Avenge 3: Kingdom of Darkness
This is a sequel to my Hp-Avengers crossover Avenge. One can read it directly after Avenge, or you could read it after/in-conjunction-with Avenge 2: Child of Winter. But keep that in mind or you'll be a little confused starting this story. So recap: Severus Snape survives Nagini and wanders the earth trying to atone for his crimes through acts of charity before he bumps into Bruce Banner and gets tangled up in the plot of The Avengers movie. After the Battle of New York, Severus is badly injured and spends a week unconscious before the Avengers catch wind of a plot by wizards to arrest Snape for his crimes during the war. To protect him, Thor decides to take Snape with him back to Asgard, but when he, Loki, and the wizard use the Tesseract to travel, Severus passes out in pain ...
Rated T for some violence, mature themes, and peril. I have a vague idea of where I want this story to go, but no clear idea on what warnings I should put. or now, I will just be using the movie Thor: The Dark World as a guide. Nothing more violent than the movie, and hopefully nothing extra ... but I will warn you if that changes.
Recovering in the realm of Asgard was supposed to be a vacation of sorts, but Severus Snape finds himself trying to navigate a world that looks down on magic as a woman's weapon while being caught up in strange Asgardian customs and politics. But when Thor's human girlfriend turns up with an Infinity Stone poisoning her body, Severus finds himself caught up in a battle to save the Nine Worlds from everlasting night.
Chapter I – The Prince's Return
Loki of Asgard hated sentiment. Life Debts were about the height of sentimentality and if he could escape this last attempt of fate to throw a noose around his neck he would … But unfortunately, the debt was real. His magic screamed at him the instant the fragile mortal collapsed limply to the paving stones of Asgard's Palace entry hall. Even as his idiotic brother yelled uselessly, Loki reflexively dropped the handle of the Tesseract's carrying case to catch the human before he gave himself another concussion.
Imbeciles! Loki screamed silently behind his muzzle. I am surrounded by imbeciles!
With the magic-suppressing cuffs and collar, Loki couldn't do much to either assess or rejuvenate the human, but he had his five senses and they worked well enough. He felt dreadfully clumsy as he was forced to use his bound hands to check the man's neck for a pulse and then hold his knuckles above the human's nose to feel his breath. All this took a few seconds, and by that time, Thor was kneeling on the other side of the human Mage. His large hand gently touched the human's throat for a pulse and Loki rolled his eyes at the panic.
"He's alive," Thor sighed, glancing up at the god of mischief sitting on his heels across from him.
I could've told you that, oaf, Loki thought peevishly, cursing the muzzle on his mouth for the hundredth time. Of course Snape was still alive. The mage was likely just overwhelmed by the Tesseract's energy, especially so soon after he was nearly consumed by it. If his hands were free, he could simply revive Snape with a quick burst of his own magic. He had used a bit to stabilize the human after the mental battle and if he hadn't, the human might never have awoken.
But Thor was an oaf, as usual.
"Can you do something for him, Brother?"
I wish you'd stop calling me that, Loki silently seethed. And no, I can't! In case your small brain missed it, I'm wearing magic-suppressing cuffs which YOU, in your brilliance, gave me to wear. So no, I can't do anything. He had to content himself with a scornful scowl and an angry shake of his head. Part of him longed to reach up and claw at his muzzle to remind his idiot once-brother to get it off, but he didn't need to humiliate himself further. The sharp metal edges were digging into his lips and the metal bar over his tongue was making him gag. He hated the taste of metal. It reminded him of the taste of his own blood.
They both glanced up at the sound of clanking metal and Loki was unsurprised to see members of the Einherjar, Asgardian's elite guard-force, approaching. Naturally Odin would give him the full treatment; no measure was too great for the return of his prodigal son, even sending the Einherjar themselves out to escort him right to the dungeons … or directly to the executioner's axe.
"My Prince!" one of the guards greeted Thor with a fist above his heart. They ignored Loki, of course, which he found amusing rather than insulting.
What, no greeting for the supposed-lost Prince sitting right in front of you? Loki thought sarcastically. Of course not. He was disgraced.
"Quickly, get this man to Lady Eir in the Houses of Healing!" Thor ordered the guards.
The other Aesir gave Mage Snape a look one might have given to an unfortunate little animal that had been struck by a chariot. "Apologies, my liege," the guard rumbled. "We have strict orders to escort Loki before the King immediately."
Ah, so it's just Loki now, not Prince Loki, the disgraced Prince mused bitterly. And after a farce of a trial, Odin will simply send his embarrassing Jotunn changeling off to the block and forget about him, no doubt.
"That was quick," Thor mused.
"Heimdall advised us of your imminent arrival," the guard explained tonelessly. "The King is aware of all that has transpired on Midgard and knew the moment you would return."
Wonder what torturous death our beloved All-Father has cooked up for me? Loki thought, wishing he could smirk. But the device clamped on his mouth was digging into his lips painfully and he tried to move them as little as possible.
