Chapter 1: Prologue
There is nothing.
Loki can only float and assume that time is passing, though it's impossible for him to discern. Time has no meaning here. It could be days, years, even centuries for all he knows. But he has to believe it was worth it. For Thor and for Frigga, and even Odin, who has manipulated and used him, but is still the only father he's ever known. For Asgard.
Loki has always been clever, always five moves ahead of everyone else. But even after centuries of life there are still many things he does not understand. There was a time, long ago, when he had basked in his brother's light. They were the light and the dark, day and night, opposite yes, but always equal. When had things changed? When had Thor's light become so overwhelming and suffocating that Loki felt that his only place was in his brother's shadow?
For years he has felt empty and cold. Discovering his true heritage had only intensified the feeling, made him brittle, made the ice settle into his veins. But now he realizes that he never truly knew what it was to feel cold and empty until now. Floating out in the void, alone and without end.
He wonders why he still lives at all. He can feel the remaining vestiges of his magic sustaining him, but to what end? Perhaps there is some benevolent force in the universe that still has use for him, despite everything. Despite what he is.
In a strange way, this could almost be an exile of sorts. Perhaps after Thor's exile, it is Loki's turn now.
Second, as always, he thinks wryly to himself. But Thor's predicament was far better than Loki's current one. Loki has no mortal woman to comfort him or make things easier. He has only the vast emptiness of space, and she is a cruel mistress indeed.
So he floats and there is nothing.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
There is a cool breeze as his awareness slowly returns. Loki doesn't know where he is, or why he has stopped falling. The vast nothingness is gone, this is... something. But what that something is remains to be seen. He is still alive, but he feels as though he's not quite right, almost as if his skin is too tight for his body.
Pull yourself together, he thinks as his struggles to get his wits about him and make sense of the situation. When he opens his eyes, his vision is blurred and all he can see is green.His eyes focus and blurry green becomes sharp, shapes solidify and reveal themselves to be the leaves of a great tree. It is unlike any trees they have in Asgard, but one he remembers during his many travels and adventures with Thor when they were young.
Midgard, he realizes.
Loki was never particularly fond of Midgard, but even he must admit that this forest is lush and beautiful. But it is bittersweet because the gold of the sun shining brightly through the leaves only makes him long for the golden citadel of Asgard. He supposes it cannot be helped.
As he assesses the situation further, it is clear that he's not not in his usual body, though this form feels familiar to him nonetheless. His senses feel heightened and when he looks down his sees claws perched on a tree branch, not feet. He rolls his shoulders and hears the flap of wings. He is nearly certain about what has happened and why, but he has to know for sure. He takes flight and the enjoys the simple pleasure of the wind carrying him. It's the first true moment of joy he's experienced since this whole mess began. Except for the final moment before he fell.
Loki swoops low over a pond and when he sees his own reflection over the water, his suspicions are finally confirmed. He sees black mixed with a shock of dark blue and white wings with black tips. He sees the magpie that he has become. His magic (although severely weakened now), has always protected him when he is in need, almost as if it is a sentient being. It requires far less energy to maintain the form of a magpie that that of his Aesir form (or Jotun, he thinks with a shudder). His magic is as crafty and clever as its wielder and he cannot say he is truly surprised by the shape he finds himself in currently.
Loki remembers his childhood, how he and Thor would sit at Frigga's knee while she told them stories about the many creatures of the Nine Realms. Loki was always hungry for knowledge and absorbed the tales like a sponge, filing the information away in his mind. He loved hearing about the great and terrible bilgesnipes (and laughing at Thor's boasts about how he would be a great warrior someday and slay a thousand of them).
But in particular, he had always loved stories about magpies. Frigga would speak of how they were the cleverest of birds and in fact nearly the cleverest of all animals. Since then, Loki developed an affinity for the creatures, often taking on their form and soaring through the skies when he felt suffocated and needed to get away from Asgard. He cannot help but think of Frigga now as he flies through the forest and he misses her so much that it aches. If not for her, Loki fears the decisions he could have potentially made.
At first, he'd felt like he had a handle on the situation, that his plan was sound. But there were too many other variables at play, too many things he never could have anticipated. Thor's exile, the discovery of how just how deep the Jotun's plot ran, the truth about Loki's own heritage that had nearly broken him... without his mother to ground him, who knows what fate would have befallen Asgard?
If he is honest with himself (and this is something he tends to avoid at all costs), he fears returning to Asgard. He made many mistakes, but his sacrifice... it had to be done, he knows this in his bones. He could not hold a glamour then, not with all the raw power he'd had to harness in order to save them all. They all saw him for what he truly is, the blue skin and red eyes beneath the powerful crackle of magic that surrounded him. And though they looked upon him with pride in that moment, who's to say what happened afterwards? If he returns, will they greet him as a hero or a monster?
