The trial had dragged on for two days, mostly Odin telling the masses crammed into the hall of Loki’s misdeeds. The crowd listened with rapt attention, as if the Allfather were a bard telling an epic tale of adventure. Through it all, Loki stood silent, seeming to not even pay attention. The Aesir nearest him cast him withering glares through the trial, but he pretended not to notice.
When at last Odin finished, he banged the butt of his staff against the floor. “Have you anything to say in your defense?” he asked in a voice that carried easily through the hall.
When they’d first taken the muzzle off of him on his arrival back on Asgard, Loki had tried telling his side of the story. Odin hadn’t believed him then, and the trickster had no reason to think the Allfather would if he repeated himself. So he simply shook his head and murmured, “No.” It was the first thing he’d said since his first disastrous attempt to explain himself.
His eyes sought out Frigga, who had seemed distressed through the whole trial. To the public, she seemed just as calm as ever, but those who knew her best would see that she was upset. She’d always protected Loki from the worst of the repercussions of his actions. When a prank went wrong, she intervened and smoothed things over. When Loki was caught in a lie, which admittedly was rare, she took his side, sometimes even going so far as to lie for him. But she was powerless to protect him for his crimes.
A hushed murmur ran through the crowd as they tried to figure out why the silver tongued god would say nothing to prove his innocence. Odin silenced them all with another bang of his staff. “Then we have no choice but to find you guilty. Kneel.”
He started making his way toward Loki, who defiantly remained standing. He’d never dropped to a knee for any man before, and he wasn’t about to start. A glance from the Allfather, and the two guards flanking Loki kicked him in the back of each knee and pushed down on his shoulders, forcing him to his knees. The trickster’s hands flashed for his throwing knives, but of course they’d been taken from him before he and Thor even left Midgard.
Loki stared up at the man he’d once called Father as Odin laid a gnarled hand on his head. He started saying a complicated spell, which Loki recognized halfway through. He’d read about it, but had never had cause to cast it himself. Odin was sealing his magic.
“No!” Loki choked out, but it was too late. Blood rushed through his ears, drowning the Allfather out as he spoke the final word of the spell. The trickster hunched over in pain as he tried to combat the spell. His magic was all he had. If they took that away, he was nothing. Even a child who’d yet to prove himself in battle would be able to best him. But there was nothing he could do to keep the magic from running its course.
Part of him had gone numb, like he’d spent too long sitting on his foot and it had fallen asleep. But that numbness would always go away after a few minutes. This wouldn’t. It was worse than a simple loss of sensation. It was as though the Allfather had cut off one of Loki’s limbs, one which the trickster hadn’t even known he’d had until he’d lost it.
When he finally sat back up, Loki saw that Odin had reclaimed his place at the head of the hall, and Thor was approaching him, hands trembling. He knew his brother well enough to know that fear wasn’t the cause of the shaking, and a glance at the thunderer’s face confirmed it. Rage. Thor was terribly angry at something, and Loki was afraid it was him. Always before he’d been able to protect himself from his brother’s anger, but without his magic, that was impossible.
A woman followed behind the prince with a basket, but Loki couldn’t see what was in it. Thor knelt in front of Loki and whispered softly, too low for even the guards on either side to hear, “I am sorry, brother.” His voice was soft, belying the fury in his eyes. So, it wasn’t Loki he was mad at. The thunderer’s next words confirmed it. “Father feels this punishment would sting more if it came from me.” What could Odin do that would make even Thor mad at him?
The question was answered when the woman behind Thor handed him a long, curved needle threaded with a thick string. “I’m sorry,” he repeated as he pushed the needle through Loki’s lower lip. The trickster hated to show weakness in front of the assembled Aesir, but he couldn’t help the sounds of pain he gave as his brother sewed his lips shut.
By the time Thor was finished, Loki was whimpering almost constantly, the sound high-pitched, almost animalistic. The thunderer wiped at his brother’s tears with blood-stained thumbs, leaning their foreheads together. “I’m sorry, Loki,” he whispered softly, his voice thick with unshed tears of his own. “We’ll have our revenge some day,” Thor whispered, squeezing Loki’s shoulders gently. He stood and wiped his hands on a towel the woman handed him, then made his way back to Odin’s side, his whole body shaking.
As soon as his son had reclaimed his place, Odin banged the end of his staff on the floor again. “Take him away.” The guards hauled Loki to his feet and herded him from the hall. He could feel the eyes of every Aesir on him. Unless Loki missed his guess, only two sets of eyes were sympathetic.
Despite the pain of his mouth, Loki walked with his head held high, bolstered by Thor’s final words.
Loki's experience between the end of Thor and the beginning of The Avengers.
My first attempt at a first person fic. Hope I did okay.
After I fell from the Bifrost, I drifted through the abyss for what felt like years. When the Chitauri found me, I learned it had been just over a month by Midgardian time. Five weeks that felt more like five years. Naturally, I was overjoyed to be found. Until they told me their plan for me. I was to conquer Midgard for them and allow them access to the other realms, then hand over the Tesseract. But what interest do mortals hold for a god? Plus, I wanted the cube for myself. With that power at my disposal, I could do anything. When I refused, they declared me their prisoner and began torturing me.
The least of their punishments would have killed a mortal a hundred times over. They had techniques that would have killed even me, but they also knew how to keep me alive. So they didn’t have to worry about killing me. Not that they didn’t try. At first, I resisted. If any of them touched me, I pulled away. But it never stopped them. They would just hurt me worse if I tried to prevent the punishment. It took me far too long to realize that.
On top of the physical torment I endured, they also regularly emotionally abused me. Told me I was nothing but a monster, unloved. Claimed things about those I had called family. In the beginning, I could distinguish truth from lie. But then, one day, I couldn’t. They could have told me anything I knew for a lie, and I wouldn’t have been able to feel it. I started believing everything they told me.
For months, I was their captive, and every day they dreamed up new ways of hurting me. Every so often, not daily, they’d offer me my freedom in exchange for my cooperation. Naturally, I resisted at first. I don’t recall what drove me over the edge, but I finally yielded. But it was many more days before they accepted my surrender. They gave me the details of the plan, and we put it into action immediately. I arrived on Midgard still weak from the torture.
The staff they gave me allowed me to subvert the hearts of anybody I got close enough to. While they were under my control, I could draw on their life energy, on their strength. It would heal my while simultaneously weakening them. Every text I’d ever read had named it forbidden; it was capable of killing anybody under the spell’s power for long enough. But I had no choice. I needed my strength, and I didn’t have the luxury of time to heal.
I still had no interest in ruling Midgard, especially for the Chitauri. When they released me, they told me they’d leave me be after they conquered all the realms. Looking back now, I realize it was a lie. They never meant to let me live free. If they even allowed me to stay on Midgard, I’d be kept on such a short leash, I wouldn’t be able to step outside without permission. More likely they’d take me back to their home world and lock me up until I died from their torture. I knew they had the capability to continue hurting me for years to come.
I hoped Midgard would be able to stop me, protect me from the Chitauri. It was a vain hope, I was sure. No mortal realm would be able to withstand the might of a god. I never expected them to be so well defended, so when the soldier and the billionaire came after me, I saw no way out aside from laying down arms and hoping those I’d turned would come for me. The Avengers gave me hope, but they were far too disorganized to defeat me. The agent I killed had been right. I lacked conviction. But so did they. I knew that by killing him, the rest would put their petty differences aside and unite to stop me.
I needed to lose to Midgard’s best. Anything less would have been viewed as less than full effort on my part. The Chitauri had to think I’d done everything I could have to ensure our victory. Only then would I have a chance to get away from them. I didn’t want any of the Avengers to die. Any single death could render them incapable of standing against me. Though, honestly, if I’d wanted them dead, I could have accomplished it with a flick of my fingers. But the Chitauri didn’t know that. They never bothered learning how strong a magician I am. So I could safely leave them all alive without fear of repercussions.
