if that was--even--a girl?
"Wow, Thor, I didn't know you were swingin' both ways." The comment makes its way out of Tony's mouth without Tony's agreement and way before Tony can stop it. Fortunately, Thor is still green when it comes to slang and idioms and he has no idea what Tony has just suggested.
"Take your jokes out of my bedroom today, Stark." How Thor manages to sound snappish and maintain this level of a pretty good whispering is beyond Tony. "I believe my brother hasn't slept properly in days."
Shut the front door. Tony stares at the person in Thor's bed and yeah, actually, the mop of sort-of-greasy-looking, too-long-to-function black hair does look like it might belong to Thor's little shit of a brother. Oh fucking God. Shut the back door. It means that either Thor brought a villain into the Tower or that a villain broke into the Tower. Tony doesn't know which scenario is worse.
In this situation, who cares about front or back door. Everything is in peril, so shut all the fucking door.
"Right," Tony says and makes a tactical step back. "I'll just go back to the kitchen where I'll happily pretend that this conversation never happened and that there are no homicidal maniacs in my house."
He does exactly that. He even closes the door behind. After he finally makes it to the kitchen, he makes a giant pot of coffee. He waits a couple of minutes for the smell to lure out the rest of the team out of their respective rooms. When everyone - sans Clint, who's still in Bulgaria, and Thor, who's probably still creeping over his sleeping adopted brother and it does not sound Twilight-y at all - is in the kitchen, Tony makes his big announcement.
"JARVIS, you're fired," he says. It earns him raised brows from Natasha and Steve, and a grunt from Bruce. Tony assumes that the grunt means something along the lines of 'how can you fire AI?'. "You've let a supervillain inside the Tower and didn't even notice. And if you did notice then you didn't think it would be good to make us aware. Which is even worse."
"Someone broke into the Stark Tower?" Steve asks and starts looking around, as if the supervillain Tony mentioned was waiting to jump out from under their kitchen table.
"Yeah, and he went to cuddle with Thor. How very The Royal Tenenbaums of them."
Natasha doesn't spit out all her coffee, but Tony is sure that if she were human and not a proto-Cylon created by Fury, she would have done exactly that. Bruce - bless him - also catches the reference and raises his brows. Which, coupled with how big his eyes got, looks adorable. Steve only blinks.
Tony rolls his eyes.
"Jesus, Steve. I just can't. Nat, explain. And that movie is so going on our list."
Natasha starts explaining the complicated plot of the film when Thor decides to emerge from his room. Loki is trailing three steps behind him and looks - for once in his life - subdued and more than a bit scared, and Natasha's explanation is not needed anymore. Steve leaps out of his chair, prepared to fight. True, the Avengers and Loki didn't cross paths in the past few months and he hasn't been particularly annoying; then again, you don't really forget a guy who tried to destroy Manhattan, especially if you just happen to live there.
Steve flexes his fingers like he's itching for his shield. However, he cannot summon it on a whim like Tony can do with his suit, so - points to Team Stark.
"Good morning, friends," Thor booms like there's nothing wrong in the fact that his brother just came out from behind the closed door of his bedroom, that his brother is a psycho and a serial killer, on top of all of that. Then again, Thor has probably killed more people than Tony wants to know, Natasha is a former Soviet spy and Bruce's charming green alter ego is the material to spawn a restraining order. So maybe it's not their place to judge.
"Hey, Thor." Natasha tries to act normal and makes a point of grabbing a newspaper and opening it on the crossword page. "The toaster's over there, Loki."
Thor makes those toasts, in the end. Loki sits awkwardly by the table opposite the rest of the Avengers, who are trying very hard - and failing, Tony has to admit - not to stare at him. Thor hums merrily as he butters his toast. He seems to be the only one not to notice the Loki-shaped elephant destroying the team spirit in the room. Even the little shit himself is aware of that, and he's not gloating about the created tension. Come to think of it, he's not even smirking evilly, which is a first, as far as Tony knows. Something's off.
"Are you dying of cancer?" he asks Loki. Thor drops the knife and stares at him as if Tony suddenly came into the possession of a second head.
"No," Loki replies.
"Oh, okay." Tony decides to take a page out of Natasha's book and reaches for the closest jar. "Jam, Loki?"
Clint comes back four days later. Natasha must have contacted him at some point - the good master assassin girlfriend she is - because Clint doesn't comment on the fact that Loki's there. And yes, four days later Loki is still there. Most of the times he sits in Thor's room and--does something that Tony doesn't want to investigate. Maybe he reads. Maybe he sleeps - and Thor was right, the bags under the little shit's eyes were the size of Steve's punching ones. Tony knows that Loki braids Thor's hair - as presented by Thor on Loki's second day of Stark Tower package holiday, when he came out of his room in the evening and his blond hair was braided masterfully. Natasha liked the technique and the following day Tony has seen har camping outside Thor's room, waiting for Loki to let her in so they could swap their notes or something.
