And the blood will dry
Underneath my nails
And the wind will rise up
To fill my sails
So you can doubt
And you can hate
But I know
No matter what it takes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
Let the rain
All the pain of yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits
And they've forgiven my mistakes
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Tell the world I'm coming home
"You think you know pain? We will make you long for something as sweet as pain."
He could still feel the rough skinned palm scraping across his sweat drenched flesh. Could still feel the disgusting warmth of rancid breath playing in his ear. Could still smell the foul stench of the beast's breath in his nostrils. Could still taste his own wretched fear, bitter and copper in his mouth.
That memory was by far the most pleasant of his recent encounters with the Chitauri.
His faux-family thought they could keep him safe from them. His adopted brother's sickening naivety as he promised him fair treatment had made him want to vomit even more than the cold metal gag which had been clamped upon him to suppress his silver tongue. His hands had ached to slap the naïve hope from Thor's foolish face, to cut off the string of idiotic words that spouted from his brother's lips, but they too were bound by silver cuffs.
And his allies-turned-enemies fulfilled their promise. The dregs that had survived the battle found him, and all of Asgard could not have stopped them from taking him.
The sky seemed endless as he lay on the cold hard ground, defeated, chained, but not broken. Not yet. He had tried to remain stoic, silent; the trickster's defence. His consciousness kept alive by forces beyond his control in order to witness how his mind and body was slowly and meticulously ripped to pieces and put back together over and over again. He felt his senses stripped and renewed one by one, over and over again, with the achingly slow purpose of the devil.
And when the sky finally cracked his mind splintered; fragments spiralling off into the endless dark cosmos. When it came time to scream his silence turned to laughter, to madness. The darkness took his senses then his mind, clouding the vision of the inner eye and obliterating his psyche. He floated in the black until he lost sense of time and space. It could've been minutes or years, in the timeless void he could no longer tell. His body started to disintegrate and he could no longer tell what was real and what was hallucination. He fancied that he could see straight through his skin, so unsubstantial it was now. He was fading. Lost amongst the stars.
And then his vision filled with blue light.
The colour of destruction. The little blue box with the power to destroy worlds. The sceptre with the power to destroy minds. But this blue was different. A little glowing circle designed to save, not to destroy. A heart. It reverberated through him; a tiny little organ so close to being pierced by shards from an old wound, each beat seeming to pump blood back into his own broken body, bringing him to life. He was swallowed by the blue, pulled beneath the surface of pain into an ocean. But there he could breathe again, each pull of his lungs bringing cathartic saltwater life with it.
Memories swirled like fragments as his consciousness reformed. A portal ripped the sky in two. Blue light. Red and gold metal. A glass cage. Pain. The taste of blood in his teeth. Mouths clashing. Facial hair rough against bare skin. A cold granite tabletop. Pain. The taste of second hand scotch. Breaking glass. Piercing eyes. Cloth ripping beneath his nails. Pleasure. Screaming. Fighting. Fucking. Falling weightless through the endless sky.
His serpent tongue burned as it hissed lies.
"You mean nothing to me. You were naught but a mere passing amusement."
A strong metal hand grasped his and pulled him from perdition.
"I am done with you."
And when he finally opened his eyes, the blue was gone. And he could breathe again.
Here was Earth. He could tell by the air, thick, stifling, and the smell. The human smell. It pressed in around him and as always he worried that it would creep inside his systems and infect him if he lingered here too long.
He was in a bed, completely unclothed but covered by soft white sheets. The feel of the cloth against his skin was pleasant but foreign; it had been a long time since he had been awarded such base comforts. There were still shackles upon his wrists, but these were puny, easily breakable, like the humans that had attempted to bind him to the sides of the bed. Nothing like the heavy contraptions the Chitauri had forced upon him, hooked and bladed and designed to cause pain as much as they were to constrict. The room was pale and clinical; his vision was not yet focused enough to tell if it was supposed to be a hospital or a prison cell. High, frosted windows which offered no promise of a glimpse of freedom and the bareness of the room suggested the latter. Doubtless this was a S.H.I.E.L.D facility. He had been privy to their hospitality before.
Each breath he took through the silly systems of plastic tubes that snaked into his system through nose and mouth was like fire caressing his damaged lungs, the mild temperature of the air too warm for his current state. He did not need to look to know that his skin was blue, eyes red as his Jotun power worked to repair the overwhelming damage that had been caused to his body. Every part of him groaned in protest as he shifted upon the bed, but the constant screaming of his muscles had subsided and for that he was quietly thankful. He must have been lying here awhile, hooked into strange bleeping human machines, for his body to have healed to this extent.
