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Finding True North

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There is not a soul alive who could deny that Loki Laufeyson has had a hard life. He may have grown up privileged but always in shadow, always prepared to defend his family’s kingdom, never allowed to forget the monsters that could attack at any moment. He’d suffered beatings, he’d fallen through the black void of space. He’d been tortured, imprisoned, forced to act against his will, and he’d lost almost everything he had ever held dear. He knew what it was to be in a state of constant terror, to be so afraid of what might happen that you begin to withdraw from everything else that could.

Oh yes, Loki had long since made a bedfellow of fear.

And yet... nothing had ever scared him quite so much as the sight of Iron Man falling from the sky.

Loki couldn’t get there fast enough. He was only a second too late, arriving just in time to hear the solid crunch of Anthony’s body against the ground. There was a moment afterward where Loki felt nothing at all, the horrible sound echoing through his mind as his vision tunnelled on the battered red and gold armour. But the world came rushing back with terrible sense of desperation, and uncaring of the people staring curiously through office windows, of the smartphones recording everything that was happening– uncaring of what people would think, Loki threw himself onto the asphalt beside the mayfly mortal he had come to care far too much for, his hands hovering over the battered metal as he searched for a way to get it open that wouldn’t injure the human further. 

He needed to get the armour off, he needed to see Anthony, to know if he was alive

JARVIS was in Loki’s ear, telling him that the mechanisms were too destroyed for the AI to open the suit.

He used his seiðr to try and pry the metal away without jostling any probable injuries, his fingers scrambling, panicking—

Captain Rogers arrived just as Loki managed to disassemble it, the pieces falling away under the direction of his magic and scattering across the street. He would have to trust that the other Avengers would clear them away– Anthony wouldn’t want his suit falling into the wrong hands, but Loki dared not turn from the mess of broken flesh before him.

“Tony—” Rogers gasped, but Loki tried not to pay him any attention, narrowing his eyes as he considered the damage.

It was hard, by the Nine it was hard to look past the blood and force away the emotion coursing through his veins, to focus only on the familiar flow of seiðr through his body. It was impossible to push away entirely, so he allowed it to fuel his frenzied thoughts instead as he lay his hands gently upon what was left of Anthony’s torn skin.

Rogers let him do it. He didn’t particularly like Loki, but he’d known him long enough now to trust that he was only trying to help. Besides, Rogers might have had the greater claim to kneeling over Anthony’s battered body, but he could do nothing to save his life. But Loki could.

And Loki would.

Fierce determination blazed just as brightly as his seiðr, feeding his efforts as he pushed all that he could through his hands and into the damaged body before him. It wasn’t precise, and it lacked all of the finesse that healers should possess. It was messy and– and desperate, and it probably shouldn’t have worked—

But Loki forced the world to move to his will, pushed blood back inside veins and arteries, shoved broken bones in place, and pulled torn muscles to their proper positions. Healing had never been Loki’s forte, but he was used to attempting the impossible, to working his power in ways that most others hadn’t even begun to imagine. Frigga had taught him that anything could be accomplished with enough force of will, and Loki’s lack of skill was by far compensated for by his desire– no, his need to succeed.

Because if Anthony died… Loki thought that he just might die with him.

It was pathetic really, and if Loki hadn’t been so hopelessly used to being second best he probably would have cut ties a long time ago. But he’d come to adore the ache in his chest, because even if being reminded of Anthony’s upcoming marriage to Captain Rogers tore Loki to shreds, the pain meant that Anthony was still there. He still spent time with Loki, and they were still friends. That was more precious to Loki than anything, and it was worth a little pain.

It wasn’t something that he could cope to lose.

Loki had been in love with Tony Stark for going on two Midgardian years, and he wasn’t going to allow something so insignificant as a Doombot to extinguish that bright spark.

He was so focused that he didn’t flinch when he felt more people arrive at his back, not even hearing their assurances that Doctor Doom had been defeated and taken into custody in Loki’s absence. He did take note when they said that Iron Man’s sacrifice had been what allowed them to gain the upper hand in the fight– but only by way of a short growl to remind them that actually, Anthony hadn’t sacrificed anything.

He was going to be fine.

The Avengers fell silent after that, and even the slowly amassing crowd made very little noise. Iron Man was a hero, and it was humbling to see the respect that he had earned through nothing but hard work and selflessness.

Still Loki stayed, through the pain in his knees as they pressed against the asphalt, through the noise of the news helicopter roaring overhead, through Rogers’ admittedly decreasingly panicked gasps, and right through Loki’s own exhaustion. It was only when JARVIS finally let him know that Anthony had made a full recovery, healed without even a scratch left behind to mar his skin, that Loki slumped to the ground and allowed Rogers to take his place.

