Title: What the Cart Dragged In

Author: Japanese and Chocolate

Rating: K+

Word count: 5,217

Characters/Pairings: Loki/Jane, Darcy, Erik

Summary: A small mishap leaves Loki with four paws and a tail…and in Jane's care.

Her hand trailed down his back, muscles coiling and twitching beneath his skin at the sensation. Her fingers splayed through his hair, tugging the strands in almost-pain causing his eyelids droop and a tide of warmth wash through him. Never before had he spared a thought for this human, but the dark brown hair draped around him and the movements of her fingers over...oh!

The door to the room was banged open, and Loki bristled as Jane walked in, a phrase directed at the woman holding him trailing off as she took them in. Her gaze weighed on them for a moment, full of confusion one would not normally see in her level, woody eyes. Finally she said, "Darcy, why do you have a cat?"

The one called Darcy clamped her hands around his ribs and lifted him up, smooshing his face against hers and leaving him to dangle, belly exposed as she made demeaning comments invariably some variation of "aren't you sho adawable!"

"Darcy, you can't have a cat."

"I am a legal adult and I will do what I want."

"And you also need my approval for those six credits. Where did you even get it?"

"He was just out the front, mewling at the door. Poor thing was lost." Loki didn't tell them that he was not, indeed, lost. This was probably because he /couldn't/ tell them he wasn't lost. Just as he couldn't tell them who he was, why he was there, or how to begin remedying his...mishap.

Despite being revered as a god, he was not infallible. He had been experimenting with a new form of transmutation, and saw feline form the perfect case study. He took note of the warning that the form would last only one hundred and one days, unnecessary as he could see no reason one would take on animal form for so long, spoke the words, and promptly found himself tangled in heavy green velvet and leather.

He had problems pronouncing the reversal spell, though. Perhaps the inclusion of the...failsafe was not unnecessary. And so he sought someone to look after his needs as a cat, with the dual benefit of long-term observation of Jane.

"It's a stray? You were just pushing a /stray/ up against your face?" Jane exclaimed.

"I washed him first!" Yes, Darcy had washed him. He did so enjoy watching the dregs of his self-respect swirl down the drain.

"We can't keep him, Darcy." Jane sighed, her tone indicating that would be the end of the matter.

Darcy sat back on the lounge, pulling Loki into a cuddle once more. She kneaded the top of his head, and he surprised himself with the thrum emanating from his chest. Though this seemed to delight her, she muttered "I know."

~

"So he didn't have a collar?" Jane asked, for the fourth time.

"Nope" Darcy said somewhat gleefully. The pet shop was missing no kittens, and no one had yet shown up to claim him. Chances where she had gained a companion for when Jane and Erik went off on technobabble.

"Someone will show up." Jane said, albeit reluctantly. "We'll just keep him until then."

Loki purred.

~

Over the next few weeks, having Loki or 'Lucky draped over a workbench in the sun became a common feature of life in the former Smiths' Motors building. One could often find him reordering Jane's notes (advice she never took), leaning against her thigh on the rare moments she relaxed on the couch, or curled in her lap beneath the desk as she worked. Darcy tired of him rather quickly after he began to prefer attention from Jane and, rather like an abandoned suitor, turned her attentions to annoying the others once more. Except for when she gave him absent minded pats.

He was now able to observe from inside the glass walls what he had previously observed from outside. At night, Darcy would quit the room and head to her trailer, soon followed by Eric, who would warn Jane not to stay up too late before he too departed. The advice fell on deaf ears as she waited for the lights from their trailers to snap out before immediately ascending the back stairs to sit and wait for Loki to show for their nights of questions and answers.

