Everything was falling apart.
The ground shook, the foundations of nearby buildings rattled and groaned. The air was obscured by clouds of dirt thrown by the disturbance and frenetic explosions of light. Over the sounds could be heard yelling as bystanders hurried to get out of the way. Loki’s spell, a painstakingly wrought set of intricacies and interwoven enchantments that’d manifested in the physical world as a translucent tower almost as hard to look upon as it had been to conceive of, was disintegrating into broken pieces.
Too close to the epicenter, he knew better than to try and stop it. He didn’t even try keeping it contained. At that point it took all his concentration to save himself.
The explosion itself was next to nothing. The magic, now damaged and run wild, was another story. The fragments of sorcery still stuck together in a half-complete web were flung outwards. A large amount of the backlash was absorbed by Loki’s own body.
It ate at him, twisting inside him, and Loki fought it off tooth and nail, feeling the sweat run down his face from the effort. A lesser being would’ve been ripped apart on the spot.
But his wards protected him, his experience aided him, and perhaps most important of all Loki had his sheer determination. He would not be done in by the wayward shards of his own magic.
He was too occupied to watch the Avengers make their graceless, frantic retreat. He didn’t particularly care, anyhow. He knew they were going – that was all that mattered. And if later on, when he recollected his feelings over the experience in the much calmer aftermath, and discovered he was angered by their interference, he could come back and attempt his revenge.
Later he would examine what’d happened, what might have gone wrong. Later he would piece together the puzzle. Decide what, or who, was at blame.
The more pressing concern was preventing the situation from getting any worse.
With an exhale Loki unclenched his fists, dropping them away from his body. A wave of exhaustion swept over him too fast to be argued against.
He had successfully excised the dangerous power from himself, what he hadn’t been able to absorb. But his magic was damaged and drained by the fight, barely still with him. What little remained was flickering, curling in on itself; soon it would shut down. It’d need rest to heal – a commodity he was hardly about to find where he was.
Loki began gathering a teleportation spell to himself, hurrying to make it before he lost even the power for something so simple. He took a step forward, unthinking, and immediately regretted it.
His vision swam; he could feel his head start to tilt back, a swoon overtaking him. With sharp throbbing alarm he tried to shake it off before it was too late.
And then something reached out and caught him by the arm.
Loki blinked twice before he was able to focus enough to look up again, and found Thor standing there, thick fist wrapped around his bicep, eyeing him with a face that was a crinkled mask of concern. Evidently, one Avenger who hadn’t run away with the rest.
“Go away, brother,” Loki said to him at once, peevish and annoyed. He was too tired for angry.
Thor ignored the uncouth greeting. “You’re injured,” he observed. Loki followed his gaze down towards his side.
There was a rending in his armor, a tear running from breastbone to hip, framed by the gold of twisted metal and the red of Loki’s own blood. Underneath his fatigue and the lingering battle shock he could finally feel the first trace of pain.
“Oh.” So the explosion had done some physical damage after all. He thought he could feel broken ribs, maybe a fractured leg – no matter. Loki shook his head and then fought off the ensuing dizziness. “It’s nothing. It will heal.”
Thor was still holding his arm. With a frown deepening into a scowl Loki reached for his hand, to pry him off. “Let me go. It’s nothing, I say. I can heal this easily.”
It looked much worse than it was. To one of their constitution a few days’ rest, at most, would more than suffice. Which his brother should know – yet he wouldn’t let go.
Loki didn’t have time for this. He needed to be on his way and quickly, for very soon he wouldn’t be able to get away by using his magic at all.
“Honestly, Thor.” Loki gave a terse scoffing sound. “Your concern for your enemy is quite honorable, if very misplaced. Or are you still underestimating me, even after all this time?”
Haven’t you seen for yourself what I can take, those years we fought side by side, and all the battles you’ve now fought against me…It was harder than usual, in his current drained state, for Loki to keep clear the line between what words he should say and what he should swallow back down.
Thor eyed him another careful moment. Then at last, he spoke. “If you can heal yourself of this, then why have you not already?” he asked, with a slow wariness. Before Loki could respond he answered his own question: “Unless you can’t.”
“Don’t-” Loki began sharply, trying to pull himself free, trying to push Thor off of him.
But he was exhausted, he had no power left. His helmet had been knocked somewhere by the explosion. His sorcerer’s staff had been broken during the battle. And at the end of it all, Thor was still so much stronger than he.
His elder brother forcibly threw Loki’s arm across his shoulders, bringing one of his own arms around his sibling-cum-foe at the waist to help steady him. Thor’s other arm was flung up into the sky, Mjolnir clutched tight in his fist.
“Stop it,” Loki protested, making a frustrated attempt at struggling in the hold. “Let go of me!”
Thor simply replied, “No.”
They were both lifted up into the air, hurtling towards whatever their intended destination was with a whistle of the breeze and a crack of sound.
Loki’s thoughts drifted forward with exasperation – he would be taken to some healing center run by Thor’s mortal allies at SHIELD, no doubt with an attempt made to contain him while he was weak. And there’d be nothing Loki could do to stop it, not as he was. Who knew how long it would take him to gather his strength enough to get out again?
The prospect of having to eventually scheme his way out of one of their hospitals or prisons and fight past the Avengers was not something he was looking forward to.
He couldn’t tell how long their flight took. Part of it seemed to fade into nothingness, and if Loki didn’t know better he might’ve thought he passed out. But that was ridiculous; he would never be so careless as to…
His internal argument ended abruptly as he realized Thor had landed, and to Loki’s puzzlement they seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
“What are you-?” Loki began, voice dry and cracking.
Then lightning split the sky.
And shortly in its wake, the familiar multicolored hues of the Bifrost began to emerge.
“No.” Loki’s voice was stronger now, much more focused. Sharp with horror. He straightened himself up best he could and shoved at Thor’s arms. “You can’t…you wouldn’t dare!”
His skin tingled with the building energy in the air around them as the mortal-recreated version of the interdimensional bridge fell to earth. The wind rose, blowing their hair and Thor’s cape back and forth. Thor kept his head raised upwards, watching the sky steadily and never looking at his brother, even as he spoke to him in reply.
“This has gone on for long enough, Loki. I’m ending it,” he stated. “It is time for you to come home.”
“No,” Loki said again, his voice wavering. He was struggling to keep ahold of consciousness; in his injured state even the magic of the Bifrost threatened to overwhelm him. “Stop. I can’t. Don’t…please…”
He only just forced out the last pleading word when the Bifrost hit like a thunderclap.
Against his will Loki’s eyes fell closed. He was lost to the darkness, and could say and think no more.
This is a dream.
Loki’s awoke and found himself lying in bed, the covers tucked securely around him.
His eyelids fluttered at first, senses dulled by confusion and resuming consciousness. But he recognized the blankets, the pillows…he sat up much more swiftly, eyes wide now, body turning rigid with disbelief.
He was in his bed. A searching glance around confirmed that he was in his chamber, at the palace he’d been raised in for hundreds upon hundreds of years.
