Frigga woke immediately as her husband cried out, jerking upright out of his sleep. His face was pale and sweaty. She sat up quickly and reached out to soothe him. He started violently at her touch. Frowning at his reaction, Frigga slid closer to him, using one hand to caress his face and the other to gently stroke his arm.
"It's all right," she said quietly, adding the suggestion of comfort to her touch. "All is well, my love."
Odin looked at her, panic plain on his face. "Frigga? My wife. My beautiful queen. You're here?"
Frigga smiled. "Where else would I be but at my husband's side?" She lifted her hand away from his face to pass over his hair, smoothing it down. "What gave you such a fright? Did you dream badly?"
Odin stared at her wordlessly. She kept up her ministrations to calm him. He reached out a shaky hand to touch her cheek. She smiled encouragingly as he passed trembling fingers over her cheek, then her brow, before touching her lips.
"Frigga!" He threw his arms around her, pulling her to him and hugging her fiercely.
She tried to keep up her comforting touch, but soon had to move her hands to Odin's chest. She pushed against him.
"My husband, I need to breathe."
He released her immediately. "I am sorry. I'm overwhelmed. I cannot express how I...you're here."
"Of course I am. Odin, what is it?"
He studied her intently, trying to recommit every feature of her face to his memory. It soon became apparent she looked...different. Younger, lighter than when he last saw her, vibrant and alive -- in the corridor, they were being invaded, she was alive, why did he send her away? -- and, somehow, more peaceful. The last years of her life had been filled with sorrow over what had become of their youngest son. Her grief permeated her features, overshadowing the warm aura of Asgard's golden queen. Odin drank in the sight of her, wondering at how she could look so different now to his eye.
She did not die. It was a dream. What did occur? He struggled to remember, trying to sort reality from what he saw in that wretched nightmare. But wait, she was here. Here in their bed with him in their bed chambers. She'd refused to share his bed ever since they began quarreling over Loki's fate upon his return to Asgard. Even now the cloud of rage at his son's actions hung in his mind. Grief over his death quickly turning to anger as Loki emerged from the Void alive and lashing out at a defenseless realm of mortals.
Had his sons not yet returned then? But why could he remember it so clearly? So clearly could he picture the way Loki mocked him as he stood before Odin in chains. Their angry exchange of words. The shock that washed over his son's features as Odin pronounced his judgement, finally wiping that intolerable smirk off his face. It was the last time he saw his youngest son before the guard brought him the news from Svartalfheim.
Was that what this was? His mind brought Loki back to life only to make his boy a snarling, half-mad shadow of himself and then snatch him away again. He closed his eye in dismay. How long had it been since he saw his son fall to his death into the Void?
Frigga sounded worried. As he tried to separate his nightmare from his true memories he realized she had been speaking, but he did not hear any of her words.
"Odin, please, what troubles you? Tell me."
"It's nothing. It's all right, Frigga. Truly." He patted her hand, trying to bring her comfort as much as himself.
Frigga resumed stroking his arm. He accepted the soothing touch of her magic. "What a terrible nightmare to put you in such a state."
Odin huffed. "I must have done something as of late to displease the Norns."
"What was it?"
He shook his head.
"Perhaps it would help to speak of it?"
He sighed. Perhaps it would. His mind still struggled to sort out what he saw in his endless dream. But he did not want to upset her. He'd done more than enough in that regard.
There's was no denying the firmness in her voice. It was a tone she used more often on their boys than him, but it left no doubt she expected an answer.
"It was Loki. I dreamed Loki had returned to us and there followed a terrible series of events. It almost as though our son returned to us only to act as a harbinger of our doom." He took in the expression of horror growing on her face and felt his own sense of alarm rising in response.
"Frigga? What is it?"
"What do you mean you dreamed Loki returned to us? Where was he?"
"Loki," she prodded. "You dreamed of his return? Where did he go?"
"Frigga, he..." Odin trailed off as he looked his wife. And then it struck him.
She looked younger.
The lines grief had etched into her face were gone.
He seized her arms so abruptly she gave a startled yelp in response.
"Frigga, where is Loki? Where is he?"
"Where?" he demanded.
"It's the middle of the night. He should be in his bed, asleep."
Odin was dumbstruck. Several long moments passed before he once more found his words. "And Thor?"
"Yes, Thor as well."
Odin's mind reeled. He tried to focus, to process what Frigga told him, tried to remember when everything had started to go so wrong. One particular thought stuck out.
"The coronation," he asked, "when is the coronation?"
"What coronation? You're not thinking of crowning Thor yet, are you? Odin, he's far too young, he's not ready." The worry in her voice gave way to exasperation as she shook off his grip. "What is this about? Did you dream something of Loki? Please tell me."
"Frigga, do you believe dreams can be prophetic?" he asked.
"What?" Frigga's confusion was plain on her face and in her voice.
"I have heard of such things, yes. I do not know of any who've ever said to have them."
"My mother did."
"You think your dream was prophecy? About Loki? Odin, please, you're frightening me. Tell me what you saw."
