A/N: It's finally finished! Thank you everyone for reading and reviewing and being such an encouragement to me while I wrote this. It's now over twice as long as the original draft had been and a lot of that credit goes to you guys.
Also, if I labeled chapters. This chapter would be titled "A series of unhealthy ways to deal with your problems," because somewhere along the line this story stopped being cute quasi-relationship fluff and turned into "let's try and fix all the Avengers' problems".
Steve doesn't leave his room for three days, refusing to believe thatLoki isn't coming back. He thinks back on the moments they had, on their kiss, on Loki saving him, on the drawings, and had he really read the signs so wrong? He thought he'd been getting through to Loki, but had he been waiting to leave this whole time?
Steve doesn't answer when Thor knocks, and eventually Thor stops trying. Steve knows he should get up, and he should move around, train, apologize to his teammates for his uncharacteristic behavior, but he can't do anything but flip through his sketchbook.
He stays holed up in his room angry that he'd let himself get sucked into Loki's trap. He doesn't leave his room, because he's afraid of the 'told you so' looks, and he just can't face anyone right now.
The first time Steve leaves his room he goes down to the Loki's. It hasn't been touched since Loki left, and the bed is rumpled and unmade, and Steve tries not to think about how hard it is to sleep without Loki to curl around. He isn't successful at keeping that thought out, nor the one that follows, how much he misses the little touches, the half-smiles.
He knows that Loki's gone, it's been three days, but it really sinks in when Steve sees that the helmet is gone. The bedside table is empty, and Steve picks it up and tosses it across the room. He yells as it crashes against the wall and pretends Loki had been standing there. Loki with his stupid smile that makes Steve's stomach flutter and tears that makes Steve want to hold him, and Steve starts throwing everything he can get his hands on.
It isn't until he's sweating and panting for breath that he looks around. The room is destroyed. There are pieces of wood scattering the floor from where the bedside table broke, the lamp shattered against the wall, the curtains have been ripped down. The only thing that's still intact is the bed, and Steve drops down on it and lets himself cry.
When Steve goes into the kitchen for breakfast, everyone watches him with wary eyes. Tony doesn't even crack a joke and that pisses Steve off more than anything.
"I'm not fragile," he says, pouring himself a glass of milk as if he hasn't spent the last three days hiding from them.
"Never said you were," Tony says. "I was starting to wonder if you were going to sleep for another 100 years."
"Were you going to offer to kiss me to wake me up?"
Tony grins. "Obviously."
"I think I would've preferred the nap," Steve says before downing his glass of milk.
Tony smiles even as the others laugh at him, because maybe things are going to be okay.
Steve is in the gym, the only place where he can truly forget everything. He runs until his shirt is soaked through, and he's breathing heavy, and his mind is blessedly blank and then he lifts. He lets the strain of muscles push out thoughts of Loki, the determination it takes to fight through fatigue replace lingering memories, and he loses himself in the sheer physicality of working out.
He re-racks the squat bar and leans over, his hands on his quads. His quad muscles are burning and his legs are a little shaky, and he relishes the feeling of having pushed his body to its limits.
"I'm glad to see that you are doing better," Thor says.
Steve looks over to see Thor leaning against the wall of mirrors that let Steve analyze his form while he lifts. Steve stands up and wonders if he could handle another set, just to discourage Thor from talking to him. He's been purposefully ignoring the Norse god, because he knows Thor will want to talk about Loki, and Steve's doing his best to forget about him.
"My brother does not deal well with love."
Steve sighs and wipes his forehead. There went his hopes to make Thor go away and keep Loki out of his head. Steve had left himself vulnerable the night he confessed to Loki, and everyone had seen his weakness and how little he actually meant to Loki. It was painful, it was humiliating, and he doesn't want to linger on the memory of that night. He especially doesn't want to bond with Thor over it.
"Wonder who's fault that is," Steve says, stepping out of the squat cage. His concentration has been shot so he might as well shower now and go eat something.
"What exactly are you implying?" Thor asks, crossing his arms over his chest.
Steve knows he should apologize, or at the very least just walk away, but he's tired of hurting. He's tired of pretending to smile so the others don't look at him with pity. He's tired of Thor's endless optimism and conviction that 'my brother will return'.
"Maybe if he'd been used to being loved, say had a loving family, he wouldn't have such a hang up."
Thor's expression is positively thunderous, and he leaps at Steve. They crash to the ground, Thor's hands pinning Steve's arms at his sides. "I have always loved my brother. Do not blame me for your own inadequacies."
