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Just a Little Unwell

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Before Loki Fell:

"Have you spoken with your family about your situation yet?"

The young Vanir healer named Jorun Gurinson sat in the least comfortable chair that Loki had in his room. This was pretty significant since Loki's ornate chairs tended to be focused more on style rather than comfort. There was a reason that Loki had a number of very stylish pillows around.

Jorun himself was an average looking male Vanir. He was slightly darker than the Aesir, with long dark brown hair that he kept in a well groomed braid. He was dressed casually in soft blue and brown fabrics, and he lacked the leather and metal accessories common to the warrior class. In short, Journ looked remarkably harmless for someone who lived in a palace of warriors.

Loki lay on his most comfortable lounge, hands clasped on his chest. His chairs might be chosen for styles, but his couches were for comfort. Loki wore his casual clothes since he was not planning on leaving his rooms until dinner, but as a warrior even Loki's casual outfits were still heavy on the leather and metal. It was not overly comfortable, but fashion was fashion and tradition was tradition. It was important to look the part of a well educated, put-together, warrior prince who was completely sane and definitely not suffering from any sort of paranoid delusions.

"I have not informed them yet." Loki exhaled after a moment of contemplating lying about it. It was not worth lying to Jorun. He would accept whatever Loki told him, write it down in his notes, and then subtly refer to it over and over again until Loki was forced to admit to the tangle of lies. And then Jorun would just write down the correction in his notes. No judgment. No recrimination. Just a steady stream of calm.

Loki secretly believed that Jorum was taking some of the calming draughts he brewed. Or perhaps he carried a calming stone in his pocket in case of emergencies. Either way, Jorun had to be cheating to be that patient. Especially dealing with a patient as awful as Loki. Loki had predicted Jorum's departure long ago, but Jorum had thus far lasted nearly a decade.

"News of this nature requires the correct timing. Thor's coronation looms ever closer and my parents are fully engaged with the planning and ..."

"Loki. How many times have I told you that there will never be a right time?"

"I know." Loki cut into the last word. "I just, I just can't tell them there is something wrong with me. I just can't bare to disappoint father again...and Thor. Thor will never understand. He thinks me weak already." 

"This delay is going to only hinder you working on our plan for you."

"Accursed plan." Loki growled.

"You know we need to follow the agreed schedule of treatments for it to be affective."

"I know. I have studied the literature on the subject. "

"What of the plan to inform your honored mother before the other members of your family?"

Loki froze for a moment, but answered before Jorum could begin to phrase the sentence prompting for an answer.

"I fear...that this may be the revelation that makes her lose her faith in me. What mother would wish to know that her son is ill in the head and apparently untreatable? I will loose what little status I have as warrior. I will not even be accepted as the scholar mother wanted me to be. I can not bear to face her and tell her this. She's the only one--I just can not tell her. Not yet. Not until we are sure there is no other avenues open to me. Her disappointment is worse than father's."

"I am most confident that Queen Frigga will not change her mind about you. From you have told me of the All-mother I am confident that you could burn the worlds, and your mother would still love you."

"Perhaps." Loki laughed slightly. "I wish I could believe in her forgiveness as you do. I spend so much of my day trying to figure out what is real, and what is simply my own mind betraying me."

"So the new draught is not working then?"

"No." Loki clenched his hands together. "I fear that I shall never find the tonic because it is not a problem which is capable of being cured. Perhaps I am utterly broken and there is naught I can do."

"The draughts are only a part of the schedule..."

"An essential part."

"We will do what we must. You will get through this."

The conversation between patient and healer continued onto familiar paths about how the court did not all hate Loki, and they were not plotting his downfall, his brother's friends were not out to poison his brother's opinion against him, Loki's accomplishments were as impressive as Thor's, and it was illogical to fear that he was adopted.

It was one of the constants in Loki's life. Reaffirm the basics. Loki was the second son of Odin. Yes, it was nearly impossible a blond Aesir and a blonde Vanir would have a baby that had black hair. But as two different species they would have had to use seidhr to conceive, who is to say that they did not also wish for a second child with dark hair. Furthermore, Loki may not look like anyone in either side of the family, but if he looked there were similarities on both lines. The slope of the jawline, a facial expression on some of the paintings.

Loki was the son of Odin and Frigga.

He knew this because he tested his own blood in the soulforges in the healer's room. Three times. And on two different machines.

Thor was his brother. Thor was as constant as a stone and about as clever. The Warriors Three and Lady Sif were his brother's friends and Loki's companions. They might not like Loki, but they were too loyal to Thor to be plotting Loki's demise.

Reaffirm the constants. Stop the negative cycle of thinking. Allow for the option of a positive outcome. Use logic to determine logical threats from illogical ones. Spend time in positive pursuits. Eat healthily. Exercise. Breathe.

If trust was not possible, feign it. If positive thinking was not possible, pretend.

Wait for death from the eventual betrayal when someone finally manages to get through Loki's defenses because Loki was trying to get better. But how could someone get better from seeing the truth? Anything, anyone could betray him.

Lie if necessary to protect yourself.

Make the first strike. Betray them before they betray you.

Loki swallowed and took a breath.

Loki was the son of Odin and prince of Asgard. Wounded, broken, his mind torn to pieces--that was what mattered. The care of Asgard first, loyalty to family second, personal honor third--Loki was a son of Asgard.

Jorun closed the session with directions for a new draught and an admonition to stop postponing telling his family.

"I will tell my other after the coronation." Loki said. "Things will be less stressful then."

. . .

There was not much headway today, but there never seemed to be with the second prince. Jorun was beginning to worry. Jorun's usual patients were simpler. Head injuries for the most part. A few cowards needing confidence. A couple of warriors who had seen too much battle but were not prepared to loose their commission and be disgraced. One poor soul who was addicted to his berserker staff.

Loki was a challenge. Jorun's analysis of Loki's soulforge results showed a desperate need to balance the chemicals within the prince's mind, but none of the usual treatments were working. Speaking with the prince on a regular basis helped but little. Soon Jorun was going to have to pass Loki's treatment to someone with a more experienced hand at healing mental distempers of this kind.

But that would shatter the trust Loki had for Jorun. Loki trusted no one, but he almost trusted Jorun.

And then there was the official informing of Eir to dread. If Loki proved untreatable, Loki would be seen as an unworthy warrior. He would loose everything--titles, placement in succession, membership in the warrior caste, future position of king's advisor. It would destroy everything that Loki had spent his life building. Jorun did not know if the proud prince would ever heal from the dishonor.

Jorun decided to visit the library on Vanheim for more ideas during his yearly visit home.

He found nothing.

He heard of Thor's banishment, Loki's regency and the mind healer worried. He rushed the visit with his parents, only to reach the Bifrost site to learn that the Bifrost was broken.

Loki had fallen, and his patient was lost.

And Jorun, mind healer of Loki, was stuck on Vanheim unable to bear his official report.

. . .

 

After Loki's return in disgrace:

Loki was not the most favorite prisoner in the dungeon. The guards tended to avoid his cell since a bored Loki meant that he had plenty of time to think up ways to insult them. He seemed to revel when the guards lost their temper, only to be stopped by the force field.

And so, they avoided him.

This also meant that that they were not there to hear when Loki's vicious rants turned into incoherent ramblings of suspicion and paranoia. They never suspected the illusion Loki held up to help him appear normal, but underneath Loki struggled against the fear and voices in his head.  

 

     Hide.                              They were coming.

                                    Chitauri.                                                                                              The formless monster.

                                                                                                The blue monster.                                        The Lies.                                                                 The ghosts.                            

The betrayers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The betrayed.

     Thanos.

            The Green monster.                                                                                                     The Other.                                            The shadows.

 

                                                                                     The thing that watched from the shadows.

The one who controlled everything else.                   

                                                                                    The one who made Loki fear those who he should have trusted.

                                                                                                                                                                        The one who whispered to him of the possible plots.

The untrustworthy one.

            The voice that was indistinguishable from Loki's own.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Or was it Loki who was the voice?

                                                                                                            Hide the voices. They prove you are mad.

                                                                                                                                                                        If they think you are mad, it will only make it worse.

Hide the loss of memory. Hide the loss of control. Hide the weakness. Hide the knowledge that the Aesir would wish to beat out of them. Hide the blackouts. Hide the shaking.

 

 Hide.

  Hide.

   Hide.

 

And it worked. Loki was able to hide his insanity for nearly a month. The guards ignored his incoherent ramblings. They ignored the days he spent staring at nothing for what was there to do in a cell.

One even ignored Loki's convulsions thinking it a trick.

And then Loki fell into unconsciousness for three days.

And that could finally not be ignored.

If only because it was Frigga who noticed first.  

. . . 

Jorun did not enjoy his exile on Vanir. His expertise was on treating warriors, not farmers. He managed to get a temporary position as a mind healer with one of his former teachers, however. It was with this teacher that Jorun finally opened up and explained what was going on with Loki.

The teacher sighed and agreed that there was nothing the Journ could have done.

And nothing Jorun could do until the Bifrost was repaired and regular travel between realms could be restored. Then Jorun was to report to Eir and confess the entire situation.

It took years. Each day of each month of each year Jorun despaired little more.

Meanwhile, Jorun tried avoid most of the gossip of the second prince. He knew far too much of the second prince's private struggles to be able to listen to the unknowing rants of the others. Jorun knew how isolated Loki's condition had left him. Unable to trust people, the second prinve was unable to maintain the close relationships that he desperately needed. Jorun knew about Loki's struggles with body image, and how he lacked the look of the Aesir. Jorun knew which kennings Loki detested and what slights most of his pranks were about. Jorun even knew of many of Loki's painful childhood memories, including ones where Thor's temper had left Loki in the healing rooms for days, ones where Thor had led the teasing that led to Loki's self-hate, and ones where Thor forced Loki to take the blame for their misadventures.

Jorun was not impressed by Thor and his stories of valor anymore. Loki's versions of their adventures were a lot more fascinating than the official versions after all.

But then the Bifrost was restored.

Jorun rushed to the Bifrost site. His first petition to return was denied--travel restricted to government and emergency use only. Jorun could not convince the officials that his return was vital at all. Name dropping the second prince saw his place on the list drop as well. In the end, Jorun had to resort to writing a letter to Eir and explaining the best he could without voiding Loki's right to privacy.

About a month after the Bifrost was restored, a week before he was scheduled to finally return to Asgard, Eir came for Jorun.

And that was when Jorun learned that he had been treating a Frost Giant with medicine that had been meant for an Aesir.

It was also when he learned his patient was probably dying. 

... 

Eir was one of the few Aesir who was comfortable enough in her position to yell at the All-Father. And yell she did. One of the healers was running a genetic test for the third time, but it still read that Loki was Aesir.

Eir's demands were simple. Loki needed to be treated in his true body. And nothing, not even the All-Father, would stop her.

"It is a natural shape." Odin snapped. "He chose the shape when he was an infant."

"And the fact that his Heritage Readings say that he is your son?"

Odin waved his hand at the Soulforge and the readings immediately changed.

"If you want to see his Frost Giant form I suggest you freeze him." Odin snapped. "I am not relinquishing the Casket for him to restart his campaign."

"You thrice blasted fool. Think you that your son is in any shape to wage war?"

