Rating/Warnings: GEN, PG13, De-aging, passing implied imperilment of a temporary minor. Crack and ridiculousness and OOCness.
Word Count: 2400-ish
Dedication: For ciaranbochna on the (much belated, sorry, Loki was being a total prat) anniversary of the world becoming more wonderful. ;-)
A/N: First ever Avengers fic for me, hope it's okay. Inspired by a certain well-known behind the scenes photo from the Avengers set. Let's all just pretend this fits into the movieverse timelines somehow, somewhere, okay? Or not.
Summary: Loki de-ages Captain America. This is not the best idea he's ever had, but he can work with it.
ETA: Now with adorable art thanks to smore123 from DeviantArt!
The Tactical Applications of Caramel Apples and Ring-Tailed Lemurs
Loki hadn't planned on Steve Rogers being so small as a child. The tow-headed moppet looked up at him from behind a somehow shrunken vibranium shield, glaring as only a small child could.
Actually, Loki hadn't planned on much of anything. He'd come across a way to reverse not only the treatment that had given Captain America his remarkable strength, but reverse his personal growth altogether, reducing the hero to not just an ordinary human but an ordinary human child. He'd figure out some strategic use for temporarily transforming Captain America into a squalling brat afterward. He'd had the means at hand and found the hero alone and unprepared in an otherwise empty gymnasium apparently devoted to destroying large hanging bags of sand. It took only a moment to encourage the unprepared and unarmoured shield-bearing hero to chase him to a less public location where the conditions were perfect for the spell to take effect.
It was an opportunity not to be wasted. Plus, it was a damp and dreary Sunday, and why in Hel not?
The process had been fascinating to watch. Captain America's form dwindled only slightly at first before suddenly seeming to implode as he passed the point that science gave him his current, or rather formerly current physique. Then down and down, far further than Loki expected. Either human children were remarkably small as a whole, or Steve Rogers had been as much of a runt as Loki himself had been when Laufey had abandoned him.
Loki frowned at himself for even the momentary thought that he might share any trait at all with an arrogant ponce like Captain America. The boy was far closer in appearance to Thor, though currently not even waist-high. Between the blond hair and the sour scowl, he reminded Loki of when he and Thor were both boys, just after one of the times he had managed to arrange for Thor to make a fool of himself, before Loki understood the need for subtlety in his own games.
The small boy stood in front of him in a pool of jeans. His until-recently close-fitting t-shirt hung tunic-like down to his ankles, and he clutched his still-garish tiny shield. Loki had no explanation for why or how the shield had shrunk along with its owner, but Loki sometimes liked things that had no explanation, so he wasn't terribly bothered.
"Little Steven Rogers." Loki grinned and crouched down to meet the small boy's glare. "Do you remember who I am, I wonder?"
The boy kept glaring. "You're mean!"
Loki laughed. "True enough from your perspective. Though I do-"
Steve bashed the god of mischief on the shin with his miniscule shield.
"Ow," said Loki, more in surprise than any pain. "You've got some fire to you, child!"
"I don' wike buwwies," the miniature hero muttered through a mighty pout.
Steve swung his shield around and whacked Loki on the shins again.
Definitely reminiscent of Thor. Bash things rather than talking. "This is tiresome." Loki stood up. The shrunken hero took the opportunity to raise the shield over his head and nail the Asgardian rebel square in the codpiece with the edge.
That almost did hurt.
Loki pulled the shield out of the boy's grip, and sent it skidding across the floor. He scooped up the squirming child-hero and held him at eye-level.
"Pummee down!" squealed Steve, kicking his bare toes in the air.
Loki growled into the boy's face. "Now look, you insignificant-"
Little Steve shrieked and bopped Loki in the nose with a tiny fist.
A flash of light flooded Loki's vision as he flew backward from the entirely unexpected and frankly unreasonable force of the small child's punch, sliding to a stop a few feet away, next to the discarded shield.
That really hurt. Quite a lot. Also, Loki was getting tired of finding himself staring up at Midgardian ceilings.
What happened? He thought through the age-reversal process, then groaned.
