100indecisions: my chains are broken (lost little monster)
[personal profile] 100indecisions
Title: all this that is more than a wish is a memory
Author name: 100indecisions on AO3
Characters/Pairing: Loki & Steve Rogers, very gradually working in a Steve/Loki direction
Fandom/Universe: MCU
Rating: R for violence
Word count: ~26,000
Warnings: Violence and resulting injuries, medical experimentation/torture, suicidal thoughts, dehumanization (these are the main ones, but each chapter will have additional warnings when relevant)
Summary: Direct sequel to let me see you stripped down to the bone, in which the soldier with the star-spangled shield became a weapon for the other side, and decades later, the false prince fell from the sky and became their experiment. The soldier and the prince were never supposed to meet—but they did, and together they escaped from HYDRA. This is what happens next. (Or, the AU where Steve is the Winter Soldier and Loki’s a HYDRA guinea pig, and things are generally awful.)

Chapter-specific warnings: More description of injuries, more starvation/disordered eating, more nonsexual (and uncomfortable) nudity, me pretending to know more about medical stuff than I actually do

           Loki wakes, gradually, to the sun slanting through the bedroom window and across the wall, leaving him still in shadow next to the bed. If he is stiff from sleeping on the floor, he cannot tell; the carpet is still considerably more comfortable than the laboratory table, and he is not sure whether such a mild pain would even register at this point. He is reasonably certain this is the longest he’s gone without fresh injury in the past year, and it is certainly the most untroubled sleep he’s had since his arrival on Midgard. He does feel fractionally better already, although given his present basis for comparison, that doesn’t mean a great deal.
            He shifts cautiously under the blankets, taking stock as he lacked the energy to do earlier. He aches, everywhere, and his body as a whole feels weak and broken and wrong, even where his bones are not shattered or otherwise damaged. Sharper pains punctuate the persistent ache whenever he moves—his ribs twinge when he is careful to breathe a little more shallowly than usual, spiking into a jab of pain in the bones when he forgets. But he has to move to determine how bad the damage is and how much he is still able to move, so he steels himself and begins carefully shifting his limbs, one at a time.
            Nearly all his toes feel nonfunctional, which would concern him more if he had any illusions about trying to stand or walk in the near future. He does not, because aside from the newer breaks that Rogers set only last night and the literal holes through each ankle, he can feel with painful clarity all the other, older fractures in various stages of healing. There is one place in particular, below his right knee, where the bone was shattered in a way Rogers would not have been able to set; he thinks the fragments are more or less back in the right places and beginning to knit together again, but he certainly cannot put any weight on it yet. His hip seems to be almost entirely healed—he cannot remember now which injury happened when, but he supposes this one must have been older—so at least there is that. Similar cracks, some nearly healed and others almost fresh, continue upward across his rib cage and down both arms, but his collarbone is not too bad anymore, so that must be an older one as well. The very faint, almost fully healed fractures in his skull are definitely old; he thinks it was quite early on that they switched to less invasive methods for examining his brain. His skin, certainly, could be in better shape, but at least the largest incision in his chest seems to have scabbed over well enough, and most of the more minor cuts and burns are only an annoyance in comparison to everything else.
           He does not particularly want to think about his internal soft-tissue injuries at all, or how much of him is simply missing, but the constant ache in his entire torso is hard to ignore. As he told Rogers, though, he thinks that will mostly take care of itself, and in any event there is not a great deal he can do about it at the moment.
            His hands are…bad. There is no other word for it. The recently set and wrapped fingers are mostly immobile, but those are not so terrible; he can at least push past the pain of older breaks and curl his fingers enough to grasp something loosely. The bone they crushed at the base of his left thumb some time ago doesn’t seem to be healing well, though, which is a bit of a concern; far worse are the holes in his wrists and the associated damage to bone, tendon, and muscle alike. The surge of pain when he tries to bend his wrist is nauseating, blinding, and he knows he will not be able to use his hands properly for…he does not know how long, except that it will not be soon. He certainly cannot push or pull anything heavier than perhaps a small knife, or make a fist, or even push himself up off the floor unaided (he can do that with his elbows, possibly).
