Steve Rogers had an obsession with the ocean. He spent hours, every day, simply sitting on the beach and staring at the waves.
The water reminded him of all of his fears. It reminded him of the ice. It reminded him of darkness, of loves and time lost. The ocean had been his tomb, it had been salvation. It had saved his life when he was set to die, cradling him until all else was gone and spitting him out. Truthfully, the ocean was all he had left. It reminded him of what was broken, but also what was lost. It made him wonder if it would ever take him back. If he could go under and wake up back where he'd fallen asleep.
"You come here everyday." Steve startled slightly as he turned to look at the man that had snuck up beside him. Green eyes were the first thing he noticed and he was lost to the slight for longer than he meant to be. They were unnaturally bright and unrealistically beautiful. It was a long moment before he noticed black hair and pale skin, a curious expression and a slight smile.
"Hello." Steve probably took far too long to answer. He hadn't spent time with much of anyone other than this beach and the ocean since Shield had thawed him from the ice. He was probably out of practice.
"Hello," The man said in turn. The man was smiling pleasantly at him, but he didn't say anything else. Steve waited to see if he would say anything else, but the man just turned back to the ocean, staring as Steve had done a moment ago. He looked completely content to sit silently by and watch at the water. He also didn't seem bothered that Steve was staring at him. Which allowed Steve to stare a lot longer than he would have before realizes that he was doing it. He turned back to the water, not knowing what to say, but not feeling as if the man was waiting for him to speak.
It was actually easy to forget the presence beside him. The silence remained until the sun had set and Steve finally decided to leave. It was only as he stood that he realized the other man was still there. He hesitated, feeling that he needed to do something, but not certain what. "Um, I'm leaving."
"Yes." The man nodded, eyes still on the water. He looked ethereal in the moonlight. Like his pale skin was made for moonlit nights rather than sunlit days. The man turned, soft pleasant smile still on his face. His eyes seemed to reflect the light of the night, but he didn't speak. Steve hesitated a bit longer before leaving, but the man had turned to face the waves again and there was no reason to stay.
Steve's days were mostly the same. He felt like he was moving too slowly when the world was moving too fast. There was too much everywhere and he felt like he didn't understand any of it. Shield didn't really do much to help, despite how much they tried to insert themselves into his life.
"Are you okay, Captain?" Natasha, an agent of Shield, questioned him. She'd been sticking close to him --watching him-- since he'd been pulled from the ice.
He was almost too lost in thought to answer her and as it was, there was a long pause before could respond. "I'm fine.
Steve was not fine, but he didn't know how to explain it, really. Shield seemed very focused on asking the questions, but not on finding the answer. Rather, they knew the answer, it was not very difficult for a group of spies to figure out that he was not fine, they just didn't seem to want to put much effort into helping him. Asking was the justification that he was well enough to do what they wanted. It didn't matter that the world had become a place he no longer knew when they pointed him where to toss the shield.
Natasha answered with a nod. "Let's get going then."
It was probably only when he was at Shield that he wasn't at the ocean instead. He much preferred being by the water.
"You never look happy when you come here." Once again, the green eyed man had managed to sneak up on him. He didn't stare quite so long this time.
"I'm not," He answered. His eyes were drawn back toward the water, but he felt almost equally compelled to simply stare at the man. The soft expression on his face didn't waver. He seemed more like a painting than a person.
"They say it calls out to those with lonely hearts," The man said.
"Do they?" Steve responded absently. "Never heard that before."
The rest of the time was spent in silence. This time the man was gone before Steve decided to leave. He came and went in absolute silence, but Steve couldn't really bring himself to worry. He didn't worry about anything when he stared at the waves.
There were very few things that remained of Steve's past. There was his shield, something that he never forgot the feel of yet seemed to lack purpose in his hands. The ocean that seemed to pull him back nearly every day, haunting him or helping him haunt himself, he couldn't tell. There was Peggy, old and dying and slipping farther away from him than she had been when he'd thought she was already dead.
