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Tales Are Never Just for Fools

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Thor cannot be allowed to be king, so Loki does what Loki does best, machinating and manipulating as well as the courts of kings have taught him, and everything fails.

He first invites a couple of Jotuns to Odin’s treasure room, to steal some ancient relic, appropriated by the Aesir a lifetime ago, that they seem to think will help them save their planet from it’s perpetual winter. As if it were possible to save a godforsaken realm such as Jotunheim from it’s wretchedness, Loki thinks, but does not say.

Their attempted theft causes the coronation to be delayed, and from there it’s not hard to get Thor, complacent as he has become, to go and try to confront Laufey, the Jotuns’ pathetic, dictator king. However, here things start to go awry. Loki expects to be waylaid for longer by Heimdall, expects to be able to avert Thor’s attack against the king, expects for the guard he sent to tell Father of their exploit to take significantly less time to reach him than he did, and then, in the heat of battle, the last thing he expects is for his arm to turn blue with the cold from a Jotun’s touch. That, that is very unexpected.

For a second, he thinks it is part of the process, that his arm is turning blue seconds before he dies from shock, but even as he thinks it, he knows it’s not true, because he can feel the cold move up his arm, towards his heart, in his blood already, but he can’t feel pain. It just feels...a little chilly. Like a draught, or a cool breeze, just a few degrees colder than the surrounding air. However, after the first flash of cold travels over his skin, the biting cold he had felt from his surroundings, barely tempered by his armour and protective spell work, begins to dissipate and lessen, until he feels oddly warm, all up his arm, and his chest, and neck. This should be dying, but it’s not. He knows he’s not. After just moments, his entire arm is blue, and he’s comfortably warm inside his clothes.

At this point, he is well past puzzlement, and into shock, but it doesn’t matter, because there is still fighting to be done. He puts it aside, and finishes the fight. Father appears at length, summons them back to Asgard. The Warriors Three and Sif fairly flee the Bifrost, supporting an injured Fandral all the way, until only Loki, Thor and Father remain. Father shouts at Thor, Thor shouts at Father. Loki tries not to interrupt and exacerbate the situation (tries not to wonder why his skin changed colour like a turncoat at a Jotun’s touch).

The topic of conversation has moved on from politics to personal slights, along the lines of, “You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy,” and “You are old man and a fool.”

Really, they’re just stating the obvious at this point. Tempers are getting high, though. Odin speaks, “I was a fool, to think you were ready.”

Finally, everybody’s on the same page. All necessary realisations have been come to, time to diffuse the tension.

And here, again, his plan goes awry. Loki makes to interject a comment, to halt the proceedings in their tracks before things get to drastic, but he just gets shouted at, and not very eloquently at that. Thor must truly have become a dunderhead in the absence of Loki’s company; he manages to get himself expelled to Midgard as punishment for his arrogance, vanity and foolishness.

This is absolutely not how things were supposed to go. Thor was just supposed to be mildly disciplined, not banished. Father was supposed to see that Thor was as yet unfit to rule, not an out-of-control fool of a princeling. But then again, Loki supposes that is what he has become.

And now, well. Thor cannot be king if he is stranded on Midgard so...the crown will pass to Loki. He, and he alone will be king of this realm, instead of Thor’s shadow. This is, obviously, what he’s always wanted. So, although this wasn’t the outcome he’d intended, surely this is a better result he could have believed possible.

He should be rejoicing. So why does he feel so much dread?

---

Later, in the room where Fandral heals, Loki reveals his actions to the Warriors Three and Sif, and in retrospect that was probably a mistake; the damn fools always were loyal to Thor to well beyond the point of fault. But even they see that he has a point, that Thor is not even nearly ready to be king. He didn’t want to reveal this much, it’s not part of any plan, but in his defense, it’s true, and it’s all Thor’s fault, and he’s distracted.

Because when a Jotun touched his skin, it turned blue when it was supposed to freeze solid. The spreading cold felt uncomfortable instead of inhibiting. His skin has gone back to normal now, completely and utterly, but he knows both that it changed, and that he should be dead.

Perhaps he was somehow mistaken. Perhaps he did not see the spread of blue - not the blue of frostbite, a blue the same colour as Jotun skin. Or...or perhaps somehow it was his magic that protected him from harm, somehow. Some protection spell he had forgotten casting, some ward left upon him by mother or Angrboda? No. He would have felt that. Would have noticed. So...what could be the reason? The puzzle is troubling him now, the question worrying him unduly. He’s half scared himself silly that he has some Jotun blood or enchantment in him, for Norn’s sake! He is alive when he should be dead; he should be celebrating.

But he cannot bring himself to do so. There’s something wrong here, something sinister. Something’s gone wrong, somewhere. There’s been a misunderstanding, a mistake, but he has no idea what it could be. There’s dread in the pit of his stomach. He wants to ask his mother for her advice, but she’s busy grieving the loss of one son, she doesn’t need the trials of another. Hel’s busy, and anyway, may not know the answer he seeks.

Besides which, he is a fully grown man. He is not a little boy who must go running to his loved ones for a solution to his problems, not any more. He needs to stop relying on those he loves, on the bonds of sentiment to save him now. He needs to look at this like a mage, a scientist, rather than a scared man. If it happened once, it can happen again. He can repeat the circumstances of the phenomenon, in order to better study it. He knows of only one object, within the bounds of Asgard, which is as cold as a Jotun’s skin.

---

Loki ensures the guards do not see him, and then approaches the Casket where it sits upon it’s pedestal. His hands to not hesitate as he lifts it from it’s resting place; this is an experiment. He may remain protected from the cold or he may not. If not, then the worst that will happen is he will be badly burned by cold, but the casket is not an assailant, he can drop it easily, so it will be nothing that magic cannot heal. If not...His hands still do not hesitate. He is a scientist. This is an experiment.

(He’s got a suspicion. He’s got an idea. But he doesn’t know whether or not it’s true. He doesn’t know for sure. He has to know for sure.)

Loki’s hands close over the Casket, and winter rushes through his veins, and cold seeps down his arms.

Loki can feel a hundred thousand storms running through his physical body, as well as through his mind. He can see how it’s possible for the meteorological power and potential energy of an entire world to be held within a cube that he can hold within his hands. He sees how energy and patterns can be translated into electrical signals, how storms can become thoughts, thoughts can become storms.

Laufey was not a mage, but Loki is. Loki will not go mad from this.

Loki can feel enough coldness, enough storm, enough swirling, burning energy in that cube to destroy a world. And he can see the world that this box is still linked to, despite being locked in a dark cellar, in the basement of a foreign palace for millennia. He can see Jotunheim, and he understands how broken it is. He can see it full of famine, hunger and desperation, the after-echoes of war spread over a planet, storm-systems spiraling out of control in tune to a mad king’s thoughts. He feels their despair, etched into the ice, can feel a population of approximately three billion people dying, slowly. A sentient species dying out.

Far away, a voice calls, “Stop!” Odin’s voice.

The most terrifying, unexpected, wonderful thing is that he recognises this. He knows what magic feels like - it feels like controlling the wind, like flying - and this feels like magic. Loki has always known what storms feel like.

He’s not stopping now.

“Am I cursed?” (He knows he’s not.)

“No.” (He knows.)

“What am I?” (He knows.)

“You’re my son.”

That’s not an answer.

Loki turns. The coldness has seeped into his hands, up his arms, down his chest. It’s curled around his heart and into his head. He can feel it. It feels like a flash of ice water, and then after it the air feels like hot steam against his skin.

“What more than that?”

The cold is receding again, like the sea washing back down the shore. It’s counter intuitive, but he feels warm in it’s wake.

Loki stalks towards Odin, not stopping. Relentless. Like the sea, like a storm, like a knife in air.

“The casket wasn’t the only thing you took from Jotunheim that day, was it?”

Because he’s worked it out now. It took him long enough, took him his whole damn life, but now he knows.

“No.” And Odin’s still talking, stating facts Loki had already worked out for himself. None of it matters, none of it matters, Loki’s already worked out all of this for himself. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t. It doesn’t. He’s still him, he’s always still him, he’s always known what magic feels like in his blood. He’s always known.

And then something Loki doesn’t know, and he’s pulled up short. The knife’s hit a wall. His thoughts eddy, in chaos, around the point. Around the words, “Laufey’s son.”

“Yes.”

“Why?” Loki was born to be a king. Was always born to be a king. He’s always known that. But this, he’s never known this; this is all wrong. This is the wrong throne, the wrong planet, the wrong birthright. There must be some mistake.

The storm is building to a crescendo now.

“You were knee deep in Jotun blood, why would you take me?”

“You were an innocent child.”

“No.” The All-father always has a plan. Nothing has never been innocent, not to his eyes. Loki has never been innocent. “You took me for a purpose. What was it?”

And Odin’s just standing there, as if he has any right to withhold this information. As if he ever had the right. He doesn’t care. He’s not even Loki’s father.

The storm hits.

And it’s pain and grief and anger and agony and jealousy and terror and he can’t control this any more. Not now. Not now he knows.

“Tell me!” and he’s screaming, and begging, and he’s screaming so he doesn’t fall apart, so the pressure doesn’t overwhelm him, so he doesn’t drown in the undertow of all of this emotion.

“I thought we could unite our kingdoms one day, bring about an alliance, bring about a permanent peace, through you.”

A permanent peace? With Jotunheim? “What?”

“But those plans no longer matter.”

Loki no longer matters.

“So I am no more than another stolen relic, locked up here until you might have use of me?”

“Why do you twist my words?”

Not an answer.

“You could have told me what I was from the beginning, why didn’t you?”


“You’re my son.”

Still not an answer. Untrue. Irrelevant.

“I wanted only to protect you from the truth.”

By shielding him with lies.

“What, because I am the monster that parents tell their children about at night?”

He may as well be cursed. He’s one of them, one of the Jotun, the hideous, warlike, brutal, bloodthirsty monsters that have been the enemy of Asgard for millennia. Ever since the war. For all of his life.

The old man’s stuttering, “No Loki,” but Loki doesn’t care, he doesn’t care, he knows.

“It all makes sense now, why you favoured Thor all those years, because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!”

