(Written for a tumblr fic prompt where a possible nexus for a chaos-inclined God of Mischief is the big box store, which has apparently been a target (har) of mythos discourse recently. I don't entirely know, I didn't get a chance to find the original thread. I definitely liked the idea of Agent Loki taking a moment in the same sort of hell I deal with fairly regularly, though, and the 'Verse spinoff hasn't had very many of the smaller vignettes the original Codex series got, so here we are.)
The Liminoid Space Has A Self-Checkout Lane
. . .
Seven hundred years ago, a young Prince Loki stood before a long mirror in the dressing rooms adjoining his quarters, noble and silent as the attendants adjusted a tunic made of intricate, overlapping layers of lush green velvet and silken gold. It was a piece that could be ostentatious, save for the plain but well-made black overcoat in another attendant's waiting hand. That one item would turn the entire outfit into a symbol. A subtle flash of his power. Like his magic, Loki had liked his clothing to be illusions, too. Simple, but richly made. Ornate, but often disguised as something plainer. He could stand out, or he could slip through the shadows - his choice, and no one else's. It was an accessible form of control.
Now, older and vastly more irritable, Loki stared at a clanky metal rack full of basic black tees from one of the sundry factories that mass-produced the damned things, cotton peeking out at him from within crinkly vacuum-sealed plastic. Underneath the zipped-up black hoodie he wore, he was currently shirtless. His face was a marble mask, and behind it, he resented these particular shirts with deep, personal, but pointless ire.
Unfortunately for his fashion sense, he and his companions were on the road, not far from the ass end of Cleveland, and the three shirts he'd brought with him in his standard SHIELD go-bag were now, in turn, full of bulletholes, smelling like burnt dog, and slashed from armpit to navel. He hadn't had time to pack more, and the showier Asgardian kits he could summon on command, well, that look wasn't going to fly in flyover country. Not while on a low-profile operation.
His magic was damned good, to be sure. An artistry he was proud of, a skill he worked constantly to improve, for in many ways, it was a link to his mother - mothers, really, if he stopped to consider - that could never be lost.
Magic, however, wasn't cheap or easy. It wasn't going to stitch up three ruined scraps for him without a lot of focus and time, neither of which he had right now. He could illusion up clothing, yes. It didn't change that the zipper of his hoodie was going to itch at his chest meanwhile. Easier to just buy cheap replacements, in the end.
With a grimace at the rising sound of a child's shriek from somewhere in the nearby electronic aisles, he grabbed a pack of v-neck tees with its idiotically grinning fruits printed on the plastic, and he threw them in the chunky red basket that hung on his arm.
Something else clattered into the basket a second later, and he glanced at his side to see Daisy Johnson. "Got the first aid kit," she said without looking up at him. Wrapped in her other arm was a barrel of store-brand frosted animal crackers nearly the size of her torso. "And some snacks."
"The necessities." For her, his voice was mild and amused.
"I'm in a car with you and Coulson for another four hours, we were shot at all morning, we're probably gonna get shot at again tonight." She looked down at the barrel, maternal and protective. "I'm getting a frappe on the way out. A big one. Ultra-venti."
"You might be better served by getting some rest instead of taking in a week's worth of sugar with a two minute chug."
"I'm here for a good time, dude, not a long time." Daisy yawned hugely after what Loki knew full well was a canned remark, and he decided to not point out the obvious outlined by that yawn. "Besides, these cookies are tasty as hell."
"They're cheap and disgusting."
"That's what I said." She looked towards the electronics and the latest iteration of its hellish noise at the same time he did. "Good god, either that kid really wants his own tablet, or someone's in violation of the Geneva Convention rules on torture."
"In this place? It's probably the latter." Loki looked at the rack of tees again, then grabbed a second set just in case Daisy was right about the evening's festivities. He sneered at them as he tossed them into the basket, to be sure they knew their place.
"If you need a pair of emergency pants, I saw some baggy sweats with the Batman symbol on 'em a few aisles over."
"Kill me," breathed Loki towards the racks of shirts without looking up, as close to silent as possible.
"They're mostly black. You can pretend the yellow is gold."
"Kill me now." He looked down and to his side, and saw her grinning at him. She didn't need to hear what he said. The look on his face was plain enough. "What else did Coulson have on the list?"
"Uh." Daisy whipped her phone out to look at a note-taking app. Loki thought he already knew, but he wanted the moment to stare over her head towards electronics. The child was becoming particularly shrill, to a point that vaguely concerned him. "There's just a few things. He wanted a couple rolls of towels for-"
"I'll meet you over there," said Loki, memorizing the rest of the list at a glance, and he slipped away from her so fast she couldn't get a chance to say anything in response. He called back over his shoulder to soften the blow. "If you don't find me, meet me outside."
