Loki doesn't remember the last time he slept. It was a long time ago, before Thor's failed coronation, before he showed the jotunn how to enter Asgard. Before he found out he's jotunn, before he confronted Odin.
Before Odin collapsed.
Before Odin died.
He isn't sure anymore of how long it's been since then. Time is irrelevant. His hands have stopped shaking, the little black spots on the edge of his vision subsiding, all giving away to a strange intensity of everything, everyone. He can feel the smallest shift in the air, can hear the slightest changes in the breathing of others around him.
He's beginning to feel crazy.
"You must take the throne," Frigga tells him as they stand in a room full of people rushing about, building a funeral ship.
His mother smells of the flowers she's arranging and tears. Loki is staring at her, can see his face reflected in a huge, shining piece of golden steel that will become his father's funeral ship behind her. He's wide-eyed, whiter than a sheet, dressed in a green tunic and black pants. His hair is in disarray, he realizes, and he reaches up to thread his fingers through it. They don't shake, but his mother is crying again, so he reaches out to her, holds her by the shoulder. She closes the gap, wraps her arms around him. She loves him, Loki thinks suddenly; she still loves him. He holds her tighter, watches the last of the color drain from his face, skin turning grey even in the golden steel.
"The throne is meant for Thor."
For once, he isn't lying. He doesn't know if he can lie, if he can do anything right anymore. He can see people glancing over, looking at him, looking at her. They know the throne was meant for Thor. They know that Loki must be King. They know it's true. Never in his life has Loki wished for anything to be a lie more than this truth:
Thor is banished.
His mother swallows, draws back and cups his face. Her hands are shaking, and her tears are flowing. He stares at her and sees lines of worry, happiness, and sadness, and he wants to grip her against him, wants to lie and make her believe it'll all be alright, he'll fix this, all of this, he will -
But his hands are still.
"It was," she says, softly, sadly, gently, "but that ship has sailed."
The ship is being built from the most beautiful of trees, the most brilliant of golden steel.
It reminds him of Sif's hair. Her real hair, not the black mockery she wears now. Something he destroyed, something he failed to replace. Like Thor.
But Thor is banished.
Loki shudders, bowing his head and gripping the railing. The balcony overlooks the shipyard, and he knows that people can see him. They will look up and see Loki King, wearing the new crown that had no ceremony except for solemn words and oaths and vows to craft it, no cheering or gifts or feasts to bless it. It is the crown of the second son, the jotunn son, the liar, the usurper. It is only a matter of time before it slips from his head onto the pavement.
Father is dead.
He draws away from the railing, nearly runs in his haste to return in his room. His room facing the setting sun with his thick green blanket and hundreds of trinkets and books. He hasn't moved into the King's chambers yet. Frigga is still there, sleeping beside a massive space in a massive bed, a tiny, mourning form that no one has the heart to move. Loki hasn't visited her, hasn't seen her since she retreated there after his coronation, when she bent her knee to him.
Long live the King.
Laufey has declared war.
Loki slams the door to his room and throws off his crown. It nearly goes through the window, hitting just off the frame and clattering onto the ground. He stares at it, the golden circlet lying bent on the carpet. Cursed thing, horrid burden. Loki kicks it, sending it into a stack of books and sending the tomes unceremoniously to the ground. He stares at the books, his greatest and only friends, tumbled and abused in his rage.
Abruptly, furiously, Loki hates himself. The feeling is so strong that it disorients him, forces him to sit down on the fur carpet that covers his floor and press his hand to his forehead. It isn't that the feeling is new; no, it's one that Loki knows well. It's the intensity that unsettles Loki, the deep, uncontrollable spike of rage, and he realizes how empty everything else feels, how nothing is right, how everything is wrong.
It occurs to him then, clearer than even the purest waters, that this is all his fault.
Thor is banished.
Odin is dead.
He's stuck in a waking nightmare, and there is no way out.
Loki doesn't need to look up to know Sif and the Warriors Three are there. He can feel them, feel their eyes looking over him, at the throne, at the guards. He has their oaths, but he knows they don't trust him. Loki can't bring himself to blame them. He doesn't trust himself.