The first night she had come down after half an hour, her face bearing a bitter smile at his absence. He had previously skipped their meetings for days at a time, when he had to lay out this or that for his plans, and often without giving her any warning. Truth be told, he enjoyed the look of relief on her face when she saw him again. On returning she closed the door with an excess of care, even though the others were long asleep. When Loki jumped off a desk and disturbed Erik's papers, she spun to seek the source of the noise with an apprehensive shift in her posture. Finally finding his curious, green eyes staring up at her she gave a soft smile and a little laugh. "Did Darcy forget you?" she asked. Darcy had in fact tried to cajole him into coming with her, but he remained obstinate to the point of swiping at her with his paw. Jane said "I suppose, tonight, you can come with me." She sighed, and he marvelled at the human practice of talking to creatures from which they could get no response. Nonetheless he curled into her arms as she turned off the lights and left the building.

That was how he learned she found her way to her trailer in complete darkness every night she waited up for him.

He'd never stayed long enough before.

~

For the following week, Jane went up to the roof every night, waiting longer and longer before returning. Darcy had given up trying to make him come with her at night, and so each time he could observe her face up and eyes bright as she climbed the back stairs, and saw her descend slowly with disappointment clouding her vision. It had not occurred to him that, even in his absence, she must go to the roof every night. He had taken for waiting for her on the back of the single-seater lounge, which served a function of being both comfortable and satisfying the instinct that drove him to place himself higher than everyone else in the room, when possible. One night she stayed later than usual, and though his perception of time had become warped, he could tell it was well into the dead hours of pre-dawn that she waited.

The next day she was skittish and short-tempered, made simple mistakes in her calculations and sharpened her tongue on her colleagues more than once. The two left earlier that night, as if to escape the storm of her bad temper something with which he was familiar. Soon after, she gathered some of her notes and took them with her as she carried him to the trailer. He was dumped on the bed as she took the pages to her small table to continue the work.

He saw the bags under her eyes, the defensive hunch of her shoulders and the slight tremble in her fingers as she once more took up her pen.

This would not do.

He jumped from the bed to the floor, and then in one bound to the table. First he sat on her papers, butting his head up against her hand. She simply placed him on the ground, a little more forcefully each time. Instead he crawled into her lap and made a plaintive yowling noise, a sound far too undignified for a prince of...but he had always done what was necessary. With the thought of continuing work so unattractive, and the benefits of shutting him up and resting so appealing, she swept up her cat and fell onto the blankets, too tired to do anything but tangle her legs in them for warmth.

Loki curled by her head, his work done.

~

The first time she called him, 'Your Royal Highness', he thought he'd been discovered. Like conflicting currents, his gladness and something else regret? mixed within him as he readied his least embarrassing explanations as to how he had ended up a cat in the first place. Though he had vowed never to try an equine form again, he had nothing against felines, he discovered. As he stretched back on his haunches, forming the hypotenuse of a triangle against the surface of the desk, he had to admit feline form had certain benefits.

But nothing happened.

No machines were recalibrated, no research done, nothing. But he noticed that when he took the prime position on the couch he was not pushed to the side as they did each other. He was fed well before they were, got attention whenever he wanted it and was free to do as he wished.

The imperiousness that was discouraged, nay disparaged, in a younger son was expected in a cat. So he ate when he wanted to, took the attention he could get, and determined to try feline shape again sometime.

~

As the days cut more like a Jotun's blade, Jane left the roof earlier at night.

One day, she made to take her notes up with her, then changed her mind and took him instead. She went to sit on her normal chair, and he jumped onto his, curling in to preserve warmth but making sure he could still see her.

She looked up at the sky, unguarded as she could only be when not in the presence of the other mortals. She'd pulled her sleeves over her fingers, exposing the curve of her neck and the alluring line of her collarbone in doing so. Her hair fanned out over one shoulder, and draped over the side of the chair concealing cracks in the weathered frame.

She wore an emerald blouse, one he thought looked rather splendid on her. With her tan pants, mahogany hair and hazel eyes, she looked oddly grounded as she looked up to the skies. For some reason she reminded him of the forests of the younger world, man's undiscovered places in a time when he visited this realm often.

Now the forests were very well discovered, and conquered. And Jane looked up at the skies with its new undiscovered places.

She would never seek to conquer.