He was back on Asgard.
This can’t be real.
After well over a year away, after he had travelled so far and seen so much, after all the things he had done…he had thought he would never see it again.
He wasn’t supposed to ever see it again. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Sleeping in this bed and this room, like nothing had ever happened.
Like he hadn’t been lied to, manipulated and disgraced. Like he hadn’t tried to kill his own brother. Like he hadn’t gone mad with power and pain and almost destroyed an entire world. Like he hadn’t committed at least a dozen different forms of treason, even if it had only been with what he’d thought were the best of intentions inside his broken and angry heart.
Loki pulled the covers back, looking down. His body had been washed and his injuries tended to, and he’d been redressed in smallclothes and a simple robe, comfortable enough for sleeping in without any obtrusion upon his dignity.
They must’ve taken him to the skilled healers. There was no sign of any of his wounds, his skin whole and with as much color as he usually had. But even had they been inclined to there was nothing any could do for his magic. It would have to repair itself on its own. For that, all Loki could do was wait.
There felt an emptiness inside of him, a hollow space where something bright and alive was supposed to be.
And as long as he was without magic, he couldn’t escape. He was trapped on Asgard: where no doubt he would soon face punishment for his misdeeds, and have to face the cruel and judging eyes of those he had once known.
Everything is wrong.
As Loki’s gaze raked across the space of the room his head started to swim again. His breath came faster and his pulse heavy, even though it felt like his body was disjointed from his mind, miles apart.
His sight took on a hyper-sharp, slanted appearance, as though he looked at everything through the haze of a dream. Somehow it all both right and wrong at once.
What was happening was impossible. It couldn’t be real. But it was. And that reality threatened to drive him mad.
His limbs felt heavy, his neck too weak to support his head. Loki sank back down into the pillows like the weight of a thousand worlds was dragging him down, and even as a far-off scream echoed from within he knew unconsciousness was moments from stealing over him once more.
Crushed hope and fear and regret and longing and hate bore in on him from all sides, brought up by every sight, every inch and every memory it stirred free. Closing in, stealing all his air, suffocating him.
Loki curled up on his side, fingers clutching his skull, eyes squeezed shut and stinging.
Sleep was only a temporary solace. For the first time since he’d let go of Gungnir and let himself fall, it was impossible to run.
The next Loki came around and woke once more, he could feel the weight of someone’s eyes watching him.
He lifted his head. It was both surprising and not at all to find Thor standing a few feet from his bed, expression composed as he eyed his brother’s prone form.
The war of feelings that came whenever he faced Thor across the field of battle swam inside him, as at once he struggled to identify him as both ‘family’ and ‘enemy’. But today, the voice that yelled captor was by far the loudest, and hate was winning out over love.
“What have you done?” Loki demanded, his voice a thick hoarse rasp, muscles twitching as he moved quickly to sit up on his elbows.
“Thor, what have you done to me? You fool! How could you.”
Thor’s brow knit in confusion as he frowned, mouth falling open slightly before he even spoke.
“Done?” he repeated, incredulous. “Loki – I brought you home. I did the one thing that you most needed, that for some reason you refused to do for yourself. Are you not glad?” Spreading his hands Thor indicated the space around them. “Do you not see that this is where you belong?”
“Where I belong,” Loki echoed in an empty way. There was no tone adequate for that: that after all this, Thor still couldn’t realize to say so was possibly the worst mockery he could give to him. That it was paid as good as a hard strike to the face.
“Can you not see that I don’t want to be here?” he demanded angrily instead, voice rising. “What do you think is going to happen to me now? Back under the authority of the All-Father and subject to the laws that govern the people of Asgard.” He sneered. “Even you can’t possibly be thick enough to believe I would be welcomed, with open arms.”
“Why not?” Thor returned, heated but ultimately blank. Uncomprehending. For this alone Loki could have cut his throat. “I know what you may think, but you have been gone a while, and you have been missed-”
“Lies,” Loki hissed. “Don’t you coddle me with such trappings, as if I was no more than a child. Don’t you dare.”
Thor stared at him, nonplussed.
“What is it that I can do then, to put you at ease?” he demanded finally, deeply and sincerely beseeching. “To right…whatever wrong it is you seem to think that I’ve done you.”
Loki gazed at him, as close to begging as he would allow himself. “Take me back to Midgard.”
Thor shook his head. “That, I will not do.”
Loki’s lips formed into a thin hard smile. “No. Of course not,” he said. “You brought me back as your prisoner and war trophy after all.”
Thor balked, protesting at once, “That’s not what I meant to do at all! For all that you’ve made me your enemy, that is never how I’ve thought of you first. You were injured; I wanted to bring you someplace safe, where you could heal.”
“And so you bring me, powerless, to the one place in all the nine realms where there might exist one who has the ability to truly contain me,” Loki stated, quiet. “To strip me down to nothing.”
He took in how uncertainty at last made its way into Thor’s expression – though whether as a consequence of him beginning to doubt he’d brought his brother to the safest place or his disbelief as to how the other was reacting, Loki couldn’t say.
“You have a funny way of showing your affections,” Loki added with a glibness that rang bitter and false.
Thor’s mouth opened and shut, and then he shook his head hard, stubbornly.
“You will see,” he insisted. “Once you’re properly rested, once you’ve had enough sleep and food and are feeling well again, you’ll remember the way things used to be more clearly and understand that you have nothing to fear from me.”
“You can’t reverse time and make again what no longer is, Thor,” Loki told him. But his words he knew already fell on deaf ears. Thor didn’t listen. He never did. “Things can never go back to the way that they were.”
Thor lingered in the doorway, his expression solemn and unhappy, but no less unrelenting.
“I’m weary of how things have become. I don’t wish them to be this way anymore. And I believe that underneath everything, you don’t wish them to be like this either.”
Loki sat up as far as he could, fingers working into tight fists in his lap. “I don’t want this,” he retorted, a venomous glare burning in his eyes.
But Thor either didn’t hear him, or pretended not to.
“Welcome home, my brother,” was all that he said by way of farewell. Then he left, and Loki was alone.
Alone, with his guilt and his anger and his persecuted thoughts; surrounded by gilded walls and familiar trinkets bringing back memories of childhood and a time when he knew how to be happy, and had still believed himself capable of being loved.
Loki buried his face in his hands.
His chamber was exactly as he had left it, undisturbed down to the slightest detail. Fastidious and habitual that he could be in such things, Loki had a proper place for all of his belongings and he rarely failed to return them to these when he was finished with them.
None of his things had been removed, not weapons or symbols of princely finery or even magical artifacts. An odd choice, for a prisoner. But then it seemed certain that few had even entered the room since the day he’d left it.
The atmosphere was stagnant, cloistered and sealed up like it was a tomb.
A thin layer of dust had gathered. Months and years were like the blinking of an eyelash to Asgardians, but time was still time. Even in small amounts it passed.
