It's a Thursday night when Steve falls facefirst into bed and has to roll to the left quickly to avoid sleeping on Clint. There's a little nest on the middle of his bed where he's told Clint a thousand times to stop making nests, but for all Clint's good behaviour, that's one thing he always ignores.
Steve takes a minute to reflect on his day and calm his mind when he twists to the side and down, watching Clint burrow. Most days he gets up early and works the quarry. Thor's old enough now that he's starting to realize how tired his dad gets, but he can't bring himself to say something, and his offer to drop out and get a job got shot down like lightning. Instead he drops the other kids off in the mornings when Steve gets up to get to the quarry at first light. He's always home when they're just getting in, kneeling down for hugs and kisses.
He leaves again around five, after they have dinner together and share stories about their days. Taking in these kids, even if he's exhausted at the end of the day, is the best thing he's ever done, and they deserve all the love he can give. By five thirty he's down the road in the Ancient Greek style restaurant, hauling back and forth massive platters of delicious food for parties of businesswomen and rich actors. It makes his arms burn and his fingers ache, but they tip well, and Tasha needs braces.
When the restaurant shuts he takes a quick jog home to tuck the kids in, Bruce and Clint sharing their bunks (Clint insisted on the top bunk, and Bruce is the mellowest, most agreeable kid that Steve's ever had the pleasure of meeting), Tasha crawling into her bed with its pink princess nets. It has big fuzzy halloween spiders all over it, and they in turn have big fuzzy gold crowns on them that Tony had glued on for her after constructing a way to get into the highest cabinet in the house for the superglue. Princess Tasha's royal spiders, he'd teased her, and she's huffed, crossed her arms and informed him they were Queen Tasha's loyal subjects.
He'd have liked to still put Thor and Tony to bed, but Thor had convinced Tony that they needed to get him up and educated in Awesome Movies and Great Comic Books before he went to high school, and honestly, with Tony's grades the slightly later nights weren't killing him.
It's not a long walk back to the hotel down the road after that, where he ends up bartending to two in the morning. Steve's become a big fan of coffee over the past decade. He's pretty sure it takes up more than half of his body by now, but it keeps him awake and alive and that's good enough in his book.
He's just always so damn tired.
With a small sigh he picks up Clint, propping him up on his shoulder so he can open the door easily without bumping either of them on the wall. Christmas is coming up, and the heating bills are up in this blisteringly cold winter, and Bruce has taken to accidentally breaking things to figure out how they work. If he's honest, he's not sure how he's going to get it all done this year. So instead he tucks Clint in, goes back to his room and passes out.
The first time Steve sees Loki is two weeks before Christmas, on a Monday when his boss sends him home early because the tools are frozen up. He goes grocery shopping instead, getting deals early so he doesn't have to rush on christmas eve. Loki wants the same packet of raisins, the very last one, and Steve's too tired to even realize he's there.
"Put that down," He says in his Dad Is Not Amused With You, Bruce voice, smacking Loki's wrist. A second later, he realizes that his kids don't have fingers that long and pale, and don't wear suits that end up sleeves like that with beautiful, expensive cufflinks. A sense of dread wells up inside him. "Oh God, I'm so sorry."
Loki just looks confused when Steve turns around. In all honesty, he's goodlooking. He's a touch taller than Steve is, with these gorgeous green eyes and longer hair than Steve strictly approves of (Thor is in that rocker stage, too). All of his suit looks expensive and tailormade, soft fabric that Steve knows is soft because he's touched it without invite. He's even carrying a cane. It's ridiculous how well it suits him.
"I don't believe I've been scolded so sincerely in years, and the last time I was at least deserving of it," He remarks, all English accents and amused inflections. It makes Steve feel even more guilty.
"I'm really sorry," He repeats instead of trying to articulate the how and why. Rich men like this one don't get what it's like to foster five kids who probably have nowhere else to go but house to house until they have more issues than there are support groups. As an act of truce, he offers Loki the packet of raisins. "Here."