Breaking the weak bonds upon his arms with a lot more effort than it would normally have taken him, he reached up to tug the breathing supports from his throat, feeling the burn as the human apparatus left his system. A harsh series of coughs burst from his damaged lungs and he doubled over in pain upon the bed as his breath left him. The sudden feeling of the silky weight of hair as it fell nearly half way down his back made his stomach tighten further, its length hinting at just how long he had been held a tortured prisoner in that seemingly timeless place.
Despite himself he felt his heart rate increase in his chest at the thought. The machines at his bedside bleeped and protested frantically as he pulled the various needles from his blue tinged arms. The needles left little pinpricks along his veins as they left, decorating his skin alongside fresh scars and wounds which served as a bitter reminder of what he had been forced to endure at the hands of those who were once his allies. The human medicine began pooling on the floor as it now leaked uselessly from the plastic bags that hung by the bed.
"Yeah, that's a real smart idea."
That voice. He'd never forget that voice. The source of all that blue.
He stiffened, not wishing to be seen in such a weakened and vulnerable state by anybody, lest of all him. His red eyes ached to flick to meet with those of the other man, but he fought back the urge. Keeping his gaze firmly fixed upon his punctured forearms he hissed,
The command should've sounded authoritative, but the cracked, broken tone of his voice betrayed how weak he was in his current state.
"Oh, I'm sorry, would you prefer that we had just left you there to die?" Loki didn't have to look to know that the smirk which split Tony Stark's face as he leant casually against the doorframe was fake; his voice told him all he needed to know. The man of iron had never been able to lie to him.
"We?" He enquired, still refusing to meet those accusing brown eyes.
"Don't play stupid, it doesn't suit you." Tony's voice was cold and blunt, but Loki was inclined to agree with that particular statement. Instead he feigned ignorance of his visitor, focusing on attempting to conjure what little magic he could, enough to banish the cold lines and colours from his skin and eyes. He would never truly grow used to this form, the lines upon his skin reminding him of who, of what he really was. He had shown his true self to Tony once before, a moment of weakness, a slipping of the pieces of his armour which had been all too swiftly corrected.
His colours began to change, the blue swirling away like water down a drain.
"You don't have to hide from me." Tony was evidently thinking along the same lines as Loki, but he wasn't trying to hide his feelings, hurt and anger practically dripping from his voice.
Memories of their last encounter reared in Loki's mind like poisonous snakes.
"You mean nothing to me."
He shut his eyes and pushed them away.
As his colours changed he couldn't help but remember their first moments. Atop the tower; in the midst of a great battle. He could've taken Tony right there. Even as the iron man mocked his sceptre's supposed impotence, the temptation swelled within him as he pushed the cocky human against the surface of the bar, spilling scotch and breaking glass. Their first kiss, stolen from Tony's throat as Loki settled for teeth and tongue against the human's skin, threats and promises whispered in the billionaire's ears. He had felt Tony's breath catch in his throat and relished the thought of taking him as a piece of the spoils of war. Shortly before he threw him through a glass window.
He heard Tony move from his position in the doorway but kept his eyes shut, fearing to face all that blue and risk losing himself within it once again.
In the end their positions had been reversed, he the prisoner, the prize. Held by S.H.I.E.L.D while two worlds argued over who he would answer for his crimes to, the iron man had been the only visitor who did not come to bombard him with endless foolish questioning. And always when he left his presence lingered in the faint taste of scotch against the god's lips.
When Loki opened his eyes his skin tone had completely returned to normal. And Tony was there standing at the foot of his bed, his face an unreadable mask.
"How are you feeling?"
Loki fixed him with his best 'you're an idiot' expression. He clenched his teeth, feeling his pained muscles tense and the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as those memories threatened to break through.
"I was taken by the remnants of the Chitauri forces and their masters. I have been imprisoned and tortured in ways that you could not even begin to imagine in a realm where time has no meaning. I have died countless deaths, been torn apart in a thousand different ways and left to drift through space. I have been beyond the boundaries of pain and humiliation because of what you and your worthless ilk did to me. And you, Tony Stark, want to know how I feel?"
There was a heavy looking lamp on the bedside table which found itself propelled towards Tony at a frightening velocity at that moment. It missed him by an inch, the billionaire already well accustomed to Loki's temper tantrums. He had quickly learned that when green sparks started shooting from the god's fingertips it was time to get ready to dodge.
He rolled his eyes theatrically.
"Idiot." Loki hissed, feeling anger and frustration burn cathartically through his veins. He clenched his fists and the bedside table went the way of the lamp, colliding uselessly into the wall beside Tony.