            It is a small—very small—comfort that he knows adrenaline should enable him to do a bit more, when he has the greatest need of it. Actually using a knife sounds unbearable at the moment, but when he had Rogers’ knife in the back of that store, tense and excruciatingly alert for any discovery, he’d noticed the pain a bit less, enough that he’d known he could at least attempt to defend himself. So, he supposes, he is not completely helpless; with an adequate flood of terror and the accompanying chemicals that will either block the pain or let him ignore it, he can at least cause some annoyance to anyone who tries to recapture him.
            Much good it will do him, if he can do nothing else and they take him back despite his best efforts.
            Ordinarily, of course, he could rely on his seidr, and would do so whether or not he was injured, but that too is unreliable now. Whatever drugs the scientists were using still linger in his blood, and he suspects it will take some time for the effects to wear off completely. He has at least recovered the small amount of usable magic he was able to employ the previous night and a bit more besides, but the vast majority of the limited seidr available to him is going directly toward healing his body and keeping it functioning. With some concentration and effort, he could perhaps divert some of that to other purposes, after which he would almost certainly pass out before he could actually use any of it.
            So yes, he is not entirely helpless, but so nearly as to make almost no difference, and he can do almost nothing except depend on Rogers either to help him or kill him—an improvement upon his previous situation, to be sure, although not by terribly much.
           He has not had a chance to look in a mirror and does not particularly want to do so now; freed of the table, he has been able to see most of his body, and between that sight and the way he feels, he has a very good idea of his own ravaged state. He heard enough of the scientists’ talk to know that they consistently provided him with the nutrients they’d determined his body required, at least when the lack of some or all of those nutrients was not part of an experiment, but it was also in their best interests to keep him weak and they never gave him enough. He is not sure, even now, if he is capable of dying of hunger—he has never heard of such a fate befalling any of the Aesir, although of course that fact is hardly relevant to him—but he does know that he will deteriorate without enough nourishment. Basic, everyday actions require energy provided only by food and sleep, after all, and magic requires a great deal more. Despite being unable to move, he still expended a tremendous amount of energy in the lab from the endless cycle of physical trauma and healing, vastly more than the drip of chemicals he was provided to replenish it. Which the scientists knew, because they discussed that too and made adjustments accordingly to make sure he never regained enough strength to do anything but continue, unwillingly, to survive.
            Now, starved is the only truly accurate word for the condition of his body, even if he does not know whether he could have died of it (if this follows the pattern of everything else in his life lately, he considers eternal misery far more likely). He has never achieved a stature like Thor’s, of course, but he used to be all lean, wiry muscle, and now every bit of that is shriveled away to little more than skin stretched thin and tight over bone. And it is not going to improve soon. If he survives long enough to truly recover, he is quite sure the process will take a much longer time than it should.
Cautiously, he draws an experimental deep breath and immediately regrets it as pain sears through his damaged lungs, and he doubles up on the floor, coughing violently. Everything inside him is tearing loose, he is almost sure of it, and he can’t breathe, and the nauseating tang of blood is filling his mouth.
            Rogers is there again, helping him sit up and supporting him until the fit passes, and then Loki sags against him, too drained to pull away no matter how much he wants to. Yes, he is slightly recovered compared to his state when Rogers carried him out of the scientists’ chamber of horrors, but that is almost meaningless when he still cannot even breathe without his body collapsing into weakness.
            “You want to sleep more, or are you up now?” Rogers asks after a moment.
            Loki wants to say something deadpan, about the obvious lateness of the hour or Rogers’ penchant for asking inane questions, but he has neither the breath nor the energy. Not that it particularly matters—grasping after a touch of normality, of his self, is not truly going to help him. “The latter.”
            Rogers nods, moves the blankets and pillow back to the bed, and picks Loki up again. Then the soldier carries him into the bathroom and helps him use the toilet, first. Loki keeps his face turned away and doesn’t speak, trying to fight down a fresh wave of humiliation at the way Rogers essentially has to manipulate him like a doll. He can’t stand, with or without support, and he can’t even pull his own underclothing back up, so Rogers does it for him. Then Rogers sits Loki back down on the closed lid of the toilet and just looks at him for a moment. Loki doesn’t like his silent scrutiny any better for the fact that there’s no particular intent to it. He is intensely aware that Rogers can do anything he wants and there is not much he can do in response, his earlier bravado notwithstanding, and Loki will not draw Rogers’ attention to that fact if he has somehow not already realized. He lifts his chin and snaps, “What?”
            “Trying to figure out the best way to get you cleaned up,” Rogers says, apparently unperturbed.
