In which Loki is lost in the Bifrost and emerges on Earth as a child, with no apparent memory of the events in New York... or anything else.
And the Avengers adopt him. Because what could possibly go wrong?
Notes: See Part 1
Betaed by artemisiabrisol.
Tony just wants to go home, but even he knows that’s a bad idea. Back at SHIELD it takes two hours to get him out of the suit, with half the joints half-crushed and frozen, and with no JARVIS to help talk them through it Tony’s the one who has to give directions.
“No, ow, no, ow,” Tony says, jerking his arm away from the weedy-looking guy currently wielding a screwdriver way too close to his neck. “Am I speaking English? Am I stuttering? I said counter-clockwise!”
“Tony,” Steve chides gently, and Tony grits his teeth as the tech tries again, this time turning the bolt the right way.
“Look, I’d say I was sorry, but I’m really not. I could do this faster myself--”
Steve comes closer and taps one finger against the suit’s chestplate, right at the edge of the arc reactor. “Tony, you can’t lift your arms above your head.”
“I have - ow! - I have robots for this. There’s a reason I--” He turns his head to glare at the tech again, and Steve reaches out and touches his cheek, gently turning his face back towards Steve. The contact is such a surprise that for a moment Tony goes still, staring at the flush on Steve’s cheekbones.
Steve’s voice, though, is perfectly level. “Just be patient,” he says. “I know that’s not your strong suit.”
It’s really not. Most of the servos are out, so it’s an exacting, manual process with a couple of techs who keep doing the wrong thing, and all the while Tony’s fighting off jitters that come out in his voice more and more the longer it takes. He’d rather not have witnesses for this, but Steve remains matter how many glares Tony sends in his direction.
The warped chestplate finally comes free with a screeching, metallic noise, and Tony staggers a little, off-balance. Steve takes his weight without being asked. It’s undeniably weird, standing in the middle of a SHIELD lab hugging Captain America while a pair of techs circle them with power tools, but Tony doesn’t complain; the suit was never designed to be donned in pieces, no matter how modular he made it, and it’s heavy.
Steve, of course, is immovable, and either doesn’t notice or refuses to acknowledge the weirdness. By the time they get the last piece off, he's dead on his feet and aching all over and letting Steve’s solid chest and arms taking most of his weight.
Steve’s still there when they roll him into the infirmary after tests; no broken bones, but a concussion and a lot of bruises and his ribs feel exactly like he’s been beaten with bricks. He’s not in much pain save for his head yet, but he knows he will be later.
He can feel the shakes coming back when the doctors leave him. He’s torn between wanting to fight it off a little longer and just give in, but he can’t get the privacy to break down, because his team just won’t leave him alone. He can’t sleep, either, not because of the company (Tony has achieved unconsciousness in all sorts of far-more-distracting places, though usually there was drinking involved) but because of the adrenaline that hasn’t ebbed away yet. They won’t give him any sedatives because of reasons, and every time he starts to drift off he jerks awake to find another member of his team there, apparently for no particular reason, and he hates them and loves them all at once. His hands won’t stop shaking, and his voice sounds pretty awful too, but no one says anything.
In the end, what should be a short, sharp shock - a panic attack of the likes he used to ruthlessly smother with alcohol - is a long night of Thor and Natasha laughing at him, and Clint telling him horrifying stories, and actual conversations with Bruce about topics ranging from particle physics to stimulant synthesis to the ongoing improvements to the re-enforcements on the Tower floors - and just... sitting, with Steve. Who is pretty obviously still freaked out over the events of the day, but hiding it better than he was before.
By morning, he’s too exhausted to shake anymore.
Tony is grateful. He doesn’t like being weak, and he likes it even less in front of people he actually respects. Even less in front of people with legitimate superpowers among whom he is pretty undeniably the weakest link. Ironically, these are also the only people who sort of seem to respect him back, these people who are somehow so much more than he is, like Rhodey and Pepper, who’ve seen him at his worst, and stuck around anyway.
He figures: if they’re going to be a team, the way Steve wants, they’d have to get used to it eventually. Might as well get a head start.
“No,” says Loki stubbornly.
