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28 September 2012 @ 01:28 pm
Fic: The Poison Rain 5/10?  
( Chapter One )





Ordinarily Thor would have enjoyed the preparation for war. Except this time it was different and the changes made him uneasy. For the first time in his memory, his parents were reserved to each other, and while they pretended all was well in public, he knew they were still arguing when her eyes met Odin's and she glanced deliberately at Loki's empty place on the dais, before turning to face the audience.

Worse, the knowledge that Thanos was back had somehow seeped into public knowledge, creating a nervousness that Thor had never seen before. Some, like him, were young enough to not have fought Thanos, but all knew the name. The king's confidence in public was fearsome and strong, comforting his people, but in the private corridor behind the great hall afterward he was troubled.

"Get the shadowpath gate from Loki," he ordered Frigga and Thor. "If there is any hope for him, he will give us the location."

"I will try, Father," Thor promised. Frigga said nothing, but her narrow glance was heavy with disapproval before she turned and walked down the hall.

Odin looked as if he wanted to call after her, but he swallowed back her name.

"Father, you must make this right with her. This is Thanos, trying to divide us."

Odin shook his head. "No, it is Loki. Your mother has always taken up for him and defended his wrongs. She refuses to see what he is." He reached out to grip Thor's shoulder. "You are a good son."

Again it was strange, ordinarily that praise would have made Thor feel proud as his father walked away but this time it left behind a niggling discomfort.

He hurried after Frigga. "Mother."

She did not pause her step. "Your father has not made the least effort to understand Loki. I will not heed his words, even in your voice."

"But Mother, he is the Allfather--" he objected.

"He is my husband and my king, and I love him dearly, but where his ideas touch on Loki, he is wrong. Loki needs our help, but he is not lost."

She would not pause for Thor, but she stopped when a messenger approached her urgently. "My queen, there is a man come to the gates, weak and bleeding, delirious. He claims he was stung by a chimaera. The healers request your presence."

Frustrated she glanced down the hall toward Loki's cell but then took a breath. "I will come. Tell them to take him to the western ward."

She left to attend to the wounded patient, to use her healing arts, and Thor hesitated, wondering if he should investigate the chimaera report, but then decided that his father would take care of that. He continued on to the lower side hall, passing the guards and walking down the steps.

He readied himself for the battle, knowing he had little hope of fulfilling his father's command but willing to try.

Loki was pacing the back wall of the cell, his movements restless. He made four trips back and forth until he realized he was being watched. Thor found that hard to believe, knowing how aware Loki was of the space around him, but he appeared to be startled when he shifted his path and noticed Thor outside the barrier.

"Oh. You." Loki said sourly. Thor expected more taunting, but Loki merely eyed him and then heaved a sigh. "What do you want now?"

"Father bids me to ask you again where the shadowpath gate is located."

"You can tell Odin Allfather he can come here and ask himself," Loki said shortly. "Apparently the question is not so vital he feels he should lower himself."

"He prepares for the war you have brought to our threshold."

Loki's glance was dark and scornful at the weak excuse. "He wastes your time, Thor. If that is all you want, you can go." He returned to pacing again, ignoring Thor utterly.

"I wanted to see how you were doing."

Loki stopped, cast him an incredulous look and rolled his eyes in exasperation that made Thor feel stupid even before Loki spoke with the sarcasm dripping from his words, "I am in a featureless cell after I failed to conquer Earth, with two fools for my only company. What part of that suggests 'doing well'?"

Thor took a moment and tried again, more directly, "Are you hungry?"

"No."

"Do you want a book?"

Loki's glance flicked to him and he turned away. "No. Not for the price you want me to pay."

"I want you to do what is right, not as payment for diversion!" Thor objected.

Loki leaned against the wall and folded his arms, apparently at ease. "But I want diversion."

"Not until you give us the location of the gate."

Loki thought about it for a moment, gaze flickering up at the ceiling, and then said, with a flashing grin, "I already did."

"Loki!" Thor hit the barrier with a fist. "This is not a game! This is not one of your tricks!"

