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28 December 2012 @ 03:14 pm
Fic: Ephemeral 1/1  
Gen, Thor/Avengers
2000 words
Characters: Loki, Frigga
Warning: Contains an animal's death.
Summary: A hunting accident teaches a young Loki about mortality.

Note: Developed out of a bit of backstory I mention in Understanding the Storm, but really just an excuse to have Frigga be a mom and talk about death and life, and stands alone.

also at AO3

The hunt was exciting. Loki wished his horse were bigger and that she would do something besides follow his father's steed, which she would not, but at least it kept him close to where important things were happening. Even better, he was allowed to hold his own reins this time, having proven his skills to his father's grudging satisfaction.

Odin held up a hand to halt the party and Loki drew rein, trying to stop his horse before the horse decided to do it first.

There was movement in the bushes, and Loki leaned to one side, eager to see.

"There!" Freyr stood tall in his saddle and prepared to throw his spear.

But Loki had a lower vantage and he glimpsed something dark brown in the bushes and a distinctive furry snout. He knew what was moving in the protected thicket. "No!" he yelled and launched himself off his horse at Freyr to try to stop him from throwing.

But his jump was a product of more wishful thinking than skill and he grabbed at Freyr's leg as he fell short. Freyr's horse danced aside, neighing indignantly, and Loki lost his grip. He slammed to the hard ground and lay stunned until Thor's alarmed shout made him push himself upright, fearful someone's horse was about to trample him.

A circle of riders had gathered around him, including his father, and he felt very small as he had to spit out a leaf clinging to his lips.

Freyr was frowning down at him. "Loki, what is wrong with you?"

He was empty-handed, which meant he'd thrown. Loki ignored the question to scramble to his feet, darted between Thor and Fandral's horses, and ran to the thicket.

"Loki! Stop!" Odin ordered.

But Loki did not listen, too concerned for what he knew what Freyr had hunted. He dove into the tangle of vines and shrubbery, beating it aside and feeling the brambles scratch at his skin. He followed the path the spear had made, praying that Freyr had missed.

He had not.

There, on the ground, golden spear through its side, was a golden brown bear cub. She blinked her eyes at him and twitched tiny paws as Loki sank down beside her. "No," he whispered, "No. I -- I will help you. I will fix it."

But he didn't know how and so he sat there, staring in dismay and shock. He made a futile gesture toward her and dropped his hand back to his lap. His heart beat too fast, and his eyes stung with wet heat.

The horses crashed into the thicket. "Loki!" Odin called, and then more softly, "Oh. I see."

Loki looked up at him. "You can help her, Father?"

Odin dismounted and knelt beside him. "I am sorry, Loki. She is hurt too badly."

Loki shook his head frantically. "No, you can help her, you can. Or Mother, we should take her to Mother. Amma will heal her up and she will be well again!"

Odin hesitated and then his hand fell lightly on Loki's head to smooth his hair. "Yes, Loki, that is a fine idea."

"My king..." Fandral started doubtfully, but fell silent at the glance from Odin.

"Put the cub on Loki's steed. Loki may ride with me. We return to the palace at once."

The thought of riding with his father should have been thrilling, but Loki felt only a dull ache. He watched as Freyr took back his spear and two of the hunters tied the cub onto the back of Loki's horse. The horse was not pleased about it, but settled at Odin's command. The bear cub was too weak to care, barely opening her eyes.

Loki glared at Freyr, a sudden rush of fury making him tremble and his fists clench, wishing he could strike that expression off his face. He cared nothing for what he had done, and the lack made Loki so angry his voice rose to a trembling shout. "I told you not to throw it! She wasn't doing anything wrong! How could you hurt her?"

"It was an accident, Loki," Odin told him and lifted him easily to the front of his saddle. "He mistook the movement for a boar. You might make the same mistake."

"Never!" Loki turned his head to glare at Freyr and spat furiously, "I know the difference between bears and boars."

The laugh this earned made him angrier. How could they laugh when the little cub had been hit such a terrible blow? The bear cub's eyes were closed and her fur was matted with blood.

Loki sat in sullen, stricken silence on the ride home. He could not enjoy anything, even galloping across the field toward the gates with the wind against his face and his father's arm steadying him.

In the courtyard, he slithered underneath Odin's attempt at holding him and jumped down. The ground was a long way from the back of Odin's great steed, and there was a brief flash of pain through his body as he landed hard, but this time he caught himself on bent knees and a hand on the ground. He pushed himself back to his feet and ran to the cub. "It will be well," he whispered, promising her and stroking her soft fur gently near the neck. "Mother will help you. She is a very great healer."

"Is it not dead?" Thor asked, puzzled, standing next to Loki and looking at the cub. "The cub no longer breathes."

Loki turned to him and shoved him away. "Shut up! What do you know? She will be fine. Mother will heal her!"

"Oh, good, I hope so. It would be a sad loss for the mother bear."

That made tears prick Loki's eyes again that he blinked away furiously, so no one would see, and he went back to patting the little bear's fur. "It's not fair," he murmured.

He heard Frigga's voice behind him, quiet but commanding, "I will stay with Loki. The rest of you may leave us."

"Thor, come with me," Odin said and his hand squeezed Loki's shoulder briefly. "We will let them be."

Distantly Loki knew that the others were leaving, until he was alone in the courtyard with the bear cub as Frigga joined him. She murmured, "I see this little one is hurt."

Loki turned his eyes up to her. "You can fix her, right, Mother? She's hurt."

