Author's Note: The story takes place during the movie Thor and goes just a little further at the end. It contains a slight nod to The Lord of the Rings (the counting of bodies) and, at the very end, to Thor&Loki: Blood Brothers. I hope you enjoy it!

Sincerely,
Lorien Urbani


The Strife

.

Loki had hoped for a diplomatic solution of the intense situation, but neither Thor, nor the jötnar, shared in his hope, for it had been obvious from the start that a conflict was imminent.

Thor demanded bloodshed and the jötnar complied by insulting the golden prince of Asgard. Loki could have laughed at the reference, a memory of a humorous adventure from the not-so-distant past, had they not been surrounded by the red-eyed, blue-skinned beasts that were very eager to pound on the Æsir and seek a small measure of satisfaction and revenge by slaying the princes of Asgard and their companions.

Damn, indeed, and as soon as Thor killed the first jötunn, taking the obvious bait without a second thought, instead of wisely ignoring it, it was clear that a battle was unavoidable and the prospects of the Æsir appeared quite grim, for they were severely outnumbered. Prudence had never been one of Thor's talents and Loki ground his teeth angrily as, yet again, his reckless brother pulled them into an unnecessary adventure, as Thor would call it. Loki had no desire to die just yet and this time, if they survived, he would most assuredly play a cruel trick on his oafish brother in retaliation.

"Idiot," Loki hissed, turned around and threw his first knife at an approaching jötunn, felling the giant with ease, the blade slicing through the icy flesh, wedging through the jötunn's heart and exiting through the giant's back, for Loki's knives were sharpened by seiðr and could cut through anything.

Loki picked the knife, blood and red-blue tissue sticking to the blade, and allowed himself a brief smile. He may not have been the best warrior that Asgard had ever seen, so very unlike the beloved Thunderer, but Loki's aim was always flawless and he took pride in that. His anger at Thor began to ebb away and determinedly dissipate, becoming replaced by the thrill of battle. A sharp sense of exhilaration surged through his veins and his focus cleared. The battle was messy, as any battle had been, but his mind perceived everything with perfect clarity and his hands knew, as if of their own volition, where to throw the knives, killing one jötunn after another.

Subconsciously, he began to count the bodies of the jötnar that he had sent into death, an old game initiated by Thor centuries ago, when they were still fresh on the battlefields, awed by the prospect of war. Surprisingly, Thor's seemingly ridiculous idea calmed their initial fears and fuelled them with the fire that they needed to slay the enemies of Asgard, and of the peace and balance of Yggdrasil. The habit of counting slain foes had stayed with them since and although it usually resulted in Thor's post-battle bragging in the main hall, irritating Loki, the younger prince continued with it all the same, hardly knowing why.

Loki did not enjoy war-making in particular, but even his blood boiled and hummed in pleasure as the enemy fell dead at his feet, his face the last thing the foe saw before expiring. He threw his knives and used his seiðr, and despite his unusual methods, he could fight as well as the Warriors Three, which gladdened him. He was no worse than them, and they could never aspire to be as great as Thor, so Loki felt like an equal at least in this respect.

Remarkably, the battle seemed to be proceeding in the favour of the outnumbered Æsir and Loki was attacking the giants with great confidence, wondering why he had ever felt fear in the presence of the lowly beasts. Perhaps, he thought suddenly, wickedly, as he was running towards a vicious-looking jötunn, a knife at the ready, he could conduct a quick experiment during the battle and see how well the jötnar took to fire and heat. Surely, those crude creatures that were half ice, half hard flesh, would exhibit an interesting reaction to the calescent balls of energy that he intended to start throwing at their giant frames.

Would they fall apart; crumble; melt? Would they scream?

He chuckled, the well-familiar frisson of mischief budding inside him, and swung his arm towards his next victim. The jötunn caught his arm and squeezed it hard, and for a moment, Loki felt panic, knowing that the touch of the jötnar burned and destroyed, pain imminent. He was prepared to vanish and thus release himself from the giant's grip, but before he did so, his mind noted that the touch did not smoulder his skin and Loki looked down in unbidden curiosity.

He wished he had not looked down.

