A/N: So, here it is. The start of the sequel to Cultural Differences. It's strange writing from Loki's perspective instead of Thor, and that means that some characters are going to be seen differently, because they interact differently with Loki than they do with Thor, and that's a product of perception, not my personal feelings towards them.
Loki is left alone after he's brought to the Tower. He knows they don't want him here, and while he doesn't want to be here, he really doesn't want to be on Asgard so he tries to make it seem like he isn't around. If they forget about him then he can't bother them which means no one will ask him to leave, right?
He waits until they're all asleep to go to the kitchen and prepare food. He hoards enough in his room that he doesn't have to return again until the next night. He spends several days like this, passing the time by reading through the books Odin permitted him to bring to Earth with him.
He hadn't thought the Allfather would allow him any of his possessions, but Loki had been allowed to bring some of his spell books with him, ones that were deemed harmless. They were full of spells he'd never practiced, because why would he need to help plants grow or heal bruises or even lull someone to sleep? He did know the hair regeneration spell, because once after chopping off Sif's hair he'd been forced to fix the damage, but most of these spells are new, and he devours them.
He sneaks around the Tower, testing out his new spells, and he grins when he can bring the dead plant in Thor's room back to life and when he heals the bruises mottling Natasha's skin after she spars with Steve. He does it while she's sleeping, and he wonders if that's a violation of his probation, but he's helping her, and that's what he's supposed to be doing, right?
It is the seventh day of his imprisonment when a knock comes at his door. He closes his book and steps into his closet before sending a clone to open the door.
"Hey," Steve says looking uncomfortable. "We were wondering if you wanted to join us for dinner. Bruce is cooking so it's going to be good."
They are inviting Loki to spend time with them? Loki doesn't understand why, and he's not sure if refusing their wishes is a violation of his sentence. Usually he's all for exploiting loopholes, but since the punishment for being wrong is his death, he's being a little more cautious.
"I would be honored," Loki says. "What time should I arrive?"
"We're eating at six." Steve pauses, not sure what else to say.
Loki nods. "Thank you. I will see you then."
He closes his door and the clone disappears until there is only one Loki in the room. He's pleased that his first interaction didn't end in him being harmed, though he is still perplexed by the dinner invitation.
He checks the clock next to his bed. He has two hours before dinner. He wants to keep reading, but he knows better than to arrive as a guest to a meal without an offering so instead he takes the card Thor gave him that apparently operates as human currency and goes to find an appropriate offering.
Loki cautiously approaches the kitchen. The light is on, and he can hear the Avengers laughing over something Clint has said. Loki remembers Clint's humor, how it was a bright spot in Loki's mind during his attempted takeover of Earth. He's missed Clint's particular brand of humor, but he doesn't think it's something he'll be allowed to share in.
He knows from his time spent in Clint's mind that the man values his privacy, and that he needs to have the control over who he tells what information to, and Loki violated both of those by entering his mind. He knows that the man will hate him, but Loki doesn't know how he should act. Should he try to be friendly? Apologize? Not acknowledge him?
Loki pauses in the doorway as Thor laughs, deep and booming. Loki has spent years sitting at the table next to Thor, watching him joke with Sif and recount battles with the Warriors Three. He had tried to escape that shadow, but it looks like he's only found a way to put himself in it permanently.
He takes a deep breath to steel himself. Struggling against his fate is what landed him in trouble. He needs to accept his place.
He steps into the light of the kitchen, and the table falls silent. He expected that reaction, but it still hurts. Thor is the only one to meet his eyes, and Loki can't help but notice how Clint has drawn into himself, no hint of a smile left anywhere on his face.
"I have brought an offering as thanks for the invitation," Loki says holding up a bottle of wine.
Tony groans. "Are we really going to go through this again?"
Loki takes a step back. "I apologize if this is an unacceptable offering. I will leave you to your meal."
"Wait," Thor says as Loki turns to leave. "You have done nothing wrong. It is not your fault that humans do not understand our customs. Sit and I will find the appropriate glasses for your offering."
