(Don't own Marvel or Severus Snape)
Chapter V – Loki's Visitor
Loki was pacing again. There wasn't much else to do in here besides pace back and forth, mixing it up by counting in different languages, reciting verses, and changing the length of his strides. But when he kept his strides at a normal length, the cell was exactly seven paces wide, and seven paces deep.
Loki had paced up and down, and back and forth, so many times over the past several days that he was sure he was wearing down paths in the stone. In the back wall was a doorway that had an illusion of the wall covering it instead of a door, and behind the illusion was a cramped wash-room. Loki had used the water sparingly in the last few days, as the thought of water cascading over his body was enough to make him start to tremble. Was there any element that his tormentors had not defiled and perverted? He hated his fear of the stupidest things. Why, he had fallen into a brutal flashback simply because of an item of food on his plate just the other day! Every few hours, he caught himself descending into memories that threatened to turn him into a terrified fool. By sheer force of will, he was able to protect himself somewhat, but he could feel the tendrils of that hateful mind seeking his. He kept the new shields as strong as he could and tried not to think about anything incriminating. He recited verses of epics, hummed ballads, paced and counted, tried to make magic with an exhausted and suppressed magical core, and flipped through the books his mother sent. Frigga had come to see him a few times, but only by sending her illusion to him. He was slightly hurt that she had not come down herself to see him, and he took a strange kind of vicious pleasure in assuring her that he didn't need help, that he was fine, and when she left, he would laugh bitterly to himself over how little she must truly care about her wayward changeling child.
Loki paced back and forth in front of the side window, counting the thin lines in the floor where the cell's floor-stones had been set. There were fourteen tiles along the crackling magical barrier of his cell, and one of them had a jagged crack, so thin it might have been a flaw in the stone rather than an actual crack. He hated that stone. It made him think of lightning, and lightning made him think of Thor, and he absolutely did not want to think of him right now. Not ever again, if he could help it. He was halfway to the back wall when he sensed something. He turned, and couldn't hold back a jolt of alarm. Someone was standing right outside the clear barrier of his cell and he hadn't even heard the dungeon doors clanking open. He would need to be more alert if even a mortal could sneak up on him so easily.
Glaring, Loki stepped back and clasped his hands behind his back as he surveyed his unexpected visitor. Clad in Asgardian clothing, he seemed much different than the Midgardian fool he had dueled almost to the death in Stark's tower not so long ago. He appeared taller, more menacing, and definitely more dangerous. Darkness hung around him like a cloud.
Severus Snape, the mage.
"This is a surprise," Loki drawled with a mocking smirk on his face. "Are you exploring the palace, little mage?"
"I see your maturity has not improved much," the mortal mage drawled back, seemingly unfazed by his mocking insults. "I am here to speak to you about Ebony Maw."
Loki flinched and stepped back again, glowering furiously. "I do not wish to speak of him, and you have no right to bring up such a private matter!" he hissed. Yes, the mage had freed his mind, but did this Severus Snape have any right to keep prying into what he'd seen?
"I know you do not wish to speak of him, but I do not care," Severus Snape retorted. "Do you like being shut up down here? Do you enjoy the idea of staying down here for the rest of your very long life?"
"I have no idea why you would care," Loki snapped. "Besides, I will not remain here long. Thor will be King soon, and he is such a naïve fool that it would be child's play to convince him to free me."
"When is soon to an Asgardian?" the mortal demanded with a flash in his eyes. "A decade? A century? A millennium?"
"Don't be foolish," Loki sneered, even though he knew the mage had a point. Odin might hold onto the throne for longer simply because he knew Thor would be more merciful to Loki.
"By that time, you'll be so bitter and stir-crazy you will have become who you have been pretending to be," Severus added, almost sounding amused. "Come, come, Loki. Stop being such a child and tell the truth."
"Or what?" Loki snarled, backing up yet another step. "You'll tell Odin? Sic the torturers on me until I confess?"
"You owe me a life debt," Severus Snape said in a casual tone. He leaned against the stone pillar at the corner of the cell with his arms crossed and a sardonic smile on his face. "I've read in your library that Asgardians repay life debts like this with an actual bond. As in, you could practically become my slave until you repay me, if I demand it."
Loki instantly froze, his spine as stiff as a frozen pillar. He wouldn't. He couldn't. Odin would never … or he might, if he thought it a proper punishment for his dishonoured prince.
"You saved my mind, not my life!" Loki hissed, trembling with rage and something else he refused to name. He wanted to step back again, but he forced himself to step forward instead. Severus Snape could not hurt him here. They were separated by a barrier of energy that suppressed and repelled magic. Besides, the mage's words were only an empty threat, not an actual statement.
"You told me you owed me a life debt," Severus smirked. "I may have lost consciousness soon after, but I do still recall you saying so."
Loki cursed and turned his back on the mage. He paced back and forth in agitation, his hands coming up to his head, then dropping to clench at his sides, and then wringing in front of him, while he forced away the images that just wouldn't stop coming in response to the mortal's threat to enslave him. Torture, and pain, and humiliation, and fear, and brokenness … That wasn't who he was. He didn't belong to them any longer! Locked up in Odin's dungeons he may not be free, but he was safe. Safe from them. Safe from him.
There will be no rock, no crevasse, no barren moon where you can hide from me.
"Stop!" Loki shouted, suddenly coming back to himself. His hands were tangled in his hair and his body was shaking. Had he said it out loud? Slowly, he turned around, both furious and humiliated, and saw the mage of Midgard still standing against the pillar, watching him with inscrutable black eyes. "Stop looking at me!" the disgraced prince shouted, somewhat hysterically. "What do you want? I already saved your life! I repaid you! Why have you come here? To mock me? Torture me? Blackmail me? What?!"
Severus watched him calmly while he shouted and trembled, and Loki fell silent, feeling foolish and exhausted. He sank down in his chair and sighed. He wanted to say more, but he couldn't. He waited for the mage to speak.
"Loki," Severus Snape said at last, his voice low and soothing. "I want to help you. That is all. I worry for you. Will you tell me what is troubling you?"
"You're a liar," Loki muttered tiredly, glaring at the mage in the shadows. "You do not care about me, nor do you worry for me. The woman who calls herself my mother does not worry about me, so why should you? You are nothing but a stranger to me, and you'll be dead in fifty years or less, while I shall linger on for another four thousand if I am lucky." He stopped, realizing he was rambling. The words tended to pile up without anyone around to bestow them on.
