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Amateur Theatrics

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Between the three of them they do, fortunately, at least know how to make dinner, so they successfully feed Loki a grilled cheese sandwich before putting him to bed. Steve offers to tell him a bedtime story, which Clint is frankly looking forward to hearing, but apparently that’s not an Asgardian thing. They make sure he knows where the bathroom is and how to find them if he gets scared in the middle of the night and leave it at that. Loki’s too tired to even fully appreciate his Thor pajamas.

“We didn’t make him brush his teeth,” Bruce worries.

“One night isn’t going to kill him,” Clint says. “I don’t know about you two, but I’m going to call it a night. I’m traumatised and I want to go curl up in bed and cry for a little while. That was a joke,” he adds when Steve looks concerned.

“No it wasn’t,” Bruce mutters. “Jesus, I’m going to have to change clothes.”

“I’m going to go check on Natasha and then I’ll turn in too,” Steve says.

“Don’t get caught,” Clint says, waving him off.

The next morning Clint staggers into the kitchen to be confronted with the bizarre sight of Coulson patiently explaining political cartoons to a fascinated Loki.

“And your rulers allow this impudence?” he asks, pointing to a section of the morning paper. “This is quite rude. The All-Father would undoubtedly smite the offender.”

“Freedom of speech, kid,” Tony says from where he’s leaning up against the counter. He’s wearing a shirt that somehow manages to cover his arc reactor and still be revealing almost to the point of obscenity, and doesn’t look like he’s been to bed at all. His short guy-haircut has been gelled up into spikes, and of course it looks stupidly hot because the universe is unfair that way. “If we want to say something we’re allowed to.”

Loki looks astonished. “How do your people get anything done? This seems terribly inefficient.”

“It is,” Coulson says, with the air of a man who spends most of his life operating in the dictatorship of Fury.

Clint sidles up to Tony. “How was your night?” He asks. He really only means to check up on Tony’s wellbeing, be a good teammate and all that, but of course it doesn’t come out that way and since it’s Tony wouldn’t have been taken innocently even if it had.

Tony grins wolfishly. “Multiple orgasms? Not a myth.”

Loki notices Clint’s arrival and excuses himself from Coulson, hopping down off his chair and coming over. He’s wearing his Thor shirt from yesterday with his Thor pajama bottoms, and Clint spares a moment to note that somebody really needs to find a camera and document the shit out of this for the good of Midgard-Asgardian relations.

Loki stops in front of him, folds his fist over his chest, and bows his head curtly. “Lord Clint,” he says formally, “I tender you my most sincere apologies for my behaviour yesterday. I will accept whatever punishment you deem just.”

Tony immediately succumbs to an extremely suspicious coughing fit. Clint glances at Coulson for help, but Coulson only stares back with his default expression of mild amusement. It’s just as creepy as always.

Avengers Assemble my ass, Clint thinks sourly, and crouches down so he’s at Loki’s level. “Well, thanks, kiddo. Tell you what - I’m going to make a deal with you, okay?”

Loki nods warily.

“Okay. The thing is, we don’t really know anything about kids, so I need you to promise to let us know when you need something. If you’re tired or hungry or you need to, I don’t know, run around and be crazy or whatever, let us know and we’ll do our best to help you out. Sound good?”

Loki turns this over for a minute. “I accept your proposal,” he says finally, still looking at Clint kind of sideways. “The punishment?”

“No punishment. We’ll put it down to cultural differences this time, but please don’t do it again. Oh - and we’re pretty informal, here, so you can just stick to my first name, okay?” The last thing he needs is for the whole ‘Lord’ thing to get out of hand.

Loki’s face falls. “I used the wrong title.”

“Well, yeah, but there wasn’t any way you’d know, and I got what you meant,” Clint says, eyeing Loki nervously for any signs of last night’s tears. He’d forgotten that Loki was raised just as much a prince of Asgard as Thor was. He was probably drilled in court etiquette from the time he could speak - it’s not really surprising it would upset him to get it wrong.

“He’d be ‘Agent’,” Tony says, against all odds deciding to be helpful. Then again, Tony was raised in High Society too - he probably had etiquette lessons until he rebelled and started using them as a set of guidelines for targeted disobedience. “If you were being formal you’d use his last name, so ‘Agent Barton’ instead of just ‘Clint’.”