Steve wraps his legs around Thor's waist and flips them. He punches Thor, his fist catching Thor's chin, snapping his head to the side. Thor grabs Steve and throws him off. Steve hits the ground and rolls, popping up in time for Thor to tackle him. Steve gets an elbow to the gut and he gasps before Thor's fist connects with his nose.
Blood starts to pour down his face, and Thor looks stricken for a moment, before Steve returns the favor, clipping Thor's eye. Thor falls back, clutching his eye, and Steve presses his advantage. His next punch is aimed at Thor's face, but it's blocked. So is his next, aimed at Thor's ribs. Steve catches Thor's arm and twists, sending the god to the floor. The gym vibrates with the impact.
Steve presses his foot down between Thor's shoulder blades. "Not so inadequate now."
Thor growls and flips, grabbing Steve's foot and sending him to the floor. They both scramble to their feet and circle each other again. Steve tastes blood so he wipes his face on his sleeve, careful to keep an eye on Thor.
Steve makes the first move, running in, but Thor grabs his arms and starts to spin until Steve's feet are no longer touching the ground. With a defeating roar, Thor releases him, and Steve crashes into the wall. He slides down to the floor, his entire body aching, and it seems like a lot of effort to get up. He knows that he's in the middle of battle, and he shouldn't give up, but giving up seems like such a good idea.
Thor's at his side in a moment, his hands nervous as they gently touch Steve's shoulder then his arm then his side. "Are you all right? I did not mean to. I apologize for getting carried away."
Steve groans and pushes himself into a sitting position. "I provoked you. Not your fault."
"I have injured you," Thor says, his hands hovering over Steve, not quite touching.
"Hey, I got a few good hits in as well." Steve uses the wall to slowly get himself to his feet. "It was a good sparring session."
Thor's face is confused. "Sparring?"
Steve smiles. "You think I'm going to tell Fury we got into a fist fight over Loki?" He laughs. "We got a little carried away sparring. Won't happen again." He pats Thor's cheek and limps out to the showers.
After the mess with Thor, Steve can't show his face at dinner. Instead, he goes to the corner store and asks the guy manning the counter for the shittiest beer he has. That's how Steve ends up sitting on Loki's bed drinking his way through a 36-pack of Natty Light. The beer is vile, but Steve drinks it anyway before crumpling up the cans and tossing them around the room to join the rest of the wreckage.
He can't get drunk so 36 beers do nothing for him except make him have to pee. He stumbles into the bathroom, his muscles starting to stiffen up from his fight with Thor. He's put his nose back into place, but it's still tender to the touch, and he has several bruises blossoming across his skin.
He slips his sweatpants down so he can take a piss. He needs to pull himself together, but it seems like an awful lot of effort. He doesn't understand why everyone he cares about leaves him. His parents, Dr. Erskine, Bucky. Then there was Peggy but technically he left her and then she died before he could come back. And now there's Loki. There was no sickness, no murder, no war casualty that took Loki away from him. Loki simply left, because Steve isn't enough. He doesn't know what else he should've done.
Steve pulls up his pants and goes to wash his hands.
"I thought you were never going to be done."
Steve jumps and spins around to see Tony casually standing in the shower as if stalking people while they used the bathroom was completely normal.
"What are you doing?" Steve demands. "Have you been watching me?"
"Be glad I waited until after you were done," Tony says. He grins but the smile quickly falls off his face. "We need to talk."
"In the bathroom?"
Tony sits down on the edge of the bathtub. "You've made a mess of the room."
Steve ducks his head, ashamed, and finishes washing his hands. Some part of him knew that this conversation was going to happen. He hadn't thought it would be with Tony, but he knew someone was going to call him on his spiral. He'd hoped to break himself out of it before someone had to do it for him.
He puts the toilet seat down and sits down. "Okay."
"Okay?" Tony runs a hand through his hair. He'd hoped for denial, anger, something he could respond to. He should've known Steve wouldn't make this easy. "Steve, I know a thing or two about rejection. I also know a thing or two about self-destruction. And right now? You're making me look like an amateur."
"I'm going to be fine."
"I'm reasonably certain of that, but you're taking too long. What happens if there's an attack tomorrow? You're going to come with us beat up and smelling like stale beer?"
"Of course not." Steve's offended that Tony would ever think that Steve would let his team down. Is that really how low he's gotten? He tries to remember the last time he showered. The last time he had a proper meal. The last time he had a normal conversation with someone. He can't believe he's let it get this far.
"Where's our leader?" Tony asks. "Where's that scrappy kid from Brooklyn who never gave up? Where's the soldier that took on HYDRA? Where's that pain in the ass that rode me for not being mature enough, not being moral enough, just plain not being enough?"