"You are right," Severus the mage chuckled darkly. "I care nothing for you. You mean nothing to me. But I am curious. Who is Ebony Maw? And the other one … the one who did not speak, but his presence caused you such pain. Who was he? And who did they serve?"
Loki laughed softly and shook his head. Don't think about it. He shoved the thoughts and images away and feigned amused indifference. "Ask me some easier questions," he replied. "I cannot answer those."
"Cannot?" Severus Snape repeated with a smile in his voice. "Seeing as you cannot defend yourself against a clumsy Legilimens such as myself, (and I am the one who gave you your current mental defenses) what is to stop me from simply entering your head and taking what I want?"
Loki felt the blood drain from his face. He shuddered and clenched his fists in his lap. He opened his mouth, but snapped it shut again. He had no real defenses of his own, and the Other was currently bombarding his mind with things he would rather not focus on. His head had been pounding all day, and all last night, and he had hardly been able to rest. If it weren't for the potion those guards forced down his throat every night when he woke up screaming, he wouldn't get any sleep at all … although sleeping was more of a torture. The Other could still reach him even without the scepter nearby, and his dreams were an excellent place to relive the horrors he had endured before. The potion silenced his screams, not his dreams.
"Loki," Severus Snape suddenly said sharply. "Look at me."
Loki obeyed, feeling helpless against the sharp, commanding tone. He felt helpless, stripped raw … naked and exposed. He swallowed hard and forced himself to hold the dark gaze of the mage outside his cell.
"No more illusions," the mage suddenly demanded, his voice soft and pitched low enough that the guards would not hear. "I need to get a proper look at you."
Loki's heart jumped in his chest and cold sweat broke out. Was Severus Snape referring to his blue skin in the mindscape? Did this mage know his secret? Was the veiled command a threat? Desperate, Loki lunged out of his chair and threw himself on his knees in front of the barrier. He was careful not to touch it with his hands, but he raised them, forcing his bile down as he adopted the most pathetic, pleading face he could.
"You cannot ask me to do such a thing!" he whispered frantically. "Please. You must not betray my secret. I will answer your questions. Anything. But please do not force me to change!"
Severus Snape glared down at him, but his true feelings remained a mystery. Loki held his breath. He knew that threats and raving insults would only make things worse. Hopefully this mortal had a shred of compassion in his body and would not continue to insist on seeing the monster under his skin. Loki wasn't even sure he would be able to comply with such a request anyway. Before, he had to be forced into the actual change, each and every time. He was not a true shape-shifter, merely an illusionist.
Severus sighed and leaned against the pillar again. "I know you were tortured," the mage murmured softly, seeming to be watching for eavesdroppers. Loki flinched but had no time to reply as Severus Snape went on. "I know you think yourself weak for breaking under such treatment, and the only way you know to remain strong is to hide such a fact from your father and the rest of your family."
"He is not my father," Loki snarled like an animal.
"Well he certainly loves you like one," Severus growled back, glaring at him. Loki tried to respond indignantly, but the mage cut him off with a sharp gesture and a furious glare. "You are acting like a spoiled child!" the mortal hissed, bending slightly so that their faces were closer together and he could talk in an even lower voice. "I would have given anything, anything, to have just one person love me the way your family loves you. My father beat me when he was drunk, and hated me when he was sober. My mother was a weak coward who eventually killed herself because her life was too difficult. My best friend abandoned me when I insulted her. The man I served for a time turned out to be a psychopathic murderer, and my mentor turned out to be a manipulative madman who ordered me to euthanize him. You have no idea what you have; so stop whining like a child, gird your strength like a man, and stop wasting my time."
Loki stared at the mortal incredulously, but said nothing. He wondered if he ought to feel insulted, chagrined, or angry, but then decided that confused was how he felt, so he shouldn't feel any other way.
"Why are you here?" Loki demanded in a harsh whisper. "What do you want? I do not understand. Ever since I first saw you, you have been a mystery to me. Explain yourself!"
"I do not have to explain myself to you," Severus Snape sneered loftily. "But since you are being a stubborn brat, I will tell you this much: I know you are not a psychopathic, world-dominating tyrant because I have met one and you are sadly under-qualified. I also know that you did not invade Earth of your own free will, so you are not guilty of the crimes you committed there. But you must speak in your own defense, or my words will mean nothing, regardless of the torture I saw in your mind."
Loki shuddered, both at the reminder that this mortal had been inside his head and now knew all of his most dreadful secrets, and at a fierce nudge from the Other, attempting to reestablish their connection. His head throbbed horribly and he struggled to get his mind onto something else. Reciting a silly child's rhyme in the back of his mind helped to tune out the roar of the awful memories, and he blinked painfully, hardly aware that he had started listing to the side. He was holding himself up by one, trembling arm, and the other arm was wrapped around his aching ribs. Despite his magic, his body was not healing well at all and the Other was prodding at the awareness of such pain in his mind. It was maddening, and he had no idea how to properly maintain these strange new shields.
"You need a healer," Severus suddenly commented, his tone completely neutral.
"No, I do not," Loki hissed through clenched teeth. "I am capable of caring for myself."
"Of course," the mage laughed softly. "You are doing such an incredible job of it."
Loki growled like an angry dog, baring his teeth and everything. The mage merely laughed again. "You are the most irritating creature I have ever had the displeasure of meeting!" Loki snarled furiously, for lack of anything truly intelligent to say.
"I irritate most people," the mage replied with a strange smirk on his face. "It is something of a talent. Now that I've made my demands, will you oblige me?"
"I don't understand what you want!" Loki snapped, finally making it back to his feet and folding his arms protectively across his chest. "You wish for me to speak of things best left in the darkness of my mind, but what will you do with such information? Hunt them down like some hero of old? I apologize for bursting your glory-bubble, but that will be quite impossible, as apparently even Heimdall cannot see them, and they are so far outside the branches of Yggdrasil that the Bifrost would be useless to reach them. So what do you want?"
"Truth," the mortal replied simply. "I want to see the true picture, and I want to see the true villain. You are nothing but a puppet whose strings have been cut. I want to know the puppeteers, and perhaps even the troupe master. With that information, I will do many things."
"Clear your name and hopefully gain you a pardon, for one," Severus replied casually.
Loki gaped for a few seconds before he regained the power of speech. "Why in the worlds would you do something like that? You know I am not safe to be around, I nearly killed you!"
