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23 September 2012 @ 09:09 am
Fic: The Poison Rain 1/14  
Series: Understanding the Storm, part 3
Fandom: Avengers/Thor
Characters: Loki, Frigga, Thor, Odin
Rating: PG
Wordcount: total 33,000, this part ~3000
Warnings: implications of self-harm
Continuity: Based exclusively on the movieverse, including the credits easter egg and deleted scenes, especially from Thor. It ignores all comics/myth/unreleased MCU continuity.

Summary: Frigga and Thor battle Loki to save him from himself. Words are Frigga's weapons and love is her strength, and she will not surrender this fight.

Note:This story follows directly after Understanding the Storm (AO3) and Understanding the Storm: Prelude (AO3). You should read those first.

My thanks to hearts_blood for the beta and encouragement!

(also at AO3 |FF.net)

Frigga mounted the steps with a graceless step. She skirted the audience chamber, pausing a moment to look at Odin's throne, before moving on.

She ended up on the outside balcony. The air was crisp here, and she could see the stars and the shimmering aurora rippling above the city. She inhaled deeply, letting the peace of the sky fill her mind and trying to let it fill her heart as well.

A soft step interrupted her thoughts. "Frigga?"

She held out her hand, and Odin took it, moving to stand with her.

"He is so lost," she whispered, the ache in her heart strengthening, as if admitting it released her grief anew.

"What is lost may be found again," he reassured her, drawing her against his strong chest and she rested her head against him, taking consolation from his familiar nearness.

"It is much worse than we hoped," she murmured. He drew back, curious and concerned, and she looked up. "This madness… it is not wholly his own. He was saved by a power we know well, husband. Thanos the Eternal."

Odin hesitated. "You are certain? I saw no such influence…"

"I did," she declared. "There is a shadow in his mind."

Odin didn't doubt what she had seen, but did protest her conclusion. "Thanos is exiled."

"Exiled beyond the Nine Realms," she reminded him pointedly. "It is not impossible that he could have found a base of power beyond Yggdrasil. Loki did not say the name, but he did tell me an entity of great power saved him from the abyss. Only an Eternal or more has that power, and only Thanos would hate us so much, to want to take our son's anger and despair and grow his own madness in that fertile soil, like vines to choke out the light."

Odin was troubled, his eye looking far distant, as if searching for Thanos. But Thanos was hidden, lost in the shadows of some unknown realm.

"If Thanos rises again," he murmured, "he will want to reclaim what is his. We have not our strength of old."

"We are stronger," she returned. "We have Thor. And if we could return Loki to us--"

He didn't let her finish. "We first must ensure he will not ally himself with our enemy."

She couldn't declare that Loki wouldn't. She knew there was a part of him that didn't want to, but the dark thorns had a hold on him and until she could find a way to free him, he was a threat. If he took any of the powerful treasures he would be very nearly unstoppable.

She shook her head once, the momentary comfort gone from her as if it had never been. "In a moment's lucidity, Loki begged me to kill him," she murmured, clutching her hands together against her chest. "I cannot do that, I cannot, though all of Asgard and Midgard might say it is wise. He will return to us; I must hope even if he has none."

His hand closed over her shoulder. "We will hope together," he reassured her. "In this, I will be led by you, as you were the one who took him most fully into your heart."

As you should have, she thought, but did not say. It was a distance Loki had ever felt, even when he had not known why. She remembered finding him in a corner of the garden, upset and angry that Odin had complimented something that Thor had done, and had only criticism for him

"Think of how Thanos must have laughed to find Loki already so overcome with anger and despair," she murmured. "We should have told Loki the truth long ago."

"To have him return to Laufey and raise an army against us?" Odin asked. "There was no good time."

"He would never have done that." She held back a sigh. "Is that not part of the problem now? He cannot reconcile that he is what we have taught him to despise. He killed Laufey and he was prepared to kill them all in a desperate mad attempt to prove his loyalty to Asgard." She remembered Loki's sneering voice and poorly hidden anguish, 'I know what you fear and it's me. It always was.'

She shook her head and faced Odin. "There was no good time, but surely any would have been better than his discovering the truth by accident? We avoided the truth because it was convenient for us, not for him. Now we reap the consequence of our selfishness."

