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05 October 2012 @ 10:41 am
Fic: The Poison Rain 9/14  

Loki was awake and waiting for him this time, standing at the edge of the barrier. "What was that? What did you do?" he demanded with palpable anxiety, his fingers gripping the edges of his surcoat.

Thor thought it was curious that Loki didn't know what had happened. "What did you feel?" he countered. "You should know."

Yet plainly Loki did not as he reasoned it out instead. "There was no attack or you would not stand here with me," Loki thought aloud, "Yet the walls trembled… " He eyed Mjolnir in Thor's hand. "You used that."

"On a skillful artifact of power, destroying it," Thor prompted. Loki's gaze flipped anxiously toward the tesseract, but in the space of a breath, he must have realized he still sensed it, and frowned at Thor.

"What artifact of power?"

"Yours, brother." Thor couldn't help a little smile when Loki's face held blank confusion, without any idea of what Thor was talking about, if not the tesseract. Thor explained, "Mother and I found the shadowpath gate. It is unraveled."

Loki went utterly still, not even breathing, before his lips parted and he demanded in a whisper, "What have you done?" For a moment, he quivered as if some pressure built up inside him that would be unleashed.

Loki was afraid, Thor realized with sudden sympathy. He'd thought Loki might be angry, because of the influence, or secretly relieved - he'd not expected fear.

But the emotion passed, sinking back deep within, and Loki released his grip on his clothes, relaxing, as he lifted his head. "You think I cannot build another?" Loki asked. "With the tesseract I can open a portal and there will be nothing you can do to stop me."

"Oh, I know you can. But not until you are free, and in the meanwhile, Thanos and his minions have no entry to Asgard to help you."

"I need no help," Loki sneered and turned away. "I will escape whenever I choose."

But the words were clearly empty bravado. He swallowed and his eyes darted around the cell as if the full measure of his imprisonment had fallen on him. He folded his arms, trying to take command of himself again, and let out a bark of a laugh. "You think destroying the gate will save you from Thanos? You think the old man above or," he glanced again at Mjolnir with a sneer, "that hammer will save you? Thanos will tear a hole in the Realms and burn them, one by one. And I will stand with him," he added spitefully.

Thor paid no attention. "Loki, Thanos can no longer reach you." Thor said and urged, "You can come back to us."

"You have nothing I want."

It was like facing a high wall, and Thor knew he needed to find another crack in it before he had any hope of bringing it down. "Are you truly so lost?" he asked. "You bend a little for Mother, but none for me? Do you hate me so much?"

"I did try to kill you," Loki reminded him dryly. "Were you not paying attention?"

Thor thought back to their last encounter on Midgard. "With that dagger upon Stark Tower?"

Loki slanted a look at him. "With that little blade? That was to teach you a lesson about your excessive sentimentality. It would never kill you, fool."

Thor was glad that hadn't actually been an attempt on him. The knife had barely edged through his armor and Loki should have known that. But it had been memorable as the first time Loki had ever struck such a blow. If not that, then there was only one other moment he could mean. "The container on the ship then."

Loki's smile was sly and unrepentant. "Did you enjoy that long fall? Did you fear death?" He stalked closer to the barrier, eyes meeting Thor's. "Did you wonder that no one would save you? That all your great power was for nothing, and you were small and helpless?" He lowered his voice to a soft but intense murmur, "That is how I felt when you dropped me into a bottomless abyss."

Thor had enough of Loki perpetuating that delusion. "You chose to let go!" Thor shouted. "I would have pulled you up!"

"Liar!" Loki returned. "You both wanted me gone. The shame was too great, and it was ever so much tidier if you could brush me aside. Maybe you gave a show of tears for the people who were never told of my faults, but was it not a relief? Admit it, it was as if a great weight had disappeared. It was for me. I shed this place and in return I saw glorious things that you will never understand."

