“Again?” Thor said when he opened the door to the Avengers’ base to find me standing there waiting. Under ordinary circumstances, such a response would have annoyed me. At that particular moment it was infuriating, and I would have screamed and made an attempt to tear his head off his body if I hadn’t been there with my metaphorical hat in my hand. If I hadn’t been there with my very non-metaphorical lips sewn shut. As he said, again. I was in the position to say from experience that it is no less painful on the second go, and that the taste of a mouthful of blood that you can’t even spit out is no less nauseating for being able to anticipate it. However, I suppose you’d have to ask Thor if the experience of seeing your brother with his mouth sewn shut and blood dripping down his chin is any less horrifying the second time, for it took at least a heartbeat and a half before he realized what he’d said. At which point he threw the door open fully and dragged me inside, fulsome apologies pouring forth in the midst of his yells to his teammates to bring water, bandages, a sharp scissors, quickly! as he ushered me into an internal room. As we went I glanced around; it seemed someone had caught the redecorating bug since my last visit. It wasn’t a dramatic improvement, and I made a mental note to make sure the credenza required replacement next time.
I came back to what Thor was saying as he was putting his hands to my shoulders and gently (for Thor) pushing me into a seat next to a table in a sterile-looking, white-walled room. There was a basin on the table, which he quickly filled with water at a sink in the corner, and a perfectly white cloth folded nearby.
“How did this happen, Loki?” was what he was saying, to which I had to exert great self-control so as not to burst into laughter—fortunate for me that I have such a great length of experience in keeping a straight face in his company, for even a hint of a smile sent a small thunderbolt of pain shooting along my nerves. I gestured helpfully at my own mouth. How did he expect me to answer?
As I watched, his frown twisted even lower as he realized his error. This began another round of apologies.
“I do not…” he began again before seeming to think better of it, pausing, and reaching for the cloth beside the basin. He moistened it, brows furrowing, and asked, “Will you let me?”
Well, this was why I had come, after all. I let myself nod without even a hint of an eyeroll.
The cloth would likely never be so cleanly white again, and the sting of Thor’s dabbing hissed through me, but at least the water was blessedly cold and numbed the many wounds slightly. I held my breathing steady, held myself still, and watched Thor’s eyes.
I hadn’t wanted to admit even to myself how nervous it made me when the little Midgardian sorceress slipped the thread onto her glittering needle and said that it could not be cut except by one who truly cared about me. At the time I had laughed, but under those circumstances it does no good to beg mercy or try to threaten; the only hope is in confusing the captor about just how much sanity remains in their captive, and whether it would not just be better to back away slowly. She had not taken the bait. And then she had cast me loose after, lips held shut with dark thread, and I had realized that I could think of but one person on the whole of Midgard who might fit the bill.
“I do not know how you get yourself into these situations, brother,” Thor muttered after a minute, still dabbing away the dark clots. “Only you can madden folk enough to want to seal your tongue away forever.”
I think I can be forgiven my impatience at that moment as he earnestly, carefully, gently continued to fail to attempt to remove the thrice-cursed thread from my flesh and instead chose to taunt me over it. In the midst of such loving treatment, I reached to nearly slap the cloth from his hand and followed this with a gesture, a cutting motion with two fingers, while raising an eyebrow at him in a pointed fashion.
He sat back and looked at me in dismay. But it was in that moment that our solitude was broken. The door was slipped open by an inch, filled with shadow, and then opened further. It was their deadly red-headed woman, Black Widow, carrying a small but sharp-looking silver scissors. “You called for these,” she said to Thor as she entered, flicking glances at me. She set them down on the table next to us before turning to look at me more fully. “And now I see why,” she said, the barest hint of satisfaction in her voice enough to make me wish I were not there for Thor’s help.
“Thank you for bringing them,” he said to her, and took them up from where they lay.
Yes. My brother. Despite all our… history… and despite his position among the Avengers and my position of giving the Avengers something to do to keep themselves from becoming bored, I had always appreciated Thor’s ability to not let his affections be swayed or dulled by little things like my avowed hatred of him. I had felt certain that he would be willing to cut the threads that held my mouth shut.
What I had not imagined was that he would not be able to. I stayed perfectly still, feeling the smooth slide of the scissors blade between my lips, the sharp pull as Thor squeezed the handles around a single stitch, the vague tickle of seeping blood, and I nearly closed my eyes in anticipation of relief, of the breath I would take when it was done. But nothing happened. Well, not nothing, exactly; there was a sharper burn of pain that nearly brought tears to my eyes as the scissors clamped down and gnawed uselessly on the thread. It was repeated as Thor made another attempt on another stitch. I must have made some sound, for he stopped, and when I opened my eyes he was peering at the device, baffled.
“They do not appear to be dull, but they must be. Have we anything sharper?” he was asking Natasha.
