Co-written with Persephone_Kore.
Odin lowered his spearpoint to Laufey's throat, so that the solid weapon itself could take his life as easily as the energy it could throw, and freed one hand to gesture. The shout went up from there, spreading to give heart to his warriors and make the enemy cease - victory, Asgard and Midgard safe; victory, the Jotun king downed and at Odin's mercy.
Odin did not grant it. When enough of his men surrounded them to act as guards, he pulled the spear back and walked away. Laufey would add one thing more to his reasons to hate Odin forever, and Odin would have someone he knew on the other side of the treaty.
His right eye was searing, fresh blood hot on his skin until it froze with exposure. Jotunheim's greatest temple, ahead and above him, had all the visual depth of walking into a magnificent painting. He turned his head slowly as he walked, catching the warriors who came up to flank and protect him on both sides but never quite in advance of him - never closer to the cold blaze of the casket ahead.
He laid hands on it, feeling the ice strike up through the bones of his arms, and he quieted it and set it in the chest brought to carry it home. Set it softly, but the thud echoed in his ears for several minutes.
As the temple emptied again, he began to hear an unexpected sound, a thin wail with hiccups in it, like an infant who had cried to exhaustion. Odin turned, listening, and then followed the cry. He stumbled over rubble half a dozen times, bracing himself with Gungnir's haft after the second and cursing by the fourth, and at last found -
- A bunny, the white and pale blue of shadowed snow. He regarded it doubtfully and scratched it on top of the head, then looked around, thinking perhaps the baby was farther along. Then the finger-long ears twitched, and the bunny let out a distinctly baby-like howl with renewed energy.
Odin looked back at it, scooped the trembling bunny into his hand, and watched as the white fur blended into brownish grey near his hand. He raised his eyebrows - then, on better judgment, just the one over his good eye - and peered closely into the bunny's eyes. An albino rabbit would have pinkish eyes. Most of Jotunheim's white rabbits and hares, like the ones near Asgard's or Midgard's poles, had dark ones. But these were Jotun-red.
He forced more warmth into his hand and breath and blew over the bunny, and its white fur all changed to brown, and the red eyes to green. The crying trailed off into whimpers that were at least plausible sounds for a rabbit. Odin frowned thoughtfully at it and tucked the bunny against his chest, thinking of Jotun customs for unwanted children, and the talents of some of them with shapeshifting. He took it with him to Asgard. He felt its heart flutter against his palm the entire trip. It didn't try to escape. He did not pretend this was trust rather than the stillness of terror, but hoped it wouldn't kill the creature along the way.
Frigga was waiting on the shimmering bridge when he reached Asgard. Sleipnir lowered his head and bumped it against her shoulder, then whuffled at her cheek. Frigga patted him and kissed the broad nose, and Odin snorted and twitched the reins back. "I return," he said, as Frigga came around to his left side, "weary and triumphant, bringing victory and an end to this long war. And my horse takes the first kiss from my wife."
Frigga laughed low in her throat and set her foot on his, then swung up to sit sideways on Sleipnir's withers and leaned in to kiss her husband, unheeding of the filth of battle, a greeting that drove the chill out of his blood and most of the pain out of his ruined eye. "I am glad to have you back, father of victory," she said. "And your son will be pleased to see you. Though perhaps you should visit the healing room first."
"That might be wise." He drew the bunny from under his cloak. "We may have another son now," he said in a low voice. "I found this rabbit crying like a child in the Temple of Ancient Winters."
Frigga raised her eyebrows and took the bunny from him without comment, casting her own lighter cloak around it as Odin, with some relief, removed his in the comparative warmth of Asgard's winter. She cradled the bunny like the infant they suspected it was meant to be, and hummed to it. Its shivering stilled; the green eyes blinked slowly; and then Frigga snatched Odin's cloak from him and bundled it around a days-old baby - a little small for Asgard, far too small for a healthy Jotun birth. "Premature, you think?" she murmured, eyes suddenly bright and fierce, and he nodded, thinking that was likely, before she added, "After all, you weren't here at the right time otherwise."
"Indeed." Odin settled an arm around them both and peered at the child's face. "He was almost certainly Laufey's, of course."
"He's mine now."
"You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!" shouted Odin.
Loki felt oddly helpless. It wasn't that he disagreed, he had wanted this. Wanted Odin to realize. But seeing his father shouting, furious, instead of calm and considering felt as if the world was spinning out of control. Especially now, when he couldn't stop glancing at his wrist, watching fearfully for it to change to blue.
"And you are an old man and a fool!" Thor retorted, always ready to make things worse for himself. They had forgotten Loki, he might as well not even be there.
"Yes... I was a fool," said Odin, voice suddenly level. "To think you were ready."
'Father…' Loki wasn't even sure what he intended to say. What is wrong with me? What is happening? What will you do to Thor? But he never got a chance to complete his thought.
Odin turned and bellowed at him, "Nay!"
Loki wasn't sure what Odin was denying him, what was meant, only that the tension inside him had reached breaking point and the world was suddenly, embarrassingly, much bigger.
"And now you frighten Loki," said Thor, bending to scoop him up.
Loki hopped back a few paces then stood on his hind legs and glared. He was not afraid, only confused, and he did not need his brother to protect him. Especially when he was only doing it to claim moral high ground from Odin.
Odin scarcely spared Loki a glance. "You thought less of his well-being when you dragged him into your stupidity."
Loki dropped back to all fours, heart thrumming as it did all too easily when he was a rabbit. He felt caught between vindication of his opinion of Thor and guilt at having provoked him this time. Hurt, too, that even in anger Odin looked only at Thor. He needed to calm down, if they had ignored his words as a man it would be hopeless for him to try to break in as a rabbit. He knew all too well how hard it was for anyone to take him seriously at such times.
"Brother," Thor began, taking a step towards Loki again. Loki wondered whether it would be worth allowing himself to be caught. Being held was always calming, he could tell Thor that he was still angry with him when he had regained his normal form.
But Thor was interrupted by Odin's voice, ringing with authority. "Thor Odinson... you have betrayed the express command of your king." Thor's eyes snapped up to his father's face, staying half crouched in shock for a moment before slowly rising as Odin continued. "For your arrogance and stupidity, you've opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war!" Odin's sharp movement towards Thor caught Loki between them, for a moment he was almost under Odin's feet. It took all his self control to walk away instead of succumbing to the instinct to bolt. "You are unworthy of these realms, you're unworthy of your title, you're unworthy... of the loved ones you have betrayed." Odin's power was rising with his voice and he had picked up Gungnir, leveling it at Thor. The static prickled through Loki's fur. "I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before me, I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!"
Lightning crackled around Thor and he was gone, falling into a place Loki couldn't see, still looking as if his whole world had come apart. Loki shivered. Odin's hands closed around him, firm and gentle, lifting him to be held against Odin's chest.
"Father," Loki started once again, and stopped. If there was something wrong with him, something he didn't know about, then did Odin know? What would happen if he didn't and Loki revealed it? He had driven Thor out, Thor who he had always loved best. Loki closed his eyes as a hand stroked his ears.
"Do not worry," said Odin. "It was time for him to learn."
That was not what Loki needed to know but Odin's heart beating against him and the hand stroking his fur were calming anyway. Better, for now, to forget. He had his father's attention for once, if not in a way he would have chosen to get it, and with Thor gone perhaps he could gain it as a man. His own heart slowed as he let himself be soothed.
