Until Ragnarok Come
When Loki comes to, he is on his back on a stone slab, staring up into the jeweled eyes of a massive serpent. His mouth is sewn shut. He can barely breathe, choked off by the coils of rope wound around his neck. His hands and feet are similarly bound, and he can hardly twitch a muscle, tied down to the slab as he is.
No, not rope. Rope isn't this slick, and fleshy, and twitching somehow. He cannot lift his head to look. He cannot open his mouth to ask.
He can move his eyes, though, to those standing around him. Thor, his face hangdog in pity, the expression Loki loathes and the only expression his brother gives him anymore. Thor had been the most vocal opponent to this punishment, as he always was, ever trusting and loyal, believing that Loki could be reformed, that he could come back, be part of the family again. The family he never really was a part of. Loki almost takes pleasure in disappointing him. How stupid could one be to fall for the same trick over and over? To believe that brotherly love could win out?
But now it seems even Thor has given in, or at least given up to their father – no, his father, he was never really Loki's father—and his ruling. Loki stares at Thor, but Thor will not look away. His blue eyes are wet with unshed tears.
Loki looks away first, towards Odin, the man he called "father," the man he tried so hard to please, to impress. Odin just looks weary. His eyes are dry.
"Laufeysson," Loki spat. What was the point of pretending anymore? Everyone knew. Everyone always knew but him.
Odin didn't miss a beat. "You can no longer be allowed to roam free. You have caused too much trouble, too much strife. Too much mischief. It is with a heavy heart that I proclaim your punishment: you are to be bound and a venomous serpent hung above you, to drip its poison on you."
"How long?" Loki asked.
Odin paused for a long moment, his face expressionless, hi s ice-blue eyes piercing his adopted son. "Until Ragnarok come."
Odin looks down on him now, not betraying any sadness, not showing any pity as Thor shows. "Your lips are sewn shut so you cannot fill anyone's ears with your lies, so you cannot cast your magics," he tells Loki.
There is a snarl from somewhere out in the darkness, in the depths of the hollow that the brazier's lights do not reach. "Your son, Narfi, we have changed into a wolf." Odin sees the question in Loki's eyes and answers. "He has torn out the throat of his brother, Nari. You are bound with his entrails."
The news stabs like an icicle through his chest. He closes his stinging eyes. He should have seen this coming. The gods are never satisfied with just punishing the guilty. Their loved ones must also pay the price.
Someone else stands over him, at his head, and he has to strain his eyes upward to behold her. Sigyn. His long-suffering wife. Her lot has never been an easy one, being bound to him. If he was a noble man he would have fended her off, pushed her away. But nobility is one thing he has never been guilty of. He cannot read her expression, but being that his actions are responsible for the death of their sons, he fully expects she hates him. After all the things she's put up with, this will be what drives her away. He should feel glad for her, that she is free of him, but he wants her to stay.
She is the only one who really loves him, after all, and perhaps the only one he has truly loved.
Odin looks across Loki to Thor. Thor's attention snaps from his brother to his father. Tears have trailed into his beard. Loki looks scornfully away from Thor's weakness. "Son," Odin says, "come."
Thor looks down at Loki, whispers, "I'm sorry, brother," and follows Odin up the stone steps to the portal beyond. Loki wants to spit at him, to tell him to spare his pity, but the rough sinew stitches through his lips prevent him.
At the top of the steps, Odin intones, "Serpent, release your venom," and leaves, Thor trailing behind.
Loki sneers. So they don't have the stomach to watch what comes next, eh? His bravado shrinks as his eyes find the snake, its enormous maw hanging open now, as it coils around a stalactite on the cavern's ceiling. Venom collects slowly in its jaw, rolling with oily, tarlike slowness down its massive tongue.
Sigyn still stands above him, looking down. Loki shivers. She is staying to watch. This is her revenge, her satisfaction that he is getting paid back for all she's suffered being his wife. It is what he deserves, but still he hates it.
He blanches, seeing the first drop roll to the end of the serpent's tongue, hanging, stretching and finally detaching, sailing down the long drop toward his face. Every muscle in his body tightens, cold with fear, and he squeezes his eyes shut in anticipation.
He opens his eyes, stunned. Above him, cradling the curve of a stone bowl, are Sigyn's hands. She's holding the bowl above him to catch the poison, to keep its acid sting from him. His eyes flood. Sigyn looks down at him, her expression full of love and pain. Her tears fall freely, spattering his face. He still winces at every drop.
