((Basically… because of the earlier John-Cusak-is-Bruce thing. Only this also makes me sad and makes me want to write Martian Child/Avengers fic also.))
Thor moves into the Avengers headquarters in New York and Loki literally cannot stay away, might actually die if he’s not allowed to stay with Thor. Many of Thor’s friends are still awkward around Loki, can still remember Old Loki, but enough of them are tolerant enough that Loki doesn’t just lurk in Thor’s room all day. Sometimes the Richards are there with their children, and Loki likes that because he actually gets along pretty well with Franklin, when they’re not fighting over whether Thor could beat Franklin’s mom in a fight.
(Privately, to himself, Loki thinks Mrs. Richards probably would beat Thor, but he must never ever admit it to Franklin, not even once.)
Sometimes the Young Avengers are there, too, and Loki likes them even if they’re too busy being cool and teenagers to really want to hang out with him. They’re generally nice to him, though, and eventually Loki plans on working up enough courage to ask Billy if, maybe, possibly, Billy could help Loki learn (or relearn?) some magic.
The Cages, especially Jessica, seem intent on teaching Loki how to change a diaper, but Loki is, frankly, terrified of Dani. She’s all soft and breakable and precious, and every time Loki picks her up he is gripped with a sudden fear of turning into the Human Torch. Logan informs Loki that this is a normal reaction to holding the baby.
And even though Peter doesn’t actually live there, he’s over there all the time. Sometimes he takes Loki to the park, both of them in street clothes and pretending to be normal, and once he buys Loki hot dogs and eats them on a roof with Loki, their legs dangling over the people far below. He likes to tell Loki that Loki is special, that he’s been given a great gift, that it’s up to Loki to use that gift responsibly.
Sometimes Loki wants to say something sarcastic, point out how much being “responsible” ends up with good people like the Avengers hobbling home with poor reputations and broken bones and missing friends. Every time he wants to, though, he thinks of Thor, and of Peter, and of their friends who already know what being “responsible” costs, and thinks even if it IS stupid, he knows it makes them proud to do it, proud to see it. And Loki leans against Peter and says nothing, but thinks about how he doesn’t mind being stupid if it makes Thor proud to be his brother or Peter proud to be his friend.
There’s usually some kind of emergency, maybe every few days or so, that requires the Avengers to resolve it or at least show up. Thor bans Loki from tagging along, after what happened at the Latverian peace talks, but there’s usually a handful of Avengers staying behind, anyway. Loki does try to be good when Thor is gone, but sometimes he can’t help himself. It’s just too tempting to sneak into people’s rooms to see if they have any ghosts or pets or secret robots or Skrulls, it’s just way too tempting to go into Tony’s workshop and see if he can make his own robotic Loki-Suit.
Tony is banned from watching Loki after Thor and Steve and Logan and some of Logan’s family come home and find Loki duct-taped to a wall in the workshop with a dozen issues of Popular Mechanics in arm’s reach. Somehow, Loki thinks (as he is being peeled off of the wall) that perhaps that was Tony’s grand scheme all along.
Someone (Loki thinks it is Tony’s friend Jarvis or Tony’s friend Pepper or, possibly, both) comes up with the idea to give Loki something to do when he is bored, and Tony and Steve show up one day, each carrying a ten-gallon bucket full of Legos. Loki, who’s never owned a toy before this moment, picks a brick up and puzzles over it for a moment before asking, shyly, what they’re for.
“They’re for building things,” Steve explains, and he and Tony spend the afternoon with Loki, building little houses and towers. Soon they have a little city at their feet, and Loki is gripped with the sudden urge to be a Godzilla monster. Steve, Loki is delighted to learn, is also a natural Godzilla monster, and between the two of them they utterly defeat Gundam Tony.
Thor, for his part, loves to hear the story of their ultimate battle, and helps Loki build a Lego model of Asgard. It takes all night, and it is a bit lopsided, but Thor hugs Loki tightly to his side and kisses his cheek and Loki is grinning too hard to point out the mistakes they made.
~ ~ ~
One morning Thor wakes Loki early and tells him that he will be gone for a few days, that most of the Avengers will be traveling to another planet, that it is an emergency and that he has to go. Loki tries not to yawn and climbs impatiently into Thor’s arms and asks why he can’t come along, just this once. Thor sighs and for a moment he looks sad, and Loki regrets making him feel as sad as he looks before Thor shakes his head firmly, patting Loki on the shoulder.
He makes sure that Loki knows that he loves him and that Loki knows to go downstairs to Doctor Banner’s laboratory, since Bruce is the only Avenger who currently lives there full-time and won’t be traveling with the rest of them. Loki tries not to feel scared and tries not to imagine waiting here forever, Thor and all his friends never to return, and Thor brushes a tear off of Loki’s cheek and tells him not to do anything dangerous while he’s gone.
