Asgard’s younger prince was barely able to stand when the elder dragged him home in chains hours after the defeat of the Chitauri, but when he stood before his adoptive father he locked his knees and refused to kneel or even bow his head.
Odin ignored the show of defiance. He had much more important things to tend to.
For a long moment, he regarded his wayward son in silence, letting the tension build. Then he made a gesture and Loki’s chains and muzzle dissolved into nothing.
Then Odin crushed Loki close in an embrace.
“I am so relieved that you are alive, my son,” he said. “I feared that you were lost to me. I saw your cleverness, betraying the fiend who sent you to Earth. I am so proud of you. And you divined the workings of the Tesseract! Take it to the weapons vault, Thor.”
Thor obeyed with a scowl. No matter, Thor would be easily mollified with a few fawning words later. For now, Loki’s loyalties must be secured. Right now he was watching Odin with shimmering incredulous eyes.
Odin looked him over, arranging his features to indicate concern. “Come to the healing room. I have been so worried as I watched you from Hliðskjálf for the past three days.” Loki hesitantly fell into step beside him. Odin let Loki see him look in the direction Thor had gone, then lowered his voice. “You held your own while dueling Thor quite admirably. I was so proud.”
Loki could no longer hold his tears at that, and by the time they reached the healing room he was weeping openly. Odin sat beside him and held his hand while the healers did their work.
“You must tell me everything about the fiend who harmed the son of Odin. Everything you suffered at his hands will be avenged,” Odin assured Loki. “But for now, rest and regain your strength. I will be here.”
Loki clung to Odin’s hand desperately, his grip not even loosening when he fell into exhausted sleep. Odin resigned himself to a long vigil. Loki’s allegiance was too delicate to risk just now.
When the Jotun runt was recovered enough to share his new knowledge of the faraway realms he had seen and the means of traveling there with the cube, Odin would expand Asgard’s empire farther than even he had ever dreamt. Every world within Asgard’s reach was already his. Now that reach would be even greater.
Odin sat beside his injured foster son and dreamt of yet more worlds to conquer.