When you've lived as long as Loki has, you learned patience (unless you were Thor, whereupon you learned only better ways to rush into things) and thirteen months was nothing in terms of Loki's patience. Yes, the first ten months suffering in silence and starvation for his crimes were not comfortable, and the following three were no great pleasure as he traversed what had once been his home as a traitor and a monster-by-birth, but he bore it with all the poise deserving of a Prince of Asgard. (Prince of Jötunheim, a traitorous part of his mind corrected, and Loki hissed threats and rage at it until it fell silent, its point made.)
There had never been much trust for Loki amongst the courts of the Æsir, known as he was by the titles 'Silvertongue' and 'Liesmith', so he brushed off the distrustful glares as he stepped through the Allfather's palace as if he still had a claim to it. (But he didn't; traitor and monster as he was, his rights to the Asgardian throne had been revoked. But Thor still called him 'Brother', and Frigga and Odin still called him 'Son', so he retained his room and freedom in the palace, despite the popular opinion that they'd be best off if he'd been thrown to the frozen wastes that were his birthright.) At times, to soothe his eternal boredom, Loki would leave pranks in his wake, or speak promises and apologies upon unsuspecting visitors, and those actions seemed to cool the tempers of the court far better than any empty promises that Loki might have made when Frigga finally pleaded with Odin into freeing him of his bonds.
And Loki thought that was almost sad, even as he laughed at how blind and dull these people he'd once called 'kin' were. The blind stupidity was to his benefit, however, and he played to it as all true players must, smiling and laughing at the misfortune of others in a way he was numb to after falling through terror and blackness and never-ending pain. And the Æsir who had been so distrustful of the monster in their royal halls were still distrustful, but his every breath was no longer watched, leaving Loki to his plans for the Midgardians and his brother.
Oh, Loki had given up on ruling a world – Asgard or Jötunheim or Midgard, he craved none – but he could hardly forget the mortals who had put ruin to his plans, or forgive them for shackling and gagging him like some slave. And Thor, who had ripped the Asgardian throne from his fingers and left him to fall forever, then stayed his hand when all Loki wanted was for him to put an end to the monster he'd become. The monster he'd always been.
Loki had been slighted and damaged by his violent journey through the broken Bifröst, had been further ruined by the staff handed down to him by Thanos, and then been destroyed by those of Midgard. He daren't attempt to hunt down Thanos, but the Bifröst had been destroyed by Thor, who spent much of his days in Midgard with those mortals – those 'Avengers', the Man of Iron had called them – and Loki would have his revenge on those who had wronged him.
Loki had spent his thirteen months of appearing to behave crafting his revenge for those 'Avengers'. Plans had been formed and discarded again and again until he thought he had everything sorted. And then he needed only wait for his chance.
"Brother!" Thor boomed as he pushed open the door of Loki's room.
Loki glanced up, stifling a sneer with a vaguely irritated look at the interruption. "Thor," he replied coolly. When Thor's expression flashed with pain, Loki twisted his mouth and managed an apologetic, "Brother," because he knew the elder craved that sense of familial attachment, an attachment that Loki didn't feel and had to force himself to pretend.
Thor's face lit up and he strode into the room, falling into the chair across from Loki like a lump of well-bled meat, Mjölnir thumping loudly at his side. "It's good to see you looking so well, Loki," he offered, voice just a touch too loud for polite company – but, then, Thor had always been too loud – and far happier than the younger thought it had a right to be.
Loki considered his adopted brother for a moment before shrugging and looking back at the tome in his lap. "As you say, then. You have returned from Midgard?"
"And for how long do you intend to stay?"
Thor opened his mouth to boom a response, then closed it, a frown twisting the corners down. "Brother, I have not meant to abandon you here."
Loki blinked, not having expected that, and glanced up at Thor. "What makes you believe me to have been abandoned?"
"You have locked yourself away in these rooms–"
"Not true. I traverse the palace for–"
"The palace, yes, but no further. There was a time when you would have daily left the city for other pleasures."
Loki's mouth twisted with disgust. "Show some decorum, Thor," he snarled and the blond laughed. Once Thor's amusement had faded and Loki could be heard again, he said, "I am no longer a child seeking to disobey curfew, and there is little enough trust gifted me whilst I remain where an eye can be kept upon me; I daren't try anyone's patience with me by leaving the grounds."
"You've never refused to try the patience of people before," Thor pointed out, voice over-quiet with sorrow.
"I wasn't a monster before," Loki returned with no inflection, and he took a sick pleasure in watching Thor flinch.
"Brother..." Thor whispered, broken.
Loki looked back down at his book, refusing Thor's sympathy. "It hardly matters; I'm content." A blatant lie, and hopefully one that would tempt Thor just enough...
