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14 October 2014 @ 09:35 pm
A Crocus in the Snow 1/?  
To the masterpost




"The crocus sprouts in early spring, blooming above the snow.
The flower must withstand sudden storms and bitter frost, else it withers and dies
."



Prologue


ASGARD - the past



Many years later, Frigga would not understand why this was the only scream she heard. She'd never heard any of his other distress, only this one, long after it was too late. But on this ordinary day in the spring of her sons' lives, with the sun so brightly shining that it seemed impossible that anything terrible could happen at all, she heard it.

She'd never heard that sound from Loki before, but she knew immediately it was him. It reached straight inside, wrapped an icy tendril around her heart, and squeezed the breath from her lungs. It must have been his fledgling abilities touching her, in some unconscious reflex to call for help. She was on her feet and at the door before she remembered she had been speaking to two other women. "Apologies," she blurted and darted out to the corridor.

Ordinarily she would never have run through the palace, but some cold dread touched her, an awareness that something was terribly wrong.

She raced past the Einherjar at the side door, gathering them behind her, and Thor joined her. "Mother?"

"Your brother," was all she had to say and Thor ran with her to the stables.

They ran straight into a scene of horror. The horses were whinnying, beating the sides of their stalls, while in the central aisle, Tyr was holding the bleeding stump of his arm, shouting, "I'll kill you! I'll cut your throat, you foul creature! I will see you dead, monster!"

Black fur bristling, and teeth bloodied and bared in a vicious snarl, Fenrir confronted him. Behind the great wolf, Loki was huddled against an open stall door, arms wrapped around his middle, while he stared at Tyr and Fenrir.

"Fenrir, down!" Thor commanded. Fenrir didn't listen. "Mother, stay back!" He tried to get in front of her, but he was still too young to be trying to protect her, and she pushed him back.

"Loki!" she called, but he seemed not to hear or notice. He was shaking violently, but she couldn't tell if he was hurt, too, or only frightenend.

Tyr's mangled hand was in the straw at Fenrir's feet, and the wolf's bright golden eyes fixed unrepentantly on the weapons-master as if he would take the other hand, if Tyr came one step nearer. Tyr must not have had a weapon, since she could see no wounds on Fenrir.

The two members of the Einherjar next to her approached, activating their lances. Fenrir's gaze flicked to them and he growled, muzzle still wet with blood. He took a step back, toward Loki, to keep all of his attackers in sight. He would fight and might turn on Loki.

"Everyone, back away," she ordered. "Einherjar, fetch a tranquilizer. Tyr, you need to go to the healers."

"The beast--" Tyr spat in fury.

Odin's voice cut in, startling Frigga with his sudden arrival, "--- will be dealt with. Tyr, go."

Tyr managed a bow of his head. "My king." But he glared at the wolf. "You should never have taken that thing in."

In an act that seemed a reply, Fenrir narrowed his eyes and licked at the blood on his muzzle in threat.

Not taking his eyes from Fenrir, Odin ordered, "Thor, back away slowly and go inside."

"But, Father--"

"Now."

Thor loooked so anxious for his brother Frigga wished she could ease him, but she felt much better after the Einherjar had escorted him and Tyr away. The nearby horses calmed down, too.

"Fenrir, down," Odin ordered. The wolf did not heed him, and when Odin took a step nearer, Fenrir growled again in warning.

"The beast has gone feral," Odin said, recovering his step, as Fenrir's yellow eyes followed him. "I must slay it." He lifted Gungnir, but she shook her head.

"Wait, Fenrir is guarding Loki as his prey and may turn on him if he's attacked and hurt. There is a tranquilizer coming. That will be much safer."

He lowered his spear in agreement. "Loki, remain still," he called, and Loki did not seem to hear him either, but he didn't move.

Odin said to her, not taking his eye from Fenrir, "And you said the beast was tame."

She felt ill with remorse. "He was. I thought."

