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21 November 2014 @ 02:49 pm
A Crocus in the Snow, final  

"No, this is a terrible idea. Nobody wants--"

Sif put her fingers across Loki's mouth, silencing his objections. "The king wants."

"I don't," he muttered and turned away, folding his arms in sullen rejection. She smiled and shook her head.

A week after the duel, Loki had recovered from the poison, but not entirely from everything else that had happened. He'd kept to his rooms, feigning a continued weakness out of reluctance to be seen.

"You don't need to be afraid," she murmured, getting to the heart of his problem.

"I'm not afraid!" But the protest was hollow, when he followed that by saying, "But everyone knows now. They know I'm a-- a fraud. That it's been a lie all along."

She held back a sigh, trying to hold onto her patience. "It's not a lie, Loki. That's the point of what the king wants to do. What will it take to get it into your skull that you're their son?"

"I do understand they feel that way. I believe it," he added hastily, trying to cut off an objection she hadn't made yet. "But why would anyone else believe it? They saw, Sif. Everyone saw the truth."

"First of all, even people who were there have said they thought it was an illusion. So not everyone believes it," she corrected. "Second, of those people who do believe that you have Jotunn blood, do you seriously think they're going to align themselves with someone who did such terrible things? No one thinks Tyr was right, Loki. No one." He looked away and his fists clenched; she softened her voice. "That's the worst part, isn't it?" she realized. "Everyone knows that truth, too."

He admitted, his voice scarcely audible, hands now around himself in a defensive, hunched posture. "I thought, well, no I didn't think at all. But now I see that knowledge in their eyes, it makes me want to be sick. Or disappear somewhere people don't know. I hate that they know."

She supposed that was an improvement over wanting to throw himself off the edge of the Bifrost, so she reached up to smooth his hair. "Don't disappear. Please."

He freed a hand to touch the pendant at her neck, which she hadn't taken off since the duel. "I did promise to stay." She was not such a fool that she believed him wholly. He would keep that promise only until he felt he couldn't, but she hoped as the cracks mended and he trusted her love, then he would be bound by his heart, not merely a flimsy promise of words. He suddenly smiled. "And I promised you matching earrings."

"I'm still waiting for those," she teased and kissed his lips, folding her hand around his. "Come on, my prince. I'll hold your hand in front the entire court, and that way no one will dare say anything. Or I will stab them in the face." He laughed a little, and that was enough.

It turned out she didn't need to hold his hand in the Great Hall. But in a slightly more subtle gesture, Sif moved to the opposite side of the aisle to stand closest to Loki's usual place on the dais, and nobody missed that change. But she had revealed her own secret when she'd leaped over the rail of the arena to go to Loki, so it was no surprise.

Everyone waited for Thor and Loki to proceed down the aisle. The plan had been for them to go separately, but instead they came together. Both king and queen smiled to see them, walking side by side, and the look on Thor's face dared anyone to speak against his brother. Loki ignored everyone with a determined set to his jaw, and looked tense enough that he seemed to expect someone to say something cruel. But the silence was heavy and unbroken as they approached.

Odin came down from his throne two steps to stand above them when they stopped at the end of the aisle and knelt together. "I wish to make it perfectly clear," he announced. "I have two sons. I have Thor Odinson and Loki Odinson. Offending either insults my house and this throne. And it will not be tolerated." His eye looked down at Loki and he added, "Together we will wash away the poisonous hatred spread by the traitor Tyr, and Asgard will stand again as the beacon of truth and of hope that it was meant to be." With his free hand he gestured Thor to stand to his left and then offered that hand to Loki to bring him to his right, deliberately keeping that hand on Loki's shoulder. He hefted Gungnir and declared loudly, "Justice has been served at long last, and we praise Prince Loki for slaying the traitor in single combat."

Thor shouted, raising Mjolnir high. "All praise!"

And the hall echoed, bellowing it back, "All praise!"

Loki's eyes widened in genuine shock and his gaze flew to Sif, as she pulled her dagger and lifted it over her head. She grinned back at him, enjoying his consternation, as his eyes ran from her to his brother and out to the audience, where there was the clang of weapons on shields, stomping of boots, and shouts of acclaim that echoed from the high ceiling into a clamor and roar of approval.