Steve sighs. “C’mon, pal. Just this once. Sleep?”
Loki’s lower lip pokes out a little, and his jutted-out chin starts to tremble. Crap, thinks Steve.
“Look, I promise, Tony’s okay.”
“Tony,” Loki says, emphatically, and now his eyes are filling up with tears.
Steve senses he’s already lost this one. He scoops up Loki from his bed and turns towards the door.
The guards give each other a look, but let him go. The various SHIELD agents he passes en route barely even look at him. It’s the middle of the night, but they’re accustomed, by now, to seeing Steve lug Loki all over the base. Even barefoot and wearing his Captain America pyjamas and clutching his stuffed whatever-it-is, Loki’s presence barely raises any eyebrows. Steve doesn’t know who got him those; probably Coulson, who after Steve and Tony, spends more time with Loki than anybody.
The infirmary staff seem like they’re going to protest when he shows up, but take one look at Loki, who still looks like he might let loose any second, and wave him through.
At the door, Steve stops. Tony’s asleep, for the first time since they brought him in - truly asleep, not cat-napping and likely to jerk awake any second. He stills Loki’s squirming with a hand on his back. “Gotta be quiet, Shortstack. Don’t wanna wake him up, okay?”
Loki cranes his neck to look over Steve’s shoulder at Tony, then looks back at Steve, solemnly nodding his head.
They sit down in the chair next to the bed.
Loki looks up at him. "Hurt?"
"Yeah, pal. Stopping a bad guy. Remember I told you we do that?"
“Well, sometimes it’s... harder than other times. Like today. But Tony’s going to be okay. Okay?”
Loki holds his gaze for a long time, biting his lower lip, before rubbing at his eyes with one fist. “Okay,” he says, quietly.
He still won’t leave, though - gets all red-faced and squirmy when Steve tries one last time to take him back to his room - so Steve settles in for the night. Eventually, he falls asleep, and wakes up to find his lap empty. He panics for a second, but then he realizes that what woke him was Tony shifting in the bed, and that Loki hasn’t gone far. He’s curled up next to Tony on Tony's undamaged side, fast asleep.
Steve watches a while longer, watching Tony’s chest rise and fall, and the way his arm’s come up around Loki’s back apparently without conscious direction, and settles back down to sleep.
Tony wakes up in the early hours of the morning when a nurse comes in to check on him. He scowls up at her from the depths of post-painkiller hangover until she leaves again.
It’s a minute or so before he realizes he’s not alone, and that the reason he can’t move his right arm is because...
Loki is curled up against his side, thumb in his mouth, dead to the world. Tony has a hand on his back, even though he doesn’t even remember moving.
In the chair next to the bed, Steve is similarly unconscious, head resting against the wall behind him and one foot propped up on the rail of Tony’s bed.
Well. This is... new.
Tony considers the room, the bed, and does an internal status check. Much of last night is a blur. He aches in new and exciting places and the fuzzy feeling in his head is probably the remnants of the painkillers, of which they would not give him nearly enough. His ribs are loosely wrapped, and he wonders if that means cracked or broken; he can’t remember and he’s not interested enough at the moment to test it out.
His head feels like he remembers it feeling after the MIT graduation party, a night on which he got so drunk that even Rhodey wouldn’t recount the tale for him. Except worse, because there’s a bandage wrapped around his head, and he raises a hand to see how bad the damage is, because if they shaved his head, then heads will roll.
“It’s fine,” Steve says softly, and Tony turns his head to see that Steve’s awake and watching him. “Your hair’s fine.”
Surprised, Tony laughs - and instantly regrets it, because his ribs register a vehement protest at all this moving around and breathing. Tony winces, and Steve reaches out a hand, face worried, but freezes halfway there as Tony tries to relax back into the bed.
“Sorry,” says Steve, pulling back the hand to rub it through his own hair, which is a mess. Steve looks, in fact, more rumpled than Tony’s ever seen him. It’s distressingly adorable.
“It’s okay,” Tony assures him. “As long as you still think I’m pretty.”
Steve blushes and looks away, and Tony feels better.