Loki has given much for Asgard in the past, but never in a way so public, not like this. Thor is the one who is all blinding, bright light while Loki is all shadow and sleight of hand. Loki is used to his contribution being overlooked. He thinks of Mjolnir, the hammer his brother - not his true brother, and that cuts Loki to the core worse than anything - that Thor so loves. All anyone seemed to remember is that it was Thor's hammer. No one cared that Loki had been the one to procure it for him (and at great cost to himself).
Loki has always shifted himself to be what Asgard needed, and for many years he did not mind (for he was a shapeshifter and to be ever changing was in his nature). When the people were fearful of coming wars and needed a distraction, Loki was there with a well-timed prank. When Odin needed a spy, Loki became a bird or an insect hiding in the trees of an enemy camp and listening in. When Thor needed more time before becoming King, Loki made sure that he had it.
When Asgard needed a scapegoat... well, perhaps this was his most accomplished role of all.
And yes, his methods may not have always been kind. Perhaps they were sometimes tinged with jealousy and that dark, cold part of himself that enjoyed causing trouble for its own sake. He did not always give people what they wanted, but this was not his role. His role was to give them what they needed. They do not understand the skill it takes to straddle the line between malice and mercy.
He was Loki Odinson, the Trickster Prince of Asgard. It was not a role he always loved, but it was his nonetheless. Jotun or no, he was still Asgardian and when the realm needed defense he was willing to sacrifice to provide it. He has finally proven that once and for all.
But no more. He refuses to stay in a place where he is not welcome - has never been welcome. Perhaps Asgard will have more regard for him as a martyr than they ever did in life. And yet still, he cannot rest until he sees it for himself. With the energy he has conserved by taking on the form of a magpie, he knows that he has just enough magic left to travel the secret pathways through Yggdrasil's branches.
And so he gathers the tatters of his magic and begins the journey to Asgard for the last time.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
When Loki arrives he is in the forest, just on the outskirts of the city. The wind ruffles through his feathers as he perches on a familiar tree, one he would hide in as a child when he didn't wish to be found. He knows that if he climbs a few branches higher, he'll probably see his own initials carved into the bark from many years ago. But for now, he only has eyes for Asgard.
The sun is beginning to rise in a cloudless sky, golds and pinks reflecting off of the towering spires and making everything shine. Though he's seen it a million times, the sight of Asgard always makes his heart clench and fills him with a sense of wonder. Even the Bifrost is pristine; the portion that cracked and shattered when he fell has been repaired. He wonders idly if this was Thor's doing and if his brother has finally realized that Mjolnir can be used for more than just destruction.
It only took him a few centuries, he thinks. He tries to laugh, but it only comes out as a squawk that echoes throughout the forest.
Yes, it is as beautiful as ever, this shining city he once called home. But it stirs loose emotions that he would rather not face. There is a war within him, between relief and hurt. The fact that the citadel still stands is a testament to his sacrifice and he is grateful. But another part of him, the selfish part of him, aches to see the city looking so perfect. It cuts him to the core that Asgard could be so solid and unchanging. Indifferent. It's as if he were never there at all.
The people must be just waking up now, ready for the hustle and bustle of the day. Loki reminds himself that he's not here to stay, he has only come to see, to make sure everyone is alright. But on some level he regrets coming back here because it makes everything just that more real. Now he'll have to see it for himself, see how easily they've moved on without him.
Loki is a consummate student of human nature. He knows how to read someone's greatest hopes, dreams, and fears in facial expressions and off-hand comments. He knows how to predict what someone will do before they've even considered it for themselves. But the things he sees and hears on first day back in Asgard are... baffling. He thought he knew everyone so well, thought he knew how everyone would react to his death. But this... he does not, cannot understand.
The first thing Loki sees when he flies into the city proper is green. Green everywhere. Green tinged with gold in giant flags and banners that billow in the wind. Green armbands on the warriors and the guards on patrol. Green ribbons woven into the delicate plaits of the ladies' hair.
Dark, deep emerald green. His green.
For the first time, he finds he doesn't mind being a bird. Were he in human form he would find himself speechless anyway. This is unexpected. Overwhelming. He cannot help but feel truly honored that they would-
But no. No.
Of course they mourned. They had to, because he was a prince and it was only proper. It's protocol, nothing more. Just because they wear his colors doesn't mean that they truly miss him. His heart sinks and he feels foolish for even entertaining the thought in the first place when he knows better.
He loiters around for awhile, soaring through the market area. He's tempted to go by old Halla's stall for one of the sticky buns he so loved as a child. Loki has fond memories of those days, he and Thor escaping from their tutors and running wild. They would hide amidst the chaos of the market, and the stall owners were always fond of sneaking little treats to the princes. He wonders if Halla still thinks fondly of him now. If she has green ribbon threaded through her hair and if her grief is genuine. But he knows he's just stalling, avoiding going to spy upon the people he wants to see the most.