Loki’s world is tipping upside-down, and Odin falls to the ground. And Odin’s just silent now. He’s just lying there, silent. He’s sleeping. Odin-sleep.

No answers for Loki Odinson. No truth for the Liesmith.

The storm has passed. The wreckage remains.

---

Odin’s gone now, and Loki is king. Thor is still banished. But Frigga is still there, and she’s looking after Odin. (Part of him wishes that Odin would wake up, tell him what he is to do, part of him wishes that Odin never wakes up at all)

She tells him that she always wanted to be honest with him, that Odin lied so that Loki would not feel separate. (Because he is different, because he is a monster)

That he is their son, that they are his family. (Untrue, just sweet, sentimental lies)

She says that even now, when he is sleeping, Odin can hear all, can see all. (Loki can never escape Odin’s power)

She says she wants Odin and Thor to come home. (Loki will never escape Thor’s shadow)

She thinks that Odin had purpose when he lied to Loki, when he cast Thor out. (Becuase All-father is all-mighty, perfect, cannot ever go wrong)

She wants Thor to come back. (She thinks him more worthy of the throne than Loki, even now, even after everything)

Then guards come, present him with Gungnir. This is the crown, this is the throne. This is the game-changer. It’s in Loki’s hands, finally. And he’s not going to let go.

He’s not going to stopping now.

He can’t stop it now.

She says, “Thor is banished. The line of succession falls to you.”

Falls. And only because Thor is banished. He is second choice.

She tells him “Until Odin awakens, Asgard is yours.”

There is a conditional clause where there should not be one.

She tells him, “Make your Father proud, my king.”

Again, he senses that the latter depends on the former.

But it does not matter. None of it matters. The throne is his.

---

Loki loves his mother, hates his father, and the man who caused his existence is an idiot king that started a war that destroyed lives. Hundreds of thousands of lives. Loki’s life. Loki’s biological father is a filthy Jotun fool, and Loki will not stand for this state of affairs to continue. He won’t.

Loki is a good liar; he tricks one father to come to Asgard to kill the other, and then kills him, all to prove his loyalty to his mother. He thinks that she believes him, when he calls himself Son of Odin, as if he believed it himself. For the first time in his life, Loki has successfully lied to his mother.

He’s not sorry. Not as sorry as he should be. Not sorry at all. One of those.

---

Thor’s friends - never his friends, Thor’s friends - they’re planning a rebellion. Against him, the rightful king of Asgard! It’s disgraceful, shameful. They could be hanged for this, for treason, only a very few millennia ago. Only one short lifetime ago.

But this is a time of peace, for Asgard at least - and Asgard is the only kingdom that matters, it’s his now. They must be stopped. Thor must not be allowed to return. He is not worthy to be king, he is not good enough. Never has been, perhaps.

The idiot warriors with three brain cells between the four of are probably telling Thor even now that Odin is alive, just sleeping, that Loki does not deserve the throne, that Thor is the rightful king. They’re lying, and it’s pathetic because they believe what they’re saying.

Now Thor will think he can just come back to Asgard and take over. Take back the throne as if it was empty, as if Loki wasn’t there. He’s used to being overlooked in favour of Thor, it’s fine, really - but this, this is too much. Thor can’t have what doesn’t belong to him.

Loki stops Thor from coming back by breaking the majority of the bones in his chest. It’s only fair, really, only payback for all the times that Thor has beaten him at dueling, all the times he’s made a joke at Loki’s expense. Every time that someone said that Thor was the better prince, the better man, when Loki was always, obviously, the better choice for king, had been practically running the kingdom since he was an adolescent. It’s not enough to kill him. Probably.

At this point, Loki has stopped caring about a lot of things. Never did, possibly.

So, up until now, Loki’s been king, Odin’s been sleeping, Thor was on Midgard, and, so far, things haven’t been that bad. Loki’s been having a hard time in this last span, but he’s actually been doing very well.

He hasn’t panicked, hasn’t had a breakdown and ruined everything, he’s been calmly thinking things through, digesting what’s happened, what he’s learned. He’s come to what he feels is a highly reasonable conclusion; he may be Jotun by birth, but he is not Jotun by upbringing. His mother, his father, they are Aesir, and the Asgardian ways are the ones he is learned; he is Asgardian. What does birth matter anyway, really? It’s not as if that really affects who he is, not truly. This whole issue is just blown out of proportion. He’s been thinking things through, sorting things out, and all in all, he’s pretty damn proud of the way he’s been coping.

Admittedly, he may have killed his birth father, and kicked Thor a little when he was down, exaggerated the severity of Odin’s condition in order to hurt him, and that may have been a bit of a knee-jerk emotional reaction - but really, it’s deserved. The ex-king was a bad, tyrannical ruler, dragging his entire Realm into a rut for a millennia now. He’s really nothing to do with Loki. And Thor has been a real bastard idiot recently, completely up himself; banishment, humiliation and a few reminders of exactly who the smartest man in the room is are exactly what he needs. Loki is still working through his issues very well.

But then, after the Destroyer has faithfully pounded Thor to within an inch of his life, more or less, here again, again, all of Loki’s plans go wrong. For someone who has plotted so brilliantly and deviously, flawlessly, for the last few thousand years, this is rather a significant loosing streak.

Because somehow, despite all of Loki’s efforts, everything he’s done, all he’s seen, what a good king he’s been, how good to his parents who lied to him, how loyal to the kingdom that isn’t his, despite coping with the lies and the pain and the confusion and the storms and the nightmares and the rage, despite how well he’s borne it, all of it - Thor is still the more worthy son.

Moljnor chooses him. Loki’s got Gungnir, but that’s Odin’s spear, that’s the old king’s weapon. The prince’s weapon chose Thor. Everyone always chooses Thor.

And this is all wrong, someone’s got it all wrong. There’s been a big misunderstanding here. But it’s okay, Loki can fix this.

Of course he can fix this. He knows what real problem here is. It’s obvious. It’s the elephant in the room, the Jotun in the treasure room, the monster under the bed. The root of the problem is the Casket of Ancient Winters in the basement. The root of the problem is the planet is connected to.

Loki is not a Jotun. Loki is Asgardian. Jotunheim is nothing to do with him, Asgard is his true home. All he has to do is prove it; he just has to show his parents, his kingdom, that he is a worthy king. Thor thought to wage war against the Jotuns, but Thor is an idiot. Loki will think bigger. He will prove his loyalty, he will earn his throne. It belongs to him, after all.

So Loki goes directly to the cause of the conflict. Efficient. Like a politician. Like an effective king should.

The tool, the soul within his hands, it sings to him in words of pain, suffering, war and snow. Sings him sweet lullabies the words in languages he understands but has never spoken, to tunes he remembers, because they are not so different from the ones that Frigga once sung him. Sings to him of richer times, peace times, happy times, when there were crops in the fields and game in the woods, and people grew fat and contented, and the aristocracy was intact, and the king governed well.

But Jotunheim is not Asgard, and Loki is Asgardian. He has no attachment nor connection to it. It’s the opposition. The enemy.

(When Loki touches the Casket with intent to destroy the planet it was created to protect, it bends to his will. It has never truly done that for anyone else.

Loki forces the soul of a planet to destroy itself.)

And Thor gets in the way again, and Loki fights him, poorly, he will admit, and then absolutely everything goes to the dogs.

---

Loki’s dangling over an abyss. He’s holding on to his bother’s arm. His brother, who he hates sometimes, loves always, because love can’t be turned on and off at will. Thor is clutching onto their father. His father. The All-father. Loki screams, “I could have done it, Father! I could have done it! For you! For all of us!”

And Odin says, “No, Loki.”

He is not Jotun, but Asgard doesn’t want him. Odin doesn’t want him. Thor is the better, the more worthy son. Loki is excess. He is heir to nothing.

Thor realises what he’s going to do, a few seconds too late. Always too slow. He’s screaming, but it doesn’t matter, Loki doesn't care.

Loki lets go.

---

Loki falls.

Chapter Text

Loki was half expecting to die from the fall alone, but really, he should have thought better. There are storms in his blood, after all. Storms and antifreeze. Jotuns appear to be made of pretty tough stuff.

Loki can see star systems, whole galaxies spinning past him, vast whirling nebulae, all the Nine Realms in all their infinite beauty, but he just can’t bring himself to care. He closes his eyes.

---

Loki lands, hard and painfully, in a dark field, full of grey dust and boulders and purple-bruised sky. He doesn’t care. Then, he passes out.

---

There is water on his face, just a little above freezing. It feels nice. No, that’s not right. Cold water should feel bad...but of course. His skin is blue. He’s Jotun. He closes eyes that he knows intellectually rather than by instinct are currently red.

---

People keep trying to wake him up. He’s not sure why. Doesn’t care that much. Carries on not caring until they try hot water for the first time. Finally realised what a Jotun is then. They try hot water and it scalds his skin to the point of pain before heat rushes along it, and after heat follows freezing cold air, and suddenly the hot water feels good. All this is getting rather confusing, painful and ridiculous. He’s opened his eyes now (probably green at the moment). There are a lot of people around him. Some of them aren’t really people-shaped. One of them is so covered up in glass and metal that Loki can’t even see his face, not even his eyes under the deep hood that shadows them. He also appears to have two thumbs. Huh. That’s novel.

They’re speaking something, some language, but he’s not sure what. It’s odd. Sounds like chittering, like insects. The All-Speak that runs through the minds of all the citizens of Asgard should be translating it for him, but perhaps he’s too far from home. Perhaps they’re not even speaking real words. Then the two-thumbed one says something coherent. He says, “What are you?”

And Loki may be tired - very, very, bone-achingly tired - but he still makes eye contact when he says, “I am Loki.”

He says, “Greetings. I am the Other.”

The other what? Loki wonders, possibly aloud.

The Other smirks, and then Loki’s awareness of his surroundings narrows down to heat and pain.

---

The ones who hold him prisoner have got a job for him, now they know who he is. Their leader, the Other’s leader, he’s expanding his territory. He’s up-stepping his military standing amongst the other Realms. He wants to get new lands, new Realms, and he doesn’t care how many people die in the getting. Higher fatalities are preferred, even. He doesn’t care who owns the land he attacks, what he stands to gain from it, how many of his own are lost. He’s called Thanos, and he seems to just want war and death.

