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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: telepathic nonsense, violence, references to canonical character deaths, dehumanization

           For a fraction of a second, it actually does feel like something he can understand: the pieces of a gun slotting smoothly together after he has finished cleaning them, the moment a target comes into focus down the sights of a sniper rifle, the feeling when a lock he’s picking clicks into true. For another fraction of a second he can feel it, just like Loki described, all the little branching pathways suddenly opening up with light and color, expanding, unfurling.
            And then it’s the first deep breath with lungs that actually work the way they’re supposed to, and his dim surprise—through the lingering dizziness and exhaustion of Howard Stark’s machine—that people without asthma feel like this all the time. Opening his eyes to perfect sharp color everywhere and thinking what this would do for his art before remembering he’s a soldier now, not an artist. The feel of his shield slapping back into his hand on a perfect rebound. Glass shattering almost painlessly around him as he misjudges his new size and mass and crashes through a shopfront window. The first time he saw Peggy, and the way she looked at him like he was worth looking at when no one else did. Erskine, actually believing he could be more than a skinny little guy with a big mouth (and dying for it). Diving for the dummy grenade at camp with the thought well, I was always gonna die young flashing half-formed through his head. His mom, exhausted, falling asleep at the kitchen table, and him too much of a scrawny weakling to carry her to bed like he should, so he’d just cover her with a blanket. His mom, and the way she breathed at the very end, so slow and shallow that at first he didn’t even realize when she went. The showgirls and the stupid skit they performed until he was hearing it in his sleep (“And those are your only two options? A lab rat or a dancing monkey?”). Bucky. Oh god, Bucky, “I’m with you till the end of the line,” the only guy who had his back in so many of those stupid fights he got himself into, the only one who thought sticking up to bullies for a stick-thin brat was worth his time. Bucky, more handsome than ever in his uniform, and him watching with a dizzying combination of pride for his friend and jealousy. Bucky in the HYDRA base (a dark-haired man, injured, on a table in a HYDRA lab), awareness slowly returning to his eyes, a mumbled “I thought you were smaller.” Schmidt tearing off his own face. The Howling Commandos, his friends, men who followed not just Captain America but Steve Rogers. Fire. Violent blue light.
            The train. Metal giving way, falling, Bucky’s horrified face above him, hands grasping at empty air. Falling. Landing. Cold and darkness, and then voices, Zola’s face above him. Lashing out and finding himself unable to move. Cold again, bone-deep and suffocating, a long stretch of cold dark nothing. A machine, metal clamped to his head, something in his mouth, pain. Zola again, the one he’d underestimated, the scurrying little scientist in Schmidt’s shadow (the one who’d succeeded where Schmidt hadn’t, the one who made a mockery of everything he now knows Peggy and Howard created). Cold and dark and pain and pain and everything ripped away from him, and then the razor clarity of his missions, punctuated by more cold, more pain. His finger on the trigger, calm and still and patient, over and over again—for HYDRA, for the KGB, for HYDRA-within-SHIELD. Target acquired. Target eliminated. Acceptable levels of collateral damage. Names, faces, oh god I killed
            He is Steve Rogers is Captain America is the Winter Soldier is the asset is—
            He remembers, and he doesn’t know who he is.
            He is still falling—
            He is still falling, stars fading to nothing as the Void draws him in, and everything is going numb, tears freezing to his face as he falls into cold dark nothing, and the cold dark nothing bites into his body and his mind but even that cannot make him stop seeing their faces, Thor’s horrified (why) as he opens his hand, Odin’s still grave and saddened and so very disappointed, and as the Bifrost dwindles to nothing above/below/behind him he cannot stop hearing Thor, begging (why), “Loki, no,” and Odin, quieter but so much more devastating, “No, Loki”—
      —these aren’t mine—
            Rogers tries to jerk away, feels Loki doing the same, feels the spike of his own alarm and of Loki’s, but something is tangled, falling cold dark pain, and his body is very distant, and now the images/thoughts/feelings flickering through his mind almost too quick to grasp aren’t his memories but Loki’s.
