Disclaimer: All original characters and such belong to Marvel.

Summary: Loki made the decision to let go. After that, gravity took its toll. And maybe fate. A lot happened between his fall from Asgard and his theft of the Tesseract. And he's the not the only one trying to deal with a heavy loss.

Chronology: Post-Thor, pre-Avengers

Pairings: None for the moment

Rating: K+ for over cautiousness. May go up later.

Author's Note: Because I can never say no to Starkreactor.

Combat Scars

The needle on the gas gauge of her Honda Civic crept perilously close to the E, even as Katie Evans guided the car up her driveway and into the garage. She ignored it. She always did, until the very last possible second. The way she did with everything in her life these days.

Inside the garage was much like a tomb, the cool gray cement on the floor and the unfinished drywall sides holding sound like a shell, inviting echoes in the dust. The dust thinly coated everything inside the structure, from the shelves holding plastic totes of out-of-season clothing to the band saw and the ride on mower. Katie tried to ignore the lonely, too-loud clack of her heels as she stepped out of the vehicle. She made sure to close the car door behind her slowly, doing her best to avoid the thunderclap noise that would result from even closing the door normally. Loud noises still messed with her head, her emotions. She left the garage as quickly as possibly, closing the structure's small white man door behind her with a sharp click.

The cement between the garage and the house was cracking in several places. It had been for years, but something about the harshness of the past Ohio winter had accelerated the process. It was just another thing that she didn't want to think about, couldn't bring herself to deal with. But because her default stance these days was shoulders hunched and head angled down, she was forced to at least look at the crumbling rock every day, the little chunks that bounced and split under the weight of her scratched and worn simple beige heels.

On her tiny porch that was ringed with scroll-like black iron fencing, she stopped to pull the mail from the small black metal box hanging next to the door. She put her key into the lock on the plain green wooden door as she did so, trying to minimize the time that she spent out in the open. Vulnerable. One of the neighbors might spot her. Try to start a conversation. While it wasn't the worst thing that could happen, she always felt trapped when it happened. Social niceties no longer made sense to her. It was another language, like something she'd learned in infancy but no longer could retrieve in her brain.

Thankfully the door gave way without a fuss and the small handful of mail came with her. She shut the door firmly behind her and turned the deadbolt out of habit, before she even glanced at the stack of envelopes in her hand. Walking to the island in the kitchen, Katie sifted through them without much patience. Bill. Magazine subscription. Another bill. Card from her mother. Bill. Bill. Credit card offer. Political campaign ad. Weight loss promotion. Bill. Dentist appointment reminder. The junk mail she immediately tossed into a box on the floor marked "Recycling." The bills were opened, studied, and then placed on her desk next to her checkbook in the order that they were due. The card from her mother was not opened, and went underneath the bills on her desk.

Katie kicked off her shoes under the desk and gave an audible sigh of relief, almost loud in the empty house, as she stepped back down to earth at her normal height. The linoleum chilled her bare feet, but the sensation was stimulating after a numbing day of checking account balances, cashing checks, and making change at the small branch office of the bank where she worked. She returned to the kitchen, tugging her white button collared shirt out from the waist of her skirt where it had been tucked in since seven a.m. that morning. And every morning. She selected a teacup from the drainer next to the sink and placed it right side up on the counter as she tugged the small green silky scarf from around her neck. She selected an Earl Grey tea bag from the boxed collection in the cupboard above the sink, and used her other hand to start undoing buttons on her shirt. She filled a small shiny silver kettle with water, placed it on the stove, and lit the burner. She perched on a chair to wait for it to boil, occasionally glancing over towards her desk and mildly toying with the idea of opening the card.

She flipped idly through an issue of Reader's Digest as she waited, reading a quarter or half of an article before losing interest and moving on. She nearly gave herself a papercut flipping past the joke sections. Finally the kettle whistled and she hopped down, carefully tipping the kettle over the teabag nestled in the plain porcelain cup. She inhaled the rising steam gratefully, and undid the rest of the buttons on her shirt, leaving it hanging open and loose, exposing her plain beige bra – not a scrap of lace or a miniscule bow to be seen. She stepped carefully to the French doors that led to the little stone patio that started her backyard, sipping experimentally at the tea as she went. She tugged away the curtains that made a gauzy film on the inside of the white-framed, glass-paneled structure, pushed open the doors, and promptly started and spilled half her tea on the patio stones.

