A/N: So this is it! Final chapter of Cultural Differences. Also, just a warning, Fury drops an f-bomb in this chapter. I know that a PG-13 rating allows the use of one (thank you, X-Men: First Class) but I thought I'd warn for it just in case.
Fury is enjoying a surprisingly relaxing afternoon in his office when a flash of blue light interrupts his reading. He'd thought the Avengers being gone would send out a signal to every villain in the galaxy to show up and try and take over Earth, but he was glad to say that he'd been wrong.
There had been no global catastrophes and no meetings with Stark where Fury tried fruitlessly to pry new weapons from the irritatingly stubborn man. There had been no complaints from SHIELD psychologists about how Agent Barton is 'uncooperative but definitely needs to talk out his Loki issues'. There had been no daily notes politely requesting an assignment and signed simply 'B.W.'. There had been no requests for another bulk order of punching bags.
Things had been quiet, but now they most certainly aren't.
Fury slowly looks up from the report he'd been scanning to see Odin himself standing before him. At least, Fury assumes it's Odin, and it's a reasonable assumption because how many one-eyed men use the Tesseract to travel through space?
"Good morning," Odin greets with a slight inclination of his head. "We have concluded our trial, given our sentence, and your team will be returned to you shortly."
"I'm glad," Fury says and he wonders what's the most diplomatic way to say why the hell are you here then. He can't find one so he waits.
"I have arrived here to speak to you about your part in Loki's punishment."
"My part?" Fury's proud of how he keeps his voice level. Since when does he have anything to do with Loki's punishment? He thought the whole point of taking Loki to Asgard was so that Asgard could deal with him.
Odin smiles as if he is doing Fury a great favor. "He has committed crimes against both Asgard and Midgard. His trial and sentencing took place on Asgard, his sentence will be carried out on Midgard, and if he violates his sentence," Odin pauses, "then Asgardian justice will be served."
Fury doesn't like the sound of that. Any of it really, but especially the last part. "Asgardian justice?" he asks. He remembers Loki's speech about ants and boots, and he knows that Loki doesn't have high respect for humans. He suspects that's something Loki learned on Asgard, and if they abide by the extreme version of survival of the fittest, Fury's not sure he's interested in their justice.
Odin nods. "Yes. Should Loki ruin the chance he has been given, it will fall on Thor to kill him."
Fury wishes he could collapse back into his seat. What had happened to his relaxing morning? He's not only in charge of babysitting an unstable, homicidal god of mischief but if he screws up then Loki gets dead? He's not too worried about Loki dying. The god had been a pain in his ass and had lost him a lot of good men, but Fury needs Thor, and he's not sure Thor's mental state could handle losing Loki.
"And what exactly is this chance he's been given?" Fury asks.
"At the suggestion of Steve Rogers, Loki has been given the opportunity to redeem himself."
Of course this was somehow Rogers' fault. Fury makes a mental note to demote him. Lieutenant America? Corporal America? He'll think about it later when he doesn't have a god standing in his office.
"Do not look so upset," Odin says. "I had wanted an outcome like this, but I could not influence the trial myself. I am glad that Steve Rogers is as honorable as Thor has told me."
"So Loki's getting a second chance." Fury can deal with the details of how exactly Steve managed to pardon their greatest enemy later when he gets a debriefing from his Avengers. "What exactly does that mean?"
"Like Thor, Loki has lessons to learn before he can take his proper place," Odin says. "Earth taught Thor well, and I trust that it will do the same for Loki. He is to learn responsibility and that all actions have repercussions. He will interact with your world, and he will learn."
He has to be joking, Fury thinks. He's actually playing babysitter to a god? Is this really his life now? Why does his planet have to serve as Odin's training grounds for his sons? Why couldn't Odin have just done this right the first time? There's a reason Fury doesn't have children of his own. He doesn't want them.
"He tried to destroy this world last time he was here," Fury points out.
