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“If you even touch this line, I will send you to the mirror dimension and you will spend the next 300 years there. No warning shots. Not a single one. Do you understand?”

As expected Loki didn’t seem the slightest bit impressed by Strange’s dark gaze. When he should be grateful, Loki chose to be irritating and wore his most biting patronizing smile. “That depends. Do I understand what you are saying, mighty wizard? Or do I comprehend the mechanics of a magical force field created with such precision that it’s only going to keep one single person inside while everyone else can walk right through it?”

Clearly not in the mood to deal with Loki just a second longer Strange turned to Thor who involuntarily straightened up a little bit under the wizard’s drilling eyes. “He touches the border, the deal is off and he goes away. I’m making this your responsibility.”

Thor didn’t get to agree or to say goodbye. Strange created a portal that let them gaze at his study for a second, walked through it and he was gone. All that he had left behind was the slightly flickering, golden wall around New Asgard which eventually faded away. It was still there of course, just invisible.

Humming softly Loki made half a step forward and walked a few feet along the line. Then he stopped, wearing the grin on his face that Thor had seen so many times before and which had never been the indication for anything good. “This is going to be so much fun.”

Thor narrowed his eyes at him and even raised his index finger like a father scolding a child. “No! Loki, no! This was the deal. No messing around with the barrier. We respect their demands.”

Loki let out an honest laugh and it made Thor genuinely happy to see him so cheerful and at the same time it was endlessly frustrating. “Oh, come on, are you scared of the wizard? After that drawn out speech he must be expecting me to try something. Do you really want to disappoint our new hosts?”

“I know that you are only trying to rile me up, but just in case – you are not going to try to pass the barrier in any kind of way. No illusion, no projection. No nothing. We got incredibly lucky that nobody asked for your head when we came back here. A little bit of house arrest is not so bad, right? Also, it is not going to last forever. As soon as you’ve outlived everybody who witnessed the attack on New York, you’ll be free to walk around.” Thor enthusiastically patted Loki on the shoulder before he walked away from the cliffs back to the centre of what was going to become New Asgard. Right now their new home was nothing more than a few simple barracks, but there was still a lot of work ahead of them and Thor was looking forward to it. To actually create something. Until now he hadn’t had many opportunities to do so.

His thoughts were already busy painting a picture of what their new city hall was going to look like when Thor heard hurrying after him. Of course he didn’t hear Loki’s steps. Nobody ever did that. What he heard was Loki’s whining. “You cannot seriously expect me to stay here for the next 100 years. I am going to be bored to death.”

Thor held the door to his own barrack open, because he knew Loki well enough to be certain that this conversation was far from over. “Then it should comfort you, brother, that we are building an entirely new version of Asgard. There will be lots of work. For you especially. That should keep you occupied for more than 100 years. Don’t you think so?”

Despite Loki’s claims Thor wasn’t stupid. He was well aware that Loki didn’t just see the barrier as a prison that bound him to this very place. No, it was a challenge. An opportunity to trick someone and show off his superiority. Perhaps Thor should occasionally remind Loki of how badly Strange had outsmarted him the last time. Sooner or later Loki was not going to be able to help himself, but Thor intensely hoped that it was going to be a lot later. They had to show some goodwill and definitely wasn’t eager to start a fight with Strange or the Avengers if Loki should not play by the rules. Thor didn’t want that kind of trouble, but he definitely wasn’t going to let Loki be sent away. Nobody was going to send his brother in a mirror dimension or in any other dimension.

“You are going to honour this deal, Loki. You try anything with that barrier and Strange comes to get you, I am not going to stop him.”

Loki crossed his arms in front of his chest, sending Thor a defiant look. Just when Thor was sure that they were going to have an actual fight over this, Loki half-groaned and rolled his eyes. “Fine! I will accept the mortal’s rules. If you want me to do some work, then give me the plans for the future library. I am not going to let you make a single decision concerning that.”

For now Thor decided to be relieved and handed Loki said plans with a smirk. “You will see a hundred years pass like nothing, brother.”

Three days later Thor caught Loki roaming around the cliffs, suspiciously close to the barrier. Naturally. “What are you doing there?”

The expression on Loki’s face was pure innocence. So innocent that simply everybody would call it fake and that was also exactly what Loki wanted. “Me? I am taking a walk, brother. Enjoying the fresh morning air. Is that somehow forbidden?”

Thor decided to keep his mouth shut, for the sake of his own sanity.

***

Loki was willing to give credit where credit was due. He had not expected that it would take him six months. His highest estimate had been four. After lots of searching, testing and probing Loki hadn’t just touched the barrier. No, he had stuck his entire left hand right through it. A simple act that still took quite a lot of effort, but soon Loki would be able to walk in and out as he pleased. The most important thing was though that Loki had broken the barrier and no portal had opened up. So much about the almighty wizard.

The waves were crashing against the cliffs and Loki smiled to himself in the darkness. He was going to have so much fun.

For the first time Loki decided to better be safe than sorry. Lying on his bed he looked at the wooden ceiling before closing his eyes and exhaling loudly. This was going to be tricky and Loki had all the time in the world. Better doing this as relaxed as possible. Loki created an astral projection of himself and sent it out. Beyond the barrier. Standing outside of New Asgard Loki took a look around. Despite Strange’s threats and warnings he didn’t show up and Loki didn’t expect him to. He had done excellent work. Marvellous. All Loki did that night was wandering around and looking forward to future expeditions.

Two nights later Loki’s projection stalked the streets of New York. It had been a rather long time. 177A Bleecker Street. Loki spent an entire night in front of the wizard’s building to figure out the magical defences and alarms. Strange had to be quite paranoid because there were lots of them. A week. That should be enough to figure out how to get inside undetected and to stay undetected. Five days were spent working in New Asgard, five nights spent trying to wiggle into Strange’s house. The next 48 hours were spent sleeping.

