NOTE: This is a prequel to "Understanding the Storm", giving Frigga's perspective on the end of Thor and Avengers. I originally intended it to be a prologue to the sequel fic but I think it'll work out better if it stands alone. Thanks to all of you who were so encouraging with the previous story - this exists because of you.
On Asgard time crawled for Frigga, each moment weighted by grief and regret. She avoided the family dining room, unable to bear the thought of only three sitting to table there, and locked the door to Loki's chambers allowing no one else inside to disturb it. She sought her garden for consolation, especially the slender ash sapling with the deep green leaves she had planted in Loki's memory.
She was sitting beside it, barefoot, with her knees drawn up, when Odin entered. She looked up, somewhat curious at what would bring him here but not curious enough to rise.
He went to one knee before her and his face was somber and yet she sensed a strange hope from him.
"Frigga, Heimdall has news of great import to pull you from your desolation. He sees Loki on Midgard."
The breath flew from her in shock, scattering the butterflies that hovered nearby. "He lives?" She reached out for his hand to clutch it with both of hers.
He clasped her hands within his and confirmed, "He lives."
She shut her eyes in pure relief, breathing, "Thank the ancestors."
Odin said nothing, but his grip tightened on hers in comfort.
At first her joy was all that mattered. Loki still lived; some miracle had scooped him from certain death between the realms.
But the more they heard, the more upset she became until she could barely bear to hear Heimdall's reports, and yet she needed to hear all of it, picking at each word to search for hope that he was not so far gone. Before Odin sent Thor to fetch him and the tesseract, she cradled Thor's cheek and made his eyes meet hers. "Bring Loki back to us, but keep yourself safe. I could not bear to lose you both."
He kissed her forehead. "I swear, Mother. I will bring us both home."
She refused to watch him depart, telling herself that Thor had never failed and he would not fail this most vital task.
Not long after Thor's departure, the tesseract activated. She felt it as a shiver on the breeze and hurried to Odin's audience chamber. He rose from the throne and dismissed the others to join her in the archway. "It opened a portal," he confirmed.
"We cannot see."
"But - " She stopped her words about to ask how that was possible then realized: Heimdall could not see between the realms. Between the realms where Loki had fallen.
"A very ancient race emerged, the Chitauri, to attack the Midgardians. Loki must have bargained his knowledge of Midgard with this race to open the portal." His eye looked distant and sad. "Many will die. But Thor is there."
"Perhaps he can recall Loki to his senses."
"Perhaps," Odin said, but he did not sound as hopeful as she wished. She held back from asking what else he had seen. He continued, "The Chitauri have advanced greatly since last we encountered them, and perhaps more than the Midgardians can handle, though they are also more than they were."
"Shall we send help?"
"We cannot," he answered. "The Bifrost grows slowly and sending more than Thor is too difficult."
She hesitated and suggested, "There are artifacts of power in the hall of treasures that would help you conjure a portal of our own…"
He didn't refuse her suggestion immediately which informed her it may yet come to that. "No. We have faith in our son first. Earth has other defenders as well. And it may yet be that Loki will choose wisely."
"I pray so," she murmured and was comforted when his hand brushed the length of her hair and down her back.
"Thor will bring him back to us," Odin reassured her.
"And then?" she asked in a whisper. Loki had allied himself with a conquering force and killed innocents on Earth. He had tried to utterly destroy Jotunheim, forcing Thor to destroy the Bifrost and preventing Asgard from sending help to the mortals under their protection.
Loki was so far astray from the child she remembered, it was as though he were still dying. He lived and yet he was still slipping ever further away from her.
"And then I will see if he can yet be saved," Odin answered heavily.
"If he is here, surely he can. He lives, where we thought him forever gone."
"Yes." Odin gripped her hand and pressed it, and she knew he was thinking of how distraught she had become when he'd told her what happened when Loki had let himself fall from the Bifrost. "He has ever defied my expectation, I should not wonder that he would do the same in death. But we must prepare for difficult times, Frigga; he was irrational when he fell, and the abyss and these Chitauri offered wrong succor. He has become a force for destruction and death on Midgard."
She nodded sadly in understanding, unable not to think that this was her fault. Perhaps if she hadn't told Loki to fill Odin's place as king while Thor was in exile on Earth, this might not have happened. She had been trying to show him it was his right and she trusted him, but had she given him hope wrongly? Worse, she had been consumed with worry for Odin, and she had not supported Loki's regency in public, perhaps leading to the perception that Loki had engineered it all. Loki had self-destructed in distrust and rage, so she had got one son back and lost the other. And now she might lose both.
She returned to her garden and the sapling, seeking solace among the flowers and the hum of the jewel-bright wings of the elysian butterflies that swirled through.
Thor will return him to us. He will not stop until Loki is home again.
