I've lost both of my parents and a father-in-law since beginning this story in July of 2012. Believe me that writing has been good therapy.
Thanks to those who started the journey with me so long ago and those who stuck around because they connected to this story in some way. These characters are near and dear to my heart. I laugh and cry along with them, resolute in the knowledge that trials and tribulations only make us stronger.
Mischief Makers – Final Chapter:
Loki woke to a prickling in his forearm. He was cuddled up to Cami's back and the affected arm was draped across her middle. He could feel her fingertips skimming along his scars, leaving a lingering tingle that penetrated deep into the sensitive flesh
Even with the unusual stimulation, Loki teetered on the edge of being fully awake and dozing off again. "You're not tired?" he uttered against her curls.
"Not so much."
Her fingers continued to move up and down his arm intensifying the tingle until suddenly an entire section went numb. Loki rolled away, pulling back his arm to examine it. He clenched his fist and rubbed at the skin, but found nothing out of the usual aside from the lack of feeling.
"Sorry," Cami said sheepishly. "I could sense your energy. I was just stroking it a little."
Though the sensation was slowly returning to his arm, Loki thought, I might have to be careful what I let her stroke in the future.
Cami let out an unexpected snicker and buried her face in the pillow to smother giggles.
"Were you reading my mind?"
"No," she said, still carrying on.
With effort, he squelched the temptation to roll his eyes or demand that she stop her display. He decided it was worth her being in good spirits to feel a little foolish. He chose to head to the bathroom while she collected herself.
Cami was caressing her stomach, looking contemplative when Loki climbed back into bed. "I wonder how long it will be until we know if it's a boy or girl." She took his hand and held it against the area that had yet to show any discernible growth.
"I can usually tell around eleven or twelve weeks. You're a special case, of course." He focused, sending out his magic to investigate, which caused her to suddenly shriek, curl up and push away his hand.
She gasped and released a delayed chuckle. "That tickled."
Loki grinned at this admission and playfully pulled her back. "This will be fun." He straddled her thighs, sitting on them to help keep her down and pinned her hands to either side of her head.
Cami squealed and laughed a bit before quieting to take in some breaths. Her untamed locks tumbled comically around her face. "You wouldn't."
"Oh, but I must." He delighted in the mingling emotions in her eyes and the uncertainty of her smile. "You could try begging."
Her gaze hardened with resolve as she continued to squirm. "No way."
"Fine." Loki drew her hands up to secure them both in his left. Excitement coursed through him as he reached for the waistline of her pajama pants. His fingers curled around the material in a motion that felt eerily familiar and menacing. Then words fell from his lips that baffled and electrified him. "Now you can scream."
Terror flooded Cami's eyes and features. Then a white, blinding flash of energy pulsed out of her body, which hit and carried Loki off the bed.
He landed heavily on the stone, groaning and holding his head. Foreign, yet vivid images of a blade stabbing and cutting into flesh flitted in his mind.
"You're him!" Cami cried. "You escaped." She rushed past, dodging his hand as he reached for her.
"No! No, I'm not. Cami, please?" He rolled over, pushing to his knees, but she was already gone. So, he sat on the floor and leaned against the footboard. The images were still there, just beneath the surface, and though he knew he had not perpetrated the assault he was seeing, the perspective was that of the attacker.
Igus rushed into the room. "Your majesty, are you injured?"
"No." He felt disoriented and conflicted. "Summon the guards."
"What do I tell them?"
"I don't know. Just call them."
When the guards arrived, Thor was at the lead. He wore only a light tunic and pants as it was early and he'd likely been in bed with Jane when the call went out.
"Tell me she is safe," Loki pleaded, trembling as Thor dropped to one knee at his side and met his gaze. Minutes had passed, yet his heart still pounded in his chest.
"Jane has her," Thor promised. "I sent for father. What happened?"
He shook his head. Words failed him. He didn't understand anything.
Thor hooked Loki under the arms, hoisting him to his feet and onto the chair at the study table.
The guards moved aside as Odin cleared the doorway. "Wait in the corridor," the king ordered and they shuffled out. Odin leaned close, speaking with urgency and care. "Loki, did you hurt her?"
"No. I scared her."
"What compelled you to do this?"
He didn't have the answers they sought. If Bad Loki had sent him those images, Cami's safety had to be their priority. Loki softly begged, "You have to put me in a cell."
"Wait," Thor interjected. "Gossip will spread through the Assembly if the guards march him down there. Let us not overreact."
Odin backed off with a weary sigh and called for Igus. "Please ask the queen and Jorn to join us."
Loki cautiously rose from the chair, feeling weak and uncoordinated. "At least bind me, Father, while I have the desire to comply."
Odin said to Thor, "Dismiss the guards. Get dressed and bring us some manacles."
Loki was dressed and shackled by the time everyone gathered in his rooms. With more time to analyze, it wasn't as difficult for him to lay out the facts as he understood them.
"These images must have come from the double," Frigga insisted. "Loki wouldn't think of hurting her."
Jorn said, speaking respectfully in his more comfortable Elven, "I warned King Odin that I expected this to happen. The halves of his soul wish to mend themselves. They're bleeding into each other."
Thor stood in the doorway to the balcony, his arms crossed and frame tense. "What can be done?"
"Jahla spoke of rituals she performed on both men to lessen their connection and keep her control over them. She claims the double would start to lose focus over time while Loki grew braver, bolder and less compliant."
Loki didn't want to remember, but even attempting to push the memories away drudged up emotion. "Those rituals were frightening and painful."
Thor's agitation flared with Loki's distress. "Is there a way to separate them permanently?"
"I don't know," Jorn said. "I didn't believe splitting a soul was possible. Perhaps with more time to research, I could find something."
This answer did not appease him. "If the realms decide my brother is a threat, they could put him on trial."
Loki settled onto the edge of the bed. "Perhaps they should," he said. "I also played a part in these events, no matter how small."
Odin commanded, "You will not make that suggestion to anyone."
Refusing to meet the king's gaze or argue points with him, Loki stared at the floor.
Frigga went to him, sitting at his side to offer comfort. "I will speak with Cami."
"Tell Clint and Natasha," Loki suggested. "Fury, too. S.H.I.E.L.D. should cut their ties now before this gets any messier."
