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30 September 2012 @ 02:37 pm
Fic: The Poison Rain 6/10?  

Thor returned to the front of the cell, determined to get Loki to recall the bond of childhood, when they'd been as close as twins, doing everything together.

Loki was pacing again, hands behind his back, as Thor came up to the barrier.¬

"I thought you were gone," Loki muttered, sounding irritated and weary, when he noticed Thor. "Is that part of my punishment? I must endure your self-righteous mewling for hours a day?"

Thor chuckled. "If I must endure your endless speeches about power and conquest, yes."

Loki gestured broadly in invitation. "One of us has a wide open corridor to exit the unendurable."

Thor folded his arms. "No, I will stay."

Loki groaned but to Thor's surprise seemed unwilling to pick another fight. "Do as you will. I am so bored I may have to escape to entertain myself."

He said the words airily, as a tease, but Thor tensed. Escape. But the idea was ludicrous - Loki had talents but there was no way out of that cell. "You cannot. It is impossible."

Loki smirked. "Is that a challenge? You should know better than that."

Which he did; Loki's pride would seldom allow him to back down from any challenge, and he was a little afraid Loki could find a way, if pushed. If his mother was right, Loki himself did not truly want to escape for fear of what he might do. "No, no, not a challenge," Thor said hastily. "I believe you."

Loki chuckled once. "Sometimes you are smarter than you look."

The familiar sarcastic taunt made Thor smile. "Now that is my brother."

But the light, amused look on Loki's face died at the words, and he turned away, denying sharply, "I am not your brother."

Thor felt that same twinge of hurt at the denial. The first time Loki had denied it, Thor hadn't understood the source -- but learning helped little. "You keep saying that," Thor said. "Are all those years so easily put aside? We were raised together, as brothers. Your blood matters not to me."

"How does it not matter?" Loki asked softly. He held out a hand and ice flowed upward from his palm, glimmering like water in a spray that formed into a delicate crystalline spider web and twisted on itself into the perfect icy duplicate of a nightflower.

Thor stared. Despite what his parents had told him, he'd never seen any real demonstration of Loki's Jotun blood until then. "That is beautiful," he murmured.

Loki's gaze snapped up to his face, looking wary and defensive, and Thor realized Loki thought he was being mocked.

"I mean it," Thor reassured him. "It is beautiful. I had no idea you could do that."

Loki closed his hand into a fist, and the ice sculpture exploded silently into glimmering shards and a puff of vanishing snow. He straightened and his tone was sardonic. "Ironic the first time you show any appreciation for my skills is when I demonstrate the one I loathe."

"That is not true!" Thor objected. "I always appreciated your abilities." But he knew that wasn't good enough, because he had said other words, sometimes. He added, "I know I said foolish things. But I never meant to make you feel less."

"No. You managed that without trying."

Thor tried to find the right words. "I know I mocked your skill sometimes. I made stupid jests, but you seemed to take it in good spirit. I thought you understood that I admired what you could --"

"Be silent!" Loki shouted in a sudden rage, eyes wide. "Do you think this is to be fixed with a few words of apology? Do you believe five hundred years are so easily forgotten?" He stared at Thor, chest heaving, expression drawn with anger. Then he forced himself to grow still, rubbing his hands down his tunic as if he was having some difficulty catching his breath. He drew himself up, calming. "No matter. Those days are past. I am stronger now, and I can take what I want. Earth will be mine, and your little human pets will be mine. Really, such a pity it was not Jane Foster with the tesseract, instead of Selvig."

The fear that hit Thor at the thought of Jane under Loki's control was like a flash of lightning. "Leave her alone! She stands apart from all of this."

Loki chuckled scornfully as he turned away. "So easy." He looked back over his shoulder and his voice turned cold and sneering, "How you amuse yourself with the mortals is of no interest to me. I need not hurt her to hurt you -- time will do that for me. Jane Foster will age and die, while you will change not at all. That is, if she lives long enough. Humans are so fragile, after all, and not everyone loves Thor Odinson."

Thor looked at him, hearing the hateful words, and thinking there had to be something he could do or say that would help. "Loki --"

But Loki was done talking. "Comfort yourself with your own superiority and get out. This grows tiresome."

He flicked a hand in Thor's direction and the barrier between them went dark, blocking the view inside.

"Loki?" Thor called. But there was no answer. "Loki, please, brother."

After another moment waiting, he turned and started walking away, slowly, hoping Loki would reconsider and call him back.

* * *

Frigga waited at the top of the steps, concerned by what she had heard but thoughtful, too. Loki's temper had flashed, his words less measured than usual, and therefore more revealing.

