summary: the queen is dead and loki cannot lie to himself anymore.
"The Queen is dead," the guard tells him.
It's a pretty white cage they've put him in and Loki hates it with all the ferocity of a cat being forced into a bath for all eternity.
"I've tried to make you comfortable," Frigga says, not wringing her hands, but folding them in front of her, something he's long ago identified as one of her tells. When her fingers knot together delicately, knuckles bone white like pale starbursts, it is a sign of projected calm, of control. He's often seen it in the throne room, the stance of a Queen betraying nothing.
He's seen it most when his mother – not his mother – stands by Odin's side.
"Did you not like the books I sent you?"
He doesn't need to glance back at the tomes stacked against the wall, all carefully chosen of course; they were his favourites, once. The margins are still scrawled with notes written in a younger, messier hand and it's difficult to look at the penmanship of that stupid, naïve boy without hurling each volume at the wall.
Frigga watches him with anxious blue eyes, the same expression she wore when they hauled him before the throne like a dog. He thinks she would have embraced him, had they been alone.
But Loki is a criminal now, the fallen prince and she cannot even visit him in this hideous prison, not for true. He hates himself for wishing it was more than a glamour stood before him.
"Am I to spend the rest of eternity reading?" he asks lightly, bitterness dancing along his tongue like all the lies he's ever told.
The bitterness is easy – on some deep level he doesn't care to acknowledge, Loki knows he has only himself to blame for ending up in this cell – but there is a crack in his conviction that he doesn't want the Queen to see. It is easy to be bitter.
It is easy to be angry, to wear it like a second skin which keeps all expressions of care and tenderness away. He's done it to Thor, after all; with Odin he never even had to try.
"It must be so inconvenient, having Thor and Odin ask about me all the time," he sneers, and it is ugly and bleak and he thinks leave me, don't love me, don't don't don't –
"Your father," she starts and there it is, the truth, a live wire blazing up inside him because Odin, Odin is not –
"He's not my father!"
He is the cuckoo in the nest, the unwanted, unloved bird – the imposter. Loki clings to this belief with both hands, armours himself in it because if he stops, if he lets himself –
No. No, he will not. He will not.
They called him Silvertongue, once, called him Liesmith, but Loki recalls the countless hours Frigga spent teaching him how to wield magic, spent showing him how to hold a blade, spent brushing her elegant fingers through his hair, and knows that she is the best liar of them all.
He dreams of Midgard sometimes, when he manages to fall asleep. The Tesseract is working, the sky is splitting and Loki looks down at his Kingdom as a thousand death screams rise on the sultry city air.
Wait, he thinks, panic clogging his veins like a rising tide. This is not the sort of King he ever wanted to be. Just wait –
"Did she –"
He stops, chokes, almost can't get the words out. The question belongs to a ghost rising from the grave where Loki buried him over two years ago, the remains of the son-who-was.
"Did she die well?"
Did she die bravely? Did she die with honour?
Thor's little mortal looks up at him with sad brown eyes, a tremor in her hands which he thinks is more than just guilt. She is a lovely, fragile thing – a small flower on the verge of withering.
"Like a Queen," Jane Foster says quietly. "She was…unbelievable. It was very quick."
His throat burns, and he nods, turning away before his expression changes. He imagines Frigga dancing around the Dark Elves with her daggers in hand, golden hair flying, powerful, strong –
Gone, now. Gone forever.
Jane Foster does not touch him, does not look at him, but she does move to stand by his side. Perhaps if he had not killed thousands of her people, she would have put her hand over his in a gesture of kindness he knows he no longer deserves.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, the only person in the whole universe to say those words to him. The only one, save Thor, to not believe the lie he's told himself for two years. "She was your mother, too."
"You're going to lose," the placid man says, blood bubbling at the corner of his mouth.
Silly mortal, he almost replies. I have nothing left to lose.
His words are still ringing in both their ears – denial, always denial.
"Then am I not your mother?" Frigga asks, eyes soft and so sad that Loki feels himself wavering.
He swallows, blinks once and manages to keep his expression proud and distant. There is a crack in his conviction, but he will not let her in.
He learnt his masks from her; his tricks and his moves, all from her. Loki knows what lying feels like, can taste this one on his tongue, mercury and lead weighing the words down, rendering them flat.
She laughs, short and unhappy, an unspoken you've never been very good at lying to me hovering in the air.
Loki wishes he was telling the truth.
There is a moment, maybe two, when he falters on Midgard. Moments when he isn't quite Laufeyson, when he isn't frostgiant, when he isn't the half-crazed god who set the Bifrost on another realm as a weapon.
The Chitauri come down from the heavens and kill and kill and kill, so much brutal, ruthless death and Loki forgets he is not a son of Odin, forgets he is not – will never be – the hero.
"You're going to lose," Coulson had warned him, because no matter how angry you are, a year of bitterness and hatred doesn't cancel out centuries of good, even if you want it to.
"It's not too late," Thor begs him, not quite so earnest, not quite so full of hope and there is a moment–
Loki is defeated. Loki is dragged home in muzzle and chains.
"Have I made you proud?" he asks his not-mother and pretends that moment of weakness didn't happen. Later, he will wonder what would have happened if he'd just said yes that day.
If he'd just said yes.
Dying mortal eyes see too much. Loki wants to claw them out, to twist the blade back in and watch the light fade out because stop it, no, you are not supposed to see –
The man they call Coulson sucks in a wet, ragged breath. "You lack conviction."
"The Queen is dead," the guard tells him, cool and distant like this is only a basic courtesy, like the world hasn't just collapsed inwards on itself, like there is no reason for this to affect Loki at all.
He cannot speak.
There are words in his throat, but he cannot get them out, can only nod in polite acknowledgement and there is rage building in his chest, immense, overwhelming, terrifying and she's not my mother she's not my mother she's not my –
His magic explodes outwards with the force of a bomb, destroying everything in his cell and it is still not enough. The hole in his chest does not go away and Loki cannot lie to himself anymore.
"I'm sorry," he says, too late.
Far, far too late.
It's a silence which reminds him of Midgard's favoured weapons, a locked and loaded gun. Thor's eyes blaze blue, quiet fury hidden in their depths – a different sort of strength than the one he is famous for.
Brother, he thinks, testing the word out for the first time in two years and allowing himself to believe. Brother. There is no taste of mercury, no lead weighing it down. Mother is dead and at long last, they have something in common once more.
"When do we start?" Loki asks.
notes: this is messy and all over the place whatever. you would not believe how hard it is to write Loki. not convinced I got it right.
notes2: so i unearthed a bra in my chest of drawers and it was covered in mould, like leaf mould, like you get on trees. like, moss mould. vomits forever, student living is disgusting and I'm scared I'm going to leave this house with a respiratory disease.