He wouldn’t hand-feed. At first, Loki had thought it was just puppyish behaviour that would be grown out of. He’d spent hours a day training the wolf, teaching him to hunt and track, as well as obey more mundane commands. As Fenrir grew, so did his ability to perform tasks and follow commands.
But he still wouldn’t hand-feed. Fenrir would eat anything off the ground, and would steal from the tables if he thought no-one was looking, but food held in hand, whether it was Loki’s or anyone else’s, went completely ignored. Fenrir would look away from and pretend it didn’t exist. The only way Loki could get the wolf to take any morsel was to hold it between his teeth and let it be snatched and licked away. It hadn’t been such a problem when Fenrir was but a pup, but as the first year drew to a close, Loki was starting to see the problem. Fenrir was not yet grown, and already his head came to Loki’s waist. And there were still two more years of growing.
That was when Loki took a small trip to Jötunheimr. He left Fenrir at home in Thor’s care, knowing the two would wear one another out well enough, and sought out a wild pack of wolves in frozen forests outside the ruins of Utgard. They were difficult to track, being low on the food chain as they were, but still predators themselves, but Loki found a pack by the end of his first day there. Setting up camp downwind from the pack, he spent the night watching the wolves, observing their social structures. They weren’t like Asgardian wolves, beyond just their size. Their social ranking was similar, but there was something off about it. Something Loki couldn’t quite identify.
He camped by the pack and followed their movements for three days before he spotted it. No, they weren’t like Asgardian wolves at all. They were something almost completely different, but filling the same niche. Suddenly, Loki had no further desire to stay on Jötunheimr. He wanted to go home to be with his pet. And if he started letting Fenrir take food from his mouth more often, well. The reactions from those around him were more than worth the occasional accidental nip to his face.
He hadn’t thought when he left Asgard. That was always his problem. Loki: god of half-baked plans and no forethought. After the fight with Odin, Loki lingered just long enough to grab Fenrir before leaving the realm.
Leaving Asgard was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was so furious with Odin’s lies that he wanted to get as far away from the old man as possible. And while Midgard may not have fit that bill exactly, it was safe and familiar. Or at least, was once familiar. It had been two years since he last set foot in the realm, but two years to an Asgardian was was almost a century to the humans. He had seen changes to the realm before, but this… This was unlike anything he had ever seen. The realm had become full of noise and light, even long after the sun had set.
He hadn’t thought at all. He’d left Asgard, and now he could not go back.
Fenrir travelled better than most, but he still was left disorientated and confused after a trip through the void. But New York was not what it once was, so Loki pulled him close and moved once more to a place he had been long before as a boy, and which he prayed to the stars would still be safe. When they landed again, they were surrounded by snow, just starting to melt with the spring. Fenrir, as big as a pony and black as the night, would be easily seen, but there was no-one around for miles to see him.
“You stay here,” Loki said, his face buried in Fenrir’s ruff. Fenrir shifted and whined beneath him. He pulled away just enough to press their foreheads together. “You stay safe. You stay hidden. I will come back for you, this I swear.”
Fenrir whined again, and when Loki stood to step away, Fenrir followed.
“No. Go.” Loki pointed toward the horizon. Fenrir looked back over his shoulder, and then stepped closer to Loki. “Go,” Loki ordered.
He stepped back again, and when Fenrir followed, Loki swung a hard kick at him, missing deliberately, but startling Fenrir away. “Go!” Loki shouted. He picked up a stone and threw it, hating himself for bringing Fenrir along with him, but knowing that he could not have left him behind. Not after last time. Not after Týr. Fenrir loped away for only a few seconds before stopping and turning back to face Loki. The last thing Loki saw before pulling the void back around him were eyes as blue as ice pleading with him to stay. Loki pretended he hadn’t seen a thing.
