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27 March 2014 @ 03:14 pm
The Snow Queen and the Ice Demon  


Elsa didn't seek out Loki until early the next morning. His room was empty and felt untouched, and she knew he'd not come inside at all. She found him on the height of the western tower. The wind was sharp and cold, portending the winter to come, but neither of them felt it.

Loki stood at the balustrade, looking out to the water as if some answer lay there in the glimmering of the morning sun on the water, if only he could decipher it.

She joined him, laying a hand over his tight fist resting on the top. After a moment, his hand relaxed beneath her touch, letting his fingers grip hers. "Could you see Asgard in the stars last night?"

He shook his head. "No. It hangs on a higher branch of the world tree, beyond the mortal Realm. Invisible to all eyes here."

"You miss it."

He didn't respond at first, as if he didn't want to admit that he'd missed it. "When I left, I never wanted to see it again. But a sorrow grew within that I was apart forever. Only now, looking at this place, I realize the reason I kept circling back here is because it reminds me of Asgard: the mountains, the town, the water… I miss the archives, the towers, the river… My heart aches to see my mother again," he murmured. She smiled and leaned into him, hoping to offer some comfort. After a moment, he sighed and added, "Thor means well, but nothing truly changes there. Yet I have changed. I didn't belong in Asgard before, and I fear I will belong even less now."

She thought of what to say that might help. "I read once, in one of those books that you threw to the floor, that when they say the old god Loki ruled mischief and lies, what they meant was chaos," she murmured. "And that Ragnarök would not be destruction and death like the Christian Apocalypse, but was necessary to bring change and renewal. Perhaps it truly means that as you have changed, so too will your people."

"Or maybe Ragnarök was fulfilled when I tried to destroy the great hall," he replied thoughtfully, but with humor. "Prophecies often grow in the telling."

His flippancy was irksome, and he was misunderstanding her point. "That was not what I--"

"I know," he interrupted. "I know what you meant. But it is … daunting, and unlikely. I am a raven among eagles, and that will not change."

She wormed her way under his arm, so he held her against his side. "Then, if they are so intolerable, you could visit them briefly and come back here?" she suggested.

"I want to," he murmured. "More than anything. I want to stay here and guard you, to see your children, to watch you be a great queen."

He said it as something he wanted but would not have, which meant he had decided to leave. When he fell silent, unwilling to explain why, she prompted, "But?"

"But. I cannot bear to watch you die, Elsa," he whispered. He turned toward her, other arm clasping her to his chest, while he rested his cheek on the top of her head. "Mortal lives are so brief, even the longest is a candle to mine. The thought of your loss already fills my heart with such dread and grief, I know to watch would destroy me." Before she could reassure him, he added, breath stirring her hair, "We're not supposed to involve ourselves with mortals, and now I understand why. Immortal hearts - or at least mine - are not strong enough to accept that those we love can be taken so soon."

Then he paused and swallowed hard, as if realizing what he'd said. She smiled into his chest and tightened her hands on his back. "I love you, too. Promise you'll think of me?"

"Every day."

She sniffled, and tried to think of something less unbearably sad. "I swear there'll always be a place kept open for you, for when you visit. Even when I'm long gone, it'll be a tradition that the Snow Queen's father, the immortal Ice Demon, will have a place set for him at formal banquets. And then someday, you can stroll right in and take your seat. Imagine everyone's face! It'll be fun."

He chuckled. "More than a little of me in you, I see." He framed her face in both hands, turning it upwards so he could memorize it, then leaned down and kissed her forehead. "You are precious to me, Elsa. I may not return, but I will never forget you."

"I won't forget you either." She smiled at him, blinking back her tears. "Father."

She bit her lip and inelegantly sniffled, before wrapping her arms around him again, to squeeze as tightly as she could and pretend she wasn't going to let go.




The next day, full of cheer, Thor led the group to the Bifrost site on a ridge that overlooked Arendelle harbor and the palace. His red cape was like a flag leading the way, as he strode through the late autumn meadow, Mjolnir swinging from the strap around his wrist. Anna was a green magpie next to him, chattering away, and occasionally having to trot to keep up with his longer strides. He listened to her with a tolerant smile and occasional grin, even when she interrupted his attempt to tell his story with her questions.

Moving more slowly, Loki paced next to Elsa, looking dour as if he was still not certain he wanted to do this.

"You need him, you know," she murmured, and pressed on in spite of the skeptical glance he sent her way. "And he needs you. He's summer, you're winter, but you go together. Like me and Anna - I know she's always there for me." She slipped her hand into his and tugged, getting him to stop and look at her. "Let him be there for you. Don't hold everything in so tightly."