"I would hope that you would not prove my faith in you wrong by doing something foolish as soon as you are loose," Severus Snape drawled, one eyebrow raised in sarcasm.
"What is it you want of me? Surely you are not doing this out of the goodness of your heart!"
Severus Snape visibly gritted his teeth. He was losing patience, which was good. Impatience bred stupidity, which bred mistakes. When had Loki himself forgotten that truth? He had been so impulsive lately. In fact, this entire conversation was running off his most impulsive answers. While Severus calmed himself, Loki cautiously stepped away and sat back down in his chair. He concentrated on counting by fives in the dwarven tongue, (in his head, of course) and took a deep breath, calming his racing heart and trembling limbs.
"I want cooperation," Severus finally replied. "I want you to stop being a stubborn idiot and let a healer look at you. I want you to tell me why you are in such pain, and why the guards are forcing things down your throat in the middle of the night!"
Loki sucked in a sharp breath, shocked yet again by what this mage knew. Was he even now reading through Loki's thoughts without his knowledge. He fought with conflicting desires, the one to throw himself forward, screaming and raging, and the other to feign ignorance and hope the mage would drop it. Instead, he decided to go along with it. After all, Severus Snape seemed stubborn enough to hold onto this.
"How in the world do you know about that?" Loki demanded.
"I saw it." The mage replied easily. "I was exploring, as you put it earlier."
"How childish," Loki sneered.
"Would you not be curious in a place you had never seen before?"
Loki did not reply to that. "You don't know what they're giving me, do you?"
"No, and I have a feeling they shouldn't be giving you anything but your meals."
"Hmm, and why don't they simply slip it into my plate, if it's poison?" Loki smirked, amused.
"I never suggested it was poison," Severus sneered right back.
"It is a draught meant to cause unconsciousness," Loki snapped. "But it has been modified, I believe."
"Unconsciousness," Severus repeated. "Why?"
"I make too much noise at night."
"So sleep during the day."
Loki gritted his teeth. "I tried that," he muttered. "They come whether I sleep in the day or the night."
"The dreams or the guards?"
"Hmmm," Severus Snape murmured thoughtfully, tapping his fingers together in front of his chin. "How has the draught been modified?"
Loki shook his head impatiently. "I have no idea," he snapped. "Do I look like a healer or a brew-master to you?"
"No," Severus sneered with a smirk. "But I happen to be both."
Loki narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "You? A healer?"
"Of a sort," Severus Snape replied. "But I am more of a Potions-Master than a healer, and modified potions can be dangerous if not tested and evaluated by a master of the craft. Did the young guard modify it himself?"
"I suppose so; but why should I care?" Loki sighed, shutting his eyes and leaning back in his chair as The Other rammed against his psyche again. He fought back, barely pushing the painful, burning touch away, and when he came back to himself, he was breathing harder and there was a tear on his cheek that had leaked from his eye. Raising both hands to rub his face, and surreptitiously wipe the tear away, he wondered why this mage even cared. Why had he cared before when he entered Loki's mind and helped him to fight off Stone, the Maw, and The Other?
"Loki, you must tell me what is wrong with you," the mortal outside his cell suddenly demanded. "You are ill and in pain, and do not think I don't notice. Talk to me!"
"I have a headache!" Loki snapped back without raising his face. "You're not my mother. Stop trying to fix me."
"Don't make me step in there," the mage growled in warning. "I have refrained so far, in order to respect your personal space, but I will come in and see what the matter is with you if you do not speak."
"Threatening to come into my room, mother?" Loki snarled mockingly, lowering his hands from his face.
Severus Snape stared at him strangely for several seconds before he barked out a laugh and shook his head. "Your father was right," the mortal growled. "You're impossible when you're like this."
"Why are you speaking to Odin about me?!" Loki demanded furiously as he stood, knocking his chair to the floor with a clatter. He seemed to have forgotten to protest that the King of Asgard was not his father.
"Well, at least he speaks," the mortal mage sneered. "The guards have orders to heed you if you call for me. I'll come back when you are in a mood more conducible to a conversation. Good day." Severus Snape turned on his heel and swept off toward the dungeon stairs, his cloak billowing around him like black wings. Loki watched him go, half of a mind to call him back. But he was too stubborn for his own good, really. Severus Snape's Asgardian cloak vanished from sight and the guard slammed the heavy metal door at the top of the stairs.
Loki growled loudly and kicked his chair across the room. His toes throbbed, but he felt marginally better. He would calm down, as the mage suggested, and then he would ask the guard who brought his meal tonight to tell Severus Snape that he wanted to talk. After all, he really had nothing to lose, and he needed to find out how much the mortal saw and remembered from the brief foray into his mind. Perhaps, (as stupid as it sounded) the mage could help.
Severus re-entered his rooms to change his cloak and boots before meeting with the King and Queen, fuming and frustrated. He shouldn't have expected anything less, really. Why was he surprised at Loki's reticence and nasty attitude? He had practically predicted how the disgraced Prince would react to any visitor at this point. Severus took a deep breath and removed his cloak, running through Occlumency exercises to calm down. He knew that he needed to reign in his own temper and think this through. Now that he had talked to Loki face to face, with the Prince in more or less his right mind, he had a better idea on how to approach him more successfully next time. It would be tricky, as too much sternness made Loki defensive and too much understanding made him resentful and prickly. He was remarkably immature, at least emotionally, and he wondered if perhaps Asgardians simply did mature more slowly, seeing as they lived so very long. For example, humans compared to most animals had a terribly long juvenile period, and most humans didn't reach full maturity, emotionally and mentally, until age 25 or 30. If a typical Asgardian took a thousand years to reach full maturity, then no wonder most ancient myths of the gods depicted them as spoiled brats with capricious attitudes. It was exactly what one would expect from a powerful, long-lived race with superiority complexes.
The door to Severus' bedroom was open, and when he entered, Sigyn was busy within. She stood on a stool at the foot of the bed and seemed to be changing the bed-curtains. Despite how quietly Snape moved, she must have heard something, because she turned at once with a rosy smile.
"This will be ready in just a moment, sir," she greeted him. "Has your day been pleasant?"
"I wouldn't know," Severus muttered wearily.
"That bad?" Her voice was sympathetic.
