Chapter 1: At the Mountains of Madness
In the last few hours Loki's plans had all come together, a glorious caucophony that made little rational sense to anyone who lacked his grand vision. The streets were filled with light and sound and blood and violence, especially in the wake of Dr. Banner's impressive... outburst. In those last few minutes, before things got hazy and unfocused, Loki let the flood of information overwhelm his senses, just the once, and felt his mind reel at the sheer joy of it.
That was how the newly-founded Avengers found Loki- arms wrapped tightly around his chest, laughing so hard that he rocked back on his heels, tears of hysterical glee streaming down his face. There might have been screaming. Thor might have come to him, said something, reacted with rage at something his comrades said or did. At that point Loki's memories jumbled into a meaningless flurry of color, red and gold, red and blue, red on steel, red on leather.
~ ~ ~
Loki knew he was awake, but he didn't really know for how long. His eyes were open and a little dry, but not badly. His mouth was open, and that was painfully dry, his tongue swollen despite the line of drool on the side of his chin. Loki's body ached, reminding him, vaguely, of time spent as a young man, learning the warrior's arts, learning how to ride a horse, learning how to become a horse. He shifted forward and his vision swam, a headache burrowing into the bone of his forehead and the meat behind his eyes.
“You're awake,” a man said from the corner of the room, and Loki jerked his head up, alarmed that he had not known, had not sensed the man's presence. His thoughts ran together at an agonizingly glacial speed, and he realized that, for the first time, he was seeing Nicholas Fury, director of SHIELD, with his own eyes, and not through the eyes of a puppet or a slave.
“Kill you,” Loki croaked, wincing at how he sounded even as he wiped his hand across his mouth. There was something wrong about this, something that made Loki's skin crawl, even though he couldn't quite figure out what it was.
“You certainly tried,” Fury said drily, closing the distance between them. “Turns out, I'm a hard man to kill.” Loki blinked, forced his eyes to focus- he was in a room, smaller than his bedchambers in Asgard, and oddly narrow. There was something strange about the walls- three were painted some nondescript beige color, and one was a darker gray, and looked like it hadn't been painted at all. Loki looked down at his hands, at his lap, and realized with a rising horror that he was wearing a loose jumpsuit in a neon yellow, the pants and sleeves too short for his arms and legs.
“Where,” Loki's voice trembled, and he tried to steel himself against showing any more vulnerability, any more violation. “Where is my armor? Where are my clothes?”
Fury stopped a few feet from Loki, just out of arm's reach, and crouched down to eye-level. Loki became aware of a weight around his neck, his hands scrabbling at something metal that lay snug against his throat. Loki's airway constricted, panic choking away what little oxygen he could take in. Fury's hands were suddenly at his wrists, pulling Loki's hands away far, far too easily.
“Easy, easy,” Fury ordered. “Breathe. You're in SHIELD's custody. The collar is a preventative measure against you... doing any of the things you've been doing over the past few months.” Fury's dark eye roamed over Loki's face, and Loki felt naked and dirty and young. “Your brother insisted.”
Loki snarled, because of course Thor would insist on Loki being stripped naked and dressed in some stranger's garb, of course Thor would insist on humiliating Loki further with some sort of device that robbed Loki of his strength, of his power, of the ability to string two thoughts together.
“Did he insist on this ugly little cell, too?” Loki rasped, wishing murder on the man before him.
“Well, yes. Considering that our other option was to euthanize you and donate your body to science,” Fury replied coldly. “Believe it or not, Mr. Odinson, nobody's thrilled with your presence here, after that little stunt you pulled.”
“Series of stunts,” Loki muttered sullenly. “Where is Thor, then?”
“That information is on a need-to-know basis,” Fury snapped, standing up.
“He's my brother and I'm in your dungeon. I need to know,” Loki said heavily, raising his chin.
“You are here, alive, because he threatened to flatten the building if we didn't let you live,” Fury told him. “And for that reason, we are not letting you near him until we have determined you to no longer be a threat to the continued existence of humanity.”
Loki sneered, leaning back against the wall. “Good luck with that, human.”
Fury narrowed his eye and bit back a response, turning on his heel and striding out through the massive door. Loki watched him go, mustering up enough contempt to smother the feeling of dread in his gut.
~ ~ ~
Time passed. Food was brought to Loki on trays by heavily armored personnel, despite the fact that most of the time Loki had to struggle to stand, had to labor to pull himself over to the uncomfortable cot against the wall. Sometimes Loki ate. Usually he did not. Once in a while he threw the food, smeared it on the walls. Once he used some sort of horrid meat paste to paint a portrait of his father on the wall. Once he used applesauce to draw a filthy picture of Fury. The staff responded to everything- eating, ignoring, obscenity- with the same blank expressions and wordless movements, sometimes taking a moment to hose the mess down and mop it up.
Sometimes Loki suspected that the room was not as soundproof as he thought it was. When it was utterly silent in his room, he sometimes thought he could hear the low murmur of a conversation on the other side of the unpainted wall. Once he thought he heard music, and he pressed himself up against the wall, straining to hear it long after it ended. After standing like that for forever, he backed slowly away, his hands shaking.
Loki was beginning to smell ripe, like fruit just beginning to spoil. They hadn't let him out of the room once- there was an ugly steel toilet in the corner, which Loki had learned how to use after some trial and error. There was no way for him to clean himself, and his hair had become a tangled, shaggy mess, dull with grime.
The next time someone brought him food he covered himself with it, noting the distinctly unpleasant sensation as it dried sticky on his skin. Hours passed before someone came back, far more time than was normal, and Loki matched the expressionless face of two burly, armored staff members as they walked up to him and picked him up by the armpits.
The trip to the shower was relatively short, the room huge and bright, a row of shower heads sprouting from the tiled wall. Water streamed from one at the end. Loki stared at it, unsure of what exactly he was expected to do. Massive gloved hands took him by the arms, stripping the jumpsuit off and pushing him, gently, towards the spray.
Loki stepped gingerly into the water and hissed at the shockingly cold temperature, at the needle-like sting as the droplets hit the skin of his face and chest. He stood for a few minutes, letting it run through his hair, his eyes closed. It washed the mess off of him, and he wondered idly if he could just stand there forever. Perhaps the water would wash all of him away, eroding him the way the sea wore stones down to sand.
Turning, Loki opened his eyes, water dripping down through his eyelashes, and glared at the pair of guards flanking him.
“I'll kill you first, when I get out. I'll burn your bones to ash while you writhe screaming on the floor,” he promised. Neither man's expression changed, neither man's face betrayed even the whisper of emotional response. Suddenly furious, Loki stepped forward, naked, fists raising. “Look at me, you worms. Look at me.”
Neither man said a word, silently taking Loki by the arms and pulling him out of the shower stall. Loki twisted and struggled to resist as one held his arms down, kicking out to prevent the other from forcing a clean jumpsuit onto his body. The Asgardian snapped and snarled like an animal, his vision blurred and stinging as hot tears spilled onto his cheeks. He was dragged back to the cell like that and thrown unceremoniously in, the door locking solidly.
