Fandom: Avengers, Thor, Marvel
Title: If I Fall, I'll Fall Apart
Author: hana-akira AKA rurichi
Character: Loki, Avengers
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Friendship
Rating: 19+
Warning: OOC, AU, kissing and touching between men
Prompt: Fulfilling a norsekink prompt at LJ for Round 6 on page 44. Loki, honesty, sadness instead of anger. Loki is cursed with emotional honesty and while everyone thinks he's going to lose it through anger, he cries instead. Involuntary vulnerability.
Summary: Let's go back to the facts and find where we're left at. – —Loki+Avengers, Slight!Tony/Loki, OOC, AU, Movie-verse?

A/N: Comics are expensive. Seriously. As are movies and other media sources. And time. So if my characterizations aren't accurate… well. So if you don't get what I'm implying: all characterizations are based off of fanfiction and the Internet.

This is how the world ends: not with a scream, but a whimper.

It all happens so fast.

It's the usual thing that's done when dealing with Loki, #1 Enemy of the Avengers: the Avengers get called, all of them fight against him in one way another, and always, in the end, it ends in an impasse, a stalemate of sorts. They get battered around with injuries that usually heal up in a week or so, and Loki gets off with a couple lucky shots that he may or may not have willing taken just to see what would happen to his body. And absolutely no one dies except for maybe the buildings and the billboards if somebody wants to get technical about collateral damage.

If Clint didn't know any better, he would say that the God of Lies was just playing around with them, like how a young boy plays with his only most favorite toys. Painfully, but then always carefully and tenderly building them back up again until they were even stronger than ever before he repeated the same process of deconstruction and reconstruction all over again. Again and again.

(Once, when it was only Bruce and Tony and him drinking themselves senseless, Tony had drunkenly commented on how Loki was forcing each of the Avengers to evolve, to progress and advance more than a human body should be capable of in their natural habitats, that they were being made to use more than 10% of their brains, Thor not included because he was a goddamn God of Thunder. Bruce, only buzzed since if he actually drank to the point of inebriation he might unintentionally Hulk out, pointed out that humans only being able to use 10% of their brains was a lie, and that, in reality, they used all parts of their brain if they weren't born with some sort disorder or whatnot and that really, Tony should stop being racist just because Thor accidentally broke the TV once. Tony, intoxicated son of a bitch that he was, slurred out that that wasn't his point. Personally, Clint tries not to think too hard on it because then, then he'd have to acknowledge the fact that Loki, God of Lies and Mischief and all other forms of nonsense, might, in his black heart of hearts, have some sort of twisted soft spot for them. And that's a path nobody wants to go down on. Really.)

It's also the usual thing that whoever is Loki's "current ally" that he or she inconveniently turns against the God of Mischief when they realize the green-eyed man has no intentions at all to permanently put down the Avengers like dogs. Maybe maim them a little, break a few bones here and there, but not put them out eternally out of commission. Loki has plans for them, mysterious and unknown plans that no one knows about, that probably no one will ever find out until maybe the world is actually ending.

(Steve had said something about how it's only the prologue and Natasha had said something about Ragnarök or some other that was in the old Norse myths but frankly, Clint is all too happy to just write it off as Loki's penchant for drawing things out if no one actually dies except the bad guys. Honest.)

So it comes as no surprise that No-Name Ally #365 or whatever is finished off by Loki, which is basically what usually happens to any ally Loki has that he finds irredeemable and wanting. It does, however, come as a very unpleasant surprise that No-Name whatsoever is able to cast some magic and actually curse Loki. Curse Loki with emotional honesty.

Fuck my life, Clint thinks because everyone knows that Loki is a natural disaster just waiting to happen. A fucking meteor shower of fifty million comets or a hundred magnitude 9 earthquakes all happening simultaneously around the world. Loki is like an Act of God, is an actual God, and goddamn it all to hell, they're all so fucked it's not even funny.

Except that's not exactly what happens. Loki going postal that is. Instead, he's crying. Honest to God crying.

What in the dirty fuck are they supposed to do with a God that's fucking crying? Someone somewhere out there must be laughing, getting a kick out of all of this. God cries and the Avengers have no fucking clue what to do. He could already see the cheesy headlines in the news already. It's so sad that it's not even funny. Not even in the slightest.

Clint swallows, his bow and arrows to his side, a lump in his throat, and has exactly no idea what to do. He's Hawkeye and he has no shitty idea at all what to do and shit, he's vulnerable.

Fuck my life has a totally different meaning now.

Everything is on fire and in shambles, but nobody is dead. Nobody except maybe Loki's newest backstabber. That's the only good thing that Natasha can see immediately in this situation. Everything else is free game.

Everything else, at least, that should have been anything but Loki.

None of them are particularly close to Loki when it happens, not because they didn't want to be, but because it just happened that way. The Avengers aren't afraid to get up close and personal, to get their hands dirty, but it just seemed that everyone on the team had been preoccupied with something else that was decidedly not Loki.

