Hi everyone! So... it's been a while... I apologise for going AWOL like that but the last few months have been incredibly stressful exam-wise :( anyway, I received a lot of messages from you guys asking when the next chapter was due and I just wanted to say thank you for all the support and for staying tuned (I know the wait must have been infuriating). So without further ado, here's chapter 7... I hope it was worth the wait!
Loki stood rigid before the ice-mullioned windows and watched as the sun breached the horizon, a pale disk that softened the sky from pitch black to midnight blue and eventually to a hue similar to the morning glory plants that flourished in the palace gardens on Asgard. This was unlike any sunrise Loki had witnessed on Asgard; there were no streaks of crimson or slashes of scarlet, nor did the clouds appear to be laced with gold. It was, however, eerily beautiful in its own way. The shimmering mists were gradually burnt off by the sun and the ice fields were revealed, glinting silver and white in the dawn. Loki found himself oddly transfixed by it. The icy plains of his birth realm were something he had never expected to appreciate, but bathed in such ethereal light, they held his eyes riveted.
He turned away from the window in annoyance. He had caught himself appreciating far too many things lately. Elsa, for one thing, kept barging into his thoughts uninvited. He still couldn't shake the feeling that he knew her somehow, but every time he reached for the memory it dissolved, like a wraith retreating into the shadows. It was extremely inconvenient, he had decided, especially when he should be plotting his revenge against Asgard.
Since his fall he had felt nothing but a kind of barren emptiness, like a pit inside himself that could not be traversed or filled. He could feel something stirring at the bottom of this pit, but he had been too apathetic to reach out to it. But the more time that passed, the more the creature grew, and Loki was able to recognise it for what it truly was: rage. Rage and hurt and betrayal, and with these emotions came the insatiable desire to wreak havoc. He wanted to tear Asgard apart brick by brick for all the misery it had brought him, but for the life of him he couldn't fathom how to achieve such a feat.
The kingdom would be close to impregnable even if he could lead an army right to its gates, but irrespective of that, the Bifrost was destroyed and Loki was painfully conscious of the limits of his powers. Even if he had an army at his disposal, he couldn't sneak all of them into Asgard undetected.
No, if he wanted to strike a blow against Asgard he would have to do it indirectly, in a way that would draw them out. Perhaps if he combined his powers with Elsa's… And just like that, Loki's train of thought was gone. Vanished like leaves in an autumn breeze.
Pathetic, he thought bitterly. No king of Asgard should be so easily swayed by such trivial feelings. I will not sink to Thor's level by allowing some insignificant mortal to become my weakness.
A particularly aggravating voice in the back of his head served to remind him that he was no more a king of Asgard than Elsa was an insignificant mortal, but he only became more frustrated. He ceased his pacing and whipped back around to face the window. He gripped the window frame so tightly that the ridges in his knucklebones became startlingly prominent through his pale skin.
Part of him considered leaving right that moment. Elsa was probably still sleeping, exhausted from the night's trials. Loki knew he was still too weak to teleport, but if he snuck out now he could probably walk several miles away before Elsa noticed his absence. He would certainly be less comfortable in some dank mountain cave, but perhaps distancing himself from his host would give him the chance to properly begin scheming.
His thoughts were scattered by a faint knock at the door. Loki clenched his teeth; he didn't want to see Elsa. He was preparing to shout at her to go away when she spoke.
"May I come in?" she called so softly that any resolve Loki had had to deny her entrance melted away.
He sighed. "Yes."
The door swung open timidly and Elsa stepped across the threshold. She stood almost with her back pressed up against the icy panel, keeping as much distance as she could between them. Loki made no move to close the gap, instead remaining with his hands gripping the window frame, his black hair falling across his face as he peered at her over his shoulder.
Elsa stood awkwardly and refused to meet his eye. Her shoulders were bunched and her fingers were fiddling incessantly with the skirts of her dress. The moaning of the wind whistling through the gullies and valleys below was the only sound to pierce the silence that hung between them like an impermeable fog.