"Of course it is," Loki returned, unbothered by Thor's temper and not stirring from the wall. "I have to keep myself entertained somehow. But, if you do not care for my answer, you are free to leave."

Thor was about to do just that and report to his father that he had failed, but he reconsidered with a glance at the smirking expression. "No. That would be giving you what you want. So I think I should remain here until you tell me exactly what is truthfully in your heart."

Loki let out an aggravated groan and banged his head once on the wall. "You are the most tiresome individual I have ever had the misfortune to meet, and that includes the large green monster on Midgard."

Thor thought of his own battles against and beside the one the humans called "Hulk", and the man who dwelled within the monster. "Banner is not so bad. It was unkind of you to provoke him."

"I planted no doubt that did not already exist. And I was right, was I not? Of course the humans could not resist creating weapons out of the tesseract." He snorted in derision. "They are children, who cast sparks on tinder and wonder why the flame appears."

Thor couldn't exactly disagree. "They are too brave for their own good."

"That must be why you get along with them so well," Loki sneered in disdain.

Thor hadn't meant to speak of it, but it had been the moment he had known Loki was lost. Before that, he could look past what had been done, and he could hope for something different, but to watch the whole terrible event, helpless to prevent it, had shocked and horrified him. So he found himself asking, "Why did you kill Agent Coulson?"

Loki didn't have to ask who he meant, and he shrugged. "What does one ant of seven billion matter? He was in my way and I stepped on him. I warned Nick Fury and his man paid the price for his lack of vision." Loki's attitude was casually cruel, but his eyes were fixed on Thor with an intent that was not casual at all. Thor realized Loki was waiting for the reaction to the provocation, and he forced himself to stay calm, though it angered him.

"Nothing?" Loki prodded and when that still got no response, he tried again, more viciously, "He died at the end of my spear, pleading for his life, squealing like an ardens pig."

Thor clenched his jaw, and his hands flexed, on the edge of wishing Mjolnir to him. He baits you for the rise, Thor reminded himself. Remember what this is about. Steadily he answered, "Do you forget I was present? He did not."

"I should destroy Midgard for reducing you to such dullness," Loki muttered and, looking irritated, pushed off the wall to stalk to the back of the cell. Thor felt pleased with himself for the little victory of not falling for Loki's provocation.

There was silence and Thor waited, wondering what new attempt Loki would make. But when Loki turned, his expression had shifted to something more puzzled. He returned to the barrier to frown at Thor. "Is Earth medicine so primitive? He was alive when last I saw him and help for him passed me in the corridor. Could they not heal him?"

Thor was pleased to hear the viciousness gone from Loki's voice. "Humans are fragile, brother."

Loki's eyes flicked with regret even if his tone was cool. "Pity. The humans should have had adequate technology to save him, from what I saw, but perhaps Nick Fury prioritizes weapons more than medicine."

There was some truth to that, Thor realized, troubled. With all the human technology on that ship, they had been unable to heal Son of Coul, something easily accomplished on Asgard.

Loki was smiling as he turned away again, pleased with the effect of his words, and Thor realized he'd fallen into it again, letting Loki set him at odds with his allies.

"You spread poison," he snarled, angry at him.

Loki's smile spread. "Are my truths so uncomfortable? Fury wanted to create terrible deadly weapons with the tesseract. That is truth. Weapons he could use against his own kind. Truth. Weapons he could not control once created. Truth. He had a flying craft of immense power, with the technology capable of holding that green monstrosity -- at least so he claimed though I have my doubts -- and yet was unable to heal a simple spear wound. How does a man who expects his people to fight gods do so when his healing technology is primitive and useless?"

Thor took a step back, as if he could let the words pass around him, because he didn't like how right they sounded. "No, you killed him," he protested. "Do not twist this onto Fury."

Loki's eyes narrowed. "Fury was the one who woke the tesseract. If he had not wanted to use it, none of this would have happened. His own greed opened the door, and he was a fool to believe he could control what would pass through."

"As you believe you can control it?" Thor exclaimed. "How are you less a fool?"