"He will not do that again. Thor will kill him if he tries. Besides, I believe that phase has passed."
"Phase?" Fury asks, his voice climbing in pitch. "You call trying to subjugate a planet a phase?"
"For gods? Yes. Loki did not react well to learning that he was adopted, and I am afraid your planet suffered the consequences of that, but he has passed through the anger phase now. I believe he is ready for acceptance, and he will slowly come to that realization on your planet, surrounded by the Avengers who I believe will serve to be good influences on him."
It takes a moment for Odin's words to sink in. Loki is going through the Asgardian equivalent of teenage rebellion, and Fury's suddenly responsible for straightening him out? What. The. Hell.
"You said something about a proper place," Fury says. "What exactly am I helping to train Loki for?" He shakes his head as Odin's face begins to shut down. "No. You're here demanding, rather than asking for my help. That means I get answers. What is your endgame?"
Odin frowns but he concedes the point. "I told my sons when they were young that they were both born to be kings and that only one of them could be King of Asgard. I was not lying, but I omitted the fact that Loki was born to be the King of Jotunheim."
Fury wonders if it would be considered rude to start beating his head against his desk. He's supposed to take someone who'd tried to wreck his planet and help him prepare to be king of an entire realm? That is insane.
"I want peace between the realms," Odin says. "It is all I have wanted for a long time, and I finally have the opportunity for it to happen. Thor is destined to rule Asgard and Loki is destined to rule Jotunheim, and together they will bring peace to our people, but first they must be molded into proper rulers, and the bond between them must be strengthened so that they do not ever go to war."
"Why would you tell me that?" Fury asks. "You've just informed me that you want me to help you make public enemy #1 into a king. There's no way in hell that's happening."
Odin's smile is far from friendly. "I told you, because you have no choice in the matter. Loki is coming here, and if you want him to become a benevolent ruler and if you want him to be more inclined towards forming permanent peace with your realm you will treat him right. Now, do you have any questions for me regarding this arrangement?"
"Go fuck yourself," Fury says and he picks his report back up.
Odin chuckles and then disappears into a column of blue light.
They're all a bit hungover when Thor knocks loudly on the door to announce that they're going to be returning to Earth. Tony groans and throws his arm over his eyes. Asgardian mead is delicious, and for some reason it had made him speak only in couplets last night, but he isn't feeling jolly this morning.
"Go away," Natasha moans and Tony's glad he's not the only one who feels like shit.
Thor knocks again, and it feels like he's knocking against Tony's skull. He curls into the fetal position, clutching his hands to his ears.
"The Director would be displeased if I returned to Earth without you," Thor says, a slight smile tugging at his lips.
"Come in," Bruce says. "You can at least spare them the knocking."
"Them?" Tony asks as Thor comes inside. "Are you saying you aren't feeling anything?"
Bruce rips off Tony's comforter and snatches the pillow away. He smirks. "Oh, I'm feeling something. I believe it's called smugness."
"You unnatural freak," Tony says but he says it with affection. "Why can't my superpower be never getting hungover?"
"Why don't you put your genius into finding a cure?" Bruce suggests, laughing and dancing out of the way of a half-hearted slap.
In the end, it takes Steve carrying Natasha, Thor carrying Clint, and Bruce carrying Tony to get everyone out the door. Tony complains about Bruce until he finds out that while Steve's metabolism didn't keep him from getting drunk, it kept him from being hungover so then Tony starts complaining about stupid super soldiers who get to have all the fun with none of the consequences.
"If you don't shut up, I will kill you," Natasha says.
"No need to be grouchy," Bruce says, grinning like an idiot. "We're a team. We're supposed to be getting along."
"Please tell me your parents aren't going to see us off," Steve says to Thor.
"Do not worry, I said our farewells to them already. Heimdall is waiting for us with Loki, but Heimdall sees all so he already knows the state of our team."
"He sees all?" Steve echoes. "Does that mean he knows what happened last night?"