"Tyr always believed Fenrir was too dangerous for Loki to keep."

"He's been obedient since he was a pup!" she objected. "Not a hint of violence."

"And yet…" he trailed off meaningfully, indicating the scene before them. And she had to concede, this was far more than she ever expected. Perhaps her gift of longevity to the wolf to keep him as a pet for Loki had driven him mad, in the end. Or perhaps Fenrir had grown dangerously attached and possessive of Loki, so that no one else could approach him.

"Stay calm, Loki," she called to him. "Be still. We'll be there for you soon."

It was only a minute or so, and one of the guards raced up with a tranquilizer lance.

There was a hesitation and confusion as the Einherjar did not know who should take the shot, risking Loki's life, but Odin grabbed the lance and yanked it from their grip, holding Gungnir in his left, and the lance in his right. "I will do this myself."

He approached Fenrir two steps closer, keeping the wolf's eyes on him. She bit her tongue to keep from voicing her wish for him to be cautious. Odin had hunted many dangerous beasts in his day, including winter wolves, and though he was older now, he was still powerful and skilled, distracting Fenrir first with a blast to his left and then with Fenrir's neck exposed, he fired the tranquilizer bolt into the wolf.

Lightning crackled aross Fenrir's fur, and he howled in pain and frustration. He turned to look at Loki and took two steps toward him. Frigga's heart skipped a beat, fingers tightening together, as she hoped Odin would not hesitate to blast Fenrir if he came much closer to Loki. But Fenrir's paws stumbled and he swayed, shaking his great shaggy head. He collapsed and whined, before the yellow eyes sank shut.

Odin's boot pressed on Fenrir's head, keeping it against the ground in case he roused again. "Einherjar, bring muzzle and chains," he commanded. "Frigga, he is down. Tend Loki."

She rushed across the floor to kneel at his side. "Little love, it's over."

He started violently when she touched him, but when she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer to her, he burrowed his face into her hair as he had done as a much smaller boy. Long coltish legs spread akimbo were unable to fit on her lap, but she tightened her embrace, as he trembled violently and gasped for breath.

"I'm here, love, it's over," she reassured him, whispering comforting words into his hair as she smoothed a hand against his narrow back. She checked him for wounds, relieved when she found none, though his tunic was torn at the collar. "It is well, Loki, you are safe now…"

It took a moment for her to realize he was whispering something, over and over again, broken by his sobbing breaths, "I won't, I won't, I won't--"

"Hush, my son, hush," she murmured and stroked his hair as he slowly fell quiet. "It is all ended, you're safe."

His giant aqua eyes lifted and met hers, seeing her for the first time. "Mama?" he whispered. She couldn't remember the last time he had called her that, it had been so many years ago. Hearing it again broke her heart, and she kissed his foreheard and embraced him tightly.

"Yes, darling. You're safe," she reassured him again. He burst into tears, clinging to her gown. "Oh, Loki, little one, it's alright now, you're safe and it's all over…"

She held him, smoothing his hair with one hand to make sure he didn't turn his head to see as the guards picked up the mangled hand and the unconscious wolf and carried both away.

"I assume since you did not carry him to the healers he is unhurt?" Odin asked, coming to stand above them.

She looked up at him. "Unhurt, but terrified."

"It is good he was unhurt." Odin's fierce eye rested more softly on Loki, still crying but more quietly now, and the king's free hand extended as if he would touch Loki's head, but he pulled his hand back. "Bring him inside when he is ready."

He turned and walked away, and for a moment, she wished fiercely that he had finished the gesture. He had become less physically demonstrative as the boys had gotten older, but that he would not even touch Loki's hair to comfort him after a horrifying day when his beloved pet had violently attacked him and his teacher, seemed wrong.

She tightened her arms around Loki, and rubbed her cheek on the top of his head, as if she could make up for the lack herself. "Hush, my dear, it's all over. Take a deep breath now."

He calmed, hiccuping as he sniffled, but didn't pull away from her, still clinging tightly as if he didn't want her to go away.

