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Freefall

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Loki’s behaviour changes after Thor’s speech, though not in a way Thor expected. He still mostly ignores them, but Thor catches him occasionally reacting to things that go on around him. He also takes to sleeping for long periods of time, wherever he may be and whatever else might be going on around him.

Thor, Jane, and Erik do not know what to make of this.

“On the one hand, he seems to be more aware, and that’s a good sign,” Erik says. “On the other hand, there’s the sleeping. I thought depressed people did that.”

“They do,” Thor says with the authority of Chapter Three of Depression - Symptoms and Treatments behind him.

“And he still won’t talk to anybody. Or look at them.”

Thor sighs. Parts of his speech, he feels, came out very well. Parts of it did not. At any given moment he cannot decide if what he said to Loki was helpful or broke him more thoroughly. Perhaps Loki does not know either.

Thor does not like it when his brother doesn’t know things. It is not the correct order to his universe.

“Have you given any more thought to what we were talking about yesterday?” Jane asks.

“A little,” Thor says reluctantly. “I am sorry, Jane, but I do not think I am convinced. Loki has ever been a private individual, and slow to trust - I do not think he will take well to a stranger’s interest in his intimate affairs. I did find your books to be helpful,” he offers, and Jane looks a little encouraged. Thor is glad he can bring her comfort - he knows all too well the helplessness of not being able to come to the aid of one in agony.

“Excuse me?” A stranger’s voice says from the doorway. “I’m looking for Thor.”

“And you are?” Erik says warily before Thor can respond.

The man comes further into the building towards them. He is tall and well-built, with short sandy hair and a polite disposition. He looks quite familiar.

“Agent Coulson sent me,” he says. “I’m - “

“Steve Rogers, aka Captain America!” Thor says triumphantly. “The son of Coul showed me your photograph and associated documentation. I did not know he would have you visit.”

On the couch, Darcy utters a shockingly high-pitched noise and then claps her hands over her mouth.

“Ah,” the man says, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Yes. I mean, I am.”

Jane tugs on his arm. “Thor,” she whispers, her eyes wide. “I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be a secret.”

“We’ve all signed SHIELD’s confidentiality paperwork,” Erik says resignedly. “Send Coulson over with more if he makes an issue out of it. Come on, Jane, let’s give them space to talk.”

“I apologize,” Thor says, red-faced, as they retreat to the back of the room and busy themselves pointedly. “I did not realize.”

Steve shrugs. “It’s all right. Would you like to take a walk?”

Thor beams at him. “You are one of Coulsson’s warriors! We must spar.”

Steve laughs. “All right. Do you have a practice area?”

Thor leads him out beyond Jane’s trailer. Mjolnir is still sitting in the dirt, undisturbed, and Thor feels a pang of remorse for the reminder of his treatment of Loki just the other day.

“You have come to recruit me for Coulsson’s questing party?” He asks as they walk towards it, pushing the memory away. “I am honored, but I will say to you what I said to him: my duty is first to my brother.”

“Oh, no,” Steve waves this off. “I mean, he probably hoped it would work as a recruitment speech, but he sent me because I might be of some help to you. How much of the file on me did you read?”

“Not much,” Thor admits.

“I’m originally from... an earlier point in time,” Steve says. “I was frozen for about seventy years. I don’t know how things go where you’re from, but here a lot can change in that much time. This world has some similarities to what I remember, but it’s incredibly different.”

“Coulsson believes we may be of use to each other as we live in this new place,” Thor realizes.

Steve smiles. “Yes, exactly.”

“He is a clever man,” Thor says approvingly. It is a worthy plan, and a thoughtful one. Thor is gladdened by it. “He reminds me of my brother in that way. They are both much in love with taking the most circuitous route possible.”

Steve laughs. “That sounds like Coulson, all right. How’s your brother doing, if you don’t mind my asking? Coulson said he was sick.”

Thor sighs. “I am unsure. It is a malady of the mind - he has suffered much, and I fear... it may have undone him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Thor smiles with effort. “But you did not come to hear such distressing things! We will fight, and then we may talk more later.”

Steve is a good fighter - quick and thoughtful. He has been trained in a style most unlike Thor’s own and it makes for a refreshing exchange, although Thor finds himself thinking of how much Sif or Hogun would enjoy participating and has to push the thought away before he loses concentration completely.

They engage in several bouts and then retire, breathless and dusty, to Jane’s headquarters for refreshments. Jane looks up from her work as they enter, smiling, but does not interrupt.

Loki and Darcy are still sitting on the couch - Loki asleep and Darcy kneeling backwards to look out the window and watch them fight. Thor strongly suspects she has been capturing images on her pocket device and wonders if he should mention it to someone.

“So, tell me,” Steve says, when they have discussed the match and commiserated over several bewildering Midgardian customs. “What’s your brother like? Usually, I mean.”

Thor looks towards the couch and has to laugh a little, unamused. Loki now is a tall, thin man with tousled hair and an unkempt appearance. Despite Thor’s best efforts he has lost considerable weight and muscle mass, which on an already lean frame is alarming. His gaze is dull and unfocused. There is little of Loki now to recall the man he once was.

“Clever,” Thor says sadly. “He saw all and understood it, as well. He was ever one for playing tricks and making mischief. There are times - “ he hesitates. It is something he has been reluctant to say to himself, let alone out loud. “There are times when I wonder if this isn’t a prank he is playing on me, a trick to accomplish some end I cannot think of. But Loki’s tricks were meant for amusement - “ he falters. “I admit they could sometimes be mean-spirited, but only if he had been provoked. A trick of this level of cruelty would be...”

Steve nods sympathetically. Thor smiles with effort. “He was a master of magic, you know. He could change his shape, create illusions that were so real you could touch them and think them genuine.”

Steve looks impressed. “Golly. I mean, that might be common on Asgard, but you should know it’s pretty rare here. Magic? Really?” He shakes his head, a smile hovering on his lips. “I’d like to see that, I won’t lie.”

Thor smiles, pleased that Steve appreciates Loki’s talents. “It is not common on Asgard, either. To be honest, Loki’s interest in it was considered a bit unusual. He was very skilled, though.”

“I’m surprised. I would have thought it would be useful.”

“Well, yes, but...” Thor hesitates. “To use trickery to best one’s enemies, to avoid open confrontation and attack through devious means, it is...”

“Dishonorable?” Steve guesses.

“Well... unfair, perhaps. In a practice bout like the one we just had, Loki might have created duplicates of himself, so you could not tell which the true attacker was. He could have blinded you or turned the ground to quagmire beneath your feet. It would not have been fair. Useful, as you say, but not something to be done unless all other means had been exhausted.”

Steve nods, looking thoughtful.

“I fear I am giving you an inaccurate impression of my brother’s character,” Thor confesses, worried. “Truly, he is also a most loyal companion and has a wonderful sense of humor. His advice is often very wise.”

Except, of course, when Loki is pursuing other agendas, Thor’s mind supplies. Unless he has some alternative plan, and then he is... untrustworthy.

Thor pushes this thought aside. Even when Loki is acting to further other goals, his aims are always - frequently - often for the best. Thor’s banishment had been part of a larger plan, and it had been painful, but necessary. The things that had come after it had been... aberrations.

“I believe you,” Steve says reassuringly. “He sounds like a swell guy - I’d like to meet him, someday. When he’s feeling better, I mean.”

Thor smiles, grateful. “I think he would like you, Steve Rogers aka Captain America. I hope you get the chance.”

Loki would probably have a lot of fun with that shield, for one thing.