He stared out at the gathered crowd in disbelief of what he was hearing. Maybe some of it was the crowd getting carried by the enthusiasm and an unwillingness to publicly display any doubt, but she was grateful nonetheless for this moment.

Loki's smile was tentative, as if he was afraid any appreciation might show it was an illusion, but the smile was genuine. Best of all, he stopped looking as if he was braced for someone to try to murder him. She hoped that at least one crack was beginning to heal.

Sif stood next to Loki on the terrace, when a heavy tread on the tile behind them warned her they had company. Loki had retreated after the ceremony, intending to go back to his room until she'd diverted him to the western small hall with the promise of the sunset on the water. He was pulling threads of the sunlight and spinning them back out as little glowing balls drifting back across the city until they faded like dying embers. He concentrated on the working, and she leaned against his other side, her head on his shoulder, watching his little show.

She turned her head to see Thor, escorting the Warriors Three. The last time they had all been together had been that ill-fated trip to Jotunheim. She wished they had waited a little longer, or Thor had refused to bring them to interrupt Loki's peace.

She intended to send them away, but Loki put a hand on hers to keep her beside him. "Let them come. It's all right."

She checked his expression, and he seemed resigned to this confrontation, sending out the last tiny ball of light.

"Loki, our friends wished to speak to you," Thor introduced.

She felt Loki tense, and could practically hear the 'your friends not mine' before Loki deliberately relaxed and turned around, finding a smile. "What is it?"

Volstagg took a step nearer. "I wished-- to say," he started. "Imagining such a thing happening to my own children makes my blood boil, and my heart crack with grief." He seized Loki around the shoulders to pull him into a rough hug. "I am so-- if I had known, I would have buried my axe in his head for you."

Looking desperately uncomfortable, Loki patted Volstagg's back as best he could with both arms trapped by Volstagg's embrace. "Thank you. It was long ago, Volstagg. There is no need for this."

"Not so long ago," Fandral said. "He spread such vile rumors, that even when I did not believe the worst of them, I believed some. And now I know they were lies. I am sorry, Loki. We are all sorry." At his side Hogun nodded his agreement.

Loki pushed free of Volstagg, just when Sif was thinking she'd have to intervene. He forced a laugh. "Well, I'd like to put all the fault on him, but that would be a lie as well. If you want to help, I'd rather we all put this in the past where it belongs. I will see you at the feast." He gave them a polite nod and walked away, passing behind a column and not emerging, casting some invisibility or transport spell to vanish.

Sif tried to smile at her friends. "Give him some time," she advised quietly. "There's much for him to sort out."

"But not you, hm?" Fandral teased. "That Frost Giant look was real, wasn't it? You don't mind?"

Very aware that Loki might still be able to hear them, even if he'd disappeared, she laughed. "Mind? Fandral, if I could make him show me all the time, I would. It's…." Searching for the right word, her humor died away and she answered more honestly, "It's beautiful, is what it is. And it hurts me that he sees it as something disgusting. It's not right."

Thor's hand closed on her shoulder in a gentle support. "We see him, Sif, and now we must help him see himself."

The Warriors Three nodded in somber agreement, which Sif was glad to see. They wanted to stand with Loki, and hopefully, in time, Loki would let them.

Frigga stopped in the doorway of Loki's sitting room. Sif was down in the courtyard, practicing her sword-forms, while Loki was lounging on the couch, a book on his lap as though he'd been reading. But he was holding a flame in his palm and scrying into it, watching Sif with a contented smile she'd seen so rarely.

He could have joined her or watched in person, but he remained reluctant to be around people. A fortnight ago, he'd made an appearance at the feast at his honor, smiling and jesting as if all was well, seeming pleased by the earlier acclaim. But there had also been an epidemic of spilled wine and dishes falling to the floor, distracting people from approaching him. It had been one of his more subtle manipulations, and she would have been impressed if it hadn't been to the end of isolating himself.