Soon he was a man, head resting on his father's shoulder as they embraced, and once he was Odin swiftly released him and stepped back.
Returning to his - their - Thor's friends was not soothing. It was nice to see Fandral no longer had a gaping hole in his torso, but everyone turned expectantly toward him and then looked hopefully beyond.
"Thor has been banished," Loki said numbly.
Shocked "Oh, no" and such from the men, and of course Sif immediately tried to send him back. "Loki, you must go to the All-Father and convince him to change his mind."
Because Odin was so likely to listen to him! Her faith in his persuasive abilities was almost flattering. "And if I do, then what?" he demanded. "I love Thor more dearly than any of you," and he did, Thor was his brother, arrogant and infuriating as he was, "but you know what he is. He's arrogant, he's reckless, he's dangerous! You saw how he was today. Is that what Asgard needs from its King?"
As he turned to go, Sif shouted after him, "You turn into a rabbit when you're upset!"
Loki froze, grinding his teeth. Most of the time, out of tact or self-preservation, they didn't throw that in his face. Even on the occasions when one of them had ended up calming him down. (Out of both tact and self-preservation, he was never going to admit that there had been certain compensations to having Sif do it.)
"And when Thor is upset," he said, his voice carefully, furiously even, "he flings tables about. Or lightning. Becoming a rabbit may be undignified, but you must admit it is easier on the furniture." He turned around and spread his hands. "And you will notice I am not one now, despite the day's events. Surely that speaks to which of us has the greater command of himself."
Sif glared at him. "I think it speaks to your lack of concern for your brother."
Loki turned away from her and folded his arms, feeling chilled. Was that part of what had happened to him on Jotunheim, or only anger? "I am concerned for him. And I am convinced now more than before that with or without our own little visit, the Jotuns would destroy Asgard given the chance. But I don't think he's ready to be king, and I think his recklessness very nearly got us all killed today. It certainly came within a handsbreadth for Fandral."
Fandral did not look as if he appreciated being an illustration. "Oh, come now."
Loki ignored him and drew a painful breath against the feel of a cold spike in his own chest that was, thankfully, metaphorical and forced himself to say - to admit - "I tried to speak on Thor's behalf, although perhaps having gone with him did not give me the most favorable grounds. Father thinks this time away will... teach him. I think we should all hope he's right. For Asgard's sake as well as Thor's."
With that, he walked away.
"He speaks of the good of Asgard," Sif said, and Loki had to make himself keep walking, "but he's always been jealous of Thor."
"Leave him," he heard Volstagg say. Loki walked faster, and the rest was indistinct.
He kept accelerating and had to slow down abruptly when he realized he was approaching an area viewed by guards. Of course they wouldn't stop him, but they might wonder why he was nearly running.
Of course... they wouldn't stop him.
And there was one place he might be able to find an answer without bringing up his questions to Odin.
He strode through the corridors and entered the vault, moving steadily toward the glow of the casket and feeling the air grow colder on his face as he drew close to it. The casket, surely, was as cold as any Jotun's skin and more filled with their magic than any individual.
He wanted to look back to make sure the doors were shut, even though he had heard the dull boom as they fell into place. Loki took deep, steady breaths instead and tried to make his state of mind follow them, slow patient rhythms. He braced himself before the casket and stretched out his hands to grip it.
Ice lashed up his arms with all the appalling eagerness of an attuned spell, and Loki watched and wanted to shrink away inside the skin that was turning blue. He felt like the time he'd fallen through new ice on a lake, chilled through, but now the frantic worry was inside rather than in everyone else's reaction. He must be very cold indeed, because the air at his back, which had been chilly when he walked into it, felt like an open forge.
Unsure what he meant to do with it - take and hide it to add a literal burden to the secret, fling it into the void between worlds, lift it high enough to trigger the Destroyer and stand still - he began to raise the casket from its pedestal.
Odin's voice shouted, "Stop!"
Loki flinched all over, felt his nose and ears twitch and his skin prickle as his heart raced. He fought down the panic, breathing too fast but steadily, fingers flexing, and he retained just enough control of himself to keep his - this shape. He swallowed against the bitter taste in the back of his throat. He would almost prefer rabbit fur to that icy blue.
"Am I cursed?" he asked. He paused. "Apart from the rabbit thing."
"No," said Odin, softly. "And even the rabbit…thing…is not a curse. It is unusual but I believe it is natural to you."
They'd had that conversation before. Explanations that failed to truly explain, about manifestations of intrinsic magic in certain powerful mages. Perhaps it was all tied up in this. "What am I?" He should have wondered before. Even without the tendency to turn into a rabbit he'd never been like the others. Then why did he feel he'd lost something?
"You are my son," said Odin.
Loki turned to look at Odin, letting the ice flash across his skin. "What more than that?" He tried for detachment, for the level fury he'd summoned against Sif. "The casket wasn't the only thing you took from Jotunheim that day, was it?"
"No," Odin admitted. "In the aftermath of the battle I went into the temple and I found a rabbit. Crying, with the voice of a child."
"A rabbit?" He'd been one even then? But it made sense, the child, he, must have been terrified
"When I reached home Frigga was able to calm the you. We could see then that you were small for a giant's offspring and and we guessed the reason you had been abandoned. We saw something else in you then, in your features. Laufey's son."
"Laufeyson?" The word came out bewildered, disbelieving. What sense did any of this make, that Odin would take and raise his enemy's son? There was more to it, a reason, there had to be. He was shaking, fighting his own body. It was necessary to stay a man, to be something Odin could take seriously instead of dismissing. But even though he had not changed the room still seemed to be expanding around him, leaving him exposed at its centre.
"Why? You were knee-deep in Jotun blood. Why would you take me?" He looked at Odin, silently begging for an answer he could believe, something to hold on to.
"You were an innocent child."
And that wasn't it. It had been a war, the enemies' children would have suffered along with them. Loki could not see the kind of softness in his father that would make that plausible. "No. You took me for a purpose. What was it?" His words were coming too fast, almost tripping him. Odin paused, giving credence to all Loki's guesses and he couldn't bear to be caught in those tumbling thoughts. One answer, however terrible, could not outweigh all his fears latching onto him at once. "Tell me!" He screamed it at Odin, bent over and shaking, and his grip on his body slipped with his control of his voice.
"I thought-" Odin broke off and began to close the distance between them. When he stooped, Loki hopped away from him. "Loki, come here."
"Don't think that you can tell me these things - or half tell me - and still have me come at your command,' said Loki furiously, all the more so since he suspected his anger could only seem ridiculous. "I want answers. Not, not these gestures." Not hugs his father would apply like medicine to calm him and never mean, could never mean when Loki was no son but a captive monster.
"I will tell you. But you should calm down first, let me -"
"My mind is still my own," Loki shouted. Everyone always seemed to forget he could still think as a rabbit, that he wasn't the cute and inoffensive pet he suddenly looked like.
Odin stopped, looking suddenly weary. Loki could hear his heart, beating fast and shallow as Loki's own. He crouched, coming as close as he could to looking Loki in the eye. "I thought we could unite our kingdoms one day. Bring about an alliance, bring about permanent peace... through you."
"What?" Perhaps it was as well to hold this conversation as a rabbit, the panicky bewilderment that admission caused would only have turned him into one again. Loki's ears twitched, he wanted to bolt. But from his own skin, his own past, not anything he could ever leave behind.
"But those plans no longer matter," continued Odin, as if he wasn't telling Loki that there was no reason for his existence. That saving him had been a mistake.
