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13 November 2014 @ 01:42 pm
The Ice Demon and the Hydra, epilogue  

Thor waited in the Audience Hall. The hall was not so crowded, since few knew Loki had returned, but there were about twenty members of court, and the Einherjar waiting for the audience to begin.

Thor would have gone to meet Loki, but Odin had sent the Einherjar to take him into custody. Wanting to object, he'd bitten his lip at Frigga's shake of her head in warning, and together they waited, anxious.

Loki had been gone for a while without a single word to them, not even to Frigga. It was nothing as long as the century he'd spent in hiding on Midgard before, but still long enough that Thor believed something had happened to him.

But he didn't expect Loki to appear at the other end of the hall looking bedraggled. He hadn't bothered to shift to court armor, and his fighting armor looked wrinkled and gray, instead of black, and his hair was wind-blown and untamed. It was quite unlike him to appear so unkempt.

Frigga started toward him two steps before forcing herself to stop. Thor likewise wanted to go to Loki.

Loki walked with his usual posture and stalking grace and his chin was up, but when Thor tried to meet his eyes and smile at him in welcome, Loki's gaze was vaguely directed at the floor in front of him. He didn't appear to notice or care about his escort of four armed Einherjar, either. At closer range, the paleness of his skin seemed translucent and blue-tinted, as if a hint of his true blood was leaking through. But worst of all, he did not look happy to be home.

Though nor did anyone else with Frigga and Thor both worried by his appearance, and Odin's eye glaring at him from the throne.

It was all very different from Loki's first return from Midgard, when even Odin had been openly pleased to welcome him back.

At the end of the aisle Loki finally looked up at the throne and he didn't wait for Odin to speak first. "So. Let me guess, you are still angry?"

Thor had never understood Loki's need to provoke their father, when he knew Odin was upset with him already. And indeed, Odin didn't respond well to the dry question. Gungnir slammed against the floor. "You disobeyed my command to stay in Asgard! You willfully ignored my order not to interfere in the wars on Midgard, and circumvented the protections put into place to prevent it."

Loki paused and then said, "Some people would be proud that their son discovered an entirely new method to travel the Nine Realms."

"A method you devised purely to disobey me!"

"Well, not purely…"

"You lied about the existence of the tesseract!"

"I did not!" Loki objected. "I kept it secret, but I never lied about it!"

Odin didn't listen, overriding him. "And you have not the least shred of remorse for any of this!"

Loki interrupted. "Not so. I regret going to Midgard." The words caught his family by surprise, as Thor would never have expected him to say it, even if it were true. In the dead silence that fell after that, the reflexive taunting seemed to melt from him, and he added in a quieter voice, "I learned the lesson. You were right. I should not have interfered."

Odin peered at him, with suspicious squint that the words were spoken just to get mercy. "And why not?" he asked.

Loki's lips lifted in a bitter smile. "I am not a hero. Is that not what you wanted me to learn? That I can't save anyone? That I was a fool to try?"

Odin hesitated, and Thor thought his father shared his uneasiness. There was more here than Loki's willfulness. "No…" the king answered slowly. "That was not--"

"Well, it's true. So if you intend on pitching me into exile or putting me in prison, I would appreciate your getting on with it so I can change my clothes. These are quite uncomfortably salt-encrusted from seawater."

Seawater? Why would he have been in the sea and then not changed it with magic? But that concern disappeared as Frigga asked, "Loki, is that blood on your neck?"

Loki put a hand to the side of his neck. "Did the sea not wash it off?" He rubbed at the smear remaining there, inspecting his fingers with a grimace.

"Why is there blood on you at all?" Thor asked. "Is it yours?"

"A human monstrosity kicked me in the head," Loki answered. "Then he was fool enough to handle the tesseract before I could rip his heart out. And the tesseract dropped to the bottom of the sea." He barked a laugh and looked up at Odin. "So, yes, Allfather, I failed in my quest to protect Arendelle or anyone else, and I failed to retrieve the tesseract. Though I suppose I succeeded in angering you, so at least I know how to do one thing well."

