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How Desperate Are You

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Chapter 1 – Homecoming

There were guards waiting for them, six of them. Of course, there would be, Heimdall would have alerted them as they approached that park in Midgard. Six guards and seven horses. 

Thor and Heimdall walked off to one side and spoke quietly to each other, too quietly to be overheard alas.

Despite being exhausted, Loki stood holding his head high, looking disdainfully at the guards as they sorted themselves out for the trip down the BiFrost. He quirked an inquiring eyebrow at a few of the guards that gawked at him. If those dullards were hoping that he would froth and fret, they were going to be sorely disappointed. Of course they most likely smirked too when their backs were turned towards him. It was to be expected, he supposed, after all it wasn’t every day that you got to escort a fallen prince to his punishment. 

His last act, before the chains and this Norns-be-damned muzzle had been forced onto him, had been to order and sort his clothes and hair. Would that he could have worked a stronger charm and escaped, but given the scrutiny he was under, a gradual freshening of his appearance was as much as he could do without adverse notice. He wasn’t going to be paraded into Asgard looking like a filthy beaten cur.

Loki of Asgard... No. He sighed to himself, not Asgard, just plain Loki now. Not that he had ever truly been of Asgard. That had all been nothing but a lifelong lie. He needed to forget that. He supposed that he would have been feeling furious, if only he wasn’t so damn sick of the whole thing. Now his whole focus was to get through the next several hours without collapsing and finish this farce with as much dignity as he could retain. 

He tried to keep all of these thoughts and several much darker ones, from flitting across his face. After all, there was no sense providing entertainment for the guards surrounding him. Stoicism was difficult, however when Thor, his self-professed ‘loving brother’, mounted his horse and started the procession down the BiFrost without so much as a glance in his direction. Bile rose in Loki’s throat as he was instructed to walk behind Thor, with the guards slightly back, flanking him. Of course he fumed, hiding the prisoner from view would not produce the proper amount of humiliation and we can’t have that can we? It was a long, slow, tiring walk to the palace. Once in the city proper passers-by stopped to watch, he could hear their murmuring and derisive laughter grow louder and feel their eyes following him as he passed in front of them. He hated all of them, especially that blonde buffoon that claimed to be his brother.

That wave of anger caused Loki’s heart to speed up even as he stiffened his spine. His thoughts raced in a thousand different directions, making him almost light-headed. Trying to take deep breaths to slow his heart rate down was difficult, when breathing only through his nose. They could have taken the damn muzzle off; it isn’t like he could have gone anywhere with Thor, the guards, Heimdall and of course the All Father so close at hand. Not to mention chained. They would have, he thought, or at least Thor should have, but doubtless this was part and parcel of the instructions that Heimdall has shared with to Thor. He expected that even this display formation with the guards was part of Odin’s plan. Odin seldom left such details to chance.

His tired indifference warred with something a bit more heated.

Trying another deep breath to steady his heartbeat, he did notice the fragrance on the breeze, it smelled of home. How many weary months had he endured the nothingness of the void, many, many more months on that accursed rock populated by the Chitauri, that reeked of smoke and cinder and blood, then damp cellars, sterile metal rooms and finally the burnt oil and stench of exploded concrete that was Midgard. Nothing fresh, nothing green, nothing… here. Weary, angry and sore he walked, until at last they escorted him into the palace.

His temples pounding so loud it was almost deafening, he was taken to the throne room. Golden columns, gilt edged marble stairs, rows of advisors, and of course the overly gilded All Father on his massive gold throne. Frigga was also there, standing on the step, right above where he and Thor were won't to stand, in of course better days than this. She tried to catch his eye, but he avoided her and fixed his gaze over the back of the throne, on the other side of course. 

He knew as soon as he walked into the hall, seeing Odin’s council arrayed on either side of the throne, that he could not expect any leniency. Well, he really hadn’t expected any, so it wasn’t a shock. Well, at least not much of a shock. Thor mounted the stairs, taking his accustomed, and now solitary place as he, Loki, the fallen Prince of Asgard, was brought to a halt in front of the throne. The guards expertly knocking his knees out from under him, forced him to kneel on the hard gleaming floor. Still he looked rebelliously over Odin’s shoulder. He was aware, from the edge of his vision that Odin had leaned forward to study his show of sullen defiance intently. 

Long minutes passed. Apparently Odin liked not what he saw. 

“Bow your head you insufferable creature!” Odin roared. The sound of Gungnir’s handle being slammed to the floor rang out. “I will suffer no more of your insolence in my presence!”

A hand instantly buried itself in his hair, the guard roughly forcing and holding his head down, muzzle digging into his chest and face. He was held there, heart pounding for several minutes, listening to the shuffling of assemblage. Then he heard Odin rise and descend from the dais, a ringing, like a bell echoed throughout the hall as Gungnir’s handle struck every step. Loki saw gold accented boots stop before him. The hand holding his head down was removed, but immediately replaced by a different hand, a hard fist twisting his hair tight, tearing it, yanking his head back painfully. As their eyes met, a small voice in the back of his mind noticed wryly that the All Father appeared, for some reason, to be upset. Small voice notwithstanding, the rest of him, as witnessed by his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest, the rest of him, was much more concerned.

Never in his life had Odin looked upon him with such wrath. Thor being banished was a mild upset compared to the All Father’s current anger. Loki wondered in a detached way, if opposing war hosts have seen this level of Odin’s fury. Wrenching his wayward thoughts back to the problem at hand, he desperately marshaled his arguments, so as to be ready when the muzzle was removed. He wasn’t going to have much of a chance to be heard, so he needed to make sure he didn’t waste a second of it. Nothing he said was going to get him out of this, but perhaps he could try, try to explain some of the reasons behind his actions. Having been plucked from the void, he couldn’t face that again, something else his thoughts begged. If he could just talk to Odin, he could convince him to do something else, something he could face with a shred of dignity, something quick perhaps, preferably something... sharp.

Something in his eyes must have changed or perhaps Odin had reached the end of his patience for his Jotun pawn; Odin grimaced in disgust and flung him backwards. 

“Take off the gag!” He thundered as he mounted the first step to his throne, “I would hear from Loki’s own lips how he came to be so debased. How he came to bring destruction to other lands, dishonor his parents, dishonor my house, dishonor our realm!”

Thor stepped down and quickly moved to fetch up behind him; grabbing the back of his coat collar and hauling him back up on his knees. Thor fumbled a moment unlocking the muzzle, releasing the pressure and then stepping back several paces. 

Just as Loki reached up his hands to remove the muzzle, Odin wheeled about on the steps, locked his gaze on Loki and his voice rang out again.

“Hear me well, Loki! I have had enough of your lies and trickery. I know much of what has occurred and will know if you lie. I want to hear nothing but the truth from your lips.” His face twisted in revulsion and after an eternity his voice lowered to a rasping hiss, “If indeed, you are capable of remembering what truth is.”

The truth. Loki couldn’t remember ever feeling sicker. His hands, which had been steady all this while, trembled slightly as he removed the muzzle and dropped it on the floor. It wasn’t even worth flinging the damn thing. Still meeting Odin’s stare, his thoughts exploded. Panic and rage billowed up inside him; his lungs stopped producing air, agony pounded in his chest, in his head, waves of pain, receding and then redoubling. 

Odin. All Father. Wanted... the truth. 

Oh this was rich. This was... ironic actually.

This was never going to happen. He was not a child to be stood up in front of his tutor to beg forgiveness for his bad behavior. He snarled inwardly, glaring at Odin from lowered brows. He certainly had no chance or desire to recapture the All Father’s good opinion with his version of the truth. In fact the only grace he wanted was for this to end quickly, and that was not even likely to happen. Then he felt hysteria bubble up within him. So funny, in the end he wanted so little from them all, and he wasn’t even going to get that.

He laughed helplessly for a moment and then stopped abruptly.

Rising gracefully to his feet, Loki sneered at the man he had once called father. Lips curling in disdain, he ignored gasps from the crowd, he ignored Thor whispering his name imploringly, he ignored the soft cry from his mother. Long moments interrupted by low sounds from the crowd around the throne, but never did his attention waver; never did his eyes leave Odin’s face.

And then he cocked his head to one side... and smiled.

His biggest, widest, most endearing smile.

Gungnir slammed out, striking him on the left temple, the force of the blow almost lifting him off his feet. Loki stumbled sideways, knocking over two of the guards. Their tangled limbs tripped at his feet, the chains on his wrists prevented him from catching his balance, so he fell on top of them.

Thor lurched forward, but was driven back by Odin’s wordless howl.

The guards scrambled to get away from him.

Loki sat there alone for a moment, he looked around the room, finally now making eye contact with everyone within his line of sight that did not avert eyes, his lips twitched up at the corners and he winked at his mother.

Then he licked his lips, licked away some of the blood welling up from where Gungnir’s blow had torn them. He swiped his face across his shoulder to wipe the rest of the blood away as best he could.

He then rose to his feet, stood a moment, fastidiously reordering his hair and his coat. And then, when all was arranged to his satisfaction, only then did he step back over to his original position and look up to meet the glare of the All Father.

And of course smile.

Pandemonium erupted. The council cried out to each other, Loki’s insolence was intolerable and an insult to the king, to the realm. Thor roared for them to be silent, telling them they had no voice here. Frigga moved to clasp Odin’s right arm, whispering imploringly to him. The guards shuffled and whispered and sorted themselves out.

Loki continued to smile and after a minute or so, even quirked an eyebrow at Odin, as if to clue him in on the joke.

SILENCE!” Odin roared, shrugging away from Frigga’s hold on him. “I will have silence do you hear!”

Minutes passed as Odin huffed through clenched teeth. Face purple with rage, he leaned forward.

“Insolent whelp!” Odin shouted. 

He paused glaring at Loki, who promptly raised both eyebrows in courteous inquiry, face bland and polite. Possibly, this action was not helping, as Odin began breathing heavily through clenched teeth.

Odin struggled for several moments before the words burst from his lips. “You are no son of mine! You are not worthy of the... You have no honor! You. Are. Not. Worthy!

The phrases reverberated through the hall like claps of thunder. 

“Captain! This one will be taken to the dungeons and put in the traitor’s cage. No one is to be admitted to his cell without my personal, express permission do you understand. No one. No matter how high.” Odin growled, looking pointedly at Thor and then Frigga.

He whirled back and looked down at the mocking dark haired stranger in front of him, taking in the small smirking smile and the politely questioning widening of those bright green eyes. He then paused, breathing heavily a few seconds before continuing.

“But before you lock this nameless one away... I charge you to flog him... One hundred and eighty two lashes, one for each year his presence has defiled this realm.”

Gungnir flashed out. A heavy black iron collar exploded in the air, encircling Loki’s neck, knocking him back a few steps towards the waiting guards.

Odin took a deep breath before he spat on the floor. “I have no son named Loki.

Mother gasped, while Thor muffled an oath. Loki straightened, grinned cheerily and wrinkled his eyes in glinting green amusement at Odin’s darkening complexion.

OoooO 

Loki had been dragged swiftly out of the hall, guards desperate to put distance between themselves and the All Father’s fury.

With a growl and an impatient wave of his hand, Odin released the council, who wasted no time when leaving. Now in the near empty hall, Odin slumped down to sit on the step behind him, breathing raggedly. 

Thor sank hesitantly down on one knee before his father, anxiously searching his face.

“Father, are you all right? Are you... ill?“ He asked hesitantly.

Nothing. Alarmed he looked up at his mother imploringly. But she didn’t see him, she was staring at the hall entrance, hands pressed tightly to her chest and eyes bright with unshed tears.

So Thor slowly reached out to touch his father’s arm, but before he could, Odin spoke in a hollow, exhausted voice. “Leave me. Both of you. Leave me now; we will not speak of this again.”

“But father...”

“Leave me,” he roared

Thor again looked to his mother. She nodded slowly and held out her hand to him as she stepped down off the dais.

They both made their duty to the unseeing king before silently leaving the great hall.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 2 – Imprisonment

The one good thing about the guards hustling him through the back passages of the palace grounds so quickly, was that very few people saw actually saw them. And the ones that did, would have been hard pressed to identify him due to his being completely surrounded. Whispered instructions between the captain and the guards alerted him to the ‘why’ of this new reality. Apparently the ‘maximum humiliation’ instructions had been replaced by the urgent need to get him quickly to the dungeons. The dungeons being the one place where Thor and Frigga were currently forbidden. Odin’s orders could not be countermanded of course, but none of the guards wanted to risk an en-route meeting and personally angering the other members of the royal family.

Loki was not averse to these schemes, after all he didn’t need a last look around the old place - nothing ever changed in it. He certainly hadn’t been gone that long in this particular time stream. Perhaps what? Several Æsir months?

Would that it had only been that long with the Chitauri he thought blackly. What a lucky chance that their time stream was much, much faster. Dark thoughts rose up playing before his eyes, obscuring his actual passage through the palace grounds. It took two guards, dragging him to a stop, before he realized they had arrived at the dungeon entrance.

Entering the receiving room was not without its amusement. Had he been inclined to banter with the oafs escorting him, he was sure that he could have shortened the time they spent trying to log him into the prison. There were so many other names that they could have used since Loki Odinson, Prince of Asgard apparently was not acceptable. Humm... Peering over at the log, he found that apparently ‘Vile Wretch’ was not going to be used either. Ah well. In the end they simply decided to use ‘Prisoner-Loki’ and the date.

While they were preparing, the guards did let him lean against the wall. Using a large locking shackle, they attached his manacle chain to a ring mounted waist high along the smoothly dressed stone wall. It could have been worse, he knew, there were several other rings that they could have used while he waited, many much higher, not to mention the main event ones dangling from the ceiling high up in the center of the room.

A flogging was something he could handle, passing out while being beaten was something he had mastered during his long stay with the Chitauri. Convincing the mind that there was no profit in remaining aware, that was the tricky part; after that, it was easy to persuade it to leave the pain behind. Honestly, the only hard part was convincing yourself that the body damage was going to be the same, whether you remained conscious or not. Besides, there was always the chance that passing out would so infuriate your tormentors, that they would lose control and kill you by accident. Not that he had ever been that lucky obviously, but there was always the hope.

They were unusually deferential as they cut off his coat and shirt, they removed his boots, but did let him keep his heavy socks and gave him a pair of lightweight cloth pants in exchange for his heavy trousers. The guards then opened up the drain in the middle of the floor, put several buckets of water against the far wall and placed a multi-tipped whip and thick wooden rod on a small table by the door. They then disappeared into the next room.

Despite their attempts to converse in private, he was able to follow the thread of the conversation due to the young blonde and head Sargent who had particularly penetrating, almost Thor-like whispers. Apparently the guards had decided to draw straws. Really? Doffed armor, and hoods to conceal the faces of his floggers? Apparently this was insurance against his possible escape, pardon or unauthorized high ranking female visitor.

While he was waiting for the guards to sort themselves out, a large black bird streaked into the room, and settled on a ring high above him. 

OoooO

 

Painfully raising his head, he saw that the walls and the guards were spattered with his blood. He tried unsuccessfully to get his feet back under him to take the strain off his wrists. He waited for the next blow, which seemed to be a long time in coming, or perhaps it just seemed that way. Real or imagined, he took advantage of the lull, forcing his head up again, looking for that accursed raven. I hope you enjoyed that, you old bastard, he thought as he shot a low powered glare at the beady eyes looking down at him. He would have liked, of course, to have been able to really give the damn bird a searing glare, but one did as best as they could in the circumstances. Over the roar of his own blood pounding in his ears, he heard the sound of buckets being lifted off the floor. 

Loki braced, biting his already chewed and bloody lip. The shock of the water hitting his mangled back forced loud moan from him. The next few buckets were easier, if anything right now could be considered easier. He had fought not to scream, even once, and he had refused to allow himself to pass out, though he had desperately wanted to. Honestly, he wondered, was his pathetic little show of defiance even worth it? It would have taken much less energy to have ‘gone away’ and not returned until the water hit. But done was done.

A shoulder was supporting him as the other guard lowered the ring he was chained to. He groaned again as the strain left his arms. He sagged, dragging at the first guard. After quickly unhooking his wrist chain, the other guard put an arm under his other side. Somewhere in the hallway, he managed to get his feet semi working. He stumbled and lurched down hallways and stairs for, oh, about a year until they entered a large room with a small metal cage hanging in the middle of it, about two feet off the ground. Somehow they got him up the steps, locking his wrist chain to a long chain on the floor that snaked up to the top of the cage. Panting like he had just run a race; he grabbed the bars on the back side of the cage, leaning his head against them gratefully and then slowly slid to his knees. A raven landed on the floor several feet away. They stared at each other for an eternity before it finally arrowed out the window slot in the far wall.

He opened up a bleary eye the next day about mid-afternoon to find his new world slightly changed. From his vantage point on the metal floor, he could see that the wooden stairs had been moved to the wall by the door and his limited floor space contained, in addition to one battered ex-prince, a small, hardened leather tray carrying… a meal he supposed. Oh and a loosely woven tunic, about the color of congealed porridge. Marvelous, what in the nine realms was he supposed to do with a tunic while he still had manacles on? If they had at least brought him a shirt, he could have hung it over his shoulders. Idiots. Somewhere, he thought sourly, some idiot guard was checking a prisoner intake list and dutifully ticking off ‘tunic’. Why couldn’t they have had, ‘remove manacles’ to be checked off.

Moving slowly to minimize the tearing of the torn flesh on his back, he pushed off the metal floor and sat cross legged in the middle of the cage. Using a cuff of the tunic, and moving more slowly than he would have thought possible, he washed the blood off his face, neck and chest, or rather washed as much as he could with the limited amount of water that was in the small leather bowl. A generous amount for a drink no doubt, but not much for a bath. When he was finished, he reordered his hair as much as he could with his damp fingers, using the damp tunic sleeve to wipe away the blood residue this left on his hands.

Exhausted by all this activity he fired the tray with its untouched stew, bread and bloody bowl of water through the slot at the bottom of the cage’s door. It didn’t quite make it to the wall, but he supposed that only left him room for improvement. Something to look forward to, as it were. Balling up the dry part of the tunic, he laid back down on his side to sleep, using the tunic as a marginally more comfortable pillow than the floor. 

The next day his back had scabbed over enough not to tear and ooze too much when he moved, he had wiped most of the blood out of his hair and achieved his goal of hitting the wall with his untouched tray. So things were definitely improving he thought, if of course one’s definition of improvement was not too ambitious. But looking on the bright side, so to speak, at least he had water and cloth, not something the Chitauri normally supplied their prisoners with.

Apparently Chitauri and Æsir prison builders both used the same sized cage sizing. He wondered wryly if perhaps there wasn’t some sort of prisoner containment book that was distributed through all the realms. He supposed this would be the taller, non-crouching deluxe model, it was tall enough for him to stand in, but not large enough to lie down, being only a little more than four feet wide. As for the rest, it was heavy bars, and a metal necessity with its own built in removal slot. Still, it was suspended, not bars embedded in rock like the Chitauri cage. Once the pain ebbed enough that he needed distraction he thought he might be able to use that as an alternative to restless pacing.

Æsir guards were rotated through all duties within the palace proper. So he was not surprised when he had different guards on the third day, two of which he recognized. He sat there and watched them as they brought in a table, setting it a few feet from the front of his cage; they also placed two plain wooden chairs behind the table.

Folkvardr, one of the guards, he knew, walked over to a winch set in the wall and called to him, “The prisoner will stand now.”

Loki’s mind felt as bloody and bruised as his back, but the fact that he should have to hear such an order, an order, from a low level guard he used to give orders to... He felt a thrill of anger rise within him, blossoming through the pain and fatigue, he dared!

Loki turned his head and regarded Folkvardr intently, his eyes transfixed into glittering green slits. 

I will remember you the look promised. Oh yes.

Blanching Folkvardr looked down, and then, appealingly to the other guards as if for guidance.

“We are indeed sorry your lordship,” said one of the older guards, who had helped move the table. He waved his hand for Folkvardr to commence and then ducked his head in an abbreviated courtesy, “But we do have orders from the commander.”

The chain attached to his shackles clanked and clicked swiftly into the air, forcing Loki to get up quickly if he didn’t want to be dragged upright. He hissed as his awkward, scrambling movements pulled on his raw back and abused arm muscles. 

Livid and breathing rapidly Loki was not first inclined to be thankful that the chain length still allowed him to keep his arms at chest height, rather than high above his head. Clearly he was not meant to sit in the presence of whoever was going to use the table.

Please the Norns, not Odin.

Apparently for once the Norns had decided to grant his wish, Odin did not appear, but instead a guard escorted an old Logmar named Ulfr and settled him down at the table with his clerk... Dagr he thought. Loki had often seen Ulfr explaining some of the trickier points of law to the council before debates. 

Actually, he had always gotten on rather well with the old scholar, who had always made time to answer questions and discuss the background and various pitfalls of certain laws that Loki thought might come in handy to know. In fact Ulfr would occasionally seek him out to privately point out minor faults in his reasoning that could have been a problem had Ulfr himself been assigned to hear his arguments. But in the main, he never interfered when Loki argued before one of the other Logmar to get himself, Thor and the others out of trouble. Or even in front of Odin himself, unless the King specifically asked for Ulfr to comment on the matter. 

Yes, he recalled Ulfr well, especially one maximum he had oft repeated. “Remember Loki,” Ulfr had said many times, “the truth can be a rope that strangles even the righteous if they are unwary.’“

The guard settled behind the Logmar as he arranged his papers to begin. Loki shifted his weight surreptitiously, clasped his hands before him, directed a fleeting grimly apologetic smile to old Ulfr and thus began a very, very long day. 

Ulfr explained, argued, commanded, and when Loki refused to utter a single word, several times gave him looks very reminiscent of those he had received from his old tutor when he was being a difficult youngling. When his voice began to tire, Ulfr rested his chin on his folded hands and watched Loki from under his bushy gray eyebrows while Dagr took over; repeating each question on the list and then waiting, in case this was the time that Loki decided to speak. 

Finally after several hours, Ulfr straightened up with a sigh. 

“Loki, you will answer these questions eventually. It would be better for you if you do it early rather than late. Perhaps then the King might be inclined to some small leniency if you cooperate.”

“Yes, yes,” he said testily, when Loki’s eyes narrowed slightly, “You were always the cleverest of younglings, but this time there is too much for even you to argue away.”

“We will go now,” he told Dagr who began packing up the papers.

As they walked to the door Ulfr turned and said roughly, “Loki tomorrow you must answer these questions, your condition is already bad, but it could get worse... and the queen already grieves enough due to your stubbornness.” And then shaking his grizzled head sadly, he motioned the guard to release the winch.

OoooO 

And so it continued, every day infuriatingly like the day before. Wearing on him like drops of acid... the inability to stretch out for the few hours his mind was finally numb enough to rest, the humiliation of having more and more of the guards that he knew as his jailors, the dog chain, forcing him to stand at their whim, Ulfr and then a series of other Logmar yammering and threatening him all day, the sheer strain of keeping his expression placid when he burned to defiantly scream at them for their insolence. But his own memories were worst of all, hammering at him, replaying every mistake, misstep, every horror of the last several months.

In fact, there were only two things ever made him smile grimly to himself. The first being how his intense stare and continued silence had begun to unnerve all the guards. This almost made up for the utter torturer of not being able to relieve the boredom of his days by heaping unrelenting scorn upon them, the Logmars, Heimdall, and of course those two flying, spying black rats with beaks that were the eyes and ears of Odin. 

And the more satisfying one being, the firing speed and bounce back distance that he could now get when sliding his untouched food tray out the door slot.

Although one day, furious at the sheer stupidity of every choice of his whole life, he lost control, forgoing his daily wash and immediately fired the tray at the retreating guard. The hardened leather tray was too light to do any real damage, and while it had momentarily relieved some of his fury, it was not, he acknowledged to himself later, quite fair to the guards who daily had to clean up the spilt food and dirty water.

Not that he cared about the guards, or fairness, or the fact that he wasn’t even worth the swing of a blade, or the choice he had made to fall into the void, or anyone. He especially didn’t care about his thrice be-dammed ‘former’ father, or the fact that he didn’t kill that annoyingly mouthy blacksmith Stark, or... well quite a few things actually. Honestly the list of what he no longer cared about could go on for hours.

But as little as he cared about firing his food tray so that it hit the guards... he didn’t do it again.

At night no guards came around, and it was too dark for Heimdall to see. So Loki had found something he could do to silence the memories, something physical, something to vent his rage until he was so exhausted that he could at least attempt to sleep an hour or so before the nightmares found him.

It had started simply enough with his shifting too irritably during questioning, and noticing that his cage would indeed do more than shake, it rocked a bit. By shifting he could get it to rock a bit more, if he lowered his center of gravity and threw his weight quickly from side to side he could make the whole cage swing. He had been here almost two months, as near as he could figure from overhearing the guards, and while he had not yet succeeded in slamming the cage into a wall, he’d gotten close. Until the night a surprise inspection caught him at it. Apparently the commander erroneously thought that he was trying to rip the bolt of his cage out of the ceiling. 

A few minutes later he was also swinging wildly, slamming against the bars, knocking the wind out of his lungs every time he struck the sides of the cage. The chain was winched so high that his feet were almost off the floor. The commander himself ended up being bounced into the wall at few times when he unwisely tried to slow the cage momentum without help. Honestly, Loki wasn’t even sure why the commander was so upset. Even if he had gotten the blasted cage to fall from the ceiling, which wasn’t what he was trying to do, he seriously doubted that the bars would have even bent.

The morning guard lowered the chain a bit when they came in the next morning to get him ready for the daily interrogations.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 - Discussion

The day after the cage swinging incident, a whole squad of guards arrived, moving stairs, unlocking doors and hustling him down to a bathing room. All of them. Some stood guard inside, some outside and he was presented with a large soapy tub, towels and clean clothes. A chance to wash, to be clean for the first time in months, even if he was on display while doing it, was in the end too much to pass up. They also gave him use of a comb.

Freshly washed and garbed they escorted him to a standard security cell. Heavy solid door, large room with a window slot at the back and bars bisecting the room in to prisoner/questioner areas. Cosy.

After locking him on his side, a smith entered with handfuls of tools and an assistant carrying a small anvil. It took several minutes get the anvil and his arms positioned in such a way as to please the smith, and then one by one they struck off the manacles. Apparently that idiot Thor had forgotten to give them the key. Or knowing him, more likely lost the damn thing.

“Loki,” a familiar voice called, penetrating the meditative state he had allowed himself to sink into when the morning questioners did not appear. “Loki, wake up, I wish to speak with you.” How long had the voice had been there? How was it that he had not known when it arrived? Panic rose within him momentarily, replacing the emptiness he had achieved over the last several hours. He remained frozen, rigid, resisting the urge to leap to his feet. Then suddenly, panic gave way to feelings of pain, despair, rage, loss, feelings so strong and sudden that they caused him to rock backwards as if from a physical blow.

“Odin King,” he husked, voice rough from dryness and lack of use. He opened his eyes to take in the figure standing several feet away from the bars. Loki flicked his tongue out, trying to moisten a dry, drawn mouth. “Odin King. Am I honored at your presence?”

Odin’s lips thinned at this sally and his expression became grim. Odin motioned to the guard who had stopped uncertainly just outside the door during this exchange, and waited while he brought in a wooden armchair, which he motioned into place with a wave of his hand. “Close the door when you leave,” he directed as the guard hurried back towards the door. He settled heavily in the chair before he spoke.

“I would have words with you in private,” he said, “I would understand what has happened to you since you fell, that a Prince of Asgard has arrived to such a state.”

Of course, Loki thought bitterly, lifting his head to glare at Odin, green eyes sparking in anger. We must understand how this has happened to a Prince of Asgard. Bile rose up threatening to choke him. After all, he raged, expression frozen into a blank mask, who cares what happened in the void to the stolen child you once called your son? Who has looked at these days and wondered how and why ‘Loki’ came to do these things? Oh, no. These are the actions of the monster we allowed into our house, a stain upon the name of Odin.

“Am I?” He spat, rocking forward and onto his feet. “Am I a Prince of Asgard? I always thought I was, but then one day I found I was just a monster. A monster being brought to heel, so that someday I could be cast out of the only home I had ever had, away from everyone I had ever known, alone,” he said coldly, “to spend the rest of my existence harrying and herding other monsters lest they trouble shinning Asgard!”

Loki strode forward, endless nights of anguish and rage causing knuckles to whiten as he gripped the bars. “And then,” he snarled, voice low with loathing. “And then, after being paraded through the streets muzzled and chained like a rabid dog! And then, after a life time of being told lies by someone who claimed to love me! You, Odin King, had the gall to tell me that you wanted to hear the truth!”

They stared at each other for several heart beats before Loki took in a deep breath. Releasing the bars, he stepped back a few paces, raising his head haughtily, hands at his side and said in a rigidly controlled, deceptively calm voice, “I wonder if you would even know the truth if you heard it.”

Odin flinched. Then a wave of tiredness washed over his face. He closed his eyes and rubbed a hand across his forehead wearily, before looking back up. “Loki, I would speak to you as your father, not your king.” He said in a low voice. “I would know what has happened. I would ask you to explain it to me, that I could understand your actions.” He searched the thin pinched face in front of him and continued more softly, “I would also ask, as your father, that you drink and eat with me, as we discuss these things.”

Odin watched silently, waiting for the refusal he feared was coming, but hoping, just this once that this rigidly stubborn child would turn from a path he was following.

“It seems I am indeed honored by your grace. And it also seems I have been remiss in not thanking you for my much improved circumstances. Many thanks indeed. The chance to stretch my legs and wash the crusted blood from my back was most appreciated.”

Loki sketched a small bow and twitched his lips into a polite smile, which faded immediately to blankness.

“However,” he continued in an almost disinterested tone, “I am afraid I must decline your other generous offers. I cannot speak to you as a father, since mine is apparently dead. I killed him while you were sleeping you know. A bit proactive I admit, but I felt it was safer than possibly trying to defend against his justifiable counter-attack with an Æsir army that looked upon me as a usurper.

“As for the other,” His green eyes narrowed slightly.... “I’m afraid I am particular about whose bread I break.”

He shrugged, as if his last statement had not been an arrow straight to Odin’s pride. He then sent another straight to his heart.

“Besides, as you yourself have stated great king, you have no son named Loki.”

Loki watched him for several minutes. He would not, he told himself, sit down on the rough stone floor like a child waiting for a story, nor would he lie on the pallet like a sulking adolescent. Since his nerves could not take remaining still, his only other option was to begin pacing slowly from side to side.

Eventually Odin spoke. “Starvation is an extremely slow death for an Æsir.”

Loki paused, looking over at the king. “Jotun,” he said.

“Jotun, Æsir, it the same for both I assure you.”

“Ah, well,” he resumed his slow pacing. “Sadly no one saw fit to leave me any sharp objects when they threw me in here. So I am afraid, it is the best I can do. I am fairly certain that lack of water will take me before lack of food.” A slow turn, “Of course, this is assuming I don’t get the grace of a quick execution.” He shot a very small smile at his now attentive audience before continuing in a sarcastically light and cheerful tone, “But, I rather think my luck these days, is not that good.”

“Loki, you lied to Laufey and lured him to Asgard so you could kill him, and then used his ‘attack’ as an excuse to destroy Jotun.” Odin watched intently to see the effect of this charge.

Loki felt flush from the rising rage within him. Why? Why, could no one ever see it? Always when he did something it was wrong, but for everyone else it was right. How could this ever have been fair?

“Is that what I did?” he asked in a hard voice. “Is that it? Lies and luring and honor-less acts?”

“Oh, I see great king. When you do it. When you maneuver people, luring them, allowing them, practically encouraging them to make bad decisions, you are rewarded with the opportunity to take drastic actions against them without censure. When you do it, it’s statecraft. When I do it, it’s lies and trickery.

He flashed a grin so feral that Odin retreated from its intensity.

“Well at whose feet do you think I learned how to manipulate the world around me great king?” He said contemptuously, “They certainly weren’t your wife’s!”

“No, you misunderstand...”

“Do I?” Loki screamed, “Do I? Many the time I have watched you ‘lure’ your opponents into a compromised position so you could strike them down in righteousness.”

“And Jotun? What of Jotun Loki? Was that statecraft? Was that honor? What was that?” Odin flared, leaning forward and gripping both arms of the chair tightly.

Loki stormed over to stand before him, face cold, hands clutching at his sides. “No Odin King that was desperation!” He spat, “Traitorous members of your court defied your will and my direct orders and sought to bring back your hot headed, brainless son before he had mastered the lesson you set him to. With I might add the assistance of your most trusted councilor. Thor arrived right in the middle of an enemy action. When he was done pounding me for my supposed treason, his next move would have been war with the Frost Giants for theirs.” He sneered. “Pardon me if I harbored doubts on his ability to successfully bring that off.”

“And the destroyer?” Odin’s expression tightened, watching him intently “What of that Loki?”

Loki slumped, resting his head against the bars. “A mistake,” he whispered in a low voice, closing his eyes before they could betray him to weakness. “A rushed decision made in anger. A poor choice of tool. A diversion intending to slow down the traitors while they defended Thor. A plan that was flawed from the start.”

“Is that the truth Loki? Or another of your twisted tales to help you escape retribution for your misdeeds?”

A hand twitched, as if waving away words hanging in the air. Loki lifted his chin and stepped back, opening suspiciously bright eyes to meet Odin’s. “You will forgive my poor hospitality great king. I tire a bit, and fear I have been boring you with my chatter.”

He made a meticulously correct court bow, turned and walked to the barred window at the back of the cell, clasping his hands tightly behind him in a parade rest. He then proceeded to devote his full attention to clouds below, ignoring all other questions.

After perhaps an hour, he was again alone.

O 000 O

Mother had told him of his father’s plans to see Loki this afternoon. That night at dinner, Thor sat at a small lower table near the wall, where he could easily see high table. Knowing his father would not discuss anything about the visit in the dining hall, he wanted to be far enough away that the temptation to question his father could be resisted, but in a position to see the mood of his parents.

“Thor?” said Sif as she came over to take a chair. “Why are we not sitting at the high table tonight?”

Fandral snagged the seat beside Thor and smiled at her. “Safety belike Sif. Odin has been to see our other prince and might be in a mood.”

Thor turned to look at Fandral, “Who told you that?” he demanded in a harsh whisper, ignoring Volstagg and Hogun as they took their seats.

“Oh, one of the guards,” boomed Volstagg, lowering his voice hastily and rolling an eye at a sharp jab he received from Hogun. “Umm, why? Is it a secret?”

“No you fool,” Hogun hissed, “it is not for you two to bellow in the dining hall what the king has been doing.”

Thor listened as his friends moved on to less sensitive topics, occasionally offering a comment, occasionally passing a dish, but mostly just watching his parents as the meal progressed. His mother had looked hopeful when the king sat down, but Odin’s closed expression caused her to become rather still. At one point she leaned over and spoke to him quietly, but he shook his head without returning any comment.

“Thor!” Hissed Hogun, “You’re staring.” Thor started, and lowered his eyes to his still rather full plate. After one last long look, he made a conscious effort join in the conversation and only glanced towards the high table occasionally. He smiled reassuringly at his companions and if he ate more than talked, they declined to notice it. After a seeming eternity, his father rose from the table. Thor stood also, only to be frowned at by his mother, who motioned him to sit down again as she followed her husband out the door.

“Come Thor,” motioned Sif, “let’s go sit out on the balcony. We’ll light a fire and... talk.” After a last look at the rear door that his parents had just taken, Thor and the others followed Sif to one of the family’s retreat areas. Volstagg of course grabbing two full pitchers of wine and motioning Hogun to grab some goblets.

“Here,” Fandral said handing him a goblet of straw pale, pear scented wine. Thor smiled up at his friend and set the glass beside him and continued to gaze into the fire. “Umm, Thor,” Fandral continued, “You know you aren’t going to find any answers in there don’t you?”

“I just don’t understand. Why? Fandral, what could he be have been thinking? It’s driving me crazy trying to understand!”

“Well when has it not driven all of us crazy trying to figure out your brother?” Fandral returned lightly. Face it, he never had a thought or plot that was straight forward. Although,” he paused thoughtfully, “I will grant, when one of us didn’t muck it up, his plans rarely failed, and never this spectacularly.”

“Or in such a way that it was him, not one of us left holding the sticky end of the stick,” said Sif in grudging agreement.

“Exactly, so what did he think was going to happen? How did he imagine this was going to please father?” Thor asked, kicking a log at the edge of the crackling fire, sending sparks high up in the air.

They all looked at each other and then joined Thor in staring into the fire, as if the answers were indeed there. It was not of course the first time they had had this particular conversation; in fact, it was far from the first time. And sadly, it didn’t seem like it was anywhere near the last time either as Thor returned to the topic at least several times a month. Night deepened around them, a small breeze ruffling the long gold curtains flanking the balcony’s opening. As the fire burned low, Sif finally asked, “So. What did the guards say?”

Volstagg quickly hid his face behind his goblet, so Thor turned to look at Fandral; Fandral let out a soft sigh and answered. “Actually, not a lot, just that the All Father was down there for well over an hour... and wasn’t best pleased when he left. The guards we talked to aren’t the ones assigned to the prison... err Loki, that guard apparently wasn’t saying a word, not even to his friends on the watch.”

Hogun grunted as the rest exchanged glances.

“Not to me either I might add,” Fandral continued, “I did track him down after watch change. He didn’t know what I was talking about and had to leave immediately. Unfortunate really, if he had been a female guard I am sure I could have gotten the whole story.”

This time it was Sif who made a soft snorting noise, twisting her face up into a small disbelieving smirk.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 - Endurance

Finally Loki was alone, although not unwatched, he knew. So long as his powers were blocked by this iron dog collar, there was no way to stop Heimdall from keeping an eye on Asgard’s problem child. Or he thought sourly, those annoying crows of Odin’s. He had spotted Huginn and Muninn several times over the last two months.

At least, Loki thought, in this room there were not as many places where they could sneak in, to perch and hide and spy.

Slowly, so he didn’t betray how clumsy he was becoming, Loki turned and regarded the chair Odin had sat in. They left it there.

Marvelous. 

Doubtless this meant that he was doomed to more joyous family time. He walked across the cell a few times, loosening his legs and surreptitiously easing the kinks in his arms and shoulders. If he could have, he would have thrown himself down to rest on the pallet in the corner. But that would look weak, defeated and he was not going to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing him like that.

Instead, despite a slight light headedness, he slowly went through his strekkja routine, as the concentration of pre-battle stretching helped Loki to blessedly empty his mind. After running through several rotations of the exercises he sank cross legged on the buff stone floor, resting his tired body. Folding his hands in his lap, he closed his eyes and allowed his head to sink onto his chest. Breathing deeply and slowly, ever more slowly until finally, his mind was totally clear, totally blank, totally useless.

No, he told himself, batting away wayward thoughts, empty is good, empty is calm, calm does not display nervousness or fear. Never fear. Pacing and raging were for night, when it was pitch black, when no one, not even the great Heimdall could see.

So he sat, for who knows how long. Eventually, from a great distance he heard the main door open, someone stopping to hang up their weapons on the post just outside the door, and then footsteps which stopped several feet away. He kept his eyes closed, ignoring them like he always did. This time, apparently, it was not a check, it was a meal time. The hardened leather tray was slid into the cell from the slot under the door. He ignored that too. He would get up when he chose to get up, the tray held no attraction for him, it only told him that it would soon be dark, soon be the time when he could pace and rage and use up the little energy he had left so that he could perhaps sleep for a few hours. If he was tired enough, possible even an hour or so of sleep un-tormented by missteps and what-if’s and betrayal and loss. All these thoughts slipped through his mind, like feathers floating down from the sky. Touching softly, lightly and then just drifting away in the breeze, the emptiness. Leaving him untouched.

Unfortunately, eventually even this had to end. The demands of his body finally roused him, driving him to take care of its needs. Although thankfully, he thought, this occurred much less often.

He glanced through the rapidly fading light at the meal tray, and was surprised to see fruit. A plump, ripe peach and a soft, fragrant pear sat on a linen cloth beside the mugs of stew and water. As if he didn’t know where that came from.

He walked over to examine the tray. Ignoring the clawing thirst and hunger, he used the water in the mug to wash his face and hands. He dried his hands in his hair, slicking it back. His unruly tongue flicked out to lick a stray drop off of his upper lip before he could stop himself.

Then he returned his attention to the tray, gently pulling on the cloth resting under the fruit, he was very careful to touch only it. He knew this trick; no one could put down fruit from Frigga’s personal garden if ever they touched it.

He angled the tray in the opening and sailed it across the floor, slamming it into the heavy wooden door. Not as much fun as when he had ejected them from the cage, but on the plus side the room smelled less. Guards for some reason, he thought fastidiously, were not the best at cleaning floors. He turned his back before the door opened and ignored the tray being removed.

Standing at the window, he waited for true night to fall, and then waited just a bit more, and then very slowly, brought the cloth up, burying his face in its softness, letting the scent of it, of her, loosen the pain in his chest, in his heart, allowing his cold tears to roll unheeded down his face.

He stood there with his heart and every dream he had ever had, shattered into hundreds of sharp hurtful pieces with only this small comfort.

Gods don’t pray he reminded himself.

But if they did... If gods did pray... he imagined that those prayers would probably be addressed to their mothers.

 

How Desperate Are You - Loki

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 - Odin

 

Odin had been sitting for hours on his golden throne, staring blankly ahead, thinking about various problems and keeping watch on Asgard through the eyes and ears of Huginn and Muninn. While his inner eye was very much occupied, he was also aware that one of the guards had been watching him covertly all afternoon, using the reflection on his spear.  Normally of course, this would not have been possible. Odin’s usual routine after meeting with the council was to spend the rest of the day traveling throughout the palace or city as he attended to other details of the realm, with the guards of course accompanying him. But today he had several things to consider, and he was much less likely to be interrupted in the throne room than his study. However, some problems did not lend themselves to being solved in a single afternoon. That being the case, he decided to summon his seneschal, and at least take care of some matters that were solvable. He decided not to send his covert watcher on this errand, and so sent the man’s partner, leaving him alone to study the watcher as he waited. 

As he thought he might, after several minutes the watcher spoke. “Great King,” the guard said, not leaving his duty station, eyes firmly fixed straight ahead. “Sire… might I have a word with you… in private? It is a matter of some delicacy.”

