Two years ago, Loki left Stark Tower with his head held high and an arrogant smirk on his lips.
Today, he's coming back. His eyes haven't left the floor a single time so far. Thor's grip on his brother's arm never loosens, and it's obvious that Loki needs that support to stay on his feet. It looks like he's barely even conscious. His greasy hair covers most of his face, and the rags he's wearing are bloody and torn. They are fluttering around his far too thin limbs.
Tony feels like puking just from looking at him.
“You're late”, he calls to Thor. He isn't sure if he manages to be louder than the wind, but Thor seems to hear him just fine.
“I apologize, we didn't mean to make you wait”, the god answers. His roaring voice would probably be heard even in the middle of a hurricane, Tony thinks, and the winds blowing on the roof of the tower are nothing to it.
“Let's get this over with”, Fury says, lovely ray of sunshine that he is. “Hand him over.”
“My brother's punishment is through”, Thor replies calmly. “He is not here as a prisoner anymore, and you won't treat him like one.”
“We can't let him roam around as he likes”, Steve chimes in, matching Thor's tone. “At least not yet. That's why we would like to talk about the new treaty Asgard offered in detail first, and until we come to a final agreement, he'll be at least supervised.” His eyes flicker to Loki before settling on Thor again. “He'll get to rest and recover, and I promise that no one will treat him badly.”
“He can stay here, at my tower”, Tony says. He's plastered a cocky grin across his face by now. “His old cell is still free.”
He and Thor lock eyes, and the god nods at him. “Alright”, is all he says.
“Great, can we get off the roof, then? 'Cause I'm freezing, and your baby brother looks like he's half dead or something.”
Two years ago, Loki would have snarled something in response to being called that. Today, it seems like the words didn't even register.
“He's very much alive, I assure you”, Thor says, looking at Tony not unkindly.
Glancing at Loki again, Tony still isn't convinced. Alive looks different to him.
He really feels like puking.
“Rogers, go and make sure he arrives in his cell”, Fury orders, his ridiculous coat whooshing in the air as they begin making their way across the roof.
Steve and Tony exchange glances, and the soldier quickly turns to Fury again. “I'd like to speak with Thor as soon as possible, actually. I don't want to miss the meeting, either.”
“That's fine, because I love to miss meetings”, Tony says. “I'll reintroduce our royal guest to his princely chambers. It's my tower he stays in, anyway.”
“You're not wearing your fancy suit, Stark”, Fury reminds him.
“Nawww, thanks for worrying, buddy. But honestly, I think I'll be fine.” Tony looks back at Thor and Loki, who stayed behind a bit because Loki has obvious troubles walking, even with Thor's help. “He'll probably pass out before he can even try to stab me.”
“Aye”, Thor calls from behind them. “He is no threat right now.”
“Then that's settled”, Tony sing-songs just as they enter the tower.
JARVIS had the elevators ready for them. One is taken by Fury and Steve while Thor, Loki and Tony step into the other. Thor has one arm slung around Loki's waist by now, keeping him upright, and as soon as the door of the elevator closes, he turns to Tony.
“If anything happens to him -”
“You're gonna break a few of my bones, yeah. I know the drill. JARVIS, penthouse.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“More than just a few.” Thor's tone is inappropriately cheerful. He carefully frees Loki from his grasp and leans him against Tony, whose hands immediately come up to clutch at the weak god's shoulders. Loki leans onto him at once – Tony isn't sure if he's even noticed his repositioning – and now that they're close, Tony can hear him draw in ragged and wheezing breaths. He also notices that Loki is trembling all over. He swallows, hard, and lifts his hand to run his fingers through Loki's dirty hair, brushing it out of the way until he can see his face.
“Oh god”, he says. His voice breaks. “Thor. Thor.”
“He'll be fine, Tony, I promise.”
They arrive in the penthouse, and Tony is still staring. Loki stares back at him, as if he's only just noticed Tony is with him. His eyes are glassed over in a way that makes Tony's skin crawl, but Loki still sees him.
He's still in there.
