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I didn't do it, you lit the match for me

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When Nicole arrives with her folding chair, Loki's on his bed idly reading something from a stack of old paperback books Stark brought after his campaign to get Loki a TV fizzled. His cell is as bare as possible--a futon on the floor, a pillow and blanket, and the books. He's wearing a T-shirt and jeans. His shoes have no shoelaces. He doesn't know if Nicole told them to put him on suicide watch, or if it's to keep him from using them as a weapon.

She smiles warmly at him, as always. Their surroundings don't seem to bother her. "Hi, Loki." She unfolds the chair and sits in it. She must be staying nearby; she's been to see him every afternoon since he was taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody four days ago.

He sets the book down and smiles back at her. "Hello."

She waits until the guard shuts the door to ask, "How have they been treating you?"

Loki wonders if they've been discussing torture where he can't hear them. Her eyes are watchful and concerned. "They're still mostly ignoring me," he says. "Since the Chitauri have been neutralized, I don't have any information they need right away." In some ways, this is the most relaxed he's felt in months. Nothing to do, no choices to make. All he has to do is wait and let S.H.I.E.L.D. decide his fate.

They could extradite him back to Asgard. He tries not to think about that.

"And how do you feel?"

"Fine." It feels like a lie, even though it's true.

"Have you had any visitors since yesterday?"

His stomach knots immediately. "Why don't you ask what you really want to know?"

She smiles sheepishly at him. "Okay. Sorry. Has Thor been to visit you?"

Loki can feel his eyes gleaming malevolently at her as he smiles back. "You can stop asking. He won't come."

She eyes him. "Do you want to see him?"

He hates when she asks questions she must know the answer to. She must have known Thor hasn't visited. She probably saw Thor on her way in. Stark told him Thor is here, that he's been here for days. That it's all Stark can do to get Thor to leave at night to sleep. But he hasn't been to see Loki. "Not particularly."

"Loki," she says. Just his name, in a slightly scolding tone.

He hates, too, that she has him trained so well. He wants so badly to give her what she wants. Yes is on the tip of his tongue. He lets his smile spread insolently across his face.

"Have you told him you want to see him?" she asks as if he said it.

"I'm not going to beg for an audience."

"You don't have to beg," she says. "You could tell him you're angry that he hasn't come to see you."

Loki laughs. "You'd think after all these years I'd be used to it."

"What do you mean?"

"Ask Fury about the last time S.H.I.E.L.D. got their hands on me. Ask if Thor came to visit my little glass prison."

"I thought Thor came to Earth to find you," Nicole says. She sounds so careful, so reasonable, so sure she can talk him into seeing Thor's point of view. He knows Thor's point of view. He knows it and it makes him sick.

"Thor hates to feel helpless," he explains. "He hates to see a problem he can't fix. I know Thor loves me. It would be gratifying if he loved me more than his ego."

"Has Thor told you that's why he didn't visit you?"

"When we were boys, he never came to visit me in hospital either." Loki immediately wishes he could take the words back. He sounds like a child. He remembers being a child, feeling small and lost in the healing room, waiting for Thor. He never, ever wants to be that child again.

"Did you ever talk to him about how that made you feel?"

Loki drums his fingers on his book and doesn't answer.

"Even if you're absolutely right about where he's coming from--which you won't know until you ask him--you might feel better if you got this off your chest."

She's wrong. His chest feels tight just thinking about it.

She waits. When he stays silent, she says, "It's okay for you to be angry at Thor." She says that to him at least two or three times a session. That's how angry he is. He doesn't see what's okay about it. "But sometimes anger is a defense against other emotions. Can you try an exercise with me? Think about how you might feel if you weren't angry. If you stopped being angry, just for a minute."

He trusts her. He tries. Taking a deep breath, he lets his shoulders relax. His throat immediately starts to close and his eyes sting. Panic flutters in his chest. He can't--

"Thor loves you," she says. "You know he does."

He nods, but the panicked feeling doesn't go away.

"But just for a second...what if he didn't?"

Loki's heart pounds. The room suddenly feels cold and huge and dark. He can't think about this. He can't.

"What do you believe that would mean about you, if Thor didn't love you?"

His breaths are coming shallowly now. Something terrible is about to happen. He can feel it. A knot climbs in his throat. This is how he felt as a child on winter nights. He watched ice creep across the window and knew the frost giants were coming for bad boys like him.

