Author's Note: Let's not even talk about the chapter delay on this. All right? All right. And let this serve as your notice that it may be a while to the next one, too, because the holiday season is coming up which means I'm writing a bunch of things for other people. And also working on all my other projects. /puts head down on desk.

But at least this time I didn't end on a cliffhanger!

Much thanks to my eternally patient beta zaataronpita; I really don't know how she puts up with me.

Warnings for this chapter for torture and a lot of blood.


He came around with a roaring headache, trying to blink his eyes open only to slam them shut again at the searing light directly in them. There was an ache in his body as well, and Loki wondered for a fraction of a moment if he'd been fool enough to go adventuring with Thor and company, and then to go drinking after. Or perhaps only the drinking; with Thor and the Warriors Three, not to mention Sif, often that was enough for there to be a fight of one kind or another.

That almost pleasant imagining didn't last long.

"Ah, you awake." Rage surged and Loki immediately lunged for his magic, only to slam into the same slippery barrier as before. He could reach a trickle of power, and feel it just out of reach, but more than that- "I was beginning to have some concern that Doom had gone too far."

I will make you suffer in ways you cannot even conceive, Loki started to snarl, and pain spiked suddenly, shooting through his whole face so he would have screamed, if he could have opened his mouth even a fraction. He couldn't. Loki's heart started to pound, his breathing picking up. He could feel metal grinding on bone, locking his jaw closed. No, he thought, with desperate, feverish urgency. No, my voice-

Panic surged, and he shoved it brutally down, forced his eyes to open. Something – metal, bolted down – held his wrists and legs. He could lift his head and turn it, but only fractionally, and there was something around his neck.

A collar, Loki realized. The mortal had put a collar on him.

Fury tinted his sight red, but not red enough that he could not make out Victor Von Doom in his green cloak and metal mask standing not far away. The rage rose up like bile in his throat and hate was like acid in his chest. He could only hope it showed in his eyes.

"You are not," Doom said, "the only mind capable of trickery." Please, spare me, Loki would have said dryly, and could not. Was forced to stare with mute attention at the madman who thought he could chain Loki. (Who had chained, his mind amended. And what can you do about it? Powerless. Helpless. Bound.) "The data you provided in Latveria was sufficient for Doom to enact countermeasures, and Mr. Osborn was quick to suggest appropriate bait."

Loki would have bared his teeth, if he could have. You fool, the hammering of his heart said. You fool, rushing in, reckless, thoughtless. His hands clenched and he strained against the bonds, felt the metal begin to bend and give. Doom watched him through that metal mask (Loki was going to melt it to his face and then rip it away and bask in his screams), and then he was convulsing, muscles spasming wildly outside his control, the pain centered in the collar burning his skin.

He fell limp again, eyes rolling up, breathing hard through his nose. "Your Black Widow was never in danger," Doom said. "I intended…but she was swifter than I expected. The man you killed believed what he told you, and that was enough. I did not wish too much…outside involvement." Loki's stomach churned.

Fool, he thought again, savagely. Idiot. He should have known. But this was what came of worry, this was what came of rushing into battle without caution. He'd let his anger blind him. How very…how very Thor.

And now – and now. He needed to think. Needed to plan. But how… "What are you?" Doom was saying. "Alien, that much is evident. From another dimension, I would guess, of some kind."

Ask me, Loki thought, almost desperately. Ask me, let me speak, give me something to work with, you are curious, ask. The man moved away and Loki closed his eyes, trying to clear his head, consider his options. If he had his voice, or his magic…

He tested the metal again, and this time didn't even start to feel it shift before the pain struck, worse than before. Doom was looking down at him again when it faded, holding a syringe. Loki tensed and tried to pull away (tried automatically to snarl) but the man jabbed it easily into his neck.

I won't kill you, Loki thought savagely. Not for a week, or a month, I will have you screaming for death on your knees before me-

His stomach roiled violently, suddenly, his head fogging and then clearing. It passed quickly, though. "Doom's own invention." Doom sounded pleased. "A blend of mechanics and magic. In tandem with the field generator, they are what is keeping you helpless. You are not my first test subject, but your power is considerably greater than the others…"

Loki's skin crawled. His blood, contaminated. The instrument of containment inside his very body so he couldn't rip it out. It was…clever. In a terrible sort of way.

He'd underestimated this man. Underestimated both of them.

