Who: Remus and Loki What: Trying to fix the werewolf problem Where: Asgard When: Recently Warnings/Rating: Nein
March was ill enough that Remus physically needed to control him to get through the door. He'd never done that before, and it had taken hours to manage it. March had checked himself out of the hospital in Atlanta when they'd informed him that he was being transferred into hospice care, and the flight home had all but done him in. But Remus wasn't about to let March sit in an airport while they waited for the ambulance to come. It took exhausting hours of maneuvering to actually make it through his own door, and the long walk down the Passages hallway while in control of March's failing body had been harder than those days right after the moon. The walk to Loki's door, after talking to him on the journals, had only been harder, but it was the only chance Remus felt he had. He knew he should have contacted Sirius or Dora, but they would only try to stop him, and he didn't see the point in that. March was dying, and he'd die with him if something wasn't done. And he blamed this worsening on himself, on the months without being through the door for the moon, and on how dreadful it had been on March while he was in the hospital in Atlanta. No, if he'd done this somehow, made it worse somehow, he had to do something. And at least this was something he could do, unlike the issues in his own door. He'd no idea what had happened while he'd been away, but things didn't right themselves without help, and he suspected things were no better. But there would be time for that later, if this worked.
Remus was not a trusting person by nature. He was guarded, skeptical, and a pessimist. But he'd liked Loki. He'd found in the other boy a kindred spirit, and he trusted him now. He couldn't explain it if he had to, but it was the same as when he'd decided to trust Sirius. They'd been ten, and Sirius had been a Black sorted into the wrong house, brash and selfish, a misplaced Slytherin, and yet Remus had trusted him. He trusted Loki like that now, and he pushed open the propped door with only a moment to catch his breath.
And Remus was glad to shed March's failing body. He stumbled into the Marvel door looking even more pasty and more gaunt than he had the last time he'd crossed that threshold to visit the boy wizard that resided there. His forehead was dotted with sweat, and the front of his robes were soaked through. His tawny hair was damply plastered to his head, and there were bags beneath his eyes from too many moons without transforming. His breath was a rattling thing in the birdcage of his chest. This needed to work.
The door emptied out into a dim room. The ceiling and walls were panelled in shining brass panels, almost gold in the low light. There was a crackling brazier near the entrance, an open doorway that led out onto a closed hall. It burned fragrant wood and herbs to bring peace to the sick. The smoke that issued from it smelled like the forest, sweet, full-leafed trees, and quiet places in the rushes.
In the center of the room, something like an altar stood, carved in stone, light issuing from its surface. The Soulforge was dormant now, but still it glowed faintly with pale yellow light. There were no windows in this room, closed off for sake of privacy and to keep out offending noises and too much light. The doors which Remus had stepped through actually opened onto a second room, where there lay couches and supplies for the sick.
All was deserted. Beyond the Soulforge, at the end of the hall, guards could be heard talking outside the closed door that led to the healer's courtyard. A little moonlight shone in the hallway through a high window. Muffled noises echoed up from the streets far below, chattering people shutting their doors for the evening, the occasional tinny roar of a distant tavern bursting into activity. There was a chill in the air, and someone had thrown a heavy fur across the Soulforge in case the sick grew cold. The walls were plain, but the ceiling was carved and decorated for those lying there, staring up. Scrolling across were scenes of old battles in relief, those long forgotten and those well-remembered, a comfort to the soldier who came to be mended or the child who aspired to be a warrior one day.
The healers were off in the ward, where the patients lay, resting as their cures worked their magic. Very few died here. Many were healed, and those who could not be were sent home to pass into the afterlife their breathing days had earned them, dying amongst their families and knowing some kind of peace. Some warriors, of course, gored on the field or hacked beyond repair, they did die in the ward, or even in this room. But tonight there were no wars being fought, no battles to be won, and none arriving from the front.
"Peaceful, isn't it?" asked a voice from the corner of the room. He might have passed entirely beyond notice, standing in the deep shadows. He had his back to the door, hands braced on a thick table, poring over a piece of parchment. "I can hardly stand it, myself."
