Disclaimer: I own zero percent of Marvel and HP
Note: Hooray, I'm still alive. Exhausted, super busy, but alive. I kept planning to update all my stories at once, but I only ever got around to finishing this chapter, (so sorry!). So I'll keep working at them, but recently, I lost my job, then got involved in mission work. In September I'll be leaving overseas for two years, so my stories (that aren't finished) will be on hold for that long.
Anyway, now that you all know what's been going on, please enjoy.
Chapter VII – Seeing
Severus wasn't sure where his feet were taking him. He walked when he was troubled, and he was very troubled indeed. He wasn't sure what to do about Loki's ingrained hatred of his own species, but it was a big problem, one that would be better addressed by the Prince's parents. And brother. If the myths held true, Thor had been bashing Frost Giant heads since time immemorial, and assuming Loki had too, Severus had to speak with Thor himself to ascertain how deep the prejudice ran.
It was like trying to reason with Draco all over again. Just as before with his godson, he was helpless, not knowing what to say or not to say, wondering how best to show an ignorant young man how to view beings they saw as animals or worse. With Draco, it was muggles. With Loki, it was Frost Giants. Back when he'd been attempting to help his godson, his problems had stemmed from being trapped by his spy-statue. Being unable to truly speak from his heart and simply tell Draco things, he had been forced to resort to Slytherin nudges and subtle hints, all of which young Malfoy scorned or missed entirely. With Loki, Severus had no idea where this prejudice was coming from, nor did he have any starting point with the younger Asgardian Prince.
Odin met him in the hall, but Severus was hardly able to be coherent. After leaving the King with some vague rant about 'your son' and 'Jotuns' and 'unbelievable prejudice', Severus walked on, blind to his destination.
Somehow, he left the palace and found himself walking a stone street amidst impressive buildings almost reminiscent of a sixteenth century city. Asgardians were everywhere, dressed in colourful garments and calling out to each other. Ignoring the noise and chatter, Severus walked on, his strides long and brisk. His mind churned and his stomach twisted unpleasantly. Recalling how his father had raised him with words like freak and son-of-the-devil to refer to wizards, he tried to imagine if both his parents had raised him to believe that wizards were horrific monsters that needed to be killed, and then found out that he was one of those beasts himself. Small wonder Loki had so many problems. It wasn't that he had mother or father issues. It wasn't that he was jealous and envious of his brother or his brother's friends.
Loki, quite simply, hated himself. He hated the very deepest part of his being with such loathing that he had tried to kill himself rather than become one of the monsters he had been raised to hate. The very thought was bewildering and horrifying. How could Odin and Frigga have done such a thing? Why? Severus thought they loved their adopted son. He had been sure their affection and worry had been genuine. But if they could raise their Jotun son to hate his own people, did they truly love him? Were they raising him as some sort of pawn to use against Jotunheim? Or did they think they could keep his true heritage a secret forever?
Severus looked up as he passed under an enormous archway of gold, and realized that he stood on a long bridge of sparkling pavement. Even as he looked down at the stone under his feet, it shimmered and the colours shifted, vibrating outwards from his boots in an energy cadence. He could almost feel it, thrumming through his feet to the crown of his head. Curious, the wizard crouched and placed his hand beside his boots. The colours shimmered in response, shifting and radiating out like rings in water. He felt the power through hjis bare skin much better now. His chest hummed painfully in response to it; a deep power, far older and far more powerful than anything he had ever touched before. It stole his breath and tossed him away on a wave of energy that flashed rainbow light behind his eyelids and anchored his soul to the energy core of Asgard herself. Pulling away was a supreme act of the will and left him shaking on all fours before he collapsed on his side, shivering and gasping. He sat back up, careful not to touch the shimmering pavement with his hand again, at least, not with the intention of tapping into its energy.
This, beyond all doubt, was the Bifrost; the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard. The Bridge between the worlds.
Standing up again, Severus smoothed out his clothing and walked more cautiously forward. At the far end of the bridge, he could see half a golden dome and what looked like a construction crew hard at work. As he grew closer, he could almost hear the magical humming of the bridge in his ears. Out this far from the mainland of Asgard, he could see water rushing forward to pour over the edge of the world, and through the fog of the falls, he could see stars, nebulas, the entire universe. The beauty and majesty took his breath away.
He stopped several yards from the half-completed dome, and none of the workers noticed him. They worked rather quietly, for a construction crew, scurrying around and working with frenzied speed and determination and little chatter. Fascinated, Severus watched them for a time, wondering what the purpose of this dome was.
A man stepped out from within the dome, dressed in golden armour. His skin was dark, but his eyes were golden, even more brilliant than those of a Werewolf. The man was a giant, tall and broad, and he bore a great two-handed sword at his back. Solemnly, the golden-eyed man gazed at Severus, and the wizard gazed back. Suddenly, the giant bowed to him and gestured in welcome.
"Would you like to see the Observatory?" the man's voice rumbled. "It is not yet complete, but you can see more stars this way."
A bit bewildered, Severus stepped forward without reply and followed the giant Asgardian into the dome. Through a large round opening in the roof where the dome had not yet been completed, the wizard could see stars, clouds, and the occasional head of a construction worker. The large man chuckled.