Severus pulled off his boots as he suddenly realized that it felt unexpectedly nice to have someone to confide in, especially knowing that she didn't have anyone else to tell the information to. Hopefully. If he found out she was spying on him, he'd wring her pretty neck.
"I rested in the Houses of Healing until after the noon meal," the wizard explained. "They say I won't be able to remove this blasted bracelet for another four or five days, at the very least."
"I'm sorry," Sigyn murmured. "But the time will pass quickly, I am sure of it."
Severus snorted and shook his head. But he wasn't really worried about that; not when he had so many other things to worry about.
"I visited the library for some time, and then my guard took me to the gardens."
"I requested a different guard for you while you rested with the Healers," Sigyn said with a smile. "Jorgen was only too happy to trade with that impatient boy from before."
"He was much better," Severus agreed. "But after the gardens, the King summoned me."
Sigyn stepped down off the stool with a strangely worried and curious look on her face. "The All-Father summoned you? Not the Queen?"
"I have heard nothing from the Queen," Severus replied, shaking out his cloak and inspecting the bottom where it had caught on something. It would need to be mended. Sigyn took it without a word and passed him a fresh one from the wardrobe. Then she rummaged through the bottom and drew out another pair of black boots, which she set beside him on the stone floor.
"You seem troubled," the girl said carefully. "I'm here if you need me."
"We'll talk later," Severus replied tersely. "For now, I must return to the King, and he indicated that the Queen might be there as well."
"Norns grant you favour," Sigyn said fervently. "Our King is not cruel or capricious, by any means. But still, be careful. He always has many purposes beyond the surface ones."
Severus smiled slyly. "I would be disappointed if he didn't. Don't worry about me, Sigyn. I have faced mere mortals far more terrifying than Odin, and they were pure evil. I have nothing to fear from the All-Father, so long as I remember my place."
"Just what I said," Sigyn smiled with a bit of irony. "But … be careful."
"I will," the wizard assured her with a patronizing smirk. "I always am. If you'll excuse me."
Severus swept back out of his rooms and met up with Jorgen at the end of the hall. The agreeable guard led him back toward the King's office. This time, one of the guards at the door stepped in to announce him, and when Severus stepped in, the glory of sunset was streaming through the windows, turning the room gold and crimson. The King was standing more or less where he had been the first time Severus Snape had entered this room, and a woman was standing near him, arranging flowers in a golden vase.
Severus knew that the tall, regal woman was the Queen, even with her back to him. Her red-blonde hair was coiled and braided atop her head in a very attractive fashion and her rich gown was reminiscent of both Greek and medieval styles, while being completely different. It was Asgardian.
"Ah, you have returned," Odin greeted him gravely. The woman turned around and Severus found himself being scrutinized by a pair of calm blue eyes filled with far more wisdom and knowledge than Albus Dumbledore's. Her face was serene and appeared to be that of a woman just passing middle age, and even with her advancing years, she was very beautiful. Dressed in flowing pale colored garments, a silver breastplate, and wearing her hair coiled elegantly atop her head, she was a picture of grace and sophistication among Asgardians. She wore simple jewelry that enhanced her natural regal beauty, and apart from that, she wore no crown or diadem to indicate her rank. But there was no doubt that she was a Queen.
Severus bent his right knee to the ground and bowed deeply, his fist to his heart. It was instinctive, while in the presence of this woman. Even without speaking, she filled the room with calm and control in a way that Odin did not. For all his power and intimidating gaze, the King did not project such calmness. One had the feeling of being threatened by a storm when in his presence, but this woman was the eye of the storm. Standing side by side, the King and Queen of Asgard were well suited to rule their Realm, with their individual and complementary strengths.
"Severus of Midgard," Odin rumbled. "The Queen: my wife Frigga."
"I am honoured to meet you, your majesty," Severus said cordially as he rose again. "I have heard your praises sung by all I have met so far."
"You possess quite the silver tongue," Queen Frigga smiled in amusement. "It is I who am honoured to meet you, mage of Midgard. It has been close to a thousand years since we have had any dealings with your Realm. You must tell us how it has changed."
"I imagine Prince Thor's accounts are more than a little confusing?" Severus guessed with the slightest of smiles.
"More than a little," Frigga agreed with a smile. "I hope you have been made welcome here. I apologize for not replying to message you sent by your maid this morning. But the King wished to meet with you and I would be here."
"I understand," Severus nodded. "And I agree that it was prudent to wait. Your majesties, I assume you wish to hear my report of how my initial conversation with Prince Loki went?"
The Queen's smile vanished and she paled slightly. She turned to her husband, appearing both stern and worried, yet hiding both emotions remarkably well.
"I was not informed of such a meeting."
"I know you weren't," the King replied brusquely. "My intentions are to find the truth, not coddle that boy as you would. Now, Mage Severus, you say 'initial'. Do you anticipate needing more meetings with him?"
"Indeed I do," Severus replied. "He is like a wounded animal; lashing out and biting the very hand that wishes to help it. I will need time to gain his trust, or trick him into revealing things. But from the small hints he did drop, I am on the right track. He is more or less innocent of egregious wrongs, but there is the matter of how complicit he was in these wrongs. I personally believe that he acted against his will when he invaded Earth, but perhaps he did want what he claims he wanted; who knows?"
"We should sit," Odin said, guiding his wife to the chairs and couch in the lounging area. She looked upset, and Severus could imagine that the two of them would have 'words' later when they were alone. For now, she held her peace and schooled her features in neutrality. Severus sat after the monarchs were seated, but there were no refreshments this time.
The wizard recounted his conversation with Loki, his worry about the guards who might be poisoning him with the modified draught, and the obvious pain he was in. Severus had suspected that Loki was using illusions to disguise his true state, but the wizard hadn't been able to see past them without certain spells, which he wouldn't be able to cast with his magic bound the way it currently was. Severus finished off by saying that if Loki had not requested him back to finish their conversation by tomorrow, he would go see the Prince again after breakfast.
"We thank you for your help, Severus," the King said gravely. "I trust you will continue to keep us informed when you do meet with him again?"
"If you wish it," the wizard said agreeably.
"I shall conduct an investigation myself into those so-called sleeping draughts," Queen Frigga added, looking rather fierce in her anger. "The guards received no orders from me to force medicine down my son's throat."
"Nor I," Odin murmured. "But the guards do have quite free reign over the prisoners. So long as there is no proof that they are acting maliciously …"
"I will see if Loki will tell me more," Severus sighed. "But getting the smallest scrap out of him is like pulling teeth, as we humans say."