He straightened and turned, looking Remus over. Loki was older, yes. He was taller, and gaunt as he'd been as a boy. In that regard, the years had little changed him. He wore no chains for the moment, only a loose green tunic and leathers on his legs, casual enough, unadorned with either armor or finery. He had been stripped of his title, after all. That had been before his foolish attempt to build a monument to the dead had sent him ricocheting to Midgard, his youthful reversion burned from him by fire. He was pale as ever, and the hollows beneath his eyes were dark, but he was not frail. The light from the soulforge glinted yellow off the whites of his eyes, all the more like a snake's for it.
There was a touch of humor in his voice. He did so hate it to see Asgard in the hushed idyll of peacetime, pastoral as you please, harmonious and beautiful as it always had been. It was absolute nails on a chalkboard. Farmers farming, warriors training for the next conquest, noble thanes dining at great long tables and getting drunk and telling stories. It all made him want to run for the hills, really. There was nothing so grating as returning home and finding everything was the same as it had been since you'd left - that your absence hadn't made a jot of difference. Things in Asgard were stagnant as ever, sweet smelling as the smoke on the brazier and just as steeped in mundanity.
Under his droll distaste there was a screeching, clawing desperation to get out, to cut himself loose of this place, to create havoc. The months of being young and naive enough to believe that life was as simple as right and wrong made him want to tear this whole realm down, piece by piece. Betrayal was closer to his heart than it had ever been, who he'd been and who he was and who he held responsible.
There was business to attend to first, though. He wasn't back up to full strength yet, which was the only real reason he wasn't in a cell in the dungeon right now. Eir didn't have the faintest idea how to fix what was wrong with him, since no one could really explain what the Tesseract had done to him in the first place, or how his own magic had burned that energy away. Rest had been her only prescription. Day by day he grew stronger. His burns were healing nicely - his right hand was almost fully mended, with only a dark cloth bandage wrapped around it to show anything had happened at all. There was another bandage at his collarbone, but the taut, scarred skin hardly restricted his movement anymore. Soon, he would be ready to go.
But here was the boy from the other door, the boy with magic. He remembered the afternoon they'd spent together on Midgard, the kinship and pathetic longing some child had felt in his place, and it turned his stomach. The weakness of it was mortifying, and he so hated to recognize kindness. Repaying what was given only made one accountable to other people, and he'd never been much of a fan of accountability. This was an exception to his rule, a one-time-only. He owed something, if only to fully extract himself from the warped actions of an ignorant boy, and to cut those ties completely.
"You look well," Loki said, lightly. "Don't worry, I am used to being the solution of last resort for the desperate." He stepped over to the Soulforge, pulling the fur from it. "I warn you, I am not often in the business of healing. Destruction is more my line. I imagine you already know that. But the sickness in you being was in the air as soon as you stepped into the room. You know, dying and sour magic.” He gave Remus a once over. “There is a cancer in you, and it will have to be cut out.” A sweet smile. “Luckily for you, I’m very good with knives.”
Remus would have been more surprised if Loki hadn't told him about being older. He'd known, too, that the other boy was to face a trial, and he believed this to be the outcome of it. Pronounced guilty, and returned to his proper age, and he had to take a moment to consider how he felt about that. It was what he wanted for Bellatrix, wasn't it? For her to be considered dangerous, despite being younger than she'd been when she killed everyone he loved. He couldn't remember any of it, and it hadn't actually happened to him, but it had happened. Harry and Draco, they were proof that it wasn't some far off future. But he hadn't thought Loki to be dangerous like Bellatrix, and he had trouble making sense of the distinction that he, himself created. Was Loki this world's Bellatrix? The way Loki's eyes burned, yellow and Slytherin, made him suspect he already knew the answer. But knowing it didn't change what he was there to do. "They found you guilty?" he asked, more intellect than curiosity in the question.