Where indeed, Steve wonders. And then he gets it. Loki's wounded Steve, but there's more to him than just Steve. The man Tony just described, the man that can handle anything is Captain America, and Captain America never fell in love with Loki. Captain America puts his team first, his mission first. He doesn't let emotions get in the way of doing his duty. Steve never should've tried to do this on his own. And he should've seen the solution before Tony had to point it out to him.
"You're right," Steve says, standing up. "I've let my team down, but that's going to change starting now."
Tony looks surprised. "Really? That worked?"
Steve smiles and claps Tony on the shoulder. "You're a good teammate, Tony. I'm glad to have you on board. Why don't you go get some rest? I'll see you in the morning."
"Uh, okay," Tony says as Steve ushers him out.
Steve follows him out so he can run up to his room. He puts on his uniform, feeling a sense of calm wash over him. He feels the most clear headed he's been in a long time. The uniform reminds him of his purpose. He's here to save lives, not to create chaos. He settles the cowl over his face and runs back downstairs. He doesn't go to bed until Loki's room is spotless.
"I am a genius," Tony says at breakfast where everyone but Steve is present. "I fixed our Steve problem."
"Oh good," Clint says. "I was starting to get tired of his moping."
"Are you sure he's fine?" Natasha asks.
Tony grins. "Genius, remember?"
Before anyone can say anything else, Steve strides into the kitchen. He's in his uniform pants which tuck into his boots. He's in a blue underarmor long sleeve, and he's not wearing his gloves or his mask, but the image is clear.
"Morning," Steve says, giving them a curt nod. He busies himself making eggs.
Natasha meets Tony's gaze over the table and raises her eyebrows. 'Genius?' she mouths. Tony shrugs and wonders if maybe he should've waited to gloat until he had proven results.
They're all assembled in SHIELD for the first time since Loki's disappearance. Steve's wearing his usual half of his uniform, but no one's called him on it. They're too afraid he'll revert back to the non drunken mess he was before. Fury looks at Steve's outfit and knows he should say something, because the last time Steve decided to start dressing differently there was an issue, but he trusts his team to solve their own problems.
"Things have been quiet," Fury says, putting his hand on the back of Coulson's chair. "I'm surprised that Loki isn't stirring up trouble, but I'm relieved."
Steve can feel everyone's eyes shift toward him at the mention of Loki's name. He doesn't look away from Fury. He's not sure if anyone outside the Avengers know exactly what happened the night the spell was broken so he doesn't want to give anything away in case they don't. Besides, he really doesn't need his problem rehashed again, in front of Directory Fury of all people. No, not his problems. Steve's problems. Captain America's problems are much more serious. Hunger, war, natural disasters. Captain America is concerned with protecting the people of the world. What is Steve's minor heartbreak in comparison to that?
"Until he does something, we're going to assume he's not hostile," Fury continues. "That leaves us in a unique situation. Things are pretty quiet right now so we're going to split into non-Avenger duties. Stark, you're going to focus on inventing. Dr. Banner, we have some interesting genetics research we want you to take a look at. Clint and Natasha, Coulson will brief you on your mission after this meeting. Thor, I believe your father would like to see you. You should return to Asgard for a time. Keep your phones on you. We might need to summon you."
"What about Steve?" Tony asks. He wasn't lying when he told Steve he knew a few things about bad break-ups and what Steve really doesn't need right now is a lot of time to sit and mope around. Even if he's decided that playing dress-up will cure him of his problems.
"He will train and continue to catch up on the 21st century."
Tony opens his mouth to protest, but he can't think of anything else for Steve to do. Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Teach art to kids in the inner city? What is there for a super soldier to do when there's no fighting?
"With all due respect, sir, that's not what I plan on doing."
Everyone turns to Steve, for the second time this meeting, but Steve holds his ground, keeping his head high and his eyes locked on Fury.
"Oh?" Fury asks. "And what exactly is it that you plan on doing?"
"Tsunami relief in Japan. I can train while I'm there and even bring homework, but I'm not going to sit around and do nothing while there are people who need me. I'm more than just a soldier."
Fury claps his hands together. "Well, then. Everyone happy now? Good. Remember, keep your phones on you and answer when we call." Fury looks directly at Tony for that one. "You never know when the Earth will need you."
Tony waves a hand. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We're responsible super heroes. Can we go so I can get back to my real life? The one where I party and drink and have sex with really hot women?"
"I would hate to keep you from something so important," Fury says. "You're all dismissed."
Tony's halfway out the door when he sees Steve go up to Thor.
"Safe travels, soldier," Steve says, clasping Thor's shoulder. "I'll see you when you return."
