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The human’s hands are scarred. It’s a strangely visceral reminder, the sight of them, of all the myriad things the man isn’t.

Not pampered, absent, false. No empty princeling, no unmarked child. There is pain, mapped into those hands, desperation. They have clawed, and fought, and dragged themselves forward. They have dug, and torn, and held tight where other hands have let go. They have curled, helpless, furious, into fists. They have been raised, they have been beaten down, they have been raised again regardless.

They have not been shielded, either. Clothed in armour, in theory untouched. Uncalloused by the marks of weapons, were the armour empty, were it only worn, and not forged. In theory. But these hands are calloused. Marked and scored and scarred, a hundred times over, in the forging of metals, in the hammering and the shaping and the cutting. In the making of things. The marks of weapons, yes, as much of the mind as of the hands, the marks of things made real, the marks of armours forged in pain, and wrung to vengeance. Not only the wielder, but the maker. A man, given nothing, twisting power up from the firmament anyway.

They are scarred, these hands that rest in his. They are scarred, and fragile, clever and stubborn, crisscrossed in white lines and black stains, old pains and new triumphs, rough and blunt and casually confident.

He traces them. Quick and light and curious, fascinated. As he dared not be, before. As he dared not show. He holds those hands in his, brushes his own fingers, sensitive and writ with magic, across the oil worn into the creases of the knuckles. Across the white, raised line across the ball of one thumb, reminder of some sharp edge gone awry, punishing mistakes. Across the ragged edges of nails, cared for for image’s sake, but not often enough, forgotten too many times, always just that edge shy of clean.

He traces them, and lays, quietly, surreptitiously, his hands alongside them. Turns his own palms to see, curls his own fingers to match knuckle to knuckle, presses his own fingertips to compare callouses there.

Not so worn, his. Not so scarred. Calloused, yes. Weapons, a childhood spent emulating other, better, finer men. Even still, even after so long, not quite what they should be. The callouses less thick, the marks less engrained. He had, so often, prefered other weapons. He had, so often, wielded other means, forged in other substances. Words, from a clever tongue. Magic, from skilled hands.

Not so marked, his hands. Not so much evidence, though he had forged as much in his time, had fought as desperately, had clawed forth as furiously. Not so easy, to see the marks of his travels, his pains, his powers.

So many of his scars, he wears not on his hands. Not on his body.

That’s true, too, of the other man. That is true of this man, with the darkness, jagged and glittering, behind his eyes, with that fierce, wild fury in his laughter that echoes inside Loki like a stone cast into a chasm. With that fierce, savage defiance that strikes Loki like a bell, and resonates the void with him.

It’s true, and it’s not. This man is more fragile than he, bears his marks more clearly. The wound, torn into his chest, stoppered by spun metal, a different magic, as powerful, flung into the breach. Metal woven through him, a composite, an alloy, as much as the armour he wears. Stress and pain, graven into the lines of him, a smith’s body forged to a weapon instead, and showing it.

Loki … envies that, in some ways. Envies that body born of making, envies those marks born of fighting. Envies the solidity of that skin, the blood that wells up normal, red and true, beneath it. Envies that you may cut it, and cut it, and find no foreign skin beneath it. That you may tear into that chest, and find no monster’s heart beating underneath. He envies it, that not once, never, has it been illusion.

He envies. He yearns. He desires. To cut. To trace. To hold. To be. To be forged, as this man forged. To be scarred, as this man was scarred. To be remade, even in pain, even in agony, even in the rising wail of desperation, as once this man remade himself. He yearns, and cannot have.

But he can have … other things. Not quite the same, not quite different.

He can trace hands trembling with magic across scarred skin, brush this, his first, most trusted of weapons, into the crevices of that alloy, that composite, slip them softly beneath the surface to find the reality there. He can map the taste of it, the sound of it, the rush of blood and the singing of scars. Touch it, spin it, weave it up into the skein of his knowing. He can, in some small way, own it, feel it, hold the weight of it inside himself, and find some solace there.

He can be traced, too, in his turn. He can be mapped, by those stubborn, lined, clever fingers. Sounded, traced, his planes mapped and moulded and shaped as the man would shape his armour, dug into, creases and joins, as the man would dig inside a machine. Understood, spun up into another mind’s knowing, laid, whole and in his constituent parts, into the clean, intricate keeping of another man’s science, another man’s magic.

He can be held. He can be known. He can, in some small way, be made real. Weapons forged as much of minds as of hands, magics made by fire and desperation, and the curling of stubborn fingers, the holding of scarred hands.

He rests his hands alongside the other man’s. Alongside Tony’s. He rests them inside Tony’s grasp, curls them tight and desperate about those powerful fingers, muscle and bone and magic and fire. Weapons, forged and forging, with which they will scour the world, and wrest its secrets up. Curl them beneath each other’s skin, bite into the bleeding, and know, and be known.

Loki rests his hands, pale and trembling, in Tony’s, and meets the darkness in the man’s eyes, the wild, echoing, blinding chasm beneath that skin, and smiles. Wide and savage and desperate. Loki holds to those hands, and smiles.

This, he thinks, is what hope must feel like.