"We are here as summoned, my King."
He lifts his head to look at them then. They raise their heads at his movement, stare at him with careful, searching eyes. He wonders what they see, if they can see that he has not slept for weeks, if they can see that he feels more and more out of control, if they can see he is near the breaking point, or if they are blind as they've always been and only see Loki dressed in green and gold, sitting upon his father's throne where Thor should be.
Part of Loki whispers that he should be angry with them, but most of Loki is too tired to care.
Slowly, using Gungnir to support his weight as he stands, he rises, motioning for them to stand with him. They exchange looks but obey, and Loki breathes in, can smell metal and trepidation and doubt as he waves the guards away. He can hear all of them breathing, can feel their hearts beating. He's quite certain he's going insane.
"We are to have war with Jotunheim."
Their faces are grim. They know this already, the rumors flying faster than any royal decree can ever hope to travel. He can smell fear and longing and regret. Loki breathes in, tries to ground himself, tries not to let himself get carried away into this hallucination of understanding.
"Tomorrow..." He pauses, swallows, curses himself for wavering, and tries again. "My father's funeral is tomorrow. Thor is banished..."
The room seems to tilt, and Loki has to close his eyes to keep from tilting with it. He tightens his hold on Gungnir. It's cool and steady, the only thing that makes any sense in this moment. He opens his eyes again after the spell passes, and he sees the Warriors Three and Sif staring at him, and he imagines he can taste concern. Insanity has its comforts, he supposes.
"I cannot undo what has been done," he continues, so softly, they have to lean forward to hear him. "Do you understand?"
They nod, slowly, and Loki sits back down, drawing Gungnir across his lap. He dismisses them, and they leave quietly, uncertain of what has just passed. Volstagg glances back once at the door to the throne room, and Loki remembers that Volstagg might be a fool, but he has always been the kindest of the group. Once he leaves, Loki lets his head fall back against the back of the chair, lets himself close his eyes for a moment. There's so many things he needs to do, but first he must do this. For Odin. For Thor. For himself.
The fabric of space and time shifts.
Thor is dressed poorly, his clothing dirty, his face scratched. Loki can guess that it must be raining outside. It looks like Thor has been in a fight, which doesn't surprise Loki. Thor is reckless. He is not ready for the throne. But neither was Loki. The difference was Loki has always been alone, has always acted alone, has always thought himself alone. It's only now that he realizes he truly is.
"What're you doing here?"
He feels empty, looking at his brother. Thor is so greatly reduced that he's barely recognizable, a shell of what he once was, of what Loki has always known Thor to be. Loki can't begin to think of where to start looking. This is not his brother. This is not Thor. Part of Loki wants to be angry, like it wanted to be angry with Sif and the Warriors Three. He wants to fix Thor, like he wanted to fix the world for Frigga. The other part, the insane, unsanitary part, dirty as Thor's mortal clothes -
"I had to see you."
His voice comes out soft, barely more than a whisper. He can see the gears turning in Thor's head, see Thor jumping to conclusions, to what he's willing to believe is true. Loki has envied Thor for living with such convictions. Now, it simply pains him.
"What's happened? Tell me: is it Jotunheim?"
Slowly, Loki nods. Thor sits back, sucks in a breath, the familiar anger and pride flashing over his face. Mortality has changed nothing of Thor; banishment has not humbled him at all. Selfishly, Loki wants to keep that, to keep this tiny remnant of his brother, the person he loved and hated best of all, more than anyone could understand or imagine. Loki will protect Thor. He will do that much.
"Let me explain to Father -"
He chokes on it, the lie of Odinsleep sticking like barbs in his throat. He hates himself so much as Thor stares at him, the anger and pride disappearing, fear coming its place. What good are all of his names if he cannot lie now, in this moment when it truly matters? It's worse than when he had his mouth sewn shut: even then his body and eyes could lie where his mouth could not, hands to spin his webs even with lips bound. Maybe this is Odin's true punishment: that Loki must be the one to destroy the last of Thor, the last of his brother who he loved more than anything. He swallows again, has to force himself to this, to realize that he cannot do anything for Thor, nothing to lessen the blow and keep his brother arrogant and prideful, yes, but his brother, and Loki must try -
"Father is dead."