Loki screamed himself hoarse, beating his fists against the door until his hands left bloody smudges on the metal. Exhausted, Loki crawled into the farthest corner, curling up with his back against the unfinished wall, weeping tears of impotence and rage. Shivering, his wet hair soaking the shoulders of his jumpsuit, Loki pulled his arms protectively around himself, his knees against his chest.
Eventually, Loki's eyes slipped shut and he drifted off to something resembling sleep, his dreams haunted by the spectres of hunger and loss.
Chapter 2: The Thing on the Doorstep
The showers became a more common occurrence.
Loki ate his meals a little more often, even though eating too much made him sleepy and confused. Part of him had hoped that eating more would make him a little stronger, would help him keep track of time. Instead, he started catching himself spending untold hours in a lethargic fugue, sprawled on his back on the cot, slumped against a wall, facedown on the floor. Sometimes he skipped meals, and managed to have a little more energy, enough to think carefully and wonder just what was going into his food.
He still ate sometimes, though. Loki even thought he might be gaining back a little bit of the weight he'd seemed to have lost since he fell from the Bifrost. Loki once tried to go as long as he could without eating, but only managed to go a handful of mealtimes before losing his resolve.
~ ~ ~
Fury walked into the room one day, when Loki was feeling particularly lucid. He still refused to wear armor in Loki's presence, which infuriated Loki to no end. He was in uniform, true, and wearing a long coat, but Loki gathered that this was more a choice of preference than anything else.
Loki managed to sit up in the cot, leaning back against the wall as he watched the man cross the room and tower over him.
“I think it's time you answered a few questions, Mr. Odinson,” Fury said firmly.
“Surely you know that I'll give you nothing but lies,” Loki murmured, meeting Fury's gaze. “I know Thor's told you that much about me, if he speaks of me at all.”
“No, he hasn't,” Fury said quietly. “Your brother wants us to let him visit you. He misses you.” Loki started giggling helplessly, hysteria forcing the laughter from him even as Fury stared disapprovingly down at him. “There's nothing particularly funny about it, Mr. Odinson.”
“Hilarious,” Loki grinned. “Because you think you can lie to me about Thor, because you think you can deceive me into thinking that he wants to see me. And because even when you're not lying, you're perpetuating Odin's lies.”
“Your father-?” Fury started, and Loki hissed.
“No. Not my father. Has Thor not yet told you?” Loki leaned forward, resting his weight on his hands. “Odin is not my father. Odin found me after sacking Jotunheim, and thought it would be useful to let me live.” Loki's mouth twisted into something foul. “Thor is not my brother. We're not even the same species. I am the spawn of monsters, and you would be right to fear me more, human.”
“Thor has spoken to us already about this, Loki.” Fury came closer, actually sat on the foot of the bed, and Loki drew his knees to his chest, watching him warily. “Thor told us what he knew- that you were... adopted. That your parents didn't tell either one of you until after he was banished to Earth. That you were born on Jotunheim, the same planet you tried to destroy with the Bifrost. He told us everything.”
Loki's eyes narrowed, and he turned his face away. “Then you must realize the foolishness in trying to tell me that Thor misses a monster who was never his brother.” Fury sat there in silence for a few seconds, watching Loki with an expression that Loki was too weary to try to read. Finally, Fury spoke.
“Where is the cosmic cube?” Loki snorted at the sudden question.
“What does it matter, mortal? It is not yours; it never was. That treasure was won by Odin through battle, it belongs to him.”
“Like you?” Fury asked gently. Loki glared sharply at him. Undeterred, Fury pressed on with, “One of our people has seen it in action before.” Loki thought for a moment, the name he wanted on the tip of his tongue.
“The... Shield-soldier,” he tried. “The one who wears your flag.” Fury's mouth twitched- it was possibly the closest Loki had seen to an identifiable emotion on the man's face.
“Yes. He said that when you had it, the Cube... reacted to something, that it behaved the way it did the last time he'd seen it. That it tore a hole in something, and he could see stars on the other side.” Loki shifted uncomfortably, nothing in the man's words triggering a memory of any kind.
“It was designed to do many things,” he said softly.
“I want to know where you sent it when you opened that hole in reality,” Fury said. Loki fought down a brief sensation of panic at the thought of the Cube floating through the universe, never to be seen again. He rolled his eyes, shrugging as casually as possible.
“Your left desk drawer. In the bottom of Stark's liquor cabinet. The place where you keep Doctor Banner's leash.” Loki bared his teeth in an approximation of a smile. “I'm there there are a lot of places you just haven't looked yet, theoretically speaking.”
“Theoretically speaking,” Fury said in a low, dangerous voice, “just what would it take to make you behave?”
“You could all kill yourselves,” Loki sneered. Fury gazed evenly at him, letting him continue. “Honestly? No lies? There is nothing you can do to me that will make me behave. I care little for whatever tortures your mortal minds have devised- you are all children, and you simply don't have it in you to break a god.”
You won't cooperate yet? That's fine,” Fury said simply, standing back up. He turned towards the door, something inside Loki snapping.
“Don't turn your back on me, human, don't you dare-” Loki wasn't sure how he managed to get onto his feet, much less propel himself across the room. One moment he was barely supporting his own weight, half-curled on the narrow bed. The next he was launching himself at Fury's back, punching and grasping and clawing.
He barely touched the man before Fury somehow had him on his back, a boot firmly planted on his sternum. Loki howled and struggled, trying to throw Fury's weight off of him. He gave up in exhaustion after a few seconds, eyes huge as he gasped raggedly for air.
“I know you're having a hard time accepting this, Mr. Odinson,” Fury said grimly, “but you are in no position to be making threats. We watch your every move, we hear every word you whisper to yourself. This building is going to be your entire world for the rest of your life. The quality of that life... well, that is entirely up to how willing you are to work with us instead of against us.”
Loki growled at him, wolflike and feral, and Fury took his boot off of his chest, leaving the room without another word.
~ ~ ~
One day, instead of leaving the tray of food near the door, the armored guard stepped all the way inside, came up to where Loki was hunched over the edge of the cot with his head in his hands. Loki glanced up at him and saw real contempt in the man's face.
“You must be new,” Loki said, smiling. “What's on the menu today?”
“You know, they told me you'd try to talk to me,” he said, brow furrowing. “You probably don't even recognize me, do you? My kid sister and I were driving on the interstate when you tore it up. You walked right in front of the car and you punched it. The car flipped, and you came over and you smiled at us through the windshield.”
Loki shrugged, glancing down at the tray as the guard continued.
“Put her in the hospital for a month. She still has trouble walkin', you know.”
