Loki woke to the sound of people arguing.
This was not actually unusual. In fact, he tended to have that effect on people. He considered it something of a defensive mechanism, like poisonous insects being red or squids squirting ink. If he had everyone in the surrounding area at each other's throats, it gave him time to consider how best to turn a situation to his advantage17.
The problem was, he didn't have any recollection of laying down the seeds of this particular argument. Not that he actually knew what the argument was about, since at the moment he could only discern tone, a man and a woman on the verge of shouting at each other.
As he often did, Loki turned to his mental checklist of Things One Should Note When Waking In A Strange Place After An Unexpected Bit Of Unconsciousness18.
Smells – astringent, a bit plastic-y, latex-y; most likely a hospital, other options possible but not probable.
Sight – white ceiling, acoustic tiles, medical machinery around, some of which appeared to be intruding on my bodily integrity. Score another point for hospital.
Sounds – people arguing, check. Likelihood the male half of the argument is Thor, bless his obstinate heart and thick skull: 99.8%.
Feelings – Like I've been shot.
Loki grimaced, and tried to move his other arm, the one that wasn't a heavy mass of burning pain. He was handcuffed to the bed rail. And, upon tilting up his head, he saw similar steel restraints at each of his ankles, though those were padded.
Not that restraints were ever much of a problem for him. He snapped his fingers, as one might do to catch the attention of a dog, though in his case he was trying to catch the attention of his own magic, which seemed curiously absent.
A weak, sleepy murmur in the back of his head was the only response he got. His magic wasn't gone, exactly, but more very weak, as if he'd just done something enormous and reality-altering with it, which he was fairly certain he hadn't. Waking up an inanimate object was child's play, in the grand scheme of the universe.
His head swam a bit, though he had himself mostly convinced that it was just the pain, and whatever helpful chemicals were being inserted into his bloodstream by the IV bag he saw nearby. Without his magic, he had only his mind to rely on. Which was like saying that without a Predator Drone one had only every other contrivance of modern warfare to rely on, up to and including tactical nukes. It wasn't exactly a problem, but it would make things somewhat less convenient.
On the heels of that unpleasant revelation, the door to the room opened. "--never have brought him here!" the woman said, quite emphatically.
"He's my brother." The male half of the argument was, indeed, Thor.
"He's a psychopath."
"I heard that," Loki said, tilting his head up to catch a glimpse of the woman through the door. He caught sight of red hair and black leather, both of which were things he was generally in favor of. "And I'm not. I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Do your research19."
The woman stepped all the way through the door and gave him a narrow-eyed look. On the scale of disdain and disapproval, it rated about a seven; Loki was reasonably impressed, but he'd been on the receiving end of much more toe-curling looks from women, including a perfect ten from Queen Elizabeth II20.
"As far as I'm concerned, right now you're just a pain in my rear end." The woman crossed her arms over her chest and managed to crank the disdain up to a seven and a half.
Loki had made it his business to keep track of all of Thor's little SHIELD buddies, as if they were friends from his brother's Frat that he might some day be called upon to engage in polite conversation at a family barbecue. He was reasonably certain this particular woman was Natasha Romanoff, though he didn't know too much more than that since she was apparently the only person on Midgard that didn't have Facebook and he just hadn't gotten around to digging deeper than that.
But before he could say anything remotely clever in return, Thor came into the room as well. He had a cheerful bouquet of yellow and purple flowers. And a teddy bear tucked into the crook of one arm. The little white bear had a foil balloon bearing the message Get Well Soon! tied to it21. "Brother! You're awake!"
"Maybe I'm not," Loki said. "Or I can at least hope that I'm hallucinating."
Thor beamed at him, and Loki was forced to reassess his opinion on his brother's intelligence. If this was some sort of prank, it was masterful.
Agent Romanoff gave Thor a look very similar to the one she'd been directing at Loki a few seconds previously. It promised a talking-to about appropriate behavior toward prisoners later. She turned her attention back to Loki and said, "Would you care to explain what you were doing at Daniel Sorres' house?"
"We were having brownies and lemonade, actually."
Thor set the flowers and teddy bear near Loki's bed, on the side where he couldn't reach them thanks to the handcuff. "I didn't think you liked chocolate that much."
