Thor © Marvel.

AN: Part Three of the Illusion series.

Illusion: The Monster Within

Odin watched as things changed.

Thor was a good king, fair and just in his rulings, but he was still a child, and still learning. He often deferred to Odin's judgment, and frequently Odin took over the land for a day or two and allowed Thor to travel, go on hunts, or whatever else he chose to do without having to worry about the realm. None of these things surprised Odin; it was how the transfer of power had worked between himself and his father before him.

What did surprise him was Loki. His youngest had always been a shy child and generally kept to himself. Then again, the other children didn't really understand his fascination with magick and tricks, and so Loki often found himself without playmates. Now he rarely left his brother's side, providing advice and a means of escape whenever necessary. Loki had always been better with the more delicate politics than Thor, and in these cases, Thor often followed his brother's advice.

Loki also kept an eye out for traitors. Lynn's betrayal had stung him badly, and now he seemed determined to single-handedly root out any others who shared Lynn's beliefs. He had been used against his brother once. He would not allow it to happen again.

Still, time passed, and gradually the realm settled back into a normal rhythm. Loki found himself more accepted by the people than he had been before, and it hurt Odin that it took something so drastic for his people to find a place for his son. Loki, however, took no notice of them. He seemed content with his station and with the company of his brother.

Thor, on the other hand, had a few minor issues with this new attitude towards his brother. Namely, the Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. They were having difficulties accepting Loki based on Thor's word alone. Loki had expected it – after all, they were more Thor's friends than his. Thor, on the other hand, was extremely irritated by the entire thing.

So Odin decided to keep a close eye when Sif requested an audience with Thor. She knelt before him, as was proper, and quickly stood. Her eyes flickered over to Loki. "I would prefer to speak with you alone, my king."

Thor shook his head. "Loki is my advisor, Sif. If this is a personal matter, then you can talk to me after I retire for the day. If not, you'll have to tolerate him."

Sif scowled, but continued. "He is what I want to talk to you about. Is it really wise to keep him so close?"

"He is my brother." Thor's voice took on a warning tone. "And he is your prince. You'll do well to watch how you speak about him."

"Thor," Sif said quietly, "he's not even from Asgard."

Thor didn't even blink. "I'm aware of the fact. He is actually of Jotunheimr, and Odin took him in after the war. That doesn't change the fact that he's my brother." he said easily. Loki shifted. He could hear the darkness in his brother's voice. He reached out and touched Thor's arm. It was enough to calm him. "Is this the only thing you wanted to discuss?"

"Who's to say that Lynn is the only traitor in Asgard?"

This time Loki calmly backed away. Thor stood and approached Sif with anger in his eyes. "Do you not remember the trial, Sif?" he hissed. "Do you remember what Lynn did to Loki? Do you really think Loki would submit to that willingly, just to get the throne from me?"

Sif swallowed hard. "I don't mean that Loki is a willing accomplice." she said lowly. "But he isn't an Asgardian. What if someone else learns what he is? What if someone uses it to turn him against us?"

"You think that just because he is Jotun means that I should disregard everything that he has done for me?" Now Thor was furious. "Leave, Sif. Do not bring this matter to me again." He turned his back to her. A brief look of hurt flashed across her face and she turned on her heel and left. Loki watched her go.

"She could be right, you know." he said quietly. "I am not of Asgard."

"Don't let her get to you, brother." Thor said firmly. "She's just confused, is all."

A small smile quirked Loki's lips. "Always ready with an excuse for them?" he teased lightly. "Perhaps they just don't like me. It wouldn't be surprising."

"Surprising, no." Thor admitted. "Hurtful, yes. Come, Loki. Let's get away from here for a while." He guided the younger from the throne room.

Odin watched them go. Then he left as well, following Sif down the halls until he was sure they'd have some privacy. Some things a father left for his children to face, so they would grow stronger, and some things a father simply handled for them, because it was too stupid to warrant their attention.

"Lady Sif."

Sif turned around and quickly bowed at the sight of the Allfather. "What can I do for you, Allfather?" she asked quietly.

"You can think before you bring accusations against Loki to his brother." Odin said quietly. Sif's eyes widened, but Odin continued before she could speak. "I would like you to simply remember how you were when you were children, before this whole mess started. I remember it well, Lady Sif. I remember that it was only because of Thor that you accepted Loki to begin with, but he proved his worth to you many times since then. Why is it so hard for you to believe that Loki is innocent? Have you ever known him to deliberately harm his brother?"

Sif glanced away. "I saw him on the throne." she whispered. "And I saw hate in him. I cannot believe I was duped so easily."

Odin nodded. This he could understand. "We all were, dear Sif."

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"Why the weapons vault?" Loki asked. The Casket was where it belonged once again (although how that happened, Loki wasn't sure – even he didn't know how to access Lynn's space-pockets, so how did Odin?) and it cast an eerie blue glow over the end of the vault. Thor walked up to it, sure in his movements. Loki followed reluctantly. "Thor? Why here?"

Thor paused and examined the Casket for a moment before turning to Loki. "I want to see you."

"You can see me now." Loki retorted. Thor merely smiled.

"It has come to my attention that there might be a threat against Asgard." he said, voice dripping with acid. "I wish to see this so-called threat with my own eyes."

Loki's eyes darkened. "If you're doing this –"

"I do this for me." Thor sighed. His expression softened. "Loki, I do not mean to make you panic. I will only ever ask this of you once and I will never force you. This is your decision. I still want to see you. All of you."

For a moment, Loki hesitated. He stared at the Casket, unwilling to look at his brother. "You'll hate me. That much I remember from the first time. I am the monster under the bed. I lashed out about the throne because I couldn't let Father see how scared I really was." His voice was level, but Thor could see his hands tremble ever so slightly. "Do you really wish to see the monster inside?"

"I wish to see my brother." Thor said quietly. "I will decide if he's a monster or not."

Loki took a deep breath and grabbed the Casket with one hand. He didn't bother to try and lift it. He felt the ice crawl within his veins, felt his skin shift to blue and his eyes change to red. He felt the tremors increase as Thor approached him.

Gently, his brother lifted his chin with two fingers, forcing him to look at him. Thor examined every inch of his face, then took a step back to view the rest of him. Loki stood there quietly, tolerating the unnerving attention. He forced himself to speak. "So what's the verdict?"

Thor grinned. "No monster here. Just a short Frost Giant. How does that work?"

Loki choked out an unexpected laugh. "I guess not even giants are immune to dwarfism." he shot back. "Besides, I'm still as tall as you are."

"Maybe, but you're still a runt." Thor laughed and ruffled Loki's hair, like he used to do when they were children. "It's okay, though. I like you as a runt."

"And why is that?" Loki let go of the Casket and felt his Asgardian form return. Thor was still grinning at him, and he found he couldn't hide a smile of his own.

"If you were a proper-sized giant, then Laufey would have kept you." Thor said plainly. "Then I would have grown up without a brother."

Loki's breath caught. Finally, he looked up to face Thor. "No one will ever use me against you again." he said softly. "You have my word."

"I don't need your word, brother." Thor smiled. "I already knew. Now, come with me. There's a new track through the woods I wanted to show you."

"You mean something I haven't already found?" Loki teased.

Thor laughed. "You'll like it. I promise."

They left the weapons vault, the Casket glowing blue and silent in their absence.

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AN: The last part of this story hated me. Grr. Oh well. If you guys want, I have another idea for a one-shot for this series, and possibly more in the future. I love these short blurbs. Review, please!