And he can't do it. Loki bites his own traitorous tongue, closes his eyes. He hears the intake of breath, can smell the horror and shock. They call him the God of Lies, but he can't tell the most important lie of all. Odin knew this, has brought this upon his sons. Never before has Loki known such cruelty. Never before has he wished what he has said can be undone.
He knows that Thor is staring at him, looking for answers, begging for them. Loki should feel triumphant to have brought Thor so low. Instead, Loki's curled in upon himself, pressing his hand to his forehead, trying to breathe, out of control. For the first time in a long, long time, he can feel his hands shaking. He's falling apart, and the act is up, but the curtains are still drawn on this nightmare with no way out.
"He's dead," he says, far too loud and far too quickly. "Your banishment, the threat of a new war--it was too much for him to bear. You mustn't blame yourself. I know that you loved him. I tried..."
Loki shudders, tries to make himself stop, but the dam is open, torn and crumbled like his sanity, and it's all spilling out, like fire over a field of dry wheat.
"I tried to tell him so, but he wouldn't listen. He never did. I always tried to bring my concerns to him, but it was always no, Loki. Always no, Loki and his lies. He lied all the time. He lied about everything that mattered. To me, to you: both of us together. Who we are, who we aren't--it didn't matter that we were what he called sons! I thought it did. I deluded myself, lied for him, and he played us off each other for his own ends because he knew. He always did. I wouldn't have noticed if we hadn't gone to Jotunheim. He would have kept me believing I really was your brother until he needed a jotunn, and I would have been glad, but that wasn't enough! No! Of course not! He wanted it perfect, but he screwed up and died, and now -"
He realizes that he's been screaming. Thor is staring at him with huge, horrified eyes as if he's never seen Loki before, and maybe he hasn't, not really. There's a man in the doorway, the son of Coul who had been making assumptions about his brother, and he's is staring at Loki, probably trying to assess what exactly is going on here. Loki realizes abruptly then that he must have at some point forgotten to maintain the invisibility spell during his rant, and, if a mortal can see him, Heimdall can, most definitely. The spotlight is on him, and he has nothing.
Thor has grabbed his sleeve, gotten a hold around his wrist. Loki shivers, tries to jerk his hand away, but he can't do it without breaking Thor's wrist, mortal and reduced as Thor is. Loki is abruptly, horribly tired. Tired of hurting Thor, tired of Odin's lies, tired of everything.
"Brother," Thor whispers, and Loki realizes the horror in Thor's eyes is not because of what Loki is but for him. "What's happened to you?"
Loki shudders, reaches down, pries Thor's fingers off of his wrist. His hands are shaking again, worse than they ever did before, and Loki knows he's at the end of the line. Thor can tell, too, is already reaching for him again. Loki backs up, hands before him, Gungnir appearing there. Thor freezes, staring at the spear, and Loki grips it, the only thing keeping him grounded, sane enough to remember he has things that he must do. Thor is banished, Odin is dead, and there is war with Jotenheim.
"I never wanted the throne," he says, and his voice is a broken, tiny thing. "I only wanted to be your equal."
He crash lands back in the throne room, Gungnir the only thing that keeps him from falling on his face. He's stripped dry now, nothing left hold him up or together, just hours before his father's funeral. This didn't go according to plan, but even that thought is ridiculous. He had no plan in the first place, just the desire to... to...
Loki doesn't know anymore. Everything is so confused. Everything hurts. And he's so tired...
He is young. Thor is off on his first hunt, Odin is with him, and Loki is left alone. He spends the time in the library, immersed in books of spells. Frigga comes and sits with him sometimes, but she cannot stay long. Loki tells her that he understands.
