A/N: Hello readers, and welcome to my happy dream where Loki has rediscovered what it means to have a family and friends, and has joined the Avengers. I hope you enjoy my little Christmas story. It is completely finished-it's just a matter of uploading, so the updates will come very quickly! It's not slash, so don't worry. Just fluffy friendship and brotherly love. :) Enjoy and please review!
"Well, the good news is, you're definitely starting to get better." Dr. Bruce Banner removed the diaphragm of his stethoscope from Loki's chest with an encouraging smile. The god of mischief had been quite ill the past couple of weeks. What had begun as a neglected cold ("Don't be silly, I've done battle on Jotunheim, surely a few hours in Central Park during one of your mild Midgardian winters will not make a shred of difference!") had turned into bronchitis and then into pneumonia. Despite a rigorous regimen of antibiotics, Loki had been in bed for over a week with a high fever and painful, uncontrollable cough. His condition had frightened his older brother to the point of being completely subdued, a terrifying thing in Thor. He hadn't left Loki's bedside for more than ten minutes since he had fallen ill. It had been sort of strange (and kind of unnerving, Bruce had to admit) to see the normally joyful and exuberant Thor suddenly become so perpetually upset and worried and yet quiet and gentle with his little brother. But even the mighty and powerful god of thunder could do nothing but hold Loki close and stroke his hair as the fever and coughing reduced him to a doubled-over, shaking shadow of his normally perfectly composed self.
One night, the fever had been so high that Loki had begun to have hallucinations, thinking that Thanos was chasing him, even though the team had permanently dealt with the Mad Titan months ago. Thor had managed to quell his brother's hoarse screams of terror, but when the weeping had begun, Loki had been positively inconsolable, despite his sobs making his cough all the worse. After hours of his brother bathing his forehead and murmuring soothingly to him, relating happy stories and memories from their childhood on Asgard, the utterly exhausted Loki had finally fallen asleep in Thor's arms. When Bruce had come to check on his patient, Thor, his eyes wide and brimming with tears and more fear than Bruce had ever seen from his courageous teammate, had asked him for the first time if it was possible he might lose his little brother. Bruce had quickly averted his gaze, but the pain and worry in those blue eyes had still made it feel like someone cut into his chest with a scissor and was shredding his heart into ribbons. He had wanted to so much to just say no, of course Loki would be fine. But he knew that would be lying, and lying made him feel disgusting-dirty inside. Especially if he was lying to someone who was looking at him with those enormous, scared-puppy eyes. So Bruce had said nothing, and had turned his attention to taking Loki's temperature in order to avoid any further conversation. But Thor had taken his meaning, and had closed his eyes and placed a kiss on top of Loki's head, tears falling into the sweaty black hair.
But finally, the previous night (December twenty-second), Loki's fever had broken and had not returned. He had slept most of the day, waking only to take his medicine, drink some water, and eat a little bit of chicken noodle soup for lunch. Tony had been plastering him with the stuff by the gallon, or at least trying to-Loki hadn't had much of an appetite. But Tony kept optimistically producing more of it all the same, and Bruce had begun to wonder if he was keeping cauldrons full of the stuff somewhere in the tower. And the weirdest part was, Bruce happened to know for an unquestionable fact that Tony Stark hated chicken noodle soup.
Thor brightened like an incandescent lightbulb that had been switched on when Bruce given his almost-medical-doctor's-dropped-out-just-before-graduating-medical-school-so-nearly-professional opinion of Loki's prognosis. The thunderer was sitting on the edge of Loki's bed, and he reached over and squeezed his brother's hand, his face finally alight again after so many days of shadowy darkness and worry.
"Did you hear that, brother? Your health is returning!"
"I'm not deaf, you silly oaf." Loki rolled his eyes but smiled as he leaned back against Thor's broad shoulder, his relief at the news obvious. Then, in a much more polite tone, he addressed Bruce. "And what of the bad news?"
Bruce raised an eyebrow. He really ought to have chosen his diction better. He quickly tried to cover his slip-up. "What bad news? Your fever's broken, your lungs are beginning to sound better, and you told me yourself you're already starting to feel stronger after resting today. I'd say there's not a whole lot of room for bad news."
Loki studied him critically. It was obvious he wasn't buying it for a second. Bruce sighed. He supposed it served him right. Who was he to think he could pull off lying to the god of lies?
"You said 'the good news' was that I'm starting to get well. When people say 'the good news', that always means that there is accompanying bad news." Despite his illness rendering him hoarse and even more soft-spoken than normal, Loki still managed to sound like an overly-patient parent speaking to a small child. Bruce looked down at his hands, but Loki continued before he could speak. "No, it is all right, you do not have to tell me. I already know I will not be well in time for Christmas."
Bruce smiled sadly at him. "Um...yeah," he said softly. "You really do need to stay in bed. You need to give your body the time and rest it needs so your lungs can heal and you can get your strength back. Putting yourself through too much too soon could cause you to relapse."