Back in New York, he felt lost. This was not the New York he knew. The streets were mostly the same, and even some of the buildings were familiar, but so much of it was not. He always felt a little bit lost after coming back to Midgard after so much time, but this time was different. This time, he felt truly alone. But this was his decision — another mistake in a very long line of them. He could not go back, and he could not stand still. The only thing to do was go forward. He found ways to entertain himself while he learned the ways in which the realm had changed. He harassed a high school student and found an ogre to annoy. He learned new ways of breaking and entering, and practised an old spell on a squid he’d stolen from an aquarium and tossed into the Hudson river.
Apparently releasing the Kraken was one prank too many, and earned him several arrows in his back. And he did so badly hate being shot. At least the humans were willing to be understanding.
They kept him at the base at JFK. Apparently, he was expected to be surprised at there being a base at JFK, but the airport hadn’t even existed the last time Loki was in New York. Agent Coulson nodded when Loki told him this.
“Right. You would have been in France when they started building it.”
Loki couldn’t quite look him in the eye. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a disappointment to this man somehow.
“We have a lot of questions we want to ask you,” Coulson went on as he led Loki through windowless corridors to what would be his home for what they believed to be a very long time. Loki planned on leaving as soon as he got bored.
“We appreciate your cooperation,” Coulson said.
Loki nodded. “Of course.”
Agent Coulson was the only reason Loki was not being led down a different corridor in handcuffs. For that alone, Loki was more than willing to cooperate, and even ignore the pull in his back from where the archer’s arrows had struck him. It would heal soon enough. Unfortunately, it meant they lost the squid.
“For what it’s worth, I was planning on returning the squid when I was finished. I just wanted to see how big I could get it,” he said.
Coulson almost frowned, but not quite. “Why a squid?” he asked.
Loki shrugged. “Have you seen a squid? They’re funny.”
If Loki didn’t know better, he’d almost thing Coulson wanted to agree with him. He grinned to himself as Coulson unlocked a door with his badge and a number pad by the door. Loki memorised the combination, certain it would come in useful later.
The room beyond was the size of a small office, but sparsely furnished. A bed, a single chair, and a small table with a lamp. On the opposite wall, a door to the lavatory. Loki had been locked up in worse cages. He even stepped inside without being told, since he had agreed to play nice.
“Again. Thank you for your cooperation,” Coulson said.
Loki nodded to him, and Coulson shut the door, locking it with a heavy click. It took all of ten minutes for Loki to get bored and go somewhere else. He didn’t stay gone for very long though. He had, after all, agreed to cooperate, and what SHIELD had offered to give him in return — purpose — was something Loki sorely needed.
The next morning when a new agent came down to fetch him for another round of questioning, Loki was right back where he was supposed to be. The three empty pizza boxes and the small stack of paper Chinese cartons were not supposed to be there, and none of SHIELD’s surveillance could account for any of it.
Loki cooperated as best he could manage, and SHIELD looked the other way at his midnight disappearances. Eventually, Loki was deemed not a threat and even given proper quarters and a badge identifying him as a magical consultant. Better than the badge was the pay cheque. Whoever determined such things had still been uncomfortable with the idea of Loki keeping his own quarters off-base, but Loki was no stranger to living in garrison. He was allowed to come and go almost as he pleased, which meant he came and went exactly as he pleased. When Loki wasn’t being trained or prodded for information, he wandered the city, trying to reacquaint himself with it. He found New York full of surprises, but the biggest surprise of all was that his account with Goldman Sachs was still open. He had a place to put his pay cheques without having to go through the trouble of conjuring up another fake identity, even if the poor woman behind the counter did seem more than a little confused over the age of the account and the matching signature on the deposit form. Loki gave her his best smile as he signed the paperwork for a bank card, and when it arrived in a mail call two weeks later, the first thing he did with it was go shopping for some more tasteful clothing. It almost helped him forget that he was not of this realm.
Time passed. He was sent on missions, and got to know other members of Fury’s Avenger Initiative, officially-scrapped, but running all the same. They weren’t a close group of people, and they distrusted one another far more than any team should have. It was no wonder the initiative had been scrapped.
“What do you people do for fun?” Loki asked boredly. He sat upside down on one of the faux-leather sofas in the break room, with his head by the floor and his knees bent over the back. He watched Clint fiddle with the device he kept in his ear, repeating his question once the device was replaced.
