In which Loki is lost in the Bifrost and emerges on Earth as a child, with no apparent memory of the events in New York... or anything else.
And the Avengers adopt him. Because what could possibly go wrong?
Notes: See Part 1
Betaed by artemisiabrisol.
When it seems that the discussion is, at least for the moment, over, Steve goes looking for Thor. Tony follows in his wake. “Look--” he begins, but Steve just shakes his head.
“Not now, Tony,” he says, more sharply than he meant to, and Tony falls back, but stays with him.
Steve finds Thor in Dr. Foster’s lab, sitting on an incongruously purple-upholstered desk chair, head in hands. Darcy Lewis is perched on the desk next to him, patting his shoulder. When Steve enters, she looks up and widens her eyes significantly, tilting her head in Thor’s direction.
“It’s okay, big guy,” she says. “Jane will be back soon. She’ll - okay I don’t know exactly what she’s doing but I’m sure she’s got, like, a plan.”
“I do not understand,” Thor says to the floor. “How can this be?”
Darcy looks at Steve and flings one hand helplessly out to the side.
Steve pauses. He was planning on asking Thor some questions but now that doesn’t seem... appropriate. Thor seems distraught, which... fair enough.
“Thor?” he finally ventures. Thor looks up.
“Steven!” he says. “I am sorry. I should be at the meeting.”
“Meeting’s over, big guy,” Tony says from the door, adding thoughtfully: “apparently Fury’s afraid of kids. I would not have called that one.”
Steve fights the urge to turn and glare Tony into silence. It never takes, anyway.
Thor looks worried and asks, in a voice that, for Thor, sounds small: “What was decided?”
Steve isn’t sure what he’s asking at first, but then he hurriedly reassures him: “Nothing’s been decided. He’s in the infirmary getting checked out.”
“He should not be alone.” Thor surges to his feet, but is stopped by Darcy’s hand on his shoulder.
Steve puts a hand on his other shoulder, to reinforce the message that he should just stay where he is. “He’s not alone. Agent Coulson is with him.”
Thor relaxes instantly. “That is well. The Son of Coul will care for him.”
“As long as he avoids any sharp objects,” Steve hears Tony mutter, and this time, he does turn and give Tony a quelling look. Tony glares right back.
“I do not believe there is any danger,” Thor says, and both Steve and Tony turn to look at him.
“Maybe you could explain that?” Steve says.
Thor shrugs. “He is... not the same,” is all he says.
Jane Foster enters the room and everything is derailed for a moment so that Thor can sweep her into his arms. Steve doesn’t know the whole story, but apparently Dr. Foster was not only Thor’s first contact on his last trip to Earth, but has been instrumental in the work to reconstruct the Bifrost. The fact that the U.S. Government now has scientists on payroll at secret facilities to assist in interplanetary diplomatic efforts to rebuild a bridge through outer space is just one more thing about the 21st century that Steve is just trying to wash over him like a tide, in the hopes that when the water recedes, everything will be solid and clear.
When they’ve disengaged, Dr. Foster pulls up a series of incomprehensible squiggly-lined graphs on a gigantic screen at the back of the lab.
“This is what we’ve got so far,” she says, and Tony gets interested and they babble back and forth in increasingly obtuse scientific parlance for a few minutes before remembering that there are ordinary people in the room with them. Well - two relatively ordinary people and one alien demigod.
“You were right,” she says to Thor, who as always, smiles at her.
“Wait, seriously?” Darcy says, and Dr. Foster nods excitedly.
“Could someone clue me in, since I’m the only one who doesn’t...?” Steve begins, but Thor cuts in with:
“It was the Bifrost.”
Steve looks at him. “The bridge through space?”
Thor nods. “The same. It was damaged during the battle with my brother, but my Jane has been working with Heimdall to repair it.”
“Among others,” Dr. Foster points out. “Not that it’s been easy, since communication is almost entirely one-way with only a few exceptions for databurst transmissions.”
