1: Consulting Criminologist
Another unrelenting shock of electricity exploded from the electrodes connected to the pale, bared skin of his chest. The agonizing reverberations coursed through the entirety of his body, leaving him senseless from blinding pain. He gritted his white teeth, suppressing the howl of agony that was threatening to erupt from the deepest, most guttural part of his abdomen. He refused to allow his gaolers to derive any sadistic amusement or satisfaction from his excruciating torture. Sadistic pleasure was his speciality and he was not about to let a brainless pawn of the Asgardian penitentiary prison enjoy his suffering. He would bear the pain just as he had for the past four months—silently and with dignity. He was not a piteously frail human. He was a god.
It had been four months since the Avengers Initiative had successfully prevented world domination at the self-serving and heartless hands of Loki, the Asgardian god of mischief and lies. His rampage across the continent and the Chitauri alien attack had left quite a mess on the hands of international governments, especially that of the states. Evelyn McPherson, as a result, had been buried neck-deep in paper work. Every spare agent had been called upon to help cover up the otherworldly attack. The rebuilding efforts were still in full swing as teams of workers went about repairing the distressing damage that Loki's brief stint on Earth had instigated.
Evelyn huffed, annoyed, as she continued with her tiring paperwork. Tucking several stray strands of hair back into her messy bun, she pushed her largely oversized round glasses back to the top of her nose. The current file that she was leaning over was an account of one civilian's debriefing. The detail of the man's retelling of events was markedly detailed and eloquent. From his words alone, Evie was able to deduce that he had graduated from higher education, likely with a PhD, and was employed in a detail-oriented service. Similarly, she could detect an arrogance to him; his own self-praise evident to her in the subtext of his account.
Shoving the paper aside, Evie slumped back into her swivel chair. She was bursting at the seams. At the ripe age of twenty-three, Evie was one of the most accomplished criminologists in America. She'd always been an advanced learner and had graduated high school at the age of sixteen. By the age of twenty she'd completed a Masters in Criminology. No one had thought the feat possible, but Evie's most powerful tool had always been her receptive mind.
She excelled at reading peoples' emotions, at connecting with troubled individuals and helping them realize their errs. In two years she had helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation apprehend four serial killers who had been evading capture for the past decade. She had overseen the rehabilitation of some of the most notorious murderers. Her track record, to say the least, was impressive, and two months before the official launch of the Avengers Initiative, S.H.I.E.L.D. had hired her as their consulting criminologist.
Part of her job had been profiling incarcerated criminals, potential criminals, analyzing trends in criminal activity that could prove threatening to national security. She did it all; she was a machine. But as of late—notably the past four months—her normally well-oiled joints had grown rusty. She had been reduced to turning civilian debriefing transcripts into substance for psychoanalysis. Evie's mind was metaphorically rotting from disuse.
"Look alive, McPherson. Fury wants to see you in his office."
The familiar voice of Agent Romanoff awoke Evelyn from her thoughts. She quickly pushed the stubborn glasses back up her nose, looking at the agent through the endearingly large frames with wide eyes.
"What does he want from me? More mind-numbing file reviewing? No, thank-you very much, I think I'll pass," Evie grumbled, sinking deeper into her seat.
Natasha rolled her eyes. "Get up, Evie. This is serious. Fury has a proposal for you."
Evie perked up and quickly rose, a bit too quickly, as she ended up stumbling forward and smacking her kneecap against the wooden leg of her desk. She winced, cursing her clumsiness. "What kind of proposal?"
Natasha shrugged. "Not my business or concern. Now move it. You know how agitated Patch gets when he's kept waiting."
Evie tried not to snicker at Fury's nickname. The Avengers had taken an affinity to calling him Patch when he wasn't present. Agent Romanoff, who Evie had always found to be the most perceptive of the Avengers, noticed her subtle smirk and returned the teasing smile. Evie eagerly followed the fit agent to Fury's office. Despite Agent Romanoff's reputation for being unapproachable and intimidating, Evie found her rather kind, well, kind to her. Evie knew the tough face she put on was an act, just a front to get people to respect her.