"No, child of Midgard. Come here."
Severus turned to see the man sliding his great sword into a pedestal in the center of the dome. The Asgardian gestured for him to come nearer, and Severus climbed the steps of the golden platform.
"I am Heimdall," the man murmured.
"I … am Severus Snape," he replied, still feeling dazed, and achingly tired.
"Give me your hand, Severus Snape," Heimdall said gently, holding out one large hand.
Severus frowned, but he obeyed, and Heimdall took his hand, as small as a child's in his enormous paw, and placed it on the hilt of his huge sword.
"Now, look," Heimdall ordered him.
The wizard looked.
It was as if he had not had eyes before. As if he had been blind before this. He could see. There were colours, and shades of colours, he had never known existed. He could see stars and supernovas and nebulas and entire worlds laid out before his gaze. It washed over him in a flood of sense and sight too much for his mortal mind to handle. But he grasped hold of something, an anchor, some great and solid thing in the cosmos, and felt that he was clinging to the trunk of a great tree, swaying in a mighty wind. Thus anchored, Severus turned his gaze outwards again. There was a world covered in red light, with black continents and shrouded with ash and smoke. Another world was cold and white, with patches of pale blue and brighter white. His gaze fell next upon a very familiar ball of blue and white and brown. It was a marbled planet of the deepest blue, the faintest green and brown, and streaks of white, and his chest ached fiercely even as it sang with recognition.
As he looked, it grew closer and more distinct. But he felt dizzily like he was falling and pulled away. Backwards he flew across the cosmos, past the worlds of white and red, and another two realms that looked similar to Earth, past nebulas and stars and shining trail of white vapour like the Milky Way itself, and fell back into himself, standing in a golden dome, clinging to a giant sword. He was breathing hard and his head ached fit to burst, but his heart was full.
Silently, he released the sword and stepped back. He swayed slightly and licked his dry lips. Heimdall was beside him still, watching him with golden eyes that saw everything, all the time. How did he not go mad, trying to fit the whole universe into those eyes? Severus blinked hard, still seeing afterimages of nebulas and planets scattered across his eyelids. He had no thoughts, no coherent ones anyway. He felt like a child who has discovered his magic, or a man born blind who can suddenly see. Were the colours always so vibrant? Did he always see in such detail?
"Merlin," Severus rasped, stepping shakily down the steps of the platform and sinking down to sit on the second one. "Merlin; that was …" he trailed off because no human words could describe what he had just experienced.
"It was a gift," Heimdall rumbled quietly. "You needed it."
Severus shook his head, not to disagree, but because he still couldn't comprehend it.
"Do you see clearly now?"
"I … I don't know," Severus whispered, dragging in another breath, marveling at how crisp and clean it was. Everything was so vibrant and clear. Every sense was on high alert. His magic was singing and soaring in his chest and tears pricked his eyes. Without warning, they poured down his face. He was overflowing. It was too much. He didn't even understand why he had received such a gift.
"You … don't even know me," Severus whipsered shakily, raising his head to Heimdall, who was gazing back down at him gravely. "Why?"
"My office is that of a watcher," the giant Asgardian explained. "I watch. Long have I watched you, Severus Snape. When you touched the Bifrost, I felt you as well. I knew that you needed this gift."
"But why?" Severus demanded again.
"That I cannot tell you."
Severus shook his head again. He didn't even feel frustrated at the lack of answers. He could see Heimdall's sincerity so clearly he could almost feel it. He could see everything so clearly.
"The seeing will not be apparent all of the time," Heimdall said reassuringly. "It can be overwhelming at times. But should you need to see again, you will be able to. It is part of you now."
Severus struggled to understand, to see. He felt as if he was touching the Bifrost again. His very being hummed with this power. What was it? Why would this mysterious Asgardian think that Severus needed it?
"Who are you?" the wizard asked, hating how unsteady his voice was. It was too much, and too overwhelming. He hated to be caught off guard like this.
"I am Heimdall," the golden-eyed Asgardian replied in exactly the same tone he'd used to introduce himself earlier. "I am the Watcher of the Nine Realms and the Gatekeeper of Asgard."
Severus was silent for a few more minutes, struggling to understand. "Do you see everything?" he asked at last.
"I see many things, though not all at once," Heimdall answered gravely, and his golden eyes grew suddenly sharp. "You are asking why I did not see Prince Loki."
Severus frowned and nodded. "Did you see him?"
Heimdall's face flickered with emotion, almost too quickly for Severus to identify it. But he could see now, and he could see past the outer shell to see the man under the armour. Heimdall was ancient and wise, but even the wise make mistakes. He was filled with determination, and sorrow. There was a weariness that came with watching Nine Worlds for three thousand years, and though Heimdall had his regrets like any living being, he was devoted to his duty, and he did not allow guilt to overcome him.
"Loki learned from his youth how to hide himself from my gaze," Asgard's gatekeeper spoke gravely. "Soon, his skill became ingrained habit. But even when, I believe, he attempted to unveil himself and call out to me, there was stronger magic at work. He was cloaked to my sight. I believed him dead until I saw him on Midgard."
