Paranoia was a constant in Loki's life, a combination of old friend, favorite pet, and necessary survival mechanism. That was, unfortunately, the price of being both fabulously intelligent and incredibly ambitious while simultaneously being the universal champion of Pissing People Off Because the Faces They Make Are Just So Funny.
He knew better than to just accept the replies he received from Clint Barton and Steve Rogers at face value. It wasn't that he assumed they were anything close to as smart as him - no one was - but he'd learned long ago that stupidity was not an invitation to underestimate people. One universal truth, right up there with neutrinos being lazy little bastards that didn't like talking to other particles unless you made them, was the fact that stupid people showed utterly distressing flashes of brilliance at the least convenient times imaginable.
Looking at the curling lines seared into his skin, the sight of which still made his stomach turn, Loki knew this was the most inconvenient of moments he'd suffered since settling on Midgard. Which dictated the carefully cautious replies from the two men had to conceal some sort of trap.
A backup plan was necessary, and he set the pieces up carefully, ready to fall into place via simple inertia if he was somehow unavailable to stop them. If nothing else, the unfortunate incident with the robot had taught him he couldn't always count on his magic to be there as an all purpose sonic-screwdriver sort of solution. No matter how badly he needed to put up some shelves.
The unfortunate fact of the matter, however, was that at this point he'd exhausted all of his other choices. If he'd had another option he liked at all, it had been abandoned in the face of the Itch's increasing urgency.
Steve Rogers proposed meeting on neutral ground. The hell of it was, the man probably even believed the words. Loki countered with the proposal of a coffee shop he frequented, just to make life marginally more difficult for the man he knew as holding Rogers' leash. Getting the area cleared would be an inconvenience for SHIELD, and in a city the size and population density of New York, "clearing the area" was a very relative term to begin with. But he knew what was expected from him as a so-called villain, and anything less than a complete dick move would just make things more difficult than necessary when it came to actually trying to have a useful conversation with the mortals.
The later e-mail he received from Clint Barton calling the coffee shop "a total fucking dick move" just confirmed the rightness of his choice. Though he couldn't help but laugh at the immediate follow-up question: How are their muffins? And by the way, you're an asshole.
Loki quickly replied: The carrot are sweet like the tears of angelic little mortal children. I would recommend you consider the bran muffins, however, since you're sounding a bit more stopped up than normal. Unnecessary, yes, but it was a way to pass the time that didn't involve long meditations on Not Scratching. He'd already spent far too much time recently making rather experimental waffles since he couldn't seem to focus enough to read.
And really, since when had unnecessary been a consideration when it came to anything he did? Amusing was always far more important.
At the appointed hour, dressed in a stylish suit and a rather natty scarf, he arrived at the coffee shop by the simple expedient of making a bit of space near the counter equivalent to another bit of space in his apartment and then stepping into it. The number of weapons that were immediately pointed in his direction was rather gratifying. Apparently he'd been able to make enough trouble since the unfortunate matter of the robot that his short, uncharacteristic period of cooperation had been forgotten.
Loki regarded Clint's bow with a hint of wary respect - being on the receiving end of one of those arrows had served as a strong reminder of why he didn't want to be mortal, ever - but he was prepared and in no actual danger. He gave the gathered humans a smile, well-practiced to be as infuriating as possible. "I see that I'm precisely on time." He turned to the man behind the counter, Steve Rogers of all people, and said, "I'll take a mocha, no cream on it."
The even better part was that Steve Rogers did, indeed, give him a mocha, all the while scowling to indicate that he'd much prefer to pitch the cup at Loki's head.
Loki passed a hand over the paper cup - he trusted Rogers to a certain extent but not his masters - then nodded, taking a sip. "Lovely. Thank you." He took a seat at one of the ludicrously tiny tables, crossing his legs neatly, then waited.
He was a god, and practically immortal. Waiting was the sort of game he always won.
Something wasn't right, however. There was an air of expectation to the humans that felt off, smug rather than worried. Loki was used to being the smug one that worried people, and didn't care for this reversal at all.
And there was something in the air, a hint of a scent that put his teeth on edge...
The front door of the coffee shop opened, revealing a man he immediately recognized as Director Fury, and with him -
Loki surged to his feet, the table flipping in front of him, mocha spraying out in a wide arc across the floor. One hand snatched Hawkeye's arrow from the air - apparently the man still believed in shoot first and ask questions later - while the other twisted a dagger into being. He dropped the arrow on the floor as he lunged for the woman next to Director Fury.
