Loki is used to being silenced. He does not condone or forget – he remembers every instance with bitter clarity – but it no longer causes him the same outrage, the same distress, as it once did. It has begun to feel little more than the way of things.
The 'Avengers' are fond of glass, it seems, for there is a glass cell in the building to which they have conveyed him while he waits for them to decide whether they will give him to Thor or keep him themselves. Either outcome has its advantages – a refusal to give him up to Asgardian 'justice' will estrange Thor and his Midgardian allies. Without Thor, they will find it impossible to contain him, and he can, if he still wishes, conquer Midgard the more easily. This time with a plan that is actually designed to succeed.
If it is to be Asgard – well, he has dealt with Asgard before. He had far rather face them than return to the tender mercies of the Chitauri. And if it is to be Asgard, doubtless the tesseract will be taken too. He can keep an eye on it, make sure it does not fall into unworthy hands.
He lowers himself to the floor of the cell, where he can stretch out full length, feel his way down his ribcage and slide each broken bone back into place. Pain hammers at the doors of his mind
It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. Make it stop! Please, please, please...
but he does not allow it entry. That is one lesson he began to learn at the hands of his family, but has perfected under the tutelage of the creatures of the dark. In the end, pain profoundly does not matter.
It does, it does, it does. Make it stop!
He has screamed himself raw, whined and pleaded and cringed. He has all but drowned in his own blood, behind sewn lips, and swallowed it down and thrown it back up and choked on it. And in the end, eventually, the pain has gone away, the purely animal panic has passed, and nothing at all has changed.
Movement outside the glass wall, and he turns his head to see Banner – dishevelled, gentle, slouching Banner – peering at him as though he cannot work out what he sees. Loki finds the place where the final rib has broken through his skin, breathes calmly – the muzzle hurts less than the stitches did, but vomiting in it will be just as unpleasant – and pushes in.
Don't! Don't, don't don't don't! HELP ME!
There is a wave of cold nausea, and all the hair on his body stirs and prickles. And then it subsides and he tries, and fails, to smile.
“I could give you something for that,” says Banner in his self-effacing voice. “Analgesics. I'm just not sure that you deserve it.”
Loki can at least make a scoffing noise through his nose. People in glass houses, he thinks, shouldn't throw stones. For Banner is the worst hypocrite of them all.
Banner could understand, if he only tried, the kind of childhood, the kind of rage that makes a man into a rabid beast. But he will not take responsibility for his own anger - refuses to accept the monster as anything to do with him. 'The other guy,' indeed. And his friends collude in this deception. Not your fault, Banner, that the avatar of your anger, your hurts, your terror, ran amok crushing and murdering men as it went. Not your fault, it wasn't you, you didn't mean it...
It is a neat trick. Perhaps one day he will try the excuse himself. One day when he has mastered himself enough to pull it off with a straight face.
Banner waits a while, as if expecting a response, and Loki might raise a brow at that – Of course, you try talking to me now, now that I cannot make any answer – but it doesn't seem worth the trouble.
When Banner wanders off, Barton takes his place and explains to Loki, in a low voice, all the many things he hopes Asgard will do to him. This too is entirely expected. Barton is ashamed that once he was eager for Loki's praise, that his heart warmed whenever he gained his master's approval. Loki too would want to rend into shreds any man who had done such a thing to him, so he feels some sympathy for the archer's hate.
When Barton goes and Stark takes his place, Loki tries again to laugh. There is a wide flap of metal inside the gag which stretches his mouth and depresses his tongue. It makes it difficult to swallow his own saliva, and it cuts into his lips on either side if he moves them. So he contents himself with rolling his eyes, because really? Speechless, on display, surrounded by hatred and humiliation? This is just like being at home.
After that he sleeps. Sometimes they shout. Sometimes they bang on the glass. But he sleeps still. He is a connoisseur of torture now, and these childish games no longer trouble him.
In the morning he is healed enough to walk without aid, and he spares his Jotun body a small moment of grudging respect. It is not as strong as one of the Aesir, but it is indomitable, like his spirit. It has endured many things and it has yet to be permanently broken. If his destination is to be Asgard – and he hopes it will be – there are books he left behind in his hasty departure, containing spells he can cast to become even hardier. He will make himself the cockroach they simply cannot squash.
