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11 October 2012 @ 01:22 pm
Fic: The Poison Rain 12/14  
(back to chapter one)

Odin found the doors to the treasury closed, but unguarded.

There was blood on the handle and smears on the floor in a trail of darkening scarlet that had marked the halting path of his second, more difficult son. Not that Odin had needed the trail so boldly marked; there had been little doubt where Loki would go.

The guards were embarrassed to have the king catch them out of position, as they breathlessly reported seeing an intruder down the way but it had turned out to be mistaken. Odin sighed to himself, knowing a distraction was the least of Loki's tricks. Resolving to instruct and discipline the guards later, he ordered them to stay outside as he entered the hall. He held Gungnir, but did not expect to need it, as the protections within felt undisturbed.

Loki was seated halfway down the steps, with his shoulders hunched and his legs sprawled before him.

Leaning Gungnir against the wall, unneeded, Odin walked down the steps to the lower floor, to turn around and be roughly eye-level with Loki, who did not look at him, but kept his gaze on the Gauntlet in the shielded alcove. His eyes were too large and his thin face held deep shadows. Even the illusion of his Asgardian appearance, something he had held by unconscious reflex from his infancy, seemed to be weakening to turn his skin grayer than usual.

"I tried to fight him, I swear," Loki murmured, both hands clutching his midsection.

"I know. Thanos does not have his prize because you fought."

"Did you know that was what I truly wanted?" Loki asked.

Odin nodded once. "I doubt not that Thanos desires the tesseract, but it is the Infinity Gauntlet he wants above all things. But you do not want it, Loki."

Loki reached toward the Gauntlet - his shaking hand was wet with dark ruby heartsblood. "I do want it. I want to hold it so badly, and yet… I know that wanting is not my own." His hand fell back to his lap.

"Thanos and his race must never be allowed to have it back. You studied the war. You know this."

"I do. He ensnares the weak." He grimaced, and shuddered with pain, but shame seemed a deeper pain in him.

But Odin knew that there had been nothing Loki could have done; he had not known there was anything to fight until it was too late. "You were dying, Loki. He took a hold on you because you were dying."

He had been dying from a fall in an endless abyss. Odin had watched, stunned, as Loki had let go, growing smaller and fainter until he was swallowed up by the dark, taking all of Odin's failures with him. Until he had reappeared, vengeful and dark, the culmination of all of Odin's fears of what Loki would become. Or so it had seemed.

But this boy was nothing to fear, because he had passed the tests Odin had set for him and he had made his choice.

Loki snorted softly. "And that shall be how I escape him." He lifted imploring eyes to Odin. "Please, I cannot go back in that cage to have him torture me again. I cannot."

"No, there will be no cage," Odin reassured him. "You will be free."

"Thank you." Loki nodded his head and then let himself slump backward on the steps with a sigh. The front of his green tunic and brown leggings were sodden with blood, a rare terrible sight in Asgard. And worse still to see him full of such weary despair that he was resigned to falling into the long dark again.

Odin climbed the steps to him, sliding a hand beneath him and lifting Loki's torso against his chest. Loki stiffened and his eyes flew open again with startled look.

The wave of regretful grief struck like a hammer, when he saw Loki's surprise that Odin would hold him. Had it been so long? Then his grief grew immeasurably at the feel of Loki in his arms, so frail, all slender bones like a crane, as if all the flesh had already burned away. He was trembling like a leaf caught in a breeze, as death reached her cold hands for him. Loki made one prideful effort to pull away, but Odin tightened his grip and drew Loki's pain from him. Loki gave a soft breath of relief and let himself relax, his head falling against Odin's chest.

Odin murmured, "You and Thor were both such reckless youths. But I knew from the time you were small that you would be the more powerful." Loki made a disbelieving sort of snort and Odin would have smiled, except he knew where his concern about Loki's power had led. "You held such power in you, even as a child, and you were so clever, I knew what you needed most was to learn restraint. But instead I taught you naught but anger and hurt. I failed you, Loki, and for that I sorrow. But you should know you were never lesser, as a prince of Asgard."

"I am lesser," Loki confessed in a whisper. "I wanted to be more and I became less. Forgive me the dishonor I brought to the house… I am sorry… " His voice faded, hard to hear though he was so close. "I only wanted you to be proud of me. To see me. Just once…"

Odin's hand cradled the back of his head against his chest, and smoothed the tangled black hair. "I see you, Loki. Now I see you. Rest, my son."

"Tell Thor and Amma… " But he could not complete his request, choking on a breath, shudders shaking his frame, before all the tension fled his body in another sigh.

Odin shut his eye, letting a tear roll down his cheek as he felt Loki release centuries of pain and anger, believing that he was dying and finding peace. Odin murmured, "Sleep, my son. All will be well."

As Loki's breath and life faded, like the last rays of twilight before the fall of night, Odin set his other hand on Loki's forehead and sent his power within. The corrupting poison of the Eternal's vengeful madness had gathered together, loosened from the emotional pain that had anchored it, and it was weakened as well as Loki's body failed. It offered no defense as Odin destroyed it, Asgardian lightning burning away all traces of the poison-tipped thorns in his mind.

Now he was free, as his father had promised he would be.

Shifting his grip so that he held Loki across both arms, cradled not too differently from the very first time he had carried a small infant away from the snowy realm, he stood.

The burden in his arms was light, but the weight on his spirit was heavy as stone, as he mounted the steps. The doors opened for him.

From down the main hall, Thor and Frigga came hurrying, Thor with his hammer in hand, prepared for battle. He had no notion the battle was already fought.

"Father! Loki escaped! He tricked us. He was never after the tesseract at all, and -- "

His tumble of words fell quiet as Odin turned toward them. Frigga let out a breath of horror and her footsteps stumbled to a halt, seeing what Odin carried. "No," she whispered, shaking her head in denial. "No. Please, no..."

Thor's eyes grew large, staring at the limp, bloodied burden in his father's arms.

Chapter Thirteen