“Heimdall sees all,” Thor says in an agreeable tone as though that explained everything.
“We were nearly ready to start testing it again,” says Dr. Foster. “But now we’re getting unsuccessful pings and we can’t get through to Asgard at all.”
Steve glances at Tony, who is still studying the many-coloured diagram. It seems mostly made up of peak-and-valley shapes, with some wavery lines swooping in and out.
“Okay,” Steve says finally, “but I still don’t really know what that means.”
“It means it was working,” says Tony. He’s looking closely at a particular peak on the screen depicted in yellow near the top-right corner. “And now it’s not. Right?” He looks at Dr. Foster, who nods.
“And judging from these readings,” she nods towards the screen, “something came through.”
“Something about this big?” Steve held his hand out, indicating something about three feet tall.
“I don’t know. Not yet,” Dr. Foster says. “I’d need more detailed readings to be sure, but judging from our data from the first time Thor came through...” She shoots Thor a smile, and Darcy grins and punches him lightly on the shoulder. “...I’d say it was probably approximately person-sized. Or smaller. The phenomenon is... similar.”
“But I do not understand,” Thor protests, “how he came to be on the bridge at all.”
“Yeah,” Tony agrees, “wasn’t he, y’know, in jail? On Asgard?”
Thor looks, briefly, a little shifty. “After a fashion.”
When everyone around him draws breath to demand what that means, he rallies, throwing his shoulders back and raising his chin. “He was kept safe,” he says, seriously. “Of that, I can assure you.”
From what little he knows about Asgard, Steve’s not sure that they even have prisons. There’s banishment, and trial by combat, and sometimes the truly terrible criminals are put to death, but according to Thor that hasn’t happened in centuries - millennia, even. So what, exactly, were they doing with an incorrigible trickster like Loki?
An incorrigible trickster who is currently three years old and five levels below them.
“So, he came through the Bifrost,” Steve says, trying to get things back on track.
“That’s probably what brought the plane down,” Dr. Foster tells him. “What little they recovered of the plane showed the electrical systems were totally fried. Not surprising.”
Steve nods. That explains one thing, at least. The Sinister Syndicate weren’t even really supervillains - just highly talented domestic terrorists. The only reason the Avengers were even called in was because of the size and destructive potential of the experimental weapons they’d managed to boost... and because the facility they’d knocked over was one belonging to Stark Industries.
“It’s amazing he survived,” Steve says wonderingly.
Dr. Foster shakes her head. “Not that amazing. I mean, the Bifrost is designed to get people safely from one point to another. It has extensive safeguards to guarantee exactly that. If it hadn’t been able to deposit... uh, Loki, safely on Earth, it probably would have jumped to another point on the network - the World Tree.”
There’s a definite vagueness about the way she says Loki’s name, and she looks sideways at Thor, who just hangs his head.
“You’re sure that it’s him?” It’s Tony who asks the question. He sounds genuinely curious, and Steve reflects that it’s probably better that Tony asked the question, rather than Steve, Dr. Foster, or Darcy, who might have hesitated. Because of tact.
“I am... nearly certain.”
Tony raises an eyebrow. “‘Nearly?’”
Thor sits down again. The purple chair creaks alarmingly, but holds up.
“There is something different, this time.” And he sounds so, so sad.
“Different how?” Steve asks.
Tony goes back to hacking the security feed in the infirmary on his phone. It takes him less than five minutes - SHIELD security is worryingly porous, though it’s probably unfair to compare anybody else’s security with his own. His phone screen lights up with an image of the main infirmary.
“He is...” Thor seems to struggle for words, which is unusual enough that Tony looks up. Thor is staring off into the distance. Then he looks at Jane again. “He has done this before,” he says in a half-confiding tone. “He has always been able to appear as he wished to appear. From the time we were boys. He has been many things.” Thor doesn’t seem inclined to elaborate on this. He shakes his head. “But he has always been... himself. Even when he was someone else.”