"So, I am no more than another stolen relic, locked up here until you might have use of me?" he said, helpless and angry.
"Why do you twist my words?" Odin was reaching out to him again, hand eclipsing the room. Loki stood up abruptly and used his front paws to push it aside.
"You could have told me what I was from the beginning," he said. Odin smelled a little strange, musty, but he pushed the thought aside. Focused only on what he needed to know. "Why didn't you?"
"You're my son... I wanted only to protect you from the truth,' said Odin shakily.
"What? Because I... I... I am the monster parents tell their children about at night?" Yes, you're very threatening, his own voice mocked him in his head. But what good did it do to know he was a defectivemonster, more ridiculous than terrifying?
"No. No," mumbled Odin, unable to even deny it convincingly.
Loki stepped forward, teeth bared, pressing his front paws against Odin's knee, too far beyond thought to remember anymore how stupid anger would make him look. Voice rising frantically until it rang around the room. "You know, it all makes sense now, why you favored Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!"
Odin swayed and Loki jumped back, as if his slight weight could have anything to do with it. Before his eyes Odin crumpled, heart and breath both slowing, and Loki could only think that he had done this somehow, unleashed something against Odin with his anger. He crouched on the floor, trembling, as his father slid down to lie in front of him, hand outstretched. There was a moment where Loki couldn't move, where he felt colder than the casket had made him. Then he stepped tentatively forward and pushed his head under Odin's hand, nuzzling awkwardly against his wrist, before pulling back.
"Guards!" he called as soon as his voice returned. "Guards, please, help!"
The response was almost immediate, a thunder of jogging booted feet as the guards rushed in to find their king on the floor and their prince a frantic rabbit. Loki refused to dodge as the boots surrounded him- they weren't actually likely to step on him, whatever the instincts of a rabbit body might insist - and tried not to think that guards waiting within earshot of that call for help must have heard his raised voice before. (Maybe someone would step on him if they'd heard him shouting about being a frost giant. He made up his mind to hold still and test it.)
The younger guards were nervous and bewildered; the eldest knelt and touched Odin's throat with only a slight hesitation. "The Odinsleep," he said. "Send-" He stopped then, shook himself and bowed his head to Loki. "Prince. Shall we have him taken to his chambers, and send for the healers to attend the beginning of his sleep as usual?"
Loki blinked at him twice and tried very hard to make his nose stop twitching. The Odinsleep. Right. Of course. He hadn't nearly killed his father with uncontrolled magic, this was normal. Well... relatively speaking. For Odin. Although he usually made systematic preparations, the details of which Loki didn't actually know, and went to bed rather than collapsing mid-sentence. Still, panic receded slightly in favor of a duller knotted dread. "Yes," he said. "Yes, of course. Thank you."
The guards continued not to treat him as a frost giant. They treated him as a son distraught over his father's unexpected weakness and seemed to assume that accounted (as much as anything ever did) for his being a rabbit. One of them who wasn't involved in lifting Odin even offered, very awkwardly, to carry him. Loki just as awkwardly declined. It was a bit more effort to stay out from underfoot but he wasactually faster as a rabbit.
He waited, mostly, in the shadows. When Odin was installed in his bedchamber, and the guards and healers departed, Loki - who was still a rabbit and very frustrated about it, and apparently still a frost giant and even less happy about that - crept forward into the golden light, toward where his mother... toward where Frigga sat looking at her husband.
He hesitated, trying to think of something, anything to say, and then winced and tried to narrow it down to one when half a dozen things rushed into his head at once. Apologies, confessions, accusations, even pleas for more lies, ones he could make himself believe. At last he thumped his foot twice, and then wished he'd cleared his throat instead.
Frigga turned her head quickly and stretched out her hands to him.
She must know, of course. Which meant she had lied to him all these years too, but also meant she wasn't unknowingly reaching out to a monster. Loki walked forward a few steps, then made a running leap onto her knee and huddled there. She ran a soothing hand over his back, and he sighed and flipped his ears forward, resting his chin on his paws.
He was expecting her to reassure him that all would be well with Odin. She didn't speak, only went back to gazing at the bed.
Finally, he said, "We were arguing. When he... when he fell. I had gone to the casket and - I found out what I am."
Frigga looked back at him, at that. "Oh, Loki." She gathered him up against her shoulder. "You guessed on Jotunheim, didn't you."
"One of them grabbed me." Was he supposed to have said one of us? His gut clenched, and he could have sworn his fur got thicker, although he didn't think the transformation actually had degrees. "Not that I had any compelling desire to experience frostbite, but I wasn't expecting to turn blue."
"No." She sighed and kissed the top of his head between his ears. "Your father brought you to me when he returned from the war. You were not the strangest gift he had given me, but certainly the most precious."
That seemed like a strange way to look at being handed your enemy's abandoned son. Or bunny. Loki found himself haunted by the possibility that Laufey had been the only person acting sensibly in the entire bizarre situation. "I -" He swallowed and turned his head, bumping his ears into her chin, and wished he hadn't started this conversation. His eyes fell, as they must, on Odin. "I never get used to seeing him like this," he said quietly.
"He has put it off for so long now." Of course he had. The situation might never have reached a breaking point if Loki hadn't pressed it, or it might have reached it too late, when Thor was already king and free to act entirely as he willed, but Odin had to have seen some of Thor's faults. But of course staying awake for an extra decade or so had been a better solution than the alternative of an enemy ruling Asgard. "But I fear -"
Loki's heart pattered when it should have pounded; his paws curled and refused to be hands that could sweat. She feared. She hadn't told him Odin would be well because she feared, because perhaps he never would, because perhaps he had killed him after all. "How long will it last?" he rasped, willing her to have a simple answer, a short length of time that would tell him he was mistaken.
"I don't know," she said instead. "This time it's different. We were unprepared."
He was shaking. The safer subject had suddenly become worse than the original one. "So why did he lie?"
Frigga accepted the non sequitur as if it made perfect sense. "He kept the truth from you," she said, "so you would never feel different."
"Mother," he said incredulously, even though he hadn't meant to call her that, "I don't think that was really possible." He pushed up from her shoulder and wiggled his ears pointedly, and tried to decide whether he was satisfied or offended when she let out a small, choked laugh.
"So that you would never feel less a part of the family," she amended. Loki wasn't sure that really helped. "You are our son, Loki." Frigga pressed him closer again, and Loki let his forelegs fold until he was resting against her shoulder and his heart started to slow. He tried to make himself believe, because perhaps that would help him control himself again. "And we are your family." He was a monster's stolen child. Like raiding a dragon's hoard. This wasn't helping. "We mustn't lose hope that your father will return to us," she went on. Loki refrained from pointing out that he hadn't thought that was a question until she'd brought it up. "And your brother."
He tensed, whiskers going forward. "What hope is there for Thor?" He'd told the others to hope Thor learned the lesson Odin had spoken of...
"There is always a purpose," Frigga murmured, confirming a tangled mess of hopes and fears together, "to everything your father does."
"Yes," Loki said, "there is, isn't there." A purpose to sending Thor away from Asgard. A purpose to bringing Loki there at all. And sometimes, even for Odin, those purposes went astray.
Frigga stroked his back, tilting her head so that her cheek pressed against his head, a familiar pose. Of course none of this felt different to her. Even now, the embrace made Loki feel safer. "You really must pull yourself together, my son," Frigga said, softly but with a strange implacability to her voice. "Asgard will need your strength."