But first, he is hungry. And so Loki flies among the outer corridors of the citadel to the mulberry tree he knows is growing in the southeastern alcove. With all the traveling he's been doing, he hadn't realized just how hungry he is. He settles himself into the tree, gorging himself on the berries in a way that he would find very undignified if he were in his Aesir form. The sound of shuffling down below makes him pause in his feast.
He cocks his head to the side and looks down to see Hvati, the Captain of the Guard, sitting on a small bench next to another guardsman. He holds a writing tablet in his hand, most likely the guards' schedule for the week. Hvati is tall and broad, with close cropped blonde hair and a slightly crooked nose from a break that never healed quite right. Loki vaguely recognizes the other guardsman, a younger man with hair the color of copper, but he can't quite remember his name. The guards chat idly and Loki half listens as he goes back to enjoying his meal until the red-haired guard asks a question that piques Loki's interest.
"Did you know the prince?"
Hvati is silent for a moment, considering.
"Not well," he says. "He only truly spoke to me but twice, but I will never forget it."
"It was long ago when I was fairly new to the Guard, much as you are now. The Captain of the Guard at the time became corrupt, embroiled with the criminal element in the lower city in a quest for power and riches," Hvati says, his face twisted in displeasure at the memory. The younger guard's eyes widen in shock. It's clear that it must be unfathomable to him that anyone in the Guard would behave in such a manner.
"It became an open secret in the Guard at the time, and some of the more power hungry even joined the captain in his misdeeds," Hvati says, "I know there must have been secret meetings, but there was very likely some sorcery involved. When I tried to follow the captain, I could not track his trail."
Loki remembers being tasked to find out what was going on in the ranks of the Guard. This was a delicate undertaking, the kind of task that Odin always looked to Loki to handle. Thor's brand of interrogation could certainly be effective, but in this case, the problem ran too deep to solve with a simple blow of a hammer. They needed information and they needed to unearth it in a way that did not disrupt the delicate political balance of Asgard. There was almost certainly some level of extortion and theft occurring, possibly even theft of gold that was supposed to be going to the royal coffers. There was also the potential that some minor nobles were involved. It wouldn't do to simply scare them off of their activities. They needed to be rooted out, tricked into revealing their hand and caught in the act. And so Loki began to ask some questions.
Down below, Hvati continues his tale. "I longed for the strength to speak out against him, but I had no real evidence. I also feared my word would not be believed against that of a man as well-connected and respected as he."
"So what did you do?" the red-haired guard asks.
"I thought it over for a long time, but in the end it was not I who took action. It was Prince Loki," Hvati says. "There came another night where I saw the Captain heading off somewhere yet again. Just like before, when I tried to follow him, his trail went cold and he was gone. There was nothing I could do, so I went to my post and settled into my shift. It was then that the prince appeared from out of the shadows and startled me."
Loki remembers that evening well, from the week where he questioned each guard to divine where their loyalties lay. The meaning of "honor" among the guard was something that had become fraught. Odin was concerned that they had forgotten their purpose, and begun to think it more honorable to maintain the loyalty within their own ranks than to serve Asgard and its Royal Family. As Loki questioned more and more guardsmen, he found Odin's assessment to be true. No one dared speak against the captain, no one wanted to be seen as a traitor.
The look of shock on Hvati's face that night had been quite amusing, especially on a man who was often so serious and composed. After startling the man, Loki had asked him where he thought the captain sneaked off to. To Loki's dismay, Hvati had refused him at first.
"When I told him I didn't know anything, he gave me such a look. I don't know if you ever spoke to the prince but when he wanted it to, his gaze... it made you feel like he could see through to your soul. Almost as if he were the All-Father himself.
Loki can't help but feel a bit surprised at the level of respect in Hvati's voice. He is accustomed to people being annoyed with him or fearing what prank he will play next. But respect, respect nearly at the level bestowed upon the All-Father? This is new.
Hvati makes a notation on his tablet and then continues. "The prince told me, 'you should not attempt to lie to the God of Lies'. I knew he was right. I knew something had to be done. And so I told him, I told him everything I knew," Hvati says, "When I finished, he fixed his gaze upon me again for a long moment and then he said he had noticed something amiss in the guard. That I was the only one to speak to him honestly about it. From the tone of his voice, I was not sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing."
Both guards chuckle and Loki too laughs internally at this memory. He had already known that he would reward Hvati for his honesty, but it wouldn't do to just tell the man so. After all, where was the fun in that?