At breakfast Thor sent him the most disapproving and suspicious gaze. Loki responded with a big smile. He was so eager for night to come Loki could barely sit still.

“Are you alright, Loki? You seemed to be… rather tired the last couple of days.”

“Oh, I am feeling simply marvellous, brother. Like I haven’t in a very long time.”

“I don’t even want to know.”

Honestly Loki had not a clue what day it was, but it definitely felt like the weekend when he sent his projection right into the foyer of Strange’s home. Not the best memories were connected to this place, but Loki was in too much of a good mood to care. The next couple of days, weeks and months were going to be much more humiliating for Strange than 30 pathetic minutes for Loki. It was tempting to start humming some song, but that would really be against the point of invisibility. Slowly and deliberately Loki made his way through the building and he found the wizard in what came close to a living room.

What a domestic picture. Rather surprising to find out that Strange possessed other clothes than the awkward wizard outfit. He was lounging in a comfy chair, a book in his hand and a glass of wine next to him. Admittedly not the worst way to spend an evening. Also there was music. Loki noticed at Strange’s right foot moved to the rhythm. Strolling around the room Loki took in his surroundings and eventually moved closer to Strange to check out what he was reading. After all Loki had big plans with Strange’s library. Lots of those books deserved a new and better home. Someone to care for them.

Two steps towards Strange and Loki froze mid-motion. Strange’s head suddenly came up and his eyes darted around the room in high alert. Damn.

“Wong! Get here, we have an intruder!”

That was Loki’s cue to go home.

Opening his eyes Loki jumped off his bed and stormed right into Thor’s bedroom. Knocking was a luxury that he couldn’t afford right now. Thor sat up straight when Loki burst inside. There was a cell phone in his hands, he was still trying to figure out how it worked. “Loki, what…”

“I am bored. Entertain me!”

“What? Are you…”

“Entertain me, now!”

One obviously couldn’t be more confused than Thor was in this very moment. “Uhm… there is this video programming I have found. It is called ‘Friends’. It has been fairly entertaining this far.”

Thor was definitely becoming too Midgardian for Loki’s taste, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and he would lecture him another time about the existence of things called books and how they could make you smart. Loki needed an alibi though and he needed it fast. “Then let us watch it.”

They settled on the ridiculously small couch in the main room and Loki quickly pulled out his phone, he was actually familiar with how it worked, to google everything there was to know about that weird television series.

A portal appeared right next to them and Strange stepped right through. Now in wizard gear. Thor immediately got up to greet him, smiling like the oblivious fool that he was. Perhaps Loki shouldn’t be so mean, because Thor’s none-the-wiser face was his stay-out-of-jail card.

“Strange! It is an honour that you bestow your presence upon us. Will you join us for movie night?”

It was safe to say that Strange was not here to join in on the staged fun. His eyes were narrowed and fixed on Loki. His presence was indeed a little bit intimidating and that was so much more interesting than everything Loki had seen from him before.

“You.” Strange said lowly, again pointing at Loki. “What did you do?”

“Today? Or more in general?”

“I am not here to play games, Loki. What did you do?”

Raising his shoulders Loki also pointed at something. The TV. “I’ve been trying to find out if Rachel is ever going to give Ross a chance. Are regular check-ups now included in my prison sentence? Or did you miss me?”

Strange graciously ignored Loki’s questions which was kind of boring. “I noticed a magical presence in my home. A presence which wasn’t supposed to be there. What did you do?”

Time to act. Loki would put it on a little thick so Strange would be especially annoyed. Hopefully he would also feel stupid. “See, Thor? Now I am getting blamed for everything that goes wrong and is related to magic. I cannot say I am surprised, but I am hurt.”

Thor quickly looked from Loki to Strange. “What exactly are you accusing him of?”

“I want to know where he spent the last 60 minutes.”

“Here with me. We watched Friends. It is a highly entertaining Midgardian television series. Have you heard of it?”

That didn’t make Strange happy and Loki didn’t think that he bought the story. He didn’t have to believe it as long as he couldn’t prove that they were lying. Thor was merely painting the truth with a different brush.

After gritting his teeth in obvious displeasure Strange turned around to leave through the portal. “I will keep an eye on you.”

As soon as he was gone Thor tried staring Loki down. That had stopped to have any effect since they were living in New Asgard. “What did you do?”

“What do you mean? I didn’t do anything.” Loki wore his most annoying fake-innocent face and Thor quickly changed his mind.

“Nevermind. I do not want to know. I want to know when Chandler is finally going to break up with that woman with the horrible voice.”

Fair enough.

***

Despite his eagerness Loki would not allow himself to get sloppy. If Strange was able to sense his presence from Loki’s projection, then Loki had to do some improvements before actually going back there. Luckily Loki had a lot of time to work on the details during his daily duty of setting up the new library. After a single day Loki had everybody so scared of even touching a single book that nobody would even dare to enter the room. Loki was working so much better on his own.

Just in case Loki decided to wait another week until his next stroll beyond the magic barrier. This time Loki went in person. An illusion of himself was left behind, lying on his bed, reading. Thor knew better than risk interrupting him when Loki was reading.

The very first thing Loki did in New York City was to enter the most expensive restaurant he could find and order a lavish meal that earned him more than one bewildered look. That was something Loki could easily deal with. With a full belly and no intention whatsoever to pay for the food Loki walked out of the restaurant, wearing a different face. He was in the mood for some fun. Time to make someone else’s day miserable. Everybody who decided that Loki needed a cage was in for a lot of inconvenience. Strange had to wait though, just to be sure. It didn’t take Loki long to decide where to go.

Loki made him comfortable on a couch that seemed big enough to host a small party and watched Stark pacing around the room. He was agitated and for a moment Loki let himself believe that it had to do with some imminent threat against the Avengers or Earth. If Thor had not told him about anything like that Loki would turn his hammer into a Frisbee. It was rather disappointing when Stark’s dilemma was much more mundane and ordinary.