Loki drags his Legos down to Bruce’s lab and starts building a wall around himself. Bruce glances over at him every few minutes, visibly nervous. Loki tries not to look up at him, because he’s pretty sure that Bruce is one of Those Guys, who only see Loki as the Bad Old Loki he was before. He’s pretty sure that Bruce thinks Loki is going to snap and do something bad to everyone, or maybe even is really Old Loki in disguise, and Loki has already had too close a brush with crying today to want to try for another.
The Legos are starting to get high- maybe halfway up to his elbows- before Bruce comes over with an organic gluten-free juicebox in one hand and a book about how to care for children if you’re an idiot clutched tightly in the other.
“Here,” Bruce says awkwardly, holding the juicebox out at him. Loki puzzles it out, decides how the little plastic straw is supposed to go, and drinks it, peering up at Bruce.
“Thank you,” Loki says, because Thor says he should always be polite. Bruce clears his throat, gesturing at the Legos.
“What are you building?” he asks, and Loki squints up at him. Most of the time people describe Bruce as being really, really smart, but even Thor knows a wall when he sees one.
“It’s Legos,” Loki says, taking another sip of his juice. “I wanna see how high I can make the wall.”
“Ah,” Bruce says, picking up a loose Lego brick and turning it over in his hand the way Loki did a few days ago, when he first got them. “Well- they’re pretty small, and they could get lodged in your throat, so don’t put any in your mouth, alright? Are you sure you’re even old enough to be playing with those?”
Loki is startled at the mental visual, looking down at his Legos before looking back up at Bruce. “The box says it’s for kids three and older,” Loki says slowly, and wonders if Bruce has ever been in the same room with a kid before.
“Right, right,” Bruce says, still sounding nervous. “Also, hey, you don’t have to stay in this corner the whole time, okay? As long as I can see you from where I’m working, you can move around, there’s a desk you could use. And as long as you don’t touch… anything.” He smiles at Loki, and it’s a painful, awkward thing, but Loki likes it anyways.
“Okay,” Loki agrees, moving his Legos over to the free desk. He builds some of a boat until it’s boring, and then he wanders over to see what Bruce is doing. Bruce is engrossed in his work, so much so that he doesn’t notice Loki reading over his shoulder (and wondering what half of it meant) and doesn’t notice when Loki starts fiddling with some extra cables left over from the latest machine or another that Bruce has built down here. Loki wraps them around his skinny torso, criss-crossing them over his chest in a vague X.
Bruce does notice when Loki jumps out at him from behind his desk, hands outstretched and chirping, “Look! I’m an X-man!”
“Jesus, kid,” Bruce breathes out, covering his face with his hand for a moment. Loki’s smile falters, because it’s starting to look like this is going to be a very boring, very lonely few days for him. “Look, I know the lab isn’t exactly kid-friendly, but this is just… no.” Bruce sighs, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Tell you what, Loki, why don’t I call Peter up and have him bring us a pizza, alright? Then he can hang out with you until you’re… tired, okay?”
“Peter went with everybody else to outer space,” Loki says in a small voice. Bruce opens one eye to look at him.
“Do you have any objections to being watched by the Runaways?”
“They ran away,” Loki mutters miserably.
“Well- okay, how about the X-men? You like them, don’t you?” Bruce even tries to smile again. “Most of them are good with kids, considering most of them practically are kids themselves-”
“Half of them went to space with Logan,” Loki starts, his voice thick with emotion because he does like them and doesn’t want them to be in space doing dangerous things. “And the rest of them are fighting some guy in an alternate universe, Logan told me.”
“Okay- oh, shit, don’t cry,” Bruce says, looking more nervous than ever. “I’m absolutely sure that everybody is going to be fine, Loki. You don’t need to- please don’t cry, alright?”
“I’m not crying,” Loki says in the tiniest voice yet. They both stand in awkward silence for a moment, before Loki says, quietly, “Steve makes Tony put a dollar in the swear jar when he says that.”
“What- oh,” Bruce says, blinking owlishly for a moment before he leans down with that little smile, only now it’s not awkward, not even a little bit. “Would you like to know a secret, Loki?”
Loki perks up instantly, wiping his face on his sleeve. “Y-yeah, what is it?”
“Steve only makes Tony do it. You know Clint says that word all the time, and Steve never makes him put any money in the jar, right?” Loki gapes at the revelation, nodding slightly. Bruce’s smile widens. “And I know you’ve heard Logan drop the F-bomb without even having to put a nickel in the jar.”
Loki laughs a little, grinning because it’s a little embarrassing to remember that. “But- how come Tony has to do it, then?”
Bruce gives him a conspiratorial little wink. “Because, deep down, beneath the supersoldier serum and the patriotism and the years of public service- deep down, Steve Rogers likes messing with Tony’s head just a little bit.”