Even in small amounts, it could make a difference.
For lack of anything better to do, in silence and distracted numbness Loki cleaned up the dust. He left everything else untouched however. The trappings of sorcery were useless to him with no magic of his own, and even the thought of reading any of his other books made his head hurt.
He pulled the curtains shut across all his windows and covered up the door to the balcony, unable to take the sight of Asgard’s familiar beauty or the warm rays of her sun. He sat unmoving in the dark.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he heard soft footsteps in the hall, the sound of a hand pressed to the latch on his door.
The enchantments Loki had once cast on an almost daily basis to ensure his privacy remained undisturbed would have long faded away by now. And Thor of course had forgotten to lock the door behind him when he exited.
Or perhaps the lock had been removed. Maybe Loki was no longer permitted such privilege.
The door swung outward, hinges making not a sound. Loki was instantly aware of familiar warmth, a gentle presence that seemed to hang in the air wherever its owner walked. There was a scent; earthy, floral, but distinctly mild and forever comforting. Describing a lady who was anointed with lotion and garbed in the lightly perfumed gowns of a noble, who when she had time was inclined to often take walks in the outdoor garden.
And before he could help himself, he identified in an inner voice that welled up in longing recognition:
Loki swallowed past a lump formed in his throat.
The queen of Asgard entered the room and seemed unsurprised to find it shrouded in the gloom of shadows. She had a knack for predicting such things. In one hand she upheld a glowing lantern.
By the light Loki could make out her silhouette, the color of her dress and her braided hair, and just begin to catch a glimpse of her face. He turned himself swiftly away, twisting his head to face the opposite direction, before he could see any more. Before he risked meeting her eyes.
His mouth was dry. His tongue felt uncharacteristically thick. But it didn’t matter; she broke the silence first.
“Loki.” There was no reproach in her voice. No uncertainty. Instead of condemning distance or the chill of regal disdain, there was only unmasked relief, and love. “My son, my child…how long it seems it’s been that I’ve missed you.”
There was a space in which Loki could see in his mind’s eye her one hand start to reach out in his direction as if she couldn’t help herself.
“How happy I am to see you again, safe, and home.”
Loki could feel his heart beat woodenly, slow and empty thuds, in the silence before he felt moved into responding.
“I am no child of yours, Lady,” he told her quietly. “What need can there be for pretense, when we both know that now.”
He heard her breathe in. The note was muted, but acute. Pained.
“You were not born to me,” she corrected finally. “That much is true. But you are still mine. I accepted that long ago when you were first handed to me, and gladly. I made you as much a part of me as if I had carried you.”
Loki said nothing. Frigga moved towards him, two, three steps; he could hear the hem of her train move against the floor in a gentle glide.
“You still have a family,” she insisted. “Why do you feel the need to act otherwise?”
Where he sat Loki carefully brought his arms up, hands folding together to rest balanced atop one of his knees.
“I had a father, once. He abandoned me to die. Then centuries later I killed him – he died, never knowing I was anyone but a stranger.” He lowered his head slightly and gazed blankly down.
“Now I have no one. Only shades; false aspirations of what never was.”
“You are wrong,” she argued passionately. “And in your heart, I am convinced you know it to be so.”
A thin and awful smile formed on his face that he could barely feel. He was hurting her – the mother that in his most despairing moments he’d longed to see again, if even only once: the very thing he wouldn’t allow himself to have now. There was no point in it.
You are a monster, son of Laufey. You can’t have her though she’d offer you her love. It does you no good. You don’t deserve her.
“My heart says many things, Mother,” he told her in a raw, toneless voice. “But like all the rest of me it’s filled with lies.”
To twist the knife in her was only to drive it deeper within himself. Loki would have it no other way. Happiness burned at him like acid; he’d grown accustomed to suffering. Only one was destined to last, for him.
So why not bring it freely and let it fill his soul.
He could hear the unshed tears in her voice. “I mourned for you when I thought you were dead,” she pleaded with him. “And when you were found to be alive I mourned still, for what you were doing to others and yourself.”
Frigga went on pressingly, “Please, my son. Would you deny me the chance to comfort you?” Her voice trembled with emotion. “After all these days and months that have gone by, you’ll deny me even a glimpse of your face?”
Loki took a moment to recompose before he answered, “If you truly wish to do me a kindness, your grace, then I’d ask you leave me to my solitude.” Before she could interrupt fully he pleaded himself, eyes squeezing shut tight, “Please. Go away.”
He said nothing else and neither did she.
But his mother acquiesced to his wishes. She let herself out, shut the door behind her, and once again Loki was left alone.
Day turned into night and into day again. Loki was aware of the time passing, though he did everything to avoid outward interaction in it.
No servants came to his chamber and he made no requests. Not for food, or even for water. He slept no more either. This was how he’d existed the majority of the time ever since his fall; distanced mostly by numbness from his own discomfort, his needs barely tended to as he depended upon his body’s durability and reserves of strength to keep himself going.
He spoke to no one.
He waited at first, expecting some form of imminent interruption. Thor coming to once again parade in front of him and attempt to beat Loki into submission with his self-righteousness. Or if not his brother then the guards, to throw him in chains and drag him off to answer for his crimes before the king, or face some already decided upon punishment meted out in the seclusion of a dungeon.
But none of these things happened. No one came.
He had requested that he be left alone and surprisingly that was exactly what he got.
He tested his magic carefully, trying not to feel anxious. It was healing, that much he could tell. The current of power thrummed within him once more, but faintly and just out of his reach. When he tried to tap into it, it pulled away, protesting, and he was still unable to perform any spells.
He was still all but helpless, and all he could do to fix it was wait.
Finally frustration ate at him so much he felt as if he would go mad, and he couldn’t ignore how weary he’d grown of staring at the same four walls. In the middle of the night he went to the door and slipped through, peeking out his head.
He was shocked to see no sentry there. There was no one to prevent his coming and going.
Still, not guarding his room was one thing: he knew better than to think he’d make it far as the Bifrost unimpeded. And without magic there was no other means of escape from Asgard.
Loki had no destination and in truth knew not where he headed. He let his feet carry him where they would, wandering through the torch-lit corridors in haphazard restless fashion.
The halls and narrow paths he used to sneak about were still familiar to him, unfurling before him so easily he didn’t even have to think of it. Though he knew it meant nothing ultimately, it infuriated Loki. As if the very palace itself was welcoming him home with arms just as open, attempting to enfold him inside and insist he belonged there as strongly as all the rest.
It changed nothing. The sentiment never became less wrong, no matter who or where it came from.
He found himself outside before he knew it. He had bypassed the gardens and the stables completely, ending up not far from the sparring grounds.
The same targets and rings and packed earthen spaces that consumed so much time in his youth. His recollections of the training arena were mixed, associated as they were with many moments of despondence and misery as he tried again and again to be something he never could, no matter how much he wanted. But there’d been happy times aplenty too, with his brother, and their friends; as they cheered one another on and retold stories of their adventures, the air ringing bright with laughter…
“Stop,” Loki ordered out loud, a sudden and desperate cry. He ducked his head, hands going to his ears as if to block out the phantom noises.
