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09 August 2013 @ 12:19 pm
Hail of Shadows 4/?  
Hail of Shadows, Part IV of Understanding the Storm
Avengers/Thor, gen
Loki, Frigga, Thor, Odin, other Asgardians, plus Malekith, Thanos, Sigyn, Skadi.

Previously: (Also at AO3)
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

The great hall filled with the restless sounds of those awaiting the ceremony.

Frigga stood alone before the throne, as Odin and Thor both would follow Loki in.

The great doors at the end opened and the trumpets sounded a clarion of greeting. Loki entered, in full golden armor and helm, and started down the central aisle.

Frigga frowned as she got a look at his face, held proudly high. The fever-bright glint in his eyes worried her as he approached. His gaze did not meet hers and he seemed not to be seeing the hall at all. His hands were clenched at his sides. She tried to smile encouragingly at him, but he didn't notice. Was he remembering the last great gathering in this hall, for Thor's coronation-that-hadn't-happened before all had gone awry? Or something else?

Then as Loki passed the great bulk of Volstagg, there with his entire family at the front of the crowd, the elder warrior muttered, "Blood will tell, in the end." Loki flinched, and he hesitated before continuing, more stiffly than he had been moving.

He reached the first step and, instead of kneeling and awaiting Odin and Thor as he should, he mounted the steps to the top, stood before the great throne, and turned in a swirl of emerald cape.

She felt a strong foreboding and raised a hand, opening her mouth to speak, but he spoke first, exclaiming in a furious voice that reached the far pillars, "I try to defend this realm, I try to do the right thing, and none of it ever matters! I know what you all believe! Is this what you expect of me? Is this what you want me to be? Then I will give it to you!"

Abruptly Odin stood on the dais with him though she had not seen him arrive. Loki grabbed Gungnir from his hand, and in one fast twirl, thrust the spear through Odin's back so it came through his chest. The gathered crowd gasped in horror and a few screams, as the king's eye bulged and he clutched at the spear, blood gushing from his mouth and the wound.

For an instant, horror froze her: no, no, how could he do this? Then she realized Odin wasn't there at all. It was illusion, though it seemed no one else realized that.

"Loki! Stop this at once!" Frigga started toward him, finding a barrier across her path. She hit it, trying to get inside or break it, but he held it in place, keeping her away from himself and the image of his father. "Loki!" He did not hear her, face ravaged and incandescent eyes that saw only the illusion he was weaving.

Loki wrenched the spear free and kicked Odin's body down the steps where it slumped to the floor. Several people shouted and others reached for weapons which they were not carrying at what was supposed to be a peaceful ceremony.

As they moved toward him, he lifted his arms, bloody spear in hand, and shouted, "Is that what you fear so desperately? Then I will give it to you. Why should I try to do good, if all you expect of me is evil?"

He held Gungnir high, and lightning flashed, rising from the tip of the spear to the top of the dome. He hurled the spear downward at Odin's body, where it lodged upright.

Loki's expression was one moment wild-eyed and triumphant, but the next, faltered. She thought it was because Volstagg and Fandral both smashed into the barrier at the front, yelling for the king and for Loki's blood. But then she sensed the real reason, only a moment before Odin's voice roared out over the noise. "Loki, what is this? What are you doing?"

The barrier under Frigga's hands melted away as Odin came onto the dais, holding the actual Gungnir. The illusions vanished without a trace and the audience gasped, realizing Loki had played them all. He sneered at them, "Proving I'm the monster they fear."

He whirled around, cape flaring, and disappeared as if he'd been an illusion, too. But she sensed a different cast of invisibility and hurried after him. "Loki! Stop!" But she called too late as the spell for short-range teleportation shivered against her skin and he was gone, through the door.

On the other side of the door she met Thor, but Loki was nowhere to be seen. "Did you see him? Loki?" she asked.

"No, why? What is happening?"

"Find him! He must be near." She ran down the corridor, calling for Loki. She hoped he would reveal himself to her, but got no response. But when enough time had passed that he could be anywhere, she returned to the corridor outside the hall, beckoning Thor to join her.

"What happened?" Thor asked.

"He has done something impetuous," she sighed and shook her head. He was likely regretting it already and was hiding himself away by now to brood over it. In the past he would have filled himself with righteous indignation and put himself in the right, but she was less sure now what his ultimate response would be.

"In the middle of the ceremony?" Thor asked, but did not sound overly surprised.

