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07 November 2014 @ 01:44 pm
A Crocus in the Snow, part 12  


JOTUNHEIM

Thor landed hard, and straightened quickly, Mjolnir ready. Frost Giants were close, as were what he presumed were Svartalfen, though he'd never seen one before. They were Aesir-sized, thankfully, white haired, and as he watched a Giant skewer one, their armor did not seem all that strong or powerful.

He turned to look for his brother and Sif. There, taking the limited high ground of an ice-covered rocky rise only a few feet higher than the surrounding plain of ice, Sif and Loki fought together, Dark Elves surrounding them.

Thor threw Mjolnir to knock their opponents away to more manageable numbers, catching her return, as both sets of enemies turned to face him. He grinned at them and slammed the hammer down on the snowy field around him. The shockwave sent up bits of rock and shards of ice and knocked his enemies off their feet for many paces, all around.

Up on his little promontory, Loki was watching. "NO! You idiot!" he yelled. "NO!"

Loki was always angry when Thor did something to end the battle all at once. He complained whenever he thought Thor was being overdramatic and reckless, but really, Thor thought Loki ought to approve, since he also didn't like it when Thor extended the battle just to enjoy himself.

All around him those Dark Elves and Frost Giants, who had not fallen in the shockwave, were backing away from him, and he turned his eyes up to Loki and Sif, grinning.

But they looked alarmed, not happy, and Thor's smile vanished as a strange crackling and groaning sound was growing louder and closer to him. He turned in place to see giant cracks appearing all around him. He was in no particular danger himself, as he wound Mjolnir to fly. But the rock promontory where his brother and Sif stood, wobbled as a crevice opened up beneath them.

He threw Mjolnir quickly, trying to get to Loki and Sif. He crashed into them, and tried to grab them both against his chest one-handed. Everything gave way, with a thunderous roar, collapsing beneath them. They fell.

He hit something hard, and felt Loki and Sif get torn out of his grip, but the cold wind rushing against his skin of a fall became a bumpy ride in the darkness, half-slide, half-fall, tumbling down some tunnel or crack in the ancient glacier. He yelled and managed to keep his grip on Mjolnir, but had no way to orientate himself in the dark to stop his wild tumble. He slammed into something soft, briefly, and tried to grab whoever it was, but lost them again, as his head slammed against something and he plummeted in free fall, tumbling again.

Then the ride came to an abrupt stop, smashing into something that yielded more than ice. He wasn't sure he'd actually stopped, but then after a moment, he stopped yelling to pant for breath. There was softness against his fingers, and with a bit more exploration figured out it was Loki's coat.

Someone coughed. "Someone's elbow is on my throat," Sif said hoarsely. And Thor smiled realizing she was in this pile as well.

"I'd be glad to move," Loki answered, voice wheezing, "But I think either my oaf of a brother, or Mjolnir, or both, are squeezing the breath out of me."

A blue flicker formed casting a thin watery light, and Thor saw their predicament. He had in fact smashed both his brother and Sif against a wall, and Mjolnir was against Loki's chest between them. Moving carefully in case the ice was still fragile or could dump them down another chute, Thor pulled back and took Mjolnir away, offering Loki a hand that he disdained.

He was a little surprised when Loki turned and offered a hand to Sif, and she took it with a smile. "Are you hurt?" she asked him as he put his other hand to his chest as if to check that he had all his ribs intact.

"No," he answered and turned a familiar glower on Thor. "No thanks to you. What are you even doing here?"

Thor glanced at Sif, who looked tense that he might reveal that she had called for help. So he answered with the truth, if only part of it. "Father sent me. He said you were in trouble."

Loki glanced around the chamber deliberately, strengthening his blue flicker into a more brightly glowing sphere so they could see that they'd found a dead end. Their only way out appeared to be the way they'd come in, an upward facing slide that even from here looked ridiculously steep and slippery. "You've improved our situation so well."

"I didn't know it was ice!" Thor defended himself. "And there are no enemies down here, so I did help."

"We're stuck hundreds of meters below the surface in the middle of a glacier. Marvelous help."

Sif retrieved her glaive from the floor and put it away with a snap. "Loki, stop. We need to focus on getting out. Can you melt the ice like you did before?"

"I could, but I have to touch it," he pointed to the jagged but solid looking roof overhead. "Thor could fly out I suppose, but he can't carry both of us."