           The idea of being clean again hits him so hard and viscerally he nearly weeps with longing, and he turns the glare up a notch to compensate. Damn Rogers for making Loki want what he cannot easily have. “A wet rag would suffice for now, I should think, unless you somehow have a better idea.”
            Rogers shrugs. “Well, you can’t shower and I’d rather not redo all the bandages after a bath, so yeah, probably.” Without further deliberation, he carries Loki back to the bed and props him up with the pillows, and then he disappears back into the bathroom, returning with a towel, some washcloths, and a bar of soap, all of which he leaves on the bed and goes to the kitchen for a bowl of water. Then he sets to work scrubbing down Loki’s skin wherever it is not covered with bandages.
            Once more, Loki finds himself staring up at the ceiling and trying not to think. He wants the blood and sweat and chemicals wiped away, even if this method doesn’t remotely compare to the comfort a bath would provide, and he wants to be clean badly enough that he will keep himself still for this, but…Rogers has to undress him again, and he has to touch him. Of course he does; there is no way to wipe a cloth over his torn, sticky flesh without touching him, everywhere, and Loki recognizes that this is practical reality, and still it is all he can do to keep his breathing under control at the crawling sensation of fingers on his skin.
           And then there is the shame burning through him, once again. He supposes it makes very little sense, from a purely logical standpoint, that he should feel ashamed for Rogers to see him like this. He has had no privacy for an entire year, even inside his own body, and Rogers is not…well, he has no human or scientific reasons to be curious. He doesn’t look or touch any more than he needs to, for which Loki cannot help feeling grateful and then angry that he is grateful. Rogers’ expression is still a touch too blank to be kindness or concern, and not quite blank enough to be true indifference or the scientists’ impersonal curiosity; his movements are too brusque to be considered gentle, but neither are they rough enough to be deliberately unkind, and because Loki does not know what to think about any of it, he focuses once again on merely enduring.
            It’s easier once he’s clothed again, this time in a fresh version of the shirt from earlier and a pair of loose trousers, but it’s only when Rogers finally steps back that Loki’s heart starts to settle and he is able to uncurl his fingers from their painful clench.
            “What,” he says again, because Rogers is still studying him.
            “Your ankle,” Rogers says, pointing, and Loki glances down at the ugly wound above his right foot to see that the skin is red and angry, hinting at the beginnings of infection. “Your body going to take care of that, or do you need antibiotics?”
            Loki shrugs, a twitchy gesture, then remembers the relevant experiments and shakes his head. “They deliberately caused infections a few times and I healed, eventually, without additional medicine.”
            “Well, cleaning can only help it along, right?” Rogers says. Loki shrugs again, and Rogers goes back into the front room and returns with the pack full of medical supplies. He removes a few items, sits down on the bed, and tugs up the leg of Loki’s trousers to his knee before tearing open a little packet.
           Loki flinches back, hard, his body reacting before he can even consciously recognize the smell. It is sharp, metallic, biting, and he is back in the lab, pinned down and unable to move, tensed for the fresh slice of pain that always follows the swipe of their cold chemicals.
            “No,” he says, and when his voice shakes, he realizes he is shaking too.
            “It’s just a Betadine wipe,” Rogers says. “Iodine.”
            “Use something else.”
            “What’s wrong with iodine?”
            “The smell,” Loki says. He has to force the words out.
            “So breathe through your mouth,” Rogers says, not unkindly. “This needs to be cleaned.”
           Loki glares at him, knowing he is being unreasonable but too hideously aware of his own vulnerability to stop. It was easy to forget in that first brief heady rush of escape, but he is scarcely any less helpless now than he was in the lab, and he hates the visceral certainty that Rogers can do anything he wants and Loki will be able to do very little to stop him. He cannot even use the man’s sense of sympathy or pity, and for all that he does not want anyone’s pity, at least that would let him take this weakness he cannot hide and use it for something. Instead he has nothing, just Rogers’ desire to recover his memories and the slight possibility that Loki can give him what he wants—and the chance, not without precedent but too tenuous to give him any reassurance, that Rogers will listen when Loki speaks. So he presses back into the pillows, heart pounding, and snarls, “Use. Something. Else.”
            Rogers considers him for a moment, head tilted to one side and expression utterly opaque, and then he pulls a brown bottle from his pack. “Hydrogen peroxide. It’ll sting more, though, and it’s messier. Doesn’t work as well, either.”