Thor frowns because he's not sure what to make of Captain America, but eventually he pulls Steve in for a hug. "Until we meet again, comrade."
Tony watches as everyone exchanges goodbyes and something twists in his stomach. He doesn't like the finality of goodbyes. He accidently makes eye contact with Bruce, and he rushes out of the door before the doctor can make his way over to him. He's not being a coward, Tony tells himself, because there's no need for goodbyes. They're going to see each other again. They're a team and they're only temporarily disbanding.
It's easy for Captain America to lose himself in Japan. He was nervous when he first arrived, but they welcomed him, remembering him as one of the men who helped save the world and not the man who fought for America in WWII.
He wears his uniform, but they don't treat him as Captain America. He takes order instead of gives them, lets other people tell him where to go and what to do. It's such a relief to give up control, to let someone else run his life that the time passes faster than he realizes.
Even better, between searching for survivors, uncovering houses, building flood defenses, and everything else they have him doing, he doesn't have much time to think. Loki fades to a distant part of his memory, and he finally thinks that he's going to be able to move on. It brings a smile to his face, and after a month he stops wearing his cowl everywhere.
Captain America ducks into his room, the door frames are a little short for him, and he freezes. Something doesn't seem right. He reaches down to pick up his shield, but it isn't where it's supposed to be. He looks to the other side of his door, wondering if he'd misplaced it. It isn't there either. His heart begins to pound, adrenaline coursing through his body, preparing him for a fight.
"Reveal yourself," he says, searching the shadows of his room for the intruder.
"You might want to turn on the light," a voice Captain America knows all too well suggests.
Captain America's limbs are suddenly weak, the will to fight rushing out of his body. He flips the light switch and sees Loki standing in the corner of his room, his shield resting against the wall next to him. Loki's in his Asgardian apparel and carefully studying Captain America's face.
Captain America forces himself to keep his face blank. He's not going to give Loki the satisfaction of getting anything from him. "Clever plan. Lure us into a false sense of security so we scatter and you can pick us off one by one."
Loki looks mildly surprised. "I'm not here to cause harm."
"You have my shield."
Loki looks down at the weapon. "I didn't want to get hit in the face for surprising you so I moved it out of easy reach. You may have it back if you promise not to swing it at my head."
Captain America doesn't understand what's going on. Why is Loki here if he's not here to fight? Why did he wait to show up until he had finally been able to go a whole day without thinking about him? Was that part of his plan? Keep Captain America so distracted by Steve's emotions he couldn't fight?
Loki's smile falters. "You're not pleased to see me?"
Captain America's mouth falls open. "Not pleased to—what the hell are you doing here?"
"Are you all right, Steve?"
Captain America laughs and shakes his head because Loki is asking him if he's all right. Loki who tried to destroy the Earth. Loki who had made Steve fall in love with him only to leave without a word. Loki who is the god of mischief and lies, and he's asking Steve if he's okay?
"Not Steve." Captain America says, remembering who he is. He bends down to pick up his cowl which Loki had thoughtfully left by the door when he took the shield. He fastens it into place. "Captain America."
Steve may not be okay, he might be trembling at the sight of Loki, but Captain America is composed. He studies Loki's movements for signs that he's a threat, settles his body into a position to fight if it comes down to it.
"They're the same," Loki says.
"Guess you're not the god of wisdom." Captain America closes the door, because he doesn't want anyone to pass by his room and see that he has a guest. Especially since his guest is a super villain. An extremely attractive super villain.
Captain America can't help but notice that Loki looks good. Healthy. Happy. His skin isn't the sickly pale it had been when he first came to Steve after the spell, and his eyes aren't rimmed with red like he's trying desperately not to cry. Captain America wonders if he's spent the past three months laughing at the chaos he'd caused in Steve's mind.
"You're having an identity crisis?" Loki asks. "That's what this is about?"
No, he's not having an identity crisis. He's Captain America which means he has none of Steve's weaknesses. He has Steve's strength, enhanced by Erskine's formula, and it makes him invincible to Loki. Only, he finds his heart aching now that he's looking at Loki again. He wants to reach out to touch Loki's face, lace his fingers through Loki's. He wants things to go back to how they were. No, that's Steve talking, and he's not Steve right now. He's Captain America. He refuses to let Loki get through his defenses. He really wishes he had his shield.
"This is about you leaving Steve," he finally says, because Loki doesn't seem to understand that he's done anything wrong. "This is about how Steve confessed his love for you, and you left. Left like it meant nothing."
He tries to speak like Steve is an acquaintance, like it doesn't matter to him that Steve's been hurt, but his voice wavers, and he knows he's failed.