He gave her a half-smile, wry and amused. "Yes, Elsa. You and my mother would get along terrifyingly well."

"I wish I could meet her." Elsa remembered the face in the fire and was glad she had seen Queen Frigga, at least.

"She will be quite unhappy about that as well, I promise. I would bring you to meet her, but the Allfather forbids mortals to the realm eternal." His gaze flickered out over the mountains and skyward, before returning back to her face with an abrupt decision. "You should come anyway; he will have to understand. I will bring you with me and show you the wonders in Asgard."

For a moment, it was tempting. To visit Asgard. It was a real place with real people – it sounded like being able to visit inside a fairy tale. Yet, the very fact that it contained real people, and therefore real consequences gave her qualm. Odin Allfather might not be God, but he was powerful, and Loki was already worried about what he might do.

She pressed Loki's hand, halting his words. "No. I want you to go back there and find peace with them. And this is my place, my home. I won't leave Anna."

He smiled with gathering enthusiasm, "We could bring her, too. I can make both of you immortal, you can rule Arendelle forever, and I need not ever lose either of you..."

She shook her head once, gently, and his eagerness evaporated like steam, leaving behind sorrow. "I do not wish immortality, Loki. I am Christian, I want the truth of Heaven, not the false promise of it in Asgard."

"And if there is none?" he asked, for once not sneering at her faith, but genuinely worried. "What then?"

She made herself smile up at him. "Then I hope Valhalla will welcome me, and some far distant day you will meet me there."

The words seem to catch him hard. He blinked, throat fluttering, and he had to look away, pressing his lips together. "They will," he said finally, barely above a whisper. "If I have to set all the Realms on fire, the gates will open for you, I promise."

She threaded her fingers through his. "Do not begin Ragnarök because of me. That is a legacy I don't want."

His eyes glimmered suspiciously but his smile was more genuine, as he teased, "A little war at least? You deserve something."

"Would you two hurry up!" Anna shouted from the top of the ridge where she and Thor were waiting.

Elsa looked at him. "Should I make an ice slide to dump them both in Arendelle?"

He chortled with delight. "Yes!"

"You're not supposed to encourage me!"

He laid his free hand on his chest. "If you're looking for parental discipline, the god of mischief is probably not your best choice," he advised with mock solemnity, and she laughed, because she'd actually forgotten.

But their delay was mostly shared reluctance to reach their destination, which came upon them anyway as they joined their siblings. There was a circular marking in the dirt, as if a huge wax seal from the heavens had slammed into the meadow. It was twenty paces across, filled with a blackened pattern that was a familiar from old stele and books.

"Stay out of the circle," Loki advised. "This is where we must leave you both."

Anna hugged him, forcing him to let go of Elsa's hand to catch her. "I hope you come back. But I'm glad you came to us. You're really not as scary as you think you are, by the way. You have a good heart and I hope you have other kids, not weird horses, but real kids because you're a great dad. I'm gonna miss you so much."

He hugged her back. "Be well, Anna. I will miss you, too. Thank you for being so generous in your affections."

She sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve, as Elsa winced at her manners.

It was Elsa's turn and she slipped into place against his chest and her head tucked against his neck as he held her close.

"Will you be able to see me?" she asked. "From there?"

"Yes."

"Good. I'll be glad to have you watch over me. But the one thing I don't want--" she leaned back to look into his face, "-- is for you to do anything stupid when I die. Don't lose yourself in grief, or-- or anything like that. I want you to remember me, but then you have to let me go. Promise?"

He took a moment to answer, then said in a low voice, "I promise."

She stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Then that makes me happy." Taking his hand, she made an ice sculpture - not knowing what it would be until it sat in his palm - as her gift to him. It was made of perfectly transparent ice of a large snowflake in an intricate branching design, and she smiled to see the center held a small version of the Yggdrasil woodcarving. "Farewell, my Ice Demon."

"Farewell, fair Snow Queen," he whispered. He didn't move, eyes refusing to turn from her face, even to look at her gift, though his hand held it delicately and it did not melt in his palm.

Thor swung an arm over his shoulders and he gave a nod to Elsa. "Queen Elsa, you have my thanks for caring for my brother."

"Of course. Now I ask you in turn to care for my father."

"You have my word."

"I can take care of myself," Loki muttered. Nobody paid him any heed.

Thor addressed Elsa and Anna. "You may watch if you like, but step back." Thor coaxed Loki to the middle of the printed markings, while the sisters took several steps away, standing close.

