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Harsh World Unyielding

Chapter Text

Winds swept around him as his feet impacted with the ground, making contact with the rainbow bridge for the first time in many months. Had it not been for the great ordeal he had undergone since falling from the Bifrost, Loki would hardly have known it had been such a long time since he’d last set foot on Asgard. Everything felt so familiar: the strange sensation of arriving in a new world, the sight of Heimdall and his omniscient eye watching over the entrance to the realm, the bright light of the city shimmering in the distance. These were all things he had commonly experienced growing up. Despite the horrendous cycle of fervent efforts and subsequent failures that had represented his childhood, there was still some comfort in observing these well-known images once again.

The comfort did not last long though, as the cold clank of the manacles binding his wrists forced him to snap back to a grim reality. He tried to growl in frustration and fury at his confined state, but this too reminded him of his restraints. The metal muzzle around his mouth not only immobilized his jaw, but its durable material also suppressed any sound he might have desired to make.

Unable to express his thoughts audibly, he settled for twisting his features into a scowl. Then at least the ridiculous inhabitants of this Nornsforsaken planet will not be able to accuse me of weakness, he thought to himself. It satisfied him to hold on to at least the smallest semblance of control. Especially given the fact that the tight grip of Thor’s hand around his bicep virtually eliminated any other opportunities for personal autonomy.

He stepped forward unwillingly as his brother (No, not my brother! Just Thor! he reminded himself vigorously) pulled him toward Asgard’s guardian.

“Greetings, My Prince,” said Heimdall, bowing respectfully before the future ruler of the realm. “It pleases me to see you have arrived home safely.”

“Thank you, Heimdall,” returned Thor, glancing over at his captive. “I must admit there were times when I feared the Chitauri would overpower us… but the competence of my team members is incontrovertible. With this victory I now have faith that we can meet the challenges for which S.H.I.E.L.D. will call upon us in the future.”

“Indeed,” agreed the gatekeeper, a flash of light gleaming off the metal of his golden helmet as he nodded his concurrence. “You have fought most valiantly. Had Midgard fallen, the humans would have faced an existence tantamount to enslavement.”

“Aye, I fear that’s what my brother aimed to achieve.” Thor responded. “Defeat was never an outcome we could accept.”

Loki cast a livid look at Thor, enraged at being referred to fraternally, but was met with a surprise when his eyes landed on the elder’s face. He would have expected Thor to be furious with him - such a sentiment would certainly be justified, given his past efforts to destroy everything that Thor held dear - but it was not ire that he saw the prince’s face. There was only sadness lining every corner of his pupils, continuing into the dark shadows beneath his eyes. Thor looked tired. But not in a physical manner - he appeared resigned, as though he had lost hope in something important to him, something in which he would rather have interminably maintained faith.

Surely it can’t be me, thought Loki bitterly. All hope was lost for me long ago, especially in the eyes of my family.

“Come, Loki,” said Thor, his fatigued countenance taking on an aura of determination befitting one who has a duty to fulfill. “Father is waiting.” (Loki’s anger flared once again at this reference to the Allfather.) “Heimdall.” Thor nodded toward Asgard’s protector.

“My prince,” said Heimdall, bowing once again.

I will never bow to Thor, Loki thought fiercely to himself. Neither to him nor to Odin, that miserable excuse for a King…

But as they moved swiftly toward the palace, Loki, despite his potent resolve to rebel, couldn’t quite quell the nagging feeling inside of him that he ultimately might not have a choice.

*****
There was a dull murmur of voices as they approached the palace, which grew steadily louder the closer they drew. By the time they reached the door of the throne room, which would serve as the hall of judgment, the noise had reached an unbearable level. Loki felt a strong desire to cover his ears that he might shut out the damnable annoyance of shouts, jeers, laughs, and whatever other detestable utterances were finding their way out of the mouths of the Aesir, but Loki would never give them that satisfaction.

He knew they would love nothing more than to see that their actions bothered the Frost Giant freak. The Jotun monster. The outcast prince who had never really fit in among them, despite his possession of what should have been a respected rank.

All his life they had hated him, but they couldn’t truly torment him due to his superior title.

Now he was a criminal.

And they had every right to taunt him.

He knew they wanted him broken, kneeling, begging for mercy. They wanted to see him submit not only to Odin and Thor, but to themselves, like a slobbering, sniveling dog.

No, he would never let them see his true feelings. He would maintain his mask of fury and rebellion and pride, no matter what insults and degradations they tried to throw at him. He may not have freedom of movement or control over the punishment Odin would soon give him, but he could at least maintain his composure. They would never take that from him.

Never.

*****
A short time later, he found himself in the middle of the throne room, with Sif at his left arm and Fandral at his right. Hogun and Volstagg stood on either side of the hall doors, as if to prevent an escape attempt should he manage to free himself from the slightly less formidable grasps of his current guards.

He’d expected Thor to remain at his side - the miserable fool undoubtedly fostered some ridiculously misguided belief that he could protect his brother from Odin’s wrath - but the crown prince of Asgard was instead standing atop the steps leading to the throne, upon which sat the Allfather, his face wearing a look that promised no mercy for the traitor before him. Loki felt a cold dread at this, but he masked it well, his own face betraying no emotion.

The same could not be said for Thor, who was trying but failing to hide the expression of sick worry that permeated his features, and Frigga, who was sitting beside Odin, looking as though she might cry at any minute.

Loki did experience a momentary pang of guilt over this; he’d always harbored a soft spot for Frigga that he had never felt for any of the other Aesir, not even for Thor when they’d both been young and the weight of Thor’s recognized superiority had not yet come crashing down on him. The sudden unwanted sense of sentimentality almost cracked the carefully crafted façade he had created, but he caught himself not a moment too soon and looked away. He heard Frigga call out to him, but it was barely audible amidst the excited din that filled the room, so he pretended not to hear. He couldn’t afford to break his composure right now.

And a moment later that decision proved to be a good one, as Odin raised his hand and the hall quieted.

The time for his trial had arrived.

Chapter Text

Loki stood stoically before the Allfather. He wanted to appear completely indifferent, as though no punishment imposed could have any effect on him.

You’ve spent my entire life neglecting me, old man, he thought. I will not give you the satisfaction of witnessing my discomfort now that I finally have your attention. Had Loki been in command of his voice at that moment, he would have spat these words out like a venom. But given his current vocal limitations, he instead chose to glare at Odin with all the contempt he could muster.

Odin stared back, his single eye devoid of any compassion, then nodded to Loki’s captors, who pushed him to his knees. The sudden force caught Loki by surprise - he had not expected his fa - Odin! to impose such a shameful position on him in front of all of Asgard! - but when he tried to resist, the weight of Sif and Fandrals’ hands kept him down.

It greatly embarrassed him that a woman could compel him to kneel, but he couldn’t seem to fight back against their strength. He was still weakened from his encounter with the great green beast.

