It had been a frustrating day for Loki, and he blamed the doctors entirely for it. Perhaps an hour after Clint Barton had shown himself out the door, the doctors had come for Agent Romanoff and taken her away. Apparently she got to go home and drink milkshakes through a straw for the next several weeks.
That thought alone had Loki brooding and shredding his horrid little hospital pillow a bit at a time. He would have killed for a milkshake. Literally. Several people. And to get to go home? Except that would require a home that hadn't been violated by an abomination, and would further require both an operable blender and his waffle iron, because a house without a waffle iron certainly wasn't a home.
But no, Agent Romanoff got to go home and enjoy all the comforts of not being handcuffed to a bed, while he was deprived of his only source of entertainment and still wearing an assless dress and ankle shackles. It would have been enough to make lesser beings scream with rage. Instead, Loki simply considered the horrible things he would do to this place once he had taken his magic back from the robot. It would start, he decided, with cockroaches. Flesh-eating ones. He'd just build it up from there.
Eventually he gave up on the plotting because it had gotten so elaborate that even he was forced to admit it had gone a bit silly. That was around the time an orderly, escorted by two guards, brought him a tray full of unappetizing food. But still, he managed to smile sweetly and ask for a pen, since there was hardly anything he could do with one of those.
Shockingly, they did give him a pencil, though just a stub that was too small to stab someone with unless his aim was precise – not something he could count on in his weakened state – and he managed to get a lucky shot at the jugular. But it was a writing implement, and that was all that mattered. Soon he had filled every surface he could reach with diagrams and equations, though he was careful to write it in code and also add some random gibberish here and there. But he needed to start thinking ahead, considering how he could find the damned robot with only the pathetic level of Midgard technology at his disposal.
At some point, he did remember the tray of food. The sandwich tasted of the plate, the potato salad tasted of mayonnaise and not much else. And there was a jell-o cup for dessert... an orange one.
That, he threw at the door. It made a most satisfying splat.
* * *
Quite some time later, the door to his room opened. Loki glanced up, one hand still busily drawing; he expected either another orderly, or perhaps Clint Barton, returned to entertain him. Instead it was another of Thor's friends that he recognized as Steve Rodgers, also known as Captain America. He had a severe case of hood hair, and a grim expression on his face.
"Do watch out for--"
There was a screech of shoe rubber against tile, and Steve only saved himself from an undignified fall by grabbing the foot of Loki's bed.
Loki cleared his throat, tapping his lips with the pencil stub, which had now been reduced to little more than an eraser with a bit of graphite sticking from it. "You probably ought to talk to whoever caters for this base. Their jiggly dessert made an escape attempt."
Steve didn't even crack a smile, but Loki had always pegged him as an overly-earnest sort that would likely believe any outrageous lie so long as it was delivered with a straight enough expression. "We just got back from Arecibo."
"I remember the area being quite lovely. How was it?"
Instead of answering directly, Steve produced a key and began unlocking Loki's shackles. "It could have gone better."
"I think Agent Romanoff had similar thoughts about the museum." As soon as his ankles were free, Loki drew his legs up to his chest, not particularly caring that he was flashing his naughtier bits at Steve; the man could count it as a special thank you. Really, it just felt wonderful to stretch his back out. "So I'm free to go, then?"
"Come with me," Steve said. "But don't try to run, okay?"
"Not without a proper pair of pants, I'm not going to." Loki slid carefully from the bed.
A very small smile tugged at Steve's lips. "Not going to what? Come with me, or run?"
"Either. I do have some tattered shreds of my dignity remaining."
"They've probably got what's left of your clothes somewhere around here. I'll wait." And Steve did just that, as Loki went through the cabinets and eventually found the pants he'd stolen fair and square.
Loki considered perhaps lifting a scalpel or two to arm himself, but at this point it just seemed petty and sad. He pulled on his pants, careful to flash just enough leg and buttock at the man to gauge a reaction. The reaction was profoundly unhelpful, like everything else in his current life. "Now that I'm somewhat more properly clothed, feel free to end this tooth-grinding suspense."
Steve led him out into the hallway, and two doors down, to another unexciting hospital room. Without comment, he opened the door and stepped aside to give Loki a good look at the occupant.
It took far longer than it should have for Loki's brain to process the sight, mostly because what his eyes reported was so nonsensical.
The person in the hospital bed had blond hair that spread over the thin pillow in a careless wash, like Thor. He also had a beard, just like Thor. And the same nose, the same little scar barely visible by his ear where he'd gotten grazed by an arrow when he and Loki were running from some very irate elves. Really, the person in the bed looked exactly like his brother, only that was utterly impossible because Thor didn't simply lay in a bed with a little plastic thing in his nose and a couple of tubes sticking out of his arms, let alone a bunch of wires emanating from under his inoffensively-patterned blue and white hospital gown. Thor, Loki was fairly certain, was physically incapable of sitting still unless he was insolently lounging, and the only time he ever had his eyes closed was when he was asleep or drunk.
Or knocked unconscious by Loki on the rare occasion that things went a little too according to plan, but then that was alright because Loki himself had a hand in it, and could therefore fix everything with a little wave of his fingers with no one the wiser, and life would continue on in its normal fashion where everyone thought Loki was an evil bastard that couldn't quite get it right and he thought everyone else was fucking hilarious.
