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Deception At Its Finest

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Loki despised the Avengers; pathetic, useless, boring mortals. He would rather serve his penance for the attack against Jotunheim on the frost giant’s own realm; throw him to the monsters, he would find it more invigorating than being stuck with the Midgardians.

But no, he was forced to remain with these dismal creatures, forced to concede to their ridiculous whims and save their puny world. The latest suggestion--raised by his own traitorous, fool of a brother--was the newest disgusting insult.

“I refuse,” Loki growled at the table of mortals, glaring at the one-eyed leader of SHIELD.

“This is the best chance we’ve ever had to infiltrate his ranks,” Rogers implored. “He’s our greatest threat, Loki.”

“You want me,” Loki hissed, “to turn into a cat and become his pet.”

“We need a way in,” Romanov said quietly. “He doesn’t trust anyone new; this is the best way to get close to him.”

Loki smiled sharply. “Yes, you know that from experience; do you not, Agent Romanov?”

The woman didn’t flinch or react to his snipe, but Barton did glare at him for it. Loki just grinned wider, after all, reading about the Avengers numerous failures had always been the greatest source of Loki’s entertainment since arriving on the planet.

And there was no adversary more dangerous to the Avengers than Anthony Stark.

Stark was, by Loki’s estimation, the smartest mortal on the planet. Loki could also see a little of himself in the man, and that was perhaps the highest compliment Loki would ever give a Midgardian. Stark had also been wise enough to never once underestimate Loki.

He was the one foe that the Avengers had never beaten and the one adversary who tended to distract the other heroes so that he could fight Loki one on one. The mortal was curious about him, and a small part of Loki was pleased by the attention. It didn’t mean he had any interest in becoming a spy inside the mortal’s heavily armed and guarded home. He might despise his living quarters on the SHIELD base, but not to the point of spending months inside his feline form just because the mortals had demanded it.

“If you do this brother,” Thor implored, “I will speak with father about reducing your sentence.”

Loki flicked his eyes to the thunderer, genuinely intrigued by that offer. He was forced to serve the mortals for half a century and any time removed from that punishment would be preferred. “Oh? And how much time would you petition?”

Thor was thinking very carefully, his time among the Midgardians having made him annoyingly contemplative and less prone to rash decisions. “A year will be removed from your sentence.”

“Five years,” Loki instantly countered.

“Done,” Thor agreed and Loki blinked slightly at the unexpected agreement. When Thor just grinned triumphantly Loki felt as if he’d somehow been tricked although he couldn’t discern where.

He settled instead for telling Thor with a dismissive tone, “Odin will not agree.”

Which meant that Loki would not need to worry about the mortal’s degrading request. When Thor began to smile even wider, Loki got the sinking feeling of miscalculation.

“Actually,” Fury drawled, “we had Thor speak to Odin first.”

“He would have gone as high as ten years off your sentence,” Barton told him with a smug smirk. “You sold yourself low.”

“But thank you,” Romanov told him with a smirk, “for your cooperation.”

Loki could only stare at the mortals with a shock that soon turned to disgust and fury.

Oh, how he loathed these people.

Loki continued to despise them as he sat in one of the animal shelters Stark was intending to visit to look for his new pet. The mortal was--according to SHIELD’s intelligence--‘shopping for a cat to complete the evil villain cliché’. Loki was meant to become that cat.

Loki’s usual preference when in his feline form was a black cat with green eyes, but the mortals deemed it ‘too recognisable’ which was what found him as, what the mortals called, a ‘ blue-eyed siamese’. He was currently sitting in a stall, waiting impatiently for the famed adversary to enter the establishment. Loki was then meant to charm the man into choosing him, something Loki had little doubt he would manage, but it irritated him nonetheless to be forced to do the mortals bidding.

It was as he was sitting in his cage, flicking his tail angrily that he heard Stark’s voice as he flirted and talked with the attendants. Stark, after all, was still only known to the public as the billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist; the public had no idea that behind his Malibu home and New York Tower laid the Iron Man armour that made him the Avengers greatest foe.

Loki was both amused at Stark’s ability to manipulate the media and public, and appalled at the sheer idiocy of the Midgardian masses that they were unable to realise or believe the truth about Anthony Stark.

