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20 March 2014 @ 02:18 pm
Fic: The Snow Queen and the Ice Demon, Ch. 5  
In which the brothers get smacked in the face with the truth. And Elsa eavesdrops. A lot.

The moment Loki disappeared, Thor chased after him, bellowing his name.

But Elsa suspected where Loki would go and she gathered up her skirt in one hand and hurried to the side garden.

She was right; she saw immediately. Loki was there, standing beside the fountain with his expression ravaged by confusion and emotions too tangled to name. His hands bunched into fists as he stared into the spray.

Elsa was about to step out to go to him, but both of them heard the gate slam open. Thor had found his way there already. She waited where she was, hidden by the leaves of the flower trellis, and peered through the gap to watch.

At first Loki didn't react. She didn't believe he was unaware of Thor's approach - Thor was far too large and heavy to sneak across the stone pathway successfully - but Loki ignored it as long as he could. He closed his eyes and his expression came under control.

Thor's voice was cheerful and teasing. "So this is where you've been hiding yourself."

"I haven't been hiding," Loki snapped, defensively.

"Then how could Heimdall not find you? He could see only the eddies from your passing, not you, and then nothing at all," Thor said and clenched his fists. "I feared you were dead."

"Clearly not."

"Mother said she knew you were alive, that she hoped you would come home when you were ready. But even she couldn't locate you until recently, and she said I was to bring you home, that you had time enough."

"Time enough to do what? Forget it was all a lie? Forget I was a monster and I would never belong there?" Loki retorted, voice ragged with pain and bitterness. "Well, I figured that out right away."

"No!" Thor blurted in shock. "Loki, that's not true." When Loki turned away, Thor followed him, persisting against the cold shoulder. "You're not a monster, how could you even think that?"

"Oh, maybe it was Odin telling me if I left, not to come back. Maybe it was because I knew no one would ever forgive what I'd done." He made a slicing gesture with his left hand, as if to cut himself off from his other family. In profile his face looked set, cheeks thin and jawline tight.

"No, Loki, that's not--" Thor said, and for a moment, couldn't find the words, only look at Loki imploringly. "You're so wrong. Please listen, brother."

"You're not my brother!" Loki snarled and walked toward the door into the castle, close to Elsa. He didn't notice her, too wrapped up in his own upset. "Go back to Asgard, and leave me be."

Thor went after him. "No, we want you to come home. Your family--"

Loki spun around. "I have a family. Here."

"These mortals?" Thor asked, and laughed a little in disbelief. "And what will you do when they inevitably die, brother?"

"Shut up." Without warning, Loki punched him, a darting attack with the heel of his palm right into Thor's face. It knocked Thor back a step, more in surprise than pain. Loki spat at him, "At least they're not waiting for me to be evil, like all of you."

As Loki walked past Elsa, Thor called after him, "That was a century ago! Loki, please!" Loki didn't break stride or stop again, and the door swung open and slammed shut behind him on its own. Thor gazed after him, expression falling in sorrow. "I miss you," he whispered. Shoulders slumping, he turned to look toward the sea, with a heavy breath that did not understand why he had failed.

He did care, truly, she saw that, but if he thought that approach was going to work, he didn't understand his brother at all. Elsa stepped out from behind the concealing flowers and leaves. "My lord, I would speak with you?" she greeted.

He turned and frowned at her curiously before nodding. "Queen Elsa, was it?" His smile and bright eyes would have melted ice, but she was tougher than that.

She moved closer, aware of how much bigger he was. Loki was tall, but Thor was tall and wide and unsettlingly bright. Heroic, for certain, and she understood how he could appeal to others, but he also seemed untarnished, as if he'd slipped through life without facing any troubles. Loki had called Thor the elder, but at the moment she would have said Thor was the one with the brashness of youth. "I am. Also, he was too upset to mention, but you should know: I'm your niece."

"Niece." He looked blank as if the word had no meaning to him, then he blinked and his eyes grew big with astonishment. A grin spread on his face of such pure delight that she had to smile back, and he seized her hands in his giant ones. "Niece? You are his daughter? Is this so?"

"It is." It took only a deliberate glance aside and intent to freeze the fountain into a spray of ice. He watched in wonder.

"Then... you are family. No wonder he was so wroth with me."

"Yes. Reminding him he will outlive me was unkind." His smile faltered, as if he'd never been told he was unkind before. She pulled at his hands until he let her go. His grip was very strong. "He has true attachments here you will be better served not to belittle."

"I-- " he hesitated, bright blue eyes troubled as he considered her words, and he said carefully, "I intended no offense, Queen Elsa."