Thor listened and somehow the bitter words seemed to ring in his ears, and he couldn't brush off the hurt so easily. Yet it was worse because the words echoed with his own hurt back on themselves. Loki wasn't hurling the words like daggers to wound - they were rising out of pain. Loki believed the words were true.

"Why?" Thor's voice was low and unsteady, as he rested his hands on the barrier, wishing he could shake some sense into Loki. "Why do you refuse to understand? Why do you believe the worst of us, and of me? You and I fought together, trained together," he thought of the tunnels beneath the palace where Loki had built his secret gate, and added, "played together… You are my brother and I love you. I wanted to save you. And yet you spurn all of it to betray your house to serve our enemy."

Loki didn't appear to be listening to his words until the end, when he shot back coldly, "I serve no one."

Thor realized he'd found another crack: pride. "Of course you do. You were bidden to Midgard to fetch the tesseract, were you not? Turn it over to your master in exchange for the army to conquer Earth."

"It was a bargain of equals."

"Brother, you are not a fool, do not act as one. You were never equals. Thanos plucked you from the abyss. You were at his mercy then, and you will be more under his hand once he holds the tesseract in it."

"Earth was to be mine! You have your own realm, must you be greedy and steal Earth from me as well?" Loki demanded furiously, his tone petulant, but Thor didn't miss that Loki had no good response to the truth.

Thor gentled his voice. "You made a desperate bargain, I understand that. You were in mortal peril and he saved you. But open your eyes; if you ruled Earth at all, it would be as his servant. He would force you to destroy Asgard in his name, because it would amuse him to torment you. He is your enemy, not us."

"You are all my enemies," Loki stated flatly.

Thor hoped it was a good sign that Loki was classing Thanos as an enemy and not Loki sliding ever more helplessly into distrust and hate. "Everyone?"

Loki gave a little scornful laugh and spread his hands. "You see the vast extent of my allies. But that will change soon once I have the power." His eyes wandered to the back corner of his cell, toward the tower where the tesseract was kept. "I will not take it to Thanos, I will take it for myself and none shall stop me this time."

Recognizing that as a lie, even if Loki was fooling himself, let Thor continue the argument, pounding at what such a path would bring Loki in the future. "Power and conquest lead only to loneliness. Is that truly what you want? To be alone, beyond the warmth of family and friends--"

Loki narrowed his eyes at Thor. "Family and friends are a lie. A self-serving delusion full of promises betrayed when convenient."

"Never!" Thor insisted. "Where does this come from, Loki? What did we do to you? You say you envied my acclaim and the accident of our birth that divides our blood, but that is petty. This offense you hold against me is not petty; I feel there is some larger truth hiding behind these complaints, some deep hurt I did to you, but I know not what it is. Please, tell me," he implored. "Help me understand."

"You exist!" Loki flared at him. "Is that not enough?"

"No," Thor answered, shaking his head. "I think not. Because I remember our youth, and your heart was full of joy, Loki. Something changed, some darkness grew inside it, and now I fear I am the cause. That I did something I remember not, some offense I gave to you. Let me make amends," he pleaded.

Loki listened, the reflex to speak an angry retort opening his mouth before his gaze met Thor's. Then to Thor's astonishment, his lips trembled until he pressed them together. Looking down, Loki answered softly, in a voice more regretful than angry, "It is too late. Offense begat offense, until now offenses knot between us, impossible to unwind."

"No, not impossible. I do not believe that." He moved to stand directly in front of Loki and prompted, "It was in our youth, from what you have said."

Loki walked away, paralleling the barrier to the end where it met the wall. "Leave it, Thor. It makes no difference now."

But Thor persisted after him, guessing, "Was it the spring renewing festival? Mother says that could not be it, but I know that upset you…"

Loki laughed once, in bitter humor. "You understand nothing. Your position was the least of it."

Thor looked at the back of Loki's head, trying to think of what it could be. Half their lifetime ago… and if it was not his position, not envy, then what? He remembered what Frigga had reminded him, about the way Loki's fighting style had started to incorporate his illusions and he'd stopped dueling with spear and sword.