All this Loki learns from the Other; he never even sees the man commanding him.

They ask him questions, and he tells them all he knows about Midgard (some of it) and of recent events in the hub of the Nine Realms. This lot seem to be rather out of the way of the usual trade routes, in their little filthy stagnant backwater of the Nine Realms that is almost entirely black wasteland, so Loki’s information is the first they’ve had for a while. For once, telling the truth fits Loki’s agenda; he tells them the story of his discovery of his adoption, Thor’s temporary exile, but exaggerates his rage against Asgard, and Thor. Doesn’t have to exaggerate his rage towards Odin very much at all.

Loki knows they want him to conquer Midgard. He’s telling them that he has the motive, because he seeks revenge on Asgard, which has sworn protection over Midgard, strengthened by Thor’s recent visit. He’s telling them that he has no allies, so they don’t have to worry about him trying to escape them. He’s telling them they don’t have to worry about him sparing Thor. Loki lies, a little, or a lot, and lies well. He convinces them. They believe him.

He doesn’t tell them about Jotunheim, but they already know. Apparently, when a madman seemingly attempts genocide on a struggling, outcast Realm before destroying the pinnacle of all transporter technology in the universe, word gets around fast. Apparently, it’s the worst bloodshed anyone’s seen since the last great war. (Loki doesn’t care. He doesn’t). Apparently, in Jotunheim, people are dying in droves (Loki puts it out of his mind). A lot of people are very angry at Asgard right now. This lot have heard all about it, and as far as Loki can tell, they’re impressed. Loki doesn’t know what that says about how well he fits in with his current company, only that he doesn’t like it.

And then he does meet Thanos, and he wishes he hadn’t. He’s taken to what probably passes as a grand hall in this, the outermost outskirts of the Nine Realms. It’s big, of course, and grandiose, but there’s silver instead of gold, there’s obsidian instead of marble, and the ceiling is too high for the floor area. It’s cold, like the whole of the rest of this rock, but Loki doesn’t feel it, because his skin’s gone blue, where he sees it on the backs of his arms and wrists, through the rags that used to be his under-armour.

He carefully avoids looking at himself in the highly reflective shined black walls. Because he has to look like he hates his own skin, because Thanos needs a bent and broken scythe to slay a Realm, not a proud Asgardian.

Thanos is sitting on a sort of great grey throne, though there is no court or courtiers, only gibbering Chitauri guards, currently blessedly silent. It is obvious that this is where Thanos sits for the most of the time; he is quite at home on his throne. He addresses Loki from a distance, to which Loki has no kind of objection. The man does not emanate coldness in a literal sense, and it would not harm Loki if he did. Instead, his presence makes Loki...uneasy. Not afraid. Uneasy. He does not ask Loki to kneel, but it doesn’t really matter, seeing as he’s already in manacles.

It is during this conversation that Loki realises Thanos is insane.

He’s not raving mad. He’s not rambling and ranting and pontificating. He seems perfectly reasonable and rational as he asks Loki, what are his intentions? Does he have any ambitions, other than revenge against Asgard? Does he any problem with large numbers of casualties?

Thanos is not ranting and raging, but Loki is deeply unsettled by the calm and matter-of-fact way the man asks him if he has any problem killing children, does he protest to slaving others to his will.

As he talks, Loki notices the skulls carved into the columns along the walls of the hall. His red eyes reflect in their empty, gaping sockets, and he is not acting when his gaze flinches away. He sees that Thanos ancient-looking, grey and cracked throne appears to be decorated with carved bones. It almost looks as though it were fashioned from them. There are empty suits of armour around the room, recessed in niches. Some appear to originate from Muspelheim, Jotunheim, Vanaheim. Others look Asgardian. Some of the styles, Loki doesn’t recognise. Some of them look eons out of date. They all look like a general or commander’s armour. Some would be fit even for kings.

Loki realises that if he doesn’t go along with their plans, Thanos will gladly make him ammunition instead of a tool, make him another offering on his alter to Death.

So he says, yes, he’d love to be part of a conquering army, a general’s position and spoils would be quite enough for him, perhaps he could have part of the realm for his own to rule over as king, if it’s all right, thank you very much, and no, he’s never cared much for sniveling mortal babies, and a soldier’s a soldier, they’re practically asking to get killed.

By the end of this conversation, Loki has gathered that Thanos has got some twisted ideology that death’s a goal, life’s true aim. Death is his God, his religion. Whatever. Loki doesn’t care. He just needs to get out of here; that’s all that matters now. Get out of that room, that whole damned Realm.

So Loki does what he’s told. He doesn’t really have a choice; he’s lost everything. He’s lost his home, his family, his kingdom, his race, possibly his soul at some point, maybe.

He’s even lost his locket - Hel’s locket is gone. He realises it the first time in days he’s conscious and not in pain, after he’d agreed to work for the Other, and it hits him like a blow. Still, that’s what you got for sentiment. Sentiment, as far as Loki can see, is a luxury for those who cannot see it is a curse, a razor sharp blade dipped in honey and sheathed in silk - it must be, for how sharply it cuts him now. It’s a weakness. It’s pathetic. He rids himself of it. He turns his mind to his task.

He gets what he wants, in a way. They don’t kill him. They stop torturing him. They treat him like an officer, rather than a slave, so now he has a room with a bed rather than a cell with damp, and they start feeding him. They give him a way out of his current incarceration. They give him a weapon, and they want him to invent his own plan of attack.

On the downside, now he has to invade Midgard. They ban his use of the majority of his magic. And they don’t do anything to help him heal from the pain they have already inflicted. No matter. He is Loki. He will survive.

He has, in the past, spoken with Hel, knows all the information she has of Midgard and it’s occupants, which is quite considerable. He doesn’t try to contact her. He doesn’t even know if he can without the locket, not this far isolated from the rest of the Nine Realms. And anyway, he’s dreaming of planets imploding, Asgard and Midgard and Jotunheim burning and breaking apart, and it’s all his fault, and Father yelling at him and hating him and Thor turning his back and Mother telling him “No, Loki”. Hel doesn’t need to see any of that.

He makes a plan of attack and it’s the most pathetic he can think of. He exaggerates how hard it will be for him to gain access to all of the material he needs for the portal. He tells them that even then, he will only be able to transport a trickle of foot-soldiers at a time; they’ll have to regroup on the other side, will have time to gather their strengths and prepare for battle. Of course, the portal will be far too small for them to transport their most vicious, volatile weapons. He deliberately underestimates the strength of the resistance that he knows Midgard will put forth. He tells them that yes, of course, the city of New York is by far the least populated, easily targeted, most difficult to defend part of Midgard he could possibly have chosen. It’s very poor, he tells them, none will even care if he kills a couple thousand peasants there. None will rush to defend them. No one cares about the poor.

Thanos and the Other give his orders to their mercenaries, the Chitauri . They believe his lies. Of course they do. Lying is what he does best.

---

For once, everything goes exactly to plan. Apart from the exploding arrow bit, and the Hulk creature smashing him into the floor, and the strength of Captain America, and the exact perceptiveness of the Iron Man. Those things, he did not expect. But other than those things.

Chapter Text

Loki’s crash landing on Midgard hurts, a lot. The Tesseract did its job, but there was no one to stabilise it at the destination. Luckily, Loki does not break easily. And at least here, there are no death threats, palaces full of skulls, or tiny moons surrounded by empty screaming void. And no one to inflict pain.

Or real pain, anyway. A few guards try to kill him, but they’re weak, Midgardian, and he dispatches with them easily. It’s almost therapeutic, as the bodies slam to the floor; it’s been such a long time since Loki was the one doing the hurting.

There is, however, an annoying man with an eyepatch who is reminding Loki most disagreeably of Odin, although this man is nothing like him, truly. Loki spews off a few condescending yet threatening metaphors and lies to indicate both his great strength and disinterest in the wellbeing of the realm of Midgard. The man is sufficiently terrified, and all Loki has actually done is killed a few guards. Childs play, really.

It is also very easy to enslave a few of the nearby guards to his, or rather, the Other’s will. The staff he carries is made of the same element as the Tesseract, channels similar veins of power, but it is much easier to control, and more of a tool of the mind than one of matter. The only one of his new conquests that is even remotely interesting is the one who thinks of himself as the Hawk. Erik Selvig has, of course, been under his control since the Midgardian began interacting with the Tesseract, which allowed tendrils of magic to slip through the void between it and Thanos’ moon, and into Erik Selvig’s brain.

Under the Other’s control, that is; Loki is merely a puppet. He, rightful heir to the thrones of two Realms, a puppet to the Other. Who is, of course, merely a puppet to Thanos. And who knows what kind of monster-deity Thanos believes himself to be obeying...the man is, irrefutably, insane.

Loki escapes from the collapsing remnants of the base with the Tesseract, despite the relatively impressive attempts to prevent him from doing so. The Hawk certainly does have his uses.

He sets up his own base and begins to gather his resources.

Slowly enough, of course, to allow the Midgardians enough time to gather theirs.

He’s probably taking too long, because it’s been three days and nobody’s died, and the Other feels the need to put in an appearance. Loki’s a little irritated to have to be as subservient as he had been pretending to be before, back when he was stuck on their tiny, barely terraformed moon with little to no hope of escape. He’s out of there now, and it’s hard to remember that he still has a part to play. But play it he must, or Thanos and the Other will find some other way to fight an obliterative war with this, the youngest Realm, and they will win. And a Realm will be dead, and it will be his fault. Which-
Cannot be allowed to happen again.

(He’s not thinking about it, not until he’s safe, not until it’s over.)

(He’s not.)

The Other reminds him of his power, puts the memory of agony right into his skull through the sceptre’s power, the echoes and after-images of his previous torture reverberating around his brain. The Other can do no worse to him now, Realms away as he is, but it is a harsh reminder of the pain he could inflict, if Loki fails to destroy their army.

