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20 September 2013 @ 02:00 pm
Hail of Shadows 15/?  
Hail of Shadows, chapter 15



Thanos smiled, and when he was right in front of Loki, let the darkness fill his eyes to remind Loki who he was truly facing, even if he pushed it away to address Malekith's people. "Take him down."

They left the manacles on his wrists, but lowered the chains, so his arms finally could fall to his sides. Muscle and bones fixed in one position so long protested. His knees were not healed enough to support him, and he fell to the floor. Panting for breath, trying to control the pain, he stayed there, determined not to move until they made him.

Thanos seized his hair and pulled his head back. "Stand and walk, toy, or they drag you."

He loathed the idea of crawling before his enemy, and ordinarily would have forced himself to walk no matter the price, but he dared not reveal that he was more healed than he should be. So he made one attempt for pride, and found that collapsing back down was less for show than he wished it to be. They ended up dragging him by the chains attached to the tight cuffs on his wrists through the stone halls. It was a feast of pain and humiliation as the watching Svartalfen were encouraged to kick him and throw refuse as he passed.

He made sure to memorize each and every face of those who tormented him, adding them to a pleasant revenge fantasy of grabbing a knife off one of the guards and cutting their throats. It was messy and personal and best of all, while he was immersed in it, he felt no pain at all.

But he stirred when they took him past onlookers into an area that seemed quiet and eventually deserted. The tunnel narrowed and he passed under an arch and felt movement of air, as the temperature dropped. They dragged him up a few steps and across a smooth floor. Looking up, he was at the bottom of a hole. It seemed to be a well or a chimney - a vertical, round shaft over two hundred paces high, polished smooth, but open. There was daylight out there and blue sky.

"Chain him down," Thanos ordered.

The guards lifted Loki up and placed him on his back on a long, block of stone, so narrow he nearly fell off before they wrenched his arms back and down, chest and shoulders stretched, wrists held by metal cuffs affixed to the floor. The chains wrapped his feet and ankles, and he was tightly bound to the stone, looking upward at the distant opening to the sky.

Thanos dismissed the guards in Malekith's voice, but didn't bother to pretend when speaking to Loki, "You stay here until you beg me to let you use the Casket to open the portal for me."

"Oh, well, in that case, if it's so easy," Loki widened his eyes and added in a mocking voice, "please, please, let me use the Casket. I promise I'll open the portal for you." The sing-song fake promises died away and he demanded through clenched teeth and a surging tide of hatred, "Now give me the Casket so I can peel the flesh off Malekith's bones and send you back to whatever hell dimension spawned you."

Thanos' pitiless eyes didn't change expression, neither angered nor amused by the defiance. "You challenge me, as if I know nothing about you, as if you can trick me with your childish games," he murmured and his hand made a light trail across Loki's chest, up his neck, and to his face. "But I know you - I have seen your mind. I know the hate and the rage within; the fear and pain in your soul. I will pluck them all out, one by one, and feed them back to you. And you will belong to me."

Loki stared back, lips peeling back. "Never."

Thanos put his hand on Loki's forehead. "Much sooner than that."

It began with a chill in the air, across his skin. A tendril seeking the cracks in his defenses, smoke seeping inside... and he realized this was what had happened before.
The inky foulness sank within, seeking a place to root. This time, Loki fought it, knowing he had to resist. But he didn't understand what it was looking for, so when he set his defenses against an attack on his will, that wasn't where it headed, and it sank deep before he could stop it.

His vision went black and his awareness of his surroundings dimmed, until he was falling, backward.

Into memory.

He was on the floor of the eastern hall, on his back, his every bone felt shattered. It hurt so badly, hurt so much, but he could barely breathe and so his voice was a whisper: "Thor? Are you… there?"

He couldn't turn his head; maybe his neck was broken. Though his left hand could move, he found nothing to grasp but the cold tiles of the floor. "Thor?" he whispered again.

From far away, he heard Thor's laughter, echoed by his friends' and the clink of metal goblets and loud toasts through the laughter. "To Freyr, who can make the birds fly!"

The sounds of boots came across the tile, until Thor came into view above him. He looked down, grinning. "There you are, little bird! Good flight."

Fandral joined him and laughed. "Excellent flight. I think we should always use the foundling for practice. Think you he minds much?"

Volstagg added, "Ask him nothing. You know Jotunn have not the wit to speak."

Loki blinked, aware that wasn't… right. He whispered, "Thor?"

Thor laughed. "I think he tries to speak my name." Then, casually, he kicked Loki in the ribs, making him choke on the pain. "You lack respect for a prince of the blood."