"Perhaps it will be well, then, if I were to take you out hunting," Thor suggested. Loki shot him the most venomous glare he could, never having been one for the mindless sports that the elder prince so enjoyed, and Thor let out another loud laugh. "Not hunting, then," he allowed and Loki snorted his agreement. "What would you enjoy? A day at the river? Or Vanaheim, perhaps."
"Thor," Loki hissed, torn somewhere between amusement and disgust; when looking for sexual pleasures, the Æsir often found themselves in Vanaheim, where such dalliances were wide-spread and even encouraged. (It was also true, however, that the Vanir were often the wiser of the two species, and Loki had been known to join Thor and his fellows on their journeys there, only to lose himself in long-winded debates that made the warriors' heads spin. Thor had never approved of what he considered a waste of Loki's time, but Loki had never been one to indulge in carnal pleasures abroad when he was more than capable of finding them at home, where he could then proceed to embarrass or blackmail his lovers.)
Thor grinned, unrepentant, and said, "Come, Loki. Surely you would do well to leave this building for a time?"
Loki considered that for a long moment, watching Thor behind his lashes and gauging the chances that the blond would so easily open the way for his revenge. "I think," he allowed at last, "that I should like to again visit Midgard." At Thor's immediate frown, he added, "Peacefully, Thor. Brother."
Thor's frown faded almost entirely at the endearment, but he still wasn't agreeing. "I don't know, Loki," he said.
Loki allowed honest disappointment to twist his expression, ensuring Thor saw it before ducking his head towards his tome.
"It's not that I don't trust you, Brother," Thor said, voice at a reasonable volume for use indoors, for once, "because I do. But I do not know that the Midgardians feel the same."
"It doesn't matter," Loki said, biting down on a flash of hot-cold anger. The Midgardians shouldn't matter, he wanted to shout. They are but mortals! But such would not convince Thor of his peaceful intentions, so Loki held his tongue.
Thor remained in his room, oddly silent, for almost an hour before finally rising and gathering Mjölnir. "I will see you at the feast tonight, Brother," he boomed as he made to leave.
Loki nodded, distracted by the tome, and Thor left without another word.
Thor remained in Asgard for two days. He did manage to drag Loki out of the palace and down to the river, where they enjoyed a peaceful picnic and acted as if they were still true brothers, rather than the broken men they had become, too rough in the wrong places to fit together like they once had. Loki surprised himself by enjoying the day out, and he was unspeakably glad when Thor left to return to Midgard the next morning and the darker not-brother could return to hating the lighter.
Barely two days later, Thor had returned again. Loki did not hear of his return until the evening feast, when he joined the court in the grand hall and found Thor sitting at Odin's side. Loki was surprised to feel hurt, having grown used to Thor visiting with him as soon as he returned to their realm, and he cursed himself as he slid into his seat at Frigga's side.
"Good evening, Brother!" Thor boomed.
Loki considered him for a moment, then inclined his head. "Thor," he replied in much the same way as he had four days before. But, when Thor's face fell at the lacklustre greeting, Loki didn't offer the wished-for endearment, choosing instead to serve himself.
There was a strained sort of silence between the two not-brothers while Loki ignored Thor and the latter mourned the former's silence. Finally Frigga sighed at the two and said, "Loki, your brother has bargained for you to visit Midgard."
Loki froze, fork of meat halfway to his mouth. He blinked once, twice, then carefully set his fork back down on his plate and looked around his adopted parents to Thor's hopeful, hangdog expression. "Thank you, Brother," he said, just loud enough for his voice to carry over the rambunctious crowd beneath their table, and Thor's face split into a wide grin.
"Of course, Brother," Thor called back, voice carrying effortlessly over the noise of the hall, and Loki was almost jealous. Almost.
An hour later, when Loki could finally excuse himself from the feast without seeming unduly rude – and having left behind all manner of mischief for the unwary to set off in his absence, allowing him to claim an innocence that no one would grant him – he was surprised to be joined by Thor, who usually stayed long after most of the court at feasts. Loki raised a curious eyebrow at his companionship, which Thor shook his head at in response. Sighing, Loki resigned himself to the mystery and finished the trip to his room in silence. He was largely unsurprised when Thor followed him into his room and dropped heavily into the chair he so often claimed.
"You have something to say?" Loki asked as he settled gracefully into his preferred seat.
Thor nodded, looking tired. "Aye. The agreement for your visit to Midgard is not without restrictions, Brother."
Loki shrugged. "I expected little else; the mortals would be fools to allow me back after the damage I caused. I had not expected they would allow me back at all." A truth; he hadn't believed Thor would have anything worth offering the angry leader with one eye which would see him allowing Loki back in their realm. He'd resigned himself to waiting until the man died or his attack had been largely forgotten by all involved. If that meant his revenge would survive those he wished to bring it down upon, he would simply have to focus all his anger on any that remained, knowing Thor would receive the brunt of it.