"I. Do. Not. Whine." Each word was spat with hatred and punctuated by another large object hurtling across the room towards Tony. The machines that had been keeping Loki alive while he went through his initial healing processes crashed against the white marble walls and shattered in a shower of green and gold electric sparks. The high windowpanes cracked and shattered across their ledges, raining broken glass down upon Tony; fragments cutting surface wounds across his skin.
From a carefully concealed security camera Nick Fury and Steve Rogers watched the events unfold with matching grim expressions. Steve had been dead against sending Tony in alone, knowing what little he did of their previous encounters from which Loki's animosity towards him had been born, but Fury was insistent. He knew that Tony's ability to provoke even the most stoic of men could be a blessing in disguise. He also knew it was liable to get him killed one day, a risk the S.H.I.E.L.D director was prepared to let the iron man take on this occasion.
Still, all animosity towards Tony aside, he silently hoped that today would not be that day.
Tony breathed heavily as he wiped blood from a shallow cut above his right eye. The tempest in the room had calmed momentarily, it seemed that the sorcerer had run out of things to chuck at him. Hoping that he could remain in the eye of Loki's storm for a little longer, he marched over to the bed, only staggering a little upon slightly unsteady feet. Hot blood dripped down the side of his face but his imperturbable composure still did not break.
"Are you done?"
"What do you want from me?" The broken god's anger was replaced by a heavy sense of weariness as he slumped back down upon the pillows.
"What do I want from you?" Fire flared in Tony's eyes and Loki's head snapped to the side from the force of the punch to his jaw. "I want you to stop lying to me!" The admission was harsher than intended and strangled, Tony's composure had flown and left nothing but pain and anger etched upon his face. That face which was much more tired looking than Loki remembered.
"You would ask for truth from the God of Lies?" He smirked even as a thin line of blood ran from his mouth down his chin.
"I'm not interested in your titles or your heritage or your bullshit plans." Tony growled, his back teeth clenched like an animal. "Never have been."
"Then what, Tony Stark?" Loki hissed low in his throat, still rough and sore from his forcible removal of the breathing tube. "Why are you here?"
"You know the answer to that question." Their faces were dangerously close now, alpha males fighting for dominance over the other through sheer force of expression. Tony's teeth grit in anger as he practically spat out his next sentence. "You always have, so don't you fucking pretend that you don't."
"I told you-" Loki was cut off from reminding Tony exactly what he had told him at their last encounter by the familiar sensation of rough lips meeting his own. Nothing in the touch was soft; it was a gesture of anger and pain and need and it tasted of everything that had passed and would come to pass between the two men.
Behind the security camera Rodgers looked away from the screen, his face flushed in embarrassment. Not that Tony would have given a crap, but Steve was still an old fashioned kind of guy. Fury kept his weathered gaze trained to the screen, unperturbed as he was by such displays of emotion.
Loki felt a rough, wet tongue trace the contours of his lips, and instinctively parted them. He tried to convince himself that had he been at full power and cognitive capacity that he would have pushed the other man from him, but somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that he would always fall before Tony. The weak chink in his armour. He felt the other's tongue entangle with his own and responded in kind, refusing to be dominated no matter how frail he felt. The familiar dance did not slow on account of his infirmities, he gave as good as he got as his sharp teeth nipped at Tony's lower lip, barely shy of breaking the skin. The iron man let a soft noise slip into his mouth and Loki felt the surface of his skin shudder at the sensation that sound produced in the pit of his stomach.
They broke the embrace begrudgingly as they came up for air, the earlier rebuttal of words stolen from Loki's throat and banished from his mind. Tony took his face in his hands and pressed their foreheads together, an embarrassingly intimate and soft gesture that they both knew the god never would have allowed had he been in a stronger state.
"You know," Tony smirked, "for the infamous Liesmith you're actually a pretty shitty liar."
Loki scowled deeply as he moved pale hands to grasp at Tony's wrists, green eyes boring into endless brown. No-one had ever been able to see through him so easily as the iron man had. It was one of the many reasons which had prompted his harsh words the last time they had met.
"You mean nothing to me. You were naught but a mere passing amusement."
The biggest lie he had ever told.
"I am done with you."
The biggest regret that had turned over and over in his mind throughout the endless torture and suffering. When he was ripped to pieces and his mind flew it was Tony he thought of. When the cold metal split his body he remembered passionate bites upon pale skin. When his bones shattered he recalled harsh kisses. When he was allowed respite he was not alone, broken, bruised, bloodied upon the cold ground but lying beneath silk sheets with the man who built the metal suit. The man who ruined his plans and humiliated him. The man who infuriated him and seemed to spend every waking moment looking for new ways in which to do so. The man who, by all accounts and purposes, he should have hated.
But no matter how good he was at it, the God of Lies could never fully deceive himself.