Odin stirred, while the guard stared straight ahead at the braziers and columns of the chamber wall far ahead of him.

Odin shifted his attention to the waiting guard. “Gwayn? Is it?” Odin asked in a deep voice, very much like the rumble of a storm about to break.

“Yes sire.”

“You have something of import that you wish to speak to me about?”

“Yes sire.” The guard named Gwayn shifted, but then returned to his normal stance. 

“Something that you did not feel you could send to be through your commander? Or my chamberlain?” Odin asked thoughtfully, watching the guard fix his gaze straight ahead.

“Yes sire.”

Silence reigned for several long moments. Then Odin sighed. “Come before me, I would hear what you have to say.”

Turning to face the throne, the guard looked up at Odin, determination and… fear shifting back and forth across his face. Strange, thought Odin, but the guard’s expression let him know this would almost certainly not be good news or a trifling matter. Odin sighed inwardly, watching as the guard turned, squaring his shoulders, and taking a deep breath, before crossing to the center of the chamber, stopping in front of the king to make his duty. He remained there, head bowed.

“Come here Gwayn.” Odin motioned for Gwayn to mount the stairs, pointing to the landing just a few steps below the throne. Hesitantly the guard did so, stopping to kneel again when he had reached the point he was summoned.

Odin studied him for a short space, not that he looked much different than his fellow guards in his armor and helm. But he was young and most likely fair, judging from the small sandy mustache and brows that were briefly visible before his head was bowed.

“You will stand and tell me your problem.”

Standing quickly, Gwayn licked his lips nervously while shooting a quick glance at Odin’s face. “It is not Sire, my problem. And in truth, I am not sure it is even something that I should bring to your attention.”

“But,” Odin interrupted before he could continue, “It is something you think your king might need to know?”

“Perhaps sire, or perhaps not need, but want to know. Or…” Gwayn looked straight ahead, not meeting Odin’s eye, but appearing to be looking at something just beyond him. “Or perhaps I have bothered you for no good reason.”

“But you’re not sure?”

“No sire.”

“But you knew it was something that you couldn’t ask your commander to pass on?”

“Perhaps sire, perhaps not. Honestly… I’m not sure.”

Odin shifted in his great chair. “Well then, when you have such a problem as that, the best thing to do is face it full on.” Gwayn looked up and Odin encouraged him with a small smile. “Tell me this thing you are so undecided on.”

Gwayn started to kneel again, but stopped short as the king motioned him to remain standing.

“Sire, I would ask you if perhaps. If perhaps you would wish that the… prisoner… to be assisted… in some way…” he trailed off, blanching at Odin’s darkening expression. “Not escape or anything like that,” Gwayn hurried to explain, “but perhaps assisted in something, something more… final.”

“You think that I might wish a prisoner secretly killed!?”

“No sire, of course not. You could of course have ordered that at any time… If that was your will… The queen… Not that... but, perhaps…,” he finished, voice faltering. “A small mercy?”

Gwayn trembled as Odin glared at him. His jaw clenched, muscles jumping all along it, his eyes narrowed dangerously. “Perhaps,” the king demanded in a low hissing voice, “We need to clarify ‘which’ prisoner we are speaking of!”

“Ah... The… important one?”

“The important one?” Odin roared, “What has this prisoner been saying that you should regard him as such!”

Gwayn froze.

“Answer me boy! You will tell me what he has said and you will do it right now!”

Gwayn was unable to wrench his eyes away pinned by Odin’s gimlet stare.

“Nothing sire, nothing I swear.”

“Nothing?” Odin drawled dangerously.

“No sire, nothing,” Gwayn gulped.

Odin watched him with narrowed eyes, waiting to see what else this guard of his was going to say.

But before the guard continued, he noticed the great doors opening. “Out! Both of you. Out and close the door. Now!” Odin shouted, his voice startlingly loud in the quiet hall as he waved his hand in dismissal.

Gwayn snuck a quick look in the direction that Odin had gestured, as his partner and the seneschal backed quickly out the way they had come. A boom echoed as the doors were quickly closed.

“I am waiting.”

“Yes sire, I understand. Truthfully sire, the prisoner has said nothing to me,” Gwayn stopped frowning. “Actually, he hasn’t said anything to anyone that I know of, save of course to your grace that one time.”

“The guards listened? They gossip?” Odin shot back quickly.

Gwayn looked nervously away. “Not listened… but they did hear shouting…. I am told…” he paused, then resumed after several seconds of silence. “As to the other question, ummm, yes sire, they gossip. All the time actually, guarding the prison is a boring duty rotation, so that all we have to do.” He wrinkled up his face in consideration and then continued, “Well, they gossip. I listen.”

“Why?” Odin asked, attention caught by this strange phrasing. “Why is it that you do not gossip also?”

Gwayn huffed unconsciously, then resumed with a singsong undertone. “Younglings are supposed to listen; younglings don’t say anything that is worth listening to... Or,” he faltered, looking away, “so I have been taught.” He glanced up as Odin smothered a snort.

“So this prisoner of yours doesn’t speak to younglings?”

“Well, no. Not to any of the other guards either. If he had, that would definitely have been news that I would have heard. As far as we know he has spoken to no one aside from your grace.”

“So if the prisoner… that is what you call him? All of you?”

“As we were instructed by the commander sire.”

“So the prisoner did not ask you to speak with me?”

“No sire.”

“And yet you are here?” Odin asked harshly returning to the main topic of the conversation. ”Why?”

Gwayn took a deep breath and looked worriedly at the Odin and then spoke in a rush, desperate to get it over with. “Sire. Some of the old guards say it is too soon, they wonder if it is a... Weakness, they say an Às shouldn’t be this bad yet… they say in the old days they were often instructed to offer the prisoner…. a choice,” He faltered. “They worry that perhaps no one has reported this, or that the report has been… misdirected… or not taken seriously because it is too soon and the instruction… would arrive... too late.” He looked worriedly up at Odin. “But no one wants to say anything. It is not our place to say anything… especially if this is not something that… should be interfered with.”

A long silence, the occasional faint noise from far below the huge windows, but inside the hall was quiet as Odin regarded the sweating guard standing before him.

“My son appears to have many friends.”

“Thor? Yes sire.”

Odin said dryly, “No Gwayn. I was referring to the ‘other’ one.”

“Loki…?” Gwayn asked startled. “I don’t know, sire, I imagine…”

“So you were not a friend of his?” Odin asked inquiringly, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Well no. I mean, I have spoken to him of course. Not recently,” Gwayne clarified hurriedly. “But sometimes he would greet me when I was on duty or passing in the halls.”

Odin watched him silently.

Gwayn nervously filled in the silence, “And he was often fun to watch while on duty, or at least he was if you weren’t the one who was being targeted.”

“Ah. Tell me, what happened to those who were being targeted?”

Gwayn licked his lips, “Well if it was because you were being stupid, you would remember not to make the same mistake again. He would find out if you did. Cruel… that was usually paid back with interest.” His voice trailed off, “More of course, if the offender had targeted a servant or youngling... But of course, your grace knows this...”

Odin did indeed know this. While it had occasionally caused more trouble than it solved, it had definitely been a deterrent to some of the more thoughtless members of the court and staff. Injustice to those that were weaker than others had always been one of Loki’s sore spots in his younger years. Even after Loki had become so skilled in combat and magic that picking on him was something that few now would dare, he still was still not fond of it being done to others. Well other than the odd prank, but even there Odin had to admit, Loki normally targeted those who he felt deserved it. The problem, of course being, that sometimes no one but Loki knew what the original transgression had been. He had always been an extremely observant, even as a child, but it did make people uneasy to be around him at times.

He looked up, gazing over Gwayn’s head, lost in thought.

“You will tell no one of our conversation. Not even your commander. Should he question you, tell him I spoke with you on a private matter and I do not want you to discuss it. Should he persist, tell him to come and see me.”

He stood up, motioning Gwayn to precede him down the stairs. Following ahead of him, Gwayn hurried to open the doors, startling the waiting guard and seneschal.

“My apologies. You are all dismissed for the afternoon.” Odin told them as he turned and walked toward the family’s private wing.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – Frigga

Tears sprang into Frigga’s eyes as she hurried across the palace. For over four months, she had not been able to get even a single scrap of information since her baby had entered the dungeon. No one, not the guards, not Heimdall, not even Odin himself would talk to her about her youngest son. Odin simply refused, withdrawing if she became too insistent; the others apologized, but claimed they were ordered to remain silent. Neither she nor Thor could convince them to talk.

Only once in those long months, had she found a guard that would not turn away when she asked of Loki. Despite the fact that he would not answer any of her questions, not even with gestures, he did eventually agree wordlessly to take her son a small gift of fruit. Fruit which he wordlessly returned to her the next day, wrapped in a plain towel. In all these long weary months, despite every effort, she had gotten no news and was only able to get one small gift to her son.

OoooO

“Loki,” Frigga called, voice like silk softly rippling in a breeze. “Loki, it’s mother. 

Loki often heard his mother calling him. For almost a year, he would sometimes hear her in the middle of his nightmares. She would call for him, searching for him, begging him to help her escape or lulling him with soft words of affection, until she could push him back into the void or betray him to the Chitauri. He would also sometimes dream of Thor, Odin, Sif or the others, but always with her voice it was worse. Each time that he had those sort of dreams, he always hoped that this would be the time that they managed to escape, that this time they would not make him watch, helpless as they whispered and laughed in his ear over her screams, telling him that his recalcitrance was the reason that they were slowly cutting, and tearing until she was only a lifeless rag of flesh.

It had only been since she had sent him the dream cloth had those nightmares been banished. He constantly held it while he slept, clutching it close to him, sometimes burying his face in it like a child would do when they held their favorite blanket. So long as he did not release the cloth, her voice recalled him from the terrors, keeping the nightmares at bay. Her protection was a precious boon that made it possible for him to finally rest as his body spent its last resources.

“Loki!” She called again, as the cell door opened. He heard the whisper of her shoes on the stone coming closer to him. This was one of his favorite dreams; he sighed contentedly as soft hands stroked his hair and then gently tugged on his shoulder, pulling away from the wall and onto his back.

“Loki, you have to wake up now.” Her voice was more insistent, and a hand began to pull the dream cloth away from him.

“No,” he protested pulling back, but the tugging continued and the cloth was pulled away from him. Alarmed, he began groping on the floor around him, at last relinquishing the dream and opening his eyes.

It was his mother. She was sitting on the floor beside him crying and stroking his face and telling him he was far, far too thin, far too pale and that she loved him more than he could ever know.

“Mother?” Loki wanted to sit up, but was afraid to move. He had ‘woken’ with this dream many, many times, sure each time that it was real and ending up bitterly disappointed each time that it wasn’t.

“Come darling,” she encouraged, tugging him and helping him up onto his elbow to face her.

Loki sat up, turning a bit to lean on the wall, facing her completely, brows furrowed in confusion before reaching out a shaky hand to touch her cheek. She did seem to be real this time he thought, elation trilling through him. But... just in case she wasn’t... he reclaimed the dream cloth from her.

Frigga laughed and then leaned forward to gather him into a gently scented hug. Loki’s joy at her actual presence was so intense that he couldn’t breathe.

“I have ached to see you again,” he said, taking her hands, voice husky with suppressed emotion. “I hoped... I prayed... that I could see you once more and tell you how much I have always loved you. My most bitter regret is that I caused you pain.”  Loki bowed his head and his cold tears fell on their entwined hands, his thin shoulders began shaking.

Then he raised his tear stained face to her, all sharp angles, dark shadows, and deep hollows. Loki swallowed hard, “I wanted to make sure you knew... even if I wasn’t your child... that if I could have chosen anyone in all the realms to be my mother, I would have wanted you. No one could have been a better mother. I just wish…,” he whispered brokenly, “I wish I could have been a more worthy son.”

He let her gather him in, burying his face in her hair as she held him close, murmuring wordless comforting little noises in his ear. 

“I’m so tired, still tired, but I couldn’t rest for so long. Thank you, thank you so much for weaving me a dream cloth.”

“Shhhhh, my darling. I wove the strongest love and protections into it that I could; I am overjoyed that it comforted you when I could not be with you.”

She held him for several minutes and he felt as near to peace as he had felt in many a year.

Eventually, he pulled shakily away from her so he could look into her eyes. “Mother,” he said, “how is it that you are here?”

“My son, I have come to help you find your way out of this place. I am sick with worry for you and I want this to end. I have spoken with your father and...”

“No.” He protested weakly, “I have no father; you know that, you were there, you heard.”

“Shhhh, my little wisdom. Please calm yourself and listen to me. I have spoken with my... ‘husband’,” she smiled a sad wry smile, “and convinced him to let me see you and try to find a way that we can resolve this.” She placed two fingers softly on his cracked lips before he could reply and said, “As we dine I will tell you my plan, and you my son will agree to it.”

“NO!” Loki cried flinching wildly away from her, “I can’t eat with you, I can’t drink with you, you don’t understand. Please mother, please I can’t go through this again, I am so close.” Loki slumped against the wall. “So close,” he whispered, closing his eyes.

“I see.” He looked up to see her lips tightly folded. “Your... Odin came to me this afternoon, he told me of your last discussion and other things. At this moment you and I are private...” she held up a hand to stop his protests. “For a short time Heimdall has agreed to turn his eyes from us and Huginn and Muninn will stay with Odin. You can say anything to me, and I will not repeat it, not even to the All Father. However, when we are done, I will signal for their attention and you will tell me all that occurred from the time that you entered the void until when you returned to Asgard.” 

He laughed sadly, “Why after all these months of silence would I do that? Honestly mother why?”

Frigga sat back on her heels and looked sternly at him. “My son you will tell me because I ask you to. You will tell me before it is too late. You will tell me in your own words at your own speed without interruption so that I can make your father see his many mistakes.”

“You expect Odin King to see that he made a mistake? Multiple? Oh mother when has he ever admitted to even one?”

“Many times,” Frigga said firmly, “but not, I admit in public. At least not often.”

“Mother I am very tired.” Loki sighed wearily, leaning forward to touch his forehead to hers. He gathered up her hands holding them gently. “And it is so very boring here. I will make a deal with you. If I tell you what happened, from beginning to end, you must entreat the All Father, with all of your soul to grant me a small request to make this place a bit easier to bear.”

“What kind of request?” she asked looking at him closely.

“A small one, I assure you, not freedom or the removal of this blasted dog collar,” he tinged it with his fingernail, “or anything that he would not be inclined to do.”  He laughed forlornly at her skeptical look. “It is nothing major; I don’t look for that kind of generosity anymore, it will just be a small, simple request.”

She frowned at that last statement.

“Do we have a deal?” He teased, a roguish look skimming quickly across his drawn, tired face. “Or shall I stubbornly remain silent still? Ulfr is like to lose his voice you know if this goes on much longer. You don’t want to be responsible for that, do you?” His smile, he knew, was a poor imitation of the wide mischievous look he used to give her when he had been in truth her little wisdom, but it was the best he could manage.

In the end, she agreed.

OoooO

 

“Loki, I want you to know that I did try to see you many times. And more times than that I argued with... the All Father to let me see you.”

Loki chuckled; dull green eyes transformed for a moment, twinkling, feeling almost like his former self.

“Oh don’t I know it. Mother the guards are all in fear of you, did you know that?” He softly kissed each of her palms in turn. “Never, except for that first day...” he paused as her eyes narrowed. “Except for that direct order, never has anyone tried to cause me additional pain or discomfort, well except for the when I was swinging the ... and that was mostly me... but anyhow...”

“Of course they wouldn’t,” she said, “Your father...,” she corrected herself, “the king would have been furious!”

He shook his head, looking up at her from under his brows, “No mother, they may have carried out the king's orders, but they lived in fear of you. I overheard them talking about it several times; beginning the minute we left the throne room. Despite worrying that Odin and Heimdall might find out, they always managed to find a way to make sure I knew every time you tried to see me.” He managed a rueful laugh. “I am afraid I did not express my appreciation to them, please assure them mother that you raised me better and that you wish them only good things. It is the least I can do for them.”

Ruffling his lank hair, Frigga laughed with him, as she was wont to do when he was little, and then studying him intently she quickly told him what Odin had repeated of the conversation between him and Loki months earlier. “Did I miss anything?” she asked, searching his face.

“No. He told you fairly what we spoke of.”

“And yet that is not all.” She said.

He frowned slightly. “No, that is all that we discussed.”

“I understand that my son, but you did not tell him all did you? Quickly, while we are private, what did you leave out? I need to know everything.”

They looked at each other for long minutes and then he sighed. “Mother I swear to you that all that I told him was true.”

“But?” she prompted waiting.

“But... There was indeed another reason. Thor would never leave Jotunheim alone once he found the Frost Giants had been to Asgard again, and I do not say it to be hateful, but where Odin had not prevailed…, without the All Father’s assistance Thor would not have either. So something Heimdall had mentioned struck me as a safer method of dealing with the Frost Giant predicament. Something that I could do before Thor wrested Gungnir from me, something that would not involve Æsir casualties, something that I could do without the brute strength of two armies bashing each other.” Loki sighed heavily. “Something that I could do without issuing commands that would not be obeyed despite my title of king.”

“So you told Odin.”

“Yes. Honestly, that was my first thought. But what I didn’t tell him was the minute this idea occurred to me, I also thought that if Jotunheim was destroyed... I would have accomplished the purpose I had been brought here for. I would have solved the Frost Giant problem forever without being expected to spend my life dealing with a hostile race of people in a realm that I don’t know and don’t want to know.”

He looked at her beseechingly, “If there was no Jotunheim, I could never be sent there.”

“Oh darling that plan was dropped long ago.”

“So the All Father said, but a dropped tool might later be needed again, plans can change back again depending on the circumstances, you know that mother.” He shifted uneasily.

“Jotunheim no longer had a king. I never wanted to go back there again, especially not as part of some plan where I left all I loved and knew to be exiled to a realm full of monsters. Particularly, if there was even the remotest chance that the new monster on the throne would be me.” He leaned into her for a few minutes, before pulling back away from her comfort with obvious reluctance.

Frigga had another area, she needed to ask about, “And what about Thor’s coronation?”

“A delaying tactic, nothing more. Thor wasn’t ready, even Odin, King knew that. Everyone but Thor knew that. He never paused to think ahead and yet the coronation was happening anyway. His coronation would be delayed, and Thor would throw a temper tantrum. Which wouldn’t help in the least and the oaf would have finally have had to learn that setbacks can’t be solved by shouting and smacking people with a large hunk of metal. Thor would have to be patient, maybe even learn to examine a problem for a year or two so he could really solve it. Not just toss a few lightning bolts around and declare all was now well. I honestly thought he was just going to throw a huge fit, maybe stomp around a bit while the All Father taught him a lesson in patience.”

Loki sighed, “I did tell the guards to get Odin, King, just in case, but honestly, who would have thought that Heimdall would have allowed him to disobey a direct order?”

Frigga regarded him steadily. “And telling Thor that his father was dead? What was that?”

“Spite,” he replied hoarsely, turning his face away. “I no longer had a father, why shouldn’t Thor spend a while thinking he had lost his.”

Frigga despaired. No matter how long, no matter what punishment, it brought upon him later, Loki could never let it go when he felt an injustice had been committed. An admirable trait perhaps when exercised on behalf of others, but he would sometimes get carried away, especially when he felt he had been trespassed against too much.

“Oh Loki…It was not well done of you my darling,” She whispered in his ear, before hugging his thin shoulders close.

Frigga sighed after a few minutes. “Shall we start then?”

“Yes,” he said resignedly, “it’s time to finish this.”

She pulled two scarlet flowers out of her sash pocket and held one in each hand. He smiled faintly to see the Firebird flowers, always a favorite of his when he was small. “Odin,” she whispered to one, “Heimdall,” she whispered to the other, holding them aloft as they transformed into tiny darting birds which circled the room once and then arrowed out the window in a scarlet blur.

“Come Loki,” she rose, helping him through the unlocked barred door and into one of the questioner’s chairs that had been rearranged to be on either side of the narrow table. She seated herself opposite him and reached out her hands across the table to gently squeeze his. “It will be alright,” she assured him.

They sat there for only a minute or two, Frigga lightly stroking his thin hands, until Huginn flew into the room and perched on the top of the barred door. It was time to end this.

“Loki, why did you let go before they could pull back onto the BiFrost?” Frigga asked quietly, “start there please.”

“Why not?” Loki replied tiredly, “What was there left to stay for? To have been a party to the BiFrost being destroyed? Thor couldn’t smash a single, replaceable sword, but he could smash a whole damn bridge? To destroy our means of transportation and communication?” he trailed off with an aggrieved hiss. “And then, as if creating the situation where that idio... where Thor did that, was not catastrophe enough, I would be a judged a traitor for my ill-considered attempt to delay Thor and his idiot friends until my original plan was complete. I wanted Laufey dead and Jotunheim settled with some less formidable successor.” Loki closed his eyes rubbing his aching temples. “Never did he listen to me until it was too late. If he had just given me a few minutes to explain we might have avoided the rest of the disaster. You could have ordered me to allow him to remain and we would have waited for the All Father to decide it my actions were typical ‘Loki conniving’ or brilliant statesmanship.”

She wondered about the conniving statement, and decided she would have to think about that later at length.

Loki spent over an hour telling her his story; many times he would shudder to a stop, biting his cracked lips, as he tried to think of a way to edit some of the more horrific items that occurred with the Chitauri out of his account. It made her heart-sick when he did this, since even the modified sections of his tale were still more appalling than she thought she could bear.

He told her of his lengthy fall through the nothingness of the void. Recounting his initial relief when he’d found a planetoid, only to be captured, and then the unendingly tortured by the Chitauri as they sought to bend him to their will. He spoke of how he repeatedly called out to Odin, Thor, her, even Heimdall, begging them to help him die. His voice broke as he told her of his plan to win his freedom by convincing them that he would be their ally, and how just moments before he would have stepped through the portal and escaped, he was enthralled. So he arrived on Midgard compelled to follow through with their plans. While the whole time on Midgard, the Other tugged on his leash from afar, to make sure that their beaten dog did not stray too far from the path he had been set upon.

In the end there were only two things Loki even remotely controlled. The first, was trying to defeat the geas by convincing himself that the worst choice, was actually better in the long run when directing the attacking force. And the other, was starving himself just in case he never did win his freedom, and was compelled to return with the Chitauri. That plan was only possible because starvation was actually part of his torture, and then once enthralled they never thought to order him to eat.

Frigga had been determined not to interrupt, but that last statement tied in too disturbingly with Loki’s refusal to eat here on Asgard. Gripping her hands tightly in her lap, she searched his face as she asked him, “Loki when was the last time you ate? 

He slumped back in his chair; he had not looked at her, besides a glance or two, the entire time he had spoken. Now he did, his face and voice were as lifeless as the void he had fallen into. “What does it matter?”

“I would know,” she retorted. “Did you never once, eat or drink on Midgard?”

“No. The geas prohibited me from doing myself harm, but missing a meal if I wasn’t hungry… And I haven’t been for a very long time… Passed unnoticed. Starvation was the only way I could think to escape my imprisonment,” he said softly, looking away again.

“But, you have not eaten since you’ve been on Asgard have you?”

“No.” he replied with the faintest of smiles, one that only touched the very corners of his lips.

“But why now? My son, you are not with the Chitauri anymore, you are here, with us. Why will you still not eat?”

“It is the only way I can think to escape my imprisonment by the Æsir.” Loki told her gently.

“No!” Frigga cried horrified, leaping out of her chair and flying around the table to grab his arm and turn him towards her.

Loki stood slowly and looked at the tears rolling down her cheeks. Chest burning with anguish, Loki gently gathered his mother in his arms and, laying his head upon the top of hers, he held her tight for a very long moment. “Mother,” He whispered, his voice hitching, “I am so very sorry. Please. I beg you. Please don’t cry.” Finally he released her, and bent down to search her wet, tear streaked face. Her obvious distress caused his cracked and withered lips to thin into a tight line as he pulled out his dream cloth to dry the tears from her cheeks. “I think I am done with my tale, so you don’t have to listen to any more… unpleasantness.”

“I will go see your father now and discuss this with him.” Frigga said, lifting a hand to touch his face.

Loki caught her hand, before she could lower it and pressed a last kiss in her palm, closing her fingers gently over it. Releasing her hand and Loki stepped backwards with shaky steps into the cell, quietly closing the door and holding it shut. “When you see your husband, please don’t forget your promise to get him to grant me a request.” He reminded her. 

“Of course not, my darling, what is it you want? Books? Pens and paper?” She paused and asked hopefully, “Visitors?”

 “No mother, none of those.” He caught her eyes and held them with his own, which were suddenly blazing with hope, “I know a blade would be too much to ask for… But I would like some strong rope… of a suitable length.”

“No!” Frigga cried recoiling in horror. What could he be thinking to even consider such a thing? Not her son! “I will ask no such thing!” She retorted hotly. “Are you insane?”

 Loki let loose a shaky kind of laugh, “Of course I am mother. Who wouldn’t be after all of this? It will be better I assure you.”

 Frigga drew herself up angrily, “You said you wanted something that Odin would be inclined to give you. He will never give you this!”

 Lips twitching up at one corner, Loki gave her a ghost of a smirk. “I assure you, whether he will admit it to you or not, he most certainly is inclined to end this as quietly as possible, for the good of his realm.” Loki shrugged, as if his impending death made no difference to him. Which in truth, it didn’t. “Besides, once I am out of the way, all the blame can be heaped on me. Better for the realm, quicker and less painful for me. We all win.”

“NO!” she stormed, trying, unsuccessfully to wrench open the cell door. He might have been weak, but he was still strong enough to hold the door closed against her efforts.

 “Mother please, you promised…”

“No. Not another word. I won’t hear it, do you understand!” Frigga snarled, tugging ineffectually at the bars and then stamping her foot in frustration. She stood there panting, trying to breathe, and watching a stranger look out of the sunken eyes of her youngest son.

“I won’t ask him to give you such a thing, do you understand me?” she reached through the bars to run her hand down his face, feeling the bones plainly under his drawn sallow skin.

“I understand.” Loki held his thin hand over hers, she felt his face warming from her hand and then he pulled her hand away and gently guided it back through the bars. “You don’t have to ask him.”

She felt herself relax slightly, but then he spoke again and she stiffened in shock.

“Odin King has already heard my request through Huginn.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – Resignation

Loki didn’t get his rope that evening. In fact, he had been so tired and drained after Frigga’s visit that he hadn’t even gotten up for his favorite nightly activity. that being hitting the door with his untouched food tray.
 
When it didn’t come the next day, he admitted to himself, that the request had after all been a shot in the dark. He was disappointed, but supposed it was better this way. The visit with Frigga seemed to have sapped the last of his strength. He might not even have been able to carry it out correctly now anyhow. Ah well, ravings and hallucinations or a botched hanging. In the end, neither one was going to allow him any dignity, so perhaps the former was at least better for his mother’s state of mind. Not that his thoughts were even linking together in coherent chains of thought on the subject.
 
Chains. His scattered thoughts eventually came back to those. Who knew he would ever wish to be back in that Norns be damned cage, with that lovely long length of chain. I should have taken advantage of that opportunity when I had the chance, he thought wistfully.
 
He had thought about getting up to sit in his accustomed place for his old friend Ulfr to watch. But, yet, in the end it was a bit harder than it should have been to move. Tomorrow he promised himself, today I am tired; I’m entitled to a day off after all these months, they can just wait. Tomorrow, I will sit there and ignore them.
 
The occasional voices he heard, most likely the Logmar he imagined. They were probably upset that Loki had lied about getting up the yesterday. Or had it been two days ago? Three? Not that it made any difference, since he wasn’t going to talk to them anyhow, they should let him rest.
 
Once he dreamed that a guard had been trying to talk to him. Well shouting actually. Not that they had any reason to. Really, Loki thought almost resentfully, I’ve been a model prisoner. What cause have they to complain and interrupt my dreams, I’m the one stuck in here without my mother or brother. Mother would have cast a spell to rid me of this horrible cough, and Thor would have begged one of the healers for soothing throat drops.
 
He dreamed of Mother sometimes, gold and soft and smelling of flowers. He was little and she read to him and taught him simple spells and told him that she loved him. Sometimes he was older and she would laugh and talk about books and try to straighten his hair. Thor was there too, sometimes with Sif, but mostly not. They stole tarts from the kitchens and played hide and seek in the cellars. Older Thor went on hunts and practiced fighting with Loki in the training grounds. And once, Thor appeared. Dishevelled, he called out that he loved Loki, while Fandral, Hogun and some guards dragged him away through a door.
 
They were good dreams, except for once when Odin, King appeared in them and tried to tell him something. He thought his dream cloth had stopped working or perhaps he had dropped it while he slept. But dream Loki had told Odin King to go away and turned his face to the wall, refusing to listen until he finally left. Yes, mostly they were good dreams, mother’s gift saw to that.
 
He was floating again, which interfered with his dreams and seemed to be happening more and more. But this time he floated onto a slab where he was washed and dressed in warm clothes. Loki was content, for surely this meant that his body was being prepared to be burned with honor. Rather than being buried forgotten in the dirt. Someone tried to take his dream cloth, but he struggled and cried that he would need it with him in Hel. In the end they let him keep it.
 
OoooO
 
“Loki, Loki wake up. It’s time to wake up now brother.”
 
Loki groaned. Why was Thor bothering him this morning? Whenever he wanted to sleep, Thor would always wake him up, but when Thor insisted on sleeping in, Loki wasn’t to bother him. He smiled sleepily, he still woke him up, of course, but he wasn’t supposed to.
 
“Loki, you’re smiling!” Thor exclaimed with an unwarranted, in his opinion, amount of joy.
 
Blinking against the bright light, he must have forgotten to close his drapes again, he turned towards his brother. “Of course I’m smiling you oaf,” he said muzzily, “I’m thinking of all the ways I am going to annoy you when next you try to sleep in.”
 
He yawned, rubbed his eyes a moment and then stretched out, feeling his muscles protest. He definitely must have slept too long or perhaps in the wrong position. “I had the worst dream last night. Norns it was truly awful and seemed to go on forever,” Loki told his grinning brother. Reaching up to rub his sore neck. His hand instead encountered something hard and cold instead.
 
The only thing worse than having a horrific nightmare, was waking up and finding out that it had not been a nightmare at all.
 
Eir came running at his screams. Thor was trying unsuccessfully to hold him down, but somehow he had more energy than he remembered having for a long, long time. He was still weaker than he used to be, but he was much more determined. And besides, he has always been better at breaking wrestling holds than the others. Loki might not have been as strong as some, but knowing his limitations he had studied hard to overcome their strengths. More fluid than most and that coupled with centuries of hard training had always made him difficult to pin down.
 

Leaving Thor on the floor holding the loose tunic he had just skinned out of and skipping sideways to avoid whatever Eir was trying to touch against his bare torso, barefoot and clad only in loose sleep pants, he ran. They may have cheated him out of his rightful death, but he was never going to be locked up anywhere, by anyone. Never again would anyone control him or restrain him or make him do their will instead of his. He was done.
 
Eir was yelling for someone to stop him, and Thor was bellowing for them not to hurt him, as healer attendants and hall guards boiled through the door into the large light filled chamber.
 
Guards. Guards have weapons.
 
OoooO
 
It had been hundreds of years since he succumbed to a berserker rage. Losing control wasn’t something he normally did in a battle. His normal style of fighting required keeping his head and being aware of everything around him. But shorn of his weapons, his magic and his normal strength, it was the only option available to him.
 
Screaming in rage, Loki plowed into the large, but unarmed attendants, knocking into the first and sending him flying across the floor, he grabbed the other one by the arm, twisting it until it cracked. Using this momentum, Loki swung the attendant hard into the two guards behind him. Hard gauntleted hands left scratches and deep bruises wherever they tried to grab him, but his bare skin gave them little to grip. He dropped to the floor, away from their reaching hands. He scrambled on his hands and knees behind the one guard and used his elbow to strike a hard blow to the back of the guard’s knee. He turned and tried to snake a hand up to get the man’s knife as he fell, but the guard twisted away, pounding Loki hard on his reaching arm.
 
The other guard turned and reached for him, but Loki rolled on his back, putting both hands behind him, pushing himself off the ground and forward to kick hard at the guard’s groin. Just missing his original target, as the guard shifted sideways, Loki instead he struck the guard’s upper thigh. Loki howled in wordless fury, all of the events of the past year, fuelling his attack, he rocked back, then forward quick as a thought to strike upwards again with his foot, catching the guard a punishing blow right under the breastbone, causing him to drop his spear. The guard’s armor saving him from serious injury, even as the force of the blow flung him back into Thor’s path. This created time for Loki to twist sideways and slam his shin into the outside thigh of the attendant reaching down for him, the man to fall, screaming in pain. Following the momentum of that move, Loki spun up into a crouch, grabbing the guard’s dropped spear as he did so. He managed to spring backwards, just as Thor threw himself over the falling guard trying to reach him. Gasping for air, Loki stood up, and scanned the room for a means of escape.
 
Thor was shouting something at him, in fact, they were all shouting something at him, but he couldn’t hear them over the pounding in his head and his own loud howls of frustration and pain. He reversed the spear and the wooden shaft caught the rising Thor with a roundhouse blow to the side of the head.
 
Determined to escape, he ran towards the door, skidding to a halt as he found Odin and a horrified Frigga just entering  it. He spun looking for some other way to escape, dodging Thor and vaulting over a healing slab. There weren’t any other exits and he would have to fight his way past them all again to get to a window. He could feel himself flagging; he was bleeding from where the sharp spear has cut his arm and chest when he spun it. He hadn’t had much energy to start with and was now winded and heavily bruised from the various blows he had received. Odin didn’t have Gungnir, but he was still dangerous, Loki knew that.
 
In the end he wound up with a corner of the room a few feet from his back, while he swung the sharp spear in front of him, screaming at them to stay away.
 
Everyone in the room froze except for Thor, who was advancing towards him, despite the spear. He crouched lower, preparing to attack if he got any closer.
 
“Thor, stop!” Odin shouted. “Guards and healers leave! Now! Close the door and wait down at the end of the hallway! Frigga, darting forward was caught up short by Odin. “Frigga, wait,” he ordered. “Give him time to calm down.”
 
“Loki my darling, please, please put down the spear, please calm yourself, no one is going to hurt you.”
 
“Hurt me?” he panted, wondering why she had turned against him. “Hurt me? You already have. Why am I here? Why didn’t you let me go? Why do you keep making me endure this…? His face twisted in rage, eyes fever bright, “How can you claim to love me, and then do this?”
 
“My son put down the spear.” Odin said quietly as he and Frigga took a step closer.
“I’m not your son!” Loki’s raw scream echoed through the room, pain and loss, crashing down on him again as Odin rocked back as if he had been struck.
 
“You never were my father!”
 
Shaking with rage and fatigue, Loki’s teeth chattered as he swayed, continually swinging the spear protectively in front of him, his voice faltering, “I never had… a true… father.”
 
“Brother.” Thor called pleadingly, holding out a hand and sliding forward a pace. “We only want to help you!”
 
“You betrayed me, all of you.”
 
Loki jabbed the spear in Odin’s direction, “Him, I expect nothing less from, but you Thor and you mother, you say that you love me, but it's lies, everything is lies.” Loki slammed his free fist into his chest, eyes clouded by tears, “If you really loved me you would have let me die so I could be free.”
 
“No!” Thor and Frigga both cried together.
 
“My precious one, no.” Frigga cried.
 
“Never again will I be imprisoned, subject to the will of someone else!” he screamed, “either kill me now or let me go!”
 
“Loki, you are free.” Odin called. Loki’s head snapped to the side, staring with wild suspicion at Odin. “Loki, listen to me. We have been waiting for you to wake up for weeks to tell you just that,” Odin said sadly, face lined and troubled. “Never should it have gone this far my so—.” He shoulders sagged, “Stubborn. You, me, we are both too stubborn. Put down the spear, let Eir tend your new wounds, rest and gather your strength.”
 
The spear dipped and waved, grown too heavy to hold in his uncertainty, Thor sidling forward took it from his unresisting hands and tossed it away. He slid a supporting arm under Loki as Odin continued.
 
“In a week, if you have recovered enough, we will remove the collar. No,” he said as Loki tried to speak. “Its unbinding will be far more painful that its original placement. You will need your strength to endure it.” He released Frigga’s arm and she darted forward, but then stopped looking back at her husband in concern.

“I have made many mistakes with you Loki, I wish I could have been a better father to you.” He sighed heavily before turning to leave.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – Resolution

At the direction of Eir, Thor took Loki down the hallway and into a small private room. Here Thor fussed about his new injuries, until Eir chased him away. Eir, was as always upset when someone undid her good work. Frigga held Loki as he lay there shaking and hurting until Eir got him a drink to wet and soothe his raw throat. He had drunk half of it before his dazed mind reminded him that it was from Eir, it could be drugged. And of course it was.

He fought the drug, tossing restlessly until Frigga went into the main healing chamber and found his dream cloth, folding his hand around it.

Loki had insisted on going back to his own rooms the next day. Frigga and Eir protested, but the thought of being constrained to remain somewhere he didn’t want to be made him furious. They might, and indeed they did, consider it irrational fury, but they were not the ones who had been imprisoned in one place or the other for over a year. Even his time on Midgard hadn’t been free, as he had been firmly leashed to the Chitauri leader. Strangely though, he didn’t even feel free in his own room. He was inclined to blame the damn collar, but perhaps it was something more. 

Eir was quite irate that he wouldn’t stay in the healing rooms. Since his old servants had retired after he'd been lost in the void, he was assigned two of her healer attendants for the time being. The male attendant, apparently was also there to oversee his for physical training. Until such time as  he was deemed strong enough to attend a normal practice session on the training grounds. Not that he would have gone to the training grounds with this damn collar around his neck. During the day, he refused to even leave his rooms, making Eir come to him. The only reason he put up with all this, was that Eir would be making the final decision on when he would be physically able to have the damn collar unbound.

It had been two long weeks already and Eir was still fussing at Loki about he needed to eat and exercise. He was starting to despise her.

OoooO

 

It was over three weeks before Eir approved the unbinding. The last few days it had been all Loki could do not to viciously lash out during her visits twice a day. Not that having to contain himself did anything to help his general temper. But an unrestrained outburst would have her deciding he was still not ready. He was so sick of having other people decide when he was going to do something that it was making him physically ill.

Wonderful, splitting stress headaches.

Yet another thing he had to hide from everyone.

But at last, Eir agreed it was time to remove the collar. Despite efforts by his mother and Thor, he had not seen Odin since the incident in the healing chamber. And frankly he was not looking forward to seeing Odin in the throne room this morning either. To accommodate Eir’s schedule, the meeting was very early in the morning. Although he suspected that his mother might have arranged that with the healer to save him from walking through more crowded halls while still wearing the collar. Not crowds, but still too many onlookers to suit him.

Seething, he arrived to find the Throne room almost empty, but not quite. Odin, Thor, Eir and the two guards were there of course. Also Odin’s seneschal Bolin, the palace guard commander, two of Odin’s senior councilors and likewise Ulfr, with three of his senior Logmar. As angry as he was, he still paused to consider the implications of Ulfr’s presence. Normally he let his senior Logmar deal with recording matters. Of course Ulfr was an incredibly curious old man. And, if Odin’s decree set precedence, as the senior logmar Ulfr would be xxx   have the final say on how it was worded.

He had been warned by his mother what form of address the court was going to use for him, so he was ready for that. Loki didn’t like it. He had argued against it, but since the court would not issue a decree without his title and surname, he was forced to accept it. And choke back any of the many, many comments that he would have liked to make.

Something to work on he promised himself grimly as he knelt on one knee before the throne. Schooling his expression with effort before looking up impassively at the king.

Odin stood, striking Gungnir’s handle twice. As the ringing echoes died away, he looked down at Loki.

“Loki Odinson,” Odin boomed.

Loki twisted inside. I am not your son, he wanted to say. I was never your son. His expression might have been calm, but his eyes glittered with anger.

Odin’s voice echoed in the nearly empty chamber. “Prince of Asgard, you are charged with the attempt to do unprovoked grievous harm to your brother Thor Odinson, also Prince of Asgard while he was in exile on Midgard. What say you to this charge?”

With great effort he responded in a clear voice, expression even, “It is a just charge great king.” 

“Further charges of visiting war, and invasion on Midgard, a protectorate of Asgard, are dismissed due to the presence of a compulsion geas placed upon you. All blame for those actions is transferred to the Chitauri leadership. What say you to these charges and their resolution?” Odin intoned, studying Loki closely.

Are we play-acting? He thought viciously. Fine, I can do contrite.

He bowed his dark head. “I am deeply appreciative of the understanding of the king and the fair and just resolution of these charges your majesty.” Loki said, his voice and countenance both as cool and smooth as the dressed marble floor he knelt upon.  He looked back up into Odin’s stern face, waiting to see what other charges might be laid against him.

“We return to the first charge then.”

Loki caught his breath, his eyes narrowing speculatively. This was not what he was expecting, only one charge standing? With all the other ones that had been previously laid at his door? Is this all? He lowered his head and shot a furtive glance at his mother, who inclined her head in answer to his unspoken question. Frigga had power, he knew that, but she seldom placed herself in direct opposition to Odin. Rather the queen preferring to work behind the scenes. Ah...

He tipped his head down a bit more and looked back at Ulfr out of the corner of his eye. Of course, that’s why he was here, nothing that was not the letter of the law that the Logmars would allow. Odin could if he desired, anger Frigga and make charges of his own. That was his prerogative, but these apparently were the only two charges that could legally be applied to him using current law. No mention of the Foolish Four, no mention of Jotunheim, or Laufey, or even the BiFrost’s destruction. 

Odin’s voice recalled him, and he looked up again at the King. “For the attack upon your brother, Thor Odinson, Crown Prince of Asgard, various mitigating circumstances leading up to the attack, have been considered by me, Odin All Father, your father and rightful King.”

You are not my father, he chanted to himself. 

“Therefore, while still a heinous act, you have already received one hundred and eighty two lashes and served almost five months in prison. These punishments will suffice, provided you also use your private paths for messenger and escort service, at the throne’s discretion. This service is required, until such time as the BiFrost is repaired.” Lines deepened on Odin’s face as he and Loki stared at each other. “What say you to this resolution?”