Thor shrugged. "They were not well pleased at the request, but others have risen to take your place in attempting to destroy the world with abilities beyond those of an average Midgardian, and I am needed more oft than not. I have made it no secret that my visits home were to spend time with you, and I've agreed that I will remain on Midgard if you are allowed to visit."
Loki raised an eyebrow; he knew that Thor's returns to Asgard were intended to be spent with him – even while his mouth had been sewn shut, Thor had visited with him, filling the silence with memories from their childhood and recent actions of the Æsir and humans alike that Loki would find humour in – but he hadn't expected that the blond would have told his teammates who he came home for. He wondered how many fights had occurred because Thor still cared for him.
"It's only that you must remain on Midgard, then?" Loki asked when Thor said no more, frowning silently into his lap. "And what if you are required here? You are the sole prince."
Thor winced at that reminder – if it had been his choice, Loki would still be in line for the crown, something which Loki and the court called him a fool for – then said, "You won't be required to remain on Midgard, and Father has agreed to leave those duties that require the presence of a prince to you."
"Has he taken leave of his senses?" Loki bit out.
Thor waved a hand at him. "You are as trained as I for the position, and while you may not claim the throne, you are still my brother and the Allfather's son. And–" Thor added with a hint of mischief, "–you might always take my form and no one will be the wiser."
Loki couldn't help but laugh at that. "I have corrupted you," he commented. "What would the court think if they but knew, I wonder."
"It hardly matters," Thor insisted, a hint of embarrassment colouring his cheeks. "You'd have done it with or without my and Father's blessing, if only to ease the court."
Loki frowned, silently giving Thor that one. He didn't mind the distrust of the Asgardian people, but he also had no interest in starting a civil war over his possible ascension; it was the very reason he'd agreed so readily to give up his claim when Odin had demanded it of him.
Thor shook his head. "Director Fury has insisted that, during any time you spend on Midgard, you are to be in the company of one of the Avengers, or at the SHIELD base with an escort of at least four agents. If you're caught alone, he's authorising anything short of killing you to bring you into custody, and if you're found committing murder, he claims the right to use lethal force to subdue you."
Loki raised both eyebrows. "A wise man," he allowed.
"Loki, how can you be so calm about this?" Thor demanded, clearly upset.
Loki shrugged. "What would you have them do, then, if I was seen cutting down the mortals? Lock me up for another ten months and hope I'd finally learnt my lesson?"
"I–" Thor cleared his throat, uncomfortable. "Yes," he decided.
"And they wonder why I am so set against seeing you as king," Loki muttered, frowning at the elder. "Thor, I am not to be trusted."
"You enjoy lies and mischief, Brother," Thor said, tone serious and not a little grim, "but that does not make you a beast that has need to be put down."
"I am Jötun," Loki hissed, disgust lacing his words.
"You are my brother," Thor returned, angry but determined. "I would not see you killed for the circumstances of your birth any more than I would another. You are a good man, Loki, when you see fit to put your mind to it."
Loki tasted bile and turned away, refusing Thor's words; the man had always been blind to Loki, and this was no different. "When do you leave to return?" he requested.
Thor pressed his mouth into a line, needing to convince Loki of his worth, but centuries of fights had taught him when further debate would only do harm, so he replied, "In the morning. You needn't return with me, but it might be for the easier if you know where you will be spending much of your time while visiting."
"I will meet you over breakfast, then," Loki allowed.
Thor nodded and stood, accepting the dismissal without complaint. "Easy sleep, Brother," he offered.
Loki's eyes flickered towards him, blanked of emotion but for a glimmer of exhaustion. "And you, Brother," he agreed and Thor left feeling a little bit lighter.
Once the door had fallen shut behind the blond warrior and Loki's locking spells had settled into the stone, he looked down at his hands and watched as they faded to blue. "A 'good man'," he breathed and his hands clenched, ice curling around the edge of his clothing and making his fingers sparkle in the uncertain firelight. "A well-disguised monster, more like." The blue faded back to pale pink and he pushed away from his chair, ice falling from him and to the floor like so much shattered glass.
Monster or not, Loki had what he wanted, and he would bring his wrath down upon those who had wronged him – mortals and Thor alike – even if it meant his cursed life would finally be forfeit. (And maybe, just maybe, he was grateful for Fury's ultimatum, because once the Avengers were dead, what more would he have to live for?)
Before he and Thor were to leave, Odin stopped them with a call of their names and both turned back to him in curiosity. The Allfather held out a gold ear cuff to Loki and said, "You will wear this at all times, Loki, or you will be dragged back here and locked up until Ragnarök."