"I'm not the one offended." She folded her hands together before her and addressed him calmly. "You should understand, my lord, that this is the first place he has found a home since he lost Asgard and he came here only recently. In between, for many years, he wandered these lands, adrift in the belief that he had nothing." A concerned frown grew on his face, a sympathy for what he was beginning to understand. "My sister and I - we know him for who he is now, not the man he used to be; we admitted him into our hearts without reservation. Yet here you come, after a hundred years of abandonment, seeking to tear that apart."

"We did not abandon him," he protested. "He could have come home anytime."

"Did he know that?" She raised her eyebrows at him. "When the parting was hostile? When he's uncertain if he is forgiven? If he is even loved?" She spread her hands before her, recalling those three years after her parents' death as years of fear, when she had feared so much to touch anyone, and she had feared their fear and rejection. "He won't explain it to me, even though it's my blood too, but I know your parents hid away all trace of it. That's nothing but tragedy, to believe one's own blood and heart are tainted. To believe his closest kin loathe who he truly is."

Thor shook his head. "No! No one--"

"Then why does he have to hide it?" she pointed out. "If they did not loathe it, why was it tucked away and lied about, unless the truth is shameful?" His lips parted, as if to argue, but then closed again, and he nodded once, slowly. She looked at the ice fountain and let the ice spread across the basin and the floor, to rise in pillars all around and come together at the top in a high dome that sparkled in the sun, as she spoke. "I know about hiding. In my childhood, I suppressed and repressed who I was and what I could do, terrified that my power would hurt people-- terrified they would be afraid and hate me. I… nearly killed my sister because of my fear. It nearly killed everyone in Arendelle. It's a terrible thing to fear and hate oneself, especially when one has magic, because magic responds to our will."

He listened to her with attention, and when she finished, he let the silence fall, his expression somber as he admired her ice pavilion. He understood her point, she thought, and it gave her hope that he would find better words to talk with Loki.

"You have given me a great deal to think about," Thor murmured. "And I thank you for sharing your understanding. When he left us…" he shook his head and looked sad. "He was so angry, so upset, he would not listen to anyone. Then he was gone." He sighed, hair hanging in his face. "For these years it has been as if half of myself has been missing."

"Then perhaps that is the part you should begin with, when you speak to him next. Don't be fooled by his words, he was filled with melancholy at the thought of losing Asgard forever. But he also believes he has no place there."

"Then I must convince him he does," Thor promised, giving a determined nod.

"Then, I would invite you to dine with us, this evening. Perhaps over a simple family meal, my sister and I might mediate some accord between you."

"I did not ever imagine I would need such mediation, not with my brother, but I accept all your help with gratitude, my niece," he said, smiling broadly.

She couldn't help smiling back.

A part of Elsa felt she should be hosting the gods in the main hall, with a huge number of guests and everyone in finery; instead, she kept it a small, intimate meal served in the sitting room.

Elsa watched in amusement as Thor still treated it as if they were at a huge feast, drinking great quantities of ale, and he broke one of the chairs, resulting in profuse apologies.

Anna sighed over their guest. "Did you see those shoulders, Elsa?" she whispered.

"Kristoff," Elsa reminded her.

"I didn't suddenly go blind," Anna retorted and returned to her past-time of coaxing Thor to tell ridiculous stories of his adventures while she rested her chin on her hand and pretended she was listening, while she traced his body in its close-fitting flexible armor suit with her eyes. She was obvious about it, but he sweetly pretended not to notice. Or maybe it happened so often he was oblivious.

Thor obliged Anna with stories of Asgard when he and Loki had been young, but she could see part of his attention stayed on the doors, waiting for Loki to join them. Which he didn't.

"I should go fetch him," Elsa declared after the supper was served and his place remained stubbornly empty.

"Please, no," Thor requested. "Always he resists when others try to force him to do something. I doubt that has changed about him."

"You've been apart for a hundred years," Anna said, straightening. "If it was my brother, I wouldn't let him out of my sight."

"Anna, it's complicated," Elsa reproved, when Thor looked sad.

"Not really. When you ran away, I went after you," Anna retorted. Suddenly every trace of her interest in Thor was gone, replaced by the fierce defender Elsa was also familiar with. "Who went after him?"

"No one, young Anna," he answered sadly. "He vanished."

"Ah. No wonder he's angry. You didn't try very hard."

Thor lifted his chin and made his chair creak as he shifted defensively and replied, "We tried, but he hid--"

Anna was not having any of that. "A century ago, a wizard using ice powers was running around here for more than two years, in the exact same place the Winter War happened centuries before that. And none of you supposed gods noticed? Great Odin Allfather the Wise wasn't suspicious?" she demanded and got to her feet, now pinning him with a glare and repeated, "You didn't try very hard."