Igus laid out a small feast for him in the dining room, but Loki was too unsettled to eat. He spent hours pacing his rooms. He wouldn't let them remove the shackles, which interrupted the use of his magic. So, the clinking and clatter of the chains accompanied each measured step.
He halted when he heard people moving through the sitting room. The queen, Clint and Natasha entered the bedroom. "How is Cami?" Loki asked.
"She's rattled," Clint said, "but feeling better after Frigga's explanation."
Natasha inquired, gesturing to Loki's bindings, "Are those really necessary?"
"He wants to wear them," Frigga said with exasperation.
"Can I assume from the late hour," Loki asked, "that you've brought me other news?"
"The judges have been selected," Clint said. "We don't know most of them, but Rosner seems satisfied." He fidgeted a bit as he further disclosed, "There isn't a representative from Midgard or Asgard on the panel."
Natasha added with worry, "Ogalfus was chosen, and he's still a bit sore at us."
Loki frowned and held up his manacles. "Who knows about this?"
"Only our people," Clint promised. "It's really bad timing, and we just can't have this sort of thing going public. We'll put you under an informal house arrest while Jorn works the problem."
The queen reached for his bindings.
"I don't know," Loki admitted, pulling away from Frigga. "I need Cami safe."
"All of your interactions with her will be supervised," the queen promised.
"Fury agrees with this?"
Clint shrugged. "More or less. Your suggestion that he cut you loose kinda pissed him off."
"Anything else I need to know?"
Frigga freed his hands, cautiously reporting, "Farbauti has been asking to see you. Will you listen to what she has to say?"
Loki slumped. Every muscle in his neck and shoulders seemed to ache. "I can't deal with Farbauti right now."
Once they left him, Loki stretched out on the bed. Though he was weary, it was hard to truly rest with traces of Cami all around him. Her lotion, nail clippers, hairbrush and music player lay on the nightstand. The sheets smelled of her, and there was a strand of curly, hazelnut brown hair on the pillow, which almost brought him to tears when he realized they would never again share a bed if she was afraid of him.
His night was long and tormented. More memories filtered into his consciousness that were not of his own making. Bad Loki had stalked, coerced, captured and killed so many people that even the random snippets Loki received of these crimes haunted him.
He was exhausted come morning and fell asleep while soaking in the bath. It was Cami that found and woke him, drawing his head off the side of the tub to rest safely on her shoulder as she leaned over the edge. "I see you had a hard night, too."
Loki rolled his face into her warm, soft neck, inhaling her scent. He was overwhelmed beyond words to have her close.
She let him remain like that awhile before helping him out of the tub and into his robe.
Thor was on hand to keep a watchful eye. The three of them shared breakfast while Thor informed him that Odin and Rosner were in court that morning, helping to establish a rough timeline of events. "According to Vali, the court will likely call in Farbauti next."
His stomach tensing, Loki asked, "Does Vali know about me and Farbauti?"
"Not when we spoke, but he will learn the truth."
Loki put down his utensils. "He's not going to take it well."
Cami only stared at her food during this exchange. She looked a little green.
"Maybe you should go lie down," Loki said.
She dismissed this suggestion, choosing instead to announce, "I found out from Clint that we're having a girl."
The news cheered Loki. "That's wonderful. We should think up a name for her."
"I'm named after my great grandmother and my dad. His middle name was Raymond," Cami said. "I don't know where my parents got Clinton from, but Clint and my mom's middle names are both Francis."
"You could name her after me," Thor said with a teasing grin. "Little Thora… I like it."
Loki snatched up a roll from the basket in front of him and hurled it at his brother, who deftly caught it. Loki said playfully, "If I'd ever intended to name one of my children after you, I would have already done so."
"Perhaps you and Jane should make one of your own. Wouldn't that be quite the scandal?"
Thor shot back, "We just might," then bit into the bread.
Cami giggled at their banter while gingerly holding her stomach. "Come on," she begged. "Be serious."
"Is there a name you fancy, my dear?"
"Well, my mom's name was Edith, but her family and friends called her Edie. I was thinking Loki, Cami and Edie sounds kinda cute together."
Loki admired the way she lit up, her features warming and the distinct sparkle in her eyes. "I really like it," he admitted. "Is she to have a middle name? Camille or such?"
"Eeew. Not Camille." Her expression contorted with dramatic aversion. "Think of someone else we can name her after."
"Frigga," Thor softly offered, and Loki agreed as it was perfect.
"Edith Frigga," Cami tried out the sound of it.
"Edith Frigga Lokidottir," Loki corrected. "It's a noble-sounding name."
"You know, some people have more than one middle name."
"You're considering making her name longer?" Loki pointed out, "It's quite a mouthful already."
Cami didn't answer, for at that moment, her features paled, her body heaved and she made a mad dash from the dining room, Loki assumed, enroute for the bathroom.
Thor stopped eating, frowning as the sounds of her vomiting reached them. "I suggest you let her have what she wants."
Loki nodded, his smile dimming. "Thank you for this. I'm sure you'd much rather not have to be here."
"That isn't true." He set down the rose apple clenched in his hand. "I welcomed the opportunity to share a meal and good humor with my brother."
It would be appropriate to speak, acknowledge the sentiment, but Loki wasn't certain he could put to words the emotion stirring in his chest. He said simply, "I hope one day my Edie will play with your children."
"We'll take them to the forest," Thor suggested with a grin, "to fish, swim, search for fae-kin and sleep under the stars."
"That's a hefty dream for a busy king." The words escaped before Loki could stop or soften their bitterness. His chest swelled with instant guilt as Thor looked away. "I apologize. That was not what I intended to say."
"Father never took us on such an adventure," Thor conceded. "It was Tyr that eventually obliged our pleas. He asked us a very important question out there in the forest. Do you recall?"
Loki was sure he could remember if he tried, but found himself listening for Cami instead.
"He asked us what we wanted to be when we grew into manhood."
Now Loki did recall. He muttered, "It was an unfair question to ask two heirs to the same throne."
"Perhaps, but how did we answer?"
"You said you wanted to be a great warrior, loved by the people and feared by your enemies."
Thor leaned forward. "And you wanted to be an inquisitor, to solve crimes within the realms and thwart the deeds of evildoers."
"I don't think those were my exact words," Loki gently contested, but he certainly caught the irony.
