Named for the Linkin Park song. I thought the lyrics strikingly apt.
"You come now?"
His breath came in labored gulps. His body was hot and shaking through every limb of it.
But that was nothing when she was gone.
The power flowing in his veins surged and blacked out the world before his eyes. He pushed it back. Swallowed it down his ravaged throat.
He turned, finally, to face the one who had come and spat, "What more could you possibly have to take from me?"
"To take? Nothing."
The AllFather was standing there, beyond the glowing barrier, mailed, unattended. He bore no arms, not even the mighty spear, and his hands hung empty at his sides.
That was unexpected.
The smile split Loki's face, ragged, like the grin on a centuries-old skull, "You look weary, AllFather."
Remembered another voice saying that. A colder one. But no harsher. No less menacing.
He hoped that Odin remembered it as well.
"I have assignment for you."
Loki laughed. Doubling over, he laughed at the absurdity of it.
The AllFather did not shift. His expression did not waver.
Gathering back the jagged bits of his breath, Loki thought how much he hated him.
"Well?" he said, "Out with it. What could the AllFather want with such a hardened criminal as I?" He mocked. The room was in shambles about him. He'd smashed the mirror. "Has he no more worthy messenger to send?"
He knew the answer. He didn't need to watch the AllFather give it. His hands shook and he curled them in fists by his sides.
Loki's head swiveled about until he was staring at the AllFather. The move made him feel feral and he liked that. His impotence in this cell crushed the breath out of his lungs like an all-encompassing hand. Squeezing. Pressing. Grasping till his bones crushed against each other.
He remembered things. Things that made it hard to breathe. Things that made the fear race his heart like a cold, cold poison in his blood. Some even that made him regret –
But nothing like this.
"No," the AllFather repeated himself, clarifying. Calm as though nothing had happened. Nothing been lost. "My son plots treason against me."
The laugh was a bark jerked out of his throat.
"And so you come to me," his voice was low, laden with the weight of grief and ineffective rage, "and you beg of me favors. Oh," he laughed, "he's made you desperate,"
Odin would not beg. Would never beg. But it was pleasure enough to imagine it.
And what had Odin left to offer in exchange.
His nails bit into his palms.
"Thor will come." Odin said dispassionately. "He needs you to take him and his Foster-woman off Realm."
Loki didn't move.
Like a phantom the thought floated free and tantalizing, palpable in the air about him.
And his longing for it was physical. Visceral.
He kept his face blank and hard.
"She is in possession of the Aether." Odin folded his hands behind him, every inch the commander. "Thor thinks to lead Malekith from here as the Svatalf King was drawn, with the mortal as bait."
The mad Svartalf King. That explained everything.
The Creature…that explained…Norns…
"You might want to take the stairs to your left."
His right hand twitched. He covered it with a crossed arm. And he made himself breathe.
He kept his eyes unwaveringly on that of the AllFather.
And Odin did not falter, but met his look steadily. And he said nothing.
Finally, Loki broke the silence. "You would have me go along with this."
Flat as ever. Expectant. But Odin held weight no longer.
Because there was nothing left.
Blackness. He closed his eyes.
Pain in the palms of his hands as his nails cut for blood that – somehow – still ran beneath the skin.
He made himself breathe. Release his hands. Let himself pace. It was better than the other.
He had a role yet to play in this farce.
"What," he heard himself say, "can you tempt me with, AllFather, to bring me to accept your, mad," he smiled at the one beyond his shoulder, "proposal?"
"You shall have your war, Asgardian. But. If you fail, if the Tesseract is kept from us, there will be no rock, no barren moon, no crevasse where He cannot find you."
His breath stopped in his throat.
"You think you know pain? …He will make you long for something sweet as pain."
"I have need to be elsewhere." Odin explained, jerking him back. "Malekith's coming bears tiding of greater stirrings abroad and I must go hence to stem the flood of the coming Ragnarok. You will attend my son," he spoke quickly, decisively, as he did when giving orders. "You will abandon his company on Svartalfheim by whatever means your discretion demands and you will return to me, here, with utmost haste," he trailed, softening in the way he had when he spoke of Thor. "The Convergence must aid Thor in his quest beyond that point. As he refuses, " Odin straightened, "to abide by my word, I am unable to offer him support. And…" he paused for one long breath, no doubt steeling himself for whatever had to come next.
