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The Unexpected Sting

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“You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!”

“And you’re an old man and a fool!”

In the blistering silence that follows, Loki holds his breath, not daring to make a sound. He’s never heard them speak to each other like this, not with such raw, undisguised anger in their voices. For one stupid moment all he can think of is how alike they are, how well and truly alike, in looks and temperament both. It is the latter that has brought them to this precipice. A lion and a fox may dwell side by side --- as Thor and Loki have done all these years --- but two lions will always turn on each other in the end. There can be only one king.

“Yes,” Odin says quietly. “I was a fool to think you were ready.”

Guilt pricks Loki’s heart like a needle, a wicked little voice that whispers: isn’t this what you wanted? Not like this. He is compelled to act.

“Father---” he begins.

But Odin cuts him off with a terrible roar, turning on him with such sudden fury that Loki draws up short, effectively cowed. When Odin turns his attention back to his eldest, Loki realizes that he is no longer a participant, but a witness.

“Thor,” says Father, and though his voice is trembling when he starts, it soon builds like rolling thunder. “Odinson. You have betrayed the express command of your king. Through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war.

He slams Gungnir into place and the Bifrost yawns open at Thor’s back. Loki squints into the light, trying to determine which road has been chosen. He looks back sharply when he sees Odin advancing on his brother.

“You are unworthy of these realms!” Father snarls, coming close enough to rip away pieces of armor. “You are unworthy of your title!

As the cloak is torn from his back, Thor looks so lost, so utterly bewildered. Loki stares in equal astonishment, hardly trusting his eyes. He has never seen Odin treat his brother with such scorn. How could he? Thor, his eldest, his golden prince--- Loki wouldn’t have believed him capable of this sudden, terrifying contempt.

“You are unworthy---” Odin barks, and even that hurts, but then he adds, “---of the loved ones you have betrayed.”

And that, surely, is the worst of it. It has to be. Thor has heartbreak writ on every inch of his face. He even seems to have been reduced in age, the unmerciful reprimand of his father dismantling all the bravado of manhood and leaving nothing but the confusion and pain of a boy who has never before been scolded so harshly. There are tears in his eyes. Loki is unaccustomed to seeing his brother weep, and it twists in his gut like a blade.

Odin turns away at last.

It seems to be over.

Then, with the speed of a striking serpent, he turns back and deals his eldest son a savage backhand blow across the jaw.

Thor is so startled that Mjolnir slips from his grasp, plunging to the floor as he instinctively reaches up to cover his stinging face. Loki has never seen him look so shocked, and it disturbs him in ways he can’t quite explain. Thor is never supposed to look shocked. Thor is never supposed to look so hurt.

“Damn you, boy!” Father bellows. “Damn your foolish pride!”

Loki is paralyzed. Every time he ever wished for Father to get angry at Thor --- just once, just so he could know that they were loved just the same --- comes flooding up in his memory like a tidal wave. How fervently he had wished for Odin to raise his voice in displeasure, to berate Thor for being stubborn and reckless, to shame him the way he shamed Loki when he was disobedient.

Isn’t this what you wanted?

Odin lashes out again, and this time the blow draws an audible cry of pain. Loki squeezes his eyes shut and swallows down a dizzying surge of nausea.

Not like this.

“I now take from you your power, in the name of my father, and his father before.”

He opens his eyes in time to see his brother’s armor being stripped from him. He wants to call out to him but he doesn’t know what to say. Behind him, he hears his father’s voice pronouncing his final judgment.

“I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!

There’s a terrific flash of light. Loki can see Thor’s feet leave the ground as the bolt hurtles him backwards, no, no, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening.

And then he’s gone.

Loki stares into the void, uncomprehending. A moment later something else sweeps past him and into the vortex --- Mjolnir. Then the Bifrost goes dark.

When he turns again to look at his father, he hardly recognizes him. His appearance has not changed, but his actions are those of a stranger. They hold each other’s gaze in tense silence. Then, making no attempt at comfort or explanation, Odin swivels on his heel and stalks out of the chamber without a word. Loki is glad to see him go. He doesn’t want to talk to him, not now, not after that. He needs time alone to think. He needs time to process this, because if Odin can do something as staggeringly unexpected as this...

...then Loki wonders what else he could be capable of.

His left hand twitches.

What else indeed?