A/N: My second fic :D! It'll be mostly Loki/Thor centric, with lashings of Tony. Just a heads-up: we're thinking of changing our username, but haven't decided on a new one yet.
He can almost swear Loki is smiling. Behind the metal muzzle covering his lower face, it is impossible to tell for sure, but Loki's eyes have lit up with glee and something akin to hope. A life sentence. Not the death sentence Thor has been fearing and Loki himself has been quietly dreading, but a life sentence. For the crimes of high treason and waging war against a peaceful realm, royal justice has been dealt – but Loki does not despair. Far from it. Death is so final; but life, even behind bars, at least holds the possibility of a second chance. Of revenge.
The Tesseract, still enclosed in its glass case, has been taken to the weapons vault, and Loki has been led away – far from the muttering crowds come to ogle at his humiliation, far from the sunlight, to the dungeons deep in the dank belly of Asgard, where the guards leave them. Thor's hand hasn't left his arm the entire way, periodically giving him slight squeezes as if to reassure him: You can get through this, just a little longer and it'll be over.
The son of Odin can't help but see Loki as a pitiable figure – defeated, shackled, his pale face still bruised and scabbed from his beating at the hand of the green beast, stripped of armour and battle-weathered leathers; but the eyes above the muzzle reveal his triumphant smirk. Thor frowns at him reprovingly before glancing around the dungeons, and Loki can tell from his face that he is not pleased with what he sees. Stone walls and frugal furnishings, stripped of all the luxuries and comforts to which a prince is accustomed.
He pities me. The fool. Even when passing judgment, he still can't help his misplaced sympathy.
A dull ache has begun to pervade Loki's jaw from wearing the muzzle too long. He has already tested it, trying to see how far he can part his lips, trying to poke his tongue out between his teeth so he can bite the tip and make himself bleed, to give them a reason to take the damned thing off, but the metal is unyielding. It's driving him mad. He resists the urge to claw it off his face, and instead meets Thor's gaze. The chain clanking between his wrists, he reaches up and touches the metal questioningly. He doesn't move as Thor walks behind him and wordlessly removes the muzzle. Loki waits until Odinson has turned his back before surreptitiously flexing his aching jaw, trying to make it click. Thor then frees Loki's wrists from their shackles.
'Satisfied?' Loki asks him.
Thor doesn't dignify his jab with an answer, instead saying without preamble:
'We should talk.'
'Is that not what we are doing right now?'
'I mean we should talk about…us. Our past, our childhood. Your…troubles.' Thor makes an aimless gesture.
'Please spare me your false piety, Odinson. We both know full well that I am no more than a troublesome inconvenience to you and the family.' With a wordless sneer, Loki turns away, pacing slowly around the dungeon. He is expecting the muscle-bound oaf to be needled by this, but Thor holds his temper surprisingly well.
'You will not make me angry,' Thor says, 'I've been thinking on this ever since your fall from the Bifrost, and I am prepared for whatever you might say to me.'
'Oh? I suppose I'll just have to try harder, then.'
'Both of us have much to answer for. Both of us are at fault,' Thor continues. Every aspect of Loki's body language and facial expression is telling him that his presence is unwelcome, but he soldiers on nonetheless, 'I know I always overshadowed you, both on the battlefield and in our parents' affections. But I want you to know that you were always loved. By me, Father, and Mother. Always. Whatever I have done to make you feel overlooked or ignored, to make you feel like your worth was less than mine, I sincerely apologise – '
'Really?' Loki interrupts, ' "Imagined slights" was what you said.'
'I meant no insult by it,' says Thor defensively. 'Whatever your pains are, I would never make light of them. You must know that.'
'Such false promises,' Loki's voice is quieter now, and heavy with bitterness, 'You sound like a child, Thor. A naïve, foolish child. As you always have.'
'Perhaps that is what I am. But, brother, if I had known…'
'Oh, you knew, Odinson. You just didn't care. All you had to do was swing your hammer and smile your brainless smile, and everybody worshipped you. Your friends were never my friends, they only tolerated me because of their adoration for you. But I? I was always an embarrassment.'
'Brother!' Thor frustratedly sighs. 'Why must you make things more difficult? Is it not enough that you have been imprisoned indefinitely?'
With a snort of laughter, Loki stops his pacing to look Thor up and down.
'Look at you. Acting so wise and mighty and chivalrous, when not so long ago you were a brash, brazen, senseless fool not deserving of the armour he wore. Now you've finally had some sense pounded into you, and you embrace your newfound superiority with an insufferable pomposity. What for? To please the All-Father? To atone for your old shame, your past failures? To impress that woman?'
Instantly the air changes. Loki can almost feel his hair going static as Odinson raises a threatening finger.
