Loki tired of being back in Asgard approximately three hours after he arrived. At first, the looks of mingled anger and fear from nearly everyone he passed were entertaining. Actually, they were still entertaining. If the entirety of Asgard would have looked at him that way, Loki was fairly sure he could have spent months amusing himself. If he could not be their king, he was content to be their boogeyman.
But Odin looked at him with disappointed condemnation. Frigga looked at him with a sorrow so deep that Loki couldn’t meet her eyes. Sif and the Warriors Three stared with varying mixtures of hurt and betrayal. And Thor…
Loki would have avoided speaking to Thor if he could have. He could not, because Thor came to visit him every day in his cell and refused to stop. Loki had tried screaming the worst insults imaginable at him. He had tried not speaking. He had tried physically attacking Thor. Nothing worked. Oh, Thor might storm out of the cell, or rain curses and fury down on Loki, but he was always back the next day.
Until one day, he wasn’t. Three months, two weeks, and five days into Loki’s imprisonment, Thor was late. He usually visited Loki sometime after midday, and if Loki didn’t do anything to chase him off, would stay until just before dinner. But the day passed and Thor was nowhere to be seen. Loki worried, and was furious at this worry.
It was Thor’s fault. Although he was not Loki’s only visitor, he was by far the most persistent, and Loki had come to expect his presence the way he expected the sunrise. And now that sunrise had not come, and Loki could not help but worry that something was very wrong.
Which was why he nearly seethed with fury when Thor walked in the door shortly after dinner, dressed in Midgardian clothes and carrying a plastic bag.
“Hello, brother!” Thor said, even more cheerful than usual. It did nothing to help Loki’s mood.
“Putting the Tesseract’s energy to good use, I see,” Loki sneered.
“I wished to check in on my friends,” Thor said, and that just infuriated Loki further. That Thor could call that band of lunatics and idiots his friends was disgraceful. “I was not able to see them all, but Tony Stark insisted that we see one of their Midgardian dramas projected onto a screen. I brought you back a snack.”
“I don’t want it.”
“Yes, you do,” Thor said, cajoling. He sat down on the cushioned bench that stretched out from the windowsill and tossed the bag to Loki.
Loki caught it more from instinct than anything else and stared down at it. Through the clear plastic, small puffs of yellow and white crunched against each other. “What is it?”
“Corn kernels, heated until they explode and coated with butter and salt,” Thor said. “They are delicious.”
“I doubt it,” Loki said, tossing the bag aside onto the bed and glaring at Thor. “So tell me, how is Midgard? Still cleaning up the dead?”
Thor looked at him, lips tight and expression disappointed. “Where did this cruelty spring from, brother? You were not always kind, but you were never cruel.”
Loki laughed, high and wild, and threw the nearest book at Thor’s face. It didn’t connect (of course it didn’t), but he felt better as he hissed, “How would you know? You only ever notice me when I’m causing trouble for you.”
“You know that isn’t true,” Thor said, in a patient tone he hadn’t possessed before his banishment. “Loki, I know that I have not always been the best brother to you, or the best friend, but whatever those creatures did to you-”
“Get out!” Loki growled, tossing a bolt of magic towards Thor. It would do little more than sting briefly, the wards around his cell ensured that, but it was satisfying nonetheless.
Thor looked at him, the magic still crackling across his shoulders, and then got up with a sigh. At the doorway, he paused. “I will not be visiting tomorrow.”
That startled Loki out of his fury, and he just barely kept himself from asking why.
“I am going on a hunting trip.” Thor hadn’t turned to look at him. “It should not take long, however.”
Then he was gone, and Loki was left contemplating the scorch mark his magic had left on the wall next to Thor.
Without Thor’s visit to mark the time, the day passed slowly. Loki’s cell had windows, of course, high and arching and giving him a lovely view of the Bifrost that was still under repair. But watching the sun arc through the sky was hardly entertaining. He paced, and he read, and he paced more.
Loki’s cell was not actually that bad, he was forced to admit in rare moments of self-honesty. It was nothing like the suite of rooms he had lived in as a prince, possessing none of the elegance and personal touches that he’d become used to. It was just one room with a tiny, separate room for the privy, and a small garden with very high walls. It was comfortable, but ultimately utilitarian. The combined weight of his favorite books (brought by Fath-by Odin) made the lone bookshelf sag. The wardrobe only had room for about half of his clothes (mostly his favorites, brought by Frigga). The trinkets he’d collected from around the nine realms (brought by Thor) had reduced the desk to a cluttered storage space.
He would have to live in this room for 300 years.
-“You have no right to impose any kind of punishment on me,” Loki snarled up at Odin. “I’m not a citizen of Asgard.”
“Would you prefer to be given to the Jotuns?” Odin asked, face impassive. He looked as imposing as ever upon the throne, sending a thousand different emotions skittering through Loki’s heart. “I do not believe they know of your role in Laufey’s death, but I doubt they would be overly welcoming, given that it was your plan that sent him into Asgard. And they have been informed who sent the Bifrost through their capital.”
Loki absolutely did not want to be sent to Jotunheim, even though he was fairly sure that Fathe-that Odin was bluffing. He tried a different tactic instead. “Why so lenient, Allfather? There was a time when invoking your wrath would guarantee years of agony. I killed your shining firstborn, and all you’re going to do is lock me in a cell? Going soft in your old age?”
“You aren’t being punished for the actions you took during Thor’s banishment,” Odin said, something immeasurably sad flashing across his face for a moment. “You were not well, and should not have been given so much power so soon after…”
“After you finally told me the truth?” Loki spat.
“While you were in a vulnerable state,” Odin amended. “You are being punished for your attempt at taking over Earth.”
“As if you care one whit for the humans!” Loki snapped, surging against the magic that bound him into a kneeling position. “You would never have noticed my presence on that backwater if Thor hadn’t been so pathetically fond of it!”
“You are responsible for the deaths of thousands of people,” Odin said, growing more rigid the longer he spoke. He was drawing on that royal image, Loki knew. “Innocents, Loki, a people who we have never had any quarrel with. Some of our nobles are calling for your blood.”
“I’m surprised you aren’t,” Loki said, voice low and sibilant. He was shaking, he realized distantly. His stomach was churning.
Odin’s face was inscrutable when he said, “Thor suspects that you have been brutalized by the creatures-”
“Since when do you listen to Thor about anything!” Loki howled. Actually howled, like a wounded animal, and he had the strangely calm though that maybe something really was wrong with him. He’d been having that thought more and more, the longer he was in custody.
“-he suspects you were brutalized and not in your right mind,” Odin finished, anger flashing in his eye. “His argument was compelling. You have him to thank for the leniency of your sentence.”
“Because you have no more reason to pretend to care for me?” Loki said.
“Because you are my son and I expect better!” Odin snapped, finally unleashing the shout that had clearly been building in him for the entire conversation. “Because I did not raise a monster! By the Norns, Loki, I thought I was leaving the kingdom in wise hands, and I awoke to find that Thor had been killed, the Bifrost shattered, and Jotunheim’s palace was in ruins. I expect better of you. And then you attack Earth, and for what purpose? To make your brother upset? These are the acts of a petulant child, not a king! Not my son!”
“You are not my father,” Loki growled, voice low and almost animalistic.
Odin was silent for a long moment, his expression inscrutable. “If that is what you wish. But I am still your king.”-
Loki had been in the cell ever since, aside from weekly walks outside. Within the cell, he could still use his magic, though it was muted and near useless for anything besides bright flashes and little tricks. Odin’s magic was strong, and it wrapped around the cell like a fortress. Loki flicked at it sometimes, just to see the ruins blaze gold.
Outside the cell, his magic was bound completely, as he was never let out without heavy gold cuffs, also laced with Odin’s enchantments. Not just Odin’s, either; Loki recognized the spellcraft of some of the best mages in Asgard. Odin was taking no chances, apparently.
Thor’s hunting trip lasted three days. Frigga visited on the second day and the two of them sat together, making idle chitchat and pointedly not discussing anything important. The only unexpected moment came when Loki asked about Thor’s hunting trip.
“Hmm?” Frigga said, a look of confusion flashing across her face for a split second before it was smoothed away. “Oh, yes. Hopefully, he’ll bring back something interesting.”
Loki knew that tone and recognized that confused look. A lie, hastily covered up. Thor had lied to him. Loki’s hands curled into fists. He was probably in Midgard, then, bending his little mortal tart over something. Loki did not sulk, he was above sulking. But if he was more withdrawn and snappish than usual over the next day…well, he couldn’t be blamed.
Somehow, Midgard had come to mean more to Thor than anything else.
Loki had prepared all manner of snide comments for when Thor returned, and they all fell away when Thor finally appeared in his cell. His skin had a harsh, red tinge to it that meant a sunburn, and there was a gash in his forehead that must have gone down to the bone. The wound had been stitched and aloe had been rubbed into the burn, but it was still startling to see. Thor had apparently not been on Midgard after all, because there was nothing on that planet that could do this to Thor.
“Thor?” Loki said, sitting up from where he was sprawled across the window seat.
“No worries, brother,” Thor said, sitting down beside Loki and leaning back with a tired sigh. He looked incredibly satisfied, that was the strangest part. It was the kind of bone deep weariness mixed with contentment that Loki had only ever seen on his brother a few times, usually after a particularly intense fight.
“How was the trip?” Loki asked, staring down at Thor. This close, his brother was giving off heat like a fire.
“Perfect,” Thor answered, his eyes closed. “It went perfectly.”
And then the giant oaf fell asleep half on top of Loki and refused to be roused, no matter how many times Loki kicked him. He finally gave up and let Thor sleep on the window seat while he curled up in bed. It was a bit like being a child again, building little fortresses out of the furniture and then taking a well-deserved nap in them. Loki didn’t mind those memories. They were safer, and he could lose himself in them without a thousand poisonous thoughts flooding in.
When he woke the next morning, Thor was gone.
Thor’s trips became more frequent, and Loki became less satisfied with any explanation of hunting expeditions or searching for treasure. Thor rarely did any of that without his little band of lackeys, and they were always around to eye Loki distastefully. Moreover, Thor often came back with bloody cuts and deep bruises. For a normal Asgardian, this would not be so strange, but this was Thor. He seemed to be able to pass through the worst of battles with little more than scuffed armor. Whatever he was doing, it was not a mere hunting trip.
Loki knew his instincts had been right the first time; Thor was lying to him.
Thor was, frankly, not allowed to have secrets. Loki had made this a policy early on, and generally it wasn’t a problem. Most of the time, Thor scoffed at even the concept of secrecy. The few times he had tried, Loki was usually able to figure it out within the day. The idea of Thor keeping a secret successfully, from Loki of all people, was laughable.
And yet, five more trips passed and Loki still had no idea what his brother was doing. This wasn’t only strange, it was frankly insulting. Thor deflected all of Loki’s questions with a cheerful insistence that he had no idea what Loki was talking about, and the most annoying part of that tactic was that it worked. Loki had no trump card he could use to surprise the knowledge out of Thor, and throwing out informed guesses was equally fruitless.
It was time to move on to Thor’s friends.
Sif and Hogun were both out. They had made it clear that they visited because Thor felt Loki needed company, and that was it. Loki and Hogun occasionally sat in silence, reading, but it was never a comfortable silence. Sif usually suggested sparring, and she and Loki used it as an excuse to beat each other black and blue. Neither of them would engage him in any deep conversation. It would need to be Fandral or Volstagg, and Loki was not picky.
Fandral was the one to visit him next, when Thor went on one of his trips. He and Loki exchanged pleasantries and random bits of palace gossip. They had always gotten along well enough, both of them used to charming their way in and out of bad situations. If he was going to get the truth of Thor’s comings and goings from someone, Fandral was as good a bet as any.
“So, where has my brother wandered off to?” Loki asked, taking care to make sure his tone was bored. “I’ve never known him to leave when Idunn’s apples are nearly ready for harvest.”
“He’s checking in on his friends in Midgard,” Fandral said, flicking through one of Loki’s astronomy books with disinterest. “They’re a likeable sort, but they find their way into trouble very often, it seems.”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Does it bore you, the way he dotes on that realm?”
Fandral shrugged. “It is not the most exciting of places, but it has its charms.”
“Oh, don’t tell me they’ve gotten to you as well,” Loki said, making sure to put a sneer in his voice.
“Gotten to me?” Fandral said, raising an eyebrow and putting down the book.
“Stop pretending as if Midgard has some great value to add to the nine realms,” Loki said, propping his elbows on his crossed knees. “That realm has always been stagnant and boring, and Earth is the worst of it. You all try to act as if I committed some great crime, trying to bring enlightenment to those apes.”
“The way I heard it, you actually tried to forcibly take over their planet,” Fandral said, arms crossed. “And you did it just to upset Thor.”
“You of all people should know better than to believe everything you’re told.” Take the bait, take the bait, Loki added silently. Fandral’s curiosity would surely lead him down the road Loki wanted him to take.
“And your version of events would be so much more true?” Fandral said, expression wary.
Loki looked to the side, schooling his expression to reflect great inner turmoil and perhaps a bit of shame. “Fandral…you know of my true heritage by now.”