At least he draws a laugh from Loki with the action, and is waved away with one lovely longfingered hand. The ring on it looks intricate, like a sigil.
"It's quite alright. I understand stress." He smiles, and Steve's too relieved to notice the slight calculating look underneath it. He does notice the hand stretched out towards him though, and he shakes it. "My name is Loki."
"Steve Rogers," He replies. It's almost a shame when he has to leave, but dinner won't make itself even in this day and age. Their goodbyes are short and sweet, and Steve never expects to see him again.
Except he does, when he's just finished throwing out a customer for throwing a glass at him, and turns around to find lush green eyes watching him above a smile.
He can't help but talk to Loki again, and he tells Loki about the kids when he asks, and Loki tells him about being adopted himself. Loki is an amazing man and an even more sympathetic one. He nods in understanding when Steve has to calm himself after discussing how a couple bought Tasha from Russia, then decided they didn't want her anymore, or how they found Clint in a tree and his parents had left to Europe and never come back for him. They talk for a long time, and Steve stays open an hour longer than usual.
After that he thinks it's getting a bit ridiculous.
"Are you stalking me?" He can't help but ask, narrowing his eyes. It's a very reasonable question, after all. He sets down the tall glass of jack daniels and coke in front of Loki, flipping open a pad for his order.
"If I stalked you, I would be much more subtle about it. Pure coincidence." Loki's smile is charming and full of undertones, and this time Steve can't help but notice them and wonder. "The number six platter, please. No spring onions."
Loki has half a dozen small platters to himself, tasting everything and asking Steve on his opinion on the flavours every time Loki flags him down on his way back to the kitchen. He ends up feeling full up on food when he keeps getting few tidbits mixed and matched from the platters.
"Would you like your check, Mr Laufeyson?" He asks at the end, when Loki's fit a dessert somewhere in his bottomless stomach. Steve doesn't know how he manages it. Maybe he works out all day.
"Go out with me," He gets instead of an answer, though the pad in his hand does get tipped, and read upside down.
"No," He replies, shock and confusion warring for dominance of emotions. He can't say he's ever been asked out by a guy before, especially not a guy that looks like a million dollars and talks like every guy's fancy wet dream. "I can't. I have to work a lot. I get... busy. Sorry."
"We'll go to your place, then. I'll bring pizza. All kids like pizza, right?" Loki's conviction is convincing if anything, and Steve isn't sure how Loki talked him into writing down his adresss, work time and pizza preferences on a restaurant napkin. "See you then."
Loki shows up on Friday with the biggest mound of pizza boxes Steve has ever seen. They all smell amazing though, so he lets Loki in on pure instinct and a growling stomach.
"I brought some garlic bread and a movie, too," Loki tells him when they get in the door and he's done calling for everyone to gather in the livingroom. Loki's hands are toasty and warm after he sets the pizzas down to hand Steve the movie. Ice Age, fun for all ages. He's sure Bruce will enjoy it deeply.
Thor practically sleepwalks in, bribed by the smell of pizza with every topping imaginable on it. He rifles through boxes until he comes to the third one, giving it come hither eyes. Thor is shaping up to be an attractive young man, and maybe if it was slightly more sentient the box would respond to the look. Instead if stays there while Thor opens other boxes - the half and half Hawaii and taco pizza that go to Clint and Natasha respectively, the small pepperoni for Bruce.
It's a racket and hassle while Tony bribes Thor into trading a slice of the Frankenpizza for a bit of quattro formaggi. It takes a lot of pleading and puppy eyes for Thor to give up some of his pizza, but in the end he does, and he looks secretly in love with Tony's pizza. Steve imagines it's a matter of principle. When they've all settled he clears his throat, motioning to Loki.
"Mr Laufeyson is our guest, so be nice," He warns, giving them all the sternest look he can manage. Loki ruins it though by telling them to call him by his first name, and that he comes bearing gifts of pizza. He settles next to Tasha on the loveseat with his tuna pizza.