The pair reached the glass doors of his office. Inside, Nick Fury sat at his desk, his attention divided between a computer screen and several substantially sized folders scattered across his desk.
"Good luck," Natasha warned with a wink. The agent strode off and Evie knocked twice on the glass doors. Fury didn't look up but motioned with two fingers for her to enter.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Have a seat, Miss McPherson." Evie did as bidden and squirmed nervously in her seat during the brief silence that followed. Fury clicked a few more buttons on the keypad and transcribed a few digits onto a grid of similarly sized numbers before finally placing his elaborate fountain pen on the tabletop and lifting his head to meet her chocolate brown eyes with his single, disconcertingly scrutinizing black eye. "It has come to my attention that your talents, which, as you know, I hold in the highest regard, have been going to waste. I think it's high time you hand your filing efforts over to another agent and take on a project more up your alley. Don't you agree?"
Evie nodded fervently. "Yes, sir. Yes, absolutely," she breathed excitedly. "You have no idea how antsy I've been lately."
Nick Fury nodded with understanding. "I'm glad we're on the same page. Now, I've recently spoken with Thor and he reported on the situation in Asgard and how they've been handling the prisoner."
A cautionary voice sounded in her mind and Evie thought back to the times she'd spoken with Thor. Not being directly involved in the active mission, Evie had mostly just seen the Avengers from a distance. She'd been pre-occupied by her own position as team leader of Loki's criminal profiling. He was a fascinating god with a knack for mischief. He was unpredictable which made assembling a cohesive profile and trying to keep ahead of his movements one of the severest challenges she had ever faced. Loki was an enigma. He was the only criminal the Evie had ever profiled that she had been frightened of—and she hadn't even met him face to face, she'd met murderers before and they didn't hold a torch to Loki. It may have been the fact that he was a supernatural being with a reservoir of tricks and tactics that Evie could never even dream of ascertaining. Whatever it was, Evie would be content to never have to meet him. Ever.
On the topic of Thor, however, Evie found him to be extremely loyal to his brother. He demonstrated a firm belief in familial value. He'd defended Loki even in the god's lowest of times. For such a large and built god, he had a sympathetic heart and compassionate soul. He loved Earth; that much was clear.
"And how is Asgard handling their prisoner?" Evie asked conversationally. She could sense that Fury had wanted her to ask that very question.
"He has been subject to torture for the past four months," Fury said in an unaffected tone.
An audible gasp of horror escaped Evie's lips. "Torture? That's inhumane!"
Fury gave her a curious look. "Need I remind you, Miss McPherson, that Loki is a murderer, a plotter, and a deviant. You should have no sympathy for him."
Evie lowered her gaze. The reason she was the best at her job was because she sympathized with criminals. She opened herself up to them so that they in return would open up to her. She'd witness their callous hearts and feel their frustration and the pain of their loved ones and she'd use all of those powerfully internalized emotions to lead the criminals to a catharsis. Torture was unacceptable in her books. How is a reformer any more human than a criminal when they resort to such dehumanizing practices?
"You said this has been going on for four months?" she tried not to snap at Fury as her frustration mounted.
"Yes. The Asgardian Courts sentenced him to one year of imprisonment and confiscation of his magic. For the first six months he is be left in absolute isolation, sans human contact. He is punished through the triggering of debilitating electric shocks ordered by the Courts to be delivered thrice every hour, to be done regularly and without mercy," Fury explained, his black eye carefully trained on her distressed expression.
Evelyn shook her head, disgusted. "How is torturing him endlessly for months supposed to help rehabilitate him?"