"Mother, I try," Thor said. "I want to understand, but he refuses. What more can I do? He threatens Jane Foster and Earth --"

She smiled at him gently and tucked a hand over his arm. "No, he said that he had no intent to harm her, son. You need to listen more carefully. He revealed more than you believe. What happened between you five hundred years ago?"

"I know not," he said, in confusion. "Nothing in particular, that I recall."

"Recall better," she advised. She could think of nothing either, though. But it worried her that Loki had mentioned a time so long ago as something that needed fixing, and she could think of nothing he could be referring to. "Something important happened. He did not intend to reveal that, and I think he brought up Jane Foster to distract you."

Thor suggested hesitantly, "There was the festival of renewing? I know he was unhappy about not being permitted to assist. Perhaps that set off his jealousy?"

"Your father feted you as his heir long before that," Frigga said. She turned and started for the steps to the central palace, while he paced at her side. "No, the seed is not jealousy; he admits to envy too easily for it to be the full cause, though it feeds his anger. There is something else. Something deeper that we did not see."

Something she knew nothing about. Something Loki had not told her.

"The campaign against Niflheim? No, that was later, was it not?" Thor asked, frowning. "I received Mjolnir after that...." He shook his head. "No, I recall nothing in that time. We were both so young then."

She nodded her agreement, casting her memory back. Five hundred years past, Loki had still been a child, not yet full grown to his present height or strength and slender as a blade. He had tried, though, and she remembered many times where Loki would be defeated in practice, rising again and again.

"He was quite the stubborn scrawny creature back then," Thor murmured, with a smile. "Do you remember? He could barely lift a spear but he refused to give up."

Hearing the echo of her thoughts made her reconsider them. Her footstep hesitated, requiring him to stop and turn to face her when she didn't continue. "But he did," she said.

"He did not," Thor insisted, offended on Loki's behalf. "He never gave up. He continued with weapons practice; he rose again and again. He did better in duels, once he grew taller and faster. I have yet to find an Asgardian better with a dagger than he became, Mother."

"Did you ever tell him that?" she asked pointedly. He looked down, and shook his head, ashamed. "What I would remind you is that he stopped trying to use weapons that did not fit him, and used his own talents, instead."

"Yes," Thor agreed, frowning. "The illusions. He started using those in battle."

She remembered numerous complaints from both her sons about that, over the years: Thor complaining that Loki ignored everyone else in favor of boring histories, and Loki that Thor bothered his studies. Thor was not a stupid child and he'd attended his lessons diligently, but he lacked the hunger to learn that had sent Loki deeper into the libraries and deeper still into arcane arts. Loki had gradually withdrawn from dueling, preferring his studies and more solitary training, and when he fought it was with an evolving style that depended on speed, illusion, and clever tactics, not strength.

It was also in that time of his early studies that Loki had stopped confiding in her as he once had. They had still spoken, and she had been an appreciative audience for his growing skills. But he had pulled back from sharing the secrets of his heart, as he had before. She had believed he was maturing but now she wondered if something had happened that he had concealed from her.

"But those are symptoms, not the cause," she murmured and regarded her eldest. Thor shifted in discomfort beneath her sharp gaze, as she considered. "It is a tangled skein that grew worse with time. And now I wonder whether this darkness has rooted itself in his ambivalence toward you."

That startled him. "Me? Not Father?"

"Odin, of course. And myself," she admitted. She had a lesser share of his anger when balanced against Odin, but she remained part of the lie. Yet Loki was most bitter toward Thor, not his parents. "But especially you, I think."

"I caused this?" he asked bleakly.

She grabbed his arm, shocked that he had come to such a conclusion. "No, no, my son. I am not blaming you, you have done nothing wrong. You did not cause yourself to be favored, and he knows that. But it does not ease the pain that you stood in the light, and he did not."

"I would have given it to him, gladly. I tried to share, when I could."

She smiled and touched his cheek with her free arm. "And that is why we love you, Thor." Then she pulled back a little ways to sigh in regret. "I try to tell myself I could not have known these ends; that I did my best. But I know that is a lie."

"Mother, Loki's sins rest on him, not anyone else. Not on you, especially."

She shook her head, rejecting his attempted reassurance. "If only that were so. But Loki did not spring out of the ground like this, my son, and many hands have had the shaping of him into what he has become."

She led the way into the family's private dining chamber, where Thor's step hesitated, as he saw what now stood opposite his own chair.