(Clint was doing far range, Thor destroying what seemed to be animated marble statues from an antique shop that were somehow the size of elephants. Both Bruce and Steve were trying to stop what seemed to be twisted versions of robots built from damaged school buildings and she herself was dealing with miniature vultures of sorts made from brick while herding the civilians to safe zones. In all honesty, the only one who actually was able to "deal" with Loki right then was probably Tony since he seemed to have somehow gotten rid of the glass-like anacondas that were the size of school buses, but she digresses.)

So none of them are actually focusing on Loki and that by the time any of them truly notice something is wrong and they should do something about it, it's already too late. Too late to prevent it from happening and too late to stop it from actually working. It's something a long time in coming, the idea that one day, maybe, someone other than the Avengers might get a lucky shot at Loki, but it still takes them all by surprise. Every single one of them. They're caught in even more surprise when it becomes obvious that the curse the backstabber used is one that's supposed to force the God of Lies to reveal his true emotions.

(There are very few things that Natasha is afraid of, that she's actually in fear of. Very, very few. The thought of that Loki, for once, is actually going to take them seriously, actually going to show his true self terrifies her more than it should be physically possible for a human to feel. It's not that Loki exactly plays around with them like how certain animals play with their food before devouring them, like sea otters with their shellfish or dolphins with their fish, but he doesn't exactly genuinely go out all against them, either. It's more like he's doing an experiment over and over again, and expects a different and more interesting result each time. Or sparring, like he's testing which methods of attack are best for offense, which systems of defense are best for security. There's anger beneath it all, but learning takes the prerogative.)

But this is Loki, the Norse God of Tricks and Contradictions and so it's only to be expected that he does the unexpected. Rather than actually going on a mad rampage and finally snap, Loki does something else instead. He cries.

And Natasha wants to do so many things at once that she doesn't know what to do.

If Loki was a sibling, she would have ignored his protests and just embraced him and held him as if he was the most precious thing in the world. If Loki was one of her parents, she would have shown up and held his hands while she told all the good things about him, all the good things that he is. If Loki was a friend, she would have needled him until he caved in and then comfort him with bad movies and cookie dough ice cream. If Loki was a stranger, she would have gone right up to his face and tell him some sort of joke or whatever, anything that would have made him crack a smile or crack out a laugh.

(If, if, if. So many goddamned ifs.)

But Loki wasn't her brother or sister, her father or mother, her friend, or even a stranger that she seemingly just happened to pass by, and those weren't her roles to slip into. Her parts to play. They weren't, no matter how good she would be at acting it out or how much she wished for it to be at the moment. She wasn't his anything and she had no right to be, either. Natasha doesn't know what to do with herself so she doesn't do anything.

Suddenly, the little girl besides her, one of the civilians she had been currently trying to get to a safe zone before everything started to fall apart, whispers underneath her breath as if she wanted no one to hear her at all, "He looks like he needs a lot of kisses to get better."

The little girl has pale blonde hair with the palest blue eyes and just clutches her stuffed rabbit toy to her chest as if she needed a kiss on her heart, too, to get better. Natasha stares blankly at her before she comes to a horrifying realization.

This is reality turning sideways and upside-down all at once. This is all on live TV and it's being recorded. The world is seeing a God cry and there is something that wants to scream in Natasha at that thought. Right here, right now, there must be thousands of video cameras from all the news channels honed in on the image of Loki crying his whole heart out, his whole soul, and it's wrong on so many levels that she wants to just lash out at everything and make everyone stop looking. To just stop staring.

(It's like watching Jesus Christ getting fucking crucified and god, it hurts so fucking much because it's like each tear that slides down Loki's face is another nail on the cross, another sacrifice or surrender that has to be made. This sort of thing should be private, confidential and classified because humans shouldn't be able to see a God cry, nothing really should be able to. The guns burn hot in her hands and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, she remembers exactly why she prefers to be an assassin.)

This isn't supposed to be in the script, Natasha thinks. This isn't supposed to fucking happen.

(Loki's entire heart and soul and life and existence is displayed to the whole world and their eyes were watching a God cry out. And humans should have never been able to see or even hear what a God's cries sound like.)

"Yes," Natasha chokes out, her voice slightly cracking at the end. "Yes, he does, doesn't he?"

Loki needs to know someone cares about him. Loki needs to know that someone loves him. Loki needs someone to hold his hands and not let go. Loki needs someone to kiss him senseless. Loki needs someone who will embrace him and kiss him at the same time. Loki needs someone who can appreciate him. Loki needs someone that can understand him. Loki needs someone who is thankful for his existence. Loki needs someone who can make all of his pain go away. Loki needs—

Loki needs a lot of things.

"A God is crying," the same little girl says in an undertone, quietly, and it takes everything that Natasha has to not cry herself as both of them stood stiffly doing nothing at all, all the while watching a God cry his whole entire being out.