Skilled at the art of subterfuge as he was, it hadn't taken Loki long to root out the main perpetrators. He had taken great pleasure in bringing them down. The mere fact that these guards thought themselves clever enough to pull one over on Loki was insulting. Some minor noblemen were banished to Vanaheim and several guards were removed from their posts or arrested. When the reshuffling was over, Hvati was promoted to Captain of the Guard.
"It was not until I was a few months into my new post as Captain that the prince spoke to me again," Hvati continues, "He stopped me in a corridor and called my name, and I stopped dead in my tracks. He looked at me, dressed in my new uniform. He smiled slightly and reached out as if wiping dust from my shoulders and straightening my uniform."
The red-haired guard is on the edge of his seat now, his eyes fixed on Hvati with rapt attention.
"Did he speak? What did he say?"
"He did speak. All he said was, 'it suits you'. And then he walked away."
"Huh," the other man says, dumbfounded.
"I never knew for sure, but I believe that my previous conversation with him was a test. That running the guard was entrusted to me because he found me worthy. Since then, I have strived to run the guard in a manner that that serves our people, not that serves ourselves."
The younger guard scratches his head, lost in thought. "How odd, that the God of Lies be one to value honesty so."
"I used to think so, but now I am not so sure. I think the God of Lies would perhaps be the only one who truly understands honesty's worth. After the way he saved us all... I wish I had thanked him for helping me before it was too late."
"I saw him often around the castle, but I never got to witness one of his pranks for myself, although I heard they were quite funny," the other guard muses. "It's interesting to hear of this other side of the prince from you. Our prince was a fascinating man."
"Indeed he was," Hvati says fondly, "Come now, we must get back to work."
After the guards leave, Loki flies onward, thinking about what he overheard. Perhaps he shouldn't be so cynical. Perhaps there are those that truly do miss him, that truly did value him. But two guards are just two guards. They are not all of Asgard, not even a fraction. There are only two people that he thinks truly miss him and he has yet to ensure that they are safe. And so he decides to start with Frigga.
Loki knows that Frigga usually takes her breakfast on the balcony connected to her chambers, overlooking her gardens. Odin is usually preparing to hold court and does not eat breakfast with his wife, instead joining her for lunch and dinner. Loki hopes that this is one such morning and that he won't have to deal with seeing Odin. But as he flies toward Frigga's balcony and perches on the roof above, he sees that he will not get his wish.
The King and Queen are seated side by side, a small table loaded up with various fruits and pastries between them. The balcony is bathed in sunlight, which glints off of Odin's eyepatch and armor. Usually, they are so comfortable in each other's presence, but Loki is ever observant and notices the strain between them.
Like the warriors and guards Loki has seen so far, Odin also wears a green armband and Loki isn't sure what to make of that. But his mother... he doesn't doubt her sincerity in wearing his colors. She sits partially reclined on a chaise lounge, a silver tray with bread, fresh fruit, and tea perched elegantly on her lap. Her gown is simple, yet beautiful. Dark green with delicate gold trim, and a braided gold belt around the waist. Her hair is pinned back with green ribbon, curled ringlets cascading down her back. He wonders idly if the some of green banners and flags all about the citadel were woven by Frigga's hand.
As she sips from her cup of tea, Frigga stares out upon Asgard with a wistful expression on her face. Her eyes are tired and her face has wrinkles he doesn't remember being there before, but she is still resplendent. She is still his mother, and he misses her so much that it aches.
Odin takes a pastry from the small table as he and his wife have a stilted conversation about nothing in particular. They speak of mundane things, but they are talking in circles around each other. In the pauses between their words, there is a whole other conversation full of things left unsaid. Their conversation comes to a lull and tapers off into silence, until Frigga can no longer hold her tongue.
"He should have been told, Odin," Frigga says, her voice laced with exhaustion and thinly veiled anger, "How many times did I warn you of this? If he had known the truth, had he not felt he need try so hard to prove himself, this could have all been avoided."
Odin sighs. "I know this well, dearest. Where Loki is concerned I... I have many regrets."
I'm sure you do, Loki thinks bitterly, like adopting me in the first place.
"I fear to think of what would have happened if I had not spoke to him when I did. He seemed so lost. And now he is lost to us completely."
The King and Queen sit in an uncomfortable silence for a long moment until at last Odin speaks.
"I worry for Thor," he says, and of course he does. Thor has always been the favored son in Odin's eyes. It makes Loki seethe with anger, that even Loki's apparent death is just another means for Odin to put his focus on Thor.
But despite this, the tone of Odin's voice makes Loki concerned for Thor as well. How has Thor responded to Loki's death? He is almost certain that Thor must miss him, but does he truly mourn? How can he, after Loki revealed himself to be a Frost Giant? Loki has to admit that he is scared of the answers to those questions, but he doesn't move from his perch. He has to know.