"I had not thought to have such an ideal specimen delivered to my doorstep," Doom said, mildly. "And yet after I was informed of your presence…what should you do but come and knock on my very door?" The man turned and moved away again. Loki tested the barrier between himself and his magic, pushed at it, shoved, to no avail. He felt the collar warm around his neck with the effort, though. Field generator, Doom had said. If he could get rid of that, if he could just…

Loki's fingernails dug into his palms as Doom stabbed a needle into the crook of his elbow, drawing a vial of blood. You dare, you dare touch me like this, you dare think you can study me like some sort of beast-

"Remarkably resilient," Doom said, sounding thoughtful. "Though I suppose a thorough examination of how much must wait." Loki growled, deep in his throat, rage reddening his vision. He couldn't see the expression on Doom's face. I will kill you, he thought, savagely, and wished he could say it. I will make you watch as I feed your entrails to the wolves. "But that doesn't mean I cannot take some tissue samples," Doom went on, and Loki's heart hammered louder as the man stepped back. The whir of the machines started up, a forest of blades moving in to his field of vision.

The one benefit of having his mouth wired shut, Loki thought, was that however many strips of flesh this deranged mortal carved from his body, he would not have the satisfaction of hearing a god scream. He would not, he would not, he would not-

At some point, his endurance gave out and his mind surrendered to unconsciousness.

And when he woke, Doom was there again. His knives and his syringes and his metal mask, eyes bright and eager. Loki needed to think, to plan.

Doom didn't give him time.

Loki had been tortured before, once or twice, when things had gone badly wrong. He had suffered dire injury before as well, and was no stranger to that.

This was different. This was worse.

"Fascinating," Doom said. "Even with near total damage, you are capable of regenerating internal organs. At least two at once. Doom is tempted to find the limits, but as I only have one test subject…" He sounded disappointed. "We shall see how the work on my clones proceeds. Do you happen to know if similar levels of regeneration are possible with total removal of organ tissue?"

Loki's breathing sounded loud and ragged in his own ears. How was he supposed to answer? Did Doom expect him to?

If he could speak, the last thing he would offer would be answers to questions.

"I suppose you cannot answer that. Ah, well. It can wait. But it seems you are precisely what I was looking for." Loki forced his eyes open and glared as ferociously as he could manage at Doom. His eyes felt wild and half mad and he hoped it showed. The man didn't seem affected, though, and simply moved away.

How long had it been? He wondered. Needed to find a way out. There would be one, if he could just think. If he weren't so disgustingly helpless. His heart was beating too hard and too fast. The injections that kept him from his magic came regularly spaced, and throwing himself at the barrier with brute force had accomplished nothing. He had accomplished nothing.

Had anyone noticed that he was gone? Coulson would likely know he'd gone after Romanov. But from there…

He'd told no one his plans. No one knew where he was.

You are on your own, Loki Laufeyson.

He'd been a fool. Such a reckless, careless fool, and this was where it landed him.

Useless. You're useless, pathetic. Why did you ever think it was otherwise? Doom moved away. Again, he tried to free himself, and again, all it got him was pain. He'd had a few moments of hope, at one point, as he realized that he begun to grow accustomed to Doom's little punishments to the degree that he could fight through them, but Doom had noticed before he got very far. He was too attentive, constantly present, and Loki wasn't entirely sure when it was the man himself and when one of his machines. He had to sleep sometimes. Surely.

It didn't seem to matter, though. He was going to die here. Or worse.

Rage seethed inside Loki's chest with nowhere to go but inward, so fierce he thought it might poison his blood. At least Doom had not yet tried again to take over his mind.

Loki's chest shook in a soundless laugh at the bleakness of that thought as the man returned. "It is a pity," Doom said, though his voice was utterly devoid of the emotion, "that we could not be allies. Your power is…impressive. I do not doubt I could do much more if you were willing."

Do you think I would ever lower myself to work alongside a worm like you, Loki wanted to snap, and hoped that his eyes could say it for him. Doom was considering his chest, though, intact now, with a hungry gleam in his eyes that made Loki's stomach knot.

(This is what they think of you. What the mortals see, a tool to be exploited-)

"Ah well," Doom said philosophically. "I shall still benefit. I have already made significant progress on the clones."

Clones? Loki thought, blankly, and then remembered where he'd heard the word before and would have snarled, hissed and howled like a wild animal because he would dare, would have the utter hubris to think that he could copy a god.

He forgot caution and patience and threw himself, body and mind, against his restraints, fighting against the pain, he would not accept this he would never

The utter lack of reaction from Doom's inexpressive metal face chased him into oblivion.

No one is coming for you.

That was the single clearest thought in Loki's mind. His throat was parched. His body felt worn thin with the effort of healing and healing without benefit of enough rest. But he was not, Loki knew, even close to the end of his endurance.