And for Remus, this wasn't a request made easily. It wasn't about repayment or debts owed, and his young and strangely golden eyes narrowed slightly in quiet confusion that was only accompanied by a furrow of brow and an inching inward of pale brown brows when Loki suggested being a last resort. "I didn't ask anyone else," he said simply, sounding desperately sure of himself, despite his youth. "I could have, but I didn't. I didn't even tell my friends I was coming. No one will look for you if it goes wrong." And he could have asked others. He could have asked James and Sirius for help, or he could have asked March's friend, Ford, to have Sam help again, as he had in the past. He could have asked Blake, with his scientists in Kara's old door. There had been options, but that afternoon shared with the kindred boy and the portals, it had been one of the best ones since he'd arrived here, and so he'd turned to that boy, even if he thought science would have a better chance of success than magic.
Remus looked around the room, with its strangeness and its smoke, and then he looked again at the man that stood before him. "Why haven't you healed your own injuries?" He could suggest a healer in Diagon Alley, but that seemed a strange thing when he was the one who was looking to be healed. And he knew what cancer was by chance. "Diseases like that don't exist among wizards and witches," he explained, but he understood that Loki was not being literal, and the tip of the corner of his mouth indicated as much. "It's not like that. I've been this way since I was four. The wolf, it's part of me." He hoped that didn't change things when it came to being healed. He tipped his head, pale and sickly as it was. "You remind me of people I don't like when you smile that. Don't," he said quietly.
Remus' lack of surprise wasn't a mystery, but the sharpness of his question was a bit strange, as was his vague confusion. What should it matter? "They always do," he said, with playful resignation. "They even laid out a path to reform for me. Unfortunately, I think it was set with an age limit.”
Remus' plaintively assured that he had told no one, asked no one, and no one would know. That did catch Loki off his footing. The edge of his smile fell slightly, and his brow furrowed down, just a tick. "Not a single soul?" he asked. What had Remus been thinking, putting all his trust, all his hope, in him? There was something in that brief moment of surprise, unbalanced and cracked open, that was very much like the person Remus had met - unsure and disbelieving, unaccustomed to being trusted so openly by anyone, with perhaps Thor as the only exception. Loki was accustomed to being the last gasp of the hopeless, the least reliable and most narrow avenue for help of any kind, the final card in the deck. It didn't fit.
Loki looked down at the bandage around his hand when Remus asked, and the moment passed. "What, these?" He touched his hand to his bandaged collarbone. "They're quite different than your little problem. Asgardians are a little more resilient than mortals when it comes to injury." A true enough statement, but it didn't technically apply to him. He didn't qualify it. "The fire that returned me to Midgard and my current state was of my own making. I cannot mend myself, much as I cannot wield magic to make myself king and my brother the jester of the court. These are things I wish I was capable of, you see, but even my abilities cannot make either process so simple." He dropped his hand. "Deep burns from powerful magic take time to mend."
He wasn't really sure why he'd bothered to explain it, but he could grudgingly admit that the frail boy standing at the table might at least be able to grasp what he spoke of. He wasn't an idiot, really, only young. He understood that the cancer had been a purely metaphorical reference, since such diseases didn't afflict the Aesir either, and he seemed to know what he had gotten himself into by asking Loki for help, even if he had expected someone else entirely. No, he wasn't stupid, only naive. And if it seemed surprising that Loki could find intelligence in anyone but himself, there was the simple fact that underestimating anyone didn’t suit his ends. One lost wars that way, and spoiled excellent tricks.
Loki listened to Remus as he talked about the wolf, and he stepped from the shadows to stand beside him, watching him intently. Coming further into the light took a little of that sheen out of his eye, though it did nothing to change how hard his gaze could be. That hadn't been there in his younger self, that brittle quality. "This wolf," he said. "This curse. Tell me how it became a part of you." In the casting or transmission of this disease, there might be something he could work with.
When Remus told him not to smile, Loki smiled anyway, leaning against the edge of the Soulforge. "I am not someone you like," he advised, just as quietly. There was still that playful cruelty, but something else, too. Fair play, for once. It was as much a warning as Remus was likely to get.
"They aren't very smart if they think that can force reformation on someone," Remus said of the people that had found Loki guilty. Admittedly, he didn't know much about this world. He had considered asking March, but March was too sick to offer anything, and it had been a consideration placed on a muggle-type backburner while he stewed in March's fevered mind. "Even locking someone up isn't reforming them." Simple, quiet, and Remus' voice barely raised above a din. Too weak for yelling these days, and he'd left that behind in the field beyond the Shrieking Shack, once he realized James had betrayed him and given away his safe place. Since then, things had only gotten worse from moon to moon with nowhere to go. Not that he could have gone on his own, without someone to keep the wolf from feasting, but Sirius' person through the door never let him through, and James had never offered.