Loki took the cuff and glanced it over, feeling the tracking magic woven in the metal. It would give warning to the Allfather if he attempted true, unwarranted harm on another living being, and would ensure he didn't travel between realms without Heimdall's knowledge. Loki bit back an angry noise at the restrictions and clipped it in place without an outward sign of refusal. When the Avengers and Thor were truly broken, he would have to be swift in seeing them dead, if he wished to see his plans through before he was locked away.
Odin nodded, suspicion lurking in his eyes, and said, "I would have you return at least once a week, Loki, so you might be kept aware of any need I have of yourself or Thor."
"Of course, Allfather," Loki agreed easily. That, more than the magic cuff, he had expected. "I shall return on every sixth day, unless I have other reasons to return to Asgard in between."
Odin nodded, then dropped his hands onto both Loki and Thor's shoulders. There was a sadness in his eyes as he said, "It will not be the same without you both here. Go now, and be safe. Both of you." That last, they all knew, was meant for Loki, for it was without question that Odin would have his heir safe.
The two younger gods inclined their heads, then mounted their horses and rode out to the healed Bifröst, where Heimdall awaited them with too-sharp eyes.
"I have been informed of your coming travels," he told the two princes as they dismounted. "And that I am to keep a close eye on you, Loki."
"I have no intentions in slipping your gaze, Heimdall," Loki replied drily. "I will be returning on every sixth day unless needs must I return before that."
Heimdall nodded his understanding and the three turned to step into the transporter, taking their places. Heimdall sheathed his sword and the two princes were sent through light and flashes of colour until they landed in the bare soil of Midgard. There were semi-permanent tents set around the perimeter and a woman Loki believed he recognised from Thor's time as a mortal came rushing out of one, smiling and near about skipping into Thor's arms.
After sharing a moment of attachment than Loki valiantly bit back a sneer at, Thor turned to the younger god and said, "Loki, this is Jane Foster. Jane, this is Loki, my brother."
"Nice to finally meet you," Jane said, holding out her hand for Loki to take. Loki considered it for a moment before allowing the contact and Thor beamed. "I do hope your intentions are peaceful this time," Jane added, and there was a hardness to her eyes that Loki approved of, even as Thor made a helpless noise.
"I have, as you mortals–"
"Humans, Brother," Thor corrected.
Loki's eyes flickered towards the elder and he inclined his head, all grace and charm. "Apologies. As you humans say, then, I have 'turned over a new leaf'."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Jane retorted, shoving her freed hand into a pocket.
"Then you are wiser than Thor, Lady Jane," Loki replied, smiling at the surprise that flashed in her eyes.
"Loki," Thor hissed.
Loki flashed his not-brother an easy smile. "You were to show me my line of prison guards, then?" he requested.
"I thought he was here peacefully," Jane said to Thor, frowning.
"They are not prison guards, Brother," Thor insisted, irritation and hurt warring in his voice. "They are–"
"A security detail?" Loki suggested. "To protect the populace, of course."
"Loki, please," Thor tried, "stop acting like this. I beg of you."
Loki raised an eyebrow in response, but obediently held his tongue; he well loved to cause trouble, but he had plans to see to and irritating Thor over much might well see him back on Asgard and banned from Midgard until long after the Avengers were dead.
Thor breathed relief into the ensuing silence and offered Jane a smile. "We're to New York. Did you have wish to accompany us, or does it please you more to remain here with your research?"
Jane smiled. "I can study my readings just as easily – more easily, perhaps – in Mr Stark's labs as I can here," she said. "Let me get my coat."
Thor nodded and they watched her run back towards one of the semi-permanent tents. "She is studying how to activate the Bifröst from Midgard," he informed Loki. "She is most brilliant."
"Perhaps she likes you so because she needs to feel smart," Loki suggested and smiled over-bright at Thor's responding glare. "To where do we travel? And are you intending me to teleport us, or have you another form of transport?"
Thor let out an angry breath, expression saying he was trying to remember why starting a fight with Loki was a poor plan. "We are to Avengers Tower, formerly Stark Tower; if you believe yourself capable of bringing us there without causing too great a scene, it would be preferred."
"I have no interest in setting my soon-to-be guards any more on edge than they will be already," Loki returned drily as Jane ran back over, fabric draped over one arm and a small bag held tight in her hands. "Where would be the safest for us to appear? The balcony?"
"I believe so, yes," Thor agreed.
Loki nodded and gripped tightly to Thor's arm while offering a hand out to the human. "Lady Jane, if you will take my hand and hold on tight? I am told this sensation can be disconcerting for one who has never experienced it before."
"Oh, yeah, hold on..." Jane shuffled her things until she seemed sure she wouldn't lose anything, then took Loki's offered hand, squeezing as tightly as she could.
