Chapter One

When Loki got back from his daily walk, there was someone in his flat.


Loki opened the door slowly, gathering himself to defend or attack if necessary, and ended up simply staring at the human, quite unremarkable in appearance (that already made him different from the others), sitting at the desk and drinking a cup of his tea. "Luke's the name you're going by?" he said, setting down the cup and standing up. "Hello. I'm Agent Phil Coulson. I thought maybe it was time we had a real talk. You're a hard man to get in touch with."

It would be quite easy, Loki mused, to rip out this Agent's throat with his bare hands. He did not think that his landlady would approve, though, and he had become a touch fond of the old woman. He stayed where he was.

"I do not take kindly to intruders," he informed his guest. The Agent half smiled.

"You can talk to your landlady. She let me in. Good woman. Said you were a – 'nice young man.'"

Loki revised his affection of Ms. Fairfax downwards very slightly. He was certain he had had words with her, after last time. "Are you here for a reason," he said, with deliberate politeness, "or may I escort you out?" Preferably, he let his tone imply, out a window.

"Well," said Agent Phil Coulson. "We've been trying to talk to you for months."

Ah, Loki thought, so it is another one. Though this one, at least, seemed slightly different from the others. Months, as well, that helped. "Is that what the clumsy attempts at kidnapping were for?"

Coulson looked unapologetic. "Well, actually, yes. We're very curious, and you seemed like an interesting person."

"I'm a student," Loki said, blandly. "Studying abroad for the semester. If you'd let me fetch you my ID-"

"Yes," said Coulson, "that's the interesting bit, isn't it? You've got a full set of records, but if one were to do a little digging, one would find that they didn't exist seven months ago. And eight months ago, there's a call on record of a man falling out of the sky, only to vanish from a hospital the next day. Isn't that interesting?"

Loki tensed. "Oh," he said, "very," and reached for his magic.

"Oh," Coulson added, "right, I should say. I start acting funny or anything happens to me and I've got a sniper with a gun full of elephant tranquilizers." The little man sat down again, perfectly unruffled. "Tea?"

Loki took a breath through his nose, let it out, and smoothly settled on another chair. Causing a ruckus was just what he wanted to avoid, and flinging this man through one of the walls would undoubtedly cause a ruckus. "Yes," he said with a smile only slightly barbed. "Please."

He watched this Agent Coulson pour another cup of tea and took it gracefully, tested it briefly for any kind of poison, and found none. He sipped at it and waited as his intruder watched him with placidity that Loki suspected was of dubious truth.

"What should I call you?" Coulson said, finally, and Loki flashed a toothy grin at him.

"Luke will do. Mr. Silver, if you must."

He expected an objection, but Coulson simply nodded. "All right, Mr. Silver, then. I'm here representing an organization called SHIELD that is…interested in extraordinary talents."

Loki tilted his head slightly to the side. "Extraordinary talents?" He said, and it was little challenge to sound faintly puzzled.

"Like," said Coulson, with an air of patience that was just begging to be tested, "the ability to get a trained doctor to let you walk out of a hospital room no questions asked. Or, say, to fabricate a pretty good identity out of thin air. Or getting two trained agents to spill their guts about their mission goals."

Loki's fingers twitched. "And what would your organization do with such…extraordinary talents?"

Coulson leaned back. "That information's largely classified. As is, I can only tell you that it's a…project. Of sorts."

"You would tell me if I asked you," Loki said, mildly, steepling his fingers under his chin, and watched the first slight tension appear in the man across from him.

"I might," he agreed, after a moment. "But that would probably qualify as me acting strangely and cue the tranquilizer, and I don't think either of us really wants to deal with that." Loki sat back and had another sip of his tea, held it in his mouth a moment before swallowing.

"And what makes you think I'd be interested?" Loki said, half closing his eyes. "Perhaps I am here as a prospective conqueror."

"A possibility," Coulson said, "except that after the last few fiascos, we've been watching for a little while. We're not the only ones to track you down, are we? I counted three minor league hostiles looking to step things up approaching you in the past three months. Only to mysteriously cease all activity shortly afterwards. –oh, except one," here the man paused to refer to a pad of paper he pulled from a pocket, "'Javier Holzinger' who just disappeared."

Loki had been perfecting an expression of perfect innocence for many mortal lifespans. "Five," he corrected mildly. "There have been five. And every one seems so certain that they must be the exception. You make a rather large assumption; perhaps I merely wish to be left to myself." He remembered Javier. Particularly determined, particularly persistent, and particularly prone to referring to Mrs. Fairfax's granddaughter Angela as a 'brat' in his hearing. Loki was even more fond of Angela than he was of her grandmother.

Loki did so hope he was enjoying Muspellheim.

"Five," said Coulson, sounding surprised. "How did we miss…ah, never mind. To answer your question – I think," he said, and fixed Loki with a look that was surprisingly shrewd, "wherever you came from originally – and I don't really think that was here – maybe you've gotten a little bit attached to this place. You wouldn't make such a point of turning their heads around – so to speak – if you weren't a little annoyed by their schemes."

