I. Wayward Son

What if this cursed hand

Were thicker than itself with brother's blood

Is there not rain enough in the sweet heaves

To wash it white as snow?

~ William Shakespeare

For six months, Loki's existence has been four dreary, dark walls in Asgardian jail that hold no comfort, just stillness. Now his entire world is crumbling down, because his father is dying and it's all his fault.

Thor stands on the other side of Loki's steel cage, his face worn with grief. "It would be unwise to wait any longer, Loki." Loki answers with a sharp exhale of breath. "Father has asked for you. I believe seeing you before he-"

Loki cuts him off. "He's not going to die," he says through grit teeth, the mere word a poison on his tongue. "He's not going to die."

"His condition is not improving."

Loki shakes his head, his voice cracked and rough from disuse. "He's not going to die." As if repeating it will make it so.

"Then come with me."

"My presence will only exacerbate his stress. I must stay away until he recovers."

Thor searches for the proper words that won't break his brother's childlike hope. "Do not do this to him, nor to yourself. You know how you will feel when he is gone."

"It doesn't matter how I feel," Loki says with a growl. "How are you so certain that seeing me will help him rather than hinder his recovery?" He can sense anger taking his speech into a bitter, spiteful direction, and he can't change its course. "Or are you that eager to hasten your ascension to the throne of Asgard?"

The hateful jab strikes Thor like a blow to the chest, and he steps back as if he's been slapped.

"What good will come of my company there?" Loki asks, no longer bottling his fury. "What do you expect me to do? Wave my hand and heal him? Tell me you're not that delusional. I haven't the means for that!"

Thor sighs and lets the verbal vitriol sink in before he speaks again. "Do not deny your father the chance to see his son before he passes on!"

Loki winces visibly, the words cutting through him like a serrated blade. "I am not his son! It was all a lie!" he roars. It's been a while since Loki's felt this much emotion. "He doesn't want me there any more than you want to stand here before me! Did he tell you to plead for him?"

Thor shakes his head. "This is about what is best for Father."

"I am doing what's best for him! He will recover as long as I stay here," he insists. His rage and assurance abandon him, and he looks at Thor with lost, fearful eyes. "You'll see."

"Brother, please. He wants to see you."

Loki swallows the lump in his throat, trying to make his voice hard. "He's a sick old man; you can't take every word he says as gospel. Would you want to see your murderer?"

Thor's brow creases with ache for his brother's pain. "You are nothing of the sort. You are his son."

Loki just scoffs, his fists clenched tight in rage. He takes measured breaths in and out to calm himself. To Loki, visiting Odin would mean that his father is truly dying, and that he cannot stop it. His foolish faith is all he has now, and speaking it is all he can do. "He's not going to die," he repeats, but his conviction is weaker than it used to be. "He will get better."

"Where have I heard that before?" Thor asks dryly. "Brother, I think we both know he's not getting better."

"So that's it, then? You just want me to admit that I killed him?"

"That is not-"

"Of course it is! Can't you see that? This is all my fault! If I just stay away, he'll get better." His confidence mangles in his throat, twisting his voice into something broken and frail. Loki isn't sure he believes his own mantra anymore.

Thor shuts his eyes, the battle lost, and bids his brother farewell. But Loki knows that Thor will return tomorrow. He always does.

Time passes in torturous, dragging lulls. The burden of guilt grows heavier upon his weary shoulders, his sins multiplying when his mind echoes the failed efforts to please Odin that ultimately landed him here. Vile memories of his deeds flicker in his mind's eye like a reel of macabre vacation slides, endless reminders of why he belongs in this cage. A monster must be confined, after all.

These are the times in which he envies mortals. The ability to die seems so peaceful and easy in the face of sitting with his sins for an eternity. He longs to die, but he knows that this is a far more fitting punishment-captive in two prisons: one in Asgard, the other in his head, with no possibility of parole.

The next morning, Loki hears a distant creak, then heavy footsteps. The door to his holding cell swings opens, and Thor stands before him. Suffocating bands of dread wrap around Loki's gut. Thor's face is pure agony, the final nail in Odin's coffin.

"Father wishes to speak with you."

Loki swallows hard, his dry throat protesting. His own voice sounds foreign. "Is he..."

Thor gives a grim nod. Loki feels panic rise in his chest. He doesn't think he can come to grips with this. Ever since he'd heard news of Odin's sickness, he'd repressed it, convinced himself that his father would recover in some last-minute miracle. Thor has had time to accept the inevitable, and it's different for Thor because he's already lost Odin once-or thought he had, at least.

And it isn't Thor's fault that Odin is dying.

