Author's Note: I tagged this on AO3 with a number of things I feel explain this fic, such as "edging toward Steve/Loki sideways", "beating up Loki as an excuse for interaction", "self-indulgence at its finest", "this fic says nothing good about me" and lastly but not leastly, "Loki's a goddamn mess". Also this Steve/Loki thing is getting out of hand. This one is not actually shippy but. Many many thanks to the beautiful zaataronpita for reading and betaing this mess for me. 3 (I don't know what to do with myself anymore.)
Steve could only conclude that someone out there thought they were hilarious.
It was the only possible reason for their most recent opponent to be sprawled on the floor of their de-facto headquarters-cum-house in a broken looking heap, more ragged and bloody than he'd been even after Bruce had slammed him into the floor a few times.
Steve wasn't sure whether to yell for help or…something else. "Um," he said, eloquently. And then Loki shuddered mightily.
"Fools," Steve heard him rasp. "Will crush you if- don't touch me, stay away-"
It occurred to Steve that perhaps this was a bad sign. Anything that could put something of an Asgardian's caliber – which he had gathered by this point was relatively resilient – in this sort of condition might well be dangerous to someone other than Loki. He tensed, wishing for his shield.
"What happened to you?" He asked, after a moment where Loki seemed to be simply breathing raggedly and not moving any further. Loki made an incoherent noise that sounded strikingly like a snarl.
"Do not speak to me. I need nothing from you," he spat, trying to drag himself up from the ground, blood dripping from his lips. "I do not-" He choked, going mostly limp, one arm curled around his middle.
"Course," Steve agreed amiably, after a moment. "Nothing at all. I'll be back with your brother."
The flash in Loki's eyes was fast, obvious, and utterly terrified. "No," he said, voice actually clear, "Not-"
Steve had never seen Thor pass out, but Loki's current state looked decidedly like unconsciousness.
This, Steve thought with a sigh, was going to be a problem.
Whatever else the Aesir were or were not, carrying Loki felt roughly like carrying any unconscious human being, other than the slightly eerie coolness of his skin and the fact that he was a little bit too tall. Steve did not bother to be too delicate about it.
Maybe a little more than otherwise, though. Getting a closer look, the self-proclaimed god-of-mischief looked like he'd been through a meat grinder. Twice.
There was a containment chamber on one of the lower levels, he remembered. (Sometimes necessary, in their line of work. For a few different things.) That might work, at least temporarily, while he worked out next steps.
While he did the sensible thing and fetched Thor, who would better know how to handle this situation. For all he knew, this could be a ruse. Or it wasn't and Loki might wake up perfectly healed and on the rampage. Or-
He needed to work out restraints of some kind. And then go find some of the medical equipment. (What the heck kind of medicine did Asgardians need anyway? Thor would know. Easy answer.)
Except then he thought of the flash of terror on Loki's face at the very mention of his brother and that was probably justified and…a little bit pathetic. And there was the matter of finding out what had done this to Loki in the first place. Thor would probably wring his younger-adopted-brother's neck first and ask questions later.
Sufficient justification for now. (Idiot, murmured a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Peggy, but he ignored it.)
Loki was still apparently unconscious when they reached the containment cell, and Steve decided to at least do the service of putting Loki on the bed rather than dumping him on the floor. Then examined him again from a few steps away and sighed.
It just didn't sit right. Evil or not. Leaving someone looking that battered untended.
Steve sighed and trooped upstairs to go look for some medical supplies. And something for restraints.
He wasn't a complete idiot.
Loki was awake when he got back down, arms full of bandages and other things and feeling very fortunate that he had not run into anyone on his way through the house. And his shield. In case.
"What are you playing at," Loki snarled. From the cot. He didn't appear to be attempting to get up. Steve decided that was probably a good sign, as far as his own personal safety went. (And the general personal safety of…most of New York.)
"You looked in pretty bad shape, Mr. Odinsson," Steve said politely. "And you did turn up here. Thought you might need some help."
Loki made a sound somewhere between a snort and a snarl that largely resulted in a spray of dark blood from his nose and mouth. "Come near me and I will flay you alive. Release me."
Steve took a moment to wonder how he was supposed to release Loki and stay away at the same time. He paused, and surveyed the containment structure. "This is durable, but not unbreakable. You have not attempted to get up and you are not restrained. I can only conclude that you are currently unable to use most or all of your abilities, and are injured enough that movement is difficult if not impossible."
