Thor never had known how to leave well enough alone.
“You might tell them,” Loki said without opening his eyes, “To be quicker about it. I begin to grow bored.”
He could picture the look on Thor’s face without seeing it. Somewhere between perplexed and upset. “It is a difficult decision, brother. No one wants to take rash action.”
Loki opened one eye. “Even you? Time was you took nothing but rash action.” Brother. The word grated at him like a discordant note. A lie. Did Thor still think he couldn’t smell it? “Time was you would have been the first to roar for blood.”
“Never yours,” Thor said, passionately. Loki closed his eye again and scoffed. He could almost hear Thor’s expression fall. “Loki. The Allfather wants to be merciful. I can see it. He merely needs a reason.” He folded his silence around himself. Mercy. Always mercy. No such thing.
“You were always a fool,” Loki said calmly, “But I wonder when you became an optimistic one.”
Loki wished that his cell was more uncomfortable. It would, he thought, make this easier to bear. They kept him well-fed and at a comfortable temperature. There was a shelf of his own books, apparently taken from his former room.
They indulge you like a child, or a misbehaving dog, said the snide voice in the back of his mind. A runaway cur dragged home to its masters. That is what they see in you.
They see you for what you are.
He could have endured pain. (Had endured pain.) Could have endured anything they threw at him, taken their spears and forged it into part of his armor as he had everything else the world had flung in his face. Making their every insult one that he could give back triple.
This, he couldn’t…didn’t know how to-
You’re looking for cruelty because you’ve forgotten how to receive kindness, a different voice murmured in the back of his mind. I’m looking for cruelty, Loki would have snapped back to it, because there is no kindness. Not for me.
“What happened to you?” Thor asked, anguished, and Loki’s laugh grated harshly over his throat.
“What happened to me? Do you forget so easily?”
“You fell,” Thor said, voice puzzled, and Loki wanted to giggle. Fell. What an easy way of saying it. What a simple, basic word for something so… He settled for baring his teeth in a mockery of a smile.
“Yes,” he said. “I fell. I tumbled into the darkness between worlds and emerged still alive. Next time you will have to try harder to kill me than that.”
“I wasn’t trying to-” Thor cut off and turned away. “Was it something in the darkness, then? That drove you to such madness?”
He didn’t want to be here. Didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to think about that endless, endless fall he had never expected to survive. Didn’t want Thor to be here to see his limbs tremble with the memory. “No,” Loki snapped, “It was something in me. It was always something in me, you imbecile. There is no one else to blame.”
“I know you, brother,” Thor said pleadingly. “This insanity does not suit you. You wear it like a second skin, ill-fitting. You have changed, I want to know why, I want to know what soured all that was bright in you-”
“Maybe you just never knew me as well as you thought,” Loki said sweetly, “And I just tired of the pretense.”
There was a part in him that wanted to call her mother still. That wanted to reach out to her for comfort and tell her everything he kept locked safely behind his teeth, because she had been his recourse for so long when there was no one else, for the things he couldn’t even say to Thor.
He locked his jaw and gritted his teeth.
She looked at him with sadness in her eyes, all dignity and collected grace. “Oh, Loki,” she murmured. “My son. I wish you had come back to me on better terms.”
Loki half closed his eyes. “I am not your son,” he said flatly, dully.
He heard her sigh. “So you say. Why will you not let me decide that?”
Stop it, he wanted to say. Stop it stop it stop it don’t speak to me like that, like you still want me. He called a smile to his face, brittle and mocking. “You would have a traitor for a son? Have care. One might mistake your fondness for treason.”
The look she leveled at him was cold and fierce, the instinct to quail before it strong. “You forget how I know you. You forget that I was ever the one to dry your tears and soothe your hurts. Make no mistake. I am sorely disappointed. But if you seek for me to confirm your isolation and abandon you again, I will do no such thing. I wept bitter tears for you, Loki. I will not weep those tears again.” Her eyes, bright and sharp, pinned him to the floor. “I do not forgive you. But I do still love you.”
Loki could feel the walls he’d built cracking like sea ice in the summer. Yawning fissures opening. He clenched his fists at his sides. “I want nothing of your love.”
Frigga smiled at him, though through the blur of his vision (cursed tears, of anger, of anger) he thought he could see dampness on her face. “You were never,” she said softly, “Able to lie very well to me.”
Silence had always been one of the most effective weapons in his arsenal against Thor. When he was angry at Thor, it usually only took a few minutes of stony silence to have him frantic, and a few more to get him to beg forgiveness. Silence, to Thor, seemed to be a signal of something wrong, a hole that needed filling.
All his anger, all his bitterness and sharp words wielded like knives to draw blood, and Thor kept coming back with his sweet, sweet lies. Loki could no longer remember why he had wanted Thor to visit to begin with. (Could always remember, when he wasn’t there, when it was just himself and the sick-swirling circle-thoughts in his head.)
Loki used the only weapon he had left. Silence. Sat down cross-legged on the bed and let Thor carry on a conversation with himself, watching him grow ever more frustrated. Watching him pace back and forth and gesticulate and demand that Loki speak, that he explain.
Explain what, Loki thought. I could explain everything to you and you would still never hear a word.
“Please, brother,” Thor said, begging at last, true to form. “I know you are listening. Answer me. If I could understand…”
You will never understand. I will take your hatred, Thor. I will take your wrath and your anger and your disappointment. But I will never accept your pity.
When he was alone, his thoughts wandered. Meandered far and wide, like strays. He sat still and let them go.
They lingered in the places between the stars, on the threat he hoped was forgotten. Flitted to the band of motley broken creatures he had so sorely underestimated and daydreamed of how he would undo them.
Slunk to the warm pressure of Thor’s hand on the back of his neck, you come home. Veered away.
He tried not to sleep. To sleep was to be vulnerable, and he had sworn to himself that he would never be that again. Never again be that flayed, broken thing that had sought death in the abyss.
You’ve got that wrong, said the snide voice in the back of his head. You’ll never be anything else.
When he did sleep, he dreamed. In his dreams he was still falling, and knew he would never stop. Just him and the hungry dark of space.
Sometimes he woke and wondered if this was the dream, after all, a desperate, demented fantasy. The thought made him want to laugh. He did not think he would be overly surprised.
“Loki,” Thor said, looming against the walls of his prison, his voice heavy and tired. “Please. Speak your mind to me. When we were young you held me high in your confidences. I would you would only…”
“I have nothing left to say to you at all,” Loki said, gaze distant, as everything he wanted to say boiled up behind his teeth like bile.
“I only want my brother back.”
“A pity, then,” Loki said coldly, “That you never had a brother at all.”
Thor’s fist thudded against the barrier between them. “The voices crying for your death grow louder every day. There is only so much I – we – can do. If we can but prove there were circumstances – if you were perhaps unwilling…” He could hear the pleading in Thor’s voice. Does it pain you? He thought, bitterly poisonous. To think that you might not have me to shape to your will any longer?
“They want to kill me?” Loki turned his head and met Thor’s eyes, smiled the smile of all the broken edges just under his skin, too wide, too sharp, too feral. Thor reared back, slightly. “By all means,” Loki breathed, “Let them try.”