"You have got to be kidding," Tony says. "We have to start housebreaking another demi-god?"
Loki braces himself for Thor to throw the glasses on the ground or for him to begin shouting. Instead, Thor places a glass in front of each person at the table as if he hasn't been gravely insulted.
"Something wrong?" Tony asks, noticing Loki's stare.
Loki forces his gaze away from Thor. "Simply surprised is all."
Tony grins. "Yeah, seeing Thor all domestic is a bit of a shock. You'll get used to it. Who knows, maybe we'll even get you in an apron."
"Doubtful," Loki says. He opens his mouth to explain their offense, but Thor puts a hand on Loki's shoulder as he sets a wine glass in front of him, a request to stay quiet. Loki doesn't understand why Thor doesn't want Loki to correct the mortals, explain that Thor is a full-fledged god, but he knows that he's expected to follow orders now so he closes his mouth.
"I made eggplant parmesan," Bruce says, pulling dishes out of the oven before Tony can say something else meant to spark a fight. As much as he trusts that Loki doesn't want to die, he doesn't trust anyone to withstand Tony's instigation for long.
Natasha wrinkles her nose. "I don't understand your aversion to meat."
Bruce shrugs. "I don't have an aversion to it. I just wanted some eggplant parm."
Thor passes the bottle of wine around as Bruce starts dishing out dinner.
"You prefer meatless dishes, do you not?" Thor asks, placing a hand on Loki's arm.
Loki nods, uncomfortable with the attention suddenly on him. All the people in this room are hostiles, even Thor though that will only be under duress. He wants to flee or hide, but he forces himself to smile. There's no reason to be afraid. These are heroes. They won't harm him.
He shrugs off Thor's hand and smiles. "I do. I look forward to sampling this dish."
"Okay," Tony says. "This is weird." He looks around the table. "Doesn't anyone else think this is weird?"
"Oh no," Natasha says. "I eat with my mortal enemies all the time."
Loki relaxes at the first sign of genuine hostility. It's real and it lets him feel justified in the precautions he's taken.
"Thank you," Tony says. "He's talking like Thor does, and it's weird."
"Of course he is," Thor says. "We are brothers. We were raised in the same manner."
"But he sounds sane, and it's weird."
"That's enough," Steve says, noticing the way Loki's starting to tense again. "We're all going to eat together and get along."
"Now that," Clint says, "is weird."
He shares a smile with Tony and digs into his dinner. Having Loki here puts him on edge, but he can't let it affect him. He won't let him affect him. This is his Tower, this is his team, and he's not going to let Loki ruin that.
Loki sits in his closet, feeling his stomach fill as his clone eats for him.
Loki stays away from them for a few days after that dinner. Their conversation was awkward and stilted, and he knows it was his fault. This is their home, and he doesn't want to upset them, because he has nowhere else to go if he's kicked out of here. Well, he supposes he could wander Earth alone, but he doesn't think Odin or Fury would approve of that. His options are live in this Tower or die so until he starts to go insane he's going to stick with living in the Tower.
Rather, living in his closet.
He's found extra bedding, and he's made himself a nest. He feels safe and warm tucked into the corner of his closet. He has a clone sleep in his bed in case someone comes into his room, though they never do.
He's finished his first read through of his books, and he's starting the second, but he's bored. He's supposed to be atoning for his crimes, but he doesn't know how he's supposed to be doing that. He doesn't think memorizing beginner spell books is going to help him end his exile.
He keeps a chart along one of the walls in his closet. He has several pieces of paper hung up on the walls. One for each of the Avengers, one for Midgard, one for Asgard, one for Odin, and one for Frigga. Each poster has two columns. Ones for the crimes Loki has committed and one for what he's done to atone for it.