He looked down at the floor, anger almost forgotten, deeply troubled, what did he say? In all honesty, it was much better than he expected and indeed more that even he thought he deserved. No banishment? Not even temporary? Of course, where would they send him? An outlying district maybe, since several realms were now closed to him.

Messenger, and transportation services as his wergild? Something is not right, he thought, it didn’t add up. Why so harsh when he first arrived and now so lenient? He looked at Odin through narrowed eyes, trying to figure out why the change. What was he missing? Even though this benefited him greatly, something was wrong, what was Odin up to? Or maybe the better question would be, what was Odin hiding?

Odin raised an ironic brow, as if acknowledging his unspoken questions, “Loki Odinson, what say you to this resolution?”

Ah. He would have to consider it later. Loki placed a hand on his chest, and bowed his head deeply. “I am most grateful for the understanding of the King and I accept this resolution and pledge to fulfill my part of it.” He said, concealing his own suspicions with dutiful sincerity dripping from every word.

“Let it be so recorded.” Odin pronounced. “As soon as you received clearance from Eir to travel…”

Restraints. He felt himself stiffen, a flicker in Odin’s expression that let him know Odin had noticed it also.

“Your first task will be to deliver documents to the Midgard authorities, detailing our findings and this resolution. You will also offer assurances that Asgard will assist them if the need arises. You will see the head Logmar Ulfr to pick up the documents. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” He ground out, trying to keep his lip from curling, “Sire.”

“Are you ready to have the restraint collar removed?” Odin asked impassively, as if this was something that Loki had to think about.

“Yes Sire.” He managed to make that one come out a little better. Bracing himself, he nodded.

Immediately Gungnir flashed out, and the collar seemed to become red hot. Pathways the collar had blocked, opened up again and raw, agonizing power burnt its way back into his body. He curled in on himself as the pain drove all the air from his lungs. Almost without thought, his hand flew up to grab the collar. Pulling it from his throat, Loki coated the collar with ice, stopping it from completely burning away. His back arched, every muscle in his body screaming, Loki fell forward. Stopping his fall with both hands, he could not keep the one clanging to the floor holding the collar from staying Jotun blue.

Loki crouched there for several minutes, trying not to cry out. But sometimes despite his efforts, he keened loudly at the white-hot pain racing back and forth. Power scorched every inch of him as it reclaimed the pathways into his body.

Panting heavily now, perspiring, feeling more exhausted than he could ever remember being, Loki slowly took a few deep breaths, pushing down the nausea and dizziness caused by the pain. He became aware, as his breathing slowed, of restless shuffling behind him. Loki wanted to check what was happening around him, but had to blink away the tears of pain in his eyes before he could even see the floor in front of him.

Grimly he focused on getting his body under control; it had already been too long that he had crouched here providing a show for them all. Alarmed, he noticed the hand holding the collar was Jotun blue. Loki flicked his eyes back and forth, checking who might be in his line of sight. Relieved, he noted that everyone not on the dais was slightly behind him. With the way he had been kneeling and was now crouched, they should not have been able to see his hand. Somewhat relieved, he released the ice covered collar, drawing back his hand only slightly as he forced his skin back to its usual color. Finally, chin jutted forward, breathing slowly through clenched teeth, he looked up at Odin. 

“I’ll just keep this if you don’t mind.” Loki said in a breathless, yet determined voice, green eyes daring Odin to object as he caused the collar to vanish.

He stood up slowly, sagging back down once to push off the floor before he finally, painfully, stood. It took longer to stand than he cared to think about. And by the time he was finally steady, the watching crowd, and the guards had filed out of the room at Odin’s direction.

“It was indeed painful,” Loki croaked.

“As I warned you it would be my son.” Loki stiffened, and Odin frowned down at him.

Loki disciplined his expression. Assuming an expression and tone that were politely distant as he looked Odin full on. “She is my mother, and he is apparently still my brother, but I am not your son.”

“Then tell me Loki? Whose son are you?” Odin had asked, sounding neutral enough. “Laufey’s? Are you then the heir apparent, the Crown Prince of Jotunheim?”

Loki’s face paled.

“Should we send the Jotun’s a message so they can stop the hunt for an acceptable cousin and place you on the Jotun Throne?” Odin asked.

“Odin!” Figga snapped, stamping her foot, “Stop this at once.”

“I am nobody’s son, but considering my choices, I am content with that.” Loki said, drawn and bloodless. “I never wanted the throne. Not yours, definitely not his. I only ever wanted a chance, just once, to prove myself to you.” He stood painfully straight, “I don’t even want that anymore. I just wish you had never brought me here.”

“If you had not been my son, Thor would have missed having you as a brother; Frigga would have missed having you as a son.”

Loki glanced sideways at Frigga and Thor, and then resolutely turned his attention back to Odin. “You’d have found them a better one,” He said tautly. “One more to your liking, perhaps, since the one you picked was certainly not.”

“You may consider yourself nobody’s son. But you are still a consecrated Prince of Asgard. That is not within your power to change.” Odin said firmly, leaning back in his great chair.

“You could do it, you could change that.” Loki challenged. “It’s not like I am exactly a credit to the realm.”

“I could, but I won’t.” Odin told him, again without inflection or emotion of any kind.

Loki ground his teeth in frustration, “Are we done great king?”

Thoughtful, for reasons that Loki couldn’t guess, Odin gave him a sardonic smile. “Yes Loki, for now, we are done.”

OoooO

 

All he had wanted to do was lie down and never wake up again. He didn’t want any damn food, or to exercise, or to see Eir, or her assistants. They tried to insist, but they were much more wary of pushing him without the restraining collar. Finally he told Eir he would eat if it would shut her up, but then he was going to sleep and would not be happy if anyone woke him. Refusing to even let the attendants stay in his outer chambers, he escorted them to the hall.

Mother and Thor were a bit easier to get rid of, although Mother did insist on staying to keep him company while he ate. Pleading fatigue did work with his family though. So after he finished his meal, Loki promised to attend dinner in the great hall with them that evening and at last got them to leave.

 

OoooO

 

He smiled with false cheer as he walked towards the head table. Nodding to the few people in the dining hall who would allow Loki to catch their eye, he looked over the crowd disinterestedly. He was in no hurry to get to his place, since Mother hadn’t arrived yet, so he moved rather slowly. As he walked, he noticed Sif standing stock still several feet from the high table, watching him warily. His simulated smile widened, as he took in her stance and that of her three companions. Some distance behind her, he saw Thor making his way towards them. Yes, there should be time.

“Sif!” He called in a loud, joyful voice. Walking up between Volstagg and Fandral, Loki laid an arm briefly around each of their shoulders, “Hogun! How wonderful to see you all again.” All but Hogun, who was standing next to Sif started slightly at his greeting.

He favored each of them with a smile, “My dear traitors, we are well met indeed.” Their heads snapped up and they all stared at him in amazement. He lowered his voice so its honeyed threat could not be overheard by the people around them. “I just wanted to warn you all. If any of you dare to speak so much as one word to me tonight, or indeed at any other time we might meet, I will bury a poisoned dagger in your throat before the next word can escape it.” He cocked an eyebrow and held up a long, thin finger in warning as Sif opened her mouth. While his expression remained cheerful, his tone became one of frozen menace.

“Not. One. Word. Do you understand?” He continued in a more cheerful tone, “Do you know the best thing about this? By the letter of the law and I did double check this. As I was a duly appointed king at the time of your transgression, I will be well within my rights to kill you. You traitorous swine.”

He again clapped Volstagg and Fandral shoulders. “And while they might not like it, there is nothing Odin or Thor can do to me if I choose to take this action.” He beamed at them. “Wonderful yes?”

“Now everyone smile and make nice for Thor, and remember, not one word.” He reminded them and then winked at Sif before he brushed past her and Hogun to greet Thor who had just made it to the head table. Cretins, he thought, they always have been and always will be. I am never going to have to deal with them again he promised himself.

Loki exchanged a few words with Thor, and then as his mother entered, he went and sat in his accustomed seat beside her. He managed to be looking away when Odin arrived to sit beside her, saving him from having to greet the All Father. His mother lowered her brows a bit at this, but he stubbornly refused to acknowledge her hint, and in the end she let it go.

He covertly watched the traitors as Thor greeted them. But since Thor didn’t spin around to look at him, apparently no one mentioned their little chat. Although Thor did look puzzled when they moved away. Evidently they had decided not to eat at the high table this evening; who knew that they possessed so much intelligence? As they settled, he did notice Sif and Fandral looking at him, so he smiled and gave them a friendly wave. The movement attracted Thor’s attention. He looked back to see who Loki was greeting and was delighted to see his brother being friendly with his companions. Loki’s smile widened and became sharper when Fandral and Sif, aware of Thor’s attention on them, had to paste smiles on their own faces and greet him back.  And to think he hadn’t wanted to come to dinner tonight. Think of the fun he would have missed.

Although once the meal was served, he did regret coming. Other guests had been called up to take the vacant seats of the fatuous four. While they didn’t say anything about his recent release from incarceration, he did notice the occasional dubious looks they cast his way.

Chew it and swallow it raw Asgard, the deranged prince is again walking the halls. 

Well for a short time more anyhow.

Keeping his face politely interested in the insipid conversation going on around him, Loki inwardly sighed at the content of his plate. His meal had been specially prepared for him. But as small portions and as light as the fare, Loki knew, he was going to have a hard time eating enough to satisfy his mother or Eir. It also didn’t help that the servitor standing behind him, was not a member of the domestic staff. But rather the healer's assistant assigned to him, that he had kicked out of his chambers this morning. She of course, would report everything she observed directly to Eir. 

Despite being several sizes smaller, his new garments still hung on him. And while his skin tone was better, he was still a bit pasty looking, and the planes of his face were sharply visible. What weight Loki had gained back, occurred during the many weeks Eir had kept him unconscious. It was not in her opinion nearly enough. 

He would have almost wished she had tube fed him the entire time. At least that would have been honest. When he had begun to wake up, Eir had drugged him for several more weeks into various states of awareness. This allowed her to wake him up enough to be fed without realizing it and then push him back under to sleep so he wouldn’t fight his treatment. To say that he had been upset when Thor let slip about this manipulation was a bit of an understatement. Eir, however much he hissed at her, was unrepentant. She pointed out that Loki had gained more weight while he was only semi-concious than he had since he had started eating on his own. While the head healer had threatened to drug him into insensibility again if he didn’t start eating as she wanted him to, he didn’t think his mother would allow it. Besides he no longer had to stand for Eir high handed tactics. 

A nudge from Frigga brought his thoughts back to the present. She was looking pointedly at the food he was shoving around, untasted on his plate. Sighing inwardly, he started eating. At least there were none of those damn apple slices on his plate tonight. 

Eir he now had the power to resist, his mother, not so much.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 - Apples

The knock on the door interrupted his train of thought, causing the evaporation of the carefully chosen weasel words he had intended to conclude his paragraph with. Coulson spends a lot of time in hotels, this one; halfway through Montana is not much different than the rest, including the ubiquitous ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Due to numerous interruptions like this however, Coulson has often considered replacing it with a ‘Knockers Get Shot’ sign.

That he has already done the graphic design for it is a testament as to how many times he has considered it. But Coulson is nothing if not a realist and understands that housekeeping and maintenance wouldn’t even pay attention to a signed request from God if it hung between them and finishing their shift on time.

While it is unlikely to be anything serious, since the hotel and town were randomly chosen when he decided to stop for the night, he still makes sure to take his gun with him as he answers the door. Okay. Not a note from God, but an actual god.

He sighs.

A very slender Stuttgart Opera god, complete with gently mocking smile, is standing outside his door. Tall, dark, GQ outfit, emerald green patterned scarf matching the eyes and expensive looking shoes shined to a fare-thee-well. Coulson’s own hazel brown eyes narrow a bit as he notices the glowing blue/gold cane.

“Ah. Agent Coulson how good to see you up and about again, and looking so well too.” Coulson senses laughter being held back by lips in a tight tiny smirk, “Impressive recovery indeed. May I come in please?”

“Is this pistol going to do me any good?” Coulson asks.

“Well no. I’m afraid not.”

Coulson sighs, “Come in if you must.” Waving the Opera god to the one chair the room contains, he holsters his gun and shuts the door.

Loki walks past him with a polite nod and sits instead on the edge of the bed nearest the desk where Coulson had been working.

“I am here as a messenger among other things,” Loki tells him as he lays the cane/scepter on the bed. Reaching into an inner breast pocket of his suit he pulls out and hands over a ribbon wrapped, folded packet of parchment paper with seals dangling all over it.

“Okaaaay. What’s this?” Coulson asks waving the parchment slightly.

“Oh, just some findings the All Father had our head Logmar draft for Director Fury to append to his files and distribute as he sees fit.”

“Logmar?”

Loki’s brow furrowed slightly and he waved his right hand a few times before touching his forehead briefly. “Ah. Chief Justice? Attorney General? Royal Arbitrator? All of them combined I think,” his eyes sparkling he wrinkles his nose and smiles, “except... not exactly.”

“Right. So why are you bring this to me? Why you, why not Thor?”

“Well I don’t think Commander Fury would appreciate seeing me right now on his flying fortress so I couldn’t take it to him. And as to why me... I am, while the BiFrost is broken, the only one who can easily traverse to Midgard for message duty. I have been instructed to reassure you that should you require Thor’s or Asgard’s assistance I can get them here. Not instantaneously mind you, but with more than a good bit of effort on my part, in a reasonably short period of time.”

“You can? No one else can?”

Loki shakes his head, smiling modestly and shrugging his well-tailored shoulders in a ‘what can I say’ kind of way.

Coulson’s phone rings. Frowning at the tone it plays, he digs it out of his pocket to answer, “Coulson here.”

“Coulson, I need to you get to Maryland the scepter is missing and I want to know why, I’m sending you the report.”

“Yes sir, I know. It was taken by Loki. Were many people killed?”

“What the hell? No. None, not even any injuries. How in the hell can you know Loki has it?”

“Well sir, he’s sitting about four feet away from me with it, most likely hearing everything you say. He came to drop off a legal document for you. Hang on a minute sir.”

Coulson looked at Loki inquiringly, “What kind of translator are we going to need for this?”
Loki chuckled, “None I assure you, the Head Logmar has several very talented clerks.” Then raising his voice he asks, “Would you like me to explain its contents to your Director Fury?”

“Sir?”

“Oh hell no. I do not want to talk to the Menace of New York. And you tell him I want that scepter back RIGHT NOW!”

“Please, “Loki motions for Coulson to hand over the phone, which Coulson does with a worried frown.

“Good evening Director Fury... That was uncalled for, I am being polite... Well I did ask him for it. Nicely even... “ Loki listens, raising his hand in a placating motion and flashing a reassuring smile at Coulson.

“He’s fine, I assure you.... Of course I’m not going to do that... Well for the most important reason, my mother would have a fit...”

Loki stiffens, eyes narrowing. Colson leans back as Loki hisses into the phone, “You will not speak about my mother like that.”

Coulson tsks, making placating motions with his hands. Loki rolls his eyes and looks to the ceiling and then nods.

“Director, Director. I understand, you really would like to give me a piece of your mind right now... No, you listen. Not only can you ill afford to spare any, but in fairness I must warn you that every word you say at this moment is most likely being listened to by Heimdall... Really? Do you want to continue speaking about my mother, the Queen of Asgard that way, while Heimdall reports every word you say to Odin King? Or are you Director, perhaps just a bit overwrought right now?”

Coulson urgently motions Loki to give him back his phone, which Loki does with a tart smile.

“Sir? Director Fury. I’m back.”

“Is that Viking Space Punk sassing me Coulson?” Fury demands.

Loki cocks his head and smirks at Coulson.

“I’m not sure sir. Just how rude were you about his mother?”

“Coulson...” Fury drawls dangerously.

“Sir, I don’t seem to be in any immediate danger. He says he is here as a duly appointed royal messenger delivering legal documents. Hang on a minute sir.”

Coulson nods at artifact sitting beside Loki. “Scepter?” he inquires.

“It is mine Agent Coulson, paid for with several very long months of my blood. I will not return it.”

“Right. Okay. Sir, no joy on the scepter, claims it’s his.”

“Coulson straighten this out, I do not have time to waste on the Asgard problem child.”

“Got it. I’ll do my best. Good night sir.” Coulson said flipping his phone shut.

“Umm, sorry about that, he gets excited sometimes.” Coulson said apologetically.

“Yes. I remember.”

“So. How was Maryland?” he inquires.

“A bit damp actually, I think it is going to rain there this evening.” Loki said politely.

“You’re not going to kill me or do the mind whammy then?”

Loki laughs, “No killing, no mind whammy as you put it. At least not this evening at any rate.”

“Because your mother wouldn’t like it?” Coulson asks skeptically.

“And other reasons Agent Coulson,” A scimitar sharp smile cuts across Loki’s face, “But yes, that is the main reason.”

Coulson raises his chin and looked thoughtful. “So if you decided to go Bag-of-Cats crazy we would be better off trying to call your mother than Thor, or say... someone higher?”

Loki laughs delightedly and flashes a wide sardonic grin, “Oh. So much better off.”

“Hummm. So, not that I don’t enjoy the company, but is there anything else we need to go over?” he asks sitting forward and folding his hands across his crossed knee. Loki continues to smile.

“How did your injury heal Agent Coulson? Lingering pain, tightness?”

“Oh. I won’t be running track or lifting weights for a while, but I can’t complain.” Coulson said lightly.

“Well we can’t have that can we?” Loki cups his hands in front of him and opens them producing two ruby apples individually wrapped in translucent silk. “Pick one,” he tells Coulson holding out an apple in each hand.

“So we’re doing Snow White?” Coulson asks.

“No. We’re choosing apples, was I not clear on that?” Coulson’s lips twitched up a bit at the corners.

“Snow White was fed a poison apple by her wicked step-mother. An old fairy tale for children.”

“Charming,” Loki says raising an eyebrow. “I’m sure it is an instructive warning tale of dysfunctional extended family dynamics. But no, the apples aren’t poison; they were procured with much effort from my mother’s personal orchard. One is yours and to allay your fears of mischance, one is mine. Pick one.”

Coulson takes the left apple and regards it closely. “Nice charm,” he said pointing to the small gold disk holding the silk in place.

“Well yes. Instructions. Listen closely please.”

Coulson nods and then puts on his best listening closely face.

“Good. No one’s skin should touch the disk except the person getting the apple; anyone else handling it should wear gloves. Should the person getting the apple be unresponsive, the disk is touched to their skin and a pure silver knife is used to cut a section out that is put in their mouth. The knife will both concentrate the apple into the cut slice and prepare its essence for easier release. Got that? Only pure silver, no alloys.”

Coulson turns his apple this way and that. “Okay, now what?”

Loki reached up touching the disk on his apple. “Now we eat it.” The silk ripples and fades into mist and Loki takes a large bite out of the apple he was holding. “Go on,” he encourages, “It won’t hurt you, quite the reverse.”

Loki’s eyes crinkle in amusement at the doubtful look Coulson give him. He gestures Coulson to try his own apple and then closes his eyes and savors his next bite.

“Do I have to close my eyes as I eat it?” Coulson asks?

Loki chews a moment more and then swallows. “Of course not,” he says opening his eyes to glare disdainfully at Coulson. “By all means, just gobble it up without savoring this once in a life time taste. Well once in a lifetime for you. That is an apple of the gods you hold in your hands you dull creature.”

“Literally gods plural, my mother has some very high powered help you know.”

“Hummm,” Coulson peers closely at the apple and then suspiciously at Loki. “Why me?”

“Agent Coulson,” Loki sweeps his empty hand around and places it gracefully outspread on his chest. “I declare you do wound me with your suspicions, can’t you tell I am making amends as best I can?” His mournful tone belied by the sly smile.

“Yeah. Why? You didn’t seem that fond of me when we last visited, so the question is why?”

“You wound me, truly you do. The last time we met I was, like your Agent Barton, not myself. And now, I seek to make some small amends to the people I injured. Even though of course, the fault was not mine. Agent Barton is not the first person to be mind controlled on you know.”

As Coulson thinks about that a minute, a massive headache rolls up on him pounding spikes into his brain and right eye causing him to wince.
“So all is forgiven and you were sent down here to deliver messages and an apple? What about that?” He asks pointing to the scepter.

“Actually the message is the only item I was tasked with delivering, but since I was seeing you I thought I would bring you a small peace offering.” Loki radiating charm and good will, “I discussed it with my mother and she thought it an excellent idea. And of course since I was in the area I decided to see if I could pick up some of the stuff I left behind. You don’t happen to know where my helm is, do you?”

“No. Sorry.” Coulson says as he touched the disk on his apple, blew away the mist and bit into it gingerly. The apple was marvelously fragrant, tart while being deliciously sweet and as crisp and juicy as any apple he had ever eaten. He looks down at it with surprise. “Really good.” He says appreciatively.

“I know. Pity about the helm, ah well, I guess I’ll just have to have another one made.”

They sat for several minutes enjoying the apples. Coulson does close his eyes several times in appreciation, but looks sheepish every time he opens them again.

“So, Agent Coulson.” Loki says after the apples were both gone. “Did you end up with much of a scar from our little misunderstanding?”

“Well yes. Twinges a bit if I move wrong, but that will fade.”

“Ah, I’m sure it will.” Loki raises his head looking down at Coulson with a faint smile. “It’s personal I know, but would you mind very much showing it to me?”

Coulson looks at Loki for a long moment with a bemused expression. “Sure, I guess so.” He says moving his tie and unbuttoning his middle shirt buttons. He looks down puzzled and then puts his right hand into his open shirt searching for the now missing scar. He thinks about it a minute and realizes his headache was gone too. “Okay wise guy. The apple right?”

Loki gives him a big lopsided grin, eyes twinkling, “I did say they were special didn’t I?”

“Ah well,” Loki said getting up and taking up his scepter. “I have trespassed on your hospitality long enough, so I’ll take my leave of you.”

“Is this permanent?” Coulson inquires gesturing to his chest.

“Of course, any bones you may have broken in the past are made whole, and diseases that may have been lurking in your system are gone, hearing, eyes improved and so on and so forth. A system reset as Professor Selvig would say. All past injuries are cured. The apples won’t bring anyone back from the dead, or reverse aging, but there is little else they won’t eventually cure, especially in lower life forms like Midgardians.”

“Agent Coulson, you do remember the instructions yes?”

“Uh? Yes. Yes I do.”

Loki turns as he got to the door, “Oh there is one other thing about the apples.”

“Go on.”

“They are only for people who were injured during my misadventure here and still in need of healing. Especially that gentleman in Germany who lost an eye. Each one is labeled from the names I pulled off of Fury’s files as of last week. They are not to be hoarded, sold or misappropriated for study. If any of them do go astray my mother would be most disappointed, and that would seriously upset me. Do you understand?”

“No, I don’t actually,” Coulson frowns, getting up and walking behind him towards the door.

Loki did a complicated wave of his hand, the scepter vanishes and then his hands reverse the motions. A huge pallet, stacked waist high with basket after basket of wrapped apples appears in front of him.

“And now I do. Let me guess,” said Coulson gesturing to the pallet, “You ran this past your mother too?”

“Let just say, I couldn’t have done it without her help. Good night Agent Coulson.” Says Loki and he goes through the door.

Coulson darts through the narrow gap between the pallet and wall, snatching the door back open, “Wait a minute, how am I supposed to even get that pallet through the door?” he calls. “It’s too wide and it’s got to weigh a ton!”

Loki grins over his shoulder waving cheerily and then vanishes in midair five strides further down the hallway.

Coulson looks again behind him at the apples and then checks the outside hallway where Loki had disappeared once more.

Shaking his head he closes and locks the door. Then after thinking a minute he takes the top sheet off his bed and covered the pallet. There he thinks now there was no way he or anyone else can accidently touch a disk while moving around these things.

Coulson went over to the desk and using his pocket knife he slits through the ribbons and seals that bound the parchment envelope closed.

He does a quick skim and takes a high def picture of each page, thirty-two in all. Fury is not going to like this he thinks as he forwards the pictures.

Picking up the summary sheet from the top he studies the signatures and gold seal carefully and then begins to reread the entire document.

Coulson is not the least surprised when Fury’s ring tone sounds.

“Coulson here.”

“Is he still there?” Fury demands.

“No sir, he left about twenty minutes before I emailed you the document copies.”

“Are you still you?” Fury asks suspiciously.

“Amazingly enough yes.”

“Did you read this stuff, it is total BS!”

“Well sir, you did remand him to the Æsir authorities, and these do appear to be their official final findings and determinations.” says Coulson soothingly.

“What the hell is wrong with those people!”

“I couldn’t say sir, but based on the documents and my recent conversation, you might just want to be careful what you say about his mother. She seems to be the only one that has any real influence with him. Oh, this would include your filed reports.”

“Coulson are you jacking with me?” Fury demands.

“No sir, apparently not all Space Vikings are computer illiterate, or perhaps he just has a magic file hack spell. At any rate apparently the Opera god was able to get information he wanted out of your files last week.

“Oh. Hell no.”

“Afraid so sir, you might want to pull up your Injury file of the event follow-up reports as of last week. We are going to have to deliver something to each of them.”

Coulson can almost feel the cold anger coming through his cell phone speakers. “Coulson, what are you talking about?”

“Well sir, apparently the Æsir problem child and his mother feel that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. So they sent us a big fruit basket.”

“Coulson!”

“I’ll need a helper here tomorrow wearing long sleeves, two dollies, a refrigerated van and lots of cotton gloves. I am looking at about a ton of magic apples right here in my room sir.”

Fury growls. “Frickin’ Space Vikings... Fine, fine. Send me your location; I’ll have someone there by early morning.”

“He gave me one sir, they’re really very good.”

“Good night Coulson.”

“Good night sir.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 - Beginnings

While Coulson was getting ready to sleep, several miles away Loki dropped his invisibility glamour. He had already transformed his clothes into something a bit more appropriate for hiking, and had lengthen his scepter into a staff, wrapping a piece of leather around the gem and putting a small ‘don’t notice’ spell on it. It was time; he thought to gather some gold. Or rather that ugly paper stuff they used here in Midgard. Lots and lots of it.

He could of course just glamour up the local currency, but that might cause trouble with the All Father he thought. That would be that lying and trickery thing that Odin disliked when anyone but himself was doing it. So be it. He could also make money by selling his services, but even the thought of that made him ill. But there were other things he could do that would not bring him to the notice of the Midgard authorities or bring down the immediate wrath of Odin. Well not directly anyhow, by the time Heimdall reported that this was more than just a small side trip, like the Maryland stop, his letters and the cage birds would have been delivered to the queen.

He was amazed that he had never seriously thought about leaving Asgard for good, certainly not for Midgard, but he did have to admit the place had greatly advanced since the days when he and Thor had visited in their youth, it was no longer a land of grunting savages, but rather someplace where brains and skill were rewarded more than brawn. He had brains, he had many skills and he intended to stay here. He just needed some money to get started and a few opportunities to atone for his past transgressions. It would give him something to do and keep him away from those howling hypocrites in Asgard.

O 000 O

Covering much more ground that a mortal would, Loki hiked for perhaps an hour ending up on top a small hill. During what he was beginning to refer to as his dark time, he had arrived on Midgard with no knowledge of modern written English, he could speak it of course, but the spell that allowed that did not transfer to the written word. That was disastrous for him, since it seemed that every few minutes someone was giving him some paper or screen to look at for his opinion or decision. But no matter, he was very good at spells and the adjustment to understand the written word was not difficult. At least not if you had someone very good at it to forge the way. Agent Barton and Erik Selvig had superb vocabularies, Selvig with the bonus of specialized terminologies, Barton an understanding of popular vernacular.

Loki had packed many, many small trinkets to bring with him. One had been traded at a ‘Pawnshop’ in Maryland, where they had looked at him strangely even though he had been in normal human clothes. Spelled omniscience was limited, but it was enough for him to know the maximum amount that the trader would give him. He walked out of the shop with a decent amount of Midgardian... American money and a book that might be very useful to him. A World Almanac and Book of Facts, Loki smiled as he pulled the book from his personal ether. He placed a glow enchantment on leaf of the tree he was leaning against and studied the book for perhaps an hour. This area of the States was apparently know for sapphires and rubies, not the gold he was hoping for, but it would do for a start. Loki ‘reached’ and retrieved two of the rings he had brought, flawless sapphires and rubies sparkled as he held the rings in the palm of his hand. He placed his fingers firmly on the gemstones he began to scry.

O 000 O

The slender well-dressed man irritably brushed wayward strands away from his face, before finally using his narrow black geek-chic glasses as a headband. It wasn’t like Loki’s deep green eyes actually needed glasses; they were, like his long black hair, just a bit of visual distraction, a little something required by his current role.

Loki sat cross-legged on a small blanket, tapping away industriously on his lap top when the alarm on his phone went off. He saved the paper he was working, ‘Augmented Reality - Distinctive Texture Features a matter of Perspective’ and pulled up his financial program. Checking on the latest news, he narrowed today’s choices down to two and then called up his trades. The area around Foley Square Park bustled as noisily as anywhere else in Manhattan, causing him to tune out quite a bit while working. He was not really paying as much attention as he should have been, when a large lump in a metal suit, came blasting down to land about several yards away.

Twigs, mulch, pieces of paper were all tossed high into the air from the down blast of Stark’s boot jets. Papers? In addition to being covered in urban forest detritus, the marked up copy he had been working from had blown free of its folder and was currently being lofted around in the down blast augmented breeze.

A warning chime came from his laptop. Damn! Loki only had a minute to get today’s trades in. His eyes narrowed against flying debris, he whispered a quick, if limited, foresight spell and then checked his choices again. Smiling, he saw that of the two choices he had narrowed down to, the bank stock would be a bigger earner today. Tapping quickly, he entered his trade right before the closing buzzer.

What, Loki wondered as he shut down and closed his laptop, was this buffoon doing here? He glanced around and didn’t see any evil doers that needed smiting or anything. He smirked at Iron Man’s back, well except perhaps for him, but still.

Big metal boots clomped over and stopped in front of him.

“Whoa. Sorry dude, I grabbed as many of them as I could,” said Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark holding out a fist full of crumpled papers in his gauntleted hand.

Chucking the laptop into the backpack beside him, Loki looked up and gave sweetly polite smile as he reached for his papers.

Stark bounced back, something to see when augmented with servos, and then tapped his face shield so it rose up. “Wow. Sorry, for a minute I thought you were someone else or their evil twin. He glanced down at the heading on papers he held. ‘Lucas Laufey, Carnegie Institute of Technology, International Journal on Computer Science and Engineering – Draft’

“Hey, I know you. Luc Laufey, Pepper met you last fall, she was trying to recruit you.”

“I prefer Lucas, thank you,” he said politely, rolling up on his feet, tugging his papers away and cramming them in his backpack. “Ah yes, I do recall meeting Ms. Potts, lovely, intelligent woman.” He continued, now with just a hint of disingenuous friendliness, “Do give her my best if she is still seeing you.”

“Of course she is..., why wouldn’t she be. Hey! Wait a minute,” Stark said leaning in and peering closely. “Hot damn, it is you! Reindeer games!” Various fins retracted and weapon pods deployed.

“Mister Stark, please don’t doing anything rash,” Loki continued to arrange his belongings, not appearing to be in the least intimidated by the weapons pointed towards him. “We are across the street from several municipal and federal buildings; the guards can get quite excited you know.”

“Excited? You haven’t seen excited?” Stark drawled. And then with one of his baffling attention shifts, his voice became conversational, “Although before we see it, I do have to say, nice suit. Blends a lot better than your ‘Rock of Ages’ outfit. Anderson & Sheppard?

Loki essayed a small smile and spoke gently as if to a not very bright child, “No Mister Stark it is a Caraceni.”

“Yeah, those are nice, I like Brioni too.” Stark nodded.

“You would.” Loki’s eyes flick dismissively. “Is conversation going anywhere? What are you doing here anyway? Do you have a building permit to file or something?” Loki shakes off the blanket and stuffs it in his back pack.

“You know, fashion god that you are, the back pack doesn’t do a thing for the line of the jacket, or I might add your Master of Evil persona.” Stark offers with the air of someone trying to be helpful, in a backhanded snarky kind of way.

Loki’s smile sharpens. “Yes I know,” he said, moving his hands and causing the back pack to disappear.

“Hey! Bag of Holding. Nice.” Impressed just a bit, Stark rocked back and eyed him speculatively, “I suppose it is better than lugging around a brief case.”

“Mister Stark, do you know why Ms. Potts was trying to recruit me? I believe her ultimate goal was to hire someone who was sane enough to work while ignoring the king of ADHD.” Loki cocked his head looking thoughtful for a moment. “In fact that was exactly how she phrased it if I remember correctly, and I do, always remember correctly that is.”

“Ow. Pain.” Stark clutched a hand to his chest, “You’re just saying that to hurt my feelings.”

“Mister Stark. Why are you here?” Loki asked, his voice amused but dripping of very limited patience. He removed his glasses, brushing his fingers through his long down blast tangled hair and then replaced them, again as a headband. “Isn’t there rock concert or newscast you should be interrupting?”

“Actually I am here on a mission of mercy. Or rather hunger. Pepper wanted take out from that French place around the corner.”

“And what?” Loki mimed faux puzzlement, “there isn’t a clerk at Stark International you can trust to hop a cab and go get take out? Or have you driven off all your competent employees at that level also?”

Loki drew himself up and flashed a deceitfully understanding smile. “Or is it that you were bored, again, and wanted to take your shiny suit out for a ride.”

“Says the guy who wears giant goat horns.”

“But not today. Good bye Mister Stark.”

“Hey wait. You just can’t leave, where you think you’re going.”

“Home.” Loki said turning around and starting to walk away. “Not that chatting with you hasn’t been the highlight of my morning.”

“What? You live here?” Stark mugged bewilderment, looking around like there should be a sign pointing the way to the super villain part of town. “They’ve zoned for ‘Evil Lairs’ and I didn’t even see a notice in the paper?”

Loki looked over his shoulder laughing, “Yes Gramercy is where all the best evil villains live. I’ll have my real estate agent give you a call.”

There was a roar of jets and suddenly Stark was standing right in front of Loki, glaring at him, “Seriously? What are you doing here? Why aren’t you chained up and forgotten in a prison somewhere in the land-o-the-gods?”

“Agent’s Barton and Davis currently serving time in what prison for our little escapade?” Loki retorted stung.

“Hello,” Stark waved an arm dismissively. “Totally different scenario there.”

Loki’s expression closed in on itself. “You’re wrong about that, our circumstances were exactly the same, yet our sentences were vastly different,” he said bitterly.

Stark’s brow furrowed in puzzlement and he leaned into Loki’s personal space looking at him intently, before shaking that off. “How are you even here with your rainbow brite bridge out?” His eyes widened in panic, and he flinched back. “What have you done with the Tesseract?” he demanded.

“Calm yourself Mister Stark.” Loki’s eyes unfocused a bit, remembering and his voice sounded like it came from a long distance away, “The All Father has the Tesseract locked away safely. I assure you my path out of Asgard was much more difficult than that.” Shaking his head and patting Stark distractedly on the arm, Loki slipped around him to the curb and hailed a passing cab. “Perhaps you should speak to Director Fury Mister Stark,” Loki said opening up the cab door and getting into it. “Please give my best to Ms. Potts.”

As Stark stared at him dumbfounded, Loki tapped on the divider signaling the driver to pull out and sank back against the seat, already lost in thought.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 - Potts

  
Loki kicked back in his big leather recliner tapping away at his tablet. Currently, he was researching various engineering graduate programs available at Carnegie University. Last years' computer studies had been enlightening, but Loki was considering something different this time. Engineering? Ah, Material Science and Engineering... that looked interesting, or perhaps Chemical Engineering? Narrowing his eyes, he stared out the window at the rain thinking. A stray thought, marvelling at spring rains lasted for weeks at a time, flitted across his consciousness. Loki shook his head, making a mental note to visit one of the numerous river locks one day soon, and then he returned to his program choices.
 
A knock on the door interrupted him. Frowning slightly, Loki put down his tablet and waved a little cloud of smoke in the air. After a few more syllables, Pepper Potts, and a very large body guard type person appeared floating in the smoke. Ah, her again. A strange woman Ms. Potts, she was so fragile in body and manner, but pure steel in spirit. Loki untangled his long limbs from the chair and opened the door.

“Ah Ms. Potts...” Loki did an abbreviated bow with a flourish, “And large friend. To what do I owe the honor?”

“Mister... Laufey, I’d like to talk to you if I could. Privately?”

“Of course dear lady, please enter and make yourselves at home.” He said, waving them in.

The large man stepped across the living room, peeking into the empty bedroom and bath that opened off of it. He then nodded and walked back to Pepper, who was standing just inside the door. Pepper took a large brief case from her companion, looked around for a minute and started towards the small kitchen table.

“David will wait in the hall if that’s okay.”

“It will be fine.” Loki said, nodding reassuringly as the bodyguard passed back out into the hallway closing the door behind him.
 
While neat, his apartment was small, run down and grad student-ish. The only decent pieces of furniture he had here were the recliner and bed. Everything else was just coloration for his current role as a struggling student. He didn’t mind it; Loki was normally too busy to notice how sparse the apartment was when he was in Pittsburgh. Besides, when he was not at school, his New York apartment more than made up for the lack of aesthetics here. Peeking out the window, he knew his neighbors would be wondering why the large black sedan and the equally large black guard were in front of their building.

He turned back to smile at Ms. Potts and found her standing by the small kitchen table. “Please, make yourself at home Ms. Potts,. Loki said, gesturing to the old chrome and plastic chair beside her before sitting down in the other one. “How may I assist you today?”

Pepper sat down, opened up the briefcase and took out a large folder which she laid on the table in front of her. Folding her hands over the folder Ms. Potts leaned forward, worrying her lower lip for a moment. “I’d like to offer you a position at Stark International, and I’d like a chance to discuss it with you before you give me an answer.”

“I’m flattered of course, but...”

“No, hear me out first please. I do understand that you don’t ‘need’ this job. But, I think a position with Stark International could have some benefits you may have overlooked.”

Loki was amused at the little female’s determination. He took the glasses off the top of his head and laid them on the kitchen table. After running his fingers through this hair to settle it, he folded his hands in the air and rested his chin on them. “I’m listening.”
Pepper took a few stapled pages from on the pile in the folder and flipped through them. “Okay, school. You are currently enrolled here under an F1 visa, living on a cash basis. You publish just enough to satisfy your degree requirements. But you have changed your publication name slightly between the two degrees you currently have. Mainly, so a name search of the number of papers you've  published, don’t all come up under one name.” She flipped to the next page.

“While you can continue in school, your current visa gives you no real work privileges. You have a really good lawyer who is working on naturalization papers, but these things take a really long while. You have been offered several internships. But you have had to turn them down, most likely due to the scrutiny that changing to a H1B visa will entail.” She looked up and smiled at his narrowed glare. “Particularly, if the hiring company requires any meaningful background checks in your home country of record.”

“You don’t have a driver’s license. You are currently driving a fraudulently registered motorcycle, with suspicious insurance credentials. The bank account that your New York expenses that can’t be paid in cash is drawn from, belongs to a retiree named Clara Fogal. The money going into this account seems to be generated from her account with a small stock trading company. Interestingly enough, every month, four thousand dollars is transferred from this account to another one at the same bank also in her name. This seems to be the sole basis of the income she lives off of.”
 
Quite a few thoughts were running through Loki’s mind right now. Almost none of them would have met with the approval of David standing in the hallway or the large black man standing on the sidewalk. “Ms. Potts...”
 
“Wait,” she said, flipping to the next page. “I’m almost done with this part. Hummm. Oh yes. While you frequent casino’s here in town and further away, you always go in disguise and always only cash in enough chips to keep you under the tax reporting guidelines. Even if it means you go back another night, not to gamble, but just to wander around and then cash in more chips.”

She smiled apologetically and put that group of papers at the bottom of her folder and took the next set.

“Is that all? Loki inquired, with a small rueful grin.

“Well no, there is of course the matter of you being an alien who two years ago led an invasion of Manhattan. But I don’t like to commit information like that that to hard copy.”

“My dear Ms. Potts. Whatever am I to do with you?” he asked in a gently chiding voice.

“Well I hope you will come to work for me. I can fix everything we just spoke of.”

She was a brave little human, he thought. Just sitting there calmly with her silly packet of papers, as if her life was not in danger of being snuffed out within the next few minutes. Studying her intently, Loki asked, “May I inquire how you found all of this out?”

“Well the written stuff was just PI work. Private investigators,” she elaborated at his slightly questioning look. “It wasn’t particularly difficult to get, it was just expensive and time consuming.”

“Did you know all this information when you approached me last year?” Loki asked.

“No, there was no need. That was just a straight up, general job offer to one Lucas Laufey for Stark International." She shrugged, "Any checks would have been the normal type done by human resources. Your paper work was good enough that you most likely would have passed them.”

Loki leaned back, lacing his long fingers across his chest; he gave her an encouraging look, so she continued.

“When I found out that Tony had met you by chance in New York last week, I called for a much more detailed report. Don’t worry, the company I used is one of our regular ones and they are incredibly close mouthed once they have been paid.”

“Stark told you about our meeting? What did he say I wonder?”

“Actually nothing to me directly. He never does,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “He is so bad that way. Anyhow, Tony exchanged a few emails with S.H.I.E.L.D and then called a couple of people. She folded her hands together for a moment, "And that is how I got all the information about you, being you I mean. And not actually Lucas Laufey.”

“He let you listen?” Loki was slightly surprised; the incident was not entirely to Stark’s credit. He wondered what spin he had placed on it.

“Of course not, when certain keywords are used, I get those emails and phone conversations routed to me.”

Loki sat bolt upright. “Oh I like this,” Loki’s face split into a wide grin as he leaned both hands on the table regarding her with merrily twinkling eyes. “Oh, I like this a lot. You spy on the man you’re engaged to? How does that work exactly? Does he know? Ms. Potts, Ms. Potts, Where is the trust?”

Pepper laughed delightedly, “Of course I spy on him.” Her whole face lit up with amusement. “Otherwise I wouldn’t even know if he was going to be home for dinner on any given evening. Tony is very busy you know. Also I think he feels that whatever information I gather, that he might not want me to know, is outweighed by all the time he saves not having to tell me anything at all.”

