Author's Notes: This was my first ever fill for Norsekink. The prompt was posted by anonymous and rather long, but here is the tl:dr version:
" tl:dr; Loki - having had his self-esteem shattered by past bullying and the teasing/taunting of Thor's friends - falls into a very serious depression when, some time before Thor's coronation, he concludes he will never manage to make Odin proud of him. He's wrong: Odin and Frigga have always been proud of him."
It was great fun to write, so I thought I post it here as well.
Disclaimer: A lot a people own a piece of this pie – I am not one of them.
"Did you notice how little Loki ate tonight?"
Odin sighed and embraced his wife, "It is in a mother's nature to worry always, but Loki's appetite is mercurial – you know this."
"I do. But he has seemed out of sorts to me since their return from Nornheim. I fear he suffered some injury that he refuses to reveal to the healers; he has ever been stubborn about that, you know."
Odin smirked, "More stubborn than Thor? Than I?"
Frigga smiled in fond exacerbation, "If you would pay but the slightest heed to my words, you would know that Thor has yet to miss a single visit with the healers ever since Eir's new apprentice has begun her work."
"Ah yes, such a lovely girl…"
Frigga smacked her husband playfully as she continued, "And I can tend to your hurts myself if you refuse the healers. Loki has not allowed me that since he was below my shoulder. I know so little of him these days."
Odin shook his head, "Loki, like Thor, has grown into a man. He may not have his brother's strength, but he is by far the more resourceful; you must allow him to keep his own council. He will not thank you if you interfere."
Frigga sighed, resigned, "And I know this too, but as you said it is in a mother's nature to worry."
Odin smiled and pulled her closer, "Then perhaps a distraction is in order?"
Frigga's answering expression of mischief would not have seemed out of place on her youngest's face. "Perhaps."
Loki sighed deeply, his breath heavy with fatigue. The night's feast had been – as they all had been lately – a trial. For years, decades, centuries, feasts had been a stage on which Loki and his (golden, glorious, perfect) brother were expected to showcase their triumphs before the court of Asgard, their parents overseeing every victorious toast and epic tale.
Loki's contributions to these feasts had always paled beside his brother's (of course), but Loki had a gift with words and had ever strived to spin his tales to his best advantage. It had been difficult, at first, when he had been young and the boys of the court were quick to turn even his triumphs into tales of cowardice and trickery, but he had learned to hone his words and to lend his gifts towards his brother's endeavors (which no one would malign) in order to prove that he also was worthy to be a son of Odin.
But it had all been a futile effort, hadn't it? Their adventure in Nornheim had been his greatest triumph. For all the times Thor's hammer had saved their lives, this had been Loki's chance to save them all. They escaped not only unharmed, but with treasure in hand, and even Thor in his pride could not deny that without Loki's cleverness and magic they could not have done it.
But it had not been enough. When they returned, it had been the same as always. Odin had greeted Thor first, then Loki. His praise for their success had been addressed to Thor's strength and their ability to work together as brothers; never to Loki's magic or cleverness. Frigga hovered, asking (as always) after Loki first, then Thor. Thor's initial objections that he was fit and hale had been accepted, while Loki's had not. (Weak Loki. Sly Loki. Liesmith. Effeminate. Failure.)
Loki had often wondered what it would be like to not have a father as great as Odin, to not constantly strive to match a legend. He had imagined at the time that it would be liberating, that having no such lofty goal would allow one to carve one's own path (something Loki has always been more disposed to than not). But he had been wrong.
Knowing what his did now – that he could never be the son his parents desired – was crushing. He still had duties, responsibilities; but he now had to slog through them knowing he would never fulfill them as he ought. It was immeasurably more difficult than living in ignorance; at least he had had hope then.
Before, when he would weave his tales at feasts or practice his magic, he would see possibilities, see a future in which he – like the Lady Sif – proved that there was more than one type of warrior. That strength did not only come from a sword (hammer). That he was not weak. Now in these same skills he saw only his own strangeness, how his very nature was anathema to everything about Asgard that was honorable and good.
Everything was exhausting now. Even his most beloved books remained untouched; he was simply too tired to read them. Dressing, unless his presence was required before the court, was simply too much trouble. Even eating was a trial when he had no appetite to tempt him.
He avoided Thor and his friends; his only comfort coming from knowing that he had finally realized what they had been trying to tell him all this time, that his presence was burdensome and unwanted ("Hiding behind your illusions again, trickster?"). Thor still asked him to join them at every opportunity, but his bother had ever been the more hopeful and less observant; he likely had not yet realized that Loki's failings were the inevitable, unchangeable consequence of his very nature, and that no amount of time or effort would make his strange, little brother into a true Asgardian warrior.
Loki vaguely (selfishly) hoped that his brother never did realize the truth; Loki himself had certainly never wanted to know it.
"I think Loki is up to something," Sif muttered.
"You always think Loki is up to something," Volstagg replied, happily devouring a boar's leg.
"That's because he always is," Fandral remarked, "Though I fail to see how this time should be different from any other."
"But it is different," Sif answered, beginning to pace restlessly, "He is acting strangely, avoiding us."
Fandral rolled his eyes. "He always avoids us. It is only because of Thor that he speaks to us at all."
"Yes, and now he even refuses when Thor requests he join us," Sif pointed out, "That is strange."
"It is not so very strange," Volstagg commented. "He has done that before, when immersed in some pursuit of magic."
Sif snorted, "And what do you know of Loki's pursuit of magic? All you think about is food."
Surprisingly, Volstagg grinned at this. "That is how I know it. When Loki is occupied with some project or other he pecks at his food like a bird, anxious to return to his studies. When he has finished he returns to the next feast with an appetite to rival Thor's and mine combined; surely you have noticed this?"
Fandral hummed thoughtfully, "You know, I always wondered about that. I always thought it just another of Loki's strange habits. How did you of all people notice such a pattern?"
Volstagg chucked. "You didn't think I would ever risk arriving to a feast to find that Loki in his hunger had already devoured the most succulent morsels, did you? Though with the length of time this problem has vexed him, I fear he will devour the entire spread himself once he finally cracks it." And as if to demonstrate, Volstagg renewed his attack on the boar's leg.
Sif frowned, unwilling to accept Volstagg's cheerful explanation. "It is not only that. When he does join us, he is quiet. Disturbingly so."
Fandral laughed, "You are actually disturbed by the absence of Loki's barbs? Have you lost your senses? He is Thor's brother, and Thor is untroubled; that is good enough for me. And as Thor's friend, it should be enough for you as well."
Sif scowled but did not reply. Thor had changed recently as well, his arrogance climbing to new heights, and she had never really trusted his judgment when it came to Loki to begin with. But she could hardly say any of that when her friend was not present to defend himself. Instead she turned to Hogun, who had yet to say a word. "What say you, Hogun? Have you not noticed anything odd with Loki?"
"Odder than usual, she means," Fandral smirked, while Hogun (as always) appeared to carefully consider his words.
Finally, Hogun answered. "Loki has been quieter of late, and like you I am disturbed by it. But I know not its cause, and there is little we can do but watch and wait for his mischief to reveal itself."
"I do not like it," Sif growled, "But I suppose you are right. I only hope he does not turn against Thor; it would wound him deeply for his brother to betray him so."
"Now I know you are mad," Fandral sighed, "For all his tricks, Loki has ever been loyal to Thor. He is strange, not wicked."