He adds a bullet point to his Midgard column and writes down 'restored dying flowers at the graveyard'. Tomorrow he plans on visiting the cancer ward at the local hospital. He had taken a walk the other day and learned from a newspaper that there is a sickness on Earth that claims the hair of its victims, and that healthy people donate their hair to those who have lost it. Loki's magic isn't strong enough to cure the illness, but perhaps his hair regeneration spell can at least give them their hair back.
A knock at the door startles him, and his marker slips making it look like he'd crossed out his garden bullet point. He sighs and puts the cap on the marker as he sends a clone out to open the door.
Thor's smile is bright when Loki opens the door. "Would you like to come to dinner? There's no need for an offering. It is not a human custom."
Loki doesn't have anything better to do so he has his clone follow Thor down to dinner. It's Steve's turn to cook so they're having steak and potatoes and green beans. Loki hesitantly slides into his seat as he returns Steve's smile.
"Finally," Tony says, picking up his silverware as soon as Steve sets a plate in front of him.
Steve slaps at his hands. "Not until everyone has their dinner."
"But I'm starving," Tony says. "It's like my stomach is eating itself."
Clint laughs. "That's what happens when you actually work out. And guess what? Tomorrow, your muscles are going to be sore."
"I hate you," Tony grumbles. He doesn't understand why he needs to train with the rest of them. He has a suit for a reason. It protects him and it lets him shoot repulsor beams. What does he need martial arts and bulky muscles for?
"Thank you," Loki says, his voice soft when Steve puts a plate down in front of him. Steve smiles and gives Loki's shoulder a small squeeze before handing Thor his plate.
"So training went well?" Natasha asks, laughing as Tony flipped her the bird.
"If by went well you mean I got to kick Tony's ass, then yeah. It was fantastic." Clint grins and spears a green bean. He sets it back on his plate at Steve's glare.
"Maybe Tony and I can dance tomorrow," Natasha says, picking up her steak knife and twirling it between her fingers.
"You're creepy as hell, you know that?" Tony asks.
"I think it's good that you're working on hand-to-hand combat," Steve says. "I know you're safe in the suit but what if you don't have the suit on? What if someone comes after Tony Stark?"
Tony sighs. "Are we really going to go through this again?" He looks around and sees that everyone has food. "Can we eat now?"
Loki pokes at his food as they fall into easy banter about training. He hasn't been invited to join which he understands, but he doesn't know how he's supposed to atone for the major wrong things he's done if he can't help fight to save the world. Will enough little things add up? Will planting flowers change the fact that he almost destroyed this city? He doesn't think so.
"Are you not hungry?" Thor asks, motioning to Loki's plate.
He's cut everything into bite sized pieces, but he hasn't actually eaten anything. "I'm fine." He puts a bite of mashed potato and green beans into his mouth.
"I know you, and you are not well."
"I grow restless," Loki admits.
"It is more than that. Do not try to deceive me."
"Is that an order?" Loki asks, his voice dangerously quiet. His eyes flick up to Thor's in challenge. He will answer if Thor demands him to, but he will not be pleased about it.
"Yes," Clint answers before Thor can. "It's an order. So 'fess up, prince of lies. What's gotten you all sad?"
Loki's meets Clint's gaze taking small comfort in the man's flinch. It's subtle and could be interpreted as a twitch, but Loki knows the ins and outs of this man's mind. He's terrified even if he doesn't want to show it, and Loki should feel regret, because he is the cause of that fear, but right now he's angry so there isn't a lot of room for regret.
Loki lets a smile curve his lips, one he knows isn't trust worthy and that will remind Clint of when Loki pressed the scepter to his chest. Loki studies his face for the twitch of his lips, the infinitesimal widening of his eyes. Oh yes, he can get under the agent's skin quite easily.
"I am supposed to be atoning for my crimes, but I do not know how," Loki says because he's certainly not going to say he's envious of their comradery. He knows from his days as a boy following Thor around, trying to join in Thor's fun that they'll only laugh at his wish. He knows he doesn't belong. They're soldiers, warriors, and Loki is a sorcerer.