Loki made another ugly sound and moved violently as though to rise. Or tried.
It ended in rather spectacular collapse and the self-proclaimed god curled into himself, spine bent in a neat curve, and new smears of blood on the concrete flooring. Steve waited a few moments before saying, "I brought some equipment, if you would like it. I don't know how medical treatment works in – Asgard? – but it might be something."
Silence from the cell. Steve felt a little twinge of disappointment, but kept it off his face and just shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"You will not tell Thor that I am here," Loki said. The inflection wasn't quite a question, but maybe a little bit. There was definitely something pleading about it. Steve frowned a little, mostly to himself. Thor seemed almost absurdly fond of his wayward sibling. It didn't make sense-
But then again, if he was here he'd probably slipped whatever prison he'd been kept in, so maybe it did make sense. And probably meant that he really should say something.
"You don't try to kill anyone," Steve said, after a moment, "And I'll let you get a little dignity back before I mention anything to your brother."
"He's not my brother."
"He says differently," Steve said plainly, and Loki twitched. "Deal?" He paused, remembering Norse mythology and lies and – huh. "Oh – if you even think about going back on it, deal's off and we beat you once. We can do it again."
Steve'd once seen a cat given a bath. Loki was looking at him like that cat now. Indignant, furious, and vaguely betrayed.
"Fine," Loki snapped, just as Steve was starting to get twitchy. "I will accept your bargain."
"Glad to hear it," Steve said, and hefted the bag of supplies in his right hand. "So then, would-"
"I do not require your assistance." Loki's voice was like ice. Steve sighed a little, but set the bag down.
"Right," he said. "Okay." He crossed his arms. Loki stared at him.
Loki shifted, just a hint of what looked like agitation. "What do you want?" he snarled. Steve shrugged.
"You passed out once already. I kind of figure you'll probably do it again, and then I can just go ahead and help now instead of waiting for you to admit you might need it. Mr. Odinsson."
Loki's expression spasmed violently. And then his whole body, and Steve swore he could hear the nasty sound of bones grinding together through the glass. He almost wanted to wince.
"You are obstinate and exasperating," he said after a moment that Steve suspected was taken to let him catch his breath. Another brief silence, and finally, "Bring your supplies, then. Let me see if they can be of any use."
Steve had seen a lot of the kind of damage that could be done to the human body in war. More than he'd ever really wanted to.
He was somewhere between reluctantly impressed and appalled when Loki, ignoring him almost entirely, stripped the ragged remains of his bloody clothing off. Meat grinder might actually have been an understatement.
In places flesh had been stripped down to bone by what looked like claws. At least one shoulder was visibly dislocated and the shape of his back suggested that the majority of his ribs were likely pulverized. Steve stared a little helplessly, and revised his estimate of 'lack of power' to 'running on obstinacy.'
"Staring is rude," said Loki flatly, and frowned at another one of the rolls of gauze, but set it aside with a mutter of what sounded like 'primitive.' If Steve looked closely he could see Loki's shoulders trembling very slightly. He cleared his throat.
"I might be of some help."
"Touch me and lose your hand," Loki said, almost distractedly. Steve narrowed his eyes at his back. Loki leaned forward slightly and one of the half healed gashes on his back split open again and started oozing blood so dark it was almost black. He could feel himself staring in an almost morbid fascination.
"You're not going to be able to," Steve started to say a moment later, feeling a small twinge of frustration. Loki twisted, undoubtedly intending to say something cutting and nasty and cut off halfway through , entire body seizing taut, and that time he was sure he'd heard bone grinding. Loki ended up bent over and heaving ragged, desperate sounding breaths.
Steve gave up on asking. "This would probably work better," he said firmly, "If you would lie flat."
"Don't-" Loki started to say, and Steve felt a burst of frustration.
"Yeah, yeah," he said, huffing out a breath. "Don't touch you. What are you going to do, spit blood on me?"
Loki looked like he was tempted, but he just fell into stubborn, sullen silence. Steve gritted his teeth and reached for the gauze.
Steve didn't really know what he was doing. He went for gauze and a lot of tape and hoped that was good enough. Loki at least seemed to have gotten the idea and wasn't trying to move anymore. Had actually, with a little assistance, made it onto the cot, where he was lying on his side. The thick smell of blood was making Steve's stomach want to heave, more out of memory than anything.
