I thought I saw the devil, this morning,
Looking in the mirror,
Drop of rum on my tongue, with a warning,
To help me see myself clearer.
I never meant to start a fire,
I never meant to make you bleed.
I'll be a better man today.
I'll be good, I'll be good,
And I'll, love the world like I should.
I'll be good, I'll be good,
For all of the time...
That I never could.
It was a dreary day, like so many days had been before it. The threat of rain lurked in the gray piles of cloud overhead. The drab color fenced in the horizon and blurred the outlines of the ugly buildings–skyscrapers, Midgardians called them.
Sitting with his legs dangling over the lip of the platform, looking at the embrace of earth and sky in the distance, Loki thought to himself that Midgard felt rather small.
He leaned forward, propping his sharp chin in a cradle of clever fingers. Studious green eyes wandered aimlessly across the spread of land far below him, as though what was once a magnificent display of progression and industry was really nothing more than a blandly painted wall.
New York City, the city that never sleeps.
Well, he snarked internally, more like the city that skulks in primal terror.
As usual, that sort of thought dug firmly into his mood, twisting and molding his mercurial emotions like an artist with a lump of wet clay. A surge of embittered triumph, a flash of an urge to turn around and march to Asgard and scream, I own Midgard, I conquered it and claimed it, so tell me, am I the weak, orphaned prince now?
His hands floated upwards, unbidden, to entangle themselves in the ornate headgear. Not his horned helmet, the one for battle and dull ceremonial occasions, but a new one, a piece of metalwork that even Loki could secretly admire as beautiful, despite its flawed origins. Elegant, thin spires of ornate gold, with miniscule detailing and Old Norse inscriptions, studded with magnificent emeralds and opals. The crown looped gracefully around his ears in a complete circle, more of a diadem, really, than the pompous, stuffy crown that he'd glimpsed in Earth textbooks.
If Loki felt like following his daily schedule as Emperor of Midgard, he would be getting up, dusting the filthy Earthen breeze from his shoulders, and getting back to work. It was not lazy work; Loki was generally busy from sunup until sundown writing new laws, declarations, fleshing out treaties (not because he needed them but because it amused him to let the Midgardians scurry like rats between his fingers). He signed every document with a flourish and stamped it with a magical seal so that it could not be read by any except for its intended.
And then when the legislative portion of his work was completed, he checked on the mind network that linked him to all of his subjects, to his dear blue-eyed puppets. Every strand must be secure. A chain was only as strong as the weakest link, so Loki made it a daily priority to reinforce any waning bonds, to whisper magic into the ears of his subordinates and centurions and lieutenants.
But that is a productive day. And Loki did not feel like having a productive day.
He lay back, at ease reclining over a city that, he knew, secretly quivered in cowed hatred of him. A new question arose in his mind, skittering through his easy thoughts like a butterfly.
Now, when was the last time he went down into the actual city?
If Midgardians only knew what level of forethought he'd put into stealing their planet and way of life, he was sure any vestiges of bravery would fall away from them like the wilted petals of a flower. He was rather proud of it, truth be told. Every stage had been planned extensively, with every sub-plan for every scenario. A resourceful agency? Taking the mind of a few high-ups in secret ensured that Loki had access to every single member of SHIELD, whether a small hallway janitor or a rich and powerful benefactor. A team of super-powered beings? Easy–pluck them apart, rip the cables between them to mere shreds through tools like suspicion, stress, anger, blame, pride… almost disappointingly easy, actually. The presence of a green-skinned, mindless juggernaut? Simple enough in theory, though complicated in process-entomb the man, the weak outer shell that played dollhouse to the monster that raged within. And the beast will slumber on.
And mind-control–that tended to come rather in handy, though Loki was careful not to rely too much on it. Even the awesome power of the scepter could not overcome the minds of every soul scrabbling in Earth's dirt and dust. In the months after his initial takeover, he proceeded to establish more diplomatic chains and sources of blackmail among the higher-profile characters, though the scepter would always be his favorite new toy.
In a feat that would have been scoffed at prior before it had been set into motion, Loki had managed to extend his influence, if not his rule, over nearly a quarter of the Earth's continents. The pockets of resistance scattered across the world were effectively dismantled and dismembered, whether by means of cut communications, raids, blackmail, promises, blockades, starvation…
Loki could feel it resonating through the soles of his boots, like a sudden, shuddering crack had opened up in the ground. The feeling pressurized the atmosphere. It lurked in every puddle and echoed every cry. The earth was in shock. A political revolution, a total and encapsulating takeover, a crushing of human ideals and customs, all in a matter of months.
Loki drew his overcoat around him tightly. A whispered incantation, and his royal robes and splendid finery vanished in a shower of cascading light, replaced by simple Midgardian clothing. His raven locks seemed to shorten and lighten in color, and his coldly regal face softened and adopted an innocent, youthful look. Piercing green eyes faded to a murky, unremarkable blue. All in all, he went from the bearing and visage of a king to the scruffy, undistinguished appearance of one of the thousand vagrants that now swarmed the city.