It’s more difficult for him to function than it should be; he’s weak from torture, months without adequate food, and sleep deprivation. But more than that - he can feel the siren song of the Tesseract trying to climb inside his head. It’s an object of huge natural force, it allows the universe to be manipulated in ways which should not strictly be possible, allows the cosmos to be seen in ways that would not otherwise be conceivable. It’s so powerful, so complex, that it is almost conscious. It wants to be used, wants to be allowed to spill its power unrestricted across Realms.

Loki understands this, understands magic, understands power and powerful objects (there are storms in his blood) but this is a force that he must control, must not allow to be released. He cannot allow the Tesseract to split open space as it’s oh-so constricted power source would allow it to, as it so wants to do. If it did, the armies of the Chitari - of the Other, of Thanos - would rain down on Midgard, and all intelligent life here would almost certainly be destroyed. He will not allow that to happen. Not here. Not again.

Instead he will guide Erick Selvig to build a device which will allow it to open a stunted, limited portal, allowing only one or two Chitauri war ships through at a time. He tells the Other that this is the maximum that can be allowed without destabilising the Tesseract, and the Other believes him. Naturally. Loki has a reputation for superior proficiency in magic and magical artifacts that apparently precedes even to Thanos’ remote territory. And of course, he is planning on opening the tiny portal above Stark’s tower, the most easily defendable place he could think of. But the Other doesn’t need to know that.

Even apart form the Tesseract, behind the sceptre is the constant, sibilant pressure of the Other’s thoughts, urging him to complete his tasks faster, better. The sceptre was given to him to aid him, to allow him to force some of the Midgardians to join his cause, but it’s more of a burden than anything else - the Other’s constant chivying is fatiguing long term. Besides which, it is much more efficient, much simpler, to use money instead of mind control on the accomplices he wishes to recruit.

But the sceptre will serve another purpose too. Because he is far more knowledgable in the workings of the sceptre than the Other ever could be, understands both the mind and the magics of it better than almost anyone else, and he knows how to subconsciously influence Selvig at a level that the Other could never even detect. Loki is telling him, like an echo in his dreams, to build a safety measure into the device, far more subtly than the Other knows how, and the sceptre provides not only the means, but should also prove the perfect key. It’s difficult to do; Selvig must believe that it is his own idea, and must act on it discretely, so that none of Loki’s hired guns, especially the Hawk, realise that there are more layers to Loki’s plans than anyone else knows. But Loki can do it, will do it, is doing it. It’s just getting a little draining.

He almost feels as if he never stopped falling from Asgard - that he’s crashed a couple of times, but he hasn’t come to rest yet.

But in the meantime, his Hawk needs an eye for the scientist to have his meteorite, so that the Other has his gateway, so that Thanos has his Realm of death - so Loki must go to Struttgard, and create a diversion.

After, he will allow the mortals to capture him, he will be taken to their helicarrier. He will then break out, with the help of the Hawk’s arrows, and the rage of the Hulk. And all of this will serve as a distraction for Erik Selvig to set up the portal above New York. Though at no point may the Other be allowed to realise his endgame.

The deceptions are laying over each other, and Loki must remember each of them, play all of his parts perfectly, otherwise the plan will not work.

So Loki is not even going to try to add to them by pretending to himself that there isn’t some kind of truth about himself in the lies he weaves to deceive the Midgardians. He knows that it’s awfully telling to weave lies when one is emotionally compromised, because things always slip through that were not intended to. And he knows he’s emotionally compromised.

(Somewhere, there are children’s corpses lying twisted because of what he did, and if he fails then it will happen again here-)

He’s dealing with it.

It’s just, he’s been in Asgard for so long, he’s been groomed to be a king for his entire life, he’s a ruler, a leader not a follower, and so for him, it’s just too easy to see all the little ways that people constantly submit their freedom in exchange for comfort or riches. They do it all the time, and they don’t even notice. They certainly don’t care. He knows it’s necessary, that this natural submissiveness and general apathy in the majority of the population is the way a kingdom must be to thrive, but he still can’t help but find it a little...pathetic.

They just don’t stand up for themselves. They do what’s necessary to ensure their own safety and happiness, and beyond that, they don’t care. They truly don’t care about their own freedom, any of them, no matter the lies they tell themselves.

It probably says something about him, when he tells them that they were made to be ruled, but really, isn’t it the truth? It’s not worth killing them all over, but it certainly provides a useful motivational mindset for this speech.

Of course, his little speech, meant to intimidate and inspire fear, is interrupted by the arrival of the Avengers. Right on time.

Loki says, “Look to your elder, people. Let him be an example,” and then up pops Captain America, shield and all. Loki’s not really bothered one way or the other - it’s not like he really wanted to kill the old man - but he’d still rather he died so that the people were too terrified to think clearly around him. The sacrifice of a few so that he can ensure survival of the many. It seems fair enough to him. (How much would he sacrifice, now, to prevent Jotunheim from ever happening?)

He needs them terrified and angry so that they don’t think twice about defeating him, don’t stop to think and underestimate him. Don’t stop to think about how generally ill-conceived his plan really is. Don’t think of any of that, just get into a blind red rage and attack - and look, here’s my weakness. It’s a technique that has always, always worked on Thor in the past, and it won’t fail him now. And the Midgardians will also fight harder if they’re angry and scared, so that they are sure to end the Chittari effectively and quickly. If he does this well enough, carries off the deception effectively, they will defeat the Chitauri, and they will survive. But of course he will, because he is Loki. And because he must.

Despite how awfully all of his plans have been going recently, this one will work.

(Because he has to, or he will have killed another Realm, and lost everything.)

So during the distraction he spits lies that aim to enrage, which are very effective in their aim, even if they scrape a little too close his bones to be entirely comfortable.

He even tells Captain America to kneel, although that’s mostly stalling because he’s seconds away from being forced to kill Captain America, an action he would truly regret - he needs this man alive later to defeat the army once the invasion begins - when there’s a blaring racket of annoying music, and a shining blur shoots out of the sky.

The first time that Loki sees Tony Stark, the man’s wearing that ridiculous metal suit, which is flashy and gauche, and Loki has no idea what his face looks like.

Loki gets punched back harder than anyone else on this sphere has managed to do yet. Later, when he checks, he has bruises - new ones on top of the ones the Other gave him as a parting gift.

Together, the duo defeat him most convincingly. The Iron Man calls him “reindeer games.” He is mocking Loki’s battle helmet, and Loki likes his battle helmet. It irks him that he still has to pretend to be beaten in that fight. It’s laughable, really, how these little mortals think they can really beat a species so physically superior to them.

Although that concussive blast had stung, a little.

So he is being taken to their base on the helicarrier, and all is going exactly according to plan. And then Thor turns up.

The lighting comes first, as always, and then the thunder follows.

Thor grabs him by the throat and throws him out of the plane, crashes him down to the rocks below, and it’s a small agony, but he has fallen far further and survived.

“Where is the Tesseract?” yelled into his face before he can breathe, and yes, he’ll have bruises on top of bruises soon.

Still, at least Thor has his priorities straight, for a change.

“I missed you too,” Loki’s laughing as he says it, mocking. Don’t think, just get angry.

“Do I look to be in a gaming mood?”

And to remind him of his own weaknesses here, to make him feel vulnerable, “Oh, you should thank me. With the Bifrost gone, how much dark energy did the Allfather have to muster to conjure you here, your precious Earth?” And his precious girlfriend.

Thor grabs him by the neck again. “I thought you dead.”

Idiot. “Did you mourn?”

“We all did.” Mother wouldn’t have, she would have known better. “Our Father-”

Your Father!” He can’t hide that, the emotional backlash behind those words, but it makes him seem unbalanced, so he doesn’t try. Look, here’s my weakness. “He did tell you my true parentage, did he not?

“We were raised together, we played together, we fought together. Do you remember none of that?”

Which would all be incredibly sweet and touching if it weren’t lies full of sentiment, and, possibly, a clumsy attempt to get him to relent in his attack.

“I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness. I remember you tossing me into an abyss, I who was and should be king!”

Yes, probably not as much of a lie as it should be, he knows he is emotionally compromised, thank you, he’s dealing with it.

“So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights? No, the Earth is under my protection, Loki!”

Loki can’t help but laugh at that. Thor always was such a spoilt brat, always staking claim to everything, expecting possession to come without responsibility, and never would share his toys.

“And you're doing a marvelous job with that! The humans slaughter each other in droves, while you ideally fret. I mean to rule them. And why should I not?”

He could rule them peacefully. It’s not his plan, but if he wanted to, he could. Better than Thor ever could anyway.

“You think yourself above them?”

“Well, yes.”

“Then you miss the truth of ruling, brother. A throne would suit you ill.”

Fantastic. Just fantastic. Thor’s finally manned up enough to start thinking about the concepts behind leadership, finally started to think about his own role as future king - of course only after Loki prompted him to, only after all Loki did to prove Thor was not yet prepared for the throne to Odin. And, with a few half-formed theories, Thor now believes himself to be better versed in leadership than Loki. Loki, who has been ruling Asgard from the shadows for, oh, give or take a century now.

Loki can’t stop himself from shoving Thor hard as he walks past him, and as he does so, he hears a crow caw. Perhaps it is Hugin, or Munin. Perhaps Father is listening to everything both of them say. Judging them, both of them, against each other. As always. And as always, Thor would always come out the better, no matter what Loki did.

Perhaps Mother can hear them to. Did she miss him? She would not have mourned; Hel would have told her that he lived. She could surely sense that, even without the amplifying effects of the locket. Couldn’t she? Or were they truly worried about him?

It matters not. Concentrate on the deception, concentrate on not starting a fight, the plan takes precedence over petty arguments. Thor must not underestimate him - Midgard must gather as much force as it can muster. So he must let them know that he has allies.

“I've seen worlds you've never known about! I have grown, Odin's Son, in my exile! I have seen the true power of the Tesseract, and when I wield it-”

“Who showed you this power? Who controls the would-be king?”

Perfect. Hook line and sinker. But-

“I am a king!”

“Not here. You give up the Tesseract. You give up this poisonous dream. You come home.”

Loki doesn’t have a home. But that is besides the point.

“I don't have it.”