. . .
There was a particular aura to these kinds of big box stores, Loki had previously observed, and it came in two flavors. Either there was the eerie, almost unearthly silence that made it feel like three am on the fringe of Limbo regardless of the actual hour, or it was "All Hell has Broken Loose, and Also There's a Clearance Sale in Housewares." No in-between.
Loki passed an employee in the unmistakeable, forlorn-looking uniform of this particular chain. Dirty khakis, a faded red shirt, and a look on their face suggesting that the front lines of war would be more relaxing than the morning they had had so far, and that the rest of the day wasn't going to be much better. He shared a glance with the employee as he went by, giving the young woman a glimpse of gentle pity without condescension. Life flickered into the girl's eyes once in response, and then she continued on towards the back, on eternal autopilot, by way of survival.
A moment later, on the boundary between electronics and children's books, he found the source of chaos itself. Bounding past him was a small boy, probably no older than seven, and in his hands was a foam fantasy weapon still strapped into its packaging. He yodeled and yelped as he went, making Loki's ears ring, but he seemed to remain within a certain radius of a central point. That point turned out to be a wailing toddler young enough to be of indeterminate gender, grasping futilely over Mom's purse for something dropped into the depths of the red plastic cart.
"-So, I said to Becky, I can't make it to that appointment because Shawn needs the car that day and you know he's-"
The voice came from another aisle over, the speaker just barely out of sight. Loki caught sight of the edge of a cracking fliphone in a waving hand. The toddler looked towards the voice, wailed in despair, and grasped again.
The woman's voice gained a note of desperation. "-And Mom's in the hospital again, which means I've got to try to do all of this in between whatever Shawn is doing, and he's not being a help because he's being deployed next week, and I understand, but it's, like-"
The child wailed again, matching their mommy's voice in note for note plaintiveness. They looked up at Loki, meeting his eyes with watery brown ones of their own, and Loki saw the gummed-up, wet little plush pig in the depths of the cart surrounded by store-brand wipes and dollar aisle treats. A personal treasure, currently out of reach, just like mom.
Nostalgia hit Loki, hard and fast.
. . .
Prince Loki was seven years old. No metaphor or fancy Asgardian math, he was an actual, undersized, wee wad of still-developing creature who lived a life so sheltered even a Rianian rock tortoise might go 'damn, kid,' and he was utterly certain he was about to have the first - and maybe last - heart attack of his life.
Choking to death on fear hadn't been how he planned to go out this morning, but here he was on the very ledge of his existence. His face remained smooth and stiff in round-faced horror, caught between how great the idea had first sounded, and how that spiffy plan of his had turned out for him.
He'd been behaving, at least well enough. Mommy was at the summit with the All-Father, Thor was at a separate batch of lessons for the day, and the nurse-slash-warden was… well, Loki didn't know where she was. That had been it, really. She wasn't there all of a sudden, so Loki thought it was alright to come up with his own thing for a little while. It had struck him with an almost crystalline joy that it might be peachy keen to come up with a spell to help the nice big girls clean the nursery and the learning hall he shared with his brother so they didn't have to dust all the things all the time, and now he was in full five alarm I NEED AN ADULT panic.
The tiny windstorm he'd put in the dustcatcher to give it a mimicry of life gave not a single shit about his terror. It continued to grow and was on the very cusp of being not tiny anymore. That alone wasn't going to stop his heart. It was that, even at that age, Loki vaguely but correctly understood the concept of 'exponential growth.' Once that feisty little tunnel of wind got out of its catcher, it was going to expand as far as it could, as fast as it could. Not just doubling, but tripling, quadding, and worse, the wind itself was speeding up.
He felt the thrum of power sucking inward under the soft pads of his fingers as he stretched his hand towards the tiny storm, strong and insistent. Not something he could stop. Not for ages. He'd be a man grown before he could try this stunt again.
Mommy told him, over and over, don't try spells he couldn't be certain he could control, and certainly he was not to do anything but a handful of beginner tricks outside of her tower. But why? Loki always whined that question. Whhhhhhyyyyy…. He could do it, he believed. He was smart enough. He was practically an adult, he was so smart. So whhhhhyyyyy not?
Well, kid. He'd asked why. The Gods answered him in full. Here was what he thought he was looking for.
He was going to die because he was actually an idiot in short pants.
Loki's confidence was pretty good, but no, he did not yet have that necessary control in the way he'd believed. The wind had full control in his place, and its neat, soft, hissy spinning sound was just starting to turn into a whistle. Soon it would be a shriek.
