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All this and forgiveness too

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Loki has slept in his Asgardian form for three nights. On Monday, Thor's friends were too drunk to drive themselves home. On Tuesday, Loki was too uncomfortable in his Jotun form to sleep until he'd shifted back. On Wednesday, he spent the night with Stark.

He hates how much difference it makes. He hates that even this simmering frustration isn't entirely his, that he can't trust himself to know what he feels.

10AM. Loki pauses in the doorway of the RV. He's fresh from Stark's tower. His body still hums from Stark's electrical toys. Sparks flickering across his skin, a thrum along his nerves, a scorching edge of pain too light to satisfy, and that tease making it just cruel enough for him to fully enjoy it.

"Oh, hey Luke," Jenna says from her spot sitting on the counter. Chris and Alex are sprawled on the bed, Thor sits on the floor, and--Loki turns his head--Cal is stretched out on his stomach in the cabover bed. Lions basking in the sun, sure of their place. They all look at him.

Cal grins. "Nice hickey."

Loki grins back. "Get out."

Cal looks confused. "What?"

"I said get out."

"My brother jests," Thor says heartily, and gives him a narrow-eyed look.

"I said get them out of here!" he shrieks, snatching the half-drunk beer out of Cal's hand and hurling it out the open door onto the ground, where it shatters like ice. Thor's friends get up, but it isn't because he asked them to. They don't want to witness a nasty family scene. Jenna makes an scrunched, apologetic face at Thor as she goes--I'm so sorry you have to deal with this--and turns away, her heavy golden hair swishing like a curtain.

Thor frowns at him. "They are my friends."

"And what the hell am I? They despise me openly!"

"They do not despise you. If you would only show them kindness--"

"You let them mock me, you allow them to speak to me as if I were the dirt under their ugly sandals! Not even important enough to look at. I had enough of that in Asgard! Tony Stark won't hear a word against that green monstrosity but you--"

Thor is angry now. His face is turning red. Soon the good-humored facade will drop and he'll be honest. Yes, here it comes--"I cannot fight all your battles for you!"

Triumph pounds in his ears. "Fight my battles for me? What battles of my own did I ever have? I spent my life thanklessly cleaning up your messes! Dragging you out of fights you were too stupid to admit you could not win!"

Thor's mouth works around a truth too cruel to speak. Loki says it for him, as he always has. "How the tables have turned, is that it, brother?" He has been cruel and cowardly and a liar so that Thor could be kind and brave and honest--so that Thor would need you--and all he ever wanted was for Thor to see it. His voice is shaking and too loud and shrill. He could never roar as Thor does. "Who would have thought that in the end I would need a bullheaded oaf like you to save me?"

"That is enough, brother." Thor says it like a command, as if he is Loki's king.

Loki is so sick of this life where everything is supposed to be different and nothing is. "Don't give me orders!" Thor starts forward, reduced to proving once again the obvious truth that he is stronger. Loki cannot do this again, wants to never do this again.

A thought, a gesture, and the RV and everything in it becomes a mass of writhing snakes. They rain down on him and Thor. It's deeply satisfying to see his life disintegrate into small pieces that no longer have to obey him, that slither away and are free. Thor barrels into him and they go down onto ground that squirms and wriggles. Loki rolls them so that he's momentarily above Thor, straining to hold him down. But it can't last--Thor bucks wildly and Loki loses his grip. Thor's arm is across his neck now, his other hand scrabbling wildly for Loki's, and a snake crawls across Loki's face.

He flinches.

Just a little flinch, there and gone, but Thor sees it. Loki sees Thor see it, sees the blooming of pity in Thor's eyes, and he can't--he just can't. He vanishes, leaving Thor behind.

###

The days when he could be useful to Thor are over. It would be easier for Thor if he were gone. If he didn't go back, Thor could return to Asgard. He could have his hammer. He could have Jane Foster and Erik Selvig.

Thor's never mentioned them, but Loki knows he misses them. Misses her. He took that away from Thor. He meant to do it, and he succeeded.