He spent hours in her room hearing stories about a life he never got the chance to be a part of, thinking of memories wasted to the ice, grieving over a past, but not healing from the sorrow.
"It's really nice of you to come here so often," Sharon, Peggy's granddaughter, said to him when he'd arrived during one of her own visits. "I know grandmother really appreciates it."
"It's no trouble. It's nice to visit an old friend," He answered.
She smiled at him, but he felt like something was missing when he tried to return the gesture. Smiles weren't as natural to him as they used to be.
It was the same spot each time he went to watch the waves. He never walked, only sat and stared as the waves got closer and closer or moved further and further away. Both sequences made him fearful. Thinking that the water was coming to swallow him whole again or thinking that it was leaving him too.
"I'm afraid of the water," He said aloud. He didn't know there would be a voice to answer him, didn't know that he wasn't alone. The present felt as natural at his side as being alone did, always silent whether coming or going. It had been weeks since the first time they met and a handful of shared silences and broken conversation. Some meetings spent entirely in silence, all with the same expression of that pale face, in those green eyes.
"Why do you seek out something you fear?"
Steve never had to take his eyes away from the water. The man didn't look at him often and when he did, it didn't seem to follow the flow of conversation. Like a statue, he moved as if he had to stay in one position. He could spend hours staring at Steve or the water, and Steve never questioned any of it.
"Memories," He said. "It reminds me... of everything."
The man never questioned strange responses either.
Steve turned to him, studying the strange small smile that lived on the man's face. "What do you I call you?"
The man turned to face him. "You don't."
Steve frowned at that response. "What's your name?"
"I am Loki."
"Loki," Steve repeated. "I'm Steve."
"Yes," Loki nodded.
Steve frowned a bit more at that. "Did... did you already know my name?"
"No," Loki shook his head.
"Then why say yes?"
"Should I say no?" Loki retorted. "Am I to question the validity of your name?"
Steve didn't answer that, only turned back to the water. Loki did not. Loki continued staring at him until Steve finally rose and left. He considered that something was wrong with Loki.
Something was wrong with him, too.
Every afternoon spent in a hospital room felt like being in the ice. Like cold slowly coming over him and filling up his lungs. Like an unbearable freezing blow to his heart. Like the loss and certain knowledge that everything he had and knew was gone. Like everything was out of reach. The world was distorted as he watched it from below the waves and it was becoming more dark.
Natasha waited for him outside the hospital. "Hey, Cap. You okay?"
She held up a folder in front of him. "We got something urgent to take care of. Debrief on the way."
Shield felt a little like running a marathon, before the serum. He couldn't breathe, everything flew by too fast for him to focus and make out the details, and if he slowed or stopped he would fall behind. It was race, but he didn't know how to tell who was winning. He didn't even know if anyone else was running.
The water reminded him of everything, but at least he felt like he could breath.
"Why do you come here?" Steve asked Loki. He had an increasing difficulty keeping up with the time. It moved from day to night before he realized it. Weeks to months. Everything seemed to blur and only the moments he spoke to Loki really stood out. He couldn't keep up with whether or not Loki was beside him, though. Sometimes he looked over to find the man had left or remember that he'd never arrived.
"I watched you," Loki answer. "Nearly everyday you came here and you sat here and I wanted to know why. You do not move much. I thought humans moved more."
"You don't move much," Steve countered.
"When you put it that way, perhaps I understand the dilemma. Moving up here seems much harder."
When Steve took the time to think about it, he realized that he should have taken much more notice of their conversations. He also wondered if they'd been talking about the same thing.
When Nick Fury is attacked, Steve has no idea what to do. The only thing he can think is that Bucky is alive, and Bucky doesn't know him, and he has no idea what to do. He's failed his best friend twice and he has no idea what to do.
He sleeps on the beach that night, unable to force himself to go home. He falls asleep near sunset and wakes up with the moon still bright in the darkened sky. He stared into the waves without thought. He's only startled out of this mood when he notices a change in the waves, sitting up abruptly as he realized what he was seeing. Loki was walking out of the water, coming from seemingly nowhere but beneath the waves and completely naked as he approached.