He wished he had teleported immediately and stabbed the giant from behind, never seeing the horror.

He wished he had rebelled against his brother and never come to Jötunheimr, although that would have prompted Thor to resent him and call him a coward.

He wished he could have turned back time and become a craven.

His skin did not burn. His flesh did not crackle beneath the jötunn's deadly touch.

Loki felt a slight cold spread through his entire body; not really a sense of chill; but of tepidness. His skin itched, not uncomfortably, and his arm turned that hateful, beastly hue of blue, the jötunn symbols etching themselves into his flesh with a tickle that felt curiously natural.

He had never once in his existence felt cold, not even during the harshest Asgardian winters. He had always thought that his inability to feel the chills of winter was merely a lucky trait that his body possessed. Until now, he had not known the meaning of cold, and the coldness that was gnawing at his gut had nothing to do with the temperature in the Realm of Ice.

Startled, he looked into the jötunn's red eyes, as confused as his, and alarmingly knowing, a silent understanding passing between them.

You belong to us, the red eyes seemed to be saying in surprise.

How can that be? It is impossible, Loki's were responding.

Loki gasped and killed the jötunn, stabbing him in the heart. The giant fell and Loki panted, watching as the blue began to fade from the surface of his skin and the chill that was barely a chill flew out him, oozing through his pores, the ugliness leaving him.

Yet he felt it linger inside him, pounding against his skull, the perversion, the curse, whatever it was. He did not understand, but he knew and the knowledge coiled around his heart like the thorny stem of a rose, pushing, pushing, pushing in, until the agony of realisation became almost unbearable and he was sure he was going to start losing his mind.

He looked up to make sure that no one else had seen what had transpired, hoping that his sudden, inexplicable shame would remain a secret.

He met Thor's eyes and swallowed bitterly.

Thor, who was always fully dedicated to battle, who crushed and slew all on his own, had looked at him, an unfortunate coincidence, and stopped.

He was staring from across the icy plane, Mjölnir hanging limp by his side, a frown settled on his proud, noble brow. Loki shook his head desperately, taking a step back, and Thor's lips parted in shock. Loki could recognise comprehension coming to life in Thor's eyes and Loki took another step back, his own green eyes pleading. He felt as if he was shattering to pieces inside, on his way to burst asunder from within.

Why can't you be the idiotic oaf I always take you for? Loki's mind was asking. Why must you suddenly understand? Why did your eyes have to search for me during the battle?

For a few moments, time stood still for the princes of Asgard, the battle forgotten.

Please, please, please, please... Loki's mind was chanting the word and he did not know what he was begging for so fervently.

Sif's scream interrupted the silent interval between the two brothers, Thor's name slipping from her mouth, her voice scared and frenzied.

Loki blinked, pulled back into the loud reality of the fighting, and now he, too, saw the frost giant who was moments away from stabbing Thor in the back with the icy spear protruding from the jötunn's hand. Thor was oblivious to the action behind him, his entire being still focused on Loki.

"No," Loki whispered, shedding the shock, and teleported to Thor's side, his fingers curled around the hilt of a sharp knife.

He joined Thor the moment the jötunn's spear sliced through the small of Thor's back, the tip pushing through the middle of the Tunderer's breastbone. The sound of tissue being torn apart and of bones cracking into splinters was nauseating, but not as much as the raw, pain-infested growl that hurled itself from the depths of Thor's throat and the teeth-jarring crunch of his knees hitting the icy ground helplessly.

Loki had never seen Thor bested. He had never seen his brother as anything but victorious, strong and dangerous. He had never seen his brother in pain and defeated, collapsing to the ground without fighting back.

My fault.

The impact of the scene stupefied Loki briefly, but luckily, the shock did not petrify him. It turned into rage swiftly and he pounded at the jötunn, not blindly, but with a clear purpose.

Loki hit the jötunn's left eye with a precise aim of the knife; not too strongly, for he did not wish the blade to slice through the frost giant's brain and kill him instantly. The giant emitted an ursine scream and fell to his knees, his large, blue fingers clawing at his bloodied face. Loki walked to the giant, now of the same height with the kneeling jötunn, and spoke a spell, stretching his thin lips into a malevolent grin.