"He is jealous," Sif shot back, "And jealously can quickly turn to hate."
"Enough!" Volstagg barked, "Even Hogun agrees we can only watch and wait, but take care to watch with clear eyes, lest you fall victim to the same jealousy you are accusing Loki of. Thor's regard for his brother is natural and good; do not seek to take it from him."
"I seek nothing!" Sif snarled, "And I will not apologize for my vigilance!" And casting a murderous glare at them, she turned and stormed from the hall. The Warriors Three watched her go.
"I pity the poor souls on the sparring grounds," Fandral remarked as her footsteps faded. Volstagg and Hogun nodded their agreement.
Thor slammed a plate overflowing with meat and bread directly in front of Loki. "Eat!" He commended with a smile, "Your lack of appetite is disturbing our friends."
Loki blinked. "What?" His stomach recoiled at the very thought of the mountain of food, but he was confused by the idea that Sif and the Warriors Three might give the slighted care for his appetite.
Thor sat heavily beside him and began helping himself to an equally impressive pile of victuals. "They fear your latest preoccupation," he explained, taking a roll from Loki's plate with a conspiratorial grin, "Whatever project that keeps you from the sparring grounds and the feasting hall must be grand indeed! What mischief are you planning?"
Grand? If only they knew how he had spent his hours lately. "I am planning no mischief," Loki replied quietly and (for probably the first time) truthfully.
Thor took a bite of meat then spoke around it, "Ah! Now I know that you are. You are incapable of sincerity, yet are at least more adept at mimicking it than that! Your efforts have left you fatigued and hollow-cheeked. Eat and be merry with me tonight and tomorrow you may return to your mischief-making with renewed vigor!"
Loki brought a hand to his face. Hollow cheeked? Had Thor actually noticed something was amiss, or was this simply another slight against his pale complexion and slender frame? (Strange Loki, so unlike a warrior of Asgard).
"Eat!" Thor ordered again, clearly impatient with Loki's lack of response. "It is not right that you should let this fine fare go to waste!" (Weak Loki. Ungrateful Loki.)
Loki cringed to think that he was causing upset for such a simple thing, but he knew he would be unable to manage but a few bites. It was back to trickery and deception then, as he used slight of hand and magic to make the mound of food slowly disappear.
At one point during the night, he caught his mother's eye; she smiled as he pretended to swallow a healthy bite. His heart shattered further to think he had worried her. (Ungrateful Loki. Weak. Failure.)
Thor huffed. Loki had cleared the plate Thor had set before him, but then pleaded exhaustion and retired for the night. It was not right; Loki's place was by his side, not buried in books and old parchment!
It had always been vexing to him when his brother and their friends were at odds, but their past quarrels had all passed quickly – usually culminating in a spectacular prank or brief scuffle. The quarrels themselves had been different as well, with both sides simultaneously attempting to ignore each other while trying to win Thor over to their side. This time Thor had not even known there was anything wrong until the Warrior's Three felt the need to explain why Sif had become increasing brutal of late on the sparring grounds.
Volstagg's explanation of Loki's fluctuating appetite had also been a revelation; Thor had always wondered about that himself, but like Fandral had simply accepted it as a quirk of Loki's character. Now he worried that Loki found his latest project – whatever that might be – more engaging than their adventures as brothers. Would he refuse the next time Thor asked him to accompany them on a quest? Such a thing was unthinkable; Thor had never ventured out into the Nine Realms without his brother at his back.
Thor's reverie was interrupted by the sound of soft footfalls behind him. Her turned and greeted his mother wit a warm smile and slight bow.
"How fare you this evening, Mother?"
Frigga smiled. "Well, now that I have seen you tending to your brother. Do you know what has been troubling him of late?"
Thor shook his head. "I do not. I wish that I did. Our friends have noticed his absence, and it makes them uneasy."
Frigga smirked, "Even the Lady Sif?" Their past quarrels had been legendary, after all.
Thor smiled and nodded. "Especially the Lady Sif. I fear that if things do not return to how they were, there will soon be none besides me who will be willing to spar with her."
Frigga nodded thoughtfully. "It is good that you both have such friends. I feared, when you were younger, that Loki might be lacking in friends. Asgard is not always kind to those who walk their own paths, as your Lady Sif surely knows; I am glad that they have overcome their differences."
"Yes, it is only right that two such unique warriors would become allies. I am proud to have both of them fight beside me." Which brought them back to their main point of discussion. "I do fear that perhaps Loki's interests have strayed too far into his books of late. Perhaps another quest would coax him forth to join us?"
"Oh, but you have not been back from Nornheim so very long; surely you needn't leave again so soon! And do not forget the ambassadors from Alfheim; they will be arriving in a fortnight, and you father expects you both to assist him in greeting them."
"I have not forgotten," Thor replied, even though he had, "I was thinking perhaps a short journey of just a few days."
"Hmm," Frigga hummed, easily catching her son's lie but pretending that she had not. "Perhaps a change of scenery would be beneficial."
Thor grinned, starting to take a shine to the idea. "Yes, a short ride to Gopul would be most invigorating!"
Frigga chuckled, "Oh Gopul seems a bit far, perhaps Ida would be more suited?"
"Hm… yes! I recall Loki much enjoyed our last journey there. I shall speak with the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three tonight, and seek out Loki tomorrow. We will not allow him to refuse us!"
Frigga smiled and took Thor's hands in her own, "Thank you, Thor. It eases a mother's heart to know her sons may so depend on one another."
"Worry not, Mother, I will not allow Loki to hide himself away any longer."
Loki stared at his reflection. Thor had been correct; his face was beginning to show the signs of too many weary days spent with little food. His clothing was fitting looser as well, and his hair was growing overlong. Loki cursed himself for failing to notice; if Thor was concerned about his change in appearance, their mother most certainly was as well. It reflected poorly on her and Odin that their son should appear so haggard. (Weak Loki. Ungrateful. Failure. Failure. Failure.)
Using magic to vanish the food Thor had forced on him earlier had only deepened Loki's exhaustion, but he had no choice but to resort to it again now. He concocted a subtle glamor that would hide the signs of fatigue, another for his hair and clothing, and a third to conceal the gauntness in his cheeks. He resolved to never again leave his private chambers without all three in place. It would be a significant strain on his magic, but he was casting few enough spells these days anyway. Decision made, he fell into bed still fully dressed; he barely had the energy to remove his boots before giving in to slumber.
Loki did not appear at breakfast the next morning. Annoyed, Thor barged into his brother's rooms, intent on rousing him from his books. Oddly, the sitting area was immaculate, almost sterile, every book in it proper place on the shelf. Thor could not recall ever having seeing his brother's rooms in such a state. Usually books and papers were strewn about the room - or at the very least the desk area - reflecting Loki's overactive mind. Now it appeared as if he had not so much as written a letter in days; it was troubling.
Slightly subdued, Thor knocked on the bedroom door. "Loki? It is midmorning; surely you are not still abed?"
After an unusually long silence, Loki's muffled voice replied, "Go away, Thor; I am tired."
"Nonsense! You retired early last night; you cannot sleep half of today away as well!"
Another pause. "Please leave. I do not wish to spar today."
"Are you unwell? Is that what has been troubling you of late?"
"No!" Thor jumped at the vitriol in Loki's voice, but it vanished as soon as it had manifested. Quietly, he continued, "I am well, I simply wish to be alone."