“As for the trust... I guess that is that Tony trusts me to know his secrets, if I am clever enough to find them out on my own that is.”

“So,” Loki waved his hand airily. “It is a game you play with each other?”

“Yep, pretty much.”

“Ms. Potts, you are delightful I must say. But why, knowing this, new background information, do you want me to work for Mister Stark?”

Pepper’s expression became very serious. “I don’t want you to work for Tony; I want you to work for me, Stark International. Make no mistake, Mister Laufey, I run Stark International.

“Very well Ms. Potts, you have interested me. If I would agree to your kind offer... What is in it for me?”

“Well,” Pepper flicked her eyes down to her notes. “I can guarantee you permanent citizenship within six months. We offer a really good salary, which would give you an unquestionable income. Additionally my offer includes a housing allowance, private parking and major medical. Stark International also pays our researchers tuition to continue pursuing their various graduate degrees. Finally, we offer a bulletproof identify. One that would let you publish any papers you wanted all under the same name, with no interference or government questions. And if there is anything else you think should be included, we can negotiate it.”

“And you think S.H.I.E.L.D, the federal government, the City of New York and Mister Stark will all just go along with this?” Loki said in an amused voice.

Pepper leaned forward earnestly, “This is for free,” she said. “S.H.I.E.L.D and all the rest are ignoring your presence here on earth right now. I have read every file out there on you. Trust me, Tony can get files, whether they want him to have them or not. I know as much about what happened, why it happened and what they aren’t going to do about it, as anyone on earth.”

“So,” he said lightly. “Knowing this for free, why should I accept your offer?”

“Because you can’t shine unless you have backing and a rock solid identity.

Loki chucked, “And what makes you think I want to shine?”

Pepper rolled her eyes and looked at him in mock disgust. “Oh, please. You are NOT the first mega manic genius, I have had to deal with. Besides, those reports also came with a boatload of psych write-ups. You know and I know that you are just biding your time right now. Thirty, fifty, seventy years from now, you won’t have aged a flip and no one will remember why you’re slumming it here on earth. And by then you will be entrenched in any area you want, as a leading light. You, unlike Tony, are apparently famous for playing the long game.”

“And that doesn’t bother you?”

“No, why should it?”

“You did say there were psychiatric findings, yes?” Loki was puzzled; she seemed much more relaxed that she had when she first came in. He wondered what she thought she was doing exactly.

“So you have Daddy issues, a craving for recognition and genius feedback needs. So does Tony, join the club, I can get a group rate on a company shrink.”

An involuntary laugh huffed out of Loki. He leaned on the table looking off towards his living room like every answer in creation was inscribed on those drab beige walls. After a few minutes he looked ruefully over at the oh so attentive Ms. Potts.

“And here I thought I was deeper than that.”

“Nope,” she replied cheerfully.

Rubbing his forehead, Loki looked up at Pepper in bemused puzzlement. “So why me? Earth must have other geniuses you can hire for play dates with Stark.”

Pepper’s hand flew up to her mouth as she tried to stifle a snort. “You know about play dates?”

“Yes. Several people in the program have agonized over the importance of setting them up for their spawn. I just didn’t realize it continued to such a late age.”

Pepper smirked. “Ah, but some people missed them growing up. So now they have issues playing nice with others and must have remedial play dates.”

“Ms. Potts. Why me?”

“Mister Laufey, you are reputed to be nearly indestructible, so you would be safer than anyone else I could have working with him. Also you are smart enough to give him someone to compete with, talk to and get real feedback from. All while making major contributions that earn us money. And frankly, I’ve seen the videos of you snarking, and you are well matched with Tony in that category. I run a huge multinational corporation. Our owner, and leading creative light, has unaddressed issues as I said. All this in addition to being extremely competitive and dangerously reckless when bored.”

“And yet you are engaged to him?” Loki asked lightly.

“Well they say there is no accounting for taste.”

“So that’s why you want to hire me?”

“In the main, yes.”

“And the other reasons?”

“Some are personal; others will only be discussed if you decide to take me up on my offer.”

“Ah. You know Stark will be most upset if I decided to accept your offer.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 - Stark

“Pepper, what is going on here, why are they fixing up another office in here?” Stark demanded, spinning around and watching as workmen passed back and forth, depositing office furniture and other equipment. 

“Tony, I told you, I am hiring another researcher.” Pepper said, placing a bundle of files on the middle of the newly placed desk. “I am also getting you two a secretary so you will quit assuming that the pool secretaries can read your mind.”

“Hey, I give very clear instructions, I can’t help it if they don’t always understand them.” He protested. “But why here? Why put him? Her? On my floor? This is my private work area.”

Pepper, walked over and patted him on his cheek, “I know that. That’s why he is going here; he will be working with you directly.”

What was it with women? Tony wondered. You make them president of the company and they think they run the place. Well of course they do, especially all that crappy paperwork and stuff, but still. 

“Oh no. I’m not going there, besides you can’t hire anyone I can’t make quit,” Tony told her, kicking the leg of the desk. “I’ll pick my own assistants thank you.”

Pepper snorted, “As if that is ever going to happen, besides this is not an assistant, you are not going to be his boss. I’m his boss. He’s just going to be working in the same area as you. You can work with him or not, your choice.” She checked her phone, tapped back a reply and when to sit behind the desk ordering the files to suit herself. She fixed Tony with a stern look, “But he is working on this floor, and you are going to do your best to get along with him. Do you understand?”

Tony rolled his eyes, making a face.

“You will get him up to speed on your projects so that if you go gallivanting off with S.H.I.E.L.D, nothing will blow up in your absence because you forgot about it.”

“Come on Pep, that happened one time. One!” Tony groused as he wandered over to bug the mailroom guy who had just arrived to install the name plate on the door.

He received a sympathetic look, one man to another, commiserating with him over the way women just ordered them all around. He looked over at Pepper, who was ignoring him; on purpose he was sure, bounced a little and then looked over at the plaque that was being installed. Say what? “Pepper! Please tell me this is a joke” he demanded, pointing at the newly installed name plaque. 

The mailroom guy, task completed and sensing a fight in the making, picked up his supplies and vanished. When Tony turned back to glare at the name on the door, the person standing beside him was much taller, thinner and better dressed.

“Is there a problem Mister Stark?” he asked solicitously, inclining his head politely as he walked around him and went over to greet Pepper who was standing and offering him her hand.

Tony was frozen. Reindeer Games was not only in his building, but on his private floor and kissing Pepper’s hand like some sort of smarming old world courtier.

“Hey, stop that.” He called indignantly, slamming the door shut and walking over behind the desk to stand by Pepper. “We don’t do stuff like that here you know.”

“Not even with someone as charming as Ms. Potts?” Loki asked innocently, taking a step backwards. “My apologies dear lady, I was overcome by your presence.”

Pepper laughed, sitting down and waving him to a chair in front of the desk. “I’m sure you were. Or perhaps you couldn’t resist showing off in front of Tony.”

“Perhaps,” he agreed good humoredly, sitting down and gracefully arranging his long limbs. “So Stark, how have you been?” he asked, looking over at Tony.

“Fine until a few minutes ago. Seriously. You’re fired. Pepper, he’s fired. Make sure you get the company cell phone back from him ‘kay?”

Pepper and Loki both smiled at him. “Tony, he’s not fired, he has a contract.”

Loki radiated benign good will as he looked at Tony. “And a very fine contract it is. Did you know that if I am terminated without cause within the first twelve months, I get a rather large chuck of your company and become a member of your privy council?”

Tony looked at him puzzled. “Do you mean my Board of Directors?”

Pepper nodded. “Apparently I do,” Loki replied. He smiled at Tony, “I can’t tell you how much I am looking to working with you.”

“Pepper,” Tony hissed clearly agitated, “You know he’s crazy don’t you? He tried to kill me. He throw me out of a window for crying out loud.”

Loki glanced down at his shoes still smiling; he said almost meditatively, “Stark, killing you would allow me to be fired for cause. He looked up at Tony from under his brows, “Just so you know.”

Tony bounced around the room hands jammed in his pockets. “You’re kidding me right? He’s kidding isn’t he?” Tony appealed to Pepper, who still smiling, shook her head no. “Oh great, any other fun clauses in there I should know about?”

“Well… If I only attempted to kill you, I wouldn’t be automatically dismissed, but the situation would be reviewed to see if there was a probable cause.” Loki’s face almost disappeared under the wide sardonic smile and he wrinkled his nose. “Just so you know.”

“And don’t forget your stock bonus if you stay for the full year and re-up for another,” Pepper reminded him.

Pepper and Loki sat there in silence watching for several minutes while Tony jittered a bit, looked around the room and then stared up at the ceiling, looking for answers there. Pepper’s phone chimed, and she looked down to check her messages, tapped out a reply and then looked expectantly at the door.

A minute or so later, someone knocked on the door and then opened it. Two tall women of medium build entered, one appearing to be in her early forties, the other perhaps in her mid-fifties. Both were pale blondes, the older one’s hair had been darker blond, but was lighted by a misting of grey hair.

Pepper and Loki both rose to greet them. The forty-year old, Doris Krebs had been assigned to him and Loki, or rather Lucas as Pepper was introducing him, as their executive secretary. Loki/Lucas was of course smarming all over her, being charming and funny and totally pissing Tony off. But Pepper, pushed him ahead of her, going over to the small group and gave him the ‘be nice or else’ look. So Tony tried to be nice, but he was so out-charmed coming out of the gate that he didn’t even attempt to go there. Not that he wanted to anyhow. He had seen Doris around for years, working with this group or that. Apparently this was going to be her big move from working for upper middle managers to the big leagues at Stark International. He wished her well of course, but he hated having to break in a new secretary.

The older woman was a psychologist named Natalie Crane who was going to be working with Loki on a special project as well as occasionally making recommendations for the Human Resources department. Since when, Tony wondered, do we have projects that use a shrink as a consultant? He did notice that while still charming, Loki was a bit more reserved with Doctor Crane. After greeting her, he made an excuse to drag Pepper back over to the desk.

“What’s with the shrink?” he hissed, while his back was turned away from the others.

Pepper looked at him with disbelief, “I thought you told me he was crazy,” she asked. “Don’t you think he might need a shrink. If only to convince him that throwing you through windows is a bad idea?”

“You’re messing with me right?” 

Before Pepper could answer, Loki called over to her, “Ms. Potts, Ms. Krebs has offered to take Doctor Crane and I on a tour of the building. Is there anything else we need to discuss right now?”

Pepper fished a few key cards out of her pockets and handed them to Loki and Doctor Crane. “Not at all, when you get back Doris can get your iD cards coded to your offices, the parking garage and run you through everything else you need to know. I’ve left you some project files here on your desk for you to review, but you can pick them up later. Have a nice tour, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As Doris escorted them out of the office, Tony went over to stare intently in Pepper’s face.

“What?” she laughed, as she took in his intent expression.

Loki turned and looked back, just before he got to the door and said in a very dry voice, “Mr. Stark, please don’t strike Ms. Potts in the head. I assure you, she is not in need of cranial recalibration.” 

Tony glared at Loki as he exited the office.

Chapter Text

Tony looked around the lab, and once he was satisfied that he had made it in first, he walked over to his favorite work bench and set down a few notes he had scribbled at breakfast. It was going to be a glorious day for science. He’d had a goodnight’s sleep, a great breakfast with Pepper and most importantly he had several ideas that might solve the problem that the ‘Horned Wonder’ was working on. Tony chuckled to himself, the only thing he liked better than solving the insolvable was doing it before the Prince of Darkness could. 

“Ah Stark, you made it.” Loki said, looking down at the notes on the bench.

“Arrrrgh!” Tony jumped back, knocking over his rolling stool. “I’ve asked you not to do that! Haven’t I asked you that?”

“Hummm,” Loki picked up the notes and was examining them closely, “Yes,” he said absently, “you have repeatedly asked me not to do that. And yet I do, what does this tell us?” He pointed at the paper, “The second most likely has no chance of working, but the last idea is interesting, let’s try that one first.”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever. Hey, how did the paper go last night? Finish it?”

“Yeah, sure. Of course.”

Tony filled his ‘I heart Fury’ coffee mug and wandered over to Loki’s current bench.

“Dude. You are so mocking me.”

Loki looked up, crinkling his eyes and giving Tony a wide thin smile. “Norns forbid that I should do that. Yes, I finished the paper; Ms. Krebs is going to double check the formatting for me this morning.”

Tony huffed a small laugh before looking down at the scope readings. “Well thank heavens for that, we can’t have inconsistent paragraph tabs on page twenty-two.”

Casual conversation trickled off and they began setting up various machines to run this morning’s test. Shortly before lunch, Tony deep in thought, switched a connection and toggled it on.

Bweeeee-crack!

Electricity arced across the area of the construct that Loki was adjusting, crackling and crawling around him, before finally throwing him backwards into a short cabinet.

Tony closed the switch, cursed under his breath and then ran around the bench to check on one slightly smoking, wide eyed lab god who was currently sliding down to the floor.

“Man, I am so sorry.” Tony said, reaching down to help Loki to his feet. “Hey, are you okay? You seem a bit... crispy.”

“Do not do that again.”

“No man, I’m sorry. Want me to call an ambulance or something?”

“No Stark I’m fine.”

Tony dithered a bit. “Totally my fault. I was thinking of something else. You sure you’re okay? Cripes, Pepper’s is going to kill me.”

Loki grimaced, settling down in his swivel chair. “I promise you I’m fine. If there is anything that my months with the Chitauri taught me it was how to survive murderous idiots coupled with voltage. This amount of energy would only have been my normal morning wakeup call, I assure you.”

Tony went over to the coffee bar and punched up a double hot chocolate. He walked slowly back to where Loki was sitting with his eyes closed.

Tony pulled up a stool close by. “Here,” he said, handing over Loki’s ‘Come to the dark side’ mug. “You look like you could use some sugar.”

Swinging back and forth on the stool, Tony frowned. After several minutes he said, “Ya know. I’ve been wondering... Why couldn’t your dad...”

Loki growled without opening his eyes.

“Okay, okay. The Asgardian Head Cheese then. Seriously though, why couldn’t Odin just pop over to Chitauri-ville and snatch you back from them. I know he couldn’t send Thor because he couldn’t retrieve you guys without the bridge thing, but couldn’t Odin use his king juice or something to make the trip himself both ways?” Tony threw up his hands, “I mean isn’t he all-powerful yata-yata? It certainly would have saved everyone a ton of trouble.”

“I wish,” Loki said, looking at his mug and taking a sip, “Unfortunately no one knew about the existence of the Chitauri, their realm can’t be seen.” He leaned back closing his eyes again and resting the mug on his chest.

Oh shit, thought Tony. This is so not good. He watched Loki for a minute or two until Loki looked up, giving him a puzzled look.

“What? Loki asked.

Leaning forward, Tony gave Loki’s arm a quick squeeze before sitting back again, trying to smooth out his troubled expression.

“Stark. I understand that your verbal skills are not good. What are you trying to tell me?”

“Oh geeze man, I am so sorry.” Tony gave up and his face collapsed into misery. “I’m pretty sure Odin knew about the Chitauri, I know Thor did, so someone had to tell him. He’s a nice guy Point-break, but not overwhelmed with the smarts and all.”

Loki frowned at Tony. “I told you about the Chitauri in your tower right before the attack, I couldn’t tell anyone before that, but then it was too late to stop them.”

“No. Listen. Thor told us, named them to us, while you were on the helicarrier. Right after Fury locked you up. Did you tell Barton or someone so that you might have been over-heard by the Heim-dude?”

“One only tells minions what you want them to do; you do not burden them with details. Heimdall could not have heard me talking about them before we spoke. 

Tony sat there looking sorrowful and feeling like crap, “Umm Jarvis, play the first full meeting with Thor in the Helicarrier.”

Tony sat there listening to the video while watching the Lord of Snark fold in on himself. Loki’s expression as he watched Thor talking changed from puzzlement to something like a dog that had been beaten so bad it was giving up.

“Again,” Loki croaked, “Play it again, please Jarvis.”

“Ummm, Jarvis,” Tony whispered as the video restarted. “Call Doctor Crane down here stat. Emergency even”

“Again please.”

“Jaaaarvisssss. Tell her faster.”

“He knew.... all those months and he knew...” a hollow eyed Loki looked at Tony. “If he knew about them he knew about the torture, he knew how badly I wanted to die. I begged to die, he had to know that.”

Tony stood up jittering, hands working, not quite sure what to do. He hoped that Doc got here soon; he did so not want to deal with this. He didn’t know how to deal with this. Tony knew his dad had been an uncaring shit, but this...

“Again.” Loki stared, unable to turn away from the screen.

“Jaaaarvis!”

“She’s in the elevator sir.”

Great, thought Tony. I have a god getting ready to have a nervous breakdown, or worse, a temper tantrum in my lab. Did Pepper issue me a god take down kit? No. I am so going to rag her about this. Tony began edging towards his suit lockers. The bastard’s going to flip and trash my lab, you watch. Okay, sometimes I trash my lab... but damn it, it’s my lab!

Tony glanced back at Loki, watching and re-watching the video, Loki posture began to come out of abused dog mode. The only problem Tony noticed as he watched was that Loki didn’t seem like he was going to stop anywhere like Collie or maybe Spaniel. Loki appeared to be heading, at great speed, straight into enraged Rottweiler.

“Again!”

Loki was standing now, leaning on the bench in front of him, muscles tense, his hands curling and uncurling into fists. His breathing was hard and labored and Tony flinched when Loki’s lips curled back from his clenched teeth in a horrible rictus grin.

Okay Tony thought, this is bad. And it’s not getting any better.

“Jarvis turn it off.”

Loki swung around to Tony, green eyes blazing.

Tony stopped moving, spread his hands, palms out and said placatingly, “Dude. You have to stop a minute. Calm down okay.”

“He knew! He didn’t even have the grace to kill me, he let them torture me. Heimdall knew! Thor knew!”

“Mister Laufey!” Natalie Crane called as she exited the elevator, closing her cell phone.

Loki paced agitatedly, slamming equipment off benches as he passed. When he got to the bench against the wall he cleaned the entire surface with one sweep. Metal shrieked as bolted down equipment tore loose and flew across the room.

“HE KNEW!” Loki screamed hoarsely, slamming his hands down so hard that he left deep matching dents in the heavy metal top, he hunched over the bench breathing heavily.

Oh no. Tony practically skipped towards the elevators, hopping awkwardly over the broken equipment littering the floor. He made shooing motions with his hands while silently miming no, no, no.

“LUCAS LAUFEY!” Doctor Crane bellowed, sounding more like, in Tony’s opinion, a senior drill sergeant than a high priced shrink.

“Ummm, Doc. Not a good time right now.” Tony called frantically to her. “Let’s do a late lunch. In about an hour ‘kay? That good for you? Because I am totally fine with it, a little veal marsala, maybe a nice wine...”

“Do shut up Mister Stark,” Doctor Crane snapped irritably, pushing past him.

Tony was amazed. Well terrified too, but amazed was pushing that out. He was sure he was going to be looking at a thin film of shrink on his lab floors any minute now. But as he watched, Doctor Crane walked over to Loki, close, but not touching him and began talking to him in a low compelling tone. Loki shook his head agitatedly. When he straightened up, even from his vantage point Tony could see the clenched muscles jumping on Loki’s jaw as he bend down and hissed something to the Doctor.

Doctor Crane to her credit did not back away. Tony had to admit that he would have been scrambling for safety had Loki turned that expression on him. He consoled himself that this would not be cowardly behavior, but actually the proper response to standing that close to a homicidal godling that could dent ten gage stainless steel table tops with their bare hands.

But amazingly the doctor merely waved for Loki to walk over to an undamaged part of the lab, while speaking forcefully to him in a low voice.

“Jarvis, quietly please. What’s going on?”

“Sir,” Jarvis’ voice came in through his head set. “I took the liberty of keeping Doctor Crane up-to-date on our situation as she traveled to the lab.”

“Oh. Well good.”

“Thank you sir. She asked me to tell you to ‘zip-it’ while she was working. She was most emphatic I’m afraid.”

“So, how is it going over there then? I know you can hear her.” Tony asked.

Jarvis said, “Doctor Crane is still talking, but not as fast as she was at first.”

“And Loki?”

“His respiration level is slowing down, but still quite high.”

“Do you think I have time to put my suit on? Just in case?” asked Tony, as he edged back towards the open suit locker.

“Yes you do. However Doctor Crane also asked me to tell you not to do any ‘ill-advised’ until she indicates to you that it is necessary, or anything that could constitute a challenge.”

Tony spun around on one heel, heading back towards the elevators and trying to look like he had not been moving towards his suit locker. “Might be a bit late then. I’m just saying.”

“Indeed sir. I’m afraid you will have to use your best judgment, could be a bit of difficulty there for you sir.”

Tony watched Loki and the doctor out of the corner of his eye. Oh good. They were sitting down now and Doctor Crane had touched Loki’s arm lightly, recalling his attention as he looked up to her face.

I’m just going to stay right here and not move, Tony thought. “Jarvis, order us some lunch, tell them just put in the elevator and send it down by itself, okay?”

“Very well sir, veal marsala with a nice wine will be ordered immediately,” said Jarvis.

About an hour later Jarvis informed him that their meal was ready and silently popped open the elevator doors. Tony had been tinkering idly at a bench while keeping a discreet eye on the far end of the lab. About the last fifteen minutes or so, Loki and Doctor Nat had only exchanged intermittent comments. Jarvis, HIPA laws notwithstanding, had been giving him the highlights as the doc talked Loki down from furious to merely pretty pissed, he told Tony that the main area of contention now was Loki’s determination to go to Asgard immediately. Since the doc wasn’t able to talk him out of doing this, she was suggesting actions he might want to avoid for his own mental health, like trying to kill anyone while he was there, or even thinking about it. Although Tony personally thought it might be a good idea if it could be managed. She also discussed strategies for dealing with claims, rightly or wrongly, that politics might have been behind the betrayal.

“Hey Doc!” Tony called as he wheeled the lunch trolley out of the elevator, “you guys ready for some lunch yet?”

Doc Crane didn’t answer. She just sighed and waved Tony over. At doc’s instance, Loki did make a plate, but he was mainly playing with it and only took a bite or two. Doc Nat kept asking laying out various scenarios and asking Loki what he thought the best way to handle them would be. Tony had to admit, that being over a thousand years old, or a hundred and a half, depending on whose time line you were using, really helped a guy learn how to put a lid on it. Tony had only had to put up with his father for twenty years; he could not imagine what he would have turned out like if he had spent over a century living with the rat bastard. Privately, he didn’t think Doctor Nat could have talked ‘him’ down to earth if that had been the case. But then, he hadn’t been spending an hour every day having lunch with her for the past six months either, so maybe it was some of that too.

“You know,” Tony said during a lull while plates were being gathered up, “If you are going to Asgard, I could go with you as a wingman.”

 Loki lifted both eyebrows and looked over at Tony. “I am not going there to try to score a date for next week’s charity ball Stark, so I don’t think I need a wingman, but thank you for the offer. Ill-conceived as it was.”

Tony rolled his eyes, “Oh goody, you didn’t totally lose the snark. I was worried about that. A day without the god of mischief putting me down is like a day without sunshine... or worse, whiskey. No, O’god of sass, in the military sense. I.e.; situational awareness to increase the ability to employ more dynamic tactics if necessary. Oh, and fire power if it just happens to be needed. I mean they did slap you in jail last time you showed up.”

“Pardon me for pointing this out Mister Stark,” Doctor Crane said dryly, “but you are not exactly an expert when it comes to family relationships.”

“Hey doc, not my battle, I can be objective. Just thought angst boy here could use a little warning nudge if he starts getting wound up.”

“Stark, I don’t think you...”

“Awww. Come on man,” Tony cajoled, “I want to go see. It’ll be fun; I’ll keep my mouth shut, promise. I just want to look around, maybe take a few readings, get a few material samples, say hi to the folks, bail ya out of jail if things get crazy, ya know stuff like that.”

Loki shook his head, sliding a glance over to Doctor Crane, “You could have a worse patient you know.” As she nodded, he continued. “Stark, not only would the All Father almost certainly fall into Odin Sleep after five minutes of you ‘keeping your mouth shut’, but also Ms. Potts would be most upset with me, possibly even to the point of revoking my reserved parking space.”

“I bet you’re wrong. I bet... um, I’ll wear a skirt to the next shareholders meeting if you’re right. If I’m right I get to go. How’s that? Deal? Aw man, think how surprised Thor would be if I turned up on HIS turf for a change. It will be wild, let’s do it!”

Loki paused at that last statement, a shocked expression flitting across his face. He narrowed his eyes, apparently deep in thought. And then sighed, “Stark, you’re more annoying than you know.” His look became more calculating and then he asked, “Why in the nine would you think that anyone wants to see your knees?”

“Dude, I seriously have the greatest looking legs you have ever seen. Not that I want you to think about that, but just so you know.” Tony said, digging his phone out of his pocket.

“Pepper? Hiya babe. How was the flight?”

“It was fine Tony. Why are you calling me? This meeting is just about to start.”

“Guess what, Lok, er... Lucas has to pop over and visit his folks and I thought I would just tag along and see the sights.”

“To ‘you know’? Today? Seriously?”

“Yeah. Wild huh. So I just wanted to call you and let you know in case I’m late getting home or something.”

“I don’t know Tony, are you sure this is a good idea?” Pepper asked, sounding like this was possibly not even in the same zip code as a good idea.

“Hey, it’s just a little guy trip. Kinda like fishing, but without the smelly bait.”

Pepper sighed. “Fine then, just don’t annoy anyone okay?”

“No, no. I’ll be good, I promise.”

“Right,” Pepper drawled, “when have I heard that before? Let me think a minute... Look, I’ll text Sylvia, don’t leave until she brings down that... you know, to take with you. Oh, and tell Lucas if I have to arrange a bail bondsman for you two when you’re over ‘there’, I am going to be major peeved.”

“You got it, Knock ‘em dead kiddo. Love you.”

“So you say. Love you too. Bye.”

It went a lot smoother than Tony had thought it would. Except for the Prince of Sarcasm remarking to Doctor Nat, that Ms. Potts was obviously plotting to do away with the owner of the company.

Loki didn’t care if Tony suited up as Iron Man, which was a major relief. Tony so wouldn’t have wanted to enter the land of over muscled barbarians with only a sports coat.

Sylvia arrived in very short order with a large flat Stark International presentation box, complete with a big matching bow. She was a bit curious about Mister Laufey’s green leather outfit, but since he wasn’t wearing the horns and his armor her eyes didn’t get too big.

“What in the heck is this Sylvia? It shouldn’t be in this big a box.”

“That is what Ms. Potts told me to bring you sir.”

Tony sighed and shook the box after she left. Whatever it was it was solidly packed and pretty heavy, so it obviously wasn’t what he thought it was.

“Hey Lokmeister, I can’t fly with this thing, at least not without messing it up and you’re riding your bike, so could you like put it in your pocket of infinite holding till we get there?”

“What is it?” Loki asked

“I don’t know.”

“Ms. Potts says you did.”

“Yeah.Well, I thought I did, but apparently I was mistaken.” Tony groused handing it over, “Look whatever you do don’t crush the ribbon, Pepper is very fussy about presentation.”

Loki huffed.

Which was, Tony thought as he followed Loki to a deserted industrial area, the closest to a laugh that he’d heard from Loki today. Weird thing to find out really, when the God of Mischief wasn’t bringing an alien army to town, he was really a lot of fun. ‘Mister Laufey’ was always cutting up with the secretaries, security guards, researchers, interns and pretty much anyone else who came in the door. Loki laughed all the time; you just didn’t notice it because you were laughing too. If it was an act, he was doing a great job of hiding his evil twin Tony thought. Or perhaps Loki’s evil twin was an act too, and they still hadn’t seen the real Loki. Scary thought there right. 

They emerged in a walled courtyard. Loki parked his bike by the wall and threw a glamour over it, making it disappear, then he did some mumbo jumbo and collapsed the mouth of the gate.

Tony was both relieved that the gate was closed so that nothing could follow them here. However he did worry that he was going to have to reenter said gate, with all the crazy monsters behind it, if he wanted to get back home.

“Say is it always like that when you travel through a gate?” Tony asked.

Loki grinned at him, “Actually no.”

Tony relaxed a bit.

“It’s usually much worse, I think the bike and the fact that there were two of us was causing them to hang back a bit,” he said slapping Tony’s back. “We’ll see what happens on the way back, they will be waiting for quite a while. Hoping of course that we reenter the gate.”

From his point of view, gate walking, okay..., gate riding and flying, had been just one bad nightmare movie come to life after another, with the soundtrack of Loki screaming like a maniac while zapping said nightmares with his glow stick of destiny. Who knew dragons could be that ugly? Or take that many anti-tank missiles to bring down. Tony grabbed Loki’s arm and peered into his eyes. “You’re messing with me right? Just a few special effects to razz the new guy huh?”

“Actually. No.”

Tony sighed, pushing up his face piece. “I am so telling Pepper on you if you get me killed.”

Loki did the mumbo-jumbo thing with his hands again and the colors of the courtyards washed out to a monotone grey. “Stark, no one can see or hear us, just make sure you don’t bump into anything or anybody.”

“Yeah.Stealth mode. Lead on O’God of Sneakiness, but you are totally going to have to show me how you do this okay?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 - Answers

They must have gated in pretty close to where Loki had wanted to be. They went up a few steps, through a few intricately carved gold clad doors and across some large rooms with highly polished stones inlaid with some norse-celtic-y looking designs, done of course in what looked like, what else, gold.

“Geez. Your decorators up here really like to pick a theme and stick with it don’t they?”

Loki held up a hand pausing to look through a curtained arch. “Okay,” he said, pushing Tony back a few paces and checking the corridor for traffic. “We are stopping to see my mother first. Be polite or I will rip out your spine and ribcage, to gift to her for a garden trellis. Do you understand?”

“Whoa, nice visual.” At Loki’s glare he continued, “Yeah, right, mom. Be polite, I can do that.” Tony took his helmet off and tucked in under his arm. “Can I have my box back before we go in?”

Loki did the swirly hand thing and handed Tony back the box that Pepper had sent. Then he waved his hand a different way and the colors came rushing back. Before Tony could comment, Loki lifted his finger to his lips and did a very emphatic shush, complete with raised eyebrows and motioned him to follow.

Frigga was sitting on a window seat looking out over the city. As they entered, she turned towards the door and the sunlight framed a very elegant blonde woman that looked to be a very gently aged late forties. The second she saw Loki, she flew over to him and pressed her face against his neck. Loki put his arms around her, hugging her as he laid bent his head down to kiss her brow. Tony tried to find something else in the room to look at, but when he heard her gasp loudly; he did glance over again and saw her watching him in alarm. Without looking away, she tugged on Loki’s coat.

Loki took Frigga’s hands where she had buried his coat and raised them one by one to kiss.

“Mother,” Loki said softly, “Please allow me to introduce a colleague of mine, Anthony Stark. I work with him at Stark International.”

Frigga searched Loki’s face for a few seconds, but then pulled her hands free and gracefully extended one to Tony.

“Welcome to Asgard, Anthony Stark,” Frigga said in a low musical voice. “I am always pleased to meet one of my son’s companions.”

Tony panicked for a second, he had both hands full and he had to be polite to the nice mom-god. Not good.

“Uhh, thank you your Majesty.” He lifted the box towards her out stretched hand, placed his newly free hand on his chest and then dipped his head down in a small bow. “It’s very nice to meet Loki’s mom... mother. Ah,” he nodded towards the box, “a small gift for you from my fiancé Pepper Potts.”

That bastard Loki was shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Tony vowed to so get him back for that.

Frigga took the box and sat back down on the window seat and started to open it.

Tony looked over at Loki who had his arms crossed, his expression concerned as he watched his mother, he was tapping his lower lip with the side of his thumb like he was deep in thought or something. As if he felt Tony watching him, his eyes flicked over to meet Tony's for a second and then he walked and stood by Frigga who had gotten the box open and was taking the tissue paper off the top.

"Here, let me take that for you,” Tony told her setting the lid and excess paper on a small table a few feet away.

Frigga smiled her thanks and looked down at the gift.

"Oh hey. That's what she bought that for." Frigga looked up at him. "It’s an art deco Tiffany picture album, sterling silver,” he explained. “Very old, well old for us, sixty years or so but maybe just secondhand for you Æsirs. I thought she was sending something different, but hey what do I know.”

Frigga stroked the intricate designs; both embossed and engraved on the shining cover, and then lifted the album out of the box, handing the box to Tony who was waiting to put it with the other stuff.

She did send it, he thought. Nestled in its own foam cut out underneath the album cavity was a small velvet box, Tony tipped it into his hand and set the box bottom on the same table that the lid was on.

Tony watched as Frigga, settling the box on her lap, opened it and laughed delightedly. Each page was about eleven inches square, edged with sterling silver corner pieces and made of a heavy paper that was almost leather-like with an eight inch square cut out for the pictures. But what had caused Frigga to laugh was the picture of Loki on the first page; he was in the lab looking at who ever had taken the picture from the corner of his eye doing a cheesy 'thumbs up' with a big sheepish grin.

Loki who was looking down at the album, pretty much matched the sheepishness of the smile as he sat beside his mother on the window seat.

“Really Stark?” He asked wryly.

“Hey it wasn’t me, talk to your boss. Pepper thought it would be nice to send something for your mom, I didn’t know she was working on this too.”

Frigga however was delighted and demanded that Loki explain each picture as she turned the pages. There was a picture of Loki and his secretary Doris in his office, him alone looking over his shoulder at the camera, a cloyingly sweet one of him sitting on the floor in one of his designer suits during a party, waving his arms telling stories to Bethy and June, Loki and a date at a charity event, him waving to someone while standing with Tony and Pepper, lunching with Doctor Crane and a few other ones of him in Stark Tower or at company events. The one common theme that Tony noticed, besides the killer suits he was always wearing, was that the Rock of Ages was smiling or laughing in all of them. Well except for the one in which he was telling stories to Doris’ nieces; in that one he was just making a ridiculous face. Tony wondered if Loki was aware that if he kept this up he was going to have to change his name from Loki, Prince of Darkness to something more like Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light.

Frigga flipped back to the first page, and regarded it for a few moments, looked up at Tony and said, “Thank you Anthony Stark, your gift is very much appreciated.”

“Actually, as I said, I didn’t have anything to do with this. And I am not just saying that so Mean Green here doesn’t hex me or anything. Actually this is what I thought we were sending,” he said, putting out his hand. In his large, gauntleted palm lay a small box. “I figured this was something that you would give royalty. In fact someone did once a long time ago in Russia, well, a long time in our time of course.”

Frigga opened the velvet box and took out a heavily jewel encrusted gold pin; it was a large oval disk hanging from an emerald inlaid bow. She opened the clasp on the oval and there were two very small pictures of Loki in it, one on either side of the oval.

“She had a hard time finding really small pictures she liked,” Tony said. “I guess that might have given her the idea for the picture album.” 

Tony was almost knocked back by the intensity of Frigga’s smile.

“Truly it is a beautiful gift, I am most touched by you and your fiancé’s kindness in giving them to me, and of course for the kindness you have both shown my son,” Frigga said, closing the oval.

She then pinned it to the shoulder of her dress, looked up at Tony smilingly and said, “Thank you for coming to bring them to me.”

Motioning Tony back a bit, Loki took Frigga’s hands and turned her to face him. “Actually mother,” he said, radiating tension and looking anxiously into her eyes, “I came to see the All Father concerning some disturbing information I just found out about. Mother when did you first hear about the Chitauri?”

With a puzzled frown, Frigga said, “When Heimdall saw them with you on Midgard, and we spoke that afternoon, when I came to you in prison.”

Loki studied her and then said in an anguished voice, “I knew you weren’t part of this, I knew you couldn’t have been. But Mother, Thor knew. He knew and he never told you.”

Frigga shook her hands free and placed them gently on either side of Loki’s face, “Part of what? What did Thor know?”

As the silence stretched, Tony couldn’t stand it anymore. Trying to restrain himself from bouncing in agitation, he told her.

“Your majesty, when Thor first arrived on earth, he knew that Loki was planning to bring a Chitauri army to invade us.”

Frigga looked stricken. “That can’t be correct. Heimdall couldn’t find you when you fell. No one knew about the Chitauri until the battle started. I was there with your father when Heimdall told us that they had arrived.”

“No mother, perhaps Heimdall couldn’t find me in the void, but for Thor to know where I was before ever I spoke about the Chitauri or they appeared on Midgard, someone must have.” He took her hands from his face and held them to his chest, “Mother I have seen a recording made shortly after Thor arrived of him telling the Midgardians about my plans for the Chitauri.”

“I don’t understand,” she said distressed. “We will call Thor here so we can straighten this out.”

“No!” Loki leapt to his feet, surprising both the queen and Tony. “No, there is no sense in talking to Thor,” Loki said harshly, striding across the room and then wheeling around. “If Thor never spoke of it even to you, it could only be that he was ordered not to. Better that I should talk to the only person who could have given such an order to Thor.”

As Tony could have predicted, the lead decorator for Asgard continued to follow the gold and marble theme throughout the whole palace. Helmet tucked in one arm he followed Loki and Frigga, not invisible this time, so yep, he was attracting a bit of attention in his non Æsir armor. But despite noticing this, his mind couldn’t help but think about what a cool trick that whole invisible thing was, he couldn’t wait to get Loki home and do some readings on him and whatever goodies he was stashing. Of course this would depend on making sure that Big Daddy O didn’t slap another leash on Loki, which would strand Tony in Asgard. A bit late to worry about it now though, he possibly should have considered that before he pushed to visit another dimension, realm, whatever. Especially one that was being ruled by someone who was not, by anyone’s measure, Father of the Year.

OoooO

There was never a good time to attack someone on their home ground, Loki knew this. But Loki knew strategy, and there was a reason that the Queen was the most important piece in the Midgard game of chess. The last time he had been before Odin King had not gone well. He had had no firm allies, as the Queen was unaware of any mitigating circumstances and had been told the popular ‘Loki is doing this for spite’ theory. Worse, though he didn’t know it at the time, his judge knew all that had occurred and had already condemned him despite that knowledge. That in a way, made his decision not to try to mount any kind of a defense a better move than he had known.

Since finding out that Odin already knew the where and why of his actions before Midgard, Loki was still at a loss to know then why he had been so furious. Of course if he had to guess... right now his main guess was it was a way to clear, or at least distract from Thor’s banishment missteps and the fact that it was Thor, who had actually destroyed the BiFrost. After all the average Æsir would have cheered Jotun’s destruction, but the loss of the BiFrost was a hard blow for those whose depended on it for travel and communication. And who knew why Odin had relented at the last, he had to have known what information Loki would give to the Queen. Doctor Crane had warned him not to lose him temper; Loki wondered what might spill out of Odin King if he lost his? Of course information from Odin might possibly run neck and neck against things that Loki did not even want to think about. The Chitauri were not the only race that could be inventive when it came to long, lingering pain. While he desperately wanted to know why Odin had turned his back on him, it was not totally unexpected. If he could only have one son whole and undamaged in the eyes of Asgard, Loki knew which one Odin would pick.

Bringing Stark here meant he would have to be more careful of how he spoke to Odin, which he supposed would please the good Doctor. Loki knew that Stark’s own father issues and in truth his sense of fairness, strongly inclined him to support Loki’s past actions over those of Odin. If Loki worked this encounter correctly and made it back to Midgard, with what Stark now knew he would be a strong, sympathetic, Midgard supporter. That kind of support would greatly assist in overcoming any lingering problems that Loki might have when establishing himself there permanently, especially if Asgard objected. But in the end, if the worst did happen, Stark would be his way of striking a blow even in defeat. Thor had too much pull for Stark not to be eventually returned to Midgard and he would return there with a very damaging view of Asgard’s current king and how the realm really worked. And Loki knew that Stark was nothing, if not vocal in his views.

Loki had, as they walked the halls called his formal armor to him; complete with the reworked helm and of course his scepter. The All Father was indeed sitting on his throne in the great room speaking with a few councilors, guarded by two that Loki very much remembered when they were rotated through as his guards. Odin looked up at their entrance and Loki noticed how his face darkened as his least loved son approached.

Just as Odin was about to bellow, Loki stopped and called in a loud pleasant voice, “Odin King, I have come to discuss a very serious matter with you concerning my recent imprisonment by the Chitauri, I have brought Anthony Stark of Midgard as witness, so that you can assure yourself that I speak the truth.” Loki stepped closer to the dais and said in a lower voice, but one that still carried throughout the chamber, “I thought it necessary since you have, in this very hall, questioned my ability to speak even a word of the truth.”

Odin’s jaw clenched and his eye glittered dangerously.

Loki motioned Stark to stand a few paces to one side, and waved Frigga up to her accustomed place, then turned and surveyed the entire room. “Ah, marvelous, some of the councilors,” Loki looked over his shoulder at the throne, “Shall we summon the rest of them Odin King? They were here for the start; it would seem only fair to call them in for this also.”

“We will not,” gritted Odin through clenched teeth. “You do not summon people to my hall.”

Stark leaned over, “Dude, are you sure this is how you want to start?”

“Tony!” A booming Thor called, entering the hall and bearing down on Stark. “My friend it is good to see you again.” A shadow crossed his face and he held Stark at arm’s length, “But how is it that you are in Asgard? Is there trouble in Midgard you have come to tell us about?”

Stark untangled himself from Thor, assuring him that all was well, “It’s cool big guy. We just popped over to bring your mom a couple of presents from Pepper and for Loki to talk to your dad.”

Loki quickly shifted his scepter to his other hand, blocking Thor from subjecting him to the same physical greeting.

“Hello Thor. As Stark said I need to talk to Odin King, and my time here is limited, why don’t you take your accustomed place?” Loki noticed Odin gesturing for the councilors to leave. “Ah, it seems this time it won’t be a public meeting, not totally unexpected, but a shame none the less.”

“Loki,” Odin growled. “Why did you not return to Asgard once you had delivered your message?”

Loki assumed a puzzled expression. “Was there a problem with my decision to stay on Midgard, Great King? Surely my absence greatly simplified matters for you.”

Loki strode over and turned one of the guards to face him, “Tell me please, who does Asgard think destroyed the BiFrost?”