Of course, when reaching a politically charged impasse, Thor’s first instinct would be to go for his hammer. Of course he would act upon it. Loki wouldn’t care, but his back is still twingeing from his third painful fall in the last few months, when he had never been allowed to fully heal from the first, and he is not eager to get hit with Mjolnir just yet.

“You need the cube to bring me home, but I've sent it off, I know not where.”

So that they can’t torture it out of him. Obviously. Though of course, Erik Selvig knows to travel to the predetermined drop point when the Hawk launches his attack.

“You listen well, brother. I-”

This time, the metallic blurring flash that is the Iron Man in motion is not unwanted at all as the man tackles Thor to the valley below, mid-speech.

Loki can’t resist saying, “I'm listening” to the empty air. Well, empty. The crow is probably still here, so Father can probably still hear him.

Loki doesn’t care. Doesn’t care that Odin didn’t even try to send his ravens out to look for him, not once in all of his captivity, when he was lost in the darkest depths of the Realms, alone and in pain and afraid. Doesn’t care that Mother didn’t make him. He doesn’t.

Loki settles down to wait for the two supposed allies - later three - to finish their pointless fighting and hurry up and capture him already. It’s actually a pretty good show. The two mortals together are more than a match for Thor. They could probably outmatch him, though they seem only willing to team up for as long as it takes to defeat their common enemy. Which suits Loki just fine.

This display of strength on behalf of the Midgardians is heartening; it indicates that there is a chance that they may defeat the Chitauri army yet. They did not fight so well against him, but Thor’s approach, which focuses more on brute strength than his own, is well met by the Captain’s shield and the Iron Man’s suit.

Loki notes particularly the way the Iron Man keeps coming back on the offensive every time he is thrown to the ground, the incredible protective capacity of Captain America’s shield, even against Mjollnir. Yes, these warriors should be enough to defeat a mindless army like the Chitauri.

His plan will work. All will be well.

(Midgard will not fall as Jotunheim did, but all will never truly be well again, will it, because the latter is still nothing but rubble, still bones and rock crumbled to the ground, and there’s nothing he can do, he cannot fix it now, he will never be able to right this wrong, why is he even trying -)

(But he’s not thinking of that.)

Once the fight is over, Loki is locked into chains that could not hold him and escorted by a veritable battalion of heavily armed men that would nonetheless fail to impede him in the slightest from making an escape from the helicarrier if he wanted to.

Loki is just thankful it’s not the Midgardian’s prisoner restraining capabilities he is relying on. He doesn’t need them to take prisoners, just kill all of them.

He is driven at a quick march past the room where the Dr Banner works, whom the Hawk’s mind has informed him is the one who contains the Hulk. He smiles gleefully at him; it will unsettle him. And really, it is quite entertaining how closely SHEILD courts it’s own downfall, allowing the monster that will facilitate his escape into the very bowels of their ship.

He’s taken into a cell, and threatened, unsubtly, by Fury.

Asks, “How desperate are you, that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?”

“How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war, you steal a force you can't hope to control, you talk about peace and you kill 'cause it's fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did.”

He is. He is extremely glad.

But despite the fact that he has obviously completed his task, he can’t help but continue to poke the metaphorical bear with a stick.

“Ooh. It burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract, to have power, unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all mankind to share? And then to be reminded what real power is.”

He knows, “for what,” of course. The Midgardians dream of building weapons from it. And this bit isn’t part of the plan, but he can’t help it, because it’s so damn stupid of SHEILD to experiment with the Tesseract - to start sending out probing energy into a manufactured wormhole across the universe, to scan it and examine it and aggravate it. To weaponise it, and to so blatantly advertise doing so. Really, what did they expect to happen?

The Hawk has told him that all knowledge of the tesseract is top secret, but Loki knows Stark is genuinely interested in creating a source of sustainable energy for this planet, that he has a tower in New York in testament to his dedication; perhaps he will perceive and heed Loki’s hint, and realise that he is being lied to. Someone had better, because the Midgardians’ overly militant attitude is going to get everyone on this planet killed if they don’t. If they keep the Tesseract on this Realm, all of Loki’s efforts will be for naught, because it will only be a matter of time before Thanos sends another army through the portal. He is determined to start a war with someone.

Fury says, “Well, let me know if ‘real power’ wants a magazine or something,” and walks away. It’s infuriating, but it doesn’t matter, because his plan is still working.

---

Hours later - Loki doesn’t know how long, because he is exhausted but he cannot allow himself to sleep, so his view of time is starting to get skewed - the Spider comes to visit. She even almost succeeds in taking him by surprise, and any other day, that would be a welcome change.

She is beautiful, incredibly so. The Hawk did not exaggerate that in his perception of her, although he still sees her as something precious, and more of a victim than she appears to Loki. To Loki, she just looks dangerous.

It’s familiar; it’s a look he’s seen in the mirror, and occasionally, in the past, in Angrboda’s eyes. Normally he would be intrigued, but today, he is wary. Today, he has a plan, and it’s precarious barely balanced mess of double deceptions, bluffs and honest lies.

Right now, he’s the caged bear, and he doesn’t appreciate the big pointy stick.

“I want to know what you've done to Agent Barton.”

Oh-so-much less than I could have done.

“I would say I've expanded his mind.”

“And once you've won, once you're king of the mountain, what happens to his mind?”

How adorably pathetic. “Oh. Is this love, Agent Romanoff?”

He knows it is. He’s crossed the threshold of the Hawk’s mind after all, and she fills it. But despite despite how enslaved to the Tesseract his mind currently is, the Hawk still instinctively shields his memories of her. Still wants to protect his knowledge of her, of her importance to him. Doesn’t want to expose her, and doesn’t want to show off his own weaknesses. It’s an admirable show of defiance for a mind which should be so completely lacking in free will.

Then again, Loki isn’t pushing him too hard. He doesn’t want to break him, because he doesn’t need to, and he’d really rather the Hawk were whole for the final battle he knows is coming.

But the Spider doesn’t need to know that, and the more angry and afraid she is, the harder she’ll fight.

She says, “Love is for children. I owe him a debt.” Loki almost laughs; this woman believes herself broken, hardened, ruined, does not believe herself worthy of him. As if someone so young could ever achieve that level of irredeemability.

He knows. He knows what that takes. He understands. She doesn’t. It’s naive of her to even think it.

He’s curious though, still curious. “Tell me.”

She sits down outside his cell, posture open. Trust me.

Amateur.

“Before I worked for SHIELD, I, uh... Well, I made a name for myself. I have a very specific skill set. I didn't care who I used it for, or on. I got on SHIELD's radar in a bad way. Agent Barton was sent to kill me. He made a different call.”

How romantic. Sentimental. Sickening. “And what will you do if I vow to spare him?”

“Not let you out.”

Loki smiles. At least she’s as smart as the Hawk believes too.

“No, but I like this.” He doesn’t, he hates it, but he’s smiling anyway. It’s not a nice smile. The Midgardian are so desperately easy to manipulate, even this one. “Your world in the balance, and you bargain for one man.”

This, exactly this, is why sentimentality should not be permitted. This irresponsible, plan-threatening idiocy. And this from a spy, their best spy. Of course, it’s probably a double bluff, or a triple bluff; she’s not telling him her life story for the purpose of friendly conversation. He’s the Liesmith, yes, but that’s just a title, just a nickname, and he’s tired and tortured and hungry and he’s having a bad day, one of a series in a bad month, and he doesn’t need this little Spider trying to pick apart the cracks in his armour. He wants her to go away.

“Regimes fall every day. I tend not to weep over that, I'm Russian. Or I was.”

As if that gives her credentials to understand the magnitude of what is at risk here.

“And what are you now?”

“It's really not that complicated. I've got red in my ledger, I'd like to wipe it out.”

Child. Ignorant, foolish child. As if atonement was as simple as wiping a balance. It’s not. You can’t just save one life and be forgiven for ending another. It will not make the guilt go away.

But it has to, he wants it too, because he’s killed one Realm already and he’s doing his damnedest to save another and praying it’s good enough, and his own desperation disgusts him as much as hers does. And he can see it, behind her own mask, he can see the cracks. It’s just a nickname, yes, but they do not call him Liesmith for nothing. She thinks she’s irredeemable, and she’s trying redeem herself anyway.

The inside of his head is starting to feel as scraped raw as the rest of him - all of this is far, far too close to things that he is not thinking about.

There are storms in his blood, and no one can control a storm.

He just wants her to go away.

So he spits out, “Can you? Can you wipe out that much red?” and he leans forward, opens his body language in a mockery of hers, with a very different message, threat.

“Dreykov's daughter, Sao Paulo, the hospital fire?” He knows what she’s done, because the Hawk does. Or, he knows the basics, some of the acts she has committed but none of the details and no context other than these words, because the Hawk won’t allow him to glean them. But only because he’s not pushing that hard. But she doesn’t need to know that.

The deceptions are laying over each other, over and over and over, and Loki must remember each of them, play all of his parts perfectly, exactly, otherwise the plan will not work, and all is lost, forever, irreparable.

The Spider starts to break, but it’s not enough, she’s not hurting enough to miss his vulnerability right now, and if he doesn’t make her leave, she’s going to break him open instead, or try to, and it might even succeed because he’s so tired, and he knows that he is emotionally compromised, he won’t be able to hide that with his lies, it’ll bleed through, all the blood he’s spilled, how badly he wishes he hadn’t. 

So he has to break her further instead. Make her go away.

“Barton told me everything. Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer - pathetic! You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code. Something that makes up for the horrors. But they are a part of you, and they will never go away!”

He’s guessing at what will hurt her the most, but, well, he’s got some pretty good clues.

Looking at her through the glass walls of this damnable cell is giving him the unpleasant sensation of looking in the mirror. Though of course it is not, because this woman’s lifespan is dwarfed by his own, and he has far, far more blood on his hands than she does.

Would she just leave already?

“I won't touch Barton. Not until I make him kill you.”

She’s gasping in horror now; it’s working. She’s scared. She needs to be just scared though, there needs to be no room for anything else.

“Slowly, intimately, in every way he knows you fear. And then he'll wake just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I'll split his skull. This is my bargain, you mewling quim!”