That past was gone, long gone, he reminded himself. It was over. He was left with nothing but the bitter aftertaste.
But as he stood there swatting at ghosts, in a daze he realized something about the present: the laughter he heard hadn’t been entirely in his memory, but produced by some group who stood nearby in the dark.
Loki swallowed as if to take back his yell, but it was too late. The laughter had stopped, replaced by a wary silence.
Then to his dismay, familiar voices spoke from out of sight.
“Is somebody there?” called Volstagg.
“I say, who goes there?” Fandral asked soon after.
“Show yourself,” Sif ordered boldly.
Hogun of course said nothing at all. But surely he was present.
At first Loki froze, then as he heard them approaching he turned and ran.
For a short while they pursued him, until his path carried him beneath a light, enough to illuminate his form and features. There was a collective startled sound of recognition from the warriors behind him.
Loki turned his head over his shoulder. He only dared give himself a glance, but it was more than enough. It was all the time he needed to make out the looks on their faces: uncertainty, alarm, and in the case of Sif angry hostility.
No joy. No welcome. No trace of any former kinship.
He wrenched his eyes away, kept running. Not that he needed to any longer. They’d stopped chasing him.
Loki went back the way he came, returning to his room, and those who’d once claimed to be his friends didn’t care enough to follow.
He didn’t try leaving again. Nothing changed. The curtains he kept drawn. Far as he knew there was still no guard outside the door, though he didn’t venture to look.
No one came to speak to him. Loki still didn’t sleep. He merely lay atop the covers with hands folded and stared up at the ceiling.
Two more days passed.
Maybe this was their idea of handling him. Instead of having to attempt to deal with him he’d merely be shunted aside, a humiliating secret kept hidden in an abandoned wing of the palace. Left to rot, until all had forgotten him, and Asgard could breathe a sigh of relief and go back to pretending it had no second prince.
The silence of his bed chamber was stifling. Even in the isolation he’d kept himself in on Midgard he always had something to distract himself: another plan, or research, or even the angry aftermath of another encounter with his brother and his allies to dissect. Here he had nothing.
He was completely alone with his own thoughts. Usually not a bad thing, except they kept spiraling in directions he’d rather prefer to avoid.
Loki had no intention of letting himself be broken, worn down by sheer inaction. But he was beginning to grow a bit concerned.
He should’ve known better though. It had never been Asgard’s way to simply let things be.
On the third day, the All-Father himself came to Loki’s chamber.
Finally, Loki thought. He climbed gracefully to his feet and faced the ancient king with composure.
Odin stood alone – the soldiers that flanked him bowing and backing out at a silent glance from their leader. Gungnir was missing from his hand, and he was without helmet or armor. His appearance was not that of a ruler carrying out formal judgment but a nobleman at home among his immediate family and closest council.
Loki couldn’t help feeling the encounter lacked some of the…spectacle, that he’d been imagining. But then, there was no audience here that the All-Father had to appeal to. His punishment was evidently to be handed down in private, dealt with quickly and discreetly.
But of course: why waste time or attention with the unwanted branch of the family tree? Best to get it over with and out of the way.
The All-Father held his place and gazed evenly at him. There was no mistaking the disappointment in his face, the distaste. But even taking into account the restraint that must be present on the surface the other thing that Loki had expected most to see was missing – anger.
“Hail, All-Father,” Loki greeted him with a detached calm of formality.
It was hard to steel into holding his eye. The same weight of intimidation, of fearful respect and desperate need for approval tugged at him. All efforts to brush it aside only conflicted the matter, tangling with stings of rejection and rage. But what Loki felt strongest of all was relief. After so many days of lingering, waiting, all would come to an end.
The king let out a faint sigh. “Is it your intent to mock me, and all that I tried to raise you to stand for, with this profession of loyalty?” he demanded, resigned.
“I intend no mockery at all, only sincerity. You raised me, as you say, to behave with respect and show deference to a king.” Loki lowered his head in not a bow but to prevent him from displaying the poisonous glower he could feel building within his eyes. “And I was never disloyal to you.”
Not until you were disloyal to me first. I did what I thought you wanted, felt what you taught me to feel and believed what you taught me to believe, and for that you rejected me.
Thor was given a chance to learn. I was merely cast aside.
Two awful words echoed in memory: “No, Loki.”
In response to his statements Odin said slowly, “What may be the worst of all from this, is that it would seem you truly believe that.”
Loki kept his head down, the heat from his eyes threatening to make his mouth pucker, his throat tremble.
“If the All-Father would prefer to have me kneel, or grovel, or lay myself on the ground at his feet, I’m afraid that that I cannot do,” he stated. “I have no intention or need to beg. I am uninterested in mercy. Say your piece – let my fate be known.”
“Mercy?” Odin repeated. He drew his head back, shaking it. “You infer I am here to carry out a punishment, to pronounce judgment for your failings. Is that the only interest you think that I have in you?”
“What else should I expect?” Loki returned, disbelieving.
Odin made a terse sound. “You are my son.”
“I am the child that you stole!” Loki shouted. “The spawn of your enemy that you took pity on, unworthy even in the eyes of monsters, and after you had already sated your fill on their blood!” He turned aside a moment, breathing between clenched teeth as he struggled to control himself. “A child that you raised in a house of lies, and then scolded when it took too well to lessons of deceit and trickery.”
He looked at Odin again, glaring as he spat, “You cannot disown what you never truly claimed in the first place, nor loved.”
The All-Father waited, until he was certain Loki was finished speaking, and a good deal more after that, before replying.
“I never once claimed to be right about everything. And when it came to you, yes; I have been wrong, about a great many things. It’s a source of regret I doubt you will ever truly understand. But you are wrong too, Loki.”
“Am I?” he scoffed.
The king said with unfathomable evenness, “For a start, I am not here to punish you.”
A strange chill shook Loki to the core. It was all he could do to stare in lack of comprehension.
“Do you take me for a fool?” he managed finally. “I tried to kill Thor. Your firstborn, your heir. The rightful claimant to the throne, even if at the time he was banished.”
“Not many know that,” the All-Father said softly. “Only the members of our family, Heimdall, and the few warriors that were there to bear witness. And they can be trusted to keep their vows, and hold their tongues should their king instruct them to. Which I have.”
Loki shook his head, trying to clear his daze, this ringing of confusion that’d appeared. “And what of my crimes on Midgard? You intend to sweep those under the rug as well?”
“They were many, and extreme and varied, and do not mistake me – I do not approve. Your actions have been grave and reflected very poorly upon yourself, in the time you have been gone. But that was on Midgard. It is not my duty to hold you accountable for those things here.” The look in his sole eye turned strangely almost desperate, as though there were something he was trying to press home. Some hidden message he was trying to convey. “It has been a long time since our race was active in the affairs of mortals. As a whole our people do not care one way or another what happens in their domain.”