Before she could explain, Odin emerged, furious. "This is intolerable! He attacks me - or makes everyone believe that he did - he ruins a reconciliation ceremony with this - this - " The air crackled with the force of his anger, as he lost his words. "This nonsensical attack! I have spent the last few minutes reassuring everyone he meant nothing by it, but how do I know that? Perhaps it is what he has always planned and he rehearses-"

She cut that off with an urgent grip of his arm. "No. Husband, no. Your first instinct was correct; it was intemperate and foolish, but not malice."

"What happened?" Thor demanded, looking from one to the other, alarmed.

Odin let out a great bellows of air and looked to her. "Yes, what did happen? I came into it already finished-- a simulacrum of my own body dead on the floor, with Gungnir wielded by my son to take my life!"

"What?" Thor blurted, appalled.

"It was illusion," Frigga explained. "Loki was proceeding through the crowd as planned and he heard an ill-chosen remark by Volstagg. Loki leapt up to the dais and proclaimed the ceremony a farce because everyone believed him a villain regardless of what he did. He cast the illusion that you had entered," she added to Odin. "It was impressive, and even I believed it for the first moment."

"I do not find that at all reassuring," he grumbled.

"I suppose not, but for something he cast without preparation in the heat of upset, it was well-done. And he held me off with a force barrier with little effort, while he finished his… pantomime of regicide. It was... quite dramatic."

"But- but why? What did Volstagg say?" Thor asked.

She sighed. "He said, 'Blood will tell in the end.' Which was unfortunate, though I suspect Loki awaited any expression of doubt. He believes all revile him, though in truth few know of his darker deeds and fewer still know of his blood."

"That was what the ceremony was for," Thor objected, still in confusion. "To demonstrate to the people that he had reconciled with us. But then he commits a larger misdeed to ruin it."

"He lashed out," she murmured, "full of anger, not reason, Thor. He doubts himself, so he makes everyone else doubt, too."

Odin settled then, more thoughtful, and his eye sought her gaze. "He is not ready."

"I had hoped the ceremony would be healing, but I agree," she said with a nod, her heart heavy. "He cannot be reconciled with us or with the people, until he is reconciled to himself."

Odin's gaze lifted abruptly, sensing something at a distance. "He has broken the ward around the tesseract. Thor, go to your brother -- in this mood, he may do something else reckless. Your mother and I will discuss what is to become of him."

"'What is to become of him'?" Thor repeated in alarm. "But, Father, he did not intend to--"

"Go. Stop him. Now," Odin ordered and with a quick jerk of his head in reluctant assent, Thor obeyed.

After they watched their son hurry away, he gave her a look. "I expected another impassioned defense, like Thor's?"

"I expected you to be more alarmed that Loki is near the tesseract," she countered.

He gestured with Gungnir. "He knows I know he broke the ward, as I also know he has not taken it. He will brood for a few minutes, either to work himself into a rage great enough to take it, or to give his brother time to reach him."

"And that is why I am not immediately beginning my impassioned defense," she answered, lips flickering in a wry smile. "You have a better understanding of him now."

"I thought I did," he said heavily, with a shake of his head. "To see that, though… is he still so angered at me?"

She had to admit that. "Yes. It will take time to recover from those resentments he held for so long. But I think also it was the worst thing he could imagine at that moment to prove himself a monster."

"As he believes himself to be." Odin pondered that for a moment. "I feared I raised a monster, and so he fears he is one."

"Loki fears a great many things," Frigga murmured. "Thor knows no fear, because he has never cried out and gone unanswered. But when he was but hours or days old, Loki cried in the snowy dark and no one came to comfort him. That imprinted on his soul, and every time he cried out afterward and no one offered solace, that fear rooted a little deeper that he was undeserving. That only a beast would be left to suffer."

He shut his eye, his face lined with pain. "We knew not that he suffered."

To her everlasting shame, it was true that they had not known, but he had not told them he had lain on the floor, broken and alone, because they should have known; the king and queen of Asgard and their servant Heimdall who saw all, should not have needed telling.

"If you are Loki, do you believe your parents, wisest of Asgard, knew not, or knew but did nothing?" she asked in a murmur. "He chose the latter, believing in us so much more than anyone believed in him. But we did not know."

Odin nodded slowly and he took her hand in his, pressing it. "He was right," he admitted hoarsely. "I saw him not. I saw only what I expected to see, a Frost Giant enemy, a cuckoo in the nest, biding his time to overthrow those who gave him shelter."

