There were many qualities that set Loki apart from lesser megalomaniacs, but none so much as the fact that he believed deeply in two things: patience, and research30.
On the fourth day of waiting for his magic to show even the smallest glimmer of strengthening, it was apparent that patience had failed.
Research, unfortunately, required not being stuck in a tiny cell in a SHIELD facility, which should have been famous for its complete lack of reading material.
He had the rhythm of the base down well enough, could time when the guards would walk back and forth in the halls, calculate the likelihood of when the lovely Agent Romanoff might want to see him. The best time to do an escape, rather than in the witching hours of the night, seemed to be during dinner. People were distracted, hungry, trying to stuff their silly human faces with what he could only assume were more fish sandwiches, since that was apparently all they ate.
So that was the time he chose.
It was a simple enough endeavor. He might not have had his magic, but he still had the few perks of his heritage at his beck and call – and while he hated the Jotun as much if not more than anyone else, he wasn't fool enough to turn his back on any advantage.
Loki picked up a magazine and wandered slowly around the room, pretending to be terribly interested in the best places to buy good angora wool, until he heard two sets of footsteps pass by in the hall.
He paused under the security camera that afforded the view of the door and gently blew on it. The lens frosted over. After carefully folding one of the pages, he dropped the magazine on the floor, walked over to the door, and shorted out the electronic lock with a tiny but deftly applied bit of ice.
It was delicately done enough that no alarms sounded as he strolled out into the hall. Twenty feet down, there was a ceiling access panel, and he lifted himself up into it gracefully, even with his weak arm. The ceiling was full of electrical conduits and pipes. He picked the pipe marked as water and followed it silently, knowing that it would eventually take him somewhere useful.
Natasha was in the middle of winding spaghetti around her fork when her phone started vibrating. She checked the message, still idly twirling the noodles: Security camera in Loki's cell out, prisoner is in the wind.
She dropped her fork, spattering Thor and Agent Coulson with marinara sauce, and stood.
"What's wrong?" Thor asked, wiping his face with the back of one hand.
"Your brother's escaped," she called over her shoulder as she ran for the door.
Thor stood as well. "Was that not the plan?"
Agent Coulson picked up Natasha's napkin, dipped it in her water, and began dabbing at the dots of red sauce on his shirt collar, a tiny, tragic frown on his lips. "Actually, no. We were going to fake a fire tomorrow morning." He looked even more annoyed when Thor started laughing.
The boiler room didn't prove particularly helpful, so Loki tried another water line, following it silently through the ceiling. Below, he heard the faint sound of splashing, a somewhat rough male voice singing, "I'm just a holy fool, oh baby it's so cruel, but I'm still in love with Judas baby--"
Shower meant naked and vulnerable. Singing meant alone. Or a lot of security in one's masculinity31. And a SHIELD agent alone was an agent who could be threatened in to telling him the fastest way to get out of this damn concrete maze.
Silently, he pulled a tile away from the ceiling and lowered himself down.
Clint massaged another handful of shampoo into his scalp, not because he was that dirty, but because the hot water was pleasant and he had the bathroom all to himself, and it was nicer than listening to a lot of guys bitch about their latest fishing trip. He sucked in another lungful of steamy air, ready to launch into a chorus of "Woah-woah-woah--"
Something very pointy, sharp, and cold pricked at his back, right below his left kidney. A hand closed over his shoulder. He froze, squinting against the sting of shampoo in his eyes, hands going up to show he was unarmed.
"If you don't want to find out what life is like with only one kidney, human, I suggest you tell me the quickest way to the front door," Loki hissed in his ear.
"What?" The hand on his shoulder pushed Clint around, the sharp, knife-like point tracing a line unerringly from his kidney to his lung to his heart. "Oh, Hawkeye! What a pleasant surprise."
Clint tried to crack one eye open – he got enough to confirm that it was, indeed, Loki, and then he was overcome with stinging tears. "Ah, shit. Jesus. Scared the hell out of me, man."
"Well, I assure you, no hard feelings between us. Really, if I wasn't preparing to bisect your aorta, I'd shake your hand. That was a masterful shot."
