All right, everybody, on to the next chapter. Don't really have much to say here, so we'll get straight to it.
Thanks, as always, for all the support!
Tony had to leave his hospital room the next day. He wasn't sick enough to stay any longer, so found himself in the waiting room. Loki had been moved from the ICU, which could only be due to his magic becoming unblocked. The doctors were amazed at his recovery.
His physical recovery, that is.
"He won't sleep," he was told. "We've maxed out how much morphine we could give him. He's not in quite as much pain as before. He just can't sleep. He needs his rest."
They needed some time to get him set up and comfortable.
So, he waited.
Thor had gone somewhere within the building to get them some food. Tony asked if he was going to wait to check on Loki first.
Surprisingly, he'd said no.
He watched the clock, deep in thought, until a nurse came to lead him to his room. Arriving, he softly knocked on the door and poked his head in.
"Hey, Rudolph. Can I come in?"
"Sure," he sounded worn.
Tony maneuvered inside. He stepped around the bed and took a seat. Loki's breathing mask had been replaced. He was stuck with a plastic strap around his head and two prongs shoved up his nostrils. Wriggling his nose was becoming sort of a tick, now.
"Why are you...wearing that?" Loki pointed to Tony's face.
"What, this?" Tony pointed at the medical mask covering his nose and mouth. "I'm still sick. Doctors didn't want me breathing germs all over you, with the state you're in."
"Well, that ship...has sailed."
"Heh, yeah. Uh, listen, I won't keep you long. I wanted to see how you were doing."
Loki spread his arms.
"You see me. Ow."
He pulled his arms back.
"Be still. You had a pretty rough time, yesterday."
Tony paused, uncomfortably rubbing the back of his neck.
What was he supposed to say?
"So...what, are you...here just to...stare at me?"
"No. No. Um, just, how are you feeling?"
Loki looked at him through half lidded eyes.
"Yeah, I know it's a stupid question. But how good or bad is it?"
"As bad...as it looks."
"Then I really feel for you. Maybe next time you'll stick with me."
"Yeah...stick with you...and your new...best friend. Not a chance."
"He just wants to help."
"By putting me...in another cage? Like an...animal? Yes, that is...really helpful."
"I mean, that powder stuff. It's supposed to help with the pain. If I were you, you couldn't keep me from the stuff."
"Well, you're not...me."
"No, but I think it would be best for everyone if you forgave him for like, two minutes. So you can feel better."
"Stop talking...about it, Stark."
"I said...stop talking...about...it."
He put his hand over his eyes. Sucked in a few pained breaths.
"Okay, okay. Calm down."
"That bastard...put a spell...a postion...on me. That Asgardian bastard."
"His name...was Norr. I knew...Innokenti was working...with someone."
"Someone who knows magic. That makes sense."
"He put something...in my eye. I don't know...what. The healers think...I'm crazy."
"That's kind of strange. Did they not check it?"
"What do you think it was?"
"If it wasn't for him...Innokenti wouldn't...he wouldn't have..."
He rubbed his temples.
Don't think about it.
Don't think about it.
Tony lightly patted him on the shoulder.
"Why didn't you...just let me die?"
"Now, you know I wouldn't do that."
"I kept you...from your family...I'm a compulsive...liar."
"Right. I know. And I'm going to worry about that later."
"Worry about it...now. If you're mad...be mad. Stop treating me...like a victim."
He stopped and sighed.
"You...need help, more than anything. It won't kill you to accept it. In fact, the opposite would most likely be true."
"I swear...if you bring...up Thor again..."
The very mention of his name brought forth a wave of emotions. Of rage and despair and the need to kill something.
He dug his fingernails into his forehead.
"Hey, take it easy."
"No. I can't..."
"I know. I know that you've been through a lot. More than I have. I don't think I would be able to handle going through some of the things you've experienced. But you need to trust me."
Loki didn't move his hand.
He didn't answer him.
"You'll be okay. I know you will be."
"What do you...mean, you don't think you...could handle what...I've been through?"
He slowly uncovered his good eye to stare squarely at Tony.