"They were really good brownies."
Agent Romanoff cleared her throat. "I find that hard to believe, considering that Mr. Sorres had just gotten out of prison. And we're fairly certain it's your fault he ended up there in the first place."
"I fail to see what that has to do with his ability to make baked goods," Loki said calmly.
"You know that's not what I meant."
Loki gave her a cheery smile. "Daniel's got a lot in common with my brother, I think. He'd just rather let bygones be bygones. It was purely a social visit, I assure you."
"And the power surge? Was that just the chocolatey aura of the brownies interfering with the local grid?" Her sarcasm was thick enough to ice a cake.
"He'd come up with some kind of idea, about how to make popcorn in the microwave without burning any of it. Had a special bag designed and everything. He was demonstrating it when things went a little strange."
"But did it work?" Thor asked.
"I don't think so. The microwave exploded."
"Loki, I would really appreciate it if you would stop assuming I'm an idiot22," Agent Romanoff said. "If nothing else, I'd be motivated to make your stay with us much more pleasant."
Loki shrugged his good shoulder. "Do your worst, dear lady." He wanted to know what had happened in that basement, himself, but he was damned if he'd admit any of it to Thor or any of his friends. He still had his pride.
"Until you give us the answers we need, I fully intend to," Agent Romanoff said.
Thor pulled up a chair and sat next to Loki's bed. He prodded the handcuffs with one thick finger. "Anyway, is this really necessary?"
Agent Romanoff paused in the doorway. "Why don't you ask your brother," she said, though her gaze was unwavering on Loki. "We don't have any way of locking down his magic. I fully expected him to be gone by the time we got here." She shut the door behind her as she left.
Something about the way she said it made his blood run just a little colder, even as his brain started working over time. The situation was plainly out of control, and that made it interesting... in the same way a shark attack could be considered interesting.
Thor looked at Loki. "I rather expected that myself."
"Oh, well you know me." Loki gave Thor a sly smile. "I try to keep everyone guessing."
Thor didn't look convinced. "How is your shoulder, brother?"
"Feels just as if I've been shot. Which I seem to remember is what happened."
"Sorry about that."
"No hard feelings. After the lifestyle choices I've made, this sort of thing becomes inevitable."
An awkward silence descended, only broken by the sound of Thor gently poking at the handcuffs. Finally, he said, "It wasn't just microwave popcorn, was it."
Loki let out an exasperated sigh. "What do you think?"
"I think you should tell us what was really happening. Before it blows up again, and more seriously." Thor stood. "Because I'm a little worried now. Is there something wrong with you, Loki?"
Loki could only laugh, even though it hurt his shoulder to laugh so loud and hard. "Only the same thing that's always been wrong with me, Thor. I am who I am." He didn't stop laughing until Thor left the room, and even then he could help the odd little giggle that escaped as he contemplated just how desperate his situation was.
17 – Or make it a thousand times worse. Whichever was best for combating boredom, really.
18 – Loki was in the habit of creating little mental checklists for situations that happened fairly commonly, so that he could get himself up and oriented and in charge without having to reinvent the wheel each time. The two he used most often were "Signs A Former Colleague Has Noticed A Double Cross And Is About To Turn On You Like A Rabid Dog That Has Mistaken Your Neck For A Chicken" and "Troubleshooting Waffle Batter That Tastes Slightly Funny: Part I."
19 – A/N: Quote stolen without shame from the BBC miniseries Sherlock. If you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to do so now. I don't mind. I'll wait.
20 – You see, there was this incident that involved hats, and corgis, and a curiously humorous dessert called spotted dick, and it had all just been too much for Loki to resist. He was only a god after all, not the fucking Buddha.
21 – It should be noticed that the medical facility run by SHIELD did not have a gift shop, so it's not quite certain where this cheery but slightly deformed stuffed animal could have come from. The leading theory is that such teddy bears are universal manifestations of causality, which has something to do with quantum. This is, without doubt, bullshit, and the real reason is likely much more sinister and has something to do with elves.
22 – The unfortunate truth was that Loki assumed everyone was an idiot, since generally compared to him, everyone was.