I am truly sorry for killing all those people. Mortals, for all their short lives, hold onto life and live more fully than Asgardians do in all their thousands of years. But I had no choice. The Chitauri had to think I’d give my best effort. That my best hadn’t been good enough. That’s why I didn’t simply turn myself in when I emerged from the portal. If I’d done that, the Chitauri would have come for me, and they’d sworn to make me long for something as sweet as pain if I gave in. So I had to hope that giving what seemed to be my best effort had failed. I had to hope that they would leave me be.
They hunt me now, and I sit here captive and powerless in a realm that would love to see me dead.
Picking up right where chapter one left off, with this chapter we get to see more of Loki's punishment, and possible reconciliation with Thor.
Loki could feel the eyes on him as he marched from the hall. No doubt, everyone expected him to hang his head in pain and shame, but he refused to give in. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. The assembled Aesir were silent as he walked out, but a second before the doors closed behind him, frantic murmurs broke out. More gossip about his motives, and what the future would hold for him.
But there was little doubt about that now. The Asgardians had always treated him poorly, and only three things had ever kept it from turning to violence: his words, his magic, and his family. In one fell swoop, Odin had removed all three. And revealed his true heritage. No Asgardian would be pleased to learn that he was the son of their hated enemy. He’d be lucky if the citizens didn’t storm the jail after his blood. The guards would likely let them pass. Possibly even join the mob.
Odin knew well what he was doing when he decided on Loki’s punishment. Armed with his words, the lie smith would try to talk his way out of his bonds, and likely succeed. With his magic, Loki could release his bonds and create hundreds of clones to distract the guards while he slipped off undetected. He’d never possessed Thor’s prodigal strength, so fighting his way free was out of the question. Though the leather thong around his wrists would easily part, even for him, the guards would quickly overpower him.
If they didn’t release his arms after putting him in his cell, he’d break the leather. They had no reason to enter the cell, once they put him in, so they probably wouldn’t even notice. If they did, well, he just hoped they wouldn’t care. It wasn’t as if he was a threat, after all. Not in his condition, anyway.
Once out of sight of most of the Aesir, he was tempted to hang his head. But there were still the two guards to deal with, and his pride wouldn’t let him show his pain. So he held his head high all the way to the dungeon. Odin rarely sentenced anyone to incarceration; the usual form of punishment was physical--flogging or stoning--or banishment. So Agar’s jail was small, only ten cells, with decreasing luxury and size the deeper you went. Or so he’d heard. He’d never bothered entering any of the cells himself.
The first cell was where he’d been kept before the trial started, and that was squalid for a prince used to sleeping on feather stuffed mattresses with silk and animal fur bedding. In the cell, the rough canvas mattress was stuffed with straw, and was lumpy in places, with a few threadbare blankets. Though it was luxurious compared to the cell he’d been in the night before, after the guards learned he was a Jotun.
It was deep, but not wide enough for him to stretch out. The iron bound wooden door took up most of one wall, while a pile of dirty straw occupied one of the far corners. A bucket sat in the last corner, close to the straw pile. It was, mercifully, empty, and he was reluctant to use it. Who knew how long it would be before they emptied it again?
He slowed his steps as they approached the cell, but the guards continued past it. Apparently, they had another surprise in store for him. His lips twitched in annoyance, and agony shot through his whole face. He tensed in pain, but kept his spine ramrod straight. He’d have plenty of time to show his pain when he was alone. But while anybody else was around, he needed to keep his face impassive.
The burly pair led him to the last door in the hallway. The room beyond was slightly smaller than the closets he’d seen on Midgard. If the three of them squeezed, they might be able to fit, but it would be uncomfortable. Several large hooks stood out from the walls, the ends blunted, making the cell seem even smaller. Loki had to stoop to make it through the door as the guards shoved him, only to find that the ceiling was no higher than the doorway, and he narrowly avoided braining himself on another hook hanging down.
Before he turned, one of the guards slit the leather binding his wrists. When he faced them, a bowl of water was shoved into his hands. They’d been tied for so long, they were nearly numb, so he almost dropped the bowl.
“Clean yourself up,” the guard ordered. Loki didn’t need a mirror to know he was talking about the blood staining his lips, chin, and neck. The water smelled none too clean, but it would get the blood off, and it wasn’t like he had to worry about an infection. If he could even get the rag that close to the puncture wounds.
They slammed the door and Loki knelt to set the bowl down, then started rubbing his wrists, trying to return feeling to his hands. There was enough light coming in through the slit in the door that he could see the vague outline of the bowl. As soon as he had enough control of his fingers, he felt around in the bowl and grabbed the rag, then started dabbing at his neck.
He worked his way upward, wetting the cloth as needed, until he got to his lower lip. The rag brushed against one of the stitches, and he sagged back against the wall with a moan of pain. He sat there panting, his eyes closed, for several seconds, trying to stay quiet in case the two guards were still out there. While he was okay showing his pain, voicing it was another matter.
When the pain passed, he sat up and dropped the rag back in the bowl. He was as clean as he was going to get. He didn’t know what else to do, so he started to inspect the walls, looking for any sort of chink. No prison was completely inescapable, and he was determined to find the way out of this one. Only then would he start to plot his revenge.
He couldn’t make out any details of the walls, so he had to use his hands to explore them. The hooks seemed like the weak spots. If he could figure out how to remove even one of them, he might be able to break out of the cell. One of them at eye level was slightly loose, and he started wiggling it back and forth. Progress was slow at first, but it sped up marginally until he was sure the hook was about to come out.
One of the guards chose that moment to look through the slit. “Come away from there!” he shouted, his voice echoing in the tiny cell. He threw the door open and shoved Loki against the back wall, the curve of one hook pressing painfully into his back. “Trying to escape, eh?” the other man asked, a cruel smirk twisting his mouth. “Not before you get cleaned up.” Still pinning Loki to the wall, he bent down and grabbed the rag. His grin still fixed in place, the guard started scrubbing roughly at Loki’s lips, heedless of the muffled screams the trickster gave. After a few seconds that felt more like hours, Loki slumped against the wall, unconscious.
When he woke, the first thing he became aware of was pain. He expected his mouth to hurt, but the rest of his body was a surprise. His limbs were stretched to their limits, with particular pressure on his right arm, and he shifted as much as he could, trying to get more comfortable. Lines of pain erupted over his body. When that faded, he realized that the pressure on his right arm had alleviated, but there was more on his leg now. Another slight shift brought more agony, and his left leg was being pulled at harder. He tried moving just his leg, but still, whatever was holding him sliced into his flesh.
As carefully as he could, he felt at his bonds. They were razor thin chains; despite how gently he touched at the one, his fingers came away bloody. And judging by how moving only moved the pressure from one limb to another, and caused the chains to slice into his flesh everywhere, it was all one chain. It felt like it was wrapped around all of his limbs multiple times. With a small gasp, he realized that he’d been stripped down, leaving his flesh bare to be ravaged by the chain.
Outside his cell, it was silent, and the light that had been out there before was gone, leaving him in utter darkness. Completely alone.
Solitude had never bothered Loki. In fact, he regularly sought it out. But always before, it had been his choice. Now that it was forced on him, with no escape in sight, he hated it. It reminded him too much of the time he’d been thrown from the Bifrost. Except while floating through the abyss, he’d been able to move. He could almost hear Thanos telling him that nobody on Asgard cared for him, none of them wanted him around. In his punishment, Loki could see the truth of those words.
With a soft sigh, he dropped his head, then quickly jerked it up when he realized another chain had been wrapped around his neck, this one thicker so it wouldn’t cut into his throat, but it still cut off his air when he lowered his head. While he wouldn’t die of oxygen deprivation, not being able to breathe was decidedly uncomfortable.
Time passed, of that much he was sure. But it had lost all meaning. With only the erratic beating of his heart, and even less regular breathing, he had no way to measure just how much time had passed. He didn’t sleep. No, he was in entirely too much pain to relax enough to sleep. Plus, sleep meant lowering his guard, and he didn’t trust the Asgardians enough not to try something while he was vulnerable. Nor would he put it past them.