Well, that was more confidence in him than people usually expressed when talking to a rabbit. It was surprisingly bracing, and Loki got up rather hastily when he found himself a man again, and sitting in his mother's lap. That really was not getting any less embarrassing as he grew older. He cleared his throat. "I... beg your pardon?"
Frigga gave him a small, tight smile and reached for Gungnir, leaning against its rack in the shadows. She had held it and wielded it every previous time he could recall Odin sleeping. "With Thor gone, the line of succession falls to you. Asgard is yours." And she leaned it toward him, waiting, and Loki grasped the shaft of it, too numb with shock to put words to any thought beyond I suppose that would have been difficult to hand to a rabbit.
"Can I come home?" Thor sounded so humble, so lost, that it made something twist in Loki's chest.
"The truce with Jotunheim is conditional upon your exile." The planned lie slipped out, requiring less thought than the truth would have done, even though he could hardly bear the pain in Thor's eyes. He wanted to take it back, tell the truth. Father is not dead, but he is sleeping too deeply and I'm afraid. It's…I fear it's my fault. I should have seen he was unwell, I did see, but I was angry and he…Nothing is conditional upon your exile but my own power, yet if I bring you home you will ruin my last chance to make him proud of me. I am not your brother, but a being you could only hate.
He couldn't say any of it. Only lash out at Thor, causing pain instead of sharing it. His heart was beating too fast. He wanted to cry and instead forced a breath, clinging to his control.
"Yes, but..." began Thor helplessly. "Couldn't we find a way to..."
"Your mother has forbidden your return. This -" It was too much. What kind of monster was he, to torture his brother like this? To half enjoy the flicker of pain in his eyes even as he hated it? Loki's breath caught and no amount of control could prevent the transformation. "I am sorry," he finished, with far less dignity than he would have liked.
Thor reached down, slow and uncertain, but Loki made no move to avoid his hands. He cradled Loki against his heart. "No," he whispered. "I…I am sorry. Thank you for coming here." Tears were soaking into Loki's fur and he felt that Thor needed to hold onto him right now as much as he needed to be held. He wished - not that Odin was dead, never that, but that they were upset about the same thing. That it could be as simple as grieving together. Sobs trembled in Thor's chest, under Loki's paws, and he was grateful that rabbits couldn't shed tears, one humiliating display of his feelings at a time was plenty.
Loki pressed his head against Thor's shoulder. I will not see you again, he thought. Not like this, not as brothers. You will find out what I am, what I have done, and you will not forgive me.
Neither of them moved at the sound of footsteps, both caught up in their feelings until a voice said, "…Okay, where did the rabbit come from?"
Thor remained stubbornly silent about where he had acquired a rabbit while in a holding cell, as well as about everything else. Somehow this didn't stop the agent letting him go on what appeared to be an extremely flimsy pretext and was, far more likely, a way to see what he would do next. The humans who rescued him, two women and a man, were apparently scientists and Loki wasn't quite sure whether they wanted him free for friendship or research purposes. It wasn't until they were all back at their place of residence that anyone questioned Loki's presence. Whereupon, to Loki's consternation, Thor suddenly became much more forthcoming.
"So, where did you get the rabbit?" asked Darcy, gesturing.
Thor shifted Loki back to his chest and stroked a hand over his head. "He is my brother. Loki. He came to tell me Father is dead."
"Uh," said Darcy. "He's a rabbit."
"Well, the Loki of Norse mythology was a shapeshifter..." said…Erik, if Loki had caught his name correctly. Perhaps Loki should read some of these myths. For now he kept quiet, thinking it might be easier if they dismissed Thor as insane.
"Are you taking this seriously?" demanded Jane.
"He doesn't usually shapeshift, but he does turn into a rabbit when he's upset," explained Thor.
"I am going to kill you," snapped Loki, punctuating it with a paw slap at Thor's chin.
The humans all jumped and stared at Loki as if he might explode. Thor just stroked him again.
"Should you be stroking someone who just threatened to kill you?" asked Jane.
"It helps him calm down so that he can return to his own form," said Thor. "And he didn't mean it."
"Don't be so sure," muttered Loki, but it sounded more like their usual barbs than he'd intended and less like a threat.
Everyone was silent for a moment and then Darcy said, "Hey, can I hold him?" When the humans stared at her incredulously she added, "What? He's adorable."
Loki looked her over and came to the conclusion that being cuddled by her would be far from unpleasant. "I've no objection," he said.
Thor passed him over with a smile that would have been a grin if he'd been less shaken. "You have an interesting way of meeting women, brother," he said.
"Your method tends to involve hitting on them while drunk which, while less interesting, is hardly more dignified," said Loki, with as much dignity as a fluffy brown bunny could muster.
Thor, to his surprise, actually looked embarrassed. The rather sheepish glance at Jane told Loki why.
Loki found himself snuggled against Darcy's chest, which was every bit as pleasant as he'd expected and certainly more soothing than having Thor cry on him had been.
"Your Dad's dead?" he heard Jane ask quietly and tuned out Thor's response on the basis that it wasn't going to help him regain control. Actually he was feeling a lot calmer already, and focusing on Darcy playing with his ears was a good way to forget things for a little while. So perhaps it shouldn't have been surprising when he was abruptly himself again, standing with his arms wrapped around Darcy and his face buried in her hair.
"Woah," said Darcy, showing no signs of loosening her hold more than necessary to get a good look at him. "This is even better than when you were a rabbit."
"I should certainly hope so," said Loki dryly, but not without a smile at her. "And my thanks for your assistance. But I do have duties to attend to."
"Anytime," said Darcy, flashing him a smile as she let go of him.
"Brother," said Thor as Loki moved towards the door. "Will…will I see you again?"
Loki stopped with his hand on the doorknob and closed his eyes as his heart gave a sharp thump. "I fear it will be a while before I am able to leave my duties again," he said. "I am sorry." For everything.
Thor shook his head. "It is my doing. Farewell."
Loki opened the door and stepped outside, leaving Thor and his mortal friends behind.
Loki was winning. Laufey was dead, Jotunheim was dying. Soon there would be nothing left of the past he'd never wanted, and he would, he must be Asgard's savior and Odin's favored son. True, Thor had arrived (alive and hale and at full power, Loki hadn't killed him, his brother wasn't dead) just in time to plant doubts in their parents' minds. But now he lay reeling at Loki's feet, looking up, for once, as Loki looked down through several dozen pairs of eyes in turn and laughed.
Mjolnir was coming at him, too fast, Thor never had to run but he had always been fast enough to handle lightning. Loki flickered between illusions, trying to stay ahead of it, but it caught him and all his reflections shattered. He sprawled on the bridge, tried to roll, and Mjolnir's weight came down on his chest. Not in a blow, he wasn't worth that, Thor laid it on his chest and ran toward the control room, only to stagger back from the energy raging from it.
He couldn't move. He couldn't move. Mjolnir bore down on him as if it would press him through the bridge to the void beneath. He could raise his head, flail his arms and legs, but he couldn't sit up. He could barely breathe. His hands closed on the haft and strained upward; he smashed every spell he knew for lightening or levitation into it and finally started on destructive magic that he really shouldn't have been using that close to his own torso, but the hammer remained unmoved.
If he be worthy...
Loki's head fell back, and his eyes stung. His breath came more shallowly. He'd lost, and with all he had done, Mjolnir would not move for him.
He wasn't what Odin wanted in a son, and Thor was.