“I am going to screw this up, Rhodey. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the entire universe telling me that I am going to screw this up.”

Stark was having a phone conversation, talking into a small device in his hand. While still running up and down. This was quite the difference from how he usually presented himself. Cocky, laid-back and above everyone else. Loki found this change of tune highly amusing.

“I guess there is a big probability that you are going to screw this up, yes.”

Stark stopped dead in his tracks, throwing his empty hand up in the air. “You are supposed to reassure me! What kind of friend are you?! I need you, Rhodes, talk some confidence into me. Don’t you do that with the recruits before you send them to war?”

“Yes, but there is a chance that they’ll succeed on the battlefield. I don’t see much chance of you succeeding in convincing Pepper of taking you back.”

A matter of the heart. How dull and ordinary. However, it was entertaining to watch Stark squirm.

“Well, thank you, that is very uplifting. Remind to do the same for you if you ever have to undergo surgery.”

“Tony, I don’t know what you want me to say. You managed to get her to see you tonight. I am sure, she would not come over if it was completely hopeless.”

Hmm, that could be a piece of valuable information. Tony now listened with much more interest.

Finally Stark stopped and started tugging on his collar like a man who could breathe because he was nervous but would rather blame his clothing. “Her dating experiences over the last couple of months must have been as horrendous as mine, right? Don’t give me your honest opinion and just tell me what I want to hear, so I don’t jump out of the window.”

Stark falling out of a window. What pleasant memories. Chuckling soundlessly Loki shifted on the couch until his legs were draped over the back rest and his head was dangling over the floor. Upside down Stark’s hounded face looked even funnier.

“Believe me, Tony.” The man on the other end of the line said. “Nobody has had worse dating experiences than you during the last couple of months.”

“Yeah, silly question from my part. I know that my personality is sparkling and I have the looks to back it up, but that’s still no reason to try and come with names for our kids on the very first date.”

This was like music to Tony’s ears. Something to work with.

“That’s why online dating is dangerous and should be forbidden. How long did she keep calling you?”

“Only stopped like three weeks ago. I felt like Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction. Stop. No more talk of that clingy demon called Sally. Pepper is going to be here in 20 minutes and I need to take another shower.”

At this point Loki wasn’t even listening anymore. He was filled with an almost childlike glee now that he had a clear goal and a plan. Circumstance was playing in his favour when Stark ended his phone call and headed for the shower. Pickpocketing was one of Loki’s favourite ways to pass time and sadly he got to use it so rarely. It didn’t always have to be the big spectacle. Little things could get even greater results.

Loki chose a roof a few blocks away for his little charade. A little moonlight and the silence of the night was the greatest of all stages. It had been so long since Loki had put on a good show, he was almost shaking with excitement. When he got started though, Loki was perfect. As always.

Once Loki had put on the illusion the phone offered him all its secrets. He was only interested in the phone number of a certain Sally.

Sally answered the call after the very first ringing and Loki almost couldn’t see her face behind that huge, ecstatic smile and sparkling eyes. Someone was finally a little bit overexcited to see Stark. The poor girl obviously suffered from horrible taste.

“Tony! I was hoping so much you’d call me! For days I’ve been wrecking my brains what I did wrong and why you wouldn’t answer my calls. I was worried that you might have lost your phone or something worse… You couldn’t just have been ignoring me. Not after this amazing connection we’ve had. Something like that can only happen once in a lifetime! Or once a generation!”

This was so grand, Loki wanted to cry.

“Sally, let me just get a word in, so I can tell you what jerk and screw-up I’ve been?”

“No, you aren’t-“

“Just a word, okay? What you said about our connection – it could not be more accurate. Like a lightning that hits you. Thomas Edison must have felt like that when he invented the lightbulb. Or the first guy who dipped a cookie in a glass of milk. Something that is just so perfect and… meant to be. I have to tell you the truth. I got scared. Isn’t that weird and… kind of pathetic? To be scared of something so… special?”

It took some effort not to start applauding his own performance.

“No! Tony, I know exactly what you mean! Something so powerful can easily be overwhelming.”

“That means you forgive me for being such a jerk?” Tears would be too much, right?

“Of course! There is nothing to forgive. I’m just so happy that you…”

“I need to see you.” Loki interrupted her with just enough urgency in his voice. It was okay to sound a little desperate. That was what Loki imagined Stark to be like when things didn’t go his way. “Right now. I cannot wait. Can you come to the tower?”

Oh yes, she could. Actually, she assured Loki that nothing could stop her. Loki appreciated her enthusiasm. After he had returned the phone Loki just had to lean back and enjoy the show. It was going to be marvellous.

The woman Stark was actually interested in, with the ridiculous name Pepper, arrived a few minutes later. It was a rather ridiculous display of two people squirming and tiptoeing around each other. Stark was so desperately trying to be charming and courteous that all of his natural charisma went down the drain. Loki was close to pitying him. The woman didn’t fare much better though. When someone was trying to so desperately give their ex-lover the cold shoulder, they were just seconds away from giving in and falling into their arms. Stark liked to credit himself a genius, but he was too stupid to see that. They should consider them happy that Loki had already put them out of their misery without them knowing it.

Loki hadn’t smiled as widely in years as when Stark’s electronic servant announced a visitor. “A woman named Sally is here to see you, boss. She seems rather adamant.”

Stark’s face became white as chalk and Pepper stared daggers at him. “Seriously, Tony?”

“No, it’s not what you think. What you are thinking right now – not it. This Sally person – completely crazy. A definitive 10 on the stalker scale. We had one drink and I’ve never called her since. I swear on my suits!”

That was 100 percent the truth and Pepper was not buying it. The beauty of the show was actually giving Loki tingles.

“Then why don’t we let her in ask her.”