As soon as they reached the center, Loki's clothes shimmered and shifted into a layered, black leather surcoat edged in green, with gold vambraces, and gold pieces at his throat and shoulders. It was like no Earth clothing she'd ever seen, and though it was little like Thor's in design, somehow they seemed a matched set. An emerald green cape billowed in the wind behind him, and he stood tall and proud, a prince again.

Thor noticed the change and smiled his approval before tilting his head back and calling, "Heimdall! Open the Bifrost. Bring us home!"

Loki's eyes met Elsa's and he lifted a hand in farewell. She raised hers, making sure that his last view of her would be of her smile.

So quickly it seemed impossible, clouds gathered overhead, blocking the sun with an ominous storm. A huge bolt of lightning, blinding but shimmering with the colors of a rainbow, slammed into the ground before her, grabbed its two sons, and then was gone.

The ground glowed with red heat, like a coal, and briefly smoked. The sisters watched as it cooled and didn't speak, letting the small silences of birds and wind fill the air as the storm dispersed. Then Anna murmured, "Elsa? Did that really happen?"

"All of it."

"Huh. Wow. I didn't expect the Rainbow Bridge to be real."

"Not like that," Elsa agreed.

"Elsa? Do you think he'll come back?" she asked in a smaller voice.

Elsa tipped her head back to look up at the sky. Asgard might not be visible, but it was out there somewhere. She hoped Loki would come back, but realistically, she thought he would stay away. The fairy tales said that years on Earth might pass as minutes in immortal lands – she might be long dead before the greeting ceremonies there were finished. "No. I don't think we'll ever see him again. But he promised to watch over us."

"I wouldn't want to be the person who threatens Arendelle in the future, with the Ice Demon on guard for the next thousand years." Anna glanced at Elsa and smiled. "I think you just ensured Arendelle's independence, forever."

Elsa thought about that and had to agree. It was a happy thought to know he would continue to watch over her people, even after she was gone.

She hooked her arm with Anna's. "Come on, let's go home."





Epilogue...



As the Bifrost energy faded, Loki shuddered. The buzzing along his skin felt strange after so long without, but he shook it off and lifted his head.

They'd landed in the Observatory, as expected. Heimdall was there, gleaming in his golden armor. Loki remembered the last time they'd seen each other, when Heimdall had tried to stop him from leaving and Loki had attacked him in a rage, needing to escape Asgard.

Heimdall's expression was as dour as ever, neither welcoming nor seeming angered, so Loki forced a grin, trying to force down the anxious dismay that Heimdall was here at all. "I see nothing has changed in my absence. You look well, Heimdall."

Heimdall nodded once. "The king and queen await you in the audience chamber."

Not the great hall, that was a relief. Still he felt uneasy, wondering what the king would do. Surely, despite Thor's words, Odin would still be angry at what had happened. Or angry at Loki for not submitting himself for judgment earlier.

I have already sentenced myself to exile for a century. I have left my only child. What more could he do to me?

That was a foolish protest, as Odin could do a lot. He could announce that Loki forfeited all claim to Asgard. He could strip Loki's power and send him to Jotunheim, sending the useless beast back where it belonged. He could imprison Loki for his attack on the king and the others who had stood in the hall.

His gaze found Heimdall's sword, used to activate the Bifrost, and considered having Heimdall send him back to Midgard. I should not have come back here.

Thor seemed to sense some turmoil, resting his hand on Loki's shoulder. "It will be well."

Loki shook him off with a short laugh. This was Asgard; he had to remember that. Any weakness and they would be on him like a pack of wild dogs. "Of course it will. I expected they might receive me in private; not the audience chamber. But I suppose I should have known there would be some formality."

"You have been gone a long time, brother," Thor reminded him. "Even for us, it was a notable loss."

Loki sniffed skeptically. Maybe his family missed him, but who else would have noticed?

Heimdall added, "Welcome home." Loki's gaze snapped to him, surprised at the additional greeting and that it sounded as if Heimdall meant it.

Loki figured that deserved acknowledgment, and he said, "I did not intend to endanger your life. I only meant to push you out of my way, not throw you from the Bifrost."

"I know." Heimdall's golden gaze focused beyond them and a faint smile curled his lips. "You should hurry into the city. The queen grows anxious."

Loki's smile was more genuine, hearing that. She at least had missed him, as he missed her. He had been wrong to hide himself from contact, and wrong to presume her love must have been a lie. His anger and hurt had discolored everything, but Elsa and Anna had shown him the truth.

He inhaled a long breath to settle his heart and headed for the bridge.




The audience chamber was a smaller space than the great hall, not meant for immense gatherings but still large enough to hold public audience, if the king wished, but mostly it was used for more intimate speech.