He straightened, defensive at her accusation. "I must think of the good of all the realms --"

"Where is the good in expecting the worst of your own son?" she demanded.

"I did not," he retorted. "But he has ever been undisciplined and -"

"'Undisciplined'?" she interrupted, incredulous. "When did you do aught but discipline him?"

He kept his calm, but returned with irritation, "He needed that more than your coddling. At every turn you excused his lack of control and deceit, creating a spoiled, petulant child who lacks honesty and restraint."

Infuriated by the attack and blame, she narrowed her eyes at him. "He needed one person to love him for who he is without reservation, without distrust. One person to understand his strengths, and not see only what he was not. It is that love, not your discipline, that will bring him back. Unless you do not wish him returned to us at all." She flung the bitter accusation at him and turned her back, folding her arms, too angry to continue speaking.

After moment, he said quietly, "That is unfair and false."

"Is it?" she returned, still refusing to look at him. "Is it more unfair than your words? It is not my approval he seeks so desperately he was willing to destroy an entire race."

"Frigga…" But his voice trailed off into a silence weighed down by fault and truth.

From the archway behind her, Thor's voice sounded wary, "Mother? Father? What is it?" He approached between them, and said, "Loki causes discord between those who should be united. Do not let him divide you."

With an effort she put aside her anger and turned, smile on her lips to greet him. "We are not divided, Thor. We are disagreeing."

Thor looked from her to Odin and back, still seeming uneasy. "You do not often disagree in my memory."

She and Odin did not often disagree, and rarely so hurtfully, that was true. But this was a disagreement they should have had long ago, and had been festering in silence between them for a very long time. Loki's apparent death had made it irrelevant, but his return had prompted a need to apportion fault for where they had gone wrong in their raising of him.

"If ever you believe your mother is not a warrior, remember this, my son," Odin said, clasping Thor's shoulder but looking to her. "She is twice the warrior with words than you and I with spear and hammer."

The appreciation relaxed her shoulders and she smiled more genuinely, demurring, "Only when my brood is endangered."

"As it is now," Odin said.

"Danger? From Loki?" Thor asked. But she was less easily diverted, and her gaze met Odin's in acknowledgment that they needed to speak of more urgent matters, but nothing had been truly resolved. To discover he blamed her for Loki's intemperate acts was an unpleasant shock.

"Not from Loki, not directly," Odin said. "Your mother discovered something troubling within him."

That served as a reminder, and she crossed back inside to find the decanter and pour herself a draught of nectar. Husband and son waited patiently for her to speak, as she curled both hands around the metal goblet. "When I spoke to him, I saw an influence upon him. The creature who raised him from the abyss has put him in its thrall."

"The Chitauri?" Thor asked confusion. "Loki ruled them; they did not rule him. They were not strong enough to influence his mind."

"He was weakened in his time between realms, I am certain." She tried to keep her voice level and not imagine his fall, lost in the void beyond stars. Had she not seen the hidden shadow behind his eyes she could believe such a fall could drive anyone to madness. "But I agree, nothing we know of the Chitauri gives them the knowledge or power to pluck a stranger from the abyss, or create an artifact like the one he used on Earth." She looked to Thor, realizing its absence. "Where is it?"

"It was made inert, when it closed the portal." Thor answered. "I left it on Midgard."

"Pity. Access to the power signature might confirm my supposition of who it truly belonged to. But no matter, I am certain." She raised her face to Thor's to tell him the truth. "The entity that saved Loki was Thanos the Eternal, and it is his fell influence that strengthens Loki's fury and drives his desires."

Thor's eyes widened and he swallowed, looking sickened. "Thanos is controlling Loki?"

"Not controlling," she corrected. "Not exactly. But I believe it is …" Her voice faltered as she tried to find the words to explain. "A poison that keeps his thoughts down dark paths. When I spoke to him, he was free for a moment and filled with a terrible despair. He pleaded with me to kill him."

"No!" Thor exclaimed in horror.

"Of course I did not," she reassured him. "But it tells me he fears what he will do while in the grip of this shadow."

"I will keep him safely contained," Odin reassured them. "But Loki is only a part of the difficulties that face us, if Thanos rises."

Thor paced around the perimeter of the room, frowning. "Then both the Chitauri and Loki serve Thanos, ultimately. They attacked Midgard at his behest, to make Loki king."

