Author's Note: Back to Steve. I think this chapter will be well received by some of you. ;)
Warning: The sexual tension that is going to occur from here on out is ridiculous.
Disclaimer: Of course, I own nothing but the various hospital staffs, the various shelter staffs, and Charlie. The other characters belong to the lucky people at Marvel.
Chapter 21: Close Quarters
Steve watched Tony as he paced the floor, downing another half tumbler full of scotch before he continued talking.
"So the good news is we know who the son-of-a-bitch that used Agent Shelley's information and - well, you know," Tony wiggled the fingers of one hand, "To get into the system, but the bad news is we don't know where the hell the psychopath is. Fury has most of S.H.I.E.L.D. out on a manhunt for the guy, but considering the problem happened in the first place I don't know that I've got much faith in them succeeding."
Steve nodded and looks back down at the file in his lap, re-reading the file for Agent Albrecht; the man was fifty-two, a fairly new recruit to S.H.I.E.L.D. having just joined the agency two years prior after serving in the navy for thirty-two years. Steve simply couldn't understand how a man with such an extensive military background and a long track record of serving his country had decided to murder a fellow agent and conspired to smuggle weapons into the country; what did it take for someone to make that transition, from a seemingly upstanding citizen to a murderer and potential terrorist?
"Fury already has Natasha and Clint on task for this one, but I know for a fact he has no intention of involving me. He's still butthurt over the security breech. So, what do you say," Tony looked over at him as he poured himself another glass of scotch. "We going to round up the rest of the posse and take a shot at this jackass?"
Steve leaned back in his chair and nodded slowly. "We should get the rest of the team up-to-date on this, and form at strategy. You have the data on Albrecht's last known whereabouts and possible connections, right?"
Tony nodded. "Of course. I wouldn't S.H.I.E.L.D. keep all the info to themselves, now would I?"
"Then call Bruce and Thor, have them meet us here tomorrow night, 7pm."
"What, not sooner?" Tony frowned. "Why not right after training?"
Steve groaned inwardly but maintained a passive expression. "- I have plans," then, when he saw Tony open his mouth to say something, added, "An appointment. One I don't really want to have to reschedule."
"Oh." Tony took a swig of his alcohol, still watching him.
Steve closed the file on Albrecht and set it aside on the end table before he rose, glancing at his watch. "It's getting late, Tony. I'll see you in the morning."
"What kind of appointment? I mean, if it's not a date, then..."
Steve froze, and glancing at Tony saw the other man smiling at him. His mind fumbled for something, anything.
"- Visiting a homeless shelter."
Tony arched an eyebrow at him, and Steve swallowed hard, realizing what he'd said. Before he could worry any further about it, however, the billionaire snorted and shook his head.
"Jeez, Steve. Here I'm giving you a bad time about a date and you're just off being a do-gooder as usual. What, going to go sign some autographs, promote good-will and hope for the unfortunate? Can you get any more Boy Scout?"
"Probably." Inwardly, Steve felt a wash of relief, glad any potential crisis the conversation could have veered toward had been averted. "You shouldn't talk, Tony. How many charity benefits do you host?"
"Those are tax write-offs."
Tony grinned at him suddenly, a grin that Steve was getting to recognize and wasn't fond of. "Well – since you aren't dating someone, how about I hook you up with this new intern that's working under Pepper?"
He groaned. "No, I don't need you to set me up with anyone-"
"Well clearly if you're not doing your own hooking up, somebody's got to give you a hand—"
"Good night Tony," Steve gave him a look before leaving and sighed a breath of relief in the elevator once the door shut.
He'd told the truth, in a roundabout way; and while he was glad he hadn't had the automatic inclination to lie, that the truth could lead to bigger problems than he already had did nothing help with his nerves.
The next day at eleven am sharp he was at Langone as promised, and going over the paperwork with Dr. Ira a final time, set to signing Loki out of the center as well as setting everything up for his weekly appointments.
"It's a good thing you're doing, Mr. Rogers, paying for his continuing care," the doctor said, watching him from across the desk.
Steve shook his head as he signed his name to another document. "It's the right thing to do, doctor."
