Chapter 5: Not only clothes make a man.
Loki threw the door to his room back in its hinges and pushed his back against it. His breath was rapid from running and adrenaline. He heard Sif's heels go by his room without slowing. Apparently she thought he had run elsewhere, to Thor's room perhaps. He let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding and a wheeze of a laugh. Laughing at himself. He had run out of all things, ran away from a single person. It was idiotic, and downright sad for someone of his stature. You have no stature. His mind was swift to correct that thought. For a man that once had such stature then. He lowered his gaze from the ceiling to look out into his room. It was like Thor had said, nothing had been touched. Dust lay on things in a grey blanket, nothing had been touched, not even for a bit of cleaning. The covers of his bed still lay on a heap as he had left them when he had woken up from that restless nightmare that had become truth by the end of that day. Like he had woken up that very morning instead of some three years ago. He moved one of the pillows aside, leaving a white void in the grey with his fingers. He sighed in relief as he saw the small leather bound notebook under it. It was still there. He took it from its place and sagged on the dusty bed, a small cloud fluttered through the air.
He could see his own footsteps as voids too, leading to the bed. His eyes went back to the book. The pages parted with groans. The pages were old, fragile, ages old. He had gotten it as a teenager, ages back. Over the years his handwriting had become smaller, gained elegance. The words in the book were nonsense to the untrained eye, unknown syllables. They were spells, spells in languages that not a man could speak. The first page however, was not reserved for his writing. Most of the page was empty. In the middle a single line was written in heavy big letters.
"Because even a sorcerer forgets things." Thor had written.
It had been a small gesture, a small book, a single sentence written in it, nothing more. But it was his dearest possession, it had been since he had gotten it. He smiled faintly. He placed the booklet back under his pillow and walked to the large window that stretched over the entire wall across the door. The sun pooled in with golden rays. He looked down at the garden through which they had passed minutes ago. Now the palace guard stood on the field, preparing for evaluation. He folded his hands behind his bare back and followed the general with his eyes as he passed by the row of soldiers in line-up eyeing them sharply. They had no idea he was watching from his room up in the tower. He opened the small slit above the large window and flicked his index finger once. The dust rose in a cloud from the room and obediently moved out of the room through the small opening. As it had passed outside he closed the slit again, it was still relatively cold up high. He turned around again. Without the heavy blanket of dust the floor gleamed again. The smooth marble reflected the gold of the sun on its white surface. Compared to Thor's room his was very sober, Thor tended to keep every war trophy and piece of junk he had ever gotten in his life, he had stalled them out in his room in a way that balanced on the edge of chaos. The most impressive feature to his room was the bookcase. Stretching out over the length of the wall behind his bed. A wall of knowledge he had built over the ages. The books came from many corners of the Nine Realms. His love for knowledge was very known among their allies. So whenever councillors would come to visit they would bring gifts of good will in the form of a book from their libraries and most times a weapon of some sorts for Thor. The most common subjects were spells, history, myths, traditions, sometimes they were just stories. Under the rows of shelves stood his bed. It was large enough to share with one if he wanted. He had once. But he was alone now. Thor had the same one. He would sleep in it when it stormed, once when they were still children. He absolutely hated storms. When it felt as if the roofs would be torn away by the raging winds he needed to make sure he wasn't alone. Thor would always rumble in disapproval but he never made him leave. In time he had grown up and felt he couldn't rely on Thor like that anymore. But he still hated them, storms made him sleep uneasily. He fell back on the matrass with a groan. He was tired, the moment his back hit the bed it coaxed him to stay down and fall asleep, and just forget about everyone and everything. He couldn't do that though. He propped himself up against his pillow and looked out over his room. The wall facing his bookcase was interrupted by a passage to the baths. Now that he thought of it, he needed a bath. He watched the closet siding the passage at the right. Clean clothes. He really needed clean clothes. The smell of dead animal was overwhelmingly dreadful now that he actually had the time to notice it. He sat up and brushed his hair straight, it was so greasy that he actually preferred not touching it at all. And it was long, he thought disapprovingly. Much too long. Even at Midgard it hadn't been that ridiculously long. It was matted and really needed a pair of scissors strong enough to cut through that mess. He snorted, he was glad that there was no mirror around, he looked like a savage. He had only caught glimpses of his own face since he had escaped, in water puddles or clear ice. But he could tell he was far from who he used to be by the way Thor had looked at him. He needed to civilize himself, most definitely. He stood up from his bed and walked to the closet. With a yank he pulled the leather cord that held the fur around his shoulders in place out of the hide. It slipped from his shoulder and flopped on the shiny floor. It left a ghosting feeling of dirt on his torso. Small hairs stuck to his shoulders caught in sweat that had half dried and mixed with other