"Was it because when you and I dueled, you often lost?" Thor guessed. "Were you more shamed than I thought? You were learning and younger - I thought you were brave and stubborn, returning to fight again and again even not full grown in strength..."

"Brave and stubborn?" Loki echoed and gave another humorless chuckle. "Is that how you saw me? That is not what I recall." Loki looked at him and then away again. "I think, it is worse that you have forgotten," Loki murmured and shook his head. He rubbed at his face with both hands, fingers sliding through his hair to push it back. The illusion on his appearance slipped again, giving Thor a glimpse once more of hollow-eyed fatigue, as though the constant turmoil was grinding him to dust. "Something that mattered so much to me, was nothing to you."

Thor knew then that Frigga was absolutely correct; something had happened. There was some deep pain in him they had never seen. In that moment of exhaustion, the dark influence seemed quiescent, and his armor of pride was gone, his heart laid bare, and Thor knew he had to seize the moment when he had the chance.

"Remind me," Thor requested softly. "Please. What happened?"

It seemed Loki would not answer, but because he did not speak at all, Thor waited. A memory passed through Loki's face, leaving his eyes hooded and throat working to find words. "Freyr," Loki murmured, gaze fixed on some distant point in the past. "A duel in the great hall. I had learned some new moves with my daggers I wanted to show you."

Thor frowned, trying to recall Loki with daggers against Freyr... It had happened several times and he couldn't remember any duel in particular, though Loki had apparently found one he remembered with great bitterness, but he did remember Loki being eager to show off his skills. "You were not as skilled as you are now with daggers, but still so quick..."

"Freyr was quicker," Loki said in a dull voice.

"He is a very seasoned warrior, and you and I were both very young," Thor tried to say in reassurance. "He defeated me in those days as well, if you recall."

But Loki ignored him, continuing to speak, "I remember you distracted me, shouting something, and Freyr threw his shield at me. It caught me in the chest and I was thrown."

Ah, now he recalled. There had been an audience to watch the great Freyr duel the prince, and when Freyr's shield had hit Loki, he'd flown the entire length of the hall. Thor was about to joke how he and Fandral had called him Little Bird after that, but something in Loki's expression silenced him.

"You did nothing," Loki said in a barely audible voice. He laid a hand across his chest. "It hit me so hard I felt my bones shatter. I lay on that floor in terrible pain. And no one, not a single person in that hall, came to help me."

Thor's mouth opened in surprise and horror, casting his mind back, sure that he'd gone over to ask Loki if he was all right and yet he had no memory of doing so. Surely someone had? Had no one gone to speak to him?

"I heard you laugh," Loki murmur. "I could not rise. I thought I might be dying, and you and your friends laughed at me."

"No, no, Loki," Thor objected, shaking his head, "I intended no -- I was not laughing at you," he protested, then swallowed, realizing that wasn't true. They had been laughing, joking about how well the Little Bird had flown through the air. Freyr had picked up his shield, and Thor had handed him an ale before they'd left the hall. When Loki hadn't joined them in the festivities afterward, Thor hadn't looked for him, sure that Loki had gone off to brood over his ignominious defeat. Thor's shoulders slumped. "I had no idea you were hurt. I recall you stood-- "

Loki laughed once, hollow and pained. "I was trying to get someone's attention with a decoy illusion but I had no strength to hold it. No one noticed. I lay there on the floor for hours, while I healed. Alone."

"I--" Thor started to speak haltingly, but Loki cut him off, apparently needing to tell the rest.

"Then, do you recall, I avenged myself on Freyr with the scorpions." He smirked a little in the memory of it, and Thor almost smiled, too. That had been one of Loki's better tricks -- Freyr had jumped up from the feasting table, shrieking, convinced there were poisonous scorpions all over him. But Loki's amusement faded.

