You were made of chalk and dust and broken things. Your ribs ripped apart and bent back to lie open to the world. The white of your skewed limbs and the paleness of your already burnt cheeks stark amid the black night around you. A dark born thing and yet still ever so pale. The way your were hollow and the trembling quiver of your brow held only sorrow above quivering lashes. You were the picture of utter anguish. You were afraid, amongst this set of white death and perpetual light when only you wanted darkness. You wanted an end. You wanted everything for nothing.
But you were made of broken things. And rarely do the broken receive.
There were countless lines of thin, fine thread between them that told the tale of how utterly wrong their fates truly were. Thousands of year's worth of time, and what had they to show for it, but a few trinkets weighed in gold and gems? What the great, ancient, ever young gods did not already have buried deep inside their oak chests of fur and hung on racks of steel and wood?
Shame. They'd returned with shame heavy on their backs and seeping through their arms, it was so very thick. As the single eye of their father bore down upon them, judging, always forever judging, he wondered even had they returned with Dwarven steel would they be pardoned? Not this time.
So they were left with a choice, after what seemed to be many a year being looked down upon by their father, their King.
Banishment or the Blood Eagle.
Most were not faced with such a choice, and rarely was such a thing thrust on two of the royally inherited. A prince and a brother.
In the corner of the room stood Balder. A bright spot amidst a black hall, a hall too dark with memories.
Oh, why had he satisfied his brother, his not-brother, by accompanying him to Jotunheim, to Svartalfheim? They would all suffer for what they had invoked.
Not even had the Jotnar arrived for peace talks would Asgard be pleased. Nothing was left to invoke kindness from that bitter gaze bearing down on them both. Nothing to allow them an escape. Not even Frigga's motherly smile, wifely touch, could bring the strike of leniency upon their heads, had she had any left of herself to give. For they had wronged, and greatly had they done so. Wronged far, far too much for even their Queen, their mother, was removed. Even she wanted nothing to do with them. Only watched as her husband sentenced her two not-children to certain demise.
But perhaps that was simply his own mind parading in a circle.
Oh, how many wrongs were left in the world?
Too many deaths provoked by their actions.
Too far gone was the situation for Odin Allfather. The man they called father was no longer present. Here be Grímr, Ginnarr, Hoarr, Hrafnáss, and possibly most condemning of all, Loki saw the form of Odin Viðurr. For this man had killed, had screamed and died and drank to know the many ways of doing so, and so much more, and lived on through it all.
And how he did judge them then.
“You've ruined the political alliances we have so carefully fought to reconstruct after the war. Never have relations been this tense, not since the war with the Vanir I should like to think, so many eons past.”
Here Odin paused, looking out to silently assess all Vanir who were privileged enough to have been allowed to attend. “Jotunheim is forever lost to us, you rash fools, the both of you.”
The last part, however quietly added, was there, and Loki saw how it burned Thor beside him so deeply. His long hair hid his face, his embarrassment and anger, but Loki had no such trick. He was open and forced to witness every miniscule fleck of fury and desperate disappointment that crossed Odin's face. The expected removal of their individual headdresses left him clutching at the curved helm adorned with curling bone at his side, the metal slick under his moist palm. He'd never been more pleased to have mastered such a blank expression, for that was the only thing offering him such cover. The fact that Thor visibly flinched when next Odin spoke was the only thing that kept his own temper in check, kept his head level.
He'd been so wary, for so long, of his brother's unfortunate mistakes. Afraid of that inevitable time there would be no escape from Odin's wrath. Always, he'd been dragged down, pulled by the weight of that not-brotherhood. That ruse. Another lie among many he was made to keep, for his own pleasure, and the safety of others. Though he had never been in the same position as Thor, equal to everything that Odin was unleashing in reward and punishment alike. Alone, always alone. Never had he been whipped beside Thor, words though the lash held. He'd been whipped, always, alone.
Loki very nearly wished it were the true whip that was cutting them both so raw and bloody.