The great Iron Man was rendered completely helpless by the hands of this woman and the second the door opened for Sally. She immediately jumped into Stark’s arms, almost throwing him off his balance. “Oh Tony, I missed you so much! I couldn’t wait to see you either. I was so happy you finally called.”

It was impossible to decide which face struck with complete horror appealed more to Loki. Both Stark and Pepper made a strong case for themselves.

“Get off me! I didn’t call you!”

“Screw you, Tony!”

“No, Pepper, I swear, I didn’t do anything!”

Loki was so overcome with glee he wished he could freeze this moment in time. The only thing to make this better would be another woman showing up with baby in her hands that looked like Stark. Well, there was still plenty of time.

***

The next day Loki was in such a good mood that it didn’t go by unnoticed. About a month ago he had negotiated with an ambassador of Alfheimr and after some blackmail the later had happily agreed to send them three crates of books on the history of the nine realms. One of the guys carrying the crates tripped on the way to the library. The crate got damaged and a few of the books were now lying in the moist grass.

“Oh no! By the Nines, I am so sorry, prince Loki!” It was audible in his voice that he expected a long and painful death, but Loki barely looked up from his list where all the books were noted. “Accidents happen. Just make sure everything's in the right spot when I get there.”

There was some clear bewilderment, but of course nobody complained and everybody rushed to gather up the books and to finally get them into the library. A shadow was cast over Loki’s list what caused him to look up again. “Valkyrie, what can I do for you on this lovely day?”

“It’s not lovely. It has been raining cats and dogs the entire day until a few minutes and why didn’t you threaten to separate his head from his body when he dropped your precious books?”

“Those aren’t mine. They belong to all of New Asgard and like I said, accidents happen. He meant no harm.”

Nobody had ever looked more distrustful than Valkyrie in that exact moment. “Did you lay with someone last night?”

That question had one of Loki’s eyebrows going up. A little bit. “Thank you for the interest in my interpersonal relationships. The answer is no although I don’t see why it would be any of your business.”

Valkyrie shrugged and Loki absolutely believed her that she didn’t care in the slightest. “You are in too much of a good mood. In my experience that can only have two explanations. Booze or sex.”

“Well, my dearest Valkyrie.” Loki flashed a biting grin. “Obviously you don’t know me that well.”

Loki could play a long game, but he wasn’t blessed with that much patience. He still wouldn’t dare to enter Strange’s house again. Which didn’t mean he could not be an immense pain. A few phone calls should do the trick for now.

The next day after lunch Loki was casually leaning against a car in front of Strange’s house, an ice-cream in his hand. He had chosen the form of a young boy, because in all honesty, this little trick had to be considered childish, even by the one responsible for it. After a few minutes of waiting a van pulled up in front of the house to deliver 20 cats, 5 dogs, 25 serpents, 30 toads and three goats. One could really find anything on the internet. Loki was getting rather fond of it. What he also could get used to was Strange’s face when the delivery man wanted him to sign the papers for the animals. So the cool and illustrious was rather short-tempered after all. Loki licked his ice-cream with delight while Strange yelled at the delivery guy to take the animals someplace else since he certainly hadn’t order them. His face took on the loveliest shade of red when a black car pulled up and the two men getting out of identified themselves as working for the animal control service. They had received a tip that a certain Stephen Strange was sacrificing animals in occult rituals to conjure black magic. Loki had to teleport away, he was laughing so hard he almost dropped his ice-cream.

When Thor and him were watching Friends that evening his brother didn’t stop glancing at him. That went on for about three episodes until Loki was getting annoyed by it. “What? Do you want to say something?”

Thor considered it, then shook his head. “The less I know the better.”

Loki would never admit it, but Thor was finally shaping up to be a wise king.

***

It was almost midnight when Loki teleported into the foyer of Strange’s house. Holding his breath Loki waited for some magic trap or for some kind of alarm to go off. In vain. Evidently his preparations had paid off. Not only had Loki found a way out off his cage, but also into the home of his warden. The next months to come would be pure, entertaining bliss for Loki.

With a slight bounce in his step he wandered across the house, espying mystical artefacts and knowing better than to touch them. The man he was actually looking for hadn’t gone to bed yet. Instead he was sitting in the same chair as last time. There was one big difference though. This time Loki was standing in front of him, made of flesh and blood and Strange remained none-the-wiser. If Loki hadn’t that much class he would have started a little victory dance.

Strange was reading, listening to music and kept doing that for another hour before finally going to bed. The first thing Loki did was to go through Strange’s phone. Ridiculous. That man had created over 300 playlists. Some of them were named after a certain year, for example 1973. Others were oddly specific. Like ‘Tuesday evening with a cup of tea’ or ‘After fighting a mystical threat’. That man definitely liked his music. Loki wondered what would annoy him more – having all his playlists deleted or having them turned into a complete mess? Well, nobody could accuse Loki of being lazy. Finding a cosy position in Strange’s chair Loki got to work and replaced all soulful and admittedly good music with horrible Eurodance from the 90s. That actually took a couple of hours and afterwards Loki was so tired that he merely cast a small spell to turn the milk in the fridge sour. Strange was in for a lovely breakfast.

The next day Thor asked Loki if he wanted to go for a drink in the newly opened tavern which Loki declined. He had something better in mind. Something better was watching Strange cursing under his breath as he typed for hours on his phone to create his precious playlists One should assume that watching a frustrated man should grow old after 30 minutes, but nothing was further from the truth. Things only got better when Strange’s companion, a man called Wong showed up. He was clearly confused by what Strange was up to. “What are you doing?”

“Recreating a life’s work…”

“I fear I don’t understand.”

Raising his head Strange bared his teeth. “Wong, don’t take this personally, but if there is no immediate attack on the entire universe going on, I don’t want to be interrupted.”

“Alright.” Wong sighed. “I have some work to do in the library anyway. Looks like we’re both in for a long night. I am going to make some coffee. Is there still milk in the fridge?”