Admittedly, these little excursions when he slipped into their midst and assumed their faces were quickly becoming a favorite hobby of his. He enjoyed sliding unobtrusively into their refugee camps, hunching next to a shivering and desolate-eyed body. He liked hearing the black curses spat at him when the pitiful humans gathered around a weak campfire and hurled expletives at the sky, Sometimes he joined in with them. They never saw the mocking glint in his eyes, the amused slope of his shoulders, the shadow of a smirk.
As much as the natives mourned their crumbling culture and way of life, they were wholly selfish beings. Each cared for himself and himself only. Loki couldn't even remember the exact statistical report of how many couples and families had splintered under his pressing rule because the number was constantly climbing. Polite Society was gone. Scavengers fought each other with tooth and nail and home-fashioned weapons. (Loki had instituted total gun control as one of his first measures of rule. It was one of the many ways to de-claw the kitten, so to speak.) Death tolls and crime levels had risen to unprecedented level. Despite the unifying sense of mutual suffering and rebellion that stewed in the hearts of every free-thinking individual, their personal needs and suspicions overcame their will to congregate. City population declined as people fled to the country, seeking asylum in the hills and forests.
It all amused Loki to no end. One time, near the beginning of his stay on Earth, he had stumbled upon a colony of little black ants. He lowered a gloved hand to the ground and scooped up a few of the insects. They raced helplessly in his palm; when they came too close to the edge, he titled his palm and trapped them in the folds and creases of the glove so that they ran, mindless with panic, exactly the way he wanted them to. Looking around at his kingdom, at New Earth, that moment often surfaced in his mind.
Loki was careful to stick close to the shadows of buildings as he walked, avoiding dark alleyways and the openness of the damaged roads just as any actual homeless wanderer would. Sometimes, he passed people on the street. He felt their distrustful stares flaying open his back and saw flickers of movement as they hid themselves in their shelters, but disguised as he was under a screen of magic, no one truly recognized him.
An old lullaby wavered in his throat; he hummed it carelessly as he walked, hands jammed into his pockets. He was content to wander until he reached one of the camps scattered throughout the city, where he could sit and listen and laugh at their petty, helpless rage.
He reached a point where the road split in two, spliced by a concrete wedge of buildings. He took the left fork, nimbly leaping over massive potholes and chunks of rubble that had still not yet been cleared away and repaired from the skirmishes. As he drifted along, a faint sound reached his ears, sliding in between the soft whistles of the wind that scraped through the abandoned streets. He paused and cocked his head. Even with his supernatural hearing, he couldn't quite catch the sound properly; he tilted his head every which way like an owl, otherwise motionless.
The sound rose and fell again. He switched his direction and crossed the wide street, following its strains through an alleyway that spilled out onto a narrow street cluttered with ruined vehicles and fallen trash cans. A strong smell of rotting trash met him fiercely, but he continued nonetheless. (Beside, no smell could compare to the beastly smell of Thor after a battle, unwashed and unrepentant of it. Really, the pungence could actually be considered tame in comparison.)
The faint noise gradually swelled, rippling from almost-not-there vibrations to a melody, so plaintive and shapely that he almost mistook it for a singing voice until a few seconds later he realized it was an instrument.
Loki had not listened to music, outside of mourning dirges, for a very long time. His curiosity piqued, he let his feet sweep him towards the source.
He found it another street over, sitting on a high balcony that looked about one gentle shove from collapsing. Loki stilled, head tilted and eyes alit with the closest thing to interest he'd felt in weeks. He examined the sight before him with sharp rapture. A young man was relaxed on the fragile stone railing, legs stretched out and back leaned against the brickwork where the rail was joined to the wall. He was dressed head to toe in a strange style of clothing that was nothing like what Loki had seen anywhere in Midgard: loose, comfortable black sweater, dark red pants, unlaced boots, and a ragged maroon scarf that looked like it had been hand-knitted was tossed uncaringly around his neck. Large, solidly-framed spectacles were perched on a handsome, though dirt-smudged face, and hair just as black as Loki's tumbled and curled messily over the man's forehead and down his nape in an artfully-careless kind of way.
When Loki had stood there unacknowledged, just outside the balcony's shadow, for a full minute, he smirked and nonchalantly seated himself at a cracked cafe table outside a nearby coffee shop. Nobody dared ignore his presence for longer than a few seconds when he revealed himself to his subjects. The feeling of being overlooked, or, at the very least, neglected, was almost novel to him. Though it irritated him slightly as it brought forth memories of his isolated childhood, he had a feeling that he was being watched by a slitted gaze, though the mysterious figure made no mention of him.