Thor frowned. This was not going as planned; at the very least Loki should have opened the door and spoken to him directly! "I am worried about you; Mother is worried also. I wish for you to accompany our friends and I to Ida tomorrow."
Another silence, much longer than the first two. Finally, Thor heard Loki's footsteps on the other side of the door, and he stepped back as it was opened. Encouragingly, Loki did appear well rested, his pallor much improved from the previous night.
Thor grinned, "Brother! You do appear much improved. Mother will be pleased; as will I as soon as you agree to join us on our journey!"
Loki glanced towards the floor, "You have spoken to Mother about me?"
"She approached me after last night's feast. She has been concerned about your behavior lately."
Loki swallowed, "What, exactly, concerns her?"
Thor sighed in exasperation, "The same things that concern me and our friends! You have been quiet and withdrawn; it suits you ill. Come with us to Ida; it will make us all happy!"
"I-" Loki stopped, seeming to consider his words. Finally, he relented, "Very well. I presume we will be departing at dawn?"
Thor's answering grin was positively radiant, and he slapped his brother affectionately on the shoulder. He did not notice how Loki stumbled. "Indeed, brother! We will have a wonderful time!"
They did not, in fact, have a wonderful time. Sif and the Warriors Three were especially free with their causal barbs, and Loki felt each one intensely. (Weak Loki. Effeminate. Cowardly.) Sif was especially caustic, even causing Thor to reprimand her at one point, which quickly devolved into a shouting match between the two of them.
Eventually, Loki had been forced to intervene, pleading with them not to quarrel on his behalf. "Brother, please, the Lady's Sif's words caused me no offense." (They are true. I deserve them.) After that, the tension only increased within the group, as Thor pushed them harder, in a search of diversion.
So determined was he, that he extended the trip by nearly a week; each day compounding the effort Loki had to put into maintaining the glamours and the façade of a healthy appetite. By the time they finally returned to the palace, Loki's magic more depleted than it had ever been, and there was no time to rest before the ambassadors from Alfheim arrived. Weary to his very bones, Loki poured everything he had into presenting an acceptable appearance before his father and the ambassadors; he desperately hoped that it would (for once) be enough.
Odin effectively concealed his annoyance at Thor's tardiness; it would not do for Alfheim to believe that he could not control his own heir. He would lecture Thor later, in private, about his duties as a prince of Asgard and as a leader. When they finally returned, Loki was clearly struggling to mask his fatigue; as his older brother and in command of their journey, Thor should have noticed and eased his burden. But for the moment, Odin could do nothing besides look the other way if Loki should retire earlier than was strictly appropriate for a feast of such importance.
He did not have the opportunity. At the height of the feast Loki suddenly paled and lurched to his feet, one hand pressed to his mouth. Hastily he stumbled from the hall, Thor calling after him in concern.
The head ambassador quirked an eyebrow, "It seems your youngest has had a bit too much wine, Allfather," he quipped. A ripple of laugher traveled thought he assembled court and Odin fought to conceal his frown.
"Thor," Odin commended, pitching his voice so that he could be heard throughout the hall, "I fear your brother has taken some injury on your latest quest. Go see that he is well."
Thor grinned sheepishly, already half risen to do just that, "Of course, father. We will return shortly."
Loki could feel the strands of his glamours snapping like overstressed cables. For every one he mended, a dozen more broke and the well of his magic was already running dry. It was foolish and dangerous, but he could not stop himself from pulling the energy from the very core of his being, the untapped source from whence his magic sprang.
It still wasn't enough. He felt the glamours falling as the temperature in hall soared. The scent of the wine and roast meat was suddenly overwhelming, and he slapped a hand to his mouth to stop the meager contents of his stomach from spilling out on to the table. In desperation, he fled.
The entrance hall felt even warmer, though he vaguely knew it should not. He staggered against a wall, unable to contain the acid in his throat any longer. Watery bile spilled over the toes of his boots, and his body heaved as if to wrench itself apart.
Suddenly, he felt an immense pressure on his throat and his feet left the floor as his head struck stone.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY BROTHER?"
Loki's eyes snapped open and he saw Thor's enraged face, his powerful arm pinning him by the throat. Instinctively, Loki grabbed the arm constraining him, but his hands were wrong. They were… blue?
Loki's vision blurred as his head collided with the wall a second time, "JOTUN SCUM! WHERE IS MY BROTHER?"
Unable to speak or even breathe, Loki could only cling to the arm imprisoning him as his mind struggled to comprehend his brother's words (Jotun?) and his vision faded completely.
Odin felt an ominous shift in the air moments before Thor's yell echoed though the feasting hall.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY BROTHER?"
In an instant he was on his feet, Gungnir in hand. "Remain seated!" he bellowed over the eruption of voices in the hall. The guards moved to flank him as he charged into the entrance hall. Frigga, poised as always, quickly stood to reassure the guests.
Odin's gut clenched as Thor shouted, "JOTUN SCUM! WHERE IS MY BROTHER?" He feared that a centuries-old secret was being revealed in the worst possible way.
He was correct. The air in the entrance hall crackled with electricity as Thor slammed his brother - Jotun blue and limp as a ragdoll - against the unforgiving stone behind them.
"STOP!" Odin shouted. Startled, Thor turned to look at his father, Loki's throat still firmly in his grip. "Thor, unhand him!"
"This monster had taken Loki! We must find him!"
"No, Thor," Odin stepped closer, holding Thor's gaze. "He is Loki."
Thor looked frantically to the still form then back to his father, his grip easing but still firm, "No, this cannot be Loki. Loki has been acting strangely of late; it was this monster in disguise. He has taken Loki and hidden him somewhere!"
"No, Thor," Odin repeated. "He is Loki, and he is injured. You must release him so that he may be taken to the healers."
"No," Thor insisted, though Odin could see his conviction wavering, "This cannot be Loki."
Odin reached out and placed his hand on Thor's arm, which was slowly succumbing to frostbite. "You must trust me, he is your brother and my son."
Thor looked to the unconscious body in his grip. His skin was blue and covered with strange markings, his cheeks and eyes sunken in, and his hair limp and too long, but the features were undeniably his brother's. Horror and suspicion warred in Thor's eyes as he relaxed his hold and lowered Loki to the floor. Odin knelt beside him and pressed his fingers to the chill skin of the boy's neck; his pulse was erratic but clearly present.
"Send for Eir," Odin ordered the guards, and he was keenly aware of how they gazed at Loki, suspicious of his Jotun appearance.
"Thor, return to the feast and discreetly tell your mother what has happened, then excuse yourself to the healers to have you arm treated. I will return as soon as I am able." It was a terrible thing, when a king's duties to his subjects conflicted the needs of his children, but Asgard had to maintain its position of power among the realms; to appear weakened before the ambassadors of another realm could be disastrous. Today's revelation could spell disaster for both Asgard and his family; only careful maneuvering would protect them both.
Burning – it was so, so hot. (Jotun. Monster. No!)
"Hold him still!"
"How are we meant to touch him?"
Ice - it was freezing. (Cold. Snow. Frost giants.)
"Is he changing back?"
Burning again, then ice. Was it winter or was it summer? ("Strange Loki, everyone else prefers summer! Perhaps you are a frost giant in disguise!")
"We need to stabilize the transformation, otherwise it will continue to drain his magic."
More fire, then ice - he could no longer distinguish between them.
