"But those plans no longer matter."
It's bad enough that there was even a plan in Odin's mind at all, and feelings of betrayal and so many other things flooded over Loki. "So I am no more than another stolen relic..."
"No. You were always more. From the moment your eyes met mine, trusting though you had never been given a reason to trust anything... How you've changed since that day." Odin took a deep breath. "If the entire army of the Jotun had marched after us to reclaim you, I could not have handed you over to them then."
"Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Because I thought it was safer for you, my dear Loki." He looked away, then back. "I have put off my sleep as long as I can, my son. Sit with me. Talk to your mother as she keeps watch. And then we can talk again once I wake."
He held out his hand, and when Loki had taken it and climbed the few steps still separating them, he pulled him close and put an arm around his shoulders. "Would you help an old man to his bed?"
"Yes... Father," Loki said while looking out of the corner of his eye for the reaction.
The squeeze of his shoulders was an answer not even Thor could have missed.
"I wanted to tell you while you were growing up, but he thought it best you never think you were different."
"So I would never know I was a monster..."
He turned towards her.
"Never ever think that! If anything, you've proved it's the way Jotunheim forces them to live that makes us see them as monstrous. Although, given what happened to you..." She looked away, clearly distressed.
"Anyone can lose track of a baby in a battle."
She turned towards him. "That's what you think happened? Loki, exactly what did your father tell you?"
"That he found me in the Jotuns' temple after the battle, abandoned. That I trusted him immediately. That I was small for a giant."
"And what do you think you were doing there?"
"The same thing that would happen here in Asgard to such a child. There would be a ceremony to let everyone know that he might never be fit for the battlefield and that he would need guidance as he grew to find another place to fit in. A man who can craft a sword may yet not be fit to wield it, as the saying goes. It's how this city was built, how we have the weapons we bear. One of the old men who designed the Bifrost has never walked without a crutch. If he had been left to watch as the other boys played at war that potential would have been lost to us."
"Oh my Loki," Frigga sobbed.
"Loki, you have been to Jotunheim. You have seen the giants, seen their realm. Is there any place for such a person among them?"
Loki's eyes filled with tears and he shook his head slightly in confusion, not understanding why he was having that reaction. "What do you mean, Mother?"
"Shh. Come over here. Sit beside me, my little darling."
He did so, and she pulled him close in her arms.
"Loki, you came to us hours old. You'd been cleaned up, but barely. No matter how the battle went, if Odin hadn't walked into that temple, you would have starved or died of exposure, possibly before the day ended."
"Mother..." Loki sobbed, weeping openly.
"Yes, my son. Laufey never acknowledged you existed except to disclaim you on the day of your birth. Odin's was the first friendly face you ever knew, and your first food was broth from stew dripped into your mouth from one of his fingers, he was so afraid you would die before he could get you to the palace. Thor wasn't weaned yet then, and so I had him at one breast when Odin came into the room with you. And oh, I took one look at you and knew in a moment why I had another." She smiled at him through her own tears. "And the moment you had your first taste of milk, you latched on so hard I thought you would never let go. Oh, and I can still see it like it was yesterday: Thor flailed his little hand over and caught hold of yours. And so you are Loki Odinson of Asgard, brother to Thor, and have been so since you were less than a day old and just as surely as if I had borne you into the world myself."
When he had cried himself out, she dried his eyes with her sleeve.
There was a clanking in the hallway, then in the doorway. As Loki looked up, the guards bowed and a man bearing Odin's staff marched past them, into the room, and then knelt before Loki.
Loki glanced at his mother's face.
"Thor is banished, Loki. Your father acknowledged both of you as old enough for responsibility in his absence. Until your brother returns - and believe me, Thor will find a way if there is one - you are heir. And while your father sleeps this little while, Asgard must have a ruler."
Loki took the staff, staring at it in disbelief.
They all filed away.
"It is yours, for the next few days, my son."
Loki looked back at her. "Father asked me to stay with you."
Frigga smiled at him. "I know what will make him happy: Thor alive, you alive, and no more wars when he wakes than when he fell asleep. And his sons happy. I don't think he would begrudge you a short sit on the throne and having your friends bow before you just the once, knowing it will likely be just the once."
"I wish Thor were here."
"So do I. But oh, think of the look on his face when he realizes his actions meant a frost giant sat on Odin's throne."
"More like a frost midget," he grumbled, but he was grinning for the first time since he'd seen his skin tinge to blue.
Sif was going to hate this in all the right ways.
"That's the spirit, my little trickster. My - temporary - King Loki."