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Title: all this that is more than a wish is a memory
Author name: 100indecisions on AO3
Characters/Pairing: Loki & Steve Rogers, very gradually working in a Steve/Loki direction
Fandom/Universe: MCU
Rating: R for violence
Word count: ~26,000
Warnings: Violence and resulting injuries, medical experimentation/torture, suicidal thoughts, dehumanization (these are the main ones, but each chapter will have additional warnings when relevant)
Summary: Direct sequel to let me see you stripped down to the bone, in which the soldier with the star-spangled shield became a weapon for the other side, and decades later, the false prince fell from the sky and became their experiment. The soldier and the prince were never supposed to meet—but they did, and together they escaped from HYDRA. This is what happens next. (Or, the AU where Steve is the Winter Soldier and Loki’s a HYDRA guinea pig, and things are generally awful.)


Chapter-specific warnings: a lot more violence than previous chapters, Holocaust mention, a couple racial slurs in a historical context, more telepathic nonsense

           They will not, will not take him again, he will die first, he will make them kill him if he cannot take them down—
            He has enough magic left for a single burst of power, and when he sees electricity crackling down the shafts of the batons they hold, feels ozone and static gathering like a thundercloud around the same guns they used to incapacitate him before, tastes the drugs in the vials they carry, he knows what he will do with it. He doesn’t have the strength to destroy them all, but at least he can take their drugs and lightning-powered weapons out of the equation.
            He draws everything inward to a central point and shoves, and it feels like something vital has gone out of him (like hands tearing out his insides) and his vision nearly blanks out. But he sees sparks exploding from their weapons, sees two of the agents drop their batons with a curse, and he feels a tiny flare of satisfaction that at least they cannot take him this way, harmlessly and at a distance. In close combat, he has a chance.
            He curls his hand around the hilt of Rogers’ knife, forcing himself to ignore the pain splintering through his bones. He will bear any pain now if it means they will not take him back.
            One of the agents makes a rush for him, formerly electrified baton raised to use as a club, and Loki wrenches back on one wheel to turn the chair sideways and slam into his opponent’s knees. The agent staggers, and before he can recover, Loki jams the blade up under his arm where he has no protection—yanks it back out and slams his elbow into another agent’s groin on the backswing, stabs down at the first agent’s thigh.
            And then the wheelchair goes slewing over sideways as an agent jerks it off balance, and Loki is thrown to the floor. He feels an almost-healed finger snap on impact, but the pain rattling up all his bones is nothing compared to the rush of choking terror that floods him.
          No, no no no—
            He shoves himself over, lashing out with the knife and catching the arm of the agent reaching for him, kicks out and feels bones grind together as he smashes his heel into the agent’s face plate. A boot slams down toward his face and he jerks aside, buries the knife to its hilt in the back of the agent’s knee, uses the man’s momentum to grip and twist and finally, a bone that isn’t his gives way as the agent tumbles to the floor—
            Jagged pain erupts in his chest as his damaged lungs start to seize. Loki curls in on himself, convulsing, the knife torn from his grasp, and this time he can’t stop the hands twisting his arm up and back, the boot crushing the bones of his knife hand, the colossal blow of an agent driving his heel into Loki’s back between his shoulder blades. His shoulder is wrenched from its socket, a shout of pain ripped from his throat. More hands pull his leg sideways, the one that is still badly broken, and something slams into the side of his knee and he feels the bone shatter.
            He cannot fight them. Of course he cannot. They have spent an entire year learning how to hurt him and weaken him and cripple him without killing him. They know exactly where all the cracks are.
            “Get away,” he gasps, “get away,” please no no don’t I can’t
            A hand clamps down over his jaw, something stretchy sealing tight over his nose and mouth, like all those times back in the laboratory, and a spike of panic drives away even the tiny bit of air remaining to him. There are hands, everywhere, so many hands, the sparking pain of broken bones, what feels like a giant’s fingers around his chest squeezing and crushing and his ribs are cracking and his lungs won’t inflate and he can’t breathe and he is not going to die. They will never let him die. They will drag him back into hell and tear him apart over and over again for nothing more than their own curiosity and he cannot do this.
            He cannot breathe. He cannot free himself. He cannot stop them.
            No, please—please…
***
       It’s cooler up here on the roof, the breeze whipping through Rogers’ hair, and for a moment he only stands still and breathes. He just—he just needs to think, find some kind of equilibrium, and then…well, he’s not naïve enough to think he can somehow go right back to being Steve Rogers and everything will be fine, but if nothing else, he needs to stabilize so he’s not taking this out on Loki. Who has done some awful things, but who also warned him against this, after all, and who was only doing what Rogers asked him to.