“Well,” Loki said thoughtfully. “She doesn't need to walk in her line of work. All she needs is the ability to lie on her back.” Loki grinned up at the guard, at his dumbfounded expression. “Is this supposed to be chicken? Because I'm sure chicken's not that color-”
The tray connected with Loki's face, over and over, and Loki howled, laughing until he choked, coughing up a spray of blood. Loki laughed as other guards rushed in, dragging the furious man back through the door, and bit the first gloved hand that tried to touch him.
~ ~ ~
For a while, Loki felt almost like his real, normal self. No guards came fully into his room at feeding times after that, and the guards who came to take him to the showers began hooking leads into the collar around his neck, keeping him too far away to be touched or attacked again.
Chapter 3: In the Vault
Loki lost what little appetite he had, picking at his meals but no longer able to stomach more than a few bites at a time. Everything he touched to his lips felt like slime, tasted of ashes. The smells made Loki's stomach heave, bringing forth images of the old and infirm, their still-living bodies rotting from the inside out.
A part of Loki felt a rising sense of panic, sure that whatever drugs they were feeding him were killing him. Another part of him wondered why it would even matter if they did. These thoughts scared Loki, infuriated him. The few times a guard came close enough to interact, Loki lashed out, an old snake with broken fangs.
Loki woke up from an uneasy sleep with a heavy hand on his shoulder, and it took a few seconds to recognize that the hand belonged to Nick Fury.
“You,” Loki snarled, clawing himself upright and leaning back from the man.
“Me,” Fury agreed. He had brought a small chair into the room with him, and was seated in it, looking almost... relaxed. “Mr. Odinsson, we need to talk.”
Loki scowled, turning his head to press his cheek against the cool smoothness of the wall. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“You're not eating,” Fury said, and it was so unlike the sarcastic drawl or the exasperated bark Loki expected that he glanced at the man, as if to ensure that he was still there.
“It makes me sick,” Loki muttered, tucking an arm around himself. “It tastes of... wet dog, and vomit, and death.” He narrowed his eyes to slits, adding in an accusing tone, “It's probably whatever poison you're infusing my meals with.”
“Mr. Odinsson,” Fury sighed, gazing evenly at him, “we stopped drugging your food a long time ago.” He gestured at the hateful collar round Loki's neck. “We only did it for the first few days so we could calibrate that to suppress your... abilities.”
“Liar,” Loki muttered, closing his eyes.
“Believe what you want to believe, Mr. Odinsson.” Fury reached down to the floor beside him, lifting a tray covered in the food they expected Loki to eat. “Your brother expects to have a chance to spend time with you again, to talk to you. You look like shit. You need to eat more.”
“No,” Loki said, grimacing at the sight of it. “I refuse; you just want me docile for when you allow Thor to come see the humiliation he's chosen for me.” Fury sighed, closing his eye for a moment before resting the tray on his lap.
“Tell you what,” he said calmly, lifting a plastic spoon and picking up a portion of something vile and greenish, giving it a momentary examination before placing it in his mouth. He considered the mouthful briefly, swallowing thickly before filling the spoon again and offering it to Loki. “It's spinach. Canned, needs salt, not exactly gourmet fare, but it's got fiber and we fortify this shit with multivitamins.” Loki met his unrelenting gaze, scoffing a little, but taking the spoon and unhappily putting it in his own mouth, pretending not to notice how badly his paperwhite fingers trembled as he did.
“Disgusting,” he hissed, and Fury took the spoon back. He ate a bit of what Loki guessed to be applesauce, squinted at the mush for a moment, then shook his head.
“You won't want this,” he said calmly, eating another spoonful.
“Give it,” Loki growled, taking the spoon as soon as Fury offered it. He actually ate all of his applesauce, tossing the spoon back to the tray. Fury tried to entice him into trying some of the grayish meat, but by the time he raised the morsel to his lips Loki's stomach rebelled and he could do no more. Fury set the tray down again, folding his hands under his chin and staring quietly at Loki for a few minutes.
“What now?” Loki snapped, resentful of the uncomfortable fullness in his belly. Fury shrugged a little.
“Your brother wants to see you,” he said, and he was a fool if he thought Loki wouldn't notice the way he emphasized brother, if he thought he could manipulate Loki into caring. “We're going to have some people come in over the next few days to evaluate you, to see if you're ready to interact with him.”
“I care not,” Loki informed him, curling up on his side without so much a glance towards Fury. After a minute or two of staring at the wall and feeling Fury's eye on his back, he heard the man leave the room.
~ ~ ~
Loki was awake when the next man came to his room, some hours later. Like Fury, he didn't seem to think he needed to wear any more protection than the simple black suit he wore. He looked vaguely familiar- Loki thought that he'd seen him at the scene of some battle, maybe a few- and everything about his appearance screamed mildness.
“You're here to analyze me,” Loki grinned, and the man shook his head.
“We've met before, but we haven't been formally introduced. My name is Agent Coulson,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if Loki had never tried to kill him. “We haven't decided on which doctor to send for your evaluation, so I'd like to ask you a few questions.”
“Send in the sex-starved pervert who'll let me out of here,” Loki told him, frowning.
“Funny,” Coulson said blandly, taking out a pen and making a mark next to something on a clipboard. “Unfortunately, Tony Stark's not on the list of possible doctors, so-” Loki's bark of laughter startled him, or at least gave him pause. After a second or two, he gave Loki a small smile. “If I may?”
“Ask away,” Loki shrugged, stretching laboriously and wondering vaguely if he had any chance in hell at seducing this man and bending him to his will.
“Why did you try to destroy the Earth?” he asked, and Loki sighed dramatically.
“I didn't. I just wanted to make a bit of a mess,” he said, looking at Coulson through his eyelashes. “It was fun.”
“So your idea of fun includes the deaths of billions of innocent lives?” Coulson responded, and if he noticed Loki flirting he made no outward recognition of it.
“I didn't kill billions of people,” Loki said slowly, frowning. “I didn't even- I didn't kill anyone personally, did I? Just maimed a few, maybe, but they got in my way.”
“You're saying they deserved it?” Coulson asked gently. Loki frowned, looking at the floor. The agent continued, “Over a hundred people lost their lives, Mr. Odinsson.”
“That wasn't me, though,” Loki muttered desperately. “That was- that was the dark elves and the creatures of Svartalfheim. I didn't tell them to kill anyone, I just needed the distraction-”
“What did you think would happen? You told them to destroy everything in their path, to destroy the Avengers,” Coulson said in a tone that was almost stern.
“But they didn't. And I knew they wouldn't. Thor alone is more than a match for- I just needed time, I could have fixed everything, and he would have seen it and-” Loki breathed out in a long, shuddering gasp. “It was perfect, it was a perfect plan, I could have fixed everything with it.”
“The Cube?” Coulson asked, leaning forward. “Mr. Odinsson- Loki, where is it?”
Loki stared at him, his breathing ragged. Coulson's eyes met his, and after a few minutes he sighed, shaking his head as he stood to leave.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Odinsson.”