Thor grins at the memory of Steve performing his USO song and dance. "He does."
Steve groans. "I hate everything."
Thor just chuckles and shifts Clint's weight so he can free up a hand to open the doors to the throne room. Heimdall and Loki are waiting for them, and Loki's hands are bound in front of him, but he is without the gag. Thor does not understand the purpose of the restraints, because Loki's hands are far less dangerous than his mouth, but he is glad to see the gag gone.
Loki raises a delicate eyebrow when he sees the Avengers arrive, three of them being carried. "Your celebration get out of hand?"
Thor laughs and Clint clamps his hands over his ears. "It was my first opportunity to get them drunk."
"I see you succeeded."
"No judgment from you," Tony mumbles. "I officially make that a rule of Loki's stay. He is not allowed to judge any of us for our drinking and especially not for our hangovers."
The smile falls off Loki's face. He turns to Heimdall. "They have arrived. Will you be sending us away now?"
Heimdall looks past Loki to Thor. "Whenever you are ready, my prince."
Thor nods. "We must all be touching again."
He sets Clint down on the ground and supports him with one arm. His other arm wraps around Loki's waist. Loki looks around to see who else will be forced to touch him. Steve tentatively reaches out a hand to touch Loki's shoulder, and Loki looks down at the ground.
This is the man who had spoken for him at the trial. Loki doesn't understand how after giving testimony about how Loki tried to destroyed the planet he holds so dear, that this man could then argue for a new kind of justice, one without torture. Perhaps being worthy enough to hold Mjolnir also requires being foolish enough to try and save Loki.
Once they're all in a circle, Heimdall sends them back to Earth.
They land in the middle of a SHIELD meeting and intergalactic travel was a little much for those of the group that are hungover, and they drop to their hands and knees and begin to vomit. Loki leaps back before Natasha can try and projectile vomit on him.
"You have got to be kidding me," Fury says looking at the three Avengers that are still standing. He glares at Steve as if Steve should've prevented this from happening.
Steve gives his best Captain America smile. "We were offered a drink, and on Asgard it's considered rude to refuse. You wouldn't have wanted us to offend them, would you?"
His words are technically true, though it was Clint who offered the drink, and there's no offense in refusing a drink in a private dining situation, but Fury doesn't need to know that. Steve ups his smile and looks around the room. Maria is discreetly taking pictures of the vomiting Avengers, and Coulson has his hand on his gun as he stares at Loki.
"It will have no effect on me," Loki says, turning to face Coulson.
Phil shrugs. "It'll make me feel better."
Loki nods, conceding the point. "Then go ahead. I will not dodge."
"You wouldn't have time," Phil says. He takes his hand off his gun. "But I'm not going to waste the bullet."
"I apologize for the disturbance," Thor says, taking control of the situation. Loki quiets and Coulson sits back down. "I asked Heimdall to bring us to the Director, but I did not realize you would be engaged. We can return to speak with you at a later time."
"It's fine," Fury says. "I was explaining the situation so you might as well be here. Odin came to visit me and explain that we would be getting a long-term guest."
Fury looks over at Loki and tries not to sigh. That would be unprofessional. His current plan is to keep Loki locked up in the Tower and away from everyone until Odin decides to call him back. He's been assured that Loki won't cause any trouble and while the threat of death is a pretty good deterrent, Fury doesn't want to take any chances.
"Loki will be living in the Tower," Fury says. "He is not an Avenger, and he will not train to be one. He will remain with us until his exile is complete." Fury really hopes it won't be long, but he has a feeling that 'long' has a different meaning to beings that have lived for thousands of years. "I have been assured that he will be on his best behavior, and that Thor will be his keeper."
Thor and Loki both bristle at the choice of words.
"I am not his keeper," Thor says. "I am his brother, and I will be the instrument of his death if he defies his sentence, but I do not own him. He is his own person."