Severus blinked and looked out into the cosmos again, or rather, his memory of it. His eyes saw the golden wall of the dome, and he knew he would not see the same way again, but he could not now un-see what he had been shown. Stars spun in his eyes, nebulas splashed their colours across his retinas, and his mind still reeled from almost comprehending the universe, if only for a minute of mortal time.
"What magic would be that powerful?" Severus murmured, almost to himself. "If you have the power to see everything … almost everything, how could one hide from it?"
"It is surprisingly simple," Heimdall rumbled, his expression pinching just slightly.
Severus stood up on slightly steadier legs and looked up at the hole in the dome. The sky was dark outside, and he could no longer see or hear the workers. Had he been here so long already?
"How long was I … seeing?" the wizard asked, slowly turning to face Asgard's Watcher.
"A long time, by your standards," Heimdall replied evenly. "Seven hours; perhaps a bit more."
"It … felt like less than a minute," Severus whispered, swaying on his feet.
"Time does not count when one is lost in the Seeing," Heimdall murmured, his golden eyes becoming somehow more intense and far away at the same time.
Severus shut his eyes tightly, but it didn't help. He could still see. Beyond his closed eyes, the world seemed somehow … more. It looked different with his eyes open or shut. It was overwhelming. A bit too much, really.
"I … don't want this," Severus rasped, opening his eyes again and swaying dizzily. "Take it away. I don't want it. I can't …"
"You need it," Heimdall replied impassively. "Or you will need it."
"How do you know?" Severus demanded, clenching his hands into fists while he struggled to contain his frustration and fear. Yes, it was fear. He was afraid of seeing too much.
"I am gifted to see sometimes when certain things are needed," Heimdall replied slowly, his golden eyes gleaming as they gazed off into the cosmos. "Call it the seer blood in my veins, or a consequence of my duty as Asgard's Watcher … but you must trust me, Severus of Midgard. There will come days when you bless the gift I have bestowed on you."
"I am cursing it now," Severus growled, blinking hard again. The Seeing seemed to be growing … less, somehow. More manageable. Heimdall had said it would fade after awhile, and it would only return when he needed it. That was better than constantly Seeing everything, he supposed. But why would he need this gift? He was no Seer. As far as he knew, his magical side of the family had no Seers either. So why was this gift being bestowed on him now?
Heimdall suddenly tilted his head to the side. "Loki has need of you," he rumbled with a frown. "He is in danger. You must go."
Severus blinked and looked over his shoulder in the direction of the city, purely by instinct. But he was thinking of Loki, a spike of worry springing up in his chest at the thought of him being in danger of some sort. The city flashed past his gaze too fast for him to see, and suddenly he could see Loki. He was falling on the floor of his cell, gripping his head. Blood was pouring from his nose and his jaw was clenched. As Severus watched, the Prince let out a silent scream and arched his back in agony. Odin himself was actually standing inside the cell beside Loki, reaching out helplessly as his son fell to the ground.
Severus was running before he even realized he'd stepped out of the Observatory. Halfway down the Bifrost, Severus kicked off the bridge and rose into the air, calling upon the spell of flight as he did so. The Seeing gradually fell away as he flew, but he still knew where Loki was, even without it. His magical core twinged and burned, but held steady. The bracelet was gone from his wrist and his magic was free. The feeling of flight after so long made the wizard's chest swell with emotion and his magic responded eagerly, despite its still-healing scars of overuse. He flew over the wall of Asgard and over the rooftops of the city toward the Palace, his black cloak billowing in the wind of his passage like great black wings.
Loki paced his cell somewhat frantically. He hadn't spoken to his father in weeks. Not since his farce of a trial, actually. But he knew that he needed to speak to Odin eventually. He knew that Severus had points that could not be dismissed. He was done sulking and he was done being a stubborn fool. If he couldn't understand these things alone, he would beg Odin to explain. Strange, that it would take a Midgardian to force him to face himself at last.
When the guards clanked down the dungeon steps, Loki spun around, clenching his hands behind his back so tightly that his nails almost broke the skin. Odin All-Father slowly came down the steps, Gungnir held in one hand and the other clenched into a fist at his side. He looked every inch the terrifying King of Asgard. Loki swallowed hard and remained where he stood, though he stiffened slightly.
Odin stopped before his adopted son's cell and waved for the guards to leave. They saluted, fists thumping against their chests, before they swiftly left, slamming the heavy dungeon door behind them. Odin and Loki stared at each other for several seconds. Loki watched his adopted father cautiously, and Odin watched his adopted son wearily.
"Loki," Odin finally said, his voice deep and rumbling and tired. "Are you willing to speak to me?"
"If you are willing to listen," Loki snapped, and then winced at his tone. But he jutted his chin and refused to apologize for his stress and anxiety.
To Loki's surprise, Odin simply nodded and pressed his hand to the wall beside the cell's barrier. To the Prince's shock, the All-Father stepped into the cell and took a seat on the chair Loki had often used. The trickster Prince stared in stunned silence for several seconds before taking a hesitant step backwards. Was this a trick of some kind?