Everything is in ruins, but no one is dead. Cry, you're on candid camera.

(Everyone is watching you.)

When Loki finally falls, he falls like an empire.

It comes as a surprise, really, takes everyone by surprise, that Loki is actually able to fall. The God of Tricks is like the personification of the ancient civilizations, the best of the golden ages that promised that even if they conquered all of the lands, the whole entire world, they would never fall. That they would never be torn apart, torn asunder by everything that everyone else seemed to suffer under. And then they just somehow seem to fall apart anyway. Out of mortar or crumbled stone, out of marble or melting gold. An empire. A kingdom.

(And in a book, it is written, "I am too pure for you or anyone. Your body hurts me like the world hurts God.")

Maybe he's a bit too poetic, a bit too artistic, romantic, idealistic, caustic, or something else altogether, but this is Steve's first thought when Loki crumples down in half like a bridge breaking apart in the middle, crumpling down like a piece of white paper that's about to be cut in half. Falling, falling, falling, like the sky falling with rocks and fire, the earth following right after. An apocalypse, end-of-the-world scenario.

(The kind where everyone doesn't die, but wishes they had. That kind of end-of-the-world scenario.)

Loki is dangerous, a threat, a menace to humanity, and an innumerable number of other things that is hazardous, and Steve Rogers knows this. He does. Truly.

But Loki is also a piece of work. A piece of artwork that will always deny that an artist's hand had ever touched it. A creation that will always reject the idea that it's only purpose in existence was to reflect the beauty of its supposed creator. It's for this reason alone, just this reason, that Steve thinks in the end is the reason why he reacted the way he did.

(Because even as he had tensed for the oncoming blows, the oncoming wrath that is all of Loki's anger, Steve had known that another part of him was scared out of his mind because he didn't exactly know how it would have all turned out. How it would have all ended in the end when Loki ultimately unleashed all those indescribable feelings that he had kept inside of him all this time.)

So it goes without saying that when Loki cries instead of screaming, instead of yelling or even shouting, it takes Steve's breath away. Takes the air in his throat right out of his mouth. Because that isn't exactly supposed to happen. When Loki is cursed to show his true feelings, this isn't exactly what Steve had in mind on what would have happened. It wasn't even close to what he had imagined.

(This is what he had in his head: cities inverting into themselves and breaking apart from the inside. Roads pulled apart like horrible stitching from a fraying, old quilt. Deserts flooding with water, oceans turning into murky-colored quicksand. Forests all over burning down while volcanoes spat out snow instead of lava. Animals becoming stranger and weirder, hummingbirds stopping and butterflies truly being able to cause hurricanes on the other side of the world. And yes, he knows he can let his imagination get away with him sometimes, but to be fair, Loki is quite capable of actually making this happen and then some.)

Loki is beautiful in his anger, his indifference, his pride. And now, too, his sorrow.

(And Loki is beautiful in his sorrow, there is no doubt about that. It's like seeing the Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, or the headless Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre Museum, the absence of her head somehow achieving so much presence. It's stunning and it humbles Steve nothing else has for a while because that's what true beauty does to you. No words can ever describe the feeling, no actions or any other types of communication, and so Steve is left awkwardly scrambling on what to do.)

It doesn't change the fact, though, that the God of Mischief is the enemy, even if he is crying, tears coming down his cheeks like too much watercolor on white paper. Not even when he wants to ask where is Loki's anger now, where is it underneath all the tears and the pain? Not even as he just stands there with his shield on the ground, knowing that he isn't able to do anything because one isn't supposed to touch a living piece of art in fear of it all crumbling down in one's hands. Loki is falling apart and he doesn't need anyone else to help along the process crumpling away. It doesn't change the truth that he is the God of Secrets, the Stories Never Ever to be Honestly Told, the God of Inconsistency and Paradox.

It doesn't change anything. It doesn't.

Steve Rogers wonders who exactly is he trying to fool.

They should have seen it coming, but maybe, that's probably why they didn't. That's the first thing that comes to Bruce's mind after everything has settled down and falls silent—the sort of silence and stillness that everyone knows that whatever comes next is going to be worse than what they think will happen.

(He is not the Hulk right now, not the monster, not the beast, and so Bruce is able to think clearly without losing his head even if just moments before he was out of control. It's what typically happens after a battle has winded down, the adrenaline and rage quietly and conveniently stowed away like a ship that has long since past lost its sail.)

Bruce, withdrawn and reserved man that he was, had always had the feeling that there was something off with Loki. That there was an inkling of something that was not right, not quite all there with the God of Trickery. Something is out of place and is where it shouldn't be.

(At times, he can't help being the little introvert that he is, and so can't help the fact that his mind, more often than not, wanders to uncomfortable places, very dangerous places. Places that really should never be wandered into, explored or even discovered. But Bruce thinks and so he analyzes and so he nitpicks and so he knows, he knows oh so many things the human mind should not know.)