The upside of his situation was that at least the muzzle was removed, allowing him to stretch his raw, aching jaw. Plus, he would now be able to use his words against the man before him, the father he so hated.

“Loki Laufeyson!” Odin’s voice boomed, and Loki felt a wave of relief that at least the Allfather had gotten his parentage right.

“You appear before this court to face judgment for countless crimes of the most heinous nature. You have not only maliciously invaded a benevolent realm, destroying hundreds of innocent lives, but you have betrayed the realm in which you were raised, obliterating the trust we have placed in you these past two millennia. Such disreputable behavior merits a severe sentence. I have already decided what that sentence will be, but before I pronounce judgment, what say you regarding your actions? Can you offer any explanation for what you have done?”

“Is it so hard to comprehend?” Loki allowed a wide grin to spread across his features, knowing that his answer would enrage Odin and horrify Thor. “I wanted to rule, as is my birthright. I would have presided over Midgard like a benevolent god! Any injuries its people sustained were the fault of their own resistance. I have no desire to harm dutiful, obedient subjects. The disloyal and ungrateful, on the other hand…”

“Silence!” spat Odin. “Your birthright was to die! Laufey rejected you as a runt, as unworthy to inherit his throne! Ergo you have no claim whatsoever to subjects [of any kind]! Had you contented yourself with your position within my family, you may have one day ruled. But that is no longer a possibility. So be silent!”

In any other situation, Loki would have come back with a clever retort, but, though he’d never admit it, Odin’s words had hurt him.

He was ashamed of his Jotun heritage. The Asgardians hated the blue-skinned Frost Giants; viewed them as monstrous, and it sickened Loki to think that he was one of those monsters. And that he hadn’t been welcome in their realm either. Despair welled up inside of him and he found himself unable to respond.

“Ah, you listen.” Odin smiled, and Loki’s shame deepened.

“Now that you’ve said your piece, deplorable as it may have been,” continued the Asgardian king, “we shall proceed on to the sentencing.”

Loki’s heart began to pound in his chest. He was still determined not to react - they would never take his pride! - but he did fear the words that Odin would soon speak. He truly had no idea what to expect.

But there was nothing he could do to prevent what was to come, so he took a deep breath and waited.

“Loki Laufeyson,” Odin began. “Your crimes against both Asgard and Midgard are great. As such, I have selected a punishment under which you will adequately atone for your offenses in both realms.”

He stepped forward, staring at Loki with his one good eye. The dark-haired prisoner involuntarily stepped back, a chill running down his spine.

“Firstly,” the Allfather declared firmly, “your status as prince of Asgard is from this day null and void. You no longer will hold a place in the line of succession, nor will you claim the respect and privileges that a prince of this realm enjoys.

Obviously, thought Loki. He’d never expected to keep his title.

“Consequently,” Odin went on, “Asgard can no longer claim a stronger right to punish you than other realms.”

Loki saw Thor raise his eyebrows in surprise.

Odin straightened up. “Therefore, you will be stripped of your magic and immortality and sent to Midgard, where your actions caused the greatest damage and suffering. Our mortal allies have agreed to oversee your punishment for crimes against their realm. You will serve whatever sentence they see fit and will be allowed re-entrance to Asgard only if the reigning king ever deems it appropriate and only after the mortals decide you have paid proper penance. This is my decree.”

The hall erupted.

The noise was, if possible, even louder than before Odin had commenced the hearing. Most of the Aesir seemed to be jeering in approval, but a noticeable few appeared incensed that the sentence was anything other than execution.

But Loki hardly noticed the reactions of those surrounding him. Indignation and disbelief burned inside of him.

He couldn’t keep the shock off his face. He never would have guessed this. Banishment, yes, but to be forced to serve a sentence on Midgard, powerless and human? It was unthinkable!

Somewhere in the midst of all the surrealism, Loki found his voice.

“You cannot!” he exclaimed, fighting to conceal the nerves beneath a mask of anger. “You have no right to transform me into a mere mortal, nor to lower me to the level of human criminals - ”

“Don’t I? interrupted Odin in a piercing tone. “You brought yourself to that level, Loki Laufeyson. And nothing will stop me from ensuring that you get what you deserve.”

“You bastard!” spat Loki. “I will KILL you! DO YOU HEAR ME?” he screamed, bucking against the grip of his guards and attempting without success to hurl himself at the Allfather.

“Oh, I hear you well, Laufeyson,” said Odin. “But your threats are empty. You cannot harm me, nor will you ever harm any Asgardian ever again. You can rest assured of that.”

“Just wait,” Loki snarled. “I will escape my captivity, destroy your precious realm, and then slit your throat!”

Odin simply waved a hand dismissively. “I tire of this,” he said. “Sif, Fandral.”

Then the former prince of Asgard felt himself yanked to his feet and pulled towards the door, the despicable muzzle placed once again on his mouth as they walked. He refused to look back, but he could hear Frigga and Thor pleading with the Allfather, imploring that he might reconsider the banishment.

Fools, thought Loki. They’d probably release him if given the option. Which, of course he wouldn’t object to, but still… it would be rather stupid on their part.

But Odin would never alter his original sentence. Loki knew this. He was going to be forced to return to the realm whose inhabitants despised him possibly even more than the Aesir, and he would be left at their mercy. At the mercy of puny, weak, mortal beings, hardly worthy to lick the dust from his shoes!

He would not go quietly.

The Allfather would know his wrath even if physically there was nothing he could do to harm him.

And so, with these thoughts, Loki was led away to the dungeons, irate and fuming, but with absolutely no power to change his situation.

Chapter Text

Loki trudged angrily up the mountain, furious at Thor’s denial of his authority and enraged that he had ever considered this insufferable dolt to be his brother. “I’ve seen worlds you’ve never known about! I have grown, Odinson, in my exile. I have seen the true power of the Tesseract, and when I wield it - “

“Who showed you this power?” Thor stepped forward urgently. “Who controls the would-be king?”

“I AM A KING!” Loki bellowed.

“NOT HERE!” snapped Thor. “You give up the Tesseract, give up this poisonous dream!”

The God of Mischief grinned evilly. “I don’t have it.”

A high-pitched whistle filled the air as Thor summoned Mjolnir. “Then I guess you’re just as worthless to me as you’ve always been to Asgard,” he said simply.

Before Loki could react, the God of Thunder swung his hammer, colliding with Loki’s face in a sickening crunch. His skull shattered instantly, bones crumbling into powder, but his spine remained intact and he felt with full intensity every beyond-excruciating wave of pain that washed over him as the blow’s momentum flung him off the cliff. Even despite his unfathomable physical suffering, Thor’s words stayed with him, haunting him, as he plummeted to his death… Worthless… Worthless… Worthless…

Loki jerked awake, gasping for breath, his heart pounding. The image of Mjolnir hurling toward him, the explosion of agony as it crushed his skull… It had all felt so real.

He cursed himself for reacting with such alarm over something as petty as a dream. Of course it wasn’t real, he scoffed to himself. What’s already happened cannot happen again.