~

It was in his lab.

He stretched to his full height, propped up on his hind paws, on top of a makeshift bed he had made of Selvig's notes. His green eyes analysed the creature, the intruder, that had settled itself on the lounge. The mass of shaggy blonde hair was taking up his seat, taking up the entire lounge. And moulting. He never liked dogs.

Without his permission, his humans had agreed to look after the dog for some friends in town that would be away for a week. It blundered into the main room, tongue lolling and immediately garnered the attention of all within, be it in adoration or concern for the furniture. It reminded him so much of another he knew... Once, his brother had asked him what it was like to shape change, had begged Loki to show him. And so he had, casting on Thor a spell that would change him into what his subconscious dictated, for a day. He expected something grand, to fulfil the expectations the heir to Asgard's golden throne. An eagle with shimmering feathers, perhaps? A lion already grown into its full, splendid mane? No, but he was indeed golden. A golden retriever. It was somewhat soothing to find his brother not so high and mighty as he let on.

And now he looked on to see Darcy, Selvig and even Jane succumbing to the charms of the mindless beast. They were welcome to it. The only time he bothered to move that day was when his food was served, but the dog got to it and ate it before Loki had the chance, without anyone else noticing.

When everyone else left, and Jane came to take Loki with her up to the roof, he refused. He remained a dead weight, ungainly to hold, until she abandoned the attempt and went up by herself. When she returned, barely fifteen minutes later, she approached him cautiously, saying "Would you like to...?"

He turned his face away and flicked up his tail in what even these humans knew to be a gesture of superiority and apathy. She stood for a moment, looking like one of the girls just publicly rejected by Thor, before muttering "All right," squaring her shoulders, picking up her papers and turning off the lights.

In the dark, two green, glowing pricks of light watched every dreamy twitch of the golden retriever painted ghostlike silver by the moonlight. It curled in on itself like the dog in his memories.

He did not like it.

~

When Jane shuffled into the lab the next day, her fatigue was palpable, as if draining the rest of the room of a little energy and warmth. He felt a twinge of something, remembering his refusal to go to her trailer last night, and the way she sometimes worked well into the wee hours if he wasn't there to meow and lie on her notes until she gave up and went to sleep. As he watched her, he noticed how she seemed to be using minimal effort, sitting limply in her chair as though her muscles just weren't up to the task today. She looked up to the turbulent sky, perhaps not the type of turbulence she would like, and her sigh seemed like a resignation to some awful fate.

The trucks arrived close to noon, just minutes after it started raining. To complete the impression of Thor, the dog jumped at anyone he didn't know. This promised to be an ongoing problem as the men were transporting several heavy boxes and required the glass door, which had been shivering in the wind, to be propped open. Their first attempt proved a disaster as the dog dashed from the building into the rain, and Jane followed it into the desert until both were black shadows against the grey sky. Their progress back was slower as the golden retriever fought returning to his confinement.

When they finally returned, covered in red-brown streaks of desert mud, the men had done their first three loads and were moving on to the second van. The dog was shepherded into the back room, where it threw itself against the door repeatedly so as not to miss its limited window of opportunity. The open glass door served as a gateway for gusts that hailed freezing droplets and disorganized papers. Loki felt the cold far less keenly than others, though he would still not dwell on the reasons why, but he took the opportunity to sit on Jane's lap under the desk. It was what a real cat would do, nothing more.

Another hour or so later the men had finished unloading the vans. Jane gave them a weary "Thanks, guys." before dislodging a snoozing Loki from her lap and turning to the boxes. They contained machine components of varying complexity and size, and she assembled them with surprising efficiency, waving away Erik's offered assistance and Darcy's annoyances. When she sought something done well, she did it herself. He could respect that.

Shortly before dusk, just after it became necessary for the lights to be turned on, the large device with 'Stark' emblazoned on the sides was assembled and connected to many of the other machines, blue symbols scrolling across and down the screen. When the letters at the top, which Jane had been watching eagerly, read '83 the lights flickered, made one valiant attempt at remaining on, and cut out.