"I know not what this creature is capable of! He is no son of mine."

"The Hel he is not." Eir grabbed the Vanir healer that had been silent the entire time and shook him by the arm. "This is Healer Jorun. He was treating Loki for a mind illness from even before the failed coronation."

"What? Is this true?"

"Um...Ah yes. Oh, Yes...your majesty."

"This is not one of my son's tricks? Has he put you up to this?"

"No, All-father."

"Why have I not heard of this before?"

"I was on Vanheim when the bridge broke, Your Majesty."

"Heimdall still could see the realms. Why tell you not him?"

"I am oath-bound as a healer not to speak of these things with others. I was not in the confidence of the officials to know what had transpired upon Asgard, all I knew was rumors and speculation. I believed my patient dead, All-father. Loki would prefer others to think him evil than mad, All-father."

"You are not oathbound to secrets that would harm Asgard."

"I did not believe him a threat to Asgard, All-father." Jorun said. "He only spoke of protecting the realms. His problems were of a more personal nature, ones that I was encouraging him to address with those he had issue with. His unnatural suspicions and paranoia he had been dealing with for centuries. I knew not that one of what we thought was an irrational delusion was the truth."

"What speak thou of?"

"Loki--he feared he was adopted. He knew he was not like Thor or thee and believed perhaps you were not related."

"Why was that irrational?"

"Loki did a test of his parental lines." Jorun said. "I analyzed him upon the soulforge to determine what draughts to prepare for him."

"And you thought not to inform Eir!"

"Loki suffered from unfounded suspicion. He feared betrayal at every turn. He sought me out as confidant because he believed me powerless to betray him. I recorded his draughts in his healing records in case of complications, but to inform another when one's patient is struggling to trust you?"

"And you treated him as and Aesir." Odin said. "Had you known he was Jotun?"

"I would have refrained from treatment, Your Majesty. My specialty is the treatment of the brain, but I have not studied the Jotun brain. I know not what balance of chemicals will result in proper functioning."

"Did the medicine you gave my son drive him mad!"

"I know not, All-father, but they were not making him better."

"I would have a report from thee, Healer. A detailed one. Eir, you will look over them and tell me what damage the chemical could have done."

"There is none within the palace who can treat more than just the most basic ills of  Jotun, your Majesty." Eir interrupted. "And I fear it may not have been the chemicals causing the problem."

"Then the medicine did not drive him mad?"

"The most it did was aggravate what was already happening." Eir said. "The healers fear he may be malnourished, but we cannot diagnose properly until the spell upon the Soulforges are released and Loki is analyzed in his birth form."

"He returns to his birth form if suddenly frozen." The All-father said stiffly. "I will remove the limits upon the Soul-forges."

Eir and Jorun bowed and left.

. . . 

Loki was still unconscious as he lay upon the Soulforge. He did not look well. Whatever the second prince had been up to in the past years had not been kind to him. It was even more disconcerting as the  prince had been doused in frozen air and had luckily responded to the stimulus by turning blue rather than dying. This allowed the Soul Forge time to analyze him in his birth form.

Jorun carefully concentrated on the Soulforge as the information officially revealed that the subject was not a male Aesir. Loki was only half Jötunn as well. The machine claimed a quarter As, an eighth Elf, and the final eighth was indistinguishable. No wonder Loki was a natural shapeshifter. His own genetic strains should have been at war with each other. Who would create a child with such an odd mixture of heritages?

But that had to be a question for another time, as the soul forge lit up with a more accurate diagnosis. According to the Soulforge, Loki was in terrible shape. Jorun's specialty was the brain. He tried to focus on that as the healer next to him swore under her breath.

"He is malnourished as feared." Eydis diagnosed to the team. Her specialty was the skeleton.

"I concur." Gyda said.

Jorun ignored them to focus on Loki's brain. He was not experienced in Jötunn physiology, but the Soulforge read that Loki's brain was not producing enough of several vital chemicals and far too much of others. It was in stark contrast to the analysis of his brain as an Aesir. As and Aesir Loki's brain had only seemed slightly wrong. But now, the forge lit up with alarming colors. The question was, of course, how accurate was the Soul-forge when it came to Jotnar physiology?

"I believe parts of his brain are beginning to shut down." Jorun said quietly. The other healers paused and looked over at him.

"Are they or aren't they, Healer?" Eir snapped.

Jorun shook his head and stepped away from his spot. "Head Healer Eir will you assist in the diagnosis?"

Eir swept in and looked over his findings. Eir growled low in her throat. She corrected only one thing. She readjusted his estimated time before Loki's brain finally shut down.

If the healers did not correct what was ailing the prince within a few days, Eir predicted that Loki would begin to suffer permanent brain damage. If not corrected within a few months, the Jötun Prince would die.

"We start with the malnourishment. It is likely the underlying cause of the imbalance in the brain. Eydis, what are your recommendations?"

"I am not certain." Eydis was forced to admit. "I know not the right levels for a mixed-blood Jötunn."

Eir snarled and backed away from the spot at the forge. "Do what you can. I will find a specialist even if I have to go to Jötunheim myself."

Jorun returned to his spot to help monitor Loki. He tried not to calculate the chances of his patient's survival.

. . .

"Is what you say here true?" Queen Frigga clutched her hand to her throat. "Loki was under the care of a mind healer?"

Eir nodded. "Jorun is young, but he is well trained."

"I knew that he had a difficult time making friends. He was always a difficult child, but..." Frigga stood up and started pacing. "Was he mad enough to not be considered responsible for his actions?"

"Some, yes. others, no." Eir said. "But it should help encourage leniency in sentencing even then."

"I have already pleaded with my husband for leniency. I am not sure how much more this will..." 

"The medicine was not working because his healer thought him As." Eir said. "And there is a chance that the underlying cause was chronic malnourishment."

"I never starved my son." Frigga said.         

"No. This is a fault of not understanding the differences between the races." Eir said. "He needed a different amount and type of nutrients than an As needs."

"Why did you not prescribe it?" Frigga turned on her old friend.                                       

Eir clenched her fist and released it slowly. "I thought him healthier than he was. The soulforge said he was healthy, and I trusted it."

"What is wrong with it?"

"Odin altered the instruments to read he was your son lest someone discover it when he was brought in to be treated."

"Which messed with the underlying spells." Frigga said horrified.

"And his shifted shape hid the rest."

"What do you speak of?"

"His stunted growth, the miscarriage...we dowsed him in frozen air and his Jötun form is misshapen."

"Misshapen how?"

"His skin is too soft, and he is not as cold as he should be." Eir said. "Perhaps his small stature is also part of the problem."

"I will see him." Frigga said. "I have never seen his birth form; I would assure him that he is not a monster."

"He has not awoken yet, and we have a more pressing matter to attend to."

"What could be more pressing than speaking to my son?"

"There are no healers on Asgard who can properly diagnosis a Jötunn, especially not a mixed blood."

"Mixed blood?" Frigga's eyes widened. Eir ignored the comment.

"He needs a Jötunn healer. And we need the healer here as soon as possible."

. . .

The first time Jorun had attended court was at his recognition ceremony as a new palace healer. Odin had not been in attendance, but Frigga had smiled warmly at him. Jorun was grateful that Loki loved his mother. Jorun's opinions on the rest of the royal family had been soured by Loki's stories. Hel, Jorun had heard stories about the entire court that left him questioning why they were trusted to rule the Nine Realms.

The second time had him delivering his formal statement to Odin and the full court as part of Eir's ploy to get a healer from Jötunheim.

Jorun was infinitely grateful his own father was a tradesman.

In the end, Eir's plea had been granted, after much yelling between the All-father and the head healer. Jorun was sure that the yelling would be nightmare fuel for years to come

Loki had woken briefly a few times before and after the court proceedings, ranting about the lies of freedom, blaming Thor for everything wrong in his life, and cursing everything within and without the nine realms. The cursing was actually pretty impressive, and Jorun filed a few insults away to use when his cousin insisted on flyting.

Once Loki had looked over at Jorun and in a most deceptively calm manner apologized for not telling his parents about his paranoid delusions.

"Jorun, I fear they are getting worse." Loki said, his hands laced on his stomach. So familiar, and yet so strange in Loki's Jötun form. "I fear I have made some irredeemable choices."

Jorun tried to look calm and non-judgmental as possible. "We are focusing on getting you better."

"Why? I am just a prisoner here. I am no longer an Odinsom." 

Jorun could not dispute this claim for no one knew if Odin would change his judgment upon his younger and adopted son. The crimes were grave, perhaps too grave to forgive the mad prince. Learning all that had transpired after the coronation made Jorun feel guilty. Jorun had made the wrong judgment call. He should have gone to Eir. Jorun may have lost the trust of his patient, but he would have saved the lives of thousands. 

Now Jorun was in court for the third time as part of the welcoming committee for the Jötunn healer known as Angrboda. Jorun knew intellectually that the Jötnar were not a race of monsters. They were a sentient race with their own culture--a very vicious and barbaric culture, but a culture. Some of the scholars wrote carefully worded papers suggesting that the Jötnar had been badly mistreated in the wars. Jorun had found their papers interesting, but had never been in a position to rely on their interpretations before.

But all of that knowledge could not compare with the gut feeing of wrongness when two very large blue beings with blood red eyes walked into the throne room.

Jorun took in the forms of the hermaphroditic race that thrived in icy conditions that few other races could match.

They were alien in this place of Aesir. Jorun could feel the tension in the throne room.  Warriors unconsciously shifted to battle-ready stances.

The two aliens walked proudly, defiantly into the room. One of them wore a dark red loincloth and carried a large leather satchel that could easily hide an adult Aesir. The other wore a white loincloth, carried nothing, but walked as though he was in command of the room.

"Odin King." The one with the gold bound horns inclined their head. The other bowed slightly lower. Neither were low enough to satisfy the assembled court. A murmur went up from the crowd.

"Býleistr King." Odin said, eyes narrowing. "I was not aware this was a state visit."

"I have reasons to treat with the 'father' of all. I am also here to escort my partner Angrboda."

"You had my word she would not be harmed." Odin said. 

"One of your sons slew dozens of us without cause. The other nearly destroyed our realm. While I do not doubt the word of the Glapsviðr, I fear your control over your subjects."

"Should you not find the business of your realm more pressing than this matter?" 

"Ah, yes. The advantage of ruling a dying realm is there is not much to do. There are no taxes for there is nothing for which to tax. There are no law breakers for there is no law to break. There is no religious ceremonies for the priests are all dead. Which, on the other hand, makes the funerals shorter. Otherwise I would never get to the non-business of ruling my realm. No, Odin. I have a title, but it is empty thing."

"Come to beg for the casket?"

Býleistr snorted. "I would if I believed that the Raven King returned what was stolen. I have a more personal matter to pursue."

"You have agreed not to harm my realm."

"I wish my brother to be returned."

The crowd stiffened. Loki had been acknowledged as a Jötunn, but the rumors had not stated his parentage.

"What makes you think we hold your brother?"

"Medical care for a Jötnar-As-Elf hybrid?" Býleistr scoffs. "You know how rare mixed bloods are now that our world is closed? And then I did a little counting. Just a simple thing really--Lodur would have been about the same age as the second prince."

