Note: Continues directly from Chapter Ten, with Loki in the throne room and Odin explain himself to both him and the court. Yes, more talking!
I think Odin was guilty of a great many bad decisions and choices, but I actually believe he did his best to be a good parent, even if he ended up failing a lot. I also think being abandoned probably left Loki with a lot of insecurity he never got over, and that played a part in how he turned out. To me, this chapter is kind of the last piece missing from the redemption arc.
Loki kept his eyes on the floor as Odin spoke.
"I have told you already that you were not born to me or to my Queen. I was at fault for concealing that from you, and I am sorry for it. The rest of the truth would not have been easy to reveal without risking harm to you, and I still do not know whether another decision would have been wiser. There is little point in concealment now, especially with rumours rampant since your... departure. So I will tell the court what I have already admitted to you: I found you on Jotunheim, an undersized, abandoned baby, and I brought you back to Asgard with me." A buzz of shocked, and probably titillated, whispering broke out among the onlookers. Odin glared around the throne room and silence returned. The Allfather resumed his story. "Sentiment has no place in the judgment of a king, and so I told myself that I would formulate a plan whereby you would help ensure lasting peace between the two realms. I told myself that I was making a measured, considered decision. You, Loki, are not the only liar in our family.
"The truth of the matter is, I was weary and sickened with battle, and you were tiny and helpless and alone, lying beside the body of your dead mother, the Jotun queen. The truth of the matter is, I could not bear to leave you to die, and so I told myself a lie to justify what I was about to do. I knew you were Laufey's son, that there was no one else you could be, and that you had certainly been left as a sacrifice. Had your dead mother been some Jotun woman of no rank, I would have done exactly the same thing, although I would have had to make up some other story to tell myself, to preserve my belief that I was a wise and impartial king, instead of simply a man giving in to his softer feelings.
"The truth of the matter, and what I was unable to explain to you that day in the weapons vault when you asked me, was that you were one Jotun death too many, and so I decided to save you. And when I did, when I held you, you changed. I realize now, and I probably knew at the time, that your innate magic was trying to save you, changing your appearance, finding a shape that would beguile me to spare you. You were far too young and too distressed to recognize me as an enemy, but your magic instinctively mirrored me back to myself, changing your blue skin and your Jotun markings to the appearance of an Aesir baby.
"I had intended to save you anyway, but in my own weary state, it appeared to be a message, a sign that you were supposed to become my son. A soldier's superstition, perhaps, but your Aesir shape never faltered, not when you were tired or angry or when you began to become a man. Even now it takes direct contact with a Jotun or their artifacts to affect you.
"It was as though the Jotun shape had been the disguise in the first place, and your true form is what we see before us. There were years at a time when I simply forgot you were not born to your mother and me, and when I remembered I told myself it was not the right time to tell you, or that it would not be safe. In truth, I believe to this day that you would have been in danger if your origins had become known, no matter whose child you had become. I accept that I should have enforced moderation in talk of Frost Giants, but this is a large court, and many have strong feelings.
"And what else was I to do? Expose you to danger at court, from those who could not forgive the war or admit to fault on both sides? Give you back, perhaps? When you had been taken practically from the arms of the dead Jotun queen, and only Laufey could have been responsible? Hand you over, so he could murder you, too? When your brother came to find you every morning, offering you his playthings to make you smile? When your mother and I loved you as our own? Give you back? To a father who did not deserve you?"
Loki kept his eyes resolutely cast down, though he could no longer see the pattern on the floor past the tears in his eyes. To have known any of this. To have had any idea-not of the details, but of his father's feelings... Thor had always been so favoured, so much the centre of attention, so much the beloved, that Loki had assumed himself to be an afterthought, desirable to ensure the dynasty but very much an extra.
The idea had such a grip on him by adulthood that, when he learned the truth, it never occurred to him that he might have been kept because he was wanted. Instead, he reached the conclusion that fit the facts as he understood them: his father tolerated rather than loved him, and had no obligation of blood to keep him after all. Therefore, he must have been kept for some practical purpose. This seemed so clear to him that he had been unable to listen to Odin's protests, particularly since, even then, the king had not said a word about love.