"Aw, shucks. Thanks. I appreciate it."
"I'd love to talk more, but I'm on a bit of a schedule." A klaxon started sounding out in the hall. "So why don't you tell me what I want to know and we can go back to trying to kill each other like civilized beings once I've got a clean suit and you're wearing more than suds."
"Um, right. So out the door, take a left, then a right--"
The pain between two of his ribs became distinctly sharper. "I can tell when you're lying."
"I mean, a left and a left--"
Clint already knew the plan that they had in place for Loki. They were going to let him run off tomorrow morning anyway; twelve hours wasn't worth getting shanked in the shower by the man. He was pretty sure that sort of thing wouldn't sound good in a eulogy. "Right, then left, then left, then have curve, up the stairs, left, you're home free."
"Thank you. Oh and... if I ever hear someone imply you're compensating for something with the whole... arrow thing... don't worry, I'll set them straight now."
Clint cracked an eye half open again. "You're a pal."
Loki grinned, swiped a droplet of water from Clint's chest with one long finger, and licked it away with the flick of his tongue. "Always."
And then he was gone, something metal clattering on the tiles in his wake.
Clint shoved his head under the spray of the shower, scrubbing at his eyes. As soon as he could, he looked around, picking up a nail file from the floor where Loki had dropped it. "You've got to be fucking--" he stormed from the shower, slipping on the slick tiles and almost running into the wall.
His towel was gone. As was his ID. And when he tried to open the bathroom door, the lock was frozen solid.
With Clint's directions a map in his mind, Loki ran down the halls, bare feet all but silent on the floor. Two guards rounded the first corner. One got an elbow in the neck, the other was dragged over by his hair so that his forehead could meet Loki's knee.
Accompanied by the shriek of the alarm klaxon, he ran on. There were two security doors in his way; Clint Barton's ID made bypassing them simple.
He hazarded a glance behind; Agent Romanoff in her black leather suit, sprinting down the hall after him. She threw something at him; he whipped a tiny bottle of shampoo from his waistband and knocked it from the air. It made a satisfying bang, filling the hallway with the smell of ozone.
Another door; he swiped Clint's card to unlock it, ducking another thrown missile. Then he was through the door, slamming it shut behind him. He shoved as much ice as he could into the door's locking mechanism, and had the satisfaction of seeing Agent Romanoff kick the bullet-proof glass twice.
"Next time, we'll do this at my place, dearest," he shouted through the door, then blew her a kiss. Then it was out the front door, and there was no catching him with the wind at his back.
The SHIELD base was less than 100 miles from his apartment by way of I-80. Acquiring clothing and transportation was child's play compared to taking himself from the base, though he was disappointed at the fit of the suit he'd taken from an unfortunate businessman.
He checked his newly acquired watch as he entered the elevator; 153 minutes elapsed since his escape, still within the window of opportunity. The elevator took him to the penthouse on the 35th floor. He stepped inside, just planning to grab his books and move on – no need to tempt fate – but something was wrong.
His stereo was gone. His books were gone. His newest flower arrangement was likewise gone. A stab of pain went through his jaw as he clenched his teeth, but he smiled, because that was what Loki did, he smiled when he was angry, ready to kill the little idiots who had chosen the most inconvenient time possible to break into his apartment, as if he didn't already have enough on his plate and now some fucking mortals had been putting their filthy hands all over his bookshelves, and he was most definitely going to be making an example of them when he found them, no mistake--
There was a noise in the kitchen, cabinets opening and shutting.
Loki snatched up the first weapon that came to hand, the poker from his fireplace, not that it mattered because anything was a weapon in his hand when it came to putting the fear of Loki into some idiotic mortal. He crept up to the kitchen door and kicked it open.
30 – Whereas most garden variety megalomaniacs believe (a) in the efficacy of blood as an exfolient and (b) that a pit of sharks is a good investment when you want to kill someone in evening wear.
31 – Probability on a military base where men spent that much time fondling their rifles? Not odds he'd be willing to bet on in Vegas.