"Something I can help you with?" Loki enquired, keen for her to be gone again.
Elsa bit her lip. "I just wanted to apologise about earlier," she blurted.
"Earlier?" Loki replied evasively.
"You know what I mean. The screaming, the storm, the crying… all of it," she said looking noticeably uncomfortable. She was embarrassed, Loki realised, and expected him to judge her. Despite his best intentions, his heart went out to her.
"You have nothing to apologise for," he mumbled, turning to face her fully.
Elsa released the breath she had been holding. "I also wanted to thank you for… you know –"
"Please," Loki said, holding up a hand. "I only did what anyone would do."
Elsa smiled sadly, the light not reaching her crystalline eyes. "I'm afraid that's not true. I've only ever known one other person to brave one of my storms with the aim of helping me."
Loki paused, briefly considering the possibility that Elsa had a significant other, then realised she meant her sister. "I'm sure I make a poor substitute."
Elsa chuckled, her face momentarily lighting up. "On the contrary, you were much more successful in calming me down. Then again, I was able to wake up from it this time. Last time the nightmare was my reality."
Elsa's countenance sobered once more, her brow furrowing in anguish. Loki paused, his arms itching to cradle her to him and make up for all the pain she had suffered. He resisted the urge, almost wanting to pinch himself for thinking such things. Instead he said, "It must have been a terrible dream."
Elsa looked as though she were about to reply, then took a deep breath and forced a smile. "I'm more interested in the monsters under your bed, Loki of Asgard. You haven't held up your end of our bargain. What's your story?"
Loki laughed, only partly forcedly, and ran his hands through his bedraggled hair. "Gods… I wouldn't know where to start," he admitted.
"Try the beginning," Elsa said moving to the cluster of chairs near where the doors opened onto the balcony. She gestured to one. "May I?"
"Please," he responded levelly. He moved closer but didn't sit, instead choosing to lean casually against the wall opposite Elsa.
He considered her for a moment before continuing. "If I'm not mistaken, Arendelle is a Scandinavian kingdom, is it not?"
Elsa nodded, a look of nostalgia glazing over her eyes momentarily. "Yes. The castle sits on the banks of a fjord in Norway."
"How familiar are you with the myths your country is based on?" Loki enquired.
"I had lessons as a child," Elsa said with a shrug. "Though I'm not sure how much of it I remember. Until the Allfather came to me I'd thought it all to be nothing more than fantasies."
Loki grunted, sounding unimpressed. "No reason you should think otherwise, I suppose. But, nevertheless, you were wrong to think so.
"Asgard – the realm where I grew up – is just as real as Midgard or any of the other seven realms that make up Yggdrasil. Each realm is home to at least one race: there is Alfheim, home to the Light Elves and Svartalfheim, home to their counterparts the Dark Elves; Jotunheim – this realm – home to the Jotunn, or frost giants; Nidavellir, home to the Dvergr, or Dwarves; Niffleheim, realm of the dishonoured dead; Muspelheim, home to the Muspeli, or Fire Demons; Vanaheim, home to the Vanir, the sister race of the Aesir of Asgard; and finally your own realm, where the race of man dwells. Most of that is irrelevant but you might as well know it anyway. I have always found that one can never have too much knowledge."
He paused, momentarily distracted by Elsa's small but bright smile, and then cleared his throat. "You asked about Loki of Asgard, however, and so I will tell you about him.
"I was raised in the palace on Asgard by Odin –"
"You are the son of Odin? Forgive me, I didn't realise!" Elsa said as she stood and tried to curtsy.
Loki waved her off with a grimace. "I said I was raised by Odin, not fathered. We'll come to that later. I was raised by Odin, the man who I always believed and considered to be my father, and my mother, Frigga. I had a brother. His name was –"
"Thor," Elsa interjected with a self-assured nod.