Jane rubs a hand in circles on his back. “And he isn’t now?”
“I... I do not know,” Thor admits. He looks up, at Steve. “He is my brother. I know him as well as anyone. Or I thought I did. But it is different. That is all I can say.”
On his phone screen, Tony finally gets the controls right, and zooms in to where their tiny guest is...
...sitting next to Coulson on the edge of an infirmary bed, kicking his bare feet in the air.
“That is so weird,” Tony says, more loudly than he meant to, and everyone else in the room turns to look at him.
Tony considers lying, but changes his mind with a sigh. “Here,” he says, and makes a gesture over the phone that ports the video feed to Jane’s big wall screen. Now they can all see Coulson, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, talking to the possibly-murderous toddler with exactly the kind of open, interested, inviting face that Tony remembers from his less traumatizing nannies. It’s a Talking To Kids face, and Tony would have bet a substantial sum of money and one of his less favoured sports cars that Coulson + adorable tiny children = No-Win Scenario. Except, the kid is actually smiling, shyly, and playing absently with...
“Are those handcuffs?” asks Darcy, in a very interested voice. “I didn’t know Phil carried handcuffs.” Which is... very interesting, but there are more important things to worry about just now.
Coulson is helping the kid roll up the too-long sleeves on the scrub top some nurse has given him to replace the tattered clothes he came in wearing. Coulson’s hands are moving with what look like practiced confidence, all the while nodding at whatever the kid is saying. Tony blinks at the screen, and then blinks hard again as though he’s hallucinating and that might help. But no; the strange, strange vision persists.
“Phil’s has six tiny, adorable nieces and nephews,” says Pepper from the door, and Tony jumps, caught. Pepper looks at them all with both amusement and disapproval, the latter mostly for Tony.
Tony considers pointing out that everyone else in the room, including Captain America, was also watching the strange spectre unfold, but changes his mind at the last second. Thor gets up and takes her hands, kissing them in what appears to be a standard ritual for greeting really hot women in Asgard. “Pepper! What brings you here?”
“I was wondering the same thing,” Tony agrees, crossing the room to greet her with a kiss on the cheek that she accepts gracefully enough. The fact that she can still find him amusing after everything is just one more proof that she was always way, way too good for him.
“I came for the briefing on the break-in at the Staten Island facility,” she says.
Because oh, yeah, Pepper Potts: CEO. Somehow, Tony still forgets that. Half the time when he was CEO he forgot that, too, so fair enough. Pepper probably would not agree.
“I didn’t expect to walk in on Tony spying on SHIELD daycare,” she adds, raising an eyebrow.
“I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t... up to something,” Tony says feebly, waving his phone as though it might prove that he had honourable intentions.
Pepper looks at the screen again. “Like what? Taking a nap? Eating milk and cookies?”
Tony clicks the screen on his phone dark, and Jane’s screen goes back to displaying the analysis of the Bifrost rupture.
“Good afternoon, Pepper,” Steve says, stepping forward to shake her hand. Tony watches Pepper turn her sweetest smile on Steve, who predictably, goes faintly pink in response. Steve clearly still hasn’t forgotten the way Pepper pretty blatantly checked him out the first time they met. Steve’s reaction to embarrassment, though, is invariably painful politeness, and he still absolutely must greet her and shake hands every time they meet.
Tony understands. Even at his lowest, most dickish low, he found Pepper kind of intimidating too.
Also, Tony maybe kind of really likes the blush. (He happens to know that Pepper does too, which is probably why she lets Steve keep doing this every time.)
“I should be going,” Steve says, nodding to the ladies and casting a concerned look at Thor, who is staring miserably down at his hands again. Tony, who apparently doesn’t rate eye contact, nonetheless appreciates the value of a good retreat, and makes a break for it through the other door before anybody else can give him more disapproving looks.
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