Loki does as he is told, even if he knows the action in and of itself is a lie. A nod indicates comprehension – and Loki does not understand what Fury thinks he's doing at the moment.
He doesn't know how long it's been since he's seen the Avengers. Time has lost its meaning for him while he's languished away in a prison cell, forgotten and rendered unimportant.
He knows that time has passed though, because he can see it in the way that there is more grey in Stark's hair and in the finite wrinkles that have begun to gather in the corners around Captain America's eyes.
All of them have gathered to see him again – and he knows that his presence is still not wanted, but they have no choice at the moment. They have been driven to this moment, spurred on by an opponent that only Loki knows.
And so he is given worth again.
He is brought back with all the security that they can muster. They effectively stripped him of his two greatest strengths the last they met; the cuffs render his magic mute and the mask renders him mute. And yet the threat of him is not negated.
If he will help, Fury promises to remove the mask. As if it would make any difference –
Regardless, he remains still when Fury nods and someone steps behind him and begins to undo the metal fastenings. From the briskness of the touch, it has to be Black Widow. He dislikes having her at his back, but there's little he can do.
The metal slides away from his face and for the first time in what seems to be eons, air brushes against his flesh. He flexes his jaw, only to be met with resistance. It comes as little surprise. He knew the thread would have held, would have kept his pierced flesh solidly shut. Anger and sorrow well up inside him in equal measure, swelling the back of his throat. He wishes to curse at them all, to take them apart with insults beyond their comprehension, to weave spells that would melt their flesh from their bones –
His delusions are quickly snatched away when he notices Fury's reaction. The man has drawn back abruptly; his good eye widened, his jaw somewhat slack. At his left, the Captain makes some kind of odd noise and even Stark is silent, obviously surprised by what is he was seeing.
If Loki had been able to, he would have laughed.
He suddenly understands. His gaze wanders back to where Thor is still sullenly standing in the corner, his arms crossed his chest.
Loki has always thought they knew. He had thought that they had all agreed upon the punishment Loki had suffered after the battle was over. But now he knows better. He knows that his darling brother had taken matters into his own hands. He had wielded the needle of his own volition and then used Stark's mask to hide his handiwork.
And it was a gross misstep, Loki knows. Because these Midgardians don't understand Asgard's justice – and they won't understand this. It is written plainly on their faces.
“Thor --” Fury says sharply, and half turns to him. “Did you--?”
“Of course,” Thor answers; Loki does try to laugh because the oaf still does not see.
The sound is deranged, swallowed by the flesh of his throat and given no voice. It trembles in the air, muffled and aborted.
“Take him away,” is all Fury says. He doesn't look at him as he says it.
Loki finds himself back in a makeshift cell. They don't put the mask on his face and every agent they had passed had stared at him when they had walked. The Captain had avoided his gaze when he had shut the door.
Loki stands in the middle of the cell, feeling both himself and not at all. He feels glee, because he thinks, that for all of his tricks, and for all he had tried to make his golden brother fall, Thor might have done it on his own.
He itches to see the destruction, to see the pieces fall. He can imagine Fury angrily demanding an explanation from Thor. And Thor will not relent, because to him, this was justice, not torture. And the Avengers will be torn, because he is Loki. He is the god of lies, and he had whispered them so sweetly in their ears, wreaking havoc. But they try to not abandon the rules humanity binds them to – and this was not humane.
Loki steps toward the back. The glass of the cell is thick enough that he can see his own reflection. And he can understand the horror painted across the Avengers' faces. They had called him a monster, but now he looks the part. Now his Aesir flesh is tainted as well.
The thread is only half-visible. It has melded with his skin, and his lips have half grown over it. His mouth is fused shut, stripped with scar tissue that glints white and ugly. Thor had done a neat job of it at least, Loki thinks. Each knot had been tight; each tug of the thread had been even and sure.
He raises his hands up, the chains of the cuffs clinking together and he runs his fingers over the ridges that comprise the lower half of his face. He tries to imagine the spell that would fix this, and the way that the magic would well in his fingertips.
The words are still there, even if they are dormant on his tongue.
The door behind him slides open with a barely audible hiss.
Loki can see Thor standing near the entrance. He turns to face his brother. There's a flush along his cheeks, and tension unwinds its way along his body.
He looks at Loki for only a scarce second and then crosses the room in three long strides until they're standing close together. Loki longs to mock him. He feels the sharp words forming on his tongue, and he lets his tongue form them, only to be lost against the roof of his mouth.
Thor's gaze drops down to his mouth for the first time, and he raises a hand and lets his thumb move over the bumps. His touch is gentle, his fingers cradling Loki's jaw.
“I only did it to keep you safe,” Thor murmurs, his voice a low rumble. “You needed to be protected.”
Loki looks at him; he has never needed Thor to explain what he has done, and Thor has never tried to before. There are plenty of excuses for it; justice had to be served. Thor was born to be a king. Loki needed to be punished. Loki needed to be saved. These are the justifications Thor has fabricated.
But Loki knows. Thor did it because he wanted to.
Thor leans in and let his lips brush lightly against where Loki's had been and still Loki remained removed.
He lets his brother's lies stand, transparent as they are.
Thor presses their foreheads together. He closes his eyes and breathes out. His fingers slowly stroke through Loki's hair.
Loki continues to stare over Thor's shoulder. He imagines cutting into his brother. He imagines returning the pain in turn. He imagines the Avengers turning away from Thor. He thinks of the Avengers turning on each other, forgetting what it is to be humane.
Finally, Thor draws away, reaches down, and inserts a key into the cuffs that Loki wears. He looks up at Loki from underneath the fringe of his hair. The red has faded from his face and his expression is simply beseeching.
The cuffs click open and fall off, clattering to the floor below.
Loki's magic floods back into his veins so quickly that it leaves him reeling. He is breathless; color comes back into the world and words fill up his mouth, longing to be delivered. He can feel Thor's gaze on him, the same puppy-sick look he gave every time he not-so secretly hoped that Loki would come back to him. Loki half-expects him to try to murmur another stirring speech, another reminder of childhood, another reminder of home.
But he says nothing, and Loki's cheeks ache, for he wants to smile as Thor turns and walks away. Before the door shuts, Fury steps in. He remains on the other side of the room, but his expression is steely and unrelenting.
“I think you have ample reason to not want to return to Asgard,” Fury says. “Help us and I think we can work something out.” Fury pauses. “Do we have an understanding?”
Loki nods – a second lie.