A/N: I wrote this on a whim. I was inspired by the poisonous rivalry of Cal and Aron, characters from the book East of Eden. This entire piece is inspired by pages 294 and 295 of the novel, if you wanted a sort of origin to start with.
Disclaimer - I do not own Odin, Frigga, Thor or Loki.
Your boys, do you love them?
Yes – Yes.
Do you love one more than the other?
Odin does right by both of them, and he goes about this practice by his definitions of fair. Fair, to him, does not translate into impartiality, but a hierarchy - he who holds the throne of Asgard in the clutches of his tomorrow requires more grooming, more attention, a finer shine of pride than the other. And this is not how he speaks his thoughts aloud; he coats them, not with lies but with half-truths. For they always go down sweeter, those burdens dripping saccharine, and he can no longer bear the taste of bitterness that bites into his tongue with prudent teeth. And yet it is there, those jaws, those reminders, every time he must look into the face of his younger, darker son.
Loki is not so different from his brother, not when you tear down physicality, personality and technicality. Underneath the pallor-gripped flesh callused by lies and frostbite, there are years of hunger spent in vain, hunger for a father's love that he will never fully have. He can boast only fleeting attentiveness, the transience of a glimmer in Odin's eye that all too often turns to the golden brother instead, and in this brews the steady slope of an unborn downfall. For Loki is the black brother. The other son. The one always forgotten in terms of honor and victory over the goading lusts of youth. He sinks back into shadow, for it is there that he is pushed aside, by the weathered hands which search for gold – and he is forgotten because it is where he belongs.
It is not that Odin does not love him.
Only that he loves the golden brother more.
They are, in essence, of the same age. But aside from Odin's paralyzing delusions in regards to the lack of differences between his sons, there is nothing between them that may link the golden brother and his black counterpart together. Where Thor is quick to anger, Loki is slow in his violence, and he must tread a maze of stepping stones to uncover his rage. On the battlefield, Thor is strength, he is carnage, he is thoughtless destruction; and Loki, he is strategy, he is the careful general of war, taking into the twisting hands of his mind the every obstacle a man against the world must face.
And in this caste of father and son and blood kin outsider, there seeps a laughing poison, a sinuous doubt that plagues every mother's terror. Where there is inequality, she knows, there must be a rising unrest, a boiling hatred that waits to be unleashed. She watches, she waits, and her hands are wrought with the dignified sufferings of a quiet fear.
"Odin, please," she begs of him, she pleads. "You must not overlook him. You must not forget your other son."
"Thor is our priority, Frigga. We must turn our eyes on him, if only for a little while."
He is sharp and dark and watchful, and his brother –
well, he's a boy you like before he speaks and like more afterwards.
It is beneath the dark that Odin tucks into it, tucks himself into his gnawing truths. They escape the false shells he's forged in secret for them, into which they gather like stones and weigh down on the layered weariness of his shoulders, and for a moment he can breathe. He can take air into his lungs and savor each filling gust. But it is not without a price. He must always pay with a different pain, besides that of breathlessness, and that's when the leering demons come out to graze their nails of rot against his walls, tarnishing the golden corridors with the soot of the netherworld. The black shapes feed like parasites of the darkness.
Frigga sleeps. And he envies her, because she sleeps so soundly. And here he lies, torn into stark red pieces by the things he's never said, never uttered aloud, and the guilt is like blood and it never stops flowing and it's enough to drive him raving mad. But it is in this riot of black and shade and obscurity from the eyes of the golden hall that he can feel as if he must not lie, he must not tell lies.
They all take flight, ghosts from his guilty lips, and he is afraid – afraid they will find the room of the other son, the unfulfilled and hungry brother.
Loki was not meant to be,
He is an act of defiance,
That the cosmos have shaped in vain.
Loki is not one of us.
Loki is no more my son…
Than he is Laufey's.
"Come out with it then - what worries you so?"
"Thor, it is father."
"Yes, and you are son," Thor booms, for he never speaks, but his throat crackles like peeled thunder.
But Loki, he is all seriousness. The essence of severity, of urgent epiphany. Beside his brother, he lingers near the ear, wraith-like, almost no more than a whisper. "It is a shame that I have been so fooled by hope that you would notice. That you would feign ignorance, not become it."
"Loki, I wish you would not fill my head with riddles," says Thor, and he throws Loki into a chair, nestling a horn of mead into the hands which worry themselves into knuckled knots. "Drink! Eat! You will waste away one of these days. And how then will we all find you?"
"Father is weary," explains the black one, the brother born to mother tragedy. "And he grows more careworn by the day. Do you not see it, Thor? Do you not see that your father suffers?"
"It is no wonder you are so thin! You run yourself in endless circles."
Father is fine.
Father has always been fine.
When will there ever come a time,
When father won't be fine?
It is a stroke of fortune not so easily taken for granted, that the golden son and the black son have their separate talents to which they devote their passions and their time. Thor is never long there at the sick bed, clinging to the encumbered king's right hand, on the softer side of conquest where words and schemes and patience must also be. These are Loki's, his places of refuge, and he treasures them, for it stirs in him a sensation of belonging, and for once he does not feel as if his father mistrusts his every thought and every move and every moment in which he does not blink as all the others do.
