Steve kept half a wary eye on Loki, but Thor’s brother just looked bored. Steve repressed the urge to tell him that he’d agreed to this, but decided to refrain. At least nominally, Loki wasn’t an active hostile anymore, though his exact status was more than a little nebulous.
Thor had brought him back to Earth, not in chains but (at least according to Thor) with his magic bound to be used solely in the service of others, and indeed it did seem based on the last few months that Loki could not use his magic for anything other than helping someone else. Thor seemed disinclined to discuss how this particular arrangement had come about, and Loki himself was by turns taciturn or bitingly sarcastic, with little in between.
He was also, however, occasionally helpful, though for the most part he had to be pushed into participating in any kind of team missions. Steve had the impression it was mostly because he was bored that he agreed at all – confined to the tower not by anyone’s command but for the sake of his own safety. Unless he was assisting the Avengers or SHIELD Loki seemed to have little to actually do. For the most part, everyone other than Thor kept their distance and dealt with him as little as possible.
Steve was no exception, and he didn’t particularly want to be doing this now, but some kind of anomaly had crashed into the tundra in Northern Alaska, and preliminary readings apparently suggested that it was extraterrestrial and possibly charged with what Tony called “unusual energy” and Thor called “magic.” Loki’s interest had apparently been sufficiently piqued that he actually suggested his taking a look at it. Fury hadn’t liked the idea and Tony was violently opposed.
But there was, Thor had told them, no one who knew magical artifacts better, and as Loki needed an escort to the base in northern Alaska and Thor didn’t have the clearance…Steve got to be on guard duty.
To Steve’s surprise, Loki had more or less left him alone during the flight, other than a few mutterings about how he could have done this much more quickly using his own methods. Still, though. Steve wasn’t about to let his guard down.
Steve realized that his gaze had drifted to look at Loki a little more directly, and their gazes met. Steve glanced away, but apparently too slowly.
“Enjoying the flight, Captain?” Loki’s voice was dry and faintly mocking, and Steve breathed out through his nose.
“As much as anyone ever does, I guess,” he said, trying for polite neutrality. Loki’s mouth twitched like he wanted to laugh.
“Simply not the company, I take it,” he said, lightly. He didn’t sound offended, but Steve felt a little uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” he said, sincerely. “I didn’t mean to stare. This is just all still a little…new to me.”
“Given that a good third of your team are former or current murderers, I could wonder what you mean,” Loki said easily, and Steve tried not to grit his teeth. He was beginning to quickly miss the silence. “But I suppose I know the answer to that question.”
Steve took a deep breath through his nose. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to antagonize me, Loki.”
“Was I trying?” Loki’s eyes widened a hair. “Oh, dear. I assure you, such was not my intention-”
Steve heard a rather alarming thump, somewhere below them, and started. The plane shuddered, and he heard a string of swearing from the cockpit. “What’s going on?” he called.
“We’ve got a bit of a problem,” called the co-pilot back. “Looks like a small-”
Something else thumped, harder, and then the engines cut out and the plane started dropping.
“Get down,” yelled one of the pilots, “everybody get down, shit shit shit-“
“Loki,” Steve said, panic flooding his veins, wondering if they were over water, if they were going to land in the water and he was going to feel the slow freeze all over again. “Keep this plane in the air-”
Loki half raised a hand but Steve didn’t know if it was to help or to magic himself out of the plane altogether, but then the plane lurched to the side and without his seatbelt buckled Loki hurtled across the cabin to slam into the opposite wall. Steve’s whole body was screaming with adrenaline, half standing to grab Loki, if they could all get clear of the crash-
Steve felt the muffled thud-boom of the explosion, felt himself flung into open air that was still too thin to breathe.
He didn’t feel himself hit the ground.
He was cold.
That was the first thing Steve registered, the cold, seeping into him. He could feel it, all around, creeping through his body. A little at a time, and he was going to lose the feeling in his toes and his fingers and slowly, eventually, there wouldn’t be anything at all, and then he’d wake up and everyone would be gone-
Steve jerked awake half buried in a snowdrift, and clawed himself out of it, though his left arm screamed in pain when he tried to use it. He took several deep, gasping breaths of clear air that made his ribs twinge, but they didn’t feel broken, miracle of miracles. All of him felt battered and bruised, and reaching down to test his ankles the right one felt like it might be sprained, but he wasn’t dead, and he could still move. He wasn’t…frozen.