"I worry for him too," Frigga says with a frown, "He barely eats and his dreams are plagued with nightmares. It is difficult to even get him to bathe. I have never seen him in such a state."
"I also heard that he has sparred with nearly every warrior in the realm," Odin says.
"Yes," Frigga says, her expression growing even more forlorn, "the healing rooms have been quite busy caring for the warriors our son has bested."
"This cannot continue," Odin says wearily. "I had hoped he would be somewhat improved by now."
"It has only been a month yet since Loki's passing. He needs time, we all do." She pauses for a moment, carefully considering her next words.
"It is far wiser to acknowledge our grief than to pretend it is not there. You would do well to remember that, husband," she says, fixing Odin with a sharp look.
And Loki loves his mother fiercely for it. But she is mistaken, because there is nothing for Odin to pretend. Odin does not grieve for Loki. He grieves for a lost opportunity, a bargaining chip for a peace treaty. But not a son, never a son. Loki wishes it didn't sting so much, but it does, it always has. He has always yearned for Odin's approval, and returning from death's embrace has done nothing to change it.
Loki doesn't stay to hear Odin's response. He would like to be close to his mother for longer, but he cannot bear to spend any more time in Odin's vicinity.
He flies around aimlessly for awhile, through open courtyards and around Idunn's orchards. The cool breeze is pleasant as it ripples through his feathers. As enjoyable as it is, Loki knows it's only a means to avoid truly thinking about all that he's seen today. He has always been clever and quick but it is almost too much information to take in. He feels raw and all he wants to do is return to his tree, to hide and regroup as he did when he was a child. But there is one more person he needs to see and Loki is almost certain he knows where to find him.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
The training yard is nearly deserted when Loki arrives. There are two warriors sparring with swords, but it's easy to tell that neither one of them is putting their heart into the fight. They keep glancing nervously at Thor, who is stony faced and sitting under the shade of a tree with Sif and the Warriors Three. Quickly, Loki flies into the tree, hiding himself among the many branches and peering down at the group below him.
Thor looks terrible, which both thrills and saddens Loki. He had feared that Thor would not truly miss him, that he would only remember Loki as a Jotun, the monsters he'd been taught to hate and fear for his whole life. But as much as it heartens him to see that he is missed, he hates seeing Thor so diminished. The warm glow that has always surrounded Thor has dimmed. His hair is dirty and disheveled, cheeks gaunt, eyes surrounded by dark circles. Like the other warriors, he wears a green armband on his upper arm. Mjolnir sits heavily by Thor's side and Loki can see that the leather strap has also been threaded with green.
Loki looks at Thor's companions and sees the concern etched into their faces. They worry for Thor, just as Frigga and Odin do.
Just as I do, he thinks.
Fandral raises his arms to stretch and Loki can see that even he wears the green band on his upper arm. They all do. When Sif turns her head to say something to Volstagg, Loki notices that even her simple ponytail is secured by a dark, green ribbon. And he feels something suspiciously close to happiness before he tamps it back down. He has to remind himself that they wear green only out of duty and solidarity with Thor, that is all.
"Look at them," Thor says, gesturing to the warriors fighting in front of them. "What has happened to Asgard's great warriors? Not one has the courage to spar with me again!"
Thor's friends glare pointedly at each other in a silent argument over who should respond to Thor. Loki can tell from their body language that this isn't the first time they've had to have this conversation.
"My friend," Hogun says, gruff as ever, "you have already sparred with nearly every warrior in Asgard and sent many to the healing chambers. Perhaps it is best for all if you refrain for awhile."
Thor scowls, but does not say anything else.
"Who hasn't Thor sparred with yet?" Fandral asks idly and then his eyes light up with mirth. "I suppose there's always Bjarni."
"Ha!" Volstagg laughs, "I doubt that fool has the courage to fight Thor, not after being defeated at the hands of both Sif and Loki." Sif begins to laugh too and Loki finds himself wishing he could join them. He had nearly forgotten about this story and how much he'd enjoyed humiliating that arrogant fool.
"When did Loki spar with Bjarni?" Hogun asks.
"Ah, I had forgotten that this was before you came to Asgard," Fandral says. "I believe this tale will make even you laugh, my friend."
And so Fandral begins to tell the story. Bjarni was an arrogant and entitled young warrior, and he made no secret of his dislike for Sif. In his eyes, it was unnatural that a "mere maiden" aspire to the rank of warrior. The man was nothing but a brute and Loki remembers disliking him immediately. Bjarni, thinking Sif an easy target, had challenged her to spar. But he quickly learned that Sif was the superior warrior. Unfortunately, he could not accept his loss at the hands of a woman and sought to turn Sif's life into a veritable Helheim with his taunts and insults.
"I bested him twice!" Sif says indignantly, "And yet he still was cruel towards me simply because I am a woman. He insulted my honor at every turn and could not accept his defeat."