The back lawn grass was long and dotted with wildflowers, the norm since she'd stopped bothering to mow and silently, humbly accepted the times when her neighbor's teenage son snuck over to do it for her. Now, however, immediately obvious against the soft colors of the lawn, was a large, battered, dirty lump of black and green. Its mere presence was enough to startle her, as a lot of things were these days, and its having caught her off guard now combined with the sheer oddity of its being. Her first assumption was a bag of trash some delinquent had decided to toss over the wooden privacy fence and into her yard. But the more she looked at it, the more she realized it was the wrong size and texture for a garbage bag. An old piece of fabric then, maybe a barbeque grill cover or something from someone's boat. But that didn't look quite right either. It did seem to be fabric, but something more like for clothing. And something about bits of the black coloring seemed shiny—not metal shiny, but perhaps leather shiny.

Katie cautiously rested her teacup on the glass top of the small round table on the patio, and picked up the tongs that hung rusting from the tiny barbeque at the back of her house. Not a very effective weapon to be sure, but it might be enough to fend off a rabid raccoon until she could make it to the safety of her house. She approached the lump one step at a time, her mind refining and rejecting bits of theories the closer she got and the more details she noticed. It did appear to be some kind of fabric and leather combination, but it was filthy and torn and stained with something dark. And there appeared to be something made of a golden metal at one end. She circled around to the far side of the odd shape.

There, she dropped the tongs in shock and hastily buttoned her blouse, her fingers fumbling frantically with the buttons and forcing them through the wrong slits, one button too low and her shirt then crooked. But that was the least of her concerns. The lump had now revealed itself to be a man. A very badly injured, very strangely dressed man.

Katie snatched up the tongs and took a jump-step backwards, holding the inadequate weapon firmly in front of her. But the man didn't move, and she couldn't deny the presence of blood on his clothes and face, and the awkward, unnatural way he was half curled in on himself. She'd elected to take first aid and CPR training when the classes became available at the bank, and her natural protective instincts began to take over. He could be an escaped criminal, part of her brain argued. He's still dying or maybe dead, the louder part shot back. She knelt next to him, gingerly tracing along his neck to feel for a pulse. The skin was colder than she'd expected, and she nearly snatched her hand back, not overly thrilled at the prospect of touching a dead man. But just as she thought there was nothing to find and a vision of cops and questions and body bags began to shimmer into being in her head, her fingers accidentally found it.

A tiny flutter of a heartbeat. Nothing more than a quiver under her fingertips, like a kitten's sleeping paw inadvertently grazing her skin as it slumbered.

There was a man left to be saved.

She felt an involuntary quick intake of breath at the realization. She briefly considered calling 911. But the vision of police swam before her eyes again, people with uniforms asking questions, tromping through her sacred, quiet space. It was completely irrational, and stupid, and selfish. Forgive me, she mouthed silently at the unmoving form of the man in front of her. She ran her hands along his body, feeling for broken bones as best she could, and praying that moving him wouldn't leave him paralyzed. Her irrationality, the bit that made the emergency number beyond her reach, stayed in command. Katie looked over the man, deduced arms and legs and torso, rolled up her sleeves, and with a surprising show of strength scooped up the man like she might have done with a child and carried him slowly into the house. Her eyes darted around for the neighbors, but everyone appeared to be preoccupied with their own lives indoors.

Katie's steps were slow and heavy, and green fabric that seemed to be a cape trailed on the ground and threatened to trip her. She stepped carefully, gauging every foothold before she took advantage of it. She paused momentarily in the kitchen, but turned quickly from there and made her laborious way into the living room. Her brown striped couch was devoid of pillows or anything decorative, but curved in a large, luxurious L-shape in the near corner of the room. She stooped, and the laid the man out carefully on the furniture. As she did, the golden metal piece fell away and landed with a dull thud on the dark green carpeting. For the first time, she noticed that it had been meant to be a helmet, though it was now so battered and worn that it bore little resemble to what form it must have originally appeared in. The absurdity of the situation eluded her as the man's face became clearly obvious for the first time.

Pale skin. Black hair, long enough to graze his shoulders. Sharp features. All tinted with blood – dried blood, congealed blood, slowly trickling blood. Dirt caked everywhere. Bruises. Burns.

Katie stepped back, her mind blank and sheer instinct starting to take over basic actions, both for her survival and for his. She cast her hands over her mid-length black skirt and did not notice the bloody handprints they left behind, hidden mostly by the darkness of the fabric.