Steve turned in a slow, limping circle, looking for the plane. The others – the pilot and co-pilot. He wondered if they’d been able to parachute out or…he knew it was a long shot, but he couldn’t help hoping.
Snow extended on all sides, rising up toward mountains on one side and otherwise…almost plain-like. In all that white, the grey of the plane stuck out like a sore thumb, like the plume of smoke rising from the wreckage. Steve started towards it, slogging through the snow.
It wasn’t until he was halfway there that he remembered Loki. Had he gotten out? Would this kind of crash even hurt him? Had anyone managed to contact SHIELD, to tell them what was going on? Hopefully, Steve reached for his phone, but it was cracked and the screen remained dark when he tried to power it on.
He limped the rest of the way to the wreckage. The fuselage was still mostly intact, so he checked the cockpit and found the two men who’d been flying them still there. Steve wrenched the door open but even just looking he could tell by the way they were slumped that they were both dead. Still, he reached out to check for a pulse on both of them just in case, but there was nothing.
Steve swallowed hard and backed away. He didn’t see Loki anywhere obviously visible. Maybe he’d been thrown clear, like Steve? Or had simply managed to get himself out with magic before they hit ground…
He heard a low sound of pain and froze for a moment before moving around the plane, and there was Loki, half pinned under a chunk of metal. He was on his back, chest and shoulders visible, one arm free pushing at the piece of what looked like fuselage. His chest was heaving and his face was a rictus of pain, and Steve jumped forward to help.
“Loki,” he said, and Loki stopped moving and started to turn his head, only to stop, panting. “Stop moving, I’m going to help-”
“You’re alive,” Loki said, sounding a little surprised. Steve tried not to think how easily he might not be. Or how easily it could be a lot worse than a sprained ankle and cracked ribs.
“I’m pretty durable. Here, let me-” Steve found two places to grip, braced his shoulders, and tried to lift. He felt the metal start to shift, and then Loki let out a sharp cry.
“No – wait, stop, stop aaah-”
Steve stopped. “What,” he said, arms straining. “What, what is it?”
Loki took a few harsh, panting breaths, audibly in pain. “There’s – there’s something…stuck.”
“Your arm?” Steve asked, starting to feel the burn in his shoulders. “Can’t you move it-”
“No,” Loki said, after a moment, his voice tight. “Not like – something stuck in my chest.”
Steve felt his heart sink. “…oh.” He wasn’t equipped to deal with this. “Can’t you…magic yourself out of there?”
“No,” Loki said, voice even tighter. “That is not – in the terms of my binding, as it would not be in the service of someone else.” Steve frowned. He wasn’t sure how long he could hold this up.
And, he realized after a moment, he could smell gasoline. The fuel tank leaking. “We can’t stay here,” Steve said. “The wreckage…I can smell gas. It might explode at any time.” He swallowed, and spoke carefully. “Pulling this off…can you tell if it’ll kill you?”
Silence, for a few moments. “No,” Loki said after a moment. His voice sounded thick and tight. “Probably not.” Probably. Steve hesitated. “Just – just do it,” Loki said, voice not quite a hiss, and Steve gritted his teeth and heaved the chunk of fuselage up and off of Loki’s body.
Loki screamed, and Steve felt the catch and then tear but it was done now, and they needed to get out of here, fast. He grabbed Loki under the arms and hauled him back, trying to move away from the wreckage as fast as he could through the snow. The smell of gasoline just kept getting stronger.
“Hold on,” Loki rasped, and his fingers wrapped around Steve’s wrist.
He heard the explosion, felt the heat, at the same time as the world inverted. He hit the ground on his knees and gasping, and stared at his surroundings. The snow was lighter here, but the tundra-like terrain still stretched out for miles on every side. There was no sign of the plane.