Odin's mind finally settled. It was clear to him now what was real and what not. Thor's coronation was still many years in the offing. Loki was still alive. There was still time to make sure what he saw could not come to pass. He smiled at her, reassuring. "It's all right, Frigga. All will be well, no - everything will be better. I know exactly what I must do."
His family would not be taken from him.
Odin Allfather would not allow it.
* * * * *
There was no sleep to be had after he'd awoken from his nightmare. Odin allowed Frigga to coax him back down, keeping up her soothing ministrations as she tried to help him find rest. Eventually, she drifted back to sleep. Odin lay awake next to her watching her face, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her every few minutes so to not disturb her own rest. His thoughts swirled in his head and he kept returning to what he saw in his nightmare. The hours slid past until the first hint of light began to shine into the bed chambers. Odin could not stay abed any longer. He'd been reassured by the presence of his wife, but he could wait no longer to look upon his son with his own eye.
He dressed quickly and quietly, moving out into the corridor. In minutes he was outside the double-door entrance leading into the suite of rooms Loki had lived in since he came of age. Odin knocked at the outer door once, then again more loudly, knowing it unlikely Loki was awake so early. He let himself in and crossed the open and airy main room to the door to Loki's bed chambers. He knocked.
He knocked again.
Odin felt a twist of panic. Had he dreamed again? Was he standing in the rooms of his dead son waiting for an answer that would never come?
He knocked forcefully on the door. "Loki? Loki, it's your father. Loki?"
He knocked one more time then reached for the door handle. Just as he gripped the handle the door flew open and Loki was standing before him.
"Father? What is it? What's wrong?" Loki's eyes were wide as he rushed out of his bed chambers, forcing Odin to back up a few steps. Odin caught a glimpse over his shoulder of the shifting form under the pile of furs on the bed before Loki pulled the door closed behind him.
Odin stood, limbs suddenly heavy as he took in the sight of his son before him. He looked so young! Loki's face was fair, but not as pale as he remembered, bearing none of the shadows or sharpness he had last time Odin saw him. A dream, it was only a dream. Loki's cheeks still had the roundness of youth. His dark hair was cut in the shorter style he always favored before he fell. Though currently his hair was flat against one side of his head with the odd strand stuck out in varying angles with the other half given over to the soft, wavy curls he came by naturally before he ruthlessly straightened them before emerging from his rooms each day.
And his eyes. He searched his son's eyes and could see no traces of anger, pain, or despair, only...panic?
The weight fled his limbs all at once as Odin reached for his son, wrapping him in a hug. He pressed one hand to the back of Loki's head and held him, just listening to him breathe.
Slowly, Loki's arms folded around him in return. Odin finally stepped back, but found he couldn't bear to let his boy go. He kept one hand on Loki's shoulder.
"Has something happened? Is it Mother? Is she all right?"
It occurred to Odin he'd barged into his son's room before dawn had broken, pulling him from sleep only to start hugging him. Not a regular occurrence at any point of Loki's life. No wonder the boy was looking at him with no small amount of worry and fear.
Odin smiled reassuring. "No, no, everything is fine. I had an unsettling sleep, a most disturbing dream I'm afraid. I just needed to see you were well. I'm sorry I disturbed your sleep."
Loki blinked twice. "You woke me because of a bad dream?"
Odin laughed a bit, aware of how it sounded. "Yes, well, I'm afraid a child can never be too old that a parent's worry for them cannot overcome their reason."
Loki gave him a perplexed look. "Father, are you all right?"
"Yes, my son. I am now. Will you join your mother and I later this morning for a meal?"
"Good, good. You should return to your sleep. And your guest."
Loki's cheeks coloured. "Eh, yes. I will."
"Pleasant dreams, my son."
"Thank you, Father."
* * * * *
True to his promise Loki came to his parents table later in the morning. Odin smiled at the sight of him, so straight and tall and impeccably groomed, just as he remembered him. He caught sight of Frigga's puzzled look at Loki's appearance even as she greeted him warmly and realized he'd forgotten to tell her Loki was expected to join them this morning. They rarely saw their sons in the early morning. Thor and Loki both preferred to break their fasts in their own rooms before beginning whatever tasks they had before them for the day.
He had sent Thor an invitation to join them only to have the guard return and inform him Thor had already departed. As soon as the guard returned, Odin recalled Thor telling him the previous evening of his plans to rise early and ride out to lend aid to one of the mountain patrols searching for a creature that had recently attacked a small settlement. He would return once the menace had been located and destroyed. Though, knowing Thor, Odin wouldn't be terribly surprised if he returned home triumphant by nightfall.
Odin ate his food slowly, not tasting anything. Instead he savored the sight before him, his wife and son chatting about their plans for the coming day.
Loki turned his attention to him. "Yes, Father?"
"I intend to go riding later today. It occurs to me I haven't been out in some time. I think the exercise and fresh air would do me good."
"I'm sure it will."
"Would you like to join me?"
"Why yes, I would. " Loki smiled at him. A bright, happy smile. Genuine. Not wild and manic. Or mocking.