Loki stands on rubbery legs, some unseen, loathsome force spurring him forward. Every fiber of his being screams that he doesn't want this, doesn't want to see his father die, but he follows Thor out of his cell, through the corridor, and into the daylight that burns his eyes.

There's no time left for Loki to make Odin proud or to atone for his sins. He knows Odin will die forever disappointed in his youngest son, and Loki's insides coil with nausea that it's come to this.

Thor leads him to the palace and steps into Odin's chambers. When Loki attempts to follow him, he's barred entry by Sif and the Warriors Three. "Please," Loki begs, his voice weak and raw, "I need to see him."

"Tough." Her glare cuts into him like a sharp knife, and he knows they blame him for this; the unspoken opinion among the Aesir is that Loki's attack on Midgard had been too much for the time-weary Odin to bear.

You killed him.

Loki knows they're all thinking it, though none will speak the words aloud. But the accusation lingers in the shifty glances that last a little too long, the hushed whispers of the prodigal son who sent his father to his grave. The stolen relic born to fail and disappoint, to bring misery and chaos. A monster.

Loki can see his mother Frigga kneeling at Odin's bedside and wants so desperately to be there too. "Please, I must speak with him-"

"You've done enough," Fandral says. "You've torn apart this entire kingdom over your foolish obsession to best Thor and claim the throne of Asgard." Tears prick at Loki's eyes, and he can't force them back.

"Allow him inside, I beg of you," Thor says. They obey, and Thor turns to his brother. "Loki, go to him."

Loki kneels at his father's bedside, and Odin's eye opens weakly, his withered mouth curving into what might be described as a smile. Loki's ready to pour out apologies that are far too late, to offer him peace in his final moments, but Odin takes a deep breath and whispers in a raspy voice, "Loki, my son...forgive me."

Loki stares at him with wide, wet eyes in disbelief. For the first time, he's caught between an ugly truth or a pretty lie.

The same situation Odin had been in many years ago when he adopted Loki.

Loki thinks about the ripples of heartbreak that Odin's lie has caused and how things might be different had he been raised knowing his true heritage. Perhaps if he hadn't tried to thwart Thor's coronation that fateful day, he would never have been touched by that Frost Giant. Maybe if he hadn't tried to destroy Jotunheim, Odin would not have let him fall.

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered at all. Maybe whatever choices he'd made, he would always end up here with the man he calls father looking up at him with a pleading eye.

Loki swallows, feeling frantic pain swell up in his chest, and recounts all of the memories that make Odin his father, all of the ways that he loves him and always will love him. He understands now the impossible decision Odin had faced. A lie can be devastating. But the truth can be worse.

Loki reaches for Odin's hand and lies to his father for the very last time: "Yes, of course, I forgive you. I love you."

Odin smiles slowly, given absolution in his time of dying, and just like that, it's over.

Life, meaning, purpose. Gone.

Loki has spent most of his existence trying to measure up to his older brother, striving to prove his worth to Odin. He's spent so long chasing this dream that he's forgotten how to do anything else.

And now it is gone, snatched away with his father's life, his entire world off its axis.

Thor moves to comfort Frigga, who crumbles in his ready arms, and Loki knows he's going to lose it. His legs wobble as he stands, but he keeps himself composed when he walks out with heavy steps, passing Sif and the Warriors Three as he exits Odin's chambers. He can hear them whispering, their harsh words like poison-tipped arrows through his heart, but Loki doesn't falter, just keeps walking, unfeeling, until he's out of Asgard Castle and away from their prying eyes. Then he keeps going, because he knows as long as he's walking the waves of anguish can't pull him under just yet. There's only one place where he can be alone with his ghosts, a place where he can give himself over to the agony and pray he never has to feel anything again.

Loki reaches the flora of the golden tree Glasir, and that's when he finally crumbles and breaks, collapsing on the grass as fresh fits of sobs rip through him. He hates the jumpy shuddering in his chest. He hates the grief pounding in his head like a war drum. He hates feeling that this was inevitable, that he was destined to cause Odin's death in some form.

Crippling waves of agony wash over him for what seems like hours, and all he can do is cry and beg for the pain to stop. When Loki's eyes are red and raw, Thor comes to him, sitting by his side in silent support. Even this simple gesture is tangled up in memories of Odin; sitting beneath Glasir reminds Loki of the days he'd spent picking golden apples from its branches with Thor and his father.

Loki weeps anew, raging with vicious hands against Thor's arms around him. His body explodes with angry sobs and whimpers, and Thor's there for it all, holding his little brother together while Loki spews fury and tears against his chest. Thor lets him fall apart in his arms, and they stay there in their mutual misery until Loki's limbs ache and his eyes burn.