“Lok... you lord,” the guard stammered.

Loki flashed a wicked grin at Odin, while patting the guard on the shoulder reassuringly. “See, Odin King, the realm believes that the wicked Loki damaged Asgard’s treasure. That surely is of much more use to you than them knowing the truth.” He flicked a glance at a shamefaced Thor.

“Oh, don’t worry Thor,” He called reassuringly. “I daresay that for reasons of state it is more important that they think that, rather than know the truth. Besides I have other questions for you where the truth is much more important to me. Loki bent slightly and peered right into the guard’s face with a friendly smile, “The truth is a precious commodity,” he said in a loud whisper as if revealing an important secret, “and can’t be wasted on everyone’s ears.” He flashed a wicked glance up at Odin. “Possibly Odin King should release you from duty lest the truth be too widely expended this afternoon.”

Odin drew himself up, banging Gungnir’s staff on the floor. “Loki, you were charged with delivering the message and then returning immediately in case your services were needed here.”

“I agreed to provide passage as needed in exchange for my freedom and I left a means of contacting me if passage was indeed needed. However, I saw no need to force my presence where it was clearly not welcome.” Loki said, returning to center himself in front of Odin. “But now I have returned to ask you for clarification of a matter which confuses me Odin King.”

“I am greatly puzzled by the reception I received when Thor brought me back from Midgard. You wanted to know what had happened while I was gone; stating that you knew much of it, so there was no way for me to lie. What I didn’t know is that someone on Asgard was aware of my ordeal with the Chitauri, even before I made it to Midgard.” Odin sat rigid, knuckles tight around Gungnir’s handle, glaring at Loki.

“Thor!” Loki barked, looking at him, “When were you told that I was leading a Chitauri army to Midgard?”

“Why... When father summoned me to leave for Midgard after you first arrived there, he told me of your plans.”

“Did he tell you anything else he knew? Did he say for how long he had known? Anything at all except that I was bringing a Chitauri army to Midgard?”

“Well no...” Thor confessed slowly.

“And of course you were in such a hurry to come and stop me that you didn’t ask any questions, did you Thor?” Loki questioned pleasantly.

A worried Thor shook his head.

“Of course not,” said Loki waving his hand as if brushing off a minor irritation.

Odin and Loki stared at each other.

“When did Heimdall find me Great King?” He hissed, “I would very much like to know.”

Finally, like grinding rocks, Odin spoke. “Several weeks after you entered the void, Heimdall saw you return to normal space. He saw you land on the Chitauri planetoid.”

“So did Heimdall turn his gaze away from me...? Or not?” Loki asked softly.

“He watched.”

“He told you all he saw, did he not?”

“He told me of course,” Odin snapped. Frigga gasped, turning an ashen face to look at Odin.

Loki closed his eyes, supporting his forehead against his scepter for an instant. “Heimdall knew about the Chitauri before I landed there?”

“No. We knew of the Chitauri from stories only, but you were the focus that allowed Heimdall to see them, he has watched you all your life, this attunement drew his sight to an area he was never able to see before. His vision could only reach those who came close to you and only so long as you were there; when you left, they became shielded from him once again.”

“So what was it that I did while with the Chitauri that displeased you enough to treat me like a diseased cur on my return? Did I scream too much while being tortured? Did I not show proper Æsir resolve while they repeatedly exploded every nerve in my body with drugs and massive jolts of power?” Loki cried louder and harsher with each statement. “Was I not trying to starve myself fast enough to escape them with my death? Was it that I cried out to you, Odin King, begging you to show me a way to die quicker?”

Loki stood there chest heaving, eyes malevolent green slits, “And did he not see how I fought and struggled against the geas they placed on me.” 

The hall was silent except for the rasp of Loki’s own ragged breathing.

“All this was seen and reported by Heimdall,” Odin coldly retorted. “Also that which you do not mention was reported, how you cooperated with Asgard’s greatest enemy Thanos! The nine realms had to unite against his power to exile him and YOU let yourself be used as his tool. 

“The Chitauri leader is called ‘The Dark Master’, how does Thanos rule him?” Loki snapped.

“Thanos does rules the Chitauri, Thanos is ‘The Dark Master’, Heimdall knows him well and saw him with you!” Odin roared, leaning forward to glare at Loki.

Loki exploded, “How by the nine was I to know that! He was exiled more than a millennium before I was even cursed with birth! It’s not like I volunteered to have my mind enslaved.” Loki snarled.

“No Loki, Heimdall watched, you gave advice on how best to attack Midgard, you detailed Asgard’s defenses and current limitations.” Odin sneered, “Do not try to claim you were a mindless puppet.”

“Okay, this one I got.” Stark said, coming forward as Loki spun on him in astonishment. “Chill dude.” He said waving a hand, “I can explain this one.” Totally oblivious to the shocked gasps in the hall, Stark looked up at Odin, who was regarding him incredulously. “What? Don’t you want to hear about the reports?”

“You see... Great... Odin. Anyhow. It’s like this; after the Prince of Dark... I mean Loki used the scepter to do the mind whammy on some of our people, they did a boat load of reports on it, and I hacked into those files and read them of course, and I also talked to Barton and Selvig. Anyhow, the mind whammy thing was not a compulsion to something specific like x, y or z, but more of a compulsion to do anything that they could to make sure that the objective of the person who placed the whammy was fulfilled. They still were the same person underneath, same knowledge, same skills, but their focus shifted from their goals to, well in Barton and Selvig’s case, to Loki’s. Barton even told me he had argued with Loki, when he thought that something he had decided would hamper those goals.”

“Do you know little human, how much power that would take to control someone as skilled in the arts as that one is?” Odin growled pointing at Loki.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Stark shrugged insolently, mugging a thoughtful frown. “Perhaps someone so powerful it took nine realms to banish him? Would that be enough?” Stark shot back at Odin.

“I did not give you leave to speak in my hall,” Odin hissed. “Nor make excuses for this one.”

“Well then I guess it’s good I didn’t wait for it. Anyhow, I can’t help but wonder, exactly what you,” he cocked a finger at Odin, “thought one person, an incredibly annoying person granted, but still, one person was supposed to do while surround by an entire hostile race that was being ruled by a super titan bad guy.” He spun around holding up his hands questioningly to everyone in the hall, “Anyone? No?”

“You know.” Stark turned back again, quirked an eyebrow and cocked his finger at Odin, “I’m curious Old Father, what would you have done?”

“Stark, I do not need your help here!” Loki hissed, glaring at him.

“Friend of Thor’s or not, you shall not speak to me with such disrespect in my own hall Antony Stark.”

“Okay, so you can’t answer that question, understandable, we all know it wasn’t really a solvable problem. So let’s just get this straight, your fiercest enemy held your son prisoner. Oh, and was torturing him daily, and you couldn’t muster up the god juice to help him, and then when he did get rescued without your help you can’t cut him any slack because.... Why?”

Loki readied himself to block a strike at Stark, while Thor moved fretfully, looking from Tony to Odin and back again.

Odin reared back on his throne, however just before he could speak, Stark interrupted him.

“Hey, I always thought MY dad was a heartless bastard, who knew compared to you he was Mister Warm and Fuzzy.

“Yes. Yes, okay.” Loki whirled around and shot a quick spell at Stark, “Are you trying to get yourself killed?” he hissed. Loki and then slid between Stark and Odin. Leaving Stark to struggle with lips that were sealed shut, Loki turned back to Odin, taking a deep breath to settle his mind.

“Odin King, since we first spoke while I was in prison, have you found lie in any of the explanations I gave you at that time?”

“Loki, you have always had a way of twisting the truth, so it is unlikely that I would.”

“Was my reasoning faulty during that time? Were my actions as regent not legal and a benefit to Asgard over all?”

Odin’s expression was as sour as an unripe cherry, “I do not agree with your reasons, but those actions could have been considered necessary, and yes, since you were regent, they were legal.”

“And a benefit?” Loki prodded gently.

“Losing the BiFrost was not a benefit to Asgard as well you know.” Odin spat.

“No, Great King, I do not ask about the loss of the BiFrost, only about the actions I was responsible for, minus the one I was actually charged with and punished for. My actions only, were they a benefit over all?”

“They would seem to be.” The words dropped like acid from Odin’s lips.

“We both know that the Midgard event was not your prime concern when you questioned me and yet it took two more months to free me. It wasn’t for the information my mother got for you. Since it appears you already knew all about my time with the Chitauri from Heimdall. So why?”

“You aided Asgard’s greatest enemy Thanos against another realm, in a way that appeared to be willing cooperation. Was that not reason enough?”

Loki idly paced backwards while looking thoughtfully at Odin; he stopped far enough back to see the guards regarding him in shock. Stark was glaring at him and motioning toward his mouth, Thor frankly looked ill, and mother... mother was glaring at Odin, rigid with anger. He smiled at the guards while tapping his lips with a thumbnail. Switching this to a shhhh gesture, he received a grudging nod from Stark, so he waved his hands to release him.

“If that was your reason Odin King, you would never have released me, and rightfully so. Nor would you have sent documents to Midgard clearing me of willingly invading them and instead assigning blame to the Chitauri. What occurred during those extra two months between our conversation and my release? The only charge placed against me was trying to harm Thor while he was exiled. The reasons for which, you knew about months earlier when you spoke with me. What changed that you at last allowed your conscience to rule you? Or had some other goal been already completed?”

“You were unexpectedly close to death, since you had apparently not drunk or eaten since your fall into the void, is that not reason enough? I was concerned for you, and your mother and brother were also.”

“No. I may not have known what Thanos looked like, but I do remember studying that time in history. No sentiment or concern would have moved you to release me if you actually thought that I was willingly in league with him.”

Loki looked at the guards again and then nodded to them. “Enough,” he said, walking back to the dais and mounting the stairs. He paused and reached out a hand to clasp his mother’s own out stretched hand briefly, and then continued up until he stood level with the throne. Holding his scepter out to the side, he took one more step until he was almost beside Odin and leaned down.

“I do think,” he whispered directly in Odin’s ear, “That the conclusion of our conversation should be in private if you please. I have no desire to inflict further pain on your wife and her other son. I will if I must, but I would rather not.”

Loki straightened up and took two steps backwards watching intently.

Odin sagged slightly and called in a weary voice, “Everyone needs to leave now. Loki and I will speak in private.”

“Thor,” Loki called, “Please show Stark around for a few minutes, this shouldn’t take long. I’ll send someone to find you when we are finished.”

When they were alone Loki asked, “Do you want to tell me, or shall I start with my best theories?”

“You were always a clever child.”

“Tell me of Sif, Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral? How have they fared these many months?”

“They are as always.”

“Ah. Thor begged mercy for them?” Loki asked with mock innocence.

“No Loki,” Odin said, shooting him a piercing look. “I doubt very much if Thor has even considered what light their actions took. You were gone; Thor was already mourning your loss, at the time it seemed best to hold the issue in abeyance.”

“Is that when the picture of what actually happened was shifted?”

Odin sighed wearily, “Yes.”

“Tell me Odin King, did it pain you to heap all the blame on me? Or was it merely convenient? What of my mother, did she not mind that her lost son was being reviled as a villain?”

“I assure you that had I thought there was any chance of your surviving, this would not have occurred. I would have found some other way to mend the damage to the succession.” Odin stared unseeingly ahead, face tired and drawn.

“And afterwards? My return from Midgard? You knew what had happened and still we had that mummery when I arrived. Why?”

“Before you arrived, there was speculation that you were cooperating with Thanos. The nature of the geas was not known and in truth your actions seemed more of a willing agent than that of a controlled thrall. However, even if that had not been a question, it was too soon to try to change the current reality in Asgard.” Odin rested on the arm of his throne, his forehead leaning heavily on his hand.

“So all the rest was to bolster your story, your lies? Oh, what am I saying, not lies, your policy.”

Loki looked at Odin searchingly and then said bitterly, “Dare I hope that I was going to be eventually rehabilitated to Asgard?”

Shooting him a pained look, Odin replied, “Essentially yes, I had decided to start it the moment you fell, forgiveness and understanding for our lost prince and a re-interpretation of past events due to new evidence. But then you decided to push, as only you can.”

“And so you lost your temper.”

“Hence the flogging for actually trying to kill your brother, it was not my original plan, but you do have a way of bringing out the worst in people. Leaving you in prison for a while until my temper cooled was for your own safety. I did not adequately take into account your stubbornness when you felt unjustly accused; it has not lessened as you aged.”

“When I was with the Chitauri, I didn’t know Heimdall could see me, yet I cried out to you, willing you to hear me,” Loki told him hoarsely. “Tell me Odin King, since you actually did get my plea, did you ever spare a thought to assist me? I’d taken a death curse and blessed you for it.”

“It tore me to pieces to hear of your suffering,” Odin whispered. “But it was too dangerous; there was too much chance of giving Thanos even an inkling of Asgard’s place in the cosmos.”

“And yet when I came back your first thought was statecraft, and even after you yourself found me free of the geas and no threat to the realm, your second thought was still statecraft.”

Loki backed down the stairs, “Never,” he whispered roughly, “did you spare a thought for the child who only wanted to make you proud. You used to trip over me in your council chamber do you recall? I wanted to be with you even if you were busy doing something else. Since I was not destined to be your grand champion, I studied to be at least your trusted assistant, one day perhaps chief councilor. I let myself fall into the void, because I couldn’t stand that my actions had disappointed you so. Do you know that sometimes it was almost a relief when the Chitauri tortured me, because at least I wasn’t reliving the pain of losing my father?”

“Loki...”

“No!” Loki cried backing up another step. “That pain was nothing compared to when I finally knew that you had never really loved me at all. I thought that I couldn’t wake up from.” Loki continued backing towards the door.

Odin rose and started down the stairs, “I do love you my son...”

“No.” Loki shook his head and said sadly, “I doubt that you ever did. Oh, you may have felt some mild affection for your wife’s fosterling, or your son, Thor’s playmate, but everything you have ever felt for me has been a matter of statecraft.” Loki, bright eyed, swallowed hard; “Today’s discovery Odin King, killed the son who once loved you, with all his heart despite your lies.”

Loki pressed his back against the door. “I will honor the agreement I made to provide passage until the BiFrost is repaired, but I hope to never lay eyes on you ever again.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 - Memories

Loki walked around his room, checking to see if there was anything else he wanted to take. A few odd items were shoved into corners here and there, but for the most part, the room was empty of personal items. As he checked again, his mind kept shying away from recent events. As he left the throne room, he had hastily composed his expression, casting a disguise veil to hide the dark shadows on his face and his red rimmed eyes, but he suspected the guards might have glimpsed them. The guard he had spoken to about the BiFrost almost certainly had, for Loki had seen the pitying look he had cast at Loki as the guards reentered the hall. No matter, the servant he had sent looking for his mother had not noticed anything amiss. She was surprised at his presence in the family wing, but not unduly so. Loki gathered up a last few items from a small chest and vanished them into his personal ether with the rest of the possessions he was taking. He couldn’t think of anywhere else he needed to check so he went to the wide window sill and feeling strangely numb, he sat and looked down upon Asgard. 

Frigga walked across Loki’s room, with Thor and Anthony Stark trailing behind her. Loki continued looking out at the gathering dusk, seemingly unaware of their presence. That saddened her; normally Loki was ever aware of anyone entering his company. She reached out and touched him gently on the shoulder.

Loki started slightly, but slowly turned, smiling faintly at his visitors.

“Mother,” his smile deepened a bit. “Stark, did Thor give you enough of a tour?”

“Yeah, really cool, loved the feast hall, very, Space Viking as Fury would say. But there’s no coffee, I don’t understand how anyone gets anything done without coffee.”

“Brother, where are all your belongings?” Thor asked, walking around the room.

“I’m taking them back to Midgard with me Thor.”

“Oh,” Thor paused looking at Frigga, then gathered up a few of the items that were scattered on the shelf near him and offered them to Loki, “Well don’t forget these,” he said.

Ducking his head to avoid looking at his brother, Loki said gently, “No, I think those can stay here for a while. I can’t take everything you know.”

Looking confused, Thor examined the items he held. “But Loki, this is the first throwing knife that father gave you, and these are your royal insignia, and the arm braces that were made especially for you after the Battle of Falsteig. They aren’t large; surely you have room to take them?”

“They will be safer here in Asgard, Thor.”

Frigga looked around the room, mouth tightening as she cataloged the origin of the remaining unpacked possessions. “Indeed my son,” she said briskly, taking the items from Thor and replacing them on the shelf. “We will keep them safe here for your brother.”

Frigga then steered Thor and Anthony Stark gently towards the door. “Why don’t you wait for us in my chambers,” she suggested, “We will be there in a few minutes. Thor, tell Briggi to bring Drífa there and wait for me.” She shooed them out the door, closing it behind them.

“Thank you mother,” Loki said as she came over to sit beside him on the low sill. He ducked his head and then smiled up at her, “You know lady, your son isn’t very smart.”

Frigga laughed and ruffled his hair. “Oh, I think you’re clever enough,” she said deliberately misunderstanding him.

Ducking away from more maternal affection, he gave Frigga a faint smile.

“Can you tell me what happened?” Frigga asked.

Frigga listened as Loki recounted his encounter with Odin. From the slight hesitations, she did sense some details being glossed over or edited. Some of the editing she imagined was for her benefit, some apparently too painful for him to recount. During the course of his recital, Loki had slipped down to his knees and leaned his head on her lap as he had done numerous times when he was little. She stroked his hair as he spoke, trying to comfort him with her fingertips. Though his voice was occasionally thick, Loki’s tone tried for indifference. When he would occasionally glance up at her, his look was resigned.

“I think the place where it turned all wrong was Sif and the others going to earth. Had I been able to stop them on Asgard, I would not have thought to send the destroyer, Thor could have learned his lesson and been restored to the succession at a later date and he wouldn’t have found out about Laufey and my laughable attempt to prove my loyalty to Asgard until it was long over.” He sighed. “There would have been no fight between us, no attempt on Jotunheim, no destruction of the BiFrost, no void, no Chitauri, no attack on Midgard, and perhaps I would have remained in blissful ignorance of Odin King’s true feelings.”

When he made this statement, while outwardly still, Frigga was livid inside at the undeserved punishments and slights heaped upon her son; he was being vilified while others remained unmarked and unpunished.

“I don’t say that you are wrong for what has passed between you and Odin, but I don’t say that you are correct either my son. You may be my little wisdom, but that does not always mean your interpretation of events is always right.”

“Mother, it doesn’t make any difference now, I’m going to stay on Midgard,” Loki said tiredly. “Odin can tell what ever stories about me he wants, I am never coming back here. I am not even mad at Thor, he was just being Thor. Expecting him to change would be like expecting a fish to fly.”

“I know darling,” she said pressing a kiss on the top of his head. “Never is a long time, but like you, I think it best that for now, you absent yourself from Asgard.” She stood, lifting him with her, “You need to come say goodbye to your brother and then get Anthony Stark back to Midgard.” She hugged him tightly, promising herself that he would at least have whatever justice she could give him. 

OoooO

 

The trip back was as promised, monsters and other fun things were indeed waiting for them in far greater numbers than their first trip through the gate. But the one thing that Tony hadn’t expected, what with all the extra monsters and such, was to be following Loki with nothing to do. Loki’s bike frickin’ glowed; it reached speeds that Tony would not have thought possible of a land based vehicle traveling an unimproved surface.

Monster-things barely appeared in the distance when they were violently destroyed by a silently snarling Loki. 

Of course the silence could have been for the benefit of Loki’s small passenger, but it was a freakily controlled, scary silence as far as Tony was concerned.

Tony called Pepper as soon as they emerged at the abandoned industrial park and found out that due to time stream differences, he had been gone for not quite four days. Fortunately he had only missed one important appointment, so Pepper was more resigned than mad at him. Apparently she had figured that there would be some delay so she hadn’t started to worry yet. He had tried to get Loki to stop over and join him and Pepper for a bite to eat before heading home, but he wasn’t too surprised when he refused. Loki had been civil about it, claiming a need to go home and get his skogkatt settled. Loki’s snarl seemed to bleed away once the gate had closed, but Tony imagined that Loki wanted to go home and throw a fit in private or something. Totally understandable, Lord knows that Tony would have been spitting nails by now if Odin had been his father.

“So did you enjoy yourself?” Pepper asked while they were eating breakfast.

Which was a good question Tony supposed. He went somewhere new, saw lots of freaky strange shit, took a ton of readings, managed to snag a few material samples and got to snark at a god king and live to tell about it. Well talk about it to Pepper and Coulson maybe. Additionally, Pepper got a really cool amber brooch from a real goddess, she loved all the pictures he had sneakily taken, especially the ones of Loki and his mom, and she seemed to have caught up on her sleep while he was not home talking all night long, so that was all good. But all in all, Tony did not consider the trip to have been much fun. Some of the drama had hit a bit too close to home for his comfort.

However he had learned quite a few things about what the Prince of Darkness ticked on this trip, and not even all of them had been in Asgard. Pepper was ecstatic when she saw the pictures of Queen Frigga. Apparently Loki’s secretary and shrink had been chosen to match the general description that Loki had given Pepper of his mom, and she had guessed pretty accurately. Pepper’s intuition on what might work on people constantly surprised Tony. She could deduce the most amazing things from little tidbits in reports or stuff people dropped in conversations, and then she did sneaky stuff like that. The amazing thing was that no one ever seemed to notice what she was doing. Loki certainly hadn’t seemed to notice that he was more accepting of Doctor Nat and Doris due to their general resemblance of his mother, than he might otherwise have been.

Of course it did make Tony wonder uneasily what exactly Pepper was tweaking in his life to make HIM easier to deal with. Tony had lots of time to wonder about this last one, since his lab buddy was still AWOL several days later. Honestly, how long did it take to settle one tiny god kitten? What was Loki doing? Building it a habitat?

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 - Lost

Phil Coulson was not really surprised when no one answered the door. He had unsuccessfully called, texted and emailed numerous times, while flying into New York, trying to set up this appointment. The lock was a good one, but he was quite skilled. He eased into the door, looking to make sure there were no traps or trips visible. Coulson was uncomfortably aware that at this location, he had more to worry about than mere mechanical devices. Since he hadn’t seemed to trigger anything, Coulson passed through the small entry area and into the living room. Every light in the place was on, so he didn’t have any trouble finding the barefoot god of mischief, stretched out on the light cream colored couch. Loki was wearing grey striped pajama bottoms, loosely enfolding a sleeping puff of fur on his bare chest with one arm while the other arm was covering his eyes.

Coulson sat in one of the cream and gold brocade overstuffed chairs across from the couch and waited. The apartment was high enough that no street noise reached it, and was quiet enough that he could hear a faint rumble. After perhaps ten minutes he asked, “Is that you or the cat making the purring noise?”

The sleeping kitten twitched an ear when he spoke, but that was the only movement on the couch. After several minutes, without moving, Loki said, “If you leave quietly I’ll let you live. If you wake up Drífa, then I most certainly will have to kill you.”

“Sorry. I can’t do that. I need to talk to you.”

Loki sighed. “So talk softly and then leave,” he said without moving.

“I also need to show you some stuff. I’m afraid you’re going to have to open your eyes.”

With one smooth move, Loki sat up, transferring the now yawning kitten to his lap.

“Coulson, why are you here? If you’re looking for more apples you’ve wasted a trip.”

The kitten opened pale green eyes, looked at Coulson and then yawned again.

“Nice cat.” Coulson said, expression bland as always. He brushed a finger against his ear, “I like the long furry fringes coming out of its ears.”

“I am glad that she meets with your approval. What do you want?”

“Okay.” Coulson opened up a trifold sheaf of papers that he pulled from his inner suit coat pocket and showed the top one to Loki. “Do you remember these men?”

The two pictures attached to the first page showed a young, rough looking brunette in about his late twenties and a slightly older man with large nose and slightly receding hairline.

“No, why would I?”

“Well according to a Clara Fogal, about three months ago, these two men shook her down for protection money and ended up also stealing her dog, because Jefferson,” Coulson pointed to the younger man, “Decided his girlfriend would like it.”

“Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. know or care about this woman, her dog, or those men.” Loki asked lazily, stroking the kitten’s ears.

“You would be amazed at the stuff our trainees find out for practice. For instance, Susan Keller has a steady boyfriend named Dave Knox.”

“Is that the name of Ms. Keller’s boyfriend?” A small lopsided grin flashed.

“You knew about him then?” Coulson asked.

“Well not his name, I didn’t care about that one way or the other. It’s not like what Ms. Keller does is of real interest to me. She is amusing, decorative and... Has some interesting talents, which are the only things concerning her that I care about.” He stretched out one arm on the back of the couch, and lifted a brow in Coulson direction. “Yet, I am interested in why S.H.I.E.L.D. is bothering with gathering this information.”

“Well we do like to keep busy you know.” Coulson offered smoothly. “Anyhow, the interesting thing about the dog napping is that while these guys were new in town, and didn’t have any local associates to rat them out, someone found them pretty quickly and retrieved the dog for the old lady.” Coulson riffled through his printouts, “Oh and they haven’t been seen since then. I wonder what happened to them?”

“Perhaps they moved on?” Loki offered. 

“Yeah, maybe.” Coulson agreed with a small smirk. “But I’m more curious as to why Ms. Fogal would have placed a frantic call to you at Stark International and then given you one of her dog’s old collars when you went straight over there. It’s was a special visit, not the night you normally have dinner with her every month.” At Loki’s slightly rueful huff, he continued, “She’s old, lonely and she talks a lot.”

Loki threw back his head and laughed loudly. The kitten started at the sound, tried to climb up his bare chest using tiny little claws. An amused Loki agreed, “She is very nice, but she does talk a lot.”

Coulson watched as the kitten was detached, ruffled gently and then placed back on Loki’s lap.

“Agent Coulson, what do you want? Just tell me.”

“Okay. Some of our researchers are missing. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t voluntary, but we have nothing. No leads, no motives, no clues, no demands, nothing.”

“What is the problem? You found me in Germany.”

“Well yeah, but that trick only works if the person you are searching for is roaming around somewhere to be seen. Someone tucked in a basement wouldn’t be found like that.”

Two sets of green eyes, one set pale and sleepy, the other dark and sparkling watched him. Coulson waited, wondering if Loki was going to say anything.

“How desperate are you that you come to me for help?” Loki asked in a low, wondering voice.

“Actually pretty desperate, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be very generous if you could find our researchers for us.”

“I don’t need money Agent Coulson.”

“No. That’s true. Oh, Hey. How did your visit to Asgard go last week? We noticed you haven’t been to work since you got back.” The sparkling green eyes narrowed and all the humor drained from Loki’s face.

“It went as well as could be expected and I have had to stay with Drífa while she settles in, so no, I haven’t been back to work.”

“Yeah, I imagine settling in a kitten is full time work.” Coulson nodded at the kitten that was once again yawning and watching him with eyes half shut. “They are so full of energy at this age.”

Several minutes passed. Coulson wished he could either just order Loki to help him, or come right out and threaten him. Sadly, neither tactic was likely to work. He also wondered why he, rather than Romanoff got stuck trying to convince all the nut jobs.

“Look, I understand that things are a little tense at home and all, so having S.H.I.E.L.D. owe you a favor could come in handy sometime in the future.”

“And you think that S.H.I.E.L.D. would bestir itself on my behalf if ever Asgard comes calling?” Loki asked sardonically. “Just how stupid do you think I am Agent Coulson?”

“Not stupid at all, far from it, we know all about that. But I don’t think you understand how serious S.H.I.E.L.D. is when it comes to protecting our assets.” Coulson replied calmly.

“And you think that I should become an asset? Just in case I ever need a friend?”

“Couldn’t hurt. You might want to think about it, everyone can use more friends. Especially friends with pull.”

Coulson pursed his lips and watched Loki spend several minutes considering that last statement.

“I have a contract with Stark International that prohibits freelance projects you know.”

“We know. We also know they can give you permission for one. I could call Tony Stark up right now and get it for you, this is time sensitive.”

Loki chuckled evilly, “I don’t work for Tony Stark and I thank the nine that he is not in my chain of command; my immediate and only supervisor is Ms. Potts. She is the only person who could approve an outside project.”

Pepper Potts? Okay, Coulson thought, that was not what he was expecting.

“Do you have a direct number for her?”

Loki did of course. Coulson tried to reach her several times without success, in the end, to Loki’s amusement, Coulson had to borrow his cell phone to make the call, she picked up on the third ring. It took several minutes, and a verbal reassurance from Loki himself, for Coulson to convince her that he was not trying to threaten or blackmail a member of her staff. Once that was accomplished, Coulson was amazed at the resistance she put up to loaning out her employee.

“What’s in it for Stark International?” Pepper demanded. “You already divert too much of Tony’s time to the detriment of the company’s bottom line, why should I let you suck up time from another one of our key employees for free?”

In the end he agreed to an outrageous consultation fee for Stark International, with the understanding that he would have to negotiate Lucas Laufey’s fee with him separately.

“And Phil? You tell Lucas I want him back to work the minute he is done with this, do you understand? The minute he’s done. Tony is driving us all crazy.”

In the end it cost him, Coulson, a personal favor, it cost Fury and/or S.H.I.E.L.D. a major favor and finding a cat sitter that Loki could trust. After running unsuccessfully through the limited amount of people that Loki really knew at Stark International, none of whom were available on short notice, he had to branch out. Since Agent Barton’s services were emphatically refused, Coulson ended up hiring the source of a lot of his recent information, Loki’s first landlady Clara Fogal, as a live in sitter for the next few days. Fortunately her dog, Beau, was not much bigger than the kitten and already regarded Loki as a giver of treats, so his inclusion in the agreement was not a deal breaker.

OoooO

 

The ride to the secured S.H.I.E.L.D. facility was long and since Coulson wanted to wait until they were in a recordable situation, before giving Loki any kind of a mission briefing, the first several minutes had been filled with nothing more than social pleasantries, mostly concerning the Fogal woman and Loki’s new cat. But over the last half hour or so, even in the dim light, Coulson noticed that Loki seemed to be thinking very intently about something that didn’t seem to please him. “Problem?” Coulson asked. 

“Well yes, but a personal one, nothing to do with finding your researchers.” Loki assured him.

“So you’re not worried about entering a secured facility?”

Loki laughed delightedly. “I assure you Agent Coulson, the thought of entering your base does not cause me any concern whatsoever.” He flashed Coulson a wide smile.

“Really? Why not?”

“Why Agent Coulson,” he purred, “Aside from the fact that I am positive that S.H.I.E.L.D. is filled with honorable men, do you have any idea how upset, the very verbal Ms. Potts would be if you detained me?” Loki settled back comfortably, glancing occasionally at the passing scenery, a self-satisfied look firmly fixed upon his face.

“Coulson, do we have a location yet?”

“Not yet sir.”

“So what has he been doing all night?” Fury asked impatiently, “You did remind him that this was time sensitive didn’t you?”

“Yes sir, I did. He told me, ‘Traveling through hyperspace isn't like dusting crops, boy’”.

Fury snorted, “You have my permission to shoot the mouthy little bastard if he gives you anymore lame cultural lip.”

“Thank you sir, I appreciate that. It’s most likely the last six months he’s spent with Stark. I did mention to him, that he had the quote wrong, but he told me that while he might be reduced to conceptual metaphors, to get humans to understand even the of simplest ideas, he sees no reason to pander to the speech patterns of the uneducated.”

“How is it that no one has killed him yet?” Fury wondered.

“That is a mystery sir. However, I am sure that Stark International would most likely assess us a hefty penalty if we attempt it.”

“Since we have nothing to show for wasting the last six hours, it might be worth it just to get the Viking Boy’s attention.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that sir. Loki’s gone from having all of the touchstone items spread around him in a circle up on the roof, to having a wedge that encompasses the Great Lakes area and parts of Canada.”

“Well let’s just hope it they aren’t in Canada, that could be a problem.”

“Yes sir. I’ll keep you posted,” Coulson promised while checking the camera feed from the roof.

For all I know, Coulson thought, Loki’s spent the evening catching up on his yoga. Loki would occasionally stand, arms out stretched, eyes closed, pale face lifted to the sky, turning slowly. The only thing he did during these times that was not reminiscent of some Shaolin Temple schtick was call up a faint blue haze from the touchstone items to his fingertips, which then wisped away.

Between checking the monitor feeds, Coulson tried to catch up on his reports.

About an hour later, Loki unfolded from his yoga position, pulled out a small tablet, from who knows where, and started tapping away on it furiously.

Coulson buzzed his group, “Get ready to move, he may have something,” he said, saving the report he was currently working on.

As fast as Coulson and his agents moved towards the roof, Loki met them halfway down the stairs. He pointed at two of Coulson’s agents, “Put gloves on and gather up everything to bring with us.”

Coulson nodded at them to do it and headed back down the stairs, steering Loki into the meeting room he had just vacated.

“You finally have a location?”

Loki’s face was lightly beaded with perspiration and he had dark shadows under his eyes that had not been there a several hours ago. If Coulson could have put a name to the look he was being given, it would probably be something along the lines of, ‘You are a blithering idiot’, with perhaps a touch of, ‘Why do I put up with you morons’. Loki held out his tablet and circled an area somewhat above Minneapolis.

“Rather say, Agent Coulson, I have a general area.” Loki told him in an overly patient tone, “This was not as easy as finding one dog, which was personally known to me, in a relatively small geographic area. You didn’t even give me a starting point, and so I have had quite a bit of area to search.”

“But you’re sure they are in this area? You’ll be able to narrow it down further when we get closer?”

Loki sat in one of the station chairs, rotated his hands and pulled a small, pale green square of cloth out of thin air. “Let us say, as of this moment, they are in that area,” he said while dabbing his face with the cloth, “and if they don’t move by the time we get there, then yes, I will be able to pinpoint them.”

Loki sprawled back in his seat; legs stretched out into the aisle and slept most of the way to Minnesota. Coulson had to give it to him, the god of mischief did not seem the least bit fazed by sleeping while he was surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, or maybe he was just really tired. Could be both he supposed. Of course, Coulson smiled to himself, someone else who was trying very hard not to appear fazed by all of this was Nicholas Fury. But Coulson knew that Fury wanted this to work so badly that he could almost taste it. Not just because he wanted to find their researchers, although that was important too, but also as a test of what an ‘Æsir Mage Warrior’ could do. Thor with smarts AND magic. Oh yes, Fury was interested. Coulson’s inner smile widened a bit more. Of course, Fury was also very pissed at the idea that if this did work, he might actually have to make nice, with that ‘Mouthy Little Space Viking’.

Coulson shook Loki’s arm. “Mister Laufey, we’re almost there, you might want to wake up now,” he said while holding out a styrofoam cup. Loki vanished his handkerchief to a celestial pocket or something, accepted the proffered hot chocolate, drank it quickly and then stepped back to the restroom, returning a few minutes later with a damp hair and face. 

Coulson watched out of the corner of his eye as Loki’s hair dried and smoothed itself perfectly into place with him just running a hand over each side.

Two SUV’s were waiting for them at the small municipal airport they landed at just before sunrise, but before heading out in them, Coulson ejected the controller from his tower and stood guard at the door for about a half hour, while Loki fine-tuned the location they were looking for.

Sitting in the back seat of the lead SUV, Coulson passed his tablet to Loki with the final briefing information.

“These are two of the people we are rescuing,” he told Loki. “Not only do we not want to injure them, we need to make sure the bad guys don’t take them out to keep us from retrieving them.”

The picture showed two women, both slender with dark hair. One was very young; the other seemed to be in her late thirties. Loki studied it for several minutes, then watching him closely; Coulson called up the picture of the third researcher. Loki pressed his lips tightly together and shot him a rather annoyed look.

“Why Agent Coulson, I do believe that you are trying to get me in trouble.”

“How so?” Coulson countered with a blandly innocent expression.

“This is Erik Selvig. As you are aware, I know him quite well. Would I be mistaken to put the names Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis on the ladies?”

The corners of Coulson’s mouth twitched, “No. You would be correct. How is this a problem?”

Loki leaned back and looked skyward. “Sometimes innocent actions are misconstrued. That would be unfortunate.”

As they drove, the agent in the front seat was researching the location and discussing approach options with the driver and Coulson. When the driver warned that they were nearby, Loki gave Coulson his tablet back with a rueful shrug and then manifested his armor, complete with helm sitting on his lap.

“Could you lose the hat please?” Coulson asked, shooting soothing looks at his startled agents in the front seat. “It obscures a lot of your face so the horns are pretty much all anyone recognizes from your first visit.”

Loki gave him a long suffering look and said, “I could have found them quicker if you had mentioned Doctor Selvig you know.”

“Really? I’ll keep that in mind.” Coulson held his index fingers up to his forehead and made little horns, looking intently at Loki.

“Oh, if it will make you happy.” Loki said as the helm glowed and then faded away.

“And one last thing, we also want as many of the bad guys left alive to question as we can safely get.”

“Really? Wouldn’t just one or two be easier?”

“Perhaps, but if you could just humor us on this it would be appreciated.” 

OoooO

 

It took two hours from their landing to when they had stopped perhaps a mile down the road from the location of the captive researchers. It was an old dairy farm according to Agent Coulson. Loki had helpfully pointed out the presence of several large dogs on the property, and while the agents were adding them to their attack plan, he simply stepped back a few paces and faded from view. 

He could travel much faster than the humans, and of course the dogs could not see or hear him when he was hidden. His lack of helm bothered him a little, but he privately acknowledged that it was not really suited for interior fighting in the average Midgard building. He would have to seriously think about modifications since he was staying here. Of course, his summoning it had discomforted the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and annoyed Agent Coulson. So there was some gain for him there.

 As luck would have it, one of the enemy operatives was standing outside smoking a cigarette. While smoking was a filthy Midgardian habit that he did not understand at all, Loki was not about to refuse this gift. He eased up in front of the man, phasing into view as he manifested his scepter, touching the man chest with it.

A short conversation resulted in Loki getting the general layout of the building, the location of his objectives and an idea of how many operatives were inside. Once assured that there were no outside cameras, he charged his thrall with a message for Agent Coulson and instructed him to walk with his hands raised, towards the road, until he met some very nice men in black body armor that he was to help in any way they requested. He did have to smother a few qualms about enthralling the man; it was surprisingly unsettling for him, less important but still something to consider was that it would assuredly also upset Agent Coulson. Nevertheless Loki had been tasked with helping to capture as many of them alive as he could, in the safest manner possible for the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel and this was the best way he could think of. But he was certainly going to have to discuss this with Doctor Crane before attempting it again. 

He ghosted through the large building and made his way unseen to the basement. The door guard was quietly subdued. Loki took his keys and dragged the unconscious man and his weapon out of the way of the steps and threw a glamour over him to hide his body. A quick misdirection spell insured that no one noticed the quiet opening and closing of the door.

The windowless work area had several clusters of equipment scattered about here and there, a few computer work stations and three beds arranged in the far corner near a door that seemed to open into a small bathroom. It also contained two unknown techs and several guards, some carrying rifles, some with pistol holsters. As he glanced around the room, at first Loki only saw Doctors Selvig and Foster. A closer look spotted a small figure slumped on the floor, face turned to the wall. Loki eased over to Doctor Selvig.

“Don’t move, just listen carefully,” Loki whispered quietly in Erik Selvig’s ear. Erik started slightly but maintained his position, only his eyes darting to the side where the voice came from.

“Don’t be alarmed Doctor Selvig,’ Loki breathed softly. “You know who I am, but S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Coulson sent me here to rescue you. I want you to call Doctor Foster over to you and then when I tell you to, I want both of you to hide beside this equipment. Don’t move; don’t say a word, no matter what happens. Do you understand?”

Erik made a small nod.

“Excellent Doctor, call her here now please.”

“Jane,” Erik called, “This machine is not calibrating properly, are you sure the settings we used were entered correctly?”

Jane Foster pulled a paper covered with figures from the stack of printouts by her keyboard. She turned, but did not stand up until given a nod of approval from the tech working near her. While outwardly calm, the paper trembled in Doctor Foster’s hands as she walked over to Eric’s machine and bent over to look at the equipment readout.

“Now!” Loki hissed as several versions of himself materialized beside the techs and guards causing the room to erupt into instant pandemonium. He cast an invisibility glamour on the good doctors, threw an illusion of all three captives making a break for the door, and then phased into view swinging his scepter like a club to take out the nearest guard.

The guards and techs were so occupied with the Loki illusions appearing beside them, the thin knives sprouting from their extremities and the ‘captives’ making a break for the door, that only a few even got off any shots at him or the escaping ‘captives’. Loki spun around the room kicking some into walls with a force that left them to slide limply to the floor and smashing others with calculated force from his scepter leaving them to crumple in a heap.

After perhaps less than a minute, all of his illusions vanished and Loki stood panting, the only one left standing in the room.

“Don’t move, don’t say anything,” Loki snapped as he gathered up weapons and threw them into a pile that was out of the way and retrieved his knives. Stripping electrical cords and wiring harnesses off some of the machinery, Loki trussed up the fallen, stopping occasionally to slam the heads of those still aware of their surroundings against the nearest wall or the floor. At last satisfied that all of the enemy operatives were currently unconscious and securely bound, he locked the door and slid a heavy workbench in front of it. 

“Alright, you can move now,” Loki called while making his way over to figure crouched on the floor who was watching him only one eye.

“Ms. Lewis? Are you able to stand?” he asked, holding out a hand to her. Only her general size and hair color allowed him to recognize her from the briefing pictures. He face and neck were a mass of bruises, some new and black, some old and yellowish green. Her left eye was swollen shut and the other one, while open, was puffy with greenish blue shadows around it. She took his hand and held up her other one to him, as he lifted her to stand unsteadily.

“Why?” he asked, bending down to peer into her face.

“I’ll tell you why,” Erik spat as Doctor Foster slipped a steadying arm around Darcy, “those pigs didn’t want to hurt us, so they beat Darcy instead to make us cooperate with them.”

“Ah,” Loki looked up from Darcy and frowned at Erik and Jane, “Just how uncooperative were you?” He gestured towards Darcy’s face.

“No. No, nothing like that,” said Jane miserably. “After we agreed to show them our project, they would beat on poor Darcy to encourage us to work faster to finish it.”

Relief at the removal of their guards faded and Erik glared at suspiciously, “Where is S.H.I.E.L.D.? You told me S.H.I.E.L.D. was here were with you!”