At that word, Bruce saw Thor lay a protective hand on his brother's arm. He could see the disappointment evident on Loki's face. It was their first Christmas as a whole team. Although the Avengers were over a year old, last year they had been off doing their respective, well, things. Thor had been on Asgard, dealing with the aftermath of his brother's attempt to subjugate Earth as well as the looming threat of Thanos, and Loki had not joined the team until the battle with the mad Titan. Natasha and Clint had been stationed North Korea, monitoring a potential threat on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bruce was grateful that, after everything that had happened, they had at least been able to be together for the holiday. Steve had taken Fury's advice and had finally celebrated his unique blessing of beginning a new life seventy years after the end of his old one and decided to see the world. He had spent Christmas in Paris. Bruce, although anything but a romantic, was jealous all the same, especially when he thought of Betty. He and Tony and Pepper had made Christmas a quiet affair in Stark Tower, although no affair could really be called "quiet" when Tony Stark was involved. Bruce had made a mental note to keep a closer eye on his friend's alcohol and sugar intake in the future.
But this year, everyone was present in the tower, and Tony had been decorating like a madman since Black Friday. Or, more accurately, he had been writing programs that directed his robots to decorate like madmen. There were at least two dozen Christmas trees in Stark tower, and Bruce didn't want to think about how many miles of tinsel were strung throughout the floors. And then there were the outdoor Christmas lights. Thank God Stark Tower was 100% self-sustaining when it came to electricity.
Thor and Loki had naturally been rather confused at first, especially with Tony running around the tower singing Christmas carols at the top of his lungs, although Loki had finally learned the origin of the term "Reindeer Games". The rather irritable god of mischief had almost set Tony's hair on fire when he decided he just couldn't take it anymore. Bruce didn't blame him, and would maybe have even encouraged him had it not been for the inherent danger in the prank. Thor, however, had listened with a wide grin on his face. Loki had drawn the line at him attempting to learn the words, saying he didn't think he could handle two caterwauling idiots, especially since neither of them were particularly good singers in the first place.
But other than the carols, both Asgardians had enjoyed learning about the traditions and customs associated with the holiday, including the Christmas story itself. Of course, the potency of the story was helped even more by the fact that it was told by Captain America, but Bruce had expected that explaining the fundamental aspects of Christianity to two Norse Gods would have been a lot harder. But they had both just soaked it up like any other good story, and had taken away from it the general idea of love and giving back that permeated the season. Since their brotherly relationship had been restored, Thor and Loki had grown closer to each other than ever before, with Thor unceasingly helping his brother to rebuild his shaken trust and sense of self-worth. Therefore, the idea of family was incredibly important to both of them, and consequently they were especially taken with the emphasis placed on this particular value during the holiday season. Thor had always considered the team his family, but Loki, having a rather tumultuous history with the Avengers (and that was putting it lightly), had been really looking forward to this opportunity to celebrate with his new friends and feel included. And Bruce suspected that now, by not being able to participate in the festivities, Loki felt as though he was letting everyone else down. He reached out to pat his friend's shoulder sympathetically.
"I'm really sorry, Loki. I know you must be disappointed."
Loki smiled weakly at him. "Do not apologize-this is anything but your fault. You have been so very kind to me, Dr. Banner-I shudder to think what might have happened to me had you not provided me with such gentle and meticulous care. Besides, this entire ordeal is my fault, anyway. You warned me not to go ice-skating with Stark and Captain Rogers the moment I came down with a cold." That was quite a long speech for Loki, and he broke into a coughing fit, reaffirming Bruce's decision to keep him in bed. But the doctor took heart in the fact that, although the paroxysms still caused Loki to wince, he did not seem to be in as much pain as before.
"Technically, you're not quite right," he said when Loki was able to breathe normally again. "Colds are caused by viruses, but you have bacterial pneumonia. You would have come down with it anyway."
"So you'd mentioned. But the ice-skating certainly couldn't have helped, could it?" The fact that Loki appeared to be forcing himself as a scapegoat made Bruce feel a little sad. He suspected this was a manifestation of Loki's guilt for ruining everyone else's Christmas. Not that he actually had-he just thought that he had. Although, once it had become clear that Loki was seriously ill, Tony had stopped singing Christmas carols, and everyone in the tower had assumed a much quieter air than normal, even Clint. The holiday had been pushed into the back of their minds in favor of just hoping that Loki would recover-somehow tinsel and carols and even presents had seemed unimportant when their friend was so sick.
"No," answered Bruce honestly. "But no one blames you."
Loki opened his mouth to answer, but then closed it again. Bruce got to his feet before he could say anything else.
"You should eat some dinner and then try to rest more. I'll come check on you again when it's time for your bedtime meds. Are you thoroughly sick of chicken noodle soup yet?"
Loki chuckled softly. "Surprisingly, no. It sounds better than anything else right now. It warms me and eases the stuffiness in my chest. Besides, I haven't really eaten that much of it the past few days."
"Well, I know Tony will be glad to hear his soup-making efforts are appreciated. I'll tell him to send a bowl up."