A short scene from the All-Father's Audience Hall, in Asgard...following on a guardsman's report that a body has been found, in Svartalfheim.

"Loki..." Odin said.

The guardsman bowed in acknowledgement and stepped back, and Odin nodded. Let his gaze slip, distant, into the space between them, and the man retreated another step, and began to turn. The All-Father let him go a third step and full turn, before he spoke again, a quiet edge in his voice.

"Did you really think to escape me thus?"

The other froze and drew in a breath, then looked carefully around, not meeting his eyes.

"Well, I had hoped for a reasonable head start."

"No," said his father, "You didn't."

"Does it surprise you so greatly, that I should choose to confirm you still living?" The guardsman turned, folding his hands before him, and the outlines of his armour shimmered, blurring and darkening into his son's green and gold leathers. Odin shook his head, all but imperceptibly.

"You would not have risked coming before me, Loki, if you had not hoped for more."

"Perhaps not."

"But as you see, I still stand, and not unarmed." Odin smiled, faint and bitter. "So. What do you expect me to do with you, now?"

Loki's chin lifted, and his lips set, for an icy instant. "I cannot imagine why you should ask. All know the All-Father to be mighty in his wisdom, all-seeing, all-knowing, and ever bearing the interests of Asgard in his heart. I expect my next stop will be back in my cell, once you have summoned what forces are left you, to conduct me there."

"Will it?" Odin matched his stare. "Arrogant puppy! But you are what I have to work with, and it is only in your arrogance that I will now call you worse than Thor."

"Only in that?" Loki tilted his head, his expression speculative. "What more would you call me, then?"

"You were born a Frost Giant and fated to die as one, until I took you from your true father's altar and made you my son. You have lived as a prince of Asgard, and but for the jealousy that poisoned your heart against your brother when I first judged him the more fit to be my heir, you have conducted yourself fittingly as one. Now that he has gone, having led not only you but Heimdall, Sif, Fandrall and even Volstagg to treason against my commands—committed, now, either to Malekith's defeat or to his own doom as well as that of his mortal woman—whatever my misgivings might be, you are what I have left to work with."

He stepped down, then, descended the last few steps from the throne using Gungnir to brace himself carefully at each step, and crossed to face his son at his left side.

Loki shifted, straightened under his appraising stare, and he continued.

"You, in your arrogance, are as unfit as Thor was, to rule. If your misled adventures on Midgard proved nothing else, they have proved that. Proved as ever, that while yours might be the sharper wits, sharpness of wit must be tempered both by greatness of heart and humility, for a king never to descend into tyranny."

"As you would never," Loki murmured.

"As I have never." Odin stared at him the more coldly. "I shall not hope to correct you as I did Thor."

"No." There was at last a certain unease in his son's eyes. "You couldn't hope to dismay me, by casting me out."

"As I could little hope to do more than harden you further, by imprisoning you forever."

"And yet you tried."

"Was I to do less, after what you'd done?" He slammed the butt of the spear against the stone floor, making it ring. "After the mortal lives you'd taken? After all the Chitauri you led to their deaths? After all the destruction you'd caused, the harm wrought upon innocent lives?" He held up a hand, silencing, as Loki opened his mouth. "And no, I will not hear from you that mortal lives weigh any less than those of any Asgardian! However fleeting, they are no less precious than ours to those who live them, and if you could not respect that, I could not in good conscience leave you at liberty."

"So what, now, do you propose to do with me?"

Odin smiled and let his hand fall.

"The hardest thing I can. I shall give you what you think you want. I shall give you Asgard."

He gazed up at the throne, then turned to savour Loki's puzzled look. "You have shown this day that you are capable of acting out of loyalty, and love. That while your heart may be narrower than your brother's, you were capable of grief at your mother's slaughter, and anger, and the understanding that vengeance must be taken for it. You have brought your knowledge and the powers she taught you to bear, to the task, and I dare say have succeeded in it where Thor, bringing only his strength and the force of his will and his rage to bear, could not."

Loki tilted his head back, and drew an understanding breath. "Ah. You were watching."

"There is little I cannot see, if I wish."

His son nodded. "You followed then, that monster that I slew."

"His name was Algrim, who became Kurse, and he burns now as a torch to light the cold wastes of Niflheim."

A smile twitched at Loki's mouth. "I can live with that." He looked round, watching Odin carefully. "So you propose to reward me with your shattered throne, in what could be the last hours of all our lives? Because the convergence of the Nine Realms is still under way, and Malekith, now armed with the Aether, will surely seek the heart of the World's Tree, from which to tear it apart. That heart turning out to be Midgard."

"He will not succeed." Odin looked around at him again, and smiled. "Thor is more than a match for the likes of him, and he will have the help of his mortal friends—the ones who defeated you, as I recall, with a much more formidable army.

"Further," he continued, "it is not the throne I give you, but a trial."

"Even if none of this had happened, the time would soon come when I must fall again into the Odinsleep, to restore my powers—and, to be forthright about it, now, with your mother's loss, my will to live."

He might have anticipated now, that faint headshake, "She wasn't my mother."

"She was your mother, in every way that mattered." And the fact that Loki's gaze slipped, not meeting his, said he knew it. "I will grant you a thousand days, in which to sit upon my throne—but this is my geas, that you will not do so as yourself.

"You will use your gifts to do so wearing my face, speaking with my voice, and in all things acting as I would act, for Asgard, and in the best interests of its people, and beyond them, all the Nine Realms. You will remember this realm as that you have loved as your home, down all the years that you have known it. You will remember that for over a thousand years you have been before all a prince of its royal house—claimed as my son!—and that you know in your heart, being born a Frost Giant never made you any such a monster as parents might seek to frighten their children with."

He drew a sigh, at the hesitancy in the other's look. "Not unless you choose to be.

"For a thousand days, you will not have that choice. You will serve this realm as its king, you will cherish its people, and with them you will restore it to its glory so far as you can."

"I used to think that was all I ever wanted," Loki said. "I'm not sure that it is, now." He eyed Odin, speculative again. "Then what happens after a thousand days? Do you return to take the credit for anything I achieve?" A smile, sudden and brilliant. "Should you care to bargain against my leaving it all a smoking ruin? Or what happens, if Thor returns and tells me he is now ready to do your will and take the throne at last? Should I refuse him, or grant his ineptitude the opportunity, instead?"

"He is more likely to return and tell you he can never serve as king, that he is bound now to Midgard, where he was born." Odin sighed. "If he does, you will refuse him, until the thousand days are done. And then, at that time, if Asgard and its people still stand in honour, I shall make it your choice whether you continue to rule or not, or I return, or Thor does, if he is willing."

"My choice?"

"Yours, by my word. But with your own face, thereafter, and all knowing that you do not take the throne untried." Odin smiled. "I think you will understand by then, both the love and humility you need to know, and that I could hardly hope to improve on it, as punishment."

Author's Note: This is easily the fastest fiction I've ever written, and as scenes go, the bones couldn't be much more bare. Here's hoping it's enough to enjoy, until such time as I'm moved to look at a second pass, to sketch in more of the scene around the dialog.

My apologies to anyone currently hoping to see either my SWatH sequel or additional B7 stories instead-I am still working on both!-though I suspect the next thing that will actually make it to post is likely to be another short T:TDW coda piece, current most likely title Coda: Midgard.