"Why would anyone want to pull teeth?" Frigga asked, looking amused and baffled.
"Sometimes teeth are diseased, or the mouth is crowded with too many teeth," the wizard explained. "I imagine Asgardians do not have dental problems?"
"Not unless teeth are knocked out in a fight," Odin chuckled.
"Of course," Severus deadpanned. "If you'll excuse me, I believe the evening meal will begin soon."
"You have our thanks for your help," the King said gravely, as he and his wife stood.
"It is the least I can do," Severus replied just as gravely. "I only seek the truth, and your hospitality gives me the opportunity to reawaken old skills. I used to be quite the interrogator some years ago."
Severus was on his balcony again when Sigyn came to his rooms. The ravens had not been by all day that he could see, and he was strangely relieved. He was sitting on the balcony railing, watching the last gleams of the sunset on the horizon, thinking about Loki. It was strange, that he should both feel and be considered older than the god of mischief, when Loki himself was over a thousand years old and Severus was over fifty. But it did help him to formulate how he would approach Loki next time. If he thought of Loki as younger, it would be easier for him to take charge and get to the bottom of whatever had happened.
He looked up as he heard the faint noise of a knock at the door to his private quarters. Hearing no reply, Sigyn let herself in and Severus raised a hand in welcome when she stepped into view beyond the balcony doors.
"Sigyn," Severus greeted her. "Sit, if you have time to waste."
"With you, sir, it would not be a waste," the servant girl replied demurely.
"Are all Asgardians taught the art of polite flattery?" the wizard demanded, more amused than anything.
"It is something one picks up," Sigyn laughed, seating herself on the railing not far from him. "So how was your day?"
"Stressful," Severus sighed, glancing off at the rising moons in the darkening sky. "I was not certain if I ought to say anything before … but Loki is alive." He glanced at Sigyn, who sat as still and white as a statue, watching him with wide eyes. "He invaded Midgard with an army, and he and I fought each other. When Loki and Thor returned here, they brought me along. Today I went to visit Loki in the dungeons, on the King's request."
Sigyn opened her mouth, and then shut it again. She raised a shaking hand to her mouth and took several deep breaths. Her eyes swam with tears. "Loki … is alive?" she breathed. "Oh …" She shut her eyes and then covered her face with her hands. Her shoulders trembled. "Oh," she murmured again, taking deep breaths and attempting to control herself. "I lost hope," the girl whispered. "I … I thought …"
"I apologize that I did not tell you sooner," Severus muttered uncomfortably, looking away from her distress. "I was not certain that the King wanted anyone to know he was home."
"And in the dungeons!" Sigyn burst out, lifting her pale face and red eyes to him. "You saw him? Is he well? Are they treating him … fairly?"
"As far as I can tell, he is not being tortured or maltreated," the wizard replied. He paused and wondered if it was prudent to go on. "However … I found that it was him the guards were dosing the other night when I accidentally went down there. Loki told me it was a draught to cause unconsciousness. Apparently, his nightmares keep everyone else awake down there."
"But why would they need to force him to drink it?"
"I don't know," Severus replied grimly. "Loki is very reluctant to speak to me."
"He would speak to me!" Sigyn replied fiercely. Her eyes blazed with determination.
"Perhaps," Severus cautioned. "And perhaps not. We must be prudent. I am thinking about how we can go about this … how affectionate toward you was the Prince? Did he consider you … a friend?"
Sigyn stopped all at once. The manic energy and worry simply bled out of her body, leaving her with confusion, and then thoughtfulness. "I … I don't know," she confessed. "We were … close, but not that close, if you know what I mean. He may remember me, but with fondness or indifference, I wouldn't know. I was a bit … a bit blinded, I suppose, by my own affection for him." She blushed crimson and looked anywhere but at Severus, who couldn't help the amused smirk that crept onto his face.
"Well, I can speak to him and find out," the wizard suggested. "If he wishes to see you, we can both visit him. If he is more comfortable with you, perhaps you might have better luck pulling information out of him."
"Would the King torture him if you do not succeed?" Sigyn asked softly, her eyes filled with seriousness and grief that pierced Severus' soul in a strange way.
"I do not think so," Severus replied with certainty. "You know that Loki fell from Asgard, and no one knows what happened to him after that. He ended up on Midgard a year later with glorious purpose and what-not, brought an invading army to a city of innocents, and almost killed me. I ended up inside his mind at one point, and realized that he may have been just as much a victim in the entire affair as any of us. He was held captive by someone, and he was mistreated to the point that he … likely unwillingly, attacked Earth."
"He was tortured by some fiend until he capitulated and obeyed their demands?" Sigyn demanded, looking fierce and angry in a way that made Severus think of a mother lion, and then of Gryffindors. She was truly protective of her Prince.
"I believe so," the wizard answered cautiously. "But he is understandably reluctant to speak of it. If he would plead his case to his father, I feel certain that Odin would not punish him simply for breaking under torture; and for an entire year, no less. But his pride will not let him admit to such a thing, so the King has tasked me with worming the truth out of him."
"If you, (and he of course) will allow me, I would speak with him also," Sigyn said softly, but no less firmly. "Many, many years ago, when I was no more than a girl, he was punished excruciatingly. I was at his side the entire seventeen years. I know more than most what he can endure … and when he is truly broken."
For a few seconds, Severus wondered what she was talking about. But then, a previous conversation of theirs returned to him. Balder. Loki's punishment. Earth's Norse myths … "Seventeen years?" Severus repeated in horror. "Seventeen years under a serpent?"
Sigyn met his eyes unflinchingly and nodded. "Well," she replied slowly. "Under a serpent's likeness, anyway."
Severus did not speak again for several minutes, struggling to understand. The Norse Myths as Earth had them were around a thousand years old, give or take. But Sigyn wasn't even a thousand yet. How did people hear such stories before they had happened? Or were they prophecies? Or perhaps stories humans had made up had somehow come true hundreds of years later. He had no idea what to think, especially considering that it would have been Odin who imposed such a horrific sentence on his own son, adopted or not, and the King had seemed so concerned about Loki mere hours ago.
"Can we see him tonight?" Sigyn asked timidly. "Could we …?"