Finally, ice between his hands, and then it receded. It was warm, but no longer burning. Loki slept.
It took much longer to get back to Frigga than Odin had hoped. Loki was in a much more serious condition than he had imagined, made difficult to diagnose and treat because of the chill of his Jotun skin. Odin had also been forced to explain how he had found Loki and the spells he had placed on him as a baby to Eir, who was furious that she had never been told Loki's true race. At the time Odin had believed it was not worth the risk and that Loki's change in form had been complete – that he had had the physiology of an Aesir as well as the appearance of one. Now he worried that the transformation had not been complete as he had thought, and Loki had been somehow injured when exposed to healing meant for an Aesir. (Could that explain this latest development?)
And to complicate the situation even further, Eir discovered midway through the exam that Loki had reverted to Jotun form only because he had completely depleted his magic, which maintained the spell. The seal Odin had placed on him as an infant – which could only be broken by the touch of another Jotun - remained. This meant that whenever Eir applied healing magic everything Loki gained from it was channeled back into the spell, changing his form into that of an Aesir until Loki's magic was once again depleted and he reverted to a Jotun. Desperate, Odin had rushed to the weapons vault, hoping the Casket of Ancient Winters would carry enough of the essence of Jotunheim to break the seal.
"I need not remind you that everything you have observed tonight is not to be spoken about to anyone," He growled at the guards accompanying him.
"Of course, my King," The captain answered, "We know our duty."
Of course they did, but never before had a secret so threatening to the royal family been exposed so unexpectedly. There were still many Aesir that remembered the war and their hatred for the Jotuns all too well – a single stray word to the wrong person could mean Loki's death. This was the reason he had denied all of Frigga's entreaties to tell Loki the truth; he had wished his son to live unafraid of his countrymen and believed he could protect the boy well enough without him knowing. Now he questioned the wisdom of that decision.
Odin arrived at the healing rooms, the apprentice tending to Thor's arm directing him to a small room that had been bespelled to frigid temperature. There he saw Loki writhing on the bed, his skin a mottled patchwork of blue and pink. "Your Highness!" Eir called, "We must hurry! The strain of the constant shifting is causing much harm. His Jotun form cannot cope with the heat of the main ward and his Aesir form is vulnerable to the cold in here." Indeed, Eir and her assistant were both clothed in heavy furs as they tended to his son.
"Stand back," Odin commanded, as he placed the casket on Loki's chest. He then grabbed both thrashing hands and pressed them to the casket. He held his breath as nothing seemed to happen, then blue began to spread uniformly up Loki's arms. Finally, his body stopped changing, and he lay still. Odin removed the casket and Loki remained Jotun.
Eir sighed in relief, "Thank the Norns!"
He stood on the surface of Johenheim, but he was not cold. He was surrounded by Jotuns, each encased in a solid block of ice; but when he looked closer each had the face of someone he knew. Eir. Heimdall. Hugun, Frandral, and Voltstagg. Sif. He gasped as he saw a Jotun with his father's face, and another with his Mother's. Eventually, he came upon the shattered remains of what had been another Jotun's feet. Turning, he saw Thor determinedly smashing the rest of its body.
"They're monsters!" Thor grinned. "Help me destroy them!"
(No!) Loki thought, but he could not speak. (They are our friends! Our family! Stop!)
Thor, now laughing, gave Mjonir a mighty swing, and the frozen head rolled thought the snow to rest at Loki's feet. Loki looked on in horror as he beheld his own face.
(Thor! What have you done?)
"I killed the monster," but the laughing voice was not Thor's. Looking up, Loki saw himself, his horned helm gleaming and Mjonir still in his hand. He did not have to look down to know the head at his feet was now Thor's.
Silently, he screamed.
Thor watched mutely as his father marched into the healing ward, the Casket of Ancient Winters in his hands. The healer binding Thor's arm directed him to the room Loki had been taken to, then continued her work.
"What is Eir going to do with the Casket?" he asked her.
"I cannot say, your highness."
Thor frowned but remained silent as she continued her work. Minutes later, Odin emerged with the Casket. "Father," he called, making to stand before the healer grabbed his good arm and forced him to remain still, "What news?"
Odin looked grimly relived as he answered, "Loki's condition is now stable. Remain here. I will return later with your mother and all will be explained," and giving Thor no opportunity to argue, he left with the Casket.
The wait was maddening. What had happened to his brother? What had his father done with the Casket? It seemed ages before his parents returned.
"Thor!" Frigga exclaimed.
"Mother! Father! I have heard nothing from the healers – what has happened to Loki? Is he the victim of some foul Jotun curse? They-"
"Stop!" Frigga interrupted, tears in her eyes. Silence descended.
Finally, Odin spoke. "Loki is not cursed. He is as he was born."
"What? How can that be?"
Odin sighed deeply. "I have told you about the final battle of the war with Jotunheim, how after defeating Laufey I entered the temple and claimed the Casket of Ancient Winters."
He paused, and Thor prodded, "Yes, but-"
"Let me finish." Thor quieted.
"In the temple I found the Casket, but it was not the only thing I found. In the temple there was a baby, abandoned and small for a Jotun. To leave him would have meant his death-"
"NO!" Thor shouted, "My brother is not a monster!"
Odin tensed, his eyes flashing, but it was Frigga who responded to Thor's outrage before her husband could. "That is correct, Thor," she said, placing a hand on his, "He is not. Being born of Jotunheim does not make you brother a monster; that he is different does not make us love him less."
Thor shook his head, "Jotun are savage beasts-"
"Silence!" Odin growled. "The Jotun have been our enemy, but never have your mother or I described them as beasts to you. Rumors spread in taverns and children's whispers have no place on the tongue of prince, and you brother deserves better from you!"
Cowed, Thor lowered his gaze. His mother embraced him briefly then left to speak with Eir. Odin remained for a moment, then retreated to Loki's room. Thor watched but did not follow.
Loki awoke slowly. Someone was holding his hand, and when he opened his eyes he was unsurprised to see his mother. He was confused to see her dressed in furs, her hands protected by thick gloves.
"Loki," she smiled.
"Mother," he replied, attempting to sit up. Frigga tutted and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Remain still; you have been unwell. Eir will return shortly."
"What-" Loki stopped suddenly when he caught sight of his own hand. It was Jotun blue and covered with raised markings. He brought it to his face were he could feel similar scars on his forehead and cheeks. "What has happened? What- what am I?"
"You are our son," Odin answered, startling Loki who had not seen his father standing by the door.
"And what else?" Loki demanded, struggling to sit up. This time Frigga sensed his urgency and slid a gloved hand behind his back to support him. Odin sighed deeply and began to explain.
Fragga watched the horror dawning in her son's eyes as Odin relayed his tale. When he spoke of Loki being abandoned, the boy smothered a cry. He shut his eyes tightly, a single tear freezing half way down his hollow cheek. Frigga pulled him closer to her, and a sound broke free of him – not a cry, but a laugh.
His slight shoulders shook as he was overcome by hysteria, and Frigga shared a terrified look with her husband. "Loki!" she called, holding him closer. Odin approached them and placed hand on Loki's hair.
"Why do you laugh, my son?"
"Even- Even the-" Loki tried to answer, but could not speak though the choking laugher. Frozen tears bounced off Frigga's clothing and struck the floor with tiny tinkling sounds. "Frost- giants-," he was finally able to say, his voice heavy with tears, "Would be- rid – of me." And he buried his face in his hands, desperately trying to stifle the emotions overwhelming him.