"Afterward, Odin called me in, to disapprove. I tried to explain, but he refused to listen. He said I should accept my loss honorably, or challenge Freyr to another duel. But attacking him at the dinner table was unacceptable. Illusory scorpions that hurt Freyr not at all were worse than hitting me so hard I took hours to recover." His hands clenched at his side, and his pale eyes were distant, as his lip curled in scorn. "That was when I realized 'honor' is only a weapon the strong use to ensure they win. It has nothing to do with justice. And I wanted no part of it."

He turned his back and walked to the far wall, arms folded in front of him and looked set to ignore anything Thor might say.

But Thor could find no words. The horror of that incident with Freyr was that he realized it could not have been the only one. There had been other times Loki had taken too long to rise or disappeared or clenched his jaw and held onto a grim silence after a hit. And been mocked for it.

"Why did you say nothing?" he demanded. Loki flashed him a scornful look, not answering, because the answer was obvious. Asgard demanded tough warriors, not cowards or complainers who requested their opponents go easy on them. No one had held back when he had been old enough to have his Asgardian near-invulnerability, despite his slighter stature. He'd taken full power blows by some of the strongest fighters in all of Asgard on a body that would heal, but still took damage. Loki had never told anyone of the pain he endured, ashamed of what he thought was weakness and determined to fix it himself. So he had shifted his fighting style and learned illusions and magic to avoid taking the hits in combat. Which had led in turn to the complaints that Loki was dishonorable or a coward, relying on trickery in his duels.

Which was terrible enough, but not half so terrible as realizing he had never wondered if Loki was truly hurt. He had never asked.

Thor closed his eyes and slumped against the barrier, scarcely able to think past the guilt and regret. Then swallowing and feeling tears prick his eyes, he told Loki haltingly, "I… did not know."

"You should have!" Loki whirled back around to stare at him, wild-eyed and furious. "I tried to excuse it by telling myself you were a thoughtless, reckless buffoon -"

"I was," Thor agreed quickly. "I was thoughtless, Loki. You were my brother, and I did not look after you. For all the times we had each other's backs in battle, I did not have yours when you needed me. I … I am sorry."

"Your 'sorry' means nothing to me!" Loki retorted spitefully. "You think it matters now? I learned that day, and every day thereafter, what my family and my so-called friends thought of me. I learned that I was alone. And what burned my heart the most, is that I loved you anyway. No matter how much I hated you, I could never stop lo-- "

Suddenly Loki stopped speaking and gave a gasp, one hand clutching at his chest.

His eyes flew to Thor's, seeming alarmed, and then he fell to his knees. "Oh no, no, no, please," he whispered.

"Loki?" Thor demanded in worry. He waited, expecting the shadow to reassert itself. But it did not.

Loki let out another gasp, collapsing forward onto one hand, back arching as if in the grip of some seizure.

"Loki, what is this?" Thor asked, moving up to the barrier.

"I… if I didn't give him … the cube…" Loki choked out, head hanging down and leaning on both fists into the floor. "The other … punish me…. I … did not believe he could reach here." He let out a short laugh. "All of … All of what I did… supposed to be … safe here."

He let out a short cry, jerking as if struck, again and again, until he was driven to the ground, hunched in agony. "Thor, go."

"l -- no, I cannot - Loki, I will help you -"

Loki lifted his head, and his expression was … terrorized, as Thor had never seen it. "No!" he flung a hand out, sending a wave of force that rattled against the barrier. "Stay out. Stay back. Swear to me, swear!"

"No, brother, no, I will not," Thor protested. "I will save you, I will open --"

"No!" That made Loki so furious he shoved himself back to his feet and staggered across the floor to the barrier. "You are an idiot," he ground out harshly through gritted teeth. "If you open it, I will escape. I will not stop for anything in my path --- not you, not Allfather, not Mother, nothing. I must give him what he wants; I have no choice."

He sagged back to his knees, slumping against the barrier, with another pained cry. "Oh, it burns."

"I will get help," Thor promised, and cast one last look at Loki, who was clutching at his head, before running for the steps to find Odin and Frigga.

( Part Ten )