“What is this, Thor?”
Steve's voice broke through the hubbub from his other teammates when Thor appeared, his brother in tow.
He was on a lead-- and the image didn't sit particularly well with Steve, but neither did the one of Loki running amok and potentially destroying New York.
“Asgard's laws of recompense.” Thor spoke with an almost hesitant gravity.
“Which are what?” Natasha asked, words somewhere between sharp and drawled. Steve shot her a grateful look; she, unlike Tony and Clint and Bruce, seemed to be in the game and not just reacting. Not that he could blame them, but it was nice to have a solid voice of reason standing next to him.
“Loki's crimes against Midgard are great enough to warrant his death. The laws of recompense allow him to do what he can to reverse his damage and lighten his sentence accordingly. He will, of course, be punished for the lives he took, the damage which is irreversible, but for the rest--” Thor broke off, looking hopeful. “If you will allow it, we may save my brother. My friends, I would not ask this of you if I had another choice.”
“You think he doesn't deserve it, after all that?” Tony asked, but not with any real conviction behind the words. Thor just turned to look at him, and it seemed to be answer enough; Tony raised his hands.
“I don't like it.” Clint said, arms crossed, and Steve couldn't blame him for that, either, especially when, a moment later, he shook his head, “I'm not so into the death sentence, though. It's one thing if it happens, if it's necessary in the moment, but after the fact...”
“He shouldn't stay here.” He said. “Too much that he could use against us. Tony's tech, intel he could gather... me...” He looked around at the rest of them, and Steve knew he was looking for any sign of them being upset about that statement. He was still skittish, still trying to come to terms with being part of a group, with having a place. Like he could lose it if any of them came to their senses.
“Agreed. Plus I'll just sleep better with him under a different roof.” Natasha added.
Steve realized then that they were all looking to him for a decision. As the team leader.
“Loki?” He found himself asking, almost before the thought was fully formed.
“What are your feelings on all of this?”
Thor's brother had stood very still through it all, his face very carefully blank, even as his eyes shifted from one of them to the next, obviously listening, but offering no clue as to what he was thinking, which Steve found disconcerting at best.
“A last hurrah before I spend the remainder of my days in a small room? Delightful.” His words came out dry and acerbic. Steve felt his eyes narrowing.
“Would you rather just be killed?” He asked, maybe a little sharply. Loki just glared at him.
“Rather than debase myself by scrubbing at the grime of your realm? I dare say.”
“Loki.” Thor managed to turn his brother's name into a thunderous warning rumble, and Steve found his brows bunching. “Please, Captain.” Thor turned his eyes to him, looking exhausted. “It is his last chance.”
“I get that, Thor. I do. But, if he's going to resent it, if he's not actually interested in the opportunity, then he represents a potential danger, not just to us-- because you realize we'll need to babysit him-- but to anyone else he might encounter in however long he's here, doing whatever it is you and your people think he can do to make things better.”
He'd kept his eyes on Thor while he spoke, but once he got the words out, he looked to his teammates. Natasha nodded slightly, approving. Tony looked pleased, Bruce looked thoughtful, and Clint was staring at Loki with eyes narrowed so much, Steve would think they were closed if not for the grimace he pointed in that direction.
“And what is it you plan to do with me, if I say that I mean to do as I am supposed to? If I agree to work hard and do good?” Loki was staring at him with unnerving intensity.
“I--” Steve stopped, organizing his thoughts a little better. “Tony, you've been trying to talk me into moving in to the tower. If I do that, Thor and Loki can take over my apartment.” He flicked his eyes toward Tony to make sure the offer was still open; he nodded. That settled, he looked back at Loki. “We would have to come up with a system-- obviously Thor can't be around all the time to keep an eye on you.”
“Objection.” Clint said, raising his hand, and Steve nodded.
“No one who doesn't want to has to pull a rotation. If it's down to just Thor and I, that's fine. It's still better than leaving him alone with the responsibility.”
Thor's shoulders slumped a little in relief, and Steve felt bad. Of course this had to be hard for their friend.
“As for the actual work you'd be doing... there are a lot of ways for you to volunteer with your own two hands. But we'd need to sit down and talk about where your strengths actually lie, what you can do with your magic... If you were serious about this.”