Loki waited and he watched him with predatory eyes.
"I am prevented from leaving him, on my throne."
He would have laughed.
"Thor is banished…The line of succession falls to you."
This wouldn't be a question if Frigga had not died. Odin would have made her regent in his absence. Required of her her magic.
A pain, jagged like bone on bone, was in his throat. His voice worked raggedly around it.
"Your people will not take kindly to my intrusion."
"I never wanted the throne."
He remembered the boy who'd said that. But that boy was dead. Years dead. Drowned in the madness of the Void.
A pity none of it mattered any more.
What he wouldn't have done for the ridiculous offer two years prior.
"…a Frost Giant on the throne of Asgard…"
A marvelous jape at the proper order of all things.
"They will not," the AllFather agreed. "And that is why, I will never leave, Skin-Changer."
A spark. He held to that. He turned.
"You would give me your throne?"
Odin's eye snapped. He stood, and he looked straight and absurdly small below him and beyond the barrier of the cell that hummed. It always hummed with the glowing of the light. It never stopped. The sound was going to drive him to madness.
Not, 'until I return'.
Not, 'until the AllFather awakens'.
'I leave my throne and my power and my people in your hands. I trust you to "guard the Nine Realms, to preserve the peace, to cast aside all selfish ambition and to pledge yourself only to the good of the Realms."'
A lie. A beautiful, preposterous lie. A joke raised in defiance of the Heavens themselves.
Loki felt himself laughing again. A mirthless, giddy, sound like something breaking. All of it was playing itself out all over. An endless whorl. Thor off-Realm, the AllFather for all counts dead, Loki on the throne and Frigga –
The blackness washed up behind his eyes and he closed his hands until the pain of nails in the soft flesh of his palms brought him unsteadily back. He would. Not. Break.
He heard Odin give a dry cough from deep in his chest. It sounded sick. And Loki opened his eyes to watch him. He'd watched Odin fall into the Odinsleep. Would he now watch Odin die?
"You hate me." Odin commented, wryly, "You desire that which I offer, and you would like to kill me."
Closed his eyes.
"Your mother would ha –"
"She is dead!" Loki whirled on him. "Never," he had to gasp for breath as he steadied, "make demands of me in her name."
A shudder in the stuff of the air about him and Odin was standing within the cell.
Loki stumbled back a pace, but it wasn't fast enough. The AllFather stepped forward, putting out one hand. He touched Loki's face. Soft. Gentle. Like a caress. And Loki felt his traitor's heart yearn for a lost dream.
"You will do this for me," Odin murmured, "if not her memory."
And he would. He would.
No. That part of him was dead. Frigga was dead. Frigga was –
"You –" his throat stopped him. You didn't save her. You let her die.
Loki was so numbed to the world about him that he didn't feel Odin's palm still against his cheek.
Odin was watching his face, evaluating him as though he had spoken the words, and his eye flickered. For one moment, Loki saw a grief like his own. Fear of a future where Frigga was not part. Fury at the Fate that had ripped her away. Regret…
Then the AllFather's mouth twitched up at one corner. He leaned in nearer, "It was not I that told Kurse the nearest way to her."
Abruptly, Odin vanished.
Loki stumbled into the space where he had been, but the cell was empty, the hall, empty, as though none had ever been within it beside himself.
And Loki broke.
And when it stopped he was cold. But it didn't matter.
He was less free with his plans than Odin had been. But that didn't matter either.
There was only one thing left that mattered.
That was all.
He saved the girl. Not for her sake, but for Thor's. Thor would need something to comfort him after…
No. To supersede any duty Thor felt toward home and draw him away after Odin left. He couldn't have Thor about. Thor had seen through him, known his illusion. He hadn't the strength to keep Thor back for long. To keep from Thor the truth of what it was he was about to do. The girl would draw Thor even as she had drawn Malekith.
"What I could do with the power flowing through those veins."
He couldn't have Thor about.
Nor, he found, could he suffer Thor's death.
But he'd known that.
The girl might give Thor solace after…everything. Thor would need that.