Fandral looked startled. “Loki, I-”
“No,” Loki said, shaking his head sharply. “No, don’t offer…whatever it is you might want to offer. Condolences or reassurances, none of it is any use to me now.” He looked down, letting his shoulders slump forward as if in despair. “I am a failed project, and I’ve been shelved and tucked away, the way all failed projects are. I should count myself lucky that I was not destroyed.”
“What are you talking about?” Fandral said, coming closer. Reeled in.
“Odin is wise, and cunning,” Loki said, smile wry and a little desperate. “I was a fool to think I was more cunning. But I needed a bolt hole, someplace safe that I could call my own. Jotunheim was never an option, and Asgard…”
Fandral said nothing as Loki spoke, which was a good sign. Easier to spin a web around him if he was not making objections all the while.
“He told me he wanted to unite our kingdoms one day, Jotunheim and Asgard under the Allfather’s watchful eye.” Loki let a bitter laugh out. “He meant for me to be a puppet, locked away in an icy palace and dancing on his strings. I panicked, Fandral. I was not myself, and all I could think was that Earth would be safe. No one would look for me there.”
“You tried to take it over, that’s just a tad noticeable,” Fandral said, but Loki could hear the note of doubt in his voice. He fought back a smile.
“I was a king, once,” Loki said, self-deprecating. “I wanted what was due to me.” He ran his hands through his hair, leaving it in disarray. “It was not very smart, in retrospect. But make no mistake, Midgard is an excuse.” Loki clenched his jaw. “It makes me sick to see Thor falling for it because of his affection for that pathetic place.”
Loki had no particular endgame in mind for the tale he was spinning for Fandral, but he didn’t need one. If Fandral believed him, concern for Thor would doubtlessly lead to him revealing the truth about Thor’s little journeys eventually. If Fandral didn’t believe him, well…Loki would have planted seeds of doubt about Odin. And that might be just as satisfying.
Fandral was staring at a point just over Loki’s shoulder, apparently deep in thought. After a long, quiet moment, he said, “None of us can know the Allfather’s mind. All we have is what he tells us.”
Loki tilted his head, not sure of that answer. “Yes, that’s why-”
“I watched you kill Thor on Midgard,” Fandral said, and his eyes locked on Loki then. There was an obvious anger in them that Loki was unused to seeing, since Fandral’s emotions normally ranged between jovial, lustful, and drunk. “After you tried to kill us.”
“Fandral, I already-”
“I watched my friend get knocked to the ground, bloody and shattered,” Fandral said, his hands going white-knuckled around the spine of the astronomy book. “And he didn’t get back up. I waited for him to get back up, and he didn’t, and I realized that my friend was dead.”
Loki sat rigid, at loss for words. This was not going at all as he’d planned.
“And then his hammer came flying to him, and he got back up after all,” Fandral said, fists relaxing and something that could be mistaken for a breezy smile crossing his face. “All was well, for the most part. But I still think of it, sometimes, and I cannot shake that dark, terrible memory. And I wonder, Liesmith, how many people on Earth went through that too during your little invasion. I wonder how many people watched their friends hit the ground and waited for them to get up. But their friends were not Thor, and so they buried them instead. I do not care why Odin is keeping you locked up, because you deserve it and never think otherwise.”
Loki had to fight back a flinch.
“With your leave, I think I will cut my visit short,” Fandral said, not looking at Loki at all as he stalked over to the door. He let it swing shut after him with a slam, leaving Loki alone.
Well. That had not gone well. Not at all.
It was time to move onto more unconventional means.
Loki’s first thought was to summon Amora, but he dismissed the idea quickly. She had been banned from the palace after…an incident a decade ago on the Winter Solstice. While Frigga or Odin may have been willing to let her in, they would certainly supervise the visit, which would rather defeat the purpose.
One of his old classmates, then. Preferably one who owed him a favor.
After some deliberation, Loki decided on Hallveig Tindrsdotter. She had been the best of them at scrying by far, and if anyone could arrange something discrete, it would be her. Loki sent her a note asking her to come to the palace for a visit. He was well aware that his pa-that Odin and Frigga would carefully look over any messages Loki tried to send, looking for some evidence of trickery. Sure enough, only an hour after Loki asked for a message to be sent to Hallveig, Frigga appeared at the door of his cell.
“Am I not allowed to have old friends visit?” Loki said, crossing his arms and looking hurt.
“You have friends that visit you,” Frigga said, hands folded in her lap.
Loki sneered. “Thor’s friends visit me because he tells them to. I’d like to speak to someone who actually likes me, and since Thor no longer sees fit to visit, I’ll have to look elsewhere.”
“Your brother is doing important work.”
“Midgard,” Frigga said, tone infinitely patient. “Now that they are aware of us, establishing a good rapport is important. And you know how Thor loves it there.”
“Yes, it would be horrible for them to know the truth, that there is an entire world of inherently superior people who have the power to crush them and only lack the motivation.” Loki made a show of examining his nails. “Why are you here, Mother?”
Frigga sighed. “We would prefer if you didn’t invite mages to visit, Loki.”
“So Odin’s not so sure of his spells after all.”
Frigga gave him a look that indicated she was losing patience with all of this nonsense. It was a look Loki was intimately familiar with, and an apology nearly spilled from his lips. But he was not a child anymore. Instead, he said, “Mother, nothing but the tiniest of spells can be cast in this room, regardless of who is casting them. If one of the best mages in the nine realms cannot break free, then what could one of my old schoolmates possibly do?”
Loki’s tone was entirely reasonable, and his face betrayed nothing but honest frustration. For once, he wasn’t lying. He was not trying to escape, after all. Frigga stared at him for a long moment, like she was searching for some hint of what was really going on, and then she just nodded.
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll talk to your father.”
When Thor visited that afternoon, he was distracted. Loki had suggested chess, simply because he always won when playing against Thor, but his brother wasn’t even trying. He stared at the board with distant eyes, his chin cupped in his hand. When he moved his pieces, it was haphazard and without interest or strategy. Finally, it was too much for Loki, and he sent out a spark of magic which knocked over all of the pieces.
“Hmm?” Thor said, finally looking down at the board. “Oh, what was that for?”
“I would prefer you actually be paying attention during our games, Thor,” Loki said, sprawling back in his chair. “They are very boring, otherwise.”
“I’m sorry. I have much on my mind, and have had very little time to think about it all.”
Loki had a dozen rude responses thought up within the minute, but he settled on a noncommittal, “Would you like to talk about it?”
“No,” Thor said, tapping his fingers on his knee. “I did have a question for you, though.”
“Have you tried turning into a Jotun again? Since you…found out.”
Loki certainly hadn’t seen that question coming, and it rendered him speechless. But he was never speechless for long, and when he found his words again, they came out with a hiss of rage. “Excuse me?”
Thor remained calm in the face of Loki’s fury, and that more than anything else showed just how much the past few months had changed them. It should have been Thor raging impotently at some slight while Loki looked on, face unreadable. That was the way things worked, damn it all.
“I meant no offense, brother. I was just curious. Father mentioned that you were able to switch appearances by means other than your usual magic. I just wondered-”
“Wondered what the cuckoo who’d been living in your nest all this time really looked like?” Loki spat, rising out of his seat and slamming his hands down on the table. The board rattled, chess pieces falling to the floor with a clatter. He felt furious, so furious that it was choking him.
He wanted to scream, or run, or burn Thor alive from the inside out.
Thor rose from his seat as well, movements slow and steady. “I wish you wouldn’t twist my words this way.”
He heard Odin’s voice echoing in Thor’s words, saw his father falling to the ground from the force of Loki’s rage as the Odinsleep took him. Even worse, he saw Odin in Thor for a moment, in the line of his jaw and the curve of his nose. In the knowing, tired lines around his eyes. For a long, terrible stretch of time (that felt like forever but could only have taken seconds), Loki saw Thor’s future as a king, one that didn’t include his twisted and forgotten not-brother at all.
Loki felt something in him snap, like wings unfurling suddenly. The small, icy core within him that Loki had kept under careful control since its untimely discovery exploded outward, cold racing across his skin. Loki lunged over the table, forcing his brother backwards with a shove. Ice crawled across his hands and formed into blades, like oversized, razor sharp icicles, and he slammed them against the stone on either side of Thor’s head. It was only then that he realized he’d backed his brother up against the wall of the cell, pinning him there. As much as anyone could ever pin Thor, anyway.
“There!” Loki hissed, breath coming out in an icy mist. “There, Odinson, are you happy now?! Now that you see what I really am, does it reassure you of how right you are in plotting against me, you-”
Loki’s tirade trailed off into silence as Thor reached up, his hand slow and unsure. He laid his fingers against Loki’s cheek, only to yank them back rapidly as the cold began to freeze his fingertips.
“You look the same,” was all Thor said, rubbing his fingers absently while staring at Loki.
“What?” Thor needed to stop doing unexpected things, it was throwing off all of Loki’s equilibrium.
“I worried…when Father told me that you could look like a Jotun, I feared that you would be unrecognizable in that form,” Thor said. He was gazing at Loki’s face in fascination. “I was unsure that I could bear it. But you still look like yourself. Just more blue.”
“I am a shapeshifter,” Loki said, not letting the unsteadiness he felt creep into his voice. He shook the ice away from his hands, large chips of it flaking off onto the floor. “That doubtlessly has something to do with it.”
Thor was still staring at him with a intent expression. It reminded Loki of when they were children and Thor had received a new toy. The weariness that spoke of too many responsibilities and tragedies was gone, though, and Loki found that oddly reassuring. He let out an indignant huff of breath as Thor settled a hand on top of his head. His hair apparently shielded Aesir flesh from the cold, because Thor didn’t end up with frostbite.
“You are so short for a frost giant,” Thor said, a teasing smile crossing his face.
Loki sneered and stepped away from his brother, forcing his skin back to its normal state. It was a relief to watch the blue fade away. “You’re just as short, compared to them.”
“Oh, come now, it was only a jest,” Thor said, pushing off the wall with a smile. “Let us finish our game, then?”
“All the pieces are on the floor.”
Thor knelt to scoop them up in one giant hand, brushing away the melting ice. “We’ll start a new one, then.”
Thor and Loki are playing tafl, also known as Hnefatafl or 'Viking chess'. They've certainly encountered regular chess too, but I like to think that tafl remain popular in Asgard.
You can even play online here: http://aagenielsen.dk/hnefatafl_online.php)
Hallveig arrived four days later, escorted into Loki’s cell by an entire squad of soldiers. They searched Loki’s cell up and down before finally allowing her in and closing the door behind them, the lock clicking into place.
“That was a warm welcome,” Hallveig said, drawing back the hood of her travelling cloak to reveal her red hair pulled back tightly into a bun. She hadn’t changed her hairstyle since their school days, it seemed.
“It took you long enough to arrive.”
“I’ve set up shop by the Eastern Mountains,” Hallveig said. She sat down in the window seat, brushing out the folds of her dress primly. “It would have taken me two weeks to arrive if I hadn’t hurried. But when an imprisoned prince summons you, you make haste. Now what do you want, Silvertongue?”
She hadn’t lost her brusqueness, either. Good. Loki was not in the mood to be overly polite. He explained that he needed a scrying potion, one that could last him for quite a while. Even people without a hint of magic in them could use scrying potions; all the magic was involved in making it, and all a user had to do was drop it on some reflective surface. If any magic could get around Odin’s barriers, it was a scrying potion. Hallveig seemed entirely willing to go along with this act of minor treason, until Loki mentioned that he would be spying on Thor.
Hallveig glanced out the window, lips pressed tight, and said, “I won’t be involved in a murder.”
Loki raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“I am not going to be a part of a plot to kill the crown prince of Asgard. Your cell is very nice. Mine certainly won’t be.”
Loki wondered, not for the first time, just how much the common person knew about his attempts at killing Thor. He was tempted to ask, but didn’t want to give Hallveig that kind of leverage over him. Bad enough that he was reduced to asking for someone else’s magic, he was hardly going to admit to not knowing something. Instead, he just said, “Hallveig, I give you my word that I’m not trying to kill Thor. I just want to know what he’s doing. Can’t a brother be curious?”
Hallveig stared at Loki for at least half a minute, face sterner and even less amused than usual. At the end, she sighed and said, “I would try to make you swear on all manner of sacred things, but if you can still twist promises around the way you did in school, it would all be for naught. Very well. I will help you. You’ll owe me a substantial favor, though.”
“Of course,” Loki said, smiling widely. “Here, you’ll need something of his.”
Loki leaned over and pulled a smooth, grey stone from one of the desk drawers. A lock of long, soft blonde hair was tied around it, a bit of blood and skin still clinging to the roots. Picking a fight with Thor had been easy and strangely comforting. It felt like old times, with Loki poking and prodding until his brother finally tackled him to the floor. Thor had ended up pinning him, of course, but not before Loki managed to rip out a chunk of hair.
Hallveig took the stone with a look of distaste, her expression indicating she had a good idea of how Loki had acquired a bloody chunk of his brother’s hair. “I hope my boys don’t turn out like you two.”
“You have children?” Loki asked, surprised. He had not kept up with the lives of most of his classmates after school. It was strange to think of them as having families and careers, when they were still just children in his memories.
