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out, damned spot

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Loki scrubs at his arms, nails digging long pink marks into the skin—but the painful pink is much better than the ugly disgusting filthyred that cakes his body, drying sickly brown and coming off in flakes as he scratches.

He hadn't meant for this to happen—hadn't meant to get so close—but he had no choice, the brute somehow came right up in his face, and his only other option would have been to lose his head and possibly half his upper body as well—quick deep slice across the throat and the job was done but the spray oh nine skies it got in his mouth

How he managed to stay so calm on the journey back through the Bifrost, with his heart hammering against his ribcage and his throat closing up and his skin trying to crawl off of him, Loki will never be certain. A lifetime of masks and lies, most like—a great deal of practice, smiling when he wants to snarl, laughing when he wants to scream. A lifetime of ironclad control.

The mask cracked when he made it to his private bathing chambers, as he nearly shrieked at the servants to leave him be and watched them scatter like insects at his fearsome gore-spattered appearance. Then, alone, he allowed the mask to fall completely, tearing his clothes off as though they burned him.

They are flung in a heap to the side of the bath, finery worth no more than rags to him now. There is no salvaging them. He will burn them as soon as he can concentrate enough for the spell.

He tries to calm his breathing, but it still feels as though he cannot get enough air. As though his throat were swollen shut, narrowed to a whistling pinprick, his body forcing him to gasp and heave like a man about to drown. Terror and disgust roil in his gut, threatening to make him vomit—again, when it has already emptied what little there was in his stomach, right in front of Thor, no less, and he burns with shame to remember it.

He scrubs harder, caught in a panic.

He knows why he panics at the sight of blood—

(brother I don't feel so well)

—knows why the feel of it drying dark and tight across his skin engulfs him in horror—

(Loki what have you done)

—but to his great dismay that knowledge does nothing to abate the intensity of his reaction. In fact, the memory only makes it worse. Makes tears stream down his face, leaving wet streaks in the flaking gore. In between helpless gulps of air, he can hear himself in a reedy whisper, I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I didn't mean to I just said it wrong I'm sorry I didn't want to hurt him I'm sorry I'm sorry.

A hard, heavy pounding on his door almost sends him into a fit; the scalding hot water splashes out around him, spills onto the floor, swirling with thin wisps of rust from the blood that's come off.

“Brother!” comes the booming voice of the one person in all the Nine Realms he least wishes to see right now.

He would answer, scream to be left alone, but he can barely drag his attention away from the task at hand, can barely breathe, much less stop his reedy whispering, because there is still blood on him and he can still feel it oh gods get it off me getitoffmegetitoffgetitoffI'msorryI'msorryI'msorry

—and then the door bangs open, and broad hands close around his wrists to drag his own hands to a standstill near his head, and a low voice calls his name, calls it over and over again through the rushing in his ears, Loki, Loki, brother, Loki, look at me, look at me, it's all right, it's all right, I've got you, let me, and there are strong arms and eyes bluer than anything.

And his wrists are both caught in one hand now, the other bearing the cloth that lay forgotten next to the bathtub, running it in loops across his skin.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” Loki is still whispering, and he hates himself for being unable to stop, hates himself for the fear in his voice, hates himself for the tears streaking down his face.

Thor only smiles that broad, unassuming smile of his, the one that makes Loki's heart do embarrassing backflips, and gently cleans him off as though Loki were covered in nothing more sinister than mud. He talks, of nothing important, and though Loki can't quite process what he is saying, the mere sound of his brother's quiet, rumbling voice soothes his terror. The fist unclenches from around his throat, and he finds himself breathing freely again.

“That never happened,” he says to Thor, exhaustion creeping over him in the wake of his fading panic. “You never saw that.”

“Saw what, brother?” says Thor, grinning brightly.