"Loki is the child of Laufey." Odin admitted shifting his hold on his spear. 

"I would have him back."

"He was abandoned. I saved him. He is a son of Odin."

"He was lost. He was mourned. He is the brother of my blood."

"I care not who he is." Angrboda interrupted. "This conversation has gone on long enough. Where is my patient?"

Eir stepped forward. Jorun took a second before following her. The decision seemed to be correct as no one was yet yelling about Jorun for breaking protocol.

"I am Eir, Head Healer of Asgard and its palace. We will to the healing rooms. Your Majesties." Eir bowed. Jorun bowed deeper. Angrboda simply left the room with her large satchel.

. . . 

Loki lay on a bed in the healing room, on a bed had been set to be the relative temperature of Jötunnheim. The healers had decided to force his body to remain in Jötun form by way of tonics. Treating him had thus become been a dance in how to treat a patient while wearing protective clothing.

Two guards watched him day and night. Shackles on his legs and arms reminded everyone that he was still a dangerous prisoner. Frigga sat next to him reading silently. She stood up gracefully as the three healers entered the room.

"Your Majesty, this is Angrboda." Eir said.

"Frigga Queen." Angrboda said.

"Please inform me as soon as you have word." Frigga said. She patted her adopted son's hand and left the room to the healers.

Angrboda looked at the healing bed. Jorun wondered if she could read the results of the monitoring. It then occurred to him that she needed the results from the tests. He leapt towards the book containing Loki's history in the healing rooms, flipping to the page of the most recent tests.

"Here are the tests. I don't know if the messengers told you what is happening..."

"I will run my own tests." Angrboda said sharply, dropping her satchel. She pulled out a roll of jagged parchment. Jorun could not keep himself from staring at it. He was unfamiliar with Jötunn spells and wondered what the parchment might do. She leaned over the sleeping form, she placed a giant finger on his arm. She breathed in regular intervals, eyes closed.

"He is overly warm." She after a moment, moving her hand to his face.

"We are unsure of what his body temperature should be. He is a mixed blood."

"In Jötunn form he should be as cold as I...nay. He should be the temperature of a child. Smaller Jötunns are always warmer. It is minor, probably from living too long in this sweltering realm."

"The temperature is not good for him?" Jorun said realizing his stupidity as soon as he said it.

"The Jötnar can survive in warmer climes. But there are adjustments that must be made. Changes in diet, less exertion. He is as tiny as described." Angrboda marveled. "I believed it not."

Angrboda formed a thin knife of ice. Jorun started a moment, but settled as she nicked the prince's hand.

Loki awoke at the prick of the blade. He took in the Frost Giant standing with a blade and tried to escape, but his manacles stopped his progress.

"Hush, little one." The Jötnar murmured. "I am a healer."

Loki laughed. "Have the As fallen so low that they must use a monster to treat me?"

"Yes." The healer forced his hand to the parchment and squeezed slightly. A drop of blood fell upon it and began to spread. Loki narrowed his eyes.

"I have killed many of your monstrous brethren."

"Our brethren." The giant corrected placing the parchment on the nearby table.

"I am not one of you!" Loki thrashed.

"You will only wound yourself by thrashing thus." Angrboda said tapping the parchment as the blood spread impossibly far--into lines that began to form the letters in the odd language of the frost giants. Jorun was amazed at her calm bed manner. He would have expected her to get angry at the insults.

"Prince Loki." Jorun began.

"You told." Loki hissed. Jorun felt irrationally guilty still at the accusation. It was the first thing out of Loki's mouth whenever he saw Jorun.

"Your word is worthless."

"Sometimes honor is less important than doing the right thing." Jorun said. One of the guards shifted. The warriors tended to protest such sentiments.

"You sound like the mortals my brother is so enamored with currently." Loki laughed with that crazy edge. "I see not his interest in the ants."

"His interest is a passing fancy." Eir said stiffly.

"Dealing with mortals lacks commitment." Angrboda said, reading the results on the parchment.  

"Indeed." Eir agreed. "But we speak of this prince, not Thor. How long will the tests take?" 

"They are nearly done." Angrboda looked over at Loki. "There are substances plentiful on Jötunnheim that are rare elsewhere. Your body tried to do its best at coping, but when you reached a certain point, it could no longer ignore it."

"I understand that." Loki snapped.

"The ones that you lack can have a negative affect on emotions. They also cause stunting, delayed maturation." 

"What?" Loki said.

"Can it cause miscarriages." Eir asked softly. Loki looked at her sharply. Jorun winced internally. Did they have to dance next to such a sensitive subject. 

"Yes." Angrboda said.

"How the Hel did I get pregnant in the first place?" Loki snapped. Jorun knew that had always been Loki's real question about his experience. Did the second prince know nothing about the Jötnar?

"Did you lay with another?" Angrboda said.

"Yes." Loki snapped.

"Know you not how babies are made?"

"I am a male!" Loki pounded his fist as much as the manacles allowed.

"You are Jötunn." Angrboda corrected. "We have one gender."

Loki's eyes went wide. "No...you lie! Monster! Barbarian! You wish to destroy me by lies. I am the 'Father of Lies.' No one tricks me!"

"Loki." Jorun started. Knowing how hard Loki tried to be the ideal Asir male. This was going to be a whole new aspect of discussions with the prince. Loki started that frayed laughter that made Jorun uneasy.

"Has anyone told Thor he has a sister yet?" Loki said. Jorun made a mental list of all the books he knew about gender identification and how to go about how he can still be accepted as male if he desires it. But that is if Jorun remains Loki's healer. He doubted it, but he can always pass the information on to the next one responsible for the prince.

"Eat this." Angrboda placed something in Loki's mouth. Loki spat it out.

"How dare you attempt to poison me? I shall have your monstrous head!"

Jorun winced internally again. Angrboda sighed, picked up another item. This time Jorun was paying attention enough to see her fish out a piece of colored ice. She put it in Loki's mouth, and covered his nose and mouth easily. "Concentrated nutrients." Angrboda explained as Loki ended up having to swallow. Angrboda let go, and Loki coughed. She followed it quickly with several other pieces, all forced down the prince's mouth.

"We can put the nutrients in the blood stream." Eir said. "If we know what is required."

Angrboda handed over several boxes from her satchel. Loki continued to rant, the coherency fading in and out. Angrboda and Eir discussed how to turn the medicine from being the type one ingested to being the one that was forced into the bloodstream.

 Eventually, Loki's rants turned into murmurings which faded

"Did you drug him?" Eir asked.

"Only slightly." Angrboda said. "A mild sedative. He seems likely to continue to hurt himself."

The Jötunn and Eir spent a while deciding on how much of each nutrient to give to the patient for the next week, the next month, and at least two years after that. The blood levels of the nutrients would be monitored regularly until they could be reduced to normal levels. Angrboda pulled out a parchment which listed how to feed a Jötunn using foods mostly accessible to As. Jorun looked over Eir's shoulder as she skimmed the list of foods. Some were expected, such as a large amount of fish and flesh eaten raw or as lightly cooked as possible. Others included plants and fungi not typically used as food. Three of them were known to be poisonous.

"The Moonseed is poisonous." Eir said. "As is some of the other plants listed here."

"To Aesir, yes. To Jotnar they are not." Angrboda said reasonably.

"I would rather know the names of the needed nutrients." Eir said rolling up the parchment. She gestured at an assistant to take the scroll from her hands.

"I know not the names in your language. Most of the medical books written in the All-tongue have been destroyed like all other reminders of our old alliance." Angrboda said.

"Wars destroy much knowledge. Know you how they are constructed?" Eir asked.

Angrboda nodded. She pulled out another empty parchment and an ink well, but Eir stopped her. She summoned another assistant.

"Take notes." Eir commanded. "Jorun, treat your other patients."

"I have few patients currently. They were assigned to others during my stay on Vanheimr." Jorun found himself saying. "Will the correction to the prince's diet be enough to correct the imbalance in his brain?"

Angrboda shook her head slowly. "I know not. His treatment must be over a long period of time. First balance the blood. Then the body and mind. You are expert at treating the mind?"

Jorun nodded. "He was my patient."

"Were all of his slights imagined?"

Jorun shook his head. "He has valid concerns that we never got much headway on due to the paranoia."

"Then he will likely be still damaged by his memories." Angrboda said. "I will help you with crafting draughts for the ills of his temper after we know that it is not caused by poor eating."

"I thank you." Jorun said.

"If you have not patients, find some." Eir snapped. Jorun bowed to both of the senior healers and headed out of the door.

. . .

The two ice giants were granted a room. It was opulent, gaudy, and a depressing reminder of how different the fates of their two realms. Angrboda's partner was already in the room pacing when she returned.

"How is my brother?" Býleistr asked as soon as she entered.

"He is well enough to form some coherent speech, but I fear he is the type to speak even until his dying breath."

Býleistr chuckled. "I have heard rumors of Loki as such. It is difficult to think that all of this time Loki has been Lodur."

"You have said that many times the past few days."

"It is no less true." Býleistr sat on a chair too small for him.

"Is he well then?"

"He is less dire than the healers assumed, but not by much."

"And his treatment?"

"Long. Supplements to his diet, and medication for the mind. Additions of nutrients into his blood directly."

"They will handle the last part."

"I have not the instruments myself." Angrboda said sitting on the bed. It was too soft and the coverings frosted over.

"I wish I could give you those things." Býleistr said. "Partner of the king, you should be granted your heart's desire."

"I would rather you spend your time organizing the realm. If we can get a few farms up near Utgard..."

"Baugi is working on it."

"And the raiders. We need to get you home to take care of them."

"Thrym is working on it." Býleistr chuckled. "I fear you worry more about my realm than I, the king."

"Someone has to." Angrboda sniffed.

"The giants need no king right now." Býleistr said softly. "Tribal leaders, yes. Healers and farmers and smiths and hunters... We have to acknowledge we have not the manpower to hold the realm in central control."

"You wish to return to the old ways." Angrboda said neutrally.

"The old ways were created for survival by Jötnar to survive on Jötunnheim."

"The planet was kinder then."

"I know you agree with me. Why do you insist on making this a debate?"

"You know you love it when I challenge thee." Angrboda smirked.

"I do indeed. Alas it is too warm to show how attractive you are to me."

Angrboda snorted. "Tis not the season for babymaking anyway."

"I did not want to make a baby, merely pass some time."

"I think you did not think the last sentence through thoroughly." Angrboda said. "But let us return to the discussions you had with the son of Bor."

"It was unsurprisingly difficult." Býleistr said. "I could feel the court tense every time I moved. If I had sneezed, I am sure I would have been skewered by some warrior attempting to make his name."

"And your claim on Lodur?"

"The discussion was not fruitful. It is as if they fear that I am here to claim him only to murder him. It is not as if we do not understand what it is to be sick in the mind."

Angrboda snorted. Rumors had circulated even within isolated Jötunnheim that the second son of Odin was a changeling. Býleistr had not believed, condemning Loki in the same breath as he did Thor. A monstrous child of a power mad Aesir. And then the messenger came asking for help with a mixed blood. Býleistr had been quickly reminded of his lost younger brother and then came the hope.