He is no longer a boy but not yet a man. He watches Odin leading Sleipnir in a slow circle around the paddock, only one dim lamp lit in the night, their heads bowed. Loki lurks in the shadow of the fence. He is not supposed to be there, has not been allowed to see his son since the birthing. Odin has ordered Loki separate from Sleipnir, claims that this is for the best. He says that once Loki is well that he will understand. Loki does not understand; he doubts he ever will.
He is a man. Thor is laughing with two ladies at his side, Odin is toasting at the head of the table, and Loki is drinking in silence. He leaves once the night has fallen and the festivities have begun in earnest, slipping through the merrymaking carefully and into the shadowed hall. He feels lightheaded and uncomfortably warm from too much wine and an empty stomach, and it takes him a moment to steady himself when he steps out of the shadows into his dim, locked room.
"I understand now," he says, softly, sadly, into the dark. "I understand."
This is what it means to love.
He wakes up in his bed, warm and wrapped in his green blanket, his mother sitting at his side. She isn't looking at him, more towards the dark window, but he can feel his hand in hers, her thumb drawing small, absentminded circles over his knuckles. The crown is upon the bedside table, still bent out of shape. Gungnir is propped against the wall, just within his reach, and he can sense two guards standing outside his door.
She presses the forefinger of her free hand to his lips, and he falls obligingly silent. He isn't even sure of what he had intended to say, loses the will to protest such coddling as her fingers begin to stroke through his hair. It feels so good, and for a moment he doesn't care that he's supposed to be King, that he's jotunn, that nothing is right. For a short, wonderful moment, he just lies there and breathes.
But he can't stay there in his warm blanket and his mother's fingers threading through his hair. He is no longer a child, no longer a man. Thor is banished, Odin is dead, and Loki is King.
Frigga sighs. She looks years older and smells of the wood and metal of Odin's funeral ship. Loki shifts and she draws her hand away from his hair. He sits up slowly, a strange ache to every inch of his body.
"Volstagg found you in the throne room; he said he heard a crash. I spoke with Heimdall. No one else knows."
Loki breathes out, uneven. His mother's words are not completely true, but they are not a lie. If Volstagg knows, that means that the rest of the Warriors Three and Sif know, but no one else for Heimdall would reveal this secret to no one. They will keep this secret because it involves Thor, who they love, who they would protect without a second thought, and that is enough.
"What of Jotunheim?"
She shakes her head. "Heimdall has seen no movement."
Loki nods minutely, untangling his legs from his blanket, sliding out of bed. It is dark outside, but there is light on the horizon, the dawn of his father's funeral day. Loki looks down at himself, finds that he is still dressed in the Midgardian suit, and grimaces. It's wrinkled from his crash landing and sleep, the sleeve where Thor grabbed him still smudged with dirt. He needs to wash and change, preferably before the sun has risen, and he needs to go to the shipyard, make sure the runes have been woven correctly and ready the spells for the funeral fire.
He turns at that, and suddenly his mother is hugging him. She presses him to her with a force he often forgets she possesses, sighing shakily when he returns the hug. They stand like this for a long moment, her hands pressed against his back, his curled into the sides of her dress. They draw apart at the same time, Frigga reaching up to tuck a lock of hair behind Loki's ear, a watery smile on her lips, eyes soft and sad but proud.
The Bifrost is on.
Loki freezes, staring out past Odin's funeral ship, his hands still raised in the spell he'd been casting upon the wood for the pyre. It's the light of something incoming, and that is enough to send Loki moving, summoning Gungnir to hand. The guards are already moving, and Loki wonders if Heimdall has betrayed them, if his hatred for Loki is greater than his vows. That does not matter now, not for the moment; what matters is that whatever is coming through the Bifrost must be intercepted.
Thus, the last thing he expects to see when he arrives at the Bifrost, a company of palace guards behind him (chasing him, more like), is Thor in all his regalia, Mjolnir at his side, Sif and the Warriors Three just behind him. Loki stares, desperately attempting to find his footing again, even with Gungnir in hand to keep him grounded.