Severus glanced up at her and drummed his fingers on his knee. He had free access to the dungeons for now, and the guards might not care if he was accompanied by a servant. Her pleading face was not exactly pathetic, but he could see the pain, relief, and worry there. She did love Loki, and to keep her away from the Prince longer would be counter-productive, really. The sooner she helped him calm Loki down, the sooner he got his information and the sooner the wizard would be able to finish this investigation and be free to explore Asgard.
"I don't see why not," Severus answered, feeling strangely gratified when the girl's face lit up in surprise and gratitude.
Loki was pacing again, but it wasn't out of boredom. He was anxious. The human mage's visit had rattled him far more than he liked to admit to himself, but all day long had been a struggle to keep the Other from mucking around in his brain. He had the distinct feeling of being taunted from beyond a glass wall. Half of Loki wanted to tear the wall down to fight the monstrous telepath, and the other half wanted to figure out how to turn the wall opaque so he didn't have to even see the creature's ugly face. Mostly, he just wished the Other would leave him alone. Couldn't the Titan see it had been a waste of time, torturing and controlling him? Why couldn't he just leave Loki to his own pathetic life as a prisoner?
Turning sharply, Loki ignored the tray that held his evening meal and paced back around the cell, hands clasped behind his back and head bowed. He wore a scowl on his face that was partly pain at the migraine pounding away at his skull and partly pensiveness as he mulled over what the mage had said to him … and what he hadn't said. Severus Snape had not said that Odin was demanding this information, but he hadn't said he wouldn't tell Odin what they said to each other either. He hadn't said what he would do to help Loki, only that he would. He hadn't said a lot of things. Mostly, he'd been throwing accusations and questions, not to mention quite a few demands and cryptic hints, and Loki still didn't know what was in it for the mage. Another conversation would help, but he had politely asked his guard to call for Severus Snape hours ago, and no one had come. Perhaps the human mage was still peeved at being snubbed earlier.
Loki brought his hands around to where he could see them and scowled more darkly at the fine tremors in the fingers. Regardless of anything he may have told that mage to the contrary, he actually did need a healer. And his symptoms were growing worse with every dose of that vile stuff the guards gave him when he bothered them with his screams. He didn't want it, naturally. He fought as much as his weakened body allowed him to, but he wouldn't complain. Vile as that medicine was, it gave him a drugged sleep without screams for a time, and though it was a torture, it allowed others to sleep better at night. A drugged sleep was better than no sleep, even if he woke in the morning feeling no more rested than he would if he had spent the night wrestling with his demons instead. At least he didn't bother anyone.
Loki jerked in surprise when he sensed someone close by. He had missed the sounds of the dungeon doors, which was odd. Had he been so deep in his thoughts that he hadn't heard anything? This was the second time this had happened today. He truly must be losing his touch. When he spun around, glaring peevishly, his breath caught and he froze. A young woman stood there beyond his cell's barrier, dressed in the simple garb of a serving-maid. Her golden hair was soft and unadorned, and her blue eyes pierced his with calm concern.
"…Sigyn," he breathed, hardly believing that she had come to see him. He was aware that Odin probably hadn't announced the return of his prodigal prince, so he was confused. How had the simple maid heard of his return and incarceration?
"My Prince," the girl returned simply. "You do not look well."
Loki raised an eyebrow in sarcastic amusement. "Oh? Well, at the very least, I'm being treated much better these days than I was the last time I was incarcerated in these walls."
"That's something," Sigyn agreed with a twinkle of humour in her eyes. But the joke didn't dispel her concern. She was looking more worried now, not less.
"How did you find out I was back?" Loki asked quietly, stepping close enough to the clear barrier to feel its energy on the tip of his nose. "I didn't think Odin would be eager to publish the news of his disgraced prince's return."
"Severus of Midgard told me," the girl replied with a slight smile. "I was assigned as his maid."
Loki scowled. He was aware of what a slight that was … or perhaps was. Maybe it could also be a gesture of honour. After all, he and the human mage had been deeply involved in that last battle, and one never knew what Heimdall had seen and reported to Odin. Sigyn was no spy for the King, of that Loki was quite certain. And of all the serving-girls Loki had met, Sigyn was curious and resourceful enough to trust with a potentially delicate task like this; hosting the first Midgardian visitor in Asgard since who knew when. He certainly had never heard of a mortal being granted such unfettered access to Asgard before.
"Do not be angered, my Prince," Sigyn pleaded anxiously. "He is a perfectly honourable mortal, and he even protected me. He is kind and thoughtful, and he does not think you guilty of whatever induced the King to imprison you. He wants to help you, if you would but let him."
"I know," Loki sighed and folded his arms. He looked down and away from her. "It is a shameful thing, Sigyn, to be reduced to my state."
"How do you mean?"
"I am a Prince of Asgard!" Loki hissed, clenching his hands tightly on his arms. "To accept help from a mortal is …!"
"Is …?" Sigyn prodded gently, just as calm and gentle as she ever had been. Thank the Norns she hadn't changed a bit. He shrugged helplessly while he tried to get his words in order. After the silence stretched on into a few seconds, she spoke again, keeping her voice low and serious. "Your highness, with all due respect, he is a remarkable man. You would do well to speak with him, and see if he can help. He wants to; not to lord himself over you, but to uncover the truth. That is all he cares about."
"Truth?" Loki huffed, almost laughing but not quite getting there. "What truth? A truth that will satisfy Odin? A truth that puts me in the mortal's debt?" Loki's voice descended into an angry sneer. "A truth that answers unknown questions of his own and may even be a means to an end we have not even considered? Who is this mortal? What are his motivations? Have you asked yourself that, Sigyn? Or are you simply taken with him?"
"My Prince, I hardly think you one to …"
"To what, Sigyn?" Loki sneered. "Do you find him attractive? Is that it? Are you just like every other girl in this blasted realm?"
"Loki, you know I am not," Sigyn returned sharply, her temper making her eyes shine in the dark. "He is not handsome as most would put it, but that isn't even the point. Severus is good. I don't think you quite understood me. He wants to help you, and he was kind to me even before he learned that I once served you. He has been curious about you; who you were as a person. He is trying to understand you. Can you not see that you would benefit from his help instead of pushing it away?"
Loki scowled at her, but he knew she was right. She was one of the few people he suffered to speak to him this way. She was waiting for an answer, he saw. She was tense and holding her breath, watching him closely and warily. He sighed and let his scowl melt away. He couldn't manage the strength to smile at her, though. In a former life, he would have smiled to reassure her, regardless of how he still felt about whatever it was she'd said to him. But he was tired, and he was still peeved.