Steve crossed his arms, looking pointedly at Loki.
“Well, given how it seems it will throw at least some of your lives into a relative state of chaos, I suppose it does align with some of my interests. I will make an attempt... for now.”
Thor looked hopefully at Steve, and, though he was intensely uneasy about the whole thing, he tipped his head forward just the same.
“Thor, Loki, come with me. I'm going back to my apartment to pack; everyone else, I'll meet you back here in three hours. We'll have a meeting about what needs to be done. Then, Thor, I'll meet you back at my place after to finalize plans.” Steve wasn't entirely sure how he'd become the go-between, other than him being the one least personally affected by Loki's last visit. It made sense, he supposed.
They'd all taken Coulson's death pretty hard, but other than the brief spar they'd had in Germany... Steve hadn't been mind controlled like Clint, or threatened personally like Natasha. He hadn't been targeted and goaded into transforming, like Bruce, and he unlike Tony, he didn't suffer from nightmares of dying in space while an army overtook the earth.
All in all, he'd come out of the battle for New York amazingly unscathed, if you didn't count a gaping hole in his side. Which he didn't, since it was healed in a few days anyway. And besides, he was supposed to be the leader. It was his job to keep his people safe, and this would accomplish that.
“I'm going to call into SHIELD, let them know what's up. Get them to cover your rent for the foreseeable future.” Natasha murmured to him under her breath, her back turned to Loki and Thor-- so they couldn't read her lips or hear her, Steve realized. “I'll take a turn in the schedules, watching him. Clint shouldn't, same with Tony and Bruce. But you, Thor and I should be alright.”
Steve nodded, then clasped her shoulder appreciatively.
“Thanks. I'll talk to everyone when I get back. Shouldn't take us too long.”
It really didn't, especially when Thor gathered an indignant Loki up, tossed him over his shoulder, held his arm out to Steve, and sent Mjolnir to twirling.
They landed outside of Steve's apartment a minute or so later.
“Handy way to miss traffic.” Steve said, mainly to cover for the way his stomach was churning and how uncomfortable he'd been to be mashed together in close proximity with the Asgardians.
Loki glared at him for the comment, and that almost made it worth it.
Thor laughed, though it wasn't quite as honest as his normal laughter.
“I have found it to be of much use, yes. I am afraid you will have to travel back through more traditional means, bearing your possessions.”
“Yeah, I know. That's alright. I'll manage.”
The reminder of losing his home again was sobering, and Steve let them in and led them upstairs while he began mentally cataloging what he needed to take-- and what they would need. He did his best to ignore the way Loki looked around, sizing the apartment building up and clearly disapproving. He opened the door and stood aside.
“You're going to have to get another bed. There's a second room through there, it's an office right now but with a little work... I can help with that if you need me to. I'll leave the furniture and dishes and all, Tony will have plenty...”
“How very kind of you.” Loki said bitterly, as he surveyed his new home. Behind him, Thor unclipped the leash he'd had on Loki from the collar at his neck.
Steve stiffened, and watched as Thor elbowed his brother as if he didn't pose any threat at all.
“Why don't you make yourself comfortable? I'll just be in here packing.” Steve figured it was best to disengage. Loki was probably just like this because he was off kilter and in a new environment, and even if that wasn't the case, Steve knew he was a little off himself. He headed for his room, leaving Thor to look through the cabinets and Loki running his fingers over the spines of Steve's bookshelf.
He pulled his empty bag out from underneath the bed, where it lived between missions, and took a deep breath.
This wasn't so bad. At least he'd be around people he knew. It wasn't like shipping off to war, wasn't like he was going to be asleep for almost another century.
He dumped the contents of his sock and underwear drawer into his bag, and followed it up with his workout gear.
“And what could you possibly have to pack, Captain? It is positively spartan in here.”
Steve straightened up from where he had been bent over his bed, arranging his clothing so that more would fit.
“You need something, Loki?” He asked, turning to face him, and to hide the raised hairs on the back of his neck. He didn't like that he'd been able to sneak up like that. He should have been paying more attention.
“I am only, as you said, making myself comfortable.”