Loki released the hot energy, a misty, greenish swirl, from his palms and sent it through the frost giant's mouth. As the Warriors Three and the Lady Sif were fighting off the frost giants, protecting the princes of Asgard, Loki watched as his spell took action. It crawled through every fibre of the jötunn's body, torrid and insistent, ruining from inside. The giant convulsed on the ground, his body beaten from within, spasm after spasm, his veins dissolving, his interior liquefying. His skin began to bud with black blisters and dark blood gushed from every opening of his giant frame.

However, there was no time for Loki to wait and enjoy the gruesome ending of the frost giant's slow death. His brother was dying as well and nothing else mattered as much as saving him.

For a moment, he feared the future, the image of his jötunn arm still etched into his mind.

Not my brother. I am not of Asgard.

Thor swallowed down a whimper, trying to stand up bravely, regardless of his grave injury. He failed and fell again, looking at Loki helplessly, but stubbornly persisting in his attempts to lift himself off the ground, a true warrior of thunder.

Asgard seemed so far away, as if Asgard had never been.

"Loki," Thor growled through gritted teeth and Loki found himself not knowing what Thor wanted. He did not know anything at all anymore.

Brother. Not my brother. I am nothing.

"Loki," Thor repeated, his voice weaker this time. The Thundered had just managed to raise himself to his feet, his chest heaving with heavy breaths, the hammer at the ready, but the hand that was holding it was shaking.

A primal instinct stirred within Loki's heart. They had been brothers for centuries and regardless of everything else, they remained brothers-in-arms. This was not the time for bitterness. He had to act.

Brother. Brother-in-arms.

Loki disregarded their companions, pulled the heavy-breathing Thor into a firm embrace and teleported them back to Asgard.

xxx

After All-Father saved those that remained behind in Jötunheimr, his wrath was great, but Thor had been on the brink of death and the healers were saving him in the healing rooms.

Now was not the time for Odin's wrath to be unleashed, for the life of his first-born, whose stubbornness complicated the fragile peace between Asgard and the Realm of Ice, was still hanging in the balance, although the chances had slightly improved since the Thunderer's return.

Now was the time to hope that the Norns had woven a longer existence for Thor.

Thor was strong; he was the future of Asgard; he would be king. That was the fate his father had chosen for him. Thor had no right to die. He was too strong for death.

Frigga was in the healing rooms, assisting the healers, determined not to leave her golden son's side until he smiled again, bursting with life.

Odin could not join her. He felt the presence of his other son in his bones, far below the palace, in the weapon's vault. He felt Loki's seiðr mingle with the energy of the Casket of Ancient Winters; felt it as clearly as a Bilgesnipe's breath on his neck during the great hunt. The fury of a thousand killing winters stirred beneath Loki's fingers and Odin knew what Loki was seeing in that moment.

It was time for honest words, for Odin knew that Loki was seeing the truth.

xxx

He was a jötunn.

Odin had never been his father. Frigga had never been his mother. Thor had never been his brother.

Asgard had never been his home.

He was an impostor, a monster wearing the skin of an áss, unworthy of it. He had felt like a shadow throughout his existence, and now he had become one. A shadow made of primordial darkness and ice, whose only real use was to be used and hated.

In his bedchamber, he shifted his shape, for the first time in his existence, into his jötunn form in front of the mirror, awakening it from its long dormancy. He observed the blue beast reflected on the silver surface and lamented how natural his true form felt. He imagined that the ridged markings on his skin told his true story; of the rightful heir of Jötunheimr, deemed unworthy at the moment of his birth; of a false prince of Asgard, equally unworthy. Unwanted everywhere. Unwelcome.

Unworthy.

He had been jealous all his life, chafing against the insult of not managing to be Thor's equal. Now, he realised that he didn't have anything. He had never had anything at all. He remained a prince, but what good was it being a prince when the prince hailed from Jötunheimr?