It was all Remus could do not to grin at the obvious lack of understanding on Loki's features at the confession that he'd told no one. "Why would I? I know you." He didn't bother differentiating between the young and ageless versions of the man before him. And he knew Loki wasn't ageless, but even at eighteen Remus could see the bottomless depths in the other man's eyes. Young, he hadn't been able to see it, but Loki was made for Slytherin and make no mistake. He had that same desperate hunger that all Slytherin's did. He reminded him of Severus, but he would keep that small detail to himself. Well perhaps without Severus' desire to hide behind someone more powerful than him. He wasn't sure if safety mattered to Loki. It had mattered to the boy Remus had spent an afternoon with, but he wasn't certain it mattered to the man. "If I die, you can tell Sirius Black. He'll scream and posture, but that's what Blacks do."
Loki's explanation about not being able to heal himself made sense to Remus. Healers couldn't make themselves well either, not with actual magic. Brews and tonics, those would work, but it was nearly impossible to wield a wand to repair oneself. "They're healing you here, and what will they do after?" he asked. He couldn't imagine they would just let Loki walk away, even if there was a reformation plan in place. But maybe these people were more willing to forgive than him. He'd proven to everyone that he held very long grudges, no matter how he tried to stop them. It hadn't been like that before the war, before the Forbidden Forest and his months with the werewolves. Now it seemed like there was this endless chasm between himself and everyone, as if they were still in their school robes and he'd forgotten what it even felt like to feel their weight on his narrow shoulders.
The question about the wolf wasn't a surprising one; Remus had been expecting it. He moved, slipped off the tattered brown robes he wore, the scent of woods and green and fur heavy on the thick fabric. He draped the robes over his arm, and then he worked the buttons of his tan shirt free. He shoved the fabric off one shoulder, baring collarbone and upper back, revealing a bite mark that ended in a gash of claws. The bite was deep, old scar tissue and a significant indent in the meat, despite the healer's best attempts when he'd been small. Hints of self-inflicted wounds were visible where the fabric gaped, but those were silvery and new things, born during moons and nowhere near as disfiguring as the bite. "I hope whatever you're going to use doesn't include silver," he teased. "That would make you someone I don't like."
"No," Loki agreed with a smirk. "They aren't. And they never have been." But he would play nice, if that was what it took. He could play oh so very nice, when he needed to. "I can't say that locking someone up ever reforms them. It only gives them more hours to plan in more detail what they will do once that door opens again." His smirk was still in place, and the words were truer than he would often have given voice to, but even Thor would know better than to expect real reformation from his brother. It was whether he could be convinced that Loki would fall into line rather than be incarcerated again that mattered most. He would feign fear, and that would be enough for his soft-hearted brother, as hardened as he always claimed to be.
Remus' lack of distinction was a puzzle, one not so easily brushed aside. Where was the expected reticence, the careful delineation between who had had been then and who he was now? There was nothing in his carriage that suggested he would willingly hide behind anyone. He'd always been too proud for that. When one found so much pleasure in watching the knowledge of trickery blossom behind someone's eyes, how could he hide in the shadows forever? There was nothing better than pulling the curtain back, revealing how wrong they all had been, and watching the horror. The knowing in Remus' eyes was all the wrong kind, a kind of placid understanding that spun up uneasy wisps of thought. Doubt, now that he didn't like. The boy almost seemed as if he knew something that Loki didn't. What was it his mother had said?
But the old woman was dead, and now was not the time to think on her - not the hand she would have warmly offered the frail boy, not the healers she might have marshaled and the knowledge she could have brought to bear. Wife to a conqueror and blind with all her sight. He strode back to the table at the corner of the room, craving movement, and picked up a thick book, carrying it under one arm. "You are not going to die," Loki said, turning around again. "My skills may lie firmly in the realm of illusion, but that is not my intention here today. If I cannot cure you, I expect you will be no worse than when we began. It will be because I cannot touch what is corrupted, or I cannot remove it without taking a large part of you with it." He flipped the book open with one long-fingered hand. "But if you do die on the table, I will not forget to alert your screaming friend." They would blame him, no doubt. It would hardly be the first time someone assumed he had planned on murder and deception.