Loki looked at her bewilderedly. "How do you know that?" he demanded.
Elsa's expression became confused and she blinked at Loki from under knitted eyebrows. "I… I'm not sure," she stuttered. "The name just came to me, as though I'd heard it before. I must have remembered it from my lessons."
Loki eyed her suspiciously but continued. "Both my brother and I are young in Asgardian years, though Thor is the elder of us. Our bond was strong; we grew up playing, sparring, learning, and eventually battling side by side, but we were always different. Thor was strong and perfectly at home on the battlefield. I, on the other hand, always felt far more comfortable surrounded by books and knowledge. Thor wielded a hammer; I wielded magic."
"And you always felt that your father disapproved of your use of sorcery, and that he favoured Thor because of it," Elsa said. There was no tone of enquiry in her voice; she spoke as though this were a well-known fact, though of course it was not. These were feelings that Loki kept closest to home, and he was a notoriously difficult man to read. There was simply no way Elsa could know these things, either by word of mouth or intuition.
He advanced towards her, his face deathly calm but his step betraying the tension he felt. Elsa had her head in her hands and was rubbing her temples furiously, as though trying to work through a puzzle in her head.
"If you expect me to believe you learned that from one of your textbooks, you are sorely mistaken," Loki uttered. "Now, I'll ask you again: how do you know that?"
"I don't know," Elsa mumbled apologetically.
"Don't lie to me!" Loki snarled. "I am the god of trickery, it won't work. I've never told anyone that before. I wasn't about to tell you either, so tell me the truth. How do you know these things?"
Elsa jumped to her feet and started pacing in agitation. "I can't explain it," she pleaded. "It will sound ridiculous."
"Try me," Loki insisted frostily.
She put her hand to her forehead and groaned. "It's like… ever since I laid eyes on you yesterday I've had this inexplicable feeling that I know you from somewhere. Everything about you seems familiar. Your eyes, your voice, the way you walk, all of it. And then when you were telling me your story just now… I don't know. It was like I'd heard it all before."
Through this Loki had stopped advancing and was staring at her. He stood stock still, like a viper preparing to strike, but his mind was racing. Surely she was lying. It seemed impossible that she had felt the same thing he had, that they had somehow met before. He wanted to believe her, if only to give his own imaginings some credibility. But on the other hand accepting his instincts as valid meant giving substance to the other feelings he had been developing towards Elsa, and he had already decided that those particular feelings needed to be quashed.
Elsa met Loki's gaze shyly, afraid of what she might see. At first he appeared deep in thought, and in that moment his feelings were displayed before her as clearly as words on a page. She knew, felt it deep in her bones, that he had sensed the same thing. Emboldened, she moved a step closer to him, snapping him out of his reverie.
"You felt it too, didn't you?" Elsa observed.
Loki sneered down at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Now who's lying?" Elsa retorted. "I can see it in your eyes, Loki. I don't know when or where or how, but we've met before. Why do you deny it?"
Loki was becoming increasingly rattled. His hands were curling into fists and his lips were pulled back in a silent snarl. Elsa recognised all of these as signs that what she was saying was having an effect on Loki but did not relent. She was determined to make him admit the truth.
"Why?" she demanded again.
"I deny it because your claims are entirely unfounded!" Loki spat. "I don't know you and I never have. You should certainly not presume to know me, Your Majesty. You have no idea who I am or what I have done! If you did, you would not be so eager to claim that we are acquainted, for you would most certainly not like what you found."
Elsa was taken aback by his outburst, but rather than fear the rage burning in his eyes, it gave her cause to pity him. She sensed that tenderness would get nowhere with Loki in his present state, however, and so responded to him with equal ferocity.
"Why not?" she exclaimed.
"BECAUSE I AM A MONSTER!" Loki cried. "A monster who exiled my own brother and abused the power of my father's throne to prove himself otherwise, but it doesn't change what I am."