"Shit."

The room stilled, as if waiting for reality to kick-start along with the generator, until a particularly violent sheet of rain thwacked the glass and there was a scramble to find candles and torches to supplement the faint glow of what little sunlight remained. Following that, they drifted towards the centre of the room, where the flickering candles were concentrated. They conversed easily, laughed nervously when one of them jumped at a particularly loud clap of thunder, remembered at the last moment their canine charge was sulking in the back room. Loki had slung himself over the couch, behind Jane, one forepaw hanging over the back as the candlelight silvered some of his fur. He could smell her hair, the damp of the quick, cold, shower she'd had when it became apparent the lights wouldn't be on anytime soon. When he began to doze and purr, she twisted around to pull him off his lofty perch and into his lap. He liked it better there.

When lights came back on, Jane deposited Loki on the coffee table and leapt to the StarkTech like it was an old friend in distress. She circled it for a moment, switched it on, and when this failed she tried to reset it. She flew to her computers and would on each one tap the keys with shaking fingers, glimpse over the screen and move onto the next. After the last, she took a step back and looked on the row like they were mutinous soldiers.

"Jane?" Selvig asked in concern.

"The data...it's gone"

"But the backups..."

"Were on Stark's machine and, from what I can tell, the hard drive is fried. It's gone."

She stood surrounded by her empty machines, screens like the glazed eyes of barely-there friends after a defeat in battle.

"Jane, get some sleep."

"Ok."

Erik and Darcy left the building, into the mist that remained from the thunderstorm. Jane gathered Loki up against her chest, flicked out the traitorous lights, and marched to her trailer. She did not once glance up to the roof, as she had on other days with similar weather. He did not mind.

The trailer was cool, but Jane merely kicked out of her damp jeans and pulled her shirt over her head and crawled under the rumpled doona without putting nightclothes on. Loki jumped up after her, snuggling in under her chin and breathing warm air over her neck. On another night she would have laughed, but the sudden shift in her breathing came out only as a sigh. So he moved further down the bed towards her stomach, edging his head under the blanket near where he knew her hand was. He curled inwards against her belly and butted his nose against her fingers. When she began to stroke the side of his face he nuzzled into her hand and purred, the light rumble reverberating against her skin and audible above the thick blankets. Loki knew that awake, her expression would not lighten, but in sleep a small smile would part her lips.

But he was too comfy to check.

~

One of the benefits of being a pe...domesticated animal was sleeping whenever one wished. And not sleeping whenever one wished. Loki woke after a few hours, somewhat stifled by blankets, and twisted himself free to go lie on the pillow beside Jane's head. Her lips turned up in her sleep, but her shoulders still hunched as if expecting the something else to go wrong. That wouldn't do.

Magic was bound up, safer and more intricate, when worked in through words, like embroidery on a dress. But the fabric was willpower, and would always be will. Though he had found it impossible to summon the willpower to return him to Asgardian form, possibly thwarted by the wording of the original spell, there were no such limitations to spells he cast on Jane. He looked into her face, opened his mouth, and breathed a green mist over her. It beaded in her hair like the earlier rain had, settled on her skin like emerald dust, held for a moment, and then faded.

He fell asleep once more, content that tomorrow Jane would have a very good day.

~

Loki snoozed late into the morning, the effort of last night's spell catching up to him, and barely woke when Jane carried him into the Smiths' Motors building. Through slitted eyes he glimpsed Jane moving frantically about the room, and his ears caught snippets of her conversation as she talked into the phone.

"Mr Stark. I don't think this is funny. Your machine wiped my hard drives as it went, and then went and got itself fried...No, I don't care about efficiency, my data is gone...It was a thunderstorm...I /highly/ doubt it was Thor." Loki's ears perked up at his brother's name. "He's /not/ my boyfriend" she muttered into the device.

Loki settled back onto the desk, enjoying the sunlight as it turned is obsidian fur into a personal blanket of warmth. It was always the more sweet after a storm.