"After?" Loki said, raising a brow. "I will be expected to meet the conditions of my imprisonment." He set the heavy tome down on the Soulforge, flipping through it. "Mend the realms that were broken, build monuments to the fallen, and so on and so on. Make a lot of apologies, bow and scrape and promise to be good." He smiled, with teeth. "Just like when I was a boy. My title is gone, so marrying me to someone suitable from Jotunheim to secure a peace is right out, thank the gods." At least in that he had circumvented a plan of his father's, no doubt long in the making. He wondered when Odin would have broken to his youngest that he was to be part of a political exchange, and how long after that he would have waited to reveal the truth to him. It was a lucky thing, really, that Thor was such a battle-hungry idiot. He might never have made it to Jotunheim, otherwise. "Yes, my future will be quite my own....except dictated by the sentencing of the Kvidr, which I can promise you will change to add more penalties the minute I complete those already set out. Ah, justice." He turned from the book, leaving it open to a page decorated with glimmering, moving illustrations. They showed a man on one side and a wolf on the other. A line bisected the image, but as the reader scanned through the runes on the page, the line shattered, and the wolf and the man merged into one dark shape. It was all he had been able to find while poring through the libraries, more legend than fact, the store of a curse thought long dead. The book suggested it had been brought to the nine realms in the days of Bor by a vengeful Svartelf, and that might be. Or humans might have dabbled in powers they could not control, and a line of torture had been born.
Regardless of whether the cause was the same in Remus, the book included some facts which might be useful. It had suggested that the curse was not often cast or brought on intentionally, but that it behaved more in the manner of a plague, with each carrier forced to infect as many others as possible.
He watched as Remus pulled off his robes, then loosened his shirt, and despite his research the scarring in his shoulder was so deep and so savage that it even surprised Loki. He stepped around Remus to get a better look, and was silent for a moment while he judged size. He opened his palm a few inches from Remus' back to judge. "It must have been quite the massive creature," Loki observed. What effect size might have on the power and virulency of the infection was yet to be determined. Those healers across the courtyard would give their marks of rank to see something like this, so rare and unusual, so little written about. "You will need to educate me about the silver," he said, drawing back a step. "There is nothing in my books about that."
He braced his hands on the edge of the Soulforge behind him. "You will need to answer a few questions, then. No way to know what will help and what will not. I need to know how old you were. I need to know how often you harm yourself." The smaller claw marks peeping around the edge of his shirt hadn't gone unnoticed. "I need to know whether the curse is most active at night, and what size and strength you exhibit while in the throes of it. And I need to know whether such a transformation can be triggered by anything - pain, shock, too many glasses of wine, the sight of a fair-haired girl, anything."
"They're kind people, your people," Remus said, his voice quiet, but candid. He could have pretended otherwise, or he could have matched Loki's obvious displeasure at what had been done to him, but he'd been terrible at lying in order to keep the peace since the war began. It had been the normal state of his childhood, and it should have been an easy habit to fall back into, but he couldn't do it. He had spent years watching James and Sirius bully and trick their way through Hogwarts, and he'd turned a blind eye and looked away. But those days had fled with the war and with this place. "Do you know, I was about to say that I thought it was wrong they tried you, when you weren't as you are now. I thought it when I left that flat you were in. I was angry for you, and I still am." Here he paused. Here he grinned. "But I am the worst kind of hypocrite. You see, we've people just like that in my door. People who are younger than they ought to be, and I've been insisting they will grow into precisely what they were before." He gave Loki a smile that was intelligently sheepish; he knew his own hypocrisy. He was a moment of quiet contemplation, before turning his tawny gaze to Loki once more. "We put criminals in a magical prison, where their souls are sucked out and fed upon. It's not very nice." Remus paused, remembering something Loki had said before the interesting bits about repairing realms had captured his attention. "There are worse things than dying. At this rate, I'm going to die regardless. If I don't die here, there's a war. You could say I already did die. All those aged down people in my door, I'm among the ones who are supposed to be dead somewhere on a battlefield."