“Two little boys,” Hallveig said, smiling fondly. “Little brutes, the both of them. My husband is hoping for a girl next, to balance their nonsense out. Anyway, I assume you want me to put this potion together on the lunar eclipse?”
“Yes,” Loki said, shaking his head to force away useless thoughts about family. Magic was particularly strong and easy to wield during astronomical events, even ones as relatively commonplace as a lunar eclipse. The one occurring in two days would be ideal. “Wait a few days after to bring it to me, though. I don’t want my family suspecting.”
“As you like,” Hallveig said, slipping the stone into the pocket of her cloak before she departed.
But his family did suspect something, that much was obvious. On the night of the lunar eclipse, an hour after dinner, there was a knock at the door of his cell. Loki eyed it suspiciously, his suspicions only increasing when Odin walked in.
“I’d have assumed you’d be using the eclipse to strengthen all the wards around my cell,” Loki said, not bothering to greet his father. He stood up, feeling uncomfortable sprawling on the bed while Odin was there.
“I thought I might visit you instead,” Odin said. “It has been half a month since we last spoke.”
“Trying to make sure I’m not up to anything?” Loki asked, smiling thinly.
Odin just sighed and walked over to the window. The eclipse was already underway, the planet’s shadow darkening the surface of the moon.
“You are really going to stay?”
“I thought we might talk.”
“Ah. So, why did you choose Thor over me?” Loki asked, because why not ask it? If Odin was going to impose on him, Loki owed it to the old man to make him uncomfortable. “You can prattle on all you want about how he has learned humility and dignity, but when you were preparing to crown him, he was a danger to himself and everyone around him. Why give him a gift that he never deserved?”
Odin turned to look at Loki, his expression sad. Odin always looked so sad these days, whenever he saw Loki. It was infuriating. “It was not a gift that I gave Thor. I was condemning him.”
Loki sneered, his lips curling back off his teeth. “Are you honestly going to try-”
“Do you know what it is to be king, Loki?” Odin’s gaze sharpened. “When the rush of it wears away?”
Loki was silent.
“You do not,” Odin said. “So, just this once, listen to your elders and I will tell you what it’s like.”
Loki just swallowed and tilted his chin up. Having the full force of his father’s attention on him was always intimidating. Like being caught beneath all the power of the sun, Thor had said once.
“It is a sword hanging over your head, constantly,” Odin said. His fingers tapped out an almost silent pattern on Gungnir. “When you eat, when you sleep, when you make love, it is always there. It is like chains wrapping around you, and with every decision you make, they grow ever tighter. It is like being pinned on the branches of some great tree, with all the world watching and judging you as you hang there, bare and afraid. It is not a blessing.”
“You make shit sound so very eloquent when it spills from your tongue,” Loki said, voice tight and angry. “I’d say I inherited it from you, but we both know that can’t be the case.”
Odin’s lips quirked up, just the tiniest bit. “Do you know what your mother used to say, when word would reach us of some trick you had pulled? ‘He reminds me of you.’ And it was very strange, because despite not being related by blood, you were so much like me.”
Loki schooled his expression into something resembling boredom, but it was difficult. He had never heard this before.
“We would likely have been friends, before I was king,” Odin said. He turned his gaze out to the window, where the planet’s shadow had finally covered the moon completely. “I cared little for what society wanted of me. I wanted to pursue my next adventure. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to chase whatever fancy occurred to me that day and damn what anyone else expected of me. I wanted freedom. That was all I ever wanted.”
His heart was pounding, so hard that Loki could feel it in his throat. He felt sick. He felt strange. Through the knot in his chest, he asked, “And yet you chain me, knowing what I yearn for more than anything else?”
“I’ll chain your brother just as tightly, when his time comes,” Odin said, looking immeasurably old in that moment. “The only difference is that Thor longs for those chains. He accepts it as his duty. He has always cared so much what the rest of the world thought of him, and always wanted to live up to everyone’s expectations. He yearned for that sword above his head, that collar around his throat. For all that he was arrogant and reckless, he did not struggle when I cast him out. He did not try to claw his way back to Asgard when it seemed that he was trapped on Earth forever. What would you have done in his place, Loki?”
Loki said nothing, because they both knew the answer. He would not let anyone stand between him and what he wanted. He would never accept humiliation and defeat.
“Thor accepts the suffering the universe hands him and believes that he is built to endure it. And so he does,” Odin said.
“So you wanted Thor to be your stooge, a puppet on the throne whose strings you could yank?” Loki spat.
“Being a king changes a person, twists and cracks them in unimaginable ways.” Odin’s eye was bright, the blue of it standing out sharply in the darkness of the eclipse. “Thor will survive it. He will change, parts of him unraveling while other parts grow closed and guarded. A day will come when you do not recognize him at all. But he will survive. I feared you would not. I very nearly did not.”
“What a shame then,” Loki said, holding himself very rigid, “that we’ll never know how I would have done.”
Outside, the universe ticked away merrily, uncaring of the small dramas playing out below. The moon began to pull out from the planet’s shadow, a shockingly white sliver of it appearing at the edges. Odin sighed, shoulders slumping a little, and reached out to rest a hand on Loki’s shoulder.
“Whatever you believe, know this. From the moment I saw you, I loved you and knew that you were my son.”
“But that is not enough,” Loki said, not leaning into his father’s touch no matter how much some part of him screamed to. “It never can be.”
Odin’s hand slid away from his shoulder, and he regarded Loki with an almost physical sense of sadness and frustration. Then he simply shook his head and said, “Perhaps one day it will be. I’ll leave you in peace now.”
Then he slipped out of the room, leaving Loki alone.
The waiting was horrible.
Loki had patience, endless spools of it, but knowing not to act didn’t make the stillness any easier. He paced his room. He paced his garden, skirting the rows of delicate, night-blooming flowers. When Thor or Frigga came to guard him and walk with him along the Bifrost or the palace halls, his pace was sharp and almost angry rather than meandering.
Hallveig brought him the scrying potion three days after the eclipse. Her eyes were curious, asking a thousand questions that Loki had no intention of answering. But she was smart, and only said, “You owe me, Liesmith.” Then she handed over a small bottle of dark brown liquid that was the color of ale. It fit perfectly in Loki’s palm.
Loki tried the potion for the first time that night. Just a drop would be enough, teased out onto the small hand mirror that he kept in a drawer. The moment the drop hit the surface of the mirror, there was a bright spark of magic and Loki instinctively winced, waiting for the gold of Odin’s runes to spring to life and suppress it.
When the image on the mirror’s glass started distorting and twisting, Loki allowed a smile to curl across his face. They’d really have been so much better off locking him in a cell and never letting him see another soul or the light of day. That would have been the smart thing to do.
Sentiment made people terribly weak, though, and Loki was willing to take advantage of that.
The mirror’s surface was rippling, like staring up through the water from the bottom of a shallow pond. When it finally solidified, it showed Thor walking through the halls of the palace. His brother was barefoot, stripped down to a loose-fitting shirt and pants, so he was probably preparing for bed. The hallway he was walking down led to their parent’s room, however, and Loki had to smile had his excellent timing.
Thor knocked on the arched, gilded doors, and seconds later Frigga opened it with a smile.
“Is there news?” Thor asked, stepping inside to the foyer. Their parents’ quarters were practically an entirely separate dwelling, and Thor and Loki had spent their childhoods living there before getting their own rooms as teenagers.
“There is,” Frigga said, looking pleased. “I actually received the message not even an hour ago. Agnarr came through for us. He should have the healing poultices ready to send out tomorrow.”
Thor beamed at her and swept her up into a hug, kissing her cheek. “Thank you! That will help so much. They’ve got almost no experience dealing with burns, there’s whole swathes of people covered in scars. I was afraid you might not be able to acquire enough-”
“It never hurts to throw around some queenly glares until people feel guilty enough to do as you want,” Frigga laughed. She rested a hand on Thor’s shoulder, her face growing more serious. “But are you sure this is a good idea? I agree that you’re doing the right thing, but you aren’t safe.”
“I’m not safe anywhere, Mother,” Thor said airily, but grew more sober at Frigga’s stern expression. “Are you not the one who has told me that I need to make connections in the other realms outside of the ones you and Father have created? If I am to be king, I must make my own allies.”
Frigga’s smile was small and full of love. She patted Thor’s cheek and said, “I’d almost think you were actually taking the advice of your elders.”
“Never,” Thor said, laughing again. He peered at the staircase that led to the rest of the rooms. “Is Father back yet? I’d bid him goodnight.”
“He is still with his council,” Frigga said with a sigh. “He works late into the night, every night. Even the Tesseract is not the same as having the Bifrost.”
Thor nodded, looking tired suddenly. “I will try to make this trip a short one, then.”
“Does Loki know that you’re leaving?” Frigga asked, and Loki started at the sound of his own name. For a moment, he had forgotten that he was merely spying on his former family. He had imagined himself sitting at the table, watching Frigga and Thor talk.
“I will tell him tomorrow.” Thor said. “You will visit him, won’t you?”
“I visit him even when I don’t have you here to chide me,” Frigga teased gently. “I’ll do my best to keep him out of trouble. But his confinement is weighing on him.”
Loki narrowed his eyes. He had thought he was doing a better job of hiding his growing restlessness.
“I know,” Thor said, looking so sad and guilty that Loki wanted to slap him. “I will take him on a trip when I get back. Perhaps the beach.”
“Loki hates the beach.”
“He would not if he would get in the water instead of sitting in the sand and scowling like an angry crab,” Thor said. He tilted his head. “Perhaps it was the heat he disliked. Do you think it may have affected him more than us?”
“I have no idea,” Frigga said, clearly considering the idea. “He did burn more easily than you. And tired often during the hottest days of summer.”
“And I have never once seen him in pain after eating frozen confections, no matter how quickly he gobbled them down,” Thor said thoughtfully.
He and Frigga were both silent for a moment before they started laughing. The laughter was not raucous, but it was hearty, clearly a welcome break from worry and tension. Thor wiped at his eyes and said, “Oh Mother, our lives have become so strange.”
“I’ve noticed,” Frigga said, leaning her head against Thor’s shoulder as a final few chuckles escaped. “We will get through it, though. All of us.”
“Do you know that, or do you hope that?” Thor asked, voice soft.
Frigga’s only answer was a small, bittersweet smile and a kiss goodnight.
Loki’s hand was shaking as he rapped sharply on the mirror to disrupt the spell. He did not care to see anymore. Thor and Frigga’s parting embrace faded away until Loki was staring at his own reflection once more.
Well. The scrying potion worked. That was the most important part. That was what he had to focus on, not the high, tight knot in his chest that made it hard to breathe. He went to the privy and splashed the washbasin water across his face, trying to regain some sense of control. A large mirror stretched across the wall, and Loki stared at his reflection, wondering when he’d grown so thin and ragged looking. Was this what that band of idiots had seen when fighting him? No wonder they thought him mad.
But he was not mad.
He was not.
There was a sudden, sharp pain in his hand. He looked down to see his fingers had gone blue, tiny shards of ice shooting from the tips and digging bloody furrows into his palm. With some effort, Loki unclenched his fist and watched the small bits of ice fall to the floor.
He was struck with a sudden memory of the first snowfall of the year and his family. He could not even remember how old he’d been, but he and Thor had barely come up to their parents’ waists. The whole world had been painted white, the sky a brilliant blue above them, and Loki had packed a snowball between his gloved hands carefully. (He had worn the gloves because his mother told him to, but he wasn’t cold. He never felt cold, even after hours had passed and Thor was shivering and whining.) He had reared back and tossed it at his father, aiming for his shoulder but hitting him in the side of the head instead. Odin had looked at him, momentarily startled, before laughing and scooping Loki up. He’d congratulated Loki on his aim before dumping him into a snowbank, Loki shrieking with glee the whole time.
When Loki came back to himself, wrenching his mind away from the memory, he discovered that he’d put his fist through the mirror. The little shards of glass cut his skin more effectively than the ice had, and it took Loki several tries to pull them all out. If it hurt, he didn’t notice, and the rim of the washbasin was coated in his blood by the time he was done. He didn’t bother to clean up the mess. It could be someone else’s problem.
The next morning, Thor knocked on Loki’s door just as the sun was rising. Loki, startled awake, greeted his brother with a snarl and a tossed pillow.
“And a fine morn to you, brother,” Thor said, catching the pillow with a laugh. “I’m sorry to wake you so early, but I am off to Midgard for a few days and wanted to say goodbye.”
Loki stared at Thor blearily for a moment, his mind fogged with too little sleep and too many troubled dreams. Then he remembered spying on his brother, and that he’d been so caught in the grips of useless emotion afterward that he hadn’t even had time to analyze the information he’d learned. He snarled wider, baring his teeth, and Thor looked taken aback.
“It will only be for a short time.”
Loki hissed at Thor to get out. His brother muttered something under his breath and turned to go, but the crunch of glass beneath his foot made him pause. Loki closed his eyes and cursed softly. He must have tracked a few shards into the main room.
“Where did this come from?” Thor asked, kneeling down to stare at the glass. When Loki didn’t answer, he peered into the washroom. His voice was sad when he asked, “Where are you hurt?”
