A Web of Words - Chapter 14
Tony spent most of that day sorting through crates of equipment. The things Heriot wanted them to build were ridiculous, the kind of weapons that could quite easily be used to rip holes in the fabric of reality, and Tony knew he should really have been freaking out more about being in the hands of torturers and lunatics, about SHIELD apparently being full of double agents, but no. All he could think was holy shit, this guy fucking redefines “megalomaniac”. The level of sheer insanity - because this guy thought he could just tear the universe open and make an army out of whatever appeared - was almost funny, in a fucking frightening way.
The guards watched them constantly, which made communication damn well impossible. Tony had managed to speak to Loki just once, a rushed whisper - look for transistors, let me sort the weapons - but even that had earned him a shifty look from Heriot’s double agents, so for the most part, they worked in silence.
Still, he was fairly sure he and Loki could have managed to escape, given time. Hell, between them they probably possessed enough IQ points to blow Einstein out of the water, and Heriot had very kindly supplied them with an entire lab full of the kind of equipment that you needed to build weapons. So yeah, call him overconfident, but Tony was pretty sure they could’ve done it.
After six hours or so of sorting through blueprints and tools and half-built machines (and hey, they might have been in mortal peril, but by that point Tony was starting to get kind bored), they were escorted back to their cell.
They came to a halt, and he heard the door grating shut behind them, but the guards didn’t let go of his arms. In fact, if anything, they held on tighter, one on each side, both of them pinning his arms behind his back.
When the sack was yanked off his head, he saw that Loki was standing against the cell’s opposite wall, similarly immobilised. Heriot was standing between them, a piece of paper in his hand.
For some reason, the look on his face made something cold pool in the pit of Tony’s stomach.
“‘We’d better be damn careful with all these weapons. They could do all sorts of things. They could backfire, or malfunction, or explode,’” Heriot said delicately, reading from the piece of paper. With a jolt, Tony recognised his own words from the day before. Heriot turned to him, and went on reading. “‘Look for transistors, I’ll sort out the weapons’. Do you think me a fool, Mr. Stark?”
The cold feeling in Tony’s stomach was intensifying.
Fear, he thought. Yeah, that’s definitely fear. Damn.
Heriot paced forwards, until he was standing less than a foot away. “We won’t tolerate that kind of talk,” he said, very softly.”
“Is that so?” Tony said. “What are you gonna do, gag us while we work?”
Heriot didn’t bother to reply. With one finger, he drew the neckline of Tony’s shirt down. Tony twitched back, but the guards held him in place. Slowly, Heriot traced the outline of the arc reactor and then - and Tony found that his mind had gone nauseatingly blank, that all he could think was fuck fuck fuck - he took hold of the metal casing, and pulled.
The arc reactor slid out a couple of millimetres, sending a jolt of pain through Tony’s chest. Heriot smirked at the way he gasped, then pushed the arc reactor back in.
“I trust I have made my point perfectly clear, Mr. Stark.”
He turned away, gesturing to the guards, and suddenly the hands clamped around Tony’s upper arms were gone. As Heriot and the guards filed out, he found himself on his knees, slumped against the wall, gasping for breath.
“Shit,” was all he could say. “Holy fuck, holy fuck.”
He had almost forgotten that he was sharing a cell. But hey, nearly having a cardiac arrest could really make you ignorant of your surroundings.
Uh, major freak out in front of Loki, he thought desperately. Not the best idea. Fuck. Holy - get a fucking grip. Get a fucking grip.
“I’m - I’m okay,” he panted, pushing himself onto his hands and knees. “I’m okay, ‘m fine.”
“Now might not be the most expedient moment for a panic attack,” Loki murmured. Tony laughed, but even he could tell that it sounded slightly hysterical.
He heard a rustle as Loki padded across the cell. The god knelt down next to him and then - very hesitantly - placed one hand on his shoulder. The touch was oddly comforting.
Tony swallowed, gritted his teeth and forced himself to calm down. He held his breath, counted to ten - well, seven, he’d always been kinda impatient - and opened his eyes.
“I’m fine,” he said, and this time his voice didn’t shake.
Loki nodded, and drew away, getting back to his feet in one smooth motion. Tony slid back against the wall, and watched as Loki began to pace, first letting his fingers run over the concrete walls, and then simply scowling at the floor, clenching and unclenching his fists.
“You planning to walk around in circles all night?” he said, eventually.
Loki shot him a glare.
“As opposed to?”
“I figure I’ll function better if I get some sleep.”
In truth, Tony doubted he’d be able to even sit still for five minutes, let alone fall asleep. The feeling of being locked up, in the power of men who were willing to hurt him, cut off from the outside world - it grated on him, a constant feeling of claustrophobia crawling under his skin. And Heriot’s little trick with the arc reactor? Not fucking helpful. But hey, it didn’t hurt to try. And he didn’t want to give Heriot the satisfaction of seeing him fall apart.
“You got your magic back yet?”
“No,” Loki snapped, his voice loud in the close confines of the cell. He gave Tony a pointed look, and Tony suddenly remembered the guards outside.
For a moment, neither of them spoke. The silence between them was almost solid, an oppressive weight in the air.
Stop being such a damn coward, a voice in the back of Tony’s mind muttered.
He took a deep breath.
“So, you gonna explain what last week was all about?”
Loki just stared at the ground, a mulish expression on his face. He was wearing the clothes they’d given him, and standing there in sweatpants and a scruffy t-shirt, his hair falling over his face and his arms crossed over his chest, he looked so much like a sullen teenager that Tony wanted to laugh.
“C’mon, don’t play dumb,” he said instead. “Last week. I mean, we were getting along pretty well, and then-”
“It is as I told you,” Loki muttered, still staring at the floor. “It was an act.”