But then, the Aesir had fawned similarly over Thor, his brother had just never had the brains nor inclination to manipulate them the way that the mortal villain did. Stark, after all, was very similar to Loki.

Quelling the small smirk that always wanted to form around Stark, Loki stepped closer to the bars of his stall in order to swipe his paw outside of the cage, intending to grab the mortal’s attention. He could resort to magic, but Stark was surprisingly proficient at being able to register it and Loki didn’t wish his ruse to be discovered before he had earned the reduction to his sentence.

Thankfully, it only took three swipes of his paw before the mortal stopped before him and bent down. He was faced with Stark’s curious, smiling face, and because he was too close to resist, Loki swiped (without claws) at the man’s nose, slapping it with his paw and making the mortal break into a laugh. The sound was warm and gentle and made Loki bite down on another amused smirk.

“Well, this little guy seems like some fun,” Stark remarked before gesturing for the girl to open the latch. She hurriedly followed his order and the moment it was open, Stark was beating her to it and reaching in to grab Loki without prompting.

Loki found himself being held in the air as Stark looked directly into his eyes. There was an extremely satisfied grin curling his lips as his sharp eyes assessed Loki – and the mage found himself slightly captivated by it. Loki had only ever spoken to Stark while he was in his armour. He had seen the broadcasts and videos that SHIELD had collected on the man, but it was nothing in comparison to the sight of him so close. The mortal’s eyes shone with an intellect and calculation that Loki had rarely witnessed on Midgard, it sent a thrill through Loki. It made him think that this ruse, more than anything else he’d experienced on the planet so far, might prove a challenge for him.

“We got a name for this guy?” Stark asked the girl, never glancing away from Loki.

“No, Mr Stark. He was brought in as a stray.”

Stark’s mouth twitched into a slightly wider smile. “Well, that settles it; Fluffy’s coming home with me.”

Fluffy? Loki thought with horror and disdain. He wasn’t even sure he was able to keep all of it from his face, but if Stark noticed, he only laughed before pulling Loki against his chest. The mortal smelt... nice, his hold was also warm and firm as his thumb lightly stroked Loki’s fur. It made Loki want to start purring, and although he would normally resist the urge, he did need to win Stark’s affection and trust, so for the sake of the ruse, Loki relaxed against the mortal, and let his contentment rumble out of him.

He was brought to Stark’s Malibu home where the mortal built and maintained the majority of his Iron Man and Iron Legion suits. The home was protected by the man’s A.I. as well as numerous other defences from his time as a weapon’s manufacture.

His public removal from weapons manufacturing years ago was seen by SHIELD as a ploy, a way to further distance himself from Iron Man and to keep any new inventions for himself. SHIELD believed that whatever tortures had happened to him in Afghanistan, it had snapped something inside him, leaving them with the villain that now existed today.

Loki had seen many minds break under torture, but Loki had never believed that to be the case with Stark. There was steel and fire behind that fiercely intelligent gaze, but whatever more was going on, Loki had never been interested enough to uncover it.

Now, Loki supposed, that might change.

Loki had been placed in a carry-cage once he’d been purchased and Stark had chattered absently for the entire drive to his home. Stark didn’t stop, not even when they were inside the man’s house. He’d paused only briefly to return his A.I.’s greeting before Stark was placing the cage on the ground and opening it for Loki to step out of.

Cautiously, Loki had done so, still half-expecting something might go wrong and his deception would be discovered, but there was no indication that anything was amiss. Stark was grinning at him, and reached out to lightly pat him.

“JARVIS,” the man announced, “I want you to meet Fluffy.”

There was a significant pause before the A.I. drawled, “Your choice of names is as impressive as always, Sir.”

Stark just laughed. “What? I think it suits him.”

“Of course, Sir,” JARVIS replied, his tone incredibly dry and making Loki repress a smirk.

He settled instead for moving away from Stark’s affectionate pets in order to explore the room. It was a living space with large bay windows that offered patches of sunlight that his feline instincts made him want to curl up underneath. He resisted if only to continue his examination of his new surroundings.

The place was large, decadent and far more suited to Loki’s tastes than the small, bland room back at SHIELD.

Stark was surprisingly tolerant of his exploration, letting him walk from room to room, up and down stairs and never once trying to stop him. The laboratory and a few other rooms had closed and locked doors, which Loki had expected. He also knew that the A.I. would be watching him carefully for anything suspicious, but Loki did little more then acquaint himself with the layout of the house before returning to the living room where Stark was working on a tablet.