“I’m not hurt, you idiot,” Loki said. He had an instinctive urge to hide his hand beneath the blanket, but that would be so obvious that even Thor would catch on. So instead he simply gritted his teeth as Thor examined first his left hand, then his right.
“You should see a healer,” Thor said. He cradled Loki’s hand like it was made of delicate glass, and it was infuriating. The cuts were ugly, yes, but they’d heal without scarring soon enough.
“If you bring a healer in here, they’ll need another healer to deal with the aftermath.” Loki yanked his hand away from Thor’s. “Now stop being an idiot and go away. I don’t need your concern.”
Thor looked like he was about to argue, but after another glance at the washroom, he just said, “At least allow a servant in to clean up. You can’t leave broken glass on the floor.”
“Yes, fine, get out,” Loki ordered, feeling tense and angry for reasons he didn’t care to examine.
Leave it to Thor to unintentionally thwart Loki’s plans. A servant coming in to clean up meant that Loki would not be able to use the scrying spell and see where Thor was going. Loki spent the entire fifteen minutes that it took to sweep the glass and clean the blood glaring daggers at the palace servant. When she was done cleaning, she practically fled past the guards who had been watching the proceedings.
Loki more or less pounced on the mirror once he was finally alone. It took only a few seconds to activate the scrying spell, and Loki breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Thor was still in Asgard. His brother had claimed to be going to Midgard, and Loki supposed that was possible. The humans would have doubtlessly benefited from Asgardian healing. But Thor had specifically mentioned that the people he was delivering the healing poultices to had little experience with burns. Humans weren’t as flammable as Loki would have liked, but they certainly weren’t unfamiliar with the effects of fire.
Loki’s certainty that Thor was lying to him only increased as he watched his brother pull on heavy gloves and strap a thick, fur-lined cloak around his neck. Thor was going someplace much colder than Earth.
There was a niggling sensation in the back of Loki’s mind, like a thought trying to form. He ignored it.
He watched as his brother strode through the halls until he reached the weapons vault, a spring in his step. Thor passed through several rounds of guards before finally making it into the vault proper. Loki’s eyes narrowed. Heimdall stood before the Casket of Ancient Winters, his expression as forbidding as ever.
“Heimdall, why are you not on the Bifrost?” Thor asked curiously, walking further into the room.
“The construction continues,” Heimdall said. “I was told it would not be safe for me to be on the end of the bridge today.” Heimdall’s jaw clenched slightly, showing what he thought of that particular order. “I thought I would see you off.”
“Oh, well, I thank you,” Thor said. “It does not feel like a proper trip through the realms without you.”
He turned his attention to a large, metal cart, one the size of a Midgardian car. Loki couldn’t see the contents, as they were fastened beneath a heavy leather tarp, but he assumed it was the healing poultices. There were certainly many, to fill up an entire cart. The most interesting part, though, was that instead of wheels the cart had large skis attached to the underside. It was clearly designed for transport over the snow.
The niggling sensation returned, stronger this time, with a half-formed thought that Loki immediately dismissed.
“Did my mother have this delivered?” Thor asked.
Thor strode forward, reaching forward into a small cul-de-sac. Loki caught the flash of Odin’s magic before it faded away and Thor pulled the Tessaract out, still ensconced in the tube that allowed it to be used for transport. Someone had added a small loop of rope to one end of it, which Thor slipped over his wrist.
“I’ve never tried to transport something so large before,” Thor said, stepping back towards the cart. “I’m not sure this will actually work, to be honest.”
“Perhaps you should try straddling it,” Heimdall said, his voice dry enough that it was hard to tell if he was joking or not. “More contact, that way.”
Thor shot him an amused look. “And go headfirst into a snowbank if I go and it stays? Nay.”
Thor knelt down, looping an arm around one of the rails of the cart after a moment of thought. He placed a hand on either side of the Tessaract’s case and offered a smile. “If this doesn’t work, I’m in for a very short and humiliating trip.”
There was a bright flash of blue light and the surface of the mirror seemed to ripple, the Tessaract’s energy interfering with the spell. Loki had a brief, worried moment as he wondered if he would be unable to scry on Thor while he was in another realm, but the image resolved itself as soon as Thor (and the cart) touched down.
Loki had enough time to think, Oh, good, it worked, before he saw the snow.
The world around Thor was dark and frozen, the landscape a swirl of blue, black, and white. The sky was dark as though it was the dead of night, and a thick, oppressive blanket of clouds covered the stars. There was no sound but the howling of the wind and the trip hammer of Loki’s heart. It pounded in his ears and he felt too hot and too cold at the same time, as though his mind was sending desperately crossed signals to his body.
He recognized where Thor was. How could he not? His brother had gone to Jotunheim.
Trigger warnings for burns and the effects of them on people for this chapter. Nothing too graphic, but just a head's up.
At some point, Loki must have fallen over sideways onto the bed, because the mirror was crooked and so was his vision. But he could not focus on that, could barely focus on his body at all, because all his attention was on the impossible sight before him.
Thor was in Jotunheim. Thor was in Jotunheim and it was not a mistake, because he was looking around him with a satisfied expression. He even slid the Tessaract off his wrist and onto a small leather pack he had slung across his back. It would take so much longer to get to that way, costing him precious seconds in an attack.
But Thor did not act like a man wary of an attack. In fact, he was busy fussing with his hair, brushing the falling snow out of it before pulling it back with a leather tie. It would get wet and stick to his face otherwise, Loki realized distantly, remembering Sif and Volstagg complaining about the problems brought on by having long, loose hair in the snow.
He had been here at least once before since growing his hair longer, Loki reasoned. Yes, that was it. Focus on the small details, the manageable ones. The bigger details were senseless and insane, but he could focus on Thor’s hair and reassure himself that he was not going mad.
Madder, whispered a rebellious part of his mind that Loki ignored.
Thor slung the straps on the front of the cart across one shoulder and started pulling, heading towards the dark outline of the Jotun building on the horizon. At least, Loki assumed it was a building. The frost giants seemed to build their dwellings to look similar to rock or ice formations from the outside. For all he knew, Thor was headed towards a glacier.
Loki could not see much of the landscape, focused on Thor as the spell was. What was there to see? Snow, rocks, more snow. Loki could tell this was not the usual Bifrost landing site, but he supposed that made sense. That place would be nothing but a vast scar across the earth, now.
He’d given very little thought to Jotunheim since he fell, all his attention turned to Asgard and Earth. Jotunheim had been a place of legend, war stories, and terrible realizations, nothing more. It was not home, nor was it the false home that had stolen—that had so distracted Thor. It meant nothing to him aside from the message its destruction would have sent. He had hoped that perhaps Odin would understand that Loki had no allegiance to Jotunheim if it were completely gone.
And after that Loki would have been the hero, the one spoken of in song and legend. For even Thor had not done anything that would compare to destroying the frost giants, the would-be conquerors of the nine realms. He would have been Loki the Giantkiller, the one who had saved Odin from an ignoble death, and all of Asgard would have loved him.
Looking back on it, Loki couldn’t quite recall the thought process that had led him there, but it had all been so obvious at the time. It was like he’d been caught in a collapsing room, the walls closing in on all sides, and his plan had been the bright patch of blue sky that led to safety. It had been the only way out, the only safe path. And then he had clawed his way to it only to discover that it just led to another trap.
The realm of frost and cold lived on, though, and Loki was nothing but a prisoner. It was hard not to look at the snow around Thor with a tinge of hatred. Jotunheim still standing was a testament to just how badly Loki’s plans had gone awry.
Thor pulled the cart steadily, only pausing to shake some of the snow off his shoulders. Loki watched him slog forward for nearly five minutes and was beginning to wonder if Thor wasn’t in the wrong place after all. Then he caught movement from the corner of his eye, and with more than a little alarm watched as a squad of frost giants at least a dozen strong rose up from the snow.
They had already formed jagged blades of ice around their hands as they stepped forward to surround Thor. Every one of them towered at least a foot over him; the giant that Loki assumed was their leader was so tall that Thor only came up to mid-chest on him. To his annoyance, Loki felt himself tensing up with worry, even though if Thor was stupid enough to march into Jotunheim than he deserved everything that happened to him.
“Asgardian,” the big one rumbled.
“Gvendr,” Thor responded, his expression pleasant. He made no movements towards either Mjolnir or the Tessaract.
“You did not send word of your arrival,” the Jotun said, stepping forward so Thor would be forced to crane his neck to meet his eye. “You are trying to sneak in.”
“Well, I’m not doing a very good job of it, since I’m pulling a cart down the middle of the street,” Thor said, face and tone still entirely calm and friendly. “I tried to send word. You know as well as I do that communication has been unreliable since the Bifrost was destroyed.”
Gvendr circled Thor, nudging the cart with the edge of his blade. “What’s in here?”
“Healing poultices,” Thor said. “They should help to deal with any lingering burns. They are also good for removing scars.”
As he said it, one of the Jotuns jerked slightly, leaning toward the cart with interest. Loki could not see him terribly well, but he noticed that the side of his face seemed…warped, like soft clay that had been left next to a low fire for too long.
“You expect us to just take your word that these are meant to heal us?” Gvendr asked, stepping even closer to Thor, his lips drawn back to show pointed teeth.
“I expect you to inform your king that I’m here and let him make the decisions himself,” Thor said. There was a hint of Thor’s old, familiar smirk, the one that had always heralded a brawl. “Or has he decided that guards are fit to make choices for the entire realm?”
Gvendr let out a snarl, arm drawing back as if to gut Thor. Thor did not move, simply staring up at Gvendr with that same smirk. The other guards were motionless, on a knife’s edge as they waited to see what would happen.
The head guard turned away suddenly, spitting into the snow with fury. “Lead this little gnat forward. I’ll go ahead and inform Helblindi that he’s here.” He said nothing else, but he was stiff with fury, his back as rigid as a tree trunk.
Thor watched him go, waiting until he had faded away into the snow and mist before saying, “What good fortune that I came while he was in a merry mood.”
At least three different guards laughed and then immediately tried to cover it by coughing. Half of the others just glared, and the remainder simply looked like they had no idea what to make of any of this. Loki could sympathize.
The scarred Jotun stepped forward and said, “We can take that for you, Odinson.”
Thor nodded and handed over the ropes attached to the cart to one of the guards. “Careful. The glass inside is fragile.”
Thor and the scarred Jotun fell into step beside each other, the rest of the squad fanning out around them and the two frost giants pulling the cart. Now that he was closer to Thor, Loki could see that it was not just a trick of the light; the Jotun’s face seemed to have melted along one side. His eyelid drooped until it was nearly shut, his nostril seemed to be missing entirely, and a there was a huge dip in his cheek where flesh and muscle had clearly been carved out. His remaining skin looked smudged, for lack of a better term. Like he was a charcoal drawing that someone had run their finger through. It was not a completely even split, as Loki could see scarring along the other side too, but one side had clearly borne the brunt of an intense heat.
Loki tilted his head to the side curiously. A Jotun burn victim, presumably one of the people Thor had been talking about. But that didn’t make sense at all. Jotun were damned near impossible to burn. They could overheat, yes, but actually burning one…Was this something he had done? No, that made no sense. The Bifrost would have caused earthquakes and vast fissures in the ground, doubtlessly enough to topple even the strongest buildings. But it would not have caused fires, especially in a cold, barren environment like Jotunheim. Any frost giant caught in the Bifrost’s beam would likely have been blasted apart, not burned.
Surely this was not his doing.
“Will these work?” the frost giant asked Thor.
“As far as we know,” Thor responded. He only came up to the frost giant’s shoulder. “But they have been able to heal elves and dwarves as well as Aesir. Many of the people who’ve used the poultices were healed without a scar.”
“All burns are different,” the Jotun said, carefully looking straight ahead rather than at Thor.
“Hwal,” Thor said softly, catching the Jotun’s attention, “the poultices are fueled by magic as well as medicine. I can make no promises that they will heal you entirely, but they will surely help.”
The Jotun, Hwal, said nothing for some time, walking silently beside Thor as the procession made their way closer to the vast, looming building before them. It was not until they were nearly inside that Hwal said, softly, “Thank you, Odinson.”
Thor smiled at him, bright and gleaming. “It is the very least we can do.”
Horns rang out, low and booming, and the ground trembled slightly. The building in front of them seemed at first to be little more than a vast, spired wall of ice, like a glacier shot through with veins of rock and iron. At the sound of the horns, though, a large crack appeared in the featureless ice. The crack splintered downward like a lightning bolt headed to earth. It was only once it actually reached the ground that the wall began moving outward and it became clear that the crack was actually the separation between two massive doors.
Thor seemed unsurprised by the spectacle before him, simply walking forward slowly while doors of ice the size of skyscrapers were pulled open. The guards stopped behind him, letting him go forward alone. Thor had been here before, Loki realized. This place was obviously some kind of fortress or stronghold, and yet the prince of Asgard had been inside. Just what had been going on while Loki had been locked away?