“The destruction of the Bifrost,” Loki bit out. His right hand clenched in a fist, then made a jabbing motion with one finger, pointing down. “That happened here, on Asgardian land. Surely you don’t expect me to believe such a thing can be left unanswered for.”
“No.” Odin let out a quiet exhale. “The punishment for that would have been banishment. Which - as I have explained by royal decree - you carried out upon yourself.” There was a weighty pause before he continued, “Even for us, a year apart from our home world, with no communication and trapped on another realm, is a long time indeed. Is it not?”
Gradually Loki was coming to grasp the impossible thing that the king was trying to tell him.
He had already passed judgment on Loki, before the demanding and watchful eyes of Asgard. It must’ve been done days beforehand, shortly after his arrival, while he lay in a stupor.
And the All-Father had pardoned him. Instead of harsh but deserved penalty, he was granted clemency.
Loki shook his head again. He took one step backwards, the action both instinctive and confused.
“This makes no sense at all. No.” His tone turned harsher, accusatory, “Since when have you ever been inclined to be so sparing in your actions?”
“My acts of discipline, especially in regard to you and Thor, have always been designed to carry out two purposes. First to satisfy our people and their sense of what is just, and second to make sure that he who is punished learns his lesson. I was able to present a convincing case that the first condition had been satisfied.” Odin’s solemnity grew. “Though in addition to banishment, you have also been removed from the line of succession. There can be no chance that what happened during your days of stewardship can ever again repeat itself. You cannot inherit the throne.”
“I don’t care about the throne. I never did,” Loki retorted hotly. Taking away his right to inherit was an insult, but a ceremonial one, and paltry in comparison to other marks of shame he bore in most eyes. Ultimately it was more favor than punishment, unburdening him of a responsibility he’d long known he was never meant to have.
“Is this really the best you can do? Wise All-Father Odin, high king and rune-speaker, all-seeing and all-knowing…and the most you can think to do to me is a chastising smack to the back of the hand?”
Shaken, Loki moved forward again, drawing himself up in a tower of rage.
“I was prepared to destroy entire worlds to get you to see me. Acknowledge me as what I am, and worthy of your attention. And instead you treat me like a child?” He breathed unevenly, sickened. “As if all this has no meaning at all.”
“I don’t seek to undermine you, or demean you, or to hurt you,” was the firm yet almost passively quiet reply. “I said that punishment must teach a lesson…but what is there here to be learned? What knowledge could you possibly gain by even more suffering, heaped on top what you’ve already done to yourself?”
Odin walked forward, closer, and for an awful moment Loki thought he intended to embrace him. But the king held off.
“No, Loki-” and those words meant for an instant Loki’s breath lodged in his throat “-if there is anything to be learned from all of this, then let it be forgiveness.”
His strong weathered hands reached out towards his second child, beseeching.
“Let it be that all who have made mistakes can be allowed a chance to find their way back again, no matter how far from the path they have strayed.”
Loki stared at him. At first he could not react.
And then just as suddenly, he could. He strode backwards, removing himself from Odin’s reach, stepping with such haste and strong purposefulness he all but leapt away from his once-father’s arms.
“I do not want your forgiveness,” he seethed in curt, vicious retort. “My decisions were mine, and I won’t take them back and whatever remains of my pride along with it. I am content to face the fate I have earned.” His fingers twitched, working into tight fists at his sides. “So you may keep the pity you have disguised as affection.”
The All-Father’s face fell at both words and reaction and he scowled in angry disappointment.
“You have always been wise beyond your time, but why is it the cleverness that brings you so much trouble fails when it could lead you out?” he lamented, voice ringing with unrestrained frustration. “You clutch at every word I’ve ever said, significant or not, and yet you never listen!”
Did he truly believe the things he claimed – foolish, and so unexpectedly sentimental? Or was he trying to manipulate Loki once more, falling to offerings of hope and acceptance as a way to try and regain his submission?
Hope. The idea stung, both painful and very, very insulting. Loki couldn’t remember when last he’d been allowed hope – the true, guileless and optimistic kind, unsupported by any amount of knowledge or careful planning.
Perhaps centuries ago; perhaps when he’d still been a child. When he had still had innocence.
But he was about as far as he could possibly be from ‘hope’ now. Especially when it came to Asgard.
His silence only seemed to dig at the All-Father further. “Look around you, Loki,” Odin said insistently. “Do you not see that you belong here, that this is still your home no matter what else? That there is a place for you here, regardless of how unconventional it may be?”
Loki did lift his head and look, up at the familiar painted ceiling of the room.
But his responding words after a few seconds’ silent contemplation were far from reassuring, spoken with resolved, flat detachment.
“I never belonged here. I believed that I did, once. And when I grew older the dream didn’t fade away completely. I clung to it, thinking it could be true; I could make it so if only I tried hard enough. If only I could find the right way.”
He lowered his gaze again to meet Odin’s. Empty and reserved.
“I know better now. This is no home for something like me. It will never be so. I’ll not make the mistake of thinking that again.”
He waited for the All-Father to say more. To rail at him, to take his cool dismissal as insult. To perhaps at last grow outraged enough that he would give Loki what he desired and could understand and strike him down.
Instead he only gave Loki yet another look of weary disappointment.
He lowered his head, and left. But there were no more words.
And Loki was once again alone – trapped, powerless, evidently without punishment. And for that, perhaps more than ever lost.
He had waited for imprisonment by an enemy, and instead what he’d gotten was one very stubborn elder brother’s aide.
He had waited for a queen’s rejection, and instead he’d been offered a mother’s embrace.
And at last, he had waited for a conclusion to the prolonged inevitable: a false father’s condemnation he’d assumed already forged. But instead, of all things he had been given mercy.
What was he waiting for now?
For the dream to end and him to wake up, wretched and unwanted as he should be? For the ‘dream’ to sink in as reality, past his sick shock?
For them to give up on this trick he was unable to stop suspecting was being played on him?
Loki didn’t know. He simply didn’t know what he wanted, what he was supposed to do.
He sat motionless and staring, circles spinning in his head. But all the while he never completely forgot about his magic. Regularly he continued testing it, reaching within himself to feel for what he was missing.
It was coming back. Feeble, resistant to his prodding and far too little yet for him to feel anything like safe in attempting to use it, but there: healing, and slowly but surely gathering strength.
The question was how long it’d be before he had enough power to be able to return to Midgard, or anywhere else for that matter.
He had an idea as to the answer, unfortunately, and it was ‘far too long’.
Meanwhile whatever remained of his sanity was being steadily chipped away. Enough so that he was almost starting to think…that he was letting himself wonder, if the choice he was seemingly being offered was even possible.
He exited Asgard abruptly, expecting to end his existence, and instead landed to find himself on the path to a new one: as a villain, an embodiment of destructive chaos. And full as he was of bitterness and spite, and plenty of hatred to spare, he’d thrown himself into it wholeheartedly. His first target would always be his brother, and when he sought variety he was happy to go after Thor’s allies or the land where he resided. Some days he acted to destroy it, others to rule it, and sometimes he sowed pure anarchy.