And then Thor drops to one knee, his head bowed low and hand over heart, and proclaims, loudly, clearly, and with certainty:
Sif and the Warriors Three are all on their knees, and he can hear the clank of armor behind him that signifies a mirror of these gestures from the palace guard. Loki knows then: he's finally gone insane. He's lost control over his fate, lost any hope out of this nightmare. He is Loki King, upon a golden throne never meant for him. It is all he's never wanted on a silver platter.
"Rise, all of you," he says, motioning weakly, voice thin and uncommanding, focusing his full attention upon his brother once he is once more on his feet. "Never do that again."
Thor blinks, eyes wide, and Loki realizes that he needs to clarify. He steps forward, takes his brother's wrist, gripping it hard, angry and devastated and relieved all at the same time.
"Never should you kneel."
Thor's bones don't even shift under his grip, his great strength restored even with his spirit still reduced. Loki tries his best to take comfort in that as he lets go, drawing back. Thor is staring at him much as he did in that mirrored, white room, and Loki has to try his best not to bend again, not before all of this.
"Come, brother," Loki says, and his voice doesn't shake although his hands do; he grips Gungnir tighter. "We are short on time. I must take you to see Father."
He listens to Thor's grieving through the door.
Loki knows that a King should not stand outside of a closed door, hands pressed palm to palm before his lips. It's too vulnerable a position, too obvious that something is wrong, but Loki indulges himself, just for now, as his brother cries over the father who loved him. Loki closes his eyes, breathes in to steady himself. This was not how things were meant to turn out, but now there is no way out.
When he opens his eyes again, Volstagg is standing in the doorway, his large form filling it as he hovers, uncertain if he should attempt to enter or flee. Loki sighs and motions Volstagg to enter, hating himself for his continuing ill-judgment; he should have known better than to indulge himself where anyone with sight could observe him.
"What brings you here, Volstagg?"
Volstagg looks grim, a strange expression for him to wear. "May I speak freely with you, my King?"
Loki swallows, breathes out. "Yes," he answers, almost in an undertone.
"You are overburdened."
Against his will, Loki smiles. It's a broken expression, but he knows it would be useless to try to act like he is well and sound of mind. Volstagg found him, after all, probably carried him from the throne room in Midgardian clothes; it would be an insult to his service and detrimental to Loki himself to pretend nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong. Anyone with half an eye could see that, and even those without.
"I am King. The burden is mine."
Volstagg nods, shows neither fear nor resentment at the reprimand. It would be nice, Loki thinks suddenly, to have a man like Volstagg that he could trust with schemes and thoughts. Such people do not exist for Loki, though, simply shadows of such a person that Loki can occasionally touch and twist. He will never have the absolute loyalty of men or the adoration of women: that is not Loki's fate.
"Now I will ask you," Loki says, half because he needs to know, half to distract himself from that abyss of thought, "what happened that allowed Thor to return?"
Any other time, the abashed look on Volstagg's face would have amused Loki, but there is no joy left in Loki these days. "I lingered outside of throne room once you had dismissed us. I felt troubled -"
"There is much to trouble us these days," Loki murmurs.
Volstagg nods solemnly but takes the hint to skip ahead. "After I came upon you in the throne room, I went to the Lady Sif, and we retrieved Hogun and Fandral. We moved you from the throne room to your rooms, where we met your mother, who, upon seeing the state you were in, told us that you had likely gone to Midgard to speak with Thor."
"She told you to go to him, didn't she?"
Loki watches Volstagg nod, can hear the increase in Volstagg's heartbeat. "She said that it was time Thor came home."
There's a note of pleading in Volstagg's voice as if he expects Loki to be angry. Loki isn't; anger takes energy, and the day's events have already stripped him dry of anything but what is necessary to complete it.