"You've brought down the hatred of our kind by those who inhabit the mountainous caverns of the cold to a level deeper even than Hel itself. I wonder it has not breached mighty Yggdrasil's roots already." A moment of staring, in which Odin tightened strong fingers along the shaft of his spear, Gungnir. "A bird of prey is dead because of your deeds. And another lies in wait, watching Asgard like the towering spine he is."
Thor, foolish, ever stupid Thor, raised his eyes to grasp the barest look at his father, and tried in vain to speak. "Father, we—"
"Boy!" he roared, the room shaking. "You have brought down the songs of Winter on us all!"
A nervous muttering broke out as Thor quieted, subdued, realizing his mistake too late. Just as he had the others, as was his way with all things. One does not talk out of turn in court, and certainly not the King's own son, favored though he may be.
Loki had known and understood this danger far longer than Thor had. Perhaps the Thunderer was finally realizing that a life, to Odin, was nothing grander than the smallest leaf under many others. Easily lost. Easily crushed. Easily forgotten. No matter it be his own son whose life was being considered. It was just another thread. Loki almost felt the way Thor's shoulders fell, cowed by his father's well known fury. Saw out the corner of his eye the way he bit his lip, nearly hidden by his hair even from Loki.
Several of the muttering attendee's voices rose and almost instinctually, Loki focused on listening to the voices wavering around him, their tones and lilts and ways of breathing. He heard their pleas, their fears, their hopes, their judgment. He'd had enough of that. Their easy way of condemning and hating had always been as easily thrown at him as was their blind trust of their Thunderer.
Look at him now, the golden fool.
"They will not sing, my King," Loki spoke smoothly. "For you have stolen their words. Or have you forgotten?"
Beside him, Loki felt Thor's barely trembling shoulder press firmly against his for a moment. A warning. Loki caught the very slightest hint of the way Thor's thoughts sifted about his head, nearly praying in his desire to simply stop all this.
Above him, having nowhere else for his ever bright eyes to retreat, he saw the agitation reach its zenith in Odin's one eye, the terribly fine arch of his brow. He mused he even heard the muted pop of knuckles against spear. Careful, lest he allow his magics strain too far.
"Silence, boy. Or would you have me take your words as well?"
He'd expected this. "I would have you allow us to right where we have irrevocably wronged."
Another collection of mutterings from those gathered. Dare he ask such a thing? How does the second prince dare to challenge his father so? Loki deserves this punishment, not Thor, not our crown prince…
"How fix you what is already broken?" Odin asked, after the muttering had died down somewhat.
For you are a broken thing...
"Midgard, great Farmoguðr. I would see us sent to Midgard. There are wars brewing along their seas and they seek an end through prayer, for their temples are burned whilst they are still in their beds."
It was not a lie. Not a great one. The mortals were praying, and it edged along the fine line of annoyance at times, especially when trying to claim sleep. The only reason he heard them at all was because he oftentimes let his focus wander. Meditation allowed for many a thing to be channeled. Odin and Heimdall knew. He knew. Thor knew to an extent, as did others, but that was by word of mouth. There was opposition to those who would worship them, the Nine Realms, warriors who fought for the honor of reaching Valhalla. The opposition came in preachers and tomes and old men who rattled on about a single god who allowed no one thing to go unjudged.
It was the surest way to escape whatever judgment would befall them this day. Save the mortals Odin once so cherished since his and his brothers' creation of them, and have his favor enough to be pardoned. Temporarily.
Again, another touch of Thor's shoulder. This time seemed not as much a dire warning, rather it was in acquiescence or encouragement. Perhaps even an accident made in overbearing relief in the turn in conversation. Whatever it was, Odin did not look upon it kindly.
"I am aware of their strife, Trickster." This was said as quietly as before, so only Loki and Thor, and possibly even Frigga heard.
"Trickster I may be, but in times of war, however brought on, we must look to our most clever for a beneficial outcome. I would see us have the mortals on our side when the Jotnar march upon Asgardian soil, as others will no doubt follow soon thereafter."
Pleasingly, Odin seemed unable to answer for a long moment as he regarded the man he'd allowed to be raised alongside his son, one of many, all these many millennia. For a flash of an instant, Loki saw the fear of Muspelheim in his one eye and then it was replaced by quiet recollection.
