He wasn’t entirely sure when he’d started it, the scratching, or why, he just knew that he wasn’t likely to stop anytime soon. He’d heard that no matter how many times you send an addict to rehab, they won’t ever quit unless they want to. He could empathise.
It wasn’t just the scratching; it was the keys and the table knives and the teasing and poking of every accidental injury to milk out every last twinge of pain he could get from it. He’d stopped questioning if he liked it, stopped thinking about why he was doing it or worrying that it was wrong, he’d just come to accept it. This was just something he did now. It helped.
Every word, every action, every look from those around him, and each and every one of his own failures, everything that ever made him feel like shit, it hurt in a way that he couldn’t control. There was nothing he could do about that; that feeling inside of being stomped on, like an ant beneath a boot. But this, this pain was pain he could force himself to feel and it was entirely his. This was his pain, he decided how much it hurt and when it hurt and how it hurt and how much.
He could decide if he’d do it now or later, if he wanted it on his stomach or his wrist, if it was done by his nails or his key, if it should be sharp or dull, if he wanted it to sting or burn or ache or pound or prick. Burn or ache. His favourites. The deep, sharp but somehow dull and consistent pain of a nail sunk deep into the soft flesh of his wrist, buried between the two bones of his forearm. The low, slow burn of sharp nails dragged across the tender expanse of his lower stomach, just above his hips. That was how he liked it best. The wrist was for control. The stomach was for punishment. They both helped.
Those were his favourite ways, but sometimes more subtlety was necessary. When a hand clamped tightly to the other wrist would look odd or out of place, he settled for peeling skin the off his lips until they were raw and biting down hard, curling his hands into fists and driving the nails into his palms, digging them into the back of his neck or raking them across his scalp. The scratches and marks and spreading redness wouldn’t be noticed there.
He spent so long trying so hard to hide it, to make sure no one would or could ever know, panicked and freaked out and covered his arms when the scratches lasted longer than he expected them to, longer than he had intended (but he really had needed to do that to his arm).
He needed to talk to someone, did he maybe need help? He knew he did. But didn’t, couldn’t get it.
How could he tell his friends and family what he was doing? How would that sentence even begin? He could hardly just drop it in during a casual conversation, it would be ludicrous to think that he could just say “Pass the salt please, oh and by the way I stab myself with my own nails for pleasure and I don’t want to stop” in the middle of a meal and expect a sensible reaction. His family wouldn’t understand; they just didn’t get this kind of thing. Odin and Frigga would be disappointed, confused, upset, and Thor... Well, Thor would be himself. He would become unreasonably angry, demand to know why Loki was doing this, shout and storm and rage at him and not notice how tightly his hand was clutched to the back of his neck. The nice sensitive skin at the back of his neck (his stomach wasn’t the only place reserved for punishments, and his neck was control as well).
But maybe that was the sensible reaction. Maybe that was what you were supposed to do when you found that kind of thing out. Now he thought about it, he was sure ‘sensible’ wouldn’t involve having no reaction. ‘Sensible’ would be cutting his nails and hiding all the sharp objects and booking him up to talk to someone who could help, someone who would make him stop and just be normal.
God, why couldn’t he just be normal? Why couldn’t he be just like Thor and be strong and handsome and good at fighting and not be so weird and mental? Why did he feel the constant urge to physically punish himself for what he did wrong, or need to hurt himself to fight for control inside his own damn head? Surely most people could control their own heads at least? Why couldn’t he do that.
It helped to think about it sometimes, which was good because thinking was one of the only things he was any good at. He thought about it, about everything, tried to work out the differences between each urge to scratch. To him, pain wasn’t just pain, he wanted, no, needed, different kinds of pain. There would be specific spots he had to dig into, and a specific way he wanted it to hurt. Control was definitely different from punishment. Punishing himself hurt in a way he didn’t want it to hurt (he wasn’t supposed to want it to hurt, otherwise it would hardly be a punishment would it?) and it made him feel worse about himself, but it also served to motivate him; punishing bad behaviour and reminding him what was and was not acceptable. (You’re such a fuck up; you can’t even do something as simple as that? Why did you say that? Why did you do that? God you’re so ridiculous. You won’t do that again, you’ll do what I tell you to do, understand? I don’t think you do, maybe this will help you get the message.)
Controlling himself made him feel stronger, it was supportive and it allowed him to keep on going. It helped him, made him feel better. (Get a grip on yourself, come on you can do this, you can focus, you can say these things. Pull yourself together you can listen to this, you can do this, you WILL do this. I know you can and you know why? Because I am you, because I will get you through this. Here, this will help.)
