Disclaimer: All original characters and such belong to Marvel.

Summary: Loki made the decision to let go. After that, gravity took its toll. And maybe fate. A lot happened between his fall from Asgard and his theft of the Tesseract. And he's the not the only one trying to deal with a heavy loss.

Chronology: Post-Thor, pre-Avengers

Pairings: None for the moment

Rating: T because of injuries in the second chapter

Author's Note: Apologies once again for the delay. Still not as much plot progression as I'd hoped, but I think I managed to introduce more of the character elements I wanted to explore. I want to get Loki up and about, but not too quickly – not before we've had some more lovely whump moments. (You're welcome, Starkreactor) I've got some things up my sleeve that I want to share with you guys soooo badly, but again, I don't want to rush. I greatly appreciate your reviews and your patience!


Combat Scars

The vulnerability of the question struck her ears with force, and the plea rang in her ears. I am called Loki. Will you stay?

Katie said nothing for several long moments, not even thinking. Just…absorbing. She looked at his pale and damaged face, the way the thin form moved slowly and painfully under the blanket. She looked at the clock, and then without knowing why, she nodded.

"I'll be right back," she assured him, and she stepped into the kitchen and picked up the phone. She dialed the number for the bank where she worked, listened to it ring twice, and then was greeted by Cindy's loud, pleasant voice.

"Gooood Morning, Shale Park Community Savings, this is Cindy."

Katie cleared her throat. "Um. Hi. Cindy. It's…it's Katie."

"Girl! What are you doing up so early?"

Katie considered the essentially naked, bleeding man on her couch. "It's…well it's a long story." Her finger twitched in the air and she realized it was instinctively looking for the cord, nonexistent on a cordless phone, but easily accessible on the corded phone she'd grown up with, the one she would practically knot around her finger in nervousness when she called…no, she couldn't think about that. Not now. Maybe not ever. She cleared her throat again, letting her voice slide into the most apologetic tone she knew. "I…Cindy, I don't think I can make it in today…" She left the words hanging in the short silence that followed, working up an apology.

And then, a small sigh, and a quieter, obviously relieved voice. "Girl, it is about time."

"Thank you Cindy…"

"You can thank me by taking a week. Maybe two. At least the one."

"I—"

"No. You take a week off, starting now. I'll talk to Danny for you."

Katie's throat closed up and her eyes welled in gratitude. She finally managed to force out a whispered, "Thanks."

"Good girl," came the soft reply, and there was a gentle click as Cindy's end of the line disconnected.

Katie hung up the phone, wiping at the unexpected tears making warm salty streaks down her face, and returned to the living room in a daze. She had almost forgotten about the man who had instigated the phone call, until she felt his eyes on her.

He said nothing, but there was a hint of something like curiosity there. Maybe even concern.

She said nothing either. She approached the couch and sat on the floor near his feet. "Do you need anything?"

"At the moment…no," came the still slightly labored reply.

"Okay…" she said, breathing the word out almost like a sigh. She made her way to his side slowly, still trying to reconcile the extreme absurdity of everything about this situation in her mind. She checked his wounds again out of instinct and habit, trying not to blush as she felt his eyes on her. Even having had the weight of his head nestled into the crook of her arm as she'd helped him swallow the pills, touching him seemed odd.

"Why are you doing this?" his voice came, cold yet vaguely vulnerable.

"Wh-what do you mean?"

"You do not know me."

"No…"

"And yet you tend to my wounds."

"Why wouldn't I?" her answer came without thinking, a whisper.

"How do you know that I want your help?" Loki's return question had bite to it.

Katie was momentarily without an answer, but once again without really considering it, one came to her and left her lips without her conscious decision. "It's not about wanting it," she said. "Not like this."

There was silence, and she ran her thumb across a line of broken flesh on his chest that was beginning to knit itself together with bright, shiny new red skin.

"How do you know I deserve it?" His voice came suddenly in the quiet, now his turn to whisper.

The question appeared so quietly she wasn't certain what she had heard at first. But when the words reconciled in her head, she made eye contact with the man, for the first time without fear. "Why would that matter?" she asked, a wave of sadness crashing over her that for once wasn't for herself.

They held a glance as the seconds ticked by, and she saw something move in Loki's face, tiny and nearly imperceptible. She couldn't identify it, and she didn't think even he knew what was going on in his own mind. When he finally looked away, she thought she saw the glint of a tear in one eye and her heart throbbed with sympathy.

She had been wrapped in her own pain for so long that the sharing of the sentiment, feeling it for someone other than herself, was of more relief than she could have imagined.

Loki disliked the vulnerability that washed over him as the woman asked why it would matter if he deserved the help she was giving. She knew nothing of him, and she had put herself to caring for his broken body. Normally he would dismiss such sudden devotion as a weakness, something to sneer at. But there was something different about her concern that made him bite back the words he'd wanted to toss around, and he felt his eyes moisten against his will. He couldn't bring himself to thank her – the words caught in his throat.

"Do you want something to eat?" the woman asked timidly, maybe seconds or minutes later.

Loki couldn't bring himself to turn back to face her. "No," he said, just as his stomach growled and announced otherwise.

