Loki closes his eyes for the first time since the sentencing, and it feels like joining the ends of a circle. He has been cut off from the world; there is balance in cutting the world off from him. Doubtless, that was not Odin's intention, but it is one of Loki's many gifts, to take the advantage in whatever dismal situation is handed him.

So yes, he has had his lips sewn shut, and yes, the wounds burn and sting and ache, and yes, blood is trickling in thin rivulets down over his chin. But he wouldn't be Loki if he couldn't find value here, and there is something attractive about the whole thing.

He touches his lips, running two fingers along them, feeling the flesh-thread-flesh ripple past. In the silence, the thought can unfold without any of the usual pressure he would be under to speak it clearly, at once, before he was even sure of what he was thinking. Attractive, yes. He can be honest with himself, since there is only him to hear it. Nothing will slip past into reality. Odin's hand was too sure and steady for that, and for once Loki is grateful for Odin's continued existence.

Continued stupidity, too, for even the few seconds in which Loki has considered this has shown him how much he can gain from it. Time to think, time to consider, to plan. No chance that he will betray himself with his mind whispered aloud, that he will speak out in his sleep. It is as though the threads through his lips are protecting him from himself.

He has spoken a great many foolish things in his life, for all his reputation as silver-tongued, and it is almost too relieving to know that he no longer needs to trust himself to stay silent. He has failed that trust too many times already. Kneel before me would have been a good thing to keep back, perhaps. Indeed, nearly everything he said on Midgard, he would have done well notto say. You brought the monster with you; how had he let that slip? Father is dead, he certainly should not have said. Am I cursed? What he would give to unsay that whole conversation!

Yet his fragile mind is safe now. The thread is as secure as any prison's locks – more so, considering how easily he escaped the Avengers' glass cage. He can find strength in this silence. He is glad of it, his heart lightened.

He would laugh if he could, but he smiles instead, the cool flicker of his magic easing the thread's way as it shifts through his flesh. This alone is almost worth everything he has suffered to come here: that his punishment should bring him happiness. He imagines Thor's face should he find out, confusion and disbelief, and the slow churning of his thoughts as he tries to understand. But Thor will never know, because Loki will not tell him. Loki's thoughts will remain his own, Loki will be left in peace.

Yes, peace. Loki touches his lips again. Such a little thing, and yet…

Perhaps something has at last gone right for him.

When Thor enters, Loki ignores him, and continues reading. He's allowed to do that, after all, no longer expected to tear himself away from his pursuits. He doesn't have to greet anyone, doesn't have to pretend interest in anyone's affairs, doesn't have to drag himself to feasts. All this time he has wasted talking and eating, and it is strange to discover how he misses neither.

"Loki," Thor says. Loki doesn't know what he expects - an answer? "Father says you must stop touching the binding."

Loki doesn't drop his fingers from where they are indeed touching his lips and the thread that crosses them. It fascinates him, how something so small can be so powerful, how everything he is can be bound so easily. A lesson to be valued, something to thank Odin for: that insignificance applied to the right place can fell the mightiest strength.

"You will interfere with the healing."

Have they not learned that Loki is self-interested beyond all else? That nothing he ever does will be to his harm?

"I will – he will bind your hands if he must."

Loki arches a brow at that slip of Thor's tongue, but he was right to correct himself. Thor does not have the nerve. Loki huffs an irritated breath through his nose, but lowers his hand and turns a page with it as though he had intended to all along.

"Thank you," Thor says, seeing through him, and Loki scowls. He starts reading again, and waits for Thor to leave.

He doesn't. He crosses Loki's room and sits opposite him, so overly large that his knees almost touch Loki's chair. Loki very carefully does not raise his eyes. Borderline treason, to so ignore the heir of Asgard, but Loki will be forgiven. Loki will be forgiven much. After all, how can he be expected to follow every little point of etiquette with the pain of his lips a constant distraction? Never mind that there is, in fact, no pain.

"Are you well, brother?"

Loki arches his brow again. How exactly does Thor expect him to answer? He has been silenced; only Thor would prompt him to speak. Loki does nothing. He can be rude without fear. Yes, this is freeing.

"Just... I must know, give me a sign, anything, that you are well."

Loki exhales a sigh, and looks up from his book to stare Thor in the eye. Icily, he inclines his head in a nod. Thor's breath leaves him, and he smiles, ridiculously relieved. Perhaps now Loki will be left in peace.

Yes, Thor stands, claps one heavy hand on Loki's shoulder, and walks away. The door swings shut behind him, and Loki hears the physical and magical locks re-engage.

Perhaps this time they will do as good a job of keeping others out as keeping him in.

Loki is bored.

With his newly-discovered reserves of time, he has managed to read every book in his chambers. Speaking and eating are starting to seem oddly appealing, for any pursuit which will make time pass faster is welcome. As it is, with nothing else to do, he has fallen to ignoring Thor's warning utterly and has not left the binding alone in hours. Cautiously, however, for he needs the use of his hands. Loki can be very subtle in taking what he wants.

His tongue flicks out between his teeth to press against the thread inside his mouth. It feels stranger from this side, the thread not digging into the flesh as it does on the outside. No, here there is a gap between the two, and the thread stands out very slightly. It feels almost like the strings of a harp, taught and straight.

He laughs at that idea, and though the sound may be trapped in his throat it is a laugh all the same. He raises his fingers, and strums across his lips. It's all magic, no virtue of the thread whatsoever, but he draws a clear and ringing chord from the binding that bears a miniscule resemblance to how a harp of that size might sound, high and sweet. He taps an individual strand in lieu of plucking it, and that gives him a single note, different to those on either side.