Steve takes his seat on the arm of the chair Thor's sitting in, playfully using his head as an armrest for a second. It's quiet for a moment while the all enjoy their pizza. At one point Tony tips his head back, letting out a pleased noise that sounds something like 'godly'.
"So, Natasha," Loki breaks the silence eventually, drawing him a suspicious but curious look. She peeks at him from under her bright red bobcut, not answering because it's rude to talk with her mouth full. It seems obvious to Loki he has her attention though, because he gives her a winning smile. "Do you like horses?"
From the couch Clint perks up, almost dropping his pizza in an attempt to get up. Tasha rolls her eyes when he scrambles closer, nudging her out of the way to sit between her and Loki. They're young enough to both fit beside Loki, and he nods shyly at Loki. Clint doesn't talk very much yet, but he's forward enough to show his interests.
"I have one," Loki smiles again, at Clint this time. It's a genuine smile, one that makes Steve sincerely think Loki cares about this animal, and it's a soothing thought. He doesn't trust Loki's motivations entirely, but to see him experience human flaws like care and love is nice. "His name is Sleipnir. He's a stallion, but he's very, very wellbehaved. I was there when he was born, and have kept him ever since. He's very, very big."
Clint's staring at him in rapt fascination by the time he's finished, mouth a little bit open and pizza forgotten on his plate. Steve chalks it up as a lucky guess for Loki that he knows what Clint likes, but he can't help but want to see Loki on this mystery horse, too.
"Well," He says instead, standing up and brushing crumbs off his pants. They've been around for a good hour by now, and as much as he wants to stay he'll be late if he doesn't leave soon. Everyone turns to look at him, Bruce pouting a little. He's in that stage where he's started to be angry when Steve goes to work again, but he's not angry at Steve. "This is really nice, but I have to work."
"We haven't even watched Ice Age yet," Loki protests quietly, watching him closely. Steve's sure he can tell by now that he works all these jobs out of necessity, not choice. He'd love to spend more time at home and watch cute movies with nice guys, but he just doesn't have enough hours in the day anymore. It's an unfortunate situation, but he can't help it. "I'll gladly reimburse your missed hours."
Steve wants to protest, because he won't have Loki paying for his company - he's not an escort, refused to go into that business - when he can have it for free another time. Loki is nice, and obviously rich, and Steve doesn't envy Loki specifically, just being in a situation where there's enough money to throw enough that it's possible to pay someone just like that. He doesn't get the chance to reject though, when Thor gets up (and knocks him offbalance in the process, the little bastard) and announces that that will be fine, and he'll call the restaurant to tell them that Steve came down from food poisoning thanks to an unlucky pack of raisins. He's too damn sneaky for his own good.
"Fine, I'm outnumbered," He mutters in the end instead, taking the plates into the kitchen. When he gets back, Tony has Tasha on one shoulder and Clint on the others, showing he's turning out to be a strong young man despite his weak heart. He cuddles them both closed when he sits back down on the couch, Bruce shifting to crawl in nice and close. They have a perfect view of the tv there, and Thor spreads out wide in the armchair, leaving Steve to sit next to Loki.
Loki smells nice, like amber and lemon, with a faint undertone of leather. He radiates warmth too, especially when he leans over to tug Steve against him, admonishing him for not getting comfy. From Loki's corner they can see the tv well too, and Steve has to admit Loki is very, very comfy man despite looking a little bony.
"I'd like to talk to you later," Loki whispers to him later, in the middle of an action scene that has everyone engrossed. Steve nods absently, storing the information for later use. He's slide further down the loveseat, his legs hanging over the arm of it, leaning back against's Loki's chest. One of Loki's arms is curled around his waist, his hand on Steve's hip.
It ends quickly enough when time flies by, and the kids look plenty tired.
"I'll take Clint up to bed," Loki smiles a little, stretching and cracking his back. Clint has taken to him most, and he doesn't seem to mind a practical stranger putting him to bed. It doesn't hurt his view when Loki agrees to let him come by and have a go on Sleipnir if Steve agrees to it (which he will, because he's a great big softy).