Steve tensed further when Loki approached him, but turned to watch when he moved around him to slide gracefully onto Steve's bed.
His bed, now, Steve supposed.
“Such an expansive wardrobe.” Loki mocked lightly, as he took in Steve's blue, white, and grey shirts.
“Yeah, you know, leather and metal's not really my thing.” He gritted out, annoyed at the interruption.
He watched as Loki cast a considering eye from head to toe, and tried not to fidget under the look.
“Perhaps it should be.” He told him, smirking faintly, and Steve wasn't entirely sure what to make of that, but was fortunately saved by Thor coming into the room.
Now, for as high as the rent was, the place wasn't exactly Buckingham Palace. A room that felt empty with one person in it definitely felt crowded with three.
“Loki, there you are! Apologies Captain, I had wondered where he'd gone.”
Steve's brow creased, and he turned his back on Loki to take Thor's arm.
“Can I have a word with you?”
Loki crossed his legs behind him, casually knocking Steve's bag onto the floor, and Steve looked back over his shoulder to glare at him.
“Of course.” Thor said, clearly eager to disarm whatever situation was brewing.
They retreated to the living room, Steve abandoning his clothing to Loki's temper, at least for the moment.
“What is it, Steve? I apologize for his behavior; he is... being difficult.” Thor didn't bother lowering his voice, and Steve knew Loki would hear it. He pinched at the bridge of his nose.
“That's fine, I don't expect any different. What I wanted to ask is how we're gonna keep him under control when he can just magic himself away, and if you have any idea why he hasn't, yet.”
Thor held up his palm to reveal a thin white scar in the shape of a triknot, traced into his skin.
“He bears the same.” He explained. “We have been bound together for the duration of his stay. If he flees, all I need do is exert my will, and he will be forced to return. Thus--” Thor closed his hand around the mark, and Steve heard a muffled sound from his bedroom, but sure enough, half a second later, Loki was there, albeit slightly out of breath.
“ What? ” He snapped. “Showing off for your fr--”
“Return to the room and right the Captain's bag.” Thor commanded, and Steve could see Loki straining against whatever was compelling him before he groaned and spoke as if the words were being ripped from him.
“I already have.”
Thor opened his hand and immediately Loki relaxed.
“I was demonstrating for Steve Asgard's precautions. If you did not fight it so, you would not have such difficulties.” Thor spoke softly, gently, his words full of care, but Steve couldn't decide how he felt about this. On the one hand, it was good to know that if Loki tried anything, Thor could stop him. On the other, what if Thor didn't get to him in time? And what's more... taking away Loki's free will... if he could be ordered into doing what he was supposed to, what was the point? He wouldn't grow anything but resentful from that.
Plus, after seeing how Clint had dealt-- was still dealing-- with Loki having done something similar to him...
No, Steve didn't like it.
He resolved to keep an eye on it.
“Thank you.” He said, less gently than Thor, but without any of the ire he'd felt from before. “For fixing the bag for me. I need to finish packing now... if you'll wait just a few more minutes, the room will be yours.”
Loki sneered wordlessly, but looked away, refusing to meet Steve's eye. He could see the way his fingers twitched, probably eager to wipe at the sweat that had beaded at his hairline, but it seemed he was too proud to let Steve or Thor see him do so.
He was embarrassed, Steve realized.
“Alright.” Steve said. He returned to his room, and was surprised to see the bag where he'd left it, spilled out on the floor, one pair of his socks halfway under the bed.
Loki had lied . Under the duress of the binding spell, he'd managed to lie.
Some of his squeamishness with the apparent total control Thor supposedly had on his brother abated. If Loki could fight it... sure, it wasn't ideal. It didn't make Steve feel safer . But at least it meant that Loki had his own will left to him, under whatever spell was woven into their palms.
Steve just hoped they didn't expect him to join the club. He didn't think that he could stand to have that sort of power over anyone else.
Back at Avengers Tower, Clint had apparently destroyed the dart board in one of the rec rooms, Natasha was putting in phone calls to the people in charge of interplanetary relations, and Tony was quietly sipping a tumbler of amber liquid.
Bruce was absent, but that wasn't all that uncommon. No doubt he wanted to get in some meditation time before they had their meeting about Loki.
