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13 August 2013 @ 11:35 am
Hail of Shadows 5/?  
Previously: (Also at AO3)
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four

Loki sat on the shallow steps by the window of the anteroom, idly rolling a fat purple grape between his fingers. Part of him wondered why he was sitting there, waiting. He should open the shadowpaths and go. Somewhere. Anywhere. Instead of letting the inevitable hang over him.

I am a fool. I could be gone. I could have taken the tesseract and raised an army on its power alone. I could show Midgard my true strength, not the shadow they saw and scorn. Little do they know what I can truly do. Red on my ledger such that they can never dream, and their Realm not the worst of it.

Yet he stayed there, grape rolling across the back of his hands and between his fingers in an exercise he'd done since he'd been small enough to stand beneath the dining table.

At the sideboard, Thor poured drinks into the flagons, but Loki didn't want any drink. He had never enjoyed or desired that sort of loss of control, and especially not now while he awaited the summons.

Especially when I lose control perfectly well without it, he reminded himself acidly. Not a wolf, nor a cowering dog, only a fool.

Thor started across the chamber toward him, bearing both flagons and smiling so cheerfully Loki wanted to kick him in the teeth.

But before Thor said anything too provoking, another deep voice intruded. "Loki."

Loki glanced up to see Odin in the doorway, beckoning him to follow.

Loki climbed to his feet, knowing he could no longer avoid the confrontation. When Thor made a move to join him, Loki raised a hand. "No. This is mine alone."

He tossed the grape into one of Thor's flagons and followed Odin. To his surprise they went to the family dining room, not the audience chamber, but even so he did not attempt to sit in his own chair. Instead, once Odin had seated himself in his great chair, Loki stopped several paces away and cast his gaze to his hands folded in front of him. A year ago, he would have felt resentful and angry, but this time he felt resigned to the inevitable retribution. He opened his mouth to give the appropriate words of regret, then realized he'd had no leave to speak and shut it again.

"Such obedience," Odin mocked lightly. "I hardly know what to say when you are not full of defiance. Speak what sits so ready on your tongue."

Keeping his eyes down, Loki answered, "I wished to say I regret my intemperate action in the hall. I know you must doubt this, but I did not intend any true act against you."

Odin said nothing for a moment, but Loki felt the continued regard, and finally Odin said, "Time not long ago, I would have feared it indicated your true feeling - "

Loki lifted his eyes and interrupted urgently, "No! No, it does not! But they all seemed to expect it of me, and I wanted to show them they were wrong."

Odin frowned at him severely. "By showing them how you would make it come to pass?"

Loki's eyes fell again. "It sounds very… poor when said aloud," he admitted. "I wanted to show them I could have done it long ago. If … I had wanted--" he trailed off, not wanting to finish.

Odin finished for him, "If you had wanted me dead. Your illusion was not altogether spontaneous though. It was something you had considered before."

Loki wanted to lie, that no, of course, he had never considered it. But without raising his eyes, he admitted lowly, "Yes." He tightened his jaw and swallowed, adding, "I dreamed it. When I was little. I never told anyone, because how could I dream something so terrible? But standing in the hall, it seemed so strangely familiar..."

Odin stared at him, confounded by this revelation. He had expected Loki to confess to wanting to kill him out of his anger and resentment, but clearly not this. The shock would've been amusing if it wasn't all so awful.

"You… foresaw today?" Odin asked, and Loki nodded. Odin frowned and looked troubled. "This day be more significant than I had thought…" he murmured to more to himself, then addressed Loki again, "When your mother realized your dreams were not ordinary and were harming you, we took them away. You were too young to bear such a burden." A keen eye sought his. "Did they return and you failed to speak of it?"

"No," Loki was relieved to be able to say that truly. "I think not." He hoped not, or his nightmares of Thanos coming to Asgard and killing everyone would come true, and he could not endure that.

But Loki couldn't stop there, trying to explain, "So it felt strange entering the hall, and then to sense…" He stopped. 'How much they hate me' was true, but he knew Odin would never acknowledge that. Loki changed what he intended to say, "All I have wanted to do since Mother told me her intent of this ceremony was to present my plan for destroying Thanos. To show them," his hands fisted at his sides, pressing into his thighs, "I can solve the riddle, that all my books and magic can fix it. But… it was for nothing," he admitted, making a sharp gesture, as the anger welled up again. "I have no answer. So they still look on me with scorn and doubt, and they think they hide it, but I feel it, always."