"I do not blame you, brother," Thor murmurs, treading careful ground. Loki whimpers into his chest, his shoulders quaking from the force of his sobs. "Do not bear this burden."

"It is mine to bear," Loki manages through his tears.

Thor doesn't answer, just holds him as Loki cries, helpless and hopeless, in his arms. "We will survive. We will endure."

Of course Thor will-the throne of Asgard has fallen to him now. He has a purpose. But there's nothing left for Loki, no home for him to return to. Asgard doesn't want him, nor does Joutenheim, or Midgard...

What can he do but tremble, alone in the cold?

Thor stays with Loki under Glasir for some time, weeping along with him for the father they've lost. Thor composes himself, doubly wounded by his brother's grief, and examines Loki's thin, weak wrists. "Why have you refused your meals? Do you desire death?"

"There is nothing for me."

Pain colors Thor's face. "There is plenty. You must only know where to look." Loki doesn't answer, and Thor studies the hollowed bones of his brother's fingers. "Perhaps Midgard may hold some interest for you. I travel there regularly to visit my dearest Jane. Would you care to accompany me and discover its worth?"

Worth.

You are unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed!

"Don't patronize me."

"I mean no offense. I simply offer you a new life, if you care to have it."

Life.

You have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war.

"Your first order as king of Asgard, and you use it to overrule Odin, much less help me? You are a fool."

Fool...?

Yes, I was a fool to think that you were ready.

"And you are my brother."

You're my son. I wanted only to protect you from the truth.

Loki, my son...forgive me.

#

"Lo, there do I see my Father."

We musn't lose hope that your father will return to us.

There's nothing you can do without defying Father.

"Lo, there do I see my Mother and my Brothers and my Sisters."

I swear to you, Mother, that they will pay for what they've done today.

I won't let my brother march into Joutenheim alone.

"Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning."

From a realm of cold and darkness came the Frost Giants.

We were raised together. We fought together. We played together. Do you remember none of that?

"Lo, they do call to me."

Only one of you can ascend to the throne, but both of you were born to be kings.

You are our son, Loki. And we, your family.

"They bid me to take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla."

Do you swear to preserve the peace?

Do you swear to cast aside all selfish ambition and to pledge yourself only to the good of the realm?

I, Odin Allfather, proclaim you...

"Where thine enemies have been vanquished."

And your death came by the son of Odin.

When he wakes, I will have saved his life. I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be true heir to the throne!

"Where the brave shall live forever."

Look at you, the mighty Thor, with all your strength, and what good does it do you now?

I never wanted the throne. I only wanted to be your equal.

"Nor shall we mourn but rejoice for those who have died the glorious death."

Did you mourn?

We all did.

Pyre.

Smoke.

Fire.

Goodbye.

Yes, of course, I forgive you. I love you.

#

"Brother, please remember to eat. You'll need your strength if you hope to travel with me."

Why?

"Okay."

Fork.

Plate.

Scrape.

Chew.

#

"Loki, Thor is considering ending your sentence here."

"Oh."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, please."

Thor. My son... My heir... My first-born...

He kept the truth from you so that you would never feel different.

#

"Brother, you are no longer imprisoned here. You are free to roam Asgard as you please."

"Thank you."

I now take from you your power. I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!

#

Footsteps.

Murmurs.

"You disgust me."

"You selfish bastard."

"Go back to Joutenheim where you belong."

Father is dead. Your banishment, the threat of a new war...It was all too much for him to bear. You mustn't blame yourself.

"...his fault..."

#

"Why do you remain in captivity, brother? You are free."

Free?

The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity.

"I'd rather stay here."

No matter how much you claimed to love me, you could never have a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!

#

Visitor.

Is it...?

It isn't him.

It will never be him.

I thought we could unite our kingdoms one day. Bring about an alliance, bring about permanent peace...through you.

#

Mirror.

Hideous.

Gaunt.

Unwanted.

Unworthy.

I could have done it, father! For you, for all of us!

No, Loki.

#

Midgard.

Walking.

Lights around him.

Cold breeze in the air.

"Your mortal companion resides here?"

"No, she is simply visiting. My other comrades call this place home, however."

Home?

You give up the Tesseract! You give up this poisonous dream, and you come home!

Inside a tall building.

Familiar somehow...

Going up.

"Shall I inform the others of your presence?"

Doors open.

"That will not be necessary. I will take my leave soon enough."

"Then I bid you farewell until the morrow."

"Farewell indeed."

Footsteps down the hallway.

Echoes.

Knock on door.

Red, curled flames.

Wide, jade eyes.

Barrel in his face.

"How did you escape Asgard?"

"I did nothing of the sort, but that hardly matters now."

"Did you come to kill me?"

"I came for you to kill me."