"I don't trust him," Loki admitted. "I know nothing of Midgardians, much less their mages, and I know nothing of this Severus Snape. He has seen my darkest secrets, and I fear he may use them against me. But … I do need his help."
"I know you hate not having control," Sigyn said carefully. "But I vouch for Severus. He will not betray you. If there are things you wish to be kept secret, I feel certain he would adhere to your wishes."
"You have known him a total of three days?" Loki scoffed. "How can you know anything about a man in three days?"
"A week," Sigyn corrected him. "And I told you, he saved me. Just as you used to."
Loki froze for a brief second before he glared fiercely at her. "Who touched you?" he hissed, his body trembling with impotent rage. He knew his protective spells around her had failed when he fell into the void, but if she had been targeted once again thanks to his foolishness …
"No one," Sigyn replied firmly. "I was not touched or harmed. One of the guards was making advances and Severus scared him off. He scared me as well. I thought he was furious with me for something I hadn't done, and I was already on edge and frightened … But he was so very kind, and made me promise to allow him to protect me. Before that event, our relationship was purely professional. Now, I suppose we have become … friends."
"In a week," Loki sneered.
"I became your friend after sitting at your side for seventeen years, catching acid in a cup and singing to you so you wouldn't go mad," Sigyn retorted. "Just because you're terrible at making friends doesn't have any bearing on me or other people."
Loki winced at her blunt reminder of when they had truly allowed barriers to fall and professional courtesy to fall by the wayside. When one is at the end of all hope and dignity, one does stupid things. But his friendship with Sigyn was not one he would ever regret. He supposed it was different. He was reasonably sure Midgard no longer had royalty. And even if it did, he doubted very much that Severus Snape would have been nobility. He had a look and feel about him of a shadowy advisor, not a leader.
"Would you speak honestly with Severus?" Sigyn asked softly. "He asked if I would speak to you … but I have no idea what happened to you, and no idea how to help you besides simply … being here."
"If I speak with this mage I would not want you present," Loki replied quietly, looking away from her in shame. "There are … things which I do not want to enter your dreams."
"I would bear them gladly for you, Loki," Sigyn said softly, raising her hands slightly as if she wanted to touch the barrier between them and remembered the danger in doing so. "But I understand. I truly do."
"Severus found things in my mind which I do not wish you to hear," Loki returned a bit sharply. "I shall swear him to secrecy and I would appreciate it if you do not press me, or him, any further."
"Of course," the girl nodded deferentially. "He is here, if you want to speak to him now."
Loki flinched and looked up and around. He couldn't see the mortal anywhere, but a skilled mage would not find it hard to cloak himself with his magic. Had the sneaking knave been spying on their entire conversation?
"He is upstairs, distracting the guards," Sigyn explained hastily when she saw his suspicion and alarm. "He asked me to fetch him if, and only if, you wished to speak to him. Otherwise, he was planning on coming back alone in the morning. This … this was for me."
"For you?" Loki repeated incredulously.
"I asked," Sigyn smiled slightly. "I am not sure the King meant to give Severus unfettered access to the dungeons, but the mortal is wise to take advantage of it while it lasts. I imagine that so long as he does not betray Asgard's trust, he would be allowed to come whenever he would need to."
"And drag along his serving-maid as well?"
Sigyn smiled mischievously. "It was my suggestion that he needed me along to ensure he did not faint while walking. His health is still quite delicate."
"Is it?" Loki smirked drily.
"Not as delicate as I would have them believe, of course," the maid chuckled. "He is strong, and seems to be recovering quickly enough. For now, he is forbidden from using magic while his core heals, but otherwise he is fine."
"Hmm," Loki muttered. "Very well; I suppose I will see him for a few minutes tonight. Where will you be?"
"I have things to do," Sigyn smiled apologetically. "But hopefully I'll see you again soon."
Loki nodded and suddenly wished he could hug her. He wasn't a physically affectionate person by nature, but he and Sigyn were friends of the closest sort. She was his secret friend, and he allowed himself liberties around her that he held back on when in the presence of his once-brother or the Idiots Three. Hugging was one of those things. They often hugged one another before he left Asgard for a lengthy amount of time, or when he was emotionally distraught, or in gratitude for her concern and care. Now, his hug to her would be a greeting, an apology, and thanks, all in one. He truly had missed her.
"I hope so," Loki said softly.
"I'm hugging you in my heart," the girl replied with a soft smile that was probably more fond than was proper for a mere servant.
"Pity I can't return a non-existent hug," Loki said with a sneer that was mostly teasing. "Get you gone then, before the head-servant starts wondering where you've got to."
Sigyn smiled and curtseyed quickly before she darted off, back up the dungeon stairs. Loki sighed and pulled his chair closer to the barrier before he sat down and managed to pull his book from his dimensional pocket. He pretended to be engrossed in the pages, which spoke in fascinating detail about how weather was maintained on Asgard. It was dull reading, normally, but Loki might have been interested in it once upon a time.
He glanced up instinctively, despite not having heard any noises, and spotted the mage coming down the dungeon stairs. In the dark robe and cloak he wore, he looked impressive and imposing. He also had a way of walking that was assured, smooth, and silent. The man's thin, sallow face was turned toward him, and he was being assessed by a pair of piercing black eyes. The man had straight dark hair that appeared greasy, and his hooked nose gave him a shrewd appearance and ruined any chances he might have for being thought of as handsome. Loki felt oddly comforted that Sigyn had been telling the truth. Though the god of mischief had never thought to pay attention to such things before, this mage was not attractive at all, and he certainly wasn't Sigyn's type. He was far too broody.
"How is prison treating you, Loki?" the man quipped as he came to a stop about a meter away from the barrier.
"Very funny," Loki sneered, snapping his book shut. "It just so happens that I'm bored to death, so I decided it would be entertaining to talk to you for a bit."
"Ah, I see;" the mortal smirked. "But I am afraid that 'entertaining' is a word that has not often been used to describe my charming personality."
"Why is that not surprising?"
The mortal arched an eyebrow. "Have you been bored a second in my company?"
"I would not call such stimulation 'entertaining'," Loki retorted.
"Unsurprising, considering your immaturity."
Loki rolled his eyes, but he was enjoying the banter. Not many people he'd ever spoken to even bothered to try and keep up with him.