The golden son, he relies on simplicity, on surface value, on the hope that, if it is not spoken aloud, then it must not be. He and Odin are the same, creatures bound by similar inherent traits, and that is how they go about their infusion of worlds and philosophies and dreams. It is why Thor is the chosen son, the beloved brother, heir to Asgard's throne. It is also why Loki is not.
And Odin realizes this. He knows now, after all this time, after all those nights in company of devils, that it is understanding and blood that rejects the black son, the feared one. It is not that he could never love Loki, only that he could never understand him. If he opened up the dark head, looked down through the web of skin and bone and brain, he would not know. He would see things, but what would those things be? Would they be things to fear or things to ponder? He sometimes wonders, that if he came too close, if he strayed too near to the cold skin and the pale fingers and the eyes that watch the cringing soul, would the pain of brushing fire be physical? Would he bleed, snagging his creased skin on the sharp existence of his stolen son, the serrated edge of his long kept secret?
Would the misconduct of the past come to lash out to bite him in this present regret? Should the smell of shame be too great, Odin would bleed, and not even Frigga could talk his way through recovery. Perhaps it would empty every vein. There would be no more need to fear of bleeding black regret because he would be drained, drained of everything.
It is not the boom, the crackling thunder, and Odin closes his good eye against the serrated voice that beseeches him in heart-open softness. Perhaps it will disappear if he does not answer. Perhaps it will go away forever and take the regret and the haunting and the sleep he cannot find with him.
"Father, I fear for you. I fear for what you hide from us. Will you not tell me what you suffer in silence? I will listen. I will always listen."
"I know you will. I know it."
"Then why do you reject me? I offer myself fully to your pain. I can bear it, father. I can bear it with you."
"This is not your burden to bear."
"Let it be. Make it so I can carry it with you. You share everything with Thor, everything but that which he cannot understand. I can understand."
What can he say to this? How can he coax explanation from a throat gone dry of all ability to enlighten, to comfort, to delay?
"Let me understand, father, and I will. You know I can. And I will if only you would let me."
There is nothing to understand.
"Father, please. I beg of you-"
A pause. And Odin, he can feel the anguish of a wanderer, a nomad, a creature with no place in this world.
"Do not leave me in dark and silence."
If there is truth to this oration, this cleverly devised speech of loyalty, he does not recognize it. The face is too twisted and deviated by the silver tongue, by the terrible colorlessness of intent. Thor is gold. Shiny, unyielding, strength of gold. It is a color of honesty, of trust, of straightforward intentions. But what is Loki? What oily slick colors do his snaking reasons hide?
"You have nothing to fear."
It is I who must fear.
I have everything to fear.
And Loki, he realizes – the father no longer calls him by son. Only Loki, brother of Thor. Only nameless shadow. Only distance.
He's fighting for his life
And his brother, he doesn't have to fight.
Frigga is a myriad of many capabilities. Love, compassion, maternal instinct, and the brightest of these gifts which belong to her are drawn to the darkest of places, where there is no light, and never will light be able to find them. She is a gentle spirit, one that wishes to heal the world of all despair, and this is the cruelty of her inborn skill. There is no use for it – for there will always be pain as long as the world shuffles away justice to make room for it.
Her husband does not sleep. Perhaps he may think he is safe from her carrying this knowledge of him, but the awareness is there, bright-eyed and heart kicking wildly and every nerve groping through its thick ignorance to find a way into the core of an untold misery. She watches, she waits, and her hands begin to tear themselves into restless pieces, wringing and wringing out the nervousness until they feel as if they can wring no more. But there is no end in sight. Whenever she feels as if her flesh conductors have eradicated all fretfulness, a new unease takes it place, and the cycle is regenerated again.
It is not only Odin's sleeplessness that has her distraught. This is no new omen.
No, it is Loki. He is unraveling. The thread of him is bare and showing through and through in places, and she is no seamstress of the heart. She cannot mend him. She cannot reach him. He's slipping away from her, but has he ever been in reach?
It is in everything he does. The more frequent acts of mischief. The heavy silhouette of all-consuming thought thrown across his face during revelry, during feasts and gatherings and council. He is mulling over an idea that escapes him, and the further it slips from his grasp, the deeper he throws himself into contemplation until she can hardly see him in the chasms of his own mind. His body is all that anchors him here, keeps him locked to her, keeps him safe with her.
But it is not only this which infests her pillow at night, snapping her out of black unmoving sleep with probing doubt fingers, holding them all suspended over the precipice of a very dangerous awakening. She sees it in small things that others would not find strange enough to mention, not even in the privacy of their own solitude.
The hours he once spent reeling through too-thin hopes, hanging on Thor's every word, on the too-big shadow of greatness of his father that he always slithers quietly under, disappears into, and crawls out of like a man defeated. She can hardly remember seeing him throughout the phases of the day, much less at his older brother's side, tracing the outline of Odin's footsteps. His presence grows more scarce until it will be a day, two days, that will pass in which she does not see her borrowed son, the overlooked one.