"Uh...yeah. I mean, with them literally sucking the life out of you. That, well, it isn't doing you any favors. It must have really hurt. Of course it hurt. I saw it happen."
His explanation did nothing to help him. Loki didn't believe a word from his mouth. He searched his face, then wrinkled his nose.
"You know," he snarled.
"What happened to me in...the shed. All of what...happened there. Who told...you?"
"No one. I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't lie to me!"
"Is everything okay in here?" a nurse opened the door.
She nodded and closed it back.
"Loki, you need to calm down."
"Don't tell me...to calm down. I'm no fool...Stark. I'd appreciate it...if you didn't treat me as one."
"Okay! I'm sorry. I know that he raped you. The doctor told me. Innokenti told me what he was doing to you a long time ago. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
Loki glowered in his direction. His hand was balled into a fist. He grabbed a water jug from the side table and threw it at him.
Loki folded his arms over his chest. He wanted to run away and hide. But since he couldn't, he turned his head, so he atleast wouldn't have to look at Tony.
"I didn't want...anyone to know."
"Yeah. I figured you didn't."
He quietly leaned over to pick the jug off of the floor and put it back on the table.
"That man plays dirty. He doesn't fight fair."
"Don't say that."
"I am...nothing. I was once...a warrior. Nowhere near the strength of...Thor, but I...would have never been subdued...by a human. Now...look at me. I can't even...hold my own. I'm weak and...pathetic. An...embarrassment."
"You're sick. If you were healthy, this wouldn't have happened. It's not your fault."
"I wasn't always...sick. He...they tricked me. They tricked me."
Tony rubbed his arm, gently, so he wouldn't aggravate one of his wounds. Loki pushed his hand away.
"Stop petting me...I'm not a puppy."
"And stop saying...sorry for everything. It won't help...treating me like...I'm delicate."
"Okay. I'm sor...okay. That was the last time."
Loki shook his head.
"This is exactly...why I didn't...want anyone to...know."
Tony ran his hand through his hair.
"I'm not good at this kind of thing. This serious talk. My girlfriend could tell you that. And yes, I'm going to say it, I'm sorry. But I want you to be okay. No one should have to experience this. No one."
Loki covered his eyes again. Even the sore one.
"Does Thor know?" he asked.
"No. I don't think so."
"Don't tell...him. Please?"
"I promise. That's for you to decide."
"Let me guess...you think I...should tell him...don't you?"
Loki shook his head. Tony didn't push him.
Loki could practically feel Tony staring at him. He hated it. He hated what he had turned into.
"Loki...are you crying?"
Tony gingerly tugged his wrist, uncovering his face. His eye was red and tears sat at the edge of his lashes.
"Hey, hey, it's okay. Everything will be okay. You'll see."
"No...nothing will ever...be okay...again."
"Stop that. You are not going to give up like that. Look at me."
He took both hands in his. Loki didn't even try to pull away, this time.
"I know this hurts. A lot. But if you give up on yourself like that, he wins. That is what he wants you to do. That's why he did it. What would make that psychopath feel greater than to bring down someone as powerful as you? Well, let me tell you something, he's not going to get that satisfaction, because you are stronger than that."
Loki averted his eye, not really listening to his words. Tony put his hand on his cheek, trying to direct his attention back to him.
"I will help you, okay? I'll do what I can to help you."
"Despite...what I've done? You should...want me to...die."
"Yes, despite what you've done. Not many people get a second chance to make things right."
A second chance to make things right.
Loki was starting to worry that Tony had a little too much faith in him.
He didn't want to make things right, he wanted to crawl into a dark corner. He wanted to curl up and let his very being rot away.
Instead, he could only lie there, shaking from holding the tears back. Pushing the pain away. Trying to keep the memories from overwhelming him.
It was exhausting.
"Breathe," Tony said. "Just breathe."
That simple, huh?
"I'm...tired," he later said.
"I know. Do you need anything?"
Loki took a deep breath and thought. Well, besides a complete mental overhaul...
"I...I hate these...papery hospital clothes. If you could...find some pajamas."
"Okay. I'll leave you alone, so you can get some rest."
Loki nodded. Though, he doubted he'd be able to rest at all.
