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21 November 2014 @ 01:17 pm
A Crocus in the Snow, part 16  


To people as long-lived as Aesir, a single hour was no time at all. It should feel the same as one second to a short-lived mortal species. But to Sif the hour dragged as if she stood in some sort of warped time field where time stood still.

The king entered, and needed only to look at them to know. His hand tightened on Gungnir. "There is no word yet?"

Frigga shook her head once. "Only that they had identified the poison as silver adder venom."

Odin's mouth tightened, but he said only, "That is illegal and rare. Where would Tyr acquire it?"

"Unknown, but possibly from Loki's own stores," Frigga answered with a sigh. "It is used in some darker spells, including scrying of the dead. Loki's workroom has been open since he… since the coronation."

The type of poison had been horrifying news. Silver adder venom was a deadly toxin, even - or especially- to Aesir. Sif had learned from childhood to never put her hand into rocky crevices on hot days in the forests, because that was where the silver adder slept.

"I ordered Tyr's second into custody, as he must have brought the poison." Odin looked to the double doors as if he might want to blast them open with Gungnir. "But Loki yet lives yet. That is a hopeful sign."

Then, as if Odin had summoned her, the double doors parted to allow Eir to pass between. She bent her head on seeing the new arrival. "My king." She folded her hands and reported. "Loki is alive. The venom was not so strong in him as it would have been in a full-blood Aesir. He sleeps now, but he will make a full recovery."

"Oh, thank the ancestors!" Frigga breathed in relief, and grasped for Thor's hand happily. He grinned. Odin's reaction was less dramatic, hand clenching on Gungnir and nodding his head. Sif closed her eyes, letting the worry pass from her.

He would recover. She would have to yell at him for worrying her, but he would be all right.

"May we see him?" Frigga requested.

Eir nodded. "Of course. He is within the recovery room until he wakes and I may assess him for any lingering damage."

Damage? Sif's heart suddenly felt in her throat.

Eir reassured them immediately, "All early signs are good."

The family trooped into the recovery room, and saw Loki on the bed. He had a thin blanket drawn up his bare chest, and his injured hand wrapped lightly in white cloth to help it finish healing. His face was still pale, but more normally so, and his eyes were closed. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

Sif hung back near the door, to allow his family to approach first. Odin and Thor stood at his bedside, and Frigga went to the other side and clasped Loki's unhurt hand that lay on the coverlet. "My dearest, you have to stay with us…"

He stirred at the sound of her voice, eyes flickering open. He recognized her beside him and opened his mouth, but Frigga set the fingers of her free hand across his lips. "Hush, my son. Rest. All is well."

He closed his eyes but they shot open again and he whispered, "Sif?"

She started, unprepared for him to know she was there, and Frigga gestured for Sif to join her. Closer, Loki's eyes were bloodshot and his brow was tense as if he was in pain. His voice, rough and strained, made her wince sympathetically at the sound. He looked up at her. "So I… stayed."

"Yes, you did," she agreed, smiling, even as her eyes burned with sudden tears.

He rasped, "See… I make you cry…"

He had heard her and remembered. "With joy, you idiot," she told him and bent down, both to hide her eyes and to put her lips on his and quiet him.

She meant the kiss to be quick, but once they were touching she couldn't help but press herself into it, her hands framing his face to hold him to her. Then she pulled back a tiny bit to look into his eyes. "Never, ever leave me again. Promise me."

"Never is a long time. Sure you're ready for that?" he teased hoarsely. But his fingers toying with the ends of her hair falling across his hand said something else.

"Promise me," she insisted.

"You left me first."

"You died on me!" she retorted, incensed at the implication that anything she'd done was at all comparable. "And then you almost did it again." She threw one hand up in the air in a wild gesture at the infirmary walls where he'd nearly died again.

Dryly Thor asked from the other side of the bed, "Mother, can I make them kiss again, before they argue themselves apart?"

"No, dear. We will leave them be." She swooped in and kissed Loki's brow, smoothing it with her fingers after. "Rest, my son. I'm glad you're awake and with us again. Eir will move you to your quarters soon as soon as you're better."