And Remus was not surprised by Loki's reaction to the damage the wolf had left behind. "I was four. He was an adult. His hands and teeth were bigger," he said, a joke delivered with only a bit of humor behind his eyes, quiet, and needing to be sought in order to be noticed.
And then there were practical questions, and Remus had heard them all throughout the years. When he was very young, his parents had still thought there was hope beyond cages and constantly moving, constantly hiding. They'd taken him everywhere, and then they'd stopped, and then they'd taken him nowhere at all. "Silver makes us weak, ill. People kill werewolves with silver bullets and silver stakes and axes," he explained. "I was four," he repeated, "and I only harm myself during transformations. It happens once a month, on the full moon, though there are symptoms before and after. The wolf is bigger than me, but not much. He grows as I grow, and he's adult now. Angrier, more aggressive. He's not me. There's none of me present when he's there, though he has his own memories and recognition, I think. My friends learned to shift into animals to keep me company during my transformations, and he knows them. He'll still hurt them if he has to, but he knows them." He smiled. "A fair-haired girl can't trigger anything," he said, because he was fairly sure that was safe to say right then, here. "It's always the moon. It's cyclical."
"Afraid," Loki corrected. There wasn't a scrap of doubt in his voice. "Make no mistake. If they thought they could keep me in a cell where my soul was siphoned from my body, they would do it. But I do not think they are interested in finding out what would happen were they to try."
"You are a hypocrite," Loki agreed. They were being honest with each other, so why stop now? And when had tact ever stopped him from anything? "And they are less kind than you think, or could know, and yet assume. It may be worth your while to consider that one man's morals are another man's limitations, and think on who is given the privilege of labeling the criminal as such." He looked at Remus, and wondered what he knew of things worse than dying. Quite a lot, it seemed, from those tired eyes and so much quiet wisdom so young. "Yes. There are things worse than dying." In all the levity, the joking and the tireless ease, there was something heavy indeed about his tone, then. He had seen things between stars that no one could erase, and had scars put on him that no amount of magic could wipe clean.
Now was not the time for such thoughts. Loki folded his fingers together, listening to Remus rattle off the answers to his many questions, cataloguing them for himself. He noticed how little humor there was to the joke, and responded in kind. "Is that so?" he asked, mirthless as could be, not so much a joke as a recognition. "And what happens to wolves such as you in a place where criminals have their souls sucked from them?" Loki had known what it was to be shunned, disliked, and thrust into the shadows for those considered more appropriate for praise. It was there in Remus' thin humor, in the obvious relief in abandoning pretense and answering Loki's question about maidens with honesty. He saw it, he knew it, and he marked it.
Remus' answers did a neat job of throwing out several things Loki had considered to reverse the curse - provoking the change and then binding the wolf, for one. He had also thought to disentangling the boy from the wolf some other way, but if they did not share memories or personality then that would not be necessary. Indeed, they sounded more and more like discreet beings, trapped only in one body with each other. Another body might need to be provided, then, as a new home. He would not mention this, of course.
"So dramatic," he said, with crisp amusement. "You aren't going to die, and there is no such thing as fate for a single, solitary soul in any of the realms borne by Yggdrasil. I promise you. Now, up here." He placed a hand on the soulforge, and offered the other to Remus to help him up onto it.
"Can they imprison you?" Remus asked. It was a quiet counter to Loki's assurance that his people were afraid, not kind. "Without the soul siphoning," he added, the grin there just a ghost of a thing, an indication of what the boy might have been like without a life spent feared and shunned. And there was no argument when Loki agreed about his hypocrisy. Remus knew it was hypocritical, his willingness to forgive the boy Loki had been, and his unwillingness to forgive Narcissa and Bellatrix. He shrugged his gaunt shoulders a moment later. "I don't question who labels criminals, because I think criminals label themselves." And therein lay the rub. The werewolf was not nearly so grey as he should have been. He was wrong, evil and dangerous. And he could see that in himself, hate it in himself, and still want to protect others from it. He would never be one of the werewolves in the Forbidden Forest, clamouring for Voldemort's attention; he was one of them, but he was not one of them at all. Dumbledore had done that, and he knew the Headmaster had been wise, even then. He'd given a small child an opportunity, and he'd surely known that it would mean loyalty when the time came, and a hatred for his own kind. "My kind live in packs in the wood. They are on the other side of the war that rages on. I spy on them. I'm loyal to the ones that cared for me, not to the ones that share traits with me."