She tried to smile. "Then, husband, perhaps his impetuous act has had one favorable outcome, and proven what you feared most is only a shadow. The river once led to a terrible fall but it has been diverted to a new course. And it's our duty to shepherd that course to better ends."

She saw the Allfather, wisdom now fully engaged on behalf of his younger son, instead of in opposition, and he released her hand.

"You have a plan?" she asked, smile widening, knowing he did.

"Loki does not believe words. He knows how easily those can twist. Only actions will serve." He headed down the corridor, filled with new purpose. "He lacks belief in himself most of all, and no words will give it to him. He must find his strength himself."

She frowned, brow knitting. What action could he be contemplating?

"He must face his fear and emerge from it reborn." An eagle eye glared at her sidelong. "And no well-meaning maternal coddling shall interfere."

She let a smile tease her lips, not impressed with the severity. "That depends entirely upon your intent. He has suffered quite enough in recent days."

He stopped. "Must you combat me at every turn when it comes to Loki?" he demanded in frustration.

She intended a greater tease, but what emerged was more somber and true. "I should have begun long ago."

He hesitated and admitted, "Indeed." He held out his free hand. "Walk with me and I will share my plan. I think even an anxious mother will approve it."

She tucked her hand around his arm. "Then I anxiously await to hear it."

"Loki?" Thor emerged on the upper level of the tower to find Loki there. He'd put away the formal armor and his helm to wear his black and green fighting leathers. His hands were clasped behind his back and he was looking at the tesseract with a dour expression as if he were contemplating something reckless and foolish.

Thor hoped it was a good sign Loki hadn't taken hold of it. "Mother told me what you did in the audience hall."

"They got what they wanted," Loki muttered.

"Loki." Thor sighed. "You frightened them."

"Good. I intended as much." He turned from the tesseract and went to the railing. Thor joined him, following Loki's gaze out to the Bifrost gate where the rainbow bridge shimmered in the distance, where its regrowth was proceeding rapidly fueled by the power of the tesseract. "They fear me, whatever I do. So they may as well fear the wolf, not the cowering dog."

"So you put on a performance of murdering our father? That was how you show you are a wolf, brother?" Thor asked, feeling both dismay -- for how could Loki even imagine such a thing? -- and a little bemusement at Loki's implication that he had done it with intent, when he so obviously had lost his temper.

"They are complacent," Loki bit out. "They think they know what Thanos is, and they still fear me as if I am the worst of us. So I thought I should show them how easy it would be if I were such a villain."

Thor hesitated, wondering what he could say. "If you were looking for trust, I think that was the last thing you should have done."

Loki made a scornful, bitter noise. "I lost that battle before Midgard. Nor do I care to fight it anew, when the war comes." He lifted his eyes to the sky above. "I feel him, Thor. He is on the move. And when he comes, none of this will matter."

"You can feel him?" Thor asked, in alarm. "Does Father know this?"

"There is little to tell. It's faint. A whisper, but always there now." He frowned and folded his arms as if he felt cold.

"Where is he?" Thor asked. "Near?"

Loki was already shaking his head negative. "Still at a distance. But he taints Jormungandr. I could find where he touches in the shadowpaths." He turned, gaze drifting to find the tesseract again.

Thor's hand closed on his shoulder. "No. Whatever you are planning, no. Not with the tesseract, and not alone, brother."

"I am not planning anything," Loki protested, jerking free of Thor's grip to face the distant horizon again. There was a longing to his gaze and in the way he leaned into the railing, as if he wanted to fly away.

"Then I am more concerned," Thor said. "Your plans at least are thoughtful; your unconsidered reactions tend toward utter disaster."

Loki stiffened in offense but didn't speak, and after a moment, he slumped again as if realizing it was the truth. After he watched a flock of small blackbirds dart around the farther towers, his fingers wrapped the railing and he said in a low voice, "You can say it. What does he intended to do? With me?"

"I do not know," Thor answered, just as softly. "He sent me to you before he decided. But it will be well, Loki; he knows it was only illusion."

"Does he?" Loki murmured. "I would not believe so, in his place."

"I shall not permit anything terrible," Thor declared staunchly, though in truth he was not sure what he could do to stop anything Odin decided. He urged Loki to move, slinging an arm across his shoulders. "Come; away from here. You are still upset and the tesseract may yet tempt you into something rash. And I believe you have done enough that is reckless for this day."

Loki flicked him a baleful glare, but let Thor nudge him to the stairs.

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