Odin stirred as if he wished to argue that, but let it go after a careful breath. "Yet now the doubt has now increased beyond measure. Your temper was uncontrolled, reacting wildly to a single ill-timed jest. You must learn that not everything is a slight." He picked up his flagon to drink, frowning severely at Loki.

Loki wanted to argue, but tamped down the impulse. He needed to prove he could control his temper, not the opposite.

Odin put the flagon down to pronounce his judgment. "I think it best you absent yourself from Asgard. You will go to Midgard."

The words should not have been unexpected, because Loki had known Odin would have to make a public response to so public an act. He would have to be seen exerting authority over his rebellious and possibly evil son. So it should not have been a surprise.

Yet it was. All that he was, inside and out, seemed to frost over in that instant. Fear and dread filled him and stopped his breath, as if he was facing a nightmare or falling into that endless abyss again.

Midgard. He was being banished to Midgard. A world he hated and who hated him. Their food was inedible, their vast numbers of little insignificant mortal lives crawling and infesting every corner of the planet until there was no part of it untouched by their taint. He did not want to go there.

You should have let me die.

But he couldn't speak those words. He couldn't speak at all at first, not until he was sure his voice would stay level. Not until he could grab the shards of his pride and put them back together, and lift his head again to face Odin.

He wanted to object and rail against it and grow furious, but instead, the anger withered away. He could lie to himself that the punishment was unjust, but his fingers folded as if holding that phantom Gungnir again and thrusting it into Odin's back, and he knew that this time, he had gone too far. In truth, exile was better than he deserved.

I will do this, I will face it bravely, and I will not plead for mercy. I will accept my punishment as Thor did, and go to Midgard.

Without his powers he would be utterly helpless against the humans. But if they shot first, then perhaps this whole farce would finally be ended. Yet with his luck they'd capture him and he'd slowly starve instead.

"Will I - " Despite his best efforts, his voice faltered and he had to start over, "Will I be able to return? Someday?"

Why did he care, when this place was rarely anything but misery to him? But as he began to head down that same worn, bitter path, he remembered Frigga crying on the other side of the barrier of his prison and how the sight had twisted a knife in his heart that he hadn't been certain still existed. He didn't want to be barred from seeing her again.

Odin appeared startled by the question, then frowned. "No, no, Loki, it is not exile. You are not banished."

His relief made him feel light-headed and giddy. Not exile.

"But I must send you away from Asgard, to give your … performance a chance to fade from recent memory. So you will go to Midgard, with Thor, to warn the Midgardians about Thanos."

That seemed an utterly pointless quest to send him on. "They will not listen to me."

"You must find a way. You have knowledge Thor does not; you must help them prepare as best you can."

"I should go to Jotunheim instead," Loki suggested. "Thor can go to Midgard to warn them, while I warn the Jotunn. They at least should heed what I tell them." Not that he cared whether they fell to Thanos, but allowing Thanos any foothold in the Nine Realms would make it that much harder to stop him. Some might suspect Loki had betrayed them, when their king had been killed, but still, Loki thought he would rather face down Frost Giants than return to Midgard.

"You seem to be under the impression this is a negotiation. It is not." Odin stood, gripping Gungnir in one hand. "You will go to Midgard and you will learn some patience and caution, and compassion. You will observe the destruction you caused there, and maybe if you are fortunate and the Earthers are kind, you may receive some small part of forgiveness. But whether you do or not, you will go. You will warn them; you will tell them of the threat they face. Thor will lead this quest, and you will follow."

Against Odin's renewed anger, Loki dropped his eyes to the floor. "Yes, Allfather. As you command."

Odin strode away some steps before swinging back to pin Loki with another glare. "I will not send you powerless and mortal. That endangers you and perhaps the Nine Realms if Thanos attacks. But heed me, if you turn your powers against the mortals, if you create death and destruction again, there will be a reckoning. I will not spare you the full justice you deserve if you fail in this."