            He sees/hears/feels—
            —he is cold and alone and afraid and so very small, and he doesn’t understand—
      —he is older, and he has a protector now, Thor, brother, but he dreams of being cold and alone, and of monsters in the dark, and he still doesn’t understand—and then he learns about the beasts called Jotnar and thinks he does understand, and he is still more afraid, and only Thor’s earnest promises (“I’ll slay every last one of those monsters before I let a single one of them hurt you!”) can calm him after his worst nightmares—
     —he is older still, and Thor is yet his protector, but he watches Thor make friends with an ease that baffles him. He worries, and so he tries to make friends of his own, but he doesn’t know how, and it is even more difficult when his ability to spend time with other children is repeatedly hindered by the feverish sickness that so often lays him low during Asgard’s hot summers and that seems to strike no one else at all—
      —he is much older, and he has learned to protect himself, because Thor is too busy with his training and his friends, and Loki has begun to understand that he is only the spare, loved by Frigga and perhaps Thor but only tolerated by everyone else, his ever-increasing mastery of seidr viewed not with pride or appreciation or awe but suspicion and disdain (even Thor, in front of his own friends, dismisses Loki’s abilities as mere tricks)—has begun to understand that he is not like Thor, cannot be like Thor, and so he is nothing—
            —he is almost a man and he has long known himself to be an outcast, weaker and smaller than an Asgardian warrior is supposed to be, scorned for his shortcomings when he tried to be what was expected, distrusted or mocked as a coward when he began to rely on speed and trickery and magic rather than brute force. He no longer cares what Asgard thinks, what the nobles think, what Thor’s friends think. He is cleverer than all of them, sly and quiet and observant and underestimated, and it has been a long time since anyone has cornered him in the training yards as an easy target and sent him to the healing halls again (longer still since he believed he could rely on Thor to protect him). He does not care that Odin shows little interest in his magecraft or his subtle maneuvering to smooth over messes that Thor’s temper and impulsiveness often create, or that he is so easy to forget except when he makes himself impossible to ignore. He is content to remain in the shadows for now, because that is where he chooses to be, and someday he will show them, and Asgard will understand his value. He tells himself these things, so often and for so long that he almost believes them, except at night when he wakes from nightmares or cannot sleep at all and he is so alone he thinks he will be sick with it—
      —he is a man, if only just, and Thor is to be crowned—he is not ready, everyone should be able to see that, but they are all blinded by love of their golden prince, and Loki knows no one will listen, knows he has to show them (knows he has to stop this or consign himself to eternity in his brother’s shadow and the inescapable knowledge that despite everything he is not good enough, in the eyes of all Asgard and of his father), knows he has to act now—
      —he is in battle on Jotunheim, his arm turning blue in the monster’s grip, and everything is falling apart, and through the fury and confusion and panic a little voice in the back of his head is saying yes, this explains everything
      —he is king, and he has this one chance to show Father that he is worthy, and so he will wipe out all the monsters and finish what Odin started so long ago, and he will do it without risking a single Asgardian life in war, because he can do this for Asgard and for his family (for himself, to prove that he is good for something even though he is not Thor, to show everyone that he is a true Asgardian and not a monster, because if he destroys the monsters he cannot be one of them and no one else will ever have to know what lurks under his skin), because he is not fated to bring only ruin even though he cannot forget how Father collapsed as Loki shouted at him—
      —he is watching as the humans scatter before him like ants, fury boiling up inside him at Thor’s friends who have decided to commit treason simply because they do not want to give him a chance, at Thor himself for commanding such loyalty and love that no one is willing to see if Loki is good for anything, and so he sends the Destroyer through the pitiful little desert town, and even as a banished mortal Thor is still better and in his rage Loki strikes out and Thor dies, his weak human body dies and Loki cannot think past a dizzying combination of stunned triumph and horrified shock—
      —he is fighting Thor on the Bifrost, Thor who has changed and grown after only three days in the company of a few mortals when he has not listened to his brother for centuries—Thor, the hypocrite, “You can’t destroy an entire race!” as if he hadn’t desired exactly that just days ago, but Loki has come too far to change his course now and so he refuses to feel the sudden flicker of unease that the Jotnar cannot all be warriors—
        — he is lost, knows he is lost, wants nothing more than to be done, and so he lets go
he is falling—
      —he is pinned to a table, flayed open and exposed for Midgardian scientists to study, and even as he cannot understand why the Norns will not let him die, he knows that this is what monsters are good for (kinslayer, destroyer of worlds, monster among monsters), and it is no more than he deserves—
            It’s Loki who manages to wrench away first, and Rogers is suddenly back on the bed in his little Bethesda apartment, scrambling to sit up and put his back to the wall. He stares at Loki, breathing hard. “What the hell was that?”