Perhaps he was thinking he should have killed Loki where he stood, along with his parents when he was but a child. Perhaps he shouldn't have allowed the sorrowful, angry Jotun child be raised as a mock Aesir under the same warm-cored stars that sparkled amidst their unique dustings of nebulae. Perhaps he should have left him to wither away in the cold and dark of Winter along with the rest of the dying Songs as so many of his kind already had, gazing upon the hard pricks of ice drifting high above them in a glacial sky with its many moons.
"I wish not for complete disavowal of the banishment we deserve, I only desire a prolonging of the inevitable fate we each must one day face. We will need all possible allies we can hope to gain." Loki was sure then that if he had high horns they would curl at every word he spoke, as he'd be pleased to see.
Odin's silence reigned and Loki fought to temper his smile.
Beside their king father, Frigga looked ready to wail and beat hands upon her chest in contempt, silent and severe though her eyes were. Balder looked deflated, wary, suspicious as he always was. No doubt he'd be in his gardens later, sniffing flowers and seducing birds to flap pretty wings for his distraction. His handsome face twisted in a smile meant to hide all manner of darkened thought within his soul. Never would the pure one be a warfarer. Never an ironmonger.
Not as Thor was a warrior with red blood thick and hot in his skull, and Loki a Lieweaver with ice in his veins and a slick lode of clever water for a heart and tongue.
They were made for battle and every mode involved, as their King was. Frigga had not the hands and Balder had not anything at all. Frigga with her husband, and her loom and her clouds. Balder with his mead, shining hall, and his wife and her frivolity. Loki suspected she might faint should her lord husband be felled in battle, or any such event.
Loki met Odin's eye as steadily as he had all those years ago, when they'd taken the oath no longer spoken of. Brothers, they were. Just as he and Thor were. A not-son to a not-father, but to a brother who was of different parentage.
So many, many threads, fine and weaving and interlacing at impossible angles and heights. Some were torn or fading, a great many lost from memory. Making them all for the fools they were, showing those of higher meaning just how wrong the Nine were, will continue to be.
So he kept staring, and staring, waiting for Odin to acknowledge the irredeemable right in his words.
"What say you, Thor, to this life on Midgard and amongst mortals? Fighting their wars and winning their allegiance once more?" Useless though they have grown to be, was what went unsaid, despite the lucidity of it in Odin's one eye. There had been favor there once, like how an owner harbors affection for a pet, but Loki saw none left, not now.
"Aye, Father. I would have them with us, gaining honor as men alongside the very gods they so loyally worship."
A pause wherein Odin regarded those who stood in his hall, eye raking across each face, each son he'd bore, each Valkyrie that lurked knowingly, eagerly in the corners. Then finally, he only stared out, gripping the shaft of his spear tight.
One heavy strike against the golden dais from Gungnir, tall, thin, and piercing the high ceiling with its many facets of light, and it was done.
"Bring me the heads and hearts of those who would challenge our existence, these defilers, and perhaps then I shall reevaluate your places amongst our ranks. Bend open their chests and tear back their white ribs and show the mortals that man came from the earth I created with my brothers. Scry in the blood that washes over their bones and seeps down through to their dirt and show them that we are who they strive for. Teach them to honor life for life, and that should they desire a higher purpose, have them desire a place fighting for the rebirth of the world."
Another clang of metal against metal, and Odin met Loki's gaze.
"Remind them all death does is recycle the living."
They had been excused from the studying eyes of the court, and of Odin. They had not been in Thor's rooms for nigh on a year due to the war, but that did not seem to erase the familiarity of them. Thor barely acknowledged that, glaring at the floor as he was. Loki stood, centered, balanced, ever watching with those shards for eyes. To move would be to break the tension of the court just moments earlier and to break that would be to unleash the rage of Thor, and he had no wish for that. Not yet.
"That was a terribly foolish thing to—"
"To what, Thor? It was pledge our alliance to the whelps of Midgard—escaping total banishment—or have our lungs laid bare for all the court to see! They would revel in our spilt blood. The Duergar would have laughed and danced at us—"
The heavy thud of Mjolnir vibrated along the golden floor as Loki saw it drop.