"No!" Frigga declared, holding him tighter. She did not understand his meaning, only that something was very, very wrong. Odin was similarly stunned.
"What do you mean?" It was Thor who shouted, the door swinging open violently. "WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!" he shouted again gripping Loki's shoulders.
"STOP, THOR!" Odin bellowed, but Thor was not speaking out of anger.
"What do you mean, brother?" he repeated, "Who else would be rid of you?"
Loki could not answer. He could not even breathe; he was trying so hard to quiet his weeping. He merely curled on himself further, as if trying to hide from them.
"Oh, Loki," Frigga cried again, her heart breaking for him.
Thor did not speak again, only tightened his grip. His face was equally marred by sorrow.
Finally, Odin spoke, his fingers still tangled in Loki's hair. "Binding a wound before it has been properly cleaned will cause it to fester. I have wounded you; trying to hide it will only poison you."
"Yes, Loki!" Frigga agreed, "Do not hide from us. We cannot help if we do not know how we have hurt you."
Loki shifted marginally, completely undone. His sobs echoed in the small room and Frigga continued to hold him as Thor's arms wrapped around them both.
Eventually, his cries became words. The same two words, repeated.
"- sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry-"
(I have failed you.)
(I am worthless. I have shamed you.)
"No. No, Loki," his mother whispered. "You have done nothing wrong." (But I have!) "You are our son." (No, I'm not! I never was!) "We love you so much." (How can you love me?) "We should have told you the truth." (I am a monster even the Jotuns did not want.) "Forgive us, please!" (I wish you had left me there.)
"Brother." (Have I made you cry, Thor? Do not cry!) "Do not cry, brother." (I am not your brother!) "All will be well." (Nothing is well. Nothing will ever be well again.)
Hour later, Loki slept. Loki's thin garments had been insufficient to protect Thor's other hand from frostbite, and Eir lectured the elder prince roundly as she had treated it. Now dressed in furs, both hands swaddled in bandages, he sat with his mother as Odin attended to his duties as King.
"He looks so frail," Thor finally said.
"Eir says he has not been eating."
"But he has! I made sure-"
"His magic is depleted. I can only think that he drained it hiding this from us."
"But why? Did he suspect?"
Frigga shook her head, near tears again. "We do not know why. His Jotun form only revealed itself once his magic was gone; we know not what made him do this."
Thor sighed deeply. "He spoke of others wishing him gone. During our journey to Ida, our friends were unsettled. The Lady Sifs was… especially harsh with him."
"But I thought they had made amends?"
"I thought so as well, but perhaps…" He looked at her helplessly. He had tried so hard to reach his brother, but seemed only to have harmed him instead. He remembered the feel of his brother's throat beneath his hand; he was sick with the thought of what he could have done. But what had he done? What effect had his efforts to force Loki into the company of their friends actually had?
"Oh, Loki," Frigga sighed, "Why do you hide things so?
Thor snorted, "Perhaps he learned from Father."
Frigga frowned, "Do not judge your father harshly; he did what he thought was best."
"How was it best to lie to us? If I had known-"
"What would you have done? You were a child as well."
"I could have done something!" There had been so many stories, so many games of 'kill the Jotun', and all that time it was his own brother he was pretending to kill.
Frigga took his hand. "It is in the past now. We cannot change it, only prepare for what is to come."
"And what is to come?"
"Among the Aesir there are those who would harm your brother for what he is; you know this."
"I will not allow anyone to harm him! But because I did not know I-" He could not finish.
"I know; your father explained. I am sorry for that, my son, but Loki will heal, and he will forgive you, I am certain."
"I cannot forgive myself."
Frigga turned and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, "You will, in time. Support your brother in his need, and one day you will."
It would be years before he believed her.
Loki woke with difficulty. His head pounded as if he had overindulged the night before, but as his memories slowly filtered back, he knew this pain had a different cause. He had collapsed at the feast. He was a Jotun. His parents were not his parents. He was a Jotun. Thor had attacked him. He was a Jotun. He had broken down in front of his parents and his brother. He was a Jotun. He cracked his eyes open to verify that his hands were still that horrible shade of blue. They were. He quickly looked away, letting out an involuntary whimper.
"You have awakened?" Odin asked.
Loki's breath caught. He could not face his father like this. He was enough of a disappointment without bearing his twisted nature on his skin for all to see.
"Loki, look at me," Odin commanded. Loki could not.
Gloved fingers gripped his chin and forced his head towards his father. "Look at me, Loki," he commanded again.
Loki forced himself to obey. Odin did not appear angry, but he looked so very disappointed and that was worse, even as it was expected. "Father, I am sorry," Loki whispered, his voice hoarse.
"No, Loki," Odin replied. "Do not be sorry." (Sorry does not make it better.) "You have done nothing to apologize for." (Even my apologies are worthless.) "I am certain you have questions." (Greedy, impudent Loki, always involving yourself in things beyond your place). "Ask them, and I will do my best to answer." (What?)
Loki stared. Odin had never issued such an invitation before. Confused, he struggled to sit up, then froze as he felt a hand at his back. Odin merely continued to steady him and placed a cushion behind his back so that he could recline. Odin then claimed Frigga's empty chair, and repeated his offer, "Ask, Loki. As you father, I owe you that much at least." (But I am not your son, not really.)
"Why did you lie to me?" (Lying is dishonorable. I lie.)
Odin frowned. "I did not lie, only concealed the truth. I wished to protect you." (Protect me from my own nature.)
"You said – when we were children – that we were both born to be kings. But that is not true, only Thor is-" (Your son. Aesir. Worthy.)
"But it is true. Your markings," Loki flinched away as Odin reached towards the lines on his forehead. Odin lowered his hand sadly. "They are of the clan of Laufey." (Laufey's son?)
"Is that- Why did you take me?" (I am the son of the enemy. You should have slain me or at least left me to die.)
"You were innocent. And-"
"I had hoped, one day, to build a lasting peace, though you. But those plans no longer matter." (I have ruined them. I ruin everything.)
"I-" (Please don't make me say it.) "I can no longer serve Asgard."
Odin looked startled, "No! You serve Asgard well, that is why I cannot send you to Jodunheim. You are needed here, as prince." (What?)
Loki gaped. "I do not understand. Thor is-"
"Thor is brave, but he is also stubborn and rash. He does not understand what being King requires." (That is not true. You have always favored Thor as your heir. I cannot be King; I am cowardly, I am weak.)
"I am Jotun."
"You are. You are also Thor's brother and his closest friend. He listens to you when he will not hear a word from anyone else. If Thor is to rule he will need you beside him. You are subtle when he is brash. He could win wars, but you can prevent them."
Loki shook his head, "I do not understand. Asgard prizes warriors. Your praise of his deeds-"
"What Asgard prizes and what it needs are two different things. I praise Thor's heroics because Asgard expects it. I praise you as brothers because that is how you will rule."
Tears leaked from Loki's eyes. (No! This cannot be true! I am weak! I am nothing!) "I cannot-"
"What? What can you not do?"
Mortified, Loki began to cry. He had no words. A year ago he would have done anything to hear this from his father, but now he simply could not comprehend it. His father placed a warm hand on his back and let him weep.
"Is it true?" Fandral asked, sounding far too fascinated for Thor's taste.