She felt it before the word found her, and she hurried to the audience chamber. Thor and Loki had come, or at least the tesseract had been used once more and breached the outer boundary of Asgard, and she hoped it brought her sons with it.
Odin glanced up at her from his throne, and answered her most urgent and unspoken question, "Yes. Both. Heimdall escorts them. I have ordered the way cleared of all audience."
Both. Thank the ancestors. That meant the fighting on Midgard was finished, Thor had the victory and reacquired the tesseract to bring himself and Loki home.
"That is wondrous news." She folded her hands before her to present the image of a calm queen, but inside, she was all a-quiver with anticipation and dread.
The great doors opened at the end, and golden-armored Heimdall entered first, bowing and then standing aside for Thor and Loki to enter behind him.
Her eyes went to Loki and her lips parted in a gasp of dismay to see him thus, manacled and gagged. And yet still there he was, alive again, after she'd thought never to see him again.
Their eyes met across the floor and he seemed to be surprised to see her there, before he dropped his gaze away to the floor, briefly ashamed or sorrowful. When he raised his eyes again, he looked only to Odin, pretending she was not present.
Heimdall closed the doors, and Thor handed him the container that held the shining tesseract. The brothers approached the dais, slowly, before halting at Odin's gesture of his free hand.
"Well met, Thor. You have news?"
"Indeed, father. The battle is finished, the Chitauri force was defeated and the portal closed. There were many casualties in the destruction," he said sadly. "I know not how many, but much of the great city lies in ruin. But the people of Midgard are resilient and begin already to clear the rubble and rebuild." He paused and added more haltingly, "Loki led the Chitauri in this battle, opening the portal for them to enter, and creating several Midgardians as his servants through some form of mental compulsion."
Loki listened to this recitation and stared at Odin with burning eyes as if nothing else in the chamber existed. She wondered if he was remembering the brief time he had sat in the throne and held his father's spear, or if his thoughts were completely consumed by his defeat on Midgard.
Odin gestured and the gag fell away to clang on the floor. Loki worked his jaw and mouth momentarily, but didn't try to speak, still returning Odin's stare with a tilt to his chin and a cold shuttered gaze.
Odin did not speak either, waiting.
Then after the silence dragged on long enough for him, Loki gave a flare of his brows and glanced around in pretended surprise, "Oh! Is this the part where I should fall to my knees and grovel for forgiveness?" he asked, mocking. "Perhaps I should rend my clothes and sob bitter tears? Shall I?" He lifted his manacled hands and then stopped, as if reconsidering. "No. No, I think not."
He lowered his hands again and stared at Odin proudly. "I will not humiliate myself before you. Not ever again. So pronounce your judgment, kill me, and be done with it. Let this farce be finished."
Frigga's breath caught, suddenly fearful that Loki was right in his expectations of Odin's judgment. But of course, he was not.
"I will not kill you, my son," Odin said, softly, with sadness in his face. "How could you believe I would do that?"
"I am not your son," Loki parried in a cutting tone. "I never was. So do not let that stay your hand. I assure you, it will not stay mine, when it is my turn for vengeance. The tesseract belongs to me and I will hold it in my hand again. All shall kneel and I shall have what I deserve."
The words were hurtful, hurled with venom, and Frigga mourned the loving son who had been replaced by this proud, remorseless stranger. Where was her little boy who had cried in her lap upon finding a dead bear cub and begged her to heal it back to life? Where was her stripling son, who had explored the archives so deeply he had emerged days later, dazed with knowledge and still hungry for it more than any food?
She watched him as if the mere force of her gaze would will that Loki back, but he ignored her, saving his hatred for Odin alone.
"You deserve only what you earn," Odin corrected.
Loki's smile was bitter and his glance at Thor was pointed. "Pretty words. But never true."
"You have become blind to truth, Loki. You have forgotten all you have learned of right, and your thoughts are consumed with selfish and harmful purpose." Odin stood up, gripping his spear. "I will pronounce judgment."
Loki waited, seemingly relaxed and expectant with a faint smile as if this were amusing to him.
Odin declared, "You will enter confinement until such a time as you understand and repent the wrong you have done. We hope to heal you of this confusion and madness in which you are lost, but if that does not come to pass, I will not release you to bring further harm to the innocents of the Nine Realms."
Frigga bit her lip, realizing that it meant Loki might be imprisoned for all his days. Forever. Her eyes met Thor's as they both realized in despair that this one whom they loved so much might never truly return to them.
Loki ignored them. "And I return to you, mighty Odin," Loki said, in an echo of the same tone, "you will not break my spirit. No matter how many days must pass, I will find my path again and I will not forget the offenses done to me."
Odin headed down the steps, to look deeply into his eyes. "There are no offenses," Odin said quietly. "Only in your mind."