Loki nodded, and murmured, "I understand. I will not fail, I swear." He had no idea how he could succeed either, since surely the mortals would never listen to him, but the threat was real. He could not fail again on Midgard, or this grace would be taken back.

There was silence for a moment and then Odin let out a breath. "You acted in anger, not only toward those in the audience, but to me."

"No - I - " Loki started, in objection, but Odin overrode him.

"You and I may be reconciled, but that does not erase centuries of resentment. I understand. But you should also understand how difficult it was to see an image of myself dead at your feet."

Loki felt very small and young, and he had to bite his lip before speaking again, softly and not daring to look into Odin's face. "I am sorry. My rage was … unchecked."

Odin's voice and mien softened. "I know, child. You are the tempest on the mountains, distant as it builds, but wild when it falls."

Loki dampened his lips and raised his eyes back to Odin. "Perhaps you should take my powers from me," he offered, keeping his voice steady but his hands were shaking at his sides, until he clasped them behind his back. "I know not what troubles may arise on Midgard, but I have enemies there. Should they attack me, it might be best if I cannot retaliate without restraint."

Odin's frown deepened. "No. You will not learn restraint if you have nothing to restrain. Nor will I send you away from my protection powerless when I know Thanos lurks on the boundary, a danger to us all but especially to you."

Loki's eyes flared with surprise. He could not recall the last time Odin had expressed any particular concern for his well-being when leaving on a quest or for war.

Odin misread the surprise, and asked, "You did not consider Thanos may take this opportunity to strike at you?"

"I do not doubt he would take such an opportunity if offered, but it is not I - but rather the Gauntlet or tesseract, he wishes most of all," Loki replied steadily. At night and in his dreams, he feared Thanos would seek to punish him, but in the more rational light of day, he doubted Thanos would care about one traitor. He almost wished that Thanos would; at least then he could bait a trap with himself, once he found a proper spell to destroy him. "I think he will not concern himself with me."

"Perhaps." But Odin's face held doubt and long memory of the war before, knowing what Loki did not. "He has no mercy in him, Loki. And now he hates us both. Go with caution."

Loki nodded. "Of course."

Odin's eye flicked to him at that, as if 'caution' was a concept unfamiliar to Loki. "I can be cautious," Loki protested. "And plan carefully."

"Yes, you can. When you choose."

Loki could not dispute the weary condemnation in that, as sometimes Loki failed at careful planning, or rather, his careful plans did not properly account for all consequences. Loki had tried to be better than his oh-so-reckless brother, and ended up planning his way to disaster.

"The Bifrost grows rapidly, but is not complete. I will send you both by portal."

Speaking of disaster - the Bifrost's destruction is another that can be laid at my feet.

"And to return as well?" Loki asked. "I will not be able to bring us both back on the shadowpaths." He doubted he could bring himself alone, either, not with Asgard's protections at their heightened state. He might be able to force access for himself through where the gate had been, as the fabric of reality was never quite as firm after it had been torn and repaired, but weakening Jormungandr while Thanos waited outside was unwise. A portal would be easier and would not weaken the boundary, but he would need some sort of power source. "Stark's reactor would be sufficient to make a portal back, but he is unlikely to grant me access willingly."

Which was probably a wild understatement, since Stark was more likely to try to have him killed, than to render any assistance whatsoever.

"Yes," Odin said, "this troubles me. Heimdall will watch over you both, and I will use the tesseract to recall you, but that leaves you little recourse if Asgard is under attack. What of Mjolnir? You have drawn upon its energies in the past."

Loki grimaced at the irony of that request. How many times in the past had Odin disapproved of Loki drawing on Mjolnir for anything? The energies were not for him to wield, and Odin had told him so, quite forcibly. Loki had avoided its use, though not because Odin had forbidden it; the idea of needing Thor's help for anything had grown repellent and he'd only used it in desperate circumstance.

The last time had been in battle with Svartalfheim, and Loki's attempt to control both Mjolnir's energies and the wild magic set loose in the battle had resulted in a conflagration that could have killed them all. Loki had barely managed to send it at the enemy, and the effort had burnt him out for weeks. He had not touched Mjolnir's energies in the years since. That had been one of Thor's lauded victories, while Loki had stood in the shadows of the celebration, the price he had paid for the victory unacknowledged.