“Tony, on the other hand,” Clint says, congratulating himself for spotting this one coming at least, “would be ‘Mister Stark’.” He bats his eyelashes. “Or would it be ‘Miss’?”

Mister,” Tony says, kicking him. “I’m still a man even if I’m not male, jerkass.”

“Don’t repeat that word,” Clint says firmly to Loki.

“Good luck in this household,” Steve says dryly from the doorway. “Morning, everyone. How’d you sleep, Loki?”

“Very well, thank you,” Loki says, brightening considerably. “May I ask, are you an Agent or a Mister?”

“Captain, technically,” Steve says, and correctly interprets Loki’s look of alarm. “We don’t actually each have individual titles. Bruce is a Doctor, but Natasha and Coulson are both Agents.”

Loki takes this in seriously. “And Lady Pepper?”

“Technically a ‘Miss’,” Tony says. “But she deserves the respect of ‘Lady’, so you can keep that one. I’ll tell you from experience that it’s always worth it to suck up to Pepper.”

“Kiss up,” Clint explains at Loki’s puzzled look. “Kiss ass. Uh... brownnose.”

“Ingratiate,” Steve says, rolling his eyes at Clint. “You can’t explain slang with more slang.”

After breakfast, Steve volunteers to take Loki to the library. Loki, who has been scrupulously on his best behaviour all morning, is nearly beside himself with excitement, and Clint is amused to see that Steve is in pretty much the same state. Nerds, he thinks affectionately.

A few minutes after they’ve left Bruce slinks in, towelling Natasha’s hair dry. Clint raises an eyebrow.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Bruce says hollowly. “I thought Natasha would prefer that I shower to the alternative, but I feel like I just defiled something.”

Clint pats him sympathetically on the shoulder and leaves him mournfully spooning sugar into his tea. Now that Coulson’s back and apparently over his little breakdown, it’s time for some actual strategy organized by people who are really in charge, and are not just him and Steve and Bruce trying not to freak out.

Besides, a request for a consultation from Doctor Strange will have more impact coming from SHIELD than from the Avengers’ long-range weapon.

“I had a drink with Doctor Strange last night,” Coulson says before Clint can start, because he is a scary, scary person.

“Oh?” Clint says, as if he was about to ask about something else. Coulson, Clint realises with a sigh, probably took a vow of sobriety when he joined SHIELD and has never even tried to break it, and it should not be surprising that his version of a ‘breakdown’ is ‘forgetting to inform his team that he’s going off to officially liaise with someone’. Coulson would be boring if he wasn’t utterly terrifying at the same time. “Can the good doctor fix this whole thing?”

“He says Loki has to do it.”

Clint stares. “Did you tell him what happened to Loki?”

Coulson gives him an unamused look. “Yes, I did. He wrote down a few ideas that he thought might help Loki along and then he washed his hands of the whole thing.”

“Washed his hands,” Clint repeats. “What an ass.”

“The real problem, of course,” Coulson says, “is what’s going to happen when everyone realises the Avengers are out of commission.” He gives Clint a disappointed look. “It’s really too bad Loki’s device managed to take out all of the most immediately recognizable Avengers. I’m going to go talk to Stark, see if he can make a few casual Iron Man appearances. As long as he doesn’t open the helmet no one should be able to tell that anything’s different.”

“And as long as he hasn’t already made the costume boobalicious,” Clint feels compelled to point out. Coulson sighs and looks like he might be developing a migraine, and because Clint is occasionally a petty person it makes him feel a lot better about being the least recognizable Avenger.

Clint spends the rest of the morning killing time until Steve and Loki get back from the library. He’s too restless to spend time in the range and Natasha’s not available for sparring, so physical activity’s pretty much out. Bruce is in his lab looking harassed and Clint only gets partway down the hall to Tony’s workshop before the loud crashes and creative swearing convince him it’s probably best not to continue.

He winds up going to the local bodega and buying a crapload of novelty junkfood, because he thinks Loki will probably get a kick out of turning his tongue different colors. He also grabs a little Thor action figure from the display of touristy New York tchotchkes at the front of the store. The man at the counter looks at him like he’s insane and possibly dangerous as he rings up the purchases, but it’s not like it’s the first time Clint’s ever gotten that response.