And it especially wouldn’t have happened that way. As if Thor would ever intentionally injure him in such a violent manner. Even if Loki were to lunge at him with the intention of delivering a fatal blow, the sentimental buffoon would probably still refuse to fight back with his full strength. Norns forbid if Thor actually hurt his brother.

Loki kicked angrily at the damp stone wall of his cell.

How he hated Thor.

Thor, who had the audacity to believe he had never wronged Loki. Who granted no legitimacy to his brother’s “imagined slights,” as he had called them. If remaining in the Avengers’ custody had not been integral to his plans at that point in his stay on Midgard, he would have struck down the pathetic prince right then and there. Not even Mjolnir could have stopped him.

He reveled for a moment in that fantasy. How wonderful it would be to finally be rid of Thor. Instantly he would be done with centuries of pain, humiliation, inferiority, and neglect… not to mention that Loki himself would become the most immediate heir to the throne.

But wait.

No longer. His rank had been taken from him.

He actually felt a pang of sorrow at this remembrance, but frowned upon realizing he’d allowed himself to feel something so weak. All this time in his cell was turning him into a sentimental fool.

He had no idea how long he’d been confined in the small, rectangular cell, but it felt like a very long time. With no windows or natural light, it was impossible to keep track of days and nights, but he guessed it had been more than a week since Sif and the Warriors Three had shoved him into this dingy room without even speaking a word.

The cell was chilly; there seemed to be a draft blowing through the room at all times. They had taken his armor before locking him away, so with only his tunic and trousers remaining, he had little protection against the cold. As a Frost Giant, dungeon temperatures shouldn’t have bothered him, yet he found himself shivering as he sat alone in his prison. He suspected Odin had magically altered the climate of the cell, knowing that the standard conditions would have no effect on him.

It was no matter. He was used to it by now, and at any rate, much worse things had happened to him. It was laughable that Odin thought a little cold could disturb him.

He swept his eyes around the remainder of his cell. The walls and floor were stone, inexplicably moist and as cold as the breeze in the surrounding air. The door was wooden, but clearly magically fortified, since Loki could feel a powerful force tingling in his bones whenever he drew near it. A small barred window permitted a meager view of the dimly lit hallway beyond, but there was little appeal in gazing out of it. All there ever was to see was an occasional guard passing by, and Loki would have to be imprisoned for a significantly greater amount of time before that became interesting to him.

He passed most of his time sitting and brooding on the mattress that had been provided for him, and for now that was sufficient entertainment. He’d been surprised to receive sleeping accommodations that were so… reasonable. A prisoner of his status would typically be gifted only a pile of straw, tossed carelessly into a corner. Thor had probably advocated for him to receive proper bedding. The fool.

Loki wasn’t complaining, however. While he could certainly handle sleeping on moldy straw if the circumstances required it, a mattress was definitely preferable.

Naturally, he was worthy of not only a mattress, but also sheets and pillows and blankets and furs, all gathered on an enormous bed in a lavishly decorated and bejeweled room located within the royal living quarters… but of course his family denied him that which he was rightfully entitled to.

They always had.

His current habitat simply reflected how they truly felt about him. For who would provide a Frost Giant with such grand accommodations as those in which I grew up? Loki wondered.

He smiled.

He was a monster, and one day he would destroy all of those who had ever mistreated him.

*****
Loki had been lying on the mattress staring at the ceiling for the better part of what he assumed was a day when Odin came to him.

He heard the tramping of footsteps approaching his cell, then the lock slid aside with a click and the heavy wooden door creaked open, revealing Asgard’s king accompanied by several guards.

“Ah, Father,” Loki said sweetly in a tone laced with the danger that lurked not far beyond his façade. “To what do I owe this pleasure? Have you come to augment my punishment? Is there some new torture you wish to inflict upon me? Or have you simply come because you’ve missed my presence? If so, I’m afraid I can’t say the same about you… Do forgive me, Father.

He smirked, hoping his words would provoke the Allfather to verbally retaliate, but Odin remained disappointingly silent. The only reaction he granted Loki (and it was hardly a reaction at all) was to look down at him, a calm, cold purpose burning in his eye.

For a short time, silence persisted, as if Odin were waiting to see whether the God of Mischief had finished utilizing his silver tongue. Since Loki had no interest wasting words on the Allfather if it wouldn’t result in an argument, he stared coolly back at him, unspeaking.

Then Odin nodded, and two of the guards moved swiftly forward to drag Loki to his feet, forcing him up against the wall. The former prince felt a rush of fury at this treatment and struggled against the men who held him. He would not allow himself to be handled like this, even if he no longer had his rank to protect him.

“What is this?” he snarled, twisting his neck around in an attempt to glare at Odin.

But the king did not answer him, instead cocking his head toward one of the guards and ordering, “Bind him.”

And then Loki saw the chains that he’d somehow never noticed dangling from the wall, cold steel wrapping firmly around his wrists after they were jerked roughly above his head. The metal links did not form a very long chain, so Loki had no slack with which to shift or manoeuver his body into a more comfortable position. His left shoulder pulled tightly against its socket, and he wished he had the ability to rotate his arm ever so slightly to ease the pressure, but he really could not move. In fact, it occurred to him that he was helpless.

This he would not tolerate.

“You will tell me what is happening!” Loki demanded again, gritting his teeth simply because it was one of the only movements he was currently capable of making. He heard Odin’s footsteps advance toward him in rapid succession and then he felt his head yanked backwards as the Allfather’s fingers invaded his hair, pulling it painfully.

“You do not command me, filth,” Odin spat. “And you are about to see just how easily I am able to command you.”

He stepped back, and before Loki could let out a retort, he heard Odin’s voice proclaim, “I strip you of your immortality.”

Loki sighed internally. So it had come time for this.

But he’d hardly had time to dwell on the impending loss when an uncomfortable pressure seemed to close around his body, pressing into his limbs and tightening in his chest. He squirmed a bit unwillingly, wanting to rid himself of the discomfort.

But then it seemed to lessen, and he was relieved until he realized he was steadily growing weaker. He could feel the strength draining from his body; could sense himself becoming more vulnerable… becoming more human.

It made him rage inside.

He snarled and pulled at the chains binding his wrists, but it was to no avail. He felt the last of his immortality leave him, and then the exhaustion of weakness forced him to slump under his own weight, the downward force yanking painfully on his already aching shoulder. He panted softly, trying not to show Odin how the spell had affected him. Lacking the energy to speak, he remained uncharacteristically unresponsive to the humiliating treatment.

He did, however, shoot another murderous glare at the Allfather, willing him to burst into flames right where he stood. But of course Odin did no such thing. Instead he opened his mouth again and Loki steeled himself for what he knew was about to come.

He desperately tried not to think about it, but there was no avoiding the words that Odin spoke.

“I strip you of your magic.”