"Release me." He muttered under his breath, words muffled as his face was now buried in Tony's shoulder. His weakened body had crumpled in exhaustion; the only thing stopping him from collapsing forward onto the bed was the solid frame which he was currently pressed up against in a familiar but most undignified manner. Tony laughed, the deep sound vibrating through his chest and into Loki's. Nevertheless, he complied, knowing as he did how humiliating it must be for the prideful god, to be rescued by the enemy, to have his mental and physical energy drained from one mere temper tantrum. And normally he had a lot of those.
The demi-god settled himself back down amongst the pillows with a grace that would have seemed out of place upon any other thin, deathly-pale, scarred man. Loki felt Tony's gaze rest heavy upon him, trying the new marks and lines upon his skin with a troubled expression. He cleared his throat and tried to look unperturbed by the weight of that look.
"So, what will happen now that S.H.I.E.L.D has me?" His lip curled in a clear illustration of his distaste of that notion.
"They don't." Tony replied, a soft expression playing against the corners of his lips.
"They don't?" Loki's brow furrowed in irritable confusion. He despised guessing games, so Tony explained.
"When your brother removed you from Earth you officially became not-their-problem-anymore. It was decided that Asgard would take the position of delivering punishment for your crimes, and from the looks of things…" Tony let his eyes again trace the fresh, raw looking lines upon the previously unblemished canvas of white and felt his stomach twist painfully. "I'd say you've been punished enough already. S.H.I.E.L.D have no right to hold you here, unless of course you give them further recourse to." Tony shot him a very sharp warning look. Loki just smirked slyly and knowingly in response.
Behind the camera Fury matched that smirk with a grim gritting of his teeth. What Tony had failed to mention was that the only reason Loki wasn't neck deep in concrete right now was because the billionaire had threatened not only to remove himself from both the Avengers Initiative and wider S.H.I.E.L.D operations, but also to also disable every piece of their Stark technology, an action which was tantamount to disabling the entire software system, not to mention dealing a serious blow to the Avenger's firepower and tactical operations. Loki's safety was all tied up with Stark's cooperation and, loath though he was to admit it, they needed him.
Tony sat down upon the bed and fixed Loki with a serious look. He placed his hand upon the sorcerer's and Loki sighed softly, allowing the small gesture.
"I'm taking you home." That look, Loki could never quite tell what Tony was thinking, yet another reason he was infuriated by him. He pursed his lips in a gesture which would have looked disapproving if not for the worry lines creasing his pale forehead.
"To return to Asgard would be suicide for me now." The Chitauri had to know that he had escaped, and Asgard was the first place they would look for him.
"No." Tony shook his head. A knowing grin was curling at the corners of his lips, ruining his serious façade. "You're not going back there." He saw a flash of something close to disguised pain in Loki's eyes and squeezed his hand softly, hurriedly adding, "Not for a while at least."
"Then where?" Loki was growing impatient with this guessing game and it showed in his voice. But then Tony smiled, and it reached his eyes. A rare, genuine gesture free from the scorn and playful sarcasm that usually marked their encounters, and when he spoke Loki knew exactly where he meant.
The place where they met man-to-man for the first time, no metal between them. Where they had each felt their own spark. Where each had tried to kiss and kill the other as though part of some warped test. Where they had had always been safe before, freed from S.H.I.E.L.D and their questions and their poking and proddings. The place that Tony had welcomed him into claiming some form of political asylum whilst Fury and Asgard bickered. The place where he had been stripped of his armour, and so much more.
He had cursed Tony for making him so weak, but now he was beginning to realise that not all wounds left scars, and not all weakness was fatal. Loki allowed himself to smile then, the first in a long, long time. A soft, slight expression that seemed almost out of place upon his face. He extended a hand sparking green.
"Well then, what are we waiting for?"
Tony returned the expression as he took his hand, clutched tight as though they were afraid to lose the spaces between each other's fingers again.
Enveloped in green as they were the last thing Loki saw was an enraged Fury entering the room, mouth open in anticipation of some outburst in their direction. Then his attention was taken from him in a harsh kiss and all thoughts of the irate S.H.I.E.L.D director, no matter how amusing, were gone from his mind.
Back in the hospital-cum-prison room Nick Fury kicked a broken down heart monitor and cursed into air still buzzing alive with green and gold sparks.
He knew where they were going, had known what was going to happen as soon as he had heard Tony speak and seen the understanding in Loki's eyes. But all he could do now was hope to whatever god existed higher than Loki that the self-professed billionaire playboy philanthropist could keep the renegade god under control, for now they were both in a place where even he could not touch them.
Tony's self-contained fortress, Stark Tower.