Jumping up on the couch beside the man, it made Stark pause what he was doing to look down at him and grin. “Everything to your liking, fluffball?”

Loki knew it was a rhetorical question, but the mage had to admit that he was pleased, if this had been the accommodation he’d been granted upon arriving on this irritating world, he would have been far more amendable to the mortals.

He decided to show his appreciation by climbing onto the mortal’s lap and begin getting himself comfortable. Stark laughed and moved the tablet to the side to better look down at him. “By all means, your highness,” the mortal remarked, humour in his voice, “use me as a pillow.”

Despite knowing the words were said in jest, Loki still smiled over them, especially when Stark brought down a hand to begin stroking the top of his head. Loki leant back into the touch and let his eyes drift closed.

Perhaps this would turn out to be a more enjoyable assignment then he had initially predicated; being the pampered pet of a billionaire was certainly more pleasant than a forced ally of SHIELD’s.

And while there had always been the possibility that Stark would ignore or mistreat any animal in his care given time, SHIELD had strongly profiled against that. Stark wouldn’t mistreat something that belonged to him, and Loki had agreed with the assessment... were he to find out his cat was Loki, well, that might change things, but Loki was a master of deception and disguise.

Anthony Stark would never know who resided in his home, not until it was too late.

Loki had never spent long in his shape-shifted guises in the past; a few days here, a week or two there. It was never something that held his attention for long as he inevitably missed his magic and the other benefits that came with his usual form.

But confined on Midgard with his magic use carefully monitored by Odin and his demands from SHIELD placing him where he was... Loki found himself quite preferring the months he spent with Anthony Stark.

The mortal was attentive and affectionate; he gave Loki only the finest food, toys and bedding. He pet Loki whenever he sought the mortal for attention and he let Loki curl up and sleep on his bed. He talked to Loki as often and easily as he did his A.I. and his robots, granting Loki an unusual perspective and knowledge of the man. Stark allowed Loki access to his lab from the very first day and he brought Loki with him during Stark Industries board meetings, resting Loki in his lap and petting him in the way he described as: ‘a classic evil villain’.

Loki found himself liking the mortal; his sense of humour and wit, his similarities to Loki himself and his constant need to know more. Loki also found himself impressed by the man. Anthony Stark was smart, far more than any mortal had any right to be, and Loki could understand why SHIELD feared him.

Stark was ruthless, intelligent, determined and fierce. He was the kind of man who would gain what he wanted, simply because he refused to accept failure as an option. He had found a way to block Mjölnir from coming to Thor’s call and not even Loki had managed such a feat. He was the brightest, strongest most fascinating thing on Midgard and Loki quickly found himself more interested in unravelling Anthony Stark than in gaining information for SHIELD.

Stark’s reasons for choosing the path that he did were multi-faceted and layered, and Loki was still trying to discover them. The damage to his chest that no one knew the extent of--and it was impossible for Loki to glimpse as the man never let Loki see him without a shirt--was important. He felt metal under his paws and warmth the few times he had touched him there, but Stark always put him down or moved him away whenever he made contact and so, Loki had learned to avoid touching him there.

Stark’s decision to destroy one criminal organisation or villain could almost look fanciful, but Loki had always seen calculation in Stark’s eyes, as well as portfolios and documents collected by Stark’s A.I. Many of them were in a code Loki had yet to crack, but the mage knew that Stark was a man who had multiple reasons for any one action. He had numerous pieces constantly in play; he was a puppet master, a grand and powerful manipulator. He was a mirror of Loki when he had been at the height of his power as a manipulator of the Nine Realms. Somehow, someway, Loki had found an equal in the most unlikely of places.

Loki could understand him, Loki could respect him and Loki could see why Stark’s side would be the only one that would win.

And it had Loki indecisive, because the more time he spent around Stark, the more that he began to like him.

Loki enjoy soaking up the warmth from the mortal’s lap as he smiled at the man’s ridiculous commentary over whatever show or movie they were watching.

Loki enjoyed sitting curled up on Stark’s desk as he spoke to some minion or villain via a conference call; decimating them with words and wit and intimidation until Loki was purring with pure satisfaction at the display.