“No!”

Loki had to clasp both hands over his mouth to not burst into laughter and reveal himself. Over the next few hours Strange seemingly calmed down and even started humming along with the music that constantly filled the room. Loki also found it to be quite pleasing and relaxing. So much even that he conjured one of his books and began reading on Strange’s couch while Strange was busy undoing the chaos that Loki and caused.

***

Not overdoing things was important. Although Loki was quite sure that Strange had the hint of an idea what was happening, Loki didn’t want to risk becoming too obvious. Therefore he kept things low-key like cancelling Strange’s daily newspaper delivery, messing with the power supply line and adding a red t-shirt into Strange’s white laundry that went into the washing machine. Things were not getting boring. Unfortunately Loki was still busy with his work in New Asgard and he couldn’t draw too much attention by suddenly disappearing when he supposedly wasn’t even capable of leaving their small colony. Therefore Loki had to take a short leave from making Strange’s life miserable for a about a weak.

The next time Loki showed up at Strange’s place he stumbled into a fight. The very second he teleported into the foyer a ball of gold magic went past his ear with a sizzling sound. With his dagger already in hand Loki anticipated another attack when he realised that Strange was busy fighting some other second-rate wizard. Oh, free entertainment and all Loki had to do was to lean back.

With big eyes and a smile on his face Loki watched as Strange got his ass kicked. Well, not really, he was holding up pretty well. From what Loki could tell by watching was that the other wizard was trying to steal some magical object. Clearly he wasn’t a very good thief if Strange had noticed him at all. Eventually the second-rate thief conjured a portal right next to where Loki was standing and after a nasty attack at left Strange incapacitated for a few seconds the thief went for the portal.

No, Loki was having none of that. Again, he went about it in the most dignified and smartest way possible. He tripped the thief up who landed flat on his face. In the blink of an eye Strange was on him and knocked the thief out. Loki would have applauded if it wasn’t for his cover. There was no need for mischief or chaos for the rest of the day since it was extremely entertaining to watch Strange trying to get the thief to talk for whom he had been trying to steal the artefact. Well, Loki would be able to tell him, because he was familiar with the magic that he had seen, but Loki wasn’t actually supposed to be here, so that wasn’t an option.

Loki had made himself comfortable on a chair to watch the interrogation and it had his full attention. Strange could be intimidating if he wanted to and that silly looking cape could be put to good use if you wanted to tie someone to a chair. Eventually the thief started to talk, but that opened a new can of worms for Strange. The thief’s employer was an expert in an ancient from of magic that Strange didn’t seem to be familiar with. It would almost be worth it blow his cover to just to rub it into Strange’s face that he wasn’t that much of a supreme sorcerer after all.

No, things were even getting better. During the next two days Strange and Wong made shockingly feeble attempts to locate the thief’s employer only to find out that they had no idea how to. The books didn’t provide any answers and Loki’s grin was getting bigger by the second. Actually, it took another day for the inevitable to happen.

Putting a book down Wong carefully glanced at Strange. “You know, we could still ask…”

“No.” Strange replied simply, not looking up from his book.

Loki folded his arms behind his head, making himself comfortable. This was going to be good.

“Strange, it would be foolish not to use all means that are at our disposal.”

“I am not going to ask a narcissistic, self-righteous criminal for help. Moreover it is more than unlikely that he could provide any useful information.”

Loki’s hand twitched. Next to him was a paper weight that he could throw at Strange’s head.

“Actually it sounds like you would get along rather well.”

Strange and Loki stared Wong down who was unimpressed. Obviously because he could only see Strange’s glare which was by no means comparable to Loki’s. “All I am saying is that we are losing precious time by not consulting a potential source of knowledge.”

Right, Loki’s knowledge was endless, limitless and…

“Fine!” Strange suddenly exclaimed and opened a portal in the exact same second. Loki’s eyes grew wide as he could see Thor at the other end. The portal led into their home. Damn, he hadn’t expected Strange to get over his pride so fast. Strange was already walking through the portal, so Loki had to hastily teleport back into his room. Behind the door he could already hear Strange’s voice. “Thor, where is your brother?”

No greeting, rude.

Loki had barely time to grab a book and pretend like he had been lying on the bed for longer than two seconds. Then the door was already flying open and Strange was trying his best to stare him down and Loki only felt the faintest goose bumps. “In civilised cultures people are supposed to knock before they enter a room.”

“I need your help.”

Oh, this was so much better than Loki had even thought it would be. Sitting up very slowly Loki tried to make his smile even more condescending. “I am sorry, I must have misheard. There is no way the Sorcerer Supreme, the most powerful magic user imaginable could ever…”

“Do you want to get out of here for a few hours or not?” Strange interrupted him impatiently and Loki pretended to think about it before shaking his head and lying back down, burying his face in his book. “No, thank you.”

It left Strange speechless and Loki didn’t have enough self-restraint to not glance at him to see his face. Completely worth it though.

“Excuse me?”

“I am doing perfectly fine here. Whatever problem you have, you will have to deal with it alone.”

Also Loki really wanted to see Strange beg. All it would take was a little push and then…

“Fine. Sorry for interrupting your… reading session.”

Strange turned on his heels, stalking back to the portal and Loki almost fell flat on his face so quickly he jumped out of bed. With one leg tangled up in his blanket Loki rushed after Strange. “Wait a second! Have you never heard of negotiations, you stubborn… man? What do you need help with and what is in there for me?”

Loki had imagined this a little different, but as long as the outcome was the same…

***

Of course there were all kinds of threats that Loki didn’t particularly care about. You touch one thing and I send you to the mirror dimension. You try to run I send you to the dark dimension. You continue being a smartass and I send your head into the mirror dimension and the rest of you into the dark dimension. Loki wanted to yawn, but instead… No, he yawned.