Thor stepped forward to grip Loki's shoulder. "Brother."

"You still on about that?" Loki asked with a weary smile.

"Always."

Loki's eyes met his, and maybe it was because he had almost died, or because he was still exhausted from it, but he said to Thor, "I am sorry. I --"

Thor's hand tightened, silencing the difficult words. "Hush. No need. I am sorry, too."

Loki's eyelids sagged before he forced them open again, and Frigga saw, ordering, "Out."

She took Odin's arm, but before she make him go, the king said to Loki, "I am pleased by your victory, Loki."

His eyes opened about half-way to find Odin's face, surprised that the king had said anything at all, but then the queen was ushering husband and son out of the room.

Sif watched them go, pleased she'd been allowed to stay. But when she returned her gaze to Loki's face, his eyes were closed again. She sat on the edge of the bed to watch his chest rise and fall with gentle breaths. But he wasn't asleep, as he smiled. "You're watching me."

"Trying to decide whether I should slap you for being so reckless or I should wait until you're better."

His eyes opened, and the little smile widened. "I vote wait. I'm sure to do something else you'll disapprove of." The mischievous look on his face was familiar, shining through the tiredness and the faint frown and creases at the corner of his eyes.

"How do you feel?" she asked, worried since he seemed to still be in pain.

He didn't answer immediately, patting the space beside him. Sif stretched out and put her head on his shoulder, an arm across him, as if to keep him there, though he seemed to have no inclination to move.

"Alive," he answered, but it was a more thoughtful answer than the sarcastic response it might have been. "Tired, everything aches, but alive. And…." He trailed off and she prompted, curious what he might answer as he seemed to be in a somber mood.

"And?"

"I dreamed of Fenrir," he answered, looking up at the ceiling. "I haven't dreamed of him in such a long time, but this one remains vivid. I was a child again and I wanted to go into an immense hall, but Fenrir sat in the doorway and wouldn't let me pass. I curled up against him and I fell asleep," he murmured. "Such a child's dream."

She kissed his shoulder to hide the wet heat in her eyes. "I'm glad you found him again."

He was keeping you from passing through the door to Valhalla. I will have to drop the biggest bone I can find into the river to send in thanks for saving you.

"You felt safe because you won, Loki." She caressed his shoulder and arm, fingers sliding across his soft skin, with some disbelief that he was still here, after all. "Despite everything, you fought and you avenged what was done to you, and he's dead. He cannot harm you ever again."

His fingers tangled in her hair. "Not that you would let him."

She smiled into his skin. "I shall protect my sorcerer prince with my blade and my shield, and every breath in my body. But you need to stop throwing yourself into single combat with your enemies…" she chided, but when she got no response, she lifted up her head. His eyes were closed, and his lips were slightly parted for soft, steady breaths. He was asleep.

Her smile widened with affection and she laid her head on his chest, to listen to the soothing beat of his heart.

Now, at last, they were both home.




His sleep was peaceful enough that when wakefulness beckoned he tried to stay asleep. Yet, his body seemed insistent that he wake up - the poison-caused ache in his muscles was turning uncomfortable, and tugging him to consciousness. He moved his hands before he opened his eyes, touching the familiar softness of his own bed. They'd moved him from the infirmary back to his own room. And Sif was gone. With weary reluctance, he opened his eyes.

Odin was standing beside the bed, watching him. Loki shut his eyes tightly and opened them again, to make sure he wasn't dreaming. No, Odin was still there.

Loki tensed, waiting for the disappointment and anger that Loki had done something so reckless and disobedient, again. Because, of everything that Loki had sensed in Odin's mind, the disappointment had been probably the worst to feel. He wanted to protest that he hadn't intended any of it, but that wasn't really true, was it? And it didn't matter anyway.

When Odin saw that Loki was aware and watching him, he said, "I am pleased to see you awake. How do you feel?"

The truth was that he felt exhausted still, despite how much he'd slept, and moving anything caused it to ache sharply including his chest when he breathed, but he answered, "Better."