OH MY GODS I JUST DESTROYED ASGARD MOMMY IS GOING TO BE SO MAD
The blaring siren in his mind snapped from loud panic to something even more frightening, that blanked-out and shocked silence that said his last instincts had just given up and gone to soak, waiting for the end.
Loki squinched his eyes shut, held his breath, and with the last vestiges of kid logic, thought if he could do that long enough, he could drop dead before anyone else could blame him for wrecking the entire known universe with one stupid kid's spell.
He would have sworn an oath to the star of Grandpa Bor that the snap he heard was the last zot of his fragile mind, except it was followed by a sharp and worried "Loki!"
Loki's eyes flew open at the sound of Frigga's voice and with a squeak and a rasp of air he flung himself at her legs. It took him a second to realize the windstorm was already gone.
Turned out it was pretty easy to stop the apocalypse if one got to it early enough. That was moot, however, as Loki was now crying fit to fill a bathtub. "Mommymommymommy, I'msosorry, I'msosorry, Ijustwantedtohelpthenicegirls, andI-"
She shook him once, gently, and waited for him to hick in a breath and slow down. When he did, at least a little, she gently cupped his chin and lifted it so they had a good look at each other. She asked him in a low and serious voice, "Loki, where is Nursemaid Dagny?"
"I-I don't know." He hicked in another hot, frightened breath. "I was reading my book, about fae sprites, and she asked if I might take a nap, and I said probably, and I went back to my book, and when I got done with the chapter about sprinklies-" He couldn't pronounce the name for light fae, but that was also irrelevant right now- "I looked around for her, because I wanted a snack, and she was gone. And I waited, and I tried to behave, but then I had this idea, and then-"
"It's all right, Loki."
He took an absolutely heroic swallow. His mouth was so dry. "Mommy, are you mad at me?"
Queen Frigga kissed the top of his head and her voice was warm and comforting. "No, sweetie. Not at all. You're just a little boy, even if you want to argue with me about that sometimes, and right now you always need someone watching over you."
It was five hundred years later when Prince Loki woke up in the night and realized he'd finally figured out what she muttered under her breath after that: "But Lady Dagny's about to get her arse kicked from Hel to breakfast."
. . .
Whatever happened to Lady Dagny after that? Loki's lips pressed into each other in a moment of thought. A foam toy whipped by him, stirring the air. The Queen had been full of love, gentleness, and understanding for her family and her kingdom, but in oddly fitting human parlance, when it came right down to it, Frigga could also cut a bitch.
Dagny probably hadn't been executed. But thinking back, he'd never seen her again after that day, either.
The toddler's wail, fading and increasingly sad, made the last scrap of memory drift away and Loki looked back down into the tiny, round face. One small hand swung around, fingers nubbling around the mouth in an attempt to suckle comfort and coming up with nothing. Around the corner, the exhausted mother still droned on the phone, looking for a moment of rescue for herself.
Loki sighed, silent, and then he reached into the cart to retrieve the plush pig with two long fingers. He was careful enough to avoid the worst of the wet spots - play in blood all day, no problem, but drool never failed to make him wince at least a little - and plopped it in the toddler's lap.
The toddler stared at him in awe, beholding a God for a moment. As simple as that?
"Your arms will get longer eventually," Loki told the child, flat and clinical. "Won't be too many more situations like that one. Just takes time."
"Guh," said the child, smartly. They hugged the toy close, eyes drooping in momentary contentment, then flying open again when the foam weapon clanked dully into the cart. "Guh!"
"I just got your sibling quieted down, could you not?" Loki looked down at the boy, adult and severe and making a vague effort to look not all that particularly dangerous.
Oh good, the boy was at that smartass, own-the-world age he'd only just been thinking about. Loki stared over the boy's head, suddenly feeling very tired. Mom finally came around the corner, then abruptly stopped to take in the scene. Loki looked at her, she looked at him, and the exhaustion in her eyes made her look much older than she was. And even in a hoodie, Loki had the sort of presence that made already stressed people assume they were in the wrong somehow, reacting to his presence with frantic surprise. She hissed at the boy -"Sebastian!" - then stuffed the phone away into her old jacket while her son stared at the plastic floor tile. "I'm really sorry, sir, are they making that much of a ruckus?"
Yes. Loki shrugged it off, decided to not quite lie, but also to find a way to spare her feelings. "They're children, it happens. We were all a pain in the arse at that age."
The mom winced, still ashamed. "Just a rough day."
"That happens, too." He gestured at the toy weapon in the boy's hands. "I do think he took out a cardboard display at some point, however."
The boy shuffled his feet, making an effort to look contrite.