As for what happened to werewolves in Azkaban, Remus shook his head. "The same thing that happens to all criminals in our prison. The only difference is that everyone assumes I'm a criminal from the beginning, that's all. Normal people get the benefit of the doubt. I don't."
And Remus liked that crisp amusement. It reminded him of the wittiness of the boy that drew him a tree and bridge in the air. "I am dramatic. It's become a thing recently, and I can't seem to let it go." He wasn't exaggerating. He had tried and tried to go back to being like James, like Sirius, and he wasn't having even the slightest bit of luck. He slid up onto the soulforge, his hand a wet-sweat thing, weak and cold in Loki's hand. The simple exertion drew more droplets along Remus' brow, and his chest heaved and strained, bones against skin gone too gaunt and too thin during March's recent illness. "The one I have through the door, he's dying. I don't think that's fate. It's certainty," he explained. But he smiled at the mention of the tree, the memory of it. It was a fond smile, a remembering smile, a thing that recalled a dark-haired boy and the light streaming through a New York window.
"Will you draw me a tree on the air?" Remus asked, the grin crooked and genuine. A monster this man might be, but Remus knew a thing or two about monsters.
"They can," Loki said. "They have before. But I made my way out then, and I could do it again, and they know it. I am a much smaller liability if I am dead, but the king will not allow them to kill me." He spread his hands. "So here I stand, and for the time being, here I shall remain, caught between the side that wants me locked in the darkest place they can find and a ruler who disagrees with them because he is a fool. Uneasy for them, upsetting for him, but perfectly alright with me."
Loki's face split into a grin when Remus protested that criminals labeled themselves. "Do they?" he asked. "And what about you? Did you mark yourself under your designation? Shout from the rooftops what you are? Or did the title and the assumptions that came with it chafe you? Did it sting to be threatened with judgement by people who did not know you, who were not interested in understanding what had been done to you or who you might be?" Loki reached behind him and shut the book he had opened, snapping it closed. "I wonder if those you spied on were stung by assumption also. You say that those who are 'normal' receive the benefit of the doubt. But you, you had a few friends, and some who looked past what you were and saw humanity in a monster." He tipped his head, and raised his brow. "Good for you. But the ones in the woods I doubt had such an opportunity to be housetrained." His green eyes were bright in the dark room, intent and bare. However sharp the words, he seemed to think the sentiment worth imparting to someone with at least some intelligence and potential worth salvaging. "Never confuse loyalty with the gratitude of a hungry hound thrown scraps. When the world despises you, a single act of kindness can make the lowest offerer a saint."
It seemed a shame for the boy to go on doggedly loyal to people who wanted him to spy against those as maligned and outcast as himself, but nevermind that. Loki had said his piece, and it had been more than he'd meant to, the sharpness in his voice turning his usual analysis and dissection back on himself in a most unpleasant way. He had sounded too much like he knew what he spoke of, and that wouldn't do.
Remus' hand was limpid in Loki's, and that was a sign that things were bad indeed. He didn't let on, letting Remus settle himself and then offering him the fur, pulling it up and draping it beside him. It wouldn't do to let the patient die of a chill before they were even underway, and Remus looked fragile enough to make it a genuine concern. "Well. I can hardly call anyone dramatic," he said, with a crooked smile. He wasn't entirely without self-awareness, after all.