"All will be better soon, sweetling," she murmured, "Fenrir is caged and soon will be put down…"

She hadn't expected him to be listening to her words at all, thinking only to soothe him with her voice. But at the last, he jerked straight, nearly slamming his head into her chin. "No!"

"Darling--" she started in confusion.

He interrupted frantically, "No, no, you can't. Don't hurt him!"

She frowned. She'd meant to reassure him, but he looked panicked again, clutching at her arms. "My dearest, he's dangerous."

"No, no, he's not. He's my friend!"

"He attacked you and Tyr. There must be some sudden madness overtook him--"

"No, he didn't!" Loki protested. "He didn't hurt me."

She touched the rip in Loki's collar, but decided not to contradict him. Loki was traumatized by what had happened, and not thinking clearly. She kept her voice soothing. "He hurt Tyr badly. Fenrir bit off his hand, Loki. That's the act of a feral animal, not a pet. I should never have let you keep him in the first place. What if he attacks you next?"

"He won't, Mama. He's my friend."

"A friend doesn't bite off your teacher's hand, my son."

"But he - he did it for me," Loki protested, voice shaking, trying desperately to find a story he could think of to save Fenrir. "It wasn’t his fault--" His voice caught on a sob. "It wasn't-- Please don't hurt him…"

Frigga tightened her embrace and kissed his head. "Oh, little one, I know you love him and I'm so sorry it has to happen like this…"

"No, no, no!" He struggled free from her arms and tore off running, fleet footed, and ignored her cry of his name.

By the time she found him, Loki had climbed to the top of the high wall surrounding the courtyard where Odin had ordered Fenrir chained. Frigga's breath caught, seeing Loki balancing on the top of the delicate metal filligree, trying to find a way down and inside.

"Loki!" she called. "Come back down at once!"

He glanced at her, set his jaw, and shook his head resolutely. He jumped down from the wall, disappearing within. She gasped, fearing that wall was too high for him to jump, and she ran to the doors. "Open them."

They obeyed her, where they would not open the doors for Loki, and in a moment she was rushing inside. Fenrir was muzzled tightly, a heavy collar around his neck that bound him to a post driven into the earth though he was still heavily tranquilized, his eyes were closed. Despite that, her heart still jumped to see Loki kneeling beside him. He was trying to pull the collar off. "I'll save you, I'll save you," he whispered. "It'll be okay, Fenrir."

When the collar proved too much for him, he moved to inspect the chain and where the chain was connected to the post, tugging just as futiley at it.

"Loki," she called to him. "You need to stop."

His imploring eyes met hers, the chains falling from his hands. "You can save him. Please."

"Nothing can save him, darling."

"No! Please!"

Odin appeared, Freyr at his side with his battle axe. "What is the meaning of this? Loki, what are you doing? You were forbidden entry for a reason!"

Loki swallowed hard and climbed to his feet, favoring his left as if he'd hurt his foot in the jump. "Father, please. Fenrir is my friend."

"He bit off the weapons' master's hand, Loki. In a vicious attack. He is a menace and will be put down," Odin ordered.

"No! He did it for me!" Loki protested.

"Why?" Odin demanded, glaring at him.

Loki stared at him, pale and silent. Then, eyes downcast, lips quivering, he murmured, "He hurt me. Fenrir was trying to protect me."

"We will not have this discussion again," Odin declared with a curled lip of disgust. "If you trained better and with more attention, you would take no hurt."

"But that's not true! It's not!" Loki saw his protest was getting no traction with Odin and changed his story, looking up at Odin and swallowing, "He did it because I told him to do it! I was angry at Tyr and I ordered Fenrir to do it. It's not his fault! It's mine. I did it! It's my fault!"

"I will hear no more lies designed to save your feral pet from what must be done. And I find it appalling that you would shed all these tears over your dog and none for your teacher. You will watch as he is put down."