Loki remembered how his misgivings had turned into certainty, how anxiety and confusion had become conviction. Of course. This was the explanation, and he had been made a fool of all these years, trying to win the affection and pride of... not parents, but keepers. He was a monster, the creature of his own nightmares, and how they must have wanted to recoil from the thing they had brought to live among them, must have looked forward to the day they could send him away and never have to look upon him again. Of course they avoided his eyes, refused to touch him. And what distaste, what contempt-and worse, amusement-they must have felt, watching the infant monster, watching him, trying to behave like an Aesir.
Loki remembered the moment his sense of shock and grief had turned to horror, then humiliation, and finally flared gratefully into rage. The anger had propped him up as his life collapsed around him, and he had shouted at his father, not noticing how weakness was overtaking him, until Odin collapsed. Loki remembered his momentary, horrified certainty that he had, on top of everything else, killed his father.
He wondered now whether anything would have changed, had the king not fallen into the Odinsleep at that of all moments. He was briefly tantalized by the vision of raging himself into exhausted silence, and then Odin putting his arms around him and saying... all this. If only...
His always-shaky footing in the royal family, in Asgard itself, had been torn from underneath him. And so he had fallen, into a spiral of desperation and finally madness, where one terrible decision led to the next until there was no possibility of stopping himself, or ever being forgiven.
Odin had been silent for a moment, perhaps reviewing lost chances himself. Now he spoke again:
"It was easier when you were a little toddling thing, running after your brother. Even then, though, your mother and I had a sense of you needing something from us that we did not understand, were unable to give. I wonder now whether you would have been better off in some humble family, where so much of your care would not have been given over to servants who favoured the elder, where your parents would not have felt the need to teach you reserve, instead of displaying affection. Where all the attention would not have gone to the heir.
"I assumed you did not remember being abandoned and afraid, just as I assumed you knew your mother and I loved you. We did not always understand you, but I assumed you knew that a lack of understanding was not the same as a lack of love. Thor was easier, because Thor took certain things for granted. I allowed myself to believe you were the same, even though in every other way the two of you were so different. You never believed anything without seeking proof, but I told myself that love was different, that you did not need to be reassured, did not need to be told, told until you believed us. Even as your gestures of affection become less frequent, as though you had given up hoping they would be returned, as you became distant and so unhappy, even as your relationship with your brother suffered, and your mother warned me that we were losing you, that you were slipping away... even then, I did not put aside my dignity as king and simply behave as your father. I did not know how to be the kind of father you needed. I never realized the reason you were always so watchful and seemed to be waiting for something bad to happen to you was because something bad had happened to you, and you were never convinced it would not happen again. Perhaps... perhaps the Jotun are simply more affectionate parents. "
Loki had, in recent days, wondered about that himself. For most of his life he had accepted the general assumption among the court that the Jotun were monsters with no family feeling, but since Thor's story about the kindly old Jotun counsellor-since meeting spirits and werewolves and vampires who were monsters, but kind and affectionate ones-he had begun to think differently. Of late he had been troubled by thoughts of Jotun orphans and bereaved parents, created by him and entirely his fault. Perhaps he had inherited a streak of cruelty from Laufey, but perhaps that cruelty was unusual among the Jotun.
Or perhaps what he had done had nothing to do with Laufey at all. Perhaps it was only himself, a weak and insecure creature, abandoned once and never reassured, lashing out at victims who could not defend themselves. Had he wanted to impress Odin with his loyalty to Asgard, or had he simply been too afraid of the king to turn on him? Look at the way he had attacked Thor. That did not speak highly of his loyalty.
No. There were no excuses to be made, not even that of madness. Madness did not return the Jotun dead to their families.