            “Fine,” Loki says tightly, and Rogers opens the bottle and gets to work. He’s right, it does sting, and the liquid fizzes and bubbles alarmingly when it touches the wound, but Loki grits his teeth and refuses to care. Everything hurts anyway.
            Rogers wipes up the excess fluid, smears the wound with some kind of ointment that thankfully doesn’t smell very strong, covers Loki’s bare feet with socks, and settles him back in the wheelchair. The clothes feel strange on his skin, rough in places where he is scraped raw, but at least most of his injuries are hidden now. Of course, he can feel every single one, so being unable to see the state of his body does little to help him forget what has been done to him—and for all that he feels slightly less vulnerable for being covered, a thin layer of fabric makes very little practical difference. Somehow, it helps anyway.
            Loki’s marginally improved spirits last exactly as long as it takes Rogers to wheel him out to the front room. His gaze is immediately drawn to the plastic bags on the kitchen counter, and he realizes with an unpleasant jolt that they’re new since last night, which can only mean— “You left,” he says, and he cannot keep the accusing tone out of his voice no matter how much he hates this display of the shamefully pathetic state to which he has sunk.
            Rogers parks him by the couch and starts pulling things out of the bags—colorful bottles and boxes, mostly. “You were still asleep, and it was quicker this way. I just went to the CVS two streets over for more supplies.”
            Loki is shaking again and he hates it, hates Rogers, hates himself. “They could have come while you were gone,” he says, and instead of coming out angry his voice sounds so damned small and why can’t he stop himself from showing all this vulnerability, over and over again, when he knows Rogers won’t respond to it in any way Loki can use to keep himself safe?
            “It was only for 19 minutes,” Rogers says, but he has that considering look again that Loki cannot read and does not understand, and after a moment he adds almost gently, “HYDRA doesn’t know we’re here. We weren’t followed. I checked.”
           And there is nothing Loki can say to that, nothing that will not simply emphasize his own powerlessness and the sickening realization that he has already begun to trust Rogers. He cannot, cannot allow his weakness to make him so stupid.
            Rogers waits a moment for Loki to respond; when no reply is forthcoming, he shrugs and picks up one of the brightly colored bottles—red, next to blue and green, and most likely the colors are significant, but Loki cannot imagine how and Rogers offers no explanation. Instead he unscrews the cap and sticks a long, thin tube inside, like a much larger version of the little tube Loki used to drink his milk last night. He brings the bottle to Loki, again balancing it on the wheelchair’s arm and helping Loki work out a way to hold it.
            Loki lowers his head and sucks tentatively at the tube as Rogers goes back to the kitchen. The liquid, when it hits his tongue, is strange—neither pleasant nor unpleasant, with an oddly salty edge to its artificial sweetness.
            “Gatorade,” Rogers says. For himself, he unwraps a sandwich. Loki can see from here that the lettuce is wilted and the meat is some disgusting Midgardian thing processed beyond all recognition, and in that moment he cannot imagine wanting anything more. “Help replenish your electrolytes.”
           Loki is not sure what that means and does not especially care, not when he can see real food he cannot eat. “Do you suppose,” he says, acidly polite, “that at some point I will be permitted food I will actually be required to chew?”
            Rogers leans against the counter, studying him again. “What do you know about refeeding syndrome?”
            Nothing, at least by that specific term, although under the circumstances he can guess. “Enlighten me.”
            “Somebody’s malnourished or starving and you give them too many nutrients their body can’t handle anymore, the shock can actually kill them. Lot of people released from Nazi concentration camps died right afterward because US soldiers fed them without knowing any better. Died smiling, sometimes.”
            “That’s a very specific piece of knowledge,” Loki observes, because if he has to feel unsettled and on edge, at least he can make Rogers feel the same.
            Rogers blinks at him, momentary incomprehension shifting into the look of someone who’s just missed a step in the dark, and it’s oddly unsatisfying. He’s almost relieved when he can actually see Rogers set the question aside. “Point is, I don’t know if that kind of thing would affect you or not, especially with whatever IV drip they had you on, and I’m not a doctor. I figured it was smartest to start simple.”        
           Well, he cannot really argue that point, and there is nothing to be gained by a snide comment about the validity of what Rogers does or does not consider “smart.” Loki sighs through his nose and goes back to his drink, trying to ignore how strongly it tastes of chemicals.

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