The self-command he'd held onto through the Destroyer, through Laufey, through the entire battle up to now cracked; anger wasn't enough when he couldn't fight, and he shrank down and was sure Mjolnir would crush him.
In the split-second before it should have, it lifted away and flew to Thor's hand.
"Sorry!" Thor shouted. After everything, after the threats, after the battle, he apologized, he still couldn't take Loki seriously as an opponent. "I didn't think you'd -"
"Look at you!" Loki shouted. A rabbit's lungs couldn't put quite the power behind his voice that he wanted, but it was enough. He couldn't wield Gungnir like this and his knives were wherever his clothing went when this happened, but he still had words. "The mighty Thor, with all your strength! And what good does it do you now?" He might be a rabbit, but that wasn't enough to stop all he had set in motion. "Do you hear me, brother? There's nothing you can do!"
Thor stared at him for a moment, then raised Mjolnir and brought it down on the bridge at his own feet.
The jarring from the blow actually bounced Loki into the air, and he landed with all four feet splayed. "What are you doing?" Why? What could he do to stop him now? The bridge was cracking. "If you destroy the bridge you'll never see her again!"
"Forgive me, Jane!" Thor shouted. He didn't stop. Thor would cut Asgard off from the other realms to save Jotunheim? Thor would cut himself off from the mortal woman he was so enamored with, to save Jotunheim?
The bridge was breaking. It creaked, bent, crumbled, and the Bifrost control room sagged and then wrenched loose and fell into its own spatial distortion. Thor stood on the broken edge, watching it go. He let Mjolnir fall from his hand, onto the broken edge, and his cape whipped from slumped shoulders toward the hole in the world.
Loki let out a scream and flung himself forward, racing toward Thor and then leaping at him with all the fury his small body could hold. Thor turned, startled, and took a half-step back. Onto nothing. He might have saved his balance if Loki hadn't hurtled into him just at that moment.
Loki saw Thor's hand grasp at the broken edge and miss, and then his gaze was drawn down toward the rip in space, where they were going to fall into the stars. He couldn't believe it. He hadn't really expected that to accomplish anything. Now they were-
Thor stopped falling first. Loki noticed because he himself suddenly seemed to be falling faster, past Thor. Then a large hand caught him under his belly, and he was tucked close to Thor's side, and he looked up to see Odin leaning over the jagged edge.
Odin rose to one knee, and Loki shouted up at him, ears back and paws braced against Thor's breastplate, straining back. "I could have done it, Father!" Everything was in ruins. Thor had won, Jotunheim was saved, and the Bifrost was gone. And Loki was not worthy. But he had to explain. "I could have done it. For you! For all of us!"
Odin shook his head with a look of incredible disappointment. "No, Loki."
Loki tried recklessly to wrench away, to flee into the dark, but he was a rabbit and Thor wouldn't let go of him. Odin planted Gungnir on the bridge and levered himself to his feet; Thor flexed his arm and pulled himself up high enough to step onto the bridge as Odin stepped back.
As soon as they were on solid ground, Odin reached for him. Loki kicked frantically and ineffectually, but Thor handed him over. "Loki," Odin began, holding him up to eye level with both hands, and then paused. Hesitated, perhaps. Loki stopped struggling and tried instead to hold still. If Odin meant to banish him now - which would require flinging him into the void after all - he would at least face it with some dignity.
"Father," Thor said.
Odin looked over at him, then sighed and tucked Loki against his chest and began walking. Oh. Of course. He listened to Thor's intervention.
"You might as well go ahead," Loki said. "Whatever you were going to do."
Odin smoothed his ears back rather absently. They promptly popped back up. "This is perhaps not the ideal place for an extended conversation."
Loki stretched to look over Odin's shoulder at the destruction receding from them. His ears blew forward in the wind. The remaining stem of the Bifrost, stretching out toward the void, creaked strangely under their tread. He was forced to admit, however reluctantly, that this was probably a fair evaluation.
They made the rest of the walk in silence. Loki eventually slid down Odin's shoulder and slumped into his hands. It wasn't so much to get out of the wind or to seek the absent stroking; mostly it was because he was so very tired. There didn't seem to be any point to straining upward. There didn't seem to be any point to trying to do anything.
He was still a rabbit when they reached the palace, still a rabbit while they met Frigga's weary shock, still a rabbit when Odin consulted the healers about Heimdall's condition. By that point, given his responsibility for Heimdall's condition, Loki wasn't sure whether Odin was trying to make a point or had simply forgotten he was carrying his currently rabbit-shaped son.
Not son. Captive fool of a frost giant. Loki drew down and inward on himself into a smaller and more miserable huddle.
Odin finally took him into a study, shut the door firmly, and set him down on the desk. Loki felt abruptly chilled. He had almost grown used to the sense of the casket just past his fingertips in storage, which was chilling both literally and in its evidence of what he was, but... generally speaking nobody ever put him down as a rabbit. Even when he wanted them to.
"Loki," Odin said, and then - apparently - got stuck again. Loki crouched lower. If he had ever imagined doing something spectacular enough to render Odin speechless, this was not quite the situation he'd had in mind. Finally, Odin asked simply, "Why?"
Loki's foot thumped nervously before he could stop himself. He shifted a little and sat on it. "Asgard would have been safe," he said. "Laufey was determined to have war. You heard him yourself. I saw no need for any of our people to die." Despite his best efforts, his voice shook on our people.
Odin sat back, looking as if this logic pained him. "That would perhaps warrant what you did to Laufey, but to all of Jotunheim?"
Loki got to his feet abruptly and drew himself up on his hind legs, ears trembling with indignation. "Why is everyone suddenly in love with Jotunheim? They're monsters! Their planet is already a disaster and has been since you took the casket! Thor might have trapped us here to save them, but less than a week ago he would have been happy to exterminate them himself."
"Have you forgotten," Odin asked him, "that I banished Thor for his rash response?"
"For endangering Asgard," Loki said. Surely that hadn't been for Jotunheim.
Odin folded his hands together, one over the other, on the desk. "Not only that."
Loki dropped back to all fours. "Where will you send me, then?"
Odin blinked once. "Nowhere."
Right. The Bifrost was broken. "Then what will you do with me?"
A long sigh. "You were eager enough to join Thor in his folly before," Odin said. Loki's fur stood on end, even though it wasn't quite the right accusation. "Since then, you have endangered a number of Asgard's residents including your mother by luring Laufey into an assassination attempt; you have injured Heimdall, nearly killed your brother twice, attacked Midgard for no reason but that he found friends and helpers there, and attempted to destroy a world - not only warriors, but all its denizens, all its children - with which I had maintained peace for the past thousand years." Odin fixed him with a level stare. "Did you really believe that was what I wanted?"
Loki shivered. "Asgard is your kingdom. I thought you wanted it safe. You maintained peace rather than lose people in a war but - but if I had - there need have been no war. There would have been no Asgardian casualties."
Odin said, very quietly, "The Bifrost existed throughout the last war, Loki."
"But you didn't have the casket, it took both,' said Loki desperately. 'You couldn't..." Could he? Had Odin thought of Loki's plan already, back then, and dismissed it?
"I had Heimdall." Heimdall, who had told them why he would not keep the bridge open, not that he couldn't do it.
"I didn't know." But he should have. "I only wanted to prove I was your son."
Odin shook his head slowly. "There was no question of that."