Loki enjoyed when Stark would stumble his way to bed after a long day in the lab, wrapping himself in bedding but carefully arranging a spot for Loki where the mage could lie curled up against the mortal’s stomach. He enjoyed the way a hand would softly stroke his fur until Stark eventually drifted off to sleep.

The more that Loki spent time around Stark, the more he didn’t want to return to SHIELD with the information he had collected, rather, Loki wanted to stay with the other man and leave SHIELD and the Avengers to fend for themselves.

Anthony Stark was the only mortal to prove himself as something more than a useless, irritating, pathetic inferior - and Loki didn’t know what to do with that.

And before he could decide either way, the choice became impossible for him to avoid.

Loki had been lying on the balcony, soaking up the sun; listening to the waves crashing far below and softly dozing. The sound of the door opening wider had made Loki crack open an eye to see a grinning Stark. He bent down and lightly stroked Loki’s fur before gently easing him off the balcony. Loki had made a noise of protest, but had allowed it when Stark scratched under his chin.

“Wake up, Buttercup,” Stark told him gently. “I’ve got something special for you to see.”

Loki had given a soft purr and brushed his cheek against Stark’s chest, closing his eyes again as he relaxed in the mortal’s arms. Stark just laughed softly before carrying him inside and further into the house.

“I figure, since you’ve been here six months,” Stark continued, “I should show you a bit more of what I do.”

Loki opened one eye at that, curious. His other eye quickly snapped open when Stark brushed his fingers over a part of the wall, causing it to open and reveal a spiral staircase that Stark started descending with lights flicking on above him with every step he moved down. Loki abruptly woke up and began nervously flicking his eyes between the stairs and Stark.

He didn’t look angry or violent, the kind of expression Loki would expect if his ruse had been discovered, but Loki was still uncomfortable about where he was being led. There was something about Stark’s expression that seemed... odd, in a way Loki couldn’t pinpoint.

“It’s not a lair at the centre of a volcano,” Stark told him as they moved towards the end of the staircase, “or an underwater cave, but I guess you could still call it my B-movie dungeon, especially since,” he moved one hand to the wall, flicking on a light, “it does come with prisoners.”

It took all Loki had not to stiffen in Stark’s hold as he stared at three cells built into the far wall which contained Rogers, Barton and Thor. They all looked a little worse for wear, Rogers especially and the three of them glared at Stark.

Stark just grinned, bright and unconcerned by their hostility as he told them; “This is the part where one of you says ‘you’ll never get away with this!’ and I laugh evilly, just in case you missed the memo.”

“What do you want with us, Stark?” Rogers asked instead.

Stark shrugged as he stepped further into the room. “Still deciding actually, there’s a lot to consider, after all.”

Thor snarled, his hands fisted around the bars. “Release us, Man of Iron, fight us with honour rather than continue this cowardice!”

Loki almost rolled his eyes and he was sure Stark actually had. He certainly sounded mocking when he remarked, “Ah, pretty sure I already won that way. Hence, you know, you three in cages.”

“Which means you want something,” Barton summarised, his teeth gritted even as he stood calmly in the centre of his cage.

“Hmm. Maybe a little. I also wanted a chance to finally carry my super villain cat with me as I monologue. As satisfying as ticking any item off your bucket list. How am I looking, J?”

The sound of the A.I. was tinny as it came through the watch on Stark’s wrist. “I will assume you look regal, Sir, but as you have disabled sound and video, I cannot advise further.”

Stark sighed loudly and looked at the trapped Avengers with a mock pout. “The perils of not killing people on camera, right?”

It made all three heroes stiffen and made Loki swallow thickly as he tried to remain relaxed in Stark’s arms. It was a bluff, surely it was a bluff. Loki knew that Stark wouldn’t kill the heroes so unnecessarily; he also wouldn’t do it so messily in his own home. No, it was a bluff; he likely just needed them captured while he used their absence to further his own plans. The thought made Loki relax a little more genuinely, but he still felt anxious as Thor kept glancing at him.

“So,” Tony murmured, walking slowly in front of each cage, “which one do I want to get rid of first.” He paused in front of Rogers, tilting his head curiously. “There’s certainly some childhood catharsis in killing the old man’s favourite to consider.” He flicked his finger over a panel in the wall between Rogers and Barton’s cell, revealing a collection of buttons. “Death by receding floor fire pit makes my tacky movie fanboy heart happy, but wall of spikes is important to think about.”