"Must you?" Odin asked wearily. Odin inhaled and shut his eye, gripping Gungnir more tightly for strength. Then he lifted his head. "Long have you vexed me, Loki. You always are disobedient and defiant."

Loki chuckled once, humorlessly. "Did you not punish me enough for that?"

Odin frowned. "I have not punished you."

"No? Two years in darkness was not sufficient?" Loki returned with sharp bitterness that cut through the air like a blade of ice. "It felt like punishment to me."

Frowning worriedly, Frigga stepped forward. "Loki, what are you talking about? You kept a shrouding glamour on yourself, so we saw--"

"Did you not even try?" he exploded in furious demand.

Calmly Frigga insisted, "I did. Several times. I could never reach you through the block."

"The tesseract's. Not mine. So you thought it was my doing, but you didn't care enough to wonder why I would do that?" he demanded and his eyes were shining like broken shards. "All that time, I called for you! But no one looked. No one helped." His voice fell into the silence of the throne room, turning soft at the end.

Help, Thor realized with a sinking in his heart. Loki had needed help that hadn't come. Frigga had been right to worry that something had gone terribly wrong with his mission to Arendelle.

Oddly, Loki was rubbing his left wrist with his right thumb as if it pained him.

"We didn't know, we thought you were shielding yourself from our sight," Frigga told him softly, reaching out toward him in gentle reassurance. "Loki, what do you mean, 'years in darkness'?"

But he stepped away from her hand. "Don't touch me." His eyes went from her, to Thor, and ended on Odin, his face still holding both hurt and anger, and his lip curled in a disdainful sneer. "I tire of this farce. If you're not done punishing me, you know where to find me."

Loki whirled around and stalked back down the aisle, ignoring everyone else. Odin let him go, a troubled frown drawing his brows together.

Frigga clutched her hands together and looked at her husband with hard blue eyes. "I warned you his silence was wrong. He was suffering, and you ignored it."

"He disobeyed and paid the price for it," Odin declared, grip tightening on Gungnir and waving it once sharply, as if he could erase the problem. "He is home and it is done."

Thor shook his head in sorrowful disagreement. "I think Loki is not yet home, at all, Father."

Frigga added, "All that Elsa gave him has been undone. All his trust in us has been broken." She finished in a whisper, eyes turning toward the door where Loki had disappeared, but wide and blank with farseeing, "If the ice in his heart does not thaw, Loki my son will be gone. Only the Ice Demon will remain, and he will be our enemy."

"Mother, no--" Thor objected, shaking his head in denial.

She blinked back to the present. "It is not yet fate, Thor. He is lost in darkness, but we can help him." Her smile was not convincing. "It will be well, my son. Loki needs some time to recover from whatever occurred on Midgard."

Unlike her previous words, these were clearly Frigga's hope, not prophecy, and they did not reassure Thor at all.

Alone in his suite, Loki looked at the shelf of his study and the snowflake sculpture that sat in the position of honor in the center. It was his most precious possession, all that he had left to remind him of Elsa, and a bit of the tightness in his chest eased to see it there, untouched.

But now he looked at the snowflake, and it seemed… incomplete. Alone.

He held out a hand and formed a different ice sculpture. It was round and only a little smaller than Elsa's snowflake. Bowed out in the center and adorned with a five pointed star, the ice was clear and pure as crystal.

Loki set the miniature replica of Captain America's shield next to Elsa's snowflake, on what had become his memorial to the dead.

He stepped back to look at it, his mood bleak and stricken.

Steven. You should have been so much more. You should have been their hero, and instead you're dead at the bottom of the Atlantic because of me. I was too close. You died because I went to Midgard and involved myself with mortals again. I interfered in your war, convinced I could help. But I should have known better. I am a monster and a demon, no kind of shining hero. Not even an avenger of wrongs, just a reckless fool, and I made everything worse.

Never again.

Loki turned away from the shelf and headed to the other room to change his clothes, without another glance back.

Frost crept along the shelf and formed where he'd stepped, following in his wake.

The end.