Then she swept out, face tight with anger.

"I … apologize," Elsa said in the following silence. "She's grown very fond of him, too."

He held up a hand, brow knitting. "Do not apologize for her affection; I am glad to know he's made such companions. What did she mean about a strange wizard with ice powers? I've never heard of such a thing. Is she speaking of Loki?"

"Yes. Though my people called him the Ice Demon…"

Thor excused himself to look for his brother, and Elsa retired to her study to write letters.

She didn't expect to find Loki right outside her narrow window, which was open to catch the breeze. When she stood up from the desk, she could see him pacing the walkway outside in the light from the lanterns that hung on the parapets. Anna wasn't with him, but Elsa felt sure she had found him first and coaxed him out of wherever he had hidden, with her special blend of affection and stubbornness.

Once he seemed in the mood for company, she intended to go to him, but for now she kept watch and hoped the sounds of her writing and rustling papers through the open window were soothing to him.

Thor's booming voice came as a surprise. It was less enthusiastic than he had tried before. "Loki? Please, might we speak again? Elsa told me what this place means to you. I did not know, and I would ask your forgiveness for speaking so cavalierly."

"Yes, of course," Loki answered immediately. He stopped pacing and stopped to rest his hands on the balustrade, to look out to sea. "I reacted too impetuously." He let out a sigh. "As always."

"No less than I do," Thor said, approaching slowly from the left to join him. "You should know -- I only learned what Mother and Father had told you after you left. They kept it from me, as well. So when I said-- what I said -- I spoke from ignorance and confusion."

"So, like usual then?" Loki taunted, but without bite, more as a habit.

Thor ignored it altogether. "I fear my words came to your ears with entirely different meanings than I intended. I know Father's did. He did not say you could never come back, Loki. You were the one who said you were never returning-- he said to beware oaths that would seek to fulfill themselves, even after you regretted giving them. And he was right, was he not? Your stubbornness has kept you away, long after you changed your mind."

"Not stubbornness alone," Loki answered. A silence fell between them that worried Elsa, and she stood up, hands tense on the surface of her desk. Loki asked softly, "How many people did I kill? When I left?"

"Kill?" Thor repeated blankly. "No one." He regarded Loki with dawning comprehension. "Is that what this is about? Loki, some columns were damaged and the drapes burned. And they were so ugly I think Mother was disappointed she hadn't thought to light them on fire herself long ago."

But Loki didn't respond to the jest, clenching his hands. "Don't lie to me. I saw guards fall in the shockwave of the spell. I saw -- I saw Sif--"

Thor gripped his shoulder. "I swear it's the truth. Sif is well. Angry at you for being gone so long, but well. And no one was killed, I promise. You did nothing that requires forgiveness."

Loki's hands curled and straightened, turning the truth over in his mind, unsure what to do with it. "I said cruel things."

"And some true things," Thor admitted. "None of us understood how powerful you had become until that moment. You were right; we saw only the child, helpless to those who had greater physical strength. And they had kept the truth from you. You were angry and upset with good cause. No one blames you or hates you."

He hesitated and when Loki said nothing, Thor added, more softly, "Perhaps you think your blood should matter more to me than being my brother? Let me prove it does not."

Loki turned to face him, knitting his brow in confusion. "How?"

"Show me."

Elsa didn't know what he was supposed to show Thor, but Loki did. He went pale and his lips parted then pressed tightly together, as if he might be sick. "No."

"Please," Thor requested. "Let me show you it's not the terrible thing you believe it to be."

Loki's gaze fixed on the distant horizon, as he leaned against the rail, tilting his upper body over it as if he wanted to fling himself over and fly away. "You… don't know what you ask."

"Not as you do," Thor acknowledged. "But I think you have taken this simple truth and wrapped it in layers of horror and fear in your solitude, and it has lodged in your heart. If I could cut it free, and prove it is not such a big thing…" With his grip on Loki's shoulder, he turned Loki forcibly back to him, and put his other hand on Loki's other shoulder to hold him there. "Show me, and I will show you that you are still my brother, no matter where you were born."

Loki's eyes stayed cast down, and for a moment he was silent. "No." He jerked free of Thor's grasp, stepping away. "You don't want to see." His laugh was sharp. "Remember when we swore we would go kill them when we were grown?"

"We were children, we knew no better-"

"They are our enemies! Asgard's enemies. They are brutal and stupid and monstrous and disgusting, and if I could burn that blood out of myself, I would!" Shaking, he shouted the words, and then whirled, done with the conversation.