Steve couldn't tear his eyes away. The pale skin was nearly glowing, the eyes more unnaturally bright than during the day. Loki was sitting down at his side before he began to take in the details the body before him. Loki's smile was the same as usual, unbothered as he always was by Steve's stare.
"Why do you sleep here?" Loki asked him.
"It's the only place I feel safe."
Loki reached out and placed a hand on his cheek and Steve realized that it was the first time the other man had touched him. "Why are you not safe?"
"Where did you come from?" Steve choked out instead. He didn't want to talk about his apartment being destroyed, his dead best friend being alive. He didn't want Loki to be apart of that world. Not when this beach was the only place things still made sense.
"I... Who are you?"
Amusement touched Loki's expression. "I am Loki."
"What are you?" Steve asked instead.
"I am of the sea," He told him. "Does it matter more than that?"
"Why... Why are you here?" Steve asked him. "Why talk to me? Why any of this?"
"I told you before. I watched you, from the water," Loki told him. "Everyday you came here and I got curious. You looked lost. I wondered if I could find you."
"Why did you want to?"
Loki smiled at him more sincerely, cupping Steve's face in his both his hands. He leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together. "I want to take you away. The way you look at the ocean, like it speaks to you... I want to show it to you."
"I'll share my skin with you."
Steve's expression morphed into one of confusion. "I don't understand."
"I have to remove my outer skin to come on land," Loki explained. "I can lend it to you and let you go beneath the waves."
"I don't understand why you would do that," Steve admitted.
Loki didn't give an answer. He pulled Steve's face closer, nuzzling into the other man's neck. "Tomorrow night, just after the sun sets. You must return it to me before the sunrise or I will be trapped on land forever." Loki continued to nuzzle Steve, his nose tracing across Steve's neck, over the shell of his ear, into his hair, before pulling back and meeting his eyes. There was something hypnotic about the soft expression.
"I'll be here," Steve promised.
Loki's eyes lit up when his smile widened. Loki never smiled with teeth, but his eyes were echoing the expression in a way they never had before. He wondered why he missed so many inhuman things about Loki. Then he wondered if he's really missed them at all, or just preferred something that felt as out of place as he had.
Steve showed up the next night before the sun set. He was treated to the sight of watching Loki rise from the ocean once more in the moonlight, but this time, he noticed --Loki let him notice-- as the man removed his skin. He moved far enough ashore that Steve could see him clearly, but he was still in the water. Steve stared greedily at the sight of Loki's more aquatic body. Green and black scales covered him, fins and tail shining in the moonlight like treasure. He peeled off his skin, the sight beautiful and otherworldly, painful to look upon and entirely entrancing. Loki's eyes were closed, his expression between serenity and pain, clear fluid flowed off of him, thicker than water, as he pulled the skin further and further away, like he was bleeding from everywhere at once. Once it was removed, it turned robe like in Loki's arms, a thick heavy fabric that looked nothing like the scales and skin torn off moments before.
Loki smiled at him and Steve searched for a sign of the pain that the sight evoked in himself, but he had never been able to read that expression and now was no different. Legs revealed, Loki stood and walked toward him. "You must remove everything," Loki told him. "The fabric must bond with your skin or you will drown."
Steve complied without complaint, removing his clothes silently. He didn't think of it until afterwards. Loki watched him greedily, eyes roaming over every inch of exposed skin, but it didn't feel uncomfortable, like he would have expected. Nothing did when Loki did it. It didn't feel like lust. Didn't feel like attraction or curiosity. He didn't know what it was, only that it was intense and greedy, wanting in some way, but not taking.
Loki held the robe out to him, but paused as Steve reached for it. His eyes darted away a moment in thought, before he spoke. "The removal... shall be painful." The look on Loki's face was sad for the first time that Steve had ever seen. He wondered if Loki thought this would deter him. It probably would deter most people, but Steve wasn't them. Steve hadn't been most people since he woke from the ice.