When the God of Mischief lets out a soundless whimper instead of a scream of rage, a cry where the sound chokes in the throat and dies at the mouth, and Bruce feels like he's seen this sort of thing before, this type of reaction. Familiar in that way no one wants anything to be familiar. That kind of familiar.

Bruce knows he's seen this sort of reaction before, that he has at least seen it in the movies if not in real life. Where… a person could only trust themselves and just themselves because everyone else came up short. Were not enough or were too much and never ever just enough. That part reminds him of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where things are either scorching hot or freezing cold and never just right. Everything just extremes and nothing truly neutral.

(I'm not going to cry only for it to fall on ignorant and indifferent ears, says a God's brilliantly shimmering green eyes. I'd rather lash out than cry out for help that will never come, the curve of a faintly bemused line playing on a supernatural being's face. And so this is what Bruce understands about Loki simply from observation only: the man/God/Jotunn/alien/extraterrestrial being from another planet will never show a weak spot if he can help it. It's not a matter of pride or even a matter of arrogance: it's a matter of common sense. Logic. Rationality. Prudence. If there is a loophole, someone will exploit it. If there is an opening, someone will take advantage of it. Loki knows this and so does Bruce to a certain extent because neither of them are foolish or naïve enough to believe otherwise.)

This is a grown man, or what looks to be a grown man, and he is weeping. Weeping like a weeping willow, as if it's an age-old century ache or a million years of mourning. Before Bruce Banner's eyes is the image of a God in a human's skin falling apart. A God is falling apart and there is no sound except for the world breathing. Fragmented and fractured, splintered and cracked—the Norse God of Chaos is the very picture of collapse and an ending gone astray yet is, if nothing else, still the enemy. Still the foe and adversary the Avengers must take down, the opposition that must be corrected back into position.

He doesn't agree, though. He doesn't agree, and he has no idea why. Except he actually does and actually does know why. It's like watching a young child cry over the death of their first friend, or a lover crying for their other and it hurts. It hurts. What is Loki crying for, who is he crying for? Bruce, knowledgeable as he is, doesn't know. He doesn't know why Loki, when he's finally forced to reveal everything that's been literally building up to an eruption inside of him, the pain is inward instead of outward. The muted crying was never meant to be seen by others, by anyone, and this truth becomes increasingly obvious when the God of Disorder covers his face with his hands like how a thick, dark curtain hides a fine, stained glass window from the world. Tries to conceal away even though it's already too late.

(Just brighten and harden until you're like a diamond, Bruce can practically hear how the gears in Loki's head twist and turn, slide and burn. Crystallize, materialize into a being that will not be cut down, torn down, or ever be forced to submit, to yield, and you will be, you will be)

Bruce cannot tear his eyes away from the icon that is Loki, will not look away even as he uncomfortably does nothing because as much as he understands, he is not able to put his thoughts into actions.

(No one is born evil. No one intends to be. A bleeding heart still pounds and walls surround a God from all sides, like Schrödinger's cat in a box that asks, "Am I real, or not?")

What is so delicate, that when you say its name, it is broken? Loki's cries are soundless. That is what is the worst, Thor thinks. They are silent, noiseless, unvoiced and unspoken that it terrifies him to a degree that he feels certain that Ragnarök must be beginning, must have now started.

(If only that were so. If only that was the case in this instance.)

If one were to ask him when was the last time Loki had shown such vulnerability, Thor would not be able to pinpoint the exact moment. He cannot precisely remember the last time Loki has cried with sound, let himself fall to his knees—cannot put his fingers or his eyes or his mind on it.

He cannot remember. He cannot recall of a time that Loki's pain was anything like this. This… heartbreaking, soulshattering sort of thing. He cannot.

(This is the problem, the reason why their relationship will never be the same as it once was, will never ever reclaim its former beauty, its previous magnificence, if there was any brilliance in the first place. Perhaps it was an illusion, a figment of his imagination, a fool's paradise that he had fooled himself while ignoring the truth and the reality of the situation. Thor cannot recall and this is his fault, his downfall, his most tragic flaw as a living being. History repeats itself over and over again with him and he learns absolutely nothing worthwhile in the end.)

Somewhere, down the line, he has lost connection with his brother. The link, the association, the tie that had once said we are brothers, and we understand each other. Lines traced, drawn, and mapped out in such a way that all who saw and heard had just known, that yes, these two are brothers, in arms, in faith, in mind, in bond

(I am alone, I do not belong, and so I have decided to stop calling for people who would never answer, is what his brother's wretched and bent form tells him and Thor cannot help but want to ask what had happened and when and why and all numbers of things that he knows he should already know. He does not know how it has all ended up like this even though he should have long ago.)

If there had been anything left of his brother's traitor, Thor would have been more than happy to crush him. Would have been more than ecstatic, elated to know that he was the one to end the one who brought his brother such sorrow. He is all too ready to storm, to rage, to wage war if only to stop the anguish, to ease his brother's grief.