He smashed the mirror with the force of his seiðr and looked at his blue fingers, unable to stare for long. He shifted back to his false form; and the thought that he had been false all this time, a mere means to an end imagined by his f – No. He banished the thought. His true father was the King of Jötunheimr, who condemned his son, the jötunn prince and heir, the runt, to death. His false father saved him.

And Loki hated them both; hated Laufey for rejecting him; hated Odin for feeding him lies; hated his true lineage; hated himself for loving Odin, who taught him to see the race of frost giants as the enemy; despised himself for trembling for All-Father's life wrapped in the treacherous cloak of Odinsleep. Hatred was the only companion in the time of his contemplation.

But there was also fear in his heart.

Loki had always loved Asgard – every tree, every brook, every tile in the palace floors. Asgard was the only home he had ever known, for why should any other place bear the name? He was afraid that the truth would be revealed and he would be cast out as the pretender that he was. He shunned the idea of exile, yet understood that it was becoming a possibility. Frigga would not betray him, for she foolishly trusted him, a damned jötunn with treacherous ice hidden beneath his pretend Æsir skin, and named him king until Thor was healed and assumed the role in his father's absence; but there were many others who could go against him. There was an entire realm that presented a threat, and there was also the man he had dared call his brother throughout the centuries.

Loki's heart clenched at the memory of a bleeding Thor, almost losing his life on the frozen ground of Jötunheimr, fighting to regain it in the healing rooms of his rightful home. Thor was still his brother in the eyes of the people, but for how much longer? Loki did not know how much time he had left until Asgard was lost to him, and with it the queen, who had been his loving, unintended mother, and his brother. He loved them both, but he should not, for sentiment would only make the parting more agonising.

Loki left his chambers, feeling an overwhelming desire to see Thor. He had to see with his own eyes that the prince of Asgard was improving, that he would truly live and be his old boisterous self soon.

Loki had to see that Thor would not betray him.

He walked through the golden hallways, passing servants and courtiers and warriors, and they all bowed to him as he went past them, addressing him as "My king" with respect.

And then the thought came to him, tempting and true. He was the king of Asgard and until he relinquished his throne and his short rule ended, his word was law. There was no reason for anyone to ever learn of his true parentage. He had in his hands the amazing power to eliminate the truth of his birth and have it disappear for good. He could erase his shame and no one would be the wiser. They would thank him for thwarting the threat of Jötunheimr for good, for what else was Jötunheimr but an unfortunate rotten fruit hanging from a decaying branch of Yggdrasil? No one would miss it, for no one had ever loved it, except for those that dwelled among the ice in a time when the power of winter was still theirs to wield.

Jötunheimr did not deserve to exist and Loki would do anything, without a shred of regret, to remain in Asgard and prove his worth – to Odin, to Frigga, to Thor. What else could be a greater pledge of allegiance to Asgard and the Æsir than his destruction of that unfortunate frozen place?

"My king," the Asgardians greeted him and he was their king.

Until Odin awakened, he was king and even Thor would bow to him.

xxx

Loki watched as Thor rested, the Thunderer's eyes closed, his skin paler than usual. But he was breathing peacefully and his bare chest revealed a now-shallow wound that was successfully healing. Thor would live and Loki was relieved by the knowledge. He was, however, unsettled by the thought that he would have to face Thor once the prince awoke, for Loki did not know how Thor would react upon seeing him, knowing who Loki truly was.

Thor fluttered his eyes open and the moment of confrontation arrived, making Loki shift in the chair nervously, heaving a trembling sigh.

"Loki?" asked Thor, his voice as rough as if he had just awoken from a deep slumber after a long banquet.

Thor patted his chest, his fingers stopping at and circling the point of depressed flesh, a mark that he was not yet fully healed; a fresh memory of the battle in Jötunheimr.

"You will live, brother," Loki said, cherishing the word for the first time in his existence.

He looked into Thor's eyes apprehensively and smiled ever so slightly, hoping in his core that his presence was not a source of disgust to the man whom he had dared address as his brother once more.

"Yes," Thor replied, regarding Loki carefully, prodding himself on his elbows carefully.

"The Warriors Three and the Lady Sif are well," Loki explained, anticipating Thor's thoughts, for the Thunderer's foremost concern was always for his warriors.