Will you draw me a tree on the air? Loki hadn't forgotten about that, but one wouldn't know it from his expression. "The tree? Ah yes, I remember." He considered it for a moment and then his eyes fixed on a point just in front of Remus. He twisted his hand, and out of the thin air grew a cool blue tree, casting a cold light on them both. It spread up from the roots, bursting into leaves and twisting branches. From those branches grew a thousand tiny starlights. From the boughs, worlds grew in miniature - the orb of Midgard, Asgard on its flat plane floating in space, and on and on. Each was represented in minute detail. Something scampered up the bough toward Midgard and then to Asgard - Ratatosk, carrying missives. Pulses of light traveled through the trunk, and the top was wreathed in clouds. The leaves swayed as if in a gentle wind, and the boughs shook. One could almost hear them creaking. The detail was exquisite.
It was only when he spotted Huginn and Muninn circling above the tree, watching him, that Loki let the tree dissolve, wisping away into threads of blue smoke. It had been a display of power, a parlor trick, but executed in much greater skill and precision than he had been able to when he had been young with Remus. That tree was like a caricature compared to this, proof that he had gained much more than time in those years in between. Such a skill implied many hours at study, and many hours spent alone. "Never let it be said that I am not accommodating of my patients," Loki said, with a faint smile. He pretended he had not thought of that afternoon, nor of the happiness and kinship he now felt he must repay. Regardless, he glanced briefly at his hand before dropping it to his side again. Beauty was not something he often built, anymore. He hadn’t really thought it was still in him to.
"Now, lay down."
"You misunderstand me," Remus said of Loki's interpretation of his comment about criminals labeling themselves. Though, in truth, he knew better. He suspected Loki knew precisely what he meant, and that Loki turned things around to show them as he wished. "I meant that criminals label themselves by their actions, not in any names they give themselves," he said quietly, without any fight in it. He would not fight to change Loki's opinion of things, not when Loki's opinions were as carefully crafted as the Headmaster's plans. "But you mean to make me question criminality in general." He shook his head. "I can't. My world is a cut and dry place. The bad men there, they have a supremacist agenda. They believe in purity of blood, and anyone not born to the right parents is less than human. They wield my people, the ones I spied on, like weapons. Werewolves are beneath them, no better than well trained dogs. We can't even receive the Dark Mark, because we aren't worthy of it. And no one deserves the bite, but werewolves are murders. Thoughtless, ruthless, murderers. You pity them - me - because you see yourself in the plight. But what of the innocent children, men and women we kill? What of the man who destroyed my life at four, all over a quarrel with my father?" He shook his head. "There is no grey in my fight." He smiled a kind, young smile. It was a smile that shouldn't have survived a lifetime of hatred and being shunned, but it had, thanks to three boys and a Headmaster. "Is there grey in yours?" Because he knew that Loki would see shades of grey in things, even if he refused to admit it of the ones he, himself despised; it just seemed the nature of the man in front of him, if not of the boy he'd been. But then growing up changed people, didn't it?
Remus wrapped the fur around himself, the scent nothing like pack or moons. He sniffed at it, an inherent thing, and there was a hint of unbidden snarl at the foreign scent, the wolf making its presence known.
And Remus was not expecting the tree. He had expected sarcasm or wit, a refusal or a mocking, an assurance that the boy who had drawn the tree on the air no longer existed. He turned his face up to the twinkle of the lights, the color lending glow to pale and pasty cheeks. He could smell the magic, his improved scent tasting it as something bitter and bright. Cold. "Your magic is like winter," he said, not looking away from the swaying branches. He watched the lights of the missives, and he wondered what they were, but he didn't ask. Instead, he considered, and then he looked at the man beside him. "It's beautiful," he admitted, because it was. "I like it as much as I liked the one you crafted then." Because they were different, and there was no comparing them. This one was skilled, breathtaking. But the smaller tree, the one the eager boy had crafted, that had been hopeful. Both were beautiful, but in different ways.
Remus began to lie back, but he stopped a moment, elbows on the flat surface and breath strained at the loss of movement. "I don't know why you're letting them hold you here," he said, because he suspected Loki could have been elsewhere by now, if he wished it. "But thank you for helping me. It was kind of you. I know you have nothing to gain from it."
And with that, Remus let himself lie back. He closed his eyes trustingly, the narrows of his chest rising and falling with shallow frailty beneath the fur. Whatever happened now, there was nothing to do but wait.