"What, no comeback?" Severus taunted teasingly. "Has the Silvertongue lost his touch?"
"More like turned to lead," Loki replied, almost horrified at himself for using Volstagg's teasing words as a comeback.
"You seem to be in a better mood," the mage observed. "Do you wish to speak?"
"Not through the barrier," Loki replied, feeling tense and fidgety. "Will you … that is … Would you like to come in?"
Severus smirked slightly, no more than a twist of the corner of his mouth. "As it happens," the mortal drawled, pressing his hand to the wall where the barrier's lock was kept. "I already have permission."
Loki tensed as the barrier shimmered and dissolved in a space about the size of a door, only a meter away from where he sat. It would be so easy to attack the mortal, knock him unconscious, and walk out of here wearing the face of Severus Snape. He would be free. The temptation was almost overwhelming, but he forced himself to remain still. He may be the god of lies, and treachery might be second nature to him, but if this mage could help him somehow, (especially with the connection he still shared with the Other and perhaps Ebony Maw) he would be a fool not to take advantage of such help.
The mage stepped through the cell's door and it snapped closed behind him. Loki reached out and summoned another chair from his dimensional pocket. It did not match the one he was sitting on, but he had better things to worry about besides the tastefulness of his décor.
"I am half expecting you to offer me a lemon drop," Severus Snape commented, his tone wistful and far away. He sat down in the chair, (after ascertaining that it was real and not an illusion for some kind of prank) and fixed Loki with those penetrating black eyes.
"What is a lemon drop?" Loki asked, his tone almost belligerent. "And why would I offer you one?"
"It is nothing that concerns you," the mage replied dismissively. "Now: I know that your entire appearance is illusory, but you are actively maintaining some illusions over your illusion, and I wish to see you briefly as you are. Physical health often corresponds to mental health."
"In other words: if I am unkempt and haggard, my mind must be broken?" Loki sneered, feeling his whole body prickling with a peculiar sense of shame and defensiveness. Why should he care what this mortal thought of him?
"Not at all," Severus Snape replied calmly. "But sometimes dropping our illusions is the first step toward healing. Stop worrying what I'll think of you. Did I not see you after the Hulk smashed you into the floor? You cannot possibly look worse than you did then."
Loki gritted his teeth. Yes, he could. He knew that he looked worse now in some ways than he had back on Midgard. But maybe just for the sake of seeing shock on the mortal's ugly face, he shut his eyes and dissolved his illusions.
When he blinked his eyes open again, knowing that the mage was now seeing him more or less as he truly was, he did not see shock, or disgust, or pity, on Severus Snape's face. He was inscrutable.
"Well?" Loki snapped impatiently, fighting the urge to fold his arms petulantly across his chest. His clothing did not fit as well as his illusion would have one think, since he was skin and bones and hadn't gained very much weight at all here in prison. His hair was limp and greasy since he couldn't stand showers yet, and his drawn face was pale with exhaustion. Dark circles like bruises stained the skin under his red eyes, and his lips were chapped from his teeth, worrying at them. He started nibbling his lower lip nervously as the mage went on silently looking at him, not expression whatsoever on his face. Feeling naked under the expressionless scrutiny, Loki wrapped himself in illusions again and glared back at the mortal mage.
"Despite the draughts the guards give you," Severus Snape commented. "You're not sleeping, are you?"
"Sleep is a torment best avoided," Loki retorted. "Why did you want to see me like that?"
"You have not bathed in a very long time," the mage observed, fixing him with a knowing look. "Is there any way a healer might help?"
"I am perfectly capable of washing my own hair!" Loki snarled. "And I do not need help! I need no one!"
"Of course not," Severus Snape replied. "But you likely feel filthy and exhausted. Being coated in dirt is not conducive to health, physical or mental."
"I cannot stand water," Loki hissed, feeling torn between horror at the mage's fixation on his personal hygiene and a humiliated desire to kick his visitor out. "Leave it," Loki added in a snarl.
"I understand," the mortal said quietly, fixing him with a knowing look. "But you must wash. It will make you feel better in many ways. If you like, I can show you other things which Occlumency helps with."
"You can use Occlumency exercises to overcome flashbacks, to resist instinctual fear or hatred of certain things for your own good … in other words; it is the power of mind over body. Instead of falling victim to terror and dread as any normal person would, you can take control of your mind, push the flashback aside until you can safely deal with it, and do what needs to be done."
Loki stared at the human in fascination, and though he hated to admit it, in eager interest.
"Show me," Loki whispered, half-begging. He couldn't help feeling so desperate. If this mage could help him, he would be forever in this man's debt. There were so many things he could use Occlumency for, and the thought of finally being able to get his whole body clean without descending into panic at the sight of running water … he would probably do anything for that.
"Very well," Severus Snape replied, folding his hands in his lap. "We cannot practice as we ought because of this." The mortal raised a hand and showed him a familiar silver bracelet wrapped around his wrist. "But I can lead you through a few exercises and you can practice with that until I regain use of my magic. In return for my tutelage, you will answer truthfully the questions you know I have. Do we have a deal, Prince Loki?"
Loki didn't have to think about it. Not really. But it wouldn't do to give in so easily. It would be uncouth to show how desperate he was. The mage had already seen most of it anyway. Plus, if the mortal was as persistent with Odin as he was with Loki, he actually might be able to gain that pardon he was talking about.
"Very well," Loki answered, being appropriately stiff and reluctant. "I will answer your questions, but I reserve the right to be vague on matters which are humiliating and/or inappropriate to speak of. Agreed?"
"I would not ask anything more or less of you," Severus Snape replied. Nothing gave away whether he was truly sincere or was being a little sarcastic. The man held out his hand suddenly, a long thin one, with long nimble fingers, littered with faint scars. Slowly, Loki raised his own hand, also long and thin and nimble-fingered, any scars carefully hidden beneath his illusion. Their hands clasped, and Loki realized that this must be how Midgardians sealed agreements. Just out of curiosity, he pushed a tiny bit of his seidr into the handshake and met a solid wall before he could connect to the mage's magical core. The bracelet he wore was a very good one.
Their hands pulled apart and Loki tilted his chin, attempting to project a careless, arrogant image, despite them both knowing it was not real. "Well? Shall we have lessons first? Or an interrogation first?"
Hope you enjoyed Loki's reluctant conversations. As always, I am so very appreciative of your reviews, favorites, follows, etc. Thank you all so much!