Loki didn't let her in. To be honest - if Tony were in Loki's shoes - he wouldn't either. Master assassin whom Loki managed to piss off in all ways possible. Tony would assume that Nat's camping out and fishing for a chance to barge into the room was a skilled ploy created in the hopes of getting to strangle Loki with said plaits. And Loki is much more paranoid than Tony.
As it is, Clint doesn't comment on anything and life goes on. Until Friday comes and with that the weekly Not-Movie Night.
"Can my brother join us in our weekly routine?" Thor asks in the morning.
"Yeah, sure," Tony answers automatically, not paying any attention to Thor, to the question, to the implications of the answer. What matters is the new laser that he and Bruce created the night before. "Wait, what?"
"Thank you, Stark."
Natasha throws her shoe at him.
"What did I just agree to?"
"You've agreed to let Loki join us on our movie night."
"It's not a movie night," Tony immediately replies. "And what's the big deal? He's practically living with us anyway."
"It's team-time," Bruce suggests. Tony shrugs. "Plus, Loki is, like, a walking example of why trigger warnings are important."
"By which Bruce means that he'll likely flip his shit on us," Natasha clarifies unnecessarily. "And we were going to watch War Horse today."
"So what? Thor already told us that the horse story didn't happen."
"Yes, but you know how sensitive Loki is," Natasha reminds. "He'll think that we're mocking him."
Crap. Tony bangs his head against the table and lets it rest there for a while. Why is it that he always finds himself in these awful situations?
"We could watch Enchanted," he proposes. "That's Disney, there's nothing wrong with Disney."
"Out of the question," Bruce states. Tony looks up to pierce him with a questioning glare. "It has an evil sorceress. We can't watch that, he'll feel offended."
"Great, that rules out pretty much every Disney movie ever created." Tony sighs. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? I'm not a fan of those, but Steve might like it..."
"Too grim," Natasha shakes her head. "Also everyone just betrays everyone, not a good thing."
"God, this is worse than I thought. It looks like there's nothing out there that we could watch and that wouldn't result in our resident villain going ballistic on us."
"Hey, what about Alice in Wonderland?"
"No, the Burton version has siblings fighting each other and the animated one is just plain boring."
"That guy has just too many issues."
Tony nods and then rests his head on his folded hands. Every sign in heaven and Earth seems to indicate that they will have to cancel the Not-Movie Night for the first time since... well, since ever. They've never cancelled it. Even when after one mission Natasha was in a hospital, they all came to see her and stayed to watch some Lifetime crap. Even after the battle with von Strucker kids, when everyone was more or less bleeding profoundly, they still made it to the Tower and watched The Expendables. They couldn't just... cancel it.
"I'm going to call Pepper," Tony announces. He stands up, takes his mobile out and goes to the balcony. He presses #1 on speed dial and waits for the call to be answered.
"Not to say that I didn't miss you too, but this better be important, Tony. I'm in the middle of negotiations crucial for your company."
"Hi, Pep, I love you too." Tony takes a breath. "I have a little problem. See, it's Loki. He just, sort of, started living at the Tower."
"Do I even want to know?"
"Probably not. But it's Friday. And Friday means the Not-Movie Night with the gang. Sadly, Loki is allergic to emotion and every movie we came up with so far would make him go on a killing spree. I want to avoid killing sprees in Manhattan, so I need your help. Wave your magical movie-choosing wand and tell us what to watch."
"I think I left my magical wand in the other pants."
"I'll take you on a date to that Catalan place you like."
"Tony, that's in Catalonia."
Pepper laughs and Tony imagines her shaking her head. A few strands of hair would escape her tight ponytail and they would fall on her face, and she would try to blow them away and--
"Watch the movie that I've put on the top shelf of your bookcase. I was meaning to give it to one of the secretaries, but I think you'll make a better use of it."
"You're a life-saver, Pep."
"And now put Loki on."
By now Tony knows better than to argue. He simply goes to Thor's room, bangs his fist against the solid wood and yells for Thor to open up because a lady demands it. As Thor has a soft spot for Pepper and he always treats the ladies right, it does the trick and Thor opens the door.
"Pepper wants to speak with your brother," he tells Thor. Thor reaches out for Tony's cell, but Tony snatches it away from him. "Absolutely not. He'll talk to her somewhere where I can see him and hear him, and I can make sure that he doesn't say anything offensive to her."
Loki reluctantly leaves the room and goes with Tony to the kitchen. There Tony hands him the cell and listens in on a very one-sided conversation. Once Loki seems to regain a bit of his old vigour as he starts threatening Pepper and almost calls her 'mortal' before he stops himself short of the second syllable. Tony likes to think it was due to his murderous glare, but most likely Pepper just told him to shut up.