"Is what true?" Thor asked sharply, concentrating on his meal. Last night's bandages had been traded for lighter wrappings, but it was still difficult to eat. He should have remained in the healing ward, despite his father's insistence on being left alone with Loki.
Fandral gestured to Thor's hands, "That Loki did… that. That he is a," and he leaned in closer to whisper, "Jotun," as if it were forbidden.
Thor slammed his fist on the table, causing it to jump and his entire arm to ache. He pinned Fandral with a fuming stare. "I did this! And Loki is and always has been my brother!" It was not a lie to Thor, but he wished to explain further. However, thier parents had decided for now to stay silent on Loki's heritage; Odin promised that it would be revealed soon - it would simply be impossible to hide it for much longer - but only after Loki had recovered and could defend himself. It was loathsome, but there were some among the Aesir whose hatred of Jotun overrode their sense and honor; they had to protect Loki.
Thor turned back to his food, though he had little appetite. Fandral watched, his eyes wide. Finally, he asked, "Is he well?"
"No," Thor grunted, "But he will recover in time. Now leave me; I wish to be left alone."
"I see. Send him my regards, then. Good day." Fandral left quickly.
Not long after, Sif approached him. She did not ask any questions, only took a goblet of wine and a seat on the polished bench. Eventually she spoke. "I hope you are well, Thor."
"That is good." When she finished her wine, she excused herself to the sparring grounds. She did not ask about Loki.
Loki had no words. After Odin left, Eir entered. He answered her questions with a nod or a shake of his head, but he could not bring himself to speak. He looked away as she examined him, unable to stand the sight of his Jotun skin. She brought a bowl of porridge made with Idunn's apples and pressed him to eat, but it froze solid in his grip. She sighed and explained that his magic would be recovered enough for him to assume Aesir form in a day or two, and it could wait until then as long as he had no objections. He did not.
She took her leave and bade him rest, though for once he could not sleep. He watched the sunlight travel up the bare walls of his room and tried to comprehend what had happened.
Time passed, and his mother returned. When he did not respond to her, she was not angry. She simply opened the book she had brought and read aloud. Her voice was comforting, even if he did not process her words. She took his hand in one of hers. Her glove was soft.
Thor came. He was angry, but not. Loki did not understand. Thor embraced him, so he must not have been angry after all. His mother left, but Thor stayed. Thor did not read, but told stories. He tried to make Loki laugh and was sad when he did not. Loki patted his arm, trying to tell him not to be sad. Thor smiled, so it must have worked.
If Thor was expecting to be comforted when Loki resumed his Aesir form, he was mistaken. When Loki shifted back to the form Thor knew, he could see even more clearly how ill his brother really was. His skin was a sickly, pale color, highlighting the shadows under his eyes and cheekbones. He hands were almost skeletal and shook slightly as he struggled through the bowl of porridge Eir had provided.
Loki did not speak but shook his head when Thor asked if he could offer assistance. It was heartbreaking. (Why, Loki? Why did you do this to yourself?)
Unable to keep his thoughts to himself, Thor asked, "Why have you not been eating brother?"
Loki gave him a long look. Finally, he answered, "I do not wish to discuss it."
Thor could not help but smile as Loki finally spoke, but would not accept his answer, "But you must! I cannot help if I do not understand."
Loki sighed and muttered, "You will never understand."
Loki jumped as Thor slammed his fist down on the small table beside the bed. "Not if you continue to hide from me!" Immediately, he was overwhelmed with shame. "Forgive me brother, I should not have given in to my temper like that."
"What?" Thor asked.
"You do not apologize for your temper."
"I-" Thor thought back, "I suppose not. But that is wrong. I hurt you and I cannot forgive myself for that."
Unconsciously, Loki brought a hand to his throat. "Think of it no longer," he absently replied, "You did not know."
Thor stood and began to pace. "That is no excuse. I attacked you without provocation and give you no opportunity to explain. I ignored Father's lessons and injured you."
Loki sighed, "Do not fret over it. It caused me no harm."
"How can you say that from your sickbed?"
Loki shook his head, "I am here from my own actions. It was not your doing."
"Wasn't it? How can I know if you do not explain? Was I-"
"Not everything is about you, Thor!" Loki snarled, then looked away. Quietly he continued, "This is not about you."
"Then what was it about?"
Despondently, Loki whispered, "me."
(I am weak. I am not good enough.)
(But that is not what Father said, is it?)
Thor sat back down. "What about you? Tell me, please. I want to understand."
(You will never understand.)
"You cannot understand."
"Help me understand!"
(No. I would spare you of all people this.)
(But are you sparing him? Or yourself?)
"You do not-"
"Doubt." Loki looked up, startled. He had not meant to say that aloud.
Thor leaned forward and took Loki's hands in his, "I do not doubt you."
Loki laughed. It was not a happy sound. "You should!"
"You are my brother. I trust you above all others."
Loki shook his head. "You should not. I lie. To you more than anyone."
Loki laughed again. "It is my nature. I am-" (Jotun). He could not say it.
"You are my brother. You are mischievous, yes, but you mean no malice by it."
"How can you be so certain?"
"Because I believe in you. And your lies have caused less harm than Father's, besides."
"Father did not lie, only omitted the truth."
"I fail to see the distinction."
(That does not surprise me.)
"Father meant no harm."
"Neither do you."
(Thor! Why are you so stubborn?)
"And yet I bring harm anyway."
"As did I. You told me to think no more of it; will you not heed your own words?"
"It is not the same!" Loki shouted. Thor mere looked sad.
"You are-" (Brave. Worthy. Aesir.) "Thor."
Thor chuckled. "And you are Loki, Prince of Asgard and my brother. What is true for me that that is not for you?"
"I AM NOT YOUR BROTHER!" Loki did not notice how Thor's expression darkened.
"I AM NOT A PRINCE OF ASGARD! I AM JOTUN! I DO NOT BELONG HERE AND NEVER HAVE!" Loki could feel the tears behind his eyes and shook his head viciously. (No! No more! Weak, weak, weak!)
"You ARE my brother, you ARE a Prince of Asgard, and you have and always will belong at my side."
"NO! You do not see! You never did! The other boys-" Loki froze as he realized what he had just said. (You did not hear that! I never meant for you to hear that!)
"What other boys?
Loki remained silent, trying to hold back his tears. Thor gabbed his shoulders and shook him lightly, "Loki, speak! What other boys!"
There was no escaping it. He had no magic. If he even attempted it, he would revert to a Jotun. He could never match Thor's strength (Weak, Loki, weak.) and he could not run. He only had his words.
"N-nothing! It was nothing." (I am nothing.)
"No! It was not nothing! WHAT OTHER BOYS?!"
"WHEN WE WERE CHILDREN!" Loki shouted back. "They knew! I do not belong here, and somehow they saw it! Everything they said, it was all if it true! My nature is cowardly and weak, and they KNEW IT!"
Thor started in shocked silence. "Do you see?" Loki demanded, "Do you see now? Even when I did not know my own nature, they did! They saw!"
"THEY SAW NOTHING!" Thor roared. "They were petty and jealous that you were so much more clever than they! They were cowards and liars! Mother and Father had them sent away because of the lies they spread about you!"