Tasha gives him a narrow eyed look, but lets him say good night to her anyway, and Bruce passes out cold before they can even try. Tony and Thor are still in the livingroom when they're done, so Loki tugs him into the kitchen quickly. His expression is closed, and he folds his arms.
"Look, Steve, here's the truth of the matter," He starts, giving Steve a harsh, sinking feeling in his tummy. Nothing good can come of those words, and he hopes Tony and Thor don't listen in when their dad gets dropped like a hot rock for being domestic, or poor, or just too goddamn nice. He's only just gotten over Nick deciding he was too nice to date, that Nick felt like he couldn't match up that niceness, and Steve was better off with someone just as nice as him. Steve doesn't care if someone's just like him; he just wants someone to love and be loved by in return.
"I like you, I do, but I really asked you out to get a real feel of your personality. I need a..." Loki hesitates for a second, thinking, and in that second Steve's mind fills in a thousand and one possibilities running from the good to the bad to the horrendous. "Live in assistant."
Of all the possibilities, that's not really one Steve had anticipated. Something in him feels a little disappointed, because he'd felt more than employment in Loki tugging him closer, but maybe that was just testing out how laidback he was. His thoughts are offtrack, and he feels confused and angry all at once. Why in the hell would he ask him out just for that, instead of a job interview? It felt like leading him on.
"I don't know," He sighs out eventually. Living in would remove all his worries about rent and food, but why would Loki take in a guy with five kids? Maybe his house is big enough that Loki would never come across them, he thinks bitterly for a second before he berates himself for it. Loki's a nice guy. "I need to think about it. Give me till after Christmas."
It's not a long time to ask him to wait, according to Steve. Christmas is only a week away, the decorations have gone up in most of the house, and he's already gotten most of the gifts (he buys them throughout the year, so he's not faced with a mountain of costs). It's a relief when Loki nods, offering to drop him off at the hotel for works. It's a nice offer, especially since it's so cold out. They part amiably, with Loki smiling to himself mischievously.
Steve thinks on it a bit in the coming week, but he figures out just how serious Loki is when he gets up on Christmas morning and sees Thor sneaking back into his room fully dressed. Thor is a teenager, and as a rule teenagers don't believe in getting up early in the mornings, even Christmas morning. He brushes it off though, waking up his little nest of children.
Bruce, Clint and Tash had crawled into Bruce's bed overnight he finds out when he goes for him first, and he wakes them with a smile, swinging Tash onto his shoulder in her Wonder Woman pajamas, grabbing Clint and Bruce into his arms. Tony emerges from his bedroom in Thor's arms when Steve comes past. It's obvious he didn't have much choice in getting up, because Thor's carrying him like a princess, and Tony is yelling.
They go downstairs with their respective bundles of people, and Steve stops cold, because he didn't buy that many gifts, definitely did not buy that many gifts, and he's sure he didn't forget it. The kids clamber downwards quickly though, and Thor carefully avoids his suspicious looks while he sets up the video camera.
"Who wants their gifts from Santa?" Thor asks in a singsong voice as he plops down near the tree, holding up the first one with a smile. He gets back a chorus of mes, even Tony joining even. No one was too cool for Christmas in the Rogers household. The gifts are increasingly lovely when they get opened, matching the ones he's gotten perfectly, all signed mysteriously from Santa in a cursive, elegant hand. Natasha gets some lovely dresses, and a jeweled pink and red sword to match, and she thrusts it at Tony with a loud engardé, uncaring that the pink clashes terribly with her hair, and the blue dress.
Clint gets some toy bow and arrows, letting him pretend to be robin hood in his fancy little hat, and when he vows to rescue Natasha, she pouts at him firmly, vowing to put him in a tower and get the Thor dragon to guard him from the Knights trying to rescue him. He pouts at her in return, guarding the rest of his loot.