No. This was wrong. This wasn't how it had happened.

But his awareness that it was a nightmare changed nothing. It didn't stop and when he tried to wake up, he couldn't.

"He probably doesn't know the proper form of address. He's a runt, no giant at all. He can't even eat meat. Maybe he's half rabbit and that's why he's so small," Fandral suggested and they all laughed. Loki's good hand curled into a tight fist, anger welling inside the pain.

Freyr appeared, next to Thor. "Is he ready? Winner gets to have him for the night, right?"

Loki's eyes went wide, and his heart felt cold as ice. No, this wasn't right. Freyr was awful, but he'd never done that. Yet he suddenly could remember it; it sat in his memory as if it had always been there, dark memories of Freyr's bedchamber and Freyr taking whatever he wanted.

"No. This is not real. This is not happening." Loki lifted his hand and, summoning his power from a core of renewed hate and rage, blasted Thor in his smug face.

The use of power broke the vision's hold as the collar tightened, strangling him, but when he opened his eyes he saw the dim confines of the well and his own cries still echoing from the round walls.

Heavy footsteps rejoined him and Thanos said, "I will change every memory you have. One by one. Until all you know is misery and hate. And then, when the Loki who is, ceases to exist, you will open the portal for me, because you will want me to come and destroy them all."

"It isn't real, I know it isn't real."

"And when you know no more?" Thanos purred, coming closer, Malekith's changed eyes looking down on him. His cold fingers brushed Loki's face, and Loki jerked away. "When reality becomes something I construct in your mind? Or perhaps you will know some of it is real and some of it is not, but you will not know which is which. That, my pet, is madness."

"I will see you burn," Loki hissed. "My vengeance will come for you; fear me, Thanos."

But Thanos only laughed and put his hand on Loki's forehead again. Loki tried to dislodge him but couldn't.

"Again."

Loki could feel the mental poison dripping within him again, seeking out another memory to ruin it with its foulness.

"No. No, I will not let you do this again!" He grit his teeth and closed his eyes, trying to stop the taint. Fighting it. Resisting with everything he had left. Holding on to who he was and what he was, and all his memories, because even if they weren't always the greatest, they were him.

And Thanos would take them away.

But the smoke was unstoppable, reaching deep within…

He was in the cell in the undercroft of Asgard. And he hurt so much, fire in his body and mind, burning alive. In the midst of it, he heard a voice call in horror and anguish: "Loki!"

He had to look, stirring from his fetal position on the floor, to see Frigga there. No, he didn't want her to see him like this. "No. No. Go away," he said in a low, raw voice.

She went to her knees on the other side of the barrier from him. "Loki. I am here."

"No," he whispered. "You must leave." He turned over and then struggled to his feet. He needed to stand, to prove that he could beat this. She watched him, biting her lip, beautiful face strained with worry. He stumbled, catching himself on the wall, and leaned against it for a moment, panting. Then he turned around, trying to hold the illusion that all was well.

"There is nothing to be concerned-" he started but the fire flared, burning him, and he choked back a gasp, flinching violently. No, he had to show her nothing was wrong, so she could leave.

"Loki!" she called, commanding. "Look at me." She waited until he lifted his head and his eyes met hers. "Stop," she told him, more gently. "You need no pretense with me."

He dropped to his knees before her, letting the illusion melt away.

"Just give in, Loki," she murmured, her hand on the glass. "Surrender to it."

He jerked his head up in horror. This wasn't right.

She smiled back at him, but now there was a cruel edge to her smile. "Let it fill you. Why fight what is stronger than you? You were always so weak, Loki. Always so needy. You always needed me so much, instead of being a man, like Thor."

He leaned back from her, stricken, as she said the words he'd always feared that she was thinking.

"I should have let Odin foster you with one of the servants, instead of pretending you were mine. But you were a cute baby, once that hideous blue was hidden away. I pitied you, poor tiny thing. When I realized what a clingy, weak, useless boy you were, it was too late to take it back."

He backed away from the barrier, until he was against the opposite wall but unable to take his eyes from her. "No. You are not my mother. She told me she wanted me; she said she loved me."

"Love you?" she repeated with an incredulous scornful laugh. "Who could love you?"

The words struck the hardest blow, cracking his heart and filling it with pain and despair. She didn't love him; it was all a lie. Her cold eyes seemed triumphant watching him as he stared at her. She smiled, enjoying the impact of her words, and there was a familiar curl to her lips. A gloating smirk he had seen elsewhere, and he groped for the memory. He couldn't remember who it had been, but it was enough to remind him that this was not his mother. This was an imposter, a hallucination of Frigga.