"But they weren't lies! They were true! I am no true son of Odin-"
"STOP!" Loki's mouth snapped shut, his face etched with pain. "Listen to me, Loki. Mother and Father chose you. I choose you. I have lived a thousand years with you as my brother and I will have you for the next thousand and the thousand after that! You are NOT cowardly and you are NOT weak. You are brilliant and loyal and there is no one I would rather have at my back!" Thor embraced his brother fiercely, angry tears spilling from his eyes. He would find them. Every single one of those filthy wretches who planted these horrible thoughts in his brother's head, he would find them and make them pay.
And he would tell Mother. She would know how to make Loki understand how wrong his words were. Thor had little skill with words, but Frigga was like Loki – she knew how to explain and how to persuade. Loki would understand. He would.
"Loki?" Frigga called. "May I enter?"
Loki considered denying her, but that would achieve nothing. He could not hide from her forever, nor would she allow it. Reluctantly, he replied, "Yes."
She smiled gently as she pushed the door aside. "I have brought some of your books. Eir informs me you may return to your chambers soon, but I thought you might like something to read in the meantime."
("Strange Loki, always reading! You will never become a warrior that way!")
She took a seat as she set the books down on the small table. "I spoke with Thor."
"I expected as much."
"He is worried."
"Your father and I are worried."
Loki hung his head, "I know."
"We love you."
"I-" He broke off.
"Do you not know?"
(No! No more tears!)
"We are proud of you."
Loki shook his head. (No! How could you be?)
"You think I am a liar?"
Loki looked up, "No!"
"Then why do you deny what I am telling you?"
"Because-" He looked away again.
Frigga tilted his chin so that he would meet her eye. "Speak, Loki. Why do you deny what I have told you?"
"Because… Because I do not see how it could be true," he answered quietly.
"Did you father not explain his plans to you?"
"Then do you disagree?"
"No. I cannot disagree for I do not understand!" he cried. He was so frustrated with this whole affair; why did nothing make sense any more?
"What do you not understand?" Frigga was not angry. She was not frustrated. She simply looked at him earnestly, calmly concerned.
"How can I – can a Jotun – advise the future king of Asgard?"
"When they have lived their entire lives as brothers and he has proven that no other would be equal to the task. And you have, Loki!"
"How? How can that be true?"
"Because you see! You see past that which blinds others; you are loyal to Thor but not blind to his faults as so many others are. When others see only one way though a problem, you see dozens. It is because you are different that you can do what no one else in Asgard does."
"I do not want to be different!"
Frigga looked immeasurably sad. "I know, my darling, but you are. That makes you no less worthy, no less our son. I fear we have not always made that clear to you, and for that I am truly sorry."
"Do not be sorry."
(Sorry does not make it better.)
"Have any of you seen Loki since our journey to Ida?" Fandral asked.
"No," Sif muttered. "And I have seen very little of Thor is well."
"Thor was very short with me when I asked after Loki. I wonder-"
"Stop this!" Volstagg barked. "Loki is unwell. It is dishonorable to cast aspersions upon him when he cannot defend himself."
"Have you seen him?" Fandral asked, looking almost eager.
"I have, and it was no cause for celebration. He and Thor passed the kitchen not two hours ago, and Loki was ailing. Thor was escorting him to his rooms, as is becoming an older brother."
"Ailing, how?" Sif asked, still suspicious.
"He was as pale as a ghost and thinner than I have ever seen an Aesir."
"Perhaps he is not Aesir. I have heard-"
"Are you a market woman, to repeat any rumor that you hear? That nonsense about Loki being Jotun is a ridiculous tale; if I have never seen an Aesir so thin, I most certainly have never seen a frost giant so small!"
"And how many frost giants have you seen?"
"More than you, Fandral! Or do you forget that I have been campaigning longer than any of you?"
Fandral huffed. "What say you, Hogan? Could Loki be a frost giant?"
Hogan stroked his chin thoughtfully. "There is magic that could provide such a disguise, and Loki is talented in magic-"
"You see!" Fandral declared.
"However," Hogan remarked sharply, annoyed at being interrupted, "Such magic would have to have been in place since far longer than he has been capable of casting such things. The question is, if Loki is Jotun, how could the Allfather not know? And if he does, what reason had he to raise a Jotun as his son?"
"Now you see," Volstagg tutted, "Even if that ridiculous rumor is true, the Allfather surely knows, and he kept the boy anyway. If you do not trust Loki or even Thor, surely you trust the Allfather? Or are you willing to suggest that our King was deceived by a child?"
"But what reason would he have to keep him? And to conceal it for so long?"
"And why does this interest you so, Fandral?" Volstagg reproved, "Loki is unwell, Thor is worried to death over him, and all you can think about is whether Loki was born Aesir or not! It is unseemly of you."
"But it would explain so much! Why Loki is so different from the rest of us, why he has never been a proper Aesir-"
"ENOUGH!" So involved had they been in their conversation, they had not heard Thor approach. "HOW DARE YOU? YOU HAVE FOUGHT BESIDE LOKI, CLAIMED HIM AS A FRIEND! HOW DARE YOU SAY SUCH THINGS, AND BEHIND HIS BACK!"
Fandral raised his hands in surrender, "I did not mean it like that, Thor!"
"THEN WHAT DID YOU MEAN?"
Fandral gulped. "Loki is… different. That does not mean he is not worthy!" he hastily exclaimed as Thor raised a fist, "Only that he has never quite fit in! He does not see things as the rest of us do."
"AND WOULD YOU PUNISH HIM FOR THAT?"
"No! His cleverness had got us out of more than one tight spot! It is just-"
"He does not fight like an Aesir. He is a skilled warrior in his own way!" he assured again, "Only, one wonders why, yes?" Fandral watched Thor with a fear-laced smile. He truly had not intended to insult Loki, but that would matter little if Thor decided to take vengeance.
Thor took several deep breaths. "I will say this once," he growled. "If you ever again wish to claim me as a friend, you will hold your tongue concerning Loki, all of you! And if you have ever considered yourselves friends to him, you will stop this speculation and tell others to do the same. He is unwell and cannot defend himself from this cruel gossip!" He fixed them each with a fierce stare until they gave some sign of acknowledging his words. Sif nodded curtly then excused herself. Fandral nodded, still smiling nervously and did the same.
After they left, Volstagg handed Thor a flagon of mead. "Drink. You look as if you need it."
"I must return to Loki soon."
"Then bring him some! He could do with the cheering just as well."
"Yes," Thor smiled gratefully, "He could."
It was a comfort to return to his own rooms, even if the walk left him exhausted and Thor hovering like a mother hen. "Do you require anything, brother?" (You have called me that a dozen times in the last hour, do you think saying it more often will make it more true?)
Loki sighed. "Yes, privacy. I am going to bathe, I would prefer you not join me."
"Oh," Thor replied despondently, "May I return to share the noon meal with you?"
"I can feed myself."
"I know, but I would miss your company." (Why?)
"I… Very well."
Thor smiled broadly and embraced him briefly before leaving. Afterwards, Loki idly wished he had not sent him away; the room seemed colder with him gone. (Of course it is colder, the only one here is a frost giant.)
Frustrated, he pulled out some simple clothing for later and started to run a hot bath. He accidentally caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and immediately looked away. (I look awful. Of course I do, what would one expect of an ill frost giant?) He snatched a blanket from his bed and draped it over the mirror. He then drew back the curtains and looked out over the city. (It is glorious. I do not belong here, but I can see the beauty in it just the same. It harms no one if I merely look.)