Nonetheless. It had been four or five days, perhaps more, and when he fought he couldn't bend the metal of his bonds even before the onslaught of pain came. His plans kept going in circles that all came back to resources he didn't have.

Doom was going to drain him dry, vivisect his quivering body, and carve out his bones, and that would be his life. Ended at the hands of a petty, foolish, mad mortal sorcerer who lusted for power.

But then, how surprised could he be? All his stories ended this way, of late. Alone.

He wondered if SHIELD had even bothered to look for him. If Romanov, or Barton…perhaps they were just glad to be rid of him. Like as not it had all been pretense, and he'd fallen for that the same as he'd fallen for Osborn and Doom's petty trick, because he'd been so caught up in pretending that he, Loki, could have friends. Could play the hero.

He wanted to laugh, bitter and awful. Doom was rambling again, and he shut that out, trying to let his mind wander. I'll rip your throat out, he thought, and pictured that for a few moments with macabre vividity.

It didn't help much, though.

The thought drifted across Loki's mind that if he still had command of his magic, he could remove the spell woven into his skin that kept him unseen by Asgard's eyes, but it only took him a fraction of a second to remember that they would just leave him here to be butchered like an animal rather than taking the trouble to find another way to travel between realms.

No one is coming for you. The clear and brutal truth. He knew that, but what he held onto was the fury. Just one chance. He knew that chance became slimmer every day as he weakened, severed from himself. Just one chance. As long as I can gut him like a fish, that's all I need. Maybe he'd chosen to die, all those months ago, but not like this.

Loki thought he could hear chaos, somewhere. Some memory of battle. Loki had never liked the particular chaos of the battlefield, but he thought he would take it, now, if it only meant he could fight.

"Keep an eye out. I doubt Doom's really gone. Stark…"

"Working on it. What's this made out of, adamantium?"

Strange. Loki struggled to organize and arrange his thoughts, to make sense of what he was hearing. His eyes dragged open as quickly as he could force them when he puzzled it out.

"Hey, sunshine," said a voice recognizably Stark's through the metal mask covering his face. "If you wanted a second date you could just call." Loki stared blankly at him, uncomprehending.

"Don't be cute, Stark. We're trying to be fast." Romanov. Loki blinked. That didn't seem to make much sense either.

"I can't help it. I'm just automatically cute." Stark's voice was flippant, but Loki could just hear the tension underneath. "Ah, there-" Something brushed against his skin under the cuffs, and Loki flinched, hand clenching. "Easy," Stark said, quickly. "Just about…"

The pieces fell together in his thoughts, finally. Loki realized slowly that Romanov was poking through a drawer in a corner, and Barton was watching the door, an arrow nocked and bow in hand. There was no longer a collar around his neck, and as he put those two things together the band around his right wrist clunked to the table, leaving his arm free.

They came, it registered, in his sluggish mind. They're helping you. And then, in the same breath, he realized that he could move.

Loki surged upward with a snarl, furious and irrational anger rising in his blood like a great wave, but his body was too weak by now, the metal just strong enough. Stark took a sharp step back. "Whoa there," he said. "Are you-"

Loki's free hand went to his mouth. That apparatus he was strong enough to remove. He would have screamed for the pain of tearing metal out of his own bone, but the pounding song of rage was distracting enough that he could shove it aside, spit blood, and snarl, "Get them off." His voice sounded hoarse and awful, grated over his throat.

They were all staring at him. Loki couldn't care. He needed blood on his hands. He needed his hands in Doom's chest, cracking open the red cavity of his rib cage and-

"I think I'm gonna be sick," Barton said. Romanov's expression was tight and furious.

"—give me just a minute," Stark said, sounding a little breathless. "I'll…just do that." Loki tried to slow his breathing, to calm, but his heart was pounding. He was going to destroy, to burn everything into such fine ash that nothing would grow here, scour this whole realm clean-

(No. Just Doom. Just him.)

Romanov was there, suddenly. "Breathe," she said, her voice firm and brooking no argument. "Slowly. If you hyperventilate you'll just pass out again."

You came, Loki wanted to say, for a moment, but he couldn't think about that right now. Couldn't think about anything than the need to hurt someone. "Will he, though?" Barton sounded distinctly unnerved. "Cause as far as, uh, durability goes…"

"I am going to tear him apart," Loki said. He could hear his own voice, eerily calm next to the vibration of his body. "I am going to rip his limbs off and feed them to him-"

"I have a feeling he means that in a terrifyingly literal way," Stark said. Loki reached for his magic – if he could just touch his magic – but it was still beyond his reach. The band around his other wrist fell away, and Stark moved to his ankles.