Steve heard a choking, coughing sort of noise and looked down. He was still holding Loki by the armpits, but his face had gone pale and Steve could get a good view of the damage that had been done, first by the wreck and then by its removal. Loki’s clothes were already soaked with dark red blood, and Steve could see it welling up in regular, rhythmic pulses.
“Loki,” Steve said, with some alarm, dropping down to try to put pressure on it, but there was no response. “Loki!”
Loki took a gurgling breath. “That was…was unwise. Of me.” A ghost of a smile flickered over his lips. “This is…pleasant.”
“You said you weren’t going to die,” Steve said. Loki smiled, his lips and teeth tinted red.
“I won’t,” he said, voice strained. “But I won’t be – terribly useful for a while.”
Steve felt a flutter of panic. “What do you mean?”
“Magic,” Loki rasped. “Getting you…away from there was the last I could manage.”
Steve could feel himself starting to shiver, dread creeping into his bones. “And where are we?” He asked, trying to keep the tension out of his voice. “Where did you take us?”
Loki blinked. The breath he took gurgled a bit. “I don’t know. Away. I didn’t have time to…”
“You don’t know.” Steve knew he should keep the harsh note out of his voice, but he could feel the beginnings of panic starting to set in. “You don’t know where we are.”
“No,” Loki said, after a moment. There was still blood bubbling up under Steve’s hands, but the only things he had to soak it up were the clothes on his back. Steve took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “Is that a – hnn. Is that a problem?”
“If you can’t do magic,” Steve said, keeping his voice as calm as he could, “how the hell is anyone supposed to find us?”
Loki blinked again, and his inhale gurgled. Steve saw the light of comprehension dawn in his eyes just before he coughed up a few flecks of dark blood.
“Oh,” he said, and then his eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out.
Steve immediately felt a surge of guilt. How long could Loki bleed like this and survive? He had no idea. No idea of that, no idea of where they were, or how long it would take Loki to recover. No supplies, and no way of contacting anyone.
He imagined he could feel the cold closing in like a living thing, nipping at his heels.
Steve swallowed hard. First things first, he thought, they needed to get out of the open.
There wasn’t much of an ‘out of the open’ to be found, and in the end all Steve could do was drag Loki behind a small snowdrift and try to huddle into himself, blowing on his hands. He checked Loki’s wound again and found that the bleeding had slowed to a sluggish trickle and Loki continued to breathe, though shallowly. Steve bowed his head and took a few breaths through his teeth.
You’re going to be fine, he told himself. You’re not going to freeze. Loki will…
Steve glanced toward Loki, the thought trailing off. He scarcely trusted Loki at all, and even if he did…Loki looked like he was just barely back from the edge of death. He felt as though he ought to do something, but what he was supposed to do he had no idea.
He hadn’t felt this helpless for a long time.
Steve blew on his fingers again and looked up at the sky. When the sun set, maybe he could get an idea of where they were by the stars? He knew a little about that kind of navigation, though not as much as he might have. Judging by the terrain – they couldn’t be that far from the crash, could they? Loki couldn’t have taken them that far when he was wounded…but Steve didn’t know that, either. For all he knew, they could be on another planet, another realm.
Stay calm, Rogers. But what was the use of staying calm when he might freeze to death? Or not even to death, maybe just freeze and then he would be lying here for years and years-
He could feel his chest get tight and tried to focus on breathing slowly, evenly. Stop it, he thought angrily. The tips of his fingers were going numb. He glanced over at Loki, still lying there with his eyes closed, lips parted, and his breathing unnervingly shallow. He thought of the dead pilots and sent up a prayer for them.
To his alarm, Loki’s breathing hitched and he started to shiver. Steve scrambled over, leaning over him and half reaching out, though he stopped before touching Loki’s shoulder or anything, not sure what would happen if he did. His jaw twitched and he made a small, upset noise that made Steve wince, but as he was struggling to make up his mind Loki’s eyes snapped open, gaze groggy and disoriented. Steve moved back quickly.
“Loki?” he said, a little uncertain.
“Hnn,” Loki said in response, and then started to push himself up, only to stop with a hissed intake of breath, one hand going to his chest. Blood welled up around the pressure of his fingers, and Loki’s head lolled limply to the side. “Capt- Captain?”
