He wondered if these walls had always been so pristinely white.
Had Odin’s father, or Odin’s father’s father before him, decided to hide those souls that marred a stain on Asgard by covering the darkest of its corners in pure white stone? Had they made the pristine blank canvas of its dungeon free of any discernible patterns so that even those imprisoned within its deepest bowels were forced to endure the brightness of the realm?
It was dull, really. Dull and dismal, and oh so terribly bright; bright enough to hurt his eyes when he woke, as though he’d fallen asleep under the suns of Muspelheim.
His mothe—Frigga had visited, had been kind enough to have books delivered to his cell, but after the better part of a year Loki knew he’d succumb to the madness he saw around him eventually.
Within his first week, one of the other prisoners in the cell across from him had attacked and eaten one of his cellmates, whilst his fellow captives and captors alike had jeered him on.
And who wouldn’t? The bright red of the prisoner’s death was the only color Loki had seen so vividly in months, as it splashed in almost crimson waves, like paint splattered upon a perfectly prepared canvas. It was beautiful, in a way that something deadly is beautiful. One knows just to look, not touch. The red against the stark white walls was bright, brighter even than the color he saw behind his eyelids, bright and warm and welcoming, as he had imagined it would be.
The color red held so much promise.
If he were to be honest though, even for a moment, it wasn’t as if he craved the darkness anyway, not ever again. At least when he woke surrounded by the eternally bright walls, he knew where he was.
“Good afternoon, my Prince,” a guard taunted as he passed.
Loki exhaled a carefully measured breath and turned to pace again in front of the golden screen. So it was afternoon, but of what day or how many months, he didn’t know. He’d tried in the beginning to keep track of his sleeps, of when he closed his eyes and woke again, but he slept so poorly and so little that he couldn’t imagine how that could measure time any longer.
Who would have thought that of all things that the shining city of Asgard might share in common with the black tortures devised by The Other and Thanos, it would be the complete lack of a measure of time that had become the only constant in Loki’s long life? Endless days, days and days of daytime, days of bright white lights and never dark, never nightfall, never a view of stars, never changing.
At least when Frigga visited, Loki could ask after what day it was. Ask how long he’d been wrapped inside the gilded cage of Asgard, wearing slippers and reliant upon whatever scraps of generosity the Queen bestowed upon him.
The wall slid away in one corner and a battered tray scraped across the floor. “Your meal, my prince,” the guard’s mocking voice echoed across the marble walls.
He let his hand pass carefully over the tray, his seidr reaching out and letting him feel the vibrations from the morsels. There, Loki scowled. He cradled his hand against his chest as though he’d burned his fingers. In the bread, something felt tainted, more rotten inside than Loki himself.
He removed the bread and carried the rest to a small table in the corner of his cell. It was meager for an Aesir, but sufficient enough for Loki. He’d never needed the same sustenance as Thor.
He let his lips curl into a bitter smile, his back towards the guards where no one could see the mad look that floated across his eyes. He was a fool for not questioning it earlier; his supposed parents, the golden king and queen of Asgard, their eldest son, a pale blond behemoth, and he, the skinny dark-haired child, tormented for his magical talents. A fool for believing he was kin.
After eating, he sat down on the bed and rested his elbows on his knees. A wave of exhaustion enveloped his thin frame, and for a moment Loki worried he’d missed another draught of poison in his food. The exhaustion lingered without turning his stomach this time, however. He looked at his pillow, a mere few feet from where he rested; the distance seemed immeasurable.
If he were to sleep another four thousand years, it wouldn’t be long enough to remove the memories of his time with The Other; memories he saw when he closed his eyes, even in the pure white walls of his cell. That is, until the new visions bled through, until Loki stood on the pathways between fates, staring at the vivid colors of the tapestry of his life, down avenues and choices that he never made.
She had said to him: “Please, don’t make this worse.”