Loki wiped at his eyes with the heel of one hand, and absently wondered how long he had been weeping. He was beyond being ashamed of this weakness, just as he was beyond mercy for his actions. He had, perhaps, not been born a monster after all, but he had become one through his own efforts. The fact his father was trying to take some of the blame made him feel slightly less lonely, but did not change anything.
No. It changed one thing, and that was, for the first time in his life Loki felt he understood Odin, felt he knew just how painfully the king was being lacerated by a sense of regret and waste and of having tried to do what was right and choosing the wrong path every single time. It was worse for his father: Loki was only responsible for becoming a monster himself, but Odin felt he had created one out of someone he loved. Surely that was unfair. Surely... surely he had acted in good faith, had done his best-?
"It wasn't your fault, Father," Loki spoke up suddenly. He hadn't intended to, but the pressure of these new emotions made it impossible for him to remain silent. He looked up, wiped his eyes again, and saw the entire court staring at him. Let them stare. "You did your best. I'm sorrier than I can express, sorry for everything, but it was my doing, not yours."
As the words left his mouth, Loki suddenly realized what he had done: he, the prisoner in the dock, had forgiven the king. No wonder the court was stunned. The arrogance.
And then Loki looked at the expression on his father's face, and would not have taken back a single word. In fact, for good measure he looked around for his mother and brother and added, "I should also have realized you love me and wish me well. That I did not is my own failing. I am no longer a child."
And that much was true: his sense of hurt and injustice was just that, childish. Unexamined all these years, his sense of grievance out of all proportion to the injury, Loki had behaved like the youngest and least aware of the children at his school, if the children had access to powerful magical weapons.
One way or another, Loki thought this would be his last chance to address the court, so he added,
"I did try, for many years, to be a good son to my parents and a good servant of the realm. And in spite of the folly and evil I eventually succumbed to, I also wished for a long time to be a friend to this court. I apologize for the abuses I committed upon it instead." Carefully not looking at anyone, Loki returned his gaze to the floor. He had no right to expect forgiveness anywhere, and so he did not look for it. He had no desire to see skepticism, either, in the eyes of the court.
And then, of course, he heard the voice of Thor, trying to set things right for him. Dear well-meaning foolish Thor, who said urgently to the Allfather,
"Surely you can see his madness has passed. Can you not offer pardon, knowing he has, has recovered?"
"His madness was beginning to pass when he clung to Guignir, in the wreckage of the first Bifrost," Odin replied. "But that does not change what has been done."
Involuntarily, Loki nodded in agreement. There was no malice in the king's tone, only truth. What was done could not be undone. The river flowed on.
Thor had to understand that as well, but he still glanced at Loki, his eyes filled with grief and longing. "He has been so lost to us. Could you not have spoken some word of comfort to him then, before he let go?"
"I could have," Odin said heavily. "I wished to. But to what result? To encourage him to let me drag him back, so he could be punished for his crimes, imprisoned? Before he had time to reflect, or anyone to learn from? Would you prefer your brother to be sitting in a cell, nursing a new set of grievances rather than repenting his acts and trying to do better?
"I could have retrieved him. Even after he let go, I could have dragged him back by magic, and destroyed any chance he had of redemption.
"Instead, what I tried to do for him was to wind back time."
Loki and Thor automatically looked at one another, both equally uncomprehending. Thor spoke:
"Father, what do you mean?"
Odin glanced kindly at Thor, then turned back to Loki. "I could not control where you landed, but I could ensure you arrived in the same frame of mind you were in when all this began."
"'When all this began'?" Loki repeated tentatively.
"When you went to the weapons vault to look for answers," Odin clarified. Loki stared at his father, feeling himself go still.
"But I might... I might have..." He thought of the anger, the hurt- the urge to lash out. "I might have done anything." He might have gone rampaging among the helpless little humans in a way that made Herrick and his allies look like soft toy animals. He fought down a rising wave of indignation. He'd been utterly mad and extremely dangerous, and Odin had simply unleashed him.
"I might have killed someone-someone else," Loki corrected himself. "How could you -?"