Steve stayed where he was, feeling himself shiver. “Yeah, it’s me. You should probably stay still. It looks like you’re still healing.”
“Keenly – keenly observed.” Loki’s breath hitched and then evened out, but he dropped back down and took a couple shallow, strained breaths. “You are still here.”
“Where else would I have gone? I don’t know where we are.” Steve wasn’t quite able to keep the note of bitterness out of his voice. Loki’s lips twisted.
“Are all mortals so ungrateful after being rescued?”
Steve took a deep breath through his nose, only to wince at the twinge from his cracked ribs. “I’m not being ungrateful. I’m just pointing out that it doesn’t make sense for me to leave you here, even if I was the kind of person to do that. Which I’m not.”
“Of course not. Not the virtuous Captain.” Loki’s eyes closed again, tightness visible around his mouth. Steve felt the urge to snap and held it back. He rubbed his hands together, trying to reawaken feeling in his fingertips.
“Is there anything you can do about the cold?” Steve asked, trying to sound polite.
“Cold?” Loki sounded faintly surprised. “Is it cold?”
For a moment, Steve was poised to roll his eyes and say did you think you were imagining the snow? but then something else occurred to him, and he reached out to feel Loki’s forehead. The heat of his skin felt good on Steve’s cold hands, but it was also quite a bit warmer than seemed right. A fever, Steve thought. Great. “Yes,” he said, trying to think what he could do and unable to come up with anything. “It is. Can you light a fire, or something?”
“Do you have any wood?” Loki asked.
“No,” Steve had to allow.
“Then no.” Loki’s eyes closed again, his head dropping back to the side.
“Loki,” Steve said, trying to make his voice firm without letting any of the fear be audible, “is there anything else you could do? A warmth spell, or…something?” Loki didn’t respond, and Steve raised his voice, sharply. “Loki.”
“I told you,” Loki said, sounding weary. “My magic…maybe if I had my full strength. But I don’t.”
“You’d better figure out something,” Steve said, and if he didn’t mean it to come out as harsh as it did, it still came out harsh. Loki shifted, slightly, raised one hand and made a slight gesture, accompanied by an inaudible whisper. A faint green-gold wisp appeared between them. Steve leaned toward it hopefully and let out a relieved breath at the warmth emanating from it, holding out his hands and huddling closer even as it flickered ominously. “Thank you,” he said earnestly.
“My pleasure,” Loki said, his voice sounding a little faint and touched with irony. Steve looked at him, eyebrows furrowing, and felt a small pulse of guilt. Loki was injured and feverish, and Steve wasn’t really helping. And Loki had gotten him away from the plane crash, even with a hole in his chest.
“Seriously,” he tried again. “Thank you. You’re right that you did probably save my life getting us both away from the explosion.”
“I doubt I would live very long if I saved my own skin and let Captain America perish,” Loki said, definite strain audible in his voice. Steve wished he had some water to offer, something, but even if there was snow around them he remembered that eating snow only dehydrated you in the end, and there was nothing to melt it in.
“Still,” he said. The wisp of warmth flickered and then steadied. Steve watched it nervously. “I appreciate it.” Loki made a noncommittal noise. Steve hesitated, then asked, “are you going to be all right?”
“Yes.” Peering at Loki, Steve thought he looked perhaps paler than usual. Did aliens get shock?
“Are you sure-”
“I said yes.” The gold-green light flared up and then died back down, and Steve decided it was safer to stay quiet. The feeling was coming back into his fingers a little at a time. He wasn’t comfortable, but it was certainly better than nothing, and Loki didn’t seem interested in talking.
The sun was sinking alarmingly fast, Steve realized. He hoped there weren’t any bears out here.
Steve jerked, his heart pounding as he realized that he’d begun to drop off. He was still warm, or at least fairly warm, but it took him a moment to realize that part of the reason he’d woken up was because the wisp of magic was visibly fading. He looked over at Loki, barely visible as a shadow, and realized he could hear his breathing, each exhale touched with a sound that was not quite a whine.