I began to worry at that point, as a dark, hollow feeling spread inside me. A feeling of being gawked at also began to spread inside me as the slightly-open doorway darkened once again. Only the quiet man who always appeared wearing a nondescript suit dared pass it at first, but I am afraid I foiled his desire to debrief me. Soon enough, however, they had all spilled inside, and I suddenly had a flash of vivid memory of a time when, as a child, I had often spent my days with Thor and his friends, an inexplicable nuisance in their midst to be tolerated because punching me would result in a black eye from Thor. It was perhaps even worse now, and it grated on my nerves that I could not even smile cheekily at them. I did my best to convey the sense that I would be doing so if I were at all able.
“So what’s the problem? Cut the thread, or untie it, or whatever. And then…” This was Iron Man, as nonchalant as ever, and with just enough sense to not finish that sentence before finding out whether having my mouth sewn shut in any way affected my ability to hurl him through the wall.
“That seems to be the problem,” said Coulson. “Widow says the scissors won’t cut it. And he can’t tell us why not, obviously.”
I said nothing. Nor did I make a gesture for a writing implement. Midgardians can be so slow at times, but as this generally works to my advantage I cannot complain.
Coulson continued. “Probably magic, knowing him, and Strange is out of town at the moment.”
“Or we could just leave him like that. I think I could get used to the quiet,” Stark added, furthering my conviction that the purpose of his membership in the Avengers was to hasten his demise. I would remind him of that remark some day. Some other day.
“Wait,” said their man with the arrows, ignoring the interruption. “So it can’t be cut. But what about untying it?”
Next thing I knew he had seated himself in front of me and he was shrugging in a gesture that said “let’s both pretend we’re not really doing this” before leaning so close I could feel his breath and picking at the knotted end at the corner of my mouth with his fingers.
“Try not to move, okay?” he muttered as I twitched slightly at the pain. I tried to comply, knowing it was for my own good, however little I have ever appreciated that sentiment. As he made his attempt, I stared over his head at Thor, who now stood nearby, frowning as if someone had stolen Mjollnir (again). He kept meeting my eyes and then quickly looking away when he realized I was watching him.
“Fuck’s sake, somebody’s got this tied like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Hawkeye said after a few minutes of agonizing tugging. “It almost looks like it’s melted together. I can’t find an end at all.”
I had not had high hopes. But as he stood up again, I was even more dismayed to see Stark coming at me with a smile.
“I don’t know why we’re doing this. But if Thor wants you talking again, I’m sure we can get that stuff cut in no time with good ol’ American ingenuity. And lasers.”
He produced a small, metallic implement from somewhere on his person, and I shot him a look at the same moment that Thor’s head whipped around to stare or perhaps shout.
“Tony Stark! Take care not to damage my brother. Are you sure you can do that safely?”
Tony tilted his head to one side and then the other. “Pretty sure. Safe enough, anyway. He’ll survive.”
Thor narrowed his eyes at Tony and I narrowed my eyes at both of them.
Stark raised his hands defensively. “I kid. No, Thor, I won’t burn a hole in Loki. Trust me.”
I allowed the attempt. He did not burn a hole in anything, nor did he cut the thread.
“Y’know, I’m pretty sure that’s not cotton, or even polyester,” Tony said as he let his hand drop.
I almost wondered who would have a brilliant idea next. I should have known better; Black Widow was already approaching me with a delicate, glinting, curved blade in her hand.
“It’s sharper,” she said simply, holding up the scalpel so I could see it.
I almost wished someone would admonish her to also be careful as she brought it to my lips, to the thread, slicing across with a precise, deliberate motion.
The blade snagged on the impenetrability of the spell, and in the sudden jolt of pain I could feel the blood starting to flow again, slow and thick as honey. This time I raised a hand to cover my mouth and sunk backward away from them all, unable at the moment to take any more. I snatched up the wet rag as I did so and pressed it to my throbbing lips.
Thor was at my side in a moment, tentative hand at my shoulder offering comfort, his face drawn in sympathy, and again I felt that hollow sensation in my core. Perhaps, I realized, I was not the only liar among us. I pushed his hand away and began to pull myself together to stand up. If none of them could help—and it was clear that they could not—then I was wasting my time by remaining in their presence. I would have to find a way to reverse the spell, or perhaps find someone else who could do what my own brother could not.
“Loki, wait,” Thor began to protest. “You have not even told me who did this to you. I will not let you leave like this. If you are not safe…”
I stopped and fixed him in my gaze, then sighed and lifted a hand. The air between us took on a slightly hazy quality as ribbons of green fire squirmed into existence upon it, forming themselves into words. Thor’s lips moved slightly as he read it.
“You lost a bet with the Dwarves of Midgard? Over other Dwarves’ wrestling bouts? And you had wagered your head, thinking that history could not possibly repeat itself?” Thor said, incredulous. “Why would you do that? For what purpose?”
However, Hawkeye was already nudging him in the side. “Thor? Around here, midget wrestling is… unlikely to result in mouth-sewings. Just so you know.”
“What Clint means,” Tony Stark said, “is Loki’s bullshitting you. What a surprise, right?”