Angrboda still did not know the identity of Loki's sire, despite intermittent questioning. She did know that Lodur's death was devastating for King Laufey. Afraid to loose more sons, Býleistr had been fostered by the last great temple, far away from where fighting was likely to touch. Laufey had grown tired and more bitter. His mood swayed the people. He gathered the bitterest together into an army around Utgard. They lived in caves and hunted the game to extinction. Laufey's bitter mood was transferred to Helblindi who lived in a seemingly perpetual state of pessimism.

Angrboda was grateful that Býleistr had been raised far away from the bitterness of Utgard. He had been trained by the priests in ethics, laws, and science. The last scraps of the great Jötunn civilization were given him; he had grown wise.

"And the spoiled Asir do not understand true desperation." Býleistr continued. "An seidrmann trained by the Aesir? How valuable he is! I will not let them destroy my last blood relative any longer."

"I know that you will regain your brother." Angrboda said. Her mind knowing that his desire stemmed less from regaining the lost babe, but as part of his mourning of Helblindi. Býleistr had never wanted the throne. He had trained as a priest and a scholar. But Býleistr would be a great king.

Once, of course, the realm was whole.

. . .

"I cannot believe the audacity of the Jötunn king. Asking me to turn over my son?" Odin huffed as he removed his armor. "I think not. He even questioned as to what his punishment would be. As if they have the right to influence the mind of the All-Father."

"His greatest sin was attempting to destroy their realm." Frigga murmured. "They may have cause."

"His treason is the greater sin. He illegally took the throne."

Frigga sighed. "We have gone over this. I as regent gave him control as was his right as the second-born."

"He tried to kill Thor."

"Do I have to mention Cul?" Frigga snapped.

"I had no choice!"

"The fight over the throne of Asgard is a long and treacherous one. The fight over any throne embitters any family relationship. You encouraged Loki to follow the path to the throne!" Frigga growled. "You should have allowed me to keep him a scholar."

"He needed to be a warrior." Odin said. "He had to learn to fight."

"He did not need to learn how to rule. You tried to treat our sons the same, but they needed different things."

"You spoiled Loki!" Odin snapped. "I sought to toughen him up."

"I only spoiled him because he needs constant assurance of love." Frigga paced. "You never bothered to notice that he was not fitting in. You never noticed that he was in pain and needed to see a mind healer!"

"Neither did you!" Odin snapped. "I have a kingdom to run. I cannot be expected to follow the emotional ups and downs of one child."

"He is your son!"

"And this is why I am the King and you are not. You are too emotional!"

"And you are too cold. Frigid Odin Borson. Colder than the Frost Giants who want to take my Loki away." Frigga stormed out of the room.

Odin finished changing. It was amazing how Loki could cause problems even when ill and chained to a bed. Four out of five arguments between Odin and his wife somehow ended up being about Loki. If the argument did not start out about him, he would end up being mentioned and then the conversation went downhill from there. It was a very simple truth of their family. Thor was Odin's son. Loki's was Frigga's. One of the mysteries of Odin's life was how the same actions that made him love his wife, angered and frustrated him in Loki. Would everything have been different of Loki was his a child of his body? Odin could not tell.

Odin bowed his head. Son of Laufey indeed. His greatest enemy had birthed his most pressing trial.

. . .

Angrboda opened the door to their suite to find the All-mother standing there.

"May I enter?" Frigga asked.

"Yes." Angrboda said. Býleistr rose from the chair and the book he had been carefully reading. Everything in this realm was so ridiculously undersized and fragile.

"I am here unofficially to figure out what you want with my son." Frigga said abruptly.

"He is not your son." Býleistr said carefully.

"I may not have birthed him, but I raised him. He is my son; I am not going to let anything stand in my way of keeping him safe."

"I just want my brother back." Býleistr said.

"I do not believe you." Frigga said.

"Because we are monsters?" Angrboda said.

"Only fools believe an entire race is made of monsters." Frigga sniffed. "I have read the histories. Jötunnheim was betrayed by Asgard as much as they betrayed them. There has been war between our realms for so long we have begun to define ourselves by our hatred, and that needs to be remedied. That said, if you are here to harm my son, I will rip out your eyes and start a war that will wipe your realm from the universe."

Býleistr chuckled softly and then sobered. "No, fierce queen, stay your anger. I truly mean no harm. I have lost my elder brother to this almost-war already. He was one of the first fallen to your brother. We are lucky my father had not known that when he faced Odin."

Frigga clenched her fist. "I am sorry."

"I bear more hatred for the elder prince than the younger. It is true that Lodur killed my father, but my father--" Býleistr took a deep breath. "I fear he may have been less than an ideal king. And there may have been talk of a rebellion."

"And which side did you find yourself?" Frigga said.

"I wish not to say lest rumors get to the wrong ears." Býleistr said. "Laufey's rule was for not much longer."

"Loki let the Ice Giants into the treasury. He nearly destroyed your realm." Frigga said with wide eyes.

"Oh, queen. You know not how it looks from our side. Rumor and half truths can easily be molded into a different story. Lodur Laufeyson had nearly died upon the battlefield because the racist Aesir cannot tell the difference between a warrior and a fleeing nursemaid. Mortally injured the nursemaid placed the child in the heavily fortified temple to be found when the battle had ceased. That same temple was taken by Odin and the child assumed abandoned."

"Loki was not abandoned?" Frigga said.

"We mourned his death. We cursed the Aesir who were cruel enough to kill even tiny unweaned babes."

"I am sorry." Frigga said. "I gave him a good childhood. Or at least I tried. It was hard. He was a difficult child. Different than the others. More fragile, but more daring. He was never satisfied with being told where the line was. He had to dance upon it."

"I am grateful to you for raising my brother. He would have been a much different person had he remained on Jötunnheim."

"Would he have been happier?" Frigga said. "Should we have returned him to Laufey?"

"Only the fates know, All-Mother." Býleistr murmured. "I would have been a much different man. I do not know if I would have been a good brother."

"There is no way to know what would have happened on a different branching of fate. It only brings agony to imagine. Please continue your original thought."

Býleistr nodded. "The lost prince was raised by the enemy and taught to hate his people."

Frigga grimaced and nodded. Býleistr continued.

"Driven mad by heat and malnourishment, he still managed to give the people an opportunity to gain the casket. He stopped the crowning of the Giant Slayer. The rash and foolhardy eldest son who had sworn to kill us all."

Angrboda watched Frigga wince. Her reactions were entertaining.

"The Giant Slayer grew angry at the delay and sought to add more Jotunn deaths to his count. He came and slaughtered dozens of us, proving that he is dangerous and uncontrollable. He even killed Helblindi, Laufey's eldest. Laufey lost what was left of his sanity for to loose two sons to his worst foe was unforgivable.

"Loki, however, reunited with his people had finally discovered his true nature. Instead of being grateful that he was a Jötun, he was driven to further insanity because he had been trained to kill his own kind. He murdered his father because he had been told he was unloved and abandoned. He tried to use the Bifrost, it is true, but he was mad. And is not a quick death better than the slow death of the final war that Thor would have inspired had he taken the throne? Thor saved the day for which we are grateful." Býleistr spat. "But Loki is our fallen prince. Our poor child driven mad by being raised by aliens.                                              

"I want my brother back." Býleistr concluded. "Let him finally be among his own people."

"It is a good story." Frigga said. "But I cannot trust that all will feel as you do."

"He is useful to us." Angrboda rumbled. "You may mock him for his brain, but we will not. We need new ideas. Brilliant men. Someone who can help us find a way for the world to stop dying without needing the casket."

"If we gave back the casket, would you relinquish your claim on my son?" Frigga asked.

"Yes." Angrboda said.

"No." Býleistr said. The partners looked at each other.

"Will you love your brother?" Frigga asked.

"I do not know him." Býleistr said. "I loved the babe of my dam without question. I have yet to decide if I can love Loki as much as I loved Lodur."

Frigga let go of a long sigh. "I know not what is right. I know my son has done wrong and must be punished. I know my son is ill in his mind and may not be as guilty as assumed. I know he is my son, and I cannot give him to you, but I know you deserve to have him back. I know that all of my opinions are only as good as we can convince Odin of."

"We can claim him as wergild." Býleistr said.

"There remains the treasons and the attacks on the mortals." Frigga countered. "He must account for his actions on three realms."

"Midgard." Býleistr grumbled. "The mortal realm is more trouble than they are worth."

"He was surely mad by then." Angrboda said.

Frigga paced. "The attack was not his usual style, but at the same time within his abilities. We know little of what happened after Loki fell from the bridge."

"Has anyone inquired of him directly?"

"No." Friggs breathed. "Odin thought his crimes too grave and obvious to merit a trial."

"So says Asgardian law." Býleistr murmured.

"The word of the All-father is absolute in the nine-realms." Frigga said. "We will have to present this carefully to avoid having Loki locked up for eternity."

"Was that to be his punishment?"

"Aye." Frigga said.

"Certainly the price of treason is death." Býleistr leaned forward.

"I did not wish to watch my son die." Frigga said.

"And his entire life in prison was better than death?" Angrboda said.

"Yes." Frigga snapped. "There would have been time for my son to have changed. To learn what pain he had inflicted upon his family and all of the realms. Time for my husband and older son's tempers to wane."

"You thought that he would be released after some time. Odin would rescind his verdict?" Býleistr said.

"T'was the desperate wish of a frantic mother." Frigga said. "I know how stubborn my husband is and how much damage my son has wrought. But--he would be alive. I could visit him."

"So you wanted him alive for your sake." Angrboda said.

"Yes." Frigga said. "So that I could hope my family will one day be whole again."

"How much do we need to lessen the charge for Odin to agree to our plan?"

Frigga paced a few moments. "Enough for him to save face. Rumors of Loki's illness and parentage has spread. His reputation of being all wise and all knowing is in jeopardy."

"Since he caused his sons madness?" Angrboda said.

"We must make it so this is the wisest plan." Frigga said. "We must make it so the nine realms look at him and whisper that he is wise and merciful."

"But not too merciful." Býleistr said. "He is also the terror of the battlefield."

"Indeed." Frigga said. "You play this game of politics well."

"I am not more than an average fighter." Býleistr murmured. "I had to have something to help me balance upon my precarious throne."

"I can not believe that you have so little power." Frigga said.

"I have made it so." Býleistr confided. "We have tried to gain respect by being a military might so long we have forgotten that we are not. We have little else but our pride, and that pride will kill us. Instead, let us return to our tribes and relearn what it is like to follow the hunts. Let us forget how to use our ice in war and remember how to build."

"The other realms will think you broken." Frigga said.

"Let them." Býleistr folded his arms. "We will regain our pride later."

"What of otherworldly attacks." Frigga said.

"As Midgard has shown us, it is difficult to conquer a realm that is ruled by many." Býleistr tilted his head. "The fall of a few tribes will mean nothing to the others."

"I cannot imagine what other worlds will want from our broken realm." Angrboda said. "It is too cold for most. The metals are buried deep and would require the work of many to retrieve. The only interest there is water."

"And that is easily obtained in a planet filled with ice." Frigga said.  "But if you have not all power on your world, how can you protect my son?"

"We need him." Býleistr said. "Stories can be manipulated."

