Those constellations look like you and I
I always seemed so certain but I was really never sure
But you stayed and you called my name
When others would have walked out on a lousy game
Sting - My funny friend and me
Chapter 1: The loss
"Loki? No, open your eyes. Come on, look at me.“
“Captain?” Loki asked in a raspy voice, forcing his eyes open.
Relief rushed through Steve and he smiled. “Yeah, I’m here. Welcome back.”
Loki frowned at him. “I didn’t go … anywhere.”
Steve’s smile softened. “No, you didn’t. How do you feel?” His eyes roamed over Loki’s body, broken in more places than Steve could count. He shook his head. “Stupid question, forget it.”
Blood bubbled in the corner of Loki’s mouth. “My mother used to say there are no stupid questions – only stupid answers.” His eyes fell close. “Thor always excelled at those.”
“Hey, eyes open,” Steve reminded him. Gently but insistently he shook Loki’s shoulder until he looked up at him once more.
“I am tired, Captain,” Loki confessed quietly and a little too breathily for Steve’s comfort. There was an unnatural pallor to his skin that made the dark smudges beneath his eyes stand out even more. Small tremors were wrecking his body and precious pools of blood were beginning to gather beneath him. With a sinking feeling Steve realized Loki was running out of time. Helplessly, he looked around, hoping for Thor or Wanda or … or even Tony to find them – someone, anyone who knew how to save a dying god.
The rubble around them remained undisturbed and his comm link stayed silent. It looked like it was up to Steve to keep Loki alive long enough until help arrived. “I know you’re tired,” he said softly, “but you can’t sleep, Loki. Not yet – not with that brain injury.”
Loki let out a long breath that rattled alarmingly in his chest. “It is my mind that is hurt, not my brain. You simply perceive it differently.”
“Even more reason for you to stay awake,” Steve argued. “I’m not taking any chances.”
Slowly, Loki blinked up at him. “Would it be so bad if I died here, today?”
“Yes!” Steve said, surprising both Loki and himself with the vehemence behind his words.
“Why?” Loki asked in a small, quiet voice. “I am just another villain.”
Steve shook his head. “That’s not true – and it never was, wasn’t it? I remember what you told us about Thanos - or more importantly what you didn’t say. I don’t think you ever wanted to invade Earth. I think you were forced to attack.”
One corner of Loki’s mouth lifted up in a pale shadow of a smile. “You are more perceptive than your friends, Captain.”
“It’s Steve,” Steve told him gently. Before he could say more the comm link crackled to life in his ear.
“-ogers? Cap, can you hear me?”
“Tony!” Steve said in relief, briefly closing his eyes. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear your voice. Can you lock onto my signal? I am somewhere in the wreckage of Thanos’s ship. Loki’s with me and he doesn’t look so good. We could use a little help right about now.”
For a moment Tony was silent and Steve began to fear the link had broken again. Then Tony said in a clear voice, “Roger that. I have your position. Thor and I are on our way.”
“Thank you,” Steve breathed. He turned his attention back to Loki. “Help is coming. You only need to hold on a little longer.”
“I shall try,” Loki said hoarsely.
Despite his words his eyes slid shut and Steve panicked. “No, Loki, look at me!”
Loki’s eyes remained closed. “Thank you for staying with me … Steve,” he wheezed. Blindly, he reached for Steve’s hand with broken fingers. “You are a … good man.”
In the distance Steve heard the telltale sounds of the Iron Man suit followed by rolling thunder. He reached out to cradle Loki’s hand in his. “Please fight a little longer,” he pleaded. “I promise you can rest as much as you want once we’re out of here. I’ll even get you all the blue jello you can eat, and we’ll play Mario Kart for as long as you want. Just please, don’t let go, Loki.”
Loki didn’t open his eyes, but some kind of emotion flickered across his face and he weakly squeezed Steve’s hand despite the pain it must cause him. “I’ll hold you to that.”
His hand went limp just as Thor and Tony touched down next to them.
Ten hours after the battle for Earth and seven hours after Lady Eir performed what Steve could only call emergency surgery on Loki Steve found himself sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair in the medical wing of the Avengers facility, waiting for a sign that Loki would wake up and be alright. He’d changed out of his tattered uniform and into a pair of hospital scrubs and a white shirt someone had lent him and held vigil at Loki’s side ever since. He did it as much for himself as for Thor whose responsibilities to his people prevented him from staying with his brother for extended periods of time, and he did it gladly despite the exhaustion he could feel settling into his bones.