“Huh? Oh, you know. Crawl through air-ducts. Hide trackers on people by slipping it in their drink. Keep track of which pens explode and which pens write.” Clint was the single most sarcastic person Loki had ever met. He rather liked Clint.
Loki looked at him, and then up at one of the vents on the ceiling. “I will give you one hundred dollars if you can fit into that vent,” he said.
Clint snorted. “Not a chance.”
“Two hundred,” Loki said.
“You’re on, Moose Meat,” Clint said with a nod.
They both got to their feet, Loki straightening out his jacket and Clint reaching to take off his belt.
“Oh, no,” Loki said, shaking his head. “If you’re going through that vent on a mission, surely you’d be taking your equipment.”
Clint scowled at him. “Fine. Give me a boost.”
Loki hoisted him up like he weighed nothing, only flinching when the vent fell and nearly hit him in the face.
“I will drop you,” Loki warned.
“No you won’t. Lift me up.”
Loki hoisted him higher, watching as he shimmied his way into the small space. It took him three attempts to fit both his shoulders in, and even more wiggling and quite a lot of swearing to pull himself in up to his waist.
“So, if you don’t fit, does that mean you owe me two hundred dollars?” Loki asked.
“No, fuck you,” Clint said. He wiggled about a bit more, and reached down to get his belt past the edge, and Loki lifted him higher just for good measure.
He felt something give, in the smallest of ways, as Clint pulled his belt past the edge and into the vent. Very slowly, Loki let go of him and backed away, letting him dangle from the vent.
“Hey,” Clint said, kicking his feet. There was some banging and shuffling as he tried to back out. “Hey, you son of a bitch. Get me down!”
“You’re a terrible spy,” Loki observed. Quietly as he could, he picked up a chair and moved it below the next vent.
“Yeah, I’d like to see you do better,” Clint complained. “Seriously, help me out.”
Loki stepped onto the chair, pulled the vent down, and hopped up into the air duct. Fitting wasn’t the problem; his weight was. Something was already creaking and groaning uncomfortably under Clint’s weight, so Loki focused very hard on not letting any of his rest on the thin sheet of aluminium, without actually levitating. He rested his chin on his hand and watched Clint struggle.
“Are you stuck?” Loki asked.
Clint looked up, having not noticed him climb up in front of him.
“I hate you,” he said flatly.
Loki grinned. Clint wiggled his arm free and flipped Loki off. Laughing was just enough for Loki to break his concentration, and the entire section of the ceiling fell to the ground with them in it. Fury was pissed. Coulson was pissed. Clint had two black eyes and a broken nose, and was also pissed. It was the most fun Loki’d had since he’d released the Kraken.
The high soon wore off, and Loki was back to skulking around the base, sneaking off when he was supposed to be available, and causing occasional property damage. When Tony Stark was brought in to consult on a project, it took all of twenty minutes for Loki to find him.
“Why are you doing it that way?” Loki asked, watching Tony fiddle with a hologram projector that wouldn’t quite project a solid image.
Tony was a man of science, which was something Loki could respect. He also refused to believe in magic, which Loki felt the need to ceaselessly needle him about.
“Because that’s how it’s done, Gandalf,” Tony grumbled. He twisted his tiny screwdriver just a little bit more and stepped away to try the projector again. The image of the little black dog was just a little bit translucent. Not good enough.
Loki rubbed his hands together and then held out his right one. The same dog stood next to Tony’s, perfectly opaque no matter how it moved around.
“No, see. You can’t—” Tony wanted to argue, and Loki knew it. But he also had the evidence right before his eyes to prove that Loki actually could. “How?” he said instead.
“It’s simply a trick of the light,” Loki said. “Just like yours.” He poked at the dog with his foot and moved straight through the creature.
He remembered Fenrir on a Norwegian moor, and how he had kicked at him to try to frighten him off. Loki made the illusionary dog vanish and crossed his arms over his chest with a scowl.
“Yeah, but how are you manipulating the light?” Tony demanded. He turned off the image and bent over to fiddle with his machine once more. It was a large, clunky thing, which Tony insisted could be shrunk down once they got the larger model working.
