Perhaps he should have seen it coming.
After all, the collar had been forced on him as soon as he’d set foot in Asgard. The shackles were cold around his wrists, and the chains wrapped around his hips and held by four guards evoked only too much the leashes on a dog. It was all for show; he just hadn’t understood the show was meant for him.
Odin… well, he hadn’t changed. He probably would never change.
When they brought him in, Loki’s gaze did not linger on the king of Asgard, neither did it wander across the giant pillars of the great hall. He was looking at the golden-haired woman standing in the shadow of his throne.
“Hello, mother,” he said, his jaw still sore from the muzzle. “Have I made you proud?”
“Please, don’t make this worse,” she said under her breath.
He partially raised an eyebrow. “Define ‘worse’.”
“Enough,” Odin growled. “I will speak to the prisoner alone.”
Loki almost rolled his eyes, but he also pointedly avoided looking at Frigga as she exited the room. After all were gone, except for the guards holding his chains, he looked up again and stepped forward with a huffed laugh.
“I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.”
“Do you truly not feel the gravity of your crimes?” Odin growled. “Wherever you go, there is war, ruin, and death.”
Always so dramatic. Loki opened his hands as much as the shackles allowed. “I went down to Midgard to rule the people of Earth as a benevolent god. Just like you.”
“We are not gods. We are born, we live, we die. Just as humans do.”
Loki gave him a charming grin. “Give or take five thousand years.”
Odin sighed. “All this—because Loki desired a throne.”
Loki's amiable expression faltered a little, and he said in a drier voice, “It is my birthright.”
“Your birthright was to die!” Odin barked.
Loki stiffened as though he’d been whipped.
“As a child, cast out onto a frozen rock!” Odin went on vehemently. “If I had not taken you in, you would not be here now to hate me!”
Loki closed his eyes, withdrawing from a conversation he’d played too many times in his head. Suddenly, he found he has no taste whatsoever for this hackneyed game. He just wanted to get this over with.
“If I’m in for the axe,” he said, “then, for mercy’s sake, just swing it. It’s not that I don’t love our little talks. It’s just…” He let out a faint laugh. “I don’t love them.”
Odin stared at him and Loki stared back. He idly wondered how it would feel. To kneel. To feel cold stone against his throat, and then sharp steel against his nape—and then nothing.
He was almost certain Odin would not have him killed. This was all too grand. Too pompous. His death would have been shameful, hidden, like a bug discreetly squashed under a boot. No, he was going to suffer.
“Frigga is the only reason you’re still alive,” Odin said. “And you’ll never see her again. Thor will be king. You will be a slave.”
Loki raised his eyebrows with a derisive scoff. He had expected many things, but not this. “Thor’s slave? You wouldn’t be so cruel. That poor witless oaf did nothing to deserve me.”
But Odin was smiling. The shadow of a smile, really, the wrinkles in the corner of his lips only barely dimpling.
Loki’s own smile wavered.
“No, not Thor’s slave,” Odin said. “You would be, indeed, nothing but a burden for him. But you did enslave one of his mortal friends, through treachery and magic. It is only fair that he should enslave you back.”
Loki was staring at him. Then he burst into laughter, only barely noticing the guard pulling at his chains to keep him from stepping forward. “I’m sure he’ll agree that this is a… terribly unwise move.”
Odin got up, then. He slammed his spear Gungnir on the marble floor, and looked at Loki. The guards suddenly tensed the chains so violently the demi-god fell down on his knees, barely catching himself with his bound hands.
“Your magic is mine,” Odin said.
Loki wanted to make an acid comment, but all that came out was a sudden scream—a long, haunted, uncontrollable scream, like someone else was using his mouth, and then a golden glow, a strange, moving energy which spiraled up and got swallowed entirely in the head of Gungnir.
The scream ended and Loki brutally fell forward, wide-eyed and panting in shock. There was a long silence. Loki wanted to say something—to jest—to laugh, he had to laugh—but he couldn’t. He couldn’t. He felt like his insides had just been carved out.
“Your life is mine,” Odin said.