Frigga nodded. "It is all about the telling. Our first step is to heal Loki. Once he is strong enough we will learn about what happened on Midgard. I think we can reduce his charges to one or two counts of treason."

"That does not seem like much of an improvement." Angrboda said.

Frigga smiled grimly. "You are not the only ones who can manipulate a story in the telling. I am Loki's mother. I am the one who taught my son how to play politics."

            . . .

Supposedly the nutritional supplements were supposed to make Loki feel better. Loki was not sure if they were or they weren't. One of the problems was that Loki's memory of the past few months were not very reliable. He remembered loosing the fight against Thor and his friends, but he did not remember why he wanted to rule Midgard in the first place.

Everyone knew that Midgard was impossible to conquer and idiotically hard to rule. Just look at their history. Entire civilizations were build and destroyed in the space of the time that Loki had lived. It was why they had left the mortals to their own devices millennia ago. They just did not thrive under stability.

He remembered stabbing Thor. That was a good memory. Thor needed some pain in his life. But he wasn't sure why he had stabbed him. Thor had probably deserved it.

He remembered going to Midgard. Why was he there again?

The Other had wanted it.

Loki wanted to cover his face with his hands. When had he gone from trying to dupe the religious fanatic to believing what he said. Had Loki actually said that? The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. That was word for word part of the Other's daily orations. In exchange for their hospitality and rescue from the void, he had been forced to listen to the ravings of the mad beings.

Damn the realms to HEL! Loki's eyes snapped open.

Thanos! He had nearly given the SPACE GEM to Thanos, worshipper of death. What had he been thinking?

Had he been thinking?

Had he been mind controlled?

Loki thought not. But how would he have known?

Loki had used mind control on the humans. Sloppy mind control. One easy determined by a discoloration in their eyes and cured by a hit to the head. Mind control was better subtle--leave the affected questioning how much was their own decision and how much was the will of their controller. How low had Loki fallen to forget that?

Damn the Tesseract. Damn Thanos which had made the bargain seem reasonable. Conquer one meager realm, turn over one of the six most powerful objects in existence and what?

Have a realm to rule?

It was that thrice blasted paranoia again. The unreasonable ones that had made him try and kill Thor the first time. DAMN IT ALL. That plan had not made sense either. When did his plans stop making any sense? When had he decided that the only way to stop the paranoia was to get enough power to quell any who might harm him?

But that didn't make sense. Loki wanted to go back to the time when things made sense. When had things made sense?

The coronation?

That had made sense. Bring in a Frost Giant and watch Thor ruin his own chance at the throne. Teach him a little humility. Teach him what it is like to have the realm whisper behind his back that he was such a disappointment. Have Thor know what it is like to have the realm question if he could ever be as good has Odin.

But then---things had spiraled out of control.

Loki was a Frost Giant.

Loki Laufeyson.

Loki laughed.

Maybe the world wasn't supposed to make sense. Maybe the paranoia was the only thing that had been right this entire time.

. . . 

Jorun had begun sessions with Loki again. It was disturbingly easy to get the prince to talk. It was less easy to decipher the truth from the lies. Jorun believed that not even Loki knew any more.

Loki's malnutrition had contributed to more than just his paranoia and depression. With consultation with Angrboda they decided that Loki had difficulties with forming and accessing his memories during the past few years. His delusions had progressed as well as the addition of hallucinations. And all of this had led him to psychosis.

Jorun hoped that the proper diet would repair much of the damage. Angrboda had already begun introducing medication to Loki in small doses. Loki seemed to be responding well to them.

It was the behavioral and mental retraining that was going to take the longest. Loki needed to be able to break himself of the negative spiral of thinking that ultimately led to paranoia, anxiety and depression. Jorun began planning Loki's treatment upon his return to his cell. It was not the ideal place for someone mentally ill, but Jorun could not see the All-father reversing his decree. Hopefully, the new information would lead to a shorter sentence. But how long would the sentence be? A century? A millennium? Could someone mentally ill even recover in a prison designed for punishment?

Jorun did not like to think about that. Instead he tried to focus on a plan for imprisonment. Jorun would push, if Eir agreed to support the idea, to have Loki imprisoned someplace more comfortable. There were prisons for the mad on a few of the realms. Jorun favored Alfheim since Loki had done much of his studies there. His friends, if he had some, would be able to visit. Jorun might have to hand off treatment to an elf, but the elves had been loyal to Loki when he had taken the throne.

Jorun thought for a moment. Jötunnheim was another option. The king of the Frost Giants had signed a treaty a few days ago. In it he had agreed to acknowledge the All-father and disband the Jötunn army. In exchange, Asgard would protect Jötunn from other off-world threats, allow a majority of autonomy since the Frost Giants were returning to tribal rule only, and allow a minimum of trade. Odin had also agreed to help them stabilize their environment, but without the aid of the Casket.

There had been murmuring until Odin had declared final victory over their ancient foe. He declared the Giants broken. It was now time to slowly reabsorb of one of the most difficult planets to subdue into the loving embrace of the All-father.

Jorun had watched Angrboda and Býleistr's carefully neutral faces during the entire speech.

Býleistr then gave his speech. It was a reminder that his people were not monsters, but beings who had fallen from great heights. He reminded them that their two people had one been allies. That it was his people who had helped build the Bifrost to much murmuring until both an aged scholar and Odin confirmed it to be true. It was war that had made the Giants brutal. Peace would give them a chance to rebuild the old alliance and together they would progress into the future.

Jorun wondered how long it would be before the Asir stopped calling the Jötnar monsters.

He also wondered how long the peace would last. The warriors called it a trick. Býleistr had laughed.

"You are always so fascinating in your prejudice." Býleistr said. "We are monsters without brain, heart or soul, but yet we are smart enough to deceive the All-father, who is all wise and all knowing?"

"Loki did it!" An anonymous voice cried out.

Odin thumped his spear on the throne. "Loki is my son. What father among you does not have a bit of blindness when it comes to your kin? He has lost the right to succession and his title of warrior. Let us not disgrace ourselves with remembering his actions. This is not a night to remember past sins, but to revel in the promise of a bright and peaceful future."

There was a murmur in the crowd. Jorun had been filled with dread. Even if Loki escaped execution, would the people even accept it?

. . .

 

"So after all this time, now you have come to visit me? Why brother?"

Thor looked at Loki's room in the medical wing. It was small and devoid of all comforts including a window, but it was more comfortable than his cell in the dungeon. There was a narrow bed and a small table. On the table were two books and a pitcher of water. Loki sat upon one of the two chairs were pushed into the corners, reading a third book. Loki himself was looking much better than when Thor had last seen him. Better even than Thor remembered him for some time. He was in his Aesir form. Thor had only seen his Jötunn form once and was not interested in seeing it again. It was disturbing.

"I came earlier, but you were unconscious." Thor said closed the door behind him. He noted Loki's light garments and slippers. They were not much sturdier than nightwear. Loki also wore two gold bracelets. They tracked things the healers needed to know as well as things the guards needed to know like his location.

It also disrupted the illusions that Loki was famed for.

"I have little else to do here but sleep." Loki gestured. "But you have not answered the question. Why are you here Thor?"

Thor shifted where he was trying to decide whether to sit or not. After Loki's attempt on Midgard--or actually after the dagger to the gut--Thor had given up on his brother. His frustrating younger brother had finally gone to far into madness.

What a shock it was to find that it had been madness in truth. Loki has seemed sane, if overly distraught from the beginning of the entire debacle. Well--maybe not completely sane. And then to learn the madness was not new. That he had been seeking treatment for years and failing. Thor knew not what to so with this information. He knew that he could not tell his shield brothers and sister on earth. The humiliation they would feel knowing that they had fought a man with an enfeebled mind? That their victory had less honor? No. Thor could not do that.

"I was hoping that this was yet another trick of yours." Thor said.

"Are you so eager to see me evil then? A conscious decision to conquer the weak is better than a half mad scramble with my own mind?"

"Loki, enough." Thor snapped. "I hoped it was a trick so that I would know that I had not ignored my as my brother slid into madness."

"And it is always about you is it not, dear brother." Loki tossed his book on his bed.

"That is not what that means." Thor tensed. "I have changed much over these past few years. I realized that I have been arrogant my entire life. I was always a good warrior, but I was not yet a good man. I caused harm without realizing it. I am sorry I did not noticed your struggles, Loki."

"I courted three of your dearest friends at one point." Loki tilted his head.

"You slept with my friends." Thor looked at his brother. "Why?"

"We were young. This it not the point of the story."

"How did I not know this?"

"You have all of the perception of a stone hidden beneath a frozen lake." Loki snapped. "There is more to the story that relates. One of those that I have dated has problems with eating. Rumors of their problems once reached your ears. You laughed in their presence and said that a person who was that weak in their spirit did not have a warrior's heart."

Thor's hands fell to his side. "I remember this not."

"You wouldn't." Loki sneered. "Like how you did not notice when the servants laughed at my contributions to battle. Like how all of my victories somehow turned into yours! You even took over my nameday feast seven times."

"What are you talking about?" Thor said.

"The worst one was the first. It was your first field command."

"Oh." Thor grinned. "The feasting lasted a week. It was glorious."

"The third day was my name day." Loki said. Thor blinked at him. "Father and mother told me we had to delay my name day celebrations because the victory was more than just yours. It was the victory for all of Asgard." Loki gestured widely. "And since I was a good son. I could take it.

"I never got my name day feast."

"I don't remember that." Thor said.

"You wouldn't." Loki said. "I am a thousand and fifty years old today. That is one hundred and five name days. I have received presents from you for exactly fifty-two of them."

"To be fair, you were gone for a lot of them." Thor tried to counter.

"How many ranks do I hold in seidhr?" Loki asked. "What are my specialties?"

"Illusion." Thor said quickly.

"I am a ninth level in visible light and infrared energy manipulation. I have lesser ranks in the other forms of energy. But you got part of it. Good job. I also have a eighth level in inter-realm travel, political theory, and a seventh in the history of Asgard and the all-tongue.  I have a third level in healing, but I abandoned it many years ago."

"You are smart." Thor said. "I have always known that. It does not give you permission to manipulate people and make them feel stupid."

"You are strong, Thor." Loki countered. "It does not give you the right to belittle my accomplishments and call them tricks or cowardly."

"You are cowardly!" Thor said. "You do not stand to fight your opponent. Instead you use tricks and illusions. You have no honor."

Loki snorted softly. "Do monsters have to worry about honor as well? But what I want you to contemplate this week is HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU CELEBRATE MY VICTORIES?"

"I WOULD HAVE IF THEY HAD BEEN WORTH CELEBRATING!"

Loki sneered as he relaxed in his chair.

"And that, dearest brother is why you never noticed me going mad. Who wants to confide in someone who only values strength? If I was worthless to you when I was as strong as I was able--what value will I have to you when I am weak?" Loki picked up his book. "Please leave. I have had enough of you today."

Thor balled his hand into a fist. This was a fight, and Thor was not one to flee. But Loki was mad. He knew not what he said. Thor opened the door and left, Loki's words following him. Had Thor really been that bad of a brother?

Thor almost ran into the small male mind healer who was wandering down a hallway with a large parcel. Thor recognized him as his brother's healer.