"I want it," He said simply. Things were never anything but simple with Loki. He wondered if there were something about Loki in particular, or if it was just the way of his kind, the simplicity that gave without taking, making Steve feel for the first time in months as if he wasn't losing something when he interacted with others.
Loki took his hand and his smile widened enough that Steve got a quick flash of teeth. Sharp and unnaturally white. Frightening, if he thought about it, but he didn't feel afraid. He let Loki lead him into the water and sat on the shore. Loki pulled the robe around him, pressing his hands into every intimate crevice of his body, and Steve felt the soft, slick material take hold of his skin. It was intimate, probably the most intimate thing Steve had ever done, but again lacking lust and longing.
"Before sunrise," Loki whispered. Then he was free.
The time went far too quickly and afterwards, he felt like the memories were nothing more than a beautiful blur. The feel of the water, the colors, the heaviness of breathing with gills instead of lungs. It felt like coming home, being welcomed into the sea without the threat of the ice. Romantic in a way that protected him from the pain of memories of a watery grave. This wasn't death any longer, it was life.
Afterwards, he lay on the beach, water lapping at him, watching Loki approach slowly. He was still naked and Steve suddenly wondered where he had been getting clothes, but he didn't ask. Loki smiled at him, the same smile he'd done from the beginning, soft and calm and without teeth. Then he wordlessly began to remove the skin and Steve screamed.
It felt just as if his skin was being peeled off. Which it was, he supposed, but Loki hadn't screamed. Loki had looked calm as he rent away his own flesh. Steve would later wonder how he'd done it, but he didn't have the mind for it at the moment. He bled from everywhere as the skin was removed, but nothing scarred. He screamed the entire time, start to finish. Loki began at his neck, peeling away the gills, then removing the fins and the scales, until finally the tail was torn away and he had legs again.
Steve threw up on the beach from the pain. Loki was calmly stroking his back when Steve regained senses that could process anything other than pain. He was still bloody, but most of it had been washed away by the waves. Loki didn't look put out by the sight of him, bloody and vomiting, in the least. Just that same soft look and he stroked a hand along Steve's spine. "You did well," Loki told him.
Steve didn't feel like he'd done anything well.
He passed out on the beach.
When he woke, he was clean and his clothes were laid atop him, but he wasn't dressed. He was also alone and he couldn't explain the deepness of the ache or the need to rush into the water and walk until he found Loki. He felt like something was missing from him, like he was empty. He had thought he'd felt that way before, but this was much worse.
It was two weeks later that Peggy died.
He stood unmoving in the hospital for a long time, until someone finally made him move, finally made him leave. He went the ocean.
He walked into the waves, closing his eyes as he felt the water rising above his ankles, over his hips, past his chest. Once he was neck deep in water, trying to walk forward even though his feet couldn't touch the ground without going under, trying to move forward without thinking of anything at all, he found Loki. He barely felt the arms that wrapped around his body, but when he opened his eyes he saw Loki's sad ones staring back at him, only his head above water. Steve's feet weren't on the ground.
"You will die," Loki told him. He said it like a fact, not a recrimination, no judgement on the fact or warning, just a fact. If he walks into the water he will die. He didn't know what to do with the amount of relief that gave him. He didn't even think that Loki was trying to save his life. He wasn't urging him to stop or go, wasn't moving him further into or out of the water. With the way Loki looked at him, sad eyes but small calm smile, Steve could believe he simple stopped to tell Steve the news. As if he thought perhaps Steve did not realize.
They stared at each other for a long time. Eventually, Loki pulled him close, embracing him, nose buried in the crock of Steve's neck. They didn't move. Steve began to get cold and he remembered the ice, the feeling of freezing and he didn't fight. He closed his eyes.
Steve woke on the beach. He didn't remember sleeping. Loki was beside him and they were both naked. Steve could see his clothes laid out beside him. Loki wasn't touching him, but he didn't feel cold any longer.