“Calm yourself Doctor Selvig, they should be here any time now. I came ahead to secure your safety.” Loki said soothingly. “You may want to occupy your time until they get here, by checking to see if there is anything that you need to save from their computers. I have some small gifts for healing, I’ll see if I can’t make Ms. Lewis a little more comfortable.”

They walked Darcy over and seated her on one of the beds and then Jane tugged Erik away to the computer stations.

Darcy shot him a fearful look when they left, but Loki drew up a chair, sat in front of her and started running his fingers an inch or so from her swollen skin. “Tell me Ms. Lewis,” he asked softly, “was it only beatings or did they do more?”

Darcy started violently, shaking her head; Loki withdrew his hand, so he wouldn’t touch her damaged skin when she moved. “Just beatings,” she whispered hoarsely. “But he threatened.”

“You must sit still while I work,” Loki cautioned her, beginning again to run his fingers above the eye that was swelled up. “Who was their leader?”

“Baird, a guy named Baird.”

Loki continued to make stroking motions in the air above her eye, which was now much less swollen. “Is he here? Is he the one who ordered them to beat you?”

“Upstairs I think,” Darcy shuddered and he momentarily pulled away. “Lopez is the one who talked him into beating me.” Tears ran from her swollen eyes, tracking down the discolored wreck of her face. “He sat beside me and whispered what he was going to do to me, to all of us when they had gotten what they wanted. But especially to me... before he killed me too.” She sobbed, “For hours every day he would... Talk. He would tell me how excited he got when they were hitting me, and how much fun we were going to have.”

“Is he down here? Is he one of the ones I tied up?”

“I wish he had been,” Darcy whispered hoarsely. “I wish you could have killed him.”

“Ah, well perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D. will kill him when they get here.”

“I wish. But what if they don’t win? We’re trapped down here,” Darcy’s cried, her voice rising in agitation. “They’ll come back and we’re trapped! We can’t get out!”

“What are you doing to her?” Erik demanded, hurrying over and trying to pull Darcy off the bed, away from him.

“Darcy are you alright? What happened?” Jane asked worriedly, coming to stand beside Erik, and looking worriedly from Darcy to Loki.

“Again, you need to calm yourselves. Ms. Lewis, I assure you that S.H.I.E.L.D. will win. But if for some strange reason they don’t, we will get out of here safely. I give you my word.”

“Humpf, fine words for the god of lies,” groused Erik, Loki’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “You’re Loki, you sent that monster thing to New Mexico, you possessed me while I was working with the Tesseract, why should we believe you? Why should I believe you? What tricks are you up to now?”

“I give you my word,” Loki ground out, “I assure you I will keep it.” He had forgotten how tenacious Doctor Selvig could be. While he waited for Selvig’s next outburst, he heard noises on the other side of the door. “Listen,” he said, holding up his hand for quiet, this might be them now, Stay right here, don’t say anything to draw attention to yourselves, they won’t see you.”

“I don’t hear anyth...” Erik began, before being hushed by Jane.

“I hear something,” Jane whispered, clutching at Erik and shaking his arm.

Loki tossed a concealment spell on them, hearing Darcy gasp; he turned and hissed, “shhhh,” Before gliding over to the entry door.

The door knob rattled, and he heard muffled yelling on the other side of the door. Then gunshots and screams. After a couple of minutes the noise quieted down, someone pounded on the door and a familiar voice called his name. Loki used the key to unlock the door, but didn’t move the workbench.

The door pushed open a crack, but was stopped from going further by the heavy bench. “Mister Laufey? Is everything alright in there?” Coulson called through gap.

“Is everything secure out there?”

“Oh yes. We have all it under control,” Coulson said reassuringly. “Are our objectives safe?”

Loki pulled the bench away, cast a double to stand in the middle of the room, and waited as the door was pushed opened slowly.

Coulson, followed by two other members of his team, entered cautiously, examining the room carefully as they did so. Coulson’s expression darkened as he took in a room full of fallen enemy, but failed to see the people he was here to rescue.

“All right, where are they?” Coulson demanded, walking over to the Loki in the middle of the room.

Loki glided up behind him, cancelling all of his spells. “Over by the beds,” he said as his illusion double vanished. Coulson jumped forwards, spinning around with gun at the ready.

“The next time you do that I’m going to shoot you!” Coulson rasped, glaring at Loki, but moving his gun away.

Loki chuckled, his eyes twinkling as he stepped back a pace, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Please don’t shoot me Agent Coulson; I assure you that all is well down here.”

“Okay, well. Quit with the funny business. The last time you did that I was in the hospital for a month,” Coulson groused holstering his pistol and heading over towards the little group sitting on the bed. “How many are dead?” he asked, waving a hand towards the trussed up prisoners.

“None that I’m aware of, though some may require attention fairly soon to stop blood loss. You asked me not to kill them, so I didn’t, but it would have been much easier to do it my way.”

“True, but my way means that we can interrogate them without a Ouija board. It goes a lot faster when we don’t have to use one of those,” He stopped folding his hands in front of him, regarding Doctors Foster and Selvig who were seated on either side of Darcy. “Sorry it took so long to get here Doctors, Ms. Lewis, it was a clean snatch, no leads at all, so we couldn’t make it here sooner,” he apologized.

“So how did you finally find us?” Erik demanded.

“Our colleague, Mister Laufey, is pretty talented at finding people even without leads.” Erik looked slightly appalled that he might be indebted to Loki.

“Why Agent Coulson, was that a compliment?” Loki asked with feigned delight.

“If you want it to be.”

Loki folded spread hands on his chest for an instant with an expression of simulated delight, before he nodded slightly at Erik. “Did you find the man named Baird?” he asked Coulson.

“We did. Your...,” Coulson paused, “New friend told us about him and was kind enough to point him out to us. We have a lot of questions for him.”

“Excellent, what about a man named Lopez?” Coulson looked up at the ceiling for a moment, thinking.

“Dark hair, goatee, swarthy complexion,” Erik rasped angrily.

Coulson thought for a second more, “Right. Yes, we have him.”

“Is he dead?” Darcy Lewis demanded, tear stained face twisted in loathing. Coulson looked briefly surprised, and then very thoughtful.

“Sorry. No. He’s alive.”

“Damn...” she muttered.

“Ms. Lewis, I think it is time to go upstairs. Perhaps we could find a quiet place to continue your healing. You are already feeling a bit better, yes?” Loki held out his hand. Darcy stared intently at him and then brushed aside Jane’s hold on her and took it. As they walked out of the work area, they could hear Erik, in he thought was a low whisper, asking Coulson what in the hell was he thinking... what Although Loki was pretty sure he knew what, or rather who, Doctor Selvig was referring to; Selvig was furiously hissed to silence by Jane Foster before they were out of earshot.

OoooO

The prisoners were all sitting cross legged on the floor, hands secured behind their backs and facing the wall in a small bare room that appeared to have been hastily emptied for them. Loki walked over to the Agent who had driven their car; he was standing near the doorway of the containment room with the thrall. He asked the driver, very politely if he could possibly borrow the man for a short time.

“Ummm, yes sir, no problem.” The driver stammered a bit. Loki was not sure if his unease was from conversing with him, or being asked to give orders to the thrall. “Ummm, You.” He nudged the man with his rifle, “You need to go and help Mister Laufey now.”

Loki hooked an arm around the man shoulder and steered him to the other side of the large room, Darcy Lewis trailing woefully behind him. “What is your name, please?”

“Jeff sir. Jeff Lendid. Do you need me to do something for you sir?”

“Actually I do. Tell me Mister Lendid, do you know where the man named Lopez is at right now? I want to talk to him in private for a few minutes.” Loki asked with a kindly smile and a light friendly tone.

“Yes sir, he’s in the room we were guarding, over by the far wall. Do you want me to bring him to you here sir?”

“If you would please.”

The agent guarding the prisoners wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but when Loki signified his approval from the other side of the room, he allowed Jeff to go in to bring out a very sullen, very uncooperative Lopez over to where Loki and Darcy were standing.

“Ms. Lewis, is this the man who threatened you and ordered the others to beat you?” Loki asked, seemingly nothing more than polite interest crossing his face. Trembling, she nodded. He moved to stand beside Lopez, he and the thrall Jeff, bracketing the bound man. There was nothing remarkable about this Lopez, medium height for a human, medium build, certainly nothing in his outward appearance to warn the unwary about his warped nature. The man’s sullen features twisted in a disdainful sneer and he ran his gaze up and down the frightened Darcy.

“Kneel and beg for mercy you disgusting cockroach,” Loki hissed, suddenly furious at as he kicked Lopez’s knees out from under him.

Loki yanked Lopez’s head back so he was looking up at Darcy, “This woman, that you threatened and had beat,” He whispered in the man’s ear, “She will decide if you live or die. You are not fit to breathe in her presence, but her grace is the only thing that can save your miserable worthless life.”

“She’s a Puta de mierda,” Lopez sneered defiantly, “And I don’t beg nothing from a puta.

“I wish you were dead,” Darcy whispered, tears running down her swollen and torn face.

Lopez laughed, “I know everything about you, and someday, I will find you again and we will see who begs for their life.”

“Alright, what’s going on over here?” Coulson asked, walking over, looking distracted and slightly peeved.

“Kill him.” Darcy whispered.

“Hey, hey. None of that now.” Coulson said, grabbing Loki’s arm and stepping up the command tone in his voice.

“Are you sure Ms. Lewis?” Loki hooked a hand in Lopez’s shirt collar, hauling him upright without visible effort.

“Oh yes.”

Loki easily twisted out of Coulson’s grasp, plunging a long stiletto into Lopez’s lower abdomen, and lifting up him off his feet with the force of the blow. He removed the knife, meeting the man’s shocked gaze. “I did advise you to beg for mercy.” He said dispassionately. Lopez clutched the wound and looked at Coulson in disbelief. Opening his fist, Loki allowed the man to crumple to the ground with a strangled groan.

“Great,” said Coulson, “now I have to get medical here, do you know how much extra paperwork that is?”

“He’s not dead,” Darcy said urgently, tugging on Loki’s sleeve to reclaim his attention from Coulson, “Why isn’t he dead?”

They both turned to look her, Coulson with slightly knitted brows, which a heartbeat later turned to a wary blandness, “That’s right. The girl with the tasers, I forgot.”

“Ms. Lewis, do be careful,” Loki admonished her, holding the stiletto up and away to reduce the danger of accidentally touching her, “There may still be traces of poison on this blade.” Lopez started a low keening noise.

“Quiet!” Loki snapped, with a quick gesture he silenced the man, “You had your chance to speak.” He bent down using the man’s shirt to carefully clean the blood off the blade before causing it to vanish.

Looking from one to the other, Loki essayed a small placating smile. “Please calm yourselves. Agent Coulson, there no need for medical treatment, or all the paperwork that will involve. Ms. Lewis, I promise you that he will be dead within the next ten minutes. You have my word that there is nothing that will stop that.”

Loki put his arm around Darcy’s shoulder and steered her towards the stairs, “We’ll be upstairs, out of the way while I see if there isn’t something more I can do to help Ms. Lewis with her injuries.” Loki called over his shoulder at Coulson.

“So that’s it? You’re just going to leave him here to die?” Coulson said, much in the manner of a mother who has just found muddy boots left on her just cleaned kitchen floor. Except of course in this case, it was an unauthorized execution left in the middle of an otherwise, flawlessly executed rescue operation.

Loki turned, looking slightly abashed.

“Ah. I am sorry.” He made a little embarrassed hand wave, “Or as Stark would say, ‘My Bad’. Mister Lendid would you be so kind as to drag this,” he gestured towards the silently writhing Lopez, “Outside, somewhere? Well wherever would be convenient for Agent Coulson, if you please. You can come find us upstairs when you are done.”

OoooO

Coulson was nothing if not a realist. His agent had called him the moment he realized something was going down, but the situation was already too out of control to stop without risking a possibly dangerous blowup with Loki. Several hours later, while he still wished it hadn’t happened the way it did, due to the information he had gathered from Doctors Foster and Selvig, he was glad he hadn’t risked even a minor disagreement over Lopez’s death.

It was late afternoon before he was done with coordinating the stripping of all the computer files, running system traces to see where the information was being sent, searching the premises to see if they could find any Easter eggs and the initial interrogation of the prisoners. Foster and Selvig had been a big help in several of these activities, what time they weren’t popping off to check on their assistant. Coulson suspected that Doctor Selvig was equally concerned with checking that their consultant was behaving himself. And every time he came back, he berated Coulson again for bringing him.

Amazingly, except for a few small snags, like the unexplained blown safe and the unauthorized execution, the operation had run as smooth as silk. And now it was time to wrap it up and start pulling out.

‘Loki’s Friend’ was guarding the small bedroom in the back of the house, but he stepped aside without commenting as Coulson approached. Which meant, Coulson supposed, that he was on the approved list. The other agents, who had spot checked a few times earlier in the day, had been stopped well before they reached the door and were only allowed a distant look inside. 

Inside the room were two twin beds, both placed against the wall on opposite sides of the room. Ms. Lewis sat cross legged on one, patting her face with a wet washcloth, she looked up as he entered, putting aside the small shaving mirror she had been holding. Coulson was fairly impressed, except for looking like she had been out in the cold for a few minutes, which could have been due to the wet washcloth; her face was completely back to normal, no swelling, no scars, no bruises, nothing. He had to admit, it was a magical transformation.

The other bed held one stone cold asleep god of mischief, flat on his back, hands clenching something white and resting on his stomach. He knew from Selvig that he has been sleeping for at least a couple of hours, but what surprised Coulson was the bruised look around his eyes, the hollow cheeks and the exhausted, drawn look of his face. Puzzled, he leaned over for a better look.

“He’s really, really tired,” Darcy said quietly, “it’s a lot harder to do a slow healing.” 

He turned to look at her, “What?”

“He told me that he could have healed me really quickly, but that’s really painful. It takes less energy to do an emergency healing, like you would do on a battlefield he says, but that type of healing hurts a lot. It’s really fast and your tissues and systems don’t like it... To do it slow, meant he had convince things to heal, not just force them, and to take the pain away and not traumatize nerve ending and stuff like that. He was kind of whupped by the time he was done. He said he had one more thing to take care of and he fell asleep the minute he got back from that.” She lifted a hand to her face, “He said by tomorrow even this little tingle will be gone... like it never happened.” She said, relief and amazement in her voice. But nothing else, not even fatigue, Coulson noted absently, wondering if a little touch of magical pep-me-up or memory fuzzing of the past few days might have also been included in the healing.

“Well that’s good then. I’m happy for you. Look, we’re getting ready to leave, you might want to go and find Doctors Foster and Selvig, you’ll be riding with them. I’ll wake Mister Laufey and be down in a few minutes.”

Darcy swung her legs over the edge of the bed, “Do you want me to take him with me?” she asked, gesturing towards the door.

“No. I’d prefer it if he waited here for a few minutes and came down with us.” Coulson said, as he ushered her out of the room and then sat on the edge of the bed she had just vacated.

Coulson studied the sleeping Loki. Finally he reached over and shook his arm. After about the third time, a frown gathered on Loki’s face and his eyes struggled to open. “Mister Laufey, you need to wake up now, we’re leaving soon. Come on, get up.”

His head turned towards Coulson, he smiled faintly and opened his eyes. “What? No Chocolate?" 

Coulson chucked, “Sorry, no. I did look, but all they have here is coffee. I didn’t think you’d want any of that.

“Coffee? No, it’s a terrible drink,” Loki said, sitting up slowly on the edge of the bed. “It’s bitter, nasty and I don’t know why anyone would want to drink it.” He yawned, raising his arms above his head in a huge stretch and bringing them back down empty. Coulson’s lips twitched.

“It’s an acquired taste, I’ll grant you,” he admitted, standing up and heading towards the door. He turned again right before he got there and asked, “Is there any way you can put your friend here back to normal? Or do we need to bash him across his skull and carry him to the transport?” 

Loki levered himself up, and shrugged his clothing into place. Coulson was just thinking how the long leather coat was looking a bit more, creased... when a faint shimmer ran from Loki’s boots to his hair, leaving polished boots, un-creased clothes and combed hair behind.

“You don’t need to hit him Agent Coulson,” Loki told him blinking a few times to clear the last wisps of sleep away. “Go ahead and restrain him, and I’ll release him for you.”

Well that was easy enough, Coulson thought. Loki thanked Lendid for his service, put one hand splayed across the man’s chest and the other covering his face. After several seconds of concentration, faint blue tendrils flowed from the man’s mouth and nose. Loki pushed slightly on the man’s chest, while gathering the glowing tendrils up with his other hand; he then closed his long fingers around them until they vanished with a faint pop. Coulson held on to Lendid’s arm as he sagged a bit, then before he could become reoriented he hustled him down the hall in Loki’s wake.

The long ride back to the airport was filled with getting Loki’s statements, filling out reports and emailing the hollow eyed god a blank copy of the standard S.H.I.E.L.D. report form. Possibly the most enjoyable part of the evening was the look of revulsion on Loki’s face when Coulson finally convinced him that yes, a completed report by Loki was necessary for him to actually conclude the assignment and clear payment to Stark International for his time. At which time, Loki pulled a tablet out of, ‘Loki knows where’ and started tapping away in disgust.

While working on his own report, Coulson was also keeping up with a texted synopsis that was being sent to him by the agent riding with and eavesdropping on Doctors Foster, Selvig and Darcy Lewis. While Coulson would be interested to hear the full recording later, it did cause him to have a few questions.

“So,” he asked, looking over his table at Loki, “What’s going on with the Lewis kid?”

Loki looked up without lifting his head, “I rescued her and healed her, you know that, you were there. Surely you haven’t forgotten already.” He said, clearly irritated at being interrupted.

“I know that. Like you said I was there. But she was telling me all kinds of stuff you told her about how healing worked, and now she is filling the doctors in on why you sent the destroyer and why Thor’s friends are traitorous weasels, and so on and so forth.” His face and voice were devoid of emotion. “Why? What message are you trying to get out? And to who?”

A thin sharp smile appeared as Loki raised his head and studied Coulson. “Message, Agent Coulson? Nothing so complex, have you ever interacted with Ms. Lewis?” He waited; eventually Coulson shook his head no and shrugged.

“Not really, we’ve spoke a few times, that’s all.”

“Ah, well let me tell you something about Ms. Lewis... If she is not listening, she is talking; there is no time apparently when she is just quiet. Normally I do not tell sagas when I am performing a healing, they are difficult enough without the added distraction. And when listening, she would interrupt asking questions, and badgering until I addressed those questions. Had the healing taken any longer, I would have been reduced to telling her youngling fables, just to get her to hold her face still.

“Really?”

“Oh yes, really.” Loki replied with remembered exasperation, returning to his report.

“Perhaps we need to see if she is interested in teaching a course on interrogation techniques.”

Loki ignored this attempt at humor, tapping away at his tablet.

“So why did you tell her all that stuff, couldn’t you have just zap her with one of your lip zip whammies like you did to the guy that you stabbed?” Coulson asked skeptically.

Loki stared at Coulson, his look managing to convey the fact that he considered Coulson a complete idiot, possibly a drooling one. “Had she not been someone who was important to Doctor Foster, I might have. As it was, I was trying to reduce her trauma, not add to it. And since I am fairly sure this whole mess is being reported by Heimdall, thank you very much Agent Coulson, gagging her like that was not really an option.”

“Okay.”

“Are you done interrupting me? I want to finish this tonight.”

While Coulson doubted very much that would happen, he did wonder about one more thing.

“That must get old,” Coulson commiserated, taking in every change of expression and posture as ‘Angry’ Loki returned. “That whole being watched all the time, wherever you are thing.”

Loki looked at Coulson through narrowed eyes, as if he was trying to figure out if Coulson was laughing at him. “You have no idea,” he said in a bitter voice, before turning a shoulder to Coulson and going back to his report.

I just bet it does, thought Coulson, imagining what his life would have been like if his parents would have had access to a daily blow-by-blow of all of his activities. It was bad enough as a kid, he mused, but your whole life? Worse than that even, over a hundred years. No wonder the guy was a nut job.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 – Fury

What was it about this little shit that aggravated him so? Fury had to admit that Loki had pulled off the impossible, finding Doctor Foster’s team with nothing but a few personal items. And despite that little incident with the stiletto, due to Loki’s actions, the operation’s death and injury count was far below where it would have been otherwise. And yet there he sat, well lounged actually, with his completed report , disinterestedly polite expression... and just made Fury’s blood pressure rise by his mere presence.

Fury wasn’t stupid; he knew as hard as he was trying to zero it out, he was still transferring a lot of baggage from the whole alien invasion and the sabotage of his helicarrier onto his reaction to Loki. But he also knew he had to get past that. An asset was an asset, no matter how badly its attitude made him what to pimp slap it. Sighing internally, Fury studied the godling sitting in front of him; he could do that because the god in question seemed to be... elsewhere. Oh, he was sitting in front of Fury, and even looking at Fury, but he seemed to be lost in his own thoughts and was certainly not really tracking anything at this moment. Loki certainly looked like crap, almost a throw back to his appearance when Fury had first seen him. That thought stopped him cold. Later he had seen a more focused intelligence, but at first it was more like this. Hummm.

“Thank you for your assistance Mister Laufey,” Loki seemed to gather and finally focus on Fury, “S.H.E.I.L.D. appreciates your efforts to get our researchers back.”

“Rather you should thank Ms. Potts director. She’s the one who made it possible.”

“Of Course,” This is as good a time as I am going to get, Fury thought, so let’s try and see what kind of reaction I get. “As to that, S.H.E.I.L.D. would like you to consider a more permanent arrangement with us.”

“I am sorry director, but that’s not something I am interested in pursuing at this time.” Loki told him offhandedly. “I do have a contract which has to be honored. With the exception of one small detail left from this little adventure, anything else will have to be arranged with Stark International.”

Fury flipped quickly through Loki’s report. “This looks complete, hell it looks like you gave Coulson a run for his money on grammar and timeliness.”

A mockingly modest smile stretched across Loki’s face. “You flatter me director.”

Even though he knew he shouldn’t say it, that damn smile got to him. “Assuming anything in here is the truth that is.”

“Why Director Fury, you wound me. Why would say such a hurtful thing?” Loki said mournfully.

Fury’s lip twisted in a sour smile. He could not believe the little shit was playing him. “Well Mister Laufey, I guess because you aren’t known for telling the truth very often. They do call you the god of lies, don’t they?”

Loki tipped his head back, displaying his own sour smile and looking down his nose at Fury. “I prefer, at all times, to stand in an unassailable place director. You can’t do that if you might be righteously attacked for being caught in a lie.” He leaned forward and said in a falsely confiding voice, “There are so many ways to tell the truth, if someone chooses to hear only part of it, or disbelieves what you tell them, how does that make it a lie? You would be amazed at the number of times I have been vindicated when accused of lying by someone who doesn’t know how to listen.” His hands crossed on his chest in an earnest gesture of innocence, “Telling the truth, but making someone think it’s a lie is much harder I assure you, but... I begrudge no effort.”

“Humf,” Fury leaned back in his own chair. “So you fuck with their heads for fun.” Not unlike his other problem child Stark. Fury thought that having the two of them in the same realm, let alone the same building was a disaster in waiting.

“Actually, “Loki laughed, “I prefer to think of it as providing an educational experience.” He pulled a thoughtful face, “However, I will admit, that your average Æsir would prefer to think I lie, rather than admit they didn’t understand. Ah well.”

“And what exactly do you call that little performance art act of yours with Darcy Lewis?”

“I call it a compassionate impulse.” Amusement gleamed in Loki’s eyes at Fury’s palpable expression of skepticism, “What? Did you think I never had them?”

“I think you are a bullshitting little schemer, that what I think.” Fury shot back at him.

Loki, just chuckled and shook his head, “Director Fury, your belief affects my reality how? And besides, in the end even if you were correct, which you are not, did the girl not benefit? Where is your complaint?”

Fury just knew there was no point in debating with Loki, he was like every exasperating lawyer in the world rolled up in to one godly indestructible ball of annoyance, dipped in bullshit. He sighed.

“I perfectly understand director,” Loki did the hand-wavey thing that Coulson kept going on about, and a placed a medieval looking document on Fury’s desk.

“What’s this?” he asked, picking it up by one corner and eyeing it suspiciously.

“A piece of parchment director, surely you can see that.” Loki sat back, regarding Fury closely.

“I can see that, but why?” Fury replied, trying not to get testy.

“You now owe me a favor yes? You sign this and it’s official.” Loki cocked an eyebrow at him, continuing in a falsely honeyed tone. “I fail to see what is so difficult to understand, it is in English, It’s very brief, you could just read it and understanding would blossom...” Loki’s lips twitched up at the corners in a sly smile, “even for you.”

“Mister Laufey,” Fury felt heat rising as he shot a ‘don’t you fuck with me boy’ look at the smartass sitting in front of him. Maintaining with difficulty, a civil voice he explained, “Here on earth we don’t normally skin a goat to keep track of favors.”

He was answered with a breathy chuff of laughter.

“It’s sheepskin Director Fury. Do you honestly think I would use goat for this type of document?”

“What I am trying to say Mister Laufey,” he continued testily, “is that on this planet, we normally just keep a mental tally of favors owed.”

“A mental tally? Loki frowned, “As quickly as you humans age and lose your cognitive facilities?” Loki paused as if considering this. “No. I don’t think so. I would prefer something a bit more tangible thank you.”

What the hell thought Fury, this is the kind of crap I hate when dealing with these alien weirdoes.

“Humf.” He raised an inquiring brow of his own, “I suppose you want me to sign in blood.”

Looking mildly repulsed, or at any rate pretending to look repulsed, Loki replied, “Why in the nine would you suppose I want that?”

“I guess because it would be more along the usual mumbojumbo magical lines you follow.”

“Really Director?” Fury watched as Space Punk assumed a thoughtful air.”

“And to think I despaired that there was any type of magic I didn’t know on Midgard. I shall have to investigate that.”

Loki paused, considered a moment and then said, “But since I’m not sure how blood signatures work here, I don’t care how you do it, Blood, the charcoal from the end of a burnt stick, really, any medium you choose will be fine as long as it is signed with your ‘proper name’ and the date.” Loki then frowned and tapped his lips with a forefinger, “Oh, and if your signature is an indecipherable scrawl, you will need to print your name clearly underneath. I afraid I am a bit of a stickler for details like that.”

O 000 O

Shortly after Loki arrived at work the next morning, Pepper came flying into the lab calling for Lucas.

“Hey Flawed Design, you are in trouble now,” said Tony, apparently looking forward to watching someone other than him get yelled at by Pepper for a change.

Pepper threw herself at him, tugging his head down so she could whisper happily in his ear, “It worked!”

Tony made a gagging noise. “Really, Pepper, I’m the only one in this lab that you should be that happy to see.”

Pepper laughed backing away, stopping to peer into the carrier that Loki was setting down on one of the benches. “Adorable. What’s her name? Can I hold her?”

“What! Oh no. No pets allowed here,” Tony yelped with a horrified expression. Are you crazy, we have sensitive instruments here, we can’t have cat hair floating all over the place.”

“Calm yourself Stark. I’ve considered that, there will be no cat hair for you to worry about.” Loki unzipped the carrier and handed the Kitten to Pepper to coo over. “Her name is Drífa,” he said as he waved his hands a few times pulling a collapsed cage and small bag of accessories out of thin air.

While Tony tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid petting the kitten than Pepper was snuggling, Loki unfolded and expanded the cage into a small two story tower with a bed area on top, sanitary and food area below and a small ramp to get from one level to the other. The bag contained a sleeping pad, dishes, cat pan and all the other items that were necessary to the happiness of a soon to be extremely spoiled kitten. After arranging everything to his satisfaction, and filling the water bowl, Loki took the purring kitten back from Pepper and put her on her sleeping pad and closed both doors. “I’ll just keep her in here while we’re working for a few days until she gets used to this place.”

“What, you actually think she is going to be roaming around our lab? Are you nuts? Well, yeah. Okay you are, but still.” Tony sputtered pointing at Peppers jacket with an expression of very limited patience. “Hellooooooo cat hair.”

“Ah, thank you for reminding me Stark,” Loki said as he waved his hands, pulling out a small flat sheet of metal about the size of a piece of paper and laying it on top the cage and rapping it smartly with two fingers.

Immediately the metal sheet had a sprinkling of cat hair on the top of it and Pepper’s jacket was clean, not a stray hair to be seen. “I’ll clean it daily when I do the rest of her cage,” Loki reached in a long thin finger to scratch Drífa‘s ruff.

Tony groaned, rolling his eyes and making a face at Pepper, who widened her eyes and gave him an easily understandable look that said, Stop it, Don’t go there.

“Stark if you are done making faces at Ms. Potts, perhaps I could persuade you to bring me up to date on what we’re working on right now?” Loki asked walking over to Tony’s favorite work bench.

“Hey! She made a face at me you know, why do you always take her side?” Tony groused, walking over to join Loki, clearly irritated at the unfair treatment he received from Loki when Pepper was involved.

Loki started examining the items on the bench. “Well not only is she better looking than you are, she is better mannered and she signs my paycheck. Reason enough?” He asked sweetly.

Tony again rolled his eyes and made a face, “Well yeah, I get that, but still…”

O 000 O

After Pepper left, Tony pulled up files and spent the rest of the morning running Loki through the projects currently being worked on. While they were discussing modifications to one of Tony’s power transfer modules, Jarvis interrupted, “Sir, Doctor Crane will be here in fifteen minutes, Lunch will be with her in the elevator. I suggest you clear off a table.”

Loki looked at Tony, “Stark, why is Doctor Crane coming to the lab? I normally meet her up in her office for lunch.”

“Oh, well you see,” Tony looked a little sheepish, “Not that I was talking out of turn or anything, but while you were out, Doctor Crane came down and had lunch with me, we were talking about you, know… your dad, what happened in Asgard. Stuff like that.”

“Really? So why is she coming down here today, you covered everything you had to say. Yes?” Loki stared at him.

“Well yeah, but then we got to talking. The bad thing about you being you, not that that’s bad I mean, but it’s not like you could ever go to a group session or anything, I mean, so much of what you talk about is either certifiable or classified,” Tony rolled his eyes and dithered like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. “So anyhow, she was kind of worrying about that a bit, ‘cause she really thinks it would help you… So I kinda volunteered.”

“What!?” Loki looked at him with suspicion.

Tony shrugged and mugged, “Hey. If she thinks it could help you, and since I already know all the bat-shit crazy stuff, I’m game. She thinks you’re trying really hard. She didn’t say it of course, patient doctor thing, and she must keep her patient files by hand or on a computer that never accesses the net,” he said almost reflectively, forgetting who he was taking to. “I did look for them. But anyhow, just from the way she was talking I could tell,” He finished faintly, shrugging. “And besides, I think it has helped you a lot, so hey I’m in.”

Loki dropped his head, hiding an absolutely wicked smile; he schooled his face and voice rigidly neutral, before raising his head to give Tony a steady stare. “We’ll see how it goes Stark. Understand?”

Tony nodded, apparently relieved that this revelation had gone as well as it did, walked away to clean off a small table near the elevator.

Loki was howling inside with laughter at the devious cleverness of Ms. Potts, truly a woman after his own heart. Ah well, he could discuss books, politics and of course issues over croissants as well as cobb salads. So he texted Doctor Crane and switched his private sessions to breakfast in her office.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18 - Thor

“Brother you missed a most excellent battle!” Thor boomed as he and Tony entered the lab. He walked around the lab, eager to see everything that his brother was working on. He couldn’t see why Loki was interested in all this mechanical stuff, he never had been before, but he was, so Thor wanted to see it all.

“Yeah, really excellent,” Tony mocked. “I especially liked the part where Clint and Natasha threatened to kill you and Bruce.”

“Did they have a particular reason, or was it just on general principles,” Loki asked absently, not looking up from the screen he was working on.

Tony walked over to one of the supply cabinets, dug out a tin of pine nuts and tossed a few into his mouth. “Well I think it had something to do with a few tiny chunks of concrete that got a little too close to them.”

Thor laughed, “Tiny? They were mighty sections of the wall. And besides, she did knock Clint out of the way in time.”

“Heh, yeah. And then almost got nailed by some other debris courtesy of Bruce. She said if they didn’t start watching who was around when they started breaking things apart, she would have to take them out. Fury or no Fury.”

Loki looked at Tony with a raised brow and asked, “And you weren’t included in this threat how? I have seen you destroy with equal abandon.”

“Hey, Jarvis tracks stuff like that for me and I at least call a warning.” Tony retorted smugly.

“Ah. Well of course that makes it alright.” Loki shook his head. He looked over at Thor and asked, “When do you want to go back to Asgard Thor? This morning? Tonight?”

“No, I am going to visit Jane for a while before going back. I spoke with her last night on Tony’s cell phone. He has promised to call her and tell her when to pick me up at the airport.”

“Not to worry Point Break, I’ll book you a non-stop flight and pay the Unaccompanied Minor fee.” He looked at Thor, before assuring Loki, “We’ll tell them he has a glandular problem and just looks older than fourteen.”

Loki shook his head in disbelief at Tony’s nonsense. “Well you will most likely need this then,” he waved his hands and manifested the large leather one-shoulder carryall, that he had ‘packed’ for Thor, so he could more easily ride back to Midgard on Loki’s motorcycle.

“Oh, yeah. You’ll blend in New Mexico wearing Asgard duds.” Tony smirked.

“No brother, this is for you from mother, did I not tell you that?” Thor said, frowning as he tried to remember exactly what he and Loki had spoken of when they met.

Tony spun around looking at Loki in amazement. “Whoa, you went all the way to Asgard and didn’t see your mom? Why?”

“But mother did see us off,” Thor assured Tony smiling, “but by the time she arrived at our departure point, we could only tarry a moment or so.” He nudged Tony, “Mother does not like Loki’s vehicle, she was thought it was not safe looking for him, let alone the both of us.” Thor wasn’t really sure he liked it that much either, but it did move fast enough, and if Loki said it was more suited for traveling the hidden paths than going afoot, Loki was the master of those paths and it was not for Thor to gainsay him.

“I did see her Stark, but as Thor says, only for a few minutes.”

“Well you guys are hard to hurt so I would say it is safe enough, I just don’t understand how it has the cc’s on that kind of terrain to carry him and you big fella.” Tony turned to Loki who was opening up the carryall, “Why don’t you get a decent bike, with a real motor, that bike of yours is crap. Dude, you can so afford better now.”

Loki was busy laying various packages out on the workbench, but he frowned at Tony, “I know Stark, and yet I don’t. What does this suggest to you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. You like crap bikes? The color gold? Good gas mileage?”

Thor snorted, “My friend, doubtless Loki has many spells woven into the machine so it will function on the hidden paths.”

“No. That can’t be it; he could just lay them on a new bike if that was it.” Tony scoffed.

“Sad when you aren’t as smart as the muscle bound blonde beside you isn’t it Stark?”

“Really?” Tony was astonished.

“Really,” Loki replied, opening the largest bundle. “It took months to lay the spells on it. The only reason your suit worked, was I was able to expand the field for you.” He smirked, “Otherwise you would have been riding on the pillion seat like Thor did.”

“You know, that is not what that seat is usually called.” Tony offered.

“Stark,” Loki warned.

“Yeah fine, what did your mom send you?” Tony rolled his eyes.

“Oh.” Loki said in a small voice, holding up a light weight shimmering white blanket, with an intricate white on white pattern woven into it.”

“Seriously, she sent you a blanket? Exactly how old are you again?”

Thor was puzzled; Tony was turning around making strange faces for some reason. “In truth it is a fine gift brother. The charms and protections woven into are so strong that even I can feel them. I know that mother worked on it for many weeks, she said it is one of the best ones she has ever made.”

“My mother is a sorceress you ignorant lout, this has powerful spells that protects the user from psychic harm or malignant intrusions while they are sleeping, it is not an article of bedroom decor.”

“Yeah right,” Tony laughed. “I know a wubby when I see one. Coulson’s reports said you slept with one.”

Thor was unsure what Tony was talking about, so he looked to his brother for clarification. Unfortunately when looked over at Loki, all he saw a blank expression, so knowing his brother, Thor knew that he was puzzled also. After all, Tony’s tone indicated that he was teasing Loki, which should have occasioned an immediate snide remark of some sort from Loki, if Loki had understood the reference.

“Tony, what is tis wubby that you speak of?” Thor said, since it was unlikely that Loki would admit to not knowing.

“Little kids, well Midgard kids, usually have a special blanket they use when they are babies, it’s like their most precious possession, understand?”

“Yes?” Thor understood the concept, but was unsure how it applied to Loki or why Coulson was involved.

“Okay, well. Most little kids outgrow the need for this blanket when they are still little, but others…” Tony turned his back to Loki, mugging and pointing over his shoulder. “Some kids never outgrow their special blanket and can’t sleep without it. Of course they normally trim it to oh, napkin size or something so not everyone knows about.” He spun around and peered intently at Loki, “Not that I am judging or anything.”

“But Tony, that is not…” Thor started to say before being interrupted.

Loki gave Tony a beautifully evil grin, “I’m so glad, you’re not judging Stark. He pulled out a smaller package and handed it to him, because I asked her to send you one.”

“Whoa, no. I so do not need a wubby.”

“It is called a dream cloth my friend, not this wubby thing of which you speak,” Thor laughed and clapped Tony on the shoulder. “It keeps ghosts, spiteful spirits and your enemies from gaining a foot hold in your dreams.”

“Or perhaps a past that might make a person, drink too much. You know a person who otherwise can’t sleep without the deeds of yesteryear invading their rest every night.” Loki said dryly. “You will remember, you told me the only reason you drank to excess so much was so you could sleep without such complications.” He pointed to the package, “Enjoy. I know I am certainly looking forward to not having to deal with you hung over four days out of seven.”

Tony opened the package to pull out a small shimmering white cloth, “So” he said examining the edges of the cloth, “where is the laundry and care label on this thing?”

“You’re a fool Stark, a cloth that can shunt the strongest of mental intrusions, does not have a problem shunting away dirt or grime.”

Tony flapped the dream cloth a few times in front of Loki, “Put on the horns, let’s go a few rounds.” Again, Thor was not sure what he was talking about, but before he could ask, Tony continued, “So wait a minute, how did your mom even know to send it? You got cell service out there I don’t know about? Ooo, or did you send smoke signals?”

Thor laughed, “Mother says Heimdall asked her to be sure she sent one the next time Loki came to Asgard. He is tired of him yelling at him about it every day. He thinks you are persistent my brother, and very annoying.” No one he thought could annoy Heimdall like Loki. Of course that could be because most were too afraid to try, but his brother was pretty fearless and so Heimdall had often been vexed with Loki as they grew up.

Loki shrugged, “I couldn’t be sure when he was listening, so I just put it on my morning rant list.”

“Mister Laufey, Doctor Crane apologizes for being late this morning and will meet you in ten minutes.” Jarvis said.

“Please tell her I will be there Jarvis.”

“Laufey?” Thor asked surprised, “Loki, why does he call you Laufey? You are Loki Odinson!”

Loki’s jaw tightened, as Thor came over to him, “It’s just the name I use on Midgard Thor, Lucas L. Laufey.”

“That is not your name!”

Loki shook his head in mild exasperation and turned to leave; Thor indignantly grabbed his arm and swung him back to face him. “Why do you allow them to call you that?”

“Unhand me you oaf,” Loki spat, “It is the name I use here; it is the only name I am entitled to!”

“No! You are Loki Odinson, you have always been Odinson.” Thor yelled.

“Odin has no son named Loki!” Loki retorted in a low guttural growl, wrenching himself from Thor’s grip. “You heard him say that yourself!”

“Hey, hey. No fighting in the lab, hey Mister Wizard, you better get going or you’ll be the one that’s late.” Tony said, while tugging ineffectually on Thor’s arm.

Loki settled himself with some effort. “Thor, I will be back in an hour, just stay with Stark please.” He gave Thor a tired look. “Please.”

Thor was about to follow him, but Tony managed to get his attention, grimacing and shaking his head no.

After the elevator had left, Tony turned to Thor, “Dude, you have got to quit winding him up about this stuff.”

“But…I just want him to use his correct name.” Thor stammered.

“Yeah, and I want to be immortal and Loki wants Thanos’ head on a pike. We don’t always get what we want Thor.”

“Tony It’s not right, why would he do this? Why would he use that name?” Thor paced, “I don’t understand.”

“Thor, you and Loki didn’t have the same father, you know that right?”

“I do, but I did not learn that until recently that Laufey was his father, but he is still my brother.” Thor said earnestly, walking restlessly around the lab.

“No. You’re missing the point. I am not talking about this Laufey dude, I am talking about Odin. I don’t think he was the same father to both of you, or at any rate, you both see him differently.” Tony plopped down on a stool and looked disgusted. “Besides, if it makes him happy, what do you care what name he uses?”

“That is not the point…”

“No.” Tony interrupted, “that is exactly the point. If something that small makes him feel better, or even just less bad, you should be glad not giving his a ration of crap over it.”

“But you don’t understand…”

Tony threw his pine nut can at Thor, bouncing it off his shoulder. “The only thing I understand is that the guy is pretty fricking unhappy and you arguing with him about petty stuff will only make it worse.”

Thor stopped, turning an arrested expression towards Tony, “What do you mean my friend, he is happy here, my mother looks at the pictures you sent her often.”

“Yeah well, we must have left happy smiling Lokester in Asgard, ‘cause I sure haven’t seen him in the month since we got back.” Tony said sarcasm in his voice and annoyance with Thor plainly visible on his face.

Thor studied Tony carefully, wishing that he Loki’s talent for understanding what people were really thinking. His friend looked sincere, but all these months he had been envisioning his brother from the picture album living on Midgard, a Loki Odinson, who appeared as happy as ever he had in his youth. To find that this was not so was a heavy blow. But this still did not explain to Thor why Loki would take such a name to himself.

“I didn’t know he was unhappy, I am sorry to hear that. But I am confused about this, he does not use the name of the father who raised him, but instead takes the name of his sire King Laufey, who abandoned him to die as a baby. You do not think this is odd?”

Tony rocked back in surprise, disgust plain on his face. “He was abandoned to die as a baby? Seriously? Who are you people? No wonder he’s a fruit loop, anyone would be growing knowing that kind of crap.”