Tony only remembers how to move when the door opens with a ping. He wraps his arms around Loki and positively drags him out of the elevator, apologetic nonsense tumbling from his lips when he hears the muffled, protesting sounds Loki makes. Thor follows them the first few steps, but when Tony turns to look at him he stops.
“Go join Steve”, Tony says, his voice quivering. “Make sure Fury – that he won't come and get in our hair, okay? I'll take care of him.”
Thor hesitates, but eventually nods. “I will visit later.”
Tony just waves him off as good as he can with both arms full of an injured and heavy – not heavy enough – god. He doesn't even notice when Thor turns and walks back to the elevators, too busy maneuvering Loki to the bathroom. Loki is still letting out whines, sounds that fill Tony with a sort of dread he hasn't known until today, and he begins to wonder if Loki gets enough air. The wheezing, wet sounds he makes as he breathes in and out through his nose can't possibly be good signs.
“You're okay”, Tony says, knowing that he sounds a little bit hysteric. He makes Loki sit on the lid of the toilet, keeping his hands on his shoulders to stop him from slumping. Again he smooths Loki's hair out of his face to look into green, glassy and bloodshot eyes, and smiles a watery smile. “I promise you'll be fine. You're safe, you're home. Just hang in there a little while longer, okay? We have to take care of this.”
He carefully cups Loki's face, tilting it upward a little to get a better look at the mess they've made out of it. Bile rises up in his throat, but he swallows it back down. He's sure he can feel dried tears on Loki's far too hollow cheeks. His own eyes start to get wet, too, but he knows that now isn't the time for crying. At least not for him.
“Do you want me to get Bruce?”, he asks, his voice too loud and too broken as it resonates in the otherwise silent room. “Or do you want me to do it?”
Loki's eyes are still fixed on Tony's. They're sunken in and wide, almost comically so, and Tony can see new tears forming in them. They're running down Loki's face soon enough, and he makes another one of those wet and painful noises. It sounds as if he's gurgling, choking, and Tony's sight goes blurry for a moment. One of Loki's hands comes up to grab his wrist, the touch weak and fleeting.
“Me?”, Tony asks, and Loki nods. “Okay. Okay. I have to get the first aid stuff. Can you sit on your own?”
Loki's eyes falls close and he shakes his head. Tony blinks and wipes his face with one hand, knowing that Loki's blood is all over his fingers and not even caring. Then, he carefully lifts Loki off the toilet and makes him sit on the floor instead, leaning the god against the tub. He presses a brief kiss to Loki's forehead before he stands up. Loki's eyes are open again, following him, and Tony is somewhat calmed by the fact that he's still breathing more or less evenly. He goes to get the first aid kit, a clean towel and a bowl, and is kneeling next to Loki on the floor again in no time.
“Just so you know”, he says, “I've never done something like this before.”
Loki tiredly blinks at him, his hand lifting a little from the ground in what is probably supposed to be a get on with it gesture. Tony nods, trying to reassure himself with the thought that he can hardly make things worse. He opens the first aid kit and stares at its contents, his hands skittering around in the air above it as he asks himself what the fuck one uses for something like this. A bloody hand slowly reaches out and points at a forceps. Tony glances up at Loki, who blinks at him again. He nods and takes the delicate tool, skittering closer to Loki on his knees.
“This is gonna hurt”, he warns as he lifts the forceps to Loki's lips.
The god holds perfectly still. His keeps his mouth as relaxed as he can and his eyes focused on Tony, as if he's the only thing he sees. When Tony grits his teeth and starts to pull at the first thread in one corner of Loki's mouth, the only sign of pain Loki shows is a sharp inhale of breath, obviously through his nose. Nostrils flaring, chest heaving. But apart from that, nothing, but Tony apologizes, anyway.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
He stops apologizing when the third threat comes out. The water he's poured into the bowl is faintly pink by now, and Loki's eyes are pinched shut. Blood is dripping from his lips, running down his chin. Tony's fingers feel wet and slippery. His body is trembling, much like Loki's, but his hands remain steady. At some point, Loki growls, his mouth trying to open in what might be the attempt of a pained cry. Tony gets a hold of the god's chin immediately and still not fast enough, forcing his mouth closed again before the wounds can tear even more. Loki arches his back, hands grabbing Tony's wrists, and Tony stops for a moment.