For Loki has grown up since he fell. He is no longer the boy who was sure – despite all the evidence – that if he could only scream loud enough someone must hear, someone must help him, someone must finally listen. That boy fell for a thousand years, and when he hit the bottom of the universe, scrabbled to his feet in places lower than Hel, he learned the one absolute and ultimate truth. He learned that no one will ever hear, no one will ever come, because no one cares.
It is a bitter truth, but he feels sterner, more resolute for knowing it.
When he bargained and cajoled and persuaded and schemed, lied and double crossed and lied again, playing ally against ally, enemy against enemy, to claw his way back up out of the dark places, back into the light of the nine realms, he learned to rely on one thing only – himself.
There is some pleasure to be found, some pride, in knowing that he needs no one's help, no one's approval but his own. It is even possible to find some peace in the acceptance of his own monstrosity. Was he not born evil, of an evil race and evil parentage? Why should he therefore feel appalled if sometimes he does things that sicken even himself? He is only acting according to his inborn nature. As well chide a wolf for biting, a raven for gorging on still-living flesh.
Speaking of flesh, it is about lunchtime - though they have neither fed nor watered him - when Thor bursts into his glass refuge to manacle him with Asgardian restraints. He does not flinch, although inside...
No! Get those things away from me! Don't you dare. It's like having my eyes cut out. Please don't! Please don't...
inside he cringes. How fortunate for Thor's tender heart that Loki has been rendered mute. For Thor would not relent even if Loki was to abase himself with weeping, but it might look bad, it might stain his fervent pretence of love, if he forced them on while his brother begged and pleaded aloud.
As if he senses the thoughts – and Mimir knows that after so long growing up together he should be capable of the occasional insight – Thor says “I do not want to do this to you, Loki. I love you. I will always love you. But you have earned this by your own deeds, and until they are repaid I must treat you like the criminal you are.”
Loki lifts his eyes at this and stares coolly at the sullen rage in Thor's blue gaze. Oh, he knows that expression – it is the baffled, hard done by look with which Thor answered Fury's intention to torture Loki. It is what happens – the only thing that happens – when Thor is called upon to go against his friends for the sake of the brother he claims he loves.
I hate you, Thor, Loki thinks, with a power as pure and white and sustaining as any tesseract. Because you held me down and fastened this thing over my mouth. Because you are always talking at me, and you are never prepared to listen.
Thor speaks much about love. His love is a hammer to the face, a quick “he's adopted,” when it suits him. His love is “know your place,” “imagined slights,” humiliation and belittlement. Thor's 'love' is a muzzle and a chain and a promise to drag Loki back to a place that drove him mad, where he can – like his son – be more thoroughly broken to the bit.
Loki used to yearn for Thor's lies to contain some kernel of truth. But he is grown up now. He wants no part of it any more. Neither Thor, nor Thor's father will ever again fool him with their promise that something sweet underpins the bullying and the fear and the disdain. He was a child then, and he ached to belong. That is done.
Loki is used to being silenced...
But I hate it. I hate you. I will watch you all burn...
but he resents the fact that the gag has taken away his smile. He wants to show Thor that he is not dealing with an injured boy any more. For Loki is discovering what it means to be a monster. He is discovering that he is good at it.
Once he thought to be Thor's equal. He would be different, complementary – brain to brawn, subtlety to brashness, the sharp edge to Thor's blunt instrument – but of equal worth. That has not proved possible, and perhaps it was always a lie. But why should he not be Thor's opposite? Prince of monsters, as Thor is prince of gods.
Except that really, why should he aim so low? Why should he not be the opposite of Odin? Father of gods, mother of monsters. Why not?
If he smiles, the muzzle will split his lips and fill his mouth with blood. He has had enough of that for one eternity. Nor is a smile the best expression to convince the Aesir he comes against his will, bound and beaten and harmless. He schools his face into a slave's sullenness and reaches out for the container that Thor also holds.
Behold, the Tesseract is back in his hand. Asgard is before him, where he knows all weaknesses and no one knows his new strength. They have tried to crush him, and they have succeeded in turning him into diamond.
Whatever comes next will be fun.