And when she does see him – oh. The things she recognizes in his eyes. Pain, a universe built up from the foundations of it. And a violence rims the outsides of his every word, until she wonders what the insides must look like, if there are any at all. If she should peel back his voice, should she find hollowness, the cold terror in her wonders if she would let loose the stinking sweet odor of decay.
He snaps, he lashes, he pulls away. And there is only so much time left before the downfall.
If only she could save him.
If only there were a way.
If only she knew how.
"Odin, you must do something."
"If only there is something I could do."
"If you don't, there will be blood to pay. The blood of your sons."
"He is not my son."
There it is. Truth finally given a body to breathe into, not just the hard, hoarding shell.
"How can you say this? How can you feed me such lies! To me, his own mother?"
"You are no more his mother than I am his father. We have lied to him for far too long. We have let him suffer a world that never held a place for him, and to which he will never belong."
"Am I truly? Do I speak untruth? You are in a great and terrible denial."
"I deny nothing."
"You deny your fear of him."
She shrinks back from him, and tears she has long since guarded with her life have softened, allowed to fall. His face is stone.
"I can reject it no longer. I fear what he will become."
There is no escape from it.
There is no question.
Only an answer of when.
His mind is paralyzed, body with it, and he can feel only the knee jerk reaction of reeling through the aching stages of a harsh blow. The first numbness, the cracking open of primordial skin. The first bite, the teeth sinking in, further and further, until there is no more room for even bruised flesh, much less bone. And the breaking – oh, the crash and burn of falling slowly apart. Why, that's when it comes out. When his insides storm out of new openings, through the remnants of himself that the teeth of pain have left behind. Words slip out, old words, ones that perhaps he has saved all his life, and has never known until now.
They hurt more when said aloud.
Odin explains, but he cannot hear. What is there to be explained? Why must everything be always thoroughly checked for flaw, for see-through reason, for missing pieces? Is that all he is, a justification? A desperate last hope? And what a shame that it shall never see fulfillment. That it shall never be borne, accepted, wanted. It is no wonder why he has always felt pulled in all different directions his entire life, feeling as if he will break open at any moment, and out of him there will pour nothing at all, not even logic drowned in blood. Odin's words shudder, they quake, and stagger over each crooked line of reasoning. They struggle to stand against the rising tide of the black son, a torrent, a tempest, a flood. And as he stands tall, Odin shrivels backward, like a dead slug drying up in the sun, and the dread of his sleepless nights are finally reaching the fissures of the surface; he must let them all out, or else collapse from the surge of them.
There is no crushing the revelation now. Loki has been reborn in the ashes of the old truth, emerging, facing what has always been a lie finally with an understanding. And Odin, he can hardly bear it, the salt tears that come as a result of knowing, of what he had tried to protect the other son from for all this time with a shielding innocence.
Why do you twist my words?
He weakens, as if Loki is exhausting him of all strength, gathering it to him, letting it fill his splintering heart and the torn open soul and the knowing – the revealing. And that is what fills him best – that it is Odin's slow and wise and simmering might that he steals into, a shadow he tries to fit under, but to no avail as it has never quite fit him, always saved for Thor, for the golden one, the honest son. And at last, when Odin shrinks down, sprawled across the steps and vanquished, that he throws off the cloaking vigor that he knows he can never truly hold in a redeeming light, for there is no light in him. Only blackness. Only colorless intent. Only lies and malcontent.
It is only Loki in here.
There is no room for Odin's son as well.
It takes dangling into the mouth of the void for him to realize.
That he is no son, no son at all.
Not even of fate or belonging or meaning.
There is no love for him, no love at all, and he can see this in Odin's eyes when finally he looks down at the black son and the golden son and compares the contrasting honest color against the other. And he sees it, sees that the golden one breathes, he glows, he thrives because he is loved. But the forgotten one, the unseen brother, and the other son – where is his smolder of life, his bright burning flame of knowing he is dear to another's heart? That if he should die, the shards of his soul would stick into their flesh, and he would always be remembered by the gouging hurt, the one that would always ache dully like a living scar with every thought turned toward him.
By the one he calls mother - he is pitied.
By the one he has named father - he is feared.
By the one he has christened brother - he has been always subjected to apathy.
The closest thing to love he has is the new leftover care of his brother, freshly dug up from the pits of desperation, most of it saved for the likes of a mortal he has known for a blink of a moment. It is as if he has not existed before now, before this time, and in Thor's eyes there is finally the light of recognition – you are my brother, as you have always been against the odds of blood and fate. Let me learn to love you as one. Don't turn from me, Loki. Let me learn. I can learn.
"Loki - no!"
It is not so cruel, this crumbling descent into madness. This last step into the halls of lunacy.
It is quiet here, so very quiet, and the echoes of the outside world do not resonate within.
Toward death, there is always some measure of sensation that seeps its way faintly through the course of closure.
For Odin, there is a terrible relief, warring with a century's worth of remorse.
For Frigga, there is a sadness, but a fleeting one, withering down from the first bloom mourning, like the lush green summer that forgets the death of spring.
Only in Thor is there authentic sadness.
Only in Thor is there room enough for true regret.