It had been almost a year and a half and Loki had never run out of new things to try. He had made allies, built up contacts and resources. And he’d mostly stopped trying to do much in the way of permanent damage to Midgard; it really was quite an amusing place, full of marvels if one knew where to look. Other than that, nothing had changed.
Nothing had ever changed.
He kept making his moves against his brother, against the Avengers. They kept stopping him one way or another. It wasn’t that he had gotten fed up with losing – he had millennia to keep trying, so long as he wanted.
And he was still angry. Still hurt. Still had as many reasons for seeing Thor dead, even if he knew and had always known he would mourn such a happening more than he would have celebrated.
But after all this, he realized he had become…tired.
The ruined spell, the explosion that injured him and began this whole mess, could’ve been caused by any number of things. Maybe the Iron Man’s attempt to use engineering to craft a suitable counterassault had actually succeeded. Maybe the archer’s arrow had managed to hit that one impossible spot. Maybe Black Widow’s distraction had been more successful than realized. Maybe the Hulk’s rampage had taken out one of the true barriers instead of a decoy.
Or maybe, it was that underneath it all, Loki was so very tired.
Just like that cataclysmic battle at the Bifrost, it wasn’t about winning. It was about getting someone to knock him down hard enough he wouldn’t have to get up anymore.
Except Thor always ruined everything. When Loki finally stumbled, Thor didn’t hesitate in dragging him back to his feet.
Thor had the nerve to still care. After all Loki had done to him; he never held anything back, targeting both Thor and all that he loved…
But no, that wasn’t entirely true. His brother’s mortal love Jane, and the people she worked with, were the singular calm in the storm. Where Loki had upheld no sense of honor, no morals when it came to everything else Thor held dear, the woman and her friends had been spared.
That however had not been because of Thor.
It had been because of Darcy.
A silly, often lazy, sharp-tongued and sentimental mortal girl. She’d somehow sunk her way into Loki’s affections in a moment of weakness, and he’d been unable to shake her.
On Midgard, there were those Loki could work alongside and cannily count on not to betray him because of mutual interests. There were foes he was forced to view with a certain amount of grudging respect.
But Darcy was his only friend.
It was such a little thing. But there were times when it felt like it made all the difference. Knowing there was a corner he could retreat to, or that he had someone he could talk to…
I could use her right now, Loki thought distantly.
Inspiration clutching to that sudden spark, he pushed himself up to a sitting position, grogginess shaken off forcefully as he tried doing a calculation.
Realms away, across space and time, he thought that now she would be sleeping. Perfect. But could he reach her? Yes…if he was willing to squander what crumbs of magic he’d recovered, start all over in gathering his strength from scratch-
Loki threw himself violently into casting the spell, purposefully not giving time to really think.
Like a beacon he nudged out Darcy’s life force, distinct and familiar to him for all it was so far away, and curled tendrils of power within her sleeping mind. He pulled.
And there in the room a vision of her formed, faintly translucent and floating above the floor.
The Darcy-vision opened her eyes and blinked slowly, trying to take in her surroundings. “Loki?” she said, dumbfounded, recognition focusing as her gaze landed on him. She paused. “Either this is one incredibly lucid dream I’m having right now, or…”
“Magic,” Loki told her, cutting her off. “I traced a connection to you across realms, and channeled your sleeping mind.”
Another pause. “Huh,” she finally went in that tone where she didn’t know what to say to him. He’d heard it all too often. In this context, it brought a smile to his face. “Interesting. Well. Okay then.”
Her head turned, her hair moving slightly as if played with by a slow breeze. A white billowing garment was wrapped around her like a shroud – detached as it was from her physical body her dream-self would have appeared before him with nothing, but Loki had altered the spell to prevent that. He didn’t think Darcy would appreciate it if she realized he’d summoned a vision of her to him naked.
She looked at him again. “Where have you been?” she asked. She cringed as she took in his face. “You look like crap.”
He gave a weak laugh at her brusque honesty. It had to have been a week by now…no, more, since he’d lost a few days to healing and unconsciousness. The entire time he’d taken not a bite of food, not a drop of water, and once strong enough to shake it he refused to sleep.
Being able to survive such a thing did not make it pleasant. He was run ragged and it was beginning to show.
“My apologies for my disheveled appearance,” he said to her in mocking politeness rough around the edges. “But I’m afraid I’m trapped by circumstances beyond my control.”
“Trapped?” Darcy repeated. “The last I’d heard about you, Thor had carried you off after your last big throw down with the Avengers, and…” A look of startled understanding dawned, her eyes growing wide. “He called up Jane out of the blue and asked her to switch on the Bifrost. Except he wanted her to try and send it out into the desert somewhere; for some reason he didn’t want to come back to the base. Was that because…did he take you back to Asgard? Are you home?”
“No,” Loki disagreed sharply. “This is not ‘home’. I am a prisoner here.”
“Oh yeah?” Darcy looked around again, this time with an air of skepticism. Through the barriers of dreams and multiple dimensions Loki couldn’t know precisely what she saw: it would be hard for her to focus on inanimate objects. But it’d be based however vaguely in reality. “I can’t really make it out, but somehow, this doesn’t look like a jail cell.”
“You could say that I’ve been sent to my room,” Loki sneered. “To sit, and think about what I’ve done."
“So?” At least Darcy was vaguely worried now. “Why, what are they going to do to you?”
He could have lied, but that wasn’t why he’d brought her there.
“Nothing,” he admitted, voice constricting in his throat, threatening to break. “Nothing, save what being in this place does to me! I don’t belong here anymore. But no one is listening.”
That last trailed off in a miserable agitated mutter. From her vantage point Darcy gave him a look of scrutiny.
“You’re not in trouble,” she concluded, softly. “They actually forgave you for what you did.” Loki flinched sharply at the word ‘forgave’, recoiling, and she noticed that as well, adding, “And it’s driving you nuts.”
“They have no right to forgive me! As if everything I ever did had only to do with them, as if I only existed by their approval.” He spun away from the specter, shoulders raised. “I severed myself from this place and what I was here long ago. It has no business trying to drag me back against my will.”
“So you don’t want to be here? Not even a little bit?” Darcy asked. “Are you sure?”
Loki’s voice was heavy with the effort of keeping emotion out of it when he responded.
“What some small, foolish part of me that cannot be quaffed insists on still longing for is irrelevant. My sense of reason, and honor, knows it can never be.”
“Why, because you insist it can’t?” She refused to be dissuaded. “Do you know how many people there are who don’t even know their families, or can’t get them to give them the time of day? Your parents still love you. You’re lucky enough to have a family that wants you around; why should you throw that away?” Loki twisted to look at her darkly over his shoulder, glaring.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
But Darcy had been his friend for too long to be intimidated by shows of his fury. When he pushed, she held her ground and pushed back.