I did not like my own smile, Thor said of their time apart. It needed you to shape it. Loki knows firsthand that people don't always want what's easy.

We all mourned you, Thor told him. Our father--

But in Nicole's office he said, I made every man in the room drink to you.

Thor always knew that no one liked Loki. He knew and he ignored it. Loki thought it was because Thor pitied him. But he's begun to wonder if Thor is afraid. Afraid to look the truth in the eye because he wants Loki beside him. He wanted Loki to go into all those pointless battles with him, he wanted Loki at his elbow for all that tedious carousing.

So why can't Loki stop resenting him? Why is he always so angry?

He sits on the beach, the sun glittering on the waves. Sun never glitters on the ice in Jotunheim.

While Thor was trying to convince himself that he did not mourn alone, Loki was in the dark between worlds. He remembers crawling. He remembers conjuring Jotun ice with his hands and being afraid that drinking it would poison him. He woke among hulking, brutish bullies in need of a clever fellow to do their dirty work and thought, Yes, and see how it profits you in the end! He remembers them putting the spear in his hand.

It felt so good to use the spear. It felt good not to tamp down his anger, not to want to please anyone.

It felt good for a moment, while blue jets of flame flew from his fingers. In between were the long nights, when he used to bring Barton into his room to talk him to sleep. He was so grateful for that blue glow in Barton's eyes, because it meant he didn't have to care that Barton despised him.

He remembers looking in the mirror and trying to decide whether his eyes were bluer than they used to be.

###

His anger is long since subsided, but he can't bring himself to go back to Thor. He's too ashamed to meet Thor's eyes, and that will only make him angry again. He thinks about calling Maureen, the green fish girl from the Brotherhood beach. He's been surfing with her and her friends a couple times a week. She already dislikes Thor, which is satisfying. But his phone is a snake and the idea of showing up unannounced exhausts him. He goes to Stark Tower.

Stark jumps a mile. "Loki? What the fuck? I was just about to call up S.H.I.E.L.D. Your brother is freaking out." When Loki doesn't answer, Stark takes a step back, scanning his face. "Are you over to the Dark Side right now? You were fine this morning."

Loki laughs. "Of course I was. Because you know me so intimately."

Stark frowns. "I do, actually."

"You know how to hurt me. It's not rocket surgery," he says, throwing one of Stark's little quips mockingly back at him.

"Okay, that's it, I'm calling Nicole. JARVIS, lock Bruce and Pepper out of this room."

And Loki almost, almost teleports away but he really wants to talk to Nicole.

"Are you okay?" she says when Stark hands him the phone, and he can't answer her. He can't speak. "Just talk to me," she says. "How are you feeling?"

Stark is watching.

"Would it be easier to text?"

Sometimes, in sessions, he writes instead of speaking. It makes it easier. But Loki isn't good at texting. "Get out," he says to Stark.

Stark plucks the phone out of his hand. "Is it okay for me to leave him alone?" He nods and hands the phone back.

"Loki," she says, "I'd really like to ask Mr. Stark to stay in the room with you while we talk. Just until I can get a better sense of where you're at."

"I'm fine," he says.

"Please," she says, as if he can't teleport away any time he likes, as if he isn't in the same building with the Hulk. She says it as if she really, really cares about whether he's safe, and he can't say no to that. He passes the phone back to Stark, who listens for a second.

"Sorry, Nicole says not right now. But I can put on my helmet and shut off the sound input/output." Loki doesn't like the way the helmet grows over his face. It reminds him of the Destroyer. He doesn't like seeing Stark's body sprawled casually against a wall fiddling with his tablet, and then that empty mechanical face.

Loki doesn't know if he trusts Stark not to eavesdrop, but he decides to act as if he does. He covers his mouth with his hand so Stark can't see. "I'm fine."

"Mm-hm. What happened with Thor? It sounded like the two of you got in a pretty big fight."

"I woke up on the wrong side of the bed," he says distantly. "His friends got on my last nerve."

"What did they do?"

Loki's fingers move to cover a bruise that isn't there anymore. "Oh, you know how oversensitive I am."