"Ah yes," Volstagg says, "and then later we had all gathered for dinner in the great hall and he began his insults yet again."
Sif continues. "I was so angry I could not see straight, but I could not say anything or become emotional, for I knew he would only seek to use it against me."
"And then Loki," Fandral says, beginning to laugh, "Loki, casual as you please," he chuckles again, "he yawned and then he said… wait, what did he say?"
"He said, 'I grow tired of this'," Sif says, voice dropping and rolling her eyes in a perfect impression of Loki. From his perch in the tree, Loki cannot help be be impressed by her imitation. He never really thought she noticed or cared much about him at all.
The assembled group all chuckles, even Thor managing to crack a small smile before Fandral continues the story.
"Yes, so then Loki said, 'The Lady Sif bested you in combat twice, and yet you continue bore us all with claims of her unworthiness. Perhaps your energy would be better expended in combat training. You have no shortage or insults, but seem to be… lacking in other areas.'"
Everyone laughs. "Bjarni was livid!" Fandral says, "I've never seen a man more red-faced."
Volstagg snorts loudly and continues the tale. "So Loki says, 'How about we make a bargain? Tomorrow, you and I will spar. If I win, not only will you cease in your harassment of the Lady Sif, but you will also personally maintain her weapons and armor for a month.'"
"What did Bjarni ask for in return?" Hogun asks.
Loki laughs on the inside, remembering the expression on Bjarni's face. He relishes the memory of this part. He told Bjarni that in addition to the honor of defeating a Prince of Asgard, that Loki himself would maintain Bjarni's weapons and armor for a month. This was something that Loki had no intention of allowing to happen. Fool that he was, Bjarni took the bargain, oblivious to the fact that one should never make a deal with the God of Mischief and Trickery.
Through all of this conversation, Thor is silent. He is clearly paying attention, but only half-heartedly. Sometimes, there are brief moments that his eyes light up in memory, but then the light is quickly dampened down again. Loki has the impression that Thor both desires to hear tales of Loki's exploits, but that it also causes him great pain to hear them.
"Loki told him they would spar at sundown on the following day," Volstagg says. "It was all anyone could talk about well into that evening and into the next day."
"So finally, the moment of the fight arrives," Fandral says, "and everyone is gathered. This whole area was packed, everyone craning their necks to get a good view."
Sif continues. "So the fool Bjarni comes out in his full armor and carrying his broadsword. And Loki," she laughs, "arrives in his light armor but armed with nothing but a simple, wooden bow staff!"
Loki recalls the way Bjarni and his friends laughed at the sight of him, but he did not mind because he knew who would end up having the last laugh. Since Loki was not armed with a sword, they would not fight until first blood. The rules of the game were that they would fight until one was subdued and knocked to the ground, with the man still standing as the victor.
"The fight then began in earnest and it was clear from the beginning that Bjarni had more confidence than actual battle prowess. He charged at Loki, trying to best him with brute strength, but Loki was too quick and clever," Fandral says.
"His staff moved quick as lightning, tapping Bjarni on his arm, his shoulders, even the back of his head once, just to show that he could." Volstagg says, "He barely broke a sweat. Truly, he was toying with him and it was most amusing!"
It had been quite fun to tease the idiot. The warrior was strong but he was dim-witted and completely lacking in finesse. The more Loki attacked him while evading Bjarni's own blows, the more the crowd began to laugh. The more they laughed, the angrier Bjarni became and the more mistakes he made. It was child's play.
In the end, Loki grew tired of their game and swept Bjarni's feet out from under him, knocking the man flat on his back. He put the end of his staff at Bjarni's neck and asked him to yield. But of course, he would not.
"Loki then said, 'So be it,' and the smile on his face was truly terrifying," Fandral continues. "He then took the staff in hand and stuck it deep into the earth. As we all looked on in wonder, it began to transform and grow into a great tree."
"Bjarni tried to escape but as the tree grew, its branches reached out to him, grabbing him by his arms and legs and raising him up into the air," says Sif.
Loki will never forget his own satisfaction in that moment. Being bested by a man armed with only a staff was clearly not enough humiliation for Bjarni. If he wanted more, Loki was all too happy to provide it for him. Loki did not feel guilty in the least for using sorcery against the man in the end. Though the warriors complained at times that fighting with sorcery wasn't honorable, Bjarni himself had no honor. And there's no such thing as a fair fight against a man who has no honor to begin with.
At this point, Sif, Fandral, and Volstagg are all laughing so hard that they can barely breathe. It is Fandral who finally has the breath to spit out the last bit of the story.
"So there is Bjarni, red-faced and embarrassed and stuck up in the tree, right in the middle of the practice yard for all to see. And then Loki, he waves a hand and Bjarni is there in nothing but his undergarments!"
