"Damn you," Loki was muttering. "Reckless fool. Imbecile. Did you not see-"
Loki was talking in the fast, low, way that meant he didn't really expect Thor to answer or understand. Which was a relief, because Thor was managing neither. He'd been fighting a moment ago. Hadn't he? His ears seemed to be ringing, and it was difficult to focus.
"Oh, no, I'm the mighty Thor, there isn't an obstacle I can't smash through with my thick head-"
Loki did sound a touch upset. That was worrying. Though Loki seemed often upset of late. Mostly at him, Thor remembered, and frowned a bit. There was something it seemed moderately important to remember. About that, perhaps.
"If you live through this I am going to – no, I won't even kill you, I'll just cripple you for life, maybe then you would use your idiot brain once in a while. That would be a novelty."
Thor searched for and finally found his voice. "Nnnh," he managed. Then, "Loki?" Loki's muttering silenced.
"Don't talk to me," he said, finally, clipped. "I don't want to hear anything you have to say. I don't ever want to hear anything you have to say, but so help me if you talk to me now I will leave you here."
Thor was not sure where 'here' was, but it was probably not pleasant, and he did not really want to be left. His body did not seem to be working quite right, which was more than a little bit disconcerting. But Loki was here. To look after him. Wasn't he? (There was something wrong with that thought, but he couldn't make out what it was.)
He heard Loki sigh. "I can't tell if you're listening or still trying to work out what happened. Dammit, Thor, why did you have to- this is not what I was intending to do with my time!"
Irritated, Thor decided. Loki sounded irritated. And worried? But not angry. It was probably all right, then. Loki would work it out. He could rest.
"Thor? Oh, no, no, don't you dare-"
Loki believed that at its most simplistic, there were two choices in any given situation: the smart choice, and the Thor choice. Very seldom did the two overlap. Very, very seldom. Now was not one of those times.
The smart choice would have been to let Thor die and have one fewer enemy to fight.
The Thor choice was what had him dragging his bleeding, battered, erstwhile not-brother along the streets away from the fighting. The others could handle what he had left of their opponents easily enough (he hoped, it would be terribly pathetic if they could not) but Thor was going to be a bit more trouble.
Of course he was. This was Thor.
"I doubt you even appreciate," Loki said acidly, "What it was that nearly killed you. Elegant. Efficient. I could almost admire the finesse." Thor did not answer him. Thor appeared to be entirely insensate, making his transport all the more difficult. (Loki did not acknowledge the little thrum of worry that vibrated through him.) "You're a trusting idiot," he informed Thor, flatly. "I hope you are suitably humiliated to be rescued by your nemesis, that would be some small recompense for my trouble."
If Thor's friends tracked him down and attempted to kill him in the middle of this, Loki was going to destroy them all, and he wouldn't feel bad about it later. They would catch up, probably sooner than he would like, but if he could at least get through a decent working-
He heard a distant roar and the sound of Stark's thrusters. Loki breathed out sharply and adjusted Thor's arm across his shoulders, glowering sideways at his somewhat-brother. He should have left them more to deal with. In his defense, he had been a little irritated at the time.
Loki turned to face his brother's irate pack of followers, undoubtedly aiming to thwart his nefarious intentions. "Oh," he muttered under his breath, "Bollocks."
Dropping Thor would be wise. Dropping Thor and leaving this place at once would be wiser.
None of these imbeciles would have the faintest idea what to do. Their ignorance could very well end with Thor dead.
And that would be a good thing, wouldn't it? A faintly snide voice in the back of his mind reminded him, but Loki ignored it. Well, if all else failed, Thor would make a more than adequate body shield.
"I really don't have the time for this," Loki said crossly, to Stark, who had, of course, arrived first, though the beast was a short ways behind him. "If you don't want your oaf killed you had best mind me and-" Fast. The beast was fast. "Call off your Hulk." If this ended with him smashed into the concrete-
Fortunately, the beast thundered to a halt. Though it didn't look happy about it. "Okay," said Stark's mechanized voice. "What's the game, Loki? Cause even with a body shield when the others get here I really don't like your odds."