His healing was sluggish, since his magic had been messed with. He should be mostly better within a day or two. But the agony was brutal, still.
He got Tony's attention. He was close to the door.
"What is it?"
"Um...perhaps if you...were to bring that healing powder here..."
Tony raised an eyebrow.
"Just make it...seem as though...you had to...force me."
"Right. Painkillers and pajamas. Got it."
Loki gave a ghost of a smile, which Tony returned.
"Are they still here?" Mia grumbled.
"Yeah," Roberto peeked between the blinds. "I mean, you didn't really believe you could just walk out of there home free, did you?"
Mia shoved some more of her clothes into the suitcase.
"You better do something, Mia. I don't want to see the Hulk coming after us."
She grumbled while going around the bedroom to see if she had left something behind.
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want to know what's going on."
"Oh, don't you start this, too."
"If you are innocent, you need to talk to them. Now. I'm tired of your temper tantrums getting us into more trouble."
"My temper tantrums? They're making me out to be the bad guy! All I've ever wanted to do, was help people!"
"Then, tell them! Calmly, so you don't end up in jail."
She paused in her frantic packing. Her head was down.
"If I end up in jail..."
They would take her baby away.
"Mia, I want you to be honest with me. Did you or did you not work with Loki?"
She rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"My intentions were good."
"Are you serious? They were right?"
"Shush! I did this to try to provide people with more options for clean energy. He had his magical stuff and it worked. Sort of."
"Do you realize that he is a war criminal?"
"Yeah, I know. Why do you think I'm trying to keep this quiet?"
"You obviously didn't do that great of a job, because they're after you for that very reason."
"Help me to carry this out."
"They're probably going to arrest you."
"Are you going to carry this or not?"
He set his jaw and grabbed the suitcases. Then, followed her to the front of the house.
Mia took a deep breath and stepped outside.
"We didn't finish with our interview, Ms. Adessi," the agent said.
"We didn't exactly get off on the right foot," she answered.
"I would rather not have to do this the hard way. But we've always been able to get the information we needed. You can choose to come with us. However, if you decide to still go back home, we will have to take you by force."
"I already gave you the information you needed. I don't even know Loki. Not personally."
"Mia, you should listen to him," Bruce said. "And I think you know why."
She wrung her hands around her sweater. Looking at the ground.
"I believe this is an incredible waste of time, but okay. Fine. Search my company, search my house, search this house, even."
Mia slipped into the S.H.I.E.L.D. car.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" Roberto asked.
"Put it back inside. I'll be back here later."
And he grumbled all the way there.
Mia twisted around to face Bruce.
"But, if you want my full cooperation, I'd like to talk to Tony. I want to know where all of this is coming from. And why."
"Did he speak with you?" Thor asked as soon as Tony returned.
Thor tossed him a sandwich wrapped in foil.
"How is he?"
"Hurting. Tired. But, better than yesterday, physically."
"Well, he's been better. Why don't you see him?"
"You saw how he reacted to my presence before we arrived. Besides, I've already seen him."
"You did? When?"
"Yesterday. He was not very happy about it."
"Oh. Yeah. Probably the trauma."
"You were in there for a while. He wasn't too traumatized to speak to you."
"He's been in there for a day. I bet it's because I waited to visit him. Maybe if you tried again? Convince him to talk through a few things?"
One thing, in particular.
"Perhaps. But if he were to lash out, he may hurt himself further."
Boy, these were the most stubborn men he'd ever met. If only Loki knew how much he had in common with his brother.
"By the way, do you know anyone named Norr?"
"Loki was going on about an Asgardian named Norr. He thinks Innokenti was working for him. Said he put something in his eye."
"What would he put in his eye?"
"I have no idea."
"An Asgardian. That would make a lot of sense."
"That's what I said."
"Did he say what he looked like?"
"No. Only that he put a spell on him that made him really weak."
"So that's how they caught him."
He looked him over. Thor was keeping whatever he was feeling very close to the vest.
"The Captain is going to come by," he said, suddenly. "He should be here soon. Then, we can figure out what we're going to do about this."
"Good. I missed the old guy."
"I'm sure he missed you jesting at his age."