(Rage—rage against the dying of light. Rage against the hurt, the ache, the pain that throbs and pounds. Rage against what is wrong, what is not right, what is not supposed to be. Rage, rage, rage—)

(If only.)

It is unbearable, this pain. Insufferable and excruciating. Thor is beginning to understand more and more why his brother chooses to lash out, keep his pain hidden, feign wickedness, bluffing and lying than do anything else. He is beginning to understand Loki, or, perhaps, he has never understood at all or understands too much for once. It is a losing battle for Thor—the space between them is too big, too large, too immense. The distance impossible to reach, the gap between them as far as it is between the earth and sky—so far yet so close, simply separated by a horizon.

Loki cries. Thor knows that he himself is on the verge of crying yet has no idea what to do to stop it.

(Thor knows this, though: an embrace will not be enough. Kind and sincere words will not be enough. Tears shed will not be enough. Whatever he does, whatever he thinks will help, he knows this: it will not and it will never be enough. This is a bitter thing to acknowledge, but it is the truth.)

Loki does not cry out for help and so Thor is left trying to understand what he is supposed to do. Left behind with trying to understand something intangible, vague, and elusive. Something that cannot just be understood from knowing alone. Something that must be felt firsthand, experienced, suffered through. Even with his eyes open wide, all he knows are things he cannot see, things he cannot hear, cannot feel, cannot even begin to understand.

This is why he is grateful on some level that Loki had decided to fight against him—against him and the Avengers because it is something familiar, something he has had practice with. It is something he is good at, something that he understands intimately well and can throw himself wholeheartedly into. Thor is used to this, used to fighting and battling, but sometimes Thor wonders, what if, what if we were to stop all of this?

(This is painful to consider, a deep-set wound. And so as much Thor dislikes fighting against his brother, he much prefers it than what is happening right in front of him.)

The blow may not fall, but the effect is the same as if it had. Thor is a good enough of a brother to not flinch, but not quite good enough for anything else.

(I will never ask for your help again, Loki's bright green eyes had declared to him, lips sewn tightly with golden, gossamer thread—once, a long, long time ago, a strange glint in them that he had written off as a trick of the light. This is a promise, a threat, and it is one of many that Thor wishes Loki had never kept.)

His heart hurts. There is nothing he can do about it.

Humans are inconsistent. This is what Loki concludes.

"I do not have to follow you. The words of God are corrupted by man and so therefore your words are poison," Human #365 says loftily to Loki in resentment, as if it was Loki's fault that he was human-shaped and everything has gone awry.

(Human #365 is a nondescript man and a heretic, one of many beings who had come to Loki on his own terms, like how many others had before him simply because it was convenient—not because of actual necessity or emergency. Although Loki indulges these creatures, he never particularly cares to learn their names because they are names he considers not worth remembering. Things who were willing to compromise, to settle less for what they wanted, well, that just meant that when the big things came around, they wouldn't fight for it quite as hard as they should. For if they didn't fight for the little things, the things that weren't exactly needed, when would they fight? Loki had no use for half-hearted tools and so it's no loss to Loki if another nameless one "betrays" him.)

The God of Tricks laughs, because isn't the mortal a hypocrite? "Only by cruel men like you," Loki sing-songs pleasantly enough, the words men like you who think they are above us all, above pain and pleasure; men like you who act as if the world owes something to them—silly men like you who are afraid that they can be someone exactly like me. You've always said you were above the rest of us. Tell me—is it nice? all murmuring underneath and unspoken. Human #365, of course, is not impressed. Humans rarely are. So Loki continues to laugh instead because this is yet another human who has sought him out and is disappointed once again simply because the myth does not match the truth.

(The truth is, is that Loki has never truly been able to fool anyone, what with the reputation other people built for him and the myths told of him to everyone else. Instead, he let people fool themselves because they didn't bother to find out who and what he was. And they, in turn, invented a character for him. Loki, silvertongue. Loki, liesmith. Loki, weaver of words. Loki, chanter of incantations. Loki, singer of all songs. Loki, the lilt that whispers sweet-nothings in your ears. Loki, Loki, Loki. When they found this out to be a lie, they would always blame him for fooling them. What a bloody riot, all of them wanting only one thing when he was, in reality, everything and all things—the being called God, the man with a plan, the woman with a scheme, the child whose thoughts could turn fantasies into fact—)

"Do not think," Loki continues casually, as if it was an everyday thing that a human of religion accuses him of blasphemy, "that you are the first one to seek me out wanting to be told exactly what they want to hear, or expected to have everything go their way simply because of my presence," and this is true because how else could Loki have become known as the God of Lies? Liars, after all, are the most self-conscious and self-aware. He knows how things work, how much they tick and how much they knock, and so he knows precisely which lies would ease like a balm on the soul and which truths would pierce the heart and rip it out of its bone-white birdcage. Loki has had years to practice, centuries to refine, and millenniums to perfect, and he has many more to go to become even better at what he does.