"It gave you Elsa."

Loki stopped and slowly turned back. "What did you say?" he asked in a low dangerous voice, eyes narrowed to bright slivers.

"You heard me. It gave you Elsa. She is not brutal or stupid, or monstrous or disgusting," Thor quoted the words carefully back to him. "And neither are you. No more or less than any Aesir. The same."

The words seemed to rattle inside Loki, until he was shaking, though he didn't otherwise move until he jerked forward. It seemed he might try to hit Thor, but he moved right past, back to the railing.

"If you want to stay, then I shall respect your wish, Loki. But don't stay because you think you cannot come home. Because you can," Thor told him earnestly. "We miss you. You've been gone so long."

Loki looked out to the sky, perhaps all the way to Asgard. Finally he spoke, voice quiet as he asked, "To what end?"

"What do you mean?" Thor moved nearer, frowning at him curiously. "To be with us. For you and I to have great adventures together, as we did before."

"And then?" Loki asked.

"Return home. Tell stories of our adventures so all envy us. There is a dragon on Vanaheim, they say," he said, teeth of a flashing grin bright in the dimness. "A great ancient beast, black as obsidian, with fangs bigger than my head. We could find it."

Loki said in a voice dripping with scorn, "So I can watch you kill it? How thrilling."

"Unless my brother, a sorcerer of great skill already, would rather learn magic from it. That would be a worthy quest as well."

Loki hesitated. "That is a worthy quest? Surely all the acclaim is in the slaying of it."

Thor's hand settled on his shoulder. "I would trade a hundred dragons for you to come home. But," he continued with a grin, "I will take the Warriors Three and Sif and go slay it, if you stay on Midgard."

"Are you holding a dragon hostage?" Loki asked, amusement flickering on his lips.

"One great blow with Mjolnir--" Thor threatened playfully.

Loki rolled his eyes. "As if a dragon as old as that will be so stupid. It will bite your head off before you even know it's there, moron."

With great satisfaction, Thor said, "That is why I need you with me."

Loki grimaced, knowing Thor had netted him, and struck back with sour humor, "I would tell you to go alone, but since I'll never sit on the throne, there seems no point in sending you to get killed."

Thor's humor evaporated, and he could find only a weak denial. "You… don't know that."

"Don't I? Heimdall knows; he must. Do you believe he would hold his silence and let me rule, even if you and the Allfather were dead? No, he would not. So I am no prince. A foster, or a hostage against Laufey. But not a true son."

"How can you say that?" Thor demanded. "You are their son as much as I am! Does the throne mean so much to you, that you would stay a homeless wanderer on Midgard, instead of coming home?"

Incensed, Loki turned on him, "It means," he hissed, "that Asgard would rather have an incompetent stranger be their king than someone with a monster's blood. So don't you dare tell me the truth matters not, because it does. It always will."

"It shouldn't."

Loki stared at him and let out a short, incredulous laugh. "You are under some strange geas."

Thor protested, "I mean it. You're not the only one to reconsider these past years. Asgard hasn't warred with Jotunheim our entire lives… maybe it's time they stop being our enemies. We can do this, change it, you and I. Maybe that is the purpose of all this."

Loki snapped, "You are a fool. That will never happen."

"Never is a long time for us. You're the cleverest person I know, Loki. Or maybe Mother is," he added with a teasing glance, "but I learned a long time ago not to wager against something she said must be done." His hand gripped Loki's shoulder again. "I don't know if it will succeed, but I do know nothing will change in Asgard if you stay here."

Loki's head drooped as if he was suddenly weary of the arguing and he sighed. "I … do not know…"

"Then come home," Thor urged. "I miss my other half."

"Your smarter half," Loki muttered.

Thor laughed but then added more softly, "Know that, no matter what you choose, always I love you best, Brother. That will never change."

His hand lifted from Loki's shoulder to cup his cheek and then up to ruffle his hair, his affection plain, before Thor headed away along the parapet.

Behind him, Loki let out a sigh as soon as Thor was out of sight, and eventually stirred himself, to walk in the opposite direction.

Elsa thought of going to Loki, but in the end, decided to give him some time for himself. This was a decision only he could make.

She wanted him to stay. But she remembered his frustration at her library, and his boredom. He'd warned her from the moment they'd met that he would not stay. Better then for him to go back to his other family, she thought, than wander Earth alone. Better to have adventures with real dragons, instead of doling out crumbs of his knowledge to an ungrateful humanity while hiding his true nature.

But he needed to sort it out for himself. She left him alone and returned to her correspondence.

Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.