"Loki? Are you okay?"

He tries to cross his arms. The manacles prevent him. He can't speak.

She leans forward. Her face is soft and sorry. "Do you think it would mean you were unlovable?"

"Wouldn't it?" He wishes his voice sounded steadier.

She shakes her head. "Plenty of wonderful people never get any affection from their families at all."

He thinks of Stark, whose father never even liked him. Loki likes Stark.

"Do you remember what Thor said at your very first session? When I asked him to say something scary for him? He said that if he were worthy of your love, he would have it."

"He does," Loki insists. He and Thor love each other. They do.

She smiles. "I know. I just meant that it sounds like maybe when you were growing up, showing affection in your family was conditional. Both of you seem to believe that love is something you get when you're worthy. So if you don't get it, it must mean you aren't worthy."

You are unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed! Odin said to Thor. Loki never hated him so much as in that moment.

"Loki? What do you think?" He nods. That's all he can manage. "Is it okay to keep talking about this?" He nods again. "If you buy into that, then when you start to feel rejected by Thor, you start to see yourself as an unworthy person. To protect yourself from that really painful feeling, you have to reframe the situation so that Thor is the unworthy one and you can be angry at him. But there's a third option: both of you are okay people who sometimes mess up even though you really love each other."

Loki is going to cry. He doesn't want to cry. Fury is watching, he's sure. Stark is probably watching over his shoulder, munching on something in a crinkly bag--ostensibly to keep Fury from turning the volume up but really because he's nosy.

"You're in a really scary situation," Nicole says. "It's okay to want to see your brother."

It's too late to stop it. Loki presses his pillow over his face and cries.

"It's okay to cry," Nicole says. He wishes she'd shut her mouth, and he's abjectly grateful. "It doesn't mean you're weak. I think you're very, very strong. You can make it through this with or without Thor. Even if you ask Thor to visit and he doesn't, it will hurt, but you'll get through it."

"Thor will come," he says, muffled by the pillow. He knows Thor will come if he asks. He didn't want to have to ask. He wanted Thor to want to see him too.

###

They won't give him a pen. Too sharp. He has to send a message through Nicole.

"Coward," he says, to tease her. "Are you afraid to face me?"

She wrinkles her nose at him. He laughs.

He can think of a hundred more messages that she would undoubtedly tell him were passive-aggressive. He balks for long moments at sending one that isn't. But in the end, he says, "Tell Thor I'd like to see him."

###

Thor arrives perhaps a quarter of an hour later, Fury on his heels. "This is not a resort hotel," Fury says. "I'm not your VIP concierge."

It's not Loki's fault that if you take something away from Stark, he'll immediately decide it's the one thing on earth he wants and spend all his time scheming to get it back and visiting it. Loki would say so, but he's looking at Thor.

Thor hesitates. His eyes take in the futon, the sad stack of old books, the glass walls and the manacles and the emptiness. He looks deeply, deeply uncomfortable. He also looks as if he hasn't slept. Loki waits.

Thor straightens his shoulders, strides forward, and puts both his hands flat on the glass. "Brother, I am so sorry."

Loki gets up slowly, puts his hands over Thor's. The manacles stretch glittering between his wrists. He takes a deep breath. He should be sorry too--for ruining Thor's visit with Jane Foster, for frightening him, for resenting him, for refusing for years to simply tell Thor that he wanted him.

He's not sorry. For the first time he can remember, he's not sorry or angry. "I chose this," he says. "I want to be here."

"Why?" Thor demands, slapping his hands against the glass.

"I'd like an answer to that question too," Fury says behind him.

"I'm sick of living in the shadows," Loki says. Thor flinches. I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness, he told Thor. He doesn't mean that this time. Not exactly. But he can't hide anymore. "I need the sun," he says. "Even if I melt. I mean to have it. I don't want you to save me this time. But--I want you to be here. With me. Side by side."

"I think I'm going to cry," Fury says.

Thor snarls in Fury's direction. "Loki--"

"Please, brother."

There is a long, mulish silence. Then Thor nods. He exhales, shoulders slumping, and presses his forehead to the glass, his eyes closed. Love overflows Loki's chest and rushes up his throat, so thick that for a moment he thinks he might vomit. He presses his forehead against Thor's through the chilly wall. Even with his eyes shut, he can feel that Thor is there.

He can do this. He can do anything he wants.