"And Bruce? Clint? Rhodey?"
"Still taking care of the Mia situation. Keeping Ms. Cresinger from Innokenti's men."
"Mandy? Oh, great. He found out about her, too? There's one more thing to worry about."
"She's with S.H.I.E.L.D. and will be fine."
"I'm sure she's thrilled about that," he muttered.
"Nothing. Hey, um, how about we switch," Tony held out the sandwich. "This for that healing powder."
"Loki wants it?" he was surprised.
"I have no idea. Thought I could sprinkle it on him while he's asleep."
"Good luck with that."
He handed over the vial.
"And one more thing. Could you call Stevie back and ask him to bring my credit card and cell phone? You guys did rescue my things from the hotel, didn't you?"
"No, we left everything there to be auctioned off for the hotel's profit."
He held his hands out in front of him. The tubed needles tugged at his skin. The goldish energy moved through him like molasses, but it didn't cause the bleeding in his nose or make him feel like passing out. Not more than he already felt. The light illuminated his hands. An image flickered. He put his hands down. His arms were like weights. Any movement set his core on fire.
This was petty, yes. But he had to see. A simple trip to the bathroom for a look in the mirror wasn't so simple.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Wiggle his nose against the prongs in his nostrils.
Loki once more, lifted his hands. He was able to conjure up a reflection. Light, but there.
And Tony was right. He looked terrible. He examined the cuts all over his face. A bruise on his jaw. That ugly, itchy bandage covering his eye.
He allowed the image to disappear. His magic went back to the full time job of healing his broken body.
He didn't put his focus on Tony. The reflection of his own face stayed in his mind's eye.
"I got something for you."
"That was fast."
"He's just in the waiting room. It's not like I had to drive to get there. Now, how is this going to work? You're a bit mummified, at the moment."
"You know how to wrap...bandages, yes?"
"I know that your doctor is going to be pissed, if he catches you unwrapping them."
Too late. Loki had already gone to work.
"Hey, careful with that," Tony went to him, putting the vial on the table. "Those are holding your ribs together."
"I've been trying...to heal myself all day. There's more than...this cloth holding...my ribs together."
Tony growled in frustration. He grabbed the ends and held them tight.
"Ow, that hurts!"
"Then, be still. Just unwrap where there are open wounds."
"Let go of that end...and I will."
Tony did as he was asked. Loki slowly, excruciatingly sat up, grinding his teeth. Then, took the bandage and began to unravel it. He removed the padding, which was pressed against the gashes in his belly. They were held together with stitching, like that of a tattered doll.
Human healers. Oh what joy.
No wonder he was still in so much agony.
"It comes as...no surprise that your lifespans...are so short. What with these...primative healing techniques."
"We're getting better as time passes."
Loki reached for the vial. Tony got it, instead. He opened it and poured some of the contents in his hand. Loki cautiously put it on the angry red marks across his stomach. He hissed when it made contact, but pushed through as the white powder sat in its place. Minutes passed and the wound's bite dissolved into a slight sting. From a sting to a cool numbness. He smothered the rest of the cuts on his stomach and, with the help of Tony, rewrapped the bandages. They continued the process, until all of the areas causing him such trouble were covered.
"Great. See?" Tony ruffled his hair. "Now, was that so bad?"
Loki rolled his eye.
"I still can't sleep," he said, quietly.
"It's the memories, huh? That's always the worst part. Living with it."
Loki patted his hair down. Trying to hide the fact that he was trembling.
"Please, Stark. I don't want...to talk about this, anymore."
But he could tell by Loki's expression that he wasn't.
"Hey," Tony said. "Want to know how we got you in here without anyone trying to kill you? You know, how we tricked everyone here?"
That caused his ears to perk up.
"We made up this whole story and these new identities. You and I were brothers who grew up in one of those religious groups that doesn't believe in getting help from a doctor. I couldn't believe he bought it. But, I guess I'm pretty good at selling things. Doesn't hurt that we both have dark hair."
"What does the...religious group have...to do with...anything?"
"You don't have anything on file. I had to come up with a reason why."
"I suppose that was pretty...good for an amateur. I actually wouldn't...mind having you as a...brother."