Thor considered correcting that - he could carry both of them, but it would be difficult from a standing start up a narrow chimney. But perhaps if he smashed their way out… Luckily before he suggested it aloud, he realized the debris would fall back on them and fill the chamber. "So perhaps a more horizontal slant?" Thor suggested, gesturing what he meant. "I can help by blocking the way behind us as we climb, so we don't slide back down."

Loki's skeptical look said that he thought that was a terrible idea, but since he had none better, he heaved an aggravated sigh. "Fine. Magic. Nobody likes it until it's useful," he muttered and tilted his head back to squint at the ceiling as if he was looking beyond it.

The words reminded Thor of how Frigga had terrified Tyr in his cell with the threat of her magic, and Thor's voice went hoarse, "Loki."

Curious, Loki returned his eyes to Thor, and when Thor was still trying to find more words, Loki grimaced. "Oh no. I see it in your face – they told you."

"Loki, I--" Thor began earnestly, but Loki interrupted with a sharply upraised hand.

"Stop." In a hard voice Loki declared, with eyes narrowed at him, "I do not want your sympathy. I do not want your apologies. And I most assuredly do not want your pity. So just.... say nothing."

"But, brother--"

"Shut up. I don't want to hear it."

From behind Loki, Sif shook her head negative at Thor in warning, and after a hesitation he agreed, "All right. If that is what you wish."

Loki turned around sharply enough to make his coat-tails flare. "Yes, it is." He faced the nearest wall and put both hands on the ice. A greenish aura flared within the ice and it melted out of his way. Or not melted, because there was no water, instead it parted for him, moving out of his way with a near magnetic smoothness.

Loki continued, making a narrow tunnel, so that the light effect of his magic shimmered all around him as if in crystal. It was beautiful.

Thor let him get a little way ahead before murmuring to Sif, "Is he – all right?"

"I can hear you," Loki snarled impatiently over his shoulder. "I am fine. I appreciate this comes as a shocking surprise to everyone else, but I have lived with it half my life. I am very tired of talking about it. So could you both be quiet while I focus on getting out of here and putting Malekith's head on a spike?"

He didn't wait for their assent, starting to march forward again, angling the tunnel upward.

Sif's gaze met Thor's and she made a face, with a little shrug, that seemed to indicate no, Loki wasn't all right, but there wasn't much they could do about it right now. Thor's eyes went to Loki's back and he frowned.

As if he could hear the silent concern batted between Sif and his brother, Loki let out a loud aggrieved sigh. "You both are insufferable."

"We care about you, Loki," Sif reminded him.

"Do it more quietly. I need to concentrate. This is not as easy as it looks."

Which was not a happy thought for Thor, when it didn't look easy at all. And it seemed to get more difficult still, with the ice parting more grudgingly and Loki moving more slowly.

Until Sif hurried to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Loki, enough. Take a rest."

"I'm fine. I can finish." He shrugged her off, squared his shoulders, and put his hands on the ice again. But nothing happened.

Loki tried again and a faint glow formed under his hands. The ice melted back a hand-span and he slumped against the wall, panting for breath.

"Rest, you idiot." Sif coaxed him down to sit on the floor, legs outstretched before him as he let his head sink back against the wall.

"I feel it, but it's like water, slipping out of my reach…"

Sif smoothed his hair and the side of his face. "Hush. Close your eyes. We're safe here, you can take whatever time you need."

Thor watched this in some amazement. He'd rarely seen Sif so openly affectionate, or Loki accept such a gesture, for that matter. "You two…" he started.

Loki's eyes flicked open, went to Sif, and he answered lightly, "She came to keep me out of trouble."

But Sif shook her head. "It's okay, remember what I said?" she told Loki and explained to Thor. "We're together."

"Together? Together together?" he asked, voice cracking in his astonishment.

"Pity mostly, I expect," Loki muttered, and Sif smacked his arm.

"It is not." She sat down at his side, shoulder to shoulder, a hand casually on his leg, then looked to Thor with a smile. "Did you bring anything to drink?" she asked as if the news that Sif and Loki were together was not the second-biggest shock of Thor's day. "I could use a mug of something strong."