"I am an old man, my son," Odin said with a ghost of a smile. "I cannot stand all day while I wait for you to say something."
Loki shook his head impatiently and turned his back on his adopted father. Odin and he had never been able to have smooth conversations, but Loki was desperate to try. He needed it, or Severus thought he did. Honestly, Loki could feel all of the resentment and terror he carried slowly poisoning him. Odin was one of the few who had the power to wash some of the doubts and fears away.
"Loki," Odin rumbled. "I met Severus in the passages not long after he should have been with you. He was incoherent … but he seemed to think you and I need to speak with one another."
Loki let out a startled laugh and spun around. His laugh was surprised and scornful, and he saw Odin sigh, his one eye looking exhausted and wary already.
"Why did you take me?" Loki snapped out.
Odin lifted an eyebrow. "Take you?" he repeated slowly.
"From Jotunheim!" Loki spat, his fists trembling at his sides. "Don't tell me you suddenly loved Frost Giants just because you happened on an abandoned baby!"
Odin sighed in understanding and shifted his grip on his spear. "I am not proud of some things I have done in the past," the All-Father said slowly. "But taking you from Jotunheim is not one of those things. That … that is one of those things I shall never regret."
"But why?!" Loki demanded, trembling harder. "Why me? Why didn't you simply leave me there? I was small and worthless! Obviously I was worthless, if even my own parents cast me out to die!"
Odin shook his head. "You were in the Jotun Temple, Loki," he said gently. "I killed the priest there before he could kill you. Your parents offered you as a sacrifice. For victory."
"Ah," Loki let out a bitter laugh. "So because I was so precious, they decided to sacrifice me. Yes, that makes me feel so much better. And you couldn't bear to watch a baby be killed when your wars have killed and orphaned millions of children in your lifetime?"
A flash of pain washed over the All-Father's face. "I do not know why I took you," he said slowly. "I missed my son and wife, whom I had not seen in over a year. You shifted your appearance to match something of mine when I touched you. Such instinctive magic in one so young was … astounding. Yes, I thought of using you. Yes, I thought of raising you to be King of Jotunheim, especially when I found out who your father was. But it was not long before you became my son in truth, not just in act."
"And I'm supposed to believe that?"
"Loki, you know that nothing I do has only one purpose."
The younger Prince scoffed and turned away so Odin could not see his tears. "That makes me feel so much better," he snarled sarcastically.
"What do you want me to say, Loki?" Odin demanded impatiently.
"The Truth for once in your life!" Loki shouted, whirling around and fixing Odin with a wild, desperate, angry glare. "They call me the god of lies, but where did I learn it from? I watched you twist the truth in your council meetings from the time I was small, and now I learn that you even hid me from myself! You lied to an entire Realm; nay, you lied to nine Realms, and you lied to Thor and me! How can I believe anything you say?"
"Loki," the All-Father growled warningly, his grip tightening on Gungnir's shaft.
"It's all so much talk with you!" Loki shouted, feeling frantic and trapped though he knew not why. His head was pounding and he was fighting the humiliating burn of angry tears in his eyes. "Talk, talk, talk! You think I of all people do not know the both the power and futility of words at this point? I see by your actions that you prefer me below ground in a cage where I can no longer embarrass the pure blood of your precious family …"
"You are my family!" Odin bellowed at last, standing and interrupting Loki's spiel. "Do not stand there and presume to know my heart, Loki Odinson. If I told you lies, they were lies of love. If I lied to you about your heritage and your true blood, it was because in my heart, you are my blood. I care not for what you have done or who sired you; I will always love you."
Loki's ears rang. He shook his head slowly and stepped back. He was frankly, overwhelmed. "You do not mean that," Loki whispered hollowly, for lack of anything else to say. "Why am I here if that is the truth?"
"You mean, why do you still live?" Odin asked more calmly. "Why is your head still attached to your shoulders? Why am I allowing a mortal free reign of the dungeons simply in order to help you? If the truth is that I still consider you my son, why do you doubt it after all I have done to show you?"
"But … why …"
"Why did I leave you here so long before I came to you?" Odin let out a mirthless huff that might have been half a laugh. "You are impossible when you are being stubborn, Loki. Jotun or not, my progeny or not, you learned your stubbornness from us. I and Frigga are very determined people, and you inherited the worst of it, I'm afraid."
"Thor is stubborn too," Loki muttered resentfully, folding his arms and hunching in on himself. He didn't want to believe anything Odin was saying. But what if it was true? What if he had been the one lying to himself for so long?
"Not as stubborn as you are," the All-Father retorted, shaking his head almost fondly. "Sometimes, your mother used to tell me that Thor seemed the more adopted one. You are so much like me, Loki, that it frightens me."
Loki's head snapped up. He blinked at Odin in confusion. "Frightens you?" he echoed mockingly. "So you invaded Midgard once on a time then?"
"Midgard was beneath anyone's notice back in my youth," Odin huffed, his blue eye grave and piercing. "No, I invaded Vanaheim."
