Fandom: The Avengers (movieverse)
Prompt: Written for this prompt (When Loki turns up on the Avenger's doorstep, brokenhearted and realizing that he's been in the wrong and wants to join the good side, Steve is the only one at home.) and Enter here.
Summary: No one chooses for Loki. He chooses for himself. He chooses his brother, and Midgard, and Steve Rogers. (Loki/Steve.)
Victor von Doom blows up an entire city block.
Loki isn’t informed of this plan until everything explodes in flames and debris. His heart, for what it is, drops in horror. He thinks Father would not have stood for this; he thinks Thor will mourn each one of these mortals, and so he starts pulling people from buildings, one by one, children and office assistants and mothers who were shopping for groceries. He multiplies himself until he shakes with exhaustion, and still he keeps going. He doesn’t stop when the Avengers arrive with the fire department and police. He doesn’t stop when Thor tells him, “Enough, brother.” He doesn’t even stop when only the dead remain.
He is the god of mischief.
He is not the god of this.
When he knocks on the Avengers' mansion door, he expects to be accosted by one of Stark’s robots, or shot by Hawkeye, but it is only the Captain who answers in an unassuming plaid shirt and khakis. He seems to know that Loki can enter the house with or without an invitation, but an invitation makes things easier regardless, so the good Captain gestures for Loki to come inside.
Loki doesn’t wait for an offer to sit on the couch, or a drink. He isn’t here for hospitality.
“You have a lot of nerve showing your face,” says the Captain. His voice is hard compared to how Thor described him: light and fair and good. Steve Rogers doesn’t hate anyone until they cross an unforgivable moral line; Doom has roared past it with no intention of going back, but Loki has merely flirted with it, toed it, peered over but not crossed. He realizes now that if he doesn’t back away, Doom will push him.
“I am not in the business of groveling, Captain,” Loki tersely replies, “but I assure you that Doom did not reveal his plan to me.”
“That makes it better?”
“Of course it doesn’t,” he snaps. Loki desired rule, not genocide, but it seems there is no middle ground with Doom. Destruction or nothing; absolutism or no dice, and that is not the game Loki plays. “I unearthed a woman who had been crushed and yet was still alive. I finished the job out of mercy.”
“Mercy? Do you know how many people—” The Captain snaps his mouth shut, unwilling to break their frail truce with harsh words. A silence stretches between them.
“Just tell me why,” he finally says, tired. “Or better yet, tell me what he plans to do next.”
“I would if I could. He didn’t trust me enough to share today’s plan; it’s safe to assume he will tell me nothing else. As far as why—” Loki pauses. He’s not sure why Doom had performed such a senseless act of violence with nothing to gain at the end. “The why is unclear, but my guess is terror. Panic. Those are the tools of our trade.”
“Our trade?” the Captain echoes. Loki looks away. His pride chokes him. He wants to be here, he wants to be one of these heroes, he wants to be Thor's brother again—but he doesn’t know how to express this.
“I have ridden into many battles,” he finally says, “and watched many friends die. I avenged them all.” He looks the Captain in the eye, direct and fierce. “I can be one of you. It is not so strange.”
This is clearly not what the Captain expects. His expression is in turns suspicious and disbelieving, but he can never know Loki’s resolve: Doom had attempted to push him past the point of no return, to bully him, to force him into a moral failing so severe that he would fall from Thor’s good graces forever. He had tried to make the choice for Loki in such a way that Loki would have no other alternative.
No one chooses for Loki. He chooses for himself.
The Captain nods at last, accepting this declaration until he can discuss it further with the team.
“The others are asleep,” he states. “It’s been a long morning. You can stay if you want.”
A long morning indeed. Loki does not experience time as a mortal would, but even he feels the heavy burden of so much chaos.
“You are awake,” Loki points out, unnecessarily.
The Captain swallows. “I probably won’t sleep for a long time. I pulled someone out, too. A little girl. She died before the paramedics could do anything.”
They sit in the kitchen, a sort of parody: the hero and the villain as portrayed by Ward and June Cleaver. A wall clock ticks too loudly for its size. Loki suspects he’s being monitored from three different angles, but Stark isn’t awake to know about it. He thinks he should be uncomfortable, or bored, but the Captain is good company despite the day’s events, and makes them a cup of coffee. He teaches Loki how to play the sudoku puzzle in the daily paper; Loki beats it in three minutes.
(It takes one month for Hawkeye to quit threatening Loki with arrows; it takes two months for Tony to tone down surveillance from red alert to a mere orange; it takes six months for Natasha to stop handling knives like she wants to lodge them into Loki’s chest, but it takes no time at all for Thor to scoop his brother into an embarrassing hug and say, “I knew we could not be apart for long.” The Captain—“Steve,” he finally says, “Just call me Steve, okay?”—is standing behind Thor, smiling.)
Loki knows there is no set amount of time that can fully convince the Avengers that he, too, is capable of heroism. Action is the only currency they will accept, and it accrues value the longer he remains faithful. He stays. He fights, he defends, he attacks—he avenges because he’d sworn to the Captain that he knew how.