"Wait, there are two backups? Let me check...Oh, thank god!"

'You're welcome', he thought, though seemingly he was not the only one with a high opinion of himself as Jane said "No, Tony, I was not talking to you." she paused, "And don't call me 'sweetheart'." She hung up.

Loki's content mood vanished, like water evaporated from his back by the now too-powerful sun He jumped off the desk and up into Jane's lap, a warm furball against her stomach as she absentmindedly caressed the undamaged secondary hard drives.

A sharp pain in his forehead, like his brother had flicked him between the eyes, struck him as he started to doze once more. Unconsciously his claws extended, hooking into Jane's trousers and scraping against her skin. At her exclamation, one of shock rather than any actual pain, he leapt off her lap and crawled under the lounge. For a moment he could see the outline of her feet, like twin sentinels, before she moved to finish her work and leave him in peace. He was familiar with this feeling, having worked his magic to the point of draining his life once before. But how? What had he done?

The good luck spell. For it to have such an effect on him it must have prevented some great misfortune. A misfortune that, had he been in his normal form, even he would have been hard-pressed to prevent. The thought made the fur over his shoulders ripple.

The shudder continued, until he was shivering under the lounge, in defiance of the warm honey-gold light streaming into the room. He was changing, but it was too soon. Was his magic so depleted that he couldn't maintain the little thread that bound him in feline form?

He needed to get out. Now. His thoughts honed on one of the small windows, thrown open in beckoning to a cool breeze. It would suffice. But how to get to it? That chair-the table-upturned washing basket. That was the surest path, but he would have to be quick to elude the grasping fingers of his humans. From there he could crawl around the building, into town to shift in peace. To make sure they did not follow him, he would need an illusion, if he could summon the strength.

Ignoring the sensation of Thor banging Mjolnir against the inside of his skull, he edged towards the light on the side of the lounge closest to his chosen path, and crouched like a lioness about to strike. When neither Darcy nor Erik could be seen, and Jane was on the peripheral of his sight, he dashed for that chair-

The table-

Upturned washing basket-

Window-

Ground.

He heard papers scattered in a scramble for the window, and jumped back into the shade of the building as Jane looked out. With the last of his strength, he willed into being the image of a black streak heading towards the horizon. It was indistinct and unrefined, but it would have to do.

The shade would have to suffice as camouflage. He hadn't the strength to do anything else before he collapsed.

~

He could not return to her until two days after he left. The first was spent recovering from whatever had drained him, and the rapid onset of his change. The second was remedying the damage his absence had rendered to his plans.

When he finally did return to the rooftop, she did not come up. He saw the others leave, the lights remained on, but she did not join him. It was then he recalled how she had stopped coming to the rooftop regularly. When he was a cat she had been omnipresent, and he saw little need to track her comings and goings. Should he join her? She had agreed to meet him on the rooftop every night, instead of in the comfort of her lab, because she regarded it a sacred space, and he an intruder.

If she would not come up, he would go down. He had, after all, been living there for several weeks. With a thought, he sent a copy of himself to materialize in his favourite chair, and in doing so found it slightly too small to accommodate him and his armour. Before making it visible, he relocated the copy to the lounge.

"Jane Foster." She had been facing away from him, and when he said her name the top half of her body froze, fingers dropping the papers she was rearranging, just as she spun around, tripped over her feet and had to grab the desk for support.

"Loki." her tone fell somewhere between annoyance and relief. She paused for a moment longer and walked over. When she was a foot away, he saw her hand rise infinitesimally, to touch or strike him he did not know, before she thought the better of it. He adjusted the spell so the copy had substance, just in case. With measured words she asked "Where have you been?"

He would not tell her the whole truth, knowing not how she would react. Instead he simply stated "Fixing a minor error in a rather intricate spell."

"For two months?"

"Evidently. I do believe I...lost track of time."

Her crossed arms and raised eyebrow communicated, far better than words, how likely she thought this was.