Thor looked conflicted. He had the Tesseract to take care of, an unconscious mage on the floor, and of course, his oh-so-beloved brother about to be sent off to the block. Decisions, decisions. What is most important to you, golden Prince?
Perhaps fortunately for Thor's tender conscience, the human on the ground suddenly twitched and groaned, one of his long pale hands coming up to press against his lower chest where he could likely feel the burn of his abused magical core. So, the shock didn't last too long, or else he's just as stubborn as every mortal I've had the misfortune to tangle with in the last week and a half.
"Severus?" Thor said carefully, bending over the man and shading his face from the light.
"What … are you doing?" the mage grunted, opening his dark, almost black, eyes a sliver and glaring up at the beaming Asgardian Prince hovering over him.
"Your highness," an Einherjar interrupted respectfully. "The King is waiting for Loki."
"Yes, yes, fine," Thor said, waving his hand distractedly. "Oh, wait."
The golden Prince suddenly stood and reached out his large hands toward Loki and he, distracted unsuspecting idiot that he was, flinched back violently, eyeing the hands with dread, struggling against the beast of terror that roared in his chest, driving his heartbeat to thunder like Thor's storms and his breath to come in rapid pants as if he had run fifteen miles. The hands belonged to them, and they were going to inflict pain … they always did.
Suddenly, he felt a warm hand grab his arm and he flinched, blinking rapidly as the shadows of nameless fear fled. The human was sitting up, glaring at him in a peculiarly piercing fashion, and holding his arm just above his shackled wrist. Thor was still standing awkwardly in front of them both, looking hurt and bewildered.
"Crouch down, Thor," the human ordered him in a stern tone, though his voice was rasping very badly. Had he been this hoarse when they fought in Stark's tower? His voice had been remarkably smooth and velvety when they had conversed during the mind battle.
Thor looked even more bewildered by the human's orders, but he obeyed, amazingly, dropping onto on knee and hunching down as much as his bulk would let him.
"You were making him nervous," the mage went on in a dismissive tone. "Tell him what you're doing and don't make sudden movements like that again unless you want him to fear you."
Loki shot a murderous scowl at the man and angrily shook his hand off. Stupid mortal. As if he feared Thor!
"Brother?" Thor said carefully.
Loki turned the full force of his glare on the man he once called brother. I'm not your brother, stupid oaf, so stop calling me that, he silently seethed.
"I did not mean to threaten you," Thor explained hurriedly. "I only wish to remove the muzzle. Will you let me?"
Loki did not stop scowling, but he jerked his head in a nod and jutted his chin defiantly. He did not flinch at the touch of Thor's rough fingers, covered in calluses, along his neck. Though the Prince was being remarkably gentle, (for Thor anyway) Loki still couldn't help but stiffen in anticipation of pain. The last time Thor had taken it off, he'd been tired and frustrated and had pinched him with the mechanism. Not that Loki was complaining, of course. He deserved to be treated like the liar and traitor he was.
The muzzle gone, Loki was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to lick his chapped lips and open his mouth in a wide yawn that would make his jaw crack. It had been so long since Thor had been allowed by the SHIELD guards to remove that thing he'd feared it might become a permanent part of his face. He didn't, of course, give in to either of those urges. He simply got to his feet and turned to the guards, dismissing Thor and the human to whom he owed a stupid Life Debt.
"I believe I have an appointment with the All-Father?" Loki addressed the Einherjar silkily, glad that his voice was still roughly the same as it had always been.
The guards grasped his arms without undue ceremony and pulled him along, none too gently. Loki kept his head up, (he was a king, and he would stand like one) and didn't look to the right or left, let alone behind. He knew Thor would be hurt to be forgotten so quickly, (You see, Once-Brother? That's how it feels) but he cared not. The All-Father waited for no man … or traitor.
The guards herded Loki, once-Prince of Asgard, through the royal palace and he pretended not to notice their firm hands on his elbows or the fact that he was being led along the less-used passages of the royal house. They met no one but a few other guards and a serving maid, but they knew their duties and ignored him. Of course Odin wouldn't want to parade his failure of a son before the populace of Asgard. Loki absently wondered if the old liar would have told the people of his younger son's true heritage by now. Likely not, he concluded. Such a thing would reflect badly on Odin himself. So to the rest of Asgard, he was dead; at least, if he trusted Thor's word for it.
Did you mourn? He had asked his once-brother.
We thought you dead! Thor had shouted, seeming genuinely anguished. Thor couldn't lie to save his own life, so he probably actually had thought him dead. But Loki had a hard time believing that Heimdall and Odin truly believed him dead. While it was unlikely the gatekeeper of Asgard was actually able to see things very clearly outside the Nine Realms, it was unthinkable that he wouldn't have seen something at least. If anything, Frigga at least might have begged him to look for her son. Or maybe she hadn't. Maybe she was glad to be rid of her troublesome adopted charge at last. How many times when he was a child had she sighed over his antics and his attitude?
Loki, what is going to become of you? She would ask sadly.
This is what has become of me, Loki replied to her in his own mind. Are you proud of me now?