Loki's chair had been removed from the large square table when he had fallen, and she had resisted entering the room and looking at the table with its empty fourth side afterward.

"You returned his chair," Thor murmured, looking uneasy.

"Yes." Frigga ran her fingers along the top of the back of the golden frame, the coils at the top that were reminiscent of his war helm, and the dark green cushions. She murmured, "I know he is not ready to sit here. It is not yet time. But I wish to be able to tell him truthfully that his place awaits him. He does not believe he can return to us, whatever words we use, so I hope action will speak to intent. He needs a beacon to follow out of the morass that consumes him."

"I … hope so," Thor said, looking at the empty chair as he sat down in his own. "I miss his quick wit. And in battle, I still look to where I know he should be. Even when we fight in opposition."

She returned to his side, and touched the top of his head and smoothed his hair. "You will fight side by side, again, my son."

He glanced up and smiled at her. "Prophecy, Mother?"

"Determination," she answered and bent to kiss his cheek.

Odin would be less accepting, she knew, and she could admit to herself that she had moved the chair in defiance. The king could not expect her to toddle meekly at his whim when her son's life was in the balance.

Loki would return to the family, in spite of Odin's doubt.

Odin eventually appeared to join them, though she had wondered if he would use the excuse of war preparation to avoid family mealtime. He noticed the chair instantly, as he came through the archway, casting her a glance that suggested he understood all her motives, including the one pointed at him.

Thor waited for them to speak, and when they did not, he looked from one to the other and folded his arms. "This cannot continue. Loki needs us strong and fighting together, not one another."

For the first time she felt chided by her son, that she was acting a little too petty. But she was proud too, that Thor could recognize it. She lifted her head and took a breath, telling her husband, "That is all that I wish." She looked to Odin, waiting for his response.

He sat down in his great chair at the table, and regarded her. "I think that is not all, but that is what I wish as well." He stopped, and the table fell silent, as two maids brought in the platters and tureen for the meal and began serving, until Frigga waved them away for the family to do it themselves. Thor poured the wine, and when he had done three, he glanced at his father and then poured a little into the fourth glass. Odin observed this small defiance with his lips curving into a fond rueful smile and he told them, "I do not desire Loki to remain imprisoned all his days. I want him to return to his place." He gestured to the empty chair. "But I cannot set him free until I know for an absolute certainty he will not choose to harm the realm, of his own will or otherwise."

Her hand tightened on the handle of the serving spoon, but she kept her voice level as she dished portions to the platters that Thor handed her. "I understand that, and I agree. But I know now that Loki fights from within. I think he will cast out the shadow."

"Beware a plan to soften our vigilance," Odin warned. "He knows we would not believe a swift change of heart."

She shook her head in disagreement. "Loki is not that patient or elaborate in his schemes to accomplish what I have felt."

"Thanos is," Odin said. "So long as that shadowpath gate remains, we do not know what influence it may exert on Loki from without."

Frigga and Thor exchanged a troubled glance. It had not occurred to her that the gate, being of Loki's making, might still be connected to him and permit an external influence to reach him. "If there was a constant energy conduit, would you not know?" she asked.

Odin carved the haunch of the meat with his dagger. "As I cannot locate the gate itself, I cannot declare with certainty what I would and would not know." His expression shifted to more rueful, almost admiring. "He is more skilled than I had thought."

"An outside force would explain the persistence of the thrall," Thor's voice held some hope, since outside threats were easier to combat than inner madness.

Frigga was still skeptical that anyone, even Thanos, could reach Loki directly without detection. It seemed enough that the Eternal had left his corruption behind, an oily stain to twist Loki's thoughts in a singular direction.

"You should ask him about the gate, Father," Thor continued. "He jests with me. And I believe your absence hardens his heart."

Odin stabbed at a slice and glowered at Loki's chair. "I will not. He brought our enemies within the palace twice. He brought Laufey here to kill me, and--"

Frigga jerked her head up at that and interrupted, "Not so. He brought Laufey here to kill him, not you. It was Laufey whom Loki intended to betray, always."

"He let Jotun into the very chamber where I slept and you could have been harmed!" Odin's dagger buried itself into the surface of the table, making all the cups and platters rattle.

She stood, both hands on the table. "We were never threatened! Bringing Laufey here had nothing to do with attacking Asgard or you, and everything to do with proving that his loyalty and love outweighed his blood."

"By letting enemies into our very home?" Odin demanded. "In an act of shameful dishonor, long before Thanos raised a hand against him."

She wondered how he could be so blind to what was so plain to her. "To do what you never did and defeat Laufey, and when that was not enough, to destroy them. For you!"