A quiet hitch of breath caught Steve’s attention and he sat up straighter in his chair. “Loki?” he asked tentatively.
Beneath closed eyelids Loki’s eyes moved rapidly from left to right and back again. Thinking he might be about to wake up Steve pressed a button next to the bed that would alert Lady Eir. She stepped into the room a moment later and quietly assessed the situation.
“I figured I’d better call you in case he wakes up,” Steve said, feeling the need to explain himself under her scrutiny.
Eir turned her sharp eyes on him. “It will be some time until he wakes, Captain Rogers,” she explained matter-of-factly, but not entirely unkindly. “Both his body and mind have suffered severe trauma at the titan’s hands. It was a wonder you could keep him tethered to this world at all after what he’s been through.”
“What exactly happened to him?” Steve asked, quietly.
Eir’s eyes flickered back to Loki. “Things for which no words have yet been created,” she said solemnly. “You see but a fraction of the aftermath. Prince Loki’s wounds reach deep through layers upon layers.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve said helplessly, “but I don’t understand what that means.”
Eir smiled sadly at him. “No, you wouldn’t. For you to understand what Thanos has done to him, not just now but years ago as well, you would have to understand how his seiꝺr works – or magic, as you call it. Since you have no magic yourself there is no way you could imagine what it feels like to have it ripped apart, and away, from you.” She must have seen something in Steve’s face for her eyes softened. “I do not mean to belittle you, Captain. It is much like trying to imagine how a person with bad eyesight perceives the world without the aid of their glasses. You simply can’t but that is not your fault.”
“Does Thor understand?” Steve asked.
“No,” Eir said with a shake of her head. “While King Thor has elemental magic in him and recently learned to tap into that Prince Loki’s magic is much stronger and a vital part of him. To have it torn out and used against him is most akin to losing all your limbs, I’d reckon. It is something that has never happened before, at least not that I know of.”
Steve closed his eyes, trying to imagine how it must feel to lose such an integral part of one’s being. Eir was right: he couldn’t. “So his magic … it is gone?”
“Almost all of it, yes,” Eir confirmed with a grave expression. “It is why he looks like this. What little magic he has left is trying its hardest to repair the damages to his body and mind. Unconscious like this he simply has no energy to spare to shapeshift.”
“But he will again?” Steve asked hopefully. “Thor didn’t say much before he left but I saw the look on his face when he saw Loki after the surgery. It was full of pity.”
Eir regarded him for a moment. “Let us hope Prince Loki retains enough magic to change his appearance once he wakes,” she finally said. “I fear no amount of healing will save him should he remain stuck in this form.”
With that, she inclined her head towards Steve and gracefully excused herself. Steve stared after her, wondering what the history behind Loki’s blue skin and delicate markings was and why neither she nor Thor seemed inclined to talk about it. He decided it didn’t matter. Blue or pale, Loki was still Loki. Neither the color of his skin nor the intricate markings on his body changed the fact that Loki had done his best to prepare them for Thanos’s attack over the last few weeks despite the distress it caused him, and faced the titan himself in the end to buy Tony, Bruce and Dr. Strange enough time to set their trap. Without his sacrifice they’d have never stood a chance.
Looking at Loki now, still except for his rapidly moving eyes, Steve couldn’t help but think how unfair it was that the price Loki had to pay for their victory was so high when the rest of them only had to deal with bruises and a few broken bones.
Five hours later, Steve was startled out of sleep by golden light illuminating the otherwise dark room. Confused, he stared at the small broken images in front of him. They changed too fast for Steve to fully take them in but after a moment of stunned silence he realized there was one constant to all of them: a beautiful tall woman with golden hair and a loving smile.
“He dreams of Mother.”
Steve’s head whipped around in surprise to see Thor leaning against the wall in the corner behind him, arms crossed in front of his chest and a wistful look on his face. “I apologize for startling you,” Thor told him quietly. “You were asleep when I entered and I didn’t want to wake you.”
Steve flashed him a small, sheepish smile. “I must have been more exhausted than I thought. People rarely manage to sneak up on me in my sleep.” He turned back to Loki. “Why are we seeing his dreams? Lady Eir said his magic is all but gone but what I’m seeing is magic, right?”