But she had no intention to talk about it, and Loki seemed to want to sleep, so Thor let out a sigh and decided to play along. They were stuck in this narrow ice tunnel, with only Loki's floating glow to keep them out of the dark. So he would have to keep spirits up and avoid awkward or painful subjects, which left… court gossip.


* * *

Sif knew Thor's chatter wouldn't last, and eventually he stopped in the middle of making some desultory jest about Volstagg's beard to ask, "Loki, please, can we not talk about it?"

Loki's eyes flicked open and he jumped to his feet. "No. We cannot." Sif wanted to hit Thor on the head with her sword hilt for interrupting his rest.

"But--"

Loki cut him off. "There is not one thing you can say that will change anything."

"I know," Thor said miserably.

"I suppose I should be gratified by all the attention and sympathy, but it also reminds me that it's all a few centuries too late."

Sif winced at the pointed reminder, but Loki didn't notice as he turned back to the depression in the wall.

"You blame me," Thor murmured. "For not seeing."

"No, of course not," Loki answered quickly, but paused, lowering his hands. "I blame everyone." Without turning his head he added, with a sigh, "No. I don't know. I shouldn't blame you for not seeing what I was hiding, should I? I kept it a secret."

That reminded her of when he'd broken down, blaming himself for letting it happen and twisting up inside to make it all his fault. She bit her lip on an urge to tell him that it was all right to be angry at other people for not noticing - it was not as if his pretense had been that perfect.

Loki returned his hands to the ice and called the power again, silencing any attempt at continuing the conversation.

Thor seemed sorrowed, and Sif patted his arm in sympathy. This wasn't easy on any of them.

Loki ignored them completely, continuing to force a path into the ice until the character of the ice changed and he stopped, frowning and holding a hand above his head. "The surface is close now. I think you can bash us free without burying us now."

He retreated back down the tunnel aways, bringing Sif with him, as Thor nodded, took a firm grip and swung Mjolnir upward. The ice splintered and crashed, falling down over him, but he kept swinging, pulverizing it and climbing onto the resultant pile, higher and higher until at last a cold wind announced that he'd broken through.

"Come up!" he shouted at them. "We're clear."

Sif scrambled up the pile, shoving snow and ice bits aside to clear the way, and then out, relieved to be in the open air again. Even if the open air was a lot colder than the tunnel had been.

Loki was right after her, warily scanning their surroundings.

"So?" she asked. "Do you know where the hell we are?"

"Not far from the city ruin, which is that way--"

Then it didn't matter as a Dark Elf blasterbolt shot out from that direction and Sif saw a group of warriors had found them already. Thor caught the bolt on Mjolnir and sent it back, sending the knot of warriors flying. He glanced at her, grinning, with his eyes alight with the excitement of new battle. "You seem to have lost your shield."

"I didn't lose it!"

But that was all the time she had for light-heartedness, as she saw Loki wade into the melee, striking with magic and daggers with a fluid fury that was both reckless and yet held her eyes as something… beautiful, too. Thor also briefly lowered his hammer to watch, before they both rushed after him as Algrim and Malekith showed up to attack.

"I've got this one," Thor declared, hurling Mjolnir right at Algrim. "You help Loki."

She nodded, and fleet-footed on the ice, she ran, glaive extended, as Malekith came at him with a pair of short swords.

"Why are you loyal to these butchers?" Malekith demanded in fury. "They are not your blood. Not your kind. They are monsters!"

Loki hesitated then he shrugged. "So am I." He threw a dagger, which Malekith batted away with a sword. But the motion left him open and he did not expect Loki to have another dagger. It took him in the gap in his armor at his left shoulder, and he cried out, having to drop the sword in that hand.

Loki smirked, as he moved in, twirling two daggers in his hands. Sif battled a few elves trying to get to their leader, keeping them back. Meanwhile Thor was rather merrily mowing down other ranks of Dark Elves, having slammed Algrim into the ground.

"Get the ship!" Loki yelled at him, when he saw what Thor was doing. Thor nodded and moved nearer to the mothership, to start throwing Mjolnir at it. That left warriors for Sif to keep away from Loki, but there were not so many she couldn't keep an eye on him as well.

"No!" Malekith pulled Loki's dagger from his shoulder and rushed at Loki. Visibly rolling his eyes, Loki stayed where he was, letting Malekith run into him, sword extended.