Thor took a drink from his cup and set it aside with the last of his rose apple. "We were just boys, brothers, and competing over a throne was the last thing on our minds."
In the following silence, Loki heard the water rush through the pipes and Cami's low groan. Instead of returning to the dining room, she climbed into bed, causing the frame to creak. Loki could have gone to her, but assumed Thor would tag along for protection and this was one conversation he didn't want to finish in Cami's presence.
"Through the years, I desperately wanted Odin to see in me the value he saw in you."
Thor shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but didn't interrupt.
"I think he always intended you to be king, and yet, in all the words of wisdom he shared, Odin failed to explain what would become of the unchosen son. What were the expectations for him? What was he to contribute to the family legacy? What made him important and necessary? Those were lessons Odin didn't teach. So, I've come to realize that he was never really speaking to me."
"Father hoped to reunite you with your parents in the Jotunheim and open up the lines of communication with them. Laufey and Farbauti lost their other sons in the war, Loki. I think father expected that you could one day rule the Frost Giants."
Loki didn't dare to consider the notion. "That's ridiculous. The Jotun would never accept me, and why would I want to rule over little more than rocks and ice?"
"Then be my advisor. Take over command of the inquisitors and envoys. Help me restructure and surround the throne with good, dependable men so that we can be there to tuck our children in at night and take them out on the grounds to play like our father rarely could."
Surprised by the sudden upset these words caused, Loki responded, "Do you forget what is happening here? How long until Bad Loki taints my heart and pushes me to terrible acts of cruelty?"
"Then don't give in. Fight him," Thor demanded, as if the task was so easy.
It hurt Loki to admit, "I do not think this is a battle I can win. He is stronger… and I am afraid of him."
Thor captured Loki's gaze. "Being afraid makes you cautious, not weak. You've accomplished so much already, and you are not alone in this battle."
Loki fought tears, embarrassed to be so emotional.
Igus stepped into the doorway. "Lord Fandral and Agents Kotter and Stott are here to relieve you of guard duty, your majesty."
Nodding appreciatively to the servant, Thor climbed to his feet. He sounded regretful as he said, "I must go." He came around the table, halting at Loki's side. It seemed that he might say something more, but must have found the words deficient, and chose to leave in silence.
Loki lingered at the table, deciding not to dwell on any particular aspect of the long discussion. He was too conflicted to unravel the complexities of his relationship with Thor. It would be foolish to think their differences could be mended with one amicable meal.
Cami stayed with him all day as their keepers switched out every few hours. Then she refused to leave Loki overnight. So, Steve volunteered to watch over them as he could go days without sleep. He arrived at bedtime with a small lantern and a couple paperbacks. "Don't mind me." He switched the chair to the opposite side of the study table to have a direct view of the bed and started in on his reading.
Frigga gave both Cami and Loki mild remedies to help them rest. Once comfortable, they drifted off, not to rouse until hours later when Steve used the bathroom.
"Good morning," the captain said cheerfully, noticing their stirrings as he passed the bed to collect his things at the table. "You two didn't move all night, but the dueling snores and heavy breathing reassured me that you weren't dead or anything."
"I do not snore," Loki declared, but Cami laughed like she knew better and scurried off to use the bathroom next.
Loki could hear Igus directing servants in the dining room as they laid out breakfast. "Are you going to join us, Steve?" he asked, sitting up against the headboard and rubbing his eyes. "I'm sure there will be plenty."
"I guess I could. Natasha and Clint are supposed to arrive any time now. Maybe they want you two all to themselves."
Loki left the bed, pulling clothes from his armoire to dress in the bathroom when Cami came out. It was irritating to be under such close scrutiny, but he would endure it because Cami was as eager to remain with him as he was her.
Tentatively, Clint's voice called into the space, "Is everyone decent?"
"No!" Cami tossed back, her tone playful. "We're having a threesome!"
"Not likely," Clint responded, strolling in as Loki stepped out of the bathroom. The archer wore a pleasant grin. "I know I can trust Steve. If Tony had been with you, however..."
"Any news?" Steve asked, anxious to change topics.
"Sorta. Let's eat, and we'll fill you guys in."
There were currently two hot topics around the castle and within the Realms Assembly. The first was a proposed idea of forming a mixed task force that would investigate any crimes that affected multiple realms. "Humans would be working alongside Asgardians, Jotun, Elves, Dwarves..." Natasha said. "Basically expanding the Mischief Makers. It would be a huge deal."
"In light of this mess," Loki said, "the idea must be gaining support."
Clint nodded. "Fury and Hill think the task force will be a good opportunity to keep a closer eye on the other realms. I assume anyone appointed to the new team from Earth would be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent first."
Natasha attempted to be delicate when she divulged the second topic of the Assembly's interest. "It came out in court late yesterday that Loki is Farbauti's son and that Odin took him without her knowledge. Then, somehow, that information was leaked to the public. There's been quite a backlash from it. Even realms that shouldn't be affected in the least are expressing shock and outrage."
Loki pushed aside his plate, instantly lacking appetite. He sighed, resting his face in his hands.
"What has Farbauti said on the matter?" Cami asked. "Has she made a public statement of any kind?"
"Sif said Farbauti returned to her quarters after court and hasn't left or received visitors since."
Steve asked, "Why didn't Odin see this coming? He could have issued a statement."
"That would give the representatives the impression that the King of Asgard had done something wrong," Loki explained. "The decisions of the All-Father have always superseded others within the realms. Only now, as Odin attempts to peacefully unite these worlds is his authority being challenged. It is a double-edged sword. Giving up some of his power hurts him, as would attempting to keep the realms subordinate."
"Why not just let every realm manage themselves?" Steve asked. "He left Earth alone for centuries."
"The universe is vast and the threats innumerable. Any world left to its own defense, will fall. The realms must pull together and also make alliances with neighboring systems."
Clint teased, "You sound like a politician."
"No," Natasha interjected, her features brightening with a proud smile. "He sounds like a leader."
Steve suggested, "Maybe you could address the Realms Assembly on Odin's behalf."
Loki scoffed and abandoned his chair. "The last thing the king needs is a mass murderer coming to his defense, Captain." He left the dining room to find Igus in a heated discussion with Vali in the sitting room.
"What's going on?" Loki demanded.