Loki hadn’t even caught his breath; when the spell hit him, he screamed again then—he couldn’t help it; he felt his years being torn from him one by one, each year a stab of ice through his heart, and he had so many years to live, five thousand stabs. At first, all he felt was wrath, but the pain got worse and worse as his body weakened, as his flesh grew feeble and mortal, as what little he had—that loathed Jotun envelope—was taken from him, too. By the end of the spell, he was sobbing brokenly on the floor, trying to revive his fury, to glare, to snarl, but he was shaking too hard and choking on his tears, swallowing snot and drool. He felt naked. He felt like he’d been skinned and then made to wear his own peeled skin as clothes, like it was now sagging in some places and too tight in others. His innards were twisted and heavy, bile rising in his throat. He would not vomit—he would not...
“Your freedom is mine,” Odin said at last.
He looked down at Loki; again, Loki thought of a bug, but this time it was such a repulsive one that it couldn’t be squashed, as it would dirty the boot. Again, he wanted to say something, but he was shuddering too violently and no words came to mind.
“Now,” the All-Father murmured.
He got up from the throne, walked down the few steps and leaned down, reaching for Loki’s huddled figure. He cupped his jaw, resting Loki’s chin in his palm; Loki loathed this small touch more than he'd ever loathed anything—anyone—but he couldn't do anything to escape it. He couldn't even look away.
“I need you to say something, Loki.”
His voice had grown soft and grave and wise, like it did when he told his sons stories, many centuries ago. When he was still Father. Loki swallowed, trembling uncontrollably, still unable to avert his gaze.
“Say it for me,” Odin murmured. “I must not tell lies.”
Loki felt a fury so great it burned him inside like lava. He gritted his teeth, eyes flaming, and spat in Odin’s face.
“Never,” he panted, eyes wide.
Odin didn’t move, drool slowly rolling down his old wrinkled cheek. His hand tightened around the base of Loki’s sharp jaw, where the bone connected to the skull. Slowly, like a vice of steel, it tightened and tightened. Loki let out an inarticulate sound; Odin didn’t relent. He kept squeezing, tighter, tighter, tighter.
This was—this was madness. Odin was strong, yes, but not that strong—Loki was certain he could have bested him in combat; but now he felt like his bones were being ground together by two continents trying to connect along the line of his tongue.
The pain was something new—as an Asgardian, even a false one, every injury started healing the moment it was inflicted; the pain was but fleeting, just a burning flicker that kept him alert. But this—this—this was devouring him, relentless and torturous, lazily settling in his flesh and flaring through his whole jaw. He had never felt anything like it. This was how pain felt to the weak, helpless flesh of a mortal. And in a moment of sheer horror, the reality of his condition hit Loki with full force—Odin could do it, could squash Loki’s jaw like a rotten fruit, leave him mute and grotesque, bones and flesh and tongue hanging against his throat. Loki moaned; Odin crushed him harder, looking him in the eyes, calmly.
And Loki saw nothing but disgust there. Nothing but cold contempt, and maybe even hatred, but a disdainful, dispassionate sort of hatred. The bone cracked, sending a pang of white-hot pain through his brain.
Odin raised a playful eyebrow—and Loki’s thoughts short-circuited.
“I must not tell lies!” he gasped in panic, hurried words tangling in his mouth, “I must not tell lies, I must not tell lies!”
Odin released him and Loki fell forward, gasping for breath, eyes brimming with tears.
He’d always thought he’d stare anything in the eyes—even Death itself—provided it came from the hand of Odin. But a bit of pain had been enough to break him. He hadn’t even resisted for a full minute.
“Never?” Odin repeated with the quiet derision of wise old men.
He turned away. “I am going to give you a few reminders. At the very least, you will die well-behaved.”
Loki couldn’t speak, even as the rune engraved itself in his left cheek and he felt the spell ensnare him in its net. He was shuddering, eyes wide, his tears blurring his vision. He wanted to say something—a last line so Odin wouldn’t win entirely. But there was nothing, only empty threats and hollow curses on the tip of his tongue.
And of course, he ended up saying the very thing he should have never said.
“Father,” he blurted.
“Take him away,” Odin said, already looking away, and the chains tensed again; before he was dragged out, Loki saw him pull out a handkerchief and carefully wipe the drool off his cheek.