“Why’d you bring me here? Why go to the trouble to summon me up if you didn’t want me to talk?” she demanded. “Are you getting mad now because I’m not acting like a sycophant and agreeing with you on everything?” Darcy scoffed. “Well, excuse me, but somehow I doubt that’s what you really want.”
“Everyone keeps telling me what I want,” Loki cried.
He spun around, storming towards her so there were inches between their faces – even though he was incapable of harming her Darcy shied back, discomfited.
“As if they all think I’m too far gone to know my own mind and desires!”
“It’s not you don’t know, Loki,” she tried, wavering. “It’s just that sometimes, I think it’s kind of hard to get you to admit it, and-”
“Oh, really? Well I can admit this without any trouble: clearly, bringing you here was a mistake.”
He hissed the words between his teeth and in that instant his concentration was swallowed up by anger and emotion. The spell broke in a snap and Darcy’s image vanished, the cloudy figure dissipating into nothing.
There was an empty pause in the wake of her exit as Loki registered that silence and nothingness where she had been. The anger fell from his face to be replaced by anguish, expression breaking.
Why had he done that? He’d wanted to have a longer conversation with her, lay out everything he was going through and vent to someone he knew would listen; someone he could usually permit himself to be mostly honest with.
But Darcy had asked the wrong questions, said the wrong things – his emotions and the stress had gotten the better of him.
Loki breathed through his nose, his eyes going upward but unseeing, blind. His throat felt raw as if he’d been screaming. There was a sickness in his stomach, a tightness in his chest. The floor seemed to tremble beneath his feet when he walked as if he stood on water instead of solid ground.
He was unwell. He needed his freedom. He needed…he didn’t know.
Maybe he had never known.
Once again Loki sat alone in the dark, on the floor, unmoving and numb. Time passed and he had yet another visitor.
Thor had returned.
Even though for once he wanted nothing more than hold his tongue, maintain the protective bubble of silence, as if compelled by another force Loki found the words working their way up through his throat.
“You don’t give up easily, do you?”
Thor did not validate his taunt by responding in kind. Instead he kept his distance, sidestepping in a half-circle around Loki, close enough to get a look at him.
Shoulders drawn tight, legs folded almost against his chest and hands clasped before him as if forgotten, Loki turned his face towards his brother, enough to oblige his curiosity.
Immediately a frown, concerned but also exasperated, appeared across Thor’s visage. He recoiled.
“Are you so contrary by nature that you’d turn against any action of mine out of spite?” he demanded. “I bring you here in the hopes that you would heal, and instead you neglect yourself to this state?”
Loki could feel the dark shadows that’d formed under his eyes, the gauntness to his face, the lankness of his uncombed and unwashed hair. He said nothing as Thor continued. An acerbic smile twisted its way into being with his mouth, both amused and in pain.
“Why, brother? Why do you do this to yourself?”
Loki’s smile fell. He swallowed awkwardly so that he could speak. “Because I don’t serve your will, Thor,” he muttered. “I serve my own.”
“And this is what you want?” Thor said disbelievingly. He paused, self-assurance building as he commanded, “Look me in the eye and tell me that, if it is so. If you can.”
Loki stared at him, gaze haunted and sharp, but his voice remained stubbornly silent.
And as Thor’s words grew louder, Loki’s head dropped, eyes sliding towards the floor.
Not long ago he would’ve had the strength to argue. He would have mocked every word. But he was a serpent drained of venom, without fangs, without even the drive left to hiss and rattle its coils. He was sick without and within; he was a shell. All Loki wanted to do was bury his head in his hands and die.
“Why is it seems you aim towards nothing more than driving yourself to misery? For all your talk of superiority, and conquest, and amusement – all you ever do is ensure that you are alone.”
“Stop,” Loki protested in a hollow whisper.
“Do you even remember what happiness feels like?” Thor pressed, unrelenting. “Can you look at me, then, and claim that much to be true?”
“Stop,” Loki cried, giving Thor what he wanted at least in that he lifted his head toward him.
“What?” Thor said. “What’s wrong – why will you not even speak to me? Are you that afraid of my being proved right?”
“I do not wish to talk to you, because it’s the same argument, and I’m tired of having it over and over,” Loki retorted, shrill with desperation. His voice wavered, eyes tearing. “What does it take to convince you? Why can’t you listen when I tell you it can never be?”
Thor seemed moved enough by Loki’s distress that he dropped the more hostile part of his attitude. His eyes were wide, voice softer. “Why not? What’s to prevent you from trying? No one ever said it would be easy, but-”
Loki drew breath in a disbelieving laugh. “Oh no?” He found the strength in indignation to push himself with one hand to his feet.
He stalked past Thor, gazing across one shoulder before whirling around more sharply. “Isn’t that as good as what you said, when you carried me here? What you implied with every insistence that I was being a fool? ‘Everything will be right again, Loki – you’ll see!’”
Thor cringed, knowing he was right.
“But no. I would have to live every day surrounded by those who felt me a traitor, knowing what they thought of me. Having to be around constant reminders of my failings.” Loki inhaled, sneering. “Having to try and divorce myself from my shame, and guilt, and rage, when the symbols of it threatened to choke me. I would have to turn my back on my pride. Sacrifice what little remains of my self-worth.”
His expression fell, eyelids lowering with the defeated exhaustion of what he was saying. “No, brother,” he concluded, “it is impossible.”
Redemption. Succor. Satisfaction. Destined to be forever behind his reach. All could be washed and come clean, but not him; never him.
Thor was silent a moment before saying, gentle but insistent, “You don’t think it would be worth it? To not have to run anymore? Or fight those who would rather not fight you?”
Loki’s hand pressed to his brow, not so much massaging it as digging at his skin. “Why can you never make things easy for me?”
“Because I won’t be driven to hate you!” Thor declared, hotly. “No matter how hard you try.”
Loki smiled in a feral way, eyes narrowing with a glint of ragged insanity. “I would be wary of making that a challenge.”
“Enough, Loki – enough! Enough of the declarations, and the cruel jests.” Thor moved in on him, and Loki’s smirk fell as he saw the look in his eyes.
“You can do all that you like, to me and my friends and any innocent you come against. And I will rail at your misdeeds, and be enraged that you have stooped so low, but I will never hate you.” Thor paused for breath. “I can’t understand why you would even try.”
“Because it would be so much easier,” Loki said feebly, miserable.
At that Thor smiled – a strained version of his usual grin. “No it wouldn’t,” he rebuked. “Because then only one of us would love the other, and you’d truly be alone.”
“I was meant to be alone,” Loki insisted, stepping back as if to duck an oncoming embrace. “If you have any mercy at all, I beg of you, just stop. Let me go.”
“I will never let you go.” Thor still smiled at him, eyes shining. “You are my brother, and I can’t stop worrying, or wishing for your happiness, any more than I could shake the many stars out of the sky.” His words grew impassioned. “Don’t you see? After all these years, do you still feel insult when I rush to defend you…when having others willing to fight on your behalf is not a sign of weakness, but of worth.”