Human #365 says nothing and in his silence is the admittance that he is wrong and Loki is right in the same way how Loki is always right in some way. For a moment, the expression on the God of Mischief's face is almost pitying and understanding, as if in apology for what is about to come before it falls away like a red, velvet theatre curtain that's about to start the show but in truth is actually going to begin with the end, and is instead replaced with something so bitter that it's so self-satisfyingly free.

"You want me to say that you tried, don't you? Because you always try—you always do. You want me to tell you that you tried your best, but you're not really aiming for success now, are you?" And Loki's mouth is twisted into a grin that's all teeth and thin lips, his eyes full of benign spitefulness and misplaced patience that it's terrifying. His next words are the damning ending of another's world.

"You try," the green-eyed God says softly, as if it was a tragedy—a tragic thing, really—that needed to be said aloud, like a secret shared between two children while the rest of the world is asleep and can't hear. "You try so hard to be a good man."

(But if you were truly trying to change the world, making it into a better place, you would have changed yourself first, Loki mouths, no sound and no noise, and you would have never thought of coming to me.)

Loki is still laughing and grinning even as Human #365 rages and curses him and he, in turn, turns the man back into dust, dissolving him back into the atoms and chemicals he was made of. Once everything settles down, though, he's no longer laughing. He is crying.

(If I fall, I'll fall apart, Loki thinks, once, a long time ago—in the spring, in the fall. There is something within him trying to claw its way out, eating him up from the inside, and it's all too much. It's too much too much too much and oh god why does it hurt so much?—)

The crack becomes a fracture. The fracture becomes a break. His heart wants to burst open, to rupture and break in half, and his mind wants to tear itself apart while his body wants to melt and evaporate away into thin air. Loki is falling apart at the seams, but it's not what it seems. Loki knows this curse, but the books never said he would forget himself; that he would lose everything he was only to have the emptiness be filled with something heartwrenching and soulrending. He doesn't care.

(Liar, his mind accuses, the tone of a straight-faced faker. This is something new and something he could have done without. There is singing and there is screeching and Loki literally wants the world to just end. Why? Because Loki loved the power of control, and hated the feeling of weakness. It's the blues on red days and no, Loki is not okay.)

What is it like to have yourself all figured out, all exposed and out in the open to the entire world? Bluffing all the time is so tiring, isn't it? Your pain—yes, your pain—what is it that it's hiding? the world wants to ask, wants to demand, wants answers and figures and charts and numbers and wants to know why, why, why.

(Loki wishes he knew. The world is full of lies and he doesn't tell anyone the truth. This is one certainty that will never escape voluntarily from its cage. You mustn't lose control, Loki. You mustn't let anyone see that you are hurt, that you are in pain. Because then, then, if you do, they will use it against you. They will manipulate this. They always do. They're all out to get you.)

Keeping quiet is hard and all Loki wants to do is just scream. Scream his throat raw, himself hoarse. He feels like he is crumbling into sand, into dust, into nothing at all.

(Because you feel you have no control over it. Because you know exactly how it begins and exactly how it ends. When I spill out my withered thoughts and pour them out into a chilled glass, everything seems to come out at last. Is it madness? Is it? Or is it common sense? It is only natural, after all, that a man goes mad in an already mad world. In order to be an actual liar, one must be able to lie to oneself and have a grain of truth, for the best lies are the ones that become the whole truth and nothing but the truth.)

He had kept a straight face, because he knew that if he broke just a tiny bit, just a little, he would break all the way, into hundreds and thousands of tiny little pieces, and become dangerously vulnerable. Because it's crippling to cry uncontrollably, it's degrading to let his emotions get the best of him, it's, it's—

(What if, what if I keep going on like this? Loki thinks hysterically, also thinking: No, Loki. No.)

He does not possess Odin's stoic heart or Frigga's uncompromising faith or even Thor's resolute penitence—he only has an unrelenting hunger for something he no longer believes in. Lies. All of it was a lie. So Loki fakes it instead.

(If I can't see them, they can't see me. This is his mantra, the incantation to his greatest spell.)

Loki is the best at what he does. With the brain, one can make even pain into pleasure, and Loki is very capable at many things. This is what the world realizes and comes to understand.

(I fell, and I fell apart. Can you see it, this thing from inside of me? Can you hear it? I'm sorry. So sorry. Soon. Soon, he cries, a child lost in winter.)

This is how it starts: Loki wants too much. Or, perhaps, he wants nothing at all, or just one thing, really. Whatever it is, all Tony knows is that these sort of situations somehow start with Loki, and somehow end up with Loki without anyone else really knowing how or being any wiser about it. The guy has that kind of effect on people, and it gets steadily worse the more time you spend around or thinking about him, like a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome or some other disorder that keeps asking you why and keeps coming back to tell you that it's the one.