There was a window in his bathing chambers and he drew back those curtains as well. Reclining in the bath he could see little more than the treetops and cloudless sky, but it was still a heartening sight compared to the white ceiling of the healing rooms.
The bath was relaxing enough that Loki slept easily afterwards. He did not wake until Thor returned with… (Is that a cask of mead?)
"What is that?"
"And why did you bring it here?"
"We both need cheering! I also have this!" and he presented a basket containing several pastries to which Loki was partial. "It is a gift from Volstagg, he wishes you well!"
(A gift from one of the Warriors Three? Absurd.) Loki frowned. "If that is truly from Volstagg I would expect it to be at least half empty!"
"What?" Annoyed, Loki looked more closely. The topmost pastry had been broken roughly in half, the larger part conspicuously missing. Loki couldn't help it; he laughed. Thor's answering smile outshone all of Asgard.
Eir declared Loki was well enough to attend the farewell feast for the ambassadors from Alfheim. Thor was excited, though Loki did not appear to feel the same. He was quiet and serious, and it reminded Thor far too much of his behavior before he collapsed at the last feast. Thor was also not the only one to notice this.
"Are you certain you are well enough?" Frigga asked.
"You need not attend if you are feeling unwell."
Loki sighed, "I know, Mother."
She reached out and cupped the side of his face. "I trust your judgment, but a mother worries, you understand."
Loki nodded slightly. "I do, now please; go join Father." She did.
"She will improve with time," Thor said sagely, "Do you remember our first day of weapons training?"
Loki smiled faintly, "I do."
The formal part of the feast passed without incident. Loki ate sparingly but well, and responded to every statement directed at him as smoothly as was his wont. Encouraged, Thor prodded Loki to join him and Volstagg for the more informal part of the evening. The others were also there of course, and Loki simply nodded and sat, nursing his drink.
To no one's surprise, Volstagg greeted Loki merrily then returned to his food and drink as if nothing unusual had occurred. Hogan gave Loki a solemn nod, but that was also routine. Sif was unusually quiet, and Fandral seemed particularly intent on burying himself in the attention of maidens, but as neither said a word against Loki, the night continued apace.
That is until enough mead and wine had been imbibed to loosen the tongues of some of the more quarrelsome Aesir.
"Look at him! Does he look like a Jotun to you?"
"There is magic that could conceal it, and he has always been skilled at that!"
"Skilled enough to fool the Allfather? I think not!"
"Jotun or not, there has always been something strange about him; I don't like it."
Their whispers gradually rose in volume until Thor managed to overhear some of their conversation. Scowling, he made to rise, but stopped when he spotted Fandral sauntering over to them. Loki glanced over as well, probably having heard much more than Thor.
"Ladies!" Fandral declared loudly, "Perhaps I can interest you in some wine this fine evening?"
"Have you gone blind with drink?" a hulking warrior asked, "We are no ladies!"
"Oh!" Fandral affected a pose of contrition, "My sincerest apologies! With how you were gossiping like market women, I fear I have been mislead!"
Laugher traveled though the feasting hall. The warriors flushed with embarrassed rage, and the largest stood, towering over Fandral, who continued to smile charmingly. "I am no market woman!" the behemoth growled. He snarled when a heavy hand clamped him on the shoulder.
"Now, now," Thor said, also grinning, "It was an honest mistake. Perhaps the mead has made you tongues a bit looser than they would normally be?" He squeezed the warrior's shoulder roughly to punctuate his point. "It is late; a fine time to retire for the night, wouldn't you say?"
The warrior looked to Thor then Fandral, and finally the King. The last seemed to decide things. "O-of course, my Prince. My apologies." He bowed grudgingly and retreated from the hall, his companions following. Thor looked to his father, who was smiling. Thor nodded to him, then cuffed Fandral affectionately. "Come, my friend, let us drink!"
Several the Aesir surrounding them cheered and lifted their flagons high. Thor looked and saw Loki, still sitting silently. His eyes were cast down at the table, but still Thor could see the mischievous smile curving his lips.
"Nervous, brother?" (Of course I am!)
"Of course not," Loki declared with a haughty smile. Six months ago Thor would have accepted that, or answered with his own bravado, but much had changed. Thor smiled and clasped Loki's shoulder affectionately.
"Whatever they say, know that you are family. Father announces this today because Asagard must know that whatever your birth, you are a Prince of Asgard and we are not ashamed of you."
Loki nodded, "Father said as much earlier."
Thor smiled and nodded, "That is well."
"Well." Thor looked embarrassed, then thoughtful, "I have learned these past months that some things are best said too often than too little. I believe Mother and Father have as well."
(I still struggle to believe it some days, but-) "You may be right." Desperate to break the tension, Loki bumped his shoulder against Thor's and grinned. "And in that spirit, I must compliment you once again on your feathers. Truly, they are… astounding" he said, nodding to Thor's helm.
"Oh you do not want to start that again! When you wear those goat horns I know not if you should be advising me or pulling my chariot!"
"Oh, that was a clever one!"
And for the next month, Thor's goats were a vibrant pink. He did not complain. He did, however, empty a sack of feathers onto Loki's bed.
"You asked to see us, Father?"
"Yes. A situation has arisen on Midgard that we must address."
"Midgard?" Thor asked, surprised. "What could possibly have occurred on Midgard to warrant the intervention of Asgard?" Loki had his suspicions.
"The Tesseract. It is on Midgard and the humans have begun to experiment with it."
"But the humans have been in possession of it for some time, have they not?" Loki asked, "What makes their current endeavors more concerning than their past ones?"
Odin appeared utterly unsurprised by Loki's previous knowledge; to Loki he even looked a bit proud. Gestures of pride from Odin were no longer unfamiliar to Loki, but he would always treasure them.
"Some years ago Heimdall reported that a human was attempting to use the Tesseract to conquer their world. We were addressing our own concerns at the time, and before we could intervene he was cast into the void by the Tesseract itself. The only other witness to this event was another, gifted, human who was attempting to stop him. In that attempt both he and the Tesseract were lost in Midgard's ocean. The Tesseract was retrieved some time later by his allies, and they began experiments we saw as harmless."
"Then what has changed?" Thor asked.
"Over time, the group that possesses the Tesseract has become increasing influenced by those who lust for power. And now the humans have founds a way to rescue their comrade who previously witnessed the Tesseract's true power. We fear that they may intend to use his knowledge to create weapons fueled by the Tesseract."
"You desire us to retrieve it then?"
"Yes. However, their work with the Tesseract has shown us that the humans are capable of much more than they were in ages past, and that advancement may have already attracted the attention of other, hostile worlds. I would have you make contact with the humans and assess their ability to defend themselves from these threats. In the past year you have shown me that together you can rule Asgard while I am taken by the Odinsleep, and it may soon come to pass that you will have to lead Asgard in defending Midgard once again. If that is the case, I would have you know them."
Loki smiled inwardly. Thor's time on the throne had been the ultimate test for both of them. It had also shown Loki that while he was happy to advise his brother (as always) and apply his gifts to the service of Asgard, the throne itself was a burden he would rather not bear. It was a fairly neat arrangement, really.
And now they had a new challenge. It had been quite some time since he spent had any significant time on Midgard, and his brief glimpses revealed a short-lived people who have increasingly filled their tiny lives with bizarre objects and raucous entertainment. "That rather sounds like fun, actually," he smirked.
Odin gave him a mildly stern look while Thor grinned. Fun indeed.