"He's a god Evie. Don't forget. Electrocution won't kill him. In any case, Thor came to me and informed me that criminal reforming in Asgard lacks, how should I say, a certain level of sensitivity that comes with the rehabilitation of prisoners on Earth. In two months, Loki will be relegated to a holding cell where he will remain for the rest of his year's sentence. This is where I come to you, Miss McPherson."
Evie's heart thudded loudly in her chest in a strange combination of excitement and trepidation. "Thor has asked for a human to oversee Loki's reintegration."
Evie stood abruptly, the feet of her chair screeching offensively across the linoleum floor. She must have been quite the sight because Fury rose as well, his nonchalant expression replaced with one of uncertainty. "No. Absolutely not. I refuse."
Fury looked down at her, disappointed. "You haven't let me finish."
"I don't need you to finish. I know what you're going to ask me and I outright refuse. I will not rehabilitate Loki. I won't," she said firmly, jaw set, eyes fierce.
A frown crossed Fury's face. "It would be six months in Asgard. You would be well-looked after there. Thor has already arranged for your own quarters. Essentially, you would act as liaison between Asgard and S.H.I.E.L.D., keeping us updated on your progress with the prisoner as well as with any developments that might unravel. Your obligations would include visiting him once a day for a two hour period with one day a week for yourself. Once a week you'll be expected to report to us via an advanced circum-realm transmitter that we have several technicians working on as we speak."
Evelyn shook her head. Loki was dangerous. His powers and knowledge were hundreds of years in the making. She would be at a disadvantage to him, and she couldn't have that.
"Consider this, Evelyn. If you successfully reintegrate one of the most hostile criminals known to all nine realms, well, it will make your career. Do you really want to let slide the opportunity to attempt your hardest case yet? Think of how fulfilling it would prove to be should you succeed."
"I—I don't know," Evelyn stuttered uncertainly. She couldn't deny that the whole idea was enticing—travelling through realms and rehabilitating a god. It was all too fantastical to comprehend. And what would she return to should she refuse but heaps upon heaps of paperwork, the same old mind-numbing work that she'd been working on for four months now. Maybe it was time to take a leap of faith. Maybe this was her chance to break through the mould. Maybe this was her moment to shine.
With trembling fingers, Evie plucked her glasses off her face and placed them haphazardly atop her head. Her left hand ran over her face as she considered all of the possibilities. She bit her lip knowing full well that she was going to regret her decision.
Fury raised a pleased brow, allowing a rare smile to appear on his face.
"I'll do it."
The next two months went by with excruciating deliberateness. The first phase of his punishment—that of his court-authorized physical purgation—had finally ended. After six months of saving face, of grinning and bearing it, Loki had finally allowed his screaming body to collapse into blackness. He was both physically and mentally exhausted, but he would not accept defeat. When he awoke some hours later, he found himself tossed carelessly on a plush four poster bed. The sensation of something soft that offered comfort was foreign to him following six months of torture. Limbs aching with the remembrance and lingering of his painful experience, he lightly caressed the emerald comforter of his new bed, allowing his fingers to take in the silky texture and smooth threading. It was all so ridiculously lavish that he couldn't help but chuckle hoarsely with contempt.
It took several seconds for Loki to sit upright on the bed. The room was comfortable enough. Aside from the laughably extravagant bed, the rest of the furnishings were more appropriately Spartan. There was a desk, a simple stone hearth, and two winged armchairs. His educated guess would be that his mother, Frigga, had managed to convince the courts to grant him a comfortable bed for sleep. It wasn't likely that anyone aside from the Queen of Asgard could convince the courts to agree to such an excessive addition to his cell. A thin-lipped smirk spread across his face. Six months of isolation had awakened him to the reality that there were some people in his life that he cared enough for to miss; his mother, for one, and much to his own chagrin, his brother too—although he'd never admit to it. The rest he could happily do without.
So lost was he in his thoughts that he did not hear the approaching footfalls of his brother. Only when the sound of his door unbolting echoed beyond his room did he lift his head in acknowledgement. The grossly massive bulk of Thor's body filled the doorway before he stepped into the cell, door shutting locked behind him.