Loki nodded, then tapped the well of energy that was his birthright and, focussing everything on the balcony of the tower, stretched them through space to arrive there. As soon as they landed, Jane tilted unsteadily and Loki quickly left Thor's arm to catch her, a sparkle of green ensuring that the contents of her stomach remained inside her and that she'd survived the transport without damage; he needed Thor's trust yet for his plans to work. On the edge of his vision, he caught movement behind glass, and he could feel Thor hovering at his side, one hand waving towards those in the tower.
"Thanks," Jane whispered as she got her feet back under her.
Loki slipped her a faint smile and inclined his head. "You are most welcome." He looked up as he sensed the group of mortals that had been inside moving along the balcony to meet them. Steve Rogers led them in civilian clothing, his shield loose at his side. Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff were a couple steps behind their leader, gait far less tense than Rogers', but Stark wore a glove from his suit on one hand, and the outline of several guns and knives could be seen against the Black Widow's loose trousers and shirt. Behind those two walked Bruce Banner and Agent Phil Coulson, neither obviously armed, but Loki knew better than to believe them to be any less a threat than the rest of their team. A glance to the side, where Stark's landing platform lay slightly above the balcony, showed Clint Barton, eyes sharp and bow held in steady hands.
Loki made an obvious show of stepping away from Jane, so there was little chance of her being caught in any fighting, and holding his hands up in peace. "It seems the committee of glad tidings is here."
"Welcoming committee," Stark corrected without missing a beat. "Always a pleasure to see you, Loki." His lips formed a mocking, better-than-thou grin that made Loki want to forego his long-term plans and just behead the human there and then.
"Likewise," Loki said in return, burying the urge for violence. He turned his gaze to Coulson and commented, "Thor had not told me you were again on your feet, son of Coul."
"I had not thought it to be important," Thor admitted. "You would have known he had lived."
"Wait, what?" Rogers interrupted, brow furrowed and grip on his shield relaxing. "How would Loki know Phil survived?"
"My brother does not miss his target," Thor replied while Loki smirked. "If he had meant to see the death of the son of Coul, he would be dead."
Coulson inclined his head when the team looked back at him, frowning. "I'm sure it was mentioned that nothing vital was hit. I lost enough blood that I was in danger, but there was little damage in need of surgery."
"I do remember that," Romanoff replied, looking back towards Loki with narrowed eyes. "I didn't think anything of it, because you almost died either way. Why not kill him?"
Loki shrugged, so very uncaring. "Why rule a barren rock? If some mortals must be left alive, would it not be better to keep the resourceful and clever?"
"Okay, yeah, that makes sense," Stark decided, shrugging. "Congratulations, Agent, you impressed the god of lies."
"I'll add it to my resume," Coulson replied, deadpan. The humans shared a laugh with varying degrees of nervousness while Loki and Thor traded a look that said, 'These mortals are so strange'.
"Loki," Rogers said once the laughter had died away, looking straight at the god, "why are you here?"
Loki raised an eyebrow. "Am I not allowed to wish for forgiveness for my crimes?"
"Uh, how about no," Barton called from the side.
"Prove myself worthy of forgiveness, then," Loki corrected easily enough. He'd envisioned this scene many times in the past months; not everyone was as forgiving as Thor, and he had no doubt that this team would sooner see him strung up by his own entrails than accept him into their lives alive.
"Okay, nope, not buying it," Stark decided. "You're up to something."
Loki put on a face of confusion at the turn of phrase. "I am...what now? I'm not sure I understand your words, Man of Iron."
"You're planning something," Rogers translated. "And I'm with Tony on this." Stark let out an overdone gasp behind him and Rogers shot a glare over his shoulder.
Loki immediately looked down and made himself as contrite as possible, then murmured, "I have suffered my punishment for the wrongs I brought upon your people and the Jötun." He swallowed with a difficulty which was not at all for show. "My people. But a punishment that you cannot see is little more than empty words, and I should like to prove myself a changed soul. I dare not show my face in Jötunheim, not if I wish to live, but Th–my brother has promised me his protection should I wish to return to Midgard, and I should be little better than a fool to have ignored such a chance."
There was a long silence and Loki watched from behind his lashes to see if his speech had any effect. Rogers' shoulders had relaxed, and Banner wore a sad smile. Coulson and Romanoff wore uncaring masks, likely determined to follow the popular opinion, for the moment. Thor had tears in his eyes, and Jane was quietly rubbing his arm with the faintest of smiles. Loki couldn't see Barton from his position.
Stark, though. Stark was watching Loki like he was a puzzle he wished to figure out; the pieces all there, but the edges not quite locking into place.
"Everyone deserves a second chance," Rogers said at last. He glanced over his shoulder at the others to see their responses. Banner, Coulson, and Romanoff all nodded, and Barton spat some choice words before nodding himself, resigned. When Stark didn't look away from Loki to respond, Rogers prompted, "Tony? It's your building."