"I don't really like the word 'oversensitive.' But it's true that you and Thor are bothered by different things. Do you want to tell me what they did?"

"What they did wasn't the point. I wanted Thor to rush to my defense. But why should he?"

"Have you told Thor that you want him to ask his friends to be more considerate of you?"

She's already talked to Thor. She must know all of this already. "I have now."

"And how did he react?"

"He can't fight all my battles for me."

Nicole sighs. "Loki, I'm still really proud of you for telling him how you feel. Yes, we need to work on the how, and on where you two go from there, but that's a huge step forward. You should feel really good about yourself."

Loki laughs.

"How do you feel?"

Loki considers. "Tired."

"Physically tired? Or emotionally tired?"

"Both." He'll have to go back and face Thor, eventually. The silent weight of Thor's disappointment is a phantom hammer on his chest. His mouth works as if looking for something to bite. "I'm tired of needing to be forgiven."

"What do you think you need to be forgiven for?"

He laughs again. "Everything."

"Do you think you might feel better if you apologized?"

"To Thor?" The answer is yes, for a moment. No, after that.

"Is there anyone else you'd like to be forgiven by?"

The first person he pictures is Laufey. He buries the thought. "Actions speak louder than words."

"Okay," she says, which surprises him. "Is there anything you'd like to do, to apologize to someone?"

The idea--it lands inside him like a thud. He doesn't know what that means, even after several moments. "I'll have to think about it."

"You're dealing with a lot," Nicole says. "It's okay to have bad days. It's okay to go back to familiar patterns when you're under stress. Like I said, I'm proud of you for speaking up."

He feels embarrassed and contrary, but she's right--he never would have told Thor why he was really angry, before. He would have given him a false reason, or no reason at all.

"So you took off after your fight with Thor. You were gone for a while." Loki doesn't answer. He knows what's coming and he just doesn't want to talk about it. "Did you think about doing anything to hurt yourself?"

He glances at Stark's blank red and gold face. "Only very briefly," he says finally. "Mostly I thought about running away from home."

"And now how do you feel?"

"Sheepish?"

"Are you sure?"

"Oh, definitely sheepish."

She laughs. Loki feels a little better. "Okay. Do you think next time you need some time away, you could just let someone know and give them an idea of when you plan to be back? Me or Thor or Mr. Stark?" And it's such a small thing that Loki agrees. After all, he only didn't take his phone with him because his phone is a snake now.

They talk a little longer. He tells her that yes, he wants to keep living with Thor, and yes he'll go back to Australia in a few hours and spend the night in a motel while a new RV is rustled up. They move their next session up a few days, and she says they'll have to talk again about how to keep arguments between him and Thor from getting physical. He hangs up and waves cheekily to Tony. The helmet folds back. "So you aren't going to turn back into a psychotic killer?" he asks, and Loki realizes he has no idea what everyone's been so worried about. He's relieved.

He's a little disappointed, too.

He hums the opening bars of "Tomorrow." (The opening bars are all he knows.)

"I hope not," Stark says. "It's our three-month anniversary next week, I want to take you to one of those places where they serve the food on naked people."

"How disgustingly sentimental," Loki drawls.

Stark waves his hand. "I was updating the spreadsheet this morning and I noticed the date. So what did Thor do to piss you off?"

"What did Thor say happened?"

Stark doesn't answer, just watches him, eyes bright and sharp and narrowed. He didn't trust Thor's version.

No one has ever doubted Thor. And somehow this, Stark waiting for him to say that Thor started it, that Thor had done something to deserve it--it makes Loki feel protective. "He didn't do anything," he says.

Someone tries the handle of the door. It doesn't open. "Tony, is everything okay in there?" Pepper calls in the voice of one who is perfectly capable of overriding a JARVIS lockout.

"Everything's just dandy," Stark calls back. "Loki, are you staying for dinner?"

"I don't think so," Loki says.

"Okay, I'm just going to go talk to Pepper for a second," he says. He keeps them apart assiduously. It's one of the few things he's ever done that strike Loki as prudent. "Don't poof until I get back." He slips out the door.