Vali pushed past Igus, nearly knocking the man over. He was livid. "You cannot hide from me behind this old fool!"
Steve entered and promptly stepped between Loki and Vali. "Hey," he demanded. "You can be civil or you can leave."
The justicer stood toe-to-toe with Captain America, the only Midgardian in the group who could dare challenge him, then finally backed off when Steve refused to flinch.
Loki prompted Vali, "Say your peace."
Vali was intentionally harsh. "You find out you're a Jotun and don't think to tell the family. How will we endure the shame? Narvi and I have families of our own now. Do you and Odin not care at all?"
The rant was almost comical, but Loki wasn't in a laughing mood. "I do care."
"I'm not convinced."
"You sense a lie?"
Vali stilled. He studied Loki and tried to find the right words. "No. I do not."
"Continue to denounce me and my actions to those in your circle of influence. They will praise your resilience and perseverance. In a few decades, the topic won't be worth anyone mentioning."
"As always, you have nothing of real value to give," Vali snapped. "I hope they execute that abomination and damn you both to the fires of Helheim."
His words stung, cutting so deeply that Loki was convinced that he could feel the actual hemorrhaging of his soul. He touched his chest, which constricted painfully.
Cami neared, offering him comfort while she glared at Vali.
Steve criticized, "That's a pretty severe opinion for an officer of the court to have. Perhaps you are too biased to be part of this trial. How will your reputation hold up if I make that accusation to the Assembly?"
It was an effective threat as Vali quickly restrained his anger. "Your devotion is almost sickening. Why do you all protect him knowing the horrors of which he is capable?"
"We've all made mistakes," Clint answered. "Why wouldn't we give him the chance to do good when his heart is willing?"
Vali rolled his eyes. "Is your entire world so naive? Do you truly not see that he's using your people and his 'suffering' to save his own hide? You are a convenient ploy to show compelling evidence of rehabilitation. The hope is that the court will not execute the double, knowing that a seemingly innocent and repentant man will die as well."
Loki drew in a deep breath, releasing it slowly through his nose to settle his system. "Son, I am honestly not attempting such a deception."
"You are as ignorant as your friends if you believe that monster isn't exactly where he wants," Vali said with disgust and strode out.
Tentatively, Cami asked, "Could that be true?"
Natasha said, "Loki does have sympathy from the realms."
"The Assembly chose not to try our Loki for any crimes," Steve pointed out. "I'm sure we all hope that his situation will keep them from seeking the death penalty."
Days passed with no new information. Jorn had not found any references to splitting a soul, everyone was still stuck in Asgard while the court called in witnesses, and Loki remained under constant guard within his rooms.
"Why doesn't the court call for me?" Loki asked Odin angrily. "Do they not wish to hear my side?"
"Possibly they fear what you will say. News has spread throughout the realms of your circumstances and that you are engaged and expecting a child. The Assembly and court are under pressure to not cast you or Cami in a disfavorable light."
"Which is what the double wants."
Loki wandered out onto the balcony to get some sun and fresh air while he fought to push away the shared images that surfaced with his aggravation. "I'm going mad in these rooms," he declared. He gazed down upon the palace grounds, wishing he could stroll through the gardens or take Sleipnir out for a ride.
Odin said, "Perhaps you would appreciate a new visitor."
Loki turned, leaning against the door frame. He projected weariness and dejection with his words. "I have constant visitors. I need a change of scenery."
"Let us go together." Odin gestured Cami closer. "I have a perfect destination in mind. If we hurry, we can find Frigga there."
Loki stepped into his father's reach. There was a flash of light, a moment of disorientation and then a cold chill washed over them as they transported directly into the guest wing of the castle and Farbauti's suite. The Jotun guards grabbed their clubs, but were ordered not to attack by their queen who was seated on the floor beside Frigga and Ashaunti.
"You tricked me," Loki growled at Odin.
"We tried asking nicely," Frigga reminded him, showing both her disapproval and insistence that he stay.
Farbauti examined Loki with intuitive eyes. "You promised you wouldn't force him to speak with me, All-Father." She looked beyond them to a guard walking up behind. "Show Prince Loki out, Mabrun."
Loki started for the door then halted when Cami enthusiastically addressed the escort.
"You are Mabrun, the warrior that saved my brother from being blown up?"
The giant's brow furrowed and mouth tweaked with a suppressed smile. He affirmed with respect, "Yes, I saved his life."
"Thank you so much. How do I properly show my appreciation?"
"I require no reward," he said. "Though, my queen does long for some time with her son."
Mabrun's eyes never shifted from Cami's, but Loki glared at him anyway. He shrank back as Cami's pleading gaze fell on him. "This isn't fair," he complained. "You are supposed to be on my side, dearest."
"I am." She begged in a whisper, "Please? I would give anything for a chance to spend time with my mom again."
Manipulative minx, said a hateful voice at the back of his mind, which Loki wasn't certain was his own.
Frigga approached, offering him the leather bound book in her hands. "This is what we've been discussing."
Though he did not take the book from her, Loki saw the drawing that spanned both pages. It was Frigga's familiar artwork, a carefully colored and textured scene captured from her mind into her dream journal. The image was of Loki and a small, Jotun girl snuggled together among pillows and blankets, sharing a book.
"You saw this in a vision," Loki said, hot emotion flooding his core.
"I did," Frigga admitted. "When I saw you with her, I knew I could not let Odin put you in prison."
Cami drew in, also examining the drawing. Her eyes grew wide. "Is that…?"
"It's Edie." Loki looked to Frigga. "She is why you sent me to the Jotunheim."
His attention wandered to Farbauti and a desperate, turbulent urge came over him to speak his mind. He moved closer, ignoring the unease her size caused him. "You have no claim to me or that child!" he raged. "You chose to let me go."
"You will not give me a chance to explain?"
"Laufey wanted me dead! I understand all too well."
"Why are you so angry with me?"
"Because my whole life has been a lie, Mother, and I don't know who or what I truly am."
"You are very special…" she started to say before Loki cut her off.
"Frost Giants are bullies. You invade other lands, taking whatever and whomever you wish. Your laws allow the keeping and abuse of slaves." Loki paused only to take a breath. "When Jahla ran away, she was hunted. She couldn't go to her mother's people in Alfheim for fear they would reject and kill her. She traveled to the capital to beg your protection, and your guards threw her into prison as a runaway. She'd have been returned to her abusers if I hadn't helped her escape. What choice was left her than to strike back at the threat?"