"How fares you this day, healer?" Thor asked.

"My apologies, your highness." The healer said. "Did you go visit your brother?"

"He was as infuriating as I remember." Thor said. "I can as yet not tell the difference between him now and when he was mad."

"It is because you have only come this once." The healer said. "He has his good days and his bad. There is much work yet left to be done. But I have hope for you both. I am pleased that you remembered that today is his name day. He was so certain that you would forget...you didn't forget did you, your highness?"

"No. Of course not." Thor stammered. No wonder Loki was ranting about how many times Thor had forgotten his birthday. Why couldn't his brother just be more straightforward? "I just forgot to get him a present and..."

"Have you ever heard of the different ways that people show love?" The little healer said. "Loki prefers to show love through accomplishing deeds, he receives through kind words."

"But he believes not my words." Thor said.

"And in that is the problem." The healer tilted his head. "The paranoia made it impossible for him to believe the words he needed to hear to feel loved. It does not mean he no longer needs them. Loving words accompanied by something more tangible will help him believe the veracity of your words of love, your highness."

"I will be back." Thor said when the healer came to a point that made escaping less of an insult. Thor needed a great present. But what was a good present for Loki? This is why Thor never got him presents. He was a pain to buy for and was never grateful.

. . .

"Many blessings for the next decade on your Name Day, Loki." Jorun said as the guard opened the door.

"Thank you, Healer Jorun." Loki said flatly.

"I got you a present."

"Is it an escape plan?"

Jorun grinned. "Not as yet, no."

"Very well. I will have to settle for that painting." Loki took a hold of the large package and opened it. Loki was surprised that it was not a painting, but a mirror.

"If I desired to look at myself, this would be a fascinating gift." Loki said.

"Oh, ye of very little faith and a lot of suspicion." Jorun said. "Alfheim, please."

The mirror rippled into a generic landscape of Alfheim.

"No. I prefer it to be nighttime." The sky got darker and the night blooms lit up on the trees.

"Now I can pretend that I am anywhere but here in a windowless room." Loki said.

"Precisely." Jorun ignored the sarcasm. He had learned very early on that the sarcastic edge was merely an automatic defense while Loki worked through his own thoughts.

"Thank you for this distraction. Anything is better than white walls."

"Loki. What have we been working on?"

"I was being honest."

"If you are unhappy with the gift I can obtain something else."

"No!" Loki snapped much harder than intended. "No. It is okay, Healer Jorun. I like the present."

"I saw your brother outside." Jorun said. "He seemed distraught he forgot to get you a present."

"You told him."

"I thought he would remember the date of your name day." Jorun said.

"I have won the bet."

Jorun sighed. "You did. Was that why you are angry with me? That I lost the bet that your brother would remember."

Loki took a deep breath. "I was upset that I was happy for those few moments that I thought I had lost."

"I'll bring the sweets next time I see you." Jorun said.

"I do not want them." Loki said. "I did not want to win this bet. I wish I could have bet what you did--but even if I did..."

"You would have brought the sweets with you." Jorun said.

. . . 

"Mother!" Thor shouted. "I need to get a present for Loki right now. What will he like? I can't give him daggers or a sword because he is in prison. I don't know what he likes to read. I don't have the beginnings of a clue..."

"Give him this." Frigga handed him a parcel. It was soft.

"What is it?"

"You usually give him weapons, but this time you are giving him a blanket." Frigga said. "Odin gives books. I give him clothes."

"What are you talking about?" Thor said.

"Loki's presents." Frigga said. "You and your father always forget to get something."

Thor stared at the offensive package. "Do I really?"

"The times you remember he gets two from me." Frigga said. "It works out nicely."

"Have I spent all of Loki's life not celebrating his victories?"

Frigga breathed through her nose. On anyone else it would have been a snort. "Oh, my eldest son and crown prince--I love you dearly, but how can you celebrate your brother's victories when you do not yet understand that there are victories other than the ones gained through strength of arms?"

"I understand that!"

"No, Thor. You do not." Frigga said. "But there is the present you are seeking. I have to go talk to the kitchens. They seem to be unable to comprehend that I am going to be eating dinner with my son today."

Frigga elegantly started to storm towards what was likely the kitchen when Thor stopped her.

"What levels has Loki made in his studies?" Thor said.

"He is a ninth level in basic energy manipulation. He has an eighth in inter-realm travel, political theory. He also studies history, language and healing."

"That means..."

"Oh, Thor." Frigga said. "Loki was meant to be a scholar. He only ever tried to be a warrior because it was the only victories you and your father value."

Thor threw the package on the table and left the room. He stumbled out to the training yard and fought his friends until nightfall.

. . .

"Loki." Frigga said. "I need to know what happened to you after you fell off the Bifrost."

Loki looked up from the book that Frigga claimed was a birthday present from Odin. It probably was not, since it was actually something that Loki would have been interested in. She had also brought a blanket "from" Thor and some clothes with just enough structure that Loki didn't feel like he was in nightwear all of the time.

"Why do you send your illusion to ask this?"

"I am soon to converse with your father, and I need to know whether I should push to hear the answers or not."

Loki paused for a moment. "I fell until I met the Chitauri. I used their tech to scry for the easiest Infinity Gem. I was promised a kingdom for the stone."

"Is there more?"

Loki thought for a moment, weighing the risks of silence and revelation.

"The Chitauri are controlled by Thanos. It is he who gave me the scepter and detailed the bargain." 

Frigga's illusion raised her hand to her face.

"Did he threaten you? Did you fear for your life?" 

"Mother, sometimes I fear you forget that the Aesir would rather die than aid the enemy."

"Did he torture you?"

"No. Nor was I mind controlled." Loki said. "My actions were my own."

"Or as much of your own as can be when you are lost to paranoia and delusions. What did he promise you?"

"Other than a throne?"

"Yes, my son. You would rule any realm well, but your plan--it lacked subtlety."

"I may have believed if I had enough power then I wouldn't have to worry about who was going to betray me."

Frigga thought for a moment. "Okay. I can work with this. Thanos manipulated your delusions to fit his desire. You were alone and afraid he would kill you...yes. Be prepared. There will be a questioner coming soon. We will have to use a truth spell on you."

"Mother. I fear I am not sure what is truth and lies any more." Loki said.

"I know, my son. Try to believe that all will be well." Frigga's ghost came over and tried to brush the hair out of his face. The illusion shattered contact like all of their shared illusions seemed to.

"I need to fix that." Loki paused lost in thought about the universal problem with illusions shattering with physical contact.

. . . 

"When did you notice that something was wrong with you?" The questioner asked. Loki had been certain that he would only be asked about the period between the fall and the attack on Midgard. Apparently not.

He had been taken to a different featureless room than the one he currently resided in. This one, however, was designed for questioning prisoners. Its walls were lined with truth spells. It was said that they would detect lies that the prisoner did not, even know they were making. Loki had spent his life avoiding these rooms. What good was a silver tongue if everyone knew of veracity of the stories it wove?

Loki had always marveled at how most people believed in the black and white nature of truth, Truth and lies had a much more complex relationship than most people realized. Truth was what people thought it was based on the lies they told themselves. Lies were most believable when select truths were told.

How do you get Thor to try to invade Jötennheim? Tell him you agree with him and point out that he is not supposed to go there. There it is. Manipulation through truth. One need not lie to manipulate others.

"I know not when it started." Loki said. "I have always been prone to pessimism and anxiety."

"When did you decide to go to the healers for help?" The questioner clarified.

"I started feeling as if someone was watching me all of the time."

"Heimdall."

"No." Loki shook his head. "It was not him. Someone else. Everyone else. Everyone was plotting. Everyone laughed at me when I was not in the room. I could not sleep until I had locked the doors and windows and checked them three times. Sometimes I would put an illusion in my bed and watch from a cupboard because I was certain that this night was the night the assassins would come."

"And was that the moment?"

"No. We were on the practice field." Loki said. "I was doing better than usual. I had hope for a victory against Thor even without my illusions. Until Thor decided to stop holding back at least. It was nothing new...and then I suddenly was certain that he was going to kill me. He had been plotting with his friends for this whole moment my whole life. I fought back. I tried to land a killing blow, but Thor was too fast. I lost the match. He complimented me on a good match, and he left me laying there knowing I had just tried to kill him."

"And that was the moment."

"Yes." Loki breathed. "That was when I knew that if I did not get help, I would kill someone."

"And you did kill people."

"Yes." Loki said. "Many of them."

"Why Healer Jorun?"

"He was new. Well enough spoken of, but not well known. He was not in any of my social circles." Loki said. "His family is well off but not noble. His parents are both alive. No one in his family has ever been in the army. None of them have been a criminal. He is not known to drink to excess. No one in his family is in debt."

"So you spent time researching him."

"To prove he was unlikely to be taken in by the conspiracy, yes. Just in case there was a conspiracy to kill me. Everyone might just hate me." Loki lifted his eyebrows.

The questioner frowned. "The first treason. Do you believe yourself sane during the planning of letting the Frost Giants into Asgard. Which led to the deaths of two guards."

"I was sane." Loki said. "I thought I was doing the most logical thing. If the All-father would not listen to my objections to Thor's coronation--I would show them. I did not think the guards would die. I thought that the guards would be able to handle a Frost Giant or two. It would be like a test of the vault security. I even "forgot" about the destroyer so that even if the Frost Giants were not killed by the guards, they would never gain the Casket of Ancient Winters."

"So you admit to treason."

"I only did what I thought was best for Asgard."

"You were not envious of your brother and conspired for the throne?"

"Are you idiotic?" Loki asked the questioner. "Or have you no siblings? Of course I was envious of Thor. But I never thought to take the throne from him. I just wanted everyone to believe that I could be as good a King as Thor."

"You manipulated your brother into attacking Jötunnheim."

"I told him not to go." Loki said. "I informed the guard to tell my father. I told him to go home. I am sorry that I know my brother well enough to know that he does not listen to my council when I give him actual mature advice. Woe unto Asgard! Your nearly crowned king nearly started a war because his little brother told him to listen to the dictates of the All-father."

The questioner coughed.

"You forced the All-father into Odinsleep."

Loki snorted. "I had just learned I was a Frost Giant. We had an argument. My father conveniently fell asleep when I needed him the most."

"What of your paranoia?"

"What? One of the most outlandish fears that haunted my waking and sleeping moments turned out not only to be true--but worse than I had imagined. Yes. Let's talk about that. Let's talk about the moment when all of my paranoid fantasies seemed to be reality, and what I thought was reality was a giant lie."

"And yet you took the throne in this state."

"It was my duty. Duty was all I had left."

"Why did you not bring back Thor?"

"He was banished. Why do others not understand this?" Loki slammed his hand on the table. "He was banished to assure Jötunnheim that Thor's attacks were his alone and not the beginning of war. I was not king, merely regent. Overturning the All-father's decree was something I did not have the authority to do."

"And you were jealous of him."

"From the moment I took the throne they clamored for Thor to be brought back. I was the legal regent and my so called 'friends' begged me to go against the All-father's punishments before they even swore loyalty to me. Heimdall refused as well. Is this not proof that traitors surrounded me?"

"You told Thor that his father had died and he was not wanted."