Her hand joined his in stroking the soft fur. "I am sorry, little one. She is already gone."

"But you can fix anything!"

"Not death. She is lost."

"But -- but it's not fair! She's little! She can't be dead because stupid Freyr thought she looked like a boar. Now her mother will look for her and never find her, and - and - " His voice choked up in his throat and though he tried to keep talking, to push it back, not be such a baby, the tears sprang out anyway and rolled hot down his cheeks. "Please, bring her back…"

Frigga's arms went around him and held him tight to her chest. "Shhh, it's all right to mourn loss, my son."

Her hand was gentle on his hair and it made him sadder, somehow, because his mother was there and she could hold him, but the mother bear would never be able to be with her baby again.

"We will give her honors, sweet, and then you and I will take the ashes to the forest."

"Can we find the mother bear?" Loki asked, sniffling. "I want to tell her I tried to stop it."

"I think that is very thoughtful," Frigga agreed fondly and wiped his face with her fingertips. "I do not know if she will want to speak with us, but we can try. Now say your farewells."

He turned back to the cub. "I am sorry," he murmured. "I tried. But they would not listen. You will find your path to Valhalla."

"There are bears in Valhalla?" Frigga asked.

"Of course," he answered, wondering why she sounded so surprised. "It cannot be a reward only for valiant warriors, or who would want to go there? It would be terribly dull to be at a feast with only other warriors forever, as the sagas claim."

Frigga gave a little cough and took a moment to respond. "I … never considered that aspect before. So, what shall the bear receive in Valhalla?"

He thought he heard amusement in her voice and he glanced up, about to be angry that she was not taking this seriously, but her face was solemn as she gazed on the bear, so he thought he was mistaken.

"Honey and…" he faltered. "What else would a bear want?"

"Fish?" Frigga suggested.

"I hope you find honey and fish, then, with all your ancestors in Valhalla," he declared and gave the cub one last pat on the top of her little head.

"Well done, Loki." Frigga put an arm around his shoulders and brought him to her garden.

She had him sit with her on the grass and kicked off her shoes to tuck her bare feet under her skirt. "Hold out your hand. You favor it as if you are injured."

He hadn't realized it hurt until she said something, but when he tried to move it, a jarring pain ran up from his wrist. That pain seemed to attract others and he was suddenly aware of aches all through him. "I fell off my horse," he muttered and looking down at the grass. "Trying to stop stupid Freyr from throwing his spear."

"I could not heal the bear, but you, I can," she promised and took his hand gently between both of hers. A soft warmth spread through him, centering in his hand and growing outward, a flower brushing away all his hurts. The small scratches from the brambles vanished, as if they had never happened. She smiled when it was done and she caressed his cheek with the back of her hand, too swiftly for him to pull away. "There. But you must be more cautious and stop throwing yourself from the backs of the horses. You are young still and not yet come into your full strength. I do not like to see you hurt."

He nodded, wishing he was bigger and stronger. He had tried measuring himself against a mark on his wall for a whole cycle of seasons, but for naught. In that same time, that bear cub would have been an adult, but he had many years left until he could be a warrior.

When he was grown, he would be tall and strong and nothing would hurt him again. He would live forever, be immortal, not like those races who lived like the flowers in this garden, so briefly blooming until they were dead.

Like the bear cub was dead.

He glanced up at Frigga and then back down, reluctant to ask something so foolish.

Frigga noticed his attention and prompted, "Yes? You had something to say?"

He plucked at the grass and after a moment, muttered, "Why did she die?"

"Because the damage to--"

Loki interrupted, "No, I mean, why is there death at all? What is it for?"

She hesitated to consider her answer. He heard the hum of the jewelwings in the trees as he waited. He shifted impatiently, and finally she answered, "It is the way of things. All living things die. Even non-living things end - the wind wears the stone, the seas evaporate, power weakens, and the stars eventually will all fade away to darkness."

"But not us. Not Asgard."

She shook her head in a gentle negative, disagreeing. "Asgard, too. I pray that day is one I never see, but the realm will end, yes, someday."

He felt a little sick with fear. "Father? You?" he asked. If all living things, if even Asgard was not truly forever, that meant them, too.

"We live long lives untroubled by mortal fragility, but someday. Perhaps sooner in battle, but for certain in the fullness of time. Death comes to us all."

He tucked his arms around his legs. He'd thought Asgard was forever and his parents and brother and he would live forever; and now he realized that was not so. A very long time was not the same as forever. It was troubling.

"But why?" he frowned. "Why not live always?"

"So that new living things can be born," she answered. "If there was no death, there would be no need for flowers, or seeds, or fruit. Or children." She reached across and ruffled his hair. He jerked away and she smiled. "The universe would be a static, dull place, my son, unless the old gave way to the new. But it is only through the death of stars that life may begin, and it is only through our children that we may hope for something better."

She held out her arm and he scooted under it, until he was tucked against her. He didn't even care if anyone else saw, not today. "Am I your hope for something better?" he asked.

He could hear the smile in her voice and feel it at she kissed the top of his head. "Always. You will do great things, Loki."

That made him feel a little better, warmed by her nearness and the flow of life all around them.

hearts_blood on December 28th, 2012 11:48 pm (UTC)
I will just be over here sobbing my eyes out and hugging my teddy bear. *curls into a ball*

PS this was lovely. ♥
lizardbeth: Avengers - Loki kinglizardbeth_j on December 29th, 2012 01:30 am (UTC)
awww. I know, poor cub, and then Loki's all stricken and precious about it.