"It does not answer to me," Loki answered eventually, shielding the bitterness from his voice. "I can fight it well enough for rough power attacks, but a portal requires a delicate touch. That… would be far more difficult." It was likely impossible; he'd probably do better alone than trying to force Mjolnir's energies into a portal. "And of course, I can do nothing with it without Thor's assistance to call the energies in the first place."

He knew the obvious solution and he knew from Odin's glance that Odin did as well. But Loki was reluctant to suggest it, fearing it would seem that he had orchestrated the conversation for such an end as the Casket of the Ancient Winters.

A voice at the back of his mind whispered that Odin had given it to him and if it was his, he needed no permission to bring it anywhere, any more than Thor needed permission to bring Mjolnir. But Thor had not been allowed Mjolnir on Earth at first, as part of his punishment, and likely Loki would not be allowed the Casket either.

The Casket. Jotunheim. Shadowpaths.

He had been a fool.

"Loki?" Odin asked. "What is it?"

"I realized… I left a shadowpath gate in Jotunheim as well. It is a point of weakness into the Realms. Truly I am not being impertinent, Allfather," he insisted, though Odin had not objected yet, "but I need to go there and unmake it before you send us to Midgard." He swallowed hard, ashamed to admit the weakness, "Thanos will have learned it exists from me."

He could still not clearly recall Thanos, but the influence he'd left behind was proof that Thanos had invaded his memories. Anything Loki had known at the time of his fall was known to Thanos as well. I should have fought him. I should have resisted.

Odin stroked his beard once, his gaze heavy on Loki. "The last time you went there… was not a success."

Loki decided it was wiser to keep his mouth shut and not point out that the last mission to Jotunheim had succeeded quite well - Laufey had come through exactly as planned, following the will-o-wisp in the under-halls. After that … admittedly, after that, everything had failed terribly, but the trip itself had succeeded.

Yet Odin knew his thoughts, unspoken. "They may attack you to avenge his death."

"All they should know is I was friendly to their cause. Possibly they may guess the betrayal, but they cannot know it was my hand." He smirked in memory. "I warned them it was a risk."

Odin peered at him curiously. "You feel no remorse."

Loki knew he should feign uncertainty, at least. It would be wiser to show he could reconsider his actions, especially in the aftermath of today's temper, but he could not muster even the pretense of remorse over Laufey's death. He shrugged. "Should I? He was a monster. I do not regret it. All that followed, yes, but not his death."

"Even though he might have told you why?" Odin asked.

Loki knew which question - which 'why' - he meant: Why did you abandon me? Why did you hate me so much you wanted me dead?

Loki gave a sharp laugh. "I know why." Because Laufey had thought his malformed infant was a creature unworthy of the simple mercy of a quick death, and left him to starve. Oh yes, if Laufey stood before him again, Loki would still run him through with Gungnir. The only part he regretted was that Laufey had not known - Loki had wanted to see the surprise and horror in his face that his betrayer was that abandoned son. But Frigga had been in more danger than he had expected, and so there had been no time for gloating.

"Perhaps I should send another," Odin mused. "Your anger still clouds your judgment."

Realizing his emotions had been too naked on his face, Loki inhaled a deeper, steadying breath to get himself back under control. "I need only unmake the gate, it stands outside the city. I do not intend to provoke any response; only moving quickly with stealth. And if I have the Casket I can return myself."

"If you call upon the power of the Casket they will know."

Loki's stomach turned at the thought that anyone else, especially Jotunn, would know the truth. It was not widely known that the Casket was tied to Jotunn blood; many believed Odin had taken it to use himself. Hopefully his known spell mastery would be enough to explain his use. "I will hide what I can."

Odin paced around the table, deep in thought. "Very well. But you must take Thor."

"You heard the part of my plan involving stealth, yes?" Loki asked dryly, lifting a brow.

Odin's lips twitched in reluctant amusement. "I shall warn him against his usual heedlessness. But going to Jotunheim alone is unwise. Better you should defend one another. And you can depart directly to Midgard."

