Odd Man Out

A sequel to Lonely Gods. Be sure to read that first.

Not my characters.

...

It took months before SHIELD, the rest of the Avengers, and Thor and Natasha were able to reach an agreement on how Loki was to be treated. During that time he was kept in a relatively pleasant furnished apartment in the basement of the tower where the Avengers lived, except the one door was locked - and bolted, shielded, electrified, and reinforced with layers of steel, magic-inhibiting cold iron, and concrete - from the outside. There was a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, a living room, a television, and a well-stocked bookcase of encyclopedias, histories, and guides to pop culture. Natasha had selected the contents of the library. She and Thor visited daily, sometimes both at once.

If these visits occasionally included silent, awkward, yet much-needed family cuddles while watching a movie, then JARVIS was polite enough not to comment.

Impressed by impeccable behavior on Loki's part, except for the occasional rages against crockery that he neatly swept up and used magic to reconstruct after he had calmed down, and fully aware of how much of a help he could be against all these supervillains and aliens that kept attacking, the other Avengers argued for Loki to be put on probation as a member of the team.

Fury agreed on the condition that a small explosive device be implanted somewhere on Loki's body, so that someone entrusted with the code could detonate it if Loki proved a threat. After loud objections, he proposed that Natasha and Thor be the ones to agree upon, set, and be sole keepers of said code. Loki, who was handcuffed to the conference table, resolved the dispute by quietly saying, "I find this acceptable, as long as the code is also used should any of the Chitauri locate me and seek vengeance."

When he was asked to expound on that, Loki's explanation that the Chitauri had only saved him from the Void in order to lead their invasion and had in fact given him a preview of what tortures awaited him upon failure or betrayal mollified Fury somewhat.

"I'll give you your chance, Loki. Don't make me regret it."

The Doctor had taken away the scepter Loki received from the Chitauri, which he had no objection to as it would have allowed that race to track and find him more easily. All agreed, also, that it was best that the people of Earth not realize - at least for now - that Loki was among them. So under Thor's and Stark's watchful eyes Loki borrowed Stark's forging tools to fashion a new set of armor, including a helmet that would hide his face, and a staff to help him focus his magic as well as use in the manner of an ordinary weapon.

Barton stayed out of Loki's way. Loki saw no reason to reproach this. Banner also wanted little to do with him. Loki still winced at the memory of the man's beast-shape nearly pulverizing him, and was grateful for this shyness and caution on the scientist's part.

Stark and Rogers, however, seemed neither to fear nor particularly loathe him, and as he prepared to join in the Avenger's next battle they were calm and professional. Stark even made jokes Loki caught himself smiling at.

That battle duly came - a colossal mutated alligator and its still-the-size-of-buses hatchlings breaking their way through the roads, having outgrown the sewers. Loki saved Barton from being swallowed whole, and made the vital realization that if they drove the hatchlings away from the city without harming them, the mother would follow without attempting to kill and eat. The Avengers herded the giants through to a portal Loki created, which he sealed up behind them.

"Where did that portal lead to, anyway?" Stark asked when they were at the main Avengers recreation room, cleaning weapons and patching up minor wounds. At least the others were. Stark had a mussed and exhausted Banner sleeping, curled in a ball, practically in his lap as the billionaire lounged unselfconsciously on the sofa.

"This same place, but another time. An ancient time on Earth before humans lived, where they may rampage as they please. I fear the amount of magic I had to summon for such a great spell will leave me drained for a week at least," Loki replied. Natasha was bandaging his cracked ribs. By now she knew he would heal fast enough that he didn't need further medical help. "Thank you, dear one. Now my turn."

"I'm usually the one who..." the previously silent Barton began, looking up from building new arrows and placing them in his quiver. The different parts were scattered on the table in front of him.

Loki looked him in the eyes. "I saved your life today, and I have lacked years with my daughter. Please humor me."

"This is embarrassing," Natasha muttered, but she let Loki fuss over her.

"What I don't understand is how Loki understood the alligator's behavior so quickly," Steve commented to Thor, who was picking bits of brick out of Steve's hair.

"Hold still," Thor admonished, nudging him back into place with large but not ungentle hands. "And it is most natural that Loki would know the heart of a mother like himself."