The sound of Thor's boots echoed off the stone steps, resounding through the subterranean space as he descended into the depths of Odin's Palace. The air grew colder, and the darkness was only dimly penetrated by the occasional torch lining the walls. Thor glanced back up at the tiny dot of sunlight in the distance, before continuing uneasily into the depths.
As the chill heightened and the narrow tunnel grew steadily darker, he began to doubt his navigation - he had never visited the underground prisons of the palace, and had too much pride to ask for directions. Yet, greatly to his relief, his vague orientations of the subterranean labyrinth proved correct, and he finally reached the flat stone landing of the antechamber.
The huge, iron doors were flanked on either side by guards, covered in armor and fully equipped with weaponry. The two men's eyes widened at the sight of the heir to the throne, but they did not step aside as he neared them.
"I wish to speak to my brother." he stated firmly, when they showed no signs of letting him pass.
"My lord, I am not sure if that is-" one of the guards began unsurely.
"He is permitted visitors, is he not?" Thor interrupted gruffly.
The man nodded slowly, exchanged a dubious look with his partner, and moved out of the way of the entrance. Thor pulled the heavy doors open effortlessly, stepped into the chamber, and allowed them to swing shut behind him. He took a moment to compose himself, and turned.
The chamber was quite vast, flanked on all sides by chiseled stone, but the prison itself was set into the far wall. It was a brightly lit, square room, with one solid glass panel in place of bars. The rest of the surfaces were glaringly, painfully white. It was spacious in a desolate and isolating way, and entirely unfurnished but for a small table and a bench- like bed built onto the wall.
Loki was perched on the bed, staring at the blank white wall across from him with an equally blank expression. At the sound of the doors scraping open, his eyes flicked towards the doorway, and a look of contempt crossed his face, before his gaze returned to the blank wall.
Thor noticed how unkept he looked - his hair messily cast about his shoulders, his skin pale and slightly sickly-looking. His torn clothes seemed to hang more loosely off his shoulders than they once had, and indeed his limbs looked fragilely thin.
"Hail, brother." Thor called, not certain if he could be heard through the impenetrable glass wall. Loki's lip twitched in cold amusement.
Evidently, he could.
"Did you receive the books I had sent?" he asked, and then he spotted them - several thick volumes, stacked on the table.
"Oh, yes, I did. Thank you." Loki replied sarcastically.
"I thought you would need something to keep you busy." Thor continued on, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Oh, how insightful of you. Nothing cures the woes of eternal imprisonment like reading material." his brother responded cooly. Thor gave a strained smile.
"Do you like my cage?" Loki added. "I'll admit, it was not as I expected. I thought they would throw me into some dark hole, never to be seen again. Instead, I was cast into this: white walls, piercing lights... Nowhere to run. No shadows to hide in."
"I do suppose that is the point." Thor commented, before he could stop himself. There was an uncomfortable silence.
Thor went to speak, but Loki beat him to it.
"What of the outside world?"
"What?" Thor said blankly.
"What of the outside world? In case it was beyond your reckoning, I receive little news in my current position." Loki queried, blinking lazily at the featureless wall.
"It goes on as it ever did." Thor replied cluelessly, unsure of how to answer such a question.
"And I suppose you are king, now?"
Thor looked up at Loki, expecting to see anger in his eyes, but he did not seem bitter - in truth, he merely looked exhausted.
"No, father remains on the throne, for as long a time as he wishes. I have no urgency to ascend." Thor answered honestly, seeing no gain in hiding this truth from him.
Loki laughed gently. "I suppose that is one issue my imprisonment has resolved: he no longer has to pretend that I am a contender for the kingship. As I once said, there can be no Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard."
Thor had the sense not to protest the fact - it was true, after all. He cleared his throat awkwardly, glancing at the blank walls for inspiration and turning up empty-handed.
"So how have you-"
"Surely not even an imbecile such as yourself would be idiotic enough to ask how I've been." Loki laughed bitterly, his piercing green eyes meeting Thor's blue ones at last. "It has been months since we returned to Asgard. I am not even sure why you are bothering to see me, after all this time."
"You are my brother." he replied.
"Your brother?" Loki repeated, with a derisive snort. "You are no brother of mine."
"We need not share blood to be brothers." Thor argued.
"Oh, I am not referring to my parentage!" Loki replied, his voice becoming steadily angrier. "No, I am talking about how, after assisting the Midgardians in destroying my army, you bound and gagged me and marched me off home, destroying any shred of pride I might have had left!"
"Your pride?" Thor repeated incredulously.
"Yes, my pride! Again, I have failed, again I have not gained what I sought! It seems I was born to fail and to disappoint - if so, I am living up to the expectation just splendidly." Loki spat. "I am a shadow, fading fast with the coming of a new sun. I barely even have enough energy to cast a clone, look!"
Thor watched on warily, aware of how dangerous Loki's magic could be, but he was right - where once his powers had allowed him to create perfect replicas of himself, the clone sitting beside him on the bench was feeble and opaque, as if he didn't have it in him to make anything more permanent. Loki hissed lowly as he let the figure fade.
"No power, no pride... What of me now?" he moaned, bringing his hands to his face.
"I am sorry that it ended thus, but I had no choice-"
"You had plenty of choice!" he snarled, shooting to his feet in fury and striding towards the glass. "And then, as if to further insult me, you spoke against me in the trial, ensuring that I will never again see the light of day!"
"You were fortunate in the trial." Thor protested. "Were you not Odin's son, adopted or otherwise, you would have payed your life for your crimes."
"Well, I'd rather be dead than imprisoned like this!" Loki snapped, chest heaving as his breath raced in anger. He quickly turned away, whilst Thor looked taken aback.
"You do not mean that." he said gently, eyes alight with concern.
"I wish you were right." Loki returned quietly.
Thor stared wordlessly after the figure in the glass cage. He had seen Loki homicidal, yes, even genocidal, but suicidal...
"Worry not. They keep far too close a watch on me to allow anything of the sort." Loki stated matter-of-factly, as though reading his mind.
"Loki..." Thor began in a strangled voice, but Loki raised his hand in a gesture of silence, eyes closed as though in pain.
"I do not want your pity." he said, voice strained. "I was not-"
"No. Leave. Just... Leave." Loki begged.
"I am sorry, brother, for all I have done against you. I should have visited sooner." Thor replied, his tone laden with emotion. "I was a fool not to realize how broken you-"
"LEAVE - NOW!" Loki roared, whipping around. His cheeks were flushed, and unless Thor was hallucinating, his eyes were filled with tears. Thor bowed his head complacently and strode from the room, the doors swinging shut just as Loki's thin frame shook with a harrowing sob.