"You will look after him when he's out in the world again, won't you?" She asked, and the question surprised him. He glanced up, and she gave him a knowing look. "He told me he's going to stay at a shelter. There's no guarantee there that he'll get the proper nutrition there, and outside of his appointments here I don't know that he's given much thought to regular exercise or how much opportunity he'll have to do so."
Steve sat back in his chair and took a moment to fight the surge of guilt, one he that he'd been fighting on and off for the past few days, before he nodded. "- I will. I'll look after him."
The feeling of guilt resurfaced shortly later when he went up to collect the other man and found Loki sitting in the waiting area in the hall, his box of things resting on the floor beside him. He glanced up as Steve approached and used his cane to rise from the chair. "I assume everything is ready, Captain?"
Steve nodded and picked up the box. "Yeah, you ready?"
Loki nodded, casting a look back toward the room that had been his. "Yes."
The elevator ride down to the ground floor was silent, Steve doing his best not to look at Loki, who stood at his side, head bowed in what seemed to be deep thought. When they exited the center Steve went to the curb and confirmed that the taxi idling there was indeed for them. He glanced back and was surprised to see Loki lingering near the medical center doors, a fleeting expression of fear passing over his face as he looked at the city around them.
"Hey. You okay?"
The other man's attention snapped to him and his features smoothed before he nodded and made his way over to join him. Helping him into the taxi Steve closed the door once he was seated, then circled to the other side and climbed in, giving the driver the address of the shelter.
"... Are you nervous?" Steve asked as the vehicle moved into traffic.
Loki's answer was quiet. "Why would I be nervous?"
"New place, new experience."
Steve glanced at him from the corner of his eye and found the other man watching the world outside through the window, his expression once again tinged with fear.
"It's okay if you are, I wouldn't think any less of you for it," Steve started, but Loki cut him off.
"- I am fine, Captain."
The remainder of the ride was in silence, and reaching the shelter, Loki didn't wait for Steve before he climbed out the cab and made his way toward the entrance.
Following the dark-haired man in with his belongings, they went to the service desk and verified with the attendant that Loki was expected as a new resident under the name 'James Barnes', and the woman gave Loki a once over before handing him a sheet of paper and began from memory to detail out the rules and schedule printed on it.
"Wake up is six am, breakfast served from seven am to eight am after morning devotional. Bible study from eight am to nine am, then you'll be attending the introduction workshop for the first two weeks for transitional residents from nine am to noon. Lunch at noon to one pm, free time is one pm to three pm; most residents take a nap or watch television in the common room if you like sports, don't try to change the channel it's the only one we get. Three pm to five pm you'll go to group meeting, five to six pm is second Bible study, six to seven pm is dinner, seven to eight is evening devotional, eight thirty pm is lights out. Got it? Any questions?"
"None," Loki replied dryly.
The woman eyed him again, and then motioned to the stairwell to her left. "Upstairs, third doorway to your right. You're in bed six, number's painted on the wall over it." She looked at Steve and then at the box he was carrying. "I need to inspect that for weapons or drugs."
"Oh, right -" Steve nodded and set the box down on the desk for her, waiting until she'd rooted through the sparse contents to pick it back up.
She gave Steve a once over as well. "Visitors are allowed weekdays between one and three pm. No weekend visitations."
"Thank you, ma'am," Steve said, and followed after Loki, who had already started for the stairs.
Both men paused at the bottom step when they got there, Loki giving the steep, narrow stairs ahead of him a hateful look.
Steve opened his mouth and started to hold his arm out to offer him help, but the other man's hand shot out to grip the lone railing to one side in a tight grip and he started the climb. Steve followed him, biting his own tongue to keep from saying anything as he watched him take each slow step with determination until they reached the landing above.
The room, when they reached it, was sparse, yellowing walls and nothing but two rows of beds along each side of the room and a small, squat nightstand containing two drawers beside each one. Loki limped over to the bed with a number six painted on the wall over the single pillow, and taking a seat the mattress sagged beneath him with a loud creak.
Steve set the box down on the bedside table and looked around the room, taking note of the scant belongings that were placed beside each bed. "... Looks like you've got roommates."
Loki nodded but said nothing, he eyes shifting toward the door when footsteps in the hall where growing louder. Four other men enter the room, all of them giving them both a look. One of the men, the shortest and stockiest of the group, paused by the door when he saw Loki and nodded, though his expression was far from friendly. "Heard we were getting another guy in here, what's your name, Gimp?"