dirt. His back felt like it was covered in grime. The cord had once been in his hair when he had fled, keeping his hair from a deep cut in his neck, which he had caused himself in a less thoughtful attempt to escape. The patch around his waist had no luxury of that to keep things in place. He had used a sharpened bone and stuck it through the hides. He wiggled it out of place and felt the weight fall from his hips, the same feeling of grime stayed behind. The smell of decay that came up from the pile of fur almost made him gag. He had been walking around in that. He kicked the pile away to a far corner, hoping it would not decide to walk away on its own. Another flick of a finger and it combusted in flames out of nothing. It smelled bad but didn't stink as much as the fur itself. He watched it incinerate on the floor until the flame died out. He turned his gaze away from the smouldering ashes and stepped around the corner of the passage. The water was still there, the continuous flow of water being pumped in and filtered away had never stopped. Some waste of water he thought. The tiles that covered the floor and sides of the deep bath waved underwater. He only vaguely noticed the transition from marble to sandstone. The Allfather had told him that the floors in the baths had also once been polished marble. But it had made for some rather undignified accidents throughout the palace, so they had opted for a less slippery form of flooring. He looked at the clear warm water in the sunken bath in the middle of the room. It looked so inviting, it held the promise of a long lost comfort. But first he turned to a shelf right around the corner. It was stocked with a series of crystal phials, small and filled with differently coloured liquids, scents. He needed that now, most definitely. Where he would usually keep to a few drops to just wash away the smell of a night of sleep he now had quite a stink to beat so he just emptied it into the water, where the colour dissolved into nothing. He slipped into the water with a splash, a lot less elegant than he would normally. But his muscles were so stiff and tired that he couldn't bring himself to actually bother. The warmth of the water wrapped around him like a soothing blanket, loosening the tight coil his muscles had been in to protect him from the cold. The fresh scent was so strong it was almost burning in his nostrils, but he really couldn't be bothered because it smelled good, and he could still smell the stink of decay through it. He rested his head back against the edge of the floor and closed his eyes. The water rocked back and forth against his neck, lazily and rhythmic. It was soothing and warm. The tips of his hair floated around his neck like a raven black stain in the water. He threw his head back farther into the water to clean out the grease in his hair, combing his wet fingers through it, before resting his head against the edge again, the wet weight of his hair pulled at his skull, but in a pleasant way, not like the tangles of hair had pulled at his head from being so tightly woven together. But despite all the warmth around him he felt just a hint of chill on his throat, it was familiar, it felt like…. Steel. His eyes snapped open, his mind cursing him for being so darn slow. But he was just looking up to the ceiling above him, the feeling was gone too. Was his head playing tricks on him? His eyes darted around the room, but as he half expected already there were no assassins with blades sitting ducks near him. He placed his hands behind him and heaved himself out of the water, stretching out backwards to look through the passage, just to see his room was empty, as he knew it would be, but he needed the assurance somehow. It was silent, the only sound coming from the continuous flow of water. Yet he could almost feel eyes prying in his back. He felt the air coming from the open window brush over his skin gently, like a thin blanket around his shoulders. But, that could not be, the window had been closed. He snapped his head backwards. The small window, high up the back wall was fully opened, the air flooding in from outside. He stood up and closed it again, it was cold now. He would have sworn it was closed when he came in, or maybe it hadn't, he doubted it, he had a very clear judgement usually. But windows hardly opened themselves, they did not in Asgard he was fairly sure. He felt bare suddenly, he hated doubting his own judgement, if he couldn't trust himself any more than who could he rely on? He shook his head, there was nothing there, and if there was it wouldn't scare him. He sniffed his wrist, he could still smell dead animal on himself. At least his skin had softened, it had grown so rough from the ice and cutting winds, or the scraping of cave floors for that matter. He threw one last suspicious look into the bedroom before he lowered himself back into the water, letting his body soak in more of the pleasant scent around him. He would stay there for an hour if he could, just to make sure. But he knew Thor was waiting. Probably fidgeting with stuff in his room just for the sake of keeping busy. He wouldn't come to his room to ask if he would please come out, not to make him feel pressured to hurry. But he knew that Thor would still pace around impatiently, because he hated waiting more than anything. Besides, he pretended to push it away, but the sense of paranoia lingered in the back of his mind. And he couldn't shake it off either. With a reluctant sigh he pushed himself up on the ledge again. His legs remained in the water, it was a whole lot harder than it should be to sway them up and put his weight on them again, as if he didn't want to part with the warm water ever again. He took a towel from the shelf beneath the phials, soft cloth, fuzzy and warm. He dried all excess water off his body quickly and put the now damp towel around his hips. He opened a drawer of the cabinet under the shelves and roamed between the bandages in them