Stark shrugged. "Whatever. Can I study your magic?"
"My...magic?" Loki repeated, surprised. He was near about jumping for joy, certainly – step one, complete – but Stark's query had not been expected.
Stark nodded. "Yeah. The teleporting and sparkling fingers and stuff. Everything. Thor keeps saying it's just technology and I'm not sure I believe him. So I want to study it."
"You cannot study Thor, then?" Loki wondered, but he already knew the response: Thor didn't have the innate magic that Loki used; he could only touch magic through the use of Mjölnir, and even then, it was only storm-based, which was more likely to fry any equipment Stark was using than give him accurate readings.
"The big guy has trouble standing still," Stark replied with an uncaring shrug, and Loki had to applaud him for making it seem as though it was Thor's personality, rather than his skill-set that made him a difficult subject.
"Your machines tingle," Thor informed Stark with a loud laugh.
"If that's settled?" Rogers interrupted, rolling his eyes; it was clear this exchange was a familiar one.
"I get to study you?" Stark asked Loki.
"You may," Loki agreed, not willing to test the patience of his hosts quite yet. And it would be interesting to see what, if anything, Stark's machines could tell him.
"Awesome." Stark looked at Rogers. "Yeah, he can stay," he said and Loki blinked, having thought that Stark had already agreed. Then the man turned to Thor. "So, there's the empty room on your floor that Jane usually stays in, or you people can finish clearing out the old common and he can have that floor. And, seriously, I'm ashamed at how long it's taken you people to move your crap. I'm not that lazy and I'm–"
"Thank you, Tony," Rogers interrupted and Stark let out a shriek when Romanoff swayed to the side enough to touch him. "Natasha."
"Sorry, Steve," Romanoff said in a monotone, "but we all knew he deserved it."
"Be that as it may." Rogers looked between Thor and Loki, who looked at the elder god; he didn't much care where he was to stay for the duration of his time on Midgard, though the idea of an entire floor suited him.
Thor grimaced and looked briefly at Jane, who shrugged. "It will be better, I think, for Loki to have the empty floor," he decided. "I do not wish to deprive Jane of her quarters."
"Really?" Stark cut in, ducking away from Romanoff. "Because she could just sleep in your room, you know."
"That would be...improper," Thor replied stiffly.
"Really?" Stark repeated, only to shriek again when he got too close to Coulson. "If anyone else pinches me, I'm kicking all of you out!" The humans hid grins while Thor laughed outright. Loki just stared around at them, wondering at their madness; perhaps it would have been better to leave them to themselves, where they could drive each other insane.
"Alright!" Rogers called and Thor snapped his mouth shut. "Natasha, Clint, Thor, and I need to go clean out the empty floor. Tony, why don't you introduce Loki to the building."
"Sure, whatever," Stark agreed, turning and waving for Loki to follow him as everyone started back inside.
Jane caught up to Stark and asked, "Can I use your lab?"
"Yeah, go for it. Bruce, you wanna go with her?"
"New project I'm not allowed to touch?" Jane asked as Banner led her towards the lifts with the rest of the team, and Stark grinned after them without a response. Coulson peeled away to gather a tablet from in front of the couch, then smoothly caught up with the group just as the lift doors opened.
Stark made his way over to the bar as people piled into the lift, Loki following slowly as he looked around the room. There were some subtle differences from the last time he'd been there – more couches, a larger television, an odd table with sticks running through the middle and sticking out on either side with strange things attached to the sticks in the centre – but things were mostly as he remembered them.
"Drink?" Stark offered, holding up two glass tumblers. "I seem to remember that you didn't get one last time."
Loki inclined his head. "Very well, then."
Stark grinned and set about pouring them both a finger full. He handed one glass to Loki and, as soon as the god brought it up to take a sip, said, "Say hello, JARVIS."
"Good afternoon, Loki Odinson," a disembodied voice with a slight accent said.
Loki choked on his drink – caught off guard by the burn of the spirit, the voice, and the last name it used for him – and took a moment to modulate his breathing while Stark cackled. "And you are?" he finally managed.
"I am JARVIS, an artificial intelligence created by Sir to assist in the running of his homes and Iron Man suit."
"He keeps an eye on things, answers stupid questions, makes sure people remember to do things, and lets us know when we're needed somewhere," Stark explained before knocking back his drink. "He sees everything that happens in this building. And I do mean everything," Stark completed, a gleam in his eyes that said he didn't believe that Loki was there with good intentions, but was willing to play along for the moment.
Loki raised an eyebrow. "I see," he replied and finished his drink, willing himself not to react to the burn of it. An all-seeing intelligence could prove an interesting obstacle for some of his plans involving the Avengers, but he could work around it without too much trouble.