"Loki," Odin said gently. "Think. Not about how you felt when you left the vault. When you walked into the weapons vault-what did you need?"
For a moment, Loki did not understand the question. Then he began to think, to grope for the memory. Before he knew the truth, before things got out of hand, before he began the spiral that so nearly finished him... what had he been thinking?
What had he needed?
Odin looked steadily at Loki, obviously waiting for him to speak. For some reason, his father's gaze on him gave him courage. He forgot the other people in the room.
"What did I need?" he said slowly. "I needed... to be reassured. To believe I belonged somewhere. To know I was not... fated to be evil." Loki bit his lip. So much for that.
"Yes," Odin said quietly. "That was what you hoped to find when you went looking for answers. That is what I was unable to give you. And that was the state to which I returned you."
"You cast a spell on me?" Loki asked.
"Not exactly. It was more like... a cleansing. So that wherever you landed, you would arrive needing once again to find those same things. The spell was, that the first creatures you encountered would be able to help you, if you were able to let them."
Loki suddenly remembered his mother saying, "Everything your father does is for a reason."
He remembered the feeling, as he fell, of being scoured.
Of landing among the refuse bins behind the little house, empty and frightened and lonely.
And of Annie finding him, and George and Mitchell agreeing to let him stay, and wanting desperately to believe their words about being monsters, and yet not monstrous.
What he had needed was Annie, George, and Mitchell. And his father had known... had believed, at least, that he would be able to accept their help, would not squander a second chance.
"Oh," Loki said, his voice childlike.
"It was all I could do for you," Odin explained gently.
It was more than enough.
Odin stepped forward, off the dais, and gestured to his sons and their friends to rise. As Loki did so, Odin laid a hand on his shoulder. It was the gesture of affection he used with Thor, and it should have been sufficient, but even now Loki wished...
And he looked into Odin's face and realized that Odin still felt he was not giving Loki quite what he needed, and regretted not knowing exactly what to do, and also wished-
Loki began moving before his brain caught up, and the thought flashed through his mind that he might regret what he was about to do, but left undone he would regret it more. And then his arms were around Odin's neck, and he was embracing him as he had when he was too young to believe anything except that his father loved him.
Odin stood very still for a few heartbeats, but somehow Loki knew it was surprise, not rejection, somehow he could tell the difference, and so he didn't let go. Odin laid one hand on Loki's ribcage, as though... as though checking the state of his heart. And then his father's arms were around him and Loki was not the only one whose face was wet.
~ oOoOoOo ~
It was, of course, impossible he should stay very long: his banishment had been a gesture to Jotunheim in the first place, and there had been no reconciliation there. Perhaps, one day, he might be able to do something about that.
That was not, for the moment, on Loki's mind. He was too busy adjusting to the feeling of having no corner of his heart that pained him, nothing that hurt. He could not remember ever having that feeling before.
He had scarcely noticed the onlookers silently leaving the throne room, abashed or confused or skeptical as their nature decreed. They did not matter. What had mattered was his mother coming to embrace him, and Thor's arm around him, and Odin cradling his head in both hands, looking into his eyes as though assuring himself that, finally, whatever he had always known was there could be seen by everyone.
And then Jane had come forward, with Sif beside her, because Sif would support a friend who had to do something difficult, Jane who was too ashamed of herself to even be reluctant.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "For everything: for being so hard on you, for not believing you, for, for hurting you like that. I was frightened and angry and I just sort of lashed out. I can't tell you how sorry I am."
Loki was silent for a moment, not because he refused to forgive her, but because he was not yet very experienced in accepting an apology and he was trying to find the right thing to say. In the pause that resulted, Thor spoke.
"Jane, I told you he had changed, that his remorse was real. And he tried so hard to protect you. I don't understand how you could have thought he would betray you, when it was so obvious he was deceiving the vampire."
Jane nodded, shamefaced, as though Thor's argument was reasonable. It was not. Not when she had never faced anything like this before, was not a warrior, could not be expected to remain cool-headed at a moment when terrifying creatures threatened to tear her apart and the only one who could protect her had previously tried to kill her. Jane was not Sif, and Thor was not being fair. He was defending his brother, but he was not being fair.
