Disclaimer: The Avengers and all related characters are note mine. I'm borrowing them for a bit. All rights reserved.

Author's note: This fic starts about a year after the events of The Avengers. This was going to be a quick little one-shot, but then I realized it needed more setup than I had at the time, so I might as well flesh it out properly. I'm not sure where this will go, but I am borrowing ideas from the "Rescue" story arc of the Iron Man comics.

Loki paced like a caged tiger, tracing over and over the circumference of his darkened cell in the depths of Asgard. After what had happened on Midgard during his attempted conquest of Earth - and it would have worked, too, if it wasn't for those stupid mortals and their damned Hulk - after what had happened, Odin had taken away Loki's magic and thrown him into this hole, clamping a muzzle over his mouth so he wouldn't be able to speak to anyone. It was an uncharacteristic display of cunning on Odin's part, really - the Allfather had seen what a powerful weapon Loki's voice could be, and it ensured that Loki wouldn't be able to convince anyone to help him out of the cell and to freedom. He'd heard tales of others who's endured this level of "justice" - many of them had gone mad. Some had died of despair. A few had simply disappeared.

This last possibility admittedly troubled him. The Other had promised to find him if he'd failed in taking Midgard, and administer a fate that would make mere pain seem like the most beautiful of luxuries.

Loki paced faster. For all his power, Odin had not been able to take away all of his abilities. He had been able to lower Thor to a mere mortal because Thor was born of Asgard, sired by Odin, and naturally the Allfather would be familiar with the abilities that came with it. But Lokiā€¦ oh yes, he'd groveled and mewled for mercy as he'd felt his magic being taken, but he'd managed to hide away a small amount of it, concealing it even from Odin's far-seeing gaze. It would not be enough to get him out of this cell, though, nor to allow him to find the rest - wherever Odin had concealed it, the sanctimonious bastard - but it would help him, once. He would need to save it for the perfect opportunity.

He had fifty years to plan his escape, during which he would be unable to starve to death, merely waste away.

He stopped, reaching up to pull at the muzzle again. It was made of mithral, a metal found in abundance in Asgard which took enchantments readily and which was stronger than steel. It didn't budge so much as an inch.

Well, it was worth a try, in any case.

He paused then, tensing like a dog that senses the subtle signs of an approaching storm. Something wasn't right. He glanced around in the darkness, feeling the fine hairs on the back of his neck stand up. When he started to hear the whispering, barely teasing at the edges of his hearing, he knew what it was.

Something was coming.

Something indescribably horrible, in a way that he recognized. His breath wheezed faster through his nose as panic rose in his chest, setting his heart to a frantic hammering as he desperately clawed at the muzzle, trying to pry it free so that he could at least call for help. Under other circumstances he would rather eat his own arm than ask any of the Asgardians for help, but he'd already seen what the Others had in store for him, had already experienced what they did to those they found potentially useful - his skin still burned at the memory. He had no intention of finding out what they did to those who'd failed them.

He gave up on the muzzle and started pounding at the door, tears of raw terror streaming from his eyes as he silently screamed for someone, anyone, to please please please hear him and come get him the hell out of here right fucking now oh god they're coming for me can't you hear them please somebody ANYBODY -

Not even the sound of his own sobs escaped the muzzle - it was too well-designed to keep him quiet. He clawed at the door, not caring as a fingernail snagged in one of the rivets and tore free of the nail bed. He slammed his fists against the thick metal door until his hands bled, and still the whispering grew louder -

- and then it stopped, leaving behind a horrifying, crawling, watchful silence, as though some vengeful entity from beyond reality were staring at the back of his head. He dared not move, as if moving might betray his location, but he knew, right down in the pit of his bowels he knew that there would be no more hiding. He sobbed silently into the muzzle, curling into a corner and wrapping his arms around his head in what he knew was a futile attempt to protect himself from what was to come. The last thing he heard was a harsh, whispering voice right next to his ear, so subtle it might have been planted in his mind

(fOUnd yOU)

and then he was gone.

Five seconds later, Heimdall's gaze fell upon the cell. All that remained of its occupant was a single fingernail, torn out by the roots, and the muzzle, still spinning to a halt on the floor. Heimdall frowned.

"Herregud," he swore.

End Prologue.

Author's note: I took the time to look up Norse swear words for this chapter. "Herregud" means something like "Lord" or "God", and indicates frustration.