Thor nodded. "Where are mother and father?" he asked, his eyes intensely fixed on Loki.

"Mother is with All-father. I fear he has fallen into Odinsleep again."

He tried to sound calm and unnerved as he spoke, but Thor's boring eyes were an unsettling sight.

"Something happened in Jötunheimr," said Thor, ignoring the fact that his own father was once more in the clutches of Odinsleep. "To you."

Loki averted his gaze, contemplating his entwined fingers that he had placed on his lap.

"Brother, what happened?" Thor insisted. "Did your seiðr protect you from the touch of jötnar, or was there something else?"

Loki chuckled, the sound raw and strained. Could he lie to Thor, confirm his theory involving seiðr? Even Loki could not make the lie last and avoiding the truth had no sense. He preferred to tell it to Thor himself and convince to never speak of it again.

"I am not your brother, Thor," he confessed, mustering all of his self-control to look into Thor's eyes. His confession was bitter and jarred his teeth as it slipped off his tongue, but there was no going back now.

"You are my brother," Thor responded almost stubbornly, squaring his mighty jaw.

Loki did not know whether to hit him or thank him for his loyalty. He did neither and told Thor the truth instead, repeating everything that All-father had admitted to him before. Thor listened, lips sealed together tightly, pressing together with every new word, soon forming a white quivering line.

"I see," Thor said and Loki had to suppress a disappointed snicker. Of course, now came the moment; the Thunderer would cast aside the Trickster, and Loki was not prepared for it, but he remained composed, for he'd rather die than lose his pride.

"I see," Thor said again and slowly folded himself into a sitting position, looking Loki straight in the eyes, his strong hand grabbing at one slender arm, squeezing it.

Loki's gaze widened and he gulped down the shock, the fear, the desire to disappear from Thor's grasp of steel by using a teleportation spell. It would be so easy to run away and never look back, but he would lose everything by the act of fleeing and he much preferred to face the consequences of his confession. He stared Thor in the eyes, lifting his chin high in defiance.

"Go ahead, prince of Asgard," Loki spoke, his voice rough, "slay the jötunn pretender. I am not your brother, nor have I ever been. I am the enemy."

When Thor said nothing, Loki stood up, but his arm remained trapped in Thor's voice.

"How curious," Loki taunted and chuckled. "The great warrior cannot decide upon the method with which to end this beast. Should I give you a hint, Asgardian?"

Thor tugged at Loki's arm hard and Loki was forced to sit into the chair again, his breath knocked out of his lungs with a soft thump.

"You are my brother," Thor finally spoke and Loki bit back a sob.

"This again," Loki said and laughed. He laughed loud and hard, shaking from the amusement, a dramatic mask hiding the truth that he was falling apart.

"Stop it," Thor commanded and leaned forward, shaking Loki by the shoulders with both of his hands. "Stop it."

And Loki did, startled by the urgency in his once-brother's voice, by the fever and despair in his blue eyes.

"For your sake, Loki, I wish the truth could be different, but your true parentage changes nothing," Thor said, punctuating almost every word with a squeeze of his fingers.

"It changes everything, you naïve fool," Loki whispered, the tone rasping and almost angry.

"No," Thor commanded as if his word was law. "You were raised in Asgard and you have lived here since you were but an infant. You are the son of Odin and Frigga, the brother of Thor and a rightful prince of Asgard. All-father himself gave you this life and it is yours to keep. His word is law and I confirm it gladly. Brother."

Loki bit down on his lower lip, but the tears still came. "And the people of Asgard? What will they say? Will they be equally accepting of the jötunn runt in their midst?"

"Do not call yourself that, brother, please. As for the people of Asgard, it is not for them to know everything about us. I know you well and I know you would rather that they never learn the truth. It is not important. It should not be important."

Loki smiled through the tears. "I'm glad to hear you say it. Now I know I have done right."

Thor returned the smile and patted Loki's shoulders affectionately, then frowned.

"Done right? To what are you referring, brother?"

"You said it yourself...brother."

Loki spoke the word hesitantly, still disbelieving of Thor's easy acceptance of his true nature.