"I was going to eat you," Loki told him. "Human flesh, it makes us live longer. You were always alone and I got curious so I decided to sit with you. We are not suppose to act so freely with humans." Loki took his eyes off the water to look at Steve. The look was no different than every other time they had talked. No guilt for the admission, no worry, nothing but that calm smile. Steve should feel fear. He remembered Loki's teeth, sharp enough to easily tear human flesh from bone. He wasn't afraid, though. He didn't know whether or not Loki would kill him, but he wasn't afraid of that, either. He wasn't sure whether or not he wanted it. Whether or not he had always wanted it. "I told you my name. That means that I should kill you or take you away. Rather than eat you, I think I would like to keep you."
"What?" Steve asked in surprise.
Loki smiled and something was alight in his eyes. "I can get you the skin of one of my kind," Loki told him. "Wear that and I may keep you always. I wanted to take you away when you came to me in the water. I wanted to bite into you. To take you down to the ocean floor." His eyes became sad. "Humans become so quiet when they are taken without skins. They grow slow and they do not move. They grow large and lose their beauty, turn color to match the sea when it does not flatter them. Sometimes we eat them like that, when it becomes so much harder not to. We try to keep them forever, but it so hard without the skin..." Loki placed one hand on Steve's skin and the other traced down over his blonde hair, his muscled arms, his stomach. "I do not want you to become large and ugly and strangely colored. Nor do I want you to become old and ruin this beautiful skin."
Loki's eyes traced over Steve's flesh as it had the first time Loki had seen him naked and something like realization settle deep inside him. Greedy eyes and a sharp flash of teeth. Steve wasn't afraid, but he felt absolutely sick. He didn't think he could speak. He didn't think he could move.
Loki's eyes tore away from roaming his flesh to meet Steve's eyes. "Let me keep you. Let me give you a skin."
"Yes," Steve said without thinking about it.
Loki's face lit up like Steve had never seen from him. He pressed closer to Steve, until Loki had him pinned to the ground, hovering over him, but not touching. There was something lustful in his gaze now as his eyes roamed Steve's face and body. "Beautiful..." Loki whispered. "Beautiful and mine." He leaned down careful and nuzzled Steve's neck. Steve closed his eyes. He wanted this. Trepidation pooled deep in his stomach. Loki's nose pressed against his neck, moving from the hollow behind his ear, down his neck and to his collar bone. Loki leaned in at his neck, Steve felt the lips part and shudder ran through him. Fear finally and something else. Loki's mouth moved so close to his neck he felt the hot moisture fan over his skin. Loki let out a breath, teeth barely scraping Steve's skin before pulling back. Loki's eyes were completely glazed with lust when he looked away. "I will keep you," Loki murmured, mostly to himself. "I will give you the skin and I will keep you."
Steve didn't dare move. Not even when Loki had left. He wondered if he'd gone into shock. Loki was the most beautiful thing that he had ever known. Loki wanted to eat him. Something inside him was broken. He wanted Loki more every time they met. Even now, he wanted Loki to come back. He remembered the intimacy of Loki pressing his own skin to Steve's body, the feel of teeth hovering over his neck. He felt sick. He wanted Loki. The thought of Loki, being close to Loki, felt like an intoxication.
The thought of Loki's teeth ripping into his flesh made him want to vomit. No matter how worked up he got over it, though, he wasn't afraid. Loki might kill him without even trying.
Steve returned to Shield's base for the rest of that day, sitting silent in the room they'd given him since his apartment had been destroyed. Natasha knocked on his door at some point.
"I heard about Peggy," She said. "You okay?"
I'm not okay. I'm not okay. I'm not okay.
"I don't know," Steve answered. The word 'yes,' refused to pass his lips and so did 'no'. There was a lot that he didn't know right now, but he knew that he was not okay. He didn't remember when the last time he'd been okay was. Before the ice, he imagined, but even then, he didn't know.
"If you need to talk..." She trailed off.
It was an offer, but she didn't look like she wanted to talk. Natasha was preoccupied with the attack on Fury, She didn't have time to waste on him. No one seemed to have time, except him, and his seemed to be broken and out of sync with the rest of the world's. Loki made him feel as if time didn't matter.
"I'll keep that in mind," He answered.