Thor nodded. “Before Mother taught him to control his seiꝺr Loki often projected his dreams. I remember witnessing some very scary nightmares of his when we were younger.” He sighed and wiped a tired hand across his face. “Maybe it is a good sign that he can still do this.”
Or he burns away precious amounts of magic that he needs to heal because he’s lost the ability to control it, Steve thought grimly. Not wanting to extinguish the hope in Thor’s eyes, he kept that thought to himself and said instead, “He must have loved your mother very much if his mind turns to her for comfort now.”
“They were very close,” Thor said in a voice heavy with grief. “I think she knew what happened to him after he fell from the Bifrost, or at least suspected it. At the time I wondered why she would plead for his life so insistently – now I wish I’d just asked her. It might have spared all of us much pain.” He stepped closer until he could rest his hands on the crisp white sheets of Loki’s bed. “I’d almost forgotten how radiant she was.”
They stared in silence as Loki’s memories of his mother played out before them. Frigga smiled and laughed and grinned at them and it was mesmerizing. Steve tried to commit it all to memory – the way her eyes crinkled with mischief just like Loki’s, the way her smile lit up her whole face, the way her eyes softened and seemed to look down on Loki with so much love. Steve’s fingers itched and he wished he had a sheet of paper and a pencil with him to preserve her for all eternity.
When the memories faded and the room became dark again, Thor placed his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “You should get some sleep,” he suggested without taking his eyes off his brother. “I need not be back with my people for a few hours.”
Steve wondered if Thor was giving up on his own sleep so he could stay at his brother’s side but he didn’t ask. Even though he felt reluctant to leave he also didn’t want to intrude on Thor’s limited time with Loki. With one last look at Loki’s peaceful face he stood up and nodded at Thor. “Call me if he wakes up?”
“Of course,” Thor said. His expression softened. “Thank you for staying with him while I’m away. I really appreciate it and I’m sure Loki would, too.”
Steve smiled at him. “I’ll be back tomorrow at seven.”
Cup of coffee in hand, Steve stepped into Loki’s room the next morning just as Thor was getting up to leave. “Good morning. Any change?” he asked, nodding towards Loki.
Thor shook his head. “Nothing. Lady Eir was here earlier and confirmed he is healing and getting better but I find it hard to believe when I see him like this.”
Reassuringly, Steve clapped him on the shoulder. “Loki is strong. He will pull through, you’ll see.” He held out his cup of coffee. “Here, take this. You look like you need it more than I do.”
Thor took it gratefully. “Thank you. I will be back later this evening.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on him for you. It’s the least I can do after he saved my life,” Steve smiled.
He got comfortable in the plastic chair Thor had vacated and settled in for another long day of waiting and hoping. Loki looked much like he had yesterday when Steve had left. His eyes were closed and much of his body was hidden by either bandages or the blanket that covered him. He looked thin and drawn and Steve could see why Thor would doubt Eir’s words. There was no visible sign his condition was improving and instead of fading the blue and purple bruises on his face seemed even darker than before.
As disheartening as this was Steve still put on a smile and gently touched Loki’s bandaged hand. “Good morning, Loki,” he said into the too-quiet room. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for the rest of the day. I brought the first Harry Potter book with me, so if that is not to your liking you better wake up and tell me because I’m going to start reading now.”
He waited a moment for a reaction.
“Harry Potter it is, then.”
Steve had no idea how long he sat there and read to Loki but his throat felt raw by the time a soft knock came from the door. Through the glass window he could see Tony holding up a can of what Steve really hoped was tea. He smiled and a moment later Tony stepped inside.
“Fruit tea, no sugar, right?” Tony asked by way of greeting.
Steve’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You remembered,” he said.
Tony shrugged and poured them both a cup. “Hard to forget when you’re the only one who likes this stuff. How’s reindeer games?” he asked, nodding towards Loki’s still form. “Still blue I see.”
“Lady Eir says he’s healing,” Steve told him as he marked the page in the book and put it away. Gratefully, he took the cup Tony offered him.
“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Tony asked rhetorically. He took a sip from his tea and grimaced. “Honestly, I have no idea how you can drink this. Anyway, what about you?”
Steve frowned at him. “What about me?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m not the one lying in the hospital bed,” Steve pointed out.