"Do you know what happens when two claimants to the throne appear?" Loki snarled. "I had legal claim. Thor was banished. If he was brought back without the All-father's authority, he would still not have the legal right to claim the inheritance. But no one understands this! If Thor was back the people would expect me to give him the throne which he had not the legal right to. I was not going to give up my throne to traitors!"

"And you plotted with Laufey and then murdered him."

 Loki laughed. "I needed to cement my claim to the throne lest the warriors and Sif bring back the second claimant. The defeat of our ancient enemy seemed in order. It all seemed so clear. Finally, I would be the great warrior, destroyer of all the rest of the monsters."

"And you sent the Destroyer to kill Thor."

"It did not do as well as I hoped." Loki chuckled. "It is called the Destroyer and yet it barely damaged one Midgardian town. I had to stop Thor from returning lest he started a civil war."

"You would not have given up the throne?"

"Oh, my dear guard--no."

"What happened after you fell into the void?"

"I fell until I managed to force my way out of it." Loki tilted his head. "I didn't try to kill myself like some people seem to think. I was fairly certain that given the properties of the void and the energy from the shattered bridge there would be a few naturally occurring portals that I could use to find a floating rock somewhere with an atmosphere."

"This is when you discovered the Chitauri."

"That was a hideous rock I found. And it barely had an atmosphere at all. But there were beings there. Potable water. Awful, but edible food. The Chitauri. It did not take much for them to believe in my conversion to their cause."

"Which is?"

"The eradication of free will." Loki said.

"And you sought this alliance of your own free will?"

Loki looked away. The walls were still ultimately boring. "I believe so."

"How do you not know?"

"My memories are not there!" Loki pounded his fist. "The days I spent with them blend together. At one point I must have started believing that the Other had a point. Maybe the reason everything went wrong in my life was I was able to make my own decisions. If I had only played the good son. If I had never questioned orders or tried my own style--maybe then I would not have been lost. Maybe I would have been loved and trusted."

"And that is when you offered to obtain the Tesseract?"

Loki shook his head. "It was then I was brought to Thanos."

"Thanos." The questioner spat. "You entreated with the mad Titan?"

"Treated would be a strong word." Loki pulled on his fingers. "It was made clear to me that he desired the Tesseract. He knew it was on Midgard, but he had not the knowledge of the nine realms to locate it. I used his technology to follow SHIELD until it was found. Once found Thanos made it clear to me that it would be my duty to bring it to him."

"Could you have refused?"

"I know not." Loki shook his head. "But there, in that place, Thanos' control is absolute. Torture until death was the common punishment. Being torn in half was the kind one. The bargain made sense as well. In return for their generous aid from saving me from the fall, I would assist them in their conversion of Midgard. I would follow orders this time and it would work out."

"Was the plan yours?"

"Some parts yes. The details." Loki said evenly. "I was given the staff to gather necessary aid. I was told to open the portal over a large populated area. The rest mattered not to them."

"How sure are you of these matters?"

"I currently have troubles trying to figure out if this is all an elaborate delusion in which I wake up tied to a rock with venom dripping in my eyes. Some of these things I remember clearly. Others faintly. Some of it appears like a waking dream."

"What are you certain of?"

"Thanos is collecting the Infinity Stones. If he finds me again he will torture me until I beg to be torn in half." Loki said.

"Do you regret it?"

"You will have to be more specific."

"The coronation."

"No.

"Unleashing the Destroyer."

"Only as much as it freed Thor from his banishment."

"Using the Bifrost to try to destroy Jötunnheim."

Loki was silent a moment. "I believe if father wanted them dead it is the most efficient method. I no longer believe that all of them are monsters deserving only death."

"Do you regret the alliance with the Chitauri?"

"I regret loosing my control to them."

"Do you regret the deaths on Midgard?"

"Mortals die. It's what they do. Midgard is one of the most useless of the realms. Why is it that the only time the All-father cares about the mortals is when someone attacks it? They are mortals. There are so many of them at the moment."

. . . 

"How honest is he in his account?" The All-father asked.

"The results are erratic." The questioner asked. "I have questioned him three different times. Each time the answers are slightly different. Sometimes the exact answer reads as truth during one session, but false during another."

"And your conclusion?"

"Aside from the fact that he is likely mad?"

"It is clear that is the case."

"He remembers his time in the void and what occurred but little. He is confused to a lesser extent about the actions that led up to it." The questioner said. "In his confusion, he is trying to piece his recollections into something coherent. It works not as well as he thinks it does. I am reasonably certain that he was brainwashed into obeying the Chitauri. The gaps in his memory may indicate some mind control, but we cannot be certain. He is terrified of Thanos."

"Only the truly mad would not be." Odin murmured. "What do you believe in his guilt?"

"After the fall he is innocent of all due to the depths of his madness. Before--it is complex, but I do not believe he would have gone as far had his paranoia not driven him. But despite this--he is a very dangerous being to both himself and others."

"You are dismissed." The guard bowed, leaving the All-father to his thoughts and his unvoiced regrets.

. . .

Thor was a brave man. It was what he was known for across all of the realms. He could face off against armies single handedly. He had slain monsters of all shapes, sizes, varieties and strengths. There was nothing that scared him.

Except this door leading to Loki's room. Thor passed by it many times. His route through the palace always seemed to lead here. Thor wondered what the guards thought of his actions. Did they speak of the Odinson who was too afraid to enter the room, but more afraid to completely ignore his brother's existence?

 The advice of his friends had not been helpful. Sif seemed to believe that this was one of Loki's tricks. A way to get out of dying for his crimes. Fandral disagreed most strongly that it was a trick, but thought that Thor should remain away until Loki was sane. Hogun said little as was his wont, but seemed to think that Loki needed the support of his family. Volstagg spent much of his time feeling guilty that they had not noticed Loki's blight. Loki could have been saved long ago. He should have been saved.

Thor should have saved his little brother.

But how did one save someone when their own mind betrays them? How do you notice when the person will not tell you?

And the darkest thought of all--had Thor caused it all or at least made it worse? If he had not teased his brother over his non-warriorly ways would it have saved him? If Thor had hugged him more or less? If Thor had made Loki make friends with others would it have saved him? Should he have made his brother train until he was a true warrior? What path was the correct one? What should he have done to make things turn out better? When could he have made a different decision that would have saved everyone.

Was all of this inevitable?

And so Thor stared at the door.

An argument waiting on the other side. Madness in the form of a brother he thought he had loved enough. A brother he had finally given up on, only to have it revealed that he had given up too soon.

And Thor was grateful each time Thor was sent off world to subdue the marauders that threatened the peace of the realm. Then for a while, Thor had an excuse for why he did not open that door.

. . . 

Loki was quite surprised at the size of the attendance at his sentencing. But then he was the evil second born prince who was a monster in Aesir skin... Except he wasn't supposed to be thinking like that. Not all Frost Giants are monsters. Loki told himself mentally as he promised Jorun he would try.

Except me.

I am not a monster. I am a normal person who has made some major mistakes. With time and practice I can change.

Damn mind healers. Didn't know what they were talking about. Loki had done too much. He had been irredeemable from the time he made the first bargain with the frost giants. No before that. When had he become so vile?

He should have let himself die in the void.

No. He was not suicidal.

Odin should have left me to die on Jötunnheim.

"It is okay, Prince Loki." Jorun murmured. It was nice having Jorun near. He was pretty sure Jorun was not plotting to kill him. At the moment. Loki needed to stay in Jorun's good side so that didn't change.

"I will make sure that if you are imprisoned, there will be someone to help you work through your exercises."

Loki refused to comment.

Monsters belong in cages.

I am not a monster. Not all Frost Giants are monsters. I am a normal person who has made some mistakes...

Mistakes that made me a monster.

Monsters belong in cages.

Or dead.

"Loki." Jorun placed a hand on his arm. "You are muttering. I know all of this stress is making it difficult for you. Just take a few breaths. Okay. Are you ready?"

Loki nodded.

. . . 

Frigga looked down at her son. It was obvious to the initiated into Loki's moods that today was not one of his good days. On a good day Loki was almost indistinguishable from his former self. He laughed without the frantic edge. He tried to reason how his actions were justified or how much he regretted them. He could be convinced to hope that he would eventually be normal again. He made plans to do research, travel the realms, start a new branch of study.

But there were the bad days. And the bad days came in many different types.

There were the days Loki cried full of regret. Certain he was unforgivable and unlovable.

There were the days he cursed Asgard and his family, threatened them and all of the nine realms. Swearing to burn the Yggdrasil to the ground.

There were days he refused to get out of bed. Lethargic to no end.

Jorun and Angrboda kept reassuring Frigga that this was to be expected. Loki's mind had gone so long without proper nutrition that it literally did not know how to function properly. With the addition of the medications--Loki's brain was still trying to find a proper balance. And then there were the mental and behavioral retraining that Jorun and Loki had started.

Frigga tried to be hopeful that her brilliant son was going to return, but days like this... And today was potentially the worst day of all. It was this day that Frigga had feared and hoped would come. Please let her husband be merciful. Please let her son not make it any worse for himself. Loki looked over where Býlister sat with his wife. King nor more, Býlister was now merely a tribal leader, but as Loki's only blood relative he had the right to be here.

Odin called the room to order.

"I have made my decision concerning Loki Odinson." The room murmured at the inclusion of the acknowledgement of the relationship. "Loki Odinson, formerly Loki Laufeyson has committed a multitude of crimes unthinkable to right-minded beings. The punishment for the least of the crimes he is charged with is death. My original decision was that a life of imprisonment was of a similar recompense for his crimes. I have come to the conclusion that in my anger, I may made my ruling prematurely."

The room erupted in noise.

"I will have silence." Odin waited as the room settled. "Loki has been found mad by the diagnosis of three healers. He has not been in the presence of mind to make rational choices since I fell into Odin-sleep last. We are compelled by mercy to lessen his sentence as a result. He will be imprisoned within the castle under constant watch by guards and healers until such time as he is judged both sane and safe enough to begin his restitution to both Jötunnheim and Midgard. As part of his imprisonment he will make a study of ethics and the culture of both Jötunnheim and Midgard in hopes that he will begin to regret what was nearly destroyed."

The room exploded into sound. Some seemed surprised. Others seemed angry. Frigga found herself annoyed that there were no time limits imposed, no standards of sanity to be enforced. Loki could be imprisoned indefinitely under this ruling. His restitutions were unnamed, and could likewise last as short of as long as the All-father wished.

In the end though, Loki was no longer imprisoned in an empty cell. There was hope that sometime in the future he could be free and whole again. Frigga found herself happy at the result.

She thought it was a good ruling until she found herself looking at Býlister, who was frowning. He had worked out the limitations of the ruling and was not happy that he was not given custody of Loki. Odin wanted his son under his control and now he had it. Loki would not be free until he was Odin's perfect version of Loki.

Frigga's heart dropped. Was that even possible for Loki?

Frigga was going to have to make sure that meetings with his biological brother were part of Loki's recovery. It was the least she could do for Býlister.

. . . 