            Who is probably still hoping Rogers will come back and finish him off.
           He sits down abruptly on the roof’s gritty surface, feeling nauseated. His own memories feel raw, like an exposed nerve, but thinking about Loki’s memories is almost as bad, and his mind shies away from both.
            He was Captain America. He was the Winter Soldier. He’s neither now, and he has to figure out where that leaves him.
            Where the hell does he even start?
            And now that he has his answers…what does he want?
            Well, he wants for none of this to have happened. He wants to have stayed on the train with Bucky and stayed Captain America and taken down Schmidt without anybody needing to dump a plane into the ice and maybe actually gone on a date with Peggy. He wants, a whole hell of a lot, to have never been taken by HYDRA and turned into the Winter Soldier. And the things he really wants aren’t things he can have, because there’s no way to change what’s already happened. (Unless there is, unless Loki knows about some kind of magic that can turn back time—but no, he would’ve used that himself by now if such a thing existed.)
            So Rogers can’t somehow stop having been the Winter Soldier. He can’t even pick up where he left off and pretend it never happened, because the world now is almost unrecognizable compared to what he remembers. His Brooklyn doesn’t exist anymore, not really, and everyone he knew…
            He can’t go back. He can’t be Captain America again, and he won’t be the Winter Soldier. He has no idea how to go forward, or even whether he should, because the things he’s done—things that, yes, HYDRA made him do, but it was still his finger on the trigger, his hands and strength and reflexes that served HYDRA’s goals—can’t just be brushed aside. The people he killed personally are still dead, and so are the people who died in the wars he helped start, and the weight of it is too much but rejecting all responsibility is almost worse because that means he really was a mindless weapon, not a person, and if HYDRA could so easily turn him into a thing, what the hell is he now?
           And then there’s Loki, who temporarily killed his brother and permanently killed his birth father before attempting genocide against his own race. Rogers doesn’t know what to think—or feel—about that, but it’s easier right now than trying to think about himself. He knows Loki didn’t deliberately kill Thor; knows, as much as Loki did, that a similar blow from the Destroyer would have barely injured any Aesir, especially one as strong as Thor. If Loki had blasted his brother with the Odinforce instead, Thor probably would’ve stayed dead. As for the rest of Puente Antiguo, Loki has no idea whether there were casualties, so Rogers doesn’t either, and he wishes he’d thought to read up on the incident back at HYDRA. Maybe a lot of civilians died. Maybe nobody did.
            (Rogers knows he’s killed civilians. He doesn’t want to remember their faces.)
            As for Jotunheim, and Loki’s attempt to destroy an entire planet… Steve Rogers, at least, is human enough to be a little horrified, but he also learned enough about racism that Rogers can recognize it now in the way Asgard views the Jotnar. He remembers the propaganda posters of subhuman Japs and Krauts killing women and children, how even before he went to Europe and met actual Germans he thought it was disgusting, acting like your enemies weren’t really people so it was easier to hate them and kill them. He remembers learning about the death camps and how the Nazis used the exact same tactics to convince ordinary people that all their Jewish neighbors were untermensch. He can imagine how a war like the one between Asgard and Jotunheim would color the way each race thought of the other, how Loki could grow up convinced the members of another race weren’t even people, and he can see it with a lot less bias than Loki can.
           Laufey probably deserved what happened to him, considering he tried to assassinate Odin, but even he was obviously a person, and there had to be civilian Jotnar. Kids, even, since after all Loki was found as a baby. Hell, Loki himself seems pretty normal, and Rogers has serious doubts that Loki’s only a person because he grew up away from the planet of his birth. Still, Rogers can barely get his mind around the level of destruction Loki attempted. The only genocidal dictator he knows anything about is Hitler, but that’s not a fair comparison, is it? Loki is… a bit more like a kid who grew up in Nazi Germany in a perfect little Aryan family, maybe, being taught practically from birth that Jews were subhuman, and then learned as an adult that he was adopted and Jewish and his actually Aryan parents hadn’t done a thing to teach him his own people were human. The best reaction would be to realize how wrong all the Nazi rhetoric was and try to work against it, but if you were still pretty young, and you were scared, and you didn’t want anyone to know because then maybe they’d turn on you too—
            Well, it would be easy to double down on your ingrained prejudice and become even more dedicated to stamping out the supposedly lesser race, because if you were working to destroy them, no one would ever think you were one of them, and you’d be safe. It would be easy to lash out at everyone else around you, too, everyone who lied to you or represented that perfect ideal you’d never be able to reach, everyone even remotely connected to the way you’d just had your whole identity destroyed—and if other people got caught in the crossfire, not necessarily monsters but definitely unimportant because you’d always been taught that too, would you even notice? It’s not a very compassionate or praiseworthy reaction, certainly, but it’s…understandable. Human. And he realizes abruptly that he can’t hate Loki for any of it, even in an abstract way.
