"The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity."
Home, T = 119
Under the guise of shifting his hands on the mirror's frame, Loki shrugged the mortal's hand off his shoulder. He turned from Coulson's too-close, too-perceptive gaze and watched the mirror's facets slowly dim. "Well then, what shall we talk about?" he asked dully.
"What were you watching before?" Coulson asked.
"Oh, the impostor," Loki responded with a humorless chuckle. "He claims he is the 'last person on the planet who can help' in this country." With effort, Loki forced the mirror to return to an interview on Tom Hiddleston's efforts to help others. "Yet he persists in his attempts. He has..." Loki paused for a moment, considering, "conviction."
Coulson nodded solemnly. "Perhaps you could find something similar in your own reality."
Loki flashed a humorless smile at him. "In my self, I believe you mean."
"And without me," Coulson added.
"Why would I do that?"
Coulson tipped his head slightly to the side. "This doesn't seem to be working out well for you," he said in a mild voice. "I've noticed the mirror is slower to respond than when you brought me here. I think I interfere with it. It's time for you to let me go home."
"Your home, Agent Coulson, is not what it once was. It hasn't existed for a year."
"Or, it was there just yesterday, from my point of view," he countered. "And I think the mirror is strained by trying to keep both of our timelines pinned together."
"You don't have a timeline any more than you have a home," Loki retorted. "That ended when, forgive me, you died on the Helicarrier."
The corners of Coulson's mouth turned up in a benign curve. "Was that a request?"
For forgiveness? Did he wish forgiveness from this mortal? His mind raced as he snapped, "Merely a figure of speech, I assure you!"
"We can discuss that later, I suppose." Coulson's crow's feet were angled to his temples again. "Now, I don't doubt that I died," he said, "but it didn't really 'take', did it?" He quirked an eyebrow at Loki inquisitively. "You said that reality was closed to you, that you couldn't change anything there. I think it's because you already did. You made a change when you took me."
"I gathered up your energy, your mind," Loki protested. "That doesn't mean you're not dead."
"It does if you 'gathered up' my body along with it," Coulson returned, an expression of polite interest on his face. "I don't think taking a ghost for an interdimensional stroll would count as altering the universe through that mirror. Do you?"
"I killed you," Loki grated out.
"And I resent that a great deal," Coulson replied. "But I'm willing to overlook that because I think you healed me directly after." Coulson tilted his head slightly to the side, smiling slightly. "It's the only thing that fits the facts."
Loki felt his eyes widening and his jaw dropped involuntarily. He had thought his substitution of Coulson by the illusory body had been seamless, and his explanations plausible. To be caught out by this human was embarrassing, to say the least. It seemed he had underestimated Coulson once more. It reminded him of his conversation with Black Widow when the woman had proved herself unexpectedly crafty. He wondered suddenly how much Coulson had absorbed from watching her interrogation techniques. It was information he had not bothered to look for when he was trawling Barton's memories.
Still, Coulson could be simply guessing, trawling for more information, attempting to get Loki to confirm his suppositions. "You died, Agent Coulson. Your medical professionals confirmed it. The body was taken to the morgue. Where it dissipated into energy."
"A completely illogical consequence of being stabbed by a metal implement and then bleeding out," Coulson pointed out.
Earth 199999', T = 120
Loki ignored Coulson for a moment, instead directing to the mirror to the Helicarrier's detention level in their shared reality to demonstrate the validity of his assertions. Again, the mirror seemed to resist his efforts. This time he focused on the drag transmitted from the mirror to his grasp. Perhaps it was his imagination, but the mirror seemed almost to be pulling toward Coulson.
He glanced at the human out of the corner of his eye as the Helicarrier materialized in the mirror in front of them. He had chosen a moment after the body had been removed. The smear of Coulson's blood on the wall and the deckplates below was still red and fresh.