~ ~ ~
Loki woke up, during what he supposed was the middle of the night, and for several minutes had no idea what had roused him from slumber.
Inhaling deeply, he pulled himself upright and staggered shakily over to the corner, where the gray, unadorned wall met the narrow, painted one. His hand ran gently over the surface, and after a few minutes of puzzling it out he realized what it was.
It was a smell, wholesome and sweet and slightly burnt, something freshly baked. The thought of eating anything still made him feel ill, but the scent, despite being alien to him, reminded him of home- of Frigga, of childhood, her soft, pale hand on his cheek, her smile, the way firelight lit her face, the way it glittered against the gems and precious metals round her neck and in her hair.
Loki curled up with a dry, wracking sob, his forehead pressed to the wall, wanting nothing in all the worlds but to see her for a moment. He almost called out, almost turned to beg the door, knowing that it was monitored and was likely to summon Fury or at least Coulson, when he heard it, at the very edge of his hearing.
The sound of laughter, muffled by the wall itself, followed by the low murmur of conversation. Another laugh, and a very light thud.
Loki's eyes narrowed, his mouth quirked into a hateful scowl as he stood and shambled back to his bed, resolving to be stronger, to give the worthless mortals nothing more to mock, nothing more to laugh at.
Chapter 4: Dreams in the Witch-House
Loki did not usually hear voices from the hallway outside- he thought it was because the room was soundproofed, but it was becoming quite clear that it was just, generally, very quiet outside his little cell.
The voices were talking heatedly, a couple of them vaguely familiar, and Loki actually stumbled over to the door with his head cocked to one side, listening intently.
“-bringing in an unknown element like Doctor Rinehart, Wraith,” a voice said calmly, and it clicked in Loki's brain. Coulson the Mild. Loki bit his lip with the barest ghost of a chuckle as Coulson continued, “No offense, Doctor, but we already compiled a list of psychiatric professionals for Colonel Wraith to choose from, it will be weeks before the background check clears-”
“I've performed my own checks on him, Coulson,” a growling voice that sent an excited shiver down Loki's spine. It was interesting to note, as he glanced down, that he apparently still had a libido in there somewhere. “Odinson's care has been placed in my hands so that you or Fury wouldn't have to micromanage things, so if you don't mind, Rinehart's going in there to meet his patient now-”
The door's lock started to disengage. By the time Rinehart- a broadshouldered man with brown hair and brown eyes and a dull brown suit- entered, flanked by a pair of armored guards, Loki was sprawled on his cot, watching the doctor with a predatory little smile.
“So... you're the doctor, then? Come to give me my medicine?” Loki purred, leaning his head back to expose what he could of his collared neck. Rinehart walked slowly towards him, gazing at him without any expression whatsoever- not the level calmness of Coulson, but an unnerving blankness that made Loki's skin crawl.
“Loki Odinson, my name is Doctor Ludwig Rinehart,” he said over a high-pitched whine like ears ringing. He continued speaking even as Loki squinted and winced, showing no sign whatsoever of hearing anything but the sound of his own voice. “I am here to determine when, if ever, you will be ready to interact with other prisoners or receive visitors. To that end, I'm going to begin today with a few questions.”
Loki's brow furrowed slightly, his eyes watering as the noise grew louder, more insistent. “Yes, alright, but first, can you stop that... that sound?”
“First question. Do you see yourself as being a part of any group or community?” Loki stared at him, shaking his head lightly. Rinehart nodded, asking, “Second question, when observing other people, do you see them as being “beneath” you or do you see them as “better” than you are?”
“I- I don't-” Loki exhaled slowly, squeezing his eyes shut as the noise grew in volume until it became painfully loud, until he could barely hear Rinehart's next question. Loki opened his eyes, baring his teeth as he screamed, louder than the noise, “Put an end to that thrice-damned buzzing, Rinehart!”
The noise ceased abruptly, Rinehart's head tilted slightly to one side. “There is no buzzing, Loki. Now, answer the question...”
~ ~ ~
After an unproductive hour of questions that made little to no sense to Loki, Rinehart and his guards left Loki alone. A meal was brought in, and Loki hoped, actually, that Fury would come with it, to eat it with him again, but no one ever came, and eventually Loki just pushed the tray, untouched, back towards the door.
Just as Loki was curling up on his cot to sleep, the buzzing noise returned. It lasted for more than fifteen minutes before stopping just as suddenly as it started, but by that time Loki didn't feel like sleeping.
~ ~ ~
It came twice more before Loki's appointment with Rinehart, the very next day- once, startling Loki from sleep and lasting for a few minutes, and once, a few hours later, so impossibly loud that Loki felt rather than heard himself whimper in pain, lasting just a few seconds.
It started very quietly while Rinehart asked him questions about his family and about his sex fantasies, and only gradually grew louder as the hour went by. By the time Rinehart walked out through the door, it was only just as loud as a normal speaking voice. After he left, it slowly faded away to nothingness over the course of another hour.
Loki forced himself to eat a few bites, before a wave of nausea rolled over him and he staggered over to his cot.
~ ~ ~
The days multiplied, and Loki couldn't deny that his days had some sort of pattern to them. He woke up, always too soon to feel rested, to the blasting of the hateful buzzing sound. Sometimes the sound came and went suddenly and violently, sometimes it rose gradually and tapered gently off. Some days, the noise came only once or twice, and only for a few minutes or seconds. Once it lasted for over eight hours, loud enough to be noticed but not loud enough to be painful or to make it hard for Loki to answer Rinehart's questions.
His appointments with Rinehart were, apparently, at the same time each day, although sometimes Loki felt sure that the day didn't last nearly long enough, and sometimes Loki was positive that more than twenty-four hours had lasped. With no contact with anyone but Rinehart and the armored guards who fed and occasionally bathed him, however, it was nearly impossible for Loki to know for sure.
There was always a meal after Rinehart left. Sometimes Loki ate it, but even if he managed to choke down a morsel here or there, dizzying nausea would sweep over him until he was horizontal.
Nights were always a little harder- the noise always came eventually, but it never seemed to make any sense when. If the noise was head-splitting, Loki couldn't even imagine sleep. If it was quiet, Loki didn't know if it was going to peter out or stay constant or gradually increase. If the noise was totally gone, Loki never knew if or when it would start, suddenly blaring with enough force to rattle Loki's back teeth.
~ ~ ~
On the fifth day Loki asked Rinehart, quietly, when the evaluation period would be over.
“Within a week or two, most likely,” was the flat response.
Gritting his teeth and forcing himself to speak softly despite the thunderous noise in his ears, Loki asked if Rinehart knew, at least, when Thor would be allowed to visit.
Rinehart folded his hands and gazed silently down at Loki for a few minutes, before saying, in a voice that Loki could just barely hear over the constant dull roar, “At this rate, Loki? Never.”
