He wakes up in the middle of the desert, and isn’t surprised to see that Loki is just a few feet away from him. He’s looking in the opposite direction, still clad in leather and metal, seemingly unaware of the oppressive heat. It’s where they first met.
Coulson can’t help but glance down first, because he knows that he has to be unharmed to be sitting here, but the reflex is still there. He had felt the blade as it had cut into him, the pain of it searing him straight to his core. In that moment, he had assumed that Loki was either more powerful than he had assumed, or that he had betrayed him.
“Your plan worked,” Loki surmises, looking back down at him for the first time. He holds out a hand and Coulson accepts it, allowing the Asgardian pull him to his feet.
“As did yours,” Coulson returns, looking up from his chest. He swears that he feels better than he did before they began this charade.
“It was just an illusion, Agent,” Loki returns, and his smile is sharp — the signal of his pride that Coulson has become all too familiar with. “You were never in any real danger.”
He seems far calmer than Coulson has seen him before — he’s still used to thinking of the broken mess he had found in the desert, still trying to sort out precisely what had happened with Thor. He had just been finishing up the paperwork from that case when Loki had arrived, bleeding and scarcely alive, fallen to the sands of New Mexico.
“I’ve made my brother a better king,” were the first words he had murmured, still half unconscious and for some reason, Coulson had decided against turning Loki into Fury — and instead, a partnership had slowly formulated.
(“These weapons will not be enough when the other realms take note,” Loki had murmured, somehow having found all the plans relating to the Tesseract. “You need something with a little more… heart.”
“The Avengers,” Coulson said, because he already knew all this. There was nothing that a weapon could defend against that a man could not do a better job against. The weapons would fail where heroes would not.
“You need a threat,” Loki said, smile wild and mischievous.
“Something more than that,” Coulson had pressed.
“A sacrifice,” Loki finished.
“Something to fight for and against,” Coulson nodded.
“And you’d like me to give your Avengers a practice run?” Loki asked, and the way he asked it, it seemed as if he thought Coulson had just suggested the best idea that there was. And Coulson knew that he had to be wary of the god who was in front of him, but all the same, if the plan went accordingly, he could see no flaw to it. He didn’t like the idea of lying to Director Fury — but this was what they had been needing: A reason to call the Avengers together, and this one would come with a small price tag.)
And so now, they stand together, in the desert, at the end. Coulson has been written off, a sacrifice, dead in practice, but not in reality and Loki —
“You got away?” Coulson asks.
“The All-Father and I seem to have a mutual understanding that it is best for me not to be in Asgard,” Loki says, and his words are perhaps a bit slower than usual. “But it does seem as if I have my freedom.”
“You’ll travel then.” Coulson finishes.
“Yes,” Loki says as if it’s a given. “Would you come with me?” The way he phrases it, it’s difficult for Coulson to tell if it’s a question at first. And the sheer magnitude of the offer can’t help but awe him — traveling realms he’s never known of with the equivalent of an Asgardian god. But to leave the Earth behind —
“For now,” he answers.
“You don’t want to see the outcome of your work?” Loki asks, and Coulson can see that familiar glint of curiosity in his eye. He’s certain that Loki has always been content to follow through with this plan, because he doesn’t understand him in the slightest.
“I know the outcome of my work already,” Coulson says contentedly — and he knows it’s true. He knows the Avengers will be enough in the end.
“A man of faith,” Loki says, and while there’s an edge to his laugh, it’s not cruel.
“Someone has to be,” Coulson answers, and he smiles in return.