His hand hovered over the buttons as he eyed them thoughtfully, making Loki’s eyes fly wide as he felt torn about what to do, but before Stark could press one of the buttons or offer more suggestions, JARVIS’ voice came from his watch once more. “Sir, Miss Potts is on the line.”

Stark frowned and glanced down at his watch. “Are you seriously pulling a B-movie ‘villain walks away’ moment on me right now, J?”

“She says it’s urgent, Sir,” the A.I. told him apologetically.

Stark sighed. “Well, doesn’t she have the worst timing.”

Shooting the pad one more longing look, he started to head towards the stairs, but when Loki squirmed, he paused just before them to glance down at him with a small frown. “What, you wanna stay here little buddy?” Stark looked behind him with a pensive scowl. “I know you like to explore rooms, but this is a bit dangerous.”

Loki just squirmed again until Stark was forced to put him down. Loki just made a point of sniffing the floor and moving over to fire extinguisher in the corner, pretending disinterest in the three heroes.

“Sir, Miss Potts sounds truly distressed,” JARVIS continued.

Stark sighed again before Loki felt a soft pat to his head and a stroke down his back that made Loki’s eyes fall closed as he arched towards him.

“Keep ‘em from escaping for me,” Stark told him softly before turning and hurrying up the stairs.

It left Loki alone with the three Avengers in an unrecorded room. It left Loki in a situation he had wanted to avoid for weeks.

Loki,” Thor hissed; relief in his eyes and voice; the same expression was present on both Barton and Rogers face. “Quick, you must release us.”

Sitting down in front of them, Loki felt truly, genuinely torn.

He knew Stark was unlikely to kill them but... even if he didn’t harm them, to refuse would be a betrayal and Odin would be within his rights to remove Loki from Midgard and punish him to the full extent of Asgardian law. He had to help them or his time on Midgard - his life was forfeit... but to help them meant losing his time with Anthony Stark. It meant making an enemy out of Anthony Stark; a man more capable, gifted and brilliant than any other Loki had met before.

But, perhaps if Loki was careful and somehow hid his involvement in their escape, then perhaps he could fulfil his sentence without compromising his ruse.

Glancing around the room, he quickly alighted on the panel and he hurried forward to stand underneath it and beside Rogers. He made a gesture with his paw and head which confused the Captain until Thor was able to translate the action. It meant Rogers crouched down and extended his hand out between the bars to pick Loki up around the stomach.

It was incredibly uncomfortable, but Loki put up with it to be able to better see the collection of controls which were helpfully labelled with pictures that displayed what each button was capable of; there were the two threats that Stark had suggested--as well as others he had not yet stated--there was also one to open the cage doors, but the one that held Loki’s attention was the tunnels that opened up underneath the cages and would--if he was remembering correctly from seeing the layout of the mansion once via a hologram in Stark’s lab--shoot the three heroes out into the ocean.

It would save them but it would also protect Stark from their attacks. It would fulfil Loki’s contract to Thor and Asgard without compromising his ruse and his time with the mortal he had come to like and the house he enjoyed residing in. It was the only option.

Loki,” Thor hissed again. “The Man of Iron will return soon!”

Gritting his teeth, Loki closed his eyes, using the smallest, most imperceptible burst of magic to confirm that the tunnels existed and would take the heroes where he wanted before Loki opened his eyes and slapped his paw on the button that was needed. He heard three shouts of surprise before Rogers was dropping him and Loki was landing on the floor.

Loki quickly looked at the cages and saw the trapdoors had opened, sending the three men out of the dungeon and towards the ocean. Loki kept his attention on them; activating a long existing spell his brother had insisted he cast to allow him to track the Avengers as they were ejected from Stark’s home and thrown into the relative safety of the sea.

Sighing with relief when their life-forces stayed strong, Loki closed off the spells connections and stepped away from the panel to sit in the centre of the room.

He’d expected Stark to come running, confused and frustrated by the turn of events, but when the mortal didn’t show up after almost ten minutes, Loki started to feel concerned and began to make his way up the stairs.

It didn’t take him long to reach the top and he startled on the third last step as he found Stark leaning against the wall with crossed arms and unimpressed features. “I think it’s time we had a bit of a chat, don’t you agree, Loki?”