They were only six words. Six words, yet Loki knew he was about to lose that which he held most dear. It was so painful to anticipate…

But the next nanosecond, Loki wondered how he could have considered those thoughts painful as absolute, complete agony exploded in every ounce of his being. It was everywhere. Too much, oh it was too much! How he burned! Surely he was coming apart at the seams; for all this pain, someone must be ripping and tearing him into oblivion. He heard a scream, a horrible wailing shriek, and realized it was coming from him.

Maybe this will kill me, he thought, and suddenly death sounded like sweet bliss. Please, he wished desperately, let me die.

But the fire continued to flare. It seemed never-ending - surely he had been suffering this torture for centuries? He felt he would go mad at any moment, for how it was even possible to feel this much pain, he did not know.

And then it was gone, and if he’d felt winded after the first spell, this second spell undeniably had him way past the point of air deprivation. His breaths, if you could call them that, came in shallow, desperate gasps, air failing to find its way inside him as he frantically tried to quell the burning in his throat and lungs.

He crucially needed oxygen, but he was so tired that sleep was his strongest desire. Yes, sleep sounded wonderful. Maybe he could just sleep forever and escape all of this degradation. It was shameful to give up, but if he slept, he wouldn’t have to know his shame… yes, sleep. Please, sleep. His eyelids grew heavier and he began to lose consciousness, even as his lungs seared with pain and his body cried out in protest from the assault.

He was on the brink of achieving his slumber when suddenly fire burned anew in his cheek. His eyes shot open once more, and he found Odin mere inches from his face. He realized that the Allfather had slapped him, and satisfaction showed in every line on the king’s forehead.

“What now, old man?” Loki tried to croak, but his throat was dry and the words were inaudible.

He turned his head to the side, having no wish to be in such close proximity to the Allfather, but Odin grabbed his jaw and forced Loki to look into his eye. The prisoner made an attempt to jerk away, but Odin held fast, his grip tightening to a point that was almost painful for the former god’s newly mortal body.

“What?” Loki said again, his exasperation evident despite the weakness of his vocalizations.

Odin stared at him coldly. Then he said in a hard, official tone, “You will be taken to Midgard within two days, at which time Asgard shall relinquish custody and the mortal organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. will commence the oversight of your punishment. You will remain a prisoner of their realm until the conditions of your sentence have been fulfilled. You will have no contact with any Asgardian while under Midgardian supervision.”

To Loki’s relief, Odin then released his jaw, which had begun to ache. Now free to relax his head, he immediately did so. He could sense that the elder god remained standing behind him.

Odin confirmed this seconds later, saying “Presently, you will remain in your cell.”

Then Loki heard the men retreating from his prison, boots shuffling against the grooved stone. The cell door swung shut, screeching horridly, and closed with a heavy thud that echoed ominously off the walls.

He realized with sharp disappointment that he would not be unchained, and he kicked the wall angrily. It did little to quell his discontent and only sent pain shooting through yet another part of his body. Overwhelmed with frustration and pain and rejection and failure and rage and sorrow and hopelessness, Loki felt a scream building within him, bubbling to the surface and escaping with all the volume he had lacked in the aftermath of losing his magic. He cried out in tortured agony of mind and body, yelling until he absolutely could not yell any longer, stopping only when he found himself incapable of forcing any more air out of his inflamed throat.

Then the exhaustion that had temporarily left him returned, closing in on him like snake wrapping around its prey, and he collapsed into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight.”

Nick Fury stood glaring down at Loki, who was sitting in front of him, handcuffed to a chair.

“Your daddy decides he’s tired of dealing with your bullshit, so instead he throws you down to the planet you tried to destroy not even a month ago and forces S.H.I.E.L.D. to punish your sorry ass. Sound about right?”

Loki curled his lip. “I can’t say that is how I evaluate the situation.”

He detested that his enemy towered above him, as it further emphasized just how little power he held in his current state, but his bindings prevented him from standing with any sort of dignity. Attempting to do so would only add to his humiliation.

Fury raised an eyebrow. “No? How would you evaluate the situation then, Your Highness?

Understanding that he was being mocked, Loki’s face darkened. “Well, Director,” he retorted. “Firstly, Odin is not my father. My own daddy never gave me the chance to raise any bullshit, as you so expressively put it, because he left me to die shortly after my birth.”

His tone was dangerous, quiet but barely suppressing the rage that lay just behind his calm expression.

Secondly, I did not try to destroy your planet. I sought to rule it. I stated as much multiple times during my time on Midgard, but clearly either your mortal hearing is defective or you chose not to listen.” His eyes narrowed. “And thirdly, somehow I doubt that having the opportunity to exact revenge upon me is such a tragedy for you. Surely you are dying to make me feel pain? To make me hurt for what I did to your people?”

“Oh believe me, I want you to feel pain and loss and subjugation (Loki scowled here at Fury’s allusion to his speech in Stuttgart) for your despicable crimes against my planet. But I also hoped I’d never see you on said planet ever again.”

He directed a piercing stare at Loki that confirmed the truth of this statement.

“I assumed that Asgard would come up with a perfectly miserable existence for you in a dungeon lined with poisoned spikes or some other less than pleasant supplement. Why would they turn down such an enjoyable opportunity?”

Loki shrugged. “Apparently now that I am no longer a member of the Asgardian royalty, my punishment must fall to those with the strongest claim to it. Odin has obviously decided the claim is yours.”

Fury’s face was lined with suspicion. “I was under the impression that before you brought your ugly mug to Earth, you tried to commit genocide against some alien race. Seems to me they’d have a pretty strong claim to vengeance.”

Loki smiled ironically. “Asgardians have never cared much for the wellbeing of the Jotnar. I am sure that the Allfather never once considered them as possible agents of my captivity.”

“Thor stopped you from killing them,” Fury pointed out.

“Thor is a fool.” Loki said shortly. “His mind is weak and his sentimentality is his destruction .”

“Didn’t stop him from defeating your ass.” Fury smirked.

Loki’s eyes flashed angrily, but he said nothing. It wasn’t as if he could deny it.

Fury stood up straight and took a step closer to his prisoner. “So here’s how it’s going to be.”

Loki looked back at him with his eyebrows raised as if in mild curiosity. His lips were pursed, but otherwise he showed no sign of anxiety at the impending announcement of his fate.

“After you pulled your little King of the World stunt last month, S.H.I.E.L.D. realized we needed to come up with a more secure method of confining our most dangerous adversaries…”

He stopped to glower at the raven-haired captive. “Meaning motherfuckers like you.”

Loki smiled. “I am sincerely honored that you regard me as a “dangerous adversary!” Such a gracious compliment.”

“We regarded you as a ‘dangerous adversary,’ and notice how deliberately I use the past tense!” Fury snapped. “You won’t be nearly as pleased with yourself once you’ve experienced our new facility.”

“Shall I start begging now for your forgiveness?” Loki drawled sarcastically.