"Brother." Thor's deep voice was the first that he'd heard in six months. His throat tightened uncomfortably. "It has been too long. How are you feeling? You must know that mother and I tried to lighten your sentence. Neither of us wanted you to be put through that kind of pain. The courts were harsh with their conviction," Thor said in a single breath, his clear blue eyes swirling with regret.
Loki scowled at his older brother's sentimentality. "Stop blubbering, Thor. It's very unbecoming. And I personally found their punishment uncharacteristically forgiving considering that twice I have sieged Midgard," Loki mused.
Thor brushed off his comment. "I have missed you, Loki." His deep voice was gruff with emotion as he scratched his chin seemingly embarrassed by the admission.
The scowl of disdain remained on Loki's pale, drawn face. "How touching. Now what do you want?"
Thor frowned disapprovingly. "I wanted to be your first visitor. I thought you'd appreciate some company." When Loki said nothing, Thor continued. "You should know that the court has revised your sentence. They have amended your punishment to include counselling sessions for the next six months as you are rehabilitated for social reintegration."
Loki's head shot up, his emerald green eyes narrowing with bitterness. "Counselling? I thought we had agreed on a further six months of incarceration?" Loki demanded, growing agitated.
Thor took a seat in the wingback chair by the hearth. "Your incarceration will be lengthened to an additional year following these next six months should you refuse the counselling, Loki." His blond features knitted in a frustrated frown. "You do not belong in a cell, Loki. You are not as bad as that. I advise you to accept the court's amendment. Do not grant them the pleasure of witnessing you wasting away in a cell," he pleaded.
Loki's eyes burned fiercely with quiet rage. "I would not lower myself to seek the counsel of some inconsequential fool. In any case, there is no such a person in Asgard qualified to offer such a service. Counselling is a fruitless practice that sentimental humans engage in."
Thor's gaze turned serious. "You are right, brother. There is no such person in Asgard…"
It took Loki a fraction of a second to realize what his brother was implying. He rose to his feet, not attempting to conceal the indignant fury that he was feeling. "Absolutely not!" he seethed, outrage colouring his tone. "To seek the counsel of some insignificant human would be the ultimate act of my character's depreciation. Do they not know who I am?" he growled, fists clenched at his sides.
Thor nodded. "Yes. They know exactly who you are, Loki, and that is why they have altered your sentence. They are challenging you, brother. Prove to them you are a better man."
"Of all the insults… and a human no less," Loki muttered, his voice infused with bitter derision.
"Loki, I will not see you rot in solitude for a whole year. I have it on good terms that the human Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. has selected is most qualified."
To be so debased by being analyzed and treated by a human subject made Loki's stomach churn sickeningly. Another year and a half in this hell hole would be far from agreeable. Six months was far more pleasing in terms of sentence length. But to be forced to consult with a human, to have to rely on their undependable word and questionable effectiveness of practice in order to regain his freedom—it was disgraceful. Somehow he knew that Odin had been involved in the modification. Odin had always been a proponent of instilling moral lessons. Forcing him to spend time with a human, the very specimen that he had sought to rule over, was just his way of digging the dagger ever deeper.
Thor could read the disgust and consequent reluctance on his brother's face. He was aware of Loki's distaste for humans, but agreeing to the new sentence was the right decision. "I know it wounds your pride, brother. But I am sure that it will not prove to be as terrible as you believe. If not for yourself, do it for mother. Not a day has passed that she has not wept for your absence, for the cruel injustice of your sentence. Do not deprive her of a most beloved son."
Loki cursed his brother's ability to reason with him. He wasn't supposed to be the one with the silver tongue. Bringing his mother into the affair was a conniving move. Only pleading the case of his mother could cause him to waver in his resolve. He had a suspicion that he would regret the decision.
Thor lifted a brow, a satisfied smile lighting his handsome face.
"I'll do it."
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