Suddenly, they arrived at the throne room. Loki drew in a deep breath and clenched his fists. Despite his efforts at nonchalance and boredom, he really, truly, didn't want to face Odin again. Not after the last time he'd seen the old man's face.
Falling, tumbling, ice-cold, darkness all around, death closing in, welcoming it, but still falling, falling, forever falling …
Loki ground his teeth together and shoved the haunting memories aside. He needed to be a Prince right now. He would not bow in defeat nor would he bend his knee and beg for mercy. He had lived through that once already, and it was more than enough. Odin was not his father, nor his king, and he would not abase himself. He already knew that no matter what he did, he would be a disgrace and a disappointment, and Odin would never be proud of him or love him. He had been such a child to imagine that the old man had actually picked him up out of the snow out of love. The All-Father had brought him home as a war trophy, a tool to be shaped and used, the first link of a chain that would bind Jotunheim to Asgard forever. He had been a fool to believe that if he'd only made his father proud, he would have his love. No, the pride and the love always went to Thor: the golden one, the perfect prince, the ideal Asgardian. Odin had nothing to spare for his skinny, dark-haired, changeling child who toddled along in his brother's golden shadow. Loki was and always had been a disappointment. He despised large weapons, instead preferring to use small knives and cunning and magic to win fights. He had eschewed typical Asgardian exploits, (drinking, eating, fighting) to fill his mind with learning and better his powers. He had been hiding in the libraries while Thor was getting drunk with his friends. He had been playing pranks on the entire royal court of Asgard while Thor was out in the Nine Realms gaining glory for himself. Loki was dubbed the god of lies and the god of mischief by the Asgardians, (and Midgardians too!) when he would have much preferred to be the god of magic or something. Honestly, his signature skills were not just lying and mischief!
The guards suddenly pushed Loki through the great golden doors of Asgard's throne room, shaking him from his musings. He glanced up nonchalantly, expecting to see Odin seated in his throne, all righteous wrath and stern judge … but Frigga stood by the throne. The sight of her made his heart stutter in his chest and only through an act of will was he able to keep his face expressionless when he saw her there, clearly waiting for him. The regal queen was still his mother, even if he was not of her flesh and blood. It was she who had taught him to control his magic, she who had soothed his childhood injuries and listened to his petty troubles. She was gazing at him with such hunger and naked joy and relief that he almost tripped over his own feet. There were tears in her eyes and she looked every inch the worried mother who has seen her son come home.
He forcibly tore his eyes away from her and focused on Odin, needing to assess his chances here. The All-Father was sitting in his throne and looked quite stern and righteous … but he also looked weary and old. Loki remembered that the old man hadn't finished his sleep when he came to the rescue of his golden son. A pang of remorse stabbed Loki in the heart before he swiftly pushed it away. No matter the pain of Odin's deceit, no matter how he resented the old man for his lies, he had never considered another as his father, and seeing such exhausted disappointment on that aged face cut him to his very soul. He shoved the emotion away, telling himself ruthlessly that Odin had never loved him, had never meant for him to be king even though he had told both him and Thor that they were both born to rule, had never meant for him to know the truth about who, and what, he was. This old liar didn't deserve his respect, or his love. To highlight that, he turned very deliberately away from the man he once called father, and smiled at Frigga.
She smiled back, tears shining in her eyes. "Loki," she murmured.
"Hello Mother," he nodded at her flippantly, (for if he allowed sentiment into his words he would probably start crying like an idiot). "Have I made you proud? I'd embrace you, but I'm a bit tied up." He jangled his chains with a mocking glare at the All-Father.
"Loki," Frigga sighed, the joy and relief falling off her face to be replaced by simple weariness. "Please, don't make this any worse for yourself."
Loki wanted to laugh in her face. He held up his chained wrists and threw her a very sarcastic eyebrow-lift. "Define worse," he drawled.
"Enough!" Odin suddenly thundered, striking Gungnir upon the dais so the echo reverberated in the hall. "I will speak to the prisoner alone."
Frigga threw Loki a stern look that clearly said, Remember what I said, and don't cause any more trouble. How many times had he had that look directed at him over the centuries and it still meant nothing to him. He smirked at her as she stepped down from the dais and left the throne room in a whisper of rustling skirts.
The door boomed behind her and Loki turned his attention back to the King on the throne. Not so long ago he had sat in that very seat; not because he wanted to, and not even because he had tricked his way onto it, but because he was the rightful King. The line of succession had fallen to him, despite Odin's best efforts to keep him off it. Thor was banished as all idiots should be, the King was asleep, and for one reason or another, Frigga had refused to rule as she had before when her husband required the long healing sleep.
Yet it wasn't enough.