Loki slowly blinked and backed away another step to lean against the wall. He had known in a vague sort of way that Odin's life had not always been rosy and peaceful. He had known that Odin Borson had led the armies of Asgard in War Campaigns that had lasted decades. It was somewhat common knowledge. But in over a thousand years, the Nine Realms had been at peace. Loki had always assumed that Asgard kept the peace by being the protector of the Realms. But was Odin admitting that there was peace now because Asgard was no longer starting conflicts like a schoolyard bully?
"And Alfheim," Odin added slowly, keeping his one blue eye fixed upon Loki. "And Nornheim. And Muspelheim. And Jotunheim. And on and on. You wonder why it is that some Realms hate Asgard with a fervor that is almost religious. I made it so. I and my father before me. You and Thor have been taught better ways. I had hoped you would learn."
"I'm not a fool," Loki snarled, his face twisting into an ugly expression. "I would not start a bloody campaign with Midgard, of all the cursed Realms."
"Was there even a campaign?" Odin asked calmly.
Loki looked up into his father's face, his soul trembling with fear … and exhaustion. Blood or not, Odin was his father; the only one he had ever known, or wanted. They had fought in the past, they had disagreed, and Loki had even hated him at times. But Loki did not want any other father. Especially not … Him. At the thought of that purple menace, Loki winced. His head gave a terrific spike of pain and he raised a hand to rub his forehead before he even realized he was doing it. Suddenly recognizing the look in Odin's eye as one of concern, Loki snatched his hand away from his throbbing head and clasped his trembling fists behind his back.
"There was no campaign," Loki answered flatly, looking the King full in the eye as if challenging him. Loki could lie to someone's face without a twitch, and Odin knew that. But Loki was being pretty honest right now, even if he was being somewhat misleading with the truth. "There was no plan," the Prince snapped. "I rushed in like a typical Asgardian and tried to smash everything in sight. After all, that particular strategy always served Thor rather well. And now … you see how well that worked out." Loki gestured to his cell and then returned his hands to their place, clenched behind his back.
"I did not think so," Odin replied gravely. "Your actions on Midgard were … most uncharacteristic of your style and skill. I believe that if you had truly wanted to conquer the Nine Realms, we never would have known it was you for certain until the end."
Loki blinked in shock and threw Odin a wild, confused look. Did the All-Father just say that he … believed him? Did Odin just admit that his actions on Midgard were uncharacteristic and clumsy? Did Odin just tell him that he was more than capable of tearing down the Nine Realms with his cunning and silver tongue alone? The thought of conquering through his poisonous words and shadowy treachery was a strange one. For one, Loki had absolutely hated the two days he had spent as King and did not want to rule anything ever again if he could help it. Thor was right to say that a Throne would suit him ill. For another thing, even if he did not want to rule the Nine Realms, he did not exactly want to destroy them all out of spite. The only Realm he wanted to destroy was Jotunheim, though the appeal of doing so had long since evaporated, leaving him with a bitter taste in his mouth and an ember of hatred and pain in his heart.
"You are shocked?" the All-Father asked, looking amused. "Do not forget, Loki, that you learned your understanding of politics and ruling from me. Your style may be different from mine, but I more than anyone know what you are capable of. It was not praise or flattery, Loki. It was truth. You wanted to fail on Midgard, though only you know why."
"Perhaps my goal was simply to come here and begin my conquest of the Nine Realms with her crown," Loki sneered.
"Ah, yes; your plan has become clear now," Odin retorted, his blue eye sparking with amusement. "Take Asgard and you take all the Nine Realms. Very clever, Loki."
"Tell me," Loki interrupted, leaving the mocking banter aside for the moment. "Why are you really here? You were content to leave me to my own devices for the last few weeks. So why have you descended from your throne now?"
Odin gave him a stern glare. "I have already told you," the All-Father said severely. "You are impossible to speak with when you are being stubborn and arrogant. You needed time. I needed time. Now that we have both had time, I would like to talk."
"Pardon me, but what have we been doing for the last ten minutes?"
"Bickering," Odin replied with a withering glare. "We have done nothing but bicker with one another for centuries. I gave up trying to understand you a long time ago."
Loki flinched and looked away, his chest burning with old pain. He knew, or thought he knew, what Odin was speaking of. Loki shut his eyes briefly and opened them again. Without looking at Odin, he whispered fiercely, "I didn't kill him. I didn't. I won't say otherwise ever again."
The All-Father was silent for so long that Loki stole a nervous glance at him. The King looked old. Old and tired. And he wasn't replying.
"You told me that you would be forced to have me executed if I ever retracted my sworn oath," Loki said softly, a mocking sneer twisting his lips. "Well, I retract it. I lied under oath. Are you going to lead me to the block now?"
"Why do you continuously attempt to provoke me, Loki?" Odin asked wearily, leaning on his golden spear. "What do you hope to gain but more disapproval and frustration? Why bring up that which I decreed to be silent?"
"I am not like you," Loki retorted, somewhat off topic. "I never was. Misunderstandings have been part of our … relationship, for as long as I can recall. Learning that I was adopted wasn't a surprise. Merely my species was a bit of a shock."