His hiding reminded Frigga of those days after Fenrir's death, when he had learned all the wrong lessons of how to handle his anger and grief. But she didn't think that pushing him out into the public was the answer either.

Frigga felt a familiar tug of regret and pain at the sight of him, knowing that feeling would linger every day as long as she lived. But she pushed it aside, hoping that she had found a key to help him. She let her step make noise. "Loki."

He turned, smile widening at her voice, and closed his hand to extinguish the flame. "Mother!" He stood and started toward her. "What brings you -" He started to say, and then his voice and step halted, as he saw what she was holding in her arms. "What is that?" he asked in a faint voice.

Frigga explained, "They brought the pup to me. He's only a few weeks old, and been lost from his den. I told them I knew someone who could take care of him."

She turned the wolf pup in her arms so Loki could see, as he squirmed trying to stay near her warmth. He had fluffy fur, dark grey on the top and white on the belly, a rotund little body and big paws. His yellow eyes were open, but he was still young enough to look more like a tiny bear than a wolf.

"I--" Loki started, gaze frozen on the pup, and then he spun away. "No. I cannot, I-- No."

"I will find another home if you truly don't want him," she murmured, "but now I know we took Fenrir from you unjustly. He was trying to protect you." As I did not. She didn't say that though - Loki had already forgiven her, and she knew to keep putting her own pain onto him was not helpful. This was about the pup and Loki, and praying that another chance might help him heal. She added, "I know nothing can ever bring him back or undo the wrong we did by taking him away. But this one appeared at the animal healers, and I thought - I hoped - that it was a sign. That in some way he had come back to you, and you might want another friend again." She set the pup on the floor. His gait was wobbly as he went straight for Loki's boots to chew on the toes.

"No, get off." He pulled back his foot, and the pup, unbalanced and startled, fell over with a little squeak. "My, you are a clumsy thing." Kneeling, he held out a hand to set the pup upright again, and froze as his fingers touched the fur. He stopped breathing, and for a moment, as he looked at the pup, tears filled his eyes. It seemed they might fall, but he pulled in a ragged breath and blinked them back. He rubbed at the fur, as the pup squirmed and tried to find his fingers either to bite or lick them. "No, you may not bite me, no, stop it -" But despite the complaints, he kept his hand in the pup's reach, letting him try to catch his fingers.

"Oh, very well." Loki heaved a sigh, pretending to reluctance as he gave in and gathered the pup into his arms, against his chest. The pup licked his face and Loki wrinkled his nose. "That is vile, you need to stop that." But despite his words, his fingers never stopped stroking the little furry body. The pup yipped in excitement, as if he knew he'd found his home.

Loki looked up at her, cradling the pup, and it was as if all the years in between had faded away and there was her boy with Fenrir again, before any of the terrible things had happened. She bent down to kiss his forehead and smiled at him, trying not to let the sadness touch her face, even though she wished desperately she could go back and make everything right again. "I'll tell them the pup's in good hands and have them send up his things."

She only got two steps before Loki called in a hoarse voice, "Mother?" She looked back. "Thank you." He was looking down at the pup, his hand making soft soothing caresses into the soft fur, more for his benefit than the pup's.

She wanted to say that he should never thank her for anything, that she was the one who owed him and always would, that she was so very sorry for everything she had failed to do. But she said instead, "You know he is one of the great winter wolves, too? He will stand to your waist when full grown and terrorize everyone just by showing his teeth." The pup was anything but a terror as his yellow eyes shut and he fell asleep, with his muzzle resting on Loki's arm.

"Excellent." Loki grinned. "We shall be very good friends."

"Oh dear." She laughed and shook her head. She knew the trouble they'd gotten into when he'd been young, she shuddered to think what he could do now. Hopefully Sif would manage to keep them from doing anything too foolish, but if the new pup helped Loki, it would be a risk worth taking.

At the door, she glanced back, to find Loki had not moved from where he sat on the floor. Hands cradling the wolf pup, he hunched over the furry little body. And if tears were slipping unchecked down his cheeks in silence… well, no one would ever know it from her.

She pulled the door closed and left Loki with his new friend.

the end.