Odin nodded, accepting the answer though Loki wasn't sure he believed it, and he asked softly, "Why did you not wait to hear the sentence?"

Loki looked away from him, turning his eyes to the ceiling. It hurt his throat to talk. "I knew you were going to let him live."

Odin shook his head once, sadly. "No, Loki. I had no intention of allowing that viper to live. He betrayed us both, not once, but without surcease. His harm was incalculable, not only to you, but to the Realm."

Loki blinked in shock. "But… Truly? You were going to execute him?"

"I was. I cannot blame you for your distrust of my decision, or your rage at him, but I wish you had waited and not risked yourself. Why did you decide that he had to die, when you'd let him live all this time? What changed?" Odin asked.

"I thought… Mother said she would put him under geas so he could never tell the secrets, so I thought she knew your intent. I realized I was so tired of the lies." The bitterness welled up within, yet he chuckled once, recognizing the irony in his words that Loki the Liesmith should be sick of lies. "Sif said they are a trap, and she was right. This way, the truth is in the open, and no one can hold the secrets against me again." Maybe if he'd thought it through, he wouldn't have challenged Tyr and revealed himself, but he hadn't been able to bear the thought that Tyr would walk away. There was no taking back any of it now. "I wanted more, and I fought against the truth, but… to what end? To rule and be hated? Now at least they can hate me for the truth. You were right; I have no birthright, and it was a fool's desperation that made me believe I did."

When Odin answered, his voice was a little hoarse. "You do not know how much it pains me to hear you say that, because I was not right." Odin moved close beside the bed, and when Loki looked at his face, it was to see a very unfamiliar look of sadness upon it. "Your birthright should have been no less than every child's in all the Realms -- to grow to maturity in safety with the assurance that you are loved. That was what I thought you lacked when I found you on Jotunheim and what I intended to give you. But I was wrong, Loki, about so much, not the least in what I thought you lacked. From Tyr I found out the start - he found you from where you had been hidden as an infant. He was the one to move you to that altar where I found you later."

Loki frowned at him, not understanding what Odin was telling him. Odin inhaled and explained, "Laufey never abandoned you. He hated Asgard because he believed we had murdered you, a helpless infant. If chance had not led me past that altar, it would have been true." He shook his head slowly, sorrowfully. "There might have been better peace if not for Tyr's hate."

Loki blinked, and tried to draw breath but it tangled in his chest, as tangled as his thoughts and feelings were. "He - Laufey - he didn't--?"

"No. He never left you to die, Loki."

This was too much. He had to grope for understanding.

Laufey had wanted him. Had missed him. Had been angry at Asgard for killing him. Which meant he had cared. That knowledge roused a warmth in Loki's heart, easing a hole that had formed when he'd learned his blood father had cast him aside, unwanted. But that warmth burnt out soon, leaving ice in its wake. He had killed Laufey for no reason at all. He had been angry and full of hate, determined to prove his loyalty and to kill the monster who had abandoned him to die, and none of that was true. He felt hollow inside, bereft, and he looked up at Odin's face as if Odin could absolve him of this new horror. "I murdered him," he whispered. "For nothing."

"If he had killed me instead, it would be no less based on a mistaken belief," Odin said, perhaps meaning to console, but it was the truth. "Tyr spread his poison to you and to me, and Laufey was not the only one to suffer. But in the end, Loki, it is not your failure, but mine. I am the king and I am your father, and I failed at both."

The blunt, honest acknowledgment startled Loki, and Odin nodded once, full beard rustling, and he sighed. "It grieves me beyond words, to share your memories. Not only what you suffered at Tyr's hands, but at mine. To see myself through your eyes, to hear my own words again as I belittled and dismissed your hurts, when I should have stopped it at once…. I cannot imagine a time I will not have deep regrets."

For a moment the silence weighed on them both, and Loki felt that Odin expected something from him. But Loki had no energy to do whatever it was. "What do you want me to say? I forgive you?"