"I never wanted them destroyed!"

"He knows that, Father," Thor intervened as the echo of Odin's bellow faded. "He does. He was distraught at the Bifrost, and full of hatred, for himself most of all." He glanced at Frigga and added, "I understand better how he felt to find out that secret you kept from him. Do you not understand how it confirmed his feeling of separation? He has such strength and skill even you cannot locate a portal he created and hid, but we have all treated him as something less. Not always, but often enough." He stood, and his eyes sought first the empty seat across from him and then turned back to Odin. "I do not forget his mistakes but I forgive them, Father. I must, for he is my brother. I go now to speak to him about the gate if you will not. Perhaps he will fight this poison enough to do aught but make poor jests this time."

Odin watched Thor leave the room, and then his eye flicked to the empty seat as well. "Words as weapons, indeed," he murmured.

Frigga leaned closer to Odin, softening her voice, "Husband, you cannot treat your son as a weapon for the entirety of his life and then expect him not to be a weapon."

His eye snapped up to hers, brows furrowing in confusion. "I did not--"

"You did. You saved Loki out of pity, but you kept him to train and deploy against his own kind. He became that weapon, more and more like a Jotun in behavior and skill, and you held him at a distance, as if you could hang him on the wall until you had need of his power. But Loki was not a weapon. Nor was he a prize to take from Laufey as if Loki was another Casket of the Ancient Winters to sit forgotten in the Hall of Treasures."

Odin seemed tempted to argue with her, but then subsided into quiet consideration. He regarded the empty chair for a long few moments of silence and then took the fourth cup where Thor had poured a bit of wine. Odin swirled it and looked within, and she caught a glimpse of Loki's face. It was an image from memory, of long ago days, when Loki had been a boy. She said nothing more, waiting.

Then Odin looked up. "Is that truly what you believe of me, Frigga? That I sought only to use him?" he asked quietly but in his tone, she detected hurt that she thought so little of him. "That I care nothing for him?"

She seated herself in Loki's chair, turning it to face Odin. She kept the anger out of her voice, hoping perhaps this time he would listen. "You loved him once, I believe that. But your heart closed to him long ago, and he felt that, even before he knew the secret we kept. You speak of his deceitfulness and his aggression against Jotunheim with such condemnation - but I ask you, from whence did he learn both, except us?"

Odin said nothing, dropping his gaze to the wine in the cup and seemed thoughtful.

She stroked her fingers along the arms of the chair, its wood smoothed by many years of an impatient boy's hands, trying to keep himself in the chair, when he hated to sit still. He had tried so hard, at so much: at war and peace, magic and weapons, studious calm and righteous fury, and it must have seemed to him that the harder he tried, the less he received. While at the same time, Thor had won everything without much effort at all.

She murmured, "This storm has been building for centuries, hidden behind his smiles and pretense. But he gave us warnings enough, if we had heeded them. We did not, carelessly assuming that all would continue as it always had; that Loki would never learn the truth; that his discontent would remain confined to tricks and jokes, and not coalesce into something darker and stronger. But it has, and now we must unknot this tangle we have made." Her expression softened and she laid a hand over his. "You cannot hurl it in the midden as if it never was. It must be unpicked, thread by thread, and the shattered parts made whole."

"Can that still be done?" Odin asked. "He is too deeply mired in hate and despair."

"He is not," she replied. "He fights, husband. From deep within, he rebels against this hold. But until he believes that something different awaits him here, he will not be strong enough to cast it away."

"If his heart is truly good, then he must step off this path of destruction of his own will, not because he believes it will gain him something," Odin said, tone reproving. "He must choose to protect, not harm. Or casting away Thanos will not be enough to save him."

She pulled away and her hands tightened to fists, frustration slipping through her like quicksilver. All Loki wanted was the truth and proof that his parents truly loved and valued him. But… she inhaled a deep breath. She and Thor would have to be enough, if Odin still held himself apart.

Her hands smoothed out again on the chair arms. "And if he does make the choice, Allfather? How will you know? Will you believe him?"

"When he chooses, we will know," Odin declared with such confidence she frowned, wondering if he had a plan. "But for now, I must continue the preparations for a war he has brought to us." He stood but hesitated in the threshold to turn back and tell her in a quiet rumble, "You are mistaken, Frigga. I did not keep him to use against Jotunheim; I kept him for you."

He left her then, among the shambles of a barely touched feast. She leaned back in Loki's abandoned chair and wondered if her scattered family was closer or farther apart than ever.

( Part seven )