Banner slips in. He hovers near the door, though. Banner is always prudent. "Hey," he says quietly.

Loki gives him a gleaming smile. "Hello."

"I, uh. I just wanted to say I get it. Feeling hopeless."

Loki's stomach sinks. "Oh, reaaaally."

Banner nods. "Don't worry, I won't say anything to Tony if you don't want me to. I just--I guess I just listen for it. And I've never heard Thor that worried about the well-being of innocent bystanders."

You know if I wanted to kill myself, you'd be my weapon of choice, he thinks, but he doesn't say it, just smiles nastily. Progress.

"I think my body count is probably bigger than yours," Banner says. "So is Tony's."

"Yes," Loki says. "The difference is that neither of you did it on purpose."

Banner's eyes gleam softly behind his glasses. "Tony's always telling me the Other Guy is a part of me. I guess he's right. I want to do those things. I just don't, usually." He shrugs. "If you ever want to talk, you can call."

By now Loki's skin is crawling. This is such a sweet, caring, talkative little family and he doesn't want to be part of it. He doesn't want to be here in this luxurious palace. He doesn't want Bruce Banner looking at him as if he knows something. He wants squalor and Thor. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind," he says dismissively.

Banner does that tight-lipped, pissed-off little chuckle of his and looks at the ground. Loki holds himself very still.

"It's smart to be afraid of me," Banner says. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. Tony and Pepper are just crazy."

Stark comes through the door in time to hear those last words. "Crazy awesome," he says, and Banner smiles and walks out.

"So are you going right back to Australia, or do you want to hang out here for a few hours first? We could order in Chinese."

"I need a favor," Loki says.

Stark tilts his head.

"I want to talk to Erik Selvig."

Stark's eyebrows shoot up. "I don't think he's really your biggest fan."

"No, which is why I need you to arrange it."

"Maybe you should write him a letter."

"Just ask if he'll see me," Loki said. "Tell him he can have any kind of security he wants. Tell him"--he takes a deep breath through his nose--"tell him I want to apologize."

###

He brings four bags of Chinese takeout to the motel with him. "I'm sorry, brother," Thor says, calm now and ready to grovel. "I have played roles with Nicole, and I will speak to my friends."

Loki wants to brush it off and pass him the eggrolls. He sets the bags on the table and carefully lays everything out. Thor watches him, obviously unsure what to do.

"I'm sorry too," Loki says finally. "Thanks." And he can't help it, the skin around his eyes tightens and his mouth makes a falsely rueful smile. He can still only be honest insincerely, as if it's merely a con to get back in Thor's good graces. He doesn't feel better, not really. But the nuance is lost on Thor, who smiles broadly and embraces him.

Thor rented a room with only one bed. Loki's noticed that if you don't specify, rooms come with two. Thor wants Loki close. In their travels through the Realms, too, he and Loki always put their bedrolls side by side.

I'm glad to be here, Loki thinks. I couldn't wait to get back to you. But he can't say it. On the day of Thor's coronation, he could only tell Thor he loved him because he knew the frost giants were on their way.

###

Loki's phone rings. "I've got the meeting set up with Dr. Selvig," Stark says. "It wasn't cheap, either. You owe me, pal."

"I already owe you."

"Which do you think is cheaper, an RV or a brand-new research laboratory at Culver University?"

"Two RVs."

Stark sighs theatrically. "Snakes," he says. "Why'd it have to be snakes?" It's obviously a quote.

Loki ignores it. "When's the meeting?"

"Tomorrow at 5. No teleporting. Come in through the front door. And, um...he wants me there for security."

"No," Loki says flatly.

"Those are his terms. You said any security he wanted."

"I'll take Banner."

Stark laughs. "I like the way you think, but I don't think Selvig would find Bruce's presence reassuring. Last time he was at Culver U, he...kind of smashed it. He was provoked, obviously."

That means it's Stark or Thor. He'll never be able to say what he needs to in front of Thor. But there are secrets he still wants to keep from Stark.