"That was the least of its purposes," Odin said. "That force, though impressive, was not enough to truly conquer Midgard. It was a feint."

Thor stopped and regarded Odin with surprise. "Loki believes it might have worked to rule Midgard."

"Whether Loki truly believes that or not does not make it so," Odin said. "When I thought the Chitauri attacked on their own, it seemed they were mistaken about the force required, or Loki misled them about Midgard's numbers and strength. But Thanos is far wiser than that and would not have attacked without a deeper intent. The attack was meant to find what defense of Midgard we here could offer with the Bifrost broken."

"We turned them back. He will hesitate before attacking again," Thor declared proudly.

"No. I fear he will not," Odin disagreed and stood in front of the wall, creating an image of Yggdrasil within it. The passage between Asgard and the other realms a faint pulse where once it had been strong and vital bridges. "He has learned much about Midgard and us from the attack. We showed weakness, my son. Sending only you to Midgard's defense proved I cannot send an army to any other realm. Nor they to us."

"It is worse than that," Frigga murmured and touched the shining sphere of Jotunheim and traced a line directly to Asgard at the top of the tree. "Remember, Loki found new shadow paths to bring the Jotun here. If he gave that secret to Thanos, even unwittingly…"

Her voice trailed off, as the three shared a glance of dismay. Odin ordered Thor, "You must find out from him where the shadow path ends within Asgard, so that I may unmake the gate."

Thor nodded, looking grim.

"He will not reveal it," Frigga said, shaking her head sadly, but feeling certain that any interrogation would be futile yet. "His mind bends to conquest and power, and he knows the shadow path is his only route of escape."

"To carry the tesseract to his master," Thor added, heavily. "I brought them here, endangering everyone."

"You did as you should," Odin reassured him. "It is an old war for us; Midgard is not prepared for Thanos. But make no mistake - " his eye turned baleful on both of them. "Loki serves our enemy." Frigga opened her mouth to object, silenced when he raised his hand. "If you can truly free him, then I will welcome him home, but until that time, be wary of seeing what you wish to see. He has ever used his beguiling tongue and trickery to achieve his ends."

She nodded, unable to argue with the caution. "He was able to cast an illusion outside the barrier," she told him. "I was not misled, but another may be."

Odin's bristly eyebrows rose in surprise. "He has grown in power in his absence." He hesitated and nodded. "I will strengthen the barrier."

Odin departed to speak with Heimdall about locating the shadow gate more urgently, leaving Frigga and Thor in the room.

Thor circled the room again, seeming impatient and thoughtful. As she waited for him to organize his question, she removed the flowers from the large arrangement at the center round table and remade it, finding the task soothing.

"Mother?" Thor asked. "How can we help him? How do we bring Loki back to us and free him?"

Her fingers hesitated on the stalks. That was the question at the heart of everything now, and she hated that she did not have an answer. "I do not know, my son. But first we talk to him, be with him, until he understands we will not give up on him and that he has a place with us again." She replaced the last flower stalk and stepped back to look at the new arrangement, dismayed at how perfectly it now reflected her uncertainty. But it was the truth, and so she left it.

Thor looked down, hair hanging in his face, looking miserable. "On Earth, I begged him to return home. He spurned the offer, and he abjures any claim of brotherhood."

"My sweet brave boy." She cupped his cheek. "You are brothers, and in time he will remember that. He is lost in his anger and feelings that we betrayed him. Imagine yourself in his place, because you could be. What if I told you that you were of Jotun blood as well?"

His head snapped up for his eyes to meet hers, and she held his glance, her expression held still to give no clue whether it was true or not. He needed this lesson she felt, to understand what Loki had gone through.

Thor grew still, blue eyes clouded with a moment's uncertainty, before clearing. "It is not so."

She let the moment stretch, before confirming, "No, it is not. But for a moment, you wondered. Remember that feeling when you speak with him; remember that for him, that moment is true. In an instant, everything he thought about himself was overturned, and he has not yet found his way to acceptance."

He nodded slowly and she hoped he understood at least a little better. Thor was a passionate and empathetic soul, especially if he was led to understanding.

She headed for the archway. "Come with me, and listen as I speak to him again. You and I must combine our efforts and attack united."

