"No, Thanos, no, please-"
He was pleading, both hands raised defensively, because the Eternal had the wrong man suspended by his energy, the wrong man held, paralyzed, by magical bonds.
"This is the soldier, not the hero- put him down, please-"
His eyes flickered over the bloody lip, the cut on the blonde's cheek, the way his blue eyes looked at him, trusting, accepting, questioning-
"Are you saying I made a mistake? Surely, you would know better than to tell me I am wrong."
Loki swallowed his regret, squeezed his eyes shut briefly because he'd already failed Thanos once. That was why he was back here, stolen from Thor when the God had his back turned. Thanos needed him still, to conquer other galaxies, to take over Asgard when his Chitauri were ready; Loki wanted to fall to his knees, to open his eyes and see the bright shining holding cell he would have awoken to, to kiss the ornate bars and laugh at the high ceiling because at least he was safe from harm-
"No, my Lord, n-not wrong, persay, but your selection was- was"
"This man is a hero, no? I believe you informed me, that this man was a hero."
Loki looked over at Steve, thinking about the soldier, the man who'd been capable of giving him a chance, the one man he'd related to on his forced attack of Midgard. He knew Steve Rogers had never judged, had never hated- if the soldier had known why he had called the invasion, what Thanos had put him through prior to, he was almost certain they would have understood each other, would have enjoyed each other's company-
Or maybe he was delusional, wishing that the soldier would take to him, because then he would be saved, and that was all he wanted, all he wanted was to be saved...
"He is a hero, yes, but he is not Tony Stark. You wanted Tony Stark, you wanted the one who foiled your plans, Steve Rogers is- you cannot-"
"If you stutter any further I will rip out your tongue, Laufeyson."
Loki swallowed, eyes running over the Captain. Steve's chest was heaving, and Loki swore that the blood drenched uniform wasn't simply residual. It was pooling onto the floor, dripping from the toes of his boots, and now he could see a sliver of bone peeking beneath blue fabric and pale skin, a broken rib, no doubt a painful injury that Loki had never wished upon him-
"Thanos, please, My Lord."
Loki flinched when the Eternal took a step in his direction, his jaw clenching as a hand raised to it, touching him in mock intimacy, as if Thanos cared for his fear and his anger.
"I have missed your miserable tone, Loki. The throne has been quiet without your cries to entertain me. Do you remember the way you begged me to stay my hand?"
Thanos' lip was curling at the corner, his eyes were glinting with malice.
"Do you remember the way your tears stung your cheeks as you prayed for my mercy? Let the memory wash over you, yes, let the terror and the pain, feel the hours that dragged on, the days, the heat in your veins, the way that I cut you, maimed you-"
He was leaning in. Loki could see his smile turning to a snarl, feel his fingers falling from the God's jaw so they could point to the soldier-
"Perhaps we should make him writhe as you did, as penance for your mistake. Perhaps his skin will split beneath my torture, perhaps he will scream when I claim him. As you did- as you closed your eyes, as you tried to escape me-"
His chuckle was a dark shiver coursing through Loki's body-
"and as I pulled your broken spirit from its hiding place and carved my brand beneath your skin, I shall do to him. I shall press the flame to him, scorch his mind with the memory of your failure, of your betrayal- and as you did for yourself, you will do for him. When he is repaired- when you have pieced him back together, we can begin again, and at your hand, he will burn..."
Loki was looking at the sky, the stars, trying hard to stay strong, for himself, for Steve. What could he possibly do for them both? It was one or the other, and he couldn't take the punishment, not again, not again, please, please-
"Why should you speak for such pitiful creatures? Have you softened your heart, my pet?" Thanos was asking, and Loki could feel his anger. Loki had failed him, knew he was far from strong enough to fight back when Thanos decided it was his turn-
"Was it your mortal existence? Did you learn something of weakness in that pathetic realm, Godling? Did you learn something of fear?"
Thanos was turning away, and suddenly Loki's breath caught, his lips parting as he struggled to focus on Steve, focus on anything other than the voice that was slithering into the back of his mind, taking up the residence that had created his final, tormented nightmare-
Or did I teach you these things?