~ ~ ~
The noise never stopped once that night, and Loki paced his room until he was too exhausted to stay on his feet.
~ ~ ~
Loki couldn't be sure, but he thought that between seven and ten days of this had passed before Coulson came to visit him with his dinner tray. He was calm and mild and polite, but he responded to Loki, he listened, even if he didn't like that Loki still wouldn't tell him where the Cosmic Cube had gone.
After Coulson left, the sound returned, higher and louder than usual, and Loki didn't sleep until what he presumed was the next day, after his next meeting with Rinehart.
~ ~ ~
Loki's skin felt too tight, everywhere. Eating did more harm than good; everything else was a chore, and even sitting upright and walking across the room was enough to leave Loki feeling like his bones were splintering to dust inside him.
He was standing- well, leaning- in the spray of the shower when he realized, shocked, that he never heard the noise outside of his room, ever. Relief washed over him, and he smiled for the first time in days as he let the water roll down his chest and back.
Something in him snapped when the guards tried to dress him and take him back to his room, and he put up more of a fight than he'd done in weeks. It didn't even take both guards to subdue him and drag him back, this time.
~ ~ ~
The next time Loki was led off to the showers, he nearly skipped, glad to escape the noise, even just for a few minutes.
The buzzing started two or three seconds before he stepped into the water, and there was no fight or resistance in Loki at all when it was time to go back to his room.
~ ~ ~
Coulson was in the room. Loki didn't remember seeing him come in- one minute, he was sitting alone on the edge of his cot. The next minute, Coulson was leaning over him, soothingly calm- and something else in his eyes, something that could have been worry or concern, something that reminded Loki of Frigga, those times he or Thor came back from an adventure limping and bleeding.
Coulson was speaking, but Loki couldn't hear him over the buzzing noise, and then Coulson, gently, took his shoulders and looked into his face, speaking slowly and patiently.
Something in it made Loki's throat close up, tears streaming freely down his face, and he knew that it was unwelcome, that Coulson didn't want to be dragged down to Loki's level, but he reached out and took handfuls of the man's suit and pulled him close, and the noise was relentless in his ears, but Coulson was a soft thing to cry into and he smelled of soap and spice and cleanness and maleness.
Coulson's hands made soothing passes down the back of Loki's shoulder, and even though he couldn't hear his words he felt the man's chest purr with whatever it was Coulson was saying.
Chapter 5: Beyond the Wall of Sleep
When they pulled the dark, bag-like hood over his head, Loki sagged with shame and relief. It was time, they were going to kill him, to put him out of his misery or to punish him. It did not matter where they dragged him, it really didn't. He was pushed into a chair, and the hood was yanked off.
Loki blinked owlishly into the sudden light, became aware of the room- huge, and full of tables. Some sort of meeting hall? It smelled of food, and of people- so a place for feasting then. There was a word for it- a word Loki knew, it was in his mind somewhere, he'd been to a place like this on Midgard before, he knew the name for it- but its memory eluded him. The hateful noise had become more or less constant, changing only in volume, and it stole sleep and concentration from him both.
Loki did not bother to resist as guards filed into the room, as two of them hooked long poles into the collar round his neck, evidently to keep him from attacking a nervous-looking attendant carrying a tray of food over from what appeared to be the kitchen. He did not bother counting the rifles that leveled at him.
Rinehart sat across from him at the table, and gestured at the food. “Why are you not eating, Loki?”
“Is this my last meal?” Loki asked flatly. “Because if I am to die, I would die without the taste of this garbage on my tongue.”
Rinehart pursed his lips slightly. “This is the new routine for your mealtimes. You are to be escorted from your cell to the cafeteria twice daily.” Loki blinked slowly, processing this information for a minute or two.
“Why?” he asked, finally, because it made no sense at all to him- they had nothing to gain by doing this, did they?
“My superiors were told to provide you with more human contact,” Rinehart said, and pushed the tray closer. “Eat.”
Loki licked his lips, gazing down at the food. The buzzing in his ears was more of a high-pitched whine today, constant and relentless, but the food actually looked like dishes he could remember from his time on Midgard, in past years. He sampled a few morsels, and only flinched a little when the hood was pulled down over his face again.
~ ~ ~
Nick Fury came into the cell one day and sat down on the edge of the cot, only a foot or two from where Loki sat. They sat in silence for a few moments, Loki's hands nervously rubbing at his wrists. Finally he turned to look at Fury, too tired to muster up much venom.
“It could have fixed everything,” Loki said, surprising both of them. “If I could have brought it back to the Allfather, he- he could have used it, properly. He could have made living those who had died and repaired all that had been broken. And he would have- he would have seen that I- that all I wanted was to be his son.” Loki sighed heavily, leaning back against the wall and gazing at the ceiling. Fury hunched his broad shoulders, the slight movement creaking the leather of his coat. When he finally spoke, it was in a miserable, half-hopeful, half-damned tone that Loki would not have imagined from him.
“It's not too late to make up for the things you've done. The mistakes you've made... you don't always get second chances, but when you get them...” Loki glanced over at him, somehow sure that perhaps it wasn't Loki on Fury's mind. He hesitated, before gingerly touching his hand to the man's arm. Fury glanced sharply at him, his expression unreadable. “You're wasting your chance at making things right, Mr. Odinson.”
“Maybe it's too late for me,” Loki said softly. “Maybe I don't deserve to be forgiven. Maybe I don't even want to be forgiven.”
Fury made a noncommittal sound, standing and striding swiftly towards the door. He stopped, turning and fixing Loki with his piercing gaze.
“I think on some level you and I both know that's not true,” he said in his usual tone. Loki sprang to his feet, teeth bared in a snarl.
“Don't you dare to presume you know me, mortal-” he spat, but the door slammed in his face and Fury didn't respond to any of the screamed threats and curses Loki hurled at the door to his cell, beating his fists against it until they left raw, reddish smudges on the pale, painted surface.
~ ~ ~
“What's he doing here?”
Loki didn't look up to see who had spoken- he couldn't, the guards were holding his collar too low, too close to the table to be able to eat comfortably, his back bent like an old man's. The query, while not loud, had not been whispered, and after a moment's stretch Loki was able to put a face to the voice, and even a name.
“Doctor Banner,” Loki said, wriggling and craning his neck painfully in its collar to get a look at the man. The physicist in question seemed shaken, wearing clothes that were probably his own, including little slippers that made Loki want to coo at him, just a little, but he seemed so weary and nervous. One of the SHIELD agents was at his side, the cocky archer, here without his bow, but clearly armed and ready to take action should Banner step out of line.
Loki knew that feeling of nervousness and weariness, it has become his life here. Sleep was fickle and short-lived at best, and Loki spent most of his days never feeling relaxed, constantly on edge.
Banner, Loki realized, was a captive here, too. He felt a surge of camaraderie at this- and not just a little disdain. Banner didn't deserve this the way Loki did, surely the agency knew that?