           Hate him for throwing Rogers’ mind into this much turmoil, maybe, which is awful and unfair of him, but he’s feeling way too much and it’s all going to overwhelm him if he can’t direct it somewhere. Consider if this works, he remembers Loki telling him, and the answers you find are not ones you can bear, and the suggestion that only HYDRA would be able to take the memories back again, and he shivers. He’s sure about that, if he’s sure about nothing else: going back and asking for that is not an option. If HYDRA tries to scrape out his soul again and turn him back into a husk only capable of completing the missions they assign him, he will go down fighting first.
           With that realization, somehow, his breathing gets a little easier, because he might not know what to do but he does have choices again, and he’s just made one, drawn a very firm line between what is and isn’t acceptable. He’s chosen, definitively, against HYDRA. That’s something.
           A wave of panic slams into him out of nowhere, so strong and sudden that Rogers actually jerks in place. For half a second he thinks it’s something out of his memories, delayed reaction to things he’s only just remembered, or worse there are wires crossed in the mess of his mind and his emotions will always be out of sync with reality. But it feels a little removed, too, like—like the way he felt watching soldiers onscreen was an impossibly distant cousin to the feeling of real combat—
            —like it’s not his, and then the fear seems to take shape, fragmented images of HYDRA soldiers in full tactical gear in Rogers’ apartment, and it isn’t Rogers’ fear but he recognizes it as if it were, because he felt exactly this just a few minutes ago. It’s Loki’s. He’s feeling Loki’s panic, even though the mind-magic that restored his memories is supposed to be over.
            Because they’re still linked. He can feel it now, a tenuous connection at the back of his mind, on the same bizarre new level of awareness at which he’d experienced Loki’s mental presence. They didn’t just get a compressed version of each other’s life histories, they’re still linked, and he is feeling and seeing what Loki is feeling and seeing at this very moment.
            For a split second Rogers just stares, his entire mind seeming stuck at magic, what the ever-loving hell, how do I get myself into these things, and then the asset’s instincts take over, accepting the questions and setting them aside for now as the least important part of the current situation. Why and how aren’t relevant to figuring out how to respond in a crisis, and the asset was always very good at prioritizing, at reducing a problem to its component parts free of anything extraneous. All the uncertainty about his past and future go the same way, more or less neatly blocked off for later, where they won’t distract him. (The surge of unease when he realizes he’s grateful for some part of the asset’s conditioning—that can wait too. Right now, he needs the asset’s razor-sharp focus.)
            So: HYDRA is here. How isn’t immediately relevant, whatever Rogers knows about his own ability to lose a tail. Why is obvious: to retrieve him and Loki. His basic options, too, are obvious: they’ve found Loki and they haven’t reached Rogers yet, almost certainly don’t know he’s received some kind of psychic early warning, so he’ll have a head start and a decent chance at getting away clean if he leaves now while they recapture Loki. Or he can stay and fight, and risk HYDRA taking him too.
            Even as thinks it, he’s getting up and moving toward the edge of the roof, plotting out the placement of the balconies below him and matching them up in his head to his mental map of his floor and the building as a whole. Three floors away is easy. He plants one foot on the roof’s lip, calculates angle and distance, and jumps—catches himself quickly on the railing directly below him and to the left, reverses, launches himself at the balcony across and down. There’s definitely a memory of something an awful lot like this in one of HYDRA’s bases, everything collapsing in flames around him, but he keeps it safely back with everything else. Still not relevant.
           Rogers lands lightly on the correct balcony and steps aside where he’s not likely to be seen—if anyone inside is paying attention, which doesn’t seem likely either. Loki’s terror and desperation are still hammering at the back of his mind, and he forces down those emotions too, taking a deliberate moment to assess what he can see of the situation through the gaps in the curtains. Ten STRIKE agents are in the front room, all dressed in black, with body armor and faceplates; two are already down, both bleeding profusely, one with a visibly broken leg. The others are clustered together, punching and kicking somebody on the floor. For a second he can’t even see Loki in the press of bodies, but there’s only one person they would be attacking.