"You are false! A liar. And this is not how it happened!" He yelled the words and then, remembering it had worked before, he raised his hand and threw fire.

The collar reacted and it was a relief to break the vision. But when it loosened and he could gasp for breath, he found himself alone. He stared up at the distant round hole and the few stars up there with hopeless tears gathering in his eyes.

Because he still remembered the nightmare. It had been a false vision, but his memory of the truth was mixed with this horror that had never happened. In time, he wouldn't even remember it had happened another way.

She wanted me, she said so, he reminded himself. But now the memory was stronger of her voice demanding, "Who could love you?"

Feeling so very lost, he looked up at those stars, silently crying out to the only one who might be able to hear him and offer solace: Help me, Amma, help me. Help me remember what's true.




Frigga felt … watched. She turned slowly, frowning. Days into the siege, this was new. Was this Malekith finally making his move? There had been some great unrest in the aether a day ago, which she had not been able to decipher, but knew it boded ill. This, though, seemed less ominous, and more as if someone stared at the back of her neck.

"My queen?" Sif asked curiously, and also looked around with a hand on her sword.

"There is something," Frigga murmured. "Something wants my attention." Then, with resolute step, she turned and started back. "Sif, make sure I'm not disturbed, I need to find what this is."

Sif nodded and stood guard outside the pavilion.

Frigga laid her cloak on the ground and knelt on it, hands at rest on her knees and her eyes closed. She sought a meditative calm, to focus her other senses.

Svartalfheim's heart beat unevenly but hot, matched with the madness of its king, kindled by wrath and lust for power. There was also that slippery, foul taint that made her taste ashes. Thanos.

Beneath that, like a distant song barely heard, there was something else. She was not quite able to touch it, but she had a sense of it finally, as it brushed past.

Loki… is it you?

It had to be. It was him. Somehow she was finally sensing him.

Concentrating, she reached more deeply.

There, a single faintly glowing green filament in the aether, she found him. Her power, golden and shining, twined around the green.

She nearly pulled away in reflexive dismay. Dear ancestors, so much pain and turmoil… But instead she tightened her grip. He was distant and she could barely touch him, but she had to be strong long enough to reach him. Loki

help me, Amma, he's here, he's breaking me, help me

He didn't know she was there, hearing him; it was a desperate prayer that he didn't believe would be answered.

She called out with all her strength, "I am here, little one, I am here with you. Hold on tight… Promise me, Loki… you will escape…"

There was a hesitation and then Loki's astonished, hopeful exclamation as he realized she was truly there. "Mother?"

To her surprise he did not strengthen the connection from his end. "I cannot hold you, little one, you're so far away, but please, please don't give up. Look for a way out, remember," she urged, slipping and clawing for just a little more. "My love with you, always…"

The green filament fell through her grasp and was gone. She called for him and searched, but could find no trace.

Frigga opened her eyes to find tears on her cheeks. She wiped them dry and lit a candle to try again with a new technique, trying to find him. Reach out for me again, Loki, I can't find you if you don't reach out...

But there was nothing.

"My queen?" Sif's cautious voice asked from the flap. "Is all well?"

Frigga shook her head once, feeling all of her years as a heaviness in her spirit. "No, Sif. It is not. I touched Loki's thoughts briefly. Malekith is hurting him, and I cannot find him."

Sif came inside and knelt before her. "We will scout again. There must be ways inside. Volstagg will stay with you and the rest of us will sneak into the valley and look. They will expect Frost Giants, not us."

Frigga wanted to forbid it, as both too dangerous and unlikely to succeed when she knew that Malekith had no doubt warded all the gates, but instead she nodded, fearing there was little time remaining. "Yes. Go. Do what you can."




Loki's eyes opened. He had fallen away from her embrace, but he knew it had been real. Frigga had found him. He looked at the opening to the sky above him and smiled a little. This place was meant to bestow despair that freedom was out of reach, but now it gave him hope-- through that small hole he could reach her. She had to be within the Realm, most likely with the jotnar army through some clever alliance she must have made with them.

He was still smiling when Thanos' heavy step in the entryway warned of his return. "So how is the war going?" Loki called. "Oh, wait, I need not ask, do I? If you won on Asgard, you would no longer need me, so apparently Kurse is content to sit in front of the gates and do nothing. Great warrior he might be, but he was never very smart."