“True,” Tony acknowledged, “but you could have been had he not protected you. That can be difficult to come to terms with.”
Quietly, Steve glanced at Tony over the rim of his cup. “A lot of things are.”
Tony offered him a small smile. “Also true.”
“Look,” Steve began, placing the cup down, “I am sorry for what happened between us. There is nothing I regret more than fighting you. No matter how much I try to tell myself that I was right it all still feels horribly wrong.”
Tony nodded quietly. “Well, you weren’t the only one who made mistakes. Had I trusted you more and just listened, we probably could have avoided the whole situation altogether.” He sighed. “For what it’s worth I am sorry, too.”
They were both quiet for a moment as the words sank in.
“So, where do we go from here?” Steve finally asked.
“Honestly? I have no idea,” Tony admitted. “The only thing I know is that I don’t want things to go back to the way they were before. We’re too good a team to go our separate ways again, Steve.”
Steve smiled. “We are, aren’t we? Once we get past our differences and stubbornness, that is.”
“Maybe we should go to couple’s therapy to sort that out,” Tony suggested with a tentative grin.
It startled a laugh out of Steve. “Can you imagine the headlines?”
“Forget the papers, just imagine Fury’s reaction,” Tony countered.
They grinned at each other and for a moment it felt like it used to be, before everything went terribly wrong between them. “I’ve missed this,” Steve admitted quietly.
“Yeah, me too,” Tony said. He contemplated both Steve and Loki for a moment. “Mind if I stay here with you for a while? I promise I won’t interrupt.” He reached for Steve’s book. “What are you reading to him anyway?”
“Harry Potter,” Steve said, feeling a little self-conscious.
Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “Doesn’t seem like something Loki would enjoy.”
It wasn’t. Steve had suggested reading it a few weeks ago after he and Loki had become close enough to enjoy each other’s company outside of tactical meetings and training exercises. Sharing a tea in mutual silence in the afternoon had soon turned into long talks, mostly about the everyday mundane since Loki had been reluctant to talk about personal things. Apart from giving them a brief account about the destruction of Asgard and Thanos’s subsequent ambush that resulted in Thor getting lost in space and Loki sending the Hulk to Dr. Strange he had not told them much. It was only later, after discussing the chapter of a book they were both reading, that he’d confessed to Steve how he’d bargained for his people’s lives with the Tesseract and double-crossed Thanos by handing him an elaborate illusion. He still remembered the underlying fear in Loki’s voice well when he had uttered the name of the titan.
Startled, Steve looked up at Tony. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “got lost in my head. What were you saying?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tony told him dismissively. He held out the book to Steve. “Let’s get back to Hogwarts, shall we?”
Steve nodded and picked up where he left off. True to his word, Tony stayed quiet while Steve read. A comfortable silence settled between them, only permeated by Steve’s soft voice and Loki’s quiet breaths. When Steve’s voice failed him halfway through the story, Tony gently reached for the book and took over for him. Steve couldn’t help but stare, grateful that Tony was here and willing to give them another chance after all that had happened between them. It seemed like a miracle, and Steve could only pray that he would be fortunate enough to get a second one and Loki would wake up soon.
When Steve took over for Thor the next morning Loki seemed agitated. His eyes were moving restlessly behind his eyelids and his broken fingers were clenched in the bed sheets, trying to reach for something to hold onto.
“He has been having nightmares,” Thor confided in Steve before he left. “Lady Eir tried to help him sleep more soundly but it was to no avail, as you can see.”
“That is because his mind is dealing with a lot of trauma,” Eir said as she stepped into the room. She put her hand over Loki’s brow and for a heartbeat his face was bathed in shimmering golden light. A frown marred her face when she took her hand away. “He is most troubled.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Steve asked quietly, unable to look away from Loki’s distressed face.
Eir shook her head. “I am afraid this is something Prince Loki has to fight on his own. His body remembers the loss of his seiꝺr and tries to pull the scattered pieces together, but his mind refuses to believe. There is nothing but your presence you can offer him as comfort right now.”
“And I am unable to do even that,” Thor sighed, voice full of regret.
“Do not blame yourself, my king,” Eir said earnestly. “Prince Loki would not want you to neglect your duties to your people for him. He will understand.”
Thor smiled at her, though it was tinged with sadness. “Thank you, Lady Eir. Please inform me if my brother awakens.”
“Of course,” Eir nodded. “Allow me to escort you outside.”