Thor's stupid friends accused him of treachery without cause, went behind his back and committed High Treason, (without consequence, which was just typical) and then Thor had to go and do something stupid like destroy the entire Bifrost just to save a few frost-giants no one would miss anyway. It was Thor's fault he fell from the bridge, and Odin's fault he fell into the abyss at the end. Why should he give an inch here? Why should he cower and grovel and beg? It was never in his nature to surrender, and he wouldn't. A treacherous little voice started whispering in the back of his mind, a reminder of just what it had taken to break him … Loki shivered at the memory of the Mind Stone's voice, warm and cloying like honey, sticking to the crevices of his mind like cobwebs, whispering seductively in his ear, persuading him to give up, to give in … pulling the strings of his body like a puppet, tempting him with images of power, a throne, recognition … He had been so stupid. Of course he would always kneel in the end.
To banish its memory, and partly just for the fun of it, he chuckled in the All-Father's face. "I really don't see what all the fuss is about," he commented carelessly.
"Do you truly not feel the weight of your crimes?" Odin demanded; righteousness personified. "Wherever you go there is war, death, and ruin."
Ah yes, evil little Loki destroys everything he touches, Loki thought with a smirk, and a flash of anger. The dismissive way Odin was treating him hurt in a way he would never admit to. To mask his pain, he dealt out the smirks and the sarcasm as he always had. They were his invincible armour.
"Oh come now," Loki laughed, thought it felt and sounded a little forced now. "Surely it wasn't so bad as all that. A few ants got stepped on, but their lives are so short … surely it does not matter as much as you seem to believe."
"Midgard was a peaceful realm!" Odin rumbled, the scowl on his one-eyed face growing fiercer. "You deliberately invited chaos and war when you set your sights upon that world."
Loki sneered. "Chaos and war they had plenty of on their own. I offered them peace at last."
"Only by grinding them under your heel as a tyrant."
"I only went down to Midgard to rule them as a benevolent god. Like you," Loki shrugged, keeping a mild smile on his face even as he seethed inside with rage. The All-Father surely couldn't be so thick, so stupid. Surely any moment now he would bring up his weakness and unworthiness and cast him out of Asgard forever … or demand that he, embarrassment to the royal family that he'd always been, be executed without delay.
"We are not gods," the King snapped, in reply to his jab about benevolent gods, yet not much of a reply in itself. "We are born, we live, we die … just as the humans."
"Give or take five-thousand years," Loki added mildly, feeling too tired to go on smirking and laughing when every bone and muscle in his body was screaming for rest. Even a stone cell would be welcome. SHIELD custody had been delightful, of course, but they had all clearly hated him, and played little tricks to make sure he didn't rest, eat, or drink while he was in their wonderful care. Naturally, Thor was so thick he didn't notice, and Loki was using every ounce of magic he could squeeze out past his suppressing chains to mask himself and the scars and wounds upon his body. It wouldn't do to have the Golden Prince start pitying him, after all.
Odin was shaking his head, looking sorrowful and wise and weary, but the act disgusted Loki. For it must be an act, after the way he was treating his supposed son, calling him 'the prisoner' and blaming him entirely for the Midgard debacle.
"All this because Loki desires a throne," the All-Father said softly.
Loki wanted to scream, maybe. He had screamed at Thor once, but the oaf hadn't listened. Or more likely, hadn't believed him.
I never wanted a throne! I only ever wished to be your equal!
"It is my birthright," Loki forced himself to reply, keeping his voice cold and emotionless, though he knew his eyes were snapping with fury at how unfair it all was. He had never cared for rule. It was tedious, demanding, and tiring. Why would he want it? The only thing that bothered him was how unfairly the throne of Asgard had been withheld from him, that's all. And what was the fun in ruling ants? Why, if he had been in his right mind, he might rather have conquered Nornheim or some worthy realm. Not Midgard with its petty, short-lived inhabitants and ignorant, wannabe heroes.
"Your birthright!" Odin scoffed, almost laughing, but his one eye was blazing with fury too. "Your birthright was to die as a babe, cast out on a frozen rock like something worthless and vile!"
"Yet you told me I was born to rule!" Loki snarled.
"You knew that the throne always belonged to my eldest son, my heir; you simply chose to covet what you could not grasp and to twist my words to give yourself a vague delusion of righteousness!"
"You know nothing of what I thought!" Loki threw back, throwing all the venom and hate into his words that he could muster.
"If I had not saved you as a child and taken you to myself, you would not be here to hate me now," the old King sighed, looking disappointed and stressed once again. "You have rejected what is good and sought what is evil and that, Loki, is not my fault, but yours."
"Good? Evil?" Loki snarled, half-laughing at the ludicrous image of Odin actually believing in any good or evil that wasn't his own. "Odin, what is good?" he demanded. "You decimate entire worlds 'for the good of Asgard' and slaughter millions, yet when I throw a tantrum on some backwater realm and crush a few insignificant ants, I'm evil? Pray show me the logic here, because I am not seeing it."
"Enough!" Odin roared. "You are an arrogant, cruel, and treacherous fiend, and yet, you reason like a child! You fill your head with imagined slights and grievances and cling to them like a starving man clings to bread! You hate and you destroy and you refuse to see how Frigga and I have loved you as our own, have raised you, and attempted to civilize you! You would throw it all in our faces; and for what? A backwater realm populated by ants, as you have so eloquently stated."