"You could always walk little old ladies across the street," Tony suggests through a mouthful of potato. "Or rescue kittens from trees. Give the firefighters a break so they can do their real job." He smiles, too sardonic to be friendly.
"I see," Loki says, taking his napkin from his lap and placing it on the table next to his plate. He pushes his food towards Thor and gives Steve the barest of nods. "I thank you for your kindness."
"Wait," Tony says as Loki stands up. "Why are you leaving? We're joking around."
Loki's eyes snap to Tony's a hint of his old self in them. "Do not presume to lie to me. I have no need for your mockery or your fake companionship. I will not be upset if you do not invite me to dine with you, but do not request my presence and abuse me."
"Brother, they meant no offense," Thor says, his hand on Loki's wrist.
Loki stares at it until Thor removes his hand. "It is a testament to your faith in your friends that you believe the words you are speaking, but that does not make them true."
Loki leaves without further attempts to get him to stay, but instead of going up to his room he goes down to the ground floor. He decides to take a walk, to try and work off some of the energy building inside of him.
He steps into the view of the agent that tails him everywhere he goes, and he makes sure they can see him as he changes his appearance so they'll be able to continue to track him. Loki shortens his hair, makes it a lighter brown and runs a hand through it so it looks messy. He alters his clothing to make him appear Midgardian, and he starts on his walk, confident that no one will recognize him as Loki of Asgard.
He is not far from the Tower when he finds a small girl sitting on the side of the road, her knees pulled up to her chest and tears running down her face. Loki looks around but the streets are deserted, even the agent is nowhere to be seen; though, Loki knows he must be nearby. The street lamp closest to them flickers but the light stays on.
"Are you lost?" Loki asks crouching down next to her.
She looks up at him, wide eyed and scooches back. "My momma told me not to talk to strangers."
"Oh. Okay." Loki doesn't want to get in trouble with the human authorities so he decides to continue on his walk. He spots a tree struggling to grow next to the lamplight, and he walks over and puts his hands on the trunk. He chants his spell and the tree begins to swell beneath his hands and then it begins to blossom.
The little girl tugs on Loki's pants. "You saved the tree."
Loki jumps and he can't believe he'd been surprised by a small human child. "I did but I thought you weren't supposed to talk to me."
She shrugs. "You like trees. That means you can't be bad, right?"
"I'm very bad, I'm afraid," Loki says leaning back against the tree. "It's probably best if you leave me and find your mother."
The girl curls her arms around Loki's leg, and she only comes up to his thigh. She hides her face in the fabric of his pants. "She's dead, and I don't want to go back."
"Go back where?" Loki slowly reaches a hand down to touch her hair. She clutches his leg even tighter.
"To the orphanage. It's where I live, but I left because Zippy got away."
"Zippy?" Loki asks. He doesn't understand what an orphanage is, but he understands losing someone important to you. "Can I help you find him?"
"I know where he is," the girl says, "I just can't reach him."
She lets go of Loki's pants to grab his hand, and he is too shocked to move at first. She gives him a little tug and he follows her a few feet to another tree. She points up at the branches and Loki sees a small creature resting up there. It looks down at Loki, its green eyes blinking slowly and it makes a small pitiful sound.
"He's stuck," the girls tells him. "Can you get him? I don't want to go back without him."
"What's the orphanage?" Loki asks staring up at the branches. The creature is a little too high for him to reach. He looks down at the girl, contemplative.
"It's where the unwanted kids go," she says. "When we don't have mommas and poppas we live with all the other kids hoping that someone comes and asks us to live with them. Nobody wants me to live with them. But I have Zippy. Except when he runs away."
Loki looks down at her and the hard set of her jaw, the tears that have already dried on her face. He kneels down next to her and touches his hand to her cheek. "Then let's get Zippy back. You want to help me?"
She nods and he hoists her up onto his shoulders. She's tall enough that she can reach the creature, and once she has it, Loki places her back on the ground.
"We should return you to your home," Loki says.