The only thing that mattered was that he was now sitting in Strange’s library without a glamour and without the intention to cause chaos. Well, at least not lots of it. Strange put him up to speed with everything that Loki already knew, but he gave his impression of a mildly surprised man.

“I need to find out where this individual has come from to make sure he will not try something similar again.”

Loki nodded with disinterest. “And what do you need help with?”

Strange clenched his teeth in irritation. “Finding said individual.”

“Oh… That. I am sorry I excepted that you would be able to tie your shoelaces on my own. My bad.”

“It would be in your best interest to not annoy me.”

“Right…” Loki said and clicked his tongue. “Or I’ll be sent to another dimension.”

They glared at each other for a little longer before Loki thought it would be better not to push his luck too far. “Alright. No need to take everything personally. From what you’ve told me I think we’re dealing with…”

Loki laid out his theory and it gave him an immense feeling of gratification to have Strange listening to him. Not a single interruption. When Loki was done, Strange nodded asked the most important question. “And how do I get there?”

Now Loki’s grin was so big it threatened to split his face apart. “How do we get there.”

“No way.”

“Why do you so desperately want to refuse my help, Doctor Strange? Is it a false sense of pride? Or… and I don’t even want to think about that possibility, but… don’t you trust me?”

Rolling his eyes Strange huffed. “I am glad that the situation is amusing you, but I don’t have times for your… antics.”

“Then you are clearly missing out.”

Something was filling the air. Something new. Obvious tension, slightly different than before, but Loki enjoyed it all the same. Strange wasn’t the kind of person to play the game with a smile on his lips, but that didn’t mean he didn’t play. “I don’t believe so. Unlike you I am in possession of all my five senses and my sanity. I don’t see the appeal of taking an enemy basket case along to a fight.”

Oh, this was giving Loki tingles. “First, I am not mad all the time. Ask Thor or Banner, they can confirm. Second, enemy? You hurt my feelings, Strange. What have I ever done to provoke such a harsh reaction from you?”

“The very first time we met you threatened to stab me.”

“You let me fall through a portal through 30 minutes. Stabbing you would have been the adequate reaction. Actually, I think you still owe me. One stab. A little one. I promise to avoid any vital organ. Are mortals still depending on their spleen?”

Annoyed beyond words Strange made a resigning gesture with his hand. “I haven’t had this kind of headache since I stopped teaching the most useless interns in all of New York. There is no way I am taking you along to this fight.”

Crossing his legs Loki casually leaned back in his chair. “Alright. I wish you good luck. Come back in one piece… if you ever get there, of course.”

Strange narrowed his eyes at him and Loki wondered how far he could push him. The tingling though told him that Strange was also getting some kind of enjoyment out of this. That should have definitely ruined it for Loki. Taking a step closer Strange raised his chin to challenge him. “And you could do that on your own? Get there?”

The grin on Loki’s face became smaller until it was a rather intimate smile. His answer was calm and he enjoyed every letter as it rolled off his tongue. “Yes. Within a heartbeat.”

Their staring match continued, neither of them willing to be the first one to look away or to lose. There was an odd, prickling feeling forming in the pit of Loki’s stomach. One that hadn’t been there for quite a while. A soft kind of excitement lay in the air that didn’t vanish when Strange took a step back to literally look down on him. “I don’t believe you.”

This was beyond any strength that Loki would ever be able to come up with. Unable to resist Loki smiled as he quoted one of the songs that Strange had enjoyed listening to more than one time when Loki had been here. “Don’t believe me, just watch.”

Strange’s eyebrows went up and Loki chose that moment to teleport away. He reappeared right behind Strange and once again couldn’t resist the temptation. “Surprise!” Grabbing Strange’s shoulders Loki teleported them both away. Away from this house, away from Midgard. To that awful little spot in the universe where the thief’s employer had to reside.

“Voilà.” Loki gestured around himself and took a little bow. Strange didn’t appreciate this theatrics and he also clearly didn’t appreciate his new surroundings. He didn’t even look around, his blue/green eyes were fixed on Loki. “Did you… You can teleport across these kinds of distances?”

“Obviously. Let’s go, we’re here to find the evil man who wants to steal from you.”

Strange followed him begrudgingly.

***

Well, their little expedition hadn’t turned out to be nearly as fun as Loki had expected. The villain who had decided that he wanted to steal from Strange had turned out to be a rather vile creature. That alone wouldn’t have been a problem. That ugly creature being immune to pretty much all their attacks was an insult. Loki hadn’t planned to head to an actual fight. He would have enjoyed to stand by the side and watch Strange do all the work, but now it was personal. That despicable creature had damaged one of his daggers. Loki would ram the stub remains into his head the next time they would see each other.

“I will gut that little worm and paint the walls with his blood.” Now Loki was the one pacing around Strange’s library while the other one was calmly sitting at the table, using a small mirror to check out the minor wound above his eye. “Not the walk in the park you expected?”

The last thing Loki needed right now was Strange going all smartass on him. “We will go back there! We will rip his beating heart out and show it to him!” Loki emphasised every part of that by pointing the remains of his dagger at Strange who remained terribly unimpressed. “You get very upset when people take away your toys.”

“Toys?! How dare you?!”

“I am merely amused that such an intense reaction can be provoked with such little effort.”

“What?! Intense reaction? You are talking about a weapon that I have been carrying for centuries not something as trivial like a list of…” Loki trailed off, biting his lip and of course Strange had already caught on. “A list of what?”

“Nevermind.” Loki tossed the dagger away and turned back to Strange with all his expectations. “What are we going to do now, oh great wizard? I am waiting for a suggestion how to crush that pathetic little…”

Sighing deeply Strange concentrated on the mirror again. “Can you stay quiet for just a second? It would be highly appreciated.”

“Fine!” Loki dropped onto a chair, tapping his fingers against the table until Strange was finished with looking at his non-existent injury. “Can we come up with a plan now?”