           One of the agents moves aside to avoid a kick from his victim, and Rogers sees that Loki’s mostly on his side, trying to curl inward in a vain attempt to protect himself because there’s not much else he can do—one leg is clearly broken again, left shoulder dislocated, and as Rogers watches, one of the agents slams his heel into Loki’s ribs, exactly where the worst fractures and the giant incision are. Loki doubles up, his head finally coming into view, and Rogers sees why he hasn’t heard so much as a cry of pain from him: there’s a rubbery mask over his nose and mouth, similar in shape to what Rogers himself often wears on missions, except his always let him breathe freely. The one on Loki’s face is skin-tight and air-tight, suffocating him, and above the mask his eyes are wide and panicked.
           Rogers feels his muscles winding tight in reaction and preparation. Even if he maybe didn’t make a conscious decision, he’s known what he was going to do since he started down here, that he can’t ignore Loki and leave him to HYDRA’s complete lack of mercy no matter what he’s done, definitely can’t ignore the painful terror still battering at the back of his own mind, but actually seeing it—Loki crippled and badly outnumbered and clearly trying his damnedest to fight anyway, and the agents not just working to subdue him but to hurt him again, break him again, because they’ve spent an entire year studying him and vivisecting him and now they’re putting that knowledge to use—
            The surge of protective fury startles him with its ferocity, because he hasn’t felt it—hasn’t been able to feel it—in decades, and finally something inside him feels right. He’s not Captain America anymore and he’s barely Steve Rogers but yes, he’s still going to throw himself on the side of the little guy, still going to help, because this is what he does and it’s what he wants to do.
           (And Loki’s had his entire world ripped away from him, just like Rogers has, and so…maybe they need each other. And Rogers wants, actually, to have a chance to—well, to get to know Loki properly, not as a nearly mindless soldier meeting a broken test subject, and not in a dizzying clash of magic-propelled memories that seems to have been mostly a highlights reel anyway. Somewhere beneath all that pain and anger and despair is a wickedly smart guy Rogers thinks he might even be able to like, and he’ll never get to find out if he doesn’t stop HYDRA from taking Loki now.)
           For half a second he almost reaches for the shield on his back that should be there but isn’t, and then he backs up to the railing and launches himself in a somersault through the glass door. It shatters around him, stinging cuts on his face and hands, but he barely notices, flinging away the curtain and snatching up the lamp as he rolls to his feet. The two nearest agents are halfway through a quick turn toward him when Rogers swings the lamp, taking one out at the knees and catching the other in the groin. He ducks a baton strike, catches another agent’s baton with the lamp cord and yanks it toward himself, and then he really wades in.
           The agents are good and they’re all armed with something, but Rogers is better. He’s falling back on instinct instead of letting himself think about it, so he fights with the speed, strength, and grace of Captain America and the intensity and single-minded focus of the Winter Soldier, and even STRIKE isn’t enough in the face of that combination. It’s not long before all the agents are scattered around him, either dead or unconscious, leaving only Loki staring up at him in shock. He’s managed to scrape the mask down a little and is sucking in heaving breaths through his nose, but his left arm is limp and useless, and his other hand is shaking as he struggles with the mask, most of his fingers swollen or twisted.
           “Hang on, let me get it,” Rogers says. He crouches, finds the clasp at the back of Loki’s head, and breaks it open, and Loki slumps back, gasping.
           Rogers glances around the room, assessing again (Captain America was good at this too, as a combat soldier, but the Winter Soldier is good at making it dispassionate, compartmentalizing, which he still needs). None of the agents are moving yet, so he rights Loki’s wheelchair where it’s lying nearby and pulls it over. Loki’s bleeding in several places, especially from the obviously reopened incision in his chest, but at least he doesn’t look more seriously injured than he already was in the lab, and based on that, none of his new injuries are life-threatening (of course not, because HYDRA wanted their test subject back more or less in one piece, and that thought brings back some of the anger that he really doesn’t have time for yet). They’re going to need better mobility, though.
           “I want to fix your shoulder,” he says. “Okay?”
           Loki glances at him, still breathing like he’s just come in from the world’s hardest PT run, and dips his chin a little. Rogers reaches for him, hesitates. “This is going to hurt like the devil. I’ll make it as quick as I can.”
           Loki huffs out a laugh and lets his head roll to the side. “I know.”
           Rogers takes hold of Loki’s arm as gently as he can and shoves, and the joint pops back into its socket. Loki jerks, his breath audibly hitching, and Rogers feels it, not the actual pain of Loki’s shoulder but something like an echo of it. Loki’s gaze snaps to his, eyes widening, and there’s a surreal moment where he can feel Loki reacting to Rogers’ reaction to Loki’s pain and the mutual recognition of this bizarre new link.
           —and then a coughing fit seizes him and he curls up, wheezing. Lung damage. Right. Not much they can do about that now. Rogers helps him sit up so he can breathe a little better and supports him through several tearing coughs that are probably just shy of bringing up blood.
