It was a relief to Loki when Agent Romanoff let herself into the hospital room. While she was unable to chase Thor away, it at least forced the man to let go of his hand and assume a much less invasive distance. It also meant that Thor resumed a more normal facial expression, a sort of mix between stern and god-like and vaguely smug. This was definitely preferable, in Loki's estimation, to the utterly disturbing, almost tender looks his brother had been directing his way.
Except then Agent Romanoff proceeded with the most predictable and boring line of questioning that Loki had ever been subjected to. Because it was clear that she might believe that there was some sort of Loki doppleganger out there, but was incapable of encompassing the simple fact that he didn't think this was a good thing.
"You infuriating woman, would you just tell me, what proof is necessary to convince you that I had nothing to do with this?" he shouted at her after she asked the same three questions for the sixth time in the most tooth-grindingly patient voice he had ever encountered.
Natasha smiled. "You could start by telling us how to stop it."
"Do you think that if I knew, I would be gracing your facility with my presence and allowing a friendly breeze to intrude on my nether regions? Really? Whoever designed your hospital wear is a sadist, I'm certain of it!"
"I'm sure they'll be happy to take your fashion critique under advisement. Now, where is the alleged robot?"
If he didn't have one hand immobilized with bandaging and the other with a handcuff, he would have torn at his own hair. Or, by preference, hers. He could just imagine sinking his fingers into those red curls and shaking until it dislodged a question he hadn't yet heard. As it was, he could only grind the back of his head into the hospital mattress while wishing the thing was actually made out of concrete, so he'd have a chance of rendering himself unconscious. "I already told you, I don't know! And I'm using single syllable words, so I'd think you could at least comprehend them. I can't simplify it any more than that!"
She crossed her arms over her chest, shooting a glare at Thor when he tried to open his mouth to speak. "What--"
"How on earth do you do that?" Loki asked, the words coming out in a desperate tumble.
"I glare at Thor all the time, and it's never gotten him to shut up or so much as pause. How on earth do you manage it?"
Agent Romanoff held up a finger. "I'm not going to let you derail this discussion."
"In order for it to be a discussion, I'd have to be able to participate in a meaningful way, and you'd have more things to say than the average pull-string doll."
"Still not going to work. What--"
And then, mercifully, before Loki even had a chance to interrupt again, her beeper went off. She glanced down at it, perfectly sculpted eyebrows arcing up. "Come on, Thor, we've got to go."
Loki giggled toward the hospital ceiling. "Oh, is there some sort of sale at Emporium of the Utterly Witless?"
"Your robot's been sighted," Agent Romanoff said, yanking the door open and waving Thor through.
The door slammed.
Loki sighed. "Mine." Then it was quiet, just the quiet beep of the various monitors and the odd burble from the plumbing. And of course, the rumble of his own thoughts, set on a crash course.
"You know that feeling, like you've been somewhere before?" Clint asked. He leaned out of the door of the helicopter to get a better look at the ground they were crossing over, lightly hanging on to the handstrap. It was enough to make Agent Coulson stare pointedly at the ceiling.
"It's called déjà vu, Clint," Agent Romanoff said, managing to sounding simultaneously bored and annoyed.
"And you're not experiencing it. Because we have been this way before."
"I knew it. Last year, right?"
"Right. When Loki decided, for whatever random firing of neurons stands in for a reason in a diseased brain--" Thor cleared his throat. Natasha pointedly ignored him and continued, "—that he wanted to reanimate an entire museum full of dinosaur skeletons."
"Oh, yeah. That was great," Clint said.
"Really, Thor. Is your brother still six?" Natasha asked.
"Everyone likes dinosaurs," Thor muttered into his beard. "And it's not my brother in there."
"Just something that looks an awful lot like him. And is probably in cahoots50."
"We won that one, right?" Clint asked. "The thing in the Egyptian wing. We blew it up. And stuff."
"Your facility for poetry never ceases to amaze and inspire," Natasha said. When Clint opened his mouth again, she quickly added, "Yes."
"Huh." Clint amused himself by leaning out of the helicopter again. He laughed when Agent Coulson grabbed him by the belt and hauled him back inside. "So what, we're just re-doing Loki's Greatest Hits or something?"
"Seems so," Coulson said. He grimaced. "I hope that doesn't mean the Pentagon is next. I ruined a perfectly good suit."
But Clint grinned, a sparkling, devil-may-care smile that was utterly wasted on everyone in the helicopter. "Easy peasy51."
Of course, nothing went easy, and certainly not peasy, let alone right. The Avengers dropped in to the museum through one of the large stained-glass skylights, since it was both impressive and what had worked just fine the last time. Only this time, they found that there was a large, unnatural fire with howling green flames waiting for them at the floor. While no one was quite uncoordinated enough to fall into it, there was a certain amount of swearing, excitement, and delay. At which point the velociraptors attacked. The skeletal velociraptors. Millions of years of being dead and remineralized had neither slowed them nor dulled their teeth.
And while Thor could and did start smashing the skeletal dinosaurs into little bone chips quite rapidly, he wasn't anywhere close to done when Loki appeared. Agent Coulson was trying to remove a snapping dinosaur from Thor's shin with the application of a clip of 9mm bullets when the robot multiplied itself into a thousand illusions.