"There you are again, attempting to provoke me," Odin sighed. He sat back down in the chair, looking frustrated. "What is it that you want? I tire of your games, Loki. I tire of running round and round in circles with you. This isn't about your adoption. This is certainly not about who or what your biological parents were. This is about your actions on Midgard. This is about us presuming you dead for a year and then you showing up with an army of mindless insects."
"Well why didn't you say so?" Loki grinned mockingly. "Why don't we sit down and I'll just tell you the whole bloody story!"
"Please do," Odin said wearily. "My patience cannot last much longer, my son."
Loki flinched at those two simple words. Odin used them often, whether speaking to Thor or Loki, but now, they stabbed the younger Prince in the heart, leaving him reeling. My son? Odin still called him a son after everything? Was it unconscious habit? A deliberate attempt at emotional manipulation? Perhaps a subtle effort to put Loki at ease and encourage him to answer?
"I have nothing to say," Loki snapped, his voice brittle and stiff. He was shaking again and his head was being stabbed by invisible knives. "Nothing that you will believe."
"I believe everything Severus of Midgard has been telling us," Odin said firmly. "He is of a mind that you did not invade Midgard willingly. I am inclined to believe it, for the reasons I cited earlier. Your invasion was clumsy and ill-managed. A master of illusions and politics such as yourself would have found it relatively easy to manipulate your way to power, or trick your way to it. Additionally, your power, both magical and physical, is more than enough to crush Midgard on your own without the aid of a mindless swarm of uncontrollable alien creatures. But you did neither. You arrogantly blustered and bashed your way to a full-on confrontation with Midgard's heroes and your brother, and you returned to Asgard with him, meek as a lamb. Either you truly are planning to conquer Asgard first and that was your goal all along, (though one would admit that being trapped in a dungeon cell is not a grand start to a war campaign) or you truly never wanted to conquer anything."
Loki stared at his father, stunned and somewhat confused. Had Odin just laid out a series of … compliments? Disguised as a logical battle scenario? It was baffling.
"So the question remains," Odin finished gravely. "Who ordered you to invade Midgard?"
"Who controls the future King?" Loki offered, somewhat mockingly. "You know, your son asked me the same thing."
"He has a point," Odin said sternly. "Tell me, Loki. For he is the real threat, whoever he is; not you."
Loki struggled with himself for several seconds. Much as he longed for his family to understand, he still felt terribly alone. And terrified.
There will be no rock, no crevasse, no barren moon where you can hide from my wrath.
Loki dragged in a ragged breath and his hands shook violently. He pushed away from the wall and paced unevenly, bringing his hands in front of himself again so he could clench them more tightly, but they still shook. He paced back and forth, his steps rapid and agitated, his eyes fixed on the floor and at nothing. Nothingness. Severus' Occlumency exercises helped to guard his mind helped somewhat, but the pain of being constantly under attack was wearing him down. His former masters were understandably upset about his escape from their clutches. Odin was silent, simply waiting for him to speak. He probably looked mad, Loki thought with a slightly hysterical laugh that he forced down before it could become more than an insane-sounding little huff through madly grinning lips. Loki had finally snapped. Ask him to tell the truth, and his mind breaks. Loki did laugh at that. He stopped pacing and pressed his hands over his face, rubbing at the headache, and trying to rub away the mad grin on his face. Hysteria never helped anyone. But he was going mad. The pain and the fear … he was able to hide them well enough from Severus, who distracted him and helped him to fight back. But he was crumbling before the implacable stare of his father. His true father. Laufey was never hisf father. The Titan would never be a father. Despite his flaws, Odin was the only father Loki had ever known, or acknowledged.
"He … demanded that I call him Father," Loki whispered. He was rapidly falling down in a spiral of horror and memory, almost forgetting that it was Odin sitting beside him, not Severus. "But I never did. Only Master. I couldn't help it. I just wanted them to stop. It was never ending. Never … ending …" He trailed off and jerked his hands down from his face. He felt trapped and wild and strange. Did he dare speak of such things? Odin might be outraged on his behalf. After all, Odin would allow no one else to torture his offspring. And Loki hadn't been tortured by Odin in over six hundred years. That punishment had been outlawed mere months after Loki served his sentence. In his more lucid moments, Loki had known that it was because of him. Odin had never cared about enemies being tortured before that. It was only after Loki was subjected to such treatment under the laws of Asgard that the laws were changed. Interesting that Loki did not often think of that.
"Who was it?" Odin's voice startled Loki from his spiraling thoughts.
The disgraced Prince shivered and did not reply. Not only was he reluctant to speak lest all the poison come spilling out, but the threats from his former captors still rang in his mind. They would not stop until they caught and killed him if he spoke of what he knew. If the Midgardian mage had simply left well enough alone, Loki might have been able to simply forget about his time in the void as one would a bad dream. He might have put the Titan and the Other and the Maw behind him and put on his arrogant and uncaring façade for his family … But Severus of Midgard was breaking him down.
"Loki," the All-Father said gently, his deep voice grave and solemn. "I want to know what happened to you … in the void. Who found you at your most broken? What did they offer you to gain your loyalty, however reluctant?"