The group breaks out into another round uproarious laughter and Loki finds himself once again wishing he could join them. The look on Bjarni's face then was truly a sight to behold. The foolish man had struggled against the tree branches, but they would not release him, not until a time of Loki's choosing.
"Loki then thanked him for the fight and reminded him to take care of Sif's armor as soon as possible," Fandral continues, "And then he walked away, easy as you please, with not a hair out of place. It was truly astonishing."
"No matter how many tried, no one was able to release him from the tree!" Volstagg says, "The moment someone tried to cut a branch, it only grew back thicker and stronger."
"And so Bjarni hung there in nothing but his undergarments for nearly a day! Finally, near sundown the following day the tree released him. Once he was down... well I've never seen a man run so fast!" Fandral says, and the warriors erupt into laughter again.
"Needless to say, Bjarni did indeed care for the Lady Sif's armor and weaponry for a month, and he did not bother her or Loki again," Volstagg says. "Anytime there was more grumbling from him or any he called friend, Loki would comment about how lovely a forest would look in the middle of the training yard."
"And so that, my friend," Fandral says with a flourish, "is the story of how Loki fought and bested Bjarni."
And Fandral was right. The tale did indeed make even Hogun laugh.
They laugh for several moments more before Fandral turns to Sif. "Although Loki's antics were quite amusing, you must know that we would have intervened on your behalf, Sif," he says.
"I know this, but I would have been angry with you as I did not need to be rescued. I was angry with Loki for a time for that very reason, but over time I have come to appreciate his actions that day."
Sif pauses for a moment, considering.
"I confronted him about it later and I will never forget what he said. He said that I was an honest person, but that he had no such qualms about stooping so low to make a point. He told me, 'You treat everyone with respect whether they deserve it or not. You should not sully that for one such as Bjarni.'"
Although he and Sif were not particularly close, Loki understood how it was to feel like an outsider. At the time, she was still in the process of proving herself to the other warriors. She fought hard for her place and Loki respected that. Bjarni sought to goad Sif into risking her budding reputation and standing in an attempt to get back at him. To push her to a place where she could be discredited as just another "hysterical woman". Loki didn't care much for his own reputation, but he knew how much such a thing could matter. So if he could help Sif, calm down the dynamics in the warriors' ranks, and humiliate a cretinous fool, it was an opportunity he wouldn't miss for the world.
"It was not a slight against my abilities, as I had already proven those. It was a kindness," she says, and Loki feels touched in spite of himself.
"Our Loki was truly one-of-a-kind," Fandral says fondly.
And just like that, Thor's entire demeanor darkens. "You mean he is one-of-a-kind," Thor says, voice tight with emotion.
Sif sighs. "Thor," she says gently, placing a hand on his shoulder, "forgive me, but nothing could have survived that fall. I was there too, I saw the Bifrost itself shatter beneath him. We all miss him terribly, but you must accept-"
"I will do no such thing!" Thor shouts, angrily throwing Sif's hand off of his shoulder. He picks up Mjolnir and begins to stalk away. Loki watches Thor's quickly retreating figure through the branches of the tree. He wishes he had his damned magic back so that he could go after his brother and tell him that he is right, that Loki is still alive. That he can stop torturing himself and being cruel to his friends who are only trying to help him.
"Thor..." Sif calls out, but Thor does not acknowledge her.
Fandral sighs and runs a hand through his blonde hair. "Well, that went well," he says.
They sit there, silent and dejected until Hogun speaks.
"Do you think he has gone to Heimdall again?" he asks.
"Most likely," Volstagg says. "Every day he goes and every day the gatekeeper tells him there is nothing to see. Thank the Norns that Heimdall refuses to let Thor travel through to the other realms to search for Loki. In his current state, nothing but trouble would come of it."
"Thor is stubborn," Hogun says, "he will not give up hoping."
Sif sighs. "I know."
"Do you suppose there will be thunderstorms tonight?" Volstagg asks.
"I should hope not," Fandral says, "the two weeks of endless storms after Loki fell were more than enough for me." He attempts to laugh, but it is half-hearted at best.
"I just... I just wish there was something I could do," Sif says, her voice forlorn.
Fandral pats her on the shoulder. "As do I, my friend, as do I."
In the end, Loki does not follow Thor to the Bifrost, but Thor finds him anyway.
Loki needs to think, needs to find some way to make sense of all he has seen. And so he heads to a place that is safe and familiar, where he will be undisturbed.
The door will most likely be locked but there are other ways in, even without the full use of his magic. He knows that there is a window in his bedchamber that is not exactly normal. After all, he was the one to enchant it that way. When Loki was younger and and one of his pranks went too far, he would be confined to his room as punishment. It would have driven Thor crazy to be so cooped up inside, but for Loki it was more like a vacation. A chance to spend time to himself, reading and working on his spellcraft.