Loki glared at the All-Father until his anger drained, leaving resigned weariness. Why did he even bother? "Well," he said with what flippancy he could muster. "If I'm for the axe, then for mercy's sake, just swing it." He paused to smirk mockingly. "It's not that I don't like our little talks, of course, I just … I don't love them."
"You have Frigga to thank for your head," the All-Father spoke severely. "But you will never see her again. You are to spend the rest of your days in the dungeons unless you choose to abase yourself and do penance for your crimes."
"Penance?" Loki smiled. "Or torture? I'm sorry, is there a difference? After the last punishment I had at your oh-so-loving hands?"
"If you want torture, then you may have it," Odin growled, his anger vibrating powerfully in the room. "But I would be careful what I wish for, were I in your place."
Loki smiled coldly and cruelly, hating Odin more and more with each passing second. Oh, he wouldn't be in prison forever. He was the god of mischief. An opportunity for escape would come soon enough, and Odin must know this. He must have some other plan for his wayward little foundling.
"And what of your true son?" Loki asked in a mocking tone, deliberately changing the subject. "You'll make that witless oaf King while I rot in chains? I, who alone have had a taste of what it is to rule?"
"Thor must first undo the damage you have wrought by your treachery," the King of Asgard declared solemnly. "When peace has been returned to the Nine Worlds, then yes, Thor will be King … And if you are as stubborn as I know you to be, you will still be languishing in prison, too proud and too stupid to admit your faults and attempt to right them."
"I did nothing you wouldn't have done," Loki quipped with a poisonous smile.
"Guards!" Odin shouted, ignoring Loki's attempt to bait him further. Apparently, he had humored his little changeling child enough for one lifetime. The Einherjar came forward, faces as impassive as ever, but they looked gravely dissatisfied. Oh, did they expect his head to roll today? Too bad. He was still going to be around to make mischief, cause chaos, and produce panic. Just like usual.
Loki inclined his head toward the impassive man on the throne in farewell, still managing to make the respectful gesture a mocking one in its haughtiness. He wanted to say something, give Odin some last parting shot … but he couldn't. He was suddenly afraid.
He had never exactly feared Odin before, even after the last punishment for his trickery, so why was he frightened now? Surely the dungeons of Asgard would be far more comfortable than the cells of Thanos. And maybe in a few years his pride would wane to the point where he could manage a silver-tongued web of lies in order to escape his confinement. By that time, if he was lucky, the witless oaf himself might be ruling. He could afford to wait.
So why was he fighting the surge of his heartbeat and willing his palms not to tremble as firm hands grasped his arms and hauled him away from the All-Father's presence? There was nothing to fear; he would live, and be free of pain, and the only humiliation he would suffer would be a gilded cage. Imprisonment was nothing. Odin was not even considering punishing him physically for his 'crimes'. So he had no reason to fear anything. He had every reason to smile and shrug and go along with his guards as if they were nothing but an escort for his royal person.
But he was afraid.
And Loki suddenly knew why.
He didn't want to be alone again.
Severus was still feeling nauseous and dizzy and his chest ached, (along with the rest of his healing body) but he insisted he was well enough to walk. Thor was concerned, which was touching and all, but he still snarled at the thunder god that he was not made of glass and he needed to stop trying to help him along like a frail old woman.
After Loki was taken away, (without a second glance behind at his stricken brother, he might add) Severus had managed to stand, almost unassisted, with his suddenly very heavy bag of personal belongings slung on his shoulder.
"You must allow our healers to look you over, my friend," Thor was babbling as he gingerly helped the wizard to his feet. "It wasn't quite normal for you to faint like that."
"I didn't faint," Severus snapped. "I was momentarily overwhelmed by the magical signature of your favourite new toy." He glared at the blue cube, glowing innocently on the floor. Thor quickly scooped it up, looking puzzled.
"My new toy? Nay, this is for Asgard's treasure vault, and it shall be of great assistance in rebuilding the Bifrost. But you do not wish to be seen by our healers?"
"I hate healers, doctors, hospitals and everything in between," Severus announced stiffly, aware of more men in flamboyant silver armour straight out of London's muggle Rennaissance Faire approaching in orderly marching rows of clanking metal.
"Aye, most warriors dislike being poked, prodded, and bedridden with a passion," Thor replied with remarkable understanding. "But I'm afraid 'tis a casualty of our profession. When you play with fire, it is bound to burn you, and when you are burned, a healer will pounce on you."
"Exactly," Severus said with an arched eyebrow that said, 'See what I mean?' far more eloquently than words would have.
"Severus, I wish for you to have the acquaintance of the Einherjar," Thor suddenly announced, his voice big and booming once again. The golden prince grinned as he indicated the armoured guards. "They are Asgard's elite warriors, who are tasked with the defense of the palace and the royal family," he explained. Turning to the stiff warriors, Thor grinned infectiously. "Greetings to you all! Surely the All-Father did not send such a battalion merely to welcome me home!"