That made Loki realize something: he had once goaded Thor into fighting him by threatening Jane. The threat was empty, but Thor had not known that and had responded as Loki expected. Later, Loki had used the memory of that incident to torment himself with the conviction that Jane was one more in a long line of people Thor loved more than his brother.
He now realized the truth was far less painful: Thor had reacted to the threat toward Jane because... because Jane had been threatened. Of course Thor would defend one he believed to be in peril. Of course he loved Jane. That did not mean he loved Loki less, but if Loki was intent on harming someone, Thor would stop him. If Thor had been present in the schoolyard, he would have prevented Jane from harming Loki-not because he loved her less, but because Thor would protect whoever needed it most at the time.
Forgiveness was much the same: the important thing seemed to be how badly someone needed to be forgiven. Or, conversely, how much someone needed to forgive. Loki had a great deal to make up in that regard, and so he touched Thor's shoulder, made a face at Annie, who still looked as severe as was possible for Annie, and addressed Jane.
"I do not blame you, and I am not angry. You had every reason to distrust me, and you were very frightened. We do not think clearly when we are frightened." Jane met his eyes, and he thought she understood his use of the word "we" was deliberate. Loki did not doubt his own courage, but that did not mean he had not been frightened for most of his life as well. "No lasting harm was done. We are lucky, are we not?"
"Yes," Jane whispered, her voice thick, and when Loki put an arm around her she hugged him back hard and pressed her face into his chest as if that would tell him more than any words she could utter. It did.
The family accompanied them to the observatory, where Heimdall stood watch over the newly repaired Bifrost. This was the first time Loki had seen it-he had not noticed much, upon his arrival-and it was almost unnerving, how much the same it looked. As if not much had changed, when everything had.
"I would not have thought this could be repaired at all, let alone so quickly," he remarked. Of course, he had thought that at a time when he had been wrong about everything else, so it was no surprise he had been in error about that as well.
"Thor says magic from most of the other realms was put together to fix it," Jane explained. Loki glanced quizzically at her, and Jane flushed. "He told me about it, when he came to see me."
"And you did not relate this to me?" Loki asked. As angry as she had been, he was surprised she had not used this news as a weapon.
Jane blushed more deeply. "I didn't like to. Not when he explained why he hadn't told you about it, that you would never be able to go home anyway. I thought it would... hurt you."
"Ah." She had hated him, believed him capable of anything, had actually tried to kill him... but in this matter, she had shown him mercy. He would probably never understand humans, but that did not mean he didn't like them.
Heimdall greeted Odin with his usual detached dignity, nodded when Loki thanked him as though nothing of import had passed between them.
Jane traveled first, returning directly home to New Mexico-she had already delivered her paper, and other explanations and apologies could be made later, as well as arrangements to retrieve anything she had left in the hotel. She had had sufficient experience of Bristol to last her a lifetime. Thor's promise to return soon to see her made her smile, and then she was gone.
And then there was another flurry of embraces, Frigga hugging each of the housemates in turn and assuring them of their continuing welcome in Asgard, Thor remembering again, just in time, that his brother might not be up to a bone-crushing embrace, Odin pressing a kiss to Loki's temple that made tears start up in his eyes again...
And then Loki, Annie, George and Mitchell were standing together facing Heimdall. George glanced at the others.
"Any idea what we're going back to?" he asked.
Mitchell grinned at him. "None."
George sighed. "That's what I thought."
Annie, who was holding Loki's arm, reached out and touched George's. "Whatever it is, we'll be all right."
We already are, Loki thought, and then they were on their way home.
Note: Thanks so much to everyone who has been following this story! I may write another crossover involving these characters at some point (I really feel like they could get along with Captain America) but this one is at an end. It's been great fun reading everyone's comments, and thank you so much for your indulgence as I messed around with both storyverses!