It had been a week since Odin had announced the change in Loki's sentence. It should have been enough time for Loki to have settled down in his childhood bedroom. Of course the servants and several seidrmenn had removed every object in the room, replaced the flooring and walls. They had found several stashes of things in this project. There were a lot of weapons, books of questionable nature, items thought lost, and an adorable collection from Loki's childhood. The collection was filled with things dear to children such as a toy, bright feathers, an arrowhead from his first hunt, and a collection of letters. Loki had always been so emotional and sentimental. He really had never been meant to be a warrior.

The pathway was familiar, but still wrong with the two guards on either side of Loki's door. A large lock had been placed outside. Odin waited as the door was opened and signaled for the guards to remain outside. They seemed overly concerned about leaving Odin alone, but what manner of All-father would he be if he was afraid of his own son?

Odin took in the room. It had been stripped of much of what had made it Loki's room. The prominent display of Loki's armor and weapons had been removed. All of Loki's seidhr experiments and materials had been taken, as were all of the instruments. Most of the books and decorations were now in storage, leaving most of the shelves bear. The windows appeared open, but Odin knew that a force field blocked everything from entering and leaving. Even the bedding and tapestries had been replaced for fear the mad prince had hidden something in them.

And in the middle of his room that was not his room, Loki lay sprawled in an outfit suitable only for sleeping in.

"Hello, All-father." Loki said not bothering to sit up. "I would have prepared for your illustrious visit, but I must have forgotten you were coming. Apparently I can't remember anything these days."

"How are you doing Loki?" Odin found himself a chair.

"I hear that I am mad, and that must be how I am doing."

Odin sat in silence for a moment. Loki remained frozen in the ungainly posture.

"I came to have that discussion that was so badly interrupted last time."

"The one where you told me I was a failure as King or the one where you were telling me my entire life was a lie?"

Odin sighed. There really wasn't any point to get angry with his son. It was not worth the effort to argue with the mad. "I fell into Odin-sleep at the worst possible time. I wasn't able to tell you the things you needed to hear."

 

"Why didn't you tell me I was a monster when I was a child?" Loki asked quietly. Odin was grateful the yelling hadn't begun yet 

"I tried so many times." Odin said. "But I put it off each time--and then suddenly you were all grown up, and I thought that maybe I would never have to tell you."

"You put it off. Like a chore you detested doing." Loki responded in a familiar tone. "What a chore it is to be a good father."

Odin pulled out a folded paper from his pocket. "It always went one of two ways. Either I would decide to tell you and you would suddenly make me so mad...I knew that I couldn't just let it slip in a middle of an argument. 

"And yet it did."

"Yes it did. I guess it was always going to be."

"What was the other way?"

"You would make me so  proud." Odin unfolded the paper. "You would come to me and tell me of your accomplishments. I could see that all you wanted was to be like me."

It was a drawing Loki had done when he was small. It was of their family when Loki was an adult. Thor held Mjölnir and wore a crown, but Loki held Gungnir and wore an eye patch. Odin and Frigga stood next to both of them. They were all smiling with the impossibly happy grin of childhood drawings. In the corner in uncertain handwriting that would eventually evolve into the precise drafting that Loki used now, was a note that either warmed or broke Odin's, father of Loki, heart. 

'I am going to be just like daddy'

Loki sat up suddenly. Odin hastily hid the paper, deciding that it was not time to show it.

"How was I supposed to bring about peace? If you thought I was abandoned--what was I supposed to be?"

Odin was surprised that Loki was not jumping down his throat like last time. There was a reason that Odin had chosen a time a little after Loki was scheduled to had taken his medicine.

"You were supposed to be my son."

"That doesn't MAKE SENSE!" Loki said. "What was the plan? How was it messed up? Who was I supposed to be?"

"I wanted you to be an ambassador." Odin said. "Someone who could live on Jötunnheim and show them that we were not as evil as they think us. And the people on Asgard--they would have seen you grow up. They were supposed to grow attached to you."

"They didn't." Loki said.

"No, they didn't." Odin agreed.

"I tried so hard." Loki curled into a ball. "Where did I go so wrong?"

Odin took a breath. His usual answers had always sparked arguments with Loki and Frigga--train more, stop using illusions to fight, stop being a sufferable know-it-all, read less, fight more, join the army, be like Thor, listen to your mother, stop with the stupid tricks, try to blend in, make more friends.

"You should have told me it was getting so bad." Odin said.

"I tried." Loki snapped. "I tried so many times. But then you would somehow say something like I hear Thor won another fight or Thor said you still use illusions on the training field or here's the best one--you were both born to be kings. How could I disappoint you after that? Hello father, I am going mad and the mind healer can't seem to stop it. I'm going to have to stop training to be Thor's advisor and tactician because the voices are telling me that everyone wants to kill me! My mind is going to disqualify me from being everything that you said you ever wanted me to be!"

Loki panted after the passionate yelling. Odin, father of two, felt dark deep inside. He had only wanted what was best for his adoptive son. A stable position at court. Honor enough that no one would ever question it.

He wanted for Loki what Thor had.

But Loki was not and would never be Thor. Odin should have listened to Frigga so long ago. Loki should have been a scholar. Odin should have left Loki with his books and tutors. He would have been happier.

"When this is over and you are well I will allow you to be whoever or whatever you wish." Odin said. "I should never have tried to make you into something you are not."

"That's not what I want!" Loki screamed, standing suddenly. "I wanted to be a warrior! I wanted everyone to understand that I was as good as Thor. I might not be as strong or as handsome, but I could protect Asgard just as well! If they would only open their eyes and see that there are other ways to be a good prince. How is Asgard so stupid! They do not see that there is a better way! A way where we don't have to die in battle to save everyone.

"We could be more that just more powerful than them. We could be more clever than them. We could rule everything! But we're stuck doing the same norn-blasted things we did when you father was on the throne! I don't understand what makes everything I do wrong. All of the warriors kill people. I just found a way to save more of our people.

"I could have changed things. I could have made everything better. It was all for Asgard, father." Loki collapsed on the floor. "What did I do that was so wrong?"

Odin levered himself up and then placed himself gingerly next to his broken son. He wrapped an arm around him. Loki froze for a second before realizing it was a hug and collapsing into Odin's chest. Odin brushed his son's hair.

"Loki, my brilliant son, you are far too clever for your own sake. Rules and laws and customs are all arbitrary, written by custom and public sentiment. I have killed many people. I have ordered the death of many, many more. But I am the All-father and they believe my actions are just and their belief makes it so."

"I was doing it for their sake." Loki cried. "I was the regent. I had the right!"

"The warriors believe that honor justifies their actions. Their belief makes it so."

"Honor." Loki spat. "There is no rhyme or reason to it."

"Honor is the rule of our land and they all believe that it is what holds the universe together, but honor is ultimately nothing. You are the one who has made a reputation of pointing it out to them. You, who does not believe in the value of honor, points out the illogic of their rules and it terrifies them. They find themselves unable to explain, backed into a corner, and by so doing make yourself an enemy of them."

"Does Thor know this?" Loki said.

"No. Thor believes in honor more than anyone I know." Odin said. "Which makes him popular, because he is non-threatening. But he will be an awful king."                                                              

Loki jerked away from the grasp.

"Oh, Loki. I have known this from the beginning." Odin said. "I was also an awful king when I was first crowned. As one of my first acts I threw a spear a little too close to some Vanir noblemen. I ended up having to marry your mother to stop that little mistake from turning into a war. But then I lucked out since your mother was perfect in every way for me. I made so many other mistakes, but they all ended up not as awful as they could be and therefore my rule lasted long enough for me to gain wisdom.

"But that is why I was going to crown him while I was still powerful. It was the only way to teach such a hardheaded son. He was never going to learn what he needed from books and tutors. I was going to give him the power he thought he was ready for to teach him that he was not."

Loki covered his face with his hands. "Oh, father. I am so sorry. Why didn't I see that?"

"You were mad, and I was too blind to see that you had come to the same conclusions as I had." Odin said. "I have been a fool raising you."

"You should have told me I was adopted sooner." Loki said. "I hate this father. I hate not knowing what is my own thoughts or the madness or the medicine. I can't trust myself to do anything. I don't know who I am anymore. Who am I now, father? Who am I?"

Odin grabbed his son in a tight embrace.

"Maybe, this time, you can just focus on being Loki."

"I don't know who he is..." Loki continued to cry. Odin held him for a few moments until Loki backed away wiping his tears away. "Forgive me, All-father. I fear the medicine has made me overly emotional."

"I understand. It will take you a while to be stable again." Odin said. "And I have nine-realms to run. I will try to visit when I can."

"Yes, father."

"Try to recover as swiftly as possible." Odin said. "Your recompense will take many decades to complete and I want you to have as much time as possible to find out who you are going to be now."

"I will try." Loki said.

"That's my good son." Odin grasped his son's shoulder a final time before leaving the room.

. . .

Býlister sat with the royal council that officially did not exist. How foolish were the Aesir to believe that Býlister would give up control completely? No, Býlister still had the loyalty oaths of the leaders of the major cities. And the cities controlled the nomads. Býlister's army may have been dismissed, but the Aesir had never really understood that there had never really been an army to begin with. Jötnar never bothered to train for war. Their experience fighting came from their life and death struggle hunt and defend themselves from the predators that ruled Jötunheim.

Aesir sought out battle for sport. They were born on a realm subdued, spoiled by the gentle realm they were raised on. And in the end, the gentleness would cause them to fall.

Unfortunately, the Jötnar were not the ones who would be able to topple them. And now, Jötunheim, against all odds was allied to the golden realm.  Býlister thought about how stupid the Aesir were. They had never understood the concept that the Jötnar knew from infancy. Survival of the fittest. In the fight between tribes, the winner was the one who killed the leader first. Once the leader was dead, the fight was over and the tribe united under the new leader. It was simple. It was easy.

If only Bor and Odin had killed the kings after their defeat. Jötunheim would have understood their defeat so much sooner.

Loki was not feared in Jötunheim because that was simply the way of things. Loki, acting as agent of Odin, had killed the leader. The tribe now belonged to Odin to do with as he wished. Býlister had not wanted to explain this to the Aesir. Býlister wanted them to believe him something more than regent for their ideas. Let them give minimum orders and let Býlister reinterpret them to make sense to the Jötnar.

"I do not understand why Odin did not respect your link of kinship." Thrimm growled. "He is your younger brother and it is your right to command him."

"Odin is weak and sentimental." Býlister said. "He treated my brother as a son believing him without caring blood. He is finding it difficult to release him."

"The weakness of the Aesir must have been what drove your brother mad." Baugi said.

"I believe so." Býlister agreed. "But soon he will be returned. And the Borson has promised aid in assisting our planet's recovery."

"If he wished assistance he would return the casket." Thrimm growled.

"Nay. The casket is a temporary solution only." Býlister said. "Our planet is dying. There is no solution we can affect. We need the resources of the Aesir to even begin to hope for a future. Let the Seidmenn Odin sends us try their hands. Let them succeed, and we will be able to remain upon our birth realm. But if they fail...we must begin preparing for if Odin's seidhr cannot or will not aid us."

"What can we do?"

"We will use our new permission to trade to locate new planets. When it is apparent that there is no choice--we will all abandon Jötunheim. Let us hope that a path to a non-inhabited world can be found. Because if there isn't---" Býlister took a breath. "If we cannot find another planet, we will die attempting to take Midgard."