And planning another scheme, he thinks, wishing he had lips to curve up into a smirk. However, even one as studious as Loki grew bored after a few days of confinement and needed to get out. To anyone else's eyes, the window looked ordinary. But if one knew what to look for and knew how to tap against the glass just so, one could phase through it. As far as he knew, the window was his secret alone. He could only hope that no one had tampered with the enchantment in his absence, especially since his own magic was so weakened that he could not hope to phase through walls on his own.
Gracefully, he flies through the sky, back to the wing of the citadel where the royal family's rooms are. Loki lands on the windowsill and presses his beak to the glass. He taps twice on the bottom right hand corner, thrice on the left, and once in the center. He has a moment of disorientation and when his senses right themselves, he is inside the room.
He doesn't know what he was expecting, but his bedchamber is exactly how he left it. The bed is made with the black and green quilt that Frigga sewed him for a name day many years past. There are the notches on his bedpost from where he marked his growing height each year. His desk is stacked with spell books and parchments filled with notations in his careful, sloping handwriting. His favorite cloak, a rich black lined with green, is slung over his desk chair. A small, enchanted amulet that Thor brought back for him after a trip to Alfheim sits on his dresser. It's all there, as if he never left.
But there is no time to really process this because there are footsteps coming from down the corridor. Quickly, Loki flies up to the high rafters above and rests on a beam there. The door opens and someone cautiously steps inside. He thinks perhaps it's a maid there to do some dusting, or maybe even Frigga.
He somehow looks even worse than when Loki saw him in the practice yards. Heimdall must have told Thor something he didn't want to hear. Loki had wondered if perhaps the gatekeeper might be able to see him even as a bird and with his magic profile so low, but it seems like that is not the case. Unless Heimdall has his own reasons for keeping quiet, but Loki supposes he'll never know.
Thor moves forward until he is standing in the center of the room. His eye catches Loki's cloak on the desk chair and he reaches out for it. He opens the window next to the desk so that he can sit comfortably on the ledge. And then he does something Loki was not expecting. He clutches Loki's cloak close to him. He buries his face in the soft fabric and he... cries.
Oh my, Loki thinks, this is far worse than I ever thought.
This is... it's too much. Even though Loki himself is the cause of Thor's distress (and this is his room after all), he can't help but feel like an intruder in this moment. Loki tells himself that he should just leave now and go hide out in the forest until his magic returns. After all, he has the information that he came here for. Asgard is safe from the Frost Giants. Asgard mourns him, but out of obligation only. To hope that it's anything more is a foolish desire. Loki is much too clever to believe in sentimental pipe dreams. But Frigga and Thor... it's clear that they truly do miss him. Loki has never seen Thor so distraught in his life.
And yes, sometimes he has hurt Thor on purpose, but it was almost always to challenge him, to push Thor towards being the great king that Loki knows he can become. There is so much potential in him.
Thor is many things: rash and reckless, brave and strong. Guileless and ever gullible, kind to a fault. Loyal, devoted, and stubborn beyond belief. He talks too loudly and rarely thinks before he speaks. He never turns his back on someone in need.
He is the best man that Loki knows.
Loki hates seeing Thor so broken now, hates it with every fiber of his being. There is no way he can leave now and abandon Thor in his time of need, he never could. The decision has been made.
As if there was ever any doubt, Loki thinks ruefully.
Thor's tears have ceased and now he has crossed the room and is sitting on Loki's bed, staring despondently at the wall in front of him. He still clutches the cloak tightly to his chest. This is not the way things are supposed to be. Thor is all color, light and movement. For Loki, it is fundamentally wrong to see his brother so still and withdrawn.
I can fix this, he thinks, I will find a way.
The wheels in his head start turning and he begins getting excited in the way he always does when hatching a new scheme. There is so much to do and convincing Thor that Loki is trapped as a magpie is at the top of the list.
It's best if he only stays long enough to reassure Thor and make sure he's alright. The people of Asgard's grief cannot be real, not for a Jotun foundling. They are all tears now, but Loki doubts they would truly welcome him with open arms if they found out he survived. He could go anywhere, maybe to Alfheim to study with the great elven mages there.
Thor is still silent and motionless below him, but Loki tells himself not to worry. He'll be back soon enough, but for now it's time for him to go. He hops down from his perch, gliding across the room and landing on the windowsill. Thor is pulled out of his reverie and looks over at the magpie in confusion.
"What are you doing here, little bird?" he asks, his voice hoarse. Loki gives him a short song and Thor lets out a brief huff of laughter. Even though he can't speak, his song was a promise, a promise that he will return soon and find a way to make things right. With a final glance he turns and takes flight, chasing the setting sun across the horizon. He must return to his tree. He has much to do.