A Jotun strode out from between the doors, looking ludicrously small compared to them even though he towered over Thor. The two of them walked towards each other until they met in the middle, far enough away that the guards could not hear the details of their conversation. Loki stared at the Jotun curiously. An intricate pattern of scars and ridges ran down his chest, like a set of interconnected runes, and he wore a golden crown that curled around his ears like the horns of a ram.
This had to be Laufey’s replacement. There was a strange feeling in Loki’s throat, like he had swallowed a piece of food unchewed and it was threatening to choke him at any moment. The frost giants passed down the throne through the family line, just as the Aesir did. Laufey had officially sired two sons, as well as who knew how many others like Loki. The identity of the crowned Jotun was obvious, and yet Loki wanted to shy away from it, to be nowhere near it at all. Even watching it felt too close, a feeling close to revulsion making his skin prickle.
His brother and his brother, meeting on an icy plain.
“Asgardian,” Helblindi said, inclining his head slightly. His voice was deep and gravelly, similar to Laufey’s. “Gvendr tells me you have brought a cart full of poison for us.”
“Poison or medicine, one of the two,” Thor said, inclining his head as well. No king (or future king) would bow before the ruler of another realm, but it was decidedly strange to see Thor paying even minimal respect to frost giants.
What had Earth done to him?
“We are not without our own healing poultices, Odinson,” Helblindi said. “They have had no effect on the worst of the burns.”
“You and I both know the worst of the burns were caused by hail-fire,” Thor said, in a low tone that brooked no argument. “We have poultices designed to heal the effects. Do not turn this into some contest of posturing, that is not why I came.”
Oh. Oh. That would explain how a decidedly non-flammable species could have burn victims. Hail-fire was a powerful weapon, one created from living flame and magic alike. It would burn anything it touched, whether stone, wood, or flesh. The closest that humans had ever come to something like it was napalm, and even that could not eat holes in skin and solid rock the way hail-fire could. Using it had fallen out of favor, considered too cruel even for warfare, but the stories of it survived. It had been deployed over enemy camps like fireworks, raining down in small chunks to devour the beings below. Using larger amounts was dangerous, since the possibility of starting a fire that would not burn itself out was strong and fire knew no allies.
It was also incredibly difficult to store, as being shaken or knocked over would often cause an explosion. The Bifrost carving its way through the capital city would certainly have been enough to set off any inert containers of hail-fire. Loki could only imagine the fires that would have burned because of it. There would have been walls of flame devouring everything in their path. If there had not been sufficient water to put it out, small patches of it might be smoldering even now, eating their way through the rocks.
But the Jotuns were not supposed to have developed such technology. As far as Loki (and the best spies in the realm) had ever known, only the dwarves and the Aesir had unlocked the secrets to using hail-fire without killing themselves in the process. If there really were enough burn victims to warrant a cart full of healing poultices, then the Jotuns must have been creating hail-fire in secret for quite some time. It was not a weapon that could be rushed.
Loki felt a moment of vicious, bitter victory. He had been right. Jotunheim was a danger that could not be ignored, but no. Odin preferred to wallow in hypocrisy and Thor in his own foolishness. Thor knew that the frost giants could either create hail-fire or had access to people who could, and instead of attacking when Loki had left the Jotuns weak, he was offering them medicine.
Helblindi tilted his head. “And how did you gather up something so specialized without letting all of Asgard in on the secret?”
“What makes you think I did it in secret?” Thor asked. “My people know I come here to offer aid.”
“And so you have told your people that their enemy of old has developed hail-fire?” Helblindi was stone-faced, expressionless even for a Jotun as he looked at Thor. “I don’t imagine the reaction was pleasant. Was there weeping in the streets? Or do they labor on in ignorance? Would they be so enamored to you, if they knew the truth?”
“Do your people know?” Thor asked, crossing his arms. “Because I doubt knowing that your own weapon could be so easily turned against you would be any better for morale. Far easier to just blame it on the Bifrost and strange Asgardian technology, and easier still when the burns are cured by Asgardian medicine. But I could tell them the truth, in the name of honesty between the realms.”
Helblindi stared down at Thor for a long moment, and then he threw his head back and laughed. It was a startling change, his eyes going from forbidding to almost merry in a heartbeat. His teeth were startling white against his dark blue skin.
“And here I believed that Thor Odinson was incapable of calling a bluff without using violence.”
“Things change,” Thor said, offering up a smile. It was not his usual blinding smile, but it was not without some mirth.
“So they do,” Helblindi said. “Come along, Asgardian. We’ll distribute your poultices, you can see your good work in action, and then there will be drinking.”
“Thank the Norns,” Thor muttered.
It was wrong.
Thor was a small and exotic shape, bright gold among the muted blues of the giants. Thor, Helblindi, and the guards had entered the Jotun fortress and headed into what had to be a banquet hall of some kind. Long, high tables took up most of it, and there was a honeycomb of doors going up and down the walls. Several frost giants poked their heads out of those doorways as the procession entered the hall. The most curious scrambled down the walls and onto the ground floor, using their ice blades like climbing axes. It was a strange scene, one he would have never believed possible a year ago.
Loki assumed at first that they were all aristocrats, but as more and more Jotuns gathered he started to doubt it. Not even the most bloated courts had this many nobles and courtiers. Though it didn’t help that he had no idea what signified the peasants from the gentry when it came to frost giants. Clothes were usually the most reliable indicator, but the Jotuns barely wore any. Still, Loki was could make a few inferences. Some of them had skullcaps and vests trimmed with gold or gems. Others had the hollow-eyed, dirty look of refugees. The two groups didn’t intermingle.
Loki recalled an earthquake in Asgard long ago, one that had leveled a dozen villages along the southern coast. He and Thor had still been small, peering around their parents’ legs at the waves upon waves of refugees that had set up a tent city in the empty spaces of the palace. Loki could remember playing with some of the refugee children, being an amateur tour guide and showing them around his home. It had been the first time he truly realized that his life was not like other children’s.
The gaunt, wary frost giants looking at Thor must have been refugees from the capital city, whose homes had been destroyed when Loki sent the Bifrost through it. Loki shook his head.
Enough of the Jotuns. Back to Thor.
Most of the frost giants kept their distance from his brother, watching with a mixture of fascination and fear. Loki could see what had to be children peering around their mothers’ legs, their red eyes wide with interest. They were small and their skin was smooth, with only a few ridges on their skin and no scars. Thor waved gently at a cluster of them, and the smallest frost giant waved back before they all scattered and disappeared into the crowd, tittering nervously all the while.
Helblindi mounted the dais at the end of the hall and silence fell throughout the room.
“My brothers and sisters,” Helblindi said, raising his arms, “you surely recognize the Asgardian prince by now.” There was murmuring among the crowd. “He has come this time offer medicines, meant to heal those of us who still carry the scars of the Mad Prince’s attack.”
Loki narrowed his eyes. Oh, so that’s how it was, was it?
“Though it is not our tradition to trust the Asgardians, surely no one would be so vile as to poison the victims of their brother’s unjust and terrible rampage.” Helblindi looked down at Thor and smiled amiably. “Correct, Odinson?”
Thor’s jaw was clenched, his lips quirked in a way that meant he was biting down whatever he wanted to say. Instead, he simply said, “Of course.”
“Then spread the word!” Helblindi clapped his hands, the sound echoing off the vast, arched ceilings of the room. “Gather those you know who have been afflicted, and we will see how good this medicine is.”
Some of the gathered Jotuns scattered, the purpose and urgency in their movements obvious. Most of the others stayed, looking at their king and Thor in fascination and distrust.
“That was entirely unnecessary,” Thor said flatly, once Helblindi had jumped gracefully from the dais and was within earshot.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Helblindi said. “Come, to the high table.”
And so Loki watched, with a sense of numb disbelief, as Thor began the night’s feasting with the Jotuns. His brother was far from the loud, boisterous presence that he was in Asgard, but he was still the center of attention. Though the Jotuns talked among themselves throughout the first course, it was clear that they were staring at Thor as he sat to Helblindi’s left. To Thor’s credit, he managed to look calm rather than deeply uncomfortable, but Loki could still see the small signs of his unease. His eyes flicked from side to side, he scratched at the edge of his beard, and he drained his mead a little slower than usual.
The protocol in Asgard for guests who were technically honored but were not planning on feasting was to stay for the first course and then depart. It satisfied the formal need for politeness and also the more practical need to get out quickly. That appeared to be Thor’s plan as well, but as the second round of meats and cheese were brought out, music started playing.
It seemed to be resonating from the rocks and ice, and after a moment Loki realized that the lights inside the ice flickered in time to the beat. The sound was low and deep, almost like a heartbeat with musical accompaniment. At the lower tables, several of the common Jotuns and the refugees sprang up, smiles across their faces as they strode toward the large, empty space at the front of the hall. At the high tables, some of the noble Jotuns rose as well.
As Thor and Loki watched, both equally confused, the frost giants began to…’dance’ was probably the correct word, but it was like no Asgardian dance. They used their ice blades to scramble up the walls and the pillars, leaping between the icy surfaces like acrobats. A single slip-up would surely send them crashing to the ground or lead to them accidentally stabbing each another, but their footing was sure and their aim precise, as if they had all done this a thousand times. Partners caught each other, separated with a leap, and then came together sideways on the wall seamlessly. There was a definite pattern to the dance, but the finer points were lost on Loki as he stared at the sea of twirling, leaping blue bodies.
He felt sick and hollow, the way he had when he watched Thor smile with his mortal pets before he and Loki had returned to Asgard.
Thor turned to look questioningly at Helblindi.
“It is tradition,” Helblindi said, wearing a small, inscrutable smile. “During a feast that comes on the heels of good fortune, there’s dancing between the courses. It is supposed to encourage the lucky spirits to stay, if you believe the old crones’ tales.”
“Ah,” Thor said, his eyes drifting to the dancers. “With all due respect, I think I should take my leave. We are terribly busy without the Bifrost, and-”
“Surely you won’t leave without granting me a dance, Odinson?” asked a voice from behind Thor, deep but decidedly feminine.
It took Loki a moment to realize that the frost giant speaking to Thor was a female. She was just as tall and broad as the males, and didn’t wear any more clothing than they did. It was only because she stood so close to Thor that Loki could see the raised lines and scars across her flesh were jagged rather than smooth, zigzags instead of whorls. Small tufts of black hair poked out beneath the skullcap she wore (the hem of which was adorned with small, red gems). They were small details, to be sure, but noticeable. Perhaps these were what marked the differences between Jotun men and women, besides whatever lay beneath their loincloths.
“Jarnsaxa,” Thor said, offering a small, strange smile. As if he had just realized what she said, he looked over at the dancers. “I fear you’ll have to find another partner. I’m no acrobat.”
“Ah, I can manage the disappointment of an Elvish two-step,” Jarnsaxa said, teeth shockingly white against her blue skin as she smiled. She was at least a head taller than Thor. She held out her hand.
“I really must go, Lady Jarnsaxa,” Thor said, and he managed to look apologetic rather than like a cornered animal. “I will owe you a dance.”
Jarnsaxa simply laughed instead of looking disappointed. “So you escape for another day. I’ll escort you out of the palace, then.”
Thor hesitated, but then slipped his arm into hers and bid Helblindi goodbye. Loki noted that he didn’t even flinch, even though he’d surely felt the vicious sting of Jotun frostbite before. So Jarnsaxa could control her skin’s ability to freeze others. And Thor knew this. Loki narrowed his eyes.
“The other frost giants must think your actions a bit strange,” Thor said quietly as the pair of them walked along the edges of the banquet hall, staying out of the way of the dancers. “Given your persistence, especially.”
“Perhaps they think me bolder than all others,” Jarnsaxa said, looking out over the hall with a smug expression.
“Am I so feared, then?” Thor asked, his tone jesting.
“By some,” she answered. “But others are coming around. It helps that you Aesir are not nearly so alien and strange-looking as the old warriors would have us believe. Why, I’d take you to bed in a heartbeat.”
For a moment, Thor looked as though he’d suddenly found himself face-to-face with a massive, snarling beast. Loki wondered if his brother wasn’t about to take off running, and he was keenly aware that every Jotun in the entire hall had to be watching, even if they played at apathy. Thor’s back was rigid as a board when he said, “Helblindi tells me you are betrothed. How go the wedding plans?”
Jarnsaxa threw her head back and laughed, the sound ringing out richly. Thor’s shoulders relaxed considerably. She patted his hand and said, “Ah, Thunderer, you are no fun.”
“I am told I’m an endless source of merriment, in fact,” Thor said. “Just not on official business.”
“Well, perhaps I ought to come Asgard and see you making merry in your native habitat,” Jarnsaxa said. Her tone was light and her expression amused, but Loki could see the sharp, gleaming edges of a keen intellect in her eyes. She was watching Thor carefully, always.
Thor did not seem unaware of this, either. He looked up at her and offered a charming smile, one that never failed to get him what he wanted. “Perhaps one day soon.”
Jarnsaxa went quiet until they reached the doors of the hall, and she led Thor out the much less grand side entrance. It was not until they had walked out into the wind and the snow that she said, “Do you really think such a day will come?”
Thor smiled again. “The time where the nine realms can isolate themselves from each other is drawing to a close. And perhaps it is for the best. We have all warred fruitlessly for too long. It is time for something new.”