"But you said - that I was Laufey's son. You'd taken me for a purpose, but it didn't matter any longer. I -"
"I also told you," Odin pointed out, "that you are my son. I considered more than one role for you - you are, after all, by blood a prince of Jotunheim. But you have been my son and Frigga's since I brought you here."
"You'd thought of sending me back there to rule a country I didn't know, among people, monsters, who had wanted me dead for being born small and," he brushed a paw over his ears, "for this. But you never thought of having me rule Asgard. I was never an Asgardian prince."
"You had, I would say, more chance of ruling Asgard than my own brothers ever did." Odin frowned at him. "But you are too quick to blame all of Jotunheim for Laufey's actions."
"For abandoning me? No one stopped him, or took me in. No one but you, and you are Asgardian." Should it hurt that the race he had been born to had thought so little of him when he'd never known enough of them for it to matter? But it hurt anyway. He had not been good enough for them and he was too much a Jotun to be good enough for Asgard. He was worth so little, to anybody. Especially now.
"I am. But most of them had nothing to do with it."
Loki wished he could disappear. There was no arguing with Odin - and his own arguments, his own reasons, were starting to seem weak and illogical in the face of it. "Am I -" he whispered, but broke off. Thor had been disowned but was now, presumably, reinstated. Banishment would mean the same thing for him and he couldn't ask. Am I still your son?
Odin waited several seconds for him to continue, then added, "That does not even address your rationale for attacking Heimdall. Or Thor. Tell me, Loki." His one eye narrowed slightly. "What do you think I should do with you?"
Loki closed his eyes. "Kill me. That would be enough, wouldn't it, to satisfy Jotunheim?" Because they were not dead, after all, and he had no idea how badly his attempt on their planet would have damaged it. Only that they were still alive and, now, extremely angry. And if he couldn't make Odin proud then perhaps he could at least die well by his father's standards, for a purpose Odin would believe in.
"No," Odin said flatly. After Loki opened his eyes, Odin clarified, "It might satisfy them. I will not do it."
So, he couldn't even do this for his father or for his people. "Then it doesn't matter." Loki gathered his legs under him and stood up, wishing he could be a man for this. "Do what you must to me, if it will undo whatever damage I have caused. I shall not try to escape it."
Odin regarded him and sighed. Perhaps he was considering the absurdity of presenting the Jotuns with the opportunity for vengeance on a rabbit. "No punishment," he said, "would erase or compensate for all the injury you have done. But I do not think you beyond learning better, and I am not willing to lose you. There may be reparations you can make. I will give thought to that."
Loki drew in a ragged breath. "So what will you do with me in the meantime? Am I to be imprisoned?" They'd only have to put him in a room and shut the door.
"I forbid you to leave the palace," Odin said. The air shivered around Loki and pressed his fur down; that wasn't a command to him, but an edict to reality, and as much of a spell as I take from you your power had been. "You will also," Odin added, scooping him up again, "return the casket to its place in the vault. And then..." A pause, and a sigh. "And then go find your mother."
Loki spent most of the rest of the day cradled against Frigga's shoulder, but his thoughts were elsewhere and were generally not soothing. He had no idea what Odin would do with him. He had no idea what Odin should do with him. Banish him? Would they even trust him out of their sight? At least Odin had known Thor's intentions were good, and that there was a limit to the harm he could do without his powers. Loki was more intelligent and he wondered if Odin had the least faith in his intentions. Certainly he couldn't be banished as a rabbit - he didn't even want to think what that would do to him. Strip him of his rank and keep him in Asgard? That would be worse than banishment, to constantly see Thor, his friends, and always now be below them - but he would deserve that and worse.
He found himself acutely restless at dusk and exhausted at full dark. He slept on his own bed - well, on his own pillow, anyway - and woke before dawn with a confused memory of dreaming, mostly about indistinctly recognized figures passing by while he was too cold to move. He wasn't even sure if that could happen to frost giants.
Thor and his friends invaded with breakfast. They might have been under the impression that the sight of ham and eggs would encourage Loki to change back instead of just making him faintly queasy. When that didn't happen, there was an extended debate on how to feed him and the potential merits of raw salad and cooked vegetable dishes; eventually, Volstagg remembered to consult Loki himself, who pointed out that he had no idea for the exact same reasons they didn't know.
They tried both. Loki had no appetite for either; in fact, he didn't feel much like eating at all. After Fandral did some research into rabbits' dietary requirements and told him about cecotropes, Loki wasn't entirely sure he would ever feel like eating again.
Although, if he hadn't already caused enough trouble for everyone, he might have considered biting Fandral.
"You're staying that way because it's hard to be effectively mad at a bunny, aren't you?" said Sif, later. She had come in alone and was sitting beside him on the bed. Loki wondered whether they were going to take it in turns to check on him.
"I am not doing this on purpose," said Loki indignantly. "And I didn't know you had trouble being angry with anything."
"This from the person who -" And apparently Sif had heard of tact because she stopped there. "Who chased a snake up a tree for startling him."
Loki had mixed feelings about that memory - on the one hand a four-foot snake had startled him badly enough to turn him into a rabbit, on the other hand he hadn't had to turn back to make it regret it. "The snake deserved it," he said.
Sif looked away for a moment, gathering herself in a way that signaled the end of their semi-friendly banter. "You let the frost giants in to Thor's coronation, didn't you?" Loki flinched, ears twitching with it in a clear signal of guilt. "Why?"
"I didn't think he was ready to be king," said Loki. He felt he was on somewhat firm ground there, since Odin had agreed.
"And you were a better one?"
"No," Loki whispered, more to himself than Sif. "I wasn't ready either. But I never intended to take the throne, only to prevent Thor from taking it. To remain as we had been. There were many things I didn't intend, lately."
"You intended to kill Thor," said Sif.
Loki didn't even jump at that, just huddled into the bedcover. He had, and for that act he had no justification, had never had any even in his own head. He'd lashed out in anger and, at that moment, hate, wanting nothing more than to hurt his brother. And Thor was pretending it hadn't happened, had forgiven him without even being asked. "I know," he said miserably. "I deserve to be stuck as a rabbit."
Sif was silent for a long moment, looking down at him. Finally, she said, "Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounded?"
Loki's fur fluffed up indignantly. "It's not very funny for me. Even if I probably deserve worse."
Sif tried to smooth him back down, possibly by reflex. "Maybe, but right now we're mostly getting worried about you."
Loki reflexively leant into her touch. He'd always thought people overdid the petting when he was a rabbit but this time, when most of them were angry with him and even Frigga seemed to have given up for now, he found that he missed it. Even with the casket back in its place, even with fur, he felt cold.
Sif sighed and started stroking him properly. "You'd probably feel better if you ate something,' she said.
"After what Fandral told me?" said Loki. "I'm not hungry anyway. I don't think I would be even if I wasn't a rabbit."
Volstagg turned up some time after Sif had left. He knocked and then put his head around the door. "Ah," he said. "Still a bunny."
Loki waggled an ear without lifting his head from his front paws. "As you see."
"Right." A pause. "May I come in?"
"You might as well." A moment later, the mattress sagged under Volstagg's weight, and Loki added, "You might as well sit down, too," and then bit his tongue. His front teeth were rather sharper than usual at the moment, and he winced.
Volstagg frowned at him, then sighed and scooped him up against his massive chest. "This is always so awkward."
"I know." Loki found himself on his back and attempted to rearrange his feet into some less absurd position without entangling himself in Volstagg's beard.
"More so this time, mind you..."
"I'm well aware."
"What were you thinking?"