"And you assume I am not annoyed by yours?"

"You haven't thrown me out of a window yet," Coulson said calmly, "and I don't think that's for lack of ability. So I think maybe you're at least a little interested."

"Interested in?"

"Again, classified. But I can tell you that it'd be a chance to use your unique abilities in a way you won't get to otherwise."

"Hmm. How intriguing." Loki set down his tea and crossed his legs, ankle on the opposite knee. "What are you offering, then? –whatever you can tell me, that is."

"Simply enough," Coulson said, and his eyes locked on Loki's, "an alternative. Other employment than these people who keep seeking you out."

"You thought the attempted kidnapping would be persuasive?"

"As you can see," Coulson said, still unabashed, and Loki did have to respect someone who could manage quite that degree of placidity, "we determined other measures might be more effective."

"You might have tried that first," Loki pointed out mildly.

"A disadvantage of working in covert operations," said his visitor. "The straightforward is not always the first thing to occur to us."

That was…true enough. And thus far, at least, this one was managing to be somewhat more polite than the others. And somewhat more interesting. Less…irritatingly petty. Nonetheless… "And if I were interested? What would you tell me next?" Loki asked, watching closely, and noticed the man's expression brighten, very, very slightly.

"I'd ask you to come with me someplace a little more private to talk a few things over." Loki cupped his tea between two hands.

"Ah," he said. And smiled, very slightly. "No, thank you. I do not believe I am interested." He blew on the surface of his tea. "You may see yourself out."

The silence, however brief, was just slightly satisfying. He let one corner of his mouth tilt just slightly upwards. He waited, already half able to hear in his mind the indignant outburst, why not? Or perhaps he would jump straight to the signal to attack.

"Well," said the man, and stood up. "It was worth a try." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small card. "Here's a number where you can reach me, if you change your mind about getting involved."

And he left. Loki stood to watch him exit, tensing when he paused at the door, half expecting – he wasn't certain. Something. "That's all you have to say for yourself?"

"Somehow," said the man, turning around, "I get the feeling that I don't really want to push you, Mr. Silver. Persistence in my experience isn't always the best policy, as I'm sure the – late? – Mr. Holzinger would agree. My superior won't be happy. But he trusts my judgment." He paused, a moment longer, and then opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. "Have a pleasant day," he said, almost brightly, and closed it behind him.

Loki waited, perfectly still, but he did not reappear. After a few moments, he bent down and picked up the card left behind. Agent Phil Coulson, it read. No position. No logo. Name, and a number.

After a moment's thought, he tucked it in his pocket.

Interlude (I)

In the moment before he let go, Loki thought, very briefly and wildly, what if I die?

It was the answer which occurred to him that loosened his fingers and let him fall. Yes, he thought, with a peculiar kind of calm he hadn't had for the past three days. Since Thor had been banished, since cold fingers had wrapped around his forearm and stripped away all of the pretense that had hidden him from the truth like swaddling cloths. Yes, what if? And if there was anything there it was a kind of curiosity. What then?

There just weren't enough reasons to say no.

So he let his fingers slide free and for a moment didn't even feel himself falling, just watched the shattered Bifrost receding above him and Thor's mouth open to shout something he didn't hear past the roaring in his ears.

And then he was falling. Everything was sound and music, howling and wild as the void hooked its claws into him and tore his mind wide open until there was no boundary at all between the universe and himself. Everything pouring through him and he could feel it wearing the edges of him away like a wave against the shore, sapping a little more of him with every rising swell-

It might have been a very long time or no time at all when he slammed back to himself with enough force to crack bone and pulverize something almost certainly vital in his gut, and it took Loki a moment to realize that it was not just him, that he wasn't falling, and that he had landed on something solid and that was what had broken him.

He still felt raw, like whatever had forced him back into the hard lines of his body had done so clumsily and all wrong, left him jumbled up and twisted around, his vision a blur and head buzzing. Buzzing? No, voices.

So he wasn't dead. He had fallen through the void and landed in some other realm, spat out and rejected even by oblivion, and wasn't that just-

The pain was nagging at his mind, seeking admittance. He ignored it, pushed it away, tried to focus. If he wasn't dead, he needed to know. Where? Svartalfheim? That would be a fine thing indeed, with all the love between himself and those people. Vanaheim?

"No, I'm not fucking kidding, some guy just fell out of the sky can you send a goddamn ambulance?"

The words filtered hazily into his consciousness, and it took him a moment to realize why they sent a chill through him. Human voices. Human language.

He had let go seeking death, and the void had found him unworthy and shat him out into this cesspool of the nine , unworthy, had been sent here to test his mettle. You always used to follow him as a at his heels. Apparently you have not changed.

"Oh my god." The same voice, evidently not speaking to him. "Oh my god, there's a lot of blood, should I, like-"

Midgard, he thought. It is Midgard. Ah, this is a fine jest. A fine, fine jest.

He started laughing. Started laughing and couldn't stop until the pain opened its jaws and swallowed him whole like a wolf swallowing the sun.