"No, please, please, don't hurt him!" Loki flung his arms over Fenrir, draping himself across the giant wolf's body. "No, I won't let you hurt him. He did it for me! It's not fair!"

"Einherjar, pull him away," Odin commanded. "We will put the creature down now."

"No, no, no! Let me go!" Loki struggled to escape the guards' hands as they seized his upper arms and one hauled him with an arm around his waist. His legs kicked out, flailing, but the guards' held him tightly as they pulled him away. His voice rose to a wordless, hysterical shriek, an alarming sound more like a wounded animal than boy.

Frigga hurried to him. "Release him!"

As soon as they let go, Loki collapsed to his knees, bent over so far his hair brushed the ground. His narrow back shook as he sobbed uncontrollably.

"Move him," Odin commanded. "This entire unseemly display will end now."

Frigga knelt to gather Loki back into her arms. "Loki, hush. Little one, calm down…" As she soothed him, she frowned. He was so overwrought. Was this all for Fenrir? Remaining anxiety for the attack earlier?

His frantic sobs eased into gulps against her shoulder. "There now. Take a breath. Another."

Very aware of the group watching her and Loki, including Odin and his disapproving scowl, she calmed him down as quickly as she could. His breaths were still unsteady when he lifted his pale, tear-stained face, and she wiped his cheeks with the edge of her mantle.

She helped Loki to his feet, keeping an arm around his back to support him when he hissed at touching his hurt foot to the ground. Odin commanded, "We will take care of the animal now. Hold him so he sees."

She was appalled. "He is distraught. I should take him from here."

Odin gripped Gungnir in a tight fist and his eye looked baleful on Loki, who was staring at Fenrir. "A great warrior of the Realm was viciously attacked and mutilated, and I will not abide the prioritizing of this creature over one of our own. He watches and he learns. Freyr, whenever you are ready."

"No, no, please," Loki whispered in stricken futility. Frigga held him against her, arm around his chest. "Fenrir, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry... This is all my fault…"

She smoothed his hair with her other hand. He tensed as Freyr's axe lifted, blade shining.

Frigga slid her hand down over Loki's eyes so he wouldn't see the deathblow. Then, when it was done, she let him bury his face in her chest and she held him tightly. Odin looked thunderous at her defiance, but she returned the look. There was nothing he could do about it now; he could not kill Fenrir again. This was a day already terrible enough without forcing Loki to witness his friend of decades butchered before his eyes.

"Remove Loki," the king ordered curtly. "He will stay in his room to think on this appalling spectacle and what is right."

"Come, sweetling," she murmured to Loki and tried to draw him away without looking. But he turned his head to see what was left and the blood on the stones. He turned pale, a whimper in his throat.

He said nothing as she coaxed him away to take him to his room. His hands were cold and he sat on the edge of his bed at her urging, gaze vacant and withdrawn. He didn't move when she ran a hand over his hurt leg to check for serious injury. His ankle was overstressed from landing improperly, and she noticed there was some bruising at his back and arm, perhaps from falling hard against the stable door. But there was nothing that would not heal soon.

He sat there and made no sound, a quiet that made her uneasy when he normally filled any silence with his chatter. But out of respect for his grief and shock, she didn't try to make him speak. She took off his boots for him, as if he was a much younger child, and settled herself beside him.

It took a few minutes before he stirred to lean against her arm. When she lifted her arm to let him get closer, he curled up on his side, head on her leg, while she smoothed his hair. "It's going to be all right, my son. Just give it time."

He lay with his head in her lap, silent and dry-eyed, and when she had to leave to go to dinner, he stayed in his bed and stared at the wall.

A week of Loki in moody isolation passed, broken only by her visits to coax him to eat a little and bathe. But when she was told something had crashed in his room, she forced the door and rushed in. The side table carved from a single piece of crystal lay in shattered pieces to one side, as if he'd thrown the entire table into the wall.

"Loki, what happened?"