"I-" Loki did not think he could face trying to explain that again. Possibly it would be part of a suitable penalty, to lay out every miserable thought about Thor, about all of them, about who and what he was. (Had they been told yet, what he was? Even without, it seemed astounding that they still visited him.) But he thought he would have to be driven to it by Odin's command, and even then it would be hard to put into words. "Some of it no longer makes much sense even to me."
Volstagg eyed him. "You saved all our lives," he said. "Tattling to Odin."
Had Sif relayed the part about letting them in...? "I needled Thor into going, too." Not that he'd needed a great deal of help. "I thought he'd catch us before they did."
"Hrmph." Volstagg hummed under his breath, a low rumble with his heartbeat threaded through it. "Not your best plan."
"No." Loki sighed through his nose. "At this point, not my worst either."
Volstagg didn't answer. There was something disquieting about the hum. Loki finally identified it when he put it together with the swaying. Volstagg was the oldest of their group, and had married young and with great enthusiasm.
Loki said delicately, "This is how you rock your babies to sleep."
Volstagg stilled. "...Yes. Yes, I suppose it is."
Volstagg righted him and set him on the bed again. "I could get a few of the older ones in to play with you," he offered. "If you think that would help cheer you up. You'd have to control these newfound destructive tendencies, though."
Loki winced. "You know I'm very fond of your children." He was. But he didn't want to have to explain this to them. He'd really prefer to pretend they didn't know about the rabbit issue, and he couldn't imagine what Volstagg had told them about the past few days that would make this plan even remotely plausible. "But I don't think I'd be a very suitable playmate right now."
"Perhaps not. It was only an idea."
"Thank you anyway," said Loki. "Really."
Volstagg patted his head. "You should eat something, you know."
Loki glanced up. "Yes," he said, "I know."
Hogun, when he took his turn, was characteristically succinct and direct to the point. He entered without preamble and seated himself on the floor so that Loki, on the mattress, was approximately at eye level. "I am not happy with you," he said.
Loki's ears went back. That was more the sort of reaction he kept expecting, and yet he didn't seem to have been altogether prepared for it. For a moment he couldn't think of anything to say.
"But," Hogun continued, "I am still your friend."
Loki stared at him hard for a long moment and then blurted, "Have they told you I'm actually a frost giant?"
Hogun blinked. "No."
Loki shifted his feet uneasily. He'd been wondering almost constantly since Volstagg's visit. Now he wished he hadn't said anything. Then he thought of how much he'd resented finding out so late, and thought perhaps it would be worse to keep quiet. "Odin told me. After Jotunheim." A nervous laugh; he cut it off quickly, clicking his teeth together. "I'm one of the monsters."
"That does make the whole thing stranger." Hogun studied him for a long moment. "Did you think you were supposed to act like a monster?"
Loki flinched down, fur ruffling up. "I don't know."
Hogun sighed. "Come here."
Loki looked at him warily, but jumped down from the bed. He spent the rest of the afternoon on Hogun's knee. They didn't say anything else.
Thor's visit was not surprising, the fact that he was the person so far most at ease with Loki was. He settled down on the bed next to Loki and reached over to stroke him. Loki shifted surreptitiously to rest against his leg, surprised by how warm Thor was.
"You do not have to stay in a single room," said Thor. "From what I have been told you only need to remain within the palace."
Loki looked at the door. None of the people coming in and out had shut it fully, he couldn't blame the inconvenience of doorknobs. "There is nowhere I need to go," he said.
"There are still places you could go," said Thor. "We could go to the library. I realize it would be hard for you to reach books, but you can still read them. I could fetch them for you, or bring them here -"
Thor's hand stopped, hovering over Loki's head. "Have I offended you?" he asked.
Loki fought the urge to burrow under the bedclothes. "No. I didn't mean to shout. But - how can you be like this?"
"I am worried about you," said Thor. "I wasn't sure you'd want to see me, but I wanted to see if I could cheer you up. It's disturbing that you will not eat."
"It's far from the most disturbing thing I've done lately," muttered Loki.
Thor ruffled his fur. "But it's ongoing."
"I'm not hungry," said Loki. He felt tired, cold, hopeless. But not hungry.
Thor went on stroking him, smoothing down all the fur he had just disturbed. Loki closed his eyes and tried to will himself to relax into it, to be calmed, but he knew it wouldn't work. It did soothe him, a little, and it made the mixture of restlessness and lethargy recede for a while, but it did nothing to the tight knot of misery in his chest below his pattering heart.
"There are other ways to Midgard besides the Bifrost," he said, the words leaving his mouth of their own accord. It felt like both thank you and I'm sorry and perhaps more besides. "I can show you. Or if -" If Odin's punishment means I do not leave the palace again. "Or I can tell you."
Thor caught him up impulsively, pressing him happily against his chest. "Show me,' he said. "When you can. Thank you."
"Well don't thank me by squashing me," said Loki, before his brain caught up with his mouth. Thor chuckled and put him down on his knee. "I'm the one that should be thanking you," said Loki. "If only for not hating me."
Thor shook his head. "I could never hate you, brother," he said solemnly. Then, with a grin, "You're too fuzzy to hate."
Frigga wasn't really a surprise either, but she was a relief. Loki really had started thinking she might have given up on him altogether. It took him a while to stop shaking, and he didn't try to stop her from humming lullabies.
Odin, on the other hand, was something of a shock.
Loki scrambled to his feet at the sight. He was a little unsteady on them by this point. It was now his fourth day as a rabbit, and while he was starting to feel hungry in a distant and uneasy way, he hadn't been able to bring himself to eat yet.
"Loki." Odin nodded slightly to him.
"Father," Loki wanted to say, but all the sound stuck in his throat.
Odin crossed to the bed and held out a hand; Loki put his front paws on it a bit tentatively, and Odin picked him up and kept going to the window, where he stopped and looked out over the city, leaning on the high sill. "I have decided what to do with you," he said.
Loki regarded the window a little nervously and told himself that being flung out of it really wasn't plausible. He swallowed. This was the answer he'd been waiting for all this time. "And what is that?"
"You will go to Jotunheim-" Loki wasn't entirely sure if Odin broke off, or if his hearing went as grey as his vision. Then, without quite being aware of the transition, he was held snugly against Odin's chest instead of loosely in the crook of his arm. Odin was saying sharply, "Loki. Loki."
Loki gulped air and tried to relax his rigid muscles. "I am listening."
Odin pulled him away far enough to give him a somewhat doubtful look, then replaced Loki against his shoulder and repeated, "You will go to Jotunheim, with me, and use the casket to repair as much of the damage to their planet as possible."
"They'll try to take it," said Loki dazedly. It wasn't the most appropriate of responses, but it was easier to grasp at practicalities than to try and sort out how he felt beyond a sort of muzzy relief that his punishment would at least be finite - that afterwards he would be able to come home.
"Most certainly," Odin agreed. "Both our abilities in stealth will be severely taxed." He rather sounded as if he might be looking forward to it.
That made one of them. Loki had been to Jotunheim before, of course, but not after killing their king and trying to destroy their planet. If there had been a reason for that kind of subtlety he might have suspected his father of deciding to kill him after all. As it was he was sure he'd be coming home in one piece. Their anger was something he'd just have to face.
"I accept my punishment," he said, feeling the formal words were rather silly while Odin was snuggling him. "And am grateful for the chance to mend the damage I caused." He wasn't sure if that was true - he was more grateful for the chance to do something Odin might approve of than to undo damage to a nation of monsters. But he was sure Odin wouldn't be pleased to hear that.