Loki arched an eyebrow and rose, extending a slender hand in greeting though his faint smile was forced. "I am... James." Green eyes flicked toward Steve at the name, then back to the stocky man.
"Call me Digs." The man walked right past the outstretched hand and he flopped down on his own bed. "You meet Maria downstairs, Gimp? She's a real number. Don't get on her bad side. Anybody's for that matter."
"My name is not Gimp."
Digs shrugged. "Whatever."
Steve opened his mouth and then closed it, uncertain of what to say.
Loki looked at Steve again, then away. "I am certain you must have other things to attend to."
"- Is there anything else you need?" Steve asked uncertainly.
Loki shook his head and sat back down, glancing toward the other men, who had all clustered around a small, battery operated radio to listen to the news. "No."
Steve stuffed a hand inside his coat pocket and held out a slip of paper he'd written his number on. "If you need anything, you can call me."
The other man took it with a hesitant hand, glancing at the hand writing there, and then folded into his shirt pocket.
When another few moments of silence passed Steve cleared his throat and nodded toward the door. "I'll - I'll see you tomorrow?"
Loki nodded again. "Yes. Tomorrow, but not the day after. The weekend. No visitors."
Steve lingered for a moment, then exited the room, glancing back a final time at Loki, who was studying his own hands clasped in his lap, before he headed down the hall.
He paused at the stairs when he reached then and looked at them, frowning at the steep incline and the narrowness of each one. He felt a tightness in his chest when he remembered Loki's difficulty in ascending them, the stubborn determination he had taking each slow step, and when he tried to imagine how much longer going back down would prove for the other man, the sharp stab of guilt once again came over him with a vengeance.
Dr. Ira's words came back to him.
You will look after him when he's out in the world again, won't you?
Turning back the way he'd just come he returned to the room, Loki and the other men there looking up when he entered, and tucking the box of his belonging under his arm, he reached down and took Loki's hand with his own, urging him to stand. "Come on.."
Loki's lips quirked in a small frown of confusion. "What are you doing?"
"—The right thing." Steve gently tugged him toward the door. "We're going home."
"-Well, to my apartment. It's not fantastic but it's better than here."
"I don't understand…"
Steve shook his head. "I'm not leaving you in this place."
Loki stopped when they reached the stairs, his hand suddenly gripping Steve's tightly, and his voice hardly more than a whisper. "Why not?"
Steve hesitated, his eyes scanning the shelter hallway where the walls were also a yellowing color, then the stairwell, before he answered. "I just can't. " He paused, then added, less certainly, "Unless you – do you want to stay?"
Loki looked around them for a moment, his lips pressing in a firm line that Steve had to force himself not to stare at. At last he looked at him again, his gaze uncertain as he shook his head. "… No."
"Then that settles that. Wait here."
He went down the stairs and set the box down on the service desk, earning him a strange look from the woman at the service desk, Maria, then went back up the stairs, forcing himself to ignore the surge of his pulse when he slipped an arm around Loki's waist and helped him back down, holding him steady as they took each step with care.
Pausing to get the box he glanced at the Maria, who was frowning at them, her arms crossed. "You fellas want to tell me what's going on?"
Steve gave her an apologetic look. "You've got another vacancy again."
Loki offered her a tight smile and a small wave as they headed for the door, and once they were outside Steve went to the curb to hail them another cab.
When he glanced at the other man again, he was watching him with a cautious expression, uncertainty in his eyes.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Like I said… it's the right thing to do."
"I… would not wish to impose upon your home, Captain."
"It isn't and imposition." Steve hesitated, and then added, "Like I said, it's nothing fantastic, but it is better than this shelter, and once something better opens up, I can help you get settled there, but…" He trailed off as a taxi pulled up beside them, and opening the door he stepped back to let Loki climb in.
Loki hesitated as well, still watching him then moved to take a seat, his fingertips brushing against Steve's when he placed a hand against the door to steady himself. Steve's breath caught in his throat again at the light sensation, and then he closed the door.