Stark smiled and held out a hand for Loki's glass, which he handed back. "Another?" he offered.
"Sir," JARVIS interrupted, "I have been asked by Ms Potts to remind you that it is yet too early in the day to be drinking."
Stark grimaced. "Yeah, okay," he allowed and shoved the glasses along the counter and out of sight before moving to stand in front of Loki again. "Give me the building schematics?"
A three-dimensional image appeared in between Stark and Loki. A quick glance told Loki it was a replica of the tower they were in, showing the innards. Loki was mildly impressed at the show of technology, but he knew from Barton that the man before him was hailed as a technological genius.
Stark waved his hand at the image and ordered, "Get rid of the bottom floors." Most of the bottom of the image went away and he motioned with his hands to enlarge the eleven floors that were left. "Okay, from the top; highlight them as we reach them, JARVIS."
"Top floor is our meeting room, with offices for people who need offices. Not likely you'll ever be up there, but Fury does have a space up there for when he feels the need to ride our asses, so you might well be called up once. This is the common area, and over here is the kitchen and a dining room, which we never use. Technically, we're supposed to have a team dinner every night, but we usually just end up in front of the television if we bother eating together at all.
"Third floor down is the main lab, where Bruce and I do most of our dirty work. You need a code to get let into the actual lab, which only a couple people have, and you're not going to be one of them. I'll probably drag you in there for studying your magic, though, and if someone sends you to find Bruce or myself, this is where we're going to be hiding. Jane's in there pretty often when she's in the building, too, in case you're looking for her.
"Fourth floor is mine. There's a smaller lab there, but I don't use it much. Beneath me is Bruce, then you. Steve'll be under you, and Clint and Coulson share the floor under him. Then's Natasha and Thor. Beneath Thor is the gym, which has reinforced walls, floors, ceiling...the whole shebang. We had the Hulk ripping shit up in there one day and it handled him pretty well, so it's a good room to take out any stress or anger in.
"As a general rule, everyone can access the common floors–" the image highlighted the top two floors, a portion of the third floor nearest the lift, and the bottom floor, "–as long as they have access to this part of the building. The other floors are pretty much closed to anyone who doesn't have a bedroom in them, unless given special permission by the person on that floor. I can get into any of the floors, since it's my building, but I'm inclined to respect privacy unless it's an emergency. Phil and Steve both have emergency access as well, but as the name suggests, they're for emergencies only.
"The only floor which doesn't really hold to this rule is Thor's, since he likes people coming and going from his floor–"
"He would," Loki muttered.
Stark flashed him a grin. "He's got another television and a small kitchen, which he keeps snacks in. If you want something sweet, it'll be in his kitchen, because Steve, Pepper, and Phil keep a close eye on the stocks up here. Thor's also been known to throw some spectacular drunken parties and usually has some stupid film or another playing down there, if you like that sort of thing."
"I do not," Loki replied, grimacing. "Is there any chance that I would hear his...parties?"
"Nah. The building's pretty well insulated. Natasha says she can hear him when he and Clint are both down there, making fools of themselves, but she'll go down and threaten to disembowel them before they get loud enough for it to bother Phil or Steve, so you shouldn't have a problem." Stark motioned at the model again and ordered, "Loki's floor, please," and the image zoomed in on the floor that Loki would be calling his own, the other floors vanishing. "Okay, you've got a bedroom, a bathroom, a small kitchen area that we can easily turn into an office or whatever else you want, and this room here. I don't much care what you do with the place, but if you need to order any furniture, let JARVIS know and it should arrive within fifteen hours. The cost of everything comes out of my pocket and I've more than enough to spare, so feel free to go a bit crazy. If you go too crazy, however, be warned that you might have to face Fury."
"How might I consider things to purchase?" Loki asked, considering the floor and wondering what he could use it for. He liked the idea of the small kitchen, so he didn't have to visit Thor for food, but he wasn't sure what else he would need.
"JARVIS can pop up an order form for you," Stark replied, waving a hand and motioning for Loki to follow him towards the lift as the image vanished. "Is there anyone right now that you're good with letting on your floor? Your brother, maybe?"
Loki's first reaction was a vehement 'no', but he knew it would seem strange for him to refuse Thor access when he was supposedly looking for forgiveness, so he agreed, "Thor, yes. Perhaps others later, once I'm certain no one will attempt to kill me in my sleep."
"Wise choice," Stark agreed, grinning. "Oh, and don't be surprised if Natasha threatens you with bodily harm; it's just her way of saying she likes you."
"I will keep that in mind," Loki replied drily.
The ride in the lift down to Loki's floor was surprisingly peaceful, and when they stepped off onto the floor, they found it empty of other people. There were a couple chairs against the far wall of the main part of the floor, but otherwise it was completely empty.