I dropped my head into my hands and groaned.
But it was just that moment that another Avenger came through the door—the disgustingly wholesome one, their Captain America. He pulled up short when he saw me (which is not surprising, given my mangled appearance at that moment), and he glanced rapidly around at the rest of them, seeking for answers. But at first he did not say anything.
Thor ignored his arrival. “Will you tell me truly, then, how this happened?”
This time, all my annoyance with him suddenly flooding back, I shook my head dismissively. I had no interest in telling them tales of my downfall and I certainly did not wish to explain why it was that this thread was so resilient. It would only be awkward. And at least of Thor I could say I now knew that he did not really care about the answer as much as either of us had thought.
In the corner of my eye as I prepared to make my escape, I noticed Coulson (who had remained the entire time, watching but saying little and intervening not at all) as he whispered into Steve Rogers’ ear and made a few subdued gestures.
Steve was suddenly stepping forward. “Can I try?” he asked, meeting my gaze, all guileless kindness.
Thor seemed to see him there for the first time, but he nodded, suddenly looking optimistic. “Yes, Loki, you should let him try.”
I realized I still had the blood-tinged cloth in my hand. It connected with Thor’s head with a wet slap.
But for some reason I let myself be coaxed into the chair again as Steve picked up the same scissors that Thor had made his attempt with. Even though the wounds were now even more painful after so much prodding and pulling, the flesh swollen until the thread cut into it, the cracking of dried blood in the corners of my mouth acting like a glue that added its own discomfort to the mix. I winced involuntarily when the blade of the scissors first made contact.
Steve stopped and withdrew. “If you want to wait or, I don’t know, put some ice on it first, that’s okay.”
I breathed a heavy sigh through my nose and shook my head. No. I wanted the thread out, and if no one here could do it, I wanted to know it and be gone as soon as I could manage.
“Is it pulling that hurts most? Or pressure?” he murmured as he leaned close again, eyebrows drawn together in concentrated thought. “Last time I had stitches, worst thing was when the bandage would get caught on them and pull. Here, you know what you’re feeling, so you try holding them in place while I try to cut.”
I did as he asked, pressing my fingertips against the edges of my lips as much as I could stand.
The cool metal slipped between them and I almost missed the sharp snip because I was not listening for it. I did hear the shaky huff of breath that Steve let out, felt it against my cheek.
“Okay, great. That’s one down, eight to go,” he said.
I blinked away the tears that sprung to my eyes. They were from the pain, and from the relief, and no one else needed to see them fall.
The room was silent but for the snip of the shears as we made our way through the rest of the stitches, and as soon as it was done I turned my back to them all, wrenching my mouth open, suppressing a choked gasp of pain as the shreds of thread pulled loose, spitting and scraping them away from my tongue along with the fresh droplets of blood.
“Those were the same scissors,” I heard Thor say, crestfallen. “How did you do it? What is behind all of this?”
I managed then to collect myself enough to face them again without a sign of distress. “As Coulson surmised, the thread was ensorcelled. So that only one who truly felt for me could remove it,” I said, as casually as if I were speaking of the weather. I avoided looking at Thor. I have never liked to see how much he is able to resemble a kicked puppy when he chooses, for it brings on unaccustomed and unwanted feelings that I will suppress by any means necessary, up to and including bashing myself in the head with a rock.
Instead I turned my gaze to the Captain, who was still sitting near with the scissors in his hand as if he wasn’t sure what he should do next.
Ignoring the sting it brought on, I smiled at him. “So what that means is that I am in your debt, Steve Rogers. Perhaps this is a dangerous thing for you, but I hope you won’t come to regret it too much.”
And then, watching my brother out of the corner of my eye, I made my move, moving swiftly forward and sliding my arms around Captain America’s shoulders before pressing my mouth to his, my tongue flicking out against his slackened lips to give him the taste of my blood. I felt his shoulders stiffen under my touch, but he did not pull away, perhaps too startled to think of it. When I released him a moment later, there was a red smear across his mouth, matching almost to the blush on his face and the burn of embarrassment in his eyes.
“Thank you,” I whispered, still only inches from him, and I saw his throat move as he swallowed heavily. Then I patted his flushed cheek and pulled away.
“And thank you all for your valiant attempts. I so enjoyed them,” I said to the rest, grinning at them in a way that was calculated to inspire murderous bloodlust in my enemies. They glared at me as one. “And Thor?”
His eyes snapped up to meet mine, and oh I had been correct about the kicked-puppy look, now plastered over with a guilty hope.
“I’m sure we can do this again sometime, wouldn’t you agree?”
A moment later I was gone, halfway across the city, on my way to a date with a strong bottle of liquor and some mouthwash. I was surprised to find that I was already trying to think of something nice to do for Steve Rogers—I dislike leaving debts unpaid long—and when I remembered the embarrassed heat in his cheeks, I suddenly could not wait until our next confrontation.
It was going to be fun.