"The dwarves were not there!" And then, less angry and a touch impatient, "They will not come."
He stood, watching Thor's countenance. A man troubled, a man hateful, spiteful, and above all the many things that made up the man before him, Loki saw apprehension. It shone as if it was a bright orb of magicked light about his head.
Quietly, "You see as much sense in my words as I do. Do not taint my sacrifice with your ill-conceived beliefs about my loyalty—"
"Speak not any longer, brother," Thor started direly. "Or I shall see your very heart on this floor before me in moments."
He halted, knowing that when Thor threatened, he meant it truly. He would not hesitate either, not after Jotunheim. They were past all forms of falsified brotherhood, of pretended camaraderie. How very long it had taken.
"Amusing you should see fit to evade the very conversation you wished to have only weeks ago. Were it not in my curious nature, I would not be speaking of it at all."
"'Were it not in your curious nature,'" Thor mocked, leaving Mjolnir where it lay to bear down upon Loki, all fury and hot breath and vicious, brutal eyes. "You are a betrayer and a liar. I see no reason to satisfy such base desires as yours. Catering to your petty need for many words."
"Petty?" he laughed. "Oh, I pity you for believing speech is something so crass as pettiness."
A spiteful smile, one that did not reach Thor's eyes. "Ah, but that is your forte, is it not? You speak unbearably chaotic words so that all around you bow to your whims, small and willful as they are."
"Oh, but chaos is in my nature, is it not?" Thor turned away as Loki said, all composure and ease, "You agreed with me, readily. Easily. The words sat hot on your tongue just as they did mine. Anything to escape punishment, or am I wrong?"
"Aye, but is that not the irony of it? You said them before I ever could. And now we are bound for the middle realm of the very Tree they have forgotten. The mortals deserve no such devotion."
"Think you I erred."
"I know you did, Loki. And we will pay for it, for years to come."
The runes swam invisibly between his fingers before Thor even finished speaking. Loki knew what had to be done to maintain some level of balance when they were to be thrown to the hounds of Midgard. He had an inkling of what Odin would subject them to, and he had to be prepared.
And so when he left the all too familiar smell and sight of Thor's quarters, it was all he could do not to turn back right there, and share his reasoning. To let his mind be known.
But he was Loki. And only Loki knew Loki.
"Do you weep, Heimdall?"
"Do I weep for what, my lord?"
Beneath them the Asbru shone brightly, pulsing colors of light that faded and reemerged to be stronger than before, to die again. Again and again. Loki sat cross-legged on the colorful bridge, staring into his hands. Heimdall stood as aloof as ever, hands upon the hilt of his great sword.
"For time? For life? Surely you must, with all you've seen?" He picked at his fingernails.
"Do I weep for the universe you mean? One does not weep for what one understands. I was born of the Nine, nine mothers, nine daughters, thus I was born knowing. You learn quickly with a gift such as mine that compassion, sorrow, anger, happiness has no rightful place. You must observe the Realms, the indescribable scrutinies others do not take the time to look for, as a whole. Judge not the Realms. Judge not what one must protect above all else, and what they must do in order to achieve that protection."
Loki listened, heard all that was being said. He reveled in the few peaceful moments he had ever exchanged with the Gatekeeper, and yet he felt disgust in doing so. They were not meant for peaceful exchange, for camaraderie. Loki knew this. Heimdall knew this.
He pulled at the link of his bracer, loosening and tightening it again. A long pause wherein the seas clashed beneath them. "You can still weep for understanding. Depends on what is finally understood."
"And some weep for sacrifice, I know not the difference in this. Weeping in itself is a wasted thing. To know is a pleasure, a necessity."
He raised his eyebrows, amused Heimdall had found a loophole so large. "You think to shed tears of sorrow is a wasted thing?"
"Not all are able to achieve that end, not all are born of the Nine."
"The Fates were."
"Aye, as they were born of bestial energies as well. Their knowledge far surpasses mine. Think you the Fates weep then?"