(Tony has collected data on this—charts and graphs and notes that he has enough to have a whole database dedicated to "The Loki Effect" and then some because new information keeps coming in. If Loki wasn't the enemy, he would have felt that he was like an addict on a high that couldn't get enough of the dosage he was on, wanting more and more and more—and a glorified obsessive stalker instead of the information consultant that he was. Seriously, he could probably write an entire dictionary or encyclopedia about the God that there could be its own series or something and still have more than enough room for photos. Tony has studied Loki enough to know that the green-eyed God is a force to be reckoned with, and literally also something that just beckoned to be reckoned. No one can willing look away or ignore the Trickster God's existence or presence.)

So if this is another incident of Loki getting stabbed in the back by one of his "cohorts" (And Tony uses that term very loosely because Loki never really works with anybody. People worked with him. And yes, there was a difference, which could be blatantly seen in the success rates of his "objectives".) and Loki using said metaphorical knife that was stabbed into his back to stab back into his cohort's heart and turning the man literally into dust, well, it's not that much of a surprise, really. It's not even a shock that Loki gets hit by whatever voodoo curse that was said by his little twisted, religious minion because those sort of things seemed to happen at times when Loki picked up a particularly spiteful piece of work. Nothing that happens around or because of Loki really fazes Tony much anymore. Not after that time with the Japanese tourists where that saying, "No one fangirls or fanboys as hard as Japan," seemed to be an actual fact when a certain God of Mischief was involved, or that time with those British kids that were on a field trip were, in fact, actually hardcore fans of the Harry Potter fandom and all of them seemed to really love Loki's "Slytherin" color scheme he had going on.

Tony expects a lot of things to happen, but the last thing he expects to see is Loki crying. Not because he thinks Loki is incapable of crying (No, never that. Eyes like those were made for crying—would have made crying into an art, a magnum opus. It would have been a crime if someone like Loki couldn't cry.), but because Loki wasn't the sort to let others see him cry. Tony can hardly speak, and he knows why Loki can't raise his voice to say stop, stop because hell, he could hardly even breathe. If he has his faceplate off and he's blatantly staring at Loki in some way that could be considered enthrallment, well, that just couldn't be helped.

(Tony thinks about those eyes sometimes. Loki's eyes are so green, so brilliant that Tony wondered in his more poetic and maudlin moments if the world looked greener to Loki. If the world looked more green to the God of Mischief somehow. That, compared to his own brown eyes, was the world filled with unimaginable, vivid colors that he couldn't see? Did the world look more wondrous to Loki than it ever did for him? He wants to take Loki apart, see how his mind works and how his body moves. Observe every little piece, every action and reaction, everything in its entirety and in its individual. Those impossibly green eyes that could never be considered human are so full of something that it makes his head spin deliriously with wild imagination and barely restrained curiosity.)

Loki is kneeling on the ground, trying to cover his face so that his tears can't be seen, but Tony knows that underneath, they're streaming down like a waterfall. The sight of those tears reminds him of some old fairytale—of a story of a girl who cried jewels and could not stop. The story had probably been in French. Maybe. It could have just as well have been in German. For convenience's sake, he'll just think it's European and leave it at that. Either way, Loki's tears are like crystals, diamonds, and so very, very precious that Tony is torn between wanting to bottling them up and keeping them to himself forever or actually stopping them because something so magnificent should never be so brutal and so terrifying. Loki weeps, and cannot stop.

(In spite of all of his intellect, Tony has never understood or knew where Loki's motivations came from. Couldn't pinpoint them or trace them back to their origins. But all of the Trickster God's villainy has to come from somewhere, from some kind of emotional place, and all of a sudden, Tony understands what Loki is. He's heartbroken. He's heartbroken and he's so beautiful and it's so frightening because it's like Loki is a gentle God in a man's bloodstained body.)

It's kind of weird because Loki is so… sad. And Tony wants to make everything better for him in front of the entire world. It makes his heart hurt, but with the good kind of hurt. The kind that said, I want to make your whole world prettier, your whole life smoother. I want to make everything better. For you and only you. Tony knows he's a spur-of-a-moment kind of guy, that he's whimsical at best and suicidal at worst and that really, what he's going to do next might actually get him killed for once but he cannot not just do it. Not when the opportunity is staring at him in the face and literally screaming for him to take it. So he touches Loki, brings the God up so they're both standing, and kisses him.

He starts with Loki's cheeks, then with his cheekbones, kissing the tears away. He kisses the other man's chin, his forehead, the corners of his eyes and lips and then the lips itself. He touches Loki's face, his neck, his hands—his whole entire body. The tips of his fingers ghost over everything—the long eyelashes, the twin ridges of the collarbone—his roving hands meticulously mapping out the downs and ups of Loki's shape and figure. All of it is chaste—a barely there and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sort of thing, but it's something. It's something.

And that means something, right?

Loki doesn't call out for help. He doesn't ask what Tony is doing or even why Tony is doing what he's doing. He just lets it happen and continues crying, even if the crying has settled down a little and there aren't as many tears. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't need to.