Loki expected the room to be mostly empty, holding only Odin and Frigga, and perhaps some of the warriors he had been acquainted with.

He did not expect the great horn to sound when the doors opened and his feet paused altogether when he saw the crowd there, turned toward the doors where he was frozen on the threshold. There was applause, and he reflexively turned, intending to step aside for Thor, since surely this was for him. But Thor didn't move forward.

Thor was shaking his head and grinning at him when Loki glanced at him in confusion. "Take your due, brother."

"But I--"

Thor put a hand on his back and pushed him lightly. "Go."

So Loki went, wishing he'd had more warning so he could have shifted with his helm. He kept his back straight as he headed down the aisle. Odin sat in full regalia in his throne at the end and he gripped Gungnir in one hand. Frigga stood to his right and watched Loki with a smile openly on her face, hands clasped before her.

Distantly, Loki heard applause and even some voices raised in shouts, and it all felt … odd. It was strange to hear any approbation for himself in any case, but the last time he had been at a gathering like this, he had nearly killed them all, his wrath kindled by their pretense that nothing had changed, even though they had just told him he was a creature, and not their son.

Toward the front, long black hair caught his eye, and he turned his head to see Sif. She looked back at him, at first serious, but then a smile glimmered through, as he stared at her.

She was alive. Unharmed. Somehow she was even more beautiful than he remembered.

"Welcome home, Smudge," she murmured, letting him know with the old nickname that all was forgiven.

His voice would barely emerge from his throat, "It is good to see you, Lady War."

He turned from her to keep walking toward the king and queen. He was still a few steps away, when Frigga couldn't wait anymore and she hurried down the two steps of the dais to him. "Loki! You have come home, at long last."

She flung her arms around him, and ordinarily he would never let himself be humiliated in this way in front of so many, but for this moment, he held her tight in return. "Mother," he whispered into her hair, eyes suddenly burning. "I am so, so sorry…."

"Shush," she whispered and her hand touched the side of his face. She was smiling though her eyes were wet. "You're here. Let me look upon you, my son." Her gaze seemed to drink him in hungrily, as she framed his face, and looked into his eyes. "Do you believe that?" she asked, pitching her voice very soft. "You are my son, I raised you, I loved you, always."

He nodded a little and his breath came with difficulty. "I know. I understand now." He glanced to Odin looming behind her and then back to her face. "I -- I was angry, and I chose my words and my deeds poorly."

"We chose our words poorly, too. Not all the fault is yours. I am glad you're home. I have missed you so."

She found his hand closed tightly when she tried to grip his hands in her own. "What is this?" she asked. He held out his hand and opened his fingers to show the contents. "Loki, this is beautiful. Did you make this?"

He shook his head once, his gaze fixed to the large snowflake. "I-- It was a parting gift," he answered. "From Elsa. My - my-" He couldn't quite bring himself to speak, his once gifted tongue utterly failing him as it hit him that he would probably never see her again.

Thor moved nearer, hand closing on Loki's shoulder, to tell their mother softly, "His daughter."

Her eyes flew to meet Loki's in sudden understanding. "A mortal?"

Loki nodded once, a frosty serpent coiling around his heart of loss. Such little time they'd had together, but how brightly it shone in his memory.

"Oh, little one," she whispered and hugged him again, kissing his cheek. "You are blessed."

His fingers tightened on the snowflake, and he nodded.

"Come, your father grows impatient." She took his free hand and drew him to the dais. Odin looked down on him with a grimmer face than Frigga had done, but Loki didn't think it was his wishful thinking that there was a pleased glint in his eye as he nodded once to Loki.

The king lifted his head and announced, "Let it be known, that Loki Odinson has full pardon and he is restored to his position as a prince of the Realm."

Odinson. Odin still claimed him as his own, even after Loki had viciously rejected him. He would not mistake the import of the word. Loki feared his surprise was far too naked on his face, as a great surge of feeling in his chest threatened to escape. He had to clench his jaw and shut his eyes, controlling each breath, one at a time. This was too much in too short a time and surely this much raw emotion would burn him alive.

Odin continued, sparing Loki the need to make any response, "Tonight we shall feast in celebration of his long-overdue return!"

A cheer arose at that, and Loki turned around to face the audience. Thor led the applause, eyes bright and face exuberant that Loki was home.

Loki smiled, knowing it was expected he would be pleased. He tucked away the feeling that he was in the wrong place with people he barely knew anymore.