“Loki?” he said, pushing himself up and towards him. Loki didn’t answer, and his breath hitched, murmuring something unintelligible. Steve felt his forehead again and found it warmer than before and damp with sweat. The magic he’d summoned flickered once more and went out. “Loki!” Steve said sharply, alarmed both by the apparent worsening of his condition when it seemed like he should have been healing and by the sudden loss of his one source of warmth. Steve tried to get a look at the bandages but he couldn’t tell if there was more blood or not. He could feel the cold creeping up on him fast and hunched his shoulders, giving Loki a shake. “Wake up-”
“Stop,” Loki said, his voice thin and reedy. “Stop, stop please,” and Steve released him like he’d been burned, drawing back before he steeled himself.
“Loki, it’s me,” he said, “Steve Rogers. I need you to focus and – and tell me what I can do, all right?” Loki’s eyelids fluttered and opened a bleary sliver, and Steve tried to catch them. “You have a fever, or something, and your magic went out.”
“Sorry,” Loki said, sounding a little vague. “I tried to – I tried-“ There was something plaintive to his voice, and Steve nearly winced, panic rising up the back of his throat. He tried to force it down.
“I know,” he said, trying to sound soothing. “I know. Right now I’m – just asking what I can do to help you, so we can help each other.”
Loki coughed quietly and then exhaled a quiet, pained sound. “I don’t – I don’t know. Perhaps this – this is where – it ends.”
“No,” Steve said, and his voice sounded too loud. He tried to moderate it. If Loki gave up – there went his chances. “That’s not true. Is there – is there any healing you can do?”
“Against the rules,” Loki said. The cold was starting to nip at Steve’s fingers, and already he was shivering. “Not…”
“It’s not in service to someone else, yes, you said,” Steve said, trying to talk fast. “But in this case – in this case you have to, all right? Or I’m going to – going to die.” He wrapped his fingers in Loki’s clothes, trying to keep his grip.
“Hurts,” Loki said, his voice strained and fading.
“Is that all?” Steve said, summoning all his bravado. “It hurts, and that’s all that’s keeping you from fixing yourself?”
“You don’t know…”
“You’re right,” Steve said, hardening his voice. “I don’t. I thought you were tougher than that.” He clamped his teeth together to keep them from chattering, and after a moment’s more hesitation he took a deep breath – as deep as he could, the cold air burning in his lungs. “So do something.”
Loki made a thin sound through his teeth. His body tensed and seemed to tremble, his hands clenching into fists, and then he went limp. Nothing seemed to change. Steve squeezed his eyes closed and fought the urge to scream.
He opened his eyes and stared at Loki. A warm body, he thought, a little dizzily, even if the warmth was mostly fever. Even if it was Loki.
He moved over and hesitated only a moment longer before pulling Loki’s heavy, limp body over and manhandling him into a position where their bodies were pressed together. Loki didn’t respond, still breathing raspily, and Steve tucked his hands under Loki’s clothes and against his skin. His feet were numb in his boots, but Steve didn’t know what to do about that. He could feel Loki’s hot, feverish breath against his cheek and tried to ignore it.
You could die like this, his thoughts informed him grimly. Clinging to a mass murderer for a little bit of warmth.
His eyelids felt heavy and his whole body ached. This was better, he tried to tell himself. At least this way maybe he wouldn’t remember freezing.
Steve woke up feeling strangely warm, his head full of fuzz. Everything was white, blindingly white. Was this death? He wondered, and maybe he said it aloud, because someone answered him.
“No,” said a voice, very nearby. “You are not dead.”
“Oh, good,” Steve heard himself say, and drifted off again. His ribs seemed to hurt less, he noticed with gratitude, and something soft and furry rubbed against his face.
The next thing he remembered was waking up and seeing red eyes staring at him, nearby but not too close. He frowned and focused enough to see that the red eyes were attached to a blue person watching him intently. There was something familiar about the features, but Steve couldn’t quite work out what. “Go back to sleep,” the blue person said, and Steve obeyed.
The next time he woke, it was in one of SHIELD’s infirmary beds with a nurse opening the curtains on the window. Steve felt his eyes widen and sat bolt upright, sudden déja vu filling him with terror. “What day is it?” He demanded, and she spun around, her eyes widening. “What year?”