Loki's breath hitched and he suddenly was angry on top of being terrified. They may have threatened him for betrayal. They may have vowed to make him suffer if he dared reveal names or plans. But they were not here. Loki was here in Asgard with Odin All-Father. They couldn't come here and take him away. He was safe. Or so he tried to convince himself.
"You won't believe me," Loki snarled, only half-heartedly.
"Do try to talk to me before assuming my response," Odin said drily. "What is his name? Why does he want Midgard?"
"…His name is Tha—ggh!" Loki's word was cut off with a strangled scream. He fell to his knees and clutched his head in a vain effort to contain the torment. The Other. He was there in his head. His Occlumency barriers had shattered under the sudden push. And he was to be punished for his failure and betrayal.
He did not hear Odin calling him. He did not see his father come to his side and catch him as he slammed to his knees and arched backwards in agony. He existed in fiery torment, and his consciousness was being hauled across the light-years.
Severus Snape dropped out of the dim sky and landed on a terrace of the main palace, going from flying to walking in a single graceful step. He ignored the stunned looks that the Einherjar were giving him. He walked swiftly past them, his cloak billowing behind him, and made his way to the dungeons. He knew where the passages led, and he took the quickest hallway to the lower areas of the palace, ignoring the guards who gave him curious or suspicious looks as he raced past them. His heart was pounding against his ribs and his eyes burned with the afterimages of his Seeing. Loki was being telepathically attacked, much like Potter had been during the war. But this time, he would be able to help. Back then, he had been a spy. Now, he was no ally of the one who had captured Loki in the Void and he was more than willing to enter an Occlumency battle. Again.
He could only hope that he wasn't too late. Loki could be possessed, or driven mad, or his mind broken, or even dead before Severus could reach him.
He reached the dungeon corridors and heard the screams before he even came to the guardroom. The door to the stairs stood wide open and the guards milling about looked uncomfortable and uncertain as to what they should be doing. Severus ducked past them, (only one of the men acknowledged his presence, looking relieved to see him) and fought the temptation to simply jump down the stairs. He reached the bottom and saw Loki's cell. There was a healer he had never seen, a tall stately woman, kneeling on the floor, and the King was standing there as he had Seen. Loki was lying on the floor of his cell, screaming and writhing as he clutched his head.
Thankfully, the barrier to the Prince's cell was wide open.
Severus unceremoniously jumped up to two steps to the cell, fell on his knees beside the healer, (almost shoving her out of his way) and pressed his fingers to Loki's forehead. He would explain and beg pardon later if need be. The Prince's distress was causing his skin to flush blue. The blood from his nose had gone from red to dark purple as well. There were intricate patterned lines on his forehead and cheeks and his hands, which were tangled in his black hair, were also decorated in the same manner, almost like tribal tattoos. Except Severus was very sure that these markings were more like fingerprints; something Jotun children were born with. Under his fingers on Loki's forehead, he could feel the ridged lines of the pattern, feeling like hard bone under the ice-cold skin. Bracing himself, Severus muttered the Legilimens spell and prepared to be immersed in another Mind Battle.
But instead he was forcibly thrown backwards by a terrible force that drove the air from his lungs and caused him to crack his head against the stone pillar at the corner of Loki's cell. Through the ringing in his ears, he could hear the healer he had so rudely pushed aside calling him. He shook his head dizzily and opened his eyes. His vision swam for a second, but suddenly, as his gaze fell on Loki, who was still writhing and moaning in terrible pain, he could See.
Loki appeared to be receiving some sort of mental or magical backlash from the mind attack, which had ceased too suddenly for it to be deliberete. Perhaps his mind had been under attack before, but there was no actual attack now. Somewhere out there, the one attacking him had been attacked himself, and Loki was suffering along with the mind that had ensnared him. Severus' blood ran cold. There was no way he could extricate anyone from a dying mind he was tangled in. And if the backlash affected him too, tossing him back the minute he tried to intervene, there was truly nothing he could do.
Shakily, the wizard got to his feet and gingerly prodded the back of his head. There was blood, but it could wait. Loki's healer had returned her attention back to the Prince once it was clear that Severus hadn't been killed by the blow to his skull. Odin looked up from his suffering child and his one eye locked onto Severus.
"You tried to help him?" the All-Father demanded.
"He is suffering some sort of magical or mental backlash," Severus attempted to explain, blinking hard at the double images his brain was processing. His Seeing was falling quickly to the back of his mind again, which was good. Odin swirled with magic in a strange way, and Loki's magic was jagged and cold, like frozen spikes of black ice. The healer was surrounded by a pale cloud of her pleasant magic, and it sparked around her hands like starbursts as she worked. When Severus focused on willing the strange sights away, he could see more normally.
"Sit down," Odin suddenly ordered him. "I am surprised you are still conscious after such a blow to the head. Mortals have such fragile bones."
"I'm not all that fragile," Severus grumbled. But a chair sounded like a good idea regardless. He took the seat Odin pointed out to him, and he sat, massaging his aching skull. Loki's cries had died down to softer moans, but the blood kept coming from his nose and he was still clutching his head.
"You say it is backlash?" Odin suddenly pressed. "Is he fighting back, then?"