“Loki Odinson is going to eat his meals in the public cafeteria from now on, as per Agent Coulson's strict instructions,” Rinehart told Bruce and his guard, and the guard snorted derisively. Something fluttered horribly in Loki's chest, and he wondered why Coulson the Mild would choose to be his advocate.
“And this is why they pay Coulson the big bucks,” Banner's guard muttered, and Loki bared his teeth a little, at the implied slight. The archer caught the expression on Loki's face and studied him, adjusting his stance slightly, standing between Loki and Banner. “You got a problem, Looney Bin?”
“Doctor Banner,” Loki repeated, “I would have words with you, if I may.”
“This is why I eat alone,” Bruce muttered under his breath, but he actually put a hand on the archer's shoulder and took a few steps toward Loki, wariness emanating off him in waves. “What do you want, Loki?”
“Merely to express my... regret,” Loki said slowly, something nagging at the back of his consciousness. “That as a result of using you as part of my... little prank, you have been subjugated and imprisoned.” Banner's brow furrowed, and he took another half-step forward.
“Loki, are you- are you apologizing?” he asked slowly.
Loki did not really hear his question, the realization hitting him like a fist- the noise faded more the closer Bruce got, until it was gone and Bruce was only a few feet away.
“It's... quiet, you made it quiet, you made it go away,” Loki heard himself whimper, aghast and disgusted at his own weakness, but he lurched forward all the same, throwing himself against the ground, choking himself on the hateful collar as he tried to get closer to Banner, who was backing rapidly away.
“No, no, don't go, don't leave me, you don't understand, you made it quiet, you made it go away,” he begged, seeing only Banner's face, his wide brown eyes flickering green. Multiple guns pressed against him, his head, the bones of his shoulders. For a second, Loki thought he saw something other than fear and disgust crawl across Bruce's face, but it was akin to pity and it was nothing Loki wanted.
Something sharp struck Loki's side and arm and shoulder, piercing the skin- darts, Loki realized, to poison or to merely put to sleep.
They turned out to be the latter.
~ ~ ~
Nick Fury was there when Loki woke up on the floor of his cell, his face swimming into view.
“I dreamed of you,” Loki murmured, a hand flopping uselessly against Fury's leg as he knelt next to Loki. “It was all different. You had both your eyes. You were tired of my silly games.”
Fury exhaled, all in a rush. “Yes.”
Loki smiled vaguely, letting his eyes drift shut for a moment. When he opened them again, he was lying on the cot, Fury pulling a thin sheet up to cover him.
“Doctor Banner told me that you apologized to him,” Fury said quietly, sitting down on the edge of the cot, his hands folded in his lap. “And then proceeded to attack him?”
“No,” Loki said heavily, licking his lips. They had gone beyond dry, the skin splitting. It stung to lick them, and tasted like salt and copper. “I need... I need him.”
“You need him,” Fury repeated, leaning closer. Loki nodded faintly.
“The noise stopped when he came to me. I think... I think he made it stop. And it just... hurts, all the time, and he made it stop,” Loki sighed. He felt warm and tingly all over, and wondered how much sedative was used on him, what kind it was, and whether he could get them to shoot it into him again. Only a very small part of him rebelled at the idea of being drugged into submission, if it meant being able to sleep again.
Fury leaned closer, his eye trained on Loki's face. “Describe this noise to me.”
“Constant,” Loki said, sleep slurring his speech. “An incessant drone. Sometimes it's louder, so loud that I can't hear anything else... it used to go silent and now it never leaves me.”
“Unless Doctor Banner's around?” Fury prompted.
“Banner,” Loki agreed, eyes closing. Fury laid a heavy hand on Loki's shoulder and leaned in, close enough that Loki could smell mint and cologne, but if he spoke Loki didn't hear it before sinking into a pleasant, formless sleep.
~ ~ ~
Loki had a blinding headache for most of a day after he woke up, which faded into the normal dull throb behind his eyes. It was another day before Coulson came in to his cell, followed swiftly by Rinehart.
“We're placing a lot of trust in you on this, Loki,” Coulson told him, and it still didn't make sense, even as Coulson knelt and fastened a small, heavy black thing to Loki's ankle. Purring, because old habits died hard, Loki tried to press his foot- bone white and angled sharply- against Coulson's chest, slipping it past the man's jacket. Coulson calmly slid it back down to the floor, giving it an absent little pat. “This device tracks your every move.”
“Is that not redundant, Coulson?” Loki asked, leaning closer to add in a harsh whisper, “To be tracked in the confines of a cage?”
“Loki,” Coulson didn't sigh, but he looked like he wanted to. Loki considered this a victory. “As a part of your long-term confinement here, you're going to have an hour a day spent outside your cell, apart from time spent eating or showering.”
“Oh,” Loki said softly, then again, “Oh. I see. You are precious for a mortal, Coulson.” The man drew slightly back, his face unreadable. “And for this- for this hour, I may walk freely through these halls?”
“No,” Rinehart said firmly, and Loki's heart did that horrible little flutter when Coulson's eyes flicked angrily towards the man. “You will, of course, be escorted by armed guards where-ever you go. Should you resist them in any way, this privilege will be revoked. Is that understood?”
“Yes, yes, alright, I want to see Doctor Banner,” Loki said quickly, bouncing a little. “Please? I would like to see him now.”
“That can... be arranged,” Coulson said uncomfortably, and Loki looked at him, slightly startled by the show of emotion.
“What's the matter?” Loki asked, only noticing out of the corner of his eye that one of the guards was approaching, the thick baglike hood in hand.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It took a long time, with many sharp and sudden turns, before the guards stopped Loki and whipped the hood off of his head. He blinked owlishly, spotting the wary scientist fetched up against the arm of a small couch, the archer hovering protectively nearby.
“We'll be back in about half an hour,” Coulson said quietly from just behind him. Loki turned just in time to see him disappear through the door, before turning and staring at the two Avengers before him. The archer- Barton, Loki remembered, and with the name a vague memory of sweat and fog and hollow, hopeless screaming- looked shuttered off, while Banner seemed to be fighting equal waves of disgust and nervousness.
Loki swallowed dryly, vulnerable as he tried to think of some way to engender just a little bit of trust in the scientist.
“I just... I just want to sit near you,” he said quietly, exhaling slowly. “I have these... headaches. And the only time they went away was when you came near me the other day, during your meal. And I-”
“How near?” Banner asked, apparently more curious than cautious, for the time being. Barton, on the other hand, leaned a little closer to Banner, making it clear that it wouldn't be very near, if he had his say. Loki hesitated, licking his dry, cracked lips a little. If Barton wanted, he could tear Loki apart, right now, weak as he is.
Loki almost wanted him to. Almost. He lowered his gaze, trying to think clearly.
“Perhaps... perhaps two or three feet away,” he said slowly, blinking. “Perhaps closer. I don't really... I don't really know how it works.”