Fury can feel a headache coming on. "Whatever. Loki's not going to cause trouble or Thor will kill him. Is that better?"
Thor can feel anger starting to burn under his skin, and he forces himself to quell it. He has returned to Midgard where his is neither prince nor a well-worshipped deity. He is a subordinate here, and as much as his nature rebels against that, he must be respectful of his commanding officer.
"It is more accurate," Thor says.
"Why don't you bring Loki to the Tower to settle him in while I finish this meeting," Fury says. "and you might as well take the cuffs off. They're not protecting anyone."
They melt away at Fury's suggestion, and Fury is curious, but mostly he just wants the Avengers out of his meeting so he doesn't ask questions. He waves at them to leave and then Tony's dry heaving reminds him that he has other problems besides a super villain that he's supposed to be rehabilitating.
"Why don't we postpone this meeting," Fury says. "Someone take care of these idiots," he motions to Natasha, Clint, and Tony. "And someone else get a bottle of guava rum on my desk before I make it back to my office."
"You can release me," Loki says. "We are attracting strange looks from the humans."
Thor wrapped an arm around Loki's waist as soon as they were out of the meeting room, and he has not let go since. He has no intention of doing so now.
"Close proximity to friends is not abnormal here," Thor says. "It is most likely our Asgardian apparel that is attracting undue attention. We can fix that later. I have found a store made for people of our stature."
"You want to take me clothes shopping?" Loki asks, incredulous. The thought of bonding with his brother is enough to spark a small fire in his heart, but he quickly stamps it out. He does not deserve this, least of all from Thor. How many times has he tried to kill his brother? He must atone for that before he can accept Thor's affection again.
Loki rips Thor's arm off his waist. "There is no need. I am not permitted outside the Tower so there is no need for clothing that will not surprise the humans."
Thor's face falls. He had been looking forward to introducing Loki to all the things he has come to enjoy about Earth. Suits, pullover sweaters, apple juice, and popsicles. He wants someone to share in his excitement at discovering a new world. He wants someone who understands his cultural confusion instead of mocking him for it. He wants his brother.
"You are permitted to leave the Tower with my permission."
"Your permission?" Loki asks. "Are you certain you aren't my keeper?"
Loki understands that loss of control is part of his punishment, but that doesn't mean he doesn't resent it. For someone who has the power to be anywhere at any time he chooses, even in multiple places at once thanks to his clones, being restricted to one place chafes at him. He doesn't like the idea of being trapped, of being contained, and he doesn't like it that Thor is the one who controls his movements. It's only another reminder that they will never be equals. The Golden Boy of Asgard and the Silver-tongued Runt of Jotunheim.
"I'm sorry," Thor says. "I did not mean to imply-"
"I would like to be shown to my quarters and be left alone," Loki interrupts.
"Of course," Thor says trying to keep his face from showing how upset he is. He understands that this is supposed to be a punishment for Loki, but can't Loki see the opportunity here as well? They are brothers again, and they can face the world together. Why can't Loki see that? Why can't he give Thor a chance? "On Earth they're called rooms instead of quarters or chambers."
Loki remains silent, and Thor tries not to give up hope too soon. Loki has only been here for a few minutes, and it's an unfamiliar place, and Loki is considered a hostile here. Thor just has to give him time, and Loki will understand that this world can offer them a new beginning. They will become close like they once were. Thor is sure of it.
A/N: Before you all freak out, don't worry, I realize that this chapter clearly sets itself up for more, and I'm working on the sequel right now but I keep getting distracted by other things so it's coming a little slowly. It's a sequel instead of a continuation, because this story focuses heavily on Thor and his interaction with Earth, and the sequel will focus on Loki and his dealings with Earth. There will be lots of brother bonding, and Steve is going to a strong presence. So, this story is done, but Loki's will be coming soon. :)
A/N 2: The sequel is now up! It's called The Road to Redemption is Pitted with Potholes and can be found in my list of stories :)