A dream. It was just a dream.
* * * * *
The next few days passed by quickly for Odin. In light of the events he saw in his dream, he began researching the ending days of his father's war against Svartalfheim. He quickly discovered, much to his dismay, the Aether had not been destroyed at the end of the war as he previously thought. It still existed, only hidden. Upon learning this, Odin set out early one morning to locate it. Using Gungnir's power to focus his own seidr, he found the Aether easily enough. He decided it best to leave it hidden. He moved it to one of Helheim's outer moons and recast and strengthened the wards around it, ensuring it would not escape no matter how many mortals stumbled into its path. Before returning to Asgard, he detoured to Midgard and retrieved the Tesseract where it still lay, undiscovered by the mortals, in the place it had been hidden long ago. Having ensured the safety of both Infinity Stones, Odin used Heimdall's sight to locate the Malekith and the last band of Dark Elves, suspended in their sleep. He ordered them all destroyed, putting a permanent end to any threat from that quarter.
Returning to his private quarters at the end of his travels, he found Frigga reading in their sitting room. Upon seeing him, she set down her book and smiled a smile so full of love he could not help but respond in kind. Seized by impulse of sheer joy, he pulled her from chair, placing his hands at her waist, and began to twirl her about the room. It had been years since they last danced. He resolved there and then he would dance more often with his queen.
Though taken by surprise by his sudden action, Frigga was quick to wrap her arms around his neck and move her body in time with his, not missing a step.
"Well, my darling husband," she laughed, "what has you in such a fine mood? Has this something to do with the secretive journey you embarked on? The one you would not tell me anything about?"
He pulled her closer, letting their bodies follow one another. "I am always happy when I know I've taken steps to ensure the safety of the ones I love."
"Has this anything to do with that dream you had? The one you feared?"
"I would only say if it was meant to be prophecy, then I mean to deny it."
Frigga pulled back enough to look him in they eye. "Odin, you cannot deny things if they are meant to be," she advised.
"My love, I most certainly can. And I will."
Frigga laughed. "My, what a bold proclamation."
"Perhaps," he said. He stepped out of their dance and took her hands in his own. "Frigga, you should know I have been considering standing aside as king, allowing Thor to take the throne. I am old, and getting older by the year. I'd begun to think Asgard would be better served by a younger king. Fresh blood, as it were."
"I see," Frigga said. Her expression gave nothing away, but Odin knew she did not agree with his thinking.
"I realize now what you said a few nights ago was right. Thor is not ready. I may be old, but there is no rush. No matter how tempting it may be to spend whatever years I may have left devoting my time and attention to my beautiful wife."
Frigga's lips quirked in a smile that told him she would not allow him to get around her with pretty words. "Well, at least our sons come by their charm and flattery honestly. I am glad you agree. Thor will be a fine king," she assured him. "One day."
"Yes, he will. In the meantime, I intend to pass a proclamation that you will continue to stand as my regent whenever I am unable to fulfill my duties."
"With both boys being of age? That will raise eyebrows."
Odin waved a dismissive hand. "They can raise them all they like. Neither Thor nor Loki need be pressured with the burdens of kingship as of yet." He replaced his hands on Frigga's hips as they began to dance once more.
"Oh, and Frigga, one more thing," he added. "This is very important. Whatever happens over the course of the next few years, do not, under any circumstances, allow me to put off the Odinsleep."
* * * * *
True to form, it had not taken Thor long to kill to the creature menacing one of their settlements. He'd returned home from his quest the day after Odin had departed on his own. Odin had offered his congratulations upon his return and arranged an impromptu feast in Thor's honour. Frigga begged off attendance, the queen already having her own commitments for the evening.
The feast was lively and well attended, with several members of Odin's council, warriors, and many of Thor's friends all present. The room was filled with chatter and laughter. Odin relished the time spent with both his boys seated with him, Thor on his right, Loki on his left. No fighting, no arguing. Everything was as it should be.
Odin stood and the room immediately quieted. He raised his cup and spoke words of praise and thanks to Thor for his defense of his people. His words were echoed boisterously around the hall as people called out their own words of praise and flattery to Asgard's Crown Prince.
Odin saw Loki raising his own cup in toast of his brother. He thought Loki's smile looked a little strained.
Odin spoke again, raising his voice to recapture the attention of the party goers who were quick to snatch their cups back up and wait to hear what else he had to say. "As it happens, fate has seen fit to spoil me with not one, but two great sons. As Thor has successfully defended our people from a menace threatening them harm, Loki has successfully championed the people of Asgard as of late as well."
There was a buzz around the feasting tables as people exchanged looks and leaned forward in their seats to get a better view of their second prince. Loki for his part looked startled by the sudden attention, but quickly covered with the calm, dignified mask he'd perfected not long outside of childhood. Thor looked at his brother questioningly. Loki returned his unspoken inquiry with a barely noticeable shrug. They both turned to watch their father as intently as those around Loki were now watching him.
And Odin began to talk.