Loki doesn’t understand, not really, but Bruce walks him up to the kitchens and they make a pretty good pepperoni pizza, between the two of them, and there’s enough leftover from lunch that they can eat it again for dinner.
~ ~ ~
It’s almost ten at night when Bruce looks up from his work and glances over at Loki, who is curled up on top of his Lego desk and aimlessly hitting two Legos together, and asks when Loki’s bedtime is.
“I don’t have a bed time, I’m not a little kid,” Loki yawns, rubbing his face. Bruce looks pretty skeptical, though, and then Loki adds, “Well. Not really. Just Thor tells me to go to bed and I do it coz he’s nice and all.”
“Ah. I can see the difference,” Bruce says drily, and Loki would totally make a sarcastic comment but a big yawn ruins the moment. “Well, come on, Loki. Let’s… get you in bed, then.” Bruce gets up, helping Loki down from the desk.
He just sort of points Loki in the direction of Thor’s room and lets Loki decide if he needs to brush his teeth and wear pajamas. After completing both tasks, Loki wanders back in search of Bruce, who is back at his workstation. Bruce notices Loki after a minute, looking perplexed.
“Aren’t you going to bed?” he asks, and Loki nods. Bruce stares at him, confused, before saying, “Well… goodnight, Loki.”
“Aren’t you going to bed too?” Loki asks, shuffling his feet. “Only- Thor stays with me in case of bad dreams,” he admits, and Bruce looks pained for a moment.
“I… alright,” he sighs, scrubbing a hand against his rough five o’clock shadow. “Um… hey, tell you what. Why don’t we… uh… sleep in the living room tonight?”
“What like… a sleepover?” Loki asks slowly, tilting his head to the side. “Franklin and Valeria had a sleepover here last month when their Mom and Dad were on that lecture thing. Everybody had popcorn and watched movies.” Bruce looks like he is beginning to regret the suggestion, but he nods.
“Yeah, just like that. Only without all the people, the popcorn, and the movies.” Loki pulls a face.
“How about half as much popcorn and only two movies?” he tries, because a sleepover is pretty pointless if you sleep the whole way through.
“How about no. Loki, I’ve got work to do in the morning, and-” Bruce cuts himself off, staring at Loki as if he’s seeing something he’s never seen before. “…tell you what, we’ll have a real sleepover with popcorn and movies and, I don’t know… boardgames, whatever, but we’ll do it tomorrow so we can have more time to plan it, okay? It’s already pretty late and I’m pretty tired,” he adds, ushering Loki out of the lab.
Bruce flops down onto the massive couch and Loki curls up on an armchair and Bruce folds his glasses and puts them in a case, placing the case on the coffee table. Loki does try to sleep, but it’s too quiet. He thinks about Thor and all of Thor’s friends, and about how sometimes people just disappear and never come back, and he definitely doesn’t start sniffling.
“…Loki, are you awake?” Bruce mutters from his couch, and Loki makes a small noise that could mean anything. “Try to get some sleep. You’ll make yourself sick if you worry about things.”
“Bruce?” Loki raises his head, blinking in the darkness. “Can I sleep with you?”
Bruce doesn’t say anything for a while, but when he does he sounds pretty resigned. “If you must.” Loki clambers over and tucks himself against Bruce’s side and it’s nothing at all like being with Thor, but it’s still nice. Loki yawns again, pawing at Bruce’s chest.
“Good god, Loki, what is it?” the man asks, sounding bewildered.
“Tell me a story?” Loki murmurs. “Thor tells me stories.” Bruce is very quiet for a moment, but after a minute or two he pulls his arm around Loki’s shoulders.
“Okay… okay. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away-”
“That’s Star Wars,” Loki says, a little too severely. “We watched that last week when it was movie night.”
“Who’s telling the story, kid, you or me?” Bruce asks, almost sounding amused. “This is a true story, not just a movie.”
“Is it really?” Loki feels pretty doubtful, but Bruce’s hand brushes through Loki’s hair and maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.
“It is mostly true,” Bruce assures him. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a planet called Sakaar. And on that planet, there was a beautiful princess.”
“Like Leia?” Loki asks sleepily, his eyes too heavy to keep open. Bruce squeezes him a little.
“Better than Leia.”
~ ~ ~
By the time Thor and his friends are back, three days later, Loki and Bruce have achieved Total Couch Fort. Loki is proud to show everyone how far along he is into Bruce’s copy of Complete Works of JRR Tolkien, and Bruce has even managed to get a little work done. Thor learns how to spend the next thirty-six hours with Loki bodily attached to his side.
Thor and Tony and Steve start to apologize to Bruce for making them watch Loki for so long, but he shushes them with that awkward little smile of his.
“It was nice,” he says, escaping to his lab before anyone can try to make him spend any more time with people- but not before giving Loki a wink and mouthing the words swear jar at him from across the room.