"You speak as though this were a battle." Thor paced her down the long carpeted runner of the back hallway with the high arches that seemed as if they walked inside the skeleton of a great extinct beast.

"It is. And it is one I will not surrender."

They reached the landing at the top of the dozen steps that went down to Loki's cell. While there were pillars in the hall down below that allowed for unobtrusive listening, she thought on the steps was more certain to remain out of Loki's sight. Loki was going to lie to whoever spoke to him, but he would be more honest if he believed she was alone.

"Stay here," she told Thor. "Listen carefully. The words will most certainly be false, but Loki is not always as clever as he thinks he is and in the grip of strong emotion, he may give away some deeper truths."

Thor understood and waited on the steps as she went down to Loki's cell once more.

He was walking the perimeter of the cell, not examining it for weaknesses as she half-expected, but merely pacing its dimensions. He did not - or pretended - not to notice her, until his path brought him in front of the barrier again. "Returning so soon?" he asked. "Have you nothing else to do?"

"We are concerned for you, Loki."

"The monster is trapped very safely in the cell. There is no cause for concern." Then his lips turned up in a smirk. "Not yet."

"Are you planning an escape?" she asked to find out what he would say.

"The All-father made that quite impossible, did he not?" Loki mocked and his smirk widened. She had no idea whether that meant he had a plan to escape or he wanted her to think he did.

"There is only one way out of this cell."

"You have a limited imagination, if you believe that."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps I know something you do not. I know many things you do not, Loki; I know who plucked you from the long abyss and set you on this dark path."

He folded his arms and turned away with a scornful snort. "You know nothing."

"There is a reason he hid from you and did not give you his name. It is a name you know well from your studies and the name of our great enemy: Thanos the Eternal."

She could see Loki's profile as his lips parted and his gaze flickered, and she knew he was surprised by the news. "You cannot know that."

"Think on it. You know it is true," she said.

Loki spun back to face her and she could read his face that the revelation had put him off balance. He truly had not known. "That is impossible! I would have known."

"Would you?" she countered. "Would he let you know? Why would he tell you when it was easier for him to lie to you and warp your heart with his touch?"

"No, you lied to me!" he blurted angrily. "You're lying now. Trying to turn me against the one who saved me."

"Thanos did this to you, Loki; he is the one who turned you - "

"He saved me! He wanted me to take my vengeance, he gave me a taste of his power… If that was Thanos then I will gladly take him as my ally. It is what I wanted, and when I take the tesseract, we will cast all of you into dust!" He was glaring at her, shaking with emotion, and then stalked away.

She murmured to his back, "You mean when he takes the tesseract. He will never let you keep it." She hoped that would cast a little more doubt and his pride would resist the notion.

He faced her from the far corner, and smirking, his gaze lifted above. "No. It will be mine. I can feel it. All that power, right there for the taking…"

Her gaze followed his, realizing he was looking at the southern tower, where Odin had put the tesseract. A quiver of chill uneasiness slid down her spine at the proof that Loki knew where it was, even though he should believe the tesseract was with the other treasures.

Loki saw her dismay and his smirk widened as he strolled back to the barrier to taunt her. "Did you think to hide it from me? Tell the great king that he will never hide it so far that I cannot find it. I will hold it in my hand and none of you will be able to stop me."

He meant to horrify her with his thirst for domination, attempting to bait her into protest or revulsion. She laid her hand on the barrier and regarded him with a soft smile without speaking until he grew impatient and demanded, "You have nothing to say?"

"You already know what I would say."

"No doubt that I am terribly disappointing," he sneered.

"I would prefer to be proud of you. But I understand you cannot make that choice yet, my son."

"Do not call me that," he snapped. "I was your hostage to keep the dirty beasts in Jotunheim under control. But I have broken my leash and I no longer do Asgard's bidding."

"Thanos put a chain around your neck instead," she returned. "We gave you freedom, but Thanos gives only slavery."

He leaned closer and glared at her balefully. "I would gladly trade freedom for vengeance."

She refused to give a hair's breadth to him, returning, "And when your home is destroyed and you stand alone in the ashes, still chained to the whim of a monster who seeks only death, you will find your trade was foolish."