Elsa had stood her ground through his rant, though every fibre of her being had screamed at her to move away. Tears were rolling down Loki's face and his breaths came in racked heaves. His knees trembled and then buckled underneath him and he hit the floor with a thud before grabbing fistfuls of his hair and making pained noises through gritted teeth.
"And what is that?" Elsa said so softly that she wondered Loki even heard her over the sound of his sobs. But he looked up nevertheless. He dropped his hands to his sides and fixed her with a bloodshot stare.
"A stolen relic," he said, voice hollow and thick with tears. "A monster that parents tell their children about at night."
"Show me," she whispered, desperate to show him that she didn't believe him to be a monster.
Loki regarded her through eyes practically overflowing with anguish. He knew that if Elsa saw his true form she would be disgusted and turn him away. Loki convinced himself that it wouldn't matter; after all, he had been preparing to leave anyway. Still, the thought of seeing the revulsion, the rejection, in her eyes made him sick to his stomach.
If one with power over ice cannot accept me then there is truly no hope, he thought to himself darkly. Perhaps a leap of faith is necessary.
Slowly, with dread in his heart, Loki thought back to that night in the Weapons Vault when he had first taken the Casket of Ancient Winters in his hands and the experienced the transformation. He allowed the same sensations to rush through him now. It started out like a numbness at the base of his spine and then spread outwards the way frost claims a field. He felt his body change, saw as the skin on his hands turned blue and became blemished by ugly puckered whorls. He was disgusted with himself and was therefore entirely free of doubt that Elsa would feel the same, only tenfold. He refused to raise his eyes from the ground and held his breath waiting for Elsa to react.
Elsa stood transfixed as Loki's body morphed into that of a frost giant. He still looked like himself, with the same lean frame and fine features, the same mane of black hair. All that had changed was the colour of his skin, and Elsa had always had a liking for the colour blue.
"You're a Jotun," she remarked, more surprised than anything else.
"Like I said," Loki replied sullenly. "A monster."
When Elsa said nothing more he became frustrated, which in turn fuelled his courage. He raised his eyes to hers, challenging.
"Well?" he demanded. "Aren't you going to say anything? Rebuke me? Cast me out?"
In the next few seconds Loki played out a hundred scenarios in his head, each worse than the last, as to how Elsa would respond. Yet not in all his wildest imaginings did he predict what she would do next.
Elsa's bewildered expression melted away and she fell to her knees beside him, laughing. Loki could not for the life of him comprehend what she found so enjoyable about the matter.
"Wh – why are you laughing? Don't you see me? I'm hideous," he protested weakly, his brow furrowing.
"Of course I see you, you fool. That's just it! Loki, I control ice, it's my curse. Regardless of what anyone else thinks of you, to me, you're beautiful."
She reached out, tried to take his hand, but he pulled away, convinced that she was mocking him. Her acceptance was more than he could ever hope for, and more than he deserved. But he pulled away too quickly and the sudden movement caused pain to lance through his body from where the shard was buried beneath his flesh. Loki cried out in pain, clutching at his shoulder and fighting for consciousness against the wave of dizziness that swept over him.
Elsa ran to him, caught him before he crumpled to the floor. She held onto his arm despite him trying to push her away.
"What was that?" she asked, clearly worried.
"Nothing," Loki growled. "Leave me be."
Elsa glared at him. She was becoming tired of his offhanded manner. "That wasn't nothing." Then, after considering him continued, "Take off your shirt."
"What?" Loki said, head snapping up.
"Take off your shirt," Elsa repeated coolly. "Clearly there's something wrong with your shoulder. Let me take a look."
Loki laughed cruelly. "What could you possibly do to help?"
"Believe it or not, I have a good deal of medical knowledge. No nurses could come near me as a child so I had to rely on books and my own abilities," Elsa replied, earning a surprised glance.