Loki's smirk was hungry and he cast his gaze upward, as if the tesseract was in the upper corner and he could see it there. "The difference is that I can control it."

"No, you cannot!" Thor's hand struck the barrier and it erupted in a shower of sparks.

Loki pushed close to look him in the eye. "You will see. I will hold the tesseract in my hand and Mjolnir will become a child's toy."

"Is that what this is?" Thor demanded. "You want something more powerful than Mjolnir?"

Loki regarded him with disdainful surprise. "Did you believe it was something else? Everything I was denied; I will take."

"With war and death?" Thor demanded. "How is that the answer?"

"If they will not kneel, then they are nothing to me."

"How can you do this to your own people?"

"I have no people!" Loki's voice was harsh in denial.

"They are!" Thor protested urgently. "They are yours. We are supposed to protect - "

"No, you are supposed to protect them. As king. Well, fulfill your duty, Thor Odinson. Protect the people from the threats. Protect the people from the monsters," he snarled furiously and whirled away. Thor knew that he meant Loki himself, an echo of that desperate loathing he'd heard during their fight on the Bifrost. He remembered what Frigga had made him feel that moment when he had wondered if he were not Odin's trueborn son, and wanted to reach in the cell and force him to see the truth.

"Loki, the only one who sees you as a monster, is you," Thor said thickly. "You make yourself into the monster. It never was that way before."

Loki snorted. "Yet you were the one who wanted to go to war with them. I know all the stories - fear and disgust drips from the pages whenever Jotunheim is mentioned. Do not pretend. It was always that way. They knew and they feared what I would do."

"Mother does not."

Loki's hesitation was barely a flicker of his eyes, before he was sniffing in disdain. "She is even more led by sentiment than you are."

But Thor had seen the hesitation, and he attacked. "She is not wrong, though, is she? Loki, she says that you were … changed. Altered against your will."

"Not against my will." He lifted his face to regard Thor coldly. "There is vast power for the taking. And vast peoples ready to kneel to the one strong enough to conquer them."

"You know it is wrong!"

"Morality is a construct of the victor," Loki said, his voice a lethal purr. "The idea of freedom is a poison to the spirit, leading to discontent and suffering. This idea is the most pernicious evil on Midgard, and they will be grateful in the end, when I take it from them."

"No! You are wrong, brother! This is evil, and you know it is, you must let it go."

Loki looked right at him and smirked. "Never."

Thor slammed the barrier with his fist and strode away, furious and upset.

There was nothing left of his brother. Loki had died that day, dropping into the void beneath the Bifrost, and this one was only a shell, wearing his face and occasionally mimicking his smile and voice, but it was false simulacrum of his brother, twisted from what he should be.

In a rage, Thor overturned the table in the sitting room, sending everything to the floor in a crash of metal and dishes.

Frigga's voice came from the entry, "Thor?"

He whirled to confront her. "He is impossible! He cares nothing for anyone or anything except power. He has no remorse, no heart! He is lost, Mother."

Crossing to the sideboard, she poured herself a sweet wine from the crystalline carafe, taking her time answering, before she turned to face him again, with the goblet in her hand. "What keeps Loki in that cage, Thor?" she asked calmly.

He frowned, not understanding. "Father's power," he answered. "The barrier."

She waved her free hand in a sharp gesture of dismissal. "That is not what keeps him inside. This is Loki. He knows how to manipulate our sympathy for him, if he chose. But he has not attempted to test the barrier or to use trickery. He has not attempted to escape. What does that tell you?"

Thor hesitated and then nodded. "He chooses to be there."

"Yes." She glanced deliberately at the fallen table and the mess on the floor and lifted an eyebrow in disapproval. Chastened, he started to pick up everything while he considered what she'd said.

"He awaits rescue, as he did before, until his plans came to fruition."

"Perhaps," she allowed with a nod. "If there are plans. That is what your father believes. I believe there is something else."

"Then what?"