Loki let loose one broken chuckle, and stood. He met Heimdall’s steady gaze. "No, I suppose they don't."
As he turned, Heimdall said, "Bring with you furs aplenty, for the winters of Midgard grow longer and colder than those that preceded it."
Loki tossed his arms out to the side, swaying as he walked away, towards the golden palace that so violently disturbed the twilight sky.
"I have camped in Jotunheim, I know cold, Gatekeeper." He angled his head to the side, so that his voice might carry easier across the wind, though he knew the ears of the god reached far beyond a few dozen yards. "Chaos only thrives so long in summer."
"What happened in the cold and the dark of the land of the Jotnar? Thor?" Sif stepped lightly, like the floor would break apart and falter under the barest push of her weight.
Thor sat at the edge of his bed, disgruntled in all but the vague way he touched two fingers to the leathered hilt of Mjolnir. It sat there on the oaken slab of a table beside his bed, and was a mighty, virtuous thing in the midst of wrought emotion, destruction that was sure to come. He could only hope to build up patience in the wake of it, if nothing else.
She bit her lip and stepped closer, standing a few scant feet away, hands at her sides as if the ambiguous expectation of the stance would sluice words from his mind.
Thor shut his eyes and let his fingers fall away, hands coming to gather in the space between his knees. "There are many dark things in all the worlds Sif, and had you been there you would know."
"You forget thunder-caller, I was there for many months before you and he went off to be heroes." She came forward, advancing delicately until two small hands were on either side of his head, fingers pressed softly to his temples. He let out a breath and she went on. "I would know what heroism demanded such harsh decisions."
"You know, shieldmaiden—"
"I know the need for Regicide; I know not why the reason of the need is being spread. There were many things that went unknown between us those last few weeks. I would know how killing a king so ruined has troubled you so vastly."
"You would know many things, dearest Sif," he said.
"Aye, I would."
Thor touched a hand to the back of hers, feeling how his hair was splayed through the fingers of her other. "I needed Loki. I needed him those last weeks to alter the tide. A wave had grown, had come to crush all in its path, and Loki…Loki was the only thing to stop it.
"He called down those dreadful things to slay that cruel ruler of an even crueler people. Many do not realize when in the company of those you've prided yourself on killing, you see not the glory you have earned; you see only the error your hands have calculated."
"The Jotnar are vicious things, besides, Thor. 'Twas right what you did…I simply don’t know why they say you have brought down an empire."
"You are a smart woman, you know."
"I fancy myself many a thing, but in this instance I must concede to the side of ignorance."
"But surely not entirely?"
"No…perhaps not. But I would hear it from you before I listen to any others."
"In this you are smart."
She hummed in agreeance, stroking a thumb across his brow.
"He killed a giant of thunder where I could not. He burned him. And then Loki turned around and made the daughter of that unkind eagle laugh, and we were left free to leave. Just like that. The whisper of a few serpentine words and my brother was able to slay a king, entertain his daughter, and flee a Realm of ice and sorrow in no less than a few strips of time. Hours we spent in that baren palace, and yet I was useless. I…I would be dead if not for him. But how can I—"
A frown, and Sif was kneeling.
"He laughed as he did it. He was delighted in the way the eagle burned. Thiazi was a cruel, twisted, forgotten thing, lore in and of himself, and yet…yet I cannot help but feel were I on the receiving end of Loki's doings that day…
"All souls go to Hel, do they not? I fear his will not."
"Loki is many things, but forgotten is not one. His soul is perhaps the most coveted of Hela's," Sif said in the hope of lightening Thor's thoughts. It did not work.
"Loki is many things indeed…"
"There is more you are not saying." She readjusted her hands to cup his jaw, made him look at her. "I know there is more."
But you are a broken, quilted soul. Ripped apart and torn to countless pieces only to be resewn and reused…again, and again and again.
The squelch of blade through brain and Loki was laughing.
Flame danced across the curve of two palms and then the smell of burning, peeling flesh invaded his nostrils. Screaming.
For you are a broken thing…
"Come," she said instead, rising. "Stay with me, for we have but one night before you must prepare…before you must leave Asgard."