"Nothing broke." Loki felt suddenly like he was at the center of some crazy, triangular tableau. A stressed toddler, a wild boy, a tired mother. And him, once-lord of chaos and mischief. A mystery play of madness amidst the mundane. The unseen audience as security cameras, a disembodied voice droning over the store loudspeakers as the Greek chorus, curtains available in the bathroom aisle and a woven accent basket for offerings in bedding and housewares. How does it all end?
With a very worn-out god buying his cheap, beshitted tee shirts in the self-checkout, and maybe grabbing a bottle of water out of the fridge section on the way. We skip the mountainside sacrifices nowadays, lads and ladies. The internal organs make it hell on laundry day.
Loki suddenly realized his face was making that grin out of deeply personal hilarity, and he was staring up at the ceiling to do it, enhancing how strange he had to look. He swallowed it down as the boy and the mom both stared at him. It was completely beside the point, but he abruptly realized he had no idea what old Norse humans did to worship him back in the days where they were making stories up about Asgard on the reg. Maybe that was better, really. "Was thinking of something else, pardon."
They were still looking at him. He gestured at the toddler. "Look, I'm just as tired. I seem odd when that happens. I just came over to be sure everything was all right." He sighed, gesturing with general concern. It wasn't completely faked. "Is it?"
"Of course," said the mom in that voice that meant it absolutely was not, but it also wasn't about him, and could all this be over with so she could get back on with the hell of living?
Loki knew that kind of voice. Rather well. It would also be rude if he acted like he'd overheard the conversation. "All right," he said, but he didn't move away from the cart just yet. He patted the handle of it, covering his next move. "Cute kid."
"She's still teething and wants the world to know about it."
"Well, Lord Piggie will help, no doubt." Loki inclined a nod to the toddler, making it as pointlessly noble as possible. The toddler giggled at him. "Have a better one, Miss."
He felt the eyes on him as he left. Well, that was all right.
. . .
Daisy caught back up to Loki outside, where he sat contemplative and quiet atop an absurd red concrete ball as cars honked derisively at each other in a jammed-up parking lot. Bags were strewn around his feet - the emergency supplies, the dreaded cotton shirts, a mysteriously double-bagged barrel load of animal crackers, and two cold bottles of water. A third fidgeted in his hand, half empty. There was no sign of Coulson yet. The lunch rush traffic gave him a few clues to that mystery. Loki tilted his head towards her at the approach.
"You got a five? I realized at the last minute I wanted to get Coulson a coffee and I didn't wanna charge again."
"I've no cash left on me."
She came up alongside and then side-eyed him. "I know you. You've always got a wad of bills on you in case, like, you see something crazy weird at an antique shop in Butthole, Missouri that still uses one of those old timey mechanical cash registers."
"I don't have any cash right now, Daisy. Honest truth." It was. He'd made sure the mother hadn't spotted him again as she crept out of the store, still visibly worried she'd somehow done something wrong.
That much cash mysteriously showing up in a purse had a way of startling humans. But it had amused him to do it, he told himself. That he was being nice was utterly beside the point - chaos had been given offering in the kind of store that was somehow an altar to both blandness and madness, and he had been there to give something back.
All right, he knew that was an overwrought way of looking at it, but still. Everyone had a rough patch. Moreso with children. And for all that Frigga had a legion of nurses to help her, she'd still looked as tired as that poor woman once or twice. The memories refreshed, sometimes.
Human kids. Loki snorted. Wee wandering incarnations of chaos itself. Just like Asgardian children. Or Jotun. They'd been their own brand of hellions once, he and Thor.
Loki hated that he liked the little shits. They were innocent, funny, capable of creating trouble out of thin air, and often incredibly stupid. He grinned again, noticing a twinkle of noontime sun strike the dash of that infuriatingly bland rental sedan they had to use, and he grinned harder as the sedan got caught coming down an aisle by two different minivans that refused to look as they were pulling out.
Inside the sedan, they could barely make out an arm flailing in futile fury.
Daisy leaned against that same concrete ball. "What'cha think Coulson's yelling in there?"
"Nothing good, Daisy. Nothing good, polite, or proper."
She pulled her phone out of her pocket and showed it to him, her thumb over a bright red recorder icon. The implication was obvious. "You wanna find out?"
Loki chortled. "You're terrible."
"That's why you hang with us, my dude."
"It's definitely a reason," said Loki, and he said it contentedly. He and the team were a pack of arseholes, doing their best in a busy world, and they managed to do it every day.
Daisy hit play, and they listened to Phil swear bloody murder in the noontime sun, laughing aloud, because really, sometimes, what else can you do?
. . .
Kids! Bringing about Armageddon can be dangerous. Do not attempt in your own home.
~ Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
. . .
4/16/18, All expected rights to Marvel. This fic is not endorsing any product or service, and by no means should you ever go to a busy Target on a Saturday afternoon if you can possibly help it.