"Not at all, my liege," the front guard, a grizzled older man with a white beard and battle scars on his face, growled. "We have been sent to accost the human mortal you have dared bring within the sacred halls of the Golden City."
Thor was taken aback, and for a moment, Severus wondered if Thor was smart enough to get it. But it turned out he understood, he just couldn't exactly believe it. Severus started to feel a nasty, nauseating squirming in his gut and wondered if he should have just taken his chances on the run instead of coming here.
"Father sent … two dozen Einherjar for this one mortal mage?" Thor demanded incredulously. "And only two for Loki? Surely, there must have been a mix-up."
The bearded warrior barked out a laugh. "Two here are for the mortal, my liege. The rest of us are your escort for the artifact you bring to the realm."
"Oh, I see," Thor nodded, glancing at the glowing cube still lying abandoned on the ground. He bent and swiftly snatched it up. "But where will you take my friend? I wished to introduce him to Father."
"He can introduce himself," the guard in charge grumbled. "The King's audience with Loki won't last long. He and his council have been talking it out the past seven days and nights without ceasing. All that is needed is to speak the sentence and all is over. He wished to hold audience with this unexpected creature you have brought back immediately."
"Excuse me," Severus said coldly. "I am just as much of a man as you, my friend, and I would prefer to be insulted to my face, unless you are too much of a coward to mock an insignificant mortal so boldly."
Thor actually sucked in a sharp breath, but nobody chastened Snape for his arrogance. In fact, as he'd calculated, acting like a posturing Gryffindor here in this land of swaggering warriors could only work to his benefit. It would teach them not to underestimate him.
The grizzled guard turned to face him squarely, an amused grin baring his teeth. "The creature speaks!" he boomed, his eyes alight with challenge.
"This creature has a name," Severus said with icy calmness. "I am Severus Snape, Mage of Midgard, and I request an audience with the King of this Realm." Audience, not a trial, for he was not guilty. He already had a plan in mind, but for now, it wouldn't hurt to sure of himself and make certain he wasn't about to be bullied by the Gryffindorish inhabitants of this land. He'd had enough of that for one lifetime.
Thor coughed into his fist, but Snape personally thought the Prince was laughing. His blue eyes were twinkling at him in a way that said 'I like the way you fight' in a way no words would adequately express.
"Very well, Severus Snape of Midgard," the chief soldier said with a slightly mocking bow. "This way, if you please. The All-Father is eager to meet you."
"Thank you," Severus said, almost mockingly. "And you are?"
"Tyr, Chief General of the Forces of Asgard," the bearded warrior replied, clapping a fist to his chest in salute, not to Snape of course, but to his Prince, who was departing now, giving the human a wave as he hurried off to put the Tesseract away.
Severus followed General Tyr and the other guard, wondering if it would be considered impolite to ask the grizzled soldier if he'd ever lost a limb (a hand maybe?) in a fight with a wolf that had a connection to Loki. But he decided he had been enough of a Gryffindor for one day. It was now time to be a Slytherin. He had a feeling Odin might not be as impressed with his arrogant posturing.
The halls of Asgard's royal palace were truly beautiful and he allowed his eyes to drink up as much of the sights as he was able. The columns, the mosaics, the frescoes, the pavement … everything was sculpted to perfection and pleasing to the senses. The clanking of his escort's armour and the click of three pairs of feet echoed solemnly around them, making Severus almost feel that he was in a temple rather than a palace. Well, who was he kidding? Of course they were in a temple! It was populated by Norse gods, hello!
Suddenly, he hoped Loki was well, with all that was happening. The careless way Tyr had spoken of the expected swiftness of Odin's audience with his adopted son did not bode well for the trickster god. Would Odin even care to ask Loki about what had happened with him and the Ebony Maw? The Mind Stone? The Master whom the Maw had spoken of? Or would the King simply punish Loki out of hand without even caring that his younger Prince could have been coerced, or outright controlled by a much more dangerous foe?
Well, Severus would have to remedy such a thing as much as he was able.
The guards approached a pair of looming golden doors that opened almost when they reached it. Marching out, flanked by four Einherjar in their winged helmets, was Loki. He was still in chains, his face looked unhealthily pale, and his green eyes were fever-bright. Severus frowned upon seeing him, but he didn't exactly look like the sort of man who had been sentenced to death or torture … so he was probably just getting locked up for now. He felt both relieved and annoyed. He was honestly tired already of sticking his neck out for that arrogant bastard.
"If I manage to convince the All-Father to reduce your sentence, Loki," Severus found himself drawling, before he'd even made a conscious decision to say anything, "I hope you'll be grateful."
"I always repay my debts, Snape," Loki sneered, his green eyes flashing dangerously.
"I should hope so," Severus said coolly, completely unimpressed by either the sneer or the scowl. "Because you're racking up quite the paycheck with me."