This is how it ends: it isn't enough. It won't ever be enough. It won't make Loki forgive or forget what has happened. It won't suddenly make him okay. It won't make things hurt less or make the pain go away. But it doesn't have to be enough and it doesn't have to immediately make him okay. It just has to be something, anything. Tony decides he will make it mean something. He will make it mean everything.

God, Tony thinks, one half in desperation and the other half in something he doesn't have the heart to name. Let me love you. Let me love you and take care of you. Let me be with you. Please.

Nick Fury wonders when his life became this. A conflict, a mess, an absolute disarray of whatever this was. Honestly, when did his life get this complex and problematic?

(Surprise, surprise—it's called being alive. But damn if he didn't wish things in real life didn't get complicated so easily and so messily at exactly the same time. It would have made things so much easier and that much more tolerable to deal with.)

There have been many things that he's had to deal with through the years. World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam Conflict, a dozen other conflicts most people haven't heard of, a numerous number of criminals with dubious mindsets, managing S.H.I.E.L.D., and the deterioration of vision in his left eye that forced him to wear an eye-patch over it just to prevent depth perception distortion. He could deal with being almost killed on a regular basis. He could deal with insubordinate subordinates. He could deal with keeping his temper in check and not letting his feelings get to him. He could deal with those things.

Those things he could deal with. Those type of things. This? This… crying or whimpering or whatever the hell this was? Not so much. Fury wasn't trained for this shit. He wasn't hired to deal with a God that could cry or any sort of crying. He wasn't.

(Ever since the Avengers have been assembled, strange things have happened and he's been forced every time to deal with the aftermath. Making up excuses, creating deliberate distractions, using diversions and misdirection in ways he never thought he would be using them for just so things don't get out of the pan and into the fire. Was it too much to ask for things to be normal for once? Was that too much to ask? To have a criminal actually be a criminal? A villain as an actual villain? Was it? Was that really too much to ask?)

No one knows what to do with themselves. What do you do, what do you even fucking say? Loki cries—what can you even fucking think?

Fury doesn't even know even as he massages his forehead for the potential headache he just knows is going to come from all of this. The problem is, is that none of them actually know how to deal with a crying Loki. Except maybe Stark, but that asshole seems to be capable of anything these days. Privatizing peace, creating a new element (And what the dirty fuck, right? Creating a new goddamn element—like Saint Peter on a reversed crucified cross, what the bloody hell? It took at least a joint effort between the scientists at Dubna, Russia with scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to produce flerovium, and the combined efforts of Sir William Ramsay with Morris M. Travers to even get neon.): Dealing with a crying Loki seems to be right up Stark's wide and open alley.

Fury doesn't even know why he's so surprised or shocked that Loki can cry. It's not like Loki himself is above feeling and emotions no matter how much the guy wants to be. It's exactly because of those that he was considered Enemy #1 of the Avengers. He should have known that there was a time the God of Mischief wasn't always like this, wasn't the bad guy, the world's enemy. That he was actually a good brother and a good son once upon a time. Because behind every fuck-up is someone who got tired of being broken and Fury should have remembered that at least.

(He's not completely heartless no matter how much easier it would be if he actually was. Just make everyone not feel anything and everyone will actually follow their goddamn orders to the T for once without backtalking or being a smartass while they're at it because they can improvise. Wouldn't that be a grand plan? Fury tried it for about two months and it was the worst two goddamn months in his life.)

A God is crying and even someone like Fury can't just turn the other way and pretend that such a thing isn't happening. He can't go back to the way things were. None of them can. No one who has seen Loki cry at least, which means the entire country because hello, this is all being recorded on live television and is now probably broadcasted almost to the whole world. The situation has long since been compromised.

"Sir… what are your next orders?" Coulson asks tightly through the earpiece, not wanting to set off the situation even worse than it already was. Fury could picture the other man's taut shoulders and his rigid posture at this situation. At this compromised situation that is definitely not in the handbook on how to appropriately react to so-called "villains" that can sincerely and genuinely cry.

"Standby. Just… have everyone else on standby." And if his voice sounds like it has aged a million years, then it's nobody's business. Nobody's except his own. He cradles his head between his hands and wonders why and how it has all came down to this.


"Did I fucking stutter?"

Fury knows that the only reason Coulson has a problem with his orders is because Stark looks like he's getting free reign and the green light to molest Loki in broad daylight. Not in the fact that it's probably better and safer for everyone around to just stay away from the delicate situation that is Loki, but in the fact that it looks like Loki is being taken advantaged of and no one is doing a single thing about it. That if no one else was going to do anything about it, he would be in the next five seconds.

(And all the while, a God is crying. Shit, we're vulnerable, Fury thinks, because if even Coulson thinks saving Loki is a possibility, then anything is. Dear God, when did his life become this?)

He really needs to get it together one day and just sit Coulson down to talk about priorities.

It all happens so fast.

This is how the world begins: not with a cry, but a whisper.

(And it's the beginning of a beautiful world growing.)