Thor was a dragging weight on his shoulders. This, Loki reminded himself sternly, was why the Thor choice was invariably a bad idea. Loki sneered. "Do you know, I begin to appreciate why Thor enjoys your company so much. You are all as determinedly dense and woefully ignorant-"
He felt Thor's heartbeat, against his shoulder, falter. He cut off, feeling a touch of – he would not call it panic. "Do not get in my way and I will not hurt you. I do not care to trade quips with you just now, Stark."
"What," said the metal man, "You would rather trade quips with the Hulk? Cause he's not nearly such a good quipper."
"I would like," Loki said flatly, "To leave."
"And take the big guy with you? Sorry, not happening. I mean, I get wanting to add kidnapping to your long and illustrious personal resume, but maybe another time would be-"
"I wish," Loki snarled, fast losing patience, and he could hear the others coming now, though he kept his eyes…primarily on the beast. "to get Thor somewhere where I can heal him in peace, you nattering imbecile!"
Oh. Hm. He had not, precisely, intended to admit that. At least the silence was gratifyingly flummoxed. "We can manage-" Stark started to say, and Loki scoffed.
"Do you," he said, acidly, "Have the faintest notion of how to treat a thaumaturgically induced imbalance of energy?" Silence. Loki kept his eyes on the beast, though he almost wished he could see Stark's face. "No, I thought not. Now if you would please, out of my way-"
He heard it just in time and moved to miss the arrow that hissed past his ear close enough to be hot. And there were the rest. Of course. A pleasant irony, wouldn't it be, to have Thor doomed by his shield companions.
"Uh," said Stark, suddenly. "Give me a second, don't go anywhere? I think I'd better have a word with my buddies."
"By all means," Loki said sardonically. "Be my guest. Take your time. There is no rush at all."
Loki could feel Thor's heartbeat waver again against his back. He was sorely tempted to go anywhere, but risking taking Thor as he was along the secret ways would be asking for…death or worse. Quite possibly for them both. And the beast was still watching him like it sorely wanted to put his insides on the outside.
That was fine. The feeling was thoroughly mutual.
He looked back, placidly, and waited. Spun a thin thread between himself and Thor and siphoned some of his own strength into his not-brother's body. Crude, perhaps, but it would do for a bit longer.
So long as Earth's Avengers were not too long about it.
It was Loki again. Murmuring under his breath, still sounding agitated or irritated, but perhaps a little less so.
Something had hit him, he remembered now. Some sort of…spell. Loki. Spell.
The pieces slammed together in one bright moment of clarity. Loki was a danger to Midgard! Loki was –
Did not appear to be trying to kill him. Right now. Thor tried to force his eyes open. He felt so damnably foggy. And his head hurt. The entirety of his body hurt. "Don't try to move," said Loki's voice, sounding cool and detached, almost disinterested. "You are still a thoroughgoing mess. And you had best get better quickly or I will not be able to keep myself from killing every last one of your beloved mortals. They are even more irritating than you."
"Hnnnh?" Thor said, which wasn't exactly what he had meant to say. His mouth did not seem to want to cooperate. Nor did his vision, which was blurry and confusing and made him feel dizzy, so he shut his eyes again.
"Don't bother trying to talk. I still don't want to speak to you."
You are speaking to me, Thor wanted to say, but he really did feel rather awful. He heard a door open somewhere. Loki's hand fell on his shoulder in what seemed an idle gesture. He felt his fingers twitch.
"What do you want now?" The irritability was back. Accompanied by a sort of disdainful weariness. One of his friends, then.
"Are you – is that one of my tablets?"
"It was," said Loki, dispassionately. "I was bored."
"You were bored? What have you been doing?"
"Continue to shout at me," said Loki placidly, and that tone made Thor very nervous, "And I will rip out your tongue at the root. I daresay you will miss it, though perhaps then you might learn the value of silence."
He needed to get up, now, and stop Loki from harming Tony at once. But. He was really very tired, and was not entirely sure that he could raise his arms, let alone the rest of his body, and his head was a muddled mess. What was the matter with him?
"Do you know," said Tony, after a bare moment's quiet, "You threaten a lot more when you're worried."
Loki's fingers dug into Thor's shoulder. Hard enough to almost hurt, but better his shoulder, Thor thought absently, than Tony's throat. "You think yourself amusing?"