At the feast, he told a few stories of his time on Midgard, selecting the battle ones that would appeal to his audience. He said nothing of seeking out mortals to push their thinking forward, and nothing of the Ice Demon. He'd tell Frigga the whole of it later, but he kept most of the truth to himself. But it became obvious he was not telling the story they were most interested in hearing.

Volstagg slapped his shoulder and put a new flagon before him. "So tell us of the mother. She must have been something. Was she especially beautiful? For you to make such a mistake with a mortal…"

"It wasn't a mistake," Loki snapped, and Volstagg froze before letting out a laugh.

"Ah, lad, I meant only that we do not woo mortals, so you must have been drawn by something special…"

"Oh yes, do tell us," Fandral demanded, leaning across the table toward Loki. "You have never been one to dally lightly, and now we hear of mortal blossoms… So who was she? Was she very beautiful?"

Loki did not like this prying into his private matters, not when the loss was still so raw. Time for a distraction so he could make his escape. "I am not the only one who comported with mortals. Am I, Fandral?"

Fandral was shocked to have it turned back on him, and guilty. He glanced down at his cup and back at Loki, with an unconvincing smile of confusion. "I don't know what you are talking about. I've never…"

This was too easy. Especially when Fandral couldn't lie worth spit. If Loki hadn't already been sure, the look on Fandral's face was a complete admission of the truth. Loki grinned. "Oh Fandral, I saw him. He's quite the image of you, and his voice is exactly the same; it's uncanny." Their friends stared at Fandral. With great satisfaction, Loki added, "Young Eugene had a rough start in his life - he had no father, and I guess his mother perished as well, because he grew up in an orphanage and became an outlaw."

Fandral looked a bit like a landed fish. "I- I have a son?"

Loki watched him, enjoying how overcome Fandral was. He would not be teasing Loki about Elsa any time soon.

"Don't worry, my friend." He stood up from the table. "Your lad wed the lost princess of Corona. It's quite a romantic tale; you'll like it."

"I have a son?" Fandral repeated. "A mortal boy?"

"When did you sneak off to Midgard without us, you bastard?" Volstagg roared.

Fandral stammered some incoherent protest, and Loki grinned, glad he'd held onto the secret for the right moment.

He decided to go before they remembered he could be teased about this, too, and slipped out of the feast hall.

In his rooms - which had been kept as he had left them - he glanced at the preserved ice sculpture now sitting in its pride of place on the central shelf of his sitting room.

Feeling weary, he let himself fall into the padded chair that faced the shelves. He was home, yet he didn't feel at home. Teasing Fandral had helped - it felt familiar - yet when he looked around this room, he wished it was Elsa's study with the fireplace and the single narrow window above her desk instead.

He sighed. It was terrible to miss it, but far more terrible to know in time he would stop missing it.

A soft knock on his door interrupted his dark musings, and Frigga entered, gliding across the floor soundlessly. She held back his attempt to rise for her, lifting her hand.

She smiled at Loki as she took a seat on the chair across from him and folded her hands in her lap as if she intended to be patient. He knew better from the eager slant of her posture toward him and that smile that would not be suppressed from her lips. "I want you to show me my grand-daughter. And you will tell me everything about her. And where you were and what you did while you were gone."

"I - " He opened his mouth and found no words. How could he tell her of a century of hiding and wandering, doing terrible things in rage before realizing how little of it mattered? Or how loneliness and despair had surrounded him in a cloud he could never escape, until a pale-haired girl who was wiser and more generous than he deserved, had pushed it away? There was so much to say, and yet words were so inadequate.

Frigga reached over to take his hand. Her fingers were warm on his and strong as they gripped his, offering reassurance. "Start with Elsa. Take as long as you need."

He gathered the unspoken 'as long as you start right now', and had to smile. "It's a long tale, Mother."

She let go of his hand and leaned back in her chair, giving the impression she would be happy to sit there until the end of days. "I have nothing more pressing than this, Loki. Leave nothing out. I want to know all of it."

He glanced up at the snowflake and held out a hand, casting the illusion before him, rising up from the floor. She was as he remembered her best: her blue eyes shining, lips smiling at some jest, braid hanging in front of her shoulder. "This is Elsa."

"Ah." Frigga nodded in approval, smiling. "I saw her briefly. You were laughing with her. She's beautiful, and I see such spirit in her. Truly, Loki, I am sorry you had such brief time there."

"She was mortal. It would always have been brief." He said the words flatly and banished the illusion, wishing he could banish the pain so easily. He inhaled a deep breath. "But that is the end of the story. It begins when I was too upset to control the path from Vanaheim, and it twisted. I arrived instead on Midgard, in a tiny kingdom named Arendelle…"



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