He knew in the split moment he had for one breath between his attack and Kurse's that he ought to run. He staid himself. The blade pierced and drove and burst through and it came to him in an agonized rush of blood bubbling into his mouth that he might have played his cards false.
He knew for one, blissful moment that he was going to die.
Thor's face, smeared with dirt and tears.
"I didn't do it for him."
Pain swelling and burning in the bones behind his breast and he'd twisted over onto his face in the black gravel. Retching, screaming. Tearing with clawed hands at the place in his chest.
Then he was vomiting up black sludge. Heaving obscenely until he felt his very organs would have to come up with the poison.
Stars danced as his eyes cleared and he was so weak.
How long it had lasted he did not know.
He was alone in the waste of Svartalfheim. The Kursed was slain by his hand.
His chest ached.
Tears spilled loose down his face and he did nothing to stop them. Through them he looked at his hands. They were a strange, grey color, flecked with black mud, and with poison, and with blood. They shook.
You are avenged, Mother.
It was the one just thing they had done.
The breath in his throat rasped. It hurt his lungs.
His nails cut into his palms and he pushed harder. Willing them to cut straight through or to crush their own bones to powder. Whichever came first.
He'd healed. He'd known he would heal.
But Thor hadn't known that. Thor had left him for dead.
His lip was raw in the place where he'd torn it with his teeth. He tasted the salt of blood.
Thor believed him dead.
It was the only way.
He had to go.
But not yet. He was wasted, weak, only part-way healed.
Bowed to his knees amidst the dead, he lacked the strength to get up. Tears spilled down his face, and for all his pride, he let them alone.
After a time, his strength came back to him.
He got up. He took the guise of some guard – "He's better company, at least" – and the ship they had come in – "I wish I could trust you" – and he went through the portal. Back to Asgard.
Veiled, he slipped within the wreck of the Great Hall where Odin stood before his ruined throne.
"My Lord," Loki knelt, sliding the veiling aside, "we found a body."
Distantly, his chest ached. Like a little child beating half-heartedly on the wrong side of a closed door, certain, with some small part of itself, that it would never be heard.
He gave no sign, but from behind stolen eyes, he watched the AllFather.
Surely you're not so much a fool as that.
Then Odin's head went up. "Guards."
The two men uselessly flanking the doorway clapped to attention.
Then the Hall was left empty, save for the rubble, the AllFather, and the false guard.
Loki got to his feet. The guise left him. Bled from his head in a green shimmer to his feet and left him, bloodied and newly whole, before the mailed AllFather.
He put out his arms and he smiled. "Ta-da!"
The blade wound in his chest protested. He gave no sign but savored the pain. Relished it. Steadied himself with its constancy.
"Thor believes your death."
The expression in his eyes tipped to one of condescension. "When has he ever succeeded in seeing through my lies?"
Once. Just once.
"No more illusions."
Gritting his teeth, Loki didn't look at the AllFather. He strode past him to survey the wreck of Asgard's great, all-showing throne.
"It was well done."
His wound felt like ice in his chest.
Loki didn't look at him. Once, that would have touched him. Once, it might have mattered.
"Your birthright was to die."
Taking his power roughly in hand, Loki righted the throne.
It was rashly done and the exertion would have made him stumble, but his anger held him upright. He leaned into it, as an old man might on a cane…or on a spear. He tasted it and let it flush through him. It pounded in his head.
Ignoring the AllFather behind him, Loki dragged the old man's form upon himself.
Then he turned.
He worked the guard's guise over Odin's body and grimly surveyed the outcome.
A smile that did not suit Odin's face at all tipped back his chin and drew up one side of his mouth.
Then he took the steps until he stood at the throne, looking down at the newly-formed guard. Gungnir materialized in his hand.
It would take work yet, to bring the throne back to what it was, not to mention the Hall itself, or the city. But for now.
Loki sat down.
"Be on your way," he said in the AllFather's voice, and it was all he could do not to laugh. The sound of Gungnir's golden shaft on the cold stone echoed across Worlds, "The Fate of the Nine," he mocked, "rests on your success."
The guard's face was impassive a long moment.
Then the man took a low bow, fist to heart, swearing fealty to his lord and AllFather. He turned about, and he vanished.
And behind him, he left the hall empty, save for the rubble, and the AllFather, seated on his throne.