"You're angry with me?" It's Loki's turn to look shocked. "That's why you've run away to Japan and are playing dress up?"
"Angry with you? No. That would imply that I felt something toward you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a long day tomorrow so I need to rest. There are people counting on Captain America."
Betrayal flashes through Loki's eyes, then anger, and Captain America hopes that he'll leave. A small part of him hopes that he'll try to fight him. He wants to grab a fistful of that pretty black hair and shove Loki's face into a wall. He wants to give Loki a small fraction of an idea what it's like to hurt the way Steve's been hurting. That kind of response is beneath Captain America, though, so he locks his hands behind his back. He's going to get Loki to leave without violence, no matter how tempting violence is.
For a moment, Captain America thinks that Loki is going to leave with a huff and a flip of his cape, but then he tilts his head to the side and looks at Captain America like he can stare straight into his soul. Captain America feels vulnerable without his shield to protect him.
"You don't get it, do you?" Loki asks. "Do you remember what you told me after you'd been kidnapped? You gave me a lecture on how people can't have a healthy relationship if one of them is dependent on the other. I was dependent on you, Steve. I would've died without you. You told me you loved me, but I couldn't answer, because I didn't know how I felt about you. I didn't run away to hurt you. I've spent the past three months making sure that I could live without you. How little do you think of me?"
Captain America pauses. Had he really just heard what he thought he had? Loki didn't leave because he hated him? He left to figure out his feelings? No. It's another trick. It's his attempt to break Captain America's shields and strike at him where he's weakest, Steve's emotions. He's stronger than that. He can't let hope destroy him.
"I don't need you anymore," Loki says, his eyes never leaving Steve's face, "but I want you."
He walks toward Steve, and Captain America finds that he can't move. Loki wants him? But he'd left. Captain America doesn't understand. Neither does Steve.
Loki stops in front of Steve and reaches around to touch the clasp of the cowl. His fingers hesitate, his eyes searching Steve's for permission. Captain America doesn't know what to do. Loki's standing in front of him, asking for permission, and that should be enough to tell him that he's telling the truth, but Captain America's thoughts are being influence by Steve's desperation, and he can't trust his own instincts. Captain American needs to put distance between them. He needs to clear his head so that he can think.
Loki's fingertips skim his chin. "Please believe me. I'm not here to harm you. I," Loki pauses, his gaze dropping from Steve's. "I care deeply for you."
Steve doesn't know which is more convincing, the please or the confession. He rips the mask off his face and tosses it to the ground. He savors Loki's relief for a moment, glad it isn't triumph he sees on the god's face, and pulls the other man to him.
One of Steve's hands fists in Loki's hair and other wraps tight around Loki's waist, holding him against Steve's body as if that will keep him from disappearing if he wants to.
Finally, Steve kisses him, a desperate plea for Loki to stay, for this to be real. Loki kisses him back, his hands clinging to Steve's uniform. Steve sweeps his tongue through Loki's mouth, claiming it, claiming him. He wants to rip Loki's clothes off and mark his skin. He wants to make Loki so thoroughly his that he'll never try to leave again.
Loki breaks the kiss, pressing a finger to Steve's lips when he tries to follow Loki's movement so he can kiss him again. There is no mischief lurking in Loki's eyes, no smirk tugging at his lips. His lips are red and kiss swollen and his eyes are frenzied with want and pleasure, and Steve wonders if he looks the same.
Loki steps back and brings his hands up to unclasp his cape. It slides to the floor in a soft sigh of fabric, and Steve watches it pool on the ground, transfixed. Loki slowly undresses until he's in a black t-shirt and black sweatpants that Steve's pretty sure he bought when Loki had been living with them.
Loki steps carefully out of his offering of armor and climbs into Steve's bed. He pats the empty space beside him. "This is one of the things I missed the most while I was reflecting."
Steve has a pretty good idea of how Loki felt. He shucks off his uniform, and it isn't until he's at the edge of his bed that he realizes he's only in his briefs. He's exposed and he hates showing anymore weakness in front of someone who may be setting an elaborate trap.
"Will you be here in the morning?" Steve asks, and he doesn't want to meet Loki's eyes when he speaks, doesn't want to show the other man the sheer need Steve is feeling, but he's not a coward so he looks Loki straight in the eye.
Simple and direct, another hint that this isn't a trick. Steve gets into bed and curls around Loki's body so they'll both fit, and buries his face in Loki's hair. Maybe he's wrong, and he'll wake up alone tomorrow perhaps irreversibly broken. But maybe he's right, and he wouldn't be a good soldier if he didn't take risks.