The illusion dissolved into a shimmer of golden light. "You spent too long in the darkness," Loki taunted from five steps away to the left. "I pity your losses and the fall of your people. And my hate for Asgard still burns my soul. All that was true. But I cannot follow you into this."

With a sudden shift from defensive position as he talked, he went on the offensive, kicking Malekith in the abdomen and then whirling around to hit him in the face with his elbow and then a strike upward with his other hand. Malekith blocked that, but not the reverse strike that followed right after that and Loki plunged his dagger into Malekith's neck.

His hand still tight on the hilt, pressing it up into throat and grinding the blade against his neck vertebrae, he said to Malekith in a soft, intense voice, looking into his eyes directly. "Killing you makes me no less a monster. I know that. But at least you won't be murdering children today."

He pulled the dagger out and shoved Malekith backwards with the other hand, as the blood fountained from the deep lethal wound.

A terrible cry rose up among the Dark Elves seeing that their leader had fallen.

Sif tensed, fearing they would all rush Loki, but they did something quite different: all of them, one by one as they saw what had happened, dropped to their knees, threw down their weapons, lifted their heads to the sky, and started to sing a low song of grief. Some of the Jotunn took advantage, killing their opponennts immediately, but after a moment, withdrew from the sudden surrender.

Loki turned, looking shocked by this turn of events, and he let the bloodied dagger fall from his hand to the snow. He walked to join Sif, having to pass several Dark Elves on the way, and not one lifted a weapon or even seemed to notice his presence.

Sif looked at them and told Loki softly, "I feel like we should… do something for them. But I don't know what."

"I scarcely think they want anything from us," he murmured back.

"We should go. The Frost Giants could still attack. We don't want to stay here."

They moved away from the mourning Svartalfar, and Thor came to meet them, boisterous in mood. "We have won a great victory! No, you have won a great victory, brother!"

"Is it?" Loki asked distantly. "This doesn't feel like a great victory to me."

Thor made a move to seize Loki's shoulder, but Loki stepped back, making it clear he didn't want to be touched. Thor's hand dropped to his side, but he found a grin. "It is. Malekith is dead, the aether remains protected, and Asgard is safe."

Loki shrugged, unimpressed. His eyes looked out on the kneeling Svartalfar, and the bloodied corpses strewn across the snow, finding Malekith's. "I only wanted to stop him," he murmured. "Not this."

"We'll send help, Loki," Sif reassured him softly. "The Bifrost can send them back to Svartalfheim."

"Where they'll die as surely as they'll die here."

"You said yourself there's nothing anyone can do about that." She hoped that he had been lying about that, but the hope was dashed when he shook his head in sorrowful agreement.

"Then it's time to go home," Thor said.

It wasn't really a surprise for Sif when Loki refused bluntly, "No."

But she still turned to him. "What do you mean? Why not? The Allfather promised--"

That sparked his temper, and he cut her off, sneering, "And yes, I know the value of his promises, don't I? I have no intention of going back there so he can pretend none of this ever happened."

Blue eyes somber, Thor said, "Loki, he told me, before I came to help you- he knew you would be reluctant and he reaffirmed his promise that Tyr would find justice--"

Loki let out a sharp laugh and drawled sarcastically, "Of course he will."

"With Thor and I and the queen knowing about it, how do you think he could refuse?" Sif demanded.

Loki's icy eyes flicked between the two of them, and he said, "How do you think I would ever return there? Is he going to wave Gungnir around and make everyone forget how he paraded me through the Great Hall in chains to announce that only my mother's tears spared my life? Or will he humiliate me again in front of the hall with the revelation of what he never cared about enough to notice in the first place? No." Loki gestured sharply in negation. "I pass."

"It doesn't have to be that way," Sif implored him. "No one else needs to know… We can all go back--"

"Go back to what?" Loki demanded furiously. "How it was before I went wrong? Isn't that what you all think? Except I went wrong a long time ago. I was just pretending!"

He spat the words at her, then whirled away from both of them, chest heaving for breath.

Thor murmured, "You were pretending all was well, when it was not. But you are not wrong, those are Tyr's words. And they were never true."

Not looking at them, Loki scoffed, "You stand here, where the snow is awash in blood that I spilled, and you say that? You are a fool."

