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27 September 2012 @ 09:14 am
The Poison Rain 4/10?  
My headers are getting shorter. heh. (Also can't tell you how tempting it is to give the story silly chapter names when I upload to AO3. The box is just sitting there, waiting to be used... )

Back to Chapter One

Dawn's light bathed the towers as she returned. She saw the defensive postures and the weapons being carried openly, the city on alert. It saddened her, as Asgard itself had not been under threat for many centuries, and seemed a portent of the many warriors who might soon need her arts.

The main gate of the palace exterior opened to her will, much to the guards' surprise who hadn't seen her until she stood revealed in the archway. She made herself smile at them, despite her impatience at the delay, and then slipped past when they argued who should have the honor of escorting her.

Once inside the palace, she took a cup of tea to fortify herself for the coming test, ignored the two messages requesting she join Odin and Thor, and went down to Loki's cell.

He was throwing daggers at a point in the wall and threw two while she watched. Both hit the same point. "Your aim has always been extraordinary," she murmured.

The daggers disappeared, and he made a wry smile. "My aim is perfect when they are illusions. Real ones are somewhat more challenging." He turned toward her then. "So, what can the prisoner do for you today?"

She didn't answer at first, frowning at him in concern. "You did not rest."

"I did," he returned lightly, smiling. "It turns out cages are quite restful."

"Why do you try to lie to me?" she asked, voice gentle. "Loki, I can see you did not rest. Do you have bad dreams?"

He turned away, unwilling to let her look at him, while he lied again, "No. Of course not."

She knew then that he had, and wanted to sigh at all the useless pride in her family. "Given your experiences, I expect it. That is why I asked."

He stayed silent, arms folded, but she waited him out. He didn't look at her when he finally admitted the truth in a soft voice scarcely above a whisper, "Falling. Always I dream of falling."

"Oh, little one," she murmured, the affectionate name she called him when he'd been small slipping free in her distress.

It hit him like a blow, and he flinched. "Do not call me that!" he demanded sharply. "I am not that simple, cowering child anymore!" He whirled back around to confront her, eyes blazing. "What will it take for you to accept that? Do I need to tear this place apart, stone by stone, and kill everyone inside before you understand that I am not your son?"

She let the echo fade away, before she answered, "I will never understand that, because it is not true."

"Then you are a fool," he shot back viciously.

"Perhaps, but I am your mother, too. It breaks my heart to see you trapped within these solitary walls, pacing like an animal." She took a deep breath, hoping this would prove her right. She watched him carefully as she offered, "I will open the barrier and set you free." She took one step forward, raising her hand as if she intended to brush the barrier aside.

He froze, and his eyes darted in absolute panic, as if searching for a way out, and then he forced a laugh. "Oh, you are cruel to hold out the impossible."

"I am queen of Asgard; it is not impossible. I can take down the barrier and free you." She was not sure she could, as her own powers did not incline to that type of brute force, but that mattered little, as he had already given her the answer she sought. His first instinct had been fear, not delight.

He snorted. "And you no doubt want to know the location of the shadowpath gate in exchange." He smirked and laughed a bit to himself, "I told Thor it was under his bed. That is all you are getting as well. Ever."

She shook her head. "Odin will find the gate, that is not important."

He stood very still, the wariness of a cornered animal in every line of his body. "And the tesseract?"

"Take it. You will need it to fight Thanos."

His eyes flicked up toward the tesseract, and he licked his lips, betraying a moment's uncertainty in temptation. He stalked closer to examine her face, his eyes narrowed in suspicion, "This is a trick. You already know what I intend to do with it and I do not believe you would let that happen."

He was right, of course, but he was not the only one who could lie if it suited his purposes. But now that she had her answer, she needed to give him a path out before temptation became too sweet to resist. "Swear to leave Asgard alone. And I will free you."

She waited, trying to hide her tension as she prayed he would do what she hoped.

His posture relaxed and he smirked at her. "Why should I leave Asgard alone? When it is the place I hate the most? Not even for freedom will I bargain away the chance to bring down its lofty towers. I need not bargain for what I will have on my own terms." He whirled away, chin tilted in arrogance, not realizing that she understood the aim of his subterfuge.

She closed her eyes in brief relief, and let the gloating slip past her as the empty words they were. He eventually became unnerved by her smile or her silence and demanded, "How do my words please you? I intend to destroy the entire realm."

She shook her head. "No. I do not believe it."

He took an abrupt step toward her. "Do not mistake my gentle mien with you for a lack of will," he snarled. "I will do all that I say. I will take the tesseract and not you, not Thor, and not Odin Allfather will stop me. There is nothing I want more than that."

Those words had the ring of the truth, and she took it as a warning. That was what the dark influence wanted him to do. "You mean that. That is exactly what you intend."

"Yes. As I have been telling you!" He threw up his hands in frustration.

"Yes, you have, Loki. I am sorry, I did not fully understand until now." Retrieving the tesseract was a compulsion, and his hesitation and conflict was not deliberate, but an unconscious act of rebellion. Yet it still gave her hope. "I need to speak to Thor."

"Yes, please do. Tell him not to come again. He irritates me."

Her smile widened at the echo of youthful complaints long ago -- "Mother, tell Thor to stop bothering me!"

He added, "You should stay away, too."

Her smile faded because what he really wanted was for them to stop making him feel things which made his heart conflicted. So that made it imperative she not go away, not give him ease, so that he would continue to fight from within.

"That I will not do, little one," she said, this time using the diminutive on purpose with affection. His lip curled in disgust, but he didn't rant against it again. "I will not leave you here to endure endlessness alone."

He lifted his head to return her look. There was an unsettling glint to his eyes, like the glare of sunlight through ice before it shattered, reminding her that Thanos was not the only problem. "I already have. I am stronger for it."

Not stronger, my son. You take illusion for truth. That endlessness was the last stone into the cracked ice, and let Thanos in, she thought sadly. "Not again," she promised. "It should never have happened the first time, but not ever again." She rested her hand flat on the barrier and softened her voice.

"Rest easy, my son. Remember when you were tiny and the dark was large? You would sit on my lap in the garden and we would watch the starflies and the aurora." Those were some of her most content memories: Loki tucked against her as they watched the fluttering clouds of tiny glowing lights. She'd had few of those moments with Thor, since Thor had never been afraid of the dark. When he had passed through a stage of imagining monsters in his room, the problem had been trying to make him rest instead of fighting them. But Loki had always known there were terrible things that lived in the shadows. She had wondered if he retained distant memories of red-eyed giants leaving him in the snowy darkness.

His gaze went distant. "You would sing," he murmured, his voice surprised, as if he had forgotten.

"Yes, I would sing and you'd fall asleep. So try to hold that in your mind when you rest. I must go for now, but I will return, I promise."

She started away, leaving him behind looking subdued. He didn't ask again about her offer to free him, probably in fear she might reconsider and do it. Nor did he attempt to bluster his way out of her insistence that he rest. Having him tired and off balance was good for glimpsing the truth, but it also meant he had less energy to fight.

She hoped he would rest, while she had an audience to attend in the great hall. Odin planned to address the people about the threat they faced, and for this, she must stand beside him.

( Part five )