"Asgard needs not know the truth of my birth, but Jötunheimr remains a threat, not only to my person, but to this entire realm. When we invaded Jötunheimr with the Warriors Three, we threw our realm upon the brink of war, Thor."

Thor lowered his head in shame, surprising Loki entirely. "I am sorry for my act of rashness. Had I not been so stubborn in demanding a retribution for their slight, I could have spared us all. You, Loki. I could have spared you so much."

Loki swallowed hard, nodding. It was him who had provoked Thor, first by acting on his jealousy and inviting the jötnar to attack during the coronation, and then by cleverly leading Thor to making his rash decision. Loki was a master of subversion and manipulation, but what was done was done. What mattered now was the destruction of Jötunheimr – the proof of his worth, his ultimate allegiance to Asgard.

"You should know, Thor, that in the absence of Odin, and due to your necessary recovery, Frigga has named me king. As king of this realm, I took upon myself the duty to avenge it and protect it. Soon, Jötunheimr shall be no more. With it, the eternal threat shall die."

As will my shame.

Thor's face blanched. "Loki, what have you done?"

Loki flashed a brilliant grin, worthy of his soubriquet of the Trickster. "I turned the power of the Bifröst upon it."

Thor swung his heavy legs over the edge of the sickbed. "Loki, no. Brother, we must stop the destruction!"

Loki stood up briskly. "Why?" he asked coldly.

Thor looked at him in disbelief. "Are you truly asking me this?" He huffed and stood up, trembling from the sudden effort, for he was not yet fully healed. "You cannot kill an entire race to protect Asgard and bury your shame!"

Loki narrowed his gaze and called upon Gungnir with his seiðr. The spear appeared between his fingers, the spear of the true king.

"I made the decision as king, Thor, and you will heed it."

"Well, I am well now, so you may leave the matter of Jötunheimr to me, Loki. You may act as my consultant, but I shall not agree to your plan to destroy an entire realm. We must speak to mother about it as soon as we have stopped the destruction."

"Is that so?"

Loki's voice had turned to heartless silver, for his instinct did not fail him. He suspected in his gut that Thor might come to present his greatest obstacle and it did not matter that Thor loved him still, that Thor forgave him the accident of his birth. Thor had just turned against his king and he showed great disrespect towards him, daring to assume the role of king himself when Loki still lived and held Gungnir in his hand. Thor dismissed Loki so easily, as he always had, pushing him behind to be his shadow again and nothing more.

Forever his false brother's shadow.

Not anymore.

"Until Frigga names you king," Loki spoke, "or Odin awakens, I remain the ruler of Asgard and you shall obey me, Thor Odinson."

Thor stared at him in shock. "No, Loki. I shall save Jötunheimr."

Loki guffawed. "You, who wished to lay siege upon it a mere day ago? And now you wish to play the hero? Tell me, what has changed to make you so soft, brother?"

"I have not grown soft, Loki, but I see reason now. Learning the truth about you changed my view on Jötunheimr ."

Loki smirked. "It really shouldn't have."

I acted rashly," Thor insisted, "and I confess it, but no one should destroy an entire realm. It is madness, brother. Madness."

Loki curved his lips upwards, releasing a low growl. "Madness? So be it."

Loki gripped Gungnir with both hands and hit Thor in the face hard, sending him sprawling across the room.

"I will kill you before you get to the Bifröst," he threatened and sauntered towards Thor.

Thor summoned the hammer to him and it came flying into his hand.

"So be it, brother," he spoke sadly and stood up.

xxx

When Loki chose to fall into the emptiness below him, he felt relief.

Even Thor's desperate screams pleading him to hold on when it was already too late did not touch him anymore.

When he landed and every bone in his body broke, he was ready to perish and keep the dark Hela company in death.

But the Norns had not given up on him and when he opened his eyes to a strange new world he had never seen, nor read about, he saw an unexpected opportunity.

He was given a new spear and his darkness lived and grew, feasting on a new purpose.

He was Loki, not of Asgard or of Jötunheimr, but Loki, the Lord of Chaos and Lies.

He was Loki and he was ready.

FIN