Mother would make him wash out his mouth with soap, he thinks distantly.

The Spider’s crying now. Not as brave as the Hawk thinks she is - or, he’s just hurt her that badly. Good. Angry bears fight harder.

“You're a monster!”

Yes, well. Irrelevant. She’s an idiot. He fooled her. It worked. She can’t see through the cracks; she never could. She doesn’t see how broken he is, and she doesn’t suspect just how many lies he’s telling. The plan is safe, Midgard is safe, and all will be well. He’s nearly giddy with relief and sleep-deprivation; the plan is going to work, he can fool them all, easily. Of course he can, he’s Loki.

The storm dissipates.

“Oh no, you brought the monster.”

And now the Spider’s not crying, not even affected, and her entire posture has changed. “So, Banner. That's your play.”

Wait.

“...What?”

How the fuck did she work that out?

She doesn’t bother to reply to him - she’s talking into her com-link, not even looking at him

“Loki means to unleash the Hulk. Keep Banner in the lab, I'm on my way. Send Thor as well.”

She deigns to glance at him as she says, “Thank you, for your cooperation.”

Loki spends a few moments (very extremely quietly) panicking. But he realises, thankfully almost immediately, that she doesn’t realise he’s emotionally compromised and mentally bleeding out, she’s only figured out that the Beast is his escape route.

Which is. Actually quite intelligent of her. So perhaps he underestimated her.

There is no way to deny it, he just got played. Loki Liesmith, God of Lies, just got lied to. It is galling just to think it.

On the other hand, it won’t create any kind of flaw in the plan. Besides, now she won’t be able to impede his escape. So, really, this is fortuitous. And she didn’t figure out his big secret anyway - she doesn’t realise that this whole invasion is a sham. Of course she doesn’t. Because not even Midgard's’ greatest spy seems to be able to figure out the basic truth that he is not in fact as much of a genocidal maniac as he is pretending to be.

Although actually, he sort of is, so maybe that’s why.

(Because he did it didn’t he? He can’t deny it, can’t say he didn’t mean it, you can’t take back that much death, there is no way to say he wishes he hadn’t, because it’s too late now-)

She doesn’t have anything on him, and the plan is still set to work perfectly, so Loki settles back onto the bench they have provided him with, and tries to rest, even though he knows he cannot sleep.

He knows that while he rests, the spear will be working it’s magic on the Avengers, making them angry, enrage them, and hopefully, unleashing the Hulk. Which should prove as a distraction, whilst Loki makes his escape, with the aid of the Hawk.

The Hawk, he plans to leave on board, to aid the Avengers in the battle that he knows is coming. Having him under his own control in the coming battle would not impede the man’s ability to fight the Chitauri, and he could even direct him to the most vulnerable areas of their fleet. However, he had not been so sure, when laying out his plan, that he would be able to win this battle for the Midgardian, in which case when the Other and Thanos came to Midgard to their collect on their spoils, he would have no excuse not to use the Hawk to do their dirty work, and there would be one less powerful Midgardian to fight back and lead any resistance they thought to launch. And although he’s more sure, now, almost certain that the Midgardian will easily be able to take on the Chitauri, the plan has been set in motion, is unraveling itself perfectly, and he does not want to disrupt it. The Hawk will probably be able to pinpoint the weaknesses of the fleet alone anyway.

Now, Loki just prays that he’s not mistaken when he assumes that the Avengers will be able to handle the escaped beast - they should do, they know what to prepare for. And, as the Spider just proved, it does not do to underestimate the Midgardian.

He is jerked from his reverie as the extraction kick-starts with a bang. That’ll be the Hawk blowing up one of the engines.

And then a yell of rage, and that’ll be the Hulk.

Only a few minutes later, some of the henchmen come to break him out of his cage. He’s still glad to get out of that cage. He’s spent far too much time inside cells altogether, recently, and this glass one is one of the worst, because it doesn’t offer even the illusion of privacy.

And then, delightfully, Thor arrives.

As the dunderhead charges Loki’s illusion, he watches, cloaked from sight by the control panel, and only reveals himself once Thor has trapped himself inside Loki’s cage.

Loki has practiced this trick so many times. Has won so many fights like this over the years, it’s practically one of his signature moves. But still, like everything, it will always work on Thor. He never thinks, he just attacks.

“Are you ever not going to fall for that?” he can’t resist adding, to add insult to injury.

Thor doesn’t answer except to roar out his rage. He’s barely more articulate than the Hulk. He also tries to use Mjollnir to smash the glass, and it’s quite gratifying to observe how miserably he fails.

Because it’s never seemed fair that while Loki must earn every victory, plan meticulously, act precisely, deceive and direct affairs so very carefully to achieve his aims, Thor almost always achieves his aims by hitting things with a hammer.

But then, Loki’s aims are always so much higher, his actions further reaching.

When Thor wanted to fight Jotunheim to impress Father, he almost succeeded in re-starting a war, and a few people got stabbed. When Loki did the same, he almost succeeded in committing genocide, and so many people, men woman and children, died in minutes.

Perhaps one of the lies he told Fury had some truth; he does seem to be burdened with glorious purpose.

Because in the end, it is always down to him.

Thor is an idiot, and an ineffectual one at that. Loki’s spent a lifetime in his shadow. Loki has always been better, but no one will ever see it. He thinks he’s cleverer than Loki, but he’s not even bright enough to see how desperately wrong he is. Thor has never understood him, and never will understand. He can’t see through Loki’s lies - perhaps because he does not know Loki well enough to do so. Perhaps because he is too stupid to. Perhaps because Loki just plays the murderer far too well. Whatever the reason, he believes that Loki intends to rule, and to conquer Midgard, as if it could ever serve as a replacement for the throne he deserves, Asgard’s. It’s insulting.

The last time this happened, when Loki wielded the Destroyer against a mortal Thor, Loki didn’t care whether or not Thor died. Since then, he hasn’t really felt guilty for that at all. And oh, he’s felt guilty for other things that he’s done. He really truly has.

(Apparently, it’s the worst bloodshed anyone’s seen since the last great war, and it’s all Loki’s fault.

Apparently, in Jotunheim, people are dying in droves, and the fact that he did it all is killing him.)

But breaking every bone in Thor’s upper body, not so much. It was quite satisfying actually.

Loki’s been falling quite a lot recently. He’s fallen a long way. Now it’s Thor’s turn.

“The humans think us immortal. Should we test that?”

Then one of his hired accomplices falls to the ground dead, because one of the agents of SHIELD tries to stop him, but he falls for the same trick Thor did. It’s like no one ever bothers to think (and that includes him, doesn’t it, because he wasn’t thinking when he attacked Jotunheim, was he, because all he could think was attack attack attack-)

Loki doesn’t care about this death though. It’s one life to save many. It’s justified. And this man was stopping from wreaking his revenge on Thor. He was in the way.

There’s a big red button on the control panel in front of him. The Midgardian seem to have a thing about those, and, well, Loki can understand. There’s nothing anyone ever wanted as much as what they were told they couldn’t have. Loki knows exactly what this one does - there is no plausible deniability. He doesn’t need it. He won’t feel guilty for this.

Thor falls to the ground, leagues below, and Loki doesn’t know whether he’ll survive or not, and he doesn’t care.

He really doesn’t.

And it’s a little worrying.

He turns to leave, and the dying man on the floor says, “You’re gonna lose.”

He is, of course, that’s the whole plan, but he doesn’t need the Midgardian to know that.

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

(The Asgardian have never lost a war, have hardly ever lost a battle.

The Jotun have been stuck in a losing war and the backlash of it for as long as any race can remember.

Which one is Loki?)

(Neither of course. Because Loki has no home.)

“Your heroes are scattered,” though they’ll unite to fight each other soon enough “your floating fortress falls from the sky.” Though it really isn’t, thank goodness, so they must have contained the Beast at last. “Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction.”

If this man can see it then others will, the Other will, and that is very bad news indeed.

“I don’t think I-”

And then Loki’s being shot through a wall, and he’s really really getting irritated with Midgardians causing him even more bruises. The ones from the Other and Stark and Thor had only just started to heal.

Distantly, he hears what will probably be the agent of SHIELD’s last words, “So that’s what it does.”

Bloody Midgardians.

Loki picks himself up, eventually, and makes his way to the drop off point. From there, people who’s loyalty was won with money instead of the scepter’s power - and the Midgardians still believe they live in a world of freedom - takes him to New York, where he fools the security checks with magic and threats so he can take up position on the roof of Stark Tower.

It does not take long at all for the Man of Iron to return, along with a jet, and Loki’s impressed with their punctuality. He hadn’t even had time to open the portal yet. Someone must have realised where he planned to set up the portal. Probably the Spider.

Stark tries to take out the Tesseract first, and it would be a smart move, if it weren’t also the most obvious one, and so not something that Loki could permit. The Other was not a fool.

So the man walks calmly into his home, as if the wolves had not already breached the door, and as he does so, his armour is stripped from him.

It would be rude not to greet him.

“Please tell me you're going to appeal to my humanity.”

No one’s even tried that yet. It’s like they don’t imagine he has any pity. Of course, he’d have to deny them, for the sake of the plan, but it’s beginning to get to him that he’s playing the monster so well that no one realises he’s lying. Not Thor, or the Spider spy, not any of them.

“Uh, actually I'm planning to threaten you.”

How refreshing. As if Loki is not already incredibly used to that.

“You should have left your armour on for that.”

The man is so vulnerable without it, and yet with it, he is almost a match for Thor. The Hawk was not able to find much information for him about how the suit was manufactured, but Stark tells people he made all of it himself. Loki doubts it, but if it were true, he would be, slightly, impressed.

“Yeah, it's seen a bit of mileage, and you've got the glow stick of destiny.” Actually, that’s a rather apt description. “Would you like a drink?”

“Stalling me won't change anything.” The man is trying Fury’s tactic.

“No, no, no, threatening.” The man slides behind the bar as if he belongs there. “No drink? You sure? I'm having one.”

That’s not good, that’s not good at all, the man’s supposed to be panicked, angry, preparing to fight him, not offering him drinks. Under any other circumstances, perhaps his cool under pressure would be admirable, but today it is the opposite of what Loki needs. He does not need someone who will think before they attack.