"Someday, yes, I hope for it. But not today. Today I tell you that I know you paid for my mistakes, when you should not have. I did not pay attention as much as I should have, lacking understanding. But I did - and I do - care. You are my son. That truth overcomes all others. So do not fear for your place; it awaits you."

"The Frost Giant monster prince? That's going to go over well, at court --"

Odin's raised hand silenced Loki's sarcastic words and broken laugh. "No, stop. That I will not abide, Loki --'monster' and 'creature' and similar words of such hatred and pain. They are not you. You are a prince, as my son, and also a prince of Jotunheim, if not acknowledged as such. And if you wish to reject both, still you are a prince, because you are the son of a queen. And she will not let you disclaim her." His good eye looked at Loki with affection and sorrow. "I will not say it will all be easy, you would see the lie in that, but I believe the truth will not be as difficult as we both feared. I have heard many good and understanding words about you of late; you need not fear that only hate awaits you. But what I fear, more than anything --" Odin inhaled a deep breath to add more quietly, "Loki, twice now, I have watched you hurl yourself at death when you believed there was nothing else left for you. My son, suicide is not ever the answer. The universe would be a poor place without you in it."

Loki's throat quivered, and at first the words couldn't get past the sudden lump in his throat. His eyes stung. "Even after all I did?" he whispered.

"But what of the good you might do?" Odin countered. "There is more to life than death. Thousands of years remain to you, Loki, and your potential has always been extraordinary. If you choose to use that well, who knows what wonders you will accomplish?"

Beyond astonishment now, Loki stared and his lips shaped "wonders" silently. Something cracked inside, spilling something hot and molten so he couldn't breathe. Overwhelmed he turned and buried his face in the pillow. He kept back the tears, forcing them from his eyes, holding his breath until he had to gasp. No, he was not going to cry like this in front of Odin…

Odin's weight settled on the edge of the bed, and Loki thought, He won't, he never touches me, he won't, he hates what I am, I don't want him to touch me anyway, I don't--

A hand settled on his shoulder, before rubbing his back as Loki remembered from a time he'd been very small. The warm and gentle touch let Loki to loosen his clutch on the pillow, though he didn't want to move more than that, in case Odin took it as Loki not wanting the touch.

"Yes, wonders," Odin confirmed softly. "To heal and help. To be a better person and build a better Realm."

Loki shook his head. "Why would you do this?" he demanded, voice rough with anguish. "Hold out hope when you know there's only one fate for me…"

"I know the opposite, Loki. We are not gods, forced by fate to roles and fixed paths; those are tales, not truth. Whatever wisdom we possess comes from living long and learning from our mistakes. As I will learn from mine." His fingers smoothed Loki's hair back at his temple, coaxing him to turn again to look at him. "Your blood does not doom you to evil, any more than Tyr's blood made him good. You choose. Our fate is the path we make from our actions, but we re-make it every day anew. We both have a chance to do better."

Loki wanted to believe that. He wanted to believe it so badly, but how could he? He was broken and tainted and weak, and he didn't know if he could hold on. He would slip and fall, and it would all be ruined again…

Odin read Loki's doubts in his face and stroked his beard with his other hand, searching for words, then he told a story. "There is a rare flower on Jotunheim. A hardy little thing that pushes its way up through the snow, and it blooms as soon as the clouds part in their earliest spring. It grows, despite blizzards and frost, and then summer comes and the sun shines in brief dazzling flashes. Then this bold little plant explodes into a cloud of tiny berries that are the best fruit in the entire Nine Realms. It clings to light and warmth, it perseveres, and in the end, it flourishes."

Loki swallowed hard, not knowing what to say. But Odin didn't seem to need a response as he patted the back of Loki's hand and stood up. "Rest, my son. Ponder what you wish to do, and who you wish to be, and be assured we are here for you."

He nodded to Loki and slipped out the door.

Loki watched him go, uncertainty still a stain within, but he felt heartened, too. Stronger.

As if the clouds had finally cleared and the sun was shining for the first time, after a very long winter.