The others get similarly amazing gifts, Bruce staring at his science kit in fascination while Tony slides slowly closer, a hand firmly on his own gifts. Thor has just the one - a gorgeous fender jaguar guitar that he strokes with the expression of a man seeing the face of god. Before he brings himself back to the real world, Steve can almost see a little tear of joy
"Get together," He calls, waving his arms about. They take a picture for Santa every year so he can see how happy everyone is with their gifts. The kids - he suspects mainly Thor and Tony - pitched together too, giving him a gift that when he opens it blows him away. He doesn't talk at length of his love for older music, but they've picked up on it nonetheless with the half a dozen LP records by his favourite artists. He'd had to compose himself for a second. "Say cheese!"
The rest of the day goes loudly and enthusiastically, before his youngest seem to start dozing off, and he puts them in bed for a nap. He turns around to find Tony grinning at him, holding a prettily wrapped small package. He thrusts it at Steve before fleeing back downstairs again.
It's also from Santa, and Steve can't help but take it into his room to open instead of downstairs. It opens easily, dropping out a folded sheaf of paper,and a lovely new watch. You needn't worry about the kids. I want them to be happy, too. it tells him, setting his mind firmly at rest on that matter. Loki has made their christmas amazing, without intruding on it uninvited. The unexpected kindness sets a lump in Steve's throat, and he has to set down the watch to focus on his breathing for a moment.
Loki calls him the next day, and Steve convinces himself to not feel guilty about ignoring it. Instead he calls a family meeting, letting everyone settle down. Approaching this is the hardest thing he's ever done, harder than deciding to take in kids with nowhere else to go, and harder than deciding to leave home early.
"How would you feel," He starts, looking them all in the eye. Thor stares right back at him with an unreadable look. "If we all went and stayed with Mr Laufeyson? I'd see all of you a lot more..."
The reactions he gets are mixed. Thor stays quiet with that same unreadable look while Tony starts looking thoughtful. He's surprised that Nat doesn't protest but instead nods; it looks like she's made up her mind on him. Bruce and Clint protest loudly, but Clint is quickly convinced when Tony reminds him of Sleipnir. Bruce is harder to convince, but Steve beckons him closer, tugging him in for a big, soft hug and a kiss on the top of his head, reassuring him he'd still be able to do all the things he loved.
In the end they come to a consensus; they'll try it, but they reserve the right to hate it. Loki doesn't call back until the next day, in the end. He starts a greeting.
"I'll do it," Steve blurts out, cutting him off. "I'll accept. If you're still offering."
"I am," Loki tells him, sounding a little breathless. After that everything's a blur, they pack boxes and suitcases quickly, moving Thor and Tony's beds into Steve's room on the last night before they go, ordering in Chinese and prawn crackers and eating it all together. Eventually he gets his kids close, waking up with the crack of dawn to pack the moving van.
Loki's house is impressive at the very least, with plenty of land and rooms. It's more than a little intimidating to Steve if he's honest - he's never been faced with this kind of situation before. But it's still Loki that comes out, in a stunning suit with a stunning scarf, who takes hold of Steve's hand in one hand, and Bruce's in the other to lead them up to the house. The inside is as lovely as the outside, and he sets out to explore after he's put his things away in the room he's picked (out of the ridiculous amount offered).
Eventually he walks into a young lady with a lovely face and brown hair, and his heart sinks a little. She doesn't look related to Loki, so he could only guess she was his girlfriend.
"Ah, I'm Steve," He introduces himself. She gets a speculative look, looking him up and down as she shakes his hand. She seems to think for a moment before smiling at him.
"Jane. Loki's sister," She tells him, and it clicks in his head that Loki mentioned he was adopted. She's very pretty, he realizes again now he's not being jealous. She frowns when he mentions being Loki's assistant, but doesn't comment on it, excusing herself instead. Loki looks a little guilty next time he sees him, but it's really not up to Steve to pry.
Steve settles in just fine over the next few weeks, though he gets yelled at by people in foreign European languages at least every other day over the phone when he answers it for Loki. In general they go on for over five minutes before slamming the phone down angrily, and Loki laughs it off every time he mentions it with a hint of concern. He's still not sure what Loki does, but it has a lot to do with locating items, returning them to their rightful owners, and pissing people off in the process. It's only two-thirds a good process, Steve thinks.