Odin petted his ears. "I think it will be instructive." There was some possibility that this translated to No you're not, but I expect you to be by the time we're done. With a wry note in his voice, Odin added, "You need rather different lessons than Thor."
"And now he's learnt what you wanted him to," said Loki, half statement and half question. But Thor as king didn't seem such a terrible thing anymore, and Loki had already lost him as an equal. Mjolnir was proof of that.
"He is learning." Odin sighed, and his fingers rumpled the fur at the back of Loki's neck. "As am I."
"Can I -" Loki wasn't in the best position to ask for concessions and he cringed for a moment. But the talk of Thor had reminded him and he'd as good as promised. "I told Thor I'd show him something. Before we leave for Jotunheim, if you will allow it, I would like to do so."
"He mentioned that," said Odin. "Yes, you may. I release you from your restriction to the palace." That was... an unexpected gesture of trust.
"Thank you," said Loki, feeling lighter in a way the lifting of the magical restriction didn't entirely account for.
"You seem to have been unexpectedly forthcoming with your friends the past few days," Odin said after a moment.
Had Odin wanted to keep it from them, still, rather than let them know he'd brought a monster into Asgard? That perhaps he should have known to expect the trouble Loki had caused? Loki shivered. "I apologize," he said, hoping he hadn't just given Odin a new reason to be angry with him. "If I told them anything I should not have."
"No, I don't think you did." Odin looked down at him. "And perhaps you were right that I should have told you sooner."
Loki could feel his hackles rising. The last thing he wanted was to quarrel, but the anger at having been deceived wouldn't disappear so easily either. He could neither hate, nor forgive, nor, at present, find any reply that didn't stick in his throat.
Odin's hand pressed his fur down, but it rose immediately again when released. This was the problem with literally having hackles. "At the very least it might have given you time to realize that there had always been more to the frost giants than simply enemies of Asgard." A pause. "It was not recently," Odin went on, "that I discarded the idea of sending you back to rule Jotunheim. Likely it was never practical at all."
Loki wanted to ask what the timing had to do with anything but his busy mind was already putting it together. If the casket had ceased to work soon after being brought to Asgard it would have been discarded - Odin would not keep the useless relic of an abandoned plan. And Loki's purpose had proved unfeasible years ago yet he was still here, kept by Odin and Frigga with no more thought or reason than they gave to keeping Thor. Loki wanted to laugh, or cry, or scream. Had he misunderstood what Odin was telling him when he set so many things in motion? All along he had had the love he tried so hard to gain and now, now his frantic attempts to gain that love had destroyed it.
The back of his throat tasted bitter and metallic. He swallowed hard. "Am I still your son?" The words he'd wanted to say when he'd feared banishment slipped out now, driven by a different fear. "Please…don't lie to me." He couldn't bear for Odin to say 'yes' only to find out later he'd meant 'no', that he'd only been trying to spare the feelings of the foolish Jotun he'd taken responsibility for.
"Yes," said Odin. "Always. I have never lied to you about that."
Loki rested his head on Odin's shoulder, relaxing not just from the fear behind his question but the tension of the last four days. Things weren't all right, perhaps wouldn't be for some time, but he wasn't falling with nothing to hold onto. Odinson. It was enough.
With that relief, Loki suddenly, finally, found himself standing on his own feet again, in his own shape, though still leaning on Odin rather heavily. He felt a flicker of lightheaded disappointment - at that point, he would have liked the opportunity for a few more minutes, medicinal though they might be - and straightened somewhat shakily, expecting Odin to let go at once.
After a moment of confusion, Loki put his head back down on his father's shoulder, eyes suddenly hot.
Rabbits couldn't weep.
They were standing in a Midgardian desert in the middle of the night. Thor kept looking around with an anticipatory grin as if he expected either a friend or a foe to leap out of the darkness at them. It was starting to wear on Loki's nerves. Partly because he didn't know which one, partly because of the distraction, and partly because his nerves were already frayed by the prospect of Jotunheim. Maybe they should have come in daylight.
"You're sure you understand how to get back," said Loki.
"Yes, brother." Thor glanced again toward the glimmer of Puente Antiguo's night life - such as it was. Even just outside of town, though on the side with the damaged buildings Loki was trying not to look at, no one was likely to notice two oddly-dressed men appearing and vanishing and reappearing again. Although Loki had them invisible as well, just in case.
"Again?" Thor stepped sideways again, not onto the ground but toward Asgard, and took Loki along with an easy grip on his shoulder. "Will this do, or will you insist I walk all the way back to demonstrate that I won't lose my way?"
"Maybe I should," Loki said with some asperity. "There won't be anyone to find you for a while."
"I remember the way," said Thor. "And should I forget then being trapped on Midgard for a while would not be so terrible."
"And now I shall be deeply suspicious if you do forget," said Loki. He was tempted to make Thor walk back to Asgard, less because he truly thought he would lose his way than because he was finding himself oddly reluctant to say goodbye. Perhaps it was just a desire to distract himself from the impending journey to Jotuheim as long as possible. Loki looked up at the star studded sky, so similar and so different from the one he had nearly fallen into. Already it was starting to fade into memory, the sharp edge of pain wearing away, leaving a sick shame in its wake as he recalled actions he no longer felt the motivation for. Perhaps that, too, would fade with time.
Loki found himself suddenly engulfed in a hug, warm after the cold night air. "I'm not currently a rabbit,' he pointed out.
"And until recently I would have thought that meant you were fine," said Thor.
"You underestimate my self-control."
Thor didn't let go. "That is basically what I just said."
Loki let out a huff of laughter, gave in and hugged back. Then he noticed Thor looking around again. "Are you expecting something to jump at us? I wouldn't entirely blame you for being suspicious of me at this point-oof." Thor had thumped him lightly on the back. "But," Loki finished, "you keep looking everywhere else."
"Well, last time Jane hit me with her car," Thor explained. "Twice."
"That's an unusual way of getting your attention."
"You have long insisted that hitting me with something is the only method of..." Loki tensed, and Thor trailed off into an uncomfortable silence. He finally added, "I shouldn't have made it that difficult."
"I would have appreciated an apology," Loki said, "before everything I did. Now it's just acutely awkward."
"Right," said Thor. He finally stepped back, though he kept a hand on Loki's shoulder. "Nervous?"
Loki closed his eyes, remembering when he'd asked that question, and the jokes - more or less edged - and truths that had followed. Even while he'd been a traitor. You are incapable of sincerity. He took a deep breath. "Yes."
"You know, unlike our mother, I would have let you get away with not admitting it." Thor smiled at him. "You'll be fine. After all, you are one of the greatest magicians in the nine realms."
"That's true," said Loki, "but you'd say the same thing if... if I were pulling rabbits out of hats."
Thor blinked. "Well, yes. I don't see how it would change that, although it would certainly be a strange thing for you to do."
Loki laughed helplessly and covered his eyes. "It's a Midgardian show trick. No real magic, not even illusion. Never mind. Ask Jane."
"I will," said Thor, still looking a bit mystified.
"You should go." Loki paused. "I should go."
"Be well, brother."
"You too." Loki hesitated, then moved minutely forward, and Thor took the cue to hug him again.
Afterward, Loki watched his brother walk off toward the town, Mjolnir swinging at his side. He remembered a bit belatedly to take the invisibility off before he left. He was a little tempted not to.
Then he set off back to Asgard.