Loki saw something in Thor’s eyes that froze him to the spot, something that caused a feeling almost like fear to shoot down his spine. Ambition. Ambition for something far grander than just the kingship of Asgard. Apparently, what Thor had seen of war between the realms had spurred him to some new, grand idea that Loki wouldn’t have thought him capable of. Thor wanted to bring peace to the nine realms, and he was starting with Jotunheim and Asgard.
Something too much like panic gripped Loki, because where was the brash, battering ram of a brother he had known? Where were the barbaric frost giants that he knew how to manipulate with ease? Perhaps in the same place where the weak, cowed Midgardians all went, whispered a laughing, mocking voice in his mind.
Asgard should have been in the palm of his hand, Midgard at his feet, and Jotunheim little more than an unsightly scar on Yggdrasil’s branches. Instead, Loki was facing the possibility that three of the nine realms might look to Thor as a hero and a savior, the one who had led them into a new age while “the Mad Prince” faded away in Asgard’s dungeons. Forgotten by everyone. Everyone.
His breath came too fast. His hands shook. He almost missed the appearance of a new frost giant, creeping up behind Thor.
“Hello, Princess,” came a rumbling, familiar voice.
“My favorite cousin,” Jarnsaxa said with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. “I missed you at the feast.”
“Hello, Byleistr,” Thor said, not bothering to try for a pleasant expression.
“Leave us, Jarnsaxa,” Byleistr said. “I have business to discuss with the Odinson.”
Jarnsaxa looked between them for a moment. “Of course. Come see the healing poultices when you’re done, will you? I’m hoping they will shoot out sparks or something equally magical.”
She leaned down and gave Thor a kiss on the top of his head, to Thor’s great surprise and Byleistr’s disgust.
“Your perversion knows no bounds!” he yelled after her as she left their side and strolled back to the fortress. She just gave an airy wave over her shoulder.
“I was just leaving, Byleistr,” Thor said, sounding substantially less polite than he had been for most of his journey. “Send a message to me.”
“What point is there in sending a message?” Byleistr said, rounding on Thor with a vicious expression. “We all know you won’t give Jotunheim what she is owed.”
Through gritted teeth, Thor said, “You will not be given the Casket because your father used it against an innocent realm-”
“Oh, no, I’m quite familiar with those reasons, little Princess. I meant your brother.”
“-and Loki is serving out his sentence in Asgard.” Thor’s hand dropped to Mjolnir’s handle. “Where he belongs.”
“Ah, yes, where the pampered little prince can be fed delicacies and moan about his madness,” Byleistr sneered. “The Aesir take such good care of their own.”
Loki waited for it, waited for the inevitable argument that he was a false Odinson and a frost giant and thus Jotunheim had some claim to him. But it did not come. Thor and Byleistr continued arguing in increasingly loud voices, drawing closer and closer to each other until Thor was screaming up at the frost giant and violence seemed imminent. But not once was Loki’s heritage mentioned.
…they did not know. By the Norns, the frost giants had not been told Loki’s origins. And there was no communication between Asgard and Jotunheim, so even if every last Aesir knew Loki’s entire genealogy, the frost giants would never hear of it.
Loki felt a smile curl across his face, almost of its own volition. An idea blossomed in his mind like a flower, poisonous and beautiful.
Yes. Oh yes.
In the mirror, Thor and Byleistr were seconds away from exchanging blows. Thor whipped Mjolnir from his belt, and Byleistr took an instinctive leap back. But Thor just whirled the hammer several times, preparing to take off, smirking at Byleistr.
“Why my fool of a brother doesn’t smash your head between his teeth is a mystery to me,” Byleistr spat.
“Possibly because he’s less of a fool than you,” Thor said, and then he was airborne, flying effortlessly through the howling winds of Jotunehim. Byleistr snapped his teeth at him, but could only watch him go. Both the Jotun and the palace faded away as Thor flew. His course took him several miles away from the fortress before he finally dared to land and pull out the Tessaract.
Loki rapped the mirror with his knuckles, letting the image fade away into nothing. Thor’s return was irrelevant. Loki had to plan. The smile would not leave his face, and his veins thrummed with purpose. The possibilities for the future lay open to him, a dozen winding paths that would lead him to his goal.
Thor thought himself a peacemaker, did he? They’d see about that.
Hours later, after dinner had been cleared away, Thor came to visit him.
“How was Midgard?” Loki asked sweetly, his face the picture of innocence.
“Why the sudden concern?” Thor asked, raising an eyebrow. He lay sprawled in the window seat, looking out over Asgard.
“Can’t I take an interest?” Loki asked.
With a small smile, Thor began telling him about New York City. Loki wondered if any of it was true. Behind his back, a long dagger of ice formed, and Loki let his fingers stroke across it.
Not yet. But soon.
Three months passed. Loki barely cared. He only bothered to take note of time speeding by when it affected his planning. And oh, how wonderful it was to be planning again. Locked away in his cell, he’d nearly allowed life to just happen to him, the way Thor did. But that was not Loki’s way. He would turn the situation to his advantage and he would do it with style.
Experimentation was key. He already knew that Odin’s magic could not suppress his transformation into a Jotun, and the frost giants were living weapons in their own right. That gave Loki a useful advantage. The next obstacle was the handcuffs.
The opportunity to test them came one day when he and Thor were sitting in the gardens, reading and discussing the possibility of going to one of the theatres that night. Thor was for it, as there was a new drama out by one of his favorite playwrights. Loki was against it because he hated that particular playwright and didn’t feel like being gawked at like an exotic animal in a menagerie.
Midway through Thor’s argument that they could get a private viewing box and honestly, it would do Loki some good to get out of the palace, Loki had the stray thought that this was one of the nicer days he’d experienced in some time. Just he and his brother, idling the hours away and watching the bees and butterflies flit through the gardens. If he closed his eyes, he could pretend that things were different, that time had rewound itself several years and-
He bit down sharply on his own lip, not letting up until he tasted blood. Idiot, idiot, that kind of thinking would do him no good. Even now, when he had a solid plan for Thor’s downfall, pointless nostalgia and longing still crept up on him, tangling around his mind and ruining the cold, iron efficiency of his thoughts.
Thor was still talking, still bright and smiling and so obviously happy to be spending time with his brother. Loki let his magic surge forward, past the warning sparks of Odin’s magic, pushing, shoving, refusing to stop until-
It was like being struck by lightning, a sensation Loki was intimately familiar with. There was a blaze of light, and the magic deterrents slammed into Loki with the force of a charging bilgesnipe. The explosion of energy sent him flying, tumbling head over heels until he crashed into the stone walls of the garden with a bone-rattling crunch. One of the statues and several pounds of stone came to rest on top of him afterwards.
“Oh,” was all he said, face down in the grass and stunned. Nothing was broken and his cuts and bruises would heal before the day was out, but his pride had taken a considerable thrashing. He had been hoping the magic deterrents built into the cuffs would be slightly less…forceful.
“Loki!” Thor shouted, heaving a stone the size of a bookcase off of his brother. “By Asgard, what just happened?! Are you all right?”
“I was attempting to summon us a bottle of wine,” Loki said, coughing up a bit of dirt.
“Your bindings did this?” Thor asked. He knelt down, taking Loki’s hand and turning it this way and that, pushing the cuff slightly up his wrist to check for non-existent burns
“Yes,” Loki said, sitting up carefully and staring up at the sky thoughtfully as Thor fussed over him.
Interesting. Very interesting.
Thor went on a boar hunt with Sif and the Warriors Three. Thor went to Midgard and got drunk with Tony Stark on top of his building. Thor bribed Huginn and Muninn with berries in order to make them fly to Jotunheim and check on the success of the healing poultices. And with every day that passed, Loki’s fury grew a little deeper.
It was not that Thor didn’t visit every day, or show his love for Loki in various annoying ways. Loki did not doubt that Thor cared for him. How could he? But with every hour that Loki spent locked away, Thor was growing more and more used to a life without him, a life where Loki was not a necessity. Thor was becoming a king.
That was unacceptable. Everything about this situation was unacceptable.
His breaking point came one evening in the early autumn. Thor had already left for the night, and Loki had used the scrying spell more out of boredom than anything else. He raised an eyebrow when he discovered that his brother was in their father’s study, watching Odin scribble something onto a sheaf of parchment.
Loki felt a pang of nostalgia so great that it physically hurt. He remembered wasting hours in his father’s study, poking through the treasures found inside and tugging at Odin’s sleeve until the king eventually gave in and played with Loki. These were golden-tinged memories, and Loki pulled back his lips in an angry snarl.
Thor was sitting crosslegged on one of the couches, Huginn and Muninn perched on his massive shoulders. They were grooming him, running their beaks through his hair in quick, precise movements. Thor cooed at them, telling them what pretty birds they were in a way only he was allowed. The ravens had always been fond of him, but anyone else who talked to them as though they were common pets would be pecked violently. (Loki had never liked those birds. When he was barely more than a toddler, he had tried to pet them and Muninn had pecked him. Incensed, Loki had set their tails on fire. His parents had kept Loki and the ravens separated ever since.)
Odin was pretending not to hear any of it, but he shook his head and sighed when Thor offered a particularly mawkish compliment. Finally, he put his quill down and said, “You would benefit from learning basic seidr, you know.”
Thor tilted his head curiously, careful not to dislodge the birds. “You told me once that you had seen rocks with more natural talent in seidr than me.”
Odin looked to the side to hide his smile. “I am sure I phrased it more kindly than that.”
“True, now that I think on it, you were actually pointing at a cobblestone as you said it,” Thor teased.
“Nonetheless, you ought to learn,” Odin said, his tone serious and fond at the same time. “You can always borrow power from Mjolnir, and it does not take much to simply trigger spells that already exist. That way, you will be able to activate the palace defenses if am unable to.”
“If you think it wise, I will try to learn,” Thor said, reaching up absentmindedly to stroke Huginn’s stomach. “But why not teach me earlier?”
Odin looked down at his writing desk, and Muninn suddenly flapped away from Thor to land on Odin’s shoulder. The bird trilled softly into Odin’s ear. Voice low, Odin simply said, “I had planned to leave that to Loki.”
“Oh.” Thor went silent after that, shoulders slumping a little. Odin returned to writing, and nearly ten minutes passed before either of them spoke again.
“Who’s to say that Loki won’t be able to keep the defenses up himself?” Thor asked, a brittle smile on his face. Odin started to speak, but Thor continued talking quickly, refusing to stop. “He is doing so much better now, Father, you’ve seen him. He smiles and has stopped throwing things at me, I truly think that it will only be a few more months before he-”
“Stop,” Odin said, using his kingly voice. It was one that Thor and Loki both responded to instantly, and Thor’s mouth snapped shut. His fingers were digging into the couch so hard that Loki was surprised the cushions hadn’t ripped.
Odin rose from his seat and walked over to the window, Muninn still perched on his shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was tired. “Your brother has been through great trauma, Thor. You have seen the soldiers who came back from war unable to care for themselves or live with other people.”
“Loki did not go to war!” Thor said, shooting to his feet. Huginn gave an indignant squawk and fluttered over to Odin’s other shoulder. “Loki has tried to bring war, yes, but so did I! We have both made mistakes, and you cannot just assume he will never recover!”
“You have always known who you are,” Odin said. “Thor, from the moment you were born, you had a deep sense of yourself and your purpose. Loki has never had that. He has built it from the people around him, and now it has all been undone. He is wounded, and it is the kind of wound that does not always heal. And if it does, there is no guarantee it will be soon. Your mother and I might pass before Loki lets go of his grudges, and I must know that you will be able to shepherd Asgard without your brother’s help.”
“I do not want to,” Thor said (and oh, how the heartbreak in his voice made something in Loki cry out in response). “He said that he felt like a shadow, living beneath me. And if I had known, I could have fixed things, I’m sure. But I did not know, I refused to see, and now he is someone I cannot recognize. I have to-”
“Have to what?” Odin said, turning the full force of his stare on his son. Thor braced himself under it. Odin continued, “The brother that you knew, the son that I had, he is gone. Lost to the past and his own choices. Things will never be as they once were, Thor, and if you continue chasing something that no longer exists, then you are a fool.”
“I will not give up on him,” Thor said, his hands tightening into fists.
“I don’t ask that,” Odin said. “I only ask that you not give the entirety of your life over to him, because he cannot be healed through sheer force of will.”
Thor gave a small, rueful sigh. “I can’t make such a promise, Father.”
Odin let out a frustrated huff of breath. “Then at least let me teach you seidr, you stubborn boy.”
Thor’s smile became a real one, blinding as ever. “I suppose. You aren’t to insult me, though.”
“I shan’t insult you if you can avoid setting anything ablaze,” Odin responded. “Come, sit back down. It’s easiest to learn if you are comfortable.”
“I really have no idea what I’m doing.”
“No one does, when they start out.” Odin smiled. “The seidr that flows the easiest for a beginner reflects what they most want. So, what is it that you’d most like to do?”
Loki threw the scrying mirror across the room.