“Loki”, he says quietly, urgently, when the god still hasn't let go of him almost a minute later. “Loki, we have to do the rest, okay? We're almost done. Only a little bit more.”
Loki looks at him and slowly frees Tony's wrists. He lets him continue, sagging against the tub and closing his eyes again.
Tony would like to say something. To distract Loki from what's happening right now, and from everything that happened in the last two years. From what they did to him. But he can't; for once in his life, Tony Stark finds no words, and he can't do anything else than press his own trembling lips together to make sure that no damned sound escapes them. He still wants to whimper every time Loki does, though, and he can't always bite down on it in time.
By the end of it, when Tony's thrown the last thread into the bowl, what is left of Loki's lips is only wet and bloody shreds. Tony doesn't know how long the threads have been in there, how much time passed since they did that, but it looks like it's only been done recently. It looks like they never even intended the wounds to heal. Maybe they won't heal, maybe this is some magical shit that Tony doesn't understand and, even worse, will not be able to fix. The thought makes Tony sick – sicker – and now he can't keep his hands from shaking anymore.
“This will heal, right?”, he asks, his hands still hovering near Loki's face, unsure what to do. “It won't stay like this?”
Loki shakes his head, and then he turns around and leans over the edge of the tub. He begins to spit blood, coughing and choking, and Tony realizes that Loki's mouth must have been full with it. He stays close at the god's side, keeping his long, black hair out of the way as he throws up blood and bile and other awful things Tony feels shouldn't be outside of anyone's body. He rubs Loki's back in hopefully soothing circles and makes hopefully soothing sounds, and waits until Loki is done.
“God, I've missed you”, he says then.
Loki makes a sound that might have been agreement or just more gagging, Tony isn't sure. Loki's forehead meets the rim of the tub with a thud. He's shaking, drawing in ragged and erratic breaths, but it seems like he's done puking.
“Anything else?”, Tony asks, his eyes searching Loki's horribly thin body for other injuries.
The god shakes his head, the movement so small that it's barely noticable.
“I'd ask you if you're hungry, but -” The noise Loki makes now is definitely disagreement. Tony pats his back. “Yeah, I've lost my appetite, too. Do you want to wash up?”
Loki gives a nod, so Tony gets back on his feet and starts to wash Loki's blood and other stuff out of the tub. As soon as it's more or less clean, he takes scissors out of the first aid kit and cuts Loki out of the rags he's wearing. It might have been a tunic and pants, long ago, but now it's barely even recognizable as clothing. With Loki being naked now, it's even more obvious that he has lost a lot of weight. Tony can see bruises literally everywhere on his body, too, mostly in varying shades of green and yellow. A bit of purple here and there. Nothing actually worrying; if Loki still heals like he did two years ago, he should be fine in a couple of days, if not already tomorrow.
Still, the anger Tony feels is bone deep and all consuming. He keeps it in check, for now, because the last thing Loki needs right now is him having a fit of rage. Tony helps him get into the tub that's now filled with warm, but not too hot water and sits down on the edge himself, one leg behind Loki. The god thankfully leans against it, but it still seems like sitting more or less upright is exhausting for him. And so Tony hurries, carefully washing Loki's hair and face. Then his chest, his back, eventually even his legs and feet. Blood and dirt gets poured down the sink, and eventually Loki looks almost like himself again. When Tony once more brushes his hair out of the way to look at Loki, the god even aims a shaky smile at him.
It looks more than a bit creepy with Loki's torn lips, but that doesn't keep Tony from smiling back. “You need a haircut.”
Loki rolls his eyes and lifts his hands, reaching out for Tony to make clear that he wants to get out of the tub.