Farbauti tensed. "I wasn't aware."
"Hybrids have no rights either, and all of my children are considered hybrids by your laws," Loki continued. "Therefore, it is my wish that you never see any of them."
He stormed out, leaving even Cami behind.
The court closed proceedings without calling Loki or Cami in for questioning. Then after two days of deliberations, they announced their decisions to a select few representatives.
No one had asked Loki what he thought was going to happen, but he could see the unspoken question in their eyes. His rooms were crowded with friends that felt a need to be near and supportive. It was both annoying and endearing to him that they cared so much, like a big group hug that was slowly suffocating him.
When Frigga arrived with the news, she had Rosner and Nick Fury with her. She looked ill as the crowd gathered and fell quiet.
"It is the decision of the court that Jahla will spend five hundred years in the dungeons of Asgard." Frigga met Loki's gaze, trembling as she forced out the words. "The double is to be executed in the morning."
Loki deflated. All thought and emotion drained from his being. He dropped into the closest chair when his legs suddenly couldn't hold him.
"No!" Cami screamed, moving to Frigga. "You saw him with Edie. They can't kill him."
"The future is not set," the queen explained. "One small change can have tremendous consequences."
Tony asked, his tone biting, "That's it? It doesn't matter that Loki gets punished, too?"
Rosner responded to Stark, attempting to be dignified. "The judges felt they shouldn't be influenced by public opinion or details that did not pertain to the actual crimes. Loki was never on trial. It is an unfortunate consequence that his double's passing will result in his own death."
This caused an even angrier reaction from the group.
"King Odin, Jorn and Thor are meeting with the court right now," Rosner said. "It is doubtful they will be able to sway the vote."
"It's already late," Bruce argued. "They won't allow Loki any time to put his affairs in order?"
Frigga's eyes were wet and she appeared unable to speak with Cami bawling in her embrace.
Rosner said, "The court demands swift justice."
"It gets worse," Nick called out above all the mutterings. "It is the will of the court that S.H.I.E.L.D. provide the executioner."
"What?!" Clint asked. "Why?"
"Ogalfus convinced them that if we employ assassins, we must not mind executing people."
Loki's chest hurt. Volatile emotion churned inside, urging him to either vomit, break something or run away. He pushed up from the chair, whispering to the tearful Mitzi and Diani in passing, "I need to lie down." He walked into the bedroom and locked the door behind him.
He ignored all of the group's subsequent pleadings at his door. Within the hour, the suite quieted and mostly emptied out. Loki knew them all well enough to understand this was a demonstration of their respect, not abandonment.
He conjured the worst of thoughts in the solitude of his fear, rage and self-loathing, coming to the logical realization that by not taking his own life, he was responsible for all of Bad Loki's crimes and never should have allowed anyone to convince him otherwise. He had been offered friendship and acceptance, allowed to do good works and felt a sense of pride in his contributions. Was it not a fitting punishment to then take all that away, so he could experience an inkling of the loss and betrayal felt by his own victims?
If allowed to live, the Bad Loki would continue to poison him and put others at risk. Loki couldn't allow more people to suffer, especially those dear to him. So, he ground himself in the reality that he was going to die. Then he washed his face, straightened his attire and decided to stop hiding from the world.
He didn't know who awaited him when he exited the bedroom. He was surprised and strangely relieved to see Nick Fury alone in the sitting room, casually drinking in the corner chair with a nearly empty bottle of whiskey beside him.
"The group in the dining room would really like to see you, but there are a couple decisions to be made first."
"Queen Farbauti has requested that your body be released to her after the execution. Apparently, the Asgardian tradition of burning the dead is offensive to her people. She wants to put you in her family vault."
Loki knew of the massive chambers beneath the capital where the Frost Giants put their frozen dead on display. It was a strange idea to him, but so was the practice of burying the dead, which some realms favored. He asked, "How did you get the responsibility of asking me this?"
Since Loki had yet to sit, Nick chose to stand. "I'm a neutral third party and don't easily blubber."
Loki took the glass out of Fury's hand and stole a drink, letting the alcohol pool on his tongue before swallowing. "I don't really care what happens to my body."
"Then I suggest you let Farbauti have it. She's promised that anyone who wants to can visit you there."
Loki picked up the bottle to pour a refill. "I thought you weren't going to get sentimental, Nick."
The director flashed him a stern, 'don't-be-a-smartass' look. "What's your answer?"
"Let her freeze me." Loki took another drink. "What else?"
"I'm having a bit of trouble finding someone willing to kill you."
Loki openly laughed. "This is serious," he joked. "I'm surprised Agent Coulson didn't volunteer."
The significance and intensity of Fury's glare tempered Loki's amusement. "Phil Coulson requested that I release him and his team to return to Earth. They departed about an hour ago."
"Oh," Loki said quickly, averting his gaze. He didn't know what to make of that news. "Did you ask Hill?"
"I did. She's not interested."
"I could do it," he offered, surprising himself with the sudden idea and distinct rightness of it. "You'll have to reinstate me to active duty."
The director considered him carefully. "That would solve the problem. Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am. Now may I be excused?"
"Yeah. You want anything?"
"No," he said, then immediately recanted. "Actually, if I could get something to help keep me awake… I don't want to sleep away my last hours."
Nick promised, "I'll have Dr. Lloyd come by."
"And some type of recording device," Loki added. "I want to leave a message for the baby."
With a nod, Fury departed.
Clint and Natasha glanced up at him as Loki stepped into the dining room. Cami sat in the chair across from them. Her head rested on her arm and the tabletop. Realizing she was asleep, Loki took the seat at the head of the table, which put him between Clint and Cami.
"She cried pretty hard," Natasha whispered. "Wore herself out."
Loki put down the glass and bottle, leaning over to gently caress the side of Cami's face.
She stirred and sat up, whining softly as she rubbed at her brow and temples, which were probably aching from the dehydration excessive crying could cause. She accepted the glass of water Natasha set in front of her.
Clint nursed his own dark amber beverage. Tentatively he said to Loki, "You seem calm."
There were things he could say, but Loki assumed none of them would be well-received. He gave a noncommittal shrug.