If they got the larger model working.
Loki shrugged. “Willpower.”
“You will the light into changing?” Tony asked incredulously.
Tony snorted and flipped on his machine again. The dog was still transparent, and was now flickering.
“And mine requires far less machinery to carry around,” Loki pointed out.
“My machinery is explainable by science,” Tony said. He jabbed his screwdriver back into the device, remembering a fraction of a second too late to turn it off. When the metal tip of his screwdriver connected with the device, it let off a spark so large it nearly blinded the both of them, and did a very good job at singing every hair on Tony’s face. It also took out the entire circuit, plunging the room into darkness.
“That was your fault,” Loki said, blinking the spots out of his eyes.
Tony threw his screwdriver at Loki and missed, hitting a data screen instead and chipping its glass.
“Also your fault,” Loki said.
Luckily, Coulson arrived before Tony could throw anything else. Loki took it as an opportunity to retire to his quarters. He could not get the image of that tiny black dog out of his mind. Not until the image of a very large dog finally chased it away.
When the ogre was brought into the facility, Loki was under strict orders to avoid seeking him out. The ogre was apparently a scientist, and a somewhat meek little man when he wasn’t an ogre. Having been once before driven through concrete by the creature, Loki was in no mood to deal with it again, so he stayed in the break room with a cup of coffee and a dagger. The coffee was heavily spiked with rum. The dagger was used to carve nonsense runes and rude Asgardian phrases into the table. Loki didn’t even hear Coulson and Dr Banner enter. They watched him slowly destroying the table, neither wanting to get too close to him.
“Have you considered pet therapy?” Dr Banner asked quietly.
Loki glared over at the sudden intrusion, and then turned his glare back to the table. “I don’t need therapy.”
Dr Banner and Coulson both looked at one another.
“No, like, a companion animal. Like a dog or something,” Banner clarified, this time louder.
Loki stopped hacking into the table. “I have a dog,” he said stiffly. “I didn’t think he’d be welcome.”
“Where is he?” Coulson asked, sounding almost curious.
It was a long moment before Loki responded. He’d so many times considered going to retrieve Fenrir, but thought better of it each time. Fenrir wasn’t welcome on Asgard. He’d be even less than welcome on Midgard. “Norway,” he said finally.
He saw Coulson cringe out of the corner of his eye. “That’s… Obviously we can’t stop you from going to Norway, but I’d really prefer if you didn’t.”
Loki jammed his dagger into the table, tearing out a large chunk. He wouldn’t go to Norway anyway. If he went there, he’d want to bring Fenrir back, and if these people saw his dog, they would order him destroyed. Or worse.
“We’ve got a team out in Copenhagen right now. If you tell me where the dog is, I can have our guys pick him up on their return,” Coulson offered.
Loki looked back up at the two of them, trying to determine their motive. Unable to see it, he picked up his coffee and returned to his quarters, ignoring Dr Banner’s mutterings about the benefits of having an animal around. As if Loki didn’t already know.
He tried to sleep, but a familiar headache was blossoming behind his eyes. It started with a headache. Next would be the dizziness that didn’t go away, a constant ache to his very core, and the lack of appetite, with anything he did eat just coming right back up. He’d been here before, when Thor had gone away to Vanaheimr for a year. The people he knew at SHIELD were friendly, but they were not his friends. He had no-one to simply be with, no-one to share close contact with. It wouldn’t kill him. Not directly, anyway. Like most creatures from Jötunheimr, Loki had a biological need for contact; comfort and warmth against a chill so harsh it could kill even those born to the realm. There was no such chill on Midgard, but he still needed that contact. And he had left Fenrir alone on a Norwegian moor to suffer the same fate.
Loki didn’t even bother to get properly dressed. Plain blue pyjamas and a black vest were more than enough to consider himself clothed as he walked through the SHIELD corridors to find someone with access to a printer. Twenty minutes later, he broke into Agent Coulson’s office, leaving printed map of Finnmark and a small projection of Fenrir. He doubted they’d be able to find him, but until he could get his headache to clear, he didn’t dare try to make his way out there himself. With that left on Coulson’s desk, he returned to his own quarters to sleep until the buzzing behind his eyes stopped.