Loki rarely operated on something so base as instinct; when he did it was an impressive sight. Teeth bared, eyes wild, he sent the first dagger spinning at the woman-shaped thing even as he tore another from the air.
The dagger embedded itself in the woman's throat with a nauseating, meaty thunk. She staggered back a step, bringing her other wrist to her mouth, lips moving over the silver bracelet she wore, words forming as she squeezed the barest thread of air past the dagger.
Pain. It went straight from the sigil branded into his arm to his brain without stopping at any of his other nerves, then instantly streamed out from there, through every pathway in his body. It was like lightning but impossibly worse; Loki could deal with a little high voltage, after all. He'd grown up with Thor.
The dagger dropped from his hand as he fell to his knees, tearing at his face and hair with unsteady fingers. Loki had the presence of mind to not scream, though it was a close thing, his entire body voting for a mindless shriek of utter agony and only a last minute veto by his dignity salvaging the situation.
Worse, the pain was familiar, the thing of nightmares. And the nightmares of a god were a dark thing indeed.
Also familiar with the more subtle pain of betrayal. Slowly, Loki straightened enough to meet the eyes of Clint, then Steve. In his peripheral vision, he saw the thing approach him, knew already what was in her hands, but it was too late for that. It had been too late since he'd flipped the instinctual coin and landed on fight instead of flight.
"You don't know what you've done," he hissed from between teeth that seemed glued together with pain.
Clint smirked. "Sure we do. Got you off our asses, finally."
Loki had long ago decided reactions such as crying and screaming were basically useless. If nothing else, they let whoever had brought you to those pathetic straits think they'd won. Always, he preferred to laugh. It allowed the same safe outlet for overwhelming emotion, while simultaneously making on appear - as he'd heard Clint Barton put it before - "creepy as fuck."
There was nothing else he could do. He laughed, head tipping back to release dry chuckles.
Apparently, it was still whatever level of creepy 'fuck' denoted. Loki was rewarded by seeing Clint take a step back.
Then something cold and metal slid around Loki's throat, locking on with a familiar snick. It wasn't tight enough to interfere with his breathing. It didn't have to, because the effect was far worse, a physical thing that restrained the familiar internal strains of his magic, locked him into himself.
He laughed harder, because there was nothing else he could do.
Loki laughed as the alien creature pulled his dagger from her throat and dropped it on the floor, wiping blood the color of burnt oranges away with the back of her hand. He laughed when her compatriot, also currently woman shaped but a red-head rather than a blonde, showed up, and when they hauled him to his feet.
As they marched him toward the door so they'd have a clear shot at the sky, he turned to look at Steve Rogers, trailing along behind them like some sort of faithful puppy in blue pajamas. "You realize the saddest bit of this misadventure?" Loki asked.
Steve Rogers, who had never excelled at being stoic when the opportunity to banter was presented, said, "You spilled the mocha?"
"Well, that is a bit sad. It was nicely done. But no." Loki shook his head. The aliens bracketing him didn't so much as twitch. Their people were very good at ignoring words as inconvenient, useless things. It was one of Loki's favorite weaknesses to exploit. "In the end, I'm only going to be tortured until they find a way to actually kill me."
Steve had the good grace to look a bit pale at that, though Loki could tell that he also didn't really want to believe the words. Steve wasn't the sort of man to be comfortable with the idea of torture, of being an unwitting accomplice. "That's pretty sad."
It was amusing, Loki thought, when you knew your supposed opponents so well that you felt they were truly your best friends, far more than the collection of poorly-dressed megalomaniacs you did your Saturday night clubbing with. Sadder still, when they were the most dependable people in your life. "Oh no. The sad part is that I'll be getting off lucky. You'll love what they do to you once they're done with me."
"Lying isn't going to get you out of this one, Loki."
Loki grinned. "Actually, I think you're quite correct in that." The aliens drew to a halt, holding Loki firmly between them. The soles of his feet started to itch, an odd citrus scent filling his nostrils. That, too, was familiar. He turned to glance at Steve one last time. "Be a darling and feed my cat, please."
Steve stared at him open-mouthed. "You have a--"
The rest of his question was lost in the rush of particles and energy, the shriek of physics throwing a tantrum as Loki was dragged across the border between dimensions.