“Since you weren’t too much a help anyway I have decided to go ahead without you. Thank you but no thank you.” A portal opened up right behind Loki and Strange delivered a hard kick with his foot against the edge of Loki’s chair. It fell over and Loki slithered right through the portal.

“What in the… How dare you, you arrogant, second-rate wizard?!” Loki jumped back to his feet but by now he was only screaming at a wall. Thor was munching on his cereal at the table. “So it went well?”

***

This was the worst predicament Loki had been in in centuries. A huge exaggeration, but Loki loved hyperboles. One of his daggers was ruined, that had made it personal. Strange had pushed him out and Loki couldn’t just go back, because that would reveal that he had been able to enter and leave New Asgard as he pleased.

But staying here was torture!

“Uhm… Loki?”

How could that mortal even dare to send him back here? Didn’t he know that he didn’t stand a chance without his help? On his own Strange wasn’t even able to figure out what had happened to his Spotify playlist.

“Loki?”

He was going to steal every single one of Strange’s books and then he was going to burn the whole place down. And he would play a horrible song during it and make Strange listen.

“LOKI!”

“What?!” Spinning around Loki stared at who Thor had come up behind him. “Are you alright? You’ve been pacing around the room for hours. What did the wizard do to upset you so much?”

“Ha! As if that fool could ever achieve such a feat as upsetting me!”

“You look pretty upset to me and to every other person in New Asgard. You probably didn’t notice that nobody even dared to approach this house during the last day?”

No, Loki hadn’t noticed and he didn’t care. What he cared about was getting revenge for his humiliation and Loki couldn’t stand being ignored. Did Strange seriously think that he didn’t need him? “I am not upset. I am furious! First he gets me to help him and then I get side-lined again?!”

Thor shrugged and sat back down again, taking a swing from his met. “It’s not like you could just go back there and tell him all that.”

Loki couldn’t bring himself to act shocked or confused by Thor’s words. The last weeks they both had done a rather bad job at pretending that Thor didn’t exactly know what was going on. “Do you think that would be a good idea?”

“If it gets you out of my living room, I am all for it.”

“How utterly compassionate of you.”

As painful as it was to admit, Thor had a point. It was getting Loki nowhere to stay here and be angry. “Ah, to hell with it.”

Loki teleported into Strange’s library where Strange was leaning over a table filled with open books. Ah, so that fool was really trying to work on his alone? As if he had even a snowball’s chance in hell. Ridiculous. “You know, it’s not making you look smarter or stronger to not accept any help. It’s actually quite embarrassing.”

Strange didn’t even have the decency to look up at him. That was just rude. Loki wanted to see the amazement. “I am shocked that you refrained an entire day from showing up here again.”

No, Loki shouldn’t be disappointed that Strange had figured out that he was able to move around freely, but he had definitely hoped for a little more… Well, for shock or an outcry à la ‘How were you able to do this?’ or ‘Teach me, my lord’. That wasn’t happening.

“So… when exactly are you going to send me to the mirror dimension? Or have you already done that, because if so… It’s really disappointing.”

“I have more important things to do than making sure that you are entertained.”

The disinterest was definitely rubbing Loki the wrong way. He felt like grabbing one of these books and throwing it at Strange’s head. That probably meant that Loki was picking up on Thor’s bad habits. Still, Strange’s reaction had Loki grinding his teeth. “I am perfectly able to entertain myself. In this case our interests overlap. Why not take advantage of that? You want to stop him stealing from you and I want revenge. I am going to help you find a way to take him out. If you want to or not.”

Loki approached the table and that finally got him an actual reaction from Strange. “You will not touch any of these books!”

Oh, about time. The excitement. “Right, the evil criminal is not allowed to touch the upright sorcerer’s books. What are you going to do if I touch them anyway and… I might even read them.”

Another step closer and Strange raised his index finger in a mildly threatening gesture. “You will not touch them.”

Well now it was just a question of principle. Loki stopped in front of the table and reached out when golden strings of magic wrapped themselves around both of his wrists, pulling them tightly together. Loki gasped at the searing sensation when he tried to rip these magical cuffs apart. It evoked a fierce rage inside of him when he had to find out that there was no way to do this fast.

“Get them off me, you pathetic mortal magician!”

Strange had the nerve to smile. “Not going to happen. Since you broke the terms of the deal that allows you to be on this planet, I cannot let you go anywhere. I hope it is not much to ask that you remain silent while I am working.”

“You will not dare to…”

“Or I can stop you from talking altogether.”

This was going to get very ugly. Loki was going to strangle him with his own magic and then they were going to decide how funny this was. Casting an illusion over himself Loki began working on the cuffs while the glamour was staring daggers at Strange who was definitely having too much fun. When Strange turned on some music Loki couldn’t help himself and let the illusion roll his eyes for him. “Are you serious?”

“It helps me concentrate. What? Do you prefer Eurodance?” Strange asked drily. The illusion and Loki rolled their eyes. If there was one thing Loki hated more than being tied up or in a cage, then it was having to admit that somebody else was very good at something. Those cuffs were some handy work. Too bad for Strange that breaking out of cages, binds and cells was Loki’s specialty. Slowly but steadily his green magic was overtaking the golden strings that held him captive.

Strange’s whole attention was still on the books when the magic cuffs were finally broken and Loki was tempted to just jump at him. No, for now Loki didn’t actually want to fight Strange. He was still upset about the dagger. That had to come first. Which didn’t mean that Loki couldn’t savour his little triumph. Loki walked over to the table, sat down in front of Strange and grabbed one of the books. When he was confident with his current position Loki dissolved the illusion and revealed himself. “Now this is a really good book.”

Strange was so startled that he almost fell off his chair. Those were the little moments that made life worth living. Granted, Strange overcame his shock pretty fast and was ready to start another fight, but Loki held his hands up in mock surrender. “Is it so hard to believe that I just want to help you?”