Loki pulled his shirt over his head with obvious hesitation, the muscles of his abdomen bunching as pain blossomed in his shoulder. Elsa swallowed hard, trying to resist the pull she felt towards Loki. She still didn't fully understand why she felt such an attraction to him, for Elsa had never been the type to develop attachments quickly. Many a young prince had come to Arendelle for her coronation with the aim of winning her hand. None had succeeded in even charming her; Elsa was too withdrawn, too unwilling to open herself up to others.
Yet in just under a day, Elsa had experienced all of these things. Loki had charmed her, with his penetrating blue-green eyes and lips that she expected rarely revealed genuine pleasure and yet had smiled for her. And his mind had seemed so in sync with hers that she had opened up to him without even meaning to.
Elsa was not her sister. Anna was confident and endearing and altogether too trusting. In many ways Elsa envied her these qualities as even though they were what had brought Prince Hans into their lives they had also allowed Anna to find happiness with Kristoff. Elsa hadn't been able to get to know Kristoff in the short time she had had before Odin came for her, but seeing the way Anna looked at him was all Elsa needed to develop a high opinion of him.
Elsa had refused to bless a union between her sister and Hans because, though Anna's affection towards him had been real, it was not deep, nor was it true. Elsa had wanted more for her little sister, and she had found that with Kristoff. A warmth had blossomed in her stomach each time she beheld them together.
Elsa had come to fear that she would never find such happiness, but that same feeling stirred in the core of her being now as she gazed at Loki.
Loki felt warm also, but it was a different kind of warmth. A flush spread up his neck as Elsa's eyes raked over his exposed chest. He immediately berated himself for feeling so self-conscious, and stood a little taller. His embarrassment was short lived, however, as her eyes only lingered on his lean torso for a few moments before drifting over the width of his shoulders and to his upper arm.
Her eyes widened as she noticed Loki's cuff. "Where did you get that?" she whispered.
Loki blinked, following her gaze. "This?" he asked, gesturing at the golden circlet. "It was a gift from my mother. Why?"
"The token in the centre," she went on, still in hushed tones. "Is it stone?"
"No," Loki said slowly. "I believe it's ice."
Loki heard Elsa gulped, wondered why she was acting so strange. "Why did your mother give it to you?" Elsa implored.
Loki thought he saw where this was going, but indulged her anyway. "She never told me, although now that I know the truth of my lineage, I'm inclined to believe she intended it to be a kind of metaphor. The ice set in gold representing a frost giant amongst Asgardians. It is just the kind of thing my mother would do, to try to convince me that being different does not hinder my own beauty, or that of others around me. Why do you ask?"
Elsa hesitated. Loki's face had taken on an expression of tenderness and yearning such as Elsa had never seen him wear before. She half considered not revealing her suspicions to him so as not to risk corrupting his opinion of his mother. Elsa decided she wouldn't say anything before she was absolutely certain, so when Loki spoke again she only held out her hand and said, "May I see it?"
Loki eyed her suspiciously for a moment before deciding she had no wicked intentions. At his touch the cuff sprung open just wide enough for him to slide it over his toned forearms. He handed it to Elsa with a warning look. It was unnecessary; Elsa could see this cuff meant a great deal to Loki and so she wouldn't dream of damaging it.
She took the ornament in her hands gently and ran her fingers over the cool metal, feeling the etched swirls dance beneath her touch. She hesitated before touching the ice token, which was startlingly familiar and yet altogether alien. The strands of blue and white that ran entwined through the flawless crystal called to her, as if from a past life.
Elsa allowed her fingertips to brush the smooth wintry surface, and suddenly, somewhere deep in her mind, a wall that had been slowly cracking came crashing down and a wave of suppressed memories rushed at her like tidal wave. They broke over her head and she was swept away in their vigorous embrace. Elsa clutched the cuff tighter as she sunk downwards into the darkness of unconsciousness.