After what seems an eternity, Sigyn speaks for the first time since this all began. "Loki," she says, hesitantly, as if afraid of a blow, "the bowl is almost full. I'll have to empty it." He nods to show he understands. "While I'm doing that, a few drops will get through." Her eyes brim. "I'm sorry."
She is swift, as swift as she is able, but in her few quick steps to the edge of the platform to dump the bowl out into the pit below, poison rains down upon Loki's face. It burns like the hottest fire, searing him to the bone, blistering and sizzling away skin. He howls, as best he can with his mouth shut, but after a few more drops his mind is gone in a white hot blaze and, heedless of the stitches, his jaw gapes in agonized screams, ripping the stitches through his lips. The cavern shakes around them with the force of his howling. Loose rocks tumble and fall. The serpent's grip upon the stalactite tightens. Its venom does not cease. A drop falls into Loki's yowling mouth and eats away his tongue.
By the time Sigyn gets back, less than a minute from when she left, Loki has abandoned screaming and lies violently shaking, whimpering with his jaw clenched shut. She steadies the bowl in one hand and reaches down to caress his ruined mouth, his blasted face, trying to soothe him. He cringes from her touch.
After countless cycles of this, Loki wonders if it is part of his torture, if Sigyn is prolonging his agony instead of trying to alleviate it. Surely it would be better to let the acid obliterate him, to let the agony obliterate his mind, until he became numb to it, his nerves ruined. Instead, he has respite, time to heal and regenerate, time for the memory of the pain to fade so that when it comes again, it is fresh and horrible.
His ruined lips have healed, though scarred, and the stitches hang uselessly, giving him back his voice. He rails at Sigyn, berating her for her slowness, for allowing him to suffer, for not helping him escape, for not killing him, for prolonging his agony. He hopes she will leave, but she keeps coming back. Every time she leaves to empty the bowl, he hopes and fears that she will never return. For in the depths of his agony, he prays for her return, to hold back the torture again for however long she can.
Yet the dread of its resumption frays his nerves. When guilt doesn't sway her, he starts telling her how stupid she is for staying with him, he who just as good as killed their sons, he who brought such misery upon her head. He tells her how he cuckolded her, and when he runs out of true tales he makes them up, each more salacious than the last. He tells her he never loved her. How if he could, he would put her in his place to take this torture instead of him. How he wouldn't be standing over her with bowl in hand to save her. He'd be back to his usual tricks without a care in the world for her.
The whole time she just stands there, immovable, looking down at him with a blank expression. This enrages him more than anything. "Say something, you stupid cow!" he yells.
She shakes her head and smiles fondly at him. "Loki, you're the best liar there is, but I can tell when you're making things up." This stuns him into silence. He had no idea she knew him so intimately. "If I cared who you've been with and what you've done, I would not be here," she says.
So he changes tactics. He tells her she deserves better. He tells her how worthless and wretched and deserving of scorn he is. She doesn't need to be here. She could have a life. Leave him to his well-deserved torment, put the bowl down, go back to Asgard. Find a new husband. Have more children. Be happy. Forget him.
She smiles again. "My love, you don't really want me to leave, do you?"
He doesn't. Gods help him but in his selfish heart he doesn't.
"Sigyn," he rasps, his tongue withered in his mouth. He doesn't know how long it's been, he's lost count of the times the serpent's venom has blasted his flesh while his wife empties her bowl. Sigyn looks wasted. Her arms are sinewy and corded, and they shake with the effort of holding out the bowl. Still, she has never wavered.
"Yes, my love?" she says.
"Are you really going to stay with me, here, doing this, until Ragnarok?"
She smiles and, holding the bowl steady above her head as she bends, leans forward to press her lips to his. Her lips are dry and cracked and flaking, his twisted and scarred, but the kiss is like sweet nectar to him. For the first time since this all began, he feels something akin to happiness.
"When we wed," she murmurs, laying her cool cheek against his fevered one, "I vowed to stay by your side until Ragnarok come. I meant it. I still hold to that oath."
She cries out. The bowl brims; she has spilled upon herself. Her body wracks with agony, yet she still holds the bowl steady, spilling not a drop. "I'll be back in a moment," she chokes out. "Brace yourself."
Loki holds the kiss in his mind as the poison rains down. The feel of it, the way it made his heart blossom in his chest. It doesn't stop the agony, doesn't even alleviate it, but it helps somehow. In a moment, he tells himself, though that moment is eternity, in a moment she'll be back.