He was so tense that he felt as if he was about to shatter. There was a hot, itchy sensation behind his eyes and fury seethed volcanically in his guts. Uncaring of dignity or decorum or anything besides his own rage, he rampaged through his room. He shattered mirrors, upended his desk, threw his books across the room and tore the pages from them.
How dare Thor. How dare Odin. When Loki closed his eyes (suspiciously watery, he was not going to cry, he was not a child) he could hear his father’s voice in those quiet nights they had spent together in Odin’s study.
“Sit down, it’s much easier to learn without worrying about falling over. Especially since that spellbook is nearly as big as you.
“But you work seidr standing all the time.”
“And so will you. But you are just learning for now. Now, Loki. What would you like to learn the very most?”
“To be invisible, like a shadow or a trick of the light.”
“Then that is what you will learn.”
When there was nothing else in his room he could destroy, he moved to the garden. He ripped all of the flowers and herbs out of the ground and stomped them into oblivion, but it still wasn’t enough. Rage burned inside of him, fueled by hurt and insecurity and a sense of injustice that he could never shake.
Eventually, he managed to exhaust himself, but not before he’d punched the stone walls surrounding the courtyard so hard that his knuckles cracked. It was almost worth it all to see the look on Frigga’s face the next morning when she came to visit him and discovered the room in complete disarray. Almost worth it, but not quite, because Thor fussed about him for the rest of the day and Loki had to physically stop himself from grabbing his not-brother by his hair and shaking him until he let go of all notions of learning seidr.
Other than earning Loki a trip to the healers, his ‘episode’ (as Odin called it) allowed him to progress one step further with his plan. One of the palace gardeners came to him the next day, asking for a list of plants that Loki would like to have in his garden. Loki flipped through a scroll listing the possibilities and wrote a few down, giving the impression of immense boredom with the entire affair.
The gardener squinted at the list and then said, clearly nervous, “The wolfblood flower is actually mildly poisonous, your Highness, so, er…”
Loki raised an eyebrow and gave the gardener his most imperious stare. “The wolfblood flower is the only one on the whole list that doesn’t make me want to smash it to pulp. If you’re so worried, you can cut off the buds before they become poisonous.”
The gardener squirmed, still looking deeply uncomfortable. Loki sighed and added, “Ask my brother or parents for permission, if you’re feeling so womanish about it.”
In the end, Thor’s fretting about Loki’s sanity and happiness won out. After all, the wolfblood flower was not lethal, merely painful and paralyzing. Who would Loki be in able to poison, anyway? And so another month passed that way, with Loki smiling at nothing at all and watching his plants grow.
Finally, everything was ready. A new day dawned and Loki woke with a smile on his face. When Thor came to visit, Loki was all brotherly affection when he asked, “Shall we take a walk?”
Loki led them out to the edge of the Bifrost, watching with amusement as Thor grew more hesitant the closer they came to the shattered tip of it. When he sensed Thor was about to object to going any further, Loki stopped where he was and instead leaned over the side. Heimdall and the edge of the Bifrost were still several yards away from them. Loki could feel the bridge guardian’s eyes on him, and he smiled.
“Relax, brother-mine. I’m not planning to jump again.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Thor said, wholly unconvincing. He came to stand at Loki’s side, and both of them watched the cascade of the World Falls for a while. Thor’s voice was quiet and gentle when he asked, “What was it like? Falling, I mean.”
Loki stretched, lifting his cuffed hands up over his head as he arched his back. “Would you like to find out?”
Thor was deceptively quick for someone his size, but Loki was faster and caught him off guard. It all happened in the space of an instant. One moment, they were two brothers standing at the site of the fight that had shattered them. The next instant, blue frost crawled across Loki’s skin and the chain of his handcuffs wrapped around Thor’s throat. Loki pounced on Thor the way wolves leapt upon deer, the chain still binding his hands even as he twisted the cuffs to cut off his brother’s air.
Thor’s shout was cut short by the chain, and his attempts at shaking Loki off were hindered by the frostbite that sank into his skin everywhere they touched, making his fingers clumsy and blistered. Loki slid behind him and let a blade of ice blossom from his hand, the cutting edge pressed against Thor’s throat. Thor did not have enough space or leverage to swing Mjolnir, and the lack of air and biting ice were sapping at his strength.
Loki could hear himself laughing, full of gleeful, manic energy. Are we still brothers now, Thor?
Heimdall must have alerted Odin, because the Allfather appeared on the bridge in a flash of light, Gungnir pointed straight at them. Loki smiled and leaned back on his heels, dangling over the edge. Thor was the only thing keeping them both up.
“Let him go, Loki,” Odin said, in the calm, dangerous voice that people used when speaking to mad dogs.
There was fear in the Allfather’s eye, and Loki felt intoxicated. This was so much better than making a street full of Midgardians cower. “Did you ever imagine this that day you found me, Father? For all your wisdom, you were blind.”
“Loki,” Thor wheezed, and Loki could tell that he was doing his best to wriggle away without hurting Loki. Thor’s sentiment would be the death of him.
“Let him go,” Odin ordered once again.
“No, I don’t think I will,” Loki said. His smiled stretched across his face, so wide that it hurt. “Unlock the cuffs, set me free, and then we’ll talk.”
“No,” Odin said flatly. “I know not what triggered this, Loki, but we-”
“Unlock the cuffs,” Loki singsonged, “or I’ll try the most powerful spell I can think of.”
That froze Odin and Thor both, and Loki laughed. “How big do you think the blast would be? Certainly enough to carry us both off this bridge. Perhaps enough to kill us both. And then you’ll lose the only son you ever thought was worth having, and won’t that be sad?”
“Let your brother go, and we will discuss this,” Odin said, his grip on Gungnir so tight that his knuckles had gone completely white. “I don’t believe you want death so badly that you’ll let yourself fall once more.”
“I threw myself from the Bifrost once, and my power has only grown since then,” Loki said, coiling a hand through Thor’s hair until the blonde strands began to freeze and shatter. “Once more won’t hurt. Think quickly, Father, I find my patience is thin these days.”
Odin did not move, eyes darting between Thor and Loki both.
“What a shame,” Loki said, calling on his magic. The cuffs began to hum dangerously. “I wonder what you’ll tell Mother.”
“Father-” Thor choked out, but Odin simply stepped forward and raised the tip of Gungnir to tap the metal of the handcuffs.
“This will not end well for you, Loki,” Odin said, before the cuffs fell away entirely.
Loki felt his magic flood back into him like a wave, and he laughed with delight, springing away from Thor nimbly. He ducked as Thor swung Mjolnir, the teleportation spell already coiling around his feet.
“And to think,” Loki said, grinning from ear to ear, “that all I had to do to gain the Tessarect was wait.”
And then he vanished, reappearing outside the weapons vault.
And here it is, the final few chapters of this monster story. I want to thank everyone who read, left kudos, and commented. Thank you for sticking with this story despite all the delays, and I hope you guys enjoyed it.
Loki felt fantastic, life buzzing under his skin as he made short work of the guards. His skin had faded back to its normal, pale hue, and magic crackled at his fingers. How long had it been since he’d let loose this way? Months, at least. Too long.
He couldn’t stop grinning.
Constructing a double still came naturally to him, and he set it up in front of the niche where the Tessaract was stored. He would not bother fighting Odin’s spells, not when it was much easier to have Thor blunder in like a confused bull. Sure enough, he could hear the sounds of shouts and pounding footsteps approaching. With a wild laugh, he folded himself into the shadows of the room and waited.
Thor was first through the door, Mjolnir hefted and ready to be swung. Loki’s double whirled around, eyes wide and surprised. Thor dove for it, predictable as ever, and Odin’s magical barrier crackled apart at Thor’s touch. The real Loki stepped out of the shadows and dove for the Tessaract. He activated it, gleeful at the thought that he was going to escape without Thor tagging along. Then he felt his brother’s hand close tight around his ankle seconds before they both vanished into a flash of blinding light.
Oh well. That’s why he had backup plans. By the time Odin arrived in the armory, his sons were nothing but a fading afterimage, already on their way between worlds.
They both hit the snow of Jotunheim hard, the impact knocking Loki senseless for a moment. He recovered faster than Thor did, probably a benefit of not feeling the cold. He slid into his Jotun skin and even the slight edge of cold vanished. He’d never felt more in his element. He threw his head back and laughed, teeth sharp and gleaming now.
“Catch me if you can, brother.” He heaved the Tessaract across the snow, knowing Thor would chase it like a dog after a toy. Then he took off running towards the distant, glacial palace in the opposite direction.
He knew he couldn’t outrun Thor for long. Loki might have been lighter on his feet, but Thor could fly. Still, below all of Loki’s strategizing, he was filled with a deep, glorious joy at sprinting through the snow after so long in captivity. Even if Thor caught him and dragged him back to Asgard in chains, this entire escapade would have been worth it for these moments in the snow.
His feet were wider and flatter as a Jotun, designed for moving with ease across the snow. With some clever use of teleportation, Loki managed to keep out of Thor’s grasp for several minutes. He could feel his time running out, though, and it was with a gasp of relief that he felt arrows and spears whizzing past him. Loki skidded to a stop before a squad of frost giants, all of them armed to the teeth and staring warily at Thor as he touched down behind Loki.
“I am Loki Laufeyson and I’ve been held prisoner in Asgard,” Loki gasped, his expression desperate. “I beg you for sanctuary.”
“Loki…Laufeyson?” asked a Jotun, clearly the leader of the guard. Loki recognized him from Thor’s previous trip to Jotunheim. Thor had called him Gvendr. “Loki the Asgardian prince?”
“My brother has escaped,” Thor said, stepping forward and grabbing Loki’s shoulder. Loki whirled and landed a punch on Thor’s jaw. The crackle of ice was loud and Thor actually staggered away, a bluish-black bloom of frostbite burned onto his chin.
“Loki of Asgard is a Jotun?” Gvendr asked, sounding profoundly confused. Neither he nor the other frost giants had lowered their weapons, and they raised them threateningly as Thor took another step towards Loki.
“I was stolen as a child during Odin’s assault on Jotunheim-”
“You were not stolen!”
“-and held all these years, unaware of my true heritage. When I learned of Odin’s deception, I tried to escape to Jotunheim, but I was recaptured.” Loki lowered his head as if he was in pain. “To punish me, they killed my father in front of me and destroyed Jotunheim’s palace, laying the blame upon me to ensure I could not run.”
“That’s a lie!” Thor shouted, thunderclouds heavy with snow gathering above him.
“Be silent, Asgardian dog!” Gvendr snapped, leveling his spear at Thor. There was a look of fierce, victorious anger on his face. It was the look of someone who’d had all their bitter suspicions confirmed. “Let him speak. Blakkr, go and find the king. Tell him what we have heard.”
Loki shot Thor a look over his shoulder, his expression innocent and frightened. It was designed to infuriate Thor even further, to choke him with anger and make him that much less convincing. ‘Prove that I’m lying’, the look said.
Thor’s teeth were gritted and his breath came fast. “Gvendr, you must listen to me. Loki is lying, he is manipulating you. He seeks only to escape, and he will bring you only grief.”
“He is a Jotun,” Gvendr said. “And he bears Laufey’s lines on his skin. Your family stole him.”
“He was abandoned! My father wanted only to give him a new life!” Thor shouted. Loki could see the strain of inaction on him. If he attacked to retrieve Loki, it would be tantamount to declaring war.
“And it is mere coincidence that he was imprisoned at the same time Jotunheim was attacked?” Gvender spat at Thor’s feet. “Your family is as treacherous as any rock-viper, stealing children and locking them away-”
“Oh yes, our brilliant plan was to steal a prince and rather than hold him ransom, he would be my brother and we would spend our childhoods throwing apples at each other’s heads.” Thor was nearly seething with rage. “The perfect revenge, clearly!”
It seemed that Thor and Gvendr’s tempers might get the best of them even with a potential war hanging in the balance. The sound of yowling and panting, however, distracted them, and they turned to see two massive wargs come over the hill towards them. Their riders were clearly driving them hard.
When Loki realized that it was Byleistr astride the warg, rather than Helblindi, he couldn’t help but suck in a breath. A plan bloomed in his mind, even more perfect than the plans before it.
“Odinson,” Byleistr said, hopping gracefully from his warg. “I see you are again trespassing in our realm.”
“I am not-”
“And Loki the Liesmith.” Byleistr turned his attention to Loki, red eyes narrowed. He reached out, and it was not entirely acting when Loki flinched away. Byleistr was undeterred and took a firm grip on Loki’s chin, tilting his head back and leaning close to his face. Loki met his eyes and did his best to think of nothing at all. “But it appears this is not one of your lies. You are indeed one of my father’s bastards.”
“He is a prince of Asgard,” Thor said through gritted teeth. “He has escaped our custody. Where is Helblindi?”
“My brother is on a hunting trip in the Eastern Wastes,” Byleistr said. “I have been left in charge of affairs of state. I would say learning that it was the Allfather who sent the Bifrost through our capital counts as such an affair. Wouldn’t you, little Princess?”
“Byleistr, please.” Thor slid Mjolnir into the loop of his belt and stepped closer, hands raised. “Loki speaks nothing but falsehoods. Learning his true heritage drove him mad, and he lashed out at your realm. He lured Laufey to Asgard in order to kill him. He bears no love for Jotunheim, and you must return him to me.”