“No, he never knew, he found out while I was here in Midgard with Jane, he finally guessed that he was… different and confronted father about it.”

Tony was looking at Thor in total disbelief. He several times started to say something, but no words came out. Finally he dropped his head into his hands and held it there for a moment before looking up at Thor amazed. “Different? You mean that’s when he found out he was adopted? Just a few years ago? He never even knew that part growing up?” Tony scrubbed a hand across his face, “So when did he find out about being abandoned as a baby? Please don’t tell me it was at the same time he found out he was adopted.”

Thor looked worriedly at Tony, “Well, yes…”

“Perfect, so he was abandoned and left for dead by his bio father, found all of this out as an adult in a really short time span…” Tony grimaced, “and then was abandoned in the worst possible way by his adopted father. It just couldn’t have been worse than that.”

Thor looked away uneasily.

“Oh geeze man, what else? We have a shit sandwich stacked this high,” Tony gestured with his hands, “don’t tell me it has an olive stuck on the top of it too.”

“I think…” Thor said slowly, his expression anguished, “Loki was trying to prove his loyalty to Asgard, so he allowed King Laufey, his birth father, an ancient enemy of Asgard, access to the All Father while he was in Odin sleep. When Laufey tried to kill father, Loki used that as justification to kill Laufey.”

Tony jumped up.

Before Tony could say anything Thor continued, “Which is why I don’t know why Loki would take his name, rather than Odinson.”

“Son of a bitch.” Tony was turning in place, unable to stay still, “So he killed his jerk of a bio dad, ‘cause he was the son of Asgard’s enemy, to prove loyalty to Odin, who slapped him in prison when he got away from the tortures of the Chitauri, only to find out Odin knew all about the Chitauri from git-go and had just blown it off, no wonder he sees his frickin’ shrink every goddamn day. Immortal or not, he might not live long enough to work through all these mind fucks.”

Thor felt terrible, he knew of all these events of course, but somehow stringing them together, plus all the other… Unspoken ones… Made him realize just how over whelming they must be to Loki, to anyone really. Thor wondered how he, with all his physical strength, would have fared mentally under all of these events. Tony was right; his brother might never heal from these hurts. But... “You said Loki sees a… shrink… every day. This is a healer?” he asked hesitantly.

“No, not really, a shrink is really called a psychologist, a really skilled kind of person who helps people with mental problems rather than physical illnesses.”

Thor thought about this, he was not sure but… “So these psychologists help people reduce their mental problems? That is why they are called shrinks?” He asked, face screwed up in thought.

“Well no,” Tony said before pausing for a moment, his own face twisted a bit in thought, “Well actually yes, that is why. Weird huh. But at any rate, this seems like a lot of crap for one guy to put up with, especially on top of the torture and mind bending and all, which is why you should leave him alone about the little stuff.” He paused for several moments, scowling, “I can’t guess why he uses the name Laufey, maybe it’s the only one he thought he could legitimately claim? Maybe it’s just his lineage, after all he didn’t add the son part that you guys all use. And I can certainly see why he wouldn’t want to use Odinson, no offence, but I don’t think your dad did right by him.”

“Perhaps not,” Thor agreed reluctantly. As difficult as it was to think it, it did seem that wise as he was, perhaps father had not handled Loki as he should have. But one other thing that Tony had said made him uneasy. “These shrinks, people have to see them every day to get better?”

He was not reassured by Tony’s doleful smirk. “Not usually no. Most people who they help only see them once a month, or at worst once a week. Loki sees Doctor Nat five times a week. Oh and does group sessions too, maybe three times a week.”

“That is a lot.” Thor said slowly.

“Yeah. Ya think?” Tony laughed an unfunny sort of laugh, “But the main thing you need to know about psychologists? They don’t heal you like a doctor might heal a broken leg… They just try to help you cope with your injury as best you can.”

“Like a healer giving you a crutch to help you walk until the bone heals? Thor asked, lifting troubled eyes to Tony.

Tony smiled a horrible smile. “Exactly. A crutch. You know, a flimsy support that could be kicked out from under you at any moment.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 - Charge

Tony and Thor were quiet when he returned from his session with Doctor Crane, Tony studying a few screens and Thor sitting across from him flicking through a few magazines when Loki returned. Both absent mindedly eating some of those disgusting sun chips that Tony favored.

Loki was surprised, but glad that Thor did not immediately try to continue the discussion of his name, as he had no intention of arguing with him about it. In truth, Loki was not even sure why he finally had decided to use the name Laufey. At the time he needed a last name and it was the best of the bad choices available to him.

“Here, you need to put these on,” He told Thor, handing him a soft bundle of sweats he had picked up from the company gym. “Leave your boots; they’ll be fine for now.”

Both Thor and Tony looked up, Thor took the bundle and unraveled it, perplexed… and worried.

“So, you guys going to go work out or something?” Tony asked returning to his screen.

“No, we are going on a very quick shopping trip. Thor can’t travel looking like that, and unlike me, he can’t manifest various items of his wardrobe, so shopping he must go.” A small smile flitted across his face, as he guided Thor in the direction of the small washroom, giving him a shove. “Hurry, we have much to do today.”

While Thor was dressing, he outlined his plan to Tony, thanking him for his offer of getting Thor tickets to New Mexico, but assuring him that he would handle it. Stark’s expression was bland and seemingly uninterested, which was not something Stark normally looked like, but he had other things to do today besides worry about Stark. He was a bit more himself as they were leaving, telling Loki that he was ‘So squealing to Pepper about Loki skipping out for the day’.

 

O 000 O

 

The first place he took Thor was his bank. Handing Thor a plastic rectangle with his picture on it and small blue Ísland passport telling him to show it to the bank officer when she asked for his ID. Having called ahead on the way back from his session with Doctor Crane, everything was ready for them when they arrived at the credit department. With only minimal nudging from Loki, his brother visiting from Iceland, Thor, managed to produce his ID’s and sign in the proper places to get a credit card linked to Loki’s accounts.

He could tell that Thor was almost bursting with questions, so they thanked the nice bank lady and hustled Thor back outside before he could burst and began asking awkward questions.

“Brother, what is this?” Thor demanded, brandishing the brightly colored plastic rectangle.

“It is how Midgardian’s pay for most things Thor. They don’t carry gold or silver they use mostly paper money or keep their paper money in the bank, so they won’t lose it and use these credit cards. When you give it to someone to pay for something, it is like a solemn oath that your bank will send the merchant the money from your vault.”

Thor’s brow furrowed, “Jane used something like this called a ‘debt card’ at the café while I was there with her.”

“Very much the same as a debit card Thor.” Loki agreed. “Ms. Foster can’t keep paying for everything when you see her, they have a name for men that accept money from women here,” his eyes crinkled in amusement. “And it’s certainly not a nice one. So when you visit her this time, you can use your own ‘debit card’ to buy things you need, take her out to dinner, things like that. Understand?”

Thor nodded.

“Let’s try it here,” Loki said, pointing to a small coffee house, “So you can practice using it.”

Loki went first ordering a hot chocolate and a pastry. Thor watched carefully how he paid for it, and then ordered his own coffee and a few muffins, carefully mimicking Loki’s procedure to correctly pay for it. They sat at small outside table with their drinks, Thor turning over the credit card thoughtfully and then setting it down to study the receipt he had been handed with a faint frown.

“What’s wrong Thor?” Loki asked, knowing something was troubling his brother.

“Loki, I can’t use this. I don’t have any money in a Midgard vault to send to the merchant.”

“You don’t have to Thor…”

“But you said…”

“Listen.” Loki pointed at the credit card sitting between them on the small table, “This card is linked to my bank account; They gave you this card because I called them earlier and took an oath to send money from my vault for anything you buy. The merchant will get their money, don’t worry.” Thor’s brow cleared, but then he frowned again. Knowing what was coming next he said, “Honestly Thor is will be fine. I have plenty of Midgard money. As long as you don’t buy a house or plane or something huge it’s will be alright.

He gave Thor a small smile, “If you do decide to buy a house or something big, call me, so I can let the bank know it’s alright. They don’t like being surprised with large purchases. You have to tell them first. Okay?” He tipped his own untouched pastry onto Thor’s empty plate, “Here, finish this and we’ll get started okay?”

 

O 000 O

The rest of the day was spent shopping. Loki made Thor change at the first store, into jeans, a black belt, a red shirt, a navy blazer and black loafers. Necessities like a socks, boxers, wallet, belt, travel kit, suit case and whatever other small items Loki pointed out to him were also bought. Thor paid for each group of items in the individual departments so he could practice using his card. Loki was amused at how quickly Thor lost his hunted, panicked look when the cashiers asked him how he wanted to pay. Loki inconspicuously tucked Thor’s boots into his personal ether, but the rest of the purchases they sent on ahead with a delivery service, assured that they would be delivered to the doorman at Loki’s condo before evening.

Once he was dressed in moderately decent clothes, Loki took Thor to Sak’s for some nicer casual wear, better shoes and a suit and sports coat that would be altered and delivered, for a ‘suitable’ surcharge, first thing in the morning. Fortunately, Thor was oblivious to pain it caused Loki’s to order an off the rack suit. The only reason, Loki consented to do it at all, was the fact that he wasn’t the one who would have to wear it. He seriously considered taking Thor to have his measurement done, so they could do a pre-fitting once he returned from his visit to Doctor Foster. However when he mentioned it, Thor was steadfastly against the idea.

“Brother, I am not near as nice about my dress as you are. The items you bought me are fine, I thank you very much, but I don’t think I will need more suits.” Thor said amusement at his little brother’s preoccupation with looking well-dressed writ large across his face.

“Seriously Thor, if you are going to visit here, you need some decent clothes.” Loki grumbled as they left the store.

Thor grabbed his shoulder and gave Loki a quick hug as they waited to cross the street, “No brother, I am worn out with shopping, no more I pray you.’ He laughed, “I now know how to use my credit debit card and I now want to get something to eat. I’m starving; I’ve had nothing all day but those strange crackers that Tony fed me and the tiny muffin things. If you don’t find me real food soon, I shall tell mother you tried to starve me!”

So Loki’s next lesson for Thor was how to deal with Midgard restaurants and the mysteries of tipping the help. There was a bit of a problem explaining the menu to Thor, but simpler version of the spell that allowed Loki to read English was quietly cast, and would suffice for Thor’s day to day needs. He encouraged Thor to order any items on the menu that appealed to him; a Thor busy with food did not argue or start painful discussions.

The best of plans are sometimes rent asunder by forces beyond our control thought Loki. And those plans had been going so well. After dinner they had gone to a small night club near his condo featuring a live music group which Thor found most enjoyable indeed. A few more hours of distracting Thor, a little alcohol, or rather a lot of alcohol, some drunken slumber, a mad rush in the morning to make the plane… and he could have entertain Thor as honorable as even his mother could have wished… and done it without the need to hear about Asgard. Or worse, Thor trying to make peace between him and Odin. The stage area would have to have an electrical malfunction tonight of all nights.

Marvelous.

As the club switched their regular sound system to background music, Loki checked on his phone, but couldn’t find any live entertainment close enough to his condo to easily get a drunken Thor home.

Damn.

Thor finished his drink and using hand signals Loki had used earlier, he signaled the waitress for another. “Well it is a shame that the singers had to stop, but still it has been the most enjoyable day I have had in a long while, so I thank you for that brother.” His surface expression was happy, but there was something not quite Thor-like underneath.

Loki looked away, pretending to be interested in the movement of other patrons to the small dance floor. Using his peripheral vision he watched Thor tip the waitress from the pile of cash in the center of the table and then frown down at the drink she had just given him. Thor’s smile quickly reassembled itself by the time Loki has turned his unconcealed attention back to the table.

“All right Thor, what’s wrong?” he asked quietly, noticing the flicker of something else at his question, before a more forced jovial expression was provided for his scrutiny. Thor stared at him a minute, and Loki could almost see the inner debate, Thor wanted to talk to him, but wasn’t sure how? If he should? How strange. A conflicted Thor was not something Loki had ever seen much of.

“Why do you ask such a question Loki, nothing is wrong, How could it be?” Thor said in far too hearty a voice.

“You’re not much of a liar you know,” he said casually. “And you might want to consider who you are trying to lie to.”

Truly Loki, this has been a most enjoyable day,” he said, but after a moment or two of Loki’s scrutiny, the happy expression drained from him like water from a cracked glass.

“So why has it been the best day you’ve had in a while,” Loki asks watching him closely.

Thor downed his drink and signaled for another.

“Why Thor?”

“Can’t it just be because I have been missing my brother?” Thor retorted.

“Of course it could be,” he shrugs, “But I think it is something else. Are you being pressed to spend more time in council than you care for? Is there something wrong with mother that I don’t know of? Or Sif? Or one of the other three oafs you pal around with?” Thor has never been good at keeping his thoughts private, and his face is a book that Loki long ago learned to read. “Ah. So what happened? Without me to fight against they’ve turned on each other?” He smiled thinly, “Let me guess, they are driving you mad squabbling amongst themselves?”

Thor looked down at his empty glass saying nothing. The waitress finally brought him another one, which he quickly tossed off, almost dropping the heavy tumbler to the table. Only then did he raise empty eyes to Loki. “No, they are gone from court, exiled,” he said mournfully, mouth turned down. “You are gone, exiled… self-imposed, but still gone.” He continued in a sad, tired voice, “When Mother is not arguing with father, she is not speaking to him at all. And father is… upset, with everyone.” Thor slumped forward, leaning his elbows heavily on the small table, eyes suspiciously bright, “Oh brother, I miss you, I miss them, I miss… much.” He concluded in a choked voice.

Ah. While an excellent distraction attempt, the club is definitely not the right place for this kind of conversation with Thor. Apparently he is not going to be able to brush through this visit without discussing Asgard.

Damn.

“Let’s go Thor,” he says as he tosses more cash onto the table to pay their tab, signals to the waitress that they are leaving, tugging Thor to his feet. Scotch having a higher alcohol content than wine or mead, may have played a part in Thor’s mood, but Loki thinks perhaps something more serious is wrong. Thor has always had a ‘live in the moment’ personality, rarely allowing a problem that might be solved tomorrow to intrude upon the pleasures of today.

It doesn’t take long to walk to Loki’s building, gather up the deliveries from the concierge and make their way up to Loki’s condo. Drífa, runs to greet him as they enter, Ms. Crebs having dropped the cat off for Loki on her way home from work, but she took off again on seeing Thor. Dumping off all the packages in the guest room, Loki steers Thor back out to the living room and settles him on the couch.

Leaving Thor to try and make friends with Drifa, he goes over to the kitchen, coming back with a few minutes later with a steaming mug for each of them.

“Here Thor, you might like this,” he says handing him one of the mugs.

Looking up with a wan smile Thor accepted the mug; a puzzled look on his face as he sniffed the hot drink. “This is not coffee, what is this Loki?”

“Hot chocolate. Try it Thor, I think you’ll like it. I don’t drink coffee, it’s too bitter for me.”

Thor carefully sipped his chocolate, making a bemused, but not unappreciative face, before taking another sip. “Thank you brother, this is a good drink.”

Setting his own cup down on the side table, Loki leaned back. “All right Thor, what’s wrong with Sif, why are she and the others exiled?” he asked. He knew why they should have been, but that was then, and so why now? Curious.

“Mother, demanded it.” Thor said softly, shooting Loki questioning look, “Not long after you and Tony left. She said that they had committed high treason against a lawfully reigning King of Asgard. She had Ulfr research the case, he deemed her argument correct and as the head logmar he petitioned father in full court for justice.

“Really?” Loki didn’t bother to keep the surprise from his voice or expression. It had been many years since Frigga had opposed Odin’s will in public. Of course Ulfr was doing the deed, but many in the court would figure out where the determination to proceed had come from.

Thor was sitting across from him slumped and miserable. He was not one for solitary activities, in the past if he could not pry Loki from the library; he invariably spent his time with one or more of the fatuous four. While he had other friends of course, they were not deep relationships and Thor was frankly adrift emotionally when he was by himself. Not that it had never happened before, that the five of them were elsewhere leaving Thor on his own for a time, but it had never been for long. Also during those times Thor would spend time with his parents, something it might not be easy to do right now with discord in the house of Odin.

“Thor, I want you to know, I didn’t ask her to do it.” Loki said earnestly leaning forward. Thor’s countenance lighted a bit, as he looked at Loki and he essayed a small glad smile for a moment.

Loki’s his brow creased and his glance shifted to look unseeingly out the window for a moment, “and why now?” He asked, almost to himself.

“I was hoping you did not,” Thor admitted shamefaced, recalling his attention. “Although, I understand you would have been correct to do so. Ulfr’s petition detailed many actions that… cascaded… to Asgard’s detriment because of their disobedience to their… king.”

Loki looked at him sharply. He was desperately curious about Odin’s reaction to all this, but couldn’t force himself to ask, lest Thor think… Think what? He wasn’t even sure what he was thought about this turn of events. The only thing Loki did know was that he just couldn’t let himself care about the reactions of Odin or Asgard. Of course if Thor happened to mention it, he would of course… listen.

“But, Thor, the Bifrost isn’t working yet, so they can’t be exiled yet.”

“Until the bridge is repaired, they are forbidden the city and have been sent to four of our farthest out posts. They are barred from communicating, by any means with anyone but the post commanders.”

“Ah.” Well that certainly isn’t going to make Sif happy. “And what did Odin say when you begged him not to exile them?” he asked, watching Thor closely.

“He said..,” Thor started and then gave him a slightly ashamed look, “Actually, it was much what you told Sif when they asked you to pardon me. He said it was not for him to pardon actions deemed treasonous against another king.” He stared intently at Loki, asking hesitantly, “How did you know I asked him?”

“You would not be Thor if you hadn’t asked him,” Loki said almost gently. “I have no doubt that you even badgered Odin a time or two to release me from prison.” Thor dropped his eyes.

“Didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Thor said, hanging his head, voice thick with emotion. “Many, many times until he was sick of listening to me and roared at me that much of what happened was my fault also.”

Loki got up and sat beside Thor on the couch, leaning over to bump his shoulder against Thor’s to get his attention. “Thor, listen to me.” He put his own head down, looking sideways at Thor until he finally turned his head enough to meet Loki’s eyes. “I am sorry that I told you that Odin King was dead, it was wrong and cruel and done from spite, and I do most sincerely regret causing you that pain. I was not… thinking clearly.” Which was he admitted to himself something of a major understatement. “I wanted to hurt you because you still had a father. And I was jealous.” He looked away, staring at the rug on the floor. “You could say, insanely jealous, even.” The worst part, the thought bitterly, was he had been jealous over a father he’d never really even had. The Norns must have found that hysterical.

He looked back up at Thor, “I wish I had not visited my anger at another upon you, especially not when you were already in pain of your own.” He gave a low laugh, and flashed a sad grin, “I should have saved my own anger for those who deserved it.”

Brother, you are apologizing to me for words that you said, but not for sending the destroyer after me? Thor’s brows were furrowed, blue eyes confused as they sought out Loki’s green ones.

This time it was Loki who slumped hanging his head low, refusing to meet Thor’s eyes. “The words were a deliberate cruelty Thor, the other; the Destroyer was a… accidental misstep, so to speak. I wanted something to delay you all; I gave it orders to tear up the place and make sure you didn’t return, not to kill you,” He sighed. “That’s why it didn’t blast you with its furnace.”

Loki whispered almost to himself, “Mortals are so fragile. Much more so than I realized then.” He looked over meeting Thor’s trouble eyes. “I am sorry for what happened to you Thor, more sorry than I can say.”

“But Loki, what about Sif, and Fandral and all the mortals.”

“Truthfully, at the time, I cared little what happen to those traitors. And the mortals, I didn’t think of at all.” He smiled ruefully, “That’s how desperate I was to get enough time to solve the Jotun problem.”

Thor groaned and scrubbing his hands down his face. “But Loki,” he said dolefully looking over at his brother. “They were your friends. How could you treat them such?”

Loki’s posture grew rigid; anger, hurt, bitterness roiled up inside of him, his expression grew grim. “No Thor,” he said painfully. Anguish flitted across his features and then was replaced by an expressionless mask. He turned to look at Thor, who had been watching him closely. “They were never my friends. They only ever tolerated me for your sake.”

Thor opened his mouth as if to argue, but then acknowledgment of this fact seemed to settle over him. His face crumpled a bit as he threw his arm around Loki’s stiff shoulders, pulling him over towards him. “You were not only my brother,” Thor said in a husky voice. “But also my first and truest friend. I thank the norns that I have you.”

They didn’t speak again until it was time to go to sleep.

O 000 O

After the emotional evening with Thor and the troubled sleep that followed, Loki needed some quiet mundane activity to settle himself the next morning.

So he made sure he had breakfast ready before he woke Thor. After warning the boxer clad Thor that Drífa didn’t need more bacon, he ducked into the guest room to pack Thor’s suitcase and load up his new wallet with the fake, but very passable id, making a mental note to travel very soon to Iceland and slip the Thor’s information into their system and get him real, officially issued id. He also added the new credit card, large amount of cash and most importantly emergency contact numbers for everyone he could think of.

The room was of course a wreck, how Thor could mess up an entire room while sleeping was a mystery that had always bothered him. He retrieved Thor’s armor and boots from the ether and stuck them in the closet with the loafers he had worn yesterday, hung up the sports coat and bundled all the dirty clothes, including the Asgard outfit in a laundry bag so he could have the cleaners pick them up from the concierge to be laundered and pressed. Stark had more than once emailed him the warning signs of OCD. While he would deny he had OCD until Stark’s dying day, he did admit that he absolutely could not abide a mess. Especially not in his own house, even if it meant picking up after his slob of a brother. Thralls. Where were they when you needed them he wondered?

O 000 O
“Thor!” He practically shouted as he exited his back hall, “What part of no more bacon for the cat confused you? It was not a complicated concept; even you should have understood it.” He demanded coming over to the table and sitting down to pick through the few scraps that hadn’t been eaten by the large blond stomach or the small furry one.

“It’s not funny,” he groused half-heartedly as Thor grinned and chewed the large wedge of a pancake he had in his mouth.

“This little one likes bacon brother,” Thor said thickly, around the pancake, pointing his empty fork at a Drífa, who was mewing and snaking around his ankle. “She is relentless in her demands.”

“The All Powerful Thor is not strong enough to withstand a small cat?” He asked scathingly. “A four pound kitten was able to force you to feed her? Oh how the mighty have fallen that this should be so!” Thor snickered and took a large drink of juice.

Loki took a few pieces of toast and grabbed the last two pieces of bacon just as Thor was reaching for them. He ignored the fake stricken look Thor threw his way. Anyone who shoveled that many pancakes on their plate and finished off all the scrambled eggs could survive without the last of the bacon.

Thor laughed as Loki carried his plate with him and set it on the counter while he made himself a cup of hot chocolate. Thor was not above plate pilfering like a six year old, especially when he wanted to tease him. “You’re a jerk, do you know that?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I know, Tony tells me that all the time.” Thor said eyes twinkling as he raised his orange juice in a mock toast.

Well at least the morning had brought him a Thor in a happier frame of mind, although it would be nice if it wore more clothes at the breakfast table.

Eventually, breakfast was finished, the suit and blazer were delivered, everyone had showered, the packing was completed and Loki had convinced Thor that ‘yes he had to wear a neck tie with a suit, and yes he would tie it for him’. A small complaint of ‘Tony doesn’t’ was answered with ‘Stark is a slob’ and that was the end of that.

Drífa was so full of bacon that she fell asleep the minute she was put in her carrier.

Thor was looking around him in wonder at the chaos that was the LaGuardia Airport, he had his overnight bag slung over his left shoulder and was carrying his larger case, it was so light he saw no sense in using the attached wheels to pull it… even if almost everyone else was pulling rather than carrying their suitcases.

Loki had Drífa’s carry case over his own shoulder while he checked his text messages. He had told him that after Thor was on the plane he was going to take the kitten to work with him. Thor hadn’t noticed her in Starks lab yesterday, although Loki assured him that she had been there. Nor did he see any pets at the places they had shopped and this morning he had not seen any on their way to the airport. So perhaps this was a Loki rather than a Midgard habit. It certainly would not be the first time his brother had decided to make his own rules about something.

As they moved further into the airport, past the throngs of hurrying mortals, Thor’s good mood and sense of wonder began to evaporate and a slightly apprehensive mood was growing within him. He stopped several times looking at all the signs and occasionally trying to study the big Destination/Arrival boards hanging on the walls. Thanks to his clever brother he could read and understand the signs, but he still was uncertain how they pertained to him and his destination.

Thor tried to keep his tone light, but a note of worry crept into his voice despite his best attempt. “Loki, I do not see New Mexico listed on this light sign, how will we know where to go?” Loki looked up from his phone and flashed him a brief, if reassuring smile.

“The signs list the names of the cities you are flying to Thor, not the state; each state can have several airports. Doctor Foster lives in Puerto Antigua, it’s too small to have an airport, so you will be flying into a city called Santa Fe, it’s about two hours away from the airport.” He tugged Thor over to another set of the lighted signs, “You have to make sure the name at the top of the information board matches the one on your ticket. You are flying American Airlines so your destination is written on this board with this name on top only.

While he is relieved that he can find Santa Fe on this board, he is still not sure how this helps them know where they need to go, especially when Loki states talking about gates and terminals and pointing out where he sees them on the sign. Thor hopes it will make sense to him soon, but he is glad that Loki is so confident and knows what to do. Tony said something which didn’t seem to make sense to him, but it was apparently important, so he decides to ask. “Brother, I am taking a non-stop plane?”

“Unfortunately no.” Loki’s phone chimes, but he just glances at it, and then looks back to Thor, “No airline flies from New York to Santa Fe non-stop. You have a two hour layover and a plane change in Dallas, Texas.”

“Dallas?” Thor asks, the tightness in this throat making it hard to sound unconcerned.

“Yes Thor, Dallas, a large city with an airport much like this one that is about fifteen hundred miles from here,” Loki informed him in a very deadpan voice.

Hearing this, the blood ran from Thor’s face. He stared at Loki, alarm blooming in his chest and wondered how he was going to manage to find his way in this ‘Dallas’, when he was so dependent on his brother to keep him from being lost here. A loud peal of laughter rang out from Loki and an expression of delight danced in his eyes as he, the mightily Thor, stood there on the verge of a panic attack.

“Oh I am sorry Thor, but honestly you should see your face. Let’s go,” he grinned, pushing Thor back out into the walk way and further into the cavernous building. “Trust me, you will be fine, I promise you will make it to Doctor Foster’s without getting lost.” They walked for several more minutes until they came to a long line of people waiting to go through several small guarded metal doorways. “This is as far as I can go with you,” Loki informed him. “Only people actually getting on the planes are allowed to past here.” Thor’s head snapped sideways as he stared at his brother in alarm.

“The plane is through that door?” he asked, slowly.

“Well yes, dozens of planes are through that door, yours is at gate twenty-three.” Loki said cheerfully, giving Thor a knowing look.

“Loki,” he whispered hoarsely, “can you not do an invisibility spell and pass through with me? Truly brother, I don’t want to get lost on my way to Jane’s.” He had faced down monsters and enemy hordes without fear, but Midgard is strange and he really didn’t want to get lost, or make a fool of himself in front of strangers. Loki doesn’t count; he has many times been made the fool while in his brothers company. “Please, brother.” He stared at Loki, willing him to help him, but Loki just stood there with a tight smile on his face and eyes glittering with mischief.

“Lucas! Lucas!” A familiar voice called out, Thor was surprised to see his brother turn and almost get knocked over by a dark haired girl throwing herself in his arms. Darcy! Relief and laughter bubbled up in his throat and he dropped his suitcase to clasp her and Loki in one huge hug.

“Thor!” she squeaked.

“Darcy Lewis!” he roared.

“Yes, yes, alright you two, let go! You’re going to upset Drífa!” Loki grumbled as he untangled himself from them, but his lips were curled up at the ends, so Thor knew he wasn’t truly upset. “Ms. Lewis, I trust you had a good flight here?” He asked, motioning Thor to pick up his suitcase so they could move a few feet closer to the door.

“Wonderful, I love first class! Is this your cat? Coulson told me about her.” Darcy bent over to peer in the carrier. “She’s adorable.”

“She is,” he agreed. “Thor, Ms. Lewis is going to travel with you to New Mexico, and when you return she will come back with you.” Loki looked questioningly at Darcy, “Correct?”

“Yeah, sure. No problem.” She agreed happily, bouncing over and hugging Thor’s arm. “We’re travel buddies alright. First class travel buddies at that.”

A wave of relief washed over Thor, Loki wasn’t going to abandon him in this strange place without a guide. But, he had to admit, it was just his brother to let him feel desperate and foolish about something he hadn’t even originally considered would be a problem, while knowing all the while that the problem had already solved.

“Good,” Loki started pulling papers out of his inner jacket pocket. “Thor has his passport and license, don’t let him drive please, here are your tickets, along with a bunch of emergency contact numbers” he handed Darcy a few sheets of paper, which she looked at and then started squealing. “They are only to be used in an emergency, a real emergency, do you understand?” he said in a stern voice, while ducking down and looking directly in her face.

“Thor look,” she said excitedly, ignoring him. “We have Iron Man’s private cell phone number. How cool is that?”

“Emergency only Ms. Lewis.” Loki repeated in a resigned voice, but Thor didn’t think Darcy was paying any attention to him at all.

“Yeah, right, whatever.” She agreed without taking her eyes from the paper. “This is excellent!”

“He is a fine man and a good friend,” Thor told her, amused at the way she was bouncing and waving the paper around.

“Speaking of cell phones Ms. Lewis.” Loki handed her an envelope, “Would you be so good as to get Thor a cell phone while he is visiting with you and show him how to use it? There should be enough in there to prepay for several months, have them use my address for the bills.”

“Sure, no problem.” She turned a calculating look on Thor and asked hesitantly, “Smart phone? Or something else?”

“I will leave the level of complexity for you and Thor to decide. Just text me the phone number when you get it.”

Thor watched his brother throw a pensive look up to the ceiling and drum his fingers lightly on the strap of the cat carrier.

“Ah.” Loki said at last looking at Darcy, “Ms. Lewis, did you decide if you wanted your fee in cash, check, or money in your stock account?”

“Oh stock account for sure please,” Darcy grinned at Loki with such pleasure Thor was surprised.

“Very good, have a safe trip and call me when you get there.”

“We will,” Darcy told him as she again threw her arms around his waist and gave him a hug.

Thor had not seen anyone do that to Loki in a long time, well except for him and mother. He was amazed at how calmly Loki accepted it from Darcy, certainly better than when Thor hugged him.

As soon as Loki had unraveled Darcy, he caught him up in an even bigger hug. “Thank you brother,” he whispered in his ear while holding him tightly.

“Thor,” Loki hissed.

“Thor!” Loki struggled unsuccessfully to break his hold. “Stop it! Midgard men don’t act like this in public,” he hissed again, louder this time.

Thor just laughed, his recent relief making him happy. “I don’t care,” he told the encircled Loki teasingly. “I want to.” But when he did release his brother and smile at him, Loki rewarded him with one of his own crooked grins, and patted him on the arm as he stepped free.

“Travel safe then, I’ll see you when you come back,” Loki stepped away. “And Ms. Lewis please don’t let him do anything stupid.” he admonished.

“My best to the Doctors if you please,” he said as he turned away.

Thor watched his brother walk back the way they had come, when he reached the corner, he turned and waved to Thor before disappearing around the bend.

He turned back to Darcy as she tugged on him to move forward, happily listening to her babble about how cool his brother was and the stock account he started for and how great it was to travel first class and how Jane couldn’t wait for Thor to get there and how Erik was so wrong about Loki and how she had a bunch of new vids on her iPhone to show him and…..

It was, Thor thought contentedly, going to be a wonderful trip.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20 - Coulson

“Agent Coulson, to what do I owe the honor?” Loki asked as he looked up from the spec files he was reviewing.

“Where’s Stark?” Coulson asked looking around the lab. He snagged a stool and sat across the work bench from Loki.

“I think he and Ms. Potts are on a short trip of some sort.” Loki drawled, “Some tedious business and then some personal relaxing I believe. How is it that S.H.E.I.L.D doesn’t know this?”

Coulson smiled and said pleasantly. “We do, we just like to check every now and then to make sure what we know is actually correct.”

“Ah. How very wise of you,” Loki went back to his file, until he realized that Coulson made no move to leave and was still sitting there watching him. He looked up, a crease between his brows. “What is it you want Agent Coulson?”

“My scroll please. Clara Fogal, moved into her new place this morning and she has a pending sales contract on the old place. My favor is done; I want my scroll if you don’t mind.”

Loki waving his hands materialized the scroll and handed it to him.

Coulson opened the scroll to make sure it was the one with his signature, let it spring back into a roll, and then nodded to Loki before tucking it away for later delivery to one of S.H.E.I.L.D ‘s labs.

“She is happy? Where is she moving to?” Loki asked.

Coulson had spent a lot of time thinking about his favor. Certain things did not add up. Why did the god of mischief even care if an old lady moved out of a decaying neighborhood? Part of this task had no doubt been due to remarks he had made when Loki was helping them look for Foster. But whatever the reason he had been surprised when Loki had handed him a sack of cash and told him part of it was for the old lady and part of it was for the Lewis kid and that he, Agent Coulson was in charge distributing it. So per distribution instructions, he found the Fogal woman a place to live that was both acceptable to her and in a neighborhood that he, Coulson, deemed safer for the elderly.

Clara Fogal was hard to convince to move, she’d lived in that house since she had first married, but Coulson had spent a career convincing people more stubborn than her to change their minds. After running one minor modification of the plan through Loki for his approval, to buy her a one story apartment in a building with at least two separate elevator shafts, rather her having to deal with a multi-story house and outside property to upkeep, Coulson and his assistants did indeed make short work of finding her an acceptable place to live.

He’d also had to start the Lewis girl a stock account with the $250,000 plus of the cash Loki had given him. He’d suspected then that he might have the answer to why that safe had been blown, with that sum and almost triple that for the Fogal women, all in used bills.

He watched Loki intently, interested to see how he would like the arrangement Coulson came up with.

“She is happy; she moved into a one bedroom, one and a half bath in your building on the fifth floor, some junior agents are helping her settle in even as we speak. The unit even has a small balcony that’s been outfitted with grass for her dog. She isn’t getting any younger after all.”

A bemused smile flitted across Loki’s face. “Really? Why there? Did you have enough money?”

Leaning back, Coulson smiled faintly. “Yes, your building. We figured it was easier for her to watch your cat the next time we need you if she can just come up the elevator instead of crossing three boroughs and having to drag Beau along.” He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes in humor, “You would be amazed how reasonable you can get an apartment when the previous owner has some skeletons in his closet he doesn’t want to let out. But, I think her stock account might want to start slipping her another fifteen hundred a month for taxes and condo fees.”

One of the junior agents currently helping Fogal, had been the one to take her to all the showings, the closing and help her pack. She was a very personable young lady who would make it her business to befriend Fogal. Besides he thought, even if they hadn’t been able to knock the price down with a little blackmail, he was sure S.H.E.I.L.D would have chipped in the difference, just to have the talkative old lady in a place where she would be able to better keep up with the comings and goings of her old border Lucas L. Laufey.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21 – Ulfr

 

Amazingly enough, Ulfr was glad to see Loki, inviting him into his office, telling Dagr that he was not to be disturbed and closing the heavy door firmly. After perhaps fifteen minutes of reminiscing, Loki asked Ulfr’s opinion on several matters. They discussed the items in abstract, but Ulfr was the head Logmar, he had been for much longer than Loki has even been alive and he suspects what Loki is considering.

“Your lady mother will not permit it,” he said flipping through some reference files he had pulled off the big self behind him. Without her approval you really have no chance of success.”

Loki smiles charmingly at him, and assures him that he will make sure to have the queen’s approval if he decides to pursue the matter further.

OoooO

Frigga was delighted to see Loki, Thor had already done his duty to her upon his return and had passed on the message that Loki would be visiting after he ran a small errand. After they had eaten breakfast in her rooms, he gave her a small gold chased picture frame, with a candid picture that Stark had taken of Frigga and Loki sitting side by side, laughing over the picture album. Frigga smiled at his tale of how Stark had taken the pictures so sneakily for Ms. Potts.

She asked all about how he was doing on Midgard and how Thor’s visit went, but then Loki wanted to talk to her about Asgard.

“Mother Thor told me about Sif and the others being exiled for treason.” Loki took a turn around the sitting room, too keyed up to remain seated. “I appreciate it, but I wonder if it is the best thing for Thor?”

Frigga looked at him astonished, her brows furled in confusion. “But, they committed treason, against you my son. They deserve to be severely punished for that, you were punished for something that would never had happened if they had not disobeyed a direct order. Even Ulfr agreed.”

He dropped down on one knee in front of her, taking her hands. “Mother, I’m glad that they have been found guilty, and gladder still that you would pursue this for me when I could not. Personally I would not lift a finger to aid the faithless swine, but I think perhaps for Thor’s sake, we need to show them mercy,” he paused, willing her to agree, but not seeing any softening in her countenance. “A second chance, even as your grace allowed me a second chance,” he said earnestly.

Frigga leaned back in her chair, studying him closely. “Thor is an adult; he does not need companions who commit treason, rather he needs a brother who loves him, but will advise him wisely when he is… in need of guidance,” She paused. “If he can only have one in Asgard, I know which one I want him to have.”

“Why can’t he have both? Perhaps there is a way that they could be returned to him while still being punished.” He waved his hands and pulled out a metal vambrace, heavily chased with gold and silver. Amongst the decorative scroll work on the dark grey metal, it prominently displayed a silver filled silhouette of Mjolnir with small stylized gold silhouette of Loki’s helm in the center. “Exile lifted so long as they each wear one of these? An acknowledgement of their guilt and symbol of Thor arranging their pardon and my granting it? Ulfr says it is possible, but I will not promote this solution unless you agree to it.” Loki shrugged, “it may be a moot point, they may prefer exile, but at least I would have tried.”

 

In a way it was a shame to waste such fine pieces of armor on those bacraut’s, they were made with a new single-crystal titanium metal as their base, as light and strong as any mage crafted armor. The decorative work, while exquisite, was a rush job, done at great expense by the second best custom jeweler in New York, the best being too booked no matter how much he offered. He had irritably considered just enthralling the wretched craftsman, but Stark recommended that he just pass to the next name on the list. Truly Stark was too soft hearted sometimes. But second best or not, the design was different enough to attract a lot of attention and the craftsmanship striking enough to incite envy. He smiled wickedly to himself, the normal Æsir obsession of fine armor and jewelry would make sure everyone took notice.

Of course the vambraces also had the added bonus of being of entirely Midgard manufacturing, with no spells used in their crafting at all, which would save him from any accusations of attempting to slip in a malicious spell on the fatuous four. He personally thought Sif would cut off her right arm rather than wear it, but that was totally Sif’s decision to make. And if she did refuse… Loki’s inward smile was sharp and feral, well then he would of course be as broken hearted over that as Thor would be.

Frigga took the vambrace from him and examined it closely and then turned her gaze on him for an equally close study. “My little wisdom, are you sure? Their treason cost you much pain and misery, and I would not have you forgo your vengeance solely for your brother’s sake.”

“Yes mother I am sure,” he said smiling gently at her, “Thor suffered much at my hands during my madness, don’t you think he deserves this weregild from me.”

Frigga sat lost in thought for several minutes, then looked at him and said, “I am inclined to allow it, with certain conditions, if you indeed are set upon this, but they must beg your pardon. I insist upon that at the very least.”

Yes and wouldn’t that be fun Loki thought. For the first second or two until I killed them in front of Thor. He smiled widely, and looked mischievously up at his mother. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he told her. Frigga looked mutinous, but before she could say anything he continued. “Mother, they are not allowed to talk to me, not one word. If they do I have sworn to stick a poison dagger in their throats. So having them beg my pardon might be counterproductive. And besides, I am not doing this for me; I am doing it for Thor. Let your conditions apply to their debt to him.”

Thor, informed of the proposal was so unabashedly grateful to Loki, that it was painful as well as discomfiting. Discomfiting, because he hated to see Thor tear up, painful because Thor would hug him hard enough to make his ribs creak. He never did get the idea that other people were not as strong as he was. Besides with Mother was present, he couldn’t even tell the big oaf to quit it.

Frigga bade Thor to go to each of the traitors with the offer and to bring back any that agreed. Ulfr was summoned and dispatched to prepare the documents that would be needed. Loki decided to completely eliminate any chances of running into Odin by staying in seclusion with his mother the remainder of the day. Frigga took Loki into her private garden while waiting for the others to return from their errands. Sitting at her feet while she ran her fingers through his hair gently, they talked of the past and she questioned Loki about his future plans. It had been many years since they had spent so long a time with just the two of them.

The garden’s torches had flared in the dusk and Old Ulfr had completed his documents and was waiting in a side chamber just off the garden by the time Thor returned.

Frigga had insisted that Loki manifest his most formal armor, complete with helm. She also made him lengthen his scepter into a staff and take her chair.

Loki just hoped Thor had not forgotten to remind them not to speak to him. Otherwise this was going to get very messy for all concerned. Thinking on it, Thor, being Thor, he manifested one of his more ornate throwing knifes and held it openly on his lap to jog their memories. Mother noticed the movement and smiled at him with grim approval.

She was standing regally beside him when she allowed Thor to bring Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun and Ulfr into his presence. Ulfr stood off to one side; Thor came and mirrored Mother on Loki’s left. Loki lifted his chin and gave the traitors a challenging stare as they drew up in a ragged line a few feet before him. They shifted uncertainly for a few moments before a high powered glare from, not Mother, but rather Frigga, Queen of Asgard, put them all down on one knee, eyes lowered. Sif of course with a glare of her own at Loki was the last to kneel.

After letting them kneel, eyes downcast for several minutes, Mother spoke, “You have all been convicted of treason against Loki of Asgard while he was your duly appointed king and sentenced to permanent exile for your transgressions. Thor, Prince of Asgard has petitioned his brother to show mercy upon you, little though you deserve it. For the love he bears his brother, Loki has granted you a second chance upon conditions that he allowed me to set.”

She paused, catching their eyes and then looking at Loki. He nodded for her to continue.