"He likely is," Severus answered. "But somewhere, his attacker is being attacked and Loki's mind is still tangled in his. Until the conflict ends or Loki can untangle himself and come back to us on his own."
Odin was silent at the grim pronouncement.
"I suggest we move him somewhere more comfortable and keep an eye on his vital signs," Severus finally said, his attention toward the healer, but his eyes locked warily on the All-Father.
Odin nodded tersely, and called two guards for a stretcher. Loki had quieted, but he was still twitching and clutching at his head. His face was screwed up in pain or concentration, but he was no longer screaming. Perhaps the worst was over. Severus watched anxiously as the guards arrived with a stretcher. They seemed less than happy about it, but they obeyed the All-Father without questions. As they moved Loki out of the dungeons, another group of guards accompanied the Prince, while Odin and the healer brought up the rear. The wizard sighed and followed behind, stretching out his magical sense as far as he could. He could feel the tangled magic around Loki, and the strain from Odin. He seemed exhausted and little wonder after what had just happened with his son. Severus doubted the Queen would be much better when she heard what had happened.
Thor returned to Asgard that day. Severus only learned about it when the door to the rom slammed open and the god of thunder himself strode in. For hours, Severus had been sitting beside Loki as he slept, thinking of too many things in silence, even ignoring the King and Queen when they came. Odin had pressing thingsto take care of, and Frigga had gone off earlier to fetch some food. Apparently, since Loki wasn't awake, Severus had fallen under her radar, and she declared him looking 'unwell'. Severus wouldn't argue with that, but he felt somewhat responsible for this. If he had taught Loki better … if he had taught Potter better …
The wizard looked up in surprise as Thor rushed in and stopped beside his brother's bed. The Golden Prince looked winded and disheveled, and he had probably come right from the battlefield if the grime and blood still staining his armour was any indication.
"Your brother is out of danger," Severus said drily. It was true. Frigga had done something and Loki had immediately relaxed. The woman healer, Lady Eir, had confirmed that Loki's mind was freed and he was simply resting. Severus still sat here, though. Mostly, he was just too stubborn to leave. He didn't exactly want to go anywhere, talk to anyone, or do anything. He had to speak with Loki the instant he awoke.
Thor visibly sagged with relief and ran a hand through his long, tangled hair before he slumped into the chair Queen Frigga had occupied until a few moments ago. "What happened?" Thor demanded wearily. "All Mother said was that he passed out."
"He was attacked by his tormentors," Severus replied flatly. "Mentally," he added when Thor's blue eyes snapped to his in alarm and fury. "I was not nearby when it happened … but your father was there."
"Father?" Thor repeated, his face lighting up with hope. "Loki actually agreed to speak with him?"
Severus shrugged uncomfortably. "I was with Heimdall at the time," he murmured stiffly. "I do not know what happened."
"Yet you remain here with him?" Thor asked, his expression softening. "How long?"
"A few hours," Severus sighed. "Your mother was here for most of that time. She healed Loki somehow … untangled his mind from the death spiral it was struggling in. For now, he's resting. The Queen seemed to think I need sustenance."
Thor chuckled fondly. "What do you think of her?"
"Honestly?" Severus huffed, looking the Prince in the eye. "She appears to be a good mother. But I do not care for women who believe I need taking care of."
Thor laughed again, looking pleased. "But do we men not need taking care of, Friend Snape?"
Severus harrumphed, irritated and amused. "I have gotten along perfectly well for fifty years without a mother or a spouse or any other woman fussing over me, thank you very much. I will endure it, as I am a guest in your Realm, but I do not have to like it."
Thor simply grinned, but said no more on the subject, which was a relief to the wizard. He was tired and unwilling to argue the point any further.
They sat in silence for several moments, watching Loki sleep. Even resting, he looked in pain, not at peace. Thor sighed and folded his hands tightly in his lap.
"I have failed him," the golden Prince said quietly.
Severus glanced up at him in surprise. "How so?" he asked just as quietly.
"For a thousand years, he was simply my brother," Thor explained sadly. "I cared not for his feelings, or his own wants … I mocked him, belittled him, and constantly thrust him into my shadow. I … did not mean to be cruel. But I hurt him nonetheless."
"He does not forgive easily," Severus mused. "It will require hard work to rebuild what you had."
"He is my brother," Thor insisted, his voice cracking slightly as he clenched his hands together more tightly. "I will not abandon him again."
"His world was shattered, in more ways than one, in the past year alone," Severus Snape pointed out. "Repairing your relationship, if it is important to you at all, may help him to heal. But you must be willing to move at his pace. I cannot even describe how he has been broken. He will need to begin again."
Thor nodded, and reached up to wipe moisture from his eyes before the tears could roll down his cheeks.
"I cannot believe I was so blind," Thor whispered harshly. He looked up at Severus, his blue eyes burning. "Has he told you? Who harmed him?"
"No," Severus replied with a frown. "But I believe he will. When he is ready. Loki … is not as far gone as you might think. He is still young, he still longs for how things used to be, but he is wise enough to know that not all wounds can be healed."
Thor let out a long, heavy sigh, but didn't reply otherwise.
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