Loki traced fault lines and cracks in the damaged tabletop with his finger as he listened to the song. The musician played a sleek, curved instrument with a long neck that stretched out four strings. The sound it produced was richly toned, with a sort of elegant depth to it that seemed, not audible to the ear, but felt in the vibrations of his chest.
The song was winding, directionless, but no less intricate and clever. The pitch, rhythm, and tone switched at random intervals. At one point, it was fast-paced and high; plucked notes interspersed among long draws of the bow like stars strewn across a night sky as the player skillfully zoomed up and down the musical scales.
Then the song changed abruptly–the smooth, long strokes of the bow against the strings slowed their pace, leaning over the thicker strings to produce a deeper, more anguished timbre. This new tone was more sorrowful and accented with occasional rising swells and brief visits to the higher notes. It reminded Loki of witnessing Aesir warriors returning home from battles, heads bowed and bodies of dead comrades carried with them.
The song switched back to the happier, more cheerful pace, which it sustained for a few short minutes, before easing into a gliding melody, as though the song was calming itself down from its earlier frenzy. A few more softly plucked notes–Loki watched deft fingers ease and tug coaxingly at the strings, until the final note quivered as clear and sweet as a bell, even as it faded.
Loki broke the silence with a round of applause, grinning. He stood and dusted himself off.
Apart from lowering the instrument, the man remained inert. The sun striking his pale skin almost made him appear as a statue, like a carved marble figurine adorning the balcony.
"Now that," Loki said with relish, "was music." He propped his curled mouth on his knuckle and offered nothing more.
Finally, the figure turned his face and his eyes opened fully. Even from this distance, Loki could see the vivid green glow in the irises. They made his own look like second-rate, poorly cut emeralds.
Another pregnant silence. Loki waited, content. He was a king. He was under no obligations to continue the conversation, though he was halfway considering to put the man under his spell and keep him in his tower. He'd have him play, like a bird kept to sing in a cage, whenever he felt. Or maybe when he entertained dignitaries, he'd have the man serenade them softly in the background. But would he still play with such soulful honesty if Loki numbed him with the scepter?
"You'll forgive me of my silence," the man spoke. His voice was everything and nothing like what Loki had envisioned; it was youthful, a deep tenor, and just as melodic as the instrument… but it was also quiet and worn. It was the voice of one who had screamed too much. "I'm listening to the city." He finally pulled himself fully upright, legs swinging to dangle fearlessly over the drop. His green eyes were laser-like. He added, as one hand drew back to stroke against the rough brickwork, "She has quite a lot to say about you."
Loki raised a brow, caught off-guard but still intrigued. He affected an expression of polite interest that looked twisted on his different face. "Indeed? Tell me, what is it saying?"
The man lifted his hand and examined the chalk-like dust on his fingertips. "She has seen so much," he murmured. "Felt blood of innocents spraying against her rock, felt the tremors of subways snaking through her belly like veins. Stretched her wings around those she favored, silenced the groans of fickle buildings in storms. She's very knowledgeable." He wiped the dust on his cheek, leaving a whitish smear.
"You speak strangely," Loki observed. "Are you native?"
This wrenched a smile out of the man, though it seemed to represent the antithesis of joy. "I'm a little bit of everywhere and nowhere all at once," he replied. Honesty soaked his words, and Loki could tell that the riddle-like reply was genuine, if not confusing.
"I see," said Loki, though he didn't.
"I wish you did, Loki," the man said. He packed the instrument away, slung the hard case over his back, and vanished into thin air.
Loki stared at the spot where the man had sat. The wind picked up, curling around his frame, and the buildings around him groaned and creaked. He wasn't sure if he imagined it or not, but he felt the pavement flex ever so slightly underneath his feet, like a great, melancholic sigh.
For a long time, Loki stood there, allowing his illusion to trickle away from him. The silence, formerly comforting, was now stifling and warped. It was as though the song had ripped a hole in the fabric of time and space and left ragged rawness in its wake. Stillness seemed incomplete, a whole sound of its own, like the tortured scream of an agonized instrument instead of a mere lack of noise.
My past has tasted bitter, for years now,
So I wield an iron fist,
Grace is just weakness, or so I've been told,
I've been cold, I've been merciless.
But the blood on my hands scares me to death,
Maybe I'm waking up...
I'll be good, I'll be good,
And I'll, love the world like I should.
-"I'll Be Good" by Jaymes Young
A/N: Guess who's back, with a brand-new HP/Loki crossover.
For a long, long time, I've read Master of Death!Harry fics, and while I enjoyed them, they kind of began to bleed together to me, like how a crappy cup of instant coffee flavors everything else you eat for half the day. So I took it and twisted it. And I made Loki win the battle. Yeah.
(Also, the instrument Harry plays is a viola. I wish so freaking much that I knew how to play one. I've never even held one, haha, but I admire their sound.)