He wanted nothing more than to stay kneeling at Anthony’s side, because despite the fact that he knew he didn’t really belong, he wanted to be able to watch the rise and fall of Anthony’s chest, to feel the mortal’s living heartbeat against the tips of his fingers. But he was so, so tired, and he likely would not have been able to regain his feet had Thor not helped to steady him.

“You did well, brother,” Thor said, squeezing Loki’s shoulder in a manner that was almost painfully nostalgic. They were on better terms now than they had been, but still lacked the easy camaraderie of days gone by.

“I know,” Loki replied tiredly, allowing the touch to remain for a second before shrugging it away.

“I am sure Stark will be grateful.”

“Of course he will,” Loki said, his voice a little harsher than before. But when Thor merely watched him with that irritatingly sympathetic expression, Loki glanced away. “I did only what any of the others would have done, if they had been able.”

“Loki,” Thor said softly, reaching out like he was going to touch Loki again but pausing just shy of his shoulder. Loki wasn’t sure that he liked the way that Thor’s voice deepened at the end of his name, a sure-fire sign that he was about to say something that would make Loki uncomfortable. “I am merely trying to be sure that you are well.”

Once again, Loki found it difficult to hold Thor’s gaze.

For all that Thor could sometimes be ignorant about what was happening around him, he was far from unintelligent. When he cared to use them, Thor’s observation skills were actually annoyingly accurate. Loki was just used to using misdirection–

He didn’t want Thor to see just how pathetic he truly was, and he just had to hope that Thor had not already worked it out.

“Come on,” Thor said firmly, clearly realising that Loki wasn’t going to reply. “I know that you are tired, but I also know that you will not rest until you have seen that Stark is awake and well.”

Ah. Well. That was unfortunate.

—•—

The journey to the hospital was agonisingly long, the yellow car moving far slower than any form of transportation Loki was used to. But Rogers had taken Anthony in the quinjet, and Loki was far too exhausted to risk transporting himself. Loki had hoped that they could commandeer one of the police vehicles, but Thor had dragged him over to one of the bright yellow ones before Loki could offer a protest.

Between their armour, Thor’s bulk, and Mjölnir, there wasn’t much room in the back of the cab, even with them both holding their helmets in their laps. Loki felt like he’d been stuffed inside a tin can, and his anxiousness and nervousness over what awaited him at the hospital did not help at all. It was small and cramped and hot, the air conditioner didn’t seem to be working and the seats had a faint scent that was suspiciously close to that of regurgitated food.

Thor, though, was a bubble of energy despite the grim setting, fiddling and bouncing and refusing to sit still. Unfortunately, his general brightness seemed to encourage interaction, and Loki almost groaned in annoyance when the woman in the front seat began to talk.

“I saw what happened to Iron Man,” the driver said, her voice low and sad. “I’m sorry. Is he going to be all right?”

“Be quiet, and drive faster,” Loki snapped, not wanting to be reminded of the blood that still stained his hands. It was satisfying, though, to watch the woman tense in her seat, clearly uncomfortable with her back to Loki’s hostile glare.

“Loki!” Thor gasped. “She is only trying to be kind!” Then, upon meeting Loki’s unapologetic gaze, he shook his head in exasperated acceptance and leaned forward against the centre of the partition, forcing Loki to press even closer against the window. “I apologise for my brother,” he said. “He cares for—”

“Thor,” Loki hissed. “If you value your life—”

“There is no need for concern,” Thor said, his bright voice betrayed by the spark of amusement in his gaze. “I am sure that–” He paused, and checked the driver’s ID tag, “–Emily is a very competent driver. We will not come to any harm while under her care, even if we do engage in conversation.”

Loki refused to rise to the bait. It was clear as day what Thor was trying to do, and while Loki half appreciated the attempt at distraction, it wasn’t enough to remove the image of Anthony dying in his arms from his mind.

At least Emily appeared to have been scared into silence, and Loki felt no remorse as he revelled in the quiet that followed. In the uncomfortable and cramped space, Loki was glad for at least some small measure of peace, even if it wasn’t enough to silence his darker thoughts.

When they finally pulled up outside the hospital, Loki unfolded himself from the car and strode inside without a word. Thor was slower, needing more time to extract himself from the too-small vehicle, and Loki made it to the desk before he had even entered the building, the crowd of humans parting for him the moment they saw his blood-stained armour.

The harried nurse at the desk spared Loki only a fleeting glance as he continued to tap at his computer. “Who are you here to see?”

“Tony Stark,” Loki said firmly.

The nurse looked up properly at that, his lips already beginning to form a dismissal, but just as the mortals in line had, he recognised Loki immediately and uttered out a ward number with his next rather nervous breath.