Clint tried to put an arrow through one Loki, which he thought might be the real one. The arrow passed harmlessly through it and ended up lodged in a painting on the other side of the foyer. He drew another arrow, nocked it, and tried to pick his next target, which was difficult when they all looked the same. "I think we may be in a little trouble," he said to Natasha, who was right next to him.
She kicked the skull off of a reanimated skeleton; it shattered on the floor. "More than normal?"
"Why do you say that?"
Clint let the next arrow fly; it was about as effective as the first. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but this Loki isn't smiling."
Natasha dodged a fluttering archeopteryx, tangling it up in a wireline that she pulled from who-knew-where and sending it to the floor in a loud clatter. She looked around at the veritable army of Lokis. While there was something decidedly familiar about the situation, the grim look on Loki's face wasn't one she'd ever seen.
Each Loki surrounding them raised his hands, magical green fire igniting on his fingers. "Pathetic," they said in unison.
It only went downhill from there.
Loki had resorted to counting the pinholes in the acoustic ceiling tiles, then using the resulting numbers to create mathematical puzzles52. He'd come up with a few rather amusing ideas so far, except he had no way to record them. While something nice and old fashioned like blood on the bedsheets was a definite possibility, he'd always preferred to use the blood of other people.
Before the boredom became so reality-bending that he could seriously consider violating his own preferences, the doctors brought him a roommate by the simple expedient of opening the overly large door and wheeling another bed through it.
Loki sat up as much as he was able. None of the doctors seemed to want to make eye contact with him, but that didn't stop him from asking, "What is the meaning of this? Can't I even be a prisoner in peace, now I'm going to have a roommate?" Though mentally, he was rubbing his hands with glee and cackling at the prospect of having another sentient being – well, as sentient as these humans ever got, that was – around to torment. That would help pass the time, to be sure.
An older gentleman gave him a narrow-eyed look that probably quelled lesser beings like interns; it didn't even bounce off of Loki's armor so much as splat dully. "The facility isn't that large. If you don't like the arrangements, I'm sure they've got the lock on your prison cell fixed by now."
Loki smirked; actually, no longer being handcuffed to a bed sounded lovely. But then he caught sight of the occupant of the other bed, or rather a swath of curly red hair. He leaned back against the thin pillow, constructing a particularly malevolent smirk. "Oh the horrors of the concrete cell. Spare me, kind sir."
The doctor, busy setting up an IV stand, didn't seem to notice the healthy measure of sarcasm in those words. And that was just fine with Loki as well.
Whatever had happened to her, Agent Romanoff had looked better; she wasn't conscious, from what Loki could observe, and had her fair share of scrapes and bruises that were visible in flashes as the doctors buzzed around her. He bit his tongue and contented himself with just observing until the doctors had cleared out, then amused himself by cataloging her various wounds and deciding what had caused each one. It was quite the fascinating array, though he was fairly certain he knew exactly where the singed hair and burns had come from, and if he was right, well...
...let's just say that he was even more unimpressed by the creative capacity of the magic-stealing robot. And the effort required to hit that sneering bottom level of disdainful non-impressed-ness required an investment of energy that he normally reserved for things like world domination and doubles badminton with Dr. Strange.
As with comedy, timing in menacing evil is everything. And while Loki was neither Jewish nor quite dysfunctional enough to deliver jokes with panache, he'd long since mastered sneering, posing, and looking just bored enough before it was time to release the rabid poodle-hyena hybrid cyborgs.
So he waited patiently, watching Agent Romanoff as she slowly came to, as she started looking blearily around the room. And just when her head was turned away from him, he said in his best malevolent purr, "Fancy meeting you here, dearest."
Eyes wide, she turned her head to look at him; it was only then that he noticed the flash of metal at her mouth; her jaw had been wired shut. She grasped feebly at the bed railing, still apparently too disoriented to move herself.
This, Loki told himself, had to be karmic payback for every time Thor had said something incomprehensibly stupid in his presence. Well, maybe for half of those times.
"So," he said, mimicking her tones perfectly with just the right lilt of mockery, "where is the alleged robot?"
50 – Thor did not argue this point, it should be noted, not due to any sort of self preservation instinct. Scientific study has in fact shown that Thor has less interest in preserving his own hide than a depressed lemming that's gone on a binge. No, it's more that Thor still wasn't certain what 'cahoots' meant, exactly, and wasn't about to ask. From the context, he was becoming convinced that the word meant some sort of combative death struggle, which seemed reasonable enough to him.
51 – This is the Clint Barton equivalent of saying, "It can't possibly get any worse." Somewhere, the universe giggled, and it was the sort of sound that causes sane people to hide under the bed and not leave their house until the body's been found and the serial killer caught.
52 – He'd tried to do a few square roots with them, initially, but that just reminded him of his unconscionable error when he'd thrown himself out of his apartment, and he'd just given up in disgust. While most people could forgive themselves for dropping an exponent or two while looking the specter of death in the eye, Loki had very exacting standards.