'Don't,' Thor orders, 'I'm warning you.'
Knowing he has crossed a line, Loki temporarily subsides, but of course he can't resist for long.
'Is she pretty?' he asks just as Odinson lowers his hand. Thor looks up, confused by the inexplicable enquiry, and nods. 'How pretty? Is she my type? Would I find her interesting?'
Before Loki can move, Thor has crossed the distance between them in a flash and seized him by the throat with both hands. Gritting his teeth, Loki manages to kick Thor's leg out from under him, but the heavier Asgardian regains his balance and does not relent his hold. Loki paws ineffectually at him and chokes.
'Don't you dare speak of Jane!' Thor roars.
During their brief struggle, he slams Loki against the wall so hard the back of the trickster's head bounces off the stones. Dazed, Loki hangs there, unresisting. Realising Loki's struggles have ceased, Thor's mind clears – he sees his younger brother holding his breath, one hand raised in surrender and the other trying unsuccessfully to loosen Thor's grip on his throat.
Realising what he is doing, Thor releases him and backs off. Catching his breath, the trickster stifles a painful cough; rising, he touches his bruised back and walks stiffly to the furthest confines of his cell, putting as much distance between himself and Thor as possible. Thor feels ashamed; but when he recalls Loki's taunts, he is deeply angered.
'Be glad,' Thor seethes, 'that you are not a common criminal; otherwise I would have you flogged for this insult.'
He wipes the sweat from his forehead and leaves without another word, the stone door clanking and grinding shut behind him.
They do not speak again for a month.
Loki's ego is hurt as much as this throat, but both hurts quickly heal. Left to rot, he is faced with two choices: insanity or patience. So he makes his choice. He grows accustomed to his cell, with the contours of the ceiling and the scratch-marks on the rocks. There is no way to keep track of the passage of time underground, but he knows from his meals when it's morning and when it's evening – porridge and bruised apples mean breakfast, while soup and stale bread mean supper. The guards do not speak to him when they bring him food, and he ignores them.
Sometimes, in moments of weakness, he wonders: How long will it take for me to grow white-haired and withered like Old One-Eye? Will my mind be dulled, my wits weakened? A millennia is a long time, even for a god. But he doesn't allow these doubts to take hold. Instead, he sits and meditates, biding his time, waiting – for what? He isn't sure. Perhaps Asgard will be conquered by some other realm and Loki will be able to escape. Perhaps in a few thousand years the All-Father will fall into the Odinsleep, Thor will ascend the throne and Frigga will beg him to overturn Loki's sentence. Either way, when the time comes, he'll be ready. Sooner or later, an opportunity will arise.
'Not soon enough.'
Loki's eyes go wide, his muscles slackening before he is seized by violent, uncontrollable tremors. Doubled over, his fingers scratch helplessly at his temples in sheer horror as the pervasive voice in his head continues:
'Cease your quivering, wretch. You've already failed me once before. Fail me again and I will tear you apart piece by piece, from the inside out. I will strip your mind bare and leave it a bleeding, gaping wound. By the time I finish with you, you will not even remember your own name. Heed my warning, Loki Laufeyson.'
Reeling, Loki shudders, hands clawing at his head. Suddenly the voice is soft and insidious, crooning like a mother's lullaby:
'You may still be of service to me. You know the ways between the realms, and how to open them. The All-Father has something of mine in his possession: a gauntlet, with six gems embedded. No doubt you know it well.'
All Loki can do is nod, his jaw frozen and eyes glassy. The voice is pushing him deeper and deeper into the ground, the walls of the dungeon seeming to grow further and further away from his reach even as claustrophobia closes in on him like a trap.
'Aid me, and the world will be yours. You are a king by right of birth. Your rule over the Nine Realms will be more glorious than even Odin All-Father's.'
On his belly, Loki coughs and dry-heaves. Gradually the spasms and nausea pass, the painful pounding of his heart slows to a regular rate, and his body relaxes as the words seep through him, burying themselves deep in the cracks of his damaged mind.
'I will not fail you again,' he finally utters, realising as he does so that his mouth has completely dried up, his throat reduced to a parched wasteland. 'The gauntlet and the cube will be yours to wield; Asgard and all its people mine to subjugate. But…I have only one condition. Thor and his parents will be imprisoned, but they are not to be harmed by anyone but me. I want them alive. Agreed?'
'The rest of Asgard can crumble and burn, and its people weep and wail for all I care.'
'How will you rule them, then?'
The crushing darkness lifts and Loki is left gasping, alone. He sits huddled in a corner of his cell as normality returns and his mind gradually resumes its machinations. The silence and solitude seem somehow a little less oppressive, as if a ray of light – of hope – is leaking into his prison. He has a purpose. He has an ally. And soon, he will have his vengeance.