“I call bullshit,” Barton muttered, arms crossed menacingly over his chest, offering Bruce a faint shrug at his questioning look. Loki blinked, cuffs clinking faintly as he rubbed nervously at his wrists.
“If it doesn't... if it doesn't work, I won't bother you again,” Loki said simply, looking down. “I just... half an hour a day, without the pain, I want it, I'm so tired, and I just... I'm so tired,” he breathed out, his body sagging.
“If you try anything,” Banner started, looking uncomfortable, and Loki knew that this was a victory, however grudging, so he curled up on the floor, near Banner's feet, and let his head roll back a little against the couch. The noise faded and ceased altogether.
Loki's bones melted pleasantly, his eyes drifted shut- and then there was a hand on his shoulder, and the smell of Coulson a second before Loki heard his voice.
“Get up, Loki. It's time to go back now.”
Loki could hear someone crying, but Banner- while distressed looking, certainly- was dry-eyed, and Barton looked deeply suspicious but otherwise calm, and Coulson was as steady as ever. Then Coulson's hands, gently tugging the bag down around his ears, before Loki was consigned to the muffled dark.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was enough. It had to be.
Loki lacked anything resembling ambition, anymore. He just wanted a night's sleep, maybe to spend some time with Coulson or Fury, because at least they spoke to him, sometimes. He would even agree to see Thor, if it was an option.
The next meeting he had with anyone “official” was his appointment with Rinehart, the next day. No sooner had the man come in than Loki had raised his head to meet his gaze.
“What is it you people want?” he asked, the words clawing their way past his throat. Rinehart blinked, leaning closer, a flash of desire in his eyes that Loki noted in a dull, abstract way.
“The Cube, Odinson. Where did you send it?”
Loki inhaled once, massaging the side of his head.
“I didn't,” he whispered, too tired and desperate to speak anything but the truth. “When I fell off the Bifrost, I felt- I heard it calling to me, because it wants... it needs to be used. And when I had it in my grasp, it was like...” Loki shook his head, because while he could vaguely recall how it felt- ecstasy and horror and driving, addictive need- he just didn't remember much about that time.
“It wanted me to do... to so something,” Loki sighed, confused by the growing anger on Rinehart's face. “I don't remember anymore what was so important, but I thought I could trick it into taking me back to my father, without fulfilling its... its purpose.”
“Where did you send it?” Rinehart repeated, and Loki shook his head, his bones aching.
“I didn't,” he exhaled, finally allowing himself to admit it. “I failed to do what it wanted me to do... I failed, so it left me.”
“Liar,” Rinehart didn't scream, but it was a near thing, his hands suddenly on Loki's thinning shoulders, his nose an inch from Loki's. “Where is the Cube? Where did you send it? We must have it!”
“I-I don't,” Loki started, struggling to free himself. “I don't know where it went, Rinehart, unhand me, or-”
“Or what?” Rinehart snapped, shoving Loki back against his cot. He pulled something from his pocket- something small and black, Loki could see that it was some sort of remote control device, but for what? Rinehart fiddled with it, and the answer became abundantly clear as pain lanced through Loki's body with a vague clicking, snapping sound that threatened to drive Loki mad. Madder.
The pain ended just as suddenly as it came, although Loki's entire side still felt like it was burning slowly, his leg twitching uncontrollably. Ankle, he thought numbly, eying the black monitor put there only a few days ago by his- by Coulson. Coulson, who was kind to him, who wouldn't do that, who must have- must have been-
“The Cube,” Rinehart snarled, looming over him. “Tell me where it is.”
“I c-can't,” Loki gasped, pleading. “I don't know where it-”
Electricity coursed once more though his body, and through the pain Loki had a dizzying realization- it didn't matter if he told the truth, not when they expected lies and wanted results. It didn't matter at all, nothing did.
Loki started laughing, because it was funny, actually hilarious, and somehow he heard screaming through his laughter, until they blended together in his throat and became one.
Chapter 6: Strange Eons
It was almost a routine. For just over a week, Loki's days consisted of groggy confusion as he drifted into consciousness, accompanied- as always- by a splitting headache and the relentless buzzing noise, followed by at least one meal in the cafeteria, a shower, a precious little nap in Banner's cell, and a 'session' with Rinehart. Sometimes Rinehart even pretended to ask questions about Loki's past, or his family, or his brother. Loki wasn't entirely positive, but he thought perhaps most psychoanalysts didn't leave their patients bruised and trembling, limbs twitching with the aftershocks of that cunning little taze-device.
The only real problem was Banner. Loki was perfectly content to be dragged into Banner's cell and curl up on the floor near Banner's feet- sometimes Barton was there but occasionally not, and Loki didn't spend enough time conscious to mind that Banner didn't really speak to him at all. But Loki noticed the looks Banner gave him sometimes, pity and curiosity and disgust, looking like he wanted to say something to Loki.
Once a young woman- dark, flowing hair, hornrimmed glasses, with a face that Loki would have found enticingly attractive if he wasn't in constant pain and exhaustion- walked nonchalantly into Bruce's cell, as if she belonged there, as if she was free to come and go as she pleased- and then she stopped, staring at Bruce and Loki and Barton. Barton was the first to break the stunned silence.
“Jesus, Darce, call ahead, this really isn't the best time,” he sighed, his voice strained, and Loki covered his mouth with his bony forearm to stifle an unseemly guffaw.
“What the shit, you guys,” the woman uttered flatly. Darcy? Loki vaguely recalled that name from... somewhere. Bruce actually pulled away from Loki, which was a shame, and got up, flanked by Barton. Darcy was already doing something to her little phone with her thumbs, turning and marching out the door. Barton followed close behind, and Loki and Bruce were left alone.
Loki glanced over at Bruce, caught him eyeballing Loki with an expression of dread and anxiety. Loki curled his arms around his body and lay his cheek against the cool floor, closing his eyes. What else was he going to do? He needed the rest, and it didn't matter that Banner was so terrified of being alone with him, and it didn't matter that Banner looked at him like he was equal parts monstrous and pathetic, and the sudden, stinging ache in his chest had nothing to do with anything.
It was almost a relief to be yanked abruptly to his feet by Rinehart's escort and dragged from the place.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This room was new. It was tiny, with a small desk and a chair and a video camera on a tripod and a large video screen next to the camera. One of the guards cuffed Loki's wrists to the desk, as Rinehart strolled into view.
“For safety reasons, the two of you are currently in two different buildings,” Rinehart informed Loki, which explained nothing at all to him. “For security reasons, neither of you is to know the location of the other. Any attempts to tell him where you are or to find out where he is will result in the end of this conversation. Is that clear?”
“...yes?” Loki blinked, and tried not to look surprised when the screen flickered on and Thor's face appeared.