Loki looked curiously toward the door. He'd snapped part of the metal frame off in his hand – apparently he wasn't quite as weak as he'd thought – and broken three of his nails in the process. Red bubbles of blood decorated his fingertips. He dropped the bit of frame on the floor and absently wiped his hand on the hospital gown he still wore, looking back toward Steve. "I don't think much of the shoddy construction in this facility," he said, his tone utterly bland and calm.
Steve was giving him a wide-eyed look that on any other day, at any other moment, would have had Loki in stitches, or perhaps considering how best to exploit it. "I'll make sure to pass that along."
Loki took a step, then another, toward the hospital bed. It took far too much effort to get his feet to move, to force his lungs to suck in air, and his normal methods of sweet talking or threatening wouldn't exactly work on his own body. He made himself touch Thor's arm, then his face; even to Loki's normally cold skin, he seemed far too chilly, devoid of the something that had always made Thor so utterly annoying and yet so comfortingly dependable. He lightly nudged Thor's chin, turning his brother's head to get a better look at the side of his face in the light, then leaned down and sniffed.
He swallowed convulsively, almost losing control in an instant. And then he did what he always did in these situations, what he'd learned as a hard lesson during his long, endless fall from the Bifrost what felt like centuries ago. He swallowed down all of the inconvenient emotions, leashed the bubbling madness and told the icy, inner core of rage that made him Loki to wait. Because now was the time to listen, absorb, and think.
It was a waste to unleash screaming hell without knowing where to aim it.
Loki straightened up; out of habit his face rearranged itself into a smile, something made of wood and metal, utterly unreal yet ready to cut and stab at a moment's notice. "I think you'd better tell me what happened," he said pleasantly.
Steve crossed his arms over his chest. Really, he looked like he'd rather be hugging himself for the comfort of it. "I wasn't actually there when it happened. Clint was. He might be awake by now."
"Then let's pay him a visit."
They left Thor's room; Loki didn't glance back. Clint's room was across the hall; it had obviously been cleared out hastily. Clint was a mass of white bandages with bits of red ooze showing through, wires and splints and monitors.
"Clint... you awake, buddy?" Steve said.
And Clint Barton did crack an eye open then. "Yo," he rasped.
Loki leaned against the bed railing, putting his face in Clint's line of sight. "Tell me everything that happened."
Clint frowned. "Steve?"
"I let him out. Just... tell him. Okay?"
Loki grabbed Clint's chin, pulled the man's face back around so that they were almost nose to nose. "Leave no detail unspoken. I will know."
For a moment, Clint's eyes widened. His pupils were so large that they almost swallowed up his irises. Then he let out a dry, wry chuckle. "You know, you're not as scary as you think."
Loki frowned. "Excuse me?"
Again, that chuckle. "Or maybe it's just 'cause I can't feel my legs. That scares the hell out of me so bad I don't have room for anything else."
Behind him, Steve made an unhappy noise; Loki just shook his head. "Focus, Clint Barton. Tell me everything. I have vengeance I need to take."
"So long as you promise to throw in a little extra for me."
Loki found himself smiling, and this time it felt ever so slightly less wooden. "Of course."
For a man on a morphine drip, Clint had a good memory for detail, and a factual, concise way of speaking, even if the words came out slurred. Loki listened, and needed to ask no questions; that was a rare treat.
Clint fell asleep after he'd finished speaking; Loki waved Steve out of the room, then shut the door behind them. For a long time there was no sound but the buzzing of the fluorescent lights as they stared at each other.
He'd been set on defeating the robot before, of course; it was the only way he'd be able to recover his magic, he was certain of that now. But the stakes were higher, the game more dangerous. It enraged him, left him exhilarated, filled him with dread all at once. Loki spoke, holding up one finger. "I know what needs to be done."
"Then let's do it."
Loki snorted. "I don't have what you would call a good track record of working with others."
"There's a first time for everything."
Loki looked into Steve's eyes, noting the eerie similarity of their color to Thor's. But it was more than that, which made him hesitate. He expected to see cockiness, perhaps, or the sort of alpha-male smugness he so often got from people that were too stupid to be afraid of him. He'd expected some sort of challenge or threat, some sort of macho display. Instead he simply saw determination, earnestness.
He didn't know quite what to make of it. "You could be of use," he admitted.
It was Steve's turn to snort. "Thanks, I think."
"You will do as I say. I have a plan. If you go running off half-cocked like my-- like Thor, you'll only damage my-- our chances."
"I can do that." Steve nodded. "Just tell me the plan, I'll stick to it."
Loki smiled. "The bare bones, perhaps. But every good plan adapts constantly. You will have to listen."
"I can do that too." Steve offered his hand; Loki stared at it until he let it drop back to his side with a resigned shrug. "Where do we start?"
"Pants," Loki said.
"You've already got pants."
"Better pants means better thinking. And then a shirt. And shoes." Loki smiled. "And then we'll have a public service announcement to make."
Steve laughed. "Just promise I won't have to punch Hitler again."