Natasha was visibly sympathetic. "Frigga showed me Edie's picture. She's adorable."
Loki smiled, pulling the image to the forefront of his memory. He tried not to show that sorrow was creeping in as he thought about all the things he was going to miss out on.
"I saw Edie with Cami in one of my visions," Clint admitted, shifting his shoulders like they were sore and stiff. "All the signs were there that something had happened to you. I just didn't recognize."
"Don't blame yourself. Not every vision comes true, Clint," Loki said. "I thought Frigga would have explained that."
"I didn't exactly seek her insights." He snatched up the bottle to fill his glass. "Kinda pointless when I planned to give up the power."
"This is no one's fault but my own," Loki said. "I was angry that Odin sent me to serve the Frost Giants. I looked for an excuse, something to revolt over. I invited Jahla into my life."
A knock sounded on the suite door.
"Dr. Lloyd, I assume," Loki told them and went to answer it.
"No more alcohol," the doctor ordered sternly when he gave Loki the pills. "Your system is unbalanced enough right now."
Loki made light of his concern. "Not much is required of me tomorrow, Doctor. I barely have to be functional."
The doctor handed him the digital voice recorder that Fury had sent, offered his true regrets at the situation and wished Loki all the happiness he could have wherever his spirit ventured after death.
"Where will you end up?" Clint inquired when Lloyd departed and Loki returned to the table. "Is that a question we're allowed to ask?"
"I cannot tell what I do not know. There are exceptions to every rule, and I am my own peculiarity."
"Are you scared?" Cami asked.
His gut reaction was to tell her no, but it would be a lie. Instead of answering, he borrowed her water to help down the pills.
Cami allowed his non response. She told him, "I'm scared."
Loki pushed back his chair and gently gathered her into his lap and embrace. He held her as tight as he dared, pressing tender kisses onto her forehead and cheeks.
"I knew I wouldn't get to keep you," she said, looking mournful.
Cami had been constantly separated from people she cared about, which instilled in her a longing for stability and a deep fear of being alone. It was distressing to Loki that he wouldn't be the one to change all that for her.
"You will have Edie," he said, trying to smile, though his heart ached. "You will show her how to be kind, helpful and brave. Teach her to dance."
Those last words reminded him of Cami's coveted tango, another broken promise.
Clint inquired, "When Edie asks about you, what do you want us to tell her?"
"The truth - in a way she can understand."
There wasn't much left to say. So, Loki finally addressed the issue he had been avoiding for so long, directing his words to Clint and Natasha. "I'm sorry for everything I put you two through. I know I didn't deserve the second chance or trust you gave me."
Clint downed his drink. Then he stared at the empty glass, his features fighting to maintain a semblance of control. "I wanted to kill you," he admitted, pausing to swallow hard. "I figured you'd step out of line at some point and I'd be justified to do it, but…"
"I wasn't what you expected," Loki offered.
"Not at all."
Cami stared off in a weary daze, her breathing slow.
"Perhaps you should try to go back to sleep," Loki suggested.
She sat up, taking in a deep breath while wiping and rubbing her eyes. She stole another gulp of her water before rising from his lap. Then she gripped his hand, gave it a tug and requested, "Come with me?"
There was particular meaning in the inflection of her voice and the way her eyes settled on him, almost pleading. He guessed that she wanted more than comfort.
"We'll be nearby," Natasha assured them.
Once in the bedroom, Loki took his time undressing Cami. He lavished kisses and caresses all over her body, wishing he could soothe away her fears and pain.
Their lovemaking was mindful and cooperative. Slow and gentle motions grew more urgent, but never frenzied. They savored the intimacy and sensations, clinging to each moment of shared bliss until the final, chaotic jolt of pleasure.
Cami was asleep when Loki finally pulled away. He dressed again before returning to the dining room where he caught Clint and Natasha brewing some passions of their own. He apologized for the interruption, scolded them for not calling someone to relieve them of guard duty and then escaped to the nursery with the recorder and a lantern.
Loki sauntered through the large space, which was full of things and memories, but also so empty. He set the lantern on a bedside table and eased into the rocking chair to manipulate the handheld device and gather his thoughts. There was so much he wanted Edie to know, but understood the importance of using choice words and simplistic sentiments with a child.
After several minutes of consideration, Loki started the recorder.
"Edie, this is your father. I'm recording this because we'll never get to meet." His voice sounded smooth and clear despite a sudden tightness in his core. He realized that he'd have to keep this message short or risk breaking down during. "I'm sure you'll hear lots of stories about me, and most of them are probably true. The one thing I need you to believe more than anything else people might say, is that I love you very much and would be there with you and your mother right now if I could."
Loki paused the recorder as fresh tears filled his eyes. He wiped at them then startled when he noticed that Clint and Natasha had wandered in.
"Sorry," Clint uttered. "We just wanted to check in."
"We'll go out," Natasha said, "so you can finish."
"No." Loki stood, handing the device to her. "I think I covered the most important points. Please make sure Edie gets a copy of the message."
"Thor is here," Clint told him. "We're gonna go."
He followed them to the sitting room where his sorrowful brother waited. "Don't say anything," Loki requested as soon as he and Thor were alone.
"How can I not? You were starting over, making a new life for yourself with Cami. You don't deserve this."
"But I do," Loki insisted. "I created him. His power and influence over me grew because I fed him every scrap of my pain and anger. I used him like a suit of armor to distance myself from others, wielding lies and trickery as my most effective weapons."
Thor accepted these words. "Everyone has a dark side they fight to control."
"Not like this."
"You still stood up to him, and I hope that he will never again have such a hold over you."
Loki looked away, feeling weary. He was tired of the emotions and regrets that consumed his strength and time. Now there wasn't enough left to do everything he wanted. Loki asked, "Walk with me?"
The brothers strolled out of the palace with a trio of guards following behind at a respectful distance. Loki admired the vibrant pink and gold colors of the sunrise as they skirted the gardens and entered the stables.
Loki climbed the gate to perch atop the wall of Sleipnir's stall. The horse moved eagerly forward, pressing his head against Loki and affectionately nuzzling him. "I have to leave," Loki told him. "You're to have a new sister named Edie. Protect her and Cami. Watch over your brothers and keep Hel company when you can." He thought he could see sadness in the large, black eyes as the horse nodded.