He wants to do something good.

Do you really think you can wipe out that much red?

But he doesn't want to wipe it out. He just wants--he can't think about it. "Fine," he snaps. "I'll meet you outside the gates of the school at quarter to 5."

###

When they walk in the door, Selvig smiles with his mouth closed in a way that reminds Loki of Banner and holds up a hand. "That's close enough."

Stark makes a huffy noise. "We don't smell. In fact, I've recently programmed the suit to give off a subtle aroma of apple blossoms."

"If you wouldn't mind turning your sound input/output off," Loki says evenly. "Dr. Selvig, would you like to choose a hand signal to alert Stark that you require his assistance?"

Selvig winks. Tony gives him a red-and-gold thumbs-up and says, "Just whistle and I'll co--" The sound shuts off half-way through.

"Well?" Selvig asks harshly. "You wanted to see me?"

Loki can't find words. He remembers Selvig's face lighting up when Loki walked into the room. He remembers his own air of amused, malicious tolerance, how pleased he had been to steal something of Thor's. He remembers how part of him wished that Thor could simply command him to forget his hatred, and part wished the Chitauri could command him to forget his love. It was Selvig who betrayed and defeated him, in the end. He doesn't want to be here.

This is for Thor, he tells himself. Not because you care what this potato-faced old man thinks of you. "Yes," he says with difficulty. "I want to apologize."

"For what?"

Loki's face makes an expression of amused incredulity. "For enslaving your heart."

Selvig just watches him.

"Is there anything you want in recompense?"

Selvig folds his arms, considering. "Let's start with an explanation," he says finally.

"An explanation of what?"

"To start with, of how a man can go to such lengths to destroy his brother, and then a few months later they're bunking down together friendly as you please."

He knew it would come to this. He hopes very much that Stark isn't eavesdropping. This is your penance, he tells himself. "Have you ever heard of frost giants?"

"A mythical race of monsters from a land of cold and darkness," Selvig says promptly. "Enemies of Asgard. Are you telling me they're real?"

Loki grins slowly. "I'm telling you I am one."

Selvig blinks. "You don't look like one."

"Magic is in my blood. I took Asgardian form when Odin stole me from Jotunheim as an infant. I was such a convincing forgery that no one suspected a thing."

"So you're adopted."

Loki nods.

"I'm afraid I don't see--"

"No one suspected," Loki repeats. "Not even Thor and I. I discovered my true parentage the day you met Thor. Do you remember the Destroyer?"

"It made an impression, yes."

Loki can't help it. He smiles again. He doesn't know whether it's genuine, if he relishes the horror of it just that much, or whether he is trying to hide his real feelings from Selvig. "The Destroyer is a weapon my father created to kill frost giants. So, at the heart of things, is Thor."

"So you found out you were adopted, you were afraid Thor would turn on you, so you decided to wipe out a small town."

His mouth twists. "More or less."

"And New York?"

Just keep going. It will be over soon, one way or another. "Thor came back to Asgard. We fought. Thor--" I tossed him into an abyss. Is that not right, Loki? "I--Thor tried to save me, but I fell into the space between worlds." That's the best he can do. "I landed among the Chitauri."

Selvig doesn't look impressed with any of this. "And did they take away your will?" he asked. "Did they enchant you to do their bidding?"

I don't know. He can't say it. It would be too easy. He remembers being angry. He remembers wanting to see this realm burn. Because Thor loved it, because it had changed Thor when Loki had tried and tried and couldn't. That was him, not the Chitauri. That he knows. "No."

"It's not me you should be asking for forgiveness," Selvig says.

Loki grits his teeth. He can do this again, if he has to. Selvig's voice is like fingernails on his skin. He is repulsed by Selvig's face and body. "I'll ask whoever you like."

"You can't ask forgiveness from the dead."

It feels like hitting the ground after a long fall.

He knows Selvig is right. He has known it all along. He will always need to be forgiven. And he never will be.

"Why me?" Selvig asks. "Why apologize to me?"

