"Okay, I think I got it this time," Steve said, staring down at the little camcorder in his hands as if he expected it to bite him.
"Are you absolutely certain?" After seven takes, Loki knew better than to trust what Steve thought.
"Um... let me re-watch it. That's the green button, right?"
"Right." Loki carefully laid down on the top of the desk, propping his feet up on the potted plant so that they were above heart level. It helped chase away the black spots fuzzing his vision, though not the sound of his own heartbeat rushing in his ears. That particular sound could have easily been a product of pain, or of frustration. Most likely a combination of the two.
He had thought it important to appear of sound body, whether that was truly the case or no, just to stick home the point that he was still alive and capable of mocking his opponent. Loki carefully picked up the collar of his shirt and peered at the bandage covering his shoulder; no blood showing through, which he took as a good sign. The grinding sensation of his collarbone every time he'd jumped up on top of the damn desk had been bad enough without ruining another shirt.
Steve watched the little screen on the camcorder intently; Loki's voice came out of it as a tinny parody. "Is the 'puny mortals' thing really necessary?"
"The truth hurts, doesn't it." Loki lightly rubbed his forehead with his fingers. "Besides, I also did say I was grateful. To a certain extent."
"And the statement 'pea-sized brains.' You can't say that's true."
"It depends on if we're speaking literally or metaphorically."
"Well, the video looks good." Steve looked up, grinning. "Really good, if I do say so myself."
"Perhaps you've missed your true calling. The Academy must feel so deprived."
Steve walked over and offered him the camcorder. "You feeling okay?"
"Because I've noticed you're more sarcastic when you're not feeling good."
"What a keen observation. I'm always sarcastic," Loki snapped.
"Sure you are," Steve said with forceful cheer. "How's the shoulder?"
"Don't ask questions you don't want me to actually answer." Loki took the camcorder and fastforwarded through the video. It didn't have to be perfect, and the idea of doing another six or seven takes was not at all appealing. He pushed the little device back at Steve. "Give this to the tech people. Tell them to get it out as soon as possible."
"Not a problem. I'll be back in a few, then. Do you want anything?"
Loki closed his eyes, covering them with his hand. For a moment, he contemplated asking for silence, or a new shoulder, or any other request that might approach witty. The sort of thing he would have said to Thor, really, when on the receiving end of a similarly dim question. He just didn't have the energy, and he didn't want to hear Steve's voice answering back, or find himself looking into Steve's overly earnest blue eyes instead of his brother's. That little hint of smugness that Thor always carried with him made all the difference, there. "Nothing, thank you."
He listened to Steve's retreating footsteps with a mixture of relief and dread. Relief, because he was exhausted, and perhaps even a little nervous, and the all-American corn-fed hero act was beginning to wear on the few nerves that he had left. And he knew he probably couldn't sharpen his temper on Steve the way he could on Thor, not if he wanted his cooperation. While Thor still didn't seem to understand Loki all that well, centuries of being brothers before things had gone out of control had gifted the man with a certain understanding of Loki's temper, and when it was best to just hunker down and say nothing.
Yet dread, because without the man's annoying presence, he was left to his own thoughts, which were somehow less pleasant than normal. Even though he really thought he'd hit rock bottom after the robot had forcefully torn his magic from his very soul, the sight of Thor as a limp wreck in a hospital bed was still not something he wanted to fully grasp because it was just too upsetting. And that realization was upsetting in and of itself, which only built on the upset until it was a veritable magical mountain of utter emotional turmoil, with a cherry on top.
And of course, the cherry of woe on his upset sundae was the plan that he himself had come up with. It was a good plan. It would very likely work, of if it failed, he'd be dead and beyond worrying about it anyway, which wasn't such a bad outcome compared to the other options. It was all very neat, tactically sound, and logical. But no amount of logic could touch the utter loathing he felt just thinking about it, churning his stomach until he thought he might just vomit.
Without his magic, the thing that he felt made him truly himself, there was only one other weapon. And that weapon would make him a monster.
Or perhaps, not so much make him a monster as force him to face a truth he'd been doing his best to avoid.
"It doesn't matter," he said out loud, the words very measured, "so long as I win."
"What's that?" Steve asked.
Loki cracked an eye open. Steve had returned, the camcorder still cradled under one arm. "Did you give them the video?"
Steve glanced down at the little electronic device. "I did. They just pulled it right off this thing, and said I could keep it if I wanted." He smiled sheepishly. "Oh, and I got you some ice. For your shoulder, since I figured it's probably bothering you." He offered Loki a plastic pack with a towel half wrapped around it.
It was so thoughtful, and almost offensive that he seemed to think Loki needed anything, from anyone. But the fact that it was an ice pack was just too much to bear; Loki started laughing, because it was that or lose control of his outer calm. It was laugh, or – if he was being completely honest with himself – cry.
Steve let his arm drop back to his side, a look of confusion crossing his face.
Loki sat up carefully, muffling his laughter with one hand. "There will be time for ice later," he said, the words interrupted by a few stray giggles. He dug a sheet of paper out of his pocket and opened it one-handed, smoothing it on his leg. The paper was covered with calculations and sketches, which Steve squinted at, but couldn't make any sense of. "We should have twenty-five minutes, maybe half an hour once the video has been sent." Loki slid from the desk and stood.
"That's more than enough time to get to the site."
"And you're certain my instructions for the site have been followed to the letter?"
"As sure as I can be of anything." Steve shrugged. "I told them it was all my plan, not yours. I figured there'd be less arguing that way."
Loki laughed again, though this time the sound had at least a small note of pleasant surprise to go with the weight of an unhinged mind.
"You have a bit of unexpected depth to you, it seems." He carefully slid off the desk, smoothing his jacket down with one hand.
"Thanks, I think." Steve set the little ice pack down on the corner of the desk farthest from Loki. "Are you sure you don't want a gun at least?"
Loki smiled, the expression brittle. "Very certain."