Thor stood at the gate. "I'll look out for all of them," he promised, shrewd enough to not go into any of the specifics of Loki's estranged children.
Loki jumped down. "I appreciate that," he told Thor, giving a farewell pat and kiss on Sleipnir's nose.
Cami was up and dressed when they returned to the suite. They picked at their breakfast, saying very little. Then Loki washed up and changed into his S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform before they met up with the others in the throne room.
The group was larger than he expected, but still relatively small. Thor, Odin and Frigga were present, of course. The Warriors Three stood off to one side with Mike, Gary, Dan and Dr. Lloyd. Nick, Maria, Steve, Tony and Bruce collected around Clint and Natasha, quietly engaged in some debate. Jorn and Mahlora noticed them and drew near to offer their sympathies.
When Rosner and his daughters arrived, Mitzi and Diani chose to remain near the entry while their father moved to the king and queen. The twins waved Loki over when they met his gaze.
They failed to hide their heartbreak from him. "I'm so sorry, my dears," he said, gathering them into an embrace. He admitted sadly, "I'd hoped to have more time together."
The girls unsheathed and held up their spectre blades. "The law requires a quick, clean execution," Diani explained. "Jahla does not believe a common weapon will suffice in killing the double."
Though Loki was more skilled with daggers, he took Mitzi's longsword. It seemed the better choice to inflict optimal damage.
A sudden chill swept over them as Farbauti, Ashaunti and their attendants stepped through the doorway with Sif. Loki thought Queen Farbauti looked stoic and quite formidable in her lush furs and sleek, black leather. She acknowledged him with a subtle bow of her head, which he hesitantly returned. He didn't hate her, but couldn't bring himself to speak with her again. This was a day to end relationships, not build or try to fix them.
"It is time," Rosner reported and the guards opened the double doors out to where the five judges and Vali sat upon tall, ornate chairs. A massive crowd surrounded the platform, packed into the palace grounds as far as the eye could see.
Frigga swooped in for a final hug, her eyes red and swollen. She held Loki so tight that his flesh bruised and frame ached.
Odin's hand gripped Loki's shoulder. His features were tense with purpose. The All-Father opened his mouth to speak, perhaps to offer a last bit of advice or comfort, but then his jaw trembled, shattering the illusion of his control and no words came.
Loki gave him an understanding nod. He pulled out of Frigga's arms and turned to where the Avengers and Mischief Makers stood in two long lines that formed a corridor to the doorway. All eyes were on him as Loki moved forward. He passed between Fury and Hill, pausing when he felt the brush of their fingertips against his hands. He looked down, realizing that every person was holding out a hand into his path. With a bolstering intake of breath, Loki continued down the line, grazing each hand and feeling thankful for the supportive touches and silent farewells.
Cami stood at the end of the line next to Clint. Her hand grasped his as he came near. She pushed up on her tiptoes, gifting him with a warm kiss. A tear trail on her cheek wiped off on his face, and Loki chose to leave it as Cami backed away to allow him to pass.
The massive crowd erupted with surprise and outrage as Loki stepped into view, carrying the longsword. He took his spot center stage, turning to bow respectfully to the shocked judges and Vali, who apparently hadn't been informed of Loki's role as executioner.
"Silence!" Ogalfus cried out, his voice magically amplified to carry out to all. He banged a thick scepter of gold, calling for order, but the ruckus grew to even more deafening levels as the guards escorted the shackled and smiling double onto the platform.
Bad Loki appeared almost giddy with anticipation. "Oh, this is perfect," he called out to Loki. "What a tragic spectacle for the unruly throng."
Loki drew closer. "Enjoy the attention while you can."
Odin crossed to the front of the platform, raising his arms to quiet the crowd, which took mere moments for someone of his authority. He spoke in a stern, commanding voice. "It is the decree of the court that the criminal be executed. Asgard will abide by this decision." His point made, a hush fell over them and Odin returned to stand with Frigga and Thor.
High Advisor Ogalfus rose from his chair to address the masses. He was such a puny presence in comparison to Odin. "The prisoner is guilty of unforgivable crimes against the realms, including coercion, kidnapping and attempted genocide. The penalty for his crimes is death. At this time, the condemned is allowed a final statement."
The double shrugged off the guards and turned to the glaring public. He spoke with biting contempt. "I was once the King of Asgard. I've since realized that a throne is a cleverly disguised prison. I refuse to be enslaved to the service or protection of you mindless, pathetic and ungrateful cattle. To have caused the realms such rampant fear, hatred and chaos, I'm utterly euphoric."
He stood tall and unshakable, his piercing eyes scanning the shocked and raging crowd before shifting to the Avengers and Mischief Makers crowded off to the side of the platform. He flashed them a mocking grin before settling his attention back on Loki. "Ready to die, hero?"
Retaking his chair, Ogalfus signaled the drummers who began their roll.
There was no fear or doubt in Loki as he counted down the tensing moments. He held his breath and gripped the spectre blade as he stared into Bad Loki's callous eyes.
At fifteen seconds, silence fell.
Loki lunged, thrusting the longsword through the double's chest.
Bad Loki collapsed into the guards' arms. The magic which held him together dissolved and his features began to melt, sliding off his skull in bloody globs that drew screams from the crowd.
Loki's own legs buckled. It was the oddest thing, one moment he was upright, then flat on his back the next. It took effort to recognize the flushed and overwhelmed faces that collected around him as his vision narrowed and blurred. He could see Cami rest her cheek against his upper chest, but he felt detached from his own skin. There was no sensation aside from an invading cold that froze up his lungs, making him gasp for breath.
He dared to meet Cami's drowning orbs of blue-green. He reached for her, yet slowed at the sight of his pale skin changing to blue. He was weakening fast and couldn't recall how to warm his touch for her, so he let his hand drop.
Someone called his name, but he was drifting and couldn't answer. A bright light quickly engulfed his vision. The brilliance numbed his consciousness as it wrapped him up and lifted his spirit free.
It felt like no discernible time had passed, yet the light had carried Loki the great distance to Niflheim and into Hel's Hall of Justice. Loki surveyed the large, bare room, infested with shadow serpents that lazed around him.
Hel sat stiff and stately upon her throne. Bad Loki's spirit stood at her side. A faint line of soul essence extended out from his chest to Loki's.