So when the door opened, he was far from shocked. What did come at a surprise was the sudden tension on the chain around his throat. But even that was overshadowed by the identity of his visitor.
He’d expected people to come and further torment him, but he’d hoped the years thinking they were brothers would soften Thor’s anger. It seemed he was wrong. The thunderer’s eyes narrowed, and Loki tried to brace himself for the blow he knew was coming. With how much his body would move, he would be cut to ribbons.
But the impact never came. Instead, Thor knelt in the doorway and murmured, as softly as he could, “They don’t know I’m here.” He unshielded his lantern, and even that dim light was almost too much for Loki’s eyes, used to the dark as they were. When his eyes adjusted, he glared at Thor. Surely the buffoon realized that he couldn’t breathe with the cell door open. It hurt more than he wanted to admit when he realized that Thor was probably doing it on purpose.
Then the thunderer started talking. It took Loki a few seconds to realize that he was reading. It was a recent transcription of an ancient tome, telling the story of a fantastic battle. One of Loki’s favorites. Thor didn’t just read the book, he brought the battle to life. Other stories were boring coming from him, but his tales of fights were always a treat to listen to. Loki even forgot about his discomfort as the thunderer read.
When Thor finished the book, he closed it and looked around. “I must go now,” he said, his fingers hovering inches above Loki’s shoulder. “But I’ll return when I can.”
The trickster gave the slightest of nods, black spots swimming in his vision. He’d been too long without oxygen. Thor finally realized Loki’s condition and mumbled an apology before closing the door. Left alone once more, he gave a soft sigh. But at least now he had something to look forward to.
Maybe he’d be able to retain his sanity.
Thor moves Loki into a different cell and cares for his injuries.
Written in a bit of a hurry, mostly to distract myself from how scared I am right now. I'll go back and clean it up later.
Wasn't gonna write this one, but I needed something happy in my life.
How long had it been? A week? A year? He had no idea. Time seemed to pass differently in the cell. There weren’t even regular occurrences to help him keep track. They brought him no food or water, guards didn’t change shifts. Thor hadn’t been back to see him since that first time. So that might mean that only minutes had passed since his once-brother left.
Someday he’d get out. Even if they didn’t release him, the spell binding his magic would eventually fail. When that day came, he’d have his revenge. On Odin for humiliating him so, on Asgard for standing by and watching. Even on Thor and his new friends for thwarting his plans and delivering him back to Asgard. Surely, they knew what he’d face. At least Thor had to have known. The other five could possibly be excused for allowing the thunderer to take him. But not for stopping him. They’d all die begging for mercy.
His plans for revenge were constantly changing. One minute he’d plan on killing Odin publicly, the next he would kill the Allfather privately and throw the body from the Bifrost. Sometimes he even imagined turning the tables on the old fool and give him the same punishment he’d given Loki.
But first, he had to get out of the cell. He tried once more to undo the seal on his magic, but try as he might, he couldn’t even feel the power that had been his to call for as long as he could remember. Not even the faintest trickle of magic leaked through to him. As always, he strained against the chains and gave a scream of rage. The anger in his voice, however, was quickly replaced by agony as the chains sliced into his flesh. He was used to that. What he wasn’t used to was the deeper pain in his upper arm.
After forcing himself to be still--harder than he would have liked to admit--he turned his head to inspect his arm. There was just enough light in the cell for him to make out the wound. It was bad, he could tell that much at a glance. Two of his fingers could have lain across it and still not cover it edge to edge, and the back end of it disappeared around his arm. Blood covered the skin around the wound and dripped down onto the floor below. And there, clearly discernible beneath the blood: the white of bone. The pain he’d felt was the chain rubbing against it.
His magic had always automatically sped up his healing, but without it, he’d be left to heal mortally slow. Which meant it could be a while before even the bleeding stopped. Even longer before the wound healed.
One more injury for him to avenge when he got out.
Loki jerked his head up as he heard footsteps approach. It was just one person, so a new prisoner wasn’t being brought down. And there were no others down there, so whoever was coming wasn’t bringing food down. Odin trusted Loki’s restraints to keep him in the cell, so nobody stood guard outside. Which meant that whoever approached was coming to visit him. He tried to ignore the flutter his heart gave at that thought. The whole time he’d been in the dungeon, only one person had come to visit him, and Thor had promised to return.
Despite his best effort at not getting his hopes up, he looked up eagerly as the door opened. The lantern his visitor carried left him blind, and before his eyes adjusted to the light, he heard a muttered curse, followed by the door slamming shut again. He gave a soft sound of protest, but even he could hardly hear it over the sound of retreating footsteps.
When the steps receded into silence, he slumped back against the chains with a soft sigh. He told himself he shouldn’t be disappointed, that looking forward to visits would only weaken him. Even so, when the footsteps returned later, he couldn’t help the flutter his heart gave once more. There was a strange sound coming from outside the cell, and then the door opened again and before his eyes could adjust to the extra light, his visitor started fumbling at the chains.
He knew those fingers. They’d tended his wounds countless times, and he’d done the same, once upon a time.
He gave a soft noise that sounded somewhat like, “No,” and shook his head, but Thor ignored his protest.
“Be still, brother,” the thunderer rumbled. Most would miss it, but there was an edge of anger to his voice that only showed up when Thor was trying to contain his temper. Of course, it was those times that he was most dangerous. Most times, Loki would try to provoke his once-brother, just to see his reaction. But he knew just how vulnerable he was, and recognized that he likely wouldn’t survive if Thor lost his temper.
With much more effort than was visible, he forced himself to remain still, wondering what new punishment was in store for him. Apparently, the Allfather had decided that this penalty wasn’t severe enough. He closed his eyes and schooled his face to impassivity, even when his shoulders protested the sudden drop of his arms as they were freed. If they were that sore, he had to have been in there for more than a few days.
Thor made quick work of the chains around his legs, then gave a single jerk on the one around Loki’s throat and a link snapped cleanly in half. “Can you walk?” the thunderer asked as he grabbed the lantern and stood. Loki didn’t even try to move his numb legs; he just shook his head and looked up to Thor. Without a word, the thunderer knelt down and scooped Loki into his arms, carrying him easily from the cell.
Loki didn’t even have time to wonder where they were going before Thor laid him down on a pile of straw. It smelled cleaner than it had the one night he’d spent in that cell so long before. That was a kindness, he supposed; his many wounds wouldn’t get infected as easily.
Loki started rolling to his side, but Thor easily pushed him onto his back again. “Lie still,” he ordered. The trickster fell still, staring up at Thor. “Father wouldn’t let me bring the healers down,” the thunderer murmured as he started looking over his injuries. “These should heal on their own, but we need to keep them clean.” He looked to Loki like he was asking permission, but the trickster kept his face blank.
I know what you’re doing, he thought, and it won’t work.
After a few moments of silence, Thor looked away and started washing Loki’s wounds. The trickster tensed at the touch, but gave no other sign of pain. As Thor worked, he looked at his brother’s face frequently as if trying to gauge how much pain he was in.
Once the blood had been cleaned away, Thor started bandaging the worst of the cuts. Loki realized with a start that not all of the blood was his. He weakly grabbed at the thunderer’s wrist and held his hand up, glaring at him accusingly. “It’s nothing,” Thor said softly, pulling away. “I’ll have the healers fix it after I finish here.” Though Loki’s expression didn’t change, he allowed Thor to go back to work, passively accepting his ministrations.
Loki closed his eyes when Thor moved to the deep injury on his arm, his whole body trembling gently. Thor wrapped the bandage around his arm tightly and sat back, waiting in silence for the trickster to open his eyes. When Loki finally did, Thor grabbed a book from the floor next to him and started reading. It was another epic tale of a battle and, like always, Thor made Loki feel like he was in the middle of the fray, seeing everything happen first hand.