“Your reputation precedes you and it is not of the helping kind.”

Sighing softly Loki shrugged. “Alright, it is less helping and more wanting to get back at someone.”

“Are you really that upset about a dagger?”

“It was Asgardian metal. There is no more Asgardian metal. We can settle any disagreement afterwards.”

Strange still pretended to think when someone else resolved their issues for them. Their new personal arch-nemesis showed up right next to them, wanting to pick a fight. Or steal more artefacts, Loki didn’t care that much. It was so on.

***

“Here’s your tea, brother.”

Thor put down the cup right next to Loki who mumbled a pained ‘Thanks’. It was bitter to realise how much you depended on your right arm when you couldn’t use it. Loki would only have to wear the sling for a day or two, but it humiliating nonetheless. He grimaced in pain and Thor’s amused glance only made things worse.

“You know, you could have simply called me for help.”

Oh please. “I didn’t need your help. I had it perfectly under control.”

That remark made Thor’s smile only bigger. “You and the wizard. I must say I am surprised by your new-found ability to play well with others.”

“Your bedside manner is horrible. Do you know that, Thor?”

“You’ve got a strained arm. You are not going to die. Anyway, I am proud of you. You helped to bring down a thief and you made a new friend. That is impressive and some completely positive progress. I am happy.” Thor patted him on his good shoulder which had Loki wincing anyway. “I didn’t make a friend. We happened to be in the same fight. One that I got injured in and he hasn’t even said ‘Thank you’. That’s not what I call a friend.”

“Hmm…” Thor hummed softly. “I guess I can reproach you of many things, but you’ve always been polite. Look at it this way, you violated the terms of your stay on earth and he didn’t send you to another dimension. Perhaps that’s his way to say thank you. Drink your tea, I will take care of the library for you today. Go back to bed, Loki.”

As Thor was getting up Loki was trying to do the same, but other cuts and bruises called for his attention and Loki sank back into his chair, moaning with pain. “Stay away from the library, Thor! You’ll ruin my carefully laid-out system!”

“Go to bed, Loki!”

Just to spite his brother Loki remained sitting at the table, drank his tea and licked his wounds. It was true that he deserved a ‘Thank you’, Strange and him had ended up working together rather well and Loki had ended up saving Strange’s stuff. Was a ‘Thank you’ too much to ask for? Gritting his teeth Loki slightly moved his arm to find out that the healing was progressing way too slowly. He had places to go.

Evidently there was no patience left in him, since Loki decided that the best way to go was to teleport out of here right now. He was just bad at sitting around and he had enough of that for an entire life time when he had been in Asgard’s dungeon. Strange owed him some gratefulness and he was going to get it.

Therefore Loki teleported right into… Loki teleported… No, Loki didn’t teleport anywhere. He remained sitting in the same chair like complete fool. Outwitted by a mortal.

“Are you serious?!” Loki yelled at the ceiling, his voice trembling with rage. That dim-witted wizard must have reinforced the barrier overnight. What a despicable, back-stabbing, sneaky, perfidious move! That was what Loki got for helping him out. An almost broken arm and a cage with new bars and no, Loki wasn’t impressed at all by so much furtiveness. Oh, Strange was going to suffer for this.

***

Four days. Four damned days later Loki popped up in Strange’s library. Arm still in a sling and a little worse for wear, because breaking that barrier had taken much more effort than it should have. “You owe me an apology!”

Strange reacted to his hiss with a raised eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be lying in bed?”

“Shouldn’t you be apologizing to me?! Instead thanking me for my help, you try to lock me up again? That is definitely a new low!”

“And you are here now… because?”

“Because I demand an apology and a thank you! Now!”

What he got was a sigh. “May I ask a question? Is there anything in your life that you devote as much attention to as to me?”

Loki’s mouth dropped open, he was rendered completely speechlessly and that caused Strange to smile. This was a nightmare. “I am sorry – what? What are you alluding to?”

“I am merely pointing out that you could go pretty much anywhere the second you broke the barrier. Apparently that involves other dimensions and worlds. At your fingertips. Instead you only ever come here. I wonder why.” Strange’s pensive expression was so patronizing that Loki’s blood pressure went straight through the roof.

Taking a step closer Loki held his chin up, trying to make it look like he was unbothered by their height difference. “Are you implying that I am seeking your attention, Strange? Or even worse – your company?”

“Pretty much. That is exactly what I am implying. No, even better, I’m going to say it. You are definitely seeking my company.” Strange nodded shamelessly and he was definitely feeling too good about himself right now.

Loki’s throat might be a little tight right now, but he would turn this around on Strange. Even if it was the last thing he ever did. “Let’s assume I was… seeking your company, you are not trying very hard to keep me away, aren’t you? After I broke the terms of my deal, you would have been obligated to send me to the mirror dimension and yet here I am. In your library.”

With great pleasure Loki watched Strange’s smile disappearing. Unfortunately that feeling of satisfaction didn’t linger when they both feel into uncomfortable silence. Obviously they were both yearning for the other one to say something, but nobody wanted to be the first one to do it. That mutual stubbornness resulted in both of them standing there, looking at each other in complete awkwardness. Too bad that this wasn’t a problem that Loki could solve with a dagger.

“I have a suggestion to make.”

It was with immense relief that Loki heard Strange breaking the silence. He was so happy, he could not even make a snarky comment about it. “Go on.”

“How about instead of sneaking into my house at night to change my playlist… you show up at a time that we agree upon beforehand… like today half past eight… and we have dinner?”

Despite his best tries Loki didn’t manage to look completely indifferent when he said “Fine… or I could just stay here until then and… read? You could put on some music?”

“Yes. Sure. We could do that.” Strange cleared his throat. “I hope you brought your own book, because you are not touching one of mine.”

Oh, Loki was definitely going to steal half of that library and transfer it to New Asgard. Later. Eventually. Perhaps after dinner.