“You might want to,” Fury answered, grinning widely. “Basically, we’ve made a deal with the state of New Mexico that involves us throwing your worthless hide (Fury emphasized this phrase, taking his time in enunciating each syllable, as if he knew it would particularly distressing for Loki) into one of their maximum security prisons, only you get to stay in the brand new supermax wing run by officers appointed and specially-trained by S.H.I.E.L.D. So essentially, we get to keep our eye on you without having to waste too many of our resources.”

Loki feigned shock. “Why that is a simple punishment, Director! No torture? No public humiliation? Your sense of revenge is pathetically lacking.”

At this, Fury gave a snort and smirked back at his prisoner. “You have no idea what you’ve got coming. Torture may not be legal in this country, but a lot can happened behind closed doors.”

Donning a disinterested expression, Loki remarked, “If you’re trying to scare me, you are doing a very poor job of it. None of your feeble attempts will possibly succeed in making me regret me actions. If I were free in this moment, I would once again attempt to secure my rightful place as the ruler of this realm!”

Fury’s eye flashed angrily, and it was clear he wanted to snap an unpleasant rebuttal, but he seemed to change his mind and instead swiftly raised to his mouth a Midgardian device that Loki recognized from his time as the master of the scientist and the archer.

“Call the team.” Fury ordered, authoritative as ever.

On the radio, a crackling voice responded. “Uh, sir, we won’t be able to summon every - ”

“Yes I know that Thor won’t be coming, idiot,” snapped Fury. “I’m the one who ordered the damn flag on his profile! Just do what you’re told and don’t ask questions!”

He lowered the radio again, and turned back to Loki. “Daddy instructed us not to reunite the brothers. I’m sure you’re heartbroken.”

Loki snorted but otherwise did not take the bait. He was of course relieved that he would not have to see Thor, but Fury already knew this, and there was no point of satisfying his captor with the irate and impassioned response he sought.

The former god sat in silence, allowing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Director to stare him intently, neither speaking nor moving, as if he expected his prisoner to try something.

After probably twenty minutes of this staring contest, voices in the hall alerted the two men that the Avengers had arrived. The door to the room buzzed and opened, permitting Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, Natasha Romanoff, and Bruce Banner to enter. Their chatter halted immediately when they noticed Loki in front of them.

Fury spoke quickly before any of them could say a word. “I’m extraordinarily aware that Loki is in fact sitting right next to me. Don’t bother to point that out. Everything will be explained momentarily.”

He frowned. “Where the hell is Stark?”

“I’m pretty sure he’s on his way,” said Bruce.

“He’d better be,” Fury growled.

“You know Tony Stark. He operates on his own time,” said Natasha. “No need to fret.”

Fury rolled his eyes.

“Actually,” Natasha added, “I think I hear him coming right now.”

And sure enough, the whistle of an object moving high speed through the air could be heard increasing in volume as it neared their location. Then a loud ‘thunk’ sounded on the roof above them, and Fury called over the radio, “Open the gate.”

A circular opening appeared in the ceiling, and a second later Tony Stark himself dropped through the hole, landing heavily on the floor below. His knees bent nimbly as he braced his fall, then once he was stable he straightened up and raised his visor. “Howdy, folks.” He noticed Loki and raised his eyebrows. “Who invited Reindeer Games to the party?”

Fury ignored him. “Now that you’re all here,” he said, glaring at Tony, we can take care of business. I am going to brief you on Loki’s sentence.”

Steve frowned. “Isn’t that pretty obvious, sir? He should spend the rest of his life in prison…”

Clint’s face was contorted with tormented rage. “Why couldn’t you have sent us an email or something - I mean, for God’s sake, this is the 21st century! Why did I have to come here and see the man who enslaved me?”

“The hawk has a point,” Tony piped up. “Every minute I spend here is another minute that I’m not working and therefore not making money… so if Stark Industries ever collapses, I’m going to blame you, bud.”

“I’m pretty sure the Captain doesn’t have an email address,” said Fury dryly.

Tony whirled around and stared at Steve. “Well, Cap?”

Steve stared back blankly. “What? I don’t.”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Tony threw his hands in the air. “How do you survive in this era, Captain Spangles?”

“You know, I wish I didn’t have to!” Steve said angrily, “You have no idea what it’s like!”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “Oh, well then do tell. I’m always up for story time. Though preferably when there is alcohol involved.”

Steve surged forward as if to get in Tony’s face, but Bruce quickly held out an arm and stopped him. “Hey, hey, let’s settle down. We shouldn’t be fighting each other like this.”

“Damn right, and I certainly didn’t call you all here to listen to you bicker like children!” Fury snapped. “Now everybody shut up and open your ears - that means you too, Stark!”

Tony, who had opened his mouth as if to speak again, reluctantly closed it and leaned up against the wall, putting on a bored expression.

Fury went on, “I called you all here because I assumed that you’d want to be completely and thoroughly briefed on the future of possibly the most dangerously criminal in world history! Especially since he’ll be incarcerated on this planet, in this country.”

“WHAT?!” Clint’s features were a mix of ire and dismay. Natasha looked shocked, and the slightest hint of green flashed through Bruce’s eyes.

“You can’t be serious?” Steve said, his incredulity evident. “After the damage he caused in New York, how can we possibly be certain that we can prevent him from escaping and doing the same again?”

“He’s powerless. Odin made sure of that.” Fury grinned.

Tony shot Loki a look of false sympathy. “Oh, Lokes. Now you’ll really have performance issues.”

Natasha snorted in amusement. Beside her, Clint did not have the same reaction.

“How can you joke at a time like this? We’ve just been told that a sadistic, evil, alien murderer who once tried to take over our planet - and nearly succeeded! - will be living on Earth, around humans, for decades. I completely fail to see the humor in that!”

“Well, you heard Fury. He doesn’t have his magic.” Bruce offered.

“That doesn’t change the fact that he’s extremely clever!” exclaimed Clint. “Not to mention that he’s got incredible strength even without his magic.”

“He’s mortal,” said Fury

For a split second, the room went silent.

Then Tony spoke, apparently barely able to suppress his glee. “Whoa, whoa, hold it right there. You’re telling me that big, bad, super-god Loki is human now?”

“Yes. He’s a Frost Giant by birth, but the spells that made him mortal locked him in his Aesir form, so he’s essentially human.”

Tony looked like Christmas had come several months early. Steve nodded, satisfied that Loki no longer posed a threat. Bruce looked slightly alarmed.

Clint remained tense. “Okay… with those conditions, I’d agree that he doesn’t pose an escape risk, but I’m still uncomfortable knowing that he’ll be nearby. You can’t possibly understand how horrible it is to lose control of your own mind…” he shuddered. “I can’t keep re-living that.

“Well, it’s not like you’ll have to visit him,” said Bruce. “After today, just forget about Loki. Move on with your life.”

Clint shook his head. “You should know it’s not that easy, Doc.”