"Just as humans experience time differently to animals, Aesir experience time differently to humans. We live for thousands upon thousands of years, so it is necessary to take things...slower."

"You could have warned me."

"Tow-che."

"What?"

"I believe it means 'point' in French."

"Oh." Laughter bubbled up behind a wide smile. "You mean 'touché'? It's pronounced 'too-shey'." She giggled once more. He had meant to distract her but...

Now he was being /giggled/ at.

"So, Jane Foster, you have had your question, now I will have mine. What has transpired while I was away?"

She began at world events, leaning over her knees as she explained financial downturns and this election or that. She progressed onto the developments in her research, or the parts which hadn't been classified by SHIELD, before leaning back and relaying Darcy's various shenanigans, including those he had been a party to.

"So you have a cat now?" Loki asked, curious as to her reaction to losing her pet.

She sighed. "No. He ran off two days ago." Her eyes clouded over somewhat, which Loki felt guilt for, having never seen her reduced to tears even when she believed her research gone.

Loki did not deal well with emotions, be they the emotions of others or himself. He was not as stunted as Thor, but every Asgardian prince, even one who was adopted, eventually learned to hide their weaknesses from others. But he did dimly recall once feeling what she was feeling.

"I made a horse once." he said. Her eyes trained on him, and he recalled the rather unfortunate myth the mortals had constructed on hearing his brother's drunken ramblings. "I made it /magically/. The spell used some of my blood and hair, replicating some of my genetic code, and its consciousness was moulded on a simpler version of my own mind, adapted to include equine instincts. So you can see how it gave rise to the myth that..."

"Oh."

"I raised it, and trained it. Fed it, nursed it when it was ill and brought it extra blankets during snowfalls." He recalled falling asleep in the stables and waking up with his head on Sleipnir's flank, and the horse's nose on his leg. "When my father went to war again, I asked Sleipnir to bear him safely to and from the battle. Though my father returned, Sleipnir...didn't."

Jane moved onto the other half of the lounge and made to rest her hand on his shoulder. She hesitated for a moment, which he found odd until he remembered that he was no longer her cat, and in her mind never had been. When her fingers rested lightly on his shoulder, and her squeeze translated lightly through the layers of leather and cloth, he knew this was something very different.

He gave a small smile in return for her own. She removed her hand, but did not move away. "I am sure he will turn up." he said.

"Yeah."

They stayed in silence for a moment, before he recalled he had another plan he had for tonight. "I should go." he said reluctantly.

"Yeah. I have to get to bed or I'll be a grouch in the morning."

"I shall see you tomorrow night..."

"Sure."

He inclined his head, before disintegrating the image and returning his consciousness to his original body. He walked to the edge of the roof to see Jane making her way to her trailer, guided by the pearly glow of its reflected moonlight. Seeing her home safe, he backed away from the edge and gathered his materials. Some herbs, matches, a small knife. He mixed everything in a small mortar and added a lock of his hair and a few drops of blood.

He knocked on her door a few minutes later, a black cat curled in his arms. "I believe you may have displaced this..."

"Lucky!"

"Lucky?"

"Well, there's a superstition on Earth that black cats with green eyes are /un/lucky, so..."

She had no idea how lucky she was. He spared her another smile, and marvelled at how this one mortal in one night had wrung from him two smiles missing their hard edge. Noticing her attire, he begged his leave with a final, cheeky, "Sweet dreams, Jane Foster."

Her hair brushed forward as she ducked her head, but he glimpsed the blush on her cheeks before she closed the door.

The cat was necessary. A spy. A diversion in case she wondered when why their appearances and disappearances coincided. And there was still something powerful his spell had prevented, he still didn't know what it was.

He returned to his abode, his bed too cold to sleep in. He closed his eyes, and felt 'Lucky' curl against Jane's chest. His breath over her neck made her giggle.

As she dozed, he wove the basics for spells of protection, embroidered with wards to warn him if she was approached by an enemy.

She slumbered on.