Except it didn't turn out to be much of a karmic payback, or even much of a karmic pennies-swiped-from-the-take-a-penny-cup-a
And there was Clint Barton, so he wasn't even that far off the mark.
What was even more disappointing was that the appearance of Barton interrupted the delightful horrified eye-rolling that he'd only just gotten Agent Romanoff to start.
"Hey Natasha!" Clint said, sauntering in and levering the door shut behind him with one heel. He held an arrow in one hand and a flat golden box in the other. "So I got you some chocolates, but then the doctors told me you actually had broken your jaw and it's going to be wired shut for a while, so I ate them all for you." He shook the box, which pointedly made no sound at all.
She rolled her eyes again, though there was a decidedly exasperated edge to it now. Still, Loki made a mental note. He couldn't exactly mimic Clint Barton without drinking until he'd literally gone blind, but it never hurt to observe the methods of others.
"You could have given them to me," Loki said.
"Well, yeah, but then you might think I like you or something," Clint said."Anyway." He hefted the arrow.
Loki raised an eyebrow. "What, do you intend to stab me with that yet again?"
"It's not exactly a challenge if they've got you handcuffed to the bed." Clint actually looked a little hurt. "Give me some credit. No, I wanted you to take a look at this. I'm pretty sure I shot this through Evil Robot You."
"And it ended up sticking out of an uncomfortable place in someone's portrait on the other side of the room."
Loki raised his hand as much as he could, pointedly tugging the handcuff against the bed railing. "If you wouldn't mind? It's not as if I'll be able to go anywhere even with a hand free."
"Sure. I've got a gun, I can always shoot you in a pinch. Just so you know."
"I never thought of you as the type to carry a gun."
"Well, don't get me wrong, it lacks a certain finesse. But it gets the job done if all you're worried about is putting a couple of quick holes through someone." Clint grinned. "And it's got a better range than a drill press, so there you go."
Loki stared at him.
"Joking." Clint walked over to the bed and unlocked the handcuff even as Agent Romanoff made an odd sound, like she was screaming without being able to open her mouth. Which was, on sober reflection, probably the case.
"As much as it pains me to say it, thank you." Loki flexed his hand a few times for show, then took the arrow. The shaft of it felt faintly sticky, and when he gave it a sniff, once again he got that odd whiff of oranges. Just for effect, he balanced the arrow on one finger, sighted down the shaft. It gave him a few precious seconds for his mind to work, discount the possibilities until he found the most likely conclusion.
"The robot obviously isn't made out of flesh." He turned the arrow over in his hand and offered it back to Clint, fletchings first. He was, after all, still a higher being, and that required a certain amount of finesse even if he was wearing an assless dress.
"It's not made out of metal, either." Clint tucked the arrow under his arm.
"What a keen observation," Loki said dryly. "I noticed the same thing when I came face to face with it. I tried to run it through with a poker; I'm sure you can now imagine now that went. It even smelled the same. Of oranges."
"You never really struck me as the perfume sort."
"I'll ask you to remember you're talking about a robot, not about me." Loki sniffed. "Whether I am or not, I certainly wouldn't make myself smell like a fruit salad."
"So what do you think it is, then? Evil fruit salad?"
Loki sat back, rubbing his chin lightly with his newly freed hand53. "The actual core of the robot--" He stopped and looked at Agent Romanoff. "Yes, it was a robot, or rather part of a robot, not a toaster or whatever other random thing I said. Not that you believed me anyway, which I will note was quite hurtful to my more tender feelings." He turned his attention away from Agent Romanoff's disbelieving stare and back to Clint. "Anyway, it was only about the size of a grapefruit. So the body is really just a way for it to move around and hide itself, I think." He frowned. "With my magic to use, it would be pathetically easy to form almost anything into a body and maintain it." His fingers itched with the urge to diagram out the necessary fields; sketching things out tended to help him think.
"I suppose. It's just a matter of rearranging the molecules to where they're most convenient and fiddling with how the light is absorbed to get the right colors..."
Clint snorted, twirling the arrow around his fingers like it was a baton and he was some sort of stubbly drum majorette. "Sounds like you do this a lot."
"Don't be thick, you've seen me do it all the time. Shapeshifting is elementary."
"So it could look like anything."
"Technically," Loki said. But he knew that it wouldn't; it already seemed plain that the thing lacked the necessary imagination. "Considering that it thinks it is me, I imagine it'll just spend most of its time looking like me."
"So I just need to shoot it in the head with something explosive, and we'll be good."
"You don't sound convinced."
Loki shrugged. "I need to know more before I'll be convinced of anything." He wiggled his feet. "Though being able to pace would help, you know. Evil geniuses like myself think much better on our feet."
Clint hazarded a glance at Agent Romanoff, who shook her head emphatically. "Oh, you're a funny guy."