Loki shook his head again. He moved farther away, bent forward as he covered his face with both hands.
He felt like he was waging a physical war. Every argument beat him down even further, until he was left hanging on by his fingernails. He was proud, he was hurt; he was so very lonely. Both hate and love caused him to suffer in equal amounts.
He couldn’t give in but neither could he make himself walk away.
And Thor kept on, as tireless and unwavering as the stormy winds he commanded.
“You’ve no idea how hard Father worked, to convince our people it was right he should spare you. And Mother never hesitated in her feelings, even for all the times she was brought word of what you’ve done. You speak of being ill-used by our family: but our parents love you, and want you back. The only thing standing in the way is you.”
Thor gestured forcibly with his fists, artless but no less sincere.
“I entreat you, on their behalf, on mine…and if what you’ve claimed is true, and the only interest you think to satisfy anymore is your own, then by all means, do it for yourself.”
Loki couldn’t face him. His head shook slowly as he tried to find some sense within himself.
“I can’t,” he tried, confused and wracked by anguish. “I don’t-”
I am broken. I am sick. Born a monster and raised a worthless second son. Destined to hurt everyone who ever loved me, and unable to trust because I cannot trust myself.
But the words refused to come and Loki was left gasping and pleading in silence. The most he could manage was, “You can’t begin to understand what it is you’re asking of me!”
Thor watched his brother struggle, watched the torment across his face. Finally he said, quiet and with unerring calm, “Not so very long ago it was I who was cast out, bereft of home and ally and left to wander, until I could face what it meant, knowing I was wrong. I paid the price of humility, dearly bought and unpleasant to suffer, to regain what I’d lost. Remember?”
Loki stared. He would have smiled were it not so horrible. “You,” he began slowly, “would actually compare-”
“And why not?” Thor interrupted boisterously.
He stepped close to lay a hand on Loki’s shoulder, and Loki had not the strength to pull away. Emotion and doubt had gutted him. He couldn’t understand how his legs still held up his body.
“For all that you and I are the exact opposite, so too are we very alike.”
Loki wrenched away from Thor’s gaze, fighting back the conspiratorial grin that against all odds wanted to rise to match his brother’s.
A lifetime of habits. For all he’d pulled away that piece of him would always belong to Thor. It wasn’t fair.
“We have the same determination,” Thor continued, oblivious or uncaring; it was always impossible to tell. “And though you’ve oft complained of me being so set in my ways, you are stubborn as well.”
Loki wanted to argue but in that moment was terrified that if he opened his mouth, what would come out was the playful bickering they’d exchanged so often as siblings.
Thor grinned, as if he could read his mind. But his mirth didn’t reach his eyes; still hurt and beseeching. “We have always been it seems like two halves to one whole.” His head shook faintly. “That’s why in spite of all that I have seen and done in my time on Earth, the things I have learned and the friends I have met, my happiness has never been complete. I can enjoy nothing when you aren’t with me to share it.”
Good, Loki should’ve said. He should’ve laughed and told Thor that was exactly what he wanted, for him to suffer. But he didn’t.
He couldn’t become angry enough. He couldn’t make himself want to.
Pulling out from Thor’s touch he stepped backwards, as unable to turn away as he was to bear the closeness any longer. Loki’s arms folded, fingers curling around biceps.
Thor watched him carefully, waiting for him to say something. But Loki didn’t know what to say.
It was a terrifying experience for him – not knowing what to say.
“It won’t just go away, Thor,” he said at last, words harsh and choked out. “Things like this, they never go away. You can’t will them to be gone. It takes-”
“Time?” Thor finished. “That doesn’t prevent you from starting. The sooner it begins, the sooner it can be done with, one small step at a time. Is it not so?”
Whatever little control Loki had regained over his speech left again. He held his breath for fear of the sounds he might make.
“If you do try, could things become any worse for you than they are now?” Thor asked.
The stiffness in Loki’s shoulders vanished with fatigue and surrender. His head dropped.
“I am…so tired,” he murmured, barely aware of what he was saying.
He once had such disdain for mortals, whose lives paced only fractions of centuries and then were gone. And yet a year and half had drained him as if it waged on forever. This game, blood feuds and vengeance played out with armies and worlds, had made him sick and empty at heart. Was that how he’d wanted it to be?
“Then rest, my brother,” Thor offered. His tone was plaintive. “Do whatever it is you need.”
How could he make it sound so easy? Like all one had to do was give in.
Loki remained where he was; he didn’t approach Thor again but neither did he try to flee from him. He let his eyes fall closed and stayed completely quiet.
For once there was nothing more he could say.
When he was alone again, after Thor left once more, Loki went and stood beside one wall, leaning his back into it so he could remain upright without constantly having to focus and remind himself of the sensation. He pressed his thumb and the tip of one finger over his lips, tapping absently against pale skin.
His head felt feverish inside. Ideas and feelings flitted by too fast to be fully realized, following each other on spiraling paths that made no sense.
He couldn’t remember the last he’d had a choice to make: a real choice, versus something grabbed onto for spite.
Bow his head, take a knee, and be forced into the role of dutiful son and servant. But do so knowing that he could lay his burden down, release his grudge. That one day, possibly, he might feel happy again.
Or stay with head held high and turn his back on those seeking his forgiveness, walk out to the life he’d made. The life he despised and reveled in despising, where victory meant causing others pain, and at best could only be bittersweet.
The sacrifice for keeping his pride was placing his own heart on the altar and taking a knife to it.
And once Loki would’ve paid that price, and gladly. Done it with a sense of cold victory in his chest and a tight smirk on his face, and called it ‘freedom’.
Loki pushed away from the wall and called out, summoning someone to come attend him. He asked for water.
After his request had been met he ignored the chalice sitting on the tray left for him and lifted the jug straight to his mouth, drinking until his headache was gone and the vessel was dry.
Then he lay down on his bed, closed his eyes and slept.
He was unsure how much time had passed when he awoke, but he would be surprised if it was anything less than days.
His mind was quiet. He felt so much lighter but also empty, uncertain.
He pulled the curtains aside and went out on the balcony and put his hands on the rail, looking out across the familiar gleam of Asgard’s skyline. The sun felt warm, and a gentle breeze ruffled his hair and caressed the back of his neck.
It felt like he was still waking up, very slowly.
Eventually he became aware that there was someone standing behind him.
Loki slowly turned to look, knowing already what he would see. The All-Father waited patiently with his wife beside him, Thor standing behind them and slightly off to one side.
And Loki allowed himself to look at his family’s faces, to truly meet them in the eye.
Frigga’s arms were already opening as he ran to her, a gentle smile on her face as he embraced her, pressing his face against his mother as he sobbed. She stroked his hair, her other arm enfolding him tight. Odin reached to rest one hand firmly on his son’s shoulder.
“Welcome home,” Thor said again proudly.
And this time, it was real.