Loki threw him a murderous scowl, but Severus didn't miss the spark of hope in his eyes as he did so, which was quickly masked by contempt. Just as he thought then, Severus sighed silently. Loki was a Slytherin, through and through … right down to his love of the colour green. He would never show gratitude or genuine emotion to a potential enemy, but it helped that Severus had already been in Loki's head. He could almost feel the traces of his own magic making up the shields around the trickster's mind. But overlapping that, he could definitely feel Loki's magic humming and dragging at his own magic, but it felt angry and muffled, as if it had been smothered under a blanket. It wasn't very aggravating or alluring, which was a relief, but Severus wondered why it felt so muted.
Then Loki and his escort were gone, and his own two guards, who had slowed for his little exchange of barbs with the disgraced Prince, hurried him on through the golden doors for his own audience.
The Throne Room of Asgard was truly magnificent. It was enormous, lined with columns, and there was gold everywhere. At the far end of the hall, on a magnificent dais so ornate it bordered on ridiculous, sat the All-Father himself: Odin, King of Asgard. He was a tall, powerfully built man with a white beard and a golden eye-patch on one eye. The King wore golden armour and no crown on his snowy head, but he bore in one hand an elaborate golden spear. The guards left Severus in front of the throne and saluted, bringing their fists to their hearts, before they turned smartly and left the Throne Room, closing the doors with a bang behind them.
Severus and Odin regarded one another with cool neutrality until the human sank to one knee and bowed as graciously as he was able. He was feeling weak and achy from his earlier faint, and his arm needed a sling or something, but he had some experience in moving smoothly despite debilitating pain, so he moved with the grace of a trained duelist. His knee hit the marble (was it marble?) floor and he placed his palm over his heart as he bowed forward, and then he waited respectfully, (just as he had in his Death Eater days) for the King to tell him to rise. But here, he did not feel loathing at the act of kneeling. This was the rightful king of this realm; a being older by far than the foundations of Hogwarts, older than Merlin himself, if the myths were to be believed. He felt no shame in bowing before this Lord.
"Rise, mortal of Midgard," Odin's voice suddenly broke the silence. He had a pleasing voice, mellow and kindly, but stern and implacable as well. This was a king who was used to being heeded and obeyed, and he wouldn't hesitate to toss Snape back to the Midgard wolves if he liked, so Severus rose slowly, not raising his head until he was upright again, and then he stood as straight and proud as he was able. He would give the King of Asgard his due homage, but he was not a subject of this realm and he would hold himself confidently.
"King of Asgard, Odin All-Father," Severus said carefully, enunciating clearly despite his rasping throat and placing all of the respect and immovable persuasiveness he could into the words. "I am Severus Snape, Mage of Midgard, and I humbly request sanctuary within your realm."
Odin did not react, merely studying him with one blue eye in a shrewd way that indicated calculation. "You request sanctuary?" the King finally said, his tone likewise careful. "Explain yourself. You were brought into this realm by the Prince without prior permission, and you have the audacity to demand I give you sanctuary?"
"Mighty King, I am hunted by my own people," Severus explained, keeping his tone as respectful as possible and speaking in a cadence that sounded more appropriate to whatever age the Asgardians were stuck in. Tony Stark's sarcastic voice asked him in his head if these people stepped out of a Shakespeare re-enactment. Mentally shaking the annoying thought away, Severus went on. "They wish to see me pay for the lives of their sons and daughters lost in the last war between us mages. Though I am not quite innocent of all crimes, I was a soldier in the fight and I was never the traitor they think me to be. But until their frenzy dies down, my life is in danger on Midgard. I request permission to remain in Asgard until it is safe for me to return home."
"I see," Odin said slowly. "And you have no other reason for following my son to this realm?"
"Which one, King of Asgard?" Severus asked boldly.
Odin's eye narrowed minutely, but a spark of interest suddenly appeared in the blue depths. Ah, I'm not just a stupid mortal anymore, am I? Severus thought drily. It was easy enough to see what was going on here. It was a tale as old as time: the favoured elder son, the younger son cast in the shadow of the older, jealousy and rage consuming the younger until it erupted in violence … and now, was reconciliation even possible?
"I will ask you to tell me which of my sons you followed here, Severus Snape, Mage of Midgard," the King said blandly, shifting his hand slightly on his golden spear.
"It is very simple, my lord," Severus replied, the 'my lord' slipping out too easily for all the bad memories it evoked. "Your son Loki owes me a Life Debt, and I would see it fulfilled."
Odin looked shocked for just a second before he schooled his expression into something more neutral, but Severus could tell he looked somewhat worried. Ah, so he did care about his younger son. That was good. Snape could work with that. Not that he was actively attempting to manipulate the King of Asgard himself, of course not … it was just prudent to know where exactly the All-Father stood with regards to his disgraced child.
"You would see it fulfilled?" the King repeated slowly. "And how do you expect Loki to fulfill a Life Debt when he is sentenced to life in prison?"
Severus felt his heart stutter and he must have had shock bleeding over his features as well before he immediately seized control of himself once again. "Forgive me, my lord," Severus said drily. "But I may have misheard you. Do you mean to say that Loki is being imprisoned for life because of the regrettable events on Earth?"