“Bullshit,” Tony said. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the most eloquent response, but hey, he wasn’t the one they called silvertongue. He paused for a moment and tried to collect his thoughts. Playing therapist again. I should put it on my damn business cards. “Okay. Maybe I’m an idiot. But. That wasn’t - uh. If you were acting, there are way more effective things you could’ve done. You could’ve set Banner off, or compromised Steve, or, hell, you could’ve just hacked into my damn brain, if you were that interested, you know you could’ve. That stuff, on the roof, that goddamn fight we had - and that was a hell of a fight, by the way, I would congratulate you, but, uh, loyalties and all - that wasn’t all acting.”
“Maybe I am simply a very good actor.”
“Maybe,” Tony shrugged. “But you know what I think? I think you were being honest. Not all the time, but on the roof, yeah, I think that was honesty. Probably not intentional. And then you - what, you had a freak out?”
“I’m a god,” Loki said witheringly. “I don’t have freak outs.”
“Well, what was that then? PMS? No, you got out of your damn comfort zone, and then you destroyed half an apartment block. Why?”
“Because I was angry,” Loki spat, shooting Tony the kind of glare that could melt titanium. He felt a jolt of fear, but pushed on regardless.
“Yeah, I gathered,” he said. “I’m just trying to damn well understand. I mean, you - you broke my neck, and then a couple hours later, we were - well.” He made a helpless gesture. Something like a smirk flickered across Loki’s face. “But I mean, even before - and fuck, don’t tell Steve I said this, he’d fucking kill me - we worked together. Hell, I liked you.” At that, Loki’s eyes flickered up. The expression on his face was unreadable. “So, just - I don’t know, just try and give me the short version, because I’m trying to understand. Why did you do it?”
For a moment Loki just stared at him. Then - suddenly - he seemed to come to some kind of agreement with himself. He stalked across the cell, and slid down against one of the walls, so that he and Tony were sitting at right angles. When he next spoke, his voice was quieter.
“You of all people should know these things are…not always easy to explain.”
“Well, you’re clever,” Tony said shortly. “Try.”
Loki scowled faintly. “Our guards will be listening.”
Tony snorted. “They just want to make sure we don’t escape. They don’t give a damn if we’re having impromptu therapy sessions. Anyway, stop avoiding the damn question. Why were you angry?”
Loki simply shook his head. For a long moment, he stared at his knees. There was a slight frown on his face, an expression that lingered somewhere between confusion and pain. When he eventually spoke, his voice was so low it was nearly inaudible.
“I…am not…accustomed to honesty,” he began slowly. You don’t fucking say, Tony thought, but he bit his tongue. Damn, that was dangerously close to tact. Maybe by the time I’m sixty I’ll be sensitive. “Nor friendship.” By now, Loki was staring at the ground as if he wanted it to swallow him up. He went on, speaking quickly and quietly. “In Asgard, I was always - looked upon with suspicion, and I did little to ingratiate myself with - anyone. On the roof, I did not mean to - perhaps I thought - I know not. When people are faced with things that they do not understand, things that make them feel…compromised, they often react with anger. The trait is not…uniquely human.”
“Huh,” Tony said. “Right. And - and after?”
Loki smirked at that. “We’ll put it down to your innate grace and charm.”
“What?” Tony was nonplussed. Then he realised. “Oh - oh. Not that. I, uh, I meant after. In the cell. You just kinda gave up.”
Loki shrugged with one shoulder. “I think I told myself I was biding my time.” There was a bleak kind of amusement in his voice, half humour, half hopelessness. He made a helpless gesture, and went on. “In truth, I - I am very tired. The Chitauri pursue me. Asgard pursues me. I grow tired of - of hating everything.”
There was something horribly sad about that, but Tony couldn’t quite figure out what.
“So…” he said slowly. “So, you had a freak out.”
Loki finally looked up, and gave him a tired smile. “Yes, Stark. I had a freak out.”
Tony whistled. “Damn violent freak out.”
Loki shrugged again.
Well, if you’re on a roll….
“And…in the cell? After?” Tony asked tentatively.
Loki sighed. “I am as able to explain that as you are.”
“So, how long have you fancied me?” Tony said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. “I mean, the window thing, was that your way of asking me out? Because, hey, points for imagination, but, uh, next time, maybe flowers? Or, or something more villainous. Magic biting flowers. Evil flowers.”
“You push too far,” Loki said, but he was suppressing a smile.
“C’mon, admit it, you just can’t resist my charm.”
Loki snorted. After a pause, he spoke again.
“You know what will happen, Stark. I will be punished, and that punishment is likely to involve vast amounts of pain and degradation.” His voice was very neutral, and for a moment Tony wondered what else Loki had been forced to endure, whether he’d been punished before. “Even your people, SHIELD. They will likely execute me, eventually. Or they will hand me over to someone else who will.”
“Not if I can damn well help it,” Tony muttered.
Loki looked up, and something in his expression softened.
“Very few people would be willing…” his voice trailed off. “Thank you.”
Tony shrugged. With a sigh, he straightened up, rolling his shoulders, stretching.
“We probably should try and get to sleep,” he said. “Whatever we end up doing tomorrow, I doubt sleep deprivation will make it any more fun.”
“Kind of them, to keep us in such luxury,” Loki said scathingly, gesturing to the bare concrete cell. Tony snorted. After a pause, Loki shuffled over and leant against him, letting his head rest on Tony’s shoulder.
“I do hope you’re not planning to tell Rogers about this,” he murmured.
At some point, the cell’s neon lights clicked off, and Tony - against all expectations - drifted into an uneasy sleep.