Bruce shrugged uncomfortably. “Sorry, I’m not that kind of doctor…”

Natasha stepped forward, “It’ll be fine, Clint. Everything is going to be fine. Loki will be locked up - forever - and then we can all help you heal.” She moved closer to him, speaking softly. “I can help you heal.” She put a hand on his neck and leaned his forehead against hers. Clint responded to the comforting touches, placing his hands gently on her shoulders.

Tony made gagging noises and mimed puking, prompting Bruce to protest at his insensitivity toward their fellow team members.

Steve, business-like as always, ignored the activity around him and turned to Fury. “So what happens now? Does he go straight to prison? Will we take him there?”

“No, I’m sending him in a car with six S.H.I.EL.D. agents. They’ll deliver him directly to the facility.”

“Wait,” said Bruce, who had finally gotten Tony to stop his antics. He spoke hesitantly, as though he wasn’t sure how his comments would be received. “Loki hasn’t grown up watching Midgardian television. He doesn’t know anything about prison life on Earth. Shouldn’t we be concerned for his safety?”

“Why the hell would you care about his safety?” Clint wondered aloud, clearly disgusted that such a thought had even crossed the doctor’s mind.

“He has no idea what goes on in our prisons. He won’t know how to protect himself.”

Clint gave him a blank look. “I really don’t see what the problem is.”

“Barton said it himself.” Fury interrupted. “Loki may not have his strength anymore, but he still has his brains. He’ll adapt. Might be a little rough in the meantime, but…” he shrugged. “I’ll get over it. And I suggest you do too, Banner, because this is going to happen, regardless of whether you object or not.”

Bruce turned away in a huff, muttering something about “human rights” under his breath.

“Well then,” Fury said, raising his eyebrows. “I believe we’re done here. You all may leave.”

Clint and Natasha left immediately, unspoken words between them communicating their mutual readiness to depart. Bruce, shooting one last uncomfortable look at Loki, followed soon after.

Steve nodded at the Director. “Fury.”

“Rogers,” said Fury, acknowledging the Captain with a short nod.

Then Steve whirled around and briskly walked out as well, leaving Tony alone with Fury.

The billionaire grinned. “Well Nick, it’s been a pleasure, but I must return to Stark Tower. I’ll be mailing a bill for my lost time!”

Fury snorted. “Like hell you will.”

“Oh, just you wait,” Tony said, smirking. “I always make good on my promises… and threats.”

“I beg to differ,” called a dry voice beside them. Both Stark and Fury stared at Loki, who had up until now remained perfectly silent. “I never did get that drink you offered me.”

Tony waved a hand dismissively. “As if I’d waste good alcohol on someone like you.”

Loki snarled. “Don’t you dare presume to insult me, mortal.”

Tony shrugged, completely unaffected by the prisoner’s anger. “Try and stop me,” he said, and with that, the visor on his helmet clanked shut, and Iron Man flew up towards the ceiling with such suddenness that Fury almost didn’t get the gate open in time.

With Stark gone, the Director sighed. “Sometimes I wonder why I bother trying to work with a man like Tony Stark.”

Loki regarded him plainly. “Well that at least is something we can agree upon.”

Fury eyed him. “But then I think about how he helped bring your ass down, and that all goes away.”

He lifted the radio to his mouth again. “All agents assigned to Operation Super Transport, report for duty at this time,” he ordered. “The prisoner Loki Laufeyson is ready for transfer.”

Chapter Text

It didn’t take Loki long to figure out that human prisons were vastly different from their Aesir counterparts.

The place to which he was taken was more isolated than perhaps any location Loki had ever known - they had driven for an hour straight without passing by a single building, person, or even a tree. There was only desert, sand stretching endlessly in every direction. The sun was hot, and Loki found himself sweating between the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that sat on either side of him.

When they reached their destination, the prison in front of them was not only clearly visible and identifiable as such, but also the only man-made structure for miles. In Asgard, prisons were below the ground, usually beneath populated city centers. Their security was in the impenetrable stone that formed the walls of each cell and of the hallways beyond, and in the massive guards who stood in the entryways and patrolled the corridors. Here, high fences rose taller than the buildings and were topped with curls of sharp metal that Loki supposed were meant to inflict pain on a would-be escapee. There were also several towers in sight, taller even than the fences and manned by guards holding rather long versions of the weapons Midgardians referred to as ‘guns.’ When his escorts pulled him out of the vehicle, at least 4 guns simultaneously aimed at him - as if escape was even an option.

Had he had his magic, he would have teleported in an instant, but in his mortal state, escape would only lead to a grueling trek through the desert. He doubted his human body would survive it.

So pathetic, he thought to himself. He didn’t accept this body as his own. His mind was still his, but this body had been forced upon him.

And that body was now bound in shackles, restrained by hard metal enclosed around his wrists and ankles and wrapped around his waist, pulling his arms close to his body. The chain connecting his ankles was annoyingly short and hampered his gait with every step.

As if these restraints weren’t inhibitive enough, his escorts each took a firm hold of his biceps and guided him toward the building, never once letting go until they had entered the building and come to a desk manned by an enormously fat lady in a navy blue uniform. It looked like the clothing Loki had seen Midgardian “policemen” wear.

The desk was built into the wall, and a metal grating stretched from the ceiling to the peeling white paint of the counter top. A small rectangular opening in the center was the only point of access to the room beyond.

The woman took of sip of what appeared to be that vile brown liquid that Midgardians were so fond of and stared lazily at the prisoner in front of her.

“New prisoner?” she drawled.

“Yes.” one of the SHIELD agents responded. “Loki Laufeyson. Super maximum.”

“Oh really?” This appeared to peak her interest. “We don’t get those every day.”

“Surely you were aware we’d be coming?” The agent seemed irritated.

“Nobody told me,” the lady said dismissively.

The agent rolled his eyes.

“You’ll want to get him processed, then?”

“Naturally.”

“Alright, well, I’m Officer Collins and I’ll be taking care of that today. What did you say his name was? Laufeyson? How do you spell that? L-A-F-F…”

“L-A-U-F-E-Y-S-O-N. First name Loki, L-O-K-I.”

Officer Collins’ eyes widened. “Loki? Like the crazy bastard who attacked New York?”

The agents didn’t even grace that with an answer.

“Well, we’ll need to collect his personal property now.”

“He doesn’t have any. Just his clothes.”

The officer nodded. “Okay, he can go straight to strip search, then. A male officer will have to take care of that. I’ll call for Officer Burnett, and you can take him to Room 103A just down the hall. Burnett will meet you there.”

The agent to Loki’s right gave a swift nod before taking the prisoner’s arm once more and pulling him down the hallway.

Room 103A was a small, square, colorless room with nothing but a vertical screen standing in the middle, dividing the room in half. When Officer Burnett arrived, he expressionlessly indicated that Loki should step behind the screen, which he did once the grip on his arm relented. The two SHIELD agents did not move to follow him as he approached the Officer.