He closed his eyes again and lost himself in the thunderer’s words. Before Thor finished reading, he was asleep, exhaustion and pain overwhelming him.
When Loki goes missing from the dungeon, Thor suspects the worst and enlists the Avengers to help capture him again. When they track him down, what they find isn't what they expected.
Peace had reigned on Asgard for just over a year, ever since Loki’s punishment had begun. Midgard had experienced a few attacks, but had repelled them all thanks to the Avengers and various other super humans and mutants. They hadn’t even needed Thor’s help for the last six months, leaving him free to try to repair his relationship with his brother.
The stitches had been removed from Loki’s lips, but the trickster hadn’t said a word since then. For him, it wasn’t just odd, it was plain wrong. Then, one day, he simply vanished. Nobody on Asgard knew how he managed it. One minute he was in his cell, locked and guarded, and then he wasn’t. The guards denied any knowledge of the escape, and his magic was still sealed, so he couldn’t have turned himself invisible or some other trick. When Heimdall looked for him, he said that the trickster’s presence was masked from him. He could sense Loki, but couldn’t find him.
Three weeks after Loki’s escape, Thor was summoned to the newly repaired Bifrost. There, the Watcher told him he’d finally found his brother, who was surrounded by Chitauri. Thor had described them in detail upon his return, and Heimdall had watched some of their battles with them over the last year. Part of Thor wanted to charge straight in and confront his brother, but the voice of reason that had been developing in his head told him that his chances of surviving such an encounter were slim. He needed the Avengers.
The soldier and the man of iron were easy to find. Anonymity had never been Stark’s style, so the first person he asked after returning to Midgard was able to send him to Los Angeles, where he was able to find out exactly where he lived. Tony helped him find Captain Rogers’ listing in the book of phones, and they flew to New York to talk to him. While they were at his home, Miss Potts contacted Fury, who was only too happy to let them borrow the spider and the hawk, if only for another chance to prove that the Avengers Initiative was worth the time and effort put into it. Banner was the hardest to track down, which everyone found odd. SHIELD was supposed to be keeping tabs on him.
Apparently, he’d been in Rio de Janeiro until a few days before. Then the Brazilian army had shown up. No doubt, they wanted to do the same the US military had done: lock him in a lab and find out how and why he turned into the Hulk. He’d ran, of course. Since Loki’s failed attempted to take over Midgard, Banner had kept Fury updated on his location, but had yet to get in touch. It was only a matter of days, Fury said, before he let SHIELD know where he was. So they were left waiting, hoping Loki didn’t move before they found Bruce.
When the physicist finally called, three days later, he was settling in on the outskirts of Tokyo. Tony started laughing so hard he nearly passed out. Thor didn’t know what was so funny, and nobody would tell him why Stark was giggling like a maiden on her wedding night. Midgardians were so odd. He wouldn’t say it aloud, however; no need to insult his friends. When Banner heard he was needed, he agreed to return to New York and a jet was dispatched immediately to bring him in.
Upon Banner’s return, Thor finally explained the situation to them. Everyone was willing to help, if only for another chance to hurt Loki. Thor returned to Asgard to retrieve the Tesseract, as well as small spheres, which would allow them to survive in the vacuum. Banner and Stark were easily able to replicated Selvig’s work with the cube and the reactor to create a portal to the Chitauri world. Nobody even bothered suggesting a repeat of the last time there had been a stable portal. They wouldn’t be able to get close to the ship while carrying a bomb. Stealth was the key to this mission.
They couldn’t afford to leave anybody behind to make sure no Chitauri slipped through behind them, so they had Pepper close it as soon as they got through. She was to reopen it every hour for six hours. If they weren’t back by then, they wouldn’t be coming back at all.
Their reception was a surprise. True, none of them had expected the welcoming committee, so they all went through the portal ready to fight for every step. They were the only ones in sight. Surely, their entrance hadn’t gone unnoticed. There was a massive ship in the distance, even bigger than the one Tony had destroyed with the bomb, with obvious activity on board. They paired off-Tony carrying Steve, Thor carrying Natasha, and Clint riding piggyback with the Hulk-and separated to approach the ship from three sides, with plans to meet up near the front. Nobody liked splitting up, but they all saw the necessity; three groups of two stood less chance of drawing attention than one group of six.
Their stealth, it turned out, wasn’t needed. All three groups made it to the rendezvous point undetected. It was a trap. It had to be. No way would the Chitauri let them get so close otherwise, let alone Loki. Apprehension mounting, they inched toward a door in the side of the ship. Weapons at the ready, they threw the door open, revealing a sterile looking white room, empty. Before they proceeded, Clint fired an explosive arrow into the hull. It would create a diversion when they needed one most.
Once prepared, they snuck into a long hallway, surprisingly well lit for being the bad guy’s lair. Doors lined both sides of the hallway with a set of stairs at one end and a large door at the other. With utmost caution, they crept down the hall, checking every door. Most were unlocked and the rooms beyond were empty. The locked doors were at regular intervals, and nobody wanted to believe they were empty. When they reached the large door at the end of the hall, they found it locked. Loki was most likely inside. Silent nods signaled their agreement, and Clint detonated the arrow he’d fired earlier. Almost immediately, every locked door along the hallway opened, including the ornate door behind them, and Chitauri flooded the cramped space.
With the ease of habit, they divided into three groups. The Hulk charged back they way they’d come, leaving a wake of destruction behind him. Thor, Steve, and Tony took the other side, holding off the aliens who’d come at them from behind. Clint and Natasha hung back to pick off any Chitauri who tried flanking their teammates. The trio, for all their personal problems, worked together brilliantly. Countless times, it looked like Thor was going to take one of their heads off, only for the other man to duck just in time for Mjolnir to pass harmlessly overhead.
The Hulk needed Clint and Natasha’s assistance most. He tended to focus on fighting one enemy at a time, allowing the other Chitauri to get behind him. The assassins took turns taking them out, always with a single, perfectly placed shot. When Clint noticed a locked door that hadn’t opened, he tersely told the others about it, and they quickly agreed to fight their way to that door. “Hulk, down!” the archer yelled. It was a testament to Bruce’s control that the beast dropped to the floor immediately. The arrow flew into the Chitauri threatening to swarm over the Hulk, and Clint detonated it as soon as he was sure he’d hit something. Bits of Chitauri flesh and armor flew in every direction.
There was a lull in the fight long enough for the Hulk to charge toward the still locked door, and he pushed the Chitauri back a few feet past it. Clint followed him, and the other four hung back, retreating slowly so the Chitauri didn’t overwhelm them while their backs were turned. A few feet from the door, they stopped retreating, and Thor turned to the door and slammed Mjolnir into it as the fighting picked back up. Once, twice, three times and the metal crumpled under the onslaught. He battered the remains aside and stepped through, bellowing, “Loki, this ends now!”
Nobody on Asgard had believed him when Loki had told them of Thanos. Heimdall couldn’t find him, so he must not exist. But Loki knew Thanos was out there, looking for him. It was only a matter of time before he was found. If there was one thing Loki had an abundance of, it was time. So it hadn’t come as a big surprise when the portal opened and he was pulled through. He hadn’t even had time to yell and raise the alarm. Though he’d done plenty of screaming since then as Thanos made good on his promise to make him wish for pain.
He was silent now, his throat slit deep enough that his windpipe was severed. The injury wouldn’t kill him, nor would any of the several other wounds he’d been given. Thanos had seen to that. But none of them would heal without medical help. If Thanos had his way, that wouldn’t happen for a long, long time. How long had it been since he was taken? Five years, at least. Maybe longer. He knew from before that the Chitauri could skew his perception of time. Eventually Thanos would go too far, or just get bored and kill the god. Loki hoped that day would come soon.