The stairs up to Steve's apartment were less treacherous than the shelter's had been, wide and nowhere near as steep, but he still lingered at Loki's side as they went up, the other man's hand placed against his arm for support. When they reached the door Steve moved to unlock it, and then stepped aside to let Loki enter first.
He closed the door behind them and switched on the lights, then set the box down on the coffee table, moving around the room to tidy up the stray newspaper he'd left on the sofa, the gym bag from training, all the various items he usually left around.
"Sorry, I don't have company over very oft- well… ever."
Loki was watching him silently, lingering near the door still until Steve motioned for him to take a seat, and when he did, they both simply stared at one another for a moment, then away, Steve's stomach churning while Loki glanced around the room, first at the coffee table and the stacks of sketchbooks and books on art, then at the few photographs on the walls.
"Would you like anything to drink?" Steve offered after another moment, and Loki glanced at him again, his expression once again giving way to confusion.
"No, I… thank you, but no."
"Well… just let me know if you do. I'll go get some clean sheets and blankets out, get the bedroom ready for you." Loki gave him a strange look at those words, and he added, hurriedly, struggling to keep himself from blushing, "You're a guest, so I'll take the sofa."
Steve left and went into the bedroom and set to changing the bedding, glad for the distraction while he tried to sort his own head out. Bringing Loki back had been the last thing he'd meant to do, when being around him made him feel and think things he shouldn't and certainly didn't intend to; but leaving him at the shelter would have plagued him with guilt, and of the two emotions, he grudgingly admitted to himself, he would rather deal with feelings of confusion and inexplicably attraction that he knew were not something he should act on, than with guilt and the knowledge that he hadn't done what was right.
When he went back out to the living room Loki had picked up one of the sketchbooks and was browsing through it, and he glanced at Steve, smiling faintly. "More of your work?"
Steve nodded. "Yeah. Most of those are from a couple of years ago. I did a lot of drawing right after I was pulled out of the ice, after we fought you three years ago."
"Mmm." Loki turned a page and lingered a moment over a detailed sketch Steve had done in Central Park Zoo of a snow leopard.
"Do you have any hobbies? Activities you enjoy, aside from reading?"
Loki closed the sketch book and shook his head. "Before, I would have said magic, but as that is no longer a skill I am able to call…"
"Oh, sorry." Steve grimaced. "I didn't mean to-"
"I know," Loki interrupted, glancing up at him. "I know you did not mean offence by the inquiry. It is not in your nature to act in that manner."
Another span of silence fell between then, and Steve moved to open the window shade and let some more light into the room, casting about for another topic of conversation, but Loki spoke again before he could think of one.
"… It is quite good." The other man motioned to the sketch books. "Your work. "
Steve smiled almost in spite of himself, ducking his head a bit at the praise. "Thanks."
"I must confess to a little jealousy," Loki continued, "In Asgard the finer arts, drawing, music, dance… those were pursuits for the fairer sex and not fit for men to learn beyond the rudimentary, and certainly not beyond a very young age. As it was, my tendency toward books and magic were already frowned upon."
Steve took a seat next to him, perplexed. "Why would anyone frown on reading?"
"It was the nature of what I read and the frequency of it," Loki explained. "Thor was never criticized for reading texts of great battles, and he read only when it was required, never for pleasure. I read upon whatever I was keen to learn of, I read for my enjoyment."
"You can read whatever you want to, I promise, I won't make fun of you for it," Steve said, and he felt a small surge of warmth when Loki regarded him with a grateful look and another small smile.
"Thank you," Loki glanced around the apartment again, gesturing to their surroundings. "For your understanding, as well as your hospitality. Both are… unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome."
"It's not spacious, but like I said, it'll be better than the shelter. I don't have a lot of food in the cupboards or the fridge, and I have a meeting I need to go to in a few hours, but I'll get some groceries later this evening on my way back," Steve said, "You still have that information from the nutritionist so I can take it with me when I go?"
Loki nodded, frowning a little. "Yes, but I… you needn't purchase anything on my account."
"I'm not going to let you starve while you're staying here," Steve countered, then added, a little tentatively, "You're a guest, and – and we're friends, remember?"
Loki glanced at him again, and though he didn't answer, the minute nod he gave in response gave Steve hope that he was, at least a little, making headway in the right direction with the other man, in spite of his own confused emotions.