“2013, Captain Rogers,” she said, looking thoroughly taken aback, and through the window Steve could indeed see the city, looking no different than when he’d left it, and went limp with relief. “Should I go get a doctor?”
“Actually,” Steve said, “I should probably talk with Nick Fury.”
The nurse insisted on having the doctor in anyway, who checked Steve over and declared him in good health. Steve spent the duration trying to remember how he’d gotten from a desolate area somewhere in the arctic to back to New York, but his memories were a jumble after he’d fallen asleep huddled with Loki-
Loki, Steve thought with a jolt. Where was he? Which, unfortunately, became his first question when Nick walked into his room. The Director stopped, eyebrows raising.
“Safely in custody,” he said. “Stark’s holding him in one of the Banner-proof cells until we figure out next steps.”
“Next…what?” Steve blinked, confused. “What happened? How did you find us?”
“Lucky break,” Nick said, sounding a little grim. “And a little help from an alien watchman.”
Something didn’t seem quite right, and Steve shook his head, trying to clear it. “And Loki’s…all right?”
Nick seemed taken aback by the question. “Right now he is. Not telling how he fucked with our plane, though.”
“How he – wait,” Steve said, bewildered. “Do you think he caused the crash?”
Fury’s eyebrows rose a little more. “There’s no evidence he didn’t, and he hasn’t argued with that assumption.”
“He hasn’t – what did he say?” Steve asked, suddenly wondering – but no, that didn’t make any sense, either in terms of motivation or results.
“Not much,” Nick said. “He stood down without much of a fight, but we did have a fair arsenal with us at the time.” Steve squeezed his eyes closed, feeling a sudden surge of guilt.
“Did you ask if the crash was his fault?”
“Don’t get that tone with me,” Nick said, sounding a little displeased. “You were out cold and this is Loki we’re talking about. Are you really going to blame me for assuming? But yes, I did ask, and he just smirked at me. You seem to think you know better. Why’s that?”
“Director Fury,” Steve said, pushing himself up and looking Nick squarely in the eye. “I know two things. Loki got hurt in that crash, worse than me, and what’s more, the only reason I’m still alive is because he kept me that way.”
“There could be any number of reasons for that,” Fury pointed out.
“Maybe,” Steve said, “but I bet it sure as hell would’ve been easier to let me die.”
Fury looked skeptical. “How much do you remember of what happened?”
“Not all of it,” Steve said, “but I think I remember enough.”
Fury regarded him for several moments, and then shook his head. “It makes a kind of sense,” he allowed. “Wasn’t sure why Loki was keeping you around, since he didn’t even try for the hostage angle. But then why not just say so?”
“Who knows,” Steve said, dropping back down to his elbows. “This is still Loki we’re talking about.”
Nick nodded, slowly. “I’m not keen on the idea of letting him out just yet, based on a guess from a man who spent the last day and a half sleeping.”
A day and a half, Steve thought, and tried not to wince. “Am I free to go?” He asked. “Maybe I can talk to him.”
“You seem to be in fine shape for someone who was in a plane crash,” Nick said, sounding almost amused. “Go ahead.” He turned toward the doorway.
“Hold on,” Steve said, thinking of his vague, disjointed memories. “Did you…there wasn’t anyone else out there when you found me and Loki, was there?”
“No,” Nick said, glancing over his shoulder. “Just the two of you and some kind of ice cave it looks like you found. Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Steve said absently. He remembered an ice cave, and the blue person with red eyes watching him… “It’s probably nothing.”
“If it turns out to be something,” Nick said, “let me know.”
“About Loki,” Steve said slowly. “And proving that he didn’t…”
“The wreckage is a mess,” Nick said, after a pause, “but it looks like we can still pull some information out of it. The proximate cause of the crash, I should know in a day or two. That there wasn’t some other kind of funny business…”
“His magic really is limited,” Steve said. “I saw. He couldn’t even heal himself.”
“Hm,” Nick said, sounding skeptical. “Maybe you’re right. It’d make Thor happy, anyway; it’s been nothing but thunderstorms since the two of you vanished.” He scowled. “Talk to the rest of your friends. I’ll agree if they do.”