because there had to be a pair of scissors there that he would use for cutting the bandages to the right size. His fingers found the cool steel of them pressed against the left corner. He checked it with one look. They sure weren't the sharpest he could find, but he found himself too lazy to roam around his room for others. He grabbed his wet hair together in one hand and snipped it off with one cut. The locks fell on the floor behind his feet. Thanking the fact that he could do this without any help he cut the rest back more neatly. He stopped when he could only just feel the tips tickling against his collarbones and shoulders. Better, much better, he thought when he glanced at the mirror once. He could pass as civilized now, even though he still had haunted eyes, dark shades around them, the bones more prominent now that he had lost weight. But he was getting there, slowly. He turned back into his room and grabbed some clothes from the closet. The leather of his vest crackled under his fingers. He had missed the smell of leather, earthy and deep. Dead animal too, but so much better, almost…. Blissful even. He quickly dressed himself because he wasn't getting any warmer walking around in just a towel. The feel of fabric actually covering all of him had almost become alien as a feeling. The reassuringly tight feeling of knee high boots made him feel much more secure as if half his honour had been in these clothes. The vest was a lot looser around the waist than he remembered, but he hadn't been able to count all of his ribs before either for that matter. He pulled at the cord in the side of it and it closed tighter. The moss green tunic crooked at under the sturdy leather. The high collar brushed against his cheek as he turned his face to keep eyes on tying a quick knot in the cord. He did feel a whole lot safer now, as if his clothes were armour. The only armour to be found however were the two bronze braces clasped around the sleeves of his tunic, grabbing his wrists in a way that made them feel much stronger than without. He straightened his back as he stood up from putting on boots and brushed over the leather of his vest, he was home now.
"Don't get too comfortable…." he heard a voice say behind him.
His head snapped around so quickly he almost pulled a muscle, he spun on his heels to find the room again, just empty. His heart pounded as fears, memories, flashed through his head. Therefore it took him a moment to realize it came from the other end of the door.
"I know you're in there!" Sif yelled.
It was Sif, just Sif. She had finally put one and one together.
"You may have found a way to trick Thor. Maybe you will succeed to trick Asgard. But you will not avoid punishment, because I swear I will make sure hell will come to you!"
He let out a faint chuckle and turned to the door, imagining her face red with anger as it probably was behind the door.
"Do try Sif. But I must remind you. Hel is my daughter, So I dare say that she is more likely to strike you than me. Don't you think?"
It was silent for a minute, he imagined Sif was searching for words at that, her face even more flustered and frustrated. Probably wondering where his fright went.
"Just be warned you snake!"
She shouted and pounded against the door once before her footsteps disappeared in angry thuds. Loki smirked, he had actually missed doing that. Setting angry people off even more was fun as long as you were well out of reach. Still he felt a slight wave of shame. The fears had to stop, he couldn't jump at everything or he would go mad. The Chitauri were not in Asgard, they never were and he had to be done with them.
He waited for a moment to make sure that he wouldn't accidently run into Sif again, that could make things go ugly. The first thing he noticed when stepping out into the hallways however was the absolute silence. They were empty, deserted even. But he had caught a few words from Sif and Volstagg about council meetings, he guessed that kept most busy. People like Volstagg and Sif considered those meetings genuinely useless. They would just listen to the briefing later, so it was no surprise that they walked around here still. Same went for Thor, he would die of boredom if he had to spent more than an hour in such a meeting. He turned his gaze to the right, Thor's room was down the hallway, up the very same small type stairs as towards his own room. They both had tower rooms, Thor because he could safely practice with thunder and lightning up there, Loki loved that it was quiet up there. At least he didn't have to worry of being seen on his way there. Absentminded he was already halfway down the hallway, then he felt a tingle in his stomach, a slight nausea. He wasn't nervous, he knew nobody would see him, knew he had nothing to fear of Thor. His stomach seemed to contract more painfully. He gasped as an invisible force seemed to compress everything inside him. It wasn't normal nausea for sure. His vision tilted dangerously. He stopped walking and put a hand against the wall, his fingers tingled numbly. The nausea worsened to the point of making him wrap his free hand around his insides. His vision was steadily going blurry, black spots coming in from the sides. It was as if, he was losing control of his body.
"Please do not resist us…" a ghostly whisper said. "…. That could make things highly unpleasant."
His eyes that were little short of blind now widened, because he knew that voice. He was on his knees now that his legs had given like a pair of twigs. Taking air to his lungs was hard. The Chitauri could get to him, they would separate his soul from his body, it had happened several times on Jotunheim too, but that had been weeks ago. He tried to cling on desperately, scream for Thor to help him. But what could Thor even do? Breathing became even harder and his head begged to be given some oxygen. And then slowly he felt the last bit of him slip and he was lost again in the nothingness he wished he never had to see again.