One year passes, and then another. There is a room for him in the mansion. Natasha teaches him knife tricks and Bruce lets him read in his library; his book collection is vast, as reading and research help keep him calm. Loki is able to see Thor every day without Asgard politics clouding their judgement, without Odin asking they prove themselves worthy of a crown. Pepper Potts even shows him how to fry eggs, though Loki unthinkingly declares, “Thor needs these lessons more than I,” and Clint laughs so widely that his food shows. Natasha snaps at him to close his mouth, while Thor does not appreciate the sentiment in general.
It is Christmas Day of the third year when a parade, attended by thousands of people lining the streets, suffers an attack. Loki and Steve, who have been watching the colorful procession on TV (Steve because he enjoys it, Loki because he enjoys Steve but can’t say as much) witness it in real time. Steve is on his feet the second he sees the explosion, but Loki observes a moment longer: it's an explosion without fire, something based on clean energy but equal to the effects of a dirtier bomb.
“You go,” Steve urgently tells him. “I’ll get the team, we’ll meet you there,” while in the background a reporter, who cheerfully narrated the parade moments earlier, is frantically describing the disaster. Police swarm the area like ants, as though they are capable of stopping the Grand Terrorist Victor von Doom.
The good news, if it can be called such, is that Doom only ignites one more bomb before the team is able to disable the twelve others placed strategically beneath the city. Loki had shielded the second explosion, containing the impact inside a few dozen feet and saving the lives of the nearby cops, strangers, Avengers—but the blow knocks him to the ground, where he lay sprawled on frozen pavement, vision fuzzy and ears ringing. The air smells of ozone and cold; the sound of sirens and hysterical voices filter through; and snow is falling, heavily now, blanketing the bodies of those who did not make it. Smoke rises delicately through the carnage. Downtown is nothing but the remnant of a battlefield, where abandoned floats stand vibrant and tall, a mockery, laughing.
He slowly rolls onto his side. He first spots Steve’s shield, the large, round thing that only Thor and Steve can lift without difficulty. Just beyond the shield is Steve’s hand, fingers curled in unmoving, half-moon shapes. The rest of him is buried beneath a restaurant that crumbled during the fight.
A memory plays in Loki’s head as he drags himself to his feet, dazed, pain blooming in his peripheral: that city block, three years ago, when Loki had first seen Steve Rogers. Stones had fallen then, too, in what Loki now realizes was a test of the bombs Doom used this morning. Loki staggers over and feverishly begins digging Steve out. Something wet (melted snow, he thinks, or sweat, regardless of the fact it is too cold to sweat) falls from his face when he imagines what lies beneath this rubble.
Steve is still breathing, and even coughs once Loki shoves off the worst of the debris. His bright suit is torn and blackened in places; his head oozes blood. He grins up at Loki and croaks, “Good move with the shielding. I only caught the tail end of the bomb.” But then the smile fades, and he sits up with a grunt of effort. It puts their faces very close together.
“You’re upset,” Steve says. “Is the team okay? Is it Thor?”
Loki touches his own face, disgusted to find Steve is right: it is not snow or sweat that makes warm, salty tracks down his cheeks. A strike against him as a warrior, certainly, but he can’t be bothered to care at this point, and he knows, instinctively, that his secret is safe with Steve.
“I did not wish to finish the job for you,” Loki shortly replies. Steve’s brow furrows at the code Loki has so pointedly employed before his expression clears with understanding: the woman Loki pulled out, crushed but alive, and the mercy he’d given her because no hospital could salvage her skin and bones. “I could not have done it if you’d begged me.”
“You won’t have to do that,” Steve murmurs, a tired, relieved smile on his face. “I withstood it, see? Hardly a scratch. You had my back.”
He touches the sides of Loki’s face, a show of affection that has been unraveling, gently, between them since he first invited Loki inside the mansion. A news crew arrives just outside the explosion’s perimeter, but Loki is used to the press by now and covers Steve’s hands with his own. The snow grows worse; flakes cling to Steve’s eyelashes.
One of the news photographers snaps a picture of them. Steve doesn’t notice, and Loki doesn’t care.
The next day their photo is printed on the front page of the daily paper. Steve and Loki sit at the breakfast table like scolded school children, guilty about a secret they have only just realized themselves. Tony keeps glancing from the photo to Steve, incredulous at his friend’s choice of romantic partners. Clint has already shared his crass opinion while Natasha, in her usual custom, shares no opinion whatsoever.
“Well, I think it’s wonderful,” Pepper declares, to which Loki is grateful. “Congratulations to you both.”
“We’ll send a toaster,” Tony mutters.
“I concur with Miss. Potts,” Thor adds. “My hearty congratulations, brother. Steve Rogers is a fine choice.”
Steve hides behind the editorial section, his ears tinged red at being called a fine choice, but Loki appreciates Thor’s sentiment: no one chooses for Loki. He chooses for himself. Volition has earned him his brother, Steve Rogers, and a place among the Avengers; it has given him someone to fight for, and, conversely, someone to fight for him.
“Freakin’ Sudoku,” Clint suddenly says, yanking the game page from between the first and second page of comics. “Who the hell plays this anyway?”
Without looking up, Steve hands Loki a pen. Loki solves the puzzle in record time.