Steve and Loki get home just as Clint’s starting to think about going to look for them, each laden down by stacks of heavy books. Loki is mystified by the candy but overjoyed with the Thor action figure and its tiny Mjolnir, and immediately runs off with it to... settle down and read one of his new books. He tucks the little Thor into the collar of his shirt so it can see the book too, which Clint supposes is a good enough first step towards teaching an alien boy prince how to play with action figures.
Steve is smiling, but there are lines of tension on his face.
“How’d it go?” Clint asks.
“Loki was great,” Steve says. “He called the librarian ‘Lady Gatekeeper of Knowledge’ with that accent and she nearly adopted him on the spot.”
“Because you look a little...” Clint gestures, trying to convey upset and but in a manly way so we don’t have to talk about feelings or anything.
Steve’s smile slips a little. “I... forgot what it used to feel like, walking around like this. In the house is one thing, but...” he shrugs and tries to joke it off. “Everything sure felt bigger, I’ll tell you that!”
Clint squeezes his shoulder. It’s very bony, and a good deal lower than it ought to be. He swallows hard.
“So what did you get?” He asks, before it can get too mushy. The book Loki’s balancing across his knees looks awfully large. “Is that a textbook?”
Steve sighs, his smile getting a little more real. “Yes. Loki was deeply unimpressed with the children’s selection, although the idea of fiction was kind of a novelty for him. I made him get some kids’ science books, but he insisted on the others too. Some of them are college level.”
Clint eyes the stack, impressed. “Do you think he actually understands them?”
Steve gives him a wry look. “In a house full of your cool older brother’s superhero friends, how hard would you pretend?”
Clint snorts. “True.”
“We are laying up so much trouble for ourselves, you know.”
Startled, Clint gives him a worried look. “What do you mean?”
Steve shrugs unhappily. “I mean, I like little kid Loki. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s nice, he adores his brother. He’s a good kid. And while it’s pretty clear that none of us knows what’s going to happen with this situation, I’d say there’s a pretty good possibility that we’re going to wind up fighting big Loki at some point again. And the whole time... I’m probably just going to be thinking about how much I miss the kid version.”
Clint chews on his lip. “Not to mention how much it will mess him up to find out.”
Steve’s face falls. “God, yes. It would break his heart. We can’t tell him.”
“Do you know what to do?” Clint asks hesitantly. Steve’s their best strategist, but his de-powering has probably shaken him pretty badly for all that he hides it well.
Steve shakes his head. “I can’t think of anything that doesn’t end badly somehow,” he admits.
Clint sighs. They’ll just have to keep trying, he guesses. “Hey - Coulson talked to Strange.”
Steve straightens. “Can he help?”
Clint winces, immediately feeling bad for raising Steve’s hopes. “He says Loki has to do it.”
From the look on Steve’s face, his immediate future has suddenly turned from a return to normalcy into a lifetime of helplessness. “Then I guess we’d better hope Loki’s as smart as Thor’s always said he was.”