He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep, but it wasn’t long enough. He picked up his watch — the new one that told him far more information than he ever needed to know — and squinted at the date. It had been over a week. He must have been worse off than he’d realised if he’d fallen into hibernation.
“Fuck,” he muttered, dropping the watch back down on the bedside table. He rubbed his eyes with both hands and wondered why he’d woken up at all.
He tried to go back to sleep, but it eluded him. What he really needed, he decided, was some chocolate. Preferably with lots and lots of rum. He knew Clint kept a few bottles hidden around the base, and decided he could pay the man back later, because rum was essential to his prolonged survival. Loki hauled himself up from his tiny little bed and stumbled out of the room to find where Clint had hidden his stash this time.
His search took him up near the loading docks, which was where he started to hear it: a deep, rumbling growl that shook his very bones. Loki knew that sound. He forgot all about Clint’s contraband and ran toward the docks, finding a team failing to unload a very large cage from one of the quinjets. Every time they got near, the beast inside it would throw itself against the side of the cage, snarling and snapping blindly.
“Let him out!” Loki ordered.
Several of the agents turned to look aghast at Loki. “Are you kidding? It’s pissed,” one of them said. Loki didn’t even care who he was.
“Exactly.” Loki pushed past everyone, shoving one of the senior agents aside as he reached for the pen. He unfastened the bolt, and before he could even step away, Fenrir tackled him to the ground, claws digging into his arms and teeth and tongue all over his face.
Loki laughed wildly and openly, too happy to even be surprised. “Oh, I missed you too,” he said, tugging hard on Fenrir’s fur.
“Coulson told us we were after a dog,” one of the agents said. “That’s not a fucking dog. It took five tranq darts to take him down.”
Loki should have figured they would have resorted to that, but he still wasn’t pleased about it. “I am so sorry,” he told Fenrir, letting the animal crush and scratch him all he liked. “I’ll let you bite one of them if you like.”
Fenrir wuffed happily as Loki scratched him behind his ears with both hands.
They stayed on the floor in the loading docks long after everyone else had cleared out. When Loki finally did push Fenrir off of him and stood, it felt as if every vertebra in his back snapped and popped. He took Fenrir to the canteen and bought every last piece of fried chicken from behind the counter. He convinced the man to just give it to him, tray and all, and then put it on the ground before Fenrir. It was empty in less than two minutes.
Coulson found Loki outside in the empty lot behind the runways. He watched for a few minutes while Loki threw a baseball bat across the field, and Fenrir chased after it, tripping over himself as he tried to pick it up without stopping.
“We can’t let him stay here,” Coulson said after Loki threw the bat again.
Loki’s entire body stiffened at Coulson’s words. He had expected to hear as much, but not from Coulson. “He’s harmless,” he insisted, forcing out the words one at a time.
Coulson watched Fenrir bring back the bat and drop it obediently at Loki’s feet, waiting for it to be thrown again.
“Why not a ball?” Coulson asked.
Loki threw the bat. “He swallowed it.”
Coulson watched Fenrir bound across the field, something critical in his gaze. While on all-fours, Fenrir was almost as tall as Loki was. And Loki wasn’t exactly short.
“We’ve been getting complaints,” Coulson said. “He breaks things. I know he doesn’t mean to, but he’s too big. He gets excited easily, and even though you say he’s harmless, a lot of the agents are afraid of him.”
Fenrir came back, and before he could even drop the bat, Loki took it from him and threw it again, even farther than last time. He didn’t say anything to Coulson. He couldn’t. It felt too much like betrayal and he didn’t trust himself not to lash out.
“You have a week,” Coulson said. He handed a folded newspaper to Loki and started to walk away. “Make sure you get a look at the back yards.”
Frowning, Loki opened the paper to find the rentals section of the Brooklyn Daily’s classifieds. Some of the ads were already circled.