Sif would have protested that, as this fight was not his fault, but Thor had a different tactic. "Do you know how I know how deeply he hurt you?" Thor asked quietly. "Because you still flinch at the word creature." Sif saw him do it again, proving Thor's point, even though he immediately stiffened to prevent it from happening again. "You took his hate inside you, you believed it, even though he was the one who was wrong. I know mere words cannot undo all the harm he did, but they are all I have -- please, Loki, you are my brother, and I would give anything to have you home again."

"Listen to him," Sif added, trying to get the truth into Loki's thick head. "We can go home. You're seeing only the worst possibilities, but there are others. We can fix it. You and I, Loki, we can find--"

"Sif." He interrupted strongly, and lifted a hand to his stomach as if he felt ill before lowering the hand again. He didn't meet their eyes, as he admitted wearily, "I know you both care. I do. But you both need to… stop. I'm not like you, I will never be like you and I am so tired of trying."

"Why do you think that's what we want?" Sif asked softly. "Why can't we want you, just for you?"

His brief laugh was pained. "Because no one would."

"Oh, Loki," she reached out for him, but he avoided her hand, nimbly stepping aside. "Of course we would. Come home."

"There's nothing for me there."

"What about me?" Sif asked, hurt. "And Thor? Your mother? Are we nothing? Your father - you were in his mind, you know he cares for you. You would leave behind the only people who love you, for what?"

He swallowed hard, expression conflicted. He couldn't answer. Sif thought he had no answer besides self-loathing and a hurt animal's instinct to flee to a safer place.

Thor moved in, sensing a crack in Loki's determination, "All the truths laid bare. If you don't want others to know how Tyr harmed you, then they won't. Now is the time for you to come home and heal, yourself and our family."

Loki didn't answer at first, and his gaze strayed to the dim cold reaches of Jotunheim that lay before them. His eyes held dark shadows of abandonment and pain as he slowly shook his head. "Something tainted will never be pure," he whispered. "What is broken remains broken."

"Not so," Sif protested. "Broken swords can be reforged to fight again. Wounds can heal. And we're with you." She grabbed his hand in hers, to find his fingers cold as ice, and she pulled both of his hands between both of hers to warm them. She raised their joined hands to her lips and against her cheek. He let her, unresisting, but with a distant eyes as though he'd already left her and was watching from afar.

"Come home," she repeated.

"Mother's waiting," Thor said, and Loki blinked, looking a little more present. Thor seized on the little vulnerability. "She said you made her a promise."

Loki swallowed hard, expression falling into conflicted feelings at the reminder, reluctance to do whatever it was she had asked of him. But finally he pulled his hands free of Sif's, and declared, "Fine. I'll go back. To see her. And if Odin puts me back in that cage, I don't even care anymore."

He folded his arms and turned away.

"He promised you freedom, Loki," Sif reminded him. "You turned Malekith aside." In profile, Loki seemed resistant, jaw tightening, but he didn't argue.

"And justice," Thor said. "Tyr will receive his sentence with you present. Mother made sure of that." This time, when he tried to put a hand on Loki's shoulder, Loki didn't shrug him off, or resist, when Thor brought him close to embrace him tightly around the back. "All will be well," Thor promised, in a rough, quiet voice into his hair. "I have missed you, Brother."

"Because you're an idiot," Loki retorted, but the words were without venom, and though he didn't wrap his arms around Thor in return, he stayed there, allowing the embrace. Sif smiled to see them close again.

Thor lifted his free hand up to cup the nape of Loki's neck, fingers in his hair. "Nothing will ever make you not my brother," Thor murmured in promise. "That is for always."

"Even when I hate you?"

Thor chuckled and ruffled his hair. "Especially then."

Loki shoved him away, to straighten his posture and smooth his hair. "You are the biggest pile of ridiculous sentimentality." He stalked away a few paces to inhale a deep breath.

But Thor and Sif exchanged smiles behind his back, because the dark mood had abated, and he seemed himself again.

Sif went to him and took his hand in hers, and was surprised, but pleased, when he gripped hers back. "If we're going, let's get this over with," Loki declared. "I hate this place."

Thor wasted no time, risking no change of mind, as he tilted his head back and shouted. "Heimdall! Open the Bifrost."

Loki's fingers tightened on hers painfully, as they waited the few seconds for the Bifrost. She rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb, trying to reassure him, as the rainbow bridge formed and snatched them away.