She cuddles the creature to her chest, rubbing her cheek against its fur. "Orphanage. Not home." She frees up one hand to hold Loki's again. "I'll show you how to get there."
They walk in silence for a few steps before Loki's attention is drawn to the black creature squirming in her arm. She catches him looking and smiles. "Do you like cats?"
"I do not know. I have never seen a cat before tonight."
She stops abruptly. "You've never seen a cat? Where are you from? I thought they had cats everywhere."
"I am rather far from home," Loki says though that's not technically true. He no longer has a home so theoretically anywhere could be home. He could be home right now, but he doesn't like the grit and grime of the street so perhaps he'll find a better place to bestow the honor on.
"Well, you have to hold Zippy," the girl says transferring the animal to Loki. "He's very friendly."
Loki suddenly finds his arms full of a wily creature that tries to escape his grasp. He holds onto it and stares it down, using his mind to tell it to behave. It flicks its tail, irritated, and Loki frowns. Is he being defied by a Midgardian pet?
"He likes you," the girl says starting to walk again. "I like you too. I'm Rebecca, but because I like you, you can call me Becca."
"I'm William," Loki says, the lie sliding easily off his tongue. Besides, it's not entirely a lie. SHIELD had given him papers and documents that created a man named William Hiddleston for the times that Loki went out into Midgardian society, because he couldn't be himself since he was wanted for attempted invasion of the planet.
"I like the name William," Becca says. She reaches her hand up to hold Loki's free hand. His hand is much larger than hers, but her palm is warm where it presses against him.
"I like the name Becca." The cat makes a strange sound in the back of its throat and nuzzles Loki's cheek. Loki thinks he's just been approved of.
They stop in front of a building that is significantly smaller than Stark Tower though Loki is beginning to realize that human homes are not built like the Tower. It is full of windows, but each of them is dark, and the girl frowns when she twists the door handle and finds it locked.
"We're going to have to knock," she says and Loki notices the way she hesitates before her knuckles rap on the door, almost too soft to be heard.
Her hand is poised to knock again when Loki hears scuffling behind them. He turns to see a man running toward them.
"Rebecca? Rebecca, is that you?"
"Hello, Mr. Gordon." Becca hangs her head so she doesn't have to look him in the eye.
Mr. Gordon reaches them and doubles over, hands on his hips. "You gave me quite a scare, young lady. You know better than to leave the house without permission. And especially late at night. Something could've happened to you."
"Zippy escaped and I wanted to get him back," Becca says, holding her arms out for the cat.
Loki hands it over and Mr. Gordon appears to see him for the first time. He eyes Loki with suspicion.
"And who are you?"
"I am William."
"He helped me get Zippy down from a tree," Becca says. "And he walked me back so no one would hurt me. He's a very nice man."
Mr. Gordon's eyes narrow as he looks Loki over trying to figure out if he's a threat. "Well, thank you for bringing her back. You can go on your way now."
"Of course." Loki bows to him before touching the cat's head. "Good evening, Zippy. Good evening, Becca. Stay out of trouble." He bends down so he can look her in the eye. "And I want you to know that are a wonderful child no matter what the people who come to this building think of you."
"Were you an orphan?" Mr. Gordon asks eyeing Loki with new interest.
"I know what it's like to be unwanted," Loki answers, "and I am coming to learn that accepting yourself is more important than being accepted by others."
"Well, maybe you can stop by some afternoon to see the kids. They could use a positive role model in their lives."
Loki smiles at the thought of him being a positive role model for anyone.
Becca tugs on his pants to get his attention. "Please, come. You can see Zippy again. He would really like it."
"I am growing quite fond of cats," Loki says, a promise in the way he ruffles Becca's hair. He bows to Mr. Gordon one last time before heading back to the Tower.
He uses the Stark tablet Thor gave him to do a little research before bed. His research on orphanages is disheartening but convinces him that he will be returning to Mr. Gordon's Home for Children. His research into cats is more amusing.
When he reads that the progeny of cats are called kittens, and he realizes that he rescued one from a tree he laughs.