“Thank you,” Steve said, looking around for his clothes.
“Don’t thank me,” Nick said as he headed out. “You’ll make me change my mind.”
Steve went down to the secure areas under Stark Tower when he got the chance. Loki was in the one furthest down, lying on the bed in one corner with his legs crossed one over the other and his hands folded on his stomach, dressed in loose, simple clothes. Steve hesitated a moment before knocking on the barrier to get his attention.
Loki’s head turned slowly, as though he were otherwise occupied and reluctant to be distracted, his eyes lighting on Steve with bland disinterest. Steve kept his own expression neutral. He reached for the button that let sound enter the room and held it down. “Can I talk to you?”
Loki’s eyes moved back to the ceiling, but after a moment he raised a hand in an imperious wave, like a king consenting to hear a supplicant. Steve frowned, but he tapped in the passcode. The first door opened and he stepped through, waiting for it to close behind him before putting in the second passcode that let him into the room itself. Loki didn’t rise to greet him, hardly seeming to take notice of his entrance.
“How are you doing,” Steve asked, after several moments of silence.
“Quite well, thank you.” There was a trace of faint mocking in Loki’s voice, and Steve made himself ignore it. “And you?”
“Fine,” Steve said, a little cautiously. He looked for a chair to sit down on, but couldn’t find one. “I wanted to…” He cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
“What for?” Loki’s voice was dry as bone, but he did sit up and turn toward Steve, at least.
“For keeping me alive,” Steve said, determined not to be deterred by – whatever it was Loki was trying to do. “I know I wouldn’t have survived without – whatever you did.”
“An eloquent descriptor. You remember, then, what I am supposed to have done?”
“No,” Steve said slowly. “But…”
“And yet you assume that you owe me your life. A curious presumption, all things considered.” Loki’s mouth tipped up at the corners, the expression in his eyes shifting not at all. Steve frowned.
“It’s the only logical explanation. I know I wouldn’t have lasted long on my own.”
“Then it must have been SHIELD’s timely arrival to have saved you. Or have you not heard that this particular incident was my plan all along?” Loki’s voice was light, his lips still curved in that lightly mocking smile.
Steve blinked. “But it wasn’t.”
“So certain,” Loki said, and laughed. “A surprising defender you make, Captain.”
For a moment, Steve felt a flicker of doubt, suddenly wondering, but it only lasted a moment, and then he shook himself. “What are you doing?” He demanded. Loki’s eyebrows rose, face arranging into an expression of innocence.
“At the moment, or more generally?”
“No, I mean-” Steve grimaced. “Are you trying to convince me that you caused the plane crash? That you didn’t – save my life?”
“Is the truth not self-evident?” Loki asked, all innocence, and Steve was certain now but it didn’t make any more sense for knowing.
“Why?” He asked sharply. “Why would you try to get me to believe that, when I know perfectly well it’s not true? I remember – I remember you conjuring up a little bit of warmth when I asked you. I remember waking up and – Fury said we were in an ice cave, and that had to have been you. Somehow you kept me from freezing out there. Why are you trying to act like that’s not the case?”
Loki’s expression twitched, but only very slightly. “You remember fever dreams,” he said, voice flat.
“No,” Steve said. “I don’t.” He took a step toward Loki and saw him tense. He stopped, swallowing. “I don’t know what I remember, not for sure. But you almost died yourself, in that crash. What are you trying to do, here?”
“What does it matter what I am trying to do?” The words seemed to burst out of Loki, and a moment later he looked as though he wanted to swallow them back. Steve frowned.
“What do you mean?”
Loki let out a grating kind of laugh. “Look at where I am.” He gestured at his surroundings. “Whatever I do – my intentions make no difference. I saved your life, and here I am, locked back in a cage. Thor is full of grand promises that I can change, but what does it matter if I do when the world will see me just the same?” His lips curved in a small, bitter smile. “There seems little point in trying, when all anyone will ever see is the worst.”