Loki owes him the truth. He makes himself say it. "Thor misses Jane Foster."

Selvig chuckles. "That's actually rather sweet. I didn't ask Jane to cut him off, you know. There are things you can forgive for yourself, that you can't forgive when they're done to people you love."

"I'm not asking her to forgive me," Loki says. "Thor--"

"I thought Thor took you home to face Asgardian justice," Selvig says evenly. "Couldn't stomach it?"

Loki shakes his head.

"Were they going to kill you?"

That grin spreads across his face again, entirely out of his control. "Nothing so quick."

"Did it hurt, what they did to you?"

"It was agony," Loki promises him.

"Good," Selvig says.

"I can give you details, if it would help."

"I don't think so. I'll talk to Jane. I can't guarantee anything."

"Thank you," Loki says, startled.

"I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for your brother."

Loki nods.

Selvig sighs. "People do terrible things all the time. Some you can't take back. You can only make sure you don't let it happen again."

###

"So, did he accept your apology?"

Loki shakes his head.

Stark looks away. It's as if he's personally disappointed. Then he shrugs. "You can't win 'em all."

"Have you ever apologized?" Loki asks.

There's a pause. "I apologize all the time," Stark says lightly. "I'm a fuck-up."

Loki knows Stark will tell him more if he pushes it, but he can't. He can't talk about it.

Selvig knows he's a frost giant. He could tell anyone.

"I gave a press conference once. I'll show it to you sometime. Train wreck. I heard what you said to Agent Romanov on the helicarrier," Stark says."About the red in her ledger. You were right. You can't ever get back in the black. None of us can. Well, except maybe Steve."

Loki is surprised. He didn't think Stark would acknowledge why this mattered to him, too. Loki's finally figured out why Stark is so eager to accept monsters. If Loki doesn't deserve forgiveness, maybe Stark doesn't either. It's a cruel truth Loki is saving for a special occasion. "Then what's the point of all this?" He gestures at the suit, a gleaming red-and-gold grinning beacon of Stark's refusal to be ashamed of anything at all.

"It's not about you," Stark says simply. "Or, you know, about me, which is not something I say often. You have to stop thinking of it as something to balance out your ledger. It's just something worth doing. After a while you stop keeping score. Mostly. It's a fucked-up world and we've got it pretty good." He slings an arm around Loki's shoulders. "All this and forgiveness too--let's not get greedy here."

Loki thinks about that.

"And we both know Selvig loved that tesseract. Deep down, he wanted to open that portal--"

"Yes, and I'm sure Barton wanted to shoot Fury in the chest, too," Loki says sharply. There's a difference between wanting and doing. Or there should be. No one should have to act on what's in their heart.

He can never ask forgiveness of the dead. For a moment, remorse is drowned in relief that Thor isn't one of them.

He's also secretly gratified that Tony Stark is taking his side against Selvig. Stark has a strict hierarchy of interpersonal loyalties, and Loki's place has shifted slightly upwards. He counts the moments of silence with something like affection. How long will it take Stark to get back on track?

Thirty. Thirty-two. Thirty-three..."If he didn't, he's the only one," Stark says with renewed cheer. "But if you want to apologize to Agent Barton next, let me know so I can start laying the groundwork now. We'll consider it a long-term project."

###

Days pass. Thor and his friends spend less time in the RV, and when they are there, they say hello with determined friendliness and then ignore him. That's good enough for Loki. They have another session with Nicole. Stark takes Loki out for naked food. He surfs with Maureen and her friends. And all the time, he's waiting.

After a week, Thor's phone rings. "Jane!" Thor exclaims joyfully.

Loki goes out. He texts Thor, Going surfing. When he returns several hours later, Thor is waiting. "You went to see Erik Selvig." He sounds so proud.

Loki's chest aches. Generosity is supposed to be a pleasant, expansive feeling. Instead he feels pinched and angry and jealous, just as he always does. "Yes."

"Jane says she will see me again." Thor doesn't sound as happy about that as Loki expected.

"Then what are you waiting for?" Loki asks.