And it does. It does help. The burn, the ache, the stab, the pain, it helps him to pull himself together and do what he needs to do. That’s why he doesn’t want to stop. It’s not just the pain that’s so pleasurable, it’s the way it helps him; helps him to sort himself out and think clearly without filling up his brain with stupid, stupid, stupid.
So Loki gets on with life, with business as usual, with laughing and smiling and long sleeves and being careful not to dig too deep (but if he cuts himself by accident, there’s nothing wrong with that now is there?). Loki tries to ignore that stupid little nagging voice (his own voice in the back of his head) that tells him he’s being stupid, he’s being ridiculous and weak and just needs to get over himself. He has phases where he gets better, where he hardly touches his wrists and where he decides to cut his nails because he doesn’t need them anymore. But then he has phases where he’s worse and he spends his entire time with a hand clenched around his wrist and his hands balled into fists and a small hole in his pocket which he can reach through to dig into the soft, smooth flesh of his thigh. And sometimes when he gets like this he has a moment where it gets too much, where he feels like he can’t take it anymore and he just wants to talk to someone and tell them what’s happening to him and get some help to deal with himself.
But as soon as he thinks that his moment of peaceful clarity is gone again and his mind is once again invaded by his own voice, reminding him not to be so fucking stupid, that he’s such a fucking idiot for even thinking of something like that because nobody fucking cares about him, no one wants to know this shit and even if they did, he shouldn’t tell them because he’ll only hurt them unnecessarily and he doesn’t want to do that does he? No, there’s no need to tell them because even if they did care he’d just upset them and they’d get worried and it’s not their fault he’s such a fuck up so he really shouldn’t bother them with his own stupid problems.
But they don’t care anyway, he’s just being stupid. He’s just being a selfish little child because there’s nothing wrong with him really, he doesn’t have any problems and he’s just doing this for attention. That’s what they’ll think, they’ll think he’s just a stupid little kid looking for attention. Why is he even doing this? God, he’s got such a good life, he’s got it so much better than so many others, than everyone else across all of the Nine Realms. If he stopped being such a spoiled little twat for five seconds maybe he’d realise that he’s just being stupid and selfish by doing this, he has nothing to complain about so he should just keep his mouth shut.
So once all that is done, Loki decides that it’s for the best that he doesn’t tell anyone, it’s for the best that nobody knows. But he still wants to talk about it. He still wants help.
But it’s been far too long now, it’s been far too long to talk about it, too long to ask for help. Now Loki just feels bad, he feels stupid, he feels guilty, he feels pathetic, he feels worthless, but most of all he just feels tired. Tired of lying, pretending, hiding what he’s done, hiding what he’s doing, tired of snatching his hands away at the slightest noise and of pretending there aren’t any keys in his hands, of long sleeves, feeling guilty and saying he doesn’t know how he got that mark on his wrist. He wants people to know, he wants them to notice, he’s hardly even hiding anymore, just waiting, hoping that someone will notice what he’s doing (he’s getting worse, it only used to be nails, it only used to be sometimes) but knowing that he can never tell them. He’s stopped bothering to be particularly subtle even, stopped hiding the harsh red patches behind his back, stopped sticking to the underside of his forearms, he scratches his hands now, right the way around his hands and wrists for anyone to see (but no one has seen and he’s starting to wonder why. Have they not noticed? Have they seen and just not cared?)
And what Loki really wants to do is just raise his hands to his face and drag his nails slowly down his face from his forehead to his lips, his chin, and then start back at the top and rake them back down. He wants to watch as he does this, he wants to watch the white lines form in the nails’ wake and watch as white turns pink. He wants to watch as his frenzied fingers turn his pale skin dark with the spreading splotches of scarlet-pink as the blood rises to the surface like a rash, like a beacon. He’d enjoy it, he knows he would, this is something he’s been itching to do for a while now, because although his wrist and stomach and hidden thighs and hips and back and chest and neck feel so much better than nothing, he knows that they’re nothing compared to the blissful pleasure of the pain he could get from doing this.
But no. That would smack too strongly of a cry for help, no, a cry for attention. Like a kid, like a child because he’s still the baby of the family, everyone still sees him as the Little Prince of the Odinsons, not the Heir to the Throne like they see Thor. He can’t let them know, can’t let them see, can’t do anything lasting, can’t use anything sharper than a key or a table knife, can’t scratch it on his face. Or they’ll notice, they’ll know and they mustn’t (even though there’s really nothing he wants more than for them to know, to notice, to realise).