That stung, more than Steve wanted it to. “We’ve given you a chance,” he said. “Being here at all, letting you help – what do you think that is? It’s more than some people ever get. And if your only motive for doing something good is so other people acknowledge it, that doesn’t mean much, does it?”
Loki bared his teeth, something both feral and desperate about the expression. “It would be nice if it were acknowledged that I am trying.”
“What do you think I’m doing here?” Steve demanded, his voice heated, and Loki looked truly, honestly taken aback. “I’m here trying to thank you for whatever you did, and you’re throwing it back in my face,” he went on. “You’ve already decided to assume the worst of me. How is that any different from what you don’t want people to do to you?”
Loki stared at him, seeming flabbergasted beyond response. Steve stared back at him stubbornly for a long moment before dropping his gaze, rubbing one eye. “I also,” he said, “came to tell you that I told Director Fury you didn’t cause the crash. You should be out of here within a couple days, unless you do anything to change that.”
Loki blinked again, his expression shuttering. “Why,” he asked, sounding suspicious.
“Because you didn’t,” Steve said plainly, “and because you did help me. I don’t know how, and it doesn’t matter why. You saved my life and I’m not going to watch you be punished for that.”
Loki said nothing, at least not immediately, and when Steve looked at him, trying to gauge his reaction, he was startled by the lost look on his face. He covered it quickly when he realized Steve was looking, but it was still there, however brief.
“You could have left me there,” he said, after a long moment. Steve frowned at him, and Loki glanced aside. “In the wreckage. You need not have gotten me free.”
Steve grimaced, not entirely comfortable with being given credit for that. “I don’t leave anyone behind if I can help it. And I nearly killed you doing so.”
“I certainly would have perished if I’d remained there.” Loki was looking at Steve oddly, like he wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. “And you…kept me from giving up. I should thank you for that too, perhaps.”
Steve felt abruptly self-conscious, aware that he’d been thinking of himself at the time and not much about Loki. He cleared his throat. “I didn’t do that much.”
Loki’s mouth quirked, very slightly. “Now who is refusing gratitude, hm?”
Steve felt his face warm. “Either way,” he said. “I’m glad you’re – all right.”
Loki cocked his head. “Are you?” It sounded like a genuine question, and something about that made Steve vaguely sad.
“Yes,” he said firmly, and was a little surprised to find that he actually meant it. Loki looked at him sidelong, and then seemed to come to some conclusion.
“Perhaps I’m not wholly disappointed in your survival,” he said, voice light and airy, and Steve suppressed the urge to smile.
“High praise,” he said dryly, but he was beginning to feel awkward standing here in what was really a cell. He took a step back. “I guess I probably shouldn’t bother you anymore.”
“Probably not,” Loki agreed, and Steve tried not to feel a little offended.
“Good afternoon, then,” he said, turning around, but just as he reached for the interior keypad Loki’s voice stopped him again.
“On second thought…”
Steve glanced over his shoulder, letting his eyebrows lift. Loki wasn’t quite looking at him, gaze directed rather toward a corner. “Yes?”
“I find…it seems no one has seen fit to provide me with any reading material. I have a deck of cards, but solitary games only entertain for so long.”
Steve turned fully around. “Are you asking me to keep you company?”
Loki’s face flickered through a series of minute expressions before settling on careful blandness. “Perhaps.”
Steve hesitated. He could see Loki’s shoulders tense, a slight hardening around his eyes. Bracing, Steve thought, for an expected response.
“All right,” he said, “but you have to sit on the floor with me unless you can magic up a chair.”
Surprise, Steve thought with satisfaction, and then a flicker of pleasure, though all the expression that showed on most of Loki’s face was a slight smile as he stood up and settled cross-legged on the floor. “Another amenity that is apparently extraneous, alas,” he said. Steve let himself smile and sat down as well.
“Do you know Gin Rummy?” He asked.
“It is possible you will have to teach me.”
He had a lot of unanswered questions, Steve thought as he picked up the deck Loki set down between them and started to shuffle. About the blue person that must have been Loki, in some form, and just how Loki had managed to save them both. But those could wait for later.
Giving someone a chance wasn’t just about letting them be useful. Someone had to let Loki be a person, too.