"She will not see you. She says I am not to mention your name to her. You said you wished me to take your part with my friends."

Loki blinks. Does Thor really not see a difference? "I do not require your friends to like me," he says. "I only--" He can't finish the sentence. To ask for respect is to admit he doesn't already have it, that he cannot command it himself. Nicole would disagree, of course. "Nicole will help me explain it," he says finally, pasting an easy smile on his face. "I want you to see her."

Thor's face glows. "You are the best of brothers!" He embraces Loki and pulls a packed duffel bag from beneath the table. "I will return in a few days. We shall speak on our telephones."

Loki's smile feels real, now. One day, maybe, he'll be able to tell Thor he's sorry for everything. Right now, this is the best he can do. He watches Thor go, a warm tickling sensation in his chest. Then he calls Maureen. "My brother is gone for the weekend."

"So we can trash the place?" she asks.

He remembers Stark saying that. "Metaphorically speaking. How do you feel about a roadtrip?" He thinks for a moment. "Just the two of us," he adds, his heart is in his throat. Will she think he's weird? Roadtrips are supposed to be the more the merrier. But Loki is realizing that he does better one-on-one.

"Hell yes, that's how I feel," she says. Loki relaxes. "So is this, like, a date thing, or just a friend thing? I ask to avoid awkwardness down the road."

He isn't actually sure. "A friend thing," he says firmly.

"Good to know. Ooh, can we stop at all the attractions? Last time I went on a proper roadtrip, Li wouldn't let me stop at any attractions."

Loki likes attractions. The more pathologically optimistic, the better. "We'll go to all the doll museums your heart desires," he promises.

"And the Trees of Terror," she says. "I've been wanting to stop at the Trees of Terror forever. And remind me, the University of Sydney has added some mutant instructors at the CCE. We're going to look over the fall catalog and see if there's anything good."

"Listen, I--" His heart pounds. This is idiotic beyond excuse, but Loki knows about lying. He knows that the longer you stretch a lie out, the harder it hits when it snaps back. He knows that sometimes, coming clean gets you off the hook. He knows that worrying about what she would say if she knew will completely spoil his weekend. "I need to tell you something."

"Okay."

"Remember that big battle in New York a while back?"

"Yeah..." she says slowly. "That Loki guy and the Chitauri." There's a pause. "Jet thinks you look like him. I told him he was being stupid."

"No, I'm him," Loki says. "I--my therapist thinks I'm making progress." He should say something more. If he told her what he told Selvig, maybe she'd understand. He can't.

"Christ," she says. "Do you know how many people died?"

Loki swallows. "Yes."

She hangs up.

Loki sits on the floor and cries childish, self-pitying tears.

All this and forgiveness too? Let's not get greedy, here. But Loki has always been greedy.

Two hours later, he gets a text from Stark. I don't know who the fuck you told but you need to get out fast before S.H.I.E.L.D. nabs you.

He realizes he's already ruined the vacation he went to so much trouble to give Thor. Don't call Thor, he texts Stark.

Too late, Stark texts back.

Loki lies on the bed and stares at the ceiling.

###

He's awakened by a voice on a loudspeaker. "We have your RV surrounded. Please come out with your hands where I can see them."

He sits up and peers through the blinds. Agent Coulson is standing there in the smooth black armor worn by Earth police, backed by a dozen men with impressive weapons. Stark is at his elbow in the full suit saying, "Everybody just keep calm. Phil--I can call you Phil, right?" Loki is unsurprised to see Coulson alive. The care with which Stark never mentioned him suggested a certain attempt at sleight-of-hand.

Loki vanishes and reappears on the other side of the room. They don't have anything to prevent teleportation, then. But he's already walking to the door and opening it. Sometimes his actions still feel inevitable.

"Good to see you again," Agent Coulson says. "I'd appreciate it very much if you would come quietly, but I can assure you our weapons have improved since last time." Behind him, Stark makes go! go! gestures with his hands.

Loki holds out his hands for the magic-damping manacles. He grins at Coulson. "Sorry I stabbed you."