Tony raised both eyebrows.
"Wow. That was probably the sweetest thing I've heard you say. Ever."
"You're turning red."
"I am not," he rubbed his cheeks.
They didn't exactly grant her wish to talk to Tony. Considering she had run away, she was basically under house arrest, until they could look through her things.
But, what would they find? She wasn't stupid. Mia had gotten rid of what evidence she could a long time ago. Jameson would stick to the story that the machine was for medical research.
She just hoped there was nothing she had left out. S.H.I.E.L.D. was extremely thorough.
Wasting time on the internet was all she could really do, at the moment. Cabin fever was setting in. There were a few things she wanted to look up. One of those things being baby names. However, they were probably spying on her computer, too. They didn't need to know about her child. Especially not since she was suspected to be a part of this crime.
Loki should have kept his mouth shut.
Of course, he had no reason to. They weren't exactly on the best terms.
No, there was only one thing that would get him back on her side. And she wasn't even sure he would want it. Or if she even wanted him to want it.
Mia looked down at her belly. Pulling her thick sweater tightly around it. Still, barely showing. Though, she could tell it was growing.
She hunched back over, sitting against the pillows on the bed. Feeling nauseated. Which could have been due to morning sickness, stress, or both.
"I'm sorry, little one," she said. "I've really made a mess for you, haven't I?"
Oh, if only she could think of a way out of this.
Maybe she should tell Loki. If that was even possible, considering all of this scrutiny.
Mia shut her laptop and left the bedroom.
"Is he okay?" she asked Bruce.
"Tony. I heard you say he was in the hospital."
"Oh. Yeah, he's okay."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"You're not the only one."
She lingered in his space. Trying to get a feel of the situation.
"Is something wrong?" he finally asked.
"I'm not feeling that great."
"Not an emergency, but I'm a little worried about 'Snow'."
"Do you want to get everything checked out?"
"Is that allowed?" she scoffed.
"We'll have to come with you."
"Fine. I don't care."
"This isn't personal, you know."
"I know. You're just doing your job."
"Hey, old man."
Tony opened one eye. Dozing in the waiting room.
"Well, if it isn't Stevie Wonder."
He gave his friend a tight hug.
"It's been a while," Steve said.
"You're telling me. It wasn't so cold last time I was running free."
"You've been gone for a few months."
"That's it? Feels like it was longer than that."
"Yeah, it does. I really missed you."
"Everyone is gushing over me today. I feel so special."
"Here," he handed over Tony's phone and card.
"Thanks. I was planning to go out for a bit. Want to come?"
"You're still sick."
"It's not that bad."
"What's so important that you need to get now? I could have brought it for you."
"Um, a thing. For someone."
"Yeah, that's helpful, Tony. What kind of thing for someone?"
"Pajamas. And some other things. Chocolates. Alcohol. The kind of things that make you feel better, when you're down."
"Sounds like a get well gift."
"Yeah. See? Now, you're catching on. So, let's get out of here. This hospital is depressing."
"This wouldn't happen to be for Loki, would it?"
"Come on. Who else would it be for? The only other person who would need a get well gift is you."
"Okay, you got me. Now let's go! Hurry, before Mother Thor comes back and kicks my butt for daring to stand."
"And he should! Sick is sick."
"Uuugh, I swear, you people. Why don't you stick me in a Fed Ex box full of styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap?"
"Why are you buying presents for Loki, anyway?"
"He got kicked around pretty badly. If you saw him, you'd feel sorry for him, too."
"As sorry as he felt for the people he hurt and killed."
Yeah. There was that.
"He saved my life, Steve."
"Why? What ulterior motive did he have?"
My arc reactor.
The hope of escape.
But still, things were different.
He was different.
"I know this doesn't exactly look good. But things happened. Bad things. And I think it kind of threw everything in perspective for him. I mean, I'm not buying him explosives or anything."
"Tony..." he put his hand over his forehead.
"What? Look, I'm going anyway. Might as well come along."
"The only reason I am is to keep an eye on you."
"That's okay. You don't have to agree with what I do. Besides, it won't take long."