"I think myself right. I was watching. You weren't even involved until you swooped in to save big brother's ass and decimated most of the attackers in one royally pissed off boom. What, feeling a little possessive? Brother-killing rights for Loki only?"
"Oh," said Loki, voice suddenly deadly sweet. "You think yourself so observant. Would you like me to tell you what I see in you?" Thor could hear Loki take a sharp breath in.
"Not really," said Tony, and Thor could hear him backing off, though his voice was still perfectly nonchalant.
"You think to shelter behind your quick wit and carelessness as though they will protect you from the fact that no one truly cares for you-"
"Heard that one before, pretty sure I'm not the only one-"
Loki's voice rose a notch. "Surrounded by these paragons of nobility and valor and what do you have?"
"Whatever it is, seems to be doing me fine so far."
"-you will never be good enough. They will never look at you and see anything but-"
"Seriously, are we even talking about me here?"
Thor heard the distinctive thunk of knife into drywall. "The next goes in your eye. If there was something you wanted I recommend you get to it." Loki's voice had gone deadly flat. "I do not, strictly speaking, require you alive. And if I did, certainly not intact."
Momentary silence. Then, grudgingly, Tony said, "Just seeing how you're coming along."
"Fine, thank you." Loki almost bit off the ends of his words. "Now by all means. Scuttle off."
The shuffling of retreating feet. And then, just before the door clicked shut, "You'll want to do some scuttling of yourself once the big guy's up, or somebody's going to get hugged within an inch of his life. Just saying."
Thor was having some difficulty understanding what had just happened. It seemed to have gone so fast. It didn't seem to have been good, but no one appeared to be dead. Loki's worried about you stuck in his brain, and left a peaceable kind of warm feeling under his sternum.
Loki's grip on his shoulder eased up, finally. "As I said," he said after a moment. "Irritating. Now rest, imbecile. And stop fretting. I promise to maim before I kill anyone."
In Loki's voice, that was somehow soothing.
"The next time," Loki said, leaning heavily on the table Thor was sprawled upon and trying to catch his breath, "I attempt to imitate you, I am going to remember this and laugh as you perish. I do so swear."
Whatever particular menace Thor had thrown himself at this week, it at least seemed to have had some notion of what it was doing. Or, had had. Loki could take some small, vicious satisfaction in that. He doubted, even if Earth's Mightiest Heroes had utterly botched things, that there was much left of their little raiding party.
Nonetheless, whatever they had thrown at Thor to knock him down was proving harder to entangle than expected. Fortunately, what he had fear-mistaken for a lapse into a fugue state from which victims of this sort of curse seldom recovered was apparently merely unconsciousness. All the better. Loki did not even want to imagine attempting this sort of delicate work with Thor bellowing and flailing and full of questions he wouldn't understand the answers to-
Of course, Thor's shield companions themselves were also somewhat less than helpful. They hovered. They barged in at inopportune moments. They talked, incessantly. Barton was twitchy, the Widow was cool with a knife's edge just beneath, and the beast had wandered off somewhere, perhaps to shrink back into his man-shape. He remembered something about the man being some sort of healer. Stark…he was increasingly tempted to simply kill Stark for a sense of closure. The man seemed to expect it, after all. It would be terrible to disappoint him.
Rogers was at least largely tolerable, but that also meant he had the sense to keep his distance.
Good for him.
Soon he could be done with this whole mess. Soon he would have Thor well mended and on his feet and be far, far from here beforeThor could make some kind of disgusting occasion of what was a foolish, temporary lapse in judgment.
His head was starting to hurt.
Loki took a step back and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Healing magic was not his forte, and while this was not, strictly speaking, healing, it was near enough that he was embarrasingly rusty. And this sort of working was never easy.
It occurred to him, looking down at Thor, that this was the closest they had been when not fighting in…some time. He looked – but for some dishevelment – no different than he had any time before.
Loki was all too aware of his own changes, suddenly. His right hand worked, open-closed-open, until he realized he was doing it and stopped.