Thor caught up as Loki made it into the elevator, his grin finally gone. He twisted Mjölnir in his hands as the elevator brought them up to the designated floor, his eyes distant as if caught in a good memory.

When they reached the ward, though, they encountered a problem.

Anthony didn’t have any family, but they had allowed Captain Rogers in on the basis of their engagement. Unfortunately, that courtesy could not extend to anyone else, and the nurses refused to allow Loki and Thor into the room.

Thor, predictably, put up a bit of a fuss, and in moments Rogers entered the hallway through a door to the left. Now that he knew which room was Anthony’s Loki could have stolen in himself, but it proved unnecessary. With both Thor and Captain America standing before her, the nurse had not been inclined to argue.

Loki was mystified at the out-of-character acceptance, but Rogers explained before Loki even thought to ask.

“You’re his friend, and he’ll want to thank you,” Rogers said with a casual shrug. “You saved his life.”

It was close to what Thor had said, and Loki could do nothing about it but avert his gaze and try to keep from grinding his teeth. He didn’t want to be thanked.

He knew better than to complain, though, recognising that Rogers’ misguided evaluation was the only thing allowing him to enter the room. He would have bent over backwards and done whatever Rogers asked if it meant that he could be in that room to see Anthony wake up.

The room was quite large, with only the one bed pushed up against the middle of one of the walls. Other than that, though, it was hardly interesting– white and sparsely decorated, the only other furniture a hard chair by the bed and an armchair in the corner. Loki left his helmet by the door and made straight for the bed, finding the person lying in it of far more importance than the décor.

There were a few machines in the room, but they were all turned off and pushed to the side, not a single one connected to Anthony. Loki took that as a good sign, but pressed his fingers to the inside of Anthony’s wrist to feel his heartbeat for himself just the same.

Anthony’s heartbeat was slightly irregular but that was normal for him since the surgery, Loki knew. It was strong and at least at a healthy frequency, and Loki felt the final lingering wisps of his fear fade away.

Anthony truly was going to be fine.

Rogers passed time by pacing back and forth, his footsteps consistent enough that they faded into the background, and Loki took the time to simply soothe his nerves with the sight and feel of the person he had almost lost. He did not know how long he stayed there, eventually sitting in the chair but keeping his fingers curled around Anthony’s wrist, assuring himself with that strong beat while his gaze followed the rise and fall of Anthony’s scarred chest where it rested under the thin hospital sheets.

“Anthony would hate this,” Loki said into the silence, speaking more to himself than due to any intention to be heard.

“What do you mean?” Rogers asked with a mix of curiosity and concern.

Loki shrugged, not bothering to look away from Anthony’s peaceful expression. “He doesn’t like hospitals.”

“I know,” Rogers said, and Loki could hear the frown in his voice. “But you saw his injuries. He needed to get the proper care.”

Loki nodded, too tired and too used to not being heard to bother chasing that debate. He hadn’t meant for Rogers to hear, anyway.

Rogers returned to his pacing, and Loki remained by Anthony’s side. He hardly took any notice when Banner came in, wearing a fresh set of clothes and arguing his rights as Anthony’s doctor. Of course, Banner didn’t hold the proper qualification to claim such a thing, but Anthony had, rather stubbornly, listed his ‘science bro’ as such on his own medical records. And besides, once again, the hospital staff were not inclined to argue, though Loki could hear a couple of nurses muttering angrily out in the corridor. It really was a benefit to have a Hulk in your corner. Loki didn’t turn when Banner took a seat on the armchair, and simply continued tracing shapes and prayers into the tough skin of Anthony’s palm with the pads of his fingers.

So it was that Loki was the first to notice as Anthony’s brown eyes finally blinked open, murky and unfocused but so very, very alive.

Relief coursed through him fast enough to weaken his knees, and he couldn’t hold on to the gush of air that escaped his lips in a sigh. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to catch Rogers’ attention, and Loki’s time at Anthony’s side was immediately brought to an end.

Loki could have held his ground against the shove to his shoulder– strong for human, but compared to Loki’s strength it was nothing. But he once again allowed himself to be pushed the side, knowing it would only incite an argument if he stayed– and Anthony deserved better than that. Anthony deserved nothing less than to wake quietly and peacefully in the arms of the person that he, for some mystifying reason, loved.

But when Anthony’s eyes finally focused, they weren’t full of the shining adoration that usually made Loki sick to see.

They were first confused, and then—

Angry.

It didn’t make much sense, but Loki wasn’t given the time to contemplate it before his love began to speak.

“Steve?” Anthony asked– and that would have certainly fallen within the realm of expected first words, save for the fact that it was spoken with an edge of pure malice.

Captain Rogers did not make it past a mere questioning frown before Anthony spoke again.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”