Loki entered, manacled and flanked by guards as he always was for these meetings, with all of his usual flair for the dramatic.

Watching Loki, his face a mask for the temper writhing already in his breast, Odin wondered if it were possible he make a louder sound with the chains as he walked. If he wanted them off, the offer that had stood from the first remained. This childish show of insolence would elicit little by way of sympathy.

The boy had a 'silver tongue'. A pity he did not so much as attempt its use.

Frigga had drawn away at the sound of his approach. She did not remain for their talks. She and Loki spoke at other times. On her way to the door, Odin noticed her pause, and he heard the rustle of her skirts as she turned back and reentered the room.

"Loki," she said.

Loki turned his head to face her. "Hello Mother," he said, his voice bent to mock. He smiled thinly, "Have I made you proud?"

It was not his usual manner of speech. It was a show. A show for his benefit. Odin was not pleased with Loki's games. They wasted what little time he had remaining.

Frigga knew this. "Please," she said, "do not make this worse for yourself."

"Define 'worse.'"

Loki was better than this. Wiser. From Thor, Odin had always expected argument and difficulty. From Loki Odin had not expected this. He was meant for better things.

The fact that Loki refused to attain those things fanned the frustration Odin already felt.

But he let it go. He'd lost the hope he held for his son. A hand offered in friendship Loki scorned. An enemy, he would speak with. And Loki had never thought the two of them to be friends.

And he had so little strength left. So little time.


They both looked at him.

"I would speak with the prisoner alone."

Frigga looked at their son, her eyes laden with silent warning, but she spoke no further word to either as she left them.

Loki watched her go.

Then she was gone from his line of sight and he took the last few exaggerated steps and stopped directly before the throne. He hit his heels together in a kind of salute – a mockery of the deference he had once paid his father and his king. Odin watched him as he laughed.

It was a forced thing. A mockery. A play.

"I really don't see what all the fuss is about."

Anger licked up in Odin's lungs, but he did not allow it to color his voice. "Do you truly not feel the gravity of your crimes?" he asked. "Wherever you go there is war, ruin, and death."

"I went down to Midgard to rule the people of Earth as a benevolent god," Loki looked pointedly at him, "just like you."

"We are not gods," Odin said simply, "We are born, we live, we die. Just as humans do."

"Give or take five thousand years."

Loki smirked.

Odin watched his son. And he wondered from whence this bitterness in him had stemmed. Frigga suspected he had undergone horrors in the Void, and Odin couldn't say. Hlydskjalf did not unveil the places between realms and not even Heimdal knew what lay without the branches of the tree.

And Odin could not ask. He'd begun these audiences that he might learn Loki's hand in it. Directly or otherwise. But if there was a way out from the question that betrayed nothing, Loki would take it. He had grown cunning in his years, evasive, and now he kept both his knowledge and his heart nearer than even Odin might see them.

"All this," Odin played a hand, "because Loki desired a throne."

"It is my birthright!" the boy flashed, a nerve struck.

"Your birthright," Odin snapped back, "was to die, as a child, cast out on a frozen rock. If I had not saved you," he stilled, sitting back in his throne, "you would not be here now, to hate me."

He recalled the many times he'd shouted at Loki when he had been a child. He remembered the quick flash of fear that would fly across the child's face and leave it blank or streaked with sudden tears.

Odin had prayed that whatever it was that had driven Loki to his actions on Midgard, it had been more than a grappling for power. He had had reason to hope, in the first days, that that might be so. But Loki snuffed that hope further every day. And with a vehemence that gave Odin little space to do more than send him away again.

Loki looked at him with no trace of the mockery that had marked him during their every prior visit. "If I am for the axe," he pleaded, "then for mercy's sake, just swing it. I mean," he simpered, "it's not as though I don't love our little talks, it's just," the look was back, tugging at one corner of his mouth, "I don't love them."

Odin could not see if it was more than pride that held his son.

Odin had learned humility from a woman.

Thor had learned humility on Earth.

Loki had shut such path off for himself.

His banishment would have to be of a different kind.

"Frigga is the only reason you're still alive," Odin decided, watching Loki's face, gauging his reaction, "and you will never see her again."

Loki fell back a pace. He opened his mouth, but it took several long moments for him to find the words. He breathed unevenly and blinked back sudden tears.

His face as it had been in his childhood, blinking at the sudden pain of some chastisement, replaced the current image of the son that stood before Odin, just for a moment.

Then the AllFather laid that aside, judging the depth of the blow dealt.

So, for her, at least, Loki felt something other than the glib irreverence he'd displayed.

Odin gripped the Gungnir in his hand. "You will spend the rest of your days in the dungeon."

By then Loki had finally gained back his tongue, "And what of Thor?" he hissed. He was shifting the focus to his brother. "You'll let that witless oaf become king while I rot in chains?"

It was a deflection. His revocation of Frigga's visits had hit Loki nearly and he chose a topic that had raised Odin's ire in the past.

"Thor must strive to undo the damage you have done," he accepted Loki's bait. "He will bring order to the Nine Realms. And then," Odin sat back on his throne, "yes. He will be king."

He had to be.