At first, he held out hope that Asgard would come for him. He was, after all, still a prince. Fallen, yes, and hated, but royalty nonetheless. Then days dragged by, turned into week, and still nobody came for him. A few well-placed comments from Thanos convinced him that he’d been sold out. Odin had decided that Loki’s punishment wasn’t harsh enough, but no Asgardian had the stomach for torture. Not like the Chitauri. So the Allfather had contacted Thanos and gave him Loki on a silver platter. It was the only explanation he could think of. Either Heimdall had found him and been ordered to keep quiet about it, or the Watcher had been told not to look.
So when he heard the faint explosion, he barely registered it. The sounds of battle drew little reaction either. He didn’t even dare hope it was a rescue. Fights had broken out before. Apparently, the Chitauri on the ship were divided between those who felt he’d given them all he could and deserved death for his betrayal, and those who thought he could still be useful to them. Thanos never listened to their arguments and put down any skirmishes immediately, and brutally.
Loki imagined he heard Thor taunting the enemy, as he always did when he was sure of victory. The sound was so familiar to him that his fingers twitched, starting to trace a rune in the air so he could join the fray. How many times had they gone into battle together and his fingers formed the same rune? But even as he prepared the spell he’d cast a thousand times before, a fresh wave of agony swept through his battered body. The pain was always there, but movement intensified it. He’d learned that lesson well. Early on in his captivity, he’d spent hours writhing in pain, each motion making it worse. Now, a slight twitch was all he had the energy for.
Thor couldn’t be there. The Chitauri were too many. None could stand against their might alone and hope to live. And Thor would be alone. Asgard wouldn’t rally behind him for Loki. Any other cause, they’d support him entirely, but not to free the trickster from the Chitauri. They didn’t like him that much. By himself, Thor would have succumbed to their numbers already. Thor couldn’t be there.
The screech of metal rending filled the air. Then a voice. There was no mistaking it that time. His eyes fluttered open to see Thanos’ cruelest punishment yet. “Sadistic son of a whore,” Loki’s lips formed the words but no sound came out as he squeezed his eyes closed and tried to ignore the illusion of his once-brother.
When Thor saw Loki lying in the middle of the room, he thought his brother was dead. The pool of blood beneath him was too large. Not even an Asgardian could lose that much and survive. He wasn’t bleeding any more, though none of the injuries had closed. And that gash across his throat.
Then Loki’s eyes opened.
Time stopped for a moment as their eyes locked. Loki’s were unfocused, hazy with pain. In addition to his cut throat, the trickster had been stabbed and slashed too many times to count. How he was still alive, let alone conscious, Thor didn’t know. Thor was a warrior. The sight of blood and broken, mutilated bodies was nothing new. It didn’t bother him. But seeing his brother like that nearly undid him.
Loki’s lips moved soundlessly, but Thor couldn’t make out what he was saying. Mjolnir thudded to the floor as it fell from nerveless fingers. “What happened to you, brother?” Thor whispered, then rushed to kneel at the trickster’s side. He didn’t dare touch his brother, not with his obvious wounds. And, probably, less apparent internal injuries. Plus, it sounded like he was needed in the hall again. He couldn’t hold Loki and fight in such close quarters.
“I will return for you, Loki,” he said quietly. “You have my word.” He got no response, and didn’t wait for one, instead charging back into the hallway to rejoin the fray. The Chitauri were definitely fewer, but Thor refused to believe they’d attacked in full force.
He fell in alongside his companions, nodding when Rogers gave him a questioning look. But they were too pressed to waste time and breath talking. They fought on, longer than most mortals would have been able to. Finally, after more time had passed than Thor could track, Stark announced, “Time to go.”
With practiced ease, the team drew together, converging on the ruined doorway. Before they started fighting their way down the hall, Thor ducked into the room and lifted Loki across his shoulders, one arm hooked behind his legs and holding his brother’s arms, leaving his other free to swing Mjolnir. Loki had always been thin, and spending a year unable to eat had left him emaciated. He hadn’t gained much weight back when he disappeared, and the previous month had left him thinner than ever, so Thor’s hand easily encircled both of his brother’s wrists.
He balanced his brother carefully and went back out to the hallway. The others were visibly shocked, by both Loki’s presence and his condition, but none asked about him. With a succinct nod, Steve ordered the Hulk down the hall. The behemoth charged to the door they’d entered from, taking out every Chitauri along the way, and then held the position, seemingly effortlessly. The others followed, once again working together to hold the remaining Chitauri at bay.
When they reached the door, the Hulk growled out, “Go.” The sound of his voice drew a small twitch from the trickster. Nobody questioned the beast as he positioned himself to hold the door. The Chitauri seemed, understandably, reluctant to approach him; he had, after all, taken out more of their numbers than the other five combined. As the others slipped into the room behind him, he crouched down and banged his fists on the floor, challenging the Chitauri, daring them to approach.
“I’m running low on power!” Tony yelled. “We need to go!”
“You go nowhere,” a strange voice said. Loki started squirming on Thor’s shoulders, trying to get away, though he was too injured to get anywhere. Judging by his reaction, the speaker was the one who’d tortured him. They all whirled quickly, except the Hulk, who was still standing in the doorway. At first, nobody was there, but then he appeared in the center of the room, between the Hulk and the rest of the team. “You come into my realm, kill my warriors, and take my prisoner, the broken shell of a useless Jotun. I cannot allow you to leave unpunished.” A spear appeared in his hands, identical to the one Loki had used when trying to take over Midgard, and before anybody could react, he slammed the butt of it on the floor. A soft blue light filled the room. When it faded, everybody’s eyes had gone the same color as the gem set just below the blade of the weapon.
Except Tony’s. But he already knew it wouldn’t have any effect on him. Hopefully the creature before them didn’t know that. “I am Thanos,” he announced, looking the seven of them over. Six, Tony realized. The Hulk was still behind him. “Put him down,” Thanos ordered Thor. The thunderer practically leaped to obey, dropping Loki none to gently on the floor. “Very good,” Thanos praised Thor. His voice had the same tone people used when their dog learned a new trick. Tony hated it.
He subtly glanced around at his teammates as he tried to figure a way out of the situation. The suit didn’t have enough power left to fight Thanos. He wasn’t even sure he could take the Chitauri leader by himself, without any shots from the suit. They were well and truly stuck.
When he looked at the Hulk, he saw that the Chitauri had backed off, completely out of sight. The beast turned and his eyes took in the scene quickly. Green eyes, Tony realized with a thrill of excitement. The Hulk wasn’t under Thanos’ control. That was their way out. If the Hulk could figure it out.
Even in another form, Bruce Banner looked the exact same when he was working through a problem. And it only took him about a second longer than it would have normally. Thanos started to turn, as if just becoming aware of the behemoth, but before he could complete the turn, the Hulk grabbed him and started slamming him into the floor, walls, and ceiling. Tony had watched the footage of the Hulk smashing Loki too many times to count. It always cracked him up, and he knew exactly how long it lasted.
This went on much longer. Thanos must really have pissed one, or both, of them off. Before it ended, Tony realized he should be giving the others-what was the phrase Natasha had used-cognitive recalibration. Of course, she was better at hitting a man over the head without knocking him out than Tony was. So he hit her first, hoping he used enough force to get Thanos out, without making her pass out. She slumped to her knees, and Tony held his breath for a tense second until she surged back to her feet. “What the hell, Stark?” she yelled, rounding on him.
“You can thank me later,” he answered. “For now, help me hit these guys. Preferably before the big guy decides to help too.” She looked around, her eyes widening as she saw the Hulk, who was still bashing Thanos against every surface he could reach, and then she was off, practically dancing among the others. It took no more than a single hit or kick to bring each one back.
They all caught on quickly, but they knew enough to stay out of the way. Neither of them needed the help, and the Hulk was liable to attack anyone who got too close. It was over a few seconds later anyway. The Hulk hurled Thanos at a wall hard enough to dent it nearly a foot. Before the unconscious Chitauri leader slumped to the floor, he scooped Clint up and settled the archer high on his back, off to one side, and then motioned for Natasha to take the other side. Apparently, he’d figured out that Thor would have a hard time carrying both her and Loki.