Steve returned to the beach at sunset. Loki was waiting for him, holding a thick robe of red and gold in his arms. The man had a large smile that carelessly showed his teeth, the teeth making Steve falter in his steps. The full sight before him made him stop.
There was a blond man panting on the beach further off, eyes unseeing. In pain, clearly, with massive bite marks on his arms and legs, but no blood to speak of. Just thick, clear fluid covering his body. Steve looked from Loki to the man, dread settling into him for the first time.
Loki's smile began to falter as he watched Steve. He followed Steve's gaze to the man, then back to Steve, but the confusion in his face didn't dissipate. He didn't understand why Steve was upset. "It is my brother," Loki told him. "You have to be on land to remove a skin. I lured him to the surface, but I had to fight him to steal his skin."
"You attacked your brother?" Steve finally asked. He was surprised, but his emotion felt muted. Like he didn't know how to feel things anymore and hadn't for a long time.
"Yes," Loki answered. "The others would not come, but my brother enjoys humans. He thought I was going to show him mine. He brought his human to me when he brought her under the sea, so that he could show her off. She was very beautiful." Loki scrunched up his nose at a memory. "All this time and he still refuses to eat her. Parts of her don't even remain anymore." Loki shook his head. "It has been so long since he has eaten, he would likely starve himself soon. It's better that he live as a human at this rate. All he does is fawn over her. She is not even pretty any longer."
Loki seemed only now to realize the horror on his face. "Steve?"
Loki didn't follow him. There was something too awful about Loki talking that way. About the wrangled body barely breathing on the beach. Something horrible that he didn't know how to face. Something horrible that he didn't know how to feel.
Steve avoided the beach as long as he could after that.
The next time Steve went to the beach was the day he killed his best friend. He went in torn and blood stained clothes, barely able to move, but unable to stop himself from making the trip. Shield was no more. The last tether he had was wiped out by his own hands. He fell to his knees close enough to the water that the tide lapped at him and he broke. He sobbed heavy and hard, holding nothing back.
It was hours before Loki appeared. His face was sad like Steve had never seen him. He moved closer, but didn't remove his skin. Steve went to him, unable to stop the heaving breaths, unmindful of the tears. Loki pulled Steve into his arms. Carefully, slowly, Loki peeled the fabric away from Steve's skin. Steve barely noticed. All he noticed was the tight solid grip he had on Loki. He had nothing else. Everything else was gone. Everyone else was dead. There was just Loki now.
"Please, Loki," Steve heard himself beg through his sobs. "Please..."
"I don't have the skin," Loki told him. "I gave it back when you ran from me." Loki's eyes were sad. His hands stroked all over Steve's skin. Intimate, comforting, familiar, even though he had only experienced the feeling once. The hands were roaming him like they did when Loki let Steve borrow his skin. Pressing into him, giving something, and Steve felt like he was receiving it, without knowing what it was. Loki pulled him in close. Steve's naked body pulled flush to the scales of Loki's. "You said I could keep you. You said I could give you a skin. But I can only do one of those things, now."
Steve raised his face to Loki's, the sad eyes watching him still. It was then he realized that he had been pulled out into the water. Loki was curled around him, scales to skin, and he was clinging right back. Loki stroked his face. "You would have liked it very much. I would have found you the most beautiful pearls and shells, strung them up and draped them all along your beautiful skin." Loki seemed to curl up around him even more. "You are too beautiful to become large and ugly. I can't keep you under the sea and watch your pretty colors turn."
Loki was still stroking his skin. "You are mine. I love you now and you are mine. You said that I could keep you."
"Loki," Steve said again, but he didn't really know what he wanted to say. Everything was gone. Everyone was gone. Only Loki was left. Loki and the ocean. Embracing him as they always embraced him.
Loki buried his nose in Steve's neck, nuzzling him. Loki seemed to shudder and pant, coiling around Steve further. Steve closed his eyes and held tightly to Loki. This time when he felt Loki's teeth, they didn't pull away.
Steve was nowhere near shore.
Steve screamed and no one was near enough to hear.