            Loki’s hand moves up aimlessly toward his own temple and then back down again with a wince, his fingers visibly trembling. He looks at least as shaken as Rogers feels. “I…may have misjudged…”
            “You think?” Rogers snaps. He realizes he’s shaking too, but he doesn’t know if it’s anger or just reaction. It’s easier to be angry at Loki than to think about—anything he’s just learned. “I thought you said if it went wrong, nothing would happen. That was a whole lot more than nothing.”
            Loki focuses on him, his eyes narrowing. “I’m so terribly sorry my memories were inconvenient for you. I did tell you I was not practiced at mind magic, and you insisted. Do not forget that.”
            Rogers sputters out an incredulous laugh. “For once, forgetting is not the problem. Why the hell did I see your memories? I’ve got enough to deal with in my head now, I didn’t need your baggage too.”
            A twitchy shrug. “I can only guess that…there were enough points of similarity…I lost control of the magic. It should not have happened.”
            “No shit,” Rogers says. His heart is pounding, and he has to hold onto this anger. “‘Points of similarity.’ I’m nothing like you.” He wants Loki to snap back, he realizes as he says it, wants to goad the other man into a fight.
            Instead Loki looks away, even his brief irritation seeming to drain out and leave him empty. “No. I imagine not. Did you at least find what you were looking for?”
            “Did I—” He snaps his mouth shut, but it’s too late, just that question is enough to yank his own memories back to the forefront of his mind. “I was Captain America, I was a symbol, I was supposed to be good, and they—and I—” He remembers Howard and Maria, remembers a car on a dark road, thinks he might be sick. Remembers what Erskine died to create. “‘Not a perfect soldier but a good man.’ Oh, god.”
           “Well, I suppose succeeding in one out of two is not so terrible,” Loki murmurs, and somehow that’s what does it. The fury comes roaring back, everything the asset acted on but couldn’t feel, and before he can think he’s on his feet, slamming Loki and his wheelchair against the near wall hard enough to crack the plaster. Loki’s head snaps back with a pained grunt, and then Rogers is looming over him, hands white-knuckled on the wheelchair’s arms, breathing hard and wanting to destroy something (someone), and all he can think is how dare you laugh at this—
            But Loki isn’t laughing, he’s pressed into the back of the chair looking up at Rogers warily (and then an awful hope starts to enter his expression, and Rogers really doesn’t want to think about what that means), and the truth hits Rogers like a blow to the gut. This is the answer to all his questions; this is what he is now. Whatever and whoever he used to be, today he’s somebody who will threaten a guy in a wheelchair who’s so wounded from a year of torture that he can barely move.
            He lets go and backs away, Loki still watching him, and when Loki opens his mouth to speak, Rogers turns around and leaves the room nearly at a run. He doesn’t stop when he reaches the front door, just locks it behind himself and takes the stairs to the building’s roof, because he can’t be trapped in that little apartment with himself and all these memories a second longer.