After one last look at Loki and a nod at Steve, Thor left the room with Eir. Steve moved the plastic chair closer to the bed and sat down. He’d come here with the intention of reading to Loki again, but the pinched expression on Loki’s face made him reconsider that. He felt utterly helpless, reduced as he was to watching Loki struggle against his demons on his own. Over the last few weeks he’d already seen glimpses of them in moments when Loki unconsciously let something slip about his past, especially about his time with Thanos, and Steve had been at a loss at what to do then as well.
The longer Steve sat with him the more restless Loki became. Steve watched him with growing unease and was about to call Eir in again when suddenly cold blue light illuminated the darkened room. Above Loki’s body images flickered to life, harsh and bright and so different from Loki’s memories of his mother. Dread filled Steve’s stomach when he recognized Thanos’s face in the projections. He watched in horror as Loki’s first meeting with the titan played out, followed by a quick succession of images of all kinds of torture Steve could imagine and even more horrible and cruel things Steve had never thought possible. By the time the memories shifted to Loki’s invasion of Earth and his meeting with The Other Steve felt sick. He’d suspected for some time now that the invasion hadn’t been Loki’s idea, but to have his worst suspicions confirmed so vividly left him reeling. Loki had never sought to explain his actions that day and had instead born all responsibility quietly, and Steve couldn’t imagine why he would do this. From what he had gathered from Loki himself and the memories he’d just seen Loki had been through something unimaginable, formed into a weapon, a simple tool, and used as such. He seemed to be just as much a victim as Clint or Dr. Selvig had been and yet he’d rather have them believe he was a villain than admit to having been used. Steve couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to Loki in his past that he would willingly chose that road.
The images changed to more recent ones and Steve was now looking into the familiar faces of his teammates, pointing several weapons at Loki. Steve remembered that moment well. It had been the day Loki had come to Earth with the remnants of his people, pleading for shelter. Understandably, the Avengers had greeted him with nothing but animosity and suspicion. In the end it had been Steve who had argued that they couldn’t turn the Asgardians away in their time of need to which the others had agreed, and Clint had insisted that Loki be taken into custody until his story could be verified despite Bruce’s reassurance that he was telling the truth.
Loki had gone willingly and Steve remembered the relieved look on his face when he was assured that his people would be well taken care off in the Avengers’ facility for the time being. Even after more than three weeks in an isolation cell with no access to his magic thanks to Dr. Strange Loki had remained nothing but courteous and polite, providing vital information against Thanos whenever they asked. When Thor had finally reached Earth with the help of Peter Quill and his friends, he had confirmed Loki’s story and Steve had insisted that Loki was released from his cell and given his own room, much to the continued grumbling and arguing of Clint, Tony and Dr. Strange.
The memory above Loki flickered and Steve watched himself and the others sitting around a large round table in their meeting room. It could be any meeting, really, but Steve was sure that this was the one where they’d been discussing Thanos and his connection to Loki in detail. He remembered it going on for hours until Loki had suddenly left the room in a rush, looking pale and clammy. Steve had followed him only to stop in front of the bathroom door when he heard sounds of retching interrupted by muffled sobs. He’d stayed there, a silent witness to Loki’s trauma. When Loki finally came out again he was unsteady on his feet and looking like death warmed over. His cheeks had flamed bright red in embarrassment as he’d noticed Steve but Steve had only nodded at him and walked him to his room, telling him that the meeting was over and that he should get some rest. He’d never told anyone what he’d witnessed that day but he made sure to keep discussions about Loki’s past encounters with Thanos to a minimum from then on.
The image changed once more and Steve’s heart clenched as he recognized the halls of Thanos’s ship. Unable to watch their final meeting with the titan play out before his eyes from Loki’s point of view he reached out and gently wrapped his fingers around Loki’s wrist, mindful of his injuries. Loki’s skin was cold to his touch and, much to Steve’s surprise, warmed under his hand and turned pale where his fingers made contact. It wasn’t much and didn’t spread far, but the fact that Loki’s skin could change color at all despite his crippled magic almost made Steve weep in relief.