He walks around the house with Loki a lot, just talking. He copies a lot of things too, but more often than not he just gets them both coffee while they stay in one of the sitting rooms, and he plays with the kids or makes phone calls asking questions. It all depends on where the sunlight falls where they go.
Loki gets on great with the kids - he takes Clint out riding with him slowly one morning, showing him the ropes - and he gets Natasha kickboxing lessons when she asks for them. She takes to them like a fish to water. It's almost amazing to him how well Loki gets on with them, and it makes his heart skip a beat sideways sometimes when he watches Bruce sleep on the couch next to him, or when Tony finds the cellphone and brings it to them, just looking purely amused at Steve almost flailing at Loki to make people less angry.
Jane drops by sometimes, and Thor takes a liking to her, showing off his guitar and his skills whenever he happens to have it with him, and she seems confused but amused and willing to tolerate him. He's a young man, he has a lot of ambitions.
Loki comes to parents' evenings, too, accompanies him to bakesales and charity events, and comes with him when Clint wants to learn how to swim and gets his first certificate for it. He even lets Clint's class and their parents come over for dinner after a long hike in the area, smiling graciously at the teacher. She seems very taken by him, though she edges away from Sleipnir when Clint confidently strolls up with half the class in tow, beckoning Sleipnir's head downwards to stroke his handsome face with a proud look.
Near the end of spring, Tony's school decides to put on a play, and Tony gets cast as Romeo. Loki rants for a long time to Steve in private about teenagers thinking it's a beautiful love story when it's anything but, and at one point they don't notice Tony walking in until he agrees and engages Loki in one of the most tedious debates Steve has ever witnessed. Until then he hadn't really noticed just how much Tony has grown. Loki doesn't complain when Steve laments how fast his children are growing up afterwards.
The play goes amazingly well when they go - Loki in the same suit and scarf he'd worn to come out and meet them on the first day he'd arrived - and the crowd cheers and claps and gasps in all the right places. The student council president smiles at the end, mentioning that they'd like to give out three awards - best actor and actress, and an honourable mention - before everyone goes. The best actor and actress deserve their spots and recognition despite not being main characters, but Loki has to rub a comforting hand over Steve's back when Tony gets the honourable mention. He's just so proud of him.
"Yeah, thanks for this," Tony starts, going to make a tiny speech. He's charismatic among all his other good traits that Steve likes to tell everyone about. "I really enjoyed playing Romeo. I'd like to thank both my dads for helping me with how to play him, and of course my Juliet for looking lovely enough to kiss."
Steve doesn't really hear the rest of the speech, though all the people he's come to know over time being a dad to kids from this school congratulate him on his son's performance and his wonderful new relationship. Loki interrupts with thanks before Steve can protest that they're not a couple.
He stays quiet on the car ride home, listening to the radio. Tony's gone out with friends to celebrate their success. He thinks a lot, too. When they get inside he can't help but grab onto Loki by the arm and turn him around.
"What are we?" He asks, confused and frustrated and hopeful all at once. The door blows closed with a click, and Loki shakes him off so he can hang up their coats silently. His shoulders are tense, but his face doesn't betray any of the tension when he turns back around. "Well?"
Loki doesn't say much, just steps closer and closer until they're pressed together when Steve doesn't take a step back to avoid getting walked into. They're chest to chest when Steve opens his mouth again, and Loki claims it with unexpected passion. They stay there for a good ten minutes, with no rush and no urgency, getting used to the feel of eachother.
"Aren't we partners?" Loki asks, and there's a lot of implications in that word that Steve isn't sure he's ready for before he realizes he's already a part of it. He wakes Loki up in the mornings and they have coffee together before the kids go to school, and sometimes he rests his head in Loki's lap when they watch a movie instead of working, and they raise these kids together now. Loki's right.
Steve nods, and drags Loki in for another kiss. Partners.