Combinations of two strings provide harmonies and dissonances, and he amuses himself with mapping out the combinations. Three strings produce a clash of the notes more often than not, but he finds one arrangement that gives him a lingering, bittersweet chord, and plays that again without knowing quite why. He certainly doesn't feel bittersweet, though he supposes perhaps he should. Perhaps it should be bittersweet to gain the advantage he now has through his punishment and, some would call it, torture. Perhaps it is bitter to give up so much in exchange for this sweet mental peace. Loki scoffs, and moves on to another note. Such examinations do not interest him. He has his gains because he has taken them, and his losses have been permitted. There is nothing they have done to him without his acquiescence.

They have not forced this upon him; he allowed it. The thread is nothing more than that, simple thread, no magic in it beyond what he has put there, and he could cut it free in a heartbeat. But he doesn't. Silence is useful. Silence is valued.

Except for when silence makes way for song, the notes floating around him like tangible spirits. His fingers ripple in more complex patterns, and he draws out the music of ballads and sagas and poems, until the air shimmers with everything he does not wish to say.

The Avengers had to come to Asgard eventually. Who else would be able to negotiate terms of an alliance with Odin? Who else could be trusted to come so far safely?

Who else would want so much to see Asgardian justice meted out?

Loki knows they will be disappointed. Agent Barton especially will want to see him flayed open and screaming for mercy, and he knows that Agent Romanoff is not as moral as she wishes herself to be. He defeated Stark in his own hall, a grave insult beyond the defenestration itself, and though the captain and the monster were little harmed by him directly, he cannot imagine they will be well pleased either.

It matters not. He is not here for their amusement. His punishment is between him and Odin, criminal and judge, and the Avengers will have no part in it beyond what they steal with their prying eyes.

Thor brings them to his chambers. Of course he does. Sentimental fool. Why does he try so hard to please them? Loki does not know, and truly does not care. He would be glad if Thor dedicated himself to the Avengers so loyally that he left Asgard to join their ongoing cause. Perhaps he would die serving them, leaving Odin no choice but to take Loki as heir once more.

He laughs at that, lips motionless, sound dancing in his throat, and is laughing still when the doors swing wide and permit the entrance of many feet. Loki turns his head slowly, and smiles. Let them see that for all he is a prisoner now, he remains a Prince of Asgard, that he has eternities to be forgiven, and this will pass. He tilts his head in acknowledgement, slightly less than perhaps he should, considering Thor's presence, but if petty mockery is the best insult he can give then he will settle for petty mockery.

It strikes them deeply, it seems, and he is surprised that they should be so alive to Asgardian customs. Agent Romanoff's mouth falls open, just a little, and beside her, Agent Barton's eyes widen. Stark and Banner both turn pale. Almost as if he does not realize what he is doing, the captain raises his hand and rubs his lips.

Ah. This is not about his insult at all. They are shocked by his treatment. The binding offends them. They are shocked and offended on his behalf.

If it would not mark him as mad, he would laugh again. Perhaps they will be satisfied, after all. Perhaps now they will leave him be.

"Thor," says Banner, voice trembling ever so slightly. "What is this?"

"What the hell is this?" Stark adds tersely, wheeling to face Thor. "You people have pretty strange ideas of justice."

"Is this what he faced from you all along?" Rogers demands. "No wonder he fought so hard!"

They are defending him. Defending him. From Thor. That is amusing.

If loud. Can they not defend him more quietly?

"This is not okay, Thor, he's done some pretty terrible things but you can't just take it all out on him like this!"

"How does he eat? Did you think of that? Or do you mean to let him starve, is that it?"

"You were right, Asgard's not more evolved than Earth. Maybe we're not gods, but we don't do this!"

And they are still growing louder. Much louder, when Thor roars back in his own defense about crimes and magic and Asgardian law.

"Take it out."


"Take it out. Right now. Call it part of the treaty, if you want, but take it out!"

No, that won't do at all.

Loki pulls a knife from beneath a cushion and whips it between his lips. The threads split easily, the pointed tip sliding smoothly to reach the lengths inside his mouth. For the first time in weeks, he speaks.

Louder than all of them.

"I like it," he snarls, eyes flickering across their faces, turned to him at the sound of his voice. He takes good advantage of the attention, and speaks again before they can break into argument once more. "It is peaceful. And quiet." More for the drama than anything else, he reaches up and pulls the first half-circle of thread free from his upper lip. It needs more magic than he would like, but it comes out with sufficient elegance. He takes hold of the second piece. "Do you truly believe me so weak that I would tolerate any indignity I did not wish to? Your concern is touching but far from necessary."

If possible, they look even more shocked than before. He pulls another piece loose, and tucks it into his free hand along with the others. Under his magic, they reweave themselves into a single strand.

"How the hell could you like something like that?"

Loki offers Stark a smile, only partly for the pleasure of seeing them all flinch when the wounds are stretched open. "Can you of all people not see the advantage? Does your genius not desire to be left in peace? Are your thoughts not jumbled and hurried by the need to tell them to others? Do you not lose precision and even truth when you must explain your imaginings?" He flicks his fingers at them before taking the final piece and pulling it out. "The fools around me do not speak to me. Is that not something you have long wanted?"

"Oh. Well, when you put it that way…"

"Good. Then you may leave with a clear conscience, and fear not that you desert me to suffering and torment, or whatever it was you feared for me."

The Avengers stare at each other, wordless, and Loki smiles at the insufficiency of their poor minds to contemplate his. Nevertheless, they may still prove useful.

"Before you go…" He holds up the thread. "Could someone put this back?"