The harsh blue light of Loki’s memories abruptly faded away and was replaced by the gentle golden hues Steve was already familiar with from Loki’s memories of Frigga. But instead of seeing Loki’s mother Steve was surprised to see memories of himself appearing above Loki’s body. They were in no particular order and Steve didn’t recognize all of them, but one thing stood out: in all of them, Steve was smiling. There was that moment when he came to Loki’s room to welcome him to the team after he’d been released from his cell, followed by the time Steve found Loki staring listlessly out a window in the common room and offered him a cup of tea while preparing one for himself. He watched himself grin at something Loki said though he couldn’t remember the story now. Then, he was offering Loki a gamepad, after which countless rounds of Mario Kart had followed as well as much laughter. One happy memory after another of their brief time spent together flickered to life in front of Steve’s eyes and he watched their friendship unfold in amazement. He’d never realized how much he apparently smiled in Loki’s presence, or how happy he looked when they were together. Most of all, he’d never realized how much those little moments seemed to mean to Loki.
Guilt coursed through Steve. He’d never gone out of his way to spend time with Loki, and now he felt bad about it. In the beginning their meetings had been purely by chance and though more pleasant than Steve had expected he’d never actually planned on spending time with Loki. Their friendship had only developed because Loki had started to appear more often in the common room instead of shutting himself away in his rooms whenever his presence wasn’t needed. Steve could have smacked himself for not seeing it sooner: Loki had sought his company all this time, maybe because Steve was kind to him when no one else would, maybe because he was lonely, maybe because he was bored or maybe it was a combination of all three – but that didn’t change the fact that Loki had gone out of his way to spend time with Steve. It was thanks to him that they’d discovered a similar interest in literature, art and music, a shared love for tea and a fascination for video games that had the other Avengers shaking their heads at them.
Steve’s gaze shifted from the memories to Loki’s pale face. He knew he hadn’t been a very good friend in the past and he regretted that. But the future wasn’t set in stone and he silently promised anyone in the universe who was listening that he would try his best to be the friend Loki deserved when woke up – not because he felt some sort of obligation or the need to atone for his ignorance but because he wanted to do better.
The last memory played out before Steve and the golden light dimmed a little. He saw himself about to be crushed by Thanos and watched in fascination as magic covered him protectively. At the time he hadn’t been able to see through Loki’s barrier but now he bore silent witness to Loki’s fight with the titan, and his ultimate loss. He didn’t understand everything he saw but he knew enough to be able to pinpoint the moment Loki’s magic was being ripped apart. The projection briefly became a glowing ball of white light that slowly dimmed back into golden awareness. When the titan finally threw Loki aside like a broken toy, Loki’s eyes found Steve’s through the rubble around them as his protective barrier vanished. Steve saw the worry plain and clear in his own face as he made his way over to Loki even though the memory became blurry with pain and slowly dissolved into nothingness.
Steve blinked tears out of his eyes. “I am here,” he whispered fiercely, cradling Loki’s hand gently between his own. “I know you’re in a very dark and terrifying place right now and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain you must be feeling, but you have to push through it, alright? There are people here who miss you, who want you back in their lives. You don’t have to wake up now, or tomorrow, or this week. Take all the time you need, but please come back to us, alright? Just … please.”
Loki didn’t wake up, and Steve didn’t expect him to, but his face looked calmer and the hand Steve was holding seemed a little warmer than before. It was a small step but a step nonetheless and if Steve had to hold Loki’s hand for the rest of the day to keep the nightmares at bay he would do it gladly.
Thor came back later than usual that evening. Steve was dozing in his chair, still holding onto Loki’s hand, by the time the door opened. Thor’s face looked drawn and his shoulders seemed heavy with worry, but he broke out into a relieved smile when he spotted Steve.
“I thought you’d already left,” he said as he stepped closer. “I am sorry for being late but the negotiations about relocating my people were … extensive.”
Steve grimaced in sympathy and offered him a reassuring smile. “There’s no need to apologize, Thor. I certainly don’t envy you right now.”
Thor nodded and focused his attention on his brother. “He seems more peaceful than when I left this morning.”
“I think he is,” Steve said, following Thor’s gaze to Loki’s sleeping face. “He was having nightmares, earlier – or bad memories, really. But he’s been sleeping soundly for a while now. All I had to do was touch him.” He nodded towards his hand that was still resting on Loki’s wrist.
Thor’s gaze wandered from Loki’s face to Steve’s hand. He looked intrigued. “Did anything else happen when you touched him?”
Steve nodded. “His skin turned pale again, briefly. It’s back to blue now, though.”