She hesitated, choosing her words, as she moved to the archway to the outside. He followed her into her garden, passing the sapling she had planted in Loki's memory, to stand among her favorite nightflowers. They had tall, straight stalks, and branches heavy with silver bell-shaped flowers. As she searched among them for the ones she wanted to cut for inside, she said, "Loki knows where the tesseract is."

"It sits in the hall of treasures. Everyone knows that."

She shook her head to Thor's surprise. "It does not. The Allfather had Heimdall put it at the top of the southern tower after Loki was imprisoned. And yet he knows exactly where it is. Even within the confines of that cell, he can sense it and its power calls to him."

"That is disturbing, but I fail to see-"

"You do not understand because you did not pay attention during your studies of our war with the Eternals," she told him, sharply. "In that arena Loki eclipsed you. I encouraged him to study the war because it was one of the few times that Jotunheim appears in our histories as an ally. Your father and Laufey marched to battle on that day, side by side, enmity put aside to fight a larger threat. Loki knows the combined might of the Nine Realms was needed to defeat Thanos and his armies, who hunger to conquer and enslave the universe. With the tesseract, Thanos would be near impossible to defeat and he would spread death across the Nine Realms.

"Loki is well aware of the devastation and horrors that Thanos can bring. The broken part of him, the part in thrall, hungers for it, but in his heart, he fears it. I believe that fear drives him to keep himself imprisoned, and the tesseract kept safely elsewhere beyond his reach."

Thor turned that over in his mind, absently holding the flowers that Frigga snipped and handed to him. "He protects us from himself."

"Yes. I believe so. As much as he is able." She paused at a white cloud flower, and petted it gently, encouraging it. It grew beneath her touch, turning toward her and opening to show her its loveliness.

Thor wanted to believe that, but it seemed unlikely after Earth and all Loki had said. "He was ready enough to use it to conquer Midgard," Thor told her bitterly. "And attack all who stood in his way, including me."

"It opened the portal, did it not?" she asked, in some confusion. "Heimdall said he did not wield it."

"No," Thor admitted grudgingly. "Not for himself. With his spear he had little need of it."

"His desire for it is real," she acknowledged. "Yet, I have seen conflict within him, Thor; I have seen desperation and fear of his own intent. I offered him freedom, and he gave back excuses why he would not accept. And each time we soften to him, he hardens in response; he grows cold and cruel, reminding us of the darkness within him. He cannot fight directly, because the poison infects his mind, but he can keep us in opposition to himself."

Thor nodded, now understanding. It was Loki's favorite tactic: putting his simulacrum into the fray to draw his enemy into the desired position while his true self remained hidden. And he remembered Loki's voice, chiding and amused, 'Are you ever not going to fall for that?'

Frigga was right; a Loki who truly wanted the power of the tesseract would not be so determined to ensure Odin kept the barrier strong. Surely he would be trying every trick in Loki's very formidable arsenal to escape his pen, instead. He hadn't hesitated to use Thor's sympathy against him before, and he knew Frigga was even more prepared to forgive him anything. But instead of appealing to their sentimentality, or begging forgiveness no matter how false, he continually provoked them, and admitted to the basest of motives for power and domination. Was that truly to keep himself secure, as Frigga suggested?

"What do we do?" Thor asked, feeling adrift. Give him something to hit and he could do that; but this sort of battle, he had no strategy, and his strength meant nothing. Ironically, were their positions reversed, he had no doubt that Loki would know what to do.

"We do not reveal that we understand his motive," she said. "It is not, I think, a tactic he uses consciously and I fear if we put words to it and draw his attention to it, the madness will crush it."

"But how do we fix it?" Thor asked. "I want to hope some of my brother truly survives, but the corruption runs deep, Mother."

She took the flowers from Thor and inhaled the sweet fragrance. "He is angry at us. Old bitterness and pain form the soil this poisonous weed grows in. We must locate the source and root it out, find the wounds and heal them." Her gaze fell on the sapling, growing straight and tall, full of new leaves, and she added more softly, "We make amends, and we pray he forgives us before he is lost."

Thor nodded agreement, hoping Frigga had some idea how to do that, because he had none.



( Part Six )