He understands his mother's reasons. She needs her firstborn at their father's funeral to bring a sense of closure for herself as much as the rest of Asgard, and she knows Thor, restored, will make the jotunn think twice before launching an attack during the event. Loki could not retrieve Thor lest he undermine his own kingship, but Thor banished did not mean he wasn't a rival claimant. Thus, to return Thor, he needed to be restored, and he needed to cede his claim to the throne. For the first, his mother had needed Volstagg, and, for the second, she had simply depended upon Thor himself. Thor's honor always dictated his loyalties be publicly claimed and recognized, and he had done so upon the Bifrost, before all the eyes of the palace. In passion and grief and sincerity, Thor had been restored to bow before his King.
Loki swallows, clasps his trembling hands around Gungnir. "Continue."
It is testament to Volstagg's character that he only hesitates for a second before obeying. "We went to the Bifrost, and Heimdall let us through. When we found Thor, he was in a tavern with a mortal man named Selvig. Thor was distraught and begged our forgiveness as well as yours. He said that he had done you great wrongs, although he hadn't meant it, and that made it all the worst. He called himself foolish and blind, that he should not have acted as he had, and that he only wished he could mend his misdeeds, but he knew that was impossible. It was then that Mjolnir returned to him, and Thor was restored.
"We were overjoyed, but he only saw the restoration as confirmation of what he had said, and it grieved him further. He bid goodbye to the mortal man Selvig, asking only that he pass on his farewell to a Lady Jane, and then we returned in all haste for the Bifrost. Along the way, however, we were detained by a large number of men from a Midgardian army calling themselves Shield, and Thor was obliged to explain many things to them. Even with our help, it took until late morning for us to assuage them and call Heimdall with risking hurting any of them. It was then that we returned to find you awaiting us."
Volstagg falls silent. Loki can hear him breathing, a bit unevenly, winded from the stress of the storytelling. He does not look at Volstagg, doesn't dare to move. If he missteps now, it will be the end of Loki, of everything he once was and once hoped to be. But, then again, perhaps he has already become someone else, has already ended, has already taken a role he never wanted. Thor was banished, Odin is dead, and Loki is King.
He lifts his head again, standing straight as he looks at Volstagg. Volstagg stares back, and Loki can taste the surprise, apprehension and, strangely, hope. Loki wonders if he has been bowed all this time; he wonders at how transparent he's become.
"I am glad that my brother has returned and that you are well."
Volstagg smiles and it is sincere. Loki breathes in and does not close his eyes.
Loki is King. It is time he accepts that.
The ship is made of gleaming gold, sailing towards the horizon, into the sunset. Along the beach, on the sand and dirt and into the surf, the people of Asgard mourn. Loki stands on the dock, Gungnir in his right hand, Frigga at his left. Thor stands just to the right, the feathers of his helmet gleaming against the sunlight. It smells of the sea, his mother's flowers, his brother's tears. Loki breathes out.
His brother looks to him. Thor's spirit is still greatly reduced, but he stands tall and strong, glinting in the dying daylight. He is Thor, and he is not Thor, at least as Loki knows him. In the last of their father's shadow, Thor is golden beneath tarnished ideals, and Loki is resplendent beneath a heavy crown.
Slowly, sadly, sincerely, Thor smiles and nods.
Loki reaches out, hand to the horizon. Around the ship, glorious against the sun's glow, flames leap up, hotter than any natural fire can be. Red and blue and gold, the embers rise, a spiraling pillar that reaches beyond the sky. Loki stares, feels tears on his cheeks, his hand still outstretched as if to grasp onto this one thing, this last thing he would keep but knows he will never have.
"I can do it, Father," he whispers, his good-bye.
Jotenheim is on Asgard's doorstep, and Loki is his father's son. But, more so, he is Thor's brother. He is his mother's son. He lowers his hand, lets Frigga take it, and, sadly, sincerely, thankfully, returns Thor's smile.
"For all of us."
For Loki is King of Asgard.
Javier Navarrete - The Funeral (Pan's Labyrinth OST)
Vivaldi - Four Seasons (Winter)
Nobou Uematsu - Terra/Tina (FFVI OST)
Stars - Going, Going, Gone (Nightsongs)
Javier Navarrete - A Princess (Pan's Labyrinth OST)