All that temporal energy, it's still there, just compressed. Concentrated. Anything that might hurt the boy would be reflected outward, even if he's trying to bruise his own little fists on my face. Loki reached up and rubbed his tingling nose. He's less vulnerable now than he ever was as a genetically-modified adult. I can't harm him at all.
Loki would tell himself later that the twinge of regret he felt was not relief, but disappointment at not being able to at least wound one of his enemies while they were in a vulnerable state. Not relief at all. Not even slightly.
The stomping of small bare feet approached, shaking the ground slightly with temporal backlash. Loki looked up from the floor into the towering, glowering cherubic face of little Stevie Rogers.
For some reason, the other nascent thought of finding a very tall building with some sensitive and breakable target at the bottom and dropping the child on it so the temporal backlash would turn said breakable target into a medium-sized crater with a perfectly unharmed ickle Stevie in the center, drained completely out of Loki's head.
Well of course that's not a good plan. Far too obvious. Too open. No, that would be a waste of this opportunity, he told himself firmly. I believe a change of tactics is in order.
"Well!" Loki grinned and sat up slowly so as not to startle the inconveniently invulnerable child. "That was a fine punch, youngling. What do you say we let bygones be bygones and do something fun instead?"
With his spindly arms across his chest, little Steve gave Loki a very doubtful side-eyeing as the demigod stood.
"First though, a slight change in appearance." For drama's sake alone, Loki snapped his fingers; his own appearance became much more tweedy, while Steve's became much less tunicy.
The boy pulled at his shrunken t-shirt, now black with an amusingly ridiculous graphic of his own adult face on it, and examined his colourful shoes and the jeans that now fitted him perfectly.
"Come along, Steven." Loki held out a hand and grinned broadly. "Were going somewhere fun."
Steve glowered and shook his head. "You a mean buwwy. Don' wike you."
"No bullying or being mean." Loki retrieved the small shield and handed it politely back to the boy, who took it and fumbled his small arm into the straps.
Little Steve frowned mightily. "Pwomise?"
"I give you my word." He smiled and held out his hand again, wiggling his fingers as non-threateningly as he possibly could.
Steve looked up, way up, at the adopted Asgardian, nodded to himself and took the offered hand.
"See, nothing to be afraid of. Off we go!"
Steve Rogers stared into a cup of decaf in the shared kitchen of Avengers Tower as the clock ticked over to 3 AM.
"So, are you gonna tell me or not, Steve? It's not like you to be this emo."
He continued to avoid looking at Tony (because this was already ridiculous enough without eye contact) and sighed. "It must have been a dream. I was a kid again. I dreamed that Loki turned me back into a kid."
"I, uh..." Steve glanced up, then back down. "I hit him with my shield, punched him across the room and then we went to the zoo and got caramel apples."
Tony blinked. "Wow."
"It was in the Bronx. I haven't been to the Bronx Zoo since I was a kid. It was a lot bigger than I remember. Loki carried me on his shoulders so I could watch them feeding some animals called ring-tailed lemurs. He got me a stuffed toy and a caramel apple. It... it was nice." Steve hung his head in his hands. "I don't understand it."
"If you're looking for a shrink, I'm the last person you should be talking to."
Steve groaned. "I am fully aware of that, Tony."
"Thanks." Tony rubbed grease from his hands onto a dishtowel and raised an eyebrow. "You haven't been into Banner's rage therapy stash, have you?"
"Into Banner's what?"
"No, of course you haven't, you're you." Tony pulled open the fridge door and extracted a beer with a complicated name.
"Why would I dream something like that though?"
Tony shrugged. "Dreams are weird. It's the brain defragmenting, filing things away, just happens. Could be something about feeling powerless against a demigod and wanting to make Loki into a good guy instead of kicking his ass, I guess, but I wouldn't think too hard about it."
"Normally I wouldn't either but..."
"...I woke up with caramel stuck in my teeth."
Tony blinked again and popped the top off the beer bottle. "Yeah, okay, that's weird."
"Maybe you were sleep-snacking? If you got into Pepper's Ben & Jerry's stash, you will know pain."
"I don't know. The caramel, the way the zoo looked so different from how I remember it... The more I think about it the more it feels..." Steve swallowed and looked forlornly into his cooling coffee. "...real."