"Let's get out of here, first," Romanov said, terse, her body wound like a crossbow. "Are you going to be able to stand?"

"Yes," he said. His throat would hurt later for speaking, but for now all he could feel was a removed, dull ache. One of his ankles was free, and the moment Stark's weapons sliced through the other, Loki moved quickly to his feet, and promptly almost fell over, only catching himself on the table.

"Are you sure you're good to go?" Stark said. Did he sound…worried? Loki dismissed that thought as irrelevant and took a few deep breaths until he felt a little steadier. But in order to really heal – in order to fight – he needed his magic, and the things keeping it from him were in his blood. Inside him.

"Give me a knife," Loki said, flatly. He felt – weak. Hatefully weak, and he could feel his own protection runes inscribed on ribs, ankle, and the inside of one thigh fighting now that the collar was gone, but sluggishly, weakly. He needed to help it along. Romanov was the first to pull one free and hold it out. Loki took it, flipped the blade, and gashed open his forearm from wrist to elbow.

"Hey, what-" Barton said sharply, and Loki gritted his teeth, locking his knees to keep himself upright. "It's fine," he growled. "I know what I'm doing." Th- some would have killed him for using this trick, risky as it was, but he would not be helpless, and he needed to have his magic back, needed to hold it and use his birthright, reassure himself that it was still his.

His blood drained, and each heartbeat pumped some of the machines out with it, at least until the wound healed. It wasn't enough. He raised the knife to repeat the motion and Romanov caught his wrist.

"Can you wait to bleed yourself dry until we're out of here?"

He snarled at her before thinking, but she didn't back off. His thought were fragmented, confused, and he tried to gather them. "Or maybe not at all?" Stark's voice, filtered through a machine, said too lightly. "At least not with me around."

Out, he registered. Yes. He still felt weak, dizzy, unsteady. Fighting his own body. "Fine," he said, at length. "Fine. Where is-"

Romanov's expression was carefully blank. "Gone," she said, knowing what he meant to ask. His lips peeled back from his teeth and he took a step forward, only to sway dangerously, his head suddenly spinning. Stark's metal arms caught him, and for a furious second he thought he was going to lose control at the vivid flash of bound metal machinery don't touch me and just managed to keep himself to simply pulling away.

"Let's go," Barton said, terse and to the point. He caught a glance exchanged between the archer and Romanov, but couldn't read it.

He followed them, limping just slightly. It felt like someone had reached inside him and muddled with his entrails – which he supposed someone had. He would heal, though. He would heal and he would grind Doom into less than nothing for this-

How long had it been since the last injection, he wondered. How long would it take for him to get his magic back fully – if he did. He could feel it there, just beyond his reach, but it barely responded weakly to his summons, like an old hound with no energy left. Panic fluttered in his chest and he shoved it down, kept moving, trying to keep his pace steady. He could feel their eyes on him and wasn't sure what to think.

They made it the rest of the way out of his prison without a fight. When they were out, and Loki turned to look back, it seemed…small. Harmless and unremarkable, just a grey building in a wooded area. Rage was still seething in his blood, mingled with intruding pain and bone-deep exhaustion.

And Doom had slipped away. Doom had taken him and held him and carved secrets from his body, made a mockery of everything that he was, and he had slipped away.

Loki swayed, and caught himself against a tree, breathing hard. Romanov and Barton were both watching him. Stark glanced at him and then looked away, too quickly, and Loki felt that he ought to care more than he did. Right now…all he could hold onto was the anger.

"Okay," Stark said, his voice metallic through the interface of the suit. "I'm calling it in. We're done here, I think-"

"No," Loki rasped, surprising himself. He straightened and pushed off from the tree, taking two steps back toward the place that had held him, that had seen him bleed. He couldn't make Doom pay just now. But he could… "Not yet."

He was still holding the knife he'd taken from Romanov. He used it again, opened his veins and let blood run out. Someone grabbed the knife from him and was trying to stop the bleeding, but he pulled his arm away and let himself bleed until he was dizzy, drunk, head reeling, and the barrier that had kept him from his birthright slipped away at last.

Loki staggered, heard Barton swear, someone trying to pull him down to the ground.

He called on his magic and finally, finally it answered. Loki felt it flow into him, searing away the last of the poisonous machines in his bloodstream. He let it fill him until it almost ached to hold, drew deep on his well of power supplemented by rage and reached out.