"Kurse will find my treasures and burn Asgard."

"Kurse can barely manage to fasten his swordbelt," Loki snorted. "He will never defeat Thor or Odin Allfather."

Thanos grabbed his chin. "And if I send them pieces of you? A finger? An eye?"

Loki had been expecting that threat, which let him give a lazy smirk. "Odin would probably find the eye flattering. But you know he watched me fall from the Bifrost without flinching. He will never surrender anything to save me." Not that Loki wanted him to surrender anything, but he did wish that he could worry that Odin might. Thor had slammed his way into the cell believing Loki was dying and Frigga probably would have, too - but Odin had waited until Loki was a whisper from death to intervene at all. Loki himself had been absolutely certain in the Hall of Treasures that he would die. It had felt strangely fitting to perish in Odin's embrace, when once Odin had saved him, his whole life come full circle.

"Maybe not, but it might be fun," Thanos' claws dragged down his cheek and seized his ear in a tight grip, yanking his head to the limit of his neck. "Will Odin's gentle queen weep to see this in a box?" he whispered. "Shall we find out?"

Loki flinched in spite of himself. He needed only a little more time to get out of this hellhole, and it was ironic that Thanos was threatening this now. But he wasn't going to falter, not for something he could hide with illusions if he wished. He had hidden his skin color for a thousand years without even knowing he was doing it; he could certainly pretend to a body part he lacked. Or maybe he wouldn't bother. "Am I supposed to fear that?" he sneered. "You think me a mortal to be bothered by such trivialities? It will be a war trophy, something to display to my children to celebrate your defeat."

"You are the one defeated, pet." Thanos said it, but he also let go of Loki's ear, realizing the threat wasn't going to work as he intended.

"Captured. Not defeated."

"Your defeat is assured when I know where you are weakest." Thanos touched his forehead.

Loki opened his eyes, the lingering ache in his body like an echo of the pain that put his bones on fire, but it was coals now.

He was in his cell again, the energy barrier stretched across the front of the featureless cage. Outside, Frigga knelt alone, watching him with desperate eyes and cheeks still stained with the remnants of tears.

It was wrong. His memories of his last hours in his cell on Asgard were shredded and sparse, but he knew that Thor had been the one to stay.

She saw him push himself up, the hope suffusing her face like a sun's rays. "Loki? You have defeated it?"

No, he had not. He could feel the dark coil in his mind, and he couldn't stop it from shaking his head sadly. "Only for a time," his mouth made the words. "But time enough to be free."

Loki wanted to scream, to protest, to stop it but he had no control over his hands as they moved to create the ice dagger. But this one wasn't real. It was only illusion.

"I am so sorry I was such a failure of a son, Mother," he whispered. "Forgive me someday."

"Loki, no- sweetheart, no, do not do this- " she threw herself at the barrier pounding it with both fists. "You can fight it, you can be free another way - look at me, listen to me--"

"This is the only way." Then he plunged the ice blade into himself and collapsed forward. Beyond the barrier, Frigga screamed his name.

Five seconds later, the barrier fell with a buzzing pop and Frigga rushed in. "Loki, this is not the answer," she whispered frantically and turned him over.

Her grip stilled as she saw the lack of blood and that his eyes were open and held no pain. He smirked at her. "I warned you but you never did pay attention to who I really am, did you?"

No, no, no, no… Loki tried to stop the ice from forming, tried to throw himself backward, tried to stop the hand from plunging the dagger into her chest. But for naught.

Her eyes flew wide and horrified at the betrayal as the dagger pierced deep. He pulled it free, and blood bloomed on her soft blue bodice and all over his hands.

Abruptly the taint was gone, its work done, and Loki was there in his own body again, his hands full of blood and his mother's body as he caught her from falling backwards. "No, no, what have I - no - this cannot be - I have to heal it - "

She choked out his name just once and then she was gone. Dead at his hands. He had killed her.

Anguish and desolation filled him, unbearable guilt that pierced to his own heart. He clutched her cold and empty body to him, rocking back and forth, wishing he was with her.

Too broken for tears, all he could do was whisper, "Amma, no, no, please..."

And he let the grief take him.



Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.
 
 
 
Rayrirenec on September 21st, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
Reading this atailly AM, so a short comment. Wow, am I addicted to this fic. This chapter broke my heart. So full of pain and love.
lizardbeth: Avengers - Loki-Friggalizardbeth_j on September 21st, 2013 08:46 pm (UTC)
aw, thanks! Hope it helped you sleep (I don't know how that would work, but hopefully! :) )