“You will never appear in public without the vambraces you will be given clearly visible, to do so will forfeit this pardon and reactive your immediate exile. You will never again disobey a duly appointed King of Asgard on pain of instant death. You are henceforth barred from the high table unless specifically invited by the King of Asgard or myself. This pardon does not negate the previous instructions or penalties communicated to you concerning what will happen if ever you speak to Loki of Asgard again.

Additionally while this is not a formal condition, if ever I hear of you disparaging Loki of Asgard in any way, I, Frigga, Queen of Asgard will have your vambrace stripped from your arm and you will never be allowed back in Asgard again. There will be no third chance.

If you understand and accept these conditions, you may stand and approach silently, to receive your vambrace from your princes, otherwise you are bid to go stand by the garden entrance until Thor can arrange transportation back to exile.

Volstagg was the first to stand, he approached Loki, but when Loki gestured towards Thor with the dagger, he started, eyes very wide, blood leaving his face in a hurry. Volstagg, recovered when he made no further moves and went to stand in front of Thor as indicated. In hindsight Loki supposed he should have let go of the dagger before pointing, as Volstagg wasn’t the only one of the traitors who flinched. He did end up slipping the dagger in a sheath underneath his own vambrace so he could free up both hands. He materialized the largest of the four vambraces and handed it to Thor.

Thor stood, face implacable as his eyes flicked from Volstagg’s face to the floor, waited until Volstagg dropped to one knee before continuing. His hands roughly removed the right vambrace Volstagg was already wearing, dropping it unceremoniously, before strapping the new one on. Keeping his eyes low, Volstagg murmured thanks and upon receiving a dismissive nod, he retrieved his discarded amour and backed away to kneel with the others.

Fandral and Hogun received their vambraces and retreated much the same way as Volstagg. Sif, kneeling to the left of her companions however was a different story. Loki watched her carefully, her brows were lowered and she was glowering at him, not really caring who noticed. Loki deliberately pulled his dagger back out and rested that hand on his knee, she followed the move and then stared insolently at him. Narrowing his own eyes he considered her. While Thor would be upset, he had no intention of ever again bandying words with Sif. He would kill her if she pushed any further, so perhaps he needed to get this over with now.

Loki leaned over, glancing up towards his brother “Thor?”

“Sif,” Thor said wearily, “Do you accept these conditions or will you be going back to exile?” Her eyes, still defiant, shifted over to him. He continued impatiently, “You have one minute more to decide before the offer is permanently withdrawn. You are the oldest of my friends, but this behavior ill becomes you. You agreed to the conditions before you arrived, there is no sense in acting aggrieved and affronted. I don’t wish to be party to your disrespectful behavior. Make your decision now, come stand before me and accept this grace my brother has allowed me to give to you, or we will leave immediately to return you to the barren lands.”

Sif lowered her eyes, her expression smoothed to a blank mask as she came over and knelt before Thor, sullenly holding out her right arm. Loki, watching her, could tell the exact instant she noticed his insignia on her vambrace. Her back stiffened and she jerked like she was going to pull away.

Ah, sometimes it was the little things that made life worth living.

“Sif,” Thor said warningly, pausing to see what she would do. When she stilled, he finished fastening the vambrace to her and waved her back into line with the others.

Thor and Mother both turned to look at him. Sighing inwardly he rose, standing imperiously he addressed ‘the four’. “It’s done; you may take your leave of the Queen and Prince Thor. I do not require, nor do I advise any of you taking your leave of me.” He waved the old Logmar to move forward, “Ulfr here will escort you to the various guard commanders and make sure they have copies of your pardon and the conditions thereof.” He debated sitting down again, but he was sick to his heart of all this mummery. He leaned over and kissed his mother’s cheek, nodded to Thor and then stepped forward. The Four, hastily made a path for him and he walked through them and left the garden.

How pathetic was his life he wondered, when he desperately craved nothing more than to return to Midgard. A realm where everyone he knew would be dead in little more than fifty years, practically a blink of an eye. But he couldn’t stay in Asgard any longer; almost everything about it sickened him. Before any of them could follow him, he was on the secret paths headed home.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22 - Barton

Loki had just stepped through the door and was getting ready to put down Drífa’s carrier when he knew he wasn’t alone. He tucked the carrier beside the hall credenza, and straightened slowly. Casting an illusion, he concealed himself and ghosted along the wall, while his illusion delayed in the hallway, talking off and hanging up an over coat. As soon as he was in the living room, he moved to one side and flattened himself against the wall, releasing the illusion to walk into the living room and sit down on the couch, throwing mail on the table beside it. The illusion lay it head back on the couch and closed its eyes.

Searching the room, he noticed Agent Barton partial concealed in the shadowed back hall, with an arrow pointed at the couch. “Agent Barton, to what do I owe the honor?” Illusion Loki asked without opening its eyes.

Barton stepped silently down the hall, arrow still trained on the illusion, stopping when he was only a few feet from the couch. “This is a high explosive round, if you as much as move, I will blow this whole place up. Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” said the decoy on the couch placidly without opening his eyes. “Is this an attempt to murder me?”
“Maybe. Depends on how our talk goes.”

“I don’t threaten.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard you say that before, but guess what, I don’t bluff” Barton said.

Loki appeared beside him, ripped the arrow and bow out of his hands and vanished them into his ether. Barton instinctively pushed a contact on his gauntlet, realizing belatedly the arrow was gone. Not thrown somewhere out of reach, but actually gone.

The illusion on the couch disappeared and the only thing Barton could see was an arm swinging before he was backhanded with the force of a sledge hammer to knock over a living room chair and land several feet away. Loki leapt; closing the distance he grabbed Barton by his throat and lifted him up until his feet weren’t touching the ground.

Barton grabbed ineffectively at the hand holding him, as Loki started to squeeze.

“Who sent you here Barton?” Loki demanded, shaking him like a ragdoll.

“No one,” he gasped, “Listen, I have to talk to you. Important.”

“And why should I listen to anything you deem important, you threatened me with an explosive arrow. You could have damaged my home.”

“You have to…” Barton’s face was darkening, “listen.”

Loki was furious, this place may be a hovel, but it was his home the only one he could rightly claim, how dare Barton try to damage what little security Loki had. It wouldn’t take much longer for Barton to suffocate, less if he squeezed a little. The thought of killing Barton brought him more pleasure than it should, far more than Doctor Crane would care for. As that thought flitted past him, Loki decided perhaps he should not stress the good doctor’s tolerance, perhaps he should at least listen to Barton first, and then perhaps later, if he decided to, he could kill Barton for illegal entry with a weapon. Legally even, Castle Doctrine was a wonderful thing and would most likely even appease Doctor Crane.

“So speak,” he demanded, dropping Barton to the floor. Unable to catch his balance, Barton fell gasping, he scrabbled around on the floor for a moment and then bounced up with a gun in his hands. Well briefly in his hands, before a highly polished very expensive shoe shot up, faster than Barton could follow, kicking the gun out of his hand. The gun flew across the living room knocking a small picture off the wall to fall in a shower of glass and broken wood.

“Sit,” Loki rasped pointing to the floor

“Damn you,” Barton yelled, recovering his balance and shaking his hand. “I can’t afford a broken hand!”

“No Barton what you can’t afford is anger me one bit more than you already have. Your death is very close.” Barton glared at him, baring his teeth but doesn’t move.

“Sit now!” Loki commanded, rage flashing in his furious green eyes, “Or I will kill you right this minute.”

Barton expressions skip across his face very fast; he sees his possible future, decides he doesn’t like it and drops to the carpet.”

Loki kicked him lightly in the side, but apparently hard enough to send Barton sprawling. “Legs crossed, hands behind you head. Now!”

He watched as Barton, favoring his right hand, pushed off the floor and sat as directed. Even though he kept his head down, he watched Loki, not moving anything but his eyes.

Strange. This is very un-Barton like behavior.

“What is it you want to tell me before I kill you Barton?” Loki demanded, sitting on the chair that hadn’t been knocked over. He wondered where Romanoff was, normally they ran in a pack, was she off somewhere on another assignment?

“I don’t want to tell you anything before you kill me you asshole. I don’t have time to be killed right now, I just want to talk to you.”

Loki laughed, giving Barton a wide smile, all teeth and, no real humor. Agent Barton, the only reason you aren’t dead right now, is that your blood would stain my carpet.”

Barton’s lip curled. “Is it?” He retorted, “Or is it the past year and a half you’ve spent having breakfast with a shrink five days a week.” He snorted, but still didn’t move, “How go the afternoon group therapy sessions with Stark? You guys working out your daddy issues?”

Loki’s whole body stiffened in anger, his face a blank mask, only his breathing betraying him by the flare of his nostrils as he tried to get it under control. Slowly and deliberately, he moved his hands and manifested his scepter; smiling grimly as the blood ran from Barton’s face, leaving him pale, beads of sweat springing up at his temples.

“You,” Loki told Barton, menace curling around every word and movement as he reached out slowly to hold the scepter about four inches from Barton’s heart. “Are moments away from telling me anything I want know, doing anything I want and being glad to do it, simply because I ask. If you anger me one whit more, I will assure that it will be your greatest pleasure to obey me in all things.”

Barton eyes widened, terror visible within them and he leaned back as much as he could without really moving.

A soft silky voice, drenched in dark menace flows from Loki, “Now Agent Barton, why are you here? You have two minutes to make me understand or I will take steps to insure that you are either dead or that you never have a secret from me ever again.” Loki tilted his head slightly, leaned forward, bringing the staff another few inches closer and asked, “Who sent you here?”

“No one, I’m here because you owe me and I need to collect.” Barton spat.

What? Loki was so surprised; he felt his anger draining away. He studied Barton, trying to think of what possible reality the man could be looking at, that he actually thought Loki owed him. Barton looked and sounded serious, but still… what kind of con was this? He sat back and looking at Barton, the man had obviously lost his mind, not that he had much of one to start with, but still…. It didn’t make sense. He is in my house, he damaged my property, he is the reason Drífa is having a fit in her carrier and now he is sitting there staring at me like I owe him something… how presumptuous. A tiny wisp of anger returned, “Explain. Now. Your time is running out.”

“Natasha is missing. We were working and got separated and she never called in. You owe me and I need you to find her.”

“Enough!” Loki hissed, low and menacing. “How exactly do you figure I owe you? If Agent Romanoff is missing that is S.H.E.I.L.D’s problem not mine.”

“She wasn’t on an assignment for them,” He explained his voice precise as ever his movements were, but with the slightest hint of desperation. “They can’t know she went on an unauthorized mission after our last assignment, if she doesn’t report in soon she be labeled a rogue agent.” Then both his expression and his voice hardened, “And you owe me for that mind fuck you placed on me when you first ported into town you bastard, and I want to collect right now.”

“Says the man sitting on my floor with his hands behind his head,” Loki retorted. What did he actually owe Barton? It’s not like he wasn’t equally compelled to act, therefore why should the blame land at his door? “If you weren’t held responsible for your actions while thralled, why should I be?”

Barton’s lip curled, “So you’re saying that you and I are exactly the same?”

“No, not really.” The deadly smooth silky voice was back, “Unlike you Agent Barton, it took several months of extreme torture by the Chitauri leader, before the strength of my mind could be worn down enough to, as you so charmingly put it, be mind fucked.” His smile was sharp and bitter, cold biting frost etching every syllable, “I assure you, everything I did to you, was like a gentle caress from a mother to her child in comparison. You have no complaint.”

‘You have no complaint’ was uttered with the finality of the end of the universe; Barton slumped, closing his eyes in pain. Hummm. Very, very un-Barton like.

Loki watched for several minutes as Barton just sat there unmoving. Surely he must be losing him mind. While he had enjoyed, up until the last moment of course, his last encounter with Agent Romanoff, he really had no vested interest in her continued survival, certainly not like Barton did. He sprawled back in his chair sighing.

“How desperate are you that you came to me for this?” Loki asked almost to himself. Wearily holding the staff upright beside him and rubbing his forehead with his other hand, he looked up. “Barton, just tell me what you want.”

“Tasha, I want Tasha back.” He swallowed heavily, then looking up at Loki with a haunted, again a very un-Barton like look he asked, “Please.”

O 000 O*

 

Find one damn dog and you end up being the go to guy for every lost stray. Honestly, Loki thought, I could just spit.

But at least Barton had a starting point for her and some very personal items. It took about two hours to make sure she was in the same general area he thought she might be. Ghosting up into the heights of the incomplete One World Trade Tower he was able to verify that yes Agent Romanoff was still in the area of Honduras and Guatemala, he really couldn’t tell from this distance, but at least it eliminated her being moved to another part of the world.

Apparently Romanoff had been in Panama on S.H.E.I.L.D business. Upon completion, she went off on a side job in Honduras, he wasn’t sure who exactly she was working on behalf of, but it was important to Romanoff, so he went along with being her safe contact. She’d been missing for four days, with Barton pulling every string he could, to find her and cover for her, at the same time. He had finally reached the stage where he was certain that it was past time to put his feet on the ground, but knew that he didn’t have time to waste trying to find new contacts.

Barton did however have time to steal… borrow rather, a QuinJet by hacking the maintenance logs. The QuinJet meant a faster flight in, a more discrete flight out and no need to worry about anyone, like S.H.E.I.L.D, someday checking Loki’s travel records and asking awkward questions. Barton of course had numerous fake id’s. He was in such a state of charity with Loki, that he told him he would hook him up with a few, just in case he ever needed them in the future. It was a long flight.

O 000 O

“So Agent Barton, how exactly did you find out about this little talent of mine?” Loki asked, sitting in the co-pilot seat and watching Barton’s every move.

“Selvig told me about the rescue you pulled off for them last year and then I checked with accounting.

Accounting? Loki’s head snapped around, his interest in the mechanics of flying the jet, arrested by this odd statement. “And that told you what?” he asked puzzled, but keeping it out of his voice and expression.

Barton kept watching his controls, but he smirked, “You would be amazed,” he said in a rueful voice. “Accounting shows a payment for Stark International referencing that date. A really big payment and several larger ones since that time, all referencing the same classified charge code.” He turned and eyed Loki speculatively, “So who all else have you pulled from the fire?”

“I’m afraid that is classified Agent Barton, you would have to ask Director Fury.” Loki said with a wry smile. Accounting leaks, what were the odds?

Barton quickly scanned his instruments and then gave him a narrow eyed look, “Any failures?”

The smile twisted into a self-satisfied smirk, “No, Agent Barton, no failures.”

“Good.”
O 000 O

After about thirty more minutes Barton broke the silence, “They broke into her house while she was sleeping and copied her notes.”

It took a second for him to gather his thoughts enough to realize what Barton was talking about. “Ah. Why?” Loki asked.

“Just keeping tabs on you and Stark I guess. They almost had a cow when they realized that none of them were on a computer or anything. They had to snap a pic of every page... I hear it took forever to get it all. Handwritten with personal short cuts, they had a team of shrinks working for weeks just deciphering it all so they could do the write up.” Barton shot him a sideways glance, “I also hear that Fury almost cracked a smile at your progress.”

Loki had really not caused anyone a single problem since that ill-fated invasion, well except for those troglodytes who bothered Ms. Fogal. He was helping S.H.E.I.L.D from time to time, for hel’s sake his work was even making decent contributions to their Gross Domestic Product numbers, so why the continued surveillance? He would have to get with Stark so they could write a search program to find and eradicate all portions of the records and any reports that were made of them. And Doctor Crane’s notes… he frowned, he would have to fix that so only she could see the damn things.

“So…” Barton asked curiously, once again breaking into his chain of thought “Is Stark really slowing down with the booze?”

“Don’t you think you should ask him that,’ Loki snapped irritated. “Isn’t he supposed to be a friend of yours? Do you always sneak around asking other people about your friends?”

Barton chuffed, eyes crinkling as he looked out into the night. “Hellooo. Spy. It’s what I do.”

O 000 O

‘Spy. It’s what I do’, was pretty much the last laugh, so to speak, of the evening. Barton set them down on a deserted hill top so they could fine tune Romanoff’s location. It was a large estate which fortunately was in an unpopulated area, with several very nice fields to choose from to set down the Jet. Loki cast a very short cloaking spell to mask the sight and sound of their approach for a few minutes while Barton brought them down from a high altitude, at speed. It was dark, the jet was dark, so he just used an avoidance spell rather than try to keep something that big cloaked for an extended period of time. After all it was much better to use that energy to cloak the two of them as they traveled up to the estate and into the large house.

Fortunately, Loki and Doctor Crane had worked out several ways of dealing with having to thrall people for operations like this. The ground rules of which Barton had reluctantly agreed to since they were shorthanded for this kind of operation. Loki smiled sourly, of course the fact that they were having to use them at all, had been his first sticking point with Barton. But persuading the un-perusable was after all one of Loki’s gifts.

In the end, make sure they were safe, Loki thralled everyone in the compound but for two very suspicious guards, who refused to answer the call. Barton took them out. It wasn’t that hard, a thrall called the others and then they all called more. That way the thralled would not in danger of injury from the un-thralled and when it was over none of them could blame the others.

In the end it would have taken them much, much longer to have found, much less uncovered Romanoff without them. That she was still able to greet them at the door when the last shovel full of dirt was removed from the entrance to her underground containment area, was a testament to Romanoff physical and mental toughness. She was he thought, quite frankly, lucky to even be alive. He’d had to restrain Barton from killing several of the thralls that had been responsible for her injuries.

“Choose Agent Barton,” he hissed. “Do you want to take the time to wait until I release all these people, so you can fight your way to the few that deserve to die? Or do you want to get Agent Romanoff out of here before any more of their associates arrive?”

“Clint, leave it,” Romanoff ordered, speaking slowly through puffy bruises and torn skin. Not that Loki didn’t understand Barton’s anger, especially towards whoever had ordered the knife work on her face and body. “They had recordings; we need to destroy them before we leave.” She told him haltingly. “And then burn this place down.”

That was certainly fair enough he thought.

Barton stayed with her, getting her ready to travel, moving her and the thralls to the courtyard in front of the house. Loki took two of the techs and entirely trashed their files before heading to the top of the house and starting fires all the way down. The entire house was engulfed in flames as they ran through the main receiving hall, heading to the front door.

Gunshots rang out, bracketing Loki as he and his team exited the large double doors. He made it, they were dropped just inside the building.

“Are you insane?” Loki screamed at Romanoff, skidding to a halt at the top short set of steps leading to the courtyard. “I came here to rescue you, you ungrateful quim!”

Defiance was clear in every line of her broken body, Romanoff’s eyes determined over her ruined face as two guns pointed stiffly at him.

“You can’t kill me with those,” he snarled at her not taking his eyes off hers as he walked down the first step.

“Loki, leave her alone,” Barton begged from somewhere to the left. “She wasn’t aiming at you.”

His lips pulled back in a savage snarl. “She most certainly is,” he growled, flicking his eyes to find Barton’s position so he could plan his attack. He did find Barton, standing by a car with its door open, He had his bow ready, pointing it at Loki.

“I’m sorry,” Barton said in a voice so soft it was almost too low to hear in the quiet courtyard.

Wait. Quiet courtyard? Loki dropped his eyes, he had seen them of course, but since they were not the threat, the bodies with their slit throats had not even registered. Blood pooled thick on the cobble stones, and now that he looked, he saw that Romanoff’s right arm was drenched, dripping with red.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23 – Loki

“It wasn’t part of our deal and I’m not really disposed to do either of you any favors right now” Loki snarled at Barton as the Quinjet flew into the night.

With no small degree of vicious satisfaction Loki continued, “And besides a healing would hurt as much if not more than the original injuries.”

“Why? It didn’t hurt the Lewis girl, why would it hurt Tasha?” Barton challenged.

“Mark my words Agent Barton; battlefield healings are very painful. And due to recent events, I would be totally unwilling to waste my time or my energy to make it less painful for Agent Romanoff, keeping this incident a secret from S.H.E.I.L.D and letting her live is the extent of my compassion for her.

Barton glared at him and Loki growled savagely, “Don’t push me Agent Barton; you’re lucky I didn’t just leave you both back there with the other bodies.”

“I know,” Barton said angrily. “But I couldn’t stop her; she still had to take out her target.” He looked away, “And the ones who mutilated her… the rest were to make sure there were no witnesses to link either of us. She wouldn’t have felt safe leaving any behind.”

Staring into the night, Loki was absolutely livid. All that he had tried to do to minimize injuries to the thralls, had only made it easier for that fucking bitch to kill them. He inhaled deeply, trying to push down his absolute rage, trying to maintain his control. But this, this was too much. He snapped his head to the left, glaring at Barton.

“Thank your gods I took better care of you when I had you thralled,” He hissed, molten anger causing sparks to flicker in his green eyes.

Barton flinched back, his own anger evaporating.

“No… thank you,” Barton said quietly, before wrenching away from those ferocious green eyes, getting up check on Romanoff.

Loki sat here, looking out the cockpit window, trying not to think, trying breathe, trying to get his temper back under control. Fucking mortals. Sometimes he despaired that he was stuck in the same realm with them. His hands alternated between random strikes the arms of his seat to gripping those arms so tight the plastic cracked. Although truth be told, the seat arms were not what he wanted to wrap his hands around and squeeze.

So ‘this’ is progress he thought bitterly.

It had been more than two hours he had sat there furious, when Barton came back and slid in to the pilot’s seat beside him, Romanoff wobbled a bit and then stood behind Barton, holding tightly to his seat for support.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly looking at him.

He refused to turn to face her; he watched her dark reflection in the cockpit window. “Do you mourn?” he asked scornfully.

“No,” her hand made a shaky wave in the air, as if brushing off the events of a few hours ago. “It’s not Clint’s fault, he couldn’t stop me you know.”

He refused to face her directly, “Agent Romanoff please, in your present condition a six year old with a broom stick could stop you. It wasn’t that he couldn’t stop you; he chose not to stop you. Let us be honest here.”

“Let’s talk about honesty,” she shot back. “I’ve heard about Jotunheim you know,” Romanoff swayed a little but continuing to stare at Loki’s profile.

“Do you know the difference between us Agent Romanoff?” he asked with a voice like dark silk, turning towards her, his lips thinned in bitter line that had curved up into a particularly nasty smile.

“No. What?”

“When I decided to try and kill the Jotuns, the main reason was to try and prevent another thousand years of war. Let us indeed be honest, you work for a mere payoff. A very noble sentiment indeed.”

Romanoff’s eyes widened and her face, what could be seen of it behind the bruises and cuts, drained of color.

He continued, his words hard and bitter cold, “You claimed your targets, you claimed your vengeance on those who tortured you, and then what were the rest? An indulgence to make you feel better?” She kept staring at him, refusing to look away. “Once I entered the picture, ‘your’ mission was over and it became a rescue mission, ‘my’ rescue mission. I told you both if you wanted to continue, I would have to release the thralls first, do you remember?”

Romanoff didn’t answer him, but Barton was shifting uneasily in the seat beside him.

He couldn’t kill her that was not part of the deal for redressing his trespass with Barton. So strangling her was out.

And then he smiled. It was a wide smile, all teeth and full of malice as a calculating look came into his eyes. Suddenly, he leapt towards her; Romanoff stumbled backwards uttering a few soft cries as her already injured limbs hit the deck of the jet. Loki jumped over her, reaching down to grab the back of her collar, dragging her, scrambling helplessly behind him as strode back towards the crew area.

“Hey!” Barton bounced up, catching Loki’s other arm as he lifted Romanoff by her collar and slammed her gasping onto a crew bench.

He snapped a sharp look at Barton. “Strap her in tight. Find something to secure her hands and feet to the bench.” Barton just looked at Loki, trying to decide if he should kill him or follow his insane orders.

“Or don’t. If she tries to shred her own skin from the pain, I certainly don’t care. You wanted a healing? You have two minutes to get her ready for one.” The lights made shadows of his features, accenting the sharp angles of Loki’s face, all light skin, dark hair, dangerously glitteringly green eyes and a malevolent wide smile.

Barton looked at Romanoff, who just sighed and shrugged her shoulders slightly as she tightened the seat straps around her torso. Barton ended up cutting up his t-shirt to put padding under the rough straps he cut from the other crew seats.

He still had a leg to secure, when Loki started whispering and tracing symbols in the air with flashes of blue flame which flickered and disappeared, Barton hurried to finish.

After only a few minutes the blue flames all reappeared, shivered in the air for a moment, and then arrowed towards Romanoff’s chest. It would not be incorrect to say she screamed, but it would not be a very accurate description the type and volume of sound that tore from her throat.

Loki’s mouth twisted into a one sided smile. Neither would it be very accurate to describe him as sorry that he had forgotten to gag her for Barton’s sake. Ah well, she would stop screaming in thirty minutes or so.


An hour and a half tops.

O 000 O

“Mister Laufey, Agent Romanoff is here to see you.” Jarvis announced several days later.

Tony, curiosity apparent on his face, wandered over from his work bench to prop a hip up against Loki’s desk before the elevator made it their floor. Loki lifted a brow at the invasion of his work area, but continued move things around on the blue print he was working on. He didn’t even look up with the elevator door binged.

A perfectly composed, smooth and unscarred Romanoff walked over to Loki’s desk. She stood there, waiting quietly until he finally looked up at her, raising an elegant brow in question.

“These are from Clint,” she handed him two passports, two credit cards and two drivers licenses, the names were unknown to him, but the pictures where needed, were Loki’s. After he had examined them and set them down, he looked at her again.

“I believe this is also yours,” she said, voice and face devoid of all emotion as she handed him a parchment scroll. “I’ve seen copies of the ones Coulson gave you, I just adapted the wording a bit.” She continued stiffly, “If it’s not to your liking, I can have it redone to suit you.”

Loki took it from her without comment and opened it; Tony craning was unable to sneak a quick look at the text, as Loki turned it away from him, before letting it reroll and drop on the desk.

“I am sorry,” she said quietly to Loki. “It won’t ever happen again.”

Loki stared at her. Natasha nodded once and turned to leave without waiting for any acknowledgement.

OoooO

Looking back, it had been a weird two plus years. Loki had made the one year mark, and Pepper had given him his stock options. Despite, or perhaps because of his frequent absences he was, after Tony, the biggest money maker at Stark Industries. When he wasn’t getting points for the contributions made to the stuff Tony was finalizing, he was earning Stark Industries some hellaciously high consultation fees, on a pretty regular basis from S.H.E.I.L.D.

The S.H.E.I.L.D. jobs were usually so short, and so lucrative that Pepper was pretty much resigned to the longer Asgard absences, which fortunately didn’t happen that often. In fact the only people who minded when Loki was gone were Drífa and Tony. Okay, okay, maybe the only PERSON was Tony, but the cat was bummed too.

It hadn’t seemed any different that last day, just a heads up from Jarvis, which had happened several times before.

“Mister Laufey, one of your birds has entered the building.” Jarvis informed them.

Loki looked up from the screen he was studying, frowning slightly.

“Hey man, Pepper and me got dibs on the cat this time.” Tony called, as he snuck up on the sleeping Drífa and popped her in her kennel. Drífa really didn’t like Loki’s birds and she was hard on the lab equipment when she was tearing around trying to chase them away.

“Thank you, Stark. I wonder what it is this time.”

“Well can’t be S.H.E.I.L.D. related, or it would be Fury and not the bird.”

It’s funny, Tony later thought, how sometimes you can be right, but also so wrong.

“Sir, Director Fury wants to speak to you immediately.” Jarvis intoned as Fury’s imagine appeared on one of the big screens.

“Stark.” Fury nodded, “I need to speak to Mister Laufey immediat... Oh, there you are.” So Fury didn’t want to talk to him, but rather Loki. Tony imagined how much it must chap the director to go through him or Pepper if he wanted to talk to Loki. Loki just flat refused to accept calls from him unless they were cleared by Pepper, or in the last year, Tony in her absence.

Loki looked puzzled as he walked into the camera’s range, “Hello Director, Jarvis tells me a message bird has just arrived from Asgard, does this involve S.H.E.I.L.D.?”

“Has it?” Fury looked thoughtful, “No, not S.H.E.I.L.D. directly, but Doctor Foster contacted me, she thinks that Thor or someone in Asgard is trying to contact her, she has received an unscheduled transmission, but the alignment isn’t right to receive it properly, she was only getting pieces of information, but she’s certain that your name, was repeated several times.”

“Odd.” Loki stood there pondering, until Jarvis opened the last set of Elevator doors and the dark red Blood Bird, looking like a Cardinal with a mohawk and a bad attitude circled the room before landing on Loki’s out stretched hand.

“Odder,” Loki said in a mystified tone peering at the small cylinder attached to the bird’s foot. “This is Thor’s hand, not my mothers.” He released the cylinder and tossed the bird up in the air, where it circled once before disintegrating in a trail of red smoke.

Tony tore his attention away from the vanishing bird, which was always so cool to watch and was stunned to see a stricken Loki stumbling backwards, clutching with his free hand for something to steady him.

“Geeze man? What wrong? Is someone sick or something?” Tony grabbed a chair and spun it around and shoved Loki into it.

Loki sat there, pale and shaking for a full minute, staring at the small message slip.

“My mother,” he choked, “The Dark Elves. They have my mother; they are threatening to kill her.” Tony just stared at him. The message falling unheeded from Loki’s hands dropped to the floor, rolling a short way away.

Fury cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable, “I am sorry to hear that, Mister Laufey,” he said in a low voice.

Tony was just stunned. The sick feeling he had felt when he had heard that his mother had been in that fatal car accident came rushing back. “Oh man. Loki... Dude...” Tony leaned heavily against a work bench, “She’s such a nice lady. Do you need any help?” he offered.

“I wasn’t there, I could have stopped them,” Loki was fighting for breath. Tony was just about to turn away, to let him cry in private, when Loki’s face twisted in pain, he doubled over clutching his hair, rocking back and forth.

The person who leapt to their feet a minute later, face contorted in hatred and screaming in pain was not the Lucas Loki Laufey that had been working for Stark International for the last two years. Gasping for air in between his incoherent screams, Loki’s armor, helm and all, exploded onto him faster than Tony had ever seen it appear before. Loki flung up his hand and his motorcycle, already running, was standing right beside him, covered in a heavy frost. His face tighten in a painful grimace as the scepter lashed out twice and two lab benches full of equipment disappeared in a shower of metal and flame. Tony managed to duck out of the way as Loki, already on the motorcycle roared down the newly opened, flame licked pathway. Just when he was sure Loki and the bike were going to pancake into the wall, a portal burst into existence, inhaled the enraged god and then snapped shut, leaving scorch marks and fiery green flickers dancing across the poured concrete wall.

Epilog

Three months after Loki had vanished from Tony’s lab, Mrs. Fogal cleaned and closed up Loki’s condo. Arrangements had been made by Pepper for the taxes and condo fees to be paid from Loki’s unpaid Stark International dividends. And Tony himself had already installed numerous locks, alarms and surveillance devices for Jarvis to monitor, paying particular attention to Loki’s library, which was untouched and intact despite S.H.E.I.L.D.’s desire to go through it.

The one thing Tony had removed from the condo, months earlier after the security installation, was Loki’s shimmering white blanket. It now covered a small couch at the end of Tony’s bed comforting Drífa at night, but sometimes, if a nightmare wakes Pepper, she joins Drífa there.

It has been several months with no word from either Loki or Thor. Though you would never get him to admit it, not even during his daily lunch with Doctor Nat, Drífa isn’t the only one who misses Loki.

Chapter Text

“Sir, I think you need to go down to the lab, something very strange has occurred that you need to see.”

Tony groaned and buried his face into the couch he was laying on. While he was not exactly drunk, he was certainly not sober.

“Sir?”

Somewhere, there was a computer more annoying than Jarvis. The engineer didn’t know where, but he was sure it existed; he imagined it had Windows 8 as its operating system. Tony groaned, rubbing his face against the textured upholstery of the cushion because reaching up to scratch his nose was just too much trouble right now. His eyes fluttered a moment, in a truly praise worthy if unsuccessful attempt to open them.

“Sir?”

“Jarvis,” he moaned trying to burrow into the gap between the cushions and the back of the sofa, “I swear if you don’t shut up I am going to melt down your circuit boards for their precious metals.”

“Yes sir, which will add approximately forty-five dollars to your net wealth. Would you like for me to schedule a pickup with a recycling company?” the AI asked.

Tony picked up a throw pillow from the floor beside the couch and covered his face with it.

“Getting back to my original message sir, I believe there is a phenomena in the lab that may be the work of Mister Laufey.”

Tony spun around so fast in preparation to sit-up, that the throw pillow he had been holding flew across the room knocking a small lamp off a side table as he fell off the couch and onto the floor.

“Ow!”

“Damn it Jarvis, we need to get softer flooring in here,” the engineer grumbled as he scrambled onto his feet.

“Understood sir, I will immediately start sourcing a softer yet resilient marble floor material.”

Tony waved disgustedly, as if to bat away the ridiculousness of his demand for softer stone flooring.

Looking around eagerly as he entered his lab Tony didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. While he was sure that Jarvis would have mentioned Loki’s actual return, he couldn’t immediately see what the god might have done.

“If you would look behind you sir.”

He turned and looked at the concrete security wall encasing the elevator shaft. In the middle of the wall that backed up to the elevator shaft, just below eye level there was a small opening that hadn’t been there yesterday. “Okay, this is interesting,” Tony told Jarvis as he hurried over to examine what appeared to be an opening about as big as a sheet of paper.

The opening, which was about eight inches deep, held three things, one of which was addressed to him. The first was a folded heavy weight parchment like paper with his name in an ornate, swirling script and a gold looking seal of some sort on the backside holding it closed. The second was a small square carved box, with a hinged lid that was also sealed shut, a matching gold seal centered over the front seam and last was a computer flash drive, 64 gb it said on the side.

Tony examined the design sealing the box shut noting that it was indeed most likely something from the trickster god. He doubted that anyone else in Asgard had a silhouette of Loki’s helm encircled by a snake looking creature as their emblem. Impatiently he tried to open the box, but the seal, which appeared to be gold wax wouldn’t budge. Running his thumbnail across it not only didn’t slice it open, it didn’t even dent the substance.

Of course not Tony thought. Anything having to do with the dark god simply could not be that easy. Unable to open the box without tools of some sort Tony deposited it and the flash drive on his work bench, plopped down into a station chair and decided to see if he could open up the letter without ripping it. He wanted to open the box… right now as a matter of fact, but figured he should read the letter first in case there was some trick to opening it. Of course he HAD tools that would open it if he wanted to go the brute force route, but he was loathe to risk damaging the delicate carvings unless he absolutely had to. Besides, Loki being Loki, the damn thing could be rigged against improper tampering.

Deciding to see if the seal on the letter would release Tony stoked his finger over it, wondering what it would take to open it. For a brief instant, while the seal was fully covered with his finger, Tony felt heat. Puzzled he lifted his hand and was surprised to see that the seal was now only stuck to the top flap and the parchment could be unfolded. Opening the letter, a quick glance at the signature on the bottom confirmed once and for all that it was from the missing god.

Stark,

If you are reading this, then I have been gone without contact for over a year. I assure you, I am not absent voluntarily, something or someone has prevented me from returning to Midgard.

My humblest apologies to both you and Ms. Potts.

I wrote this letter in the event that this might someday occur. I promise, if I am not dead, if I can return, I will return someday. However, I have no way of knowing when or if this might be possible. To that end, I have been compiling information on the threat posed to Midgard by the Mad Titan and the Chitauri and every scrap of information I have about them. Please study and distribute this intelligence as you see fit.

As I see it, you are one of the few people who might be able to protect Midgard from the attack which will most assuredly arrive one day. Due to the distances involved, I do not expect the Mad Titian and his legions to find their way to Midgard for many generations. You have the intelligence, contacts, political capital and funds to jump start the research, building and manufacturing that will be necessary to protect your realm from the Mad Titian. What you currently do not have is a long enough lifespan to complete that work. Inside the box, which will open once this letter had been read, is the time you need.

Eating the golden apple I have provided, will give you a greatly extended lifespan. Which to be honest will not be without its problems and draw backs as I am sure you can imagine. However it is necessary to have continuity if Midgard can ever hope to survive the coming war. Sadly, I only had one spare apple. If I return I will most assuredly procure one for Ms. Potts. If I am dead or missing, I have enclosed a letter for you to give Thor asking him to do this in memory of me. While bestowing these apples to mortals that have not been approved by the All Father, is technically illegal by Asgardian law, we both know neither one of us are really that big for following existing laws. We also both know that Thor is a sentimental fool who will do as I ask him, despite the law.

Discretion about the apple and its properties goes without saying of course. Even if it takes generations, I will return if I can.

My fondest regards and best wishes to you all,

Loki

 

~fini~

 

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Chapter Text

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How Desperate Are You - Charge!

 

The first place he took Thor was his bank. Handing Thor a plastic rectangle with his picture on it and small blue Ísland passport telling him to show it to the bank officer when she asked for his ID. Having called ahead on the way back from his session with Doctor Crane, everything was ready for them when they arrived at the credit department. With only minimal nudging from Loki, his brother visiting from Iceland, Thor, managed to produce his ID’s and sign in the proper places to get a credit card linked to Loki’s accounts.

He could tell that Thor was almost bursting with questions, so they thanked the nice bank lady and hustled Thor back outside before he could burst and began asking awkward questions.

“Brother, what is this?” Thor demanded, brandishing the brightly colored plastic rectangle.

“It is how Midgardian’s pay for most things Thor. They don’t carry gold or silver they use mostly paper money or keep their paper money in the bank, so they won’t lose it and use these credit cards. When you give it to someone to pay for something, it is like a solemn oath that your bank will send the merchant the money from your vault.”

Thor’s brow furrowed, “Jane used something like this called a ‘debt card’ at the café while I was there with her.”

“Very much the same as a debit card Thor.” Loki agreed. “Ms. Foster can’t keep paying for everything when you see her, they have a name for men that accept money from women here,” his eyes crinkled in amusement. “And it’s certainly not a nice one. So when you visit her this time, you can use your own ‘debit card’ to buy things you need, take her out to dinner, things like that. Understand?”

Thor nodded.

“Let’s try it here,” Loki said, pointing to a small coffee house, “So you can practice using it.”

Loki went first ordering a hot chocolate and a pastry. Thor watched carefully how he paid for it, and then ordered his own coffee and a few muffins, carefully mimicking Loki’s procedure to correctly pay for it. They sat at small outside table with their drinks, Thor turning over the credit card thoughtfully and then setting it down to study the receipt he had been handed with a faint frown.

“What’s wrong Thor?” Loki asked, knowing something was troubling his brother.

“Loki, I can’t use this. I don’t have any money in a Midgard vault to send to the merchant.”

“You don’t have to Thor…”

“But you said…”

“Listen.” Loki pointed at the credit card sitting between them on the small table, “This card is linked to my bank account; They gave you this card because I called them earlier and took an oath to send money from my vault for anything you buy. The merchant will get their money, don’t worry.” Thor’s brow cleared, but then he frowned again. Knowing what was coming next he said, “Honestly Thor is will be fine. I have plenty of Midgard money. As long as you don’t buy a house or plane or something huge it’s will be alright.

He gave Thor a small smile, “If you do decide to buy a house or something big, call me, so I can let the bank know it’s alright. They don’t like being surprised with large purchases. You have to tell them first. Okay?” He tipped his own untouched pastry onto Thor’s empty plate, “Here, finish this and we’ll get started okay?”

Chapter Text

How Deperate Are You - Frigga Gift

He walked over to examine the tray. Ignoring clawing thirst and hunger, he used the water in the mug to wash his face and hands. He dried his hands in his hair, slicking it back. His unruly tongue flicked out to lick a stray drop off of his upper lip before he could stop himself.

Then he returned his attention to the tray, gently pulling on the cloth resting under the fruit, he was very careful to touch only it. He knew this trick; no one could put down fruit from Frigga’s personal garden if ever they touched it.

Standing at the window, he waited for true night to fall, and then waited just a bit more, and then very slowly, brought the cloth up, burying his face in its softness, letting the scent of it, of her, loosen the pain in his chest, in his heart, allowing his cold tears to roll unheeded down his face.

He stood there with his heart and every dream he had ever had, shattered into hundreds of sharp hurtful pieces with only this small comfort.

Gods don’t pray he reminded himself.

But if they did... If gods did pray... he imagined that those prayers would probably be addressed to their mothers.

 

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Chapter Text

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 Really? Well... Here Ya go.

Chapter 9 - Apples

*snip*

“Well we can’t have that can we?” Loki cups his hands in front of him and opens them producing two ruby apples individually wrapped in translucent silk. “Pick one,” he tells Coulson holding out an apple in each hand.

“So we’re doing Snow White?” Coulson asks.

“No. We’re choosing apples, was I not clear on that?” Coulson’s lips twitched up a bit at the corners.

“Snow White was fed a poison apple by her wicked step-mother. An old fairy tale for children.”

“Charming,” Loki says raising an eyebrow. “I’m sure it is an instructive warning tale of dysfunctional extended family dynamics. But no, the apples aren’t poison; they were procured with much effort from my mother’s personal orchard. One is yours and to allay your fears of mischance, one is mine. Pick one.”

*snip*

All-Righty then... Loki’s thoughts on the Classic version of Snow White.

Well, first, Loki would wonder how a supposedly skill practitioner of magic like the Queen would be daft enough to trust a no doubt vengeful spirit trapped in a mirror... Of course it is going to give you *good* advice. And it would never goad you into doing something you shouldn't. (NOT)

Due to his own coloration, Loki no doubt will ignore the vampirish appearance description of skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.

And I daresay he would have something to say about the intelligence of someone who finds a dwelling that while empty is clearly lived in... And instead of looting the place for supplies to survive and leaving… They instead take up residence, blithely ignoring the fact that the owners would be returning.

And, having been trained as a princess, he would wonder that Snow White would allow a poor peddler/apple seller to simply GIFT her with an item. (apple/laces depending on the version) This not only shows stupidity but a complete lack of compassion for those who are trying to sustain themselves without resorting to breaking and entering, like she did.

And since, Snow White’s lack of intelligence has already been established, Loki would expect no better from her. He would however wonder about her protectors, who while seemingly intelligent enough to run a successful mine, do not even attempt to convince her not to marry someone who showed disturbing signs of necrophilia by kissing someone in a crypt.

But, perhaps it would be too much to expect mortals, or indeed their tales to make much sense.