“Right, sure”, Tony says and stands up. His own clothes are wet by now, and he's shivering a little. Loki is still trembling, even though Tony can't say whether it's because he's cold or just exhausted. “Let me just get some clothes for you.”
He slips a little on the wet tiles and nearly runs against the door in his haze, but otherwise manages to get out of the bathroom unharmed. He walks over to the wardrobe in their bedroom and rifles through Loki's clothes until he finds the god's favourite hoodie and sweatpants. When he returns to the bathroom, Loki is still sitting in the tub, his chin on his chest, apparently close to dozing off. He peeks his eyes open when he hears Tony enter, however, and willingly lets himself be helped out of the tub and into the clothes. He even smiles a little at the hoodie, fingers dancing over the washed-out Stark Industries logo.
Tony thinks his lover seems a bit high, but maybe that's normal after being tortured for two years.
He takes the glass with their toothbrushes and pours water into it instead. Holding it to the god's shredded lips, he watches Loki empty it with only a few long gulps. They repeat that process two more times and take another filled glass with them as they slowly and a bit laboriously make their way to the bedroom.
Loki positively falls into bed, and then he doesn't move anymore. Tony expects him to be fast asleep pretty much immediately. He sets the glass on the night table, next to the book Loki has put there two years ago, and then tries to get Loki in a position that's at least halfway comfortable. Loki doesn't even make a sound, just lets himself be moved, and Tony's sure he's already asleep when he lies down next to him.
Loki's broken. Maybe not irreparably, but still. It's obvious. He's exhausted and in pain and probably traumatized, and as far as Tony knows, this wasn't even the first time Loki had to endure something like this. Tony is angry, mostly with himself. He didn't do anything to keep this from happening, after all. He just watched Loki go two years ago, with his head held high and that smirk Tony loves so much tugging at lips that weren't torn. The Bifrost swallowed the two gods, and Tony thought about the Chitauri and the Wormhole and all the terrible things Loki had done. Thought about how much he loved him, anyway.
Tony lies on his side and looks at Loki, who is still breathing raggedly, even in his sleep.
Two years ago, they lay in this very same bed. Loki propped on his elbow, looking down at Tony and carding his fingers through his hair. Tony remembers asking will they kill you? and remembers Loki smirking and shaking his head. No. It would surprise me if they don't try to break me, however. Tony remembers frowning at that, and saying don't let them. He doesn't remember what Loki answered.
Four years, was what Odin decided. Four years of punishment. Two on Earth, working for the heroes who had beaten him, and then two in Asgard. Loki said many times that four years were a horribly short time in a god's life, and that two years weren't much more than the blink of an eye.
Still, two years is enough time to fall in love, apparently. And two years can be the longest time of your life if you wait for your lover to return. When you know that he's being tortured. When you are light years away from him. When you don't know if he will come back, and who he will be if he does.
“Tony”, someone says, and it takes a moment until Tony snaps out of his thoughts and recognizes the voice. Hell, it takes a moment until he recognizes the voice as a voice. It sounds more like emery paper.
But it's Loki, of course it's Loki. He's also still awake, even though only barely so, and looks at Tony out of unbelievably tired, half-lidded eyes.
"Yes?", Tony says, moving closer to the god.
"Tony", Loki repeats.
"I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."
He can see Loki swallow. He keeps his still blood red mouth slightly open, trying to keep his lips from rubbing against each other. The god puts his hand on Tony's chest, moving slowly and sluggishly, weak fingers grasping his shirt.
"Did you mean that?"
Tony blinks at him. He isn't sure if he's heard Loki correctly; the raspy voice is barely audible. "Mean what?"
Understanding dawns, and Tony swears he can feel every fibre of his body softening. "Yeah", he says. Thinks of the two toothbrushes in the bathroom. Loki's clothes in the wardrobe. The book on the nightstand. "Of course I meant that."
Relaxing, Loki closes his eyes again. He shifts so he can rest his head on Tony's shoulder, letting out a breath he's apparently been holding. Tony wraps his arms around him, and soon enough Loki falls asleep again.
Tony feels at home for the first time in two years.