"I did not intend to end up here," Loki said somewhat apropos of nothing, sounding more disgruntled, and Steve was at least inclined to believe that. He wondered, briefly, if someone thought they were doing them a favor by delivering Loki like this. He wasn't sure if that or the alternative was more distasteful.
"Then why did you?" he asked, cautiously, and Loki tensed visibly.
"This is the only place," he said sullenly, bitterly, after a moment, which was what more than anything made Steve suspect its truth, "I thought they might not follow."
Steve blinked. Loki made a sound like a grating laugh and lifted his eyes from the floor. His stare was baleful and startlingly intense. "You were not the only ones to be displeased with me," Loki said, and then coughed and spat a thick glob of dark blood on the floor, a brief spasm tightening his features before they smoothed again. Steve wondered why he bothered. Given what he could see, he was not particularly fooled.
It took him another moment to work it out, and then he frowned. "The alien things?" he said, after a second of silence. He was still trying to work out what to make of the idea that there were at least two other living, intelligent races of beings somewhere out there, and according to Tony probably a lot more. Loki's eyes met his and he didn't respond. "Huh," said Steve, reading that as a yes. That did make some kind of sense. "Sounds like you're in a bit of a pickle."
Loki made a low, inarticulate noise. "Do not mock me," he said, voice a little blurry, but didn't try to move this time. Which was good. Maybe if he refrained from squirming for a few hours he would have a rib cage again.
"I wasn't," Steve protested. "I mean it." Silence. "There's probably a lesson in there somewhere," he couldn't help but say, and that elicited another snarl, but no verbal response.
That had probably been unkind, it occurred to Steve, and he felt a little guilty. Not quite enough to apologize, though, not when they were all still trying to recover from the damage this very man had left.
"Your shoulder," Steve said, after a moment. "Looks dislocated. You don't want it to heal like that."
"I could pop it back in, probably. Wouldn't be fun but might be better."
More silence. And then, finally, a slightly curt, "Do it," that wobbled just a little. Steve felt a little twinge of sympathy.
Amazingly enough, Loki actually cooperated with Steve's maneuvering him into position and didn't make a murmur of complaint until Steve used the short, sharp motion he remembered and felt the joint pop into place with the unpleasant grind of cartilage.
Then there was one brief howl before the resounding click of Loki's teeth coming together. Steve eased the suddenly rather limp sort-of-god back down with a surprising lack of snarling.
"I'll kill them," Loki said, after a few moments, voice slightly slurred. "Little rats. Think they can. Nnh."
Finally, Steve thought, when his snippy and dangerous patient's body finally went slack. Apparently obstinacy got you a good long ways.
He was pretty sure he'd done enough for now.
Other than the chains he judiciously applied before departing. Deal or not.
The next time Steve ventured down, Loki looked a good deal less…dead and also very unamused by the current state of his limbs. Which was to say mostly immobile. He had somehow made it to a sitting position on the edge of the cot and was examining his bound arms balefully. Steve took a moment to be mildly pleased with himself before Loki turned his head and saw him, still looking more bruise and blood than skin.
"Take these off," he said, perfectly imperious.
"I'm sorry," Steve said sincerely. "But I'm not going to do that."
Loki hissed and muttered something under his breath that sounded decidedly non-complimentary. He still looked filthy and battered, but his stare in Steve's direction was decidedly venomous. "We had a bargain."
"I didn't say anything about not taking precautions," Steve said, though he felt a little twinge of guilt. Just a little one, though.
Loki stared at him for a few moments before making a sharp, aborted sound that was probably something like a laugh, somewhere. "Fine. Good to know you're not as witless as you look, then. You also know, then, that these won't hold me forever."
"I don't even expect for very long," Steve said politely. "They're only a temporary measure. Do you need anything?"
"Several things. None of which are within your power or, if they were, I suspect you would be inclined to grant." Steve tried not to think about what those might be. "Leave me."
Steve sat down on the ground instead. "What are you going to do when you leave here?"
"That is my business. Not yours." Steve caught a kind of tension in the words and frowned a little, feeling a little shiver crawl down his spine. Maybe he should have said something before making any promises. But…no, it wasn't like that. Not really.
"You don't know, do you?"