"It broke," he muttered sullenly, not looking at her.

She wanted to berate him for breaking treasures but clearly that wasn't the real problem. Grief did often turn to anger, something no doubt not improved by his depressed moping in his room. "You know you can leave?"

"Father didn't say so."

She had to grant that was true, but Odin hadn't said anything about Loki's exile to his room at all, and a week was far more than he could ever have intended. "He meant that day, when he was angry. He had to be the king and make it clear to the people that he protects them."

Loki stared at the shards of the table, and said, "Protecting Tyr."

"Right. Fenrir, sadly, went feral and mad, and attacked Tyr. We had no choice, sweetheart."

"I don't want to see him."

"Tyr? He's not in the city. He left to recover on his lands to the east."

"Fenrir should have killed him," Loki muttered.

"Loki!" she drew back in shock. "Why would you say such a terrible thing? It isn't his fault Fenrir went mad."

"Yes, it is. It's his fault! Fenrir was trying to help me. Why does no one understand that!"

She held back a sigh, trying to be patient. "Loki, I do understand. But what you need to understand is that Fenrir went too far. He proved himself just a feral creature--"

Loki flinched and she stopped talking, realizing this wasn't helping. She said instead, "Would you like to go walk by the shore? It's a lovely day outside."

Loki shook his head and for a long moment stayed silent. Then he murmured, looking down, hair hanging in his face, "Is there something wrong with me?"

Frigga frowned. "Something wrong with you?" she repeated, shocked by the question. "Of course not. Why would you ask that?" He shrugged and then hunched his shoulders, still upset.

She reached out and brushed a lock of his raven-black hair back from his face. His hair had gotten long enough to start to curl, and it was quite an unruly mess. "No, there is nothing wrong with you," she reassured him. "You're grieving your friend. And I am sorry that we had to take him away. I know it hurts that he's gone. But we have to put our sorrows behind us." She rested her fingers lightly on Loki's narrow chest. "Hold the good parts of Fenrir's memory in your heart, but put the past in the past where it belongs. Mortal things will always trail behind us, Loki. It's a sad truth that we keep going, and we have to leave things we love behind us. That's why you need to treasure those who will be with you throughout your life. Like your brother and your friends. Thor said he misses you."

"He's in the next room," Loki muttered. She smiled a little, glad to hear a little spirit from him.

"He said he misses you two playing together. And I bet you would feel better if you weren't shut up in here alone."

His eyes fell. "I don't want to play."

"Why not?"

"I don't care about his stupid fighting. He only wants to spar, or- or wrestle or play baby games. I'm sick of it."

The tone edged on petulant, and she reminded herself he was still sad about Fenrir, so she kept back her smile. "Maybe if you tried a little fun, you might have some?" she suggested and smoothed his hair again. "Just try something. Be brothers. You'll feel better."

He didn't look at her as he nodded acquiescence without any enthusiasm, humoring her. She felt uneasy suddenly. Was this only about Fenrir? Why would he ask her if there was something wrong with him? While it could be embarrassment for how he'd over-reacted in front of his father, it also might have something to do with the truth of his heritage. Perhaps he'd had some hint of it…

Frigga hesitated. "Little love, is everything… all right? You would tell me if there was something else?"

"Of course, Mother," he answered. He looked her right in the eye when he said it, and since he had no reason to lie to her… she put her unsettled feeling aside and smiled at him.

She lifted her arm and gestured him to come sit next to her. He perched on the edge of the bench, and he held himself still when she laid her arm across his shoulders. Then he relaxed against her, letting her embrace him. "I know this has been tough on you, Loki. I know you miss Fenrir. But everything will be better. It's a memory now, and the sooner you put it behind you, the easier things will be. Do you think you can do that? Put it behind you?"

He considered and then nodded, pale eyes seeming very somber. "I can do that."

His smile was hesitant and false, but she smoothed his hair in approval. It was a good start to return to normal, and soon the whole sad mess could be forgotten.




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