          For a long moment, Loki just stares at the bedroom doorway as if Rogers is going to come right back, even though he knows the other man has left the apartment. Everything inside him seems to have gone numb.
            It should not hurt, after everything, for Rogers to reject him too. He should have at last reached the point of having nothing left to lose. It hurts anyway, an ache somewhere deep inside and a sickness in his gut—and a dull anger at himself for believing he might deserve anything more. Of course Rogers does not want him, now that he understands what Loki is and what he has done. Of course he would be so disgusted by Loki’s craven desire to be finished that he would refuse to grant him that mercy once he regained all his faculties.
            But he’d thought…seeing Rogers’ memories, feeling his helpless anger against his bullies, his frustration at the treacherous weakness of his own body, his illnesses, his bone-deep awareness of being less, the fall, the dark, the cold, everything that broke the magic away from Loki’s grasp and turned a simple link into a two-way flood…it wasn’t supposed to happen, but he never would have lost control if Rogers’ memories hadn’t mirrored so many of his own fears and failures and inadequacies back to him. And just for a moment, he’d thought—if Rogers understood these things, in a way no one else ever has, perhaps he would understand Loki himself. Would not hate him, as everyone does eventually.
            He should not be surprised, he supposes. He is a monster, he has always been a monster even when he naively believed himself a person, so it is fitting that Rogers would only be repulsed by what he saw when Loki accidentally bared his soul to him.
           He lowers his hands to the chair’s wheels, clenches his teeth, and forces himself to grip hard enough to move forward. He doesn’t go far, though, stopping next to the couch in the front room and turning a blank gaze on the apartment door. He has no idea what to do next. Rogers could come back, but there is no reason at all for him to do so. The laptop is still here, and the knife Loki kept, but even these things are easily replaced if he does not want to deal with Loki any longer. He certainly needs nothing Loki can offer him. And without him, Loki can…what? Stay here until he heals? He has no idea how long it will be before he is reasonably functional again, but the extent and severity of his injuries and the weakened state of his body and seidr all point to quite some time before he is able to move about as he wishes. Until then, simply taking care of his own basic needs will range from difficult to impossible, and he will not be able to acquire more food when he runs out.
            And all of this is a best-case scenario (as Rogers might say, he realizes). The chances of HYDRA leaving him in peace long enough to recover fully—or even to recover past the point of near helplessness—are slim at best. He does not expect Rogers to turn him over (he is a little surprised to realize he does not expect this, considering it would be a tidy way for Rogers to be rid of him, but with his memories restored Rogers probably hates HYDRA even more than Loki does…and it does not seem like the sort of thing he would do). He is less certain that this supposed safehouse is entirely secure and that HYDRA will not find him here. If nothing else, his time on Midgard has taught him a great deal about the ingenuity and persistence of the humans Asgard still believes to be primitive.
            So he has…a few days, perhaps—a little more if he can scrape together enough magic to lay out some decent misdirection spells, which he is not at all confident he will be able to do. Enough to make a little progress in his healing, especially if he husbands his seidr very carefully and directs it toward the most critical areas while still leaving a bit left over. But he will have to leave soon—if he waits until HYDRA agents come for him, it will be far too late—and he has neither anywhere to go nor any way to get there.
            Once again, he has nothing.
            Well, Allfather, you were right about one thing—exile to Midgard is indeed profoundly humbling, though perhaps not in the way you expected. I can only imagine how quickly you would have called Thor home if you saw him subjected to even a fraction of what I have experienced.
            He almost wants to laugh, might do so if not for the awful hollowness in his chest. Now he is truly being foolish. How can he still feel that twist of bitterness over the Allfather’s obvious favoritism? It is hardly favoritism to prefer one’s own son over a pet monster, hardly injustice to take no interest in the fate of a Jotun runt after it has proved itself useless.
            A quiet noise breaks into his thoughts: the click of a lock releasing. And then the door bursts open and black-clad HYDRA soldiers swarm into the apartment.

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