"Father," Hel coldly acknowledged him.
Still numb and trying to retain memories through the haze of his mind, Loki staggered toward them.
Bad Loki stepped away at his approach, sauntering around the back of the throne. "Do it now, Hel."
Loki puzzled. "Do what?"
"In preparation for my death, Hel and I made adjustments to the contract," Bad Loki said. "She's going to separate us and send me back. I'll escape in the body. Then, after biding my time, I'll collect Jahla and the baby for the completion of the ritual I promised."
Even with the cold muting his emotions, terror sparked in him. "Tell me this isn't true?" Loki begged, falling to his knees at Hel's feet. He reached out to touch her hand, but his own passed right through her flesh and the arm of the golden throne. "Hel, please?" he continued, when she would not look at him.
"You have no sway over her," Bad Loki said, his tone becoming more critical. "For centuries you've been too self-absorbed to be of use to any of your children. She finally gets to judge your misdeeds."
Loki kept his attention on his daughter. "You cannot send him back. He is a monster and will continue to hurt people."
Hel asked, her voice hollow, "Why should I care about people?"
"You have judged countless lives during your reign as queen. You've told me several of their stories, praising the capacity for bravery and kindness in beings of many races." Again Loki tried to touch her, but she would not allow it. "Do not let him speak for you. He is equally guilty of my crimes."
Bad Loki laughed, strolling closer. "Stop whining and accept your fate."
Hel's gaze lifted from her lap. "I've already made my decision on this matter, and now you are powerless to resist me." She stood, gathering the chilling mists and paralyzing him with a subtle wave of her hand.
Loki resolved that he would not beg for her forgiveness or mercy. He deserved his fate.
An unexpected growl from Bad Loki indicated she'd done the same to him. "What are you doing?" he demanded.
"I'm breaking the contract."
He seethed. "You betray me? After all I've done for you?!"
She gently caressed the thin ribbon connecting them. "I've decided to make you whole again."
The mists enveloped them, dragging the halves together. Loki's soul merged in an explosion of ideas, recollections and emotions. Roughly two years of divergent experiences smashed together into a fractured consciousness. His imbalanced psyche couldn't quickly reconcile the onslaught of vivid and exhaustive data. Loki convulsed in the mist's grip, screaming under the terrible strain from which there was no escape.
Hel's voice cut through the madness. "Someday I will judge you, Father. Until then, you will wait your turn like every soul in my kingdom."
Cami sat at the study table in her robe and pajamas, staring blindly at the wide variety of flower arrangements set out before her, taking up every inch of the surface. The sitting and dining rooms were packed full of flowers and various gifts from across the realms. Most were offered as condolences. A few were early presents for the baby.
He's only been gone five days, Cami thought. She'd cried, slept or vomited through most of them. How was she going to endure this anguish?
"Frigga sent another potion for you," Natasha said, setting the bottle on the table.
Cami said softly, her voice devoid of real emotion, "That was nice of her."
Natasha stroked the back of Cami's head and gently kneaded her neck and shoulders. "Are you hungry?"
"No." The thought of eating made her queasy.
"We can go out," she suggested, "take a walk through the gardens, maybe trash a few training dummies."
"Not right now."
Cami guessed that Clint wasn't alone when he chose to clear his throat upon entering the bedroom. She turned to see Nick Fury standing with him. "You never give up," she said with a tired, almost wounded sigh.
"It's one of my more irksome qualities," the director agreed. "I had to try one more time before I left."
"Well, since you're blocking my exit..."
Clint frowned at her disrespectful tone. Though, Nick wasn't phased.
"The events of the last months haven't been fair to you, and I'm sorry for the part I've played in that."
When only snarky remarks came to mind, Cami chose to remain silent.
Nick continued, "I wanted you to know, that I recommended to Secretary Pierce that Loki be added to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Wall of Remembrance under his alias, Thomas Murphy. He's very receptive to the idea. Also, Loki's service record will state that he died honorably in the defense of the people of Earth."
Cami was speechless as a lump formed in her throat.
Natasha responded, "That's really great, Nick. I think Loki would be pleased."
His focus still on Cami, Fury attempted to be reassuring when he said, "This situation won't be forever."
Cami uttered, "Loki's dead forever."
He nodded, his head lowering. "I meant that some day you'll probably be able to come home. Rosner has a lead on a teacher for you, another adaptive mage that can show you the ropes. Hopefully with enough hard work, you'll be able to control your power."
Nick's last phrase served as a reminder to Cami that S.H.I.E.L.D. considered her a liability and underachiever.
"Is that all?"
"Our personnel were helping with the distribution of the recovered relics to the realms, and somewhere in all that mess Loki's scepter disappeared from Odin's vault. I need to borrow Clint and Natasha for an extensive follow up."
Cami pondered the bad news while her eyes shifted questioningly to her brother.
Clint noticed the look. He admitted delicately, "I turned down Odin's offer to run the new task force. Nat and I are going back to Earth."
"Oh." She felt an instant spark and prickle deep in the center of her chest as her face flooded with heat.
Natasha leaned down to wrap Cami in her arms. "It's OK. The agency is building a permanent facility outside Puente Antiguo so we can pass messages and stuff through the bifrost. Nick is also making arrangements for the Murphys to come spend some time with you here."
Clint hurried to add, "We are going to visit as much as we can. Kotter and Hopper have accepted positions on the task force. You'll get to see them all the time, and Mike's totally willing to be your dance partner whenever the mood strikes ya."
He looked so calm, like leaving wasn't that big of a deal. Clint was used to living from mission to mission. Cami invested herself more deeply than that and couldn't switch gears so quickly and move on. That was one major difference between them.
Natasha sensed the further decline of her mood. "We all miss him. Don't think that we don't."
"I know. It's just… I think I really loved him."
They let her fight through the rush of emotions, respectfully waiting for her to collect herself again.
Cami had never seen Fury look so sentimental as he said, "I wish you the best, Cami. You were one of the spunkiest recruits we've had in awhile."
She forced a small grin, still wiping at insistent tears. "You're not going to forget about me?"
"Not a chance. Thanks to Loki and yourself, Earth is now an active part of a much larger community." He joked, "All our jobs just got exceptionally harder."
Loki and Cami will be reunited in Mischief Makers 2 - The Soul Eater.