The sooner this was done, the sooner he could set to work on apparently much needed remedial lessons on what one did and did not do, and what was and was not wise, and who was and was not on his side. "Old habits," Loki said peevishly, to Thor, who could not hear him. "Time was – many times – I was the only thing between you and death."
How different, the quiet whisper in the back of his mind, if you had not stood in the way?
How different if you had, and perished?
Loki slammed the lid down on that thought. Not gone, just muffled. Enough. He needed to get this done with right now.Get himself safely far away while he recovered his senses from wherever they had fled. Apparently being in the presence of Thor and his friends made sentimental idiocy catching. A potent weapon indeed.
Somehow he had ended up close to Thor again, one hand brushing hair back from his brow. Loki snatched it away as though he'd been burned, and glowered at Thor. "This is all your bloody fault," he said flatly. "If you would just once look before rushing into something-"
But then, of course, Thor would not be Thor.
And the world, Loki thought spitefully, though with perhaps a disturbing lack of sincerity, would undoubtedly be a better place.
He raised his hands again, let his will focus. Solve this, and leave. Perhaps he could even claim a debt from Thor. Wouldn't that be entertaining. Let him try to squirm his way out of that obligation. That might, at least, be entertaining.
Of course, knowing Thor he would probably leap at the chance to demonstrate his love.
Loki muttered a Flemish obscenity under his breath. A headache was rapidly becoming a certainty.
The first thing he heard and understood clearly was in Loki's voice, heavy with exhaustion. "It is done. You may come and retrieve your oaf. I do not intend to linger."
Thor heard a familiar voice (Steve, Thor thought) start to say, "Thank you for-" only to be cut off. He opened his eyes and found Loki leaning over him. "Brother," he said, before he'd entirely remembered what was going on, "You look terrible."
Which he did. Dark circles around his eyes, which were dull and tired, hair unwashed and unkempt. On Loki, who groomed himself more than a cat, it was startling.
"Why, thank you," Loki said, stepping back, his voice crisp. "I shall be sure to take your criticism under advisement. Now if you would excuse me-" Loki turned in what Thor expected was supposed to be a flourish, and almost fell over. Thor sat up worriedly, and felt a sudden, dizzy headrush. Nevertheless, he felt very well rested. Not wounded at all, though he must have been, Loki never hovered except when…
No, that wasn't right.
"Loki? Are you-"
"Fine," Loki snapped, and Thor had it in the brittle edge of his voice, remembered everything. The attack. Suddenly being felled by some evil curse. And Loki…
Thor sat up straighter. "You saved my life." He did not have all of it. But he was sure of that much.
"Did I? How embarrassing an oversight. I shall have to correct-"
"You healed me."
"I did nothing of the kind." Thor swung his legs over the side of the table and stood. Wobbled for just a moment.
Loki wheeled, and looked at him. Hollow-eyed and raggedly exhausted, expression strangely cornered. "I need you alive so I can destroy you myself," he hissed. "Pray do not make a habit of this sort of thing."
Thor took a step forward and Loki took a step back. He stopped. "Brother," he said, struggling not to wince, "If you would only…"
A knock on the door. He looked over, impatient, and when he looked back Loki was gone. Thor swore under his breath.
And yet nonetheless…
Whatever Loki said, his actions spoke louder. Always had, than the words he chose to use. And Loki had expended no small amount of energy, it was obvious, to keep him alive.
Thor could not quite keep himself from smiling.
Perhaps it was a foolish hope. He would hold to it nonetheless.
With the haphazard and somewhat foolhardy leap he had made away from Thor, Loki was pleasantly surprised to find himself collapsing to the forest floor in Alfheim, shivering and nauseous.
You have been doing a remarkably consistent imitation of an idiot of late, Loki thought, only half amused. Saving Thor's life. Draining his own energy to do so. Fleeing like a child from a conversation with him. Madness.
Would you do differently, if you faced the same choice again?
Loki curled his hands in the dirt at his sides. He knew the answer to that question. If he did not acknowledge it, however, perhaps it need not be true. It would not happen again. He would ensure it.
For the moment, however…he needed rest.
And after…after. Well. He had marked the origin of those creatures. Perhaps they needed a visit. And a reminder of true power.
The corners of his mouth curved, in the beginnings of a very small smile.