The man that the fat woman had referred to as Burnett eyed him, and Loki saw in those eyes what a quick glance at his face had not revealed. While his expression was carefully controlled, his eyes were dark and cold, staring at Loki without a hint of sympathy.

Loki filed that information in the back of his brain. In no way did the man intimidate him, but it would probably serve him well to learn about the various temperaments of his new guards.

“Strip down,” Officer Burnett ordered.

Loki raised his eyebrows. “I beg your pardon?”

“What did you think was going to happen? Don’t they strip search prisoners on Mars? Take off your clothes.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “The planet in your Solar System known as Mars cannot sustain life. Therefore it is impossible that I might come from there.”

“Just take your clothes off.” The Officer was growing more impatient now.

Loki smiled and began to strip, never taking his eyes off of Burnett. He wanted the man to know that this would not bother him; that this effort at humiliation would fail.

Burnett held his hand out for each item of clothing, and Loki handed it to him silently, maintaining his devious smile the whole time.

The Officer than gave him a series of bizarre commands that seemed to indicate a search for something on his person. What could it possibly be? A key? A weapon? Who would hide a weapon in their ear? In their nose? In their asshole? How did these humans ever manage to survive in their ridiculousness? They really would have been better off under his rule.

It really seemed that these humans had no idea how much they needed subjugation. Officer Burnett displeasure at Loki’s lack of reaction was starting to show, and this displeasure stemmed from the fact that he actually thought he could control Loki.

He couldn’t. No one could do that.

He was his own master, and it would stay that way, even if he had to remain in this prison. They were fools if they thought their human methods could truly punish him.

Burnett finished his search and produced a set of red clothing.

Oh yes, he’d forgotten. The humans gave their prisoners uniforms instead of letting their own clothing deteriorate to rags. So very strange.

It irritated him that he would have to wear red. Thor’s color. He had no wish to be reminded of his brother every time he looked down at himself. No, no wish at all.

But the humans were so peculiarly sensitive about nudity, so simply refusing the clothing was not an option. He held out his hand to accept the garments that had been offered to him.

It was because he was focused on the red cloth that he failed to anticipate Officer Burnett’s movements.

In a flash, the Officer whisked his extended hand away, flinging the clothes to the ground and bringing his other hand up to close his fingers around Loki’s neck. It happened before Loki even had time to react, and he could do nothing but struggle for air as he glared furiously at his captor.

“Listen to me, you pathetic alien!” the human hissed. “Don’t think for a second that you’ll have it easy here. I’m sure that idiot Collins gave you the wrong impression about this place, but there’s a reason she’s working intake. Us guys on the cellblock don’t fuck around. Most of us know people in New York, people whose lives were destroyed because of you. I personally would love to chop your dick off and force-feed it to you while you sit on a bed of hot coals. Now, I’m not going to do that because I like this job and that would very regrettably get me fired. But don’t you think for one second that you’ll get to strut around like a king in this place.”

He shoved Loki away from him and down to the ground, where the former god lay wheezing and coughing somewhat pitifully.

“Fuck you, human,” he rasped. “You cannot hurt me. You are a fool to try.”

The Officer snorted in disgust. “I don’t think so.”

Loki let out a low growl and a small snarl before reaching over for the discarded clothing. The place where he had fallen was not at all far from the now-wrinkled garments.

But Burnett yanked him to his feet, the red uniform slipping from his fingers once more. Still naked, Loki followed the human for lack of any other option. Even if he were to yank free, the Officer would only grab hold of him once more. It would be wasted energy.

“You fellows can leave now,” Burnett called to the SHIELD agents as he pulled Loki out the doorway of 103A. “We’ve got him under control.”

Loki couldn’t see how the agents responded, but no one tried to stop Officer Burnett as he forced his prisoner down the hallway, so he supposed they had no objection. Somewhat of a shame, really. He’d preferred the predictability of the SHIELD employees to this officer’s volatility.

His mortality must be affecting his reflexes, because his old self would have seen the human’s sudden movements. How could he have already been taken by surprise twice in such a short matter of time? It would not do. The humans might think it a weakness, and that was not acceptable.

As they walked, Loki could see in his peripheral vision several bodies materialize from the shadows, trailing behind them as they went. He knew they were guards and wondered why they would feel the need to provide extra security when Burnett had been able to control him so easily. Perhaps they regarded him as more of a threat than they’d let on.

When his escorts stopped outside of an unmarked door and Loki had a chance to look around, he could see that there were two other males and a female that had joined them. The men were unremarkable, one of them sporting a very short haircut and a very large stomach (though not nearly as large as Officer Collins) and the other was of average height and average build with sandy hair and gray eyes.

The woman, on the other hand, had stunning red hair, the color blazing with a brightness that matched the gleam of her blue eyes. The hair, although it was drawn into a bun at the back of her neck, was clearly thick and somewhat curly, and Loki could tell that it was quite long.

She was quite lovely, in fact. Perhaps he would use his charm to ingratiate himself with her. She wore a smug smile now, as though she knew something that he didn’t, but Loki knew that her smugness would disappear when she discovered how… talented… he was.

He grinned back at her, reveling in that thought.

Their staring contest was cut short, though, as Burnett opened the door and shoved him inside. He stumbled in the darkness for a short time, but then a light flickered on, revealing that they had stepped into some sort of closet. Various items lined the floors against the walls, seeming to have no relation to each other. In the center of the room was a single chair with hard paneling and flat armrests, which Loki found himself pushed into. He of course immediately moved to stand up, but Burnett came round behind him and held him tight, forcing him to stay seated.

“Who’s got the tape?” he asked.

The female guard held up a circular silver object, her sapphire eyes dancing with apparent excitement. She started to peel it apart before biting off the strip of material with her teeth and handing the hollow circle to the sandy-haired officer. “Go ahead, Glenna,” he said as he ripped off his own piece.

The both of them moved forward, taking hold of Loki’s arms and simultaneously wrapping the material around his wrists, securing him to the chair. It was sticky and pulled on his arms hairs when he tried to loosen the bonds.

Astonishingly, it was slightly painful, or at the very least noticeably uncomfortable. His immortal form would not have even registered such a sensation.

Burnett continued to hold Loki as Sandy Hair wrapped the sticky material across his chest and around the back of the chair. He did this twice, then tested the security of the bonds. Seemingly satisfied, he stepped back and handed the tape to Large Stomach, who wordlessly attached the prisoner’s ankles to the chair legs.

Off on the sidelines, the officer that Sandy Hair had called Glenna smirked. “Can’t have you kicking, freak.”

Loki looked askance at her. “So what now? Will you beat me, a defenseless prisoner? I thought that was in violation of your human morals.”

“Scared, are you?” she taunted.

“Of course not. I merely find curious the inconsistencies of your weak minds.”

Glenna rolled her eyes. “I’m so insulted.”

Her colleagues laughed.

Loki supposed their laughter and cockiness was all a ruse to prevent him from identifying their fear of him. Their attempts were, naturally, unsuccessful.