"JARVIS, catalogue," Stark called and a holographic list appeared in the middle of the room. "Good. Okay, you should be set. Let JARVIS know if you need anything," Stark said to Loki. "Dinner is in about...oh, five hours or so, and you'll be wanted upstairs then, but otherwise you're free to do as you'd like. Don't leave the building and don't go down to the floors below the gym."
"Of course." Loki inclined his head then forced himself to say, "Thank you, Stark."
Stark flashed him that irritating higher-than-thou grin again. "Sure thing. And feel free to use my first name." Then he was gone, behind the doors of the lift, and Loki was left alone with the holographic catalogue.
Sighing, Loki turned to the catalogue, figuring he might as well see about furnishing his new living space while he could. "JARVIS," he asked.
Loki let out an irritated sound. "Loki would be my preferred form of address, if you please."
"Noted. What might I do for you, Loki?"
"Can I only order furniture from this...catalogue?"
"You may order anything you like as long as there is a place to order it from," JARVIS replied.
Loki nodded and set about finding the things he would need for his magical studies, as well as stocking his kitchen. By the time he was to make his way up for dinner, he had his own stash of sweet foods, as well as some healthier foods that he had discovered he enjoyed during his last, brief stay on Midgard.
Loki magically changed his Asgardian clothing into something more common on Midgard and was pleased to see the Avengers seeming more relaxed around him when he joined them for their meal in the dining room. The meal – the Midgardian 'burgers and fries' – was strained, with occasional bursts of conversation from Jane or Rogers. Loki didn't speak unless asked a question, and then kept his replies short and to the point; thankfully, most of the stilted conversation was either about Jane's work with the Bifröst, or something in the news, neither of which required much – if any – input from Loki.
As soon as it seemed that everyone was finished, Barton shoved out of his chair and started towards the door. "Clint," Rogers called after him, tone friendly but commanding, "sit back down, please."
Barton looked for a moment like he might disobey, then sighed and returned to his seat. "What is it, Cap?"
Rogers nodded, then looked to where Loki and Thor sat next to each other at the end of the table. "Fury said something about rules for Loki being allowed to stay here?"
Thor nodded, but it was Loki who said, "I am to either be with one of you Avengers, or at least four SHIELD agents at all times. If I am to remain with the agents, I'm to move myself to the SHIELD base for the duration of your distraction."
"As long as one of us is in the building, JARVIS should be enough to keep an eye on him," Stark said before anyone could point out that Loki had been alone all afternoon.
"I trust JARVIS to let us know if there's a problem," Rogers decided, looking towards Coulson. When the agent nodded, he turned back to Loki and Thor. "Anything else we should know about?"
"Loki must return to Asgard every six days to check in with the Allfather and see to any duties that I am not able to see to myself due to my absence," Thor offered.
"We should be able to manage that," Coulson said. "I'll call Director Fury tonight to let him know ahead of time, but it shouldn't be a problem. Is there anything else we should be made aware of?"
"Nothing as of this moment," Loki replied easily enough.
"Good," Rogers decided and shook his head. "Loki, every night a different person handles dinner. They can make it themselves, or order it in, but it's their job to see to it. Is it okay if we add you to the roster?"
Loki shrugged. "I have no feelings on the matter either way."
"That would give us eight people," Romanoff pointed out.
"Oh, right..." Rogers frowned.
"We could have him help Thor on his night," Banner suggested quietly. "No insult, Thor, but you could probably use the help."
"This is true," Thor agreed wryly. To Loki he explained, "I have poor luck with kitchen implements. Jane or Bruce are often required to assist me."
Loki sighed. "Very well. When is this day I am to assist?"
"Three days henceforth!" Thor declared. "We will make a grand feast, like at home!"
Loki raised an eyebrow. "We'll see," he said and Thor slumped slightly, his excitement tempered. "If that's all?" he asked of Rogers.
"I believe so," Rogers replied, glancing around the table. When everyone either nodded or shrugged, he nodded to Loki. "Yeah. Everyone can escape now."
Barton was through the doorway and vanished before Rogers completed his statement.
"You know, I don't think he likes you," Stark said musingly.
"I hardly fault him for that," Loki replied drily before vanishing from his spot and reappearing on his floor.
"Loki," JARVIS said almost immediately, "I must request that you refrain from teleporting without first warning someone of your intent."
Loki frowned. "Yes, of course. Apologies," he offered.
"Thank you," JARVIS replied before falling silent, likely reassuring the others in the building that Loki was on his floor, rather than wrecking havoc elsewhere.
Loki sighed to himself and had the computer pull up the unencrypted personal files about his new housemates and read up on them and current events until he fell asleep in one of the chairs out in the main room.