Loki wanted to object to that, but Odin expected defiance from him, so he bowed his head. "We shall."

"I will send you by the tesseract to Jotunheim, but you will take the Casket and use that to create the portal to Midgard."

Loki nodded, accepting the command. The Casket of the Ancient Winters was attuned to him and would give him power enough to make a portal anywhere in the Nine Realms.

The thought of wielding that much power and weaving the portal from it, made him quiver with eagerness. He remembered holding its energies in his room, and he remembered sending a portion of it against Heimdall. Everything in his being felt right with that power coursing through him. He wanted that again, so strongly that the desire made the back of his neck feel cold and his fingers ached to make the spell.

He could hold against the temptation here, under his mother's eyes and with her strength supporting him, but away from Asgard? Under pressure from enemies? What if he was weak again? Or his temper too wild?

If he faltered, he could unleash a deep winter on Midgard. He could freeze the mortals' water-based bodies with a thought, bring the snow, and turn the world into a deadly reflection of Jotunheim. It was a heady thing to imagine - the snow and ice spreading through the city. It would be beautiful and terrible, the cold and the silence of the once living and vibrant city.

It reminded him of the terrible wave of energy falling upon the dark elf warriors, bright death rolling over the ranks, unstoppable and fearful in its power. And he remembered his own euphoria at the sight, until pain had torn it all to darkness.

He could feel that same dark glee he'd felt in the battle on Midgard, when nothing else mattered. With the power of the Casket in his hands, even the green monstrosity would fall to that power in his hands. He could avenge that humiliation and defeat, and with that power, he would be unstoppable…

He had to turn from the table and walk away. He closed his eyes in futile attempt to push the terrible temptation from him.

Is this all I am? Destruction and death? Power and malice? Have these hands not brought ruin enough?

He brought his hands before him, clenched to fists, remembering Thor begging him to stop the portal and his own voice crying out in horror and elation: It is too late!

Too late to stop it. Too late to call it back. Too late for him.

That it hadn't been too late, that it had been 'just in time' had been due to the acts of others, not himself: Tony Stark's last minute sacrifice, Natasha using the scepter to short circuit the portal, his mother not surrendering to his madness… Everyone else had risked themselves to stop him.

Yet it seemed he'd learned nothing. Again he was walking the same worn path to destruction and reckless anger, so blinded by the allure of power he ignored the abyss at the end of the path. Defeated by reaching for what he was not, all that remained was shame of what he was.

A strong hand gripped his shoulder, and Loki turned his head, startled. The touch and the sight of Odin's face, and the look of understanding, of sympathy, on so stern a countenance undid him suddenly. He had to blink back sudden hot tears and his voice was ragged with loathing, as he confessed, "I hate him, I killed him, and yet his blood is still in me. I can never be the son you want."

He was power and death, tragedy and pain. He was a monster, spawn of a monster, and he would never be anything else.

Odin's grip tightened. "Loki, you are my son," Odin murmured. "I want us to be reconciled, and I want you to be reconciled to all the parts of you so you can find peace. I remember the joyful boy you were once, and that changed not because of your blood, but because of me." His other hand pushed back the dark hair hanging in Loki's face and tipped his chin up to look into his eyes. "You said I did not see you, remember? Do you know what I see before me now? I see the potential of the best of all the Realms, and I see our chance for unity and for a peace that comes not from a sword or spear," his hand dropped to Loki's chest, and laid upon it gently, "but from heart. This heart beating right here."

Loki felt as if that chest and heart beneath was suddenly fragile crystal, quivering under Odin's hand as if it might collapse to tiny shards at the merest breath.

"You are not exiled," Odin repeated, not moving his hand. "Not banished. Not punished. This journey is for you, to heal this heart and to learn its strength. You will take your inheritance to Midgard and you will use it wisely, this I see. This I believe, my son."

Unable to speak aloud, afraid his voice would fail him altogether, Loki nodded. Gravely, Odin nodded back.

"I must prepare; you and Thor leave within the hour," Odin declared and with a last squeeze, Odin left.

The unexpected words of faith still ringing in his ears, Loki could scarcely focus his thoughts, stunned. He collapsed into his chair, staring unseeing at Thor's chair across the table.

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