"You never wanted to rule the world," Victor says with certainty, the first time they meet. They are above small talk, above mentioning the weather (unless perhaps there's thunder).
"How do you figure?" Loki asks, the slang rolling off his tongue as silvered as every other thing he says.
"If you really wanted to," he says, leaning closer, "you would be."
Loki's smile is an answer Victor can translate without a key—this is a language they both can speak.
* * * * *
Where Have All The Heroes Gone?
The headlines are all the same. Gone are the heroic poses of those great Avengers, their pristine costumes and their million dollar smiles—pulled out of retirement are those reject photos, those captures of them half in grimace or about to shout, making them look half-mad; more vengeful, than avenging.
It's incredible how much difference a second delay on a camera shutter can make, the different portraits you can paint from choosing between one frame and the next.
And beneath it all there is Loki's beautiful smile, the best lie he's ever been able to tell.
He is glorious in his pain, as Victor knew he would be.
Loki has been half-drowned and chained down, shocked and jolted with so many volts of electricity it must bring to mind his brother. He's been cut open and bled out; broken, it seems, and pleading.
It is a mess of an interrogation. If Loki were human he would be beyond reach, his answers would not serve to help them in the least. As it is, Loki is himself enough to lie in response and still be believed.
Victor is not above violence when there is cause, but torture is a brutal inefficient weapon and one he would not deign to wield.
In this, Victor is better than them. In this, Loki is too.
They may be the villains, but they can get what they want from an interrogation with mere words (bluffs, admittedly, psychological tricks and sleights of hand). They know how to use lies to find truth, as all good liars do.
In SHIELD's well-meaning search for truth, all their efforts get them are lies.
"They can't be that easy to kill," Victor frowns, "or you would have already done it."
"Oh, Victor, you misunderstand," Loki says. "When I say destroy I do not mean kill. That is far too inelegant a solution for me, and if I only wanted them dead it's not so impossible I couldn't have managed it myself. Although, Thor, admittedly, is a bit more complicated than the rest. Gods are not so easy to kill."
"But they're easy to destroy?" Victor questions wryly.
The grin Loki throws him would have terrified anyone else, but Victor just watches warily and waits for his response. "It's certainly easier to do than we would have people think," Loki confides, leaning across the table to meet his eyes. "All you must do, is stop them being believed."
Victor knows some must enjoy it; that God pretender strapped down and broken, pulled apart again and again. Some remember all too well Loki's plans for them. Except, the only plans for them of Loki's they ever actually saw were seemingly sincere, if misguided, requests for world peace.
He is insane, certainly, people begin to say. He needs help, if anything. Imprisonment, without a doubt, but not this. This is not better.
SHEILD is meant to protect them, it is meant to be defensive, to act as the barrier between them and the bad things. And here they are, exposed finally to the light—the only difference between them and those they fight against is that they can take you in the middle of the night and tie it all off with paperwork nice and neat, so that it's legal, quite above board.
They are a force that is much harder to fight against than any self-proclaimed villain, but the public almost unwittingly takes up arms against them with the one weapon that will work—the media.
"He's a loose cannon, apparently, likes to go off book and run his own game," Loki says, and Victor watches him in admiration. Loki has perhaps a greater knowledge of this world's social workings in his few short years here than Victor has managed in his lifetime. "Fury likes him, thinks he has spirit, but I've seen deep down in his eyes; it's pure chance he's not on our side."
"He's nothing like us," Victor protests calmly.
"I do like to leave room between my words for maneuvering, but if you require me to be so specific then yes, it is pure chance he has not joined the cause of evil, which is not, as you say, necessarily ours," Loki says, long-suffering.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Victor asks. "Is the risk truly worth it?"
"What risk?" Loki asks. "They're only going to think themselves in control. They're going to do exactly what I want them to."
They are convinced that Loki is dead, and hold a candle-lit vigil in his name. Loki had escaped quite easily to Latveria almost immediately after his torture was discovered, but for them to mourn him suits him for now.
Stark Industries stock plummets further in the market than it did when they stopped making weapons. It takes three days for Stark to break all ties—the press conference is brilliantly held, and Stark denies all knowledge of SHIELDs actions and resigns as an Avenger.
"Always knew he was the smart one," Loki says.
Luckily Agent Banks was chosen for his brutality, not for his intelligence.
Victor dons his mask and makes a good show of it—a falling out, of sorts, it looks like. Regular friends stop getting along and they stop returning each other's calls—supervillains stop getting along and people end up getting thrown thirty feet down a public street.
Loki's head hits the concrete with a sickening crack, but he's been tossed around by the Hulk, this is nothing he can't handle. Victor's laughing is distant and somewhat disconnected, not, Loki thinks, entirely manufactured.
Agent Banks grins down at him. "Well, look what we have here," he says. "You're going to make my career."
Loki holds out his hands, hiding his amusement as the Agent latches the cuffs. He knows a hundred and sixty ways out of the delicate metal restraints just off the top of his head, but this is theater. Loki knows how to play his part.
Bruce Banner disappears again off to some corner of the world, his secret locked up once more. Natasha Romanov and Clint Barton vanish like the professionals they are, and leave no forwarding address. Thor returns to Asgard, as he's no longer wanted here.
Steve Rogers, in an enjoyable twist of fate, is back to acting as a publicity puppet; he tries to gather up the shattered tatters of public opinion, to assure them SHIELD is gone and they are working to create a better system. Something America can be proud of.
Tony Stark, unsurprisingly, fares the best. He has always been vocal on his opinions of the government, so people are quick to believe him when he claims to want nothing more to do with them.
He does, however, go back to making weapons. Stock skyrockets overnight.
Loki laughs. "Aren't you?" he asks.
"Getting rid of them means nothing if we do nothing to benefit from it," he insists.
"We have gotten the people to willingly assist in their own destruction, to denounce their greatest defenders," Loki says. "I do believe it is my greatest trick."
"Yes, but we must strike now," Victor says. "We must take what should rightfully be ours."
"Oh, Victor," Loki says. "It seems you still have much to learn."
Loki pours himself a glass of champagne, before leaning against the counter with a smirk. He is put seamlessly back together; all of his bruises brushed away, all his rips sewn back together. He doesn't look ordinary, though, never that—somehow he looks even more otherworldly in an Armani suit than he does in Asgardian armor.
Victor remembers the way Loki leaves room between his words, loopholes to get out of promises like ours, and vows not to make an enemy of him.
"Well, what do you suggest?" Victor asks.
"I suggest we wait," Loki says, and raises his glass. "Until they give it to us."