Steve wasn't good at sitting with his thoughts and not getting worked up about things, but if he was better at it, he probably would have joined him.
Instead, he cleared his throat.
“Avengers meeting in half an hour.” He announced, and got nods from everyone and Tony's offer to let Bruce know, and then... then he went to the room that would be his from then on and started re-rolling his shirts into the drawers of the dresser that was already waiting for him.
He left himself more to do after, well aware that he'd probably need something to keep his hands busy.
The faces of his teammates when he reached the meeting room were somber, some openly concerned. He cleared his throat.
“So. Loki.” He opened with, well aware that it wasn't a particularly eloquent speech. He sighed, wiping one hand over his face. “I don't need to say what a pain this is going to be. Before you all begin registering your objections, know that Thor's... bound to him. Some sort of magic spell on both their hands, so that all he has to do is make a fist and order Loki around, and Loki has to do it. Is compelled.” He looked from one face to the next, registering as Clint blanched and Tony sat up straighter.
“I don’t know how seriously Thor takes that, based on the demonstration he gave me. But Loki can resist it, and he can still lie while under the influence. I haven't seen him ordered not to lie, yet, but... there you have it. We have a Loki who can't run off without being dragged back. We have Thor and Loki staying in my apartment. And we need to keep eyes on him and come up with stuff for him to do. Options, ideas, opinions?”
He opened the floor up to the others, already bracing for the battering his decisions were going to cause him.
Natasha spoke up first, just to make sure the others knew what she had already decided.
“I'll go on the schedule for a share of Loki sitting duty. I think we should try to work it so that, during the day at least, one of us is there as much as possible. Thor is a good guy but he’s new to this world, still.” She said firmly. He noticed that she shot a glare Clint's way, and he watched as the archer looked away, though whether out of annoyance or embarrassment, he couldn't tell.
So she'd told him before, and he didn't approve. No surprise there.
“I'm out.” Clint muttered.
“Me too. For obvious reasons.” Banner added.
“No, Tony.” Natasha cut him off immediately.
“Well do we at least get a chance to check out how this binding thing works?” He asked.
Steve had to huff out a small laugh. Of course that was Stark's angle-- he shook his head a little.
“Give me a little bit, just to feel out how Loki's going to behave about all of this. If I think it's safe to bring him around, I'll let you know.”
Tony put on a petulant pout, but didn't object-- which, Steve knew, was as good as agreement coming from him.
“As far as things to have him do-- why not take him on a tour of all of the volunteer positions? Homeless shelters, food kitchens, however much volunteer clean up crew work is left. Get him to help the people he hurt.” Bruce suggested, and Steve nodded.
“I like that, and it's on the list of things I want to do, but I was wondering if anyone had ideas for things he could do that no one else could. Magic stuff.”
“Not til I know what all he can do.” Tony told him promptly, and Steve gave him an unimpressed look. Tony raised his hands. “It's just the truth. Until we know his abilities, I can't give advice on how to use him to the best of his potential.”
Steve had to give him that.
“Okay, so I should talk to him, get to know him. Figure out what he's good for.”
“I can help with that.” Natasha offered, and Steve eyed her almost warily.
“While I appreciate your input, I don't want you intimidating him. With that magic thrown in the mix, if we push too hard... it would be easy to cross the line and stop being the good guys.”
“And with his magic thrown in, we have to remember that he already is a bad guy.” She pointed out sensibly.
Steve shook his head.
“That's where we have to be careful. If we approach it expecting that this reforming is just going to be an act, he'll just rebel against it. It's like a kid who falls down-- the parents act like it's bad, they'll freak out. The parents act like it's no big deal...”
“So you plan to just treat him like he's never done anything wrong in his life?”
Clint was bitter, and Steve understood. He took a deep breath, well aware of the line he was going to need to be walking, now.
“That's not what I'm saying at all.” Steve insisted. “I'm saying we have to make him atone for what he's done without projecting him being anything but good in the future.”
“Tall order, Cap. Even for you.” Tony leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “You think you're up for it?”
Steve looked around at his teammates' faces, and took in everyone's looks of concern and disbelief.
“I guess I had better be,” he mumbled, mostly to himself.