His eyes flicked away, before he returned lifting his face in pride, "When I have the tesseract, all will bow to me, including Thanos if he dares cross me."

She wanted to object that what he wanted was impossible, that he was not strong enough to defeat Thanos even with the tesseract, but she held her tongue. She wanted him to betray Thanos, and he would not if she built up Thanos as so powerful that crossing him would result in death and defeat.

"We will find out whose foresight comes to pass," she murmured. "I hope mine, because I want to find you home again. Yours would be too much tragedy to endure."

He took a step toward her. "It need not be that way. If you release me, I will spare Asgard." He hesitated and added, "Then I will take the tesseract to Midgard and all will be as it should be. The humans will kneel at my feet in their proper place."

She frowned, wondering why he would add the second part, when it spoiled any of the appeal of the attempted bargain. "We spare Asgard and Midgard best by keeping you here. That was not a serious offer."

"No, it was not," he agreed and crossed his arms, leaning up against the wall of the cell in a deliberately casual pose. "Maybe I need no release. Maybe I am exactly where I wish to be. Maybe I await a change in circumstance on my own terms, not yours. You will find out."

"I am sure I will. In the meantime, I will bring you food and drink."

He straightened as if leaning against the wall was giving something away. "I need it not."

"Perhaps not. But to my eyes, you are pale and unrested. I think you did not take care of yourself while you were away. We are not immune to exhaustion and hunger, Loki, even if we are not as needful as the mortals."

He opened his mouth to deny needing anything, but then perhaps realizing the foolishness of that pride with the woman who knew him so well, his lips twisted in a wry smile and he shook his head. "The food looked and smelled inedible," he admitted quietly. "I wanted none of it. But some of the drink was passable."

She wanted to ask how he intended to rule a people whose food he would not eat, but held quiet, not to spoil the peaceful moment. She smiled. "Then I know exactly what to bring. And I pray it will help you fight off this shadow of Thanos and return you to me."

He didn't retort angrily, but somehow it was worse that he was not in a temper and told her with distant eyes, "What you want is gone. Lost in the nothing. Let it go."

"Never," she declared. "I will return in a little while with a surprise from the kitchens. In the meantime, rest, my son."

He didn't protest the term this time, and she knew it was dangerous to feel as though she had won anything because of it. But still, she smiled as she walked up the steps to meet Thor on the landing.

"There is a plan," he declared, frowning worriedly. "Much as he did on the SHIELD flying craft. He bides his time and awaits an attack which will free him."

"Or he makes us think he does."

"Why would he lie?" Thor asked, confused, and she wanted to kiss his cheek for being so precious.

"Why does he lie about anything? Because it serves his purpose. Amusement perhaps, at provoking you and your father into preparing for an imminent attack which does not exist." She could see in his face he doubted that purpose, but Thor had not a drop of malice in his entire body so he did not understand motives borne from it. Which was, unfortunately, what made him such a target for his brother. "Go, ask him about the shadow path and the gate," she told him.

"He will not tell me, Mother."

"No, he will not. But I am curious about how he will answer."

He seemed reluctant as he walked down the steps, but he went. Frigga watched him, then signaled one of the servitors to make her request for a tray from the kitchens, before turning her attention on the discussion below.

But as she listened, she pondered Loki's words. He announced an obvious repeat of a strategy he had already used mere days ago, knowing that Thor would be on his guard for such a plan. Was Loki depending on his family's doubt and their not preparing for an attack? She thought about that, but decided that seemed unlikely. Loki favored misdirection and deceit, but he knew his father and brother too well to believe they would not prepare for war, when there was an open threat. A smarter ploy would be hold his silence, or attempt a misdirection about the actual target, not strengthen the defenses around him and the tesseract.

She might believe it was only an amusement for him, but he had not fought to obtain the tesseract when he had the chance in the throne room. He had never used it at all, despite his protestations of how much he wanted it. There was a curious disconnect between what he professed to want so aggressively and yet not only did he not seem to be reaching for it, but those pronouncements and desires were getting in the way of the goal itself. So then the question remained: why? The obvious, easy answer was madness, that his actions made no sense because he didn't make sense; that he had no plan, only wants and poisoned desires.

But as she listened and pondered, she became more certain that there was intent buried within his posturing.

Part two