Thor allowed himself to be led away, allowed his body to succumb to the pleasure Sif gifted him with, though his mind could only circulate on the gaunt face of a giant of frost, cold and towering.
Thin as a needle and always waiting.
The hall was empty, a rare thing. Loki eased inside like he'd done countless times before, eyed the way the throne took up nearly all the room. He appreciated the fact that in a room devoid of life, only a thing as gaudy as a giant's creation could still call the attention of all. Even the dust seemed to lie light upon the floor and as he walked over, called to by some distant thing greater and more ancient than life itself.
The object itself stood nearest the large outcropping of rock and gold, dressed in grey robes and hunched like the old man he was. How everything had changed.
"We were young once."
"That you were," came Loki's immediate reply.
Odin made a grunt, but did not turn to view the man he'd once called brother, son.
"Jotunheim is coming. They will march when you are upon Midgard, and you revel in that fact."
"Of course I do, who would I be if I did not?"
"Call a man unborn and have the curse of a thousand shameful thoughts cast down upon the caller."
"Ever the clever one," Odin said, shifting a bit.
Loki scoffed. "Ever the elderly one. I see Idunn's fruit has yet to sharpen the mind of Age and Wisdom. I see the blade of your feeble Nine try to carve new insults and all I observe are the same old shifting waters of Mim."
"Yours words clash like the blunt things they are. You use a child's toy in the face of a god. You know this." But Loki could tell by the tone of his voice he was smirking.
"If words are but a child's plaything, then I suppose you are the greatest child of them all. Not to mention self destructive."
"Speak for yourself, Lieweaver."
Loki smiled widely, his mood lifting already. "Oh, I will miss this."
The moon hung heavy, seemingly iridescent in the soft orange light of the constant twilight.
"She seemed stolen so long ago."
Loki eyed his back, wondering. "Her fruit grows rancid I presume, if you think bringing this up now will wilt my determination."
"Amusing the son of Laufey would falter in killing his own father, one he despises."
"I have many I despise, multiple fathers included."
Odin finally turned, peering into him like he was a book with pages to be torn away. "Thor knows your violence. He knows your desire. You will vie for Jotunheim again, and when you do, Asgard will not be behind you."
"Asgard was never behind me."
"They will be behind Thor. He won't be with you."
He ignored the way that set his heart pounding. There was something of an old spark of fire in the man, and Loki enjoyed seeing it, remembering their adventures. Though it brought a thick, lead staple across the seam of his heart and he felt not the strength for breath left in his lungs. Odin, again, was bringing up forgotten things. Things he would never speak again, to anyone, so why say them now?
Because he wants to make a point.
And you are a broken thing.
Finally, he managed, "I also have many a brother who are not supportive of me. I seem to have an issue with maintaining strong familial bonds."
At that, Odin chuckled, but the intensity in his gaze did not waver. "No one will know I sent you there. No one will know I invoked a war, to bring about another."
Loki felt suddenly out of place, dazed. Had Odin just freely confessed to inciting what they both knew he had? Was he even addressing him? There was something darker to his words, something in the underbelly, a threat. He would die if he spoke truth of what had been done.
"Thousands were lost in a short turning of seasons,” Loki breathed.
"And Valhalla thrives." Loki saw Odin’s jaw flex with the words and felt his stomach roll.
Loki hummed thinly, knowing then. "Tell me, oldest comrade, would I, a Jotun bastard who has a penchant for the uncanny, and your golden son, your savior, been laid bare for the court?"
"Your bones would have littered my hall to the gates of Asgard, and it would have thundered and poured as Thor watched, collecting them."
Open to the world.
"We were young once," Loki said softly. He looked, blinking out at the sight of Asgard laid open before the palace, asleep and gone from the world for one more night. Tomorrow he and Thor would be away to Midgard, for however long.
"I was wrong. I have always been old."
Loki bowed his head, turned for the entrance.
On his way out, he said, "Let's pray to the mortals that red clouds crest soon."
He could not help but to catch the way Odin said, "You will know first of all."