"Let me see what I can find," she said, and he barely heard the soft noise of her footsteps on carpet as she walked away.

He counted silently in his head, estimating her distance from him to wherever she kept her food. When it seemed safe, that she would be occupied for a while, he turned his head back to observe the room. He didn't have the energy to wipe away the wetness that had trickled from one eye against his express wishes. He disliked the vulnerability, both physical and mental, that had fallen over him like a shroud. He disliked further the way that he found himself suddenly dependent on and somehow connected to this woman, once more directly contrary to his will. He wanted to sneer at his own weakness, but something desperate and primal in his emotions when she had earlier announced her intent to leave. In that brief moment before he had convinced her to stay, he had felt more alone even than when Odin had revealed his true parentage to him and he stood numb with shock feeling the world crumble silently around him.

He refused to let himself remember Thor and the woman who had changed him so. And he resolved to never let what had happened to his so-called brother happen to him. This woman would help him heal, and then he would find a way to return to Asgard and get what had been denied him; namely, the throne and the chance to rule. He had never been allowed a real chance to prove himself, and those that had kept that from him, those who should have been close and trustworthy but had instead lied to him…all those would pay a price for what they had done.

He numbed his pain with anger until this woman, Katie, returned with a platter of food.

"I'm not sure what you like," she said, placing it on the low table next to the couch on which he lay. "Or what you'll be able to eat right now. I tried to stick with plain stuff, soft stuff…" She gently cradled his head again, and he startled at the touch but allowed it as she tucked a number of small pillows under his head and neck. He muffled a groan as his wounds and bruises shifted, but she was gentle and the movements were slow and careful and once he settled back against the pillows the aching subsided to its previous levels. He looked over the offering of food she had brought him, and recognized bread and cheese and apples. There were grayish pink circles that were totally unfamiliar. He still found it hard to raise his arms and chose to simply nod instead.

"What are those?"

Confused, Katie followed his gaze. "Oh. Turkey."

He gave her a look.

"Lunch meat?"

He stared.

"We can skip the lunch meat." She paused, then removed the so-called meat from the plate. "I'll get you some more water." Another pause. "Do you want ice?"

A strange hurricane of feelings roared through his chest at the simple last word of her sentence, ridiculous on the surface but somehow linked enough to the fire building in his soul so that he had to be very careful about the tone in which he delivered an answer in the negative. His instinct was to hurl the word at her. He carefully dialed it back to a flat, "No."

Katie nodded and left once more, and Loki gingerly stretched out an arm to take a piece of bread.

When she returned, he was making slow work of the bread and a small piece of cheese. She sat on the floor and gazed away at a corner of the room. The silence should have been awkward, but wasn't. She glanced up now and again, seemingly to check on him as he slowly and painfully ate what little he felt his damaged body could withstand.

Katie began nibbling slightly at some of the food as Loki slowed down, at first seemingly absentmindedly, but then with increased hunger. He studied her figure more closely, and noticed that her clothing fit her ill and her cheekbones stuck out in her pale face. He wondered how long it had been since she'd been properly hungry, and why, but said nothing.

She seemed to feel his eyes on her and looked up, a slice of apple halfway to her mouth. "Who are you?" she asked.

He knew she hadn't simply forgotten his name. She wanted details. He looked up at the ceiling, pretending she wasn't in the room. She was a Midgardian. The last thing he wanted was help from the same kind of person who had so changed his former brother. He should bide his time, heal, and get out. She had admitted she wouldn't stop him, did not care what he had done or what decision he made. The last thing he wanted or needed in his life was anything or anyone who reminded him of Thor and Odin and all that had been taken from him.

In the same instance, he had a feeling that, clever as he was, he might need assistance to navigate this world without drawing attention to himself and to facilitate his return to Asgard. He could use her, a resource and nothing more, and make his triumphant return without the stink of frailty and changeability on him – he was Thor's better, even more than his equal. And he would prove it more ways than one.

But just as he'd resolved to make use of her however he wanted and could, he accidentally caught the corner of her eye with his and felt a tiny flicker of…something pass between them. Something familiar. There was no way for him to put a name to it, but he had a sudden moment of hesitation, a sudden, tiny connection of something deep and dark and painful that made him move her mentally to a category wholly separate from Thor's woman. He still would not be changed by a Midgardian, would not cede his plans, but he sensed perhaps more of a possibility of an alliance here than he had anticipated. He closed his eyes for a moment before formulating and presenting his answer.

"If I inform you of the truth," he said, his voice low and slow. "Do you swear to believe me?"

"Yes."

"Do not merely say so. If you are simply humoring me for the sake of argument—"

"I swear to believe you," she said firmly, unconsciously placing a hand on his wrist to underscore her intent. "A lot of things here don't make sense. And why would you lie? I already told you, I don't care what you've done." Her voice suddenly faltered and it seemed as though she didn't want to speak anymore, as though the words had balled up and caught in her throat. But after several moments, with pain apparent on her face though she struggled mightily to hide it, the words broke free and tumbled quietly into the room. "There is nothing you can do to me that will hurt me, not anymore."

A tense silence hung in the space between them, and neither looked at the other as they processed her admission.

"I am Loki, of Asgard," he stated quietly. "And my burdens may become yours as well."