           When the fit finally passes, he helps Loki into the wheelchair. Loki hunches inward, avoiding his gaze, so Rogers leaves him to catch his breath while he checks on the agents. Two of them are dead, one from a broken neck and the other probably from a blunt-force head injury, and Rogers can’t bring himself to feel too upset about that. He killed plenty of HYDRA soldiers during the war, after all. The others are only unconscious, and he uses their own handcuffs to restrain them. Next he retrieves their radios and all their weapons, resulting in quite the pile by the time he’s done. The stun batons are all dead, the guns all jammed, the radios fried, darts and syringes shattered. Rogers stares at the mess for a second, frowning, before reaching the obvious (if still kind of surreal) conclusion: magic. Apparently Loki can do something a little like an EMP field.
            “Why are we here?” Loki asks suddenly.
            “It’s my safehouse,” Rogers says, frowning.
            “No,” Loki says. “Why would you—a mostly mindless weapon—have a safehouse that is secret even from HYDRA?”
            Rogers stares at him and feels himself blanch as he gets what Loki’s driving at. “Shit.”
            “Quite so,” Loki says grimly. “The only reasonable answer is that you do not—they placed this location in your head for just such an eventuality. I was…not thinking clearly enough to realize, earlier, and—”
            “And I was programmed not to notice,” Rogers says. “We need to get out of here now. They’ll have more backup coming.” His other questions can wait a while longer, and even the turmoil of new/old memories will stay in the back of his mind for now. “Do you have enough magic left to sense when they’re close?”
            Loki narrows his eyes in concentration and nods. “I believe so, but we should not linger.”
            “Two minutes,” Rogers says, and makes a hasty sweep of the apartment to gather their few essentials and the usable ammo from the pile he made of the HYDRA agents’ wrecked weapons and radios. He bundles up his and Loki’s discarded clothes and Loki’s old bandages, too, on the assumption that HYDRA already has both of their DNA but he still doesn’t want to give them anything extra. By the time he’s done, Loki has managed to wheel himself to the door, his movements stiff with pain, and without breaking stride Rogers swings the now-full backpack over his shoulder and pushes the wheelchair into the hallway. “I’ll set the other new breaks as soon as I can,” he promises, to which Loki makes a vaguely dismissive gesture.
            The truck is outside where Rogers left it, and it looks undisturbed, but he knows better than to put any faith in appearances—HYDRA probably tagged it before they entered the building. “Whatever you did to the tracker in my arm last night and their radios just now,” he says, “can you do that to the truck? Without frying all the systems it needs to run? And maybe do something about the license plate? Otherwise I can get us another vehicle, but that’s going to take longer.”
            “I believe so,” Loki says. He rests one hand against the side of the truck and closes his eyes, letting out a long breath. Rogers waits, trying to keep his itchy impatience to himself, and after a moment there’s a pop and a spray of sparks from one of the wheel wells, then another under the engine. Loki opens his eyes and drops his hand, swaying a little, and his voice is a little unsteady too when he says, “There. I think…that is all of them.”
            “Good enough for now,” Rogers says. He gets Loki into the passenger seat and the wheelchair and backpack into the truck bed, then makes himself take a few more seconds to do a quick walkaround that doesn’t turn up any additional bugs. The license plate, bizarrely, doesn’t want him to look at it—which is unsettling as all hell but again more or less what he asked for, and he can indulge his vague discomfort with magic later.
            When Rogers slams his door and starts up the truck, Loki turns his head from where he’s let himself slump wearily against the seat and cracks one eye open. “Have you…any destination in mind?”
            “Away,” Rogers says, pulling away from the curb. “How’s that sound for now?”
            Loki smiles very faintly and lets his eye fall shut again. “Acceptable.”

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Comments

( 2 dare disturb the universe — do you dare disturb the universe? )
stormbrite
Nov. 5th, 2015 04:05 am (UTC)
Really good.I enjoyed reading that again with all the extra details,thoughts and memories.I am also looking forward to their future adventures.I am wondering about Loki's family and why they didn't or couldn't help him and if Bucky has been or will be found under the ice,if Thanos is still out there plotting and how Loki ending on Earth instead of with him would have changed his schedule. Even so just another adventure with the two of them healing and getting to know each other and themselves will be equally cool to read.
lady_moriel
Nov. 5th, 2015 04:20 am (UTC)
Thanks! I plan to address all that stuff in the follow-up fic I'm planning, although I make absolutely no promises about how long it might take me to get it written. :)
( 2 dare disturb the universe — do you dare disturb the universe? )