“I brought Laufey to Asgard in order to kill the Allfather,” Loki said loudly. He turned to look at Byleistr, projecting an earnest kind of sorrow. “I still thought of myself as an Asgardian then, before I realized how truly they loathed our race. I wanted the throne that had been promised to me. And I wanted revenge.”
“My mother saw him kill Laufey herself!” Thor snapped. “I shattered the Bifrost to save your realm!”
“What a fine scapegoat a mad prince makes,” Byleistr said, and Loki could have sang from joy. “Lock him away for his ‘crimes’ and no one will ever wonder that he is silent. And then you can set up Thor, the would-be Jotunslayer, as a better alternative. Well played, Asgardian.”
Thor knew when he had been outmatched, and Loki could see the resignation on his face. “I give you my word that I am not lying, Byleistr. My word as a warrior and a prince of Asgard.”
“His word means nothing,” Loki said. He took another step towards Byleistr, positioning himself so that it was clear that this argument was Thor against the frost giants. “He is a puppet who dances on Odin’s string, and fear of failing the Allfather will drive him to break every vow he makes.”
“You do not believe me,” Thor said, slowly and deliberately. His eyes were locked on Byleistr, and Loki felt a frisson of irritation at losing Thor’s attention. If Thor was not blinded by emotion, he posed more of a threat. “I understand. Loki has woven a fine story, as he always does. But neither of us are kings, and the fate of our realms does not lie within our hands. Odin will come to Jotunheim to speak with Helblindi, if that is what you desire, and the truth of this all can be decided there. Nothing we do here need lead to war.”
Alarm shot through Loki as he watched Byleistr relax his stance, just a little. Thor’s diplomacy was ham-fisted and embarrassingly earnest, and it was working.
“I will take Loki back to Asgard.” Thor took another step closer, apparently encouraged that no guards tried to stop him. “If you wish to claim him at the end, then I will lose a brother and you will gain one.”
“They will kill me if you let them take me back!” Loki hissed, grabbing Byleistr’s arm. “I will be dead before I take three steps on Asgardian soil, and if I live it will only be so that I may be tortured to death.”
“We do not torture prisoners,” Thor said, keeping his gaze on Byleistr. “We have never tortured prisoners. Loki will be unharmed and kept safe. He is my brother, even if he is also…also treasonous.” Thor voice wavered before he finished. “I would never let any harm come to him.”
Byleistr looked less sure, and Loki felt his control slipping away. That wouldn’t do. That wouldn’t do at all.
“I can lead you into Asgard.”
Even the wind was silenced at that, as though the weather itself was caught up in the moment.
“I can lead you into Asgard,” Loki repeated, “just as I lead Laufey in. I am one of the greatest mages in the realm, and I know the paths between worlds. They will never let me live if you let Thor reclaim me. They could not allow it even if they wanted to.”
“He is lying!” Thor shouted, and the guards raised their weapons against him once more. Loki wanted to smile.
“You could lead us into Asgard?” Byleistr asked, head tilting in fascination. Loki could practically see the cogs in his mind turning.
“You, your king, an army, I can lead you all, brother,” Loki said. “I do not seek the throne. I don’t care if you claim me as royalty or not. All I want is my own safety, and revenge against my captors.”
“If he could escape, he would have done it before!” Thor had Mjolnir out once more, the fool.
“I do not know the way out of Asgard,” Loki said with a shrug. “The paths are not like roads. They do not always go two ways.”
Byleistr looked like a man who had just found some vast horde of treasure, a thousand gleaming possibilities laid out before him. “Loki Laufeyson, I offer you sanctuary.”
Loki sent Thor a triumphant, vicious smile.
Thor’s eyes darted between them, fury and fear written on his face. Then his eyes narrowed, and he said, “Do it, then, Loki.”
“Hmm?” Loki always felt distinctly nervous when Thor was unpredictable.
“Do it.” Thor gestured to the land around them. “Show him the path to Asgard. Do it now, if it is so simple and not a craven lie that you are telling to escape.”
Byleistr looked at Loki.
“The path is not here,” Loki snapped.
“Take us, then,” Byleistr said, more suspicion in his voice than Loki liked.
“I am greatly weakened from my captivity,” Loki said. “I need rest before-”
“Before you escape and make a fool of Byleistr?” Thor said, voice full of challenge.
Some part of Loki wanted to stomp his foot in childish frustration. Why couldn’t Thor ever just make things simple? Where had he learned cunning? Fine. If Thor thought he could win against a master, than Loki would punish him the way he deserved.
“I can take myself and Byleistr, at least.” Loki said it as though he was defending wounded pride.
“I’m going with you,” Thor said immediately, because he could still blunder into traps with the best of them.
“Fine,” Loki sneered, turning to Byleistr to ensure that he agreed. “Witness the beginning of Jotunheim’s revenge firsthand, then.”
“My lord, I am not sure…” one of the guards began, but Byleistr waved him away.
“I will glean the truth from these two, one way or another. Take us, Liesmith, and bring the Asgardian along. We will see how true his talk of peace is when the way to Asgard lays open.”
Loki laid one hand on Byleistr’s shoulder and the other on Thor’s, cackling with delight as Thor flinched from the cold. The world around them blurred green and silver, and they vanished from the sights of the guards.
Loki’s teleportation could not travel far. It was not enough to move between the worlds. It was not enough to even move between continents. But it could move two frost giants and an Asgardian several miles away from any witness, and that was all Loki needed.
Byleistr’s expression when they reappeared and were obviously still in Jotunheim was priceless. Loki had no time to savor it, though. He slid one of his knives out of his sleeves and drove it straight into the prince’s throat.
An arc of frosty blood shot from Byleistr’s neck, and he gave a strangled cry as he staggered to the ground. Loki was already turning, another knife aimed at Thor. His brother had clearly expected some kind of attack, and even the disorientation of teleportation wasn’t enough to throw him off completely. He blocked the knife with a swing of Mjolnir, but Loki had another one prepared. It flashed in the dim light as it whirled through the air and sank into Thor’s shoulder.
“Don’t thrash too much, brother,” Loki said, dancing out of the way with a laugh as Thor swung Mjolnir at him. “The knives are tipped with the poison from wolfblood flowers. The last thing you want is to get your blood pumping.”
Byleistr was making a wheezing, rattling noise, blood pooling around him as he tried to put pressure on his neck. Thor was hardly any better off; Loki could see the veins in his throat standing out, turning black as the poison worked its way through him. Thor fell to his knees with a hiss of pain.
“Not to worry, Thor,” Loki said, letting his Jotun guise slide away. “It won’t kill you, just leave you helpless and in pain. It won’t kill Byleistr here, either, but I will.” He leaned down to yank the knife from Byleistr’s throat, causing another gout of blood to pour out.
“It will break Helblindi’s heart when I tell him how Thor struck you down,” Loki said, pinning the frost giant to the ground with his boot. He felt like some sort of poison was pouring out of him as he spoke, bitterness and rage coloring his voice. “And worse, Thor found a way to close the path to Asgard. A terrible tragedy all around. But I will be there to offer counsel. Asgard will be mine, and I suppose so will Jotunheim.” He leaned close and sneered, “To be honest, though, brother, I never cared for frost giants. I wish the Bifrost had wiped you all out, the way I intended it to.”
He raised the knife, but never got the chance to bring it down again. A warm, hard wall of muscle that could only be Thor tackled him from behind, sending them both flying. Loki hit the snow hard, but managed to roll to his feet. He drew his arm back to send another knife flying into Thor, but was struck dumb by what he saw when he looked at his brother.
Thor was on his feet. That alone should have been impossible with the wolfblood poison in him, but that was not the only impossibility. Magic glowed on Thor’s skin, the color rich and golden as it crept slowly along the path of his veins.
“How-” Loki choked, snarled, managed to spit out, “You cannot use seidr.”
“Not much.” Thor’s voice was strained. Mjolnir flew into his hand, and his grip was stronger than it had any right to be. “Not well. But I can. Father showed me.”
Loki should have run, or attacked, or done anything in that moment besides gawk, but he could not help it. How, how, how? ran through his mind madly, and his disbelief (his outrage) slowed him when Thor swung Mjolnir. Before Loki realized it, he was pinned in the snow, the familiar, inexorable weight of hammer pressing him down like an insect under a boot.
He screamed, fury coursing through him. He could not even manage words, he was so caught up in his rage. If Loki lifted his head, he could see Thor kneeling at Byleistr’s side several feet away, reaching one hand down to touch his neck. Loki did not want to see that, did not want to see any of it, so he simply screamed instead. In a distant part of his mind, he wondered how he must look. Like a wounded, rabid animal, most likely, howling from inside of its trap.
Thor stepped into his line of sight, looking down at him with a dark expression. “Be silent.”
“A healing spell?” Loki spat. “All the seidr in the nine realms and you chose a healing spell?”
“The magic that came the easiest was the kind that I wanted the most,” Thor said, voice brittle. “I wanted to be able to help…to help people.”
To help you hung there between them, bright and painful and impossible to say aloud.
“You idiot,” Loki growled, blinking away the moisture in his eyes. “You stupid, worthless-”
Mjolnir flew into Thor’s hand, freeing Loki as easily as he’d been pinned. Instead of reaching for the pouch that held the Tessaract, Thor simply stared at him. After a moment, he said, “Go.”
Loki climbed unsteadily to his feet. He felt sick. “What?”
“Go,” Thor said, voice thick. He looked as though he was watching a loved one die. “You escaped while I was tending to Byleistr. He is unconscious. He will not say otherwise.”
“Do you think this will earn you my forgiveness?” Loki hissed, shaking with some toxic mix of emotion. “Do you think this will fix things between us?”
“It will earn nothing for either of us,” Thor said, and there was resolve in his voice again. “I will give you a head start, Loki, nothing more. Perhaps a day, perhaps a week.” He staggered forward and wrapped his hand around the back of Loki’s neck, squeezing down the way he had a thousand times before. “You are my brother, and I love you more than anyone--but you are dangerous beyond the telling of it. I see that now. I will recapture you, and you won’t escape again.”
Loki twisted himself out of Thor’s grasp.
“I hate you,” he hissed, gathering his magic around himself like armor. “I hate you.”
And then he was gone, teleporting himself again and again until he was gasping from the exertion. Loki would not be found. He would not let himself be dragged back to Asgard, where all of his weaknesses lay bare and exposed. He was neither Asgardian nor Jotun.
He was alone, and it was better that way.
It was the truth. It had to be.
Chapter 10: Epilogue
Since the trailer for The Dark World has been released since the last update, I added an epilogue to make the story sync up to canon somewhat, and tie up a few loose ends. You're free to ignore it if you prefer an AU where Loki is still running wild.
Several months later:
The final batch of healing poultices had been delivered, and Thor was glad for it. He was tired of visiting Jotunheim, tired of the ice and the snow. He wanted to sit beneath the sun and pretend all was well, at least for a while.
In the hall below, the Jotun nobility feasted and laughed. Thor leaned against the balcony railing and tried to spot Helblindi. He wanted to make his excuses and leave. He found Jarnsaxa instead, and she smiled up at him. Thor gave her a nod and a small smile. He never knew where he stood with Jarnsaxa. It was very strange.
“Hello, Odinson,” came a voice from beside him. Thor turned to see Helblindi leaning against the stairs that lead down from the balcony. “I am surprised you’re still here.”
“I was just about to take my leave,” Thor said, giving a short bow.
Helblindi made no move to step aside and let Thor through. His expression was serene as he said, “I heard that your brother has been recaptured.”
Thor did not respond. He did not want to speak of what it felt like to haul Loki back to Asgard in chains, to lock him in a cell in the dungeons and leave him there. He had not been able to find words for his parents, or his friends, and he had none to offer the king of the frost giants.
Helblindi did not seem deterred. “I hope the new cell is a little better than the old one. I don’t think Byleistr would survive another escape attempt.”
“He will stay put,” Thor said, radiating irritation and a desire to escape both the conversation and the realm itself.
Helblindi smiled mirthlessly, and spent a moment simply staring at Thor. “I know your brother killed my father, Odinson.”
Thor went still.
In the same deceptively light tone, Helblindi added, “Regicide is a crime worthy of execution. Worthy of bringing war upon anyone who harbors a king-slayer.”
“I suppose so,” Thor said, and it was clear to both of them that any attempts on Loki’s life would have to be made over Thor’s corpse.
Helblindi smiled again, strange and inscrutable, and stepped aside to let Thor pass. “We are not friends, Thunderer, but we need not be enemies. A storm is gathering throughout the nine realms, and not the kind that you delight in. Keep your brother locked away; we don’t need his chaos added to the mix.”
Thor nodded in agreement and brushed past Helblindi. It did not surprise him that the Jotuns had heard about the trouble brewing in Svartálfaheimr and Álfheimr. If Asgard could not hold it at bay, it would likely spread to Jotunheim. To Midgard.
Thor stepped out of the palace and into the snow, staring up at the snowy horizon for a long moment. He felt terribly homesick, and returning to Asgard would not fix it. How could it, when what Thor longed for was times long since past?
But going home would have to suffice.