Tony snorted. "Come on. Setting all the laws of physics and thermodynamics and biology and conservation of mass aside, even if Blitzen could get the drop on you, and then shrink you down to kiddie-sized, we wouldn't be talking right now. You'd be a very small red, white and blue splat on some chunk of very public pavement somewhere. No way Loki would waste an opportunity like that. He'd also never stop gloating."
Tony raised a grease-darkened finger, forestalling Steve's comment. "And, somebody'd notice. I've had my head in the guts of an alien rocket sled since Tuesday when I haven't been futzing around with that flexible containment matrix thing - which will, as I said before, kick ass and you will love it - but if anything was going sideways like you disappearing or shrinking, or Loki gloating about having you at his mercy, and you know he would, Pepper'd make damn sure I got my head out and paid attention."
"Trust me, Cap, it was just a dream. You did not spend today being a little kid and hanging out at the Bronx Zoo with Uncle Loki. You sleep-walked out for a pint of..." Tony peered into the trash. "Uh huh. Triple Caramel Chunk. Better replace that by morning. No zoo. Just dream."
Steve frowned at his decaf. "I suppose you're right."
Tony slapped Steve on the back. "Great chatting with you, glad I could derail your boggle-train, but I've got an alien hover chariot I'm itching to pick the shiny bits out of. Go drink some scotch and pass out."
"I can't get drunk, you know that."
Tony's eyes glinted contemplatively as he paused in the kitchen doorway. "...If I ever find out where Bruce keeps his stash, I'm running some experiments on your biochemistry."
Steve Rogers gently thunked his forehead against the granite countertop next to his coffee mug. "Good night, Tony."
The fluffy toy lemur met Loki's eyes with an unblinking acrylic gaze. The god of mischief smirked back at it. Leaving the toy with Steve Rogers would not help the illusion that the events of the day had all been a dream. Loki should dispose of it, but it was... a trophy. A memento of a victory of sorts against an enemy. Of course it was.
The afternoon hadn't been an unpleasant one to endure. He hadn't spared much thought for animals since he'd made that horse for Father (which he'd put too many legs on because he'd thought more legs would make it go faster, no matter how Thor had laughed that Loki didn't know how to count. He'd been a child; Sleipnir had been his first created creature, some imperfections and creative whims were to be expected. Loki could never tell afterwards if Father rode it regardless of the misnumbered legs to mock him subtly, or because Odin actually liked the malformed beast).
Watching the small 'lemur' creatures with their striped furry tails held tall and curling like Midgardian question marks had been enjoyable in a way. Their bright focused eyes, clever nimble paws snatching treats from their keeper, bounding away to climb high into the well-managed foliage of their enclosure. The tiny hero on his shoulders had laughed and squealed, bouncing and clapping sticky hands at the lemurs' antics.
Humans were so easily entertained.
And then there was the photo, another small trophy. Loki had reverted to his usual appearance for a split second and had then taken the 'instant' photograph away from the entrepreneurial photographer before the image had appeared. A tiny Captain America perched happily on the shoulders of a grinning Loki Laufeyson; a moment to remember.
Even though he couldn't have hurt the de-aged hero if he'd wanted to, there was something of the psychological warfare aspect to the photo. It certainly looked as though Loki had the child at his mercy and had magnanimously chosen to keep him safe and entertained instead. Nothing to be done about his own expression, though. It was hardly a menacing grin, but it would do.
The practical uses of having Captain America remember a lovely afternoon in the park with Loki, even as a dream, couldn't be denied. Being a trusting child, cared for- no. Looked after. Looked after by someone he'd probably be fighting again sometime in the future. Humans set a great deal of import in the trust of a child. Feeling safe, with a child's honest laughter ringing like bells. A memory of trust could lead to a moment of doubt or confusion, which could go a long way in combat.
Loki set the cuddly toy lemur next to the photo of himself with the shrunken Captain America on his shoulders. It was an inauspicious start to a trophy collection, but it was a start.
A clear tactical advantage, Loki thought, smiling at the memory of a small sticky hand in his, and being towed around the damp autumn park behind a small boy with golden hair and a tiny red white and blue shield.
- - -