“Power?” he asked, turning to Tony. Well, he wasn’t an idiot.
“Odds of reaching Stark Tower unencumbered are ninety two percent,” JARVIS said into Tony’s ear. “With Captain Rogers’ weight, forty four percent.”
Tony knew he couldn’t pull Steve down with him. “Better take him, just in case.”
The Hulk nodded wordlessly and hoisted Steve under his arm. If the extra five hundred pounds bothered him, he didn’t show it. As an afterthought, he lifted Thanos by the upper arm and nodded to the others. Thor gently lifted his brother, who seemed to have lost consciousness when Thor dropped him before. Tony wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Sure, Loki had given them plenty of trouble, but at the same time, he had to be in a lot of pain. Nobody deserved that.
As soon as Loki was settled across Thor’s shoulders again, they started off. They had just less than five minutes before Pepper opened the portal, which should be just enough time to get to where it was supposed to open. Tony watched the numbers count down, both the time until the portal opened, and until he ran out of power. The second one depended on their speed and if they were passing any asteroids. But even at its highest, it was still too close to the first timer for his liking.
But there was no need to let the others know. They’d just worry, and if there was one thing he’d proven to hate time and again, it was people worrying about him. Besides, there wasn’t anything they could do. Thor needed his free hand left that way so he could swing Mjolnir, and the Hulk didn’t have a free hand left to carry Tony.
And hanging on to them was out of the question. If the suit lost power, he’d be dead weight, likely to pull them down with him. Absolutely, irrevocably out of the question.
The good news was that the portal would open away from any asteroids, and as long as their speed was moderate, he should make it through. True, he likely wouldn’t make it to the ground, but he’d be home. Even if Thor wasn’t fast enough to blast him, they could bury what was left of his body with his parents. But everything would work out fine. It had to. Thor would hit him. He was smarter than most people gave him credit for. Just to be on the safe side, though, he flew up next to Thor and asked the other man to send a little lightning his way as soon as he could. He downplayed the severity of the situation, but he had a feeling the thunderer knew exactly how much danger he was in.
As they drew close to where the portal should open, they slowed down, looking around. Any second now. Which would be right about the time his power hit zero. Oh, he’d be pissed if he ran out before the portal even opened. Somebody would definitely get fired.
But his worries were unwarranted. The portal opened, and he still had enough power to get close enough to the ground that he might survive the fall. But even so, he flew through as soon as he saw the sky, the now familiar whirring of Mjolnir starting up behind him. He tried to steel himself for the impact, but the sudden burst of electricity nearly knocked him from the air, despite how short the contact was. He fell nearly a hundred feet before his thrusters kicked in again, and even from that distance he could see the worry etched on his teammates faces. He was going to get an earful later, but at least he was alive to hear it.
Tony came down lightly and turned to watch the others. Thor was descending slowly, mindful of his unconscious brother’s injuries. In contrast, the Hulk was plummeting down, seemingly out of control. A second before he landed, he lost his grip on Thanos, who landed on his stomach. The Chitauri leader pushed himself to his hands and knees, and then the Hulk landed square on his back. Tony was sure it was meant to look like an accident. His suspicion that it was all intentional was confirmed when the behemoth stayed there, looking up to watch Thor.
Steve squirmed out of the Hulk’s grip and started berating Tony for keeping them out of the loop. After shrugging and replying that he’d survived, Tony tuned the captain out, instead checking with JARVIS on the condition of the suit. It needed some maintenance before he took it out again, but there wasn’t any immediate danger. He could wait until Thor took Loki back to Asgard. He’d learned his lesson about getting out of the suit too early when he’d fought Obi. It wasn’t a mistake he was eager to repeat.
Thor landed carefully, almost graceful despite his size. Loki stirred on his shoulders, but didn’t wake. Oh, screw it, Tony thought and walked over to the god. “Will he be okay?” he asked, nodding to the trickster.
“Aye,” Thor answered. “We are a hard lot to kill. But I need to get him back to Asgard. His chances are best there.”
Tony nodded and motioned to the Chitauri leader, still trapped under the Hulk. “You should take that one with you. Might get Loki a little leniency for his escape.”
Thor nodded and moved over to the Hulk, who stepped hard on Thanos’ head before getting off of him. “Heimdall, open the Bifrost,” he called as he bent over to grab Thanos by the scruff of the neck. The bridge opened, and all three were gone in a flash of light, leaving the others to wind down from the fight.
“Why were you so hard on him?” Tony asked the Hulk as they started back inside.
“Try hurt Hulk’s friends,” the behemoth replied with a shrug. Tony was sure there was more to it than that, but the Hulk’s limited vocabulary meant Bruce would need to do the explaining, and past events were proof enough that Banner would sleep for several hours after changing back. But Tony could wait.
The long awaited (hopefully) final chapter of Crime and Punishment. Been a long time coming, I know. But we're finally at the end.
To say it had been a busy week would be an understatement. Since returning Loki to Asgard, Thor had been constantly bombarded with questions. Some people wanted vivid descriptions of the trickster’s wounds, not just for the satisfaction of hearing about his injuries, but rather out of simple morbid curiosity. It was like when a fighter got hurt during a tournament. Nobody really wanted to look, but none could look away. Some few wanted to know if Loki could have possibly contrived the whole thing. After thinking carefully the first time he was asked, Thor answered with a definite no. Loki would do many things to fool others, but deliberately putting himself through so much was beyond him.
That didn’t stop other people from speculating, trying to find an underlying motive. Thor did try to be objective, and he listened to everybody’s concerns about his brother, but he refused to believe that Loki had set it up. That was beyond even the trickster. Odin remained skeptical, but at least he wasn’t among those who believed Loki had masterminded the whole plot. It was a start.
He’d been kept so busy over the last week that he hadn’t had time to go see how Loki was doing. His injuries were terrible, but Thor had faith in Asgard’s healers. It wouldn’t be long before Loki was back on his feet. And then what? he couldn’t help but think. Loki’s still a criminal and Asgard will call for his continued punishment. He loved the realm and its inhabitants with all his heart, but sometimes, the gods could be just as petty as Midgardians. But perhaps he could convince the Allfather of Loki’s innocence. He could try, at the very least.
But first, he wanted to go see his brother. He finally had a free moment, and wanted to check on Loki before someone with yet another minor crisis found him. The infirmary was empty, which normally would have been good news; today, it made his heart sink. They couldn’t have put Loki back in the dungeon. Not in his condition. But where else could he be? Anywhere, really. The healers sometimes took the wounded out into the city, sometimes even out of the city. They said the fresh air helped with the healing process.
Of course, if Loki was well enough to be taken outside, that probably meant he was down in the dungeon. Odin had sworn not to let Loki be taken back down there until they decided whether he was innocent or not. So somebody had a lot of explaining to do. Muttering angrily under his breath, Thor started down to the dungeon. Several times, someone almost stopped him, but the look in his eyes must have made them all decide that their issues weren’t that important.
“Where is he?” he called as he stalked into the long, dim hallway far below the surface.
“Who?” one of the guards asked, leaning on his staff. They both looked incredibly bored, almost asleep.
“Loki,” Thor clarified as he stepped toe to toe with the guard.
“Not here,” the other guard said with a shrug. “Hasn’t been in over a month. You misplace him again?” Thor looked over at him and the other man’s grin faded quickly as he realized the thunderer wasn’t amused. “Really though, all we have in here is the big guy you brought in with Loki.” Thor sighed and started up the stairs, ignoring the other two men as they yelled something up after him.
Think, he told himself. Where could his brother be? The trickster wasn’t allowed to roam free, so he probably wouldn’t be in any of his usual spots. Of course, that meant Thor had no idea where to look. He needed a quiet place to think, free of distractions. Since he started taking on more responsibility for the realm, his room had become his haven. The only ones who disturbed him while he was locked away in his room were his parents, and he could ask them to leave without worrying about insulting them.