“Brother,” Thor started, his face red, as if he'd been yelling for a while. “Brother, what is happening? The Lady Darcy told me of your- of your condition, and I have heard grave reports-”
“Thor,” Loki sighed, and Thor actually stopped, staring hard at something slightly to the right- the screen, Loki realized, Thor is looking at him and not at the camera. “Why have you contacted me in this way? What is it you seek?”
“Loki, my brother, I have been petitioning since your capture to be allowed to see you,” Thor choked out, and his eyes, Loki noticed, were as red as the rest of his face. “You refused, time and again- and I have heard such tales from my fellow Avengers of you, Loki, of your- you are so thin,” he almost sobbed, as if it were a crime of Loki's to be so. “This sudden- this sudden invitation to speak with you now, it's-” Thor took a deep breath, his voice trembling only a little. “Brother, are you ill? They believe me stupid, but I know you're housed in the same building as Doctor Banner. I can help if you'd let me, I know I could-”
“Oh, Thor,” Loki muttered, lowering his gaze. He was struck with a brief memory- a small blond boy, protecting his even smaller brother from the monsters that lurked in the darkness under their bed- and it did not taste half as bitter as he thought it would. It was even fond, something Loki wished he could hold on to the next time Rinehart tried to press information out of him. “You are a gullible, foolish creature, Thor.”
“Brother,” and Thor was begging him, in that one word, and was it not everything Loki had thought he wanted?
It was not. Rage, impotent and sharp, surged through Loki, and no small part of it was directed at himself.
“I am not your brother,” Loki hissed, his eyes flicking up to watch the screen, to watch Thor's reaction. Thor's face crumpled, and Loki felt no satisfaction, felt nothing but a raw emptiness and a burning need to take it back, to give Thor whatever it was he wanted, if just to stop him from looking so broken.
Instead, Loki curled his mouth into a cruel sneer. “You know the truth, Thor. Is that not what you have always valued, what you have always prized above my words and lies? The truth is that I am no blood of yours, and you have gladly murdered many who may well have been my kin. The truth is that I am nothing to you, any more than the warriors of Jotunheim are nothing.”
“Loki, I would spend the rest of our lives, all the time you and I have, in penance for who I was, what I have been,” Thor pleaded, leaning toward the screen. “I would gladly spend the rest of time itself earning your trust and forgiveness again, Loki, if only you would let me.”
Loki took a deep, shuddering breath. He was a liar, first and foremost. That was one of the only things he really knew about himself, one of the few things their family, their lives have taught Loki. The truth was that this place- the cell, the cafeteria, Rinehart's sessions- that was Loki's sentence. It may not be an outright execution, but Loki would not get out of this alive. The truth was that Thor would destroy everything in his path if he knew that he would never otherwise be allowed to take Loki home. The truth was that Midgard and its people were the only things that had made Thor grow out of the relentless, bloodthirsty, overbearing tyrant he'd been. The truth was that Loki had never been good enough or pure enough or just plain enough to do that for Thor.
Loki licked his lips, baring his teeth at the camera. “Thor, I allowed you this conversation for one purpose only.” Thor leaned forward, like a dog begging for a scrap of affection from its master. The irony was not lost on Loki, even as he snarled into the camera, “Never. Contact. Me. Again. Do you understand? Was that simple enough for your tiny brain, Thor? I never want to see you again, I never want to hear your voice, and if I never hear your name again it will be altogether too soon!”
Thor looked devastated, in the few seconds before the screens switched off. Loki stared at the dark screen for a few moments more, breathing hard as Rinehart strolled into view.
It was a mercy to have the bag yanked down around his face, obscuring the hateful man from his sight.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“What the hell, you lunatic?” Barton snapped the next time he and Banner were alone with Loki. Loki had to work to focus his eyes on Barton's face- everything just felt so far away, now.
“What?” Loki asked dully from his place on the floor, even though he wanted nothing more to lie down and go to sleep.
“How the hell could you be such a fucking dick to Thor? He's your brother,” Barton seethed, anger radiating off him. “He's your brother and he actually gives a fuck about you. You have no idea how fucking lucky you are to have that, and you're just going to throw that away?”
Banner extended a hand to Barton's arm, and it actually seemed to calm him a little. Interesting. Loki shrugged, rolling his sore shoulders a little.
“What else was there to do?” Loki asked, his tongue thick and dry in his mouth. “He thought he... he thought he could fix things. He thought he could take me home. He doesn't know that I'm going to die here.”
“You...” Banner's brow furrowed a little. It was sort of adorable. “You were protecting him.”
“No,” Loki sighed, finding it a struggle to keep talking. “Mayhap. A little. It matters not. If he rampages through this place looking for me, he'll...” He'd lose everything. Everything that made him decent. Everything he fought for. Everything he wanted. “It matters not.”
“...Thor thinks you're such a smart guy,” Barton said finally, sounding choked, “but for such a fucking genius, you sure are pretty fucking stupid.”
“You'd know, archer,” Loki murmured, and let sleep claim him for what little time he had.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Once again, the established routine changed.
Instead of taking him to Banner's cell, Rinehart shut and locked the door to Loki's. Their session was... intense, Rinehart giving Loki little to no time to answer his furious questions before turning the dial on the little device that controlled the evil little weapon strapped to his ankle. After some point Loki just stopped trying to answer and just... let him take out whatever anger or frustration it was he had.
Loki's ears were ringing as the guards snatched him up from the ground- his leg was twitching uncontrollably, and in a distant, vaguely annoyed way, he realized that his pants leg was soaked through. It should have worried him to have been so far gone that he'd actually pissed himself, but if anything, all he cared about was that he could barely walk, and was really being dragged down the hallway.
Loki was almost casually thrown into the shower stall, and the icy water lancing across his bare skin was too much for him, after what he'd been through. His mind felt horrifically, sluggishly blank, time skipping at odd intervals. One moment he was slumped against the wall, letting the shower sluice water over him- the next, he was still soaking wet and shivering, but was fully dressed and being marched down a hallway, the hood over his head- the next, he was actually being shoved into Banner's cell, where he had the presence of mind to wonder how he got there before collapsing to the floor.
Loki drifted back into consciousness and he wasn't in pain, and that realization woke him up a little.
He was in a bed- soft and warm and comfortable in a way his cot never could be- and someone was curled up behind him, pressed against his back, an arm cradled protectively around him. The bed and the man both smelled like Banner- confusing, but it made sense when he realized that he didn't hear that horrible buzzing noise.
“Why?” Loki heard himself mutter, and Banner's voice was gentle and startlingly close.
“You were shaking and twitching,” he whispered, “you could have hurt yourself. Best way to hold you still.” He said something else, but Loki didn't hear it. He reached blindly until his fingers closed around Banner's hand, pulling it closer before he drifted back out of the waking world.
The next voice he heard was not Banner's- it was Barton's.
“Jesus, Bruce, really?” he was asking, before the next voice jarred him fully awake.
“Brother? Loki, speak to me, I entreat you!”
“Good lord,” Banner sighed next to Loki's ear, and Loki privately agreed.