The incredulous way he said it made Odin look strangely uncertain for a second or two. "You do not agree with this?"
"I do not believe in locking up the innocent in place of the guilty," Severus replied in a dry tone. He waited for the King to demand what he meant … but there was silence.
"You must not presume to know what I must do," Odin finally sighed, looking old and weary and sad. "I have offered my son reprieve, but only if he wishes to take it. He is stubborn and proud … and I very much doubt he finds the thought of a Life Debt he owes to a mortal a convincing enough argument to humble himself."
"You would not release him in order to allow him to satisfy the toll our magic demands?"
"I cannot," the All-Father said with infinite regret. "It is only because of the voice of Frigga, my wife and Queen of Asgard, that Loki's head remains attached to his unfortunate shoulders. Do not presume to know why I must do what I do, but Loki had his choice … he chose the dungeons."
Severus couldn't speak for a few seconds. When he found his voice, it was incredulous to the point of disrespect. "But he is innocent! His mind was not his own, his limbs not under his control, even his magic was not at his command! He was controlled by the Mind Stone and a telepathic being of immense power! You cannot mean to imprison your own son forever when he did nothing wrong!"
"Did he not?" Odin demanded icily. "I do not know if you are aware, but Loki is a liar. That is who he is. If he has won your loyalty with his silver tongue, I am not surprised. If you are somehow under a spell of his making, you have my pity. But if you are working for him, you will taste the wrath of Asgard for such treachery."
"I am in my right mind," Severus said impatiently. "I fought Loki almost to the death in the last moments of the battle on Earth. I am not working for him or under his control, and he did not even have time to speak to me beyond battle taunts, let alone seduce me with his tongue. I know what I have seen and I have concluded that Loki is a victim here, the same as those on Earth were."
"Loki can easily make any situation look as if he were the victim," Odin sad coldly. "I know that he allied with the Chitauri, and with their foul master, to conquer the Realm you call Earth. Whether he did so willingly or not … that, he alone knows, and he will not give us the truth."
"Even if he did, you wouldn't believe him, would you?" Severus asked, amazed at how calm his voice was. He was angry and bewildered, and reasoning with this implacable King was worse than trying to figure out if Dumbledore was sane or not. "I was inside his head … his very soul," Severus said more quietly. "I saw the true Loki. He considers himself weak for breaking under unspeakable torture, and you are correct, he will not tell you the truth. He will not tell you that he screamed for mercy, that he begged for Heimdall or you or his brother to rescue him. He will not say how he languished in a cell like an oven, his body one open, infected wound, pleading for a drop of water from his tormentors and willing to do anything for it. He will not tell you how he was broken, defeated, crushed, and squeezed out like an old cloth … he is too proud for that. Even after all he has suffered, he has his pride, and he will cling to it, for it is all he has left."
Thundering silence greeted his words and Severus feared he had said too much. The King was watching him even more shrewdly than before and the wizard wondered what was going through the All-Father's mind even now, after all he had heard concerning his son. He assumed that Odin would require time to think everything over … and he was not wrong.
"Your words are crafty, Mage of Midgard," Odin finally said. "You bear the mark of Silvertongue. I wonder if you are not indeed descended from my youngest in some way, for you have his skill with words and in shielding your emotions from my gaze."
Severus blinked in shock. The thought of possibly being Loki's descendent was a very strange and somewhat disturbing one … especially considering he actually felt older than the sulky, arrogant Prince in Disgrace.
"But then, perhaps I have simply underestimated mortals to begin with," Odin went on thoughtfully. "It is not so unusual that one such as yourself was drawn into the net of Loki's fate, but I cannot trust even your word, sincere as it seems, without reason to believe you trustworthy."
You mean to test me, Severus thought, though outwardly he showed nothing but a blank mask. You mean to wait until I let down my guard, and then you shall observe me. I cannot guarantee it will work, King of Asgard. I have more than enough experience letting people see in me what I wish them to see, and no more.
"You are welcome to sanctuary here, Mage of Midgard," the All-Father said sternly. "But be aware that you may not leave the palace grounds, and you may not wander unattended. I shall have a servant assigned to you who shall show you where you may go and make you acquainted with how we live."
"I am indebted to you, All-Father of the Nine Realms," Severus said sincerely. He placed his palm over his heart again and bowed from the waist, feeling no need to kneel again. As the King called his guards and told them that Snape was now a welcomed guest to the Realm, (ambassador of Midgard, he was apparently called) Severus wondered what he had gotten himself into this time.
So after a few false starts, I have managed to begin my Dark World story. I know that this is what you all were waiting for, so hurray for me that I finally was able to buckle down to business. In later chapters, I'm getting frustrated because I just can't get Severus to do what I want. But I will smooth it out eventually. I've got 3 stories now to flip-flop between when I'm getting stuck, so writer's block won't keep me down for long.
Thank you all and I love your reviews so much I do a happy dance when I see one pop up! (hint, hint, wink, wink ;)