Still warding off interruptions with his glare, he stalked up to his room. Before he got close to the door, however, he heard yelling. Specifically, Loki yelling. He was too far away for the words to be distinct, but it was unmistakably his brother. Following the voice, he found himself at Loki’s bedroom door. The room had been sealed following the trickster’s fall from the Bifrost, and Thor had been under the impression that it still was. He knocked gently before opening the door and poking his head into the room.
“Show yourself, you bastard son of a bilge snipe!” Loki yelled before one of the healers pressed her fingers to his temples, and he slumped back against the pillows, asleep. Thor had only intended to take a quick look, make sure his brother was still alive. But seeing that had made him curious. Loki hadn’t been able to so much as whisper a week ago, so the yelling was a good sign. The fact that the healer put him to sleep so quickly wasn’t.
“How is he?” he asked softly from the doorway, not sure if he was allowed in the room.
“Not good,” the woman who’d put him to sleep answered, moving to stand next to Thor. If she, or any of the other healers, were surprised to see him there, they hid it well. Thor couldn’t help but notice that she was discretely using her body to block his view of Loki. “We can’t heal him, so every time he moves, he reopens his wounds. There’s a spell keeping us from healing him.”
“So why not undo the spell?” he asked, still standing in the open doorway.
“Because that’s all that’s keeping him alive right now,” she answered matter-of-factly. She obviously didn’t like admitting it. “We break that spell, he bleeds to death. So we need to heal him before we can break the spell, but we need to break it before we can heal him.” She shook her head slowly, giving a soft sigh. “It’s a complicated spell. None of us have ever seen anything like it. I’m assuming that thing you brought in with him is responsible?” When Thor nodded, she continued. “And asking him for help isn’t an option?”
“Out of the question,” he said gruffly, crossing his arms.
The healer nodded and started back to Loki’s bed, motioning for him to follow. He stepped forward slowly, returning the nods the healers gave him. Loki lay under a soft skin with just his head and shoulders showing, pale and dangerously thin, but breathing. The slash across his throat was still there. Thor gave a start as he realized it was wider than it had been when he found Loki. The middle of it, what had been there at first, was straight, a clean cut. But it looked like it had been torn wider.
“Why are the edges so jagged?” he asked, pointing to his brother’s throat.
“Ah, you’ve found the problem,” one of the other healers said, an older man. He lifted the edge of the skin to show Thor that every one of his wounds was like that. “When he moves, he tears his injuries wider. And every time he wakes up, he winds up thrashing about like you just saw.” He pointed to a blood spotted cloth in a third healer’s hand. “So that’s all the blood he had in his body this last time.”
Thor nodded slowly, putting the pieces together. If they undid the spell keeping them from healing Loki, he would die instantly. Nobody could survive with so little blood. But there had to be some way to keep him from tearing open his injuries every time he moved. Then it hit him. When clothes were torn, you sewed them up. He’d seen Midgardians do the same thing with flesh, so he knew it was possible. But he knew how the healers would react to a suggestion that they adopt Midgardian medical practices. They were likely to laugh him out of the room. Even if they didn’t, he didn’t understand the process well enough to explain it to them. He needed someone who already knew how to do it, which meant a Midgardian.
But who on Midgard did he know and trust enough to put his brother’s life in their hands?
The answer came to him in a flash of inspiration. He’d seen Banner do it once, out in the field. While his own experience was admittedly limited, the work seemed just as neat as what he’d seen from SHIELD’s healers.
The question was would Banner be willing to do it?
Judging by the sound thrashing the beast had given Thanos, Bruce loathed him. But that was more likely because the creature had tried to enslave Banner’s friends than what he’d done to Loki. Still, it was the thunderer’s only option.
He brushed his thumb over a fading bruise on Loki’s cheek, then turned and left the room quickly. Once again, several people tried to stop him, most likely for his help solving some petty squabble, but every time, he told them that he didn’t have time and to go find his father. Most seemed taken aback by it, but Thor was a man on a mission, and nothing would keep him from it.
He was stopped once, just outside the castle. Volstagg wanted Thor to go out drinking with him. It took several minutes before Thor was able to convince the warrior that he didn’t have time. Though he had to promise to find Volstagg when he returned. With the warrior sufficiently delayed, Thor continued on to the Bifrost. Heimdall took some convincing; the bridge wasn’t supposed to be used more than necessary, but eventually the thunderer persuaded him to open the way.
Following their mission to retrieve Loki, the other Avengers decided to stay together, in case the Chitauri retaliated. Heimdall had kept a close eye on the situation at Thor’s request, but things had been quiet. At the very least, the situation made finding Banner a simple matter.
Bruce was, understandably, skeptical of helping Loki in any way, but agreed after Thor explained the situation and his suspicions of his brother’s innocence. The thunderer could tell that Banner was still reluctant, but at least he’d agreed to help.
If Bruce were to be honest with himself, he’d admit that the main reason he agreed to go with Thor was to see Asgard first hand. He’d heard stories of it, of course, but stories never did anywhere justice. Thor didn’t need to know his reasons anyway, just as long as he went along. If he was lucky, he’d be able to convince the thunder god to show him around. After what he did what he could for Loki, of course. He might not like the trickster in the slightest, but he counted Thor as a friend, and he’d given his word to help. So help he would.
Traveling along the Bifrost was everything he’d ever hoped, and he stepped out of the light trying to contain his excitement. Granted, the might of Asgard could probably overcome him if he changed, but it would be poor manners on his part. He gave a giddy little giggle as he saw the city in the distance, dominated, of course, by the castle. It was breathtaking, both aesthetically and architecturally.
As Thor led him toward the city, he looked around, trying to take in everything at once. A few Asgardians gave him strange looks as they passed, and Bruce made an effort to act a little less like a tourist. It was difficult. Everything about the city drew his eye. Inside the castle, it was no easier to keep from looking around. But there were fewer people to see him, so he gawked to his heart’s content.
He soon lost track of the turns they took, and would have been hopelessly lost without Thor. “I can see why you’re all in such great shape,” he panted as they mounted another staircase. It was the fifth one they’d taken--or was it the sixth? He had no idea. Either way, it was entirely too many.
Thor chuckled and looked over his shoulder, not even winded. “Not far now, Doctor,” he said, gesturing ahead. Sure enough, halfway down the hall, the thunder god stopped and turned to face Bruce. “I’ve not told anyone I was bringing you. Would you like me to go in and tell him now?”
Bruce shook his head and answered, “If he’s as bad as you say he is, best not to waste time.”
Thor nodded and led the scientist inside the room. Bruce was immediately struck by how unlike a sick room it looked. Dozens of people filled it, most surrounding the bed. He could only assume that’s where Loki was. Off to one side, a woman stood, and it was to her that Thor first went.
“Mother,” he said, stooping to kiss her cheek, “this is Doctor Banner.”
She turned to Bruce and he stepped forward, suddenly unsure of himself. What was proper etiquette when meeting a queen? Or, for that matter, a goddess? Before the silence became uncomfortable, he took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure to meet you, my Lady,” he murmured as he stood back up. Well, she didn’t look insulted, so that was a good sign.
“I’ve heard much about you,” she said, looking him over. “So, you think you can help my son?” she asked, looking toward the bed.
“I certainly hope so,” Bruce answered hesitantly. Thor said he hadn’t told anybody. So how did she know? “I should get started.” Both deities nodded and Thor went to clear a path to the bed. Bruce followed and found that Loki was awake and lying still. That was a surprise. The way Thor had explained it, every time Loki woke up, he flailed around until the healers put him back to sleep.
The trickster flinched as Bruce sat on the edge bed, but made no move to pull away. The scientist started to speak, but before he could make a sound, Loki’s hand flew up and encircled his throat, not quite tight enough to cut off his air. Thor and several of the healers started forward, but Bruce held a hand up, not taking his eyes from the god’s face. “We’re okay here,” he said softly. “He’s not hurting me.” He didn’t add that he didn’t think Loki could hurt him. That loose grip seemed all he was capable of.