"That's not what you said in the shower." Loki smiled lazily, then continued on before Clint could do more than open his mouth to retort. "So tell me about the little adventure you two had earlier. And where is my-- where is Thor, by the way? I thought he'd be back here and annoying me to the best of his abilities by now." Not that he was at all concerned about Thor; if the big lug had gotten himself hurt by the ridiculous monstrosity of a robot, well, it was his own fault for being that slow54.
"Oh, some of the skeletons escaped, so he's hunting them down. You'd be surprised how fast those things can move." Clint frowned slightly. "Or I guess you wouldn't, huh."
"No, I wouldn't. So it was the museum?"
"Do tell." Loki listened patiently as Clint described the rather messy mission, the fight, and the end result – the robot fleeing the scene, but with some selections from the geology hall in tow, including a nickel-iron meteorite that had been on display. Clint seemed almost offended that the robot had gone after that, instead of concentrating its efforts in the Egyptian hall as Loki himself had done before.
Except the point was, if Loki had actually wanted to accomplish something villainous in the museum, he would have taken those exact items. Plus one of the artifacts out of the Inuit display in the Hall of Native Peoples, since it was a nicely powerful arcane object. That, at least, the robot hadn't figured out. But no, when Loki had gone to the museum, he'd left all of those things alone precisely because his aim had been to entertain himself and mess with the Avengers a bit – and leading them to think precisely the wrong things were valuable, just in case55.
And if the robot had taken those things, then...
"Hm?" He refocused on Clint, who was giving him an odd look he'd once heard described as the 'hairy eyeball.' While he shuddered to think where the hair might come in to it, something about the expression felt right.
"You were just looking kind of weird, just then."
"Well, you always look quite ugly, but I don't let that get between us," Loki said calmly. "I was thinking. I can understand if you have no idea what that looks or feels like."
Clint snorted. "If that's what thinking looks like, your head must be a scary place."
"You have no idea." Loki drummed his fingers on the blanket. "The robot's probably going to that darling little telescope at Arecibo next. For the sub-reflector, maybe a couple of the antennas."
Clint frowned. "And you're telling me this why?"
"Because it amuses me." Loki shrugged. "Perhaps you'd like to go stop the thing. I'd be happy to help. It's my carefully maintained reputation its ruining, you know."
"I'd think you'd appreciate it, the way the robot kicked our asses."
Loki opened his mouth to argue, but stopped himself; as much as he wanted to be contrary about everything now just because this robot situation had him so ridiculously... perturbed, he still had to remember the long game. And for the long game to remain a game, he needed to keep Clint and his friends dancing like puppets, even if that was harder to do with only one functioning hand. Effortlessly, he reset his expression into a sneer. "Please. Carefully maintained reputation. I've got far more finesse, and you know it."
"Oh yeah? What about when we--"
Loki cut Clint off with a graceful flip of his hand. "Nail file."
Clint shut his mouth with an audible snap. "Ass."
"Do you really want to discuss that?" Loki settled back against the thin hospital pillow, satisfied that he'd put up enough cover for the time being as Clint's face turned a shade he'd never seen outside of a razzleberry sno-cone57.
Clint waggled one finger at him, but didn't manage to say anything. Which was a good decision on his part, since he was hopelessly outmatched, and Loki was more than prepared to start singing Lady Gaga at the man, for the sheer pleasure of watching him explode. And Loki had, in his own opinion, a more than reasonable singing voice.
"Arecibo, Clint. There's a good man." Regally, Loki waved him out of the room. Clint was flustered enough that he didn't notice Natasha trying to get his attention; likely, she would have tried to remind Clint that Loki really ought to have the handcuffs put back on him.
Really, things were starting to look up, if only a little. As the door shut firmly behind Clint, Loki turned to Agent Romanoff and gave her a slow, lazy smile. "Now," he purred, "where were we?"
53 – While it works better if the villain is in possession of a goatee to stroke, it has been proven to aide with both plotting and theorizing.
54 – This was a thing that Loki told himself on a regular basis, just as he told himself that he had absolutely nothing to do with the swift disappearance and painful demise of the few people that had managed to seriously injure his brother.
55 – For Loki, Just In Case was a tangible, almost living thing. He had contingencies for his contingencies. Partially, this was a way to make certain that he never got put into a corner that wasn't of his own making56. And partially, it was because the more complicated he made things, the more of his IQ it required to keep track of it all, and that in turn meant he could sleep at night without his brain running in circles and yipping like a lap dog on speed.
56 – It was fair to say that, at this particular moment with his ankles shackled to a hospital bed, his particular method of Just In Case still needed some work.
57 – Loki had intended to hunt down and horribly murder the marketing wonk that had come up with the idea of cutely misspelling those two things, but after actually ingesting one of those cold, delicious treats, he'd found that a sugar rush felt curiously like forgiveness.