Yesterday-Loki blurred into visibility, a limp Coulson pressed into his side. "Asgardian. Bastard," Coulson said lowly, "...killed me."
"So it would appear, Agent Coulson." With an overdramatic twist of his hand, yesterday-Loki repaired Coulson's suit, returning it to its whole and pristine condition.
Home, T = 120
"That was what confirmed it for me, you know," Coulson offered diffidently.
"Repairing your suit?" Loki demanded, flummoxed.
"Repairing it for the second time," Coulson corrected. "When you fixed it this morning?"
Loki schooled his face to remain impassive while he mentally castigated himself. It had been a calculated risk, to repair Coulson's suit in a bid to convince the human of his own power to do so. Within the mirror, Coulson shot his cuffs to expose the perfect length of sleeve, all the while assessing his captor. The mirror itself pulled toward the mortal as iron to a lodestone. Here in Home, Coulson's brows were quirked into symmetrical arches folding his forehead into politely inquisitive lines.
"Loki," Coulson began in his light tenor, "You can't keep me here forever. It won't allow you. I can feel it pulling at me." He stretched his hand toward the mirror and it practically jumped in Loki's grasp. Coulson's hand started to vibrate, so quickly that its edges seemed to blur. "Wow, that stings."
Coulson stood and backed a few steps away from the mirror, crossing his arms over his chest. Two small curves appeared, bracketing the corners of his mouth. "I know you didn't save me for my benefit. But I am alive now. Send me home."
Loki flung the mirror from him, shoving himself to his feet a moment later. The mirror covered the far wall, its facets grown dim as Loki's will faded from them. "I will do as I will, mortal!" Loki snarled. "You are here at my whim, and shall remain so." He glared resentfully as the mortal lacked the decency to even flinch, much less cower, at Loki's fit of temper.
The smile lines disappeared, but Coulson's expression remained as placid as before. "I don't think so," he said with a diffident head-tilt. "I think in large part I'm here at its whim," he said, gesturing to the mirror where it filled the wall, "and I think you're going to have some difficulty bargaining with something that may or may not be self aware, and that can alter reality in any dimension at any time.
"And from what I just felt," Coulson continued, "I'm a cork in a bottle, a rock damming up a stream, and the mirror doesn't like that very much. I think I'm only here until it strips me down to my component subatomic particles and returns me to the vacuum you left behind when you took me."
Loki stalked toward the mirror, then turned and paced back toward Coulson. He turned toward the mirror, and growled. "I will not be constrained!" he shouted. With a compression wave of anger, as he sent every item within Home flying from him to crash up against the walls. Except Coulson, who stood as a obelisk in a gale.
Neither spoke for the uneasy moments it took the fragments of furniture to settle. "You seem to have free run of the universes, all of them," Coulson said mildly, "but only if I'm not here." He paused a moment. "Put me back, Loki. Please."
With a quick cantrip, Loki clothed himself in his armor. It would not do to walk the world tree so vulnerable. He strode to the mirror and took it between his hands, walking it back to where Coulson waited, blinking.
"I think my brain just tried to turn itself inside out," he commented wryly.
Curious, Loki asked, "What did you see?"
Coulson grimaced and blinked again. "The mirror stayed the same size, but as you walked toward it, it fit into your hands, but it still covered the wall, and it..." His tongue swept his upper lip briefly. "It wasn't pleasant."
Loki felt his lips tug upward in amusement at the understatement, so typical of the man. Coulson wore his cloak of insignificance much as Loki wrapped himself in invisibility. "Well, Agent Coulson," he began, "you cannot return to the exact time you left. Too much hinges on your 'death' there. Where shall we put you, then?"
Home, T = 121
As Loki returned Home, Agent Coulson's parting words burned, burned, burned in his mind. "Thank you for your cooperation." Cooperative? He, Loki? He was not such! He was his own, with his own mind and will but... Perhaps random 'cooperation' could be as unexpected as any other act of chaos.
And now, where next to bend his will?