The dark, sleek head turned just enough that Steve could see one eye regarding him. "Why are you here?"he said, suddenly. "Not with your precious team. Not saving the world. Here, with the defeated monster. You don't fit with them, do you? Don't quite mesh-"
Steve stood up. "Stop it." He made his voice firm. Loki sneered at him.
"Pitiful. You're all wretched, worthless things."
"We beat you," Steve said, a little indignantly, and Loki's jaw tightened. Steve took a breath through his nose. "I don't mean to gloat. I'm honestly curious."
"I'll kill the vermin that attacked me. And then I will scour the wide universe for the means to scrub your worthless species out of existence." The latter half, Steve suspected, had been added for his benefit. It just didn't sound quite sharp enough to be sincere.
Steve thought he saw Loki's whole body shudder, but a moment later he was perfectly still and it would have been impossible to say. "I have no desire to discuss my plans with those such as you."
"Where are you going to go?" Steve pressed, and Loki heaved clumsily to his feet, turned to face the glass.
"Does it please you?" he snarled, expression twisted to something ugly. "Does it entertain you, to ask me these things when you know well the answer? What do you want to hear, then? Yes, I am alone, I am friendless, there are three species that wish me dead of which yours is the least. There is nowhere I am welcome and no one I can turn to. But I am not weak. I have always been alone, and I have always made my own way, and I will do so again-" He wavered, and for a moment Steve genuinely thought he would fall. He stared, somewhat flummoxed and not sure how to respond.
He cleared his throat, finally. "Your brother still cares for you," he said, finally, and did not add, though it beats me why. "If you spoke to him-"
The laugh through the glass was high and brittle and thin and awful. "Ah, yes! There's a notion. Reconcile with my dear brother. Beg his forgiveness for what I have done to him. Grovel on my knees for his protection. Ah, yes! How appealing! My brother, who muzzled me like a dog and yet spoke to me of kinship."
Steve thought of the sadness with which Thor occasionally spoke of his brother, when he wasn't thinking about it, and wanted to wince. "He – we might be able to see our way clear to offer you some kind of protection. Granted a few things."
Loki snorted, and half fell, half sat back down. He looked like he was panting, and Steve thought he might be able to see some new stains through the gauze across his chest. "I would sooner die a thousand ignominious deaths. I will not be your pet monster."
"Just something to think about," Steve said, after a moment. "If you get tired of running."
Loki's eyes closed and he said nothing. Steve sighed and headed for the stairs, feeling jittery.
He didn't go back down until the next morning, and then went with orange juice and some toast and found Loki exactly where he'd left him. Steve frowned and set the tray down. "I brought something to eat," he said, after a moment. "If you want."
"That looks far from appetizing," said a voice just behind his shoulder, and Steve wheeled. Loki was grinning toothily at him, and a glance back in the containment cell showed it empty. No sign of the chains. Stupid, Steve berated himself, you should have known, and braced himself. He knew he was outmatched, but at least he could put up a fight.
Loki didn't attack, though. Just looked at him for a few moments, head tilted slightly to the side and expression somewhere between amused and thoughtful.
"I take it you're better," Steve said at the continued silence, keeping his voice deliberately calm. Like facing down a wild animal, or something.
"Enough." Loki's tone of voice was perfectly high-handed. "Cages do not suit me."
"Well," said Steve neutrally, "Glad to hear it. You'll be leaving, then?"
Loki arched a decidedly mocking eyebrow. "As soon as I get the chance." He paused, seeming to be struggling with something, and then turned slightly away. "Steve, that is your name, is it not?"
"Steve Rogers, Mr. Odinsson," Steve said after a brief pause.
"Hm." Another long pause. Just as Steve was starting to get twitchy, Loki said, rather abruptly, "You are not, perhaps, altogether useless, Steve Rogers."
Steve felt a little twinge of probably inappropriate amusement and wondered if that was the closest to a compliment Loki ever got. "Do my best," he said modestly. Loki shot him a look that was slightly suspicious and Steve didn't bother to try to look innocent.
According to Tony he couldn't look anything else.
As Loki started to turn away again, some instinct compelled him to add, "Don't make this dropping in a regular thing," and that got him another stare, this one slightly incredulous.
And then he laughed and flashed a grin that effectively showed all his teeth. "I don't know," Loki said, his voice almost light. "We'll see."
He turned in a slightly dramatic swirl of a miraculously restored cape and was gone.