“The Chitauri are coming, nothing will change that. What have I to fear?”

“The Avengers. It's what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes' type of thing.”

For the pivot that Loki’s entire plan hangs upon, Stark does not sound that confident in them. Well, they are a motley bunch, but he hasn’t been proved to be overestimating them yet.

“Yes, I've met them.”

“Yeah, takes us a while to get any traction, I'll give you that one. But, let's do a head count here. Your brother, the demi-God-”

Loki can’t hide his reaction at the mention of Thor - he shouldn’t have tried to kill him. He needed him alive. It was foolish, and selfish, and may have endangered the entire plan. Though the dunderhead probably managed to find some way to survive, and may even still be in fighting shape. Because his falls have never been as far or as hard as Loki’s have, because Thor is just so blessed by fate-

Whatever his face shows, the Stark man sees it.

But there’s something else, his hands are busy behind the bar.

“-a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and you,” he points, and there are bracelets on his hands that weren’t there before “big fella, you've managed to piss off every single one of them.”

“That was the plan.”

And it was part of the plan to open the portal at an area of dense civilian population - because he had to, to ensure rapid response. And it was also the plan to set it up inside Stark’s home, to enrage him, so he would not think, but only attack.

“Not a great plan.”

But Tony Stark realising, if not all then at least a part of his deception, how flawed his act has really been when compared to his actions, that was not part of the plan.

However, the last phase is set in motion. It does not matter what Stark realises now. There is no need to play his cards quite so close to his chest anymore, the show is nearly over.

He’s started to stalk towards Loki now, and it’s almost laughable as he is, without his suit, but he’s trying to look like a predator, and he very nearly manages it.

“When they come, and they will, they'll come for you.”

They not we. Not a team player then.

“I have an army.”

“We have a Hulk.”

That’s actually the point. He says, “Oh, I thought the Beast had wandered off,” but Loki’s not worried, Banner will drag his carcass back again. The Midgardian, so predictable, so manipulatable.

Through the Hawk, Loki knows that the Beast’s creation was an accident, and that Banner has been through hell for it, and despite that, he practices as a doctor. He tries to help people. To redeem himself for the lives he has taken, purely by accident. He is a good man. He will come back.

(It’s sickening, the sentiment behind it is sickening, do none of these people realise you can’t do take backs on death?

But perhaps they do, and they’re trying anyway-

And he’s so fucking hypocritical, he makes himself sick in so many different ways-)

“You're missing the point,” Stark interrupts him. “There's no throne, there is no version of this, where you come out on top. 'Cause maybe your army comes and maybe it's too much for us, but it's all on you.”

Loki knows. But he’s not underestimating them, he’s not, they’ve surprised him so many times already, they only have to do it one more time.

“Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we'll avenge it.”

Now Stark is the one that’s missing the point, because there’s no use in avenging a people that are already dead, it won’t bring them back (He knows, he knows, he knows, he’s not trying to bring back Jotunheim, he knows it’s a lost cause, though he wishes it wasn’t, he’s just going to make sure it doesn’t happen again-)

But despite that, this is quite impressive. Stark is the first mortal to have realised how weak his plan really is. The first one not to underestimate him. Perhaps he’s gotten sloppy, but he’s barely let anything slip this whole time. Not even the Spider realised how unlikely he was to ever win, and yet this man does.

This man is clever. He would be a good asset.

Putting Stark under the scepter’s influence, as he had once thought to do with the Hawk, could actually provide the Midgardian with another advantage against the fleet, and save civilian lives by finishing the battle even faster. And he’s sure, now, absolutely certain that the Midgardian will easily be able to take on the Chitauri, so there is no doubt that he will be able to release Stark from it’s control without the Other’s intervention, or else Stark will be released painlessly when the scepter and the Tesseract are once again on different Realms.

And, also, Loki would quite like to see inside this man’s head. Because he’s starting to believe now that this man may in fact have made that suit himself, and theres’ a really interesting power source pouring out light from his chest, that the Hawk and the press and SHIELD know almost nothing about, and he’s curious. The Hawk told him that Stark was an inventor, an engineer, a genius with machines but most definitely not with people, and yet he’s just worked out more than anyone else on this planet has been able to do so far. And his eyes don’t look dangerous, there’s no hint of it in showman’s smile or madman’s speech, but it’s there in his walk, and his suit.

Overall, this is a fantastic idea, and Stark is the perfect candidate.

“How will your friends have time for me, when they're so busy fighting you?”

He lets the scepter fall to the man’s chest, but only a small ‘plink’ sound results.

He does it again, to no avail.

Something to do with the conflicting energy fields probably, though Loki would have to study him in detail to find out what, but in the meantime, how embarrassing.

“This usually works.”

“Well, performance issues. It’s not uncommon. One out of five-”

On second thoughts, perhaps he does not need Stark all that much. He is an infuriating little bastard. Loki can win the invasion perfectly well without him. He throws Stark across the floor, and as he does so, he hears Stark say, “Jarvis, anytime now.”

So Stark has a backup plan. Well, good for him. So he won’t mind at all if Loki throws him out of the window.

He picks Stark up by the throat, snarls, “You will all fall before me,” and the anger is not false. Stupid little Midgardians, with their death wishes and horrible rude little comments and perceptiveness and weapons obsession. Bruises on top of bruises.

He throws the man out of the window, and despite all of his sharp wit, showmanship and intelligence, he falls like a rag doll. But he’s got his little bracelets. He’ll be fine.
And sure enough, almost as soon as Stark crosses the threshold, he turns to see the now familiar blur of gold and red speed past him, down to the figure falling to the street below. Tony Stark falls, but does not hit the ground, because his suit catches him.

It folds itself around him, in midair, and alright, Loki is a little impressed. The man changes his course explosively, shoots straight up in the air in a swallow dive, and he’s back on a level with Loki in seconds.

There’s a hard metal mask covering his face now, and his voice is distorted but still recognisable when he says, “And there's one other person you pissed off! His name is Phil.”

And again with the repulser blasts. Loki is prepared this time, braces against the impact, but it still stings.

Then the Tesseract’s portal is opening, and Loki’s stomach drops for a second where he’s picking himself up off the floor until he sees that it’s not opening all the way up. The limitations worked, the plan’s still working, it’s fine.

He walks to the Iron Man’s pedestal, surveys the city. There are a few foot soldiers flying around the city, but none of them are doing any real damage. It’s nothing that the industrious little Midgardians won’t be able to fix up again in months. Everything is going exactly according to plan.

Then Thor lands on the tower with a heavy thud. Cape and hammer and armour and all.

Of course the fall didn’t kill him. Of course Thor is still alive and well and fighting despite everything.

Damn him.

“Loki! Loki, turn off the Tesseract or I'll destroy it!”

Turn off. Turn off an almost sentient source of power that is older than Odin. As if there was a switch. Of course, there is one for the device that allows it to shape the portal, but Thor doesn’t know that. And as if Thor could destroy it; even if Mjollnir could make a dent on it, and Loki is not so certain that it could, then the fallout would probably destroy more of earth than the Chitauri ever could. And the force field around it would prevent Thor getting even that far. Thor is such an idiot. Why can’t he just die already?

“You can't. There is no stopping it. There is only the war!” He’s so close now, the end is in sight. It’s almost over.

“So be it.” Because of course, Thor has already disowned Loki, and his favourite thing has always been a good fight.

Far be it from Loki to deny him such.

Loki jumps down to were Thor stands, smashes down with the scepter, but Thor dodges, tries to hit him with Mjollnir. Loki blocks him with the scepter’s handle, swirls it at him again, but Thor easily dodges, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a feint so that Thor does not have time to doge the blast that Loki sends at him, but he catches it with Mjollnir anyway, because that bloody hammer will save him from anything.

Thor aims a blow at him, and the sign of Stark’s building falls to the ground - good, Loki thinks, childishly - while the man himself whizzes past him, tailed by a squadron of Chitauri that can barely keep up. Loki can’t spare him a glance though - Thor tries to hit him over the head with Mjollnir, and this isn’t like any fight they’ve ever had before, because Thor really is trying to kill him.

A SHIELD aircraft moves to shoot at Loki, but he throws Thor to the ground long enough to shoot it out of the sky. While he’s doing so - saving both himself and Thor, because the Midgardians don’t seem to be able to adequately aim the guns they so enjoy firing - Thor tackles him to the ground.

Loki scrambles up, but he’s dropped his scepter, so now they’re just punching each other, and neither one of them is winning or loosing, because they’ve done this too many times, and they are evenly matched.

Thor uses Mjollnir to get him stuck long enough that Thor can direct his line of sight.

“Look at this!” He shouts.

Loki’s staring out across the city; some of it is smoking now, and there are fires and explosions. He can’t see any of the Avengers right now, though he knows they’re out there, so it just looks like a city under siege.

“Look around you” Thor insists, and he does.

There are people running in the streets, but they can’t run fast enough, and they’re getting shot down. The Chitauri are shooting at buildings, places where people work, where they live. It looks like a war zone, but the people here weren’t expecting it, the metal raining from the skies, and they aren’t prepared. They’re dying, they’re dying in droves, it’s Jotunheim all over again, but he’s in the middle of it this time, he can see it.

“You think this madness will end with your rule?”

They’re going to die in front of him, this city will be rubble and bones and dust where there once was a city, and it’s all Loki’s fault, because he brought the fight here. He should have planned better, should have fought better, should have thought of a way to avoid this bloodshed. He just thought, attacking an area of high, rich civilian population would ensure a rapid military response, and sacrificing some would be alright to save many, and it is, isn’t it? But Jotunheim’s happened now, and this is already happening, and “It’s too late. It’s too late to stop it.”

“No. We can, together.”

How terribly, pathetically sickening.

