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getting the gang together

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Natasha leans against the Robo Dojo railing, watching as Loki pulverizes the training droids. His moves are choppier than normal, with almost none of the pointless flourishes he seems to enjoy so much, and he’s flinging so much magic around that Natasha can actually feel it prickling on her skin from here. It’s not his usual showing off, either; his expression seems to have settled into a permanent scowl that doesn’t budge even when he pulls a new move with a ricocheting bolt of magic that takes out three robots in one blow.

Without even looking at her, he says, “I have no patience for Midgardian idiocy at the moment.”

“Wow,” Natasha says. “Somebody’s in a mood.”

Loki does turn to glare at her for that. “I said—”

“I heard you. Not sure what difference it’s supposed to make since you don’t seem to have a lot of patience at the best of times, but I heard you.”

“Well then,” Loki says, pointedly putting his back to her.

Natasha chooses not to take offense, or the hint. “You sure took off fast. I think your dad wanted to talk to you a little more about how many Infinity Gem shards you might need to free Thor.”

Loki growls under his breath and makes a sharp gesture that sends another robot flying. “End program,” he snaps, and glowers at Natasha again. “Did you have a point, or did you simply wish to drag me back to the infatuated horde slavering for my brother’s return?”

Natasha tilts her head. Whatever else you could say about Loki (and there’s a lot), he sure has a fancier vocabulary than most people she knows. “Everybody’s just excited. We’ve heard a lot about him.”

“Yes, quite,” Loki says. “I noticed. Who would not be thrilled to meet the mighty Thor, golden son of Odin, beloved of all Asgard, the warrior who can do no wrong despite his lack of wit or subtlety? Compared to that, who would want—” He snaps his mouth shut, arms crossing tightly over his chest.

Called it, Natasha thinks, with something that’s not quite satisfaction. It wasn’t hard to guess that Loki’s issues about Thor were mostly rooted in insecurity, but it’s nice to have it confirmed. Well, nice isn’t the right word, but she does like to have accurate information. And it makes sense, considering Loki gets in a bit of a snit every time Thor’s name comes up, that he would react badly to the possibility of his brother actually coming here. She considers at least making an attempt to draw Loki out more or less gently, but frankly she doesn’t have the patience, and anyway the best way to deal with Loki’s bullshit is usually to cut straight through it.

So she says, “Are you worried about being replaced?”

Loki blinks at her, looking completely thrown off. “What?”

Natasha shrugs. “I think you’re worried that if Thor comes here, everyone will forget you exist. Am I wrong?”

Loki starts to sputter in outrage, which is a pretty good sign she’s hit the mark. “I do not—why would you ever think that I—” He draws himself up, and she can practically see him pulling on a mask of haughtiness. “If I cared anything for the opinions of mortals, then—”

“Right,” Natasha says. “Well, once you’re done telling yourself that, I was going to remind you that we’ve been getting a bunch of new students and nobody’s been kicked out to make room or anything. We’ve all got jobs to do.”

Loki folds his arms. “Is that so.”

“Most people recognize the value of having multiple skill sets available, and anyone that doesn’t is shortsighted and probably doomed to failure. I’m sure Thor’s good at smashing things, but we’ve got other people who can do that already, and I don’t see them worrying.”

“I am not worrying,” Loki says. “I merely—I have rather enjoyed being away from the overbearing oaf, if one can be said to enjoy anything on this backward planet, and now no doubt Fury and Father will expect me to be thrilled to share a room with him, because Norns forbid I have anything left that is only my own, not even a private moment out of his shadow.” He looks away, jaw clenching.

Yep, there it is. “Everyone still has a single so far, even with all the unexpected arrivals.”

He snorts. “I am sure an exception can be made to allow the golden prince to keep the untrustworthy second son under his thumb.”

Natasha raises her eyebrows. “Talk to Fury and Odin about that, then. I’m sure you can think of a compelling argument.” Reassurance isn’t really her thing, but she’s gotten this far, so she says, “Maybe everyone will love Thor, like you seem to think—”

“You will,” Loki says darkly. “You all will. Everyone does.” He doesn’t add the corollary that nobody loves Loki, but he might as well, for as loudly as he’s not saying it.

“—but nobody forgot I existed when we got a couple more spies and another redhead, nobody suddenly thought Steve was pointless when Sam got his own shield, none of our spider-people had an identity crisis when anyone else with similar powers showed up—”

“I am not having an identity crisis,” Loki says, sounding deeply (and almost convincingly) offended.

“Call it what you want. I’m just saying, this is a big place, and I’m pretty sure there’s enough room for everyone.” Some impulse makes her add, “And if he spends too much time using sparring as an excuse to beat you up, I’ll help you fill his bed with worms or something.”

Loki lets out a startled bark of laughter. “Not spiders?”

“I actually respect spiders, to say nothing of Jess and Gwen. Plus Peter would probably have a heart attack.”

“Do you mean to say you have no respect for the supposedly amazing Spider-Man?” Loki asks in a tone of exaggerated shock.

She snorts. “I’m pretty sure even the villains he defeats don’t actually respect him. Anyway, the point is, there’s enough space here for an Asgardian mage and an Asgardian brick wall.”

That surprises another laugh out of him, which he tries to turn into a cough. “Is there now. Will you next tell me that the lot of you Avengers have more than enough love and affection to go around, or something equally cloying?”

“Not my style, and I’ve already said I don’t like you, so no,” Natasha says, although she can’t help a bit of a smirk as she says it, and she sees Loki’s lips twitch in response. “But, you know. I’m not going to suddenly stop thinking you’re an annoying pain in the ass and occasionally useful co-conspirator just because a jock with a hammer moves in.”

Loki sniffs. “You would not have half the success you have had at uncovering Fury’s secrets without me.”

Slightly more than occasionally useful,” she concedes. Loki looks torn between outrage and laughter, which is definitely an improvement over his earlier agitation, so she presses, “Is Thor any good at infiltration, or sorcery, or deception?”

Loki eyes her suspiciously. “No.”

Natasha shrugs. “Then I wouldn’t worry. Besides,” she adds, “if Union Jack liked musclebound blonds, he would’ve hit on Steve instead of you, so I think you’re safe there.”

Loki doesn’t actually blush, but the very tips of his ears turn a shade pinker. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean.”

“I bet,” Natasha says. “So. Are you going to free Thor?”

He sighs. “The question may be moot—I would need an enormous amount of shards to power the spell, and I am not at all certain even Father can find that many. But if he can, then…yes, I will try.” He drops his arms, finally, and gestures toward the droid platforms. “Now, if you don’t mind…”

Natasha steps back from the railing. “Be my guest. I never asked you to stop, you know. Might want to work on that multitasking.”

Loki flashes her an annoyed glance, but his posture is looser, his stance more relaxed as he restarts the training program. Natasha watches him for a few seconds, noting his return to something more like his usual style, and heads back across the quad, satisfied. Despite what some people have occasionally thought, it isn’t her job to smooth things over or make sure everybody plays nice with each other, but sometimes it’s worth the effort, in the right cause. In this case, she really wants to find out more about the timefog, and she agrees with Steve that the academy could use another heavy hitter, considering how often they have to defend it from enemies occupying various points on the scales of absurdity and menace.

Helping Loki keep his head on straight doesn’t really come into it, aside from the fact that he really is a good co-conspirator when he manages to get over himself for more than five seconds at a time, and anything that moves them toward their shared goals is valuable. It’s not like she and Loki are friends, after all.

Well, they’re not not friends, but that doesn’t make them actually friends. Or potentially something other than friends. Really.