You slipped away from me here. But I will hunt you. I will destroy you, Victor Von Doom. And I will laugh as you choke on your last breaths.

He contained the explosion. It was the most he could do to hold back the rage that boiled up inside him.

The magic left him all at once as his hold on it slipped, and he swayed, opening his eyes. The building where he had been held was gone, nothing left of it but a crater in the ground. Obliterated, with everything in it.

He felt just a little bit cleaner.

Consciousness was slipping rapidly through Loki's fingers. He'd used up too much energy too fast. He smiled at the destruction, though, relieved that that he'd managed to see to that before surrendering.

"There," he said, swaying. "Now we're done."

"Holy shit," he heard Stark say, and let go as his knees surrendered. The anger was ebbing away, and in its place was confusion, and a strange, slightly warm feeling.

They came for me, he thought, and held onto that.

Interlude (XX)

Loki woke up, ate a little bit of the hot broth that he was offered, felt nauseous, rolled over, and went back to sleep. This pattern largely repeated for what felt like eternity, interspersed with vague memories of half coherent conversations and terrifying dreams strongly featuring Heimdall with enormous eyes staring at him as he screamed. He could hear Thor yelling his name somewhere just beyond reach, but Loki knew he wouldn't come in time. He remembered vaguely insisting with determination to a woman he didn't know that he could not be sick, that gods did not get sick, but then again he wasn't a god, he wasn't anything, and she had just nodded along and then stuck something under his tongue that he did his best to spit out.

He didn't know how long it had been when he finally crawled out of the pit of sickness and came back to himself with any clarity, only slowly becoming aware that he was tangled up in a nest of blankets in a bed that was not his own.

Loki disentangled himself slowly, and dragged himself out of the bed to find that he was wearing a pair of sweat pants that he didn't remember owning and a decidedly oversized shirt that he'd certainly never purchased. The floor was cold, and he padded over to the closed door, opening it cautiously.

Andrea was standing there, one of her hands raised as though to knock. Loki stared at her for a moment, and then felt a slow flush begin to creep over his face as he made since of the fragments he remembered.

"You're awake," she said, blandly. Loki summoned a sheepish smile. It wasn't hard.

"I…yes. I feel much better."

"Glad to hear it," she said, still neutrally. Loki began to have an unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"I am terribly sorry to have imposed…"

She shrugged. "Someone would think you'd never had the flu before. It's fine. I couldn't very well send you home when you were too delirious to tell me where it was."

"Ah." Loki looked down. "I have always…someone used to say that I never did anything by halves, including sickness." It was…worrying, though. He would have to be more careful. "How long has it…been?"

"Just about three days," she said, and Loki stiffened.

"Three-" he swore. His payment on the hotel room had been due two days ago. His belongings – such as they were… "I need to pay for my room-"

"Your room?" Andrea asked. Her eyes narrowed a fraction.

"In the motel," he said, before thinking about it, and her eyes narrowed a little more. "—just for the moment," he added. "I wasn't planning on-"

He saw the moment Andrea came to a decision, and his heart sank. "I know the proprietor," she said, easily. "I'll talk to him about the circumstances, I'm sure he'll understand a slight delay, and I'll make sure to get all your things. Carl mentioned you were a teacher, didn't he?"

Loki opened his mouth, but wasn't entirely certain what he planned to say, and Andrea steamrollered over him anyway. "Well, I can't pay much for your help tutoring him, but it would be board, and not in a sleazy motel. I'd throw in food, too; I make enough for three." Loki wasn't certain what to feel, except that he was fairly certain he was being mothered. Him.

"You know nothing about me," Loki said, a little weakly. This was what he needed – more or less. What he'd been looking for.

"Maybe not," Andrea said after a moment, "but I've got good instincts, and I don't think you're a bad kid." She eyed him. "And it just doesn't feel right turning you out on the streets looking like a Halloween skeleton." Andrea turned around. "You sit down and rest a little more. I'll go get your things."

Loki stared at her back. Just before the door closed, he managed to find the words to say, "Thank you."

She paused. "You're welcome."

Loki cleared his throat, and added, "This bed…"

"You're not taking anyone's," Andrea said, her voice changing tone slightly. "It's my older boy's. He…died. A couple years back." Loki's thoughts went blank.

He summoned, finally, a weak and thoroughly inadequate, "I'm sorry." Andrea's shoulders drew up, and then dropped down.

"Wasn't your fault, was it?" she said, after a moment, and then shut the door quietly, leaving Loki looking at the blank wood with his thoughts a vague swirl.