“I’m merely stating fact,” he countered. “Now, are you going to tell me what you plan to do with me now? Or shall I just sit here until Ragnarok comes?”

“What the fuck is Ragnarok?”

Loki glared at the officers. “Do you humans know anything?”

“Oh, we know quite a bit, actually.” It was Burnett who answered, a scowl plastered on his face.

“Do you know what you intend to do now? Or hadn’t you planned that out?”

“You’ll find out in a minute.”

Loki heard rustling behind him, but couldn’t tell what was happening. He did, however, feel the level of excited energy in the room elevate slightly. What were they going to do? He hadn’t a clue.

A buzzing noise commenced near his head, and then he felt Burnett move the vibrating object down the length of his head and neck.

What in the Hel?

Sandy Hair looked confused. “Why isn’t he struggling? I would have thought…”

“I’m not sure he understands what’s happening,” interrupted Large Stomach.

“Whaaaaaaat,” said Glenna. It was obvious that she did not find this prospect acceptable. “Here, give it to me, Bill.”

She took the instrument from Burnett and showed it to Loki, who looked at it without comprehension.

Glenna looked over at Large Stomach. “Damn, he hasn’t got a clue, has he, Mark?”

Large Stomach - Mark - looked amused. “And he thinks we’re unintelligent.”

“You can’t expect me to be aware of all your primitive practices,” Loki said.

Glenna laughed. “They obviously don’t have something as simple as this where he comes from, yet he calls us primitive.”

She turned to Loki. “Let’s help you understand then.” She grabbed hold of a long thick chunk of his black hair near his left ear and ran the buzzing object up underneath it. To his horror, the hair detached from his head, and he automatically tried to jerk back. Bound as he was, though, there was nowhere to escape to.

The officers laughed. “Now he gets it,” said Sandy Hair.

Loki fought to keep his voice level. “You’re cutting my hair?”

“Figured you needed a reminder of whose in charge of you now.” Burnett answered, a cold satisfaction gleaming in his eyes.

The former god was completely and utterly horrified.

The guards had been right; he had not realized what they were doing to him, because such devices were not used on Asgard. The Aesir used straight razors if they used anything at all - a definite minority of men maintained a clean-shaven look, and nobody ever shaved their hair willingly.

He had entirely lacked the context to understand, to predict their intentions.

He said nothing as Glenna continued to shave him, nor did he offer any resistance. This was partly because a slight shock had come over him; shock and horror and denial. His hair was very much a part of his identity, and besides, he associated the cutting of hair with disgrace. It did not have the same association on Midgard, Loki knew, but that was no comfort to him now as he saw and felt locks of hair tumble down his back and onto his arms, sliding off to land on the growing pile of strands on the floor.

It was pointless to struggle. That was the other reason for his lack of resistance. Burnett had already worked over a good portion of his head before Glenna took over, so there was really no going back. He closed his eyes and pursed his lips, trying to breathe deep and ignore the pit of dismay collecting in his gut.

He felt the female officer running over parts of his skull that had already been shorn, and he knew that the process was nearly over.

When the buzzing and vibration stopped, Sandy Hair and Mark, the one with the large stomach, began to undo the sticky bindings. It stung as they pulled them off, but Loki was too numb to care. He couldn’t believe he had lost his hair.

Even worse, he couldn’t believe that the loss was so upsetting to him. It was such a blow to his psyche that he hardly even felt disgust at his weakness, as he should have.

Dazed, he allowed Burnett to pull him out of the chair and lead him from the room. He was by now accustomed to the feel of the air on his naked body, but the sensation of air on his bare scalp was new and most unwelcome.

The officers brought him to a shower room and ordered him to wash himself. He complied willingly, both because of his state of shock and because of his almost desperate need to rid himself of the fallen hairs clinging to his neck and upper body.

He did hesitate before stepping beneath the spraying water, knowing that he would hate the feeling of water directly touching the skin on his head, but he heard one of the officers clear their throat behind him, and he knew that it was an unspoken command. It did indeed feel strange, and Loki found himself hoping that they would soon take him to a cell, where he could recover from all the unexpected emotional trauma.

When he finished showering, Burnett once more handed him the red uniform - permanently this time - and Loki put it on silently. Exhaustion consumed him, and he no longer felt any desire to fight. He hoped the fire within him would return, but for now, he could only focus his insufficient energy on keeping himself together.

He listened numbly as Large Stomach explained to him that they were going to take his picture for the purpose of their records. and then Sandy Hair guided him towards a wall with parallel black lines of several lengths painted next to numbers that increased uniformly from bottom to top. He stood with his back to the wall as instructed and waited while the officers wrote down descriptions of his physical characteristics and flashed a camera in his face.

He was given a nametag and told to clip it onto the front pocket of his uniform shirt.

“You have to wear this at all times,” Mark Large-Stomach told him. “Memorize the number beneath your name and be prepared to recite it an to an officer whenever you are instructed to. Failure to comply with these rules will result in disciplinary action. Do you understand that?”

Loki nodded.

“Verbal confirmation please.”

“I understand.”

“Good. Make sure you call officers sir or ma’am, alright?”

Loki stared down at the white slip-on shoes he had been issued. He didn’t want to address these humans with respect. They were not deserving of it. But he desperately wanted to be left alone, and the fastest way to do that was to answer their questions so they would take him to his cell.

“Yes, sir,” he said finally.

“He’s not as fun when he’s moping like this,” Glenna complained.

“Ehh, give him some time,” Sandy Hair suggested. “He ain’t broken yet. Just missing his hair. He’ll be a right pain in the ass again tomorrow, I’m sure.”

“Probably, so enjoy the silence while you can,” said Mark. He was holding a large tub, which he handed to Loki. “This has your toiletries, sheets, and the rest of your standard-issue clothing. Your laundry will be collected every Thursday. You can buy additional approved toiletry items through the prison canteen. Got it?”

Loki nodded. Thankfully this time they didn’t make him respond in words.

He accepted the tub of his new “possessions” and followed Burnett and Large Stomach down the hall, with Glenna and Sandy Hair tailing behind. They led him down a series of hallways and up a flight of stairs before stopping in front of a cell marked 217. He stepped inside without protest and breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed and the officers left him.

When he was sure that his guards were indeed gone, he dropped the bin to the ground next to the bed and slid down to the floor, leaning against the door. The control he had maintained in the guards’ presence was quickly slipping, and his whole body shook uncontrollably; his breathing was rapidly growing ragged. He was still weak from the physical strain his body had undergone over the past few weeks, and now his emotional resolve was being harshly tested as well. It felt as though he was falling apart.

He brought his trembling hands up to his head and placed them on the unfamiliar smooth scalp. His fingers curled into fists, and he stubbornly fought back tears. He had his privacy now; there was no reason to degrade himself any further. He had to regain control.

Yet he could not deny that he was badly shaken.

He leaned against the door, hands on his shaven head and breathing gradually slowing, for a very long time.