To Steve’s surprise Thor beamed at him. “That is good news, Steve!” Thor said as he clasped Steve’s shoulder tightly. “Have you told Lady Eir about this?”
“Um, no?” Steve confessed, wincing inwardly. “To be honest, I didn’t even think about calling her. I’m sorry.”
Thor shook his head, still grinning at him. “It does not matter. What matters is that you reached him.”
“Reached him?” Steve asked, not understanding.
“I do not know for sure because I do not understand Loki’s magic well,” Thor admitted, “but I think you somehow established a connection with his seiꝺr. Our mother used to do that, connecting her magic to his to help him learn to control it.”
Steve frowned. “I don’t have magic,” he felt the need to point out.
Thor dismissed his argument with a wave of his hand. “Perhaps not, but Loki … he likes you, and his seiꝺr recognizes that. Lady Eir told me he may be in need of an anchor for his magic, and thought me the most likely candidate since that person can only be someone he has faith in - but it seems Loki chose his own way, as he is known to do.”
“I didn’t mean to take your place,” Steve began to apologize but Thor stopped him with a shake of his head.
“You didn’t,” Thor reassured him. “It was neither yours nor mine to take, but Loki’s alone to give.”
“Alright, but what exactly does it mean,” Steve asked, “being an anchor?”
Thor smiled kindly at him. “It means Loki trusts you above anyone else, even me. Him reaching out to you was not a conscious decision on his part but an instinctive reaction. From what Lady Eir tells me his magic is so torn apart that the pieces have trouble reconnecting. With Loki unable to control it yet his seiꝺr has chosen you to hold it together, like glue, I suppose. This connection gives him the chance to heal what he alone cannot. Unfortunately that means you will need to stay close to him from now on.”
“For how long?” Steve couldn’t help but ask, not because he minded but because the last thing he wanted was for Loki to wake up only to learn that he would be dependent on Steve for the rest of their lives – which in Steve’s case should be considerably shorter than that of a typical Asgardian’s.
“Until he is fully healed … or as healed as he can get,” Thor added quietly. “The connection is not permanent, if that is what you fear, my friend. Loki won’t rely on you anymore once he has regained his strength and control over his seiꝺr.”
Steve let all that sink in. He felt a headache coming on as he tried to understand how exactly Loki’s magic worked and what his role as anchor truly entailed. “Just let me make sure I get this right,” he began. “I have to stay in close proximity to Loki for the next few days or weeks or however long it takes so his magic can use me as … as a crutch, so to say. There’s nothing specific I need to do to help him?”
Thor nodded. “That is correct. Your presence is what Loki needs most now that he has chosen you as his anchor, or crutch as you call it. I am sure he won’t mind you talking or reading to him, though,” he adds with a wink.
“Well, if he does all he has to do is wake up and tell me to stop,” Steve said with a wry smile.
It’s as if Loki had listened. A quiet groan comes from the bed and both Steve and Thor turn their heads in surprise and anticipation. Loki’s eyes are barely open but Steve can still make out their red color, a stark contrast to his blue skin, and he would be lying if he said he wasn’t at least a little taken aback.
“Thor?” Loki rasped out. “Captain?”
Steve leaned closer and smiled at him, deciding that the red eyes weren’t important. “I thought we were on a first name basis, Loki.”
Loki looked utterly confused and for a moment his eyes glanced back and forth between Thor and Steve. Then he smiled and fell back asleep.
Steve couldn’t help his fond amusement and the hope bubbling up in his chest. Surely Loki waking up was a good sign. He looked at Thor and found him grinning broadly, as if all his burdens had vanished. He looked younger and more carefree than Steve had seen him in a long time.
“I didn’t think I’d ever hear my brother’s voice again,” he said, pulling Steve into a hug that nearly crushed him. “This is wonderful, friend Steve! With your help Loki will recover, I am sure of it! Thank you!”
Steve laughed, getting caught up in Thor’s excitement for a moment before he gently pushed the Asgardian away. “We should probably inform Lady Eir that Loki has woken up,” he said.
Thor nodded fervently. “I will do so at once.”
He left the room and Steve sat back down, letting out a huff of happy laughter. He reached for Loki’s hand again. “You did great,” he told him quietly.
He watched in fascination as the paleness of Loki’s skin seemed to stretch a little farther where their hands were touching.