She had punished Loki too, in a way that only a mother could. (Not that he would ever admit it, he grimaced, and she wasn’t his mother. She just wasn’t.) When he closed his eyes, the invisible strands of fate pulled him down along their pathways, through the weavings and across time and space, and forced Loki to examine the threads and pulls between different strands, to see each to its end in rapid moments of exhilaration and fear and overwhelming sadness.
At first, he watched the very threads Frigga had woven and tried to move and direct, as she tried to push Loki in the right direction (for now that he could see the strands, he saw her handiwork everywhere), but never could she save him.
He fell from the Bifrost—and into the blackest depths of the universe, into the hands of the Mad Titan—in every thread.
That realization had made Loki physically ill. The guards thought that Loki had succumbed to whatever poison had been included that day, and had stood cackling at the force field, pointing and laughing as the Trickster retched into a bin before he managed to press the correct panel to reveal the toilet. His seidr hadn’t even protected him then; his shock was so great that he couldn’t summon the illusions to shield himself from their prying eyes, and Loki remembered the feeling of bile rising against his throat, his stomach churning with a painful burn.
That nothing could save him, nothing could save him from that fate, made Loki’s very soul wish for an end, wish for nothing more than to lie down and surrender, forget that he had ever been created, return to nothing, ashes to ashes, and fade away.
She had said: “Please, don’t make this worse,” and Loki had smirked, and mouthed off, “Define worse.”
But he knew what would make it worse. He knew it. Intimately.
The Other would come for him, eventually. The Mad Titan’s lapdog wouldn’t let Loki’s failure to take Midgard go unpunished. And, eventually, Thanos would learn what Loki had done on Midgard, would discover his deception—but it was too late now.
There were so many moments, so many instances when he thought just once, just this once, someone might let him speak, might listen. And then, when he had been pulled before Odin, chains on his ankles and wrists, the old fool had taunted him. Told everyone that Loki was nothing more than a puppet, a toy that had outgrown its use for the kingdom of Asgard, a baby meant to die but for Odin’s generosity of spirit and desire for a prize. Had he not given the baby monster mercy, he would not stand before the All-Father now.
Loki was many things, but he would not beg. Not again. Not ever again. And if Odin, the man who had last proclaimed to love him as a son couldn’t even deign to ask him, to demand to know why, then who was Loki to explain? What right did he, Odin All-Father, supposedly one of the most powerful gods in the Nine Realms, have to know about Thanos’ machinations, about what Loki had divulged to avoid pain, pain of the most absolute and terrible kind, of black nights and days and red and fire and fear, if he looked at Loki and saw nothing more than a demon in Aesir skin. For only a monster would make a deal with the devil, without reasons.
If Asgard burned when Thanos came looking for his revenge, so be it.
He closed his eyes.
The bright lights turned the landscape behind his eyelids red—Jötunn-red eyes, red like his own blood as it flowed like rivers under The Other’s ministrations—and he threw an arm over his face, nestling into the crook of his elbow. The room went blissfully dark behind his arm, and Loki concentrated on breathing in and out.
Oh! How he longed for the red, for what he had believed awaited him on Asgard when Thor took him home, the axe and the end of his torments. He still remembered the ache in his bones as the Tesseract took him and Thor, the way his body burned with the movement, straining against scars and injuries even his seidr couldn’t wipe away after all this time.
But the All-Father was never merciful. Loki exhaled, the air burning twin paths in his lungs. Let it never be said that the All-Father was kind.
The room was quiet around him, and he felt the weight of his thoughts sink into the bed, as though the white sheets and blanket swallowed him, pulled at him. It was so easy to surrender, just as it had been so easy to fall. To let go, to welcome the end that never came.
For this moment, this very moment only, Loki wished he could drift again along the threads of what might have been forever. Let his thoughts wander, let his mind open and embraced the curse Frigga had bestowed, examining and seeing and creating and inventing and—Oh!—wishing that things could have been different, that when he opened his eyes there would be an outstretched hand inviting him to join in with the living world and pulling him back from the brink of his own surrender to Mistress Death herself. But hope is a fickle beast, at times.
He dreamed of a mortal’s fine eyes.