The others backed away and after a few seconds, Loki’s hand dropped back down to his side. Bruce saw everyone else relax out of the corner of his eye, then started ignoring them. “Have they told you why they can’t heal you?” he asked softly. Loki’s glare didn’t lessen, but he nodded quickly, a single bob of his head.
The trickster’s lips started moving, but the words were too soft for Bruce to hear. He leaned down a little closer and heard Loki whisper, “--beast I understand, but not the man.” Bruce sat up as Loki’s voice grew loud enough, though still too quiet for anyone else to hear. “The beast would play off my fear of it. But I’m not afraid of Banner, so why would you show me him?”
He fell silent, staring up at Bruce. The scientist looked back at him, the wheels in his head turning rapidly. After a moment, his eyes widened and he gave a small gasp as he realized what was going on. “You’re not hallucinating,” he said, quiet enough that only Loki could hear. “This is real.” Loki looked completely unconvinced, but he didn’t argue. “Thanos did something to you that makes it so they can’t heal you,” Bruce said, still speaking just for Loki. “If they break that spell, you’ll die before they can heal you, but they can’t heal you until they break it. So I’m going to try to stop the bleeding. It would probably be best if they put you to sleep.”
Loki shook his head once and whispered, “Awake.”
Bruce’s eyebrows raised marginally. “You sure? Local anesthetics don’t work on you guys, so it’s gonna hurt.”
The trickster nodded slowly. “No stranger to pain.”
“Can you hold still while I work? Even the slightest motion could mess me up.” A slight nod answered him, and Bruce got to work.
The gash across Loki’s throat was obviously the most severe injury, so he started with that one. The god’s eyes followed the needle as it descended toward his neck, then turned his head away at the last second. “I need you to look straight so the edges line up,” Bruce murmured softly. Almost reluctantly, Loki looked back up, his lips tight. A moment before he pushed the needle through the trickster’s skin, Bruce glanced up and saw faint scars surrounding his lips. Scars from stitches. He hesitated a moment, then shook his head gently and started sewing Loki’s throat back together. The god tensed, but, as he promised, kept completely still.
Several hours and almost a complete spool of silk thread later, Bruce tied off the last stitch and sat up, easing the cramped muscles of his back. Without waiting to be told, a young woman stepped forward and placed her hands on either side of Loki’s head. The trickster seemed barely conscious, and a word of magic put him to sleep. Thor rushed forward as Bruce stood. “Thank you for your assistance, Banner,” the thunderer said quietly. “We are in your debt.”
“No problem,” the scientist replied with a shrug. “Just did what anybody with a conscience would do.”
Thor wrung Bruce’s hand, then turned away. “Come. I’ll show you back to the Bifrost.”
“I should actually probably stay here for a while,” Banner said, stepping backwards. “If anything goes wrong, the closer I am, the better. Especially where your healers aren’t exactly versed in Midgardian medical practices.”
“Very well,” Thor said with a nod. “I’ll have a room prepared for you. Anyone here can show you the city should you wish it.” Of course Bruce wished it. But he’d meant it when he said he should stay close to Loki. They weren’t out of the woods yet, and he’d hate to be out in the city, only to have something go wrong here in the castle.
“Right,” Bruce answered. “I’ll stay here for now. Keep an eye on things.”
“Thank you again,” Thor said, shaking Banner’s hand once more. “Should you require anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” With that, Thor left, followed by Frigga and the healers. Bruce pulled a heavy chair up next to the bed and sat down, watching over the injured god.
After a few minutes, Loki started whimpering and squirming on the bed, having a nightmare. Which, given what he knew the trickster had been through, didn’t surprise Bruce in the slightest. He scooted around to the head of the bed and put his hands on Loki’s head, fingers resting gently on the temples. “It’s okay,” he whispered soothingly. “You’re in a safe place. No one can hurt you here. You’re safe.” He repeated himself a few times before Loki fell quiet. Bruce pulled his hands away with a soft smile. He’d used the technique before, usually with children he was treating. It rarely failed. “Are you safe?” he asked softly. Sometimes he got an answer, but usually not.
“Yes,” Loki whispered, still asleep.
“Where are you?” he asked, suddenly curious as to where Loki unconsciously felt safe.
“Lake,” the god whispered. “My lake.”
“Is this lake real?” Bruce asked, inspiration striking.
“Will you tell me where it is?” Loki started giving directions, which Bruce memorized as best as he could. “Would you like me to take you there?” he asked after the trickster stopped talking.
“I’m going to need some help getting you there. Can I take your brother along?”
“Yes,” Loki whispered after a short hesitation.
“Good. Rest now.”
Loki woke slowly, desperately clinging to sleep. One of these days, he knew, he’d wake and find himself back in Thanos’ clutches, the illusion shattered. Every time he woke, it came as a relief to realize the hallucination persisted. But then, inevitably, he’d want to get back to reality. But no matter how he raged at Thanos, he remained in the illusion.
Banner’s appearance truly surprised him. Thanos and the Hulk were quite possibly the only two creatures in existence who frightened Loki, but why had Thanos sent the man in place of the monster? Perhaps to lure him into a false sense of security. Regardless of the reason, it wouldn’t work. Loki still knew it wasn’t real.
Before he opened his eyes, he realized that something had changed. His room smelled of old parchment and the thick spices he liked to burn. Wherever he was, it was different. The air was fresh, clean, though there was a faint undercurrent of rotting vegetation. It was achingly familiar.
He opened his eyes quickly, and for the first time, his belief in the illusion shattered. There was no way Thanos could know about this.
It was his lake.
He was the only person who ever visited the lake, possibly the only one who knew about it. It was one of his favorite places, mostly due to the solitude. He could spend days there, completely alone, and he frequently did. Whenever he wanted to try out a new spell, or even spend some time by himself, he went to the lake. It was half a day’s ride from the city, too far for most people to simply stumble upon it while wandering around.
Water lapping on the shores and the cries of birds were the only sounds, and for a moment, Loki thought he was alone. He squeezed his eyes closed as he realized that if he was, it meant he was imagining it. He so badly wanted it to be real.
A stick cracked off to one side and Loki’s eyes popped open as he quickly turned his head to look for the source of the sound. Banner was approaching with an armload of sticks and small pieces of wood. A few feet behind him, Thor carried larger pieces, apparently unencumbered by his burden.
“Ah, sleeping beauty awakes,” the mortal called, smirking as he dumped his load near the ring of stones Loki had set up years before. “Thought you were going to sleep all day.”
“How?” Loki whispered, staring at the doctor.
“There’s a certain level of sleep where you’ll answer people who talk to you,” Banner answered as he moved to kneel next to Loki. While the scientist looked over Loki’s stitches, Thor started arranging some of the smaller sticks in a pile within the fire pit. “You were having a nightmare,” the mortal explained. “When you calmed down, you told me about this place. Even said I could bring Thor along if I wanted.”
Loki closed his eyes and Banner pulled back. He wasn’t sure how he felt about having a mortal and his once-brother there. On one hand, it was nice being there. He’d thought he’d never get to see the lake again. Plus, he finally believed that the last week had been real. It lifted a weight off his chest that he hadn’t known was there.
But at the same time, the lake was his special place. It was supposed to be where he went to get away from everybody. Knowing Thor, within a few days, all Asgard would know about it. With Banner, there was no such danger. The doctor would be gone within a few days, and even if he told every Midgardian he knew about the lake, the odds of any of them getting a chance to visit were pitifully low.
“You said you felt safest here,” Banner said after a moment of silence. “I was just trying to help.” The words had the ring of truth. The doctor truly wished to help.
Loki looked up to the scientist to see him turning away. Without thinking about what he was doing, he reached out and grabbed Banner’s wrist. “Thank you,” he whispered after a moment. The god tried to show in his eyes what he couldn’t put into words--showing him that it wasn’t an illusion, bringing him here. Loki’s pride wouldn’t let him say it aloud, but he was truly grateful to the mortal.