"Can I get a piece of paper and a pen?" Loki suddenly asks and Tony is too stunned to tease. Loki notes down something that Pepper tells him, finishes the call and gives Tony his cell back. Then he pockets the slip of paper before Tony can glance what he's written there.
"I believe we will see each other in the evening."
"Yeah," Tony says. "I guess we will."
The thing with Loki is that he hasn't been staying at the Tower as a villain that the Avengers has fought in the past. He was staying - as Bruce reminded them almost daily - as Thor's little brother for whom Thor cared deeply, whom he talked about every time he mentioned Asgard, whom Thor missed more than anything else in all Nine Worlds. Realms. Loki didn't look like a threat anymore, not without his impressive armor on and just in regular civillian clothing. He didn't even act threateningly and it was almost easy to sort of get used to his background presence. Tony could almost see the brother that Thor loved so much in him.
But the fact is, it's also difficult to forget how they came to know Loki or how Thor even ended up with them. How they all ended up as a team. So it comes as no surprise to anyone - possibly save for Thor, but he might be just too absorbed by his pop-tarts to notice - that no one wants to sit next to Loki on the sofa, everyone suddenly preferring to stand.
"Oh, fuck it," Clint says and drops gracelessly onto the couch. He hangs his legs over the armrest and puts the giant bowl he was holding in Loki's lap. "Wanna share the popcorn?"
Tony exhales and then sits on the floor between Bruce and Steve. Everything is going to be fine. That was the sign they were waiting for. Clint has suffered the most because of Loki and it was his opinion on how to approach the trickster, on whether or not to actually socialize with him, that mattered. If Clint was more or less okay with Thor's brother, so would everyone else.
"What are we even watching, Tony?" Steve asks.
"Pepper's big surprise."
Bruce, Clint and Natasha start laughing when the title of the movie appears on the screen. Steve and Thor don't know what's funny and Loki looks oddly fascinated by what's happening. Tony just thinks it's going to be an awesome night that will provide blackmail material for the next twenty years.
Goodbye Africa indeed, Lindsay Lohan.
It's an unusual thing to hear all his friends laugh at the same jokes, but today they do. It's even more unusual to hear Loki laugh - Tony has never experienced that before and he finds Loki's laugh weird. The guy just goes 'ehehehehe', but since he's all weird it's oddly fitting. And Loki is laughing. He starts around the time Janice introduces the school royalty and then he just doesn't stop. Thor laughs too, but - unlike Loki - he doesn't seem to actually get the jokes. He's just so empathic that he finds it good to laugh with everyone else.
Tony wonders what Pepper told Loki that made him enjoy the movie so much. But he stops thinking about Loki's little slip of paper when not-yet-blond-or-stoned Lindsay steps onto the stage and says some awfully deep stuff for such a movie. On Tony's right and back on the sofa, Thor puts an arm around Loki and lets his brother lean on him a bit, and then Loki's not laughing anymore.
To paraphrase the closing statement of that glorious movie: finally, the superhero world was at peace.
Later, much later - in the early hours of the next morning, after all the popcorn has been eaten and everyone's already gone to their respective beds - Tony finally cracks.
"JARVIS, get me the stenograph of Pepper's last call. Let's see what made that little shit almost piss his pants in laughter."
JARVIS complies with the request. In the middle of reading, Tony wishes that he hasn't. Some things just cannot be unseen.
PEPPER POTTS: Loki? Hi, it's nice that you've finally visited. I don't know how much stalking you've actually done, so my name is Pepper--
LOKI: I am aware of who you are, Miss Potts.
PEPPER POTTS: That's great then, it makes everything easier. So. The movie.
LOKI: I am familiar with the concept of "movies", Miss Potts.
PEPPER POTTS: But see, this is not just a movie. It's a very important movie. And you can't properly understand it--
LOKI: Do not belittle my intelligence, mort--
PEPPER POTTS: ¬--if you haven't been attending high school. You haven't been attending high school, right?
PEPPER POTTS: Knowledge of how high schools work is necessary to understanding the film. But since you obviously lack the background, we'll have to help you out in a different way. Can you get a pen and a sheet of paper?
LOKI: ... Yes, I have it.
PEPPER POTTS: Okay. Now, note down exactly what I tell you. Ready?
PEPPER POTTS: Steve Rogers is Cady. Background plastics - that's Clint and Natasha. An angry, not dumb, Karen Smith - that's Hulk. Gretchen Wieners - Tony, no surprise. Regina George - Thor. But he has Gretchen's magical hair, of course.
LOKI: I do not--
PEPPER POTTS: Just watch the movie, Loki. You'll understand it then. And before you say anything, yes. You're very much welcome.