He looks down at Loki, who slumbers on, oblivious.
“One of the medics let it slip you were up here,” Steve says, “and then he wouldn’t go back to sleep until he saw you.”
“Really?” Tony is absurdly touched. It’s probably the drugs that are to blame for the weird, warm feeling in his chest, because the arc reactor is in perfect shape. He looks down at Loki again, noticing the many-legged stuffed thing he’s holding tightly to his side.
“What the hell is that?” he asks.
“It’s a... okay, no, I still can’t pronounce the name.” Tony and Steve look up to see Darcy standing in the doorway, holding a huge, obnoxiously-pink bunch of Mylar balloons. They say Congratulations on your bundle of joy!
Darcy notices them staring and shrugs. “Look, it’s like five-thirty in the morning, all that’s open are convenience stores. It’s the thought that counts.” She glares at them both until Steve smiles and Tony sighs, subsiding, then comes in and ties the balloons efficiently to the rail at the foot of the bed. She then produces a cardboard coffee tray and hands one of the two cups there to Steve.
“None for you. You’ve been banned while you’re on the good drugs, sorry,” she tells Tony’s scowl.
“Why did you even come if you were just going to make me sad?” Tony demands grumpily.
“Jane sends her love. So does Thor. Well, Thor used more words, but.”
She gulps down half her coffee, and surfaces looking slightly less crazed. Tony would not have categorized Darcy as a morning person, but maybe it’s just more that she doesn’t function well at all without adequate caffeine no matter what time of day it is.
“Thor gave it to him, sort of by proxy,” she explains, gesturing to the stuffed toy. From Tony’s angle it looks kind of like a brown furry octopus with horns, if an octopus were built more like an elephant. Or if an elephant had eight - is it only eight? - legs.
“What does that mean?” Steve asks, mystified.
Darcy tilts her head, eyes distant. “He described it to Jane, and Jane drew it, and then I took it to a friend of mine who makes plush toys on Etsy, and voila.” Darcy spreads the fingers of her free hand with a flourish. “Weird, many-legged Asgardian comfort object. Apparently he had one as a kid - like, the first time he was a kid.”
“That’s... really sweet,” Steve says, quietly.
Darcy smiles brightly. “Yeah, he’s like that. When he’s not getting everyone drunk and accidentally knocking holes in things.”
Tony nods. This, he knows from experience.
“Anyway,” Darcy says, straightening, “I’m actually here because Erik and Jane are making an attempt today, and they thought you guys should know. Y’know, given Shorstack here.” She nods at Loki, and Tony wonders when everybody but him started using that nickname.
“They got it working?” Steve asks, surprised. It takes Tony an embarrassingly long five seconds to realize they’re talking about the Bifrost.
Darcy makes a vague, provisional sort of noise. “Well, sort of. Maybe.” She shrugs. “I guess we’ll see. It’s a preliminary test, so we might not get anything, plus we might blow out the power plant, which would be exciting.”
“You’ll definitely blow out the power plant. I haven’t had time to finish going over the latest specs yet,” Tony says, trying to sit up again and remembering all over again why that was a bad idea the last time. Steve makes an alarmed noise and leaps to his feet to push Tony back down into the bed, and Tony goes without fighting too much. They were supposed to wait for him. He was helping. Even if said helping as often as not devolved into mostly-friendly bickering with Jane over design details, with Jane complaining his estimates were needlessly conservative and Tony declaring that she was crazy with no sense of proportion and that she was going to kill them all. These are argumentative positions he doubts either one of them ever imagined occupying. It’s all good, though; any time it gets too heated Darcy declares them done for the day and drags them out to the nearest bar.
Darcy waves him back. “Cool it, hot stuff. They seem pretty sure they’ve got a handle on it for now, but I promise I’ll convey your scorn and warnings of doom, okay?”
Tony relaxes a little. “As long as you promise.”
Darcy salutes and leaves.
Not even an hour passes before there’s a buzzing sound, a faint shaking in the floor, and then the lights all go out with an ominous zzzt-clunk.
“And that,” says Tony smugly as the blue emergency lights flicker on, “is why engineers are sexier than physicists.”
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