Loki's voice matched him in quiet, but underlaid with biting anger. "One of us is blind to the truth, but then, your eye has only ever seen one of us."
Odin shook his head once in sorrow and his hand tightened on his spear. "Heimdall, take the tesseract to the place prepared for it. I will escort Loki to his myself."
Odin headed for the side entrance, expecting his sons to follow. But in the moment before he moved, Loki's eyes closed in resignation or relief. Frigga saw his manacles shimmer, wavering out of existence and then returning to his wrists, before Thor's hand urged him to follow Odin.
She frowned, wondering if he was trying to remove them, or if they were holding him at all and he cast the illusion of their presence instead. They were of Midgardian manufacture; they would not understand how his power worked or could underestimate his strength, as even Thor was wont to do. But if the manacles were illusory or easily removed, why not try to gain the tesseract before it was shut beyond his reach? Why tamely follow his father instead of fighting his incipient confinement? He was unlikely to win with the powers in the room arranged against him, but surely a Loki driven by madness and quest for power would care only for the opportunity of it? With the tesseract he could possibly defeat them all, and certainly he could escape.
Yet the manacles remained on his wrists and he strode to the door, head unbowed, smiling as if it was what he wanted.
My clever trickster son, are you truly mad and broken, or is there some deeper plan in play? What is it you truly want?
He did not turn to look back at her, which was disappointing but also a relief when she thought about it for a moment.
You may deny your part in this family now, she realized, watching his back as the three of them departed. But you know I am your mother and you are my son. That is the lever I will break you open with and find your heart again, Loki.
"My queen?" Heimdall asked in his deep voice. "You will not follow?"
"No. I will see him later."
He nodded his understanding and in respect, and moved toward the other exit, bearing the tesseract and its casket. "Heimdall?" He turned curiously. "When you watched him, did Loki use the tesseract?"
"No, my queen. He won it, but used himself as a distraction while others used it to build the portal. He and the Chitauri were defeated before he could take hold of it."
"I see," she said. "Thank you."
He nodded again and departed. But she was troubled and wandered slowly away from the throne and back to the family chambers, ending up at Loki's door. The lights came up as she stepped inside.
It still hurt, this grief that struck to see his familiar things and realize he might never touch them again.
A table held one of his daggers and the detritus of the hilt he had been fixing himself, a fragile ancient scroll, a pile of old records on crystal devices, and a small vase that held night-flowers and moon lilies from her garden. The white and silver flowers had not wilted, preserved by her power.
Is this you and I, Loki? she thought. Do I try to preserve what was, though it was gone long ago? Or does it remain still encased and safely hidden?
She picked up several of the crystals and weighed them in her palm, idly wondering what he had been researching before those terrible few days that followed Thor's interrupted coronation. Even while he had been looking through old records and repairing a broken dagger hilt, he had been plotting to spoil his brother's big day by negotiating with Asgard's foes and bringing them inside through unknown paths. He had planned to clean up the mess by letting them be ambushed by the Destroyer, thinking that would be the end of it.
Loki was tactically clever, but he had always underestimated the consequences of his actions. He had not foreseen his brother's or father's reactions to the prank, and he had certainly not anticipated finding out the truth of his heritage, which had sent him into a spiral of distrust and anguish, cracking his spirit and allowing the darkness to seep in.
Ah, my son, were you always made with ambition and war or if I had let you be fostered in some household on the edge of Asgard, would you have been a scholar and content with your life?
She couldn't visualize that, though, and shook her head, setting the crystals back on the table. No, contentment had never been part of Loki's spirit; he had always reached for more: more knowledge, more power, more love, more of everything, as if his soul was always hungry for something he could never find.
Now it seemed those desires had turned dark: innocence twisting into bitterness, caring into ambition, reverence for life turned into an acceptance of death.
Her fingers traced the blade of the abandoned dagger and the fragile scroll - hard metal and crumbling parchment.
Can we still turn you from one to the other, Loki? Is there still hope?
A flicker caught her eye as the image display beside the bed changed.
When she had thought him dead, she had spent hours staring at the images as they cycled. This one could always make her smile, because she remembered it vividly - she and the boys had been posing for a formal portrait, but Loki had not wanted to stand still. So she had taken him onto her lap and hugged him tight, coltish limbs sprawled over her knees. In the moving image, Thor was grinning beside them, and Loki was laughing and squirming as she surprised him with a tickle to his ribs.
The happy family moment changed to one where a very small Loki had posed with Odin's enormous spear, somber-faced and proud to hold it.
She turned away, heart grown heavy again at the reminder. At the door, she turned back to give his abandoned chamber one last look. Someday, she would see him here again, among his familiar things.
But until then, she would visit him in his new quarters and see what remained of the laughing boy sitting on his mother's lap.
the end. (continued directly in Understanding the Storm, which is followed by Understanding the Storm: The Poison Rain).