Thor knows nothing of anything, he doesn’t know all that Loki’s done, he doesn’t know that this is a lie - because he believes it, because he doesn’t know Loki well enough, and he’s too stupid not to, and really, it’s not a lie, because on some level, Loki really must be evil, because he killed Jotunheim. But Thor will try to salvage Loki anyway, because of their past, their childhood, because he is too naive to understand that Loki cannot be salvaged, because he is too far broken. He’ll stand with Loki for that. He’ll put the lives of everyone in this Realm at risk for Loki. Just like the Spider spy. He will jeopardise Loki’s plan. If Thor aids him now Thanos will sense foul play, will postpone the invasion, and Loki will never get another chance like this again. They will be more prepared next time, and many more will die. Thor would turn him into a killer twice fold, and for what?

Thor is stupid, and worse, he is willfully ignorant of all the faults he has reason to believe Loki possesses. Loki does not deserve his love, his loyalty, he should not be giving it. He should not blindly trust Loki, and he is not clever enough to do anything else.

Loki slips a knife into Thor’s gut, and it won’t kill him, and Loki won’t feel guilty later.

Thor should not be allowed this sentiment. No one should be. It is a blade dipped in honey and sheathed in silk, and it has no handle, only blade. It cuts everyone it touches and makes them bleed.

But Thor gets up in seconds, because of course he always bloody does, and kicks Loki through a glass partition, and lifts him up and slams him down, hard.

But he has fallen further, and hurt more, and he’s stopped feeling his bruises. The pain jars him, focuses his mind.

The plan. Nothing but the war, nothing but the plan. Do not let Thor become a distraction.

Loki rolls off the edge of the building, and leaves his scepter behind. He had meant to disable the portal himself, but Eric Selvig will know what to do, and the Avengers can do it. It won’t be hard.

Loki falls, but not far, and straight onto a Chitauri carrier.

Loki flies around the city in half a daze. He is still so tired, and now the adrenaline of the fight is wearing off, he can feel every single one of his injuries, and there are a lot. His ribs are cracked, his spine riddled with fractures, his skin bruised and muscles aching.

Never mind. It will all be over soon, one way or another. And on that front, things look good. The Avengers have set up a perimeter, which the Iron Man is patrolling, and none pass it. They are battling the Chitauri easily. The Spider and the Hawk fight well together, the Beast - who had returned as Loki knew he would - smashes through the soldiers easily.

A carrier whizzes past him, out of control, and he spots the Spider perched atop it’s dead driver. What in Asgard does she think she’s doing? He adjusts his course to follow her, wonders how he could possibly make catching her before she falls to her death look like an accident - because he must maintain his deception, but he needs all the fighters he can get, and the mortal will not be able to withstand a fall this far.

Then, of course, Hawk shoots at him from his position on the top of the skyscraper, pathetically sentimental and protective as always. And of course, Loki catches the arrow - Jotun reflexes are far superior. The little Hawk must be angry at him for what he did. How adorable. Loki makes eye contact; the Hawk’s vision is good enough that he will see. He will never know just how lightly he got off-

Then the arrow explodes in his face, and it hurts, a lot, and knocks him back onto Stark Tower, hard.

Possibly, he deserved that.

He gathers himself together, quenches his exhaustion, pain and anxiety, and pushes himself up to face the battle, just in time to see the Beast jump up onto Stark’s balcony.

The next thing he registers is renewed pain, and the smash of glass as the Beast punches him through a wall. He hits the wall with a grunt, but the Beast is still snarling at him, punching the ground like a primate.

And Loki is so fucking sick of this - he is so sick of being hurt, being forced to fight when he just wants to rest, of falling and being pushed and being thrown down to the ground over and over and over again until it feels like he will never be able to heal.

He screams, “Enough!” and the Beast actually stops. Which is surprising, but Loki will roll with it. Maybe this Beast is more capable of rational thought than he believed, even of holding a conversation; perhaps Loki can stall him. “You are all of you beneath me! I am God, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by-”

And then he is being smashed into the ground by his ankle until he looses count of how many times it happens.

As he walks away, his steps thudding, the Beast says, “Puny god.”

So he is capable of speech then, Loki thinks very, very distantly.

After that, he doesn’t register anything. He might pass out for a few seconds, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no one else here to hurt him or beat him - they’re all busy beating each other up outside.

He lies there for a few minutes, gathers his strength.

He is so, so tired.

He hears the sound of battle outside, smells dust and the new, chemical smell of Stark’s home, feels pain, and lies in a crater that fits the shape of his body. He waits for his ribs to knit themselves back together, again, for his back to stop bleeding out into his armour, again, for his vision to come back, again. He can’t feel his legs. It hurts to breathe, it hurts to think, but he has to. He doesn’t have a choice. You can’t just turn off something powerful and sentient.

He hears the Hulk roar, and he senses, more than anything else, when the portal is closed. His mind was bound to the scepter, and the scepter was bound to the Tesseract, and he can feel it’s dismay at being shut down. It has no brain, no thoughts, that Loki can understand anyway. But it has emotions, of a sort, and releasing it’s power feels like joy, being denied it feels like imprisonment. Now, he knows the Tesseract must have been shut down. The battle is over. Loki can’t quite summon the expected enthusiasm at the thought.

An indeterminate amount of time later, he can breathe without hearing little grinding noises, he can see colour again, instead of blackness, and his spine has healed so that he can feel pain in his legs. It’s a huge relief - he wasn’t sure if he’d finally abused his body to the point of no return. His head is still fuzzy, he probably has a concussion, but it too will heal, in time. He just has to avoid being beaten in the near future. Hopefully the Midgardians will be merciful in their victory.

His ankle is still crushed where the Beast grabbed it, so he doesn’t try to stand, just crawls until he finds something that he can use to push himself into an upright position.

He turns, and there they are. All of the Avengers, victorious.

He feels like saying, Thank you, for your cooperation.

Or, Thank you, Hawk, for your loyal service.

Or, Brother, please just die.

Or, Puny mortals.

But he does not. He doesn’t need them angry anymore, and might not survive if they were. Instead, he addresses his words to Stark, and he says, “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll have that drink now.”

The man does not smile. He looks like he will not ever smile again. Perhaps battle was too much for him, perhaps he is broken now. It would be a shame.

They handcuff him, and he could escape, but he would have to break his own thumb, and his body will not heal any further injuries now, he can feel that in his bones. The ones that are still broken.

He is hustled into the elevator, taken out into the lobby, into the back of a van with the SHIELD emblem emblazoned upon it, which is the last thing he sees before they put a black bag over his head. The ride is smooth but long. He can hear people talking into communication devices, saying things like, “Road blocked ahead, satellite information being updated now, please take the detour sent to your devices,” and “prisoner secure, he is not an illusion, repeat, physical contact confirms, prisoner secure,” and “Thor has given point of exit, transfer off world due in eighteen hours” and “Holding facility prepared,” and “Interrogation rights denied, repeat, do not prepare prisoner for interrogation.”

They take him to somewhere where boots echo off concrete, and rough hands on his shoulders guide him to walk where they want him. They put him into a smaller space where the sounds echo differently, make him sit. He doesn’t know whether or not the cell is glass though, or if it has windows; he doesn’t know if they’re watching him. So he still can’t sleep. He hasn’t slept now since the rushed catnaps in the dank underground bunker, but he still can’t sleep.

They leave him for a long time. He can’t hear anything, can’t smell anything other than the blood and dust and sweat that clings to him. He’s sitting on a bed, but he won’t lie down, because then he won’t be able to stop himself from sleeping, and he can’t. He’s starving, but they don’t give him food. He waits, thinks of nothing, clears his mind so the pain doesn’t make such an impact. The lights stay on and he can’t see a clock, can’t see anything through the hood, but it doesn’t restrict his breathing, so he’s not panicking.

Later, five men come back into the room, lead him back through the corridors, on a different route than he was taken last time. He is put back into a van, and again, the route taken is different. There is no radio chatter this time, and the guards around him are silent. They let him out when the vehicle stops, and there’s daylight spilling from underneath the hood, and it smells like trees, grass, and cars. Someone steps up directly in front of him. It’s Thor. Loki hear his gait, can smell him; his clothes smell of Asgard. Of the soap they use at the palace.

Thor takes his hood off, and stares at him forlornly as he puts the muzzle across Loki’s jaw, until it fastens at the back. He says nothing. Loki is used to this muzzle - it’s been his punishment many times when he was a child, a reprimand for lying. It is not an empty or nominal punishment though; it has spikes that bite into his skin, that cut and hurt, but he can breathe through it. It’s humiliating, painful and derogatory, but Loki doesn’t care. The cuts will heal when he has time to rest. This is not the worst thing that has happened to him, this punishment for all the good he’s done, this childhood terror resurrected. It’s not.

The Avengers surround him. They look well-rested and healthy, even the Hawk. Loki supposes that’s a good thing. They have been good pawns, have served him well.

The Captain and the Beast avoid his gaze. The Spider catches it, and then leans in to whisper something to the Hawk, who smirks. It doesn’t matter what she says, the message is clear; it’s aimed at him, and it’s also for the Hawk. Her gesture says, I got him back. He’s mine, not yours. It is actually genuinely quite sweet, this tiny, possessive show of feeling from one who believes herself so hardened. Loki’s mouth twitches into a smile underneath the mask, where they can’t see it, but he stops when the spikes cut deeper and blood runs over his lips.

Perhaps he cannot begrudge her this little bit of sentiment. The Hawk knows how much she has suffered, and for how long, so Loki knows some of it. Perhaps she deserves this tiny perceived victory. And perhaps their love will serve a purpose, if it will fix the Hawk, fix that big, open heart, the reason Loki had chosen him - because no one is more easy to manipulate than a good and honest man, because they are so predictable. Perhaps, in their case, love is not a weakness. Perhaps for them it can be a strength.

The only one of the Avengers who does not look well rested is the Iron Man. And unlike the Captain and the Beast, his eyes do not flicker away from Loki’s. Instead, Stark makes eye contact with Loki, holds it for too long. He’s not smiling. He probably hates Loki now, as all the rest of them do, for what they believe him to have done. Or for what he did do, because the reasons he did it do not change the fact that people died.

Whichever. Loki doesn’t care.

Thor stands in front of Loki, holds the Tesseract in it’s cage between them. If he twists the handle, the journey will begin. The mechanism is simple, or else Thor would not be able to use it.

Stark has still not broken eye contact.

Thor twists the handle.